this is what the sky and leaves look like today
Oh boy. It’s scheduling crunch time at our house. Indoor soccer season starts this week. Rep tryouts for next summer’s soccer season are ongoing, and now include two children and one dad. I’m off to the Vancouver International Writers Festival on Thursday. And I think I need a hair cut too!
This was one of those weekends that does not replenish, to revisit last week’s word.
(Although my poetry book club on Friday evening falls into the category of replenishing the interior resources while possibly depleting, ever so slightly, the bodily ones, due to surprise champagne and scotch to toast The Juliet Stories. We’ve chosen Lorna Crozier’s Book of Marvels for our next read.)
Here’s how our weekend progressed, in soul-sucking fashion. Kevin was at a conference in Niagara Falls on Saturday, while I went to AppleApple’s first swim meet in Etobicoke (ie. not nearby), with two children in tow. The meet was well-organized, but there were hundreds of swimmers and seemingly endless heats for each race. For four hours, I entertained two small children in the crowded pool gallery, in order to watch their big sister swim two races that amounted to less than two minutes in the water, total.
big smiles for the camera!
The little kids were very very good, but I can’t say it was fun for the three of us. I had to ration our food supplies, not wanting to lose our coveted spot by making a long trek back to the truck for more. And I couldn’t even read to them because of the noise. I’m not actually sure how we made it through those four hours. But that evening, both played “swim races” with toys in the bathtub.
she’s the blur in the green suit
AppleApple is new to competitive swimming, and had only learned to do her turn on Tuesday, and her start dive during the warmup at the meet. Neither served her very well, shall we say. She was in tears when we met her in the changeroom after the second event. Turned out her expectations had been rather high, and she was terribly disappointed in her times.
Given that dives and turns in short races make a huge difference, I assured her she’d done her best, and could only improve. But here’s the thing: she’s not one to be discouraged. After she’d cried it out, she cheered right up and said she’d just work harder and do better next time.
Kevin and I improved on the day by driving safely home from our respective locations, despite the rain and the distance. And by ordering take-out Viet-Thai food, including a fiery soup that soothed my scratchy throat. And by snuggling with the doggies and the kids, watching bad tv. A snuggle with those doggies would improve any day.
Sunday’s non-replenishing activities included more swimming (a practice for AppleApple), during which I ran 15.5km, and decided to shelve my plan to do a marathon in a few weeks’ time. I haven’t put on the mileage required, and I’ll be busy with the Wild Writers’ Festival the day before. Instead, I’d like to aim for some winter/spring races, and keep doing these longish runs on Sundays to stay prepared. There is only so much a person can do. You know that fashion advice to look in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one accessory? I feel that applies to my life, sometimes. I look at the day’s schedule and I think, one of these things needs to go. Sadly, it’s usually something fun.
We also took everyone shopping for indoor soccer shoes, including me and CJ. And then I took Albus shopping for a new winter coat, which was not something either of us wanted to do. So …. I baked bread when we got home. It made me feel like I’d done something other than be a consumer.
more sky, more leaves, today
Uh oh. I’m beginning to suspect this a grumpy post. Maybe it just matches this weather. Wet, dull, windy, colours draining away.
I took our old digital camera on my trip to Winnipeg, and figured out pretty quickly why we’d stopped using it: the battery runs dead after approximately a minute of use. But nevertheless it allowed me to capture fuzzy moments of my whirlwind adventure. The first photo, above, shows the Museum of Human Rights, still under construction, which was my view out the window when I ran on the treadmill in the empty fitness room (I never saw anyone else there). I stayed at the hotel for less than 24 hours, but still managed to run twice, and nap once.
On Monday, I had dinner with Sheree Fitch and took no photos. I knew her instantly though we’d never met in person, and I mean knew her knew her, not just recognized her. Maybe it seemed so natural to be with her that I assumed we’d have lots of time to pose for photos together, forgetting for the moment that she lives in Nova Scotia, and I’m here in Waterloo, and that mere fortune had allowed us to overlap in Winnipeg. Now I’m plotting to bring her to Waterloo to read in some schools — especially in my kids’ schools. How do such things get arranged?
At the table behind us were Bill Richardson and Karen Levine. Sheree knew them both. I’d met Karen eleven years ago when I recorded a story for a CBC radio program — I was just striking out on my own as a writer, and I was also massively pregnant with Albus, and for some reason had chosen to wear gigantic maternity overalls that day. (Why???)
For my mainstage reading on Monday night, I chose to wear my pretty red high heeled shoes that get compliments every time (which my sister Edna has now given to me to keep), and the cute/countryish/suedish jacket that makes jeans look dressy. (I hope.)
That’s me (and my poufy prairie hair) with the the festival’s director, Charlene Diehl, whom I first met when I was 20 and I walked into her CanLit class at the University of Waterloo. What a festival she’s made in Winnipeg. I’m so proud of her. The venues are terrific, the audiences come out (at our book chat on Tuesday afternoon, someone counted 95 people!), and the writers are treated, oh, so well. The hotel was a haven, and I loved every peaceful minute I spent there. What a gift.
I slept soundly. I woke refreshed. I sat and wrote. I read. I ran on the treadmill. There was space to retreat to — I appreciated having that space, as well as having opportunities to connect. As something of an introvert, I need alone time to balance out the meeting and greeting.
Tiny side anecdote: One of the writers on Monday evening was Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), who was very funny — and thankfully last to read. He told a story about his dad, who just couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of a reading. “What — you wrote the book, now you gotta read it to them too?” Ha!
On Tuesday morning, I did not sleep in, but I got a nice cup of coffee, I wrote, and ran, and at 12:30 on the dot, with great regret, I checked out of my room and went for lunch. I decided to order a glass of wine with my meal. I sat alone at the table, and read. It was a strange luxury, not one I could imagine getting used to — not one I particularly would like to get used to, when it comes right down to it. But it was good because it was so unusual.
Then I went up to the hospitality suite and discovered a small frenzy, lots of people. Being a bit thick, I didn’t figure it out right away, plopped down on the couch, checked my phone, gazed around, and went, duh! That’s Richard Ford, Pulizter Prize winner, he of the steely blue eyes. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The general atmosphere was of people excitedly dropping things and attempting not to sound ridiculously giddy or silly.
I missed his reading that evening. I was on a plane back to Toronto, which sounded disconcertingly like its muffler had fallen off.
When I walked through our front door, after midnight, I snuck around to every room and squeezed and kissed and hugged every child. In the morning, in the whirl and bustle of getting us all ready for school and work, nobody even asked: hey, Mom, how was Winnipeg? I though that was funny. It was a short trip, and I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m glad that it was so easy to slide back into home life, so easy that no one seemed to notice much that I’d come and gone. Or maybe they just accepted me back, as if I’d never left.
There’s a bit of that to travelling too. Being present in the moment. And then it’s gone, and it reverts to being almost dream-like in memory, vivid snippets, densely packed. I wonder which vivid snippets from Winnipeg will stick with me most strongly? There’s no telling.
I really want to do nothing more than blog … but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I’m on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I’m off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.
So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper — in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.
I’ve got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here’s hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.
But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.
This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I’m here, and there was something else I wanted to say too … Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.
I’m out of time. More soon.
Sunday, day one. Pack up post-successful-soccer tournament and drive east 281 km to spend night in hotel, booked in advance. Eat pizza in truck. Feed dogs by roadside. Arrive after dark only to discover hotel has no adjoining rooms. And the gym is already closed. Split up into two rooms, boys and girls (with dogs in boys’).
Monday, day two. Take dogs to vet (it’s a complicated story). Spend morning at hotel, swimming, running on nearby lakeside trail. Pick up dogs mid-afternoon and drive east 111 km to visit new nephew/cousin. He’s only five days old!
Tuesday, day three. Visiting with family, swimming in the basin of a nearby lock, running/hiking on a beautiful wooded trail, playing badminton and soccer, walking dogs on rocks, staying up late to watch silly tv (everyone) … oh, and doing that 11-year-old specialty: the I’m-bored flop.
Wednesday, day four. Brunch with grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins; say goodbye. Pack up and drive west and north 423 km. Threaten at various points during the journey to pack it in and just go home (arguing children, restless dogs, exhausted parents). Instead, surge ever onward. Until we get here.
Thursday, day five. Dogs cry all night; luckily only Kevin and I can hear them; unluckily, we are running dangerously low on sleep. Luckily, I find on the cottage shelves a light and fluffy book into which to disappear for the better part of the day: The Nanny Diaries. And the children play. And we swim. And we walk the dogs around the rocks and woods. And we celebrate Fooey’s birthday (again!), this time on a boat in the middle of the lake.
Friday, day six. Dogs sleep better. Kevin and I sleep better. Motorboat and water skiis tested out. More swimming. I disappear into past issues of The New Yorker, discover the journals of Mavis Gallant from Spain, early 1950s. As the writers of The Nanny Diaries would say: “Swoon.” (Only they’d say it about the hunky guy upstairs.)
Saturday, day seven. More water-skiing and boating. A long swim out to “Poop Island,” accompanied by kids and Kevin and my dad in canoe and kayaks. More long-form essays in The New Yorker devoured. More food eaten. Dogs happy in shade. Ahhhhhh.
Sunday, day eight. More swimming, skiing, boating, eating, reading, all crammed in before a late lunch. Pack up. Boat out. Drive west and south 302 km, with interlude by the side of the road due to vehicle trouble. (Should have gotten a photo of that for posterity.) Four kids, two dogs, two parents, seventeen bags of dirty laundry, and by golly, we make it home. CJ: “This doesn’t feel like my bed! It feels different.”
‘Til next summer, then.
A brief addendum, applicable only today. I’m signing books this evening at Chapters in Waterloo from 6-8. Stop by if you’ve got a few minutes. We can chat about The Juliet Stories. Or swap summer holiday stories.
So this past weekend we took a whirlwind weekend jaunt to Archbold, Ohio to be at my grandma’s 90th birthday party. The drive used to take about five hours, but we couldn’t manage it in less than seven this time. The border suddenly seemed like an almost impermeable membrane, and I’ve never felt as unwelcome in a country that is actually mine. Border guards are no longer border guards: they belong to the Department of Homeland Security. We were tagged and made to stop and wait at customs. It’s almost impossible not to feel slightly criminal in such situations: when told by highly armed men that you must leave your vehicle in their possession, and given confusing instructions about what you are permitted to bring along, and what you must under no circumstances take with you. It all ended up being a fairly brief clerical issue, cleared up within half an hour, but it felt deeply uncomfortable. And then we drove into Detroit, which is an abandoned city, almost like a ghost-town, its roadways permanently under construction. We’ve been crossing the border for almost twenty-five years, and it seems like that entrance onto the I-75 is a forever changing detour.
We had decided to follow our GPS rather than using one of those old-fashioned devices known as a “map,” and that resulted in a rather roundabout route to Archbold, made worse by our collective hunger (we hadn’t anticipated the border issue, and had decided to wait for lunch till crossing), and needing to find a bathroom, and the driver (me) making a series of wrong turns (husband says, “Go left”; driver turns right). I consider myself generally calm, as is my gentle husband, but suspect, based on Saturday’s evidence, that we are not destined to win the Amazing Race.
The hotel was a lovely oasis, with a beautiful swimming pool. We slept remarkably well, seven in one room. And on the way home, just across the Canadian border, we ate lunch at a Viet-Thai restaurant that we came upon completely serendipitously.
Today is my writing day, and it’s short, and I’m Monday-morning-brained. But I’ve had a piece of good news, professionally: I’ve earned a small grant toward this book. It shouldn’t matter so much, but does make the work feel that much more purposeful. The project is about half-finished, and then will need some sturdy rewriting and editing at the opening chapters/stories. These are BIG stories, much longer and more intricate than I’m used to writing. Yet I want them also to feel as clean and cut-to-the-bone as possible. So that nothing remains but that which matters to the story. Nothing like life, really, yet hopefully illuminating thereof.
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