Monday, May 30, 2011

Almost June

It's almost June. It doesn't seem possible that May is nearly over. I have only hung my laundry outside once or twice so far this entire spring; it's been too rainy and unpredictable. Thankfully, I have a system for hanging laundry inside instead, but it's not the same.

This coming month will be crowded. I've neglected my Week in Suppers installment, as it takes more time than I currently can spare. I would like to find some way to keep that journaling of our daily lives going, but in a more efficient way. I've been enjoying Kathleen Winter's blog wherein she attempts to do one new thing every day. In order to make it manageable, she's often creative, and the new thing is not necessarily unusual or out of the ordinary, but might be a new way of looking at something, or even just acknowledging that every new day brings new experiences and surprises. Life is interesting.

I will be writing a lot this coming month, as often as I possibly can, in order to rework some critical sections of The Juliet Stories, and because July and August are summer months with unpredictable childcare available. More importantly, I want to be able to enjoy my kids when they're home, so my goal is to work crazy hard, and then "take life easy."

Wish me luck. (With both the hard work and the taking life easy).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On being competitive

*Cross-posted from my Swim/Bike/Run blog.*

This morning, I went for a long run. I planned to run 15km, and the idea of the long run is to go fairly slowly. But I found that I didn't want to go all that slowly. I felt so good! So I let myself run. I ran 15km in an hour and 20 minutes; not quite my half-marathon pace, but close. It is just the best feeling to be able to run and run and run. I decided to stay at my edge, where my breathing was very controlled and rhythmic, and to let myself stay at that pace as long as my breathing stayed sure. I find that in races, I'm running harder, and my breathing gets much heavier. I didn't want to run that hard.

Today, I thought about how far I've come on this journey. I don't always take time to appreciate it, because as soon as I've accomplished something, I'm pushing toward something else. I've decided to embrace that part of my personality. It's just who I am. It's how I write, too. I'm pleased with a story, and then give it some time and come back and discover that it could be improved, so I work even harder. The story may never be perfect, in my mind, but that doesn't mean I'm not proud of it. Somehow I've found the same pleasure and balance in my running/swimming/cycling. I love doing it. And I love doing it even when I'm pushing myself to go faster and even when it's hard and it hurts. I love doing it even when I wish I were capable of doing it better. Feeling like I could do better doesn't discourage me, it has the opposite effect--it makes me want to try even harder. I might have a moment of feeling down (like I do when a story has been rejected, or I read a bad review), but the pain or disappointment only lasts a short while, and before I know it my spirit bounces back with even greater drive and intent.

I think in a funny way, I'm as motivated by failure as I am by success. I'm certainly not afraid of failure. Or of success.

So that's how I'm thinking about my naturally competitive spirit, these days. I'm coming to terms with it. I'm embracing it. The bar for accomplishment is always of my own setting, and hopefully mostly in line with my actual abilities.

And there's nothing like running and running and running. Nothing. I can hardly think of anything that brings me greater happiness. Best of all, when I got home from the run, the older kids were waiting and ready to go: we'd agreed to run one or two kilometres together at the end of my run. My son surprised me by running two; my daughter was ready to stop after one (she ran it a bit too fast and got a cramp). What joy to hear my son say: "This is really fun, Mom!"

What a lot to be thankful for.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sunshine, sunshine



This is what we were working on last weekend, on the day before the duathlon. It's hard to fathom, after a week of storms and rain and grey, that a day could be so sunny. I got to get my hands dirty, digging up the big beds in the backyard. It's never too late to discover a love for gardening. We're enriching the soil even more this year, and hoping to grow potatoes and kale despite the shade. In the front yard, Kevin's put in strawberries and flowers, and we're planning to add tomatoes and cucumbers this weekend. I will also have some herb pots around the side of the house where the sun falls strongest (when it falls at all, which currently feels a bit like never).

This post is a little gift to myself while I take a lunch break from other writing work. I've been longing to get on here all week to write about such exciting topics as: urban homesteading, and running with children (not quite the same as running with scissors). We've got big plans this year, for this brief and precious summer season (as always).

We are planning to take down a few trees to gain sunlight for more vegetable gardens, and possibly a greenhouse (advice, anyone?). We hope to dry and plane the wood for further projects. We'd like to build a trellis over the patio, for grapevines and prettiness. We have a treehouse plan in the works. And a chicken coop. Then there's the porch project, with room for my teeny-tiny perfect office (architectural drawings already underway!).

:::

Earlier this week, I got to do something especially thrilling: I jogged with my kids. I have such wonderful memories of jogging with my dad, probably from about the age of seven. On longer runs, I would ride my bike. So last Sunday morning, in preparation for the duathlon (and because, after a long and tired week, I needed to remind myself that I knew what I was doing), I went for a short run around the neighbourhood. AppleApple was hanging around, bored, so I suggested she join me on her bicycle. Off we went on a 4km jaunt, me with a grin wider than a river. We talked about running, and I reminisced about my childhood jogs, and she said she'd like to try running with me, so Kevin and I decided to work it into this week's schedule.

Wednesday morning I get up early to run with a friend; we're usually home by 6:45 or so. This Wednesday, we laid out the two eldest kids' running clothes, and Kevin set his alarm for 6:50, and the kids were set and ready to go by 7. I grabbed a drink and headed back out with my kids. The light was beautiful. I promised we'd go exactly 1 kilometre (which seemed like a long way to Albus). We chugged through that kilometre in about six minutes. AppleApple was keen for a second kilometre, so we said goodbye to Albus (red-faced, and proud of his run), and went around the loop again. She ran fast! We even sprinted at the finish (something I always like to do).

We plan to do the same tomorrow morning: the kids can join me for the first kilometre or two of my long run. And we hope to keep up the habit, twice a week, in the weeks to come.

It was such a good start to the day. Both kids were energized and in great moods. AppleApple said she felt like she was floating afterward. Me, too. It's such a privilege, as a parent, to get to watch your children grow in skill and develop interests, and to encourage them to excel and to find courage and strength.

:::

If you're following my triathlon journey on chatelaine.com, here's a link to the latest story, on what it really costs (literally, in dollar figures) to train for and race in a triathlon.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day of duathlon

Finishing the first leg, heading for the transition area. Both feet off the ground. Looking and feeling strong. Plus, the sun is shining!

Getting out on my bike. Right at the start. My form isn't great here and I haven't settled in (and down), but I look so darn happy. I like that. Let's get this baby moving, uphill preferably!

Heading out for the final leg, post-bike ride. Discovering my leg muscles no longer know how to function. Fittingly, it had started to rain. Thinking: I can do this. Right? Well, I'm gonna.

The homestretch. The finish line is before me. I did have a moment of emotion here, realizing I was going to make it. That final leg was one of the harder things I've done in my life. It was like running on legs of water. I tried and tried, but throughout the four km, I just couldn't pick up the pace.

Me and my friend Tricia! I am so glad she was with me. All of the planning and logistics, plus the ride there, set-up, the wait: I needed someone with me. It would have been awfully lonely and intimidating on my own. She went out of the first transition ahead of me and I never caught up, but it made me glad to see her jersey in front of me. She is an Ironwoman! This picture makes me teary. We've trained together over the winter, shared some early mornings, and today, we worked so hard and we made it across the finish line! (And thanks also to her husband who took these fantastic photos. My family didn't quite make it to see me finish, though we all got to eat pork on a bun together afterward).

I'll write more in-depth about the experience on my Swim/Bike/Run Mama blog. And now I can offically call myself Bike/Run Mama. That's something.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Birthday Sleepover Extravaganza

This was one well-planned party. I didn't plan it, and neither did Kevin. It was planned in detail by the birthday boy, with some initial consultation (to whittle away at the more elaborate and impossible ideas). You can read the plan, on the right. In the end, the party went pretty much exactly like that (minus the 4am wake-up time).
Eight boys walked home from school together. They had a snack. They went to the comic book shop uptown and read comic books on benches (with supervision, I should add). They came back to a pizza supper, and made their sleeping arrangements in the basement. Outside to play baseball.
Ice cream cake served outside (the woman at the shop did not manage to put a "lego block" on the cake, as requested, but she may have been afraid of being featured on Cake Wrecks).
Then some boys played wii in the basement while others played outside til dark. Toothbrushing and pajamas. Reading in the basement (Albus provided a stack of graphic novels). Finally, lights out, a bit after 10pm. We expected talk, and there was some, but by 10:45 all was quiet. Though they woke early, they followed our rule: no getting up before 6. We provided a clock so they'd know for sure. They quietly got a movie started and had been watching for over an hour before we got up.
Kevin made pancakes and I made breakfast smoothies.
There was just time to open cards and gifts from siblings and parents before home-time. Kevin and I agree: this was in many ways easier and less-stressful than the intense two-hour friend party. The boys were very self-sufficient, and all such good kids. It felt almost leisurely. He's spent the rest of his birthday, so far, playing with a new wii game, and putting together a Lego set he got to pick out himself this afternoon.
We also plan to have all-you-can-eat sushi for supper, and the older kids will get to go to a movie with their dad. And then Kevin and I will sleep and sleep and sleep. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. I think that's what made the party so successful. We were able to spend a lot of it outside.
Happy spring!
And happy birthday, ten-year-old boy!

Snatam Kaur concert

I went to a concert earlier this week. If you want to hear one of the songs, here's her version of "Long Time Sun," although her onstage version was less-produced-sounding, and we all got to sing along. In fact, we sang along (or chanted) the entire two-and-a-half hour concert.
During the concert, I was struck by two thoughts that are not quite enormous enough to be called revelations, but nevertheless felt revelatory. The first was that I must stay open to mystery. Not sure why I need the reminder, but maybe in all this literal, physical work I've been doing toward the triathlon, I've forgotten that it is driven by the spirit, and that without a strong spirit, I wouldn't be able to do it. It also reminded me that my word of the year is "heart." Still haven't figured out much about that (admittedly cliched) word and the year's almost half over; but there's a piece of mystery to ponder.
The other thought that came over me powerfully is the fortune of my family: my children, my husband. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for them.
This whole post sounds cheesy, like most heart-felt things. I thought a lot about my Juliet Stories during the concert, and my hope for them is that they express the heart-felt without being cheesy. But this post is written in haste on a sunny spring afternoon and there is no distillation in it. And that, my friends, is the difference between story and blog.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Almost Ten


I've been neglecting to link to my twice-weekly triathlon blogs on Chatelaine.com, but here's today's: an ode to yoga, and to cross-training generally.

:::

In other news, my eldest turns 10 tomorrow, and to celebrate, we're going all out. He's invited eight friends for a sleepover party. Already, overnight bags are collecting in our front hall. I'll be heading up to school soon to supervise the walk home (but from a distance, it's been requested). Albus has spent a lot of time thinking about this party. He wrote out a draft version of his itinerary, and then a good copy (if you know Albus, you know how unusual this is). The itinerary includes a walk to the comic book store uptown. The boys will then read their comics "on a bench or on the curb." That's my favourite part.

I'm not expecting much sleep tonight.

But I hope to rest a little bit this weekend in advance of the duathlon on Monday. My next big challenge. I've never raced on a bicycle before. But I did learn how to change a tire yesterday (hands on), thanks to this super-woman. In the words of a favourite children's story: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! The race is 4km run, 30km bike ride, 4km run. The bike course is described as "challenging," and having biked part of it on Tuesday morning, I know why: hills and headwinds. It's also supposed to be raining on Monday. My goal is simple completion. If I don't chicken out, if I actually show up and do this, I will be a proud.

And now I see it's time to switch gears and sign off. Writing day done. Full-on-mama again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Week in Suppers: 10

This is the time of week when I usually write my "Week in Suppers" blog. But this week my photo-taking fell off the map. Still, I enjoy summing up a week, so here goes. Photos to be added later, if there are photos to be had. (On our cottage weekend, not one of us brought a camera, which was probably a mercy). [note: photos were discovered! Kevin took some on his camera when I was away.]

Monday supper. Black beans in the crockpot with sides of rice, tortillas, and spicy asparagus salsa (locally made, but not by me). I swam and ran early. It was a writing day and I did not get much done. The kids had swim lessons after school, and CJ accepted his teacher's hand and walked down the pool deck without a backward glance. I went to the bleachers feeling bittersweet. Texted Kevin who reminded me that CJ would be climbing on me momentarily, which turned out to be true. Treats all around afterward. I skipped a planned yoga class because the food and company looked too good, and Kevin had a soccer game. I put the kids to bed by myself.

Tuesday supper. Pasta with pesto. I made a double batch of pesto and froze half for later. With oodles of freshly grated parmesan, this meal cannot be beaten. I had a friend over for lunch, and the little kids and I baked banana bread to share -- but when it came out of the oven, it was shrunken and odd-looking. Oh, and it tasted bitter. What could it be? We were theorizing when I checked the recipe and went: DUH! NO SUGAR! How could I have forgotten THREE CUPS of sugar? (it was a triple batch; three times the failure). Maybe it was the fuzzy brain due to the early morning bike ride. Kevin left for work early. There were playdates after school. AppleApple thankfully got a ride to soccer practice (I had been planning to bike with the little kids, too), but even so, there was no way to squeeze in a yoga class in the evening. Kevin and Albus headed out to a chilly first soccer practice (Kevin is coaching). I put the little kids to bed on my own.

Wednesday supper. Tortilla wraps in the oven with leftover beans, rice, grated cheese, red pepper, and grated carrots. Kevin assembled them because I was at my one yoga class managed this week; but they were just coming out of the oven when I got home, so we called the kids in from playing outside and at together. I started the day with a run. It was supposed to have been a writing day, but CJ's nursery school had invited all the mothers to come early and share cookies (which CJ helped bake; so how could I not? Though as I looked around the room, I wondered: would they do this for father's day and expect the fathers to come in the middle of a work day?). I tried hard not to resent the interruption. Wrote furiously all afternoon to compensate. Kevin picked up the kids for music class while I went to yoga. No complaints there. Albus had piano and we had the loveliest walk to and from, and then to and from again (I'd forgotten my phone and had to go back; Albus volunteered to go back with me. He even held my hand. To say I treasure these moments sounds cheesy and could not be more true). For date night, Kev and I met on the couch, drank tea, and watched two episodes of Parks and Rec. Kevin hitched up the bike stroller around midnight--at last!

Thursday supper. Pasta with fresh-made red sauce, broccoli, and marinated tofu on the bbq. AppleApple and I had to rush to gobble a serving before leaving for her soccer game in a nearby city. Kevin got up early for yoga, and went directly to work. I got the kids off to school, and I started making sticky buns for my weekend getaway (a two-day process) while the little kids played educational games on the computer; really, I should have been reading to them, but there is only so much multi-tasking I can manage. With the dough on its first rise, the little kids and I packed up the bike stroller for errands. We started with a chiro appt, then headed to the grocery store. The stroller was so loaded at that point that we decided to bike home, drop off groceries, and head directly back out again. The bike/stroller combo was wonderful: fun, easy, quick. The kids just have a blast riding behind me. They make a wall of giggling singing gleefully shouting sound that turns people's heads as we pass. We headed uptown to the bookstore to buy two birthday gifts for weekend parties, and then next door to the Eating Well for more food. And then home to punch down the dough and set it to rise (again!) in the fridge. At this point, I made the pasta sauce and the sugary/nutty/candy stuff for the sticky buns; I also received an email from my editor that, though I couldn't stop to savour, filled me with joyous energy. Kids arrived home from school with friends. AppleApple got herself ready, as did I (soccer gear for her, running gear for me). I hurriedly punched down and rolled out the sticky buns, sprinkling with more butter and sugar, and arranging in the pans, then returning them to the fridge for a slow overnight rise. We picked up another child on AppleApple's team, drove forty-five minutes (my mother arrived to look after the two little ones, since Kevin and Albus had their first soccer game, too), and I went for a run while the girls warmed up with their team. The game was exciting, and the girls won: 7-0. Two glowing girls were delivered home--hungry, too. The weather could not have been more beautiful.

Friday supper. I wasn't here, but suggested that Kevin serve leftover pasta and sauce. I got up early for an hour-long swim, arrived home and popped the sticky buns into the oven. Kevin went to work early, so I biked the little kids to nursery school as soon as I'd waved goodbye to the big ones. At home: took a quick nap, started packing for a weekend away. The little kids stayed for "lunch bunch" at school, so I got an extra half hour on the other end. The weather was ridiculous: steaming hot and unsettled. We left for the cottage around suppertime, and arrived before dark. No official "supper" for me, but plenty of cheese, crackers, homemade tapenade, and other goodies. Oh, and wine. Can I go back there this weekend, please?

Saturday supper. At home, Kevin made hamburgers and french fries, and the kids had friends over for a "weekend party!" (Kevin says "weekend party" actually boiled down to one can of soda and one small bag of chips per child, plus friends being over, but the kids needed nothing more to have a blast). At the cottage, we started the morning with sticky buns and fresh-cut fruit. I attempted a brutally cold lake swim (in the borrowed wetsuit), then made lunch with my friend and cooking-partner: I made a veggie paella and she made an egg-tortilla bake, and fresh salsa and guacomole, and we mixed up two pitchers of margaritas. That was a two-hour lunch. For supper, we were served an enormous perfectly-bbqued piece of salmon rubbed with something salty and sugary, with bitter greens and fiddleheads on the side, and a starter of asparagus and cheese on puff pastry (recipes, please!).

Sunday supper. At home, Kevin baked mac and cheese. At the cottage (and let's start with brunch), we enjoyed a spread based around bagels: smoked salmon and tuna, a dip made with something creamy plus capers and smoked salmon; there were carmelized onions; cream cheese and jam; an enormous fruit salad with granola and yogurt on the side; and caesars to start. Before leaving to come home, we ate an early supper: a "Buddha bowl," which I plan to make this week for my own family. It starts with brown rice, on top of which you can pile a bunch of different ingredients, and top with a tahini dressing. Toppings included: tofu, almonds, spinach, grated beets and carrots, and seaweed. Heaven in a bowl. Happy, happy week.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Message I've Been Waiting For

That title is grammatically incorrect. Forgive me. It sounds perfect to my ears.

Here it is: good news, arriving in my inbox and waiting for me to get home from running errands on bicycle yesterday, with kids shouting in the stroller behind. I was so busy that I only had time to skim the message once before jumping back into the other projects in my life, namely, cooking, laundry, and children. (Laundry: how can there be so much of you? you never give up).

This was news from my other life, the one where I'm a writer. It was a long message from my editor, who had finished reading the draft of The Juliet Stories I sent awhile back. I'd written many new stories for the revision, and was praying she would like where I'd taken the book.

First, the "bad" news, which is easy to swallow: I will need to rework two stories from the opening section, possibly combining them into one. I like her suggestion to combine the two and will put on my thinking cap. I'm pretty much always up to a good challenge. I will have a month or so to do this. I estimate it will take me three full long days of work, assuming the ideas flow. If they don't; well, I won't go there. Why assume the worst?

Because the best is the rest of my editor's message, of which I'll share my favourite part here. The hard work, the isolated hours, the years of doubt, all add up to: "My heart was in my throat as I read these new stories." Emotional connection: it's what I crave for my writing. I also appreciated, and read with much relief, the line: "The book is cohering so beautifully now ..."

I like to think this "Obscure Canlit Mama" blog, now in its third year, had something to do with the creation of The Juliet Stories. It's brought me connections with other writers; allowed me to be vulnerable; and it's given me permission to embrace myself as a writer. Sometimes just saying something out loud is enough to make it real.

And now to spend a weekend celebrating by eating cheese, swimming in a lake (I hope--in my borrowed wetsuit), and communing with friends who've been with me since I was way more mama than writer. (I'm still way more mama than writer, but I'm not intensive-pregnant-nursing-mama anymore; and somehow that's changed how I imagine my life and explore other parts of the whole. They're out of the cocoon, in a way, and so am I).

One last thing. My editor also described The Juliet Stories as "deeply feminist," which surprised me. It's not that I don't see myself as feminist (I do! I am!), but I never imagined writing with the intention of expressing a political viewpoint. I hope she means that the book explores the emotional and physical potential in women's lives. I do think of my characters, especially the women, as free, somehow; or as free as any human being can be, to claim their own lives and essential selves, and to make choices beyond the boundaries of gender, while still understanding and partaking in the potential of their bodies. "My soul felt decidedly less shrunken when I'd finished reading it," my editor wrote.

Next up: a complicated rewrite for two thematically linked stories. Followed by the line edit. Followed by ... book cover design? Copy editing? And the big intake of breath before the finished book exists and hits stores, and makes its attempt to kick out a place for itself in the tough and largely indifferent world. If I learned anything from the first time around, it's to enjoy the moments when they come, and not try to put them away and save them for later. Enjoy in a big way. Laugh, cry, shout. Forget muted gestures. There is no way to store the rush of immediacy. Which is why I let myself bask in the feeling of relief yesterday afternoon, in the midst of busyness. Ahhhh.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Week in Suppers: 9

Monday supper. It was my mom's birthday, and we decided on a Spanish theme. My brother and his wife hosted. On the menu: refried beans, rice, two kinds of Latin American cheese, plus crema, tortillas, guacamole, salsa and chips, a big salad, and a fruit crisp with ice cream for dessert. Oh, and a pinata! This was voting day in Canada, too, though election results were disappointing (in our household): we now have a Conservative majority, voted in with 39.5 percent of the vote. Yes, that's how our multi-party, first-past-the-post system works. But enough on that. I started the morning with a swim and a run, and it was on the track that I heard the news about Osama Bin-Laden; two men were discussing it as I ran by. Which oddly means that two out of three news-worthy events last week are connected in my mind with the Rec Centre: a wedding and a death. It was a writing day. Kevin and I voted together after lunch. The kids had swim lessons after school, and CJ survived without me, again. Next lesson, I'm supposed to come sans swimsuit. And he's supposed to not cry.

Tuesday supper. It was my dad's retirement dinner. We were fed by the kind cooks at Conrad Grebel College; because I worked one year during university in that same kitchen, all the cooks came out to say hello. Considering eighteen years had elapsed in the meantime, very little had changed -- they were all still there! On the menu: a variety of salads, Swedish potatoes (think butter), and beef roulade (chosen by my dad; I'd never heard of it: beef pounded flat and wrapped around bacon which is wrapped around a pickle!). Kevin brought the two eldest kids, but left with them after dessert as it was already past their bedtime. They missed hearing my siblings and me sing two songs with Dad as our retirement gift to him. Don't ask us to do speeches, but we can sing and play. I started the day with a freezing bike ride, 20km, and my hands were numb by the end. It was a pleasant, at-home day otherwise; and Kev got home early so I could race to the library and bookstore before going to CGC early to practice. I left the little kids with buttered noodles for their supper, and CJ was won over by the babysitter. A good day all around, but a late night for this early riser.

Wednesday supper. This is not a photo of Wednesday's supper, but is representative of the early part of the week: rain, rain, rain. I forgot to take a photo. I went with an easy crockpot lentil soup, mild curry flavours, and baked rice. I was up early to run with a friend, and it was a full writing day. I've added an extra afternoon of babysitting to my week, and I'm grateful for three full writing days each week (meaning 9-3:30, essentially). Kevin took the kids to music lessons after school, and I went to a yoga class instead. I also accompanied Albus to his piano lesson and speed-read poems for my poetry book club. Wednesday is our new date night, but it's a temporary hacked-together shelter of a date night. We have no free Saturdays this month and Kevin plays soccer every Friday, making this our only unoccupied evening in the whole week. But we aren't even bothering with babysitting. We're aiming low: it would be nice to meet on the couch and talk.

Thursday supper. This is not a photo of Thursday's supper. This is a photo from snacktime, Thursday night, when I realized there was no supper photo. Today, I baked bread. For supper there was pasta, leftover red sauce, steamed broccoli, and marinated tofu which Kevin grilled on the BBQ. I left him in charge and went to a vinyasa yoga class. He managed to save me three pieces of tofu: the little kids LOVED it. This was my morning off, and Kevin went to an early yoga class instead. We enjoyed playing at a friend's house all morning, and the sun decided to shine, at last, too. In a few days, we'll have leaves on the trees. On the way home from yoga, I stopped in to offer my opinion about our region's proposed Light Rail Transit line. The elderly woman behind me only wanted to complain about the likely cost, but I'd rather invest in infrastructure that offers alternatives to the car than invest in more roads. (I did not turn to her and say: Think of your grandchildren!! Maybe I should have?). AppleApple headed to soccer practice as soon as I got home, and we failed to coordinate carpooling, which wasn't very alternative of us.

Friday supper. Finally a photo of supper: this was a noodle salad with peanut dressing (made with leftover noodles). I also fired up the BBQ for the first time in my life, and grilled sausages. Um, that was easy. I started the morning with an early swim, and enjoyed a writing day. Kevin, who is in charge of the "dentist portfolio," took ALL FOUR KIDS to the dentist for their checkup. Only one poor soul, who shall remain nameless, had cavities: four. More dentist visits in the weeks to come. After Kev dropped everyone off at home, most went outside to play and blow bubbles. It was pretty idyllic. Kevin had soccer, so we arranged for a babysitter to come, so that I could go to a craft night at a friend's house. Except I was lame and didn't craft a thing, not even one felted ball. I just chatted 'til I was too sleepy, and it was time to head home.

Saturday supper. I wasn't in the mood to cook, and the kids were desperate to go out to eat, but we decided to be thrifty (new porch and all), plus the fridge was overflowing with leftovers. I heated up the peanut noodles, which were delicious, and made miso soup, which is basically instant contentment in a bowl, and we had noodles on the side for those who prefer their noodles plain. There were a few leftover sausages, too. Plenty of food. It was a busy day, with Fooey starting soccer, and AppleApple's theatre rehearsal, and a playdate for Albus, and a bike ride/run combo in the afternoon for me, and a real soccer game for AppleApple in a nearby town (to which Kevin took the two youngest). After all that, the kids and I flopped on the couch and watched two episodes of The Amazing Race (we haven't seen the finale yet). I like watching TV with them. CJ hops on me, Fooey snuggles in close, and everyone talks the whole time. Then we had bath night, and got the little kids to bed. I went to my poetry book club where we had a lively discussion that lasted far later than it seemed; and with the return of the babysitter, Kevin went out and saw friends playing in a punk rock cover band.

Sunday supper. It was AppleApple's turn to cook, and she devised a scrumptious menu: homemade hummus with pita and veggies; French onion soup ladled over toasted bread with cheese; Mexican Christmas salad, which was lettuce-based with tons of fruit and a lime dressing; and cheesecake for dessert (bought). We shared supper with my mom: Mother's Day! And I had the best day. I slept until I felt rested and ready to wake up (9:30!!!!). AppleApple made me an egg to order: sunny-side up. Kevin took all the kids grocery shopping while I read the paper and played piano. I took AppleApple to her soccer practice and went for a long beautiful run along trails that follow the Grand River. And I didn't have to cook supper! I tidied up toys, Kevin vacuumed, and I did dishes for approximately forever, and after bedtime we met on the couch to peruse the coming week. And from the looks of it, it's only getting busier.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Two Recipes


Ginger Beef with Tofu and Broccoli (crockpot)

This recipe could be easily adapted for the stovetop. If you're doing it on the stove, you might want to add 1 tbsp of cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp of water to thicken the sauce at the end.

To start, brown 2 pounds of beef in a bit of canola oil. You can add about 1 tsp of sesame oil here, too. I used a combination of steak and stewing beef. When the beef is browned, transfer to the crockpot. On top of the beef, if desired, arrange one block of sliced firm or semi-firm tofu (no need to saute first).

In the same frying pan, saute 1 chopped onion and 4 chopped cloves of garlic until translucent or lightly browned.

Remove from heat, and add 1 cup of water to the pan, along with 1/4 cup of tamari sauce, and 1 tbsp of cider vinegar, and scrape everything into the crockpot.

Now you're done frying things (and I do always fry onions and spices, and brown meat before putting them into the crockpot, though it does take more time. But it also tastes much better in the end. Think of it as doing your labour-intensive prep first thing in the morning instead of all in a rush right before supper's due to be served).

Add 2 tbsp of freshly grated ginger to crockpot (more, or less, to taste). I keep washed whole ginger root in the freezer, where it stays fresh; it's easy to scrape off the amount you'll need with a knife. No need to thaw.

Cook on low all day. Steam broccoli on the stove and add just before serving. I made the mistake of adding the broccoli to the crockpot with about two hours to go, and was displeased with the result. Let's just say it's hard to crisp-cook veggies in a crockpot. Serve over steamed or bake rice, with extra tamari sauce and hot sauce on the side.

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Hummus

Kevin and AppleApple made this for supper tonight. Kevin said it was very easy to make. And it's delicious. We used canned chickpeas because I've never been able to cook a chickpea to satisfaction. If you have tips, let me know.

Reserve the liquid from 1 can of chickpeas. In a food processor, combine the rinsed chickpeas with 3 tbsp of tahini (sesame paste), 1 clove of garlic, the juice of 2 lemons, and 1/2 tsp of salt. Blend together. Only add a bit of the reserved liquid if your hummus seems too thick. Kevin says he added too much, and in future would start by adding none at all.

That's it! Serve with pita bread, tortilla chips, or veggie slices.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tip of the day




Awhile back, I wrote a post about "Conscious Discipline." At the time, I copied a list of ten parenting principles onto a piece of green paper, which is still hanging in our kitchen. I think the list is terrific, and continue to refer to it from time to time.

Most recently, number eight jumped out at me: "Become the person you want your children to be." I love that line.

I'm becoming a fairly fit adult, and someone who takes great pleasure in running, biking, yoga, swimming, etc. And my kids know how I feel about it. I talk about it as relaxing, or as an outlet for difficult emotions, and a way to make life, generally, happier. The kids have now been to three races and they've seen how happy running makes me feel. One might say, job well done, Mom. You're becoming the person you want your children to be.

So.

Last week, Albus brought home a piece of paper from school, which he grabbed and tried to hide as soon as he saw me heading to check his backpack. What on earth? I thought. Is it a note from his teacher that he doesn't want me to see? Is he in some kind of trouble? When he sheepishly showed me the piece of paper, it had information about the school's Running Club. "You're going to make me sign up," he said, despondently. Of course, I said I wouldn't force him to do it, but wouldn't it be lovely, blah blah blah? And he said, no. He doesn't want to waste his recess time on running club. AppleApple was equally disinterested. I was mildly disappointed.

But when my eye caught number 8 on my "Conscious Discipline" poster, I just had to laugh. Here I am modeling away, and my kids are, so far, oblivious to the hints; at least to the most obvious and particular of the hints. I do think it's a good thing to become the person you want your children to be. But hopefully you're doing it as much for yourself as for them. They will have to make their own choices along the way, and there is only so much a parent can/should push for. It's just not a one-to-one ratio: do this, and receive that result. Life, and parenting, is much less predictable.

They're going to break out of my mold, and be themselves, be the individuals they already are. Maybe the more subtle messages will get across; that's what I hope. The messages about focus, working hard, and enjoying what you do. May it be so.

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In other news, please read my latest blog on Chatelaine.com. It's about learning to swim last summer, with an unexpected teacher.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Week in Suppers: 8

Monday supper. Ginger beef in crockpot, with tofu and brocolli. Baked rice on the side. The kids were off school today, but Kevin had to go to work (Easter Monday). I swam and ran early, and napped early, too, before Kevin left for work. I managed to file a story while the kids played. Or maybe they played wii, truth be told. In the afternoon, the kids and I went to a super-delicious "soup party" to which I contributed a big cake-shaped paska. It rained most of the day, but the kids played outside -- soccer and hockey. We dashed home to get changed for swim lessons. CJ and I had many long chats about going in the pool alone, and he mostly said, "NO!" but was swayed, sort of, by the idea of a treat afterward (oh bribery!). When we arrived at the pool, my heart fell -- his regular teachers were both sick; two substitutes instead. It turned out not to matter, though; the teachers kindly let me get in the water, too, and CJ willingly went with them, while occasionally leaping with a fake pout toward me. Mid-lesson we took a bathroom break (curses! this happens every time!), and when we got back, the kids were putting on life-jackets and playing with toys. CJ was thrilled. He didn't even noticed when I climbed out of the water, and he waved happily to me for the rest of the lesson. Afterward, he got his treat: to spend a quarter at the candy machines. Of course the other kids got in on the quarter action, too. Dentist appointment next week. Is this a case of short-term gain for long-term pain? We squeezed in drum and guitar lessons after eating supper together. Kevin practiced soccer at 10pm.

Tuesday supper. Roasted red pepper soup with homemade croutons. Gallo pinto on the side. Green salad. (Gallo pinto is beans and rice fried together: always delicious, and an easy way to use up leftover rice and/or beans). The soup was delicious: I used red peppers roasted and frozen last summer. I had my last spin class of the season (everyone's riding outside now). The little kids and I enjoyed a quiet morning together, and then our babysitter arrived for an extra afternoon (thank heavens -- I missed two writing days due to Easter!). Kevin came home early so I could go to yoga. We waited and ate supper together, though AppleApple ate late, due to soccer practice (successful carpooling!). There were playdates all around after school. And the sun was shining.

Wednesday supper. "Roast" chicken in the crockpot: seasoned with garlic, onion, and sage. Green salad. I peeled and sliced the potatoes first thing in the morning, and kept them covered in cold water until arriving home from music class: then I boiled and mashed them up fresh. No one had to race off anywhere, so we could eat at our leisure: big thumbs up around the table. Today was an unusual day and I did not get a lot of writing done. Instead, Kevin and I met for lunch, and I decided to go ahead and buy a road bicycle and all the accoutrements. Exciting, and terrifying. (I hate spending money, especially on myself). After supper, I walked Albus to piano, and then jogged over to my dad's to practice, along with my siblings, for his upcoming retirement dinner. We are singing and playing two songs together. My sister Edna and I worked out some pretty harmonies. We didn't even know we could harmonize together. It took longer than expected. I ran home after Montreal tied up their game seven to go into overtime; and wasn't home long before the goal that killed their playoff dreams was scored. Kevin was watching, of course.

Thursday supper. Sweet and sour chicken and tofu in the crockpot (oh, and a bit of leftover beef and brocolli, too). Served with baked rice. Kevin got up early this morning for yoga, so we are back to our regular schedule. The kids and I enjoyed playing with friends in the morning, then dashed to the grocery store. I also baked bread, made yogurt, and supper, and hung laundry in the early afternoon: domestic multi-tasking hell, to be perfectly frank. But it all got done in time for me to go to a vinyasa yoga class before supper where we tried a crazy upside-down hand-stand. We cancelled our babysitter due to AppleaApple's soccer practice, which was then cancelled last-minute due to rain. Oh well. My dad and sister came over to practice the harmonies some more. Good feelings all around.

Friday supper. Braised squash, yams, and chickpeas in the crockpot, with couscous on the side; devilled eggs, too. (Leftovers were also served). The braised squash was a pitiful fail. I think it was the mushrooms I added to the mix. It was something. There was a funky scent going on. Sometimes crockpot meals seem to go from delicious to overcooked in the waning hours of the day. Next time, no mushrooms. At least the buttery couscous was delicious, and everyone liked the devilled eggs. After supper, we dumped the squash straight into the compost, though Kevin and I did eat a fair share; weirdly, it tasted okay, it was just smelled disgusting. I didn't blame anyone for not trying it. Albus had a friend over who politely thanked me for supper. I felt like apologizing: sorry, kid, I know it was gross and you ate cold leftovers instead. Don't tell your mother. I had a writing day, and started the morning with a swim. Kevin and I got some tv time together after the kids were in bed. We also met with a different contractor about the porch/office project, and with more optimistic results. We both like this man, we like his work, and his quote was significantly less than the previous quote, and within our budget. It looks like we will be getting the ball rolling over the course of the summer. AppleApple and Albus are already plotting who will get to claim the spare room upstairs (and Fooey and CJ would like to share a room). Lots of groundwork ahead: architectural drawings, permits, etc. We are all dreaming.

Saturday supper. Homemade pizza. The grownup portion had sliced cauliflower and hot pepper flakes, in addition to the kid version of roasted red pepper and cheese. I served nothing else, and we ate every last slice. Uh oh. Double batches, here we come. This was a fairly low-key day, and we finally enjoyed sunshine and warm breezes. There was soccer, of course, and AppleApple's rehearsal for her theatre performance coming up at the end of the month, and errands, a birthday party, and also my first bike ride ever on a road bike. I only fell once, and it was at a stand-still into grass (the clip-in pedals take some getting used to). I'd meant to take the day off to rest for race-day tomorrow, but oh well. It was just too fun getting out into the sun and riding fast.

Sunday supper. Homemade burgers, nitrate-free hot dogs, homemade french fries, cut-up veggies. Kevin did most of the work, though it was supposed to be "cooking with kids": Albus's turn. He and his friend chopped the veggies, then went outside to play (messy, muddy, sandy play = ridiculous amounts of laundry!). The french fries were delicious. I ate more than my fair share. The morning was focused on my 10km race: my maiden voyage. It was so hard. I was chilled to the bone afterward, though I didn't notice it until we got home and Kevin said: "Your lips are blue." I took a long, hot bath. The kids gamely came along despite the rain, and my mom even got to see part of the race: she walked over from her church, which was nearby. Fooey's favourite part was the hot chocolate: "I love hot chocolate," she reported when someone asked her how the race was. I tried to nap, but was very physically wound up. Instead, I wandered around uselessly, and did a bunch of laundry. My dad and sister, and one of my brothers came over to practice again. I think we're all set for Tuesday's performance. One more chance to practice with the mics and the sound on Tuesday afternoon. The kids and I finished off the day together, watching an episode of The Amazing Race. We're starting a bit late in the season, but it's an easy show to follow. I really really enjoyed it. Sometimes tv is alright. I fell asleep last night just before the Obama announcement, though I did see it coming on Twitter. I heard the news about OBL early this morning, when I was running on the indoor track: two old men were discussing it. Funny, my Royal Wedding moment happened in the same building on Friday morning. I was swimming, and I looked up through my foggy goggles and saw the tv in the snack area: there were William and Kate pledging their vows. I watched for a breath or two, and thought, there it is, my wedding moment.

And there it is: our week in suppers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mental Fitness

What?! I'm smiling?! This is nearing the end, and I was sure my face was one giant grimace. (Thanks for the photo, J & T!).

I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll become someone who enters races and obsessively tries to beat my last best time. My personality-type just does not allow me to relax and finish at a comfortable pace. Instead, I try to run to my limits, calibrating throughout the race how much harder I can push myself. The physical part of the race almost seems insignificant. It's the mental part that takes all the work and the toughness and the guts. I'm not sure I could have gone quite so fast in today's 10km run had my friend T not been behind me pushing me all the way along. I knew she was tough -- she's done Ironman, and she was running today on an injured foot and therefore much less running training than me, but there she was pushing me on. Somehow knowing and trusting her mental toughness made me push even harder to find my own. Thank you, T!!!!! You're an amazing competitor!

The first half of the race I ran a bit faster than originally planned and I felt a slightly more fatigued than I would have liked. But once half the race was done, I believed it was possible to keep pushing at least that hard for another 5km. Since it was a loop, I knew exactly what to expect. I took advantage of every downhill to pick up the pace, though I did use one downhill, at about 7.5km, to rest just slightly and try to restore my breathing (it didn't help much). I was disconcerted by my breath -- I sounded like a freight train coming through, and I'd hoped to sound much more relaxed. It really felt like a mental game that I was playing with myself. I would feel a flash of doubt -- can I keep this pace going, or am I going to slam into a wall? And then I would find a reason to keep the pace going. I pictured a friend's daughter, who is an amazing runner, and I thought, she wouldn't slow the pace. That's not how she wins races.

Not that I was going to win this race, you understand. It was a race against myself, essentially. I did have those times in my mind: 55 minutes was what I believed was within my means, and I wanted to do it in 50, at 5 minutes a km, which is fast for me. Honestly, I'm not sure how I made it that last kilometre. I couldn't look directly ahead, oddly, but it seemed easier when I looked to the side, almost as if seeing the finish line wasn't going to help me. I was in the zone. The zoned-out zone. I couldn't even wave or smile at friends. Yet I found it within myself to sprint to the finish, a longer sprint than my body wanted to do, but why stop now?

The time on the clock was so exciting that I threw my hands into the air. Under fifty minutes. And my official chiptime clocked me in at 47:54. THRILLING. Honestly, I could not have run that race any faster. I threw everything into it. I finished 6th in my age class, and 16th among the women overall (there were 113 women who finished the race). That's insanely better than I ever did in high school. I wish I'd recognized my own potential back then, and trained properly. But you know, even with all the training in the world, I'm not sure that back in high school I would have had the mental courage to run the way I ran today.

That's what makes running so hard, I'm beginning to see. The training is important, of course, but to go fast, you have to be willing experience deep mental (and physical) discomfort. I'm pretty sure the runners who break records are willing to run to the very edges of their physical limits, and that's simply not easy. I did my best today, but I'd have to train even harder to push the edge of my physical limit. Man. Part of me wants to do exactly that. But during the race, the thought I kept shoving back down was -- this is WAY TOO HARD and you are NEVER GOING TO DO THIS TO YOURSELF AGAIN!

Sorry, self. I think I just might. The high of crossing the finish line, the high of knowing I pushed as hard as I could -- well, it's a bit like childbirth, really, though on a slightly reduced scale of pain and ecstasy. It's not fun 'til it's over, and then it's right up there with the most amazing feeling you'll ever have the privilege of experiencing.

[this entry is cross-posted from my triathlon training blog]