Basement Update Number Whatever

Our basement is coming along, to the point where if you saw these pictures, you might actually think it’s finished, or close to it. I thought so, but then I started to make a list of all the things we still need to do down there, and it got really, really, really long, so I stopped and went and had a box of cookies to calm me down.

But at least there is progress!

Here’s the little nook at the bottom of the stairs, hopefully one day to be full of bookcases:

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The stairs and hallway:

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The built-in nook in the hallway, with IKEA shelves installed:

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Sharp eyed viewers will notice, in that last picture, that there are identical IKEA shelves in the background, in the main room. Here’s why: when we got all the flooring done and in, and then went to slide in our lovely IKEA Expedit shelves, they DID NOT FIT. They were too tall and too wide by like, a quarter of an inch, and we possibly could have wailed on them and pounded them in there, but it definitely would have damaged the wall, wall that we had just spent hours and hours repairing and painting.

But it had a happy ending in that IKEA has discontinued the Expedit shelves because they have introduced a replacement, the Kallax system. Kallax looks almost EXACTLY like Expedit except it happens to be about a half inch smaller all around. I’d call that unbelievably lucky, like to the point of complete improbability, but whatever – WE’LL TAKE IT.

So we went out and got some Kallax shelves and slid them easily into place (a little too easily, now there is a bit of a gap but WE’LL TAKE IT, DAMMIT). And thus, we have a nice set of Expedit shelves leftover. Not sure what we’ll be doing with those at the moment but there you have it.

Here’s a couple shots of the main, big area:

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Looks pretty good, no? Sir Monkeypants has been working hard. But as pretty as it is right now, there’s still lots to do, including:

  • painting – the window wells, window trim, and doors to the work room and storage room still need to be painted; the baseboards need to be repaired and touched up where they were nailed in.
  • cabling – need to run wires for the TV and Internet and phone
  • storage – we need to buy, assemble, and install several bookshelves, wardrobes for toy storage, and a TV/entertainment unit, at a bare minimum
  • curtains – need to cover the windows with something
  • work room – needs to be cleaned out and organized
  • storage room – needs to be emptied, shelves built, then stuff put back in there

We’ve been stalled for a couple of weeks now, trying to figure out our next step, but I think we have made a decision – we’ll try to get the storage room done next, so we can get everything that goes in there put away properly. Here’s what it looks like now, and I think you’ll agree it should be a bit of a priority, considering I almost kill myself every time I go in there to find sports equipment/camping gear/gift boxes/extra kitchen appliances, and Christmas IS coming, and Lord only knows where the decorations are hiding.

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This means that all the lovely empty, clean space of the finished area is about to get full of every box and crate and leftover bit of furniture we own, and it’ll stay heaped like that until we can get shelves built into the storage room.

But they say it has to get worse before it can get better, right? SIGH.

Summer of Awesome 2014

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It’s shocking to me that June starts on Sunday, and we are, as of today, officially one month away from the last day of school. This has been my first year with all three kids in full-time school, and I had plans, big plans, oh such plans for how I was going to spend all my oodles of free time.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Needless to say, we are ending the year with the house and my hobbies and my personal fitness level in much the same state as it was when we began. SIGH.

In more positive news, however, it’s Summer of Awesome time, and that is AWESOME. (Also: it is Dance! Show! season time, starting on Wednesday, and that is SUPER AWESOME.) It amazes me that this is like, my fifth summer of trying to be tourists in our own city, of trying to explore every square inch of Ottawa, and yet, there are still plenty of things on our list that we have never done before. Just how big is this place, anyway?

So I have a full and comprehensive list of summer activities in Ottawa for you to check out, if you are planning your own Summer of Awesome. Here’s the sublist of things I’m hoping to get to this year with my own kids (who are aged nearly 7, 9 1/2, and 11).

(Links to all these are on the main page linked above – I am too lazy to copy them over here. I guess that means summer has already begun!)

RCMP Musical Ride – Still have never been. It’s like I don’t even DESERVE to live in Ottawa. This runs the last week of June.

The Mint – My oldest has a sudden, deep, passionate interest in coins. We actually took him there (after much begging) on Mother’s Day so he could spend some of his birthday money on a solid silver collectors coin. I’m sure we’ll be back again over the summer though.

Pandas 3D IMAX movie at the Museum of History – For my panda-loving middle child.

Museum of Nature – Of course we have been here dozens of times, but we’re interested in their new Creatures of Light exhibit, plus the winners of the annual nature photography competition are on display now and we make it a point to check that out every year.

Diefenbunker – Have never actually taken the kids here before. Ottawa FAIL.

Mud Lake or Gatineau Park hike – Because it’s good for me to force myself to go outside in the few weeks of the year when we can actually do that without wearing three layers of coat. Also, have never been to either of these before, and I hear they’re lovely.

Rideau Hall – Never been here with the kids before either. What HAVE I been doing with my time?

Parliament Hill – Due for a visit as it’s been a couple of years since we were there, and the kids love it. We have never taken them for the full inside tour, just up the tower, so will try that this year, and will likely hit the market while we’re in the area.

Upper Canada Village – We’ve been for Alight at Night and Pumpkinferno, but never in the summer. I put this one on the list every single year and yet we never make it so let’s give this one a 50% chance of actually happening.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb – We went once and the kids have been begging to go back ever since.

Saunder’s Farm – Because it’s not summer until we’ve been to Saunder’s Farm.

Ray’s Reptiles – So far winning the “what will we do for the Little Miss’ birthday party” discussion.

Skyzone – Perfect for a rainy summer day – my youngest has never been so that’ll be fun.

Puppets Up Festival in Almonte – Happening on the August long weekend. I’m curious and we’ve never been so hope to convince Sir Monkeypants to go this year.

Fletcher Wildlife Garden – A lovely little garden showcasing different wildlife environments, near the Museum of Agriculture and Food.

Thimble Cafe – They make dairy-free coconut milk ice cream that is wicked expensive and wicked good. Our summertime treat destination.

Outdoor Pools and Splash Pads – We usually do summer swimming lessons but this year I’m going to skip them. But I hope to make up for it by going to one of the local outdoor pools or a splash pad park any day we’re not doing anything else. Swim it up!

What are you planning on doing this summer?

Crying Wolf

Yesterday I was listening to an interview on CBC of Farley Mowat, by Shelagh Rogers. He was what people call a character, because he obviously did not care one whit what people thought of him, and as such half of what he said was pure poetry, and the other half was outrageous to the point of scandal.

But what struck me most of all is that every single thing that came out of his mouth was just so definitive. He knew who he was, and he had his own worldview totally figured out, and he stated it with absolute confidence. Things that he wasn’t interested in did not concern him. Things that he was interested in, he knew. He just knew. He wasn’t being a blowhard or a know-it-all or an obnoxious douche – rather, he was really charming and smart and convincing and even sensible. But most of all, he was just…sure of himself.

I used to be like that back as a teenager – didn’t we all? There was a time when I knew the truth, the way the world worked, the way things needed to be changed and the ways they needed to stay the same. But the older I got, the more I wondered. The more I saw other points of view, and they seemed valid, too. The more I found myself seeing all sides to every issue, to sympathizing with everything.

To the point where now, I feel like maybe I’m not so sure about anything.

I mean, I have my values, sure. And I know what I want for myself, for my kids, for my community, for this world. But the ground is shifty. Anything can happen – new data, new experiences, meeting a random, well-spoken stranger – that could change my point of view. And I’m open to that. Is that a problem?

It sure would feel good, every now and again, to be as certain as Farley. To feel like this is how it is. Not to be belligerent or closed-minded or rude, but just to be sure. To speak with authority on a subject, with real weight behind it. To know, really know, from my own personal experience, what to expect. How things are, and how they are going to be.

I’m thinking – since Farley was in his 80s during this interview – that maybe this is something that cycles back in time. That it’s a bell curve of uncertainty, starting low as a kid, rising to a peak in our mid-life-crisis years, then dipping back down as we reach the age of no longer giving a heck what the other guy thinks. Maybe I just need to give it time.

Or maybe not. I’m not sure. Maybe that only comes with being a character.

Go Jump In The Pool

It’s spring, which means it’s pool building season around here. I live on a long street – at least 120 homes – and it has a lot of bigger houses on bigger lots, which means pools are a dime a dozen around here. Seriously, I do not think I am exaggerating at all when I say there are at least 40 pools on our street alone, which can be very disorienting in the summer, feeling like we have been transplanted to California. With the coming of this spring, there’s already a half dozen big trucks on the street all day long, and the sound of the digging and concrete pouring and tile scraping of another couple new pools going in.

I used to think we would never want a pool, because I was not interested in all in the upkeep. Although I do think I work hard, home maintenance is not my forte, and outdoor home maintenance is even lower on my priority list. But then, a couple of years back, our back yard got into such a terrible state, with bare patches and prickly weeds and dandelions (see: lack of interest in outdoor maintenance), that we actually started to think about putting in a pool just so we could eliminate the grass. Plus, MyFriendJen down the street got a pool, and her kids went from casual swimmers to Michael-Phelps-style SuperFish in just one season, and that was pretty darn compelling.

Last year we actually got to the point where we were really, seriously, going to do it, but then the kids begged us to keep the swing set that takes up at least half the available backyard space, and then the Basement Budget Suck event happened, so it’s not happening any time soon. But that’s okay, because I’m not sure I want one really, anyway – it would be wonderful in the summer, but how would the kids play outside in the winter? Where would we put the vegetable garden? Would we ever have the funds to take another family vacation, or would the backyard become our vacation?

So I’m curious: do you have a pool? Do you love it, or regret it? Do your kids have enough backyard play space, especially in winter, with the pool there? Are your kids totally awesome swimmers now? I am wondering.

May Days

You can tell it’s May around here, because suddenly the calendar is full from morning until night, booked solid with activities, to the point where we can barely breathe. I keep wanting to yell at the world, these amusing incidents are not going to blog themselves but before I get to the end of the sentence, someone else needs to go somewhere or something else needs doing, and I’m off and running again.

Here’s the most important thing from this week: I’m going to be on TV! I’ll be representing SavvyMom.ca on Our Ottawa, which is a CBC program shown locally in the Ottawa area. It airs on the local CBC channel at 6 a.m. Saturday, then is repeated at 11 a.m. Sunday and again at 11 a.m. Monday. I’ll be talking about Mother’s Day activities around town, and showcasing some of the Mother’s Day crafts featured this week on the SavvyMom site and on their pinboard.

(Side plug for SavvyMom: I’m the SavvyMom.ca Ottawa Correspondent, which means I write the headline articles for the Ottawa section of their website and for the e-newsletter that goes out weekly to a few thousand Ottawa-area homes. You can sign up to get the newsletter on their website – and I’m always on the lookout for great businesses or events in Ottawa that parents would want to know about. Just drop me a line.)

I’ve already taped my segment, and the best part was that there was a makeup lady on site, and in about three minutes she made me look about 20 years younger. Makeup – WHO KNEW? I want to hire her to come live with me and do my makeup daily.

I kid, though – the best BEST part was meeting the host of the show, Lucy van Oldenbarneveld. She’s the CBC news anchor here in Ottawa and I managed to hold it together for most of the taping of the show even though I was sitting right next to LUCY VAN OLDENBARNEVELD. At the end I confessed my super fangirl-dom and had this photo taken:

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She is every bit as fabulous and delightful and interesting in person as you might imagine. SERIOUSLY. FABULOUS.

The TV spot could not have come at a better time (despite the bursting at its seams schedule, which saw me running to Michaels for craft supplies on Tuesday afternoon, then engaging the girls in a three-hour crafting marathon squeezed in between piano lessons, to prep the props for the next morning). That’s because I’m off, in about 10 minutes, to give a talk to Little Miss Sunshine’s class entitled, “What I do for a Living.” Her teacher asked parents if they would be willing to come in and talk about their jobs, and so the Little Miss and I had this conversation:

Her: Will you come into my class and talk about your job?

Me: Do you even know what I do?

Her: You sit at the computer all day and do blogging.

Me: Hm, pretty close. Why don’t you ask your dad?

Her: He will be busy working.

Me: And I will be…? Nevermind.

Her: So will you?

Me: I guess so.

And so, I am off to try to make “blogging” and “website design” sound super cool and awesome. I really, really hope no firemen or policemen show up. At least I have Lucy van Oldenbarneveld in my back pocket – that’s sure to impress a bunch of Grade 1 kids, don’t you think?

Books of My Life

Entertainment Weekly has a sometimes-series where, in their Books section, they chat with an author about books that have shaped their life. I love this series. It’s always fascinating to me, even if I have no idea who the author is, to hear about what set of books have been important to them, in the past and in the present.

Of course, I have to do my own version now, taking the EW list as my inspiration. I’d love to hear your own list, though. This kind of history always enchants me – it seems like some sort of magic, how words can have so much impact on someone’s life, and how certain stories change who we are. So please, do share!

My favourite childhood books
The other day, my friend Jen asked me what kinds of books I liked to read as kid. And I said I really didn’t know, but then I started listing them off and BING, realized I liked MYSTERIES. I read every single Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book there was, and then moved on to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. One of my ultimate, all-time favourite kids’ authors is Ellen Raskin – her novels are really weird, offbeat, magical mysteries that I recommend. Unfortunately all are out of print now except for The Westing Game, but that one is a good place to start – my favourite, though, is The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.

The book I enjoyed most in school
I was a huge, huge geek in school and loved just about everything we were forced to study. I really loved Shakespeare and Shaw and poetry in high school, and I know, you kind of want to punch me right now, don’t you? I will, however, give a special shout out to Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell, a book everyone else seemed to hate but that I loved like ten bear.

My favourite movie versions of great novels
I love, love, love Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility, as well as most of the similar Merchant-Ivory stuff, like A Room with a View (SO romantic!) and Howard’s End. I think what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings was brilliant and possibly even better than the source material. And although the source material isn’t exactly a classic, I thought Adaptation – technically an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief – was quite brilliant and original.

The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
I made it about 80% of the way through Crime and Punishment before quitting – one of the few books I have ever abandoned – and now I give War and Peace the side-eye and think I’ll never be able to handle it. Of ones I’ve always meant to read, but still haven’t, there’s Great Expectations and (actually cringing as I admit this) both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I even OWN copies of the Twain books and yet have never cracked them open. SIGH.

A book I consider greatly overrated
American Psycho is a book that I hate, hate, hated, and will never understand why some people think it could be passed off as art. I also disliked The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, to the point where, when it was over, I was actually angry that I’d read it. I really liked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, but was incredibly bored by Middlesex, which most people consider far superior and a modern classic.

The last book that made me cry – and the last one that made me laugh
I just finished a kids’ book that Allison recommended – Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. I loved it – the story is so magical and inventive, and there’s a mother-related storyline that tugs at the heartstrings and made me bawl like a little kid at the end. On the laugh side, Tudor recommended Love That Dog by Sharon Creech for the kids – so far, I haven’t been able to get any of the kids to actually read it, but I did, and loved it – it’s a whole tale of a boy and his dog told through a series of poems, and it’s clever and funny (although sad in some places too, as all good books about life should be). I really do hope to read some adult books very soon!

A book I read in secret
Forever, by Judy Blume, snuck chapter by chapter in the back stacks while “working” in the library over my lunch hour in Grade 8. I’m sure every single woman my age has a similar story.

A book I wish I’d written
Um, every single one? I have huge, mad respect for anyone who sets out to write a book of any kind, and actually does it. I flirt all the time with daydreams of being an author, but instead I just putter away on my blog. If I ever do write something, I really hope it is as perfectly brilliant as either of my two all-time favourite books: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and Come Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant.

What I’m reading right now
I just started The Adventures of Claire Never-ending, which was written by Catherine Brunelle, who lives right here in Ottawa and who read a blog post at BOLO this year. It’s delightful! Next up is a book I ordered on a whim from Amazon while trying to hit the free shipping mark: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones. Sure hope it lives up to the title!

Eighteen

Sunday was Sir Monkeypants’ and my 18th wedding anniversary, and I feel like the great-grandmommy of the whole internet by admitting that. We’d been dating for six years before that, so this actually marks 24 years we’ve been together – a few wrinkles, a lot of grey hairs, and a few extra pounds ago.

We celebrated like this. Sir Monkeypants took the kids to swimming and got them a post-swim snack, while I hit the grocery store and then started painting trim in the basement. We had a good hour and a half together while he installed baseboards and I finished up my painting for the day, then I fed the kids lunch and left to take the youngest on the hour-long round trip to drop her at a birthday party. Meanwhile, Sir Monkeypants finished with baseboards for the day, took down the Christmas lights, and I went to the Canadian Tire on my way back from the party drop-off for a replacement bike tube for the Captain.

By the time I got home, Sir Monkeypants just had time to grab a quick shower before going on his own hour-long journey to pick up the Little Miss from her party. I helped the older two finish their homework, gave everyone a snack (packing one up for the Little Miss), did piano practice with Gal Smiley, then took the big kids to IKEA where we met up with Sir Monkeypants. The kids tried hard not to shove each other to death while we looked at four different storage solutions for the new basement (does IKEA have any kind of frequent-buyer or rewards program? Because between bookcases, TV stands, wall shelves and wardrobes, we may be blowing the kids’ university fund there in the near future).

We dragged everyone home – in separate cars – just in time to throw together sandwiches and soup for dinner, get the kids clean and in jammies, listen to a couple of speeches due the next day, and put kids to bed.

Then we collapsed on the couch in pain (the basement work takes its toll on us old folks!), exhausted.

It was kind of just your typical day. But also really good. Because there were anniversary wishes from the kids (they made their own cards – and Rainbow Loom accessories from an unnamed enthusiast, I’m sure you can guess which one!). There were plenty of extra hugs and kisses and thank-yous. There were curious questions and enthusiastic singing along with the radio and absolute delight in pieces of gum, from three sweet brown-haired children that weren’t here 18 years ago.

There were quiet moments where I looked at Sir Monkeypants and saw the guy I married, and saw us together living the life I imagined. There was a loud moment of exclamation when Sir Monkeypants pointed out that the paused TV, showing a still from an almond milk commercial, featured a kitchen where there were eight little plates in the slots, but only SEVEN big plates, and WHERE was the missing plate, and I had been thinking the EXACT SAME THING.

There were shared stories of our days – funny things the kids said, like the way the Captain’s mind was blown when he heard that they mint Canadian money right here in Ottawa, and the way the Little Miss, when she says something she doesn’t mean, says she is being “fartastic.” There were potential problems in the basement to discuss and there was much sighing over the May calendar, which is busting at the seams. There was random stealing of handfuls of each others’ post-dinner snacks on the couch, and preparing of tea without having to ask what goes in it. There was contentment and laughter and the dream of another 18 years.

Happy anniversary, Sir Monkeypants.

Blogging Out Loud

It’s been nearly two years since the last Blog Out Loud event, and here’s a secret, just between you and me: I thought the 2012 event was going to be my last. I just kind of felt like the idea had played itself out and I wasn’t excited about it any more.

But then! I was having coffee with Brie, and she said what I really needed was a great sponsor, and she suggested the Ottawa Writer’s Festival. And I remembered my friend Lee Ann had mentioned this idea as well several months before that, but I was all wishy washy, but I guess Brie brought it up right at the right moment in time, and I was all like, YES.

So my friend Lee Ann, who actually sits on the board of the Writer’s Festival, actually connected me with the right people and spent many tireless hours singing our praises to the rest of the board and convincing everyone within earshot that this event was awesome and deserved a spot in the program. And she made it happen! So many, many thanks to her for believing in blogging and working so hard on my behalf.

And now, it’s all here, it’s all happening! Blog Out Loud 2014 is TOMORROW NIGHT, eep. You can get all the details of the event here, and browse around the archives of the BOLO blog to see profiles of all 12 readers who will be reading a really fantastic blog post at the microphone this year.

I’ll be busy, but I really, really want to meet so many of you who I only know from the blogosphere, and to say hello again to old friends who I haven’t seen since the last event. I’ll be sitting at a small round table to the right of the stage, so if you make it out, please do come by to say hello. Hope to see you all there!

Life

It was awfully hard to get up on Easter Sunday morning.

The previous night, FameThrowa and Mr. Chatty had come over for dinner. There was too much pie (is there such a thing?), too much wine (definitely a thing). The four of us were up late, filling and hiding little plastic eggs full of toonies, LEGO men, stickers and jellybeans. Then, although we swore we were going to bed, Sir Monkeypants and I stayed up even later after our guests had gone, drawn in by the allure of just one more Game of Thrones episode.

We’d only been asleep about an hour and a half when the Captain came into our room in obvious distress. He couldn’t breathe – really, really couldn’t breathe. We were up and out of bed in less than a second, racing to the bathroom, trying to administer his puffer. We went outside – cold air helps the asthma – and I talked to him soothingly, trying to calm him, strugging to get in a puff or two of ventolin, while Sir Monkeypants pulled on jeans and threw a few things in a bag. All went well at the hospital – we know the drill. Some steroids, a face mask, and they were back home by 4:30 a.m.

It took some time after that for our hearts to stop pounding.

When the Little Miss got up at 6:30 to see if the Easter Bunny had arrived, it was quite a groaner. I’m too far past the baby stage to be used to counting up my total sleep by assembling a handful of one-hour chunks.

But we did get up, and found eggs, and delighted in having candy before breakfast. Lego men made cute little voices and stickers were traded.

The Little Miss reminded me over breakfast – for the 10th time that weekend, at least – that I’d promised to take her to the farm on Easter morning. The farm is the Canada Museum of Agriculture and Food, a working farm inside the city limits. For years I forced the kids to go on Easter, because I love the baby animals – who doesn’t love baby animals? But the older two hated it – the smells, the scary beasts, the wheezing and allergies. My youngest though, she’s an animal lover too, and she loves the farm – I finally got one! She wanted to see the animals, and it was Easter, and it had been far too long since we were there last. Despite my desperate need for a nap, I just couldn’t say no.

So the two of us piled in the car and headed over. We touched a newborn lamb, stroked the world’s softest bunny, listened to the chicks go peep-peep-peep. We coloured as much as we wanted – no pressure to move on, it’s just the two of us – and found three hidden eggs in the barns that were traded for chocolate.

In the cow barn, we saw two calves – one two days old, one just over a day old. In the third pen in the nursery was a mother cow who was two days overdue. The Little Miss was very curious, but I warned her that although the birth would be soon, it was unlikely to be in the next 10 minutes. We moved on, went outside for a snack, couldn’t wait any more to eat those hard-earned chocolate pieces.

It was time to go. I needed to fill a prescription for more steroids for the Captain, and was hoping to get in a little more work on the basement floor. But the Little Miss was dragging her feet. We’d been to all the barns, but she still just didn’t feel like leaving. It has been so long since we were here, she said. It’s such a nice day, she said. Just a little longer, she said.

I told her that we really had to go but if she wanted to pick just one favourite animal to see for a second time, one animal to go and say goodbye to, we could do that. So she picked out the expectant mother cow, Evangeline.

We hiked all the way back out to the cow barn and she climbed up the gate to Evangeline’s pen, hanging off of it along with two other kids who were having a look. I told her to smile – unfortunately Evangeline’s backside was facing us but figured it’d make a good enough photo. I pulled out the camera and just as I clicked it I noticed something odd.

A small, white, fluid-filled bulge coming out her back end.

Oh yes, there was active labour going on.

As soon as the Little Miss heard that, there was absolutely no leaving. We spent the next hour in front of Evangeline’s pen. The crowd behind us grew and grew, but my daughter didn’t budge – it was as if her own baby cow was on the way. She gently asked questions – luckily we have already shared the just-the-facts-ma’am version of how babies are made – and we quietly and respectfully watched a baby calf being born. From start to finish.

New calf born at the Agriculture Museum

In less than 12 hours I went from fear, adrenaline, and the real threat of losing a kid, to innocent child-like pastel-coloured delights, to a powerful, rare, wonderfully beautiful moment that showed me that life goes on. Spring has sprung, and there’s new hope, and new life, and the dream of health.

There is wonder in this world, and I felt so very, very lucky to have seen it from a front row seat.

I slept very well that night.