Category: Friends

The six-minute post that took ten minutes

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terrible phone photo of a beautiful child, on our Saturday morning date

Uh oh. Only six minutes to post today. Must have taken a longer nap after spin & kettlebells.

I have lots of little things to comment on. Don’t know why I need to comment on them in public, on the blog, but if there’s one rule about blogging it’s don’t question why you’re blogging. Or else you probably wouldn’t. So, on the off chance that someone else out there is interested too, here’s what’s on my mind.

* My friend Tricia and I are plotting how to become contestants on Canada’s The Amazing Race. We’re dead serious and both of us are FAIRLY COMPETITIVE, to put it mildly. And we both love racing — we’ve raced together twice, and once I beat her, and once she beat me, and both times, both of us were convinced the other made us run/bike way faster than we could have gone on our own. I’d give us good odds. If only we can crack the audition challenge.

* Shoot, that puts me at two minutes. Six minutes is not enough time for a quick post.

* Advent calendar activity today: “It’s in your writing, Mom, so I can’t read it.”
“It says ‘Eat supper by candlelight.'”
“Oh.”
“We could breakfast by candlelight, maybe.”
“But I like the lights.”
“Hey, I brought home a cake from the book club I visited last night — how about we’ll change it to ‘Eat cake by candlelight.'”
“Cake for supper! This is the best!”

And that’s my time. I’m sure there were more thoughts, but I’m going to pour them into the house I’m building out of words, which is getting pretty solid. I had hopes of completing the draft before Christmas, and then giving myself Scrivener as a birthday gift, and learning how to use it over the holidays before digging into the second draft. Wait. Why did I put that in the past tense? I still have hopes!

* Kevin is attending CJ’s nursery school Christmas concert this morning specifically so that I don’t have to and can write the book instead, AND I turned down a freelance gig this week specifically so that I could keep working on the book, and so I am signing off to enjoy the luxury of a writing day. Waste not, want not.

Agh. That’s nine minutes. Maybe a ten-minute post is all I can realistically pare myself down to. Good to know.

Cupcake factory

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Tomorrow (Sunday) my biggest girl turns 10. She’s got swimming practice and a soccer game, back to back, and no desire to skip either. What she wants, instead, is to bring treats for her teammates.

I thought we’d accomodate by picking something up at the grocery store on our way. That’s a lot of kids!

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But she was thinking homemade. She’d even looked up recipes.

Well, it is her birthday. And her birthday list is so humble and dear it includes requests for kiwi, mango, and pomegranate. (Done!) She’d also like books: a thesaurus, horse books, soccer books, fantasy books, and Shakespeare plays.

So we spent the afternoon, with a friend, making a quadruple batch of cupcakes from scratch. Quite the cupcake factory. Recipes posted below.

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Boston Cupcakes (adapted from Fannie Farmer)
makes 50+ large cupcakes

Cream 20 tbsp of butter. Slowly add and beat in 4 cups of white sugar. When it’s nice and fluffy, add in 8 eggs, one at a time, and beat. Add and mix in 3 tsp vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together 5 cups of flour, 8 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt.
Add dry mixture by cups to wet, mixing all the while (we used a standing-mixer).
Add and mix in 2 cups of milk.
Line cupcake trays with papers and fill each cup about two-thirds with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.

Chocolate Frosting

In a double boiler, melt 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate with 4 tbsp butter and 2/3 of a cup of milk. Cool to lukewarm and add 4 cups of icing sugar (at least) and 2 tsp vanilla. Add icing sugar slowly, beating all the while, until you reach the desired consistency. Makes more than enough.

Cosmic activity in the friendship area …

I just had to share with you the horoscope I read yesterday at supper. Yeah, I read those things. (Oh, and yeah, sometimes I read the newspaper at supper.) The horoscopes aren’t always quite so spot on, but this one really was:

“Cosmic activity in the friendship area of your chart means you will be offered at least one helping hand over the next 14 hours. Wherever you go and whatever you do, people will go out of their way to assist you.”

Skip over that 14-hour thing (too much precision for the stars, in my humble opinion), substitute “one” helping hand for “many,” and it’s just ridiculously accurate. In fact, I’m quite certain that given a little distance I will look back on yesterday as a good day in my life. A really good day. Ultimately, some very fine things have come from writing this book, and from writing this blog, and from writing, period. So it’s back to the writing. It’s been a whirlwind.

Thanks, friends, for all of the helping hands.

Entertaining at home

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If you happened to call this morning, you might have thought I was running a small daycare on the side. But it’s just temporary; today’s a PD day, so I’ve got a few extra. I’m also missing a few. All in all, it worked out to five kids total for the morning, and now we’re down to four, plus dogs.

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So far, we’ve baked and eaten a cake (very popular activity).

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The girls found a chunk of ice in the backyard, the melting of which has provided at least an hour of excitement, believe it or not. They requested I take photos, after I refused to let yet another icicle get stuck in our freezer where it will only be instantly forgotten and found years later.

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The boys, meanwhile, got busy crashing cars down the stairs.

Next up: lunch. And, no, we’re not having cake. I’ll think of something.

The two oldest kids are at a babysitting course all day. Albus sees dollar signs in his future. He and AppleApple plan to work as a team, if anyone in the neighbourhood is looking to hire a responsible pair, who will now be trained in first aid and diaper changing (and who have lots of experience looking after their younger siblings, too).

Falling into a powerful book

I finished reading a beautiful and powerful book last night. It’s called Out of Grief, Singing, and was written by Charlene Diehl, who is a poet and also a friend and mentor. It is a difficult book to read, in some ways, because it is about a mother experiencing something no parent wants to imagine: the death of her child. But it is not as difficult to read as you might imagine before opening its pages. You only need to be prepared to be moved profoundly and deeply as you follow this mother on her journey out of grief, singing. I started reading the book in an airport, which I cannot recommend unless you are comfortable sobbing in public. I finished it in the privacy of my own bedroom, and I let the tears flow freely.

In a sense, the book is about the grieving we do in public and in private — the ways in which we are permitted to welcome grief (or not) into our daily interactions, and the discomfort (or fear) that many of us feel when we hear about someone else’s experience with death and loss. I’ve been thinking about the book all morning. I’ve been thinking how I’ve felt awkward and anxious about approaching someone who has suffered a profound loss. I’ve felt at a loss myself. At a loss for words, or actions. The people who help Charlene on her journey show love, compassion, patience. They don’t tell her what she’s feeling or what she’s supposed to be feeling, but honour where she is. They don’t pretend nothing has happened. They are open to her story. They are open to her daughter’s existence, and to the fact that her daughter lived and died.

That may sound really obvious, but I think it is not.

The greatest hurt seems to come from strangers who make assumptions, and so many assumptions are made about women of childbearing age; I know I’ve made thoughtless assumptions myself. Is this your first baby? is maybe not the best question to ask the pregnant woman standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Or, be aware that you may be expounding on the wonders of natural childbirth to a woman who has delivered prematurely, her baby kept alive by machines: and in your ignorance that you are suggesting that this woman has done something wrong, as if she had choice in the matter. Know that your childless neighbours may or may not have chosen to be childless; or that they may have suffered losses, that they may be parents without living children. Know that not everyone gets to choose their story. Know that people’s experiences are not all the same.

This is profoundly hopeful book, full of grace.

Charlene’s two living children, born after the death of their sister, hold her in their lives in ways that are completely natural. The older sister they never knew is present in their family. In the book, Charlene relates how her son says that his older sister is there whenever he has a feeling that surprises him, or that he can’t know — much like he can’t know this sister, yet she is mysterious and present.

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me and Charlene in Winnipeg earlier this fall

Charlene was my professor that November many years ago when she went into early labour. I remember the shock of hearing the news, and hearing, less than a week later, that the baby girl had died. I was twenty, and I hadn’t the slightest idea how to respond. I signed a card that someone more thoughtful than me bought and sent on behalf of our class. I never thought to visit. I think I would have imagined it an imposition. I think, also, that it’s okay to be where we’re at, and I wasn’t in a place where I could have been helpful. We aren’t, always, are we.

I hope I’m somewhere else now. I hope, if called upon, that I could be like the friend who listens to Charlene’s story over and over again, and because she is present and listening, is able to reflect back to Charlene that her story is not repetitive, nor is it a trap, but it is ever-changing, changing with Charlene as she moves through that long first winter after the death of her daughter.

I don’t know why the book has come into my life now, but it came and I am glad for it. Thank you, Charlene.

The tired Sunday post

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Mother Nature and Junot Diaz

If you read my blog you’ll find Kevin’s Halloween costume funny (I hope); everyone else will just be baffled (especially because Kevin never remembered how to pronounce his last name). At the party last night, Kevin spent a lot of time explaining to everyone else who he was, and why. I spent a lot of time eating cheese and pickles and olives and cheese again. Wasn’t sure I’d make it into party-land standing, let alone wrapped in vines plucked off the side of our house, but a nap with the dogs on the couch gave me a couple more hours of stamina.

Yesterday was a Chapters day, and I enjoyed myself despite (because of?) spending five hours behind a table stacked with my books, smiling and waiting for people to approach. Thankfully, many friends turned up — for the hugs, right? One bought me a coffee and a protein box from Starbucks, which lasted all afternoon. And I sold a bunch of books, and not only to friends. I tried to tailor my pitch to whomever was approaching. Mention the setting? But offset it by adding, “It brings a child’s innocence to a politically-charged situation.” (Thanks to Charlene Diehl for the suggestion: I was riffing about pitch ideas on Facebook during the slower moments yesterday.) I also said that it was a good book club book, and I’d got strong and heartfelt responses from readers. I used vague phrases like: “mother-daughter relationships,” “family drama,” “memory.”

During a mid-afternoon lull, I had four back-to-back long conversations with people who apparently were just looking to chat and didn’t buy the book (that was a low point). I gave advice on how to get published. I declined free manuscript reading. One woman said she rarely reads in English (she is French), but that she felt extremely drawn to the book. She stayed for a long time, but never quite made the leap to purchase; I wondered whether I should have pushed her harder, but pushing is not really my forte. My inner-Menno recoils in horror at all this self-promotion. What if I’d said, “Maybe there’s a reason you’re being drawn to the book.” But I couldn’t, and didn’t. (But I’ll admit I wondered afterward: maybe there was a reason.)

A woman originally from Romania said she thought it would be too close to her own experiences to read, and apologetically walked away; but then changed her mind and came back all in a rush and bought it as a gift for a friend.

Mid-afternoon I posted on Facebook that no men had yet to buy my book, but lots of them were smiling at me. Of course, three minutes later a man bought the book. By the end of the afternoon, I figured about half the sales had been to men. Some were buying gifts for their wives. One had never met a writer, and complimented me on my author photo. He’s the one who had the best line of the day. After I’d signed the book for him, he said, “Damn, I should have had you write ‘Thanks for a wonderful night!’ so I could show it to my ex.”

See. I wouldn’t get any of this stuff if I’d stayed home instead.

This morning I listened to an interview with Junot Diaz (the real one) on YouTube — Kevin had found it while researching his costume. I guess this is one way to discover a new writer — be mistaken for him. It’s a very long interview, but if you’ve got time while kneading bread or doing dishes, listen in. I started around the 19th minute, where he’s talking about the book being an archaic medium because it moves at a human rhythm, not at the rhythm or speed of a machine; it’s archaic because we have been trained to become machines, and to forget that we are humans. He also said that to find something new, you have to first be lost.

I resonated with so many of the things he was saying, and I think other writers will too. (Be warned: he did use the F work often enough to interest Fooey, who was playing in the living-room. “It’s that word Mommy uses when she’s driving,” she said. Argh! I keep promising the kids I’ll stop swearing in the car, and I keep failing miserably. Just like a human or something.)

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