Emergency cup of hot tea. Quiet time. Blessed quiet time.
There may have been a time when food did not occupy the better part of my day, but that was when I was singular rather than plural. I still startle when hearing us referred to as a “family of six,” but that is what we are, and families of six eat lots, and have multiple preferences and dislikes and needs. I need tofu fried with mushrooms, for example. (Okay, need may be too strong a word, but sometimes it feels that way). Several of us require muffins or other lunch-box-friendly items. One of us has no teeth, another loathes potatoes in any form but mashed. Et cetera, et cetera. I also cook almost everything from scratch, and work in principle around a local food diet. So it turns out that designing a daily/weekly/monthly menu based on these variables requires at least one member of the family to be pondering and planning virtually non-stop. Even in the middle of the night. I exaggerate, but only slightly.
On Sunday, we were unexpectedly and generously gifted a pile of organic, purple carrots, which instantly became this week’s local food theme. This morning, whilst grating several pounds thereof toward turning them into almost-assuredly-delicious soups and casseroles, I questioned my philosophical rejection of The Food Processor. Which is dimly related to another appliance rejected on philosophical grounds: The Microwave. Oh, and also: The Dishwasher. I’ve also nearly, but not quite, rid us of our reliance on: The Drier. I claim no moral highground for any of these rejections, but do claim these purple-stained palms.
Part of all this meal planning has to do with a simple goal: I enjoy getting out, on my own, on occasion. And sometimes more than just on occasion. So a walk with a friend after supper becomes a goal toward which an entire day is aimed with precision (not to say that the rest of the day doesn’t offer many pleasures and interludes, just that this goal would never be achieved were it not for all the thinking about … food!). Yes. Food. The hour between arrival home from school and suppertime is the most critical of the day. In that hour, I prepare tomorrow’s lunches, and supper. Usually while nursing, supervising homework and playdates, feeding starving children snacks (and myself, too; that sneakily devoured piece of bitter chocolate), listening to the radio, and generally putting every last scrap of multi-tasking talent to the test. The success of that hour is brought to you by the letter P. Prepwork. Planning.
Trying to think of more p-words. No not that one, thank you Albus. No, not that one either. Please.
This happy cup of tea and blog-session has preceded my least favourite hour of the week, upon which I shall now embark with improved spirits and renewed optimism: the hour during which I entertain an eleven-month-old freshly woken from his nap in an empty hallway outside his sister’s music class. Happy Tuesday!
A new discovery: soup on Wednesdays, with fresh bread and cheese, has been a big hit these past couple of weeks. Wednesdays we need a fast meal, on the table by 5pm, in order to get the big kids to their music class after supper. Cream of cauliflower, made with frozen veggies, last week; black bean and hamburger, the one before. This week I’m planning to try a grain & bean recipe that sounds easy, nutritious, and will make use of some frozen beans.
This week theme is: Dig in the Freezer. Honestly, frozen apricots? Suggestions? I froze a couple of bags last summer, lovely and organic, and have no idea what to do with them now.
Yesterday it was a big red sauce from the freezer tomatoes, with basil shrimp (both basil and shrimp from the freezer), over pasta. The leftover tomato sauce will be sent back to the freezer, in easy-to-use format. Always handy to have tomato sauce prepared and ready to heat and serve.
Tonight, it’s turkey sausage with chickpeas (both from the freezer), and cabbage. I’m winging the recipe with flavours leaning toward curry. Over rice. Wednesday, soup, as mentioned above. Thursday will be baked potatoes with leftovers on the side. Friday, I’m boiling up a big frozen chicken for broth and stock and meat. I’ll make some of it into a comforting illness-fighting noodle soup.
This week, thus far, has felt a bit scrabbling-about-ish … I have to remind myself to focus and remember to set priorities and stick with them, to keep the planning very basic and simple. Can I continue to blame the weather? I have felt overwhelmed at moments this week, incapable of figuring out what needs to be done most urgently. Partly, it’s due to Kevin working this past weekend. That removes my day of cleaning and organizing, otherwise known as Saturday, and it means the floor is still covered, in parts, in last week’s crumbs, and last week’s scattering of toys hasn’t been gathered and sorted and returned to order. I really like when all the toys are in the baskets and drawers and containers to which they belong: craft items in the craft cupboard; doll clothes in the orange bin the girls’ room; books on shelves; baby blocks and puzzles in the baby blocks and puzzles bin (okay, honestly, I’m the only person in the whole house to whom this really seems to matter, so it is a losing battle, but nevertheless one I intend to keep on fighting).
Priority at this exact moment: wake baby from nap, change diaper, load handful of children and off to music class. Like, now.
Thinking New Year. Thinking about how, when I’m doing something that I really love, I’m almost out of body, there’s a feeling of transcendence. Yet that out of body thing seems to take me away, too, from the conscious reality of Life. Played piano for an hour yesterday while CJ napped and the other kids played road hockey. It took me far far away, into music’s private space, feeling the meaning of the notes take character and shape, speaking emotion with my fingers on the keys. But then, I wasn’t with my kids and that made me feel vaguely guilty. What does it mean, to be “with” people? That is something I’m struggling with as I try to live life as presently as possible–with presence, with gratitude. The paradox is that often when I’m most present within an activity, deeply focussed, I’m taken away from the everyday-ness, away from the chaos going on around me. Away from them.
We did something funny yesterday morning (pre-road-hockey). The kids were going wild with boredom and CJ was extremely fussy, so I popped him in the sling and paced the living-room while narrating our lives operatically. Everyone found this hugely entertaining (“Get off your sister!” sung in slightly out-of-range soprano with serious vibrato beats plain old “Get off your sister,” any day). The best part was that they joined in. That’s the kind of transcendence I crave–collective transcendence.
There was a program on collective joy, recently, on CBC Radio’s Tapestry. It’s a concept I’d never considered, but instantly understood–that amazing experience of feeling connected to and part of something larger than oneself. It’s even more amazing when the experience is being collectively invented, when everyone is a participant. Think: sports. Think: camp. Think: orchestra, theatre, choir. (Think other things I haven’t thought of or mentioned; and tell me about them, please!). Speaking of which, last night I watched the finale of a deeply moving documentary called “The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing.” It’s a BBC production and may actually be a series, in which a young British choirmaster goes into hard-knock schools and starts a choral program. In this case, Gareth went to an all-boys school and in nine months built an amazing 150-voice choir that included a group of beat-boxers. To watch their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was truly to witness an experience of collective joy. Look up this series if you have even the slightest interest in choral music (and even if you think you don’t).
On that note, I must continue preparing for our low-key New Year’s celebration this evening. These are my New Year’s hopes (forget resolutions): great creative energy, imaginative problem solving, vats of patience, presence, gratitude, calm, reflection, and bursts of collective joy.
Trying to write this afternoon. Not getting much accomplished. Can’t blame Stephen Harper for everything, can I?? I’m so thoroughly caught up in today’s news that instead of polishing metaphors in this story, I’m composing letters to members of parliament. This morning, Stephen Harper visited the Governor-General and asked for and received a prorogue, which means the operations of the House of Parliament are suspended for seven or eight weeks, at which point, the Conservatives will likely have to face a vote of confidence on the budget they say they’ll introduce at that time. In the meantime, they’re planning a full-on, well-financed publicity campaign, and lots of polling. (Haven’t heard a peep in that plan about reconciling with the opposition). Apparently, that’s how you get the pulse of the people: you poll them. Guess what–I’ve never once been polled; but I do vote. That’s how you actually go to the people. You hold an election.
Nobody wants one.
Brrr. It’s cold out there today, bits of snow falling, icy sidewalks, dim skies. CJ screamed all the way to school in the stroller. He plays strange, now, with adults who are not related to him. The pout and hesitation, the crumpled face and widened eyes, the whimper, the yowl and crocodile tears flowing picturesquely down his cheeks. As soon as he’s back in my arms again, he ceases crying, then quickly turns to check on that Other Person, to see whether they’re still there. Yup. Then back to Mommy, burying his head in my shoulder. Then checking again. He’s a tightly wound little fellow, all kicking legs and flinging limbs and excited energy. He’s going to need a lot of outdoor time as he grows. Sports. I love how he’s drawn to children about Fooey’s size. He approaches them quite differently than he does strange adults. I think it speaks well of his relationship with his big siblings. Fooey sang to him the whole way to school, to try to calm him down; and sometimes it seemed to be working. She loves to make up topical songs.
Maybe she can make up one for me with the word “prorogue” in it. A verse with, “Calm down, Mommy, and stop yelling at the radio,” would hit the spot too.
Supper on the table at 5pm so we can eat together as a family before rushing out the door to the older children’s music class. Kevin late. Supper being dished up, Kevin arrives. Family enjoys fresh-made biscuts and beef stew with potatoes and sweet potatoes. Gobble, gobble, gobble. Then the friend arrives whom we take along to music class, and we’re out the door again, at least it feels like again, and off into the dark night, accompanied by what looks like a full moon. Eerie clouds across its face. I’ve dragged along a whack of library books on butterflies, as that is the theme of Apple-Apple’s upcoming birthday bash. While the kids are in class, I read through them. They’re disappointingly similar in content and arc. To summarize: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. Throw in an attempt at plot in one form or another (class watches the butterfly life cycle; tortoise observes the butterfly life cycle; butterfly observes caterpillar yet to discover butterfly life cycle). Anyway, fourteen books later my eyelids are feeling a little heavy, so to the chiming music being made behind closed doors by my children (and the moan of a saxophone from down the hallway), I let myself drift off. Actually, not sure whether I have much choice in the matter. I’m pretty tired (see below). As I drift, I sense a mother and child coming to sit beside me on the bench, but lacking all pride don’t even attempt to shake off the waves of sleep. The child explodes with an unnerving random roar at least once per minute. As my brain wanders into reverie, suddenly “ROAR,” and my neck jerks involuntarily. His mother says nothing to suggest this behavior is inappropriate, and later, when I’ve given up on the catnap, or it’s given up on me, I realize that this isn’t just a behavioral tic, but a response the shark book he’s thumbing through. Should have opened my eyeballs earlier and offered him a tome on butterflies. They’re quiet.
This pretty much sums up my day. Disappointment over a new 1/2 bushel of sweet potatoes found half-rotten and unsalvageable in the cold cellar. Grumpy griping children. Baby napping only to wake in a foul mood half an hour later. Oh, and CJ is not sleeping through the night. Did I say anything to suggest that he was? Yah, he must have stayed up late last night reading that post and deciding he was far too clever to fall asleep on his own after a mere fifteen minutes of crying. Last night was one of those write-0ffs, and despite letting him “cry it out,” he never got to out, and we ended up walking him, patting him, and, finally, bringing the infuriated little soul back into bed with us. It was a long one. You’re almost glad to see morning so you can get out of bed and have a cup of coffee.
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