Monday, October 31, 2011

This isn't a Halloween post, though it falls on Halloween. I have a difficult relationship with Halloween. It seems a strange holiday, making light of death and darkness. Maybe I should just accept it as being another way we humans try to make sense of mortality.

It's been four years since my father-in-law passed away. He died on Halloween, and Kevin's mother telephoned late that afternoon, twice, first to tell him to hurry and come home, and then, not long after, to tell him, yes, please come home, but it's too late to make it in time. But we felt fortunate. We'd been to visit just two days earlier, and knew that goodbye was coming. Still, we wondered what to do. The kids were dressed up and excited about trick-or-treating. How to give them this news? "Take them out," I said, "and I'll stay home and pack." And so that's how we told them, after trick-or-tricking: when they arrived home with bags full of candy, our bags were packed. There were wrenching sobs, and we changed them into pajamas, hopped into the van, and drove away, letting them eat all the candy they wanted. I don't suppose we'll ever forget that night, or that drive. It felt like an adventure, momentous and sad all at once.

A year ago, my grandma passed away on Remembrance Day. Last week, my grandpa, her husband, also passed away, and our family travelled across the border for another funeral, on another autumn day. As we drove to the graveyard for the burial, it was raining and the sun was shining. From our angle, the rainbow that emerged looked like a column of magic dust rising out of the earth, colour, shimmering. We all saw it.

I don't know what everyone else thought. I don't even know what I thought, exactly. Just that it was a rare and ephemeral sight, and I was glad for it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last week in suppers: enter chaos, from above

**Monday's menu: Pasta. Red sauce. Broiled shrimp. Chard stir-fried with onions, peppers, and carrots.
**Original plan: Pasta.
**In the kitchen: Cooked as soon as the kids got home from school. Two of the kids I was feeding were leaving for theatre rehearsal just after 5, and needed to eat early. The red sauce was just waiting in the freezer to be used. I jazzed it up with lemon juice and thyme. The veggies turned out well: sauteed in butter, not over-cooked, and I seasoned simply with salt and the juice of a lemon (we have a lot of citrus in the fruit bowl right now.) Totally over-estimated how many noodles we'd need to feed eight people (two friends stayed for supper.)
**At the table: Eaten in shifts at the island in the kitchen due to major construction going on that required the dining-room table to be moved up against the breakfast bar.
**The verdict: The kids ignored the chard. You may be noticing that I'm not one to force food on a child. They ate a ton of pumpkin bread with peanut butter for dessert, so maybe that counts?

**Tuesday's menu: Peanut noodles with fried tofu and raw veggies (pictured above.)
**Original plan: Beans and rice. But we had all these leftover noodles.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up peanut dressing on Monday night, post-dance-class/run combo, while putting supper away and doing the dishes. Used recipe on my blog, piped in via my phone. Kev, some while into the process: "Oh, that's why you keep checking your phone." Me: "Did you think I was becoming obsessed?" Marinated noodles in dressing overnight. Fried tofu and added veggies the next day, before swim lessons.
**At the table: Initially refused by several children, eventually eaten by all. It's not like there were options.
**The reviews: All good! Thank heavens. I almost made something extra to go along with it, and Kevin suggested I should keep it simple.
**The verdict: Great use of leftover noodles, but, "Remember not to put that in my lunch for school tomorrow." (Peanuts)

**Wednesday's menu: Beans and rice. Green beans.
**Original plan: Borscht. But beans and rice was easier.
**In the kitchen: Soaked and cooked beans in the morning. Baked rice before leaving to pick up the girls for piano lessons. Chopped tomatoes and steamed beans upon arrival home.
**At the table: Everyone was very hungry and appreciative. But we have no table to sit around, at present, so the meal felt haphazard. The kids sat at the counter and I filled their plates at the stove and served them. Kevin and I sat side by side at the part of the dining-room table that is accessible.
**The verdict: I miss gathering around the table. But this is temporary.

**Thursday's menu: Squash with orzo. Broccoli with cheese sauce.
**Original plan: Tofu and veggie stir-fry. But I wanted to try this Squash Orzo recipe that was supposed to be an easier version of risotto, and which I knew everyone would hate. Don't ask why.
**In the kitchen: This is not an easier version of risotto. It took just as much standing around and stirring. Plus peeling and chopping a squash is hard work. Is there an easier way? But it smelled delicious: cubes of squash cooking with onions and garlic and white wine. Finished by stirring cooked orzo into the squash mixture and adding a pile of parmesan.
**At the table: As predicted, no child would touch the squash with orzo. But I made a ton of orzo, and did not mix it all with the squash, so they could have it with cheese sauce and broccoli instead. Some refused even the cheese sauce. I am getting worried about their veggie and protein intake.
**The reviews: "But you know I hate squash, Mommy!"
**The verdict: Even I didn't love this meal. Kevin thought it was delicious, but I'm not sure it's worth the work.

**Friday's supper: Leftovers, plus dessert.
**Original plan: Yup.
**In the kitchen: Steamed a pot of rice to go with the leftover beans. While Kev took the kids skating, I rented carshare car for an hour and headed out to Herrles, which closes for the season on Monday, to buy veggies and pumpkins. Plus dessert. No Bailey's pickup, so Herrles stood in for Bailey's.
**At the table: AppleApple and I ate hastily, then dashed off to soccer (I went for a run.)
**The reviews: Everyone loved the pumpkin pie. But now that Herrles will be closed, along with Bailey's, I'm at a loss of how to replace my super-easy Friday suppers.
**The verdict: It's a changing season. Get ready for snow. A very old woman in front of me at the Herrles checkout turned and said, "It's sad, isn't it," and I knew just what she meant.

:::

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Lentil soup simmering on the stove less than hour after returning home late Sunday afternoon from a cross-border trip to Ohio, where we spent time with family and said goodbye to my grandpa. This feels like a genuine accomplishment. I'm also working on turning over-ripe pears and bruised apples into sauce. Smells pretty good in here, even if the house is basically a total disaster. (If you drop in for a visit, don't look down. Or around. Think construction materials on dining-room floor, plus drywall dust, plus bags of travel laundry, plus piles of school work, plus games and toys, plus yet-to-be-carved pumpkins, plus dishes abandoned on Saturday morning, plus this list could go on and on and on ....)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Today is a perfect fall day and I will sit at my desk and write

Today is a perfect fall day, crisp, pale blue sky threaded with grey clouds.

Today, I will sit at my desk and write.

Today, I will enjoy this cup of coffee and wish for a second one.

Today, I did not get up early for yoga. When the alarm sounded, I turned it off and crawled back into dreamland.

Today, I ate porridge for breakfast, plus an egg with toast.

Today, I kissed and hugged four children, reminded them repeatedly to get ready for school, listened to them play the piano, and bribed one of them to go to math club once a week.

Today, the builders arrived to continue their work.

Today, I will sit at my desk and make up stories about characters I'll never get to meet in real life.

Today, I pause to remember my Gramps. Once, he took me to see wild horses. Mustangs. It was sadder than I thought it would be. I was ten or eleven. The mustangs were corralled for sale on a ranch, of sorts. I remember dust. I don't know what my Gramps thought of it all. What the wild horses meant to him. I think he appreciated the atmosphere of wheeling and dealing. But I know he loved horses, too, like I did. When I think of him, I think of horses.

Today is a perfect fall day, yellow leaves on green grass, and the frost lifted by the sun.

Today, I will write something for Gramps.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The progress of porch, continued

Here's where the house was on Friday. If you're thinking, that window looks too small, well, you're right. On Monday, I took no pictures, though a lot of progres was made throughout the day, including board on the outside and drywall on the inside. The windows also went in, and the more I looked, the more I knew in my gut that the size was wrong, and that we had to figure out how to fix it. I was pretty upset.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. The builders did not hesitate even a moment. They worked all the next day to fix the problem. They were cheerful and positive and stayed until after dark, until the new new windows were in. I have nothing but good things to say about the way they solved the problem.

And just look at the results of their efforts. The board and batten is on. The windows let in lots of light. When I stood in the room, quietly, by myself, on Tuesday night, I felt at peace, calm, grateful. What I appreciated most was the builders' professionalism. They transformed what seemed overwhelming (to me, in the moment), into something relatively minor and entirely fixable.

(It would have been major had we done nothing about it, of course; but that's a good reminder: even problems that seem overwhelming can be faced head-on and tackled with goodwill and expertise. Yes. That's me, adding a moral to the story. Can't help myself, folks.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What I found this morning when I went looking for something else

This is not my favourite time of year, nor my favourite season. We are nearing November, a month that gets me every pass around the sun. I miss the sun. Winter solstice marks the movement toward light, and every year I look forward to it. Yes, it also marks the start of a long, cold, snowy winter, but the light is returning, and that's what matters to me.

I went outside this morning to take a photo to illustrate this post, looking for a little pathetic fallacy. I was thinking dead leaves in pools of last night's rain. But instead, I found purple flowers, green leaves on plants, pale sky, rich oranges, shining rocks and dark wood. I was looking for signs of darkness, but beauty found me.

Mary Oliver would be pleased.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Green Dreams: where ideal meets grumpy

Yesterday morning, I carried my three-year-old to nursery school, nearly one kilometre away, in the rain. Why? Well, he wasn't in a walking mood, that's why he was on my back. But the reason I was walking was bare bones basic: I didn't have a car at my disposal; Kevin had an early appointment to which he needed to drive. About six months ago, as part of our family's Green Dream plan, we downsized to one vehicle. Are we a greener family than before? Yes, mostly because having fewer options forces us to make different choices.

Such as carrying a kid on my back in the rain to nursery school.

Listen, if I could have driven, I would have. I'd been up early swimming, I'd gotten four kids fed and organized and three of them out the door. That left one little guy, and he couldn't get to school by himself. I wanted my quick restorative morning nap. It was too wet to fire up the bike stroller. If there had been a vehicle in the driveway, would I have chosen to walk? Not a chance. So the omission of the vehicle itself is feeding into the success of our Green Dreams. It's so easy to take the easy route when it's easily available.

Sometimes, I'm grumpy about it. If you see a bedraggled woman, surrounded by a pile of kids in raincoats, shaking her fist at you as you drive by, think of me. In fact, hey, that is me! And yes, I just cursed you and your car for blocking my family's passage across the street. Or maybe just for being inside a warm dry moving vehicle. Sorry. It's wet out here. And we're moving so slowly.

I am not a naturally patient person, but do subscribe to the notion that by walking (or biking) rather than whisking along inside the sealed world of the car, I am experiencing life differently. Out here, I know the weather. I know the seasons. I know the geography. Plus, I have to leave on time, or I'll definitely be late. There is no such thing as breaking the speed limit when walking with four children.

But here's my confession: you'll still see me in a car pretty frequently these days (maybe that was you shaking your fist at me.) We do have ONE after all and I can't imagine life without it. Well, I can, but life would include a whole lot less soccer. There are no direct bus lines to either of the two sports facilities that draw members of our family upwards of nine times a week. One is 5.5km away, the other is 9km. In other words, not terribly far, and probably biking distance (though not for short legs on tiny bicycles); but in addition to there being no direct bus routes, there is also no safe bike path to either place (not to mention, as the season changes, we'd be biking after dark.)

It's one thing to complain about this, but another to ask: Would we choose to bike or ride public transit if it were an option? And truthfully, I think we would not. Not unless we had to. Because we're usually in a hurry. We're dropping one kid here, and racing to get another there. We're cutting corners, juggling schedules, trying to cheat time. Having a car allows us to schedule our lives in a way that cannot be transposed into a car-free life.

So, I'm resigned to carrying some Green Guilt. In fact, our family's increasingly busy sports schedule also means we consume more water than we used to. I'm telling you. The laundry. Wash those socks as quickly as possible! I hang everything to dry, with the exception of giant loads of towels, which tend to go in the drier. But still. Green, it ain't.

Maybe it was the Green Guilt over the car and the sports that led me to introduce our latest experiment: we've gone vegetarian at home. We are neither buying nor cooking meat (with the exception of seafood, on occasion). The kids are missing ham on their sandwiches, and I am constantly brainstorming ways to get more protein into all of us (like starting the day with eggs for breakfast). And if a grandparent invites us for a meal that includes meat, we're happy to eat it up. But at home, we're meat-free. It's been about a month, and I'm sticking to it, despite the odd complaint, because a meatless diet is one sure-fire way to shrink a family's ecological footprint. And we've got such a big (sweaty) one. We've got to try.

Even if it means grumpy walks in the rain. And children fantasizing about summer sausage.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Last week in suppers; think autumn vegetables

**Monday's menu: Roasted salmon with teriyaki sauce. Steamed rice. Mashed sweet potatoes. Stir-fried napa cabbage.
**Original plan: Fish. Originally because I'd expected to serve supper to a friend who likes fish (or so I hear), but then plans changed, different friend came over, and the child who despises fish suppered elsewhere, therefore: fish. Remarkably like the original plan, just took a different route to get there.
**In the kitchen: Prepped and cooked immediately after school. Finished the napa cabbage with the juice of one lime. It was good. Ran out of time on the fish, left Kev in charge, drove a truckload of girls to theatre rehearsal.
**The reviews: Mostly good, but the stir-fry was under-appreciated by all the children.
**The verdict: Kev made leftover salmon into sandwiches for school lunches.
**Note to self: Do not gobble delicious dinner moments before going for a run. Or, optionally, cancel run in favour of gobbling delicious dinner. Just don't try to do both. You will be sorry.

**Tuesday's menu: Curried lentil-barley stew in crockpot. Bought falafels with pita and hummus.
**Original plan: I knew the crockpot would be involved, but devised no further plan. (This is bad, this lack of planning ahead. Like last week, I quick-jotted an ingredient list and I'm winging it.)
**In the kitchen: Started crockpot first thing in the morning. Smelled fabulous all day. While running errands, passed yummy Middle-Eastern cafe and stopped to buy a dozen fresh-made falafels and some hummus (the owners were having a shouting argument behind the counter while pausing periodically to smile at me, which was a bit unnerving, but hey. The food's good). Consumption was casual. Kevin got home a few minutes before we burst in from swim lessons; he'd put together falafel sandwiches for himself and Albus, which the pair of them devoured before racing out the door to their first indoor soccer practice. The rest of us ate at a more leisurely pace.
**The reviews: "I don't like falafel." "Well, I like falafel, but I don't feel like eating it right now." "What it's called, Mama? it's a waffle? A fafafal?"
**The verdict: We'll eat that stew tomorrow. No one touched it but me. And it's yum.

**Wednesday's menu: Pasta with pesto. Leftover sweet potatoes revived with cream, maple syrup, and pecans. Bread and cheese.
**Original plan: As above, more or less.
**In the kitchen: Made pasta post-piano lessons. Warmed up sweet potatoes. Toasted pecans. Used half a container of thawed (homemade) pesto, plus a whole whack of fresh-grated parmesan.
**The reviews: Everyone likes pasta with pesto.
**The verdict: Perfect for a quick supper.
**Random kitchen accomplishment: Made four litres of yogurt before breakfast this morning.

**Thursday's menu: Soup! Squash/bean soup. Curried barley-lentil stew. Leftover rice. Brussel sprouts with pecans. Bread and cheese. (pictured above)
**Original plan: No plan. Needed to use up leftovers.
**In the kitchen: Warmed everything up after school. Spiced up squash/bean soup with cumin and lime (this was a combo of two leftovers languishing in the fridge).
**The reviews: Squash/bean soup surprisingly popular. I ate the stew. Apparently, I am the only one eating this stew. It's starting to look like a lot of stew.
**The verdict: Not exactly inspired, but passable. Did not tempt me from my supper-hour run, let's just say.

**Friday's menu: Bailey's pick-up, leftovers, and for me, poetry book club.
**Original plan: Where have my plans gone? Must get more organized next week.
**In the kitchen: I did nothing other than unload and store Bailey's order, and fill a lunch bag with picnic items for soccer girl, who was busy all evening; I also packed an apple and egg for me, after my run.
**The reviews: Heard nothing, saw nothing. Post-soccer and running, I was out the door to my poetry book club where I filled up on snackie goodies (including something known colloquially as an "orgasmatron"). Plus wine, and happy conversation.
**The verdict: My standards sink pretty low by Friday. Good luck to us now that Friday pickups at Bailey's are over.

:::

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Buckwheat pancakes. Four loaves of bread. Three loaves of pumpkin bread. [pained aside: Is that all???? Why did it feel like I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen? Gah!!!!]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mom's Hair Salon ... wait 'til you see this


My first client.

Just a trim. And the application of a brush to certain rarely-brushed peaks at the back of the head. (We should probably do that more often.) End result: she was pleased.

"I should probably brush my hair more than once a month." "Some of your hair looks like silk, and other parts look like ..." "... a little doormat?" "That's a very accurate description."

A brush and a very very tiny trim, please. (She has memories of an unhappy hair cut we undertook several years ago.) "The funny thing is that my hair probably looks longer in the after photo!"

[Stomach churning, scissors poised. Oh, his curls!] "Are you sure you want me to cut your hair short? "Yes." "So you're really sure?" "Uh huh."

But oh my, what a sweet little face. I can kiss his sweet neck.

But this is kind of heart-breaking. He's seeing himself for the first time. How does he feel about the change?

You can see it in his eyes. Is this me? Does this still look like me? His sisters react to their first glimpse with ohs and ahs of delight: "You look so cute!" And one points out, "No one will think you're a girl anymore." [For the record, I never minded that; and it didn't seem to bother him much either.]

At least one thing's for sure: hair grows.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On the work of the cricket (file under: morning-nap thoughts)

[Your eyes do not deceive you. This is not a photo of a cricket.]

**Morning-nap thoughts (yes, I take a 20-minute nap on the mornings I get up early to exercise; if perfectly timed, I lie down as soon as the kids have left for school, and I'm up before 9am) ...

My poetry book club meets tonight. Spoiler alert, book club friends: I'm going to write about Mary Oliver in today's post. Specifically, the poem that lay gently in my mind this morning while I drifted toward rest, which is titled "Song of the Builders," and comes from her collection (fittingly, I see): Why I Wake Early. It is a poem, like most of her poems, set outdoors. In it, the poet sits in the grass and thinks about God while nearby a cricket moves grains of earth: "How great was its energy, / how humble its effort." Of course, she is talking about herself, too. They are both at work, "building the universe."

This poem came gentle to me this morning as I thought about work. Which you know I've been thinking about a lot lately. In my conversations with Kevin, we've come to some pretty comfortable conclusions, by which I mean we've settled, together, on things we can live with, happily. One is that there is work, and then there is a paycheque, and the two are easily confused but largely unrelated (but you wise people already knew that, didn't you!) Kevin loves his work. He doesn't feel burdened by it, and would do it, in one form or another, whether or not our family depended on the paycheque that comes with it. And that makes a difference. I have the desire to work; but it's gotten muddled with a desire for a paycheque.

Money is such a complicated and powerful concept. I don't have the time or brain power to address its many uses and seductions here. But suffice it to say, I am setting it aside in my considerations.

What is clear to me is that the work I long to do is available in many forms. It already exists, and I am already doing it. If a new opportunity calls me, and calls to my interests and abilities, I would leap to do it. But I respect and cherish the work I'm already doing.

What I love about Mary Oliver is her utter lack of interest in hierarchy. The work of the natural world is as fascinating, as valuable, as universe-building as any work that you or I could do. It's really quite an anti-capitalist view, if you get right down to it. She has no interest in capital. I admire the poets who do not apologize for being poets. Who is to say that sitting quietly on the grass and thinking about God is not work? Such humility. Such stillness. Such grace and goodness. She's not saying everyone should be a poet. She's saying be who you are. If you are a cricket, you work like a cricket without worrying whether your work is valuable or necessary or useful.

I would like to work like a cricket. Or a poet. Or, more precisely, like myself.

And that is my drifting nap-time thought for the day.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy moments to soothe the sleep-deprived mama

This morning, I slept until 7am. I did not get up early to swim or to spin or to run or to yoga. In my dreams, I would get up early five mornings a week, but in reality, four seems to max out my energy reserves. Yesterday evening, post-dishes, I sat down with Fooey to look through a book of baby photos (good grief, I had cute babies!), and when we were done the couch's pillow looked like it wanted my head to rest upon it, and quick as a wink, I'd dozed off while Fooey and CJ played a game that involved using the angles of my legs and arms as rooms in an imaginary house. Clearly, the game did not disturb my sleep because I didn't hear Kevin return from dropping Albus at piano lessons, nor did I hear him leaving again to pick Albus up, and therefore assumed I'd been "in charge" of the children all that time. I also assumed that I'd done a good job of supervising them, while asleep. Only to realize that any supervision had happened in dreamland. Sometimes when I'm asleep, I feel awake. And vice versa.

Long story. Very little point.

Today, a couple of things that are making me happy.

1. Albus at supper last night: "Guess what I got on that social studies test?" Me: "Was that the one in French?" "Yes. Guess what I got?" "The one on governments?" "I got an A!" Maybe he didn't add the exclamation point. The kid prefers announcements by stealth, gotcha announcements. But it's a big deal. It's a big deal because usually he doesn't seem to care, much. What makes me happiest about this result is not the mark, exactly, but the mark's accurate reflection of his interest in the subject. He was the only one in the house truly excited about the recent provincial election results, and we let him stay up late to watch the polls report. We don't often see our eldest get excited about things (aside from Lego, food, and high scores on wii games). And you want your kids to get excited about things. It means they care. It means they're expressing themselves, exploring their own interests, developing unique passions and making connections.

2. Piano. Oh my goodness, but the piano playing is making me happy. Real music is being made in our living-room, people! This year, we implemented a reward system of stickers which has been enormously motivating (at least for those kids who need an extra boost of motivation; I note that though AppleApple practices almost as frequently as her siblings, she has far fewer stickers, because she forgets to add them. Obviously, for her the reward is as much the playing as the getting of something afterward.) But on that note, I'm beginning to suspect that the others, though outwardly motivated by stickers, are by stealth discovering and reaping the reward of regular practice, which is that YOU CAN PLAY MUSIC! I love this. I can't even express how much I love it.

3. Participation. I also love seeing my kids volunteer and sign up and participate and try things out and expand their fields of vision and experience. Albus just signed up to play volleyball; practices are before school, so he'll have to get up early on Tuesdays. AppleApple, of her own initiative, created an organizer to keep track of her daily tasks. She is notoriously distractable and understands that her life would run more smoothly if she weren't always scrambling last-minute (or forgetting important items and events entirely.) And Fooey, who has long been my least-active child, who would take a stroller ride over walking right up until the end of kindergarten (ie. this past June), has suddenly burst forth as a very active soul: she started Highland dance classes, which involve a ton of jumping around (I've tried to follow her steps!), she walks to and from school on her own feet every day (more than a kilometre each way), and when we asked whether she'd like to try indoor soccer this fall, she immediately said Yes! And surprised all of us over Thanksgiving by wanting nothing more than to go outside and practice kicking the ball. Watching these personalities develop independently is downright thrilling. There's probably no greater joy in parenthood.

4. Rest time. AppleApple especially has expressed a need for quiet time. She loves lying on the couch and reading a book for hours on end. So, we've been emphasizing that. Even on days when she has an activity, like piano yesterday, she can come right home afterward and flop on the couch with a book. For Albus, his down-time happy-time involves friends. He checks in every morning to ask, "Is today a friend day?"

We all love friend days. And as I write down these thoughts, I think, wow, everything on that list makes me happy, too, not just as a parent watching my kids do these things, but as a person doing these things. I'm happiest when I'm digging into activities and subjects that interest me, when I'm practicing regularly (could be writing, could be photography, could be yoga), when I'm widening my field of vision or trying new things or simply signing up and showing up, and when I get ample rest time, time to veg, time with friends, time to allow the brain to be fallow, and quiet, time to absorb experiences.

So that's my question for today (don't worry, I won't always have a question of the day; sounds too much like homework): What makes you happy?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Recipe by request: honey-baked lentils

I've had several requests for this recipe (not pictured), which is adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, More with Less. (I love that title. It encapsulates such a solid, and Mennonite, philosophy, and one I hope to live out most of the time, though it's hard to claim to be living more-with-less when one is adding a new room onto one's already ample home.) In any case, herewith, the recipe:

**Honey-baked lentils (feeds eight)

Simmer the following ingredients in a covered pot on the stove for 30 minutes: 3 cups of rinsed lentils (green or French hold their shape best), 1 bay leaf, 6-7 cups of water, and 1.5-2 tsp salt (to taste).

In a separate oven-safe casserole dish with a tight lid, add the following ingredients: 1 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 to 1 tsp ground ginger, 1.5 tbsp tamari sauce, one chopped onion, and 1 cup of water.

When the lentils have simmered for half an hour, remove the bay leaf, and pour everything else (liquid, too) into the prepared casserole dish (my dish is round stoneware, a wedding gift.) Drizzle up to 1/2 cup of honey over top, cover tightly, and bake for an hour at 350. You can bake rice in the oven at the same time. Because lentils and rice go together perfectly.

**note: I've given a few of the seasonings a range of amounts because your family may not like ginger quite as much as ours, and because saltiness levels are also pretty personal, and I tend to err on the side of under-salting and over-gingering. You may wish to tone down the sweetness, too, by using somewhat less honey. But overall, I find this to be a very forgiving dish. Not to mention incredibly easy. You could adapt it for the crockpot quite easily, too, just toss all ingredients in first thing in the morning, and cook on low for 8 hours or so.

Do you see what I see?

This week started with a few necessary errands: paint for baseboards, woodwork, and walls; tile for the heated floor; and a light fixture. I went alone, revisiting a trifecta of stores that became familiar several years ago when we were renovating our kitchen. While necessary, nothing about these errands felt burdensome or difficult, though I was initially nervous to be making such permanent decisions alone. But anxiety quickly turned to excitement. This room is just for me! I haven't had a room just for me since I was a student. (Do you remember how thrilling it was to paint your new room in your new student dive, even if you got the colours all wrong? I sure do. And boy was that one room ever yellow. Yikes. Live and learn.)

On Monday morning, I discovered that much of my excitement was tactile. Touching the grooves on the tile. Comparing colours. This room is still basically an act of imagination; in my fiction, I almost always write characters into backgrounds that actually exist, almost as if I'm incapable of fully imagining a brand-new place, and need to use physical ingredients that my senses have experienced. (The same is not true for characters, who seem to arrive and stake out their personalities in ways that remain mysterious to me.)

In any case, there was something about touching cool tile and considering the light illuminating opaque glass that brought this new room to life in my imagination. The addition of details makes shape of an empty space. These details will surround my every day.

How much do the details matter? Sometimes, I think not at all. Kids can play anywhere. Kevin and I have lived along many busy streets over the years, and I used to imagine that the passing traffic sounded like a river or an ocean. Disruption is everywhere, daily, hourly. Serenity comes from within. But beauty ... beauty can be created and invited, too. And what I see through this window is one tiny, beautiful, and serene room in our busy and often untidy house.

For that room, I chose dark floor tile that is grained like wood. I chose a light fixture with three separate rectangular glass pendants that reminded me of books. I chose pale yellow for the woodwork, and basic white for the walls, in flat paint rather than gloss.

I see no toys on the floor. I see artwork of my own choice on the walls. I see books. I see an old rocking chair that belonged to my great-aunt in one corner, in which a guest could sit. I see light.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Climbing hills and trees: more thoughts on motherhood and work


How to pare down today's thoughts into a blog-worthy parcel? First, I want to say thank you to the many who added their comments and experiences to the working-mom meets stay-at-home-mom post. So much food for thought. And I've been hungry. Here's where your thoughts led me:

1. Six-and-a-half years ago, I read an essay by Carol Shields that both comforted me and rung true. In it, she offered the idea that there is enough time. She was writing the essay while dying of breast cancer, but even for dying, she wrote, there is enough time. When she was younger, she worried about fitting everything in, but in each stage of life, she discovered time enough. It wasn't that she could do everything all at once, it was that she honoured and lived out each stage.

I loved that idea (still do). That I could enter fully into intense hands-on motherhood and take my time. And when the stage passed, I could enter fully into whatever came next. And in my untested theory, somehow those years of intense motherhood would be an asset to whatever came next: all the juggling of multiple demands and scheduling and coping with crises and being nurse / healer / calm-amidst-the-storm / psychiatrist / chef / chauffeur / event planner / and on and on as the moment required would be valued, and would add value to whatever I chose to do next.

A couple of big assumptions in my theory. a) That employers would value experience that couldn't be validated or quantified. b) That careers could be built overnight or slipped into like a pair of shoes. c) That I would get to choose my career like an item picked off a menu. d) That I would have a clear idea of whatever came next. e) That the intense hands-on motherhood stage would pass.

Reading your thoughts, it struck me: my theory is entirely unproven. I've spent six years quietly and confidently assuming everything would fall into place at the right time. (And who knows, stranger things have happened.) But let's just say things don't. Let's observe that intense motherhood doesn't pass, exactly, things just calm down somewhat. Even a decade on, it's still pretty intense (with children ages 10, 8, 6 and 3). Meeting their needs continues to occupy a large portion of my mind and my time. The stages of life, therefore, aren't so clear-cut and tidy.

2. Beyond that, I'm feeling a deeper appreciation for the work that career-building takes. Success in a chosen field isn't something you can step into. It's a slow build, a steady climb; you have to be there in order to make connections and to stumble into the right place at the right moment. It takes hard work and commitment. And time. Time and commitment that I've chosen to put into my home life and my children. Not into a career.

3. But: At the expense of a career? I still refuse to believe that. Especially because I have been (slowly) building a career as a fiction writer, and, yes, it's taken time and commitment. But as most writers of fiction will tell you, this ain't a career known for wild profiting; or even, in all honesty, breaking even. Which brings me to ...

4. How much do I prioritize financial independence? I am in a marriage with a supportive partner who has shouldered the burden of our expenses ever since we started having children (you could say, conversely, that I've shouldered the burden of caring for our children during that time; and that perhaps we both have made sacrifices--and gains--in this arrangement.) I realize that I'm fortunate even to be able to ask this question, but, if I had to choose between nurturing my creative life and becoming financially independent, which would it would be? Because, let's be realistic, it may be that there isn't time to be a mother, and a writer, AND a [fill in the blank] money-earner. At least not all at once.

5. Feminism. One reader commented that her mother strongly prioritized financial independence, for herself and by extension for her daughters; and I know my own mom was troubled by her lack of financial independence, and hoped for better for her daughters. I haven't done much better, not yet. Why does this weigh on me? (Because it does.)

And, finally ...

6. Experimenting freely. Does all of this worry and analysis leave out the most important part, the most exciting part, about where I stand, right this second? (Okay, I'm actually sitting.) Because there is so much possibility in the unknown. My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I'm afraid; but mostly, here's how I want to frame this nebulous whatever comes next stage that no longer seems so well-defined and particular ...

**Like I'm marching joyfully up a giant rock in my rubber boots to survey the fields all around.

**Like I'm climbing an old apple tree, not necessarily expecting to find edible fruit, but for the heart-pounding excitement of being up so high; and to test the branches, and my own bravery.

(Now, if you please ... tell me what you think.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mentioned

**Mentioned/mentions: Obscure CanLit Mama was featured on the Fix It and Forget It blog (I wondered why a snack post from awhile back was suddenly getting so many hits). And, here I am on the Anansi web site. Still no book cover to show you, but you'll be the first to know when the art arrives (and by first, I mean second or third right after husband and kids).

By the way, Anansi is up for a Booker prize tomorrow for Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. Which is a Very Big Deal, and Very Exciting.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last week in suppers: post-Thanksgiving

**Tuesday's menu: Pasta. Roasted tomato sauce (prepared the day before). Pan-fried tofu. Steamed fresh spinach.
**Original plan: Monday was Thanksgiving, and a holiday, and somehow meal-planning for the week ahead escaped me utterly. I jotted down a quick list of veggies on hand, and hoped it would provide inspiration throughout the week. Hey, the spinach got used.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up after swim lessons. The item that took the longest was the pasta (waiting for the water to boil!) I'd just read an article in Macleans extolling the use of butter, so must confess butter was added to ... everything.
**The reviews: AppleApple did not get to eat until after her soccer. I did not get to eat until after dropping her off at soccer (I also went for a run.) When I came home, I traded off with Kevin, who left for a soccer meeting. In my absence, supper had been eaten. The spinach was untouched (forgotten?) Was it ever delicious. And buttery.
**The verdict: Good leftovers. AppleApple ate pasta and sauce as a bedtime snack and declared it very good.

**Wednesday's menu: Beans and rice (pictured above). Cabbage/daikon slaw. Tomato-cilantro salad. Broiled eggplant and zucchini. Condiments (crema, hot sauce, feta.) Tortilla chips and tortillas.
**Original plan: There was no plan. So I'm pleased with this feast.
**In the kitchen: Washed, quick-soaked, and started cooking beans first thing in the morning. Baked rice in the afternoon, left in the oven (oven turned off). Thawed tortillas. Post-piano lessons looked to the veggies in the fridge for inspiration.
**The reviews: So good, I couldn't bear to miss it to go to yoga class as planned.
**The verdict: Excellent. We lingered, we talked.

**Thursday's menu: Squash soup with leeks. Beets, potatoes, and carrots roasted with garlic. Broccoli with cheese sauce. Bread and cheese.
**Original plan: Thursday is the only day of the week that we don't have an activity after school, or something one of us is rushing to immediately after supper. Yes, that's sad. Or active. Or both. But it means that Thursday is my happy cooking afternoon.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up after school. Roasted the veggies with fresh thyme picked from our driveway (doesn't that sound appetizing?) After roasting, tossed them with a vinegrette. Broccoli with cheese sauce was by request. Have I mentioned how much I love requests?
**The reviews: Some were not happy, except with the broccoli/cheese sauce combo (popular despite being made with a sharp swiss). Others thought it was the best meal of the week. And that's saying something. It was a good week, food-wise.
**The verdict: Speaking for myself, I couldn't stop eating.

**Friday's menu: Gallo pinto (beans and rice fried together), with tortilla chips, crema, cabbage salad, and salsa. Plus a ham sandwich for soccer girl, and an energy bar for me. Yum?
**Original plan: Leftovers. But the kids wanted a real meal. Gallo pinto technically is leftovers, but, rebranded, is much preferred over those other leftover leftovers.
**In the kitchen: Kev did the frying. We were just home from skating. I was getting ready for a run, and soccer girl was getting ready for soccer (I'm getting in the habit of taking her to soccer, then running trails while she's there).
**The reviews: Heard via the grapevine that the gallo pinto was declared "the best supper ever."
**The verdict: Not too shabby. Even eaten cold, after the kids are in bed, accompanied by a glass of wine. Ah, Friday.

:::

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Nothing. Nada. Nope. Home alone with kids on Saturday, so I cleaned and tidied instead of cooking or baking. Plus we went to the grocery store and stocked up on junk food. I'm whispering that. Then we hosted four extra kids overnight (our turn in a babysitting exchange!) and ordered in pizza. And today Kevin has a soccer game, and soccer girl has another practice during which I'm going to go running in the rain, and you know, there's a fair bit of bread still frozen in the freezer, and we're not yet out of yogurt, and we've got junk food. Whispered. Everyone needs a break from time to time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Porch progress: front steps, baby, front steps

Look what we have! Steps. Yup. Walk right up and knock on the door. C'mon in.

We've had some funny/awkward moments since we lost the porch a few months ago. My mother AND one of my brothers (on separate occasions) climbed over stacks of wood and balanced on sawhorses to knock on the front door. My brother's comment? "This isn't the friendliest way to greet guests." Most others figured out that our back doors were somewhat more accesible, though admittedly at nighttime not well-lit. But if one really wants to complain about unfriendly design, the back staircase, which we've had to use as our temporary entryway, is seriously lethal. It's unfixable, cramped, a mess of different levels, and the stairs have no railing. Stuff it with wet boots, piles of coats, and several backpacks and it's a recipe for disaster. Basically, I've been on high alert for potential accidents every time that door opens and closes.

So, welcome, again. To the front door.

:::

PS I'm hesitating to post this light-and-fluffy entry, because it means my previous more serious post on working-moms and at-home-moms won't be the first post seen here when you visit ... and I'm still hoping for a few more comments and thoughts. Are you a working mom? Plan to be a working mom? A working dad? Or maybe you're an at-home mom or dad in love with your life? Or otherwise? I don't usually do a shout-out for comments, but I'm craving conversation on the balance, on the longing, on the wish to be several things all at the same time, or perhaps it's a wish to do several jobs at the same time, or to participate in life in ways that seem to conflict with each other. Thanks in advance for joining in the conversation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where mom-at-home meets working-mom

I didn't write yesterday. That felt strange. But I didn't have anything to say.

I'm not sure I have anything to say today, either. In truth, life feels a little wan this week, gloomy, rainy, pale, grey. Or is that the weather?

I am tired. I might have overdone it on the exercise front, though I don't like to admit it. I didn't rest after my trail race, but continued apace, training toward the marathon. And I didn't rest after Sunday's long run (the furthest I've ever run). By last night, my whole body ached in a way that was unfamiliar. It still aches this morning. I did not get up early to swim, though I dreamed it; even in the dream I didn't make it to the pool, though in the dream, I got to lounge on a snowbank under a hot summer sun. Ah, dreams.

Before sleep, I am reading the poems of Mary Oliver for my poetry book club. I am searching my heart (it is impossible to read the poems of Mary Oliver without searching one's heart). And I have some questions. The kind that can't be answered by reading the horoscopes, though heaven help me, I keep reading those, too.

**Where am I heading, at my breakneck pace? **What am I failing to stop for? **What if I can't squeeze every fascinating everything in? **What matters? **Will I always be so impatient? So goal-oriented? **Can I be both ambitious and content, or do those two states of mind cancel each other out? **Do I want to be at home, all day, every day?

That last question hangs around me this fall, dogging me. Look, there is the new porch, and at the end, there is the wall and the front window of my new office, which makes the house look unexpectedly much bigger than before. But is it big enough to contain me?

A friend from grad school wrote this heartfelt post about returning to work after spending the past year home with her son, who is now a year. I was riveted by the emotions her post raised in me. She's a full-time working mother! She loves her job! It's a whole new frontier! I want to know more in an almost clinical way: let's dissect and analyze this. What do I feel, reading about her major life transition? I feel envy, longing. She is expressing her working self, participating in the larger world, working with others. But when she describes missing her son's bedtime due to a late meeting, I am gripped by the same agony she expresses, a pit opening in my stomach: missing a whole day in his brand-new life!

It's too late to wish I'd chosen otherwise: to wish that in the past decade I'd developed my working self. I didn't want to at the time. Instead, I got to have all those bedtimes. So many that they blur together. They seem mundane. I didn't/don't appreciate them enough. All that time we've spent soaking into each other.

More questions.

**When I unpeel myself from them, who am I? **Who am I outside this home? And the question I'm most scared of, the one I really want to ask: **How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at-home? (Some of you might be asking, too. If you are, or if you have ideas or encouragement or more questions, too, please respond.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We are thankful for ...

Fall at the farm.

Wild apple trees.

Nobody falling out of wild apple trees.

Puffballs.

Adventures.

Sunday morning long run (34km).

Food.

Family.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Last week in suppers: October is here!

**Monday's menu: Pad thai (pictured above). Broiled shrimp and tofu. Daikon salad. Stir-fried rainbow chard.
**Original plan: Pad thai with hot and sour soup. But both things require tons of pre-prep organizing and stirring up multiple bowls of things, so I decided to simplify.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up after school. The pad thai is a version without ketchup; it's made with fish sauce and lemon juice and piles of cilantro (not vegetarian, no).
**The reviews: Eaten too hurriedly for reviews, but everyone seemed happy.
**The verdict: Excellent.
**Bonus recipe: Radish salad was made by slicing the daikon super-thin, then mixing up a dressing of fresh lime juice and maple syrup, plus salt. Sprinkle on some hot pepper flakes. Divine. (My invention).

**Tuesday's menu: Honey-baked lentils. Steamed rice.
**Original plan: Yup. This one was by request. It needs a vegetable, I know. I'm not awake enough to think of one.
**In the kitchen: Easy work, completed after waking from a killer morning nap, following my night of doula'ing in Toronto. Turn oven off, leave until suppertime. Eaten post-swim lessons.
**The reviews: I didn't get to hear the full reviews, due to racing off to a soccer coaching clinic with AppleApple. She ate a sandwich instead. But when we left, CJ was in the throes of an impressive tantrum because he couldn't SEE the honey in the lentils. A reliable source tells me he became so incensed that he bit the table, at which point everyone started laughing, even him. But he didn't eat the lentils. Everyone else did, however, and within 24 hours, it was gone.
**The verdict: Good meal to make in advance. And yum.

**Wednesday's menu: Leek and potato soup (crockpot). Bread, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, sliced tomatoes.
**In the kitchen: Early morning chopping and sauteeing, but it paid off. I pureed it in the pot, and called it "Mashed Potato Soup." (Ever-popular.)
**The reviews: "It looks different, but it tastes the same. Like, no offense, Mom, but when I saw you with that big bowl of vegetables this morning ..." -Albus (I did use lots of leeks; and the soup had a greenish yellow tinge that was slightly unappetizing, or, in Albus's words, "kind of looks like barf.") Unfortunately for us, right about then, CJ gagged on his egg yolk and threw up an entire egg right onto his plate. I would characterize the moment as matter-of-fact rather than dramatic. Thus endeth supper. You're all racing to make leek and potato soup right now, I can tell. I was solo parenting because Kevin was in Toronto.
**The verdict: Actually a really good meal, both food and chat.

**Thursday's menu: Curried lentil soup (crockpot). Saag paneer. Baked brown rice. Plus leftover white rice.
**Original plan: For some reason, when I made the menus on Sunday evening, I was hankering for risotto and had written that down in place of regular rice. Who has time to stir the risotto? Not I, at least, not yesterday. So I threw a lentil soup in the crockpot and made brown rice instead.
**In the kitchen: Was chopping onions for soup when the electrician knocked on the door to go over the outlets and light fixtures and other things requiring thought and decision-making; but that wasn't all. The kids were finishing breakfast and getting packed for school. Kevin was in Toronto (yes, again). Another parent was telephoning to tell me about a last-minute change to school-walking plans. Albus was refusing to walk his little sister. "Where is the electrical box, can you show me?" "You're so mean! I never get a chance to talk to my friends! And now you're going to make me walk her!" Chop, chop, chop onions. The thought crossed my mind: I can't hold this together. But then I did. On with the day.
**The reviews: Most chose the brown rice and we talked about how nutritious it is. Does it taste different from white rice? We debated. Fooey gobbled the spinach and paneer and requested leftovers for her lunch box. Lentil soup was eaten. It was just me and the kids, and we enjoyed each other's company. And they all ate lentils and brown rice and, at the very least, sampled spinach and paneer! An I-love-these-kids moment.
**The verdict: Good food.

**Friday's menu: Bailey's pickup supper. Plus picnic for soccer girl. Plus dinner out with girlfriends for me.
**In the kitchen: Managed pickup and food storing in under an hour. Additionally, packed picnic, soccer bag, running gear, and ran out the door to pick up a car from the Grand River Carshare, which we just joined earlier in the week, in order to meet Kevin and kids at skating.
**The reviews: I wasn't home to hear those reviews, but AppleApple and I enjoyed the picnic (apples, red peppers, cheese, bread sticks and pretzels, and a pumpkin muffin) after she'd changed into her goalie gear, and I'd changed into my running gear. Then she went to her goalie clinic, and I went for a run. An hour and a half later, we zipped down to another indoor field for AppleApple's second soccer session of the evening. I'd arranged carpooling for her, so I dropped off the Co-op car and walked to meet my friends for dinner and a drink. (Kevin was at his own soccer game; Albus was at a sleepover; and the others were home with a sitter.)
**The verdict: All I can say is PHEW. We made it all happen. This scheduling stuff gets easier with time and experience.

:::

Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four loaves of bread. Double-batch of waffles (three bags frozen for later). Pan of roasted tomatoes turned into sauce. Two jars of applesauce made from apples picked at Kevin's family's farm. Banana bran muffins.
Note: All of this accomplished on Thanksgiving Monday. We spent the weekend with Kevin's family. Good grief but it's a hot day to have the oven on. I can't believe I'm saying that about October 10th.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The progress of porch







These photos chronicle several days' work on the porch. Yesterday, the work was invisible, but important, as the room and the porch got wired for electricity. This morning, when I got home from a lovely early yoga class, there were several men on the upper deck. They will be working on cladding the wood and doing the decking. And the roofers may be here today, too (hard to tell who all is out there; it's a crowd this morning). Additionally, the electrician is back to wire the floor of my office for heat.

Am I saying "my office" way too often?

I'm now going to head up to "my office," to use those quotation marks to slightly different effect. Playroom is ascendant right now, office is marginal. The floor is littered with toys. The kids have been using my computer and printer without asking. I feel like it's hardly mine. But I'm working on a small side project and it just needs to get done; doesn't matter where; doesn't have to be pretty.

Isn't it funny how the closer one gets to something, the harder it is wait? This is true in races, too. The last 500 metres are often the worst of the whole race, and it feels next-to-impossible to take those steps. My coping method is to pretend that I still have another ten kilometres to run. Can I do another ten kilometres? I ask myself, and the answer is always, Yes. Weirdly, the steps come more easily when the finish line is out of the picture. So I'm still saying "Christmas," when I imagine moving into my office.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lunchroom helper to the rescue

Albus is the only lunch room helper in what sounds like a grade two classroom (the info I get from him isn't always 100% accurate). At the beginning of the year, he was one of three lunch room helpers in the classroom, all of whom had volunteered for the job, but apparently "lunchroom helper" is a job with some attrition, because he's now the only one. Lunchroom helpers supervise during two "nutrition breaks" as lunch is now called, and as I understand it there are no teachers in the classroom during that time. Just Albus. And a bunch of kids. Eating. And probably talking and laughing and potentially fooling around.

He says there have been no problems. He just has to stand up to eat his lunch (he didn't qualify that as a problem).

So I said, um, what would you do if someone started choking?

And he shrugged and said with an optimistic uplift in his voice, "Hope for the best?"

Very proactive of you, Albus. Very proactive. (For the record, I suggested that in addition to hoping for the best, he head for the hallway and shout for a teacher.) But, really, I'm super-proud of him for volunteering to help out, and for sticking with it; and also for volunteering to torture parents walking their children home from school by being a school crossing guard, too. (Parents waiting for the 10-year-old kid in a safety pinny to tell them it's safe to cross know exactly what I'm talking about...)

**Photo from our summer holiday, but of course. Doesn't he look beautiful, and quite possibly, responsible?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Standing on the sidelines, kicking myself

**This is CJ's drawing of the two of us. Yes, we're upside-down. He's the one standing on my head.

Today, I am feeling the effects of less sleep; it seems like there's always a grace period after sleep-deprivation, followed by a crash. I'm in crash mode today, and hoping for recovery by tomorrow.

Yesterday, during the grace period, I burned through a crazy variety of activities while still flush from the after-effects of witnessing a birth. I napped in a dark room for two hours. I spent the afternoon with CJ. I made supper and vacuumed the house because the floor was nothing but crumbs. I packed a picnic for my soccer girl. I got ready for swim lessons, got kids snacked, changed, and to the pool, and then went for a much-needed run in the park across from the pool. It was gorgeous and sunny and I would have run and run and run had the kids not been waiting for me. I got back to the pool just in time, got kids showered and changed, raced home to put supper on the table, grab a bite to eat myself, and feed soccer girl.

We had less than half an hour to transition to the next activity: a soccer coaching clinic. Turns out Kevin and I are coaching all three of our kids' indoor soccer teams (CJ isn't old enough to be on a team, or no doubt we'd have managed to sign ourselves up to coach four). We're not even sure how it happened. But Kevin is working quite a few Saturdays, which means that I will need to be there if he isn't (with extra kids in tow? we haven't worked out the finer details), so off AppleApple and I went to the coaching clinic. The coach leading the clinic is also coaching the U-10 rep girls team, so he had the girls come out to demonstrate. It was a pleasant stroke of luck that as part of the coaching clinic I also got to watch my soccer girl in action.

We spent three full hours at the indoor field, the last hour of which was just a great big game. The girls played, the rep coaches played, and the parent volunteers who had signed up to coach their children's teams were invited to play, too. Only a few dads jumped in. I was one of two or three moms volunteering to coach, and we all passed.

I was invited to join the game! And I stood on the sidelines instead.

I was tired, yes, but that wasn't why I didn't play. I was chatting with a friend, but that wasn't why I didn't play either. It also wasn't because I didn't want to play; I actually kind of sort of really really did want to. Nope; I didn't play because I felt intimidated. I haven't played on a soccer team since the age of eleven. I've never practiced any of the skills and techniques the head coach was showing us last night. (Excuses, excuses.) All I had to offer, therefore, was fitness and a willingness to try. Except last night, I lacked the willingness to try. Why? On the drive home, AppleApple wondered why I hadn't played, and when I confessed to feeling too nervous and not being skilled enough, she kind of huffed and said, of course you'd be good enough!

And she's right. Because any willing participant would have been good enough. It wasn't a test of my skills or abilities. It wasn't about me at all. It was about running around, kicking a ball, and having fun. And those kids were having fun (so were the dads). Just look at my very own small and tough AppleApple who elbowed her way into the mix and stole the ball from the coaches and ran her heart out without once doubting that she should be there, doing that.

And so, regrets? I like to think of myself as a generally unregretful person. But it turns out I have a few. Many (most?) boil down to those moments when I let pride dictate in(action). When I don't try. When I don't take the risk, and join the game.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A somewhat sleep-deprived Carrie reflects on sisters and brothers

Big sister, little brother. Fooey is helping CJ read the book he brought home from nursery school. This morning, I am thinking about siblngs. Brothers and sisters. It's fitting the kids are in pajamas in this photo, because I'm also thinking about late nights and being up past my bedtime.

Here are some other siblings of whom I'm awfully fond (and proud). They belong to me. On Thursday, two of my brothers, and my sister, who make up the band Kidstreet, launched their debut album. Of course, I was there on the dance floor to celebrate. (That was late night number one.) **Listen to their album on soundcloud, or buy their album on iTunes.

I am so proud of them for working together all these years, song-writing together, travelling together, performing together. Not all siblings could pull that off; in fact, I'm pretty sure they're in the minority. All five of us are pretty close, as it happens, and I don't take that for granted, not at all.

And I wish the same for the batch that Kevin and I have created, and for another brother/sister team who came into being just last night.

Because last night was late night number two. Last night, the stars aligned (they really did; it was dark and rainy and cloudy, but I'm positive about those stars). The stars aligned, and I drove to Toronto to be with friends who were about to become parents for the second time. Especially amazing is that I'd been present at the birth of their first child, too. So, last night, I got to see a little brother being born, and I remembered his big sister being born almost exactly two years ago. Just think about how her world has shifted this morning. She might not like it for the first little while, but she's going to love that little brother. I just know it. And he's going to love her right back.

I drove home in the middle of the night (still raining), filled with gratitude. Thankful for the moments when I see my kids helping each other out. Thankful for my own joyfully creative siblings. And thankful for friends who welcomed me -- not once, but twice -- to be a part of their birthing experience.

Now for a little nap, perhaps ...