Sometimes it’s the smallest of changes that make room for a happier daily life; it’s also easy to forget the small changes, and assume that life has always been just like this. But as I puttered around my kitchen this morning, in the pre-dawn, I realized, no, life has not always been just like this. This would have seemed unthinkable a year ago. What’s changed?
1. Sunday night scheduling. Sounds dull. But how incredibly helpful it is to sit down with Kevin and discuss what’s on the menu (literally and figuratively) for the week ahead. I jot down meal ideas for each day. We plot out car use, and any blips in the routine. No longer am I stuck for meal ideas. And we find or make extra time.
2. Exercise. Guess what I do with my extra time? Some of it is spent going to yoga, or running. I am currently holding steady at two 90-minute yoga classes each week, and two 6-8km runs. This would be unthinkable were it not for advance planning. And because it’s scheduled out, I’m much less likely to skip the chance to go, knowing what I’d be sacrificing.
3. Date night. Part of our problem, typical of partners working and raising young children, is that we are often like two ships passing in the night (is that the phrase?). Kevin plays hockey and soccer, both fairly late at night. My yoga classes are over the supper hour, so on those days, he runs in the door, and I run out. I also schedule evening outings, occasionally, with my siblings, and, about once a week, with friends. So when do we get together to be ourselves and not just to talk about schedules and kids? Earlier this fall, we began booking a regular sitter, and committed to taking one evening a week just for the two of us. Marriage is for the long-haul. We need to stay connected beyond schedules and kids, because before we know it, it will just be the two of us rattling around our house, reminiscing about these crazy busy days.
4. Getting out of the house. This could have come first, actually. It’s a huge change for me, not really a small one. During my early years of motherhood, I was a hard-core stay-at-home mama. I could go months without leaving the kids for an evening (and, no, that is not an exaggeration). I wanted to do it all myself. I loved that time with them and did not resent it. But this new stage is good, too. I think the rule of thumb is: to thine own self be true. And know that part of being true is recognizing shifts and changes within one’s own self, as they happen. The kids have become so accustomed to me getting out of the house, without them, that it’s old hat. I kiss them goodbye, and they know and trust that I will come back. No drama. No fuss. (And no, it wasn’t always like that; and all the fuss and crying and drama made it so much harder to get out).
5. Nursery school. As a hard-core-stay-at-homer, I didn’t even consider nursery school for my oldest kids. I provided them with crafts, puzzles, baking projects, singing, playdates, regular trips to the library, park, Children’s museum, and swimming at the rec centre. But after eight years, or so, I was growing weary. I realized my interest and enthusiasm were flagging. Those two youngest were not getting the enriched childhood they deserved. Almost exactly a year ago, I landed on the idea of nursery school. It was a HUGE leap for me. CJ started a year ago in January, one morning a week, which by April I’d upped to two mornings. And this September, I cheerfully threw him into three mornings a week. I would consider sending him daily next September when Fooey heads off to first grade. (She’s also gotten to tag along to the nursery school experience, going every other Friday when she’s not at kindergarten). And here’s the thing: CJ loves it. I’m not saying the older kids were deprived. But I would be the last to judge or criticize either version of early childhood: either/both can work.
6. Spirit. My word for this year. Bless that word. I don’t know whether I would have necessarily turned down experiences were it not for that word (turning down experiences is not in my nature), but I may not have sought out so many experiences related to the spirit. I don’t know why I need permission or nudging to move me in certain directions. Maybe I don’t. But I like having projects. Especially projects that spread over a long period of time, and require regular attention. The 365-project falls into that category. As I approach this solstice season, and Christmas, and my birthday, and the coming new year, I want to take time to reflect on the projects ahead: small and big, new and old. What word will come to define this year?
7. Confidence. As I walked past my own reflection in storefront windows yesterday evening, I realized my self looked unfamiliar to me: older, probably. I looked like a grownup woman, occupied, on her way somewhere. And I thought to myself, how interesting that as I grow older, I am becoming more and more known to myself on the inside, while on the outside, I know myself less and less. Maybe that isn’t entirely true, given the 365-project. Or maybe it’s just this: the outside seems to matter less. I’d like to believe that who I am shines through, and always will, no matter how much I change on the outside.
8. Portfolios. One last small change. This brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea, which I may have mentioned before, came from friends of ours, who split up the household tasks, and call them “portfolios.” Bathroom cleaning would be an example of a portfolio. Dentist. School lunches. Kevin has taken over those last two portfolios, and what a difference it’s made in my life (and maybe in his, too).
I’ve been thinking about how to move between the variety of activities that I do every day: some of them on my own, some with individual offspring, some as a family, some with friends, some with people I don’t know, who I may be meeting for the first time of many, or the first and last time. What seems to work best is when I can apply that cliche of “living in the moment.” How to live in the moment? It’s not a superficial pursuit, in my mind. It’s a way of being present and committed to whatever I’m doing at any given time. Actually, it makes life way more fun. Throw myself in: that’s how it feels. Just plunge in.
Going to church has been a helpful reminder of how to live in the moment. Going to church is not always an activity which I feel like prioritizing; but if I do it without thinking of all the things I might otherwise be doing, or all the things I have yet to do, if I simply go and be, it’s a very lovely experience. I talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise; I hear and sing music; sometimes I listen to messages that are interesting or valuable; I am with family. I realize it’s not for everyone, and I realize also that there are times in a life when it is next to impossible to commit energy to anything but sheer survival, but when the luxury of time and energy exists, a great deal of pleasure comes from entering fully into a moment.
I’m not against multi-tasking; sometimes multi-tasking is what saves a really dreary day from mind-numbing boredom … but it’s really freeing to do just the thing that one is doing, and nothing else. That sense of impatience, of wishing one were elsewhere, disappears.
I got to go and dance for a few hours last night. My youngest three siblings have a band called Kidstreet, and they were opening for another Canadian band called Shout Out Out Out Out at a local club. We got us some babysitting, and I put on dancing shoes and sparkly eye shadow (couldn’t waste the stuff I bought for Halloween), and off we went, ready for a good time. It was so fun. Dancing itself was wonderful. Seeing my brothers and sister get the crowd happy and excited was wonderful. Being out without children was wonderful. I would love to take my kids to see their uncles and aunt play sometime, too (well, the older ones, anyway). My brother Karl is teaching AppleApple drums and Albus guitar, and he’s also doing a lot of musical education: giving them ear training so that they can pick out the different instruments and parts of a song, and also having them listen to some real cool music. I would love for my kids to come to experience music as something they love and have opinions about, but also as something that they can play and make themselves. Music is so easily shared. And music can make those “living in the moment” moments absolutely effortless.
It’s a blessing, not a burden, to be this busy.
Yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Yes, my life is written out in point form in advance. No, I don’t always feel like doing what I’ve planned for myself. But it’s amazing what can be squeezed into one day, what can fit.
Today, for example: breakfast, big kids out the door, swim lessons with little kids, home to start laundry, walk to a friend’s house, play, home for lunch, prepare supper, listen to podcast on CBC radio on beauty (“beauty will save the world“), plan via email a talk I’m preparing to give on Sunday about being a “Mennonite” writer (quotation marks necessary?), walk to school to get kids, bring friends home, trade off parenting duties with Kev, walk briskly to yoga, 90-minute yoga class, walk briskly home, blissed out and thinking semi-deep thoughts, eat leftovers, listen to kids play drums and guitar, tag-team the dishes with Kev, head out with sibs for a drink, walk briskly home, chat with Kev before trading off as on-call parent, watch video of beautiful youngest singing along to the Cranberries, plan tomorrow’s crock-pot supper, write blog. There’s still time for a small snack before bed.
Taken from the radio program (Tapestry): when you embrace beauty–the beautiful, the moment of grace–you accept that it will pass, that you can’t keep it. What is beauty? Goodness, kindness, compassion, acts of selfless impulsive grace.
Scheduling: it’s a love/hate relationship. I am definitely of an organized mind, and enjoy figuring out how to make things fit together and become orderly and sensical. Which is apparently not a word, but it should be; as in, the opposite of nonsensical. Oh dear. Three sentences in and already off-track. Where was I? Loving to schedule … but resenting having to do it in order to have a life; resenting the ongoing, neverending obligation to schedule. And coming around to acceptance, because that’s a good place to come around to.
Monday morning, I went for a run, then spent the remaining two child-free hours of the day working out the week’s schedule, which I hadn’t had time to do on the weekend, with Kevin working, and just general exhaustion. I like to sketch out an idea for suppers every day of the week, preferably related to the veggies lurking in my fridge and cold cellar the existence of which I’m otherwise likely to forget. This also prevents the panic of not knowing what the heck to make for supper an hour before supper’s due to be eaten by six hungry and opinionated people.
But I also schedule out absolutely everything else, coordinating with Kevin, most closely, and with a variety of other people (the parents of my kids’ friends; music teachers; grandparents; friends; health practitioners; essentially, anyone else we’re planning to see or want to spend time with during the week).
I think of myself as our family’s call centre. Got a problem–emotional, practical, menial, existential? I’m the one you’re going to call, the 9-1-1 operator. I’m also the first responder, the triage nurse, the doctor/psychiatrist/janitor/repair-person/garbage collector. And I do out-patient and follow-up work, too.
I’ve figured out that this means if I’m going to get time to myself, to recuperate, to prevent meltdown (ie. mine), I’ve got to schedule, in advance, off-call time, time alone.
Every day is broken into pockets of time, each with the potential to be used for something. I am often amazed at how much, and what a variety of activities, can fit. However, the advance plan doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes my energy can’t keep up with my appetite.
For example, on Tuesday, I’d maneuvered time off between after-school pickup and Kevin’s late-night hockey, arranging for Kevin to do after-school care, serve supper, do dishes, and bedtime (yes, it’s a lot!), so that I could go to a yoga class and then on to a reading: Annabel Lyon, Alyssa York, and Sandra Birdsell were all in town. But after a full day that included early rising, swim lessons (getting in the pool with CJ), friends over, baking, and cooking, I had just enough energy to drag myself to yoga. Having survived ninety sweaty minutes of exertion, I exited into a damp dark evening, hungry (because I’d gone over supper hour), bone-tired, and feeling chilled … so I went home instead. I knew I’d be up very early the next morning to run with a friend. And there’s only so much of me available for use.
So Tuesday night, post-kids’-bedtime, I went to bed with a pot of tea and watched reality tv on the internet. I won’t even try to explain it. But it works for me. Sometimes better than anything else. (And, no, I hadn’t scheduled it in, nor do I plan to. Some things are best left to impulse, as needed).
Cooking with kids: AppleApple’s menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids’ cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey’s and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey’s up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus’s German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it’s impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is ‘re able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I’m sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something’s not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here’s what went onto my “fitting it all in … a little at a time” list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).
Experiencing the immobility of disorganization. How can it take so little to throw me off? I stayed out late last night, after rising very early for a wonderful run with a friend, and the more tired I am, the more likely I am to order a second drink. I’m not saying the second drink did me in, but I’ve been fuzzy-headed for the better part of today. I even forgot to finish drinking my coffee–it languished on the counter till I discovered it cold, at noon.
I am prepping for a birthday party tonight (cooking for 14), and another tomorrow (three boys overnight), and out-of-town guests arriving tomorrow at noon as well. I feel overwhelmed. All of my careful planning is thrown out of whack–no babysitting possible tomorrow, and, there, I’ve lost half of a week’s worth of writing time … the downside of not working for a living, just working for the sake of it. It feels like my time is therefore disposable; and I resent that. Can you hear it in my voice?
I must get to early morning yoga tomorrow; perhaps that will return me to a sense of balance.
Here’s what needs to happen in the next couple of hours: wash all dishes; clear all counters; and prep any food that can be prepped in advance. Tonight’s menu: nitrate-free local hot dogs on buns, with sides of baked beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and avocado salsa, and cake and ice cream for dessert; I am currently stalled on the critical decision of whether to top the cake with whipped cream, or with whipped cream AND homemade chocolate sauce; this is what I mean–I’m stalled on the most insignificant of details, to the point of inertia. I look at the counters and the big dining-room table and go … what is that stuff, and where does it belong? It appears to be, largely, homeless debris that migrates from surface to surface till it gets recycled, or claimed, in which case the kid carries it to another surface, usually not very far away from the first one, and deposits it again.
Update on Eco-Attempt # 1: Make your own laundry detergent! Do it! It works! I mixed equal parts Borax and baking soda in a glass jar with a lid, and shook it to combine. I dump two tablespoons of the powdery mixture directly into the washing machine (I have a front-loader; use twice as much with a regular machine), and pour liquid soap into the detergent dispenser tray. The liquid soap is Dr. Brommer’s Lavender Castile Soap, which is expensive on first glance, but needs to be heavily diluted to use. So I’ve filled an old detergent bottle with several squirts of Dr. Brommer’s and diluted it with several litres of water. Voila. I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of LAVENDER, other than it smelled heavenly to me; but does Kevin want to wear lavender-scented socks? Hopefully so, because the Dr. Brommer’s is going to last for a year, I suspect, though it can also be diluted and used around the house, for dish washing and hand-washing, etc.; I may do that. It doesn’t completely solve my too-many-plastic-bottles problem, but it will cut down on how many we throw away in a given year.
Eco-attempt # 3: We made vanilla! It’s easy. You buy a couple of vanilla beans, split them, place them in glass canning jars, and pour rum or vodka or some other light alcohol over top, and let them sit for a month or two. Again, relatively inexpensive and will save a lot of little plastic bottles.
Eco-attempt # 4: List of things I intend to store for this coming winter: 1. Garlic! The sad news is that these are our last three local garlic bulbs; but the good news is that my stores of garlic have lasted this long. I bought them in bulk last fall, and stored them in paper bags in our cold cellar. More garlic this year! 2. Also easily stored are potatoes: again, in paper bags, in the cold cellar. 3. Apples wintered well, there, too. 4. Squash was pretty good, though I wouldn’t try to store squash for more than a few months (a pumpkin started to rot). 5. Cabbage kept well in the cold cellar, too, as did 6. carrots, especially in the mid-winter months when the cellar was coldest.
In the freezer, I am now dipping into the last of the frozen 6. plums and 7. apricots. I highly recommend freezing bushels of these. I cut them in half, pit them, and place them into plastic bags and freeze them right away. No sugar pack, nothing. Take them out when you’re ready and use them right away, or they will discolour. I stew them with a little water, and serve them over waffles or for my own breakfast of ground seeds and yogurt (don’t ask; or do, if you’re really curious). I let myself start eating the apricots and plums in January, when a body’s longing for summer’s tart fruits, and last summer’s batch has lasted up till now. I also plan to freeze 8. peas and 9. corn cut off the cob, and 10. tomatoes, in addition to 11. canning more tomatoes or tomato puree. 12. Strawberries also freeze easily, as does (13.) rhubarb, though rhubarb season is usually when I discover that last year’s rhubarb is still hanging around in the bottom of the freezer.
The photo of the kids in their new hats represents the fun time we had at Zeller’s, of all places, with the three youngest kids, up past bedtime, earlier this week. Seriously, who in her right mind would be shopping with children at Zeller’s at 8:30pm? We were looking for Albus’s birthday gifts and ended up having a hoot of a time trying on hats and sunglasses and checking ourselves out in the tiny mirrors. I was in the moment, and it was so freaking fun.
I seem not to be in the moment right now … How can get there? Remind me.
I’ve promised Fooey that I will help her make cards. And then we’ll clear the tables and the counter! Wish me luck. Or better yet, focus.
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