Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Proofing the page: reading Juliet

I am thinking about perfection. I happily admit to being a perfectionist. Not about everything, mind you. But when it comes to writing -- and writing fiction, particularly -- I obsess. I consider myself a technician, deeply interested in grammatical construction and the very tiniest of word choices. You would not believe how long I can suffer over the inclusion or removal of a "the."

But as I read these page proofs, I'm starting to question my obsession with perfection. I mean, for me it's the way I do it and I'm not likely to change what's working. But I'm seeing that it may not be that important in the end. In the end, a story, a whole book, it works because it leaves the reader with an impression, an emotional impression, something intangible that exists because it exists. Not because a "the" was removed. I'm not speaking against a careful craft, please understand.

I am speaking against perfection.

Sometimes, the imperfection of my creations bothers me. I've worked so hard and yet I know here and there is a paragraph too many or a flabby word choice that I cannot budge. But when I let myself sink into what I've made and forget about how it could or should be perfected, I am moved by what is being offered. To do this requires me to place a layer of distance between myself and my words, almost to read as if I were someone else.

When I consider my favourite books by other people, none are perfect -- and I couldn't care less. It's how they make me feel when I read them that matters. It's that they make me feel. They catch me off guard. They push me. Or they lift me. And though these books almost all display technical accomplishment, it is not for their technical accomplishments that I love them. I love them for existing.

That is the kind of book I hope to write; I hope to have written. Imperfect. With feeling.

I am loving this quiet week in my office, reading words on the page that I've written, gathered into a whole. I am loving being pulled right through the book from beginning to end and understanding its wholeness differently, in a new way. This feels like a special and unusual experience. I don't expect to have it again anytime soon. I am savouring it.


P.S. The photo is a detail of a photo that depicts me posing in costume to look like a very old family photograph of my Great-Grandma Carrie Anne, my namesake. (A little more about Carrie Anne here.) The photo was taken for a photo project by Ilia Horsburgh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Right now I am ...

home with a sick child
reading page proofs
cooking supper
watching the rain,
and the wind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The week in suppers, with recipes!

**Monday's menu: Baked fish. Baked squash. Gallo pinto.
**Inspiration: Fish to feed a guest who has yet to like anything I've made for her. Luckily, she liked the fish. Unluckily, her best friend AppleApple can't stand fish. So for AppleApple, I made beans fried with rice, aka gallo pinto, which is the Nicaraguan term for this fast and easy leftover dish. Gallo pinto means painted rooster. Don't ask me why.
Mini-recipe, Gallo Pinto: I start by frying onions and garlic in oil, adding a touch of cumin and coriander and salt. When the veggies are soft, I toss in the leftover cooked rice and break it up with a wooden spoon and get it all coated in oil. Last, I add the beans and some liquid, and heat, stirring often. Voila. Serve with tortilla chips, feta cheese, crema or sour cream or yogurt, and hot sauce.

**Tuesday's menu. Dahl in the crockpot. Baked rice. Carrot bake.
**Inspiration: Carrots rotting in crisper. But this carrot bake was a retro-bust. It called for milk, eggs, margarine (yes, margarine) and bread crumbs. I should have known better. It tasted about as good as it sounds. Next time I'll make a ginger-carrot soup.

**Wednesday's menu: Chinese hot pot in the crockpot (say that five times fast.) Pad thai with fried tofu. (Pictured above.)
**Inspiration: Splurged on a new vegetarian crockpot cookbook.
**The verdict: Crockpots prove good for making a vegetarian broth. (But I still like chicken broth better. Wah.) The pad thai recipe adapted from my Joy of Cooking uses no ketchup and lots of fish sauce. It's pretty legit.
Bonus recipe, No-Ketchup Pad Thai: Cook a package of rice noodles, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, do your prep work. Chop green onions and 2 cloves of garlic and set aside. Chop a block of tofu into nice little squares (optional); if you want to get fancy, toss tofu with a mixture of 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp sesame oil; set aside. In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup fish sauce, the juice of one lemon, and 3 tbsp sugar. Beat three eggs in a small bowl. Have ready: 1/3 cup chopped peanuts, a pile of chopped cilantro and basil (if available). Heat oil in wok (amount of oil at your discretion). Begin by frying onion and garlic and toss in some hot pepper flakes if you'd like. Add and fry tofu until crispy. Add and fry eggs until scrambled. Add cooked noodles and pour fish sauce mixture over top. Stir until coated. Remove from heat, place in serving dish, and top with cilantro and peanuts.

**Thursday's menu: Egg fried rice and warmed-up hot pot.
**Inspiration: Leftover rice. Home late from volleyball game after school. In a hurry.
**The verdict: Quick and dirty. Skipped the tofu after a request from my eldest. Added eggs for protein. I love my wok.

**Friday's menu: Send children to CJ's nursery school's "date night" fundraiser for pizza and snacks. Send selves to fancy restaurant for something much tastier. Start selling contents of attic on ebay in order to afford the extravagance.

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: 4 litres of yogurt; waffles (to eat, plus some to freeze); 8 loaves of bread; double batch of double chocolate cookie squares. Those cookie squares are really good and deserve a recipe-posting too. Remind me later. I considered this the kick-off to my holiday baking.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I'm not done yet!

But here's our weekend in a few snapshots ...

Pajamas, chess, movies, a sleepover. Oh yes, don't forget date night and a special meal out. Gorging on old episodes of Modern Family. And tonight, hosting a poetry get-together.

But also: Two rooms painted, lots of baking, and two piles in the kitchen organized into oblivion. I took a photo, but it wasn't very impressive. Absence rarely is. Just the toaster and the kitchen counter. I also organized one junk drawer, cleaned three shelves in the refrigerator, and filled three bags with baby and maternity items (attic) to donate. It's not everything, but it's something.

Next up: Soccer practice and a run in the rainy dark.

And then: Supper? This week's chalkboard schedule? Going through the kids' school bags and starting a new pile?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The minutiae and me

Am I organized?

I could claim to be. I don't drop the ball on too many things. Library books are almost always renewed or returned on time. I check the kids' backpacks and agendas every night before bed. Each child has a file folder for projects that are keepers. I know where my chequebook is. I write down reminders on my desk datebook, on the big calendar by the telephone, in the google calendar I share with Kevin, and the weekly family schedule you see on the chalkboard above is currently accurate.


I also keep several stacks of paper on the kitchen counter. The one beside the toaster is current-and-important. It contains information like this: "On Wednesday, your child needs to bring in materials for a science project. The list of materials is written in your child's agenda. Please inform the teacher if you need help finding any of these materials." Message sent home well in advance to assist parents in finding materials and asking for help. Great. Thanks, school. I'll just put the message into my current-and-important messages pile. And then I'll forget its existence. And then I'll find it, when looking for something else, on Tuesday night. "What? You need six jagged rocks? For tomorrow??" Child puts on coat: "I'll just go look in the back yard." "It's two degress and pitch black. How are you going to find anything?" Etc. There goes half an hour and bedtime is deferred and the dishes still aren't done.

On the same stretch of counter, I have a second pile of papers stacked beside the radio. Because one pile is not enough. This is my to-be-filed pile. When it gets so tall that it blocks the electrical outlet things get filed. Some stuff goes into a shoebox in which I store my special keepsakes. I have five shoeboxes in the basement, stacked on top of a filing cabinet. I never look in those shoeboxes, or that filing cabinet. But they're full of special keepsake memories.

In my office, stored out of sight, I have a plastic container to keep Juliet-related papers and documents. So far, so good. I have another container in which to keep copies of articles I've published. Not bad. But it occurs to me that no articles published online are in there. I never print them for my records. Should I? Additionally, my current-projects-and-ideas add up to yet another stack. I want to keep it visible because otherwise it gets forgotten. But it looks messy.

How to keep the minutiae contained yet accessible?

In our front hall stands an Ikea unit with bins for seasonal accessories. This is an example of good organization, if only I could convince the kids to return their seasonal accessories -- yes, I'm talking about you, mittens! -- to their bins. The unit also has file folders screwed to the side, and a key basket on top. The file folders have over the years organized themselves thusly: Top file is Kevin's papers. He periodically empties his folder into another folder. Middle folder is take-out menus and letters from charities I intend to donate to. Bottom folder is info on upcoming school trips. Except I've started hanging that info on the fridge using a handy clip magnet. So the papers remaining in that folder are completely out of date. I should empty it.

Just think what it could hold.

Oh God.

I am swimming in a sea of papers and dates and out-of-dates.

In my head, I am calmly and steadily working my way through each section of the house, each pile, each shelf, each drawer, each box in the attic, and I am making sense of it all. I am throwing out and giving away and cleaning and recycling and we only have what we need. Only that.

In reality, I can barely get the dishes done before bed, and my kid is hunting for jagged rocks in the dark back yard. You know?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"You're always grumpy in the morning, Mom"

What to do, what to do?

What do you do when you're feeling less than inspired?

This morning was my "sleeping-in" morning; naturally Kevin decided he'd get up early and spend about five minutes rustling around in the dark looking for his clothes. I stayed in bed until 7:15 but shouldn't have bothered. It's not like it made me happier. Downstairs, AppleApple greeted me with beautifully brushed hair and a packed schoolbag: "You're always grumpy in the morning, Mom, so I decided to try to have everything ready to go, so you wouldn't be so grumpy."

Gee, thanks, kid. A hint: don't tell your mother she's grumpy if you're trying to lift her from her grumpiness.

Truth is, it's probably more anxiety than grumpiness. Is it the lack of light? General Novemberishness? The sudden onset of Christmas? Whatever it is, this is not my best time of year; never is. As the light recedes, I'm dark with indecision.

**What thoughtful and possibly homemade gifts can I devise to spread cheer and joy this season? Can I find stress-free ways to fulfill our family's seasonal rituals and traditions and meet everyone's expectations?
**Should I skip supper and try out that running club tonight? How can I fit a club's schedule into my own? Maybe that's why there are no women my age at running club -- maybe we're all at home eating supper with our families and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of each kid's well-being.
**What the heck book am I writing right now? I keep finding characters and abandoning them: sorry, don't want to spend the next six years with you.

I'm thinking in massive chunks rather than manageable morsels. I'm thinking an entire book rather than a page or two.

Know what I mean?

As if every tiny individual choice has to fit into a larger whole, has to be a stone in this solid structure I'm building, this thing called Life. And if I go off piling stones in the wrong place, the whole thing is going to be ruined. Hm. Office as metaphor: Remember how the windows were the wrong size? How upset I felt? And how unexpectedly easy they were to change? It took some work, for sure, but it wasn't impossible or disastrous, and ultimately only cost a day's labour.

So what to do?

Today, I've set myself a small task. I am writing a song for a character in The Juliet Stories. She'd probably write a much better song herself, but that's okay. My brother Karl has a new recording studio and when the song is ready, I can go and record it, which is pretty cool. It doesn't add up to anything particular. It doesn't fit anywhere else. It doesn't answer a single question. It's just something I want to do.

It's just a little pile of stones I'm making in the middle of a field I happen to be passing through.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just like a rockstar cowboy

Yesterday, after running errands and going to the library, CJ fell asleep on the couch listening to a CD he brought home from his grandma's house when we visited over Thanksgiving. He picked it out based on its cover art: two shaggy Scottish cows. An artist I've never heard of. A bunch of cover songs. Grandma didn't seem sad to see it go. I was upstairs hanging laundry while he was listening, and I heard him chiming in with the first song on the words "Just like a rhinestone cowboy!" Except he was singing "Just like a rockstar cowboy!"

Better, hey?

Another funny misheard lyric: on Monday evening I was driving four girls to their theatre rehearsal -- there is always singing from the back seat. One girl had just seen The Sound of Music, and at least one other girl knew all the words to all the songs too. So I was treated to "I am sixteen, going on seventeen." The funny part was when one girl sang the line: "Fellows will fall in line," as "Pillows will fall in line."

I can just picture it.

What was I going to blog about today?

Somehow, I think there was another topic in mind when I began.

Oh yes. One boy sleeping on the couch yesterday afternoon = one mildly sick boy at home this morning -- my rockstar cowboy. I pictured us spending the day doing fun activities together -- crafts, puzzles, baking, reliving the days of yore. But instead he just wants to watch movies and lie on the couch, and I've had a nap and read the newspaper. And now I'm blogging. And it's a beautiful day. My plan is to coax him off the coach (he's really not that sick) and get the two of us outside to walk around the block ... or something ... outside.

I'm amazed at how uninspired I am to do anything. How did I ever get anything done when I was home with kids full-time? Well, I never let them watch movies like this, that's for sure. I should be filled with guilt except I'm uninspired even to do that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Except for sleep ...

I think I've got it figured out. Except for sleep. I just don't seem to get enough of that. Mornings are best when I'm up early, out of the house, doing something -- swim, spin, run, yoga. I come home to breakfast and morning madness but my mind is clear. I feel good. I'm more patient than when the kids and I roll out of bed around the same time and grump around together in the same sleepy blur.

But then comes the crash. By 9am, my eyes are heavy and I'm moving slowly. So slowly. I slip into a 20 minute nap, get up, pour that treasured cup of coffee (I only drink one cup a day, but it's a hefty cup.) But I'm still tired. The nap takes the edge off, but my brain still feels only partially operational.

Yesterday afternoon, a writing day, I lay down on my new office floor (yes -- on the tile) and took a quick nap. And then I napped again at yoga class during the opening shavashana. In fact, I went early knowing I would nap, so I could nap longer.

Before bed, no matter how tired I am, I have to read. I'm reading a really good book right now: Half-Blood Blues on a borrowed Kindle. (Read it! Read it!) I rarely turn off the light until my eyes are literally crossed with exhaustion. And then I sleep instantly, and deeply, and often right until the alarm sounds to start the cycle all over again. (Last night I was woken at 1:45am by a little voice across the hall calling "Mama!" When I came, he said, "I need a kiss and a hug." I didn't even mind being woken up for that.)

Here's what happens when I don't get up early: within a day or two, I'm sleeping less soundly. I'm prone to the 3am wakeful worries. And so I keep getting up early -- three or four times a week. And taking naps. And planning to crawl into bed earlier. And not. And sleeping deep. And waking again.

One small note on naps: I keep them short. And I consider them to be part of the creative process. It probably sounds crazy, but I get some deep problem-solving done during naps. The stuff that's too complex or troublesome or bound up with emotions to figure out by just sitting and thinking or trying to write through it -- that's the stuff that gets treated during a nap. I'll wake recognizing something I couldn't before. I'll wake feeling soothed. I'll wake with a brand-new angle.

But I'm still tired. My nap hasn't figured out a solution for that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No such thing as too much fun

This has been a weekend and a half. If only every weekend could be like this ... but then nothing would get done ... but then I might not care that nothing is getting done ...

It all started on Wednesday with the first birthday event, chronicled in a post below. Thursday we threw together a slumber party. Albus's version last spring had been so easy, I had no qualms. Turns out, five girls make a lot of noise. There were moments when I was standing in the kitchen going I can't stand the squealing. Will they just stop giggling? Kevin found my response very amusing: You're not much of a girlie girl, are you? The pillow fight first thing in the morning just about did me in. But in the end, I could stand back and laugh and appreciate their energy and excitement.

The irony of it all was that I spent Friday night at my own version of a (non-sleepover) slumber party when my darling little book club got together in a hot tub. Yes, you read that correctly. Let's just say it was a book club for the ages. It's not often I'm still awake at 3:30 in the morning. Though I suspect the neighbours might have been having their own moments of will they just stop giggling already?

Friday was also AppleApple's actual birthday. She celebrated with three hours of soccer. But we also had a surprise for her: her own writing desk for her new room. Thanks once again to kijiji. We'd been storing it in the basement, and post-slumber-party Kevin hauled it upstairs and set it up in her room (all while the birthday girl herself was sitting at the counter, completely oblivious, absorbed in a new book). We then coaxed her up: "Let me get a photo of you in your new room." The first attempt was a bust. She went into the room, posed, and walked out. Kevin and I just about died laughing. This pretty much sums up our AppleApple: she lives deep inside her head. So we coaxed her back up a second time, she sat down in her reading chair, looked across the room and -- at last! -- spotted the writing desk. Reaction above. Sweet.

Now, just to put the icing on a truly terrific weekend, last night also featured our turn in a babysitting exchange. Have you heard of the overnight babysitting exchange? If not, may I highly recommend such a venture to you. First, find a willing family of equal size. Second, set two dates. Third, drop your kids off with their sleeping gear. Fourth, thank me later. (And thanks to Tricia for introducing the idea to us.) I didn't mention step 2.5, in which the other family's children are dropped off at your house with their sleeping gear. Yes, in our case, it means having eight children in the house (we took our turn last month.) But let me just shout: Totally worth it! Completely. Absolutely. I say we book dates on a quarterly basis. Seriously. Just for example, we spent on dinner what we usually spend on babysitting. And we went out for brunch this morning. Brunch!

Ergo, on this Sunday noon, I am so ridiculously relaxed I can't remember all those things I should be doing. I'm going with it. Everyone needs to let down the hair from time to time. Forget serious. Get silly. Empty the mind. Inhabit the goofy happy happening. It's good for the soul.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Recipe for a party

Forgive the 60s-style photos. I just discovered my photo editing software has special features. And there's something about a family birthday party that cries out for instant nostalgia. AppleApple turns nine tomorrow. Due to a manic week, we scheduled a little party for her yesterday evening.

**Party menu: Baked russet potatoes. Steamed broccoli. Cheese sauce. Roasted curried cauliflower. Sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms with thyme and reduced wine. Green salad. Condiments: salt, pepper, butter, marg, crema, plain yogurt, salsa, grated cheese. With cake for dessert, of course.

I love planning a menu. And when planning a menu, I love a theme. I hadn't done baked potatoes as a theme before, and it did require giving phone instructions to my ten-year-old so he could turn on the oven for me at the right time (the rest of us were at piano lessons; the scrubbed and prepped potatoes were already in the oven.) I whipped up the rest of the meal in under an hour upon arriving home, save for the cake which I'd baked earlier in the day. Phew. But when it was done, it was done. I poured a glass of wine and relaxed. Bowls were passed up and down the table. I was able to keep this meal vegetarian, and those of us who are lactose-intolerant could customize with vegan options.

AppleApple invented a game for the party. A Quidditch board game. It was pretty fun.

Obligatory puffed-cheek candle shot.

A few more parties to go. I'm not complaining. I wouldn't organize all these celebrations if I didn't secretly enjoy them myself too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Motherhood: the good years

These are the good motherhood years. Not that they haven't all been good years. But I'm telling you. These are sweet. For starters, I sleep through the night (I mean that literally, as all mothers of infants and toddlers will understand.) But then, my eldest is not so old: he still likes doing things with the whole family. And my youngest is not so old either: he still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning. All appreciate bedtime hugs and kisses goodbye in the morning. All are developing characters with funny thoughts and quirks and individual interests. Bursting with potential. Ages 10, almost 9, 6, and 3. This time is a keeper. Can I bottle it?


A random conversation between CJ and Kevin this morning, on their walk to nursery school (as reported by Kevin):

"Dad, Christmas is on the street now."
"Are you excited about Christmas?"
Little dance with punches - "Yes! All the presents! How does Santa get all the gifts into the house?"
"How does Santa do magic without a magic wand?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sigh, this is embarrassing, but it's all I've got this morning and I promise to shut up already, soon

As I look out my window I see

leaves in the street
almost bare branches
pale blue sky
a white apartment building with green trim and crooked window blinds
passing cars
a recycling truck

sometimes, people
people walking dogs
people running
people pushing baby strollers
people alone
in pairs

the floor is warm under my stocking feet
shadows move on the white bare walls
there is an echo

I want to keep this room

I did not know what I was craving
until I sat down in the quiet of this room
my own room
I did not know how much I longed
to be alone
for a little while
every day

Monday, November 14, 2011

The week in suppers: short and seasonal

Monday. Baked macaroni and cheese, by request. With peas, not by request.

Tuesday. Mashed potato soup (with leeks.)

Wednesday. Potluck birthday supper at my bro's. I brought quinoa salad and old-style coleslaw.

Thursday. Sweet potato curry with brown rice. Bad recipe. What are we, hippies? Won't repeat.

Friday. Potatoes, yams, and beets cut like french fries, tossed with olive oil, and roasted with rosemary. Chicken noodle soup, minus the chicken, by request.

**Weekend cooking accomplishment: Baked four loaves of bread. I bake bread by rote. I can bake bread with my eyes closed. I can bake bread in a deconstructed house that teeters on the edge of revolution. All I need is yeast, and an oven.


This is a much-foreshortened week in suppers post. I am grappling with how to present these posts, and would appreciate feedback. Do you groan when you see it's a "week in suppers" post? Too long? Too detailed? Are the menu ideas useful? I plan to continue doing them in one form or another because it's easy to forget what's working (or not), and I need constant reminders. But I also need to find the right format.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New rooms, day one, take a look

**Notes on the rooms.

My office has nothing on its walls. And we're using my old crappy furniture. But it's serene, austere, and dare I say perfect as is. I may not change a thing. Yesterday as we worked to move and rearrange four different rooms, I found myself taking moments to sit in my great-aunt Alice's rocking chair and look at the brick and the lights and the height, and to breathe.

AppleApple and Kevin created a bookshelf from the old costume bureau. An awesome repurposing project. I love that she has The Bible arranged beside other favourites like Bone, Misty of Chincoteague, and Children of War (the latter being a wonderful book that she keeps recommending her big brother read, as way of encouraging him to stop playing imaginary games with exploding bombs.)

The new bunk bed in the little kids' room is a marvel of design. We found it on kijiji, and it's not of the best material, but heck, it was available and in our price range. It's a t-shape, and CJ sleeps in what amounts to a little cozy cave. On one end is a desk with shelves and a built-in light. Bureau drawers are built in to the other end, along with a set of deep shelves. I still can't believe how different that room looks.

My step-mother figured out how to make a comfy couch out of the guest futon under Albus's bed. We've had the darn thing for about a decade and never knew it was possible. Neither Kevin nor I could understand her explanation (apparently it was very simple.) We've decided she operates on a higher level than us. My dad also loaned his muscles and back to the moving. It wouldn't have gotten done without their help. I've gone all wimpy now that I'm running. I keep telling Kevin, I'm a runner, not a weight-lifter. I don't want to injure myself.

Yet to be done today: painting, or at least prepping for painting; cleaning; and our living-room. I stole that beautiful wooden cabinet for my office from the living-room, and somehow that had a domino effect of toppling the entire room into a disaster zone. You know it's a disaster zone if the smallest members of your family tell you: "This room is a mess!" Uh, yeah. We're making use of kijiji to source a few more items. Kijiji is my new favourite virtual place. I've been inspired to post a few items for sale, too. If I get organized, I'll post the entire contents of our attic. My inspiration, in part, came from this blog on the zero-waste home. (And no, we're nowhere near zero. But hope springs eternal.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

A little glamour for your snowy Friday morning

What happened to the past two days?

Well, yesterday was spent organizing digital photos for the year. Ugh. It's one of those things that has to be done that didn't used to have to be done. Remember film? Remember prints? Here's my digital method: I order prints of, say, the top 300 photos of the year right around now, in time to be put into albums for Christmas. It's tedious work, but someone's got to do it. If we want to keep these photos, that is. Poor Fooey's babyhood is essentially unrecorded due to an awkward family switchover from film to digital. And she was the cutest baby ever. I don't want any more eras to disappear; or at least not due to negligence on my part.

So that was yesterday.

Today, I'm going to post the blog I should have written on Wednesday. Yes, I'm behind the times. This is yesterday's news. But what lovely news it is: on Tuesday evening, Canada's literary scene got all glammed up for the biggest literary prize we've got going on here. The Giller Prize! And my publisher, Anansi, was there with TWO books on the shortlist. They posted a behind-the-scenes slideshow if you want a peek inside. Ah. It will make you want to drink champagne while wearing something sparkly.

Once upon a time, I got to attend the Gillers. I was 24. I dropped the better part of a pay cheque on a glamorous outfit, arrived early, sat at the back with fellow books section types and drank and ate and had so much fun. A little glamour goes a long way, especially in an industry not really renowned for the glitz. Let me tell you, sitting here in my sweater thinking about semi-colons: nothing but hot.

Now, I'm not super-connected to the CanLit scene, having spent the past decade being mostly-mom-at-home in the wilds of Waterloo, but still. The CanLit scene is like Six Degrees of Separation minus a few degrees. So I can say that my editor edited two of the books on the list (that's pretty sweet.) And I can say that I read at an event with this year's winner, Esi Edugyan, back when we were both promoting our first books. If I say I knew back then she'd win prizes someday it will sound less like intuition than hindsight, but man, I just knew she'd win prizes.

Anyone else looking forward to reading through this year's nominees? Any books you wish would have made the list? Got any six-degrees-of-separation connections you'd like to share?


Oh, and on a side-note: I'm developing a weird hankering for an electronic reading device. Anyone? Anyone? Kindle? Kobo? I do love books, the objects themselves, don't get me wrong. But I keep having thoughts like, wouldn't it be cool to, say, watch a video about an author after reading a book? Do e-books have features like that? They should. I so often finish a book and want more. I want to hear the author telling me where she got her ideas, or where she grew up, or how she feels about her characters. Know what I mean? That would be a very appealing addition to any book.


PS Yes, that's a photo of my new office!!!!!!! Electrical work needs doing today. I'm moving in on the weekend. Can you believe it?! Me neither.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ode to the old office/baby room/playroom/guest room

Yesterday I sent the last of the copy edits back to my editor. "We're really working at the fine details, here, aren't we," I commented as we mulled the addition of a "now" here and the removal of italics there. It's very satisfying to know that a project has been carefully shepherded all the way down to the finest nuance. And just like that, the builders are also dotting i's and crossing t's in the new office space. The tile floor has been laid and grouted. Today the electrical work gets started, and tomorrow the trim is installed. Kevin has worked hard to paint walls, ceiling and boards. By the weekend, I will be moving this desk and this computer and this chair downstairs, to my new room.

So it seems fitting to thank this makeshift space in which I'm sitting right now. This is the room where the bulk of The Juliet Stories were written. This is the room where I started my blog. Over the years that this room has served as my writing space, my desk has always been right here, facing the wall nearest the door. I can turn my head to the left and look out the window at power lines over the street, which doesn't sound very poetical until you consider the birds I've seen gathering there, and the squirrels dashing like high-wire artists. One of those squirrels made it into the very last paragraph of The Juliet Stories.

My desk has always been here, but the furniture behind me has changed over the years. Not so long ago there was a crib and a change table and a rocking chair. Now there is a pull-out futon for guests and/or for cozy reading before bed (Albus's favourite spot.) The closet is crammed with Playmobil. There is an ugly chest of drawers from Ikea to which I cannot wait to bid adieu. (Filled with dress-up clothes.) There is a homework desk, now, too; and homework gum in the tiny set of drawers that serve as my office storage area.

As we look at reconfiguring the rooms, we still have some unsolved problems. Albus will be moving in here, and AppleApple will be claming the boys' former room, with the two littlest moving in together in what is now the girls' room. Where will the guest futon go? Will we miss having a communal playroom with shared toys? What will our family policy be on privacy and open doors? Is it time to set up a shared computer space downstairs for homework purposes?

Furniture we're lacking as we prepare for the move this weekend includes: a bunk bed for the little kids; mattresses; desks; storage cubbies and/or shelves. I've been hunting kijiji listings. It's going to be a busy weekend, a messy weekend, a weekend of playing around with space and imagining and painting and cleaning. It likely to be an unfinished weekend. This won't all get done in one fell swoop. But it feels like an early Christmas gift, and everyone is excited. Change is exciting. It's the act of imagining oneself into the future, imagining what might be, what could be. It's a good time of year for this. We'll stir things up.

And then we'll settle in for the winter.


Also, total aside, but did I really used to have straight hair? Like, just a few years ago, as shown in that top photo? Because it's pretty curly/unruly these days.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Last week in suppers: Halloween hangover

**Monday's menu: Sweet potato chili with cornbread.
**Original plan: I'd scribbled "red sauce" onto a notepad for Monday after discovering a half-basket of soft tomatoes. But then Kevin read this recipe in the Globe and Mail, and it called for tomatoes, too.
**In the kitchen: Soaked and cooked black beans first thing in the morning. Chopped veggies and prepared the chili in the afternoon, while simultaneously carving pumpkins. Easiest cornbread recipe ever.
**At the table: Who's hungry? Who am I kidding? It's Halloween. We're about to gorge on candy!
**The reviews: Only one child out of four loves cornbread. A second child will agree to eat it when it's smothered in chili. And the littlest only wants bread with jam and honey. Ever.
**The verdict: This recipe is a vegetarian keeper. But I skipped the cinnamon sour cream called for in the original.

**Tuesday's menu: Beans and rice, tortillas, chips, toppings. Retro broccoli salad.
**Original plan: Can't read my writing. Does that say Mashed Potato Soup?
**In the kitchen: Lots of leftover black beans, reheated after swim lessons. I baked brown rice in the afternoon and also whipped up the broccoli salad.
**At the table: Very hungry active children devour gigantic servings. Two reject broccoli salad. One demands a tortilla with jam and honey. And then he learns a new word: Protein.
**The verdict: I could eat this broccoli salad all day long.

**Wednesday's menu: Being fed by Grandpa.
**Original plan: Something in the crockpot.
**The verdict: It's nice to be fed by someone else (hamburger stew with bread and cheese, and ice cream for dessert.)

**Thursday's menu: Baked potatoes. Cheese sauce. Brussel sprouts and broccoli. Sweet potato soup.
**Original plan: Lentils. But when I saw big beautiful russet potatoes in the grocery store (shopping while hungry for lunch), I had to have them.
**In the kitchen: Scrubbed and baked potatoes after kids arrived home from school. Made soup. Whipped up cheese sauce. Sauteed veggies. Got a little frantic from the multi-tasking; caved and let little kids watch a movie.
**The reviews: "Don't worry. That's not squash soup. I watched Mom puree it. It's probably carrots."
**The verdict: Didn't even need the soup. Baked potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. I love you baked potato.

**Friday's supper. Gallo pinto (beans fried with rice.) Leftover sweet potato soup. Steamed green beans (the last of the local beans, I am sure.)
**Original plan: Leftovers. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it.
**In the kitchen: Fried chopped onions in oil, added cumin and ground coriander seed, and then stirred in leftover rice and beans. Nothing could be better.
**The reviews: I was not home to receive compliments because AppleApple had her soccer marathon, and I went for a short run in preparation for Sunday's actual marathon.
**The verdict: I love leftovers. Especially on Friday evenings. Who has the energy for anything else at this point in the week?


**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four loaves of bread. One batch of waffles (no leftovers.) Really good granola.
**Weekend non-kitchen accomplishment: One marathon.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I did this morning: Hamilton marathon

Oh man, I look nervous. This is a totally unconvincing smile. You can see it in my eyes: Do I really want to do this?
Someone stop me, please.

Hours later, only 200m left to go. Fooey removes lollipop to cheer her mother's approach. Her mother is feeling, oh, a million bajillion times better than she did in the previous picture.

There I go down the homestretch. A huge feeling of wow. Forty-two point two kilometres completed. Time on the clock: 3:42:13.

"I still can't believe you ran a marathon today, Mom." - AppleApple

Yeah. Me neither, kid.

(For the completely and totally unabridged version, please visit my triathlon training blog.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A checklist of housecleaning chores ... prepare yourselves for a thrill-a-minute post

Yes, I like checklists. Don't you? Checklists are a more routine form of the to-do list, of which I am also very fond. And, yes, I like routine too. Let's hope my family agrees, because this checklist is meant as a guideline for a weekly all-family all-in housecleaning project (or perhaps bi-weekly or tri-weekly; we'll play it by ear, or by dust, crumbs and debris, as the case may be.) I hope to offer some reward beyond a clean house, lovely though that is, such as Family Housecleaning followed by Family Movie Night. This idea remains, at the writing of this post, a dream yet to be implemented. I will let you know what happens next.

Checklist of chores for Family Housecleaning

Every room
1. pick up toys, books and oddments off the floor
2. find homes for toys, books and oddments (on the nearest surface does not count)
3. dust
4. vacuum
5. check windows: do any need to be cleaned?

1. organize toy boxes, book shelves, and the stuff that collects on top of dressers
2. check under the beds
3. change sheets and pillowcases and check blankets (do they need to be laundered, too?)

1. clean toilets
2. scrub shower doors and bathtub
3. clear all counter tops and clean
4. clean sinks
5. clean mirrors
6. check under tub for toys
7. mop floors
8. check: do soap containers need to be refilled? toilet paper restocked?
9. check shelves for clutter and dust, and tidy/clean if necessary

1. clear all counters
2. organize and find homes for everything cleared off of all counters
3. wash counters
4. wash sink
5. wash cupboard doors and backsplash
6. check inside cupboards: any spills? anything need to be cleaned?
7. wash stovetop
8. check oven and fridge: do either need to be cleaned?
9. mop floor

1. clear dining-room table
2. wipe down table and chairs
3. clear buffet surface and wipe clean
4. tidy games-and-puzzle cupboard (optional)
5. mop floor

1. find homes for random piles on homework table and on tv cabinet
2. clean piano
3. water plants
4. tidy toy cupboard and art section
5. mop floor if necessary

Front hall
1. put away shoes and boots and jackets and mitts

Hallway and stairs
1. vacuum stairs (including basement stairs)
1. mop hallway if necessary

1. to be cleaned and tidied as needed


Question: Anything you'd add to the list?