Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Midwife to Stories

Friends may have noticed a slight up-tick in the writing time, or a sense of greater urgency to get to work, and it is true: I am working on a specific project that is occupying my mind.
I would like to describe exactly how my mind is being occupied by this book, because it feels like a new experience. I am calmly, joyfully, quietly, peacefully occupied.
I have blogged here before about my Nicaragua project, and the Juliet stories, several of which were published last fall in The New Quarterly.
And I have blogged about my attempt to write some of the material as memoir, since there is overlap between what my character Juliet experiences and what I experienced as a child. (I lived in Managua, Nicaragua during the contra war, in 1984 and 1985; my parents were peace workers).
But the memoir did not get very far. I found myself frustrated by what was--by the intransigence of fact. Life unfolds in a dreadfully under-plotted fashion. There is a narrative arc to it, but it is not always the arc one wishes for, as a writer. For reasons I can't analyze, I find more truth and symmetry and meaning in fiction than in non-fiction (this is true as a reader, and as a writer). In fiction, anything can happen; but the things that happen have to make sense. In non-fiction, everything has happened; and some of those things do not make sense. The Juliet stories play with that line between fiction and non-fiction: I've created a fictional world rent with the holes and spaces created by memory.
:::
This all sounds too theoretical. There's nothing theoretical about writing a story. I am at a loss to describe how it's done. When I have an idea for a story, it is very general, and sits in my mind in a visual and emotional way. I hold a particular emotion at the front of my mind that I want the story to contain. And I see the story's structure, the physical shape of it, in a very visual way that is almost impossible to describe. I don't think up the structure--I see it, as if I am discovering something that already exists, and then translating it into words.
The story I am writing right now is about a young woman visiting her grandmother, and I have a sense of time slowing down within the grandmother's apartment, which I think relates to the grandmother's physical difficulty moving, the slow pace of her life, and her stretched-out understanding of time. I see the entrance into the story like a wall with an arm reaching through it and making a tunnel, down which Juliet is travelling, and Juliet is glancing down side tunnels and being reminded of other things, and letting her imagination sneak off, but she continues to be pulled along this tunnel, and as I get further into the story, I see that the tunnel is the hallway of her grandmother's apartment building, and I see that Juliet wants to reach her grandmother's door (yet, Juliet is already also inside the apartment--so the story must belong to two separate times, must be in part a reminiscence). I sense that she cannot enter her grandmother's apartment again. I sense grief, and a desire to be let in; but I also sense Juliet's curiosity; it will rescue her, and the story.
::::
Weird. I've never tried to do that before--to explain the strong visual sensations I have while working or thinking about a story. The structural visuals have very little to do with what turns up on the page (the story has neither floating characters nor tunnels, I promise); though I wonder whether a reader might sense their presence underlying the story. Every story has a shape, and a texture, and a flavour. The flavour can be the hardest to get right. Often a story resists being turned into something that it's not. You just cannot change the underlying mood, which is why I think this invisible structural patterning is so crucial to what turns up on the page.
::::
I would like to write three more stories for Juliet. I have them in my mind, and when I think about writing them, I feel a combination of fear and great purpose and excitement.
I began working on this material in 2006. I applied for and received a Canada Council grant, based on an entirely fictional idea, nothing whatsoever to do with Juliet; part of the grant went towards travelling to Nicaragua for research. I took my family, and my mother and one of my brothers along on the journey. While there, I began to understand that the story I wanted to write was not the entirely fictional one proposed; the story was closer to autobiography. I've never wanted to publish stories about myself, and took care in Hair Hat not to. But I'd written and published a story in 2005 set in Nicaragua, and I realized it had potential to belong to something larger; I just had to leap over my fear of the autobiographical.
It would be tedious to recount all the different forms this material has taken in the years between then and now. The character of Juliet has always been a part of it, though in the first story I wrote, she was named Mary. At first, I thought it was the mother's story (her name is Gloria, and always has been). But the further I got into the project, the more I began to see that it was Juliet's story--the child's story.
It was only this spring that I discovered something new, and it came as a hallelujah moment: the stories stretch beyond Nicaragua and into Juliet's future. My Juliet now gets to be a mother, herself, and to reflect on that. She gets to be a teenager. She gets to be single, and she gets to be married. She passes through all of the awkward stages to adulthood. She is fluid in age and understanding, and time itself is fluid, and in many stories she is a child and an adult.
:::
This year has been one of calm revelation. I've moved away from my parallel dream of becoming a midwife, and accepted that I am a creative person, and that making things is my gift. I can't change who I am, and it doesn't matter whether the world generally assigns value to it. In the years since my first book was published, I've told myself that I would keep being a writer if only ... fill-in-the-blank. If only I'd get this grant, or publish that story, or win this award. In other words, I was hoping for visible affirmation of my choice to keep slogging away at what is a quiet, interior occupation often plagued by doubt. But every if-only achieved proved too temporary, too easily knocked down by every if-only not achieved. I began pursuing more seriously my interest in midwifery. I am so glad that I did. Had I not, it might always have teased at me--the what-if, the could-I-have-been? The deeper my exploration, the more I discovered (to my deep disappointment) my interest waning.
My interest in writing has yet to wane. May it never. Slowly, I've come to understand. Being a writer is not about achieving if-onlys. It is about accepting that one is a writer--and not necessarily a good writer or a well-known writer or a celebrated writer or a successful writer. It's about being what one is, regardless of outcome.
What the Juliet stories have taught me is that some stories just long to become. They feel necessary. I am not a midwife to babies, but I am a midwife to stories, and I have been a midwife to this character.
(Thanks for the thought on being a midwife to moments, Janis; that helped me pull this idea together).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Too tired for anything but blogging ...

I want to write about writing, but it may be that I'm just too tired tonight to write about anything at all. Therefore, insert photos! This 365-day project has had the unexpected effect of being like a tutorial in portrait photography (don't know why it took me till day 150 to figure that out). Last night, Kevin and I watched The Young Victoria (a very pleasant romance, if you're into Victorian costume drama), and what kept diverting my eyes? The lighting. How is her face lit? It looks like natural lighting, but is it? And if not, what is the director using to give the appearance of natural lighting? Etc.
:::
It's nearly July. The big kids have one day of school left in grades two and three. And my Fooey has completed junior kindergarten. (See photo, above, of her getting ready to go to school this morning).
:::
Last week, I only exercised one day out of seven. Wow. That was not good. And I felt it. I felt tired, which made me feel less like exercising ... which made me feel even more tired. So, with great intentions I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night and set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. Slept without stirring for approximately seven hours, and woke when my husband tapped me on the back. Apparently his internal alarm had sounded. Mine, not a peep, not a polite brrrrng-brrrng; nothing. Which meant I woke just as morning yoga class was about to begin; but, being awake and well-rested, I hopped out of bed, ate a banana, and headed for a run. It was surprisingly less tortuous alone than I'd anticipated. I even heard a rooster crow in the park's zoo. I didn't think about much, just ran. It wasn't super-early, so people were out and about, lots of construction workers heading to sites in the area, friendly hellos from other runners and cyclists. And I enjoyed the endorphins, and felt ready for my day in a way I hadn't all last week.
My goal is to exercise four times a week: two runs, two yoga classes. I will report back. I enjoy setting goals; don't always meet them, but enjoy setting and re-setting them. Life is flux.
:::
Photos above include AppleApple on her last day of horse lessons (at least for this round), with Sunman, who was her regular ride. I love how comfortable and affectionate she is with all animals, even ones that are so much larger than her.
We also had some awesome rainstorms this weekend; guess I was over-optimistic about the laundry-hanging on Sunday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

I've decided to blog rather than nap during quiet time this afternoon. Is this wise? Well, I was out with friends till midnight last night, and dragged myself out of bed to make last-minute school lunches this morning, and I hung today's laundry while it was actually raining (spitting, more accurately), so I'm not sure wisdom is the word of the day. But getting 'er done is. (Um, that phrase just insisted it had to be used). So, I made it through the morning with two exuberant children and nothing that a cup of coffee couldn't fix, the big kids left with delicious nutritious meals in their backpacks, and the sun is now shining. This speaks to the luck of whim and of deliberately not making detailed plans.
:::
So, I know that many of you are already making your own yogurt (and a big thank you to all who have offered tips and instructions!), but for those of you who aren't, or who are curious to try, I am here to tell you: It is easy! I've been making four litres of milk into yogurt (four litres of milk equals four litres of yogurt). This lasts our family about a week and a half. We eat the yogurt for breakfast; we eat it in place of sour cream on beans and rice, etc.; and I've been combining it with strawberries to make above-average popsicles.
:::

Homemade Yogurt

What you'll need: whole-fat milk; yogurt starter; cooking pot; candy thermometer; insulated container; jars with lids.
Directions: In a large pot, gently bring four litres of whole-fat milk to a simmer (or try a litre if you're experimenting and nervous about potentially spoiling that much milk). Heat the milk to 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally to spread the heat, and to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. This takes some time, and I have not rushed it yet; and have had good results. For consistent results, I recommend using a candy thermometer affixed to the side of the pot. Meanwhile, "sterilize" several quart canning jars by pouring boiling water into them and letting them sit for a few minutes (I realize this does not actually sterilize them, but it's as strict as I get in my kitchen; if you do something else, please let me know). The boiling water can be re-used: when you're done sterilizing the jars, pour the hot water into a large plastic jug (or other container), and place the jug into an insulated cooler (which in this instance will be a heater).
When the milk has reached 180 degrees F, remove it from the stove, and cool. This goes faster if you set the pot into a sinkful of cold water. When the temperature has dropped to 110 degrees F (or more precisely is below 120 degrees, but above 90), stir in the bacterial starter. Translation: stir in some fairly fresh yogurt. You can freeze yogurt in ice cube trays for this purpose. I've erred on the side of more is better. I put in about 1/4 cup per litre, or even slightly more.
The Home Creamery is a good reference book on making all things milk-related, and it recommends 1/4 cup of starter per quart of milk.
Now, pour the prepared milk into jars leaving some space at the top, add lids, and place into the warm innards of the heated-up cooler. Don't lift the lid for seven or eight hours. In the wintertime, you may need to check that the water is hot and the temperature approximately 90 degrees F; right now, not so much.
What you'll get: And when you do finally peek, it will look like a little miracle has taken place right here in your own kitchen. Yogurt! Firm, sweet, tangy, creamy yogurt.
:::

It is easy to keep making something that tastes this good, and is as good or better than anything I can buy (my homemade bread falls into this category, too). On the other hand, it is rather less easy to keep making things that are less popular with the children (and with us) than storebought. So, I must confess that I've shelved a Green Dream or two, and have not made crackers since the first batch, which seemed to wane in popularity after a day or two; and we bought graham crackers for our firepit cook-out; and I haven't pursued making pasta or cheese or .... you name it. Much food continues to come into our house packaged in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. SIGH.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bit of a mess around here ...

CJ is only pretending he wants to nurse, come night-time. What he wants is to get himself cuddled into my arms. He will then say, "Mama, I gonna tell you something!" (He pronounces something like some-sing.) And then he launches into elaborate made-up stories told at high volume, about little lions and little moths and sometimes Master Yoda makes an appearance. Books are thrown off of shelves. Little moths are "grumpy." Little lions drink chocolate milk and are happy. Milk is spilled and Mama cleans it up and she says "thank you!" (Would that this were so).
Tonight, when I laid him in his crib (and he's still up there, wide awake and protesting loudly), I said, "Goodnight, bub." This sent him into paroxysms of hilarity. "I not bub, I CJ!" Just repeating the word "bub" had him in tears. The world is funny. Things sound funny.
:::
Tonight's yoga class was killer. There was something in that room--anxiety, fear, something like that. It was really hot. And I was tired. And there were lots of people there, including some who were trying out hot yoga for the first time. A lot of people were suffering through the class, and it was easy to read on everyone's faces and in their postures, including my own. But my problem was my mind. It just would not settle. I did not believe that I could manage, and over and over again I had to pull myself back to remembering that, yes, I could, and I have many times before. Toward the end, we all settled, somewhat, as the instructor found us a pose that brought us some peace with the inner turmoil. I recognized what I was feeling: I had been telling myself that I was feeling sadness, but I noticed that I was enjoying what I was feeling too much for that. Aha! I was feeling self-pity. Ugh. Do I ever hate self-pity. And there I was, wallowing around in it, making excuses. Now, this isn't to discount the legitimacy of experiencing sadness. But there must be some way to experience it that isn't indulgent. Self-indulgent. What is the point at which enjoying an emotion is a cue that it's become not healthy? Aren't some emotions there to be enjoyed?
I haven't had quite as much energy recently. I wonder whether it's more mental or physical. I'm not sure. But it is now nearly 10pm: all four children are still awake; AppleApple is weeping because she can't find her Pooh Bear (just found him--phew!); Fooey is trying to sleep on a blanket on the floor because she's a cat; the dishes are completely undone; I need to pack a picnic for the whole family for a "special people picnic" in honour of Fooey tomorrow; I feel the need to blog (talk about self-indulgent!); we have to take a snack for AppleApple's soccer team tomorrow night, and have nothing suitable on hand; and we have no coffee in the house!!!! No coffee! Now that's an emergency. I just sent Kevin on a quick run (in the truck; eco-confession) to the nearest grocery store, which is open till 10. There. Happy ranting.
Back to the dishes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Picnic Food

Peanut Dressing for Noodles or Dipping, adapted from the rebar cookbook

Mix together: 1/4 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth); 2 garlic cloves, minced; a hunk of fresh ginger, to taste, chopped (I freeze fresh ginger and saw off flakes, as needed); 2 tbsp honey; the juice of one lime; 1/4 cup tamari sauce; 2 tbsp cider vinegar; 1/4 cup coconut milk, or stock, or water. This mixture can be whirled in a blender, or heated together in a pot on the stove till smooth and combined.

Toss with hot whole wheat spaghetti noodles, 1 tbsp sesame oil, and chopped veggies for an instant picnic salad. (Well, almost instant; you might prefer to cool it in the fridge before eating).

If you are using the sauce for dipping veggies or tofu, you may want to skip adding the coconut milk/stock/water, which thins it out a bit. Also note that hot sauce or red pepper flakes can be added directly to the mix if you are lucky enough to have an entire family who will agree to eat spicy food (ours won't).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Have I Not Felt Like Blogging?

Why have I not felt like blogging, this past week? I've had a moment, here or there, that could have been turned into time to blog. But I chose not to.
Because ...
1. My head is full. Too full. Which makes it hard to zero in on a subject. I'll be honest with you. My head is full of Life, good and bad, dark and light, hope and despair, grief and excitement. Sometimes I just want to sit and let myself feel what I'm feeling, quietly. Without trying to put it into words.
2. This hasn't been conscious, but I'm finding some balance in my days and hours. In a sense, I'm making compartments for different tasks, different identities. This morning is quiet and interior: I am writing. The house is empty. My mind homes in on this other world I'm making. There's some of the source of excitement: making something, gathering up the disparate pieces and sensing that it's coming together, even if it's not quite there yet. (I abandoned the memoir awhile ago--did I ever write about that? I am working on the story collection, the Juliet stories.)
After school, I'll enter into the noisy chaotic compartment of motherhood. I'm trying harder to check email less frequently, sit down with a kid in my lap more frequently; that also means not squeezing in a blog post while a child stands at my knee and screams for attention.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. The full-on mothering days feel sweeter because I have these other days and opportunities to express other parts of myself. I am luxuriating in the freedom I have within every day. I just have to accept its seasoning and flavour. Say, freedom to go out for lunch with a friend. Freedom to bake sweet treats for/with my kids. Freedom to walk rather than drive. Freedom to volunteer at the school fun fair.
It is amazing to discover that commitment to an activity offers up space for real relaxation and enjoyment.
Example ... I volunteered at the school fun fair. Yes, I left clothes hanging on the line and it poured rain and I couldn't run home to rescue them; guess what--they stayed on the line overnight and dried the next day, having enjoyed a lovely soft water rinse. Yes, I had to bring along all four kids; guess what--they had a blast helping out. Yes, Kevin was stuck in Toronto; guess what--AppleApple missed her soccer practice and the world did not end; plus, everybody rose to the occasion, and the big kids were able to do activities with the little kids. Yes, I applied fake tattoos for several hours; guess what--it was a blast chatting with the kids who streamed through, and their parents. I didn't waste a minute worrying that the evening wasn't going precisely as planned, or that we were staying longer than anticipated, or that the kids were going to be grumpy the next day.
I am a naturally impatient person, and I'm just beginning to grasp that conceptualizing any time as a waste is itself the biggest waste of all. I don't have a lot of spare time, so it can be easy to resent time spent doing something that isn't my first or second or even third choice; I am finding myself more relaxed about that. Inside every moment is a potential discovery.
What comes at me so strongly this week, as I sit inside quiet and some sadness, is that this is my life. I am alive. I am breathing, in and out, and I am living this present moment whether or not it is the moment I want to be living. Can I embrace each moment? Probably not. But the more moments I embrace--chosen and otherwise, going according to plan or going hay-wire--the more moments will embrace me.
You know it when you find it. You likely won't recognize it till afterward. But you'll know--an hour, an afternoon, longer, those moments when you are out of time and inside the experience, just being within it. Often, you have a sense of not wanting this--whatever this is--to pass. Or even no sense at all of time passing. You blink, and hours are gone. You wonder where you've been. You've been inhabiting yourself, that's all. For me, these moments seem to come more easily when connected to something physical, walking, running, kneading, drinking, laughing, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.
:::
Guess I was ready to blog ...
This is what happens when I get up early and exercise. I didn't even set my internal alarm this morning, it just decided to go off.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Crumb Central

I got tired yesterday. Or, woke tired. Saturday was productive: I made yogurt (4 litres of yogurt!), and baked a batch of bread. I also made almond milk from scratch. But yesterday I felt weary of kitchen work. So I baked a rhubarb crisp for supper (dessert) and left it at that. Our fridge is full of homemade. Our house is in disarray, and thank heavens for my crocs (which I wear as slippers) because the floor is crumb central. ("You don't have to work all the time, you know," Kevin told me yesterday, as I was confessing an overwhelming desire to do NOTHING AT ALL.) Yesterday evening, the whole family went into a fugue state: Fooey went off to sleep, CJ puttered with Little People, Albus played piano in order to figure out a song on the guitar with Kevin (and Kevin was amazed by everything Albus knew about music--his ear, his rhythm, his understanding of musical theory; I just knew putting in all those years of early childhood music, and this past year of piano lessons, would be worth it! yay! I truly believe in giving kids the rudiments, so they can take them and develop on them; I'm so excited by Albus's new enthusiasm); and AppleApple and I worked on her school project (that child has an extremely organized mind!). Time passed. Soon, it was 9:30 and we were like ... um, responsible parents, bedtime, sheesh. So, children all put to bed, Kevin and I collapsed in the living-room with a beer, and I said, you won't believe this, but I swear I spent a lot of time tidying this room today. He said, you won't believe this, but so did I. It was a puzzle/games disaster, and mixed-up puzzle/game pieces are just endlessly frustrating to sort. The things I found under the couch. But the kids had a fun morning playing restaurant (at least, it was fun till they called me to be their customer, and I showed up and went, AAAAAGHGHG! Mommy has to leave the restaurant right now or she will make you start cleaning all this up!). Anyway, by the time Kevin and I wandered to the kitchen, post-beer, it was past 11. I did not try very hard to set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. And my internal alarm did not go off. Here's the thing about the early mornings: I love them. But I have to go to bed early. There is no compromising on this. My body makes darn sure of it. So, if I have to choose between quiet early morning and hanging out with my husband, I generally choose the latter. I'll get a wee bit of exercise right about now (though hardly a zen moment) as I walk to school to pick up the kids.
::::
PS That photo above is my boys this morning: my biggest and my littlest. One off to work, the other off to nursery school ... leaving me alone in a quiet house for a couple of blissful hours.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

She Took Notes

I keep finding scraps of paper around the house with paragraphs in tiny printing: AppleApple recording and making up stories about our daily lives. This overwhelms me with happiness. A child who loves words! I do hope she'll finish her newspaper; however, she's currently sidetracked by a school project on orcas, which she is typing up on my computer.
Here are excerpts from the writing I've found; I've corrected some eccentric spelling and grammar.

This one is from a school assignment, asking, If your mom told you the three most important things to remember, what do you think she would say? Why? "Keep earth clean. Stay safe, and have fun. I think she would say this because she wants to be environmentally friendly she doesn't want to worry about us and she likes us to have fun."
{side note: YAY! Talk about affirmation. I think she's bang on.}

Here's an advertisement she wrote for a school assignment, selling a candy of her own invention: "Have you ever tasted a yummy healthy morsel that will last forever? Would you like to try one? Is your wish to fly? Well you will get it if you eat this. Is your wish to talk to animals? Well you will get your wish if you eat this. You know how mom says don't play with your food? Well you can with this and it won't get dirty. Do you get bored of going over and over in the same swimming class? If you eat this it will make you swim better. Are you worried that you will waste your money? That's not a problem because my special candy comes with ten and multiplies twenty. So amazing saving 20 dollars! Now you must try this now. Come on kids. Don't sit there. Come and buy it now."
{side note: re doing the same swim class forever: She passed, FINALLY! Unfortunately, her brother did not. And somehow, Fooey managed not to pass after having already passed the level three times previously (which likely says more about her instructor's standards, than Fooey's accomplishments).
Also, it would appear that AppleApple has her mother's head for math ...}

"Things I like to say at lunch. Can I fill my water bottle? Can I have your autograph? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I get a drink of water? Can I get an apple?"

And this might risk scooping her newspaper, but here's an excerpt from the notes she's taking toward that project: "Dad's crazy about the world cup. Right now he's watching the world cup. It's the main subject at home today and yesterday."
{Totally and completely true. He's "cleaning up the living-room" right now.}

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Took Notes

Thoughts come to me while I'm hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
On an evening out with friends, recently, we came around to talking about chores (we're all moms or moms-to-be), and one friend mentioned that she genuinely enjoys hanging laundry on the clothesline--she didn't mean that she finds it a chore she can tolerate, or doesn't mind doing, but that she genuinely takes pleasure from it. She described hanging the napkins together so they flapped in the wind like a prayer flag. And those of us who regularly hang laundry realized we often do something similar: making patterns, following interior rules about what goes where; in essence, creating something that pleases us aesthetically. Do you have rituals you follow, or patterns you make; or does another chore bring you a similar kind of aesthetic pleasure? I think it points toward the artistic impulse.
:::
Lately, I've been thinking about a particular philosophical dilemma, which is related both to parenting styles and parenthood generally: I think all parents are occupied, whether consciously or otherwise, with finding a balance between individual pursuits and collective responsibility. (This is a societal question, too, and where you land on the scale is probably indicative of your political beliefs).
This balance comes into play in virtually everything I do. Do I push my son to practice piano, or do I hope he will come to develop his own talents? Probably a bit of both, right?
Maybe I need to explain this idea in more concrete terms. I'm thinking about how families work. How very much I would like my children to walk to school together, and to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other. However, my eldest wants to walk with his friends: they have made a thoughtful plan for meeting and walking together. I am proud of his initiative, and glad that he has strong connections with friends. But I want him to be a helpful big brother, and I'd planned to have the three kids walk to school together next year. What's the balance? This one is easy, because we've already worked it out. Albus will walk with friends. We have other options for getting his two sisters to school. In this case, we went with the individual, because it did not harm the collective.
:::
I don't think the balance between individual and collective is ever perfected. It's an ongoing challenge. For example, I've also been thinking a great deal about how spiritual and artistic practice requires uninterrupted time. There's no short-cut for this. In order to go deep, you need to enter into yourself while letting yourself go. This isn't necessarily selfish, but it might appear to be, and certainly can feel selfish, when one is a mother (or father) to small children. Children are notoriously good at pulling you out of wherever you've gone--if they need you. And mine seem to need me a lot.
But there's another issue: If I've arranged childcare and freed up time to work, what guilt I feel if the work that ends up getting done is invisible, even to me. If it makes next to nothing. If I sit and stare out the window. Writing a story sometimes appears to be a quick process, but I believe there is a great deal of invisible unknown work going on beneath the surface that makes the story possible.
:::
One final thought from my laundry-hanging philosophy session. Practice, and consistently doing something, makes that thing easy to do, so that that what appeared impossible or even merely inconvenient proves otherwise. I am thinking of the snack-making. Nothing in the cupboards to pull out, so I whip together cheese and apple slices and raisins, in individual containers, and the kids love it. Nothing in the cupboards, so I pull out the popcorn popper and everyone watches the process, and devours the results.
Yes, it takes more time and effort, but not that much more. The difference is actually inside my own head. Does it feel difficult and hard, or possible and simple?
(I did not get up early most of this week, and I missed it a great deal. So, this morning, I did again, and went to yoga, and appreciated both the effort and the ease).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kitchen Day

Carrot Bars (adapted from Simply in Season)

Beat together 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of white sugar, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. When creamed, add 1 cup of vegetable (canola) oil and beat till combined.

Add 3 cups of shredded carrot (or more), 2 beaten eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.

Sift together separately: 4 cups of flour (I used all white, but my guess is that you could substitute some whole wheat); 4 teaspoons baking powder; 1 teaspoon salt. Stir into wet mixture.

Spread on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes (in my oven, it took 23 minutes to reach buttery soft goodness). Remove from oven, cut into squares while still in the pan and hot, and let cool on the tray before removing to storage containers. In keeping with my no-pre-packaged snack plan, I've made up three containers with eight bars in each in preparation for piano and swimming outings (those have gone into the freezer). I also have a full container for eating and lunch boxes sitting on the counter.

This was a good use for those extra carrots languishing in the bottom of our veggie drawer; AppleApple took the last and rubberiest to her horse camp this afternoon.

:::

Today, I woke up early to go for a run with a friend. We got soaked and the rain was cold, so we did not go quite as far as usual. When I returned, I fed the kids "dessert as breakfast": leftover rhubarb crisp, served with milk over top. Kevin informed me that my clock was off due to waking so early, and all day I've tuned in to CBC Radio in the Maritimes, because it runs an hour ahead of CBC Radio here.
It has been a wonderfully productive kitchen day. Started by making 1. the above carrot bars (with help from AppleApple on the carrot-peeling-and-grating, and CJ on the sifter; whenever we start to bake together, he runs to wash his hands, and then shouts: "Where my napkin, Mama? I want my napkin!" Translation: apron). Then, helpers bored and dispersing, I whipped together 2. Really Good Granola, which, judging by anecdotal feedback, just might be the most popular recipe on this blog. While that was baking, I made 3. my traditional Sunday waffles, with three bags of leftovers frozen for breakfasts this week. Because making waffles is a brainless activity involving time rather than focus, I took the opportunity to attempt 4. yogurt. By this point in the morning, let it be known that I was a touch irritable. Do not interrupt your loving mother while she is trying to do something finicky and brand-new! (It is safe to report that my children rarely--perhaps even never--take note of such advice).
To make the yogurt, I used this recipe, and this one, too, kinda. If it works, I'll detail my method in another post. The jars are currently sitting in a cooler (in this case, it's a heater, with boiling water in a container to keep it warmish). I will let you know. Between snapping at children who wandered between me and stove, I had to remind myself that I will make mistakes and operate less-efficiently the first time around, and that it will get easier as it becomes more familiar (like bread-baking, something I can do with my eyes closed; almost).
I still haven't solved how to make yogurt without creating plastic bag waste (in Canada, our milk is sold in 4 litre quantities divided between three thick plastic bags, which completely amazed and baffled me at age ten when my family moved back to Canada--milk in bags? This is definitely less wasteful than milk in solid plastic containers. But where can I buy milk in returnable glass jars? Without, as mentioned in an earlier post, having to forgo sending my children to university?). That was a long aside. I've totally lost all track of where this began. Oh, the final cooking venture of the day is 5. tomato sauce for supper tonight, made up fresh using tomatoes frozen last summer; a batch big enough to put some away for another meal this week or next.

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Fooey spent all morning outside with Kevin, working on her own garden patch. Today is cold. That was some hard work. She came inside for some waffles and playtime, and is back outdoors again. "What would you like to do today?" I asked her this morning. "Look for Pooh Bear, and play." "Anything else?" "Nope. I guess playing is what I do."

AppleApple spent all morning working on a magazine she plans to produce, inspired by the "newspapers" that I made many years ago, and which one of my brothers printed and bound in hard cover for posterity, as Christmas gifts, a couple of years ago. AppleApple found the "book" on our shelf and was entranced. We are still working out what computer program she could use to most easily produce the magazine (ie. with the least assistance from her parents). Today, she took a number of photographs for the first edition, brainstormed story ideas, and interviewed every family member on subjects such as: "What is your favourite toy?" (Published interviews will not include CJ, who was taking too long to reply, and being too silly). If you live in the neighbourhood, you might just receive a hand-delivered copy of her first edition sometime in the next several weeks. If you live far away and would like a copy mailed to you, please drop me a line. This is assuming her project comes to fruition ... but the child is very determined ...

Albus has had a friend day; in fact, he's had a friend weekend. He was also treated to a 3-D movie last night (the latest Shrek), and returned home with these glasses, of which he is very proud. (I will not post the photo of Kevin in the same glasses, shirtless and wearing his pants like a hip-hopping teenager, which was what he was wearing--minus the glasses--when Albus arrived home and Kevin went outside to chat with the mother who was dropping him off. Now you want to see the photo. But I'm keeping it for future blackmailing purposes).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Key

Downloading photos from our point-and-shoot camera today, I discovered AppleApple's take on life in the backyard, just before suppertime, today. Kevin was attempting to fix a hand-me-down bicycle for Fooey to ride (the effort was futile). AppleApple was mourning and recording the loss of her hammock (to time and to weather). Fooey and CJ were playing--what else? And I was photographing myself for my 365 project: how strange, almost jarring, to see that process recorded, from her perspective.
(I don't know where she found that key, but she keeps it on a loop of leather, and it might have something to do with her ongoing Harry Potter game; in any case, it is mysterious, and mysterious objects are powerful for the imagination.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dancers from the Dance

Above, images from our morning, yesterday.
Today, a quiet house. (Plenty of noise from the nearby road construction to balance that out). Yoga to start my day, early, and serenely. Waiting for the perfect moment to drink that first cup of coffee. Will hang laundry first, and mull and meditate and prepare, because today I have stories to plot, and words to labour over, and I love love love having the chance to do it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Snacks for the Otherwise Overwhelmed

I started this post two days ago. It's all about food. I've been wondering whether my growing obsession with non-packaged, home-produced food is a starry-eyed version of head-in-the-sand behavior: as if, by removing plastic from my life I will somehow right the innumerable wrongs that continue to be committed in the name of consuming, convenience, and self-contentment. I still drive a vehicle that burns gasoline. I still use a computer that runs on electricity, much of which comes from a coal-fired plant. Have you seen footage of oil gushing into the blue blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico? I am culpable. I've been wondering whether my desire to control what we eat is a simplistic attempt at atonement, at optimism, a desire to do something--anything--to stem the flow; an act against hopelessness, or stasis.

Well, if it is, so be it. Here are some recipes that we've been enjoying.

Creamy "Ranch" Dressing
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
Mix together in a bowl: 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, several pinches of salt; 3/4 cup plain yogurt; the juice of one lime (or 3-4 tbsp cider vinegar); chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional); several finely chopped green onions; ground pepper to taste.
Particularly good over a taco salad, or a spinach and steak salad, or served on the side as a veggie dip.

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Rye Crackers
(adapted from a recipe found online ... like this one will now be ...)
Combine in a bowl: 1 and 1/2 cups rye flour; 1/2 tsp salt. Add 3 tbsp butter. Blend together with a fork or pastry cutter till butter is incorporated (like biscuit dough--it will look and feel crumbly). Add in 1 and 1/2 tbsp seeds: caraway, fennel, sesame, poppy, whatever your liking, or in combination. Stir in 1/4 cup water, or slightly more or less, till you've got a stiff dough that holds together but is not sticky. Roll out thinly on a dusted countertop, and place onto ungreased cookie sheet sprinkled with fine cornmeal, or rye flour (I did the rolling and placing in stages, not all at once). Score with a knife into cracker shapes. Will approximately fit onto one tray. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes.

These turned out! I made wheat crackers awhile back which did not. I would not recommended substituting whole wheat or white flour: the rye flour is essential to the flavour. (I also found a semolina and olive oil recipe online that looked yummy; but I didn't have semolina; another time). My conclusion is: the tastier the flour, the tastier the cracker. I must add, however, that these "turned out" because I am not picky about shapes and sizes, and some of the crackers ended up being a bit wonky looking. It would have taken way more time and effort to create the Perfect Cracker. These were quick and easy to make, plus the kids like them. Next time, I will double the recipe and make two trays.

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Finally, a list of Non-Pre-Packaged Snacks, for future reference, produced after much brainstorming, and with suggestions from you:

- tortillas rolled up with hummus and spinach; or cream cheese and jam
- popcorn
- leftover pancakes or waffles
- cheese with apple slices, or crackers
- whole washed apples, oranges, or other fruits
- homemade trail mix: raisins, dried cranberries, nuts or seeds, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips
- homemade muffins, cookies, brownies
- boiled eggs
- tortilla chips or homemade pita chips with yogurt dip, or bean dip
- cut-up veggies with or without dip
- dried apple slices, or other dried fruits
- yogurt and/or/with pearsauce or applesauce
- summer sausage
- granola
- pickles
- seaweed (seriously: my kids love eating ripped off bits from a sheet of seaweed)
- popsicles (for home use only; and here's an awesome tip from the folks at Bailey's Buying Club: make popsicles by spooning pearsauce or applesauce into popsicle molds, and freezing; you can stir some yogurt into the mix, too.)

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Here's what's going into our snack pack for piano lessons this afternoon: brownies (Leah's oatmeal banana recipe); washed whole apples; apple slices (for CJ, who spits out the peels, usually into my hand); cucumber slices; cheese; homemade rye crackers. Will they enjoy it? Why not? Albus actually said, while I was brainstorming some of these ideas out loud, "Those sound like awesome snacks!"
So that's what I've got for today. A little snack pack that represents what-the-heck-else-can-I-do? Seriously. Tell me, and I'll try. Send some green dreams this way. 'Cause I need more.