“Who are you wearing?”—clothes as message, value, consciousness



Flora: Mom? Can we go to that store again?

Jane: Which store?

Flora: You know. The one where we get all of our best stuff? Where I got my unicorn purse and cherry necklace?

And I laugh and laugh, and hug her, because she’s talking about Value Village, a thrift store chain.

The last time we went to Value Village, she and I, we spent an outrageous $80 and bought two pairs of winter boots, a faux fur coat for Flora’s Cousin It costume, a red leather 70s trench coat for me, three hats, a stuffed snake for Ender, and a new Christmas dress—clearly unworn by the donator—for Flora. Plus, a double-scythe for Cinder’s Halloween costume.


Ender: I need an orange shirt, orange pants, and orange socks.

Jane: I can do an orange shirt and orange socks. You don’t have any orange pants.

Ender: Can we buy some?

Jane: Maybe.

Ender: We have to. I only wear orange now.

We compromise on green with dinosaur designs. I promise to keep an eye out for orange pants next time Flora and I go to Value Village. Which is… about twice a year.


I dislike stores. Shopping. Both the actual act, and the metaphor. My children dress in the largess of clothing-hand-me-down chains—there are many, many benefits to living in a real community—and in the results of the retail therapy of their grandmothers. They are thoroughly and completely unfamiliar with designers, labels. At best, vaguely aware of the names of stores where one buys new clothes.

You snicker and tell me all this will change when they are teenagers. Perhaps. That’s fine. They are their own people, for all that they are my children. They will make their own choices. All I can do is lay a groundwork, a foundation—of habit. And, I suppose, although I hate to use such a value-laden word: of values.


But what values? I struggle to articulate them even to myself without accusing myself of hypocrisy. Because it’s not that I don’t care about clothes, how they look—how they make me feel. I care, very much. I may leave the house with a naked face, always and without reflection or compunction, but I never leave the house wearing a burlap sack.

Or yoga pants.

I think of clothes as both uniform-mask and canvas-expression. Sometimes, they are a barrier between me and the world: they protect me by the message they send. Sometimes, they are the opposite, their message is an enthusiastic, unhidden manifestation of everything I am or want to be. Every once in a while, the message is a secret, or an in-joke. I wear the scarf she gave me to carry her with me through the day; the purple pants I hate for you because you love them and I love you; I wrap myself in the coat my mother bought me to remind myself how much she loves me.

I don’t denigrate the power of clothes, what they communicate, what they mean.


Flora pulls out a soft, well-worn sweater out of the bag her friend’s eldest sister dropped off at our house. “Oh, I will love this one,” she says. “I will make so many good memories in it.”


I don’t denigrate the talent, skill and power of designers, either. I like—love—beautiful clothes. They don’t just happen: they need to be dreamed. Created. Marketed. Sold. Copied and made affordable—or donated, passed on down the line, until I can claim them at the thrift store, consignment boutique, or out of the back of a friend’s closet.

I don’t resent what other people spend on clothes. Why would I? While the jeans I’m wearing today cost $6 in a clearance pile at Superstore (but they make me look so fucking good) and my winter jacket is a $22 third-hand U-Turn purchase (but so mod, I love it), I’m also wearing a $200 bra. And my shoes, while 15 years old, were not bought on sale. We all have different priorities.

I don’t denigrate the mom who lives in her yoga pants, any more than I judge the exec in her Armani suit. (I notice her shoes; covet them.)


So, back to the question: what foundation, what values? I suppose it comes down to consciousness, conscious choice. Not blindly copying what’s worn on the runway, by the celebrity, by peers and friends. But thinking about—why? To what purpose? At what cost?

Who are you wearing? Why? To what purpose, message? At what cost?


The wardrobe: Third-hand cap from the Peacock Consignment Boutique, $12. Sunglasses from Value Village, $6. Coat from U-Turn, $22. Top (obscured by coat) from friend’s closet, free. Jeans, from clearance pile at Superstore, $6. The yellow Doc Martens that are my calling card when I wear sensible shoes… bought brand new.

This post was written as part of the “Who Are You Wearing?” Moms Vs. The Award Season project masterminded by I Am The Milk’s Katia Bishop, and originally inspired by the #365feministselfie initiative (She calls it “#365feministselfie meets red carpet” which is just brilliant, don’t you think?) If you’re going to play–the link’s below, and use  #WhoAreYouWearingMom when you share.) who-are-you-wearing-2

Here’s who THEY’re wearing:

Katia at I Am The Milk

Jen at My Skewed View

Jean at Mama Schmama

Sarah at Left Brain Buddha

Stephanie at Mommy, For Real

Deb at Urban Moo Cow

Sarah at The Sadder but Wiser Girl

Kristi at Finding Ninee

Rachel at Tao of Poop

Want to play? Do it here: Powered by Linky Tools Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Kids’ birthday parties: how to do it without stress and angst

birthday balloons

Flora is hosting a birthday party sleep-over extravaganza for 12 little girls. They’re about to descend on the house in, oh, 45 minutes. I’m sitting on the couch, legs up, drinking coffee (yes, it’s laced), eating chocolate, and chilling by writing this post.

Here’s why.

The little girls are coming to have fun, eat hot dogs, cake and pop-corn, watch a movie, and snuggle in sleeping bags on my living room floor to celebrate Flora’s eighth birthday and their special relationship with her.

They are not coming to inspect the cleanliness and order of my house.

They are not coming to do a 45-minute craft that requires three days of pre-planning and pre-cutting.

They are not coming to enjoy themed hors d’oeuvres or a fancy meal.

They are coming to play and love Flora.

And so, I chill.

Our day, in preparation for the party, looks like this:

Each of us spends the morning doing our usual chill thing. Cinder and Flora play Minecraft. Ender destroys the living room (aka plays Lego, trains, straws and connectors and strews poppy seeds and bread crumbs everywhere). Sean reads a book. I hang with friends on Facebook and catch up on the blogosphere and poke around on Twitter. We eat breakfast. Chill some more.

Post-shower, as a nod to the sensitivities of little girls, I give the bathroom a pretty thorough clean and instruct Cinder not to pee for the remainder of the day. I back off when he threatens to pee off the balcony instead.

The day unfolds as a lazy Saturday should (Sean and I hide upstairs for a while to, um, “talk,” because you know, that won’t happen at night). After we eat lunch, I give the kitchen a fairly thoroughly clean—wash all the dishes and put them away, sweep the floor (I don’t even thinking about mopping it, because I will have 14 kids eating ice cream cake, chips and pop-corn in the house all day).

At about 2:30, Sean takes Flora and Ender on the crucial pre-party errands—to pick up the cake (outsource what you suck at and don’t enjoy is one of my life maxims) and a new pack of markers and cardboard masks that Flora decides she needs to have for the party.

As soon as they leave, I nap. Oh, yes. A delicious twenty-minute, no-three-year-old in the house nap.

Then, finally, I spring into action. With Cinder’s help, I de-Ender the living room (trains, Lego and straws-and-connectors into their bins. Big sweep of the floor, thoroughly covered with all manner of crap. Rejig of the furniture to create the “camp-out” space Flora wants.

I leave Cinder in charge of putting up the streamers (Flora asked him to do it, “because you’re so good at it, Brother!”), and go to prep the entry way.

Here’s what I don’t do: I don’t take away our five pairs of snow pants, snow suits, mitts, gloves, boots etc. etc. etc. I just make sure all of our shoes are on the shelf, so there’s plenty of room for 12 additional little pairs of boots, and there’s a space to deposit 12 coats and mitts. I do sweep—entry ways are foul things, are they not?—and I do briefly ponder mopping—it really needs it—but then I come to my senses. Each of those little girls will be wearing snow boots covered in snow and mud, and will take them off in the entry way and drip crud all over. Let it be, let it be. I clean after. (Maybe.)

And I’m pretty much done. I go up to the kitchen, and put the requisite bowl of chips on the table (I do fancy out and plop a table cloth under it—this ensures I don’t have to thoroughly scrape the kitchen table that triples as craft-table and science lab). Add a plate of carrots, pears, and oranges. A cutting board with cheese. Put the hot dogs, buns, and ketchup beside the stove.

Pour myself a cup of coffee… and go put my feet up.

It’s going to be a pretty crazy, intense night. I will have to facilitate, redirect, soothe. Keep the Ender amused and non-destructive. Ensure everyone feels welcome, included, safe and loved.

I’m not going to set myself up for stress and failure by exhausting myself before it comes.

I’m not throwing this party to impress Flora’s parents’ friends—or Flora’s friends.

I’m throwing this party because I love Flora and it’s what she wants.

And her friends, they are all coming only to play and love and celebrate Flora.

And so, I chill.

Although… with guests due to arrive in 10 minutes, I should probably go put on some pants.



(January 12, 2013, 4:45 p.m.)

(Photo credit via Zemanta: jessica wilson {jek in the box})

P.S. I’m hopping at You Know It Happens At Your House Too’s Don’t Be a Bloghole Hop over the next few days. Link up with me!

10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and cool chaos

TheStressedMom.com posted this list of 10 daily habits for a well-run home last month, and yesterday social media brought it to my circle. These habits would probably help a lot of people. People like me? Not so much. If I were making a list of 10 daily habits for moms–or 10 habits for a happy home based on life in a family like ours–I’d need to flip almost everything she recommends on its head.

 1. When to wake up

StressedMom says: Wake up early.

NothingByTheBook says: Sleep as long as the baby sleeps. And then when you wake up, and the baby is sleeping, stay in bed working on the laptop until he wakes up, because that’s a minor miracle.

2. When to go to bed

StressedMom says: Go to bed earlier.

NothingByTheBook says: Sure. Go to bed when you’re tired. When you have little kids, and you’re exhausted by 7 p.m., get thee to bed and sleep. But if late at night is the only time you can work–the only time you can get alone time–the only time you can grab to read that book–the only time you can snuggle with the gorgeous dude who helped you make them babies–take that time. (Sex is more important than sleep. But that’s a topic for a separate post.)

Continue reading

Book Piles

I’ve been quietly participating in Project Simplify at SimpleMom.net over the last couple of weeks. I love the Simple Media site and all (well, most) of Tsh’s and the other bloggers’ strategies and action plans. And participating in Project Simplify every year does help me cull and get control on the clutter. But my house never gets to look even like Tsh’s worst before photos.

And I think it might be because of the book piles.

This is what’s spread around the house right now:

Flora’s sleeping with Jeff Smith’s Bone. She’s got the books piled by her pillow and arranges and rearranges them in various configurations. They need to go to the library soon. I hope the Book Depository order comes in soon…

Both Flora are reading Goscinny & Uderzo’s Asterix. All of them. At least it feels like all of them. I think we might have left a few copies at the library. Another half-dozen, possibly full dozen, Asterix adventures are strewn around the house. So that no matter where one might plop down, there’s an Asterix within arm’s reach.

I’m reading them Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski’s Bone: The Quest for Spark. We’ve finished the first book and, um, lost the second. It’s somewhere in the laundry pile, I think.

Sean’s reading them JRR Tolkien. The Hobbit‘s been digested; Lord of the Rings is going down very slowly. A great put-to-bed book. Better than Moby Dick. (Flora’s also sleeping with Moby Dick under her pillow. If you can’t guess why, you have to read Bone.) All three books in the series are beside the bed. Just in case they suddenly finish Book I and need to get to Book II in a hurry.

On audio, we’re all listening to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief and Heroes of Olympus: Son of Neptune. Yes, at the same time. Well, not exactly at the same time. One mostly in the car, and one mostly in the house. Also Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In what seems to me to be completely random order.

Sean’s reading Felix Gilman’s The Half Made World. I’m re-reading Ngaio Marsh, everything. And reading for the first time Leslie Daniels’ Cleaning Nabokov’s House. Plus about four or five cookbooks. And Joy Hakim’s History of Science.

The book piles don’t just create the mess–it’s a pretty aesthetic mess, anyway. What they do is create an irresistible magnetic pull. There I go, marching to the bookshelves–or the kitchen pantry–hell-bent on ruthless decluttering and purging. And out of the corner of my eye I catch the Orson Scott Card book Sean just finished re-reading that’s in a “put back on the bookshelf” pile… I grab it, perhaps even with the intention of putting it back in its rightful place…

…and 15 minutes later, I’m sitting on the floor, reading it. Until one of the kids comes to me waving a copy of Bone or Asterix

To read about Project Simplify, go here.

Slowing Down

Two things I needed to read today: http://simplekids.net/slowing-down-2/ and this http://www.steadymom.com/2011/10/peace.html

You might not know this about me but I have, um, how shall I put it… overachiever tendencies. My broken down spine is forcing me to slow down, but my natural tendency is to fight against even the most blatant messages from the body and just keep on going. So a “do less, slow down, choose peace” message is a needed one, for me, right now.

Too many of the writing around this topic is a “Slow down so you actually do more.” I don’t want or need to do. I need to do less. And sometimes, being who I am–I need permission from–what? The Universe? My mother? Some higher entity, I guess–to do less.

Today it came from http://www.simplemedia.net. Thanks!

All Work and No Play Sucks (Duh!)

Here is a piece from this month’s Atlantic subtitled “why your kids are more anxious and depressed.” I found this stat kind of appalling: “The researchers found that compared to 1981, children in 1997 spent less time in play and had less free time. They spent 18 percent more time at school, 145 percent more time doing school work, and 168 percent more time shopping with parents.” The last part in particular. Because I bet they’re not shopping for groceries and life’s essentials…

My friend RK counters that the shopping for groceries and life’s essentials does indeed take up more time now than it did a generation ago–because most parents now have to take their children grocery shopping with them, instead of being able to let them play outside. Good point. I’m just so grateful that our lifestyle allows our children to spend most of their time in play, and outside.


Living In Small Spaces

Welcome to our house. Five people live, work and play here. Enough said. You want me to elaborate?That means that at its most tidy and minimalistic, there are five pairs of shoes—and this is Calgary, so let’s face it, probably 15, because there is no all-purpose pair of shoes for this whacky climate, and at least one set is guaranteed to be wet/muddy/slimy at least half of the time—five coats (or, really, 10-15, because everyone has a fleecy, a rain jacket, and at least one more warmer coat that one might put in the back wardrobe for the six weeks that it’s guaranteed not to snow, but really, why bother?), five hats (well—10, a sun hat each and a winter hat each), 5 pairs of rain pants or snow pants (or both simultaneously), and then there are the frackin’ mitts…

Pause. Rewind. All these things need to hang out somewhere near the front door, in an area in which one person can move about comfortably but two are a huge crowd and three start to step on each others toes, and four—well, can one of you please wait outside? I know it’s -30, but for God’s sake—ok, just step over there, wait in the laundry room. (The fifth, meanwhile, hangs out on the landing or stands on the stairs. Five people cannot stand in our entry way at the same time, even if one of them is not quite three feet tall.)

The entry way sets the tone for the rest of our house. We five live in 1000 square feet, plus 300 or so square feet of basement. The unlivable basement (it’s colder than Antarctica) is comprised of the miniscule entry way, laundry room, and a hard-to-navigate space that’s home to the freezer, pantry, gym equipment, film production equipment, and boxes and shelves of miscellaneous crap against which I wage an unending war.

After you navigate through our entry way, you’ve got to head up the stairs—try not to knock any of the coats and things off the hooks on the landing, ok?—to the main living floor. Designed by an architect who liked walls, corners and hallways, and thus turned what could have been 500 square feet of beautiful open space into two separate rooms—kitchen and living room—separated by a hallway and a furnace room (seriously). Another flight of stairs—stuck smack in the middle of it, of course—takes you up to the bedrooms, one large, two tiny, and a bathroom about the size of our entry way. And that is the rough lay-out of our house. It’s hot in the summer, leaking heat like mad in the winter, designed for people who neither cook nor entertain much (and don’t need to store more than one towel in the bathroom), and lived in by two work-at-home adults and three homeschooled children.

Yes, it’s a tight fit. We live here for the world outside: the big balcony that looks over a large Commonn area on which dozens of children play, from which we can see the expanse of McHugh’s Bluff and the towers of downtown Calgary. We can walk or bike to most of our work commitments and many of our homeschool adventures. We have excellent neighbours, and considering our stellar location, we don’t spend very much on our housing cost.

But yes, it’s a tight fit. Especially in the winter, when we have to mostly live inside and don’t walk or bike as much. That’s when I start browsing MLS listings looking for 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom—extra family room!—houses in the ‘burbs. That phases passes when I engage in the accompanying math, to be replaced by trips to the library for books on living in small spaces, organization, and decluttering. Then comes the purging: making our small space seem bigger by carting out bags upon bags upon boxes upon boxes of stuff out of our house.

It helps, briefly—and then another wave of stuff comes in—or comes tumbling off the newly purged shells.

And I sit in the middle of our living space, surrounded by stuff—which includes a pile of books from the library urging me to get rid of stuff—and ponder on how to achieve my peace with it. Because I am very aware, that even after a massive, ruthless purge, we have more stuff than any human beings need. And because of the world we live in, more stuff will come. If not today, then tomorrow. And some of it is neat, and lots of it we use, but pretty much all of it is unnecessary.

No pithy answers. It’s an ongoing project, a journey, a struggle.

2010 Post-Mortem

So, the year ends. For us, a year that’s been both tumultuous and with pockets of deep contentment, a year marked by constant change—personified by the ever-growing Ender and his siblings—but also a commitment—of sorts—to certain key constants. We begun it and end it: in Calgary, at the foot of McHugh Bluff, a family of five living in 1000 square feet and one bathroom (reminding ourselves occasionally that in Europe this would be the height of luxury!), homeschooling, writing and filming, and otherwise continuing on our chosen, slightly-off-kilter journey. We are very privileged that you are part of our journey, although on your own, unique path. Thank you for being part of our and our children’s lives.