Reflections on “The Garden Song”

Posted June 26th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy


Last weekend we went to the Montreal Folk Festival. Jennifer Gasoi performed “The Garden Song” which I seem to rediscover every three years or so. Dave Mallett wrote it in 1975, but I’ve always thought of it as John Denver’s song, because he performed it on The Muppet Show with a chorus of flowers.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

And inch by inch, and row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rains come tumblin’ down

To me, it’s about making a plan, having faith, and then trusting that gentle forces will take care of our destiny. All we need is some basic tools and “a piece of fertile ground.” A place where things are meant to grow.

When I heard Pete Seeger’s version, it jarred me. At first I thought, “What in the world has he done to this beautiful song?” With just a few changes to some key words, he gave the song a very different character.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground

Inch by inch, and row by row
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
Till the rains come tumblin’ down

The word that stood out the most to me was MULCH. I’ve never heard that word used in a song before. “Gonna MULCH it deep and low / Gonna MAKE it fertile ground.” When I got over my shock, I appreciated the nuance.

Pete doesn’t have a piece of fertile ground all ready to go, but he’s going to do the best he can with the plot he’s got. He’s going to MULCH it deep and low. That’s powerful. And then the second part of the song, he changes “someone” to “please” and makes it sound more like a prayer. He knows the universe doesn’t give guarantees, but he’s hoping for the best.

I’ve been reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. I’ve gotten to the part where Thomas Jefferson is drafting the Declaration of Independence. He sends it to Franklin for edits.

The most important of his edits was small but resounding. He crossed out, using the heavy backslashes that he often employed, the last three words of Jefferson’s phrase “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” and changed them to the words now enshrined in history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”… By using the word “sacred,” Jefferson had asserted, intentionally or not, that the principle in question— the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights— was an assertion of religion. Franklin’s edit turned it instead into an assertion of rationality.

These revelations give me pause. I’m very sure that on a day to day basis I do a botched job of communicating what I mean. A lazy phrase can have unintended meanings. Of everything that I tell my kids, what’s going to stick after the rains of time? What will they remember me telling them? Which seeds will grow? Well, I’m gonna take it day by day, week by week, MULCH their lives deep and low. That’s either a metaphor or a euphemism.

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Fathers’ Day // Mud Hero // Party

Posted June 23rd, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

Daddy snuck home from Portland in the middle of the night. And we woke up ready to celebrate Fathers’ Day with a trophy full of cards and candy.


And then Molly Ann rolled up in a “party van” to drive us to Mont St. Bruno for the Mud Hero race. Alice and I registered at the beginning of the year. I’ve been doing bootcamp and 5K training to get ready. Setting a goal really motivates me. Otherwise, I’m a couch potato. What’s the point of all that sweat? But if there’s an event, and I’ve paid for it, then I feel incentivized. Yesterday, for one hour, I transformed into an action potato— climbing nets, running down hills, crawling through mud. Next race: need to work on uphill training and scaling walls without Alice’s knee boost.

Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.

— Arnold Schwarzenegger

I like Arnold’s distinction between training and exercise. His quote really struck me, because I never realized there was a distinction until he articulated it. Training has a purpose, a goal, a challenge. In this case: six kilometers with sixteen obstacles. It’s not just exercise. It’s a test of the mind and spirit.


Sonya and Leena ran the kids’ race. Sonya blitzed through the course. Meanwhile, Coach D kept up with Leena, and Jubby once again ran an adventure race in his sleep. This time, he even has a medal to prove it.


I’m muddier than Alice because I didn’t have the core strength to cross the mud trench in plank position. As Molly Ann put it, I had to “Lieutentant Dan” that obstacle to the finish line. But hey, I made it.

As an epic finish to an epic day, we got to celebrate Alice’s birthday on her actual birthday. And didn’t burn our house down. Or set D’s arm on fire.


There’s someone in my house eating my birthday cake with my family, and it’s not me!

— Arnold Schwarzenegger in The 6th Day (terrible movie)

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Jubby — 8 months

Posted June 19th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy


He sits, he crawls, he pulls to a stand. He chews on everything. I have to put things out of his reach. Then I have to move them even higher, because I keep underestimating how far, how fast, how fiercely he’ll grab onto what he wants. The girls have been diligent about keeping their small toys from his fists. He’s reliably settled into two naps, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. He eats food but feels strongly that he must control the spoon.


When his two big sisters were babies, I had less going on, time stretched out, and I kept track of every milestone. But now, a week passes with school and daycare and errands and daydreams, and he catches me by surprise. “Hey Jubby, when did you start __________?” Fill in the blank: eating, crawling, teething, standing, babbling, laughing.

But I don’t take any of it for granted. That toothless smile, that drooly mouth, that high-pitched squeal when he sees my face. That chubby-wubby knee, that swirl on the back of his head. That slap-slap on the hardwood floor of him following Sonya and Leena’s running feet.

———— BONUS ————

When I downloaded these pictures, I found a gem from Iceland taken at Jökulsárlón, the glacial ice lagoon.


My happy boy, world traveler.

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Iceland Counterclockwise

Posted June 17th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

icelandleenaiceland trip
The Ring Road circles Iceland, beginning and ending in Reykjavik. A lot of guidebooks recommend driving it clockwise so the scenery crescendoes, building in mind-blowing grandeur, and saving the best for last. Some of Iceland’s most breathtaking and touristy places are in the south: waterfall after waterfall, glacier after glacier, and an ice lagoon where chunks of bluish whitish ice float under a bridge into the Atlantic— surreal, otherworldy, and epic. I’m glad that we did the experience counterclockwise, though. We hit the big stuff first and then explored some of the rugged F roads leading into the largely desolate interior. With little kids, I think this was definitely the way to do it.


We hit a few spectacular highlights with Uncle Justin and Auntie Melissa including some hiking in Thorsmork (which stands for Thor’s Wood and is written in Icelandic with a special character that looks like a cross between a capital I and a lowercase p: þórsmörk). Our family name written in Icelandic would be: Ruþs.


D and I’ve already made promises to come back here when the kids are older and we can backpack through more of the interior. He called it “wizard country.” Incredible landscapes straight out of Tolkien. Panoramas were invented for places like Iceland. There were volcanic craters and lava fields where the earth’s crust was twisted by magma. There was the ice lagoon, the craggly forest we named Ruþsmörk, and the stoic mountains huddled with glaciers.


Sonya and Leena are amazing adventure travelers, seasoned by last summer in Vietnam and Singapore, but the real enabler of this trip was Jubby. Before Iceland, he hated his carseat. We rarely drive in Montreal. After one day, though, Jubby got accustomed to his “JoyJoy Seat” or simply accepted his fate. Either way, we drove pleasantly around the Ring Road and even ventured off the beaten path. We explored a crashed Douglas DC-30 World War II plane on a black sand beach, hiked through several caves, and gathered quite a collection of souvenir rocks.


We saw Icelandic horses, sheep, cow, reindeer, puffins, and a glimpse of a humpback whale before the five of us huddled belowdecks on our whale watching ship in Husavik. It was incredibly cold, windy, and we didn’t think through three hours aboard a ship 50 km south of the Arctic Circle with three kids. BUT they were all troopers. No complaints, great attitudes, and we thawed off with hot chocolate and cinnamon buns while hearing the oohing and aahing of everyone abovedecks as two humpback whales appeared in the fjord.


Someday if we have a house with a backyard, I’d like to build a little turf house. It would make an awesome writing studio.


The pattern on the side of the houses at Glaumbær reminded me of the basketweave stitch along the edges of the sweaters knit especially for this Iceland trip. (Note: Leena tried to figure out the tricky buttoning in a hardware store where we stopped to repair the trusty Bob stroller, which is quite the intrepid world traveller also).


I feel so fortunate that we got to experience this together. Sixteen days was a perfect amount of time. We left with a longing to go back and in the meantime, to explore other places near and far.


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Spring Days

Posted May 26th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

My strategy for solo parenting has been refined. This pre-tenure year, I’ve had weeks and weeks to hone it. Mornings begin at 5:30 when Jubby pats my face. We make oatmeal, pack lunches, and tidy the house a bit. Leena wakes up around 6 a.m. and watches Jubby while I get myself dressed and review the day’s agenda. Sonya wakes up and Alice’s wonderful sister Olivia arrives around 7 a.m. She helps get Sonya ready and off to school. Sonya scooters and Olivia bikes along behind her. This allows Leena, Jubby, and me to take our time in the mornings. For a few weeks this winter, I tried to do the “Full Sweep” which is dropping off Sonya at school, dropping off Leena at daycare, and then what felt like turning around and picking up each of the girls in another “Full Sweep.” (I think we meant to call it “Fell Swoop” but “Full Sweep” just stuck). It took over an hour roundtrip twice a day and used up two sizeable chunks of Jubby Good Humor Time. This new system is much more civilized. Sonya actually arrives at school for the 8 a.m. bell after getting to blitz downhill at top speed. Leena stays at home. We can set our own pace, make our own schedule, and enjoy time with Jubby.


Before 9 a.m. regardless of weather, we’re outside exploring. A cornerstone of my solo parenting strategy is physically tiring everyone out so that they all go to bed by 7:30 p.m. and by “go to bed” I mean “sound asleep.” The City Bureaucracy has unfortunately bulldozed and fenced off the lot where the playground used to be in our park, but it’s our opportunity to explore further by two-wheel scooter expedition. Leena is speedy! She scouts ahead, zooms back, zips away. It’s a brisk walk to keep up with her!


We gather treasures for our nature basket. Usually, I get a quiet window from around 1:30 to 3 in the afternoon while Jubby and Leena nap. They snuggle together. It’s adorable beyond words. Sometimes they oversleep. Then I carry them downstairs into the stroller. Often they wake up. Usually they just doze or stare at the world with long blinks. Sometimes though, I’m able to tuck them in, still asleep, and head to Sonya’s school to pick her up.


There are things, not many things but some things certainly, in my daily life that frustrate me, that anger me, that wear me out. But on our walk today in the rain, a word came to me: REVERENCE. What a marvelous word. In a nutshell, it’s what my children offer me. Their amazement. Their curiosity. Their reverence for all the things around them. Their infinite capacity for happiness.

The frustration unclenches, the anger exhales, and the weariness shrugs. There are helmets full of pinecones, dandelions full of wishes, and warm days full of possibilities.

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Spartan Race

Posted May 25th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

Rise up, warriors! Take your stand at one another’s sides with your feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground.

— Spartan poet Tyrtaeus

We had a sleepover. Sunday morning, Jubby and I made the wake up rounds at sunrise. Then we helped D with breakfast burritos. The party van rolled out at 6:30 a.m. for Mont Tremblant.

Amazingly Jubby slept most of the way there and back in his “JoyJoy Seat,” which made the whole adventure THAT much more fun and awesome.


Derek and Alice began their Spartan Race at 9:30 a.m. (8K with serious obstacles like spear throwing, wall climbing, mud crawling, and fire jumping). The girls had a 10:50 a.m. race start for the Junior Spartan (1K with mini-versions of similar obstacles, except a bouncy castle instead of flames).

When it became apparent that Derek and Alice still had challenges to face before they’d finish, I had to run the kilometer next to Leena to coach her over, under, and through each obstacle with Jubby strapped to me in his bear suit. At one point, a small group of bystanders took up the chant, “Quelle femme Spartan!” (“What a Spartan woman!”) Totally gave me the boost I needed! I’m sore today! Mostly my neck and upper back.


Sonya ran the whole thing by herself, tackled every obstacle, and wasn’t even out of breath at the finish line. Today she wore her shirt, headband, and medal to school. Meanwhile, D got the privilege of cramming himself into a series of planes en route to Oxford, England.

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Sand season

Posted May 18th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy


Summer weather is finally here, which means playground! Which means sand! Jubby is squishing it in his hands and sneaking it into his drooly mouth. He squirms out of my arms. He must be set down! He must crawl!


Someone recently posted a video of a “live painting.” Lines are drawn, erased, redrawn, and layered to show a time lapse of a baby aging into an old woman. The stages are transient, fluid, natural, deep. To see it like this, as a morphing image, made me feel many things.

I don’t quite know how to articulate them. I immediately thought of my favorite line from the third Game of Thrones book A Storm of Swords:

The oak recalls the acorn, the acorn dreams the oak, the stump lives in them both.

— George R.R. Martin

I read that line many times, over and over, to etch it into my memory. There’s something so profound packaged in it. “Oak” and “acorn” and “stump.” Those three images. “Recalls” and “dreams” and “lives.” Those three actions.


I’m just kind of mulling it over, this puzzle of time and human transformation as I sit and knit and knit and knit. I think of Shelley (“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”) while we listen to one song on repeat: Ontario band Walk Off the Earth’s Rule the World (our summer anthem).

These summer days of riding scooters with light-up wheels, scraping chins and knees and elbows, trying to double dutch, blowing bubbles, grilling dinners, making ice cream, and staying up an extra hour with the sun. (“I said I rule the world!”) And here I am, the acorn thinking of the stump. Trying so very hard to be a good oak.

Whatever any of it even means.


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tiny beautiful things

Posted May 14th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

FullSizeRender-1IMG_9899[Leena and nautiloid]

After most of my book club couldn’t make it through the Emile Zola novel we’d chosen, we collectively decided to switch books. Someone suggested a quick read like Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed, the bestselling author of Wild (which I decided to read concurrently). I’ve been recommending this book to everyone and I recommend it to you. Highly.

You might, for example, be interested to know that the word “prestigious” is derived from the Latin praestigiae, which means “conjuror’s tricks.” Isn’t that interesting? This word that we use to mean honorable and esteemed has its beginnings in a word that has everything to do with illusion, deception, and trickery? Does that mean anything to you…? Because when I found that out, every tuning fork inside of me went hum.


The very first vignette grabbed at my heart. She begins:

My mother’s last word clanks inside me like an iron bell that someone beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love.

Something that I enjoy about well-written books is the “call-back” when an image or place or moment is echoed later in the work, tying characters and events across time and experience. Sugar/Cheryl is a master of that.

Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will. We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.

My favorite line from the book. It clangs inside me over and over and over again while D is away. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime. I want to buy an actual iron bell and hang it near my desk as a reminder to be brave, be authentic. To say and show and BE the “I love you” that my loved ones hear and see and hold and carry.


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Mother’s Day

Posted May 11th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy


My neighbor said, “It’s like we woke up in a CGI world.” The grass is green green, the sky is blue blue, and the clouds look like cotton balls glued above us.

For breakfast, D rolled up some avocado, egg, and cheese burritos so we could hike the mountain. We saw snails, earthworms, and ladybugs. Jubby got some backpack training for Iceland. The girls cheered for me to climb mossy rocks and balance across fallen trees. This is “Mommy Adventure Training” because I am by far the least coordinated, most risk-averse member of this crew. Including Jubby, who has no edge detection. (He crawled out of the living room and down the front two steps of our entryway like a ninja cat. He has a scrape on his nose. I call him Warrior Baby).


I got homemade cards and a bouquet of dandelions. Quality time at the playground. And the chance to attend a very special Mom & Daughter barre classe with my two girls before D left for California.


Later, I read about the fascinating history of Mother’s Day. And overall, I think we did right by Anna Jarvis.

If you think the spirit of Mother’s Day has been spoiled by the commercialism of cards, flowers and once-a-year sincerity, you stand united with the woman credited with giving us the annual event.


Meanwhile, the one thing I really wanted was a “nice picture” of us. SLR camera. Tripod. Coordinated outfits. The works.  The one picture in sixty that came out in focus with all five of us looking at the camera, I had a strand of hair across my face. Of course. It’s a visual reminder that I can’t orchestrate perfection.

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Winter will not leave us

Posted April 25th, 2015 in Uncategorized by Mitsy


I can’t wait for summer to be here. I’m craving the sun and the grass— outdoor afternoons and dinner picnics. Meanwhile, these past two cold and rainy weeks with Leena at home full-time have been incredible. No more daycare! While I’m on maternity leave, I plan to make the most of my home presence, learn new recipes, indulge my hobbies, and spend as much time as possible with my little adventure buddies. Eating up these delicious and nourishing moments. Like Thursday, Leena was “reading” book after book to Jubby. Then she was showing him how to type his name: J-U-J-U! Funny enough, Arjun doesn’t respond to his actual name. But if you say “Juju!” he looks over and breaks into his very drooly Jubby smile.

IMG_2931DSCF2422 DSCF2421

Lately Sonya has been making beautiful paper laptops. I probably have a collection of about twenty with fully colorized keyboards and detailed screens. This was one of my favorites. She made a small coding window and a wallpaper of our family in the autumn.

I know these are the halcyon days of childhood. I cherish them. Life is simple and easy and loosely structured. Within the daily rhythms, there’s a lot of room to play and discover.


Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too.

— lyrics to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac


One final note: this blog will soon be password protected. Mostly, I write this as a sort of diary to Future Me, and as Sonya has grown older and started school, I’ve started thinking about her privacy. Her story is hers to share. Same with Leena and Jubtron. So if you’d still like to read, let me know and I’ll share a way for you to access the content. Thanks! Over the years, I’ve enjoyed this little space on the digital outskirts. And I appreciate your visits and comments.

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