Monday, June 29, 2009

A Good Book

I mentioned this book in my last post; and finished it yesterday in what amounts, in my current life, to a marathon of uninterrupted reading, which in my pre-kids life would have added up to a walk across the parking lot. I used to read non-stop, everything and anything, and devoured multiple books each week; and will again when interruptions slow and cease. This is just a sweet taste of times to come. And what a book. The kids had listened to half a chapter on Saturday, and were bounding around impatiently as I ate up the last few pages, so I summed up the ending and then read them the final paragraph. Apple-Apple had tears in her eyes, as did I, though I hesitate to give anything away by summarizing what you might want to go and experience for yourself. Those final few sentences are so full of longing and loss, of the grief of separation, and tell of the ways we work so hard to keep ourselves sane and normal, our interior and exterior "housekeeping," the order we invent communally and individually to protect ourselves from the wild uncontrollable arbitrary and mysterious forces that surround us, that will ultimately claim us, too.

The best part, for me, was talking with the children afterwards about these two sisters, who lived two such different lives, one transient and lost to the "ordinary" world, the other cleaving to it. Which sister would you rather be? I asked them, and Apple-Apple and Albus knew immediately they'd rather live the life of the ordinary sister, who likely grew to marry and have children and a house. But then Apple-Apple pushed her thinking further. She observed that if she were reading a book about someone, she'd rather it be about someone like the sister whose life was sadder and unusual. In essence, she understood the nature of fiction-writing/reading: that we end up writing/reading lives we wouldn't want to live, in order to illuminate the lives we do.

Can I give you the final sentence? I don't know whether it will have as much meaning out of context, but it's so beautiful, it called out (to me) to be experienced again and again: "No one watching this woman smear her initials in the steam on her water glass with her first finger, or slip cellophane packets of oyster crackers into her handbag for the sea gulls, could know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me and Silvie." The power is in that final rhythmic chant-like repetition of phrases that in denying, finally, uphold. And always.

I am now left with that empty, lost feeling after finishing a truly extraordinary book. Hard to know where to go next. But it's redeemed the novel for me, as a form to seek out and enjoy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Day Among Days

Too too late, but feel like recording a few of today's really lovely moments. I was home alone with the kids, which is an odd way to spend a Saturday, and the day proceeded like all the days of this summer holiday will, if I'm a blessed and fortunate woman.

The backyard was where we spent all morning. Hammocks. I brought out a mid-morning snack of lemonade and popcorn, ran inside for something else, and when I came back out again, CJ had climbed himself into one of the lawn chairs with his sippy cup. At one point, three of the kids loaded themselves into the wagon and Apple-Apple pulled them around to their "house" (where I was the grandma, Fooey informed me). After lunch, CJ went down for his nap and I introduced the concept of The Siesta (they weren't keen unless it involved "screen time," a term I don't recall ever using myself). Thanks for the siesta idea, Janis; this is going into my summer routine. I dozed and the kids played games, not of the video variety ("you're the meanest mommy ever"): Bananagrams, Jr. Boggle, Rush Hour, Snakes and Ladders. Siesta hour ended with a book on the couch (a grownup book with no pictures); the sight of Mama prone and absorbed filled everyone with resentment, so on impulse I began reading it out to them. I'm reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is brilliant, dreamy, dense, complex, elliptical, with occasional terse dialogue, ie. not what one would imagine holding a child's interest ... but it did. All three gathered around in almost absolute silence to hear these quite astonishing words read aloud. The book was even better consumed in this way (though I don't plan to torment Kevin by practicing this regularly before bedtime).

Quickly, before CJ woke, we made pizza dough, though I wasn't as patient as I should have been with Fooey's interminable stirring. I know other parents are better at this; I could be better, should be better. Lordy. I just wanted the darn dough stirred. Apple-Apple kneaded. She's got a career as a baker (a baker, farmer, teacher, mother, dancer, writer, artist, I believe the current plan is). Beautiful dough, like silk. We left it to rise and headed out to the little park where we actually lay in the grass for awhile and made pictures out of clouds. Every cloud was a pirate device or weapon in Albus's eyes. I will not let this trouble me. Nor was I troubled by the body part jokes that wended their way throughout our day. SIGH. When do these topics stop being so Highlarious? What was that? Never?? Darn, 'cause I seem to have outgrown them.

After supper, CJ discovered his own ears. He loves other people's facial features and is thrilled to have them pointed out on himself, but this is the first he understood that he has two ears. Two of them! He pulled the tops out and perpendicular to his head, and with a huge grin of pure delighted discovery he ran through the obstacle course that is our living-room floor, ears in hands, to show his Daddy, home from work.

A brilliant moment in a solid, good day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hopscotch Cookie-Baking

Baked these cookies with Fooey on one of the hottest afternoons so far this summer. Because they're made with peanut butter, I've been waiting till school's out to try the recipe (what's the point of whipping up a huge batch of non-lunch-box-friendly treats?). Due to the weird and wonderful hotscotch world of Facebook, I acquired this recipe via my Facebook friend, Laura, who is actually the childhood friend of my real-life friend and neighbour, Nina; Laura got the recipe from Nina's mom, Bonnie, and dug out the recipe and posted it on her Facebook account; I'd asked Nina for the recipe several years ago after eating them at a birthday party, but neither of us followed through. So I was pretty excited to discover Bonnie's recipe within my grasp. Laura's recipe noted Nina's substitutions, but came without any directions, which I've added. Bonnie doubles it. Here's the recipe:

Bonnie's cookies

1 cup lard (or butter; or peanut butter), creamed with 1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar (Bonnie uses 2 cups). Add in 2 eggs beaten with 1 teaspoon vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Combine with wet ingredients. Then using your very strongest arm, add in 3 cups of oats, and 1 cup of smarties or other bright coloured round candy, or chocolate chips. I ended up kneading the oats and smarties into the stiff batter. Place by tablespoons onto tray. Bake at 375 for ... well, here is where the controversy sets in. 8 minutes if you want them gooey and soft, like Bonnie makes them (remove from the oven before they look remotely baked). I baked them 10 minutes and they were much harder, but transportable, and still soft on the inside. But not like Bonnie's, I was informed by Nina, who tested them in our backyard yesterday.

Enjoy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Because There Just Aren't Enough Messy-Baby-Face Photos in Blogland

One strawberry: that's all it took to cover our lad from head to toe. I like how Kevin's hand is the only element in this composition that is actually in focus: the calm, still element. Yesterday was our first CSA pickup (Community Shared Agriculture; our fourth year participating), and CJ chose the box (er, the one with the strawberry already half-eaten), and then he proceeded to decorate himself with said strawberry all the way home. Is it possible to have too much local food? We'll explore that question in-depth this summer with a series of practicums. Right now, I'd say it might just be possible to have too much local lettuce, though now that it's all washed and de-slugged and spun and tucked into bags in the fridge it looks quite appetizing.
Tonight's supper plot: DIY taco salad (ie. unmixed for those whose individual foods Must Never Touch; not to mention to accomodate our variety of intense food preferences and abhorrences. Tomatoes! Gak!).
Right now, I'm sitting here obsessively checking the weather radar, trying to determine, with my imaginary PhD in forecasting, which part of this massive summer storm is going to hit us, and when, and whether or not it will arrive with the promised golf-ball-sized hail (please, no!). I was so looking forward to picking the big kids up from their Last Day of School, strolling as always; but have Kevin on alert (he's got the vehicle today). If I press the panic button, he will meet them in my stead. I'm still hopeful despite rumble, rumble, eerie black sky.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Easy Freezie

Recipe for a happy after-school transition: pour any flavour of juice into molded plastic and freeze; meanwhile, raise the temperature outside and throw in plenty of sun with judicious sprinklings of shade; collapse on porch or yard or sidewalk with magical ingredient in hand; dig for ants, read a magazine, lounge, wander, bliss out. This too can be yours, if for ever so fleetingly (how long does it take a popsicle to melt?).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Good Old Crumbs

To summarize our weekend: rain, putter, party, mojito, party, mojito, party, slumber, wake, drive, bridal shower, munch, drive, coffee coffee coffee! mud! laundry! piles!
Yesterday evening, Kevin and I engaged in how-much-tidying-can-you-squeeze-into-fifteen-minutes-honey? And managed to dislodge a few crumbs, if not the bulk of the disorder accrued over days upon days of general household living. A place for everything and everything in its place: fundamentally, I've got that down. In practice, however, I am accomodating more and more the notion that layers, spills and dirty dishes add character.
In stroller news: friends have gifted us a replacement, and I've stopped creeping ebay and kijiji in a vain effort to find our old one. I want such losses to make me better; or at the very least not to make me bitter. Bitterness is such a self-disfiguring emotion. Life is loaded with hardships to overcome, and this weighs very lightly on such scales. So, better not bitter, better not bitter, better not bitter. Onward.
Supper plot: green pasta (arugula, sunflower seeds, olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil ground together into a pesto-ish paste over whole wheat pasta; add-your-own parmesan), and a side dish of tofu stir-fried with green garlic and asparagus and tamari sauce. To be continued ...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eat, Cry, Try

Fooey and I, lying side by side in a play tent in our living-room, talking (subjects: camping trips we've taken, going to the beach, marshmallows on graham crackers, etc.). "Do you know what we're doing, Mommy? We're having a chat!" The wonder and pleasure in her voice.
Does that plate at the top of the page make you hungry? Bacon, fried potatoes, open-faced egg sandwich on local greens, local tomato (must be hothouse). That entire meal is made from ingredients sourced at Nina's buying club. Local, local, local, and good. I am using her club as my grocery store, though since we still like to eat apples and bananas and drink coffee, we have to visit the actual grocery store (or our neighbourhood health food store, Eating Well) for odds and ends. Buying club was last night and my fridge is stuffed.
If you have Simply in Season (cookbook), I highly recommend its spring quiche trio recipe. We made one with a crumb crust and one with a grated potato crust (pictured above); both very very good indeed, and filled with what seemed very little but became plenty: we filled the potato crust with uncooked chopped green onions and grated garlic cheese, and the crumb crust with leftover hamburger and sliced apples (don't tell the kids; the apples were scavenged from their lunch boxes). Over top of each was poured three beaten eggs and one cup of milk. It was supposed to be evaporated milk, but we used regular. And, yes, the "we" is deliberate: these were made by group effort. It was that brutal witching hour after school, and CJ was short on his nap, everyone exhausted from too many late nights in a row (we're heading toward the longest day of the year), the noise a pure cacophony of misery (here's what it sounded like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi6ksjFSg-k) ... yet food needed to be prepared. Why can't I be like Soule Mama? I asked myself somewhat despairingly. There must be some way to involve these kids.
So I did. Albus cut the butter into the flour for the crumb crust and stuck it into the pie plate, and Fooey whisked the egg/milk mixture. CJ was not going to be cheered under any circumstance, however, though he stood in his high chair at the counter and with irritation and occasional screaming (whoo, this boy can scream) he pawed at and rejected the edibles I kept tossing at him. What he wanted was his Mama, and his favourite spot on the couch. Soule Mama, how do you do it? I would file this experience under Mixed Success ... the older children were pleased to help, their moods greatly improved; but their participation only reminded the babe that he wasn't being treated with equal respect. He thinks he's their size, of course.
Yesterday, after buying club, he attempted to follow Apple-Apple's lead at the little park. She easily steps off the play structure onto a ladder about a foot away; he was sure his legs were just as long. They weren't. He would have walked confidently into thin air had I not been right behind him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moving On

I'm figuring out that the stroller isn't coming home, won't miraculously turn up on our porch one of these mornings; and we're thinking about how to replace it. But I'm amazed how many vivid memories are linked to that stroller. Before moving on completely, here a few ...

We bought it deep in wintertime when Apple-Apple was an infant; and almost immediately questioned the purchase. The stroller wasn't designed for infants, and Chariot hadn't yet invented its "infant sling" attachment; Apple-Apple screamed and Albus tried to climb out as I plunged through snowbanks on our first walk around the block. So it spent winter buried under a plastic tarp behind our house in Guelph and I used a heavy Graco double-stroller instead; I used to drive to the mall and wander around, feed them french fries at the food court, just to get out of the house. That June we moved to Waterloo; even after Apple-Apple was big enough to sit up, I rarely used the Chariot. The side-by-side seating of a two toddlers resulted in ... violence. Albus was a biter, and Apple-Apple fought back.

One of the first times I hooked that stroller to my bicycle, Kevin was far away, travelling for work (as he was required to do regularly, during our early years as parents), and I set out alone after supper, hoping to pass the time and get some exercise and entertain my two little ones ... who were jolly right up until they weren't. I turned around on the trail, the stroller crowded with howling babies. We were about two kilometres from home and there were no easy solutions. So I carried the littlest, who'd been bitten and didn't want to be carried, whilst pulling bicycle and howling two-year-old-in-stroller combination All The Way Home. It was summer, hot, and felt epic in terms of sheer physical and emotional will. If that doesn't teach you forbearance, nothing will. Didn't use the stroller again till the following spring, when Albus was nearly three. This was when life got easier, and the two children did not require utter and constant vigilance. The stroller really came into its own, became a huge part of our daily lives and journies.

When I was just a few weeks pregnant with Fooey, just before Christmas, we set out for the library in the midst of a blizzard. Why? No longer remember, but suspect I enjoy setting such challenges for myself; and this one turned out to be greater than anticipated. Heaving, pushing, sweating, tossing the stroller over giant snow banks, snow falling thickly, cars getting stuck in the middle of the road. It truly seemed we might never arrive, yet there was no way we could turn back, my two little ones safely tucked inside with the cover down. The warmth of that library, when we stumbled into it, at last. But we thrived on such adventures. Often, we'd make them up for ourselves: Arctic explorers crossing frozen seas, on the look-out for polar bears; or desert explorers; or pioneers crossing mountainous terrain. The ordinary was made extraordinary.

That spring I was big and pregnant with Fooey, Apple-Apple was two and Albus was almost-four, and I transported them everywhere in the bike stroller, peddling my impressive bulk around the city till about a month before giving birth, when I could no longer reach the handlebars. Albus started school in the fall, and from that moment onward we gave the stroller a twice-daily workout, in fair weather and foul, with baby in sling. Kids grew. The stroller's front wheel could be used to nudge a tricycle forward, or a bike with training wheels. With the two older ones on their own bicycles, the stroller could be pulled behind loaded with a picnic lunch and swim clothes. Last summer I added a top-rack for carrying extras, and ran after the older ones, baby CJ in a borrowed infant sling attachment, big sister Fooey lovingly beside him. I'd been anticipating new bicycling adventures this summer, with CJ now old enough to be pulled behind my bicycle.

And we'll still get to do that; just not in our well-worn, much-loved, raggedy old Chariot. Life goes on. Maybe this is a lesson in material attachment. Whatever. I've got the memories.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Laundry Line Dilemma; Little Swimmers

It's a beautiful sunny day in a week that calls for rain, so naturally I'm throwing the clothes onto the line, when I turn around and say ... hmmm, that looks kinda counter-productive. Today's construction innovation involves great plumes of black smoke wafting from the half-filled pit.

On another subject altogether, last night Mama treated the kids to delectable and questionable and surprisingly expensive ice-cream sandwiches to celebrate the end of this session of swim lessons; everyone passed, hurrah. The sandwiches sent the older children into some kind of fugue state of angelic behaviour, while having the opposite effect on Captain CJ, who literally lost his mind. I love the frantic treat-stuffing look in his eyes, below.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ugh.

It's my constant companion when out and about. It's been in our lives since Apple-Apple was an infant; that's longer than we've had our car or our house. I fill it with children, school bags, groceries, library books, cookie crumbs. It goes uphill and down, through rain and snow and sun, and requires nothing more than a jolly stride to operate. Someone took it off of our front porch in broad daylight this evening. It feels like someone's stolen a part of our family's history. That sounds silly ... but those were our fresh cookie crumbs someone walked off with, and they won't mean a thing to whoever's taken it and is hawking it online right about now.
Thanks to our friends for their instant offers of stroller loans, especially to one who walked over a stroller less than an hour after we discovered ours was missing. I'm getting a little teary right now.

The Upside to Construction

Weekends the noise stops, and the digging, and the beep-beep-beeping, and the dust settles, and all is quiet at our little corner of urbanity. Time to hang the clothes on the line. Time to get out the wheeled devices. Time to fly.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Buying Club

Friday is now buying club day. I found myself looking forward to it like it was a holiday. This afternoon a group of moms teamed up in the nearby little park, to watch each other's children and take turns "shopping." Apple-Apple got to work at the treat table, but the other children stayed at the park and played. I've yet to get a really good photo from the club itself, or the loaded stroller. Maybe next time. This is an amazing weekly experience. We're about to tuck into nitrate-free local hot dogs, a glorious-looking salad, and more steamed asparagus.

Streetscape

Imagine, if you will, trying to keep your little fellow in the house with THIS going on mere feet away. Imagine the noise this machine is creating. Imagine beep-beep-beep starting at six in the morning, continuing till after supper. Imagine an aboveground sewer pipe blocking your driveway. Imagine summer, windows open, heat. Imagine having to shout at your children not because you're in a bad mood, and not occasionally, but because otherwise THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO HEAR YOU. Imagine yourself saying to your husband, "Uh, how soon can I lose my patience with this situation?" "Better not. Not yet."
Deep breathing, deep breathing, cough, cough, cough.

Climb. Stand. Eat.

Why eat off your tray while sitting in your high chair when you can eat off your tray while standing on the arm of your high chair? You'll scream your lungs out if someone tells you not to, too.
It's funny, but almost as soon as I entertained the notion of babysitting this coming year, the opportunity evaporated; and I don't think I'll seek out others. If it happens, it happens, and it feels like perhaps life is pointing elsewhere instead. Really, I operate within this ephemeral combinaton of action and acceptance. Chasing the most vital dreams, opening myself to the unexpected, trying to embrace where I'm actually at. Can I confess that it feels harder, now, to be mothering an adventurous 14-month-old, than it felt when Albus and Apple-Apple were similarly aged, and I was still in my twenties? I gave myself over to that role wholly; but am experiencing more ambivalence now, itching to re-emerge into my own individual self; but don't want to cheat this sweet young man of whatever intensity of mothering he needs.
Interesting times.
The laundry calls. As do the "little kids."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Playing School v. Real School



Yesterday was so peaceful. We played school.
Today, I was up early anticipating some time alone to blog and email friends and prepare for a writing day; sort of forgot about the two cakes waiting on the counter to be decorated for real school's cake decorating contest. It was bottom of the barrel around here ... what could be scavanged from cupboards to decorate cakes, not to mention the cakes themselves were so moist only I could frost without eviscerating them in the process. It took me eleven minutes to smear white frosting on one round cake. "These cakes could win the 'most pitiful' competition." The kids riffed on that theme for awhile, but bless them, they weren't in the least discouraged. Apple-Apple took her time and planned carefully, "Autumn tree with roots," and Albus chucked things on randomly and then declared that it was a composting cake. (Both went with the "eco" theme.)
I should post photos, but honestly ... pitiful. We had five minutes left over in which to eat breakfast, dress, and run to the walking school bus. Poor Kevin was tasked with driving the cakes to school (yes--cakes, not children, how's that for eco madness).
Now I'm upstairs for writing day. Feeling resistant because this last story isn't yielding easily. I'm digging through the cupboards dragging odds and sods off the shelves and tossing the mess onto the blank; a composting story, I suspect, rather than "autumn tree with roots."

Monday, June 8, 2009

She Went Away

To summarize: eat, talk, listen, read, laugh, drink, sleep, stroll, repeat (with cheese) (without interruption) (at leisure).

Link

For those interested in knowing more about Nina's buying club, click here to read a recent article in the local newspaper. 
More later about this mama's weekend away with girlfriends, and how the family survived. Writing morning, and I'm working on One Last Story for this book (nope. the manuscript wasn't quite done).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Commit

First, news. The New Quarterly will be publishing not one but THREE new stories from this (nearly) completed collection in their upcoming fall issue. I will notify you and harass you at that time to go forth and purchase said truly lovely literary magazine. And because you are patiently accompanying me on the writing journey, here follow a few encouraging words from the editor on these stories: "I've read all three stories now and am excited about them, about these characters which have both complexity and mystery, and about what you are doing with the narrative structure and the language ... to get at the complexity of human relationships and feelings which are seldom simple and straight-forward but more often ambivalent and contradictory. You put it so well yourself in one of the stories: She wants every moment to yield to possibility. She wants every moment to remain in motion, to admit that it is many things, all at once."
It is lovely news indeed, both to be anticipating publication, and to hear from an editor that she is reading these stories as I have written and intended them.

Second, I feel myself coming around toward a decision (how's that for muddling) about this coming year (by which I mean this coming school year, since that's when the new year really starts for those of us who are parents). I am seriously entertaining the idea of babysitting another child, close in age to CJ, two days a week. That would mean I wouldn't be doula'ing, which has given me pause; but this most recent doula experience (which I didn't blog about) really clarified the difficulties of committing to that work at this time in my life ... and more importantly at this time in my children's lives. Look at that kid up there. He's 14 months, active, energetic, busy, animated, bursting with New, open like a sponge to learning, and I have the opportunity to stay home and share this time with him. As I'm envisioning it right now, I will commit to two full days at home, very child-focussed; and at least one full day of writing; and one more day when I'll exchange childcare with a friend. That will leave one day free and unscheduled. I also plan to take one night class this fall toward the eventual re-education plan.

Life will be easier and I'll feel less muddled, less distracted, when I commit. But I take commitment pretty seriously, which is why I want to be certain, gut and heart.