four-layer cake for a birthday party with friends
whip-cream-covered poke cake for birthday party with family (same day; that’s a lot of cake!)
early morning indoor soccer game in Mississaugua, all-family-expedition
Remember when I said if I was quiet on the blog, it might indicate good writing going on? Well, that’s only half-true. It might also indicate extreme busyness going on, with no time for writing of any sort, even on the blog. This weekend was so non-stop, I was really looking forward to Monday morning.
* a 12-km Friday evening speed run in an arctic wind that blew in quite suddenly; I wouldn’t have gone except that I go to great lengths to fit this Friday run into the schedule every week — once I’m there, in my running gear, I can’t not go, no matter the weather
* followed up the run with a surprise birthday party for a dear friend
* discovered The Juliet Stories had made the Globe & Mail’s top-100 books of the year
* late-night TV with Kevin, dogs, and a pot of tea (Inspector Lewis)
* my soccer game, which was wicked fun and tons of exercise, and made me swear I’d keep playing soccer as long as my joints could stand it; my mom came to babysit the little kids so that Kevin could come along: a soccer date. I appreciated having a fan in the stands.
* a visit to a book club who thanked me with a gift certificate to my favourite restaurant in town (Nick & Nat’s Uptown 21)!
And here it is, Monday morning.
A funny thing. I’ve started to enjoy the trips in the car to deliver and collect children from their various activities. If I’m alone, I turn on the radio and cruise between CBC Radio One (talk) and CBC Radio Two (music). If I’ve got a kid or two in behind, it’s a chance to talk. We drive through the dark that comes so early at this time of year, watching carefully for pedestrians and cyclists. (Side note: we didn’t spot one cyclist wearing a helmet, let alone reflective clothing or lights, on the university campus yesterday; we even saw a young man skateboarding in the bike lane of a busy street, going the wrong way! Needless to say, he wasn’t wearing a helmet either, because really, if you’re skateboarding in the bike lane going the wrong way after dark, you’re clearly not concerned about head injury. This sparked a conversation about safety and being young and feeling invincible. “Why is it that the things people think are cool are risky or dangerous?” my daughter asked. Well. Why indeed?).
But anyway. The conversations range. It’s always interesting.
And as long as we’re not late, I have a feeling of contentment, of easily-fulfilled purpose. It’s emotionally uncomplicated. It’s relaxing, even. Maybe that’s because it’s so much simpler to drive from swimming to soccer, to tie a shoelace, to greet other parents, to drop off a carpooling extra, than to be at home with the remaining children over the same time, supervising piano practice and homework and doing dishes and laundry. Four out of five weeknights, that’s where I am. Last night, I asked Kevin to trade places, since he happened not to be coaching anyone. When I returned home from my drive, I noticed he had a harrassed impatience about him that is often mine as snacktime gets dragged out and children begin lying on the floor and complaining about tooth brushing.
Situations do that to a person. And I could walk through the door, all fresh and relaxed after completing my pleasant errands, and be the voice of reason. Which is really irritating to the person who’s been stuck at home with the homework and the dishes. Which makes me think that the more we share jobs, the happier we all will be; or at least the more sympathetic.
What we have here are the two smallest soccer players in our family, each mugging for the camera in his or her own unique way. CJ has recently started a “soccer fun” program with Kevin coaching his team (but of course), and Fooey has decided to join as assistant coach. She even managed to get into the team photo.
I’m distracted, but in a good way. After four frustrating days of not meeting my writing targets, oh so carefully scheduled out, and oh so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of family life, I’ve now enjoyed two days back to back of good hard work. I appreciate when the playing field is level and the only opponent I’ve got is my own discipline.
So if you notice an absence here, a pause now and again, you’ll know what I’m up to. I’m living in another time, getting to know some other people. Maybe you’ll meet them someday too.
Saturday evening, basement “studio”, still nine years old
yup, that’s Shakespeare
Alright. This birthday did not turn out as planned. Honestly, it’s been a tough week, and we’ve tried to roll with the punches, but we really didn’t anticipate this particular change in plans. There they were, Kevin and the little kids all snacked up and ready to go, swim kid freshly out of the pool, dressed in soccer gear, hitting the highway for today’s game. Here we were, Albus getting to skip out on the soccer trip, and me getting in a few exciting and much-needed hours of writing work, when the phone rang.
“It’s Dad! The truck broke down!”
Luckily they’d made it off the highway and into a parking lot, much safer than sitting by the side of the road. Luckily we are members of our local carshare, so I booked a car immediately and off we set on a mission to pick them up. Unluckily for us, there was a problem with the car. Luckily for us, the woman at the carshare hotline picked up quickly and directed us to a different car just a few blocks away. Unluckily for us, it only seated five. Luckily for us, Kevin got a ride with the tow truck driver.
But there was the afternoon. No writing. No soccer girl at soccer game. No cupcakes to teammates.
AppleApple was upset at first, and then sanguine. She’ll take the cupcakes to her teammates at the Thursday practice instead. Back home, she put on her PJs, got cozy, and everyone watched a movie. I went to my soccer game. With help from Grandma, we were able to get out to celebrate at our favourite restaurant for birthday dinners. In short, it all worked out just fine.
Just not as planned.
Sunday evening, basement “studio,” barefoot in purple coat, now ten years old
If I don’t get a day to write, soon, I may, however, go crazy. My equilibrium is off. I didn’t run enough this weekend. I need to remember how to stay strong, no matter the weather; mostly I need to remember not to be so hard on myself. (I made one misstep at soccer that cost our team the win; we tied instead; I was so down on myself afterward that I contemplated quitting. Tonight, Albus walked home with me from the carshare drop-off spot, and I told him how I’d felt, and he was quite shocked. Sounded silly to him. One mistake and you want to quit? I know, I said, it’s just how I felt in the moment. He understood. But, he said, I’m pretty sure your team wouldn’t want you to quit for one mistake.) I need to let those moments of discouragement, or failure, or just plain wishing it were otherwise to wash over me. It’s okay to feel that way, just so long as it doesn’t actually cause me to quit or give up or storm off. Know what I mean?
We all went around the table tonight and said something we like about AppleApple. Fooey likes that AppleApple is teaching her how to sew. I like that AppleApple is inspiring with all she tries and all she does. Albus said AppleApple is good to chat with. Kevin likes AppleApple’s crazy smile she gets when she’s very excited about something. CJ was grumpy and refused to participate, but that’s because the ice cream was late coming to the table. Or because he’s four and a half, who knows.
AppleApple had one too: She said, I like being me!
She is an inspiring kid. I’m inspired by all my kids. Each of them try and do all kinds of new things. They’re brave. They’re willing to learn, happy to learn. They take practicing for granted — of course you have to do it in order to get better! And they’re willing to fall down and get up and try again. Which is, come to think of it, something they get to see me do, too, from time to time.
Happy birthday, ten-year-old daughter. You are inspiring, for real.
Tomorrow (Sunday) my biggest girl turns 10. She’s got swimming practice and a soccer game, back to back, and no desire to skip either. What she wants, instead, is to bring treats for her teammates.
I thought we’d accomodate by picking something up at the grocery store on our way. That’s a lot of kids!
But she was thinking homemade. She’d even looked up recipes.
Well, it is her birthday. And her birthday list is so humble and dear it includes requests for kiwi, mango, and pomegranate. (Done!) She’d also like books: a thesaurus, horse books, soccer books, fantasy books, and Shakespeare plays.
So we spent the afternoon, with a friend, making a quadruple batch of cupcakes from scratch. Quite the cupcake factory. Recipes posted below.
Boston Cupcakes (adapted from Fannie Farmer)
makes 50+ large cupcakes
Cream 20 tbsp of butter. Slowly add and beat in 4 cups of white sugar. When it’s nice and fluffy, add in 8 eggs, one at a time, and beat. Add and mix in 3 tsp vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together 5 cups of flour, 8 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt.
Add dry mixture by cups to wet, mixing all the while (we used a standing-mixer).
Add and mix in 2 cups of milk.
Line cupcake trays with papers and fill each cup about two-thirds with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.
In a double boiler, melt 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate with 4 tbsp butter and 2/3 of a cup of milk. Cool to lukewarm and add 4 cups of icing sugar (at least) and 2 tsp vanilla. Add icing sugar slowly, beating all the while, until you reach the desired consistency. Makes more than enough.
File this post under balance. Sort of. I’m not convinced I’m actually someone who cares to live a “balanced” life. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m someone who wants to live at full throttle, whether I’m sleeping, socializing, parenting, cooking, writing, or whatevering. I’m all in. That doesn’t mean I want to live at a manic breakneck pace, just that I want to be present wherever I am, fully appreciating that speck of time, that particular activity. That’s my version of balance.
Anyway, I want to reflect on how our crazy schedule is working this fall — because against all odds it does seem to be working.
Most of the kids’ extra-curricular activities occur after school. Piano is a constant, with the three eldest taking weekly lessons and practicing quite regularly (sticker charts work for two of them, and one doesn’t need the encouragement). We’ve skipped swim lessons for the fall. But AppleApple swims three times a week with a competitive swim team. I was remembering how she used to be kind of rotten when she was bored, and how rarely we see that behavior from her anymore. Maybe she’s matured. Or maybe she just doesn’t have time to be bored.
Kevin organizes a weekly neighbourhood hockey/skate hour at the rink, which all the kids do.
And the rest of our lives revolve around soccer. Every single family member now plays soccer. We’ve got soccer every day of the week except for Wednesdays (and even Wednesday is looking to go to soccer very soon). Further, Kevin coaches all of the kids, except for Fooey who chose to do soccer skills rather than play on an indoor team (her time slot would have been 8am on Saturday mornings, so we did not object to her choice). You wouldn’t think of soccer as a year-round sport in Canada, but with indoor fields all over the place, it’s just as year-round as hockey can be. AppleApple plays four times a week (once on an indoor house league team that her dad coaches; he doesn’t coach her rep team for which I am truly grateful). Albus plays twice, but will soon be adding an extra evening. The rest of us only play once a week. But with six people in the family, even once a week would add up.
We are using the carshare car all the time. Still, it’s more economical than purchasing a second vehicle, at this point.
Most of my exercise occurs early in the morning, and occasionally overlaps with a soccer practice or swim. It’s very regimented, actually. I don’t mention it because I just keep doing it: running, spinning, weights. In fact, the whole schedule is very regimented, and I think that’s why it works. We all know what to expect, day by day.
What I hadn’t anticipated, with all this soccering, was that I would have many evenings alone with the kids — the three that aren’t playing on any given night. Kevin is getting more one-on-one time with them, but I’m getting the calm and really very lovely bedtime routine. (All except for the toothbrushing, which is never calm and lovely, and which I loathe, having a bit of a tooth complex.) I have the after supper cleanup, piano practice, homework, playtime, sometimes dog walking, snacktime, pajamas, and then reading before bed.
With CJ now old enough to enjoy chapter books, we’ve been revisiting the classics: Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. I’m thinking of suggesting the Little House on the Prairie series next. I’ll never get tired of re-reading these books! It’s the perfect end to the day.
So that’s been our fall. Without the chalkboard wall, I couldn’t possibly keep it all together. Every Sunday I write down each day’s special activities. This week I have a section just for teacher interviews. Kids scrawl phone messages on there. I write down ingredients in the fridge to remind myself what to cook for supper. We’ve got a monthly soccer chart with all the dates and times of practices for each family member. It keeps us all together.
It takes a lot of energy to keep us all together. But I’m all in.