Category: Family

Day of the Dead

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I was kind of bummed out about missing my kids’ Halloween on Thursday evening, even though it was a really terrific class (and I read them Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, which would scare anyone), and the trick-or-treaters and their dad had to endure cold rain and wind. Even so. I missed it. And got no good pics.

But we were invited to a Day of the Dead party last night, so we decided to all dress up. Bring out the camera, Obscure CanLit Mama.

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Why is it so much fun to dress up and be scary? We revelled in the chilly walk over to the party, dressed like this. I can’t explain it even a little bit. Be afraid! And be festive!

We didn’t stay late, in part because a) we were all tired, b) the littlest threw up after devouring two giant cookies and guzzling root beer, and c) well, that last reason is really quite enough to warrant an early departure, let’s face it. Oh, yes, c) we had swimming and running and soccer and more soccer today, that last item all the way down the highway in Mississauga. Which is where we’re headed right about now, as soon as I push publish on this post.

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Jump in, no life jackets

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one of the ways she reminds me of me

One son this morning refused to wear a coat or mittens (it was -1C when he left the house). The other son, even grumpier, declared he didn’t want to go to school today. “You don’t have a choice! Now put your backpack on and get moving!” That wasn’t me speaking, it was my younger daughter, who has developed certain characteristics I find awfully familiar. I felt for them both. Neither one had a choice: she didn’t want to walk him, and he didn’t want to go. It cheered both up when I offered to walk along. Who knows what I’ll manage to get done today anyway. It’s been busy and I’m tired. Good busy, but I’m still tired.

I’m going to catch you up, which may, frankly, be exactly all I manage to get done today. This post will have a lot of photos.

paella night
paella night

Let’s begin with paella night, which was exactly as fun as I knew it would be, and maybe even more tasty. I do have the best siblings around. My brother Christian was the chef. Our version of paella packed in every meat and seafood we could think of. At one point, I realized I was eating a delectable mouthful that included chicken, pancetta, and chorizo, and probably a tiny clam, too. We drank red wine, cuddled a new baby, and quizzed each other hilariously from a Trivial Pursuit game, Canadian version, that appeared to have last been updated in 1996. I don’t think anyone napped or googled.

paella

Yesterday, Kevin and I were off to Toronto, as soon as the kids left for school. Our new car is so comfortable. It’s so luxurious. It has seat-warmers! I kind of hate how much I love it, but I do. Kevin drove. Traffic was unexpectedly light. I took photos.

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the escarpment, in passing

I met my agent, Hilary, at her office, which I’ve never actually visited, although she’s been my agent for nearly a decade. I signed some important papers.

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very important papers!

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me and Hilary

We posed for a photo. Hilary tried not to make me look short.

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me and Hilary, take two

I told her to go ahead and stand up straight. I am short! Also, she’s very tall and was wearing heels. This photo cracks me up. When Kevin first glanced at it, he thought it was a picture of AppleApple (ie. a child standing beside an adult). This is exactly how I feel sometimes on the soccer field, I must admit.

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Then Kevin dropped me off at the Anansi office, which feels very familiar to me now. Our small party headed off to a restaurant nearby for lunch.

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I was very geeky and hauled out my gigantic camera and lens to take photos. Above, my US editor, Claire Wachtel of HarperCollins, my Canadian editor, Janice Zawerbny of Anansi, my Dutch publisher, Jacqueline Smit of Orlando, and my Canadian publisher, Sarah MacLachlan also of Anansi. Mostly, I just listened, ate a very good turkey sandwich and french fries, and enjoyed a glass of champagne. Mostly, I was just amazed at the places Girl Runner has taken me already, at the connections made.

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angel

More news to report, and another meal to add to the menu: the rights have sold in Sweden! To Albert Bonniers Forlag. I said to Kevin on the drive home that it doesn’t feel like I’ve done anything I can take credit for, in terms of these sales everywhere. I wrote a book. The result is weight lifted, and lightness of heart, but what I really want is to write another, and another, and another. We arrived in Waterloo in time to see our oldest walking our youngest home from the school bus. It was slightly heart-melting.

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stroopwafels

For an after-school snack, and to cheer up one small boy who did not want to go to swim lessons (but who had no choice), I cracked open the tin of “stroopwafels,” which Jacqueline had brought with her from the Netherlands, and which the kids called “waffle cookies.”

And then we went to swim lessons. And even though he had no choice, CJ loved it, and couldn’t stop talking afterwards about how he jumped into the deep end without a life jacket, and treaded water for 15 seconds, by swinging him arms like this, and pretending to ride a bicycle. I didn’t tell him that when I saw him jumping into the deep end without a life jacket, and his teacher not exactly in arm’s reach, I held my breath in genuine fear as he went under, and almost couldn’t believe it when his little goggled head popped up again and he swam to the side and pulled himself out. “I think you actually love swim lessons,” I teased him on our walk this morning, as he continued to regale us with tales from the lesson yesterday. He grinned sheepishly. And then Fooey admitted she feels the same way sometimes: really really really doesn’t want to do something, and then discovers while doing it that she loves doing it. I figure it’s my job to keep reminding them. Just like it’s my job to walk along sometimes: my job, and my fortune.

Catalogue of comfort

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morning at the pool

It’s funny how being up before dawn becomes comforting habit, signalling that all is right in my world. Yesterday, while my swim girl swam before the sun was up, I swam too, covering 2.4 km in an hour, which is exceptional for me. (Though not even close to exceptional for her — plus she swam for an hour and a half, and did drills like 25 yard dolphin kicks underwater, and other things I could only dream of being able to do, as I crawl back and forth, slow and steady, in my lane.)

I’ve been thinking about what comforts me, how there are particular places I visit, stored in my memory, that bring me happiness and calm. I mean actual places that no longer exist. There are specific things that I associate with happiness, with peace and safety, like shag carpet, and barn beams, and a double bathroom sink, that belong only to my own private catalogue of good associations. I wonder what associations my children are absorbing, and where their happy places are.

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new bed

I was thinking about stuff on this morning’s dog walk. How comforted I am by the things that surround me. And yet how frivolous so much of our stuff is. How so much of what we think we need, we don’t, and paradoxically how a certain perfectly placed object can set the mind at ease.

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no good photos were taken on this outing, either

Yesterday, I took the family out to celebrate the German deal. We went to Beertown. Kevin and I drank German beer, and the kids drank root beer. The food wasn’t especially German, though I did order schnitzel, just because. Afterward, stuffed and dozy, we decided that we’re going to have to start cooking some of these celebratory meals at home. I’m not quite ready to make official announcements, but the news from the Frankfurt Book Fair has been exciting, and I can tell you that more internationally-themed meals are forthcoming. To celebrate the UK deal, we’ll do fish and chips out with Kevin’s family this weekend (it seems apt, as his parents arrived in Canada, by boat, from Scotland, just before he was born), and then I’ll get creative in our own kitchen. And then I’ll take pictures and share them with you, no matter the quality of the photography.

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girl runner

We’re all home!

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Camp is over for the season.

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Today, I brought home this tired and braided girl, after a morning campfire and singalong, hugs to counsellors, and a prolonged and eventually successful search for her “rescue” puffer. I did not bother rushing, or trying to rush. On the way home, we stopped for poutine, a hot dog, chicken fingers, and fries. We also had with us one of her friends, who asked me, musingly, of the roadside restaurant, “Carrie, would you call this place a dive?” to which I replied, “Not really, no.” But then couldn’t think of what, exactly, I would call it. I’ll tell you, though — I’m still thirsty.

It was a beautiful day for a drive through landscape that I consider some of the most beautiful anywhere, even though it has no mountains or vistas or oceans: just rolling fields, brick farmhouses, small towns, and the colours of August, all deep greens and straw yellows against blue skies and white clouds.

But I’m glad to be home. I’m glad we’re all home together! I can’t help but feel a little off-balance when one of my kids is gone, which the three eldest have been for at least a week, each, this summer — different weeks, each of them, creating a different home dynamic each time. It gets me to thinking about how quickly the kids are growing and how soon they will be ready to leave us, for longer and longer stretches of time, and how we’ll have to get used to that. As I suppose we will, because that’s just what one does. Even as I think these thoughts, I try not to let melancholy creep into the now. One of the things I’m trying to do these days is avoid being nostalgic for things while they’re happening. Know what I mean? Instead of trying to hold onto a moment, I want to be inside of it, living it, and also letting it be.

Be here now. Where else to be?

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:::

P.S. And completely unrelated: I wonder if the heaviness I felt all summer might have been my book? Having finished the revisions and sent it off, I’m feeling an unexpected lightness of spirit and mind here at the end of summer, despite it being the end of summer, and despite nursing a mild concussion that hasn’t allowed me to do any of the fun endorphin-related stuff I usually do to keep my spirits bouyant.

The curator is in

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on the Cataraqui trail

A legitimate concern about blogging, one I take seriously, is whether or not it turns a person into a curator of her own life rather than a participant. I have no answer for this, just instinctive response: if it feels off or forced, don’t do it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been taking less photos this summer, and also leaving my phone at home sometimes, shutting off, disconnecting.

But then I look back over this blog’s history and feel so appreciative of the scrapbook-like nature of its collection of years. Obscure CanLit Mama is almost exactly five years old. I was truly Obscure on the CanLit scene when I began blogging, and I’m only slightly less Obscure now, though much appreciative of the path forged. I wonder what the opposite of Obscure would be? Secure? Established? I’m uncomfortable with the thought of attaching those words to myself. My identity is tied up with being on the margins; but maybe that’s short-sighted and snobbish and needlessly, well, obscure.

My fears: One never wants to get too big for one’s britches. Pride goeth before a fall. Be careful what you wish for.

This is not the post I set out to write. It’s been almost two weeks since I had a chance to settle into my novel revisions, and I’ve missed it like homesickness. I’ve missed it like friendship, like comfort, like a good night’s sleep. Sitting at my desk and writing all day has become essential to my well-being, seems like. Maybe it always was, like running, and I didn’t know it. But I know it. Honestly, I could hug these words for being here right now, for letting me sit amongst them, for letting me think things through via some magical collaboration of mind and hands and eyes. Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.

This is the post I set out to write.

The one about being a curator of my own life. Still, I would argue that I’m infinitely more participant than curator, that I’m only marginally curator, and that curation is a bit of a calling for me, being reflective by nature, wanting to gather and observe and make orderly. This blog represents only the smallest slice of experience. It’s my hand wrapped around a moment and then opening to let it go.

Here is yesterday:

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We’d planned to do back-to-school shopping with my mother-in-law, who loves to shop. Instead, AppleApple sought me out (I was doing laundry in the basement) holding her arm at an odd angle, teary-eyed, to say she’d landed “funny” on the trampoline.

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So, instead of shopping, I left my sister- and mother-in-law home with the other kids (Kev was golfing with his brother, lucky man), and we went to emerg. Many hours and several detailed x-rays later it was determined to be a bad sprain and not a fracture, which opened her summer back up again. We’d been sitting there together, bored, chatting, waiting, unable to stop ourselves from imagining the possible cast and all it would affect: camp, cottage, swim team, soccer team, piano. This was definitely a best-case scenario result.

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DJ at DQ

We were home in time for supper. Kev and Albus were off to another soccer game, so after supper, the rest of us decided to walk the dogs to Dairy Queen. Spontaneity, family, scooter, stroller, bike, dogs, baby, sling, and a beautiful cool evening. Oh, and sweet treats for all. Pretty much vacation perfection. We took the long way home.

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Then it was bathtime. Kev and Albus came home with another tied game under their belts, against the same team they played twice on the weekend — every game weirdly identical, with our boys going down by two goals, and coming back to tie it up in the second half. This third game, and the bizarrely harmonious result, lightened the mood between the two teams, which had been tense over the weekend.

I read from Little Town on the Prairie, with everyone listening. Little kids tucked and lights out.

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Kevin is the blur in red and white

And then more spontaneity: the big kids and I went to watch Kev play soccer. My brother also plays keeper on the same team. It happened that a friend was there to watch her husband play, too, so we sat together under the lights on a picnic table and cheered, and made silly commentary, and generally had a blast, despite the mosquitos. Apparently the four of us made a bigger fan club than the team has had in ages, and our shouts were appreciated. We even made friends with a linesman who loaned us his bug spray. The game ended 0-0. We didn’t see the Perseids for the lights, but there was something about it all that brought me great comfort and joy. Being alive … how many moments do we get like this? As many as we want? As many as we leap into?

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the trees behind the field looked like a painting (that’s my bro in net)

So I took out my phone and stole a few photos. Maybe it’s curation rather than participation, but I want to remember. I want to remind myself, when I’m busy and harried and it’s not summer anymore, that the best times are easy to come by, in a way. They’re there for the taking. You sit with your kids and shoot the shit. It’s so basic.

And then you come home and enjoy a beer with your sister-in-law and talk about things that want talking about, and you sleep, and you wake, and you work, and you pray, and you write it all out, if that’s what you’re made for.

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running through beauty, in it and of it

Vacation photo album

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We visited Kev’s family for the long weekend. Lucky for us, they live just down the road from this spectacular tourist attraction: Jones’ Falls locks on the Rideau Canal. That’s a view of one of the locks, above, and it’s on top of the hill, with this big reservoir that feeds the lower locks (not pictured). The reservoir is a great place to swim. Even when it’s not that hot out.

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The kids had fun getting me to photograph them jumping in.

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Then we tried to get everyone jumping in at once. CJ had to think about it for awhile. He had a lot of encouragement.

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False start.

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Here we go!

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All in.

(Kevin and I swam too, but no one got photos of that, which was probably a good thing, since I insisted on wearing my swim cap and goggles. My swim cap is bright orange. Every time I put it on, I wonder why I chose that colour??)

And now for some obligatory adorable cousins-together photos. C’mon, you know you want to say awwwww.

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The weekend’s entertainment also included a round of par-three golf (Kev and the older kids), a 21.6km run on a gorgeous trail (me, with Kev accompanying on bicycle), and a whole lot of backyard badminton and soccer (pictured below).

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Goodbye, farm. We’re headed home to new adventures that must wait for another day’s telling.

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