Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A doozy of a day, as told in a list of gifts

Some things for which I was thankful yesterday, roughly in chronological order:

Nyquil.

Seven hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Finding the other half of the broken barrette without turning on a light or waking the baby.

The healing powers of unpasteurized honey.

My water-proof stroller cover.

Flexible plans. Also, smart phones.

Sturdy, warm, and washable baby-wearing gear.

A bus caught in the nick of time.

A forgiven bus fare.

Friends who made time to visit us despite the rain, the questionable locale, and their busy schedule.

Coffee.

A toybox at the office to distract a grumpy preschooler.

Another timely bus.

The fellow bus patrons who jumped up to help my stroller safely to the curb.

My preschooler, whose enthusiasm helped me see past the dropped keys and the locked house to the nearby promise of dryness and doughnuts. 

The enhanced sweet scents of blossoms in the rain.

The couple who paid for our un-budgeted lunch as their daily act of kindness.

My mother-in-law, who brought over my husband's keys so I could get back in the house before the school bus came.

Ready-made freezer meals.

The toybox's handler's foresight to include a prize for the school girl who missed out on our adventure - took the "no fair" right out of her mouth.

Cloudbursts.

Coldplay.

An excuse to tackle gorgeous Russian church music and visit with a friend.

Collective memory of several bottles of champagne.

And, sprinkled throughout the day (and most of the decade prior), my husband, who fished out my keys from the crack between house and front stoop, put the kids to bed while I was out for the evening, and has dealt with such foibles, re-worked plans, fudged budgets, and so much more mixed in with the magic of eight years of marriage. 

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. Yes, I am blessed to have you. To our continuing adventure!


  


Saturday, 24 May 2014

Quickening

I actually did write my five-minute on Friday this time, but it was too beautiful out to go in and type it out. So I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo on Saturday again, and nursing my first sunburn of the year - I did, in fact, go in to fetch sunscreen, I just didn't get any on myself. That thing about moms and oxygen masks? It counts for skin health too. May my lobster shoulders be enough lesson for the rest of the summer.

This week's prompt is "close."

Life took me to the river several times this week. Up and down the folds of ravines, across bridges bafflingly far apart, winding close to the lifeblood of the land. Such cross-city journeys usually leave me banging my head against my roadmap: steep inclines, brush, and rugged terrain makes the trip from A to B a twenty minute meander via X, F, and J. The detours became a treat, however, rather than a trial, when it meant witnessing a valley come alive. The green crept up daily from forest floor to canopy, the birches leading the fray and the elms lagging behind. The brush seemed richer with every day's trek, the emeralds and limes enhancing from pin pricks to haze to full-on saturation of unfurled life.

I forget about our urban microclimats from my north-west vantage. The river's gifts come a little quicker than the prairie water table's. What a joy to witness the quickening up close.

That it's for this week. Do follow the link above to Lisa-Jo Baker's site to see the five-minute masterpieces from many a brave soul, unedited and unashamed.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Twitterature, May 2014

Last month for Spring Break, I brought out the crazy: I walked all three kids across three neighbourhoods to the nearest library to load up the stroller with books. Despite my doubts, my seven year old did just fine walking that far on her own two feet, and my four year old was content to ride it out in the stroller. My three month old stayed snuggly wrapped against my chest, but only as long as I didn't bend over. Subsequently, all my book choices came from the top shelf of the first wall of general fiction, chosen mainly for their titles and brightly coloured spines. In the Russian roulette of reading choices, I think I won. Next visit I'll start on the back wall, and show some love to authors from another chunk of the alphabet. 

Here's what I've read:

Bone Worship, by Elizabeth Eslami
A mesmerizing tale of an Iranian-American college dropout, piecing together who she is and where she came from by writing out every story her father had ever told her about himself - from growing up in Iran to his adult life in the States - while actively trying to prevent him from arranging her marriage. I loved the weave of the narrative from present to past and back again, and all the glaring inconsistencies that come from half-remembered tales, a cultural divide, and a generation gap. Beautiful, funny, and cleverly written.

When in Doubt, Add Butter, by Beth Harbison
This was pure chic-lit indulgence. A butter-cream sweet story about a private chef juggling her quirky clients, keeping her business afloat, making peace with her past, and finding love in the process (including one scene that will keep you from handing it to your twelve-year-old). Engaging, easy-reading, laugh-out-loud fun.

Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder, by Ken Greenberg
I picked this tome off the librarian's recommend shelf over a year ago, and found everything I love and hate about cities right there in the introduction. Being a marathon of a memoir, it wasn't something I could read through without racking up a fortune in library fines, so I returned it half-read and ordered my own copy from Amazon. Unfortunately, literary brain-death was setting in, so my order shipped and sat on my bookshelf, uncracked, for months on end, while I told everyone who'd listen how wonderful it was. It was still a tough slog, but I'm so glad I finally finished it. It opened my eyes to how cities work - and don't work - the importance of public space, and hope for urban life after suburban sprawl. It made me want to sit in the nearest park, walk my neighbourhood, bike downtown, and send a copy to the mayor. If you've ever wanted to see Jane Jacob's thought in action, pick it up. If you're Western Canadian, however, brace yourself for an onslaught of Torontonian mentionitis. Greenberg spent the majority of his career in the self-proclaimed centre of the universe, and it shows.

That's it for this month. Do check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for this month's array of short(ish) literary reviews here.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Chelsea mornings

This winter, I took a bit of a sabbatical from school-morning motherhood. With a new night owl under my wing, 6:30 am had become "one last late-night snack time" rather than "wake-up time", and getting our groggy first-grader up and at 'em before seven became a recipe for missing the bus. Thankfully, my husband had wisely planned a three-week vacation around our Christmas birth, with another three weeks of part-time to follow, so he took over steering our oldest straggler from breakfast to bus stop - and bouncing our genuine early bird off to preschool - before heading off to work himself. 

Once the part-time work began, preschool pickup was on me, but being out the door by eleven instead of 7:30 seemed miraculous. I'd listen sleepily to the tumult, secure behind a closed door and stern orders of "don't wake Mommy and the baby," alternately nursing and dozing through the morning rush until first father and daughter - and then father and son - tumbled out the door. 

Sweet silence.

Somewhere around the neighbourhood of 9:30, I'd sneak out of bed and nab my clothes for the morning. I'd take my time in the bathroom, revelling at the luxury of getting up well past dawn in January. I'd potter off to the kitchen, boiling water, slicing oranges, heating bacon fat in our two-egg frying pan. I'd choose tea over coffee to skip the jar of the grinder; beyond the sizzle of the eggs and the tick of the toaster, all was quiet. The novelty was too precious to disturb. 

I'd sit at table, blissfully alone, watching the sun stream out over the oak, catching the steam from my mug, the jewel-pink glint of the caracara. I'd munch away in solitude, with Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" streaming through my head: 

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey
And a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses

Oh, won't you stay 
We'll put on the day 
And we'll talk in present tenses


There was jam on my toast as often as honey, and eggs instead of milk, but the sunlight was spectacular. Before I awoke, the downtown commuter traffic had written itself into parking stalls, so silence reigned, both inside and out. In a busy house on a busy street, this morning stillness was just short of miraculous.

Not every morning played out this way. There were days my eggs were abandoned for the sake of baby's breakfast, where cliff bars were consumed as I sped-walked to preschool pickup. There was one day I unwittingly exchanged a Chelsea morning for granola and coffee on the front steps at noon; the sun was warm and the babe asleep within my coat, so I said "yes" to supervised front-yard play and enjoyed the mild winter weather as much as my son. 

February came, bringing full-time work for Daddy and earlier mornings for Mommy again. Thing Two is on me - both coming and going - so out-the-door time has moved up before nine. My husband still handles Thing One; sometimes I stagger out of bed in time for a hairstyle or a hug, but often I don't see my first-born until the late afternoon brings the school bus. I miss the time together, but not the early or the scramble. 

Thing Three has proved a sound sleeper. We're back upstairs with the rest of the family now; the crib and rocking chair tuck nicely under the eaves of our attic-like master bedroom. My little nesting instinct nudges its approval before going back to sleep. It feels good to pull clothes out of my own dresser instead of the laundry basket I'd parked on the guest room floor. Seven-thirty still feels pretty bleary, but the light's the same now in May as it was at nine back in January. This year, I skipped out on the last half of the pre-dawn morning stumbles

Mitchell describes the mornings that inspired her 1969 lyrics as a very young and lovely time. They had her looking back to her Chelsea apartment in her life before record deals. My own breakfasts of sunshine and solitude had me looking forward; someday some other mother's midnight birth may have this future midwife sneaking late into bed and waking to silence, the rest of my household long gone for school and work. Perhaps I'll greet full daylight with tea and toast and oranges, and marvel that something as needy and unpredictable as a new-born babe could give the gift of breakfast quiet. 

Here in the present, however, my own newborn babe was mainly a catalyst. My gentle entry into the mornings as a mother of three was the brain-child of my haggard husband.  I doubt I would have thought of it myself, let alone asked for it. So thanks, Sweetheart. Consider Mother's Day covered ;)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A sacrifice of praise

Thursday afternoon found me standing at the kitchen sink for the second time in as many weeks, engaged in old-school housekeeping. Last week, the washing machine soap drawer jammed, and my lovely front-loader was reduced to rinse-and-spin capabilities. I washed bibs and delicates that were easy to ring and hard to do without (for such is life with my little spit-up queen), and waited for the repairman to call me back. This week, I was washing dishes in my old-fashioned dishpan, an heirloom usually saved for washing babies or catching fresh-milled apple sauce, waiting for the sink to drain. It took nearly three extra-large jugs of liquid plumber, but the flesh-and-blood plumber wasn't called.

I check Lisa-Jo's site for Five-Minute-Friday's word of the week before tumbling into bed. It's "gratitude". Ugh. Nope, don't like that word. Not today. It grates, it begrudges, don't you know the week I've had?

Gratitude, gratefulness. Getting better. Thankfulness, eucharist. Ah. That, I can get behind. Somethings just sound better in Greek.

Chrysostom begins the Eucharistic Canon with a call to attend and offer oblation in peace. The faithful respond with a couple sentence fragments that always left me baffled: "A mercy of peace. A sacrifice of praise."

How does one sacrifice praise? Isn't praise a verb? How does one give an action to the Creator?

The liturgical dance continues: "Let us give thanks unto the Lord."

"It is meet and right to worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit..."

So to give thanks is to worship. To worship is to remind oneself of who God really is. Is to sacrifice praise to see the blessing when it's easier to see the complaint?

Gratitude.

My old-fashioned homemaker days were the only open window days with bitter weather in between. Without those chores before me, I wouldn't have stood so long in that breeze. My reports of automatic laundry loss were met with an offer of manual help instead. My mother-in-law played laundromat. The most needed loads got done.

There was money in the budget to forgo making lunch on Thursday. I took the kids for brunch at Cora's. They behave beautifully, considering their ages. They ate, didn't yell, and the baby slept right on. I wouldn't have tried it on a normal day. I'm glad for the memory. We had leftovers for supper. The microwave still works. So does the dishwasher. The dishes didn't pile up.

It's odd to think of the ordinary blessings as being praiseworthy. Like Jonah, I'm too quick to complain that the miraculous plant has been eaten. I'm left in the sun like I would have been without the intervention I didn't notice. There was no thanks given when the soap drawer slid open and the dish water swirled and sucked into a funnel down the drain. I didn't notice the twenty minutes the baby played quietly by herself, but I sure noticed the minute her cries interrupted my revery.

Our brains filter out the usual and hone in on the novel. It's easy to see the little ill sticking out of the sea of good. It takes effort to not ignore my abundant, mundane, daily blessings. It's hard to work to see, to acknowledge, to give thanks.

A sacrifice of praise.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo.

N.B. This was way more than five minutes, but still fairly freely written fare. See what other brave writers did with "grateful"(looks like I misremembered. Sorry!) over at Five-Minute-Fridays here.

Friday, 2 May 2014

A beautiful mess

It's Friday again, and Lisa-jo has chosen a fun word again: mess. Today's post is a bit of a jumble. I started it on my phone while at the bakeshop and finished it at home. It's probably five minutes worth of work, scattered over several hours. Do pop by Five-Minute-Friday's link-fest to see what others have created today.

A post about "mess."

My hair is a mess.

I've been out walking, brazenly bare-headed despite the temperature because it's May. The wind's whirled away this morning's 15 minutes of round brush and blow dryer (first pre-breakfast post-baby; still feel like a superstar). But it's still my friend. I follow its coaxing shoulder nudge on when to turn the corner, and once I'm done at the bank let it blow me on to the Bakeshop for coffee. I reason there's time enough for a French press worth there if there's time to do the same at home. And besides, I'm running low. This side trip is extending my supply and my rushed breakfast could use a pastry supplementation.

My logic is a mess too.

I order brioche p├ępin - a cream filled bread (it looks kind of like eggs. Eggs make good breakfast), and studded with chocolate (dark chocolate, like the Alpen my son polished off this morning. Also good breakfast). This is second breakfast after all, so I add a second brioche. This one has dark chocolate mousse and black berries. Fruit is also healthy.

Messy logic continues.

My coffee comes with a pitcher of steamed milk. Clearly I've made the right decision. I scatter my newly laundered wrap with crumbs of flaky pastry while I wait for my chosen brew. More mess. If the baby keeps up her usual four-bib-an-hour spit up routine, my impulse trip could mean a wet walk home. But that's okay. A full blackberry tumbles onto my plate.

A beautiful, jammy mess.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Kitchen rambles

I'm standing at my kitchen counter, very present to the sun warming the backs of my knees as I chop my way through an onion. I'm not so present to my first-grader, reading quietly aloud a room and a half away. This evening's reading assignment is a book titled Les rayons X; I should probably tell her to speak up, but frankly, X-rays just aren't intriguing enough to learn about in my rusty second language. Her last non-fiction pick was better: real life dragons of the world. The only one of the six varieties of dragons I knew about were Komodos, and even then I learned something new. When threatened, a Komodo dragon will empty its stomach contents to better outrun its predator. It's a rather unpleasant parallel to dumping sandbags to lighten the load, but survival tactics have a tendency to bring out the nasty. I suppose it's better to lose your lunch and live to eat another than to die digesting. Somewhere, some frat house is probably planning a Komodo run: drink 'til you puke, then run a mile. Whoever staggers to the finish line first, wins. I think I'll pass.

The meal I'm preparing is not lunch, it's supper, and a heavy one at that. The festal season brings out the bacon in me, so I'm making Crispy Mac 'n Cheese, an old fatty favourite from my mother-in-law's recipe file from when casseroles were in vogue and calorie counting was not. I don't think she makes it any more. The recipe calls for a can of cream of celery soup, freshly crisped and crumble bacon, and three cups of shredded cheddar cheese. It's delicious, but it's time consuming to prepare, and the end result is high in salt and low on protein. I don't have any onion salt and don't want to be bothered with thawing only 5 strips of bacon, so I'm frying fresh onions in bacon fat saved from an earlier Paschal breakfast and tossing in real bacon bits from the bag in my fridge. I boil the pasta while I fry so I can reuse the pot to make the sauce. The dishwasher only holds so much cookware.

I'm always baffled that casseroles have maintained their "easy meal" status. Far from the days before tupperware, where a mushroom sauce could save last night's broccoli and pasta from back-of-the-fridge desiccation, they've evolved into a multi-step process, starting with a grocery basket's worth of specific fresh ingredients and ending in a disastrous kitchen mess. Sauces, starch, vegetable, meat, all cooked in their own containers, assembled in yet another vessel, and shoved in the oven just long enough for you to stack all those prep dishes and realize you should have made a salad. Gone is the thrift, the simplicity, and the last-minute creativity. I bet whoever wrote that recipe had leftover shelleroni and bacon and was fresh out of onions. If she'd had tuna instead, I doubt she'd bother to write it down. After all, last-minute creativity hardly guarantees genius. I'm sure many a surprise casserole was horrible dud, choked down for the sake of starving children in Africa, as if dinner mistakes could really be shipped for famine relief across the Atlantic. Waste not want not could learn a thing or two from the Komodo.

The things I think about in the kitchen. I blame the sun.

Linking up with Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary. Just write.