I usually show photos of our house and yard looking its best. So here’s an alternate view. This is our house and yard (and shed-like garage) looking, well, less than handsome. (The flipped-over wading pool and abandoned sprinkler don’t help).
These photos were taken soon after we cut down several trees in our backyard. I’ll admit that I felt despairing as I assessed the mess. I miss those trees. Taking them down is all part of a long-term plan to bring more sunshine into certain areas of the yard–and next summer, more vegetables. But short-term, let’s just say it looks ugly. The rusty garage is exposed. (Weren’t we going to cover that garage with siding?? It was at the top of our to-do list when we bought the house eight years ago. Funny how priorities change). The house itself looks sort of forlorn and crumbling, an old, shambling, rambling kind of house, like the one I imagine for Meg’s family in the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Which isn’t so bad, really; it’s just that I never noticed before.
The photo above, and the next one, were taken a few days later, when I was feeling better about the general state of our backyard affairs. In the interim, Kevin worked really hard to clean the yard. Either things really do look better, or I just think they do. Don’t tell me which it is, please.
Owning a house means participating in a perpetual work in progress. It’s very metaphorical. All the changing, shape-shifting, rearranging, and repairing. You can look at this yard and see who we are as parents, as a family, guess the ages of our children, get an understanding of our priorities, our finances, and our ability to put into action our intentions.
I like where we’re at. But we’re never done.
Did I ever tell you (confess might be the more appropriate word) that we got our children a wii for Christmas? Yes, despite my determined rhetorical stance against electronic gadgetry, screentime, and giving in to the whims of trend, after much consideration and discussion, Kevin and I decided to get a “family gaming system.” Even just typing out those last three words makes me sigh. Kevin was the more enthusiastic of the giving parents, but I did indeed agree. What swung my vote was the fact that the children were already exposed to screens in a variety of forms. They watched movies, and played games on online sites like Poptropica and TVOkids. Albus played a computer game on Saturday mornings with the others gathered around the tiny screen to watch. We had limits in place on these other uses of the screen, so we figured we could treat the wii in the same way.
And it’s been … fine. Actually, in some ways–not to endorse family gaming systems–it’s proven to be a place of bonding between siblings.
Here’s what’s happening right now: Albus is playing a game with CJ that is easy enough for CJ to play, too. They are active and bouncing and laughing and taking water breaks. I’m not saying this bonding couldn’t happen in many other ways, because it can and it does. But this is okay, too. Okay. Guess that’s as enthusiastic as I can get in my acceptance of the family gaming system.
Compromise. Even I can do it.
Stepping into the green dream confessional. Ahem.
Working more makes me lazier on the ecologically sound homefront.
I am not taking time to hang laundry very often; instead, tossing everything into the “home sterilizer unit” aka the drier. (This decision is also based on several lice notices from children’s classrooms, and not wanting to risk an invasion; but when will I stop? I haven’t gone back to the clothes rack yet). I am also choosing to drive on occasions when I could walk. Yesterday, I drove to swim lessons, a walk of no more than fifteen minutes one way. But with the vehicle, I could toss the kids in the car last-minute, endure thirty minutes in the pool with CJ, shower, dry off, dress, and return home in exactly one hour. Which shaved time and stress off of my day’s beginning, and allowed me to invite friends over for a morning play. And then I drove to school yesterday afternoon because doing so allowed me to nap for an extra ten minutes (I’d already napped for ten when the buzzer alerted me to walk-to-school time). I hopped up, added another ten minutes to the timer, and fell back to sleep instantly. I can fall asleep in two shakes, and nap virtually anywhere, including my favourite spot: flat on my back on the the living-room floor. Wouldn’t want to get too comfortable.
(Side question: is my instant-sleep ability a talent, or a symptom of sleep-deprivation?).
Have you read The Road? I ploughed through it almost against my will two nights ago, and it shook me to the core. I can’t recommend it–it terrified me utterly–but it is without a doubt a fabulously imagined creation. I won’t spoil the plot, promise; if you haven’t read the book and want to, you can safely read on. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it seemed to ask me: could you live without hope? And I’m not sure that I could. Is all of my spirit-searching a meaningless enterprise? Would I have the inner resources to cope with extremity? Are inner resources something that can be built or honed, a skill-set like any other? Of course, the nightmare world imagined in the book is extreme, but as an extended metaphor could stand in for any difficult experience that any of us might face (and most of us will face something–how could we not? We are alive and human, and our world is unpredictable, our fates perhaps unwritten, and certainly unknown to us). Most particularly, the book explores a parent’s love for his child, which might be the spark that keeps him hoping and alive. But the love is explicitly terrifying, because he cannot protect his child absolutely. None of us can. But somehow I let myself believe that everything will be okay, that we will all be strong enough to get through anything we need to, that my children will experience love and joy and comfort. I am almost incapable of contemplating the reverse. That is why the book terrified me. It made me contemplate the reverse, and question my inner strength, my resources. There is no way of knowing how–what? who?–we will be until the moment is upon us, and we are required to respond. This applies to everything we do. I am fascinated by the improvisational nature of living. Yet I also want to keep working–not to memorize my lines, but to trust in my responses, to trust in some inner core of calm and strength.
I want to capture the flavour of our summer holiday so far. It’s been busy, but relaxing. We started with a camping trip, and the beach, experienced a couple nights of overnight camp (and for Kevin and me, experienced only having two children around–it was quieter, but the workload was not noticeably different, except that the younger ones missed the entertainment of the older ones). I enjoyed doing a long drive with the kids, and could imagine attempting something like that again–destination as yet unknown. Though it does go against my no-driving summer. Confession: We have done extremely poorly with that plan. Drove to camp, to beach, to camp, to home, to camp, all the while enjoying the air conditioning. For our Friday outing, we walked, but it’s not a huge accomplishment–the movie theatre is uptown. We saw Shrek Forever After, which was more entertaining than I anticipated–and the kids were awesome the entire time. Five kids, one parent, and no bathroom breaks, spilled drinks, or even excessive whining. Thank heavens, because I’d had a writing morning, and I am finding the transition between writing and parenting particularly challenging; translation: Mama’s been grumpy.
AppleApple had her soccer tournament this past week. We dragged out the whole family (some of them kicking and screaming) to the Saturday matches. I felt like a terrible parent, because honestly, folks, I squirmed the whole time she was playing. It’s a peculiar pain–mental anguish. Shouldn’t I be enjoying this, as a loving caring parent? Or maybe it’s that I care too much? In the second game, the ref called back a penalty kick on which AppleApple had just scored an amazing goal (he apparently had called an indirect penalty kick, but gave the children no direction or explanation about what that meant; he, of course, was just a kid himself, and looked pretty nervous; but it was a sad moment to see her beautiful goal called back). And I muttered to Kevin, I just can’t take this, and walked down to where my other three children were wrestling in the grass; but I couldn’t go far. I knew if something happened I’d want to be there for it. And sure enough, after a few deep breaths, I returned to the sidelines–and watched my red-haired fleet-footed daughter on a breakaway–and she scored. The only goal of the entire game, for either side. Now that was a moment worth being tortured for. (And it was a merciful high to end an otherwise losing tournament.) AppleApple cannot wait to go to skills camp this fall, and wants to play indoor soccer over the winter–she’s seen her own potential, and she’s excited to play more.
I must steel myself. How do other parents cope? I imagined being a family member of those young men playing in the World Cup final yesterday–standing on the sidelines, pacing, or unable to look.
That was Saturday. We ended with a marshmallow roast over the fire pit. This was a classic family event, following the classic arc, rising slowly to pleasant heights, and crashing steeply to the depths. That would be the classic tragic arc, but our event did not end in tragedy, just bathtime (which for some of us might just be considered a tragedy). We set up the fire pit, gathered drinks and stools and chairs, and sat around, fooled around, then out came the marshmallows and pointy roasting sticks, and the guitars (that was Albus’s idea). Kevin and I tried to coordinate our chording. I have rhythm, and he does not; he can play chords, and I cannot. We make a swell team. The neighbours must have been thrilled. But for a brief spell it felt like such a holiday, such a time away from ordinary: the smell of the campfire, the mellow sound of guitars, making up funny verses to songs. (“CJ is sticky,” was a popular line.)
And then CJ wanted to play “Dragon Warrior” and Albus had an itchy back, and the two of them were rolling around the grass, when calamity struck–or more accurately, CJ struck. With two mini-hockey-sticks. Two-year-olds. They don’t get boundaries. So that was that. I put down the guitar, plucked up the sticky two-year-old, confiscated the mini-sticks, and headed for the bath. Soon, everyone was in the bath/shower, watering can was applied to the fire, and it was bedtime. But Kevin and I stayed up late after the kids were asleep.
That’s been the story of our summer holiday so far. Kevin and I have been staying up late. The kids have been staying up late. We’ve had some fun; and we’ve had some abrupt end to the fun; we’ve been sticky, and we’ve gotten clean.
I’ve decided to blog rather than nap during quiet time this afternoon. Is this wise? Well, I was out with friends till midnight last night, and dragged myself out of bed to make last-minute school lunches this morning, and I hung today’s laundry while it was actually raining (spitting, more accurately), so I’m not sure wisdom is the word of the day. But getting ‘er done is. (Um, that phrase just insisted it had to be used). So, I made it through the morning with two exuberant children and nothing that a cup of coffee couldn’t fix, the big kids left with delicious nutritious meals in their backpacks, and the sun is now shining. This speaks to the luck of whim and of deliberately not making detailed plans.
So, I know that many of you are already making your own yogurt (and a big thank you to all who have offered tips and instructions!), but for those of you who aren’t, or who are curious to try, I am here to tell you: It is easy! I’ve been making four litres of milk into yogurt (four litres of milk equals four litres of yogurt). This lasts our family about a week and a half. We eat the yogurt for breakfast; we eat it in place of sour cream on beans and rice, etc.; and I’ve been combining it with strawberries to make above-average popsicles.
What you’ll need: whole-fat milk; yogurt starter; cooking pot; candy thermometer; insulated container; jars with lids.
Directions: In a large pot, gently bring four litres of whole-fat milk to a simmer (or try a litre if you’re experimenting and nervous about potentially spoiling that much milk). Heat the milk to 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally to spread the heat, and to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. This takes some time, and I have not rushed it yet; and have had good results. For consistent results, I recommend using a candy thermometer affixed to the side of the pot. Meanwhile, “sterilize” several quart canning jars by pouring boiling water into them and letting them sit for a few minutes (I realize this does not actually sterilize them, but it’s as strict as I get in my kitchen; if you do something else, please let me know). The boiling water can be re-used: when you’re done sterilizing the jars, pour the hot water into a large plastic jug (or other container), and place the jug into an insulated cooler (which in this instance will be a heater).
When the milk has reached 180 degrees F, remove it from the stove, and cool. This goes faster if you set the pot into a sinkful of cold water. When the temperature has dropped to 110 degrees F (or more precisely is below 120 degrees, but above 90), stir in the bacterial starter. Translation: stir in some fairly fresh yogurt. You can freeze yogurt in ice cube trays for this purpose. I’ve erred on the side of more is better. I put in about 1/4 cup per litre, or even slightly more.
The Home Creamery is a good reference book on making all things milk-related, and it recommends 1/4 cup of starter per quart of milk.
Now, pour the prepared milk into jars leaving some space at the top, add lids, and place into the warm innards of the heated-up cooler. Don’t lift the lid for seven or eight hours. In the wintertime, you may need to check that the water is hot and the temperature approximately 90 degrees F; right now, not so much.
What you’ll get: And when you do finally peek, it will look like a little miracle has taken place right here in your own kitchen. Yogurt! Firm, sweet, tangy, creamy yogurt.
It is easy to keep making something that tastes this good, and is as good or better than anything I can buy (my homemade bread falls into this category, too). On the other hand, it is rather less easy to keep making things that are less popular with the children (and with us) than storebought. So, I must confess that I’ve shelved a Green Dream or two, and have not made crackers since the first batch, which seemed to wane in popularity after a day or two; and we bought graham crackers for our firepit cook-out; and I haven’t pursued making pasta or cheese or …. you name it. Much food continues to come into our house packaged in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. SIGH.
CJ is only pretending he wants to nurse, come night-time. What he wants is to get himself cuddled into my arms. He will then say, “Mama, I gonna tell you something!” (He pronounces something like some-sing.) And then he launches into elaborate made-up stories told at high volume, about little lions and little moths and sometimes Master Yoda makes an appearance. Books are thrown off of shelves. Little moths are “grumpy.” Little lions drink chocolate milk and are happy. Milk is spilled and Mama cleans it up and she says “thank you!” (Would that this were so).
Tonight, when I laid him in his crib (and he’s still up there, wide awake and protesting loudly), I said, “Goodnight, bub.” This sent him into paroxysms of hilarity. “I not bub, I CJ!” Just repeating the word “bub” had him in tears. The world is funny. Things sound funny.
Tonight’s yoga class was killer. There was something in that room–anxiety, fear, something like that. It was really hot. And I was tired. And there were lots of people there, including some who were trying out hot yoga for the first time. A lot of people were suffering through the class, and it was easy to read on everyone’s faces and in their postures, including my own. But my problem was my mind. It just would not settle. I did not believe that I could manage, and over and over again I had to pull myself back to remembering that, yes, I could, and I have many times before. Toward the end, we all settled, somewhat, as the instructor found us a pose that brought us some peace with the inner turmoil. I recognized what I was feeling: I had been telling myself that I was feeling sadness, but I noticed that I was enjoying what I was feeling too much for that. Aha! I was feeling self-pity. Ugh. Do I ever hate self-pity. And there I was, wallowing around in it, making excuses. Now, this isn’t to discount the legitimacy of experiencing sadness. But there must be some way to experience it that isn’t indulgent. Self-indulgent. What is the point at which enjoying an emotion is a cue that it’s become not healthy? Aren’t some emotions there to be enjoyed?
I haven’t had quite as much energy recently. I wonder whether it’s more mental or physical. I’m not sure. But it is now nearly 10pm: all four children are still awake; AppleApple is weeping because she can’t find her Pooh Bear (just found him–phew!); Fooey is trying to sleep on a blanket on the floor because she’s a cat; the dishes are completely undone; I need to pack a picnic for the whole family for a “special people picnic” in honour of Fooey tomorrow; I feel the need to blog (talk about self-indulgent!); we have to take a snack for AppleApple’s soccer team tomorrow night, and have nothing suitable on hand; and we have no coffee in the house!!!! No coffee! Now that’s an emergency. I just sent Kevin on a quick run (in the truck; eco-confession) to the nearest grocery store, which is open till 10. There. Happy ranting.
Back to the dishes.
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