Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Gallery





Waiting to open stockings till the youngest wakes up. Sticky buns on Christmas morning (knead in sixteen tablespoons of butter, please). "Can we play poker, Dad? Isn't that what you always do with your friends?" The youngest absolutely thrilled with the discovery of the Christmas stocking. "I hope we get Christmas pajamas this year!" Food, food, food. Caroling. Family. Cousin's first Christmas. "Can I hold the baby?" Not having to travel anywhere. Staying in pajamas all day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Worked

As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.

1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it's a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.

2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children's service on Christmas eve. I'd been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list--and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.

3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.

4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?

5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass ... for hours. Couldn't be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren't at the end of the songbook.

6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: "And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."

7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.

8. Gifts. I don't know. It's so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren't the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah's Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).

9. Not drinking too much. I didn't. And I felt better for it.

10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.

11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.

12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.

:::

Things we didn't do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).

:::

I also have a list of things that didn't work ... but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, "Mommy where are you?").

Friday, December 24, 2010

Okay, This Feels Like Christmas




I have been feeling rushed. Wishing there were more hours in the day. Or that I could get by on less sleep. And that there were more time to give to my my family, especially my husband. But this afternoon, I got a little taste of what I've been anticipating: the kids decorating gingerbread at the counter. (Tricia, this is your gingerbread recipe: delicious!).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Roll-Out Sugar Cookies

I've been using this recipe for many years, and it's a keeper. The cookies above are not gingerbread, but roll-out sugar cookies. I doubled the recipe below, and it was easy to separate the dough and keep it wrapped in waxed paper in the fridge: rolling out and baking a fresh batch takes about twenty minutes, which made after-school snacks really easy last week.

Roll-Out Sugar Cookies

Cream together 2/3 cup softened butter and 3/4 cup white sugar. When light and fluffy, beat in 1 egg, 4 tsp milk (or cream), and 1 tsp vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together 2 cups flour, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. Optionally, add 1 tsp cinnamon. Combine wet and dry, mixing until the dough comes together. Divide dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and chill in the fridge for at least half and hour. When ready to bake, roll out dough on a floured surface, cut out cookies, and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 375 for 8 minutes. Cool on rack. Decorate as desired. We like smarties.

Also from last week: Albus's first ever piano recital, and the photographs: before and after.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rules of Engagement

Yesterday, I did two things that scared me, and surprised me. Both happened spontaneously, arising out of situations that I could have chosen to walk by. Instead, I engaged.

First story: I was pushing the stroller (uphill, through heavy snow on sidewalks that hadn't been cleared), which possibly put me into a grumpy mood. I entered a crosswalk, at a four-way stop where my kids have to cross every morning on their way to school. While I was crossing, a car pulled up at the stop sign behind me, and turned left, into the street that I was crossing. He was in such a hurry that he didn't wait for me to cross the street to the sidewalk--worse, he didn't even wait for me to cross half of the street. His car brushed right behind me, near enough to touch, on his way to somewhere very important. I was surprised and annoyed. And then I saw that we were headed in the same direction. And then I saw him pull into his driveway. And then I pushed the stroller faster. 

"Why are you running, Mommy?" 
"I think," I said, "I think I'm going to tell this man that I thought he was driving carelessly." 

The man went into his house, leaving his car running (fancy car, fancy house, well-dressed sixtyish man), and by the time he came back out and got into his car, he'd seen me coming. I walked up the driveway and he rolled down his window. I said that I felt his turn had been unsafe, given that I was still in the crosswalk when he turned. He responded with anger, defensively: "You were never in any danger. I was not driving dangerously." I asked him if he knew that a child had recently been hit by a car in our neighbourhood. He said: "What? By me?" I said, of course not, but likely by someone in a hurry and driving carelessly. He pulled out of his driveway, but his window was still down. I knew I hadn't gotten at the crux of what I wanted to say, so I called after him: "Please, ask yourself, why are you in such a hurry that you can't spare a few seconds to let a mother cross the street with her stroller safely?" The thought left my mouth almost exactly as coherently as I've written it down. He heard me. I don't know what he thought. But it looked like his expression changed fractionally. Maybe he was thinking about what I'd asked.

In thinking it over, I wish I could have phrased my question a little bit differently. I really just wanted to say: Slow down, please! Be careful! You could hurt someone. His stance was: I knew you were perfectly safe, so it's a judgement call, mine to make. And it's true, when you get into a car, you make judgement calls all the time. I made a judgement call just the other day, when driving the kids home from piano lessons: I turned left even though a pedestrian had stepped into the crosswalk, because I was in a hurry, and I knew I wasn't close to her. But I shouldn't have, and even while I was doing it, regretted that I was making that choice. What if another left-turning vehicle had followed me blindly? Had that pedestrian been able to follow and question me for my choice, I would have felt awful--very much in the wrong, and very apologetic.

This man didn't feel either of those things. But you know, I'm glad that I ran after him. It's pretty rare that the opportunity arises, given that cars are usually speeding off to parts unknown. I'm still in awe that I was brave enough to talk to him. (I hate to use the word confront ... it sounds so confrontational ...). I was definitely upset by the interaction, and wished I could have felt calmer on the inside during our conversation (though I tried to appear calm on the outside). It took me awhile afterward to shake off the nervous energy. Let's just say that conflict of any sort does not come naturally to me. And I don't think conflict is necessarily a bad thing: we can't always agree. But it's a hard thing to learn: how to disagree respectfully, to discuss, to listen, to go to uncomfortable places, to find resolution, to compromise, to be challenged, to be willing to change. I'm trying. Having firm boundaries within one's own self (to thine own self be true!) is the first step. The next is being willing to go to places of discomfort.

Story two: On my way to yoga class, I saw a child-sized person who looked lost. As I drew nearer, I saw that he was a small adult, developmentally challenged. He still looked lost. His coat was open, he had no mitts, he was wearing a backpack, and dragging another ... and I couldn't pass him by. But I was afraid, because I didn't know him, and because it was dark, and because he was standing in a poorly lit spot where there weren't other people around. I spoke to him, but tentatively, and he didn't answer, but he started to follow me, which was good, because I was headed toward the parking lot which had light and people. I asked him again--"Are you lost?"--and he said, no, and told me where he wanted to go. I pointed the direction (he'd been going the wrong way). He thanked me. I said, it's cold, you should zip up your coat. He smiled and showed me that he was wearing several layers of coats. I asked him to please be careful crossing the street. He thanked me and promised he would, and he walked on his way ... maybe home? Maybe? I don't know. I went inside the warm yoga studio, down to the changeroom, and started to cry. I was questioning myself: had I done the right thing? Did he really know where he was going? Even if he knew, was he going to be okay? If I were going to call someone for help, who would it have been? When we spoke to each other, he seemed calm and happy, almost content, very child-like and innocent, and terribly vulnerable ... though, who knows, maybe I'm projecting my own sappy middleclass ideas.

Truthfully, I felt heartbroken by the situation. He seemed to embody the lost people of this world ... whom I don't want to pass by, but don't know how to help.

A word came to me, and I reflected on it during class. Engage. How do I engage with the people I meet? With the situations that present themselves? With friends, with family, with issues that concern me? Am I strong enough, now, in spirit, to consider opening myself to more engagement--more risk? Because it's risky to engage. There are so many potential pitfalls: there is over-engagement, and taking responsibility for problems that aren't mine to solve; there's the risk of pissing people off, and saying unpopular things, and not being liked (and I've gotta say, I really prefer to be liked); there is more potential for conflict, for saying the wrong thing, for error; and there's the huge risk of being judgemental and self-righteous. And of course there are times when disengagement is the better choice. Am I wise enough to know?

Ugh. 

This reflection is unfinished, in progress. What would you have done, in either of these situations? What would you want to do?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Small Stuff

Sometimes it's the smallest of changes that make room for a happier daily life; it's also easy to forget the small changes, and assume that life has always been just like this. But as I puttered around my kitchen this morning, in the pre-dawn, I realized, no, life has not always been just like this. This would have seemed unthinkable a year ago. What's changed?

1. Sunday night scheduling. Sounds dull. But how incredibly helpful it is to sit down with Kevin and discuss what's on the menu (literally and figuratively) for the week ahead. I jot down meal ideas for each day. We plot out car use, and any blips in the routine. No longer am I stuck for meal ideas. And we find or make extra time.

2. Exercise. Guess what I do with my extra time? Some of it is spent going to yoga, or running. I am currently holding steady at two 90-minute yoga classes each week, and two 6-8km runs. This would be unthinkable were it not for advance planning. And because it's scheduled out, I'm much less likely to skip the chance to go, knowing what I'd be sacrificing.

3. Date night. Part of our problem, typical of partners working and raising young children, is that we are often like two ships passing in the night (is that the phrase?). Kevin plays hockey and soccer, both fairly late at night. My yoga classes are over the supper hour, so on those days, he runs in the door, and I run out. I also schedule evening outings, occasionally, with my siblings, and, about once a week, with friends. So when do we get together to be ourselves and not just to talk about schedules and kids? Earlier this fall, we began booking a regular sitter, and committed to taking one evening a week just for the two of us. Marriage is for the long-haul. We need to stay connected beyond schedules and kids, because before we know it, it will just be the two of us rattling around our house, reminiscing about these crazy busy days.

4. Getting out of the house. This could have come first, actually. It's a huge change for me, not really a small one. During my early years of motherhood, I was a hard-core stay-at-home mama. I could go months without leaving the kids for an evening (and, no, that is not an exaggeration). I wanted to do it all myself. I loved that time with them and did not resent it. But this new stage is good, too. I think the rule of thumb is: to thine own self be true. And know that part of being true is recognizing shifts and changes within one's own self, as they happen. The kids have become so accustomed to me getting out of the house, without them, that it's old hat. I kiss them goodbye, and they know and trust that I will come back. No drama. No fuss. (And no, it wasn't always like that; and all the fuss and crying and drama made it so much harder to get out).

5. Nursery school. As a hard-core-stay-at-homer, I didn't even consider nursery school for my oldest kids. I provided them with crafts, puzzles, baking projects, singing, playdates, regular trips to the library, park, Children's museum, and swimming at the rec centre. But after eight years, or so, I was growing weary. I realized my interest and enthusiasm were flagging. Those two youngest were not getting the enriched childhood they deserved. Almost exactly a year ago, I landed on the idea of nursery school. It was a HUGE leap for me. CJ started a year ago in January, one morning a week, which by April I'd upped to two mornings. And this September, I cheerfully threw him into three mornings a week. I would consider sending him daily next September when Fooey heads off to first grade. (She's also gotten to tag along to the nursery school experience, going every other Friday when she's not at kindergarten). And here's the thing: CJ loves it. I'm not saying the older kids were deprived. But I would be the last to judge or criticize either version of early childhood: either/both can work.

6. Spirit. My word for this year. Bless that word. I don't know whether I would have necessarily turned down experiences were it not for that word (turning down experiences is not in my nature), but I may not have sought out so many experiences related to the spirit. I don't know why I need permission or nudging to move me in certain directions. Maybe I don't. But I like having projects. Especially projects that spread over a long period of time, and require regular attention. The 365-project falls into that category. As I approach this solstice season, and Christmas, and my birthday, and the coming new year, I want to take time to reflect on the projects ahead: small and big, new and old. What word will come to define this year?

7. Confidence. As I walked past my own reflection in storefront windows yesterday evening, I realized my self looked unfamiliar to me: older, probably. I looked like a grownup woman, occupied, on her way somewhere. And I thought to myself, how interesting that as I grow older, I am becoming more and more known to myself on the inside, while on the outside, I know myself less and less. Maybe that isn't entirely true, given the 365-project. Or maybe it's just this: the outside seems to matter less. I'd like to believe that who I am shines through, and always will, no matter how much I change on the outside.

8. Portfolios. One last small change. This brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea, which I may have mentioned before, came from friends of ours, who split up the household tasks, and call them "portfolios." Bathroom cleaning would be an example of a portfolio. Dentist. School lunches. Kevin has taken over those last two portfolios, and what a difference it's made in my life (and maybe in his, too).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Baking

Do you have favourite Christmas/holiday cookie recipes? If so, please tell me! This year, I want to move beyond my usual roll-out sugar cookie recipe. Thank you. I will post photos if they turn out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Women's Writing: Discuss

Must must must link to this provocative and well-argued piece, by Kerry Clare, on women's fiction, and how it continues to be viewed by critics as being of lesser value than men's fiction, even now, long after Virginia Woolf wrote about the issue in A Room of One's Own: "This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop--everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists." 

In her essay, Clare posits that the gestational approach to plot in a book like Lisa Moore's February is indeed very much unlike the conclusion-driven fiction that we consider to be traditionally male; but that the layered and continual sock-folding nature of "feminine" fiction should not and cannot be dismissed simply because it approaches time and human transitions differently.

I guess my question is: do women really understand time and action differently than men do? Is this a feminine quality, or does it relate more to the fact that more women than men, even now, spend time folding socks, and completing repetitive daily tasks? Do our bodies call us to observe and reflect upon repetition and a less linear understanding of time, are women by nature gestational beings? Just asking. I don't know.

Read the article. And then comment, because I really want to know what you think (... as I sit here, writing what seems to me to be a prototypically feminine book).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wish Lists


The wish lists are here! But I already got my wish: a packed weekend pulled off without a hitch. Kevin was working, AppleApple had a dress rehearsal and two shows, there was enough extra coordinating to give even the most organized among us pause, and Kev and I wanted so badly to make it till Saturday night, healthy, hearty, and hale--so that we could get down at the first xmas party of the season, an annual event that I pretty much look forward to as soon as it's over, which includes enough dancing to last all year (well, almost). And we did!

Unexpectedly, given our late-night rowdiness, we got a tree today; AppleApple said she'd seen trees at the Dairy Queen, and she was right. The decorating begins shortly. Kevin is right now putting lights on a handy bush in our front yard; the first time in eight seasons that we've actively decorated the front of our house. Something about this year has made me want to get festive: light the darkness that marks early December as the days squeeze shut. The kids are thrilled. We had a spontaneous Christmas song singalong about an hour ago. I was almost beside myself with contentment: whacking out chords on the piano, everyone gathered around, singing. Sounds cheesy and staged, but it wasn't: it just happened, and everyone was happy.

The wish lists ... I tried to photograph them, but they didn't turn out. Maybe I broke my camera taking all those photos last night ...

So here are the transcribed versions. Please note, we encouraged the kids to dream big (and expect small).

Albus did a rough copy, and a good copy. This is the good copy:

Dear Santa, my name is Albus and I was very nice all year. for x-mas I want lego Star Wars, lego Batman, lego video games, wii, wii games, board games, bey-blade, diary of a wimpy kid #1,2,3,4, movies, Guinness World records 2011, gems, gogos, ice cream, Books, hermet crab, satelite, tv, banana, nerf gun, markers, money, pop, a trip to a special resterant, star wars movies, light saber, a theatre in the basement, more fish, battle set up
love, Albus!! p.s. Merry x-mas x-mas x-pres x-pres x-pres
to x-pres, I don't have a stamp so just use this!! [arrow points to taped-on loonie]

:::

to the north poal
dear Santa Claus
I will give you a list of what I want for christmas
1. socks
2. a wand that I get to help make in the north poal
3. coal for making snowmen
4. a camra [camera]
5. an emrald necklace
6. a painting of horses
7. a plain black witch hat
8. a poem book
9. riding lessons
10. a star wars lego video game
[arrow indicating that the list continues on the other side of the page]
11. a hamster or bunny
12. a shelf to attach on the end of my bed
13. pokemon cards
14. harry potter lego
I Have been mostly good this year exept for a few mean things I did to Fooey but I'm sorry.
Love AppleApple
Merry Christmas.

:::

Fooey drew pictures of what she wants, and Kevin wrote down a list of what she'd drawn:
baby dolls
Barbie
dog
mitts
hat
fairy
silly bandz
I have been very good on this year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Car

Pickle Me This has posted its picks for 2011: Canada Reads Independently, and this year I was asked to champion a book, not an easy thing to do as it turns out. How to choose? In the end, though I wanted to go with something newer or more obscure, I had to champion a writer who has been with me for many years (in my imagination, I mean), and who has deeply influenced my own writing--and whose work I return to perhaps even more often than L.M. Montgomery's or Agatha Christie's. (My taste is not highbrow). Interested in finding out more? Click here.

::::

In other news, I find myself obsessed with an accident that occurred in our neighbourhood, in which a twelve-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street (in the crosswalk). (He survived, but will have a long recovery). The boy was outside, on his own; not unlike I hope for my own children and other children of the neighbourhood to be able to be. And for all my primitive brain fears of losing a child to a stranger, my rational brain understands that the car is a much greater danger to them, outside, on their own.

My children have walked with me since they were very small, all over town; a fairly large proportion of our conversations, while walking, have related to how we are negotiating with traffic. Let's just say I've had a lot of teachable moments while walking with my children. My conclusion is that our city is not a safe place to walk. Pedestrians can follow the rules of the road, but this will simply not guarantee their safety: they must use instinct and constant attention; a lot of ask to anyone, let alone of a child.

How many times have my children and I waited at a crosswalk, with the signal telling us that it is our right of way, while a driver, who wishes to turn right on a red light (her legal right, too), inches forward, head craning to look the other way: she will step on the gas and go if it's all clear on her left and never look to see what's before her: a child, a mom, a stroller, a cyclist. My kids have been taught to make eye contact with drivers before making the decision to cross the street. On their walks to school, they've waited for vehicles whose drivers are backing out of driveways without ever once checking behind for children walking on the sidewalk. An elderly woman waved to my daughter at a crosswalk, typically a sign that the car is waiting for the pedestrian to cross; fortunately, my daughter had only taken a step before the woman zoomed through the intersection. Apparently she was just saying Hello to the cute little child, as she hurried on her way. These are not isolated incidents; similar things happen every day. We might call them minor, but they are inches away from being major.

As pedestrians, of course we have to stay vigilant. But pedestrian vigilance is surely not the only or even the best answer to this problem, which seems to go much deeper, and speaks to the many sacrifices our culture has made on the altar of the car. Our cities are built not to move people, but to move cars.

The way we think about driving is mixed up, too. We consider driving to be a right; getting a driver's licence is also a rite of passage. We forget that driving is actually a privilege and a responsibility.

To get inside a car is to enter a sealed bubble; it distances us from the world we're driving through. How often am I hurrying to get somewhere, or late, or distracted by grumpy children behind me? Getting into the car does not make me a kinder, more aware, more empathetic person; it makes me quite the opposite. I become impatient. It's the last place I want to be--in between, en route from somewhere to somewhere else, and not enjoying the journey. Inside the car is about the only place you'll ever hear me swear (oh--though you might hear me swearing at cars when I am walking).

Yet I am very very appreciative of our vehicle. I use it primarily to ferry kids to activities that our family considers valuable: theatre school, music lessons, horseback riding. I'm not prepared, voluntarily, at this moment in time, to live entirely car-free. But I do want to try to live as car-free as possible. I want to remind myself, always, of the heavy responsibility that I bear as a driver: for lives both inside and outside of my vehicle. And I want to be able to walk safely in my city.

What are some next steps, as I consider how to bring about real changes? At the very least, a letter to the editor. But I also need to clarify my thoughts on the subject. Should I consider researching and writing about the car, about walkable cities, about how to get from where we are now to where we could be? How does change happen, especially change that feels enormous and structural? Any ideas?