Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tiger Mommy in the Making?

I am attaching a video link of my eight year old daughter, Charlotte, playing a duet with her friend, Yuka, at the school assembly.  (Charlotte is the one with the big heart barrette and shorter hair.)  That gal does me proud!  I am also attaching a video of both of my daughters singing a song they learned in choir at school.  These girls are chalk and cheese in so many ways, but they love each other with an intensity and sweetness that (even when they are arguing) warms me like a mug of steaming cocoa.  Charlotte is certainly the more intense and driven of the two.  While Emily is more laid back about her endeavors, I would venture to say she is more relaxed and the one least likely to need therapy for being stressed and overworked in the future.  That can only be good.

Charlotte and Her Friend Performing Their Piano Duet

Charlotte is a different story.  The thing is, we don’t push her: she is motivated to do well.  All the time.  Whatever she sets her mind to, she embraces, goes forth and conquers.  Since the day we met her, seven years ago at a hotel in Nanchang, China, and we officially became a family (she was one year old at the time), she has shown a spirit of dedication, enthusiasm and unrelenting persistence (at the time that meant screaming at the top of her lungs for one week solid until she made her peace with the idea that we weren’t going anywhere and she was stuck with us as her parents).  With that comes a huge desire for attention (“Diva in the making?  Following in mama’s footsteps?” many of you who know me may be asking.) and approval.

We are so proud of both of our amazing daughters, but not because of all they can do.  Just because they are who they are: high-spirited, happy, playful little nutty kids.  I’ve written before about how I am not a tiger mommy and how I really want my children to have the “normal” childhoods of the kids of my generation.  The thing is: what is the new normal?

My children aren’t feeding the cows and chickens after school or gathering firewood for the woodstove like I did as a kid.  They aren’t manuring out the barn on Saturdays and weeding the garden.  I’m sure there are still some children in the developed world who are doing that, but not very many. What are my gals doing?  Frankly, less than most of their compatriots in Hong Kong, where the pressure to be involved in academic pursuits from morning until night and to be an expert in every sport, musical instrument and a straight A student is intense, even in primary school. 

The girls both take piano lessons and practice haphazardly.  Charlotte is more self-motivated than Emily, but what you see here in the video is most certainly not a result of a mean mama looking over her shoulder with a stern, “You’re not getting any ice cream until you practice your scales.”  Not even close.

The girls also do an hour of extra Mandarin study (outside of school) on Saturday mornings.  It’s fun, it’s at our house, and we feel we owe them the opportunity to become proficient, if not fluent, in the language of their birth country.  They love Tracy laoshi coming over to teach them.

They also have swimming in school as part of PE time and do one extra lesson in swimming in a week.  This one I insist on:  not because I am a lover of swimming (I can’t stand getting into any water that is colder than a steamy bathtub), but because it’s a life skill in addition to being a great sport.  Do I expect them to become competitive swimmers?  Of course not.  If they want to compete in any sport or skill (and I have a feeling Charlotte will, being the driven gal that she is), it is their choice.  We are both parents without competitive genes.  (Some of you may beg to differ when it comes to me, but you’ll certainly agree when it comes to my Type B sweetie.) 

Our expectations for ourselves and our children are simply that we practice kindness always and that we be the best we can be; but that we needn’t measure ourselves against anyone else.  Sadly, that is not the expectation of the Hong Kong Education Department or many other institutions that are set up around the world to standardize learning and test results.  Balderdash, I say.  (And that comes from a woman who has been teaching for going on 24 years now!)

Okay, there’s more.  Charlotte takes skipping lessons and Emily takes karate.  They chose these activities.  They love them.  We have a world-ranked skipping/PE teacher at our school that motivates the kids greatly, and Emily was inspired by Kung Fu Panda to develop her martial arts passion.

Homework?  Yes, there’s a bit.  Charlotte does hers and creates even more for herself: she writes books, keeps diaries, makes charts and compiles exhaustive lists.  Emily hides hers.  (But she’s six.  What do you want?)  Time for play?  Really quite a lot.  Evenings are filled with cars and stuffed animals and, yes, I’ll admit it (though I blame Don), iPhone games with Daddy. 

We share nearly every dinner together where there is plenty of talking about what we are thankful for, reminders to use a fork and knife and not fingers, and lots of laughter and joy (and sometimes outright frustration when Emily pretends to fall asleep because she doesn’t want to finish her supper or Charlotte spills her milk for the sixteenth time in a week). There are always bedtime stories and snuggles and every weekend is family time. 

Somehow, in this crazy world, we have managed to strike a reasonable balance of work and play for our children.  The good news is, they mostly perceive the work as play.  Now wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all do that?  I may change my tune as the children become teenagers and actively rebel against doing their homework or lessons and the stakes are higher, but for the time being, tiger mommy I most certainly am not!

Goals for the Remainder of the Week:

To encourage the kids to do at least a bit of piano practice, especially Emily.  Charlotte, of course, will do it without prompting.

To do some baking with the girls.

To do some hiking with the whole family.

To have Emily dress up in her tiger costume and scare us all; she plays a tiger a lot better than her Mommy does!

Emily being a tiger daughter.


Combining Pleasure with Pain

Today after school I had three-way conferences with students and their parents.  While I always look forward to time spent with families, it makes for a long day.  Before my first conference started, I made sure I took the time to go to the staff room and brew myself a cup of Earl Grey tea with sugar and fresh lemon.  Why?  Because it makes me happy.  It's a small treat, but holding that mug and sipping that sweet, tangy liquid gives me a little jolt of joy.

There are so many things we can dread, but there are so many small ways to make those things just a bit more pleasant too.

Another example?  I had a ton of form-filling in to do last night: mindless, numbing, and low on the list of life want-to-dos.  What was high on the list, however, was watching the movie stars file in on the red carpet for the Oscars.  Now, I didn't need to catch every single starlet's gait and cleavage and witty repartee with Ryan Seacrest, so I combined the form filling with the watching (and added in some popcorn for good measure) and voila - dirty job done, but with some pleasure thrown in.

Learning Chinese characters is pretty near one of the most challenging (and sometimes boring) things a person can do.  Unlike many learning activities, it requires a great deal of drill and a repetitive kinesthetic movement to learn.  I suggested to a student tonight (perhaps to her parents' chagrin) that since she was already quite good with writing her characters but needed more practice just to embed them in her mind, she might just write them again and again on a whiteboard while watching The Simpsons, her favorite show.  (Please note: parents, this is not a frequent recommendation of mine; in fact, I would actively discourage it, as a rule.)  But sometimes it works.

Like many, exercise is not always my favorite pastime.  I'm getting better, but often I'd rather watch some mindless entertainment or escape for a while.  So why can't I escape and exercise?  If I pop on an episode of Satellite Sisters on my iPod and get myself out the door for a walk, before I know it, an hour has passed, my heart is healthier and I've had a good guffaw and come home feeling quite self-righteous and happy (as well as healthier).

We’re always going to have to do stuff we don’t particularly enjoy.  We do not always have to do it, however, with a “this sucks” attitude.  Add a bit of pleasure into the so-called pain and you may just find yourself having a good time.  For sure you’ll be having a better time!

My Pleasure/Pain Combos For Tonight:

·         Doing a Pilates DVD with my six year old daughter. (Having her there always adds to the entertainment value and makes the time pass more quickly.)

·         Taking care of a bit of marking combined with a glass of Shiraz (not more than that or the marking might not be as measured as it should be).

·         Listening to a few of my favorite podcasts: The Satellite Sisters ( as well as The Chaos Chronicles ( ) while taking notes for an outline of my own upcoming podcast debut (perhaps while continuing to sip that Shiraz).

No pain here: just pure pleasure with my rockin' sis-in-law
and sweet kids!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar Musings From a Mommy

I'm in Hong Kong and the Oscars aired Monday morning in our time zone, just in time to start my teaching day.  I tried to educationally justify streaming it on the whiteboard in my classroom, but no go from admin.  So here I am at 9:30 pm my time watching the rebroadcast  of Live From the Red Carpet, thinking there is no way I am actually going to make it to the actual Oscars even though I am drinking a Diet Coke to keep me juiced up and jazzed.

Frankly, I'm not too bothered about missing the Oscars.  Aside from the Bridesmaids, Muppets and The Help, I haven't even watched any of the films.  Mostly it's just fun to see the hoi poilloi and see how they react under the pressure of billions of people watching them in their haute couture having inane questions fired at them.  What I am really looking forward to is watching the Fashion Police tomorrow.   That Joan Rivers nails it every time, no holds barred.  She's about a gazillion times more entertaining than the actual Oscars.  I don't need speeches and thank-yous and we don't even get the fun Ellen JC Penny ads here in HK so it's a bit of a wash up.

My sweetie, Don, tells me he wants to go see The Artist: I say I can manage 22 minutes of Modern Family or 30 Rock, but two hours of a silent black and white film is my idea of hell.  Here's what I want out of entertainment (and it ain't much):

  • to laugh
  • to not be stressed
  • to eat popcorn

Here are my Oscar night insights (even though I have not actually watched them):

It's a great time to catch up on mindless paperwork and marking: I'm lounging on my plethora of pillows and working at my lap desk IN BED!

It's even better when my paramour makes me his famous olive-oil-in-the-wok popcorn (an extra big batch this time) and I get to wear a tiara while eating it!

I have a total commitment to NEVER getting a straight-across-the-forehead fringe a la Rooney Mara.  Really, what's up with that?  It may be edgy, but it's ugly.  Also, I don't understand her name.  I think parents should give their children nice names that won't make them want to commit suicide later in life.

Angelina wears too much black and she's far too skinny. Even though she professes to feeling guilty that children are starving in Africa and that's why she can't eat much, I still think she can eat a bit more. Her body should match those lips of hers.

I have an abiding love for long couture dresses since I am not a fan of my legs.  Hopefully, one day I'll get to go to the Oscars, too.  The eco-friendly, don't-kill-the-silk-worms green one by the silent actress lady really worked for me.  Gourge.

I've once again realized that I have SERIOUS issues with symmetry (needing it) so the one shoulder style is very disconcerting to me. It makes me hyperventilate.

Gwyneth's cape is quite chic.  I wonder if I could rock that at work.

George Clooney is the handsomest man on the planet.  Sorry, Don.  I'm not a luster of men (or women) as a rule, but that man just makes me swoon.

Why does Kelly Osbourne have grey/purple hair?  It's almost as bad as Hilary Clinton's hair these days.  Those two could do a photo shoot together.

The dictator thing just didn't do it for me.  You could tell persnickety Ryan Seacrest was seriously annoyed by the Bisquick misadventure.  I would have been too.  I also fear Kim Jong Il's son could retaliate.  You don't mess around with North Korea.  Those dictators are big Hollywood fans and they're not going to like this.  They have nuclear weapons, you know, Sascha.

I don't think I'd be a very good celebrity stylist.  There must be a lot of money in it, but I bet those ladies get bitchy!

Being a celebrity plastic surgeon?  I think that would be well worth the bitchiness!

Bright yellow makes me happy in a kitchen but not in a dress.  Some of those bright dresses reminded me of the uncomfortable plastic chairs at McDonalds.  Michelle Williams comes to mind.

Has Tina Fey had work done?  She doesn't strike me as the type.

Meryl Streep proves you don't have to be all-out-glam to be just a downright classy and delightful lady. You just can't judge her.

I have nothing more to say tonight even though the Oscars haven't even started yet (for me).  I know who the winners are.  Congrats to them all.  I'm off to bed to dream of accepting an Oscar someday myself.  I might have to do it in absentia, though.  Honestly, they're just too boring.  I'll catch all the juicy deets in the gossip mags in the tub in the next few weeks.

Charlotte is quite the diva herself.
Mommy in her tiara and Cha getting ready for her beauty sleep!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Down in the Dumps

It's nearly midnight on a Saturday night and it's been one of those days.  Everything is fine: in fact, I've had a relaxing day - I went and got a little beauty treatment and did a grocery shop, did some research on making money online, made tacos for supper, worked on a 1000 piece Tinkerbell puzzle and wasted some time on the net.  That being said, I wasn't very social.  I didn't talk to anyone today but my family and I didn't talk to them very much, either.  

We were all kicking around the house on a rainy day today, but I didn't play, didn't converse much, was ever so slightly snappy and just kept to myself.  I wasn't grumpy or unkind, just reclusive, even while being in the same room.  And I kept thinking that I was wasting my time: that I should be filling in forms, applying for visas, seeing if my medical insurance will pay for the back surgeries that are being recommended devising some scheme that will insure our children's futures and our retirement that go beyond our teachers' incomes, making vats of chili and fake meat patties to freeze for the future.

It seems I live in a state of perpetual guilt so even when I am doing something I enjoy, I really do think I should be doing something else more productive.  I love those lists of mine, but I can't seem to cross much off of them.  We've been living in our house the better part of three years and most of our pictures are still in boxes, I haven't written my best selling novel or become the motivational speaker I have dreamt of becoming since my teenage years when I was certain I would become the Billy Graham of "lady evangelists." 

As I write, I am sitting on the only comfortable chair in the house with a heater blowing on me, wrapped in my cozy terry robe, eating mini fairtrade Dairymilk bars because today is my non-vegan day and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it go to waste by not eating a lot of chocolate and cheese products.  

Why do I live this way?  I feel guilty for what I don't do enough of and retaliate by going overboard and then feeling guilty about that, too.  I have so much to be thankful for and live such a rich, rewarding, fun life, yet so often I ruin it by feeling guilty.  Instead of thinking, "What a lovely day you had of hanging out on your own, puzzling, resting and pampering yourself," I think, "Why the hell didn't you take your kids out for a bike ride in the pouring rain or invite Don to watch a movie instead of retreating to your room to find all the purple sections of the puzzle in the dim lamp light because you can't stand overhead lighting?"

I AM private, and I AM prone to guilt.  A lot of it. Some say that guilt is reserved for the Catholics, but that's a fallacy.  I'm guessing it's universal, but I am also guessing women have it more than men, religious people have it more than atheists and mothers have it more than anyone on the planet.  Luckily, while I am prone to guilt, I am not prone to depression or not in any form that is debilitating.  

Granted, I am not someone who jumps out of bed relishing the day  ahead of me, especially when the floor is cold and the water takes a long time to heat up, but I am not someone who dreads my days either.  Even in my lowest moments (which tend to be upon waking up or going to bed), I am still grateful and know that I am blessed.  There are so many people who deal with a depth of depression that I hopefully will never have to; I am just a gal who gets down in the dumps sometimes for no explicable reason.

I acknowledge my silliness.  I also acknowledge that none of this is a big deal in the scheme of life.  There are a few good remedies, however, I have found over the years when I go through my cycles of feeling dumpy/guilty or  sad for no reason I can quite identify:

1. Exercise helps, of course.  I've been really remiss on that one since I hurt my back, but I can walk.  I can get out every day and have a stroll.  I'm back on it.  (Not now as it's after midnight, but tomorrow, for sure.)

 2. Funny TV is great for mild depressive bouts.  It's best when you've got it on DVD so you don't have to wait all week to feel better.  You should watch it in prolonged doses.  I once watched every single season of Friends when I was in a bit of a longer funk.  It helped a lot.  It's good to laugh out loud.  Friends helped me do that.  (Admittedly, it would have been better had I allowed my real friends to do that, but my down-in-the-dumps personality is quite antisocial.) 

3. Eating helps, but it's stupid and will contribute to depression, not alleviate it.  (That being said, I'm now done with the Dairymilk and have moved onto the kids' leftover sweet popcorn from the movie their daddy took them to this morning while I was tending to my eyelashes.)  I'm not proud...

4. Bathing.  Of course.  With mags.  Better yet.

5. A hiatus from the news (the real news, that is) and the internet helps too.  I'm a doomsayer and it's not so productive for me to know that our world is about to be destroyed by either Iran or North Korea's nuclear missiles.  That being said, I do have a healthy supply of canned goods, dried legumes and beverages that will last us indefinitely should a pandemic come along.  I also have tamiflu left over from the SARS scare more than seven years ago.  I just can't seem to throw it out.  You never know...

6.  A good snuggle or spoon is also a good antidote to the blues.

7. Calvin and Hobbes.

8. Hugs.

If you don't hear from me in the next few days, don't take it personally.  I'm a pretty private person at the best of times, but downright anti-social when I'm down in the dumps.  You are, however, welcome to try to contact me.  It's nice to be loved.  I'll try to love you back by answering the phone or the text or your email.

Then again, maybe I'll be back on track in the morning.  I've never been well known for my consistency and my funks seldom last for long.  To be honest, I was whooping it up with my sweetheart on date night last night, having the time of my life, and I felt pretty happy eating my pancake and maple syrup this morning, too.  If I were to gauge it carefully, I'd say the fog funk probably started at about four this afternoon.  And honestly, after getting this off my chest, I'm feeling better already.  

Truth be told, I'll always put my best foot forward.  How am I?  Just fine, thank you very much.  In relation to most of the rest of the planet, just freakin' fine.

So I'm going to brush and floss, head up to bed, hope my sweetheart's snoring does not give me murderous thoughts (Poor guy, he has a pretty nasty cold: I can't blame him for the bellowing.), and see if I can manage a sleep in and be back on track in the morn.

The sun will come out tomorrow...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

10 Ways to Treat Yourself Well

1.     Wear underwear that provides full coverage.  Really, ladies, all this tugging and yanking and getting stuck in cracks.  It doesn’t feel good and it’s not pretty to see women engaging in this behavior either.  Men don’t have this problem.  Neither should we.

2.     Take off your accoutrements (including binding underwear) when you get home.  Watches and earrings and necklaces are for show, but they get caught in blankets and snagged in your sweetie’s sweater when you’re hugging.  Go accessory-free when you get home: better yet, put on your pajamas and make sure you have multiple, cozy pairs of them.

3.     Have lots of quickies (of many varieties).  I call them The Ten Minute Miracles. I know what you’re thinking and those quickies are wonderful, of course.  But what about a quickie clean-up where you give yourself 10 minutes to clean out all the ridiculous clothes you’ve been accumulating over the last several years, or 10 minutes of reading about the current economic crisis so you can impress your colleagues or 10 minutes of nookie so you can re-impress your partner?  10 minutes of conversation with your teenager?  Nearly impossible, but what a goal!

4.     Sorry to get on my soapbox about this one, but eat fewer animal products: you don’t need them.  Really.  All the current medical research says so.  Try to have a few vegetarian days every week and maybe even a vegan day.  Your body will thank you, especially your ticker.  (The mistreated animals will too…)  If you interested in making a shift, trying the movie Forks Over Knives.

5.     Listen to more fun podcasts: a couple of my all-time favorites are “The Satellite Sisters,” “The Chaos Chronicles,” “This American Life,” “The Because Show,” “Freakanomics,” and “The Moth.”  I listen to them while driving, bathing, exercising, going to the physio, and when I’m baking.  My six and eight year old daughters are in love with the Dolan Sisters (from Satellite Sisters) and are constantly saying is, “Is that Liz or Sheila, mama?”  “No, it’s Lian.”  “I bet it’s Monica: she’s got a cute voice.”

6.     Try bathing.  It's much more relaxing than showering and combined with wine and a mag, you've got a barrel full of pleasure.  Shower off afterward to get rid of the accumulated scum.  Honestly, it’s my top life tip. I could never live in a house without a tub.

7.     Wear comfortable shoes, but try to look cool at the same time.  The whole runners with a dress thing is SO OVER.  Don’t go geriatric.  There are a whole lot of stylin’ shoes these days that are built for comfort.  Do your research…and let me know what you come up with, PLEASE!

8.     Get the right pillows and fluff them just right so you're good to go for the night.  Test some out.  You’d be surprised how the wrong pillows can impact your sleep.  And you won’t know until you test drive some new ones.  I’m personally a fan of down pillows without a lot of fill, but piled three high.

9.     Decide that you're going to like work.  Most of us are not inheritance holders and we’re going to be showing up at the grind for many years to come, like it or not.  Figure out what’s good about it, adjust your expectations and go there and decide to have some fun.  If it’s impossible, find something else.  But don’t burn your bridges.  You need a good recommendation after all, and there’s nothing bosses like better than a good attitude and a can-do spirit.  Fake it til you make it!

10.  Compliment yourself constantly especially if no one else is doing it for you.  Seriously.  It’s easy to look in the mirror and think, “Your’e a dog,” but how about trying, “Hey sexy, looking good!”  If you can't fool even yourself, go back to the closet and start again.  This is why you should get your clothes together THE NIGHT BEFORE and TRY THEM ON too!  It's not that  hard: you can do it while watching Glee or Downton Abbey.

Happy weekend all: remember, if you're not going to treat yourself well, don't expect anyone else to, either.  Start acting like the diva/divo that you were meant to be!

Rules of Three to Make the World a Better Place

  1. Get better at one thing and learn about two new things.  Take some time to brush up on one thing you’re interested in every single day, whether that be celebrities, calculus, astrology or renaissance art.  Put a bit of time into it and soon you’ll become an expert in something you’re passionate about.  Then take the time to learn about two other things you know nothing about: learn a new word  (Accubation, anyone?  It’s one of my favorite pastimes!), Google “North Korea crisis” or watch a Youtube video on French braiding hair.  Just keep changing it up. 

  1. Listen intently to three people without interrupting (even if they’re talking about their bowel movements, their window treatments or their toe fungus).  Let them talk, give them eye contact, nod your head, and just fully and completely listen.  Most people don’t even want advice; they just want to be listened to.  Don’t try to one-up them with one of your stories, either.  (I have so many good stories, that this a particular challenge for me.)  Listening makes you a better person, develops your patience and people like you more.  Plus it teaches you that it’s not all about you.

  1. “Pay the rent” for living on the earth. I heard this on a Satellite Sisters podcast the other day and I really like the term.  Commit to three forms of voluntary service every single day that helps clean up the environment: pick up some garbage that isn’t yours, turn off the air con if you don’t really need it, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow.”  (You may take objection to that one, but you know what I mean.)  If you see something that needs doing and you are able to help out, just do it.  Big or small.

  1. Hug three people every single day.  I don’t recommend hugging strangers, though last week there were people with placards reading “Free Hugs” walking around just outside my orthopedic surgeon’s office (who had just suggested I have a spinal fusion) and I took a fine looking young man up on his offer.  It feels good.  To you. To them. Physical contact is good.  I love to hug.  Positive energy transfer can only be good.  (So long as it isn’t too tight and doesn’t injure your back any further.)

  1. Compliment at least three people every single day.  Be specific.  Let’s face it, we feel like a million bucks when people tell us how great we’re looking or that they like our blog or that our presentation was profound and interesting.  If you think it and if it’s kind, say it.  We often blurt things out that are mean and thoughtless, yet we seldom say the kind things that come to our mind.  You can do it on Facebook, too.  People love to be acknowledged!

  1. Say thank you each time you are helped in any way, and make sure it’s a minimum of three times a day.  If it’s more than someone just passing you the potatoes at the supper table, tell them what you are thankful for and why.  For example, “Thanks for offering to get me coffee with soy milk and a pack and a half of sweetener; that’s very generous of you” or “Thank you for helping me figure out this problem.  You’re really creative; I never would have thought of that on my own.”

  1. Practice at least three random acts of kindness each day and make sure at least one of those is directed at someone in your family. If your sweetheart is rushing out the door on the way to work, pinch him in the butt and give him a wink and a nudge.  Offer your child some playtime before she asks you.  If you’re shopping and someone behind you has three items and you have 200 hundred, let them go ahead. 

  1. Shut up at least three times a day when you want to say, “I told you so.”  Even if you are right, you don’t need to say so.

It’s just three things…multiplied a bunch of times.  But even if you do just one of these things just once every day, you’re still going to make the world a better place.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ten of My Top Childhood Memories

Hanging in our hayloft: 
Everything about our hayloft in the ramshackle barn on our farm in Greendale resonates with me: the smell, the dustiness, the seclusion, the hiding, the flirting with our male Sunday visitors, and, best of all, when my dad would come up and tell us stories in the hayloft as we lay nestled in our dusty fort.  Plus, I had my first kiss in that hayloft.  (That doesn't count the one I had to give while playing the mother in  the play “Cheaper By the Dozen” in 10th grade to my very nerdy husband.  In his defense, I was also very nerdy.)

Playing in the pool of ANY motor hotel, no matter how grungy, anywhere along Interstate 5. 
On vacations, we always begged for a motel with a pool and we three kids would have hours of enjoyment cavorting in the water.  I have no idea what we did since there were no water toys, no floaties, and no waterslides, but somehow we managed to whoop it up until our dinners at Denny's or other freeway chain restaurant joints.  Now I can’t get into water that’s colder than 90 degrees, hence the propensity for baths and beach vacations in Thailand.

Picking all the recyclables (and other trash) out of my grandparents’ rubbish and setting up shop with my brother Anthoney on the step bench that Omi used to hang her laundry on.  
We would play for hours with empty bottles of detergent and 7Up bottles and empty cereal boxes and tin cans.  It was pure, dirty, toxic joy.

Playing in our backyard sandbox that our many barn cats used as a kitty litter box. 
We spent endless hours either using it as a bakery where we made elaborate mud cakes out of my mother's Tupperware jelly molds and tuna fish cans or as a warzone with plastic soldiers and ocassionally Barbies.  And who can forget the time we made Torsten Zinnamen, our very gullible next door neighbor, eat sand?  Good times…

Playing Barbies with my sister, Nicole.  
Because she is four years younger than I am, I had the excuse to play with these ghastly representations of womankind well into my teenage years without too much guilt.  The hours of fun we would have cutting up my brother’s tube socks to make dresses, trimming their hair and creating little houses made out of shoe boxes and furniture out of Kleenex boxes and fabric remnants and pieces of firewood.  (We really loved when my brother would join in on the fun with his GI Joe and Big Jim action figures.)  And who could forget Coly losing all of Ken’s detachable beard, mustache, goatee and sideburns accoutrements she received on Christmas eve the very next day?  The good news was, his brown and white checked blazer and turtleneck remained part of the Barbie collection for a very long time.

Sitting on the chesterfield with my cousin Jolene, going through the Sears Catalog page by page.  
On one side, I got first pick of the model in the prettiest clothes (or sometimes just the prettiest model) and on the other side, Jolene got to pick.  Then our models would have imaginary conversations with one another involving dates and having babies and party planning.  It got very silly when we got to the lingerie section...

Hosting talk shows in my good friend, Kristi Martens’ closet, while in our bathrobes.  
We would take turns being the famous guest and the other being the host.  We’d put on elaborate shows where I began to develop a clear vision for my future path (that I am still on).

Debbie Ewert and I painting our nails with coloured pencils.  
This was a trick she showed me that she must have learned from her more worldly friends in Delta.  We used pink and red pencil crayons, dipped them in water, and got gorgeous nails that we would try to hide from our mothers.  We tried it on our lips as well and probably our eyes.  Good times!

Sitting in the same room with my good buddy Cheryl Penner and writing letters back and forth to one another, while pretending to be someone else.  
They went along the lines of:  “Dear Jessica, Your haircut is so gorgeous.  Wherever did you get it done?  I am in Hawaii now on a business trip, but I shall be back in time for the ball.  Have you had your gown designed yet?”  “Dear Felicity,  My life is going swimmingly.  I’ve just returned from an ocean cruise where I met a famous movie star.  We are planning to wed in the fall.  You shall simply have to come!”

Picking berries in the summer.  
Even though we had to get up at an ungodly hour for summer vacation, I would have whole mornings together with my friends, picking both blueberries and raspberries (much pricklier!) into ice cream buckets tied around our waists with rope.  We’d laugh and eat copious amounts of berries, get scolded by the berry bosses for not cleaning the bushes well enough, laugh some more, and we’d get paid EVERY DAY!  (Then we’d ride our bikes to the local IGA store or the Circle Café and buy Bottle Caps and soda and WigWag bars and bags of salt and vinegar potato chips and Hawkins Cheezies.  I’d often eat my stash under the house in the cellar where it was cool and dank and I had set up my own little hangout to get away from my pesky little sister.  Of course, I had to share it with the spiders and the silverfish and sit on a hard concrete floor, but I spent many an hour down there reading Trixie Belden mystery books with a flashlight, eating my junk food and trying to figure out how to shave my legs with my mother’s razor.

The memories are endless; these are just what pop into my mind now, but it does remind me that the richness of childhood consists of the small pleasures, not the big momentous occasions.

My goal for my gals:
  • To make sure they have plenty of their own time to establish their own memories without me supervising their every move.
  • To keep them away from Barbies (especially Barbies in tube socks ) in spite of my perverse fondness for them.
  • To make sure they have summer jobs that keep them busy and well fed.
  • To make sure there is plenty of time to hang out, imagine and play.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Unreasonable Fears

I admit it: I sure had some crazy fears as a kid. (I can't tell you how many times I asked Jesus into my heart for fear he hadn't heard me or believed me the first thousand or so times.)  In fact, I sure have some now.  (Stockpile the house with water and baked beans and toilet paper because the bird flu may wipe us out at any time, but we'll be able to survive if we bolt the doors and ration our cans and bottles and wiping.)  Many experts in the field of unreasonable psychoses say we spend more time worrying about what could be than we actually spend thinking about what is.  I suspect it doesn't take a lot of research to verify this since most of us seem to walking proof this nearly universal truth (Buddhist monks and enlightened people excepted).

So Sunday was family movie night again, which always seems to lend some drama to the closing of the week.  Don made tortilla pizzas (minus the cheese and plus the pesto for me, thank you very much) while I got the kids started on the movie.  We snuggled up in bed and waited for Don the baker and delivery man to bring up the goods.  Mommy got the privilege of picking the movie.  I am not an animation fan, much as I try to be open-minded, so I am always on the search for kid-appropriate movies that have real live people in them, but will still amuse the kids and not drive me to drink.

I leafed through our large stack of accumulated DVDs and found a never-before-been-watched copy of 101 Dalmatians.  Pay dirt: family friendly viewing with nary a roadrunner or sponge or bobble head in sight.  And Glenn Close!  After Fatal Attraction with Michael Douglas, who could doubt her acting chops?  Granted, she certainly has been typecast, but what a delightfully evil Cruella Devil she was!  And those dogs: how adorable where they?

Things started off smoothly: we were tucked in with the pillows plumped, the blankets tucked under our feet, happily awaiting the arrival of the pizza.  I first started noticing Charlotte's whimpering about 10 minutes into the movie when Cruella whisked into the fashion magazine office in all her fur and splendor

"Is that lady real, Momma?" Charlotte asked incredulously.

"Well, she's a real person playing a pretend character," I explained. 

"I don't like her one bit," she announced.  "She's going to be a meanie.  I can tell.  I don't want her in this movie."

I paused the movie and proceeded to give a very teacherly account of how a story couldn't really be effective without a problem, and it always helped if there was an evil character to propel the problem along and make the protagonist look even better.  (Yes, I did use that word and I explained it well; I am a teacher through and through.)  During this discussion, Emily was bouncing on the bed barking and looking for a black sharpie pen to decorate herself with spots.  Meanwhile, I assured Charlotte that good always won evil (at least in the movies) so she needn't worry. 

But worry she did.  In between nibbles of pizza and sips of milk, Charlotte fretted and cried and despaired for the puppies' lives.  Her biggest horror came when Cruella found herself in the barn being tarred and feathered and featured in all sorts of ludicrous and funny (to the rest of us) moments.  Emily pranced on the bed, spilling the chicken noodle soup (an odd combination with the pizza, but Don was the cook, not me) in all her enthusiasm and imitation of the dogs, while Charlotte hid under the covers.  

For those of you who don't know, Charlotte is our older daughter (8) and the worrier who will no doubt go on to become a high-rolling lawyer or take on some career featuring high expectations and high stress, entirely of her own choosing; Emily (6) is the carefree one who spends the majority of her time pretending to be either a tiger, a lion, or, now, a dog.  God help us when we go to Australia next month and get acquainted with kangaroos.  Her career path will very likely involve interpretative dance or zoo keeping.

The bed got cleaned, the movie ended with good triumphing over evil and still Charlotte remained under the covers, clutching a greasy piece of forgotten pizza in her hand.

After finally cajoling her to brush and floss her teeth and to get into bed, we had a loving tuck and Don and I set about our various Sunday evening, getting-ready-for-Monday tasks.  Every 10 minutes or so, however, a holler would emanate from the girl's room, Charlotte emerging (when she dared) from the covers to let us know she was scared, having bad dreams, unable to go to sleep, or that she couldn't think good thoughts and every time she tried she kept thinking of that "devil lady."  (I don't blame her: every time I think of Glenn Close I think of a ringleted middle-aged women plunging a knife into a cute little bunny.)

We tried everything: I put a lavender sachet from my underwear drawer under her pillow and told her the aroma could whisk away the bad thinking.  I even brought her a pair of forgotten purple furry socks and blew them full of magic dust straight from my magic lungs to take away her fears and help her to think good thoughts;   We talked about all the good in the universe and how good is stronger than evil and how that Cruella woman was the archetype for evil in the world (okay, not really).  

When the tired parents trundled to bed well after midnight there were still a few more frenzied visits to the bedroom, and when we woke up in the morning, there was a little gal bundled up on the Afghan rug beside our bed.

Try as we might to protect our children from their fears, like us, they just need to go through them.  I'm realizing more and more that it's my job to shepherd these lovely gals through their trials and tribulations (even if it means staying up until unreasonable hours and bringing out random underwear drawer items), but to still let them go through them.  It appears there is no avoiding it anyway.  We just can't predict what is going to scare the bejeezus out of our children so we just have to hang out with them and keep letting them know that one way or another good triumphs over evil and try to believe it ourselves.  

My Goals:

to not judge people based on their fears, reasonable or not.

to let my children feel their fears, as odd as they may seem, but to hold their hands until they come through them.  And if need be, hold their hands forever.

to find the purple furry socks that went missing since Charlotte flew into a panic tonight when she couldn't find what she is now reverently calling "the magic slippers."

to remember I have my own unreasonable fears and to see if putting socks on my hands will help me to deal with them (at least in the privacy of my own home; I won't do it at work or anything).

to consider switching the Sunday night movie tradition to Saturday so we can at least sleep in on Sunday and wake up rested on those Monday mornings that come upon us so fast and furious.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fast Friends

Ah, it’s good to spend time with friends with whom you have a longstanding history: friends who get you, who know all your stories already, friends where there is no awkwardness or you have to hide anything from.

Last night was just such a friendship night: Claire, Tracy and myself, over two pitchers of Margaritas and a whole lot of cheese (including TWO orders of nachos), caught up on each other’s lives in a way that only friends who have been through thick and thin together can.

We’ve been through babies and moves and job losses and founds; we’ve been through ill health and bad hair and weight loss and weight gain and wrinkles (mostly mine); we’ve spent many a holiday together, many a long, lazy Sunday afternoon, taken trips together and watched our children wax and wane (mostly wax) together.

It’s not always easy for me to be social.  I appear social.  I’m good socially – I know the game and I enjoy it for periods of time - but when push comes to shove, I’m a loner.  I’m a gal who needs a lot of down time.  Even if I get home at midnight after a night of socializing and just good old-fashioned fun, I still need time to lie in bed and do crosswords or read or do something that is solitary before I can go to sleep. 

Sometimes I think I could have been a nun.  That simple, solitary lifestyle appeals to me on many levels.  (I know many of you are snorting at this point, not being able to imagine me in silence, minus magazines and crackpot schemes of grandeur and limelight.)  But at my deepest deep, I want peace, silence, and often solitude.

Being with two of my closest friends in the world, however, IS like downtime: only downtime with a blast of energy and fresh air.  It’s like I can just be me in the same way I can just be me when I’m alone (except I’m still wearing a bra). Last night was so delightful to just laugh and remember and catch up and talk about what was real, but in a way that wasn’t too serious or intense, even though a lot of what is real in our lives IS serious and intense.

 I think we all felt that way last night: like we were indulging in some very special downtime (as opposed to “on” time where you feel that you have to put on some kind of show or fulfill your obligations).  There were no feelings of obligation or guilt about where or who else we should be with last night: we were just there for each other through and through.  There was no need to put on a show, other than the kind (for me, anyway), that just runs through my veins.  There was no one-upmanship or competing for attention.  There were just three friends all together, completely relishing one another’s company: happiness in one of its truest forms.

Maybe it was the frozen margaritas that gave us brain freeze and giddy happiness, but it’s more likely that it was just the pure joy of being together with people you really and truly love after too long of an absence.

My aspirations:

To spend a little more of my “downtime” with the people I really and truly love and maybe just a little bit less with only myself.

To cherish the dear friends that I have and be a better, more loyal communicator with them in spite of having a phone phobia and a tendency toward being antisocial.

To indulge in my friendships, but lay off the cheese!  (As for the margaritas, I don’t have them often enough to feel any guilt.  In fact, I should have more.  But only in the company of friends.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dear Oprah...

My pathetic attempt to look like my idol.

I have some advice for you.  Take what is useful, and ignore the rest.  I’m a diehard fan and say it all with only the kindest of intentions and the deepest respect.

I’d keep putting yourself on the cover of your magazine.  You are a lady who knows how to brand yourself.  Well done, O!

I’d keep giving away my money to loads of good causes, but I probably wouldn’t give away quite so many red cars.  I’d give people a choice of colors.

I’d team up with Bono and Bill Gates to eradicate poverty once and for all.

I wouldn’t do anymore features about how it “takes a village” to get yourself “camera-ready.”  We just like seeing you camera ready, Oprah.  You look good.  There are not many of us who can tumble out of bed and look ravishing.  Just give us the ravishing and forget the process of getting there.  That’s between you and your makeup and hair crew.

I’d stop apologizing for your weight.  You’re beautiful the way you are.  Plus, we all feel better about ourselves knowing that women who are not built like twigs can still make it in the industry.  You’ve made it on your charisma and integrity and your realness.  We love that.

I’d still keep talking about your weight, though.  It’s important for people to talk about what their issues are and to get them out into the open.  Your openness helps so many people.  Keep laying your foibles out on the table.  We love it.  It helps us.

I’d take a few stand-up comedy lessons.  You’re delightful and authentic and absolutely real. We love that.  We also love Ellen.  A bit more of the funny might win a few more of the doubters over.  Personally, I love you just the way you are, but I’m just saying.

I’d consider run in the next election.  When Obama finally gets tired of it all, you and Michelle could step up to the plate together and iron out the rest of the kinks.  Women do that well.  You’d be a dynamo.  Sure, the haters would come out, but you’re so evolved that you’d deal with it.  (Ekhart Tolle could be part of the team, too.  Now there’s an advisor!)

I’d do some more Soul Series shows.  I love hearing you talk to spiritual people and elicit their most powerful ideas to share with us.  Give us workbooks and homework even.  We’re up for it!  If you’re ready to learn and grow, so are we.

I’d interrupt just a teensy bit less.  Don’t be offended.  I understand; I’m the same way.  You’ve got stuff to say and you want people to get to their point.  Just a little bit less.  Just so the few naysayers in the world can’t call you to that mat about that.

I’d get the Satellite Sisters their radio show back and pay them bookoo bucks; I’d also get Lian’s Chaos Chronicles show syndicated on OWN TV.  Introduce the Dolan sisters to the whole world.  I’m sure your ratings would skyrocket!  (Chaz Bono and the Duchess of York are titillating but the Sat Sisters are SOLID.)

I’d bring your show back, even if you just did it once or twice a week.  I know you’re moving on.  I miss you is all.  I don’t think I’m the only one, either.

I’d invite me on your show once you brought it back.  I think we’d make good TV together.  I’d be content to just have coffee or cocktails with you, though.  I don’t even need to be on your show.  I’d never try to replace Gayle, but I think we could be REALLY GOOD friends.  (I want to HAVE your show, but that’s another matter…)

I’d be sure you have a really great will set out that is going to surprise and delight a lot of people after you are gone.  Make it creative.  Go wild.

Bruce Springsteen is THE BOSS, but you’re even BOSSIER (and I mean that in only the kindest way)!

Love you, Oprah.

Kindest Regards,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Year of Weddings

We were either married the day before Valentines or the day after.  Neither of us can ever remember.  Nor can we remember how many years we’ve been married.  I depend on an email from my mother to let me know the date and the vintage of our marriage.  I haven’t got one yet this year; I think my parents are on vacation.  To make sure Don has his bases covered, he got me flowers yesterday, he’ll pop me some of his special olive oil popcorn in the wok tonight (for Valentines) and tomorrow maybe he’ll find me some vegan, fair trade chocolates.  Good luck.  Poor man.  (I am famous for my high maintenance expectations.)

In fact, I never wanted to be married in the first place.  I knew he was the guy and I wanted it to last forever, but I was perfectly happy “living in sin,” as it were.  In fact, I loved the rebellious nature of not being married and living together in unwedded bliss.

Being happily unmarried appealed to the part of me that wanted to be a rebel, a prodigal daughter, the part of me that people whisper about and say, “We need to pray for Leah.  She’s on the wrong path.”

How wrong those naysayers (if there ever were any) were: I most certainly have been on the right path from the moment I ran into my guy on the airplane on the way to Taiwan some 20 years ago.  I have to say that there have been very few moments (excepting those that were premenstrual and hysterical so they don’t count) that I have regretted choosing to spend my life with Don.

The reason we got married?  He is American.  I am Canadian.  We had been living in Asia for some five years and we wanted to live together in North America, work and get our masters degrees, but we couldn’t live in one another’s respective countries without getting married. 

The first of our weddings was accidental.  We were traveling in India for a few months and found ourselves in Udaipur during the auspicious wedding season. There were a great many weddings every night, with bridegrooms being carried down the streets on elephants, horses, camels, walking…depending on caste.  People carried makeshift lighting systems and danced around the groom in colorful splendorous saris, high from chewing paan and exuberant with the feelings of hope and new futures. 

On one of these nights we ran into a particularly exuberant wedding party who asked us if we were married.  We replied no, but that we were planning to do so. They invited us to join in their wedding celebrations and so we married there with enthusiastic strangers, exchanging marigold wreaths and going back to our hotel and dancing around a candle at midnight to solidify the marriage.

The bridal party invited us to their breakfast festivities the next day to celebrate our marriages alongside one another.  We showed up at their hotel the next morning only to find them bleary eyed and unrecognizing of us after a hard night of partying.

That was the first of our many wedding celebrations.  I remember calling my parents from a red phone in a telephone shop (no internet or Skype or mobile phones back in the day) and yelling into the phone that Don and I had just gotten married and my mother asking if it was legal and me being almost certain it was, of course, not.

The year of wedding celebrations continued.  After our adventures in India and then Nepal, we flew to Canada, I applied for the fiancé visa, and we tooled around Vancouver for the better part of a year writing dictionaries and TOEFL handbooks for our still-boss in Korea.  It was a year of fun and excitement and celebration and a year that we worked a small amount for what seemed to us a large amount of money. 

Meantime we went for long walks and bike rides, Don threw pots, we spent long hours hanging out with friends on the beach and buying fresh produce at Granville Island Market and cooking beautiful meals and drinking bottles of cheap wine and listening to Bluegrass and Neil Young and kd lang, all the while waiting for my visa.

We had a big party with our friends on the Spanish Banks beach of Vancouver, then there was the big family shindig at my sister, Nicole’s place, and finally, when the visa came through, the hastily but beautifully assembled winter wedding at Don’s old girlfriend’s (and now good friend to both of us) husband’s grandmother’s cottage in Westbend, Wisconsin, the day before my fiancé visa to the United States was going to expire.

The party season lasted more than a year it seemed, and it still goes on today.  So even if we don’t remember our wedding date, we are celebrating all the time.  Life is good.  We’re still in love after all these years.  And we have two of the sweetest gals on the planet who are the lights of our lives.

So: happy anniversary, happy Valentines, happy loving, happy life.  It’s all good.

My Goals:
  • To let my sweetie know how much I love him every single day.
  • To do something to show how much I love him every single day.
  • To not be too high maintenance (at least not every single day).