Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Past Deadline: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (2009)

Yes, it’s time for the mostly annual ritual of me butchering a lovely classic poem. So, with apologies (yet again) to Clement Clark Moore, I present the following:

’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
We could hear Buster yowling as he killed a toy mouse.
The stockings were hung from the dining room chairs (because we have no chimney, which has been a source of consternation by times)
In the hope that Saint Nicolas would be able to find them there.
When what to my tired old eyes did appear
But a worried Boychild. “Why are you here?”
I mumbled as usual. “You should be in bed.
“But Mom!” was what the sleepy child said.
“I’m worried that Santa won’t bring me the toys
“Because at our house we make too much noise.”
“Pardon?” I hollered over the din
As Buster paraded his toy mouse in.
“Well, Santa won’t come until we’re all sleeping
“And everyone’s still up and Buster is leaping.
“Santa has so many places to be
“If he runs out of time there’ll be no presents for me!”
I heaved a big sigh and glanced at the clock
Alarmed by the time as I heard it tick tock.
Its hands were now moving into the wee hours
And I still needed some magical Christmas-preparation powers.
I took Boychild’s hand and led him to bed
Muttering about sugar plums dancing in his head.
Soon I could hear his small gentle snores
And knew it was safe to break out the s’mores. (Hey – it rhymes with snores).
As I hustled to finish some last-minute wrapping
I thought I could hear some gentle tap-tapping.
My heart skipped a beat – do you think it could be
That the Stress-Free Holiday Fairy™ has come back to me?
(Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to not mention my fairy tale dream rescue fairy at this time of year!)
Ahem. Yes. So. Where was I?
With a crash and a clatter and sparkle of light
The fairy was back! She would save me tonight
From the peril that is of my very own making:
The clutter, the wrapping and the sheer lack of baking.
“Tsk tsk,” she did say, with a wink and a grin,
“You had better pass me that bottle of gin.”
(Okay. I totally made that up. The Stress-Free Holiday Fairy™ is not a gin drinker.)
So I opened the w(h)ine and we sat by the fire…
(Stop stop stop. This is absolutely wrong. I already said we don’t have a fireplace.)
Okay. Ahem.
“Tsk tsk,” she did say, with a wink and grin,
“It looks like I have to rescue you ag’in.”
“It’s true,” I admitted, hanging my head
“I’ve done it again. I’ve sure made my bed.”
She chortled and chided, “That’s funny, you see
“That your bed isn’t made is quite obvious to me!”
With that she began to bustle around
She cleaned and she baked with barely a sound.
In a flash the house was as clean as could be
And the presents were wrapped and under the tree.
The freezer was filled with baked goods galore
With a glorious fruitcake for me to adore. (Yum. Fruitcake!)
I felt so much joy that I wanted to weep,
But remembering Boychild I made nary a peep.
And as the good Fairy prepared to take flight,
She wished one and all a joyful good night!

Ah, dare to dream. May you all have a Stress-Free Holiday Fairy help you this week, and Boychild, Girlchild, Groom-boy and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best in 2010!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Past Deadline: Don't Believe the Hype

Mostly I don’t even want to bring this up. If it weren’t for my interest in spin and the fact the kids didn’t do anything incredibly bizarre this week, I probably would just grumble and carry on without mentioning it.

The thing is, I am a bit of a news junky. I mean, I worked as a reporter for almost seven years, for crying out loud. I write media releases for a living. My day doesn’t feel complete if I can’t sit on the couch next to Groom-boy at 11 o’clock for our nightly CTV News critique. We watch, we mock, we comment on Lloyd’s hair and make-up, we make tsking noises. Whatever floats your boat, right?

In fact, if I am late for the start of the news, I will almost always enter the room and ask, “What have I missed? Do we have to evacuate?” Almost always the answer is “no.” I take lead stories seriously. They are supposed to be about Very Important Things.


So when I turned on the news the other morning I was just in time to hear the newsreader announce there was “breaking news.” Now, when I hear the words “breaking news” I tend to want to gather up the children and pets and grab the emergency kit. Flashlights? Check. Canned goods? Check. Water? Check. Batteries? Check.

Clearly, my Spidey senses were tingling. I braced for that evacuation order or for news that someone crucial to the planet had died in a horrible way or that life as we know it was about to change.

(Yes, I think terrible thoughts.)

What did I hear on Tuesday morning? The “breaking news” was that, some six hours earlier, a woman in the Florida home of Tiger Woods had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. And, even worse than that, they really didn’t know anything more than the fact someone who looked kinda sorta possibly like Tiger’s wife was following the ambulance in a vehicle with a licence plate that was only two numbers off of Tiger’s wrecked-up SUV’s plate, so it probably maybe could be possibly one of Tiger’s cars.

What?

Omigod. I know. I was stunned [dripping sarcasm here].

Once I got over the initial shock of the “breaking news” being six hours old, I managed to get my heart rate down enough to put away my canned ravioli, batteries, bandages and whistle and carry on with my day. It was horribly difficult, but I resisted the urge to glue myself to the television and follow this story.


Ahem.

I hasten to add I am sorry to hear that Tiger’s mother-in-law collapsed due to a stomach ailment. If I were related to Tiger Woods in any way I probably would be having stomach pains, too. Nevertheless, is this breaking-news-stop-the-presses kinda stuff?

Well, obviously, it appears to be. Why the heck is that? How have we become a society that needs to know – right now – about the stomach pains of the mother-in-law of an uber-wealthy celebrity golfer who got caught with his pants down a whole bunch of times when everyone thought he was a saint?

Jiminy! I know way more about Tiger Woods than I ever wanted to know – and I wasn’t even trying!

I applaud any news agency that did not lead with that story on Tuesday. Unfortunately I just don’t have time to screen them all.

Groom-boy says Tiger should have done what David Letterman did. Dave, as you may recall, got caught up in an extortion scandal regarding his indiscretions with staff on his show. Rather than trying to hide the story, he came out with it on his show, apologized, made quite a few self-deprecating jokes, and it appears the viewing public has moved on.

And, yes, Groom-boy and I discuss these things. We usually say “tsk.” The spin, however, intrigues us. (And I recognize the irony that I have contributed to the whole mess by writing an entire column about Tiger Woods.)

The trouble with being a news junkie is that, like all junk food, some of it makes you a bit nauseous after a while. We should probably stick to the healthy news from now on. Now, where does one find that healthy news?
(Published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, Dec. 15/09. I'm a bit late getting this one posted!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Past Deadline: What Makes a Meanest Mother Ever

I had the good fortune to attend a lovely staff Christmas party recently. There was dancing! And I danced a bit! (Not the simple round, though, and Groom-boy did not dance.) We had a great time with some really nice people, but I’m betting a bunch of them think I am horrid.

You know how sometimes you get talking (and, no, I can’t even really blame the wine) and then wonder if perhaps you should have just shut the heck up about it? Kinda like writing a column in the newspaper? I had one of those moments. A moment or two, actually.

The good news is the things I said serve to rightfully crown me as the self-proclaimed Meanest Mother Ever. I have been called the Meanest Mother Ever by the two short people who live with me. Regular readers could rightly assume that I’m fully justified in this due to my chronic lack of sleep – thanks in large part to the aforementioned short people.

The Meanest Mothers Ever Club is one I’m sure many moms would join by virtue of the fact we are told we are mean for serving vegetables or enforcing bedtimes or ensuring people are clean. You know, Crimes-Against-Humanity kind of stuff. Sometimes I have been told I am the Meanest Mother Ever when I do something completely unreasonably, such as try to prevent the short people from destroying the house. One time I had the nerve to empty the kiddie pool because Boychild and Girlchild decided to use the water to make mud pies, which they subsequently threw against the screens on the back porch.

Yeah, I’m a brute.

At the Christmas party some of this sort of thing was discussed by a few of us moms. Then I started bringing up other things, such as how when a certain child in my house decided he didn’t like soccer anymore and quit halfway through (not entirely unexpected – we didn’t think he’d want to sign up for a second year because he hadn’t loved it the first year), I made him pay us back out of his allowance for the remaining sessions.

Yes, I did.

As if that isn’t enough, some of you may recall how I have stashed all the junk food in a container in the basement dubbed “The Snack Box” because the short people were, in my opinion, munching on a few too many processed and sugary non-food items. My kids now sometimes ask their dad to retrieve “some of the good snacks in the basement.” They know I am too mean so they won’t ask me.

I know. I am completely unreasonable. Imagine – trying to feed them nutritious snacks. Outrageous!

At the party I also mentioned how my kids sometimes tell me, after they receive unwanted requests to tidy up or go to school or whatever, that they’re “not my friend any more.” I always say, “Good. It’s not my job to be your friend.” And it’s not, really, at least not until after they live in a house away from me and stop waking me up in the night. Right?

I can justify all of these actions as being ways to teach responsibility and consequences and to encourage healthy eating and respect for others. It seems perfectly reasonable to me, but when you throw all these stories together at a Christmas party it just, well, makes me sound a tad ogre-ish.

I’m not sure whether people would want to join my Meanest Mothers Ever Club, even if I promise there will be great stories and we can seek charitable status and raise funds for cases of wine (or whine) and getaway retreats to spas and so on.

Rest assured, however, these poor children have at least one good and caring parent, as demonstrated by this conversation I had with Girlchild just the other day:

Girlchild, after completing a requested task: “You’re the boss, Mommy.”

Me: “Yep.”

Girlchild: “You and Daddy are the bosses.”

Me: “Yep.”

Girlchild: “But you’re meaner than Daddy. You’re the mean one.”

Me, with resignation: “Yep, I’m the mean one.”

Girlchild: “Daddy is my superhero.”

Me: Sigh….

(Published in The Perth Courier on Dec. 8/09)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Past Deadline: Barely Speaking to My Scale

Note: This column contains an obscure local reference that refers to a provincial politician and a federal politician (by name) who have been continually poking their noses into a municipal issue, causing great consternation. Just so you know when to laugh.

Now here is a surprisingly self-absorbed topic from me: weight loss. I know. It’s utterly shocking that I would be writing about this instead of the heady subjects you’re used to, such as world peace or provincial and federal interference in municipal decisions.

Alas, sometimes the ideas don’t come easily, and at those times we’re all stuck with the old faithful “body image issues” topic.


I’ve been running now for almost five months and have achieved a remarkable milestone for me: 30 minutes straight. Three times a week I make my legs carry me for a minimum 20-minute run, but usually it’s closer to 30. A couple of weeks ago I felt particularly energetic and ran for 40 minutes. The time on that run was a milestone in itself, and the distance turned out to be as well. When I calculated it out I realized I had run my first 5K. It was 5.3 km, to be exact.

As I plod along (I am not particularly speedy) I am still frequently amazed by the fact I am doing this at all. It all started at the persuasion of my Calgary friend – who is my virtual running buddy – with a minute of running followed by a minute of walking and repeated up to the 20-minute mark. Eventually the number of minutes of running replace all the walking minutes. I marvel at how the body can build endurance.

Being able to run for 30 minutes strikes me as a handy skill to have because one never knows when one will have to flee from an angry mob. I may not be able to flee quickly, but I should be able to flee far.

Something I do find somewhat disappointing, though, is the whole weight loss aspect of this venture.

A little over three years ago I went on a bit of a health kick and lost 17 pounds – getting much closer to what is an ideal weight for me. This involved a walking program, some swimming and a lower fat and cholesterol diet. Over the space of about three months I had trimmed down quite nicely. Then my schedule went bananas and I fell off the truck and here I am, three years later, more or less starting from scratch.

Since I started running in mid-July I have lost a whopping – are you ready for it – seven pounds. The first six happened a couple of months into the program. The scale has barely budged since sometime in September and, as a result, we are barely on speaking terms.

It’s not really the scale’s fault, though. I know there are differences between this year’s efforts and those of three years ago. For one thing, I’m three years older. My body doesn’t put up with my hare-brained eating schemes like it might have once done. It sensibly resists weight-loss programs that don’t involve a more concerted effort on the diet end of things.

As my virtual running buddy says, “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but weight loss is 80 per cent food and 20 per cent exercise. Sad truth. I know it well!”

For a while I told myself it was because I was building muscle and muscle weighs more than fat. While there is truth to that, I kinda think most of the major muscle building has occurred by now. That’s not to say I haven’t noticed some changes. I have lovely calf muscles now and I think I have lost some diameter in the thighs. The area just above my ankles seems more muscular, too, which is fantastic because everyone knows thick ankles are every girl’s dream. But it’s about my butt. The shelf is narrower, but it’s still there. The saddle bags? Still there. The hips? Yikes. Where DID my hip bones go?

This just seems unfair and I want Scott Reid and Randy Hillier to do something about it.

It’s not as if I don’t know what has to be done, but why is it so much harder to snack on an apple instead of a brownie? The fact we’re heading into comfort-and-holiday-food season does not bode well for the already-crumbling relationship between me and my scale. I sense some New Year’s Revolutions coming on.

(Published in The Perth Courier on Dec. 1/09)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Past Deadline: It Only Bothers Me When I'm Awake

Have I talked about sleep deprivation lately? I honestly can’t remember because I’m too darned tired!

Sleep is really quite an amazing thing. It can take over your life if you get too much of it, and likewise if you don’t get enough. I don’t have a problem sleeping per se; it’s just that the short people in the house won’t let me stay asleep. What is UP with this?

I can’t help but think back to when I was pregnant. Before a baby is born and you’re lugging it around on the inside, it’s common to have trouble sleeping. It’s just darned hard to get comfortable and sleep well when a small human is resting – or jumping, as the case may be – on your innards. Then when the baby comes out, there’s that whole complication of feeding and diapering. At first these small creatures tend to demand these services every couple of hours, even through the night. As such, a lot of sleep goes missing. The sage advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” is an oft-repeated (albeit frequently ignored) mantra. Fortunately, though, your body has already been prepared for the insanity of night waking due to the discomfort of the end of pregnancy, so you roll with it. Sort of.

Okay, it’s exhausting, but you get kinda used to it.

Still, I remember the times when my babies would extend their sleep from, say, a two-hour stretch to a four-hour stretch or, miracle of miracles, the WHOLE night. The odd thing was I would always feel more tired when I’d had more sleep. I figure my body just wasn’t used to those extra sleep cycles such as, you know, REM, and so went deeper and deeper, making it harder to wake up. That is entirely unscientific. It’s just a guess based on personal observation.

We had some sort of honeymoon period for a while after babyhood when both kids pretty much always slept through the night. Sure there were occasional bad dreams or requests for water or other minor dilemmas, but it tended to be uncommon. Those were short-lived, heady days.

It has been a painfully long time since I have had consistently good sleep. I think my children might be secret agents for some nasty group out there because as soon as I’m allowed to fall asleep, someone wakes me up.

There’s neither rhyme nor reason to it. Some nights everyone does sleep through. Sometimes we get a few nights in a row of good sleeps. Then there will be a smattering of nights where Boychild will need comfort from a dream and then Girlchild is in an hour later asking for the same thing. We try not to indulge them. We escort them back to bed, snuggle for a minute or two, tuck them in, pat their wee heads and stumble back to bed. Some nights they’re each up a couple of times for their various reasons. Those nights are the best. (Insert sound of weeping.)


All this seesawing back and forth between good sleeps and bad sleeps means there really is no time for the body to adjust. So I’m weary. I crave naps. Flat surfaces – including dirty floors and concrete frost-covered benches – begin to look inviting.

When Girlchild started school this fall I was optimistic she would become a better sleeper. Indeed, her teacher is doing a grand job of wearing her out during the day and it has helped. That’s all fine and good until she catches a bug – and then we’re all up in the night. And there is some cleaning, too. Nice, restful cleaning. With a smattering of middle-of-the-night laundry. It’s a mother’s dream, truly.

Sigh.

I shouldn’t complain. It could be so much worse and this won’t last forever – although some other moms out there are scaring me with their “my 12-year-old still wakes up in the night” stories.

It’s a tricky thing, though. If you’re not allowed to have lima beans on a regular basis, you can probably move on with your day without thinking much about it. Not being allowed to sleep? It only bothers me when I’m awake, I suppose.


(Published in The Perth Courier on Nov. 24/09)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Past Deadline: Yes, Cats Are Fantastic

I was standing in a long, cold line recently where people were hauling out wallets to show off pictures of loved ones in wallets. Actually, mostly they were showing pet pictures. I don’t have any cat pictures in my wallet. Perhaps I should, but I figure my cats use my wallet enough.

It has been a while since I’ve penned about the mess machines – I mean adorable kitties – who reside with us.

One time, about a million years ago, I wrote a sarcastic (who, me?) column during Adopt-a-Cat Week that highlighted some of the less-desirable features of cat ownership. I got a letter from the SPCA saying something like, “Don’t do us any favours, sweetheart. Could you maybe NOT promote Adopt-a-Cat Week anymore? Oh, and we’ll be keeping an eye on you, missy.”

Ah, fan mail.

You may have noticed I have a love-hate relationship with my cats. My family never had cats when I was growing up and, in the way someone tends to believe the best about something they covet, somehow I came to believe cats are Extraordinarily Low Maintenance.

It’s true: cats are much lower maintenance than some pets, but this does not necessarily mean they can flush the toilet, operate a can opener and do their own laundry. All it really means is that cats have huge egos, think they are the boss and don’t need to be walked on a leash, although they might let you think you can try.

I’ve written before about how one’s relationship with their pets can change once they have kids. I know mine did. Certainly I still love my cats, but my adoration lies elsewhere. It has been hard to refrain from gritting my poor teeth some days as I clean up toys and crumbs and dishes and laundry, only to be confronted with (Warning! Yucky stuff!) hairballs and cat-hair tumbleweed and occasional accidental unmentionables followed by a trail of cat litter.

There are days preceded by interrupted sleep when I would like to either ship the short messy people and their furry counterparts to a far-off place for a while – or perhaps ship myself there. But I suppose I’m not really allowed to say those things.

Suffice it to say, the fur children have grown up. They are entering their senior years, and this comes with a whole host of complications. MacGregor, the large loveable tabby, requires special expensive food to counter his chronic urinary tract issues. His meals are laced by times with a laxative and he gets a daily dose of Metamucil. Yes, it’s all true. He has sluggish innards.

The aptly named Filibuster, who never stops yelling, is even more entertaining because he is diabetic. He gets a needle a day and eats special diabetic/diet food. This leaves him constantly hungry. Gone are the days when we could abandon the kitchen for a little while before doing the dishes – now plates must be scraped immediately unless we want them licked clean. There’s just one more reason why you might not want to eat at my house.

Each adult in the house has a preferred cat. Groom-boy and MacGregor are thick as thieves, possibly because they both enjoy napping so much. Buster is “my” cat. Sometimes I’m not sure why, though. Possibly it’s because he is the underdog. He has an annoying habit of waiting until after the short people are all nicely tucked away and snoozing in their beds, and as soon as I enter the room he starts “talking” to me. This cat has a lot to say and, unfortunately, it’s not usually a quiet fireside chat. No, he yowls about it nice and loud.

This strikes me, in my end-of-day weariness, as just one more creature shouting out demands, so it’s a bit grating. Sometimes Buster finds himself slightly damp from a squirt bottle because “Buster! Shut the heck up!” (and other bad words) doesn’t seem to work.

I admit life wouldn’t be the same without the cats. They are part of the pulse of the household and the kids adore them. They are endearing, albeit expensive. Besides, some of the best things in life take a little work, patience, ear plugs and paper towels, right?

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 17/09)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Bloggy Friendships

Recently my friend Karen at Busy Hands named me, along with other bloggers, in a Friendship award. Thank you, Karen!

Here are the rules: "This award is bestowed on to blogs that are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to six bloggers who must choose six more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

First, I would like to give this award right back to Karen. We know each other from our Carleton University days when we budding journalists. We reconnected fairly recently and my heart goes out to Karen and her family as they struggle with the loss of their stillborn baby George. Karen's writing is so beautiful and expressive and hopeful.

Other blogs of note include my far-off cyber friend Andrea at Life Happins, who has the biggest heart ever, is funny as heck and who is not afraid to speak her mind; Arwen at Spors in the Desert, who shares great ideas and reaches out in kind ways; Gen at Is It Just Me or Is Everyone Crazy, who is another J-school bud/former roommate/great friend who never ever fails to make me laugh with her great writing; Meno at Meno's Blog, who is another writer with a strong voice and great wit; and Pam at Proud Mommy, whose heartwarming stories about her adventures homeschooling four children frequently leave me amazed.

Keep writing, ladies!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Past Deadline: When Princesses Come for Tea

Recently we invited five princesses over for tea (aka chocolate milk).

Princess Girlchild was the hostess of her very first all-girls party to celebrate the momentous occasion of her fourth birthday. The theme was “A Princess Tea Party,” and guests were encouraged to wear a princess costume if they had one. Girlchild had some spare gowns just in case, but they weren’t needed. We had some Cinderellas and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, complete with purses and wand accessories. Herself was a purple princess belonging to no particular corporate entity, although her Minnie Mouse gown was on standby.


I really had no idea what to expect of this extravaganza. Our universe has been quite boy-oriented because our circle of friends has seen a preponderance of boy babies. So while Girlchild has had playdates with girls, up until now interaction with them was a fairly Rare and Exciting Occasion.

The same is true for birthday parties. Most for Girlchild have been family affairs, and if any kids were there they tended to be the Usual Suspects: her older brother and the two sons of our best friends. Boychild’s parties tend to be rigorous affairs involving a lot of food for hungry short people after a tobogganing party. There is lots of running and shouting – you know, boy stuff.
Girlchild has been a fixture at those events by virtue of living in this house and she has also been included in the parties of the two buddies, usually because I hang out to help.


So, I wanted to find out whether the three boys, ages 6, 7 and 9, would be heartbroken if they were not included in a birthday tea party featuring the four- and five-year-old princess set. they weren’t. Boychild offered to stay if he could dress up like a vampire and scare the princesses. I politely declined and shipped him off for a playdate with the buddies.

Next, as I dutifully prepared the nibblies for the party, it dawned on me that I had waaaaaay too much food. Girls, as you may have noticed, often eat like sparrows. The good news is we had enough chopped fruit and veggies and other stuff to make meals for our family for a couple of days afterwards.

I was also concerned about how the noise and energy level of a girl’s party would compare to a boy’s. Did I have enough cotton balls and Tylenol on hand to ease the pain from the shrieking? Would they be racing around in their princess gowns delivering belligerent shrieky orders? What a treat it turned out to be, though! There was neither shrieking nor yelling. The most action came when the girls wanted to go up to Girlchild’s room and had to navigate the stairs in their gowns, and that was handled with princess-like finesse, with some scooching down on their bums.

We played pin the tail on the unicorn and bingo and musical chairs, and then several of the girls decided to do some colouring. Neato! The coolest thing of all, though, was watching Girlchild with her girlfriends.

I truly stand in awe of Girlchild’s self-confidence. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I wish I could bottle some of it and take a teaspoon now and again. She loves people and trying new things; she’s adventurous and brave and charming and fun.

Yes, I am biased.

When the princesses arrived she played a DVD of her dance recital from last spring and led them all in a dance. “Okay. Now do this,” she’d say while doing a pliĆ©. “Now hold hands and let’s go around.”

“Is she usually this bossy at school?” I asked the girls, who were obediently following Girlchild’s commands. They all shook their heads no, but some were grinning so I can’t be too sure.

Watching her lead the princesses in a dance reminded me of my hopes for her, and for Boychild, too, that they will be natural leaders with good ideas and that they will inspire people to dance – or whatever positive euphemism you want to use in dance’s place.

On that day, though, it was simply about having fun as a princess for the day, and that’s just fine.


(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 10/09)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Past Deadline: Stick a Needle in My Eye Already

I’d rather not talk about this. I’d rather change the channel on this thing that so many people are hyperventilating about – the pig bug that’s not really a pig bug. You know. Can I get through a whole column without invoking the name of the pandemic that shall not be named? (And did you realize that “pandemic” begins with “pan” and ends with “ic”? Quite telling, I daresay.)

I’ve made my decision about vaccination – despite the galaxy’s best efforts to have me waffle. Really, what I am learning from this exercise so far is that I miss the days when it felt okay to automatically trust an expert because, well, he or she was an expert and knew best. It kind of makes you wonder why anyone bothers trying to be an expert anymore. Why have experts when we have the Internet? (I am being sarcastic, in case you didn’t know.)

It reminds me of that old joke: A neurosurgeon and a novelist are at a party. The neurosurgeon says, “When I retire I am going to write a book.” The novelist says, “Oh, yeah? When I retire I am going to take up brain surgery.”

I was talking to a sensible fellow I know about vaccinations the other night and he said, “Well, at the end of this there are going to be some people saying ‘I told you so’ and others saying ‘I guess I was wrong.’” I asked, “But which will be which?” He smiled.

Which leads me to spin – a powerful operative in our society.

Most of the time I like spin. I think it is fascinating when someone can use the perfect words to persuade someone into a specific action. It’s common in politics. When you get into communications blitzes about vaccinations for pandemics, though, the spin – on both sides of the argument – can make you dizzy.

It’s a bit like statistics. When I was studying journalism I remember hearing that statistics can be manipulated to suit whatever argument is needed. That seems to be the case in communications, too. There is a counter argument for everything.

People are arguing for and against the vaccine based on ingredients, clinical trials, bad results from 30 years ago, whether or not the pharmaceutical companies can be sued if things go awry, planetary alignment and what the cat advised on Tuesday. I know lots of moms and dads who are wavering wildly from one side to the other. There is much confusion and worry.

Sometimes I think the world is too connected for our own good. It’s too easy to consult “Dr. Google” and then assume we know things. People forget to check sources and ensure information is accurate and that we are comparing apples to apples (e.g. the Canadian version versus the American one). It’s easy and natural to get caught up in the tragedy of rare cases and to scare ourselves with Dr. Google.

If you want to see hype and spin and fear all at once, check out what happens when someone on Facebook posts the question: “Should I vaccinate my kids?” Stand back.

When it comes to kids a parent can’t help but feel any risk is too much risk, but you have to weigh one type against another. Eventually you have to trust someone’s opinion. It’s definitely easier to keep one’s head in the sand and/or to blindly trust. And when I look at how content some of my friends are who have imposed news blackouts in their lives, I can totally see the merit.

Yeah, on days like these I miss that time in my life when someone else made all the big decisions. Things percolated along quite nicely, as I recall. That’s not an option anymore. Now I am the mama bird who wants to wrap big wings around my little ones and keep them safe from all the ickies out there. I put on a brave face as we fly out of the nest every day.

I’ve made my decision. I don’t have an M.D. after my name, but I can write a darned good media release about it all later.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 3/09)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Past Deadline: So You Think You Can't Dance?

I used to dance.

I’m not going to say I danced well, but I moved when the music moved me – usually it was crazy loud stuff with a thudding beat that got me hopping. Dancing is good exercise. I attribute at least a few pounds of my weight gain since the mid-1990s to the fact I don’t dance much anymore. Sometimes I dance with the kids, but that’s often an upper-body exercise that involves lifting short people and swinging them around while they giggle uncontrollably. There’s not a lot of aerobic workout there – not like when I was younger and sillier.

Some folks might say leaping about like a maniac does not really constitute good dancing, even if I do it particularly well. What I definitely don’t do particularly well is the simple round.

This appears to be the meat and potatoes of many exciting and exotic dances. Whether you’re covering the dance floor to the tune of “Crystal Chandelier” or embarking on a more adventurous tango, you probably started with a round.

I’m pretty sure that, to master the most basic version, you really just have to be able to count to three, but somehow this eludes me. Usually you let the fellow lead, too. Apparently I’m not much inclined to do so, although I don’t take control on purpose.

Sigh.

How did it come to this? After all, I was born here in Lanark County and have attended my fair share of stag and does, wedding receptions, reunions and anniversary parties where this dance is as common as water. Legions of couples have danced past me, gliding around the hall and adjusting the number of steps they take (and the direction they move) according to the rhythm of the song.

It’s as if when you’re born here you go from the baby bottle to potty training to learning to walk to doing the two-step to attending Junior Kindergarten. These people can dance like they breathe!

Okay. Enough hyperbole. Sort of.

My attention was drawn (again) to this serious personal social deficit a couple of weeks ago when I attended an anniversary party for a couple on the in-laws’ side. Many of these folks, including my father-in-law, hail from a rural area west of Perth and I think they were born dancing the round.

That said, it must have skipped a generation because Groom-boy doesn’t dance except in situations of intense obligation, such as his own wedding. When he does dance, he’s pretty good. He doesn’t do maniacal silly fast dances like I do (to that new-fangled music the kids listen to today), but he has a decent hybrid. It’s not quite the way his parents dance, but it is a step above the old turning-around-in-a-slow-wobbly-circle that constitutes the standby “slow dance” from high school.

Ah, his parents. They dance divinely. So when father-in-law asked me to dance at this anniversary party I was thoroughly intimidated. First of all, I couldn’t hope – on a GOOD day – to be able to dance that well and, secondly, I was seriously out of practice since I can’t honestly remember the last time I danced at all, other than the aforementioned flinging-children-around thing.

Seriously. Was it really at my brother’s wedding three years ago? Get out.

Anyway, I reluctantly followed FIL to the dance floor whereupon he tried to get me going in the right direction. Naturally, I took the lead.

Doh.

I rescinded the lead and we started again. I stepped on his toes about 47 times and he stepped on mine a few times because my feet were frequently in the wrong place. When I counted the steps in my head I did okay, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak I lost concentration and we would start over again.

We headed back to the table. People were laughing – with us, I know, because it was pretty funny.

For two days after that my mother-in-law tried to tell me we had “danced beautifully.” I told her it is time to get a new prescription for her glasses.

All I can say is someone had better teach my kids to dance if they are going to survive in Lanark County. The Chicken Dance will only take you so far.
(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 27/09)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Past Deadline: Don't Waste My Time

I hate stuff that wastes time, especially when you go to the trouble of being organized enough to plan ahead in order to save time later, but it backfires.

Over the years as the pounds have piled on and my meal-prep creativity (thanks to picky eaters) has declined, I have learned the importance of planning ahead. For example, if I remember to take chicken out of the freezer in the morning, then it will be thawed for me to use at suppertime. (I hate defrosting in the microwave because it cooks the edges.) That way there’s a better chance that I will prepare a healthy meal as opposed to grabbing take-out or cooking something overly processed.

We also eat better if I make a meal plan for the week ahead. Yes, that sounds a little bit Type A (surprise!), but then I know what to put on a grocery list and, again, it’s far more likely to include whole foods than junky stuff.

That said I’m seldom as organized as I sound. Meal planning goes in fits and starts. That’s why I was giving myself a huge pat on the back after Thanksgiving when I took the leftover turkey and made a giant pot of stew. There was enough to fill three big mason jars for freezing, representing the core of three future homemade meals in cold weather.

I cooled everything in the fridge before I put it in the freezer. I left room in the jars for expansion, just as I do for sauces and soups. Apparently, though, turkey stew needs a lot more room to grow and I didn’t leave enough. Within 24 hours the stew had frozen, but the jars had cracked and the lids were puffed out. I guess it’s kind of like how after you eat a big turkey dinner you have to undo your belt a notch or two.

This would have been handy to know. And don’t think I didn’t stare longingly at those jars and wonder if I couldn’t salvage my yummy stew – after all, the glass was cracked, not shattered. Alas, common sense prevailed and evisceration was avoided. All that time spent making the stew in an effort to get ahead later went into the garbage along with my broken environmentally friendly storage containers.

Another huge pet peeve of mine deals with that Great Time Saver of Our Age: Computers.

Sigh.

I love it how you can be goofing around on the computer and the Internet will be speedy and programs will open with nary a flicker of a problem, but as soon as you’re in a hurry (like all things in life), your computer turns into a cantankerous toddler.

I also despise when things that are supposed to be simple become unnecessarily complicated. Case in point: I e-mail a colleague one morning to say I have a bunch of questions about a project. Does she want to go over them by phone or by e-mail? She’s out of the office and will be working remotely that afternoon, she says, so send them by e-mail and she will work on them that day. I sit right down and hammer out a long itemized list for her and send it off, probably within 20 minutes of receiving her direction to do so. So efficient! Didn’t give it another thought.

That night at about midnight (yes, I was goofing around on the computer at midnight. I’m cute that way) I get one of those irritating notices indicating there has been “a delay” in sending my message to her. “Oh, don’t bother sending it again,” the notice says. “We’ll keep trying.”

Argh. Sure enough, when I phone her the next morning (at a time more reasonable than, say, 12:15 a.m.) she hadn’t received my e-mail. I sent it again – the very same thing to the very same address – and it went through. Why do these annoying things happen?

Yes, I know there are technical reasons for all of this stuff, but the randomness of it is enough to send my Type A sensibilities into orbit.

Not only that, but now I have a latent mistrust of frozen turkey stew and e-mail. It has come to this.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 20/09)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Past Deadline: School Not Like Jail After All?

So here’s a story I bet a buncha parents can relate to. Of course it has nothing to do with any of MY children – after all, some of them can read and I wouldn’t want to embarrass them. Yeah, uh, this story is about someone else’s child for sure. It’s just that the mom told me about it in such a way that I feel as if I lived it.

This mom, let’s call her Jane, has a daughter, let’s call her Vernette, who is in Grade 2. Vernette’s not a big fan of change. She craves routine and becomes anxious when it is altered. The transition from summer holidays to school is particularly rough.

This year was no different. There were tears. For the first two weeks poor Jane faced each day fielding a litany of traumas: Vernette was soooo sick. There was no possible way Vernette could go to school. “Take my temperature! Check my throat! I should go to the doctor!”

Each day she grit her teeth and dragged her seven-year-old drama queen off to Alcatraz. Each evening Jane endured heartbreaking tales of woe. The kids were mean. The work was hard. It was horrid! Horrid! Horrid! “How can you make me go?”

Jane knew Vernette would probably only be satisfied with an announcement indicating Jane was quitting her job and home schooling her precious daughter forever. Not gonna happen.

She did, however, start to get a little concerned when Vernette insisted repeatedly that she was really having a hard time understanding the work. “I don’t know what the teacher is talking about. It’s too hard!” And there were more tears.

So, she made an appointment with the teacher.

Jane says this teacher, let’s call her Miss Smith, is a godsend. She’s new in the business, but actually worked in Vernette’s classroom the year before while she was a student, so she is, shall we say, familiar with Vernette’s work.

When they met, the first thing Miss Smith said was: “What a difference with Vernette between this year and last year!” She then went on to describe in detail how things that would have bothered Vernette in Grade 1 were no problem in Grade 2. She is coping much better and problem solving and just, well, much more at ease.

“Really?” Jane said. “Well. Let me tell you what she has been saying to me.” Jane recounted the tale of woe – everything from how much school is akin to jail to how impossibly difficult the work is.

Miss Smith’s mouth dropped to the floor. In fact, the look of surprise on her face cracked Jane up.

“I would never have thought for a minute that Vernette is a kid who doesn’t like school,” Miss Smith said incredulously.

She then went on to show Jane some of Vernette’s work – the printed sentences, the math, the drawings – and told Jane that Vernette’s group is usually one of the first to finish the work and that Vernette actually volunteered to speak in front of the class a couple of days earlier.

“This has been very enlightening,” Jane said, smiling wryly.

So Jane went home and sang Vernette’s praises. “Miss Smith says you are doing sooo well in school! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah,” Vernette mumbled weakly.

The next morning Vernette didn’t complain about going to school and when she came home there were no tales of woe. She didn’t, however, bring home a library book again.

“Why don’t you ever bring home a book on library day?” Jane asked.

There was some muttering about not finding anything interesting and then, “They will only let us bring home Franklin books.”

“Really?” Jane asked, surprised. Franklin is a popular series about a turtle and his friends and family and is usually geared to Kindergarten set. “Hm. That seems weird. I think I will write a note to Miss Smith and ask her why that is.”

Short pause. “Oh, um, I’m just kidding, Mom.”

Uh-huh, Jane mused.

She is so on to you, Vernette!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one more example of why I believe parents need a psychology degree to raise a child.
(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 13/09)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Past Deadline: Eat Chocolate and Go to Jail, Kid

So here’s one of those headlines that makes a personal news blackout seem like a darned good idea: “Chocolate can make your kid violent for life.”

Huh? Or how about this: “Study: Kids who eat too much candy may be more likely to end up in prison as adults.”

Huge. Dramatic. Sigh.

According to these stories, some 17,000 British children born in 1970 were studied for about four decades. Of those who ate candies or chocolates every day at age 10, “69 per cent were later arrested for a violent offence by the age of 34.”

Now I suppose I could go all “holier than thou” on this subject since, as I wrote last week, I recently packed our sugary junk stash into a “Snack Box” and relegated it to the scary basement. I should probably take heart, too, that my kids weren’t eating junk every day anyway and, besides, they are years away from being 10.

Assuming the Snack Box stays in the basement for another few years (which will probably lead to a column about an interesting study in my basement – yech), then there’s a darned good chance my kids will stay out of jail when they are 34, right?

And why 34? (Too literal. I know.)

Researchers were quick to point out more study is needed and the link between candy and violence may have more to do with decision making and gratification issues. Parents who bribe kids to behave by offering sweets should be sent to the moon, for example. Likewise, it may have something to do with an inability to defer gratification – this constant desire for sweets.

So now I’m just going to say “no” to my kids all the time. It’s for their own good. (Yes, too literal again. I know.)

For now I’ll stick to the “better nutrition leads to better behaviour” philosophy.

A friend of mine who has young kids alerted me not only to the chocolate story, but also to another study indicating mothers of young children don’t get to exercise enough and that is going to cause a public health problem later as all of these fat moms pass middle age.

“They needed a study to tell them that?” she said. Then we spent a half hour trying to figure out when we would be able to go running together. The middle of the night next Thursday is looking good.

Man.

It’s amazing how hard it can be to find a half hour to exercise. That is precisely why I fell off the wagon the last time I put real energy into exercising. Now it’s silly season. Work is busier, school’s in, and two moms looking for a little exercise three times a week also have to juggle various hockey, swimming, dance, husband and volunteering schedules if we want to run together. (You’ll notice I didn’t even try to include cleaning the house on that list. Just don’t come over. Besides, we have no chocolate here.)

Sure, it would be easy to go our separate ways and squeeze in a run whenever suits our own schedules, but I can tell you right now what would happen. Winter’s coming. The weather is colder and wetter. Life is more hectic at this time of year. I betcha I would fall off the wagon again.

Even though I know my virtual running buddy in Calgary, the one who got me going on this new adventure in July, is counting on me to hold up my end, it sure is a lot harder to do it when someone isn’t physically showing up at my door to go for a run. When there is no one there to keep you accountable it’s a lot easier to postpone the run or to go but think about taking a walking break partway through or cut it a minute short at the end.

And so, in the interest of good health, we juggle. Throwing a pair of running shoes amid the myriad of hats turning in the air just keeps it interesting.

I’ll have to add chocolate bars into the juggling mix so my kids won’t be able to find them and go to jail. Is juggling good exercise?

(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 6/09)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Past Deadline: The Snack Box

Ah, food. I love you but.... Read all about it in The Perth Courier, Sept. 29 issue.

The Snack Box

I think I might be a snackaholic.

Last week I wrote about how I’m progressing with my learn-to-run plan. Yes, I know most of us are born to run, but over the years some of us forget how to do it.

Anyway, this week I thought I’d write about Running’s sulky partner: Eating.

Ah, food. How I loves it.

It’s easy to say eating well and exercising are the paths to good health, but in this age of convenience temptation is everywhere. Why walk when driving is faster? Why clean fruit for a snack when you can pull a pre-washed store-bought cookie out of a bag?

So. You start a running program. You run like heck for weeks and weeks. Even though you’re building muscle and your shape is changing a little, you’re not getting a whole lot of satisfaction from the scale, which isn’t budging. (Pitching the scale is not helpful, although doing so repeatedly probably builds muscle.) It doesn’t help that running makes you hungry. Mmmm. Snacks.

You know it’s time to get serious. It’s time to deal with Eating.

Sigh.

I tend to eat as if the building is burning down around me and it is my very last meal. Part of this comes from the fact that when my kids were babies I wolfed down my meals between being called upon to provide some sort of necessity of life. Yes, those uninterrupted three-and-a-half-minute meals were so satisfying. Although this doesn’t happen so much now, the habit lingers.


Portion sizes have also been a bit of an issue for me. This has deep roots going back to the days when I was spit-through skinny and could eat anything I wanted anytime I wanted and could have seconds, thirds and fourths without it showing up anywhere on my frame. Those were good times.

Then I allegedly became a grown-up and got a job. Apparently I stopped moving around as much, too. Oh, and those babies. Heavy babies.

Imagine how this problem was amplified when I began working from home within easy access of a fully stocked kitchen. Egad!

I realize it is definitely possible to have snacks during the day that are good for you. For instance, if my big problem were that I ate too much celery, then I probably would be writing about my cats this week. It’s just that, until recently, my cupboards were stocked with lots of things we shouldn’t be eating: cookies, chocolate-covered snack foods, chips. The Cupboard of Junk.

My willpower needs a bit of an adjustment. When I’m shopping for groceries, I can walk by all that stuff no problem. I gravitate towards healthier snacks. If it’s not in the house, I won’t eat it. Trouble is Groom-boy does most of the shopping. As wonderful as that is, unfortunately the packages call out to him. “Grooooooom-boy!” they coo. “We’re yuuuuuummmy!” And into the cart they go.

In the summer I proclaimed we would change our ways. “When school starts it’s healthier snacks for all of us!” I even made a list of snack suggestions so I wouldn’t have to think too hard when pestered by the short people for food.

But what to do about the Cupboard of Junk?

One day everyone (unwisely) left me alone in the house. I grabbed a big bin, scooped out all the bags and boxes of naughty snacks and carted the bin down into the basement. It’s unfinished and cramped and no one spends time down there except spiders and an occasional wayward toad.

I attached a note to the “Snack Box” explaining it is “out of sight, out of mind” and added a litany of diseases and conditions that an unhealthy diet can cause to remind us why it has been removed.

I haven’t visited the snack box. Neither have the short people. They go to the basement so infrequently that I think they forget it even exists. Instead, we have been munching on fruit in our new fruit bowl and I have been stocking the freezer with homemade low-fat baked goods. Open the Cupboard of Junk and you’ll now find canned goods and fruit snacks.

And Groom-boy? Apparently he is not afraid of the scary basement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Past Deadline: The End of the Beginning

Now what? As chronicled in The Perth Courier, Sept. 22/09.

The end of the beginning

I did it!

Thanks to my virtual running buddy, Heather, who got me started on this whole running thing, as well as my physical running buddy, Cindy, who I’m sure is holding herself back so her slow friend doesn’t feel hopeless, I have managed to reach the last week of the beginner running plan.
Yay!

The fact I can now run for 20 minutes without stopping is quite a feat for someone who, until recently, had a personal policy against running – unless in an emergency or to escape wild boars. Or bores.

I’m still not convinced I’ll ever run much faster than I walk. Nevertheless, I am amazed I have come this far. I have probably run more in the last 10 weeks than I have in the last 20 years.
A few people have asked about goals: a 5-kilometre race? The Glen Tay Block Race? To Forrest Gump it across the country?

When I first joined what I affectionately call the Cult of Running, I could imagine these things. Then the aches and pains set in, however, so I focused on a more manageable goal: survival. Learning how to run reminds me a little of raising a small child. Just when you think you’ve got a nice routine going, something changes.

In the early weeks I struggled with Small Angry Muscle, which was a pesky little knot in my calf that, after each run, consumed my entire right leg. With some helpful tips about exercises, I worked through it. Next came Hip of Doom, which didn’t hurt when I ran but flared whenever I slowed down. Not convenient. I couldn’t walk anywhere without pain. With some new stretches I worked through it.

What next? I’m sure it’ll be a surprise.

Breathing has been problematic from the beginning. Yes, I know, breathing tends to be fairly important. I recently had the opportunity to go running with people who, well, run. I marvelled at how they could carry on conversations in iambic pentameter without gasping for breath. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even break into a sweat. They kindly assured me it will get better – that someday maybe I will be able to run and talk without sounding as if I am about to die.

That would be lovely.

I know there are things I can do to help achieve this, like sprinting or exaggerating my stride and so on, but at this very moment merely getting to the end of an outing is thrilling enough.
Such enthusiasm! Seriously, I do enjoy running. It’s challenging, though, and that’s good. With the challenges come rewards.

I feel energized and healthier. I feel as if my stupid scale needs a tune-up (such as being pitched out the window) because the numbers aren’t dropping. I’m working on the theory my saddlebags are changing to muscle.

Something I’ve definitely learned is it is a heck of a lot harder to get back into shape the longer you leave it. “Don’t ever let me get decrepit again!” I have gasped to Cindy as we run. Then she tells a story about how her almost-nine-year-old son decided to join her on a recent 20-minute run. She was sure he wouldn’t be able to go the whole way. Not only did he do it, but he sprinted at the end and was never out of breath.

Sigh.

Oh, to be a kid again, when running was just a regular part of getting from one place to another. And biking. And skipping. And swimming. And roller skating (that dates me!).

Clearly the secret is to just never stop moving. It’s all about momentum.

Next week I’m moving on to the “Advanced” plan, which makes me laugh because I don’t feel very advanced. “Intermediate” maybe. “Beginner Plus” definitely. In that plan I should be able to run 30 minutes non-stop three times per week after a couple of months. That is my goal.

And if I get to the point that I’m not gasping for breath all the time, then maybe I’ll alter my route to take me down different, more heavily travelled streets. Right now I’m afraid people might try to take me to the hospital. The poor gasping thing….

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Past Deadline: What Is this Feeling?

Good grief! I'm behind! This if from The Courier on Tuesday, Sept. 15/09.

What is this feeling?

I think I am supposed to be curled up in a corner blubbering incoherently – but I’m not. Does that make me a bad mother?

See, last week Girlchild – the second child, the youngest one, the final born – started school: all-day, alternate-day Junior Kindergarten. (Cue marching band.) That means each week there are two days, and sometimes three, when there are no children in the house. Well, Groom-boy is still lurking around sometimes, but he doesn’t count. Sort of.

This house emptiness is something I have not experienced since 2001.

I am self-employed and I work from home with the exception of some part-time teaching at Algonquin College. I have been doing this for 10 years. Almost eight years ago Boychild was born and I continued to work.

Yes, I am a WAHM (Work At Home Mom). I have taken important phone calls while cradling babies or cooking meals. Sometimes the smoke detector goes off. I have had to put off calling clients until the sibling-warfare screaming dies down. I seldom practised the sage advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” because that was when I could write that media release or edit that brochure or organize that newsletter. Sometimes I avoid sending a final document when I finish it at midnight because I don’t want people to think I work at night. (Shhhh! Don’t tell!) But the reality is that’s when it’s quiet and the kids are in bed.

So now what will I do? Why, I’ll work in the daytime! (GASP!)

I couldn’t help but rejoice in this thought as the day drew closer for Girlchild to head to school. As exciting as the prospect of maybe recapturing some evening time is (and we’ll just wait and see how that little plan evolves), I couldn’t help but wonder – will I miss having the kids around?

Hahahaha. Probably not. (Oops! Is that the delivery truck pulling up to take away my Mother of the Year award again? Dang.)

But still – my littlest one? Girlchild, who bakes cookies with me and helps me in the garden? Gone all day? Would I cry when I dropped her off? Would my corners be all turned down on the long walk home?

On the big day Girlchild, who has been eagerly anticipating school since about 2007, woke up early, ate her breakfast, got dressed and was ready to leave half an hour before it was time to go. Her princess backpack and princess lunch bag (yes, it’s a little nauseating) were packed. Boychild, whose first day of Grade 2 was the day before, was not as eager to go. His “I LOVE school” sentiments have not yet kicked in.

We set off. Photos were taken on the front porch. I carried Girlchild’s pack since, when stuffed full of first-day necessities, it was bigger than she is. We fairly skipped to school.

As predicted, Girlchild was delighted when she arrived. She was greeted enthusiastically by her teacher and the assistants. She was introduced to other girls and boys and shown where she could keep her backpack in the yard until it was time to go inside. I grinned happily as I watched her mingle; my littlest one – so courageous and so excited to embrace new things. When it was time to go I hugged and kissed Girlchild and she waved me off and went about her very important Junior Kindergarten business.

Would I cry or would I dance with joy as I left the school yard?

Neither, apparently. Instead, as I wandered away and headed for home after the bell rang I just felt odd. And then I recognized the feeling that I had: fatigue.

Yes, the excitement that had propelled me toward this Very Important Day had finally subsided. Throw in the fact my darling children have not been sleeping well of late and you’ve got a nice heaping helping of bone tired.

So, once again I muttered my little hopeful mantra that my children’s teachers would work ’em hard. Maybe, just maybe, we will soon sleep ALL night! (See? It always seems to come back to sleep.)

Now, though, I suppose I have the option to take a nap every other day. I can always work the night shift….

Saturday, September 12, 2009

First Day of School (aka Mama's Home Alone!)

The only thing missing from this photo montage is Mama's dance of joy. Ahem.

Anyway, school started for the short people this week. As you can see, Boychild is extraordinarily excited about starting his first day of jail - I mean Grade 2. No, I couldn't get him to smile in ANY of the photos. It was a really good time. (He really is a good-looking kid who doesn't usually look quite so pained.)

The next day was Girlchild's Very First Day of School Ever! Yes, indeed, she commenced Junior Kindergarten. She showed enough enthusiasm for both her and her brother. She woke up early and was ready to go half an hour before it was time.


As you can see her backpack (yes, the obligatory Disney Princess one with matching lunch bag - barf) is nearly as big as she is since it is loaded with all the necessary first-day paraphernalia.
Look at how EXCITED Boychild is to be going with Girlchild on her first (his second) day of school! You can just FEEL the enthusiasm, yes?

And....they're off. Mama carries the heavy backpack (which is rarely carried by anyone but Girlchild now). Girlchild fairly skips to school while Boychild, well, note the slumping shoulders. Off to jail!

Even Buster has noticed how much quieter it is around the house, so he can relax now. Because, being a cat and all, relaxation is, um, rare. Yeah, right.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation











And here are some pictures of our cottage holiday!

Past Deadline: Why Is Sleep So Difficult?

Being tired makes me cranky. Read all about it in The Courier, Tuesday, Sept. 8/09.

Why is sleep so difficult?

Just when I think the sleep issues in life are pretty much over, I keep returning to the topic. I am also haunted by the words of my mom’s friend Pat, who sagely proclaimed one day years ago that, with motherhood, “You’ll never sleep well again.”

Sigh.

My short people are aged seven and almost four. Naps were given up so long ago I can barely conjure images of those days with the blissfully quiet break in the afternoon. Suffice it to say, I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that by now, beyond babyhood, interrupted sleeps would be a thing of the past.

Ha.

Between bad-dream soothings and glass-of-water requirements on the part of both darling children, not to mention Girlchild’s bizarre occasional habit of waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason and staying up for about two hours, there are some fairly zombie-like adults roaming around the abode by times.

Last week alone, one or both kids were up at least once four nights in a row. That’s more than usual. I think they are trying to kill us.

Boychild used to do the two-hour-party thing, too. When we said goodbye to naps that helped – for a while. Now it’s Girlchild’s turn. When she wakes up in the night she spends the bulk of her two-hour party in her room (allegedly “going back to sleep”), but this time is usually punctuated by three or four trips into our room to alert us to the fact she is, indeed, awake. I guess I’m not running her hard enough during the day. Clearly I need to sign her up for boot camp. This little trend has been occurring for about a year. As much fun as it is, I have to admit I am eager for it to end. Interrupted sleep makes mommy cranky.

Girlchild starts school this fall, and I’m hoping this will help to deplete those obviously abundant stores of energy she has, at least by a little. It worked for Boychild. His two-hour-night-time-party habit disappeared once he went to Kindergarten, and I have been meaning to send a bouquet of flowers to his teacher for that.

That all said we experienced a cute sleep interruption when we went on vacation recently.

At the cottage where we stayed, the kids’ bedrooms were upstairs and ours was downstairs. To ensure we could hear trouble in the night (as tempting as it is to ignore it), we brought along our baby monitor and set it up in Girlchild’s room. This baby monitor has been in her room at home every single night of her life. We still turn it on, but we don’t rely on it so much now since she just gets out of bed and comes to us.

Anyway, we told Girlchild at the cottage that if she needed us we’d hear her on the monitor.

“The monitor?” she said, looking at it in amazement. “You mean if I talk you can hear me?”

Nutbar. She knows this. She and her brother have howled into the monitor on occasion just to be, well, noisy kids. So she goes to bed. Moments after we’re downstairs we hear thud thud thud. Then rustle rustle rustle as she gets her mouth against the microphone. I’m expecting to hear, “Breaker breaker, come in please.”

“HELLO?” she stage whispers into the monitor. “Can you hear me?”

We roll our eyes. Of course this isn’t a two-way deal, so in order to communicate one of us has to go back upstairs.

There were several false alarms before she fell asleep. That night she woke up in the middle of the night. Thud thud thud. Rustle rustle rustle. “HELLO? I NEED HALP,” comes the stage whisper into the darkness. We had to laugh, even though it marked the start of a two-hour party.

The next night began much like the first, so we told her we weren’t actually turning the monitor on until we went to bed. She was quite miffed that her microphone was falling on deaf ears.

Oddly enough, since we got home she has paid the monitor no heed. She’s still partying in the night, though.

School starts in five…four…three…(grin!).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Past Deadline: Boot Camp Vacation

What I did on my summer vacation, as told in the Perth Courier on Sept. 1/09.

Boot camp vacation

A couple of weeks ago I went to boot camp. Okay, not really, but it felt like it. Okay, actually, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’ve never been to boot camp. What I DID do was continue my beginner running program while our family vacationed at a cottage in the lovely Madawaska Highlands near Plevna.

Regular readers may recall I have joined a friend of mine who lives in Calgary on a self-improvement mission that includes a regular running regime. We report our results to one another. My best friend here in town has also joined in this quest, so I have an actual physical running partner, too.

As I write this I am on week seven of the plan, which involves three sets of running for six minutes with one-minute walking breaks between. At the end of the plan I’m told I should be able to run for 20 minutes straight without keeling over.

You may also recall that a Small Angry Muscle in my lower leg was giving me quite a lot of grief. Thanks to perseverance and some recommended exercises that issue has mostly disappeared, with an occasional muted muttering emitted from the SAM in question.

But back to my self-imposed boot camp. I learned a huge lesson: I am not ready to run up hills.
My goal on this vacation was to take advantage of the opportunity to run along some lovely cottage roads and enjoy a change of scenery and the cool shadiness of the hilly forests. In principle it was dreamy. What I didn’t count on was the humidity making it feel more like a jungle.

Oh, and the Drummond Street Hill has got nothing on the Madawaska Highlands. Not that I’ve actually run up the Drummond Street hill yet. I’ve been sticking to the casual inclines of the Perthmore subdivision.

Anyway, to stick to my plan I had to run three times on my vacation. On the first day I marvelled at how easy the initial 10 minutes were. Then, when I turned around at the halfway point, it occurred to me that perhaps the cottage is located on top of a small, ancient mountain.
Even the downhill parts seemed to go uphill, and the humidity, even in the morning, forced me to throw in an extra minute of walking just over the halfway point in order to catch my breath.

For my second jungle run two days later I had graduated to a new week, meaning I added an extra minute to each set of running times. As a result, my halfway point was slightly farther than previously, meaning I went all the way down one big hill and part way up another. That day I had to actually stop and put my head down for a few seconds until the wheezing stopped.

Silly girl.

On my third run I smartened up. I turned around before I got to those big nasty hills and opted for a nice, flattish side road instead. I also did three loops around a lovely level boat launch parking lot. Call me a wimp if you want to, but that day I actually enjoyed my run and was winded without feeling as if I were about to collapse.

Ah, exercise. I’m surprised not everyone wants to do it!

It wasn’t all about the running, though. Almost every day I spent between one and two hours in the lake. At this cottage there is a great dock system, but it’s deep at the shore. This means certain three-year-olds do less puddling and more leaping into mama’s arms while she gamely treads water. I used a noodle under my arms in order to stay afloat as small people jumped on me, but I also took the opportunity to do some heavy-duty scissor kicks. Feel them muscles holler! Throw in some actual swimming along with canoeing and kayaking and I almost felt like a new woman, albeit one who weighs the same as before. That’s because my boot camp subscribes to the “vacation diet,” aka “not always entirely nutritious meals punctuated by downright junky snacks.”

Ah, well. It’ll go much better now that I am home and free of any and all food-related temptations. Ha!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Past Deadline: Today's Forecast - Whatever!

Yes, me rambling on about weather again. Sorry 'bout that. Here's the offering from The Courier, Aug. 25/09.

Today’s forecast: whatever!

A few weeks back the weather gurus of the nation (at least parts of the nation) were donning slickers, raising umbrellas and telling us all we might as well give up because August was going to stink, too. And I don’t mean “stink” as in “be hot and smoggy,” I mean stink as in “it’s going to continue to rain as if the sky has sprung a permanent leak and soon we will be figuring out what cubits are so we can build arks.”

I would hate to be a weather guru. Environment Canada’s chief climatologist Dave Phillips has been given this moniker, so we have come to expect he knows something about what’s going to happen – as if he can directly channel Mother Nature and develop long-range forecasts with some degree of certainty. Well, either he has a faulty connection or Mother Nature is doing some serious drugs, man.

In any event, every time Guru Dave opened his mouth and proclaimed we would not be afflicted with the Wettest Summer Ever (fear not!), some folks wiped their soggy brows and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good weather is coming in mid-July!” people shouted from what was left of their flood-ravaged streets.

It did not come.

Guru Dave and his “weather expert” friends scratched their heads, grinned for the cameras and told us that, yes, July has been rather putrid, but August will be divine! Warmth and sunshine will grace us once again. I was sceptical, and as July continued on its cold and soggy course I started ignoring the forecasts because of their annoying rain-sunny break-rain-rain-sunny break-rain-rain-rain pattern.

One night, though, during a news story about this miserable summer, an expert from The Weather Network was featured.

“Whatever,” I grumbled, as they rambled about how Newfoundland and Manitoba are the only two provinces that have had a somewhat “normal” season.

But then this weather guru did something unusual. Rather than placating our weary, weather-beaten souls with more promises of “good times ahead,” she basically said, “You know what? August is probably going to stink, too.”

Huh? I perked right up. Finally, someone was not getting my hopes up and it felt refreshing! Within a few days of this brilliant revelation, I read in the newspaper that Guru Dave concurred. Indeed, August would probably be just as wet as July. Oh, and a cubit is somewhere between 45 and 70 centimetres, depending on who you ask.

I was talking to my mom about this astounding turn of events. “Isn’t it great? It’s going to keep raining!”

She offered some wisdom, though, as mothers are wont to do, and suggested that if Guru Dave says it’s going to rain, maybe it won’t. After all, can anyone remember when any of these so-called experts got it right in recent years? (Please note I am not including the Farmers’ Almanac in this category. I’m not sure what predictions were made for this summer.)

Lo and behold, August has shown remarkable improvement, featuring such phenomena as not one, not two, but three or more consecutive days where it didn’t rain at all! Not even a teeny tiny drop! And there has been heat! And sometimes even humidity! And there have been heat advisories and smog warnings!

Okay, so nothing is ever perfect and it always takes a bit of time to acclimatize when summer arrives in Canada – even belatedly. Nevertheless, the latent reptile in me soaks up the sun (with sunscreen) and heat and has felt generally much better about kicking the kids outside without forcing them to take umbrellas and slickers and such. Playing in the wading pool is more fun when it’s warm and sunny than when it’s overcast and threatening to drizzle at any moment.

I have to admit I am left wondering if the so-called weather experts ultimately got together, threw up their hands and said, “We have no idea what’s going on with this silly weather. Rather than constantly disappointing Canada, let’s tell everyone it’s going to rain forever so they won’t get their hopes up and then if it does actually get sunny it will be a joyful thing.”

Whatever works. Keep the sunshine coming!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Past Deadline: Credit Recovery - Failure?

Just back from a holiday so I'm a bit late posting. Here's what appeared in The Courier on Aug. 18:

Credit Recovery 101: Failure?

My eldest child is about to embark upon Grade 2 and, so far, I have been happy with his education. He goes to a great public school with excellent teachers.

There’s something looming in the distance, though, that scares the bejeebers out of me. If not handled carefully, I think it has the potential to undermine his future – and that of his younger sister.

It’s called Credit Recovery. (Cue ominous music.)

It sounds innocuous enough, but it has a sinister side. Credit recovery is a provincial education ministry initiative that, essentially, requires high school teachers to take every measure possible to ensure a student meets all learning requirements to receive a credit.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? The big ol’ ministry is looking after Little Johnny and making sure he gets everything he needs to succeed in school? If that were simply the case I would applaud it, but the reality of it might be enough to make me want to home-school my kids through high school. That is one heck of a lot of math homework for a Word Girl like me.

This issue has been reported in the news a lot in recent months. What I’ve gleaned is the province wants to increase the number of students who graduate from Ontario high schools. To do so, there is supposed to be a greater number of student supports – things to help students who are struggling for whatever reason.

This is a grand notion in theory. Student success is being taken seriously. Of course we don’t want our kids to fail. Or do we?

In the front lines, some high school teachers are talking about their hands being tied. They are required to offer Little Johnny chance after chance when he fails a test or doesn’t submit an assignment or cheats and needs his behaviour modified. He is supposed to be learning from these mistakes. The subtle subtext, though, is that some students are learning rules are made to be broken, deadlines aren’t really deadlines and that teachers, formerly authority figures, really have no power over them. There are ways around everything.

The students who aspire to do well and hand things in on time learn the less-motivated will earn the same piece of paper they do at the end of it all. It must be incredibly frustrating for the teachers and even the students.

Moreover, it is so unfair. Now college teachers are seeing some kids who are flabbergasted when finally faced with actual failure because they simply haven’t done the work. They want do-overs and extensions and they don’t seem to understand that cheating is unacceptable. They are stunned when presented with late penalties on assignments.

Sometimes kids fail. Sometimes they simply don’t do the work and shouldn’t get the reward. I’m all for offering supports to help kids to succeed, but to me that means figuring out their obstacles to success (such as learning disabilities or varied learning styles) and finding remedies, instead of minimizing the consequences, even unwittingly, for missed deadlines, cheating and lack of respect.

Sometimes kids need help to achieve success, but a big part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for one’s actions. Continually offering do-overs is just not going to teach that fact of life.

I think it is unfair that some young adults, many of whom are paying for their own post-secondary education, are floundering in college today because of the basic lessons or soft skills they weren’t allowed to learn or practise in high school.

It’s all fine and good for Ontario to have impressive graduation rates from high school, but what is quantity over quality going to do for society?

I want my kids to have an education that teaches them that, yes, sometimes you screw up and you’re penalized. Strive to do better. Hand in your work on time. Don’t cheat. Earn your reward for doing your best. Respect your teachers. Why wouldn’t we teach them this?

Are post-secondary teachers now the gatekeepers as the credit recovery stampede thunders in?
And if this ludicrous problem isn’t solved in about seven years, Word Girl here may have to brush up on algebra, calculus, physics and chemistry.

That’ll go well.Gulp.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Past Deadline: Monkey See, Monkey Do

As seen on TV! I mean, in The Perth Courier, Aug. 11/09.

Monkey see, monkey do

Apparently I have my work cut out for me, and maybe that means I should cut out some of my work.

It has been a long summer. The weather, in case you haven’t noticed, has been stinky. We have been inside a lot. All of us. Including two parents working from home and two energetic children. And two indoor cats. And a turtle and seven fish. (The turtle and fish are fairly quiet.)

More than usual, there is constant clutter peppered with occasional mayhem, chaos and general loudness. So c’mon over! Mind the cat hair tumbleweed.

I have never ever professed to be a model housekeeper. With all the crew cooped up in the rainy wetness this summer, staying ahead of things even in my shoddy, haphazard way has been challenging. This house full of people (some of them large) translates into an unrelenting routine of laundry, dishes and tidying.

So what? I’ll get to that.

This is a no brainer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting it’s that kids learn from role models, and their role models are usually parents. Without you having to explain it all, they learn from how you treat people and animals. They observe your work ethic. They glean things from the way you talk. They mimic your manners.

As such, you can spend your days and nights teaching them to read in English, French, Spanish and Swahili while playing the violin with their feet, but if you, as the parent, have a potty mouth and are rude to waiters, then monkey see, monkey do.

Several months ago Boychild announced to my mom that when he grew up he wanted to stay home and type like Mommy. I wasn’t really surprised. After all, I work from home and spend a lot of time typing at the computer. Now that Groom-boy stays home and types, too, perhaps we’ve firmly cemented his career aspirations.

Scary.

I suppose it’s not too late for me to enrol in med school or become an engineer – as long as there’s no math. What? There is? Oh.

Ahem.

So what does all of this have to do with my rambling about clutter and mayhem? Well, one night last week we were coming home from an event that took place over the supper hour. We decided to get some take out since time was marching on. Boychild resisted. He didn’t want any of the choices offered, so I said, heaving a huge dramatic sigh, that I could make him a grilled cheese sandwich at home.

“Pretty soon you’ll have to learn to cook for yourself,” Groom-boy teased.

“No, I won’t,” Boychild said. “When I grow up and get married the woman will cook for me.”

Gah-wha?

Sputter!

Groom-boy cracked up and nearly drove off the road. I muttered something about being dropped off on the street corner. Boychild thought it was all pretty funny.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Stands to reason, though, especially considering Groom-boy melted a hole completely through a metal baking sheet the other day when he accidentally turned on the wrong stove element. Perhaps he shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.

I’m afraid to think about what other “life lessons” my children are absorbing.

It got me to thinking, though. This must surely be a sign. This must mean it is time for mommy to go away on a two-week vacation and leave Groom-boy in charge of everything. Hm. But then I might not have ANY baking sheets left. Or maybe mommy needs to learn a construction trade or build a space shuttle or become a lumberjack or a paramedic or a mechanic or something equally non-traditional for this houseful of writer/editor/communicator types.

Hm. Decisions. Nah, I think the two-week vacation is a better idea. Where should I go? Definitely somewhere that involves someone else cooking for me and doing the laundry and picking up messes.

Failing that, maybe I should at least relinquish some of my (ahem) control and insist that some of the men folk in the house take over more of the culinary duties. First, though, a little lesson on which knobby thingy turns on which burner might be in order.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Past Deadline: Wobbling Down the Road to Ruin

The World of Pain, as published in The Perth Courier on Aug. 4/09.

Wobbling down the road to ruin

I would like to thank all townsfolk who have kindly averted their eyes rather than pointing and laughing as I wobble along side streets in my learn-to-run quest. Shouts of encouragement are fine, assuming I can hear them over my gasping breath of course.

A couple of columns ago I mentioned my friend Heather, who lives in Calgary, and I have committed to a beginner running program in an effort to rescue ourselves from certain wrack and ruin. Since we are thousands of kilometres apart, we report in electronically and record our progress. I have also convinced my best bud in town to join me in this quest, so most times I have a running partner.

Generally, it’s going well. Now. Sort of.

The very first run was exhilarating. The fact that I did it at all and didn’t collapse in a breathless heap was a thrill for me. Given that it was six sets of running for one minute and walking for two you might not think much of it, but since I typically recoil from running anywhere at anytime unless being chased by armed aliens or trying to capture small runaway children, it was something.

Then, though, things got interesting. I discovered something. Actually, I discovered many things, called muscles and other connective tissues, that didn’t appreciate being roused from their long hibernation. At first it was thigh and caboose muscles, which was not really unexpected and actually made me feel as if I were accomplishing something.

Then other parts of my legs started to complain. Loudly. In a screamy sorta way that required ice packs and elevation. This happened for the next several outings. I’d get everyone feeling better and then I’d set out on my next run and make them cry all over again.

As I continued to the next level (10 sets of one minute running and one minute walking), I started to feel a difference. The World of Pain eased a bit. Stretching and icing and resting were helping. My Handy Dandy FancyPants Rocket Shoes™ were obviously doing their job!

Then along came Small Angry Muscle. It was one of the spots that had flared up with all the rest early on, but as everyone else settled down to enjoy the ride, SAM persisted.

And persisted.

In fact, SAM is persisting right now.

Ice helped a bit. Elevating helped a bit. Resting helped a bit. Just when I thought maybe I had SAM licked because after a particular run it barely said “boo!” I learned it was merely sleeping on it. I awoke lame.

Now, many of you might say “Get ye to a doctor!” or “Obviously you are not born to run” or even “Suck it up, buttercup.”

Heather’s hubbie is something of a running guru and said informs me SAM happens to lots of beginners and often makes them think they are not built for running. He provided some exercises for me to try and suggested I work through it, that SAM can be trained.

I’ll let you know how it turns out because I know you’re all on the edge of your seats about this.

Ahem.

So, as I forge ahead with level three (seven sets of running for two minutes and walking for one) I’m armed with the knowledge that, yes, I just might be able to do this. I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, but SAM was making me utter some nasty words when out of earshot of children.

Speaking of children, learning to run reminds me a little of pregnancy. When you first tell a runner you have joined the cult you are usually showered with congratulations. As you progress and that initial elation gives way to the World of Pain, you get the knowing smile. “Oh, yes,” these experienced and sage runners say. “It’s really hard at first, but it will get better.”

I’m sure I heard those very same words about pregnancy and childbirth. There are lots of things people conveniently forget to mention, and mothers “forgetting” the magnitude of the pain of labour is why siblings are born on this planet.

Children are worth the pain; hopefully running will be, too!