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My favorite things of 2010

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment
Arcade Fire at Rock en Seine, August 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

Drum roll, please.  I am unveiling my favorite things of 2010.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Who cares what her favorite things of 2010 were? Who does she think she is, Oprah?”  But reflecting on the year gone past is the thing to do this time of year, as we begin our slide towards 2011.  That, and think up new resolutions in order to break them in January.  This is what we humans do, we are mired in tradition, as predictable as sheep.  What better way to mark time’s passing then to reminisce over the last 365 days, and relive its highlights?

Besides, I have presents to wrap, and am in full avoidance mode, desperate for something to amuse myself.  You can resume your drum roll now.

Favorite event: Vancouver Winter Olympics.  If you didn’t experience it personally, it is difficult to explain the ground swell of Canadian pride that permeated from the pavement during these fantastic Olympic Games.  Finally, we realized it was cool to be Canadian.  We rocked those 2010 Winter Games.

En route to see the Canadian Women's Hockey team at the Olympics

Favorite album: Hands down, The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire.  This album can calm any storm and soothe any soul, yet also raise the roof and uplift spirits.  It does it all, from the lyrics to the message to its simple cohesion.  A triumph and a work of art.

Favorite concert: Arcade Fire.  The only thing better than listening to The Suburbs was watching Arcade Fire perform songs from that album live in concert.  Even our nosebleed seats couldn’t take away the magic in that stadium; they clearly had more talent in their pinky fingers than everyone in that audience combined.  Their rendition of Rococo took my breath away, the entire concert was larger than life.

Favorite bookThe Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.  My first time reading this timeless novel, and I was blown away by Wharton’s perceptiveness and prose.  I tend to rant and rave a lot about this book, but in this space suffice to say it is a classic for a reason, so read it, or reread it; as the case may be, it speaks for itself.

Favorite movie: A disclaimer: I see almost exclusively G rated movies, with the occasional PG film thrown in when feeling reckless, an environmental hazard of my jobSecretariat wins this race – watching a housewife overcome all odds to produce one of the greatest race horses in history is both a visual delight and a message I like to reinforce to my girls: we can do anything we set our minds to.

Favorite news story: The rescue of 33 Chilean miners.  The world watched this improbable rescue en mass; since when does a Hollywood ending actually happen in real life?

Favorite gadget: Garmin Forerunner 405.  This watch has revolutionized my running.  Being able to glance at my distance or pace takes the guesswork out of my workouts.  I set my intervals, and away I go – it’s like having a coach, but better, since it doesn’t care if I skip my workout when it’s raining too hard.

Favorite moment: Running the Boston Marathon.  I should clarify, my favorite moment came after I had finished, because it was, well, hard.  Nevertheless, an incredibly great experience that I will forever cherish.

Finishing Boston - Boylston Street was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs

Now if I were Oprah, a copy of The Suburbs, The Age of Innocence, and a Garmin watch would magically appear underneath your chair, and we would all be going to Boston for the 2011 marathon.  But sadly I can’t compete with the queen of television’s empire, my audience is woefully small (although extremely intelligent), and the only thing I can give you is best wishes for 2011: here’s hoping it has beautiful moments, untold pleasures and many miracles in store.

Yes, I am actually in a book club

December 17, 2010 4 comments
Book Shelf

In my previous life, bbc (before book club), the term ‘book club’ conjured visions of suburban women sitting around bitching about life.  I steadfastly avoided them like the plague: my life was enough of a cliche, joining a book club would be the icing on my cake.

Besides, I’m conscientious about using any term which includes ‘club’; its exclusivity annoys me.  I’m in, you’re out, it says, if you happen to not be a member.  I’m more of an “everybody’s welcome! the more the merrier!” kind of girl; Maritimers never want to hurt feelings.

However I do love to read, and miss those days spent in English literature classes, trying to make sense out of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell.  It was interesting to share ideas and concepts with others who loved books, examinations notwithstanding.  Keep the class, lose the tests.  That sounded promising.

Add to this utopia the ability to tailor your studying to include mostly books you have a burning desire to read, and assemble a group of people who will not cry “FOUL!” on the odd occasion life was too busy to finish the book, and you have yourself a book club, cupcake.

Despite knowing the concept was a sound one, I continued to resist.  It would take up valuable time and energy, two things I was perennially short of.  I steered wide and clear.

So when my friend Ruthie invited me to hers, I naturally and quickly responded that they weren’t my thing.  Ruthie, knowing me well, persisted, demanding that I elaborate exactly why they weren’t my thing.  When I couldn’t, I found myself staring at an email the next day with the details of the next meeting.

A few weeks later, cursing Ruthie for getting me into this situation, I arrived on the doorstep for my first meeting, armed with a bottle of wine and a carefully annotated and sticky-noted copy of the book.  I didn’t know anyone except Ruthie, and I felt like the new kid in school, which is something I had never experienced in my life.  What if they hate me?

Like any well-designed storyline, where the insecure heroine finds her groove in the end, this club I had so adamantly resisted became my most treasured evening out each month.  It is an incredible group of warm, savvy and adventurous women.  Whoever hosts chooses the book, so sometimes I am forced out of my comfort zone to read books I never would have otherwise, but am always glad I did in the end.  (Well, except for Blindness.  Sorry Ruthie.) I have slowly come to know all the members, and would jet off on a girls weekend with any of them in a heartbeat (hm, idea.)  We drink wine, eat like queens, and bitch about life.

And sometimes, we even talk about the book.

Categories: Books Tags: , ,

Worst parenting moment ever

December 16, 2010 6 comments

Ella's first birthday, which reminded me of another day...

Parenting is truly the best of times and the worst of times.  Often the parenting pendulum can swing quickly from Kodak moments to moments fraught with disastrous consequences multiple times within a twelve hour period.  If I was to graph my own emotions throughout the course of one such day, particularly when my children were wee, it would look like a roller coaster ride fit for a thrill seeker.  It is not for the faint of heart.

Neither is it for those who are squeamish, particularly with regards to bodily fluids.  In fact, if you have a particular problem with feces, you may not want to read on.  Consider yourself forewarned.

Like all of you other parents out there without a personal assistant in toe (commonly known as a nanny), I have been peed on, pooped on, and vomited on by my tiny protege.  Once on an airplane, my eighteen month old threw up all over me during takeoff, causing us both to sit in this canned-mandarin-orange-and-milk imbued mixture for at least twenty minutes until the seat belt light had gone off and I could break for the washroom.  Ha – in retrospect, that was nothing.

Ill timed tantrums, moments spent wedged into disgusting public toilets with a baby you can’t put down, beautiful clothes ruined from creative moments with permanent markers, chocolate-smeared faces way too early in the morning, who can’t pull a few of these out of their parenting bag?  My youngest child’s preschool teacher once asked me if our family was underwear-adverse; my child had insisted on dressing herself (in dresses), and I hadn’t thought to check.  All feathers in our cap we can pull out to entertain people with at dinner parties.   After eleven years of parenting I feel like a bloody peacock.

But there is one moment that stands out that is much too vile for dinner party lore.

My youngest daughter, besides being cute as a button, was a gifted napper.  After spending half the day cajoling my first child into her nap, I perfected my nap time routine with subsequent children into a process whereby I would announce in a sing songy voice “naptime!”, change their diaper amid hushed tones and drop them in their crib, equipped with soothers and blankets and leave the room.  Miraculously this worked like a charm, freeing me for an hour or on lucky days, two, to perform my multitude of soul destroying chores, or to watch Oprah.

Other more typical playgrounds, cleaner times...

On one such day, a day where chores were required, although I gazed longingly at the television wishing it were an Oprah day, I dropped my youngest angel in her crib for her nap with a t-shirt and a diaper.  She happily gurgled and cooed and rolled around as I darted out of the room, like usual.  Did I mention she was cute? I rushed around, trying to squeeze every ounce of worth out of these moments.  Passing by her door occasionally, I heard her thrashing around and continuing to speak her intelligent baby talk.  I smugly congratulated myself for instigating this foolproof routine that I benefited from every day.  I was born to be a mother.

Half an hour later I still heard her happy noises, and was very surprised since she was normally sawing logs within five minutes.  She was babbling away, obviously amusing herself with the few safe toys that were in her crib.  Third children, I said to myself, so independent, so easy.  She will be super tired and surely have a long nap, I reasoned, I’m going to accomplish so much, and continued to the laundry room, within hearing range in case she started to protest her exile.

A load of laundry later, and she was still babbling.  Now my curiosity was peaked; I wanted to see what could possibly be amusing my adorable cherub for so long.  I cracked open the door, and both the odor and sight of mass destruction that greeted me was something I will never forget, long though I may try.

Freed from her typical onesie, she had pooped in her diaper, took it off, and played with its contents, which were obviously quite spreadable.  Poop was everywhere, all over her face, body, and soother, all over her flannel sheets, all over and in every crevice of her crib, and all over the wall beside it.  She had spared no available surface.  In fact, the only thing it didn’t hit was the fan.

Hyperventilating, I ran to open the window, and searched my mind for the best method of dealing with this.  She was surprised to see me in such a state, her soiled soother popped out of her mouth and her head cocked to the side.  I flapped around like a bird who couldn’t fly, running around the room wailing, wanting to pick her up and remove the brown stuff that was on my sweet babe’s eyelashes and in her ears, but knowing this would in turn me brown in the process.  I needed a plan, and I needed it fast.

The situation needed a considerable amount of damage control, if I didn’t deploy my plan carefully it could have long lasting implications on my carpet.  I ran to start a bath for her, then stripped down myself before gingerly picking her up from the wreckage, arms held akimbo, using my sing songy voice to now tell her it was time for a bath.  She seemed content with this new, cleaner, playground in the tub, so I dashed around, amassing every cleaning tool known to our household, and furiously scrubbed her crib and wall back to its former pristine self.  That done, the smell subsided and I overloaded our washer with every salvageable scrap of material used at the crime scene. Then I scrubbed her down from head to toe, emptying and refilling the bathtub three times in the process, choking back the bile in my throat – I had seen enough fluids that day.

Finally clean, we went to pick up my older children from school.  While waiting for the school bell, a parent idly asked me “How was your day?”  Not knowing where to begin, and especially not wanting to revisit the massacre again, even with words, I decided this one was for the vault, and replied, “uh, fine…how was yours?”.

Surely, I am not alone.  What are your worst parenting moments?

Reduce, reuse and SWAP

December 15, 2010 2 comments
Color Clothes

Image by Orin Zebest via Flickr

I had forgotten how utterly distracting a roomful of clothes yet to be discovered can be.  Clothing swaps, although tons of fun, are no place to catch up with friends.  My long lost pals from distant neighborhoods across the bridge would enter, say a quick hello, and then get down to business surveying the scene.  If you did attempt to engage them before they had properly done so, it was obvious they were only half listening – no matter how fabulous your story was, their eyes would dart from rack to rack behind you.

It is a feast for the eyes: racks of silent treasures, hanging modestly, waiting for you to fall in love.  Once again, the clothing swap was a resounding success, everyone of us leaving with something a little more treasured than we had given up, giddy from chatting and bubbles.

As always, there were coveted items that caused no end of plotting.  The highly acclaimed Diane Von Furstenberg dress was back, under the rumor that it had been consigned after its last swap showing (horror of all horrors!), but somehow mysteriously made itself back into the fray.  Sisterhood of the traveling dress in the making, and much more sensible for a wrap dress to flatter different body types than jeans.  If Hollywood could only have that one over.

There were twice as many women in attendance, a nod to its burgeoning success, causing us to round corners even more slowly lest you bowl over a half clad stranger.  As I stopped to zip up one such stranger and glimpsed a view of her behind, it occurred to me how truly funny it is that we were all running around trying on things and garnering public opinion on their effect.  A de facto benefit from this night is viewing up close and personal all of the underwear choices out there, be they Panties by Post or the Gap.  A stunning array.

Winning the item of your desire is a numbers game – the better your number, the better your chance of getting a coveted item.  Just when I thought I had scored a great number – 22 out of a possible 70 – our gracious hostess Ruthie changed the methodology on us, freeing both the first and then the last of the numbers to choose their items, once again ensuring I was one of the last to choose.  The cloud of bad luck follows me at these gigs, so I’m a good target to sit beside if you want a good number.  Nevertheless, I got a sweet pair of high brown Franco Sarto boots that I can’t wait to wear with the dress I am now looking to buy, so it’s all good.  I missed out on the DVF dress, but my great friend Nancy swiped it, so it was a victory in two ways; my friend got the trophy and now that dress hangs a stone’s throw away in an attainable closet.

With its expanding attendance, it is a great evening for women entrepreneurs to showcase their artistry and products, so also on display were beautiful prints and jewelery, cool housewares, environmentally friendly cleaning products, and Sun Ice ski jackets at wholesale prices.  I scored a beautiful long necklace for a ridiculously reduced price which I would tell you, but then I would have to kill you, so let’s leave it at ridiculous.

At the end of the evening, all of the remaining clothes are donated to a local women’s shelter, which is of course the biggest victory of all; women helping women.

Chistmas is killing me

December 13, 2010 2 comments
MD-80 by a Nose

Image by caribb via Flickr

I had the most vivid dream last night: I was standing on an island at the water’s edge.  Not so far away, a 747 was taking off in my direction.  I stood, transposed, as this magnificent beast lazily lifted first its nose, and then slowly its rear, its huge bulk improbably hanging in mid air.  Suddenly, in a horrifying twist, its nose turned downward and it was heading straight towards me.  This prior magical moment, full of wonderment at the marvels of modernity, turned into the shock of modernity causing my death; there was no where to run.

And so it is with Christmas, another altogether beautiful, mass market, man made beast.  It has become an industry that spawns an entire collection of movies, its own section in book stores and the library, encourages even the most gifted of musicians to cover Christmas classics (as if anyone could improve on Nat King Cole’s version of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, but still, they try).  Most importantly, it is the crowning glory of everything retail; spend! spend! spend!, advertisements tell us.  As the days of December tick quickly by, the nose of that 747 has taken a nasty downward focus.

The internet has supposedly made shopping easy: one click and it’s on its way.  Yet I am paralyzed.  I have not bought one gift for my best customers, my children.  The lights are too dazzling, the smell of pine intoxicating, the wrapping paper too varied, the choices of gifts both big, small and insignificant, overwhelming.  I am frozen by the sheer volume of my growing list, and now it is too late to order online.

As the mother who wears the purse, if not the pants, in this family, I am the unspoken provider of Christmas.  I have three little girls who fully expect Santa to bring them a boatload of presents on December 25.  We are working our way through the multitude of Christmas movies Hollywood has faithfully produced, all with the same message: you must believe in Santa for him to come.  Yet, try though I may to believe (dutifully, like all of the cards shout from my mailbox, Believe!), this higher being has yet to materialize.  It will be me trudging through malls this week, battling frantic shoppers who are decidedly not in the holiday spirit as they beat me to parking spots and dash in front of me in long checkout lines.

I know this; I have been out there already.  I haven’t bought one present for my family, but I’ve been trying hysterically to keep up with the other demands of Christmas.  My daughters are each doing Secret Santa gift exchanges at school, at gymnastics, and now, they tell me, since they are so much fun, with their friends.  They are collecting money for coaches and teachers, to give them gifts, and since it is all about giving, who can argue with that?  Each of their classes are putting together a gift hamper for families in need – the most useful gifts I will purchase this season – but adding three more to my list.  For every party they attend (classroom, school play, gymnastics, soccer) they bring items for the food bank, so my pantry is disappearing before my eyes, and I’m also expected to bake and decorate cookies for these events, as if the twelve other plates of gingerbread men are not enough.  There are dresses and shiny shoes to be purchased,  snow boots and ski suits that must be upgraded for the impending weather.  I’m exhausted and broke and I haven’t even started on the list that includes my own family.

sporting their finery during Christmas 2009

Our tree is up, but my children are begging for more decorations, more lights, more everything.  When, they keep asking, will the presents be under the tree?  Oh yes, those elusive presents.  Telling them I’ve been a bit busy doesn’t fly: doing what? they ask.

The ten shopping days remaining are reduced to five for me, since school vacation starts at the end of this week, at which point I morph into camp director, shepherding my children to the skating rink, ski hill,  indoor pools and playdates in an effort to entertain them.

The nose of the plane is now closing in on me, I am deafened by the roar of its engine.  Should I run or swim, I wonder.  It really doesn’t matter, since it is landing on top of me in any event.  Just as the Grinch discovered, you can’t stop Christmas from coming; but unlike those gracious Who’s in Whoville, my children will not peacefully gather around a tree without presents underneath it, singing carols.

all smiles Christmas morn '09 - no pressure!

Running: the ultimate mood booster

December 10, 2010 4 comments
Sunset Beach

Image by Rusty Russ via Flickr

Something happened today that happens rarely: I did not want to go running.

Normally, no matter what the weather or circumstances, I cannot wait to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement; it is something I look forward to from the moment I wake up.  But not today.

Today I was cranky and in no mood for my workout.  Even the fact that it was not raining, as forecast, couldn’t levitate my sourness.  I hadn’t slept well, so despite the fact it was 9 am I was tired.  I had eaten breakfast ridiculously early since I couldn’t sleep, and was now ravenous.  I was freezing cold and could not feel my hands before I started, not helping matters.  And I was scheduled to do long intervals, which I find hard at the best of times.  I was not a happy camper.

But I had dutifully dressed for my run, ready to do battle with whatever came my way, so I soldiered – less than half heartedly – on.  It occurred to me that this is what many people feel like on a regular basis before their workout, and I had a flash of empathy for them.  This was not fun.  This was what I felt like before going to the dentist.

Of course you know what happens next; it is a truism, a fact, a sure thing: I immediately felt better as soon as I started running.  It took all of one minute, and I shook off all of my complaints, the cloud of distaste evaporating in a puff.  Once again, I was off and running, soaking in the views and the joy of movement.  One minute and I was virtually transformed into a happier person.  Am I really that flaky?

I know not everyone experiences the joy of running, it can be daunting and uncomfortable.  It’s hard.  But doing the workout, instead of calling it a day before you begin, will always make you happier (barring injury, obviously).   As I have read hundreds of times in running related magazines, on days you really do not want to run, at least start your warm up, then determine your workout.

I’ve always known running is a great way of dealing with my emotions, whether I am feeling down, sad, angry, or confused.  I go for a run and things sort themselves out somehow, and I finish feeling better than when I started.  For me, it is the best medicine, and I often tell people this.  But it was a jolt to me today to realize how quickly the endorphins (or perhaps just fresh air) can positively effect demeanor.  I was an entirely different person post workout, and it helped me enjoy the rest of the day immeasurably.

The point, of course, is to just do it.

Categories: Health Tags: ,

Christmas vacation plans, anyone?

December 9, 2010 2 comments
a commercial christmas in hawaii #4

Image by nayrb7 via Flickr

It’s starting already.  Whenever a school break looms, the calendar days gapingly empty and devoid of the regular nine to three tolling of the school bell, that question: “So, what are you up to for the holidays?”

If you pay close attention, this question comes almost exclusively from those who actually have vacation plans for the upcoming break, since posing this question provides them with a segue into their plans after you answer, “Not much, how about you?”.

This is a tad facetious, since holiday plans are not a bad conversation starter, especially among those whose answer to the question might be “We’re going to Kauai for the first time, have you ever been?” and they are off to the races talking about the pros and cons of islands in Hawaii.

These lucky soon-to-be vacationers obviously have travel on the brain, having had to load up with sunscreen or ski goggles, as the case may be, in preparation for their trip, so innocently may think everybody flies off to exotic destinations when faced with two weeks of having no teachers to babysit their children.  Let’s face it, the alternative is not so rosy.   After the first day of sitting around in your pajamas watching old Christmas DVD’s, the kids start getting on each others nerves, which gets on the parents nerves, which makes us all throw on our boots and coats and head out into the miserable rain or snow or slush and then things really go downhill.

I am sensitive to the topic of actually going somewhere on your school break, since my parents chose to have numerous children instead of implementing a holiday budget (luckily for me since I was the last of the nine kids, I got life whereas my siblings never got Disney World).  We never went anywhere.  I hated that first day back after spring break where classmates would show up sporting tans and even worse, stories of their travels.  I was green with jealousy.

Inadvertently rubbing salt into my wounds, my family finally planned a vacation, but it went awry.  When I was in high school, my parents announced we would be going to Quebec’s Winter Carnival for spring break.  A twelve hour drive, but still, a great destination.  I was jubilant, overjoyed, and ran around asking all of my classmates what they were doing for their break, barely letting them answer before blurting out “well WE’RE going to the Quebec Winter Carnival!”  However my mother contracted a brutal case of the flu on the road, so we holed up in Edmundston New Brunswick for the week.  My dad did drive us over the Quebec border, so we could say we had been there.  And the Edmundston Ho Jo had an indoor pool where I learned my back dive, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.  But I have been careful not to gloat ever since.

Likely I am marred by my childhood experiences, and overly sensitive to this question, when people are just saying what first comes to their mind.  I should grow up, not be so judgmental, be happy for them.  I know this, and will tell my own children to do exactly this when they complain that we are not going anywhere.  I will tell them to think of all the people who have so little, and be happy for what we do have.

After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year; there are good times to be had without leaving your house; magical moments abound. But unabashedly I would rather be having these moments in Mexico; and news flash for all of those who pose the question: so would we all.

So please: if you have holiday plans and I am in your midst, put a lid on it.