Saturday, May 29, 2010

Snail Tales

AppleApple has been begging for a pet (and not another fish). Well, she solved the problem by finding her own. The first (Slimy) was discovered on the way to school, was kept safe at school (bag? pocket?), and brought home. After some online research, we decided on a glass jar with holes in the lid (the recommended aquarium not being at our disposal). Yesterday, she took Slimy to school where she and several friends formed a "Keep Slimy Safe" club at recess. I'll check on the club's name. That might not be entirely accurate. Albus found a couple more yesterday evening, and they were added to the collection. Slimy, Sticky, Shelly, and I've forgotten the last one's name. Something original, I am sure. The amazing photos were taken by AppleApple.
:::
PS I checked. It was the "Protect Slimy Club." Protect Slimy against what? "Against feet stepping on him."
Ah.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Solitary, Hermetic, Self-Taught

Just read this longish piece by American poet Kay Ryan (it's a few years old; thanks to Karl for pointing me to it). She is attending a poetry conference after a lifetime of preferring not to. She describes herself like this: "I love the solitary, the hermetic, the self-taught."

As someone currently mulling the prospect of greater artistic collaboration, who has almost always avoided working with others--at least, when it comes to writing fiction and poetry--her witty words were delicious food for thought. Such as ...

"I wanted my poems to fight their way ... Fight and fight again. No networking, no friends in high places, no internships. I think that's how poems finally have to live, alone without your help, so they should get used to it."

"I think poets should take the lesson of the great aromatic eucalyptus tree and poison the soil beneath us."

"I think it's good to admit what a wolfish thing art is; I trust writers who know they aren't nice."

And finally ... "Everything truly attended to is a spiritual practice, isn't it?"
:::
Now, read my previous post if you haven't already, because this post is an aside, a footnote to my day. Can you tell it's writing day? I'm catching while catch-can.

Green Dreams

Green Dream # 6 Front yard veggie patch.

Green Dream # 7 Re-purpose household items (ie. found this old curtain from our last house, hiding in the bottom of the linen closet, and it fits our front door; better yet, it replaces the lace curtain that has been there since we moved in SEVEN YEARS ago, which never ever felt like ours.)

Green Dream # 8 Wash, dry and re-use plastic bags. We haven't bought new for years. When these run out, I am considering making/buying cloth bags instead. One question: for freezing food, especially liquid food, what would replace the plastic bag?

Green Dream # 9 Reusable mugs and water bottles. Milk in glass containers.

Green Dream # 10 Cloth wipes. We haven't gone the no-toilet-paper route, however (as per No Impact Man). The used cloths are stored in a diaper stuff sack, (a welcome re-purposing that marks the end of our cloth diapering days). I launder them every other day.

Green Dream # 11 I just wanna ride my bicycle.
:::
This morning the house is Friday Quiet. Ah. I actually sighed while typing that last sentence--a good sigh, a cleansing sigh, as one might put it in yoga practice. I am drinking my ginger-garlic cold fighting brew, because apparently spring ain't sprung without a touch of the ague. CJ caught it first, and I coughed all night long. Would I choose to set my internal alarm clock for 5:40am, or would I skip early morning yoga? My alarm went off (it's inside my head; I set it when I'm falling off to sleep by picturing the numbers on the clock--the time at which I'd like to wake; and it almost never fails me). Turns out, I wanted that time for myself; how could I sleep through it? I couldn't. I leapt out of bed.
Guess what? I've been biking to morning yoga. It takes less time than travelling by car, at least on the way there, because it's downhill and there's little traffic. Coming home takes more effort and attention (focus, blissed-out yoga brain, focus!), but I don't lose more than a few minutes in the commute. I am riding Kevin's old mountain bike, and the front-riding baby seat is perfect for stowing my bag; but I'm coveting a more upright ride that would fit my body better. Add it to the (short) list of Things I Covet.
(Also add: fire pit for the backyard).
:::
As I tinker with a slight re-design for this blog, I've changed "Eco-Attempts" to the friendlier and more optimistic "Green Dreams." Riding bike is going on the list. I fully intend for that to be our family's main summer transportation. My only concern is that the roads are not terribly safe for cyclists. Apparently a bike trailer was recently struck in the north part of the city, resulting in a broken arm for a small child; and the driver fled the scene.
Our cities are designed around cars. As Michael Enright put it, in a recent editorial on The Sunday Edition (a three-hour radio show that airs on CBC Radio One): There is no war on cars; the war was won ages ago, and we already know the victor: the car. The Walrus recently ran a fascinating article on green cities in Europe (Chris Turner's "The New Grand Tour"), and the author's description of cycling around Copenhagen on rented bicycles, one of which included a double seat on the front into which two children could be strapped ... well, count this reader as pretty darn envious. He and his family cycled the city on lanes exclusively designated for bike traffic; they never felt safer.
In our city, we have a few paths on which only cyclists and pedestrians can travel, but the paths are broken by busy streets, across which one must dash without any marked crossing or traffic signals. I frequently let the kids bike on the sidewalk, and wrestle with biking on the sidewalk myself, considering that I'm pulling two vulnerable children behind me in a carrier.
I spend a lot of time coaching my children on how to be smart and safe pedestrians: no, it's not fair, but even if a car is doing the wrong thing (ie. running a stop sign, or not giving the right-of-way to the pedestrian at a crossing, or swooping around a right-hand turn without checking for pedestrian traffic), the walker has to let the car do what it's doing. Because in human versus car, car wins, human loses.
I wonder whether that's an apt description of the peculiar lives we've built on the altar of car. Car wins, humans lose. Think of everything we sacrifice in order to propel ourselves inside our own individual motorized compartments. Think of the oil gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico, right now. Consider the air we breathe. Remember what it feels like to walk and talk, to exercise, and meet our neighbours, and take time. Cars give us convenience, without question. There are jobs that could not be done without cars (ie. midwife). But a lot of us don't really need to use cars, not as often as we do, or think we do.
In thinking about my Green Dreams, I recognize that many of these choices and changes demand time. Hanging laundry to dry every day does take more time than throwing it into the drier--not a great deal more, but a bit. So does washing the dishes by hand. Baking my own bread. I'm still trying to figure out how to make snacks more convenient without falling prey to the ease of the prepackaged treat, grabbed as I dash a pack of hungry grumpy children to piano lessons. All of this extra labour would cut into my productivity, if I were employed at a regular job. But part of where I'm headed, I think, is viewing this home-based production as valuable on a number of levels. It doesn't fit into the stock market. It doesn't work comfortably with capitalism, but I've got a few problems with capitalism anyway; nothing in nature grows indefinitely, and it seems like madness to base a businesses' success on eternal growth: it's a recipe for corruption.
This work is valuable because it keeps me humble. It's valuable because it's my offering to the earth. It's a small and humble offering, but so be it. I would like to offer my time--because I have it, and I'm grateful for that gift--to living creatively. Anyone who's ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what's created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it's worth it to you--figure out what you're sacrificing, and why you want to.
Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you've chosen to do.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Time

I have so many things on my mind, and intentions to blog about each, but with little time to spare, today I just want to write about that--about time. I'm heading somewhere in my thinking. It's taking time to unfold. I love the evolution of our family's life, and how slowly but surely we've moved toward living differently, toward eating differently, thinking differently, opening our minds to possibilities. I love how our house itself has evolved over these years, accommodating the changes--more children, children growing, more space for food storage, more garden beds, more elaborate elements to the play structure. I love imagining what new changes will come.
Time itself is on my mind. The time that I have, and what I choose to do with it. It comes to me that the gift I have right now is time, and time is precious, it's all we've got. It is a gift not to need to work to earn money (and it may not always be so). My time is spent doing things that I value regardless of what external rewards they bring. I don't even mind doing the dishes, when I think of it as a small but important chore in the midst of this larger picture of family that I'm part of. The multiple tasks that make up my every day express so many things, but mostly they are an expression of commitment. This is what I'm doing right now.
I'd edging us toward many small changes: cloth wipes, bicycling, finding alternatives to packaged snacks (ideas, anyone???), and continuing to commit to choices we've already made.
I'm making different use of my time, too, and am amazed that it is possible to fit new things in: for example, getting up early several days a week to exercise. Who knew? Learning to play guitar while putting the kids to bed. Who knew?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Weekend Report

Our weekend involved more cake. I had not had time to bake in advance of Albus's slumber party, so I thought, hey, this could be a party activity. It's a credit to these sweet boys that they all said, "Yes!" when asked whether they'd like to make the cake. I decided to let them do as much as they wanted--read the recipe, measure the ingredients, dump, mix, beat the batter, work out amongst themselves who would do what. The resulting cake (sour cream chocolate) tasted fresh, light, and airy, and may have been even better than the previous evening's cake. I should let children measure and stir every time.
The slumber party consisted of two guests (a third wasn't able to come), no gifts, order-in pizza, cake, pop, a comic book shopping spree (Kevin had a blast witnessing the three boys making their excited decisions), and two movies. The boys set up the basement lair for themselves with three futons, but claimed to have all slept on the same bed, fighting for the same covers. They also reported being up till two o'clock in the morning (parents, I assure you, this could not have been true--we had the baby monitor set up in case of emergencies, and all was quiet after midnight ... which is plenty late for three nine and almost-nine-year-old boys).
I got such pleasure listening to their party stories--how late, who had slept where, what they'd eaten for breakfast (chips and cheezies). After the guests went home, Albus appeared to be suffering from something resembling a hangover ... lethargic, irritable, bored by everything. It's hard for the party to end.
"All good things must come to an end," I quoted cheerily last night as the children complained, at length and great volume, that "You're ruining all of our fun!"
"Yup, that's my job. I signed the parenting contract. I had to promise to ruin the fun, make my kids get enough sleep, force them to bathe and pick up their toys and throw their socks to the basement. It's all in the contract. My hands are tied. What can I do?"
"Rip up the contract!" (That was Albus.)
The fuss was over bedtime. It was also over the end of the our long weekend. Listen, I was sad, too. Why must the fun end? Kevin and I got so much work done yesterday. I weeded the front bed, and trimmed the lilac (that was way too much fun; it was like giving a good haircut to a kid who really needs it ... which, come to think of it, would describe Albus). Is that sad that I just conflated fun with getting so much work done? I even organized the linen closet (thanks, new Chatelaine; that may be the only good thing that comes out of the magazine's re-design, in my opinion; so much saccharine fluff that I felt ill upon glancing through it, instant sugar-shock; and no Katrina Onstad, though I searched and searched; and this aside will be meaningless to all non-Canadian readers).
:::
There was more to our weekend. There was another party, and (believe it or not) even more cake. And that's our new nephew pictured above with CJ and Fooey (photo by AppleApple), who visited from afar with his mum and grandma. And Kevin built that cool-looking box for the front veggie beds, and got the stones partially laid for our new walkway. Among much much else.
But I have a CJ on my lap stabbing me with a pencil, and a Fooey lying on the floor beside the stool shouting, "You're wasting time for me to get dressed! When I even need you to get me dressed! I want a dress! You have to come upstairs, okay Mommy! Even if you say no, you have to come upstairs! This instant! I'm s'pposed to already be dressed in a dress!"
Yo. I signed the contract. What can I do?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

But of course ...

... I came to my senses and went with the whipped cream AND the chocolate sauce. And tomorrow he'll be nine for real.

Clear the Counters, Woman!

Experiencing the immobility of disorganization. How can it take so little to throw me off? I stayed out late last night, after rising very early for a wonderful run with a friend, and the more tired I am, the more likely I am to order a second drink. I'm not saying the second drink did me in, but I've been fuzzy-headed for the better part of today. I even forgot to finish drinking my coffee--it languished on the counter till I discovered it cold, at noon.
I am prepping for a birthday party tonight (cooking for 14), and another tomorrow (three boys overnight), and out-of-town guests arriving tomorrow at noon as well. I feel overwhelmed. All of my careful planning is thrown out of whack--no babysitting possible tomorrow, and, there, I've lost half of a week's worth of writing time ... the downside of not working for a living, just working for the sake of it. It feels like my time is therefore disposable; and I resent that. Can you hear it in my voice?
I must get to early morning yoga tomorrow; perhaps that will return me to a sense of balance.
Here's what needs to happen in the next couple of hours: wash all dishes; clear all counters; and prep any food that can be prepped in advance. Tonight's menu: nitrate-free local hot dogs on buns, with sides of baked beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and avocado salsa, and cake and ice cream for dessert; I am currently stalled on the critical decision of whether to top the cake with whipped cream, or with whipped cream AND homemade chocolate sauce; this is what I mean--I'm stalled on the most insignificant of details, to the point of inertia. I look at the counters and the big dining-room table and go ... what is that stuff, and where does it belong? It appears to be, largely, homeless debris that migrates from surface to surface till it gets recycled, or claimed, in which case the kid carries it to another surface, usually not very far away from the first one, and deposits it again.
:::
Update on Eco-Attempt # 1: Make your own laundry detergent! Do it! It works! I mixed equal parts Borax and baking soda in a glass jar with a lid, and shook it to combine. I dump two tablespoons of the powdery mixture directly into the washing machine (I have a front-loader; use twice as much with a regular machine), and pour liquid soap into the detergent dispenser tray. The liquid soap is Dr. Brommer's Lavender Castile Soap, which is expensive on first glance, but needs to be heavily diluted to use. So I've filled an old detergent bottle with several squirts of Dr. Brommer's and diluted it with several litres of water. Voila. I hadn't fully thought through the implications of LAVENDER, other than it smelled heavenly to me; but does Kevin want to wear lavender-scented socks? Hopefully so, because the Dr. Brommer's is going to last for a year, I suspect, though it can also be diluted and used around the house, for dish washing and hand-washing, etc.; I may do that. It doesn't completely solve my too-many-plastic-bottles problem, but it will cut down on how many we throw away in a given year.
:::
Eco-attempt # 3: We made vanilla! It's easy. You buy a couple of vanilla beans, split them, place them in glass canning jars, and pour rum or vodka or some other light alcohol over top, and let them sit for a month or two. Again, relatively inexpensive and will save a lot of little plastic bottles.
:::
Eco-attempt # 4: List of things I intend to store for this coming winter: 1. Garlic! The sad news is that these are our last three local garlic bulbs; but the good news is that my stores of garlic have lasted this long. I bought them in bulk last fall, and stored them in paper bags in our cold cellar. More garlic this year! 2. Also easily stored are potatoes: again, in paper bags, in the cold cellar. 3. Apples wintered well, there, too. 4. Squash was pretty good, though I wouldn't try to store squash for more than a few months (a pumpkin started to rot). 5. Cabbage kept well in the cold cellar, too, as did 6. carrots, especially in the mid-winter months when the cellar was coldest.
In the freezer, I am now dipping into the last of the frozen 6. plums and 7. apricots. I highly recommend freezing bushels of these. I cut them in half, pit them, and place them into plastic bags and freeze them right away. No sugar pack, nothing. Take them out when you're ready and use them right away, or they will discolour. I stew them with a little water, and serve them over waffles or for my own breakfast of ground seeds and yogurt (don't ask; or do, if you're really curious). I let myself start eating the apricots and plums in January, when a body's longing for summer's tart fruits, and last summer's batch has lasted up till now. I also plan to freeze 8. peas and 9. corn cut off the cob, and 10. tomatoes, in addition to 11. canning more tomatoes or tomato puree. 12. Strawberries also freeze easily, as does (13.) rhubarb, though rhubarb season is usually when I discover that last year's rhubarb is still hanging around in the bottom of the freezer.
:::
The photo of the kids in their new hats represents the fun time we had at Zeller's, of all places, with the three youngest kids, up past bedtime, earlier this week. Seriously, who in her right mind would be shopping with children at Zeller's at 8:30pm? We were looking for Albus's birthday gifts and ended up having a hoot of a time trying on hats and sunglasses and checking ourselves out in the tiny mirrors. I was in the moment, and it was so freaking fun.
:::
I seem not to be in the moment right now ... How can get there? Remind me.
:::
I've promised Fooey that I will help her make cards. And then we'll clear the tables and the counter! Wish me luck. Or better yet, focus.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gathering Paradise

If you haven't seen Bill Murray reading poems to the construction crew who built Poetry House in New York City, please do. I love seeing poetry presented in unexpected ways. Removed from predictable confines, art takes on meaning, and unexpected emotion: the wonders of YouTube.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good Morning, Monday

Lentil Barley Picnic Salad with Ginger-Soy Dressing

Cover with salted water and cook together in a large pot the following ingredients: 1 cup green lentils; 1 cup pearl barley; 1/4 cup wild rice; 1/4 cup brown rice. (Or use whatever combination of legumes most inspires you. Leftover rice can be added to the salad afterward, too; it's a very flexible salad). Simmer for about an hour, or till tender. Drain. Place in a large bowl with a tight lid.

In a small food processor, puree together the following ingredients: 1 clove garlic; 1 teaspoon salt or to taste; black pepper to taste; 1/4 cup cider vinegar; 1 square inch (or so) peeled fresh ginger; 1-2 tbsp tamari; 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil; and an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of canola or other vegetable oil. A touch of honey or sugar can be added as well.

Pour the dressing over the legumes, and mix. Add leftover rice, if desired. Add your choice of seasonal veggies, such as: grated carrot; chopped cucumber; thinly sliced red peppers. Squeeze the juice of one lemon or lime over top of the salad. Add crumbled feta or queso duro blando, if desired. Taste for seasonings. Cover and store till picnic-time.

This salad is popular with all of the kids, believe it or not. I'm making it for tonight's soccer-side picnic, and will also serve tortilla wraps with tuna salad or hummus, and spinach; apple slices, and disgustingly mushy brownies on the side. (In fact, the brownies were such a flop, I despair of ever making good brownies. Anyone have a good recipe? I substituted sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds for nuts; maybe that was the problem).

:::

Update on the two-week early rising challenge. I accomplished my goal: rose early to practice yoga on M/W/F of both weeks. And I got up this Monday morning and did the same, though part of me resisted. Part of me always resists. I love my bed. I love dreams. I love sleep. But what amazes me is how much I also love being awake in the quiet house, hearing the birds, and starting my day with exercise. It just takes a nudge to push me across that line from oh my bed how I love you, to hello good morning! I return home awake, energized, and operating much more efficiently than I would had I spent an extra hour and a half in bed. (It has been my habit to rarely get out of bed before 7am, and it's a rule in our house that no one else is allowed to either). I would like to substitute a run on one of those mornings, but plan to stick to the basic early-rise-and-exercise, three mornings every week.
Eco-confession: I've been driving to my early morning yoga class. It's located embarrassingly nearby. Yes, I have a bicycle. Where is my helmet, where is my lock, why am I never organized at 6 o'clock in the morning? I could get organized the night before. It would take me an additional two or three minutes to bike rather than drive. There is no excuse.
Eco-attempt # 1: I made laundry detergent this weekend. I'm washing the first load right now. If it works out, I'll post the recipe.
Eco-attempt # 2: We've been buying milk in glass bottles. Nice, organic milk. Only problem is, we might have to choose between buying this nice organic milk in glass bottles and sending our children to university. It's that expensive. But I'm appalled by all the food-related packaging I purchase. Recycling isn't enough. Ideas?
:::
The house is quiet. I love Monday mornings ...
Photos above by AppleApple, who took them from the back seat of the truck on our way home from a soccer game. She took about seventy photos at that game. The rule is that I get to edit as I choose (translation: erase). But she says she doesn't mind. It just makes her happy to take pictures.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

From a Writer to His Younger Self

This list is pretty awesome: words of advice from a writer to his younger self (Steven Heighton). Also, I'm pleased to see the National Post's book blog looking so vibrant and interesting.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Beautiful Game

This week our eldest children played their first "real" soccer games ever. They have played a number of games at "soccer in the park," which is in its fifth year (!!)--but this was the first time either child had played on a field with a referee and a team uniform and parents in lawn chairs watching and shouting, and a coach who wasn't also Dad. We all went to AppleApple's first game. I packed a picnic. It was sunny and not too cold and we laid out a blanket and set up beside the field. But it wasn't much fun. The children who were not playing were mostly misbehaving. While twirling around a goalpost, CJ whacked his head with a resonant whump that could be heard across the field. Tears. More tears from Fooey who was afflicted with general unhappiness at not being the centre of attention. Ditto Albus, whose first game wasn't till the following night. He did not take well to seeing his parents focused on his sister, and the first thing he said when she came off the field at the end of the game (flushed and delighted), was: "Did you win?" (He knew her team had lost; he keeps careful and accurate score of all games).
It was a grim parenting moment: What are we doing wrong? Why are our children unkind to each other? Onward. He was bored. And sibling rivalry happens.
We actually had a good talk about the subject the following day, when he refused to show AppleApple how to play a song on the piano that he and I had worked out by ear (K'Naan's Wavin' Flag, which everyone in our house sings and hums at random points during the day). He wouldn't show her how to play it because it was his secret. After some mean words, he was sent to his room, and I followed a minute or two later. I explained that I could show AppleApple how to play the song too, and that it was really K'Naan's song, and he had been very generous with it, and had shared it with many other musicians and artists. And I said that bullies were often (though not always) people who were insecure about their own abilities, or feeling envious and jealous, and who tried to make other people feel small so that they could feel big. I said that it's a sign of self-confidence when we're willing to share what we know with other people--like K'Naan. I didn't end up showing AppleApple how to play the song (by the time I came downstairs, she'd moved on to something else). But yesterday morning, Kevin and I were in the kitchen and we paused and looked at each other: we could hear Albus in the living-room, helping AppleApple figure out how to play Wavin' Flag.
:::
At AppleApple's game I discovered that I'm the kind of mother who shouts things from the sidelines. Nothing bad. But I was quite amazed, as if standing apart from myself, watching this woman excitedly cheer on her daughter, "Go, go, go! Good job! Try again!" Etc. I really couldn't help myself. It's likely a good thing I was distracted by misbehaving children most of the time. At the end of her very first game, Kevin ran out on the field and gave her a huge hug. I felt the same way: so very proud.
The next night, only Kevin was able to go along for Albus's first game. His games don't start till 7:15; not to mention that it was pouring rain and about 3 degrees Celcius. No kidding. I got a before picture, imagining a dramatic and sodden after picture, but by the time I saw him, he had shed his soaked uniform: the after picture was taken in a warm bath, and he's drinking a cup of hot chocolate. And he's beaming. He had a blast, though does seem at a disadvantage for never having played on a "real" team before. When Albus had to throw the ball in, and hesitated and hesitated, not sure when he was allowed to, Kevin heard other parents (on Albus's team) muttering amongst themselves, and he wanted to say, "It's his first game!" It's not exactly painful to watch our children struggle, but it is genuinely painful to see them judged ... by other adults ... in a game that's supposed to be fun for the kids ... (Kevin also saw a few parents yelling at their own kids at the end of the game).
The good news is that Albus had a wonderful time, win or lose.
For AppleApple's second game, yesterday, Kevin took her alone, with a packed supper for afterward, and I fed the other kids at home before we walked up to the Eco-Fair event at their school (most popular area at the Eco-Fair was, hands-down, the juice and cookie table; CJ had to be physically restrained from going for fourths).
Meanwhile, back at the field, AppleApple played goalie for the entire game, and was, according to her dad, quite amazing and fearless. (She's never played goalie in her life). By the end of the game, the parents were all cheering her by name. The game ended in a tie. But Kevin said it was gut-wrenching to watch.
Honestly, I'm not sure either of us are cut out for the sidelines. But we'll do anything for our kids.
The experiment of soccer almost every night is already taking a toll, as Kevin and I pass each other and wave hello and goodbye, and we've yet to figure out a way to enjoy supper together as a family (which is an important part of our everyday routine); but I'm glad the kids are getting a chance to do something just for them, which is hard to pull off in a family with four kids. May it continue to be fun.
(And here's hoping each child shines in his or her own way, and enjoys his or her own pursuits, without comparison. Comparing siblings is nothing more than toxic parenting. I'm trying to make sure the kids don't label each other and measure against each other, either, difficult as that can be. I don't mean we don't recognize differences, just try hard not to say: why can't you be like ... or so-and-so always ... etc.).

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Mother's Day Surprise"

I made a special Mother's Day supper for myself: blanched local bok choy and asparagus, chopped local cilantro, heated and spiced homemade frozen chicken broth, dredged tofu squares in cornstarch and fried till crispy, cooked rice noodles and rice, and brought the feast to the table. Lately, I've been serving meals with options. I bring the options to the table, and everyone customizes the meal to his or her liking. This has proven very popular indeed, though does mean that Fooey's been eating a lot of rice with yogurt. This was make-your-own soup night. It was delicious. As usual, the meal was interrupted by trips to the potty (me and CJ), and so by the time I'd gotten to my second bowl, the table had emptied and I was finishing my Mother's Day supper alone. Which isn't the worst fate for a parent.
But then I choked. I really did. I felt something slide down the wrong tube. I stood and assumed the classic choking pose (hands to throat) and walked to the living-room. I was still coughing, but the cough seemed to be dragging the thing further down, blocking the airway almost totally. Since I couldn't speak, I looked at Kevin, and he looked at me--with what looked to be some annoyance. Like, really, honey, you're seriously choking? And I was like, yes, I'm seriously choking. Good thing I'm the one who took the First Aid course. Meanwhile, in the background, as I thought to myself, well this is really not the way to go, I could hear my children's voices. Fooey and AppleApple were hollering, "If you're going to throw up, go to the bathroom, Mommy!!!" And Albus was repeating, as if deranged, "Mother's Day surprise! Mother's Day surprise! Mother's Day surprise!" These would have been the last words ringing in my ears had I not reached down my own throat and dislodged a cilantro stem. Kevin got into position (it's not called the heimlich anymore), but I indicated that I was once again moving air into and out of my body. Things began to calm down. The scene returned to normal. But it sends me into paroxysms of hysterical laughter to recall Albus shouting, "Mother's Day surprise! Mother's Day surprise!" Tell me that wouldn't make for a good line in a short story. Where did the kid get his dark sense of humour? (I couldn't get him to parse afterward why he'd landed on that phrase. He said he knew I wasn't dying, so that's why he said it).

To commemorate Mother's Day (though not the choking incident specifically), after supper, I took a few photos with the kids for the 365 project. I've started calling it my 365. As in, I haven't taken my 365 yet today. Which I haven't. But I have gone to yoga class. I'm not sure I would have made it this morning had CJ not woken three times between 3am and 5:30am, and when I convinced him to return to bed after the last nursing session, I got up, ate a banana, gathered my gear, and escaped. I thought, at least if he wakes up again, I won't be here to have to fetch him. He only agrees to let Kevin help if I'm nowhere in sight. And then I was so glad I'd gone to class, despite only five hours of broken sleep. Moving while breathing, in a room of other people moving while breathing. It's a good solitary/yet not-solitary ritual. I've now gone to seven classes in eight days as part of the studio's fifteen day challenge. It's been easier than it likely sounds. But our family's schedule is so busy that I can't find time to go again till Wednesday, early morning. My best discovery during this process has been that I love practicing first thing in the morning. I'm weaker, less flexible, and it's harder to balance, but I don't push myself quite so hard either. I'm kinder to myself first thing in the morning. And I'm closer to sleep, so I'm closer to that dreamy in-between meditative state. It's been easy to find that quiet mind in every class this past week, but sometimes I wonder whether I'm now practicing on auto-pilot. Is it a good thing to go away from myself so thoroughly, to be lost in the moment, to be mindless? I'm emptying my mind during that hour and a half practice--with what am I readying it to be filled?

:::

Last night, for our Sunday-night movie, Kevin and I watched No Impact Man. It is an inspiring and entertaining film, and what makes it really good is the dynamic between husband and wife. The premise is that the husband (a writer) wants to write a book about living a year with no environmental impact whatsoever, a pretty much impossible experiment, but one into which he throws himself, and his family comes along for the ride too. He and his wife (also a writer) have one young child, about CJ's age in the movie, and live in New York City in a small apartment that's perhaps on the ninth floor. They stop using elevators, subways, cars. They stop eating out, and only eat local food. They give away their television. They buy next-to-nothing, and nothing new (including toilet paper). As the experiment progresses, they do with less and less, including no electricity. They wash their clothes in the bathtub with homemade laundry soap. The wife is not a typical environmentalist, and her voice makes the movie refreshing. She sneaks off to get her hair dyed, and needs needs needs coffee. It actually ends up being a dynamic and moving portrait of a marriage. Going off to bed, I wondered what more I could be inspired to do. The idea of giving everything away actually makes sense. It is so hard to go by half-measures. The things that jump to mind for me are ... well, honestly, this computer. Can I put limitations of my computer use--would I bide by them--or would it be easier just to close it up and put it out of sight, use it only during working hours? There is some freedom to that thought. On the other hand, this computer is my main form of communication. I would hate to go back to relying on the telephone, a medium I've always disliked. Or a real radio, rather than internet radio.
But, I'm going to think about it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Are There No Women Who ...

A recurring issue that's been troubling me, lately: my children have begun asking why there are no women who ... fill in the blank. Why are there no women who play hockey (in the NHL, in the playoffs, which are on every evening at our house). Why are there no women who coach kids' soccer (thankfully, we found some women coaches to counteract that observation; but it's still mostly true. It's mostly dads out there on the field). I'm trying to think of another example of "no women who ..." but can't offhand. Anyway, it's a good question. It reminds me that we aren't, exactly, who we claim to be, as a society. Our relentless message is that girls can do anything, be anything, choose anything; and while it's essentially true, there's no counter-conversation about why so many girls/women don't, and what, if anything, we should do about it.
If girls (and boys) can do anything, why, for example, are little girls supposed to wear pink and like fairies and princesses, and little boys supposed to wear dull colours and make truck noises and wrestle? Why are these gender differences so strongly endorsed, to the point of making little boys who once liked flowers and pink refuse to wear them lest they get teased for being different, and little girls, who once could care less what they wore, feel they must pay attention lest they get shunned for being different?
And, yet, there are some very real differences. For example, as AppleApple has observed, most women are not as physically strong as most men.
(In our family, we have one boy who makes very loud weaponry sound effects and who never took interest in any doll ever given to him; one girl who chooses her brother's hand-me-downs over her own girlie options, most days, and who doesn't like "princessy games"; one girl who would wear ruffled pink in perpetuity and who likes looking at pictures of fairies; and one boy whose favourite colour is pink, who pushes a stroller and gently tucks his doll in, and who likes to growl and pretend to be a crocodile attacking his older siblings. How much have they chosen for themselves, and how much has been chosen for them?).
Yes, a girl can grow up to be anything she wants to be. It shocks my children to imagine that this were ever otherwise; yet for most of human history, a girl could not grow up to be anything she wanted to be. Now, she really can. I do believe that. But just because she can, doesn't mean she will. And the evidence does not match up with the story the kids are being told. They see it. It makes them wonder. Why are there so few women in any snapshot of world leaders? I am excited for this summer's World Cup, but also realize, looking through my daughters' eyes: there will be no women playing. And there is nothing comparable to point them toward. Thank heavens, they were able to see themselves reflected in our Olympians.
I haven't done anything to change the balance, either. I had a good job before I started having children. Then I stayed home with them. That was nine years ago. I have benefitted from the unquestionable luxury of being a women who chooses to stay home with her children, supported financially by a willing and able husband. I don't feel regret or guilt about my decision, and we've always looked at ourselves as a partnership, and continue to work toward an ideal balance of childcare and work, and domestic duties and pursuit of outside interests; but out of strict financial necessity, his work trumps mine. It has to. Would I have it any other way? Well, this is what I wanted to do. I got to choose, and I'm glad for it. It was a privilege to take this path. Many people would like to, and cannot, for a variety of reasons.
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But, man, sometimes I would just like to go off to work in the morning, and leave someone else in charge. Someone else to do the daily laundry. Think up and prepare the daily meals. Schedule the appointments, contain the domestic minutiae.
Someone else could walk to school with an eager four-year-old and a fractious and contrary two-year-old who insists, simultaneously, on not riding in the stroller and not walking beside it. So we're standing halfway up the hill, on a busy street, engaging in a mental tug-of-war ... "Come on, honey. Keep walking. Or I'll have to strap you into the stroller. Come on, sweetheart. We're going to be late. We're already late. This is driving me crazy. The kids will be waiting. I don't want to have to strap you in. You need to walk, or else I'll have to ..." And on and on and on, inching, lurching forward, sometimes at full tilt, then coming again to a standstill, till finally the inevitable happens and we are so late that he must be strapped in (screaming hysterically) and I am running--and still arrive late. "Why were you late?" "I'm sorry. Do you remember that we have swimming after school today?" "I won't go. I hate swimming." "We have to go." "But I won't. I just won't. I hate everything." "Would you like a banana muffin? We baked them this morning." [Translation: two-year-old howled for more chocolate chips while four-year-old and her friend mixed and poured batter all over the counter this morning]. Eldest daughter emerges, at last, very late. She's holding a gigantic car constructed of recyclables: of all the days to bring home this project. "I don't think you can carry that all the way to swimming, do you? Can you store it on your desk and bring it home tomorrow? Do you want a muffin?" She chooses to carry it. We're late. We walk fast. She falls far behind. "I'm still not going swimming," says the eight-year-old. "Okay, if you really don't want to, you can wait for us in the stands, but unfortunately, I do have to go in with your little brother." Silence. "Another muffin?" "I guess I'll have to go then." Two-year-old attempting stroller escape, thwarted by intrepid four-year-old, balancing precariously, with arms and legs akimbo to block all exit routes. More howls. More, "Maybe you could put that car in your backpack and rebuild it later?" More, "I hate this. This is stupid." Finally, our destination. Eldest daughter races off to the bathrooms. We wait. We're late. She's back. We enter a changeroom. We've forgotten a hair elastic. Eldest daughter races to stroller to find one. We wait. Still late. She's back. Two-year-old now naked. "Do you have to pee?" Yup, and he's considering the floor. "Please, please, please don't pee on me," someone else could mutter while racing for the bathroom clutching naked two-year-old. On the way, observe the mother with two older children who has driven here instead of walking, talking quietly to her offspring, guiding them toward the pool with preternatural calm. Return with successfully toileted two-year-old to changeroom where own offspring are fighting over who should sit where. "I might have to start cursing," someone else could say. "What does that mean?" "Nothing. I'll tell you later. When we aren't stuck in a public changeroom with holes at the top of the walls, and the judgement of strangers to guide us otherwise." We emerge, eventually, store items in locker, trip over one another, why is everyone always standing exactly blocking the direct route to anything? Finally. Pool.
This is only half of the tale.
Now, wouldn't it be nice to have someone else do that instead? Wouldn't it? Or, maybe not. It is good material, after all.
:::
It's what I do.
And this afternoon, someone else (our babysitter) is walking to school on my behalf ... in the rain, no less. I almost want to stop her before she heads out the door and say, go on home, I'll do it, don't worry. It's my job.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Today

I want to tell you about today. I got up early, again. I was home from yoga before 8 0'clock, and said to Kev, "I feel like I already had my first cup of coffee." (Then I went and had it anyway, because nothing beats that first cup of coffee). The wind is strong today, so is the sun, the sky is swept blue. CJ and his little friend played all morning with our new babysitter, and all was well. And I worked on a story. It is refreshing and sweet and delicious to be working simply for the sake of doing it, not toward a paycheque, though that may sound odd (and working toward a paycheque has its own set of pleasures, I might add). But to write just because of the words ... nothing beats that. I'm not romanticizing. I don't think.
In early afternoon, CJ and I ran errands uptown, then stopped for gelato and coffee, and he read books on the floor in his red sunhat and blue rainboots, and I sat quietly. Thinking. I did not feel distracted. I did not feel restless. I felt at peace. And the words that came to me right then were: I'm already doing what I'm meant to be doing.
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Wait, need to edit that last sentence. Who knows what I'm meant to be doing. Not me, that's for sure. But I'm already doing what I want to be doing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

New Routine

A new Monday, a new routine. I got up early and went to a yoga class, and was home in time to pluck CJ out of his crib. Which was fortunate timing because he'd just started to howl (and to refuse everyone else's offer of help) upon being informed by a friendly sister that I was at "hot yoga."
"Mama, no go a hot yoga!" he yelled at me.
"I'm already back!" I said, not quite believing it myself. Starting today, I shall attempt for two weeks to get up early. Two weeks seems a reasonably ambitious goal for a woman who has been a night owl for the better part of two decades. Even infants and toddlers could not make me like getting up early (though I did what I had to do). Maybe getting up early without infants and toddlers will do the trick.
:::
The oven was on all weekend. Four loaves of ordinary sandwich bread thrown together on Saturday; plus one secret chocolate cake for my mom's birthday party yesterday (using up the last of the beets, which imparted to the cake a rootier flavour than usual; not actually that sad to see the last of them after a winter of seasonal eating). Sunday, I whipped up four quiches (with spring asparagus and spinach!) for the birthday lunch; and in a late afternoon session, made granola, then chocolate chip cookie bars. My weekend discovery: baking and cooking have become second nature, and no longer require the thinking and planning they once did. I bake bread like I'm reciting the times tables. I peel potatoes and measure spices and gauge what's lacking in the soup instinctively, which allows me to do it even when I'm exhausted, or less than inspired, or distracted, or engrossed in a radio show. Thank goodness for the radio. CBC radio one, to be specific. My beloved kitchen companion.
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A new week, new routine. CJ will attend an extra morning at nursery school. Our new babysitter will fetch the kids from school on Friday afternoons. I will yoga in the early morning. And soccer will dominate our evenings, and Saturday mornings. I am brainstorming picnic food, consume-in-transit food, make-in-advance food. Tonight's menu: Wendy's BIG pasta salad; and roll-up sandwiches on tortillas which the kids will customize to their liking, and bring along to AppleApple's first soccer practice. (Planned toppings: egg salad, tuna salad, spinach, cheese, peppers and cukes).
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One last tidbit: Soccer in the park started on Saturday, and despite the rain--and, worse, the ominous rumblings of thunder in the distance--we had a good turn-out, and a great practice and game. Most fun--and unexpected--was seeing Fooey participate, fling herself into the gang, elbow her way out of a crowd, and kick the ball all the way down the field to the net. Next up, sending CJ out on the field, too. Hey, he's got a good solid boot on him.
:::
P.S. Photos added after text. The first was taken in our backyard, which is beyond paradise right now. This is its peak flowering season. Be alert for fairies. The second photo is from the party, taken by AppleApple (she took a ton of photos, and many of them were strikingly composed). This is her gift for her grandma: a doll that she sewed herself, inside a bag that she also sewed herself. These projects are entirely of her doing, from inspiration to completion. I don't even help her thread the needle.