The undocumented year

The book is called Adventures in Love, Life, and Laughter, and it’s the book Ender wants to read at bedtime. He just ‘stole’ it from Flora’s room, where she’s been going to bed with it for weeks. I’m pleased and terrified—the book is a photo-blog combo of Nothing By The Book’s 2011 posts and Sean’s photographs of the children.

“How old was I?” Ender asks as he looks for himself in every picture. “How old was Flora? How old was Cinder?”

“Two,” I say. “You were two. Here, you must be about two a half. Here… mmm, I think it’s just before your third birthday.”

“What’s this story? Read me this story,” he asks, and I do, and sometimes he loves them, and sometimes he cringes. “I never did that!”

You did, my darling, you did, I think.

But I don’t say.

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I have a book like that for every year, from 2005, through to 2013. I produced them as Christmas gifts for the grandparents and family—and myself—and now I know they are mostly for my children. I didn’t manage to create 2014—it sits on my computer still as an unproofed file—and Flora was so disappointed, I know I must make that book for her, and soon.

Sean put 2015 together for me as a Christmas present—it exists as an electronic file only. We must print it.

And now, 2016 is coming to an end, and I am looking back at it, and realizing my children are about to experience their first undocumented year.

Oh, not exactly, of course. The first three months of the year, the time we spent in Cuba, are documented up-the-wazoo—I’m not finished with the postcards yet—just with Havana. Our time in the fishing village/Varadero bedroom community of Boca de Camarioca is still to be released, over January-February-March 2017—bringing the story full circle and to a close. When I am done, I will put all of that together for the kids into a beautiful book.

But in the nine months of 2016 I’ve spent in Canada, my ‘real time’ posts have been rare and sporadic… and as I look back at the year, I have an eerie sense of an undocumented year. Even my Instagram—my back-up visual documentation (I am a writer: documenting in words is always my first choice) is sparse.

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There are very good reasons for this lack of documentation. Producing the Postcards took much more time than just writing a ‘here’s the weird shit my kids said this week’ post takes. And the project felt so important to me, and so urgent: it was a high creative priority. I was also deeply immersed in other writing projects that again were—felt—urgent and important, and I focused my energy on them.

(Priorities, baby!)

And also… more and more often, the children are now my blog co-producers and… censors.

“Don’t write about that,” gets said in my house more and more often.

Actually, it’s more like:

“Don’t you fucking dare write about that!”

Jane: But it’s important!

“That’s why! It’s private!”

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Important. Private.

If you’ve been following my writing on life-and-parenthood since I became a mother in 2002, you will have noticed that this awareness—my recognition that increasingly, my documentation was invading my children’s privacy, and my struggle with that—has crept up on me slowly. I think it resulted in an unconscious shift, initially, into a more internal perspective. Flora doesn’t want you to know what she said or did, OK—but I have all these FEELINGS about it… and these feelings are my own, and I want to explore them and document them… which makes for a much more introspective, and much less amusing, way of writing than a piece on “House Rule #713, or, why we don’t have a lot of dinner parties.”

Important. Private.

The Internet and social media have created a fascinating world in which we don’t think things are important unless they are shared… and re-shared… and re-shared. Yet, after all… the most important things are… private.

And these too should be documented—for the people they matter to. And not thrown, naked, before the eyes of the world.

I started journaling again, privately, in 2014. I now have dozens (literally: 26 that I see from where I’m sitting right now, and at least two or three more tucked away elsewhere) of notebooks filled with barely legible long-hand that document all the things that are important—and private—to me.

Inside those private journals, there is a sub-body of work that is first drafts of posts, essays, articles, poems, novels.

Art. Which will be shared. After it is refined, revised.

Perhaps, censored, a little. Because… privacy is important. And the only things that are private are the things that are unshared.

So.

My undocumented year—it is not so undocumented, really. But the most important parts of it… they’re private.

And this is a good thing.

I think it’s important to consider that just because something can be shared—said—posted—doesn’t mean it should be. Sometimes, it is enough for a photograph just to be taken. A thought to be had. Written and slipped into a drawer.

Sharing is not an imperative.

It’s a choice—and it should be a conscious choice.

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So. What does this mean for Nothing By The Book in 2017?

I don’t know.

I think my biggest and most important task is to figure out how to document my children’s childhood for them without betraying them—and I can’t tell MY story without telling their story, right? We are so entwined. So that’s a challenge I will need to navigate as I write life.

I am creating and trying to figure out a whole new career at the moment, and that’s fascinating and amazing—but also something that I want to occur completely off the pages of Nothing By The Book. Which creates another censor and strain. How can one write honestly and meaningfully… when there are so many fucking censors involved?

I am also struggling with the nightmare of TOO MUCH CONTENT. As we enter 2017—and Facebook turns 13, Twitter 11, and Instagram 7 (the parallels between the ages of these social media and my children’s ages are hilarious)—we enter a world in which everyone is writing and talking… and too few people are reading and listening. You know this is true. Those of us who ‘produce’ (a telling word) ‘content’ (ditto) scan posts and articles not to understand what is going on but to get material for the shit we’re going to write and say.

This is a dysfunctional situation.

We’re all talking and writing. And there is so much STUFF being thrown at us to read-listen to-watch. TOO MUCH CONTENT. We know this, we feel this, we are overwhelmed… and at the same time, we suffer from that fear-of-missing-out thing… and we’re so rushed and crushed, we talk in acronyms. OMFG. FOMO. YOLO. TTYL.

Ugh.

Every time I release a post… I feel I’m part of the problem.

What would happen… what would happen if I just shut up for a while… and listened?

*

I don’t know.

I don’t even know if I’m capable of shutting up. 😉 Silence is very difficult.

*

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This is very, very important (and not private, so I will tell you):

Before you tell stories, you need to listen.

You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories about. You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories for. You need to listen to your inner story teller too. What’s up with her and why does she want to tell this story?

And I think you need to have the courage to ask… is this story worth telling? Worth sharing?

I don’t think the answer is always ‘yes.’

You: It’s my story and I’ll share it if I want to.

Jane: That is, of course, your prerogative, always.

The freedom we are now offered, the extent to which we are able to share ourselves, our lives, our work—our innermost secrets!—is immense.

And powerful.

But.

I don’t know.

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I am talking in circles now, and I am not taking you towards closure.

I should just shut up and listen.

Ender: Read me the book?

Jane: Ok, baby. Which one?

Ender: The one about me and my brother and sister.

Oh boy.

Mixed messages. Mixed messages.

2017, what am I going to do?

Merry All-The-Holidays, and may 2017 bring you many beautiful things… and the occasional gift of silence.

xoxo

“Jane”

Postcards From Cuba

2016 Posts that weren’t Postcards From Cuba

indulgent interlude (May 15, 2016)

journeys, birthdays, gratitude (May 24, 2016)

interlude: a perfectly ordinary monday (June 20, 2016)

Party in purgatory (July 14, 2016)

The price of flow (July 27 2016)

Frida Kahlo was a selfie master (August 10, 2016)

Hate and love, Frida and Hamlet, also, inspiration (August 17, 2016)

Expiration date (August 23, 2016)

Too. Much. Noise. (August 31, 2016)

A passion for learning and for life: unschooling and worldschooling in practice (September 6, 2016)

Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards (November 2, 2016)

STALK–er, connect with–ME:

Instagram /  Twitter / Facebook

Say something PRIVATE:

nothingbythebook at gmail.com

Put your MONEY where your HEART is:

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Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards

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You: Jaaaaane…. Jaaaaane… where are you Jaaaane? Where are my postcards?

Jane: Don’t talk to me. I’m proofing.

I’m almost done, almost done, almost back. You’ll get a tiny postcard this weekend, and over November, we will finish Havana—and then take a break for December… because how cruel would it be, to send you Postcards from Cuba while you’re bracing for a cold Canadian winter? I’m going to wait until January before doing that to you—you can enjoy our frosty December without that cruel taunt.

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In the meantime…

Flora: Mom? When did we stop having lunch? Is that something we’re going to start doing again?

Cinder: I miss lunch. Lunch was good.

Ender: What’s lunch?

Don’t feel too sorry for them. The house is full of food. Also, I have kind neighbours.

Her: Just wanted to let you know, your two littles are here. Can they stay for supper?

Jane: Yes!

Her: Do you want me to send something over for Cinder?

Jane: Yes!

Her: Have you eaten anything today?

Jane: …

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I’ll eat soon.

The house is full of food. Nuts and dried cherries and…

You: What the fuck are you, a squirrel?

…and Sean keeps on coming home with chocolate and cream, and it keeps on disappearing, so I’m pretty sure I’m eating.

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Confession: I love this.

I mean, it’s killing me, and my back and neck are stiff, and I want to claw out my eyes, and the house has descended into a new state of chaos—one of Ender’s friends thought she lost her iPod in our living room the other day, and I looked at the room, and I looked at her, and I sighed, “Well, that’s that then. You’ll have to ask your parents for a new one,” because looking for it would require excavation—and I’m feeling overwhelmed and terrified I will miss all my deadlines… but I love it.

So there you go.

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Remind me of that when I moan about how much I have on my plate right now.

You: You love it.

Jane: I hate you. Shut up.

Or, just bring me chocolate.

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The real reason I’m writing to you today, though…

You: Because you missed me?

Jane: No, you missed ME. Remember? YOU, I carry around in my head always. We’re never apart.

…is because my silence and the disappearance of the postcards from your in-box is a perfect illustration of the fact that the only way shit happens is… DEADLINES.

So. Beloved.

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Before the end of this weekend, you will get an excerpt from a love letter. To tide you over until next week.

On November 9: a riff on racism.

On November 16: facts of life.

On November 23: sketchy—effectively, the Havana finale.

On November 30: “I miss you today.”

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There.

I have put it down in black and white; I have committed, and it doesn’t matter what else falls onto my plate in November, you will get your postcards.

Deadlines.

The only way anything gets done.

xoxo

“Jane”

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PS Some “from the archives” reading that is very apropos right now:

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Hate and love, Frida and Hamlet; also, inspiration

Why I love the Internet:

I write a piece called Frida Kahlo was a selfie master, and you find The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self Portrait for me, and it is in my hands the next day, OMFG, perfection, adoration, love. Thank you, my love.

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Why I hate the Internet:

It’s ALWAYS there.

Why I love the Internet:

It’s ALWAYS there.

Except… when we hit pause. And we can do that, you know.

Idea:

Suppose… suppose that instead of feeding the insatiable beast of social media… we focused on both making and consuming less content… but of higher quality?

I think I’m gonna do that. You?

Confession:

I homeschool at least in part because the idea of dragging my kids (and myself) out of bed on time every morning fills me with horror. Plus—making lunches… ugh.

OK, there’s a little more to it than that, and I’ll be speaking on why & how my family approaches learning at the Inspired Calgary Conference on Sept 3., 2:30-3:30, at the Cardel Theatre.

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Writers:

Put August 11-13, 2017 in your calendars now. Those are the dates for the next When Words Collide writers’ conference and fest in Calgary.  I’m still digesting #wwcyyc2016—my first one—but in brief: I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so energized and full of possibilities… it was an absolutely amazing experience.

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If you need a shot of inspiration and can’t wait, the Surrey International Writers Festival is in Surrey, BC, October 20-24, 2016.

Or you can go to Iceland in the Spring.

Some deadlines:

September 1: if you want funding from the Alberta Foundation of the Arts for your dreams (or professional development…)

September 7: the deadline for applying to the Banff Centre’s Emerging Writers Intensive program.

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If you’re in yyc:

This is the last week to catch Hamlet at Shakespeare by the Bow on Prince’s Island. Hamlet is played by a chick, man, and there’s all sorts of awesome gender bending going on. Last shows through til this Sunday.

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Take your kids. If they’re bored, you can send them to the nearby playground.

Bring mosquito repellant. A LOT OF IT.

Life:

It goes on.

xoxo

“Jane”

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #12

A conversation:

Ender: Oooh, one more chocolate croissant, yum!

Jane: Oh, yeah, one more. Do you want to share it with Flora and Cinder?

Ender: No. I want to share it by myself.

Ta-dum.

September 12, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

How To Do Nothing With Nobody All By Yourself by Robert Paul Smith

and if you cannot get a hold of that, read In Defense of Boredom: 200 Years of Ideas on the Virtues of Not-Doing from Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds on (where else) BrainPickings.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of checking Facebook:

Pen. Notebook. Or, laptop. First four words: “I was bored, so…”

 

An explanation:

This is the final week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL! Actually, I’m back—home sweet home—but 12 seemed like a more… symmetrical? number than 11, and I thought I’d want a week to settle. The conversation + reading assignment + writing exercise + re-run wraps up today. Next week—something utterly new.

Until then…

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

Everyone Isn’t An Artist

first published March 25, 2012

There is a lovely quote attributed to Pablo Picasso along the lines that, “ “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” In Quest Theatre’s production of For Art’s Sake, the lovely children’s play that played last weekend at Y-Stage in Calgary, the playwright and authors draw attention a couple of times to another Picasso soundbyte on art: that the great master spend most of his adult life trying to paint (think?) like a child. The message of the play, delivered repeatedly by one of the characters and proudly parroted back at the actors at the end of the play by my own Flora? “Everyone is an artist.”

Except they’re not.

A caveat before I go any further: I enjoyed the play—the actors were terrific, the setting and its use of multi-media inspired, and the little people loved it. I love Quest Theatre. I support Y-Stage unreservedly and will be back for their offering next month (here’s a link to details about the show at FamilyFunCalgary).

But I disagree with its fundamental tenant. Everyone is not an artist… and I’m not sure why these days, artists are so darn determined to convince the rest of us that a) they’re not that special and b) if only we opened our minds / cleaned our chakras / freed our inner elves, we could do what they do.

I am a writer. I don’t think everyone is a writer. Nor that everyone should exert themselves to be a writer, to express themselves, fulfill themselves—earn a livelihood for themselves—in this particular way. If everyone is an artist, is everyone an engineer? A plumber? A mathematician?

My artist child is shining under the influence of the play. She’s an artist. And she loves the message that everyone is an artist. It’s reassuring to her fledgling confidence.

Her older brother? He laughed in all the funny spots. Clearly enjoyed himself. As we leave the theatre, however, he’s unforgiving. “It was kind of crappy,” he says. “Art this art that. I don’t like art. I don’t like drawing or painting very much. Or even looking at pictures. That’s just not my thing.”

He’s not an artist. Nor a thwarted artist—not an artist denied. Surrounded by paints, crayons, markers, pencils, chalks, in a house in which walls were prepped for painting and drawing on, he abandoned all that as soon as he grew into consciousness of choice. That is not how he expresses himself, fulfills himself, processes information, relaxes.

But it is what his sister turns to do all that. She draws when she’s overflowing with happiness. And when she’s sad. When she’s at a loss. It’s what she does when she listens to books on tape. Her handwriting practice sheets are works of art—an interplay of colour, patterns, creation. Will this love stay her lifelong passion, lead her to her livelihood, or remain a steadfast companion/form of release and expression throughout her life?

Maybe. And will she try to convince her brother that he’s an artist too? That everyone is an artist?

Frankly, I hope not. It’s a gift, a talent, a passion that not everyone shares or aspires to. And claiming that they do denigrates its meaning. Its value.

Everyone’s not an artist.

What do you think?

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A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #11

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

A conversation:

Sean: You know what a good job for Flora would be? Designing coins for the Canadian mint.

Flora: Yeah, that would be pretty cool. I bet I’d be good at that.

Cinder: Please, please, please, if you do get that job, please, please, please design a coin with a penis on it.

Flora: Um… how about if I design a coin with your face on it?

Cinder: No, do one with a penis.

Flora: You’d be more famous if I designed a coin with your face on it.

Cinder: I’d rather be famous for my penis.

Zeus help me.

July 29, 2012

 

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Hafiz. But not just any rendition of Hafiz. Daniel Ladinsky’s Hafiz. Start with Ladinksy’s The Gift.

A taste:

Those kisses you sent, I found them wandering
around the house. They were acting a little
lost, not knowing exactly where I was.

I was busy upstairs. But now we are all having
tea and talking about you, and wishing you
were here.

And they imparted all you intended. They did
well.

One more thing: I have seen you at your best
and at your worst; still you are always welcome
near me.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of being cynical:

Hafiz makes me fall in love with the world, and so, while you’re reading Hafiz this week, I want you to write about loving the world. Through the week, carry a handful of index cards and a pen with you, and whenever you see something you love, whip out a card and write about it.

And when you see someone you love, tell them you love them. And then, write about what it felt like.

(I know, I’m totally going soft. It’s Hafiz…)

 

An explanation:

This is the eleventh week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

Biking as a metaphor for life

first published on June 5, 2012

We’re out on our bikes all the time again, and we’re a bit of a gong-show―Ender, Maggie the rat, er, runt Terrier in the biggest bicycle ever (this one), Cinder on his snake bike, Flora on a bike she can barely lift―but needs to ride instead of the little one she can handle because that’s the only way she can keep up with her big brother. Cinder’s usually up ahead, Flora chases him for a while then falls back to ride with me. Ender squeals with delight and Maggie squeals with terror. And I get all sappy, watching them ride, and remembering that it wasn’t that long ago that I had both Cinder and Flora in a trailer behind me… and then Cinder on training wheels… and then Cinder on a little bike…

When Cinder dropped his training wheels and we started going for longer bike rides, I noticed one day how we were usually riding–he in front, setting the pace, going like a madman at first, then slower and slower, and me behind, pulling his sister in the trailer, keeping an eye on the path and possible obstacles, the two of us occasionally stopping to talk, then moving on…

And I was earnestly, sappily, struck with how we biked was so reflective of how I saw parenting and learning and living and all of that.

 And I got so in love with this metaphor, and started writing it out in more detail in my head and developing it into a huge life-changing thesis that I was going to write up for one of my yahoo groups or an article or maybe an entire book … that I stopped paying attention to the path and the real universe around me and I rode right into a post.

Lesson learned?

Nope. I’m cycling hard, chasing Cinder, keeping an eye on Flora, restraining Maggie, chatting to Ender, but my mind again turns the moment into a metaphor and a story―and bam!

It might even have been the same lightpost.

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Here we are after conquering a hill in Waterton Lakes National Park. Ender’s napping in the baby seat and missing the view.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #10

A conversation:

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

June 15, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 7.08.45 PM

Preview the book’s insights on BrainPickings: How kindness became our guilty pleasure.

 

A writing exercise (that is also a secret discipline tool) to do instead of breaking up the latest fight between your kids:

Script the next fight between your kids. Then have them act it out. Present the play to your partner when s/he gets home.

Variant: the next time your kids are fighting, whip out your notebook or laptop and start transcribing

 

An explanation:

This is the tenth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

First published July 30, 2013

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #9

A conversation:

Cinder: I like being nine. Halfway to 18.

Jane: Excited about being able to vote?

Cinder: What? No–excited about being able to own a gun!

(I might have gone horribly wrong somewhere here…)

May 24, 2011

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Louise De Salvo’s The Art of Slow Writing.

It’s a slow read… not exciting… but. Useful.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of doing the laundry:

What are you wearing? What do you wish you were wearing? What does that sanctimonious woman standing behind you on the subway platform think about each outfit? Is she just thinking this… or is she one of those people who’s gonna tell you what she thinks, good or bad?

Use lots of mind-dialogue.

 

An explanation:

This is the ninth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

 Mittens

first published January 1, 2014

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #8

A conversation:

Flora to Cinder: Ex-boyfriend means your friend used to be a boy, but now he’s a girl.

December 16, 2010

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Margaret Reynold’s The Sappho Companion.

Also, Margaret Reynold’s The Sappho History and Willis Barnestone’s The Complete Sappho and Erica Jong’s Sappho’s Leap (the first three chapters; you can give up after that without guilt).

A writing exercise to do instead of washing the kitchen floor:

Sappho’s poems came down only in fragments—and they are still beautiful. These are two  of my favourites:

Sappho1

and…

Sappho2

 

So now. Write a handful of sentences. Ordinary sentences about the things you’ve done today, yesterday, this week. Rip each sentence into… words.

And play with them.

Maybe something beautiful will happen…

An explanation:

This is the eighth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um… or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

A re-run:

Cinder and Flora become Hellenic Pagans

first published October 25, 2011

It started in the Spring of 2011, and is still here. Ancient Greece. Now Ancient Rome. Cinder and Flora getting as thorough a grounding in Greek mythology and the foundation of Western civilization as the average first-year university Classics student. Here’s how it happened. Read the boring paragraph, please. You need it as a straw man to enjoy the rest of the piece.

D’Aulaires Greek Myths Study Guide (grade 3-6)

This program explores this classic of Greek mythology following the same in-depth approach used in other Memoria Press guides. Designed to be used for one year (although you may choose to go faster by combining days), each of the 30 lessons is broken down into five days. Students read the selected pages from D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths on the first day. On the second day, students familiarize themselves with the “Facts to Know”―key people, places, and objects. The goal is for students to memorize these items and retain them through the end of the year, although there is no final test in this program. The third section holds vocabulary words for students to discuss and define with their teacher and may also be used as spelling words. The fourth day holds comprehensive questions, written to capture the essence of the characters and the main idea of each story, which encourages students to think about the reading and provide meaningful answers. The final section uses the fantastic illustrations found in D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths as a springboard for further discussion questions. Review lessons appear after every fifth lesson; all vocabulary and facts from the preceding lessons are tested and recurring activities encourage children to draw a picture of their favourite god or story and work on a list of things from today which borrow the names or symbols of Greek gods and goddesses. A pronunciation guide in the back breaks down al the tricky Greek names for smoother reading. The teacher’s guide is identical to the student book except the answers are filled in.”

The above summary/review―titillating, was it? Enjoy reading it? Or did you stifle a yawn or two?―comes from the Rainbow Resource Center’s Homeschool Catalogue, and you can buy the D’Aulaires book, student and teacher guide for $40.50.

D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths is a beautiful book. I have it on our bookshelf, in fact―a gift from my good friend Lisa, who passed it on to us after her kids were done grooving with the Greeks and mine were in full Greco mode. I was thrilled: we had just maxed the number of renewals on our library copy. Flora loved sitting down with the book and looking at the pictures, and we spent many evenings with it as our bedtime reading… or morning reading… or mid-day reading.

But we never did get the study guide. Because Cinder and Flora never studied Greek mythology―and I never taught it.

This is what we did instead.

It all started in the Texas Panhandle. That’s where Hank the Cowdog hails from. Hank the Cowdog is a wonderful series of books by John Ericsson about―who else―Hank the cowdog, his sidekick Drover, his enemy Pete the barn cat and an assortment of very fallible human characters. There are 50-plus books in the Hank series, and while extremely amusing and well-written, they do tend to be just a bit… repetitive. Formulaic. After months and months of reading and listening to Hank (the author’s produced a series of audio books as well, which accompanied us on every car ride and serenaded us pretty much anytime we were in the kitchen), I was very actively looking for another obsession with which to replace Hank. Harry Potter did it for a while―we read the first four books and watched (most of) the first four movies, but he didn’t have the repeatability of Hank: the kids didn’t want to read him again and again. Once―twice for book one―was enough. (They are pretty thick books for a six year old to listen to!)

Enter Percy Jackson. He was mentioned by another homeschooling family when we were swapping favourite book stories. I filed the name away to look into―and a few days later, Cinder and his friend K watched Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief on Netflix.

Usually, I’d have us read the book before watching the movie―but here, the Fates intervened. There’s nothing wrong with The Lightening Thief as a movie―it’s a perfectly good kids’ movie. “That guy playing Percy Jackson, he’s the best actor I’ve ever seen,” said a star-struck Flora. “Luke is an awesome villain!” said Cinder. But if we had come to the movie after the books, it would have sucked. As it was, the kids enjoyed it, and were eager to

read the Percy Jackson books.

There are five of them, written by author Rick Riordan, whose first career was an an adult thriller writer, and who―like most great children’s writers seem to―invented Percy Jackson as a character about whom he spun bedtime stories for his sons. As The Lightening Thief opens, Percy is a 12 year old kid with ADHD and dyslexia―a really good kid who somehow or other keeps on getting into trouble in school after school. Weird things happen to him and around him, and not an awful lot in his life makes sense, until one day, his substitute teacher turns into a Fury and tries to kill him, his best friend turns into a satyr and tries to save him, his Latin teacher turns into a Centaur, a Minotaur appears out of nowhere and kidnaps his mother… and Percy finds out he’s the son of Poseidon.

And the adventures begin. Percy finds himself in a world where the Greek gods are real and still peopling the earth with godlings―or half-bloods or demigods in the Riordan vernacular. Percy finds a sanctuary of sorts at Camp Half-Blood―the place where demigods go for combat training―then a quest… and in the end, of course, saves the world, and Olympus. And, in the last book, when he’s 16, gets the girl.

Cinder and Flora were swept away by the story. We read the hefty Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief in three nights, and then read it again while we waited for the library to deliver the second book in the series, Sea of Monsters. They couldn’t get enough of Sea of Monsters―I took out the audio book of it as well, and when I wasn’t reading it to them, they were listening to the audio book in the kitchen, in the car―not wanting to get out of the car because they wanted to keep on listening. Battle of the Labyrinth, The Titan’s Curse and finally, The Last Olympian followed. They fell in love with the heroes of the books―Percy, the son of Poseidon, Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, Niko, son of Hades. They met Zeus, Poseidon and Hades―the “Big Three”―as well as Hephasteus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, Hera and, of course, Dionysus―the god of wine who for his transgressions (he ticked off Zeus by going after the wrong nymph) was the cranky and totally inappropriate headmaster of Camp Half-blood. (“Maybe if you go on this quest, you’ll die and I’ll never have to deal with you again,” he tells Percy Jackson once.) They got to know all about the “real”

Perseus, Percy Jackson’s namesake, and Theseus, and Herakles, and Dadealus, and so many more.

When we’d go to the library for the new Percy book, we’d also come back with handfuls of other books on Greek myths. D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths was a quick first favourite, as was Atticus the Storytellers 100 Greek Myths. So was Michael Townsend’s amazing Greek myths of wonder and blunders : welcome to the wonderful world of Greek mythology, a pun-filled, blood-filled comic book introduction to the world of “Greek gods, dumb sheep and people who hated pants.” George O’Connor’s amazing graphic novel series retelling first the story of Zeus, then Athena―we’re still on hold for Hera!―offered different, modern reinterpretations of the myths. The kids learned about source material and the fluidity of oral tradition. We read Homer for Children, and they got to know the heroes of Troy and the Odyssey. Flora adored the story of Persephone, so I found her all the versions of the story, including one in which Demeter is an over-bearing mother who won’t let her daughter marry and move on with life! Cinder really liked Odysseus and the dangerous sea voyages: we watched Kirk Douglas’ Ulysseus, and talked about what happened to the Greek gods―and the world―when the power of Rome rose. We watched the History Channel/A&E documentary Clash of the Gods―and we watched a few episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess. I found them audio books of the various myths, including a BBC radio production of The Odyssey.

And we went back to the Percy Jackson books and read and re-read them, and re-listened to them.

Over… how long? Complete immersion lasted about two months―May and June of 2011 had them scorning anything and everything that didn’t have the taste of ancient Greece. It continued into the summer, capping with me organizing a Percy Jackson book club meeting, in which Cinder and Flora hosted a get-together for three other families also currently obsessed with Percy Jackson. They prepared a list of questions they wanted the kids to talk about (“If you were a demigod, who would you want your godly parent to be? What sort of weapon would you want? What monster would you most want to slay―and which one are you most afraid of?”). The kids all brought weapons to the meeting―and after the discussion, went out on our Common to sword fight. (“You know it’s a good book club if there’s a sword fight afterwards.”)

And then the obsession started to wane―just in time, because we were number 89 on the wait list at the library for Rick Riordan’s next book, Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, and we had read pretty much every good book on Greek myths and Ancient Greece in the library by then―several times over. “I need something to get the Greek gods out of my mind,” Flora told me. But Percy Jackson set the bar high. For several weeks, everything I offered them was a dud. Chronicles of Narnia? Boring. Treasure Island? Nah. The Mysterious Benedict Society? All the other kids in our Percy Jackson book club had read it and loved? Boooooring. This really cool book about samurai? Warrior cats? Killer owls?

They were mythed-out… and it took me a while to figure out, also fictioned out. We went back to Horrible Science as bedtime reading. I got The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child out of the library as an audio book for in-car listening. Ancient Greece retreated into the background.

Until… last week, we finally got The Lost Hero. And devoured the 550 page book in about a week. The library doesn’t have a copy of the next one, Son of Neptune, in yet… but Costco did. We’re reading it now. We can’t stop. Something weird’s happening: Gaea’s waking up and preparing to make war on her Olympian children again. And her Olympian children are shifting between their Greek and Roman aspects. Zeus is Zeus one minute and then he’s Jupiter. Hera’s becoming Juno… and they’re not precisely the same in those two aspects. Because Greece and Rome, well, each as a culture valued and focused on different things…

By the most fortuitous of coincidences―or was it the Fates intervening again?―The Story of the World volume we just finished covers the rise and fall of Greece and Rome. I need to check in with the library to see what they have in stock―on DVD, I think―covering the transition period. And next time we’re at the grandparents’ house, I should pull out our photo albums from Italy―standing in front of the Coliseum.

So… have Cinder and Flora explored Greek myths in depth? Hell―sorry, Hades―yeah. But they didn’t read a myth a week. They didn’t memorize “Facts to Know” with the goal of demonstrating that memorization at a test. They didn’t review vocabulary words nor endure spelling tests of the Greek gods’ names. Comprehensive questions “written to capture the essence of the characters and the main idea of each story, which encourages students to think about the reading and provide meaningful answers”? Well―they talked at length about all the stories. They asked us questions, and of each other. We asked them. They offered interpretations and impressions to interested adults, and inflicted them on completely uninterested playmates. At one point Flora wanted to learn to speak Ancient Greek―so I got out a couple of books, and they looked at the Greek alphabet, and listened to the names of the letters―and memorized what Omega and Theta look like. Poseidon’s trident led to the triangle to geometry to Archimedes (“Hey, I know him―that’s from Mythbusters! The Archimedes’ Death Ray? Remember?”) to the Greek roots of English mathematical, and other, words. There was a brief segue into the planets even before Riordan started phasing the Greek gods into their Roman aspects (“I know why Pluto’s named Pluto! Because it’s dark and rocky and barren and kind of depressing, just like Hades!”).

Could I have asked for a more thorough exploration of Greek myths, as a teacher or as a learning facilitator? No way. Could I have designed this program? Nope, no way again. I’m willing to bet cold hard cash that if we had come to the Greek myths through the D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths study guide, brought to the children by me because I thought we should study Greek myths now, our experience would have been, well, vastly different. They probably would have enjoyed the stories: it’s hard not to. But would we have managed to work our way through the entire 30-week study guide before they thought the project mostly drudgery? Would they have been inspired to delve as deeply into them as they did because they loved the Percy Jackson books and wanted to experience them as fully as possible?

Maybe. The Greek myths are powerful; they resonate. But having watched Cinder and Flora immerse themselves fully in the world of the Greeks―and now discover Ancient Roman with the same joy―I’m again ridiculously grateful that we’re able to let them do this. Take six months to read and re-read Percy Jackson. Take three years to obsess about dinosaurs. Play with baking soda and vinegar every day for 40 weeks, and then spend three weeks obsessing about nothing but the periodic table. Take a break from everything that looks like “work” because there’s important internal digestion happening and just colour and listen to books on tape and play video games for a while.

Gotta go. Cinder just came downstairs holding Son of Neptune. Percy, Frank and Hazel are on this quest to Alaska, because the giant Alcyoneus has imprisoned Thanatos, the god of death… Read the book. Come to our book club meeting. There’ll be a sword fight after.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise guru, and a re-run #6

A conversation:

I walk into the living room to see Ender and Cinder sitting around my old non-functioning Mac Book, its keyboard in pieces, and Cinder wedging one of the panels on the body open.

Cinder: Hi Mom.
Jane: What are you doing?
Cinder: Ender and I wanted to see what the inside of a computer looked like. Don’t worry–this is the broken old one. … Um… was this one of those things I should have asked permission for?
Jane: Um… yeah, probably.
Cinder: Would you have said yes?
Jane: Um… well…
Cinder: See, when I think you might say no, I don’t want to ask permission.

May 27, 2012

 A reading assignment that will change your life:

Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnets. Especially Sonnet XII.

Full woman, fleshly apple, hot moon
thick smell of seaweed, crushed mud and light,
what obscure brilliance opens between your columns?
What ancient night does a man touch with his senses?

Loving is a journey with water and with stars,
with smothered air and abrupt storms of flour:
loving is a clash of lightning-bolts
and two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

Kiss by kiss I move across your small infinity,
your borders, your rivers, your tiny villages
and the genital fire transformed into delight

runs through the narrow pathways of the blood
until it plunges down, like a dark carnation,
until it is and is no more than a flash in the night.

Delicious… Now… is he talking about a woman… or Chile?  And does it matter?

A writing exercise (guru):

I want to introduce you to Sarah Selecky and her writing exercises at SarahSelecky.com. One of the favourite prompts of hers was “write four scenes involving walnuts.” So. Do that today, right now: four scenes involving walnuts. And then, check out Sarah’s various offerings—maybe sign up for her daily writing prompts?

P.S. You’re still doing Morning Pages, right? Right?

An explanation:

This is the sixth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

A re-run:

Ferocious Five

For all the mothers of five-year-old girls, current and coming-up-on-five, in my life.

From Life’s Archives, January 27, 2007

Flora is five years and three weeks old today—the three weeks is important, as important as the “half” was when she was four and a half. She’s just come off a very long—for our healthy, active girl—illness, almost two weeks of intermittent fever, sore throat and cough, sniffles and overall body aches, with two days of puking thrown in at the start just for fun. She’s physically well now, but weak. And fragile. Each of her nerves and emotions is exposed to the harsh air of every day life, and the smallest of life’s trials rub her raw and send her spiraling into misery.

It’s driving us mad.

We’ve been here before with her. She celebrated turning two by being sad for three weeks, non-stop. (Funny thing about time: at the time, we thought it was months. Perhaps an entire year. Fortunately, I keep records. It was three weeks on the dot, 21 days of almost incessant crying, over everything.) Between three and four—and especially on either side of three and a half—life thwarted her at every step and she barely survived (us too). At four and a half there was a brief—six days, but oh dear god what a six days—reprisal.

So this is Take Four of Flora being uber-fragile, and I’m trying very hard to approach it as a yet another opportunity handed to me by the universe to crack the Flora code. (We successfully cracked the Cinder code when he was two [this post is coming to the blog Archives soon!] and haven’t been significantly challenged in our interpretation of it since then; Flora is proving to be more complex. Perhaps we women really are.) However hard, each take has offered amazing insights and lessons. The first time around, when she was two and in tears, the lesson to us was simple. Happiness comes from within. We cannot make her happy or peaceful—it is not, indeed, our responsibility to make her happy. The best we can do is provide a certain type of environment, some coping tools—but the only one who can make Flora happy (or not) is Flora.

The lesson of Take Two was more nebulous, and it wasn’t really about Flora. It was about me and you (yes, you, the reading you, the you walking past my yard, the you I pass on the park path, the you paying a visit to my house while she’s having a meltdown). In a nutshell, it was: you don’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your reaction to Flora or to my reaction to Flora or to anything else that’s happening right now in Flora’s world doesn’t matter. Sorry. You don’t want to hear that, but I need to remind myself of it, throw you out of my mind, and focus on me and Flora. Then, I need to put me to the side—I’ll come back to me later, recharge, re-examine, ponder exactly why I was feeling the way I was and wanting to react the way I was, I’ll do all that, but later.

Right now, with you and me out of the way, I need to focus on Flora, I need to help her cope, work out some tools that she can use to help find herself, work through whatever inner turmoil she’s experiencing right now, and come back to a place of balance. This moment is all about her, and I need to surrender to that first. Only then can I help her… and maybe helping her just means being there while she can’t help herself. And then, when there is a moment when she wants and needs and is open to help—then, I step in. Without my baggage, without making this about me—much less you—but just her.

This lesson is much harder than calculus and I’m still studying it, reviewing it, intermittently failing it, because, at least some of the time, I want you to approve of my and my child and my parenting.

Flora—the current, five year old Flora—is stirring on the couch beside me now making whimpering unhappy noises as she wakes up from a quasi-nap, and I’m revisiting the second part of the lesson. Not about me. About her. What does she need? (Part of me says, a kick in the head.) Apparently, she says, her whole self covered with the blanket. Translation: control over her surroundings.

Take Three’s lesson was simple, so long as Take Two’s lesson was mastered. Repeat: it’s not about you or me. It’s about her. In capital letters: It’s about HER. Between three and five, children are as purely and completely selfish as selfish can be. They’re not psychotic, unsocialized, undisciplined: they just are. Purely, beautifully selfish. The world is all about them, and that’s all that matters to them.

This can suck to the rest of us having to live in the world alongside them. Until, that is, we realize that developmentally speaking, this is normal and inevitable… and it is possible to “work” with it. Asking a child in that stage to do something—or stop doing something, or, ha!, feeling something—because of the effect it has on other people is a recipe for frustration. They can’t comply: they don’t hear you. Oh, they can learn to fake complicity through coercive discipline. But they don’t get it. The world is about them.

At four and half, and into five, I know this. Flora’s world is all about her. In retrospect, on either side of five, Cinder’s world was all about him too. But he manifested it in a different way and it was easier to live with. It was all about doing stuff. For Flora, it’s about feeling stuff. Waaay more complex.

So, here we are in Take Four. Obviously, for me, part of the lesson here is a remedial review of Take Two. It’s not about me. It’s all about her. This part, I’m doing pretty well on. I need to work a little bit more on the fact that you don’t matter. And also, I need to flip the fact that it’s not about me on its head. I actually need to make it about me: that is, seize each of these moments as an opportunity to work on ME. MY response. MY feelings and MY expression of them. MY understanding. What am I doing in this moment and why, and can I be the me in this moment that I want to be? Can I be that me just a little bit longer? One more minute? Another after that?

People pay big money for transcendental moments like this: they go to workshops, retreats, read books, meditate… and lucky me, motherhood is delivering these life-changing, self-reflecting opportunities to me just about every day…

I wrote this post more than two years ago. Flora is now seven and three and a half months—she could probably tell you her age precisely to the day, perhaps the hour. And while we are not in “Take Five,”  we are still learning our sensitive, fragile Flora. She’s learning us too—the selfishness of five is long gone, replaced by hyper-awareness to the feelings of others, and hyper-despair when they are negative. Sometimes, this hyper-awareness makes me long for the selfishness of five. But that’s a topic for a future post. 

Bust of Flora

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #5

A conversation:

Cinder: What does humanitarian mean? Is it someone who eats only humans?

Sean: Um… what?

Cinder: You know, like vegetarian means someone who eats vegetables?

Sean: No. It’s someone who… cares a lot about humanity—about humans.

Cinder: Oh.

Pause.

Cinder: Well, that makes a lot more sense.

July 31, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. She’s going to tell you about the magic of shitty first drafts.

 

A writing exercise to do when you’re utterly stuck, kinda bored, and only have ten minutes:

Open a book, any book. Page 77. Sixth sentence. Got it? Type it into Google translator + copy it into your notebook. Translate into Japanese. Then copy the Japanese text. Translate it back into English. Copy it into your notebook. Don’t laugh. Repeat with Dutch. Repeat with another language. Repeat once, twice more.

Now… write a few paragraphs about the absurdity of translation…

 

An explanation:

This is the fifth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore. Except, the one today, is mostly just fun.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

House Rule #713, or, why we don’t host a lot of dinner parties

 (first published April 12, 2012)

Sean: Gaaah! My children are grossing me out!

Jane: What?

Sean: They’re playing with vermin! While I’m eating lunch!

Jane: Oh… Flora, do you have to change the meal worms’ bedding right now?

Flora: Yes. Because I’m supposed to do it every Sunday, and I didn’t have any Raisin Bran yesterday.

Cinder: Do the meal worms eat the raisins?

Flora: No, I’m picking out the raisins.

Sean: Didn’t you specifically tell me to buy the Raisin Bran?

Flora: Yes. The raisins are for me.

Jane: Ender! You can’t eat your turkey wrap if you’re playing with the meal worms. Here, give it to me.

Sean: New house rule. No eating while playing with vermin.

Cinder: Good one. How many does that make?

Jane: I don’t know. 713.

Cinder: Huh. I remember when we just had one.

Flora: Really? Which was was that?

Cinder: Pants at the table. Mom put it in place after the penis in scalding soup incident.

Jane: You remember that?

Cinder: Do you think I’ll ever forget?

Sean: Flora! There is a meal worm crawling towards my plate!

PS We have 24 meal worms–beetle larvae–living in our kitchen because a neighbour gave them to Flora. We’re getting him a kitten next week. Cause apparently that’s the new way we’re showing each other love in our neighbourhood. By giving our children pets. Patrick, you’ve been warned.

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae)

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #4

A conversation:

3:30 a.m.

“Mama, wake up, I have a booger!”

“Hmm?”

“Should I eat it?”

“No… ah… here, give it to me, I’ll put it on the wall…”

3:56 a.m.

“Mama, I have another booger. Should I put it on the wall?”

“Yes.”

(From Life’s Archives, July 9, 2005)

 

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Anything by Rumi. I recommend Coleman Barks’ The Essential Rumi, but you really can’t go wrong. Sample at The Poetry Chaikhana.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of asking “when do you find the time to write”:

Go to your bookshelf. Find a book you will never read again. Fill the front and end pages with first paragraphs of books you’d like to read, but nobody has written yet.

 

An explanation:

This is the fourth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

(first published on May 19, 2012)

Cinder’s just shy of 10, and the big passion of his life is Minecraft. Or Terraria. Or both, but usually just one or the other. He loves them so much, he’s convinced his Mac-using parents to get him a PC laptop so he can play them more effectively. He loves them so much that his show of choice is watching Minecraft or Terraria videos on Youtube. (A digression for a Cinder recommendation: for Terraria, nothing beats Total Biscuit and Jesse Cox; for Minecraft, Antvenom is King, and Cavemanfilms is pretty good too. Now you know where to go.)

My boy loves video games. And this is a wonderful thing.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this. Video games were never a part of my childhood, and my experience of them as an on-looker—sister, girlfriend, wife—was, well, blah. Wasn’t interested. Didn’t understand the appeal. Could tell you one thing for sure: no kid of mine was going to waste his childhood playing video games. Could rattle of spades of research about how detrimental to the proper development of a child excessive (any) video game playing could be.

Well. What changed?

Simply this: My boy loves video games, and I love my boy. He started getting drawn to them about age eight, I suppose, meeting them at this friend’s house or that, telling us about them with excitement, in vivid detail. His game-playing father entered into his interest; his game-ignorant mother started to agonize. What to do? For what reason? With what consequences?

I spare you my internal angst, as first one online game and then another (“It’s educational, Mom!” Supported by Dad’s: “Really, Jane, it’s educational.”) got introduced. Then the X-box (“It’s Kinect, Jane—they’ll be exercising and moving while they play—isn’t that good?”). Then an iPad and all the apps and games that enabled. Here’s what steered me through it, though: I love my boy. He loves these things; he’s drawn to them. What’s he getting out of it? Why? How?

I love my boy, and if I love my boy, I can’t be dismissive and contemptuous of something he loves.

So, I’d sit beside him and watch him play. Listen to him talk about the games afterwards. In-between. Eavesdrop while he talked about with his friends. Watch while they acted out game scenes on the trampoline or on the Common.

I might tell you about all the things I’ve seen him learn from gaming another time (for one example, check out this salon.com piece about Minecraft ). Rattle of spades of research about how playing video games actually makes kids smarter (Here’s Gabe Zichermann talking about this on Ted Talks). But it really comes down to this:

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. His reasons for loving them are complex—but no less valid than my love for Jane Austen novels, or John Fluevog shoes. I do not have to love them just because he loves them—I do not have to make myself play them or enjoy them as he does, just because I love him. But because I love him, I can’t say—or think and believe—that what he loves and enjoys is a waste of time. Of no value. Stupid.

Flip it. Think of something you love. Knitting? Film noir? Shiny cars? Collecting porcelain miniatures? Whatever. Doesn’t matter what. I’m thinking of my Jane Austen novels, which I reread probably half-a-dozen times a year. Now think of how you feel when someone who’s supposed to love you and care about you—your partner, your best friend, your mother—thinks that hobby or activity is of no value. And takes every opportunity to tell you so. Do those interactions build your relationship? Inspire you with love and trust for the person showing such open contempt for something that brings you joy?

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. And I love that he loves them. I love that they bring him joy.

As I finish writing this up, Ender’s having the tail-end of his nap in my arms, and Flora’s listening to The Titan’s Curse. Cinder grabs his lap top, and sits down beside me on the couch. He pulls up an Antvenom video on Youtube. “I need to get this mod,” he says. “Cool one?” I ask. “Too cool,” he says. I watch him watching for a while.

I love my boy.

“Love you, Mom,” he says. “What do you want to do when my video’s over?”

Minecraft Castle

Minecraft Castle (Photo credit: Mike_Cooke)

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #3

A conversation:

Sean: Hurry! I need to pee and the baby is grabbing the camera, the box of nails and my beer!
Jane: Where are you?
Sean: In the bathroom! Hurry!
Jane: Your camera, box of nails, and beer are in the bathroom?
Sean: Now is not the time to discuss the inappropriateness of me putting all these things in the bathroom sink. Just save my beer… and the camera. He can have the box of nails.

September 9, 2011

 A reading assignment that will change your life:

Vera Pavlova’s If There Is Something To Desire: 100 Poems.

for a shot of Vera to convince you to devour her beautiful book of poetry, check out this article she wrote for Poetry magazine: Heaven is not verbose: a Notebook.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of wishing you were writing:

This is my favourite Vera Pavlova poem:

I walk a tightrope,

a kid on each arm for balance.

This is all a poem can be, this is all a poem should be. Now. Write your own. Two lines. That’s all.

 

 

An explanation:

This is the third week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

In defence of routines

 (first published on September 21, 2011)

I wrote this essay in response to a long and heated thread called “Discipline for Young Children” on one of the yahoo groups I belong to. I’m not as active a participant in those discussions as I was when Cinder and Flora were little―partly because I no longer have napping kids, partly because I’ve become much more reluctant to offer advice, even when nominally asked for (because I’ve learnt most people don’t want advice and solutions: they just want to whinge, and get unconditional support for their whinging… but that’s food for another post), but mostly because I work and write for money so much more now than I did in those first years… and I’m kind of written out at the end of the day. But every once in a while, against my better judgement, I just can’t resist…
…I would like to offer a defence of―or the case for―rhythms and routines in an unschooled life, with young children and older ones too. [Another poster] wrote in one of her earlier posts “Whenever someone reaches for some additional form of external or arbitrary ‘structure’ I wonder, usually in my head, what is making them feel insecure this week and why they feel that will solve the problem…”

And I would like to answer that with, yes, actually, it can.

The stuff that you have a predictable routine/rhythm for―so long as it works for you in a positive way―is stuff you don’t have to expand energy thinking about and reacting to. (I’m reminded of The Big Bang Theory episode in which Sheldon uses gaming dice to make all non-essential decisions to leave his precious brain cells free to do the important work of “the mind.”)

My partner and I are both self-employed, random-deadline driven people engaged in creative, chaotic work. That injects a great deal of surprise, unpredictability and “must make this decision Now!” and “must upset any and all plans made to date and respond to this Crisis Now!” into our professional―and because we are self-employed and work from home and see our lives as intertwined etc.―personal lives.

The counterbalance or anchor if you prefer that word to that chaos is predictability and simplicity wherever it makes sense. And we didn’t arrive at that conclusion/practice overnight: it slowly evolved as we kept on adding children and responsibilities to the chaos.

So we have a morning routine, for example, that I stick to even when there’s a deadline fire burning under me and what I want to do the second I wake up is start pounding away at the keyboard. It’s a routine that honours the fact that 3/5 of the members of this family suck at mornings, and 2/5 are ridiculous early birds, and it includes things like me sitting on the couch with a book ignoring the kids while I drink my first―and hopefully second―cup of coffee and my eldest not speaking or looking at anyone for 45 minutes or so after he wakes up and playing his X-box or just lying on the couch with a blanket over his head. (A routine, see, doesn’t have to be about “doing” stuff. It can also be about safeguarding time to just “be.”) It also includes things like getting dressed, brushing hair, recorder practice, tossing a load of laundry in, making the big bed, and culminates with a morning walk with the dog. But its most important thing is―the time for three of us to just wake up and hang for a bit. (Two of us starting playing and doing stuff as soon as they wake up. The bums.)
This is what we do 9 out of 10 mornings. And it’s not something that anyone complains about as rigid, boring, limiting―it’s a guarded part of our day that, on that 1 out of 10 mornings where we have to miss it―where we have to get into the car first thing in the morning for example―makes us appreciate it all the more on the morrow when we return to it.

There are other anchors like that throughout the day and the week―I’m pretty protective of the last part of our evenings and bedtime, for example, so even though there’s no magic time by which everyone’s in bed or sleep, there sure is a rhythm to the last part of each evening. I have a built-in 3 p.m. tea break for me―that’s the magic time when I run out of steam and get cranky, so I plan for it: tea for me, snack for the kids, something to do (if just flopping on the couch to watch a DVD) so that I don’t become Evil Exhausted Mom (it took me six years to realize I consistently lost it at 3 p.m. Super-observant, I am.) We go swimming each Monday and Thursday―unless something else comes up, but that’s the “default” setting on each week, just as our girl’s music class mid-week is. But there was a time―when my eldest was four to six in particular―when the routines had to be perfectly predictable and inviolate, because that was what he needed at that time.

This last year, I’ve outsourced dinner to routines, a la Taco Tuesday, Slow Cooker Wednesday, Pizza Friday. (Also “What the Fuck’s for Dinner Thursday,” the day that reminds me to stick to the boring predictability of the rest of the week.) This is not my default setting: my default setting is―I’m getting hungry, what should we make for dinner, oh no, the fridge is empty, let’s go out―but this Taco Tuesday setting, although it makes me sound like the most boring person in the world, is better. It means we eat even when I’m on deadline, when my default setting is to not eat at all until the project is done―oh, crap, you mean you kids need to eat?

There are personalities, families, life cycles and individuals who don’t need any of this and don’t thrive on it. For sure. But there are very unschooled families who do. And hyper-organized people who need strict routines to have something to deviate from. And hyper-unorganized people who need some kind of even aspirational guideline to be fly-by-the-seat of-their-pants with.

I’m not sure which one I am, or my family is: we’re five individuals with very different personalities. But I do know that routines/rhythms/anchors―whatever you want to call them if the word schedule gives you the willies―make our family life more peaceful, our work life possible. Most of our days have plenty of spontaneity, go with the flow, live in the moment kinda stuff―too much, I would argue, on the days when work throws me a really unexpected curveball.

Does Slow Cooker Wednesday and 3 p.m. tea mean the baby getting sick, the washing machine flooding the basement, the 9 y o breaking an arm doesn’t throw us into chaos? Of course it doesn’t. But Slow Cooker Wednesday does mean we eat a good supper on Wednesday even if we spent most of the day at the ER (unless of course the broken arm happened before the chicken went into the slow cooker) or mopping up the basement and calling plumbers (see previous caveat).

Making my and my eldest’s morning incapacitation part of our morning routine respects our biological clocks and sets the stage for a good day―and it keeps me from unproductive feelings of guilt over being unproductive in the mornings. And that 3 p.m. tea break I give myself? I don’t like being Evil Exhausted Mommy. And it takes such a small act and such a small amount of planning to keep that from happening.

End of pro-routine pontification.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #2

A conversation:

Cinder [precariously balanced on you-don’t-want-to-know-what]: “Everything’s within reach. You just have to figure out how to reach it without getting killed.”

December 26, 2010

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Ella Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must:

Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us.

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of saying “but I have nothing to write about”:

Write about why you have nothing to write about. Write for 10 minutes. Then another 10. Then another 10.

There. You’ve written for half an hour. Well done, sweetums.

 

An explanation:

This is the second week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

Moving from guilt to gratitude

(first published February 24, 2014)

I am sick, so sick, achy, feverish, exhausted, so-tired-I-don’t-think-I’ll-even-make-it-to-the-bathroom-even-to’-I-really-need-to-puke-tired…

(Digression-justification: I am obscenely healthy. I hardly ever get sick. And so, when I do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. Your husband’s man-flu, for which you mock him mercilessly? Forget it. I’m worse.)

I’m so sick, so-tired-barely-conscious, my rational-disciplined self is incapacitated, and the rest of me chooses this moment of physical vulnerability to assault me emotionally and mentally with… GUILT.

I feel guilty… oh, where do I begin? I feel guilty that I’m sick. That I’m not working-billing. Working-family-raising. That I didn’t get up with the kids. Actually I don’t even know where they are. Are they awake? Are they home? Are they alive?

I feel guilty that I’m too sick-exhausted-I-think-I’m-dying to really care…

I  need to get myself to the bathroom—but I can’t move, I can’t move—and the door opens and my beloved comes in with a puke bucket.

As I retch—I’m pretty sure this isn’t just the flu or the latest reiteration of whatever gastro-intestinal bug is floating around, it’s the plague and tomorrow I will be dead—he tells me he’s cancelled my appointments for the day and his, and the kids are fine, and is there anything else I need? Ginger tea?

I moan something incomprehensible and don’t hear his response. I’m too busy feeling guilty. Not just guilty that he’s taking care of me and the kids. No, that wouldn’t be self-flagellating enough: I’m guilty over our entire lifestyle. Guilty that our work allows my husband to be there for me and the kids on a day like this. We’re so stupid-lucky, elitist-privileged, bubble-wrapped.

So guilty.

I even start to feel guilty about this: if he had a shoot or a client commitment today that couldn’t be rescheduled—there are a dozen people he could call on to help. And they would be there for me, for us. In a heart beat.

As I start to inch my way across the bed to get away from the smell of the barf bucket, I realize that I’m  feeling fully and acutely guilty over being supported, connected. Loved.

That’s when my rational-disciplined self, however close to death it feels, snaps. Can’t take it anymore. And wallops its whiney-guilty counterpart upside the head.

“What’d you do that for? I’m sick! I’m dying! And I feel so GUILTY because…”

SLAP!

My rational-discipline self plays hard ball when roused. IT is on the brink of either slapping the rest of me again or, worse, delivering the mother of all lectures on…

…the door creaks open. “Ginger tea?” my beloved says. And… I am flooded with gratitude.

Gratitude for the tea. For the love that brings it. For the support behind it. For my entire life and everyone in it.

Why is guilt so much easier to indulge in than gratitude is to feel and practice?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.

I drink my ginger tea. Puke it up almost immediately… then drift off into a feverish-restless sleep-coma-no-not-death.

But I slip into unconsciousness bubble-wrapped in gratitude.

xoxo
“Jane”

P.S. A. Deathbed experiences make me sappy. Sorry. How do they affect you? B. Clearly, I lived. Thank you for asking. But just barely… I’m pretty sure it was the plague. C. For the last few weeks, Cinder, Flora, Ender and I have been constructing a “Things That Went Right” wall. It’s a simple, fun project inspired by Martin Seligman’s gratitude journal exercise in Flourish: every day, each of us thinks of and writes down three things that went right that day. Three good things. Three exciting things. Or three ordinary things. The week of my plague, “I didn’t puke” was THE good thing each of the kids flagged. It’s all about perspective, right?

What Went Right

P.P.S. Tirzah Duncan aka The Inkcaster wrote a marvellous post about her freeing and beautiful take on beauty last week, and I’d love for you to read it: Beauty is far from skin deep.

For those of you deep in the toddler trenches, pop over to Stephanie Sprenger at Mommy Is For Real for a refresher on the concept of disequilibrium… and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) proposition of the massing of transitionin-disequibiriumiated (fine, it’s not a word, but you know exactly what I mean…) toddlers in a toddler “Red Tent.”

Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #1

A conversation:

Welcome to my time machine. It’s 2005. Flora is brand-new, and Cinder is not quite two and a half, and trying to figure out what babies are for. So many many things.

Babies are for wrestling:

Jane: Why is Flora crying?

Cinder: Because I wrestled her.

Jane: Did she like it?

Cinder: No, that’s why she’s crying. She’s too little. I’ll try again tomorrow when she’s bigger.

Babies are for jumping on:

Jane: Cinder, what are you doing?

Cinder: I’m going to build a mountain and jump on Flora.

Jane: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Cinder: It is a good idea. Flora said she wants to play with me like that.

Babies love to play leap frog:

Jane: Stop!

Cinder: What, mama?

Jane: You’re stepping on Flora.

Cinder: No, I’m not. I’m playing leap frog, like Franklin and Rabbit.

Babies are for poking:

Cinder: Mama, can I poke Flora in the eye?

Jane: That’s not a good idea. We have to be very careful about eyes.

Cinder: Mama, can I poke Flora in the ear?[etc. Etc.]

Jane: How about we don’t poke Flora at all?

Cinder: But I like poking Flora.

From Life’s Archives, April 5, 2005.

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Take 12 weeks to read through it. Do the exercises. Even the hokey ones.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of asking “when do you find the time to write”:

Notebook. Pen. Cup of Coffee. Start writing Morning Pages. Now. If you’re reading this at 2 p.m.—don’t wait until tomorrow morning. Write your first three morning pages now.

Get a grip on the Morning Pages without reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way (although don’t you wanna?): Morning Pages write up & video.

 

An explanation:

I’m going AWOL for 12 weeks. No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The Ultimate Secret Behind Parenting

(originally published May 7, 2012)

A friend expecting his first baby actually asked me for parenting advice. After I picked myself up off the floor (most of us, before we have children, know everything about parenting. Everything. Sigh. I miss that time), I gave him a big email smooch and hug. Even when childless, he thought our kids were super-cool and all the whacky stuff we were doing with them made total sense for him. He wanted me to spell it out for him in anticipation of his own journey. Here’s what I wrote. (Language warning for the sensitive of eye and ear: we’re university friends, he and I, and the way we talked about politics, education and philosophy back in the day contained a lot of four letter words. When it came to talking to babies and being a parent… well, old habits and all that.)

2008… As for baby advice, one day I plan to write a book, and in the meantime, my short-hand advice is this: no child should be raised by the book (not even my book). We’ve consciously parented off the beaten path, centering our practices and behaviours around the self-evident truth that children are human beings and should be treated and respected as such. Many of the things we’ve done are “attachment parenting” (watered down mainstream guru of approach is one Dr. William Sears, widely published) principles—baby wearing, sleep sharing, extended breastfeeding—but really it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s who you are as a parent. As a person, really. Now that our kids are older, I absolutely think the most critical part of the parenting journey is maintaining that focus on fostering attachment and bonding between parents and children and siblings, and casting anything other people call “discipline” within that context.

That means, among other things, that we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour—but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc. But I’m jumping ahead: we can talk about all that when you have a toddler or preschooler.

First, you’re going to have a baby, and that means your focus for the next year is going to be all about keeping that teeny weeny creature alive, healthy and happy, and you’ll find a way to do it. You want to know what the real secret of parenting is? Ready? Here it is: humans have done it for fucking millennia. It’s not that hard. Actually, it’s not hard at all. One of the things that makes it hardest is the legion of self-proclaimed experts preying on the insecurities on new parents in order to sell books of dubious value.

What makes it hard, also, is that so many of the structures and rhythms of life today don’t fit children or families. That’s the biggest adjustment, I think, of post-baby life. We don’t socialize or live as families—we do so as age-segregated units of peers. Why are parents so focused on getting babies to sleep through the night? Two reasons: 1) because the parents need a good night’s sleep wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning and go to work for 10 hours. But even before that, 2) because they want “their life”—time to do adult only things.

Well, surprise: once you have a child, you transform from a couple into a family, and the predominant mode of life should be family life. I believe that’s one of the self-inflicted stresses of post-partum, people wailing “When do I get my life back?” You don’t. You’ve got a brand new life now, with a brand new person in it—and you can move forward and create patterns that work for the three of you, or wail and rant and make all three of you unhappy and estranged.

Everyone wails a little bit.

When that adjustment stage gets tough for you, meditate on this secret: humans have had families and found a way to make things work for fucking millennia. You’ll find a way. (Ours is dramatically different from that of our peers—we’re both working from home, for example, and we take our children with us to virtually everything. Flora’s thrown up on many a Bay Street suit, and there is Cinder pee on the carpet of most of my editors/clients. But I don’t advocate that as the only way—it’s our way and right for us, right? You’ll find your own—but do think in terms of creating new patterns and rhythms, instead of biding time until you can go back to the old ones.)

When revisiting the past, it’s always interesting to see how one’s perspective has changed. I cringed throughout my re-read of that infamous “Why isn’t it natural” post. In this case, no cringing. I would still give the same advice again. The secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. Addendum: no child should be raised by the book.

A Nepalese woman and her infant child.

Gabor Mate on the power of negative thinking + Flora & Jane on consequences

I’m re-reading Gabor Maté’s When The Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress. I’m not, I stress, stressed. OK, maybe just a little. But I embrace my stress. OK, not all of it. Anyway. Point. Gabor Maté. Genius. Book. Brilliant. Here’s why:

“As an antidote to terminal optimism, I have recommended the power of negative thinking. ‘Tongue in cheek, of course,’ I quickly add. ‘What I really believe in is the power of thinking.’ As soon as we qualify the world thinking with the adjective positive we exclude those parts of reality that strike us as ‘negative.’ … This is how most people who espouse positive thinking seem to operate. Genuine positive thinking begins by including all our reality. It is guided by the confidence that we can trust ourselves to face the full truth whatever the full truth may turn out to be.

Compulsive optimism is one of the ways we bind our anxiety to avoid confronting it. That form of positive thinking is the coping mechanism of the hurt child. The adult who remains hurt without being aware of it makes this residual defence of the child into a life principle.

In order to heal, it is essential to gather the strength to think negatively. Negative thinking is not a doleful, pessimistic view that masquerades as “realism.” Rather, it is a willingness to consider what is not working. What is not in balance? What have I ignored? What is my body saying no to?”

 Gabor Maté, When The Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress

 My body is currently saying no to cleaning house and sacrificing sleep to meet a deadline. And yes to taking a nap. Also, chocolate.

Flora: What are doing?

Jane: Justifying with science why I’m going to spend the entire day on the couch re-reading Jane Austen and eating chocolate.

Flora: Cool. Can I spend the entire day on the computer watching You-tube and eating potato chips?

Sigh. Nothing without consequences, eh?

Jane: OK. But tomorrow: we do all the things.

Flora: All the things?

Jane: Well. Maybe some of the things.

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. Don’t envy me. I have a five-year-old. How long do you think I got to sit on the couch?

P.P.S. More Gabor Maté:

“Dialing it in a litte this week, Jane?”

“Yup. Cause. Wah. I’m not stressed. Really. Not. Stressed. At. All. Just a little… overwhelmed.”

Leading, earning, building, breeding: vignettes from the trenches

Today, I’m speaking at the Government of Alberta’s Women in Leadership conference. The first ever.

I’ll give you a minute to ponder that “first ever,” in the context of the Year of Our Lord 2014… OK, moving on:

I’m speaking as part of the Systemic Barriers to Leadership Panel, and one of the questions that I’ll be tackling is this:

Why do women have limited access to the right development opportunities that provide leaders with the experience and visibility to advance?

The answer is so very, very simple. And it’s not that our bosses are sexist assholes. I’ll give you the long version in a couple of weeks; now, I’ve got to pack and run. The interim, short-form answer is this:

As I’m prepping to leave my house for the three-hour drive to the conference, this is going on in the background:

And also, this:

photo (26)

My time at this conference–which is helping develop my career and providing me with the experience and visibility to advance–is time away from them.

And it’s also time away from both my paid work and my dream work:

NBTB-Methadone Dec 30

…for which there isn’t always enough time as it is.

So. What do I do?

Today, I’m going to speak at this conference.

(Spoiler alert if you want to save revelation for the long version) I would not have been able to take advantage of this opportunity ten years ago. Or even five years ago.

OK. I’m gonna be late. Gotta go. I leave you with this:

And, a pointer to these:

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. For a peek at why I’m really stoked to be part of this conference, check out Women in Leadership: Opportunities lost. And not because our bosses are misogynist prices on CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.

On bears, birthdays and statements of fact

We steal each other’s lines. It’s true:

I.

Jane: You terrify me.

Flora: Is that good or bad?

Jane: It’s just… a statement of fact.

II.

Sean: You terrify me.

Jane: Is that good or bad?

Sean: It… it just is.

III.

Cinder: You! Terrify! Me!

Ender: Good! In! Your! Face!

In other news…

IV.

Jane: Gah! That funny thing you said in the car the other day… what the hell was it?

Flora: What? When?

Jane: You know. The last time you were really amusing…

Flora: I like to think I’m always amusing.

Indeed. I wish I wasn’t so forgetful…

V.

I know I’ve said I don’t brush my children’s hair and it’s a major philosophical thing, but the thing is, I don’t brush my children’s hair AGAINST THEIR WILL, which means Flora often sports 28 meticulous, threaded braids, and Cinder will occasionally ask me to help him de-dread those locks of his he can’t tend to himself.

Ender, on the other hand… raised by wolves. But there’s a birthday coming up, and visits with grandparents and what not and there will be photographs, so many photographs. We discuss. Negotiate. Use a bottle of conditioner. He brushes his own hair vigorously. “Ouch! I! Am! Not! Being! Gentle.” I’m holding the brush as he comes out of the tub, and as I wrap him in his towel… he head-butts me. Hard skull against soft lips and hard teeth and it hurts so much I cry and scream and throw the hair brush against the bathroom tile and…

Ender: Oh, Mama. See? I told you brushing my hair would end badly.

Good news: the tiles are fine. The hair brush is not.

And neither is my lip. Although Flora says it is a lovely, sultry look, and I pull it off.

VI.

Speaking of birthdays… yeah. The Ender, my littlest, is five this week. When did that happen? To celebrate, I present the Ender Retrospective:

Before Ender: or, what the psychic said (November 2011)

Ender’s Arrival on Planet Earth (the last three minutes) November 2009)

Ender’s Arrival on Planet Earth, the long version: why you should just throw out that birth plan and have that baby any way it needs to come (November 2009)

Why Ender’s Ender (November 2010)

Being Ender (November 2011)

Embracing Chaos: unParenting unResolutions (December 2012)

No, of course I don’t expect you to read all, or any, of those. (Well, except for you, Mom. I’m actually doing this just for you.) But, we must celebrate the boy’s birthday, no? Let’s do it with this story from when he was two and change. It begins with a vicious assault on my coffee cup by a tantruming two-year-old. And swearing. And then:

Cinder: You asked for it, you know. I mean, you did nickname him Bear. Bear? That’s what he is. A very, very good bear.

The Bear bares  his fangs, growls, and rushes at Cinder, delivering a vicious head-butt to  the belly.

Jane: You’re right. We should have nicknamed him Fluffy.

Cinder: Well, it could have been worse. You could have called him Cthulhu.

We could have. Names. Powerful things, no?

Happy Birthday, Fluffy.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Bears Birthdays Statements of Fact

A Christmas Gift for you, exhausted writer style

I have the best Christmas present for you.

Ready?

It was originally going to be presented to you in a pastiche of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I’m pretty sure one million other writers will thrill you with such a present.

So my present to you this Christmas season is the gift of, unadulterated … cyber-silence.

An empty in-box.

A still Twitter feed.

A removal of at least one source of noise and clutter.

Shhhh. Do you hear that? That’s me disappearing until January.

You’re welcome.

Reader: Really? That’s it? After that build up? I feel utterly gypped.

Jane: Sometimes, you’ve got to ease into silence. Here. Last year, I wished you Merry Christmas from Mythbusters and Cinder and Viagra, and I also gave you the all-purpose-answer to “those” questions. Use those as methadone.

Merriest whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year. See you in January!

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. But before I go, I MUST share these things with you. Ha, more Christmas presents! I am so generous. First, A 10th-Month-Old’s Letter To Santa, from The Ugly Volvo–probably the best Christmas-themed meme going around right now. If you’ve got a babe, or had one recently, you’ll howl, identify, and not waste your time spending money on any dopey baby toys. More seriously, if you’re looking for beautiful Christmas-themed stories to share with your children this season, my friend Jen Kehl has a few stellar selections for you.

A real Christmas present: Brian Sorrell, who blogs brilliantly at Dadding Full Time, has put together his year’s worth of posts into an e-book that’s yours, free, this week. Here’s the link. While you’re taking a break from me, you can devour him–an amazing dad, an insightful writer. Enjoy.

And, just for the mothers in the crowd–the mothers finishing mat leave, the mothers returning to the workplace after a stint at home with littles–there’s a new recruiter in town. Well, in Toronto. But she’s working nation-wide. Her tagline is “I’ll understand if your kid is screaming in the background.” Brilliant? Needed? Oh, yes. Friends, meet Katia Bishops of Recruiter Mommy.

Finally, the best thing in my Facebook feed this week: Crappy Mohs Scale of Crunchiness from Crappy Pictures–How crunchy are you? How crunchy are your friends? And do you have a sense of humour under those fair-trade, hand-woven scarves? “We only eat local, organic food that’s been blessed by vegan unicorns.” Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m still laughing. And I have friends who “can sew an entire quilt in one night by the light of handmade beeswax candles while sipping tea made from homegrown chamomile in a mug that was hand formed from clay mined from her backyard. While nursing.” I forgive them.

P.P.S. Yeah, fine, my Christmas gift to you is totally a Christmas gift to me. That’s why it’s the best gift ever. It makes EVERYONE happy.

P.P.P.S. Sweetie, I promise I’ll be back in January, sharper than ever. Stroll through the archives if you get the shakes. Stalk my Instagram cause I’ll probably take pictures.  But generally–chill. The gift of silence is a wonderful thing.

-30-

I win parenting, and the #whatsyourtotemanimal report

Ender: Moom? Can you put me to bed? I’m really tired.

Yeah. It really happened. It was 8:15 p.m. He was out by 8:18 p.m.

One day, if you’re really, really sweet, perhaps I might tell you how I achieved this (hint: it involved three bowls of ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauce on top). Today, all you need to know is I won parenting that night (I know it’s not supposed to be a contest. But you know it is. It always is…) And now, prepare to meet your inner beast:

Maker Faire 3

The Totem Animal Report

The delicious Deb at Urban Moo Cow (twitter handle @UrbanMooCow) is a porcupine: prickly on the outside, cuddly on the inside.” Oh, yes. Love.

The just-perfect Jean at Mama Schmama (twitter handle @mamaschmama) took a test that told her she’s a wolf. She’s processing. I think it fits.

My kissable Kristie from Finding Ninee (@findingninee) is a monkey. Minus the poop throwing and gross stuff. Um. She thinks I’m a bear.

Cataclysmic Cathy (who doesn’t blog but who needs to start writing that book we talked about last time we went parking* on Nosehill, you’re gonna, right?) is a giraffe but would like to be a dragon. Meet the dra-gaffe. Who thinks I’m a rat. My fleas wiped out half of Europe in the Dark Ages. Score one for the dark side. (She qualified that the ick factor and disease-spreading didn’t enter into the picture, and that I was “super smart, a bit dangerous, intimidating to those who don’t know you, endearing to those who do, definitely adaptable and resourceful.” So, I forgive her. Flattery will get you almost everywhere.)

Rockin’ Rachel from The Tao of Poop (@TaoofPoop) is a deer and she’s sticking to it.

The sultry Sarah at Left Brain Buddha (@leftbrainbuddha) is a dog. Maybe. But what kind?

Salacious Stephanie from Mommy, for Real (@mommyisforreal) says it’s supposed to be a secret. Shhhhh. Knowledge is power, secret is magic, all that stuff.

The decadent Dani at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine (@chanceofwine) cheated (how??) and is an owl.

The secretive Spy Garden of, um, Spy Garden (@spygarden) is a leopard-print fish if she must choose an animal… but she’d rather be a plant. She thinks I’m a furry seal. With a loud bark. She’s also new to Twitter, friends, so give her a follow and some love.

Lovely Larkin (@larkinwarren) is a brown bear. Possibly a golden retriever. Clearly–furry and with a great snout.

Jennifer, whose kids’ hair is just as wild as mine, doesn’t know hers, but each of her first three kids has had an “out of the ordinary animal encounter” in the first year of their lives. She’s got an orca, otter, and a skunk. The fourth might be a deer.

Jessica, who blogs at Jessica’s Journal, is a “cross between Goofy and Eeyore. And maybe a polar bear.” (twitter handle @goaliej54)

Linda, from Elleroy Was Here (@modmomelleroy on Twitter), and host of the I don’t like Mondays Blog Hop (which I always mean to play at, but see, it’s Monday, and…), is a pug. Of course. Check out her All You Need is Pug page to understand.

Funky Fox, of Trailer Park Unschoolers, is a–get ready for this–fox. Her lovah’s a lynx, and her babes are a racoon (mebbe weasel), boar, rabbit and bear cub. She thinks I’m a coyote. I like.

Quincy, from the Talk 2 Q Radio Show, is also a fox (@talk2Q): “Sly, decisive, works well with a pack, but can function independently.” He didn’t dare guess what I was.

Beth, from Writer B is Me, is an elephant. And she KNOWS she’s an elephant. She thinks I’m a bad-to-the-bone jaguar. I’m wondering which posts she’s been reading… At least she didn’t call me a cougar. But someone else did. Read on…

Chelsey aka Chessakat from Five O’Clock Dance Party is a heron. She had a close encounter of the spiritual kind with one in a Seattle back alley. I know the best people…

Elizabeth, who hangs out at Rebel Mouse (@ElizabethM_J), is a dragon. And she owns it.

Here’s something really weird: tantalizing Tracy from Crazy As Normal (@crazyasnormal) and sizzling Stephanie from When Crazy Meets Exhaustion (@CrazyExhaustion) are both WOMBATS. There’s a moral in this story somewhere, I know it. I’ve got it… no, wait… it’ll come to me…

Dazzling Deni from Denn State (@homeecwreck–that’s two ee-back-to-back, got it? Home Ec Wreck? Get it?) is pregnant. Wait, hopefully not any longer. I meant to say, a capybara. The largest rodent in the world. She was choosing her totem animal while well past her due date, but I’m not reading anything into that. Wait, no, she’s a mantis shrimp. One or the other. Both? The psychic who lives next door says you can have a lot, and different ones take different precedence at different times in your life. So there.

Jazzy Jenn from Something Clever 2.0 (@JennSmthngClvr) thinks she’s a cat. But I think she’s wilder. More a lioness. Maybe a cheetah.

Klassy Kim from One Classy Motha (@MothaKim) is kreative. “Tonight it’s a sloth. Tomorrow, I’m hoping a gazelle.” (I’m sorry about the Ks. I know it’s wrong. But isn’t classy better than Cantankerous? Actually, that kind of fits. I should change it. Cantankerous Cim… Soft “c”. F@cking English. Spoiling the best alliterations.)

Lea from Becoming Super Mommy (@bcmgsupermommy) is a ferret: “Awkward and erratic and supremely un-self conscious. Full of joy and confusion and affection.” Nice.

Georgie, from Georgie Lee Books (@georgieleebooks) is “a really big, black horse, like Manfred in Engagement of Convenience.”

Lounging Lovelyn from Nebulous Mooch (@nebulousmooch) is a dragonfly. I love.

Olga at MrsDBooks (@MrsDBooks) is really into mice. One mouse in particular. His name is Carlos. It’s sort of a long story…

aLluring Lori Pickert of Project-Based Homeschooling (great book and resource, btw, folks) (@campcreek on Twitter) is a hippo. Which is beyond awesome. Hippos. Are. Just. Cool.

A visitor from The Educator’s Spin On It (@EducatorsSpin) is an antelope.

My flood coven** consists of a wanna-be-a-raven-but-alas-I’m-a-crow-with-a-shot-of-black-panther, a slithering serpent who could be a heron at times, a raven-with-a-touch-badger, and a rabbit-moose-but-we-all-think-she’s-a-horse-skunk-with-a-touch-of-dolphin-and-otter. Also a tadpole, a mermaid, and a Canada goose.

The managing partner of that law firm–you know which one–says he’s an eagle (aren’t they all?) and I’m a wolverine. I say I can take down a full-grown moose! I win! Of course it was a contest. It’s always a contest.

The ex-managing partner of that other law firm–you know which one? no. Not that. Not that one either. For chrissake. Stop guessing and keep reading–has an affinity for dock spiders. Seriously. Family Pisauridae. Canada’s largest spider, he informs me. I don’t know what that’s about. He says I’m a hyena. I know what that’s about. You’re reading my blog, dude, and taking time out of billable work to email me. I win. (It’s always a contest.)***

Did you play and I missed you? Don’t get angry. Rectify the error in comments. Feel free to self-servingly include Twitter handle and blog link. It’s that kind of post.

Finally, I don’t think any of you nailed my totem animal. And perhaps I don’t have one. Or maybe I’m just Homo sapiens without any hidden symbolism. I’m cool with that.

“Jaaaaaaaane! Why aren’t I sultry, decadent, kissable or sizzling?”

“Please. We barely know each other. I am not a blog slut. It takes time, baby.”

There’s a snow fall warning in YYC. Cuddle up to a loved one or your inner beast, and stay warm this weekend.

xoxo

“Jane”

*Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s like hiking, except when you get there, you realize you’re underdressed and you’re wearing un-sensible shoes, and it’s November, Christ, it’s cold, and so you just enjoy the view from the car. See? Like hiking, minus all the walking.

**I live in a really interesting neighbourhood. And we had this flood thing. We’re compensating for lack of walls with witchy get-togethers and a lot of wine. Which, I admit, is not the best long-term coping strategy. But, you know. Keeps you warmer… ;P

***I always win. Wink.