How weird is this: my eldest daughter found my water bottle. So check that item off the "lost list."
She knew where it was all along. In fact, it was in her messy room, as pictured in yesterday's post! Apparently I brought it to her myself on Friday night, around 3 o'clock in the morning, when she was having a croupy coughing fit. I remember the croupy cough (and the momentary fear that it might progress, like CJ's did last fall, to emergency room proportions). I remember, vaguely, rushing to her room with concern. I remember nothing about fetching her a water bottle, let alone my water bottle. She's been drinking out of it ever since.
Guess I was tired.
Early this morning, when the location of my bottle was still a mystery, I took a glass canning jar to hot yoga. It worked quite well, actually.
My week days have a very particular shape right now, which I find soothing. Mid-winter calm.
Early morning, dark: exercise, usually with a friend.
Breakfast: with children, prepare for school.
Mid-morning til early afternoon: cup of coffee, office, writing.
Somewhere between 1 and 2: lunch, leftovers. If really lucky, meet husband or friend for lunch.
Mid-afternoon: more writing, somewhat frantic, one eye on clock.
3:45: children home. Save work, leave office.
Late afternoon: snacks, supper prep, laundry, catching up, homework, piano practice, hugs, listening, radio (sometimes), noise, dogs, friends.
Early evening: ferry children to and from activities.
Supper: sometimes early, sometimes late, as together as we can manage.
After supper: dishes, snacks, homework, laundry, piano, teeth, reading, talking, children to bed.
After 9pm: sit on couch with tea and dogs and Kevin (when possible), talk with big kids (sometimes), read in bed (always).
At yoga, and when I run, I tend to meditate on staying in the moment. Be here now, I tell myself.
I love my schedule right now, as plotted out above. But I know that it will change, as every schedule I've ever enjoyed has changed, and drastically. The point is not to worry about what may come, and how all the pieces will fit together in the future, but to enjoy what is here, right now.
Right now I am watching the wind blow the snow around, and hey, there's a neighbour I know walking by! (Yes, neighbours, I watch you walk by all day). I am enjoying the feeling of having met a deadline. I am finishing a square of dark chocolate. There are black beans with garlic simmering on the stove, and they smell really good. My office is toasty warm. The dogs are sleeping near me in their beds.
Today's theme from the universe: You will receive messages that are not meant for you. Literally. I've had a phone call, a voice message on my cellphone, and a text message all meant for other people. In all cases, I received a complete message, rather than an "oops, wrong number" and a hang-up.
I have no idea what the universe is trying to tell me ("Not all messages are meant for you?"), but I like catching glimpses of others' lives, so I don't mind in the least.
A list of items recently lost by me and my eldest daughter
1. 1 pair of swim goggles and a swim cap (hers)
lost in the University of Waterloo's pool area, on deck or in changeroom
2. 1 pair of Keen's sandals, size 7 (hers)
lost somewhere between the pool and Bechtel Park's indoor soccer field
3. 1 blue sweater with hood (shared by me and her)
sorely missed, no idea where lost, or when
4. 1 pair of running shoes, size 7 (hers)
gone missing despite me taking care to bring them home from Bechtel Park's indoor soccer field, with the prophetic words, "I'd better take these so they don't get lost." Haven't been seen since.
5. 1 blue water bottle (mine)
lost after a run at RIM Park, even though I never took it out of the bag
Sometimes I wonder what the universe is up to. Also, and relatedly, sometimes I spend way too much time reading clues that may or may not be there. I wonder: what does it all mean, when quite possibly it only means that I'm paying attention to certain things and ignoring others. When quite possibly, the evidence is evidence only of my own perspective.
Remember how I wasn't going to write freelance this year? Yesterday, I received news that not one but two separate freelancing contacts were no longer in the business of commissioning work. To put it plainly, that means less freelance work for me. So it fits with my plan, right? Except in the past week, I've also gotten two out-of-the-blue commissions for other (small) writing jobs. Well, which is it, universe?
A horoscope recently informed me that I was doing too much and would need to scale back. What? No! Argh!
While composing this post, the phone rang. Exciting, right! The phone almost never rings! It was a woman at a call centre who said, "Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I'm calling about your computer, okay?"
Thanks, universe. You just interrupted my train of thought.
This is my 1,000th post as Obscure CanLit Mama. Random, but true.
The question is, says my very patient husband who has to listen to this stuff even more often than you do: Is the universe a good source of advice?
Celebrating a birthday, a Burns day, and a full moon. We dined on "cockadoodle soup" (aka cockaleekie soup, which sounds just as odd, come to think of it) and haggis. There were kilts. The songs all had bagpipes. The girls found their ghillies and performed. And today I am tired and my head aches just a wee bit. Seems just about perfect for the end of January, hey.
Driving children to and from activities last night, I realized that I'm in a sweet spot in my book. I know what's happening and what needs, yet, to happen. Two crucial characters have solidified in my mind. I have some exciting scenes to lay out. I could sit and write non-stop if someone would bring me emergency supplies (and if I didn't have children to feed, snuggle, tuck in, clean up after, and drive to and from activities). I don't know how long this sweet spot will hold, but I hope it's right up until the very last page of the book.
I can't believe I ever tried to write a novel without Scrivener. It's the most useful structural tool I've ever encountered, for writing. Now to see whether I can write a novel with the help of Scrivener. If I can't, I might as well stop trying, honestly. (The wonderful thing about Scrivener is that it would be useful for any complex book-length project, so if I fail at novel-writing, I'll turn my hand to some other literary challenge instead.)
I do almost all of my exercise in the dark these days.
Spin and weights on Mondays, now, and spin again on Tuesdays, both with the same friend. We catch up on the drives to and from class.
On Wednesdays, I run with another friend. This has been our ritual for several years now, and we go no matter the weather, though we did consider heading for the track yesterday. It was -27C on her outdoor thermometer, so we layered up, and ran a loop around the 'hood rather than running out to the "country" to see the sunrise. We felt like heroes. But I was so cold by the end that I honestly thought I might perish on my own front porch while my stiff fingers failed to operate the house key -- brain apparently had frozen too.
This morning I went to yoga. It was light by the time I got home.
On Friday evenings I run while the kids are at soccer. It's dark, dark, dark. The photo above was taken on one of those runs. I wear a headlamp and go no matter the weather. I tell myself: if I can do this now, I can do this forever.
On Sundays I play soccer; it's not dark, but it's also indoors.
I love watching the light return. But there is something exhilerating about being awake while the world is still sleeping. In my early twenties, I loved being awake and writing at 3 o'clock in the morning. In my late thirties, I love being awake and moving just a few hours later.
Yesterday, my friend Tricia and I taped an interview for our Amazing Race audition video. We are getting help from a friend who is a professional videographer. He brought stuff, including a cameraman and lights. We were in Tricia's living-room but it felt like being on a set. (She blogged about it too.)
It was nerve-wracking because one's strengths and weaknesses felt instantly apparent. I have too much nervous energy! I can't sit still! It also challenges me to get out of my head, where I'm living rather intensely these days, working on this historical feminist sports romance I seem to be writing.
But it was also really fun. Really fun. I won't post any photos from yesterday's shoot (they're not really mine to post), but here's one I took last week while our kids were playing. Tricia is trying to teach me how to "frown-smile." Apparently, I can't frown-smile. This is more like sad-clown-smile.
Day two of swim meet. Day two of early rising, despite it being the weekend. Day two of coffee cup, snow melting off boots in over-heated environment, crammed-together hard bench seating, trying to read for poetry book club (The Book of Marvels, by Lorna Crozier).
Day two of trying to get her attention, and waiting for her races.
Last race of day two. 50m freestyle. Lane 6.
She doesn't love the sprints. She thinks she's more a natural endurance swimmer. She's behind at the turn.
But she powers home to win the heat in her best time yet: personal bests in every race this weekend. Swimming is all about personal bests. It's set up like a race, yet according to my girl you can't really see the other swimmers around you, and have little sense of where you are positioned. It's not like running on a track where tactics come into play, along with strength and speed. You're basically just going as hard as you can in your own lane. It's a very individual sport.
I can't say I'm a convert, exactly, after these past two days. It's a lot of waiting for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. I can't appreciate the technical abilities of the swimmers, having none of those abilities myself, and being unfamiliar with the sport. And I don't really enjoy the rush of adrenalin that I get when I'm watching her race -- it's very intense, almost embarrassing. I care too much! I am seriously shaking immediately after her races. Do other parents respond like that?
cinnamon raisin bread
I came home and baked four loaves of regular bread, and four loaves of cinnamon raisin bread. We ate a loaf of fresh bread for supper last night with split pea soup. I baked the cinnamon raisin bread after supper -- heavenly smells in the house, and everyone was excited to wake up and eat it for breakfast this morning.
I also played an indoor soccer game yesterday. But I did not go for a long run. I'm realizing that my weekends are very squeezed as it is ... and maybe I'm just too tired by the weekend to add in that extra element. I try to make room for so many different activities, but there are limits, and I'd rather go with the flow and enjoy and appreciate all of the things I'm getting to do, rather than getting down on myself for those additional wish-list activities I just can't seem to shoehorn in.
Kevin and I have stumbled onto a way to make cooking fun again.
It all began the first week of January. Kids were still off school, but we wanted to get back to work. So we split our days. I took the morning kid-shift, he took the afternoons; but afternoons meant suppers too. I relinquished my iron hold over kitchen proceedings, and introduced him to The Joy of Cooking, and he liked it. A lot.
We did have Yorkshire puddings two nights in a row because the first recipe didn't replicate his childhood memory of his mother's version. Sadly, neither did the second recipe. After which, he moved on to a traditional shepherd's pie. Getting in touch with his British Isle roots. (What if he attempts blood pudding??) I must add that he also solicited advice from me, which I appreciated. Because I was practically itching to give it.
I found that the brief break inspired me to cook with more enthusiasm, and, I'll admit it, a faint stirring of competition. Nothing like a little challenge to get me inspired.
I've already been creamed by the competition, according to our four-year-old. Kevin prepared leftover noodles with cheese sauce on Saturday evening, and, to repeat a story I already told on Facebook, here's how that went over:
CJ: Who made this supper?
Kevin: I did.
CJ: This supper is awesome! *holds out arms for hug*
Me: Are you serious? I'm going to cry.
Please note: I have never, not once, received a spontaneous hug for any meal I have set upon the table. A more common response would be:
"Why do you always make food that I hate?"
I have been preparing said meals for eleven-and-a-half years. That's, like, 4000 meals.
But I digress.
We've decided to up the stakes.
Inspired by a friend who is going on sabbatical this summer, and who is chronicling her attempts to "eat down the freezer and cupboards," Kevin and I have decided to prepare meals using all those edible odds and ends that dwell, untouched and neglected, in our own cupboards and freezers. (I suspect there's some weird survivalist instinct in me that wants to save the stored food, in case of apocalyptic circumstances; in any case, we have a lot, and we could probably reduce our monthly grocery bill by making better use of it. Worth a try.)
* I started on Monday with a meal of quinoa (cupboard), spelt (cupboard), and brown rice (cupboard) salad with roasted red beets (leftover), and a corn (frozen) and potato (cold cellar) chowder (broth from freezer) with bacon (freezer). For bedtime snack, we opened a jar of pearsauce (cupboard) and served it with yogurt.
* Last night, Kevin made us a spinach (freezer) gorgonzola sauce with bacon (leftover), mushrooms (lingering), and shrimp (freezer), over pasta. He wisely prepared a separate cheese sauce for the children who didn't want the fancy bits, making him, once again, most popular chef with the four-year-old set. (Pandering! I refuse to stoop to such tactics!)
* For tonight's meal, I'm planning to prepare corn tortilla (freezer) quesedillas with refried red beans (freezer) and roasted red pepper salsa (freezer, fridge, cupboard), and a raw cabbage (cold cellar) salad.
This Monday morning is not brought to you by an efficient or clear-headed start. It begins with a sore throat, an unwillingness to rise early, and a sense of being behind on each and every task of the day. Honestly, I could happily go back to bed right now, and it's not even noon. I have only my own work to do, and must locate some inner will power and just do it. While washing the dishes last night, I thought, if it were only me, I would be leaving these dishes on the counter and collapsing on the couch in front of bad tv. So many of the things that I do every day, I do only because I have to. I have to lest the larger collective project of family fall apart. I can't veg on the couch when there's laundry, dishes, kids need baths and grooming, piano practice and homework wrangling, and the week ahead is waiting to be discussed with Kevin and scheduled out on the chalkboard.
So I just do it, though not with the enthusiasm or fervor of a slogan. Nope. I just do it. Trudge.
Maybe that's why I get a lot done. I've got these dependents, expecting and needing structure. If it were just me, what would I be doing? Maybe every day would look a lot like this morning has: sleepy, dull-eyed, slow-moving, and oddly unconcerned. I would read the paper and drink coffee.
Or would I?
After all, I do have a big sense of adventure to satisfy, and, often, an inner whirlwind of energy. Today just doesn't happen to be whirling with energy. I'm a bit sick. I'm tired. I spent a multi-faceted weekend in happy activity, bouncing from place to place. I ran 14km through the fog on Friday night; coffee date with my elder son on Saturday morning; baked bread; met with Tricia and our friend Steve to discuss filming for our Amazing Race audition video; library with elder daughter; dinner date with Kev; up at 6am Sunday morning to drive soccer girl to a game in Mississauga (through blinding rain and dark); home in time to grab a banana, change, and head out to film scenes for audition video in a nearby park (splashing through cold puddles and weeds, trying to get muddy, and look tough / photogenic / captivating / ourselves); home to change for a really fun soccer game; and, well, that just about catches us up to those supper dishes. It was kind of non-stop.
Until about 10pm last night, when I just stopped and haven't really started up again in full indomitable Carrie mode. Feeling a touch domitable. (Domitable? Nope, just checked: not a word.)
I know how to be when I'm rolling and up and moving and full of enthusiasm. It's when I'm tired and sick(ish) and worn out that I don't know how to be -- I don't know what to do with myself, or how to rest. Know what I mean? (Stretch, Carrie, stretch.)
"Artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins, they require the same thing, an unspecial practice: tedious and pitch-black invisible, private as guts, but always sacred." - from "Practice" in Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton
I loved this book. I bought it for my new Kobo, which my two eldest got me for Christmas -- their own idea, their own money, their own surprise. I hope to use it to buy more of the books that I might not quite make the leap for in the bookstore. But I've now learned that it might inspire me to buy certain books twice, because having read Swimming Studies as an ebook, I long for the actual physical artifact of this particular book, so that I can share it, and so that I can leaf through its pages.
I was sad to reach the end of Swimming Studies. It is a memoir written in a style that I found both affecting and aesthetically serene. Shapton shares a series of moments, linked by their connection to her own life, and to swimming. She resists the impulse to analyze (I admire this, being compulsively analytical myself). She draws scenes that are coloured with very specific detail, that open the possibility of a story the way clues do. It gave me the sensation of looking at old photographs, and wondering about the people captured there. It gave me the sensation of disturbing a private scene, almost, and not fully grasping the significance of everything going on.
I find myself wondering over certain small scenes, like one early on: Why did the women behind the counter at the coffee shop rebuff her mother's friendliness, in the early dark of morning, and why did her mother keep trying to be friendly? Or even just resonating with a familiar sound I have never paid attention to: the clanging of a frozen rope against a flag pole.
I like that the book seemed to belong to no established genre, nor to care. It didn't need to fit easily into a category. I did not find myself becoming impatient with some parts that I imagine others might find indulgent: the minute descriptions of pools she remembers swimming in, or her collection of swim suits. I kind of just loved the whole thing.
I can't imagine growing up with an athletic discipline and routine underpinning my daily life. But I know all about artistic discipline. I find it fascinating to glimpse the mind and experience of someone who has lived both. And I wonder if I could find some lesson, some inspiration here, some ease with the small; the ordinary transformed by attention; the possibility for forward motion within a scene that looks set and still. If ever I were to write a book based on my blog, I think this is where I would begin.
I'm liking the ten-minute post. 1. It keeps me from rambling. 2. It keeps from obsessively over-editing every precious word. 3. I'm writing a book, and I need to do that more than I need to blog ... but I can spend ten minutes blogging without harming my book writing.
Okay, the above took me two whole minutes!
Which leaves me eight to write about my word of the year. Drumroll, please.
Word of The Year, 2013!
No, don't get up. I'm not giving you advice or suggesting that you do, although perhaps you should. That's my word. Yes, that's it. Stretch.
Let me explain. Let me explain first that my best words have come very suddenly, seemingly out of the blue. I found this word during my long run on Saturday afternoon. It has several different meanings, and I intend to explore them throughout the year, but its most basic meaning is where I'll begin.
Stretching. I need to do more of it, quite literally. If I am to keep doing my long runs and not get injured, I must stretch. I don't know why it's so hard to add that simple extra step into my routine, but it is. Therefore, word of the year will remind me to stretch.
On a metaphorical level, I see it like this: There are things that I want to do. Big, exciting, challenging, adventurous things! If I'm to do them, I will need to stretch. I will need to do the simple little things that keep me flexible (metaphorically speaking). My focus tends to go right to the big part of any challenge, the grinding, tough, overtly demanding, adrenalin-fuelled, energy-burning part. And I skip over the milder-seeming, gentler, supportive part that requires stillness and patience. I find my joy in motion.
I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
It's just that if I want to stay in motion, I need to learn to stand still and stretch. Know what I mean? The one supports the ability to do the other. You can't soar if your wings are stiff. Does that sound like it belongs on a really bad motivational poster, perhaps involving a pastel sunset and bubble letters? Hm. Well, something like that.
I've got ten minutes to write this post. It's 5:47 AM and I'm up because a) I'm planning to go to a yoga class and b) I couldn't sleep because c) my mind was racing with everything that needs to get done today -- the first day back to regular routine.
There won't be time to blog today. So, why not get up early and blog, thought I, and eat an egg on toast, and write a note to a kid's teacher re mixed up black Bog boots, and send an email to my husband, still sleeping, about tonight's difficult-to-coordinate after-school soccer/supper/local food pick-up plan. Why not?
So I'm up. Egg eaten, note written, email plan sent, yoga bag packed.
Now to blog. It's word-of-the-year time. Tonight I am meeting with two friends to talk about our words of last year, and words of the coming year. So I'd like to reflect (oh so briefly!) on my word of this year past. I cheated, slightly, and chose two: work and play. As the year unspooled, it seemed that work was the dominant word. I struggled to figure out where play fit, and I'm still not sure. I played soccer, which was new. And I tried to enjoy my work and find the joy/play in it. But maybe one word would have been enough.
I worked to repair an injury last winter.
I worked to promote The Juliet Stories.
I worked as a freelance writer.
I applied to midwifery school -- hoping to do work of a different kind.
Working to repair an injury is not as much fun as working toward completing a triathlon. But it was necessary, and I am repaired, for now, and looking forward to more goals and races this coming year.
Working to promote my book was good. It really was. It was work, without a doubt, and it took energy, but by the end of the season I felt comfortable on stage, and had benefitted from connections made at the different festivals, and I think I was able to see myself as a writer in a tangible and public way. It was a good year for my work as a fiction writer.
Working as a freelance writer was, well, I'll be frank, it was hard. I don't have time to elaborate, but suffice it to say, that experiment encouraged me to make the leap to apply to midwifery school, after many years of considering the possibility. (That, and the fact that my youngest child will be in school full-time next fall.)
Writing fiction continues to be both work and play, for me. I am blessed to have found something that brings both elements together. I'm looking forward to working/playing today ... after yoga, breakfast, kids off to school, and my quick morning nap. Can't wait!
Nothing very exciting is happening here. It's the last day of freedom before school starts (that is my 11-year-old's take, anyway). Swim practice was cancelled. Soccer is on (one game in Mississaugua, hers; another in Cambridge, mine). Soft wet snow is falling in quantities voluminous enough for the building of snow forts.
I went for my first long run of the year yesterday -- 15km, which is pretty short by long run standards. It felt easy, and I went slow, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I spent a few kilometres sorting out structural details for the new book, and I spent the rest of the kilometres kind of thinking about absolutely nothing, except for running itself. The discipline and routine of an athletic pursuit seems to keep me happy, grounded.
I've been reading Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton, utterly fascinated at the glimpse into how a young person can be shaped by the rigour and routine and discipline of participating in competitive sport. This was not part of my growing up experience, although I suspect my personality would have been well-suited to it. It might have made my teenage years easier too -- a safe place into which to pour those wild energies and the longing for devotion, purpose, "specialness," which Shapton writes about. But what happens to the athlete who, despite great discipline and effort, does not achieve her original goals? By the age of nineteen, Shapton knew she would never make Canada's Olympic team, despite intense devotion to her sport. There are limits that we all have to confront. If you've devoted five to six hours a day, six days a week, for most of your teenage years, training for a race you'll never get to race -- what then?
Well, I suppose there could be a sense of aimlessness. Or perhaps, instead, you find ways to transfer your disciplined routine to other aspects of your life. Shapton is a very successful writer, artist, and designer. This is not something that just happened, I am sure of it.
I have more to say on the subject, but will have to leave it here for now. I'm off to a soccer game with a child, aged ten, who seems inclined to pursue competitive sport one way or another, who thrives on disciplined routine, and who can't wait for school to start tomorrow. I wonder, as I read this book, whether I am reading a story that might in some way be hers, in the years to come. I wonder, as I read this book, how my child will be shaped by her participation in competitve sport, with the demands on her time and energies, and the pressure to perform.
This is my birthday gift from my dad. It's still a work in progress, as you can see, but already I sense how it will alter and expand my space in this lovely little room.
When I first moved into my office, just over a year ago, I loved the blankness of the space, the empty walls, the echoing newness. I wanted to spend time in the room before building anything permanent into it -- to see where the light fell, to see what was really missing or necessary.
I set up my wheelie computer desk, which I've been writing on since grad school, c. 1997; my chair; a plastic office organizer with drawers, formerly Kevin's; my great-aunt Alice's tiny rocking chair (she was a tiny woman); and a cast-off cupboard with doors, inside which I hid my piles of paper. After we got dogs this summer, the dog beds somehow migrated here too. The dogs love the heated floor and finding retreat from the constant attention of the children. (The children know to knock.)
It didn't take long, really, for the blankness to be replaced by clutter.
And darned if I could no longer blame the clutter on other people -- for the first time since about 1999, I had a space that was all mine. Which meant the mess was all mine too. The room began to seem small. Piles of books teetered atop stacks of paper. Soccer cleats took up residence on a windowsill. Framed artwork was stacked in the corner, facing the wall. Behind the doors of the cast-off cupboard, items became so crowded and sprawled as to be basically unfindable.
I couldn't afford built-in shelves and desk, but thought maybe I could put my GG finalist earnings ($1000) toward Ikea shelves and a desk. And then my dad got wind of my plan. Before he became a professor of Anabaptist history, he seriously considered apprenticing as a carpenter instead. He used to make our Christmas gifts out of wood when we were kids. Now he's retired. He's got a wood-working studio in his garage. So he volunteered to take on the job of Carrie's office.
I've been working in here for the first few days of this new year, still using the old wheelie desk, c. 1997, but with the architecture of the shelves in front of me, giving my eye some relief from the blank wall. I've been writing steadily. For my birthday, I bought myself Scrivener -- no longer a trial version. This promises to be a big book. I'm not sure how big, but it seems quite big already and it's not done yet. Oh, and it's a novel. I've also started believing my character is a real historical figure, which is weird. I'm making her up but I feel like she really lived.
I'm imagining a hibernating winter with these shelves warm with books and pictures, the dogs in their beds, the clutter temporarily wrangled and contained. I imagine a filled space, and the comfortable march of words. I'll be writing.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, teacher, 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.