When Heads Roll

When heads roll is a better forecaster of spring, around here, than any American groundhog. All season long the kids (and their friends) await the annual destruction of our snow sculpture and the beheading is always the highlight of the event. While I can’t say it feels exactly like spring (it was almost -30 yesterday), we know it’s on its way. In fact, we’ve probably got only few weekends left of good snow. What will you do with them?

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The whole process is not as easy as it looks; the sculpture is always more sturdy than they expect. They persisted with their feet, a machete, butcher knives, and a saw made of barbed wire, for at least half an hour, to take it down this year. It made for a nice little play-date.

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Last weekend we went cross-country skiing all together for the first time this season. We told the girls to be quiet so we could see the local moose family but Vivian didn’t listen–she kept hooting and chirping happily. Perhaps she’s been feeling as cooped up as I have and was too relieved to be out that she couldn’t stay quiet. On the way back, after a fire and snack at the warm-up cabin, she fell asleep. Still didn’t see any long-legged mammals except for these….

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Enjoy this one coming up!

T

This Terrible Life

Has it already been almost two weeks since I posted that poem? Well, we went again this Sunday and I brought my camera but there were no photo ops, what with the crying kids, beleaguered mother, and dad who skied back to the car so he could come pick us up. I’m not really sure why it was different this time. We did see a moose and a coyote again, the sun sank behind the poplars casting it’s predictable melted-butter glow, and we made a crackling fire in the same shack, but it wasn’t nearly as poetic as last time. We even took along the brand new binoculars the girls had purchased with their own money, to heighten the experience. (On Saturday, Stan found out his daughters were planning to order more fairy books from Scholastic and promptly took them binocular shopping instead.) But they didn’t do us much good. In fact, the girls mostly fought over them, that is, when they weren’t falling over them. (By the way, face planting with binoculars fills the lenses with snow and makes it increasingly hard to focus.) There’s probably a lesson in here somewhere, like write the poems when you live them because you never know when the next one will happen. Even if you ski the same trail…

Yesterday, what started as a perfectly civilized dinner turned into a seminar on bodily noises. Belching headlined the event; it’s a good party trick if you can do it on command. Next was the vomit imitation contest, keep your cheeks relaxed and shake vigorously for the right chunky tone. And finally, farting with your hand in your armpit. I looked around my table–at the half-eaten bowlfuls of hamburger soup, Stan’s toque perched on his head (it might come off before June, then again, it might not), the cloudy dishwasher-stained glasses, Belen’s hair falling around her face and sweeping her food, Susanna hopping around the table because she has to pee but doesn’t want to miss out on the action–and thought this is good. This is beautiful.

Normally, I might not be so touched my slip-shod table and all those rich, wet-sounding vibrations, but that morning I’d just read an article on Eden, a film depicting sex-traffing in the US. Based on the true story of Chong Kim*, the film tells the story of girls who are preyed on by young men pretending to be their boyfriends. Once the girls are captured by their “boyfriends” they are taken to warehouses filled with other teenagers, like themselves, and treated as slaves for years.

The piece provokes three different responses. The first is agony; a sort of unspoken prayer. The second is more self-centered. It’s a wave of relief that nothing this bad has ever happened to me or anyone I know. And the third is a resolution to love better; to love all the little people in my classes at school, especially the ones that drive me mad. To love my own daughters hard enough they never forget where they belong, and lightly enough they don’t want an escape. To love all the people I have the opportunity to touch. Literally. Because every one of those women lured in, and the men who leave them sore and beaten, were once little children, too. They had teachers and mothers and neighbours and uncles and coaches. And what could those teachers and mothers and neighbours, and all the rest, have done differently? Perhaps nothing. Greed, addiction, and lust are mighty animals I don’t pretend to understand or know how to tame, but maybe binocular-shopping trips with daddies, teachers who who see gifts instead of disabilities and failures, and neighbours who care, don’t hurt. I won’t be busting down a warehouse any time soon, but I can take a child’s hand in mine and tell him why I think he’s got something special to share with the rest of us. And, on the off-chance I happen to be especially aware, I could even pray for that child, because holding hands and compliments aren’t always enough.

When, in the middle of all that farting and burping and gurgling, my mind wanders and I breathe out a sad sigh, Belén takes her hand out of her armpit and asks, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

I tell them about what I’d read in the morning, leaving out sexual references but leaving in the part about girls getting trapped by chivalrous suitors. Both Stan and I turn grim and remind our daughters they have to be careful about where they meet people and who they can trust.

Should I meet my boyfriend in a cross-country ski shack?” Susanna asks seriously.

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Excellent idea,” adds Stan.

Isn’t life terrible–in the broadest sense, including formidable greatness and extreme terror? How it can be so sad and poignant and ordinary and heartbreaking and average and lovely all at the same time? Like how baking raspberry pies and playing with dollies and DIY haircuts fall under DAILY LIFE, when that same category also includes women in chains with ice packs between their legs?

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Our basement beauty parlour

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We had pie for supper on Bélen’s cooking day. Not very lent-like of us. We use layers of wax paper to roll out the GF crust.

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We only bake with gluten free flours….Sometimes I get giddy for my daughters, just thinking about when they get out in the real world and see what wheat flour can do.

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I’m posting this photo Susanna took mostly to document that I was, indeed, smiling after 6pm. I might even call that chipper.

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Live the poems when you can,

Tricia

*Read another interview with Chong Kim here.

PS. Thanks, Abra, for the link.

Sunday Ski

3 hours spent stripping skis and re-applying wax

2 resistant daughters

2 insistent parents

49 attempts to herd bodies towards the door

3 trips back to the house for forgotten paraphenelia

1 wrong turn; 4 buried wheels; 10 minutes spent shoveling

2 cars (including ours) at the trail head

34 degrees below zero

4 hot shot hand-warmers stuffed into mittens

2 parallel ribbons of crisp snow

3 woolly moose lumbering through the poplar

9 piles of coyote poop

2 woodpeckers

8 ruddy cheeks

3 open zippers

6 km of kicking, gliding, climbing, tromping, skating, sailing

26 minutes in a ski-shack with a crackling fire

968 hoary lashes

8 strong legs

4 pumping hearts

1 setting sun melting like butter over cattails, aspen, and little-girl silhouettes

3 laments over the missing camera

0 pictures

1 measly poem

4 happier humans

Wasn’t surviving junior high once, enough?

“She’s not invited??”
Kelly shakes her head, and I can almost see her wince.
“And all the other girls can go?” I say, trying not to sound like a whiny teenager.
“I know. It sucks,” Kelly replies.
I laugh it off lightly and say something like that’s life or it happens to all of us, but I can feel my insides start to curdle.

As soon as I get the chance, I tell Stan the bad news: there’s a party and it’s going to be great and all my daughter’s friends are going… but she’s not invited. I’m grateful another mom gave me the heads-up before my daughter comes home with the news. Days before she finds out, I start planning something extra special to make up for her disappointment: a family sleepover.

For the rest of  the week the girls excitedly discuss the sleepover, which basically boils down to our family sleeping in our house–the way we’ve done for the past eight years or so– with a few twists. There will be a supper out, a movie with popcorn, and the girls can sleep in the guest bed and stay up talking as late as they want. Originally, I was planning to spend the evening with some other women, but I call to cancel. If this sounds to you like a lame attempt by a desperate mother to fix things, you’re absolutely right.

One of the craziest parts of this little drama is not my daughter’s reaction, but the reminder that I have to grow up all over again. Honestly, wasn’t surviving junior high once, bad enough?

I tend to be overly optimistic about the future, and having children has proved to be no exception. Somehow, in an idealistic corner of my mind, I imagine my girls will breeze through life unscathed. Not only will they be the prettiest, most popular, smartest, most athletic, most musical, kindest, and wisest of all girls everywhere, but everyone will be in unanimous agreement with this. Somehow, I secretly hope they will escape the life the rest of the world gets trapped into. A life including pimples, stringy hair, lost games, bombed performances, crumpled tests, and lonely nights. A life that cultivates empathy.

I know, I know. Empathy is right up there with poetry, as far as evidence for a Master Designer. (Really, what is the evolutionary advantage of feeling deep down in your gut for someone else, especially strangers that don’t carry your genetic material?) But sometimes I feel like empathy is over-rated. It stinkin’ hurts.

I remember my dad’s eyes when I suffered my first heartbreak. He looked so sympathetic I almost forgot my own thwarted romance and started to feel sorry for him instead. It struck me that my story pained him just as much, possibly even more, than it pained me. An unfathomable idea for an 18-year-old daughter; clear as an absent invitation for a 35-year-old mother.

But our week wasn’t just about being left out. Hardly. In fact, it culminated with a birthday of our own…

Susanna helping prepare the birthday lunch

Susanna helping prepare the birthday lunch

These strawberries were thrown into a backpack and jostled around for a few kilometres, at -20C, before they made their debut.

These strawberries were thrown into a backpack and jostled around for a few kilometres, at -20C, before they made their debut.

There’s something about arriving at an empty shack in the woods with an open door and a crackling fire that makes you feel lucky, even if you knew it was going to be there all along.

There's something about arriving at an empty shack in the woods, with and open door and a crackling fire that makes you feel lucky, even if you knew it was going to be there all along. Here Susann is signing the guest book beside our friend, William.

Susanna is signing the guest book beside our friend, William.

Happy Birthday dear Daddy... (In case you were concerned, the strawberries made it just fine.)

Happy Birthday dear Daddy… (In case you were concerned, the strawberries made it just fine.)

This puppy followed us all afternoon, making Belén very happy.

This puppy followed us all afternoon, making Belén very happy.

Our friend Shanon, heading for home, with two of the kids in front.

Our friend Shanon, heading for home, with all three kids in front.

William and Susanna

William and Susanna

Have a great week. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much,

Tricia

Cross Country Skiing and Muffcakes

As I child, I always pitied the children in other families who thought skiing was about clamping your boots into skiis and and sawing through a horizontal plane of snow.  Now, about 25 years later, I finally get why adults think this “boring” sport is so much fun.

My chivalrous husband, waxing all our skis, and looking jaunty in fluorescent orange.

On Sunday, I kept asking my girls, “What do you think? Are you having fun?” while they skiied on before me.

They seemed chipper enough, and both answered with a a hearty “yes”, but I am always a little mystified when the whole thing goes without too many hitches.

Of course they still fall and flop all over the trail like fish out of water, but this being their third season, they are now able to stand back up on their own.

Belén is heading out of our yard into the park to the trail Stan and I have stomped down. Now she just has to get around the firepit, we forgot to clean up before winter.

Our first ski of the year, on “real” groomed trails.

I should add that the above picture was taken at the beginning of our outing.  I knew it was time to turn around when Susanna planted herself firmly in the trail and whinnied (yes whinnied; like a horse) about Belén being in front.  I was patient…. oh, so very patient.  Then the whinnying turned to crying… and all of a sudden my patience disappeared.  I started yelling at my six year old child to GET MOVING (and who knows what else), when I heard the swish of skiis behind me.

I blushed, hoping whoever it was behind me hadn’t heard our little exchange.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to recover and say, “Beautiful Day, isn’t it?” with any composure.  Cross country skiiers seem so courteous, you know.

I glanced back and was relieved to see the skiier was my husband.  He took over with Susanna, and we all made our way back to the parking lot  in one piece.

Mother Teresa said, “Love and peace begin at home…”; honestly, isn’t it the hardest place to be lovely and peaceful sometimes?

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For the past ten celiac years of my life I have eaten the same brown rice, all-natural peanut butter, banana, chocolate chip muffin.  Well, today, all of that changed.  We came up with this sugary, greasy, little number and it’s good.  Really good.

I have a rule about not making cookies intentionally healthy.  I figure if you’re eating cookies you should make it worth your while.  Now I might have to consider extending that rule to muffins.

Susanna has been calling muffins, “muffcakes” since she could talk.  We’ve all sort of adopted the term, and these are a perfect gluten-free muffcake prototype; they are shapped like muffins but more cake-y in character, and very moist.

Earlier in the afternoon, Belén had told me she wanted a doll for Christmas. I felt so nostalgic about her still wanting a doll, I only smiled, instead of growled, when they decided to stir the mix with Susie’s doll’s feet.

Gluten-free Banana Chocolate Chip Muffcakes

1 1/4, or a bit less, cups gluten free flour mix (my mix is very fluid, and is constantly changing but it usually has some brown rice, buckwheat, starches, and beans in it—basically anything I can find kicking around my pantry)

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup oil  (next time I might use a teeny bit less)

2 eggs

1/3-1/2 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 mashed bananas

enough chocolate chips to match your mood

*Mix the dry ingredients and then combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add chocolate chips at the end.  Bake at 350 for 15ish minutes.  This makes 12 medium sized muffins

**Last year I decided to keep buttermilk on hand at all times; it’s one of those small decisions that makes life so much richer.  I know you can add vinegar to milk, as a buttermilk substitute, but it’s just not the same as pouring thick, gloppy buttermilk into your measuring cup.  It makes me gleeful every time.

If you happen to try these, let me know how yours turn out!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you down there!