Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year that is New

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creative commons license
This year we're spending New Year's Eve at the arena (Champagne on Ice - ha ha, get it?). I'm not really bitter, since we've had quiet ones at home with the kids the last couple of years anyway, but come on... who schedules hockey tournaments where you have to play New Year's Eve AND New Year's Day? Last year the kids did make it almost all the way to midnight, but this year Angus will have to go to bed earlier or be playing half-asleep tomorrow at eight.
New Year's Eve is a funny holiday. I've always sort of felt like I should be partying, or climbing a mountain or burning sage or something to commemorate the old year passing away and usher in the new one. On the other hand, it's so soon after Christmas that I'm often exhausted and still trying to dig out, so I sort of resent the (self-imposed) notion that I have to do something. Now that we have the kids, we either get together with other families that have kids or just stay in WITH the kids, and it's easier to say "we're staying in with the kids" than just "we're not doing anything". Is this improper use of kids? I hope not.
In a way I'm glad we have the game. I even like the sort of noble self-sacrificing feeling I get from having to go to the arena on New Year's Eve (I know -- I'm a slightly jerky head case). Sometimes it feels good to do something you don't really want to do for your kids. It makes me feel like -- what's the word -- a mother.
Happy partying, or hermit-ing, or sage-burning, or however you choose to celebrate tonight. See you in 2010, when we'll all be writing the wrong date and cursing and scratching it out to write the new one for the next four to six weeks.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Few More Rungs up on the Crazy Ladder

I just wrote in an email that I've discovered over the past few days that blogging is one of those things that, once you start not doing, becomes easier and easier to not do. Having written that, it became apparent to me that I need to start blogging again very, very badly.
Christmas at my sister's was great. I love my sister. I love my sister's house. I love my sister's husband and children.
But sweet Baby Jesus I'm just getting weirder and weirder. I hate travelling. I hate having to worry about all the stuff I need to take with me. I hate realizing that it's a stupid thing to worry about -- I was only going to London, Ontario, what could I possibly forget that I couldn't borrow or buy at a twenty-four hour Shoppers' Drug Mart, which is where my pharmacist sister used to work so chances are she already has five of it kicking around her linen closet right behind the beautiful beautiful codeine anyway? I hate worrying about what clothes to bring -- I'm non-standard-sized and neurotic, so based on a wide, impossible-to-predict range of dopamine levels, atmospheric conditions and which episode of the Simpsons is playing, I need a wide range of yoga pants and enormous t-shirts to choose from. I hate what a different city's water does to my hair. Not that Barrhaven water does anything great to it, but I pretty much know by now what kind of not-great things it does, and how to compensate. London water might do some different not-great thing, and then what do I do?
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creative commons license

Yeah. All that even before breakfast. Add to that the fact that my sister is so goddamned super-competent that there's really nothing I needed to do in the way of cooking or cleaning (okay, cooking, nobody without a frontal lobotomy is ever going to ask for my help cleaning), and that the kids were pretty much perpetually off with their cousins playing unfathomable games involving electronics, top hats, dragons and British accents, and I was feeling sort of useless and restless a good portion of the time. I was also exhausted and had a bit of a sinus infection, so every time I tried to read I would fall asleep. Which I guess shouldn't have been that much of a problem. Christmas vacation, nothing to do, have a succession of naps. But it made me feel sort of embarrassed, as if I was sneaking off to drink vodka in my room. Which is stupid, because everyone else was both sleeping and drinking vodka right out in the open, and no one was pointing and laughing at them.
I went to my sister's computer a couple of times, thinking I might post, but it felt too weird. Apparently I can only blog with my ass in this particular chair, and my computer on this particular table, which is stupid because it's a laptop and theoretically I should be able to do it on a plane, on a train, in a box, with a fox. But when I wasn't looking I became a creature of place. One mediocre, messy, arbitrary place. I'm getting a little afraid that I might gradually lose the ability to travel anywhere. No trips to other cities, then no going downtown, eventually no grocery store or mailbox, and before you know it I'm Hugh Hefner without the smoking jacket and all the Viagra.
There were great parts of the trip, of course. I love seeing the kids with their cousins. I love sitting down at a big long table for dinner and not being able to eat for the first ten minutes because you're so busy passing stuff. I love sitting around in the evenings after the kids are in bed (and before the first one gets up) having a drink and talking with my Mom and Dad and sister and brother-in-law. Surely that's enough to balance the fact that I felt unbearably awkward, hysterically self-conscious and borderline traumatized by being there, with my own family, in an environment as alien and unnavigable as another house. For four whole days.
I'm so not a well woman.
We got back on Sunday. I haven't left the house in three days. I just got done playing Trouble and watching a Jonas marathon with Eve. I'm SO happy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let Nothing you Dismay

Amber commented on my last post that Christmas is a Jekyll/Hyde holiday, which sums it up perfectly. This week-end has been heavy on the heartwarming glowy joy that is Christmas and light on the enormous pain in the ass that is Christmas, thankfully. Most of the presents are wrapped (except for the book I bought for my sister that I had to read first, just to make sure it was good), most of the baking is done (a whole bunch of fantastic shortbread toffee cookies and a whole bunch of failed squares of one type or another, not one of which turned out perfectly), school is done which means no more library books to put away or homework to finish or math bags to organize until January. Tomorrow is for cleaning and packing and Wednesday we leave with my parents for my sister's house. It's good when you get a small space in which to reap the benefits of hard(ish) work.
Yesterday was our annual Christmas party -- a core of four families and whoever else from our wider circle is available. In honour of the occasion, Eve and I wore the pearls Matt bought us the last time he was in Malaysia.

The friend with the biggest house has graciously hosted for the past few years, now that we all have more kids who are bigger.
There was much laughter and merriment, and nobody wore Tony's shoes home by mistake this time, so that was good.
Today we went for a walk in the quintessentially perfect snowy woods...

...and fed some chickadees. I've never seen these particular kids stand so still for so long.

Today I'm basking in comfort and joy.
The number one thing I did this year that made things easier: wrapped all the presents (and wrote down what they were) as soon as I bought them. Every year I have this vision in my head of a festive gift-wrapping session with wine and ribbons and Christmas music. And every year I realize this vision could only take place in a parallel universe where my kids go to bed at seven and I don't sit around drinking with my husband and parents until midnight, and I end up half-strangled with paper and tape at three in the morning wondering why I'm such a moron. This year I was wrapping presents in un-festive November, but now I have a neat, pretty pile of gifts and I can just drink even more wine on Christmas Eve.
The number one thing I am going to try to remember to do next year: get the tree and take out the decorations at the end of November. Every year I think it's just wrong to have Christmas stuff out in November, and I imagine that on the first of December we'll have a magical, auspicious day of ushering in the Christmas season. Then the first of December falls in the middle of the week, and there are Christmas recitals and concerts and birthday parties and the marshy details of life that suck you down daily, and before I know it it's December eighteenth and I'm waist-deep in boxes and searching madly for the Christmas CDs and busting my ass to spread out a bunch of stuff that will have to be put away in a week. I'm not going to start Christmas the day after Halloween, but I'm going to try for a bit of an earlier start. This year, as one of my friends said, Christmas was way far away and then it was driving up our ass with no in-between period.
Deep breath. Back to the comfort and joy. Feeding little birds. Walking in the woods.
I'm going to eat some falling-apart peanut butter chocolate squares.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stale Nuts and Fragrant Balls

This season is SUCH a double-edged sword. Last night we bundled the kids up near bedtime and took them on a walk around the neighbourhood to look at Christmas lights and wrestle each other into the snowbanks. It was so cold and still and clear. I loved Christmas.
Then we came back home. The living room is full of boxes of decorations and the kitchen table is covered with Christmas cards and the little wallet-sized pictures that I always order way too many of to go in the Christmas cards and there's flour all over the floor and baking sheets and cooling racks everywhere. I hated Christmas.
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creative commons license
We're going to my sister's for Christmas because she has the cousins, and my kids have basically professed that Christmas without the cousins sucks, and I know it's going to be fun, because they have a big old house and a beautiful attic play room and the kids will have fun and the my parents will be there and we'll all be together with good food and lots of liquor and no major family skeletons or issues so Christmas Eve doesn't usually culminate in a four-letter-word-strewn orgy of recriminations, which I understand does happen in many families. But right now all I can think of is that I won't be in my own house and I won't have my own bathroom and what if I look weird in their mirror (I look weird in a LOT of mirrors) and my mother doesn't like it when I wear gigantic sloppy clothes around the house and even though I'm pushing forty and theoretically should be able to wear whatever disastrous vomitous ensemble I bloody well feel like it makes me self-conscious so I keep having to call my sister for counselling and she just keeps saying, don't worry, we'll just start drinking at breakfast, it will be fine. And then we went over to my Mom and Dad's for supper on Friday and my Mom was freaking out because she made this pan of almond chocolate toffee to take over to their friends' house the next day but she thought the almonds might have been rancid so she wasn't going to take it and then she and my Dad fought over whether the whole thing fell apart because she put the tinfoil wrong side up or not. And I realized I might as well just stop fighting it, because clearly decking the halls with boughs of crazy is just part of my genetic make-up. We reminisced about the year she took all these courses on how to make Christmas decorations. One was bow-tying, and she said she wasn't that happy with it. Matt said "did you learn how to tie bows?" She said "well, yeah". And he said, "what, were you hoping it would make you a better lover, too". Another course had a hand-out entitled Fragrant Balls. Then we ate the toffee, which was pretty good, stale nuts and all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who's the Bah Humbitch now?

Obligatory disclaimer: I am a lucky, lucky woman. I have a great family, a nice standard of living, haven't endured undue hardship or grief. I shouldn't complain.
This morning SUCKED!!!
I have this cough. This cough that visits at least once or twice every year, and I can't remember the last Christmas I wasn't making really unpleasant noises and worrying about waking up the house and being glad that I didn't actually have to be asleep before Santa would come, because sleep wasn't something that was going to happen (it's hard to sleep while your entire diaphragm is in revolt every seven to nine minutes and you're in constant fear of throwing up or becoming incontinent). Since I was little, every cold or flu I've ever gotten goes right for my lungs. I have inhalers now, as well as narcotic anti-cough pills that help a little, but it seems like it was too little too late, and my airways? They're reactive. Over-reactive. Hyper-reactive. Super-mega-fucking-turbo reactive. It's a drag.
So I get up this morning, even though Matt's taken the kids to school so I can sleep in in the interest of shaking this, because I realize I'm not going to sleep any more, and I suck on the inhaler. Which then gives me super-turbo-charged-junkie shakes, which makes it hard to brush my teeth or wrap Christmas presents or write Christmas cards (that would be filled with self-pitying bitter expletives anyway). I have a zit the size of Tasmania on that spot, you know the one between your chin and your cheek, where there's no bone and it's incredibly painful? And my hair has entered a whole new universe of suckage. I'm like nuclear waste in human form.
So I wander around trying to make myself wash something or wrap something or move something from where it is to where it should be and if we had plants they would be withering and dying as I walked past. And I'm getting frantic because I have the whole day off until the kids get home from school and I'm wasting it in jittery, acnified, frizzed-out unproductive misery, which just makes me more miserable.
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creative commons license
So I stopped and thought, what should I do? Or maybe, maybe I shouldn't be thinking about what I should do, but about what I want to do. So I asked myself what I wanted to do. And my self said it wanted to curl up on the couch and watch TV for a bit without folding laundry or writing Christmas cards or writing a blog post at the same time. My self also indicated that something with a fairly high proportion of sugar in it might be good for a hellacious demon cough, or at least for Ventolin shakes. So I gave my self what it wanted, and it felt better. I think my inhaler should actually come with a 'take with astronomically high levels of high fructose corn syrup' label. Maybe I'll just make one myself.
A bit later my sister called, and I sorted through pictures for Christmas cards while we had a very satisfying whining-about-frivolous-things session. And she told me about a gift basket she and the other pharmacists at the cancer treatment centre at the hospital got from a department that's notorious for its complete lack of humour. It was a deli basket with crackers and cheese and the like. And an enormous shrink-wrapped dill called Big Papa's Portly Pickle.
The department? It was gynecology.
Then my Mom called and invited us over for borscht. Then the kids and I had a lovely walk home in the crisp cold darkness looking at Christmas lights (me) and dive-bombing snowbanks (them).
Then I wrote more Christmas cards while watching Terminator Salvation on my laptop -- very festive. Now I'm going to go suck on my inhaler again and take some Actifed because it just makes the whole going-to-bed experience so much more special.
So to all a good night (I can only hope visions of portly pickles will be dancing in our heads.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who's On First?

Our cleaning lady came tonight. I was going to just wait until she was done in the kitchen and make supper, but my lovely husband knew I coughed all night and wasn't feeling great, so he came home and volunteered to take the kids out for dinner so I wouldn't have to cook. I thought this sounded great. Of course, we both forgot the part where my kids won't go anywhere without me, so we all went out to Swiss Chalet, which is great, because I still didn't have to cook and I do cherish a special, slavish affection for the Festive Special.
On the way there, we passed an Esso station.
Eve: Mommy, what does E-S-S-O spell?
Me: Esso
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Eve: What?
Me: Esso
Eve: No. Not S-O. I said E-S-S-O.
Me: I know. It spells Esso.
Eve: What? How can four letters spell two letters?
Angus: It's a gas station.
Eve: What is?
Angus: The Esso.
Eve (yelling): Why isn't anyone telling me what it spells?
Angus: Oh my god. Are we almost there?
We had a lovely dinner. For dessert, we said the kids would take the M&Ms to go. The waiter gave them two little packs each. Angus took his, I put Eve's in my jacket pocket. We got about halfway home.
Eve: Mommy, can I have my M&Ms? But can you open them?
Me: Okay, I'll just give you one, okay?
Eve: Why? Can't you just open it and give me the whole thing?
Me: I mean one package.
Eve: But can't you just open it and give me the whole thing and I'll take them out one by one?
Matt (snickering): Esso
Eve: S-O? So? So what?
Angus: Oh my God. Are we almost home?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mean Spirits

I'm as susceptible to Christmas blues as anyone. I agree that expectations get out of hand, the stress level can be just stupid, and I often stop and wonder WHY am I doing this again?
And yet, I composed a blog post in my head entitled "Bah Humbitch" upon reading a Leah McLaren column that told everyone not to send her Christmas cards, especially with stupid pictures of their children wearing Santa suits or antlers. And I left my first negative comment at a blog I generally really like today (not a 'you suck and you're stupid and I hate you' comment, just a 'this is a little unfair and I'm a little put out' comment -- I know, it must have really stung, in amongst all the comments telling her how fantastic and wise and one hundred and forty percent correct she is). And for the life of me, I can't really figure out why.
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creative commons license

Okay, maybe I can, in the case of the Leah McLaren piece (it's called 'I'm Not on Your Christmas Card List this Year? Cool', and I've tried to link to it seven fucking times and the the page disappears every time, which makes me even madder). I'm used to Leah McLaren being bitchy and superior -- it's part of her schtick. But somehow, her snarking about how Christmas cards are meaningless because corporations also send them out and they've been replaced by social networking and they're bad for the environment (puh-lease!) made me instantly livid. Because Christmas cards is one part of Christmas that I'm actually quite good at. I don't send them to the people I'm on Facebook with, people who read my daily status updates -- I send them to my old university professor and my relatives in Saskatchewan, people who are interested in our lives and like to see yearly pictures of the children. I write a few paragraphs in each card, a lot of the same stuff but slightly modified for each person. I totally get that most people would find doing this arduous and overwhelming. But I like writing. I like framing our small adventures and domestic blessings. It's enjoyable for me, and by all account, also for the people who receive them.
I like getting Christmas cards too. I like seeing how babies turn into toddlers and then real grown-up people. I keep most of them and look them over the next year when I unpack the decorations. Sometimes I string them with old Christmas pictures on ribbons and hang them around the house.
So why do I give a crap that Leah Mclaren hates Christmas cards? I guess I don't, really. But I reserve my right to proclaim that she's full of shit. Does the fact that I get a Christmas card from my financial advisor and car dealership cheapen the ones I get from my husband's grandmother and my best friend from grade 3? Not in the least, and it's just stupid to say it does, in my opinion.
I don't think I even have the energy to get into the other thing. I get that Jewish people must suffer from Christmas fatigue. I've never been one of those people writing into the paper asserting my right to shout 'Merry Christmas' in everyone's face and deck the world with tinsel and holly. But things like strangers telling your children they'll get presents if they're good and stores telling children to write wish lists and they'll be fulfilled are inappropriate no matter what -- those people and those stores would be offensive at any time of the year. And how much energy can we put into enumerating all the people we might offend before we say or do or decorate or sing anything? Eve brought home a dreidl that she made in class yesterday, and tomorrow they're making gingerbread houses. They collect food for Christmas hampers and toys for Toy Mountain. They know there are kids in their class that don't celebrate Christmas.
I've lost my thread. Maybe it's just one of those things like being able to make fun of your own family but getting pissed off when someone else does. I know there's a lot of crass commercialism and cloying sentimentality associated with Christmas. I work quite hard to avoid bringing that into my home, and to expose my children to the best aspects of the holiday, and I guess it just stings when it feels like some people only acknowledge the negative.
So I will now take a breath and try to dig out my peace on earth and goodwill towards other bloggers. Even the ones who hate Christmas cards and Santa.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

For the most part, when you have a baby, the night becomes a different country. There is no longer the day when you are awake and the night when you sleep (assuming you roll that way to begin with). The whole twenty-four hour period turns into chopped-up segments of sleeping, waking and a zombie-like, in between state where you often appear to be functioning normally but frequently you discover you've put the phone in the refrigerator or poured yourself a bowl of diet coke.

My husband and I were lucky with our babies sleep-wise. Both of them slept through the night early on and were quite easy to put to bed. My profound sympathies are with those who go through years and years of being woken by children or enduring three-hour bedtime fiascoes consisting of crying, screaming, emotional blackmail and absolute desperation.

That's not to say our nights are uneventful, though. I don't know if couples exist who go to bed together, read books side by side, turn out the light at the same time and go directly to sleep, or if this is a construct of TV sitcoms and fictional literature. It sure as hell doesn't happen in this house. My husband has traditionally been the kind of person that can sleep anywhere, any time, no matter what -- you know, the person you want to beat up on the airplane when you're sleepless and cranky at three in the morning overflying the Atlantic and he has closed eyes and a look of perfect serenity on his face. I'm a crappy fall-asleeper, an uneven stay-asleeper and a horrible waker-upper. He's always had nine to five jobs, I usually have crazy hours. He likes getting up early and then having a nap in the afternoon, I prefer staying up late and sleeping in late-ish.

Many nights I'm in bed reading by the time he comes to bed, and he sleeps while I read for a couple of hours. If I go to bed as early as the kids, they fight over who gets to sleep in his spot until he carries them back to their beds in order to reclaim his spot (this is becoming an increasingly impressive and awkward feat, in Angus's case). On week-ends he usually goes to bed and I stay up baking, writing, fooling around on the computer and watching whatever I've PVRed during the week until 2 a.m. or so. Sometimes I take a sleeping pill and crash early and I'm asleep when he comes to bed (and if he tries to get friendly he either gets a loving embrace or a black eye, neither of which I usually remember). Usually if one of the kids gets up in the night, it's a simple matter of fixing their blankets, re-tucking them in and kissing them again (except when Eve was three and always wore her slippers to bed; then she'd come toddling in at three a.m. saying solemnly 'my flipper's gone', and no sleep would be had until the flipper was found). My husband can normally go right back to sleep, but once I'm up that's generally it for me. Also, my husband seems to be developing some sort of restless-leg problem, so sometimes he gets up in the night and goes down and sleeps on the couch, so he won't disturb me and so he can sleep with his top half covered and his lower legs and feet bare, because they feel like they're on fire: I worry this will make the kids think we had a fight, but it doesn't seem to perturb them at all -- it just means he's readily available to fetch them some breakfast when they come down.

Yesterday Eve had an Irish Dance competition in the morning and both kids had a piano recital in the afternoon. I stayed up too late Friday night, got up very early on Saturday morning, made it through the day fairly well, but was nodding over my book at nine p.m., which is almost unheard of for me. I thought screw it and went to sleep. I woke up later feeling like it must be at least 5 a.m.

It was eleven-thirty. P.M. AGH!! I laid there until one. I felt jumpy and uncomfortable. I changed my pajamas. I thought about changing the sheets. Matt had departed for couches unknown. I decided to turn on the light and read again. Half an hour later, Angus came in and said he couldn't sleep. I told him to bring in his fishies (he still uses a Fisher Price Peaceful Planet to lull him to sleep, don't tell him I told you) and climb in with me. It took him an unusually long time to fall back asleep. We chatted a bit about the recital ("that Chinese boy had NO BOOK! It was all in his head! At first I thought the book must just be invisible"). I rubbed his back and his head. I read until about four, then turned out the light. I still couldn't sleep, but I didn't care any more. Angus flung his arm over me and left it there. He woke up at about six-thirty and before he left he said "thanks for letting me sleep here. I was awake a lot, but I didn't really mind". I felt the same. I get stuck sometimes, too wakeful to sleep but too tired to get up and do anything other than hate being awake, feeling like I'm failing at the simplest act, feeling miserable and neurotic and disconnected from the world. It was so much better to just say screw it, if I can't sleep I might as well do something enjoyable, to be awake in a little pool of light, escaping into a well-crafted world, not worrying about when I had to stop reading, with my son breathing (and occasionally snoring) beside me. Matt let me sleep in because he's a really really nice husband (and he knew he was going to have a nap later anyway) and everything was fine.

It could have been a really crummy night. Thank-you Louise Thank-you Angus.

Friday, December 11, 2009

May Require Seasoning

We have some friends who moved to Australia this summer, so this is their first snow-less Christmas season. They profess to be overjoyed at this. Which I don't disbelieve at all, but I can't really empathize. We had quite a bit of snow on Wednesday, and it was windy and cold and I had to take the kids to the dentist and I slid through one intersection and it was a pain in the ass parking and slopping in there with our boots and everything... and I was just ludicrously happy. Today it took me and Eve half an hour to walk home from the bus stop, which is just at the end of the street. She flung herself at every snowbank, slid belly down onto driveways, climbed the highest ones and bellowed that she was the queen of the castle and, well, you know what that makes me, but it was still enjoyable.

I'm convinced that part of my depression in November was that we didn't have a proper fall. It rained so much that there just weren't enough of those clear, sweet, sharp days where the air is clean and colours seem brighter. I think I need the seasons to change.

This makes me wonder, though, what would happen if I moved somewhere where seasons didn't change, where the weather was more or less the same all the time. Would I be a different person? Would my crazy roller-coaster bumper-car moods smooth out? Can seasonal affective disorder even exist where there are no seasons? And if this was the case, if I would be sailing a less turbulent emotional sea, would that be something I would want?

One of the things I really liked about The Cellist of Sarajevo was that it made me understand how people can love a place, a homeland, so much that they won't leave it, even when staying means they live under the most stifling, deprived, terrifying conditions imaginable. I guess this also explains why people refuse to leave their home even when their are no jobs available.

Few people actually get the chance to determine their ideal place to live and then live there. The people who consider it important enough to do this no matter what are often courageous and admirable. They're not like me, though. I don't know that this is the perfect place for me to live. It aggravates my allergies. It's humid in the summer. The whole language-rights debate spikes my blood pressure on a regular basis. But the seasons change, my husband has a good job, my kids go to a great school, and we have some wonderful friends. I don't know if we'll stay here forever. But for now, I'm happy enough, icy winds, big snowbanks and all.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Flying by the Seat of Pants Recipes: Citrus Almonds

So my friend Collette is notoriously cheap -- really, she likes being called cheap, if we try to tone it down to 'frugal' or 'sensible with money' she gets offended. At one Christmas craft show we went to, they had citrus almonds for sale, which we sampled. They were delicious, but she refused to pay five dollars for a tiny little bag of them (even though it was fetchingly wrapped in sparkly gold snowflake-printed cellophane and tied with an adorable ribbon). I, of course, bought the five-dollar bag of almonds, brought it home and stuck it in the cupboard waiting for an occasion auspicious enough to warrant hideously expensive almonds, until they went stale and I had to throw them out. I'm not sure what the word for me is, but it's even less complimentary than 'cheap'.

Can you believe that there is no recipe for citrus almonds online? Well, okay, I'm by far no computer whiz, but I've googled dozens, nay, hundreds of recipes from 'chocolate caramel coconut pecan shortbread' to 'yak in blueberry brain sauce' and always been able to find something at least approximating what I'm looking for. But I googled 'citrus almonds' and nothing. Nada. Niente. I got citrus cake with almonds, almond cake with blood orange sauce and Miley Cyrus sits naked in a tub full of almonds (okay, I made that one up). But Collette winged it and made some that turned out quite well. So today she came over and attempted to walk me through the same thing.

I'm not what you'd call an organized cook. I don't line up my measuring implements, chop things into perfect matchsticks or follow recipes to the letter. When my sister asks me for a recipe she says "and don't do that thing where you say 'add a bit of this and then smell it' -- I need exact quantities!". This took even my style to an extreme. So without exact quantities, or pictures (because I just didn't think of it), for fun and profit, here you go:

photo credit
creative commons license
Beat two egg whites with mixer until stiff peaks (hee hee) form. In large bowl, mix together zest of one lemon and one orange, then squeeze the juice out of the suckers into the bowl. Add honey -- lots. Like, squeeze the bear until your wrist hurts and then squeeze a little more. Add a pinch of nutmeg, or maybe cinnamon, perhaps pumpkin pie spice or just something that hasn't been off the spice rack in a while. Throw in some orange oil, or blood orange flavoured olive oil that you bought because that's what you thought Collette meant when she said orange oil, because really, how the hell do you get oil from an orange? Blood from a stone no, but oil from an orange yes? I'm still skeptical.

Then move towards the almonds, remember the stiffly peaked (hee hee) egg whites, dump the egg whites into the bowl. I bought one tin of Planter's almonds and one container of Farm Boy Natural Almonds. It was like the townies meeting the rough-hewn farm folk, or private school vs. public school -- those puny little canister almonds looked scared shitless. Toss until coated. Oh, before all this you should have preheated the oven to 350, or maybe 300. Place them on a cookie sheet and stick them in the oven. In a few minutes, your house will be filled with an aroma so foul your children will cover their faces and beg to be sold to the first available passing stranger. The good news is they won't ask to watch TV in the family room which is attached to the kitchen. The bad news is you start to suspect something crawled into your oven and died before you put the almonds in. Be strong -- all will yet be well. Toss the almonds every ten minutes until they look on the verge of burning. Take them out and let them cool. Resist the urge to toss them down the garbage disposal or send them to Afghanistan as a lethal terrorists-fighting weapon. Toss them in a buttload of icing sugar (yes, that is the metric term). Wonder briefly why you didn't just spend the goddamned five dollars at the craft show. Ransack house in vain search for sparkly snowflake-printed cellophane and ribbon. Stick almonds in crappy tupperware container. Tell kids it's safe to come out.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesdays: Be Careful What You Wish For

I WAS thinking more along the lines of a gentle snowfall of fat, white flakes on a day so still you could hear every flake land...

NOT so much for 60-kilometre winds and 15 centimetres on dentist-appointment day...

BUT I did ask for it. Here's to you, Amber -- hope it's balmy in your area today (I almost said 'around your parts' but that seemed rude). Guess I'll get out the Christmas cards.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giving for Beginners

We've recently started giving the kids an allowance. We bought them Moon jars from Mrs. Tiggy Winkles'. Moon jars are three triangular canisters that fit together and have a band to hold them together. The three canisters are labelled 'spend', 'save', and 'share'. I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to convince the kids to divert a portion of their allowance into the 'share' jar, but they were quite receptive. Angus and I have been looking through the World Vision catalogue. He's intrigued by the mosquito nets -- he's keen on donating some and he also thinks it wouldn't be a bad idea to get one for his bed, since he thinks he might have seen a few suspicious-looking mosquitos around and he's been feeling distinctly malaria-susceptible lately. He doesn't want to do the bunnies or guinea pigs -- he's willing to admit that in certain cases they might need to be eaten, but he'd rather not be directly responsible for delivering them to certain consumption. 

photo credit
creative commons license

Last week our school had a Christmas Bazaar where people donated stuff that kids could then buy for one to five dollars and have wrapped. I gave the kids ten dollars each, and when they came home, since it was Friday (allowance day) I told them they could just have their change for an allowance. Angus looked at his four dollars and seventy-five cents and said, a bit regretfully, 'okay, charity only gets seventy-five cents this week'.
My sister, whose house in London we're going to for Christmas, called me the other day to tell me she'd asked my five-year-old nephew what he wanted for Christmas and he said "I just wanted my Evie to come, and she is, so I'm happy". On the way home from piano lessons yesterday, Eve said "I know Christmas is supposed to be about spending time with your family and friends and stuff.... but it's hard for kids to resist the presents!" Sigh.

The first time we told Eve that giving was actually more fun than getting, she laughed the biggest, rudest, most disbelieving HAAAAAA ha you've ever heard. But she's more excited about what she bought me at the Bazaar than about anything she's getting (she did let slip that it was 'a kind of jewelry' before slapping her hands over her mouth and running away).

We're getting there. Slooooooooowly.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can't Win

When Angus was three-ish, we went over to a friend's house whose daughter had a toy cash register. It was love at first sight. He played with it the entire time we were over there and talked about it for days afterwards. At his next birthday, it would have been just plain cruel not to produce the 'cash richister'.
I hated that damned thing. It made annoying beeping noises, the toy money ended up under the couch cushions, and some kid at a party put Doritos in it so the drawer didn't open as well and felt greasy even after I washed it (the kid's mother, quite sensibly, said that her son had just put in the cash register what had the greatest value to him, so fair enough). I looked forward ardently to the day when he wouldn't yearn after every plastic piece of crap in existence.

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creative commons license
Then came Eve. Along with a metric crap-ton of Disney Fairy Beauty Sparkly Pink Mermaid Princess dolls, nightgowns, dress-up clothes, sippy cups, pull-ups, towels, Kleenex boxes etc. She would have begged for a tire iron that had Ariel's mug slapped on it. I thought, some day she won't be quite so susceptible to princess merchandise. That will be a good day.

Yesterday I was paging idly through the Toys R Us flyer (idly because my Christmas shopping is basically done and I would rather walk naked through a firing range wearing antlers than go into Toys R Us in December.) And suddenly I was welling up, because there was a Disney Princess toy cash register that both of my kids are too old to want.

Somebody smack me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Life is Good

My recent reading list has included Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, and February by Lisa Moore. So today I'm going to be grateful for living somewhere where I don't have to lie sleepless on the floor of my hallway in fear of being bombed in the night: for being able to pour a glass of water from the tap whenever I want: for being able to cross the street without wondering if I'm in a sniper's sights: for knowing my husband goes to work somewhere where his life isn't constantly endangered by poor safety standards and the capriciousness of the ocean.

I think it's important to read books like this, to know that some places and some lives are so different, to know why people flee their homelands and what they've left behind, to know, in my case, how good we really have it. No place and no life is unassailable, of course. Catastrophic illness and injury and horrible accidents can happen anywhere. The expression 'live every day as if it was your last' has often bothered me. How is it really possible to live every day as if it was your last and then have something left over for the next day when that day doesn't turn out to be your last? Then I think I realized that it doesn't mean to spend all your money and burn your house down -- it means not to miss any opportunities to have an adventure, to wear the clothes that make you feel like a princess, to tell people you love them, to help someone without worrying about looking odd, to sing out loud and laugh until your cheeks hurt.

I'm so far from perfect. I've gotten better at not collapsing in hysterics when tiny little things go wrong, but I still behave really indefensibly sometimes, considering how great my life is. It makes me feel helpless in a way, knowing that this is fiction based on horrible things that really happen, all the time -- bearing witness somehow doesn't seem to be enough. But for a start, I'm just going to try to be more grateful.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Right there, next to the three-year-old kumquats

I guess the list of things that drive me to the depths of despair is not that short. Watching the news. Bathing suit shopping. Trying to explain to my husband why my hair sucks. Never being able to remember which guy was prime minister when. Trying to help my son with his math homework. But cleaning out my cupboards? That's a whole new definition of despair. It's like dragging out hundreds of brightly labelled examples of how disorganized, slovenly, careless and unwholesome I am. I'm a freaking stay-at-home Mom -- shouldn't my cupboards be meticulously-planned, graphed-out marvels of neatness and order? Cans of tomato paste and bags of rice should leap into my waiting hands, ready for inclusion in my nightly menu meal. How the hell do I end up with six cans of black beans and no tomato soup on a regular basis? How many times can I get hit on the head with the same goddamned package of whole wheat pasta? And I swear to God, you know that disease where people are born and age like sixty years in five? Every can I buy has that disease. Seriously -- I clean out the cupboards at least every six months, and every time I find cans of beef broth or bottles of salad dressing that are older than this house.

I cleaned out the baking cupboard to get ready for Christmas baking. Turns out I have a five years' supply of peanut butter chips, flaked coconut and raisins, so I'll be looking up recipes accordingly. I also had an appalling amount of stale high-quality chocolate, which I can never bring myself to just throw out without trying, so I spent yesterday afternoon spitting out a lot of stale chocolate -- good times.

There is also drastic need for what my husband calls 'the sauce purge'. When we have a fridge and cupboards full of food but nothing to eat, it's generally because of a serious sauce surplus, without corresponding stuff in or on which to put said sauce. I think it's sort of like the shampoo-buying syndrome (this will make me pretty! This will make me a wonderful cook, perfect mother and a better lover!) If I went grocery shopping this week and bought a package of fifty chicken breasts, I'd have an outside chance of making a dent in the sauce.

So tomorrow for supper? Everybody gets one box of crackers. Of dubious freshness. With sauce. Then they can try some chocolate for dessert and see whether or not they actually feel like swallowing it (suspense! fun!). Then I will find some kind of twelve-step program (1. no matter how good the sale price is, nobody needs an eight-pack of condensed milk. 2. we already have applesauce. we already have applesauce. we already have applesauce. 3. when you think 'maybe we could try this', what you really mean is 'I want to pull this out of the cupboard five years from now and wonder what the hell I was thinking'. etc.) And we'll start clean.

Friday, December 4, 2009


It's a P.D. day. Which means in some ways everything is more relaxed, since the kids don't have to be bustled off to school or picked up. In some ways everything is louder and bouncier and more crowded since, well, the kids are indisputably HERE all day.

I was lazing in bed this morning after Matt had left for work. My alarm came on which meant CBC radio, and I was listening to somebody talking about an alternative prison system where inmates are taught spiritual centeredness and belief systems, which apparently is better for lowered recidivism rates than being whaled on by guards and sodomized in the shower (go figure). Eve came bounding in. This was the conversation:
"I want to get dressed. I need a pretty dress to wear to Marianna's. Usually you're facing that way when I come in. Where's that blackish blue dress with the polka dots?"
"It's too small."
"Awwww. I thought it would look nice with my rice necklace. I was thinking this would be the second time I got dressed having to pull something over my earrings, but that's not true, because the time I got my other ears pieressed -- HA! I said the time I got my other ears pieressed, how could I get other ears pieressed, I only have two pairs of ears -- HA!!! I said I had two PAIRS of ears, how could I have two PAIRS of ears!!! In Ice Age when the tiger has to sneak past the dinosaurs because the other elephant is having a baby he said 'I have to tiptoe! I have to tiptoe!' I'm tiptoeing, I'm shakin' my booty. 'I have to tiptoe!' I can't get that out of my head.... You know, for a Mom you don't say much."

(sound of me pulling the covers over my head).

One of my friend's kids used to call these 'Pity Days'. I kind of see her point.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No Green Christmases, Please

I'm feeling a little out of sorts. Generally I enjoy falling asleep to the drumming of rain on the roof. But it's freaking December! I really have no right to complain, because I did really quite like the freakishly mild November weather. My Mom and Dad are on my side -- my Mom says she can't get into the Christmas spirit with no snow, and my Dad said he felt like a moron putting up Christmas lights in a t-shirt last week-end. My husband said normally he'd agree with us, but at this point he couldn't care less if he ever saw snow again. 
photo credit
creative commons license
I need snow. I've wrapped all my Christmas presents while looking out into my backyard at an herb garden that's largely still viable -- in DECEMBER! In the capital of CANADA! I don't think I can start the Christmas cards though.
I don't know the real story about global warming. I know there have always been cycles, I know the Depression dustbowl happened without all the industry we have now, I know there are intelligent people that believe that we can't possibly have that much of an impact. But the Rideau Canal skating season seems to be getting shorter and shorter every year, the kids don't seem to need to wear anything to make their costumes warmer on Halloween, and it's raining! In December! And I have a bit of a sinking feeling. A feeling like I'm stuck in a science fiction story where I end up telling my kids about when they were babies and we would bundle them up at night and walk them through white streets with snow drifting softly down on us. And then they ask "what's a snowsuit?"
Please snow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why did the Stay at Home Moms Cross the Road?

This is my daughter's first year in school full days. My 'job' for the first few months was supposed to be getting the house in some kind of order (honestly, I was just aiming for 'not squalor'), doing some writing and getting into some kind of shape (honestly, I was just aiming for 'not perpetually lying in bed in a carb-laden endorphinless stupour'). Life does keep getting in the way, but significant headway has been made in the house (eight giant bins and four garbage bags of stuff donated, the laundry room floor rediscovered and a few flat surfaces actually staying empty for up to twelve hours at a time!), I got through NaBloPoMo with a small amount of grace and pride left intact (I wasn't reduced to cataloguing my medicine cabinet or describing my kids' rashes, anyway), and I've discovered a few healthy meals the kids will eat (sometimes I even cook them). I make it to the gym on a semi-regular basis again, and I try to go for a half-hour walk most days.

In the name of instituting a tradition that doesn't involve alcohol, my friend Pam and I go for a two-hour walk every Wednesday morning after dropping the kids off at school. I really look forward to this, because we talk and laugh and I have accomplished something significant before ten o'clock in the morning. But as far as making me healthier? 

This is how it goes: We meet in the schoolyard, kiss our kids and compare notes on how hard it was to get them out of the house. We sometimes get dirty looks for loud outbursts of hilarity when the kids are lined up quietly waiting to go inside (that's right. The kids are quiet. The parents get in trouble for being too loud). We walk up the street the school is on, walk down Strandherd a good long way to Steamers, where we may or may not stop for caffeine re-provisioning. We walk up the street past Eagles Nest (the baseball diamond). We loop around and start back down Woodroffe. We stop to rotate our ankles, in the hope (in my case) that it will stop me from feeling like my right foot is about to come apart at the ball-and-socket joint of my big toe). We go down the Burger King street whose name I can't remember right now to my truck. Pam gets in. I open the door, turn slightly sideways and try to lever myself in without actually bending at my back, which now doesn't feel like bending. We sit there and describe what hurts where, and talk about how invigorating a seven-to-ten kilometre walk is. When I can lift my arms enough to grip the steering wheel, I drop Pam off at her house. I drive to Farmboy to buy something healthy for lunch. Have you ever wrapped a cinnamon bun around bacon? Me neither, but I think I might try it. Assuming I can get up from this chair and hobble into the kitchen.
Yep. I'm on the road to wellville.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 30+1 (What? I'm obsessive compulsive, as if I'm going to be able to just stop now.)

I was working in the school library this morning. It was extra busy because the library was closed Thursday and yesterday, so it was a steady stream of classes. There were also classes I don't usually see, so I didn't automatically know everybody's name to check out their books.
photo credit
creative commons license

The library technician I work with is great, but she lacks a certain freewheeling wackiness, and I kind of see it as my job to generate a supplement. The problem, I've realized, is that if kids aren't used to humour being present in a certain location, they lose the knack for it. A good number of the teachers do joke around with their classes sometimes, but the library has clearly been a solemn, formal place. 
There's nothing more embarrassing than making a play on words with some kid's name, or saying something witty about their book choice, and having it go over like a lead balloon. And this school has kids named Scout, Flip and (I kid you not) Indiana Jones, so sometimes it's really hard to resist. I did have some fun with a girl whose last name was Freake -- clearly she'd had to learn some defensive humour walking around with a handle like that.
When I started going in, if a boy was a good friend of Angus's, sometimes I'd pretend to forget his name. Did they laugh? Did they call me a wise-ass? They did not. They stared at me earnestly and said "It's me, Noah, Mrs. Adams. I was just at your house for supper last night."

After two and a half years of this, the fog is starting to lift for some of them. When the library tech explains a rule and I chime in saying "because if you don't do that we tattoo the rest of the book on your arm" or "we've seen this go horribly wrong before", they smile (some of them even chuckle). When they forget to tell me they're renewing a book and not checking it out for the first time and the computer makes that horrible clunking sound and I glare at them theatrically (because they know how I hate it when the computer clunks at me), they laugh instead of bursting into tears or slinking away to hide behind the teacher.
And then today? While I was frantically trying to check everybody's books out as quickly as possible to make room for the other seventeen classes? A couple of them when I asked their names said "Guess!" Which I did, no matter how much longer it took. It was clearly my own damned fault.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 30!

I actually forgot how I'd meant to end my post about family expressions from a couple of days ago. For a while we called hand sanitizer 'magic soap' because it cleaned your hands and you didn't have to rinse it. So I was driving home in the truck with Angus on a snowy day and the windshield wiper fluid was out and I couldn't see two feet in front of me. I called Matt because I was nervous about finding the latch to open the hood (because I can never find it), then I hung up and told Angus (who was about four, I think) that we had to stop at the gas station for a minute. He said "are we out of gas?" (because he's an anxious kid and frequently fears that we will run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and have to eat each other). I said "no. I need some...." and I gestured vaguely at the windshield, trying to remember if we call wiper fluid 'magic water' or what, and flailing around for an explanation. Angus said, drily, 'windshield wiper fluid?'. Hmph.
Mary Lynn, I love 'do the needful'. We have one from an Austrian friend who was in grad school with Matt and liked his Caesar salad 'not too saucy'.

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creative commons license
We were at my Mom and Dad's for dinner last night. Matt has always been kind of in awe of my Dad's childhood and adolescence; he grew up in Stony Rapids, which is so north in Saskatchewan it's almost in the Yukon. His Dad was a trapper. He has stories about driving a team of sled dogs right into the river, teaching aboriginal children when their real teacher went nuts and had to be airlifted out, and caribou season, when the herd would run right through their front yard and they would just stand there and pick a few off to freeze and eat all winter. One of Matt's favourite stories was when my Dad moved into town as a teen-ager and was astounded when he saw kids riding bikes in the spring and summer. Where he lived, they only rode bikes in the winter. On the frozen river.

So last night we were talking about rearranging Eve's room to fit in the new shelving unit we'd bought her. She was off her head with excitement and Angus was a bit put out because we hadn't bought anything new for his room and haven't had time to rearrange it this week-end. My Dad (who loves my children but can't resist needling them at every opportunity) said 'Look, when I was your age I didn't even have a room!' (which is true. He slept in the living room). Angus (who is perfectly aware of how to deal with my Dad by now) said 'where did you sleep? On the street?'. And Matt and I and my Mom started laughing right away, because of course then my Dad said 'no! We didn't HAVE streets!'.

I know -- not a terribly weighty post to end NaBloPoMo with. Whatever. I'm happy that my parents live here and we can go have Sunday dinner with them, when four and a half years ago they lived five hours away with no plans to move. I'm happy that my woods-seasoned, tough S.O.B. Dad paints Eve's fingernails and cooks her scrambled eggs on demand and comes to Angus's baseball games and learns all the kids' names (on all the teams) and cheers for them. I'm happy that my kids are more excited about being with their cousins for Christmas than they are about the presents (although Eve does say 'it's hard for kids to resist the presents'). I'm happy November's almost over. I'm happy and grateful for the interesting and admirable people I've met blogging and what they're teaching me. It all feels a little precarious, but very precious.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

They'll Have to do Better Than That

So on Monday, which is Irish dance night, I checked my email in the afternoon and there was a message from the dance teacher titled 'Get Back to Me ASAP'. Thinking that maybe class was cancelled, I opened the email. This was the message:

hope you get this on time ? Sorry i didn't inform you about my trip in the United Kingdom for a program, I'm presently in London and am having some difficulties here because i was mugged at gun point at the park of the hotel where i lodged all cash,credit-cards and cell were stolen off me and other valuable things where on my way to the hotel, i only have limited access to the internet.Presently my passport and my things are been held down by the hotel management pending when i make payment.The hotel manager won't let me leave until i settle the hotel bills now am freaked out.I will like you to assist me with a loan of £1750.00) to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with, I'll refund the money back to you as soon as i return, kindly let me know what you can do in order to assist me.Hope to read from you soonest.Sincerely,
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creative commons license

Wow. Apparently between Saturday, when there was a special rehearsal for the Christmas recital, and Monday, the dance teacher had flown to the United Kingdom, been mugged at gunpoint and developed shockingly bad grammar and punctuation habits. Clearly the poor girl needed help and a copy of Strunk and White's very, very badly.

I realize it's a bit disingenuous for me to mock the unbelievability of this scam, given that I gave a hundred dollars I could ill afford to 'Brad Jacobson' who came into my bookstore, asked about Urban Peasant cookbooks and then pretended that he had left his kids playing in the park and locked his car keys and wallet in his jacket pocket when he locked his jacket in the trunk. On a Sunday. But come on. If you're going to go to these lengths to swindle people, at least compose a halfway credible message. "I am having some difficulties here because I was mugged at gunpoint"? "My things are being held down by the hotel management pending when I make payment"? (This gives me an amusing image of a couple of British men in hotel uniforms sprawled over her passport and 'things', sternly demanding money). "Now am freaked out"? I should say so.

It's really not that funny, I guess. This falls into the category of people my sister claims have a special place in hell reserved for them -- assholes who try to play on people's kindness and sympathy in order to rob them. What if I was a grandmother and this email purported to be from my granddaughter? At the very least, it might give me an unpleasant moment. The strange part is that, the very technology that makes this kind of scam possible would theoretically also make it possible for it to be investigated and found to be baseless ("Hey Jennifer, you haven't just been robbed at gunpoint in the UK, right? See you tonight.")

I still think the worst crime is their writing skills.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Family Words

My friend Zarah and I were talking about how getting your kids to try new things is all in the way you frame them. To get Zarah and her brother to try paté, they didn't say "this is smushed up animal organ"; they introduced them to 'spready meat'. (then I laughed for ten minutes, then agreed that was quite clever). I was thinking about the way family expressions get immortalized, until suddenly you realize you're in mixed company using completely ridiculous terms for things.

Photo by Cassidy
Eve was over at my Mom's one night for dinner. I can't remember what she was eating, but she kept asking for 'spread cheese'. My mother, quite reasonably, offered her cream cheese, and took a bit of abuse over it. After considerable strain and strife, it emerged that 'spread cheese' was actually shaker Parmesan. And now, when we're having spaghetti (or when Eve is having pretty much anything)? Yeah, we're all offering and asking for 'spread cheese'. Even though 'sprinkle cheese' would be more accurately descriptive.

When Angus was a baby, he was sent two lambskins as gifts. According to the people who sent them, the kids they knew who had them absolutely adored them, and when they were upset they would ask to go to bed, where the lambskins were used as blankets. Angus was completely uninterested in the lambskins. When Eve was very small, however, the lambskins gradually became objects of comfort and adoration that verged on the sacred. She called them (well, the bigger one, which emerged as the clear favourite), 'Fuzzy'. Well, she called it 'Thussies', to be accurate, but we interpreted it as Fuzzy, and this is what it became as her speech became clearer. One day when my friend was over with her two little girls, Eve was throwing a fit and while I was holding her I said 'Claire, do you mind handing me Eve's Fuzzy?'. She looked around and, quite reasonably, picked up a stuffed lamb and gave it to me. I thought that was pretty smart, given what I'd made her work with.

We still call McDonald's 'Old McDonald's', just like Angus always did (not that we ever go there or eat there or anything. We just talk about it in the abstract, as in 'that evil bastion of inedible evilness Old McDonald's has hockey cards again. Too bad we never go there.')

Eve's friend who lives next door is named Victoria, and her sister's name is Alexandra, but they call each other Pia and Zaza. Victoria's mother says she's often found herself in the middle of a park yelling "Zaza, where are you?", and then feeling like a dork.

I like these little family shorthands. I remember in grade six one of my teacher's talking about this exact phenomenon, and saying, "well, it's not like one day a kid calls tomatoes tommy-toes and then the mother says 'now, make sure you call them tommy-toes from now on'." Now I see how it happens. It happens when you live with people every day for years and you understand each other like nobody else does.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Playing Hooky

My husband is taking today off since it's American Thanksgiving and there's a small chance his phone will ring a few less hundred times than usual. We're going on a date to (dramatic overture)... IKEA. It's been impossible to find a time to get there and get a new kitchen table. Then we're going to do a few more romantic exciting things like cleaning out the basement spare room and putting up Christmas lights, before I leave to work at the school Christmas bizarre (sorry, bazaar).

Matt came down this morning and was getting the kids ready for school. They directed suspicious looks at his jeans and demanded to know what was up.

Angus: "it's not the week-end. Why are you wearing that?"
Matt: "I'm taking some time to myself."
Angus: "WHAT?"
Eve: "Without US?"
Matt: "yes."
Eve: "....does Mommy know?"
Matt: "I don't care if she knows, I'm doing it anyway."
Angus "yeah, right."
Matt: "yes, of course she knows!"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Catholic Post

Technically it would be 'My Catholicism Post', but it just sounded better to me that way. I wanted this post to be thoughtful and reasoned and in-depth, but then November crashed down on me, so it's just going to be... published.
My mother was raised by devout Catholic Polish parents. They didn't eat meat on Fridays, they went to Church every Sunday (via horse and wagon), my grandparents walked out of Poland across Europe and ended up in Saskatchewan, dropping a kid in practically every country along the way (judging how pissed off my grandfather was when he had his prostate removed after the age of eighty and then figured out what this now prevented him from doing, the profusion of kids might have been more due to his being determined to get action no matter what the hell else was going on and less due to their obeying the church's teaching on birth control, but still...).

So even though my mother married my father, who is Protestant in name only and about as far away from 'devout' or 'Catholic' as you can get, my sister and I weren't about to escape Catholic school, Catholic Church, or Catholic anything else. We were baptized, reconciled, confirmed and duly frightened out of our wits on a regular basis.

My mother says I'm lucky that I can choose not to go to Mass now without being racked by guilt, because she never could. But my mother took birth control pills. She says she had no problem filtering what the church said through her own conscience and reason and, well, figuratively telling the Church to go bugger itself (yeah, not literally, because she's still uncomfortable with gay marriage). What my mother doesn't really get is that, if I had stayed Catholic, I wouldn't have been able to take birth control pills. I was an anxious, guilt-ridden, tormented, depressive child, and the adult I've grown into -- well, let's just say there are no big surprises. Catholicism was the absolute worst thing for me to be subjected to as a child. It confirmed all my fears about what an unworthy, disappointing object of sin I was. My mother would frequently use the expression 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' when I didn't follow through on something. Who the hell says that to a kid? What kid doesn't frequently not follow through on things? I would go to bed and spend hours praying to the Virgin Mary (ha!) to help me not be damned to hell.

When I went away to University, I still went to Mass for the first few years. At McMaster, there was an ecumenical service with a priest who actually put literary references into his sermons -- that totally kicked ass. But I was continually questioning a lot of the things I'd been taught about my religion, and the answers didn't add up a lot of the time. If I was fine with people being gay, wasn't willing to go around telling my premarital-sex-having friends they were going to hell, and not planning on having fifteen kids some day, how exactly was I still Catholic?

My son (who is not the oldest of fifteen) is much the same kind of child I was. He has anxiety issues, he broods on things, he works his poor stomach into knots over tiny, tiny things. There is no way in hell (or some other actually real place) that I would subject him to the same exacerbating influence to which I was subjected. I don't blame my mother, because she didn't know any better. I do, and if I did the same thing, it would verge on child abuse as far as I'm concerned. I was going for a walk with my neighbour (whose kids are in Catholic school) one night and I voiced these thoughts and she looked at me with a slightly horrified expression and said "well, you know, they've really toned a lot of it down these days, especially for the younger kids". Well, I'm glad to hear it, but if they had to tone it down, doesn't that mean there was something wrong in the first place? Doesn't that sort of challenge the whole immutable, written-in-stone, dictated-by-God thing?

One of my friends from Youth Encounter (cripes, don't even get me started) went to University, and the first Sunday he was walking down the hall and someone said "where are you going?" and he said "to Church" and they said "what for? There's no God". He was upset and freaked out, as if the fact had never occurred to him before. I still find the idea that there is no Prime Mover, no other reality and no afterlife as strange as the idea that there is. I think spirituality is fine. I think assuming a connection between humans, and between humans and the earth, is healthy. I don't think we should all live hedonistically and thoughtlessly. I just think we should help other people because we're all in this together, and not because we'll go to hell if we don't. And I'm not even going to go into the "I must kill you because you worship a different God" thing because I know you all have things to do.

I'm completely willing to answer my kids' questions about religion and take them to church if they want to go when they're older. But they will not be indoctrinated before they're old enough to think and examine and criticize the doctrines for themselves.

Now, since there has been nothing remotely amusing in this post, let me tell you about going to Chapters with my friend Collette last night. I picked up the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book to show her, so she bought it, along with Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters. On the way out, there was an older woman behind us. Collette said to me "I want to read Pride and Prejudice first, do you want the Sea Monsters one?" I turned around to answer her, and the look on the woman's face was priceless.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Inmates Run the Asylum

Matt and the kids playing Cranium Cadoo (the juvenile version of cranium: you still have to do charades, or draw something to make people guess the clue, or sculpt things out of clay, but they're 'easier'):
"Okay, Daddy's drawing."
"What is that?"
"A tree?"
"A tree?"
"DADDY, is it a tree? No?"
"um, a baby tree?"
"a bird... in a tree?"
"a boy...climbing a tree?"
"time's up. What WAS that?"
"Jack and the BEANSTALK?"
"WHAT??? That's a BEANSTALK? And what's that?"
"The cow."
"..... BUT he gave the cow AWAY! And besides, it looks like a pig."
Children are merciless.
Dinner table conversation:
Matt: "are you nervous for your piano recital?"
Eve: "I'm just nervous that I'm going to do a mistake."
Me: "I did lots of recitals and I made lots of mistakes. Everyone does, it doesn't matter, you just keep playing."
Angus: "Who cares, they're all gonna clap for us anyway. Most of them are Grandmas, they don't care if we screw up."
Eve: "Maybe they'll throw flowers."
Matt: "if you're really good they throw underwear."
Me: (choking and looking disbelievingly at deliverer of unbelievably inappropriate comment)
Eve: (helpless with laughter) "UNDERWEAR??? Has that actually happened to you?"
Me: "NO. He's being a dork. Do not tell ANYONE... actually, go ahead and tell, make sure you tell them DADDY said it."
Angus: "My DAD SPECIFICALLY said..."
Eve: "Why would they pacifically throw underwear at you?"
Angus: "NOT PACIFICALLY. Well, unless you were on a boat."
Eve: "So if you really stink... no, if you're really good, they throw..."
Angus:"How would they get your underwear?"
Me: "I'm going to bed."
Angus: "It's only six-thirty."
Me: "Good night"
Eve: "Can I come?"
We got Angus his own email address last night. He's incredibly excited. He's emailed our whole family telling them, and asking them to email him back. He also has one email address from a girl in his class. I explained to him that he doesn't need to tell them his email address, because it comes with the message and they can just hit reply. He said, "I don't think Amanda's that smart".
Right after supper, he asked if he could go downstairs and email Amanda. Matt immediately said, "hey, the deal is we get to see all the email messages", and I immediately said "why downstairs? Is it a looooove letter?". Angus looked faintly exasperated and said, "No, I just didn't want to demand that you get your laptop out for me to use right after dinner!"
Matt and I apologized for being asshats.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review: February, by Lisa Moore

February. February can't possibly suck as much as November. I've been trying to drag my ass out to the gym all morning. My ass is not cooperating.

February is about Helen O'Mara, whose husband Cal died when the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank. This really happened, which I didn't know until I read the acknowledgements. Helen's husband died when she was thirty, with three kids and one on the way. The book jumps around in time, but essentially tells the story of Helen moving on with her life while still mourning her husband fully and completely for twenty-six years. Jumping around in time can be a dangerous thing to try, but it really works here, particularly because it demonstrates that, raising her children, dealing with her daughter's teenage pregnancy, travelling with her sister, she is always thinking of Cal, remembering what time they had, thinking of the time of which they were robbed, feeling guilty for not being strong enough or sad enough to follow him.

Lisa Moore is a fantastic writer. Except, man, she uses the word spank a lot in this book. The first time I read it I thought "wow, what an innovative, wonderfully descriptive use of the word spank". The fourth time I thought, hmm, the editor didn't want to say, 'Lisa, hon, any chance you're beating your kids a little too much lately? Or, well, you know, what happens in your bedroom totally stays in your bedroom, but..." No, obviously this is inappropriate November humour, but look:
18-“John was this kind of kid: You’d have to say Stop bouncing that ball. The loud spank of it had an echo and the light over the dining room table would vibrate from the noise.”

57-“You don’t want to remember him that way, Dave said. She heard a loud spank of water, a great gushing slap, and looked out into the hall. She had let the bath run over and the water had come through the ceiling.”

212-“Helen’s shirt was soaked under the arms and it stuck to her back. The other cars were very bright in the sunshine. The sun spanked on their red hoods and blue hoods and on the chrome.”

221-“Massage is her area of expertise. Lulu believes every tender hurt and sorrow collects in the flesh and can be worked out with warm baby oil and a good spanking.”

Okay admittedly, that last one was a conventional use of the term. And the others are all innovative and effective. Maybe it would have helped if I hadn't had to read the book in a day and a half so I could give it to my mother because there are a million requests at the library so we won't be able to renew it. Still, shouldn't a good editor catch that kind of thing? Or am I completely overthinking this because it's November and my ass so devoutly wants to stay stuck to this chair and not get dragged to the gym?

It's a great book, my (or her) strange preoccupation with the word spank notwithstanding. It's not easy to make someone's grief seem keen and sharp and distinct from the general grief of the world, but Moore does it. November is bad. February is good.