Category: Birthdays

A Birthday

How could I not have gotten a photo of this beautiful child, dressed in her new sparkly black wizard robes and an elegant black hat, as she accompanied me post-cake, post-presents, to The New Quarterly’s fall launch party last night? Let’s just say I was filled with pride.

We juggled a packed schedule yesterday and celebrated eight years of AppleApple. She is quick, hard-working, serious and silly, talented, creative, thoughtful, perceptive, eccentric, independent, an old soul.

I’d planned a chocolate cake, but when consulted, AppleApple said, no thanks, she doesn’t like chocolate cake. Friends on Facebook had just posted a retro-sounding easy-to-make cake recipe: yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding mix, coconut, sour cream (we substituted crema, because it makes anything just that much better). Kevin and the little kids baked the cake yesterday afternoon, and AppleApple decorated it herself after school, with leftover Halloween treats. It was tasty and old-school.

We’d organized a birthday brunch for family, and let the big kids stay home from school for the morning. A horse theme was apparent from early gifts, but later gifts revealed a taste for Harry Potter, too. After a somewhat rushed supper (chicken noodle soup and devilled eggs, as requested by AppleApple), and the candle-blowing, the cake-eating, and some fracas over who could pass out the gifts (Fooey was in a state), AppleApple and I raced out the door to our literary date. She and Kevin traded places after 8pm, and she spent the rest of her evening at home putting together her Harry Potter Lego. She still has her friend party, tomorrow (and, I must add, so do we … send us strength). Our house will be transformed into Hogwarts, potions and wands will be made, unicorns sought, and some more of this cake will be eaten–it was such a success, we’re reprising it for tomorrow.

May this year to come be blessed, my child.

Almost Eight

Today is the last day that AppleApple will be seven. So, as is tradition, we took a photo to mark the occasion. Her sister appears in the background of one with a most pitiful expression and a gash on her head, self-inflicted (which may be better than the alternative; not sure), when she was jumping with excitement to get into the back of the truck. I was at home trying to write another story, and Kevin was managing all the kids. It was a picture of gore when they arrived home–gore and chaos. We cleaned her up and steri-stripped the wound (Kevin’s job; mine was to hold her and remind her take calming breaths). At one point, post-supper, I was fielding information that required a response from all four children, simultaneously, while trying to clear the table and do the dishes. With today’s story rattling slightly unfinished around my head. AppleApple was going down the party agenda, in detail; CJ came to report that Albus was being mean to him; Albus explained that he just needed some Alone Time; and Fooey desperately wanted to be held, too (I was holding CJ). I looked at Kevin and said … I am feeling some stress. He agreed. 

But onward. This is the pace. I will do my level best to keep up. And tomorrow my seven-year-old will be an eight-year-old.

Weekend Report

Our weekend involved more cake. I had not had time to bake in advance of Albus’s slumber party, so I thought, hey, this could be a party activity. It’s a credit to these sweet boys that they all said, “Yes!” when asked whether they’d like to make the cake. I decided to let them do as much as they wanted–read the recipe, measure the ingredients, dump, mix, beat the batter, work out amongst themselves who would do what. The resulting cake (sour cream chocolate) tasted fresh, light, and airy, and may have been even better than the previous evening’s cake. I should let children measure and stir every time.
The slumber party consisted of two guests (a third wasn’t able to come), no gifts, order-in pizza, cake, pop, a comic book shopping spree (Kevin had a blast witnessing the three boys making their excited decisions), and two movies. The boys set up the basement lair for themselves with three futons, but claimed to have all slept on the same bed, fighting for the same covers. They also reported being up till two o’clock in the morning (parents, I assure you, this could not have been true–we had the baby monitor set up in case of emergencies, and all was quiet after midnight … which is plenty late for three nine and almost-nine-year-old boys).
I got such pleasure listening to their party stories–how late, who had slept where, what they’d eaten for breakfast (chips and cheezies). After the guests went home, Albus appeared to be suffering from something resembling a hangover … lethargic, irritable, bored by everything. It’s hard for the party to end.
“All good things must come to an end,” I quoted cheerily last night as the children complained, at length and great volume, that “You’re ruining all of our fun!”
“Yup, that’s my job. I signed the parenting contract. I had to promise to ruin the fun, make my kids get enough sleep, force them to bathe and pick up their toys and throw their socks to the basement. It’s all in the contract. My hands are tied. What can I do?”
“Rip up the contract!” (That was Albus.)
The fuss was over bedtime. It was also over the end of the our long weekend. Listen, I was sad, too. Why must the fun end? Kevin and I got so much work done yesterday. I weeded the front bed, and trimmed the lilac (that was way too much fun; it was like giving a good haircut to a kid who really needs it … which, come to think of it, would describe Albus). Is that sad that I just conflated fun with getting so much work done? I even organized the linen closet (thanks, new Chatelaine; that may be the only good thing that comes out of the magazine’s re-design, in my opinion; so much saccharine fluff that I felt ill upon glancing through it, instant sugar-shock; and no Katrina Onstad, though I searched and searched; and this aside will be meaningless to all non-Canadian readers).
There was more to our weekend. There was another party, and (believe it or not) even more cake. And that’s our new nephew pictured above with CJ and Fooey (photo by AppleApple), who visited from afar with his mum and grandma. And Kevin built that cool-looking box for the front veggie beds, and got the stones partially laid for our new walkway. Among much much else.
But I have a CJ on my lap stabbing me with a pencil, and a Fooey lying on the floor beside the stool shouting, “You’re wasting time for me to get dressed! When I even need you to get me dressed! I want a dress! You have to come upstairs, okay Mommy! Even if you say no, you have to come upstairs! This instant! I’m s’pposed to already be dressed in a dress!”
Yo. I signed the contract. What can I do?

Clear the Counters, Woman!

Experiencing the immobility of disorganization. How can it take so little to throw me off? I stayed out late last night, after rising very early for a wonderful run with a friend, and the more tired I am, the more likely I am to order a second drink. I’m not saying the second drink did me in, but I’ve been fuzzy-headed for the better part of today. I even forgot to finish drinking my coffee–it languished on the counter till I discovered it cold, at noon.
I am prepping for a birthday party tonight (cooking for 14), and another tomorrow (three boys overnight), and out-of-town guests arriving tomorrow at noon as well. I feel overwhelmed. All of my careful planning is thrown out of whack–no babysitting possible tomorrow, and, there, I’ve lost half of a week’s worth of writing time … the downside of not working for a living, just working for the sake of it. It feels like my time is therefore disposable; and I resent that. Can you hear it in my voice?
I must get to early morning yoga tomorrow; perhaps that will return me to a sense of balance.
Here’s what needs to happen in the next couple of hours: wash all dishes; clear all counters; and prep any food that can be prepped in advance. Tonight’s menu: nitrate-free local hot dogs on buns, with sides of baked beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and avocado salsa, and cake and ice cream for dessert; I am currently stalled on the critical decision of whether to top the cake with whipped cream, or with whipped cream AND homemade chocolate sauce; this is what I mean–I’m stalled on the most insignificant of details, to the point of inertia. I look at the counters and the big dining-room table and go … what is that stuff, and where does it belong? It appears to be, largely, homeless debris that migrates from surface to surface till it gets recycled, or claimed, in which case the kid carries it to another surface, usually not very far away from the first one, and deposits it again.
Update on Eco-Attempt # 1: Make your own laundry detergent! Do it! It works! I mixed equal parts Borax and baking soda in a glass jar with a lid, and shook it to combine. I dump two tablespoons of the powdery mixture directly into the washing machine (I have a front-loader; use twice as much with a regular machine), and pour liquid soap into the detergent dispenser tray. The liquid soap is Dr. Brommer’s Lavender Castile Soap, which is expensive on first glance, but needs to be heavily diluted to use. So I’ve filled an old detergent bottle with several squirts of Dr. Brommer’s and diluted it with several litres of water. Voila. I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of LAVENDER, other than it smelled heavenly to me; but does Kevin want to wear lavender-scented socks? Hopefully so, because the Dr. Brommer’s is going to last for a year, I suspect, though it can also be diluted and used around the house, for dish washing and hand-washing, etc.; I may do that. It doesn’t completely solve my too-many-plastic-bottles problem, but it will cut down on how many we throw away in a given year.
Eco-attempt # 3: We made vanilla! It’s easy. You buy a couple of vanilla beans, split them, place them in glass canning jars, and pour rum or vodka or some other light alcohol over top, and let them sit for a month or two. Again, relatively inexpensive and will save a lot of little plastic bottles.
Eco-attempt # 4: List of things I intend to store for this coming winter: 1. Garlic! The sad news is that these are our last three local garlic bulbs; but the good news is that my stores of garlic have lasted this long. I bought them in bulk last fall, and stored them in paper bags in our cold cellar. More garlic this year! 2. Also easily stored are potatoes: again, in paper bags, in the cold cellar. 3. Apples wintered well, there, too. 4. Squash was pretty good, though I wouldn’t try to store squash for more than a few months (a pumpkin started to rot). 5. Cabbage kept well in the cold cellar, too, as did 6. carrots, especially in the mid-winter months when the cellar was coldest.
In the freezer, I am now dipping into the last of the frozen 6. plums and 7. apricots. I highly recommend freezing bushels of these. I cut them in half, pit them, and place them into plastic bags and freeze them right away. No sugar pack, nothing. Take them out when you’re ready and use them right away, or they will discolour. I stew them with a little water, and serve them over waffles or for my own breakfast of ground seeds and yogurt (don’t ask; or do, if you’re really curious). I let myself start eating the apricots and plums in January, when a body’s longing for summer’s tart fruits, and last summer’s batch has lasted up till now. I also plan to freeze 8. peas and 9. corn cut off the cob, and 10. tomatoes, in addition to 11. canning more tomatoes or tomato puree. 12. Strawberries also freeze easily, as does (13.) rhubarb, though rhubarb season is usually when I discover that last year’s rhubarb is still hanging around in the bottom of the freezer.
The photo of the kids in their new hats represents the fun time we had at Zeller’s, of all places, with the three youngest kids, up past bedtime, earlier this week. Seriously, who in her right mind would be shopping with children at Zeller’s at 8:30pm? We were looking for Albus’s birthday gifts and ended up having a hoot of a time trying on hats and sunglasses and checking ourselves out in the tiny mirrors. I was in the moment, and it was so freaking fun.
I seem not to be in the moment right now … How can get there? Remind me.
I’ve promised Fooey that I will help her make cards. And then we’ll clear the tables and the counter! Wish me luck. Or better yet, focus.

Bright Star

Kevin and I watched Bright Star last night. It’s a recent movie that had been recommended by several friends, and my friend D’s review finally pushed me over the top: I was ready to rent it. The movie is by Jane Campion, based on the doomed love story of John Keats and a young woman named Fanny Brawne; his sonnet to her, “Bright Star,” may or may not have been the last poem he ever wrote. The movie is beautifully composed, and though I’m not sure how entirely accurate it is (apparently there was another woman, in real life, to whom Keats was somewhat attached during the same time period, and for whom he wrote a poem), the plot is distilled into a story of young love. This shows my age, but I was very sympathetic to the dilemma Fanny’s mother faced: she recognized that her daughter was falling in love, and her warnings were gentle and compassionate, and her silent presence was so deeply loving as she watched her daughter suffering the heartbreak of an impossible connection. Because, of course, the pairing was impossible. Keats was already ill with tuberculosis (and considering how contagious the disease, I cringed every time he coughed while embracing healthy, young Fanny). But just as imposing was Keats’s lack of a living. His poetry was admired by some influential friends, but scorned by critics. (Not that at the best of times poets ever make much of a living). When Keats died, at age 25, he believed he’d left nothing immortal behind. I can still remember writing an essay on “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in the last exam I ever sat in undergrad. Nothing is immortal; but that poem–and its beautiful concluding lines: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ that is all / Ye know on Earth and all ye need to know”–have lasted a century and a half, more immortal than most earthly things.
Ultimately, for me the movie was a true and unabashed recognition of young love, and of the passion experienced in a first romantic pairing. And it was also about artists and the making of art, and how painful the process (“I am writing again,” Keats says at one point; and I understood so well, how the writing comes and goes), how little it can be relied upon yet how impossible not to pursue if it’s what one must do. It’s no way to make a living. Never has been. Never will be. It exists unconnected from worldly success. There is no way to predict what will last; yet that sense of grasping at the immortal is probably what drives most artists to create. A strange paradox. There’s no point in making art if you’re only making it to attempt to make yourself immortal; yet you probably wouldn’t make it if you weren’t tapping into the threads of human experience that are essentially immortal: death, birth, love, creation, beauty.
On another subject altogether … my baby. My baby is two years old today. He was born around 7 o’clock in the morning, so when we woke, Kevin and I reminisced about that vivid and intense hour of labour that preceded his arrival. It was a panicked hour, our midwives got lost, and about forty-five minutes into the wait Kevin called a neighbour (luckily a midwife!) to come and help. She arrived almost exactly at the same moment as our midwives. I still remember Kevin saying, his hands gently on me, “Please, don’t push. Don’t push. Don’t push.” He was more panicked than I was, because I was entirely focused on what was happening in my body. And we both remember the midwives taking the stairs two at a time, arrived just in time to rescue Kevin from having to catch our baby. Albus remembers that we called at 7:05 to report the arrival of their new baby brother (the kids and Kevin’s mom were all spending the night at my mom’s). AppleApple remembers that they asked what colour the new baby’s hair was, and we said, “Red.” Ha! Honestly, we couldn’t imagine having any child without red hair, and spent the next few months examining his locks for signs of colour. Now, I can’t imagine him as anything but what and who he is. Happy birthday, son.
(Bottom two photos by AppleApple!).


Had a long conversation yesterday morning with Albus. He wanted to talk about two things: one, when can we get a Wii and why don’t we have one when everyone else does? and two, why can’t he have a friend birthday party with presents?
On one, at least there are still a few friends in the neighbourhood whom I could point to as being similarly Wii-less. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we don’t choose to do things just because our friends are doing it too. And the reason we haven’t gotten a Wii yet (though we may, eventually) is because Kevin and I prefer to encourage creative, active, cooperative play–and we see our children playing in these ways when they are given the freedom and time to do so. The best moments in my life, right now, are watching my children playing together–all four of them. In this play, they learn how to solve problems, how to compromise, and how to find ways to include everyone. It doesn’t always run smoothly, and there are plenty of moments which cannot be romanticized. I don’t think a Wii would ruin this. But I also don’t think it would enhance it. What I explained to Albus was that if/when we decide as a family to get a Wii, it will only be after we’ve come to an agreement about how often it should be played, and when, and under what circumstances (ie. special rules for holidays? after school? once a week? weekends only?). It would become like the television is for us, and the DVD player: something we have, but choose not to use without considering others activities first.
Did Albus hear what I was saying? Debatable. “So I can get one for my birthday?” “No, I don’t think so.” “So I can get one for Christmas?” “I don’t know.” “When can I get one? Could I get a DS instead?”
Onto question two … Albus is already planning his birthday party (which won’t be till May, on his birthday). “Could my friends bring presents this time?” “No, we don’t do friend parties with presents.” “But why? I would get so many toys!”
Since we started hosting friend parties for the kids’ birthdays (around age six), we chose to request no gifts. Cards welcome. We got a few phone calls from baffled parents who really really really wanted to bring a gift, but everyone has so far respected the request; the way I see it, the gift is the presence of friends. We also don’t hand out giant loot bags afterward, but like to send every kid home with something they’ve made at the party, or a related but inexpensive prop used at the party: ie. one year I found pretty little china tea cups and saucers at a thrift shop for a tea party; another year, Kevin designed and made personalized t-shirts that all the kids wore to a “bike rally.” Nothing fancy. The birthday child gets to the choose the party theme, what to eat, who to invite, what the cake should look like, etc. It’s a fair bit of work for us, and held in the child’s honour, and adding ten gifts into the mix never made sense to Kevin and me. Like over-salting the soup. We also always host a family party for the birthday child, to which aunts and uncles and grandparents are invited–and gifts are brought. They don’t need to mine their friends for extra treasure. There are already gifts in abundance.
Does this sound like an odd, puritanical rule? I appreciate that giving gifts is something that many people want to do.
But we’re trying to live a less wasteful life, less packaging, less of what we don’t really need.
And we live in a country that is enormously privileged and we sometimes forget that and want more and more and more, without recognizing how much we already have. (I’ve observed this phenomenon at other moments with the kids: If I put out a big buffet of a snack, everyone goes greedy, grabbing and hoarding, even though there’s more than enough. If I put out a small and simple snack, the greed disappears.)
By the end of the conversation (which wasn’t the lecture that appears above; sorry to be so dull today), Albus seemed reconciled to the basic principles of doing with a bit less. Somewhat reconciled might be more accurate.
This is just the beginning, right? Of my children testing our family’s principles and choices against what their friends are doing? I recently wrote a review of Craig and Marc Keilburger’s The World Needs Your Kid, and highlighted from the book ten suggestions for encouraging compassion in one’s children. Number two was to know and identify your own beliefs, as parents. It felt in the conversation with Albus that I did know, and I was grateful. But I also want to remain open and flexible to their changing needs, so that kids don’t feel like their living in a totalitarian regime, but in a living and growing ecosystem.
Which is why we might get the Wii, eventually. Maybe this Christmas. Maybe. We’re still thinking about it.

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