Sunday, October 6, 2013

Home is Where the Family Is

Being an expat adult, people often ask me where I am from, and I easily answer, "Canada" since it is my birthplace and childhood home.  The thing is, I no longer align myself with Canada in the rabidly patriotic way that many Canadians do.  Of course every time someone mentions a Canadian movie star (William Shatner, for example), I interrupt immediately (before they have a chance to even say anything beyond the movie star's name) to state, "He's Canadian, you know."

And if you're Canadian, you'll answer, "I know."  If you're not, you might just roll your eyes. We do take our celebrities seriously, no question about it.  Michael J Fox?  Canadian.  Jim Carrey?  Canadian. Shania Twain?  Canadian.  Celine Dion?  Canadian.  But now, I'm going too far.  I'm also showing my age since there are many much more famous Canadians who are young and hip, not the celebrities of my youth.

That being said, I've been out of the country for more than 20 years now and aside from knowing that Stephen Harper is still the prime minister, that Quebec still wants to secede from the nation, forestry is still a contentious issue 40 years after I first begin watching the news, and our socialised healthcare system appears to be reviled by many south of the border, I am really not up to date on anything Canadiana.

Part of me feels guilty and like a bit of a traitor: after all, I married an American, adopted Chinese children and have lived in Asia for going on two decades.  The other part of me knows that while my citizenship buys me freedom, privilege and some unrivalled human rights, it is no longer my home other than on my passport.

So where is my home?  Technically speaking, it is in Hong Kong.  Speaking from my heart, however, it is where ever my family is at any given time.  If we are in a guest house in Bangkok, our bags are unpacked, and we finish our Pad Thai at the local diner, I'll always ask, "Shall we go back home?" and I'm not referring to our village house on the outskirts of Hong Kong.  (And the family will always reply, "No, let's go for a foot massage!" if we are in Thailand.  Who wants to go "home" if you can go out and be pampered extravagantly for just a few Baht?)

Pad Thai, then...
Off to our foot massage

My love of Thailand aside, family is my home, pure and simple.  Frankly, this makes my life simple and happy.  I can go anywhere, live anywhere, and I am happy.  If my family is with me, I am home. I think it's a pretty good way to live (and love) my life.

This summer, our home was our camper van, traversing
the North American continent!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Noisy Children: What's a Teacher to Do?

I don't know how I ever ended up becoming a teacher and how I lasted these nearly 26 years because I have a serious problem with noise.  (And yes, I HAVE been that teacher who has given one warning too many and then had children sit in silence all the way home on the bus from the field trip.)

Speaking from some experience (but not necessarily from a high degree of success), here are my suggestions on the noise-front for those of you who feel my pain yet have no way to combat the rising tension as the noise level in the classroom escalates to new and unexpectedly shrill volumes as it inevitably does.  Every. Single. Day.

1. Practice deep breathing.  I can't stress this one enough.  Since I've started meditation (mediTation not mediCation), I am a much better teacher.  "Oh," I notice to myself, "the students are yelling again."  Then I smile and breathe some more.  Sometimes I breathe very deeply and very heavily.

2.  Buy one of those shop bells that a customer rings when there is no one at the front counter.  I have one on my desk and one at the front of my classroom.  When I need the class to freeze (or shut up), I ring the bell: my own shrill reminder of their own vociferousness.  It quiets things down.  For at least 30 seconds anyway.

3. I occasionally succumb to "feel sorry for me" moments (or even days) where I say, "Ms. Rempel has a really bad headache today so I'm going to ask you to be particularly kind and just whisper.  Then Ms. Rempel won't have to yell at you and then everyone will be happy."  Sometimes it works.  Don't overuse it, though, or it will completely lose its power.

4. Remind your students that you signed on to become a teacher, not a police officer.  Sometimes it's hard for them to tell the difference.  Sometimes it's hard for me to, as well.  If you play police officer for five or 10 minutes, they usually get the picture.  I don't have a uniform or anything, but that might help.

5. Keep a stash of Advil handy.  And earplugs.

6. Don't take it personally.  Unless you're a substitute teacher or particularly unlikable (which I most certainly am not), students aren't being noisy just to annoy you: it's just who they are.  It's their job to be noisy just like it's your job to get them to zip it up. It completes the circle.

7. Ask yourself, "Is it productive noise?"  Let's face it, noise is necessary.  If kids are going to investigate and inquire and learn, they need to talk.  If they're not talking about who they've got a crush on or about the Rudolph-like pimple on your nose, then you may just need to let it go. I find if I'm inquiring with them, I'm not nearly as bothered by the noise.  So get involved (it's your job, after all), and think of it as the sweet sound of learning instead of chaotic anarchy.

I've got nothing else, folks.  Teaching and learning is noisy and messy and completely unpredictable.  Just go with it.  Or get out of the business.  I'm sure there's a cubicle waiting for you somewhere, if you want to find one badly enough.  I think I've already made my decision.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Turning My Bathroom into a Gym

"The less energy it takes to kick-start a positive habit, the more likely that habit will stick."

I just finished reading a chapter in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Accor that confirms my suspicions and my own at-home experimentation: following the path of least resistance can lead to the greatest success.

He gives the example of trying to create a new habit of playing his guitar every day.  He set up an elaborate record keeping system, kept his guitar in the closet not 20 seconds away from his couch where he usually succumbed to the lure of television, and decided to replace his TV watching habit with his previously joyful habit of playing guitar every day.

Guess what?  It was a rip roaring failure!  He played for four days out of the 21 tick boxes he had set up, and went right back to viewing old episodes of Seinfeld.  Now this is a social scientist who studies successful habits and happiness as his career.  What could have gone wrong?

If you haven't guessed it yet, it was the 20 seconds it took Shawn to go to the closet and retrieve his guitar.  In try number two, Shawn got a music stand and set it up in the middle of his living room with his guitar perched on it.  Success?  You bet!  In his words: "What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it."

Just to add fuel to the habit fire, he did one more thing: he took the batteries out of his remote control and put them in a drawer very close to the couch where he always watched TV.  The time it took him to put the batteries into the remote control (about 20 seconds), greatly reduced his TV watching habit as well.  He just couldn't be bothered.

 A few weeks ago, I started a habit of my own.  I have an old step box from aerobic videos that I used to indulge in and suffer from.  It's been sitting in our bedroom for years, occasionally used for bouts of exercise or for our daughters to have tea parties on.  I noticed how ugly and unused it was and resolved to throw it out, but then I had a better idea.  I put it on top of my scale (effectively hiding that guilt-inducing machine that I haven't stepped on in more than a year) in my bathroom, right beside the bathroom sink.  Since that step box has been living in our bathroom, I have been using it during all of my morning and evening ablutions:  while brushing my teeth, flossing, moisturizing and the like.  And it adds up!  At least twice a day, I step up and down maybe forty or fifty times, and sometimes longer since I'm now more inclined to polish and floss and exfoliate since I know I'm getting in my exercise at the same time!

How about a climbing wall in the bathroom?

I figure this easy, incidental exercise will pay big dividends: bigger than a daily weigh-in on the scale that's for sure.  In fact, I was so affirmed by "The 20-Second Rule" that I've just moved a set of eight pound weights beside the toilet.  This is perhaps an image you don't want to entertain, but you get the picture.  Essentially, the en suite bathroom is becoming my new gym!

My new start has already begun, but next I want to figure out how to translate it into success with my students at school.  I want to make it easier for them to reach their goals, and it seems a few little time-saving tweaks could help them maximize their efficiency and increase their output in so many areas.  Please send in your suggestions!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pajama Gal

I've been having a hard time getting dressed lately.  After my shower last night, I put my underwear on and it took a good half hour of tugging and wondering if I had experienced an unprecedented weight gain before I realized I had put my panties on backwards.

This morning it took me until recess time to realize that I was wearing my blouse inside out.  Somehow none of my colleagues or students recognized this fashion faux pas either, which just goes to show people really don't spend much time looking at me other than the occasional cursive glance to prove they are mildly interested in every 50th word I have to say.

In my last blog, I wrote about spending less time in front of the mirror, but I think I may actually need a little more inspection time.  I also might need to sew some little tags into my underwear so I know which is the back and which is the front.

Some days it just feels so challenging with all that buttoning and zipping and getting your bra on with the cups on the correct side of your body.  (It might be the Amish blood in me that is protesting all those adornments.) Sometimes I think I was meant to live in my pajamas.

My kids do it all in their pajamas.  Why can't I?

It's just so much easier, and, frankly, I'm kind of cute in my pajamas.  Plus, it makes stumbling out of bed and getting ready for work so much easier...slip on some undergarments, slash on a bit of make up, throw your hair up in a disheveled pony tail and away you go.  Honestly, no one at work seems to know the difference between Leah in her pajamas and Leah in her professional duds.

No guarantees about what I'm going to show up for work in tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure nobody is going to give me a second glance unless I decide to wear the footsie pajamas with the backflap on the bottom.

Yup, we prefer our pajamas!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Looking-in-the-Mirror Affirmations

Don't look at yourself too closely...that's my new start for today.  Those magnifying mirrors are DANGEROUS!  I've been battling a cauliflower nose of peri-menopausal cluster pimples for several months now, and my pores are like lunar craters.

My adorable sister and her adoring
niece (my daughter) applying
makeup together

There are many beauty products on the market these days to reduce spots, to give your skin a sheen of luminosity (hopefully not one of grease), and to make one appear as flawless as it is possible to be without photoshop or the witchcraftery of Kim Kardashian's private makeup artist.

My new start actually doesn't have anything to do with spackling on more makeup (though I am on the lookout for a good primer), nor do I plan on eschewing mirrors, other than the magnifying kind; rather, my resolution is to look in the mirror and respond with kindness and grace.  To be sure, people are not on the their mobile phones giddily discussing my pores or speculating on my hyper-pigmentation nor are they all atwitter over my summer weight gain.  Pretty much guaranteed, not a soul has given my appearance a second thought but me.  (And sadly, I've given it a whole lot more than just a second thought.)

I'm being gentler on myself these days, though.  My new M.O. is not to linger in front of the mirror but to give myself a quick glance to make sure nothing is askance, give myself a big ole smile, and tell myself how lovely I am, inside and out.

I'm good enough.  I'm cute enough.  And gosh darn it, people like me.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leah's Beauty Review: Episode One

I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?
Jean Kerr

This proves that I am probably not qualified
to talk about beauty so don't take my recommendation
too seriously.

Being a teacher, I get my fair share of balms and lotions and body scrubs as gifts.  As well intentioned as they are, I'm not a big fan of rubbing myself with butters, and the smells always mingle unpleasantly with my ever-present tiger balm.

(Note to parents: gift cards, gift cards, gift cards.  All teachers love them!  Amazon, iTunes, can't go wrong!)

Anyway, inspired by my good friend's Prairie Grlz blog ( and by a delightful experience in the tub just now, I have decided that a beauty segment now and again would not be misplaced.  I am, after all, a vain gal, and can impart my female readers (and sometimes male) with many a recommendation that could change your life or at least the texture or color of your pallid skin.

I'm not usually a fan of fruity scents because of the aforementioned Tiger Balm addiction, but I had some self-tanned ankles and knees that were looking decidedly dirty, and in my shower just now I decided to work in the direction of scrubbing some of that dirty tan off.  I reached for a forgotten tube of - here it comes - Body Shop Strawberry Body Polish - and just opening the cap brought me right back to the back-breaking strawberry picking fields of my teenage summer holidays where I labored under the hot sun to make enough money to keep me in candy and potato chips.

It was almost a religious experience inhaling the intense esters that really did make me want to squirt some into my mouth.  And, yes, the seeds were there too.  A lot of them, in fact.  Actually, I could plant a small garden with what's left in my tub.

I succeeded in a vigorous, sensuous and heavily scented exfoliation that left me pasty white, my usual shade of skin, and in need of another dose of self tanner.  That being applied, the strawberry scent has all but vanished, but I am left with the sweet memory of it, and skin that does indeed feel polished in the same way that sandpaper might hone a two-by-four.

Okay, maybe this wasn't exactly a beauty recommendation of the highest order, but it's my first try.  I do hope you'll tune in again.  Next week, I might move on to the self tanner.

New start?  Apparently exfoliating.  I'm definitely using that strawberry body polish again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blogging From Bed

I meant to be blogging all summer long about our cross continental camper van journey in a 1991 Itasca RV complete two very noisy children, limited space, constant grime, a gas tank the size of my bladder and doors that continually swung open mid highway speed escalation.  Somehow I could never get around to it and I couldn't figure out why.  Certainly there was plenty to write about and most campsites these days (even national campgrounds) have some level of WIFI.

In between keeping the sand and dirty out of the camper van (a nearly full-time vocation), trying to find the soap, my underwear, the iPad, the keys...pretty much everything...every day from dawn to dusk felt gosh-darn full, even when we were driving along those straight ribbons of highway in South Dakota.

One way or another, no blogging got done.  No novel writing got done.  A facebook update every week or so was about all I could muster in between staring out the windscreen and staring straight into the faces of the three other members of my family who were in CONSTANT close proximity, especially since it decided to a particularly rainy summer in any part of the continent we happened to be in at any given time.  The firepits at pretty much every campsite we tenanted went largely unused, not for wont of trying.  Just as soon as we'd sit down at our picnic table to eat our delicious foil pack (how many foil packs can a family face?) or Kraft dinner or cans of beans, the rain would inevitably start and we'd scramble into Molly II into our muddy camper van castle and ensconce ourselves for the remainder of the thundery night.

Anyway, this is not a blog about our WONDERFUL (Honestly!) summer in the RV, but one about why I did not blog.  I've only just now realized why that is: I ONLY blog in bed.  If I could live in this bed and do absolutely everything here, I would.  (If you haven't heard about my new Sofitel "My Bed" with a feather tick topper you don't know me very well at all or you haven't seen me in a long time.)  I must admit that I even do my Pilates in bed, though I'm not exactly sure it can be considered exercise if you can do the whole thing from the comfort of your bed.  Regardless, apparently there is no inspiration forthcoming unless I am at home.  IN bed. MY bed.

Luckily, I am now home from our summer of camper-bound splendor so you will be reading plenty of nonsense from me, just like the good old days before the vacation started.  My "new start every day" should probably be to try blogging from some other venue in the house, but I'm just not ready to make that commitment yet.

Remember that episode from Seinfeld when Kramer decided to do everything in his shower including prepare his food?  Well, that's me and my bed.  I'm in love.  If I want to get anything done at all, it has to be from this command station.  Just as soon as I post this, I'm off to do my exercises.  In bed, of course.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dead Husbands

We're a super cute couple

I keep starting novels and the main characters' husbands keep dying in crazy ways like being hit by a coconut on a beach vacation in Thailand, or being tragically killed in a climbing accident on that mountain by Squamish when a peanut butter sandwich was reached for in a backpack during a rather insecure toehold.  Oh wait, that was a REAL made-up story I told to a group of fellow conventioneers in Santiago, Chile years ago.  Don't ask me why.  It really spiralled out of control and got me into a lot of trouble.  Pretty soon I was telling them all about the funeral proceedings and playing the mourning widow wearing black to breakfast each morning, and it was all very uncomfortable since none of it EVER happened.  Occasionally things pop out of my mouth that are not true and then it's just like popcorn.  Let it be a lesson, folks: one lie begets another.  (That's why it's best for me to stick to fiction.)

But this blog, after a two month summer absence whilst RVing across the continent with my dh and two noisy children, is NOT about my compulsive confabulation: it's about dying husbands.  You see, it's Saturday morning, we are still getting over jet lag, and my sweetheart had this hike planned with some of his teaching buddies over the jungly terrain of the New Territories of Hong Kong.

The problem was, that upon waking at 5:30 AM this morning, the rain was monsoon-torrential and the sky was lit up like frenetically blinking Christmas tree lights with thunder.  I begged him not to go: he shrugged, told me it would be fine, and proceeded to make coffee, scarf bananas and toast and hunt for his water-proof underwear.  And then he simply whisked out the door, all the while his three girls yelling, "We don't want you to die, Daddy/Husband.  Go have breakfast with your friends instead!  Hell, go get drunk at six in the morning. (I said that: not the girls.)  Just don't go hiking on those snake-infested, slippery, washed-out trails that are full of trees in a THUNDER storm."

These gals need their Daddy!

Alas, as many men are, he is a man who does not like to be told what to do.  So he's gone.  Meantime, I'm in my new Sofitel feather bed reveling in its intense comfort, but not looking forward to spending the rest of my life in it alone; my children are downstairs playing Wii.  At least it's Wii Fit and they're INSIDE.

We're jet lagged, and even if it's before seven in the morning on the last Saturday before school starts and I should be blissfully sleeping in, my husband's departure has at least brought me back to writing the blog.

I hope I will still be a happily married woman the next time I post.  I don't want my "new start every day" to be about learning to live alone.

I hope this isn't the last great pic ever taken of our adorable family

PS: To all of you out there who really DO have dead husbands, I apologize.  I didn't mean to be irreverent.  It's just my way of coping with fear.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Chill Time

My hooves are driving me crazy.  It's been months since my last pedicure and none of my closed-toe shoes fit me because my toe nails have grown so long.  Honestly, I'm sure it's not an image you want to have in your head: gnarled, tree trunk nails that are curling over my chubby toes like so much ivy.

It's not so bad as all that, actually.  In fact, it makes me laugh that I am even thinking about nail treatments, given that my first pedicure was about 12 years ago and it was for the very special occasion of a wedding to be held in California.  I remember it was the dead of a Minnesota winter and I didn't think to or probably have the option to wear flip flops; I came clad in my woolen socks and winter boots.

Though I was greatly discouraged by the purveyor of my pedicure to relax and wait for what seemed to me an inordinately long period of time before leaving the premises, my stomach was rumbling, a snow storm was threatening and I had read every celebrity gossip magazine in the place.  I shoved on the socks and boots and shoveled my car out of a snowbank to get home.

Not surprisingly, upon my arrival home, I found my burgundy talons smeared into what looked like a bloody mess.  It was several years before I tried again.  These days, these types of services are still luxuries for me, but feel somewhat necessary on the scale of bodily upkeep.  Part of that might have to be with now living in a semi-tropical environment where most of the year can be spent in flip flops or sandals.

Little luxuries, necessities, pampering them what you may: they do leave one feeling revived and refreshed, as if you've taken some time for yourself and put in some effort to look just a tad better than you might otherwise, even if no one notices but yourself.

In between waxes and  hair colors, self tans and mani/pedis, a gal could have a full-time job.  I'm not that kind of gal, that's for sure, but I do enjoy my occasional pampering sessions.  Yesterday, my girlfriend and I went for a foot rub, a common and lovely practice here in Asia.  It was just what the doctor ordered: a nice catch-up session with a buddy, an invigorating massage, and a chance to take a deep breath and walk away from the daily pressures of life for an hour or two.

Maybe that's what it's all about: stepping away from the go-go-go to just chill-chill-chill.

New start?  More chill time (in whatever form it might take) and less go time.  My chances for success are good since summer vacation is about to begin, and this teacher is ready to fully enjoy one of the biggest perks of the teaching profession: holiday time!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Flossing in the Moonlight

My challenge?  To write a complete blog in the time it takes my kids to brush their teeth.  Brush them thoroughly.  And maybe floss.  So here goes.  A blog slam...

I've got no topic, no starter sentence: just a big blank slate to fill up in the time it takes for my two whippersnappers to wield their brushes and scrub those fangs of theirs.

I've been on a blog hiatus because lately I feel scared that I don't have enough time.  I've got the idea that I can't write unless I set aside an hour and exhaustively edit and edify and truth check and make every sentence both pithy and witty.  Fact is, people probably enjoy reading shorter tidbits than long tomes anyway.

Fact is, I need a topic NOW or I'm just going to ramble, and I have a feeling that the toothpaste has long been extricated from the tube.  And there is no accompanying floss to draw out the process.

So, do you floss every night?  I don't and I feel guilty about it.   My children don't either.  I feel super-duper guilty about that.  A few weeks ago, I tried to make an appointment with a well-respected dentist in Hong Kong and the first available appointment was in August.  I took it.  Actually I was relieved because I thought it could buy me some time and get my kids and me flossing regularly before we are found out.  (I think the tooth fairy already suspects...)

Next week we start our summer vacation, and much of it that will be in our rolling house:  read 1992 Toyota recreational vehicle.  My sweetheart and I have been talking about establishing rituals for the summer that will bring the family together and give us a sense of community while we are on the road: a red checked table cloth on the picnic table each night, communal dishwashing, marshmallow roasts while wearing fire-retardant clothing, etc.

But I've just thought of another one: flossing in the moonlight.  I think I like it.  By the time we're back and ready to see the famous dentist to the Hong Kong stars, our pearly whites will be stars themselves.

Okay: my spontaneous five minute blog is completed and just as Emily has arrived with her bedtime story in hand and her teeth brushed (but not flossed).

Posting this mini blog will insure enough guilt that the flossing will begin well before the summer camp-a-thon: it's just going to be done under a flourescent light rather than moonlight.

Pretty soon we'll be doing that with floss in our pockets!

New Starts?

  • Consistent flossing
  • Tri weekly five minute blogging sessions

Monday, May 27, 2013

Advice For When You Get Bad News

Inspired by Angelina Jolie and on my doctor's insistence, I scheduled a mammogram last week.  A day later I got a callback that I needed to come in for a follow-up ultra-sound because something "unusual" had been detected.  I was already working on a draft of these suggestions, so I was able to put them into practice before spiraling into my usual reaction where I am sure the worst is going to happen and then setting the funeral in motion.  Here is the list I came up with, compliments of the wisdom of ages:

It's not always bad news.  It's just news.  Bad is what you make it.  That's a judgment.

What starts off bad often turns into something good if you go with the flow.

Who knows where it will lead you: maybe down some very cool paths that you never would have discovered otherwise.

If you believe things happen for a reason, it gives life a lot more purpose.  Choose to believe it.

Question the validity of your news.  Is it really true or are you exaggerating it or its repercussions?  Think of the worst case scenario and think about what you would do under those circumstances.  Then think about the best case outcome.  Visualize having the best case outcome, but know what you are going to do if the worst happens.

Don't live in denial, but don't live in your imagined apocalyptic future, either.  You are right here right now.  Try to stay here.  Be present: you heaven and your hell are being played out in each breath you take.

Is it even YOUR news to take on?  Byron Katie says something to the effect of: there are only three kinds of business: your business, other's business and God's business.  Is it's not your business, stay out of it.  You've got enough on your own plate.

Are you going to even remember/be thinking about this five years from now?  How about a year?  A month?  How about a week?  If you won't be, just do what needs to be done and move on.  Don't overreact.  Being a drama queen seldom helps anything.  I should know.

"Is anybody dead?  Is anybody missing a limb?  Good: we can start from there."

Profoundly uttered by the Delta Airlines man to me after I caused our whole family to miss an international flight home.  It all worked out in the end with minimal disruption.  The same goes for my breasts.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Putting the To-Do List Aside

"Let's not work; let's play instead."

I've got a list up to my cleavage of things to get done (including this blog), but I've decided that for tonight I'm going to ignore the vast majority of them.  In fact, after I post this shortish blog, I am going to turn my computer off for the night.  The only condition on which I will turn it on again will to be watch Portlandia or Parenthood or Scandal on Netflix.

Blog aside, my other obligations I shall meet are reading with my kiddos, tucking them in bed, and spending a nice chunk of time with that sweet chunk (Oops, I mean hunk) of a man I call my husband.

I'm blessed.  I love my life.  I love my family.  I love my job.  Sometimes it all seems like too much, but a bit of perspective helps with that.  My "too much" is somebody else's idea of paradise.

So what doesn't need to get done, won't.  Nobody's going to get hurt; nobody's going to judge me; nobody's going to even notice: except for me.  And I've decided that just for tonight, I'm not going to care.

That's my new start for today: to give myself a break once in a while.  Like I said, I love what I do, but sometimes I just do a bit too much of it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm the kind of gal who...

Eats popcorn in bed.  Every night.

Hugs easily.

Has a phone phobia.

Keeps people in her heart, but doesn't always communicate as well as she might.  (Refer to the last comment.)

Avoids confrontation.

Can only work at jobs where she is happy.

Loves to bathe.

Needs lots of down time.

Never thought she wanted children and now can't imagine life without them.

Who doesn't sunbathe, but loves the beach.

Feels naked without long hair.

Is learning to be mindful.

Loves her job, her students, and her colleagues.

Believes heaven is here and now.

Doesn't deal well with noise.

Has itchy feet - literally and figuratively.

Fights her sleep.  (Hence the blog.)

Never stays angry for more than a minute or ten.

Has all her trousers hemmed to fit heels, but doesn't wear heels anymore.

Feels short.

Has shrunk an inch since her surgery.

Is thankful for pretty much everything in her life.

Is destined to be happy forever because of the last comment.

Even so, is sometimes grumpy.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My First Bra

Early developer

Girls can be divided into two categories: those who develop early and those who develop late.  I cannot speak for the late developers.  What I can say with some certainty (in case you happen to be a male reading this): girls who develop early wish-to-God they were developing late, and those who develop late are wondering if they will ever graduate to boobage and panic they might be boys with recessed penises.  Okay, that may be exaggerating, but depending on which category you fall under, you wish you were in the other.

Back in my day, there were things called training bras and in Chilliwack, where I grew up, you could find them in the young teen section of Sears at the Cottonwood Corner Mall.  How exactly your breasts can be trained is quite beyond me, but these bras were an introduction to the world of womanhood and lacy ling-er-ee (that’s how we always said it in my house), and dirty, unspeakable things that involved girls’ body parts rubbing against boys.

Though I knew I was in dire need of a bra and could no longer hide the dinner rolls sitting on my once-flat chest with sweaters or my brother’s purloined hockey jerseys, I was going to be damned and go to hell before I was going to ask my mother to accompany me to purchase a bra.  Aside from getting my period, still a year or so away, there were few things more distasteful to me (other than manuring out the barn) than having any form of discussion with my mother about body parts.

It was my brother who finally broached the subject and got the ball rolling, so to speak.  We had been sitting on the old shed roof, eating green apples from our tree and throwing them at the cats prowling our yard when he started saying, “You’ve got little titties; look at your little titties.  They look just like these apples!"  Then he shoved a few of them under his shirt and started preening precariously across the shingles of the sharply arched roof.  “I’m Lee-a-lee.  Look at my titty-tit-titties,” he mocked mercilessly.  That’s when I pushed him.  Right off the roof.  And that’s when my mother’s interrogation of the incident and the subsequent visit to my room got results.

The next day I found myself in the young teen section of Sears looking at an array of brightly colored, cheerful training brassieres, some with logos, some with lace and some with cartoon characters.  (It’s my conclusion that tank tops and sports bras with built-in support were a genius marketing move that helped teenage girls be rid of the stigma of getting a bra.  It gets my vote for the best invention of the century, and that includes the Internet!  Anything to save a gal from embarrassment…)

If only there had been such a thing as
sports bras (and sweat pants!)

I flayed through the rack, feigning disinterest, making the same noises of disgust I would when eating zuchini or oatmeal.

“So which one do you like?” my mother asked, her hands on a hanger of a sharply discounted purple number.  Her 15% employee discount at Sears also applied to sale items.

“I don’t care,” I muttered.  “Let’s just get out of here.”

My mother groaned in frustration.  She was constantly trying to get closer to me as I moved into puberty, thinking this was our time to bond and be women together.  My siblings and I had always tried to get clandestine looks at my mother’s “big things” over the years, laughing mercilessly at the appendages when they came out of their bondage at night.  The thought that I might one day be saddled with the same atrocities had only recently occurred to me.

Trying to sweeten the deal a bit and force me into a decision, she said, “I’ll tell you what.  Why don’t we get you a pretty blouse too?  We’ll get the bra and you can pick out any shirt you want.  Then we’ll go for ice cream at Baskin and Robbins.”

It was the ice cream offer that got me moving, not the offer of clothing.  I picked the first training bra my hand happened to be resting on at the moment: a white number with pictures of young children flying balloons on each breast pad.  In those days, I don’t think there were even sizes to quibble over.  I walked to the shirt rack adjacent to the bras, and chose the first one in my line of vision: a simple long sleeved, light yellow pullover made of fortrel, the miracle fabric of the day.

“Don’t you want to at least try it on and see how it looks?” my mother cajoled.  “Let’s get a look at the new you in a bra!”

I would have sooner eaten a worm infested ice cream cone covered in slugs than put on the bra and blouse for my mother in the change room.

“It’s size medium, I’m sure it will fit,” I muttered.  “Let’s pay and get the ice cream before I vomit right here and now.”

My mother sighed and gave in, walking over to the nearest cashier.  She perked up as she pulled out the cash and her employee discount card.

“Hi, Donna!” 

(My mother worked in the shoe department of Sears which was steps away from Young Teens.)

“Erika, aren’t you working today?”  Donna asked.

“No, it’s my day off, but I’m here to buy my daughter Leah her first bra.  She’s becoming a young woman!”

Subjected to enough mortification for one day, I didn’t even deign to look at Donna or my mother, idly picking at loose threads in my Adidas kangaroo jacket with the red racing stripe instead.  My cuticles were also a welcome target.

My expression through much of my puberty.

“Oh yes, I can see she certainly is developing, isn’t she?” Donna responded, as if I were some sort of test rat in a laboratory rather than a red-blooded, hormone-ridden preteen imagining myself ripping both of their heads off.

“Yes,” my mother continued calmly, completely oblivious to my embarrassment.  “I think she’s bigger than most girls her age, but so was I.  It’s our good German stock, I guess.  Before you know it, she’ll be wearing my bras!”

The women laughed together at my expense for some time longer.  I had long since left the counter, eyeing the boys flannel shirts and hockey jerseys, thinking jealously how much easier a boy’s life is than a girl's.  Even though I now know about their sleeping giants coming to life at unexpected times and the agony if changing voices, I still think they have it a lot easier than we gals do.

At Baskin and Robbins, my mother tried to be all friendy-friendy, but I was having none of it.  She ordered her rum and raisin, I licked my chocolate in silence, and we drove the eight miles home in uncomfortable silence.

The next morning, I donned the bra, knowing it was the beginning of a lifetime of subservience for my twin girls.  Overall, though, it felt quite comfortable, and I proceeded to get dressed, deciding to avoid the mirror and too much self-scrutinization as I was feeling vulnerable about the whole event.  I put on the new yellow tee shirt blouse, my Seafarer jeans that were all the rage, and went to school feeling almost cool. 


Until CJ, a big boy, already years ahead of us in size and pubescence (though not intellect), spotted them. 

“Hey, church girl (as the non-church going contingent always cruelly called me), what are those things under your shirt?”

At first I thought he was noticing my boobs for the first time and being his usual nasty self.

“Shut up, Fatso,” I said, walking swiftly in the direction of the bathroom, where I often spent my recess time reading on the toilet to avoid jerks like him.

“Are those balloons?” he said, squinting in the direction of my chest.

“What a jerk!” I though to myself, progressing more quickly to the bathroom. 

And that’s when I caught sight of myself in the mirror of the flourescently lit bathroom.  Images of children running with balloons literally danced on my chest through the what-I-now-realized was a see-through blouse.  It was like watching a cartoon on tv.  There they were.  Boobs and balloons.  In perfect harmony.

I died inside.  I thought purchasing the bra with my mother was the ultimate humiliation, but this was worse.  Much, much worse.

It was early spring.  The days were warm.  I had no sweater.  No jacket.  No key to go home at lunch time and change.  It was just me and my boobs and the balloons for the rest of the day with the entire class twittering and hooting pretty much every chance they got.

Finally, my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Lamson, had to intervene.  He was a shy man, and I am sure he had noticed my animated appendages even before my classmates had.  Discreetly, though, he had ignored them and looked the other way.  When the class could be contained no longer, however, he had to do something.

He cleared his throat and said in his most authoritative voice, “If anyone says one more thing about Leah’s balloons, they will be staying in for detention every day at recess for the rest of the week.”  He blushed furiously and the whole class erupted in raucous laughter. 

At lunch recess, everyone sat in silence with their hands underneath their bums.  I was the only one allowed to go out to play.  I sat on a toilet seat and read my latest Trixie Beldon book, feeling shamed, and knowing this was far, far from over.  I braced myself for more onslaught in the days to come and swore that I would ALWAYS inspect myself in a full length mirror before I left the house.

And that's why I wore overalls all through
high school!

These days, I don’t mind showing off the twin girls here and there, exposing some cleavage, a little lace, maybe.  But balloons are off the table.  In fact, a few years ago, I was back in my hometown for a few days and what did I hear as I wandered through the mall, but one of my old classmates saying, “Hey Balloons, I’d recognize you anywhere!”  And he wasn’t looking into my eyes, either.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Waiting to Die

I get tired of waiting: waiting for my daughters to complete their after school activities; waiting for dinner; waiting for work to be over; waiting for me to finally decide to exercise again.

It seems that all of life is a waiting game.  We wait for the next job, the next tv episode, the next meal, the next weekend.

The answer, of course, is to stop waiting and start being.  As I wait for my kids to finish their swimming lessons, I can be doing: I can be watching them and cheering them on, I can be writing my novel, I can be napping, I can be picking my nose.  Whatever it may be, I can most certainly be doing something other than waiting.

Before most of us know it, we will have waited our lives away instead of living for the here and now.  If we have to go to work, we need to be present at work; if we have to go shopping, we should be shopping, not pining for the next task, the next job, the next obligation.

Life is a series of obligations: life is getting through the day.  Life is just carrying on in spite of whether we like what we are doing or what is happening to us.

I keep reading about and am slowly internalizing the fact that the very simple secret to life is simply to stop waiting (because every minute we really ARE one minute closer to death, like it or not) and to start being present with what is happening.

Jesus says it, Eckhart Tolle tells, us, Buddha tells us, Oprah tells us, my mother tells me.  All the enlightened souls, one way or another, tell us to be where we are now and make our heaven our present moment.

Heaven or hell: apparently it's up to us.  And the more I live, the more I realize that heaven or hell is this very moment right now.  It's time to start living.

Tricky business, this living thing.  I'm going to try to make it more fun than I've been making it lately.  By accepting it.  I am where I am.  I am doing what I am doing.  I might rather be at a beach resort (that is actually happening in two weeks!), but right now I am at my desk in the dark, feeling guilty that I'm not watching my kids practice their strokes in the pool.  They're such little dolphins and this mommy doesn't go to see them do their thing often enough.  So I'm going to stop blogging about enlightenment and waiting and go watch those sweet girls do their thing.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Making Your Own Luck

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I'm going to blog about luck.  Luck, if anything, is a state of mind: believing that the best will come to you, believing that you deserve the best, believing that wherever we are right now is the moment we should be enjoying.

I personally am not bellying up to the bar with a green beer, but lying in bed with my legs propped up on a pillow.  My St. Patrick's Day is partially being spent in bed because:

a) I love my bed
b) I may have overdone it a tad too much today

And no, I didn't overdo it with alcohol.  There is no hangover, at least not from alcohol.  Three months ago I had a major back surgery and this morning I opted to go on a very small bike ride with my daughters.  It's the first time I've been on a bicycle since long before the surgery.  It was fun, challenging and scary.  It made me feel like an Olympic heroine.

Now I'm aching.  And I don't care.  I was brave and adventurous, and I created a moment for my daughters and for my myself.  Now I get to lie in bed and read and rest and that's also lovely.

So Happy St. Patrick's Day.  Go out and create some luck of your own today.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Just Leave Me Alone

I know everyone has anti-social tendencies some of the time, but mine border on qualifying for hermit status.  People vehemently disagree when I assure them that I am indeed anti-social because I really am quite good in social situations.  I can work a crowd, make the rounds, sample all the delectable snacks and have a drink or two.  Indeed, I'll make my presence known, toss around some witty repartee, but just when you think you'll take the time to come over and talk to me, you'll find I've already left.  I'm always the first to leave. Always.

When push comes to shove, give me an empty room with a lone book and a lamp (and hopefully a tub as well), or give me a room full of boisterous people throwing back alcohol and hooting and hollering and having the times of their lives, you're going to find me huddled under the tent I've made out of my various pillows and duvets before you'll find me leaning against a bar, shouting over the music to be heard.  Rest assured, even if I were there smiling and nodding my head and looking animated, I wouldn't understand a word you were saying, my dogs would be barking (In Canada speak: my feet would be killing me), and my head would be throbbing.

I think I realized I was a homebody the year I left home after graduating from high school.  I went to live in Germany for the better part of a year; as it was back in my evangelical days, I went to a bible school.  I was in a dormitory sharing a room with nine other women from all over the world, and it was pretty near the end of me.  I'm surprised I didn't just commit my soul to Jesus right then and there that year rather than deal with the exquisite torture of being cooped up with nine other opinionated, smelly young women who ranged from the Texan twang girl who decided she wasn't going to shave her legs or armpits the entire time in Germany so she could "fit in" to the African tribal queen (Literally, I am not kidding.) who was rife with the essence of her cuisine and flamboyant with her perceived royalty status among us innocents abroad who knew nothing of class systems or pecking odors.

I would rise at five in the morning to get the first bath of the day since there was never any hot water past seven and always a long line up.  To this day, I am a gal who needs her daily bathing: it's part of the "Leah Time" routine.  After my soak in the scummy tub that I would always have to spend a good five minutes divesting of pubic hair and big-haired girl clots, I would sit on the hard frigid floor of the hallway wrapped in my sleeping bag reading my bible so I could avoid the snoring, the smelling and the fighting that was going on in my boisterous room pretty much 24 hours a day.

In the afternoons when everyone was pretending to study but was really socializing and going to the local brew houses to drink, I would go for long, solitary walks (even when I had torn a ligament and was in a cast for six weeks) just so I could get some time on my own.  (I would also clandestinely visit the many local bakeries and indulge in big slabs of German torte and giant mugs of coffee that I would pour copious amounts of cream and sugar into.)  Yes, I gained the "freshman 15" and then some.

My family knows I need my "Leah Time" each night.  After the girls are safely tucked snug in their beds, Don finds his sweet spot on the sofa downstairs for a few hours and I cloister myself in our bedroom taking the down time that is so necessary to my sanity.

It's not that I don't love people: I honestly do.  I love being with my family, I love seeing my students each day, I adore sharing lunch with my colleagues, I cherish the time I have with my family and friends: it's just that I need equal amounts of time with just me, myself and I.

If the world ended tomorrow and I found myself the only person left on the planet (isn't there a Twilight Zone episode about that?), so long as there were hot water, something to read, some crossword puzzles and a cupboard full of pre-prepared food, I could carry on quite nicely.  In fact, I might just consider it a vacation.

I sometimes wonder if I am alone in this need for solitude.  I see so many pictures of people on facebook out and about, enjoying themselves, and I sometimes wonder if I should feel jealous of their good times, which I am sure they are having,  I mean, people don't go out and party because they have to on a Friday night, do they?  I assume they are not being held at gunpoint.

The thing is, I just don't feel jealous or wanting.  Like my father, I am a solitary creature.  I have my people time and I have my alone time.  Both of those times are good.  But don't try to take away my Leah Time.

Can't you just let me be?

PS: For those of you who are wondering if I am using this blog to let you know that our friendship is over, I am not.  I love you all!  I just want to thank you for not making me go to every single wonderful affair you plan, dinner date you arrange or for not taking my children to every single one of your children's birthday parties.  But please keep asking me!  I like to be invited: I just can't promise I'll say yes every time.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Permission to Write Rubbish

Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?
Alex Bogusky and John Winsor

My students all have writer's notebooks that they carry around with them so whenever they get inspired or hear some juicy conversation, they can quickly jot down their ideas or snatches of talk in their little incubator notebooks, and use their seed ideas to create stories or poems or narratives later on.  They have pages reserved for favorite words, memories, feelings, and list of all sorts that will inspire them to write.

I've been keeping a writer's notebook of one sort or another for the better part of 40 years now and probably have tens of thousands of pages of nonsense, most of which is moldering in my storage locker outside of Seattle, some of tucked in my desk at school and others in safety vaults and storage boxes all around the planet.

Truth be told, most of what I write is inane: my guess would be that at least 80% of it is detritus.  But there's gold in "them thar hills," and the job of a writer is to keep writing no matter what, and then be willing to sift through the sh#@t and find the flecks of gold.

I'm not saying everything I publish is anywhere near the gold standard or even silver: most of it is more like costume jewellry, in fact.   But then again there's nothing wrong with a bit of flashy, cheap jewelry that attracts attention and looks pretty.  I'm not looking to be the best of the best (I'll save that for the likes of John Irving and Alice Munro), but I am looking to entertain and put out some modicum of literature that does not prove distracting by its poor punctuation, prosaic by its overbaked metaphorical allusions or just plain predictable and banal.

Because, yes, I write for myself, but I also write for an audience.  Those 10s of 1000s of pages mostly deserve to be buried under the volcanic ash of unwanted paraphanalia in my storage locker, but some of it also deserves to see the light of day and to be seen by the enlightened reader.

So I tell my students to let go of their monkey minds and let their pencils bleed onto their writer's notebooks or their fingers tap onto their google docs as the case may be, but not to censor, just to write. The hard work is what comes later: the editing, the culling, the finessing. I love that part too.  How gratifying it is to watch a piece evolve from so-so to stellar; how great is it when you can toss out all those tired metaphors and replace them with figurative language that sucker punches you with its vicissitude rather than simply "jumps off the page?"

I'm all about just getting it down, throwing a lot of it out, finding the shiny gems that are sunk in the shite, polishing them up a bit, and getting them out to whatever person who happens to choose to or at least stumble upon my humble attempts at writing.

Because what is writing for if not to share?

PS: One of the most inspiring people I have read as of late is Seth Godin.  His premise is that it's important to not only write something every day, but to share it; that it's not about waiting until perfection finds itself hidden in your product or your writing, but that after a bit of polishing, you actually take the risk and put it out there.  In the age of Internet, you can edit and revise and repost your work, but it's good to step off your jagged cliff and share, even if you've not reached your impossible-to-reach pinnacle of perceived perfection.

Be willing to have an audience, even if it is a critical one.  Godin cites Steve Jobs and how he put out his products, flaws and all, and that later how his team improved on them and put out more and better products based on the earlier ones.  But if he never would have put them out in the first place, Apple would not be the multi-billion corporation that it is today.

Worth considering, right?  For those of you who are writing but not sharing, take the risk and start a blog today.  It just takes a few minutes to set one up.  Cull through some of your old writing, spruce it up a bit, and share it with a few friends to start with.  Who knows where it could go? 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Is it Okay to Pee in the Sea?

A lively debate was sparked in our staffroom at lunch the other day about whether it was okay to pee in the sea (or other places like the shower or bath tub).  While we didn't create a frequency table or bar graph, my overall take of the situation was:

  • Peeing in the ocean is okay by most of us; pooping in the ocean is not.
  • Peeing in the shower is frowned upon, but not taboo.
  • Peeing in the tub is gross unless you're two years old and you get hosed down afterward with bleach and scalding water.
  • Dictators seem to like to drink their own pee.

I digress; back to the topic of peeing in the ocean: we are a family with young children who live in Asia within close proximity to world-class beaches that are within our teachers' salary budgets.  The beach vacation is usually our go-to holiday of choice: no Disney crowds, no ticks in the forests, no road trips with kids whining, "Are we there yet?"  We are content with a humble little hut on the sea full of ants and the occasional cockroach, mostly fresh seafood with the only occasional bout of food poisoning, slow service, sun-screened, teary eyes, permanently tangled hair from the lack of hot water and the conditioner we forgot at home, and a never-ending procession of cuts from coral and shells.

When my kids are frolicking in the sea and say, "Mommy, I need to go to the bathroom," my first question is always, "Number one or number two?"

If the answer is "number one," there is no way I am going to heave my lobster-tinged body out of its torporous state from under the sun umbrella to accompany my children across scalding sand, dangerously pebbled walkways and then onto a slippery bathroom floor where they could slip and fall and crack their cute little heads open.  Furthermore, they will no-doubt be walking sans shoes attracting lord-knows-what kind of bacteria that will weasel their ways into the soles of their feet giving them parasites for years to come, only to then slip and slide on a nasty toilet seat and still end up with a wet sticky bum that will go straight back into the sea.

After various misadventures in filthy facilities by the seaside, my response has become, "Why are you telling me?  You know what to do!"

My husband, of course, vigorously disagrees with my peeing-in-the-ocean philosophy, and will trudge a half mile up the beach to accompany one of my daughters to a porta-potty or some other hell-on-earth lavatory only to return to have the other gal let him know that she too is "busting."

Tom-foolery is what I call this indulgence of his.  He has always spoiled our daughters more than me, the militaristic mama.   In his defense, he does like to exercise and he's not one for lying in the sun so maybe it's just his way of taking a break from the mundane long days on the ocean that are my version of paradise and his version of intense, cancer-causing boredom.  Who knows...

All I know is give me my book (okay, my Kindle in its waterproof prophylactic cover), my umbrella and my umbrella cocktail, and I will stay planted on the beach chair come hell or high water.  (Actually, high water will prompt my evacuation.)

According to my iffy Internet research, peeing in the ocean is fine because it's already so polluted that what's a little bit more bodily fluid going to do?  There are some Internet gurus, however, who would argue with the safety of peeing in the ocean, citing that sharks are attracted by more than just the bodily fluid of blood.  This "fact" actually gives cause for further investigation, though I'm pretty sure I don't believe it.

Since I am a believer in the sea-pee, especially for children, I found a site with tips on how to urinate without attracting attention to yourself.  I will pass them on to you and give credit where credit is due:

  • Urine is sterile, but be considerate of those in your presence, and navigate away from them. No one wants to swim in your pee.
  • Make it quick and non-chalant. That way, no one will guess or even consider that you could be urinating.
  • Do not remove swim-trunks, shorts or bikini-bottoms, as that is indecent exposure. You can urinate with them on because the ocean water will naturally wash away any leftover urine.
  • This is best, and most quickly done on a very full bladder.
  • Standing in water that is lower than crotch deep could reveal your actions, and offend bystanders.
  • This option can be utilized by men, women and children of all ages.
As for peeing in a pool, I have no comment as of yet.  I'll have to do my research.  (Chlorine is a pretty good disinfectant, though, isn't it?)