Failure #21: Not knowing how to say “No”

My answering machine light is blinking red. I press play and listen to the message: Just wondering if you’ll be able to donate some baking for the sale coming up…

My heart sinks. Baking? Sale? I can’t do it-I can’t do it-I can’t do it, immediately runs through my mind. And then, I should do it-I should do it-I should do it, follows as if I’m playing a game of mental tag.

How can I tell them “No”? How can I explain that bringing baking is harder for me than almost any other job at church. That I would rather clean toilets, hold crying babies, connect with sullen teenagers, and even sing and dance than offer up a few dozen cookies.

It’s not just that I’m celiac and don’t want to work with wheat. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes I could whip up, and maybe that’s what they’re looking for. Still, it feels like I’ve been asked to jump a 10-foot wall. I will visit the sick, I will host people in my home, I will preach a sermon, but please, please don’t make me bring baking to church.

The next morning I fire up the computer. It’s another day with another failure to record. Perhaps writing about the situation will clarify how I should respond to the message left on my machine. But here I am, still tottering on the edge of “shoulds” and “nos” and “can’ts” and “I’ll do it.” I don’t even know how I’ll define this failure. Is it saying “No” and my refusal to help? Is it my inability to say “no”? Is it my poor baking skills? Or is it making a big deal out of nothing?

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

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Disclosure: The following post includes a recipe, an advertisement, a book recommendation, and more propaganda…

Nathanael crouches and drops bean seeds into the trench I made with my hoe. Vivian is there beside him and throws her handful into a pile and begins to cover them up, all lumped together. When I protest, Nathanael squints up at me and stares.

“Why are you wearing that?” He is looking at the huge hat I just put on to cover my huge head. “Are you a farmer?”

I straighten up and throw my shoulders back. I am pleased with this four-year-old’s question. “Yes,” I say, spreading my arms to point to the  budding raspberries, quivering garlic stalks, blooming cherry and plum, trailing strawberries and spiking asparagus. “This is my farm.”

Nathaneal isn’t convinced. “You can’t be a farmer because you don’t have a barn,” he concludes. I agree with him partly–barns and outbuildings are very useful things for farmers to have, and then we keep working.

After we finish planting the beans he helps me unload a few wheelbarrow loads of mulch and waters the emerging snap peas.  By the time his older brother gets off the bus he’s changed his mind about my title. Still holding the watering can, he waves it at his brother and shouts, “Look Josiah, she’s a farmer!”

Right now we’re harvesting asparagus, green onions, rhubarb, and dandelion roots on our “farm”. It is a pleasant sort of vindication to pull foot-long roots out of the earth, knowing they will become a smooth part of my spring morning ritual. Turning them into coffee is the best way to up-cycle these medicinal plants in my opinion. (And believe me, I’ve tried all manner of recipes.) In fact, if I was inclined to market goods I might actually sell this stuff, but instead I’ll try to sell you on this retreat…

There are a few spots left and early bird pricing lasts until next week. Come be a part of it! Watch this short interview on CTV News to get a better idea of what it’s about. (I come on at 13:25 minutes.)

This book.

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I  have 3 hours to myself every week when Vivi goes to daycare. During these mornings alone I only do Very Important Things, which usually means walking, praying, and writing. Last week I used 30 precious minutes to copy passages from Annie Dillard’s book. Here is one of my favourites:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

And finally, one last advertisement.

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My nieces and nephews have started their own business, Three Huggers, creating sustainable beeswax wraps with the help of their parents. I love wrapping my children’s sandwiches in them; their fabric designs almost transform lunch prep into a festivity instead of a mad rush to throw some ham between two slices of bread. Here’s their FB page and Etsy account where you can flood them with orders 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

Last wkd was mostly all backbreaking work except for Sunday afternoon, which was mostly all about water, fresh fish, fire, and friends.

PS. If you haven’t been getting notified when I post (and you’ve signed up for email notification) try entering your email address again. If that doesn’t work, leave a comment and let me know!

Ideas Are Like Cats

Ideas are like cats, seemingly calm and peaceful from afar but suddenly ferocious once you start toying with them. I say this because I know how it feels to be the squeaky toy mouse clenched between the teeth of a crazy-house-cat possibility. One moment I’m innocently dreaming up an idea and the next moment–just when I’m deciding whether to commit–it pounces and bats me around with all its power.

It all starts benignly enough. I’m out cross-country skiing one night in January and with every lunge I think about poems, words, and essay hooks. By the last hill I might be able to write a thousand pages if someone would just hand me a pen and paper. Of course, instead of penning a masterpiece after clicking out of my skis, I go home; home to a kitchen sink with rotting lettuce floating in dirty water, home to two daughters asking me to lay down with them until they fall asleep, home to a pile of utility bills yet to be paid. I know then the clever phrases will have to wait until tomorrow when I will have more time, or next weekend, or next month, or when the kids leave home. And that’s when the idea is born.

What if I don’t have to wait until I’m seventy-five? What if I set aside a weekend, just one weekend, where I have space and time to create without the distractions of normal life? I swoop into my kids’ room with kisses for both of them, adding that I can’t lay with them tonight because I have something important to discuss with their dad instead. I run out to the garage where Stan is bent over plywood and parts of an old bed frame (he’s constructing an ice-boat which deserves a separate post of its own) and share my idea while my cheeks are still red from my ski. He keeps working while I talk, asking a few questions but not saying much, which isn’t out of the ordinary–he likes grappling with wood and steel more than half-thought-out ideas. I interpret his neutral response as full-blown encouragement.

The next morning I wake long before dawn and start a new page in my notebook titled Wonderscape; A Creative Wellness Retreat. The idea has now taken on the frenzied cat persona. For weeks I lie in bed at night unable to sleep. I try deep breathing, praying, and stretching to trick myself into slumber but all I can think about are the singer/songwriters I want to invite, the fresh cinnamon buns I’ll serve, and hiking in the October sun. One night, when sleep proves elusive I turn on the computer even though I know I shouldn’t. “Dear women whose opinion I value…” I type, addressing a few of my close friends, and then pitch my idea:

“Imagine hours to commit to your craft, whether it’s writing, origami, song-writing, painting, or juggling. Imagine doing it after a run or hike through the boreal forest. Imagine an inspiring speaker, or evening festival of art. Imagine choosing from 2 or3 workshops to learn something new, or hone your skills.”

The next few days responses trickle in and fuel my excitement. Maybe I’m not crazy! Maybe I can really do this! I start talking about it with almost everyone I run into, casting my net wide in hopes of snagging other leads. I gather names of people I should contact, venue options, and all kinds of other suggestions. During one of these brainstorming sessions with an acquaintance in public I see another woman sitting within earshot of our conversation. I cock my head in her direction and raise my eyebrows while whispering to my friend, “What about her? Do you know her? Would she be interested or have ideas?”

My friend shrugs her shoulders, which is all I need. Soon I am introducing myself to the strange lady and when I finish my spiel I sense I may have just ambushed her.

“Wow,” she says slowly, like she’s buying herself more time to come up with an appropriate response. “That’s really, um…” Long pause. “That’s really artsy-fartsy.”

I smile weakly and try to lighten the mood, wishing I had just told her about schlepping my kids to soccer practise instead of baring my passion.

Both of my older daughters are beside me and witness the entire exchange. Belén looks at me, looks at the other woman, and then looks away. I can’t tell if she’s embarrassed or bored. Later Susanna chides me, “But mom, you don’t even know for sure if you’re going to do this. What if you don’t? What if nothing happens?”

“Well then I’ll just tell people I had a good idea but I changed my mind. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t it great to have ideas?”

Neither daughter looks convinced and I don’t blame them. I’m not really convinced myself, but I can’t stop from moving forward. Sharing my idea with the world is risky–I might look silly after all–but not pursuing the inspiration would be even worse than looking silly. How will I know if this kind of retreat could work if I never even try it?

Slowly my scrambled notes turn into budget pages, schedule outlines, and session details. I get confirmations from an accomplished jazz singer, a storyteller, and other artists. I create a website, print posters, and even file for a business name. Then I sit back in my rocking chair and wait. The cat is still there but it’s a little calmer. It even jumps onto my lap and I pet it for awhile. Yes, I think while I relax for a moment, this idea is going to work out just fine.

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Now I need your feedback. Have you been to something like this before? Do you have any suggestions? Wanna come? Can you share this with others who would love a weekend like Wonderscape? Please feel free to post links on your social media platforms to help me get the word out.

https://wonderscaperetreat.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wonderscaperetreat

Finally, I’m still looking for a caterer for the farm-to-table dinner on Saturday evening, October 1. Is cooking your art form? Would you like to create a meal for 25ish people? Do you know someone who might be excited about this? If so, leave a comment or contact me at wonderscaperetreat@gmail.com and I will get back to you with the financial details.

So grateful for ideas and opportunities to share them,

Tricia

 

Dandelion Root Coffee

I planned on encapsulating the meaning of life in a jaunty essay this morning but I haven’t had enough sleep for that. Instead I’ll drink a cup of dandelion root coffee and go back to bed. Here’s my post from last season on how to do it. It’s worth it just for the yummy smell of the roots roasting. The taste is coffee-like; try experimenting with the steeping times if you are not immediately won over. Goodnight!

Experimenting as we grow

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What sort of extras do you have time for? Yoga? Scrap-booking? TV? Floor mopping? Puzzles? Going to the gym? Movies?

I’m afraid I don’t have time for any of those things. My life is too fast-paced for such indulgences and I’m simply much too busy. Busy picking dandelions. Isn’t it wonderful most of us have some choice in what we do with our time–even if it’s just a half hour a day? I think yoga must be terrific but I don’t know how I’d ever squeeze it in at times like these when digging dandelions roots is absolutely urgent.

I read somewhere that millions of French children, women, and old men feel the same way I do. Though I’m not sure this is true, I like to imagine the French roaming the countryside en masse in pursuit of the aptly named pissenlit. Besides it’s diuretic action…

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Slippery Elm Lozenges and a Winter Holiday

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When I’m feeling healthy I don’t think about swallowing. I just do it. There, I did it again–without thinking or wincing. Isn’t it amazing how we appreciate even the simplest functions when our body isn’t working the way we are used to? When I have a cold, and daggers line my throat, I wonder how I could ever take good health for granted. Then I get better and forget all about it. Until the next virus shows up–when I’ll search my site to find this recipe again. These homemade cough drops soothe the throat, don’t contain refined sugars* or artificial colourings* like commercial lozenges, and are easy to make.

Recipe for Herbal Lozenges

1/2 cup slippery elm bark powder (mucilaginous herb useful for treating inflammations)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (an antibacterial and antiviral)
1/2 cup licorice root tea (treats sore throat and cough)
4 tablespoons of honey (for flavour and antibacterial qualities)

Boil water, brew licorice tea, and sweeten it with honey. (This tea is extremely sweet–be sure to taste a drop before you add it to see for yourself.) Mix with elm powder and cinnamon and shape into little balls. Keep some powder aside to help roll the dough (dip the balls in it while you are forming them) as it will be sticky. Place lozenges on a cookie sheet and leave to dry. You can dehydrate these or place in a warm oven to speed up the process. When they are dry they will not be as hard as conventional cough drops but they last just as long in the mouth.

Belén and I love the way these taste and eat them like candy. Susanna, on the other hand, won’t touch them. When I offered some of my last batch to Stan he responded with, “Do I have to?” I kind of don’t blame him, they look a lot like deer droppings. But they seem to help and that’s good enough for me.

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*Disclosure: I avoid all artificial colours and sugar unless they happen to be in Skittles, or anything else I want to eat. I’m also the kind of person who drinks my kombucha with hotdogs and potato chips. Just so you know.

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We’re at the fiddle contest and I’m trying to jiggle Vivian to sleep at the back of the hall, when I spot two other little girls heading for the water fountain. Arms linked and tripping over each other’s winter boots they whisper and giggle, the way most nine-year-olds do. Except they’re doing it in French. Later when Belén and I are waltzing in the swirling crowd of dancers she hears it too. Young people, middle-aged people, and old people, all speaking the language of instruction at her school. And they’re doing it voluntarily. On the drive home from Winnipeg I ask the girls if they noticed it.

“Yes,” Belén says, “And I kept wondering why they were doing it when nobody was making them speak French.”

Which is one of the reasons we like to go to the Festival du Voyageur; so our girls can hear people singing, dancing, partying, and joking in French–a language they associate with math and science, teachers and textbooks. This time we went with my parents and made a little vacation of it, skating on the river, going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, staying in a hotel and eating out.

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At the Museum for Human Rights. I love this picture of my dad and Vivian. My mom is to the right of my dad.

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Our favourite group at the festival–Bon Débarras

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I got them to look at me for the photo but they mostly entranced by the step-dancing on stage.

My parents at one of the Festival snow sculptures

The sky darkens and our bodies are starting to ache from the cold when the next singer comes on stage. She strums a few chords then yells out to the crowd, “If I were you, I’d have stayed home tonight!” The tents are warmed with huge propane heaters but we can still see our breath and can’t shake the chill of spending the day outside. A few more notes ring out from her guitar. “But I had to come because I’m playing!” The crowd laughs and claps with mittened hands. Soon we’ll go back to the hotel where I’ll run the hottest bath I can handle, the older girls will run back and forth between Grandma and Grandpa’s room and ours, Vivian will finally be able to nurse without distraction, and Stan can kick off his boots after accomplishing another day’s holiday. Which is a bit what it feels like as we get used to traveling with an infant again. She’s been mostly content but it’s not like we haven’t noticed her, and that’s good, but still harder. In Vivian’s defense, she hasn’t had much time to be a baby; like lollygag in her playpen or suckle in a quiet corner. There is too much at the museum to see, maple syrup taffy to taste, and too many miles to skate.

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My parents with B and S behind

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Skating on miles of river trails. They had wooden chairs outfitted with skis to give people a break:)

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Vivian is under that pile of plastic and blankets in the stroller.

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 Stay warm,

Tricia

The Only Princess He’s Willing to Carve*

Every year our daughters pitch their ideas for our annual snow sculpture and most years their list starts with a Disney princess. This year was no different. Susanna requested Anna and Elsa, but her daddy made Elizabeth instead. If you’ve read this book by Robert Munsch you’ll know why.

After many days of helping shovel, pack, measure, saw, dig, slice, and whittle, I’d like to write a philosophical essay on snow sculptures and their ephemeral quality, or something that sounds deep while including witty quips from the carvers, but it’s late. And my fingers are still stiff from the cold; it only reached -24 C today. Here are some pictures instead.

Until next time,
Tricia (for the carving crew)

*Other than Princess Auto. But how would you carve that?

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Belén helped more this year than ever before.

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Susanna, carving one of the very IMPORTANT parts

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Stanley, the genius behind this all. Or as he says it, “The crazy fool who squanders thirty hours playing with snow.”

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the back view with dragon wings

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We call this part the “Bravinder Tail”. Thanks Derek for shoveling!

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Poetry and Sauerkraut

Have I mentioned our library before?

Oh.

Well please humour me some more then.

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They advertised a book spine poetry contest which we eagerly participated in and then promptly missed the submission date. The girls were awfully proud of their free verse creations but didn’t seem too upset when I told them I’d forgotten to send them in. But that’s how it is with writing. The thrill is in the doing or just finished doing, not what might come next. Then again, I’m not a very reliable source; I’ve never won any literary accolades so I’m only supposing how unfulfilling it all might be. 🙂 Belén composed two of these and Susanna the other. Can you guess who wrote what?

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On the home front, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine this fall. With only one music lesson to get to each week there isn’t a lot of running around. My days, too, are simplified. I’ve decided to pass on all the baby enrichment activities–baby yoga, baby music, baby swim classes, etc.–and keep my schedule open. I’ve been surprised how each day passes quickly, often with an impromptu visit or walk with a friend, and it’s reminded me how doing less can lead to more. When people ask me when I’m available I get to say, “Now. And anytime after that”. It’s really quite nice having no life.

Another reason we’re opting out of music classes is that Vivian seems to get enough of it at home. She is Belén and Susanna’s fan base. (You add the word “base” to fan and it doesn’t sound so singular–a lesson learned from The Flight of the Conchords). Of course, now they not only fight about where each gets to practise, but who gets Vivi during practise time. Today I divided her attention between the two; fifteen minutes of Vivi salivating, gurgling, and grinning along with Belen’s finger-picking, then fifteen minutes of her staring up at Susanna’s flashing bow. Everyone was happy.

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This morning a stranger peered into my stroller and asked me kindly if she was a “good” baby. Years ago when I was up to my neck in parenting books, I read that every baby is good, only some are more spirited and sensitive than others. This comforted me a little, I knew my babies weren’t bad just because of their nocturnal screaming habits, but it still wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes I felt like there was nothing “good” about babies at all. This time around it feels different. It makes me wonder if we should invent a larger vocabulary for motherhood, like the Inuit and all their words for snow. What I call being a mom, and your experience of it, may be the difference between wet slush and dry flakes.

By now I’ve stopped waking up to check on Vivi at night and only thank her, God, and my lucky stars that she seems to like uninterrupted sleep as much as I do. I never had a chance to worry about SIDS with my other girls, or check if they were still breathing, because they were always awake. By the time they would finally stop crying I’d be practically unconscious. But this one? She sleeps. And guess what? I’m doing it all wrong! I don’t care how many times I feed her, when I feed her, or what side I feed her on. I don’t care when she sleeps or if she does it on her back or side or belly. (See, I told you I’m doing it all wrong.) But… she is a stinkin’ good baby. I tell you this just in case you are like I was ten years ago, heavy-lidded and nearly hopeless. If you are wondering what you’re doing wrong, I can’t say for sure, but I bet it’s nothing. Babies are different and they call for different measures. I’m doing the same “wrong” things I did a decade ago that made me think I was incompetent, only now they make me feel like a pro. What works for one kid will fail with another. Amazing isn’t it? How we as a society, and even individuals like myself, have a hard time grasping that one.

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By now you must be itching to get to the sauerkraut part of the post. Well, you’ve arrived. Though it’s the first stop on most people’s journey with ferments, I had never tried sauerkraut, until now. A jar-full of cabbage always seemed far less interesting than, say, fermented salsa or even yoghurt, but my prerequisites have changed. Easy is more important than interesting these days and sauerkraut definitely fits the bill. In fact, I’ve thrown out my kefir crystals, dumped my kombucha, misplaced my buttermilk cultures, and retired my sourdough. You do what you gotta do. I probably wouldn’t have started with sauerkraut except that Stan is in charge of the groceries now and he keeps buying cabbage after cabbage. What’s a woman to do with it all? Leave it on her counter, of course. Whew. Crisis averted with a little chopping, salt and patience. It’s that easy.

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The sauerkraut was ready last night. It took two weeks on our counter to get there. My sister says it takes only 4 days at her house, so if you try this keep tasting and testing as you go.

Have a great weekend,

Tricia

Ps. Thanking you for reading my lament in the last post, for commenting, and praying. My friend, Shelly, amazes me; in the midst of everything she invites us over to carve pumpkins and roasts the seeds while hooking up the feeding tube, she never forgets to ask me how we’re doing, and still manages to make every conversation funnier when she’s a part of it. If they cross your mind, please continue to pray.