Category: Big Thoughts

Local Food Round-Up

This week’s theme: Indian spices; curries.

Goal: To use some of those less-popular legumes and pulses now languishing in our pantry. These strange small hard dark chickpeas that never seem to soften, no matter how long I boil them, for example. Kevin purchased several pounds awhile back on the advice of a taxi driver in Thunder Bay (no kidding). And that bag of black-eyed beans.

Meat to be thawed: 2 lbs pork sausage; 4 lbs turkey parts.

To kick off the week, I’m planning red-lentil dahl and rice with peas for supper tonight. Admittedly, that will not diminish our supply of peculiar chickpeas and black-eyed beans … but it’s all about inspiration. I’ve discovered in my Indian Cookbook, by Madhur Jaffrey, some recipes that should fit the bill.

Pork with Chickpeas. Chicken (Turkey) with Tomatoes and Garam Masala. Black-Eyed Beans with Mushrooms. All recipes also call for fresh or canned tomatoes, with which our shelves are laden. In Extending the Table there’s also a cabbage (local) with lentils recipes I’m keen to try. Further recipes making me drool this afternoon are Kusherie, an Egyptian meal of lentils and rice cooked together, served with a cumin-spiced tomato sauce, macaroni, and fried onions. But we’ve run plum out of onions, and must replenish next market trip, so that will have to wait. Another nice plain meal whetting my appetite is Khichri, rice and lentils cooked together with potatoes and some milder spices: cinnamon, cloves.

One final (promise!) Big Thought arising out of last night’s walk: There’s something about being in motion that frees the mind to think reflectively; and, if the motion is shared, to connect. Maybe that’s why road trips on highways seem to have a mythical quality, everyone in the vehicle sharing that forward motion, that journey. Same with walking. Not so with city driving, in which forward motion is constantly thwarted by street lights, stop signs, other cars, pedestrians, et cetera. Being stuck inside a motionless vehicle is frustrating precisely because it feels like we should be moving. It doesn’t matter if we’re wasting mere precious seconds of time; the sensation is of a much larger waste, that sensation of being stalled in perpetuity, in the midst of the journey. Walking somewhere might take more actual time, but because we rarely have to pause for long, and aren’t moving that fast in the first place, we don’t have the same deeply irritating feeling of interruption.

Sleeping Babes, Two

Apparently CJ did wake and squawk briefly several times last night; Kevin said these episodes lasted mere moments, but because he was in another room, and we’re running two humidifiers now (so much for cutting down on energy consumption), I didn’t hear the babe and instantly leap to grab him up and feed him back to sleep. He is now 20 pounds, 6 ounces. Weighed today. I’m noting that here because I seem incapable of noting it anywhere else.

I’m only a tiny bit torn about moving him out of our room. Mostly I’m looking forward to reading before bed (while lying in bed), and to resting more consistently, ie. more than an hour or so consecutively. And I’ll still get to bring him into bed for snuggly night feedings, just fewer and further between. It always seems to come to “it’s time.” This may be the case for every transition. Something just tells me when it’s time.

To speak of a more fundamental transition, I’m finding myself in this New Year thinking often about life beyond primarily childcare. Researching possibilities. Feeling excitement, even impatience.

But.

Kevin stayed home Monday morning so I could write, and he reflected afterward how these moments will never come again. You either decide to spend this time with your growing children, or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t spend this same time with them later. They will be grown. You can’t sit on the kitchen floor while CJ practices standing and taking a step, and Fooey gobbles handfuls of peanuts perched on a stool, talking utterly non-stop. Sometimes it feels too slow, too boring, too quiet. Sometimes it feels like you need some positive feedback, some notice, some worldly recognition. That feels vain to admit, but there must be something in human nature that craves recognition, recompense, for work done. But this isn’t regular work. You might even argue that it’s not work. It’s living, life. It’s experience. It’s definitive.

And I’m trusting that I’ll know when it’s time to shift my focus, that I’ll know when my time has come to get up off the floor. Maybe it will be when CJ can run away from me, or when Fooey has her nose buried in a book, or when Apple-Apple can cook supper, or Albus can walk to school by himself. I’m just guessing. I never know it’s time … till I know.

Collective Joy

Thinking New Year. Thinking about how, when I’m doing something that I really love, I’m almost out of body, there’s a feeling of transcendence. Yet that out of body thing seems to take me away, too, from the conscious reality of Life. Played piano for an hour yesterday while CJ napped and the other kids played road hockey. It took me far far away, into music’s private space, feeling the meaning of the notes take character and shape, speaking emotion with my fingers on the keys. But then, I wasn’t with my kids and that made me feel vaguely guilty. What does it mean, to be “with” people? That is something I’m struggling with as I try to live life as presently as possible–with presence, with gratitude. The paradox is that often when I’m most present within an activity, deeply focussed, I’m taken away from the everyday-ness, away from the chaos going on around me. Away from them.

We did something funny yesterday morning (pre-road-hockey). The kids were going wild with boredom and CJ was extremely fussy, so I popped him in the sling and paced the living-room while narrating our lives operatically. Everyone found this hugely entertaining (“Get off your sister!” sung in slightly out-of-range soprano with serious vibrato beats plain old “Get off your sister,” any day). The best part was that they joined in. That’s the kind of transcendence I crave–collective transcendence.

There was a program on collective joy, recently, on CBC Radio’s Tapestry. It’s a concept I’d never considered, but instantly understood–that amazing experience of feeling connected to and part of something larger than oneself. It’s even more amazing when the experience is being collectively invented, when everyone is a participant. Think: sports. Think: camp. Think: orchestra, theatre, choir. (Think other things I haven’t thought of or mentioned; and tell me about them, please!). Speaking of which, last night I watched the finale of a deeply moving documentary called “The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing.” It’s a BBC production and may actually be a series, in which a young British choirmaster goes into hard-knock schools and starts a choral program. In this case, Gareth went to an all-boys school and in nine months built an amazing 150-voice choir that included a group of beat-boxers. To watch their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was truly to witness an experience of collective joy. Look up this series if you have even the slightest interest in choral music (and even if you think you don’t).

On that note, I must continue preparing for our low-key New Year’s celebration this evening. These are my New Year’s hopes (forget resolutions): great creative energy, imaginative problem solving, vats of patience, presence, gratitude, calm, reflection, and bursts of collective joy.

Reverie

So Stephane Dion is on his way out. A CBC commentator had a great line about his political career. She said that cats have nine lives, but Dion seems to have nine deaths–political deaths. I’d heard his address to the nation via radio, and it sounded a bit stumbling, but okay; only seeing a clip the next day on the television did I realize how truly awful it was. Poor man. What an ignominious image to have define your political career: his face was out of focus. It was like he’d already been condemned to political purgatory, ghost-like, blurry, trying desperately to communicate his good message. 

I feel a bit that way myself. Not the good message part; the out of focus part. Exhaustion’s blur. There are entire days when I feel too interior, like I need to be shaken, woken from this dream. But, then, it’s a pretty sweet dream. Yesterday’s reveries: Rolling out cookie dough, flour-covered children, Fooey piling pink icing on top of a tree-shaped cookie, slowly devouring it, licking icing off the counter; snow falling, fat flakes; pushing the stroller through uncharted sidewalk snow; pretzels in the church basement; Kevin home by naptime; rolling out stretchy pizza dough; utter chaos just before supper’s served, hungry children weeping, fighting, and pretending to explode various inanimate objects; Fooey eating two bananas instead of pizza; washing dishes in hot water; nursing a baby to sleep in front of the television; So You Think You Can Dance, Canada; tea with honey. If I weren’t writing this down right away, the whole of yesterday would disappear utterly. That’s the blurry bit. That’s the part I can’t reconcile myself to. How fast it’s passing.

Catching Life

Writing day, but this is the first I’ve gotten to the computer this morning. Fooey had her major dental appointment this morning, so that took priority. She was fully conscious during the surgery, but on nitrous oxide (“magic nose” as the dentist calls it) and additionally on a drug that kinda makes her look and act a bit drunk. Amazingly, the dentist (Super Dentist, as I shall forevermore call him) drilled and filled three cavities, including between her two front teeth, and shaved off an additional three more cavities, all in one go. So she’s taken care of. For now. Heaven knows, we are flossing and brushing and treating juice like a rare treat these days (“Juice!!!” the kids squeal with delight when it is offered at a birthday party; the way other children might scream, “Candy!” or “Cake!”), but there are hard teeth and there are soft teeth, and it’s looking like my babies have the soft ones. Something tells me this won’t be Fooey’s last”magic nose” experience. It was quite trippy trying to imagine the experience through her eyes, lying in that chair, breathing nitrous oxide into her innocent lungs, sunglasses on, in a dental office that looks like it’s perfectly preserved from the 1960s, while Super Dentist and his assistant spoke soothingly of “pink and yellow sugar bugs” being “washed away.” (Drilled away). I was starting to see pink and yellow sugar bugs. It wasn’t a bad sensation, actually.

I’ve been meaning to blog all weekend and it’s already Monday. These were some of the topics in mind. Carrot cookies: really good. Taking four children ages three to seven to the musical theatre (Annie) for a 7pm show: surprisingly fun. Midwifery: lots of Big Thoughts. In fact, that’s where I’d like to go in today’s blog.
On Friday evening, I attended the Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel College, which this year was given by Marlene Epp, a Mennonite historian. The place was packed out with the local Mennonite crowd. It is impossible to show up at something like this and not a) recognize 99% of the audience, b) be known by name by at least 33% whose names you do not, in turn, remember, and c) actually turn out to be related to 5% of those in attendance. (Note: All figures are wild estimates). The subject was Canadian Mennonite women who were midwives/healers. I love this kind of history, largely story-telling, using oral sources, diaries, notes. I loved how she integrated and contextualized the Mennonite story into and within the larger story of immigrant Canada. Proof that I would make a lousy historian, what jumped out at me instantly was the source of great fiction this history could make.
Some of you may know that I harbour distant fantasies about becoming a midwife myself. Likely from the moment I saw my own sister born at home (I was twelve and a half), the profession has seemed to me almost magical, and certainly powerful: guiding a woman through gestation to delivery, being present and receiving new life. It’s the only alternate career path I’ve been able to imagine for myself; yet I’m excruciatingly aware that my interest in midwifery is more idealistic than practical. It seems like the kind of profession one should feel “called” to (though that may be more of my idealism talking). Children and grandchildren of these midwives recalled holiday celebrations broken by the mother or grandmother grabbing up her brown bag and heading out on a mission of mercy. Midwives also acted, in some cases, as naturopaths, chiropractors, bone-setters, healers, and undertakers. Because, of course, tied up so closely with birth is death; at least, it was for most of human history, and still is in many places on earth. The responsibility seems vast. I feel myself torn between wanting to discover whether my own hands and mind could care for women and babies in this way; and being pretty darn sure that pursuing that course would bury my ambitions to continue writing fiction. Not to mention limit my time with these four small children I’ve produced who still need constant care.
I figure on four years of grace till CJ starts kindergarden. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like much time, yet when thinking over the changes in our lives these past four years there are almost too many to integrate and understand. We just are where we are. I like planning ahead. But I like staying flexible and open.
Four years ago, I was just about to get pregnant with our third child. Four years ago, Kevin was travelling long distances, regularly, and working for someone else’s company. Four years ago, my parents were living in the same house they’d lived in since 1991. They were still married to each other. Kevin’s dad was still alive. Four years ago, our kids had two sets of intact grandparents. Though we could hope for more kids, and hope for Kevin to change his job, we really couldn’t predict or control many of the events that occurred alongside those others. So it is. I just finished reading Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air, and there’s a line that’s stuck in my mind. (I’m paraphrasing). One character says that some people believe everything is all about timing; some people believe everything is all about luck; and she believes everything is fragile. Life is fragile.
I believe that, yes, everything is fragile, connections and relationships are fragile; in some ways. In other ways, everything is damned tenacious. Connections and relationships stick and tangle and surprise us and hold us and remain. Even if only in memory.
Life is fascinating, isn’t it? And that’s why I can’t figure out whether I want to be catching it, literally, or catching it in this other way: on the page.

Minus the Infant Clothes

Writing day, and I’ve promised never to blog on writing day, but have reached the natural end of how far I can go on this particular chunk of story or novel or whatever the heck it is, and yet don’t want to stop writing. Quite yet.

Here’s something significant that we did this weekend: We gave away our baby clothes!!!! I can hardly believe it, but it’s true. I’d been meaning to do it for months, but frankly it took months to work up to the actual giving away, actually seeing them out the door and gone. My heart still aches just a wee little bit when I think of those teeny tiny sleepers that all the children took turns wearing in infanthood. Well. What is the point of keeping boxes of them? I’ll confess to holding back a precious few favourites that can double as dolly clothes; but this tugging at my soul makes me reflect on the meaning of stuff. The detritus of our lives, if you will, the debris, the things we collect that somehow become embedded with our memories, physical proof of our passage through time and here on this earth. Yet the material pull is so often unhealthy. We crave, we cling to, we keep so much that we do not need, and grasp for more. Maybe because it is the easiest way to find identification? By the things that surround us? Who we are, minus our things?
We donated most of the the clothes to St. Monica House, a local agency that provides shelter and counselling and pre- and post-natal support to young pregnant women. 
And, who am I, minus my infant clothes? I guess I’m the post-infant-mother. What a brief phase this will have been, all told. Eight years and three months (and counting) of pregnancy and/or nursing. Significant. But not possible to do either forever; and even if I could, doing so wouldn’t prevent me getting older, and my children too. I think giving away the clothes is a symbolic acceptance of this kinda sober mortal truth … 
Sorry, the usual writing day bummer is upon us, no matter the topic. Really, writing days make me happy! Honestly, they do! See the judicious use of exclamation points to mark this point!
Ahem. It will be a busy week, and I’m girding up my loins and various other parts in anticipation. Apple-Apple’s actual birthday is tomorrow (six!!!); cake will be made and devoured, and gifts given and jealousy run rampant among short-sighted unbirthday-ed siblings. (Look, kids, these toys will enter the collective life of the house and you will get to play with them too! Talk about stuff …). Kevin is travelling to Ottawa. Albus has his first of FOUR consecutive dentist appointments to fill the most giant of the holes in his rotted teeth. Plus we shall enjoy the usual routines and marvel over the accomplishments, big and small, of, most particularly, the four smallest among us; though occasionally, perhaps, Kevin will pause to express gratitude for a meal well-made and I will pause to admire his efficiency at flossing our children’s teeth. Hey, these things can make a day.
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