Friday, September 30, 2011

Framing the space: progress

Just look at this, the progress made from one day to the next.

The ceiling in my new office is going to be 1.5 stories tall. Down the road, I hope to add a wall of built-in bookshelves. Possibly a long way down the road. After I've sold a few more books and can pay for such an extravagance myself. Meanwhile, this seems quite extravagant enough. A room of one's own. It's really boggling my mind.

I'm gathering a lot of restless energy these days, and not spending it entirely wisely. What to do when a big project like Juliet is DONE? Really, I long to leap into something else, possibly something entirely different, and just keep moving. Pour this energy into the next big thing. But life doesn't necessarily offer up one big thing after another. There aren't always mountains to climb. I'm looking for the right metaphor (as always). I'm listening to the universe. I'm testing door knobs. I'm waiting for a sign.

When I look at the framed space that will contain a new room in my life, I'm wishing for something as concrete as that to shape my hours. Writing. It requires so much internal energy and drive. Stirring up freelance work takes effort and imagination. No one is (yet) knocking down my door offering plum writing gigs (will that ever happen??) And starting a new book is an act of pure faith: there's your hope, optimism, and love, right there. It's not something anyone can tell you to do, really. You have to do it by yourself, of your own initiative, because you feel it must be done.

Question: Do people who go out to a job every day gain a sense of satisfaction and purpose from the simple act of going and doing? Or am I romanticizing?

Can I create a sense of satisfaction and purpose without having an external employer to guide me? More to the point, will this new room create for me a sense of purpose? I'm loathe to hang that kind of responsibility on a room. I've been able to work in a variety of carved-out spaces: Hair Hat was written at the end of my bed; The Juliet Stories were written (mostly) here in the playroom. I've been proud of not needing a room of my own.

And yet. If I am honest with myself, that's exactly what I'm hoping for, from this room, from this framed and real space: that stepping into it will create a sense of direction and importance and weight, and legitimize my hopeful efforts, and define me ever more concretely as a writer. That's asking a lot. As the room gets framed, beneath my excitement, truth be told, anxiety roils.

But maybe, just maybe, stepping into a space devoted to the act of writing will be similar to getting dressed in the appropriate clothes. I've learned that simply putting on my running gear makes heading out for a run easy, somehow (and tomorrow morning I'm going to put on that gear for a 25km trail run). It's not that the run itself is made easy, it's those first steps that are made easy, and once begun, I never mind how hard it is, and even relish the difficulty. Taking the leap to start is the biggest obstacle of all.

Coming from a Mennonite background, I have minimal in-born appreciation for spaces that are designed to be sacred. I grew up believing that worship could happen anywhere, that stained glass and soaring ceilings and incense and elaborate stagecraft might as much keep people out as draw them in; further, that maybe we end up worshipping those external elements instead of wrestling with our own faith. Too much hierarchy. Too much evidence of wealth and exclusion. Too much us and them. And somehow that translates for me across the board. I'm only slowly, in my mid-thirties, coming around to ideas that others probably don't find very radical at all. That the things that surround us matter. Clothes. Rooms. Architectural beauty.

I still strongly believe that any space can be sacred (just attend a birth and try to think otherwise). I believe that writing can happen anywhere (just add ear plugs, that's my motto). But that doesn't diminish the possibility that beauty and purpose is contained and expressed in beautiful or purposed spaces. That we're drawn to these spaces for a reason. And that I'm damned lucky.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do you have a house elf?

I am craving a solution to two tiny domestic mysteries: we've got a ghost in the house. A ghost, or a tricky house elf, or an invisible door that leads to a pit of no return into which random objects are being tossed. First, it was Fooey's brand-new blue water bottle. She remembers carrying it into the house after piano lessons, and she remembers setting it down beside her shoes in the front hall. While I can't corroborate her story, I remember seeing it in the truck beside her when I strapped her in just before we left piano lessons. How could it have gotten lost between piano lessons and home? But, it is gone. She set it beside her shoes in the front hallway, and we haven't seen it since.

Next, AppleApple remembers removing her lunch box from her school bag last Wednesday and setting it down ... well, she doesn't know where, exactly. She's a drifting sort of child. Suffice it to say, we haven't seen it since. Disappeared. I have searched the lost and found at school, she's searched her classroom (just in case her memory was in error), and we've combed every surface, cupboard, and drawer in the house. The bag was a junkie grocery store special, but it was full of lovely reusable containers and a thermos. Gone.


These small mysteries are bothering me out of all proportion to the value of what's been lost. It's their inexplicable nature. I can't come up with a reasonable theory. And I do like reasonable theories. They're so comforting. For now, we're blaming the house elf. We've even started referring to the house elf, on occasion. I heard AppleApple calling for the house elf to point her toward a misplaced something the other day (that item got found).


What I meant to write about was the progress on the porch. The footings are in, and some lumber is now being attached and giant screws are being drilled into brick. These photos were taken this morning. My plan is to take a photo every morning, so we can watch our porch grow. That's my office there. Can you see it? I almost can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Give this woman a nap, please

I haven't been napping. It's starting to show. Because, yes, I'm still getting up early four mornings a week to exercise, and the combination of less sleep and construction mayhem and zero power naps makes for a woman who looks just a little frayed around the edges.

Confession time. Come a little closer. Let me lay it on you: By early evening, my bark has bite. And the person most likely to be bitten is, well, my husband. He's around, he's a grownup, he's probably doing something not to my (impossible) standards, and snap. Like that.

Yesterday evening, I arrived home from yoga, a two-hour out-of-the-house, happy alone time for me, which is made possible by him. (It's also made possible by a ton of pre-planning by me). Anyway, I walked in the door, and the dishes were basically done, the school lunches had been made, and the children were upstairs in pajamas with brushed teeth. He was reading to the younger ones. What a lovely scene! All was well. All continued to be well as I did laundry, checked in with homework obligations (older children), and went through the necessary bedtime rituals with the younger ones. All was well until I came downstairs to get myself some supper. I was pretty hungry by this point, and, yes, flipping tired.

I opened the fridge. I saw before me a half-consumed jar of pearsauce. And ... I just about lost my mind. Pearsauce!? The pearsauce I canned less than three weeks ago? Which I'd planned on serving in February when pears are but a distance memory? When WE STILL HAVE ACTUAL PEARS????? Yup. That was me. Losing it.

And this was him. Working away at the computer and blinking at me in silence. Really, what else could he do?

I sat down to my bowl of supper, still seething. (Side question: Am I crazy, or do others out there have ideas about when canned food should be eaten? Restrictions? Personally, I like to wait until the snow is falling).

Then I noticed it was time for the big kids to get to bed. "Could you go up and tell them?" I asked Kevin. Who responded, "This is the first time I've gotten to sit down since you left for yoga." Yup, he was probably pissed about the pearsauce; or more precisely, about my reaction to the pearsauce. Which he'd served the children for bedtime snack. While I was at yoga. Having quiet alone time.

This is how wars start.

But off he went, to tell the kids to get to bed. I sat gobbling leftovers and muttering under my breath, Do you think I'm sitting down all day? You get home from work and I've got supper on the table and mumble mumble swim lessons! and mumble mumble porch guys here this morning and mumble trying to work and ... add in a few choice swear words and you've got the picture. I'd dumped it out of my system by the time he came back downstairs. Well, almost. I managed to get in a good grouse this morning when serving the kids breakfast, reminded by the half-eaten jar in the fridge. I'm pretty sure none of them will be asking for canned pearsauce again until the snow flies.

Lest you think I'm all zen all the time. I'm not. And boy, do I need a nap.

(But isn't that photo zen? Ah. Another one from our summer holiday.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seized by the day

I've been thinking about that phrase: Seize the day! I've been thinking about it because it feels, sometimes, that the day has seized me, and not the other way round. What to do when a day is holding you hostage?

Do you know what I mean?

Yesterday was just such a day. I started with some good seizing of the moment, my alarm pattering at 5:15, in the pool swimming laps (with friends) by 5:45, enjoying a fantastic strong hour of back and forthing, working lungs and arms and legs. And then home, quickly, so my big kids and their dad could seize the day themselves. They headed off to the pool, and I made breakfast and supper, and everyone was eating porridge and eggs, awake and happy by 8am. What a great start to a Monday, one might have congratulated oneself.

And then, down came Monday. A load of lumber arrived. A pneumatic digging machine. A bunch of beefy guys (I've got to work beefy guys into my posts more often). Work on the porch footings began. The sun was shining. And suddenly, work came to a halt. I heard it, just like that. An abrupt stop. Unfortunate silence. And, after a couple of beats in time, someone hammering on the door.

This can't be good, thought I.

It wasn't. Soon, we had water in the basement, a busted pipe that couldn't be stopped until the City showed up to stop it, and everyone on my front lawn looked very anxious indeed, and some came down to the basement to haul out rugs and move furniture and wield mops and apologize profusely while I felt like apologizing for the already disastrous state of our basement (do the kids really need to leave their socks EVERYWHERE?)

So ... that was my yesterday. I was thankful to have gotten supper prepared before we had no water. I spent the day running up and down stairs to consult with various professionals, while trying to work. This is my writing day??? Thankfully, water was restored just before the kids arrived home from school, two friends in tow, hungry, tired, thirsty, and needing the bathroom.

Writing day and basement-flooding-day was over, and feeding-children-in-a-rush-at-a-ridiculously-early-hour began immediately thereafter. Just after 5pm, me plus three girls pulled out of the driveway to pick up more girls, off to theatre rehearsal. And then Fooey and I went on to her first Highland dance class (tell me she isn't going to make a perfect little Scottish dancer!). And then I came home and ate supper. Realizing by the hole in my gut that I'd forgotten, in the rushing up and down stairs, to eat lunch. Good grief. It was time to pick Fooey up. Time to clean up from supper. Time to supervise homework. Time, please dear God, to go to bed.

And there I was, lights out, 9:40pm. Seized by the day, shaken and hauled off, and quite at the mercy of it. Just doing my best to stay calm and carry on.


But good news arrived this morning, just a few moments ago, in fact. I've received, from my editor, THE FINAL DRAFT of The Juliet Stories. Did you read that correctly? Yes. The final draft. I shall be called upon no more to revamp these stories. They are done. (Well, the copy editing stage remains. But.) Juliet is ready to roll. Not sure where this fits into the seize/seizing equation. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe on the rare occasion one gets to sit back and go ahhhhhhhh. And take a little moment to settle into the knowledge that something big has been completed. That was a whole lot of seizing, folks. A whole lot.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Week in Suppers: late-September

MONDAY'S MENU. Lentil/flax pasta. Roasted tomato sauce. Green salad. Broiled tofu and eggplant.
THE RATIONALE. Quick. AppleApple and somewhat picky friend rushing out the door by 5pm to their first theatre rehearsal. Preferably with food in tummies.
THE COOKING. Sauce made on Sunday, warmed up from a jar, deliciously easy. Note to self: start boiling pasta water earlier on theatre nights.
THE REVIEWS. "I don't like sauce." "Would you eat a carrot if I peeled one for you?" "No ... but my mom would make me eat it."
THE VERDICT. Nobody noticed the pasta was made of lentils and flax.

TUESDAY'S MENU. Lentil soup (harira) in crockpot. Saag paneer. Basmati rice.
THE RATIONALE. Bought paneer on a whim + tons of fresh spinach. Harira flavours similar to dahl, easy to make. Voila: an Indian feast.
THE COOKING. Looked up recipe for saag paneer online, all recipes too complicated, invented my own version that did not involve whirling spinach and spices in food processor. Note to self: cinnamon, cardoman, garam masala, cumin and coriander.
THE REVIEWS. "Mom, will you make this again soon?": Fooey. I kid you not. Fooey! I was just starting to worry that the child would grow up without ever willingly eating a cooked vegetable, when along comes a pan of spinach and paneer (Indian cheese; it looks a lot like tofu, which she loves). My version included cayenne pepper. She had four helpings over rice.
THE VERDICT. Thrilled mother. Relatively happy family (not everyone loved the spinach, I should add). But lentil soup is liked by all.

WEDNESDAY'S MENU. Beet borsch in the crockpot. Buns and cheese. Coleslaw.
THE RATIONALE. A request from AppleApple. This cook loves requests! Especially those involving bright purple vegetables.
THE COOKING. Lots of chopping, but accomplished before breakfast thanks to the crockpot. Coleslaw whipped up last-minute with an improvised mayo-based dressing. With white sugar.
THE REVIEWS. "I'm not going to try that even if you put it in my bowl.": Fooey. Ah, back to the norm.
THE VERDICT. Delicious. Sorry, Fooey. You'll just have to grow to appreciate cabbage and beets.

THURSDAY'S MENU. Veggie dogs, hots dogs, and hamburgers. Potato chips. Leftover borsch.
THE RATIONALE. Meet-the-teacher night. Barbeque fundraiser.
THE COOKING. Heated up the borsch upon returning home around 7pm and feeling under-nourished.
THE REVIEWS. "More juice!"
THE VERDICT. Could have been worse. At least I didn't have to cook; instead, took the opportunity to nap on the couch around 4:30, with the kids reading and practicing piano around me. That was lovely.

FRIDAY'S MENU. Bailey's pick-up supper: baguette, soft pretzels, cheese sticks, cheese, tomato and red pepper slices, pickles, brussel sprouts with pecans, melon and purple grapes.
THE RATIONALE. On Friday's, from May until October, I pick up a wagon-load of local food from Bailey's.
THE COOKING. Sauteed brussel sprouts in butter. This dish is only eaten by me and Kevin. It is divine.
THE REVIEWS. Happy conversation around the table. Contentment.
THE VERDICT. What could be better?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best intentions, the weekend edition

What got done this weekend?

Digging potatoes.

Washing potatoes.

Kitchen drudgery: baked four loaves of bread; transformed shrivelled plums into a sauce; whirled and froze five meals' worth of pesto; roasted and pureed tomatoes as a base for tomato soup and lasagna later this week; baked cookie squares with new baking soda (going on the theory that bad soda caused my treat fail last weekend).

Plus laundry. That's what comes of having four children and a family involved in multiple sports activities. Also, I'm mildly obsessive compulsive about hanging it to dry.

Soccer tryouts for this child, Saturday and Sunday morning. Lucky me, I got to take her and start both days with a long run on a beautiful autumn trail beside a river.

Vegging and movie-watching. These kids, both afternoons, the same (fairly awful) movie: Cats and Dogs. Plus Kevin and I got out on our own last night and saw a (fairly good) movie: Crazy Stupid Love.

Work on the new garden beds for next spring.


Which leads us to the question: What didn't get done this weekend?

Church. Again.

Harvesting and drying herbs.

Taking the kids to the Harry Potter matinee uptown today.

Signing up for a marathon in November. But I've got the registration window open on my browser, so maybe I'll get up the guts to do it before the day is over.

Sleep. Two late nights + two early mornings = happy social life (and I need a nap.)

Cleaning and tidying. As you can see. (Are those MY socks on the table???? Oh crumbs, they are. Guess I can't blame the kids for everything).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Caution: steep drop-off ahead

A month ago (or more) our porch was demolished. Temporary steps were built.

This morning, we've locked the screen door.

The temporary steps are gone.

The mailman just came and knocked on our door. He couldn't find the mailbox. That's because it's resting on a stump until we can figure out where to attach it, temporarily. Maybe onto one of the little birch trees in the front yard? He handed the mail up to me.

If the rain holds off, they'll start digging the footings today. A delivery of wood is due to arrive, too. Work begins. Because I wheel and deal in metaphor, I see it everywhere. I see a door to nowhere, not yet; I see the potential in wreckage; I see the markings, the plans, the anticipation, the invisible groundwork. I see impatience induced by ugliness and stasis. I see something good coming, if only we can wait.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On goals, swimming, and going for the easy points

Today is Thursday. I set my alarm for stupid-early and dragged myself scarcely-awake to the pool to meet my friend. She couldn't make it tomorrow, and I knew I wouldn't make it without her. And we swam. It was lovely. I thought about next to nothing. That was lovely, too. When I got home, AppleApple had her packed schoolbag waiting by the door, and was at the counter, dressed and eating breakfast. Apparently, she is taking "be more organized" to heart. On Thursdays this year, she is attending a different school, and a bus picks her up relatively early.

My goals for AppleApple are that she learn how to organize herself and her belongings, and that she finish the projects she starts. I was required to articulate these goals for her enrichment program, and I shared them with her. I suggested she come up with some goals of her own, but she seemed content with mine. This was at supper last night. Albus recalled that he'd been asked to set goals at the beginning of the school year (ie. less than three weeks ago), but he couldn't remember what they were. So I set a few for him, too. This is what we call "family meetings," now. Basically, it's supper-table talk. Sometimes I announce: "We have to talk about something important," and everyone pays extra attention.

My goals for Albus were to pay attention to details, and not give up.

He didn't appear to be paying attention when I told him.

But he did go upstairs after supper to finish his math homework (in our newly tidy workspace: photo evidence above); and he did pass his piano songs; and he did write out his dictee three times (which is his study method).

He wasn't keen to try my alternate study method this morning: a quiz. But he managed about fifteen minutes of work at the chalkboard before he lost steam and became frustrated. Kevin and I played good cop/bad cop. We got through 35% of the material (he has to study full sentences for the dictee). It was clear the rest of the material needed the same attention, but he didn't want to keep going. Kevin hugged him and told him he was proud of the work he'd done. I suggested we spread out the studying over many days, breaking it down into, say, one sentence per day. Like piano practice: he doesn't try to squeeze a week's worth of piano practice into one day.

He was skeptical and thought he'd likely forget from one day to the next; but he agreed that if these test results weren't great, he would try studying differently. Here's the thing: he doesn't lose so many points on really dreadful spelling (except for the occasional tough word). He loses points on the details. Not capitalizing names, and words at the beginning of sentences. No punctuation marks. Random accents. Knowing a word is plural but neglecting to add the "s" at the end. "Those are only worth half a point," he argued. "It's an easy point to get," said his dad. "You should get all the easy points you can."

Hm. Didn't mean to write about studying, AGAIN. But there it is. That was our Thursday morning. Kevin and CJ left for their walk to nursery school. Fooey and I waved goodbye to Albus, and we walked down the street to meet her friends who walk her to school on Thursdays, when AppleApple is at enrichment. I love that AppleApple gets this special program designed especially for her, and she's earned the chance to spend a day a week exploring and being challenged and having fun ... but I mourn, a bit, that Albus doesn't. I think he needs it more; she's the kind of kid who designs her own special programming all the time. Fooey, too. She comes home from school and gets a blank piece of paper and she writes and writes: "Writing workshop!" she calls it.

So we have to work on our own special programming.

One fine discovery we've made this fall: Albus loves to swim. So does AppleApple. Kevin has now taken them five times for lane swims at 7 o'clock in the morning. It is slightly eccentric (I've never seen another kid at early-morning-lane swim, except for the swim club kids), but it's working. AppleApple likes to do sprints. But Albus just likes to swim. He swam 26 laps without stopping yesterday morning--and I mean really without stopping. He reported that he had to swim with one eye shut because his goggles had slipped and were leaking and he didn't want to stop to adjust them.

Kevin and I just look at each other and go: WHY IS THIS WORKING?? Could we have the magic formula, please?

Why is he willing to patiently swim laps, unperturbed when his sister splashes past? What did we do right in this situation? All I can think is that first we had to teach him to swim, which took years of lessons and many complaints along the way. And then we had to take him to the pool. And then ... well, then we just let him swim how he wanted to swim. And it turns out he wants to swim back and forth, not very fast, for as long as he possibly can.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Merci beaucoup, mes amis blogistes (totally made that last word up)

(Note: since I never posted photos from our summer holiday, I've been using the artsy sunset ones to illustrate orphan posts).

There was such a warm, heartfelt response to yesterday's post about homework/studying/piano practice that I feel inspired to reply with a thank-you post. How I appreciated hearing your different perspectives: from someone who teaches to someone who remembers being the student who had to work extra hard to succeed.

What surprises me every time I sit down to write a new post is how my ideas change as I write them down. I can plan to write a post on, say, canning tomatoes, but the writing happens, and in following unexpected and twisting lines of thought, the post turns out to be about feminism. Or something. You know what I mean.

It's the mystery of the process that makes me want to be a writer: because the writing itself is the key to discovery. You can't plan it out in advance, not entirely. You have to see what develops between you and the word, the written word.

When I started this post, I planned to write more about Albus and how we are hoping to address his struggles, but the words came hard, and I sensed my growing discomfort. He's ten. When I was ten, I sure wouldn't have wanted my mom telling everyone about my struggles--or more precisely, about her interpretation of my struggles. So, while I'm glad that I choose to write yesterday's post, I'm going to choose not to delve further into the subject today. What I want to say is thank you for your thoughtful responses. They give me hope, and ideas.

(One of which is to clean up this office/playroom space to make a proper study space for all the people in the house who need a quiet room in which to work. I include myself. Put it on the weekend-project list. Because, though the digging starts on Friday, that new porch/office is still a few months off.)

This is also a rather long-winded way of saying, I love hearing from the people who are reading my blog! I love when it feels like a conversation. I love the connections this blog continues to bring, some of them quite random, some to people I would never have gotten to know otherwise.

Ah, yes. One big sappy thank you note of a post. If I were writing this in pen, I'd be doodling all around the edges in vines and flowers and stick-ray suns. Maybe even hearts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When you try, but you don't succeed, what then?

This morning, after breakfast, Albus practiced piano. He always checks with me before getting a sticker, to make sure he's earned it. Which is awfully sweet. He's a good kid. Except this morning I really didn't think he'd earned it. He kept rushing the half-note, always the same mistake in the same place. So I asked him to play the song again, with that in mind. I suggested playing the difficult spot several times over, with the correct notes and timing. But all he wanted was to hack his way through the song and be done with it, regardless of notes and timing.

Then we looked over his dictee results. In French, his teacher had written: "You need to study." Things is, he'd studied. A fair bit. He'd sat down several evenings last week and worked on his homework, including studying for this dictee. He'd shown me his worksheet. I knew it was true. But the proof wasn't there in the final test results.

As we were having this conversation, and I was offering more advice re efficient piano practice, Fooey happened by with a question. Albus was extremely rude to her. I reprimanded him. He pushed her. ie. things went from bad to worse, and quickly. I sent him upstairs on a time-out.

Why does he need to act like this? the thought half formed as I raced around the kitchen and cleared the breakfast dishes and wrote a cheque for AppleApple's sub order and helped Fooey ready her bag for school and tried to remember all the details that needed to get done in the next eight minutes before everyone would leave and the house would go suddenly quiet, and I would eat breakfast and pour a cup of coffee and greet this computer.

Why is he so angry?

And I found myself looking at this morning from his perspective, not mine. From his perspective, he got up and got dressed and ate breakfast and then he practiced piano. And even though he practiced, it wasn't good enough, and he couldn't make it better, and he felt frustrated. And then his mother had to sign his dictee and he knew it wasn't a great mark, and his teacher thought he hadn't even studied. But he had studied. And he couldn't make it better, and he felt frustrated.

I called him downstairs, and I said the above, an abbreviated version. He was quiet. Is that kind of how you feel? I asked, and he nodded.

I'm not sure how to make life better for him. Or easier. (Why do parents so often want to make life easier for their kids? But I do. Or not easier, exactly, just gentler.) What is the lesson, if hard work does not pay off in success? You know, it doesn't always. Some people have to work much harder than others to achieve the very same level of success. I don't want him to get frustrated, to give up, to not care.

I do want him to take responsibility for the choices he makes. I don't particularly want to lower the bar.

But what if he's trying, and it's not working? Is the answer always: work harder? I'd feel frustrated, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Week in Suppers: Reprised

Monday's menu. Fresh tomato soup. Quesadillas. Green salad with maple dressing.
The rationale. Corn tortillas languishing in freezer. Tomatoes rotting on counter. Quesadillas = Latin American grilled cheese sandwiches, ergo good for dipping in tomato soup. Green salad last minute raw veg addition.
The reviews. Soup is bland (I blame you, Moosewood Cooks At Home). Fried quesadillas require last-minute labour and fill kitchen with smoke. Run out of corn tortillas; little kids prefer softer whole wheat version anyway. No dipping whatsoever. Quesadillas devoured. Sides of crema, yogurt, and asparagus salsa demanded. Green salad generally ignored.
The verdict. Will not be repeating anytime soon.

Tuesday's menu. Red beans and baked white rice. Curried cauliflower. Roasted eggplant and patty-pan squash.
The rationale. Original menu was quiche; not in mood to make quiche crusts. Brain searches for easy substitute. Need protein, ergo beans. Beans need rice. Cauliflower's been on the menu for days, only to be dispatched with at last minute. Eggplant and patty-pans looking wilty. Planned to throw into curry, no room in pan, ergo tossed under broiler instead.
The reviews. Beans good, rice good. Some eggplant burns while I blog about menu; the irony.
The verdict. Anytime. This meal, give or take the veggie sides, is a forever keeper.

Wednesday's menu. Pasta with fresh-made pesto. Quinoa salad with spelt and leftover beans.
The rationale. Bought basil for this purpose. Time to prep meal between nursery school and piano lessons. Meal needs to be served quickly upon arriving home from piano.
The reviews. "M.P.": Albus on the quinoa salad. Note: M.P. in Albus-speak stands for "more please."
The verdict. Both items are keepers. Pesto made with sunflower seeds = leftovers suitable for school lunches.

Thursday's menu. Fish* baked in a teriyaki/ginger marinade. Roasted potatoes. Sesame stir-fried spinach, zucchini, and eggplant.
The rationale. Fish is quick. Daughter needs to eat supper in a hurry before early soccer practice.
The reviews. Conversation between daughter and mother: "What's for supper?" "Fish, potatoes, and spinach." "But I only like one of those things."
The verdict. Daughter eats potatoes and leftover quinoa salad, makes early soccer practice. I bat 3-6 on the fish, 0-4 on the children-eating-spinach, but I pitch a perfect potato game.

Friday's menu. Crockpot chili with stewing beef. Baguette. Cheese buns.
The rationale. Crazy rushed schedule, ergo crockpot of leftover beans and tomato soup, plus seared beef** and fried onions and chili powder = supper. Pick-up from Bailey's adds extras.
The reviews. "Is this ketchup soup?": CJ. "Is there meat in this soup?": CJ. "Are there tomatoes in this soup?": CJ. "I don't like this soup.": CJ. "It tastes rotten.": CJ.
The verdict. Everyone else has second helpings. Easy, fast, tasty with crema and crushed tortilla chips. Hey, it's Friday.

*no, fish is not vegetarian; we are experimenting with keeping it on our menu
**no, beef is really really really not vegetarian; I am using up the last of the meat currently in our freezer: down to two packages of hamburger

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Questions I ask myself after spending another beautiful day in the kitchen

I've spent the day in the kitchen. I can't decide if this is a fine and lovely thing, for which I am appreciative, or if it's a bit of a waste, and I should have been outside in the sunshine, or off to church this morning, or participating in one of the many community events going on today ...

Instead, I woke up, started the laundry, hung a load from last night on the line outside, and turned on the radio, which is my constant companion on kitchen days. Then I began. I started by mixing and kneading a batch of bread and setting it to rise on the counter. I chopped and stewed plums and pears, which had been going to mush on the counter. In another pot, I sauteed onions, garlic, and herbs, and on a baking sheet arranged whole, cored tomatoes. I fired up the BBQ to about 375, and roasted the tomatoes with the sauteed veggies for several hours. I heated milk and washed jars and made yogurt. I mixed up cookie dough and baked the worst cookies ever. (And I followed the recipe. I have no explanation, except that maybe the kitchen is politely telling me to scram).

And I hung a second load of laundry on the line.

Could that be all? I started before 9am, and it is now nearly 4pm. For my efforts, I have arrayed before me: 2 jars of plum-pearsauce; 4 loaves of bread; several litres of roasted tomato sauce; 6 jars of yogurt; and a batch of barely edible cookies. The week ahead, and its necessary meals, remains unplanned. I am, therefore, going to throw on my running gear and go for a looooooooong run in today's remaining sunshine. Fooey and Kevin are in charge of supper: pita pizzas on the BBQ using that roasted tomato sauce (I scraped the roasted ingredients into a pot and macerated them using a hand blender).


As the school year begins again, my mind returns to the necessity of producing weekday suppers, frequently to be eaten at a ridiculously early hour, or immediately upon arriving home, due to after-school and evening activities. And so this blog will also return to a reprised version of The Week in Suppers. First edition coming tomorrow. Look for (mostly) vegetarian meal ideas, as our family attempts to go vegetarian for a month. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

One small thing

So, I'm out for a run, doing my best to keep my pace up a long steep climb, when a car slows beside me. An elderly man rolls down his window, leans across the front seat and with great enthusiasm calls out: "Congratulations!"

That's never happened before.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The edits have arrived ...

The edits have arrived. So I'll be back to Juliet for one last think before the copy editing stage. And you know, I'm feeling ready to say goodbye. I've been working away at the new book, and discovering new characters, and writing in a different way than I did with Juliet. It feels more free-flowing, less controlled, and more plot-oriented, but that's okay. Different is good.

As I start this new book, and finish Juliet, I've been inspired by Miriam Toews' career so far. I just finished reading Swing Low, her biography of her father, written and imagined in his voice; and before that gulped down Irma Voth, which was set in Mexico, in a Mennonite compound where a movie was being filmed. A couple of points here. Miriam Toews played a lead role in a movie made by a Mexican director set in a Mexican Mennonite compound (compound might not be the right term, but my sense is these farms are not like villages or towns). And her father died of suicide after a lifelong struggle with depression. What inspires me is that she found ways to incorporate real-life experience into her work. There is no straight line between fact and fiction; it's threads spun and wound and sewn into beautiful fictional patterns. I suspect that she could not do otherwise. Her creative life is necessary, and can't be separated from her life. I get a sense of urgency, poignancy, and necessity when reading her work.

And I also experience overwhelming gratitude: that her work exists, that she works so hard to create it, and that I get to read it.

She writes the kinds of books I hope to write ... hope that I am writing. Not that I want to mimic her voice, but that I want to build a career out of the things that matter to me, and write books that are heartfelt, maybe even heartbreaking, but also hopeful. That I not fear the insistence of life experience nosing its way into my fiction; but that I not limit my imagination either. I aspire to variety backed by consistency. Which is not the same as predictability.

"Be careful, Carrie. You're becoming predictable." I remember a mentor telling me that, many many years ago. I would have been eighteen. I remember thinking that she had a point; and it frightened me. I knew she didn't mean I should become erratic; no, she was cautioning me to stay creative, to continue to push my limits, not to rest easy.

Many years later, and I don't rest easy. Except at night, when I sleep very deeply indeed. (Except for last night, when I didn't. I didn't rest easy, either metaphorically or literally. Too many thoughts -- work, deadlines, food, scheduling -- whirling through my mind).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rewards: sticky parenting methods

Do reward systems work, as a parenting method? I've been pretty firmly against them, on principle. On principle, I believe that kids should do their jobs to help the family out, as participants in a collective effort.

But it turns out that our eldest is highly motivated by reward; and highly not-motivated by his mother's principles. This summer, to earn money, and completely of his own initiative, he worked for his grandma on several very hot afternoons. The work was gardening, which he blithely ignores at home, but at Grandma's he threw his whole heart into the job. They went to the library and researched plants. They went to the greenhouse, and he picked out flowers and plants based on his research. Then he dug the garden beds and planted the flowers and plants, and watered them. For which he earned some money. And he took great delight in the connection between working hard and earning a reward.

Which got me rethinking my original no-reward system of family governance (or, more precisely, the-reward-is-in-the-happy-feeling-you-get-from-helping-out-your-family system). I'm not abandoning that system, or the concept of responsibility. The kids do have responsibilities, and important ones, like walking to school, and making sure younger siblings get safely to and from school. And going to bed when told. And doing their homework.

Which brings me around to the grey area of piano lessons. They kind of have to take piano lessons; perhaps they would want to even if the choice were wholly theirs, but the truth of the matter is, their mother wants them to take piano lessons, and three out of four children are doing just that this fall. It's Fooey's first year, and A and A's third. Now, before this round of lessons ever started, Albus heard from a friend that the friend's piano teacher gives out stickers for "good" practices, which, if enough were earned would eventually add up to actual prizes (Albus heard giant Lego ships; I'm thinking portions of this story might be apocryphal).

But in any case. Intriguing. What counts as a prize? For AppleApple, it's a book. For Albus, it's Lego. And what counts as a "good" piano practice? Basically just focus and attention. Also, as a rule, play each song at least three times. Albus was over the moon: imagine getting stickers just for practicing the piano. And I thought, imagine children practicing the piano just for getting stickers.

So I made up sticker sheets for each child (CJ could not be left out, and he actually sits at the piano and hammers away to earn his sticker). The rule is only one sticker can be earned per day. I hope it won't discourage kids from taking an extra turn on the piano if they are so inspired, but I sensed that sticker madness followed by sticker burnout might quickly occur if limitations weren't instituted.

Before getting all hurray-for-stickers, I will allow that it's early days, just the second week of lessons, but hurray for stickers! Piano practice, and lessons, have thus far been completely pain-free, even pleasurable. The only issue is children fighting for time on the piano. Practice has been happening first thing in the morning, before school. Best of all (and this is my reward), the extra practicing is paying off: music is being made daily in our living-room.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Big words

"Where's my yogurt drink?"

"Look in the fridge. Generally perishables are refrigerated."

"Mom, why do you use such big words sometimes?"

Hm, yes, I suppose that phrasing is a bit obscure. Not quite Conrad Blackian, but also not, "that's where we stick stuff that needs to stay cold." All I can say, in my defense, is that I like words, and those happened to be the first ones that popped to mind.

"Sometimes when I say big words, people look at me funny."

(For the record, she didn't look like she minded being "looked at funny." I don't think she'll stop trying out big words anytime soon. And neither will I.)

File this exchange under Another Example of Like Mother, Like Daughter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kitchen fails and successes: recipes (just for the successes, don't worry)

We had a lot of these.

And so I made this.

It very nearly turned into a pearsauce fail, as I overfilled a gigantic pot with pared pears and then discovered that even my presumably strong triathlon arms could not stir effectively all the way to the bottom and the smell of scorching alerted the nose to Trouble. At which point, sweating and fighting with the mountain of pears, I very nearly gave up and abandoned ship (er, kitchen). The weather had gotten cool just before school started, but this past weekend was hot and humid, and being stuck inside in a fog of steam is not the best way to celebrate a sticky late-summer day. But I persevered. And learned my lesson: haste makes waste. Transferred fruit to smaller pot. Cooked up smaller batches of sauce, and eventually canned what you see above: two canners full of tasty sauce. Add in the two canners of grape juice put up the previous evening, and count me totally done for the season.

As soon as the lids started popping, I banished the canner back to the basement. There's still a touch of room in one freezer for small batches of preserves should inspiration strike.

Funny thing is, at the end of the day, I still had two baskets of not-quite-ripe pears sitting on the counter. And so yesterday I made something different for the kids' school lunches this week.

Here's the recipe for Fruit Custard Bars (adapted from Simply in Season):

Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Cream together 2/3 cup softened butter and 2/3 cup sugar. Add 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1/2 tsp vanilla, and continue to beat until combined. Then stir in 1 and 1/3 cups whole oats. Press into pan, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together 2 cups of plain whole-fat yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla. Pour over baked crust (I didn't bother to let the crust cool, just pulled it out of the oven after 20 minutes, and poured the custard over top).

On top of the custard, arrange 6 cups of fruit. I used thinly sliced pears, and stewed some plums that were going soft in the fridge, and added those, too. Sprinkle the fruit with sugar and cinnamon, and pop the pan back in the oven, still at 350, for 45-50 minutes, or until the custard is relatively firm. It won't be as firm in the middle, but should get firmer upon cooling.

Cool on rack, then transfer, covered, to fridge, and cool for another 45 minutes before cutting into bars. Keep the bars stored in the fridge (mine are still in the pan, in fact). It makes a big pan of bars that taste much like a fruit custard pie. The kids were excited to take something other than a cookie to school, though this treat is a bit messier and requires a fork. Here's hoping the forks return.


While in food-mode, I must pass on this recipe for Quinoa-Bulgar-Spelt Salad, also adapted from Simply in Season. I ate the leftovers for breakfast yesterday, after my long run, and it felt like I was fully nourishing my body. On a side note, our family has decided to "go vegetarian" for a month, so I am on the look-out for more recipes like this (not that the kids ate a bite, I must confess; we took it to our neighbourhood street party, where they downed hot dogs and hamburgers and desserts, and guzzled pop! Odd that none of them tried mom's quinoa salad offering ...).

I plan to blog more about "going vegetarian" soon. Your recipe suggestions are welcome!

Meanwhile, here's how to make Quinoa Salad:

Start with 3 cups of uncooked grains/legumes in any combination. I used 1 cup of quinoa, 1 cup of bulgar, and one cup of spelt. (I plan to try the recipe with lentils or black beans or even leftover brown rice, too).

Cook the grains/legumes according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine a variety of chopped seasonal veggies and herbs, in the amount of roughly 4-5 cups. I used thinly sliced red onion, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper, zucchini, and carrots, along with a bunch of stemmed and chopped fresh cilantro and fresh basil.

Combine cooked grains/legumes with veggies, and pour over top a dressing made with the juice of 1 lemon + 2 limes, plus 1/4 cup of olive oil, plus salt and pepper to taste. I also added 1 tbsp of cider vinegar. You could use all vinegar and no lemon/lime juice. Or just lemons, or just limes. Or throw in some feta--that would be grand! Whatever you've got on hand. Because that's the kind of salad this is. Expansive. Accepting.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday morning: swimmingly

I've been wanting to blog all weekend, and have been too busy with food preparation (recipes to come), canning, and parties (tough life, I know). Hurray for a quiet house on a beautiful Monday morning!

For four out of six of us, this morning began swimmingly. Let me explain. We keep aiming to make room for plenty of physical activity, individually and as a family. Kevin has soccer and hockey. I swim, run, bike, and yoga. And we'd like the kids to enjoy the benefits of burning off steam, playing, and being fit.

(Side note # 1: I just found last year's fall calendar in a drawer, and saw that I'd scheduled "hiking" as a possible family weekend activity. Sadly, that happened precisely never. Given that we had, last fall, a two-year-old, I can see how it fell off the priority list.)

This fall, we're continuing with activities that have proven easy to maintain, such as the kids walking to and from school every day. We live 1.4km from school, so that's nothing to sneeze at. Even CJ walks every morning to his nursery school, with his dad. AppleApple will likely continue with rep soccer, and the three oldest kids will play indoor soccer this fall/winter. It's inexpensive, once-weekly, and will be Fooey's first experience with organized sports. CJ joins in on weekly swim lessons for all, coordinated so that all kids will be in the water at the exact same time.

(Side note # 2: When examining our budget last month, I discovered that our biggest expense, aside from food and shelter is extracurricular/sports activities. There's a desire to want to accomodate every interest, but we need to be more creative sometimes. For example, instead of the kids doing hockey, we rent ice time and skate/play hockey a couple of times a month with a bunch of neighbourhood families.)

Earlier this summer, AppleApple mentioned she'd like to swim more often, so she tried out for a swim club ... but when I investigated cost and schedule, we realized it was a) crazy expensive, and b) would conflict with other activities. Plus Albus expressed interest in swimming more often, too, and there was no way we could put two kids into this club.

Long story short: it occurred to me that the older kids swim well enough to participate in lane swims, which are quite affordable with a pool pass. Plus, Kevin is learning to swim and would like the chance to practice, too. On Monday mornings, I swim very early, and can do an hour in the pool, shower, and be home before 7am. When I arrived home this morning, Kevin and kids were waiting in the front hall, a bit groggy, in swimsuits, ready for the lane-swim experiment. (And how proud I am at their willingness to give this a try).

An hour later, they burst through the door, glowing. Thumbs up. They'd consulted with a lifeguard, swam with the "oldsters," and practiced their strokes up and down the lanes. Albus was musing about going more often, on "bad" days (ie. days when he has subjects at school that don't interest him).

When I start the morning with a run or a swim, I notice an immediate boost in mood; why wouldn't it be just the same for kids, too?

The energy at breakfast was upbeat and positive. Porridge, toast, boiled eggs. And we still had plenty of time to chat and prepare for the day before saying goodbye.

(Side note # 3: Not everyone needs to schedule time for exercise. The little kids, who won't get extra swimming time, more than make up for it racing their bikes around the house on the loop of driveway, patio, walkway, and sidewalk. Not to mention much trampolining. CJ: "Look how high I can jump, Mom! You have to come and see me!")

Friday, September 9, 2011

Is patience its own reward?

This morning it was sun hats. It had to be something. Fooey couldn't find hers, last minute, of course, and left wearing an old one and not very happy. Not the best start to her walk, but hopefully being outside in the bright fall sunshine quickly cheered her up.

I've been up since 5:15am, swam laps for an hour, came home to get kids organized and fed, and worked on a couple of music-related projects with the kids. AppleApple is learning "Across the Universe" for her Singer's Theatre audition (her choice; and a tough tune to perfect. She amazes me with her patience and not just willingness, but eagerness, to take suggestions from me in her efforts to improve). And Albus practiced piano before school, too. (This year, we've agreed that he earns a star sticker for every "good" practice, and when he has 100 stars, he gets a reward; likely Lego-related. The girls can earn stickers too. Will this last? It may. He's highly motivated by rewards and by money. Apparently the lad takes after his dad, which probably means he'll go far, whether or not he ever learns to write neatly).

I can't write neatly either, come to think of it. Thank heavens I learned to type at an early age. It comes in handy, being able to spit words as quickly as thought.

On a dimly related topic, I'm considering a different writing strategy this fall. Because I've spent years working on the same material, and crafting and re-crafting it, it's daunting to leap into something entirely fresh and new, with brand-new characters who have brand-new stories to tell. Daunting, but exciting, too. In the past, I've never written for length or volume. My style is fairly compressed. But for this project, I'm considering tracking my words-per-day, and writing lavishly, spilling words, aiming in my first draft to give ample voice to characters within a fairly tight and dedicated plotline. My role-model for this project is Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog. In other words, mystery, dark pasts, multiple perspectives.

I'm calling it The Swimmer.

Yesterday evening, while running, I had a vision: a shelf of pretty paperbacks, all different, with my name on the spines. I've been thinking of myself as a book-a-decade writer, ie. someone unable to produce excellent work quickly, someone who gestates stories very very slowly. And I'm not afraid of the potential slowness of the process, either; I'm a fan of patience, and patience rewarded. But here's the thing: I've also never had the chance to work as many hours a week as I do this year, and in years to come the hours will grow. What if I put my head down and work the way I've worked at becoming triathlon-ready? It was thrilling to let myself imagine creating a variety of books, to chase down the ideas floating around my brain, to gather and bring them to coherence. I may be pursuing a career in a dying industry, but I refuse to believe it. Go read a book, any book, and you'll remember what you're missing out on as you surf the web late at night.

And with those thoughts, I'll begin today's writing day, trying to remember to sit up straight, not to slouch or twist in my ergnomically-sound chair, and to get up and take regular rest breaks. I'm also turning off my email for chunks of time throughout the day. No distractions.

Oh, and swimming and running are just the best times for thinking about my characters. And on the flip side, thinking about my characters makes swimming and running easier because time just slides by.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A room of one's own, for dreaming and such

Today's last-minute before-school panicked rummaging involved rainboots. AppleApple had outgrown hers ("I can wear them but I have to curl my toes up ..."), but Albus refused to wear his; problem solved. Except Albus's boots spent summer on the back porch and were filled with leaves and spider webs. AppleApple is terrified of spiders. "Why does this keep happening?" I asked the universe, re the last-minute scrambling, but the universe knew it was a rhetorical question.

How do I frame the minutiae that happens throughout my day? Yesterday, it felt like things were going wrong, no matter what I tried. It was raining and I was running errands with the bike stroller. I was late, or nearly late, for every appointment. On the piano outing, I forgot all but my head and ran comically back and forth between house and vehicle, locking and unlocking the front door, back and forth, as I remembered this that and the other forgotten and critical item.

But I could also have summed up the day by remembering all the things that went well. I actually remembered everything we needed for piano before leaving the driveway, for example. Albus got himself safely home from school. The little kids were in bed at a reasonable hour. Supper tasted good. Kevin arrived home earlier than expected. I started writing in the voice of a new character. Running errands with just one friendly three-year-old is pretty easy and he never even complained about the rain.

But truthfully, I was frazzled for large portions of the day, and that frazzled feeling defined the day's events.

I do wonder, do people have jobs where, when they're done for the day, they feel done? And they go home and relax? I find myself romanticizing: home versus job. If job were separate from home, would it be easier to come home and relax? And if home is where I work (home office, as well as all of the domestic labour required to keep home running), then where is that non-work comfort space? Can I find it here?

I wonder if I'm romanticizing the idea of a home office, too. Because within a couple of months, I will have a real actual genuine home office, an 8 x 10 room of my own. Pictured above is the door that will lead to this still-imaginary space. We met with the builder this morning to discuss details (read: pricing), and work will begin on this project (which includes rebuilding the front porch) within a week or two. (!!) Am I romanticizing the idea of stepping into that new office space and shutting the door? Will just being in that room bring me a sense of comfort and relaxation and peace, here at home? Will I be able to sit in my office and read, for pleasure? Nap in my office? Dream in my office? I hope so. I hope I won't feel obligated to work work work all the time in there.

Dreams and naps and, yes, even reading leave no trace, no record, no scratch on the surface of life. They take you underground. Which brings me around to my overwhelming impulse to record, to make, to create artifacts and stories and loaves of bread. (And blogs). In between the doing, hidden behind it, making it possible, is the quietness of dreaming and drifting and filling up the spirit and the soul with ... with the ineffable, with all of the quiet elusive private unnecessary/necessary trails underneath that can't be pinned down.

Is this happening during my frazzled scrambling days?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The things that went wrong, despite all good intentions and much preparation

Problem: six-year-old's pants no longer fit; discover salient fact at exact moment pantless child needs to be leaving for school; discover half a minute later that box in attic containing six-year-old hand-me-down clothes has next to no pants, oodles of pretty dresses
Solution: six-year-old leaves wearing pants that are slightly too big, but at least not too small; mama makes mental note to buy child more pants, preferably soft; mental note not good enough, should probably go on list; which list?

Problem: ten-year-old's brand new labelled-as-non-marking shoes leave marks on gym floor, therefore ten-year-old can't wear them as his indoor shoes (yes, the school requires children to have two pairs of shoes at all times, one for inside, the other for out); too late to go shoe shopping; old shoes wrecked and don't fit
Solution: ten-year-old's feet approximately same size as mama's; ten-year-old agrees to wear mama's old running shoes to school; but will this work for longer than one day?; mental note to add shoe-shopping to list (maybe); which list?

Problem: late bedtime due to late soccer practice and excursion to get binders that ten-year-old needs for school; three-year-old wakes incapable of speaking to anyone in tone other than grumpy, grouchy, or extremely put out; three-year-old threatens mutiny re attendance at nursery school
Solution: early to bed, early to bed, early to bed (mutters mama, thinking, oh dear, this is all on me tonight, as husband will be working late)

Problem: rising super-early to exercise, mama is Just Plain Tired by the time kids straggle off to school; precious few hours of work-time available; fuzzy-headedness not conducive to deep thought
Solution: one super-short nap; not sure it's working, as mama is currently blogging and is not, therefore, starting to write her brand-new book, which she's not scared of starting, really, honestly, okay, she's pretty nervous about this (file under Things to Get Over; It Will Be Okay, Promise; You Can Do This, Just Take a Few Deep Breaths)

Problem: too much mama multitasking; items slipping through cracks; library books overdue; lists festering; brain overload; can't read recipe for crockpot while serving porridge and trying to write notes to children's teachers AND field question from husband about lunches without snapping irritably in reply
Solution: nothing comes to (over-stuffed) mind

Problem: there always seems to be more; it's not predictable; no amount of list-making can answer the unknowable future
Solution: embrace improvisation; accept failure, reject defeat; welcome to the joy of being alive

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And it all begins again, afresh, anew

He left first, for nursery school, walking with his dad. He has no need for a backpack, but everyone else has one, so he insisted. The temperature has dropped and we had to dash to the attic to dig for winter hats and fall jackets. The report from Dad was good: they enjoyed a "Star Wars" themed walk to nursery school and parted without tears. I will pick him up in two hours. Repeat every weekday. Our new fall schedule.

After I said goodbye to CJ, the big kids emerged for their annual back-to-school portrait. This was the best they could muster. And yet, they're all reasonably excited about returning to school. No, really, they are.

It was just as I'd imagined. We always pose the back-to-school pictures on the porch. This year we have no porch (they're scheduled to start rebuilding in a couple of weeks; please let it be so). And there's something, um, dismal about the background. Albus doesn't look so happy either. But he departed at 8:30 sharp in grand spirits, off to walk to school with his friends, all of whom will be in his class this year.

Nothing dismal about AppleApple's chosen ensemble, despite the brown pants and black shoes; she's even wearing electric blue socks. On the walk to school, she was extremely focused on getting there, and when we reached the grounds, she ran off without a backward glance, or even the semblance of goodbye. She's proud to be the first child in our family to be in a portable (and it's the new portable, which makes me think, off-gassing?).

Look at this glowing child. She'd glow anywhere, in any scene, against any setting. I'm a convert to the background, in this photo. She was so terrifically excited to be starting grade one; though "excited" isn't quite the right word, because it doesn't capture her confidence and pride about the big step to full-day, and French immersion, and being with the big kids -- being "a big kid."

Never have we all been so ready so early. Which meant a good deal of hanging around and waiting around on the grass. Finally, the teacher called for her students to line up, and Fooey clung to my hand -- I was surprised. One last kiss goodbye, and she let go, and the kids slowly made their way through the doors, and off to their waiting classroom.

Another year begun.

(And I walked briskly home and entered a quiet house. Space to think. Silence. Cup of cooling coffee on the countertop. This feels good).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Yard sale bargains

Signs, balloons, excited preparation.

A Friday-afternoon notion turned into a Saturday morning project. We've been talking about doing this for years.

The kids did the pricing. And chose the toys from the cornucopia in the attic. Household items were added from basement and garage. There is always, but always, too much stuff. How did we accumulate all of this?

No one bought the office chairs for $1.00. No students came by, which surprised us. (We also had two working TVs for sale, neither of which sold).

But the lemonade and popcorn were a hit. We used last year's sign, but we didn't have any "chocolate treats" to sell this year, so we marked them as "sold out."

We met lots of neighbours. Nothing says, "hey, drop by for a chat" like arranging the contents of your basement and attic on your front lawn.

What didn't sell was loaded up in the truck and donated to the local MCC store. Everyone chose something to keep (like this pink flashing butterfly wing musical device we'd forgotten existed).

It was fun. But these photos look a little melancholy to me, as I put them together in Blogland. Maybe it's the concept of arranging your belongings on the lawn and waiting, wondering, who will show up? What will happen? Will anyone want these things that we once wanted and needed and used?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Our end of summer chaos

What's this? you may ask. Why it's a Quidditch pitch, of course.

And what about this? Ah, this is the breakfast bar disguised as play area, craft area, Lego-building, snack-time, reading, puzzle-making, crap-dumping area. And dimly visible beyond it, the living-room, complete with giant homemade movie-watching fort.

And here are some movie-watching fort-building Quidditch-playing recently eye-examined kids.

This week, the last before school starts, has been a quiet one. I've had no writing time. Zero. There seemed little point, having sent the line edits back to my editor at the end of last week (that's worth a small hurray!), and not having the fortitude to imagine starting a new project in the midst of this. And by this, I point you to the photos above, which capture only a portion of the domestic chaos in our rooms and yard.

The appropriate implement for cleaning our living-room, at this point, would be a snow shovel.

I spent the first day or two of this week making feeble attempts to clean up. I think it was fort day that smacked me in the face with the obvious: there's no point in cleaning up when the kids are still playing. And what else should they be doing during these last days of summer holiday? Of course they should be building Quidditch pitches out of duct tape and sticks and buckets and hula hoops. Of course they should be setting up gigantic (and sweltering) movie theatres with precariously balanced air mattresses and every pillow in the house, and of course their mother should let them eat popcorn in the living-room just this once, even though it's sure to spill, just because. So I did. And they spilled. And it wasn't the end of the world; or the end of anything, really.

I can't say I've enjoyed this week, but it's nobody's fault but my own. Where I'm at is caught in my own end of summer turmoil. I find myself performing small (private) feminist rants (while washing the dishes) about a decade wasted in not climbing the corporate ladder (ha! as if that would ever have been me), and erupting in bitterness because Kevin gets to go out the door to work every morning while I stay home and pop popcorn and plan supper and watch the kids stir up enormous messes (er, play creatively). It's time, as they say, for a change.

Today, Kevin is home from work, and we are getting stuff done. "It feels like it's fall," said Fooey this morning as I hung laundry and we listened to a squirrel's teeth gnawing on a black walnut, and the fallen leaves blew around the porch stairs. "Is it still summer?"

It is. It is! It's that melancholy late summer that gets me every year. It's full of promise and hope, somehow, the way endings always are. And restlessness. And a stomach full of butterflies.