Saturday, July 31, 2010

Independence & Interdependence

I’m curious this morning about the fine line between independence and interdependence in a marriage. This issue comes up for me when I am camping, because I rely on Jason to do so much. He has always been the breakfast cooker in our family, and so even when I’m hungry, I wait for him to get the bacon and the eggs and cook them on the outside stove. When ants began scurrying around my feet and legs, I jumped and screamed and ran away while he calmly came in with the ant killer.

He’s just so damn capable at everything, and I tend to shrink a bit into his shadow. I think what I find frustrating, is that his natural machismo comes to the forefront, while my contributions to our camping life are more subtle and therefore more easily overlooked, even by me. I hand him the spatula and the dishes and make the toast in the trailer. I pack everything except for his clothes, so that we have what we need as a family for a week in a trailer.

I have to remind myself that what I do is important as well. We need each other in our marriage, in order for it to function as well as it possibly can. I have always struggled with this, for the twelve years we have been married, because the skills I bring to the table are softer and therefore harder to identify.

I’m good at the people side of things; reading the emotions and having the tough discussions with our kids, family members and friends. Jason is better at the outward things, and I excel at the inner ones. One is not more important than the other, but sometimes I worry that I am too dependent on what he does for me. I don’t want to kill the ants, or string the clothesline, or make sure the trailer is level. He is better at those things and so he does them, but I hate that I am becoming afraid of some of these tasks, or worse, certain that I am incapable of doing them myself.

There is a line where it is important to need each other and rely on one another, but also to flourish as individuals inside of the marriage, and not lose the characteristics which make us unique and separate. I don’t want to be fearful of camping here on my own with the kids when Jason goes to work. I want to be sure of myself, and confident with mechanical things the way that he is.

I don’t know that I will ever want to take over Jason’s roles in these areas, but I can push myself to fake a bravery I don’t necessarily feel. I can try my best, and show that effort to the kids instead of passing along my anxiety and uncertainty. I can be independent when I need to be, and interdependent when I can be.

And perhaps I need to bring my regular contributions to the light a little more often, so they aren’t overlooked. The behind-the-scenes work that most women do is the lifeblood of the family. Nothing would happen unless a woman was making lists somewhere, and dragging the kids to the grocery store, and doing the fourth load of laundry in a day. It may not get much credit, but it’s equally valuable, and must be recognized as such.

Friday, July 30, 2010


We are heading to a church camp today that was very important to me during my childhood. I began attending with my family when I was eleven years old, so these memories run deep. We missed it for most of the years that we lived in BC, but have attended the last two summers, and my kids are coming to love it as well, and each additional year will strengthen this memory they will keep from childhood.

I love connecting with old friends, and my family, and making new friends every year. I like relaxing in a space that is beautiful, and eating most meals outside, and hearing the kids run and screech in the trees, at the playground, and in the pool.

Last year, on the Sunday of the August long weekend, our new-to-us trailer was pummeled in the worst hailstorm Alberta had seen in a century, and became an insurance write-off. I really loved our trailer, and was deeply sad when the time came to say goodbye to it, but very kind friends have generously offered their trailer for us to use this week, and we are extremely grateful.

With each passing year, Jason and I find ourselves further theologically from the speakers at the camp, and that has been an interesting process. There is always something for me to learn and take away, but I spend time wrestling with the concepts that are taught; testing them to see if they ring true with what I now believe about God. I try to read the passages that are taught with new eyes to see truths I haven't seen before, and I pray and ask God to bring scripture alive and give me ways to understand what it was intended to mean, and not necessarily what I have always been taught.

I love the freedom I have in my faith. I think I've been searching for it my entire life, and am finally settling into its feel and groove, in much the same way as a new pair of shoes must be broken in. For years I worried if I changed any of my beliefs, I was sliding down a path into hell, but I have now fully walked away from that fear, and I know that God is not offended by new ideas. Jesus said that men must pour new wine into new wineskins, because the old wineskins could not take the new wine. From now on I will do as Paul said in Romans 12, "Test and approve what God's will is." I plan to do that this week, and hopefully move closer to God as I continue to move in his freedom.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

We had a tough travel day yesterday. A two hour delay at the airport, due to the San Francisco fog, and then a thirty minute delay on the tarmac, waiting to take off, and then Jason's touch TV screen didn't work on the plane so we had to share mine. We left our hotel at 8 am, and arrived at my mom's just before 6 pm. That's a long travel day for a two and a half hour flight.

When we were in Ghirardelli Square on Tuesday, my favourite place of the San Francisco portion of our trip, we saw a tea house called Crown & Crumpet. It had pink striped walls, and a charming ambience that made you want to sit down and soak it up, even though I don't particularly like tea. In the attached gift shop, I saw a sign which I immediately wanted to buy (but didn't, as it cost $28 for a small piece of plastic) that said, "Keep calm and carry on." I repeated it to myself, in a British accent, until we got outside to a bench and I could write it down on the ferry schedule I found buried in my purse.

I loved this saying. It really helped me with my anxiety as we traveled home yesterday. I had always focused on the "keep calm" part, but that is tricky as it involves our emotions, which aren't always under our control. No matter how often I tell myself to calm down, sometimes my emotions don't obey my commands. But I can control my actions, and that's where the "carry on" part comes in.

I think I was missing that part of the equation. When I feel stressed and worried, I need to simply put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Keep walking, keep trying, and don't accept failure. For my travel day, I kept reminding myself that it would eventually end, I would arrive home and see my kids at some point, and that helped me to stay calm because I was focusing on carrying on, instead of trying to talk myself into changing my emotions.

It worked wonders, and I plan to bring those five simple words into my regular life. Whether I'm facing something wonderful or something terrifying, the same mantra applies, "Keep calm and carry on." There really are no other options. Everything terrible ends, and so do the good times. We must carry on, day by day and moment by moment, and do our best to remain calm and centred.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to Reality

Today we fly home, and rejoin reality. We need to go back, mainly to stop spending money like it's meaningless to us, in this gorgeous city with its absurdly high prices. Recently I wrote about building the interior life, and I think that's part of what this trip was about for me. I invested in myself, and in my marriage, and I think that the effort made for both will bear fruit in the upcoming days and years.

Stopping to savour the little things gives us a renewed focus on the big things. It's like the lens of a camera zooming in and bringing a sharp sense of detail to the subject matter. When we are busy and consumed with regular life and stress, the picture is slightly fuzzy around the edges, but stepping back and changing up your routine gives you another way to look at things.

This trip has done that for me. I knew I loved my husband, but I didn't know I still had that spark of passion for him, as alive as its ever been, but simply dormant under the day-to-day arrangements of our family life. It's alive and well, and we have renewed our affection and our friendship in a very real way during these stolen moments filled with fun and beauty.

A good friend once told me that I should never waste a moment missing my kids while on a trip, because I'll long to see them, and have those warm and happy feelings about them, and about two minutes after I've hugged and kissed them and offered them their present, they will fight with each other or do something to irritate me, and I'll long for the peace of vacation. I found that advice a little harsh the first time I heard it, but over the years I have tested it out and found it to be true. So on this trip in particular, I fully enjoyed my time away from them, secure in the knowledge that they were making memories of their own with their Grandma, and I will be glad to see them today, but I didn't pine for them while I was gone.

We just have one flight between us and our home. Two and a half hours in a small box in the sky, watching a movie and sipping a coke, and we will be home and back in our regular lives. I'm looking forward to being home in my space with my family near me. I wouldn't change a moment of the relaxed vacation we had, but I'm glad that I also love my regular life, and am not sad to get back into it, and dream of the next vacation opportunity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Personality Reboot

I'm really enjoying this version of myself while on vacation without the kids. I'm relaxed, I'm fun, I'm not stressed or busy. Being relaxed does wonders for the system. It's like a reboot of our personality, with our best possible self coming out into the light.

It reminds Jason and I why we fell in love in the first place, to be away with no responsibilities and simply a sense of fun and adventure to guide our way. I'm starting to miss my kids, and think about our reunion tomorrow, but for right now, this moment, I'm fully embracing who I am apart from my family role. I am only myself, with nothing else to think about, and it's an important reminder of who I really am.

I think we all need these breaks because it clears our vision. I'm not always grumpy and harried and irritated by squabbling kids and my messy kitchen. Sometimes I'm really fun, and have energy and a witty comment to inject into any situation. Often I focus on the nitty gritty of life and forget to look up and appreciate my good qualities - the reasons that Jason was drawn to me in the first place.

This has been a wonderful trip. Not scheduled and therefore exactly what I wanted to counteract my usual structure. I have been completely relaxed and each day has seemed long and open, stretching in front of us like a gift, waiting to be opened and savoured. It's coming to an end, but today I have another chance to remember who I really am as a person, and to enjoy her company.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Built to Last

Yesterday we spent the day with my university buddy's wonderful family. It reminded me again of our long term plan of building a healthy family where our friends are welcomed and loved. I want my kids to grow up in a home like the one we were just in, where laughter and genuine love and affection flows in and around each person who spends any time there.

My friends's parents are two of the most generous souls I have ever met. They give of themselves and their possessions freely, to anyone who is in need. They exude fun and hospitality, breaking into impromptu dance parties while washing dishes, and hugging and kissing their grandkids at any given moment.

It was inspiring to be around them again. To be accepted and loved again, after not seeing them for so many years, and having it be just as satisfying now as it was when I was nineteen. In university, when I was broke, and in a foreign country, many miles from home, they came and took my friend and a dozen of her friends to a fancy restaurant, and not only paid for a meal for us as starving students, but encouraged us to order a fancy drink and a dessert.

This kind of luxury was foreign to me, and made a very deep impact. This family has always been that way, and I think will continue to impress the next generation with their warmth and kindness. It's good to watch this again, and be inspired to realize that we are attempting to create and build the same kind of family. Role models are important for this kind of thing. It's proof that it can be done; that outside of movies and TV shows, this kind of lovely family exists for real in this world.

Today we are heading into San Francisco to stay at our time share and enjoy a couple of days on our own. My mom told me not to call every day to check in, as it would interrupt our flow of time away, and possibly disrupt the kids as well. I find myself thinking about them once in a while, and hoping that they are having a great time. I know by Wednesday I'll be ready to embrace them again, but for now I'm going to enjoy each of these minutes away with my husband, confident in the idea that we are building a relationship that is meant to last, and grow, and flourish for the long haul, like the family we were privileged to spend time with this weekend.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

12 Years

We've been married for twelve years today. It seems like so long ago that we got married, with layers upon layers of years and kids and life changes piled on top of the hopefulness we felt as two newlyweds on our wedding day. We were young and madly in love, with many vivid dreams for our future. Many of those dreams have come true and been better than our wildest imaginings, and many have yet to be realized.

We are still in love with each other. That is a gift beyond measure in this cynical world we live in. We still choose to spend time with each other. We laugh together, on a daily basis. We work on our relationship by investing in it, because we don't want to see it slip away when divorce is the option if we don't make our marriage a priority.

I love being married to my best friend. We are in Modesto today, celebrating together with one of my best buds from University, and her wonderful family who had me to stay many, many times when I was far from home and a lonely nineteen year old. We all have kids now, and our lives have changed from those carefree college days, but our friendship has not changed. I'm so grateful for these friends who carry a part of my history with them, and when we connect together, it's as if no time at all has passed.

Our flight was delayed by an hour yesterday out of Calgary, and my anxiety about flying began to grow as we waited. I pulled out my iPod and listened to calming music, and found that slowly I surrendered my need to worry about the safety of the aircraft, the possibility of turbulence and the desire to have it all over with and be safely on the ground in San Francisco. In my spirit, I said, "I surrender my fear, and trust that God is in control." It was as if a weight was lifted, and I began to tell myself that it was all going to be smooth and safe, and eagerly anticipate the arrival instead of dreading the travel.

The two and a half hour flight was straightforward and the skies were crystal clear, without a single cloud, so I could look out the window and see the ground for the entire trip. That was a great gift from God to me, another reminder that he knows I feel better when I can see land. I watched Valentine's Day, a relatively lame movie filled with gorgeous people and settings which distracted me nicely.

We had a memorable day in San Francisco with our friends, making spur-of-the-moment plans exactly like I wanted. It was great to laugh together and thoroughly relax into the joys of being away, with my husband, and with no one to worry about except for myself. I love my life. I have been blessed, and I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If I Stand

I dug out a Rich Mullins Greatest Hits CD yesterday and popped it into the CD player on my way to my mom's house with the kids. I had the same feeling I get when I take the kids to the dentist or to the health nurse for a needle; that I had to fill the gap with enough excitement for all of us about the upcoming separation from each other. I knew my kids were struggling with the idea of being apart, and I was too.

Why is it that as the date of the kid-free time approaches, the kids are better behaved and so sweet and you begin to talk yourself out of time away? I know it's important to invest this short time in my marriage, separate from my kids. It is good for us as a family. The kids need a break from me and they will have so much fun with their Gran and cousin when they go camping.

All of these things are true, but the emotions always hit hard when it comes time for that last hug and kiss and goodbye. Ava cried, William cried, and I cried. We talked about how hard it is to leave each other, but how connected we are in our hearts by the love we share. I got them to bed, and stayed playing tile rummy with my mom until they were both sleeping. I know they will be fine and will have many new adventures to share with us on Wednesday when we pick them up.

As I drove home, watching the sun set through a few of my mom tears, one of my favourite Rich Mullins songs came on. It's called "If I Stand", and the chorus says "If I stand, let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through/and if I can't let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you." I found these words to be a balm on my bruised and fearful heart. To say I trust God in the easy times doesn't really cost me anything, but to walk through my fears and trust him to take care of me in the hard times is where I really learn that he loves me and can provide for me and my family.

My pessimist nature gets in the way here. Instead of banking on the fact that I will have a wonderful time away, and really looking forward to the break, I see the possible disasters that could occur. I have to change my thinking, to force it to obey me instead of being at the whim of my imagination. People travel safely every day. Thinking about the worst case scenario is not helpful for me, or for anyone.

We will have internet access where we are, with friends for a couple of days and then in San Francisco at one of our time share locations, but some of my posts may be late based on the schedule of events from now until Wednesday. As always, I appreciate you reading. Whether we stand or fall, there is grace for all of us, if we will reach out our hands and accept it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Be Still and Know

Stillness is not an easy state for me. Something upsetting happened yesterday morning, and a good friend offered to take my kids for a couple of hours in the afternoon so I could spend a little time alone to think and try to find a workable solution. The door closed behind them, and silence filled the house. When I am happy, I yearn for this silence, and soak it up like a dry plant accepting water.

Yesterday, my emotions were churning, and I held back tears for most of the day, trying to carry on with the kids like nothing was wrong, when something was aching deep down inside of me. We cannot ignore our emotions. We can only go through them. Circumventing and pretending won't get you very far; at a certain point, your house of cards comes crashing down and you must face what is gnawing at your spirit.

I bustled around for a few minutes, cleaning up dishes and toys, and finally forced myself to sit down in a chair. No phone. No computer. No novel. No pen and paper. Just myself and what was hurting me. I had to look at it, full in the face, and allow the tears to fall without censoring myself. I closed my eyes when the bulk of the emotional storm had passed, and concentrated on each breath, in and out, trying to quell the anxiety and worry.

Nothing happened for a long time. The butterflies were still fluttering around in my ribcage, no matter how deep the breathing was. I asked God to come and give me comfort. I asked for him to show me the way out of what I was feeling. Again, nothing happened, and I began to feel angry in addition to being hurt. I was reaching out, and I couldn't feel God when I most needed him. I must've dozed off at a certain point, because when I opened my eyes fifteen minutes had gone by, and one phrase was as clear as a bell in my heart and mind. "Be still, and know that I am God."

There was a peace that carved a small space out of my fear. I had walked through the pain and found the other side, and things were a bit easier there. Stillness and quietness revealed my salvation. The problem will still need to be addressed. Nothing outwardly had changed, but I didn't run from what was hurting me. I stopped, stared it straight in the face, and waited for it to blink first. I would've preferred to clean my bathrooms and cross that job off my list for tomorrow, but instead I sat in a chair, and waited to meet with God.

My friend gave me a wonderful gift yesterday - the gift of silence and space to be on my own. I'm grateful for this chance to find peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty. It took time, but it opened my eyes to the benefit of stillness in this ever-moving world. Sometimes we need to unplug, to sit down, and to simply wait for our souls to slow down and speak to us. I want to make more time for this still, small voice in my spirit. Less distractions, and more peace, but I have to be intentional about it, or it will never happen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Climb

Last summer, I heard a sermon where the pastor quoted the great philosopher John Wayne, "Life is hard. It's even harder when you're stupid." This floated into my mind this week for no apparent reason, and after chuckling again, I began thinking about how frustrating and uphill the path of life can feel sometimes.

I wish I was more competent at the things I do, and more sensitive to the feelings of others, and endlessly patient with myself and my kids. I am not any of these things. Every time I start something new I panic inside. I want to be comfortable and not stretched to where it hurts, but without those challenges, my life becomes stale and dull. We all need to be pushed sometimes, but the process is damn hard, and always exhausting.

I feel like I climb and I climb with my own personal growth, and I've only come a very short distance. I want success to be easier than it is. What kills me is how incremental our lives are. It's building block on building block, until eventually the building is complete, but it takes years to see any kind of progress on anything, and sometimes the overnight success idea taunts me from a distance.

Somewhere deep down, I understand that there is no such thing as overnight successes. It takes work and discipline on a daily basis in order to see any dream become a reality, but every now and then I get really discouraged, and I look for a shortcut to the top of the mountain I'm trying to climb. There are no detours on this road. I have to walk it, step by step, pausing sometimes to watch the sun set or rise, or to marvel at how far I've actually come. You can't tell how far you've traveled in just six months, or even a few years, but as the years pile up you can measure the distance, and you start to find a little perspective about how far you still have to go.

I suppose I simply have to accept that I will keep learning and growing for the rest of my life. Just because I'm halfway through doesn't mean I have it all together. I still feel very stupid when I'm trying new things or working with fresh ideas. I will probably always wonder if I've said or done the right thing with my kids, my family or my friends. It's hard to know, but I do believe that I am further along my road of personal growth than I have ever been before.

Sometimes I need to measure how far I've come instead of the distance I still need to cover to get to my goal. It's good that we have an entire lifetime to work all of this out, and although nothing is guaranteed, I'm working from the premise that I still have time to improve and to grow and to succeed in my climb.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Swimming Lessons

This is not my favourite week of the summer. We race out the door by 8:45 am to get both kids to the pool for 9 am lessons. I kept William out of his Sea Turtle lesson on Monday, due to his fever over the weekend, and I thought it might help his anxiety to watch his class before he joined in.

Ava was the kid who simply jumped into the water at three years of age, did everything her teacher asked, and had fun. I thought that was normal. Then William came along, and when he turned three, he made it about eight minutes into his first preschool lesson before bursting into tears and calling repeatedly for mommy, and then flat-out refusing to get back in the water.

I pulled him out, figuring in another year he would be more mature, but after watching all of the kids in his class on Monday, he spent most of the day and evening crying about how he was afraid of swimming, didn't want to put his face in the water, and was happy to wear a lifejacket forever. No amount of encouragement was working, and yesterday morning I woke up with a serious feeling of dread for how the lesson was going to go.

He cried on the way in, begging not to go, and I just ignored him with a line of chatter about how wonderful swimming is, and how much fun he was going to have with his nice teacher and his class. I said, "I'll give you a big thumbs up from the benches, like I always give to Ava." His response: "I don't want a thumbs up!"

We walked in, and with no dithering I took him to his teacher and then sat down, fully expecting disaster. It didn't come. He participated with the rest of the class, gave me a shy little thumbs-up and a tiny smile, and even put his face in the water. The first time he sputtered and cried, I figured the jig was up and he'd be dropping out yet again, but his teacher convinced him all was well, and he finished out the lesson. When he came to me, he was grinning and proud, and my heart jumped around inside my chest. I couldn't have been more impressed if he had just been accepted to Harvard. He conquered his fear, tried something new, and stuck it out to the end. For him, it was a real victory.

I'm so glad that my expectations are much more reasonable this time around. With Ava, I desperately wanted her to pass her first swimming lesson, and when she didn't, I felt embarrassed and frustrated. Her teacher told me that she needed a little more confidence in the water, and that trying again at the first level would be helpful for her. I watched every moment of every lesson, and being the expert that I am, I thought she should have passed when her friends did.

Her teacher was right, of course, and by the time she hit the next level, she soared through them all, with the increased confidence that repeating the first level gave her. Now she is a natural in the water, but she wasn't always that relaxed. The point of the first preschool swimming lesson is to really introduce them to the water, and keep it fun and not overwhelming.

My expectations have been radically lowered with William. I'm not expecting him to pass, as he is tentative by nature and needs a lot of time to warm up to anything new (like his mother). It's no big deal to me if he is asked to repeat Sea Turtle. I'm beyond thrilled that he is enjoying it, and listening to his teacher, and learning that he is safe even when I am not right beside him. On the first day, he has surpassed my expectations for him, and I'm very proud, regardless of the outcome of the lessons.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Building the Interior

As moms, we spend so much time rushing around, cleaning up, fetching what our offspring asks for, cooking, prepping, washing, organizing and planning, all the while being asked approximately 4,892 questions every single day. Peace and quiet are hard commodities to come by. We have very little time for ourselves, and therefore we do what must be done, but the deeper things of life are always pushed to the back burner (along with the pot of food we are currently burning).

Yesterday was Ava's golf lesson, and Jason came home early to take her to it. Suddenly William decided he wanted to go too. Jason wanted to hit a bucket of balls while he waited and wasn't planning to take William, but he rolled nicely with the change of plans and suddenly I had a little over an hour to myself to prepare dinner. I found an old Michael English CD that I hadn't listened to in a long time, popped it into my computer and made an impromptu rice pudding for dessert.

I'm slowly working through my fears about our upcoming anniversary trip. As Kurtis pointed out in a comment the other day on my post about storms, we all have different fears. The idea of leaving your kids and going to San Francisco for four days of leisure might seem like an insane fear to most people, but I fear change, and distance, and virtually anything that pushes me from my comfortable life and into something foreign.

I stirred my rice pudding on the stove and really listened to the words on the album, and suddenly I was in tears, moved beyond words and struck by the realization that I must push myself, or I'll never grow. My temptation is to stay safe, all of the time, and never willingly go outside of my structured life. I desperately want a break from my kids, but somewhere deep inside, I feel a need to spread my wings around them and keep them near to me. I don't like to face the hard truth that I cannot actually protect them. That is God's job.

My life is not my own. I have willingly offered it to God, and if I trust him to love me and be good at his core, I must unclench my fist around my own life, the lives of my loved ones, and all that I own. I know that holding loosely is the key to joy and contentment in this life. I believe it as an idea, but wherever that idea rubs against reality it becomes harder to practice. I feel more in control when I'm in my own house, working through the regular system of my days, but when all of that changes, I must let go, and experience what God has to teach me.

It's hard to build your inner life when there is noise and chaos on a daily basis. I desperately needed that hour yesterday to slow down, listen to my fears and address them. Instantly I felt calmer and better, making the slow transition from believing that change is good for me, to knowing it and embracing it. Making myself do what isn't comfortable for me is critical to creating a strong interior life. I must grow and change. I do not want to stay safe forever, as there is no growing edge in staying the same.

Pushing against my fear is the only way through it. I can't circumvent the process. I have to walk the road that terrifies me, and prove to myself that I can do it. I can leave my kids and have them stay safe. I can board an airplane, and be calm, and arrive at my destination, prepared to embrace adventure and spend time with my husband as myself, not as a mom. I can return home refreshed and restored. It is not selfish to take time for myself and for my marriage. It benefits everyone in the end, it's just the lead-up that I find challenging. I need this reminder that I am not in control, and that is as it should be.

Monday, July 19, 2010


We finally saw Toy Story 3 yesterday with the kids. We gave them movie passes at Christmas and said they were for this movie, but of course, between December and June we found other movies to take them to, and then we struggled to find a free weekend to go when Toy Story 3 actually came out.

This was the only weekend we could go, and then William got the same fever that monkeyed with Ava's sleepover plans earlier this week. Kids are unpredictable. You make your plans, and then you roll with the punches that come your way. I tend to stiffen up when punches come at me. I wouldn't describe myself as "one who rolls", but rather "one who freezes up and becomes enraged."

I don't like my plans altered in any way. We had set up the movie and dinner plan with friends, and I was not going to be the one to cancel it. There was no vomit involved, simply a low grade temperature that improved drastically with Motrin, so we went, feeling slightly irresponsible as we held our tired boy, but our plans became the activities which will later become memories.

The movie was terrific. Everyone has said so, and the reviewers have gushed about how it makes grown men cry, and I am a big fan of the first two Toy Story movies. This one was pure magic. Those geniuses at Pixar have managed to take a film about toys and turn it into something poignant and moving in a way that most films designed for adults can't replicate. It touches something nostalgic and real, deep inside of people; a yearning for what is gone and can never be again, while rejoicing in the magic of imagination at any age. An extraordinary feat, and they pulled it off in the context of a child's film full of laughter and heart. John Lasseter and his team make it look easy, when of course making a successful movie on that many levels is anything but.

I'm going to look around me today for the magic in my life that I'm too busy or uninterested in on most days. The movie awakened something that was sleeping inside of me: a childlike fascination with play and imagination. I want to have more fun, laugh easier, and not think of playing as wasted time. I'm going to try not to get bogged down in the details of the mundane, but look higher for inspiration and joy. It's all around me, but I must take the time and make the effort to find it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Jason and I were both grateful to have our Grandmothers in our lives until we were in our thirties. Many of our friends have not been so fortunate. Both of us lost our Grandfathers when we were small children, but our Grandmas have been a constant in our lives. Both were always ready for a game of cards, and offered an open lap to sit in, a hand to lightly tickle our backs, or a mischevious grin and a wink.

Jason's Gramma lived in Kelowna, and we tried to see her as often as we could. From Jason's parents' cabin, we would make the long drive over gravel logging roads to see her for a visit. She always delighted in our kids, chatting with them, holding them, and loving them so clearly you could see it moving back and forth between them. Our kids were in love with Gramma. She radiated life and joy and vitality.

We were privileged to see her a few days before she died, and even though she was frail and sick from cancer, she was at home, and in her own bed, and she was still thrilled to see us and the kids. I held her hand and looked into her eyes, and saw the same woman deep inside. Her body was failing her, but her spirit was intact, and she was as brave and feisty in her personality as she had always been, and I found that immeasurably comforting.

We drove home after our visit, and two days later she passed away, and we prepared to drive back to Kelowna for her funeral. They had an open casket, and Ava asked to go and see Gramma, but I said no, because I saw my Grandpa's body when I was five years old, and it upset me deeply, and I wanted to spare that for Ava until she was a little older and could understand death just a bit more. Gramma was 94, and it's easier to explain death at that age to your children, because she lived a long and full life, and she loved and was loved, and her death was peaceful.

Jason's Gramma died in May, and that fall, my Granny was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 90. My family is very small, with no real extended family, and my Granny was a very big part of my life as I grew up. For the last few years of her life, my Granny and my mom lived in the same house, and I got to see her even more and she became a bigger part of my kids' lives after we moved to Alberta.

I miss her. I miss her warmth and joy when we would come over. I miss the way she watched the kids dance and sing and run around. She enjoyed them so much, and they loved her in return. I miss kissing her on the cheek and receiving a hug from her every time we saw each other.

After her cancer diagnosis, she was in and out of the hospital, and died a few weeks later. I had the privilege of being in the hospital room with her when she died. I had scheduled a visit, and asked a friend to look after William while Ava was in Kindergarten, so that I could really talk with her. No one was expecting her to die that clear November morning. It was an honour to sit with her, holding her hand, looking into her eyes, and talking to her while her body shut down. She was completely at peace, ready to go, and not afraid. That was inspiring to me; in death, as in life, she walked into it with her head held high.

I wrote a story about her death, from her perspective, and it was recently published by Pages of Stories in their July issue. The story is called All Been Said, and it can be viewed for $6.99 or you can purchase an annual subscription to the online magazine for $20.99. My story is on page 9 of Issue #2.

If you read it, I'd love to know what you think. The magazine's publisher said it made her cry every single time she read it for editing purposes, and she already knew what was coming! One of my favourite parts of the writing process is the nature of re-living powerful experiences through the forum of fiction. You can keep the spirit of the event alive, while changing certain details and hopefully making something that happened to you, interesting to other people.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Last night I had an interesting moment in my living room. Ava went for her sleepover, and spent the day at her best bud's house, and we made spur-of-the-moment plans to have some friends over for dinner. It was fun to do something unexpected, share a few laughs, and William enjoyed having some friends to play with. We put him to bed, and settled in for a relaxing evening.

I felt a low level of anxiety as bedtime approached for Ava at her first friend sleepover. My daughter projects an air of confidence that she doesn't always feel, and I know this because I practice it regularly myself. I had a feeling she wasn't quite ready for this step, but she was genuinely excited and begged to go, so I thought it best to let her try.

When the phone rang at 10:10 pm, I knew it was going to be her. Sure enough, her teary voice, punctuated by breaks for sobbing breaths, came down the line, asking to come home. Without hesitating, I said, "Yes, of course, we'll come and get you", all the while wishing that Ava was able to conquer her fear and stay with her friend. I didn't want her to regret backing away at the last gate of her sleepover, but I know I was a few years older than her when I had my first one, and I was happy she felt comfortable to call us for help.

I was already in my pj's, so Jason jumped in his car and left for the ten minute drive out to the country to get her. About two minutes after his car pulled out of the garage, the wind picked up, the lightning began to flash, and the skies opened up and poured rain and hail. This was not a regular thunderstorm. Water was running so fast down the street it looked like the concrete was moving. I couldn't see the houses across the street.

I grabbed a flashlight, worried that the power might cut out, and sat in the living room praying for Jason to make it safely on the dark country roads. As the storm intensified, my sense of panic rose, and I began to experience a foreboding of danger. Tied into this worry was the anxiety about leaving my kids for four days at the end of next week, when Jason and I go to San Francisco for a few days to celebrate our anniversary. I can tell my mind that my kids will be safe without me in a rational, logical manner, but my emotions are the things that trip me up.

I finally called Jason's cell phone, unable to stand my own fear, and when he answered, relief washed over me. He said he couldn't see where the road ended and the ditch began, so he was crawling along, but he had picked her up and was making the drive home. Suddenly the phone cut out. I told myself it was spotty cell coverage out in the country, but after a few minutes I began to imagine twisted metal, and half of my family in trouble.

Panic. Fear. Anxiety. All debilitating emotions. They paralyze and create a swirling vortex of dread which threatens to drown us completely. Suddenly I remembered to cry out to God, instead of relying on myself to save me. I prayed and I cried, asking God to hold my most precious family in his hands, and to bring them home. In that moment, I felt him like he was sitting next to me, and he brought peace and calm to my worried soul. Slowly, my breathing returned to normal, and I stopped clenching the phone and the flashlight, and I gave up control to someone with much broader shoulders.

I remembered how I felt watching My Sister's Keeper, and I was grateful for the chance to practice this art of letting go, and giving over my fear to God. I am not in control. I never have been and I never will be. But he is a good God, and he loves me, and I can offer my limitations and fears to him, and he will carry me through. It's very easy when things are going well to forget these things, but when I need to feel his comfort the most, he is there if I will turn to him.

Moments later, the garage door went up, and Jason and Ava were home safely. I hugged them both with a new appreciation of how much they mean to me, and I thanked God for their safe return. I think that feeling of calm will help me on Friday night when I say goodbye to my kids for four days. I have to trust that God will keep them in his hand when we are separated. I have to accept that I am not in control, and model this for my kids, and let go of the fears that threaten to hold me in bondage to them. I want to be free; to let go, to hold loosely to what I love but do not own.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Earlier this week, I set up a sleepover for Ava with her best buddy on Thursday night, and both girls were over the moon with excitement. It was the first friend sleepover ever for Ava, and she talked about it on and off all day, her suitcase pulled out and ready.

On Thursday she woke up and her eyes were red-rimmed and a little bloodshot. I had that sinking feeling that she was getting sick, but she assured me she felt fine. Around 10 am, I couldn't find her anywhere, and discovered she was curled up in her bed, sleeping. Highly unusual, and another large red flag. When she woke up and stumbled out to the family room couch, I could tell before I touched her face that it was steamy hot, just by the tone of her skin and the bleary look in her eyes.

The call was placed to her friend's mom, and we both dreaded the task of breaking the news to our girls. Ava heard me on the phone, and by the time I hung up, she was sobbing gently on the couch, ripe, fat tears rolling down her warm cheeks. She cried for a long time, while I hugged her, and then took her medicine, and settled in for a day on the couch.

Disappointment is hard to bear at any age. It never gets easier, to manage my own crushed hopes, or those of my friends or my children. As we age, we find better ways to deal with disappointment (or hide it), but kids wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I love that vulnerability, but it also frightens me, because they can be so easily hurt without those layers of cynicism to protect them.

She had a two hour nap in the afternoon, while William went to his buddy's house for a playdate, and I wrote a letter to Jason Reitman, as a shot in the dark, since he's the director I would handpick for my screenplay. At this point in the process, I want to take a few more risks. He can only ignore my letter, or throw it out, but maybe, just maybe, he'll read it and it will strike a chord. Taking chances invigorates me and gives me energy where I'm lacking some. It was a good afternoon.

In the evening, Jason walked with William down to the Farmer's Market, and I stayed with Ava, as her fever spiked again after dinner and she was listless and unrecognizable as my vivacious daughter. I gave her medicine and tucked her into bed, and told her I'd stay with her until she fell asleep. I tickled her legs lightly with my hands, something she loves, and sang all of the old hymns that I used to sing her as a baby, swaying in the rocking chair with her in my arms when she was sick.

Her eyes drifted shut, and I watched her closely as I sang, a huge lump forming somewhere in my throat, as I could locate that baby in her face, those tiny, chubby fingers in her big kid hands, and her baby toes in her size 2 feet. The years simply disappeared while I sang hymns that I didn't even know I still remembered, like In the Garden and The Old Rugged Cross, and I thought about all of the things I treasured about Ava as a baby that I don't think about on a daily basis anymore.

I hated it when people told me how fast the time goes when my kids were babies, but it turns out they knew something that I had absolutely no knowledge of. It does go fast, so fast you can't even believe it, and while I enjoy this age and stage that both of them are in, last night I physically yearned for her to be a baby again so I could rock her when she was fevered. She needed me last night the way she needed me then, and I loved that I could be there for her, putting everything aside to focus on what she needed. She'll remember that, and so will I.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This is the first summer I'm really enjoying myself. When you have only preschoolers in the house, every day is a bit like summer, but with school age children, summer is a true break from rushing out of the house each morning with the backpack and the lunch and the mitts and hat. I have truly relaxed into summer in a way I didn't have any concept of before.

It's good for me to slow down and enjoy life more. It doesn't suit my hard charging, rushing personality to have a slower change of pace, but it's necessary to rest and recharge in order to have the energy to continue on. I see the kids relaxing too, and then we'll all move into the fall with a store of energy that wasn't there before.

I'm going to try to find a way to bring that permission to relax into my structured life when routine returns. There has to be little ways to build it in on a daily basis. The book Ava received for her lamplighter award said, "Set aside some quiet time to relax and reflect, every day" and I've found myself thinking often about those words.

I'm not sure why I feel I need permission to take time for myself, except that so much of my self worth was tied into my accomplishments for so many years, and it's hard to work those old messages out of your brain. I felt I was only valuable if I was producing something, the bigger the better, so I worked like crazy just to believe I was worth the space I was taking up on the planet. Over many years, I came to separate my sense of personal worth from what I did, and came to understand that I am valuable for who I am, not for what I do.

It wasn't an easy lesson to learn. I try to focus on this distinction with my kids. When they were babies, I avoided saying, "Good girl" or "Good boy", but instead tried to tell them, "Good job" to separate who they are from what they do. Semantics are just a drop in the bucket, but since I fought with this issue in my childhood and early adulthood, I wanted to give them a head start on knowing they are loved and treasured for who they are, and what they accomplish is separate from that.

For me, my drive to produce was born out of a desire to be noticed. As the middle child, I was always working to carve out my own space among my siblings. I wanted to be good at something apart from them, and developed my perfectionism early on. Being a perfectionist is a horrible time waster and a vacuum for joy. Getting past my desire to be perfect was the single best thing I've done in regards to my writing. I've accepted that it's not perfect, but it's good enough, and that has me working on it daily instead of putting it off until it's perfect, because I know now that it will never be perfect. I am imperfect, and therefore what I produce is also flawed, but that's part of the human experience.

I plan to enjoy as much as I can of the summer, because it will be gone before I know it. What I have is today, this moment, to sip my coffee, laugh with my kids, and enjoy not rushing anywhere. I give myself permission to play and enjoy my life, for it's valuable to build these memories and store this energy for when I'll need it most. Life is good, and I'm grateful for the chance to embrace this truth and learn what relaxation can teach me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letting Go

I watched My Sister's Keeper last night. I delayed for one main reason: I loved the book and couldn't imagine the rich complexities of the story translated to the screen. Plus I knew I would sob like a baby and for that reason I could never see it in the theatre where I'd have to choke back my tears. I'm not a great public cryer, but I'm an excellent crybaby in the privacy of my own family room.

When a novel is translated to a screenplay, a central theme must be located and focused on. A movie is too confined to cover all of the characters and sub-plots which can be examined in detail in a book. I've read Jodi Picoult's book several times, and each time it guts me in a new way as a mother. I'm drawn to each character in turn as they struggle through an impossible life and death family situation with no easy answers.

In the movie, the narrow focus was on Cameron Diaz as the mother, and her intense relationship with her sick daughter. I'm not a Cameron Diaz fan. I couldn't believe the casting when it was announced, and I simply could not visualize her in the role. I changed my mind about halfway through the movie, when I realized that she was using rage to get through her days, fighting a terrifying enemy with layers of prickly anger to insulate herself against pain.

I saw myself, as though I was looking in a mirror. Anger is my standard defense mechanism, providing me with a false level of control over situations where there is no way to be in control. I watched the mother character bend over backwards and kill herself trying to keep her daughter alive, and knew that I would do the same in a heartbeat. She isolated herself from her husband and her other kids, all in a single-minded focus on her dying child. She was going to keep her alive at all costs, just to prove that she could.

It hurt to watch this portrayal, in full vivid colour, of the darker side of my obsessive personality. You can't fault the mother for fighting for her daughter's life, any mom would do the same, but it was her dogged perseverance, soaked in boiling rage, that resonated so deeply with me. She needed to let go, and she couldn't, and this is the story of my life to this point.

I know I'm improving, but the progress is so very slow and often discouraging. We all have our coping mechanisms, and I cope by fighting, making lots of noise and smoke, to cover whatever insecurities are rolling around inside. I tend to come out swinging, and my rigid inflexibility reveals itself, and it must be my way or the highway. When I see this in William, it frightens me, because I want him to take a more moderate view, even though this "never quit" attitude has served me well as an adult.

The father in the movie, played by Jason Patric, was so much like Jason that I immediately recognized his character qualities. He was impulsive and fun, where his wife was immovable and intense. She needed him to help her relax and stop obsessing over what she couldn't control. When she eventually had her turning point, and accepted the inevitable, I found it emotionally cathartic.

As long as I am alive, I can change and improve. I can learn, ever so slowly, to let go of my anger and sense of manic control, and relax into the moment. I can try not to fight the current of life as it carries me along, and recognize that no one can control everything that happens to them. I can try to let go, a little at a time, until I'm not so rigid with my own life.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Human Dichotomy

It is part of our uniquely human experience to feel pulled in different directions. It's unsettling to confront all of the contradictions I face, internally and externally, on any given day. I love summer, but on the hottest days I wish I could bundle up and feel cozy like I do in the winter. I thrive in routine, but by the end of June I'm thoroughly fed up with structure and want a more relaxed pace. I enjoy hosting friends and socializing but I also crave time to be alone and quiet.

I wonder why we have so many conflicting desires. I long to live in each moment; to enjoy what is in front of me without being mired in the past or lost in dreams for the future. Being human means complexity on all levels. Nothing is ever simple or easy, and I'm not certain it ever gets easier.

Children are much better at doing one thing at a time and enjoying themselves. When my kids are playing, they are fully immersed in the activity they have chosen. I don't see them experiencing any angst for what they are missing out on. They aren't thinking of the last activity or the next one, but simply engaging with their current pursuit.

I really don't have any concept of how to do that. I can master this concentration in very short doses, but then I tend to fall right back into looking ahead or behind, wishing I was doing something else or anticipating an event which has yet to happen. Is it a sense of discontent which causes this dichotomy?

I don't feel dissatisfied or bored when I yearn for something else, but I think too much of one thing causes me to miss the opposite effect. If I'm constantly around people, I long for solitude. If I'm crazy busy for a few days, I want to be lazy. If I'm making a ton of dinners, I want to eat out. I long for these things in a visceral way, but I'm aware that I'm missing out on what is right in front of my face while I spend all of this time longing for something else.

On paper, it seems like a foolish way to live, but I know I'm not alone in this contradiction. It doesn't mean we are unhappy when we dream of the next thing coming, but perhaps it speaks to our deep need for variety. Too much of anything exhausts and frustrates us, even if it's too much of a good thing. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself for this dichotomy, but instead learn to recognize when I'm wishing away my time and focus on enjoying what I'm doing. Dreaming about pleasures to come or vacations isn't wasted time, but I must choose when to allow my mind to wander and roam, and when to rein it in.

Monday, July 12, 2010


We went to Calaway Park yesterday, a local amusement park designed for young kids, and we had a wonderful time with our friends. The weather was a bit dicey, but it didn't stop us from doing rides, playing games, eating mini-melts ice cream and taking in a cheezy lunch time show at the outdoor stage.

Toward the end of the day, I went on the big swings with the two oldest girls while my friend took the younger kids on a smaller ride. I love the feeling of the swings rising and beginning their forward motion. It feels like I'm soaring, flying weightless through the air with no regard for gravity. I'm always giddy at the beginning of that ride as it feels like everything is possible in life.

While I was indulging in this happy feeling, I began to count my many blessings: healthy kids, satisfying marriage, lovely friends and family, the many material comforts we enjoy, and my burgeoning writing career. On the heels of this joy came a sneaking suspicion that the other shoe may drop and sweep my sure footing out from under me.

I know that there are no guarantees in life, and that not one of us can look around the corner and see what is coming at us. It's all an exercise in blind faith and optimism, getting out of bed each morning and hoping to escape tragedy and keep the scales balanced in favour of the good outweighing the terrible.

In my younger days, I saw myself as an optimistic person. As I age, I have accepted that this view of myself is tarnished at best and outright false at worst. I am more of a pessimist than an optimist. I can fall hard and fast from my perch of positivity into fear and panic at the possibility that something awful can happen. I'm never very comfortable when things are going too smoothly.

When I had a miscarriage between Ava and William, I thought, "Why me?" I realized, fairly quickly, that the answer was actually, "Why not me?" I was embarrassed to realize that I only expected good things to happen to me, and bad things to happen to other people, because that was the course of my life up to that point, but of course there is no logic in that line of thinking. No one deserves cancer, or children dying, or any horrible accident to befall them. I somehow felt that I could dodge tragedy, and the miscarriage was the first time a finger reached out and pointed to me.

Since then, my rose coloured glasses have been forever changed. I think anyone who is a parent loses a lot of their optimism, because all of life becomes infinitely more precious than it was before you had children. The stakes are so much higher for you and for the ones you love. Your life is no longer your own to live as you please. It belongs equally to your children, and you cannot afford to be as cavalier as you used to be.

I try to joke about William's curmudgeon attitude to most everything, but in reality it hurts a bit because I see that it came from me. I desperately want to view the glass as half full instead of half empty, but it's not easy for me. I want to think the best of people, not the worst, and I would prefer to hope instead of despair, but pessimism is more natural to me than optimism. Here is another goal to work on, slowly, on a day by day basis, and see if I can improve my outlook and learn to control my fear about all that I cannot foresee in this world we live in.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Makes You Come Alive

A friend of mine e-mailed a quote by Howard Thurman which has been rattling around in my mind for the last few days. It says, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

I think about this quote in terms of my writing; I test it and see if it stands true, and I find that it does. The path that brings us to what makes us come alive can be straight and simple, as in the child who dreams of being a fireman and grows up to become one, or it can be winding and complicated, with many stops along the way to finding our dreams and having the courage to pursue them with reckless abandon.

Before this year I dreamed of writing and working in film, but it was never as close to being a reality as it is now. I know it may still be a long and circuitous road. By no means is my dream realized, but I am moving, a little every day, in the direction I want to be going in, and there is a deep satisfaction imbedded in that.

Different things provide meaning at different times in our lives. I loved many of the jobs I held at various points in my career to this point, and I felt satisfied with the progression I was making in my HR/Communication field. I think progression is the key. Moving forward and not sitting still. Sometimes the progress is painstakingly slow, but it must be celebrated as progress, for it's every inch we gain that helps move us toward our goal.

I know that goals are meant to change and adapt, based on our age and our life circumstances. If we only had one goal, our life would be very sad when we accomplished it. We all have multiple plans happening at any one time, which keeps us from the twin enemies of boredom and unfulfillment.

Starting on one road and moving to another is all part of our life experience. To quote the philosopher Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." I like that mix of the unexpected with the hoped-for and planned. Where they meet we find fulfillment and joy, and layers of meaning that our lives are missing before we find what makes us come alive in this moment and season we are living in.

An article I wrote on the performance art of silent acting and mummers came out recently in UPPERCASE Magazine, a visual culture publication which is distributed worldwide. It's only available in print, but the website gives some idea as to how interesting the quarterly magazine is. This is my biggest credit to date, since it is international and also in print form where so much of writing is moving solely to an online version. I'm grateful to my film class professor for pulling my student papers out of the crowd and asking if I wanted to write for her magazine. My answer was an enthusiastic, "Yes!" and I'm so grateful for the opportunity.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


A friend from BC is coming to visit today with her children. She and I were very close before we moved to Alberta, doing everything together on a day by day basis. We met in a community group for moms with new babies, and a group of us formed an instant bond, and supported each other through those crucial first years as new mothers.

A friend of mine wrote a post recently on the nature of friendship, and how some friendships fill a need for a season, and others last for much longer. I have quite a few long-time friendships and I'm very proud of them, because the conflicts have been resolved and the friendships have remained intact through distance and other changes.

Certain relationships become cemented in times of crisis, like beginning university or having a baby, and those friendships seem to have the most staying power. Any time of personal transition allows the seeds of new friendship to flourish in a way that the regular times of life simply can't imitate. When we most need friends to understand us and walk our path with us, we find the people who tend to become soulmates for a lifetime.

In a way, friendship is like dating. The stakes are equally high, because we've all made friends that we later try to gently extricate ourselves from, and if the other person doesn't agree that we should go our separate ways, it becomes as painful as a bad romantic break-up. Sometimes we just don't mesh with people at all, and often the timing isn't right for a friendship to grow, but if we give it a few years, something will bond us with that person, and the friendship blooms.

Maybe the bonding incident or circumstance is what really determines our friendships. I know when I moved to this small town, I was incredibly lonely for my wonderful BC friends, and I was desperate to make new friends. Like the dating world, it's possible that desperation could be smelled a mile away by people and they steered clear of me. It took a good eighteen months for me to settle in and find any real friends. Some of the people I pushed hard with didn't take to me initially, and yet now, four years in, we are good friends. If I really look at it, something specific always happened to bring me together with that person in a new way, and out of that experience, the friendship was born.

True friendship is a gift. We must give of ourselves on a regular basis in order to keep our friends, and in giving we find we receive equally from the other person. And now I get the joy of watching my kids reunite with their friends as well, particularly Ava with one of her first real friends. I'm certain they will have grown apart, since they live a province away and attend different schools and have their own friends, but hopefully, like adults, they will still have a bond that will endure.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Family Traditions

I love traditions. I always have. As a kid, they made me feel safe and secure, because I knew what was coming and I could count on it. As an adult, I enjoy doing the same things year after year and watching how those traditions build layers of memories for my kids. They won’t remember every detail of what we did together, and the years will blend together in their minds, but they will remember the events because we did them every single year.

Going to the Calgary Stampede on the Sneak-a-Peek night is one of those traditions. We moved here in 2006 and last night was our fourth year to attend Sneak-a-Peek. It’s half price to get in at the gate, it starts at 5 pm and is over by midnight (William has generally packed it in by 9:30 but we could stay longer as he gets older) and offers everything that the regular Stampede has but with half of the crowds to contend with.

After our small town rodeo weekend in June, the Sneak-a-Peek is one of my favourite events of the summer. In a matter of four hours, you can drop $60 and not have any clue how it added up so fast. We tour the dream house with no line up, eat a disgustingly greasy dinner and wash it down with the rootbeer from the big barrel, stroll through the barns and exclaim over the baby animals, look at the military vehicles, put the kids on a few rides, watch Superdogs while drinking lemonade and eating popcorn, and finish off with Those Little Donuts while the sun is setting. Can you tell that food is an important part of my memory-making process?

Every single year its been hot, which adds to the summer experience. This year, we walked into the Corral as Superdogs was supposed to be starting, and instead it was an ice show with acrobats and a big band and strobe lights and skaters including Elvis Stojko and the Canadian ice dancers who won gold at this year's Olympics.

It was a refreshing change of pace and an entertaining show, but when William leaned over and said, "When are the dogs coming out?" we were sure he would melt down in disappointment when he discovered that the dogs were in a different building and we didn't know that a change had been made. But I was grateful again for the fact that he is 4, because he took the news well, and settled in to enjoy the big finish before going on his favourite rides in the little kid's midway.

I love making these family memories. They become part of the fabric of our lives together. The things we do now become their adult recollections of their childhood. I want them to have lots of memories to access and enjoy.

We had so much fun last night, and I'm glad my sister and my niece were able to join us. And I'm proud of myself for not stressing out about the fact that I had my camera but no battery due to a mishap along the way. In some ways I was even more present in the moment, knowing I didn't have my camera to record it, but that didn't change the memories that were made and those will last forever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Being home is a beautiful thing. The older I get, the more I appreciate the comforts of my own house and the routines that I've established for living out our daily existence. I eagerly anticipate vacation time for a change of pace, but coming home brings a joy all its own.

When I was younger, I used to dread returning home at the end of a trip. It seemed so boring by comparison. But now, as a mom, I love the returning as much as the going, and I've discovered how pleasant it is to enjoy both parts of the holiday. I see my kids soaking up our vacation time, but midway through, they ask about returning home to their toys and to sleep in their own beds, and I love that they are learning to enjoy the homecoming as well.

To some degree, we all carry a bit of home with us wherever we go, but when we want to be in our own houses, it means there is something warm and appealing about that space we have created. Women excel at this skill. It's the small little touches that make a living space more inviting and welcoming. Men appreciate coming home to a loving, pleasant environment, but generally speaking it falls to the woman to create that space and maintain it.

I believe that the woman is the emotional barometer for the home. If she is happy, everyone is happy. If she is miserable or feeling unappreciated, look out, because the temperature just went down by 10 degrees, and everyone can feel the chill. I'm not sure why this is the case, but I think its been that way since the beginning of time. By nature, women nest, while men go out to hunt and gather and provide food for the table. I realize while typing that sentence, that many women may be offended by it, because they also work hard and provide for their family. I'm not meaning to be offensive. There are many ways to make families work, and there are personality differences in both men and women so there will always be variances.

In my family, I am the nester and the homebody, and I have to remind myself that what I do for our family is just as important as what Jason does for us. I take a certain pride in my home, not in the things we own, but in the mood that is created by our family dynamic. We love to entertain, and want our friends and family members to feel loved, accepted and welcomed in our home. True hospitality is dying in our culture, and I don't want to see it fade away. I want it to grow and prosper, with friends feeding friends, making time in their busy lives to keep relationships growing, and to spread affection outside of our own four walls.

We are independent as a culture, but interdependency and community must remain priorities. Without them, we become unmoored and adrift, attached only to ourselves, and that breeds selfishness. When we are connected to our friends and family, we give regularly of ourselves, and as my Granny was fond of saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it." Sometimes it's uncomfortable to give when I'd rather hole up and be left alone, but I don't ever want to be out of the habit of being invested in the lives of others. Part of that is inviting people into my home, to eat a meal, drink a coffee, or stay overnight if they are from out of town. It's a philosophy of community, and I want to keep it alive at all costs, so my kids learn by our example and carry hospitality with them into their own adult homes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Last night we stayed in Kelowna with some long-time friends (isn't that term nicer than "old" friends?) and we spent a very relaxed evening reminiscing with them in their gorgeous new house. It made me grateful for the connections we make with people, and even though our lives are filled with change and distance, when we are together it's as if we've never been apart. There are no fears of awkward conversation gaps or pauses; just 4 people sitting on a patio on a summer evening, talking and talking until it was finally time to go to bed.

This morning we began the eight hour drive home. Our kids are seasoned at this BC to Alberta commute, and settle in quickly for the long drive. Jason had a client to meet in Vernon, so we got a Tim Horton's breakfast, and he dropped me and the kids off at a small park for a short play while he had his meeting.

I sat on the bench, extra-large coffee in hand, and watched my children play. They ran and they giggled, making up imaginary games with silly talk punctuating their play. The sky was so blue it almost hurt to look at it, and there wasn't a cloud in sight. The air was hot on my skin, even at 9 am, and the sun was soothing and immediately raised my spirits. My coffee tasted incredibly good, even better than usual, because I was in a new park in Vernon on a Wednesday morning in July, and all of my senses were engaged.

We don't need money or success or good looks to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I experienced utter luxury with all of my senses awakened this morning, and it wasn't tied to anything I was doing. The only reason I noticed it at all was because I slowed down and plugged in to what we were doing. There was no rushing or accomplishing or working. There was just being. Sitting, watching, tasting, hearing, smelling and luxuriating in all of it.

Suddenly I was too engaged to sit still. I set down my coffee and went to join them, sneaking up behind William and tickling him, sending him into gales of laughter, then chasing Ava and challenging her to a race up the spiderweb of ropes and over the balance beam. We all scrambled up to the 3 slides, and went down in a race, side by side, shouting when we reached the bottom. I was ridiculously out of breath when my kids could've run all day, but I was actually having fun. The kind you don't have to think about, but you just experience somewhere deep in your body and your soul.

I'm not sure I'll ever forget what happened in that park this morning. I think I made a memory that my kids will hold for as long as they are alive, because it was so unexpected for me to jump off that bench and join in. I plan to do that more often. And I turned a simple, ordinary situation into something that brushed the divine, simply by paying a little attention, and joining in to what my kids already do naturally and very well.

Thank you for your patience with my late blog posts while I was on vacation. This one is the latest of them all, but I'll be back on track tomorrow morning. Thank you for continuing to read, and for writing on my Facebook wall when you didn't see a post. I really appreciate each and every one of you, and love to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Danger of Writing

Writing is a dangerous profession. We are all thieves, stealing lines and situations from real life. Even when we write fiction, it's still drawn from some place of reality, or it doesn't ring true for readers.

Recently I heard from someone very important to me, and feelings had been hurt by something I had written. This kind of collateral damage is not at all intentional, and I fear that it may happen many more times along my road to becoming a professional writer.

Misunderstandings can happen between anyone at any time. They always hurt, and ideally can be worked out with a great deal of care and explanation on all sides. Our words matter, and I must take responsibility for mine and apologize where my words cut and injure.

I'm learning how to walk this fine line. Writing a part of my story in a memoir is concerning where it intersects with real people in true life situations, because I am simply telling my version of the events. Through my lens and filter, the events and interpretations may differ radically from another person's recollection. This is a part of the writing process. I don't think it can be avoided, but I do feel a responsibility to be as careful as I can with events and issues I choose to write about.

It's not an exact science, and I will make many mistakes as I go. I'm so very grateful that my friend had the guts to approach me on what I said, and hold me accountable. I hope that my explanation will help to pave the road to forgiveness and keep our relationship intact, because it's important to me.

We all read situations with our own slant and bias. We bring all of our individual feelings and experiences to bear on everything that impacts us. It's impossible to predict how some people will react to things we say or do. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I was trying to take things at their face value and not read into all of the emotional subtext in every conversation. I've been working hard at that and it is helping me navigate through the complex social mazes I find myself in.

Many times I fail, and must apologize for my words and actions. I don't want to be careless and hurt others, but I also strive to be honest and true in my writing, and sometimes the latter causes the former. I don't expect everyone to agree with what I say all of the time. All I can do is keep trying my best, treading lightly with the feelings and opinions of others, while recognizing that my thoughts and ideas belong to me, and must be shared honestly if my writing is to carry any meaning at all.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I Like Myself

At bedtime, I read William a book we found here at the cabin called I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. It had a great message all about being yourself and not bowing to pressure from anyone else about how you should be. I asked William if he wanted to be himself, and he said, “No. I want to be Papa.”

I explained that you can be like other people, but you must always be only yourself. “There is no one else like you,” I explained. “You are the only William Jamieson in the whole world.”

“No,” he replied. “At the zoo someone yelled ‘William’ and I said ‘yes’, and it was another kid named William, so I’m not the only one.”

I laughed and agreed that there are many Williams in this world, but he is the only one who looks like him and feels like him inside, with all of his unique characteristics and quirks. I stressed that he should never try to be anyone except who he is. We can all make ourselves better, but we shouldn’t change our specific individuality, for this is our gift to the world, setting us apart from everyone else. We all have our own ideas, and a one-of-a-kind voice to express our ideas, and we should never censor that or change it.

I didn’t really know myself until I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t give any conscious thought to my own identity; I didn’t understand that my personality was the key to finding my place in this world and squarely owning the real estate I lived in.

When I was 25, I had a discussion with my mom which changed me forever. We talked about my close friendship with my best friend and her family while I was growing up, and I realized during this conversation that my friend’s parents told me repeatedly as an adolescent that I should’ve been born into their family. This went deep into my spirit and created a sort of fractured identity, where I felt I had one foot in my family of origin and one in my family of choice.

I’ve been writing about this dichotomy in my memoir about my dad, and it’s an interesting thing in hindsight because as I grew up into my twenties, the ground beneath my feet began to shift, and I felt like I was doing the splits with one foot in each camp. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling. I was nurturing both sides of my personality, being the person who was acceptable within my own family, and maintaining the persona I created for my best friend’s family in order to be acceptable there. I didn’t have the first clue who I really was, and had to start figuring out my own identity at the ripe old age of 25.

I love that both of my kids will grow up with a stronger sense of self than I had. I enjoy talking with both of them about identity, encouraging them to always be only themselves. I love this quote by Judy Garland, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.” This will be the battle cry that will reign over my kids as they grow into adolescence.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hard Parenting Decisions

For some time, I have been considering a small cosmetic procedure for Ava that would potentially make her life easier as she grows into a teen and then an adult. It’s not necessary for any medical reason, but I found out yesterday that it may be covered under healthcare and I should talk to our family doctor to find out whether Ava would be eligible for it.

This conversation bothered me immensely, because I don’t know how to even begin to discuss this with her. The first step would be to talk about it with the doctor, and maybe I’d have a clearer sense of direction after that discussion took place. I thought she was too young to even consider this, but I heard that a small child recently had the same surgery and it was fully covered under provincial healthcare, and his doctor suggested it be done before Grade 3.

We have raised her to this point to believe she is perfect as she is, and cosmetic surgery to correct a possible self-image problem in the future hurts me somewhere in a sensitive area of my heart. I would walk over hot coals for my daughter, I would throw myself in front of a train to save her, I would take on anyone who hurts her for any reason.

I hate that I have passed my ears along to her. I want her to pile her hair up on her head for graduation and her wedding, if she chooses to do so. I don’t want someone to make fun of her or call her names because her ears aren’t flush to her head, but neither do I want to put her through surgery just for a relatively small thing like this. I wonder if it’s better to raise her with as high of a self image as we can manage, and simply encourage her to believe that everyone has different ears, and it’s not better or worse to have them shaped a certain way.

Part of me knows that there isn’t a simple answer to this issue. Awhile ago I talked to someone who had the ear surgery in kindergarten, and she said she was grateful as an adult that her parents opted to do the procedure, and she didn’t remember anything painful about it.

This information helps a little, but I don’t want to have to decide this for Ava. If she’s a candidate for the surgery under healthcare, I suppose I’ll have to find a way to open this discussion with her in the gentlest of ways. Until that time, I’ll need to reconcile my mother guilt with what is truly the best thing for her, both now and as she grows up into a woman, and as parents we’ll make the decision together with our sweet and beautiful daughter.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Someone Else's Turn

Being at the cabin this week is bringing back many memories of my kids as babies. Jason's parents bought the cabin when Ava was 9 months old, so she has grown up with this magic place as part of her earliest memories. When they were babies, we had to travel with so much of their stuff, and find ways to amuse them, and collapse in gratitude when they napped or were in bed for the night.

Now they are 7 and 4, and capable of coming and going in and out on their own. They can cook their own marshmallows and hot dogs over the fire, read books alongside of the adults, play card games with us, and run wild outside on the dock without us worrying about their safety. It's so fun, but it was a long road to get here.

Now I watch my sibling-in-laws have their turn raising babies at this cabin. I remember being affronted by my sister's attitude when she had older kids and I had babies. She would say, "I'm glad it's your turn now. I did it, and I enjoyed it, but I'm glad to have the diapers and the work of babies behind me." At the time I couldn't imagine feeling like that, because I loved the stages they were at as babies and little kids, but they are definitely a lot of work when they are under three, and suddenly there is breathing space all around for Jason and I as parents.

It's fun to watch the grandparents with the older kids too. Every stage of childhood offers different delights, and since we can't go backwards, it's best to enjoy them as much as possible at every stage, because it all goes so fast. None of us can predict what is coming in life, either as parents or just simply as people. We can't see what's coming around the next curve.

I had no idea I would have so much fun with my older kids. I watched people with older kids when I had little ones and it seemed like a country that I didn't have a valid passport to visit. I couldn't imagine it, in much the same way as my siblings-in-law can't see what is coming in a few years for their babies. My sister knew, because she had walked this road before I did, and now I know too. I think the key is to love each stage as much as you can, soaking up everything you can, since the next one comes when you aren't expecting it, and you are have to learn to parent differently at each age and stage.

Yesterday Ava was playing wiffle ball with her aunt, and they moved toward the vehicles. When Ava threw the ball, she hit Nana and Papa's side mirror of their truck and it shattered. Ava was instantly devastated, sobbing her heart out. The adults all laughed about the miracle of a plastic ball with holes in it breaking glass so easily. To us, it was no big deal, but Ava was embarrassed, and felt like she had made a huge mistake, and she worried that her beloved grandparents would be upset with her. We took her aside, let her cry it out, and then encouraged her to go and talk to Nana and Papa to work the situation out. When she came back from her discussion, she was all smiles, and the fun and games resumed.

I enjoyed that parenting moment. It provided the opportunity to talk about mistakes and conflict resolution. She was hesitant to go and talk to them, as all of us are when it involves interpersonal issues, but she was so glad when the reassurance came that her grandparents were not at all upset, and she understood that sometimes accidents happen and some things are beyond your control. It's not a bad lesson for the adults to remind themselves of from time to time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Independent vs. Dependent

William has been very different in the past few months. I was waiting for him to turn 4, because I hoped he would be more independent and less emotional with another year of maturity under his belt. He turned 4 in early April, and the change I was looking for didn't come right away, but slowly during May and June he has begun to grow up, just a little, but enough for me to notice.

His dependence on me is something I am not familiar with in my parenting life to this point. Ava as a baby, toddler and child was independent in the extreme. She wasn't cuddly or needy, preferring to do things on her own instead of being helped. I recognized this quality and respected it. I understood that mindset because I have it myself.

William needs help with everything, and clings to me in a way that has never been comfortable for my personality type. He is like a dog where Ava resembles a cat. I have felt smothered by his need for me; it was like an itchy wool blanket on a sweltering day, and I was desperate to get out from under it.

I'm slowly realizing that I was probably like William when I was little. I craved attention from my parents, and remember dancing around the kitchen shouting, "Look at me, look at me!", hoping for them to stop their activity and notice me. As a middle child, I often felt lost in the shuffle between my siblings. My sister was older and got to do everything first, and my brother was the cute baby, celebrated in a way I couldn't replicate.

That vulnerable child is lost forever, buried in layers of cynicism and humour. When we get hurt, we find ways to protect ourselves. I went through years of counseling which helped me get over many destructive patterns that I wasn't at all aware of, but I don't think I really touched on this lost part of myself; that tiny girl who twirled in the kitchen and tried to be noticed. She's still a part of me, lost until this point, and I think I can finally access her through my small son.

This has been a revelation to me. It helps me see him differently, and to look at each irritating thing he does as an opportunity to learn something about myself. He's not trying to frustrate me. He's growing up into himself, a man who will hopefully keep his sensitive and sweet side intact, and one day I'll be grateful for his vulnerabilities and see them as strengths instead of weaknesses.

I'm hoping I can keep his "look at me!" hopefulness alive into adulthood. I want him to sustain that dreamy, wishful outlook, and continue to ask for help from people. I struggled to maintain those things for myself, but I can encourage him to stay on that path and not veer off course. Why shouldn't he aim for the stars and reach them?

When he went to bed last night he complained of a tummy ache. He went to bed at 11 pm on the day we drove to the cabin, and played hard all day yesterday, so we figured he was just exhausted, and told him sleep would fix his sore tummy. He woke up around 9 pm, as we were playing cards and eating junk food, and puked all over Jason, who went to check on him. Vomit in a bed when you have no laundry facilities is an interesting adventure.

We are all living in very close quarters and worried about a stomach flu sweeping through the place, but he slept fine and woke up with no signs of tummy problems. I think he was just overtired, and ate too much fruit. Regardless, his vulnerability was sweet to me last night. I hugged my boy, and I loved him, and I thanked God for his dependent nature, which can lead the way for me to reconnect with my long buried childhood self.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada Day

I love being Canadian now, but it's only in the last few years that I fully appreciated what it means to be a Canadian. When I was younger, I wanted to be an American. I was always drawn to the take-no-prisoners, hard-charging attitude of our friends to the south.

It appealed to my own crazed power complex to be an American. I thought of Canadians as meek and mild, stepped on by others, and too socialist. The US brand of capitalism was like a magnet to my young adult idealism. I wanted to prove to the world that I could be rich and successful, and do it on my own terms.

I viewed Canada as a country of people trying to blend in; to underachieve so the individual would not stand out from the group. I wanted to stand out, so I chose to attend universities in the US, and planned to stay on in Los Angeles to make movies. Unfortunately, US immigration had other ideas, and with some intense disappointment I returned to Canada as a 20 year old who preferred to be American.

At 23, I met Jason and fell madly in love. He loves Canada, spouting off various facts about our nation with obvious pride. We would engage in long debates about the benefits of the US versus Canada. I was idealistic to the extreme, preferring to praise capitalism without any regard for the dark underbelly of homelessness, poverty, and a medical system which routinely bankrupts the middle and lower classes.

Slowly I began to develop an appreciation for Canada as I matured into my roles of wife and mother. I started to see how positive many of our national attributes are. We are internationally known for our manners, our willingness to help our fellow man, and our sharp, irreverent wit and ability to laugh at ourselves.

The 2010 Winter Olympics really solidified us as a country. We were thrust into the world spotlight, and we showed ourselves as kind and smart and worthy. I was never more proud to be a Canadian than this past winter. I have many American friends, and I love them dearly, but now when we debate politics or healthcare, I am firmly on the Canadian side of the argument.

We are blessed to live in this free nation. My kids will take it for granted, this freedom and safety they experience on a daily basis simply because of the country they were born in. It's a wonderful place to live, filled with kind and conscientious people. Happy Birthday, Canada. Thank you for this wonderful nationality that I possess. I don't take it lightly, or for granted. I am grateful.