Guest Post: Kerry Clare on Her Grandmother’s Rolling Pin

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I come from a long line of people who knew how to make things. I wouldn’t even believe it, were it not for the evidence in my living room—a chair built by my great-grandfather, a tall bookshelf my grandfather built years ago for my mother. Whereas I consider it an achievement that two weeks ago I pieced together a Canadian Tire bistro set. A table and two chairs that will no doubt fall apart in a few seasons, cheaply made and sold in a flat pack.

But of all the solid wooden things that connect me to my family’s past, the most important is my rolling pin. It was my grandmother’s, and I acquired it after she died. At the time, she was living in a retirement home suite with a kitchenette, a mini-fridge, no oven to speak of, so it seems surprising that she still had her rolling pin, but perhaps it was something she wanted to hold on to—as you do with a rolling pin.

It is a beautiful object, but heavy—it’s extraordinarily painful to have it roll off the counter and land on your toe. Made with smooth wood with intricate grains, and I can count the rings of the tree it used to be. The handles are moulded for a good grip, and excellent hardware inside ensures a steady roll as I push it across a sheet of pastry. And did you know that when rolling pastry, you only roll outwards in one direction? Not back and forth at all, like a steamroller, but just push it out once, perhaps again. Flip the pastry and do the same thing on the other side.

I didn’t know anything about pastry until I was in my late twenties when I was suddenly struck by the New Domesticity bug endemic among women my age. Though the time was right—I’d recently gotten married, I finally had a real kitchen, and a canister full of flour. And suddenly, I was itching to make things from scratch. To make pie. To claim my inheritance, I suppose, and prove that I too could make things. And also so that I could eat pie.

My grandmother’s pies were excellent, a staple of family gatherings. Usually apple (topped with vanilla ice cream), or pumpkin at Thanksgiving. My other grandmother made pies too, though hers were less crafted—her speciality was “chocolate pie,” which was Jello pudding in a pre-made crust, though she also did a mean lemon meringue. But that there was something “grandmotherly” about my pie-making didn’t immediately occur to me, not until long after I’d become a pastry maven and had been rolling my grandmother’s rolling pin for awhile. I’d been envisioning my baking as a new frontier. I hadn’t considered that my baking hobby, like the rolling pin itself, would be one of the few connections I have to my foremothers.

baking-as-biographyBut the connection is complicated. In her fascinating 2009 book, Baking as Biography, historian and folklorist Diane Tye riffles through her own mother’s recipe box to learn about how Canadian women lived in the middle of the twentieth century. That a wife and mother would bake, she explained, was simply expected, and what she baked would be dictated by her class and status, by where she lived, and how she was marketed to by companies that made things like gelatine and chocolate chips. And also what was in fashion: marshmallows, and coconut for exotic occasions.

But why did so few of these women pass their baking know-how on to their own daughters? Tye suggests a few reasons: feminism, not to mention instant baking mixes, would have made these women’s knowledge seem obsolete by the 1960s and ‘70s. And moreover, for many of them, baking was less a hobby and a passion than a time-consuming chore.

I don’t know if this was the case for my own grandmother. We didn’t talk that much, and most of the things I wonder about her it didn’t occur to me to wonder until after she was gone. That she kept her rolling pin until the end, however, suggests it was important. I always felt as though her baking was her way of showing affection, much like the obligatory letters she used to write me when I was at camp—usually imploring me to be a good girl. My grandmother was someone for whom to do what was expected of her was very important.

It was never quite as important to me, which is why it might surprise my grandmother that I’ve been giving her rolling pin such a work-out over the last decade. That I have inherited her affinity for pastry. That a part of her legacy lives on in my kitchen, with every pie I make.

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Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer, and editor of the anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published to rave reviews in 2014.  Her essays, reviews and short fiction have appeared most recently in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Joyland, Canadian Notes & Queries and The New Quarterly.  Kerry teaches “The Art of Blogging” at the University of Toronto, is editor of 49thShelf.com, and writes about books and reading at her popular website, Pickle Me This.

 

 

Best of the Blogosphere January 2015

home-office-336378_640Baby, it’s cold out there! What better way to kill a few hours than cuddled up near the fire with the Internet? (Actually, there are many other better ways, but then that wouldn’t make for a good intro to this post.)

Here’s what has caught our attention on the blogosphere.

Nathalie

Roseanne at The Lunchbox Season also wrote a word of the year post.  Check it out.  Defining Motherhood did an interesting take and chose three words.  She has me thinking about “year”.  And Carrie, our inspiration for our week of posts on our words of the year, has chosen her word for 2015.

OK, this is hilarious.  You’ve seen the 40 Under 40 lists, right?  Here’s the 3 Under 3 list!  Overachieving parents, listen to yourselves!!

Every year, we collect the funny things our kids say and send it out as our holiday letter.  This dad takes it one step beyond, into seriously awesome territory, by illustrating his daughter’s humorous quotations.  Check out Spaghetti Toes for some great laughs.  You can also shop his Etsy shop if you want a print of your very own.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or your special drink of choice and settle in for a great new year’s read with this blog post from Girl’s Gone Child.  It’s a lovely piece on travel, choices and taking the chance to let chance spin its magic. Thanks to Kerry Clare on twitter @kcpicklemethis for pointing me in her direction.

Also, thanks to Kerry, who should maybe add internet curator to her list of talents, I disappeared down the rabbit hole of all the great posts on The Ugly Volvo, having gotten there because of a post on all the things wrong with Goodnight Moon.  Hilarious.  So is the Knuffle Bunny post.  (I can’t link to it for some reason.  I hope you can link to it from her home page.  It’s really, really good stuff.)  She also gives really good advice written on bananas.

Beth-Anne

Have you ever forced your kids to say “I’m sorry” and the result is a pitiful, insincere mumble?  Here’s how to teach kids the right way to apologize.  I’m loving this and have already started doing it (to the chagrin of my boys) with success.

One of the questions I am most asked by friends with 2 children is, should I go for the third?  That’s like asking me, should I tattoo my forehead?  It’s a life long commitment and it ain’t for me to say.  But I will say this . . . remember before you had your first baby and you thought that you knew everything and that life would go along swimmingly except now you’d have a baby Bjorn-ed to your body?  And then that baby came and upended your life to the point when going to the washroom alone was a massive accomplishment?  A third baby is kinda like that but times 100.  Here’s what Shannon Meyerhort from Scary Mommy has to say on the topic, and I think she nailed it.

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  A new parenting study has been released and you must read about it!

And for all of us not on a diet this month, don’t these coconut chocolate tartlets from lark & linen look sinful and oh-so-perfect while sitting on the couch, in front of the fire, surfing the Internet?

(Multiple) Guest Post: Mothers in Children’s Books

Oh, the glories of book shops!  Where you can go along of a summer evening and listen to a group of interesting and funny women talk about books, and mothers in kids’ books to boot.

Kerry Clare and some of the other contributors to The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood gathered at Parentbooks on Harbord Street to discuss the representation of mothers in children’s books.  They brought books and food and insights and laughter to share and it was a wonderfully intimate discussion about  finding or not finding mothers on the pages of our kids’ books.

Kerry began by telling us that one inspiration for the topic was a blog post by Liz Harmer about how, at one point in her parenting life, the picture books she was reading to her children were more helpful to her as a struggling mother than parenting books:

in the horror-show that was my life after the second child was born I had already found my parenting identity in martyrdom. All I knew how to feel was guilt. I had no idea that a new baby would find all of the breathing room in my full life and take it for herself. I had no idea that the toddler would respond to my being overwhelmed by cranking up her own despair.

At this point, any parenting advice was a smart to the open wound I’d become.

And so, we began to talk about mothers and parenting and how they unfold on the pages of children’s books.  What do we find there and how does it speak to or about us?

imgres-3Heather Birrell read from her own childhood copy of Pippi Longstocking and talked about how, while her own daughter is rather indifferent to the book, as a writer and a mother, she loves the fact that Pippi is motherless.  She is successfully independent as an orphan of nine, and a lot more likeable than the kids up the street with intact families .  The absent mother in kids books, a remarkably frequent thing, allows kids independence, freedom from rules and from cloying love or authority.  Pippi’s mother, so Pippi imagines, watches her from her perch in the sky through a little hole in the clouds, and Pippi is always able to assure her that she is doing perfectly well.  As a writer herself, Birrell said she is always killing off mothers in her short stories.  It’s just so much more convenient to the engine of the plot and character development to have them out of the way.

We agreed that it was wonderful to find yourself, as a mother, celebrating books that did away with mothers so that kids can bloom, because isn’t that what we want for our kids, after all?

imgres-8Amy Lavender Harris talked about how grandmothers often fill the maternal role in the Eastern European tradition, and she read from Rosie’s Dream Cape by Zelda Freeman to illustrate the multiple roles that the grandmother fulfills; she is the figure of authority, conscience, forgiveness, generosity and connection to the old world and to the missing mother.

Heidi Reimer read from one of Sarah Garland’s Eddie books, Eddie’s Kitchen, and made the wondenderful observation that the illustrations enable a kind of covert and underground conversation, mother-to-mother.  The illustrations are wonderfully lush, and the house is packed and cluttered.  The mother in these books exemplifies grace in the chaos of family life, though the illustrator is also careful to portray her outside of her role as mother.  At one point, she is huddled on the stairs, alone, speaking on the phone to a friend who is having a rough day. imgres-5

Patricia Storms chose Tomi Ungerer’s No Kiss for Mother from which to read and reveled in the illustrations that would never pass muster today: a depiction of kids smoking stolen cigars and parents punishing their kids (with canes no less!).  Originally published in the 1970s, the book has been reissued by Phaidon, and perhaps the fact that the family in the book is a family of anthropomorphic cats makes it possible to publish it again today.  She admired that the conclusion of the book does actually provide a conclusion to the tension between an adoring mother and a son who does not like to be coddled and kissed.  They compromise; each gives ground.  The ground has shifted for both of them by story’s end, and the rebellious child is not simply drawn back into the normative family fold.  That family has had to change, just a bit, to accommodate him.

imgres-6Kerry finished off the night with a discussion of one of Shirley Hughes’s Alfie books, Alfie Gets in First.  Kerry remarked on how wonderful it was to read about another mother struggling with the mind-numbingly boring but immensely difficult negotiations of motherhood: how to get the stroller through the door and up the stairs, ditto with baby.  Predictably, Alfie gets into the house before mother and stroller and baby and locks himself in and them out.  Panic ensues.  Kerry was grateful for the feeling of solidarity she felt with the mother in the illustrations and how she felt a lot less alone reading those books to her children.  Again, the illustrations are lush and chaotic and depict the clutter and detritus of the busy family home.

Kerry finished up with a reading of Stephany Aulenback’s lovely  If I Wrote a Book About You and talked about how motherhood enables creativity and productivity and how finding solutions to the stupid problem of the stroller on the sidewalk and through the narrow door could be worthwhile in and of itself as well as leading to all manner of other kinds of creativity. imgres-7

Motherhood is Like a See-Saw

10267762_10154070721210014_6298337845483811914_nI met Nathalie more than 4 years ago. At our first meeting sitting across from each other at the Momoir writing class, she described her feelings of ambivalence about motherhood to the circle of six women.

I remember the woman sitting across from me had a shocked look on her face and while there were no words, her message was clear: how can you feel so-so about being a mom!?

Nathalie went on to explain that ambivalence doesn’t mean, “take it or leave it”. It means having contradictory feelings about something or someone.

That evening, sitting on a plush couch in a darkened Forest Hill basement, I found my way. Nathalie gave a name to the feelings that had taunted me for the past three years. I was finally moored.

For me, motherhood is a constant state of contradiction. My opposing feelings struggle to take center-stage, demanding to be heard. Parenting isn’t about attachment or a helicopter, a tiger or a presence of mind; it’s a harrowing see-saw ride with such soaring highs that it can shock the breath right out of you and thud-to-the-ground lows that will diminish you, gut you, scare-the-shit-out-of -you.

The essayists featured in The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, narrate ambivalence thoughtfully – with reflection, humility and honesty. Heather Birrell’s Truth, Dare, Double Dare, starts off the compilation and immediately I felt the same sense of kinship that I did years ago when I first met Nathalie.

I have re-read Heidi Reimer’s The Post-Maia World several times, each time gleaning more from her intimate narrative. Like Reimer, I am baffled, completely flummoxed by the contradictions that make up motherhood.

My emotions alone, and the intensity in which I feel them and express them, are like two sides of a coin. Reimer writes about emotion after becoming a mother:

“I yelled more, cursed more, became gripped with stronger rage . . .I smashed objects against of the floor and pounded my fists into walls.”The Post-Maia World

It’s what keeps me awake at night. Are my children going to grow up and their dominant childhood memories include me screeching at them, an ugly snarl on my face, to hurry-up, get dressed, stop fighting and get to school. Are they going to remember the time I smashed the truck plate in two jagged melamine pieces because I could not bear to listen to yet another squabble over whose turn it was to eat a grilled cheese off of it? Is the time, when in a rage of impatience I regrettably zipped-up a winter coat and a lip in one angry jerk, going to be what they remember of me?

I hope not.

I want them to think back on their childhood and recall all the times that I tried to kiss them a million times in a row, when I traced letters on their back, and squeezed our hands together in a cryptic code.

Of course they will never know how intensely I love them, how I have never loved anything with every fiber of my being, the way that I love them. The connection that I feel to them is visceral, so powerful that words could never suffice but Reimer is able to describe the initial feelings that overwhelmed me those early days with such uncanny accuracy.

“ . . .our connection to each other was primeval, animal, beyond rationality; it grew through nine months’ gestation, an umbilical cord between us, a birth canal, a mouth on my breast, hormones clamouring, “You are mine and I have never loved anyone before you!”The Post-Maia World

The emotional extremes that I experience are just one of the contrasting aspects that, for me, define motherhood.

Motherhood is just hard. As Julie Booker writes, “It’s really fucking hard.” Twin Selves.

The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood

Nathalie, Beth-Anne, and I treated our minds and hearts last month when we attended the launch of The M Word:  Conversations About Motherhood at beautiful Ben McNally Books in Toronto.  Kerry Clare, editor of the collection of 25 essays and author of Pickle Me This, introduced the book, after which several if its contributors read excerpts of their pieces.

I think it’s fair to say that we were captivated.  The essays span a wide spectrum of motherhood experience, including the reality of being defined by motherhood whether or not one is actually a mother.   They were textured and raw in and of themselves, but being read aloud by their authors only infused the words with more richness than they already possessed.

We’ve all read The M Word, and this week we want to write about it.  And we have outdone ourselves, if I do say so myself, in scoring Kerry Clare to write with us on Friday to close the week.  There is so much packed into this book, and we are thrilled to  have the curator of its stories share some of her thoughts with us at 4Mothers.

Please tune in – we are in for a great week!

Best of the Blogosphere

I will admit that when I am changing the fourth poo-explosion of the day (ugh, always when I am about to eat something!), and the fighting/whining of the older two seems like the soundtrack to my life, it can be difficult for me to focus on the loveliness of being a mother.  Just before Valentine’s Day, Savvy Mom posted the Top Ten Reasons To Love Being a Mom and I have had this site bookmarked ever since.  Number Three: The After School Hug definitely rates high with me because I know that an expiration date looms. There is nothing like picking up the boys from school and having them run into my arms.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and homemade cards and Cheerio necklaces will always be a favourite of mine, but the wordophile in me would love to have one of these Morse code necklaces from Coattonline.  I would choose to personalize my necklace to read: together we’re one.

A few weeks ago, the moms group that I belong to hosted a seminar by Carlyle Jansen who owns Good For Her.  She brought along (among other things) a copy of Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents’ Guide To Getting It On AgainI haven’t read the book, but the title of it made me laugh.

Nancy Ripton of Just the Facts Kid and Matt Damon’s mom made me sleep a bit better this month.  After what has been months (okay, years) of agonizing over the boys “gun play”, I have officially decided to move on to obsessing about something else.  Read what the experts have to say by clicking here.

Every day I look forward to reading Pickle Me This and this month my favourite post by Kerry Clare was her review of Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman Perhaps not as controversial as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, Druckerman’s book has been garnering a lot of attention.  What do you think?  How are you raising your kids?  Are you like the moms described in Bringing Up Bebe or do you answer to the battle cry?   Or do you make up your own rules?

Disclaimer: I did not receive any product or money for writing about any of the items/posts/websites above.  I just love to share.  To quote my three year old: “Sharing is caring!”

Image credits: microsoft, coattonline, iankerner, pameladruckerman

Far To Go

I consider myself an avid reader.  I read about thirty books per year, which isn’t a staggering number, but between three kids (four and under), running a house and trying to have a life, I’d say it’s a decent number.

I’m no Oprah but I feel like have it on good authority to recommend a good read and Far To Go is one of the best books that I have read in a long time.

Far To Go, by local Toronto author, Alison Pick is guaranteed to make you cry, question your beliefs, challenge your thinking and leave you breathless.  I promise!

Set in 1939 Czechoslovakia, wealthy textile merchants, Pavel and Annelise are faced with increasing anti-Semitism, as the political climate grows hostile for Jewish nationals.  Realizing their options for escape are limited they must decide whether to separate the family and place their young son on the kindertransport.  Their nightmare is made complicated by a twisted web of deceit, confliction and unconditional love.

It may sound like a familiar story but Pick’s characters are rich in complexity and achingly human.  Her writing left me feeling gutted by the painful loss that was a reality for many Jewish families during the Holocaust.

I had the opportunity to meet Pick when she attended our book club’s review of her novel, Far To Go. I gushed just like a schoolgirl meeting Justin Beiber.  But really, how could I not.  Just read this novel and this author’s raw talent will mesmerize you.

Why more people don’t know about this book saddens me.  It should be soaring bestsellers.  It should be sitting on Heather’s table of picks.  Oprah should be emphatically hollering, “You get a copy and you get a copy and you get a copy!”

As I often write, I am not a reviewer but merely a suggester.  Should you want to read a review of this book by some savvy book bloggers may I suggest Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This, Bibliomama, and Kevin From Canada.  If you prefer print media reviews, take a look at what The National Post and Globe and Mail have to say about this special book.

If you only read one book this year, make it this one!  Have you read Far To Go?  If so, what did you think?