Yesterday our family celebrated the winter solstice. My made-up ritual went like this:
〉 bake brownies with Fooey
〉 tell everyone we would eat brownies as part of an after-supper solstice celebration
〉 then tell everyone they would have to recite a poem at said celebration
〉 light all available candles and arrange on dining-room table
〉 turn off all other lights
〉 gather (that took awhile)
〉 enjoy the scene
〉 recitation by CJ: presentation in French, which he wrote and performed at school, on his stuffed tiger
〉 reading by Fooey: a dramatic performance of excerpts from Geronimo Stilton
〉 recitation by AppleApple: a dramatic performance of “The raven himself is hoarse,” Lady Macbeth soliloquy
〉 reading by Albus: from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
〉 recitation by me: of “First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
〉 reading by Kevin: poem from Ken Babstock’s collection Mean
〉 (with occasional interruptions: moans from CJ, who is suffering a terrible toothache that comes and goes, and will be investigated further by a dentist this afternoon)
〉 the eating of the brownies (probably not helpful to the toothache…)
I know our solstice celebration was just hacked together, like a fort made of blankets or a book made of folded-up construction paper. But it was a really fun thing to do. (Fun = entertaining, creatively delightful, collective and personal.) Even though I love the winter solstice because it means the light is coming back, gathering in the early dark made me appreciate the early dark, too. It lowers around us and encloses us, safe inside our house, and, if all is well, it brings a stronger sense of warmth and togetherness. All is well. It’s never far from my mind how fortunate, how easily disrupted, “normal” is.
Today: kids enjoying first official day of no school. They are currently — all of them — barricaded in an upstairs bedroom, dressed in costumes, making a movie using our little digital camera based on a book everyone finds funny: “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores.”
Which leaves me free to write this blog post, process photos, and start wrapping presents. Before dentist-time.
To do what I want to, as a storyteller, I need to bear witness to what is. I need to shed light. But I want, too, to bring light. And maybe that’s more about imagining what could be.
I’ve been thinking about this: about shedding light and bearing light, and how the two are not the same at all, yet I want to be able to do both at once. I want to illuminate the dark areas of our culture and our lives, and I want to bring light while doing so.
It’s a small “big thought” on a day when it seems the snow will never stop falling, nor the wind whipping. The kids are hoping for a snow day tomorrow. Maybe I am too …
With apologies for the lacklustre photography; I just don’t have time to use my Nikon on this busy morning. #therefore #cameraphone
It’s Monday in Canada. I’m looking out at a postcard snowscape that makes me want to
get out my cross country skis hibernate in front of the fire for the next six months. (Let honesty reign.) The snow and its seasonal existence should not surprise me. Yet every year it does. The car needs to be scraped, the children require mittens, snow pants, boots, hats (why are at least one or two of these items per child always missing / suddenly too small / wet or dirty / lost / apparently too geeky and uncool to be suffered, and why is this discovery always made mere moments before said children need to leave for school?), and also, to continue this long run-on sentence, the dogs hate going outside and must be sternly encouraged and dressed in little sweaters, which we find adorable but I’m pretty sure they find humiliating. In short, everything takes longer. Even that sentence. I’ve yet to adjust, having yet to admit that this is actually happening, that this white stuff actually might just stick around for awhile. Deny. This is just the first stage. Don’t worry. I’ll get to Accept, even Embrace, if I can just stick it out through Wallow, Growl, Deep Abiding Desire to Stay Indoors, and Christmas.
A few things to tell you about on this Monday in Canada.
1. For local friends, two events to highlight if you’re up for getting out:
〉 A feminist film festival is coming to the Princess this week, Nov. 18-20, featuring films on a variety of important and of-the-moment subjects, including murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. Website and ticket info here. Spread the word.
〉 After Hours at the Waterloo Public Library, this Friday, Nov. 21, 7PM, a fundraising event for the library with food & drink, and featuring inspirational speakers, including me. Come and watch me
try to be inspirational. Event and ticket info. More word-spreading, please.
2. Some nice news this morning from my Canadian publisher, House of Anansi. Girl Runner has been selected as a Best Book of the Year (#8) and a Best Canadian Book of the Year (#3) by Amazon.ca. (But if you can slog your way through the snow to your local indie bookstore, shop there instead.)
3. Question for you, people out there reading this blog: would you be interested in buying signed and personalized copies of Girl Runner for Christmas gifts? If there seems to be interest, I’m going to figure out a way to arrange for this to happen.
Mondays. They’re all about the paperwork and administration. This is today in a nutshell: make to-do lists, clear the desk, return the library books, go to the bank, renew both drivers’ licence and health card, soak the beans, and on and on. You know? So this post, I apologize, suffers from a similar tone.
Enjoy the white stuff, of the cold deceptively fluffy variety.
my new book (essay anthology): The M Word!
Newsflash: Inbox no longer empty. I guess inboxes are like kitchens. Cleaning them is a process not an end.
A few newsy bits to record today.
I’ve started a spring yoga challenge: hot yoga every day for the next two weeks. I’m thinking of it as a bridge to get me through to spring. Like, the real spring. Or at least to get me through to London, and maybe when I’m back from London conditions will be favourable once again for running outside. But right now, I’m so tired of running on icy slippery windy snow-flecked streets. I need an exercise practice I can look forward to. (I’ll still be running during the next few weeks, of course; I’ll just be cursing as I go, which is not so good for the soul.)
the dogs say hello
I’ve been working on the children’s book: THE CANDY CONSPIRACY! And I can now announce that the illustrator will be Marion Arbona, whose work you can browse on her website here. I haven’t seen her concepts for the story yet, but I’m really looking forward to that. The illustrated imagination. I find people are often fascinated (horrified?) to learn that as the writer I have nothing to do with the cover design for my books, nor will I have anything to do with the illustrations for this children’s book, but I actually think it’s best that way. I’m not a designer or an illustrator. I write the words. And it’s a privilege to get to see my words interpreted by someone else. The words become shared. Maybe their meaning is altered too, to some small degree, but that’s the case every time someone reads them, because reading is a collaborative experience.
our yard, March 20, 2014: the dirty truth
Today has been a day of pleasant list-crossing-offing.
I went to a mid-morning yoga class, which felt entirely decadent. I got to the university library to gather some research material. I sent off forms for children’s summer camps. I met Kevin for lunch! I renewed library books. I’m an efficient relaxed version of myself. Plus it’s sunny.
Plus I’ve started playing the ukulele. It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s relaxing. I’m currently harbouring a small fantasy that we have ukes enough for the whole family to play, and we all sit around strumming and harmonizing together. Note: this has not even come close to happening. But Kevin and I did spend an evening in front of the fire, last weekend, playing 3-chord songs, him on guitar, me on uke. It was not in the least bit romantic, because I’m an impatient and grumpy teacher, and he is still learning rhythm, but he didn’t give up, which was very nice of him, and I got to sing, which was very nice for me, and now we want everyone to do it.
boy with viola
The thing about making music is that it is both creative and relaxing. The rhythm and repetition take you to a meditative place. You can do it for a long time and not get bored of it. You can do it alone, or with others. You can challenge yourself to learn something new, or you can comfort yourself by playing something familiar. When my kids are feeling down or tired or restless or bored or melancholy, I want them to consider turning to a musical instrument for consolation and for pleasure. I go to the piano like that. I play more often than my family knows.
I often start my day with a song.
I often have no idea what I’m going to play. I just sit down and discover it. It’s a creative process that’s much like free-writing. Our brains are wired to rhythm; it begins with the heartbeat. As much as I love sports and believe in it as a positive body-healthy outlet for all ages, I believe too in music-making as a way of connecting with our deeper selves, and with others. Music for the spirit!
Enjoy your weekend, everyone.
Yesterday, we went cross-country skiing.
We drove to a conservation area on the nearby escarpment, and rented skis. We spent two and a half hours on the trails, with everyone skiing the entire time.
It was warm and AppleApple took her coat off and left it at a marker, and of course it wasn’t there when we went looking for it, hours later, after the visitor’s centre was closed. But I called this morning and apparently it was returned to the centre by a kindly passerby, so we will just have to go back and ski again this week (and get the coat: the temperature is dropping, blowing snow forecast for tomorrow).
* being outside
* being in the woods
* playing in snow
* doing something everyone enjoyed
* being active together
Of course, let’s admit that we had a few rough moments. Losing the coat was a (temporary) annoyance. We also split up about midway through the adventure, with CJ and Kevin heading back toward the visitor’s centre together, and the rest of us continuing on a longer looping trail. Except the older two skied much faster than Fooey could manage (she was hampered not only by being small and recovering from a stomach bug, but also because she had to wear boots and skis that were my size, nor hers). While she grew more and more exhausted, I grew more and more frantic, unable to catch up to or communicate with the older two, to tell them we needed to turn around now. (There was no way I could have carried Fooey and skis out of the woods — we were many kilometres in at that point, and I needed her to make it on her own steam.)
Finally, I decided to turn around without the older two, hoping they would have the sense to come back looking for us (they had agreed to stop and wait for us at a point we’d seen on the map, aka “the mythical G”; it never materialized). About forty minutes into this scenario, the big kids turned up behind us, glowing and unaware of the angst they’d caused us. I did not let them leave our sight after that. So, in future I might make a few amendments in planning. Ten-minute check-ins? Travelling with a backpack and a cellphone?
It was, all said, a real adventure. And really really really fun.
We finished with pie at Marj’s Diner in Alma, on the way home. Pie that was almost as large as this very tired child’s head. That’s banana cream, if you’re wondering.
AppleApple’s last major school project before March break: an original handwritten folk tale
March break started yesterday. The kids celebrated with Minecraft in their pyjamas, a game that they play collaboratively, and that includes everyone, and which therefore I don’t find myself objecting to as stridently as I do to other video games. I also make no comment when Kevin sneaks off to play FIFA14 (a soccer video game) with one kid or another, calling it “soccer practice.” I actually think that “pwning” his opposition in FIFA14 may be helping Albus with his “mad dekes” on the field, in real life. It’s the power of envisioning results. If you can’t imagine it — in specific, calculated detail — it’s never going to happen.
the couch in its new location + airborn son; we call that beanbag chair “the cow”
On our first family outing of March break, we walked uptown to get passport photos taken. Because — newsflash! — I’m flying to London, England next month! (My passport is actually fine, but in digging up everyone’s, I discovered that most of the kids’ had expired.) This trip fulfills a dream to research early print culture, specifically popular culture (i.e. the precursor to the tabloid), in Elizabethan England. Long ago, I wanted to write a doctoral thesis on the subject, but I have the feeling that fiction will be much more fun, and ultimately more in line with my talents and abilities. I studied English Lit through grad school, but have never seen the places imprinted in my imagination by all that reading of English Lit; just like I wanted to see Nicaragua again before trying to write about, I want to see England before trying to write about it (I’ll save the time-travelling for my imagination). There is no guarantee that I’ll find my story, of course, but I know for sure I won’t find it unless I go (see above re power of envisioning.)
different airborn son
I’m going before the spring soccer season starts, and Kevin claims not to be worried at all about managing the house and kids and scheduling madness in my absence, now that he’s home so much more often (and he really is home so much more often, a fact I don’t mention enough, but which has greatly benefitted and altered all of our lives). The timing couldn’t be better: I have friends on sabbatical in London this year, who have offered to feed and shelter me. In fact, Nath has been acting as my unofficial guide, looking up directions to places I want to see, and providing advance tips on using the British Library and getting an Oyster pass so I can use the trains, etc.; plus she says she’ll come with me on my outings and provide me with an umbrella. I keep emailing her questions like: what kind of shoes should I bring? (Don’t we all need someone to whom we can email questions like that? It’s funny how it eases the mind just to have someone to ask.)
I also hope to see another friend, whose family is also in the UK on sabbatical, and meet my UK publisher, Lisa Highton of Two Roads, in person.
And maybe have a jacket potato and some beer.
Fooey playing with matchbox cars, last weekend
Our second stop on yesterday’s family outing was Words Worth, where I bought a pile of bargain books, and AppleApple ordered Black Beauty, and Fooey picked out a guide to making bracelets on her Rainbow Loom (she has been doing nothing else since), and CJ chose a Pokemon guidebook. (Albus was at the library with a friend, as he didn’t need a passport photo). CJ is starting to read, for real. Pokemon guidebooks wouldn’t be my first choice for his reading material, but if he’s the one reading them to himself, I have no objection.
jam cupboard in its new location
We have a list of things we want to do this week, including:
– matinee movie at the Princess
– family party night (tonight!) [note: definition of party supplied entirely by the children]
– make-up piano lesson
– possibly move children’s rooms around
– clean basement / house
– trip to mall
– plan CJ’s birthday party
– family cross-country ski trip
– lamps for living-room
– uke night
– supper at Grandpa’s
– play with friends
– early morning swim with AppleApple
– trip to the Museum to see this exhibit (over strong protest from the very family member we wish to take)
– hot yoga in the living-room
– fix iMac (the computer on which I process photos, which has been crashing with alarming regularity: which is why this blog doesn’t always have up-to-date pics at present)
– transfer all important files to laptop
– exhibition soccer games
– plan Carrie’s trip
We’ve already added a new bookshelf to the living-room and shifted the location of the piano and the couch, and moved the jam cupboard up to our bedroom where it looks so beautiful it almost causes me grief — I think because it seems like hoarding to keep such a beautiful object in such a private space.
“Does it seem like we’re in a constant state of change?” Kevin asked this morning, as AppleApple offered to do a room switch with Albus, who is not enjoying sharing with CJ. To which I could only reply, Yes. We are.
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