It’s a blessing, not a burden, to be this busy.
Yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Yes, my life is written out in point form in advance. No, I don’t always feel like doing what I’ve planned for myself. But it’s amazing what can be squeezed into one day, what can fit.
Today, for example: breakfast, big kids out the door, swim lessons with little kids, home to start laundry, walk to a friend’s house, play, home for lunch, prepare supper, listen to podcast on CBC radio on beauty (“beauty will save the world“), plan via email a talk I’m preparing to give on Sunday about being a “Mennonite” writer (quotation marks necessary?), walk to school to get kids, bring friends home, trade off parenting duties with Kev, walk briskly to yoga, 90-minute yoga class, walk briskly home, blissed out and thinking semi-deep thoughts, eat leftovers, listen to kids play drums and guitar, tag-team the dishes with Kev, head out with sibs for a drink, walk briskly home, chat with Kev before trading off as on-call parent, watch video of beautiful youngest singing along to the Cranberries, plan tomorrow’s crock-pot supper, write blog. There’s still time for a small snack before bed.
Taken from the radio program (Tapestry): when you embrace beauty–the beautiful, the moment of grace–you accept that it will pass, that you can’t keep it. What is beauty? Goodness, kindness, compassion, acts of selfless impulsive grace.
Scheduling: it’s a love/hate relationship. I am definitely of an organized mind, and enjoy figuring out how to make things fit together and become orderly and sensical. Which is apparently not a word, but it should be; as in, the opposite of nonsensical. Oh dear. Three sentences in and already off-track. Where was I? Loving to schedule … but resenting having to do it in order to have a life; resenting the ongoing, neverending obligation to schedule. And coming around to acceptance, because that’s a good place to come around to.
Monday morning, I went for a run, then spent the remaining two child-free hours of the day working out the week’s schedule, which I hadn’t had time to do on the weekend, with Kevin working, and just general exhaustion. I like to sketch out an idea for suppers every day of the week, preferably related to the veggies lurking in my fridge and cold cellar the existence of which I’m otherwise likely to forget. This also prevents the panic of not knowing what the heck to make for supper an hour before supper’s due to be eaten by six hungry and opinionated people.
But I also schedule out absolutely everything else, coordinating with Kevin, most closely, and with a variety of other people (the parents of my kids’ friends; music teachers; grandparents; friends; health practitioners; essentially, anyone else we’re planning to see or want to spend time with during the week).
I think of myself as our family’s call centre. Got a problem–emotional, practical, menial, existential? I’m the one you’re going to call, the 9-1-1 operator. I’m also the first responder, the triage nurse, the doctor/psychiatrist/janitor/repair-person/garbage collector. And I do out-patient and follow-up work, too.
I’ve figured out that this means if I’m going to get time to myself, to recuperate, to prevent meltdown (ie. mine), I’ve got to schedule, in advance, off-call time, time alone.
Every day is broken into pockets of time, each with the potential to be used for something. I am often amazed at how much, and what a variety of activities, can fit. However, the advance plan doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes my energy can’t keep up with my appetite.
For example, on Tuesday, I’d maneuvered time off between after-school pickup and Kevin’s late-night hockey, arranging for Kevin to do after-school care, serve supper, do dishes, and bedtime (yes, it’s a lot!), so that I could go to a yoga class and then on to a reading: Annabel Lyon, Alyssa York, and Sandra Birdsell were all in town. But after a full day that included early rising, swim lessons (getting in the pool with CJ), friends over, baking, and cooking, I had just enough energy to drag myself to yoga. Having survived ninety sweaty minutes of exertion, I exited into a damp dark evening, hungry (because I’d gone over supper hour), bone-tired, and feeling chilled … so I went home instead. I knew I’d be up very early the next morning to run with a friend. And there’s only so much of me available for use.
So Tuesday night, post-kids’-bedtime, I went to bed with a pot of tea and watched reality tv on the internet. I won’t even try to explain it. But it works for me. Sometimes better than anything else. (And, no, I hadn’t scheduled it in, nor do I plan to. Some things are best left to impulse, as needed).
Cooking with kids: AppleApple’s menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids’ cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey’s and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey’s up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus’s German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it’s impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is ‘re able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I’m sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something’s not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here’s what went onto my “fitting it all in … a little at a time” list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).
Experiencing the immobility of disorganization. How can it take so little to throw me off? I stayed out late last night, after rising very early for a wonderful run with a friend, and the more tired I am, the more likely I am to order a second drink. I’m not saying the second drink did me in, but I’ve been fuzzy-headed for the better part of today. I even forgot to finish drinking my coffee–it languished on the counter till I discovered it cold, at noon.
I am prepping for a birthday party tonight (cooking for 14), and another tomorrow (three boys overnight), and out-of-town guests arriving tomorrow at noon as well. I feel overwhelmed. All of my careful planning is thrown out of whack–no babysitting possible tomorrow, and, there, I’ve lost half of a week’s worth of writing time … the downside of not working for a living, just working for the sake of it. It feels like my time is therefore disposable; and I resent that. Can you hear it in my voice?
I must get to early morning yoga tomorrow; perhaps that will return me to a sense of balance.
Here’s what needs to happen in the next couple of hours: wash all dishes; clear all counters; and prep any food that can be prepped in advance. Tonight’s menu: nitrate-free local hot dogs on buns, with sides of baked beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and avocado salsa, and cake and ice cream for dessert; I am currently stalled on the critical decision of whether to top the cake with whipped cream, or with whipped cream AND homemade chocolate sauce; this is what I mean–I’m stalled on the most insignificant of details, to the point of inertia. I look at the counters and the big dining-room table and go … what is that stuff, and where does it belong? It appears to be, largely, homeless debris that migrates from surface to surface till it gets recycled, or claimed, in which case the kid carries it to another surface, usually not very far away from the first one, and deposits it again.
Update on Eco-Attempt # 1: Make your own laundry detergent! Do it! It works! I mixed equal parts Borax and baking soda in a glass jar with a lid, and shook it to combine. I dump two tablespoons of the powdery mixture directly into the washing machine (I have a front-loader; use twice as much with a regular machine), and pour liquid soap into the detergent dispenser tray. The liquid soap is Dr. Brommer’s Lavender Castile Soap, which is expensive on first glance, but needs to be heavily diluted to use. So I’ve filled an old detergent bottle with several squirts of Dr. Brommer’s and diluted it with several litres of water. Voila. I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of LAVENDER, other than it smelled heavenly to me; but does Kevin want to wear lavender-scented socks? Hopefully so, because the Dr. Brommer’s is going to last for a year, I suspect, though it can also be diluted and used around the house, for dish washing and hand-washing, etc.; I may do that. It doesn’t completely solve my too-many-plastic-bottles problem, but it will cut down on how many we throw away in a given year.
Eco-attempt # 3: We made vanilla! It’s easy. You buy a couple of vanilla beans, split them, place them in glass canning jars, and pour rum or vodka or some other light alcohol over top, and let them sit for a month or two. Again, relatively inexpensive and will save a lot of little plastic bottles.
Eco-attempt # 4: List of things I intend to store for this coming winter: 1. Garlic! The sad news is that these are our last three local garlic bulbs; but the good news is that my stores of garlic have lasted this long. I bought them in bulk last fall, and stored them in paper bags in our cold cellar. More garlic this year! 2. Also easily stored are potatoes: again, in paper bags, in the cold cellar. 3. Apples wintered well, there, too. 4. Squash was pretty good, though I wouldn’t try to store squash for more than a few months (a pumpkin started to rot). 5. Cabbage kept well in the cold cellar, too, as did 6. carrots, especially in the mid-winter months when the cellar was coldest.
In the freezer, I am now dipping into the last of the frozen 6. plums and 7. apricots. I highly recommend freezing bushels of these. I cut them in half, pit them, and place them into plastic bags and freeze them right away. No sugar pack, nothing. Take them out when you’re ready and use them right away, or they will discolour. I stew them with a little water, and serve them over waffles or for my own breakfast of ground seeds and yogurt (don’t ask; or do, if you’re really curious). I let myself start eating the apricots and plums in January, when a body’s longing for summer’s tart fruits, and last summer’s batch has lasted up till now. I also plan to freeze 8. peas and 9. corn cut off the cob, and 10. tomatoes, in addition to 11. canning more tomatoes or tomato puree. 12. Strawberries also freeze easily, as does (13.) rhubarb, though rhubarb season is usually when I discover that last year’s rhubarb is still hanging around in the bottom of the freezer.
The photo of the kids in their new hats represents the fun time we had at Zeller’s, of all places, with the three youngest kids, up past bedtime, earlier this week. Seriously, who in her right mind would be shopping with children at Zeller’s at 8:30pm? We were looking for Albus’s birthday gifts and ended up having a hoot of a time trying on hats and sunglasses and checking ourselves out in the tiny mirrors. I was in the moment, and it was so freaking fun.
I seem not to be in the moment right now … How can get there? Remind me.
I’ve promised Fooey that I will help her make cards. And then we’ll clear the tables and the counter! Wish me luck. Or better yet, focus.
I’m writing again. And that means that most spare scraps of the day are poured into that work … and not into, say, doing the dishes, prepping supper, photographing my adorable children, or blogging. Gee, I still dislike that term. But can’t think of a better one.
Saturday, so we arose late, hoping CJ would sleep in (he did, a bit, following a just-before-seven nurse), and that the other children would go downstairs and play together (they did), and that they would FEED themselves. They didn’t. Inevitably, hunger arrived, wasn’t addressed, and led to an argument between Fooey (age four) and Albus (age eight). Over Duplo. Apple-Apple, meantime, has been in the position pictured above since waking this morning, save for a brief breakfast out of bed. It is now almost eleven. She’s reading the Harry Potter series at a rate of about a book per week, and is already on book three. Surely there is poetic justice in me having a daughter who cannot remove herself from a book–I get to understand first-hand how difficult that can be to watch. I fight the urge to jump up and down waving my arms while telling her: look at this wonderful world; don’t you want to go play road hockey with your brother?; wouldn’t you like to chat or something? But she’s lost in this other place. She doesn’t even blink.
“When you’re reading, it’s like you’re almost in another world, isn’t it, Mom? It’s almost like you’re a character in the book. And then when you close the book, the world disappears.”
Yup, like magic. I get it. I hope I’ll get there again, myself. I read all day long, but not in the same way. I skim the newspaper, dash through emails, scan other people’s blogs, troll through recipe books, I read aloud to the kids, process the endless stream of info that arrives in backpacks from school, lie in bed and savour a chapter or two in a personally chosen book before sleep arrives. Much of life revolves around text. Reading isn’t dead. But falling so deeply inside a book … that feels beyond my capacity to manage right now. There isn’t enough room, enough space in the day.
This morning began like most Saturday mornings. I didn’t get downstairs till almost 10, though I’d been up for several hours. I changed the sheets on four out of five beds (couldn’t budge Apple-Apple), put away bales of laundry, tidied. Experience tells me that, when working on a project, it is unwise to move to another section of the house, even for a brief errand, because another project/child/need will suck me in. Last night, Kevin and I spent about two hours, post-supper and post-dishwashing PUTTING AWAY TOYS. We worked in tandem, sorting, organizing, throwing away, moving methodically through drawers and bins and across swathes of strewn carpet. Maybe we have too many toys. Or too many toys with tiny bits. Because we have places to put everything; that’s not the problem. It’s just that everything seems to migrate, up and down, piled into baby buggies and baskets, dumped and dragged, carted and reorganized for the sake of some marvelous imaginary game that it would seem cruel and foolish not to allow. Their methods of cleaning up, though sometimes quite enthusiastically practiced, don’t match up with mine. Albus, for example, would happily organize his room according to his own ideas, and it would look “perfect” to him: there would be multiple piles stacked on dresser tops and in the middle of the floor; there would be a forest of containers, each with three or four items rattling about within. “But I like it this way, Mom!”
Made it downstairs. Have now breakfasted and self-caffeinated. Laundry is on the list, as is vacuuming. Unless I get called to doula at a birth! My friend is due–was due–this Thursday past. Every time the phone rings, Kevin looks at me and I look at him–is this it?
Do any of you have Sigg water bottles? If so, the company is doing a voluntary recall due to tests that showed their old liners were leaching a nasty chemical. This week, we replaced a family’s worth of rather battered bottles for pretty new ones, which have a different liner. Which will leach heaven knows what, but hey. Better than disposable. Blue Skies Yoga and Eco-Store
will exchange your bottles, no questions asked. That’s Apple-Apple’s brand-new ladybug bottle behind her in bed. Always hydrate while reading.
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.
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