Sunday, February 28, 2010

Love Movies

I love good movies. They inspire me toward my goal of someday being back in the film industry, rubbing shoulders with those who create films. I love the spectrum of movie choices out there: some atrocious, others fabulous, and everything in between. Art is not science, and there is a huge range of failure and success. What one person loves, another despises, and that is part of the fascination of this particular art form. Movies are universal. They speak to the soul in a way that for me transcends anything else. The many moving parts of performance, lighting, music, dialogue, story, camera angles and setting are amazing when they really work, transporting you to a totally different world for two hours, and somehow changing you in the process.

I've been writing screenplays on and off for 22 years. Some of my earliest efforts are abysmal, but learning any craft takes a lot of practice and time. Some of my middle attempts show improvement, and could possibly be worked on now and turned into something promising. I am slowly becoming proud of my latest work, not because the writing is stellar on its own merit, but because I have changed. I see the world differently, and have come into myself in a fresh way so I can express my thought process with freedom and transparency. I think with all writing there is a disconnect between how good it is in our mind, and the finished product on the page. I have a growing suspicion that this problem will plague me for the rest of my life, no matter what I choose to write and regardless of how much I improve at the craft. It never seems to be as great as I want it to be. But maybe that's enough. I'll have to settle with what's good enough, and when I have it as polished as I know how to make it, get it out into the world.

We saw The Informant! last night, with Matt Damon. I enjoy Steven Soderbergh's films, and the story of a bumbling FBI whistle-blower was intriguing to me. I loved the dry wit and sensationally cheesy score. Damon was hilarious, with his bushy hair, silly mustache and big glasses. His outraged posture alone was worth a lot of laughs. I've always wanted to write a true comedy but have shied away from it until now, when I have the urge to attempt something genuinely funny. Comedy is the easiest thing to fail at and the most challenging to pull off, because what is funny to one person is ridiculous to the person sitting beside them. It's tricky, like walking a vulnerable tightrope, and yet I have an undeniable urge to jump in and see if I can make other people laugh. It's a good thing to challenge ourselves and attempt what terrifies us.

We are gearing up for our 11th Annual Oscar bash next Sunday night. As I've started telling people when they get an invitation, "It's not possible to invite the same people every year because our family room and kitchen have limited space. It's the same party format each year, with ballots, trivia, concession and prizes, so we open it up to new people so they can experience it. Don't be offended if you get an invitation one year and not the next, it doesn't mean we aren't friends with you, it just means we have limited space." I always worry about hurting people's feelings, but we continue to meet new friends each year who haven't had a chance to experience the Oscar party yet, and we always hope some of our friends will spin off their own version of an Academy Award party since we have to limit our numbers to fit all of the party guests comfortably around the TV. It's my favourite party of the year, hands down. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin should be amusing as co-hosts, and I'm certain James Cameron will provide some love/hate moments, if his last performance for Titanic is any indication. Bring on next Sunday. I can't wait to celebrate my love for movies in a corny awards show setting. That's just how I roll.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good Dads

Dads who are involved with their kids are inspiring to me. My dad, who died 8 years ago this March, was not what I would term a good dad. I know he loved me and my siblings, but was too damaged within himself to express that love in a way that we could understand and access. He was lost to us because of his pain and mental illness. Kids that grow up without a strong dad have a hole in their life. It's a bit like standing on one leg instead of two. You struggle as an adult to find your balance. I had the feminine side of my personality developed due to my mom's daily involvement, but I'm missing the ease that others feel in masculine company. I'm thrilled my kids will know the love of their dad and have no reason to doubt or question it.

Jason came home a little early yesterday, as he does on most Fridays, to make pizza for family movie night. He makes the best pizza in the western world (and possibly the entire world). If I'm ever forced to make it, my crust is all wonky and it doesn't taste at all like his does. It's so great not to have to make dinner on Fridays at the end of the week, especially after a long and stressful week like this one. Then he gets the kids in the bath and ready for bed. I read to William while he reads to Ava, then we trade spots to say goodnight to the other child. I was in the kitchen while he was "cuddling" with William (in William's 3 year old language) last night, and I enjoyed listening to them play various games, hiding Mr. Bear under the covers and popping him up to surprise William, talking about the day, and laughing with each other.

As a child, I never experienced that type of a bond with a man. It's as foreign to me as speaking Swahili. My relationship with Jason has healed many of those old wounds as I learn to be comfortable and accepted by him, but when we have arguments I realize I'm out of my depth; I panic and worry that the jig is up, that he will withdraw from me as my Dad did and I'll be left on my own. I struggle to be at ease with Jason's dad since I have no model for how that daughter-dad relationship is supposed to work. Maybe these things take a lifetime to improve. Every year that we've been married is helping me. Watching our kids interact with Jason makes it better too. It shows me what is possible: children moving into adulthood with the confidence of both sides of the male/female coin in their personalities. They will take it for granted that they have this balanced approach to life, but I am here to teach them compassion for those kids who didn't have the benefit of two involved parents. I would like them to recognize that what they assume is normal isn't the same for every person. That kind of sensitivity goes a long way to understanding the experiences of others.

For now, I'm grateful for the home life we are providing for our kids. We work at our relationship so there is peace and stability as a general rule. When conflicts arise, we can show our kids how to navigate the conflict and resolve it so it doesn't linger. It's never easy, but worth it in the end. As parents, it's important to step back and look at the big picture once in awhile. We don't want to get so bogged down in the details of each day that we forget to see the forest for the trees. Our children are learning from us, every day, how to function in the real world. It's okay to make mistakes, because they are inevitable, but how we handle ourselves in the midst of everyday life is what they will learn and model for their own children.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hard Lessons

I was in an old fashioned, bare-knuckled street fight yesterday. Using words instead of fists doesn't make it any less bloody and painful. I felt outnumbered, ambushed and unprepared, but managed to land a few blows of my own. When I'm backed into a corner, I fight back. I don't like to be pushed around. Never have and likely never will. It's not easy to stand up for yourself when under attack, but the older I get, the more I realize how important it is to do so. I value myself in ways I didn't before, and therefore stand up behind the power of my convictions when I feel there is something worth fighting for. In this case, I wasn't ready for the brawl, but maybe that was better, because my words came from the heart and were not rehearsed in any way.

I'm grateful for my friends, who provided healing balm to tend to my wounds. The support of those you love is worth its weight in gold. It lifts us up when we have been kicked, and helps us navigate our way when we are afraid to continue. To say I'm grateful for my friends is the understatement of the year. People who come alongside and support us when we are at our lowest points are the ones who add the most joy to our lives. We must tell our friends, on a regular basis, how much we love and appreciate them. It's easy to overlook their importance in the good times, but when the chips are down, and you need help, you understand in a whole new light how critical your friendships are to your quality of life. Thank you to those who listened, cared and helped me yesterday. Your contributions were beyond meaningful to me.

This week taught me a lot of hard lessons. I can't predict what's coming. I can't control every aspect of my life. I make mistakes. I need help. No person is an island. We all need each other; we are all connected to each other. Sometimes that's positive and many times it's negative, but it's always a fact. What we do affects others. Our attitudes, our words, our actions all have a daily impact on the people around us. We must walk lightly, with great care and consideration for others. Respect is the oil that keeps relationships smooth. When it's missing, everything seems to sour and people can't get along. These lessons are important for us to learn, but so hard at the time we are learning them. The road I must walk right now is rocky, thorny and unpleasant, but these dark roads lead to change. It's a huge relief to know I'm not alone. To be supported is to be cared for and loved, and it makes a world of difference when you are licking your wounds.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Find My Way Back

Sometimes your responsibilities feel like lead bricks on your shoulders. Yesterday I felt the weight of each brick, heavier and heavier until I could barely stand under them. I wish I hadn't posted yesterday about how we grow in the hard times because I like it better as a theory than a reality. As women, we tend to take on way more than we can reasonably handle, and then feel guilty when we can't manage it all. We all have days where we feel we are drowning in what we have to do. We need air but can't get it without letting someone down. Everywhere I turned yesterday I felt like I couldn't give what was required of me, until the last commitment was done and I let go of some of the tension with a good old fashioned bout of tears.

This morning I feel physically sick and emotionally exhausted. I see clearly that I must draw a line in the sand, mark a point where I cannot cross because I don't have the energy to get back. Last night some friends were trying to give to me, kindly offering to help with my kids in the light of a childcare crisis, and even to make the arrangements with them was a herculean effort that felt defeating to me. Negative energy drains us so quickly. It's critical to surround ourselves with as much positivity as we can, because life is hard.

We are always looking for a work-life balance, but such a thing doesn't exist. It all comes down to choices. We choose how we spend our precious resources of time, energy and money. If we sacrifice in one area, we gain something in another. We don't want to buy into the lie that we can have it all. It's not possible. We must make daily choices to enrich the quality of our lives. When stress overwhelms us, it's time to re-evaluate those choices and see what's working and what isn't. Hard choices will need to be made.

My kids come first. It's easy to say but hard to make the priority when so many other demands crowd in. I have chosen to invest in my kids in these precious early years, and I've never regretted the decision. As women, we need the freedom to wave the white flag when we can't manage it all. Ask for help. Say we are hurting and ask for some grace. It's hard to admit. I prefer my superwoman cape to my white flag. I don't like to let anyone down, but when I feel stronger, braver, and more like myself, I'll be able to hold my responsibilities without staggering under them. Maybe that's the key for women - to help those who need it when we feel strong, so that when we are overloaded, someone will step in to fill the gap for us. In the meantime, I'm going to do for myself what I would advise if a friend told me she was feeling the way I am: rest, cherish yourself, take time and get stronger. Easier advice to give than to take, but the effort must be made so I can find my way back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Knowing Yourself

I've been watching American Idol for years, listening to the judges say the same trite things over and over and not taking any notice of it, but last night their advice to "be yourself" really stood out to me. All of the judges, but particularly Simon, reminded each contestant not to copy other performers, but to discover their own unique personality and be original when on stage. This old advice seemed fresh to me as I understood it in terms of writing. I have been searching for years to find my own voice, to recognize it as mine and own it. We are all on a journey to know ourselves and I don't think that searching ends until our lives are over. Every now and again it's good to turn around and see how far we have come, as progress in life can be incrementally slow.

As I pursue this dream of writing, I am finding my own words and expressing them in my own way. There is no point in beating myself up for wasting valuable writing time at certain points in my life because I wasn't ready before now. We have to be open to discovering what life is trying to teach us. We learn as we age, experience new things, meet different people and understand our beliefs in deeper ways. There is a real freedom to personal change. I hope I never stop changing for the rest of my life. I want to constantly discover new things about myself. To stay the same is to stop growing. Sometimes change is painful and I long for a safe place where life is constant and predictable, but I don't grow much in the easy times. When I look back, the stressful times are where the seeds of change take root, and then they bloom in the sunshine.

There is no point in trying to be like others. Our goal should be to know who we are, and express ourselves without fear of consequences. This is easier to say than to do, as we won't always have the approval of the people in our lives. Coming to terms with this and accepting it is a big part of forming your own unique identity and living as yourself in this world. All of the growing pains are worth it. One day you'll realize that you are deeply rooted in your own personality, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, that you like who you are, and that the struggle to own yourself is one of the greatest accomplishments of your life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box

I got the call on Thursday that I had been dreading for almost a year: the pediatric dentist saying that the kids were due for their 9 month check and cleaning. I had to move them to a specialist dentist after Ava had 2 cavities filled at our family dentist, and she developed a vivid fear by the third appointment that had her shaking and crying when they called her name in the waiting room. It's horrible to see your child so terrified, and know that you are the one to push them to get the necessary work done. She had cavities that needed to be filled, and an overwhelming anxiety that made her cling to me and sob. There was no way she could get the work done at our dentist, so we were referred to the pediatric clinic. My no-nonsense personality wasn't thrilled with this hiccup and I tried telling Ava that in life you have to buckle down, face your fear, and just get the job done, but I've come to slowly realize that with fears that type of advice isn't very effective. You do have to push through at some point, but Ava's experience with the pediatric dentist has taught me that if you think outside the box, you get better results.

Dr. Cam, our kind and fun new dentist for the kids, got Ava to relax by her third appointment with him. He recommended using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) before freezing, and that made all of the difference for her anxiety level. Plus the office is fun and kid friendly. On the negative side, it costs a mortgage payment to get in the door, and I still dread taking them because of what they will tell me as there is always another issue with my offspring's teeth. Yesterday was no exception. The great news is that they were both cavity free (hooray, children's floss since all of Ava's cavities before were between her teeth), but the bad news is that William's broken front teeth from a fall 2 years ago are getting worse in the back, meaning repairs before the root is exposed, and Ava's back molar is growing in at a wonky angle, necessitating a pull of one of her baby teeth and a spacer put in to make room for the adult tooth.

Expensive and inconvenient. Plus I have to jolly my kids along into thinking it's fun to go see Dr. Cam, sit in the chair, open their mouths and have work done to their teeth. Ava is more easily convinced now, but William is a whole other story. Yesterday he was shaking and afraid in the chair when he didn't like the taste of the "toothpaste" or the "teeth vitamins" fluoride. I shamelessly bribed him with a toy if he didn't cry, and he struggled to be brave, but in the end he broke down crying as I knew he would when I saw the firm set of his mouth, and then it required endless encouragement from Mom so the dental assistant could finish the damn cleaning. It's hard emotional work. One day in this lifetime I want to be unable to take them to the dentist and have Jason do it.

It's not an easy thing to convince kids to do something they don't want to do, but they must do. It's the same for all of us. As adults, we just have more experience pushing ourselves to do the dreaded task, confrontation or appointment, but we learned that skill somewhere. I like to think that my kids learn it a little more with every visit to the dentist. Or at least that's what I'll tell myself so I can psych up for their March appointments. Think of what they are learning...good skills for later...oh, screw it, I'll plan to be sick or fall down the stairs or something and make Jason take them in March.

The first Creative Writing course finished last night. I felt really sad to say goodbye to such a great group of writers. My goal was to inspire them all to get writing on a regular basis, and I think that happened. We're trying to spin some writer's groups out of the class as a way to keep the momentum going. I love that feeling of cameraderie that develops in a group to turn strangers into people who enjoy each other's company. Hearing everyone read a bit of what they want to write was so inspiring as every person has a unique voice, and something to say which will enrich the world in a new way. The next class starts March 1st, and is full with a waiting list. Who knew there were so many writers out there? It's like a secret club and now we can all identify each other and relate well to one another. I'm hoping to add more people to this club, see it grow and discover where it will take all of us.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Our lives are made up of ever-rotating seasons. Just when we feel comfortable and settled, the season changes and we must adapt. This is one benefit I have found to getting older - I no longer fear these changes and plan for them the best I can. When my kids are in a great stage, obedient and polite, I enjoy it, but know that around the corner they will be monsters for a little while. When life is calm and organized, I know that soon it will become busy and stressful. It's a bit like a see-saw: we have the ups, the downs and the time it takes to move to and from those positions. In my twenties I used to panic about these changes, but in my thirties I recognize that seasons will come and go, and as I cannot change these cycles from happening, I've come to accept their inevitability.

There is a certain freedom when we let go of our expectations and allow ourselves to be surprised. When things are really bad, we know they won't last forever, as change is always coming. The same is true for the good times. If we had no seasons, we would be far too comfortable in the good parts of our lives. Change keeps us attentive and appreciative of all that we've been given. On my best days, this knowledge helps me to stay in the moment and be aware of what's going on around me. On the worst days, I feel afraid and want to hug the good things close, praying I can keep them just a bit longer. Life doesn't work that way. I'm not in control and every day I get closer to understanding and accepting this truth.

I lived in Los Angeles for a year when I was 19. In many ways, it was one of the best times of my life so far because I was living my dream of studying film and working in the film industry. I know native LA'ers will disagree with me here, but the lack of seasons was disconcerting to me. When you live there, you do find distinct seasons (I remember arriving to University in September and having my friends talk about pulling out their sweaters and winter jackets for the upcoming winter and I thought they were nuts), but in general, year-round the weather was mild and the sun was shining. I lived in the Vancouver area for 13 years after that, and adapted to the lower mainland's two seasons: warm rain and cold rain (I realize this post is not helping my friendships with the BC contingent!). Growing up near Edmonton and now living near Calgary has brought me back to 4 distinct seasons and I really do love the changes. It suits my personality to experience the drama of snow turning to spring, summer turning to fall, and back again. It engenders a fresh appreciation for the joys and frustrations in each season, reminding me of life.

I'm in a good season right now. My kids are fun at almost 7 and nearly 4, Jason and I are in a happy place together, my writing is providing so much satisfaction, I love teaching the Creative Writing class, work is good, friends are good, everything feels like it's going in a positive direction. It won't last forever. But while I'm in this good place I'm going to enjoy it, soak it up so that when the hard times come I will know that the seasons will never stop changing, and I must change and grow with them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anatomy of Friendship

I had a girl's night out yesterday with some relatively new friends. We were all looking forward to escaping our houses and kids for a few hours of conversation and laughs. We planned to go bowling and out for dessert and drinks, but when we got on the road, fog had closed in so tight we couldn't see an inch in front or behind us, so decided to stay in town and go to a local restaurant instead. It didn't really matter what the activity was, we were all just happy to be out and together.

What draws us to some people as friends and repels us from others? Some of it must be personality, and I believe proximity plays a large role, but there is a mystery affinity to certain people which makes us feel connected and comfortable, without any real effort on our part. It's so satisfying to sit with a group of women and have conversation ebb and flow naturally, with every person taking equal part. Last night we had laughter, personal stories, worries, encouragement and many common points of identification as we shared our lives with each other. In 3 hours there wasn't a moment of silence where the 5 of us couldn't think of something to say. That's friendship in its purest form.

I find it difficult to chart the path of friendship; to locate the exact moment someone ceases to be an acquaintance and becomes a friend. I remember vague instances along the path of friendship with the ladies I was with last night, but no one real moment stands out. It's just piece by piece, coffee by coffee, park play date by park play date, and suddenly you call the person a friend. It's always an extraordinary phenomenon.

Friends add so much to our lives. In this Facebook age of 400 electronic friends, our expectations of friendship tend to be different, but it's important to differentiate between acquaintances and friends. You can only manage a small number of true friends at any one time, between your family and work commitments, and friendship takes time to bloom and mature. Like everything in our lives, friendships have seasons where they grow and when they fade. Accepting this goes a long way to feeling satisfied.

We can't really be friends to 400 people on Facebook. It's simply not possible to spread yourself that thin. But we can give of ourselves, at certain times in our lives, to a handful of people who will enrich our lives and add colour to our daily existence. In small-town life, there is a tendency toward jealousy with friends because to some degree, we are all sharing each other's time and company. I think if we open our hearts to each other, accepting that there is room for everyone, it will make our friendships sweeter and more enjoyable all around.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


We watched Frost/Nixon last night, a movie nominated for 5 Academy Awards in 2009. Political movies don't really get my blood pumping, but I do like Ron Howard's work and wanted to see what the fuss was about. I was completely engrossed by the performances of David Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as the reporter David Frost. The interview scenes between them were so intense, you forgot you were watching a dramatization. The actors inhabited their roles so thoroughly, so authentically, that for the viewer they became Frost and Nixon, battling each other as one attempted to hide and one worked to expose.

I was just a toddler when Watergate happened, but I found it painful to watch the movie version of Nixon labouring so furiously to hide what he had done, covering up his illegal activity with a veneer of arrogance and a deep desire to parry and thrust his way through the interview and come out a victor. David Frost was determined to break this arrogant man, to expose what he had done and force a confession that would satisfy the American public.

It made me think of the masks we all wear. It takes so much work to cover up parts of ourselves that we don't want exposed to others. I lived a lot of my life afraid that I would say something to upset people I loved and respected, so I pretended most of the time. I ended up with a split personality, acting one way with a group of new people, and another way with my family and oldest circle of friends. It was an exhausting and inauthentic way to function. When I was pregnant with Ava 7 1/2 years ago, Jason and I went to Europe and stayed with some friends in Devon. Ruth was one of the most authentic people I had ever met. She had struggled with some of the same identity issues and really helped me see that I needed to work at being fully me all the time, in all circumstances, without fear of the consequences.

It was a hard lesson to learn, and one of the best things I've ever done. Slowly, over a long period of time, I began to work toward congruence. If I was willing to swear with my new group of friends, I swore with my old group of friends who didn't approve of such behaviours. I remember the cold feeling of dread I had when I deliberately engaged in this way, saying "damn" or "hell" and letting the chips fall where they may. It seems laughable now because I've come so far, but at the time it was a real relationship risk not to hide anymore; to come into the light of day with all circles in my life and say, "Here I am. This is me. Take me as I am or walk away, but I'm not pretending to be what you want any more."

Watching that movie last night, seeing Richard Nixon trapped within himself, struggling to maintain a lie that he was sick to death of, brought back those feelings for me. I am beyond grateful for the time I spent with Ruth in the UK in 2002, for she showed me the path to authenticity, the freedom to be myself in all circumstances, and I will never go back or live any other way.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Paths & Puzzles

One of my students gave me her novel to read, and it was all about the paths we take in life. Some are paths we shouldn't be on, some are good paths that lead to good places, and sometimes we are on the right path but it has tough climbs that wear us out. The book got me thinking about how interconnected the paths we walk are. We can't see it at first, but when we stop at a summit and look back, we are amazed at how one thing led to another to get us where we are in life. I think of it like a path, but also like a puzzle, where pieces fit in their places at exactly the right time to propel us forward into new challenges and opportunities.

I have been thinking about returning to University for a few years now, but always said that the kids were too small, or found other reasons why I couldn't. In November 08 I felt that the time had come to go back to school. These feelings or instincts come to us when it's time to make changes, and it's important to listen to what they are telling us. I believe it's God directing me, but for others it could be your own conscience or intuition or whatever you'd like to call it. I hadn't been to University since 1992, so it was a big step to go back, and I had no idea how to fit it into my already busy life. I went to the University of Calgary to meet with an advisor and walk around to see if it felt right. It did. I knew it was the next step.

I began writing my screenplay that same month. In the year it took to get accepted and enrolled at U of C, I produced 4 drafts of a screenplay, writing 3 pages per day, and eventually had a product I felt might be marketable. I took my Film 201 course in the fall of 2009, and loved every single Saturday, watching movies and discussing them in detail. I felt like another piece of my writing puzzle clicked into place as I've dreamed of being a part of the film industry since I was 15 years old, and over the course of that film class, something took root in my soul, convincing me that people work every day in the film industry - it's a real job and there is no reason why I can't be a member of that community. It was the last piece I needed to really believe in myself. I am a writer, I am going to sell a screenplay and watch it come to life on the screen, I will pursue my dream and turn it into a reality. It was just an idea before, and now it's become a reality. If I hadn't taken that film class at that moment in time, I wouldn't be writing this today with the conviction I feel.

My church has been another important path/puzzle for me. Our Pastor is not afraid to wrestle with the deep questions of life and faith, and he has brought us along on this quest for truth, stripping away what doesn't matter to reveal the simplicity of God at the core. Jason and I knew with an unshakeable conviction that we were to move to Alberta. There were many practical reasons why we needed a change, but it was a hard move as we left a good life behind in BC. I can see now that part of why we needed to be here was our church. It has helped me find my voice and be confident enough to express myself with no fear of the repercussions. Without my church I'm not sure I would be writing this post today, revising my screenplay again, or submitting an article to parenting magazines. I needed to grow in my confidence, and God gave me a few different avenues in which to do it. Friends have helped too. Encouragement means so much in this journey of life. Give it freely to those in your circle. A kind word when someone is discouraged might be just enough to get them moving again, nudged onto the right path, heading toward change that will stimulate and inspire.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Keeping up with the Jones's

Envy is a big problem in our society. Advertisers work hard to make sure we buy their products by making us feel bad if we don't have something. The slogan, "He who has the most toys wins" is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Wins what? You will never have the most because someone else will always have more. It is a daily fight to stand against the attitude that our worth is tied into our possessions. We are not what we own. The two things are removed from each other. Our value lies in owning our own personality, being fully present in our lives, and the lasting investments are the ones we make in others. Money comes and goes. We have all been prosperous at periods in our lives, and then overspent and felt broke. It happens to everyone, but what can never be taken away is ourselves and our relationships.

Keeping up with the Jones's is a dangerous proposition. Not only is it impossible to compete with people who have more money than we do, it also demeans what we do possess because we think so little of it that we become dissatisfied. It's important to stop comparing ourselves to others. We need confidence in ourselves to enjoy where we live, what we drive, what we wear and what we can afford for entertainment. It starts early as our kids will ask why someone has nicer toys, goes to Hawaii every year or wears designer clothes. Our attitude is important here, because if we grumble to our kids about what others have it sends a message that we are lacking in our lives, and allows for jealousy to grow in them. I tell my kids that it's all about choices. Everyone chooses what to spend their money on. When they are adults they will have to choose as well, and they will be happier if they choose based on what they want and need rather than to compete with someone else. Competition with money breeds misery, debt and envy. I tell them to enjoy what we have, and that if everything we owned disappeared tomorrow, would we still be happy? Have we been investing in the right places or the wrong ones?

The more we own, the more complicated our lives become. We have some big expenses on the horizon with dental work, a new vehicle if the van continues to act up, and some home repairs that could become more urgent. I always panic and get stressed over these things, because it means less money to go around for the fun things, and I have to re-adjust my priorities and remind myself that my life is not the sum of my possessions. My relationships are what counts, and I don't need money to feel connected to people. I hate that money is divisive, but we allow it to divide us. The key is to learn contentment in all circumstances and seasons of life, when things are good or bad, when we feel flush or broke, when we are energetic or tired. Ignore the media's messages that we need the latest outfit, car or RV. Look at what you have been blessed with, and be grateful for what you have. Hold loosely, for nothing is guaranteed to us. If we are willing to have it slip through our fingers, our possessions can never own us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Dreams are powerful things. They motivate and inspire us for action when we feel defeated; they provide hope when we are utterly hopeless. I am a person who dreams big and sets big goals. Sometimes this motivates, and other times it devastates. At the moment I am feeling pressured and crushed by my own dream to write because I realize that I have so much to say, and I worry that I won't get time to say it. I tell myself that my kids won't be little forever, and I should enjoy this phase of life, and I can write for the rest of my life. But it feels like cold comfort when I have so much to communicate right now, this moment, this day - and I can't carve out the time. I hate to wait for anything. I've improved by leaps and bounds in my desire for immediate gratification, but I know I still have a long way to go.

I don't like using my dreams as measuring sticks to see how much time I've already wasted. With writing it really doesn't work like that, because I wasn't ready before. I had to work a lot of rigid religious mumbo jumbo out of my system and boil it down to the basics: Love God. Love others. I had to get away from from the long list of do's and don't's that I was taught in childhood in order to write. Everything I put on paper before the last few years was so forced and cardboard that it became unreadable and of no use to me or anyone else. I feel as though I've been on a lifelong pursuit of truth, and have certainly not found it yet, but in the last 5 or so years I've been on the right path, and only in the last 18 months have I located the courage to communicate that truth. It feels like flying; soaring through life without the handcuffs of fear dragging me down. You can't rush these things. The words weren't ready for me to access before now. It was worth the wait.

Perhaps it all comes down to scheduling. I plan my life to the letter because I have to in order to keep my family life ticking along smoothly. I plan childcare so I can go to work, but I don't like to pay for it for writing because it's costing money without making me any money, and then there is the guilt on top of it because I'd be leaving William again for a few hours. But maybe if I invest a little child-free time in my writing I'd feel better balanced and more satisfied, and that will benefit all of us. We must believe in ourselves. Invest in our talents and really believe that we are worth the investment. As women, and mothers, we give so much of ourselves to others and then wonder why we don't have much left for ourselves. It's not selfish to take time for what gives life to us. Inspiration is a tricky thing that comes and goes - when it visits us we must take time to grab hold and ride that wave wherever it will take us. We're worth it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


We're leaving Canmore this morning after a 2 night getaway with my mom for the Family Day long weekend. In about an hour we'll have the van packed, make a Timmy's stop for coffee and breakfast, and be home before lunch so my mom and I can return to work. Ava has a week off from school, so the holiday mode will continue for her while regular life resumes for the rest of the family (William is off preschool too, but at 2 mornings a week for 2 hours at a time, it's hard to count that). I am a creature of routine, so the idea of returning to regular life is not bothersome to me, but I realized again this weekend how hard it is for me to give myself permission to relax and recharge, and how necessary it is.

I brought my writing binder with the idea that in these 2 days away I was going to finish my article on the 10 things I want my kids to know, my screenplay which is ready for it's newest draft based on feedback from my friend in the film industry, a book which one of my students wrote that I want to read for her, and about a million other things I hoped to accomplish during the get-away. Somewhere along the line while packing I forgot that we were going away for Valentine's and Family Day. When you have a 6 year old and a 3 year old with you, there is very little free time. They are always clamoring for the pool and hot tub, or to play pool, or go for an adventure somewhere. I slept badly the first night, usually do when I'm away, so yesterday when William had a 2 hour nap I planned to write. I ended up sleeping instead. I told myself that I would lay down for 30 minutes and still have most of his nap time to write before we went into Canmore to putter around and eat dinner (which ended up being an adventure in itself as family dining is scarce in Canmore and when we ended up in Banff at Phil's it was closed, causing van-wide devastation). I'm sure you could write the rest of this paragraph because once I laid down, I dozed on and off for the whole 2 hours and it felt fantastic, after I talked myself through the guilt that I was wasting time.

I like my hard-charging, ambitious personality. For the most part. Without it, I would get very little accomplished. But the downside is that very often I'm missing life as it is happening around me. I'm not stopping to look around, feel what I feel, and experience the moment that I'm standing in. I recharge my cell phone without thinking about it, giving it a nice, long break to be plugged in and silent. I must do the same for myself. I need continual reminders that if I don't get it done today, I've got tomorrow and the next day. Taking care of my health and my family is my top priority; adding to my own list of accomplishments falls further down the list. It's a delicate balance that must be maintained. Without regular breaks to play and enjoy life, I won't actually enjoy the fruits of my labours.

When I am on vacation, I want to use my free time to the fullest to get the most done, but the get-aways that I remember with the most fondness are the ones where I rested and soaked up my leisure time, as a battery stores energy, for the challenges ahead. Life is short. We have today to enjoy, to absorb, and to make memories that will warm us whenever we choose to recall them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning by Example

We are in Canmore for the Valentines/Family Day weekend. It's gorgeous here in the heart of the Rocky mountains, with a light dusting of snow covering the ground this morning like icing sugar. The temperature is mild and we spent the day yesterday in Banff, having an impromptu restaurant lunch, an afternoon Starbucks latte, and a visit to the candy store for Pez dispensers which made both kids as happy as could be. It's a beautiful thing to putter with no real agenda. We walked in and out of the pricey boutiques, oohing and aahing over items and praying William wouldn't break anything we'd have to pay for. We brought my mom with us, and it's always so fun to watch grandparents hanging out with their grandkids. We just found out that Jason's mom, sister and her baby are coming in early March to meet us at this resort in Canmore for a weekend visit, so that's something else to circle on the calendar and look forward to.

We had an hour or so to kill before check-in time, so we drove up to Mount Norquay just outside of Banff to show the kids the ski hill. Jason took Ava to Calgary Olympic Park on Saturday for her first-ever snowboard lesson. Over New Years at Jason's family's cabin Ava stood up on the toboggan and took numerous rides, yelling, "Look at me snowboard!" so we figured the time had come to get her on a real snowboard and see how she liked it. She loved it, as we both knew she would. It was fun for her to see lots of snowboarders yesterday at Norquay, whizzing down the mountain and coming to a stop beside us. My mom used to ski a lot and expressed her longing to get back onto the mountain. I realized that I used to love doing it too, but damn my perfectionistic personality that always wants to be the best at everything. The idea that I haven't skiied in a long time and won't excel at it has a tendency to stop me. Here I am trying to inspire my kids to try new things, telling them that they have to practice something new over and over again to improve at it, and yet I find it so hard to take my own advice.

I have already seen Ava struggling with this, wanting to quit something that she hasn't mastered yet, and I see myself; my own fear. It is much easier to teach Ava to persevere through something she is afraid of than do it myself. I must push myself to try things I am not good at, for that is the only way I will learn. And I don't have to be the best at everything. We are determined to go skiing as a family next year. I suppose I have the next 9 months or so to work on my attitude, to accept that perfection is not the goal. Risk is. Trying new things, being open to new experiences. I must model this for my kids so it becomes natural to me. Children learn much better from example than from words.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Valentines

I love my family. My husband, my kids, my extended family. I am blessed to have so much love and fun in my life. I have been telling Ava for years (and I'm just starting in on William) to choose her marriage partner with the utmost care and attention, as that decision will inform the daily quality of her life, for better or for worse. I believe that emotionally healthy people attract the same type of people, and the reverse is also true. If you are struggling with your identity and self esteem, you will tend to bring people into your life who are at the same level, and then you open yourself up to an unhealthy relationship built on manipulation and control. Building a strong identity, supported by confidence in yourself, is the single best thing my kids can do for themselves to ensure healthy friends and a great marriage partner. With every breath I have I will encourage them in this vein so they can find what I have found: a good and true spouse who is loyal, loving and honest. Our relationship is a safe haven in a turbulent world.

I met Jason at a huge Pentecostal church young adult gathering in Vancouver in 1996. We hit it off immediately, flirted a little, and exchanged phone numbers. In one of our early conversations, he mentioned that he had just graduated, and I asked him from which University. When he said, "High school," I just stared blankly at him. I was 23 and he was 18. That's a big age difference at that point in life. He has always looked older than he is. I told myself we would still have a date, it would be a summer fling and nothing more. On our first real date, steak dinner at the Keg and an abysmal movie (The Truth About Cats & Dogs), we just clicked. It was instant, and it didn't take long for me to realize that it wasn't going to be a fling. I was falling fast, and hard, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Love is a miracle, in any form. It combats negativity, breeds hope and joy. You learn about love in your family of origin, for better or worse, and you continue to understand it throughout your life. I fell hard for Jason, and felt the same overwhelming, weak-in-the-knees emotion when I stared at my newborn baby's faces in the hospital. It grabs you, takes root somewhere deep in your soul, and never lets go of you. In its purest form, love connects and heals. That's why it's so important to work on your emotional health, to own it and improve it, so that when love comes to find you, it's possible to surrender completely to it. If you hold part of yourself back, you won't appreciate the full benefits of what love can offer you. Abandon is required, but you must abandon to the right person, and be able to make that choice from a healthy place.

Happy Valentine's Day. I wish for everyone to find love in their life today. Friends, family, neighbours, workplace buddies. Love is all around if you look for it and open yourself to its possibilities. We are heading to Canmore today for a 2 night getaway with my mom and the kids. I look forward to celebrating Valentine's Day and Family Day with those I love.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mother Bear

When I picked Ava up from school yesterday, she had a raised, red welt on her chin that looked like bad rugburn. When the van door opened and I saw it, I asked what had happened. She climbed up into her seat, dumping her backpack and ski pants on the floor, and told me she fell on the ice at snack recess. I asked her for a few more details, and immediately noticed the tell-tale signs that she was upset but trying to hide it - the trembling chin, lips pursed, eyes wide. She said, "At morning announcements they said we all had to share forts. We weren't supposed to keep people out. At snack recess I tried to go into one and this boy in grade 5 pushed me out and I fell on the ice." I reached out my hand to grab hers and the floodgates opened, releasing pent up tears that my 6 year old girl had kept inside all day, but I knew they were waiting right under the surface to be freed.

She cried, and I held her hand and told her it was okay. We both ignored William's request to get moving. When the tears were finished, we talked some more about what happened. Ava went to the supervisor right away, with a group of her friends around her asking if she was okay, and the supervisor suggested she go to the office for an ice pack. She did this, with a friend, and the principal came over to find out what had occurred. Ava told the story again, the grade 5 boy was brought inside to apologize, and Ava went back to her class. I told my daughter how proud I was of her for going to the supervisor and being brave enough to ask for help (a lesson I could learn from her). We can't always manage things on our own and need to admit that, to ourselves and others, and allow for reconciliation when someone has hurt us.

I told her all of these things, and I believed them, but I also had to fight down an overwhelming urge to find this boy and head over to his house with a golf club. How dare some kid who is 4 years older push my little girl, scaring and hurting her? The mother bear instinct that lives inside of all mothers is a fierce thing. It needs very little provocation to start an attack when our young is threatened. I know that Ava will have to deal with this kind of thing many times over in childhood, and again in adulthood, and I know it is my job to help her develop skills to manage such situations, but if that grade 5 boy had been standing in front of me yesterday afternoon, there would have been big trouble.

I called the school when I got home and talked to the principal, commending her on the job that was done by the school to ensure Ava's safety and urge the boy to apologize. The principal would've called me if I hadn't called her, and she was so complimentary about how Ava handled herself throughout, and assured me that the boy was very sorry and the ice made the whole situation worse. She said that the boy wrote a letter to his parents explaining the incident, and stayed in the office from snack recess until the closing ceremonies for the Reading Olympics as part of his discipline. Of course, I was glad to hear that bullying in any form is taken seriously, and it could've been my kid in the discipline position instead of the victim spot, so compassion is required on all sides. I was proud of the school and proud of Ava, but reminded again of how deep the instinct runs to protect our sweet children.

On an unrelated note, we thoroughly enjoyed the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics last night. It seems marginally ridiculous to spend $40 million on one big show when there are people starving in the world, but compared to the $300 million spent in Beijing, it's a drop in the bucket. I thought the show captured the essence of Canada. I loved Donald Sutherland's voice-overs, the poem about what it means to be Canadian, and the virtual floor breaking into ice and then water were the highlights for me. It's a shame the door malfunctioned for the 4th arm to rise to light the cauldron, because otherwise the event was flawless, and I know if it was my job to oversee it, I would obsess about the mistake instead of celebrating the many successes. I think we managed to impress the world. It's exciting that the eyes of the world are focused on our beautiful country, and particularly on Vancouver. After living in Langley for 13 years, I feel connected to these Olympic games in a special way. It is a wonderful thing to be a Canadian. Go Canada Go....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Perception vs. Reality

Perception is not reality. I was reminded of this yesterday at our Mothers of Preschoolers group. I circulated around the room, chatting and laughing with people. A few new moms came in, nervous and unsure, and I was able to help one with her paperwork and get her settled at her table, and escort another one around to the various child-care rooms to drop off her kids and help her find a place where she'd be comfortable. The experience reminded me of how uncomfortable I felt for the first 6 months or so at this group. I was new to town, had 2 small kids, no friends, and wanted to fit in. I remember hanging up my coat and standing alone in the foyer, looking around at the pockets of women talking, desperate to find anyone to glom onto and try to forge a friendship with.

I realized yesterday, with a jolt, that new people likely look at me at our Mothers group and see someone who fits in, is friends with everyone, and belongs. In some ways it's true, especially compared to how I felt for the first year I attended. This is my third year now, and I have made some friends, slowly over a period of time, and I do feel like I belong, especially since I've been on the Steering Team for the last 2 years. However, the people I perceived to be so popular in my first year of attending and wouldn't dream of talking to, I've come to know them a bit and my perception wasn't reality. It seldom ever is. I think that we make up a world, especially when we feel on the outside, and we imagine that everyone happily gets along inside of that fairy-tale place where we don't belong. It simply isn't true. We are all women trying our best, with strengths and weaknesses, to be friendly and have friends, and there are plenty of personality conflicts along the way that those looking from the outside in won't see. The people on the outside feel that there is an inner circle, but such a thing doesn't really exist, and if it does, the inner circle is just as insecure as the outer circle, they just work harder to hide it.

Every once in a while we all need to check the reality against our perceptions. It takes a lot of work to fit into a large group, particularly one made up solely of women, because so often women are trying to put forward an image that doesn't match with reality. In essence, we often try too hard. I was aware of this yesterday for myself - in a way I was "working" the room, and it wasn't until later that I realized how this must look to new moms or women who are naturally shy and feel left out. I have an extroverted personality so it comes much easier for me, but it still requires effort. There are many people I still don't know in our group, a small number I am proud to call friends, and many who are genuinely nice but due to time constraints or personality differences, we are acquaintances and not friends. That's okay. It's simply not possible to be friends with everyone, but I want to work at bringing in the ladies who feel they are on the outside, the ones who probably think I have a million friends in the group and therefore they would never approach me. We don't want to get too comfortable in our safe havens. We must reach out to those who are struggling to find their place in these large social situations. It's important to remember how our actions are perceived, and to remind ourselves that the perception may feel like reality to others.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hate Exercise

I hate exercise. I mean deep down, in the bottom of my soul hate. Despise. Abhor. I can't even say, with any shred of truth, "I don't love doing it but I love the results." How bad do you hate something when the results don't affect your feelings one way or the other? Jason's parents gave us a Wii for Christmas and I got a Wii personal trainer game (being too cheap to shell out the big bucks for the Wii Fit), used it 3 times a week for the last month, and can see results in my body. For a little it motivated me to continue, but I hate the actual process of the exercise so much that I can find a million reasons why I should put it off.

Physical fitness is an area I've always struggled with in adulthood. As a kid, I was naturally active, skinny as a beanpole and didn't think about eating or exercise at all (oh, how I miss the teen years, when I'd clean our church with my best friend and we'd go to 7-11 repeatedly for slurpees, chips, chocolate bars, Twinkies...anything that caught our fancy, and just eat and eat). In University I gained the Freshman 10 eating on campus and it didn't bother me at all. When I got pregnant with Ava I gained 50 lbs, then had her and lost nearly all of it my first year postpartum. I didn't work at it - I just lost it chasing after her, going to the park, shopping, etc. Then came William. I gained 50 lbs again, and when he was born he didn't breathe immediately and was whisked away to have his airway suctioned. Jason and I waited breathlessly to hear if the baby was a boy or a girl, and it seemed to take forever for him to cry. There was the quiet murmur of our midwife and the nurses trying to get him to breathe, and then that lovely first cry, and then this made it's way around the room, "11.2? Does that scale say 11 lbs 2 oz?" All this before I heard he was a boy. And a very big boy. Nothing wrong, no gestational diabetes, no juvenile diabetes, just tubby and well fed in utero.

Getting rid of the baby weight after William has been an ongoing fight. I know I'm not alone in this battle, after talking to many girlfriends. It's frustrating that the first baby weight came off without really working at it, because I feel entitled to that process again. But age makes a difference, and the baby makes a difference, and the amount of energy we have as moms with one child versus two, or more. It's not easy, but I want to be as healthy as I can be for myself and for my family, and that includes the dreaded exercise. Jason is inspiring in this way because he works out in our basement virtually every morning. There are just so many other things I would rather be doing with my time. I heavily resent the idea of giving an hour (or more when you count the changing of clothes, stretching, showering, etc) to sweat, breathe heavily, and invest in something I don't enjoy but believe to be good for me in the long run.

When the weather gets warmer I'll get outside again. The only exercise I really enjoy is a walk/run combination when I'm alone, because my mind can be as empty or as full as it wants to be. I also work out a lot of screenplay story issues on these solitary journeys. I probably noticed more immediate results from the Wii exercise, but it is so loathsome to me that I must extend myself some grace and just do what I can do (William getting in my way and asking me what I'm doing every 5 seconds might have something to do with how much I hate it). Baby steps are required when doing something hard. I know that exercise must become a higher priority for me, I just have no idea how that will practically look in my weekly schedule. Thankfully, I have time to figure these things out. I'll do the best that I can with the time that I have at this moment. One day William will be in Kindergarten, and I can exercise then, if I don't find something more pressing to do.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Working Moms

It's hard to be a working mom. The title itself is a misnomer, because every mom is a working mom, and it's the hardest job out there. Being a mom means a constant and steady physical, mental and emotional workload that wears you down with it's never-ending demands. It's very hard to shut down, unplug and relax. And then there is the guilt that we must wrestle with; the worry that we aren't doing enough, that Jane down the street is doing a better job with her kids, that we are falling behind somehow. Worry is a useless exercise. It's much better to put our energy into what we can control than what we can't. In my mind I understand this quite clearly, but emotionally I struggle with mothering guilt more than I'd care to admit.

Yesterday I longed for the simplicity of life before I added an outside job. Working outside of the home for a mom provides many positive things - income, freedom, independence from kids for a few hours, and new challenges which stretch us and help us grow. My job provides all of these things and more. The downside is less time to accomplish what you need to do at home for your family (and give up chances to grab a few minutes for yourself), having a boss to answer to, and added stress of thinking about your workload when you are already stressed by the 24/7 nature of the work required with your kids.

Every day that I get Ava to school, William to his dayhome and myself to work, is a day I breathe a sigh of relief because I feel like I pulled a fast one. I made it. But at any moment, any link in the chain could fall and I've got to figure out another way to get my work done. If either kid is sick, I'm calling my boss and working from home, hoping that's not going to cause any issues at work that day. If my dayhome provider is sick or away (or her kids are sick), it's the same thing. And even when it all clicks into place and we are where we are supposed to be on those work days, the phone could ring any time and I could be summoned to drop what I'm doing and go get the sick kid or tend to whatever emergency has cropped up. Such is the job description of the mother. It happened yesterday to a couple of friends, a chain reaction of events bringing a mom home from work early to collect her kids, and it made me think of how lucky the dads are to have a singleminded approach to their work, and that ability to focus on their job is because of the stress that the moms feel to be sure the kids are always taken care of.

I love my kids and don't wish them to be out of my life so I can have some more "me" time. I know sometimes it sounds like that here. But I can't deny that my favourite time of the day is bedtime for my girl and boy, when they are fresh from their bath, cuddly in their pj's, and we are reading stories and singing songs. I love the routine of it, but I also love the idea that I will be off for a few hours in the evening to relax and unwind and enjoy the sound of adult voices only, and I won't worry that the phone will ring and I'll be needed to fix a problem somewhere. We are all safe, cozied up in the house, and together. I've pulled a fast one and made it through another day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blog Update

This is my 24th post since I began blogging daily. I worried initially that I would run out of things to say, but I'm amazed that the more I say, the more there is to discuss. I feel like I am truly looking at the world with a new set of eyes, and I like what I see with this new vision. Everywhere I look I want to describe what I see, feel and experience. I have discovered that I feel passionate about many things that I didn't take the time to notice before this writing experiment. I know people won't always agree with my opinions and positions, and I've had to come to terms with that realization. It's okay. Different ideas make the world interesting. I hope you will consider my ideas as I will strive to understand where you are coming from. I told the writing class last night that you must take a position and stand behind it as a writer; communicate what you believe and feel passionate about, but have the flexibility to know your opinions can change. Six months from now I might feel differently about many of the things I'm writing on today, and that's okay. I'll describe the changes and explain them.

The 2nd writing class went well last night. It's inspiring to see people building their confidence in themselves. It's so important to keep your confidence high for any creative pursuit, and then add in the discipline of actually setting aside time to do the work of writing, and you'll be off to the races. I talked about Anne Lamott's wonderful writing book, Bird by Bird, and also brought up Stephen King's best writing advice, which is to write "word by word." It comes down to writing one word after another until you have finished what you want to say. A lot of discipline is required. Inspiration and no discipline means you'll get very little accomplished, but the reverse is true as well. You can be disciplined to sit down and write every day, but the writing will be flat if there is nothing inspiring you. We talked last night about how hard it is to find time to create, but it's a necessary part of the process. You can only talk about writing for so long before you must sit at your computer or with your pad of paper and do it. I was reading a magazine last night before bed and there was a picture of a celebrity dinner to raise funds for Haiti. A sign in the background proclaimed, "The time is now." That's how I feel about writing at this stage of my life.

I want to thank those of you who have been journeying on this road with me for the last few weeks. Hearing your comments here, on Facebook, e-mail and in person has meant more to me than I can express. It has been my longest dream to write professionally. This blog is helping me move with confidence toward that goal, to develop a body of work I can point people to, while I continue to pursue my screenwriting dreams and submit other writing work for publishing consideration. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support. I'd like to increase my readers, so please feel free to pass the word along to your friends. Since writing is a solitary pursuit, feedback from others means so much and provides necessary inspiration to continue. When something I have to say means something to you, we've made a connection and it means I am on the right track. Thank you for reading.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I used to dismiss people's concerns about aging, saying something flip like, "You can't do anything about it, so why waste time worrying?" Ah, the smug responses of those who don't understand where someone is coming from because I haven't experienced it yet. When I turned 30, my friends asked how I felt about it and I laughed, assuring them I felt great, age is just a number, blah blah blah. I was pregnant with Ava and the next stage felt exciting with nothing to worry about. At 35 I was asked again if I was concerned, and I genuinely said no. I felt young, happy, settled and hopeful.

I turned 37 in December, and for the first time I began to think about aging. I looked down at my hands one day and realized they were looking old and lined where they hadn't before. I'd drive around town, see a senior shuffling along the sidewalk with a cane, and my throat would constrict a bit at the idea that I would be there someday, and that day was coming much sooner than I'd like. When I tell that to friends, they laugh, reminding me that 37 is hardly 75, but I whip out my calculator (I'm horrid at mental math) and inform them that I'm halfway there.

I never thought much about death before this year, but it seems to cross my mind more now than I would care to admit. And it's not just death, it's fear of my body failing me, letting me down and betraying me. Being young truly doesn't last forever. On the good days, I'm aware of the benefits of aging, like knowing myself, having confidence, accomplishing things in my life that I am deeply proud of. I also know somewhere in my mind that aging gracefully is beautiful, and that there is no alternative to getting older. It's happening to everyone at exactly the same rate, and there is some comfort in that.

But then there are the bad days, when I'm outright terrified of becoming old and looking back at my life instead of forward. I think I began to worry about this at 37 because I am so damn satisfied with my life. I love the age of my kids - almost 7 and almost 4 - my relationship with Jason, our friends, our town, our life. I want to freeze frame all of it, encase it in amber, hold on tight and somehow prevent this wonderful stage from passing into history. It's not possible to stay here in this good place. Tomorrow will become another tomorrow, which will turn into a year from now and I'll be looking back, saying, "Remember when?" It hurts to realize this truth, but there is no escaping it. The kids are growing up, and we are all moving forward. A woman I know once told me that every stage her kids are currently at is her favourite stage. I love this and vow to look at my kids this way; not pining for what is gone but enjoying them as they are in the current moment.

We saw Avatar this weekend and one line went deep into my soul and provided a sweet comfort as I wrestle with the issue of aging. One of the characters said, "All energy is borrowed and must be returned someday." Life does not belong to me. I believe it belongs to God; I see myself in the palm of His hand. In the same way, my kids do not belong to me. They are God's, and someday all that we are must be returned. What we are guaranteed is this moment, to engage all of our senses, to be fully alive, and to create memories that will live on beyond us.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hat's Off for Avatar

Jason and I got our wonderful babysitter yesterday afternoon and went to see Avatar in 3D IMAX. It was the first movie I've ever seen in IMAX and it was definitely the best choice to introduce the medium of that immense wrap-around screen. Avatar has been in wide release for nearly 2 months, and every weekend IMAX showing was sold out (except for 10 am and 12:30 am). We bought our tickets online on Tuesday when our babysitter confirmed, got to the theatre 30 minutes before our showtime, and faced a huge lineup. Amazing that 2 months and 2 billion dollars later, Avatar can still draw enthusiastic, sold-out crowds.

It's been a long time since we've been in a movie theatre where every seat is filled and the air crackles with excitement before the lights dim and the first frame flickers to life on that massive screen. Everyone donned their enormous polarized IMAX glasses (which we were politely warned to return at the end of the show or an alarm would sound!) and settled back, munching popcorn, waiting to be transported to another world for 2 hours and 42 minutes. It's one of my favourite moments; waiting for a film to start, for the magic to begin. From the opening shot, I was transfixed, glued to my seat with wonder at the visual banquet James Cameron and his crew had prepared for me.

I read numerous articles in Entertainment Weekly and People about Avatar before I saw it, and yet I managed to go in knowing virtually nothing about the big blue creatures and this ignorance of the plot greatly enhanced my viewing pleasure. For the handful of people left on earth who have yet to see the film, I promise not to reveal any major plot points, but the themes are so sharply drawn, they had a deep impact on me. A friend who urged me to see the movie told me recently that the film, "Bordered on environmental worship", and James Cameron has freely admitted being a "tree hugger" during his press tour. I saw the themes as broader - corporations vs. communities, automation vs. nature, and power steamrolling over people. I don`t understand why Cameron has been so harshly criticized for his message in this movie. If you are going to invest 15 years of your time into a film, why the hell shouldn`t you have it communicate something important to you?

Avatar is a masterpiece. People who know film are saying it will change forever the way in which movies are made, similar to the advent of colour and sound. James Cameron may have made a fool of himself during his Golden Globe speech by congratulating the whole room on being Captains of the Universe, but he did hang his entire reputation on this movie as writer, director and producer. This project was his vision from start to finish. He took the heat when the budget got out of hand and when early photos leaked and he was mocked for his large blue beings. Then the movie was released, and he silenced everyone and made box office history in the process. He seemed to be the biggest nerd in the room at the Golden Globes, a science geek who finally found a space at the lunch table with the cool kids, and he went over the top trying to impress them. Before I saw Avatar, I despised Cameron for his ridiculous speech where he patted himself heartily on the back. Today I feel kindlier toward him, for having the courage to make this movie in his own way, delivering a message important to him, creating entertainment of the highest value, and breaking all box office records. My hat is off to you, James. I can't wait to see what you make next.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Safe Place

We had some friends from church over last night for pizza, dessert and discussion. We call it homegroup, but it's really more like friends getting together for an evening. The conversation generally turns into a lively back-and-forth about some aspect of faith that one of us is reconsidering. I love the freedom in our church to look at old ideas with new eyes; to see if those ideas still have value with what we now believe to be true about God. Ideas must be fluid, free to change and develop as we do. When we stay the same, we stagnate. Life is about risk. It's a risk to change aspects of what you believe (as a kid I was taught that my beliefs should be iron-clad and not change, so learning the freedom to alter what I thought to be true has been a long process) but a necessary one to keep life fresh and interesting.

Last night we wrestled over a variety of issues, ranging from why Jesus went away from crowds to be with his Father (was it taking personal time? Was Jesus peopled out? Did he want to be with the one who loved him most?) to asking if God knows every event that will happen to us ahead of time, or is there some freedom to make human decisions and does God react to some of the things we do? We had varied opinions on these questions. For me, the answer wasn't as important as the freedom to ask the questions, and still be secure in my faith and my relationship with God.

I love my small community of faith in Calgary. I can be real and true and not only be acceptable to others, but loved for who I am. We don't need to know the right answers, we just need to be open to asking new questions, consistently interacting in a genuine way with one another. It gives life in a way I haven't experienced before. My church and my homegroup have provided a safe place to jump off into the world with my soul intact and fully belonging to me. I own my thoughts, beliefs, frailties and strengths; they are mine. I believe God accepts me fully as I am, partly because I've felt that embrace from people and it rings true.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Created Equal

I'm reading an excellent book called The Help, about life in 1962 Mississippi for 3 different women. The book has been featured in many reading groups and the author, Kathryn Stockett, has meticulously researched every detail to make you feel like you are in that world, every time you turn a page. It's an extraordinary writing debut, all about the hard won battles of the civil rights movement. It's 1 inch forward, then back, then slowly forward again in the fight for equality. The basic plot centres around a white woman writing a book of interviews given by black maids. The writing sessions must be kept extremely secret as jail, beatings, job losses and death are a few of the consequences of the races mixing socially for any reason. There is a sense of danger on every page. I'm only halfway through and I don't want the book to end.

It makes me think about all the ways we have improved in our society, and the ground we still have to cover. I am so grateful that my kids live in a world radically different from 1962 Mississippi, in that they accept people much easier, and have no reason to think skin colour makes any difference to the worth of a person. We all have Martin Luther King and many other unsung heroes to thank for that. People who risked their safety, their family and their lives for equality. For me, growing up in Alberta in the 70's and 80's, there was a lot of social racism against Native Canadians. I thought that was a normal attitude and accepted it without question. In my 20's and 30's I had to work through this superior attitude and was ashamed that I would ever think myself better than anyone.

I love that my kids are closer than I was at growing up to be colour blind and gender blind. They see families that work in all sorts of different ways - single parents, working mothers, stay-at-home dads and everything in between. As a child, I thought all men worked and all moms stayed home. My kids will have tolerance for the fact that everyone's situation is different and it's okay to make your own way in the world. I want them to love and accept people as a matter of course, without excess qualifiers - male or female, gay or straight, any skin colour at all - we are all just people, doing the best we can in the world. If we don't look down on one another and feel ourselves superior, life will be easier in every possible facet.

The only way I know to teach this is by example, with lots of conversation sprinkled in. William went through a phase last year where he would see advertisements with dark-skinned people and he would say, "I don't like that person." When Ava went through that phase, I panicked and thought I had failed her in some way and she was growing up to be racist. I think it's just that they don't understand and need to be taught how to respond, like everything else. So I asked William why he didn't like the person, and he said, "They are different" and then I explained that it's good to be different, if we were all the same the world would be a very boring place. We had this ongoing discussion for about 6 months, and a few weeks ago I was volunteering at Ava's school and William and I walked down the hall to the bathroom. We passed a couple of boys and one of them had dark skin. William said, loudly of course, "That boy has dark skin and it doesn't mean anything. Everybody is different and it's okay." The boy smiled at him and I gave a small sigh of relief. The lessons are slowly making their way to the core of my kids. I'm so glad they don't have to wait until they are adults to really know that we are all created equal.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Growing Up

Being a general reality TV junkie and therefore an American Idol fan, I bought Carrie Underwood's most recent album, Play On, with Christmas money, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. William's favourite song is Underwood's main hit from the record, Cowboy Casanova. We've been listening to it a lot in the van, and he rocks out, as much as he can in his 5 point harness car seat, and asks me to tell him about the words. I launch into a detailed explanation of the lyrics, "He's a good time cowboy casanova leanin' up against the record machine/looks like a cool drink of water but he's candy coated misery/he's the devil in disguise, a snake with blue eyes/and he only comes out at night/he'll give you feelings that you don't want to fight/you better run for your life." I tell my 3 year old son that he doesn't ever want to be described like this, that he wants to treat people with respect and think of others before himself. William's thoughtful answer to my parenting wisdom rotates between yelling, "turn it up!" and "play it again so I can dance!"

I picked Ava up from school today while the song was playing, and as it was the first time she'd ever really heard it, I gave her the same explanation. Since Ava has been about 3, I've been regularly drilling into her head that the most important decision she will ever make in her life is her choice of a marriage partner (when William turned 3 I began the same brainwashing campaign, but since he believes he will grow up to marry me, the lesson has yet to really sink in). Who you choose to marry and have children with creates your daily quality of life, for better or worse. It can be hell or bliss or somewhere in between, but the only thing you control is your choice of who that person is, and it's by far the biggest decision you'll ever make. Given Ava's young age, so far I've focused on 2 things - he must be kind, and as her parents we get a say in the man she falls in love with, and she must listen to us. I make her repeat this back to me, which she does dutifully as though I've just asked her to clean up her room or eat her vegetables. I figure it can't hurt to get this advice as deep into her soul as possible. I want it to lodge there, and subtly inform her dating decisions.

We listened to the song while driving to Sparks, parent-teacher interviews, and home. After bath, watching American Idol auditions while eating with 3 spoons from a pint of Ben & Jerry's most fabulous cookie dough ice cream, stories, prayers, songs and a goodnight kiss for each child, I sat down to write and relax. In a bit I heard sniffling from Ava's room and went to investigate. When I asked her what was wrong, she burst into tears and confessed to being terrified of the bad, scary man in the cowboy song, and she didn't ever want to hear it again. I tried to explain that he wasn't scary in the way she was visualizing, with a menacing sneer and his fists rolling around by his chin, but rather a slick, good looking movie star type in a tuxedo, selfish and deeply in love with himself. I told Ava that the song used really graphic, strong language to emphasize an important point - it's easy to fall in love with men like that, who will not be kind to you, and they offer a lifetime of regret. The smartest thing you can do when you meet one is to instantly walk away.

At some point during my passionate discourse I realized that my sweet daughter is 6 years old, in that magical time between the naivete of Grade 1 and the more blunt realities of real childhood. I must work harder to be attuned to her sensitivities and needs. She is growing up, developing the ability to think meaningfully about lyrics, books, coversations and movies. She couldn't possibly understand the intricacies of relationships described in the song Cowboy Casanova. Based on the lyrics, which I wrongly assumed she wasn't really listening to, her mind constructed a frightening image of a horrible man who will hurt you. Not a red-letter parenting moment, to be sure, but we did talk for a long time about what she could replace that scary mental picture with (my favourite of her suggestions involved her and Padme Amidala from Star Wars palling around with each other) and I think she went to sleep with a clear conscience, glad she had shared her fears with me. I pray she continues to talk to me and that I will have the skills to guide her through much tougher situations than the one we faced together last night.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I'm learning slowly about managing my expectations. It's like most processes in life - one step forward, a couple backwards, and eventually making progress in the right direction again. Jason came home early yesterday afternoon (nearly giving me heart palpatations as I didn't hear the garage door open and was calmly eating lunch when he opened the door and walked in) to work from home since he flew out to Victoria this morning for a business trip. He said he wanted to see me and the kids, and I was touched. I had writing I wanted to do, and phone calls to make for the March writing class, dinner to prepare, laundry on the go and other various dull but necessary chores to accomplish, and everything is so much slower with a talkative 3 year old buzzing around ("Mom, when I get older, I want to go see Avatar 1", "Why do you have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle?" "When I'm big I want to ride a motorcyle real slow so I don't fall off or get hurt" - just a small sampling of his line of chatter yesterday). Subtly, I began to think that because Jason was home when he isn't usually home, he would help like he does on the weekends, and I would get so much done so I could relax with Jason (and the TV) in the evening.

Somewhere along the line I forgot that he was working, busy trying to arrange everything before his trip, packing, making phone calls, focused on his laptop screen. I progressively became more irritated, making comments to the kids that "Daddy had already left for Victoria" and if they needed something they should come and ask me since Daddy was so busy. I knew he was genuinely stressed and taking care of the work he had to do, but I felt that still, small voice rise up and ask why he can be so focused on what he needs to do, and I have a long to-do list but still manage to put my kids first. It's a hard line for the prime breadwinner to walk, and an equally challenging balancing act for the spouse at home. The job that pays the bills carries a lot of stress that I'm not signing up for at this point in life, but the work at home is so ongoing, monotonous and consuming, it exhausts you as well. The toughest part of most of what I do is that it's invisible. The house is clean only to be messed up again, the dishes are put away only to be used again, the kids are fighting and I need to drop everything to intervene and discipline. Brick by brick I am building memories for my kids on a daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment basis. It's beyond valuable, but difficult to measure success or failure on an ongoing basis.

When the kids went to bed, Jason and I did have a discussion about this, and I felt better having it out in the open. I told him that when I bustle around for an hour to make a nice dinner and clean up from it, hearing "thank you" is not too much to ask. He is normally supportive and thoughtful in this way, but I think in all of his rushing around yesterday, it got missed. I noticed it was missing. I was expecting he would help out a bit, and he wasn't able to, but to do it solo and have it go unnoticed was more than I could stand. Suddenly the scales tipped and I felt unappreciated and like an unpaid servant in my own home. Talking about it helped. Standing up for myself felt good, but I knew it was important not to punish Jason for doing his job well, because that was disrespecting him in the way I felt unacknowledged for what I was doing for our family.

When we were camping a few years ago at Ol MacDonald's Resort near Stettler (a fantastic family campground if you've never been there, on Buffalo Lake), I bought a small, handpainted sign that I keep in my kitchen window, so I can look at it while I'm doing the dishes. It says, "Live simply. Give more. Expect less." This is a creed I aspire to live by. Easier said than done, but for the rest of my life I plan to keep walking in the footsteps those 6 words leave for me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Magic

The first Creative Writing Class is done and dusted, and I'm thrilled with the outcome. I had one moment of panic when I glanced at my watch around 8 pm and I was already 3/4 of the way through my outline and only 1/2 way through the class. But groups are interesting things - living organisms that flow and develop on their own schedule. Everyone came in, found their nametags, crowded around the table, looked around at each other. I encouraged people to help themselves to food and hot drinks, but the initial stiff formality people feel kept everyone in place. I introduced myself and gave an overview of the class, and we went around the table for introductions. The group is an interesting mix of backgrounds and varied writing interests are represented. About 25 minutes into the 2 hour class, the thaw came. Someone began handing around snacks, spontaneous laughter was heard, and people began to feel more comfortable. I love that moment of transition in any new group, where it ceases to become a large number of strangers and instead becomes individuals getting to know each other.

Around the 8:00 mark, when I was cursing myself mentally for not having jammed more into my first class outline, another transition occurred. People began to share honestly and bravely about their fears, joys, worries and procrastinations as they relate to writing. The courage of people to look unflinchingly at themselves is beyond inspiring - it changes the temperature in the room, warms everything up, creates the soil in which we can bloom and grow. That moment where we take conversation beyond the surface and down into the deeper things; that moment is the one that defines us and allows us to access the courage for personal change and forward momentum.

I can hardly wait to see what will happen with this group of writers. I see my job as fanning the flame of belief in each person, keeping it burning, urging them to walk bravely forward in their pursuit of truth and honesty through the written word. I have seen the magic of writing in my own life and want to nudge each person toward this rewarding awakening. I told a friend recently that I could never be without writing again. It gives too much to my life and I wasted too many years not doing it regularly, and pining over the fact that I wasn't writing. Never again. It's a discipline, and must be approached as a discipline, but the magic comes when you sit down to do it. I have had many scary days gazing at the blank page, but as long as I'm sitting there, staring, the words eventually come, and create a satisfaction deeper than anything I've ever found, outside of my faith, my family and my friends.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creative Writing Class

Today's the day the Creative Writing Class begins at the library. I've been eagerly anticipating this day since I was asked to teach this course back in November. I looked back in some of my nightly journals, way back when I was a teenager, and amid the many ridiculous comments about boys I liked glancing at me in the halls and my frustrations with hairspray not holding my bangs straight up like a wall, I found entries describing how much I wanted to write and make movies and public speak when I was an adult. It may have been a long, circuitous road to arrive here, but I feel a deep satisfaction that I am on the road toward my dreams. I spoke to our Mothers of Preschoolers group in November about pursuing my dream of writing, and that led to a library board member hearing my speech and presenting the idea of a creative writing class for adults taught by me, and that led to today.

When I told my mom that I was going to teach this course, I blustered with a variety of amazed excuses about how I'm not a trained teacher, but I felt like I had so much to say on the subject of writing, and she reminded me that I have been teaching people to rubber stamp and make cards for the last 6 years. All of life's moving parts seem to be connected to each other. You don't realize it at the time, but when you look back with the benefit of a few years behind you, it becomes obvious that the path you were on led you to the next thing, and the next thing. Some paths were detours in the grand scheme, but if you listen to your subconscious, you'll feel if you are on the wrong track and make an adjustment. So much of how I've lived my life has been based on instinct, which I believe to be God, nudging me in a direction that will be good for me. The times I have been detoured are generally when I ignored that small nudge or was unaware of it.

I love that it is never too late to pursue your passions and your dreams. I'm a 37 year old wife, mother, newspaper employee, student, home business owner, community volunteer, and now I'm becoming a writer, which was the main childhood dream that propelled me into adulthood. I have always been pursuing writing, in one way or another, but needed to find my own voice in order to be able to succeed at it. If you don't know who you really are, it's hard to write (or express yourself at all) with any authenticity. There is no formula for this; you must walk towards your true, real self, accepting no substitutes, and then have the courage to say what you believe to be the truth. It won't mean anything to anyone if it doesn't genuinely mean something to you.

10 people are going to gather at the library tonight to pursue creative writing in one form or another. I want to build in them the courage to believe that they can write, that they must say what they have to say in their own voice, and that if they do not, the world will miss out on something special. To write, you must nurture your flame of belief in yourself, fan it, keep it alive. If you let it go out, it will be a long, slow road back to creativity. I will urge them to write something, every day, to keep the creative flow from atrophy. I can't wait for 7 pm.