Sunday, September 30, 2012

Race day: Run for the Toad


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This is a terrible photo. I apologize.

But it was taken post-race, when I was feeling an exhausted high just for having completed the damn thing. Also, I was chilled and needed to get into the car and turn on the heat, quickly. Honestly, it was not my best race ever. It was probably the hardest race I've done, not for distance, not for weather, not for any external circumstances, but purely for the mental effort it required of me. I'll be honest: all along, I just wasn't sure I could do it.

First, I wasn't sure I'd be able to train enough to complete it. But as last winter's hip injury resolved, I was slowly able to add distance runs back into my training. Still, I ended up swimming more than running most of the summer, and had only done one really long run (ie. over 20km) leading up to the race. That said, I knew I could complete it, given the work I'd done. I just didn't know if I could complete it very fast.

Last year, I was fast.

This year, well, I did my best, I'll just put it that way. I gave what I had to give. I haven't seen the official chip time yet, but it looked like I came in about two minutes slower than last year: 2 hours, 20 minutes (over 25 kilometres of trails). I know it's not a time to be ashamed of. But.

The thing is that I ran the first half faster than last year -- I was on a tear. And then I hit the proverbial runner's wall, which I can quite honestly say I've never hit during a race before. This is a course with many hills, many of them very steep and long. On my second lap, I actually walked some of them, head down, struggling; in fact, there were moments when I wondered whether I'd have the energy even to continue walking, let alone get running again.

Thankfully, I always seemed to find more. I told myself that the only way out was to keep going forward. I told myself to be grateful that I could run again. I told myself to stop fantasizing about the finish line, and stay in the moment: be here now, it's the only way to keep going.

All great metaphors for life, I suppose. But no fun.

I ended the race with a long sprint that kept me in front of a group of four men I'd passed with about 500 metres to go. That felt good, and one of them came up to congratulate me afterward, saying he just couldn't catch me although he'd tried. I thanked him for putting up a chase, because at that point I had very little motivation to push myself beyond just crawling to the finish line. I have no idea where the energy came from to maintain the speed, and the first thing I said to the woman who put the medal around my neck at the end is: I almost died! Slightly melodramatic.

This felt like it should have been a learning experience. But I'm not sure what I've learned.

From a race perspective, I really should know better than to go out so fast. After all, I started all my races slowly last year, with much success. It's frustrating to have to re-learn things I should already know.

From a life perspective, I can see how my competitive spirit just won't give up, no matter what. Maybe that's good. But it can also make situations more difficult than they need to be. I could have paced myself more slowly once I realized I was tanking. Instead, I took breaks to walk, then ran at as fast a clip as I could manage. When I was running, I was running hard. I also spent a good deal of the race reminding myself to be kinder -- to myself. Reminding myself: September has been busy. I'm stretched a little thin. Just dragging myself out to a challenging race should be good enough. Finishing? Even better. Instead of judging myself against last year's numbers. Instead of judging myself against numbers, period.

Always more to learn. And that's a fact.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Winnipeg: Thin Air Writers Festival

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I took our old digital camera on my trip to Winnipeg, and figured out pretty quickly why we'd stopped using it: the battery runs dead after approximately a minute of use. But nevertheless it allowed me to capture fuzzy moments of my whirlwind adventure. The first photo, above, shows the Museum of Human Rights, still under construction, which was my view out the window when I ran on the treadmill in the empty fitness room (I never saw anyone else there). I stayed at the hotel for less than 24 hours, but still managed to run twice, and nap once.

On Monday, I had dinner with Sheree Fitch and took no photos. I knew her instantly though we'd never met in person, and I mean knew her knew her, not just recognized her. Maybe it seemed so natural to be with her that I assumed we'd have lots of time to pose for photos together, forgetting for the moment that she lives in Nova Scotia, and I'm here in Waterloo, and that mere fortune had allowed us to overlap in Winnipeg. Now I'm plotting to bring her to Waterloo to read in some schools -- especially in my kids' schools. How do such things get arranged?

At the table behind us were Bill Richardson and Karen Levine. Sheree knew them both. I'd met Karen eleven years ago when I recorded a story for a CBC radio program -- I was just striking out on my own as a writer, and I was also massively pregnant with Albus, and for some reason had chosen to wear gigantic maternity overalls that day. (Why???)

For my mainstage reading on Monday night, I chose to wear my pretty red high heeled shoes that get compliments every time (which my sister Edna has now given to me to keep), and the cute/countryish/suedish jacket that makes jeans look dressy. (I hope.)

That's me (and my poufy prairie hair) with the the festival's director, Charlene Diehl, whom I first met when I was 20 and I walked into her CanLit class at the University of Waterloo. What a festival she's made in Winnipeg. I'm so proud of her. The venues are terrific, the audiences come out (at our book chat on Tuesday afternoon, someone counted 95 people!), and the writers are treated, oh, so well. The hotel was a haven, and I loved every peaceful minute I spent there. What a gift.

I slept soundly. I woke refreshed. I sat and wrote. I read. I ran on the treadmill. There was space to retreat to -- I appreciated having that space, as well as having opportunities to connect. As something of an introvert, I need alone time to balance out the meeting and greeting.

Tiny side anecdote: One of the writers on Monday evening was Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), who was very funny -- and thankfully last to read. He told a story about his dad, who just couldn't wrap his head around the concept of a reading. "What -- you wrote the book, now you gotta read it to them too?" Ha!

On Tuesday morning, I did not sleep in, but I got a nice cup of coffee, I wrote, and ran, and at 12:30 on the dot, with great regret, I checked out of my room and went for lunch. I decided to order a glass of wine with my meal. I sat alone at the table, and read. It was a strange luxury, not one I could imagine getting used to -- not one I particularly would like to get used to, when it comes right down to it. But it was good because it was so unusual.

Then I went up to the hospitality suite and discovered a small frenzy, lots of people. Being a bit thick, I didn't figure it out right away, plopped down on the couch, checked my phone, gazed around, and went, duh! That's Richard Ford, Pulizter Prize winner, he of the steely blue eyes. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The general atmosphere was of people excitedly dropping things and attempting not to sound ridiculously giddy or silly.

I missed his reading that evening. I was on a plane back to Toronto, which sounded disconcertingly like its muffler had fallen off.

When I walked through our front door, after midnight, I snuck around to every room and squeezed and kissed and hugged every child. In the morning, in the whirl and bustle of getting us all ready for school and work, nobody even asked: hey, Mom, how was Winnipeg? I though that was funny. It was a short trip, and I enjoyed it immensely, and I'm glad that it was so easy to slide back into home life, so easy that no one seemed to notice much that I'd come and gone. Or maybe they just accepted me back, as if I'd never left.

There's a bit of that to travelling too. Being present in the moment. And then it's gone, and it reverts to being almost dream-like in memory, vivid snippets, densely packed. I wonder which vivid snippets from Winnipeg will stick with me most strongly? There's no telling.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Home again, home again

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I really want to do nothing more than blog ... but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I'm on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I'm off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.

So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn't it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper -- in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.

I've got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here's hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.

But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.

This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I'm here, and there was something else I wanted to say too ... Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.

I'm out of time. More soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Welcome to the family, DJ and Suzi!

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(click on the photos to see them in full)

Marking a momentous occasion in our family's life: we have signed the papers and are now officially the owners of our two dogs, who came to us through a rescue agency. We'll never know their full story. All we know for sure is that about a year and a half ago they were found together, wandering the streets in cold weather wearing matching pink sweaters. And no one came to claim them at the crowded shelter.

We're pretty sure someone loved them, though. Someone definitely fed them from the table (we don't do that, but Suzi's probably never going to give up hoping that we might just, someday.)

While there are difficulties in not knowing their history, and in adopting older dogs, and while I'd be lying if I said the transition has been entirely hiccup-free, we're truly happy that they came our way. I'm developing the theory that all it takes to become a dog person is to get some dogs (or, hey, even just one -- we weren't actually looking for two dogs, it just happened that these two came together, and needed a home). I wasn't sure I was really a dog person, and was afraid that it would be hard to get used to the hair and the extra work, but it hasn't been. I just lowered my domestic standards a teensy bit more to make room for the hair.

Because I really just love these loving furry little creatures.

I've even got funny voices for them. Suzi's goes like this: "What's happening? What's happening? What's going on? Something's going on! I just know it! Exciting! What's happening? What's happening?" all in a very fast high-pitched tone. In a much suaver tone, DJ murmurs, as if talking to herself on a hidden recorder: "Secret agent DJ, on the job. I've sent the little one off to scout out the scene while I hang back and eat her treat, which I hid earlier. It's all good."

We signed the papers on Saturday, and these are some of the photos taken immediately afterward. Everyone was very excited. Well -- and happy. Just plain happy.

As you can see for yourself.

:::

There will be a brief pause in services on this blog, unless I figure out a way to post remotely: I'm bound for Winnipeg tomorrow, not home til Tuesday, very late. Bags are packed, schedules organized (here at home, I mean), Kev will be in charge.

We can do this, right?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eight kids, two dogs, one woman in charge

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Today was a PD day: kids home from school. A friend and I are exchanging some babysitting this year, and my part of the deal is to take her kids on PD days (she's a teacher, so she has to go to work). Our kids match up almost perfectly, ages and sexes, so this is a much easier gig than it may appear on first glance.

That said, I've been operating full-tilt, work-wise, and was a bit terrified about not getting anywhere near my office all day. To compensate, I put in some extra hours last night. And then I decided to embrace today for what it was: a day when I couldn't get near my office.

Which is actually kind of awesome, from time to time.

I sipped my morning coffee and chatted with the kids who were feeling chatty. I took my time. No anxiety. No sense that I should really be doing something else. Then I whipped up a batch of bread dough while listening to the radio. Then I made banana bread. Then I made lunch. Then I cleaned up lunch. Then I hung laundry.

Around mid-morning, I was called upon to work out a deal: puzzle-making in exchange for screen-time. But mostly they played on their own. There was a bumped head, a bumped finger, and a skateboarding accident. Some hot chocolate spilled. A loaf and a half of banana bread was speedily consumed.

It was all quite surprisingly peaceful.

But now it's nearly 5pm. The house is quiet again (Kev's got our kids at the first skate of the season). And I'm tired. Really tired. I am fantasizing about an end-of-the-week ritual, something involving cozy pjs and bad tv and flopping on the couch and a wee glass of wine. The kids can join in too (not on the wine part). And the dogs. We could make popcorn. It would also be really really nice if I didn't have to make supper.

(We don't really have an end-of-the-week ritual -- in fact, we've often got soccer on Friday nights, though thankfully not tonight. What about you? Do you have a Friday night ritual?)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What my nap told me to do today

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brothers

Don't worry. I'm not going to write a blog post on the subject of not making prize lists every time my book doesn't make a prize list. (Whew, that was a close one, says the good reader.) Nope. Today my nap told me to blog about all the really good things going on in this crammed old life. So here are some of the things I'm glad for right now.

* Killing two birds with one stone: Oldest son is supposed to read out loud for 15 minutes a day. Youngest son adores books featuring Star Wars characters which mother refuses, on principle, and for the sake of her sanity, to read. Ergo, oldest son reads Star Wars books out loud to youngest son.

* Freelance gigs arriving at exactly the right moment. Exciting freelance gigs -- even better.

* Surprise messages in my inbox from readers who have loved The Juliet Stories. Still working out the best response to these, since they tend to make me feel a) self-conscious, b) teary-eyed, and c) weirdly unqualified to reply. (Like: did I actually write the book this person is referring to?) Funny thing: when I say thanks for telling me you liked it, people often say, no, thank you for writing it, at which point I get stuck because saying you're welcome seems weird. Or maybe it doesn't? Let me try this out: "Thank you for writing a book." "You're welcome." Now I'm not sure. Maybe that's exactly all I should be saying. Though it's tempting, also, to add: That's awesome, now, please tell all your friends to go buy copies too!

* This message in my inbox from a friend: "I have to tell you, half an hour ago I saw a great picture unfolding as I drove by [your daughter's school] ... Up on the level ground, I saw a girl with long red hair dribbling a soccer ball through a large pack of boys."

* Festival season. Wow! Is it ever festival season! I'm reading at Word on the Street at Kitchener City Hall (inside) at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. And then I'm up and flying to Winnipeg for the Thin Air Writers' Festival where I'm reading on the Mainstage with a crowd of other writers, starting at 7:30pm on Monday. On Tuesday at 2:30pm I'll be back, along with Cordelia Strube, for an on-stage chat with Charlene Diehl. Charlene is the director of Thin Air, and she just happens to have been one of my favourite professors way back when. I'm really really looking forward to this.

* Happy, improbable fantasies: such as, why not train to do an Ironman this year? A friend posted on my Facebook wall that she thought I could do it -- her husband just completed his second, and managed the feat despite training only over his lunch hour (!!). So now I'm thinking, yeah, I'll bet I could do it! Except I have no spare time for Ironman-level training just now. Maybe come winter??

* Texting. Seriously, I love the medium. Has anyone else noticed that there is something poetical about the form? Sometimes it's nothing but pure comic poetry.

* And, finally, a shout out of congratulations to everyone on the Writers' Trust short list, especially to Tamas Dobozy, whose kid was on my kid's soccer team a few years back, so we swapped stories on the sidelines about agents, editors, and trying to get published. I love the smallness of the CanLit world.

(Now, in traditional blog call-and-response style: want to tell me what you're glad for right now?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wearing my writer hat/hair: Eden Mills, part two

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So I've had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it's invisible because I don't look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I've had my writer hair on for the past two days.

In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I'm obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren't buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, "I'm bored! I'm bored! I'm boooooored!" I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, "And no one's even listening to me!"; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.

Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.

Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn't really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began -- the new soundtrack at that point had become, "Why can't I just have some ice cream!"(Yes, there was ice cream -- see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)

I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site -- someone's beautiful backyard overlooking a little river -- which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. "I want ice cream!"

I was reading last.

And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight -- really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
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By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.

Afterward, Albus whispered, "That was really good, Mom!" And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren't so bad after all.

So it was worth it.

And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. "This is full of vitamin C," one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.

We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, "I don't really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day." Kevin said, "It takes a lot of energy to look that calm."

And that's the truth.
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:::

This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven't even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)

Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real "working mother" day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us -- me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou -- led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, "Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!" which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I'm remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.

Because here's the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I'm dressing up to play a part. I know I'm not a writer with a capital W. It's not that I don't take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.

By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store -- because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.

We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can't even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.

It was the best part of my day.

So here's the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.

(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we'd worked hard on our own, and we'd missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Today and tomorrow: Eden Mills

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Today, I read just downriver from this spot.

Tomorrow, I am headed back to the same townlet of Eden Mills to lead writing workshops for high school students.

Tonight, I am pooched, toast, wiped, zonked, and headed directly for bed. I realize it is only 9:30pm as I type these words. But all I want is to read James Herriot under a nice warm duvet as I drift toward dreamland.

More photos and stories to come. Soonish.

Friday, September 14, 2012

{This captioned moment}

I like Soule Mama's {this moment} photo-only Friday post, marking out a special moment from the previous week. I like it, but I'm too damn chatty. So here is my narrated version of {this moment}: photo plus caption.
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Soccer girl lies amongst the shoes in the front hall, preparing for her last tournament of the season, to be played on what amounts to a rolling farmer's field, on a cold, rainy, windy Saturday.

(Confession: special moment chosen largely because I took so few photos this week; not to diminish its specialness.)

Tryouts for next season start in, oh, a week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Take your chances when they come

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I've put away the canning kettle for the season. And while this wasn't a banner canning year for me, I was reminded, as every year, that it's not that hard to do. It's time-consuming, finicky, hot, and has to be done when the fruit is ripe, that's all. Listen to the radio. Accept help. Try not to whimper because you've got one more canner full of jars to boil and it's nearly midnight on a weeknight.

For some reason, it's worth it to me. Maybe it's the colourful jars in the cupboards. Maybe it's looking forward to a winter of sauces and chilis and soups in the crockpot.

Speaking of seasonal, I had a little thought in church on Sunday (I take the family occasionally, to touch base with the Mennonite in us -- Kevin excepted, though he still has to go). The thought was this: Sometimes I'm open to soaking in experiences, observing, learning, participating, doing. And sometimes I just want to reflect. And these two states of being don't really overlap, much, for me. Or maybe they do, in ways I just can't see. Maybe what I'm trying to talk about is that sometimes I feel like I'm skimming along on the surface of things, and other times I'm very still and quiet, and I can sense the sacredness in everything. When I'm skimming along, I don't even really like the word sacred. It sounds too serious, too self-conscious, too heavy, too inward-looking. I appreciate and respect it, but I don't like it.

I don't get to decide what kind of mood or state I'm in. I'm just there. It's like being in the mood to play the piano, or write a poem. I have to accept where I'm at.

It's hard to accept where I'm at when it's somewhere I don't want to be.

I'm skimming along right now. I'm frustrated by my inability to be still and quiet.

But here's another tiny thought: sometimes -- really, most of the time -- it doesn't matter what I'm in the mood for. I have to take my chances when they come. I have to can the tomatoes while they're ripe. I have to run during soccer practice, and read stories at bedtime, and cook supper when everyone's hungry for supper. And right now I have to get revved up for readings and for meeting new people and a bit of travelling -- and even a bit of travelling is a lot, for me.

One of the places I'm travelling to is Winnipeg. I'll be there a week from this coming Monday (!!), reading at the Thin Air Writers Festival. I found this lovely blog post on their site, written by Rosemary Nixon who appeared at the festival last fall. I'll admit to some gnawing apprehension about leaving the kids and dogs and Kevin, with all the scheduling excitement to manage on their own, but Rosemary's post reminded me of the potential that is waiting in this new experience -- exciting.

A lot of life is about getting it done. And that's fine, that's probably even good, and necessary, and right. I'm privileged enough without getting to do what I'm in the mood for all the time. So the tricky part is appreciating what's going on, floating on random flotsam and jetsom amidst the current that is carrying me along, and, maybe, glimpsing something mysterious in the trees that is there to be seen.

Maybe even while skimming along, I'm catching and keeping the things that will sustain me when I'm ready to be still and quiet again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Young, Hot, and Local

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totally unrelated photo

Amusingly, I read this article today on CBC Books because the title interested me: "Book blogs we appreciate: the 2012 edition." Scrolling down, yes, I know that one, and that one, and that one too -- hey, what the?? That can't be right. That's me!

Weird, huh.

To sustain the self-promotional links theme, let me add that I'll be reading at the Eden Mills Writers Festival on Sunday, from 12:30-1:30, along with Tanis Rideout and Dani Couture. We're being billed as "Young, Hot, and Local." (!!) I can't comment. Just can't comment. Resist the urge to comment, Carrie.

Anyway, Eden Mills is family friendly, and I plan to bring mine and spend the afternoon. It's a beautiful setting too.

And that's all she wrote. For this afternoon. Off to the cross-town piano lesson scramble.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Look how we've grown

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Every September we measure the kids on a wall in the basement. We started the annual ritual not long after moving into this house, which was nine years ago this summer. It's entertaining to compare, say, AppleApple, who has always been my biggest child, from birth onwards, to Fooey, who has always been my smallest. We discovered this year that Fooey measures almost a year and a half behind AppleApple in height! AppleApple, meantime, would be taller than Albus, if they were exactly the same age. And so far, Albus and CJ measure identically at the same ages.

Trivia. The stuff of life.

This year we measured Kevin and me too. It was the kids' idea. I'd rather not repeat it every year, because really, all we can hope for is that we haven't shrunk: that's our only direction at this stage. Amusingly (for me), I proved taller than expected, and Kevin proved shorter. We're only separated by about 2.5 inches. So we gave everyone a low five: guess what kids, you've been gifted with short genes.

Reflecting on measuring changes, here's another one. I'm realizing that there may not be quite as much blog-time this fall as I've been accustomed to. Please accept in advance my apologies for the absences that may occur.

So much I want to tell you about: work, play, exercise, new activites, a family meeting, canning, running, writing, suppers. So much I want to record and preserve.

But the truth is that I'm not keeping up. I'm not used to not keeping up. Professionally, I'm swamped through October, and on the domestic front, well, it's back-to-school time, and you all know what that means. So I'm hoping to tread water. That's all.

Actually, come to think of it, I'm hoping not to shrink ...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Today, another first day

This morning I biked uphill with CJ "pedalling" on the trail-a-bike behind me. Why is our entire route to school uphill? Then again, the entire route home is the opposite. CJ chattered the whole way. He kept calling out questions, and I kept puffing out abbreviated replies, along the lines of, "Can't talk! Trying to breathe! Keep pedalling!"

I saw some tears in the kindergarten drop-off zone, but they weren't his, and they weren't mine. On the whole, he was excited, although one of the last things he told me before we parked at the school was, "I'm feeling nervous, Mommy!"

That's okay, kiddo. It's okay to feel nervous. It's a big change.

We grabbed some photos on my phone, the bell rang, he got in line, he went inside. A quick kiss was squeezed in there.

Very different from my very first kindergarten drop-off seven years ago.

Seven years ago, my baby, my firstborn, was that kid in the kindergarten line-up who was having hysterics and clinging to his mother's leg. That mother had a two-year-old by the hand, and a newborn strapped across her chest in a sling. It was a really hot day. The pitying, sympathetic glances were numerous. I could almost hear parents thinking, Thank God that's not me, poor woman.

I left the school in tears, my kindergartner wailing loudly and kicking the carpet in his new kindergarten classroom, his classmates observing him with vague curiosity.

"Don't worry, we'll call you if we need you," the secretary told me, as she tried to get me to go home. I didn't want to go home. I wanted to break into the kindergarten room and hug my screaming boy. But I went home.

All was well when I came to pick him up several hours later, though I could hardly believe it. And he's remarkably well-adjusted and sociable, so I don't think the experience scarred him for life (though I wasn't convinced at the time).

This is such a different experience. I felt so much more sadness over that first leaving, more grief about the passage of time. Maybe it's having four children, and having gone through this ritual repeatedly over the years. Maybe it's just about being ready.

But he didn't look back as he walked into the school, and I didn't wish that he would.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On napping, prizes, and obscurity

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I'm back to napping! And I'm remembering why I love it. All the best thoughts arrive upon waking from a good (short) nap. During the summer, I got by with no naps, partly by lowering my weekly early morning workouts to twice/week, but mostly by nipping back to bed upon arriving home. With no one rushing off to school, our family got in the habit sleeping in. But it didn't feel like napping, it felt like going back to bed. Like the work-out had been another dream-state.

We're back to the school routine, and we're suffering just a little bit, collectively. Trying to adjust bedtimes and wake times. Accepting that there will be after-school meltdowns. Everyone's tired. Evenings are squeezed. Kevin and I were still doing lunches and dishes last night at 9pm.

There was no moment for a nap yesterday to balance out my early morning run.

So I'll admit that rising at 5am this morning, in order to go exert myself whilst clad in spandex, was not exactly what I wanted to do. I'm making spin/weights sound way less fun than it is. By the end of the work-out, it felt completely worth it (as it always does), and after breakfast and the getting-ready whirl, everyone departed, and the house was quiet by 8:30. Quiet by 8:30!!! Empty! Just me and the dogs.

So I napped.

I drifted off. And woke with a clear mind, feeling at peace, filled with ideas, thoughts, answers, calm. Call me crazy (or lazy), but I consider napping to be an important spiritual process. Somehow, while gently drifting toward sleep, my mind becomes more open, more at ease. To be creative, one needs to be at ease, not panicking. Many a time, a nap has set me right simply by allowing my body and mind to relax.

This is a long preamble. What I want to write about is the announcement of the Giller longlist earlier this week; should I write about it? Still not sure. But I'm an obscure CanLit mama who had an eligible book out this year (among 226 others), and this brief moment in time is wound into the rest of my life. I knew it would be a long shot to find Juliet on the list, but hope springs eternal, and every Canadian writer understands what a career boost it is to have any association with the Giller attached to one's book.

In the days and hours leading up to the announcement, I couldn't get away from thinking about it. It dogged me, no matter how I tried to redirect my thoughts. Such is the power of a prize. So here's the strange thing: notwithstanding my immediate gut response of plain old crushing disappointment not to see Juliet on the list, I've been experiencing an unexpected lightness of heart since the announcement came and went.

I'm grateful to everyone who told me they were sure it would be there, especially those wonderful booksellers who've had Juliet's back all along.

But I didn't know how heavy the weight of expectation/hope had been pressing on me until after my nap this morning. I got up, voted, hung laundry, planned my attack on today's scheduling adventures, and realized that I was feeling ... really good.

I'm not waiting for anything. The worst outcome has happened. The sadness is over. And in its place is a feeling of gratitude for the sweet minutiae that I'm often too cluttered and harried and anxious to see. Maybe it's an after-the-storm effect. (And it rained torrentially here on Tuesday.) It sounds trite to say it: gratitude for my kids, for our house, for our neighbourhood, for health, for friends, for kindness, for running errands with two four-year-old boys in tow. For everything, I guess.

I wonder how other obscure CanLit writers are feeling this week.

And I wonder, I'll admit, how those who made the list are feeling (with special shout-outs to not-so-obscure CanLit mamas, Annabel Lyon, who kindly helped my daughter with her project on ancient Greece this past year, and Katrina Onstad, with whom I shared a seminar table while we were both doing our Master's at U of Toronto.)

If I could change one thing about myself, it would be the anxiety I feel when outcomes are out of my control. What was I worrying about, all along? What was I hoping for, really? Was it external affirmation, some kind of proof? And if so, why?

Okay, another thing I would change: I would live, always, without fear of failure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Keepers: cold cellar, cupboards, and freezers

I found this post on my Facebook timeline (which was oddly compelling; damn you, Facebook, for finding new ways to help me procrastinate). I wrote it in the middle of February, 2011. But its information seems especially useful just now, in the midst of the harvest season, as I make an effort to fill the cold cellar, cupboards, and freezer. Though I haven't felt very domestic this summer, somehow the arrival of September gives me the sudden urge to preserve. I feel it in the changing light and the leaves starting to fall, and the yellowing tomato plants: now is the time, hurry, hurry!

I had help this weekend. Caught up in a writing spell, and in possession of a bin of pears afflicted by fruit flies, Kevin offered to learn the fine art of saucing and canning. (Actually, it's more of a craft than an art, and a bit tedious as he discovered, but he also discovered that he could can pearsauce while watching soccer. Win!) My mother told my aunt who was thrilled because apparently my uncle cans every summer. And then Kevin went to pick up kids at a friend's house, and discovered that the dad was in the middle of -- you guessed it! -- canning.

Photos and original post below.









Some food stores well in our cold cellar. Some food does not. The sweet keeper squash is still going strong, but all other squashes are turning, uh, squishy. Squishes. We've kept them past their prime. Note to self: buy in bulk early in the season, eat lots, and by January at the very latest, shred and freeze the rest. Late February is too late. Although also note: some slightly squishy squash may be peeled and turned into soup.

Excellent keepers: garlic, stored in brown paper bags (I love my Ontario garlic! If you think you know garlic, and you've only ever met grocery store Chinese-grown garlic, I would like to introduce you to a whole different vegetable [is it a vegetable?]); potatoes, as long as you root through the big bag and compost any soft specimens--they keep best stored in smaller amounts in brown paper bags; beets, just like potatoes, only everyone gets much more tired of them, and kind of wishes they wouldn't keep so well (though they do make good pickles).

Good keepers: apples. Our cold cellar can't preserve them as well as Martin's, our local apple farm, but we buy half a bushel or more at a time, and, stored in our cold cellar, they stay crispy 'til eaten. But we can go through half a bushel in two weeks, so it's hard to put a fine end date on their cold cellar lives.

Decent keepers: yams, turnips, green cabbage, napa cabbage, pears. Lower your expectations. Don't leave them to linger all winter long. Eat within the month (even sooner for the napa). We store them loose on wire shelves, with the exception of the pears, which are stored, like the apples, in a handy bin. The pears must been eaten within two weeks, we've found, and they rot deceptively, from the inside out.

Not to be kept in the cold cellar: onions, which apparently have an ill effect on apples, so we store them in a dark cupboard in the kitchen; and carrots, which keep best in the refrigerator. It's not practical to have more than 10 lbs in the bottom drawer of the fridge, but luckily, through Bailey's Local Foods, I can buy a new 10 lb bag every month. And when that's not enough, I can drive to Martin's farm and buy more.

In the freezer, which I'm digging into with ever more gratitude for last summer's kept harvest, I wish there were more: corn and green beans. And less peas and beet greens. I am absolutely thrilled with the amount of plums and apricots, and the happy surprise of blueberries, (enough to get us through til April or May). But the frozen applesauce is wasted space. Note to self: can the stuff! My canned pearsauce has lasted til now (last jar opened last night). My tomatoes are hanging in there, but with an upswing in soup and stew production, the jolly red jars are beginning to dwindle. I must do a head count. I want them to last through May, and it's time to start rationing. The frozen roasted red peppers continue to delight. And finally, I am happy with my frozen herbs, but could have frozen far more cilantro and basil, the latter particularly, because there is nothing like a heaping bowl of pasta with pesto to make a winter's supper sing.