Category: Summer

This moment

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I can’t wait to have a new blog set up that will display these photos properly.

I love this one.

The ball in motion in the air, the child practicing while the parent offers instruction, but most of all the little guy sitting and watching. We had such a fun time together that evening, shooting hoops. This photo captures something outside of that experience, though, and seems to communicate a separate narrative that may not be the real one, but strikes me as being, instead, extremely poignant. There is a loneliness to the child in the foreground, watching, waiting his turn, hand resting on chin.

And all around, the green of nearly-summer, the bright, angled evening light.

Sanctuary

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What I love about our back yard is that it’s beautiful because of our efforts to make it beautiful. When we moved in eleven summers ago (eleven summers ago!), the yard behind the house was bare dirt. It was so bare, so dusty that my toddling crawling babies would be filthy after playing outside. One of our first projects was to build a fence to block off the view of the parking lot next door. Over the years we poured a concrete patio behind the house, supplemented with bricks, that the kids used to run their trikes on. The summer Fooey started walking, Albus and AppleApple and I used sidewalk chalk to colour each brick a different colour (while Fooey grinned and sucked on the chalk, according to photographic evidence).

Grass grows here now, and weeds, and dandelions, and moss.

Kevin’s dad, who died seven years ago this fall, planted some of the healthiest perennials — grasses and hostas — that thrive in hard growing areas of the yard. I think of him when I see them.

We’ve lost a few trees and branches, some to storms and ice, and others by choice. I’ve got two long laundry lines strung between trees and the back porch.

The raspberry canes we planted produce every summer, and we’re working on a rhubarb patch and blueberry bushes, and we bought our first cherry tree yesterday, with plans for a new row of fruit trees along the back fence. The back fence also has a ladder, new this summer, to assist smaller children taking a short cut.

There’s the trampoline, the soccer net, the play structure, the sand, the painted stumps for jumping on. The raised beds continue to be a work in progress, in the back yard and the front. The picnic table is rickety and needs replacing (that’s on our summer to-do list too).

We’ve never fixed the garage, which is as ugly and utilitarian as ever it was. When we moved in, we thought it would be among our first projects. Goes to show how priorities change.

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I’ve been sitting out here often these past few weeks, as the weather has gotten warm. The flowering garden is at its peak in spring-time. It is luscious and thick right now, variegated greens, colourful patches of purple and pale blue and yellow from the weedier plants that return each year, along with pinks and whites, yellows and oranges. Mint flourishes here too, and chives, which I see have already gone to seed. The dogs love to be outside, although they’ve got a dreadful habit of rolling in newly planted beds. I don’t think the new strawberry plants are going to survive.

I’ve been sitting out here, soaking in the beauty. It’s strange how peaceful it feels here, despite the traffic rolling past non-stop on the busy streets that surround us. I hear wind in the branches. The colours are soothing. My heart slows down. The trees offer shelter, the sun warmth. I’m more blessed than I deserve. And so, to show my gratitude and to say thank you, I come outside, and I sit, here. I write. I watch. I listen. Think. Be.

Ups and downs

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So … it’s been a week of ups and downs.

Our 11-year-old suffered what appears to have been a migraine, sending us to the emergency room rather than to soccer practice on Tuesday evening. She’s already the kid with asthma, and with big athletic ambitions. Thankfully, she seems completely blasé about the whole experience; I’m the one who needs to sort out my anxieties. I tried doing yoga in my office yesterday morning, with this accompanying soundtrack. It helped. At least a bit.

Occasionally I find myself believing in some kind of cosmic scale that insists on balancing things out. Seems superstitious. But when I was writing THE JULIET STORIES, for example, I got this very weird infection on my eyelids that was both ugly and painful, bulbous red bumps that made it difficult to look up or to the side. It lasted for six months. When I was writing GIRL RUNNER, I was covered in a very weird maddeningly itchy rash that doctors thought was an auto-immune disorder, but which turned out to be bedbugs. That lasted for about six months too. I don’t know whether this (i.e. physical payment for creative grace) is a common experience for other writers, but I was fascinated to discover, in Rebecca Mead’s MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH, that George Eliot suffered from debilitating headaches and other health issues while working on her masterpiece, MIDDLEMARCH, which she wrote over a fairly short but intense period of time.

This was not what I sat down to blog about this morning.

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Sure there have been some downs this week. But also some terrific ups.

Such as …

* Shopping at the mall with my 13-year-old, who was badly in need of clothing that fit, and it not being a complete embarrassing disaster for him. In fact, we kind of had fun. And we both hate shopping, so that’s saying something.

* A bowling birthday party for the same kid that was super-fun (and that I did not supervise; it’s best to leave the super-fun outings to Kevin, as I can’t help myself from reining in certain kinds of silliness).

* Getting my course curriculum for the fall laid out, and readings chosen. Big item off of my to-do list!

* A reading at a midwifery clinic last night, babies in attendance, funny breastfeeding essay on offer — and all of the timing and planning actually working out.

* Convincing my 8-year-old to play in a piano recital on Sunday. (Though it may be her last, as she’s thinking of retiring.)

* Summer babysitting plans, as detailed last night (the older kids will be babysitting the younger ones, which worked really well last summer): “Mom, I was thinking of having a ‘Shakespeare-themed’ summer. I could tell them the plots of the plays, maybe a few comedies, a few tragedies, skip the histories because they’re boring, and they could choose one they like, and we could perform it. But we might need more kids. And I was also thinking I could teach them some of Shakespeare’s insults….”

* It’s a PD day and we’re practicing for the summer. One babysitter in charge. One kitchen covered in jam and peanut butter. One gigantic Playmobil disaster upstairs. One mother out running errands on her bicycle. File this under “up.”

Holiday album

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We’ve been away on holiday, a fact I choose never to announce on social media, including this blog, perhaps out of paranoia, but it gives me a sense of security. So anyway, you didn’t know we were gone, but, hey, we’re back!

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Right before we left, I took the kids on our annual back-to-school shopping trip. I hate shopping, they hate shopping, we all hate shopping, so we only do it once a year: a visit to the mall that always includes the food court.

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Also before leaving, we ditched our couch upon finding a bed bug associated with it. One bug. God knows if it came from the couch, as we couldn’t find any signs of any others, but we’d had the couch for thirteen years, and I’d disliked it strongly for the last three, at least. I was almost afraid of myself — how easy it was to get rid of the couch, after years of indecision. What else might I suddenly admit dislike to and get rid of? A neighbour took it home — the couch, I mean. Albus tried to stop him, citing the bed bug, the broken springs, the etc. etc., but the neighbour insisted. He identified himself as an “unpublished writer,” who was working on screenplays for the CBC. You never know who’s living up the street, do you? But now we know what he’s sitting on.

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On our holiday, I read J.K. Rowling’s new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, (being a sucker for mysteries), which rendered me completely useless to my family for an entire day and part of the night, too. I also finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, which I loved, though it did take me four months to get from one end to the other. I also read through my dad’s collection of last year’s New Yorkers (so did the older kids, unexpectedly). We swam in the cool lake, kayaked, took the dogs for a row boat ride (a mistake, as apparently both suffer from seasickness), played outside all day long. We went skinny-dipping one night — all six of us, including our five-year-old who spent the entire time announcing delightedly what we were up to at loudspeaker volume. He LOVED it. I hope the neighbours didn’t hear, however. My favourite part of that experience was when we were all standing on the dock, towels dropped, shivering — that awkward moment while we worked up the nerve to jump into the freezing cold. (No photos of that!) There were starry skies, several seriously hot perfect summer days when we didn’t even need a towel to dry off after a cooling swim, a day of rain, three successful water skiers, and lots of junk food and fancy drinks.

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(That’s AppleApple, Albus, and Fooey, twice, respectively.)

No electronics were mentioned, though we did watch movies on the rainy day. Work and home started to interrupt a few days in (for me and for Kev), and it was hard to stay in relaxation mode knowing what was waiting for us back here.

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Kev and AppleApple worked on a project inspired by a curiously water-carved log that turned up on the beach this past spring — my dad thought it would make a totem pole, and Kevin ran with the idea. He spent the holiday happily working on this project.

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(“I really like what you’re doing on the smaller totem pole.”
“You mean, the one with the towel on it?”
“Oh. Uh. Is that a towel?”
Being Kevin, he did not take this as criticism, but ran with it. Towel as inspiration.)

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He also brushed AppleApple’s hair. Wow.

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I felt a bit starved for creative expression, myself, and found myself missing my desk and computer. I call writing “work” but it isn’t, really. It’s life, for me. I took a lot of photos instead. Way too many. So many sunsets! I include some here.

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What else happened? Well, the dogs went swimming:

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Oh, and I did something I’ve never done before: I drove a boat. I’ve never driven a boat before, but the cottage is boat-accessible only, and my dad thought I should learn. I might have been sixteen again. AppleApple came along to help, because we had to make the return trip on our own (just me and her), and she took some photos. It might look like I’m relaxed and smiling, but check out that grip on the steering wheel — my knuckles are literally white.

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On another and not entirely unrelated note: I feel old! I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my hair. We were comparing hair colour, the kids and I, our different shades of red, and one of them told me my colour was “red-grey.” Really? Okay, maybe it’s not that I feel old, it’s that I look older than I feel. I may never resolve this problem.

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School starts tomorrow. I’m working through a mountain of cottage laundry. Kev’s got vertigo from swimming in the cold lake (he gets it every year and forgets every year, and goes swimming). I haven’t been for a run in nearly two weeks, rendering my training plan for the Toad pretty much back to square one, but my mildly concussed head is appreciative, and I haven’t had any symptoms for over a week. There won’t be time to get into proper shape before the race. I’m trying to be at peace with this, and be happy about all those sunsets we got to see. And the sound of loons. And watching my children enjoy each other’s company.

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We’re privileged, and I know it, to have a week like this in our summer, and to share it together, no matter the blips and bugs and breaks along the way.

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Onward. Keep breathing. Keep hoping.

Birthday eve and birthday morn

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Birthday eve, ready for bed. Still seven. Photo bombing by 5-year-old brother.

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Birthday morn, in her new favourite outfit (from Grandma Alice). This is the dog who loves to pose. The other dog was lounging nearby, unwilling to join in.

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Pancakes for breakfast, then presents. Everyone got a birthday crown.

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Even me.

I also got an early morning visit to the dentist (no cavities!). And now we’re prepping the house for a major non-birthday-non-fun-related project. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. The excitement never ends around here. The birthday girl is being very accomodating and understanding, and we’re trying not to let it take over the celebration.

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“Every morning, I get up, get dressed, and check the mirror to see if my outfit is appropriate — for me. If it’s not, I go and change.” Fooey is our earliest riser, arriving downstairs every morning with brushed hair and a happy “good morning!”, ready for the day. She is highly organized, friendly and fun but also independent and quietly creative. She is far and away our most decorative and styling child, with a strong sense of personal taste. She would like to be a veterinarian when she grows up. I think she can do anything she puts her mind to (her dad would agree).

Morning of cognitive disinhibition

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Well, we got one home from camp. Albus has returned: freckled, dirty-footed, exhausted, and craving his screened devices. It’s been an odd two weeks without him, and a portent of life to come. He’s already twelve years old, and given that I left home when I was seventeen, my sense is of us entering a different stage of parenting, of trying to figure out how hard to hold on, and how much to let go. I intend to do a lot of both. For example, our ten-year-old, who is quite enormously tall, asked to snuggle with us the other night. She just needed to be hugged and held, despite her long legs and muscular shoulders and ability to make me hot lunches.

I’m serious about the hot lunches. She’s made me several this week, thinking up a menu, preparing it, presenting it on a plate, and knocking on my office door. I could get used to this.

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The fourth week of our summer holidays is coming to a close. This week has been cool, and marred by ridiculously noisy street-work going on directly outside my window, occasionally causing my entire office to vibrate in such a way that ear plugs become quite useless. It’s also been a tough writing week due to the work that I’m doing. I will come through this and look back on this time fondly, I’m sure, as I always seem to do, but it’s a grind. Instead of entering directly into the book this morning, I skimmed my FB feed, making all kinds of connections and discoveries (or so it felt; nice when procrastination takes on a purposeful aura).

* First I read an article on success by a young tenured professor who believes in giving, doing favours, taking time to do one thing and go deep, and making strong connections. I also appreciated his point that the most highly successful people, whatever their fields, were rarely the most outstanding performers as children, and that in fact it was their motivation and grit that set them apart.

* Which leads me to a blurb I read next explaining why creative people are often eccentric. This is science, folks! Apparently, creative people (and eccentrics) experience cognitive disinhibition, which means their brains fail to filter out extraneous information — I assume this includes sensual and aural information, in addition to the collection of random facts about celebrities while standing in line at the grocery checkout. It’s the ability to process this excess of information without becoming overwhelmed that leads to fascinating breakthroughs. But it can also inspire peculiar behavioral traits. Like Bjork wearing the swan dress at the Oscars, according to the blurb — which was awesomely cool, I thought.

Okay, so stay open and make connections and get gritty.

Next?

* I took an online assessment to determine my “Decision Pulse.” It’s quick and easy, and I usually avoid these things like that plague, which shows you how determined I am to be distracted this morning — to open myself to vats of cognitive disinhibition! I make my decisions, according to this quick and easy quiz, based on 1. Humanity 2. Relationships 3. Achievement. Apparently, I don’t care about safety or security at all. (Sorry, family!) I think by “Humanity” the test means humanitarian impulses and the desire to serve a greater good. Which sounds lofty, and may or may not be accurate, though I do spend time each day praying that the work I do will help in some way. That it will heal and nourish rather than hurt.

* Finally, I guffawed with enormous appreciation as I read Anakana Schofield’s brilliant and hilariously written take-down of the shallow, missing-the-point-entirely publicity machine that one steps into when one publishes a book. Anakana is the author of Malarky, which I’ve given to my husband to read right now, and she’s damn funny, and doesn’t seem to care who she’s offending (which is a trait I would dearly like to grow into, but haven’t yet). She’s out in Vancouver and we’ve never met in person, but have enjoyed some back and forth via email regarding exercise habits and, yes, readings and publicity and such. She’s put her finger on something really critical here, too: that it seems everyone wants to be a writer, but no one wants to be a reader. (Consider the proliferation of blogs!) What book publishers should be doing is nurturing readers; and what every writer knows it that public appearances inevitably turn into mini-sessions on “how to be a writer.” But it’s readers writers need, isn’t it. People who love books. People who find solace in words. People who soak up a story, who think about the characters afterward and worry for them. People like me, actually. I love reading. Books are like old friends, companions, sparring partners, comforters, moral compasses, inspirations, teachers.

With that in mind, I’ll turn off my distractions and step into the book I’m making, hoping it will ultimately offer both escape and comfort to a reader like me, sometime, somewhere, somehow.

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