Friday, December 30, 2011

The worst/best time to have a birthday

birthday cake
Yesterday was such a perfect day. First thing in the morning, my friend Nath delivered a birthday cake that was just like my Grandma King used to make for me when my family happened to be travelling on my birthday (and which I remember eating for breakfast before getting in the car for a long ride home): angel food with strawberry frosting.

The kids and Kevin gave me the whole day off. I went shopping, an annual event, and refreshed my wardrobe for the coming year. (And, no, I'm not exaggerating; it really is an annual event. Lucky me, my birthday falls during prime sales time). Add to the list of happy happenings: yoga, naptime, dinner out, and late-night vegging on the couch watching episodes of Modern Family (why so funny? can't analyze it), and it was such a fine day.

When I came home from shopping, I found these messages on our chalkboard.
chalkboard messages
"Happy birthday Mom! why we love you."
chalkboard messages
"I love everything about you mom, the way you look smell and act." "I love how you'r a good role model to look up too. When I grow up I want to be just like you."
chalkboard messages
"She plays piano." "You are generous." "I love how she does everything." "She makes the best cookies." "She makes the best food." [this message brought to you by the fussiest of all my eaters!] "She gets lego for me." "She cooks for us." "You read bedtime stories." "Because you are organized and kinda bossy." ["Who wrote that one?" "Daddy!"]

When I was a kid, I was pretty sure my birthday fell at the wrong time of the year. Now I'm pretty sure it's exactly right. Just when I'm collapsing into the post-Christmas/pre-New-Year's slump, along comes my birthday to fill me right back up again.
Which is good, because today we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Birthday girl

Well, that's me. On my original birthday. It's been awhile since I looked like that. Soon after this photo was taken I developed a wicked red rash and all photos for the next few months (and there were plenty; I was the first child) show the homeliest infant you can imagine, though I did exude a lot of personality. I was not an easy baby: a screamer with stamina. In one of my favourite baby photos, I'm standing stiff-legged in the palm of my dad's hand, probably about six months old. Strong and determined. And grinning ear-to-ear.

I haven't had the chance to blog over the holidays, which is a good indication of an excellent holiday, and a busy one. The photos posted yesterday equal the sum total of decent photos I took this Christmas season. (With the exception of some adorable captures of my beautiful nephew, but I didn't want to confuse you by including him in my wordless album post--Hey, Carrie's got an extra kid, when did that happen?) I didn't take many photos, truth to be told. This year, I felt pulled to participate in the moments rather than record them.

My birthday falls at the perfect time for annual summations and dreaming ahead. On the night before my birthday, for the past number of years, I've stayed awake until midnight, and written something in my journal about the year past and my hopes for the one to come. Since I rarely write anything by hand anymore (and thank heavens for that--my printing is virtually illegible, even to me), the journal contains a series of snapshots, which I re-read every December 28th with a mixture of sadness and appreciation. It gives me a sense of movement and change. I catch glimpses of the groundwork being laid that allowed for major life shifts in attitude. Change is slow. And you never know what will actually change when you choose to do something different, or try something new, or leave something behind. Change is rarely predictable. We go where we're going, not necessarily where we point ourselves.

But it's helpful to point ourselves too--beyond helpful, actually. It's critical to be alert and reflective and not to avoid recognizing the things that hurt. I would never speak against plotting and planning and organizing and trying your best. Just leave plenty of room for free-form leaps in your carefully laid plains. Leave space for rest and enjoyment. Be kind--to yourself and to everyone around you. That's perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned over the years. And the best advice of all is To thy own self be true.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas album

Christmas eve, late

Christmas eve

Christmas eve


Christmas morning

The week in suppers: festive edition

Christmas dinner
**Monday's menu: Cranberry-bean soup. Fried rice with kale.
**Because: The crandberry beans got very mushy in the pot and looked just like bean soup. I added carrots, roasted red peppers, fresh thyme, and pepper, and called it Little House on the Prairie Soup. (In those books, Ma always makes the best bean soups.)
**The reviews: Fair to middling. Who wouldn't love Ma's bean soup? Apparently several of my children wouldn't. Maybe Ma's wasn't so peppery. (Honestly, it's brothy, rich, and delicious.)

**Tuesday's menu: Dahl. Paneer with tatsoi. Baked rice.
**Because: "Paneer" was requested as a special holiday meal, but I had some in the fridge all ready to go. Made it an Indian theme overall.
**What is tatsoi? I don't know, but it looks a bit like baby spinach. It cooks up less delicate and more spicy than spinach, but it's locally grown and worked as a good green addition to the meal.

**Wednesday's menu: Black bean chili (crockpot). Leftover rice. Cornbread.
**Because: I love my crockpot. This entire meal comes from my freezer and/or cupboard and/or cold cellar. I am digging into the stores and making sure I use up every bit before springtime. That's what it's for! (Yes, I need reminding.)

**Thursday's menu: Soups (leftovers). Biscuits. Cabbage salad with tahini dressing.
**It-was-a-nice-thought: We ate by candlelight to celebrate the solstice. It looked perfect and beautiful for a moment, and then everything went rapidly downhill. Cranky children, complaints, "it's too dark to see my food," and bingo, the romantic plan crumbled.
**Quantities: I doubled the biscuit recipe, and had way too many leftovers. Never good to come out of a "leftovers" meal with more leftovers than you started with.
**On repetition: I made the tahini dressing because once I find something I like, I make it until we're all bored of it. This is also known as "getting into a rut." But it was still really good the second time around. I added grated carrots and rutabaga to the cabbage. Yum.

**Friday's menu: Devised, prepared, and served by someone else (my dad and my step-mother). Hurray! Happy holidays!

**Saturday's menu: Christmas eve at brother and sister-in-law's house, potluck-style. Meats, cheeses, crackers, olives, paella, cookies, smoked salmon, etc. etc. etc. until we've nibbled ourselves into a pleasant food coma.

**Sunday's menu: Eighteen pound turkey. Classic bread stuffing. Brussel sprouts. Mashed potatoes. Pan gravy. Pumpkin pie. (pictured above)
**Forgot: To cook up the cranberries.
**Achievement: Totally dairy-free meal.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Let it shine

solstice supper
This is my favourite turn of the year: when the days begin to become incrementally longer rather than shorter, and the light is on its way back.

For a brief moment, I loved our family's attempt at a candlelit dinner on the eve of the winter solstice, several days ago. Light in darkness. Shadow all around. Soon after this photo was taken everything fell to pieces, of course, and I loved that quite a lot less; also it lasted much longer. But that seems the nature of the holidays: chance moments of calm, bits of brightness, shards of reflection.

Wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, and wherever you can find it, I wish you light, rest, and glimpses of peace during your holiday.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission impossible

mission impossible
I spent an afternoon earlier this week attempting to sort through our six bins of Playmobil and reassemble castles and families and scenes. There's a reason I titled this post "Mission Impossible." I wasn't doing it because I'm short of projects, of course; I was doing it because CJ was home sick and desperate for someone to play with. So we dragged out the Playmobil. All of it. If you'd been listening in, this is how our "playtime" would have sounded: "Stop sorting, Mommy! Make your guy talk to my guy!" And then I'd make my guy say, "Let's find my missing candelabra base. We can go on a deep sea mission to the bottom of this bin and ...." Deep sigh from CJ.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not good with the playing.

My proudest accomplishment of the afternoon was the completion of one room in a princess castle. One room. It is now on a high shelf and everyone who looks at it has to sing "Aaaaaaaah" in an angelic tone while gazing appreciatively. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, no one is allowed to touch it. Oh wait. Isn't that the whole point? Of having TOYS? Maybe Albus was on to something when he came into the living-room later that evening and began vrooming the newly restored Playmobil car (with doctor and doctor's teeny-tiny kit that includes a teeny-tiny flu shot needle) through my carefully sorted piles. Let's just say the doctor might be in the wrong profession. She should have been a smash-em-up-derby racer with jet-pack engines and maybe a flame-thrower or two. Can you hear the heart-breaking sound of plastic items being explosively scattered across a wooden floor? I'm sure it was fun on the pure level of play, but I become momentarily deeply discouraged. My carefully sorted piles! Tossed asunder!

There's a lesson in here somewhere, if I care to extract it. But is that the kind of day it is? A day for lessons? No, today, I'd rather skip the moral of the story, down my cup of coffee, gird my loins, and head out into the horror that is the streets of uptown: thick with people driving their cars around and around as they seek for a parking spot and grow increasingly grim and hopeless (and mentally act out the Playmobil doctor's wreckless acts of destruction). Merry Christmas! I'm going to walk instead. But wow. I need some girding, some serious girding. I'm in the homestretch of preparations. I can do this! I can find and assemble every piece of this Playmobil holiday!

Wait, what were we talking about?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I've been up to ...

photographing the photographer
What a weird and wonderful week it's been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you're hearing.

Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he's been sick, so I wasn't sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I'll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother's studio. Fine. Except it wasn't fine, and I wasn't fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.

It's all about the expectations. I'd expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.

But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang--it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. "I'll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record." "Seriously?" "Seriously." Well, off I went, let me tell you.

Proof that a stinker of a start doesn't mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.

Why didn't I take my camera? My brother's new studio is filled with light. It's an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we're going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It's exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It's weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it's like writing a poem in a persona. I won't question it. It's working.

This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school--unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls "ipowr," or "Intriguing People of Waterloo Region," and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn't resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn't quite do it justice. You can see the original here.

And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I'm already doing. And I'm brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.

The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It's all good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A good day: holiday preparations underway

Oh what a good day was Saturday. Ambitious cookie baking plans. One ambitious cookie baking helper.
Rolling out the dough.
Cutting out the cookies.
And everyone's favourite step in the process.
Hurray! Treats to share!
Meanwhile, collaborators work on Christmas gifts in mama's new office.
And one child plays contentedly with Lego.
Evening. Christmas carols being practiced. (Okay, confession time--this started to grate upon the nerves after an hour or so.)
But I was still one happy woman at the end of the day. I wanted to give my kids (and myself) a weekend of holiday preparation in the lead-up to Christmas, into which we will slam at the end of this week--a week in which the kids are still slogging off to school every day. Honestly, I think we're all a little worn out. In need of a change, a holiday from the routine. Craving downtime. And cookies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Piano recital: read the subtle changes in mood

piano recital
Before. Studying his music. Looking a little ill.
piano recital
At the piano. Rising the occasion. Playing even better than in a million practices at home.
piano recital
Forgot the bow. Shoulders back. Subtle pride. He knows he did well, but he's not going to smile too broadly.
piano recital
Just the hint of a smile. Done. And breathe.

The week in suppers, plus Christmas baking!

enter the root vegetable
**Monday's menu: Black bean chili (crockpot). Steamed rice.
**Circumstances: I had to skedaddle to Toronto, so this was set on the table at about 4:56pm (it's already dark anyway). I wasn't here for the eating, but the leftovers are fabulous.
**Veg quota: No need for a side. There were plenty of veggies in the chili: corn and red peppers frozen this summer, and home-canned tomatoes.

**Tuesday's menu: Curried lentil soup (crockpot). Leftover rice.
**Circumstances: This was the evening we went Christmas shopping WITH the children. Arrived home and ate supper out of the crockpot. Should have added a vegetable side, but it was too late by then.

**Wednesday's menu: Pasta with roasted red pepper sauce. Napa cabbage salad with tahini dressing.
**The reviews: It's a hit! Mama has a hit! This meal debuts at number one on the charts!
**Mini-recipe: Tahini dressing: Whisk the following ingredients together in a bowl. Half a cup of tahini; 1/2 cup of oil (olive or canola, plus a smaller amount of sesame); the juice of one lemon; 1/4 cup of tamari sauce; salt to taste, plus a sprinkling of sugar if that's your thing (yes, it's mine).

**Thursday's menu: Roasted root veggies (pictured above). Roasted breaded fish. Quick cheese bread.
**Chef's complaint: Those beets were all about two inches in diameter. I had to wash and peel each one by hand. It took me as long to prep a bag of beets as it did for the cheese bread to bake. Forty minutes of my life!
**Caveat: But the veggies were delicious, especially the beets. Worth it?

**Friday's menu: Black beans. Baked rice. Tortillas.
**Because: In a rush, of course.
**Awesome leftover meal: Tortilla lasagne. Whipped this up on Saturday, with layers of corn tortillas, black beans, feta cheese, shredded mozzarella, and leftover roasted red pepper sauce. YUM.

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Ten dozen ginger snaps. Eight dozen cut-out cookies. Two pans of krispie squares. Four loaves of bread.
**Monday morning addendum: Home with sick son, so putting houseound time to good use and making one batch of really good granola and four litres of yogurt.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The creative life: dig in

Yesterday, a reader commented on my Green Dreams post, which was written about a year and a half ago. This morning, I read that post again and found these words, which feel like a wise reminder from my (slightly) younger self:

I would like to offer my time--because I have it, and I'm grateful for that gift--to living creatively. Anyone who's ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what's created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it's worth it to you--figure out what you're sacrificing, and why you want to.

Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you've chosen to do.

Living creatively, improvising, digging in, committing, taking risks, messing up, pausing to reflect, continuing, trying new things and rediscovering the tried and true: that pretty much sums up my life at present--or at least, the life I'm aiming for, every day. Yours, too?


On that note, I'd like to tell you about a few projects I'm currently digging into.

* increasing subscribers to my blog: If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, I've got links to a variety of extras, including a new feature that allows you to type in your email address and receive blog posts in your inbox. We're still tinkering with this (and by "we" I mean my techie friend Nath is troubleshooting for me), but I'd be happy if you signed up. And then please let me know if it's working for you.

* Storywell: My friend Susan has launched a business aimed at helping people tell their stories: "Whether you are writing for your own family and community, aiming at publication, or needing help in telling your company or organization's tale, we can help you tell your story well. We offer you a team of professional writers, editors and proofreaders whose goal is to help you develop as a writer." And guess what? I'm one of the professional writers on her team. Interested, or know someone who might be? Get in touch.

* a new challenge: "Make Carrie's Book a Bestseller." Okay it's a crazy challenge over which I have no real sway. Even publishers don't know how books make it onto bestseller lists, the compilers of which seem to collect data from a variety of unpredictable sources. But I think it will be fun. Kevin is the brains behind the idea. He created and hosts a flexible web site for his business that can be used by personal trainers as a forum to run challenges. We're using that forum to create a challenge called: "Help Make Carrie's Book a Bestseller." The site is still under construction, but I plan to have it ready to launch in the new year, and you will be invited to join. I only have one hope for my book, and that's that it will get read. Then it can speak for itself.

* early to rise: This isn't really a project, it's just something I want to continue whether or not I'm working toward a particular race (my next one is in March, which still seems too far off to be highly motivating). I like the ethic involved in getting up early. I like that it's not easy. It's not easy, but it's ALWAYS rewarding. This morning, my internal alarm woke me up for yoga. I'd planned to sleep instead, but when my eyes saw 5:48 on the clock, I recognized that it was a little gift, and I accepted it. Few of my evenings are free. My only guaranteed alone time is in the early morning hours. I've never been a morning person and even now do not consider myself one; but that doesn't mean I can't rise early and move my body and stride confidently into the day.

(Just realized that this looks like an early New Year's resolution list. It's not meant to be. I'm very ho-hum on resolutions. I prefer big picture overviews of the past year combined with swooping excitement and energy beamed at the year ahead. Every year on the eve of my birthday--which is Dec. 29th--I write just such an overview in my journal, by hand. Very old-school. Very satisfying.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ring your bell, ring it loud

Good morning. Good rainy dark pre-solstice morning. So dark, the bus picked up AppleApple in what appeared to be the pre-dawn. At our house, at this time of year, everyone takes vitamin D and fish oil. Yes, I make my children take fish oil. Nobody objects. CJ actually came running for his fish oil this morning. Here he is, waiting patiently to ring his bell during his Christmas concert yesterday.

He's not the only one in the family ready to ring some bells and make some noise.

At supper last night the conversation ranged. It started with the weather. Albus and friends had rescued their snow fort from the rain, but it was dwindling. "It's going to be 11 degrees tomorrow," he reported. "Why is this happening?" "Climate change?" I mentioned an article I'd read about giant plumes of methane gas bubbling out of the Arctic Sea. We talked about Canada's government withdrawing from the Kyoto accord. We talked about the oil sands. We talked about the power of money. We talked about weather versus climate. AppleApple worried: what could she do?

My suggestion: start by sending a letter to our federal environment minister, Peter Kent, a former television journalist who in fact reported in great detail on the emerging science of climate change way back in 1984 (the internet is useful for so many things). I write a lot of letters. It's one of the few things I can think of to do and I've been doing it since childhood. In fact, in 1987, aged twelve and in homeschool, I was upset and disturbed about the effects of greenhouse gases on our environment, and wrote to then-environment-minister, also in a Conservative government, Lucien Bouchard. I received in return a large package in the mail some little while later: glossy pages of activities and suggestions (turn off the tap when you brush your teeth!). No actual response to the questions raised in my letter. I was disgusted by the obvious waste, and the irony: the ministry of the environment producing glossy reams of paper, essentially propaganda. (My parents were peace activists, so yes, I knew about propaganda.)

And so, our dinner conversation turned to propaganda. We talked about how we humans like to fool ourselves. We like to comfort ourselves, and distract ourselves from news that would make us sad or worried. (Which would explain why celebrities are a bigger "news" draw than actual news.) And then the conversation got really funny. Albus didn't get the concept: How could we fool ourselves?

Hm. Pretty sure you're a master at it, Mister "It Was an Accident" Albus. We all admitted familiarity with that sickish feeling when you know you've done something wrong. Around the table, almost unanimously, we discovered that that feeling arises more often when we've done something wrong by accident, and less often when we've been deliberately bad. (Maybe when we do something deliberate we've already built up the rationale around why we're doing it; we've already bought into the wrong-doing; cough-cough "ethical" oil sands cough-cough.)

AppleApple decided to research climate change--what we can do, what the government could be doing. She wants her ducks in order before she writes her letter. She wants INFORMATION and FACTS. Maybe we'll all write letters (you, too?). Albus also suggested that we could have a protest. Hey, good idea, grandkid of activists. Protests are in the air. The Protestor was just named Time magazine's Person of the Year.

But as I watch cars stream past my house this morning, as I myself turn to my vehicle in the cold and the rain, as I consider how we are creatures of cultural habits and patterns (currently reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers), as I tap out these words ... I wonder how to answer AppleApple's anxious question: What can she do? Is there anything we can really do? Really? Beyond hope and pray and protest and write and try and hope some more? Life is so damn short. A second ago I was twelve; blink, and my daughter is nine--and what's changed?

But that's not how the conversation ended last night. Somehow, it ended with us going around the table taking turns trying to fake laugh. You should try this at home. In fact, you must. Don't think about it too hard; just give it a shot. It will give you hope. Because even the most ridiculous half-hearted attempt will turn genuine in about two seconds when everyone else joins in.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas shopping: Is there a lesson in here somewhere?

"Is there a lesson in here somewhere?" I asked the general cacophony yesterday evening. "Are we really teaching you anything about being generous or being giving or how to think of other people? What is this all about?"

You guessed it. We were about to go Christmas shopping. For the past few years we've let the kids choose small gifts for each other, though CJ has been too small to really participate. Turns out, he's still too small. We have a favourite store we go to that the kids call "The Castle Store." It used to be oriented toward gamers--Dungeons and Dragons figurines and whatnot, but it's expanded successfully into board games, crafts, puzzles, Lego, Star Wars figures, and some other toys. Walls of puzzles. I love this place. So does CJ, but he really couldn't think of anyone but himself. Nor could he think past the present moment to Christmas morning.

I want what I want and I want it right now! could have been his motto.

But that was at the store. Back at home, as I attempted to prepare for our shopping venture, there was covetous CJ, but there was also Fooey, recovering from pneumonia, well enough to head back to school, but pretty much pooched by 4pm, and in a generally surly and screamy state, perhaps a sign of improving health, or a sign of being spoiled by a week at home watching movies and being catered to by her loving mother, but really, who cares why? It's virtually intolerable. The bossy-Fooey-screams send AppleApple into fits of indignant rage, while Albus's response is to poke rational holes into her (il)logic. Helpful.

Toss in the much-anticipated trip to The Castle Store, and our after-school scenario yesterday resembled nothing more than a miniature civil war battlefield. I remained the voice of calm, but you know, no one's listening to the voice of calm in the middle of a bloody battle.

Which brought me around to my rhetorical question: "What is this teaching you guys?" Okay, not so rhetorical because I really didn't know the answer. Still don't. I was about to give up when Kevin called and said he could come along too (this was planned as a me-and-the-kids outing; short-sighted planning right there). With another parent along, we were able to manage. Plus, aside from CJ wanting everything right now, the other kids turned angelic in the Castle Store aisles as they thought about their siblings, consulted their siblings, and secretly made choices.

So what's the lesson here? I really really really don't know. At various points in the venture I would have said it was:
*Don't take your three-year-old Christmas shopping! (And really, if you have the option, just don't.)
*Don't go Christmas shopping, period!
*Materialism sucks!
*And: Can't we shove the toothpaste back into the tube and everyone will just get a nice big orange in their stocking and that will be plenty?!
But I guess I came around to this:
*Give your older children the opportunity to choose thoughtful gifts for each other. They might surprise you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Right now I am ...

... still buzzing after meeting all of the Anansi staff at their sales rep party in Toronto last night. I was so nervous. So nervous! I put on mascara while Fooey writhed on the floor and screamed in her bossiest voice, "You will not be going to this meeting tonight! They can do the meeting tomorrow! You are not going!" It brought me closer to the reality that, for my little kids at least, this Mommy's publishing a book thing is a major inconvenience; they really can't understand what it means to me. Mommy's publishing a book and she's not tucking me in tonight! Not: Mommy's publishing a book, yay for Mommy! I set supper on the table, set the table, and as soon as Kevin walked through the door, peeled two desperately clingy children off my legs and made a run for it.

Then I had a pleasant (not) leisurely (not) drive down the 401. The traffic! Plus, the closer I got to my destination, the more nervous I got. I got so nervous I was having to remind myself to breathe. It's been awhile since I've schmoozed. Thankfully, as soon as I walked through the door, I was in good hands. My former boss from, oh, a decade or more ago, is married to Anansi's publisher. I think he knew I was nervous. I kind of had the same expression on my face that I had at the beginning of the marathon (but with better hair and a nicer outfit). He got me a glass of wine and took me outside to meet his dogs, and I was soon feeling much better. Just like reaching the 10km mark. Before I knew it, I was cruising.

And I got to meet everybody! I mean, all of these people who have been working with me from afar (not so very afar, but far enough that we've never met in person). I got to meet them! I met my editor! It was like meeting an old friend, except I had imagined her looking just a little bit different. I'd imagined everyone differently, come to think of it. Everyone looks different over email and the telephone. It was like meeting the people behind your favourite radio voices. Without even knowing it, you construct these imaginary faces.

Anyway, by 34km or so, I was one happy writer. I'd been fed a lovely dinner. My sister's red shoes looked great (thanks again, Edna!). Best of all, I wasn't schmoozing, I was just getting to know people. Hey, I like people! And come to think of it, I like talking too! Not so nerve-wracking after all.

At the end of the evening, I mentioned that I was kicking around for a new challenge this coming year--thinking of a running challenge or something like the 365-day photo challenge--and Sarah, Anansi's publisher, said (and I paraphrase): "How about publishing your book!? Forget the other challenges. This will be plenty. This year, you'll launch a book!"

I like that. I might have to go with that.

(Oh, and I got up early for spin class this morning and I was still buzzing ... still am ... floating on an evening out of the every day.)

(And, no, that photo does not relate. It's just a purty picture of some berries in the snow in front of our house.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

The week in suppers: enter the root vegetable

**Monday's menu: Split pea soup in the crockpot. Quick beer bread. Baked squash.
**Because: We have a whole lot of yellow split peas. We also had no bread. Quick breads can save a meal.
**Recipe for Beer Bread: Set oven to 400 degrees. Grease a loaf pan. Whisk together 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, 1/2 cup large flake oats, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add in one freshly opened bottle of beer (any kind!). Fold together until just mixed. Scrape into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Important: Let cool completely in pan before unmolding and serving. (Why I know this: Hungry children + hurrying to get food on the table = somewhat crumbling very hot beer bread. Still good, however. Made good toast the next morning too).

**Tuesday's menu: Pasta with pesto. Fiery fried cabbage. Broiled tofu.
**Because: Something for everyone. Except there was still a lot of complaining. Why? Oh why?

**Wednesday's menu: Sweet potato coconut soup in the crockpot (pictured above). Bread from City Cafe. Cheese.
**Because: So good! Visit here for the recipe. Best use of a yam, ever.
**Random kitchen accomplishment: Made yogurt. Kevin's been eating a lot of it atop the really good granola, as a bedtime snack. He likes that everything in that bowl is made by me. I like that too.

**Thursday's menu: Black beans. Baked rice. Tortillas. Cut up winter veggies: carrots, rutabaga, daikon radishes.
**Because: Today was a tough day. But this meal is easy. Popular, quick (just takes advance planning), satisfying. Good conversation around the dinner table.

**Friday's menu: Pizza night at church.
**Confession: We haven't gone to church all fall, but when info on pizza night arrived in my inbox, packaged with the promise of gingerbread house decoration, we were in.
**Extra confession: I didn't even go. Pizza night overlapped with AppleApple's goalie camp, so I dropped everyone else off, drove AppleApple to the sports complex on the other side of town, and went for a run (our Friday night ritual), while Kevin managed the kids, the pizza, and the gingerbread decoration. Bless him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Photos for the Christmas letter: the outtakes

Let's begin by gathering together the joyful participants in this afternoon's all-family project. Joyful, I said. Joyful participants.

Kevin (silently): What the hell, son? What the hell?

It's always thrilling to discover new talents in one's offspring.

Apparently, we have a natural born ham. Please, sir, may I have some more?

CJ acts out another scenario unseen by the rest of us.

Giant robot coming! Must defeat it with laser eyeballs!

I include this just because it's so supremely awkward. CJ is about to do a runner. I'm, you know, smiling! Fooey's vogueing. Enough with the jazz hands. And we're done.

It would be nice to report that the photograph chosen to grace our Christmas letter (yes, we're going to do a Christmas letter this year!) is far superior than these. It would be nice.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What's blue and red and makes you wonder: who's that girl?

This is what my book looks like!!!!!! (Insert full paragraph of exclamation points.)

You can even pre-order it!!!

But this is what it looks like!

(And, no, I don't know who the girl is, though she does look weirdly like my own AppleApple. The publisher designed the cover, not me.)

Dreamy, dreamy.

This was not the post I began writing this morning. That post started like this:

"Long week. General gloom. Set alarm, rose early. Glad for that.
Snow falling. Cough cough cough from my constant companion."

And went on in the same vein. Which is true enough. But I'm glad the cover popped into my inbox and interrupted my cranky, restless mind with a splash of colour. And, oh, that dreaming girl. I'd like to just go be her for a little while.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the seventh day of Christmas ...

... the kids made decorations for the front window. We didn't have time to get to it until after 8 o'clock last night, but with everyone working together helpfully, I didn't want to crush the creativity for bedtime purposes. CJ made a snowman that we hung on the wall rather than the window--he found sticky-tack on the back of a fish he'd made at nursery school and hung it himself. Fooey made a snowflake and a Santa. AppleApple made red and green holly to frame the corners, and Albus made blue snowflakes and a line of people holding hands.

On the eighth day of Christmas (ie. today), I've promised to make caramel popcorn balls. Maybe we'll use the recipe in our Little House on the Prairie Christmas recipes book. It would be appropriate because AppleApple is attending a Victorian classroom today--a field trip for her enrichment program. Here she is all dressed up and braided.

Yesterday was the kind of day that defines relentless. I received the final questions on the proofs for Juliet while sitting in an xray office with Fooey and CJ, having just dropped AppleApple at piano lessons, and while waiting for Albus to call my cell so I would know he was safely home. I was thinking today how strange it is that you can't always have your kids with you. Hm. That doesn't sound very profound. I was thinking of how strange it still feels to let them go and be independent, to know that they are capable of being out there in the world, without me. Same for my book--can it fend for itself? Is it ready?

(Oh, and the results of the xray came back positive for pneumonia. Which would explain my poor girl's endless nighttime coughing.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rearranging the furniture

Who's house is that? We pushed the sofa away from the wall for a poetry book club a couple of weeks ago, and never pushed it back again. Furniture in the middle of the room ... who knew? It makes for a cozy seating area with space for piano practice and the art table behind it. I still don't have a decent location for the piano books, but someday. Someday.

I'm operating on a hopeful mission to sort out and tidy every drawer and surface in the house. And also to keep the bathrooms/kitchen clean. My strategy involves doing it when I see it needs doing. In practice that means I was cleaning out the bottom drawer of the fridge on Monday evening while unloading our Bailey's food. The idea, borrowed from my friend Rebecca's blog, is to ask: Do I have five minutes? Usually these minor cleaning tasks take only a few minutes. And I almost always have five minutes. I also found five minutes, which stretched to a few more, to scrub mold off the grout in the shower one evening last week. Just what one feels like doing after tucking the kids in, let me tell you, but that's when I noticed the mold. Did I have five minutes? I did. We use baking soda and vinegar as cleaning agents, and as I scrubbed and scrubbed (using an old toothbrush) I found myself reminiscing about the Old Dutch cleanser my mom used to use, which would remove a layer of skin from your hands but sure got the tiles sparkling in a jiffy. Advice from fellow green-cleaners out there? Is the secret all in the elbow grease and the lowered standards?

If I'm talking a lot about the house, it's because this has been a housebound week, high on domestic necessities. My girl is still sick. We will be heading to see the doctor shortly.

I don't function well in housebound mode (and for the record, yes, my office is at home, but my office does not make me feel housebound). I don't function well on interrupted sleep. I get grumpy. It's fair to no one, but by 6pm, on a day when I've been doing nothing but scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, preparing meals, cleaning up from meals, entertaining sick children, worrying about sick children, and ferrying other children with sick child in tow to after-school activities -- by 6pm I'm liable to bite someone's head off. Usually my husband's. Because by 6pm he's around, that's why. And he's not a kid. Yup. Totally unfair.

I've been enjoying reading the latest issue of Brain, Child magazine, which has a piece on whether or not mothers complain too much about motherhood these days. Do we? Do I? Or should I really be complaining more? I wonder sometimes whether I get the balance right: truth-telling, accurate reporting of on-the-job realities mingled with gratitude. I do feel some discomfort about being a "mommy blogger" ... about presenting my family's life in some ideal package or inducing guilt in any other mother out there who doesn't have time (or the interest) to make homemade food or who drives instead of making her kids walk to school or etc. I think we're all trying our best. We have good intentions. We make mistakes. Life isn't perfect. And "mother" might just be the most judged and criticized role any of us could have chosen to take on, but that didn't stop us, so there's bravery right there.

And I'm rambling.

And it's time to go.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

AppleApple's Singer's Theatre show, reprised for the home audience

Very serious production, as you can see. You can't see the parents in stitches over the seriousness, though we tried to keep our faces straight. Fooey earned a walk-on role.