Category: Driving

Life without air conditioning

before the sunburn

It’s too hot to blog. I’m fairly sure it’s too hot to think clearly, though that would be regrettable given that it is my primary source of income. I find my brain drifting off before reaching the end of a sentence, asking, huh? What was that?

This week I’m doing interviews with several local entrepreneurs. It’s been fascinating so far. Best of all, they work in air conditioned environments. I’m being facetious. Which is probably ill-advised. Blame the heat.

I do not work in an air conditioned environment.

Here’s a little story: on Wednesday, I took the kids to a place called Herrles, which sells local veggies and fruits and baked goods, and is slightly out of town, and therefore requires a bit of a drive. It was rush hour and took longer than usual. But was I grumpy about the situation? I was not. Because with the air conditioning blasting, we’d found ourselves a brief and happy reprieve.

Last fall, we learned that our home’s central air conditioner, which we only used in desperate situations anyway, was broken and not worth repairing. We have not replaced it. And even though I only ever used it with a great deal of guilt and angst, I miss knowing it’s there if the kids can’t sleep (or we can’t sleep).

Maybe we’re all becoming acclimatized, and will therefore perform better at events like roasting hot soccer tournaments and long distance runs. Maybe.

Or maybe my brain has officially lost the will to reason.

On readings, writings, and riding the big (metaphorical) waves

at the Starlight on Tuesday, photo credit Zara Rafferty
photo credit Zara Rafferty

 No, I’m not a real surfer. But life feels a bit ocean-like these days, rolling, never steady. I spent yesterday in Toronto. It turned out that parking was easier to find than anticipated, so that bike never left the back of my vehicle. (Although parallel parking on Queen St. West at rush hour was an exciting opportunity to test my driving skills.)

Some fine moments from my day …

:: smiling at people passing on the sidewalk, some of whom seemed shocked to be making eye contact with a stranger

:: meeting another Snyder from Kitchener-Waterloo at Book City, and trying to piece together our geneological connection

:: eating Korean stew with my lovely little sister on Bloor street; and hanging out together, not in a rush at all

:: making an it’s-a-small-world connection with Daniel Griffin (who also read last night at Type)

:: mingling with the awesome crowd at Type Books before the reading, and putting faces to blog-names

:: being introduced by the lovely Kerry Clare

:: reading a story to a group of people who were really listening

:: getting teaching-creative-writing advice from Heather Birrell (who is a high school English teacher, and who also read last night)

:: finding all the dishes done when I got home

Some less-fine moments …

:: worrying about my dress

:: the chilly wind that swept Toronto all of yesterday

:: forgetting someone’s name during the book signing (AUGH! This happens virtually every time, and every time I curse my name-bank-blank-spot. This is how bad it is: I have literally blanked on the name of a family friend, known for twenty-five years, and seen on a regular basis. I don’t know how that’s even possible. And I hope it doesn’t indicate early onset dementia.)

But this is all to say: Life’s good. It’s messy and it’s good. It’s crazy and whirling and I couldn’t quite believe that I was up at 5am this morning for a spin/kettlebell class, and there’s dirt all over the basement, and I have a basket of laundry waiting to be hung, and no, I will never catch up on my emails — or, really, on anything at all, ever — but this is it. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything less. I love the doors open policy that brings five boys into my house on a Wednesday after school (and leaves behind sweaters not belonging to my kids; be sure to check our lost and found pile, parents). I love seeing my kids excited about moving dirt into new garden beds (yesterday’s major project, overseen by Kevin, bless him). I love lifting kettlebells over my head (is that too weird?). I love getting to read my stories out loud.

Keep the waves coming.

On the seventh day of Christmas …

… the kids made decorations for the front window. We didn’t have time to get to it until after 8 o’clock last night, but with everyone working together helpfully, I didn’t want to crush the creativity for bedtime purposes. CJ made a snowman that we hung on the wall rather than the window–he found sticky-tack on the back of a fish he’d made at nursery school and hung it himself. Fooey made a snowflake and a Santa. AppleApple made red and green holly to frame the corners, and Albus made blue snowflakes and a line of people holding hands.

On the eighth day of Christmas (ie. today), I’ve promised to make caramel popcorn balls. Maybe we’ll use the recipe in our Little House on the Prairie Christmas recipes book. It would be appropriate because AppleApple is attending a Victorian classroom today–a field trip for her enrichment program. Here she is all dressed up and braided.

Yesterday was the kind of day that defines relentless. I received the final questions on the proofs for Juliet while sitting in an xray office with Fooey and CJ, having just dropped AppleApple at piano lessons, and while waiting for Albus to call my cell so I would know he was safely home. I was thinking today how strange it is that you can’t always have your kids with you. Hm. That doesn’t sound very profound. I was thinking of how strange it still feels to let them go and be independent, to know that they are capable of being out there in the world, without me. Same for my book–can it fend for itself? Is it ready?

(Oh, and the results of the xray came back positive for pneumonia. Which would explain my poor girl’s endless nighttime coughing.)

Green Dreams: where ideal meets grumpy

Yesterday morning, I carried my three-year-old to nursery school, nearly one kilometre away, in the rain. Why? Well, he wasn’t in a walking mood, that’s why he was on my back. But the reason I was walking was bare bones basic: I didn’t have a car at my disposal; Kevin had an early appointment to which he needed to drive. About six months ago, as part of our family’s Green Dream plan, we downsized to one vehicle. Are we a greener family than before? Yes, mostly because having fewer options forces us to make different choices.

Such as carrying a kid on my back in the rain to nursery school.

Listen, if I could have driven, I would have. I’d been up early swimming, I’d gotten four kids fed and organized and three of them out the door. That left one little guy, and he couldn’t get to school by himself. I wanted my quick restorative morning nap. It was too wet to fire up the bike stroller. If there had been a vehicle in the driveway, would I have chosen to walk? Not a chance. So the omission of the vehicle itself is feeding into the success of our Green Dreams. It’s so easy to take the easy route when it’s easily available.

Sometimes, I’m grumpy about it. If you see a bedraggled woman, surrounded by a pile of kids in raincoats, shaking her fist at you as you drive by, think of me. In fact, hey, that is me! And yes, I just cursed you and your car for blocking my family’s passage across the street. Or maybe just for being inside a warm dry moving vehicle. Sorry. It’s wet out here. And we’re moving so slowly.

I am not a naturally patient person, but do subscribe to the notion that by walking (or biking) rather than whisking along inside the sealed world of the car, I am experiencing life differently. Out here, I know the weather. I know the seasons. I know the geography. Plus, I have to leave on time, or I’ll definitely be late. There is no such thing as breaking the speed limit when walking with four children.

But here’s my confession: you’ll still see me in a car pretty frequently these days (maybe that was you shaking your fist at me.) We do have ONE after all and I can’t imagine life without it. Well, I can, but life would include a whole lot less soccer. There are no direct bus lines to either of the two sports facilities that draw members of our family upwards of nine times a week. One is 5.5km away, the other is 9km. In other words, not terribly far, and probably biking distance (though not for short legs on tiny bicycles); but in addition to there being no direct bus routes, there is also no safe bike path to either place (not to mention, as the season changes, we’d be biking after dark.)

It’s one thing to complain about this, but another to ask: Would we choose to bike or ride public transit if it were an option? And truthfully, I think we would not. Not unless we had to. Because we’re usually in a hurry. We’re dropping one kid here, and racing to get another there. We’re cutting corners, juggling schedules, trying to cheat time. Having a car allows us to schedule our lives in a way that cannot be transposed into a car-free life.

So, I’m resigned to carrying some Green Guilt. In fact, our family’s increasingly busy sports schedule also means we consume more water than we used to. I’m telling you. The laundry. Wash those socks as quickly as possible! I hang everything to dry, with the exception of giant loads of towels, which tend to go in the drier. But still. Green, it ain’t.

Maybe it was the Green Guilt over the car and the sports that led me to introduce our latest experiment: we’ve gone vegetarian at home. We are neither buying nor cooking meat (with the exception of seafood, on occasion). The kids are missing ham on their sandwiches, and I am constantly brainstorming ways to get more protein into all of us (like starting the day with eggs for breakfast). And if a grandparent invites us for a meal that includes meat, we’re happy to eat it up. But at home, we’re meat-free. It’s been about a month, and I’m sticking to it, despite the odd complaint, because a meatless diet is one sure-fire way to shrink a family’s ecological footprint. And we’ve got such a big (sweaty) one. We’ve got to try.

Even if it means grumpy walks in the rain. And children fantasizing about summer sausage.

The end of a long day

I really should not be blogging right now. I should be in bed. But we arrived home late this afternoon, after a week’s holiday, and I want to write. Need to write. There are many things on my mind, but I haven’t got the capacity to synthesize them all, just now, even if they belonged together, which I suspect they do not.

So here they are, in no particular order.

We uglified the backyard, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to the front today: our falling-down porch got ripped off, with a little bit left, stairs and such, so we can get to the door. As we drove up to the house, I got a glance, no more, and I just felt sick. The house looked so strange, so faceless. I couldn’t take another look. But after a few hours, and before it got dark, I went out on my own with my camera and it looked … okay, really. I could imagine what would be there in the future. Even a little office for me, out that side door.

So, we just went a week without doing laundry … I can’t even describe the pile in the basement. Being obsessive compulsive about tasks, I’ve been running the machine non-stop.

Oh, and on the drive home, we stopped for a bathroom break and discovered an awesome farmer’s market. So Kevin made room in our already packed truck for a bushel of romas and a bushel of red peppers. The red peppers are already roasted and in our freezer. The canner is ready to go tomorrow.

But I am overwhelmed and exhausted and daunted by the tasks ahead this week. There seems too much. This is VBS week, assuming the children agree to go (CJ is the wild card; he spent large portions of today in fits over non-existent catastrophes … nothing like a good half hour of crying in the car to make you feel like a holiday is really and truly over; even better if no good reason for crying can be identified by cry-er or his attentive family).

Lessons, schedules, organizing. Confirming manuscript ready to send, and sending. That’s the week ahead.

But the thing on my mind most of all tonight is the passing of Jack Layton. What to say? There’s no one like him in Canadian politics. And it seemed his optimism might carry him over yet another obstacle; after all, he made all kinds of seemingly impossible things happen. Cancer. The language we use to talk about it is the language of battle; but I’ve never liked that language because it implies that those who cannot fight it off somehow didn’t fight hard enough, weren’t strong enough, succumbed. A word that implies defeat. I really hate that. I don’t know how to talk about it differently, though. Anyone’s who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows that it feels like they’ve been stolen, sometimes slowly, and sometimes suddenly, by an opponent. I don’t know why we personify cancer like that. I’m trying to think if we personify other diseases in the same way, and it doesn’t seem like it. Cancer seems personal. It seems crafty and sneaky and it doesn’t fight fair. And this morning, it stole from Canada a real fighter, a tough and bright and incredibly energetic person who can’t be replaced. Goodbye from us. We’ll miss you, Jack.

No summing this mess of a post up, I’m afraid. Photos from holiday to come at some later time. Maybe when the tomatoes are good and canned.

Rules of Engagement

Yesterday, I did two things that scared me, and surprised me. Both happened spontaneously, arising out of situations that I could have chosen to walk by. Instead, I engaged.

First story: I was pushing the stroller (uphill, through heavy snow on sidewalks that hadn’t been cleared), which possibly put me into a grumpy mood. I entered a crosswalk, at a four-way stop where my kids have to cross every morning on their way to school. While I was crossing, a car pulled up at the stop sign behind me, and turned left, into the street that I was crossing. He was in such a hurry that he didn’t wait for me to cross the street to the sidewalk–worse, he didn’t even wait for me to cross half of the street. His car brushed right behind me, near enough to touch, on his way to somewhere very important. I was surprised and annoyed. And then I saw that we were headed in the same direction. And then I saw him pull into his driveway. And then I pushed the stroller faster. 
“Why are you running, Mommy?” 
“I think,” I said, “I think I’m going to tell this man that I thought he was driving carelessly.” 
The man went into his house, leaving his car running (fancy car, fancy house, well-dressed sixtyish man), and by the time he came back out and got into his car, he’d seen me coming. I walked up the driveway and he rolled down his window. I said that I felt his turn had been unsafe, given that I was still in the crosswalk when he turned. He responded with anger, defensively: “You were never in any danger. I was not driving dangerously.” I asked him if he knew that a child had recently been hit by a car in our neighbourhood. He said: “What? By me?” I said, of course not, but likely by someone in a hurry and driving carelessly. He pulled out of his driveway, but his window was still down. I knew I hadn’t gotten at the crux of what I wanted to say, so I called after him: “Please, ask yourself, why are you in such a hurry that you can’t spare a few seconds to let a mother cross the street with her stroller safely?” The thought left my mouth almost exactly as coherently as I’ve written it down. He heard me. I don’t know what he thought. But it looked like his expression changed fractionally. Maybe he was thinking about what I’d asked.
In thinking it over, I wish I could have phrased my question a little bit differently. I really just wanted to say: Slow down, please! Be careful! You could hurt someone. His stance was: I knew you were perfectly safe, so it’s a judgement call, mine to make. And it’s true, when you get into a car, you make judgement calls all the time. I made a judgement call just the other day, when driving the kids home from piano lessons: I turned left even though a pedestrian had stepped into the crosswalk, because I was in a hurry, and I knew I wasn’t close to her. But I shouldn’t have, and even while I was doing it, regretted that I was making that choice. What if another left-turning vehicle had followed me blindly? Had that pedestrian been able to follow and question me for my choice, I would have felt awful–very much in the wrong, and very apologetic.
This man didn’t feel either of those things. But you know, I’m glad that I ran after him. It’s pretty rare that the opportunity arises, given that cars are usually speeding off to parts unknown. I’m still in awe that I was brave enough to talk to him. (I hate to use the word confront … it sounds so confrontational …). I was definitely upset by the interaction, and wished I could have felt calmer on the inside during our conversation (though I tried to appear calm on the outside). It took me awhile afterward to shake off the nervous energy. Let’s just say that conflict of any sort does not come naturally to me. And I don’t think conflict is necessarily a bad thing: we can’t always agree. But it’s a hard thing to learn: how to disagree respectfully, to discuss, to listen, to go to uncomfortable places, to find resolution, to compromise, to be challenged, to be willing to change. I’m trying. Having firm boundaries within one’s own self (to thine own self be true!) is the first step. The next is being willing to go to places of discomfort.
Story two: On my way to yoga class, I saw a child-sized person who looked lost. As I drew nearer, I saw that he was a small adult, developmentally challenged. He still looked lost. His coat was open, he had no mitts, he was wearing a backpack, and dragging another … and I couldn’t pass him by. But I was afraid, because I didn’t know him, and because it was dark, and because he was standing in a poorly lit spot where there weren’t other people around. I spoke to him, but tentatively, and he didn’t answer, but he started to follow me, which was good, because I was headed toward the parking lot which had light and people. I asked him again–“Are you lost?”–and he said, no, and told me where he wanted to go. I pointed the direction (he’d been going the wrong way). He thanked me. I said, it’s cold, you should zip up your coat. He smiled and showed me that he was wearing several layers of coats. I asked him to please be careful crossing the street. He thanked me and promised he would, and he walked on his way … maybe home? Maybe? I don’t know. I went inside the warm yoga studio, down to the changeroom, and started to cry. I was questioning myself: had I done the right thing? Did he really know where he was going? Even if he knew, was he going to be okay? If I were going to call someone for help, who would it have been? When we spoke to each other, he seemed calm and happy, almost content, very child-like and innocent, and terribly vulnerable … though, who knows, maybe I’m projecting my own sappy middleclass ideas.
Truthfully, I felt heartbroken by the situation. He seemed to embody the lost people of this world … whom I don’t want to pass by, but don’t know how to help.
A word came to me, and I reflected on it during class. Engage. How do I engage with the people I meet? With the situations that present themselves? With friends, with family, with issues that concern me? Am I strong enough, now, in spirit, to consider opening myself to more engagement–more risk? Because it’s risky to engage. There are so many potential pitfalls: there is over-engagement, and taking responsibility for problems that aren’t mine to solve; there’s the risk of pissing people off, and saying unpopular things, and not being liked (and I’ve gotta say, I really prefer to be liked); there is more potential for conflict, for saying the wrong thing, for error; and there’s the huge risk of being judgemental and self-righteous. And of course there are times when disengagement is the better choice. Am I wise enough to know?
Ugh. 
This reflection is unfinished, in progress. What would you have done, in either of these situations? What would you want to do?
Page 6 of 7« First...34567