Monday, April 30, 2012

Swept along the beautiful river

mykids
my kids

Usually on Monday mornings, I post my "week in suppers." Today, I'm going to change the routine to honour where I'm at. Which is not to say I'm cooking no suppers. Suppers have been and will be cooked. But this has been an emotion-filled weekend. I'm not even sure where to place myself in the midst of the emotions and events. Am I observer? Participant? Witness? Conspirator?

On Saturday, parenting alone, I enjoyed the company of six children for part of the morning. I have difficulty describing how happy it makes me to be with my kids and their friends. To be part of their conversations. To listen to them relating. To laugh. To consult. To make plans together. And to allow myself to be swept along by their energy.

One of my closest friends lost her father on Saturday. He's been our neighbour for the past few years, too. Thinking about him as I drove across town to pick up my soccer girl, I thought about how life sweeps us along, and how we are both at the mercy of a greater current, and yet blessed to be a part of it. I sat in the parking lot and wrote the poem I posted here on Saturday (typed into my BlackBerry; first BB poem of my life, I must admit). Then I picked up my soccer girl, and watched her transform into piano girl -- and win a prize at a piano competition.

Piano and competition are two words that fit together rather uncomfortably. I considered my emotions as we listened to the competitors playing their songs, and I found myself disliking my instinct to contrast and compare rather than simply appreciate and celebrate. Nevertheless, to see my daughter rise to the occasion and play her song with imagination and flair, and then to see her rewarded with a ribbon ... it was such a joy. I kind of wonder at myself for taking so much pleasure from the achievement. Why should my pride be any greater for her winning than for her purely being willing to try, practicing, working hard, and performing her heart out? You know?

We stopped at home to get changed before going to Grandma's (where the other children already were). My friend called just then with the news of her dad's passing. "His spirit has left his body."

When I think about her dad, I remember a man who lived with an almost casual generosity. It was so much a part of his being. There was nothing forced about it, not like he had to remind himself that others needed caring for. Simply: he wanted to help, to be of help, and he did, and he was.

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I almost want to stop this post right here, but there's more. It was such a weekend. A big birthday party had been planned for Saturday night, and I was hosting it here at our house (hence the children off to Grandma's). With my friend Zoe in charge of vision and decorating, we transformed our house into a ... hm, how to describe it? Indian colours and food and music and bindis and a mehndi artist and hanging silks and mango lassies and women. It was a party of many layers. I've never cried at a party before -- good crying. I've never om-ed at a party before. I've never limboed under a platter of Indian funnel cakes, either. It was a beautiful night in honour of a beautiful friend.

By morning, the house was spotless (true story). I picked up my soccer girl and drove her to another game, and watched her play a position she never played even once last year: forward. I watched her make passes and chances and exciting runs and assist on a beautiful goal. And then I watched her play the second half in her usual position in net. She played the whole game with intensity, and such happiness. Pride doesn't cover my emotions.

When I brought all the kids home, we snuggled in our rearranged living-room (there are a lot of pillows on the floor right now). They watched a movie, I napped, they were all around me. And then Kevin arrived home from Ottawa, putting us all back together again.

So, you see, I spent a lot of the weekend on the sidelines, just watching and taking it all in, doing what needed doing, being of use, being present.

I have this feeling that life is filling me up. I might be here for awhile. When I'm full, it will be time to share and process and, maybe, who knows, to write another book.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Life is bigger

ivy1
A poem for this day


I am swept along
I am a still point in a river that will not quit its rushing
I am immersed in the world
I am blessed
I am not to understand everything and not to take anything
I am given to grace and place
I am sure as a branch and broken as a branch
I am breath and brilliance and calm
While I am, I am
With love with fierceness with the selfness of ongoing until
Gone
Burn in the water flame in the soil flicker in the darkness of a house at midnight
Steady on.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Telling tales

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Today I was here. Do you recognize this place? I took this photo in the atrium of the CBC building in downtown Toronto. I was at the CBC to record a "riff" for The Last Chapter, a book show that airs on CBC Radio. I have no idea when/if it will air. I'm glad it wasn't live. To be honest with you, I can't remember what the heck I actually said. I sat in my own little room with headphones on and answered questions into a microphone while a friendly producer smiled at me through the glass. I wondered, at one moment, whether she was giving me the sort of smile you'd give to a skittish horse or anxious child. As in, you're doing great! No really, you are! No really! The whole interview tilted in a direction that was personal; but that's that nature of the book that I wrote. I understand why readers are interested in those aspects of the book. I understand, but I'm not sure I'm qualified to talk about that part, at least not with any kind of objective perspective.

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Here's what I thought about after the interview. When I was writing the book, it felt like an entirely fictional creation. I couldn't even think of it as having any relation to my actual childhood experiences. But now, when I'm asked to reflect on the personal connections, I can see the many links between my actual experiences and what turned up on the page. It's complicated. And in writing about real experience, fictionalizing it, it's become muddled. Even in my memory. So much of what happens in the book -- the stuff of plot -- didn't happen. But then, so many little details were things I actually experienced. The wind through open car windows, driving through a cloud that had come down to the ground, playing on the flat roof of our house, bomb shelters at the school and just down our street, listening to grownups play and sing beautiful music, the sound of the ocean at night, and on and on.

My brothers had the chicken pox, and I didn't. We moved around the city, much like the Friesens do. We attended the same schools.

Yet when I was writing it, I didn't see my own family in these places and circumstances, I saw the Friesens. I didn't want to write about my own family, and my own circumstances. That's why I invented the characters. But I see how wound together the real and the invented became in the telling. I think it may have been wiser to say, as Alice Munro would have, that I made everything up. I did. But not from scratch. Maybe it was like making bread from a sourdough starter. The bubbling beginnings were there.

radiocarrie

Anyway, that's what I "riffed" about, though I suspect much less coherently, in a studio in Toronto today. And they recorded it. And who knows what they'll take out of it. Ever feel like you're swimming further from shore than you meant to go? I felt that way today.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

People behaving badly (or not)

A quick post on a busy day. First, must let you know about an event taking place tomorrow evening, at which I will be reading: at The Silver Spoon in Kitchener, and I'll be going on around 7:45/8pm. (I probably won't be behaving too badly, however, contrary to the poster's title. Which could be a disappointment, I realize.)

I'd also like to direct you to a few finds online.

:: A great review of What We Talk About When We Talk About War, by Noah Richler (once-upon-a-time, my boss). Reviewed by Kerry Clare at Pickle Me This. Very thoughtful.

:: Today, on the main page of the 49th Shelf, my list of "books that made me want to write."

:: And, in honour of poetry month, a wonderful poem by a Canadian poet, Amanda Jernigan, who is making waves, and was just nominated for a major award. I wasn't familiar with her work, but immediately loved this poem. It's called Catch.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

sunface2

"My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more ..."

That's my tagline, which you can read in full to the right of this post. In practice, it means integrating work with life. Work isn't over here, and life over there; ideas are everywhere, experiences intermingle. It means conversations about deep things grabbed in passing. It means discussing story ideas over supper. It means writing about things that matter to me; or finding ways to make the things I'm writing about matter more.

I think it can be a confusing way to live. It's next to impossible to keep things in balance. But maybe that's coming at it from the wrong angle. Maybe balance is not so important; maybe what matters is throwing yourself in to whatever you're doing, at any given moment, and being there.

It's not about ticking boxes, or trying to fill the columns evenly.

Into what column would I file running? And how would I categorize photographing the kids on a sunny afternoon? Watching a soccer game? Baking bread? Cleaning the bathroom? Writing a new song? Doing an interview? Leading a workshop?

Today's experiences include: spin class; preparing supper in the crockpot before breakfast; research; spending the afternoon with my four-year-old; conversations with friends; organizing my kids' running club; taking my daughter to soccer practice and going for a run; and stopping in at a city meeting about a parking garage planned for our neighbourhood that will block a bike trail.

I'm leaving a few things out. Deliberately. I'd like to blog about my current writing plans and projects, but the truth is that freelancing is a tricky business, not just in its feast or famine nature, but also because not everything comes to pass; or happens when, or as, you think it's going to happen.

But it's a solid day, in a week that looks to be packed as full as ever.

:::

A funny thing that happened on Saturday afternoon. I walked uptown to buy food, and stopped in at Words Worth Books. There at the front counter was The Juliet Stories. My first thought was, oh, that's nice, it's displayed right at the front. But then I realized it was stacked on a pile of unrelated books -- not part of a display, but about to be purchased. It was a "Wow! You're buying my book!" moment. When the customer discovered I was the author, a pen was found and I signed the book for her, right then and there. She was shopping with friends, and one of them ran to get a copy so I could sign it for her too. It was a little burst of excitement, all around.

And, see -- it fits in no particular column. Household chores? Check. Being a writer? Check. Wandering into a new, unplanned, and unusual experience? Check, check, and check.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The week in suppers: writing week

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popcorn for supper

**Monday's menu** Baked potatoes. Veggie sausages and burgers.
**Quick-swap** High winds knocked down a tree in our neighbourhood, which landed on electrical lines, which took out the power. Which prevented the potatoes from being baked, as planned. Kevin brought home veggie sausages and veggie burgers to throw on the grill instead. He also tried baking the potatoes on the grill, but these weren't done until late. The veggie burgers were fine, but the veggie sausages were declared next to inedible. Perhaps familiarity with the real thing does not endear the tastebuds to a masquerading soy product. Tough start to the week.

**Tuesday's menu** Grilled veggies and veggie burgers.
**Guests** This flexible (and familiar) menu, with the addition of leftover baked potatoes, fed a crowd. Albus invited friends to stay for supper -- I believe there were at least three extra at the table; AppleApple and I ate early and left for soccer practice. I was thankful Kevin was managing it all.

**Wednesday's menu** Curried beans in the crockpot. Baked rice.
**Highlight of the day** Teaching Kevin how to cook using the crockpot! His first time.
**Speaking of which** Highlights of the week: I loved how Kevin planned out the week's meals in advance, writing menus on the chalkboard. And he shopped for the ingredients. And he asked for help if he didn't know how to do something.

**Thursday's menu** Pasta with pesto. Salad.
**Easy-peasy** Kevin bought gnocchi, and used pesto I'd frozen from my last batch. I whipped up a salad dressing. Easy + popular.

**Friday's menu** Pizza. Veggies.
**Even easier-peasier** To finish off his week, Kevin went with take-out pizza. Add some raw cut-up veggies, and some friends, and call it a meal. Have another friend drop by with pakoras and samosas and call it dessert. Fun.

:::

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Waffles. Four loaves of bread.

popcorn1our vintage popcorn-maker

**Cooking with kids** Suspended in favour of running with kids, followed by gardening with kids. We went with fresh bread, popcorn, and apples instead. Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chessmates

chessmates
Sunday morning

My favourite free photo editing software (Picnik) has just gone offline forever. So I'm trying out Gimp. All I can say so far is: too many options!

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Spot the differences? I like the top one best. I think.

Photography has the ability to steal big chunks of my time. I can't decide if I mind; is it stealing time I could be using more productively? But I so enjoy doing it. A friend who's a photographer has pitched me on participating in a photo project I'm pretty excited about. (If this goes ahead, it will be the third photographer I've modelled/mused for in less than a year; new side career?) He also asked whether I ever print my photos. The answer is, embarrassingly, no. I print our family photos in one large batch, once a year, and stuff them into albums. But my experimental photos have never been printed. Not one. Maybe because I imagine them needing to be printed large, or printed on an unusual material, or printed as part of a larger project that I haven't wrapped my mind around (and quite possibly never will). Maybe because printing would seem too close to commitment, to being a final step in a process I'm not sure I'm close to figuring out. Maybe also because it would be an expensive experiment for an amateur. Maybe someday.

Maybe I'll always have a few too many pots on the stove.

Maybe that's okay. Maybe it's the simultaneous upside and downside of embracing a creative life.

And on that note, she departs to go outside and take more photos in the lovely afternoon light.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Family literacy

literacy1
w w w

While I've been holed up in the writing cave, my youngest has apparently learned how to write. On the back of this worksheet, which he coloured and filled out himself (you can see his Ws), he signed his name. Just because. Did I know he could sign his name? I did not. At least, not in clear easy-to-read lettering. He was a bit embarrassed by my praise. So he got to work dumping go-gos on the floor (those brightly coloured plastic figures you can see in the photo). Then he separated them into two piles, and counted them. Up to 27. Correctly. After which he separated and organized them by colour.

"I think your little brother is prettty smart," I said to Fooey, who glanced at me in puzzlement. "Of course he is," she said.

literacy2

Meantime, she was holed up under the counter -- reading.

:::

Writing week. Can I sum it up? I cannot, not with precision. It's been worthwhile, but not in the ways anticipated. I'm too superstitious (or realistic) to write in detail about the work done. But yes, work has been done. It's been a good week. I'm looking forward to the next intensive, scheduled for May.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blinking in the sunshine

burntshed
light beyond dark

I love seeing all the runners go by my window, more and more as the days get sunnier. There is one young woman who zooms past virtually every day at a kickass pace. (I kind of want to be her.) My office looks onto the street, and our street seems to be a popular route, though I can't imagine why; traffic is heavy and there's nowhere to run but the sidewalk. Personally I prefer running away to the park, and dashing around the grass and trails.

I've had a few excellent runs this week. Dare I say it? I'll whisper it. My hip feels back to normal.

Today is another sunny day. And my mind is sunny to match. It's been an up and down week. I made the mistake of trying to write intensively far too early into the book-visioning process. The funny thing was, I knew the problem before I began, knew that it couldn't possibly work, and yet ... I had to go through the experience to get it. I'm dumb like that. But I'm not sorry. Yesterday, I wrote for eight hours straight. It wasn't what I'd intended to write. But it was such a happy day. It reminded me why I write. I don't do this because I have to. I do this because I love to. Writing is my version of singing. It's my version of dancing. (Though I like singing and dancing too). It is, quite simply, the thing that I do best.

Yup, I'm going to keep doing it.

I've got ideas, though. Notions, plans, intentions, dreams. Maybe even a vision.

:::

This month, I've slowed down on the Juliet publicity front. Next month it gets all busy again. I'm enjoying the break, though I'm looking forward to crawling out of my cave and interacting with real people again. *Note to self: Remember to re-attach mouth to brain before exiting cave. Also, reacquaint self with basics of small-talk.

Here's what's coming up ...
:: May 15. 7pm. Indie Night at the Starlight in Waterloo! Heather Birrell, Robert Hough, my brother's press, plus a bunch of other writers, and me!
:: May 16. Type Books in Toronto! With Heather Birrell! (It's almost like we're going on tour together.) I've got the time roughed in as 6-9pm, but that sounds long. I'll get back to you.
:: May 27. 7pm. Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. More info to come on this event, which sounds pretty wild.
:: May 29. 9am. A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington. This event is called Books and Brunch, and I'll be reading with Dennis Lee (!!) *note to self: Do not start reciting Jelly Belly poems. That probably gets really irritating.

My other brand-new-activity-in-May is helping to facilitate several 45-minute writing workshops for teens. Anyone done this before? Tips? Advice? Games? Ice-breakers? Can you tell I've never done this before?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What matters

pianohands3
pianohands2
pianohands1
:: Practicing matters. And you can practice anywhere. (She's practicing, on her lap, the song she's memorized and is about to perform.)

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:: Being willing to try matters. Signing up for an extra recital, in preparation for a more intense competition next week. Wearing a new dress (and running shoes; just in case). Brushing your hair.

pianokids
:: Being supportive matters. Even when the recital is long. Even when there are no snacks. Even when you have to do everything imaginable to keep quiet. (Toward the end, CJ was making silent faces to entertain himself; by the last performance he was literally whacking himself on the head repeatedly, but kind of quietly. So he made it through.)

pianorecital
:: Performing matters. Getting up in front of an audience. Doing your best. Sharing what you've learned. (At this point in any recital in which any of my children have ever played, I start to cry. It's involuntary, and happy, but I do try to rein myself in, lest I embarrass the performer.)

:::

On this third day of writing week, I am reminded of a few more things that matter, a great deal, to me.

:: Exercise matters. Note to self: no matter how you may want to, do not sit for two days straight without taking time to go outside and move. And breathe.

:: Perspective matters. It's hard to get perspective inside a room with a closed door. See above, plus add in kids and friends and husband.

:: Kindness and gratitude matter. I can't write what I want to write by force.

:: Preparation matters. I am at the beginning of a project, not the middle, not the end. Here are some metaphors. You can't go into labour if you're not even pregnant. And, the work I need to do now is like composting. Layering information, layering ideas. It looks like waste at this stage. It won't look so good, either, when it starts to rot. But given time, and turning, it will become rich soil. And then I can plant a new garden.

:::

Read between the lines, and you'll guess. This is/will be a tough week. But I'd like to note two lovely and unexpected things that have happened so far.

:: On this third day of my writing week, I wrote a new song.

:: Yesterday, the power went out, and I wrote for several hours with pen and paper. I liked it a lot. No distractions.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The week in suppers

mushrooms
mushrooms and onions

**Monday's menu** Ham and scalloped potatoes. Salad. Corn. Fruit with whipped cream for dessert.
**Best of all** An extra Easter dinner, not cooked by me. Prepared and hosted by my dad and stepmom.

**Tuesday's menu** Udon noodles stir-fried with tofu and veggies.
**Inspired** I'll admit that a new product at the grocery store inspired this meal. Udon noodles! I mixed everything together and forced everyone to try it. But it was so delicious, I really got no complaints. No more than usual, that is.

**Wednesday's menu** Baked potatoes. Broccoli. Mushrooms and onions fried with bacon. Sour cream, grated cheese, butter.
**Obstacles** Eldest son was supposed to turn on oven when he got home from school (as I was out with the others at piano lessons). This has worked without a hitch in the past. Except he called to say he was at a friend's house instead. So the potatoes didn't start baking until I got home. And on another note ... really, if I was going to fry bacon, I should have just fried it into crumbly bits. Instead it got kind of soggy amidst the giant pan of mushrooms and onions. And the kids were not fooled and did not eat their veggies as hoped. They picked the bacon out of the mix and skipped the rest. Sigh. (One package of nitrate-free bacon was an impulse purchase from Bailey's; clearly not vegetarian.)

**Thursday's menu** Cranberry beans. Baked rice. Cabbage and carrot salad.
**Beans** The beans smelled delicious simmering all afternoon. But in truth, I like two kinds of beans: black (or turtle) and small red Mexican, and the cranberry beans (aka romano, I think) pale by comparison. They're a little too fat, a little too mushy. Probably better for a soup than as a stand-alone bean atop a pile of rice. But I have a large bag to get through ...

**Friday's menu** Veggie burgers, hot dogs, and veggies on the BBQ.
**Thanks** to Kevin, who saved supper when I realized I'd planned nothing, had spent the day writing, and was about to leave for swim lessons with the kids.

:::

**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Four loaves of bread.

**Cooking with kids** Fooey's menu. Breakfast for dinner.
**Truth is** Kevin did all the cooking. Fooey was feeling a bit off, so we thought it best. Albus pitched in on the fried potatoes.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Things I am not doing today

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a flying leap

I have done no laundry.

I have cooked nothing.

I have scarcely seen my children.

I have taken no photographs, although it is Sunday, and I try to take photos on Sundays.

I have not been outside.

I have scarcely moved from this desk.

My writing week seems to be starting a day early. I seem to be writing escapist historical fiction. I am next thing to flabbergasted about this turn of events.

But I am not worrying about it. Not today.

:::

Two things. One, if you live in the Waterloo region, look for Green magazine in the KW Record. I've got a piece in there about dreaming green. (It is not yet available online.) And two, let me direct you to my conversation with Marita Daschel about The Juliet Stories, photography, and motherhood, among other things.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bucket List Thinking

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at the farm

When we were driving home from Kingston, post-Easter holidaying at the farm, I was filled with ideas. Future plans. Things I want to do someday. Big things. Let me get them down on the page. (And maybe you'd like to share your big plans in the comments below; I'd love to hear them.)

** Bike trip through Ireland (or another beautiful place). With the whole family, if possible.

** Own a horse. Actually, own two horses, so AppleApple and I can go riding together.

** Write and record an album of songs. (This would require devoting several hours a day to singing and playing.)

** Spend a year training five or six hours a day and run an ultramarathon (like the Canadian Death Race, even though that's a terrible title for a race).

** Tear down our garage and build a small apartment that could house university-aged children.

** Share a getaway in the country with friends, for retreats, summer holidays, etc.

** Get a dog. (I don't know why that seems like such a big thing, but it does!)

But upon reflection, this morning, I see that I've already accomplished some of the big things I once dreamed of doing, and I want to recognize that too. I wanted to be a mother, and I have children. From a very young age, I intended to be a writer, and I've published two books. As a child, I dreamed of being a runner, and now I've completed a marathon. As an adult, I was troubled by the fact that I'd never learned how to swim, and I've learned. Once upon a time, all of the above were just hopes and imaginings and dreams. I've been so fortunate.

Last night I went to a kundalini yoga class. It's been about a year since I last took kundalini. The experience felt different this time around. In the interim, I've pushed my body further than it had ever gone before. But I also learned that my body could be pushed too far, and injured, and that's changed how I think about effort and pain. I felt so attuned to my own body, last night. It was easy to listen to it, and hear what it was saying -- to recognize the difference between the agony of effort and the pain of gone-too-far. I felt more cautious, and yet also more available, more open to the movements, like I could flip a switch and go there. I felt a deep trust -- of myself. But here's the thing. The sense of wonder and discovery is not the same. I've learned my body is capable of accomplishing very difficult tasks. I've learned that I am strong. When I first started kundalini, now a few years ago, I was utterly amazed, blown away by what my body could do. I had no idea.

Now I know.

That takes away some of the sheen of adventure and discovery. But it also means there is room for a richer, more layered experience. It's like having the second child. You're simultaneously more relaxed, more laid-back, and not as blown away by the newness of discovering what it means to be a parent. It's familiar, it's known territory.

I think life should have a balance of known and unknown experiences. I'm not sure we get to choose these experiences, at least not all of the time. But I like thinking about what I would choose, if I could. And what I've chosen. And how I'm working out that balance in my life right now.

Can I tell you something? I really really really want to write a book in this blog-voice. Not a book based on the blog. But a book that would capture the yearning, reflection, wondering, and experimenting that I feel this blog is really about. Put that on the first list. I have no idea how it would be shaped. But I'm opening my mind to the possibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The many stages of reading

So often, starting a project is the hardest part. Last month, a literary friend, Kristen den Hartog, whom I know only virtually (another reason that I love blogs!) asked whether I'd like to write a guest post on her blog, which is charmingly titled "Blog of Green Gables." In fact, hers was the first blog I ever subscribed to by email, and I'm always happy to find an update in my inbox. (You can subscribe to my blog the same way, if that sounds appealing.) Kristen posts beautifully illustrated, thoughtful, informative, long-form reflections on reading books with her daughter. Most recently, they've been reading through Roald Dahl, and her last post was on Peter Pan.

I was thrilled to be asked to contribute on the subject of reading to/with my kids.

And then I got stuck. I tried this, I tried that. The subject seemed suddenly vast, my thoughts on it scattered and disparate. I set the attempted essay aside. And I waited. It took me several weeks to understand why I was feeling overwhelmed and disorganized: because the shared reading experience has changed so much over the years. There have been more stages than I can count. Many detours. Memorable moments. So many amazing books discovered. And perhaps just as many tedious ones too. When I think about reading with my children an entire photo album of memories comes flooding into my mind.

Once I understood the problem, I embraced it. I decided to write about the many stages of reading. And here is the essay. I love the way Kristen has illustrated it. I hope you'll enjoy it too.

:::

P.S. Met my deadline without breaking a sweat yesterday. Now onward to writing week. Talk about starting being the hardest part ...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Get up and fly

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flying

On this morning's run, my friend and I were talking about exercising. About how exercise keeps us balanced, mentally. Yet when we most need to move, to sweat, to feel alive in our bodies is often when we are least in the mood for it. Mental strength underpins physical strength; and we don't always feel strong or motivated or inspired. I still find it unpleasant, every morning, when the alarm goes off early. I feel resistant to leaving my warm bed and the sweet state of sleep. Every single morning. There hasn't been one morning when I've greeted the alarm by leaping up with joy in my heart. But I do it. And within minutes I've gathered my clothes, I'm brushing my teeth, and I'm already beyond the yucky feeling of I don't want to. I'm ready to go.

What's the lesson here? Establish a habit. Make a routine that runs counter to your immediate instinct. I've never once regretted getting up early to exercise. Yet somehow my mind forgets that every morning. But that's okay. Because my habits and routine remind me. Other tips for exercising regularly, even when you don't feel like it: Meet someone -- makes it harder to change your plan last-minute. Set out your clothes the night before. Get up and go. Don't think about it, just do it.

Okay, enough with the motivational messaging.

Today is the day I dreamed of yesterday. The kids left for school with minimal complaining. Lots of kisses from the two youngest. Hugs from the two oldest. Quick nap. Cup of coffee. Finishing the last of the interviews for this article. Sitting and dreaming. Quiet house.

Have I told you that next week is a writing week? It will be my first writing week in this new office space. It will be my first attempt to dig into the new book. I may not update here on the blog quite as often; then again, I may need to blog more often, who knows.

Here are four things that are making me happy this morning.

One is the status update of a writer friend I know only on Facebook: "A must read. I simply can't stop underlining this book!" with a link to The Juliet Stories. (Wish I could peek in her copy to see what she's been drawn to.)

Two is a book review by my friend Nath, who didn't tell me she'd decided to blog about The Juliet Stories. I love hearing her thoughts. Maybe we'll even talk about it someday while we're driving to spin class together (or biking outside together--soon!).

Three is an invitation from the Eden Mills Writers' Festival to do a writing workshop with high school students, and to meet students, on two different occasions.

Four is doing interviews for this freelance piece. I think of myself as shy, but I've been really enjoying interviewing people. Maybe this relates back to my original thought o' the day: don't automatically trust your immediate instinct. Why would I think of myself as shy? I enjoy talking to be people, and do it regularly. In high school, I was genuinely shy. But that's more than half my life ago. Time to update the mental self-image.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Please start afresh, week. Please?

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the face of an Easter egg hunter, worried she's missing something that somebody else might have found first

This week is ever so slightly refusing to start afresh.

I find long weekends disruptive, being the one at home handling the children (or even sharing the handling). It's out of my routine. And I'm a routine-centred person. Yesterday the kids were home; Kevin was not. But work went on. At least, I attempted to work. I sent emails. I did an interview. I was absolutely buried in mountains of laundry. I baked bread. I let the kids run wild. I let them play wii for way too long. There were playdates. I was just scarcely paying enough attention. Everything turned out fine.

But, oh, I was so looking forward to today.

And then, just as the kids were putting on coats and boots and packing school bags this morning, literally minutes before my week was due to begin afresh, the child pictured above announced that she couldn't go. Her tummy hurt. An ache? Nausea? Pain? What exactly? Was it truly school-missing-worthy? She insisted. Finally, I accepted. After all, I didn't want to send a sick child to school. So here she is at home, with me, in my office right now, wandering the small space, alternately curling in the chair, making the stool squeak as she tries to twirl it, and asking whether she might, just maybe, watch a movie??

Um, no. No rewards offered for missing school. No incentives to repeat this act tomorrow. Is she sick? I'm not sure. If so, she's not very sick. For which I am appreciative. Tomorrow is another day. I hope to heck we can start the week afresh then. Mama needs some alone-time.

easter3
more Easter egg hunters, concerned they might be missing out

(These photos crack me up. Instead of capturing delighted little faces, my camera seemed to have grabbed expressions of vague anxiety and concern: Someone else might be finding something that I want! There were comparisons of basket contents, and much discussion (okay, argument) over how many eggs everyone should be allowed to find. And, in CJ's case, there was a sort of puzzlement, like: Is this egg all there is? Really? This is what I've been looking for?)

easter2
but he looks pretty cute here

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake!

10 / 365
cake, please

Please note: I have not personally attempted these recipes yet; these are recommendations from friends who have baked them. None involve a boxed mix. Come the next kid's birthday party, I'll be clicking this link in my virtual recipe box, and trying one of these out. If you try one too, let me know.

**Nath's recipes**

Yellow Butter Cake
{This is your basic not-chocolate cake for layering. I like it - it's dense and yummy}

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature {No! DO NOT grease your pans with butter! I will explain at the end}
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising) {you can use regular flour. The cake police won't come to get you. It just won't have as dense and crumbly a crumb}
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt {optional}
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9x2 inch round cake pans.* Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition. {me, I cheat. Half the dry, all the milk, other half of the dry}

Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and smooth. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack. Reinvert the cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

*Nath's note on greasing pans:

Ugly truth: I use shortening. That hydrogenated oil stuff we're not supposed to eat because it'll give us heart disease. It's my only use for shortening - I don't use it anywhere else but to grease pans. We're talking about a teaspoon between two cake pans when I make a cake, so I figure I'm not poisoning my family. But it works like a dream for keeping cakes from sticking. When I use this, and then flour the pans, the cake comes right out. Every time. I have tried with butter and no parchment, and it was not pretty. Butter plus parchment works ok, but it's more work, and I'm basically wasting paper.

:::

White cupcakes

Makes 2-dozen

{This is white because there are no egg yolks. Good day to make custard. Or tiramisu. Or lemon curd to go between the cake layers. Turn this into a layer cake by using two 9-inch cake pans, just follow baking directions above for times. You do need to separate eggs. But it only takes a minute, and then a few minutes to beat the egg whites, I promise!}

3 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined.

In the clean bowl, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Do not overbeat {I love this instruction. How are you supposed to know until it's too late?! But do beat it a lot - makes for a fluffier cake.} Gently fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture until combined. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each with a heaping 1/4 cup batter. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack. Invert cupcakes onto the rack; then reinvert and let them cool completely, top sides up.

:::

Martha's Birthday Cake

{This one is a bonus. It doesn't fit the easy party cake criterion, but it's so delicious! Maybe when you have a little more time someday? (it's not really *that* much longer than just a regular cake...) It's meant to be baked in a bowl (so it's a dome), but I think I just made it as a layer-cake in 9-inch pans. Anyway, take it or leave it, but it is my favourite white cake so far.}

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for bowl {that's a lot of butter!}
3 cups cake flour, plus more for bowl
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped {did I mention this is delicious??}
8 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350. Generously butter the inside of a 10-inch stainless steel bowl (4 1/2 to 6 inches deep). Dust with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside.* Into a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, 2 cups sugar, and vanilla seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture in 4 parts, alternating with the milk, and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and the pinch of salt on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar, and continue to beat until medium-stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Whisk a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture to lighten, then use a rubber spatula to gently fold in remaining whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bowl, and smooth the top. Bake, rotating bowl halfway through, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour 40 minutes. If the cake begins to get too dark, cover loosely with aluminium foil) {if you're baking in cake pans, just bake it about 30-40 minutes}. Transfer bowl to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes {20 for cake pans}. Invert cake onto the rack and let cool completely.

:::

**Marita's recipes**

Lemon Chiffon Cake

2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
8 eggs separated
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp lemon juice*
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 tbsp grated lemon peel*
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1. preheat oven to 325F
2. in a large bowl sift together first four ingredients (me, I just mix them together with a fork)
3. add everything except egg whites and cream of tartar, mix on low
4. in separate bowl, beat on high egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks
5. mix in about a third of the egg whites to rest
6. fold in remaining egg whites--don't over mix
7. add to tube cake pan, bake for 75 minutes
8. when done, take out of oven and cool upside down over wine bottle

Marita's Notes:
1. Because I am lazy and cheap, I use only two lemons. If I'm lucky, the rind is about right, if not, I don't sweat it. I also measure the water and lemon juice together, adding the lemon juice of two lemons first to the measuring cup, with water to make up the rest. Sometimes, the lemon juice makes up most of the 1/2 cup. It doesn't seem to affect anything but taste, being more lemony.
2. Don't use butter. I had to last time and it tasted fine, but it didn't rise enough and end up being only about half as tall as normal.
3. You could ice this, but I always just put whipped cream and strawberries on top.
4. Don't grease pan otherwise it won't rise properly and it will fall out when inverted to cool.


{I also make Apple Cake with Maple Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting every autumn, either for my birthday or for equinox. I put in dried cranberries instead of raisins and use whatever tart-ish apples I have on hand. The icing is amazing!}

{And Simple Vanilla Cake.}

The week in suppers: around Easter

eastersupper
Easter supper, at the farm

**Monday's menu** Pasta with pesto. Homemade bread.
**Guests** Albus invited two friends to stay for supper. Unfortunately, he invited them after I'd cooked the food; apparently it looked really good. Now, I've seen these boys eat, and I was worried there wouldn't be enough food. And I was right. In addition to devouring a double batch of pasta, our crowd ate through an entire loaf of homemade bread. Imagine this family, with friends, in their teen years. Wow. I can see the sense in serving up a first course of something like Yorkshire pudding, which is basically a heavy dumpling covered in a fatty gravy. Fill 'em up!
**Extra** Made a huge batch of pesto and froze enough for two more meals. (Or maybe just one meal, plus friends.)

**Tuesday's menu** Rice noodles with stir-fried tofu, mushrooms, and spinach in an Asian sauce.
**Why????** Even while making this meal, I was asking: what am I doing? Who is going to eat this? (Other than me.) The kids hate mushrooms. Half of them dislike tofu. It's all mixed together. Disaster. But I served it. And they ate it. Basically.

**Wednesday's menu** Baked potatoes. Steamed cauliflower. Cheese sauce.
**Easy-peasy** Couldn't be a simpler meal. Should have steamed the cauliflower slightly longer, however, for that true mushy cauliflower-in-cheese-sauce comfort food.

**Thursday's menu** Pasta. Red sauce. Broccoli.
**Speedy** Whipped up a fresh red sauce from scratch in about twenty minutes. Then I raced off to soccer girl's practice and had to eat afterward. Sigh. Apparently the broccoli was a huge hit. If there had been time, I would have broiled tofu.

**Friday's menu** Kids at grandma's. Parents eat out: Indian.

:::

**Weekend cooking accomplishments** I'm currently working on baking bread. But it's Easter Monday, not quite the weekend anymore. We went to Seeley's Bay for Easter, and I did nothing in the kitchen other than enjoy the fruits of another cook's labours.

**Cooking with kids** AppleApple baked a birthday cake with her Grandma at the farm. That counts, right?

:::

P.S. Friends have sent *yummy *easy recipes for party cakes after I confessed to using boxed mixes in my last installment of "The week in suppers." Look for a special Party Cake recipe post coming later today. (And think of this blog as my virtual recipe box.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

spring11
May you be renewed.

forgetmenots
May you find what you came looking for.

spring17
And may there be chocolate.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on a holiday Friday

spring15
Stasis and momentum.

Slept in this morning. Did not enjoy it. Wondered: should I be setting my alarm and rising at 5am every morning?

Have meant to go for a run all day. I am finally dressed in running gear. Still feeling resistant. Why? Because I know it will be hard. "Get your head right": something the spin instructor says, for which I am occasionally resentful. I don't want to. Why don't I want to, when I know it will make me feel better?

Because it's hard. Because I've been hanging around all day, taking the day off, a little holiday, relaxing. Put all of those into quotation marks. "Hanging around." I'm lousy at hanging around! "Relaxing." I've cleaned both bathrooms and vacuumed! How to relax? Maybe I've forgotten? Maybe relaxing feels like stasis to me. Or I've mixed the two up in my head.

And I crave momentum.

In my head, I'm lying on a picnic blanket in the sunshine surrounded by my children. In reality I'd be digging up the weeds. (Plus, it's too chilly out there, despite the sunshine, for picnics.) Okay, in reality, I'm heading out for a run in the cool sunshine. I don't know if it counts as relaxing, but I'm doing it. Right now.

:::

P.S. I'm back from that run. I feel amazing! (As predicted). It was hard! (Also as predicted). But I ran 7.5km in 34 minutes flat. Here's what I heard a kid in the park ask his dad as I ran past: "How fast is she going?!"

I had a happy fantasy around the sixth kilometre. I thought that I would like to take a year, some while in the future, and train five or six hours a day -- and run an ultramarathon. It wouldn't serve any particular purpose. I'd do it just because I want to. (Is that a good reason to do something?)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Today's experiment

spring2
balancing

Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I'm writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I'm so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I'm not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it's done. Thing is, I can't finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people's schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don't need to finish this morning. The deadline isn't until next week.

So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?

As I say, it's an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It's funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn't trouble me. They're all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn't exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.

If I don't write a blog post today, I'll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn't know it. In all of these circumstances, I'm flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was "high-strung." Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.

My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it's just as valuable, even if invisible.

:::

Yesterday, a client of Kevin's brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. "Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art," says the page. "This month, we're inspired by free spirits." And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn't "spirit" my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There's a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that's partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit -- colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn't actually be.

:::

Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.

1. CJ is "reading" to us. I'm pretty sure he's essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he's saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!

2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I'm not always available -- last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"I stalk her on the internet"

coffee
good morning

Found ...

I LOVED this quick-paced conversation between two young women discussing The Juliet Stories. Their goal is to record themselves discussing a book in 140 seconds. That's fast! My favourite part is right at the end and it had me laughing out loud: "Read her blog!" "Yes!" "I might stalk her on the internet ... because she makes every day better." "I stalk her on the internet too, but I think she knows that." "She knows now!" Oh, and they loved the book. Yay!

Also, here's a link to an interview I did with Open Book: Toronto. It's got some nice stuff in it, somewhat off the beaten path.

And my dad tells me there's a blurb on The Juliet Stories in this month's Readers Digest (Canadian version only). But I haven't checked that out yet.

:::

Meanwhile, I'm drinking that cup of coffee (or one that looks exactly like it, and then I'm going to the library to do research this morning. Wish me luck. I'm thinking about how to write a character who is both troubled and strong. You know she's struggling, but you're rooting for her.

:::

Speaking of stalking on the internet (in a good way, I mean), friends have mentioned that they have difficulty posting comments here on the blog, so I'm going to try removing one of the levels of anti-spam features, which may (or may not) make commenting easier. Please let me know if it helps. (Other tips, anyone?) If this proves to invite too much spam, I'll have to revert back again. But I love hearing your comments, and widening the conversation, so it seems worth a try.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The week in suppers: last of the cold cellar

sweetpotatosoup
sweet potato soup

**Monday's menu** Split-pea soup (crockpot). Baked squash. Homemade garlic bread.
**Cold cellar** Monday saw me heading to the cold cellar on a mission: use up what's left, and quickly. The warm snap was not good for the rotting veg factor, therefore, roasted squash. I also delivered several pounds of garlic to friends this week; it had become suddenly rather redolent -- not spoiled, mind you, just hinting toward The End. I'd stored too much for our family to use before time ran out. Must make note and remember this for next season's garlic order ...

**Tuesday's menu** Sweet potato soup (crockpot). Steamed broccoli. Baguette and cheese.
**Cold cellar** Used leftover roasted squash in soup, combined with sweet potatoes. And made such an enormous batch that I froze the leftovers for another supper.

**Wednesday's menu** CJ's birthday party supper, one day early: Black beans, rice, fried hamburger, tamales, tortillas, tortilla chips, avocado salad, spinach salad, peppers, cilantro, green onions, various cheeses and salsas and toppings. Birthday cake/cupcakes and ice cream for dessert (of course).
**Party fare** I love serving this meal to a crowd. It can be served buffet-style, and happily feeds a variety of tastes and dietary needs -- vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc., etc. The other advantage to this meal is the ease with which much of it can be prepared in advance. Sure, it took the better part of my afternoon to chop, mix up dressings (with loads of garlic), etc., but I was able to serve this meal to 18 people within half an hour of getting home from the girls' piano lessons.
**Cheating** The cake/cupcakes were out of a box. The little kids and I baked them the night before. I would not object to making party cake from scratch, but have yet to discover a simple and successful cake recipe that compares to a boxed mix. Maybe you have one?

**Thursday's menu** Gallo pinto (beans fried with rice). Leftover fixings.
**Because** Nothing's easier. Always insanely and unexpectedly good.

**Friday's menu** Church supper.
**Because** Thank you, God, we made it to Friday night.

:::

**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Four loaves of bread.

menu
**Cooking with kids** AppleApple's menu. Greek theme. See chalkboard, above.

March12 719
"I think they like olives and lemons in Greece."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Be kind

recital3
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn't.) She wasn't going to do it. No one could make her.

I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation's ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children's every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it's a new feeling, of course we don't know how to cope.

So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).

recital2
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I'd ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It's fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we're called on. My heart was pounding with pride.

She was not amused by our April Fool's joke this morning, however. I told her that she'd been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.

:::

spring4
An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I'd posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She'd had a fall and was rattled, confused. She'd walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.

Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I'd had the time to stop and help. When I'm rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she'd been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don't know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.

There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.

How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it -- should it -- go deeper?