Category: Play

This room of my own

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It was the weekend of free stuff. On Saturday morning, my dad called and said they were clearing out their basement and had a lot of items to give away, if we wanted to take a look. Sure, I said. I love free stuff! Very little could make me happier than free stuff! Top of the clear-out list was this treadmill. “I could probably turn it into a treadmill desk for you, if you’d like,” he offered. (He reads my blog.)

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I’d literally just given up on the idea of having a treadmill desk — I’d been pricing out the options last week, and come around to the conclusion that it wasn’t feasible in the short-term. I kid you not, I made this decision on Friday. The very next day, I have a treadmill desk.* (*Technically, I don’t have the desk part yet — it will be a simple removable platform to hold my laptop — but it’s coming soon!)

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Yesterday was a very icy day. People were walking in the street to avoid the sidewalks. I was going stir-crazy from a) too much on my mind, b) driving to Mississauga for an early soccer game, and c) lack of exercise. C) was the only factor I could actually actively affect. Forget the ice outside. I changed into work-out clothes, got on my new (free!) treadmill and ran for 50 minutes.

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As I ran, the kids kept turning up in the doorway. When I stepped off, each kid wanted a turn — and then another. I laid out the ground rules: no one is allowed to use it without supervision/permission, and you have to attach the safety cord. Also, after AppleApple’s trial run, we decided no bare feet allowed. Ouch.

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The results were visible: rosy cheeks, sweaty faces, improved moods, happy dinner chatter. CJ even managed to run for half a mile. AppleApple has devised a treadmill schedule, so that kids can sign up for half hour intervals. (Included on the schedule is a note saying that Mom’s schedule can over-ride what’s on the sign-up sheet. Phew. And I didn’t even tell her to add that clause.)

What’s slightly amazing is how perfectly the treadmill fits in the office, as if this space has been awaiting its arrival. It’s a tiny room, but it can accommodate an awful lot. I’ve got my great aunt Alice’s cozy little rocking chair for reading. I’ve got a small filing cabinet to contain current odds-and-ends and another for office supplies, which also holds my reading lamp. The dog beds fit. The treadmill folds up, which means there’s still room for yoga. I would like to think of this as a space dedicated to reading, writing, research, running, walking, and yoga. It’s a space dedicated to quiet contemplation and reflection, and to physical movement and health. Stillness and motion. Mind and body. The ephemeral and the visceral. A room of my own.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I woke with those words in my head, but immediately thought about how it’s today that pulls me. Today that I wake to. All those tomorrows aren’t promises. They’re overwhelming if I consider the repetition of their demands, and even more overwhelming if I consider the speed of their passage. No matter how much I do, time will turn these words to dust.

Yet how much I wanted to run downstairs and write down my thoughts. And so I have. Today pulls me.

It was my second waking of the morning. The first was much earlier, when AppleApple and I woke for her swimming. Being up already, I went for a run. It was very dark when I set out, but as I made my rounds, the sky shifted, pale light between ominous clouds, and at last a pink and blue sky that looked right out of a fluorescent painting. Shadowy crowds of crows called from the treetops, then took off flying in a seemingly endless stream. I liked this somewhat less when they flew directly overhead.

I came home to warm up, shower, and scarf a plate of scrambled eggs and bagel, then returned to fetch my swimming daughter. Tonight my siblings are coming over and we’re making paella. That’s to celebrate the sale to Spain. I haven’t properly celebrated France (the coffee and croissant were lovely, but the kids want in on it, too), nor Italy (which I kind of want to splash out on, if someone can recommend a good Italian restaurant), nor Holland, though a friend, who is Dutch, recommends kale and potatoes with sausages, or “tiny meatball soup,” both of which sound delicious (I will need the recipes).There may be yet one more country to announce shortly (!!), but I’ll leave you waiting for now. It is quite astonishing to consider the variety of languages spoken on this Earth.

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We’ve named our new truck “Aggie,” which is short for Aganetha Smart, fictional girl runner. Yesterday, I christened Aggie with a billion (more or less) errands around town to prep for paella night, and Halloween, and winter, and to replace items my swim child has lost or broken recently. Last week, for example, she lost her asthma puffer and aero-chamber. These things do not grow on trees. Recognizing her own ability to shed personal items at an alarming rate, she opted for dollar store gloves rather than those from Adventure Guide, which are, quite frankly, a shocking investment.

Elsewhere, Fooey found a dress fit for a vampire, with a hoop skirt to boot, but AppleApple rejected my suggestions and insisted on searching for something I fear exists only in her imagination: an old-fashioned formal dress (also with a hoop skirt) that would be both appropriate for trick-or-treating AND she could wear on social occasions. Yeah. Tips? She wants to go as Anne of Green Gables, and I’m not sure Anne wore hoop skirts, and that we may be confusing her with Laura Ingalls in her courting days, as we are reading These Happy Golden Years right now. In other costume news, CJ will be a clown in a suit we found in the dress-up box, and Albus is still debating. I will miss seeing them in full costumed flight, as I teach that evening. I bought some extra treats to take for the students, and I’m hunting for spooky-themed stories to read (suggestions??). Who knows, I may even throw on a costume. Would my students take me seriously as a rhinstone cowgirl? With braids? That’s all I’ve got (and it’s borrowed). I wore it to a party on Friday night, and looked cute and appropriately clad, but felt like I had dragged with me the equivalent of a wilted personality. I’m tired, it seems. Too tired to stay up late, too tired to carouse, though not too tired to spend the evening within arm’s reach of the cheese platter.

It does seem like a happy life makes room for a wide variety of activities, solo and in company, professionally and personally. Leave aside work and play, which are linked, in my mind. The bulk of my efforts goes into relationships, which are like gardens and need tending: there’s marriage and children, wider family, friends and neighbours, colleagues and students and coaches and other parents and acquaintances. When I’m down, I castigate myself for a lack of diplomacy, or a willingness to enter into conflict, and sometimes for exhaustion itself, for feeling spent. This may indicate that I’m an introvert, and yet it’s the relationships that interest me most, that feed me and that I live for. What’s left out of the equation, what gets squashed to the margins? Housework and chores, and often cooking and food. I try to leave room for meditation and stretching. Ultimately, I find, it’s dancing that falls by the wayside.

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I’ll end where I began this rambling post. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But really, today.

Thankful:

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* Family; cousins; new cousin: hosting (I love to host!)

* Being fed ham & scalloped potatoes for our first Thanksgiving dinner, and relaxing into the weekend

* Playing soccer in mid-October warmth with Kev, kids, and brother-in-law, and not getting concussion symptoms afterward (just aching muscles)

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* Celebrating the UK deal with really good fish & chips

* Long morning dog walks, visiting with sister-in-law

* Listening to Alice Munro being interviewed on Writers and Company, Sunday afternoon, while peeling potatoes and grating beets for our Thanksgiving supper

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* Feeding my family a feast: a roasted 20-pound turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, grated sweet-and-sour beets, fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and baked apples

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* Inviting the new parents to join us — and the new parents coming over!

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* Laughter

Celebration time

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this is how our family walks uptown

Yesterday evening, we celebrated my US deal. I took the family out for hamburgers, in part because that seems like quintessential American food, and in part because Albus has been dying to go to this place called The Works uptown, which exclusively serves burgers.

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no good photos were taken on this outing

I tried to impress on everyone the hugeness of this celebration, and even attempted a little speech (no one noticed), but the milkshakes, extensive topping options, and general excitement of eating out was far too distracting. So I sat back and enjoyed the whirling conversation. Afterward, we popped into Words Worth Books to browse and splurge. (I picked up Erin Bow’s brand-new, just out YA novel, Sorrow’s Knot, which looks as deliciously darkly scary as her first.) And then we wandered home and everyone was so thoroughly stuffed and wiped out we just went straight to bed.

Everything about this outing was a delight.

Here’s the most delightful part. We’ll get to do it again — only next time, we’re going out for fish and chips and mushy peas. (!!!!) Can you guess? Unbelievably, amazingly, overwhelmingly, I have more news to share.

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The rights to Girl Runner have been sold in the UK (and Australia) to another terrific editor: Lisa Highton, who is the publisher of Two Roads, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. Yup. I’m over the moon, and have been re-reading somewhat compulsively the press release Lisa prepared yesterday to announce the acquisition, which says, in part: “GIRL RUNNER is a brilliantly evocative story of time and place with an unforgettable heroine.”

Kevin and kids are already plotting to hitchhike along on any future tours to the UK.

So here are the pub dates, for those who are wondering:
September, 2014: Canada (and Australia, I think)
Spring 2015 (tentative): US and UK

I don’t know why, but wandering through the bookstore last night I felt enormous excitement to imagine my new book on the shelf, wondering what its cover would look like (a different cover in each country?), wanting to pick it up and feel its weight in my hands. I think my party planners and I are going to have to out-do ourselves for the launch this time around (and that’s saying something). The fun of bringing this book to life is still ahead of me. And a footnote in all of this is that I’m getting to work with these amazing, accomplished women — Janice Zawerbny and Sarah MacLachlan at Anansi, Claire Wachtel at HarperCollins, and Lisa Highton at Two Roads, plus my agent Hilary McMahon who’s been with me now for nearly a decade. It’s pretty darn wonderful.

In other news, undeterred, and inspired by a post I found on the ever-reliable internet called “The Crisper Whisperer: How to Handle Eggplant Overload,” I ordered the half-bushel of eggplant, and half-bushel of tomatoes. Because a) I have masochistic tendencies, b) there’s room in the freezer and c) you’ve got to take your chances when they come.

Holiday album

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We’ve been away on holiday, a fact I choose never to announce on social media, including this blog, perhaps out of paranoia, but it gives me a sense of security. So anyway, you didn’t know we were gone, but, hey, we’re back!

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Right before we left, I took the kids on our annual back-to-school shopping trip. I hate shopping, they hate shopping, we all hate shopping, so we only do it once a year: a visit to the mall that always includes the food court.

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Also before leaving, we ditched our couch upon finding a bed bug associated with it. One bug. God knows if it came from the couch, as we couldn’t find any signs of any others, but we’d had the couch for thirteen years, and I’d disliked it strongly for the last three, at least. I was almost afraid of myself — how easy it was to get rid of the couch, after years of indecision. What else might I suddenly admit dislike to and get rid of? A neighbour took it home — the couch, I mean. Albus tried to stop him, citing the bed bug, the broken springs, the etc. etc., but the neighbour insisted. He identified himself as an “unpublished writer,” who was working on screenplays for the CBC. You never know who’s living up the street, do you? But now we know what he’s sitting on.

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On our holiday, I read J.K. Rowling’s new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, (being a sucker for mysteries), which rendered me completely useless to my family for an entire day and part of the night, too. I also finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, which I loved, though it did take me four months to get from one end to the other. I also read through my dad’s collection of last year’s New Yorkers (so did the older kids, unexpectedly). We swam in the cool lake, kayaked, took the dogs for a row boat ride (a mistake, as apparently both suffer from seasickness), played outside all day long. We went skinny-dipping one night — all six of us, including our five-year-old who spent the entire time announcing delightedly what we were up to at loudspeaker volume. He LOVED it. I hope the neighbours didn’t hear, however. My favourite part of that experience was when we were all standing on the dock, towels dropped, shivering — that awkward moment while we worked up the nerve to jump into the freezing cold. (No photos of that!) There were starry skies, several seriously hot perfect summer days when we didn’t even need a towel to dry off after a cooling swim, a day of rain, three successful water skiers, and lots of junk food and fancy drinks.

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(That’s AppleApple, Albus, and Fooey, twice, respectively.)

No electronics were mentioned, though we did watch movies on the rainy day. Work and home started to interrupt a few days in (for me and for Kev), and it was hard to stay in relaxation mode knowing what was waiting for us back here.

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Kev and AppleApple worked on a project inspired by a curiously water-carved log that turned up on the beach this past spring — my dad thought it would make a totem pole, and Kevin ran with the idea. He spent the holiday happily working on this project.

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(“I really like what you’re doing on the smaller totem pole.”
“You mean, the one with the towel on it?”
“Oh. Uh. Is that a towel?”
Being Kevin, he did not take this as criticism, but ran with it. Towel as inspiration.)

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He also brushed AppleApple’s hair. Wow.

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I felt a bit starved for creative expression, myself, and found myself missing my desk and computer. I call writing “work” but it isn’t, really. It’s life, for me. I took a lot of photos instead. Way too many. So many sunsets! I include some here.

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What else happened? Well, the dogs went swimming:

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Oh, and I did something I’ve never done before: I drove a boat. I’ve never driven a boat before, but the cottage is boat-accessible only, and my dad thought I should learn. I might have been sixteen again. AppleApple came along to help, because we had to make the return trip on our own (just me and her), and she took some photos. It might look like I’m relaxed and smiling, but check out that grip on the steering wheel — my knuckles are literally white.

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On another and not entirely unrelated note: I feel old! I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my hair. We were comparing hair colour, the kids and I, our different shades of red, and one of them told me my colour was “red-grey.” Really? Okay, maybe it’s not that I feel old, it’s that I look older than I feel. I may never resolve this problem.

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School starts tomorrow. I’m working through a mountain of cottage laundry. Kev’s got vertigo from swimming in the cold lake (he gets it every year and forgets every year, and goes swimming). I haven’t been for a run in nearly two weeks, rendering my training plan for the Toad pretty much back to square one, but my mildly concussed head is appreciative, and I haven’t had any symptoms for over a week. There won’t be time to get into proper shape before the race. I’m trying to be at peace with this, and be happy about all those sunsets we got to see. And the sound of loons. And watching my children enjoy each other’s company.

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We’re privileged, and I know it, to have a week like this in our summer, and to share it together, no matter the blips and bugs and breaks along the way.

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Onward. Keep breathing. Keep hoping.

The curator is in

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on the Cataraqui trail

A legitimate concern about blogging, one I take seriously, is whether or not it turns a person into a curator of her own life rather than a participant. I have no answer for this, just instinctive response: if it feels off or forced, don’t do it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been taking less photos this summer, and also leaving my phone at home sometimes, shutting off, disconnecting.

But then I look back over this blog’s history and feel so appreciative of the scrapbook-like nature of its collection of years. Obscure CanLit Mama is almost exactly five years old. I was truly Obscure on the CanLit scene when I began blogging, and I’m only slightly less Obscure now, though much appreciative of the path forged. I wonder what the opposite of Obscure would be? Secure? Established? I’m uncomfortable with the thought of attaching those words to myself. My identity is tied up with being on the margins; but maybe that’s short-sighted and snobbish and needlessly, well, obscure.

My fears: One never wants to get too big for one’s britches. Pride goeth before a fall. Be careful what you wish for.

This is not the post I set out to write. It’s been almost two weeks since I had a chance to settle into my novel revisions, and I’ve missed it like homesickness. I’ve missed it like friendship, like comfort, like a good night’s sleep. Sitting at my desk and writing all day has become essential to my well-being, seems like. Maybe it always was, like running, and I didn’t know it. But I know it. Honestly, I could hug these words for being here right now, for letting me sit amongst them, for letting me think things through via some magical collaboration of mind and hands and eyes. Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.

This is the post I set out to write.

The one about being a curator of my own life. Still, I would argue that I’m infinitely more participant than curator, that I’m only marginally curator, and that curation is a bit of a calling for me, being reflective by nature, wanting to gather and observe and make orderly. This blog represents only the smallest slice of experience. It’s my hand wrapped around a moment and then opening to let it go.

Here is yesterday:

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We’d planned to do back-to-school shopping with my mother-in-law, who loves to shop. Instead, AppleApple sought me out (I was doing laundry in the basement) holding her arm at an odd angle, teary-eyed, to say she’d landed “funny” on the trampoline.

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So, instead of shopping, I left my sister- and mother-in-law home with the other kids (Kev was golfing with his brother, lucky man), and we went to emerg. Many hours and several detailed x-rays later it was determined to be a bad sprain and not a fracture, which opened her summer back up again. We’d been sitting there together, bored, chatting, waiting, unable to stop ourselves from imagining the possible cast and all it would affect: camp, cottage, swim team, soccer team, piano. This was definitely a best-case scenario result.

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DJ at DQ

We were home in time for supper. Kev and Albus were off to another soccer game, so after supper, the rest of us decided to walk the dogs to Dairy Queen. Spontaneity, family, scooter, stroller, bike, dogs, baby, sling, and a beautiful cool evening. Oh, and sweet treats for all. Pretty much vacation perfection. We took the long way home.

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Then it was bathtime. Kev and Albus came home with another tied game under their belts, against the same team they played twice on the weekend — every game weirdly identical, with our boys going down by two goals, and coming back to tie it up in the second half. This third game, and the bizarrely harmonious result, lightened the mood between the two teams, which had been tense over the weekend.

I read from Little Town on the Prairie, with everyone listening. Little kids tucked and lights out.

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Kevin is the blur in red and white

And then more spontaneity: the big kids and I went to watch Kev play soccer. My brother also plays keeper on the same team. It happened that a friend was there to watch her husband play, too, so we sat together under the lights on a picnic table and cheered, and made silly commentary, and generally had a blast, despite the mosquitos. Apparently the four of us made a bigger fan club than the team has had in ages, and our shouts were appreciated. We even made friends with a linesman who loaned us his bug spray. The game ended 0-0. We didn’t see the Perseids for the lights, but there was something about it all that brought me great comfort and joy. Being alive … how many moments do we get like this? As many as we want? As many as we leap into?

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the trees behind the field looked like a painting (that’s my bro in net)

So I took out my phone and stole a few photos. Maybe it’s curation rather than participation, but I want to remember. I want to remind myself, when I’m busy and harried and it’s not summer anymore, that the best times are easy to come by, in a way. They’re there for the taking. You sit with your kids and shoot the shit. It’s so basic.

And then you come home and enjoy a beer with your sister-in-law and talk about things that want talking about, and you sleep, and you wake, and you work, and you pray, and you write it all out, if that’s what you’re made for.

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running through beauty, in it and of it

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