Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Past Deadline: What I've Been Missing on TV

Every once in a while I am reminded that pop culture is rarely part of my lexicon. And “lexicon” is a word we really don’t use often enough, don’t you think?

Anyway, I’m thinking specifically of television shows, although there are lots of other things that escape me, too. For example, who or what is a Bieber? (I now know. I looked him up because everyone was talking about him, and I fully expect my four-year-old daughter will soon be able to enlighten me on these things.)

I’ve also become quite a nerd when it comes to grown-up music. By the time I discovered “I’ve Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas they had already retired and moved to Arizona.

Since the 2000s my music and television intake has been largely dominated by the preferences of my children. Yes, I’m one of THOSE mothers who exposed her children to more than the 0.83 minutes of TV recommended per month. So far they’re not in jail, but it’s early yet.

Anyway, my glamorous lifestyle of being an at-home mother by day and work-from-home drone at night left a dearth of time for grown-up TV viewing. (“Dearth” – there’s another word that is scarcely used.) Now that both kids are in school, though, my evenings are freeing up a teeny bit.

Things in TV land have changed, though. Over time, all the dramas I used to like either ran their course and left the airwaves or were shuffled to an 8 p.m. time slot, which doesn’t bode well for those of us busy putting pre- and primary schoolers to bed, especially since I can’t be bothered to fiddle with recording them and watching later. By the time I discovered the awesomeness of House, they’d moved him to 8 p.m. You can also catch reruns at midnight somewhere, but that doesn’t always work for me.

The 10 p.m. time slot is now filled with a whole bunch of unfamiliar shows. Probably some of them are good, but forming relationships with new characters requires a solid commitment and investment of time. Sometimes I’d just rather read a book.

Groom-boy recently rejigged our viewing package, which cancelled some channels we don’t watch often and added some new ones, including a slate of retro stations. He is delighted. He loves sitcom reruns.

I don’t mind occasional reruns, but when it comes to the shows we lived with in the ’80s and ’90s, like Three’s Company and Roseanne, once I’ve stumbled on an episode for the sixth or 11th time then that’s enough – I’d rather smash my thumb with a hammer. (Back in those days we watched reruns in part because we didn’t have as many channels and options to peruse.)

Since I don’t share in this particular enthusiasm, it was a great tonic for Groom-boy when a friend of ours, Herbert, visited on the weekend. Herbert is a veritable catalogue of television trivia, so he and Groom-boy luxuriated in 20-year-old sitcoms for hours. Not only that, but they gave me a taste of that current pop culture sensation, Family Guy. I was previously only vaguely aware of its existence simply from the perspective of: “This cartoon is not suitable for primary schoolers.”

So Herbert and Groom-boy sat there and guffawed over Family Guy, with Herbert occasionally casting glances my way to gauge my reaction. I’m not saying parts weren’t funny, but I think I could carry on without ever seeing it again. I would be especially content to live without ever seeing a rerun of the episode that features the baby calling “Mama” about 100 times. Groom-boy and Herbert think it is quite amusing to imitate this episode in my presence because we all know that, like the mother in the show, I am liable to turn around and yell “WHAT!” to the kid, too.

Art imitates life….

So now we can rest assured Groom-boy’s television-viewing needs are covered, but there is a distinct possibility my efforts to stay in tune with pop culture will continue to evolve with my children.

On the other hand, nice, quiet books that don’t say “Mama” over and over again are good, too. And maybe I’ll start recording House.

Published in The Perth Courier on April 1/10.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Past Deadline: Motivated by What, Exactly?

No matter how old we get, we are always learning about ourselves, don’t you think?

Our reactions to events change depending on our age and experience. I am, for example, less likely than my four-year-old daughter to fly into a rage when I can’t get my tights to go on right because I have learned this is not the end of the world and life will continue. That said, I don’t like tights and often have many unkind things to say about them and their ilk.

Over the years I have realized I need to spend more time outdoors than I do, especially because I work from home. This fresh air and change of scenery helps prevent me from being snarly with the big, little and furry people with whom I reside. I have also learned the health of our fish tank directly (and dramatically) affects my mood. And did you know I am likely to erupt into a stinkin’ tantrum when my work e-mail goes down? This involves Dramatic Pacing About and Stomping of Feet if the kids are in the vicinity; otherwise you are likely to hear a bad word. Maybe two. Uttered loudly. I have learned that no matter how often I tell myself it’s pointless to do this and that this is the way of technology, I can’t seem to help becoming overwhelmed by the frustration of it all.

One thing I am still having trouble figuring out, though, is the changing nature of motivation, especially in the context of taking care of myself. I generally don’t need to think about motivation when it comes to doing a good job in my work. I just do it because I like to. A paycheque doesn’t hurt, but really it comes down to doing good work that makes other people happy, too.

Why, though, is it so hard to motivate myself to stay fit and eat good food?

You’d think that, as humans, we would be hard wired to take excellent care of ourselves. It might even be instinctual if you factor in survival of the fittest, species preservation, etc. So why is it that we (or I in particular) sometimes have to argue with ourselves to ensure we exercise and follow good nutrition?

I have been motivated to exercise more for a number of reasons:
1) A family history of a bunch of things I’d prefer to avoid.
2) I’d like to be around to see how my kids turn out.
3) I happen to like it – once I get into the habit of doing it, that is.

And that’s the kicker – habit. As long as I’m on the bandwagon I’m a pretty good passenger. For example, I’ve ramped up the running again after a hiatus from December through February. I’m back to the point now where I miss it if I can’t go. But if something throws me off that wagon for any length of time (as it did this winter), it’s ridiculously difficult to climb back on.

Now, if I could only get to the driver’s seat by eating better, then maybe I’d make some progress in the pound-droppage area.

Of course I know that a big part of my problem is the temptation of quick, easy, processed meals as opposed to choosing healthier whole foods that take longer to prepare but, the point is, I know that. If I know that, why can’t I just follow through with action?

Fear is a good motivator, such as being told you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes or that you are at risk for any of these or other things, but why does it have to come down to fear for your life?

I know for sure I am no longer motivated by my Skinny Jeans. I had some vain hope of eventually fitting into those token mid-’90s-era pants that predate babies, but I now suspect I won’t ever be that svelte thing again. As a result, they were dismissed in a fit of rabid closet decluttering last week.

So now I suppose I’ll have to rely on that old faithful annual motivator: bathing suit season. [Shudder.] Wish me luck.

Published in The Perth Courier, March 25/10

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Past Deadline: Stocking Up on Decoy Fruit

It’s March Break, which means I don’t have to make lunches for a whole week! Hurray! I’m a night-time lunch maker because I don’t move fast enough in the morning, and there’s nothing worse than realizing at a quarter to midnight on a school night that, [insert naughty word], I forgot to get started on the lunches.

My creativity definitely ebbs and flows when it comes to lunch making. Girlchild is pretty good about eating a variety of foods, but her brother is not so versatile, especially when it comes to fruit.

A typical bagged lunch in my house might consist of a sandwich, juice, yogurt, fruit and a snack such as crackers, cheese or a homemade muffin. Most of that stuff is palatable to my darlings, but if anything is going to get rejected in Boychild’s lunch, it’s the fruit.

Go figure.

He likes fruit and he’ll eat it at home, but it rarely gets consumed when I send it in his lunch.
(I should also mention I long ago conceded defeat when it comes to sending vegetables in the lunches. Maybe someday, but for now I figure getting fruit down their gullets is a victory.) On the fruit front I’ve tried lots of different things – from a variety of fresh fruit to tinned options and even things like applesauce. I draw the line at the rubbery fruit snacks – I just can’t get my head around those. On rare occasions I will send one, but it’s always accompanied by real fruit.
I have even tried sending extra fruit in place of the snack, but that just means more fruit comes home.

As you can imagine, I spend a great deal of time standing despondently in the kitchen, staring woefully at a selection of fruit and fighting the inner demon that is telling me to just forget about it. It’s like having the imaginary angel and devil on each shoulder.

Devil: Just skip it. What’s the point? He won’t eat it.

Angel: Don’t give up! You must send the fruit! Occasionally he eats it – he might surprise you!

Devil: Don’t be silly. He’ll ignore it and it’ll come home limp and yucky and there goes all that good money into the composter.

Angel: You must send the fruit! It’s in the Good Mother contract, section 9: “Good mothers send fruit in their children’s lunch bags.”

Devil: Good mothers don’t waste food.

Angel: Someone will notice you haven’t sent nutritious fruit in his bag!

Sigh. It always comes back to that. I imagine all the teachers gathering in the hallway at lunch time, tsking and shaking their wise heads. “Can you believe that Gray woman didn’t send fruit in Boychild’s lunch AGAIN? What an awful, hideous woman.”

So I always send the fruit.

Don’t tell anyone – but sometimes I cheat.

A while back Boychild was on a kick that he liked canned fruit cups. I was all over that. It’s fruit, it comes in a recyclable container and he’s eating it. All good things must come to an end, however, and the fruit cups fell out of favour. That left us with a small, lonely supply left over. We’re down to one tin, actually.

Sometimes, when it’s a quarter to midnight and my heart’s not in the whole lunch-making thing, I reach for that lonely tin and toss it in the bag. It’s the fruit decoy. He’s not likely to eat it, but he’s not likely to eat any other fruit, so what the heck. More importantly, I am not in breach of section 9 of the Good Mother contract AND there will be no need for anyone to tsk about the glaring lack of fruit in the lunch bag.


Soon I will have to invest in a new batch of decoys as the label is getting a bit worn on “Fruit Cup: The Last,” not to mention I am mindful of expiry dates. One day Boychild actually ate one of the decoys, which was a joyous and wonderful surprise.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go and polish my Mother of the Year award. Where did that thing get to….

Published in The Perth Courier on March 18/10.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Past Deadline: On Viciously Decluttering

It must be spring. The urge to declutter is growing, but it is quickly being replaced by a fear that my house will be featured on an episode of Hoarders.

It’s no secret I am not Martha Stewart when it comes to housekeeping. What am I saying? Martha probably has people to clean her house, after all.

We live in a small abode. Currently, two of the grown-ups work mostly from home. Our dining room has become Groom-boy’s office/storage area. One of the little people is only in school every other day. Neither child has mastered the fine art of consistent tidy-up. The cats are always around to distribute cat-hair tumbleweed and other unpleasantries. Long story short – whenever something gets tidied, it never stays so for long because there are always people and cats here making messes.

It takes a certain kind of meticulous to stay on top of tidiness in a small house, and I’m not quite there. It doesn’t help that there is an element of packratitis going on here, too. I am fond of books and papers. Ditto on the papers for Groom-boy. The kids are fond of everything they’ve ever had – if they remember they have it.

Naturally, one of the reasons I had kids was to justify the existence of my abundant stuffed animal collection. I was relieved when I had a girl because that gave my 1970s Nancy Drew hardcover mystery series a reason for being, too.

Alas, the time has come to make a few changes around here. We’re all growing (even the big people) and taking up more space. I have started wandering from room to room with all the Lady MacBeth-style drama I can muster, wringing my hands and crying woe because there is just too much stuff.

Do you ever get to the point with something where you have no idea where to start because there is too much to do? That’s me – poster child – when it comes to decluttering. Sometimes, though, even when you figure out a good starting point, it doesn’t work out as well as you would hope.

Take, for instance, my Grand Plan on the weekend to purge the toy bin of stuffed animals in Girlchild’s room, which is crammed to overflowing. It contains my old “stuffies,” most of Boychild’s that he passed on to her and a whole bunch that were given to her specifically over the years. I would love to reduce the collection by half so we can actually use the toy bin for other things, too, like non-stuffy toys. This would dramatically reduce clutter in other parts of her room.

Good plan, yes?

I figured I would start by having her select items she no longer wants, then I could selectively prod or purge as needed.

Yeah, right.

She did a good job. She made a fairly large pile of items she was willing to pass along to other children. But I am weak.

“Oh, Girlchild, are you sure about this one? This little doggy was your first stuffy when you were a baby.”

“Oh, gee, Girlchild, you might want to play with this dolly again.”

“Oh, well, that was my Nanny’s. I’d like to keep that one. Oh, and that one, too.”

“Oh, um, well, we shouldn’t get rid of this one. Carole gave me that in high school.”

“Um, Rob gave me that in high school.”

“Cindy…high school.”

“Roger…you know.”

“Ahem. Never mind. Let’s go to the bookshelf and see if there are any baby books you want to get rid of.”

Again, Girlchild makes a pile of books for us to donate. Clever girl.

“Oh, gee, well we should keep this one because I used to read that to your brother every morning when he was little.”

“Yeah, um, hm. That one’s such a good story…are you sure about that one?”

I need. To get. A grip. I need to viciously declutter. Perhaps I will abandon the concept of purging books and stuffies for the moment and focus on closets and drawers instead. At least there it’s simpler – if it fits, keep it. If not, say goodbye.

Well, except for that cute little dress, maybe. And that blankie. And…oh dear.

Published in The Perth Courier, March 11/10.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Past Deadline: Learning About Patriotism

Watching the coverage and the Canadian response to our Olympics has been interesting.
From the apologetic beginnings to the triumphant finish, it’s hard to argue that the country didn’t swell with pride and a new (or at least renewed) sense of patriotism. It’s also typically Canadian that some of us are a tiny bit uncomfortable with or uncertain about feeling that way.

Something else the Olympics did was further galvanize the fact we are a hockey nation. Sorry, that should be Hockey Nation, right? That’s where things get a little weird for me. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I was really born in this country or if my parents deprived me of some special elixir as a child because, seriously folks, I just don’t live for hockey.


I know, I know. I fear this makes me appallingly unCanadian and, yet, there isn’t much I can do about it. Now, that being said, I felt compelled to watch almost all of the third period of the legendary men’s game on Sunday afternoon. I even hid my face behind a piece of paper during the last minute of play in that period, fearing that what happened would actually happen – a goal to tie it up.

My heart pounded and I felt all clammy and nervous as my oblivious children wandered nearby and worked diligently to distract me from the historic event. “Just wait, guys, I NEED to watch the last few minutes of this game!”

Possibly mine was the only eight-year-old boy in Canada who was not glued to the TV set along with the rest of the Hockey Nation, but he was busy playing with light sabres with his little sister. They were both periodically pestering me for food, too. Some nerve. I mean, as IF I could possibly pause to provide sustenance for young children. I mean, really! (Dear authority figures: I’m kidding.)

As happy as I was that our guys brought home a gold, that particular gold carried no more weight to me than any other gold won by any other athlete in any other sport. I mean, I was glued to the hockey just as I had been glued to several random speed skating events or snowboarding or ski jumping or bobsledding or curling or any other sport that happened to be on TV when I had some time to watch it.

Except, of course, that I really couldn’t bear another “so close” moment in Canadian Olympic performance because THIS particular gold was our last chance to break that all-time gold medal record at Winter Games – the most of any nation.

Yeah! That is awesome!

So, yes, I was caught up in the pull of that national hockey tide and I even said, “Ooh!” and “Aaaah!” and “Yes!” and “Noooo!” with the crowd in the appropriate places, which is unusual for me when it comes to hockey because a) I don’t know all the rules and b) I’m easily distracted.

Unfortunately, one of my oblivious children managed to distract me just as Sid the Kid scored his golden goal, so I missed it “live.” Happily, it has been possible to catch it once or twice or a kazillion times on the replay.

And then, feeling all Olympic-like (and guilty), I donned my rocket shoes and went for a run, whereupon I proudly and excitedly waved to every flag-waving pick-up truck I saw cruising the downtown streets (well, there was only one, but it IS a small town, right?). I even hollered “Go Canada!” to a lady I know, who then told me she’d seen a senior citizen yelling much louder than I was a little earlier.

So maybe I’m not quite there yet when it comes to unbridled patriotism. It occurred to me partway through the run that I should have been wearing a Canadian flag cape. Then again, I probably don’t need to draw more attention to myself as I stagger breathlessly up and down the street.

In any event, whether you scream it loudly or say it softly, “Yay, Canada!” Congrats to all of our athletes and to the Games’ organizers for a great show!