Monday supper. Grilled sausages (breakfast, because that’s all we had left in the freezer). Mashed potato casserole (lots of cheese). Squash and beets cooked whole in the crockpot. Swim lessons were cancelled, so I had more time than expected after school to prepare supper. Not that it mattered. I’d made the casserole the night before and popped it into the fridge. It needed about twenty minutes in the oven. Most of us liked it. I would make it again, as a way of using up leftover mashed potatoes. Anyone out there have ideas for leftover potatoes? I’m stuck in a cottage pie/shepherd’s pie/casserole groove. I mashed the squash with a touch of maple syrup, and butter; always good. That was the last “keeper” squash and it was a bit soft at the top. The beets were so far gone I wasn’t sure they could be ressurected, but they steamed up nicely, and despite a slight overall rubberiness, when sliced and salted, they were sweet and tasty. But I’m tired of beets. And no one else will eat them. Kevin had soccer. I swam in the morning. In between, the kids had school, and CJ stayed for the “lunch bunch” at his nursery school, giving me an extra half hour to work. Or to nap, as the case may be. Then we went shoe shopping (for him) and clothes shopping (for me). It felt very car-based and suburban. Especially when I filled up the truck with gas. Good grief!
Tuesday supper. Curried carrot soup. Quinoa. Squash and egg casserole (big-time 70s recipe). On the soup, which should have been good: the curry flavours needed to be stronger. A friend sent the suggestion when I complained about the blandness of last batch of carrot soup (thank God, this batch marked the end of our carrot invasion). She suggested grating in fresh ginger at the very end to add an extra pop. But I cooked everything together and was far too conservative with my spice amounts. I froze the leftovers for a quick meal another time: will bump up the spices upon reheating. I would call this meal not a flop, exactly, but tinged with disappointment; nobody but Kevin and me ate the squash casserole, which was almost dessert-like and delicious, but decidedly unattractive. I napped early, almost immediately after getting home from spin class, and had lots of energy all day, enough to make it to yoga before supper. AppleApple had an outdoor soccer practice, so Kevin had the unenviable job of packing up CJ, and driving to pick up Fooey (on a playdate), then AppleApple (on a playdate), then Albus (on a playdate), and then racing to the soccer field. We ended up eating supper together, minus AppleApple, whom I picked up after supper. She’d eaten a bunch of snacks on the way there, but was famished enough to have a helping of squash casserole. CJ insisted on riding along to the soccer field, but I made him promise to listen to the federal leaders’ debate on the way. It put him to sleep (gah!), but somehow we managed to transfer him from truck to bed, and then to fool him into thinking it was very very late at night when he woke restlessly around 8pm. He must have been tired. He slept for a full 12 hours. The rest of the family stayed up watching the whole debate, and talking about what we’d heard. Then Kevin went to hockey.
Wednesday supper. Crockpot lentil soup: the harira recipe on this blog, over rice. Nice. Could have used a side veg, but I had nothing convenient on hand. This was an oddball day. CJ stayed for lunch bunch again, and my friend J picked him up, and I got to go for a massage instead! Woot! It was my gift to myself post-race. I also met with my brother in the morning to talk about cookbooks. I was floating the idea–the underdeveloped notion, more like it–of making a cookbook loosely based on this “week in suppers” theme. Talking to him (he works for a company that publishes a lot of cookbooks) put it into perspective. The work involved would be staggering. It might not be the best use of my time. Unless I do it slowly, over time, gradually gathering recipes and photos until I have enough material to justify putting a book together–and then arranging for recipe testing, etc. Fiction-writing is a better use of my time: that’s what it confirmed for me. Other nice things happened today: I went for a morning run with my friend N; I ran a quick errand uptown all by myself; I ate a spinach and feta pastry for lunch; my friend M took the little girls to their music class so I didn’t have to leave the house; and Kevin came home early so I could go to yoga. I took Albus to his piano lesson and read Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, a book I liked so much–loved might be the word for it–that I think I will blog about it soon.
Thursday supper. Beans and rice, with quesedillas and red cabbage salad. This entire week had flop written all over it. I don’t know how I managed it, since beans are my specialty, but somehow, when suppertime arrived, these were still hard in the pot and required a full hour of extra cooking time. So I fired up the cast-iron skillet and made a pile of quesedillas using corn tortillas (like a Latin American grilled cheese sandwich). Albus ate about six. AppleApple was at a birthday party, from which Kevin picked her up early to go to another soccer practice. The little kids played outside, and no one complained (too much) about being hungry. We ate late, when the beans finally softened. I forgot to take a photo. Instead, here’s AppleApple from another afternoon this week: yay! We have new space to play, now: it’s called Outside! (Or we did last week, before it decided to snow again). And we have big plans for backyard improvements (though I think we’ll pass on the water slide from Albus’s bedroom window down to a trampoline, as was brainstormed during Saturday night’s supper). Kevin and I had kundalini yoga, and then I put on my dancing shoes, and drove to nearby Guelph with two friends to go dancing. My siblings’ band was playing a show. Here’s a link to their latest video. If you ever get a chance to see Kidstreet play live, go go go! They throw down an instant dance party. That was a late night, especially considering my day had started at 5:15–to go swimming. But that’s okay. I told Kevin just before I ran the half that this coming week would be my party week.
Friday supper. Finally, success!!! I made miso soup and pad thai. Both were fabulous. The pad thai recipe was different from the usual ones involving ketchup: the sauce was 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and a whole lot of sugar. I had some frozen cilantro that I added to the mix. The miso soup is so good and so simple that I made it again for the kids’ lunch the next day: it’s basically instant soup, if you have the ingredients on hand (miso paste, seaweed, and tofu). I was thrilled to have made a meal that everyone loved. AppleApple was at a playdate after school and arrived home toward the end of the meal. My late night/early morning combo (plus a morning run) caught up with me around 7pm, so Kevin did the dishes while I crashed out on the couch for about an hour and a half (!!!). Woke in time to tuck kids in, then we flopped and watched tv: Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock, and we tried out Modern Family, which I liked more than I’d expected to. Albus tried to stay up too. “What are you up to?” I asked him, when I discovered him hanging around the kitchen past his bedtime. “I’m observing,” he said.
Saturday supper. Take-out Indian from our favourite spot in town: Masala Bay! Kevin worked today, and I was tired. I managed to bake bread and granola, and to take the kids to the little park in a rainstorm, and to arrange transport for AppleApple, who has both Singer’s Theatre in the morning, and soccer practice in the afternoon (I asked her yesterday, picking her up from her FOURTH practice of the week, whether she feels she’s doing too much, to which she replied, “No!!!” She loves soccer. She likes being busy. She had difficulty imagining that a parent could push a child to do something the child wouldn’t want to do, anyway.) I had zero inspiration for supper. What a treat to order food that would have taken me an inordinate amount of effort to prepare. Samosas, pakoras, nan, black lentils in cream and butter, a fiery eggplant dish, butter chicken, chicken in chili and coriander. We feasted. We stayed at the table for over an hour, talking and laughing. CJ is still a bit young to participate fully, and he does end up interrupting and yelling sometimes, or dropping his fork to get attention, but I am otherwise relishing the stage that our family is at, and how much pleasure we get just from spending time together around the table. That evening Kevin and I got to party some more, to celebrate my friend J’s graduation from midwifery school. More dancing, and free drinks. Another late night.
Sunday supper. Leftovers and scrambled eggs. There were enough Indian leftovers for an entire second supper, to which AppleApple added scrambled eggs made-to-order. I’ve been giving the older kids more freedom in the kitchen, and they spent a lot of time last week making tea (after getting permission to use the stove). AppleApple was keen to learn how to make scrambled eggs, envisioning herself rising early to cook herself breakfast (which would be, frankly, awesome). It was a fairly tricky process, but by the end, she made a batch without anyone watching over her shoulder. The gas stove makes it feel more dangerous, but it’s time for the kids to find real independence in the kitchen. And it’s time for me to ease up and let them. (On a side note: CJ agreed to be three this week: because he wanted to take a turn at cooking, and I told him that it starts when you turn four. “And you’re still two, so that’s a long way to go.” He considered his options briefly, and told me, “I’m three now.”) We’ve noticed some improvements in responsibility, and I think it’s more to do with my own expectations than with their initiative (or lack thereof). Tidying the house yesterday was so much easier with everyone responsible for their own spaces, and helping out overall: they helped because they were expected to help, and they got that. But I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen (just ask Kevin), so I’m reminding myself to back off and make space for everyone else to help out here, too. No exercise yesterday or today. Yup, it was a party week. We ended the day with homework completed, piano practiced, and a planning meeting over a pot of tea: always a good entry into the new week ahead.
The race brought up some unexpected and deep emotions. It was inspiring. It was healing. It gave me a new perspective on myself. It brought up thoughts like: if I can imagine doing it, I can set myself on a path to be able to do it. This is going to sound like typical motivational gobbledeygook, but it made me ask: what are the barriers I’ve erected in my own mind that are preventing me from doing the things that I want to do–that are preventing me from even imagining and glimpsing the things that I want to do? It’s too easy to say, oh, that would be hard, that would be impossible, I don’t have the time.Yes, it’s been hard to train myself into a different and more athletically capable body. But it hasn’t been that hard. It certainly hasn’t been impossible. The time is now.
My larger thoughts are still amorphous and vague. But my most concrete thought is this: I already have the skills to do great/good/helpful things. I don’t need to retrain and gain a new skill set. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Being a writer is similar in a lot of ways to being a runner. It’s an individual journey. But even the individual, within the larger collective of a race, or a running group, or a yoga class, has the opportunity to affect the larger community–either negatively, neutrally, or positively. Think of the good energy you can receive when you practice with a committed group of yogis. It is so much bigger and more inspiring than practicing on your own–but your own practice is important too, and you need to build it and strengthen it in order to give back to the others around you.
So. I’m thinking of my writing in those terms. I’m thinking: where can my writing be of use? Where can I find homes for it? Where is it needed? How do I want to change the world? Small changes, big changes, radical changes, subtle changes? And how can I use what I’ve already got to push for those changes?
Also, I think one of the stumbling blocks to change is knowing that one will be changed–but not knowing how. That can be scary. For example, I did not know, when I started the triathlon project, that I would want to run long distances, too. The idea of running a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, never occurred to me. I also couldn’t have predicted or guessed that the training would turn me into someone for whom 5:15am is a happy hour of the day. I like rising early. I love my naps. I can’t undo figuring that out, even though it means sacrificing a lot of late nights in order to enjoy the early mornings.
And change is slow. That’s the other factor I continue to keep in mind. Patience. Slowly, slowly, the accretion of work and discipline, and the unexpected, will change you. Being curious, exploring along the way, testing things out, being willing to drop things that aren’t helpful or are blocking the way, accepting opportunities that arise, being spontaneous: these all make the slow and steady journey interesting. The goals, the end-points, those markers are going to change along the way, too. How fascinating is that?
Before. I was smiling, but feeling pretty anxious to get going.
After. Best feeling ever (well, right up there). It was a beautiful day for a run on country roads. Sunshine, breeze, birds chirping. I almost burst into tears at the beauty of it about three kilometres on. And I’m pretty sure I grinned the whole way. There were moments when it got hard, such as around 18k when I realized that I could probably finish in under two hours if I could keep up my pace. The last two hills took guts and slowed me down, and the final sprint to the finish could have been a bit more sprint-like, but it was pure joy to cross the finish line, to see my family waving and shouting, and hear my name on the loudspeaker, and see the time. My new personal best (okay, my only possible personal best), first half-marathon: 1:55. Yah. I’d do that again.
(If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details, visit my triathlon-training blog).
He agreed to turn three. Briefly. On Monday evening, he was talked into being a big boy by his big brother, who regaled him with the many advantages thereof. In the morning, he held to the new age, telling me, in a whisper, that he was three. But when I asked him for a photo holding up three fingers he balked, frowned, and regressed. Not three, he decided. Still two.
Are the expectations too heavy, the demands of being three? I kind of get it, actually. It is scary to get older, to be asked to do more, to be given new responsibilities, to age.
As many of you know, I will be running my first half-marathon (that’s 21.5k) on Saturday. If you are interested in sponsoring me, here’s the info. Wish me luck. I’m starting to feel just a little bit nervous. Trying to keep this thought in my mind, as my focus: whatever time I get, as long as I finish the race, it will be my personal best.
Little wee writing thought to record for future use (I hope) … I’ve noticed that I write the good stuff, the inspired stuff, in small batches, often unexpectedly, though also often when I have the time to hang around and spiral slowly down deep. The corollary of that phenomenon is that I spend many a writing day fooling around, sitting around in front of the computer, slightly bored, not inspired, and writing nothing of any substance or use. (And I don’t mean blog entries, because I consider those relatively useful, and, even, occasionally, substantial). I mean, I write nothing of use. Period. Type, type, type, only to realize that a particular story or a particular take on a story is not meant to be; worse, that it isn’t a necessary story. It doesn’t long to be. (Though sometimes these ideas get recycled many years later). (So, maybe not useless, or not always useless).
Ahem. Nice circular thinking here, OCM. Very clear-headed at 10:41pm, after a good night run around the snowy neighbourhood.
My point. I had one. I want to give myself the freedom to do something else on those writing days of useless effort. Because the writing will get done–it gets done when a necessary story arises and must be told. It does. That’s how I write the keepers. Yet I feel guilty because only a few days each week are meant for writing, and I go to great effort and some expense to clear the house of children, in order to write. And then along comes a writing day when I’m not inspired, not at all. What the heck to do? Can I free myself of the guilt and …. and there my imagination pulls up short. And, what? Go for a walk or a run? To a yoga class? Play the piano? Read a book? Write a letter? It has to be something spontaneous, not planned, something flexible. It doesn’t have to be the same something every time, either. I’m terrified of losing my discipline; but maybe all this discipline is robbing me of experiences, of sources, of alternative creative outlets that could create connections in my mind; and it’s the connections that invent necessary stories.
Maybe there are some new year’s resolutions waiting for me after all. I am a generalist, and I wonder what it would feel like, what it would take, to be passionate about something more specific. Being a good writer is a fine and lovely thing, but being a good writer without a subject is futility itself. The book I’m writing has a very specific subject, and it’s occupied my mind for a number of years; and I’m seeing an end in sight. What comes next? What are my obsessions, my subjects, my loves?
Word of the year … I’ve got one; but I’m holding out for another post to share it. I don’t have that post in me tonight.
As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.
1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.
2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children’s service on Christmas eve. I’d been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list–and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.
3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.
4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?
5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass … for hours. Couldn’t be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren’t at the end of the songbook.
6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.
8. Gifts. I don’t know. It’s so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren’t the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah’s Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).
9. Not drinking too much. I didn’t. And I felt better for it.
10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.
11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.
12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.
Things we didn’t do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).
I also have a list of things that didn’t work … but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, “Mommy where are you?”).