Yup, it's here. This morning the kids departed for their last day of school, grades five, four, and one.
So the boy ran off without saying goodbye. He is not keen on my plan to walk up to meet them after school either. Ah, the many stages of motherhood.
The youngest girl posed for my camera while waiting for her extremely slow and distracted elder sister. Then both girls posed. At which point, they were so late to meet their friends, with whom they walk every morning, that their friends came to meet them!
Leaping and running down the sidewalk to greet each other.
Walking off to school. Filled with that "last day" thrill. I almost remember it. No, that's not true. I remember it perfectly; but I've yet to find a parallel in my adult life. (I'm not envious, just nostalgic, a wee bit.)
*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She's thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren't convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product.
Here's what I've learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you're not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.
First game: I learned to touch the ball.
Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.
Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.
Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way--during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.
Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I've only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn't really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.
Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?
While speaking of learning things, here's an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.
Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I'm much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.
When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, "It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it's clear I've got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!"
Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It's the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.
My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?
One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today's Toronto Star, you'll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I'm especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.
I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that's not necessarily a bad thing, and that there's a place for it.
It fits in with my philosophy that there's a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there's time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don't get stuck in a rut, and don't write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)
And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.
A friend just emailed for my bread recipe. Her daughter comes over after school, sometimes, to play with AppleApple, and they always make themselves peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big slices of my homemade bread. And the child always asks, "Is this your homemade bread, Carrie?" I gather she's a fan.
Anyway, I wrote out the recipe for her mom. And then I thought, hey, why not post it here. I do have a "Bread Baking Tutorial" over in the recipe section, but below you'll find the messy real-life version I make almost every weekend. It's extremely flexible, with room for all kinds of extra ingredients, and the only time it ever flopped was when I used 100% whole wheat bread flour (we were all out of white; the resulting loaves resembled building material). So don't do that.
Carrie's Every Day Bread
I don't follow a recipe, so there are no precise measurements. I make this bread so often that it's second nature. But I'll try to write it out for you. This makes four loaves.
4-5 tsp yeast (use the higher amount if you're using a lot of whole wheat flour)
temper with 1/2 cup warmish water (ie. let sit for about 5 minutes)
Add 2 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 4 tbsp oil, 4 cups warmish water
Also add (and here is where it gets imprecise!) any or all of the following: ground or whole flax seeds, sesame seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, ground sunflower seeds (I usually add all four, in about a 1/4 cup amount each); 1/2 cup wheat germ; 1 cup of oats (optional); 1/2 cup ground lentils or ground quinoa or ground millet (optional, though I always add at least one of those ingredients for extra protein); (you can also add leftover cooked breakfast cereal)
Stir (as often as you'd like, at any point in the above process).
Add 6 cups of flour, stir. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white bread flour, probably about 1/4 ww to 3/4 white. Then start adding by 1 cup measurements. Eventually you're going to add about 12 cups of flour total, more or less, but honestly, this is entirely by feel. When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading the flour in. Knead until you've got the right consistency and it feels ready (you'll know what I mean!).
Oil and let rise for an hour or two. Punch down and cut into four sections, shape into loaves, and let rise again in greased loaf pans. Heat oven to 450, bake for ten minutes, then turn down to 350 without opening oven and bake for another thirty. Cool on rack. Done!
Also note: I have a coffee grinder that I only use to grind seeds/grains. It's very handy, very inexpensive. I think it grinds about a 1/4 cup at a time, but it might be slightly more -- that's how I measure the seeds/grains that I add in -- whatever fits in the grinder.
Gone writing. Yes, again. I've spent the morning working on a writing-for-pay job, and now I've got the afternoon (an hour or two, anyway) to work on hopeful-writing, ie. the new book. I'd love to tell you more, but I'm way too superstitious. If this makes it to a full manuscript, in months or years or whenever, I will run around shouting the news from any available top: hilltop, rooftop, mountaintop. You get the picture.
Meantime, imagine me quietly plugging away.
(Total aside: I keep hearing about these crowd-funded novel-writing enterprises -- it seems the latest thing to do. Forget about applying for a professional grant, and sign up instead to ask many online strangers to donate a few dollars each toward a specific project. I'm kind of shaking my head, but also curious; under what circumstances could that possibly work?)
Monday's menu:: Supper at Grandpa's: BBQd chicken; mashed potatoes; corn; green salad; strawberry rhubarb crisp.
Dessert contribution:: Since I didn't have to cook a meal, I offered to bring salad and dessert. It was a treat to have time to bake something. And nothing beats a strawberry rhubarb crisp. (My dad provided the ice cream.)
Tuesday's menu:: Beans and rice; tortillas; cucumber and tomato salad.
Because:: The beans were easy to cook on an afternoon when I was home with small children anyway. But Kevin and I hardly had a chance to fit a bite in before we were racing off in different directions with various children to different soccer games. We both had big bowls of beans and rice as a bedtime snack instead. Sigh.
Wednesday's menu:: Sausages on the grill; buns; green salad with radish, avocado, and tomato.
Because:: The prolonged heatwave was starting to catch up with our un-air-conditioned house, and I couldn't bear the thought of turning on the stove.
Convenience:: I've gotten in the habit of texting Kevin, late afternoon, to request pickup of some supper item or another. Tonight it was buns. His office is a short walk from the grocery store, or from Vincenzo's (a local store that has a bakery, butcher, and fishmonger), both of which are basically on the way home.
Thursday's menu:: BLTs. Vegetarian option: goat cheese instead of bacon.
Because:: We had bacon in the freezer. And home-baked bread. And it was easy enough to ask Kevin to pick up tomatoes on the way home. And because I was running out of menu-planning steam. A popular supper.
Friday's menu:: Gallo pinto (beans and rice) fried in bacon fat. Salsas; tortilla chips; asparagus; cherry tomatoes; vegetable empanadas.
Because:: We were picking up empanadas and salsas from Bailey's, and I knew they'd go perfectly with leftover beans and rice.
Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Cleaning the kitchen (does that count?). Four loaves of bread. A second strawberry rhubarb crisp. (Confession time: I ate leftover strawberry rhubarb crisp at least twice for lunch during the week, and I'm still not sick of it.)
Saturday's menu:: Taco salad. We compromised and left it deconstructed. We also ate at a ridiculously late hour, so this was essentially a supper-themed bed-time snack. After which, I went to poetry book club and ate several pieces of a rhubarb custard pie.
Sunday's menu:: BBQd chicken; steamed rice; sweet and sour sauce; roasted asparagus; plus the aforementioned crisp for dessert.
Because:: Grandma offered to pick chicken up for us at the market. The sweet and sour sauce was a hit, though I found the recipe a bit bland. Next time, more ginger and vinegar, and less water (who needs water in their sweet and sour sauce??).
Prelude:: To a soccer game (mine), and therefore I couldn't eat much. I was nervous. We were playing the team that had whupped us last Sunday. Turns out, I had cause to be nervous. We were missing two of our best players and had almost no subs; I played 90 minutes straight (so did a bunch of others). Despite our best efforts, they killed us. On the bright side, I was able to run hard the whole game, and suffered no injuries! Came home and soothed myself with leftovers, plus a gigantic helping of crisp.
My two littlest are playing an elaborate imaginary game together. (During yesterday's game we overheard CJ saying, in a very harrassed-sounding tone: "I have to do the laundry and make the supper and clean the house and I just can't do it all by myself! You are going to have to help!" "Is he being the mother?" I wondered, but we couldn't tell, and didn't want to disturb the game to ask.)
My bigger daughter has given up trying to join in on the game and is practicing the piano instead.
The eldest kid is at his second swimming birthday party of the weekend.
And Kevin is at a soccer game. I've got one tonight too. We admitted to each other that we didn't really feel like playing. I said, "I just don't want to get injured," and he laughed, because that was exactly what he'd been thinking. Honestly, after every game I limp home with some injury or another, which heals itself in time for the next game; so does he. I'm pretty sure this a factor of age. AppleApple pooh-poohed my complaints of injury, and said it was just to be expected -- something always hurts after a soccer game! But, then, she's 9, and heals quickly. I'm a good deal older, and appear not to have the same bounce-back abilities.
This was a lazy week, exercise-wise, in part due to a soccer injury. I did something to my hamstring, and couldn't lift my leg for two days. Awkward for stairs, unhelpful for long distance training. Skipped my Monday morning swim in part because of the injury, but also because I had a deadline and I was worried about being too tired (I'm quite sure I could not exercise as voraciously were I working full-time; positive, in fact). Skipped my Tuesday evening run due to injury, plus insane heat. Ran Wednesday morning as usual, felt twitchy for first kilometre, then fine. Dragged self to spin/kettlebell class, but barely, Thursday morning. Skipped Thursday evening run due to thunder storm. Skipped getting up early on Friday due to meeting friend for breakfast. Finally, yesterday, forced self out for a long run after spending the day cleaning house.
And here is what I can report. I didn't really feel like a) cleaning the house or b) going for a long run, but I sure felt a hell of a lot better after accomplishing b) than a).
I spent six hours cleaning the house. I do not exaggerate. It was filthy, disorganized, and disastrous. At the end of those six hours, I felt discouraged, grumpy, and accusatory. Cleaning is so pointless. Within minutes of it being scrubbed, someone walked on my kitchen floor! Can you imagine! With feet that had ever so recently been outside! And with predictable results! Also, every cleaned thing had the effect of showing up every thing that still needed cleaning and therefore looked infinitely dirtier as a result of being in proximity to the cleaned thing.
So I went for a run. I made it 15km. It wasn't easy; in fact, it was a lot harder than the cleaning had been, in many ways. It took at least as much mental fortitude to continue. I wasn't sure I could keep up the pace I was demanding of myself. But at the end, after I'd finished what I'd set out to accomplish, by golly didn't I feel amazing. Elated. Content. Cheerily conversational.
Which is why our house is likely to be, for the most part, not that clean. And why I am likely to be, injuries notwithstanding, reasonably fit.
Whenever I get around to cleaning, I think about my Grandma King, whom my mother remembers rising at 5am in order to scrub her kitchen floor (she also worked a full-time job and looked after five children.) Different times, I guess. When a woman was judged on the cleanliness of her kitchen floor. But we're still judged, aren't we? Or maybe it's that we judge ourselves, and harshly, comparing ourselves to models of perfection, to super-women, and inevitably falling short, as Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her excellent and nerve-striking article in The Atlantic.
I heard myself on the radio yesterday, briefly, talking about The Juliet Stories. I called AppleApple down to listen (she was the only one nearby). I was mashing garlic to make a ranch dressing and listening to myself talk on the radio. The voice on the radio didn't sound a thing like the voice in my head; in fact, the radio voice sounded much calmer, approachable, resonant, friendly. "Did that really sound like me?" I asked AppleApple afterwards, who looked perplexed. "Of course," she said. Here's the thing: I liked the sounds of that woman on the radio. But she didn't remind me of myself, except only fractionally. Myself was the woman mashing garlic, wearing running gear, feeling irritable, noticing the dirty windows, trying to work up the gumption to get out for a run.
I was experiencing myself as a projection. And in a sense, that's what this blog is too. A projection. Incomplete. The person I show myself to be rather than the messy much more complex and in all likelihood somewhat disappointingly contradictory person that I really am. I think we women like to compare ourselves to projections. It's one of the reasons women always want to know, "How do you do it?" We're imagining that it can be done. We're looking for the secret formula. We'd apply it, if only it existed. I'm certain it's not only women who do this, but maybe men do it differently. Maybe men don't admit as readily to being imperfect or wrong; or maybe they don't care; maybe they're better at managing guilt.
These are horrible generalizations. Please, disagree. Tell me what you think.
My lazy Sunday children have now moved into my office; therefore, it's time for me to move out. It's lunchtime.
Everything is winding down, summer holidays are nearly upon us, and the truth is that I'm feeling a little bit flat. A little bit weary. I sense that I'm jealously guarding my reserves of creative energy as if in fear they might run out, which is perhaps not the best strategy; after all, creativity feeds on its own bubbling forth. And I don't actually believe it can be spent, entirely.
But my instincts feel protective, somehow. Cautious. Inward-looking.
I spent yesterday writing. My working title is The Girl Runner; but that might not last. All I will say of what I've written is that it's unexpected in tone and content, and the writing itself feels like disappearing into a daydream. From which it can be hard to emerge. It's like getting lost. But I'm often not aware I'm lost until I realize how much I'm struggling to connect with what the kids are saying to me, or to respond with coherence to their requests.
It's possible that their mother memories will include them prompting me to finish sentences, reminding me of what we were just talking about. It's convenient to blame the writing; but it's not always even that. Sometimes I'm distracted by a scheduling conflict, or by some errand I've just remembered needs doing, or by a voice on the radio, or a newspaper article, or a conversation or dream freshly recalled. I don't know why it is sometimes so difficult for me to ground myself in the present moment. There are times when I must deliberately force myself to follow a spoken response through to its conclusion, force myself to pay attention to the reply, force myself to hold the thread rather than to drift.
Scattered. I wonder, and worry: How can such a scattered woman manage a functional daily life, manage to keep her children fed, manage deadlines, and plotlines?
Perhaps this explains why I wrote The Juliet Stories as a fragmented narrative: why I ask the reader to piece together clues, and take leaps. I was honoured to read an extremely sympathetic review in The Winnipeg Review posted earlier this week; the reviewer understood and was not frustrated by the leaps in the book. Read her review here.
And if you're interested in listening to me (try to) talk about the connections between the book and my own experience, earlier this week the CBC ran my "riff" on Shelagh Rogers' book show, The Next Chapter. Click here, and find me at 37:13 (with thanks to the friend who figured that out).
At the very end of the interview, I mention that I haven't asked my siblings how they feel about the book, and I say something air-headed like, "I hope that's not a bad thing! [Giggle]" *(Aside: I should probably make it policy never to listen to interviews of myself.) Anyway, my brother Christian heard the interview, so he dropped by the other evening to let me know that he really liked the book. We ended up having a funny conversation about the real events he recognized, and how they were dropped into such different contexts, all mixed up; and I was relieved to hear that he didn't read himself as the brother Keith. In fact, I think he might be the perfect degree of closeness to recognize exactly how fictional the Friesen family is. He said his wife, on the other hand, is exactly the wrong degree of closeness, knowing just enough about our family to imagine that the book is somehow veiled history. If you know just a few things about our family's past, I can imagine it would be easy to make the leap. But if you were there for it too, there is no leap, because it isn't what happened, and we're not the characters.
If I ever write a book about my family, it will be a very different book, about a very different family; and, frankly, I can't imagine attempting it. But there's no doubt families are enormously compelling, and if I ever storm up the nerve to try, it would make for an interesting exploration.
If asked, I will tell you that I pray none of my children become writers. Personally, I think it would be a bit of a curse to have a writer for a child. We're dangerous. And probably maddening. *(Another aside: I read a tweet recently in which a writer noted that writers of fiction are constantly being asked "what's real?", while writers of non-fiction are constantly being asked "what did you make up?" Obviously, audiences have a compulsion to understand the links between fact/fiction, life/imagination, memory/invention. Etc.)
Which brings me round-aboutly to The Glass Castle, which I've been reading all week. In fact, I went to bed extra-early last night in order to finish it. It's a memoir about a family of such incredible dysfunction that it staggers the mind. What amazed me most profoundly was the love expressed throughout -- love of child for parent, and parent for child -- despite the author's childhood of parent-induced agony and chaos and hunger and violence. Love is so complicated. It isn't reasonable. It guarantees nothing. It can be the source of terrible wrongs. And yet even the most disastrously-expressed love seems to answer something in us; seems to be something we need and crave, and could not survive without.
I'm not bringing this post around to any kind of coherence. Other than this: writing can be an act of love. But it is sometimes -- often? -- an act that feels more like dire necessity, or selfish need; it takes me away from my children, it removes me from the present moment, it deposits me in imaginary spaces. I don't know where it comes from, or why I need to do it. I just hope it does ultimately create artifacts of coherence, and patterning, and some kind of connection and truth. Because that's what love is, isn't it? Love is connection, no matter how tangled.
None of us had anything we had to do, there was nowhere we had to be, and nothing was scheduled. Giddy with freedom, I neglected to make supper until very late (and then I had Kevin grill stuff on the BBQ). We ate at a leisurely pace. A normal, human, conversational pace. It was pleasant, a treat; but I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was sitting there, filled up, contemplating the next step -- dishes and laundry -- when it occurred to me that on this evening of nothing to do, I was too tired to do anything. I was crashing. I mumbled something to the effect to Kevin: must lie down. Staggered to the couch, napped for a few minutes, and then for a few minutes more.
Finally, I arose and conquered dishes and laundry.
But I was so tired. It was almost as if, in the absence of having to keep going, having to maintain energy and momentum, my body figured it could just quit. And so it did.
A confession: I'm having trouble maintaining my early morning exercise; I was down to two mornings this week and last. Unless I'm meeting someone, I'm choosing not to drag myself out of bed. Partly it's the evening activities, partly it's the late-night reading (first it was the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and now it's Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, which has me gasping every other page -- have you read it? I realize I've come to it late, and it's been out for years, but it's one of those memoirs that could not have been fiction because a) it wouldn't have seemed real, and b) audiences would have despised the creative mind who thought it up. Anyway, it's pretty close to brilliant, and I'm loving it, and therefore can't put it down).
That was a long aside.
This week has been good preparation for summer holidays. On Monday, my babysitter was sick, so instead of spending a full day at my writing desk, I got the morning followed by an afternoon with two four-year-olds; who were delightful and spent an hour enjoying lunch, I must add; but still. It wasn't quite the same. On Tuesday, Fooey felt sick, so she stayed home. By lunchtime, our numbers were up to three kids versus one mom (I was babysitting CJ's friend again). It was hard not to feel resentful -- my quiet house filled up with noise.
But then I realized: this is just a taste of SUMMER. I've arranged for babysitting during most days, and that's wonderful; but I work from a HOME OFFICE, and the children will be AT HOME. The quiet and privacy that is this beautiful humid sunny glorious Thursday morning is a total luxury.
*Monday's menu** Sausages, buns, green salad, roasted asparagus. Ice cream cones for dessert.
*Because** Friends visiting from Toronto! It's a theme! We planned to BBQ, but Kevin discovered, as he was going to turn on the grill, that we were out of gas. Luckily, everything transferred easily to the stove/oven.
*The usual hurry** The girls had dance. Then there was soccer, and more soccer. And rain. But we got to visit, and my friend brought ice cream and cones for the kids, who were thrilled (we don't often do dessert, as you've likely observed).
*On hosting** I love hosting! I love guests. But if you're invited to our house, you'll have to take your hospitality with a grain of chaos. There's just no way around it. So thank you, guests, for being so accomodating and coming anyway. Mi casa es su casa!
*Tuesday's menu** Leftover sausage drippings fried with onions, garlic, peppers; tomatoes and leftover pasta sauce added; plus macaroni = one-pot of delicious.
*However ...** The original menu was supposed to be something made with puff pastry. I'd neglected to read the instructions on the puff pastry. "Thaw for five hours," I read with some horror, less than an hour before supper was due on the table. Thus, a quick change in plans.
*More rushing** Yup. I cooked in a hurry, and soccer girl and I ate in a real hurry (the others, too), as we all dashed off to various soccer outings. (Soccer girl and I had to drive all the way to Orangeville. On a school night. For a nasty game that nearly got the kid injured.)
*Wednesday's menu** Community supper at Conrad Grebel (me); Fun Fair pizza (kids and Kev).
*Scheduling with precision** I biked to a reading at my former residence on campus at the University of Waterloo, and was fed a delicious supper of fish, rice, veggies, and napa salad. Kev drove the kids to the school Fun Fair, where they ate pizza, freezies, and candy. After the reading, I biked to the school, so Kev could drive the girls to a rehearsal for their dance recital on Saturday. I would take the boys home when they were done having Fun. Here is where my careful planning ran into a glitch. How to carry home an exhausted and foot-sore CJ, while pushing bike, and carrying heavy backpack?
*Thankfully** Albus helped a great deal. He pushed the bike and carried the backpack (no small feat), while I carried CJ on my back (also no small feat). We made it!
*Thursday's menu** Quiche with asparagus and goat cheese. Goat cheese and tomato tart. Beer and bacon cupcakes.
*Because** I spent the afternoon testing recipes and photographing food for an assignment. Had to get my work done before suppertime ... because it was supper. Which made supper very easy, frankly. And a good thing too, because we had another early evening of soccer practices and games.
*Complaints/Raves** A few disliked the goat cheese. But the beer and bacon cupcakes were a hit.
*Friday's menu** Bailey's Local Food supper!!! Hot dogs, buns, bacon-wrapped asparagus, cherry tomatoes, strawberries.
*The best** I love Fridays, and this was a good one -- the kids had their last swim lessons of the session (three passed!; apparently CJ still needs to work on putting his head under the water), after which Kev and I did the Bailey's local food pickup together while the kids stayed home and watched a movie (yes, I left them all home alone, and it was fine). And then we ate fresh local food for supper. Oh, and then the girls had a dress rehearsal for dance; but Kev took them. Phew. Because I was toast.
*Saturday's menu** Marinated chicken drumsticks. Pasta salad. Eaten at around 4:30pm.
*Thank you,** Grandma, who brought us chicken from the market. For the pasta salad I used leftover macaroni, fresh veggies, feta, basil from our garden, and olives and capers, in a vinegar dressing.
*And then ...** We all went to the girls' Highland dance recital. Soccer girl had spent the morning at a soccer tournament -- quite the change from tough little athlete, to sleek-haired dancer. But can I just say: two and a half hours of Highland dance. That is all.
*Sunday's menu** Eggs and bagels.
*Thank you,** Kevin! Oh, and Happy Father's Day, by the way! This meal was brought to us by an exciting soccer tournament, which saw Kevin providing live text reports on the games. When I realized her team was likely to make it through to the finals, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to borrow a carshare car, pile the kids + snacks in, and race off to Woodstock to catch the final game. We made it! And they won! And then I raced back to Waterloo to play in my own soccer game -- in which I displayed much better team spirit, but less inspired play, and managed to injure myself to boot. Meanwhile, Kevin and kids made their way home, stopping for bagels on the way.
*It was a lovely Father's Day**
one out-of-town soccer tournament and
two girls performing at a dance recital
Soccer tournaments we can do in our sleep. But this recital is a new experience.
These photos were taken while one of the girls was at the soccer tournament. She's home now, and I'll be attempting a dancer's bun shortly -- the pressure's on! The bun in these photos was courtesy of a friend and neighbour who knows what she's doing and gave me a tutorial this morning. Honestly, I'm hair-impaired. I can cut hair, and braid hair, but I hardly ever brush hair, or blow-dry hair, or attempt to make hair look sleek, tidy, neat, or professional.
As a result, we're a windblown family. But I think this little dancer loves her sleek new look.
I've been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week's assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone's story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.
A new and exciting development is that I've also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.
Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.
I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes -- food for an imaginary Canada Day party. "I love my job," I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a "party," arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).
"Even fake smiles look real in photos," I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.
It was a crazy fun afternoon.
I've made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women's magazines has finally paid off. "Service-oriented copy," as it's known, simply flows from my fingertips.
Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I'd photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can't do my long run this weekend -- too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital -- which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).
Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.
On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I'm keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?
As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family's income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?
Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there's a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage -- for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?
As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.
He wasn't interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents' basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.
And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.
What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He's worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him -- what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.
Well, Karl's had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, "Song," is the music for Apple's new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)
To see Karl's work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.
Instead, I'd like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I've got this morning is a cup of coffee.
For a long time, I've thought of myself as someone who doesn't like participating in team sports. But it had been so many years since I'd even attempted a team sport that I couldn't remember why. And I love watching my children play team sports, and have observed the wonderful potential for camaraderie and intensive learning. So ... this spring, when the opportunity arose to join a women's soccer team, I signed up without hesitation.
At first, I thought the difficulty was going to be the fact that I hadn't played organized soccer since the age of ten. But I've been watching a lot of excellent soccer over the past few years, and I'm physically fit, and a quick learner -- and our team welcomes beginners. So that hasn't been an issue.
What I realized after last night's game is that there is another difficulty, one I'd forgotten, and it's the reason I don't like team sports.
Actually, I do like team sports. I love playing on a team. The problem is that I'm not always a fabulous team player. The problem, in other words, is me. Team sports don't like me.
For years, I suppressed my competitive nature, and only began embracing it again when I took up running and signed up for races. Wow, this is actually fun, thought I; and wondered why on earth I'd suppressed such an essential part of myself. In fact, I embraced my competitive nature so thoroughly that I forgot what I'd disliked about it in the first place -- and let's just say there was good reason for that suppression.
Here's why: Because competition brings out an adrenalin-fuelled intensity in my personality that can be extremely unpleasant. Nope, it's worse than that. It can be ugly.
In individual competition, there's no problem: the only one I'm being hard on is myself, and for reasons probably best discussed with a therapist, being hard on myself brings out my best effort. But on a team, competitive intensity, handled badly, just sucks. Basically, I'm transferring expectations about my own level of intensity to everyone around me. What I seem to demand of myself, and therefore of teammates, is maximum effort -- forget being there for fun, apparently I just want to win. Honestly, if this team sports thing is going to work out, I need to figure out how to dial this aspect of my personality down, and fast. Also, I need to shut up. There's nothing wrong with having high expectations for myself; but in a team setting, positive feedback is the only feedback worth giving.
(And I need to get off the field without complaint when I'm subbed out! Good grief. It was one little moment in Sunday's game, but honestly, in that moment I behaved like an ass.)
You know, on the surface, it was a good game on Sunday evening -- we won for the first time this season, and I scored the only goal of the game, and it was a very nice goal, put together with the help of excellent teamwork. But I came home feeling yucky. Realizing that I'd let my competitive nature take over; realizing that I wanted too badly to win and was willing to fight inappropriately toward that end.
So I guess my question is: Can I change? Can I, ahem, mature? Can I become a good teammate?
In some ways, I hate how the learning never seems to end. In other ways, I'm glad for it. Life has a way of shaving off my hubris, and keeping me humble. Ugh. It's no fun being kept humble, even if it's good medicine.
But I'm hopeful. It's not all bad news. I really like being coached and getting feedback and criticism on my play -- probably shaped by years of appreciating the writer/editor relationship, which is based on necessary criticism and mutual trust. And I really want to keep playing on a team, and improving -- everything. Skills, fitness, but especially attitude. Especially that. I'll report back.
Monday's menu:: Puttanesca sauce. Canned tuna. Pasta.
New food!:: At last, a new recipe! I've been making the same tomato sauce for pasta for, well, a decade. I was looking to add protein to the meal (not tofu, and not hamburger), and went looking through my favourite Joy of Cooking for ideas. This sauce is traditionally made with anchovies. I substituted tuna, and served it on the side (one kid LOATHES seafood). We happened to have capers and black olives on hand. This was a very popular meal.
The recipe:: Puttanesca sauce (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
In olive oil, saute chopped garlic and onion (or garlic scapes and green onions, as the season dictates) with one dried hot pepper. (Note: remove pepper before husband inadvertantly eats it; sorry, hon.) Stir in 1 cup of chopped and pitted oil-cured black olives and 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and cook briefly. Stir in one jar of canned tomatoes, and one can of tomato paste, and let simmer for about 5 minutes. (If sauce is too thick, add some liquid.) Stir in chopped parsley (fresh or frozen), 2 tablespoons drained capers, and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Tuesday's menu:: Chili with hamburger. Steamed rice.
Whither the veggies?:: Yes, this meal could have stood a salad on the side; in my defence, the chili was studded with lots of corn and tomatoes.
Fast food:: It was a crazy day, and I had approximately twenty minutes to whip together a supper that we could eat before departing, en masse, to our Tuesday series of soccer games. I thawed a container of chili (thank heavens for leftovers), added browned hamburger, and steamed the rice. We ate like we were in a race, abandoned the meal on the table, and enjoyed a happy evening on sunny soccer fields.
Wednesday's menu:: Grilled breakfast sausages. Grilled veggies. Leftover pasta and sauce.
Kevin in charge:: I had a reading so Kevin took over the menu planning and prep. We were glad that the BBQ now sits on the back porch, under shelter, because a wild hailstorm blew through over the dinner hour.
Breakfast sausages, you ask?:: To which I reply, Yup. They were what we had in the freezer. And the theme of the week was: What's in the freezer?
Thursday's menu:: Udon noodles. Stir-fried veggies with tofu.
Unhappy children:: Nope, this was not a hit. I stir-fried the udon noodles separately to avoid a mushroom-mutiny, but still no one liked it. The noodles were bland. The tofu and mushrooms were treated with disdain. And it took me longer to cook than I'd estimated. So we were all unhappy, frankly, as this was another rushed evening of soccering.
Friday's menu:: Black beans. Steamed rice. Avocado, cucumber, tomato salad. Tortillas, and tortilla chips. Yogurt and feta cheese. Asparagus salsa.
Seriously yummy:: The black beans and tortillas came from the freezer. Everything else was easily whipped up post-swim lessons. We were hosting family for the weekend, and this was the perfect welcoming feast. I tell you, people, you can't go wrong with this meal.
Weekend kitchen accomplishments:: Eight loaves of bread. I baked four on Saturday and four again on Sunday. Our supply in the freezer was getting low. And we ate a lot of bread over the weekend -- a loaf for each breakfast, and another loaf for Sunday supper, which was BLTs. Now that's a good supper. Though as you can see, we are not exactly vegetarian at present.
Breakfast specials:: Wanted to note, also, that Kevin has been making breakfast smoothies for the past couple of weeks. Hugely popular with the kids, if kind of messy (says the woman who generally oversees kitchen cleanup). The shakes include bananas, frozen fruit (yes, more food from the freezer), yogurt, a touch of milk, peanut butter, and ice.
I don't mind. I feel indoorsy today, sleepy. A long run is planned for late this afternoon, but I prefer running in the cool damp than hot hot heat. I'm baking bread. I'm sipping a cup of coffee and opening the newspaper -- and finding a review that I wrote on an essay anthology called In the Flesh (read it here.)
That's an awfully lovely discovery after a weird writing week. (The dinosaur story got sent yesterday; an interview for another story due next week went well; but I got very little work done on my new novel. It's always easier to set aside work for prospective payment in favour of work for guaranteed payment.)
Above, a photo of my well-dressed recital children. With the approach of summer holidays, we are coming to the end of lessons. Last piano lessons last week. Last swim lessons next week. Highland dance recital next weekend.
(Soccer, however, will go on. And on. No matter the rain. But it wouldn't be summer without soccer, at our house ...)
Just before my reading yesterday (Wednesday) evening, the skies opened up. Talk about raining and pouring. And hailing. It was dramatic. Perhaps it purged my anxious mood, because by the time I got to the event at the library, everything felt magically relaxed. Or maybe that's experience coming into play. After all, I have been reading and speaking in public on a fairly regular basis for the past few months.
A friend commented yesterday that she hoped I would find hidden value in my decade of at-home-with-children work; and there is no doubt it's made me who I am.
I'm less self-conscious, for example. Any public outing involving infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and yes, even 11-year-olds, toughens the hide considerably. And my children have taught me how to ask for what I want -- on many levels. If your child has ever been in need, you will discover within yourself reserves of grit and determination, you will knock on doors, you will be persistant and annoying and you won't give a damn about being judged. On a different level, asking a child to do a task requires simple, straightforward communication. Forget fancy, forget dancing around a subject -- state what needs doing in three words or less. So these are hidden assets I've gained over the years.
But other skills are rusty ...
Alright, I started this post many hours ago, this is how far I got, and I'd like to finish it before bedtime. What has this crazy day held? I worked all day on a story on dinosaurs that is still not quite done. I set up an interview for tomorrow morning. I discovered we have a meeting at our eldest daughter's new school early tomorrow morning; and that Kevin can't attend due to work. I managed to make supper from scratch in about twenty minutes flat. Instead of eating it, I worked on the dinosaur story. Soccer girl and I biked to her soccer practice. The weather was gorgeous! I went for a run, and discovered speed -- for the first three kilometres. And I hacked it out for the next two, and ran 5km in 23:38, my fastest time yet; and then I hacked out another kilometre and a bit, making it 6km in 28:52. (This is not record breaking time for anyone but me; but it felt good.) After soccer practice, the two of us stayed and practiced penalty shots -- AppleApple in net, and me kicking. Addictively fun! Then we biked home. Dishes awaited. Laundry still on the line. Supper still on the table. Exhausted children to put to bed.
Man. I'm tired. I should not be typing, I should be reading in bed right now. I'm currently reading about the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I spend a lot of time turning to my husband to report on the crazy things she's getting up to. Did you know she was one of the most famous women in America in the 1930s? A poet! She sold 68,000 copies of a book of poems in eight weeks in the middle of the Depression.
Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: "I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor."
"You captured me very accurately," I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)
"But I don't really have chores to do," said AppleApple.
Well, we all make things up. If you'd like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I've not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What's true? What's invented?
It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I'm pleased. Some of the work I've been doing is essentially invisible. I've even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I'm getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It's brought me here. I accept it.
Not to get too far off topic, but I'd like to share my theory about work. I figure I'm about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I'm not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I'm willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I'm choosing.
As a proud writer, I'm also thrilled to share the news that I've been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:
I'll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.
Meantime, back to work. I've got some interviews to do.
**Monday's menu** Noodles in broth. Spinach salad with strawberries and sunflower seeds.
**Last-minute** I was doing a writing week, of sorts, so our babysitter stayed until late, and I had little time to throw something on the table before the girls' dance class at 6. Leftover noodles went into homemade stock. Admittedly unexciting, even jazzed up with Chinese five-spice. But the salad was a hit.
**Tuesday's menu** Black bean chili with steamed rice.
**Oops** Again, it was a writing afternoon, and I was late letting our babysitter go (she actually had to knock on the office door because her husband was here to pick her up!). And then I realized supper had to be whipped up from scratch in about twenty minutes. Which is exactly how much time it takes to steam white rice on the stove-top. Leftover black beans were quickly turned into chili, thanks to my home-canned tomatoes, and a bag of last-summer's frozen corn. This was the evening that we realized we have only one car. Which we do know, but somehow temporarily forgot. That meant six people gobbling supper and racing out the door en masse. AppleApple and I were dropped at the field forty-five minutes before warm-up officially started. But we made lemonade out of these lemons, and had a blast practicing together in the warm sunshine.
**Post-soccer-tableau** Arriving home at nearly 9pm, with tired children in tow, it is not the most thrilling sight to view upon the table: the abandoned meal and accompanying dirty dishes. Sigh.
**Wednesday's menu** Salmon roasted on the bbq, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli.
**Last-minute, again** I invited my former boss, Noah Richler, to come for supper before his reading in Waterloo, and he accepted, and was kind enough to remind me, when I worried, that he comes from a family of five children and is familiar with kid-induced chaos. It was another writing day, and I decided to ignore the messy state of the house. Before dashing off to the girls' piano lessons, I scrubbed a bunch of potatoes and put them in the oven. When Albus called my cell to say he and friends were home from school, I instructed him to turn on the oven. This works really well, actually. On the way home from piano, I swung by our local fishmonger and bought 3 pounds of beautiful salmon. Kevin cooked it perfectly. We were again racing against the clock as I'd discovered at around 4pm that CJ had his "congraduation" from nursery school starting at 6pm -- and that he really wanted to go (cake and juice had been promised!). But with some good team-work, supper was on the table and we dined with enough time.
**Passable** I would categorize this meal as bland, but fine. The salmon was tasty. Everything else was terribly plain. I put salt and pepper on the table.
**Thursday's menu** Leftovers: baked potatoes warmed up, with chili and rice.
**Uninspired** But it saved me time.
**Friday's menu** Hot dogs and buns from Bailey's pickup. Plus roasted asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.
**Easy-peasy** No rush, no hurry. A late meal, because we had swim lessons first, and then Bailey's pickup (Bailey's is our go-to source for much wonderful local food), but the kids snacked on cheese sticks and pretzels and we enjoyed relaxing around the table together. And then we watched Modern Family! A perfect end to a busy week.
**Saturday's menu** Pad thai with shrimp and tofu; hot and sour soup.
**Because** We had all the ingredients on hand, and I received a burst of energy at the end of the day, when Kevin arrived home from his training class. It cheered me up to cook and feel productive after a lazy, rainy, blustery, quiet, indoors day.
**Leftovers** We ate the leftovers for Sunday's supper, along with carrots. And that's the week!
Sunday. Day of hopping out of bed early for a long run. Oh, and more rain.
Saturday evening we decided to rearrange the living-room. I'm not sure why, but it always makes me happy to rearrange a room. Baking bread has a similar effect on my spirits. So does going for a run. Life is full of simple cures that are next thing to free for the taking.
practicing for imminent piano recital
The newly arranged living-room changes the focus, upon entering the house, away from the television. (Hurray!) Instead, you'll see the beautiful painting, as shown in the top photo, by Barry Lorne, which he generously gave us as a wedding gift. You'll see books, too. Hidden behind the old brown couch is the art section. There is room for a communal computer.
Here is what I am thinking about on this blustery weekend.
This morning it was so easy to go for a run. Yesterday, I felt lethargic, as immovable as stone. Life may be full of cures free for the taking -- but I confess that some days it is harder than others to take that first step, to put the best plan into motion. There have been times, lately, when I wonder what I'm doing wrong, wonder why I'm so tired, why I'm dropping the ball as often as not. Maybe I wish I were superwoman, leaping from role to role effortlessly, existing on little sleep, splendidly strong and competent and certain.
Instead, I'm just plain me. Rearranging the furniture, and making pad thai for supper, and falling asleep on the couch with a book.
I've been doing research recently on the 1920s, particularly here in Canada. To that end, I pulled a few books off the library shelves purely for their photographs. I need to see something to feel like I really know it. (Even better to walk through it, smell, taste and hear it, absorb it; but I haven't figured out how to time travel yet.)
A few days ago, I opened one of these books of photographs and thumbed through. I was looking to see what children would have worn on their feet in summertime (I'm guessing most went barefoot). And suddenly I was stopped cold and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. For real. I'd turned to a page that showed two photographs. One was of a large family posed around their car, in front of their stone farmhouse. The other was of a group of men working in front of a barn.
I knew that farmhouse. I lived in that farmhouse.
The caption said that George Black, of Ayr, Ontario was a farmer who welcomed technological advances. The caption went on to say that George Black had himself been an inventor who built a windmill on his barn that powered a lathe and a grain separator.
I knew that windmill. I knew that barn.
My family lived in the Black farmhouse from 1987 until 1991. The Black family had died out, and the farm had been bought by the neighbouring farmer who rented the somewhat restored farmhouse to us. We also had use of the barn and some acres surrounding the house. The house and barn were endlessly fascinating to us -- filled with odd inventions, and relics from the past. We knew that the Black family name had died out with George's children, and we knew that the house had last been occupied by two sisters who never married. We gathered clues from the things we found on the farm. My siblings and I made up a lot of things, too, for the purposes of thrilling guests. (It was a good house for ghost stories.)
But the one thing we never saw was a photograph of the family who had cleared the land and built this house and lived in it. And there they were, smiling out of an odd little book of Canadian history, published in 1988, which I just randomly happened to pull off the library shelf. The photo credit says "private collection," so there's no tracking it down.
I wonder. Have they come back to me for a reason?
(And I apologize: I don't have a scanner and can't illustrate this post with the photo; ghostly face discovered on chalkboard will have to suffice.)
Update: My dad has scanned the photos for me. Here is the family with their car, in front of their beautiful fieldstone farmhouse (which, if I recall correctly, was built in 1874). Wow.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.