I didn’t do much more than hang out with these folks this summer. Now it is September 7th, and these folks are all in school, on their second day, which is much less exciting than a first day, for reasons we all understand. Never before have I felt so lonely in the house at this time of year. Maybe it’s because I was able to work effectively this summer even while the kids were home, so I don’t feel the same need to protect to my own space and quiet. Or maybe it’s because I need to develop some other social outlets. Our family was a remarkably self-sufficient unit this summer. It’s hard to get lonely or bored when potential companions and playmates can be found in the room next door.
I write the best blog posts while I’m hanging out laundry. They’ve vanished by the time I sit down here.
During our time at the cottage (five days of bliss), we brought little food, as we had been instructed to eat down the cupboards and freezer; we were the final guests this summer. This made meal planning a peculiarly satisfying challenge. The kids wanted to do the same thing here at home, so on Monday I did an inventory of our cupboards, freezers, pantry, and fridge that was astonishing and enlightening, and a little bit shaming. We are storing a lot of food that we’ve essentially forgotten exists. Yesterday, I took on the challenge and made a taboulleh salad out of quinoa, farro, kamut, all found, uncooked, in our fridge or freezer, chickpeas from the cupboard, a lemon and a half from the fridge, and olive oil. (I also bought parsley, cilantro, red onion, tomatoes and feta, so it wasn’t all from our supplies.) Two of four children were unhappy with the salad, but one of those two ate it anyway. “Does anyone actually like this?” said dissenting child # 1, and when everyone else said yes they did actually, dissenting child # 2 stayed silent and spooned the offending grains into his mouth while managing to look both angelic and patiently tormented.
I like the idea of the cupboard challenge, but in practice it requires someone (i.e. me) to do a lot of planning and cooking from scratch. It is a challenge that will be challenged by our fall schedule. And by any non-domestic ambitions I may hold.
What are my non-domestic ambitions? I feel strangely removed from whatever it was I intended to do with my life. When a friend asked, on our morning run together, What are you looking forward to now? I had no reply.
I have no reply. I’m just doing what’s before me (teaching, ferrying children, cooking challenges, possibly more soccer coaching, writing in some form or another), and I’ll do it to the best of my abilities. The good news is that I’m not not looking forward to anything either.
I’d forgotten how relaxed my mind had been all summer. It had so little extra to think about, to hold, to plan for, to juggle, to congregate onto a calendar. I mean, I appreciated that summer was wonderful and that my mind was relaxed. What I’d forgotten was how steep the decline in relaxation, in spaciousness, at this time of year. How does a person ever get anything done in this state? I seem dimly to recall the ability to parcel up time like the squares on a quilt, to do this and not that, or to do this while doing that. I dimly recall it, but I’m not looking forward to doing it; I guess that’s where I’m at on this the second day of the new school year.
Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, a feast that always gives me enormous pleasure to prepare. A day of cooking is a really good day, especially when it ends with pie. But with all the cooking and eating and pie, I never got out my camera. Family visiting, cousins playing, dogs underfoot and whining at the door, a table loaded with bounty, an impromptu evening concert, babies and grandmas and wine and dishes being washed up in the kitchen by hand.
Photographs never taken.
It’s a bit ironic that I’ve gotten this fancy new blog location, on which to display my photographs, just when I find myself taking fewer and fewer. Less time to process them. More in the moment moments, forgetting to pull myself out and act as official recorder. This fall is passing in a blur. I may keep little of it, only fragments, perhaps jotted down here.
Today, our chalkboard became a mess of scheduling, as Kevin and I planned for the coming weeks month. I’m leaving on Thursday for Calgary, Banff, and Vancouver. When I get home, I’ll be off to Burlington, Toronto (several times), Hamilton, Uxbridge, zooming and darting like a bird searching for a landing spot, an anxious flitting creature unable to settle, quite.
When I’m out west, and missing my family like crazy, I’m going to think of last night, after the dishes were done and the pie eaten, and some of us were singing old songs while strumming on ukuleles, sunk into soft cushions, reclining, unwilling to say goodnight, not quite, not yet, as our eyes grew heavy. We were sleepy, tired out from a day lived fully, but we didn’t want to stop playing and singing. Not yet. Not yet. Not quite yet.
March break crafter
I’ve made this roasted squash recipe (written-out below) twice since we got our oven working again, and I’m recording it here because I would like to keep making it even after my friend Nath comes back from England and reclaims her cookbook collection, which I’m babysitting for the year; and of which I’ve been regretfully neglectful, as my cooking time has diminished greatly in recent memory. Enough apologies. Kevin cooks many more meals than he used to, and we both usually cook in a hurry out of necessity. This recipe is not suitable for the last-minute weeknight feeding frenzy. Actually, it’s not suitable to feed to children, at least not mine. So Kevin and I get to eat every last bite, and we’re not complaining.
finished dress with puffed sleeves and hoop skirt
I made this recipe last night, along with a heavily spiced lentil, rice and fried onion dish called Mejadra, from the same cookbook. When I realized how heavily spiced the lentil dish was going to be, I recruited Kevin to whip up a batch of hummus for the kids. The whole meal took me an hour and a half to prepare. Peeling squash and slicing onions is heavy labour. I needed a sous-chef, but Kevin was upstairs for most of the meal prep, swamped by a major room-swapping project that, I must confess, is still underway even today. I can’t go up there. It’s a disaster.
Where was I?
Oh, yes: on March break, surrounded by children, with a bit of extra time at supper for the making of dishes my children will refuse to consume.
March break soccer-in-the-living-room
This is adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, which I might have to add to my cookbook collection after Nath reclaims it. Meanwhile, here’s how to make roasted squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar:
Peel and cube two medium-sized winter squashes. I used a random assortment. Peel and slice at least two red onions. Combine squash and onion in a large mixing bowl and toss with approximately 3 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp salt, and some black pepper. Spread into a large pan or onto a baking sheet (I used a clay baking pan), and roast for 30-40 minutes at 475. Check occasionally, and stir if needed. Done when the squash is soft when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, combine 3 tbsp tahini, 1 finely chopped clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon (you could use the whole lemon, but it gets pretty acidic), 2 tbsp water, and 1/4 tsp of salt. Stir until it’s a smooth honey-like consistency. Add more water or tahini if needed.
Finally, in a small pan, toast 3 tbsp pine nuts in a small amount of oil with a touch of salt, for a minute or two.
To serve, drizzle the tahini sauce over the roasted veggies, toss the pine nuts on top, and sprinkle the whole dish with 3 tbsp of za’atar, a spice that you really can’t replace with anything else, so go and get some. (Where, you ask? I’m not exactly sure: I got mine from Nath! And I’m nearly out, so I will need to find out, too).
I’m about to eat the leftovers for lunch, along with the Mejadra. And then we’re heading out on an all-family cross-country ski trip so that we can say that we’ve done something outside while not wearing pyjamas this March break. Wish us luck.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I woke with those words in my head, but immediately thought about how it’s today that pulls me. Today that I wake to. All those tomorrows aren’t promises. They’re overwhelming if I consider the repetition of their demands, and even more overwhelming if I consider the speed of their passage. No matter how much I do, time will turn these words to dust.
Yet how much I wanted to run downstairs and write down my thoughts. And so I have. Today pulls me.
It was my second waking of the morning. The first was much earlier, when AppleApple and I woke for her swimming. Being up already, I went for a run. It was very dark when I set out, but as I made my rounds, the sky shifted, pale light between ominous clouds, and at last a pink and blue sky that looked right out of a fluorescent painting. Shadowy crowds of crows called from the treetops, then took off flying in a seemingly endless stream. I liked this somewhat less when they flew directly overhead.
I came home to warm up, shower, and scarf a plate of scrambled eggs and bagel, then returned to fetch my swimming daughter. Tonight my siblings are coming over and we’re making paella. That’s to celebrate the sale to Spain. I haven’t properly celebrated France (the coffee and croissant were lovely, but the kids want in on it, too), nor Italy (which I kind of want to splash out on, if someone can recommend a good Italian restaurant), nor Holland, though a friend, who is Dutch, recommends kale and potatoes with sausages, or “tiny meatball soup,” both of which sound delicious (I will need the recipes).There may be yet one more country to announce shortly (!!), but I’ll leave you waiting for now. It is quite astonishing to consider the variety of languages spoken on this Earth.
We’ve named our new truck “Aggie,” which is short for Aganetha Smart, fictional girl runner. Yesterday, I christened Aggie with a billion (more or less) errands around town to prep for paella night, and Halloween, and winter, and to replace items my swim child has lost or broken recently. Last week, for example, she lost her asthma puffer and aero-chamber. These things do not grow on trees. Recognizing her own ability to shed personal items at an alarming rate, she opted for dollar store gloves rather than those from Adventure Guide, which are, quite frankly, a shocking investment.
Elsewhere, Fooey found a dress fit for a vampire, with a hoop skirt to boot, but AppleApple rejected my suggestions and insisted on searching for something I fear exists only in her imagination: an old-fashioned formal dress (also with a hoop skirt) that would be both appropriate for trick-or-treating AND she could wear on social occasions. Yeah. Tips? She wants to go as Anne of Green Gables, and I’m not sure Anne wore hoop skirts, and that we may be confusing her with Laura Ingalls in her courting days, as we are reading These Happy Golden Years right now. In other costume news, CJ will be a clown in a suit we found in the dress-up box, and Albus is still debating. I will miss seeing them in full costumed flight, as I teach that evening. I bought some extra treats to take for the students, and I’m hunting for spooky-themed stories to read (suggestions??). Who knows, I may even throw on a costume. Would my students take me seriously as a rhinstone cowgirl? With braids? That’s all I’ve got (and it’s borrowed). I wore it to a party on Friday night, and looked cute and appropriately clad, but felt like I had dragged with me the equivalent of a wilted personality. I’m tired, it seems. Too tired to stay up late, too tired to carouse, though not too tired to spend the evening within arm’s reach of the cheese platter.
It does seem like a happy life makes room for a wide variety of activities, solo and in company, professionally and personally. Leave aside work and play, which are linked, in my mind. The bulk of my efforts goes into relationships, which are like gardens and need tending: there’s marriage and children, wider family, friends and neighbours, colleagues and students and coaches and other parents and acquaintances. When I’m down, I castigate myself for a lack of diplomacy, or a willingness to enter into conflict, and sometimes for exhaustion itself, for feeling spent. This may indicate that I’m an introvert, and yet it’s the relationships that interest me most, that feed me and that I live for. What’s left out of the equation, what gets squashed to the margins? Housework and chores, and often cooking and food. I try to leave room for meditation and stretching. Ultimately, I find, it’s dancing that falls by the wayside.
I’ll end where I began this rambling post. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But really, today.
Above: letting the photos tell the story of a Big Moment in her life so far. Her older sister has no interest in ear piercing, so it was a first for me too. We went with her friend and her friend’s mother, so all of us had peer support on the adventure.
But that was only one of many things that happened this weekend! While the two of us were at the mall, Kevin was at our doctor’s weekend clinic, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with CJ, who was sick and getting sicker by the minute. It turned out to be strep. There’s always something, I tell you. Meanwhile, Fooey and I had arrived home to a weirdly empty house — the two other kids were with friends. We had a few minutes to eat lunch, then realized Kevin and CJ would never make it home in time for us to get AppleApple to her soccer practice. Thank heavens for the carshare! I was able to book a car within fifteen minutes of us needing it, and AppleApple ran home to change, and then we all ran about a kilometre to the available car, zoomed out to practice, zoomed back to the lot, and Fooey and I ran home (Fooey in her new shoes, dragged along, and starting to complain of muscle cramps), just in time to meet my brother, who, at the very moment we were puffing up the sidewalk, was pulling into our driveway to pick me up for my sister’s piano recital. With Kev and CJ still on their strep odyssey, Fooey came along too.
new shoes, her choice
How I enjoyed the hour of peaceful listening, with nothing to do but sit in stillness and absorb music. I thought about how we are fed by ephemeral, transient offerings we don’t fully understand, by the hard work and efforts of others to create and interpret and share beauty.
with her aunt Edna
Fooey went off afterwards with her aunt and her grandma for a sushi treat, while I caught a ride home with Kevin and the rest of the family, reunited post-soccer practice, with meds for the sick lad. I would have enjoyed the sushi treat, too, but there is such a thing as duty, and Kev had done some hard time all morning and most of the afternoon. Instead, I used leftover fish heads to brew up a rich fish stock, which I used as a base for a potato and corn chowder. Supper was served terribly late, and only a few of us would eat the fishy chowder (DELICIOUS!). The rest had grilled cheese instead, made on the waffle iron — Kevin’s handy-dandy innovation. We are teaching the kids how to use it so they can make hot meals for themselves next fall. But as CJ was falling off to sleep, he claimed terrible hunger, and what was he hungry for? “Chicken!!!” We had no chicken in the house, so I promised I would go and get him some right away, and that is what I did, with the two big kids giddily joining me on the late-evening mission to the grocery store. We picked up supplies for the week — of course there was no rotisserie chicken left at 9:30 at night, so we chose a packaged of pre-roasted slices that I would never ordinarily buy. Ever. Except when my sick kid wants chicken, I guess. We came home and gorged on mangoes, Kevin already asleep on the couch.
Through the night, I played nurse to the sick boy, who slept restlessly, but woke somewhat better. At least he was no longer getting worse. Kev was feeling under the weather, so I got the kids going, (chicken for breakfast, anyone?), waking AppleApple with mere minutes to spare before driving her to swim practice, and then it was time to put on my writer’s hat. Or pants, as the case may be.
“Are those new jeans?” Fooey, my fashion-conscious-child, inquired. “Nope, not new, but I only wear them for special occasions.” “What’s happening? What are you doing today?” [said with slight panic in her voice] “I’m going to a reading in Hamilton.” “Why are you dressing up?” “A reading is like a performance. I’m the entertainment, so I’m getting dressed up.” [note: “dressed up” is a term used loosely in our family, and yesterday involved the aforementioned jeans, a short-sleeved blouse and a jacket, with boots, and a necklace made of unpolished stones, plus or minus lipstick]
I drove to Hamilton to take part in GritLit, that city’s spring literary festival. I appeared on the short story panel with Cary Fagan and Miranda Hill, a pair of very entertaining performers, indeed. Questions answered, books signed, hands shaken, I then drove fast and made it to my soccer team’s first playoff game, changing in the bathroom and racing onto the field before the whistle blew. We won! Back at home, Kevin was making supper, the laundry had multiplied into a slightly scary mountain, the older children had played in an exhibition soccer game together, and Grandma had come and gone. The sick boy was still sick. The piano had been fitfully practiced. The dogs needed walking.
two sick boys
Today, I’m home with two sick boys, which has been a bonus, as the elder of the two is not that sick and has sweetly entertained the younger. I’ve achieved only the minutiae among goals, but sometimes that’s the best one can hope for. The laundry mountain has been mined down to a timid hill, the boots I left at the soccer field (oh, my spacey-post-game-brain!) have been retrieved, I’ve swung kettlebells in the early hours, and answered emails, and organized our week on the chalkboard, and I’ve even written this blog post. Hallelujah!
But the whole damn weekend went by too fast, and Monday is going too fast, too. I’m sensing a theme. Life, the fast-forward version.
Just what it sounds like. We took the dogs sledding!
It’s “Family Day” holiday here in Ontario, so we’re hanging around doing things together as a family, as dictated by our children. I’ve actually spent most of the day in the kitchen, making a ridiculous list of homemade items, which I shall share with you now, so as to make me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Okay, I’m a little bit grumpy. I just spent most of the day in the kitchen!
Four loaves of bread. Yogurt. Turnip & beet pickles. Pulled barbequed beef in the crockpot. Homemade buns on which to serve pulled bbqued beef.
I guess that’s all. These holidays always throw me off. Truth is, I feel like I’m holiday when the kids are at school and I’m getting to write all day! So I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
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