Monday, March 29, 2010

Bright Star

Kevin and I watched Bright Star last night. It's a recent movie that had been recommended by several friends, and my friend D's review finally pushed me over the top: I was ready to rent it. The movie is by Jane Campion, based on the doomed love story of John Keats and a young woman named Fanny Brawne; his sonnet to her, "Bright Star," may or may not have been the last poem he ever wrote. The movie is beautifully composed, and though I'm not sure how entirely accurate it is (apparently there was another woman, in real life, to whom Keats was somewhat attached during the same time period, and for whom he wrote a poem), the plot is distilled into a story of young love. This shows my age, but I was very sympathetic to the dilemma Fanny's mother faced: she recognized that her daughter was falling in love, and her warnings were gentle and compassionate, and her silent presence was so deeply loving as she watched her daughter suffering the heartbreak of an impossible connection. Because, of course, the pairing was impossible. Keats was already ill with tuberculosis (and considering how contagious the disease, I cringed every time he coughed while embracing healthy, young Fanny). But just as imposing was Keats's lack of a living. His poetry was admired by some influential friends, but scorned by critics. (Not that at the best of times poets ever make much of a living). When Keats died, at age 25, he believed he'd left nothing immortal behind. I can still remember writing an essay on "Ode to a Grecian Urn" in the last exam I ever sat in undergrad. Nothing is immortal; but that poem--and its beautiful concluding lines: " 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' that is all / Ye know on Earth and all ye need to know"--have lasted a century and a half, more immortal than most earthly things.
Ultimately, for me the movie was a true and unabashed recognition of young love, and of the passion experienced in a first romantic pairing. And it was also about artists and the making of art, and how painful the process ("I am writing again," Keats says at one point; and I understood so well, how the writing comes and goes), how little it can be relied upon yet how impossible not to pursue if it's what one must do. It's no way to make a living. Never has been. Never will be. It exists unconnected from worldly success. There is no way to predict what will last; yet that sense of grasping at the immortal is probably what drives most artists to create. A strange paradox. There's no point in making art if you're only making it to attempt to make yourself immortal; yet you probably wouldn't make it if you weren't tapping into the threads of human experience that are essentially immortal: death, birth, love, creation, beauty.
:::
On another subject altogether ... my baby. My baby is two years old today. He was born around 7 o'clock in the morning, so when we woke, Kevin and I reminisced about that vivid and intense hour of labour that preceded his arrival. It was a panicked hour, our midwives got lost, and about forty-five minutes into the wait Kevin called a neighbour (luckily a midwife!) to come and help. She arrived almost exactly at the same moment as our midwives. I still remember Kevin saying, his hands gently on me, "Please, don't push. Don't push. Don't push." He was more panicked than I was, because I was entirely focused on what was happening in my body. And we both remember the midwives taking the stairs two at a time, arrived just in time to rescue Kevin from having to catch our baby. Albus remembers that we called at 7:05 to report the arrival of their new baby brother (the kids and Kevin's mom were all spending the night at my mom's). AppleApple remembers that they asked what colour the new baby's hair was, and we said, "Red." Ha! Honestly, we couldn't imagine having any child without red hair, and spent the next few months examining his locks for signs of colour. Now, I can't imagine him as anything but what and who he is. Happy birthday, son.
(Bottom two photos by AppleApple!).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Photographic Memories

Not sitting here with the inspiration to write. But look at these photos. Yesterday, Kevin and Albus cooked the evening meal together: coconut chicken with baked rice, bouillabaisse, and fruit smoothies for dessert. Last Sunday, Fooey and Kevin cooked French onion soup (above, Fooey is monitoring the progress of the toasting bread in the toaster oven). Their other memorable meal item was a cheese and fruit plate for dessert.
I also had to include this photo of AppleApple wearing her Grandma Linda's jacket--from when Grandma Linda was a little girl. It is hand-sewn, though I'll have to ask who did the sewing. AppleApple disappeared into her own mysterious world yesterday, dressing up in the jacket, and a white collared shirt, a black bubble skirt, and tights, and pushing her hair off her face with a band. She looked so beautiful. I found her sitting on her fabric box in the girls' bedroom, serene and lost in thought. I never found out what she was thinking, though it looked like it might have been sad. I sat on the floor, asked my questions, received no answers; and so sat quietly just watching her. I thought about how there will be so many things that she does and thinks that I will never know, and though it was difficult, I understood that I would respect that distance, not scrabble to break it. As long as she knows I'm here if she needs me. (The photo was not taken at that moment, but later in the afternoon when she was busy taking photos of her own. The other day I heard her camera beeping, and realized she was setting it up on the 10-second delay so she could take self-portraits. Um .... And Albus has been taking photos and making movies, too, on his own--very old--digital movie camera. No shortage of documentation at our house. The only trouble will be narrowing our evidence down to a few iconic images, which is all that ever lasts; if even that could be said to last, in a family's memory, for however long a family remembers).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ahhhhhhhhhh ....

Ahhhhhhhh.
That is sound of me breathing deeply and sighing it out, like the body needs to do and craves to do sometimes. And then you discover that you're sitting with shoulders hunched up to ears, and jaw clenched, and you let it all drop down and soften.
Because it's been two weeks since I've had this privilege: the still and empty house, emptied of children and husband, and only mine, for three hours exactly. I'm the only one of us who gets this privilege, come to think of it, since the children are never left here solo, and Kevin's privilege is to work away from home at an office. I'm grateful to be here, right now.
I am trying hard not to think about CJ in his new pull-ups at nursery school. He was not so keen to go this morning, though the last few times he's loved it--running out the door with a cheerful "bye-bye Mom!" (Yes, he calls me Mom. C'mon, kid. Couldn't we do Mama for at least another year?) But it's been two weeks since he's headed off to nursery school. Plus, the potty training. That's enough to throw anyone off balance.
Just ask me.
The constant checking and reminding, the spidey senses alert to the cues, the way I can intuit, even when he is out of sight, that he's paused and we need to rush for the potty. It's bizarre. It's also comforting to know how tuned into him I can be. And hopefully I can be that tuned in to all my kids, when I need to be. Because I'm not always so tuned in. Writing tunes me out. Tunes me elsewhere. Sometimes it tunes me so distracted that the world goes on around me and I respond, but through a haze, so that afterward I remember the things that really happened as if those were a dream, and imagination was reality. Or, worse, that absence was reality.
I've been thinking about going deep. What it means and what it takes to get there ... to the depths, to the core; that place that is more metaphor and idea than something tangible. I think that to get at the profound emotions, at a profound understanding of the world and one's place in it, to get perspective, which brings calm, you need time. There isn't a substitute for sustained time to focus the mind.
Yet, it happens that often I write something profoundly moving and real in a flash.
I believe those flashes of light don't come out of nowhere. There is hidden work that gets done while I go about my everyday, alighting on surfaces and meeting multiple demands. Effort doesn't pay out instantly. Experience can't be bought or faked. There are no short-cuts.
This morning, I greeted the silence by playing piano. I'm not a fabulous piano player by any stretch of the imagination, but I love the way I'm able to let go and be inhabited by rhythm. When I'm in the right mood, I crave the feeling of fingers on keys, getting inside something larger than myself. I don't even think. It's not great music, but it feels amazing.
:::
Here's something funny, though I'll have to paraphrase, from poet P.K. Page who died last year. She said that a census-taker came to their door, and she gave her occupation as "housewife." Her husband asked why she hadn't said "writer." (At this point in her life she'd been writing for, oh, about forty years). And she replied: You know I don't feel comfortable claiming to be a writer, I'm so uncertain about my talent, etc. To which her husband said, But you are a writer. You don't have to claim to be a good one.
:::
Next on the morning's silent menu ... upstairs to the attic to search through old files. Then some writing. I am writing a story for children. It's short. And maybe profound. And came at me all in a heap, unexpected, while I was working on the potty training and serving lunch to three preschoolers. It didn't make me a better mother to write this story down, and that's the damn truth. The question is: did it make me a better writer? Or worse, the question I should really stop asking, but somehow cannot: does writing it down matter? Mindless question. Mind over matter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dindl and Pindl

Around the same age, all the children had imaginary friends, or made-up words for which we couldn't discover definitions. Albus had Bappy and Bumberknock. AppleApple had Amy and Damey. Fooey had a mysterious word that she used with alarming frequency (considering we had no idea what it meant): Teacock. She also called all animals "didi." (Oddly, CJ did the same thing for a brief time). And, now, CJ has Dindl and Pindl, sometimes pronounced Dinder and Pinder. Dindl and Pindl are constantly up to unknown but dramatic activities that call for a lot of arm-waving and expression. Albus just told me his theory that Dindl and Pindl are CJ's swear words. This actually sounds plausible.
:::
I used the fast-forward method today, on advice from a friend, and plied CJ with massive amounts of sweet sweet nectar (apple juice, which he never gets to drink) ... and therefore sped up the whole potty training process. The only difficulty was turning it off at the far end of the experiment when it was time to go OUT to the kids' music class. Our big accomplishment of the day was establishing that underwear is different than a diaper: it's meant to stay dry. We went through about five pairs during the establishment phase, and now he's been in the same pair since 2pm. Pretty remarkable. A good day's work.
And now with supper still on the table, lunches to be made, Fooey tormenting Albus, potty trainer on the loose, AppleApple practicing piano loudly, a huge full-house tidy required this evening ... I'm escaping to do 90 minutes of yoga in a steaming hot room. Any wonder such an event feels like a holiday? Sadly, this means Kev is left to swim through the disaster ... I have no advice to offer him.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Challenge/Reward

In today's yoga class, which seemed to catch me feeling more tired than usual, I kept thinking: this sucks and it's hard. Fortunately, the instructor seemed to catch the vibe (which might have been everyone else's too, who knows), and asked us to take our thoughts elsewhere if something negative was coming up. So, I changed it to: this is challenging, and it might be rewarding. Not quite thoroughly positive, but all I could muster. And it helped.
This week's classes have brought out a few Big Thoughts. One, that I always have a little more to give. I always do. I don't think that I do, I can't imagine it could be possible, but if asked to give a little more, reach a little further, hold a pose a little longer ... it's there. I can. This is a strengthening metaphor for the whole of my life. The only thing holding me from giving more is my own belief that I'm spent, and that I can't.
That said, my other Big Thought was that pushing toward my potential is a delicate balance of being compassionate while asking more of myself. Compassion isn't about letting someone off the hook, it's about recognizing the frailty and vulnerability and strength in another person. Even if that person is oneself. The more I practice yoga, the more open I become to accepting my weaknesses, and the difference in my practice from session to session. It's humbling. Some days I feel strong and energetic. Other days it is more of a struggle. And pushing through on the days of struggle leave me with a greater sense of accomplishment afterward, while on my strong days the sense of accomplishment is accessible within the practice itself.
:::
In other news ... CJ has been peeing on his potty with more consistency--and a lot of pride. The other evening, he timed it with dinner and got a hearty standing ovation from his family. I am almost considering hunting in the attic for some toddler-sized underpants, but I'm not sure how quickly to move with that next step, especially since he gets cared for out of the house and by other people more often than the other children did at the same potty-training point. At this point in the training, once the body awareness is there, it's a pretty big leap to being consistent all day long. It requires an adult with spidey-senses on the alert. Full-time. For at least a week or two. And when training this early, it also requires spare pants in the diaper bag. If he's ready, I'm ready. No pushing.
:::
Finally, can I just say ... I was pretty disappointed in myself for not enjoying March break more. More precisely, for not enjoying being with my children non-stop during March break more. However, it did make clear that last summer's writing holiday will not be happening this summer, not unless I crave a nervous breakdown. I've become accustomed to having time to pursue my own work. I need it now. Even when it sucks and it's hard. Because, yes, it is also challenging and potentially rewarding.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Itchy Scratchy

Outside. Boy did we have fun yesterday. More fun than the last photo suggests. I was trying to take yesterday's photo for the portrait project when the kids I was babysitting booked it for the frame. They literally saw the camera, heard the beep, and booted it across the yard. And posed solemnly. My boys joined in, too. Though the girls were outside, too, only the boys were attracted to the camera. Hm.
I'm babysitting again today. I'm sure we'll spend a portion of the day outdoors given the gorgeous sunshine. I cannot believe how weary I am at the end of these days. It makes me appreciate how much easier it is to split my day between writing and childcare; and how much easier it is to look after only one child or two children on any given day (thank heavens for public schools, say I!). I stayed up till after midnight last night, despite exhaustion, to play the piano after the kids were in bed. I find myself craving creative outlets in a way that I don't ordinarily. Maybe it's a good thing to crave creativity. Or, maybe it's a good thing to satisfy those creative urges most of the time. Though I sometimes wonder whether I'm dulling the urge to write fiction/poetry/new songs by writing this blog. And the portrait project seems to scratch a connected itch, too, though it's visual creativity rather than the rhythm of words. It's almost like there's a balance within my body, something I feel physically, that is sensitive both to lack or over-indulgence. I need to go inward and bring something out. But the more I'm thinking on this, I'm thinking: rarely do I get to too much. Rarely do I feel totally satiated and done for the day. That's probably one of the gifts of my main occupation (mothering)--it keeps me wanting, needing, searching for more.
Must get focused on today's requirements, none of which revolve around singing, playing piano, writing, or taking photos. Can I just admit ... I don't want to?
:::
CJ talked to me about his nursing experience last night. If you fear exposure to too much information on the subject, avert your eyes now. He told me that "baby nursing on a mama ... baby holding a mama ... mama holding a baby ... baby sucking on a mama." He also told me, when asked, that he was not a baby. He laughed and chatted, and said thoughtfully, "warm and soft." Then he started to babble excitedly and lost track of his thoughts ... "can't remember," he finally said, and sighed. And started directly in on a diatribe on snowpants, coat, hats, boots, and mittens. "Mittens come last," he told me. Fooey taught him that (she learned in JK). And that was the end of the nursing chat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why?

Had a long conversation yesterday morning with Albus. He wanted to talk about two things: one, when can we get a Wii and why don't we have one when everyone else does? and two, why can't he have a friend birthday party with presents?
Well.
On one, at least there are still a few friends in the neighbourhood whom I could point to as being similarly Wii-less. But that's not really the point. The point is that we don't choose to do things just because our friends are doing it too. And the reason we haven't gotten a Wii yet (though we may, eventually) is because Kevin and I prefer to encourage creative, active, cooperative play--and we see our children playing in these ways when they are given the freedom and time to do so. The best moments in my life, right now, are watching my children playing together--all four of them. In this play, they learn how to solve problems, how to compromise, and how to find ways to include everyone. It doesn't always run smoothly, and there are plenty of moments which cannot be romanticized. I don't think a Wii would ruin this. But I also don't think it would enhance it. What I explained to Albus was that if/when we decide as a family to get a Wii, it will only be after we've come to an agreement about how often it should be played, and when, and under what circumstances (ie. special rules for holidays? after school? once a week? weekends only?). It would become like the television is for us, and the DVD player: something we have, but choose not to use without considering others activities first.
Did Albus hear what I was saying? Debatable. "So I can get one for my birthday?" "No, I don't think so." "So I can get one for Christmas?" "I don't know." "When can I get one? Could I get a DS instead?"
Onto question two ... Albus is already planning his birthday party (which won't be till May, on his birthday). "Could my friends bring presents this time?" "No, we don't do friend parties with presents." "But why? I would get so many toys!"
Since we started hosting friend parties for the kids' birthdays (around age six), we chose to request no gifts. Cards welcome. We got a few phone calls from baffled parents who really really really wanted to bring a gift, but everyone has so far respected the request; the way I see it, the gift is the presence of friends. We also don't hand out giant loot bags afterward, but like to send every kid home with something they've made at the party, or a related but inexpensive prop used at the party: ie. one year I found pretty little china tea cups and saucers at a thrift shop for a tea party; another year, Kevin designed and made personalized t-shirts that all the kids wore to a "bike rally." Nothing fancy. The birthday child gets to the choose the party theme, what to eat, who to invite, what the cake should look like, etc. It's a fair bit of work for us, and held in the child's honour, and adding ten gifts into the mix never made sense to Kevin and me. Like over-salting the soup. We also always host a family party for the birthday child, to which aunts and uncles and grandparents are invited--and gifts are brought. They don't need to mine their friends for extra treasure. There are already gifts in abundance.
Does this sound like an odd, puritanical rule? I appreciate that giving gifts is something that many people want to do.
But we're trying to live a less wasteful life, less packaging, less of what we don't really need.
And we live in a country that is enormously privileged and we sometimes forget that and want more and more and more, without recognizing how much we already have. (I've observed this phenomenon at other moments with the kids: If I put out a big buffet of a snack, everyone goes greedy, grabbing and hoarding, even though there's more than enough. If I put out a small and simple snack, the greed disappears.)
By the end of the conversation (which wasn't the lecture that appears above; sorry to be so dull today), Albus seemed reconciled to the basic principles of doing with a bit less. Somewhat reconciled might be more accurate.
This is just the beginning, right? Of my children testing our family's principles and choices against what their friends are doing? I recently wrote a review of Craig and Marc Keilburger's The World Needs Your Kid, and highlighted from the book ten suggestions for encouraging compassion in one's children. Number two was to know and identify your own beliefs, as parents. It felt in the conversation with Albus that I did know, and I was grateful. But I also want to remain open and flexible to their changing needs, so that kids don't feel like their living in a totalitarian regime, but in a living and growing ecosystem.
Which is why we might get the Wii, eventually. Maybe this Christmas. Maybe. We're still thinking about it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our Entry for Alternate Lyrics to O Canada

By Fooey. Sing repeatedly round and round and round, with great feeling. Don't let your mother sing along. She will only irritate you.

O Canada
O Canada, we stand on God for thee, true save our land, glorious and free, from far and wide, O Canada, we stand on God for thee, God feed our land, glorious and free, O Canada, we stand on God for thee, true save our land, got fee-ba laaah, glorious and free, O Canada, we stand on God for zeeee!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Notes from Quarantine

Note to self: Never announce that one is mending. One will instantly be swatted back to germworld by the Powers that be. (What are these Powers? Dare I ask?) Mending, say you? Hacking and coughing, say we. Oh, and for good measure, let's send that stomach flu spiralling through the rest of the family, shall we?
Some pictures from our week ...
Fooey and CJ home with me on Monday, posing for a sibling portrait.
Also on Monday, a day of reading and puzzling together: CJ posing with the first puzzle he ever put together--for real! he stopped and held still in this position, thumb tucked into palm, till the shutter clicked! (I helped with the puzzle; but he did a lot--a lot more than I realized that he possibly could).
Yesterday, all four children were at home, giving us a prelude of what's to come on next week's March Break. They spent all afternoon organizing themselves to play school (ironic, huh). I peeked into the living-room at various points to discover: a beautiful craft being made that turned pencils into flowers; four children at four "desks" working in math books (apparently we have a lot of these, usually neglected, on our colouring book shelf); four children arriving at the counter for "nutrition break" (a chocolate bunny split into four equalish pieces that we bought from a child selling them door-to-door for his school; I do not want my own children to have to do that, ever); and four children putting on rain boots and sweaters to run outside and play in the slush for recess. And I recorded none of it. The best I can come up with is this out-take photo from my portrait project, which shows yesterday's post-school littered living-room, and the self-adorned CJ.
[Note: The portrait project can be found by scanning down the right-hand side of the page, but be warned, it's all about me. 365 days of self-portraiture. What's the worst that could happen? No, Powers, I'm not asking. Really. That was just a joke.]
And, finally, today ... two brothers watching a movie together in the basement. My boys! The younger of the two has just fallen asleep for a rare afternoon nap. So rare, I thought they were extinct. I should go grab a photo of it while I still have the chance, before it flies into the deepest darkest forest known to humankind. (That feels like I've written a riddle, the answer to which is: the past).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mending

How I can tell I'm on the mend: 1. I wanted to drink a cup of coffee this morning. 2. I'm spending my Sunday baking!
In honour of that, a few recipes ...
:::
Nath's Bread
(From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; this cookbook is on loan from Nath)
Nath brought us supper last night, and she brought a loaf of this bread. Though I wasn't feeling well enough to partake, Kevin mentioned that it was terrific. I don't have the interest in baking a fresh batch of conventional bread today, so I thought instead I'd whip up a giant batch of dough to keep in the fridge, enough to make eight small loaves, which I can bake up at my convenience during the next two weeks. I'd already bought a giant plastic container in which to keep the dough, but hadn't gotten around to making it since borrowing the cookbook, oh, way too long ago. Here's the simple mnemonic: 6-3-3-13. That's six cups of lukewarm water, 3 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp yeast, and 13 cups of flour. I must ask Nath whether she uses that much salt; it looked like a lot to me. [NOTE: When consulted, Nath confirms that is too much salt. She uses half that, and she also uses coarse salt, to in future, I plan to put in approximately 1 tbsp, or even slightly less]. I've mixed up the lot and it is now sitting on my counter to rise for two or so hours. After which, I will pop it in the fridge and pull sections off whenever I feel the urge to add fresh bread to our supper meal.
To bake: cut a grapefruit-sized ball out of the dough, and shape it into a load. Let it rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, turn on the oven at 450 (if you're using a baking stone, pop it in at this time; if you're using a covered pot, like I plan to, also pop it in). Just before baking, dust the load with cornmeal or bran, and slash the top of the dough several times to make it look pretty (this step is not mandatory, especially if you're baking in a pot, in which case, you're going to be dumping it in anyway). Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, approximately. If you're using a baking stone, slip a pan of hot water into your oven on a lower rack; that will add some steam and improve the texture of the crust. If you're using a covered pot, the dough will steam itself. If you're using the pot, you can remove the lid for five to ten minutes of the baking time, to brown the crust.
Note: this makes a smallish loaf. If your family is large, or if you just love bread, double the size of the loaf; I can vouch for this working in the pot, but have never tried it on the stone. In the pot, the baking time for this size is approximately 30 minutes covered, and an additional 10 minutes uncovered. Let cool on a rack. Devour!
:::
Old-Fashioned Cookie Bars
(adapted from Hollyhocks and Radishes; thanks to Bobbie Chappell for introducing our family to this cookbook, which hails from Northern Michigan)
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in three eggs. Beat in 1 tbsp of vanilla, and another tbsp or two or three of maple syrup (optional). In a separate bowl, mash one banana, and add it to the wet mixture. In a third bowl, sift together 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups of white flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Add the sifted dry mixture to the wet mixture in about three batches. As it gets more difficult to incorporate, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk. Stir in 1 cup of oats, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until browned around the edges, and not as well-done in the middle. While still hot, cut into squares, and allow the cookie sheet to rest on a rack till completely cooled. Remove from the tray and store.
Note: Baking times vary. When baking bars, be sure to check early rather than late, and don't wait to remove the tray till everything is toasty brown, or you may find the bottom is burnt: get it out while the middle is still a bit underdone. The bars will firm up while cooling.
Also note: This is a very flexible recipe. My first attempt, today, made a crumblier, cakier bar than my previous two bar recipes. Next time, my plan is to eliminate the milk altogether. While I can't recommend this version for lunch-boxes, due to the crumbly/cakey consistency, it is awesomely delicious. Kevin agrees re the taste, and after a quick brainstorm on how to make these bars transportable to school, Kevin is going to try wrapping them individually and freezing them. (Have I mentioned how much I love that he is making the kids' school lunches? He's been doing this for the past couple of weeks while I wash the supper dishes; a companionable time for chatting, too, while the kids tear apart the house post-supper).
Note#2, edited in several days post-posting: Kevin would like the world to know that the frozen bars taste delicious--he ate two when he was home for lunch today, straight out of the freezer. Apparently, they don't freeze into a solid block, but take on a texture much like convenience store freezer treats (in a good way). Frozen into convenient two-piece bundles, they've been excellent additions to the lunch boxes (the few that have gone out the door this week). Maybe I'll make a pan for playgroup this coming week.
:::
I'd post the Sunday waffle recipe, but my guess is most people already have a favourite waffle recipe in their roster. Mine comes from the Simply In Season cookbook: Whole Wheat Waffles, which I double, and make with a combination of yogurt, and milk soured with vinegar (never having buttermilk on hand, more's the pity).
:::
It's such a beautiful day. The children have been playing together--all four of them!--virtually non-stop since daybreak. Kevin is playing guitar right now in the living-room, and got out for a jog around the neighbourhood in the brilliant sunshine. I got to listen to CBC Radio One while baking, and was treated to the Sunday Edition's three-hour special honouring International Women's Day, AND THEN, to Tapestry's illumination of the Celtic goddess/saint Brigid (if you're interested, both shows have podcasts). And now I'm blogging. And I can eat again. Have I mentioned that coffee tastes good, too? It's such a perfect day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sick Day

I woke up feeling unpleasant. So did Fooey. She felt even more unpleasant than I did. I won't get graphic on you, but let's just say it was messy. And she was feeling so unpleasant that she just leaned over the side of her bed. CJ almost suffered a moment of sympathetic upheaval himself, but AppleApple was able to coax him away from the scene of carnage. I seem to be on the tolerable side of unpleasant as long as I don't eat. I can stand and cope and do laundry (very important, under the circumstances, especially since Kevin is working in Toronto for the day.)
Photo number one depicts the three eldest children (yes, Fooey, too!) embarking on the walk to school, yesterday, without adult supervision. Well, to the walking school bus, which is only a couple of blocks uphill. At the family meeting, we'd decided that for the purposes of crossing the street, she would walk in the middle and each of the older kids would hold one of her hands. The after-school report was pretty good, though they had difficulty crossing "the hard street," the one with the four-way stop and cars hurrying to commute to work. Apparently there were conflicting instructions from the drivers at the four-way stop. One woman waved them on, and another "old woman" waved to them not to cross, because she wanted to go. She went. The kids wisely waited. I was proud of how they handled it, making the best decision for themselves.
Photo number two depicts us this morning. Yes, I'm strangling Albus. Mostly in jest. He is a natural ham in photos and strives to hog the limelight. A gentle restraint was in order. I love the chaos. I love my family. We had ourselves a bit of fun.
The two oldest are quietly playing Lego together, after taking charge of lunch. With a bit of nauseated-Mama assistance, and some decent teamwork, they made tuna melts in the toaster oven. AppleApple sliced the bread and cheese, Albus worked the broiler. A friend has offered to bring supper, and I won't turn her down. Even AppleApple, who had experienced a mild frisson over being in charge of the food prep today, thought it was a happy development: "Or we would probably be eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches for supper."
If all goes as planned, the two eldest will be heading out soon with hockey sticks for a game of street hockey around the corner. I'm glad this gorgeous spring-like weather won't go unappreciated.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Morning

Chili in crockpot. Children off. House quiet. This is my morning. I sometimes think it is my favourite three hours in the whole week, but these hours couldn't exist as my favourite if it weren't for all the other hours filled with noise and choas and needs to be met.
A few mundane updates ... (Now there's a sales pitch. Readers read on!)
1. Swim lessons. Latest term completed. Fooey passed, again. She's now passed this class twice. It's called Sunfish. She has an aversion to the next level which is called Crocodile. If it were up to her, she'd do Sunfish again. I might just let her, till she's five, and can take other classes not named after aquatic animals, but placed in sensible numerical order. Neither of the older kids passed, again. They are pursuing their Master's in Swim Kids Five. Albus was sure that he would pass, but wasn't perturbed to discover that he hadn't. I said I'd eat my hat if he passed. Maybe that's not a kind encouraging motherly thing to say. But they thought it was funny. I've watched them swim. AppleApple looked decent. Albus looked like he'd regressed; though yesterday he seemed to have improved. There were a couple of kids in the class who could actually swim (this is not usually the case), and I think this is the level where they really try to make sure the children have the technical skills before passing them on. The comments are always unintelligible to me, a non-swimmer. Whip kicks, and arm and hand position, and etc. And as a non-swimmer, I aspire to have children who can actually swim. I love the way real swimmers look, cutting through the water.
2. Family meeting. It was a good one. We passed the "talking necklace" this time. Basically I just grab a smallish nearby object that can be thrown across the countertop. Strawberry cheesecake gelato. Good discussion of a wide variety of topics, including piano lessons, and setting goals. Both older children agreed, in theory, to continue with piano lessons next year. I would like them to reach a level of proficiency before they can decide to quit, but haven't figured out what--Grade 3 conservatory? Grade 6? We have figured out a way to convince them to practice. It's not (quite) bribery. Every day that they complete a practice session--ie. play every song assigned to them for the week, and practice for about ten minutes--they mark it on the calendar. We add it all up and when they've reached 60 days of practice, each one gets a reward. For Albus, it' s a Star Wars Lego ship (an inexpensive one). For AppleApple, it's her horse lessons (never inexpensive, unfortunately, but of equal value emotionally). Albus skipped yesterday, but has otherwise been very faithful. AppleApple has been additionally motivated because she passed to the next level of piano books, and the songs are "more meaningful," to her, as she told us last night at the meeting.
Good meeting.
Good grief. I should have a 3. to complete this list, but feel I've gone on long enough. And the house is quiet! And I have work to do within this quiet! Other than blogging. Which isn't work. At all.
Wait--I have to do a 3. It's CJ. The photo above is from one of our afternoons this week, when he didn't want to wear a diaper for awhile. And he had toileting success (followed 45 minutes later by a suspicious puddle on the kitchen floor which he pointed at with some excitement: "Water! Water, Mama!"). Best of all, diaperless, he wanted to wear the purple princess dress that is too small for anyone else in the family.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hair Hat Reviews

Pickle Me This has posted links on her site to several more Hair Hat reviews--all as part of Canada Reads: Independently.
The first is a reprint: Buried in Print originally reviewed Hair Hat when it came out a few years ago. This is easily one of my favourite reviews of the book, ever, and it's lovely of her to reprint it now.
The second is a passionate review is by a literary blogger (at vestige.org) who absolutely despises the hair hat man--or, more precisely, the conceit of the hair hat man. What I find most fascinating about his review is that he actually seems to like the stories themselves. I remember that when Hair Hat was first published, it received a few reviews in this vein, which I found difficult and personally painful to take, though the positive reviews were more numerous, and besides, I'd known in advance what to expect: there's no way to please everyone, and pleasing everyone isn't the goal of book-writing. It was a bit of trend: a handful of reviewers did not understand why the hair hat man was a necessary component of the stories, and saw him as a gimmick of some sort. It's a fair opinion. But he was never a gimmick to me. The stories revolved around him, arrived out of his existence, and seemed to me entirely inseparable from him. He was a puzzle, a curiosity, and I came to accept his presence in my imagination as a gift, even if sometimes the gift felt like a bit of a curse, too--why did he have to wear his hair in such a ridiculous style? Was I supposed to take him seriously? I couldn't seem to get at him directly, so I kept angling at him through the eyes of these other characters. The stories felt necessary. I couldn't help writing them how they were written. I suppose that to be one of the secrets about writing: not everything is in the author's control. I could have removed him afterward, I suppose, but I can't imagine doing it.
It's been a number of years since I wrote these stories, and I'm pleased to report that I can read that review with distance and curiosity. I urge you to read it, too. It's fascinating.
And I really like what Kerry Clare, of Pickle Me This, had to say about the hair hat man: "I love that he exists in your book as someone who makes people uncomfortable, and he does the same thing to your readers."
That aspect of his existence had never occurred to me before: that something of his power is his persistence and ridiculousness and the way he makes different people feel differently. So it's okay to despise him. You can even tell me and I won't hit you. Or cry.
:::
Great success here, this afternoon: I've managed to cook an extremely mediocre feast of Indian food, which is not the fault of the Indian food, but of my distracted cooking ... blogging while cooking while supervising hungry children is a recipe for slightly burnt nan bread with slightly undercooked yellow split peas in rice. (There's also dahl, and spinach with mustard seeds, and turnips with coriander). And the turnips are way too spicy for the kids to eat, though I suspect Kevin and I will love them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Overheard

Fooey: "But I don't want to be the grandma!"
:::
J (ie. not Fooey's brother): "Here, open this. This is a present for you because I want to marry you!"
:::
Fooey: "Sheesh, I wish someone would get me a bear."