Christmas tree by permit.

Christmas tree farms disappoint me almost as much as pumpkin patches and apple orchards. When we first went to cut down our own tree at a farm a few years ago, I thought we'd be heading into the forest with a hatchet, surrounded by banks of snow, bunny tracks, and the quiet of the deep dark woods. It was nothing like a January calendar scene. It was rows of stubby conifers, arguing families, Christmas carols over a loudspeaker and a jammed parking lot. 

We've bypassed the farms and headed to Garden Works instead, but that feels less like an event. 

I can see thousands of cedars and spruces from our living room window. This province is thick with forests; as a lifelong BC resident I ought to be able to help myself to one seven-foot juvenile.

Turns out I can.

BC residents can apply for a free permit to cut down a Christmas tree from select areas of Crown land. The permit was emailed to me within hours of applying. Everything on the North Shore is designated parkland, so we headed up the Sea to Sky Highway in search of a logging road, and found one near Britannia Beach. 

Selecting and cutting a tree from a bona fide natural forest was extremely satisfying. To be fair, in some areas the ground was covered in shotgun shell casings, and we ran into some men in Christmas sweaters drinking beer from red plastic cups, but I accept that as authentic small-town BC. 

Pete and I hadn't adequately prepared to transport the tree home; somehow we had envisioned simply placing it in the trunk. It took some manoeuvring but Pete managed to fit the tree in the van, and we headed home with fir needles brushing our face. 

The thing's a little sparse and spindly, and the trunk's got some lordosis, but festooned with lights and baubles in the corner of the room it looks loved. And it is. We all agree, we've found a new tradition. 

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Recovering chairs with vinyl, this time.

In the interest of full disclosure: recovering my dining chairs with my grandmother's Dutch wool blankets was a dumb idea. The kids destroyed them within weeks. Try dabbing a lasagna stain out of a wool blanket with a washcloth. Times four kids, times multiple feeds a day. 

With wipability now trumping charm In determining what to reupholster the chairs with next, I went with black vinyl. A $14.00 Etsy purchase later, the chairs were transformed into this:

A month in, they still look great. Good thing too, because no way am I going to tackle that a third time. 

Neptune blue

Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless saddle shoulder pullover in colourblock

Leif asked me to make him a sweater, and he was very specific with his request: "Blue like the planet Neptune, lined with rabbit fur, and with Ninjagos on it." One out of three would have to do.

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Elizabeth Zimmermann has revolutionized my knitting. In Knitting Without Tears she provides a sweater template, giving the ratios of sleeve to body to collar. You measure your subject (newborn to grown man), select your yarn (fine to bulky), determine your gauge, and knit the sweater. You can do the band, cuffs and collar however you prefer: ribbed, hemmed, rolled. You can stripe it, or work it in monochrome, or, as I did here, use colourblocking. It's very freeing. 

This is the seamless saddle shoulder pullover, with a hemmed band and collar in contrasting yarn, and ribbed cuffs:

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The yarn is Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, worsted weight wool grown in the USA. I used hayloft, almanac and sweatshirt. The colours are rich, it's perfectly textured - highly recommend.

Leif could never disguise his pleasure when he'd find me working on this; he'd do a little hum and come over to put his arm in a sleeve and to remind me about the rabbit fur. He wears it very enthusiastically. Testing-the-seams enthusiastically. He pulls it over his head in such an inefficient way that I'm always reminded of a fetal face presentation.

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And I finished it just in time. The weather's turned; our front walk is covered in wet cedar leaves, the winds are blowing down Indian Arm and we've just turned on the furnace. 

Project details on my Ravelry page

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Bedtime for Ilia

  1. We have two of these gorgeous MacAusland blankets. They're made on PEI by MacAusland Woolen Mills, "from sheep pastured in the cool mists of Canada," as one reseller put it. I see these blankets for sale all over Vancouver for triple what you pay buying direct from the website. 
  2. Maileg Bambi. In 2006 every nursery decorating book I had (pre-Pinterest, remember?) featured these bizarrely skinny rabbits. It took me years to identify them as Danish-made Maileg products, and they've grown on me. They're not cuddly, but they do have removable bloomers and other charms.
  3. I gave Ilia her first hot water bottle tonight. She lay stiffly on her back with her feet centred squarely on the warm rubber, mind blown.
  4. Echo toddler bed. Ilia's still in her crib, and I probably shouldn't admit that Ariana (seven) is still in a toddler bed. With rails. Everyone's got to advance one bed and it just feels too complicated at the moment. 
  5. I've never paid $40 for baby slippers, and since the Wooly Baby Thumper slippers are sold out, I wasn't put to the test.

Bumped.

I've been sorting my photos from 2011, Year of Ilia Tove. It's taken me this long to get some perspective so that I can go in and prune some of the hundreds of newborn pictures.

It does break my heart a little to see Ariana in these images, newly ejected from her long-held position as beloved baby girl. She took it graciously, and seriously; and yet on so many pictures she looks sidelined.

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There was this, though, and lots of it:

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That sweet face. I hope I didn't do wrong by you.

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I put an embryo on a daycare waitlist

September 2001

One yearand three months into a two-year residency, I give birth to my daughter. I am eligible for one year of maternity leave, and have every intention of staying home with my sweet, big-eyed Saskia for all fifty-two weeks. Pete and I haven't yet decided what we'll do for childcare when the year is up, but daycare isn't even on the table. I grew up understanding that daycare was for the unfortunate children of selfish mothers. It was fact, just as neighbours who mowed their lawns on Sundays could not be Christians.

January 2002

I sit at the desk in our loft, looking at a list of home daycares. The nine remaining months of residency loom over my days with my infant daughter. I have an irrational fear that I will have a series of consecutive pregnancies - defying all contraceptive measures - causing a perma-maternity leave and precluding any possibility of ever finishing residency. I am desperate to be done with it . . .

Post continued here. The topic today at Mothers in Medicine is childcare, where fifteen of us weigh in with our experiences.

Looming deadline for professional success: age 40?

The effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of twenty-five and forty.

- William Osler (1849-1919), renowned Canadian physician

I turned thirty-five last month, and what struck me most was how odd it is that it's been thirteen years since I was twenty-two. But apparently what I should have been impressed by is the five short years remaining in which to make a significant professional contribution to the world. I find this idea disconcerting, as I'm waist-deep in raising kids and was banking on my next decade to make some strides career-wise.

More here at Mothers in Medicine.

Devils are not real

I took inventory of Saskia's beliefs recently. I asked her to answer 'real' or 'not real' to various characters and she enthusiastically complied.

"Santa?" I suggested.

"Not real!" Said with seven-year-old pride.

"Easter bunny?"

"Not real!"

"Jesus?" 

"Real."

"Tooth fairy?" 

"Not real." (A surprise to me, this was followed by a brief discussion to identify my underminer. Pete.)

"Monsters?"

"Not real."

"Giant whales in the sea?" 

"Real." (What about dolphins, interjected Leif. Are they real?)

"Fairies?" 

"Not real." Said regretfully.

"Angels?" 

"Real." In a soft voice, utterly convinced.

"Devils?" 

"Not real." Said with equal conviction, laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea. "Let's do more!" she urged.

But I was too moved by the last two answers to continue.

My aptitude for family medicine: poor, apparently

I did the University of Virginia medical specialty aptitude test purely for sport recently and was startled to learn that of 36 medical specialties, the one I am least suited for is family medicine. 

I'm not surprised that family medicine did not rank first. I chose it only partially because of any natural inclination toward it, and mostly because the training and practice of it meshed best with other priorities in my life, particularly raising a family. What did take me aback was that it occupied the very last spot on the list.

Pathology and radiology ranked at the top. 

From time to time I flirt with the idea of returning to residency, but what it comes down to is that I would rank my current job satisfaction as a family physician at a 9/10. Is a chance at boosting that to a perfect score worth three more years of residency, a massive reorganization of family roles, a significant reduction in my time spent with the kids and a hefty kick in the pocketbook? I don't know.

William Maxwell, fiction editor of the New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, said upon retirement: "For nearly forty years I have shaved with pleasure in the thought that I was about to come to this job." How I love that quote. What a gift, such perfect happiness with one's work. 

Of course, while he was shaving his wife Emmy was likely frying up the breakfast bacon, readying their daughters for school, preparing for a day of housework and granting him the enviable ability to be single-minded. 

That is what I find most difficult about mixing medicine and motherhood: the diffusion of focus. 

My work in refugee medicine is profoundly rewarding; raising three little ones even more so. The two have proven to be compatible. And yet at some point the efforts put into one require sacrifices made of the other. There simply are not enough hours in the day for me to invest what I wish I could into both spheres. I have erred on the side of mothering, and while I do good work at the clinic, my career trajectory has been modest.

I say this cheerfully. So far, I don't regret any decisions I've made. And every day presents an opportunity for new and different choices. Maybe one day, when the kids are a little older, I'll alter my career track or return to residency.

But for now, and maybe forever, a 9/10 is good enough.

(Cross-posted at Mothers in Medicine.)

In love, age seven

Saskia and I are alone in the van on our way home from school, winding along Dollarton Highway in the slanting afternoon sun. She's in the back seat, quietly looking out the window, when her voice floats over to me: "Can little kids get married?" She asks with sudden great interest, like she can't believe the idea never occurred to her before.

"No."

"Oh." She digests this. She doesn't necessarily sound disappointed.

"Did someone tell you they can?"

"Colin did."

I know who Colin is. He has a sweet round face, brown eyes and hair, reminds me of a bear cub. I had watched him interact with Saskia the other day after school. He hovered around her with obvious adoration. At one point as she brushed by he reached out to play with the bunny tag swinging from her backpack. He looked totally smitten.

"He wants to marry me. In Grade 1 he really liked me. Now in Grade 2, he says he's in love with me." Her voice changes when she says in love, the words weighted with respect.

"That's nice, to have a friend that likes you so much."

She corrects me: "Loves me so much. I'm actually in love with him, too. That doesn't happen every day, does it, that two little kids are in love with each other?"

For once I am completely at a loss as to how to answer.

I know that's she's asking innocently, that a classmate with an older sibling probably introduced the concept. But I don't find anything cute or amusing about children adopting those ideas. I'm always surprised when other mothers chuckle and tell me what a flirt their kindergartner is, or tease their elementary school-aged son about girlfriends. I think friendships between young boys and girls should be considered completely natural. When they're treated as remarkable, I feel that the idea being instilled is that matching up with a member of the opposite sex is the first priority in life, to be pursued right out of the starting gate. That disturbs me. Falling in and out of love (and being consumed by it) is going to happen eventually anyway - why encourage it prematurely at age seven?

On the other hand, I don't want to dismiss her feelings, either. I remember my own intense crushes in elementary school, and they were impervious to other people's validation of them. (There was Chris, who had the affections of every girl in the class, in Grade 3; and Dino, who was a swimmer and reportedly shaved his legs, in Grade 4.)  I wouldn't have dreamed of telling my mother about them, though.

I don't feel prepared for this conversation; I'm unsure of my stance and whether there's even any real importance to the issue. I give Saskia an unsophisticated answer, fumbling, trying to affirm her affection for her friend while dismantling any romantic constructs, steering her away from the idea that she is in love without belittling her experience.

She unhesitatingly accepts what I have to say, then conspiratorially offers an anecdote: "Once I kissed a piece of popcorn and gave it to him and do you know what he did with it?"

"What?"

"He ate it."

Decorating with vintage records

I covered one of Saskia's bedroom walls with vintage record covers.

Collected one or two at a time over a year of thrifting, they cost 25 to 50 cents apiece. Most of them are from the 1950's and 60's. The art on some of these is quite wonderful, and I'd admired them for years but couldn't think of a use that would justify relaxing my efforts to stem the flow of goods coming through the front door.

I keep getting asked how I mounted these to the wall. I drove a nail through each one. All those years of renting as a student, where pounding holes in walls was expressly forbidden, make pock-marking my own walls that much more satisfying.

Now I have a drawer of LPs that I'm sure Saskia would enjoy, but no record player. I don't want a 70's one with giant speakers, but I don't want one that's meant to hook up to a laptop, either. Sony makes this attractive option, but spending $90+ US for a machine to play these two-bit records seems a little self-defeating.

So, another corner of Saskia's room done, another one with which we're equally happy. Really, I should be focusing on the adult living spaces: removing wood paneling, getting some hardwood floors installed, finding a couch. But somehow that feels so much more like work.

A waterbed covered with flannel

I just came across the most accurate description of the postpartum belly I've ever read, and it wasn't in a medical text. Perhaps you should read this only if you've had a child; it's a bit much for the uninitiated.

People kept trying to prepare me for how soft and mushy my stomach would be after I gave birth, but I secretly thought, Not this old buckerina. I think most people undergoing chemo secretly believe they won't lose their hair.

Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered with flannel now. When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy.

- from Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year