Category: Play

Work + Play = Summer Holidays

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We spent Canada Day weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. This tradition stretches back to before CJ. When we remarked on this, CJ gaped at us in horror and disbelief: “WHAT?!” I know, kid. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you didn’t yet exist.

This is our first week of summer holidays, and the first summer I’ve attempted to work approximately as many hours as during the school year. Babysitting has been arranged; we’re on day two, and so far, so good, thanks to my trusty ear plugs. But … will it be hard to work from 9-3 while the children play? Will I regret not taking time off? Will the kids feel like they’ve had a real summer?

Here are a few of my compensatory plans:
* biking to swim lessons at the outdoor pool (shifting work hours to accomodate)
* post-3pm outings to library, Herrles, park, air conditioned mall, etc.
* looking after the neighbours’ chickens (all this week! nearly a dozen eggs collected this morning!)
* dogsitting (first go, this weekend; and we’d be open to dogsitting more often, if you have a dog you’d like sat)
* one promised day-trip to the local outdoor water park (Albus got a free pass for volunteering as a crossing guard at school; very clever, local outdoor water park, very clever)
* summer movie matinee
* one week away at a cottage
* visiting brand new cousin, when born (due August 8th!)
* ?? TBA
* please share your plans and ideas

And a few more compensatory plans, for myself:
* swimming during the little kids’ swim lessons
* more exercise in the evenings, fewer early mornings (I’m down to two/week, and barely managing it; no naptime, and late nights)
* stretching after soccer
* taking time to hang the laundry outside, even during work hours
* saying yes to social invitations

A miscellany for your reading pleasure: balloon animals, soccer tips, anecdotes, and beyond

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balloon-dog, by AppleApple*

*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product. 

:::

Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.

First game: I learned to touch the ball.

Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.

Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.

Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.

Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.

Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?

:::

While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.

Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.

When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”

Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.

My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?

:::

One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.

I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.

It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)

And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.

Lazy Sunday reflections on having it all

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Lazy Sunday morning.

My two littlest are playing an elaborate imaginary game together. (During yesterday’s game we overheard CJ saying, in a very harrassed-sounding tone: “I have to do the laundry and make the supper and clean the house and I just can’t do it all by myself! You are going to have to help!” “Is he being the mother?” I wondered, but we couldn’t tell, and didn’t want to disturb the game to ask.)

My bigger daughter has given up trying to join in on the game and is practicing the piano instead.

The eldest kid is at his second swimming birthday party of the weekend.

And Kevin is at a soccer game. I’ve got one tonight too. We admitted to each other that we didn’t really feel like playing. I said, “I just don’t want to get injured,” and he laughed, because that was exactly what he’d been thinking. Honestly, after every game I limp home with some injury or another, which heals itself in time for the next game; so does he. I’m pretty sure this a factor of age. AppleApple pooh-poohed my complaints of injury, and said it was just to be expected — something always hurts after a soccer game! But, then, she’s 9, and heals quickly. I’m a good deal older, and appear not to have the same bounce-back abilities.

This was a lazy week, exercise-wise, in part due to a soccer injury. I did something to my hamstring, and couldn’t lift my leg for two days. Awkward for stairs, unhelpful for long distance training. Skipped my Monday morning swim in part because of the injury, but also because I had a deadline and I was worried about being too tired (I’m quite sure I could not exercise as voraciously were I working full-time; positive, in fact). Skipped my Tuesday evening run due to injury, plus insane heat. Ran Wednesday morning as usual, felt twitchy for first kilometre, then fine. Dragged self to spin/kettlebell class, but barely, Thursday morning. Skipped Thursday evening run due to thunder storm. Skipped getting up early on Friday due to meeting friend for breakfast. Finally, yesterday, forced self out for a long run after spending the day cleaning house.

And here is what I can report. I didn’t really feel like a) cleaning the house or b) going for a long run, but I sure felt a hell of a lot better after accomplishing b) than a).

I spent six hours cleaning the house. I do not exaggerate. It was filthy, disorganized, and disastrous. At the end of those six hours, I felt discouraged, grumpy, and accusatory. Cleaning is so pointless. Within minutes of it being scrubbed, someone walked on my kitchen floor! Can you imagine! With feet that had ever so recently been outside! And with predictable results! Also, every cleaned thing had the effect of showing up every thing that still needed cleaning and therefore looked infinitely dirtier as a result of being in proximity to the cleaned thing.

So I went for a run. I made it 15km. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was a lot harder than the cleaning had been, in many ways. It took at least as much mental fortitude to continue. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace I was demanding of myself. But at the end, after I’d finished what I’d set out to accomplish, by golly didn’t I feel amazing. Elated. Content. Cheerily conversational.

Which is why our house is likely to be, for the most part, not that clean. And why I am likely to be, injuries notwithstanding, reasonably fit.

Whenever I get around to cleaning, I think about my Grandma King, whom my mother remembers rising at 5am in order to scrub her kitchen floor (she also worked a full-time job and looked after five children.) Different times, I guess. When a woman was judged on the cleanliness of her kitchen floor. But we’re still judged, aren’t we? Or maybe it’s that we judge ourselves, and harshly, comparing ourselves to models of perfection, to super-women, and inevitably falling short, as Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her excellent and nerve-striking article in The Atlantic.

I heard myself on the radio yesterday, briefly, talking about The Juliet Stories. I called AppleApple down to listen (she was the only one nearby). I was mashing garlic to make a ranch dressing and listening to myself talk on the radio. The voice on the radio didn’t sound a thing like the voice in my head; in fact, the radio voice sounded much calmer, approachable, resonant, friendly. “Did that really sound like me?” I asked AppleApple afterwards, who looked perplexed. “Of course,” she said. Here’s the thing: I liked the sounds of that woman on the radio. But she didn’t remind me of myself, except only fractionally. Myself was the woman mashing garlic, wearing running gear, feeling irritable, noticing the dirty windows, trying to work up the gumption to get out for a run.

I was experiencing myself as a projection. And in a sense, that’s what this blog is too. A projection. Incomplete. The person I show myself to be rather than the messy much more complex and in all likelihood somewhat disappointingly contradictory person that I really am. I think we women like to compare ourselves to projections. It’s one of the reasons women always want to know, “How do you do it?” We’re imagining that it can be done. We’re looking for the secret formula. We’d apply it, if only it existed. I’m certain it’s not only women who do this, but maybe men do it differently. Maybe men don’t admit as readily to being imperfect or wrong; or maybe they don’t care; maybe they’re better at managing guilt.

These are horrible generalizations. Please, disagree. Tell me what you think.

My lazy Sunday children have now moved into my office; therefore, it’s time for me to move out. It’s lunchtime.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

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how does your garden grow?

It never rains but it pours.

Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”

“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)

“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.

Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?

It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.

Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.

As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:

I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.

Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.

Weekend report from the soccer/birthday trenches

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almost eleven

I want nothing more than to write a big fat juicy post about our weekend. But I’m on a tight deadline. So here’s the quick and dirty version.

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tournament

Soccer girl played six games in a tournament this weekend. Kev took the the first two days, and I went yesterday. That way we could manage to run errands, do some gardening, and not have to drag the other kids along. Her team finished with a bronze medal and a lot of happy faces.

Yesterday our eldest turned eleven. It was a good party, from what I hear. My great regret is that I spent virtually the entire day not with my eleven-year-old. AppleApple and I were off early for the tournament, and home later than expected. The party was already in full swing. I had just enough time to download photos from the various cameras I’m testing out before changing into soccer gear myself.

Off to play in the pouring rain! On a weird field with a wide strip of mulch and grass seed sweeping across it! Against a team of 19-year-old girls who had a coach and a full line of subs! (My team is, well, my age-ish, and had two subs.) I was tentative and terrified for the first ten minutes, but finally got my foot on the ball, and then it got better. There’s nothing like playing a new sport to make you feel out of shape, but I quickly figured out that I would recover from the sprints; thankfully, I have endurance. I badly need better ball-handling skills. And to hold my body differently against the big contact players. (I felt very very small, let me tell you.) But it was really fun.

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eleven for real

And then I came home and spent some time snuggling my big eleven-year-old boy, who was feeling kind of sad that I’d missed his whole day. Me too. In fact, that feels like most my days right now — rushed and hurried and squeezed. Am I running on adrenalin? Will I wear myself out? What am I missing???

Onward.

Party night

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party night

My thoughts are all over the place on this Monday morning. I’m wondering: should I blog our week in suppers? Skip over that and write about my weekend of solo parenting? Share news about upcoming events and unexpected Juliet feedback?

Last night, I set my alarm for swimming. I woke at 2am. I’d been dreaming about sleeping (again!). I decided to turn off the alarm and really sleep. I have three early mornings planned this week; given that I also have two evening readings, self-preservation starts to come into play. It was a little easier to turn off the alarm given that yesterday, late afternoon, I ran 12 pain-free kilometres, keeping up a good pace and plotting my return to distance running. That counts as my first real distance run since my injury in January. It’s short, as far as distance runs go, but it was a blast. Next week … 14 km??

Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, self-preserving.

Tonight, I’m ferrying children from dance to soccer practice while Kevin has an early soccer game. Tomorrow, I’m at the Starlight in Waterloo (come, too!), from 7pm onward. Readings start at 7:45. And on Wednesday I’m headed to Toronto for an event at Type Books called the “Short Story Shindig” with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and hosted by Kerry Clare; 7pm (come, too!). This is all very exciting, but doesn’t go terrifically well with excessive early morning exercise.

As I said to Kevin this morning, “This isn’t the year of the triathlon. This is the year of The Juliet Stories.” (Which may be the first time I’ve admitted that, even to myself. I really really liked the year of the triathlon. I felt so hard-core. Sharing my book feels less focused, less goal-oriented. Maybe I need to start thinking of readings as races. They definitely affect me in similar ways — I’m nervous before, wired and happy during, and it takes me a little while to come down afterward.)

So. Slightly less focus on exercise, slightly more focus on evening events.

Now. Let me tell you all about my weekend with my kids. We had so much fun! Why can’t we have this much fun all the time? Is it because I’m usually trying to get too many other things accomplished? That can’t be entirely it, because we seemed to accomplish quite a lot, even while finding time to relax. Our weekend included …

:: watching Modern Family on Friday night while sharing an entire bag of Cheetos (which were utterly disgusting, may I just add)

:: trampoline ninja jumping (everyone!)

:: a bike trip to the grocery store for picnic and party supplies, followed by a picnic in the park

:: reading outside while two girls rode giggling past me on scooters and bikes too small for them

:: hanging laundry on the line, baking bread

:: playing on electronic devices; taking lots of photos

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personal pizzas for party night (the one with the olives, asparagus, and eggplant? yes, that’s mine)

:: “Party Night,” wherein we had homemade personal pizzas and punch with ginger ale while watching a movie, then gorged on episodes of Modern Family while simultaneously gorging on boxed cereal and utterly disgusting candy; the rules for Party Night go like this: everyone gets to choose one treat from the grocery store (under $4), and we stay up as late as we want; oddly, three of four children chose boxed cereal (Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops, for the record). We have never felt so collectively gross. I blame the milk. Maybe the sugar too. It was surprisingly easy to herd the children off to bed at a not entirely unreasonable hour (9:30ish) …

:: … though AppleApple and I got distracted searching for my old Grade One piano book in the basement, which we never found, but we did find one of my old and relatively simple classical piano books, and ended up staying up for another hour playing songs. The Wild Horseman. The Happy Farmer. One of Muzio Clemente’s simple Sonatinas (she’s learning it!). Minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook). Bliss!

:: sleeping in

::  making and delivering, on bicycle, invitations for an 11th birthday party (a week from today!)

:: more bike riding and trampolining and laundry hanging; hey, whatever makes us happy

Mother’s day was capped off by the return of Dad, and supper out at all-you-can-eat sushi with my mom, too.

And that is plenty for one blog post. Never got to the unexpected and lovely Juliet feedback. Well. More tomorrow.

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