Friday, 13 January 2017

I resolve never to make resolutions

Let it be resolved that we will never again make New Year's resolutions based on what we saw in the flyers this week.

It boggles my mind that every single January, the gurus of marketing ensure that all of the key words are hit in every advertorial, every flyer, every promotional email. You know the ones. Renew! Refresh! Detox! Organize! Purge! Declutter! Clean! New new new! New you, too!

Ads for treadmills and magic bullets, miraculous shoe racks and plastic totes promise to make everything easier, cleaner, healthier, fresh and new. I actually find myself getting sucked into articles telling me how to detoxify with a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning and a cup of turmeric tea before bed, and nothing in between. So down the hatch with the vinegar. Drink that glass of water first thing in the morning, and follow it with ten minutes of meditation. Write down goals for the new year in a beautiful, pure white journal. But for heaven's sake do not call it a resolution, because there is no better way to curse yourself to complete and utter failure than by making resolutions. Especially if you make your resolutions public on social media. *ahem*

Apple cider vinegar with a tea chaser.
And yes, I was a total failure at the apple cider vinegar thing, but I am drinking a glass of water first thing every morning and trying to remember to meditate each day even for a few minutes. I have a lot of experience with a busy mind, and it has taken a lot of practice to slow it down over the years.

One of the biggest resolutions goals for me every year is to write more regularly, not for money or glory (because there is none) but just as a creative outlet because I can't knit or paint or sculpt or carve, or anything else, really with any level of prowess. Probably prowess is the wrong word, actually kind of an icky word. Sorry.
Years ago writing is what I did for a living, following a stint in journalism school, and I have had a love/hate relationship with the media ever since. But writing is something I can do, and as it makes life better to spew words onto a page, then it must be done.

Where was I going with that? Oh yes, goals.

Decluttering is another one of those hot topics of January. Last year I signed up for Apartment Therapy's January Cure, thinking that maybe regular emails reminding me to declutter would help clarify my vision of spare, simple space. I failed, plus my email box was even more cluttered, but they do offer lots of mindful suggestions, like how to meditate on what kind of space you want.

That being said, getting rid of stuff is so important. A few years back we moved from a 2500 square foot farmhouse into a 1000 square foot townhouse. It is staggering how many things we got rid of and how many more we fit into that small space. I am quite fascinated by small space living and love to read about tiny houses and all that jazz, but am equally enamoured with thrift store shopping. The simple rule of "one thing in, one thing out" is something that keeps it under control, and we keep a box or a bin always available for donating. It is a constant process of dropping things in until it fills up, and then dropping it off to charity.

Another goal for this year to work harder to connect with people and to maintain those connections. Somehow it was much easier to make friends when our children were tiny. Perhaps wild-eyed, exhausted parents covered in baby drool are just drawn together by some unseen force, and bonded together by mutual need and stress. Book clubs! Playdates! Birthday parties! Storytimes! So many social opportunities. I clearly remember ambushing an obviously pregnant woman (That's you, Lilah) and forging a friendship based on babies and a love of books. It is sooooo much more difficult now.
Reaching out is tough, and I've never been a joiner but I have always been blessed to have livelong friends who stay in touch. When I see them again it as if we were never apart. One glass of wine or cuppa tea and we are right back to the comfort zone. But moving around as we have means we have friends all across the country, so that is a positive, right?

Blogging is another way of reaching out, as well. Sometimes I wish I could do something BIG like Jonathan Field's The Good Life Project or Tsh Oxenreider's Art of Simple and become someone who does podcasts on .... something meaningful, but hey, not everyone can podcast so I will be happy if ten people read my blog. Or none, other than my mom. Another blog I love to read is Rita's Notebook. Rita writes about whatever the heck she wants and she does it beautifully. I especially like this post about how her teachers changed the trajectory of her life. All of these clever folks (and many more) are busy trying to make a positive difference in the world, despite the modern day Grimm's fairy tale taking place in the States these days. And when I say "Grimm" I mean, the original Grimm's fairy tales that were really, well, GRIM.

I would love to hear some goals that you all are thinking about for your lives, as well. Let us inspire each other, and reach out to others who are working hard to keep the sunshine in their hearts. By focusing our lens on good people and good things in our lives, it helps us shift our attention to optimism.

If all else fails to inspire, then go read a good book. A little escape never hurt anyone. Right now I am reading Catherine Alliott, while also rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Reading to children will always bring you joy (and giggles). I am so happy to be returning to the toddler/baby world this week by facilitating a songs and rhymes program. Which means of course that I am wandering around the house singing "Mama's little baby loves dancing dancing, Mama's little baby like to boogie down." Hey, I have to practice. I am also having a look through this list of books for children that I pinned ages ago. Have a wonderful week, friends.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Blending in is overrated

So, that year is over.

Honestly, 2016 was not my favourite year from a news perspective, but then one of the promises I've made to myself is to read less news in the new year. Or at least to seek out legitimate news, which is a bit like finding gold ingot buried in the compost heap. In a personal sense, a year of upheaval has led us from the prairies to the mountains, to a place where it seems anything can and often does happen.

Reflections on our new home place? It seems blessed with an endless supply of creative anachronism, and not just in the sense that yes, some people actually dress as though they exist in a whole different century, or reality. There is a sense of optimism here, despite the proliferation of homelessness and addiction that also seems to exist. It is a place a bit outside of time, where conscientious objectors live happily alongside excruciatingly cheery Australian ski buffs, stores have "sliding scale" pricing and focus hard on natural, organic, fair-trade, local, free-range, handmade ....where was I going with this? Anyhow, it is just that way.

It is a bit hard to reconcile the well-heeled, fresh-faced, Patagonia-wearing crowd with the dreadlocked cape-wearing panhandler with a dog and guitar on the corner, but there it is. Weirdly I feel like I fit in here just by virtue of being human. And if my child wants to dance down the street wearing mismatched rainbow knee socks, red suspenders, shorts over tights, a down coat and a top hat, no one even bats an eyelash. You have got to love that.

Certainly the pioneer spirit is alive and well, since surviving in a place where fabulously-well-paying jobs are few does present challenges. Making a living requires endless flexibility, and possibly the ability to raise your own rare sheep, shear them, spin and dye the wool and weave it by hand into value-added luxury pashminas, while composting the sheepshit into your organic vegetable gardens. Back-to-the-landers are in heaven here. As long as you've got a sunny slope then you might as well grow veg and raise chickens on it. Unless of course you can afford to pay the prices at the glorious new co-op store. *sigh

The thrifting economy flourishes in the Kootenays, so if you are willing to work for it and really dig, there are treasures to be found. Facebook buy and sell pages are unbelievably competitive so if you are serious about looking for something you have to troll the waters almost constantly, as coveted items are often offered and bought within minutes. Best buys? Ikea Billy bookshelves for $50 and a gorgeous old wood sewing table for $40. A fist pump is totally acceptable when you score a deal.

I am working at resurrecting my country skills now that we have moved away from townhouse living, back to the woods. The mountains stretch out around us, so that all we have to do is strap on snowshoes to walk out behind the house onto the trails.

Winter is well and truly settled in for the long haul, which means the oft-made resolution to embrace the season has again been made. It is so much easier to embrace winter when the very act of breathing does not feel like sticking dry ice up your nose (-50 degree prairie windchill, anyone?) but I am the first to admit I am not a snow bunny. Snowshoeing out on the mountain is glorious but the local passion for downhill skiing is probably not contagious as I have quite a high level of immunity to death-defying sports.

Creative endeavours always seem to take off in the colder months, and this year is no exception, but READING will always be my favourite winter sport. I so miss working in a library just for the flow of suggestions on what to read next. What is on your shelf for this winter? I am crushing on these books but looking for more as always, particularly as I gravitate towards light, fluffy, happy-ending fiction and I feel I should broaden my horizons. Of course, there are times (all of 2016) when fluffy happy endings are really quite appreciated. Needed, even.

 Living in the woods does make me feel like I should learn to whittle, or knit, or something like that. We've tried felting this winter, with some small success. Last week we went to the fabric store and wandered around in a dazed and amazed fashion for a while, coming out with what is most likely wildly inappropriate fabrics for my limited skills. I am pretty sure the salesclerks snickered when we left. Still, perhaps crepe and chenille will inspire my youngest seamstress child to some cutting-edge dolly creations so it will be worth it.

I am still seeking my place, and who knows, maybe I will find it here.

Monday, 24 June 2013

How to survive (and love) summer vacations with kids

Ava's very first road trip. That's Mount Robson reflected, and she is SO excited.

Remember road trips with your family as a kid? I do. It was always very exciting except for the part where my dad made us get out of bed at 4 a.m. so we could be in line for the first ferry in the morning. Yup, the joy of living on an Island in those days (pre-Confed Bridge) was having to wait in line for the 6 a.m. ferry to the mainland. Yeesh.

Anyhow, we rarely travelled all that far, maybe to Lunenburg to see the boats, or Cocagne for the boat races (see a boat theme here?), or even to Cape Breton to do the Cabot Trail. My husband remembers driving from British Columbia to Manitoba every summer. He claims his dad told them to go to the bathroom at home 'cause they weren't stopping again until Manitoba.

Now that we have our own children we know the frustration of having a small but demanding voice coming from the backseat every half-hour, "I have to peeeeeeeeeeeeee!" We are planning trips to both coasts this summer, so we are in full prep mode now, especially from a mental perspective.

Confederation Bridge...much easier than waiting for the ferry.


Accept the fact that you have to stop a lot and it will take at least 2 hours longer than you plan. 

Make a playground the destination.
Make sure every place you are headed has a playgound. And pretend that is your major goal in life, to get to the next stop so that you can go to that playground. Somehow they will endure hours of driving for some monkey bars. I swear we could write a book entitled "Playground tourism for Dummies."

Bring lots of stuff
We don't have DSs (DSesses??). No video games. But I stock up on lots of books from the Sally Ann or library book sales for the girls. No library books on holidays so they don't get left somewhere. We also bring MP3 players for each girl, loaded with lots of their own tunes. Taylor Swift, Walk off the Earth, One Direction, some clean Pink, Josh Groban, some fiddle tunes and Irish Rovers. Eclectic. We also pack lots of drawing pads, coloured pencils and doodle books because they can draw for hours.

Bring lots of food
When in doubt, give snacks. Lots of fruit, nuts and something treat-like. Road trip food like corn nuts or popcorn or (GASP) junk food. I always have to have corn nuts and cream soda on road trips.

Bring your sense of humour
If you're feeling a little crazy and you think you might scream if one more person asks "whennnnnnn will we be there?" just remember, your children will grow up and refuse to go on roadtrips with you. Enjoy! Be silly, and laugh. You will all feel better.

Camp or stay with friends with kids along the way.
That way the trip itself is part of the fun. It's not just about the destination, it is all the fun stops as well. Plus the kids can entertain each other while the grown-ups crack a cold bottle of wine and catch up on life.

Learn stuff
National Parks and Historic sites are SO great for families. They have wonderful programs to engage kids, and lots of fun things for everyone to do as they enjoy nature and learning. I know, theme parks and water slides are fun (for about 10 minutes), but nature is the ultimate theme park. Last year we bought a national park pass that let us into every park and historic site in Canada, and it was well worth it.

Fun at Lunenburg
Digging for dinosaur bones at Fundy Geological Museum

Park Xplorer program at Fundy National Park

Changing of the guard at Fortress of Louisbourg

Surviving the summer at home

Make every day a stay-cation. 
This is my first summer of being totally off, full-time parenting for the entire season. And I am ready. Rainy days call for trips to the library, where there are always lots of activities as part of the Summer Reading Program. Sunny days mean picnics at the park, playground tours (we make it a goal to visit each one in the city), and this summer it will be trips to a lake since the ocean is currently thousands of kilometres away. Swimming lessons are also on the list.

Be footloose and fancy-free.
Take the kids for a hike in the woods, find a stream, sit back and relax. It is amazing how much fun children can have with a few sticks, some birch bark and some free-flowing water in a sun-dappled forest.

Little geocachers
Go geocaching!
If you've got a GPS and lots of junky doo-dads, you are all set for this amazing outdoor activity. Everybody loves a treasure hunt, and there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of geocaches in every province. We have a little bag of goodies (called swag in geocaching language), so when we find a cache we can swap for whatever little item in the cache the girls want. Check out to download coordinates for caches wherever you are.

Go camping. 
There is nothing better than sleeping outdoors. Really, I mean it. It just may not seem that way when you have to get up in the middle of the pitch-black night and stumble to the nearest comfort station (ie. bathroom) with a child who needs to pee and flatly refuses to do it behind the conveniently located tree beside your tent. But camping is a parade of awesomeness. Stay up late, eat beans and wieners, roast marshmallows on the campfire and listen to the crickets.

Have some lemonade and freezies. Enjoy this oh so short period of time when your children are so young and full of imagination and joy and enthusiasm for the world around them. If we could all adopt that attitude, to approach each moment with the trust, optimism and fresh outlook of a child, summertime becomes all it is meant to be. A time to refresh, to soak up nature, blue skies, good food eaten outdoors, and time to reconnect as a family.

If all else fails, go fly a kite.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

My sizzling summer reading list...

Books are my drug of choice. When I don't have a book, I am thinking about getting one. I have books in every room of the house, and I carry my e-reader around just in case I can snatch even just a little fix while I wait outside the school for my kids or at a stoplight.

Just kidding about the stoplight. Really.

As addictions go, I suppose reading is a good one to have, although my husband might think otherwise when he is trying for the third time to ask me a question and I just look up blankly from my book and then continue to ignore him.

I still love real paper books with pages, but I love my e-reader as well, so I alternate between the two. A couple of real books, a couple of e-books. My usual goal is about 100 books a year. Sometimes I reach the goal, sometimes I don't. I am a bibliophile.

Now that I am on sabbatical from the library, I really miss the day-to-day book chat that has always been my favourite part of working there. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was from someone who told me I was like a "book diviner," that I could talk to a person a few minutes, then go to the shelf, run my hands over the books and pick out the perfect one for that person. Just how geeky I am is reflected by how incredibly flattered I was by that comment. Anyhow, something I like to do every year is write a blog about summer books, good ones to read or a list of a few I am planning to take on this summer. Unbelievably, summer is almost here. (Honestly, I did not think our first prairie winter would ever, ever end.)

So drum roll... here is my wish list for this spectacular summer reading season. Please, help me out by commenting at the end and giving me some more ideas...there is always room for more. With a major road trip coming for us this summer, I will be reading my way across three provinces when I am not busy refereeing whatever is going on in the back seat.

You can find any of these titles free at your local library, as I will. If you like to own your books and want to order them from Amazon, click on the title links to read reviews or shop, and this blog will receive a tiny portion of sales, with thanks.

The Paris Wife 
Paula McLain

There is a little rebellious bit of me that won't read what everyone tells me to read, but this one I will, because it sounds like a delicious plot. Literary history at its best, with Hemingway in love.

Summer of love
Katie Fforde
Fluffy, frothy, British. Katie Fforde is almost as good as Jill Mansell for escapist, fun, romantic romps in the British countryside. And summer is in the title.

Susan Howatch
...because frankly, I will read anything moody and atmospheric and set in Cornwall.

Elin Hilderbrand
Some of her books were, I thought, a waste of time, but they are always beachy, set on Nantucket, and involving lots of family intrigue, so I am going to give her another try barefoot. And summer is on the cover.

The summer guest
Justin Cronin
This book looks so diabolically different from his huge bestseller The Passage that I have to read it. The Passage is part one of a highly-addictive trilogy of zombie apocalypse books that I consumed (all 800 pages) in a weekend so it will be interesting to see what he does with family drama. And summer is in the title.

The light between oceans
M.L. Stedman
I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but this IS a great cover. The story looks gorgeous, too, set on a tiny lighthouse island off of Australia. A little mystery, a bit of tragedy, lots of dramatic crashing waves, and I am sold.

The way I see it 
Temple Grandin
This is a book I have meant to read for ages, since I saw the movie Temple Grandin, which was stunningly good. I have a sweet little friend who is autistic, and I want to understand him as much as I possibly can.

Ah yes, I will also be including at least one book from Jane Green and one from Jill Mansell if I can squeeze them in. What is on your list for this summer? Please share, and happy reading.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Finding community and digging it

Just when I think about how difficult it feels at times to set up life in a new place, I get a reminder that we have a head start on settling that so many don't have. At least we are in our own familiar country, where people speak in languages we understand (mostly) and every step we take is not a struggle to survive and fit in.

My youngest daughter goes to daycare part-time at the local association for newcomers, where she stands out as a newcomer of a different sort, an Anglo-Saxon Canadian newcomer. Let's just say she glows there. It was her idea. She was bored at home with me in the afternoons, so she said, and wanted to play with other children. The other kids are from many different parts of the world, and we both love that. She talks about her friends from Saudi Arabia, Africa and other countries she didn't even know existed before.

Today we saw a woman sitting, her face turned toward the window, her beautifully-embroidered clothes covering all but her sandalled feet. Her head, fashionably wrapped in a hijab, rested on her hand, and she sat silently, just looking out at the strange prairie city outside. When I left, she was still there. I could not help but wonder what was going through her mind.

I hear many conversations in many different languages here, and I hear translators trying to explain to settlement workers what the newcomers are saying, what problems they are facing and asking what to do about it. It puts our whole life into perspective, truly. We may have some (ahem, political) problems in this country, but all in all we have it pretty darn good and no one can tell me otherwise. How does one make a home in a country that is so strange and alien, when that person has run from a life which we in Canada can not even imagine? So far from family and all they know, it must seem insurmountable. If I think it is tough to meet people and find some sense of belonging, what must she feel?

One place I am looking for community (not to mention fresh veggies) is at the city's community garden, and interestingly enough, so are many immigrants. The organizer tells me that about one-third of all the gardeners in the city's large garden plots are in fact newcomers to Canada. It is a way for them to grow their own food, and specifically to grow food that is culturally appropriate for their families. What an idea! I love it.

I have never needed to do community gardening before, as we have always had a big yard in which to putter. The garden is a fascinating place. Seniors and young families, newcomers to the city and newcomers to the country, all are there digging and weeding alongside one another. There are even raised platform gardens for those with mobility issues. It is the ultimate in inclusive gardening, where the experts can help the newbies, where you can share if you have too many zucchini and someone else too many green beans. Kids run free, gardeners discuss the weeding over their coffees in the morning. Twice during the growing season the gardeners hold farmers' markets selling their extra produce and baking, with the proceeds going to local charity. AND everyone is encouraged to grow an extra row of vegetables for the food bank. Fabulous, and also pretty timely considering all the talk these days about food security, eating local and the rising price of groceries. 

For a very small fee, we get a plot, rototilled and ready, a supply of water, and a shed full of every tool we could possibly need, from wheelbarrows to hoes, tomato cages to watering cans. It is the best deal in town, truly, because for newly-arrived city dwellers like us it becomes our yard, the place we go after school on a sunshiney afternoon. We weed and water and plant, pick some rhubarb out of the communal patch, watch the trains go by across the river and listen to the birds. The girls run around importantly checking their own little plots and playing with the toys that live in the gardens. We bring a picnic and enjoy the flower beds. It makes me wish that everyone who lives an urban lifestyle could have their own little patch of earth like this. Just as Ava's daycare does for her, the garden helps connect us to others we might not normally know, and indeed gives a sense of being "settled" in a way that we wouldn't find otherwise. The bonus of fresh food grown by our own hands is just another fabulous perk.