Category: Work

Dear Monday

Dear Monday,

What were we planning to accomplish together? Do you recall? Because I seem to be lost in a bit of a haze. It could be all the yoga. Or the early morning spin and weights class, at which I felt fantastic, only to crash upon returning home, following a breakfast of poached eggs on toast.

I don’t blame you for the weather; it could happen to the best of days at this time of year. If it wants to be -20 with the windchill, what can anyone say about it? “Whoever is in charge of the weather needs to know that it’s SPRING!” hollered Fooey, but she was cheered by the long-term forecast, which promises a balmy +7 with rain for Friday.

I didn’t take many photos this weekend, and they’re still on my cellphone. Maybe this is a good day to use one’s imagination. Imagine sunshine startling me just now through my office window, clouds moving across a sky that is actually blue.

On Friday night I meant to get a photo of me and Kevin playing uke and guitar (respectively) in front of the fire, with the two oldest children sitting on the couch behind us, side by side, playing Minecraft and making the occasional clever comment on the song choices. It was as close as we’ve come to a family-music evening, and I thought, optimistically, that at least the kids were getting to hear some favourite old tunes and see what fun we were having. Except Kevin got very grumpy because he couldn’t see the music (we were playing off of single printed sheets, some of them crumpled, and all with very small print); not long after that got resolved, I rapped the whole of “Rapture” by Blondie. Awkward pause, no applause. “Is that a song about eating cars?” “Why, yes, children, it’s a very serious song about eating cars, bars, and guitars. Anything that ends in -ars, really.” “Deep.” “At least it’s not about sex, like all songs nowadays.” (Note: do not say things like this to your adolescent children unless you welcome mockery.) (Also note: I say things like this all the time. Because I welcome mockery.)

Then I sang “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper about a billion times, trying to get the chord changes right. It’s such a beautiful song, Monday. I really wanted my children to love it. Maybe I played it too many times. “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles received similar treatment, but even I started to question the lyrics after a few times through: “This used to be my favourite song!” “Really??” “When I was 13. I thought it was so romantic!” “It sounds kind of, like, creepy. ‘I watch you when you’re sleeping’? Creepy.” So, yeah, kids these days. I’m not sure I converted anyone to my favourite 80s songs, but there you have it: family music night at our house, regretfully not photographed for posterity.

I’ll end it here, Monday. You’re a busy day and I shouldn’t keep you, rambling away here like this. Things to do! Places to go! Etc.

Signing off (or is that singing off?), Carrie

Experience points, or life as a video game

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Monday: returned the copyedits to my editor in New York. Big day. That means the book is nearly done, and very little will change from here on in, but I need to take a deep breath when I say that because I’m a tinkerer and tweaker, and it always seems that just a little more effort and a little more time will make the book just a little bit better, so how can I let ever let it go? But I let it go.

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Yesterday: felt at loose ends. I wondered, as I sat before the fire holding this computer: am I getting enough done today? I decided to tally it up, even while wondering what’s enough, exactly? I didn’t write the opening sentences to a brilliant new novel yesterday. I didn’t cross everything — or even more than three things — off of my massive to-do list. But I gained a few experience points here and there. (To explain: my brother Christian has an amusing habit of giving himself “experience points” for all of the little odds-and-ends of must-dos in his daily life; life as video game. Oddly satisfying to do, actually.)
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Yesterday, tallied up

Up at 5:40 to meet Nina for a run. Floss, take vitamins. Run 8 km. Conversation. 3 friendship points.
Shower. Deodorize. Brush hair. 3 points for good hygiene.
Dress. Eat eggs on toast. Drink cranberry juice. Hug and kiss children and check backpacks. 3 points for smooth start to morning.
Take nap (half an hour). 2 points for renewal.
Drink water and surf Facebook. Waste half an hour. Lose 2 points. Also make arrangements via email re book club visit tomorrow evening. Gain back 1/2 point.
Blog about two books. Stop tallying points.
Call allergist and change Apple’s appointment to next week. Leave message at horse farm about camp this summer. Cross several items off to-do list. Points! Lose steam, fail to return other calls.
Transfer files from dying iMac to laptop. Gather all essays written in last number of years into single folder (think: non-fiction book???). Get distracted reading old poems. Win points, lose some.
Begin writing dedication and acknowledgements for GIRL RUNNER.
Eat leftovers for lunch. Read newspaper.
Try to fix iMac with help from brother Karl. Sit in front of fire. Email Hilary (agent). Finish writing dedication and acknowledgements, email file to Kevin for his opinion. Begin writing this list.
Greet Albus, home from school. Fail to think of acceptable snack.
Walk to meet CJ at bus. Also meet Fooey. Walk home with CJ and Fooey, chatting to both simultaneously about school day. Carry Fooey’s bag. Meet Apple walking home too.
Host playdate with CJ’s friend, steer them away from electronics. Help very grumpy Fooey make her own snack. Negotiate trade with Albus: read for half an hour = play Minecraft for half an hour. 
Horse farm calls back, brief conversation about summer camp.
Chop potatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips and squash and make curried coconut soup for supper. Turn on radio. Turn off radio. Receive but do not reply to several work-related emails.
Make Apple eat snack and remind her to get ready for soccer practice. Text Kevin to pick up milk, bread on way home. Instruct Kevin on last-minute supper prep. Yell at Apple to get ready for soccer practice already! Lose points for losing cool; gain points because child now ready for soccer practice.
Drive Apple to soccer practice. Chat with other moms and watch soccer practice. Discuss practice with Apple on way home. Fill up truck with $100 worth of gas (!!!!!). Definitely lose green dream points.
Exchange parenting duties with Kevin, who leaves with Albus as soon as we arrive for their team’s soccer practice.
Eat (cold) supper with Apple. Plan CJ’s birthday party with Fooey and Calvin, add to guest list. Clean up supper, put away food, fill and start dishwasher. 10 points just because.
Supervise Fooey’s piano practice. 2 points.
Feed children snacks. Supervise tooth brushing. Read Farmer Boy in front of fire. Put CJ and Fooey to bed. Bonus snuggling points.
Fold laundry. Try to think of acceptable snack for Albus, now home; no acceptable snacks. Albus retreats upstairs unhappily. Lose a few points. Kevin leaves for hockey. 
Eat grapefruit in front of fire, read first chapter in book that happens to be on coffee table nearby: IMAGINING LONDON, by Anna Quindlen. 1 point for self-comfort.
Convince Apple to brush teeth and take asthma meds before letting her finish her book in front of fire, whilst snuggling with dogs. Apple finishes book, briefly discuss, send to bed.
Albus back downstairs, still seeking snack. Helps crate dogs in basement. Cheers up. 3 points for mysteriously good mothering moment. Albus drinks chocolate milk and eats peeled orange. Brushes teeth. Goes to bed.
All children now hugged and in bed! A million points!
Surf Facebook lamely for forty minutes whilst castigating self for not being in bed. Read article on lost Malaysian plane, for example. “Like” photos and statuses of friends. Do not reply to work-related emails. Am reminded of the old days when I would slump in front of the TV and watch just because I was too tired to do anything else. Mildly depressing; maybe necessary? No points gained, but decide no points lost either.
Brush teeth, take probiotics and fish oil. Lock house. Turn out lights downstairs. Carry folded laundry in basket upstairs. Read LADY ORACLE by Margaret Atwood for approximately fifteen minutes. It’s not even 11pm! Turn out light. Goodnight.

Kiss me, I’m grumpy

This is a terrific book: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson, by Susin Nielsen. I brought it along for AppleApple to read on the sidelines at one of her brother’s exhibition soccer games this week, and she couldn’t put it down. She read it all in one big gulp, and it was obviously emotionally affecting, so I said, hey, do you think I would like it too? And she said yes. I started it that same night, and it had the same effect on me: I could not put it down! And I cried so much that I looked pretty terrible all the next day, but it was worth it. I like books that make me feel and think, and after we’d both read it, AppleApple and I couldn’t stop talking about the characters, almost as if they were real people. We were caught up in imagining the best possible lives for them after the book’s end.

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Albus and Kev’s soccer team before a game this past week

The book’s subject matter is dark, and there is some violence. But the author’s touch is light. I would highly highly highly recommend this book for children ages 11-12 and up (it depends on your kid’s maturity level, honestly). It’s a book about bullying, and about the worst possible outcome of bullying, but it doesn’t do the book justice to say that, because it makes it sound like it would be preachy, and it’s not. It’s funny and it’s heartbreaking. Best combo ever, in my opinion. That said, I would urge you to read the book too, so you can talk to your child about it — like a book club for parents and kids. (I’m still working on Albus, and may have oversold how awesome the book is, creating the opposite effect I meant to — now that he knows I want him to read this, he’s suspects ulterior motives; and maybe he’s right, come to think of it. I really want to know his take on the subject and characters. I want to know how he reads it. I want him in my book club!)

So.

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practicing piano, dog in sunshine, sister reading on couch

March break. It was a pretty fun week here. The kids did a lot of socializing with friends, and a lot of playing on electronic devices. They went to the movies. They had a few sleepovers. We moved AppleApple out of her room, and Albus in: she’s now sharing with CJ. He seems to be able to fall asleep with the light on, so she can stay up and read. And she has more room for her collection of clutter, aka school projects, craft material, books, and, okay, clutter. I don’t what the heck she’s keeping, but there were boxes and boxes to be moved down. Albus literally had, like, three things, including his bed. How she’d been fitting it all into that tiny room, we do not know. We did take the opportunity to purge and recycle, plus I tidied the attic (not sure why, but it made sense at the time).

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location of slightly less fun ski adventure

On Wednesday, my copyedits arrived from HarperCollins. So that occupied the rest of my week, though we did take time to go skiing again on Saturday, with somewhat less success. It was colder, for one thing, and the trails were icy, which made the skiing technically trickier (different conservation area). One child, who shall remain nameless, spent quite a lot of time lying on the ground declaring that he would be staying here forever (okay, it was CJ, but you already guessed that). It may not have helped that early in our venture, I literally knocked him down, just after he’d gotten up again, at the bottom of the icy hill pictured above, the hill being all icy, and me realizing too late that I wasn’t skilled enough to manoeuvre around him. Instead one of my skis went right between his skis and down we both tumbled. Nice one, Mom. Ironically, I’d waited to go last to make sure everyone made it down “safely.” So I would have to call that adventure more funnish than fun.

On Friday, my Canadian publisher sent me their mockups for potential covers. This is a screen-grab that doesn’t quite show the full cover, but gives you a good idea of the concept. I love how it represents the era of the book (yes, it’s historical fiction). I also love how strong the runner looks.

Now, I’m off to finish the copyedits and ignore the fact that it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. I live in a university town. This is not my favourite of the drunken stupidity holidays. This morning I saw four young women at the grocery store wearing green t-shirts with the slogan: “Kiss me, I’m drunk.” (They looked relatively un-drunk, for the record.) It was 11AM. How old am I? Too old for that version of Saint Patrick’s Day, apparently. But not too old (and grumpy) to make something green for supper, because you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy pasta with pesto, and the kids will appreciate the effort.

Unwinding

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I went away for the weekend.

I needed to be unwound. That’s what it felt like: a slow and steady unwinding of the tightly knotted self. It was almost like I’d forgotten how to have fun. How to partake of fun. How to be fun.

Responsibility requires armour, maybe.

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I skiied on this frozen lake. I hadn’t been on cross country skiis since childhood, but it felt like I could have gone forever. It’s much easier to glide across the snow than to slog through the snow in running shoes. Winter’s long long iteration spoke so differently when I was gliding like a hot knife through butter into the wind. Isn’t this a blast, it said.

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Our oven has been fixed, have I mentioned this?

AppleApple baked an apple-cranberry crisp to christen it. The crisp took all evening to prepare, and we devoured the entire pan in fifteen minutes flat. Fooey made brownies a few days later. I’ve used it to bake potatoes, but that’s all so far. I’ve got to get some veggies roasting while winter’s still on.

Oh, yeah, winter’s still on. I checked the 7-day weather forecast, and it’s going to be cold, cold, and also, cold.

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I’ve come home thinking: I’ve got some work to do. I don’t mean the laundry or the scheduling or even writing. I mean something different. Maybe I don’t even mean work. I mean: I’d like to figure out how to unwind myself. How to be unwound. How to break down my fears.

I don’t like to think of myself as fearful, but it’s there, so why hide it or hide from it? I’m not afraid of external challenges; I accept many things I cannot change. What I fear is closer to the bone: it is the bone, and the guts, the heart, the spirit. I fear the limits of my mind and imagination, and the limits of a body that ages and changes. And I’m afraid of my fears, closing me off from laughter and lightness of heart.

But I’m not afraid to call them out. And I’m not afraid to chase the light — or maybe it’s enough simply to turn toward it. Throw open the windows and doors. Bask. It might be cold, cold, cold, but the days are getting longer, the sunlight is growing stronger.

AppleApple is obsessed with names. Yesterday, while we were sitting around the supper table, she looked up all of our names in one of her (many) baby name dictionaries: according to this one, Carrie derives from Caroline, which means small and strong. I like that very much.

Girl Before Runner

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one way to clean up the toys in the back yard, left out since the fall: cover them with snow

I was doing so well with my plan to visit FB only during portions of the day devoted to waiting in the car or standing on the sidelines, as happens virtually every day. In fact, I did so well that FB got in touch to tell me what I was missing, to which I said, haha FB, you are only confirming that my goal has been achieved!

I was doing so well until this morning, when I did a bit of work on my FB author page. If you feel so inclined, please *like* it. I will use the page for promotional purposes so as not to clog up my personal page with self-cheerleading, which can get a bit tedious. I don’t want to lose friends.

Anyway, this morning. This morning, I had news to post on my author page, so I visited FB and instantly got sucked into the vortex of liking, making witty/supportive comments, clicking on links, and, I must confess, looking at photos of Leonardo DiCaprio (hardly on purpose, I swear!). Therefore, I recommit to climbing back on the wagon henceforth.

Here is my news: we’ve had offers for Girl Runner from Catalan and Poland. Catalan and Poland! That means Girl Runner has sold in 11 territories, and will be translated into eight languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, and Catalan). I’m told that the publishers will send me copies of the translated book, which in my imagination I’ve already lined up on my office bookshelf to gaze at in wonder. Will they all have different covers? Will the title be changed in translation?

I’ve received comments back from my US editor, and the news is good. The work that remains is minimal. I expect to have a finished manuscript to deliver (to all of these publishers!) within the week.

Oh, and we’re getting a gas stove in the living-room! It won’t be installed for a few weeks, but I have a funny feeling we’ll still get use out of it this winter. Yesterday, I was tossing shovelfuls of snow onto banks already so high that I was lifting the shovel to shoulder height. There’s nowhere to go with this stuff! When I came outside for my run, at a very early hour this morning, I discovered that in the night the snow ploughs had gone by and thoughtfully undone all of yesterday evening’s work, filling in the nicely cleared sidewalk and driveway with heavy, rock-hard street snow. In a rage (and in my running shoes), I grabbed my shovel right there and then and cleared the sidewalk again, tossing the snow on the street-side banks, because there was nowhere else to go. It was like human v car, with car obviously winning. Have we noticed how much we privilege cars over humans in our culture?

Then I went for my run, slipping and sliding and tripping, and generally wondering whether it was worth it to expend such an effort for a pace so ridiculously slow. Is this even running? I asked myself. Could 5 kilometres under such conditions perhaps count for 10? How the heck could I begin to train for a marathon under these circumstances? (As I’m not training for a marathon, this was a purely theoretical question, but now that I mention it again, it makes me want to!)

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there’s a boy in that bed

Albus is home sick for the fourth day in a row, but I’m sensing his imminent return to school. Every day he ate noodle soup for lunch, and we sat together reading the newspaper. Today’s conversation centred around the new book deals, and what I might want to write next.

“You should write Girl Swimmer. And then Girl Cyclist. And then Girl Triathlete!”

“Well … it’s not really a sequel kind of a book.”

“You could write a prequel! Girl Before Runner.”

“Before Girl Runner?”

“Girl Before Runner.”

“Girl Before Runner. I like it.”

Must-do’s, sometimes-do’s, and never-finished’s

note the floor this morning, and what’s not on it

Yesterday, I sat down before the kids arrived home from school and wrote up a little list for each child of “Must-do’s.” I’m not 100% confident about my punctuation of that title, but I’m very very confident that each child can easily accomplish his or her tasks. I’ve loosely linked the tasks to their allowances, but we’ll approach this on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat-out charge per task undone. Basically, I’m going to go on the assumption that the kids can and will accomplish these tasks. I’m going on trust.

Everyone seemed open to the plan. There were no outliers or complainers, though several suggested we use other methods they’ve heard about from friends’ families, where loonies are lost for infractions or dimes put into jars. To this I said, No. We’ve tried such methods and failed miserably. We lose track. We have no dimes on hand. The IOUs get confused or misplaced. It’s hard enough to remember to dole out allowances on a monthly basis. Therefore: trust.

The must-do’s are as follows:
Albus: practice viola 1x/week for half an hour (he rarely brings his instrument home, so this would be an improvement); brush teeth; homework; place all electronic devices outside bedroom at night; and, of course, put dirty laundry in hamper
AppleApple: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; pack swim and soccer bags
Fooey: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; swim lessons; walk CJ to school
CJ: practice reading 1x/week; brush teeth; put dirty laundry in hamper; place electronic devices outside bedroom at night; swim lessons; no throwing snow balls on walk to school

the basket is where the electronic devices shall be placed; this is also a new night-time reading nook for Albus (so as not to disturb his sleeping brother)

I added a few “sometimes-do” suggestions to the list:
* walk dogs *help make lunches *read books *play with each other * carry dirty dishes to counter *hang up coats and school bags (yes, those last two should probably be must-do’s, but I’m focusing on being realistic; I want this plan tailored for success!)

Fooey’s floor this morning
AppleApple’s floor, also this morning
We’re into our second month without a working oven. This has been less horrible than I would have imagined. It’s also forced us to think about our priorities, and make some choices. We’ve gone the long-and-drawn-out but definitely less expensive route of digging up old paperwork, talking to the manufacturer, and ensuring that when the stove is fixed, its replaced parts will be under warranty. (And by “we” I mean “Kevin,” who’s done all the legwork.)
On the subject of priorities, we’ve also scaled back our AppleApple’s swimming schedule, somewhat, in consultation with her coaches. This was not easy, and I sense it will be an ongoing process rather than a problem neatly and definitively solved. The larger question at play is: why do we do what we do? Why get up early and work out? Why run? Why swim? Why be on a team? Why challenge oneself? Ultimately, it can’t be for some imagined competitive outcome — for the ribbons and medals and wins, for far-off goals, for numbers and times. It just can’t be. It has to be for the joy of the process itself. I’m not against high personal expectations, as you can probably tell, but I know that high personal expectations can kill the love of the thing you’re practicing, if not tempered with realism, kindness (toward yourself and others) and fun. Play. The joyous expression of the self. I don’t get up early and sweat because I’m going to set any records. I do it because the challenge makes me feel good, mentally and physically.
How to nurture the child who is ambitious and competitive and loves to challenge herself? How to make sure she doesn’t burn out or over-do? I think this is something to be lifted up daily, just as I lift up daily the question of how to motivate and support and nurture each of my children, each with such different ways of being in the world.
frozen world out my window

I’m spending my days, recently, reading. Right now I’m reading a book my dad gave me called This Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. I’m not ready to start writing something new, but I’m ready to begin thinking about writing something new. I’m ready to reflect on what intrigues me, what I want to know more about, and how to illuminate that in fiction. So I’m reading. It couldn’t be cozier. Unless we had a wood stove.

We’re meeting with a builder on Thursday to discuss just such a possibility. A house is a lot like a family. It’s always changing, too, to meet different needs. We improvise. We use what we’ve got. We purge. We add. We experiment. We’re remain both flexible and committed to what’s before us. We’re in motion, and so is our house.

I’m comforted by the thought that my work is unfinished.

“I am thankful for …”
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