Becoming a Maker

Last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had specific things that I envisioned her having, and one of those was bonnets. I just loved seeing babies in bonnets. Unfortunately, I could only every find bonnets for $25-$50 CAD in the style that I liked. To put it simply, they were something I couldn’t afford (especially since I wanted her to have one for every outfit – ha!). Finally I couldn’t stand not having any for her so I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it. I figured if I could learn how to sew then I could save some money. I am so glad that I bought that sewing machine because it has become a small part of me.

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Now, I can’t even count how many bonnets I’ve made (okay, I probably could, if I took some time to). I’ve altered the pattern (what feels like) a million times to get the fit I like on my daughter’s round head. When she was newborn I had to redo the pattern to get a small enough bonnet for her little head and as she grows I continue altering. Recently I gave away five of Alba’s bonnets to someone who needed them more than her, the great part is I am easily making more for her to replace the five that we gave away. It’s not costing me much financially as a lot of the fabrics I use are given to me in the form of old sheets (thanks mama!).

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Crocheted pixie hats and mittens for my daughter.

Recently I’ve also started delving into other projects. I’ve sewn some skirts/dresses for my daughter and myself, as well as taught myself to crochet. I can make things. A lot of these are beginner projects but I hope to make her some heirloom pieces that she can give to her children or that I can keep for any other children I may have.

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A pinafore dress and bunny bonnet I made for Alba’s first Easter.

 

The best part of all of this isn’t the money I am saving learning how to make things (instead of buy), nor is it the possibility that my grand-children will get to wear these clothes, instead it’s that I am spending time on me. Myself. While I was pregnant, one of the things I worried about was my identity. Who would I be after my daughter was born? Mother is such a beautiful title, and it is a part of my core, I was made to be Alba’s Mother, but I am more than her Mother. I am still Claudine, someone who wasn’t a mom for the past 27 years and as I navigate through my motherhood story I am trying to keep a grasp on that.  I’ve read and heard about drowning in parenthood and that hasn’t happened to me (yet, I’m sure it will come at some point). I’ve heard that the days are long, that it’s monotonous, and I think (for me) that hasn’t happened because (when I can) I take the time to just do “me” things. It’s therapeutic. I love being a Mom, and I think one of the reasons I love it is because I try to have balance and spend time on myself, especially in these wonderful early days when I’m with her literally 24/7. So, when Alba sleeps, I like to make things (or do something that I enjoy). I think this makes me a better mama, a happier mama, and I truly wish I could stay home with her forever because I am enjoying every single day.

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It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have to sew on the floor because she’s napping on the couch and I want to be in the same room as her. Another time I sewed on the floor in the basement because everywhere else in the house someone was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone up but I really wanted to finish my project. To say I love it is a little bit of an understatement.

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Alba wearing the same bonnet in both images. On the right image we are bother wearing skirts that I made. 

 

Since Alba joined my life just a short 5 months ago, I have become slightly terrified of becoming an empty nester in the future (yes, I think about things like that), but at least I’ll have my sewing machine with me (*insert laughing emoticon).

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Journey to Motherhood (with a Birth Story)

Mid-February. We are curled up on the couch with comforters and coffee. By “we,” I mean my daughter and I. She is napping and I am writing. Surreal, I have a daughter. I am a mother.

In June, I did a blog post discussing me being pregnant (and my various thoughts on it), and announced that my husband and I were expecting our first child after Christmas. My baby arrived over a month early. I want to share why she arrived early and my experience with having the healthiest pregnancy turn high-risk (with me getting hospitalized at 35 weeks and having baby a week later), in hopes that others can relate to or just learn something from our story.

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The majority of my pregnancy was “quiet”, or as quiet as a pregnancy can be. I had next to no symptoms. No nausea, Braxton Hicks contractions, heartburn (yup, I have a bald baby!), or much swelling. I had an anterior placenta so kicks were even harder to feel. If I didn’t have a baby bump and get a positive pregnancy test so early I could have been one of those ladies who doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until she was 5 or 6 months. I did feel tired and get occasional headaches and leg cramps but, up until the end, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I was grateful, because I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant.

Do not mistake my lack of loving the experience the wrong way. I was so happy to be pregnant, and that I was having a baby, but I really wanted it to be over already, and to be on the other side of pregnancy. And now that I am on the other side, I have to say I don’t feel any differently. I’m not one of those ladies that misses my bump or can’t wait to be pregnant again. It was an anxious, long eight months for me. Maybe it was the lack of kicks, maybe it’s just my slightly neurotic personality (ha), or maybe it’s just normal and people don’t talk about it often, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of that “something is wrong.” It was such a mental battle throughout my pregnancy. Despite gaining weight right on track, feeling pretty good, and having normal healthy OB appointments, I was so worried all the time that I would miscarry or have a stillbirth. It happens. I felt so guilty for not revelling in my experience, especially since I wanted to be pregnant for so long, and I know so many women who suffer from infertility. I kept thinking, “how dare I not enjoy this experience 100%.”

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Like I said above, I had an anterior placenta. I didn’t feel my baby kick until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant. I remember being at work when I was around 22 weeks pregnant, with my little bump, and a coworker asked “so you must feel her kick all the time.” Um, no. When finding out that I didn’t feel anything, not even a flutter she got this super worried look on her face and notified me that I should feel something by now. Cue panicked call to my OB to notify them that I hadn’t felt a kick yet. The nurse assured me that it could be awhile before I feel any kicks and that my placenta was in the front so it wasn’t anything to worry about until I was 28 weeks.  I even got an ultrasound the next day and sure enough, baby was kicking away and I didn’t feel a thing.

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Pregnancy isn’t a set in stone, must follow “this template” experience. Every pregnancy is different, as I was learning. My anterior placenta acted like a squishy cushion between me and my baby. It made it really hard to feel (and see) movement from her throughout my pregnancy. It caused me to visit the ER in a panic a couple of times in my third trimester because she didn’t kick x amount of times in x hours. I felt like a crazy lady! Was I normal? Everyone talks so much about the physical discomforts of pregnancy. That was what I was expecting (which didn’t really happen for me). The throwing up, the swelling, the waddling (okay, I definitely waddled). Women talk about that. What isn’t talked about is the mental health aspect of it which made me feel so much more isolated and wrong. I felt guilty for my unborn baby that I was worrying so much. Because I didn’t feel normal I didn’t talk about it much with anyone. Even when I was hospitalized with health complications I STILL didn’t talk about how worried sick I was.

On Monday November 7, 2016, (I was 33 weeks pregnant*) I went to my regular OB appointment and my healthy pregnancy started to take another turn. I had borderline high blood pressure which the doctors informed me is a symptom of pre-eclampsia. They ordered for blood tests and urine tests to see how my organs were functioning. They wanted me to know that I was high-risk for developing pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a “pregnancy disease.” The only way to “cure” it is to get the baby out ASAP. It is characterized by high blood pressure which can affect the mom’s organs as well as the baby’s placenta. If left untreated, it can turn into eclampsia which can result in death. My mom had pre-eclampsia with all four of her pregnancies. I was born at 31 weeks gestation, my brother at 33 weeks. She almost died. We weren’t taking this lightly and I went home with a blood pressure monitor and religiously checked my blood pressure. My OB appointments were increased. I was terrified.

*Just a quick aside. My doctors and I went with different due dates. They had my official due date as January 2, 2017, based on my first ultrasound. I went with December 24 as I felt this was more accurate, based on LMP, conception, and my gut mama feeling. That, and baby was always measuring really big at the rest of my (many) ultrasounds. This matters, as it affects induction schedules, and the “premieness” of a baby.*

IMG_9067.JPGI got a call from my OB office on Thursday asking me to come in the next day. They wanted to see how I was progressing, and to check my blood pressure. If everything looked good they would post-pone my next appointment. I was feeling positive that everything must be looking good on my blood tests.

Friday, November 18, 2016. I drove myself to my appointment (50 mins), I thought it would be a quick in and out and then my plans were to head over to my mom’s house to prepare for my baby shower that was the next day. My husband was at work. All I could think about was getting out of my 9:00 am appointment quickly so I could go decorate. I was excited. I was also excited to take my 35 week bump picture the next day, what would I wear?  My bump was getting big and my clothing options were limited. Was baby kicking enough? I wonder who will all come to the shower. I was itchy last night, I should tell my doctor. My mind kept going back and forth between my appointment and the baby shower.

My blood pressure was higher than ever at this appointment. We also did a test because of my itchiness for another pregnancy disease called cholestasis (which has itchiness as one of the only symptom). I was disappointed. The doctor ordered more blood tests, and an ultrasound for that day at 2:00 pm to do a biophysical profile  and NST (non-stress test) on the baby and make sure she was doing good in there. Okay, I guess I’ll have to decorate in the evening. I did my blood tests and waited around for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was neat, baby looked great, and we got a 3D look. Baby was measuring at about 6lbs.

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The nurse informed me that the doctor would come talk to be about my results and that I could wait in the hospital room that my non-stress test was in. The doctor didn’t make it in until after 6 pm. She came in, informed me that my urine and blood pressure indicate that I do indeed have pre-eclampsia. I may need to be induced that night and they were transferring me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital 3 hours away via ambulance to be admitted there, as they did not have the proper NICU facilities to handle a 33 week premie (as they thought I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was). We got steroid shots to get the baby’s lungs to develop more. I was shocked, scared, nervous, unprepared. I guess we were postponing the baby shower! All my “plans” for the birth were thrown out the window. I wouldn’t know what it would be like to have contractions start at home, or have my water break and rush to the hospital.  I was terrified but also excited to meet my baby.

New doctors, another ultrasound, and a new hospital. My new doctors agreed with me that my original due date was wrong and instead I was given a due date of December 21, 2016. This is almost 2 weeks further along than my previous doctors thought! They also decided that because my blood pressure went down and baby was doing great that I would just stay there to be monitored until it was time to have baby. That was good news. The bad news was that my tests came back for cholestasis and I did indeed have it. Another reason to monitor me and baby throughout each day.

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I had a team of liver specialists visit me daily. The goal was to keep baby in as long as possible until it became too hostile for baby. They informed me that because I had cholestasis there was a chance that my baby could be stillborn. I was heartbroken. Terrified. All my greatest fears. Stillborn. Every day I had multiple blood tests, and urine tests to check my bile acid levels (the liver does not function properly because of the cholestasis). Multiple medications (which increased a tri-fold in the time I was there) to keep my bile acids down and keep the baby in me as long as possible. My arms were bruised from so many needles. Non-stress tests every morning and before bed to make sure the baby was doing well. Non-stress tests if she doesn’t kick enough. During a non-stress test they strap on monitors to my belly that show if there are contractions and also record the baby’s heart rate. It tells us how much she’s moving. They have expectations for what a baby should be doing in utero. Too high of a heart rate, too low of a heart rate, or not enough movement (heart rate accelerations) and they may make the decision that the baby is too “stressed” and would preform an emergency C-section. Some non-stress tests would take a bit longer because the baby would be sleeping and I would have to drink some really ice cold water to get her to wake up. Mostly they were all good and reassuring. I wished that I could be strapped to the monitor the entire time, to ease my anxiety.

Despite it being a fairly quiet stay, and grateful that I was so far along, I couldn’t shake my fear. Every night I cried. I wanted my baby out now. I know inside is good but I didn’t want her to die in me. Every morning when my OB would visit me I’d hope that it would be induction day. My sister Nicole visited me every day and kept me sane. We watched Grey’s Anatomy and she brought me junk food. She is amazing.

November 23, 2016. My 27th birthday. Still in the hospital. I did get a pass to go out for supper with my family. It was exhausting. I bought some tiny newborn clothes for my little baby that I would be meeting soon. I felt so unprepared! I had nothing that would fit a 6 pound baby. I was expecting a 10 pounder (like my husband was). The next day before bed my nurse informed me that my acid levels were really high. I may get induced really soon! My doctor would decide in the morning. I was so excited (but also scared of what the high acid levels meant).

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November 25, 2016. Possibly induction day! I woke up feeling so positive. Usually my doctor visits at 9:00 am, after breakfast. I waited, and waited. Finally at noon another doctor visited me. I didn’t recognize her. She informed me that my doctor was sick but that I would be getting induced that day anyway. We just had to wait for some space to clear up. I was elated! I messaged my husband that it was almost baby time and to get to Edmonton after work. The doctor said induction can take days so I told him to finish his shift and to not rush.

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Right after finding out I was being induced I took a shower and took my last mirror bump selfie.

Finally at 5:00pm I was induced (using foley bulb and cervidil). My mom was with me. She brought me food and we waited. Still so excited. The nurses informed me (again) that it could be days, and it could take 36 hours for the cervidil to get me to start dilating and contractions started. Husband arrived. It got late and I tried to convince him to go sleep at the hotel. Nothing would be happening that night. He insisted on staying with me.

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November 26, 2016.

1:00 am. I woke up. I had a back ache. Annoying. I wanted to try get rest before my contractions started. Back ache kept coming (and going). I decided to go walk, maybe that would help. I noticed a rhythm to my back ache and started timing it. The nurse noticed me walking around and asked me what was wrong. I told her I had a back ache and that it kept coming every two minutes. She informed me that I very well might be contracting and they hooked me up to the machine and sure enough the contractions were lasting about 30 seconds every two minutes. 2:30 am, they checked and I was 3 cm dilated. The pain started to really be (what I thought was) painful. I cried. They gave me a little morphine and that took the edge off and I slept until the pain woke me up again at 5:00 am. I texted family member and gave them updates.

6:00 am I felt a huge POP. I knew my water broke, but there was no water. I sat up, called for my nurse. Shifted a bit, and then there was water flowing out. A LOT of water. How exciting! This show was finally moving! They checked me again and I was still only 3 cm. How disappointing. But still, water! I thought it would take days! Lucky my husband stayed with me.

This is when things really started to get painful. Right after my water broke the contractions were faster, lasting longer, and more painful. I moaned and groaned and cried through them. No more texting or looking at my phone. I asked for the epidural almost immediately. They moved me upstairs to wait for a delivery room.

7:30 am. The pain was unbelievable. Breathe. Where is my epidural? The anesthesiologist was in surgery so it would be awhile before he could get to me. They checked me and I was 5cm dilated.

8:00 am. I finally arrived in my delivery room. The pain is making me crazy. I shake the bed, I cry. I don’t want to be talked to or touched. Where is my epidural? I want relief. I screamed. I’m sure the entire floor could hear me. I was one of those ladies from the movies. My nurse informed me that it could take hours to get to 10 cm. I tried to mentally prepare myself for a marathon, but the pain was very overwhelming. All in my back. Wasn’t my uterus in the front? I kept thinking.

8:30am. 2 hours after my water broke they finally checked me again. 9 cm. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this supposed to take hours? The nurse then informed me it was too late for an epidural. My heart sunk. The pain was so unbearable. She gave me fentonyl to take the edge off. It helped a little, but made me feel so loopy.

9:00 am. Epidural man came! The relief was almost immediate. I could breathe. I could talk to my mom and husband without snapping at them.

10:00 am. I was 10 cm! But, the epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything and they wanted it to wear off a little so I could push.

10:53 am. Finally, time to start pushing. My nurse again informed me that it could be a few hours of pushing. Every contraction I had to attempt to push for 10 seconds, 3 times. My husband and mom were the counters. They didn’t count in sync. At the time it wasn’t very funny but looking back I can’t help but giggle. Pushing was exhausting in its own way. Branden would wipe my brow and leave a cool cloth on it (which would fall and cover my eyes while I pushed, again, not funny at the time, hilarious now). My sister arrived to help coach me to push. “I can see her head, Claudine! She has black hair,” Nicole told me excitedly. Doctors flooded in because she was almost here. NICU came in on standby because she was a 36 week premature baby.

11:23 am. With the loudest, most indignant cry – my daughter was born. NICU left immediately because her lungs were so strong. Her papa cut the cord and up she came to my chest. What a gift. Surreal.

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Alba Mae Bull weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19.5 inches long. Perfect. Healthy. She is mine and I am hers. I am a Mother.

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Alba is now 3 months old. I am so excited to share my experiences as a mother in my future posts. It’s wonderful, messy, terrifying, and the best role I’ve ever had.

 – claudine bull

Tgu dzipdzaba apels; Peel the apples

Farmers, fishermen, hunters. We all follow the weather. Closely.

This year on our farm, we had a bumper crop of apples. We are attributing it to the many affects of climate change. We had thought the drought through the summer might impact our harvest. But the warm weather and lack of rain swung us the other way. Sooooo many apples.

It was time to Tgu dzipdzaba apels – to peel the apples.

When we have things that have been imported into our territory, sometimes our word is similar to the language of the person who brought it – with a smalgyax flourish of course. In this instance “apples” become “apels”.

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We had started our season by taking our first harvest to a local apple press. They UV pasteurize it and we freeze it in cartons. This year, we took a truckload and we knew we were going to have twice as much yet to come. Truth be told. I still have a fridge dedicated to their storage and a freezer full of pressed juice.

We decided with this many apples we would need to press our own. Now apple pressing can be hard work with a traditional press. After some YouTube research by my father in law and a very nifty example of a home press made out of a washing machine, we decided we could fashion something of our own. Ours would be built from a new and dedicated motor originally designed as a garborator and a hydraulic home-made press.

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First step was to wash all the apples thoroughly and then remove blemishes and the cores. You don’t actually have to remove the cores. There is some school of thought that the seeds have a level of cyanide might pose a risk at a high enough quantity. I don’t think the commercial presses remove the seeds and it’s actually the same compound that gives almonds their lovely taste, such as found in almond extract. But better safe than sorry.

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We then guided them through the machine to crush them.

The pulp was then fed into our press, which is mostly a net, a bucket with holes, a press and patience.

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The results were DELICIOUS.
I cannot describe the serious taste extravaganza that you are seeing photographed here. If there was a word to describe a the taste, it would be fresh.

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It doesn’t look like it changes the world in a big way. But these apples have been tended by our family, now by three generations. They have been handpicked and pressed with our own hands. It’s food security, that tastes like home. It feels like it feeds your soul. It feels similar to when we put away fish, moose meat, medicines. We feel a part of the world around us in a way that is reciprocal and respectful.

So yes, it’s just apple juice. But it’s also time with our family, on our land, harvested and pressed by us together. It’s pretty much everything.

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 – Jessica Wood

We share the breath

Life and death have been on my mind a lot recently. This community has gone through too much heartache the past few months and to be honest, I have lost count of how many people have died here. I am not immune to this. I am constantly reminded of this shared sadness though social media, seeing people hugging and holding each other, or driving around the island and noticing that other drivers or pedestrians are not waving at me. Everyone’s spirits are low and it effects all of us in one way or another, especially when it’s the young people who are the ones passing into the spirit world.

What do I know about death? How can I understand this? The church taught me that if I behaved like a good little girl, when I die, I would go to heaven to be with the angels and hop around on the fluffy white clouds in my halo. My dad taught me about the stars and their connections with our ancestors when he took me on night drives to the outskirts of Saskatoon, where the lights of the city faded away. My kookum taught us ghost stories about relatives who had died, and how they had come back to visit her bedside. She would tell us to watch out for her when she died because she was going pay us a visit before going to heaven. We would all erupt into laughter; to be honest, I believed that she would pay me a visit just so she could tease me one last time. Whenever my cousins, sisters or I found dead animals or butterflies, we always had a funeral procession and buried them.  I’ve been told that the first funeral  I attended was of a family friend of my mother’s side of the family, but I remember very little from that day.

I am raising my children with a very different understanding of death than what I was taught. My boys are being taught other ways of knowing that don’t include halos and fluffy clouds. Since we’ve moved to Alert Bay, we speak about death quite often with our children. We have to. Either because someone close to us has lost someone, or a child that they know in school has lost a parent, or we have found another dead animal on the beach. This is for real.

My boys found a dead crow yesterday while out walking on the beach. My four year old tried to pick it up and bring it home to me. Instead, I went down with my camera and took some photos and video of the dead bird. I then started filming my surrounds the ocean, trees, a tree swing, tension of a rope holding on tight to the land and a fire.  I wanted to move away from the still image and work with moving images and decided to piece this brief moment in my life into a short video.

-Amanda Laliberte

the ocean gives and the ocean takes away

A couple of years ago I received an artist grant from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Initially I was going to do a documentary photo series on Indigenous women who have overcome trauma and abuse. I had to think some more about this series. About how I could show to others how strong, amazing and inspiring these women are. I had to avoid labelling these women as victims because that they are not. We are survivors. And trauma and abuse can come in many forms, so how was I going to photograph that?

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I decided not to do a documentary photo series because I didn’t want the images to feel like outsiders gazing into the private lives of these women. It wasn’t going to be something you’d see in a National Geographic magazine. There is enough voyeurism in the media, so I went with formal portraits, which I have to admit isn’t my strongest way to shoot. My photo classmates (such as Shawna McLeod) will remember me in not providing much direction nor guidance to the models provided for our practice. I was too quiet. Someone would tell me, you gotta tell them what to do! Ugh, the only people I am good at telling what to do is my husband, my boys and my younger sisters.

I learned that there are many similarities between formal portraiture and being a big sister.

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After many talks with friends and family, I decide to go in another direction with the images. I wanted to include a backdrop, a theme of sorts, that all these women share. Even though some are from the West Coast, most of us have moved away from where we are from. We have left the environment where we suffered our trauma and abuse, and have ended up on the west coast, within reach of the ocean. And so, we are all connected to these waters that heal. The tides are connected to the cycle of the moon and so are we. The ocean swells and alters the landscape and so do we. The ocean can have moments of stillness as do we. The ocean carries life and so do we. As they say in Alert Bay, the ocean gives and the ocean takes away.

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I started by photographing one of my mentors. She has a story to share but it wasn’t my place to share it, so I just did what I could do with my camera. I would photograph and then wait. We would cackle a bit. Then I would look at the light, her body, the ocean and continue shooting while reminding myself to give her guidance. I shot like this for most of the sessions. And in between each session I’d second guess myself and what I was doing. And wait. I do a lot of waiting and sitting on the images. I share with others my thoughts on the direction I want to take. And wait some more. I think and think and think and second guess myself again and almost give up. Pick myself back up and arrange another photo session. And just keep on shooting, talking, reading and thinking.

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Over the years I have had many conversation with these women, my friends, who have shared bits and pieces of their life stories with me. I am forever grateful for their willingness to be part of this series and their friendships. I have a feeling that this series will be an ongoing project. And I am very thankful to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council for supporting me and believing in me. As for the ocean, I will end with the following quote:

“Some people love the ocean. Some people fear it. I love it, hate it, fear it, respect it, resent it, cherish it, loathe it, and frequently curse it. It brings out the best in me and sometimes the worst.”

 Roz Savage

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-Amanda Laliberte

HOME

Takwakin (Autumn or Fall) is the time of year that my family and I usually make our annual visit to Saskatchewan. However, this year we decided to stay home on the coast. Taking my boys back to where I come from is always a time that I look forward to. I want them to see, smell and hear the sounds of the places that form my earliest memories. I want them to feel the warm sun on their faces as they gaze at the endless prairie sky. I want my boys to remember where their ancestors came from. To see the place of the stories of the rougarou and the Virgin Mary. I want my boys to play in the same leaf filled ditches that my sisters, cousins and I did. To smell the freshly cut wheat, barley and canola. To taste fresh lake fish caught by my grandfather. I want my boys to know those connections. I want us to feel those experiences in our bones, to remember the changes of the season.

For a long time I lived a life where I was torn between my home in Saskatchewan and my home on the coast. I struggled with how to teach our children about where our ancestors came from when we live so far away. Over the years we have even discussed the idea of moving closer to our ancestral territories. We exchange romantic ideas on learning Cree, harvesting from the land, getting a horse or two, maybe some chickens and driving off into the sunset. Then we would wake from that dream and look around at the life that we have built for ourselves on the west coast. We love it here and will probably never move back to Saskatchewan. And that is okay.

More than half of my life has been spent on the west coast. Where we live now on Cormorant Island, traditional territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw, is where my children call home. My youngest has no memory of living anywhere else. Community members have welcomed me, this lost halfbreed from Saskatchewan, and my family into their lives. We are forming friendships here that will last lifetimes. We laugh, we cry and we laugh again. Our stories weave together into a new narrative. It is this connection that makes me feel at home. All these years later, I have finally learned that home doesn’t need to be tied to a specific space and place. Home can change, like the seasons. So, I guess that I must not be lost anymore. I’ve always been home.

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The waters east of Alert Bay. (BC)

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The waters of Northern Saskatchewan. (SK)

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Alert Bay playground. (BC)

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My eldest son takes a break while we visit my cousin on his farm. (SK)

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My youngest looking at all the eulachon inside the smokehouse. (BC)

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My eldest walking into the barn as my grandfather walks out of the barn. (SK)

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My boys and their friends playing in our backyard. (BC)

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My son and his cousin playing around the same slough I played around with my cousins. (SK)

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Ziplock bag, eagle feather, tarp and a black bear. (BC)

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Truck, chairs, velvet paintings and a moose antler rack. (SK)

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The next generation getting to know each other. (BC)

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My father locking the gates after paying our respects to our ancestors at the Green Lake cemetery. (SK)

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Gukwdzi (Big House) in Alert Bay. (BC)

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Visiting Wanuskewin Heritage Park that sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River. (SK)

-Amanda Laliberte