A good way to direct our energies on a humid and hot day earlier this week: take one grumpy walk to the grocery store for supplies, whip up a batch of lemonade, popcorn, throw in some homemade banana bread, haggle over the pricing (5o cents per item, or 75 for a combo of any two items), and make some signs. Sit in the lawn and hope for customers to pass you by. We waited for awhile, and had some long periods of doing nothing much, except for reading and playing on the picnic blanket, but in the end each child had earned a small share of the pooled profits, and we’d gone through three pitchers of lemonade, and met a few passersby not previously known to us. (A special thanks to friends who went out of their way to stop by and to drum up business for us!).
Today, I had the brilliant idea to can dilly beans. Really, why not? So it’s hot. Let’s add some steam to the kitchen. Actually, it was happifying to remember, as I do every year, that canning isn’t impossible, or even that difficult. Within an hour (or a little more), I had seven jars of dilly beans on the counter. The kids helped to clean the beans, but spent the rest of the time getting into trouble. Canning isn’t the easiest task to invite kids to participate in, involving as it does a great number of hot things: boiling water, simmering liquids, steaming jars, etc. But I’m inspired. What if I put up seven jars each day for a couple of weeks every August? Do-able? That would be a lot of food by fall. Left on my to-do list: canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce; relish; maybe some canned pumpkin or squash; grape juice. Easy-peasy. Right? Ask me in a month.
Our family meeting was so good, yesterday, that I was buzzing for hours afterward. It wasn’t that we’d solved problems or perfected the use of the talking stick (NO TALKING STICKS! was my decree). It was that we talked. There was conversation. Back and forth. Ideas flowing.
It all started earlier in the day, when I picked the kids up from school for swim lessons. If we walk fast, we can just get to the pool in time. I had fresh-made banana muffins to offer to grumpy eight-year-olds, pining for play dates.
“This is the worst day ever! I hardly have any time to play with my friends!”
Mondays and Wednesdays (and Fridays, sometimes, too) are days we currently keep free for after school play dates. Tuesdays are music days. Thursdays are swimming. And those days are also family time.
“But it’s not like we’re really together, is it? It’s not like real family time.”
No, not during the actual in-the-pool swim time. But let me assure you, we’re really together the rest of the time, and it really is family time. Walking to the pool and then home afterward underlined the togetherness of the venture. There we were, walking and talking, talking and walking. It’s an elemental combination. One of my closest and longest friendships has revolved around walking and talking. We walk, we talk. The forward motion can contain silences, time for reflection, emotion, quiet, bursts of energy and laughter and ideas.
There is no time of silence when walking with four children; but what interesting subjects have occasion to emerge. On the way home, AppleApple put on the winter hat I’d brought (one for everyone, though most declined). We passed a young woman on the sidewalk. Whether or not she noticed AppleApple’s winter hat/spring t-shirt combo, I cannot say, but AppleApple certainly noticed the young woman, and kind of cringed and hunched. And then she said to me: “I feel sort of embarrassed, Mom.” She was puzzled by the emotion. It was almost as if it were new to her, and she was newly discovering and feeling something unexpected and uncomfortable. She was embarrassed to be seen wearing a winter hat on a spring evening.
What an amazing opportunity to open a conversation about our emotions–embarrassment in particular–and how they can shape (or not!) what we choose to do. “Do you feel chilly without your hat? Would you like to keep wearing it?” Yes. “So keep wearing it.” I hope I didn’t head down Lecture Lane, but I was thrilled to be talking with my kids, in the most organic way possible, about peer pressure, being different, feeling different, and the multitude of embarrassing moments in their futures that could alter their behavior, or that they could recognize and resist. One of the most wonderful things about growing up is realizing that embarrassment is so often a projection of one’s own fears and anxieties–“what if she thinks I look stupid in my hat?”–and having the confidence and self-assurance not to change, if we’re happy doing what we’re doing. Most of the time, other people are thinking nothing of the sort (except, maybe, other teenagers; I’m not sure; I remember that being a pretty judgmental phase in my life). Most of the time, other people don’t really notice, or don’t notice to the degree that one imagines. All of this self-consciousness is heightened during the teen years–years of self-discovery, when it is both necessary and painful to examine oneself in depth and superficially, to scrutinize and question and experiment, to learn Who Am I?
We didn’t get into that. I told some funny stories from my childhood about feeling embarrassed. I warned them that embarrassment would be a sensation all the more acute and frequent in the years to come, and asked them to tell me if I were ever embarrassing them (they couldn’t imagine it! Ha!), and promised that I would never deliberately try to embarrass them … but that it might happen anyway.
And, then, this came out. Albus said: “Sometimes I feel embarrassed when the other kids in my class talk about Wii and they don’t talk to me about it, because they know I don’t have one.” He had a new friend over on Wednesday (play date day), and his new friend asked whether he had a Wii, and Albus had to say no. “Did you have fun playing together?” Yes. “Do you think he’d like to come back and play again sometime soon?” Yes. “Do you think he liked you less because you didn’t have a Wii?” No.
At our family meeting, we revisited the topic: being different, having a Wii or choosing not to. Fooey said she’d rather not have one, because then they might always want to play it (the child knows her cravings, too–she LOVES tv, and knows how hard it is to turn it off). AppleApple said we could always play at C&K’s house (uncle and aunt-to-be). Albus pointed out that if we did get one, we could stick to rules about how often the Wii would be played. Both Kevin and I were of two minds. I do think our family would be able to set limitations and stick to them. But the larger and more important point, to me, tends in a different direction altogether: why not be different? Why not be the house on the block where friends come over and play outside? (Plus, in our tightly-knit ‘hood, we’re not the only house on the block with no Wii; it’s just that this year, Albus has been separated from his best buds at school, and has had to adapt to the wider population of kids).
Coincidentally, I’d just read a report yesterday that the AVERAGE DAILY screen time for Canadian kids is SIX HOURS. And on weekends, that goes up to SEVEN HOURS. (That includes computer, tv, gaming systems).
Why not take a small stand against that, as a family, and just go without? It felt, by the end of our conversation, that everyone was willing to think about the larger implications of the choice. Childhood is so short. There is only so much time to play, and to play creatively. When I think of those kids digging that massive hole in our backyard, and the immensity of fun that was had, the enthusiasm, the dreaming and planning, the dirt, the physical labour, the cooperation … I think, yes! More of that, please! My own childhood was blessed with outdoor play, mess-making, freedom, imaginary play, and a connection to the natural world that was so natural I took it for granted.
Different. It’s okay. It’s better than okay. To be unique is to be a human being. To be confidently, happily, creatively, serenely, humorously, vividly, acceptingly and compassionately unique is to be a content human being.
Maybe you’ll eat ice cream with chopsticks (as per AppleApple, above, at last night’s family meeting; yesterday, they learned about China, and the three children in her class who came from China taught everyone how to eat with chopsticks).
No, “The Hole” is not a metaphor for something. It is a hole. Well, it was. It started as an idea: shovels in the ground, impressive early depth, everyone pitching in to help. It got bigger and bigger, and more ambitious. Over the weekend it was worked upon by a number of neighbourhood children (whose parents, perhaps, were happy that the hole was not in their backyard). When I discovered it on Monday morning, in inclement weather, accompanied by two eager two-year-olds, the hole had become a hazard. More strip mine or open pit. It was clear: the hole needed to be filled in, lest I lose a small child down there. Breaking this news to Albus resulted in a long walk home from school filled with grief and accusations: “meanest Mommy ever.” He had planned to find diamonds and sell them for money! He had planned to build a huge fort and the hole would be the basement! But with assurances that he could start a new project upon filling in the hole (searching the attic for toys to sell–as inspired by a friend’s recent sale), and possibly building a real fort, the family got to work after supper and filled it in. Unfortunately, that area of the sandbox is now entirely dirt. And dirt is dirtier than sand. But it’s safe to play again. I loved giving the kids the chance to play freely and make a huge mess. Right up until I was done with the mess. Onto the next one.
At the risk of jinxing this news, I must report that CJ is potty trained. He can even get his own pants up and down. He refuses to wear pull-ups and is not pleased to have to put on his overnight diaper, though he still needs it, as he proved last night when Kevin forgot to put a diaper on him. Now that’s a great 3 o’clock in the morning discovery. What worked? There was that week post-flu and returning to routine when I was quite prepared to go back to diapers, if need be. But then I realized that he was still willing to use his potty, just on his own terms, so I relaxed my expectations, and suddenly, he raised his. One day, he simply refused to wear pull-ups or diapers. It was messy for a few days, and then it wasn’t. Yesterday he wore the same pants all day. We were out and about and busy, and I didn’t worry (though we did have to make a pit-stop en route to music, in a random parking lot, at his request). That’s the wonderful change: he knows when he needs to go, and can tell us, and then hold on till we find an appropriate place to go. We’re there. No more diapers for me!
Spent the morning making a spring schedule for our family. Feel good about the results. Have decided to spend my hours of work time (hopefully about 12 hours/week) on anything creative, writing or otherwise; and on developing relationships with other writers. Very very very excited.
It was 70s day at school on Thursday. We struggled to think of what to advise the kids to wear. Albus went with tie-dye and jean shorts. AppleApple wore beads in her hair and a long skirt. (Fooey is still wearing her pjs because she doesn’t go to school on Thursdays. But she loves a good photo op.) The kids wondered what was going on in the 70s, and the only thing I could come up with was the oil shortage and lineups at gas stations, which is why Albus has a sad face. He’s sad about the high gas prices. I suck. What exactly happened in the 70s? All of my instincts seemed to suggest more 60s-style symbols: beads, peace signs, protests, drugs (didn’t mention those, of course), um, Led Zeppelin, they were 70s, right? Bell bottoms. Fondue. Help me out here.
Yesterday it was so warm here. After supper we migrated outside and played till bedtime. I don’t usually indulge in nature photos, but could not resist. The colours are such a relief to the winterized eyeballs. Such pleasure to discover Yellow and Blue and Orange in our own backyard. The play went on and on. Kevin kicked a soccer ball. Hammocks. Scooters. Push-toys. Balls. Balancing acts.
Today it cooled off again, but we had a picnic on the front porch anyway. The kids had the day off school. We shopped for picnic supplies while starving, never a good call, and bought quite a lot of packaged food. AppleApple was particularly disturbed by our choices. We bought kiwis from Italy in a large plastic container, for example. Fooey and CJ had never even seen a kiwi before, because I hadn’t bought them for years. We bought those little over-packaged Baby Bell cheeses. We bought yogurt drinks in single containers. The garbage! The waste! I have become so unused to it that it felt … obscene, actually.
I can’t bake bread or cookies this weekend. Our oven is on the fritz and won’t be repaired till Monday at the earliest. I upheld the stereotype of the ignorant little woman today while on the phone with the repair company. I could not, for the life of me, find the model and serial numbers anywhere on the stove. I essentially took the stove apart searching for it, while the fellow on the other end gave directions, and Albus helpfully rolled on the floor and begged for a snack. It was all for naught. I never did find the apparently quite obviously placed sticker with that info. Turned out I didn’t need to anyway, as the stove is under warranty and they already have the information on file. At one point, I actually said, “Well, my husband is out of town right now and …” “And when’s hubby coming home?” he asked. I was in a pretty bad mood by the time I hung up. I might have snapped at Albus: “Open your own bleeping banana,” or something in that vein. But the truth is, I know virtually nothing about the stove or about how it works or even where we keep the manual. So the stereotype is sadly accurate. I just don’t want it to be. But then again, I’m not that interested in stoves. So, there’s that. Before I started talking to the repair fellow, I’d been feeling pretty chuffed that I’d found the brand-name on the front …
Note to self: Never announce that one is mending. One will instantly be swatted back to germworld by the Powers that be. (What are these Powers? Dare I ask?) Mending, say you? Hacking and coughing, say we. Oh, and for good measure, let’s send that stomach flu spiralling through the rest of the family, shall we?
Some pictures from our week …
Fooey and CJ home with me on Monday, posing for a sibling portrait.
Also on Monday, a day of reading and puzzling together: CJ posing with the first puzzle he ever put together–for real! he stopped and held still in this position, thumb tucked into palm, till the shutter clicked! (I helped with the puzzle; but he did a lot–a lot more than I realized that he possibly could).
Yesterday, all four children were at home, giving us a prelude of what’s to come on next week’s March Break. They spent all afternoon organizing themselves to play school (ironic, huh). I peeked into the living-room at various points to discover: a beautiful craft being made that turned pencils into flowers; four children at four “desks” working in math books (apparently we have a lot of these, usually neglected, on our colouring book shelf); four children arriving at the counter for “nutrition break” (a chocolate bunny split into four equalish pieces that we bought from a child selling them door-to-door for his school; I do not want my own children to have to do that, ever); and four children putting on rain boots and sweaters to run outside and play in the slush for recess. And I recorded none of it. The best I can come up with is this out-take photo from my portrait project, which shows yesterday’s post-school littered living-room, and the self-adorned CJ.
[Note: The portrait project can be found by scanning down the right-hand side of the page, but be warned, it’s all about me. 365 days of self-portraiture. What’s the worst that could happen? No, Powers, I’m not asking. Really. That was just a joke.]
And, finally, today … two brothers watching a movie together in the basement. My boys! The younger of the two has just fallen asleep for a rare afternoon nap. So rare, I thought they were extinct. I should go grab a photo of it while I still have the chance, before it flies into the deepest darkest forest known to humankind. (That feels like I’ve written a riddle, the answer to which is: the past).
How I can tell I’m on the mend: 1. I wanted to drink a cup of coffee this morning. 2. I’m spending my Sunday baking!
In honour of that, a few recipes …
(From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; this cookbook is on loan from Nath)
Nath brought us supper last night, and she brought a loaf of this bread. Though I wasn’t feeling well enough to partake, Kevin mentioned that it was terrific. I don’t have the interest in baking a fresh batch of conventional bread today, so I thought instead I’d whip up a giant batch of dough to keep in the fridge, enough to make eight small loaves, which I can bake up at my convenience during the next two weeks. I’d already bought a giant plastic container in which to keep the dough, but hadn’t gotten around to making it since borrowing the cookbook, oh, way too long ago. Here’s the simple mnemonic: 6-3-3-13. That’s six cups of lukewarm water, 3 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp yeast, and 13 cups of flour. I must ask Nath whether she uses that much salt; it looked like a lot to me. [NOTE: When consulted, Nath confirms that is too much salt. She uses half that, and she also uses coarse salt, to in future, I plan to put in approximately 1 tbsp, or even slightly less]. I’ve mixed up the lot and it is now sitting on my counter to rise for two or so hours. After which, I will pop it in the fridge and pull sections off whenever I feel the urge to add fresh bread to our supper meal.
To bake: cut a grapefruit-sized ball out of the dough, and shape it into a load. Let it rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, turn on the oven at 450 (if you’re using a baking stone, pop it in at this time; if you’re using a covered pot, like I plan to, also pop it in). Just before baking, dust the load with cornmeal or bran, and slash the top of the dough several times to make it look pretty (this step is not mandatory, especially if you’re baking in a pot, in which case, you’re going to be dumping it in anyway). Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, approximately. If you’re using a baking stone, slip a pan of hot water into your oven on a lower rack; that will add some steam and improve the texture of the crust. If you’re using a covered pot, the dough will steam itself. If you’re using the pot, you can remove the lid for five to ten minutes of the baking time, to brown the crust.
Note: this makes a smallish loaf. If your family is large, or if you just love bread, double the size of the loaf; I can vouch for this working in the pot, but have never tried it on the stone. In the pot, the baking time for this size is approximately 30 minutes covered, and an additional 10 minutes uncovered. Let cool on a rack. Devour!
Old-Fashioned Cookie Bars
(adapted from Hollyhocks and Radishes; thanks to Bobbie Chappell for introducing our family to this cookbook, which hails from Northern Michigan)
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in three eggs. Beat in 1 tbsp of vanilla, and another tbsp or two or three of maple syrup (optional). In a separate bowl, mash one banana, and add it to the wet mixture. In a third bowl, sift together 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups of white flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Add the sifted dry mixture to the wet mixture in about three batches. As it gets more difficult to incorporate, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk. Stir in 1 cup of oats, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until browned around the edges, and not as well-done in the middle. While still hot, cut into squares, and allow the cookie sheet to rest on a rack till completely cooled. Remove from the tray and store.
Note: Baking times vary. When baking bars, be sure to check early rather than late, and don’t wait to remove the tray till everything is toasty brown, or you may find the bottom is burnt: get it out while the middle is still a bit underdone. The bars will firm up while cooling.
Also note: This is a very flexible recipe. My first attempt, today, made a crumblier, cakier bar than my previous two bar recipes. Next time, my plan is to eliminate the milk altogether. While I can’t recommend this version for lunch-boxes, due to the crumbly/cakey consistency, it is awesomely delicious. Kevin agrees re the taste, and after a quick brainstorm on how to make these bars transportable to school, Kevin is going to try wrapping them individually and freezing them. (Have I mentioned how much I love that he is making the kids’ school lunches? He’s been doing this for the past couple of weeks while I wash the supper dishes; a companionable time for chatting, too, while the kids tear apart the house post-supper).
Note#2, edited in several days post-posting: Kevin would like the world to know that the frozen bars taste delicious–he ate two when he was home for lunch today, straight out of the freezer. Apparently, they don’t freeze into a solid block, but take on a texture much like convenience store freezer treats (in a good way). Frozen into convenient two-piece bundles, they’ve been excellent additions to the lunch boxes (the few that have gone out the door this week). Maybe I’ll make a pan for playgroup this coming week.
I’d post the Sunday waffle recipe, but my guess is most people already have a favourite waffle recipe in their roster. Mine comes from the Simply In Season cookbook: Whole Wheat Waffles, which I double, and make with a combination of yogurt, and milk soured with vinegar (never having buttermilk on hand, more’s the pity).
It’s such a beautiful day. The children have been playing together–all four of them!–virtually non-stop since daybreak. Kevin is playing guitar right now in the living-room, and got out for a jog around the neighbourhood in the brilliant sunshine. I got to listen to CBC Radio One while baking, and was treated to the Sunday Edition‘s three-hour special honouring International Women’s Day, AND THEN, to Tapestry‘s illumination of the Celtic goddess/saint Brigid (if you’re interested, both shows have podcasts). And now I’m blogging. And I can eat again. Have I mentioned that coffee tastes good, too? It’s such a perfect day.