Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pick-Your-Own Happiness

The kids are hard to budge these days. Friday, Fooey had a dr's appointment in the morning and we all went along for that (me and the kids) and it went quite well, but Fooey's reward afterward was to get to watch a movie ... which everyone else decided to watch, too, and then she wanted another movie, and TV, and on and on, until it was early afternoon, and I finally summoned the energy to say: no! We are going out, and now. Our outing? To pick tomatoes for canning. It was a bit of an impulse adventure. And it seems to take a herculean dose of energy to get everyone organized (water bottles, sun hats, snacks) and out the door ("I'm not going!" "I hate tomatoes!" "You're such a mean mommy!"). If half the gang is excited, the other half is almost guaranteed not to be. One must first find an idea--an outing, an event, a destination--and then one must convince all involved that it is worth being roused for, and when this proves fruitless, one resorts to the methods of dictatorship: everybody march! It's for your own good!
And it is. I promise.
We found the field, using my googled and scribbled instructions ... and by God it was beautiful. "Don't you feel better already? Just being out here? Isn't this wonderful?" (For which I received some muttered agreement from the masses, if not outright enthusiasm). The sun shone, the tomatoes were ripe and plentiful, so many on the vines that we had to be careful not to step on them (they are paste tomatoes and grow on vines that crawl along the ground). In forty-five minutes we had picked approximately 55 pounds of tomatoes--or one bushel. CJ was the most enthusiastic helper, which explains the number of green tomatoes in my bin. The older kids grew tired and sat in the grass under the shade. But I was positively ecstatic. Dirt, sun, sky, the scent of ripe and rotting tomatoes.
Arrived home brimful of renewed energy and direction, and brewed up a pot of pearsauce using pears picked by a neighbour's daughter and delivered hours before, managed to get the pearsauce canned, and then flew out the door with Kevin to see a friend play her uke at a festival in a nearby town.
Yesterday, I started the morning with a run, then got to canning the first 1/2 bushel of these tomatoes, which turned into 7 quarts plus 7 pints of tomato puree. Kevin took the kids out for most of the afternoon to the Buskerfest (spend-your-money-fest), and everyone returned home with giant inflatable hammers and bats (sibling whacking devices) won in dart tossing games. Then we headed out after supper, on bicycles, to see our first roller derby match at the nearby rec centre. The kids had a blast, though mentioned it was awfully LOUD (was it ever). And Kevin and I enjoyed it too; though it didn't inspire me to want to lace up my skates any time soon. Yikes. They fall down hard and often, and onto concrete.
Second round of canning underway today. Have put on a batch of yogurt, too. Tomorrow, we'll be out of homemade bread, again.
Will I exercise today?
I've noticed that my photographs have gone downhill. And I've been writing nothing but blog posts. Is this a factor of time, or energy? Do I have a limited amount of energy--creative energy inseparable from energy generally--and therefore I am using up all of my creative juices on early morning runs/yoga sessions/learning to swim/bike rides? The thought is slightly horrifying. Then again, maybe it's just a downward dip, a little fallow period in the days before the new school year begins, and the rest of life and duties and new (and familiar) directions begin again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home Economy Audit

Here is a list of domestic duties at our house (unpaid), as mentioned in my previous post.
Note: this was really fun to do!

Daily chores
- plan menus, prepare food, serve food, store food
- set table, clear table, wipe table and counters and clean under chairs
- wash dishes, put away dishes
- clean counters and sink in bathrooms
- sort laundry, wash laundry, hang laundry to dry, fold laundry, put away folded clothes
- water plants
- tend to children's hygiene: bath/showers (3 x weekly), clip nails (weekly), brush hair (daily during school year)
- tend to younger children's toileting needs
- organize creative activities for children (home-based)
- get children to and from school/nursery school
- empty backpacks, fill out forms from school, empty lunchboxes
- make school lunches
- supervise homework, piano/guitar/drum practice, theory homework
- arrange and supervise playdates
- bedtime: snacks, toothbrushing, reading/singing to children
- check and update scheduling calendar
- update grocery/pharmacy list
- tidy toys, books, puzzles, games in main downstairs rooms
- empty garbage, compost, recycling; take to curb (weekly); clean composter

Weekly chores
- grocery shop, order and pick up food from buying club
- make laundry detergent
- bake bread, make granola (bi-weekly), bake cookies and muffins, make yogurt (bi-weekly)
- clean toilets (bi-weekly); replace toilet paper, refill soaps
- vacuuming
- arrange outside childcare/babysitting
- outdoor, seasonal: water plants, tend garden, mow grass, sweep patio, tidy outdoor toys, shovel snow
- library visits, keep track of books due
- family meetings; allowance
- banking; bills; budgeting
- tidy toys in upstairs rooms (children's rooms and playroom)
- change sheets

- canning and freezing
- arrange extra-curricular activities/lessons/camps, pack supplies necessary, provide transportation, entertain children who have to go along but are not involved
- sort and size children's clothing/coats; organize by size in attic; give away; buy shoes/boots/etc.
- arrange for repairs (ie. appliances)
- birthday planning
- thorough cleaning/organizing of house and garage and yard
- apply sunscreen (beach/outdoor swimming/mid-day)
- pest control

- eye appointments, dentist appointments, dr. appointments (as needed)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Squeezing Time

Wow. Some really interesting changes are taking place in my life right now. Changes are causing some conflict, and also opening up opportunities for discussion and potentially radical shifts (though I suspect these will be slow and steady rather than sudden and shocking).

This year, I've focused on my spirit, and that's taken me to places of quiet reflection and also drawn out of me greater confidence and courage. My family has been noticing this is round-about ways, as I head out early in the morning to go for a run, learn how to swim, take time to bury myself in writing, head out as soon as supper's on the table in order to take a yoga class, or set up the tripod and camera; all things that I am doing on my own, that don't necessarily connect to their lives, and that might actually exclude them in one way or another.

Kevin and I have been struggling to find, in the midst of this extra-curricular activity, time to spend together. This morning it occurred to us that this is a problem of home economics. Kevin was the one who made this observation, not me. He observed that I am responsible for the bulk of the domestic work, and if I add in other work, whether or not it is of the paying variety, it means that my time becomes more and more squeezed. So I am writing down a list of all the domestic/household labour that I do (and that he does, too), with the idea that we work to split it more evenly, and also among the children, to some degree.

It's quite a list.

Thinking about sharing this work, and therefore having time to focus more freely on the triathlon project and writing generally, brought me to a new revelation: I think part of me wanted to go back to school and become a midwife because then my time would be accounted for, my work outside the home acknowledged as important, and the family obligated to pick up (some) slack--because I wouldn't always be there to do it for them, and with good reason. It is a little fantasy of mine to imagine children packing lunches for school and getting their own snacks after school, and then tidying up. (I did say it was a fantasy).

Kevin admitted that he has fallen into gender stereotyping--well, we both have. He works and earns the money, and I keep the home fires a'burning. Except I also try to squeeze in a side career, and it is indeed very squeezed. Partly this is practical: because he earns the money that keeps us afloat, his work-time isn't optional, and mine, with its occasional grant/prize windfalls and trickle of odd-job cheques is nowhere near enough to feed and house a family of six. So, the divide has made sense. But we've also become trapped by it, and blind to it. Because of course my work will never add up to much if I can't commit to or pursue freelance jobs that would require even moderate time commitment over and above what I've already carved out. And fiction writing is the kind of business that demands long-term investment, a risky investment at best. But without investment, it will add up to precisely nothing.

So, our question now is: how to go forward, treating what I do, outside of domestic duties, as work worthy of more time, and energy?

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little More Summer, Please

Feeling vaguely melancholy; end of summer-ish. Pulled into the driveway this afternoon and noticed fallen leaves on the pavement. noooooooo! But, yes, the days are narrowing ever so slightly. The early morning run happens at the edge of sunrise, not in full light, and nights are cool, almost cold. My sweaters are starting to look comfy and appealing once again. But I'm not done with summer yet!

Witness, these tomatoes picked from our front yard veggie garden--almost exclusively cherry tomatoes, since that's what we planted. I find the skins a little tough, so Fooey helped me make a recipe from one of her cookbooks, for roasted cherry tomato sauce. Nothing fancy, but it did require slicing each little tomato in half before drizzling with oil and roasting in the oven: Fooey's job. Nothing makes her happier these days than a job. She is never more cheerful than when she's been asked to help, and when the job's done she declares, "That would have been a lot harder without me!"

Often, that is true.

The recipe called for a lot of fuss at the end because it had to be pressed through a sieve to strain all the skins out; only a whiff of roasted tomato remained in the sauce, which we tossed with hot pasta and served with queso duro blando, which I substitute regularly for feta. Albus declared it a bit bland. My kids are used to a chunkier sauce. I am not a sieve-it cook. So I won't bother to post the recipe. 


In other news, I am considering training to complete a triathlon. I am working out a regular training schedule, and I am even learning to swim (kind of critical to the whole triathlon concept). In fact, I think I've learned (front crawl, head in water, breathing to the side), though my neck feels a bit stiff after a lot of practice. The technique will need to be finessed, but I feel a sudden understanding for people who love to swim in all waters, even deep cold Canadian lakes ... it's peaceful under there, calm, all noises stilled except for the underwater sounds, and the sound of the body itself, experienced from the inside. I might just become a swimmer at the age of thirty-five. That would be something. I've always wanted to learn ... and I'm not sure why it took me this long to jump in and try.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Evening Outing

Sunday evening, we biked to a picnic gathering in the nearby park, joining other local food enthusiasts in a potluck of amazing variety and in overwhelming quantities. Delicious fun. It was also fun doing something as a family, and I thought, we must not waste these long summer evenings.
So the very next day, I organized a picnic/cycling adventure. As soon as Kevin got home from work, we put the finishing touches on the food, jammed it all into the bike stroller along with the kids, and headed out on a rather longer haul to a little creek-side spot the kids and I found last summer. This summer, someone had added a swing. It was a challenging pull there, mostly uphill, with at least 100 pounds in the stroller behind (though coming home was a breeze). I took my camera.
We laid out a picnic blanket, ate, talked, and then went for an after-supper wade in the creek, which included dam-building, and rock-hopping, and of course ended with two out of four children getting completely soaked. I scrounged the diaper bag for dry clothes, and Fooey had to make-do with a pair of shorts sized for a two-year-old, but she and CJ shared the picnic blanket and laughed and played all the way home. The happiest I've seen them in the stroller EVER. They were pretending to be spies and were hiding from people. The sun shone and there was so much green.
Tonight, I am planning another family outing, to make up for the general dullness of the every day (friends away or otherwise occupied, babysitter here this morning, distracted mama; though we did read more from The Hobbit, and I sent everyone to run around the yard for ten minutes before "quiet time.") Our evening activity, if all goes as planned, is a bike ride to the outdoor pool, and a swim before bed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mama's Hair Salon

Before and after. I didn't think she needed a haircut, but she was adamant (everyone else was getting one, you see).
On the other hand, Mama's hair salon was inspired by these locks, above.After! Now he can see and breathe during swim lessons (that is the hope, anyway.)
No real before/after for AppleApple, because I simply trimmed her ends. And we worked through those dreadlocks that had formed on holiday, due to complete lack of hair-care. This girl is a wild child (for which I love her dearly, though it is my motherly duty to tame her just a wee bit). We were eating out at a restaurant yesterday evening, a stop on the drive home, and in horror Kevin and I watched her devouring clumps of rice with her fingers and sucking soup down the wrong end of the spoon, with hair that suggested we'd captured her in the wild and that our attempts at civilizing her had not been promising.
Before. As if this needs improvement! Yowy.
Well, he can see better after a tiny front trim. But I took one look at those long long long goldilocks curls down his back, and went, nope. Can't cut those off, can't even come near them with the scissors.


Yup, we are home from cottaging. Walked through the door and thought, wow, we should go away more often because this place looks GREAT! Totally forgot we'd gotten the place cleaned during our absence, and that it wasn't by magic that the counters shone and there were no crumbs anywhere.The holiday lethargy never really abated. Kevin felt it too. We rode right into holiday mode and one outing a day was enough to attempt. Which was awesome.
Coming home means looking around with fresh eyes and making to-do lists and discovering energy anew for new projects and familiar routines. Top to-do list is: things we must do before summer's out! (One thing I can now cross off: cut the kids' hair).
Three weeks of summer vacation remain. Three sweet weeks.
One thing on our future hopes and plans list is hiking together, now that everyone can do it independently. (Biking together, with everyone on his or her own bicycle is still a few years away, but we're looking forward to that, too).
We went for a hike around Jones' Falls locks, on the Rideau Canal, which is very near where Kevin's family lives. And now we're considering hiking the Bruce Trail, bit by bit, as a family activity on weekends.While at the cottage, the kids organized and performed a concert, now a tradition in its third (or even fourth??) year. Each year they've become more independent, culminating this year in complete artistic autonomy, no adult input whatsoever.
"My name is Albus, and I am the piano artist. My name is AppleApple and I am the singer. My name is Fooey, and I am the dancer. CJ is a dancer too."
They opened with a solo by AppleApple, Kevin accompanying on the guitar, of "Whisky in the Jar." Albus played "Axel F" on the portable piano, plus "Wavin' Flag" (beautifully sung by AppleApple), plus a too-brief invention to which Fooey danced like a dolphin. Then Fooey danced "freestyle" accompanied by a boomboxing Albus (and the rest of us were invited to sing along with any song we'd like). They finished with "Down by the Bay," a perennial favourite, calling for audience participation. The photos which included all of them were blurred in one way or another: it's rare that I can capture all of them holding perfectly still at the same time.I had a moment yesterday, walking with them all, when I felt overwhelmed by fortune: look at these children, aren't we fortunate? I said to Kevin. I can think of nothing I've done to deserve such riches, and appreciation seems the least that I can do in acknowledgment and gratitude. Yes, we are often overwhelmed by things other than fortune, such as noise and chaos and mess and complaints and fighting; but heaven help me if I whine too loudly about those incidentals, and lose sight of the beauty and creative energy that surrounds me RIGHT NOW.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dial-Up Carrie

Why do I feel so slothful while on holiday? Is slothful even a word? My holiday brain cannot compute. Slowly, surely, holiday drains away my ambitions and intentions. I have to work to remind myself that rolling out of bed in the morning isn't THAT hard.
Cottaging seems to strip me down to a more basic Carrie, a more primitive version of the 3.5 Carrie I currently enjoy. This is dial-up Carrie. This is Carrie attempting to cook delicious meals for nine on two wonky burners in three cottage pans (why do cottage kitchens supply such an eccentric selection of cookware and devices? and could we please ban the production and sale of all non-stick pots and pans? though I did read somewhere--in a study no doubt commissioned by non-stick purveyors--that Teflon is not absorbed by the human body, but passes right through; phew).
So, what are the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between 3.5 Carrie and the dial-up version? The dial-up version washes dishes, folds laundry, sweeps the crumbs and cleans the bathroom, and tries to get the kids to sleep at a reasonable hour. But the routine is off-kilter. This Carrie also drinks a shandy after lunch and sits in removed fashion reading a book ("Okay, Mommy, are you listening for real now?").
Having worked so hard to develop 3.5 Carrie, I find it jarring, almost troubling, to revert to this more basic version; she has no interest in taking creative photographs (this will be a low spot in the 365 project); she has very little creative interest whatsoever; she slows to a crawl, scarcely able to force herself to keep up some reduced version of exercise. Maybe this is what a holiday is for? To vegetate and sink into words and thoughts, or float amidst them without thinking at all, to check out, to retreat.


Of course, one must also observe that "holiday with kids" is not precisely the same as "holiday." Last night we resorted to turning out every light in the cottage in order to impress upon CJ that we were indeed all going to sleep, RIGHT NOW. It was nearly 10pm. He was wired. He's taken to saying, "I tell you a story," and then launching into long detailed dramatic inventions about elephants and little lions and turtles who eat persons and wear pants. He had us spellbound after supper the other night (I'll post video footage). But well after dark, being regaled by the tales of a two-year-old is not on the holiday agenda. No. On the holiday agenda is eating some freaking amazing cheese, a ripened sheep's milk pebbled with blue purchased at Wendy's Wigwam, reading a book, and drinking a beer. In adult company only.


Two book recommendations: Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett, a memoir by a writer about her friendship with another writer, Lucy Grealy--if a relationship so intense can be pinned down by the word friendship. I've never been in a friendship like that. I am not sure whether I envy the author, or feel grateful to have been spared such a friendship. It's also a fascinating portrait of writers in their developing pre-fame years (because, yes, both women became successful writers). Kevin's reading the book now, or I'd look up some quotes. I particularly liked one from Lucy's letters, in which she says that at least, as a writer, there is some measure of glamour to be gleaned from the drudgery and poverty of the occupation. I need to look into that.
The other book, which I've not yet finished, is a series of excellent short stories disguised by the publisher as a novel: The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman. It's set in a newspaper, so it has the additional appeal of taking me back to my brief fling with the industry; and it's currently on bestseller lists. But I'll bet it wouldn't have made it there if the publisher hadn't cleverly marketed it as a novel rather than as what it is: a collection of linked stories. If I feel a touch of bitterness over this necessity, yes, it's personal. The book I am currently finishing is a collection of linked stories. Maybe my agent will find a publisher who will pretend it is a novel, and we'll find success together. But I (selfishly) wish more people would embrace the short story (and in particular, linked stories) as a legitimate and complex and pleasurable form.
Now, for the glamour. I must pour myself a shandy or something.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lemonade Stand and Dilly Beans

A good way to direct our energies on a humid and hot day earlier this week: take one grumpy walk to the grocery store for supplies, whip up a batch of lemonade, popcorn, throw in some homemade banana bread, haggle over the pricing (5o cents per item, or 75 for a combo of any two items), and make some signs. Sit in the lawn and hope for customers to pass you by. We waited for awhile, and had some long periods of doing nothing much, except for reading and playing on the picnic blanket, but in the end each child had earned a small share of the pooled profits, and we'd gone through three pitchers of lemonade, and met a few passersby not previously known to us. (A special thanks to friends who went out of their way to stop by and to drum up business for us!).

Today, I had the brilliant idea to can dilly beans. Really, why not? So it's hot. Let's add some steam to the kitchen. Actually, it was happifying to remember, as I do every year, that canning isn't impossible, or even that difficult. Within an hour (or a little more), I had seven jars of dilly beans on the counter. The kids helped to clean the beans, but spent the rest of the time getting into trouble. Canning isn't the easiest task to invite kids to participate in, involving as it does a great number of hot things: boiling water, simmering liquids, steaming jars, etc. But I'm inspired. What if I put up seven jars each day for a couple of weeks every August? Do-able? That would be a lot of food by fall. Left on my to-do list: canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce; relish; maybe some canned pumpkin or squash; grape juice. Easy-peasy. Right? Ask me in a month.

Monday, August 2, 2010

After the Ceremony

Sparkling cider in champagne flutes. Flowers. Dancing. Piggy-back rides. Oh, did I mention that the wedding took place in the couple's backyard? A beautiful space perfected for the day. And now they're off to a honeymoon (two weeks!) in Nicaragua.


Children angelically upon blanket. Footwashing ceremony (Mennonite tradition). Hand-binding ceremony (Irish tradition). Vows. Flower throwing. A champagne toast.

Dressed Up for the Wedding

My middle brother got married yesterday. We had fun posing in our backyard before heading out to the wedding, where the kids behaved angelically, sat unsupervised on a blanket at the front for the whole ceremony, and tossed flowers after the kiss, on cue, as rehearsed. Proud parenting moment!