Friday, June 29, 2007

Still insane, but at least there's hope

Yes, for those of you who wondered if I survived the birthday party, I am still alive. The birthday party didn't kill me, but the month of June has certainly made every attempt to eat me alive.

At this very moment, there is absolute stillness in my house. I am alone, with NOTHING to do. I think that's a miracle. I haven't had a solitary moment like this for at least a month and a half.

It's just been one of those months - 7000 soccer games, 2000 meetings, 1000 birthday parties, 500 major projects due at work, 10,ooo people demanding my time and energy, and very. little. time. to. catch. my. breath.

But today... today is the very first glorious day of THE END.

I took a desperately needed day off work, and this morning Marcel and I went for a very pleasant bike ride and breakfast out. And then I went to Value Village to buy my summer wardrobe for about 20 bucks. Yes, it's been a good day so far. The girls will be out of school in a few hours, we'll go to the last soccer game of this part of the season (it starts up again in September, but just for Nikki and Julie), and then we'll have a LONG WEEKEND. With nothing to do! Not one of my kids is invited to a birthday party! There will be no soccer games! No meetings! Nothing! That word never sounded so good. I think a day at the beach is in order.

Happy Canada Day my Canuck friends!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Apparently, I'm insane

It's midnight and there are six shrieking ten-year-old girls in my basement. Why? Because I suffered a temporary lapse of judgment and INVITED them. Or at least I allowed them to be invited. Julie is celebrating her birthday with every preteen girl's favourite pastime - a pajama party. Oh my - WHAT was I thinking?

They're all decent girls, and mostly things have been going swimmingly, but there have been moments when I was almost certain I'd have to call for back-up. (Did I mention that my husband abandoned me? Yeah, he's sitting in a pub somewhere watching a friend play jazz. Probably with a glass in his hand and a smile on his face. Hmmm... I think he owes me BIG time.)

My least favourite moment - the one that ALMOST convinced me to call all the parents and say "HELP! Get these children out of here!" was about half an hour after all the adults had abandoned me. After cake and ice cream (yes, the depths of my insanity knows no bounds - I pumped them full of sugar!), the girls had disappeared into the basement to watch a movie. I poured the last of the coke into a glass and was about to sit down to enjoy it in a rare moment of peace and quiet. Yeah, sure. No rest for Mommy. And no coke either. I dumped the WHOLE cup of coke all over the floor. Yeah, Coke. Sticky. Sticky walls, sticky floor, sticky legs. Sad, sad mommy. And absolutely nothing else in the house I felt like drinking. Colour me disappointed. And sticky.

But that was only the beginning of my misadventure. Julie called from the basement that the movie wasn't working. I went downstairs to a very hyper room full of little girls. And in the middle of that, I discovered that some of them had managed to burst the air mattress they were supposed to sleep on by jumping on it. And someone else had spilled a whole cup of pop on the futon - the other place where some of them were supposed to sleep. And remember what had brought me downstairs in the first place - the movie wasn't working. Ahhhhh!!! Panic! No beds for them to sleep on and no movie to give me at least an hour of peace. WHAT was I going to do? Umm... let's just say the girls saw my grumpy side at that moment.

Well, I managed to clean up the mess, flip the futon to the dry side, and get the movie working again. They remained relatively quiet while watching the movie and no-one has come up to report any more spilled drinks or other mis-haps. They're managing to make themselves relatively comfortable in sleeping bags on the hard floor, so if they ever actually lie down, perhaps we'll all get at least a little sleep.

Did I mention that before this insanity started, I thought it would be a good idea to sew them ALL funky purses as their goodie bags? Yeah, that's right, I really AM insane. And this was in the middle of one of the craziest months EVER with soccer every night, a major week-long session of board meetings and schmoozing out of town big-wigs, and about 15 parties for the girls to go to. (And in case you're wondering why there are SEVEN bags, it's because I actually let Julie invite SEVEN people, but rather mercifully, two of them couldn't make it.)
But lest you should think I'm the only one who's a little insane/obsessive/ought-to-be-committed, I didn't actually do much of the actual work of planning the party. That would be my amazing sister ccap and two friends. They organized an Amazing Race game all over the neighbourhood. It was a hit for all involved, including the adults who huffed and puffed trying to keep up with a bunch of energetic and highly competitive little girls. (We had to go along to save the girls from themselves - on more than one occasion, we had to hold them back from plunging into the street in front of a car - out of sheer competitiveness.) We were happy for the clues that actually required a bit of time and effort on their parts (like drinking an entire Slurpee, chewing each piece of Bubblicious gum in a pack until they could successfully blow a bubble, and putting together a Kinder Surprise after eating the chocolate.)

And then after planning an elaborate game, The Amazing Auntie baked a matching cake. My girls are possibly the luckiest kids around to have her for an auntie. She has set the standard impossibly high - I can't imagine how I'll ever live up to this with her off-spring.
Seriously, though, other than the moment of sheer panic, I don't mind the giggles of girls in the basement. I'm happy for the friendships they have and I like to see them having fun. I'll get through this night in one piece (just a little sticky and probably a tad tired), and hopefully I've helped create a memory that will stick with them. Some day this house will be painfully quiet and I'll probably long for just one more crazy night of giggling. For now, I'll try to enjoy it.

Now please, PLEASE let this thunderstorm pass without any of the girls getting scared OR (heaven forbid) the power going out! There's only so much I can take!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The one in the middle

I had great intentions of writing a birthday post for Julie (my glorious, smart-as-a-whip, spunky red-headed middle child) on Saturday, but life got in the way. This weekend alone, there was a LOT of life happening:
- Nikki attended a birthday party for a friend
- Julie attended two birthday parties for friends (believe it or not, she has 2 friends born on the same day as her - consequently her party is next weekend)
- shopping for all those birthday parties
- both Nikki and Julie had soccer games (and I actually got to watch both for a change)
- I attended a baby shower for friends
- we all went to Marcel's sister's place for a father's day supper for Marcel's dad
- the girls and I took Marcel out for father's day lunch (combined with Julie's birthday lunch)
- Nikki ran the 2.6 mile Super Run at the Manitoba Marathon again (and we both got up at 6:00 this morning to bike there in time. Yawn.)
- I did the major bi-monthly grocery shopping trip
- Marcel had a study date with a friend
- Nikki had a play-date with a friend
- I got eaten by at least a dozen mosquitos (as did other members of the family)
- Maddie had at least 2 meltdowns (do you suppose she was feeling left out in the whirlwind of activity around here?)

And somewhere in the middle of all that, I managed to get through 5 loads of laundry. Now it's after 10:00, and in order for me to get to sleep at a reasonable time, I need to go fold the last load. (Double yawn.)

I think I need to go back to work tomorrow to get some rest.

Update: The laundry is folded, and I'm on my way to bed, but I couldn't resist mentioning... I just checked the marathon results, and Nikki placed in the top 10% of all runners (of all ages) of the Super Run. I think I have reason to be proud of my long-legged runner who's only 11 and has years of potential ahead of her! (I know this post was supposed to be about Julie, but I'm proud of ALL of my daughters.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poetry in motion

Last night, while I watched yet another soccer game (Nikki scored! Yay!), I thought about a piece I wrote last year but never got around to posting. Since I never seem to have the inspiration or time to write a real post these days, here's an oldie that still applies...

We’ve been watching the World Cup off and on this past week. Nobody in our house is a huge sports fan, but the World Cup has attracted our attention this time around, partly because our kids are thick into soccer right now. So if you’re sitting on the sidelines of a soccer game 6 nights out of 7, why not turn on a soccer game on the 7th night too? It’s contagious.

Soccer is an amazing sport, when it’s played well (or even when it’s played with heart by 9 or 10 year old girls). It’s a great spectator sport and I can see why it has so much attention worldwide. It’s not as complicated as some sports, and the calisthenics those players go through – well, it’s practically like watching a ballet. Oh, and there’s usually a fair bit of “eye candy” on screen, what with all those well-toned bodies movin’ and groovin’ on the field (no, no, I’m not the least bit shallow).

Even though I’m not a big sports fan, there’s something about watching a highly skilled person do what they do best that almost reduces me to tears because of the sheer beauty of it. It’s the same thing for other disciplines – music, painting, cooking, carpentry, public-speaking, writing – you name it. To see someone find their niche, own it, and then polish their skills through years of practice and sometimes agony, is magnificent and awe-inspiring (even if it’s not at the world-class level).

Several years ago, when I was a fairly new mom and I came to the realization early on that each kid came with a different blueprint and each blueprint would take years to decipher, I bought an invaluable book. It’s called 7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing your Multiple Intelligences by Dr. Howard Gardner. In it I found both relief and inspiration. I found out that, even if one of my kids didn’t naturally do as well in school as the other one, she could still be defined as “smart”. Her definition of smart would just have to come from one of the other intelligences rather than her school work.

According to Dr. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the seven kinds of smart are: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal (the ability to understand others) and intrapersonal (the ability to understand oneself). Since then, he’s also added “naturalist" and "existential".

Especially when they’re in school, there is a tendency to rate our kids according to their academic achievement. It’s a temptation I’m sure we all fall into at some point. When they come home with their test scores or report cards, for example, it’s hard to resist asking how the other kids in the class did. When our kids do poorly, it hurts us, and we might even be tempted to blame the teacher or the testing method. When they score high above the other students, we look for opportunities to interject it into conversations with other parents (c’mon, admit it – we all do it).

I guess what I like about the multiple intelligences is that all kinds of smart are placed on equal playing fields. Your kid may be a soccer star, but he might do poorly in his math. Still smart. Another kid might be musically gifted, but couldn’t kick a soccer ball if it was the size of a small garage. Smart. Still others might be intuitive when it comes to relationships, or words, or craftsmanship. Smart, smart, smart.

I have a pretty good idea which kinds of smart I am, but here’s a test I found that helps identify them. (It’s far from a foolproof test, but it’s fun none-the-less.) No big surprise – I came out with linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic (not as in “athletic” but more like “craftsmanship”), interpersonal and intrapersonal as my top ones. I’m pretty low on musical, logical-mathematical, and spatial.

I’m still learning about my kids and I don’t want to stick too many labels on them this early in their lives, but I can definitely see that they shine in different areas. My job as their mom is to encourage and nurture whatever kinds of smarts they have and not value one kind above the others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

And the winner is...

The ballots are in, the votes have been counted, the chits have been altered by the... oops, I mean the draw is complete and we have a winner.

And the winner is... now, before I go there, I want you to know that this raffle was completely on the up-and-up and I was NOT swayed by any threats or bribes in the comment box. Seriously - I even asked Maddie to draw the winning name from the basket. She looked at me rather strangely when I told her to pick a little piece of paper out of a basket, but she complied.

Now, back to the winner... my dear ol' friend Whippersnapper has snagged herself a new funky bag! Which at least saves me some postage because she's right here in my own city. Whippersnapper, come meet me for coffee/tea sometime and the bag will exchange hands.

Whew. I was a little worried that if she didn't win, some rather nasty pictures would surface on her blog. And trust me, those pictures should never EVER see the light of day. Ever. It was bad enough she nearly showed them to my daughters! Just remember, Whip, I have some rather unflattering pictures of you too, so if you ever have a momentary lapse of judgement and choose to post them, all of blogland will see you in your underwear smoking a large... um... sausage. (Whippersnapper and I were roommates back in the good ol' days before husbands and children and mortgages and one hundred and one commitments - get us going some night and you'll hear ALL kinds of interesting stories. And trust me, she really IS as funny as she seems on her blog.)

Perhaps if the sewing bug hits again some day, I will make more bags available to the rest of you eager participants. Gina had to wait nearly two years for hers, though, so I'm not making any promises.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

When the mood hits

It seems the sewing mood hit me this weekend. It all started with a wall hanging I made from a painting I bought in Ethiopia. I moved into a new office on Friday and wanted to have something new to adorn the walls. (Unfortunately I neglected to take pictures of it before I dropped it off at my office. Maybe another time.) I made one from a similar painting from Kenya, so now I have a pair and my office will look oh-so-funky.

From there I moved on to funky purses. First I sewed one for each of the girls. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get my eldest to appear in a group shot with her sisters? I had to guilt her into it... "Mommy worked hard on your purse, the least you can do is pose for a picture." Yes, I'm not above a little manipulation when necessary.)
By the end of the weekend, I'd made five of them.
Since she is one of my oldest blog friends and a loyal commenter (this is no fairweather friend, I tell ya), plus I kinda promised her one a long, LONG time ago, this blue bag is on its way to Gina in California.
But since I was on a roll, I made an extra one and it's up for grabs. Anybody want it? If so, leave a comment and I'll raffle it off to some lucky winner. If you look closely, it's got funky beaded trim at the bottom of the pocket. Plus it has an inside pocket. The strap is long enough to wear it across the chest like a messenger bag. Go ahead - you know you wa-ant it!

A moment in time

Someday, when my children have all grown up and left me for homes of their own, I want to remember what pleasure it once gave me to look in the rear view mirror of my bike and see this...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Interviewed by Liz

Liz sent me some interview questions, and though I've been a little deliquent lately (not to mention sleepy) I finally got around to answering them...

1) You've traveled a lot for work. Is there any one place that you've been to that you would like to take your family and go back for a family vacation?

Do I really only get to name ONE PLACE? Hmmm… There are lots of places that I visit and I think “oh man, I would love to bring Marcel and the girls here some day.” But if I have to narrow it down to one place, I will say the Octagon Safari Lodge in Tanzania. It is a magical place with some of the most gracious hosts you will ever meet at a resort. It is owned by an Irish man and a Tanzanian woman. I didn’t meet the woman (she was traveling at the time), but Rory is absolutely perfect for a place like that. He makes you feel like you are his absolute FAVOURITE guest of the year. His staff are the same. After a long, hot, dusty drive, they greeted us with warm moist towels and glasses of fresh mango juice. It felt a little like what I imagine heaven to be. And the surroundings? Oh my, what can I say? It’s near a lovely Maasai village, just on the edge of the amazing Ngorongoro crater (a dead volcano that you can actually drive into, but we couldn’t because we were in a bus and you need a 4X4). It’s not far away from the Serengetti where we saw the most amazing animals by the hundreds.

Here's a pic of my friend C-L in front of the lovely little cottage we shared at the Octagon.

2) If you had a whole day to do anything you wanted to with no restrictions, what would you do?

A WHOLE DAY? Guilt free? Sounds dreamy! One of the things I LOVE to do, but never can find enough time is simply to wander. Just wander wherever my feet take me. That’s why I enjoy my business trips, because in between meetings, I wander around whichever city I’m in. I think if I had a day to myself, I would find places to wander (maybe by bike and by foot). I would stop to sit in a park to read for awhile, or watch the children or ducks or whatever happened by. I would stop in a lovely cafĂ© for a cup of tea and maybe to write in my journal. Then I would wander some more and maybe end up in a bookstore or art gallery. I’d probably take my camera along and look for some cool artistic shots. At some point, I’d have to end up by water – a stream, river, lake, or even water fountain. I always find myself drawn to water. Perhaps in the evening I would phone my husband or a few of my closest friends and ask him or them to join me in my wanderings and end up somewhere for a late supper and relaxing conversation. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is the PERFECT kind of day to refresh me.

3) How did you come up with your girls' names? Are they named after anyone?

Because Marcel is French, we tried to find names that could be pronounced equally well in both French and English. Nicole and Madeline are just names we both liked, but Julie is the name of my best childhood friend. Nicole and Julie each have one of my names as middle names, and Madeline has Marcel’s Grandma’s name as a middle name.

4) What is your favorite flower?

Hmmm… that’s a tough one. I think I’m most moved by Spring flowers, partly because they are so refreshing after the long, cold, monochromatic days of winter. It’s a toss-up between lilacs and daffodils. I rarely walk past a lilac bush without stopping and burying my face in the blossoms and breathing deeply of the scent. (In fact, one of the daycare workers walked by the other day while I was doing it, chuckled and said "you always hear people saying you should stop and smell the flowers, but it's not often you see someone actually doing it!") And daffodils are just so cheery and “honest”, if that makes sense. (In honour of my dad, though, I have to throw in the lowly dandelion as a runner-up.)

5) How long after you met Marcel did you know he was "the one"?

It’s a bit hard to answer this one, because I really don’t know exactly. I’m not particularly romantic, so I wouldn’t say I ever “fell in love”. It was more like “growing into it”, and at what point I would define it as “love”, I can’t say for sure. It took me awhile, because I’m also not particularly decisive. Plus I knew that I would need to do a fair bit of wandering in my life, and Marcel was more inclined to stay close to home (he's changed somewhat since then). That being said, I knew almost from the start that he made me laugh and that he made me feel “at home”. It just took me awhile to decide that I would be happier with him than without him. He said “I love you” much sooner than I did, but I eventually came around. I think it was probably about a year into our relationship, after we’d broken up twice and gotten back together again. I may not be quick to make decisions, but once I make them, they stick. I couldn’t imagine living without him now. Plus, I’ve been lucky to find wandering opportunities that always bring me back home to my family.
That's it for me. Anyone else want to be interviewed? Leave a note and I'll send you some questions.


Some of the parenting experts seem to think you can "teach your child to sleep through the night." Based on personal experience, I kinda think it's baloney.

One would think that after three children, I'd have perfected the "teaching". Quite the opposite. Sleep patterns got progressively worse with each child. My oldest slept through the night at two weeks and has been doing so consistently ever since. Not much "teaching" involved there.

Maddie, on the other hand, is five years old and still only sleeps through the night about half the time. Sigh. The other half of the time, she gets up in the middle of the night (at least once) and wants to climb into our bed. If I let her, much tossing and turning ensues. Moan. I suppose I didn't do enough "teaching" when she was 2 weeks old.

It's 2:23 A.M. My sleep has been disturbed one too many times. Where are all those parenting experts when I need them?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Three books

I’ve read three books lately that have all had “staying power” in one way or another. I find myself thinking back to all of them now and then. They’ve also all become the kind of books that get mentioned in conversation, as in “I read something in a book once…”

Honeymoon In Purdah – There wasn’t much about this book that would have made me want to snatch it off the bookstore shelves. It’s not particularly well named, nor does the cover design draw me in. Good thing it was referred to me by a friend whose opinion I trust, or I probably never would have read it. I didn't expect to, but I LOVE this book. I devoured it like candy. It’s a memoir of a woman who travels across Iran “just because it’s the only country that scares her, and she doesn’t believe in fear.” Alison Wearing is a seasoned traveler and free spirit. Though she normally travels alone, she takes along her “husband” (who’s really her gay roommate with a fake marriage license) on this trip because it’s the one country she thinks it’s best to travel with a male companion.

Wearing has the most amazing experiences in Iran because she is completely open to them. She lets strangers take her places she would never find if she were merely a tourist. She spends time in people’s homes, and embraces the culture of Iran. In return, she is embraced by almost everyone she meets. Though there are many frustrations with traveling in a country where there are so many restrictions, she learns to embrace even the wearing of the hejab as it allows her a certain freedom to blend in with the locals.

This is the kind of book that should be assigned reading in our high schools. It opens your mind to the humanity that is behind the media stories that taint our views of certain cultures and countries. It shows the many shades of brilliant colour behind what is too often painted as black and white.

Of This Earth – Reading this book felt a lot like spending a relaxed Sunday afternoon at my parents’ kitchen table in the old farm house, listening to my Dad tell stories of his childhood. It’s the story of author Rudy Wiebe’s Mennonite boyhood in the Boreal Forest in Saskatchewan. He grew up in much the same environment as my dad – a place and time where hard work, honesty, and a good singing voice (to belt out the hymns) were the highest virtues.

His retelling is poetic though not romanticized. He paints a stark picture of the harshness of life in those early days on the farm, yet his memory of it is not one of bitterness or judgment. He was clearly molded by the values he was taught by the good, honest people who raised him and watched over him. Though the adult version of him doesn't necessarily understand all of their choices, he honours them for the place they held in his life.

He slips in occasional low German phrases that wouldn’t mean much to the average reader, but were fun for me to try to translate before reading the English. (My low German is weak at best, and since it’s not a written language, his capturing of it was purely phonetic.)

This book has found a warm spot in my heart. I only wish that I could pass it on to my dad.

Running With Scissors – It was rather surreal reading this book after reading Of This Earth. Both are boyhood memoirs, but that’s where the similarities end. While Rudy Wiebe’s upbringing can be defined by the “virtues” that molded him, there is not much in Augusten Burrough’s upbringing that can even loosely be defined as “virtuous”. Augusten Burroughs is quite possibly the most shockingly honest and bold memoirist I have ever read. I’d read one of his later books, and was rather intrigued by it, so when I spotted this one at a thrift store in Toronto, I didn’t hesitate to fork out $1.25 for it.

Most of you are probably already familiar with this one, since it made a fairly big splash when it came out and has already been made into a movie. It’s the story of how Burrough’s mother gave him up to live with her eccentric, free spirited, and morally bankrupt psychologist. Anything goes in this household. Children are allowed to make their own “rules”, even when that includes cutting holes in the kitchen roof to put in a sunroom, or having sex with the psychologist’s adult patients.

Reading this book makes you feel rather voyeuristic, as you peer into the life of the most unusual “family” you can ever imagine meeting. Much of it even borders on the offensive, as Burroughs goes into great detail describing his encounters with the pedophile who lives in the shed behind the house. Despite that, however, it is absolutely intriguing reading what I would consider rather brilliant retelling of a twisted, perverse childhood. Burroughs has a masterful way with words.