Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adventures in precipitation

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On the weekend we had snow. Yesterday more snow fell. Grand snow adventures were embarked upon in our backyard.

Tonight it is supposed to rain. Sorry, kids. (I suppose there could be adventures in a cold rain -- of the highly realistic, rather miserable variety. But who wants that?)

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm throwing a party! You're invited!

Come celebrate the launch of The Juliet Stories, the second collection by Carrie Snyder

Saturday, Feb. 25
7:30 - 9:30pm
Starlight Social Club
47 King Street West
Waterloo, ON

DJ: Kidstreet
No Cover


www.carrieannesnyder.blogspot.com |@CarrieASnyder
www.houseofanansi.com | @HouseofAnansi

RSVP: reader@houseofanansi.com


House of Anansi is sending out invitations today!!!

You may be wondering -- what happens at a book launch? Basically, it's a party! My friend Z and I are concocting a colourful tropical theme, I'll do a reading, sign books, you can nosh on Latino-influenced snacks, and my sibs' band will DJ. The club opens for dancing at 10pm and we can stay and dance. RSVP if you can come.

The week in suppers: Robbie Burns

I did not make this haggis, but it was good

**Monday's menu** Veggie Vindaloo (crockpot). Baked basmati rice. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Recipe-worthy** Veggie Vindaloo: Saute two chopped onions and four cloves of chopped garlic in 1-2 tbsp of oil. Add and saute 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or less, to taste), 1/2 tsp turmeric, and 1-2 tsp salt (start with 1 tsp and add more later). Scrape into the slow cooker. Meantime, peel and dice six potatoes (more or less) and two large carrots. Add to slow cooker, along with 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger root, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp dry mustard, and some chopped red pepper (frozen is fine). Add 3/4 cup red lentils. Add 8-10 cups of water (this is approximate; I check the slow cooker during the day and top up the liquid as needed), and stir the pot. I also added some leftover tabbouleh, and if you wanted you could add chopped tomato and parsley and a handful of bulgar to the mix. Totally optional. Cook on low all day, checking in to stir occcasionally. About an hour before serving, toss in 1-2 cups frozen peas. Just before serving, stir in the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon (note: several tablespoons of cider vinegar is a good local substitute). Taste for seasonings (salt, pepper). Serve over rice.
**Why we liked this** The lentils blended in and acted as thickener. It tasted delicious. Any veggie could sub into this mix.

**Tuesday's menu** Mexican red beans. Leftover rice. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Sorry, everybody** This was a request. But it was very ho-hum with the leftover rice. Somehow I'd managed to undercook the beans ever so slightly too. It was a rushed meal anyway, as we landed home from swimming and darted out again for soccer, with less than 30 minutes for turnaround time.

**Wednesday's menu** Coconut sweet potato soup made with squash, too (crockpot). Wilted tatsoi salad. Bread and cheese and hummus.
**Good food** I didn't follow the recipe for the tatsoi salad precisely, but it was a good use of the tatsoi, which apparently can be harvested from under the snow; that explains why I can still source it locally.
**Colourful** There was something so satisfying about eating this rich orange soup and the deep green tatsoi. Winter needs more colour. Two out of four children adored the soup. Zero out of four children tried the tatsoi. Such is life in the bread and cheese lane. Dinner conversation was brilliant and we had no conflict.

**Thursday's menu** Red sauce with hamburger (!). Noodles. Broiled tofu.
**Aren't we vegetarian?** Yes and clearly no. I bought one package of organic local hamburger. Everyone seemed tired and draggy this week. Extra iron?
**Secret veggies** I slipped a package of frozen grated zucchini into the red sauce (which made with my canned tomatoes). Zero complaints.

**Friday's menu** Turkey in the crockpot. Roasted beets, potatoes, carrots, and garlic.
**Total vegetarian fail** I ordered the turkey on a whim from Bailey's. What can I say? I can say nothing.
**Recipes by Facebook** I have very little experience cooking meat in a crockpot, let alone an entire (small) turkey, so I asked Facebook for advice. And Facebook replied. I stuffed the turkey with carrots, onion, garlic, and poured a bottle of Guinness over top along with some cranberry juice. I added some Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, dried thyme and rosemary. Then I couldn't get the lid to fit. I had approximately two minutes to prep the turkey before I needed to get out the door with the kids. So I covered the crockpot with aluminum foil to keep the steam in, balanced the lid on top, and left. And then I was gone for about five hours -- about three hours longer than I'd planned on being out of the house. I was kind of freaking out about the precarious state in which I'd left the turkey. But all's well that ends well. The alumimum foil worked.


**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Eight loaves of bread (OMG we are eating so much bread! I can hardly keep up. I am baking two batches back to back some weekends). One batch of Really Good Granola. Double chocoloate cookie squares. And one giant pot of cockaleekie soup, made in honour of Robbie Burns day. Our family had our own tiny Burns dinner before Saturday night's scotch party. (Secret ingredient in cockaleekie soup -- do you know? Prunes.)

**Cooking with kids** Starring CJ. Who couldn't think of anything he wanted to make except for pizza. So Kevin made pizza (I made the dough).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Briefings from Recovery Sunday**

This is just to say that I made it through Party Week*! Party Week is officially over, and we are now revelling in Recovery Sunday**.

*Party Week is defined, for this early-rising cougar-aged gal, as more than one late-night social event in a seven-day span. This Party Week included three late-night social events in an intimidating four-day span.

**Recovery Sunday involves me and my pajamas. Do not knock on the front door unless you want the visuals.


Have to report yet another breakdown: first the tooth, then the hip, and now the camera! (Yes, it feels like a part of me). As of this morning, my camera refuses to connect with my computer. It looks to have broken bits in its USB port. The manufacturer does not answer the phone on Sundays. Photos of last night's address to the haggis are therefore inaccessible. You may or may not be sad about this depending on your feelings toward haggis.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

And the winner is ...

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... "m" for Marita!

This was easy and fun. I'm tempted to do it again. I really like giving things away. (Would you come back and enter your names all over again for a second round?)


AppleApple picked the name out of the basket because she and I had scheduled writing time together this morning. I wanted her help on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm story. She's got lots of top secret information about the BFJBW. So we found a pinch of time on Saturday morning, squeezed in between starting bread dough (me) and soccer game (her). She looked forward to it all week--and so did I. Except it wasn't as fun as we'd anticipated. Writing isn't really fun, exactly. There's a lot of erasing and starting all over again. Most ideas get chucked. Information has to be spun into plot. I'm afraid she found it all very tedious. I'm also afraid I'm very abrupt and business-like when writing, even when the subject is a fun children's story. And we didn't even finish the chapter.

Maybe I'm just not good at sharing?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bits and bobs

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Neither time nor mental wherewithal to post a deep and thoughtful blog today. Nothing deep and thoughtful going on today. Today has been filled with uneventful events. Your curiosity is piqued, I can tell. And so I will elaborate ...

**Rushing. Slept in (til 7:30!). Therefore spent the first hour of the day madly dashing about. Turkey in crockpot! Breakfast in children! Signing various papers! Issuing various reminders! Big kids out the door! CJ to nursery school! Forgot to eat breakfast! Gobble cold porridge! Pour coffee in portable mug! Race out into snowstorm! Drive across town to dr's appt!

**Waiting. The result of all the rushing was a prolonged period of waiting at the sports medicine clinic, first for the woman who did the initial assessment, and then for the doctor, who ordered an xray. I'll see him again on Monday. Meanwhile, take-home-message: no running.

**More waiting. I followed up my first bout of waiting with more of same, in a different location. Upon arrival at the xray place, and without my first asking, the receptionist estimated the wait time to be 45 minutes. I heard her continue to estimate the same time to everyone who came through the door throughout my two hour stint in the waiting room. Maybe that's just the standard measurement she gives out. She should have mentioned she was referring to units of 45 minutes, of which I would spend about three. The xray technician, a sparkly former-long-distance runner, spent the entire appointment recounting her own running injuries. A decade of running injuries. Cheerful stuff, let me tell you.

**Texting. What would I do without texting? And my phone? The wait at the xray office was so long that I realized I would not make it home in time for the babysitter, who was picking CJ and a friend up from nursery school. Luckily, through the marvels of text messaging, I was able to arrange for the friend's mom to bring everyone to her house instead (God bless friends!). For less practical reasons, the texting also broke the intense tedium of waiting in perpetuity. When not texting, I read the book I'd brought along (The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell). Someone in the first office had read it too, so we had a conversation. Which also worked for entertainment purposes. No one in the second office cared to chat with me about the book. Most were too busy texting. Except for the friendly man telling everyone in earshot about the diarrhea he'd acquired on holiday in Jamaica. I sat extra-far away from him. What surprised me is that not everyone did.

**Overdue. Library book, that is. Thought I'd finish off my wasted writing day by stopping in at the library to discuss a book which has been lost, and has yet to turn up despite ample and dedicated hunting. It was due today. And cannot be renewed again. BUT it can be placed on some special library list which gives me another seven weeks to find the book, and the library will hunt for it too (because the kids think we returned it). I also learned that our library caps late fees. Did you know this? I will have to pay late fees on the book, even if I do find and return it, but it will cost me no more than $9.00. This actually sounded like such good news to my desperate ears that I high-fived the librarian. In my head.

**Home. When I opened the front door, the turkey in the crockpot had filled the house with comforting smells. The laundry basket was still sitting, full of dirty laundry, on the kitchen floor. I hadn't eaten since the cold porridge. I made myself a pot of tea, and warmed up some leftovers, and sat and read the newspaper. And that about sums it up.

**Aside. Does it strike you, as it does me, that none of this fits into either of my words of the year? It ain't work. And it sure ain't play. What is it?


**In other news. The giveaway is now officially over! Thanks to everyone who entered. I will pick a name out of the hat, and announce the winner tomorrow.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From dancing to dentistry, just like that

my 4:45am companion, with sound effects

I did not take photos at last night's show. It was late for mamas at mid-week, a decade and a half older than the kids who came out to dance. But we mamas came out to dance too. And we still know how, despite our complaints about the lateness (so late!) and the loudness (first band, so loud!), and the "Oh God, I hope my hip holds out" (so lame!).

The dancing. It was really fun. We danced for the second band, but the really inspired getting down didn't happen until Kidstreet arrived on stage. I love my siblings! Their sound is infectious, their performance is joyful and welcoming, and my sister is just the most gorgeous and composed creature on stage that you can possibly imagine (whether or not she can see it herself). As the set progressed, my dance moves got more adventurous, less fearful of will-this-hurt-my-hip? By the last song of the night, I'd shed that decade and a half, at least inside my own head. Walking home through the quiet of freshly fallen snow, I had to admit that I was limping ever so slightly. But when I woke up this morning, my hip actually felt years better.

Seriously. I could jog across the living-room without pain. How bizarre is that?

Let me tell you about the few hours between dancing and morning. I was gloriously asleep when the pitter-patter of feet woke me. CJ had gone to the bathroom by himself (yay!), returned to his bed and decided he didn't like the looks of it (uh oh!), and come into our room lugging his water bottle and a giant sheep stuffie (noooooooo!). "I had a bad dream!" he announced, which is his new code for "I don't want to go to sleep." He attempted to climb into bed beside me. The sheep didn't fit. Seriously, it's enormous. We could all see this wasn't working. I dragged myself upright, walked him back to his own room, explained about it being the middle of the night, sleeptime, etc., tucked him in.

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. No sheep this time. "Is anyone downstairs?" he asks from the side of the bed. It's pitch black. 4:45am. "Nope. We're all sleeping. Because it's the middle of the night!" He climbs in beside me, snuggles up. I'm too tired to object. We "sleep" like this for an hour until I just can't stand the wriggling anymore. (I know lots of parents share beds with their children, and I just want to know: do those children hold still in their sleep? Because mine are like squirrels, if squirrels were much larger and not furry and had sharp elbows and hot breath and digging heels).

"Listen," I said at last. "I can't sleep like this. I'm going to your bed."


"You can stay here, and I will go sleep in your bed. Or, you can go sleep in your bed and I'll stay here. One or the other. Because I'm not getting any rest and I have to get up in an hour for a dentist appointment."

"My blankets are too small."

"Not the green one. The green one is plenty big. So what you do want: should I go sleep in your bed, or will you?"

Surprisingly, he chose to return to his bed. And then he slept.

And much too soon after that I was sitting in a reclining chair staring at beige ceiling panels, listening to top-forty soft rock while a masked woman scaled tartar off my teeth.

If I were sketching a trajectory of pleasantness upon a graph, say, from midnight until nine this morning, it would look like a ski hill. High to low, baby, high to low. The nighttime bed-sharing was definitely several graph points above the hygienist prodding exposed nerve endings between my teeth. At least with the bed-sharing I got to snuggle up to a hot-breathed, wriggling, pointy-elbowed creature of intense dearness. With the dentist all I got was a return appointment a week from today to fill a cavity -- my first in TWENTY YEARS.

See. Straight down. Like a ski hill.

It's a life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wondering and wandering in Blogland

I've been reading other people's blogs. I've been reading and wondering and wandering. My mind is impatient this morning, and more than a bit weary. Up early for a swim. Second swim in three days. I am fit, but I don't feel strong, not running. Which makes me wonder: what am I seeking in my quest to stay fit, if it isn't to be fit? My routine is fairly grinding, but I hardly missing a planned work-out. Why? I don't have an answer. I wonder if I will find one, and whether I will like it, or not.

Here's what I'm doing tonight. I tried to post the poster, but it didn't work: my siblings' band Kidstreet is playing in town. I am staying up late to go dancing!

More napping needed.

I'm trying not to think about the dentist appointment booked for tomorrow morning at 7:30 (who does that to herself?). Or the dr's appointment the next day. Or plans to go out Friday night, and to throw a scotch party here on Saturday night. Which will mean cleaning this whole disastrous kid-friendly house. Which means I'm trying not to think about the living-room, either, strewn end to end with the tiniest toys the children could find to strew about. I'm not thinking about the missing library book, due Friday, already renewed to the allowable limit of times, and nowhere to be blinking found. While I'm at, I'll try not to think about the half hour I already spent on my hands and knees this morning looking under things for this book while cursing the tiny toys strewn about everywhere.

Instead, I will think about lunch. And coffee. And napping. And blogging. I found some great posts out there this morning. My friend Rebecca blogs about taking a week off from blogging due to feelings of inadequacy. She ends with a quote from Marianne Williamson, which coincidentally my yoga teacher read out to our class on Saturday evening, and which I meant to share here, but it slipped away in my shavasana daydream: "It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." And yet. My virtual friend Kerry blogs about Gabrielle Giffords, and how the miracle of her very survival is yet somehow not enough for the narrative of redemption that has been foisted upon it. How we crave the light of redemption and recovery, we want that story. "The narrative of her 'recovery' has been so remarkable for its falseness, for its abject denial of the realities of brain injury," writes Kerry; the piece is worth reading in full.

I have to tell you. My darkness frightens me. But maybe it's true that my light does too. Marianne Williamson's quote goes on: "We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world."

Can we play big, be our better selves, and be truthful about the darkness in each of us, the inadequacies, the mysteries, the wondering and wandering, the good luck and the bad? Well, yes. I think so. I think that might be why I blog.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A walk in the woods

I am not running right now. My last attempt was a week and a half ago, a long weekend run of 15.5km on a bitterly cold and windy afternoon. The light was thin. My hip cried the entire time. That necessitated a frank assessment of my physical limitations, and a visit to my family doctor, and his request that I refrain from running. For now. I see a sports medicine doctor on Friday and the truth is that I'm holding out hope that his opinion will be otherwise: Go ahead and run! It can't do any harm! (Hope hurts.)

Meantime, I am getting by with extra yoga classes, which seem to be helping. At the very least, I am strengthening and stretching and practicing my breathing. I am also continuing to swim, though not quite to the distances I'm used to: I stop when it starts to hurt rather than pushing on (the opposite of my usual style). And there's spin class once a week.

But as mentioned in a previous post, none of those activities gets me outside. I'm missing not just the endorphin magic of a good run. I'm missing the bitter cold, the snow, the wind, the purposeful entry into the elements, even (and maybe especially) into the unpleasant elements. I've gone for runs in the dark, in cold rain, in hail, in blazing sunshine, in humidity. I also run in less extreme conditions, but it's those more adventurous outings that stick with me, that please me most, that seem like tests of will and determination; there is a thrill to just sticking with it, hanging in there, going on. I could see how that sounds psychologically revealing; and not everyone's cup of tea. And I accept that this injury may teach me many good things that I couldn't learn otherwise: such as the value of stopping rather than pushing through; and patience. That too.

On Sunday, I went to my daughter's soccer practice. It was a clear sunshiny afternoon, bright with snow on the ground. I could not run. But I decided not to sit by the sidelines indoors. Instead, I dressed for the weather, took my camera, and went for a hike in the woods. The trails were so familiar, trails I ran on all last summer and fall. And I was able to walk briskly without pain. It wasn't like a good run, no, but it's not fair to compare. It was exactly what it was: a walk in the woods.

Many of the photos came out with a melancholy feel (as above; do you agree?). I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the wintry landscape, the bare trees. Or maybe it's the eye that was seeing the wintry landscape and bare trees. Whatever was captured, melancholy was not what I felt upon returning home. I felt better. Just plain better.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The week in suppers: rush, rush, rush

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Cooking with kids: Fooey's turn

**Monday's menu: Falafels, pitas, hummus, and tabbouleh.
**Woot for Dad: All freshly made by Kevin (with the exception of the pitas). I was in Toronto, so he said he'd take care of supper. And he did.
**Must remember: Very popular meal. I added hot sauce to my stuffed pita.

**Tuesday's menu: Chili in the crockpot. Leftover rice and lentils. Leftover tabbouleh salad.
**Because: Brief turnaround time between swim lessons and soccer.
**Must remember: People are getting tired of Mom's chili. Sorry, people.

**Wednesday's menu: Pasta with pesto. Pan-fried shrimp. Turkey broth noodle soup. Cabbage salad.
**Happily: Used frozen pesto made last summer, but only had enough pasta to make half the portion I usually do for our family. Therefore, added the noodle soup to the mix. Used turkey broth frozen from Christmas, added some leftover pesto for flavour. Threw this meal together in under half an hour.

**Thursday's menu: Leek and potato soup. Roasted squash. Cornbread. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Tuber time: I have 50 pounds of potatoes in the cold cellar, so we brainstormed uses, such as this potato soup. It really could hardly be better. CJ devoured it. So did Albus. So did I! But we also thought up: oven fries and mashed potatoes. There must be more of a variety, right? Send suggestions.

**Friday's menu: Baked potato bar at church.
**Because: Community-building. And I don't have to cook or do dishes.
**Also: Speaking of other uses for the potato.


**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four loaves of bread. Four loaves of banana bread (baked at 7:30pm on Saturday night, just before heading out poetry book club; they were still in the oven when I left, so Kev had to finish the task.)

**Cooking with kids: Sunday supper. Fooey's turn. Indian theme.
**Menu: Saag paneer. Tandoori shrimp. Homemade samosas. Basmati rice. Raita. Cabbage salad. Take-out naan bread and pakoras. Tropical fruit salad and banana bread for dessert.


**One last thing: A friend I've made through this blog (a poet and writer and mother who lives on the other side of this country) asked whether I'd mind if she posted her own spin-off of The Week in Suppers. Of course I said yes! Check out her first installment. I was interested to see what her fall-back meals were. And I want the recipe for her lentil loaf!

**One more one last thing: My TNQ giveaway open until Friday!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Around the house

Around the house, today ...

**The phone has rung about 16 times today for one child or another. The busy social lives of the ten-and-under crowd. CJ wanted in on the action and has been looking for a friend to come over. Problem is, he's three and so are his friends; so far we've struck out. "Would you be scared to go by yourself to [friend's name] house?" "Yes." "Well, he probably feels the same way." "But he's not scared at nursery school."

**I can't go for my long run due to injury (see my triathlon blog for the painful details). In fact, I can't even go for a short run just to blow off steam. This has made for a jumpy grumpy woman. Alternatives? What would you do if you couldn't run? Running has become such a huge part of my life, a major tool in my mental health kit; it isn't easy to replace, even temporarily. I'm planning to hit a yoga class this afternoon. But yoga lacks the adventure of running. Yoga happens indoors, as does swimming and spinning. Running outside in all weathers has changed my experience of the outdoor world and made winter a friendly place, for me.

**I am baking bread, doing laundry, picking up toys, and vacuuming. None of these activities are helping with my restlessness.

**It's a beautiful, cold, sunny winter's day. I am trying to convince my two youngest to go outside and build something in the snow. Hey -- looks like the promise of hot chocolate afterward did the trick!

**While vacuuming I finally swept up all of the white feathers on AppleApple's floor. When questioned about the provenance of the feathers, she posited that they were coming from her duvet. So I checked. And discovered a hole that had been patched with a scrap of cloth and pink thread. The child had attempted to fix the problem herself! Without ever mentioning it to me! I felt both proud and dismayed. What else is she attempting to fix by herself, without telling me? I had to rip out the stitches and sew the torn cloth together; no patch job was going to fix the problem. Oh dear, I am seeing nothing but metaphor.

**Speaking of metaphor, my poetry book club meets tonight. And now I can't even find the book. Last seen a week ago at soccer practice where, unable to go for my usual run, I was attempting to read and take notes by the side of the field; and failing pretty miserably. It all circles back to the running!

**Finally, if you haven't signed up for The New Quarterly giveaway, please consider it. My goal right now is to get at least ten people's names in the hat.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday giveaway: The New Quarterly, winter, 2012

The latest issue of The New Quarterly (winter, 2012) featuring one of the chapters from The Juliet Stories. ie. your chance to get a sneak preview

Okay, friends, let's give the giveaway a shot. So, I'll offer up a prize, interested readers comment below, and a week from today (Jan. 27) we'll have a draw and announce a winner. Sound like a plan?

Yesterday I visited The New Quarterly's office and picked up copies of their latest issue. The New Quarterly is a local literary magazine with pedigree and staying power. They've published award-winning Canadian talent like Annabel Lyon, Erin Noteboom Bow, Douglas Glover, Stephen Heighton, Russell Smith, Diane Schoemperlen, Rebecca Rosenblum, and Andrew Pyper, to name just a few. A recent issue offered an interview with one of my favourite writers, ever, Alice Munro. Their issues frequently sell out.

Over the years, I've been blessed to be a part of the magazine, starting in 1991 when they published two poems that I wrote as a sixteen-year-old angst-ridden word-happy big-dreaming high school student. That kind of encouragement makes a huge difference in a developing writer's life, let me tell you. It was the beginning of a long relationship. And their winter 2012 issue, freshly mailed and on its way to bookstores, includes a chapter from The Juliet Stories. Here is your chance to get a sneak preview of the book, which won't be available until March.

The New Quarterly has offered me a copy of this latest issue to give away on my blog. Now, I'm a newbie at giving things away, but I like the idea. Heck, I'll throw in a copy of my first book Hair Hat for good measure. Why not.

(Speaking of giveaways, Goodreads is giving away ten advance reading copies of The Juliet Stories. And my husband has launched a website called "Help Make Carrie's Book a Bestseller," (hey, we can hope!), which will also be giving away prizes to participants. Consider joining.)

Aaaaand. Enough with the giveaways. To sum up: Prizes -- The New Quarterly's winter 2012 issue and a signed copy of Hair Hat. Comment below to enter. Deadline Friday, January 27th, noon.


It's Friday, the kids are home from school, the sun is shining, there is snow on the ground, and here I am. Wondering: will I write more of The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm today? My kids are wondering too. AppleApple keeps asking for chapter four. Truth is, it's been a scrambled week crammed with conversations and variety and plans and a whole lot of dashing thoughts and activities. Amidst the scramble I've yet to find a way to settle and sit and focus my mind and find words. But I still have all afternoon.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This is today's happy post

My brother Los in his studio

Today was a good day. I want to remember that despite the grousing contained my previous post. Sometimes I need a grumble -- just get it out of my system.

But today was a good day.

Today I recorded two new songs. And for the second song, I played the French horn. My brother just happened to have a horn sitting there in his studio (you can see the case on the couch behind him). A loan from a friend's parents. It's a nice horn, too, a double horn in good working condition. I haven't played horn since I was 18. That was, oh, awhile ago. Could I still make it make music? Well, yes and no. I'm no professional musician and never was. But the fingering came right back and I was playing a scale before I knew it. It didn't sound half bad.

I was fooling around on the horn while Karl ("Los" is his nickname) was playing back my piano for the second song, and the horn was well-suited to the key I'd used, so I started playing along. Then we thought we'd record a bit and see if any could be used. So that was really fun. Really out of the ordinary. A treat. Music is sweet.

Also sweet: it looks like two or three of these songs are going to be made available on The Juliet Stories e-book, or as part of the e-book purchase. But that means we've got a deadline. Hence, today's studio session, smack-dab in the middle of a whirling snowstorm.

This is today's grumpy post

My brother Los at his studio

It's only been a day, but I've missed tapping away at my blog. Yesterday, I had a sick kid home and was operating on interrupted sleep. In the afternoon, I looked after an extra child. There were piano lessons. Supper was prepped and eaten somewhere in there. I can't recall having lunch.

This week at Tuesday evening gym-time soccer (remember that?) I only had one extra child, so I took along my notebook and desk calendar and got busy. Topic: TIME ALLOTMENT. A friend had sent me a useful article earlier in the day (skimmed on my BB during swim lessons) that made me ask: How am I choosing to spend my hours? What if this crazy squeezed schedule is not a blip, but the new norm? If that happens to be the case, I need to set some boundaries and get some organizational strategies in order. Case in point: zero time this week for The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Which I happen to think is an exciting project on which I should be spending some significant proportion of my writing time.

Do I still have writing time? Or is it all getting lumped into "work," with writing getting lost amidst the jumble.

So I sat in the noisy gym and made a list. Partly, I attempted to understand how much time I'm spending on Facebook, Twitter and email, and how much these are interrupting my work versus being useful tools. I also attempted to get a grasp on my projects currently underway, and which are one-offs versus those that are ongoing. I consider my blog ongoing. I don't write it because I have to write it. I write it because I want to write it, and it's now part of my writing life. Ergo, time for blogging/photos-related-to-blogging ideally happens every day.

Same with the long-term book projects, like The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Every day work. If not every day, then two full days a week set aside to work on it.

That's a lot of time. Yesterday slipped away without doing either of the above long-term projects. Instead, I played and sang in preparation for this morning's studio session, and I ticked items off my to-do list. One-off items, you might say. Useful, but there was no time for anything else.

Today feels much the same, if for different reasons. Necessary errands. And studio time. And now school is almost out and children will be coming home, and supper needs to be made, plus several phone calls, and there's soccer tonight, and I've got an event to attend this evening at which I will attempt to look professional and not in the least bit scrambled. Good luck, Mama. Or, more like it: breathe, Mama. Breathe. Breathe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Listen up y'all

Yesterday, I pretended to be a commuter: so this is what it would be like, dressing appropriately, brushing one's hair, and slogging down the highway to the big city. Yesterday, I met with my publisher, the House of Anansi, one of the last free-standing Canadian independent publishing houses. Their office is large and bright and the hallways are lined with--you guessed it--bookshelves. I enjoyed imagining Juliet occupying space beside other Anansi authors like Rawi Hage and Lynn Coady.

Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan and publicist Kate McQuaid (yes, I took my camera along too)

The meeting was to discuss publicity plans for The Juliet Stories. Ah, the many stages of making a book. So I wrote a book, so I found a publisher, so it's going to print. What now? Indeed. What now is publicizing the book's existence and asking people to read it, and the next few months will find me absorbed in that pursuit. It's a real change of pace, that's for sure. And one hopes it will be a positive change of pace, as my book and I head out into the (largely indifferent) world to make connections. The glass-half-empty part of me made me add the paranthetical aside. Yes, that parenthetical voice hangs out in my head, mostly around 3 o'clock in the morning, but I'm working on suppressing her. Except part of me thinks a hairline of cynicism can be useful too; keeps me honest.

My publicist, Kate, says she hopes this stage will be a happy time, a celebration of all the work that's gone into making the book what it is; the glass-half-full part of me agrees. Here's the thing: Writers are not generally outgoing extroverts. That's why we're good at sitting for many longs hours with only our thoughts for company. Once upon a time, the mere idea of meeting new people overwhelmed me with conversational paralysis. But I've got a decade of motherhood under my belt, a decade of meeting a whole lot of new people--and learning how to ask for things on behalf of my kids, how to demand space and attention when needed, how to listen, how to assess situations quickly, how to problem solve on the fly, how to communicate clearly, how to pinpoint the crux of an issue, how to juggle different needs at the same time, how to be okay with not pleasing everyone. It's been eight years since my first book came out. Eight years. I'm ready to meet and greet and talk and throw a party or two. Thank you parenthood. I think I can handle this.

Out of our meeting emerged a few things I can share with you right away.

News, news, news

**Goodreads is giving away 10 advance reading copies of The Juliet Stories. All you have to do is visit here, and click on "enter to win"; (you probably need to be a Goodreads member too). Please spread the word.

**Also spread the word about the new Facebook page dedicated to all things Juliet. If you are a Facebook user, you can "like" the page and let your friends know about it too. (I always put Facebook "like"s into quotation marks, which basically gives it the opposite meaning, but you know, you're welcome to actually like the page too).

**If you're in Toronto, I will be reading at the Harbourfront reading series on March 7.

**News on the local launch party coming soon.

What else?

**Oh, yes, another reminder about Thursday night's launch of Storywell at Whole Lotta Gelata in uptown Waterloo, 7-9. This is a free event for writers, interested writers, editors, etc. I will be there. Being all extroverted and talking to my cup of gelato. Or possibly to you, if you come too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The week in suppers

cookie square
**Monday's menu: Curried squash soup (crockpot). Cornbread. Cabbage salad.
**Ho-hum: Should have stuck with my sweet potato coconut recipe, because this new version was less pleasing. Not bad, just not fab.
**Happy crunching: A few of us must have been craving a mid-winter veggie crunch, because the cabbage salad was very popular. Chopped cabbage with grated rutabaga and carrot in a lemon dressing.

**Tuesday's menu: Red mexican beans. Baked rice. Tortillas. Cheese. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Super-flash turnaround: The food was prepped and waiting for us when we raced through the door at approximately 5:15. We ate tortillas stuffed with rice, beans and cheese in about ten minutes flat between swim lessons and soccer. It wasn't pretty. Everyone required a second supper when we all returned home around 8pm.

**Wednesday's menu: Rice pilaf (crockpot). Leftover cabbage salad.
**Epic meltdown: The mixing of leftover rice into cooked lentils in order to create the finished pilaf sent our youngest into full-on suppertime revolt. His revolutionary chant went something like this: "Not mixed together! PLAIN! Not mixed together! PLAIN!" He had to be removed from the table temporarily, until the revolt was quelled, though he never did try the pilaf, which was generally accepted by everyone else as satisfactory vegetarian fare.

Thursday's menu: Chili. Steamed brown rice. Leftover squash soup. Kale chips.
**Hello leftovers: Chili made of leftover beans, plus corn and roasted red pepppers from the freezer. One child preferred the squash soup.
**Rice fail: Should have baked it in the oven. Used the stovetop so the oven would be free for the kale chips, and the brown rice took much longer than anticipated. And was the consistency of porridge. Ugh.
**Mini-recipe: Kale chips. I used Smitten Kitten's recipe as inspiration (kale chip recipes practically infect the internet, all with different baking times, oven temps, and methods; allow me to add to the epidemic). Method: Rip kale leaves into chip-size portions (minus the thick stems). Wash and dry in a salad spinner (just because it's easy). Toss in a big bowl with 1-2 tbsp olive oil and salt to taste (1 tsp is way too much!). I added 1 tsp of red wine vinegar to make salt-and-vinegar kale chips. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300 for 20 minutes or until crispy. You're looking for a crispy almost translucent chip that reminded my kids of seaweed (which they love). This is far and away the best use for kale I've yet to discover, though it did taste best fresh out of the oven--delicious and salty and melting on the tongue. Liked by two out of four children and two out of two adults.

**Friday's menu: Pizza night at church. I made a sour cherry/plum crisp to share.
**Because Mama doesn't love pizza: My bedtime snack was a feast of pita bread, hummus with hot sauce, carrots, and pickled dilly beans. And a glass of white wine. Then I fell asleep while watching a movie with Kevin. Sigh. Friday night.


**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four litres of yogurt. Chocolate sunflower cookie squares. (Opening photo--and hey it looks like a real food blog photo, doesn't it?!).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cracks in the plans

This week has not been the easiest. We're halfway through January and already I'm seeing cracks in my new year's plans. My hip creaks (literally) and I need a training plan that will accomodate returning me to injury-free status (no long runs for a little while? I'm ever so slightly panicked at the thought). I haven't taken a Sunday photo today. The weekends are proving more packed than anticipated. I sense the dropping of many balls. I'm probably dropping several right now as I sit and type in my dark office instead of heading for the dinner table.


And I'm back. Decided to head for the dinner table when the cries for Mommy grew too strident. They need me at the dinner table. I need to be there too, catching what's falling, in touch with the many moods.

And there are many moods. Disappointments to walk alongside. Hopes. Plots and plans. Energy that might be silly and outrageous or emptied out and low. Sadness. Grumpiness. Sibling unkindness. Siblings racing around and egging each other into greater and greater goofiness.

Tonight my mind is occupied, too, by tomorrow's publicity meeting tomorrow with Anansi. I hope to return with good news to share, and good energy to share, too. I'm entering into a new stage of this book's life, and I have very little control over what happens next: how the book is received. It's a tough stage for me. How to let go? How to be graciously accepting, no matter what? How not to dwell or muddle or worry or fret? There may not be an easy answer. Sometimes just gutting through is the only answer I've got.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Window on writing

I've been reading Charles Foran's biography of Mordecai Richler. It's a fat book and I'm not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I'm deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer--the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That's what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters--the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.

Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. "By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists..." [my emphasis]

Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?

What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, "to hustle, do what was required. ... Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets." Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it's not the nicest personality, is it? It can't really be. You can't worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?

(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don't think so, though traditionally it's been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).

One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: "Often I think I don't like or dislike writing, it's just something I've got to do."

I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.


This week has been a flurry. There's a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I'm keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.

I'm okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I'm doing what I want to do. No, you know, it's even more amazing than that: I'm doing what I've got to do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Word of the year

"there was such a moon"

I cheated. This year, I've claimed two words. My word-of-the-year friends were skeptical at first, but I swear I saw this online somewhere and it's allowed. (Are there actual formal rules and guidelines for word-of-the-year? I suppose it is right there in the title, singular, not plural).


My word of the year is work/play.

It was going to be work. Work grabbed me and shook me and said, hey you, this year, you're going to focus on me. And I replied, sounds good, I'd like that. So I walked around with Work for a week or more, quietly testing it out and accepting it as my word. Except it didn't seem complete all by its rigorous demanding lonesome. That's when Play jumped into the mix. Hi there, remember me?

Here's the thing: in my world, in my being, Work comes naturally. Work is Play. I am easily obsessed by the completion of goals. I like to do things. I throw myself in really deep and sometimes get lost inside of Work. Yes, I want this year to be about Work--about Working, to be precise. But I need to strive for some balance. I need to seek out Play, too, accept it when it comes knocking at my door.

For me, Play is sometimes more like Work. Not always, not precisely, but let me put it this way: I will beeline for my office at the mere suggestion that there's work to be done; it takes more effort, more convincing, to call me outside to play. Sad but true. It is also true that I could not create what I do without going outside to play. So my work stands to suffer and stagnate without making room, taking time, clearing space, to leap into the spontaneous, the adventuresome, the just plain fun.

One of my word-of-the-year friends told me I should make a "Playlist" (nice!). On the spot, I couldn't come up with much. Ask me for a Worklist and I'll get down to business. But what's on my Playlist? Truthfully, I don't know yet. Surprise me, Playlist. (For some reason, horseback riding was the one thing that leapt immediately to mind).

I also aim to combine Work and Play this year. They don't have to stand in opposition to one another. Where do these words align, in my life and yours?

Yesterday held a satisfying mix of work/play. I ran with a friend before dawn; served breakfast, plus made supper in the crockpot; got everyone out the door; napped for 20 minutes; worked on a new song at the piano for half the morning and worked at my desk for the other half; picked up my youngest from nursery school; ran errands; ate lunch; squeezed in a little more writing time while he watched a movie (and no, I won't apologize for the tactic); picked up the girls early from school for their piano lessons; visited with a friend who works at the same place the girls have their lessons; arrived home to finish making supper and hang laundry; parented some bad meal-time behavior; headed out for supper with my siblings, within walking distance; picked up Albus and walked him (almost all the way) home from his piano lesson; walked to meet with friends over tea to talk about word-of-the-year; and finally, at the end of the day, spent time with Kevin.

I was going to try to categorize each item above as either work or play or work/play, but realized I'm not sure where everything falls. Serving breakfast to my kids can be really fun when we're all talking together; or it can be a real chore when I'm hungry too and everyone's grumpy and wants something different and we discover homework that still needs doing, etc. I also realized that there isn't really room for the critical element of "rest" within work/play. I'm not going to add a third word. But it's there, lurking behind the scenes. The lack of it gets in the way of both work and play. I don't care to focus on it, but hope to get enough of it, both mental and physical, this year. (Play seems like mental rest, though, doesn't it?).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hope for the best (the meltdown version)

I was hoping for the best yesterday. Good to stay optimistic. Also good to set expectations LOW to MIDDLING. Yesterday, swim lessons began again, plus soccer, plus more soccer. The unpromising start to swim lessons included bringing the wrong bathing suit for Fooey (much much too large--her sister's, in fact), and CJ declaring he would NEVER duck his head under the water. ("Just tell the teacher no thank you," I advised. "But the teacher ALWAYS wants me to." "I get that. Just tell her no thank you, not today." "NOT EVER!") This led to full meltdown on the pool deck. Somehow, two kind lifeguards hauled him off me and got him into the pool. "Go! Give us five minutes!" By the time I got up to the seating area, he was fine. So fine, you'd never have guessed he'd recently been in full mutiny. We ended this fine opening swim session by losing one child's underpants. Found later in her pocket to everyone's amusement.

Remember how I'd planned to read to the little kids during AppleApple's soccer time? Turned out it was in a school gym, with loud music pumping--more of an aerobic workout than a soccer practice. The girls had a blast, including Fooey. Meanwhile, ever-jolly CJ made me cover his ears basically the entire time. We couldn't read anyway. Too loud. This is not a problem easily solved. No brilliant brainwaves came to mind as I contemplated another ten weekly sessions in this gym, staring at the little Canadian flag pinned to the wall, watching a bunch of lively girls leaping joyfully, whilst trying to remain compassionate toward a constantly-complaining three-year-old. Nope, not seeing the bright side.

At the end of that, we drove across town to pick up Albus and Kevin, who were at a different indoor field for their soccer practice (one-car family, remember?). CJ spent the opening minutes lying on the floor declaring life not worth living (to summarize), or at least not worth living given the lousy choice in snacks his mother had brought. Finally, I found a candy cane in my pocket. This proved to be "too spicy," but worked as distraction. AppleApple got some playing time with the boys' team; we all went in to watch. Fooey picked artifical grass. CJ complained about not having a ball to kick.

Basically, CJ is at a stage/age where he can effortlessly suck the fun out of just about any situation. For example, grocery store this afternoon. CJ in full tantrum seated in the cart wailing over and over the touching phrase: "Multi-coloured mini-marshmallows!" My skin must be elephant-thick by now, and thank heavens. Nothing draws the gaze of passersby like a screeching three-year-old kicking the sidewalk and declaring his lower legs--yes, the lower legs, to be specific--"too tired!" to go on. I'm not saying all gazes are critical. Some are closer to pitying, some to gratitude--thank God that's not me. Which is admittedly how I feel now when I hear a tiny infant wailing from inside a baby carrier. I know the mother's pain--how the baby is probably hungry and wants to nurse and she's pulling a toddler by the hand and they just need to get this one final errand run, please, please, please just make it baby.

This too shall pass, in other words.
This too shall pass.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Light and quick (plus news)

Today I feel overwhelmed. Not by emotion, but by the sheer volume of tasks and appointments and activities, and by trying to keep on top of it all. My google calendar and desktop calendar and beside-the-phone calendar are all working overtime. I keep emailing my husband with more info, more FYIs. At spin class, to which I dragged my aching legs this morning, one of the instructor's favourite calls of encouragement is: Get on top of it! But as soon as you're on top, you're spinning back down and around again. Faster and faster.

I've already decided to drop my daily food photo. With early exercise and school and work and making supper before eating breakfast, there is no time to style a plate of leftovers in order to catch the best morning light (see above: waffles, so pretty on Sunday morning). And it can still be a weekend project, aiming for two photos/week.

Back to spin class. I used to hate the fast spins: light and quick. I preferred the seated climbs, digging down, adding resistance, slowing the legs, basically pushing weight with my muscles. But the faster my legs spun around, the more out of control I felt. Here's what I've figured out: the more engaged my core, the faster I can spin. With that central stability to hold me steady, my legs can whirl faster and faster while staying in control. I'm learning to like light and quick.

So what is holding me steady as my life begins to spin again, faster and faster? What's at the core? What brings me joy and energy and determination--and stability? A bunch of thoughts jump to mind.

* family
* friends
* time alone in a quiet house
* sleep
* exercise
* dreaming
* goals
* connections
* routine
* little adventures
* sharing
* creating
* feeding

None of these are going to be my word of the year (to be revealed later this week, after I've shared it with my word-of-the-year partners). But there has to be room within the crazy for all of these things. It might mean finding space in the midst of the hurry. It might mean turning inconveniences into opportunities. For example, this afternoon we go from swimming to a soccer practice. Swimming's for all the kids, but soccer practice is just for one girl; in other words, the little kids have to be dragged along. This could go badly. Bored kids, tired mom. Or it could turn into quiet time spent together, doing things we don't always have time for: snuggling and reading while we wait. That's my plan. I can hope for the best, as Albus would say.


News! On the work-related front!

**I've seen the full cover for Juliet, and the book is being sent to print later today(!!).
**Next week I'll head into Toronto to plan publicity with Anansi.
**This week I'm working on a web site to promote the book.
**Last night I sat in my office and listened to the first mix of the song I wrote and recorded for one of my characters in Juliet--my brother, who is a professional musician and producer, did the recording and production. I'm hoping to find some way to connect the two mediums.
**And today I am going to spend my writing time with The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm.

**Also, as some of you may already know, I've signed on as an editor/writer for Storywell, a new local business that launches on January 19th. If you live locally, and you are interested in writing, please mark your calendars (desktop, google, beside-the-phone) and come out. Info below. Spread the word.

Monday, January 9, 2012


It's almost time to talk about my word of the year for this year to come.

But first I want to reflect on the word I chose last year. It was HEART. Not a word you want to come across too often in a collection of poetry lest you begin to suspect the poet of being a) in need of a thesaurus; or b) someone who missed her calling as a composer of greeting cards. Yup. It's a word with the potential to be shallow, sentimental, Valentine-shaped. And yet it's also a word with muscle, quite literally. And that is how I used the word (or how it chose to be used by me) this past year.

When I chose HEART, I was thinking of yoga's chest-opening exercises, of being more open and more loving and kind. But instead I found myself, over and over again, thinking of the noun, of my actual pumping heart. This past year I made my heart work harder than it ever has before. I asked it to power me through training and races at distances I'd never imagined enduring. And my heart adapted. I don't know the mechanics of long-term training, but somehow over many months my body became more efficient at moving and using oxygen. When I began training, I didn't know what endurance really meant; all I knew was that I didn't have it. Over the course of the past year, I learned that endurance is mostly about the ability to recover quickly. In fact, as I've experienced it, endurance means many quick recoveries amidst ongoing hard effort. This is best understood in the context of a race, but if you're a naturally competitive person, like I am, you'll get a taste for it during every run, every swim, every bike ride. It means feeling spent, and discovering another layer of strength.

All of which also means that my word of the year was taken awfully literally. And that wasn't what I'd intended.

Surely there's a cliche in here somewhere, something we could put on a poster, perhaps? Yes, if I dig just a little deeper, I think there is. Because it came to me this morning that while strengthening my literal HEART, I learned about courage. I learned to see myself as courageous (on a small scale), capable of enduring despite momentary doubt or pain; and that in turn gave me courage--to dream bigger, push harder, attempt more, and above all, to trust myself. I may feel spent--speaking metaphorically--but if instead of giving up or giving in to the feeling I let myself breathe for a moment, I will find another layer of strength. How often do I feel discouraged? Tired? Doubtful? Uncertain? These are every day emotions. They aren't necessarily enormous or overwhelming, but even on a small scale, anxiety or doubt can nibble away at resolve. To live a full life, I want to take chances, to push the pace, to try things I've never tried before. I want to answer that voice in my head that is whispering "Can I do this??" with "I don't know, but I'm going to try."

I might fail. I might run out of steam and stagger across the finish line. It might not work out this time. But if I've tried, I've learned more than if I hadn't.

That's where HEART took me this year. So I suppose it has been an opening exercise.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The week in suppers: a new year

**Monday's menu: Mac and cheese baked with ham. Leftover Chinese takeout.
**Because: Kevin was in charge today. Mac and cheese with ham was a meal specifically requested for a holiday treat.
**What I ate: Warmed up soup and leftover tofu and broccoli over rice. I don't like mac and cheese. See, we accomodate many preferences at our table.

**Tuesday's menu: Baked potatoes. Green bean hash.
**Bonus: We actually had sour cream as a topping for the potatoes (we usually use yogurt) because we'd gotten sour cream to go with chips and dip on New Year's. Turns out only me and AppleApple like sour cream. Lucky us.
**The side: The green beans were ho-hum. But it's my fault for buying green beans out of season. They were tough. This is the problem with local eating: one gets spoiled by the real deal, and the imported stuff does not pass muster. So it's back to beets and cabbage.

**Wednesday's menu: Kids at at grandma's house. Parents ate at a movie theatre.
**Why? The occasion was a sleepover at grandma's, which the parents celebrated by going to a yoga class together (seriously), and then out to a movie (The Descendents; not cheery). We got panini sandwiches and ate them in the theatre. A pretty good date.
**Next time: Choose a more light-hearted film.

**Thursday's menu: Risotto. Roasted squash.
**Uh-oh factor: I used nearly 3 cups of raw rice to make what looked like a massive cast-iron pan of utterly delicious risotto (with onions, garlic, turkey stock, wine, butter, grated parmesan, salt and pepper). Our eldest was at another sleepover. Our youngest thought it was yucky. Our second-youngest ate soup instead. The rest of us ate the entire pan of risotto. Vanished. Scary. Next time I'll have to use four cups of raw rice.
**Happy daughter: This meal was AppleApple's request for a special holiday meal. I don't make it unless I'm blessed with extra time. It's stand-and-stir cooking. But oh so insanely good. Thank you, Italy.

**Friday's menu: Sweet and sour chicken in the crockpot. (Actually leftover turkey). Steamed rice. Cabbage salad with tamari dressing.
**Finally: A Side! AppleApple and I could not stop eating it. Guess we were starved for the crunch of cabbage.
**The end: That's the last of the leftover turkey. I've got a few parts frozen to make stock, but we shall soon be back to all-veggie meals once again. Perhaps with the exception of "cooking with kids" when we will allow the kids to cook with meat if they so chose.


**Weekend cooking accomplishments: Eight loaves of bread (double batch), plus homemade pizza on Saturday. Good enough.

**Cooking with kids (Sunday night): Albus's turn. (pictured above)
**On the menu: Garlic bread. Meat lasagne. Cababage salad with cooked dressing. Plus sparkling cider to drink.
**Reviews: Excellent.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bedtime snack: the legal and binding agreement

bedtime snack agreement
Ah, the dreaded Bedtime Snack. Arriving so soon after supper that I was often still elbow-deep in dishwater. Demands for variety, for a veritable menu of choices. Each child requesting something different. Spoons and bowls and crumbs and complaints. The growing suspicion that bedtime snack had become a more important meal, for some, than supper itself. Something had to give.

This was Kevin's solution.

I didn't post it immediately upon signing because I wanted to see whether or not it would stick. It didn't entirely work over Christmas, what with the endless parade of eating and the crazy party hours we were keeping. But it's been working pretty smoothly on more ordinary evenings.

Here is the full text:

This agreement is between "The Parents" and "The Kids"
Whereas, The parents agree to provide a substantial supper, NOTWITHSTANDING inedible suppers, the kids agree to receive a bedtime snack with no plate including but not limited to Apple slices and carrot sticks.
This agreement supercedes all previous agreements.
Signed at WATERLOO Dec. 21, 2011.

Aside from revealing my husband's predeliction for random capitalization and punctuation (and the fact that I, his loving wife, will not let such things just pass by), the agreement highlights several important points: 1. no dirtying dishes post-supper 2. eat your supper 3. inedible means actually inedible not merely inedible in one person's opinion.

For the past number of evenings, we've been snacking on apple slices and carrot sticks between episodes of Modern Family, which everyone in our house loves equally. Occasionally a cookie is thrown into the mix (no plate, ergo acceptable snack). We've even had several blissful evenings, post-supper, when all of the children have worked together with the parents to clear the table, help with the dishes, tidy the living-room and countertops, and vacuum--all in anticipation of the reward of sitting together as a family to watch Modern Family episodes.

We've never been a TV family, but there's something so deeply pleasurable about sharing downtime together. We work together, then we get to hang out together. There's a real connection to be made between effort and reward; and best of all, the work and responsibility is shared out, as in the snack agreement, not dumped on one or two in service to the rest. I don't know whether this marks a lasting change--whether it will survive the return to routine and busyness--but let us hope so (or as Kevin might write let Us hope so). Because it's been brilliant.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sweet Keeper

A sweet keeper is a squash (did you know that? extra points for you).

Here's another sweet keeper.

Write to me in poetry

How about a post with no photos of food or flowers?

I'd like you to meet Sheree Fitch. She is a Canadian writer, an author of many books for children, young adults, and adults too. And though I only know her virtually, her wit and energy and radiant spirit bubble off the page and out through the screen as vividly as if she were right here. Over Christmas, my little kids got a kick out my performance of her picture books Mabel Murple and There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen--I read them standing up because Sheree's books are filled with words that whirl and spin and ask a reader to throw herself in. You'll see what I mean when you read the poem below. Sheree wrote it in response to my recent post on the quotation,"Who begins too much accomplishes little," and when I asked, she said I could share it here.

This is the first response I've ever received in POETRY! I love it. Yes, Blogland can be a most delightful world in which to dwell.

‎(once you begin


get dizzy from the busy

let the outside in

the world whirls on

while the moon


its munificent lopsided grin )

simply discombobulating
jumbled up and mumbling
topsy turvy tumbling
tipsy tummy tied in knots
swivelling like anything
ab-soul- utely apple carted downside up
simply discombobulating
jumbled up and mumbling
topsy turvy tumbling
teetertottery hurray

(Inspired by ......... http://carrieannesnyder.blogspot.com/2012/01/who-begins-too-much.html)

- by Sheree Fitch

Thank you, Sheree! (I'd like to hear you read it.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Read the manual

Let me summarize what I learned yesterday. Mostly about taking photos.

1. Read the camera manual. Why not? It will cost you a mere fifteen minutes of your morning and you've owned the damn camera for [whispered] two years.

2. Depth of field. Look look look, it's my blooming plants against a backdrop of window and beyond!

3. Compare the two photos. Can you spot the difference? This one is nice too, but this is what all my photos looked like before today. Apparently, my camera's aperture was auto-set to create a shallow depth of field. Who knew?

4. Now I can do what I once thought impossible: take pictures of condensation on windows even in brilliant sunlight. Just gotta slooooooowwwww doooooowwwwnnnn that shutter speed.

5. As all three photos of our living-room windows painfully put on display, housecleaning is not my calling. Have pity and wash us, they cry. In voices too spotty to be heard.

6. This post is getting downright silly, but wait until you see the next photo. That will sober us all up.

7. Hungry? Thought not. And this was the best food photo of the day. Green bean hash if you're wondering. Recipe not included. Yesterday's food photography attempt taught me mostly what not to do. Don't attempt to photograph food in artificial light. It gets dark early; photographing supper should really go on hold for a few months in favour of lunch or breakfast. Or mid-morning snacks. Also, don't go for candid in food photography. You know, don't start eating supper, then hop up and decide to photograph it. Trust me on this one.

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8. Everything I don't know! Buckets and buckets! I've got a shallow depth of field when it comes to this subject and I'm not too proud to admit it. Practice seems the best route to remedy that. Blog readers may be in for more flower photos than they should reasonably be expected to tolerate. (This one's an orchid). Please accept my apologies. And some nice flowers to go along with them.

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9. Finally, most importantly: What pleases my eye? Do I know? (For example, is this photo, unedited out of my camera, a touch too dark, or does it please, with what light there is catching the fingertips?) On automatic settings the camera tells me what to admire in terms of light and shadow, temperature and tone. On manual settings I have to puzzle beauty out for myself. You might call it the perfect challenge.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Who begins too much?

Found this German saying in the newspaper this morning: "Who begins too much accomplishes little."

Uh oh. Is that me? As I woke at 5am, churned away at spin class, got home, ate breakfast, threw laundry in washer, thought about working on the writing project I'm developing, checked email instead, received message on how to use my camera better, spent next hour and a half playing with camera settings and taking random photos around the house, finally sat down at desk to work and started a new blog post. This one.

All the while, this is my morning to work while Kev hangs out with the kids. ie. my time is limited! And what have I done? Is it my habit to dart from project to project, from activity to activity, never fully developing the potential of any?

Maybe my word of the year should be focus. Or choose. Or limits.

Ugh. I don't want a word like that. I want to do too many things. Not just do them, but master them, become expert at them. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

(Yes it is, at least all at once, if experience is any guide.)

But everything in me wants to deny it. Wants to embrace the opportunities, chase all interests, learn with a hungry and curious mind.

Look at it this way:

**This morning I challenged my body and put in time and effort toward racing goals this summer.

**This morning I ate breakfast with my kids.

**This morning I learned something new and useful: how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed settings on my camera manually, and what effect these previously mysterious numbers have on the outcome of the photos I take every day.

**This morning I recorded, briefly, where my mind is at.

**This morning I connected with friends in person and via email.

And now I am going to open a word processing file and spend an hour, **this morning, working on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Yup. My project in development is a story for children. I read the first chapter to my kids last night, and I think they'd like to hear another one. What could be more motivating?

Sorry, German saying. You're probably right, but I'm going with my manic energy this morning.


On a completely different note, this blog post titled "Read and Loved in 2011" by The Keepin' It Real Book Club reached out of the blue and touched me **this morning. Read it and see for yourself.

The week in suppers: festive edition # 2

Our fourth Christmas dinner!
**Monday's menu: Sweet potato coconut soup (crockpot). Turkey slices. Cranberries. Mashed potato stuffing. Broccoli. Bread and butter.
**Best-of-all: Mostly leftovers. Super easy. Changed plans early on and did not make turkey pot pies, though they would have been lovely. This was so much less stressful and left more time for visiting with Kevin's family who arrived from north of Kingston to spend a few leisurely days with us and to celebrate our FOURTH Christmas of the season. We're a lucky family.
**Happy chef: I put the soup in the crockpot first thing in the morning and instantly felt prepared for the day.

**Tuesday's menu: Hot and sour soup. Ham. Cranberrries. Sweet potato/apple stuffing. Middle-Eastern herbed rice stuffing. Creamed leeks. (pictured above)
**The occasion: Christmas feast number two. I love cooking! But even better, I love cooking for an appreciative audience (no offense, kids).
**If-I-do-say-so-myself: This meal was a FEAST. A beast of a feast. I need to post recipes for pretty much every single side. After having done a more traditional meal on Sunday, I decided to be adventurous. I called this meal theme: Around the World. The flavours covered a lot of geographical territory.

**Wednesday's menu: Supper out at a Pho restaurant. A treat from my mother-in-law. Delicious and no dishes!

**Thursday's menu: Ham and cheese melts for the kids. Dinner out at Uptown 21 for the parents (birthday treat).

**Friday's menu: Pasta. Red sauce with hamburger (yes, hamburger: local and organic and bought for the guests, but instead we went out for pho, see Wednesday's menu).
**Somewhat lacking: A side vegetable.
**Sad vegetarian observation: Hamburger tastes good.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Snow falling on resolutions

Resolutions. Do you make them? We went around the table last night and everyone had the chance to make a resolution for 2012. Not all cared to participate, but here's what we got:

**Albus resolved to finish his Perplexus game (at least it's not a video game), and buy two new ones and finish those too. (Inspiring ... sigh).

**AppleApple resolved to train for and complete a try-a-tri. Her dad wants to, too. We'll check age limits, but try-a-tris are short-distance triathlons with lengths I'm certain she could manage.

**In addition to the try-a-tri, Kevin resolved to dance more. He intends to practice with help from a wii game we played on New Year's Eve called Just Dance (we had a kid-oriented New Year's; very fun). I'm not sure whether a wii game will make him a better dancer, but it is good exercise. (Fooey said, "The best part is that you don't even have to have a wii remote--you can just dance!")

horizon in the snow
"all the little grains of snow," taken this morning, back porch

Today, I am pretending the holiday is over; Kevin is helping with that. Whenever the kids are off school or home sick, childcare coverage falls to me, and as I start both working more and wanting to take on more work the imbalance becomes more obvious. I'm thankful that Kevin came around to recognizing this himself, and offered, for this coming week, to share childcare and split the days. Today he's off anyway, so I get the full day. Friday I'd already arranged for babysitting in the morning, so he gets the full day. We're splitting the other days half and half. I'm already floating the idea of doing this for summer holidays too. Something's got to change this year.

I don't usually do resolutions because who knows what will come or how a year will change a person. But I love lists, and this is good place to start.

1. Share the childcare. Take on more work projects. Work more hours.

2. Explore work options. Take risks. Dabble. Whatever I do to fill my hours and earn money, may it be creative, and perhaps surprising.

3. Budget better. Needs no explanation. Kevin and I are already collaborating on this front.

4. Continue early mornings + exercise. On my race list this year (assuming no injuries): the 30km in Hamilton in March; another Olympic-length triathlon; another marathon; and maybe just maybe a half-Ironman triathlon. I'd also like to do another half and another 10km. But racing is expensive. See #3.

4b. (late addition) Stretch!!!! After all exercise. For at least five minutes.

5. Develop book ideas. Apply for grants. Write another book!


7. Practice photography. Use my eyes. Use my feet. Find new locations and subjects.

8. Make music. Write songs. Record.

9. Do everything I can do to continue to be "a good model" for my children. Be forgiving. Be kind. Seek to understand. Love.

10. Go bravely forth.

desert in the snow
"Desert in the snow," taken this morning, back porch.

*note: to see photos in full please click on them

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day of doing nothing, whatever that means

There, I've caught up on sleep for 2011.

The house is full of kids, a few extras just for fun, and we're spending the day doing NOTHING, whatever that means to each of us. For me, that means sleeping in, not cooking a thing, and playing with my brand new portrait lens. It was a surprise Christmas gift from Kevin and this morning was the first opportunity I've had to open it. Well, there were opportunities earlier, of course, but not an expanse of hours to do nothing but take photos. Which is how I've spent this morning and early afternoon.

Ideas for new photo projects bound into my brain. I'm so excited to have a lens that allows me to photograph food properly. I love my other lens, but it is meant for panoramas, lovely sweeps of moments, and not for close-ups. All I need now is a good flash and I'm set.

So here are my spontaneous probably over-the-top ambitious plans for photo projects, 2012:

Sunday self, version 2
1. Sunday self: a weekly self portrait. Daily is too onerous given the other projects (not just photo related) I'd like to complete this year.

2. 365 days of food: Photographing food is a special art, and not easily accomplished as anyone who's tried can tell you. It's difficult to make food look as appetizing as it tastes. There is no better way to learn a new skill than daily practice. Ergo, a daily food photo. I use them on my blog, so it's practical too. And I'm rolling around the idea for a cookbook project which would tie in very nicely.

3. Portraits of strangers; portraits of friends. Or husbands, as the case may be. This makes me nervous, but is definitely something I'm interested in working on. My friend Nancy would like to attempt, with me, a combined project that would involve photographing our mutual Facebook friends (we have about 34 in common, living as we do in the same 'hood). More on this to come, if anything comes of it.

Okay, about four hours just slipped away there as I organized my photo files and played with post-processing. Good grief, digital comes with some drawbacks. But I'm good now. I'm ready for the new year, and for the pile of new photos to come--with places for every one. Exciting.

Now to order take-out Chinese for supper. It's been an excellent, chip-eating, stormy weather, movie-watching, Just-Dance-playing, nothing-doing first day of the new year here at our house. Hope yours has been just as fine.