Category: Chores

This morning I walked

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This morning I walked my littlest to nursery school. He desperately wanted to walk, not catch a ride with Kevin. The walk seems to be a critical feature of his transition from home to school. I walk him to the bus every other day, and Kevin usually walks him to nursery school (today he was off to Toronto for work, and couldn’t spare the time). I could see how important it was to CJ that he walk, not drive.

So I said, hey, I’ll walk you to nursery school today.

On our walks, we play a game that CJ makes up on the fly. Today we were making juice out of foods of a certain colour, say, red, or blue. “Blueberry juice! What else is blue?” I’m pretty sure the juice gave us special crocodile-fighting powers. Or maybe it was leaf-fighting powers. Fallen leaves feature pretty regularly in these games as objects that must be avoided or danced over (he has a special sideways zig-zag to defeat the leaf powers).

This morning I was glad to feel willing to relax into the moment. To walk my son to nursery school.

Yesterday, by contrast, I was completely miserably resistant to the demands of the day. It felt like a day designed to thwart any sense of autonomy and independence. A long list of must-does barked at me all day long, and I raced to keep up, and barely managed. Dentist appointment, groceries, bank, voting, piano lessons, cooking, laundry, dishes, cleaning, dog walking, putting children to bed. I didn’t have a moment to spare in front of this computer. I resented it.

I wonder: is it okay to resent days that are clearly brimming with privilege and wealth and health and opportunity? Is it okay to resent being able to care for my family and my teeth and my house? When such a day is evidence of a full life rich with fortunate responsibilities? I don’t know whether or not it’s okay. Maybe it’s pointless to judge an emotion.

I guess it just means I’m human.

But the day did improve post-dentist. And by the time I was walking our yappy dogs around the block with two chatty children in tow, I was pretty much okay with it all. The house was clean. There was still time to read to them before bed. We’ve finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and are moving on to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, one of my personal favourites.

(During this reading, I’ve been trying to figure out why Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has had such success and longevity. It’s quite awkwardly written in parts, and has these long rather boring songs, and Willy Wonka is a strange and scary man with peculiar prejudices against things like gum-chewing, and the way he stole the Oompa-Loompas from their own land and brought them to work in his factory makes me deeply uncomfortable. And yet. My theory is that it’s the unromantic sympathy and clarity of the opening chapters, and Charlie himself, which save the book.)

I’m going to write for the rest of the day: the quiet hours that belong just to me. I’m not going to worry about writing a perfect book. No books are perfect. I’m going to follow my own advice and write in order to discover what I’m writing.

And then I’ve got supper, laundry, a kid with swim training, another with soccer skills, a visit to a book club, and a party in Toronto: Anansi’s 45th birthday bash. Wow, hey. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming …

On being a professional writer who also provides free content

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October hosta

For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.

But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.

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This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.

It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.

Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.

That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.

And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.

This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.

I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.

Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.

But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.

Good morning, good Monday

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

{this captioned moment}

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{This photo hints at how difficult it is to capture my emotions, to see myself clearly, in a week that has included: a challenging 25km trail race; an early Thanksgiving dinner with family; witnessing The Juliet Stories becoming a GG finalist; many interviews during which it was not me holding the recorder and taking notes; a celebratory reading; lunch out with Kevin (rare); a dear friend’s birthday party and morning coffee with more friends; an inbox full of greetings from friends near and far; prepping to host family for Thanksgiving; and the every day domestic work of cooking, dishes, laundry, groceries, school schedules, bedtime reading, hugs and kisses and soccer and swimming and ordinary life.

I’m here, in the midst of this wonderfulness. Feeling at once stronger and more centred than I’d imagined; and unexpectedly vulnerable, open to tears and laughter and big emotions. Open to putting my foot in my mouth. Open to stumbling (or, more accurately, stumbling no matter how much I want not to).

I am failing to caption this moment. Am I supposed to admit this? That life is too sprawling and complex and amazing and heartbreaking and mundane and fabulous to be captured in the words I spell out, with hope that I’ll transcend my limitations? Knowing I can’t? Knowing I’m going to keep trying, imperfectly, for as long as I can find words?}

On napping, prizes, and obscurity

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I’m back to napping! And I’m remembering why I love it. All the best thoughts arrive upon waking from a good (short) nap. During the summer, I got by with no naps, partly by lowering my weekly early morning workouts to twice/week, but mostly by nipping back to bed upon arriving home. With no one rushing off to school, our family got in the habit sleeping in. But it didn’t feel like napping, it felt like going back to bed. Like the work-out had been another dream-state.

We’re back to the school routine, and we’re suffering just a little bit, collectively. Trying to adjust bedtimes and wake times. Accepting that there will be after-school meltdowns. Everyone’s tired. Evenings are squeezed. Kevin and I were still doing lunches and dishes last night at 9pm.

There was no moment for a nap yesterday to balance out my early morning run.

So I’ll admit that rising at 5am this morning, in order to go exert myself whilst clad in spandex, was not exactly what I wanted to do. I’m making spin/weights sound way less fun than it is. By the end of the work-out, it felt completely worth it (as it always does), and after breakfast and the getting-ready whirl, everyone departed, and the house was quiet by 8:30. Quiet by 8:30!!! Empty! Just me and the dogs.

So I napped.

I drifted off. And woke with a clear mind, feeling at peace, filled with ideas, thoughts, answers, calm. Call me crazy (or lazy), but I consider napping to be an important spiritual process. Somehow, while gently drifting toward sleep, my mind becomes more open, more at ease. To be creative, one needs to be at ease, not panicking. Many a time, a nap has set me right simply by allowing my body and mind to relax.

This is a long preamble. What I want to write about is the announcement of the Giller longlist earlier this week; should I write about it? Still not sure. But I’m an obscure CanLit mama who had an eligible book out this year (among 226 others), and this brief moment in time is wound into the rest of my life. I knew it would be a long shot to find Juliet on the list, but hope springs eternal, and every Canadian writer understands what a career boost it is to have any association with the Giller attached to one’s book.

In the days and hours leading up to the announcement, I couldn’t get away from thinking about it. It dogged me, no matter how I tried to redirect my thoughts. Such is the power of a prize. So here’s the strange thing: notwithstanding my immediate gut response of plain old crushing disappointment not to see Juliet on the list, I’ve been experiencing an unexpected lightness of heart since the announcement came and went.

I’m grateful to everyone who told me they were sure it would be there, especially those wonderful booksellers who’ve had Juliet’s back all along.

But I didn’t know how heavy the weight of expectation/hope had been pressing on me until after my nap this morning. I got up, voted, hung laundry, planned my attack on today’s scheduling adventures, and realized that I was feeling … really good.

I’m not waiting for anything. The worst outcome has happened. The sadness is over. And in its place is a feeling of gratitude for the sweet minutiae that I’m often too cluttered and harried and anxious to see. Maybe it’s an after-the-storm effect. (And it rained torrentially here on Tuesday.) It sounds trite to say it: gratitude for my kids, for our house, for our neighbourhood, for health, for friends, for kindness, for running errands with two four-year-old boys in tow. For everything, I guess.

I wonder how other obscure CanLit writers are feeling this week.

And I wonder, I’ll admit, how those who made the list are feeling (with special shout-outs to not-so-obscure CanLit mamas, Annabel Lyon, who kindly helped my daughter with her project on ancient Greece this past year, and Katrina Onstad, with whom I shared a seminar table while we were both doing our Master’s at U of Toronto.)

If I could change one thing about myself, it would be the anxiety I feel when outcomes are out of my control. What was I worrying about, all along? What was I hoping for, really? Was it external affirmation, some kind of proof? And if so, why?

Okay, another thing I would change: I would live, always, without fear of failure.

How to can tomato sauce

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1. Order a half bushel of tomatoes.

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2. No, really, just do it, don’t think about it. 
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3. Because when they arrive, you’ll have to do something about it.
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4. Problem solved.
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(Made a different sauce this year. 8 litres of tomatoes + 1 and 1/4 lb of butter + 4 onions + 4 tsp salt = butter tomato sauce. Yields 7 quarts. I doubled the recipe. Thanks to my friend Ann, for the recipe.)
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