Do you write?
Fiction? Poetry? Blog posts?
Witty and perceptive Facebook updates?
I like to write, whether it be crafting machine instructions into a piece of working code, or crafting words into a piece of working prose. And like many readers, I’ve always wanted to write the next Narnia series, or Harry Potter, or any other piece of fiction I’ve loved.
But fiction writing has always eluded me. Any attempt I’ve made has gotten mired in details: research, brainstorms, crafting elaborate character sketches. Somehow I never actually get very far with, you know, writing.
Part of the the problem is the process of writing fiction: you really need to start with short stories. I don’t like (most) short stories. I once forced myself to read them for months, to familiarize myself with the genre, and maybe even learn to like it. It didn’t work, and that string of literary one-night-stands is at least partly to blame for my current reading funk.
Another problem is an obsessive perfectionism, or perhaps a better word would be “achievementism”. The knowledge that I’m not going to write a best seller holds me back from doing anything at all. Even though I tell my daughters, again and again, that nobody comes to something new already knowing how to do it: you need to learn; it takes practise.
(Hands-up anyone who is actually capable of taking their own advice.)
But then, I know I’m not going to be the next Bloggess, and yet here I am. There’s many a half-written blog post that has fallen victim to the same self-esteem issues, but obviously some of it gets to see the light of day.
And you know, it has occurred to me more than once that maybe I should stop worrying all that much about fiction. What’s wrong with blogging? Or non-fiction for that matter? I enjoy it, and it exercises the word-monster in my brain that demands a good romp every once in a while.
Then, the other day, a friend sent me a short story she plans to submit to a writing contest. And somewhere in the middle of writing back to her, a flood of questions inundated my brain: where does the protagonist live? What is her relationship like with her daughter? What is her husband’s name? What do they do for a living? They became real people, and I wanted to know ALL about them. So I pelted my friend with questions, and envied her being the one who gets to answer them.
I originally wrote this post last week, and it’s been languishing in my drafts folder, waiting for an ending. But damned if I could think of anything. So I took to Facebook, and definitely considered Rémi’s suggestion:
But instead, I think I may steal the ending from the ending of The Uncommon Reader; or, in effect, give the last words to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (sorry Rémi):
But one mustn’t talk about it, or it will never get written.
I gave this post the title of the recipe that inspired it, but really, I should have called it “four ways to screw up a single dish”:
- Misread ingredient #1, “3T olive oil, divided“, then dump the whole 3 tablespoons into the pot and wonder why you need so much oil.
- Decide you know better than to put the cilantro in at the beginning (pro tip: cilantro doesn’t like prolonged heat), so resolve to add it at the end. Realize that you will forget, and edit the instructions right away. Forget anyway.
- Ignore the direction to use “good” corn, and instead use the no-name stuff that’s been sitting in the freezer. Spend 20 minutes picking bits of cob (husk? fence-post?) out of your braces.
- Start three hours too early. Re-heat in the microwave at dinner time. Re-discover in the microwave at bed time.
But – BUT – in spite of (because of?) all that, it still turned out pretty tasty. Honestly, if I ever spin off a food-only blog, the tag line should be “fumbling towards gastronomy” (with apologies to Sarah McLaughlan).
And – AND – it was still good after a month in the freezer. I just had some for lunch today, that was the final test before posting.
So – SO – so, um… I was on a roll there, I felt like I should keep – KEEP – rolling. (I’m not saying it was a good idea.)
So (SO!) here’s the recipe. Many thanks to Chantal for the pin, to Ben and Birdy for their adaptation, and to the Ottawa Public Library for lending me the book with the original. I’d also like to thank the Academy, my parents, and the nice girl at the Loblaws who sold me the zucchini, but even I know when to shut up and just post the recipe already.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, diced
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 3 cups *good* frozen corn
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the onion, zucchini, cilantro, jalapeno, and garlic for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the broth, salt, and corn. Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, until the zucchini is completely soft (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat.
- Add cilantro, then puree the soup with an immersion blender, leaving it a bit chunky.
- Serve warm, or freeze for later.
I’m having a tough time in the reading department.
First, there was the scene in Sweetness in the Belly, during a party thrown for two little Ethiopian girls (the same age as my girls). It looks like a birthday party; the guest of honour is the midwife that delivered them. In a ritual we don’t initially understand, the midwife takes them between her legs, whips out a razor blade and slices off strips of their labia. Female genital mutilation: just the thing for bedtime. Sweetness well written: the reader feels all the shock and horror felt by the narrator, who has inadvertently sponsored the party. But it’s not really what I need at the moment.
Now I’ve started on Donna Morrissey’s The Deception of Livvy Higgs, and while it’s not exactly warm and fuzzy, I have to admit I was NOT prepared for Livvy’s father bashing her cat’s head in with a rock. Neither was Livvy. The image is bad enough, but Tabs has been her sole source of comfort since her mother died and OH MY GOD her FATHER. OH my GOD her CAT.
It takes powerful writing to evoke emotions in the reader, and I admire the writers who can do it so effectively. But after an emotional month, I’m getting tired of feeling sucker-punched by my bedtime reading. There’s enough distress in real life at the moment, thank you very much.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go curl up with a good cookbook.
Dropped the clinging, crying 3yo off at daycare only to discover we’d forgotten her bag. So of course today is the day that the daycare shoes are at home in the wash.
If I go home to get her bag then I might get back to the office in time to turn around and go back to pick up Meena from school.
And I just realized there’s a Geocaching meeting tonight that I’ve been trying to check out for MONTHS and I know I need to get out more, but I have to find the missing library DVD cover that’s due today, try on everyone’s snowsuits so that I can place the Land’s End order in time for Meena’s birthday, and make the pasta sauce; all of which I failed to do yesterday because I had to pick up groceries on the way home and dinner wasn’t ready until 6:30 and so the kids were late to bed. Again.
Feeling overwhelmed. You?
My kids are awesome.
I mean this in the truest sense of the word: they put me in awe.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to engage in some stupid my-kid-was-toilet-trained-first nonsense; I’m sure your kids are awesome too. And in the interest of our friendship, I’ll even pretend that they’re as awesome as mine.
Witness: 5 hour drive to Guelph that stretches to 8, and instead of a whine fest I am treated to full-blown musical theater from the back seat. Dramatis personae include a moose, a giraffe, and The Bad Bad Zebra. When hand-puppets start to get old, they become foot-puppets. And the screeching is happy screeching… most of the time.
Witness: Meena puts down her fork and says to me, “Mommy, thank you for making such a yummy dinner.” Really? REALLY? You, my dear, can have spaghetti ANY TIME YOU WANT.
Witness: Boo stops jumping on the bed, points at her sister and declares, “YOU – are my favourite friend.”
I’m not here to take credit for my kids’ awesomeness, the same way I try not to take it personally when there are, well, hints of un-awesomeness. But is it ever nice, once in a while, in the midst of agonizing and questioning every single parenting decision I ever make, to sit back and think “well, I can’t be screwing it up TOO badly.”
So I realize that I haven’t been all that much fun to be around lately, but if you can bear with me a little longer, I need some help with this one.
For anyone who has somehow been spared my Facebook moaning, the virtual ink had barely dried on this tale of woe when we found out the day care was closing. Inelegantly, precipitously, and gut-wrenchingly closing.
After a mad scramble by parents and staff to find other work/care, the last day was Friday. I had to pick the girls up at noon, and just as we were leaving, Naru skidded into the room. “Oh good, you’re still here!” She knew we were leaving early, and she’d had a meeting with her new employer in the morning, so she skipped the bus and instead took a cab all the way from Barrhaven just to make sure she could say goodbye to my girls.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why this has been so hard. The staff of Northern Lights were AMAZING. They were like family. The only problem was the lying*, incompetent** asshat** board of directors.
And I am not using these terms lightly:
* Lying: Just last January, they assured both us and the Ministry that they were in the daycare business for the long-haul. They have repeatedly told the parents that the daycare is losing money, but have listed the building for sale with “a daycare business that is cash-flow positive.”
** Incompetent: a string of bone-headed failures to comply with Ministry standards led to a prolonged closure of the daycare last Christmas. And with waiting lists EVERYWHERE, who on earth can’t make money running the ONLY daycare in the school district? That’s even before we get into the accounting… irregularities.
** Asshat: Ok, I’m indulging in some artistic license here.
But I digress. I really really don’t want this post to be about the asshats. This is about my girls.
So here we are. Yesterday, I dropped Maddy off at her new daycare. She cried when I brought her into the room, and howled when I left. Never in her 3 years on earth have I left her in a new place all alone before: when she started daycare, she had her big sister with her.
When I picked her up at the end of the day, she was crying. Not OMG-mommy-I-just-remembered-you-exist! crying, this had clearly started long before I arrived. Any time I asked her about her day, all she would say is “I cried for you, mommy”.
Which of course makes me if she WAS fine when I called at 10:00.
Today? Today was worse. Maddy was already upset before we got to the car. Meena threw an inexplicable (and thoroughly uncharacteristic) tantrum while Zach tried to belt her into her car seat. Maddy dragged herself up the stairs at the daycare with the pace (and demeanor) of one headed for the guillotine. Meena looked at the near-empty SK room with dismay and gave me a look that said “you aren’t going to LEAVE me here, are you?”
And here is what I want to know, from someone who has been here: does it get better? REALLY? It’s what I keep telling my kids. Tough to do when I’m having such a hard time believing it myself.
I was surfing the online catalogue at the library, when I came across a list. It’s a list of books called “Cooks That Blog“, and I thought “hm, I’ll bet I know some people who would find this interesting”, so I clicked on the handy dandy Facebook button.
And Facebook BLOCKED ME. It said I was trying to post an ABUSIVE LINK. Oh the horror.
So I decided to go straight to the top; send the Marvellous Mr. Zuckerberg a piece of my mind.
Yes, that’s right – I filled in the feedback form.
Dear Facebook: please stop trying to protect us from ourselves. Or I shall be forced to start posting breastfeeding photos.
PS: If you want to actually visit the page, it’s here: Cooks That Blog.
Remember those punching bags you had as a kid?
Or, well, if you were anything like me, you remember OTHER kids having them. They qualified as “cool toys”; we never had any of those.
If you remember, they were like big inflatable weeble-wobbles (another toy I never had – not that I’m bitter), sand in the bottom, no matter how many times you punched them, they popped right back up for more.
So, my question, for all you cool kids (the ones with the cool toys), is this: how many times could you punch one of those things before that irritating grin started to wear off? And, if enough people punched it from different directions, how much did it take to make it finally explode?
I’m feeling a little battered. Chronology of the past 7 days:
Tuesday: the engine light comes on on the car.
Wednesday: the damn thing dies just down the street from the shop.
Thursday: get the call from the shop: no car. Just a big pile of scrap metal to be towed away.
Friday: Packing for the cottage, ζach notices that the cat hasn’t eaten anything all day. We pick him up and agree that he weighs a fraction of what he used to.
Saturday: ζach + cat to vet. Four hours, five hundred dollars, and several phone calls later, they finally get back. We pack the car and go.
Sunday: Cottage. Relaxation severely diminished by the open questions: what the hell are we going to do about the car? Is the cat going to be okay? Can we afford a feline blood transfusion? Where the hell do they get kitty blood donors, anyhow? Does God hate me, or is Visa just getting bitchy because I pay off my balance every month and they never see any interest? If bad things come in threes, then WHAT’S NEXT???
Monday: See Sunday.
Tuesday: Drive home. Dial into work on my day off. Read cat’s meds. Update Facebook:
Montreal next weekend: eagerly anticipated, meticulously planned, and now completely kiboshed. If anyone is looking for me, I will be at home medicating the cat; two meds, twice a day. #funtimes
In case you’re wondering – yes, I AM feeling thoroughly sorry for myself.
I remembered my goggles.
I remembered my flip flips.
I remembered my bathing cap, fresh socks, and a lock.
I drove to the pool.
I got totally naked.
And then I looked for my bathing suit…
5.7 km!!!! That’s a record for a lunchtime hike. And, truth be told, more than really fits in a lunch “hour”. But I really REALLY wanted to try this puzzle cache…
So. Welcome to today’s caching adventure. It’s pretty straight-forward. Just park here:
Then slither down the gravel embankment, nip about 600m into the woods to the little orange thingie, where there’s a tag on a tree right next to the path. Easy-peasy, and no doubt with time left over to pick up a few more caches before heading back to the car.
That is, until I tried to park and found myself facing a chain draped across a couple of poles, and two black-and-yellow plastic signs:
Well, that’s real friendly.
Also? as far as I can tell they’re blocking a road allowance. I consider parking there anyhow, but then it occurs to me that, if someone is going to put up their own no-parking sign, they might be equally willing to slash my tires while I’m gone.
(Does anyone else’s brain work this way?)
So now I’m stuck parking here:
Which is fine. Because, you know, the whole point is to go for a hike, right? And the GPS says the tag is only 2.2km away. 4.4km round trip, maybe a little extra because it’s not a straight line… no biggie.
So off I go. I’m pretty familiar with this end of the Highlands now, I hike it almost daily. The paths can get rocky but are wide and well-travelled; the mosquitoes, annoying but manageable.
About half-way there (about the same time as I score my first really good soaker) the well worn trails I know give way to steep rocky OMG-I-can’t-believe-these-are-for-biking trails, that in turn give way to teeny tiny about-the-width-of-a-bike-tire trails that thread their under trees and through thigh-high grass.
This is way more hard-core than I am, but I can’t turn back now. So I keep going: More woods. More mud. More bugs.
Then, less than 100m from the cache, I hear a hum. It sounds kinda like a bee hive but not – OH my GOD the MOSQUITOS. A great, seething, humming cloud of them. I complained about being swarmed last weekend, but I swear I didn’t know the meaning of the word. I slapped at them. I choked on them. I kept stumbling forward, clutching my iPhone – I’d rather keep it tucked safely away, I’m sure I’m going to drop it in a mud puddle, but I ALSO want to watch the GPS because I REALLY don’t want to go any further than I have to.
And then – and then! I get to where the tag is supposed to be. No tree. I’m surrounded by chest high (tick infested?) grass-and-brambles-and-raspberry-canes, laced with poison ivy for all I know (I really need to learn to identify that stuff).
Oh, fuck it -> I wade into the grass in the direction of the nearest clump of trees -> no tag. Grass (and who knows what else) up to my NECK. Good lord, this cloud of mosquitoes outweighs me. Smears of blood (mine? not mine?) and mosquito guts cover my arms and legs.
Is that what this is about? I’ve made the mosquitoes angry? Because it makes NO SENSE that they’ve all gathered in this godforsaken corner of the South March Highlands with only me to feast on. Begone, fiends! What are you doing HERE? The PEOPLE are 2.2km THAT way!
So. The next clump of trees is way over THERE, and nowhere near where the GPS says it should be. Fuck it now for realz. I’m going home.
And then I’m bragging on Facebook with yet another mud-up-to-my-knees picture. Because today I earned it.