Category: Chores

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.

How to can tomato sauce

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1. Order a half bushel of tomatoes.

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2. No, really, just do it, don’t think about it. 
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3. Because when they arrive, you’ll have to do something about it.
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4. Problem solved.
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(Made a different sauce this year. 8 litres of tomatoes + 1 and 1/4 lb of butter + 4 onions + 4 tsp salt = butter tomato sauce. Yields 7 quarts. I doubled the recipe. Thanks to my friend Ann, for the recipe.)

To everything turn

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This summer, I have yet to can a thing. I’ve frozen a few odds and ends here and there in small batches, usually leftovers from a meal (ie. too much corn on the cob).

I haven’t found the energy for it, and I’m not sure why.

This morning, Fooey and I looked at Soule Mama’s blog together. She loved the photos of children feeding chickens, playing with pigs and sheep, and picking veggies in the garden. “The children have to do a lot of chores,” she observed. I said they were homeschooled, and she said, “Well, of course! Because they have so many chores, they don’t have time for school.” Let me add that she said this with a very positive tone. Not “chores” as in drudgery, but “chores” as interesting activities.

I felt a pang for the seasonally lived life. “It’s lot of work,” I said. “It’s their whole life.”

I know that’s why I read Soule Mama’s blog: to live vicariously, just a tiny bit. To imagine pulling off muffins baked before kids come downstairs and weeding with baby riding on my back and preserving food and painting rooms pretty colours and renovating an old farmhouse and being a homesteader. When I was a young teen, I spent many happy hours imagining life as a homesteader, out in the middle of nowhere, building a self-sustaining life from scratch. I don’t know why it appealed to me, but I know it was a fantasy that hasn’t had much impact on my actual day-to-day life, even though remnants of the fantasy remain, fondly.

Maybe I’m too lazy.

Today, I am thinking with admiration about all those hard-working people who live seasonally. Right now, in Canada, if I were living truly seasonally, I would be canning like crazy. Now is the time! Grab the moment! Preserve summer. Instead, I’m lost in thought before a computer. I’m at a soccer field until dusk. I’m going for a run. I’m vacuuming dog hair.

But I have some angst over not canning. I feel like I should be. And I feel tired too, worn out, a bit, by the continuous nature of living, the daily demands, being unable to catch up or keep up. Laundry, meals, basic family hygiene, household demands. We attempted to get the kids doing regular chores earlier this summer, and we didn’t stick to it. (We should try again, for their sake and for ours.)

Maybe that’s what impresses me most about those people who are growing our food for us, and those people who are living off the land: they stick to it. Nature won’t let them stop, and they don’t. I’m sure they’d like to, sometimes. I’m sure weariness sets in.

I need something similar to attend to, a project larger than myself, more meaningful. (Or is this just August talking–a wistful month, I always find, during which I feel nostalgic for what’s passing even though it’s still right here all around me?)

Dogs in the house

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Yes, we now have two dogs in the house.

And we watched another heartbreaking soccer game yesterday (see above photo), as the Canadian women lost to the US team following some questionable calls by the ref. It kind of echoed our experiences on Saturday at the tournament. A good ref lets the players play the game. A bad ref gets in the way. We experienced both kinds of refs at the tournament, and I can tell you that losing due to a bad call feels rotten in a way that losing to a better team does not. (I’m not sure whether that applies to winning, however; I suspect winning feels good regardless; you tell yourself your team would have won anyway, and that’s just the way the luck landed.)

In any case … it was a memorable long weekend. Yesterday we got up early (again!) to drive two and a half hours to pick up the girls. We wondered how they’d fit in the truck, but it turns out that they love driving, and found places on laps, or in Suzi’s case standing balanced on the armrest between me and Kevin–like a little doggy surfer.

We’re in a period of adjustment, of course, and we’re learning about their quirks and habits and triggers and behavior, and they’re learning about us too.

They seem to like my office. Both are in here with me now, napping.

One small thing: I’d reconciled myself to the dog hair. But I’d forgotten about the dog smell. Dog owners out there, can you tell me, are there ways to minimize the smell? I kissed my little boy last night and all I could smell was dog. AppleApple told me we’d just get used to it, and not notice it after awhile, and that may in fact be what happens. But I was born with a sensitive nose, and smells do bother me. Here’s hoping I adjust!

On sharing the household labour

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still lots of time for play

The house smells wonderful right now, and the cause is not my cooking — it’s AppleApple’s! She is making Italian-style tomato sauce to serve over pasta for supper tonight. Why? I think there are a few factors at play here.

1.  I’m giving the kids more room to experiment, and more responsibility with chores around the house. I have a controlling type-A personality. I like my laundry hung just so. I like my cooking done just so. And my kitchen has been my kitchen up til now. You know what I mean. But the kids are getting plenty old enough to learn how to cook for themselves, and care for themselves. I need to let them do that.

2. The kids are at home for the summer. They are on hand. They are looking for things to do. And when they’re asking can I make lunch? I’m saying, yes, please go ahead. Yesterday, Fooey made mini-pizzas for everyone. She looked up a recipe, she grated cheese, sliced tomatoes and green peppers, she worked super-hard, and the only part I had to do was supervise the oven. AppleApple is a few years older and knows how to use the gas stove. She’s being supervised, at some distance, by today’s babysitter. And by my nose.

3. I’m in my office not having to see what’s going on, and therefore not getting fussed about the potential mess. I’m prioritizing career work over domestic work. I’m seeing that the kids can genuinely help out — and they’re seeing that too. I’m starting to believe that a household shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility, but the entire family’s. Yes, someone needs to be organizing everyone to make sure everything’s getting done that needs doing. But everyone is capable of pitching in and keeping the enterprise going. It’s not always my job. In fact, we’re all going to learn from letting each other help out.

4. I’m prioritizing working together. I’ve started to see our family differently since I added earning money to my priority list. Before, it was nice to earn a bit extra; now, as we’ve started budgeting more consciously, we realize that to do everything we want to do, our family actually needs that extra. That is a relatively recent development — really just a few months old. It’s shifting the way I see our household working, and the way I view domestic labour. Domestic labour is every bit as important and valuable as paid employment, but that doesn’t mean only one of us has to do it. We’re not boxed into either/or categories.

5. Further to that thought: I’m coming around to the (perhaps painfully obvious) belief that parents aren’t supposed to be slaves or servants. It’s not good for the parents, and it’s not good for the kids either. Obviously, very young children can’t be expected to do major chores, but children the ages of mine are capable of being genuinely helpful. They need to know that too! They need to know they can contribute to the family’s welfare and sustainability. Their work and effort and ideas are valued too. We’re in this together. Chores aren’t really fun. But when we’re all working together, there are excellent and immediate rewards — more time to spend doing something fun together (for us, this summer, that’s watching a few episodes of Modern Family before bed). It also teaches the kids the value of time — their time, and ours. And they’re gaining a more sophisticated understanding of household economics.

There’s a p.s. to this post.

That wonderful smell in the house? About mid-way through writing this, I realized it had gone from wonderful to slightly burnt. Sure enough, when I checked, some of the sauce had started sticking to the bottom of the pot. She was following the recipe to the word, but was using a timer rather than checking to see how things were progressing. Live and learn, we agreed, and were happy to see that the rest of the sauce was still salvageable. And next time, she’ll know to peek and stir more frequently! I’d put this experiment in the win column. (I’d probably have put it in the win column even if the sauce had been inedible, frankly. Because it’s only by experience that we learn how to do things independently.)

Guess what everyone wants now?

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We’re dogsitting for my brother and sister-in-law’s sweet old fella. I’m not sure how we’ll ever hope to find a dog as easy-going as Winston, but he’s been an effortless addition to the household. Likes an easy ten-minute walk morning and night. Enjoys exploring and sleeping in the backyard. Slept in our room last night and got up to check on things whenever a kid went to the bathroom. I liked that. It felt kind of comforting.

Plus the kids love him. There’s something about having an animal around that brings out good things in people. But if we do get a dog it’s going to be a spur of the moment decision, I suspect, because there’s no rationalizing adding to the household workload, expenses, or complications. Like I said to Kevin, it’s a bit like deciding to have another baby — it’s never a choice that works on a rational, this-will-fit-with-our-lives way. You have another baby despite knowing it will cause disruption to your current situation.

In other news, we started the kids on chores this weekend. Everyone has been assigned different jobs (laundry, front hall tidying, dish-putting-away, toy-picking-up), and it’s not for payment, it’s for being helpful. So far, so good; but it’s early going. But I will say that the kids seem pretty happy about having new responsibilities. And I’m happy because yesterday morning, instead of cleaning the house, I worked on a story while the kids picked up and vacuumed (with help from Kevin).

Happy weekending!

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