Cooking with kids: AppleApple’s menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids’ cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey’s and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey’s up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus’s German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it’s impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is ‘re able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I’m sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something’s not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here’s what went onto my “fitting it all in … a little at a time” list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).
This is Kevin’s story, not mine. Yesterday evening, while I was out exercising (mental health), Kevin was home with several extraordinarily grumpy children. He set them up with a movie, went outside to water the plants, came back in and sat down with the newspaper thinking he’d grab a minute of calm for himself. He had just read the “thought of the day” in the Globe and Mail.
“There are moments when everything goes well; don’t be frightened, it won’t last.” – Jules Renard
As those words hit his eyeballs, he heard crying from the basement. The movie was over (though he hadn’t realized, it was a very very short movie). The older children were complaining vociferously. And CJ was covered from head to toe in permanent marker (his own doing). He was the one crying. Kevin said he just stood there in horror. Then he popped CJ directly into a bath and the permanent marker proved not so permanent after all. He introduced me to the subject by having me read the quote, then showing me the photo (above) and saying the words “permanent marker.” Needless to say, all my zen calm went out the window till I’d heard the end of the story.
Seriously. I was imagining that child striped with permanent marker ALL SUMMER LONG.
A couple more things, unrelated to permanence.
1. I’ve decided (for now) not to write more about writing. It’s too risky; I’m too superstitious. Everything that I write about writing has the potential to be a complete lie. In the moment, or immediately afterward, I might feel that something I’ve written is wonderful–or terrible–and time might prove it to be quite the opposite.
2. However, I will say that writing and yoga/exercise go together extremely well. I was in a muddle over a story that wasn’t working (there I go, writing about writing), and instead of giving into anxiety, I thought, hey, I’ll take this to yoga. For those of you sick of hearing me blither on about yoga, you can insert the word “meditation” instead. It’s where I go to find meditative space. I haven’t found a more effective method of removing the self from myself than through guided movement that is challenging to breath and body. So, I took the story to my meditative space. And then I didn’t think about it for the entire practice. And at the end, I had a calm reflective observation to take home again: the story wasn’t working because it was trying to do too much. And it was expressing something that I didn’t want expressed through my character. So I scrapped it, and started over completely afresh. It was a relief not to waste more time muddling.
3. Meditative calm: is it a selfish pursuit? Sometimes, when I leave behind a pile of frantic children and kind generous husband, the impulse to go off on my own feels hideously selfish. But here’s what yesterday’s practice brought to me, in calm reflection: self-knowledge is not the same as selfishness. If I did not take time to recognize my own motivations and know my own desires, my boundaries would be muddier, my actions murkier; I would risk carrying anger without knowing why, or bitterness, or fear. I would be more likely to blame my circumstances and my loved ones for anxieties of my own creation. There is no perfection. I might come to know things about myself that are uncomfortable and unflattering. It’s not a route to happiness or contentment, either. What it brings me is access to calm.
4. I’m still looking for ways to find calm within noisy moments. The other evening, this is what worked: I said, “I am not going to start shouting.” No one could hear me saying it, because in order to be heard over the cacophony, I would have had to start shouting. But when I start shouting, whether or not it is in anger, my body interprets it as distress. Even if I am shouting in a calm way, just to be heard, my body hears upset, and emotional escalation is inevitable. So. I just repeated over and over that I would not start shouting–as much to remind myself as to inform the kids. Eventually, I found a break in the sound, and was able to communicate: time to brush your teeth. The evening progressed with remarkable calm (Kevin was at soccer; those evenings on my own are evenings when I really do need to remind myself not to shout).
5. What I like most about meditation is something I resisted strongly at first. Stop telling yourself your stories, my favourite instructor told us. I was like–yah, right, that’s my job, that’s what I do. I’m not about to stop. Slowly, with practice, I got braver. I realized the stories weren’t so fragile that they would get lost; though in truth, they do change. I began to let go of the stories, the interior narration, during the practice. Madeline L’Engle, in one of my favourite books for teens, A Ring of Endless Light, wrote about letting go of “very me,” to make room for “very God.” In other words, make space for illumination. The mind is a miraculous place. Just because you’re not consciously thinking about a problem or a worry or a story doesn’t mean your mind isn’t sitting with it somewhere deep and low. When I practice emptying my mind, afterward amazing unexpected observations (I hesitate to say solutions) come flooding home. There is space where before there was not. And the space is compassionate and open and loving, so there’s room for ideas that I might not accept at other times. How often have I refused an idea out of fear or laziness?
For example, I wanted that story to work and kept muddling over it because it was a story already mostly written (an older story) and it seemed easier to work with something that already existed than to start from scratch. It was a barrier impossible to recognize without calm reflection.
6. I know yoga isn’t the only route to calm, though it happens to be mine, right now. Kevin says he finds that kind of quiet, deep, meditative thought while gardening. I wonder where you find yours?
I wrote a scene yesterday. And more. I’m pleased. Since it seemed to warm up my typing/thinking self to blog yesterday, I’ll start this writing morning the same way.
Yesterday afternoon, Kevin came home early with a movie for the kids, so we could watch the Germany-Spain game together; I turned down a beer, but then changed my mind. My plan was to go to yoga over the supper hour, and I didn’t want to go with beer in my system. Or two, as it turned out (I was thirsty; and Germany lost). But after a restless indoor hot and sticky day, I discovered that despite the two-beer afternoon, I had the unbearable urge to exercise. So I went anyway. And here is my conclusion: beer is less toxic than coffee. It was a great class, and I suffered no ill effects. (Note: this is not a recommendation; nor do I plan to practice under the influence in future).
Today, I’m travelling back in time to the age of nineteen. I’ve got earplugs in. Having the big kids home all day definitely makes for more of a writing challenge; I’m debating right now whether I should intervene, as AppleApple and Albus are squabbling downstairs …. (Is it crazy to have air conditioning and not to use it? We have air conditioning. But I’m only turning it on at bedtime, to cool the upstairs rooms as the kids fall off to sleep. Is the heat contributing to the short tempers? Would we be happier with cool air falling upon our heads?).
In a week and a half, I’ll be taking a writing week–something that Kevin and I haven’t arranged for awhile. He looks after the kids, and I write non-stop, sometimes even through meals and past bedtime. That will be the sprint portion of the Juliet marathon. My goal for that week is to frame the three stories. It’s the most labour-intensive work, writing a first draft; after that, the work continues, but it’s being done on top of something–which I can build on or tear down or rearrange, which I find easier to cope with. I can rewrite and edit till the cows come home. That’s my favourite part of writing: reshaping, restructuring. Or, wait. My mind just said, nu-uh, your favourite part is when you’re writing something new and you find something you didn’t even know you were looking for. True. I love stumbling over something much better than I could have planned on finding. But that takes greater effort, harder labour, deeper focus; and it’s rarer. You can’t just demand that it occur.
Today. I’ve got to shut out the noise of the grumpy kids and work my way back towards the beach, the ocean, and, maybe, a grand concert hall.
I want to write about writing, but it may be that I’m just too tired tonight to write about anything at all. Therefore, insert photos! This 365-day project has had the unexpected effect of being like a tutorial in portrait photography (don’t know why it took me till day 150 to figure that out). Last night, Kevin and I watched The Young Victoria (a very pleasant romance, if you’re into Victorian costume drama), and what kept diverting my eyes? The lighting. How is her face lit? It looks like natural lighting, but is it? And if not, what is the director using to give the appearance of natural lighting? Etc.
It’s nearly July. The big kids have one day of school left in grades two and three. And my Fooey has completed junior kindergarten. (See photo, above, of her getting ready to go to school this morning).
Last week, I only exercised one day out of seven. Wow. That was not good. And I felt it. I felt tired, which made me feel less like exercising … which made me feel even more tired. So, with great intentions I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night and set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. Slept without stirring for approximately seven hours, and woke when my husband tapped me on the back. Apparently his internal alarm had sounded. Mine, not a peep, not a polite brrrrng-brrrng; nothing. Which meant I woke just as morning yoga class was about to begin; but, being awake and well-rested, I hopped out of bed, ate a banana, and headed for a run. It was surprisingly less tortuous alone than I’d anticipated. I even heard a rooster crow in the park’s zoo. I didn’t think about much, just ran. It wasn’t super-early, so people were out and about, lots of construction workers heading to sites in the area, friendly hellos from other runners and cyclists. And I enjoyed the endorphins, and felt ready for my day in a way I hadn’t all last week.
My goal is to exercise four times a week: two runs, two yoga classes. I will report back. I enjoy setting goals; don’t always meet them, but enjoy setting and re-setting them. Life is flux.
Photos above include AppleApple on her last day of horse lessons (at least for this round), with Sunman, who was her regular ride. I love how comfortable and affectionate she is with all animals, even ones that are so much larger than her.
We also had some awesome rainstorms this weekend; guess I was over-optimistic about the laundry-hanging on Sunday.
CJ is only pretending he wants to nurse, come night-time. What he wants is to get himself cuddled into my arms. He will then say, “Mama, I gonna tell you something!” (He pronounces something like some-sing.) And then he launches into elaborate made-up stories told at high volume, about little lions and little moths and sometimes Master Yoda makes an appearance. Books are thrown off of shelves. Little moths are “grumpy.” Little lions drink chocolate milk and are happy. Milk is spilled and Mama cleans it up and she says “thank you!” (Would that this were so).
Tonight, when I laid him in his crib (and he’s still up there, wide awake and protesting loudly), I said, “Goodnight, bub.” This sent him into paroxysms of hilarity. “I not bub, I CJ!” Just repeating the word “bub” had him in tears. The world is funny. Things sound funny.
Tonight’s yoga class was killer. There was something in that room–anxiety, fear, something like that. It was really hot. And I was tired. And there were lots of people there, including some who were trying out hot yoga for the first time. A lot of people were suffering through the class, and it was easy to read on everyone’s faces and in their postures, including my own. But my problem was my mind. It just would not settle. I did not believe that I could manage, and over and over again I had to pull myself back to remembering that, yes, I could, and I have many times before. Toward the end, we all settled, somewhat, as the instructor found us a pose that brought us some peace with the inner turmoil. I recognized what I was feeling: I had been telling myself that I was feeling sadness, but I noticed that I was enjoying what I was feeling too much for that. Aha! I was feeling self-pity. Ugh. Do I ever hate self-pity. And there I was, wallowing around in it, making excuses. Now, this isn’t to discount the legitimacy of experiencing sadness. But there must be some way to experience it that isn’t indulgent. Self-indulgent. What is the point at which enjoying an emotion is a cue that it’s become not healthy? Aren’t some emotions there to be enjoyed?
I haven’t had quite as much energy recently. I wonder whether it’s more mental or physical. I’m not sure. But it is now nearly 10pm: all four children are still awake; AppleApple is weeping because she can’t find her Pooh Bear (just found him–phew!); Fooey is trying to sleep on a blanket on the floor because she’s a cat; the dishes are completely undone; I need to pack a picnic for the whole family for a “special people picnic” in honour of Fooey tomorrow; I feel the need to blog (talk about self-indulgent!); we have to take a snack for AppleApple’s soccer team tomorrow night, and have nothing suitable on hand; and we have no coffee in the house!!!! No coffee! Now that’s an emergency. I just sent Kevin on a quick run (in the truck; eco-confession) to the nearest grocery store, which is open till 10. There. Happy ranting.
Back to the dishes.
Why have I not felt like blogging, this past week? I’ve had a moment, here or there, that could have been turned into time to blog. But I chose not to.
1. My head is full. Too full. Which makes it hard to zero in on a subject. I’ll be honest with you. My head is full of Life, good and bad, dark and light, hope and despair, grief and excitement. Sometimes I just want to sit and let myself feel what I’m feeling, quietly. Without trying to put it into words.
2. This hasn’t been conscious, but I’m finding some balance in my days and hours. In a sense, I’m making compartments for different tasks, different identities. This morning is quiet and interior: I am writing. The house is empty. My mind homes in on this other world I’m making. There’s some of the source of excitement: making something, gathering up the disparate pieces and sensing that it’s coming together, even if it’s not quite there yet. (I abandoned the memoir awhile ago–did I ever write about that? I am working on the story collection, the Juliet stories.)
After school, I’ll enter into the noisy chaotic compartment of motherhood. I’m trying harder to check email less frequently, sit down with a kid in my lap more frequently; that also means not squeezing in a blog post while a child stands at my knee and screams for attention.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. The full-on mothering days feel sweeter because I have these other days and opportunities to express other parts of myself. I am luxuriating in the freedom I have within every day. I just have to accept its seasoning and flavour. Say, freedom to go out for lunch with a friend. Freedom to bake sweet treats for/with my kids. Freedom to walk rather than drive. Freedom to volunteer at the school fun fair.
It is amazing to discover that commitment to an activity offers up space for real relaxation and enjoyment.
Example … I volunteered at the school fun fair. Yes, I left clothes hanging on the line and it poured rain and I couldn’t run home to rescue them; guess what–they stayed on the line overnight and dried the next day, having enjoyed a lovely soft water rinse. Yes, I had to bring along all four kids; guess what–they had a blast helping out. Yes, Kevin was stuck in Toronto; guess what–AppleApple missed her soccer practice and the world did not end; plus, everybody rose to the occasion, and the big kids were able to do activities with the little kids. Yes, I applied fake tattoos for several hours; guess what–it was a blast chatting with the kids who streamed through, and their parents. I didn’t waste a minute worrying that the evening wasn’t going precisely as planned, or that we were staying longer than anticipated, or that the kids were going to be grumpy the next day.
I am a naturally impatient person, and I’m just beginning to grasp that conceptualizing any time as a waste is itself the biggest waste of all. I don’t have a lot of spare time, so it can be easy to resent time spent doing something that isn’t my first or second or even third choice; I am finding myself more relaxed about that. Inside every moment is a potential discovery.
What comes at me so strongly this week, as I sit inside quiet and some sadness, is that this is my life. I am alive. I am breathing, in and out, and I am living this present moment whether or not it is the moment I want to be living. Can I embrace each moment? Probably not. But the more moments I embrace–chosen and otherwise, going according to plan or going hay-wire–the more moments will embrace me.
You know it when you find it. You likely won’t recognize it till afterward. But you’ll know–an hour, an afternoon, longer, those moments when you are out of time and inside the experience, just being within it. Often, you have a sense of not wanting this–whatever this is–to pass. Or even no sense at all of time passing. You blink, and hours are gone. You wonder where you’ve been. You’ve been inhabiting yourself, that’s all. For me, these moments seem to come more easily when connected to something physical, walking, running, kneading, drinking, laughing, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.
Guess I was ready to blog …
This is what happens when I get up early and exercise. I didn’t even set my internal alarm this morning, it just decided to go off.