Category: Spirit

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

After the success of last week’s Chocolate Sunflower Granola Bars, which lasted most of the week and worked well for kids’ lunches and take-along snacks, I thought I’d try adapting another cookie recipe to the one-tray bar version (we all need variety, even in cookies). This bar is a little more chewy and cookie-like, and a little less seedy and granola-y. It’s adapted from the chocolate chip cookie recipe found in Mrs. Restino’s Country Kitchen.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Cream together 1 cup of softened butter with 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar.
Next, add the following ingredients to the creamed mixture, and mix them in with a spoon till incorporated: 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola), 2 eggs, and 2 tsp. vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together the following: 2 cups unbleached flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 4 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Add to the wet mixture in two additions, and mix till it comes together.
As usual, I kept my recipe nut-free (otherwise, I can’t send the end results in the kids’ school lunches, which totally defeats the purpose). In place of nuts, I substituted: 1 cup of oats. Stir those in, along with 1/2 cup of wheat germ, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread the dough on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 25 minutes. Cut into squares as soon as the giant cookie comes out of the oven. Let the tray rest, with the cut squares, on a rack till cool.
Kevin thought he liked last week’s squares best (more roughage to chew on), and Fooey thought these were the best. I give a gold medal to the baking method. I’ve been avoiding cookie-baking for awhile due to how time-consuming it is to drop the dough onto the tray in individual lumps, and then hang around the kitchen while baking tray after tray after tray. Both of these recipes make a substantial amount of bars that last the better part of the week. Bulk baking, baby.
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Yoga day was wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I am finding in this seemingly individual physical experience a collective joy that it wouldn’t be possible to find alone. I continue to reflect on the nature of awe, wonder, the body, and the spirit. I am glad. Plus, I baked four loaves of bread before leaving the house yesterday, so added to these cookie bars, and the waffles made fresh this morning and frozen for three breakfasts this coming week, it was a productive kitchen weekend. Kevin and Albus are working on supper together, while we are all glued to the hockey game. Albus’s menu: caesar salad with homemade dressing and homemade croutons, pasta with homemade pesto, and devilled eggs–for protein. Tonight we’ll be enjoying dessert, too: ice cream. Or, possibly, banana splits.
And Canada just scored the first goal of the game. I’m going to miss the Olympics.

Getting Dressed

This week, I did something I haven’t done before. I removed two blog posts. They were public for about 24 hours, and then I took them down. I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision.

I love this blog. I love recording bits and pieces of our life. I’ve also loved talking more about my writing life; that’s been really good for my psyche, I think, and has allowed me to “come out” as a writer–to myself, as much as to anyone else. Writing about it, not in a journal, but online, somehow changed how I saw my own identity. I used to hate to identify as a writer (and I’m talking about AFTER I published a book, not before). I never knew what to say when someone complimented me or wanted to talk about writing. If I’m to analyze it (and how could I possibly stop myself from doing that!), I would say that I was afraid. I was afraid of public failure, as much as anything, because the writing life is nothing if not loaded with criticism, judgement, and rejection. Which feeds doubt. And any success was never quite enough to counter that. I felt like I was the embodiment of an elaborate ruse, or dressed in someone else’s clothes, or wearing a mask. I don’t feel like that anymore. You know …. so be it. I’m a writer. It’s not a big deal. It’s just what I do. And I honestly think that blogging about it helped get me to that point–over the mountain of fear, into a pleasant valley of normalcy. If you give me a compliment now, I’ll just say “Thank you.”
Which brings me to the blog posts that I removed. Both were confessions, of a sort. Confessions of failure and doubt. Something about them–their confessional nature? their tone? their introspection? (yes, more than usual)–made me feel naked. Not naked in body, but naked in spirit. I do question, like a lot of bloggers do, why I am doing this. Why not a journal beside my bed? I’m very comfortable, now, thinking of my blog as a family scrapbook, as a record of our mundane ordinary every days which would otherwise blur together and be lost in memory. I’m even comfortable thinking of my blog in a professional sense as an extension of my work, and a place where I can talk about my writing life. But am I comfortable getting spiritually naked online? Does it serve any purpose? What am I looking for?
I question my motivation. And I question it enough to remove those posts permanently. There are a (very) few people in my life with whom I’m most intimate, and with whom I might naturally share the progressions and failures of my spiritual life. Does sharing it in a somewhat anonymous way online bring me closer to people I might not otherwise connect with or get to know? I consider that. But it’s (mostly) a one-sided relationship, online. It’s like undressing in front of a window at night; seeing your own reflection and not seeing who might be walking by the street below. You can see how my thinking loops round and round on this point. I don’t think I’ve nailed the right answer, it’s more that I don’t want to do something that makes me feel this uncomfortable.
So, for now. I’m staying (mostly) clothed. In spirit. You know what I mean.
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Yesterday’s yoga class was wonderful. Following the difficult class on Monday, it was also a relief. My brilliant thought-of-yesterday’s-class was: My body is my emotional barometer. It’s taken me 35 years to figure that out. And yoga is like taking a stress-test. It’s an instant read thermometer. I know almost immediately whether my mind is calm or stirred, whether I am comfortable with the choices I’ve made that day, or whether I have some work to do. And sometimes the work gets done right there in class, and I emerge at the end with an unexpected thought or perspective, more open to the world. And that’s when I’m most likely to come home and write a blog that the next day makes me ask: should I close the curtains?

CJ in the House, Woot Woot

Man, I love this kid. He’s a clown. He’s a peacock. He found this hat (Kevin’s) and put it on himself. He’s got the swagger, the moves, the drama. He’s a talker, too. Loves making up words, trying out words, putting words together. Reading me stories from books. Loves an audience. Sometimes, these days, I’m all he’s got.
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Tonight I made it to yoga class. Finally. It had been a week and one day since the last class. I haven’t had the energy recently to get out at night. I’ve chosen pjs and bed over sweating and exertion. But tonight’s class reminded me–as all the classes do–why it’s worth it to go. Because it damn near kills me, sometimes, and those times turn out to be the best. Tonight I was able to manage the physical distress as long as I continued with the poses; I’m finding it more natural for my mind to enter a space where it can cope calmly and concentrate. But when I reached final resting pose, I was fairly certain that I’d pushed myself too hard and had gone too far. Lying still. It felt almost impossible. It took ever fibre of self-control to continue resting there (and for those of you who practice yoga, you know this pose is often the most pleasurable, a place of relief and accomplishment and general good vibes). I was the last person to get up and leave the room, but I stayed till I’d gotten myself back. It took a lot of concentrated breathing. I also kept repeating a mantra given to me by my kundalini teacher and friend, Kasia.
And as I walked out of the room, I realized that I was GRINNING. I felt amazing. Not at all like throwing up. Fabulous. Beyond fabulous.
Very trippy.
:::
The yoga practice works as a metaphor, for me. It is like going on a journey, in miniature. A difficult journey. There are moments when you think you cannot endure. You want to give up. You get past that moment, and you’re confronted by another. And another. But if you keep going and stay focussed on something clear and necessary–your own breath entering and exiting your body–you discover reserves of courage and strength. You get beyond. To somewhere you couldn’t have imagined when you started out. To something … not necessarily better, because who’s to judge. Just … to a place that has depth and meaning, and to which you bring the courage that got you there.
:::
I’d title this entry “Flake Out With Obscure CanLit Mama,” but that doesn’t go with the photos.

Spirit

That’s my word of the year. It came to me in a blink, in fact just the day before Nina and I met to discuss our choices, and was not the word I’d originally tossed around. But it just felt right. I’ve been reflecting on the repetition inherent in my work and my life. Each day I complete many of the same tasks I’ve completed yesterday, and which I’ll do again tomorrow. There is a comfort and joy in repetition, and in the patterns these create, but there is also … well … the potential for boredom, stagnation, even a craving for something, anything, new. Change comes to us all, and is as constant as the laundry. But it isn’t always obvious or easily recognized. Sometimes I want to seek it out; and that can be good (how else would I have gotten to be a doula last year?); but sometimes I need to throw my letters in bottles out to sea and just wait, going about my daily tasks. I need to accept that change will happen when it happens, and some change cannot be forced. I need patience.

The work that I choose to do (writing, right now) comes with a dark side–rejection, fear, self-doubt. When those dark moments crash over me, my response has often been (temporarily) to ask: why bother? Why not find something else to do with my life?
As if doing something else were the only answer. As if something else wouldn’t come with its own template of unique sacrifices, its own potential for rejection and failure.
It’s occurred to me just recently that there is another answer. The answer is to be strong in spirit.
I’m still exploring what that means, concretely, for me. So far, I believe that the pathway to my spirit is through my body, which probably sounds obvious, but I mean that when my body is engaged physically it is easier for my self to find its presence/absence. (There’s some mystery here that I can’t put into words: how presence begets absence).
Do I have access to the divine? I’m not sure it matters to me much whether that question has a quantifiable answer. I believe that I do. Anyone does. I believe it.
Here’s a short-list of what strengthens my spirit (that I’ve discovered so far, anyway): prayer; making music; writing; cooking and eating; yoga; friendship; family; attending at a birth; horses.
:::
I’m hesitating about posting this. Spirit is hard to talk about without sounding flaky, and maybe over-serious. But okay. I’m going to risk sounding flaky. I’m going to hit “publish post.” Any minute now.

Something Old and Something New

This is the kid who’s off to preschool. This is the kid who’s home sick. This is the mother (not pictured; possibly wearing frowny face) who is not using her “work” morning to do much more than make peppermint tea with honey for said sick kid while fielding innumerable bored comments as he sits beside me and reads the words I’m typing.
I forgot to bring my camera to the preschool drop-off. Will have to stage the moment next Friday. It was the first time I’ve felt like a commuting, all-working, no-one-staying-at-home family; though in fact the feeling was pretend, because here I am, working from home. But anyway. We all ate breakfast, got packed up, headed out the door together, and drove to the preschool, where we said goodbye to Kevin and CJ, and then I drove the girls to school (Albus stayed in the vehicle and “spied” on people). On a Friday when no one is ill, this schedule will mean that I’ll return home to utter quiet. Today, not so much. Albus is all about the sound effects.
But even that possibility reminds me that once upon a time, Life was very quiet. I frequently returned home to an empty apartment. And while there is much pleasure to be found in quiet contemplation (or the potential thereof), I’m grateful for the noise and chaos and activity that these four extra personalities bring into the house and into my life.
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Last night, despite a raging and persistent head cold, I went to hot yoga. This is my winter replacement for school. I’d gotten in the habit of leaving the house on Thursday evenings, as had everyone else, so I figured I’d better keep that habit up. Hot yoga it is. I walk into the room, lie down on the mat, and it’s like being on vacation in the tropics. Yoga is most effective when the mind turns off and empties out. I love it. By the end of class, I feel spiritually renewed. Each time is a little bit different. One time, I was moved to tears, though I couldn’t say why. There is something about emptying oneself out that makes room for more, for change.
However, I did not get to meet with Nina afterward, which was our plan, to discuss our words of the year. I’m looking forward to it. I think my word will be EXPERIENCE. I like the duality of the word, how it both honours the repetition of my mothering life and days, and points toward the new and challenging as well. Experience can only come from practice, and from putting in the time. It requires patience and commitment. But to have an experience can be quite a different undertaking altogether: it requires a leap of faith, openness, willingness, recognition, courage. Experiences drop out of the sky; sometimes you simply find yourself within them, and sometimes you have to look for them and seek them out. (I’m thinking of “experiences” as adventures, of a sort, but more mundane than that, too. Experiences can include anything: finding yourself in conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to, or sitting down to play the piano and finding you want to write a new song, or picking up a book and being unexpectedly touched and moved by a random sentence. ie. my definition is pretty wide open).
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And now. I need to get to work. I’ve just pointed my sick son toward the television. I’m going to let him watch YTV, which is usually off-limits due to the wretched advertising. Does my child need to be inundated with the latest and greatest in toys, cereals and movies? No, my child does not. But an hour or two can’t hurt.
In about an hour from now, Kevin will arrive home with our youngest.
“He won’t be able to tell us about his day!” AppleApple pointed out, as we drove away from the preschool. Unfortunately, that’s true. Or mostly true. He likes to mention details about his experiences, but unless we already know and can make the connections, these are hard to piece together into a full picture. For example: Boat! Shoe! Shoe? Shoe! Daddy coming! etc.
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In happy self-promotional news, I’ve learned that my story “Rat” has been nominated by The New Quarterly magazine for the National Magazine Awards, and the Journey Prize. These affirmations do the heart good. They really do.

Sunday Morning

We’re not a church-going family. Coming from a Mennonite background, I’ve tried my best to make us so, and we may attempt Sunday school again this fall (AB enjoys it), but we don’t find ourselves naturally drawn, on Sunday mornings, to our church. Other religious rituals have found a comfortable place in our home, including singing a prayer before our family meals (led forcefully by F, age 3), and, for me personally, humming hymns. I’ve had the first line of a hymn in my head these past couple of days: “My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.” So yesterday afternoon, while the children were splashing outside in the wading pool, I sat nearby with the hymnal on my knee and sang the whole of that song. F came and sat in a chair beside me, cuddled in her towel. She wanted to know why I was singing, and I said it was because it made me feel happy and comfortable and peaceful. She said it made her feel the same way. Baby CJ was nursing, and it was a really joyful and calm moment for the three of us, in our beautiful shaded backyard, in the humidity of an August afternoon in Ontario, the leafy canopy overhead, the big kids splashing gleefully (the neighbours love us, I am sure!).

We have managed to give our kitchen and dining-room that just-moved-in feeling. Everything’s cleared out for painting purposes, and it echoes. I picked up take-out pizza for supper last night, and as we sat eating together, it felt exactly like it feels when you’ve just moved in somewhere new, that very first meal in a brand-new house. I like that feeling, actually. I’m glad to discover it’s as easy to replicate as ordering take-out and taking the pictures off the walls. The smell of fresh paint added to it too.
Did I suggest in my last post that I’d actually finished all my (house)work the other night? Yah, that didn’t happen. Literally, by the time I came down the next morning, the kids had replicated the disaster in the living-room. I shall either have to ban all creative play (art projects, puzzles, games, and Playmobil), or live with the consequences of having fostered such fabulous creativity in my chiildren. Hmm. The latter, I think. If only I were just slightly more slovenly. How’s that for a personality trait to work on.
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