Soundtrack to this post: CBC's Tapestry program on Gospel Music.
On the stove: water boiling for pasta, and white sauce simmering, because, yes, my Fooey shall get her macaroni and cheese supper tonight. In the oven: two large squashes baking, to be put to use for soup tonight, and possibly for winter squash bars (but will the kids eat them?). On the counter: a cooler filled with yogurt-in-process. On the kitchen floor: an enormous basket of laundry waiting to be folded. In the basement: two small children watching a movie.
And on the dining-room table: herbs drying. Now, this is an experiment. The kids and I went out to harvest what we've grown this year, much of it perennial and unplanned: must not let it go to waste. What amazing scents. Spearmint, lavender, basil, thyme, and celery. The celery freezes well to be used in Christmas stuffing. I also freeze the basil into cubes for pesto. I'm drying the other herbs. This all seems so easy and pleasurable that I'm wondering what other herbs I could plant. Favourites and recommendations, please!
I am now calling Tuesdays and Thursdays my "domestic duty days." I am home on these days, with the two littlest children, and I am experiencing what it's like to work part-time in a serious way with all the domestic work tucked into a smaller squeeze of time. I like the rhythm. Wednesdays and Fridays are writing days, with a combination of school, nursery school, and a wonderful babysitter taking on the childcare for six straight hours. Mondays, I have the morning to work, but find that's not enough, so I've been using that time instead to do organizational work, to exercise, and to volunteer in Fooey's class.
Sunday. I don't get on the computer with the new Sunday day of rest plan. Or not quite so much. In any case, certainly not enough to blog. Yesterday, we went to my mom's church and I groused about being stuck in the nursery the entire time, though at least the service is piped in and CJ gets a kick out of the toys. That sums up my church-going experience for the past nine years. Everyone is very friendly and child-positive at the church, but, really, do you want your kids screaming at each other in the pew over a bag of crayons?
I also read at Word on the Street, and that was lovely. We didn't get home till about 3:30. Then it was time to do homework with Albus in the office. Give him a piece of gum, and he's good for an hour of hard work. I've been impressed by his dedication. It helped to offer computer time on the far end of the study session. Yesterday morning, he declared that this was "the worst day ever!" (He was especially peeved about having to go to my stupid "art" thing; though once there he was easily won over by all the free swag and treats). By yesterday evening, we heard him proclaiming it "the best day ever!" No kidding. Free candy, gum for study time, and computer play. We even practiced piano together. (Okay, that was fun for me, anyway).
Fooey cooked supper with Kevin, and she really stuck it out over the long haul. She chose from a Mexican cookbook, and the menu was completely her own. We dined on: roasted corn soup (with onions and red peppers, pureed); corn on the cob; potato/lima bean/cheese patties fried in oil (YUM!); lettuce salad with tropical fruit and lemon dressing; and for dessert, orange slices with cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles, and hot chocolate made with real chocolate. Not cooking on Sundays feels like a genuine rest for me.
And going to church changes the shape of the entire day, or perhaps more importantly changes my mental map of the day. It forces me not to plan or do much of anything. And if I were at home all morning, I would find plenty that needs doing and therefore need to do it.
I will be reading at The Word on the Street in Kitchener's Victoria Park, Suday afternoon at 1:30, with The New Quarterly team. Look for us in the "Kitchener Radio Group Spotlight Tent." There are loads of other tents, and readings, and books, and storytellers, and kids' programming, so here's hoping for good weather, and lots of friendly faces out and about.
Um, yes, the photo is an unrelated indulgence.Whee!
Cooking with kids: AppleApple's menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids' cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey's and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey's up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus's German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it's impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is 're able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I'm sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something's not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here's what went onto my "fitting it all in ... a little at a time" list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).
We need some photos up here, a snapshot of our past week, a sampling of all the family activities we're burning through on a regular basis. Above, what remained after the neighbourhood street party last weekend: face painting and tattoos.
This year, Albus and AppleApple are both continuing with conventional piano lessons (ie. reading music, music theory); but both are also being taught by my brother Karl, who is a professional musician (sample my siblings' band's music; they're called Kidstreet)--Albus is learning guitar, and AppleApple is learning the drums. Karl is teaching them by ear rather than by sight, and Albus has started learning "power chords," and is playing along with songs, while AppleApple is learning the basic drum riffs (the child is a drum machine; her foot on the bass sounds a thump that would reverberate in a dance club). CJ really really really wanted to play both drums and guitar; above, his big bro is letting him practice strumming.
Oh, and we had friends over for supper the other night, and it ended in a mud bath in the backyard (sorry, parents of friends). Of course, the kids were having the most fun ever, going primal and painting themselves and throwing mud balls. It all ended in the bath, but there were no tears.
So, I'm floating a new concept here. New only for me; it's one that's occurred to generations, and I've just come around to remembering its existence and imagining it applied to our family: I am referring to the concept of a "day of rest." What would it look like, for our family? We are so scheduled and so busy throughout the week, squeezing every last drop of wonderful living out of our days; but there's the squeezing of life, drinking every last drop of every day; and there's the sensation of being squeezed--out of juice. I don't feel out of juice--yet. But it's occurred to me that sometimes the pleasure in life does not come from being productive and energetic and squeezing it all in. Sometimes, the pleasure in life comes from resting, from allowing the body and the mind to relax, to take time to breathe, to experience beauty, to have conversations that go nowhere in particular, and to be with family.
With that in mind, we've come up with a plan for our "day of rest." Yes, a plan. How else would it happen? On Sundays, I plan not to schedule writing or exercise, unless it feels like something I really want to do--like it would be a treat and soul-feeding, rather than pure duty. On Sundays, one of the kids will take a turn planning and cooking supper with Kevin (not exactly a day of rest for him, but something different that he enjoys doing). Sunday evening we will have our family meetings, during the meal. And on Sunday mornings, our family is testing out the possibility of returning to regular church-attendance, something that had dropped off the map for us in recent years.
But we're planning to attend church in a slightly different way. Rather than going back to the neighbourhood church we'd been attending, we will take turns attending my parents' churches. My parents divorced two years ago, and they each attend a different church now. The churches are of different denominations, and the services will be distinct. Though they are each very different people, I would describe both of my parents as deeply devoted to their churches, and quietly spiritual people. We don't get the chance to talk about that much in our interactions. I am looking forward to being with each of them in spaces that are sacred and meaningful for them. I would like my children to understand that there is such a thing as a spiritual life, and that many people find comfort and strength and nourishment within the walls of a church. And that there are different ways to feed the spirit.
I am hopeful that by integrating grandparent time with church-going time, our family will be more motivated to attend regularly, and that the church-going experience may even be made more meaningful by sharing it with loved ones.
This is still in its experimental stage. Remember that my word for the year has been "spirit"? I am fascinated by how many different doors that word has opened for me--and for my mind.
What struck me, as I sat in my mother's church, was how the restless spirit is so much a part of the human experience. Where do we go to find peace? There are so many possibilities.
Last night, I went with friends to a concert in Toronto by Deva Premal & Miten, with Manose. I went with an open mind, and found the evening very moving, as the whole audience sang and chanted together. I believe that there are many different ways to feed the spirit, to seek and to find beauty, and that exploring how other cultures and religions seek and find beauty, and feed the spirit, leads to greater compassion and understanding.
On the beet theme, for this week's school lunches I've made secret chocolate muffins, which are made with 2 cups of cooked beet puree. That recipe can be found in Simply in Season (as Secret Chocolate Cake).
I am happy to report that we've started "cooking with kids" again: today's child in charge is Albus, with Kevin in charge of him, and the menu features German fare: spaetzle (a boiled homemade egg noodle), sausage hotpot, with cinnamon apple pancakes for dessert. No beets involved.
Publishing alert: my latest published piece is in The New Quarterly's Extra!, which can be purchased online, or will be included as an added bonus if you choose to subscribe to this wonderful Canadian literary journal (and, please, do subscribe if you don't already; you will savour the lively mix of fiction, poetry, and essays; and the chance to get acquainted with new and rising writers).
Note that my contribution is a personal essay, not a work of fiction, though the further I get from having written it, the more I wonder ... does it really lie somewhere in between, and how the heck can I know?
I will also take this opportunity to let you know that I'll be reading at Kitchener's Word on the Street, which takes place in Victoria Park, Sunday, Sept. 26. The time has yet to be pinned down precisely, but it will be sometime during the afternoon. More info forthcoming.
She started senior kindergarten today. She is returning to the same classroom with the same teacher as last year, and we could not be more thrilled. We walked to school together, just the two of us, and it felt very special. She is filled with pride about being one of the big kids in the class (last year she was one of the little kids; it's a split class). All three children are in split classes this year, and all of them get to be the big kids in their classrooms, and I'm pleased with the potential for them in that equation: being more experienced, perhaps given more responsibility, and a sense of mentorship. (I don't know whether that's pie-in-the-sky fantasizing on my part, but it seems like a possibility).
One new thing for Fooey this year will be riding the bus. She starts that new routine on Monday, and every time a bus goes by our window, she gets very excited: could that be her school bus? The ride will take about six minutes, but will save me approximately forty. I will still pick them all up after school, on foot.
Speaking of on foot, I must report that my trail run last night was so fun! I did not sign up thinking it would be fun, so it was an unexpected surprise and a gift to feel such joy as I ran along the beautiful trail at twilight feeling confident and strong within my body. As I was falling off to sleep last night, I thought of how much I've changed in the past year--and how that has changed how our family operates, too. The change has everything to do with being post-pregnancy-and-infant-parenting. Here I thought it would be a time of mourning, of missing those joys that I experienced so fully and keenly: nursing my babies, pregnancy itself, the lull and focus of caring for small children. And while I may feel a twinge every now and again, what's come of this after-time has been a bubbling of energy and creativity, with a very strong focus on achieving specific goals. I had no idea this was waiting for me on the other side. I just would never have guessed. It was hard, at first, to claim time for myself again, to stake it out and to remind my family that I could take time away from them to pursue my own interests. But we've adjusted. And the changes have been so worthwhile. Kevin spends more time with the children. The children themselves are more independent. I don't feel guilty, and I don't sense resentment from my family. We're all moving into this new phase gently and naturally, staying flexible, tinkering with what's working and what's not. And my kids get to cheer on their mom as she runs toward the finish line. (And I get to hear them cheering).
Have I mentioned that I'm running a trail run today? It's part of my triathlon project, and having not run since high school (and having shown no particular talent back then), I am filled with rather unpleasant sensations of nervous anxiety. My goals are small: I would like to finish the race, and ideally, I would like to finish the race without stopping to walk. I know that I can run 8km, but I don't know what it will be like to run with others around me; I have a competitive personality that I spend most of my time repressing, but it might flash out to ill effect during the race. (It's not that I think being competitive is a bad thing; but life is so much more enjoyable when the element of competition is removed ... at least, that's true for me).
Kevin is very excited. The children are only interested in my prospects of winning. When I told them that there is no way I will win, nor is that my goal, they were nothing but baffled. Why enter, if you know you're not going win? Why indeed.
I've done a very poor job of soliciting pledges for the charities involved (KidsAbility and the Rotary Club), but if anyone out there would like to sponsor this new runner, please click here.
We had another "first day" yesterday: CJ started nursery school. He will be attending three mornings a week, giving me more time to write and work. He wasn't overly enthusiastic at drop-off time (Kevin managed that), but he was in fine spirits when I picked him up. And he was still wearing the same pants.
Tomorrow it will be Fooey's turn for her "first day," as a senior kindergartner.
This morning, it's just been me and the two little kids. I put on classical music and we played on the floor, then popped popcorn, and did puzzles. It was so peaceful with the music in the background. We don't listen to music often enough, in a background, mood-setting, soothing kind of way. Usually if we turn it on, it's loud kids dance music, and not conducive to good behavior or talking (though excellent for rowdy energized indoor play). My goal is to play more music more often, in the background, so that it's part of their hidden knowledge, their brain-maps, among the things that they will grow up knowing without knowing that they do.
Carefully chosen outfits (brand-new clothes from Grandma). Excited to meet up with friends. Heavy bags loaded with gear. Packed lunches. The whole family walking up to school. Another year has begun: grade four, and grade three.
The two younger ones wanted a photograph, too. In fact, they posed. Who could resist?
My office has been touched-up, tidied, desk debris cleared (dusty three-year-old "must-do" piles purged into the recycling bin); we purchased a proper adjustable chair (and removed the folding chair which had replaced the exercise ball both of which had rendered me nearly lame on writing week; seriously, I temporarily lost all feeling down one leg), and Kevin used the skill-saw to customize the tiny computer desk I've been using since 1998 (now there was a worthwhile $99.00 investment in pressed-fibre technology). And suddenly, I am sitting in well-organized comfort before my computer screen, in a sunny room that is, yes, still a playroom; but the toys are easily hidden in cupboards and closet, and the bookshelf holds kids' books on the lower shelves and my books on the upper shelves. I'm ready for the new year.
Because of course this is the real new year. Forget January 1st. I am filled with excitement and energy and ideas and plots and schemes and plans and routines, and my calendar is chock-a-block from one end to the other with everything we're going to do.
I have spent today baking in preparation for school lunches and after-school snacks: chocolate sunflower granola bars; granola; banana muffins; bread. I didn't feel much like baking all day, but put my head down and gutted through it--not unlike my run this morning--and it's done, and I feel ready. The school bags are filled with supplies and new shoes. The lunches have yet to be made, but as part of our re-division of household labour, Kevin has offered to take over the packing of the lunches (YESSSSSS!!!!), as well as breakfasts, and Sunday evening supper--aka cooking with the kids. He's also been noticing and doing dishes more frequently. I can't express to you the difference this makes, but if you are the regular dish-doer at your house, then you will appreciate the change, too. The kids will pack their snacks on pizza day and sub day; I'm not sure whether we'll also work to transition them into packing their own lunches more often. Baby steps. If I could get them to throw their dirty laundry into the basket, or down the basement steps in the direction of the washing machine, and to put away their individual piles of carefully folded clothes each evening ... well, those seem do-able goals for the near future.
It's been a good summer, a fast summer, a hot summer that felt like a summer. I've ticked most items off of my "summer to-do list." I've canned enough tomatoes to last us through winter (I think), and have filled one whole freezer with fruit and veggies and herbs, too. This morning, I dumped the water out of my canner and put it back into the basement. I'm all out of jars, and my pantry shelves are full. And my mom has promised to can peaches for us, so what more will we need? Yesterday's canning session took all morning, but it wasn't hard: one last 1/2 bushel of tomatoes, whose beautiful red flesh I'm looking at right now, glassed in on my countertop.
I fully intended for this week to be about letting the kids enjoy what's left of their holiday and that's what it's been (I hope they'll concur): sleepovers, playdates, and yes, computer playing. We've biked to afternoon swim lessons; we've been on one evening picnic; we've bought shoes, had eye check-ups and gelato, and we've shopped for school supplies at Shoppers Drugmart. Actually, that spree coincided with a moment in my life which I may never forget. The kids were mile-a-minute enthusiastically comparing bandages (Barbie? Star Wars? Pooh Bear?) in the first-aid aisle when I got a call from my agent. It was the kind of call for which every writer quietly waits. She said, Have I caught you at a good time? I said, I'm standing in Shoppers with my kids. She said, check your email when you get home.
I'm struggling with how best to share this news, because it's tenuous in-between news, neither signed, sealed nor delivered; on the other hand, anyone reading this blog has suffered through the dregs of naval-gazing and self-doubt, and it seems more than fitting to share with you the flip side of the equation--the moments of affirmation. I found myself weeping--not in Shoppers, but later, when I'd had a chance to let the news sink in, yet while it was still fresh and utterly thrilling and overwhelming. Why are you crying, Mommy? Because I'm so happy! (Apparently, that's how I do happy; it ain't pretty).
My agent was calling to tell me that I have offers on my Nicaragua book; though the offers didn't quite arrive in a lump, they came close, in the feast or famine style that is a writer's fate. Wow. I almost can't type those words out or trust in them. Might it all evaporate if I look at it too closely, or wave it around too excitedly?
Because it is now the long weekend, I have several completely quiet days to think and to imagine. My agent, who has been with me and with this book for the years that I've committed to it, said she wished for me to relax and just enjoy the moment for what it is. Savour it. She, like my husband, gets an inside view of my efforts, hopes and ambitions, and I hear what she's saying: This is where you are, right now. It took a lot of work to get here. There's a lot of work ahead. This is one of those rare peaks along the climb, an opportunity, if I let myself take it, to stop for a moment and breathe in the view.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, teacher, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.