Ten years, and it does feel significant. Kevin and I have been enjoying reminiscing about our day, remembering where we were, who we were with, all of the happy emotions, and marvelling at the fruits of our marriage (four of them, specifically). Check back later, because I plan to post some scanned photos from way back then (though, honestly, it doesn't feel that long ago, it feels like the blink of a cosmic eye).
The best part of today was this lovely surprise: Kevin arriving just after us at the Rec Centre, where the kids take swim lessons every morning. Kev said he could hear CJ's screams from the parking lot (CJ wasn't too pleased about being dragged away from a small tree by the bike lock-up which he fancied attempting to climb), and he sprinted to intercept us before I began the rather complicated changeroom dance. He handed me this book (Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout), which he'd bought on the way, picked up CJ, and honestly, I just couldn't stop smiling. He stayed for the whole set of lessons, and it was all a hundred times easier. I even sat and read part of a story. The book was one I should have read at the cottage, because when I finally started it this week, I realized how fabulous it was (will blog about it later, I hope), and then realized it was due (yesterday), and someone else had a hold on it, meaning it had to be returned (I have a thing about avoiding library fines). Isn't that just the greatest gift?
Day one: swimming "at your own risk," hiding out from a brief rainstorm by the bicycle lock-up, Mapleton's ice cream, good advance packing and planning, sharing rice and curry with Albus, and grilled corn on the cob with CJ, huge slices of watermelon, conversations with friends, kids on a self-propelled wooden merry-go-round, yoga in the kids' tent, wandering around with Albus while getting CJ for his nap in the backpack, leaving while everyone was still in a fine mood. Bands we saw? Uh. A smidgen of Julie Doiron, a hint of Hey Rosetta, and anyone who was at the main stage as we wandered by. Best moment: walking off the island, past the bay, on the trail, with Buffy Sainte-Marie singing us home.
Day two: uh oh, huge thunderstorm delays our departure, but looks on the radar like it will blow over; wait in long line-up for parking due to mud pits at the lot entrances; walk an extra half kilometre to the ticket booth; swim briefly; head immediately for food tent, argue over how much food everyone should be hungry for given that we've just eaten a picnic lunch in the car; decide to try to watch the band at the main stage, sit on blanket, relax, notice we have over our heads a patch of gorgeous hot blue sky which is surrounded on all sides by ominous looming dark clouds; sense arrival of rain, pack in the blanket, gear up, hit the ice cream stand just as skies open; thunderstorm, fierce winds, seriously everything shuts down, occasional drenched festival-goer runs by barefoot, everyone else huddled under tents or umbrellas; crack of thunder combined with lightening that sounds like we've been hit--CJ continues destroying banana ice cream cone with deep contentment; storm passes but rain continues, children complaining of cold, head for hot chocolate; storm returns, take shelter inside island stage tent where Montreal band Clues decimates our collective eardrums, children now complaining of cold and pressing hands to ears; CJ sleeps through; head for kids' craft tent; then supper; then stop to dance to band on main stage; multiple trips to porta-potties with various children; still raining; start walking home; reach car in lot--sunshine! Though it's storming again now as I write this ... Best moment: that crack of thunder/lightening. It was so surreal, so extreme, and the kids were so extraordinarily content and calm as they licked their ice cream cones in our narrow shelter. Wish I'd gotten photos, but had hands enough only to hold umbrella, napkins, and periodically retrieve CJ's fallen ball of ice cream.
This has been a slow growing season due to lack of sunshine and heat, and excess moisture, and I've also been slow to preserve this year: usually, I'm hot out of the gates with rhubarb and strawberries (asparagus is something I prefer to eat fresh). In any case, this year there still remained bags of last year's rhubarb and a half dozen containers of strawberry freezer jam, which seemed like enough, so we just ate and enjoyed the fruit raw. We've done the same with cherries, absolutely gorging on the fresh and sweet, choosing not to pit and put any of these away either. But here we have the first real preserving effort ... and what ease it was, the fruit purchased at Nina's buying club, carted home in the stroller, and put up after supper: four litres of blueberries (minus those snacked upon), measured out in two-cup amounts, and a pile of apricots, pitted and thrown into bags, now lining the floor of our freezer.
Last winter, I regretted not putting away a few blueberries for smoothies and general snacking and muffin-additions; and I greatly appreciated the few bags of apricots, frozen in exactly the same simple manner (raw; no sugar added), which were preserved without forethought only because I'd bought too many and they were going bad on the counter. Who could have guessed they would taste so amazingly tart and tangy stewed up and served over hot breakfast cereal? CJ loved them too.
Everything I plan to put up this year follows this theme: easy, and wanted.
Alright, I'll admit it, we've been bored. What am I doing wrong here? We have the scheduled activities, the swim lessons that eat up the better part of the morning, with bike riding and snacks included. And this afternoon we have the playdates to coincide with naptime. We have the free play, open permission to upturn chairs and couch cushions, to layer blankets, to strew about toys. We have library books. We have siblings. We have bread baking mornings and cookie baking afternoons. We have an enviable backyard. We have day trips planned and accomplished. And yet, and yet ... We have back-talking, complaints about the service and the food, we have biting and kicking and general restless rolling about, we have nagging and ignoring and tears. I wonder how homeschoolers manage this. In theory, I'm all for a bit of necessary boredom. In theory, it should push us toward creative solutions; and sometimes does nudge the children toward playing together, and making up their own games; but just as often, in practice, boredom seems to breed conflict. It's like, with nothing better to occupy the human mind, inventing some trouble is a satisfying interim solution. I see this played out in miniature all day long, and frankly, it grows a little tiresome. Can't we all just get along? I ask. And am treated to, at best, blank stares, and at worst, piercing moans of misery, wails of "it's not fair."
On a separate but not unrelated note, in reflecting on our recent family "holiday," I'd like to use my friend Marnie's rather brilliant phrase: such adventures shouldn't so much be called family holidays, as family "experiences." Yup. That about sums it up. "Holiday" is a word overloaded with expectations, none of which are remotely fulfillable with four children in tow. (Relaxing, rejuvenating, restful ... uh, no, no, and no). "Experience" on the other hand ... now that's the truth! And it's not a bad thing, either, the family experience, especially when it's not trying to be something it's not. Our recent family experience was all the things you might expect it to be: busy, rife with detours, noisy, active, mosquito-bitten, containing mysterious ailments, brief respites, good food, necessary disciplinary tactics, all in all a touch of the arduous and a touch more of ardour. Good times.
I've been writing this whilst overseeing two playdates, ear to the naptime baby monitor, bread baking in the oven, and my interruptions have included: tossing snacks at hungry children, sandbox mediation, and a young man in construction garb at the front door to inform me our water will be shut off for the better part of tomorrow and Friday.
Figuring out (or remembering), based on today's success, that a mixture of planned and spontaneous is the way to increase each day's pleasure. We started swim lessons this morning, a two-week every-day stint that unfortunately won't include CJ, whose session got cancelled. But he comes along anyway, and proved easy to entertain today, as we spent a great deal of our time coming in and out of various changerooms with various combinations of children in various stages of wet and dry. We transported ourselves to and from using the bike/run combo, which makes me feel fit and fitter, and ate a snack at the nearby park after swimming, then went onto the library to refresh our reading material. Home for lunch, siesta, and cookie baking. Yesterday evening, while Kev played soccer (almost the whole game ... on that knee ... he came home and iced it for ages), the kids and I biked/ran to the zoo at the park. Not an especially exotic zoo by any stretch of the imagination, but absolutely thrilling to the smallest of our crew, who almost lost his mind with excitement--uh, Mama, can you believe this, like, seriously, I'm going to have to crouch over, point and scream, because I think, if I'm not mistaken, that what we have here before us is a DI-DI!!! And another, and another, and another!!! Bunnies, deer, a cow-like animal, miniature horses, donkey ("what's the difference between a donkey and a horse?"), goats, sheep, peacocks, and two piglets ("Look--'these two little piggies are not going to market'. That's good, right Mom?" "Hmm, it says that every year, but I have my suspicions ..."). We snacked beside the deer, and arrived home in time to brush teeth and go to bed: perfect timing. Alone, at last, I indulged in the Bachelorette while folding laundry because heaven help me, I'm a summer reality television addict (not recovering). This afternoon, figuring they'd gotten a good dose of healthy exercise, I gave into the three oldest children's pleas for "screen time" and let them spend our siesta playing on the computer; which meant that I couldn't. So I read instead. It was LOVELY. At least as much fun as Facebook. Simple pleasures. When I started this post, CJ was sitting at the counter on Albus's former stool, proudly eating a cookie fresh from the oven; he's now "dow, dow" and bringing me stuffed animals, kissing them, telling me stories, imitating their noises "woo, woo," and requesting attention, please, Mama. Supper's well underway (brown rice in oven; beans already cooked). Sure, kid. Meow, moo, peep.
Apple-Apple is a fan of the domestic arts, and this weekend her Grandma Linda gifted her a sewing kit and fabric collection; immediately, the child got to work. First, she designed and sewed a skirt for her favourite doll, with a button at the side. Then, using material already cut out into a stocking shape, she sewed together a Christmas stocking for CJ. I have virtually no sewing skills, but can thread a needle when called upon. Her next project is to sew something for Albus's Beary-Bear (on Albus's request--he was very impressed by her handiwork). I love seeing her create and complete so independently. Next step ... sewing machine?
**written at the "new" cottage, The Treehouse, Seeley's Bay, Ontario**
Afternoon. Too beautiful to sit indoors. Shadows of leaves, the bay water, wind, Fooey watching videos, CJ asleep, big kids and Kev trying out a round of pitch-and-putt golf. I spent yesterday and this morning reading, all in a big sustained gulp, The Girls, by Lori Lansens, a book found here in the cottage. Couldn't resist (despite bringing along two library books, now untouched). This was not deep literary fiction, though well-crafted and appealing. Lightish. I appreciated the small, quiet observations, such as how the most extraordinary situations don't seem bizarre while they're happening, it's only afterward that one has to cope with them and reflect upon them and place them, name them--not just experience them--that the reverberations are felt. The narrator wonders whether perhaps we never get over our losses. It is funny how we've accustomed ourselves by that phrase to believe that human beings "get over" things, as if we could ascend a loss and then descend on the other side, walk so far we couldn't see or remember it anymore. It's more like the effects are embedded within us. Not that we're doomed to spend our lives sad and ruined, just that life doesn't permit us to be the same.
Is reading a distraction, or does it pull me into a different kind of now?
I worry often that I'm not present enough. And then wonder what presence really means.
Wondering--what will make me happy, satisfied, content, or is that mining false gold even to seek such ephemerals? Wondering--what will I choose to do with my days? Is it enough to cook, clean, preserve, parent? What more, exactly, am I craving? I want to fill these days absolutely to overflowing with meaningful actions; and feel a simultaneous and contradictory pull to let my days fill themselves naturally.
I used to think that writing was a way of seeking and perhaps finding permanence; certainly it's been for me a form of solitary meditation. I've begun to think, however, that it leaves something out: the body. And I wonder--is doing, experiencing, being present oddly more permanent? I think about the families I got to know through doula'ing, and how my life and theirs are, for that speck of time, embedded with each other's--because we were present and together at a significant moment of transition and becoming. My part was small, and it wasn't my story, but I bore witness. Bearing witness ... that may be where my talents lie.
Writing is one way to bear witness: the private distillation of experiences, physical and emotional, into words. It can feel intimate, but it's also crushingly lonely. Reading may be another way, opening oneself to a larger world, to different stories. Also solitary. The appeal of the doula experience, upon reflection, is the shared human interaction; yes, it's a way bear witness, but in a physical, corporeal way. It happens and then it's over. You can't write about it afterward (I can't, anyway, not descriptively). The fact of it happening is enough, more than enough.
Come to think of it, that's a lot like parenting.
Okay, that handwritten scrawl of a self-indulgent text required way too much editing. Writing directly to blog is much more efficient. And I didn't come around, at the end, to any satisfying conclusions. Sorry folks. Above, an inundation of photos. Sorry, again. Guess I really really really missed blogging.
We were gone at a cottage for the last week, and I didn't mention it here; maybe because I'm paranoid, or maybe because having the stroller stolen made me really really want never to experience that again; in any case, it seemed unwise to advertise our absence on a public forum. We thought there was no internet access at this cottage, so I happily went cold turkey. It was easy. (It turned out there was internet access, but I chose to pretend otherwise). Now I'm not sure how to catch up, or even whether that's possible in this fast-moving always-present-tense blogland. Right now, I have the more pressing issue of an empty fridge and hungry family (and somewhat ill husband), so shall set out to hunt and gather at the local grocery store. We missed last week's CSA offering, and Nina's buying club, and I'm feeling the effects. Where is the wall of greenery to greet me when I open the fridge door? It isn't summer if I don't need a machete to fight my way to the soy milk.
My today involved two (2) recitals for Apple-Apple's day camp. It was hot, someone kept shushing the babies, and I tossed crackers non-stop at my offspring, but hey, it was worth it. Here is the link to Apple-Apple's first piano performance (be assured, it's short). And here is the afternoon group singing a canon that I found very moving (plus Fooey mugging for the camera; she thought I was taking a photograph and offered a variety of facial poses ... umm, what am I doing to my kids by photographing them so often? Which reminds me that this afternoon, while we were eating popsicles in poetical formation on the front porch, recovering from all the bleeping lovely recitals, Apple-Apple cried, "Get your camera! You need a picture of this, Mom!" and I said, "No. I need to sit down." And so I did. Because sometimes, sometimes, I don't need a picture. Which is long enough, methinks, for a parenthetical aside). And, yes, that's a gratuitous photo of CJ completely unrelated to this post.
Yesterday, our awesome contractor fixed our back porch, and built these brand spanking new steps, with railings included, so we no longer have to worry about CJ crawling off the side of the concrete bohemoth that stood here previously.
In other news, I whipped up some pretty tasty picnic food for our pre-soccer-in-the-park meal tonight. On the menu: tortillas stuffed with home-cooked mexican red beans and grated mozzarella, baked till melty and crispy, halved into finger food, with yogurt for dipping, and a topper of avocado (not local, nope, never), halved grape tomatoes, grated carrot, and Lettuce; and a totally homemade chicken salad scooped into Lettuce boats; because The Lettuce will not defeat me, no, we will eat it, every crisp insipid crunching raw leaf. (The kids chose our CSA box this week: strawberries and peas paired with heaps of Lettuce; on the vegetatian consumption scales, clearly the most coveted must be balanced out by the most prolific).
I didn't follow a recipe, but the chicken salad was pretty delicious (if she does say so herself). Here's how it happened: Boiled a whole chicken yesterday (the last of my Nina chickens); we ate some of the broth in a soup last night, froze the rest. Pulled the meat off the bones this aft, and chopped it, not finely, added chopped green onion and fresh basil, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and paprika, cider vinegar, and a pile of smushed tortilla chips. I suspect that curry powder would be a successful addition, but kept the flavours very simple for our outdoor outing.
Consider signing this petition, which protests the federal government's plan to cut grants to small magazines (those with an annual circulation under 5,000). Or, consider subscribing to a favourite Canadian arts/literary magazine, because geez, how pitiful is it that virtually all Canadian arts/literary mags fit into that category?
"Bocs, bocs, bocs," says CJ, and his big siblings go to play blocks with him. CJ is showing such excitement about communicating. I think of him as being a late talker, but in fact he does have words, they just aren't always immediately recognizable. It gives him great joy to snort like a pig, woof like a dog, run to the door to shout "Dada!" and a sound like haaaaa! that means Hi. I remind myself to explain everything to him (this helps slightly with tantrums), because he understands a great deal. The other night I took all four kids to the little park after supper, riding in the wagon, and CJ took along his talking doll ("didi"). He cradled her all the way there, handed her to me when he wanted to go play, and collected her when I said, "Don't forget your baby doll!"
Yesterday, of necessity because Kevin had our vehicle, I ran while pushing the stroller, with Albus on his bicycle, all the way to Apple-Apple's daycamp to pick her up (Kevin had dropped her off in the morning with her bicycle so she could ride home). It's not a small distance, and I was dreading the errand, while talking it up to the kids as an adventure. We currently have no working way to transport small children via bicycle; so I had to run. New running shoes helped, but what surprised me was that I felt pretty fit. I arrived somewhat red-faced at the daycamp site, but much earlier than anticipated. We took the long way home, stopping by our favourite City Cafe Bakery for a treat. I'm thinking we'll repeat the experience tomorrow (today we're combining camp pickup with CSA box pickup, since it's nearby).
The bike stroller ... this is a story that keeps brewing. You will recall that our former stroller was stolen off our porch several weeks ago. Much mourned, then we moved on as friends supplied us with a replacement (for which we've yet to purchase a bike hookup). Well. End of story? If only. Last week, our neighbour (the one who gave us a little red wagon awhile back) knocked on the door early in the morning. He'd found our stroller, could we come and confirm that it was ours. Kevin went first, came back ages later looking confused. He thought he'd recognize it, but it was so changed, he wasn't sure. I didn't really want to go, but of course this stroller was my fifth baby, and I was the one who'd spent all that time strapping children into it ... Fooey went with me. I saw immediately what Kevin meant: it was hard to tell. The fabric was already sun-faded, there was green mould on the inside, it had some new rips and tears, had been stripped of many of its parts. Our neighbour flipped it over to show me the squirrel holes (a squirrel ripped through the bottom seat netting last summer to get at some cookie crumbs; pretty distinctive). Yes, they were there. Then I looked inside at the straps. They hadn't been adjusted, and were set up, as always, for CJ on the left, Fooey on the right. CJ's strap was always twisted, I could never figure out how to untwist it, and that was the final confirmation. Our neighbour had quite a story about how he'd recovered it, but suffice it to say the stroller was being used to transport beer bottles and other junk.
I brought it home, though I didn't want to. The smell that now permeates its fabric is astonishing, and despite a concerted effort by Kevin and me involving bleach, scrub brushing, the hose, plain old soap and water, vinegar, et cetera, the scent doesn't budge. Though at first we'd thought we could still hook it to our bicycle, I can't imagine putting my children into this stench, and while scrubbing the other afternoon felt almost murderous rage toward the person who had taken our stroller and ruined it. But that emotion is so fruitless and destructive. Who am I, that I'm so privileged I can throw away the thing stolen and then returned? I wonder if I'm a wasteful person. The stroller's return has made me reflect on how much easier it is to cope with something that is permanently lost to us; it's almost as if absolute absence invites acceptance. I was at peace with the loss. It didn't bug me. Seeing that stroller, what had happened to it, how it had been abused and destroyed, now that bugged me. But I'm not entirely sure why. Is it because I feel an emotional obligation to this wrecked object, an obligation which I resent? Makes me admire the father of the prodigal son who welcomed him back with open arms. Or maybe I'm investing too much emotion, value, and meaning into a Thing.
In any case, for now I will be running instead of biking with children, because it seems wasteful to buy a bike hookup for the new stroller when we have a functioning stroller that we could hook up to the bike; that I will, however, refuse to use. How dumb is that? Except the run was so good yesterday, maybe it's a fine thing. I find it so much easier to exercise, to make the time, when it's somehow encorporated into my children's lives and to their direct benefit. This is why I so enjoyed being pregnant: I could take special care of my body and feel I was taking care of someone else, too. If it's just for my own benefit, it feels ... selfish (and, yah, I get that having a mom who is strong physically and emotionally benefits them too, it just doesn't compute in the same way; but you're looking at someone who actually feels guilty using the bathroom some days).
Apparently typing this blog doesn't apply to the guilt factor.
We are having our back porch ripped down and rebuilt right now. CJ is engrossed. "Will they find any rat's nests?" Albus wonders.
Would you guess the temperature is 18 degrees Celsius, and the water in Lake Huron approximately two degrees above freezing? But our afternoon on the beach was entirely summery, with awkward sunburns to prove it (under one eye? backs of knees? the exact spot where Kev applied sunscreen to my spine?), and included burying each other in sand, searching for fossils in tiny stones, building a castle/moat, eating ice cream and french fries, and ending the day at my brother and sister-in-law-to-be's nearby farm. The surrounding fields of canola are stunning, fluourescently yellow, glowing in the dusk. We finished the day with a campfire.
Now it's Monday morning and I feel Monday morning all over ... the kids are outside in the hammocks having the following conversation: "What's Mommy doing?" "She's inside." "Do you know what she's doing?" "She's playing on the computer." "No, she's working on the computer." "No, she's playing." "Grownups don't play on the computer." "I think she's checking her me-mail." Now that's a good word for it.
The weather isn't cooperating with my great Outdoors Summer Plan. So we're getting into trouble indoors instead. Actually, I think that's okay. Things picked up after this, at least briefly, and for some of us. CJ maintained a non-stop screeching, complaining riff (could be the new tooth pressing against the gum), but the big kids dragged themselves off the floor to play Jr. Monopoly together. We ate what amounted to lunch. I had a cup of coffee. Could be worse. Boredom is good for the soul, in the small tolerable doses, that is. Pushes its sufferers toward creativity. One hopes.
I've had requests for my granola and quiche recipes, so will post those at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, it's Siesta Time. What am I doing standing here typing?
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.