My thoughts are all over the place on this Monday morning. I’m wondering: should I blog our week in suppers? Skip over that and write about my weekend of solo parenting? Share news about upcoming events and unexpected Juliet feedback?
Last night, I set my alarm for swimming. I woke at 2am. I’d been dreaming about sleeping (again!). I decided to turn off the alarm and really sleep. I have three early mornings planned this week; given that I also have two evening readings, self-preservation starts to come into play. It was a little easier to turn off the alarm given that yesterday, late afternoon, I ran 12 pain-free kilometres, keeping up a good pace and plotting my return to distance running. That counts as my first real distance run since my injury in January. It’s short, as far as distance runs go, but it was a blast. Next week … 14 km??
Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, self-preserving.
Tonight, I’m ferrying children from dance to soccer practice while Kevin has an early soccer game. Tomorrow, I’m at the Starlight in Waterloo (come, too!), from 7pm onward. Readings start at 7:45. And on Wednesday I’m headed to Toronto for an event at Type Books called the “Short Story Shindig” with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and hosted by Kerry Clare; 7pm (come, too!). This is all very exciting, but doesn’t go terrifically well with excessive early morning exercise.
As I said to Kevin this morning, “This isn’t the year of the triathlon. This is the year of The Juliet Stories.” (Which may be the first time I’ve admitted that, even to myself. I really really liked the year of the triathlon. I felt so hard-core. Sharing my book feels less focused, less goal-oriented. Maybe I need to start thinking of readings as races. They definitely affect me in similar ways — I’m nervous before, wired and happy during, and it takes me a little while to come down afterward.)
So. Slightly less focus on exercise, slightly more focus on evening events.
Now. Let me tell you all about my weekend with my kids. We had so much fun! Why can’t we have this much fun all the time? Is it because I’m usually trying to get too many other things accomplished? That can’t be entirely it, because we seemed to accomplish quite a lot, even while finding time to relax. Our weekend included …
:: watching Modern Family on Friday night while sharing an entire bag of Cheetos (which were utterly disgusting, may I just add)
:: trampoline ninja jumping (everyone!)
:: a bike trip to the grocery store for picnic and party supplies, followed by a picnic in the park
:: reading outside while two girls rode giggling past me on scooters and bikes too small for them
:: hanging laundry on the line, baking bread
:: playing on electronic devices; taking lots of photos
personal pizzas for party night (the one with the olives, asparagus, and eggplant? yes, that’s mine)
:: “Party Night,” wherein we had homemade personal pizzas and punch with ginger ale while watching a movie, then gorged on episodes of Modern Family while simultaneously gorging on boxed cereal and utterly disgusting candy; the rules for Party Night go like this: everyone gets to choose one treat from the grocery store (under $4), and we stay up as late as we want; oddly, three of four children chose boxed cereal (Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops, for the record). We have never felt so collectively gross. I blame the milk. Maybe the sugar too. It was surprisingly easy to herd the children off to bed at a not entirely unreasonable hour (9:30ish) …
:: … though AppleApple and I got distracted searching for my old Grade One piano book in the basement, which we never found, but we did find one of my old and relatively simple classical piano books, and ended up staying up for another hour playing songs. The Wild Horseman. The Happy Farmer. One of Muzio Clemente’s simple Sonatinas (she’s learning it!). Minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook). Bliss!
:: sleeping in
:: making and delivering, on bicycle, invitations for an 11th birthday party (a week from today!)
:: more bike riding and trampolining and laundry hanging; hey, whatever makes us happy
Mother’s day was capped off by the return of Dad, and supper out at all-you-can-eat sushi with my mom, too.
And that is plenty for one blog post. Never got to the unexpected and lovely Juliet feedback. Well. More tomorrow.
In a long race, pacing is key. And so today I am pacing myself. Because yesterday was full. It was as full as I could make it. And I promise a proper report, with photos, very soon. But meantime, I need to unstuff myself slightly, unpack, regroup, and address a few issues.
Seriously? I know you missed me, but this is a bit of an over-reaction, don’t you think? It was only one day.
Dear Cold Cellar,
Why didn’t you mention the rotting squash? It was only one day!
Dear Compost Bin,
Are we still on speaking terms? You look like you have something to tell me, and it’s making me nervous.
You were awesome this morning. I missed you yesterday, but seeing you all contentedly and safely off to your schools made me so happy.
I want to write about writing, but it may be that I’m just too tired tonight to write about anything at all. Therefore, insert photos! This 365-day project has had the unexpected effect of being like a tutorial in portrait photography (don’t know why it took me till day 150 to figure that out). Last night, Kevin and I watched The Young Victoria (a very pleasant romance, if you’re into Victorian costume drama), and what kept diverting my eyes? The lighting. How is her face lit? It looks like natural lighting, but is it? And if not, what is the director using to give the appearance of natural lighting? Etc.
It’s nearly July. The big kids have one day of school left in grades two and three. And my Fooey has completed junior kindergarten. (See photo, above, of her getting ready to go to school this morning).
Last week, I only exercised one day out of seven. Wow. That was not good. And I felt it. I felt tired, which made me feel less like exercising … which made me feel even more tired. So, with great intentions I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night and set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. Slept without stirring for approximately seven hours, and woke when my husband tapped me on the back. Apparently his internal alarm had sounded. Mine, not a peep, not a polite brrrrng-brrrng; nothing. Which meant I woke just as morning yoga class was about to begin; but, being awake and well-rested, I hopped out of bed, ate a banana, and headed for a run. It was surprisingly less tortuous alone than I’d anticipated. I even heard a rooster crow in the park’s zoo. I didn’t think about much, just ran. It wasn’t super-early, so people were out and about, lots of construction workers heading to sites in the area, friendly hellos from other runners and cyclists. And I enjoyed the endorphins, and felt ready for my day in a way I hadn’t all last week.
My goal is to exercise four times a week: two runs, two yoga classes. I will report back. I enjoy setting goals; don’t always meet them, but enjoy setting and re-setting them. Life is flux.
Photos above include AppleApple on her last day of horse lessons (at least for this round), with Sunman, who was her regular ride. I love how comfortable and affectionate she is with all animals, even ones that are so much larger than her.
We also had some awesome rainstorms this weekend; guess I was over-optimistic about the laundry-hanging on Sunday.
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.
Thoughts come to me while I’m hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
On an evening out with friends, recently, we came around to talking about chores (we’re all moms or moms-to-be), and one friend mentioned that she genuinely enjoys hanging laundry on the clothesline–she didn’t mean that she finds it a chore she can tolerate, or doesn’t mind doing, but that she genuinely takes pleasure from it. She described hanging the napkins together so they flapped in the wind like a prayer flag. And those of us who regularly hang laundry realized we often do something similar: making patterns, following interior rules about what goes where; in essence, creating something that pleases us aesthetically. Do you have rituals you follow, or patterns you make; or does another chore bring you a similar kind of aesthetic pleasure? I think it points toward the artistic impulse.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular philosophical dilemma, which is related both to parenting styles and parenthood generally: I think all parents are occupied, whether consciously or otherwise, with finding a balance between individual pursuits and collective responsibility. (This is a societal question, too, and where you land on the scale is probably indicative of your political beliefs).
This balance comes into play in virtually everything I do. Do I push my son to practice piano, or do I hope he will come to develop his own talents? Probably a bit of both, right?
Maybe I need to explain this idea in more concrete terms. I’m thinking about how families work. How very much I would like my children to walk to school together, and to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other. However, my eldest wants to walk with his friends: they have made a thoughtful plan for meeting and walking together. I am proud of his initiative, and glad that he has strong connections with friends. But I want him to be a helpful big brother, and I’d planned to have the three kids walk to school together next year. What’s the balance? This one is easy, because we’ve already worked it out. Albus will walk with friends. We have other options for getting his two sisters to school. In this case, we went with the individual, because it did not harm the collective.
I don’t think the balance between individual and collective is ever perfected. It’s an ongoing challenge. For example, I’ve also been thinking a great deal about how spiritual and artistic practice requires uninterrupted time. There’s no short-cut for this. In order to go deep, you need to enter into yourself while letting yourself go. This isn’t necessarily selfish, but it might appear to be, and certainly can feel selfish, when one is a mother (or father) to small children. Children are notoriously good at pulling you out of wherever you’ve gone–if they need you. And mine seem to need me a lot.
But there’s another issue: If I’ve arranged childcare and freed up time to work, what guilt I feel if the work that ends up getting done is invisible, even to me. If it makes next to nothing. If I sit and stare out the window. Writing a story sometimes appears to be a quick process, but I believe there is a great deal of invisible unknown work going on beneath the surface that makes the story possible.
One final thought from my laundry-hanging philosophy session. Practice, and consistently doing something, makes that thing easy to do, so that that what appeared impossible or even merely inconvenient proves otherwise. I am thinking of the snack-making. Nothing in the cupboards to pull out, so I whip together cheese and apple slices and raisins, in individual containers, and the kids love it. Nothing in the cupboards, so I pull out the popcorn popper and everyone watches the process, and devours the results.
Yes, it takes more time and effort, but not that much more. The difference is actually inside my own head. Does it feel difficult and hard, or possible and simple?
(I did not get up early most of this week, and I missed it a great deal. So, this morning, I did again, and went to yoga, and appreciated both the effort and the ease).
This photo is for all of the laundry geeks: my bed, evening, basket of clothes. Wet clothes. Waiting all day to be hung. In the background, dry clothes, waiting to be folded and put away. Guess how I solved this dilemma? Yup. I put the basket on the floor and went to bed. These got hung the next morning, more wrinkled than usual.
One more confession. This week we had some sick people in this house, and yesterday I chose to use the “home sterilizing unit” (aka the drier on high heat) for one load.
Because the folding and putting away often happens around bedtime, I’ve been getting a lot of help. CJ in particular adores carrying pants and shirts to various drawers and stuffing them in. Sometimes he even gets things in the right drawer. And Kevin’s been helping out more too. All-family-participation in chores: yippee!