Category: House

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 …”

Notes from the desert island

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the leaves have all since fallen off this tree

I’m distracted. It appears to be Wednesday already, which means I’ve got course prep to finalize, and photocopying to do, which means also that I get to visit the mailroom at the English department and check my mailbox. My mailbox never has anything in it, and yet it gives me such pleasure to check.

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my mailbox, in its natural state

I was musing about this little slice of happiness while driving AppleApple to swimming last week, and she said maybe it makes me feel part of something bigger, to have a mailbox at the English department. I think she’s on to something. It’s not that I don’t love my home office (I do!), but I work very much alone (not counting the two dogs), very much on projects of my own devising (which I love, don’t get me wrong). This brings me great satisfaction, but not a sense of connection with a larger community. It’s desert island work, in a way. I’m tapping away under my palm tree, shoving notes into bottles and heaving them out to sea. Every once in awhile (or quite often, lately) a bottle returns with a note that says, I love your note! Or something to that effect, if we’re following this metaphor to its conclusion, which we really must, having committed ourselves thus far.

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there she goes, Girl Runner

I’m trying to parse the oddness of what I’ve been feeling as Girl Runner sells abroad. I receive a phone call, or an email, that seems out of the blue: Carrie, we’ve had offers from X,Y, and Z, and we recommend accepting Z’s. And I reply, Sounds good to me! And then I go back to my office and try to maintain good posture whilst working on revisions, staring at the words on the page, and wondering at the power these very words seem to have, and how that power, which might almost be magic, seems utterly separate from me. It’s as if Aganetha Smart (that’s her name, my Girl Runner) is off on adventures all her own, while I’m here in my ordinary office waving goodbye, and admiring her efforts, but quite distanced from them.

I just got a phone call. Spain, people, and all of Latin America. If you visit the publisher’s web site, you’ll see they distribute through Central and South America, as well as to the US Spanish-speaking market. It gives me particular joy to see “Nicaragua” listed among the countries. So, you see, there she goes, Aganetha, off on another adventure.

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Suzi, hard at work

Meanwhile, my two colleagues, Suzi and DJ, sigh in their dog beds under my desk, and relax into the afternoon. The other evening, AppleApple and I got a kick out of imagining the conversations I might have with my home office colleagues, Suzi and DJ, as they “get the job done.” Suzi: “Rearranged the blanket on the couch with my paws. Totally got ‘er done.” DJ: “Snored so loud I woke myself up. Knocked that one out of the park.” Suzi: “Shortest bathroom break ever. Did you hear me scratching at the door? Genius.” DJ: “That’s nothing. I’ve been eating something unidentifiable under the porch for the last hour. Rocked it.” (Not sure why the dogs like to brag about their efforts around their water bowls, but that’s what we heard.)

Moving on. Work, Carrie, work! Focus! C’mon. Get it done.

Providential

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bald eagle

This weekend passed in a dreamy haze.

We keep having (minor) bad things happen, then discovering that the bad seems to have sparked something good. Case in point: on Friday night, Kevin herded the dogs down to the basement to crate them. DJ ran ahead and somehow, somewhy, and completely out of character, peed on the futon we’d literally just moved down there from our bedroom (because we got a new bed! YAY!). In cleaning up the mess, we discovered that the futon was in dismal shape, and then we did the math. Purchased in 1996. Okay, that makes it ten — no, wait — almost twenty years old! GAH!

Clearly time for a change. Last weekend, we bought our new bed from a futon store uptown: the plainest, sparest bed you can imagine. So we’d already priced out (and knew we could afford) a similarly plain futon and frame for the basement, to use as a guest bed. Kevin bought it and put it together on Saturday afternoon.

And just in time.

That very same afternoon we learned that a family member needed a place to stay temporarily — and we could offer our brand new futon. It seemed providential, an old-fashioned word that wants using from time to time.

I feel the same way about the bed bugs, another bad thing that set into motion all sorts of good things: clearing our bedroom of years of clutter, and finally painting the room, which spread to other painting projects around the house. I spent this weekend setting our bedroom back up again, so that we no longer feel like we’re camping.

Kevin cleared the basement of much clutter, too.

We’re ready for guests. The house feels like it’s being steadily cleared of excess, stripped down to the basics, an orderly, comfortable home, even if the order is disguised beneath dog hair and art supplies and sports equipment. (Why must we keep two skateboards in the living-room, and a scooter in the front hall?)

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There wasn’t much time for relaxation this weekend, but I squeezed in two long walk/runs on this serene path you see above, both afternoons, during AppleApple’s soccer tryouts. I miss the high of pure running, but walking has its benefits: you see more detail, you can meet a friend and walk together, and you can pause to look up in awe at a bald eagle in a bare tree that you might not have noticed if you were travelling through, apace.

Schnitzel, beer, and a pumpkin patch

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this is where I went this morning

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this is why

Bus ride, hee-hawing donkey, straw bale maze, wagon ride, corn maze, pumpkin patch. I’ve been on field trips with all of the other kids — fire station, nature hike, a different pumpkin patch — but never with this last one; so he gets his due. This might mark the end of the line for me, the last of the field trips. Six hours a day of work-time (ie. school hours) are already too slender for my requirements. I’m going into my office on campus on Wednesday evenings for teaching prep. I’m out of the house on Thursday evenings too (for class), and may maintain the habit even if I’m not teaching this winter. I need the extra hours wherever I can find them. And everyone’s getting along just fine without me.

“If I’m going to be more of a house-husband, you might have to give up some control over the laundry,” Kevin told me, as he chauffered me to campus yesterday.

The laundry remains my only real area of total domestic domination; why am I holding on? I used to maintain exclusive management of the following: kitchen, dishes, lunches, meals, food gathering, bedding, bathrooms, vacuuming, and laundry. I let Kevin handle the basement, garbage, pets, and yard (such a classic gender split, I know). I’m down to just laundry, having acceded control over everything else. I can’t remember why I used to be so possessive of those spheres, so certain of my own superior expertise.

Where was I going with this post?

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pumpkins!

Oh, yes. Such a jam-packed evening yesterday. After being dropped on campus, I holed up in my office to work. Then we had class, cut short due to a reading planned months ago. I walked through Waterloo Park with several students brave enough to tag along, to the Clay and Glass Gallery, where a double-launch was already underway for the Wild Writers Festival (coming to Waterloo Nov. 8-10), and for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, a new anthology of personal essays, to which I’m a contributor. I was the last to read, and had time to down a glass of white wine and fix my hair (sort of) before going on. It felt quite magical, actually. I’d slashed my essay to a reasonable reading length, and the words seemed to fall into a hushed and welcoming space.

I love reading. I want to say more about it, but everything I try to type sounds presumptuous and vain. I love the opportunity reading affords: to share a moment that has the potential to be profound. Yup, that sounds lofty. All I know is that when I’m reading, it feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. And that’s a good feeling.

Afterward, I went out for drinks with friends to celebrate, well, all of this.

Which is another reason I was not so extremely filled with happiness to find myself on a crowded school bus this morning.

More news, to end on: Girl Runner has found herself a German publisher! Yes, it’s true, we’ll be going out for schnitzel. And beer. The book will be published in translation, which is kind of mind-blowingly awesome, isn’t it? We were trying to figure out last night what the translation of the title might be: Madchen Lauferin, according to Google (sure to be spot on).

And, last but not least, here’s a link to a piece in today’s The Bookseller, on the UK deal.

Weekend report: in the midst

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yesterday

More projects on the go! Kevin’s on a painting kick. This weekend he’s tackling the stripes Fooey requested for her bedroom. The kid is onto something. Her instinct for style is uncanny. Kevin’s only finished the blue stripes (there may be green and yellow ones yet to come, depending on his patience for what has turned out to be a time-consuming job), but it seems to have added something dimensional to the walls. I swear the room looks cleaner. Stripes as mess-camouflage?

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today

I can tell my head is better not only because it doesn’t hurt, but because I was operating at high efficiency yesterday. I tackled a series of projects of the sort you never intend to tackle, but simply find yourself head-shakingly in the middle of. It was all precipitated by an order of a half-bushel of roma tomatoes, which I knew I would both regret and appreciate. I never intended to can them, there being ample room in our freezers due to lacklustre enthusiasm (from me) on the food preservation front this summer. I’ll freeze them, thought I! Nothing simpler! (Really, there isn’t; I just toss them cored but whole into freezer bags). Then I scouted out the freezers. Two half-full small chest freezers desperately in need of defrosting. Perfect! No time like the present! I’ll just defrost these, one by one, switching the frozen items between each, clean out the interiors, oh, and wash behind and underneath while I’m at it, discovering enough fur-like dust to make a pile that looked (disturbingly) mouse-like (it wasn’t). And then I froze the tomatoes. The defrost project dragged on all day, but freezing the tomatoes took less than half an hour; I’ve ordered another half-bushel to process next weekend.

I also made a run to the grocery store for boring bulk essentials that we were totally out of like TP and rice and dog food.

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on the landing

I declared Saturday to be cleaning day (that made me popular), and ordered the kids to strip their beds. There were mountains of laundry. I attacked hard water stains in the upstairs bathroom with vinegar and elbow grease.

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A million friends came over to play, with children rotating between houses on scooters. One child did nothing but Rubiks cube all day (“cubing” is all the rage in her class, which probably tells you something about her class). Kevin and I, at the eleventh hour, left a houseful of kids playing the card game “Pit” at the highest imaginable volume, in order to go shopping for a new bed. We’re sticking with our living-like-grad-students theme and made the purchase at a futon store uptown. Kev’s picking up the new frame and mattress this afternoon. Photos forthcoming.

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the colours in Albus’s newly painted room (I told you Kevin is on a roll!)

And then we fed the kids pancakes for supper, and took ourselves out for dinner to celebrate: our first opportunity since Monday’s news. Truth be told, we were both really tired. We drank, we ate, we tried to talk about it. We don’t know what’s ahead, can only sit in the strange calm of right now, shaking our heads and laughing at the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, a year of extremes and unforeseens, of injury, bed bugs, concussions, fresh paint, career turns, difficult choices, and, at times, seemingly no choice at all but to keep on keeping on. So we’ve kept on. Thankfully. And here we are. Thankfully, and with thanks.

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messy Saturday

Above, our house, captured, in reflection, in its natural state. We’ve got son plus friend, plus clean laundry unfolded in basket on dining-room table, plus piano (not being practiced), plus basket of mail (unopened), plus family photos more than a decade old (which I long to update), plus book on table from Friday night’s poetry book club meeting (The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2013), plus covered chalkboard wall, plus broken bridle on living-room floor (remnant from my childhood, used recently as a prop in a child’s school presentation on horses). I also spy art supplies on the dining-room table, because art supplies are like weeds. You think you’ve got them coralled and under control, and bam, they’ve sprouted everywhere again.

I’m feeling at peace with the messiness, with the constant state of disorder. I don’t like dirt. Or dog hair. But I love this evidence of flourishing life, creative, shared, blessed, untidy, in the midst. I love being in the midst. Keep me here.

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