Sunday, January 31, 2010

Favourite Photos from January

Just occurred to me that today is the last day of the month. Whoosh. There it goes. Here are some of my favourite unpublished photos from this month ... AppleApple in her Hogwarts hat taking photos with my old camera (which I still use to take movies, and sometimes grab for point-and-shoot situations). Fooey eating the largest chicken drumstick you've ever seen in your life. That was from our meal last Sunday, which we made together. She requested gravy and mashed potatoes, and I added a roast chicken. We had meat enough for a second meal later in the week (chicken curry in the crockpot), and still have enough for cocka-leekie soup next weekend, for our Burns' supper (which will double as a birthday party for Kevin). Who turned forty yesterday. He declared his birthday "just about perfect," as we drove home last night from a dinner out (thanks for my brother Cliff and his fiancee Keely for babysitting--and bringing along a pottery craft for entertainment). Pause. "Just about?" I said. I hope to get a chance to blog about the birthday day. If not, at least more photos to come.
Last weekend I spent several days parenting alone, and the photo where all four kids were sitting at the breakfast bar, and Albus was using his cream horn as a megaphone, was taken on our second evening together. We were also watching the telethon for Haiti at the same time. Which brings me around to our penny jars, and our newly instituted family meetings. Kevin has devised a complicated (to everyone but him) mathematical formula for filling the (somewhat mislabelled) "movie" jar. We've decided that we will be saving up for family fun nights--when we reach our goal (refer to Kevin's complicated mathematical formula), we will choose a fun activity to do together. So far, ideas include family swim night, and everyone play Lego with Albus night. Pizza night is in there somewhere too. To make the family meeting just that much more appealing, we've added the element of ICE CREAM. Who can resist.
For their allowance, which we've never given them before now, we have decided to split it into thirds: one third for saving at the bank, one third for giving, and one third for spending as they choose. We give out the allowance at the family meeting. I should add that I got some of these ideas for family meetings from a book called Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, recommended by a friend.
So. In summing up this month, I'd say that we are in a good rhythm. It's busy, but the days and weeks have some order to them, with enough room for flexibility. Though I still struggle to find time for my own activities (even this blog), it is worth it to keep trying. I'm appreciative of moments like right now. Alone in the kitchen, four loaves of bread baking in the oven, typing out a few words.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pickle Me This



Pickle Me This, a wonderful CanLit blog by writer and mother Kerry Clare, is putting a spotlight on Family Literacy Week. (Did you know it was Family Literacy Week? Quick! Grab a kid! Preferably your own! Read a book!). I was asked to write a "Literary Mom" entry on favourite books to read to my kids. Talk about the perfect assignment.
The photo Kerry's using is, gah!, seven years old! I was still in my twenties. Damn, I was hot. I sent her a new and updated photo that depicts me as I am now. Sigh. What do you know. I've gotten older.
(Betcha in seven years I'll be saying: That was when I was still in my thirties! Damn. I was hot.)
Uh. Morning o' vanity, apparently. Click here for the Literary Mom link.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What They're Doing Right Now

Spontaneous quiet time. (Except for the one who's "reading" out loud.) Love it. Okay, it's dissolving as I type. But was quite amazing while it lasted.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spirit

That's my word of the year. It came to me in a blink, in fact just the day before Nina and I met to discuss our choices, and was not the word I'd originally tossed around. But it just felt right. I've been reflecting on the repetition inherent in my work and my life. Each day I complete many of the same tasks I've completed yesterday, and which I'll do again tomorrow. There is a comfort and joy in repetition, and in the patterns these create, but there is also ... well ... the potential for boredom, stagnation, even a craving for something, anything, new. Change comes to us all, and is as constant as the laundry. But it isn't always obvious or easily recognized. Sometimes I want to seek it out; and that can be good (how else would I have gotten to be a doula last year?); but sometimes I need to throw my letters in bottles out to sea and just wait, going about my daily tasks. I need to accept that change will happen when it happens, and some change cannot be forced. I need patience.

The work that I choose to do (writing, right now) comes with a dark side--rejection, fear, self-doubt. When those dark moments crash over me, my response has often been (temporarily) to ask: why bother? Why not find something else to do with my life?
As if doing something else were the only answer. As if something else wouldn't come with its own template of unique sacrifices, its own potential for rejection and failure.
It's occurred to me just recently that there is another answer. The answer is to be strong in spirit.
I'm still exploring what that means, concretely, for me. So far, I believe that the pathway to my spirit is through my body, which probably sounds obvious, but I mean that when my body is engaged physically it is easier for my self to find its presence/absence. (There's some mystery here that I can't put into words: how presence begets absence).
Do I have access to the divine? I'm not sure it matters to me much whether that question has a quantifiable answer. I believe that I do. Anyone does. I believe it.
Here's a short-list of what strengthens my spirit (that I've discovered so far, anyway): prayer; making music; writing; cooking and eating; yoga; friendship; family; attending at a birth; horses.
:::
I'm hesitating about posting this. Spirit is hard to talk about without sounding flaky, and maybe over-serious. But okay. I'm going to risk sounding flaky. I'm going to hit "publish post." Any minute now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Children Play While I Work and Dream

Yes, this actually happens in real life. Not often enough to retire my babysitter, however. (Aren't they beautiful in their play? They are living in a deeply engaging imaginary world, here).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Penny for Your Swears

Can I really take a day off? I've been sick for two weeks, and moving at the usual pace required to maintain our family's happy every day life, and finally asked Kevin last night: Do you think that if I spent a day in bed, it might help me kick this virus? And he said: What are you doing tomorrow? So, CJ and I slept in till 10am!!!! I'm leaving supper up to Kevin (he could pull a soup or stew out of the freezer). And I'm planning to go to hot yoga this afternoon. I skipped my Thursday evening class due to sheer exhaustion.
:::
Kevin and I both operate in similar ways: we both like to improvise. We've made many of our major (and minor) life decisions on the fly, on what might seem gut instinct rather than carefully plotted research, though I like to think our quick-strike decisions actually arrive out of a long, quiet and invisible processing period. One small example: the way I've chosen the "right" time to move babies out of our bed and into their own--each time different, but each time also quite suddenly arriving at a moment when change seemed imperative, and the answer miraculously appeared.
Long explanation for the penny jars you see above, labelled "Movie Jar" and "Respect Jar" (which could also be called "DisRespect Jar," but that doesn't have quite the same positive ring to it). I'd written my previous post on Thursday afternoon, wondering out loud how to educate our family on the larger community and global issues around us, and how to motivate us to act on our values. I appreciate the thoughtful responses that arrived. We're not alone in thinking about this. Kevin and I briefly discussed holding a family meeting, and I scrawled out a few ideas on a piece of paper.
Thursday afternoon, the kids started swim lessons. On the whole, the solo-mom outing went really well; we were all working together. But on the drive home, my cherished eldest son was using language that was not acceptable (mind you, he doesn't use swear words; but the words he was using were equally disrespectful: "fat," "poopy-head," and my all-time fave "butt-brain." Yes, my sweet Albus, when in a fit of frustration, particularly likes to pull that one out of his back pocket.) As we walked through the front door, me laden like an over-worked camel with toddler under one arm, diaper bag and swim bag and someone's snowpants and etc. over the other arm, listening to my half-grown child growl because I'd insisted he carry his own backpack, I said, "We need a swear jar."
(In fact, to make a long story even longer, I'd lost my patience over said backpack. I'd been standing beside the truck, holding it out to him to carry while he destroyed snowballs instead, till finally I'd tossed it into the snowy driveway with a semi-sarcastic comment, which, I was embarrassed to observe, was overheard by a neighbour walking his dog. Nothing like being confronted by a little "as others see us" perspective. The kid wasn't the only one in need of a swear jar, in other words).
At supper, I said, Let's have a family meeting. And then, When could we do it?
How about right now? said AppleApple.
The meeting was informal, which is how our family seems to operate. It was brief. It was to the point. We talked first about Haiti. Everyone but Albus offered ideas about how we could help. Then we talked about finding ways to express our emotions appropriately. Again, Albus was silly rather than receptive. I was feeling rather hopeless. Are we in for a decade of defensive eye-rolling? But fortunately, Kevin picked up the ball and asked Albus what he thought about what we were discussing. After some hedging and more silliness, he slipped closer to seriousness. And that's when we came up with the penny jar idea. I'm not even sure whose idea it was, in its final rendering. One jar, into which we'd put enough pennies to rent a movie plus buy some candy, the other jar, which would receive a penny every time we used a bad word--but more than that. Every time someone behaved in a way that was not respectful to someone else. It would be a family jar, not an individual jar. We'd have to earn our reward together. Any money in the "respect jar" would be given away.
We're only on day two, but it's a good thing this week is a short week--movie night will be on Saturdays. I've noticed that I frequently (to myself and under my breath) use words I consider to be disrespectful. Every time, I drop in another penny. This will hopefully begin to take effect on my behavior. Albus is certainly taking it to heart. Respect is a concept we can all grasp. The idea is that we help each other to be more respectful rather than pointing fingers or accusing.
We shall see ...
And I liked that family meeting. It was noisy and chaotic, but everyone got a chance to speak. We must make it a regular occurrence.
:::
That photo above is what's happening RIGHT NOW upstairs. Everyone in the playroom (my office) playing Playmobil, Daddy watching soccer on the internet.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where Ideal Meets Real


So. I have a plan to hold a family meeting. But we have two separate topics to discuss.
First, I want to talk to the kids about the humanitarian crisis happening in Haiti right now, and I want to ask them for ideas about what our family could do to help out. And I want to broaden that out to talk about ways we could help in our own community more often.
(I've also requested an interview for my ParentDish column with Craig Kielburger, who is a young Canadian man I greatly admire--his parents, too! The mandate of his foundation Free the Children is to help North American children to help other children around the world--in essence, educating our children, helping them to make the connection between their own actions and the effect these can have on other children's lives. I'm really excited about talking to him.)
That's topic number one.
Topic number two might sound a little out there, but I'm thinking of having a family meeting about creating a family mission statement (and I must confess, we NEVER have family meetings, and I'm not entirely sure what this will look like in practical terms--sitting around the dining-room table with pieces of paper and pencils? Will we make it more than five minutes before chaos erupts??). Now, a mission statement sounds almost too serious, but what I'm hoping to accomplish is that we can all agree on some basic guiding principles for our household.
This is what I've jotted on my piece of paper: In our family ... everyone is respected. In our family ... it's okay to feel mad or sad, but we express our feelings appropriately. In our family .. we ask for help when we need it. We help each other. We help others, too.
These are my ideas. How to bring everyone's ideas into it? We'll see. This is yet a pipe dream. My motivation for doing it, however, comes from a rather dark place, and that is the anger we've been seeing our older children express, recently, and our inability to help them find ways to express this anger appropriately (or to interpret it). I want to stress that I don't think anger is a bad emotion. It's human. But destroying your baby brother's duplo project in a fit of rage isn't a good way of expressing that emotion. So far, Kevin and I are not getting far with our attempts to step in and help the children find another way. Time-outs work, sort of, at least for removing the child from the situation. But anger tends to be an emotion that is actually pointing toward or masking more complex emotions. Ever felt angry about a situation, only to gradually recognize that your anger was saving you from experiencing a much more frightening emotion like fear or grief? Sometimes anger can give us a feeling of power in a situation in which, if we stopped to think about, we'd realize we feel awfully terribly vulnerable.
Stop me now, I'm rambling.
And it's time to get ready for swim lessons.
Above, my youngest, sharing a quiet moment on the couch. And I caught it before it devolved!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No Title Because No Time

Writing day: organizing and planning for future interviews and columns, which takes more work than one might suspect. It's the background hidden labour that will bear fruit down the road. Today I have almost too many ideas. Which is better than too few.
:::
Something I'd like to figure out for my own children: how to involve them in the larger world, how to bring into their privileged and comfortable lives a desire to care for others, to be aware of need and sensitive to it; and to accept help, too. To treat everyone with dignity and respect. I'm not sure how to write a 600 word column on a subject I haven't got a firm fingerhold on myself; but I want to know more. Where in my own life am I lacking this kind of compassion? How can I find time and space to do more? Where to begin? Small, I'm thinking. (Shoot--I should have accepted that cough candy from the Mormons).
When Kevin broke his knee last winter, and I was run ragged trying to keep up with the demands of our life, I realized that despite my most sincere wishes otherwise, doling out seemingly endless help wasn't bringing out the best in me or making me a finer, more patient person; instead, I felt squeezed like an empty toothpaste tube. I had nothing left to give. A smile to a grocery store clerk felt like more emotion and empathy than I could manage. But I still believe it's always possible to give more, just in increments, like the way your body can stretch just that little bit farther when you're holding a posture in yoga and following your breath.
But it comes to me: without that breath, farther isn't possible.
Maybe that's the key.
Oh dear. My morning has been thrown out of whack! Have to fly. Unexpected arrivals all over the place today.
Here's what I wanted to say: read my interview with Jirina Marton, an award-winning illustrator and genuine inspiration. It was a privilege to talk to her.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What We Made

It was AppleApple's turn to plan and help make supper this weekend. I suggested she look through Passport on a Plate, a cookbook for children that is underused in our house because it has no pretty pictures or photographs. But it does have menus from a variety of countries around the world. She listened as I read out country names (and in the case of Africa, an entire continent), and as soon as I read Japan, she said, Japan!
She chose miso soup, sushi rolls, and I added in vegetable rice because I thought the menu looked too slight (it turned out I was wrong, and we'll be eating the completely untouched pot of vegetable rice for our supper tomorrow). I also suggested green tea ice cream for dessert (she wouldn't have dreamed of purchasing such a luxurious treat), and we improvised with mango sorbet and Mapleton's chai ice cream.
Today was our cooking day. I promised we'd start by 3pm. But at 3pm, I was still immersed in a self-inflicted photo organizing ordeal which I vow, as of right now, never to force upon myself (or my family) again. This past year has been our family's most documented year EVER. And I'm beginning to question the need for so much evidence. Why this compulsion to collect the details? We have the blog, which has photos; we have a beautiful scrapbook I made online--more photos, but a creative final product; and now we have actual photographs, printed out, placed into (approximate) chronological order (definitely the most maddening task of my afternoon), and then into photo albums.
Next year, I'm going to let everyone choose his or her five favourite photos, get prints of those, and leave it at that.
Where was I? Oh, yes, 3pm, AppleApple's buzzer went, and it was time to rouse myself and get to work. But because I have an obsessive personality, and need to finish one thing before starting another, I stayed seated at the dining-room table, butt damn near numb, and directed her to measure out the sticky rice we would need to make the rolls. The bag was apparently open. Rice everywhere. Never mind! I remained glued to the photos: "Just pick it up and put it into a one-cup measuring cup."
Enter Kevin."What's going on in here?"
"Oh, some rice just spilled."
"It's everywhere."
"Is it?" I couldn't see. I was stuffing photos we didn't need into albums. "CJ can vacuum it up," I said. Yes, I actually said that.
"There's a bit of extra stuff in here," AppleApple said, at last, her cup measure full.
"What sort of stuff?"
"Like a bit of dirt and stuff."
Okay, you've got my attention, kid. Limbs creaking, I rose and rinsed the rice. AppleApple vacuumed. She does it for real, and CJ does it as a hobby.
"We're not off to the best start," I admitted.
As the rice came to a boil, I managed to stuff the final stack of photographs into an album. I was back to the present. Praise be! Things became much more pleasant after that. AppleApple chopped red and green peppers and cucumber into matchsticks. I strained the chicken stock that had been simmering on the stove all day.
"I just read a book called Naomi's Road [by Joy Kogawa]," AppleApple told me, out of the blue. "When I got to the end, it was still kind of sad. Why would a book end like that?"
Oh, be still my heart. She wants to talk critically about literature!
I said: "When I get to the end of a sad story, sometimes I make up another ending for it."
"I do that too! Except it's not a different ending, I just think about what might happen next."
Ah, yes, exactly.
"Sometimes the author wants the story to go on in the reader's mind. The author might not want the reader to know everything."
"Maybe some things can't get fixed up."
Yah. I know.
Later, we rolled some sushi. We made it look pretty on the plates. We pretended we were running a restaurant, and everyone loved that, even our resident grump, Albus (taking over that role for today, anyway; we share; everyone takes turns). Instead of putting the pots on the table like we do most nights (classy, I know, but it makes for less dishes afterward), we served from the kitchen. We took orders. Everyone ate the miso soup! Everyone! Even fussy Fooey.
"What's this green stuff?" "Seaweed." "Oh." Slurp.
Everyone had seconds. The rolls were passable, if not as awesome as the real thing. The wasabi was HOT. The rice went into the fridge for tomorrow. And we polished off a litre and a half of ice cream for bedtime snack. Pretty awesome.
Fooey's planning to look up the recipes from China for next week. Albus wants Russia the week after. Can't wait.

Laundry Geek

This photo is for all of the laundry geeks: my bed, evening, basket of clothes. Wet clothes. Waiting all day to be hung. In the background, dry clothes, waiting to be folded and put away. Guess how I solved this dilemma? Yup. I put the basket on the floor and went to bed. These got hung the next morning, more wrinkled than usual.
One more confession. This week we had some sick people in this house, and yesterday I chose to use the "home sterilizing unit" (aka the drier on high heat) for one load.
Because the folding and putting away often happens around bedtime, I've been getting a lot of help. CJ in particular adores carrying pants and shirts to various drawers and stuffing them in. Sometimes he even gets things in the right drawer. And Kevin's been helping out more too. All-family-participation in chores: yippee!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hot and Sour

It's been awhile since I posted a recipe, but tonight's was good. First, AppleApple and I ran errands together, and also got supplies for this weekend's planned mother-child supper-making. More on that tomorrow, because by the time we got home it was late (I suffered a godawful coughing fit in the camera store, escaped outdoors, stood there on the sidewalk, eyes streaming, barely breathing, and was immediately approached by two Mormons, who offered me a cough candy, which was nice of them, but honestly.) Anyway, long story short, by the time we got home it was nearing suppertime, and our planned menu was much too complicated to start up from scratch at that late hour.
Kevin and I tried out the oil of oregano I'd purchased in desperation/hope at the health food store post-coughing fit. Powerful stuff. I felt pretty good after establishing that it hadn't killed me.
"I need a bowl of hot-and-sour soup," said Kevin, and I said, "I think I could do that."
I've never done it before. But my pantry is stocked like January in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. On weekends, I've been making chicken/turkey stock, then freezing it in conveniently sized containers. Makes a great addition to many recipes.
So, the H&S soup took almost no time to whip up, just a bit of prep, because it's more or less instant once all the ingredients have been assembled. My version is ad-libbed with guidance from the Joy of Cooking. It was good. Nay, delicious. Yet completely unappealing to children, who ate, instead, warmed up macaroni from last night's meal with ketchup. Yes, ketchup. "Pass that stuff made out of tomatoes," said Fooey.
Kevin and I blew our noses and devoured the soup over thin rice noodles. And we added extra hot sauce.
:::
Hot and Sour Soup
In a large pot, bring 6-8 cups of chicken stock to a simmer. Add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of hot pepper flakes to the stock.
Meanwhile, in 1 and 1/2 cups of hot water, soak a handful of chopped dulse, or other sea vegetable (Joy of Cooking recommends dried mushrooms, but the seaweed substitutes well; use whatever you've got). Set aside.
In a second bowl, combine 5 tbsp cider vinegar, 3 tbsp tamari, and 1 tbsp cornstarch. Mix well. To this mixture, add half a block of chopped firm tofu (or 1 cup of shredded chicken or pork), and set aside (I topped the liquid up with boiling water to cover).
In a third bowl, combine 3 tbsp water with 3 tbsp cornstarch and mix well.
Now you've prepared all of your little bowls: it's time to start putting the soup together.
Grind 1 tsp black pepper and add it to the soup.
Add the dulse and its liquid to the broth, and simmer for three minutes.
Add the cornstarch mixture to the simmering soup, and stir constantly until slightly thickened; about three minutes.
Add the tofu (or meat) mixture. Plus a small can of drained bamboo shoot sticks (totally optional; weird that these were in my cupboard; but a nice addition).
Return soup to a simmer, then stir in 1 egg, well beaten.
Remove from heat, add 1 tbsp of sesame oil (optional), and you're ready to eat.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Something Old and Something New

This is the kid who's off to preschool. This is the kid who's home sick. This is the mother (not pictured; possibly wearing frowny face) who is not using her "work" morning to do much more than make peppermint tea with honey for said sick kid while fielding innumerable bored comments as he sits beside me and reads the words I'm typing.
I forgot to bring my camera to the preschool drop-off. Will have to stage the moment next Friday. It was the first time I've felt like a commuting, all-working, no-one-staying-at-home family; though in fact the feeling was pretend, because here I am, working from home. But anyway. We all ate breakfast, got packed up, headed out the door together, and drove to the preschool, where we said goodbye to Kevin and CJ, and then I drove the girls to school (Albus stayed in the vehicle and "spied" on people). On a Friday when no one is ill, this schedule will mean that I'll return home to utter quiet. Today, not so much. Albus is all about the sound effects.
But even that possibility reminds me that once upon a time, Life was very quiet. I frequently returned home to an empty apartment. And while there is much pleasure to be found in quiet contemplation (or the potential thereof), I'm grateful for the noise and chaos and activity that these four extra personalities bring into the house and into my life.
:::
Last night, despite a raging and persistent head cold, I went to hot yoga. This is my winter replacement for school. I'd gotten in the habit of leaving the house on Thursday evenings, as had everyone else, so I figured I'd better keep that habit up. Hot yoga it is. I walk into the room, lie down on the mat, and it's like being on vacation in the tropics. Yoga is most effective when the mind turns off and empties out. I love it. By the end of class, I feel spiritually renewed. Each time is a little bit different. One time, I was moved to tears, though I couldn't say why. There is something about emptying oneself out that makes room for more, for change.
However, I did not get to meet with Nina afterward, which was our plan, to discuss our words of the year. I'm looking forward to it. I think my word will be EXPERIENCE. I like the duality of the word, how it both honours the repetition of my mothering life and days, and points toward the new and challenging as well. Experience can only come from practice, and from putting in the time. It requires patience and commitment. But to have an experience can be quite a different undertaking altogether: it requires a leap of faith, openness, willingness, recognition, courage. Experiences drop out of the sky; sometimes you simply find yourself within them, and sometimes you have to look for them and seek them out. (I'm thinking of "experiences" as adventures, of a sort, but more mundane than that, too. Experiences can include anything: finding yourself in conversation with someone you don't usually talk to, or sitting down to play the piano and finding you want to write a new song, or picking up a book and being unexpectedly touched and moved by a random sentence. ie. my definition is pretty wide open).
:::
And now. I need to get to work. I've just pointed my sick son toward the television. I'm going to let him watch YTV, which is usually off-limits due to the wretched advertising. Does my child need to be inundated with the latest and greatest in toys, cereals and movies? No, my child does not. But an hour or two can't hurt.
In about an hour from now, Kevin will arrive home with our youngest.
"He won't be able to tell us about his day!" AppleApple pointed out, as we drove away from the preschool. Unfortunately, that's true. Or mostly true. He likes to mention details about his experiences, but unless we already know and can make the connections, these are hard to piece together into a full picture. For example: Boat! Shoe! Shoe? Shoe! Daddy coming! etc.
:::
In happy self-promotional news, I've learned that my story "Rat" has been nominated by The New Quarterly magazine for the National Magazine Awards, and the Journey Prize. These affirmations do the heart good. They really do.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Something I've Been Thinking About

I am drawn to two quite different lives. On the one hand, I greatly admire those obituaries which describe people whose lives have been filled with several quite different and remarkable chapters. These people seem able to make leaps, to change direction, to re-invent themselves. It seems a dangerous way to live, yet also very rich, especially for people born with a variety of gifts and abilities. On the other hand, I also greatly admire those rare individuals who devote themselves entirely to one pursuit, to the exclusion of all else. These people may not have the same variety of experiences, but within that one deeply studied area they find something else: the universal truths contained in the intimately known particular. And they have the particular itself.
As I write this thought out, however, I feel slightly less compelled by either version. I am afraid that a life with too many plunges and abrupt turns would be rootless, restless. I am afraid that a life devoted to one pursuit would be lonely, isolating.

I am in the sort of mood, lately, in which everything I read, every scrap of insight that rises from the page and enters my brain, I take for grace. I take as a message. I take as guidance, as insight, as direction.
Must be because I'm seeking direction.
I want to think that I'm seeking it intelligently, open to everything that comes along, even if it creates internal dissonance; but it occurred to me tonight that I am finding it randomly, excited by any scrap that looks and sounds like the real thing. I should offer an example. I was just now up in bed reading Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill, and came across her description of a friend whose existence had been consumed and in some sense wasted by the two loves of her life: a married lover, and the mother she'd cared for till death. But the woman, though old and now alone, did not behave as if the two loves of her life had emptied it out; and Diana Athill believed that was because her friend was also an artist. She had the ability to create something, and that had rescued her from emptiness.
I sat up a little straighter and thought to myself: I haven't been properly appreciative of my own ability to create, and what that means (potentially) to my inner life. In fact, just recently I was thinking quite the opposite, annoyed by how everything that it pleases me to do is somehow related to creativity. Couldn't I just have a nice non-creative (practical) talent already?
It felt like the universe was speaking to me through Diana Athill, through the random purchasing of this book and opening it tonight, and finding these words at this moment. What I'm saying is, this is happening a lot these days. And it makes me question whether the universe is speaking; it seems much more likely that I am hoping to hear it speak, that I'm listening extra hard.
But. It is also pleasurable to find resonances in unexpected places. It is good to be open. I believe that.
Maybe I should be looking for a third kind of life. A life in which many small changes, and several large ones, accrue over time to create a story that is both consistent (not scattered) and varied (rich). I'm so damn interested in people and relationships. I'm so damn interested in the minutia, the stuff of life itself. What can I make of it? What am I making, even now, and perhaps without recognizing it?
(But I do wonder, I do, why I am drawn to the intense and unpredictable.)

Small Change Number One

This photo is off the old point-and-shoot camera. I'm still using it on occasion because it has the obvious advantage of being available on a point-and-shoot basis, while the better camera requires a little more set-up. But I actually took this photo sometime last month, before the arrival of the new camera. I'm only getting to it now. I have a list of blog topics patiently waiting for a spare moment. I'm stealing one right now during bedtime snack, before we head off to the living-room to read another couple of chapters in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (remember Judy Blume?).
Above is illustrated one of my new year's resolutions ... or simply one of the small changes I'm putting into action/planning to put into action this winter. It's dry in the house. So I retired the crib that had been living beside our bed, and replaced it with drying racks, and began washing one load of laundry (plus diapers) each day. It's possible to hang one load of laundry on the racks; any more than that and I run out of room, so it takes some planning and consistency to dry clothes in this way. But what a waste to heat up that lovely cool humidity and send it out into the atmosphere via the drier hose.
It's a small change. It takes time. So far, I'm happy about it.
Hope to get to those other blog topics soon. Seriously, I made a list.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year

These photos are in reverse order, but hey. It's late. It's really really late (for me). First post of 2010. Kids playing in the basement. Jumping into the new year (at 9pm). Impromptu dancing. The two oldest kids got to stay up later than the others. We weren't feeling the dominoes this year. We tried. We failed. We laughed. We realized it was already the start of another year. We've rung in a few together: perhaps a good decade's worth as couples, and in that time we've added, oh, six other people to the mix.
I have this funny feeling that they might start to take over ... we're totally outnumbered.