Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Collective Joy

Thinking New Year. Thinking about how, when I'm doing something that I really love, I'm almost out of body, there's a feeling of transcendence. Yet that out of body thing seems to take me away, too, from the conscious reality of Life. Played piano for an hour yesterday while CJ napped and the other kids played road hockey. It took me far far away, into music's private space, feeling the meaning of the notes take character and shape, speaking emotion with my fingers on the keys. But then, I wasn't with my kids and that made me feel vaguely guilty. What does it mean, to be "with" people? That is something I'm struggling with as I try to live life as presently as possible--with presence, with gratitude. The paradox is that often when I'm most present within an activity, deeply focussed, I'm taken away from the everyday-ness, away from the chaos going on around me. Away from them.

We did something funny yesterday morning (pre-road-hockey). The kids were going wild with boredom and CJ was extremely fussy, so I popped him in the sling and paced the living-room while narrating our lives operatically. Everyone found this hugely entertaining ("Get off your sister!" sung in slightly out-of-range soprano with serious vibrato beats plain old "Get off your sister," any day). The best part was that they joined in. That's the kind of transcendence I crave--collective transcendence.

There was a program on collective joy, recently, on CBC Radio's Tapestry. It's a concept I'd never considered, but instantly understood--that amazing experience of feeling connected to and part of something larger than oneself. It's even more amazing when the experience is being collectively invented, when everyone is a participant. Think: sports. Think: camp. Think: orchestra, theatre, choir. (Think other things I haven't thought of or mentioned; and tell me about them, please!). Speaking of which, last night I watched the finale of a deeply moving documentary called "The Choir: Boys Don't Sing." It's a BBC production and may actually be a series, in which a young British choirmaster goes into hard-knock schools and starts a choral program. In this case, Gareth went to an all-boys school and in nine months built an amazing 150-voice choir that included a group of beat-boxers. To watch their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was truly to witness an experience of collective joy. Look up this series if you have even the slightest interest in choral music (and even if you think you don't).

On that note, I must continue preparing for our low-key New Year's celebration this evening. These are my New Year's hopes (forget resolutions): great creative energy, imaginative problem solving, vats of patience, presence, gratitude, calm, reflection, and bursts of collective joy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day

We ate, and we ate, and we ate.




For breakfast, sticky buns with pecans. Homemade. Oh, the butter.



For lunch ... well, there was no lunch. There was snacking on oranges from the stockings, chocolate from the stockings, candy from the stockings. What was Santa thinking?




And then, there was a late afternoon simple feast. One 19-pound turkey (from Nina's buying club) survived my first attempt at roasting turkey. Bread stuffing on the side. Wild rice and barley casserole with turnips and sweet potatoes. Organic greens with grated carrot, apples, sunflower seeds, and honey/balsamic dressing. Homemade pumpkin pie for dessert.


This was the most Christmassy-feeling Christmas in awhile, and the children and their excitement and participation were a huge part of that. Albus and Apple-Apple's sweet and thoughtful gifts. Waiting, then running downstairs yesterday morning together to see whether Christmas had come. Working on the 1,000 piece puzzle. Just holing up together with warmth and food while snow fell. Music. Piano playing and singing. Retelling the nativity story. Peaceful sleep. Sledding with friends on Christmas day. Jammies all day. Napping.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Christmas

First, there are a few photos from our first Christmas celebration on the parallel blog; link at right. Second, the photos fail to show all the illness that abounded amidst our crew, but do catch the overall happy and relaxed vibe. It was nice to be sick and have nothing else to do. No cooking. No laundry. No nothing. We checked into the hotel with the rest of the Cairns family and nobody seemed bothered by all the nothing we were doing, together.

Grandma Alice and I took the two older children to the National Ballet's Nutcracker at the new Opera House in Toronto. Amazing. I was moved to tears at one point by the sheer beauty and grace of the scene before us. All that intense work and effort and artistry to create something that can't be held in the hand, or consumed, or made into anything else. It made me feel that art really matters, that it feeds the spirit and the soul in ways that can't be explained. Afterwards, I asked Albus what he thought of the show, and he replied, dead serious, "I didn't really like the dancing." Well. That doesn't leave much left over at a ballet! But he liked the soldiers and fighting scenes (of course). Apple-Apple would comment of a particular costume or dancer during the performance, "She's soooo beautiful," and then tune out moments later. Lots of wriggling. We were in the cheap seats and it seemed an extra-excited wriggle might send one plunging miles downward to one's death. Apple-Apple assured me she'd land on the people directly below us instead.


Other highlights: CJ practicing standing all over the place. He's really found his core balance and wants to be upright and unsupported. No steps yet. Kevin and I taking a nap with CJ while the big kids hung out in Grandma Alice's room. Eating really really good food. Santa in the hotel lobby. Lunch with an old friend. The big kids reading chapter books, everywhere: at the restaurant, before bed, in the middle of the morning. Children running freely between our room and Grandma Alice's room. Watching the older children's independence bloom. Fireworks out our hotel window on the longest night of the year. Safe driving despite "Snowmaggedon." Family.

Kids' highlights: Albus: Present-opening. Reading. Apple-Apple: Yah! Reading. Fooey: Presents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To Dream Perchance of Sleep

There's something about lack of sleep that puts me in the blog-mood. My baby will not sleep at night, and apparently is also refusing to sleep during the day. He's in the sling right now, lazily chewing my hair and stuffing banana-scented fingers up my nose with a look of supreme exhaustion upon his gorgeous features, hanging on by the sheerest of threads to consciousness. Of course, if he does decide to fall asleep, I will have to wake him up anyway to get to Fooey's afternoon "recital" at her music class.

But it's my own sleep deprivation, not his, that makes me want to type. I'm too tired to analyze the whys and wherefores, though I'm sure something applies. I was up approximately once an hour last night with this child. He refuses to nurse during the day unless he's beyond starving and nothing like a banana is in sight, yet at night he seeks milky comfort to lull him back to dreamland ... last night I saw midnight, 2am, 4am, 5am, 6am; those were the ams I recall seeing, anyway. By 7am the whole house was up, woken by Apple-Apple's surprise nosebleed. Did I mention we also had a child, who shall remain nameless, pee on top of the toilet lid last night? That was my second unexpected opportunity of the evening to really clean the bathroom. The first followed a series of reckless baths. I'd no idea what had rolled under our tub since the last flood. Apple-Apple asked whether I'd found a dead mouse. Nope, just a giant fuzzy hairball.

You can thank me for that image later.

I've just laid CJ down, awake, protesting but weak. If he falls into sleep now, I'll be dragging him out of dreamland in, oh, twenty-seven minutes or so. I run on precision timing.

Was just packing the diaper bag for aforementioned outing, and discovered an old cloth diaper lingering, shall we say, in one of those handy stuff sacs. Maybe we'll go disposable just for this event. At the rate this day is going, I anticipate solids arriving somewhere mid-performance. And no, he's still awake. His howls just took on real drama. Twenty minutes till departure.

I'm going to go pick him up now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Photos

Okay, I've added some photos on another blog that is running parallel to this one. I'll pop the link in at the side. Explanation over there, and perhaps to follow here at some later date when I'm not so tired. I do hope to continue using photos to accent this blog, but this is going to have more words. More words, she says, and sighs deeply, and blinks, and wishes there was a little button one could push that would lift one directly to bed (and brush one's teeth, and put on one's pajamas on the way up).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trying to Add Pictures




Above. I was trying to capture the moment on Tuesday when Fooey was sick and CJ was wearing an old pink sweater that used to belong to Apple-Apple, and we were hanging on the couch. In anticipation of the flash, CJ kept blinking, and Fooey had a hard time taking her thumb out of her mouth.

I love photographs on other people's blogs. But other people are genuinely good photographers; I've got words and not much else for talents. Nevertheless. I'm all for experimenting, so here goes.

So last night, to celebrate the last swim lessons of the term (semi-successful results: one passed, one was magnanimous, and one was oblivious), we got take-out sushi and olive bread and cheese and salami from a new neighbourhood store, and we enjoyed a truly happy supper, relaxed, conversational, Friday-ish. Fooey insisted on having her picture taken, so we went around the table and got everyone. Satiated.




Peace, Joy, and Et Cetera

Christmas preparations ...

We promised to hang up some decorations today, so the kids got themselves up and dressed and started cleaning the house before we'd crawled out of bed this morning. There was a lot to clean. Too much. So they ran out of steam. But I loved that they tried and that it was of their own inspiration.

The house got cleaned. I was on an efficient adrenalin rush, and it happened.

We put up the tree. You plug it in and it spins and glows fibre-optically. We had it in the attic, and the kids longed to use it rather than cutting down a real tree. So it's kinda environmentally friendly, right? As long as we don't turn it on. Then they took turns decorating it. It's small and sits on a table, doesn't fit a lot of decorations. There was fighting. So each, in turn, got to take the ornaments off and put them on again. Apple-Apple and I went out to do some gifty shopping (almost done!!!), and we finally bought a creche scene complete with rustic stable at Ten Thousand Villages, and we found a colourful unbreakable wooden 18-piece scene. I've been meaning to add this to our pretty minimal Christmas box. And how lovely that the kids can play with the scene and retell the story. Except they spent about 15 minutes screaming at each other over it as soon as Apple-Apple and I got home ... SIGH. When I tried to initiate a conversation about the meaning of Christmas ("What is Christmas about ...? Don't worry there's not a wrong answer ..."), Apple-Apple remembered Jesus's birthday (my little Sunday School darling!), and Albus piped up with "Getting gifts." "What's the opposite of that," I asked, transparently leading the conversation, and he said, with a little sigh, "Giving gifts," and then brightened up as he cleverly thought of another option, "Not getting gifts is the real opposite!" Okay, yah, you're right, kiddo, but ... Thus ended the chat, though I did get in a bit about sharing and kindness and peace and joy before Apple-Apple started shrieking again about how unfair Life is, et cetera.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Babies, Real and Pretend

Why is it so satisfying, when feeding a baby, to scrape the extra stuff off his chin with a spoon? This morning I said to Kevin, who was spooning the mash into him: "You could feed him another meal with what's on his chin." People who are not parents might be grossed out by this thought, however.

You know your housekeeping standards have really fallen when (this could be one in an ongoing series): Your baby has taken to snacking off the kitchen floor.

Read a story in the Globe today about a Fisher-Price talking baby doll that apparently says: "Islam is the light." Wouldn't you know, we have this very doll, given to Fooey for her third birthday by her auntie Fi. So, naturally, I turned it on (it's usually off; it has the unnerving habit, when on, to randomly and mechanically wriggle about like an actual cooing, fussing, gurgling baby, of which we are already in possession). And lo and behold, one of the random babbles does sound eerily like "Islam is the light." Unless it actually sounds like "God is the light." Or even "Please turn on/off the light." Apparently there is an outcry (from whom?) to recall these dolls lest they subliminally convert the innocent. From my unscientific exploration of the subject, I'm not sure to what one might fear conversion. If the doll could subliminally get my kids to turn out their lights at night, I'd keep the button "on."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Reverie

So Stephane Dion is on his way out. A CBC commentator had a great line about his political career. She said that cats have nine lives, but Dion seems to have nine deaths--political deaths. I'd heard his address to the nation via radio, and it sounded a bit stumbling, but okay; only seeing a clip the next day on the television did I realize how truly awful it was. Poor man. What an ignominious image to have define your political career: his face was out of focus. It was like he'd already been condemned to political purgatory, ghost-like, blurry, trying desperately to communicate his good message. 

I feel a bit that way myself. Not the good message part; the out of focus part. Exhaustion's blur. There are entire days when I feel too interior, like I need to be shaken, woken from this dream. But, then, it's a pretty sweet dream. Yesterday's reveries: Rolling out cookie dough, flour-covered children, Fooey piling pink icing on top of a tree-shaped cookie, slowly devouring it, licking icing off the counter; snow falling, fat flakes; pushing the stroller through uncharted sidewalk snow; pretzels in the church basement; Kevin home by naptime; rolling out stretchy pizza dough; utter chaos just before supper's served, hungry children weeping, fighting, and pretending to explode various inanimate objects; Fooey eating two bananas instead of pizza; washing dishes in hot water; nursing a baby to sleep in front of the television; So You Think You Can Dance, Canada; tea with honey. If I weren't writing this down right away, the whole of yesterday would disappear utterly. That's the blurry bit. That's the part I can't reconcile myself to. How fast it's passing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lost in a Blizzard

Want to capture this moment, right now. Snow falling. We are just home from the library where CJ climbed, crawled, and ripped books off shelves, and the children played on the computers, then got to check out books on their very own library cards--the first I've let them do that, not wanting to have extra books and cards to potentially lose; but hey, let's live recklessly. The kids were beyond thrilled. Walking home, we pretended we were lost in a blizzard in the arctic. Cars were packs of wild wolves. Streets were ice-rivers. Buildings were icebergs. And our house was debatable ... was it a tent? An igloo? A house we could buy made of stones? Or one for travelling strangers to shelter in on their way through? In any case, we moved in.

CJ had fallen asleep in the stroller and transferred to his crib despite the shrieks of delight over, "Look, Mama, these strange switches turn on lights!!" Then children sat quietly reading library books and doing mazes together. Peaceful. It's already starting to fall apart, slightly. They have now moved to the counter and are eating a few snacktime cookies. Albus is about to head out on his second sleepover, ever. I will be putting the others to bed alone tonight, as Kevin is teaching this weekend--both days. That's okay. I wasn't exactly looking forward to a weekend alone, but in all honesty, I wasn't dreading it either. I appreciate having a good excuse not the spend the weekend cooking, baking, cleaning, and doing laundry and other necessaries. Those necessaries will have to wait. Instead, the kids and I get to do projects together, or go on our adventures together.

Shoot, and now it's totally fallen apart.

Hey, I'm back. As usual, everything happened all at once--children started fighting (over nothing particular as far as I could determine; maybe the sugar made them do it); Albus's friend arrived to pick him up; CJ started fussing in the monitor. And now all is quiet again. Albus has departed (big boy! but I miss him). The girls are reading together on the couch. CJ stopped fussing and seems to have gone back to sleep. Phew.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Yelling at the Radio

Trying to write this afternoon. Not getting much accomplished. Can't blame Stephen Harper for everything, can I?? I'm so thoroughly caught up in today's news that instead of polishing metaphors in this story, I'm composing letters to members of parliament. This morning, Stephen Harper visited the Governor-General and asked for and received a prorogue, which means the operations of the House of Parliament are suspended for seven or eight weeks, at which point, the Conservatives will likely have to face a vote of confidence on the budget they say they'll introduce at that time. In the meantime, they're planning a full-on, well-financed publicity campaign, and lots of polling. (Haven't heard a peep in that plan about reconciling with the opposition). Apparently, that's how you get the pulse of the people: you poll them. Guess what--I've never once been polled; but I do vote. That's how you actually go to the people. You hold an election.

Nobody wants one. 

Brrr. It's cold out there today, bits of snow falling, icy sidewalks, dim skies. CJ screamed all the way to school in the stroller. He plays strange, now, with adults who are not related to him. The pout and hesitation, the crumpled face and widened eyes, the whimper, the yowl and crocodile tears flowing picturesquely down his cheeks. As soon as he's back in my arms again, he ceases crying, then quickly turns to check on that Other Person, to see whether they're still there. Yup. Then back to Mommy, burying his head in my shoulder. Then checking again. He's a tightly wound little fellow, all kicking legs and flinging limbs and excited energy. He's going to need a lot of outdoor time as he grows. Sports. I love how he's drawn to children about Fooey's size. He approaches them quite differently than he does strange adults. I think it speaks well of his relationship with his big siblings. Fooey sang to him the whole way to school, to try to calm him down; and sometimes it seemed to be working. She loves to make up topical songs.

Maybe she can make up one for me with the word "prorogue" in it. A verse with, "Calm down, Mommy, and stop yelling at the radio," would hit the spot too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cooperation Over Conflict

Well, not much has changed. Parliamentary crisis, I mean. Just waiting. Stephen Harper was on TV tonight addressing the nation and sounding not one teeny tiny bit willing to change his tone to conciliation. He probably thinks he IS being conciliatory, for heaven's sake. Stephane Dion had his usual trouble with English, but I still like this guy. Cooperation over conflict. Listen, if someone's willing to try that mode of operation, let's go with that.

At our house, we like to strive for cooperation over conflict. I get that it's hard. I get that sometimes even three-year-olds cannot bring themselves to say those really powerful words: "I'm sorry." I get that sometimes six-year-olds are "just so mad, I couldn't help myself, Mommy!" I get that sometimes seven-year-olds "don't know why" they did what they did. I get that these emotions belong to all of us, even as we grow older and attempt to grow wiser. Sometimes sorry really sticks in my throat, too. But you'll never even inch toward cooperation if you can't take responsibility for at least part of the trouble you find yourself in. That's been my mantra around the house these past two days: yes, I get that you're upset with (fill in the blank) because it's not fair ... but let's think a little harder here. (I am now thinking of a specific incident, walking to school, and having to share the sidewalk with a lot more snow, and therefore the kids plus stroller plus me are getting squeezed; Apple-Apple was infuriated because things had changed and she didn't like it). Let's find a plan that will work for everyone. It won't be perfect. You might not get to do everything you want. But you have the power to make changes, even small ones, to better your lot. And hitting doesn't count as power.

Babe's awake. I'm outta here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Prorogue, and Other Words You Didn't Think You'd Need to Know

Calm morning with Fooey and her playdate actually playing together, while CJ napped long and hard (he woke at 6am crying, perhaps from a nightmare, and couldn't settle after that). I cooked a tomato sauce for supper and shopped online. I keep meaning to blog about our attempts to continue to source local food without the help of our summer CSA box, and Nina's buying club, but truthfully, I haven't been able to find satisfactory replacement. It feels very cobbled-together. As mentioned before, I often order groceries online for delivery (for a modest fee), but the supplier isn't particularly locally-oriented. The main pull of that service is the delivery of bulk items not easily hauled home in the stroller, not to mention the convenience. It's a huge time-saver. Aside from that, we've been using the Saturday Kitchener market as a local-food source; but when Kevin's working on the weekend that's not feasible (no, I'm not heroic enough to take the bus with four children to the market in order to haul home fresh meat, carrots, eggs, and cheese!!!). I also frequent our local organic store, Eating Well, in uptown Waterloo; but they don't always carry local foods either. The big grocery store within walking distance has improved recently, often labelling local produce as such. There should be a variety of local vegetables still available despite the cold weather ... hot house tomatoes and cucumbers; those tough greens; carrots, potatoes, beets, turnips, cabbages, winter squashes, onions, leeks (??), help me out here, I know there are more. Parsnips, sweet potatoes.

Cold cellar update: The onions we so carefully stored this summer did not all survive ... we lost a few to rot. I think the basement is too warm for their liking (they aren't in the cold cellar because they aren't supposed to be stored with potatoes, which we have in abundance--those are doing fine). We also have a whack of garlic stored in there, and a giant pumpkin that needs dealing with.

But, really, what's on my mind tonight is this parliamentary crisis. I actually started to feel anxious about it tonight. I fear Stephen Harper's ruthlessly divisive nature, and worry he will say and do anything to stay in power, even if it means inflaming incendiary tensions between fellow citizens--gee, not "even if"; I think for him that's a means to an end. Right now, he's painting a whole bunch of people (the majority of voters who voted) as commies and separatists, and claiming a coalition government would be illegal. It's not. It's not necessarily a great idea, but that doesn't make it illegal. It's hard to imagine this unlikely coalition coming together without being goaded into action by Harper's tragic personal flaw, which is his utter lack of grace. He couldn't quite believe the election hadn't handed him a majority. And he behaved as if it had. Instead of seeking common ground between parties and creating stability (in everyone's best interest, including his own), he kicked a little sand.

I thought I'd be all for this coalition; but I'm not, exactly (not exactly against it, either; horribly waffling). I think they'll have a tough time getting along with each other, which will make it hard to create and sell coherent policy, and that could really turn citizens against the left. It would require us all to be quick studies in how coalition governments work (likely messier than what we'd become accustomed to with that string of majorities), and I'm guessing Canadians won't have the patience for that, what with this full-blown "Global Economic Crisis." (Is anyone else really really sick of that phrase?).

My best-case scenario would be that this stagnation jumpstarts the move toward proper proportional representation--genuine electoral reform. And that Stephen Harper steps aside as leader, say, tomorrow, and the Conservatives present us with someone who is conciliatory, gracious, and eager to work with opposition parties. If the infuriated, abusive, downright frothing at the mouth Conservative MPs I've been hearing on the radio are representative, that's a fantastically tall order. (Jim Baird??? James Moore?? Even Tony Clement sounded like he might blow a gasket). I hear Jim Prentice is the best they've got.

The coalition has gotten along in theory and in practice so far; but let's be brutally honest, the divisions are plenty, the Liberals are in the midst of a leadership race; it would be crazy hard to pull off long-term. If Harper doesn't personally step aside, they're the best chance we've got for stability, and they should have the chance, but ... Yah. I'm a little anxious. We'll see what happens tomorrow. It seems to be changing by the minute.

The good news is that the American ambassador to Canada (Wilkins) doesn't even plan to brief his president (W.) on these goings-on; so it's small potatoes in a world of crisis.