Brutal winter magic

Posted March 29, 2014 by Carrie Breck
Categories: family, fiction, literature, parenting, Relocation and Writing, storytelling, Uncategorized, writing

Tags: , ,

It started with the flu and a power outage. It developed into a cold, a cough, bronchitis. Weekly storms brought winds that nearly blew me off my feet. Someone threw up. Someone else got an ear infection. Cold sweats and hot chills, and he we go with the flu again.

This winter has been less than kind to the general health of my family.

There were four PD days to manage in February, snow days and sick days from work and school. Several times I said aloud, I did not go back to work to be stuck at home with kids! Then I’d get sick again, for punishment.

Still, there’s been magic. The tooth fairy visited us with Santa Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten about this until my daughter lost her first molar last week.

The next day, after she’d stashed her four dollars, she said she had something to ask me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body was brewing another bout of flu. So maybe I wasn’t feeling much like keeping the magic alive, which made it easier, when my daughter asked if it is, in fact, parents who leave money for teeth, to ignore the angel on my one shoulder for the devil on the other. I told her the truth. Then, when she asked about the Easter bunny, I believe I used the word ridiculous.

Now I might have the angel and devil mixed up. Because what I will never forget, despite my haze of cold sweats, is how grateful she was that I didn’t lie to her direct question. And what I hope my daughter never forgets about this conversation, was the advice I gave her to move forward with this new information: how, when you are no longer told what to believe, you are free to discover your own magic in the world.

It’s taken a certain amount of magic to get through this brutal winter. I found plenty between the covers of books. Quite literally, in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, what a cool idea! Very much an impossible love story, where real magic is almost believable against a backdrop of realism, with so much great detail. I have re-read some of my favourite authors, Jane Urquhart, Anita Rau Badami, Barbara Gowdy, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave.

Did I mention I am going to Iceland? I can hardly believe it, it seems so unreal, but I’ll be there in just over a week. My preparation for the Iceland Writers Retreat has open several doorways to new discoveries, including Sjon (I read The Blue Fox in an afternoon, and it summoned ancient storytelling methods in a modern setting, very different from anything I’ve read lately). Another book that was on my list but I got to it sooner because of this trip, was The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden (which won Canada Reads this year!). This is a very important book, one I feel like I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, for its very honest depiction of Canada’s beginnings, a story we don’t talk about often enough.

And finally, I discovered Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. I haven’t been able to pick up another new book since putting this one down. This is the most incredible work of historical fiction I could ever imagine. This one makes me squeeze my eyes shut tight and imagine I can time travel to the places Brooks brought to life on the page, several different time periods, all drawn so clearly it makes my fingers itch to touch the dirt, the rocks, and clothing of the people there.

I’ve had at least one sick day with each of my children this winter. With my three-year-old, I made train tracks and caught up on some Kids’ CBC episodes. With my middle son, I played Uno, Monopoly, and enjoyed his favourite Disney movies. My daughter and I watched two seasons of The Dance Academy on Netflix. I’ve hardly had time to think about how stuck I was feeling last year before I found a job. Things are ticking along, just as they should.

 

 

Iceland adventure

Posted January 20, 2014 by Carrie Breck
Categories: fiction, literature, novel-writing, religion, Relocation and Writing, Uncategorized, writing

Tags: ,

Reading Icelandic literature and history in preparation for this:

http://icelandwritersretreat.com

Brain not stimulated in sweatpants

Posted October 4, 2013 by Carrie Breck
Categories: family, logistics of mom back at work, marriage, parenting, Relocation and Writing, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

I am a master at sleeping through the night when not woken by one of my children, so it was a shock to be startled from dreams the other night. I felt around the covers the way I search for a pen on my desk, tapped my feet as I do while preparing lunches in the kitchen, and blinked, as at a computer screen in a windowless office during daylight. All of this because I wasn’t sure where I was.

I wouldn’t say it was a relief to be in bed, with hours of sleep time left before dawn. My newest routine involves being dressed and ready to leave for work as my children head to school every morning. I have a hard time calling it “work” when it doesn’t involve laundry, managing the bathroom, activity, playtime and eating schedules of three little humans. I quite enjoy this thing called work I do with other adults on weekdays. It’s a routine which will become dull with that inevitability of anything we repeat over and over, but for now, is completely refreshing.

And the world of adults is equally as entertaining as that of children. Add and subtract certain frustrations. Traffic for spilled milk. A slow-talking janitor for a whining two-year-old. The entry-level position (for which I am grateful, it’s a foot-in-the-door as I am told over and over) for bum-wiping.

Women are making all kinds of choices these days, but our one restriction will never completely disappear: that of the career-halting reality of having children. Of course, different women are managing this in various ways. For me, I have spent the last decade supporting my husband’s career and making babies. I am glad, thanks to the women a generation before me, I have the choice to access childcare, and look for a job. It’s been a year since I started to work on this plan, and it is finally a reality. I am eternally grateful I have three wonderful children to make a childcare plan for. The truth is, I have been out of the workforce for five years, and am starting from zero, once again. And yes, I want it all.

I’ll be blunt: I found being home with my children extremely isolating. I never enjoyed “playdates”. My style is more, kick the kids out the door so I could engage my brain in my writing. I have no regrets about having been home with them (and seeing all of my kids’ firsts is a gift I cherish), they are great kids, and we get compliments about them all the time, in particular, how polite they are. If me being home with our children had anything to do with their (so far) good natures, then it was worth it. But I have a brain, and it wasn’t stimulated in sweatpants.

One working mom I know once said, “Your children will be happy if you are happy.” I felt stuck at home. Now, I offer undivided attention to my children when we’re together, rather than trying to do two things at once. Of course there is still the laundry, my husband and I still have meal plans to make and barf to clean up from the kitchen floor, turns to take when someone is up in the night. And, I continue to pursue my fiction writing. But if I’ve learned anything over this last month of being back at work outside the home, it’s that we are all, barring any real health issues, capable of more. Not less. Everything and anything we do can become repetitive, and it’s the more that will break up those routines, keep us motivated, and show our children how to do so, also.

Practicalities

I spent too long fretting over how it was all going to happen, but in the end, me going back to work outside the home only made sense for us this year (even though I would have been glad to have done this a year ago), with two out of three kids in school full time. There’s enough juggling (sick days, appointments, activities to manage) without adding extra confusion to that nasty Kindergarten year, of 2.5 hrs. of school in the middle of the day. And financially, with two kids in full time daycare, one in after school, I would have been paying to work. Yuck. The balance is slightly tipped in the right direction with (only) one child in full time daycare, two in after school care.

First thing was to get our youngest into full time daycare. I decided on the one I wanted, ignored the people who said “you’ll never get in there, the wait list is years long” and called or emailed the director every day all summer until she offered me a spot.

It took another week to figure out after school care for our other two children, a couple of days of my husband picking them up early so I could get settled in my job (teamwork!). But same thing happened with that: once I decided on the program I wanted the kids in, I bugged and bugged until I got two spots.

The job? That part now seems easy compared with organizing three children. A few months ago I dug deep into my past, summoned one or two of the best references I hadn’t realized I had, and they really came through for me. I’d also been concerned about how my resume looks, seeing as I haven’t had many long-term positions. But none of that matters when you add up experience, a positive attitude, and determination to get out there.

The Liebster Blog Award: sharing the love

Posted June 7, 2013 by Carrie Breck
Categories: Uncategorized

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I was thrilled the other day when my dear friend and fellow writer Michelle over at Maple Leaf Mamma nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award. It seems the Liebster has unknown origins, but is a pay-it-forward sort of a thing. A modern take on the chain letter, perhaps? Suffice to say, a bit of fun in the world of blogging.

If you accept the award you’re supposed to acknowledge the person who nominated you – grazie, Michelle! – answer some questions about yourself, and nominate other blogs.

1) Why did you start blogging?

About eight years ago an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while, who remembered how I used to write these long stories in elementary school, told me any writer he knows has a blog. At the time I didn’t know what blogging was but I thought of it years later when I was living in Sudbury, Ontario and my husband got the job offer to be transferred to Thompson, Manitoba. It was a very difficult decision to say Yes to the move, and I started searching the ‘net for help and support, as a wife and mother about to relocate to a remote location away from friends and family. I couldn’t find anything online. Every “relocation” search came up with pages and pages of moving companies. So I decided to start my blog in the hope that I could reach out to others as scared as me in a similar situation.

It worked. I’ve met people through my blog (online and one wonderful friend, in person, here in NL). I still have never properly thanked the universe and the sixty or so people who left messages for me when I was Freshly Pressed after this post, at a time when I was feeling particularly lost. I apologize for not thanking each one of those who left me comments (I remember sitting in front of my computer with a box of tissues, bawling my eyes out as I read the kind words of strangers, it meant so much to me), but I did read all of your blogs. 

2) If you could eat lunch anywhere in the world, where and what would you eat?

Ooohhh, so many places, but I think it would have to be somewhere in Italy. I’ve travelled in Italy and hope to do so again someday, and when I think of eating there, I think, comfort food. I do enjoy a fancy meal now and then, but I’m more simple at heart. I love how Michelle describes Italian food as basically peasant food. Right up my alley.

3) Whom, what, where does your blogging inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from how I experience the world. My emotions.

4) How do you handle a stressful day?

Prior to a few weeks ago I would have said, a glass of wine around 4 pm. But I was starting to realize that could turn into a problem (if it wasn’t already. And very expensive). Exercise, for sure, and music. I’ll put on some danceable music and move. I’ve also started to pay more attention to the things I repeat to myself, and try to dig around for positive thoughts to replace the negative ones that can spiral out of control if I’m not careful. And when I get the chance, talking things out with another adult helps immensely.

5) What do you hope your children remember about you?

My love, my creativity, my energy, and my joy. Preferably more of the love, less of the wild-eyed yelling.

6) What is your favorite recipe?

Grandma food! The recipes my Grandma left for me in a little book she started for me when I was first out on my own….. Actually, I haven’t made any of those in a while, the chicken and rice casseroles, the sugar plums. In our house we make a lot of homemade soup, and my fav is from Canadian Living, one my husband and I have made for a few years now, ginger, ground pork and noodle soup, yum.

7. What is your favorite quote?

Many, but this one in particular for how it sums up most things. It’s a little exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

8. What projects are you working on right now?

Short stories. Child-rearing. Marriage. Kitchen reno. And being a more patient, mature but still fun-loving, dependable adult. Which is needed for the next pursuit, my job search.

9. What is the best thing about you?

I still have a birthday card my co-workers in the communications department of Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan gave me the year I worked there. It says: “Jane’s co-workers wondered if she’d been smelling too many birthday candles,” and around the cartoon image of a woman, arms in the air are captions like, Life is Wonderful! I feel Great! I think the best thing about me is my enthusiasm. At worst, people who meet me think I’m crazy to be so high on life. At best, I tend to inspire others.

10. Will you follow the bloggers that you nominate?

Definitely!

11. What makes you giggle?

The sound of sudden falling, as long as the one falling (usually me or one of my sons) isn’t hurt, that delicious tumble thump sound that is giggle music to my ears, and the inevitable, delayed bruises on knees or shins or shoulders, truly some of Nature’s most colourful and surprising works of art.

(11) facts about myself…

Despite the landing and the technological advances and the sci-fi inevitability of our future, I still romanticize the moon.

I would take a muddy pond to swim in over a chlorinated pool any hot, hot day in July.

I never thought I’d want to live above the 53rd parallel but I have now, more than once, and I yearn to go back.

My children devour broccoli and spinach among other veggies, fruit, meat, dairy and whole grains, and have a robust enjoyment of cookies. I take full credit for their healthy habits.

In our first year together my then boyfriend/now husband and I travelled across the country several times on our way to and from tree planting contracts. I love it that we met in the bush.

I am fiercely proud of my parents and worry I won’t accomplish half what they have in their lives to date, but finally realize I am different from them in ways that will mean I’ll do my own good things in my own (slower) time.

I have never lost anyone (by death) close to me except for my Grandma, who was ninety when she passed away three years ago. However, I have lost friends to time and distance which has left me feeling equally as heartbroken and lost without them.

I will turn 40 next year and I haven’t been this excited about a birthday since….last year! I feel stronger now than I did in my 20s (when I thought I was invincible), and I look forward to the inevitable wisdom that comes with age.

I was never very good at organized team sports, goals in the wrong net, yup, that sort of thing, and I wasn’t particularly good at it but I appreciate all of the dance training my mom put me in over the years, jazz and ballet, which I have continued in pursuit of other feel-good forms of movement, from belly dancing to ballroom.

My childhood memories are wild. As in, roaming through forests and streams, the tall grass of the hydro field, skinned knees and hanging out with a gang of kids ‘till the streetlights came on kind of wild.

My husband and I will celebrate our ten year anniversary this year, sixteen years together, and I feel I’ve crossed a threshold into a whole new and strange kind of beautiful, where love is about so much more than that bubbly delicious feeling I get when he walks in the front door, invents silly rhymes for the kids, or touches me in a way only he can.

Blogs I love and nominate for a Liebster award:

Weathered Pages

The Thiessen Six

(more to come)

The Motherlode of Inspiration

Posted May 10, 2013 by Carrie Breck
Categories: family, Mother's Day, parenting, Uncategorized, writing

Tags: , , ,

I’m suffering a roadblock where my due may not be coming. My due time to sleep, my due time to have two coherent thoughts back to back, uninterrupted by tiny hands and persistent munchkin voices, my due time to put on clothes that haven’t been trampled under a hoard of dirty laundry.

It’s eight am and my daughter is not dressed or finished her homework and my son is anxious to start walking to school and my two-year-old is freaking out because his cereal is soggy and he wants a cookie. I take a deep breath and pass out small glasses of orange juice and bowls of oatmeal, make sure they are all wearing clean underwear (the pants and shirts I can’t be sure of). After school my daughter comes home crying because of a fight she’s had with friends and I ask all the diplomatic questions and nod understandingly in all the right places. My son is crying on the stoop because his father, his hero, is not home from work yet and nothing mom can do is quite as magnificent as what he can do.

My next deep breath conjures an image that’s been hovering in my peripheral vision through weeks of sleepless nights with one coughing kid or another, weeks of being one pace behind a clean house or a move made on my job search. This image is one that lives in my heart even with thousands of kilometres between us, and it is of my mother.

Image

A pregnant me celebrating a birthday with my mom.

Mother of composure who can pass on dessert and make me believe that a morning walk is important as sunlight. Mother of compassionate determination in the face of sky-high demands of career and family and self-care. Mother of creativity when it came to birthday parties or PD days, always ready with a cardboard box — aka fort — from an appliance store, scissors and crayons, glue and scrap material. Mother of hilarity, who has this great ability to laugh at herself (she once sent me a copy of her disastrous passport photo in a letter I opened, to my great embarrassment, in front of my friends at camp. But I had to laugh  because I could imagine her chuckling to herself as she sealed the awful picture into an envelope and put it in the mail for me). Mother of a remarkable way of creating fabulous meals in a wake of charred oven mitts and broken dishes, spilled soup and sticky dribbles in the creases of the kitchen. Mother with a knack for something more laughable than a good comedy sketch in the way she never fails to screw up the punchline of a joke. Mother of maturity and insight who could pinpoint the appropriate lessons and events by which I have marked out some fabulous courses for my life — summer jobs where I was able to work outdoors, encouragement to not just talk about writing but to call myself a writer, and so many other practical ideas she sought out to place in my lap. Mother of energy and unconditional love, unafraid to be wrong (but really, always right), to get angry or express joy, who taught me to fight my own battles and for God’s sake pick up after myself (that one didn’t really stick, sorry mom), and to go after whatever it is will make me most happy.

During the daily grind of rearing children I find it tough to imagine what will make me happy but that, like my mother in my life, is always there, even if it is pushed to peripheral places where it mixes like watercolours on the canvas of my existence. Thoughts of how best to proceed day to day blend with images of my own mother looking when I wanted to show her a dance step or a story I’d written, answering whenever I call her seeking advice, encouraging me to study or practise or move a little faster in the mornings while getting herself ready for another day at a job she loved.

I’ve had a lot of great role models in my life but my mom tops them all, and here’s how: because when I’m not feeling up to the struggle to shove pudgy round feet into square shoes, or to arm wrestle carseat straps, to clean another poopy bum, deal with midnight barf-a-thons or the confusing new math homework, and I’ve yelled at my kids not because they are awful children but because I’m tired and I’ve lost my patience, I think about all the wonderful things my mom manages alongside her roles as mother, daughter, wife and friend. This business of motherhood is not, even with well behaved, perfect children like my mom had and like I have, an easy job. So far, the only place I’ve got my mom beat is having three children to her two. But I know that when one career wasn’t satisfying, my mom worked hard, taking courses or networking to find another. And when that challenge was old hat to her, she strove for more. Always while remaining an available, approachable, and loving mother. She is my light at the end of a sometimes murky tunnel.

As I was writing this my two-year-old got out of bed, whining and wanting me to come upstairs and I said no, go back to bed, but I asked for one more hug and kiss from him. He refused. I put on a pouty face and he said, Don’t cry, so I pretended to cry and he ran into my arms with a smile and gave me a big hug and kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, all over my face the way I do to him, the way my mom did to me, and when he walked away he said, Don’t cry, and I somehow maintained my composure.

I have many wonderful female role models in my life. My very own fit and healthy ball of energy, humour, intelligence and wisdom who is a superstar of a mother, truly. Lovely aunts and a mother-in-law and sisters-in-law I admire and can confide in. I had two amazing and loving grandmothers. I have had terrific female bosses, also mothers, and only the best women friends with little ducklings in tow. My mom introduced me to the battle we as a gender have been waging, to be able to fulfill our dreams that extend outside of our work in the home while answering the very natural pull toward motherhood. Her actions as a working mom have been a lesson to me in how to go after what I want, while celebrating my femininity and my capacity as a mother. I adore time spent with my mom shopping or hiking or getting lost on a road trip and finding our way into a quaint cafe. I cherish the unending talks my mom and I are capable of, which drive the men in our family out of doors to swat flies in reverential silence. I celebrate the fact that, thanks to my mom and other women like her (although no other is quite like her), where we are is a place of true partnership between the sexes, if not complete equality. I know women like my mom worked hard to get us here.

Another thing my mother taught me is to be myself. And this self, as a mother, is something I can only be as a woman, full of both self-doubt and confidence, creativity, ambition and hope. I embrace this part with love, laughter, thoughtfulness, and never without compassion. Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss and kiss, to you, my beautiful fellow moms but most of all, to the brilliant shining star who is my very own and much beloved, mother.

Lost in Winter

Posted February 18, 2013 by Carrie Breck
Categories: fiction, literature, Relocation and Writing, storytelling, Uncategorized, writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

So this character walks into a library. He has unruly eyebrows, notable because he appears, otherwise, to be quite young. He is under thirty. Well, maybe thirty. Just.

He has never been in a library. Never in his life. Yet he is standing inside the door of this one, stories of thick books rising up eight floors from the open foyer, layers of heavy tomes, thin volumes in a series, wide opuses, extraordinary titles. He senses their grandeur without taking another step, without touching a single cover. He does something else he’s never done before: he strokes an eyebrow.

The eyebrows he attributes to the fact that he shaved them off once (okay, he had one shaved off when he passed out drunk at a party when he was eighteen, and immediately shaved the other so as not to appear lopsided. There is nothing worse, in his view, than lopsidedness. It is perhaps his biggest pet peeve).

He leaves the eyebrows alone because he’s found the more he tries to shave/trim/tend to them, the bushier they grow. Call them caterpillars, cattails, the frayed edges of rugs that have been vacuumed excessively, towels that should have been thrown out decades ago. They and his library moment are all you are ever to know about him.

Perhaps it was a sense of hibernation that drew him out of my imagination. The closeness of winter that stifles other meanderings. But as we all push through the centre of February, there’s a restlessness of spring around the corner that carries an eagerness bordering on madness. This is my sense of the world, post Groundhog Day, pre-thaw. My escape from adult responsibilities and routine is fiction. Mostly writing it. Is it an escape, or a moving into something more real than the mindless routine of seasons?

I got lost in the stacks the other day. My breath of fresh air in the basement of a library. I’d read a short story online by Joyce Carol Oates, In the Region of Ice (you can find it here: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/stories-week-2012%E2%80%932013/region-ice). She’s got this theme of humanism in the story, so I had this on the brain when I walked toward the literary journals and got sidetracked by a title on the Social Science shelf, called Anthropology and Humanism. Learned about a form of music that I couldn’t really tell you anything about except it’s name (which was spelled with a K in the journal, and a C online, a tidbit that must have its own storied story), Karnatic, and that the article has already seeped into more than one story I’ve been writing, where music, the motion of the human body, culture and sensibility are all at play.

There’s a fiction in randomly coming across something new, and the meaning I place on it, to use in my next (current) story. But that’s also pretty real. Or maybe I just want to think so, as an escape from the endless cycles of earthy existence that carries me from one season to the next.

Articles and Lit Journals Equals….

Posted January 31, 2013 by Carrie Breck
Categories: literature, Uncategorized, writing, writing and publishing

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/08/dont-write-what-you-know/308576/

This illuminating article was brought to my attention by a fellow writer in my writing group this week, AND my new issue of Malahat Review arrived yesterday. I’m in writerly Heaven.