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?

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.

Best of the Blogosphere

office-625893_640A Letter to My Pregnant Child-less Self

Do you ever wish that you could sit down with your pregnant-for-the-first time self and just lay it all on the line?  Forget all those feel good books fairy-tale dillusions – what would you say? Scary Mommy posted this “letter” to her pregnant, childless self and it’s very funny in that eating crow sort of way.

Oooops!

When Nathalie sent this to me, I laughed so hard that my stomach ached.  I never thought that I would say vagina and chicken in the same breath . . . a sign that I live a sheltered life or just happen to be more skilled at smart phone typing than some.  Full disclosure: I am not responsible should you snort-laugh aloud and make a fool of yourself.

Let your imagination run away

It never ceases to amaze me how imaginative kids are.  My middle and youngest sons have vivid imaginations that have led to many hours of creative play, bizarre accents, dress-up, fake moustaches and even “fake” friends.  Pickle Me This blogged about the magical fairy door,  and 52 Create has a great series on the surprises she leaves outside of hers.  I implore you to let your imagination run away from you.  The possibilities are endless!

Doppleganger

Has anyone ever told you look just like someone?  Joanna Goddard posted this while back highlighting Canadian photographer Francois Brunelle’s unique international exhibit.  He photographs pairs that look almost identical but get this, they are not every related!  You have to click on this to believe it!

Has anyone ever told you that you look like someone else?  As someone who has never been told that they look anyone, I am curious to know!

Yes!

Marcelle sent me this You Tube clip of what could easily be the most elaborate proposal I have ever seen (not that I have seen many, or any for that matter, if I don’t include my own) but all I can say is thank goodness she said yes!

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?