Went to hot yoga yesterday, the first time in months. The focus for the class was “gratitude.” Just what I needed! Talking with a friend yesterday afternoon had already got me thinking about the unhappiness that’s caused by comparing oneself to others (see the lovely Soule Mama). Caught up in wishing I had sheep and five homeschooled children and cupboards of freshly preserved home-grown goodness, I completely ignore and minimize all the goodness in my own life, right here and now.
Comparing lives is foolish, and possibly even worse than that — insidious. Now, that isn’t to say that inspiration can’t be found from investigating with interest the choices other people make. I wonder what the distinction is between comparison and inspiration. Is it my own frame of mind?
Here’s a good reminder as I go about my every day activities: I’m doing things that I’ve chosen to do, that I enjoy doing (mostly), and that, by necessity, cancel out my ability to do other things. There is only so much time and energy in one life (or in one family’s life).
Here are a few choices we’ve made:
We live in the city, a very short walk to the uptown core (because I also dislike driving and relying on cars). Therefore, we don’t live in the country on many rolling acres with paddocks and fields and a truck patch and barn. Nevertheless, we enjoy a lively herb garden, and lots of fresh tomatoes from our patches around the yards, front and back.
I write, and I need quiet time on my own to do it. Therefore, we’ve chosen not to homeschool our children, the responsibility for which would fall on me. Nevertheless, the kids have lots of freedom in the summertime, and also pursue extra-curricular activities they enjoy.
I love exercising: swimming, training to run long distance, taking early morning classes with friends. Therefore, most of my free time, which could otherwise be spent baking muffins before breakfast or canning food or tending a garden, is allotted to exercise instead. Nevertheless, I bake bread fairly often and cook locally sourced meals from scratch.
A few random footnotes.
Here’s a very funny essay by writer Lauren B. Davis: 10 questions never to ask a writer. I especially liked number 1. Sigh.
As I’ve hinted, I’ve been writing. In fact, I’ve been writing pretty steadily. But I think it’s pre-writing, telling the basic story to myself in order to understand my characters more deeply, so that I can distill their lives into something more meaningful. As with The Juliet Stories, I wrote many early layers of politics, of explication, of developing characters and relationships and plot that did not make it into the book itself. This is necessary writing, but it isn’t the most satisfying. Every time you sit down to write, you want to believe you’re landing on the perfect shape and form. Instantly. But that’s rare, if not impossible. A deep rich work requires deep rich work. The book that deserves to be read will come out of the disheartening and ultimately invisible work underpinning it. I write in hope!
One more tiny thing. If you’re so inclined, CBC Books is inviting readers to nominate books they’d like to see on The Giller Prize list. Here’s an entry from someone who nominated The Juliet Stories. Want to join in?
at the farm
When we were driving home from Kingston, post-Easter holidaying at the farm, I was filled with ideas. Future plans. Things I want to do someday. Big things. Let me get them down on the page. (And maybe you’d like to share your big plans in the comments below; I’d love to hear them.)
** Bike trip through Ireland (or another beautiful place). With the whole family, if possible.
** Own a horse. Actually, own two horses, so AppleApple and I can go riding together.
** Write and record an album of songs. (This would require devoting several hours a day to singing and playing.)
** Spend a year training five or six hours a day and run an ultramarathon (like the Canadian Death Race, even though that’s a terrible title for a race).
** Tear down our garage and build a small apartment that could house university-aged children.
** Share a getaway in the country with friends, for retreats, summer holidays, etc.
** Get a dog. (I don’t know why that seems like such a big thing, but it does!)
But upon reflection, this morning, I see that I’ve already accomplished some of the big things I once dreamed of doing, and I want to recognize that too. I wanted to be a mother, and I have children. From a very young age, I intended to be a writer, and I’ve published two books. As a child, I dreamed of being a runner, and now I’ve completed a marathon. As an adult, I was troubled by the fact that I’d never learned how to swim, and I’ve learned. Once upon a time, all of the above were just hopes and imaginings and dreams. I’ve been so fortunate.
Last night I went to a kundalini yoga class. It’s been about a year since I last took kundalini. The experience felt different this time around. In the interim, I’ve pushed my body further than it had ever gone before. But I also learned that my body could be pushed too far, and injured, and that’s changed how I think about effort and pain. I felt so attuned to my own body, last night. It was easy to listen to it, and hear what it was saying — to recognize the difference between the agony of effort and the pain of gone-too-far. I felt more cautious, and yet also more available, more open to the movements, like I could flip a switch and go there. I felt a deep trust — of myself. But here’s the thing. The sense of wonder and discovery is not the same. I’ve learned my body is capable of accomplishing very difficult tasks. I’ve learned that I am strong. When I first started kundalini, now a few years ago, I was utterly amazed, blown away by what my body could do. I had no idea.
Now I know.
That takes away some of the sheen of adventure and discovery. But it also means there is room for a richer, more layered experience. It’s like having the second child. You’re simultaneously more relaxed, more laid-back, and not as blown away by the newness of discovering what it means to be a parent. It’s familiar, it’s known territory.
I think life should have a balance of known and unknown experiences. I’m not sure we get to choose these experiences, at least not all of the time. But I like thinking about what I would choose, if I could. And what I’ve chosen. And how I’m working out that balance in my life right now.
Can I tell you something? I really really really want to write a book in this blog-voice. Not a book based on the blog. But a book that would capture the yearning, reflection, wondering, and experimenting that I feel this blog is really about. Put that on the first list. I have no idea how it would be shaped. But I’m opening my mind to the possibility.
Run, run, as fast as you can. That snippet of verse is in my head, running too.
I ran this morning. I lost track of the time and we ran for forty minutes. A bit over my limit of 10-15, but my hip felt okay. Not perfect, but okay. Then I went to my physio appointment where we looked at video of me running on the treadmill last week. Fascinating. To see my stride slowed down. To see my right foot turning out on every strike, and my hip drop at the foot lifts (both sides). “Wow, my calf muscles look so strong!” I said.
Apparently there’s a reason for that. My very strong calf muscles have been providing the lift for my stride rather than the much larger glutes, which should be engaged to a far greater degree. It may not even be a weakness in the muscle, but a habit formed. I will need to teach my body to use different strengths.
I have a brand-new mantra. It’s very small.
Exercise every day.
Doesn’t matter what. Just so long as every day I do something. This injury has opened to door to new activities. So maybe I do my strengthening exercises after a short run. Or try a Pilates class. A recent article in the Globe and Mail reported on a rather remarkable study of 40-year-old to 80-year-old triathletes. The difference in muscle tone and size was virtually indistinguishable between the 40-year-old athlete and the 70-year-old athlete. A sedentary 70-year-old, on the other hand, had significant decreases in muscle mass and increases in fat tissue around the shrunken muscles. The exercise needed to be four to five times a week, and needed to involve the entire body: cardio, strength training, and weight-bearing exercise in equal measure. The message is not eternal youth, in my mind. It’s that we can and should use our bodies all the days of our life.
Rather than focusing on injury, I’m going to focus on ability. If I can learn how to swim at age 35, I can learn how to retrain my running muscles at age 37. I’m confident.
And I’m running late. Again. Run, run, as fast as you can.
This was meant to be a post about our Family Day hot-yoga-in-the-living-room experience, wherein we turned our living-room into a hot yoga room using steam, a heater, and sunshine. Photo above. Family Day at our house has translated into “Do Everything Together Day.” I struggled a little bit with this notion, but I was the only one. I tried not to be a spoil-sport. And slipped away to my office for a few breaths alone only a few times …
Last week was a hard one for me. Home alone (with the children), I thought, well, I’ll think of it as a holiday. But it didn’t feel like a holiday. It felt like me, home alone with the children, with no writing time. It felt like in one short week, I’d lost the ability to talk coherently to grownups. My patience was thin. My envy of anyone with a job outside the home was thick. Note to all mothers of young children who read this blog and wonder how the heck I do the things that I do: I do those things while other people look after my children. There’s no secret to it, really. When I’m home alone with my children, I can barely string together a sentence without interruption. It’s a recipe for madness, not for insightful thought.
(I write this while one child quizzes me in multiple choice form and we all stare out the window at a man with a hammer breaking apart some copper piping in front of our house — not our piping, but I’m guessing he didn’t come by it honestly; but as I’m sitting in my bathing suit because it’s really really hot, and though the kids have suggested it, I’m not going to approach the man with the hammer to ask what he’s doing on our sidewalk).
Neither, really. But this morning, I got up early and went to a yoga class: my first in nearly two weeks. A short list for mental survival arrived. I must write this down and remember it, I thought. Why is it so hard to remember the little things that make life better? And then to step out of inertia to do them?
– yoga, for meditation and quiet thought
– writing, journalling
– reading poetry
And while this week alone with children is not a holiday, and it’s not going to be productive work-wise either, it is time with my children, unstructured together-time. We made an attempt at an adventure this morning. It didn’t really turn out (too many mosquitoes), but everyone enjoyed it. “This really is an adventure!” someone said, as we fled the woods amidst a storm of bugs. This week, I’m going to write a bit more, hang out a bit more, and yoga a bit more. And not try to wish this summer into something it’s not.
Monday supper. Grilled sausages (breakfast, because that’s all we had left in the freezer). Mashed potato casserole (lots of cheese). Squash and beets cooked whole in the crockpot. Swim lessons were cancelled, so I had more time than expected after school to prepare supper. Not that it mattered. I’d made the casserole the night before and popped it into the fridge. It needed about twenty minutes in the oven. Most of us liked it. I would make it again, as a way of using up leftover mashed potatoes. Anyone out there have ideas for leftover potatoes? I’m stuck in a cottage pie/shepherd’s pie/casserole groove. I mashed the squash with a touch of maple syrup, and butter; always good. That was the last “keeper” squash and it was a bit soft at the top. The beets were so far gone I wasn’t sure they could be ressurected, but they steamed up nicely, and despite a slight overall rubberiness, when sliced and salted, they were sweet and tasty. But I’m tired of beets. And no one else will eat them. Kevin had soccer. I swam in the morning. In between, the kids had school, and CJ stayed for the “lunch bunch” at his nursery school, giving me an extra half hour to work. Or to nap, as the case may be. Then we went shoe shopping (for him) and clothes shopping (for me). It felt very car-based and suburban. Especially when I filled up the truck with gas. Good grief!
Tuesday supper. Curried carrot soup. Quinoa. Squash and egg casserole (big-time 70s recipe). On the soup, which should have been good: the curry flavours needed to be stronger. A friend sent the suggestion when I complained about the blandness of last batch of carrot soup (thank God, this batch marked the end of our carrot invasion). She suggested grating in fresh ginger at the very end to add an extra pop. But I cooked everything together and was far too conservative with my spice amounts. I froze the leftovers for a quick meal another time: will bump up the spices upon reheating. I would call this meal not a flop, exactly, but tinged with disappointment; nobody but Kevin and me ate the squash casserole, which was almost dessert-like and delicious, but decidedly unattractive. I napped early, almost immediately after getting home from spin class, and had lots of energy all day, enough to make it to yoga before supper. AppleApple had an outdoor soccer practice, so Kevin had the unenviable job of packing up CJ, and driving to pick up Fooey (on a playdate), then AppleApple (on a playdate), then Albus (on a playdate), and then racing to the soccer field. We ended up eating supper together, minus AppleApple, whom I picked up after supper. She’d eaten a bunch of snacks on the way there, but was famished enough to have a helping of squash casserole. CJ insisted on riding along to the soccer field, but I made him promise to listen to the federal leaders’ debate on the way. It put him to sleep (gah!), but somehow we managed to transfer him from truck to bed, and then to fool him into thinking it was very very late at night when he woke restlessly around 8pm. He must have been tired. He slept for a full 12 hours. The rest of the family stayed up watching the whole debate, and talking about what we’d heard. Then Kevin went to hockey.
Wednesday supper. Crockpot lentil soup: the harira recipe on this blog, over rice. Nice. Could have used a side veg, but I had nothing convenient on hand. This was an oddball day. CJ stayed for lunch bunch again, and my friend J picked him up, and I got to go for a massage instead! Woot! It was my gift to myself post-race. I also met with my brother in the morning to talk about cookbooks. I was floating the idea–the underdeveloped notion, more like it–of making a cookbook loosely based on this “week in suppers” theme. Talking to him (he works for a company that publishes a lot of cookbooks) put it into perspective. The work involved would be staggering. It might not be the best use of my time. Unless I do it slowly, over time, gradually gathering recipes and photos until I have enough material to justify putting a book together–and then arranging for recipe testing, etc. Fiction-writing is a better use of my time: that’s what it confirmed for me. Other nice things happened today: I went for a morning run with my friend N; I ran a quick errand uptown all by myself; I ate a spinach and feta pastry for lunch; my friend M took the little girls to their music class so I didn’t have to leave the house; and Kevin came home early so I could go to yoga. I took Albus to his piano lesson and read Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, a book I liked so much–loved might be the word for it–that I think I will blog about it soon.
Thursday supper. Beans and rice, with quesedillas and red cabbage salad. This entire week had flop written all over it. I don’t know how I managed it, since beans are my specialty, but somehow, when suppertime arrived, these were still hard in the pot and required a full hour of extra cooking time. So I fired up the cast-iron skillet and made a pile of quesedillas using corn tortillas (like a Latin American grilled cheese sandwich). Albus ate about six. AppleApple was at a birthday party, from which Kevin picked her up early to go to another soccer practice. The little kids played outside, and no one complained (too much) about being hungry. We ate late, when the beans finally softened. I forgot to take a photo. Instead, here’s AppleApple from another afternoon this week: yay! We have new space to play, now: it’s called Outside! (Or we did last week, before it decided to snow again). And we have big plans for backyard improvements (though I think we’ll pass on the water slide from Albus’s bedroom window down to a trampoline, as was brainstormed during Saturday night’s supper). Kevin and I had kundalini yoga, and then I put on my dancing shoes, and drove to nearby Guelph with two friends to go dancing. My siblings’ band was playing a show. Here’s a link to their latest video. If you ever get a chance to see Kidstreet play live, go go go! They throw down an instant dance party. That was a late night, especially considering my day had started at 5:15–to go swimming. But that’s okay. I told Kevin just before I ran the half that this coming week would be my party week.
Friday supper. Finally, success!!! I made miso soup and pad thai. Both were fabulous. The pad thai recipe was different from the usual ones involving ketchup: the sauce was 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and a whole lot of sugar. I had some frozen cilantro that I added to the mix. The miso soup is so good and so simple that I made it again for the kids’ lunch the next day: it’s basically instant soup, if you have the ingredients on hand (miso paste, seaweed, and tofu). I was thrilled to have made a meal that everyone loved. AppleApple was at a playdate after school and arrived home toward the end of the meal. My late night/early morning combo (plus a morning run) caught up with me around 7pm, so Kevin did the dishes while I crashed out on the couch for about an hour and a half (!!!). Woke in time to tuck kids in, then we flopped and watched tv: Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock, and we tried out Modern Family, which I liked more than I’d expected to. Albus tried to stay up too. “What are you up to?” I asked him, when I discovered him hanging around the kitchen past his bedtime. “I’m observing,” he said.
Saturday supper. Take-out Indian from our favourite spot in town: Masala Bay! Kevin worked today, and I was tired. I managed to bake bread and granola, and to take the kids to the little park in a rainstorm, and to arrange transport for AppleApple, who has both Singer’s Theatre in the morning, and soccer practice in the afternoon (I asked her yesterday, picking her up from her FOURTH practice of the week, whether she feels she’s doing too much, to which she replied, “No!!!” She loves soccer. She likes being busy. She had difficulty imagining that a parent could push a child to do something the child wouldn’t want to do, anyway.) I had zero inspiration for supper. What a treat to order food that would have taken me an inordinate amount of effort to prepare. Samosas, pakoras, nan, black lentils in cream and butter, a fiery eggplant dish, butter chicken, chicken in chili and coriander. We feasted. We stayed at the table for over an hour, talking and laughing. CJ is still a bit young to participate fully, and he does end up interrupting and yelling sometimes, or dropping his fork to get attention, but I am otherwise relishing the stage that our family is at, and how much pleasure we get just from spending time together around the table. That evening Kevin and I got to party some more, to celebrate my friend J’s graduation from midwifery school. More dancing, and free drinks. Another late night.
Sunday supper. Leftovers and scrambled eggs. There were enough Indian leftovers for an entire second supper, to which AppleApple added scrambled eggs made-to-order. I’ve been giving the older kids more freedom in the kitchen, and they spent a lot of time last week making tea (after getting permission to use the stove). AppleApple was keen to learn how to make scrambled eggs, envisioning herself rising early to cook herself breakfast (which would be, frankly, awesome). It was a fairly tricky process, but by the end, she made a batch without anyone watching over her shoulder. The gas stove makes it feel more dangerous, but it’s time for the kids to find real independence in the kitchen. And it’s time for me to ease up and let them. (On a side note: CJ agreed to be three this week: because he wanted to take a turn at cooking, and I told him that it starts when you turn four. “And you’re still two, so that’s a long way to go.” He considered his options briefly, and told me, “I’m three now.”) We’ve noticed some improvements in responsibility, and I think it’s more to do with my own expectations than with their initiative (or lack thereof). Tidying the house yesterday was so much easier with everyone responsible for their own spaces, and helping out overall: they helped because they were expected to help, and they got that. But I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen (just ask Kevin), so I’m reminding myself to back off and make space for everyone else to help out here, too. No exercise yesterday or today. Yup, it was a party week. We ended the day with homework completed, piano practiced, and a planning meeting over a pot of tea: always a good entry into the new week ahead.
Monday night. Twice-stuffed potatoes, sausages, red cabbage salad. Potatoes leftover from Apple-Apple’s supper the night before. Excellent re-use of leftover baked potatoes, sliced in half, emptied out, insides mixed with cheese, crema, and mashed up brocolli and cauliflower. Red cabbage salad recipe from a friend (onion, mayonnaise, vinegar, and maple syrup). We cut each sausage in half, because there were only five. Kevin and I got one half each and the kids divvied up the rest.
Tuesday night. I ate alone. The kids went to a pancake supper at their grandma’s church, with Kevin, while I went to a yoga class. I made a house-favourite, mashed-potato soup, to be served as supper the next day. This “mashed-potato” soup contained quantities of squash. Basically anything goes into this soup, which does contain potatoes, too (though not mashed). Once it’s cooked, I zap it with a submersible hand-held blender, and hurray, instant happiness around the table. But I ate a bowl alone, tonight, and stored the rest in the fridge.
Wednesday night. Wednesday is always a crockpot supper. I tried out a new recipe with underwhelming results: a lentil and rice pilaf, which would have been far superior cooked on the stove. It was mushy, though smelled pretty good while cooking (cinnamon stick). Luckily, there was also mashed potato soup to warm up and serve. We ate together, between music class and Apple-Apple’s soccer.
Thursday night. I ate alone. The family ate pasta with red sauce. Kevin forgot to put out the greens. I cooked up the red sauce from scratch earlier in the day, and Kevin cooked up the noodles. It’s a good meal for the evenings when I’m out at yoga class. Which is where I was. I came home, and devoured a couple of bowls of pasta, along with the greens. That night, our youngest got sick, so we cancelled our babysitter and I missed kundalini yoga.
Friday night. I ate alone. This is starting to look like I eat alone a lot, but I feel like this week had to have been an anomoly. Kevin took the two girls to a pizza supper at one of our churches, Albus was at a friend’s house for pizza followed by the boys’ soccer (lovely parents feed our boy pretty much every Friday), and CJ was home with me, sick. I fried up a package of frozen spinach with cumin and garlic and onions, and ate it over leftover quinoa. Then I ate two pieces of pizza, which Kevin brought home for me. Kevin dropped off Fooey, and immediately left to take Apple-Apple to her goalie practice (soccer, again). Did I mention the pre-supper skating? The kids were all worn out. But also excited, because it was the start of their March break holiday.
Saturday night. Supper out! We went for all-you-can-eat sushi, and ate our money’s worth. Even CJ, who was still sick, discovered a fondness for cucumber maki, and ate at least six. This was such a treat, and it felt like we were on holiday, for real. We pretended we were at Disney (a place I fully intend never to go). I don’t know why, but it really felt like we were in Florida. We stayed for almost the full time limit, and everyone was beautifully behaved, not greedy, and shared the food. When we went home, we had a family drawing time at the dining-room table, and then a short dance party in the living-room. Considering the still-sick child, and the interrupted nights, and the 16km run that took up a large part of my afternoon, it felt like a real holiday.
Sunday night. All I wanted was not to have to cook supper. Yay! Kevin did it. CJ and I took a nap in the late afternoon, tucked up together in a chair. Kevin made tacos with black beans (which I’d cooked earlier in the day), and hamburger, and lots of fixings. It was an excellent meal, but with the time change, we realized it was nearly 7pm by the time we’d finished, and therefore too late for our planned family movie night. The kids were disappointed, but we let them watch part of a Harry Potter movie, while I did the dishes and the laundry. Everyone got to bed late, but slept soundly. I woke up feeling much more like myself again.
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