Archives for June 2009

Ferocity

This place I live in is on the edge of the wilderness. Vancouver is a city wedged between ocean and mountains. It’s a place that isn’t really all that tamed, geography just doesn’t permit it. I love the wildness, the sort of rugged beauty. However, there are certain concessions that need to be made when you live in a place like this.

We have lots of black bears in our province, and we need to be ever mindful of them. We also have lots of raccoons, skunks and coyotes. These are the animals that you’re most likely to come across in developed areas. But the animal that scares me the most, and is thankfully considered extremely elusive, is the cougar. 165 pounds of wildcat is not my idea of a good time.

Cougar
Photo courtesy of digitalART2 on Flickr

Two weeks ago in Brackendale, an hour or so North of Vancouver, there was a cougar attack. The area of the attack is rural and mountainous. A family was picking berries in a local park when a cougar jumped on their 3-year-old daughter, pinning her to the ground.

Her mother took immediate action. The radio report I heard said she pulled the cougar off her daughter and placed herself between them. She managed to stand up and push the big cat off. And he backed down and ran off. The little girl has some puncture wounds to her head, but is just fine and apparently not all that shaken. The cougar was later hunted down and shot.

Listening to the report left me shaking. The actions of this mom struck me. She’s probably no different than I am, but she fought off a large predator without a second thought. The mere idea of facing down a wildcat to protect your child overwhelms me with emotion.

I can’t say for sure how I would react if a cougar attacked my child. But I bet I could be as fierce and strong as I needed to be. I could wrestle a cougar to keep my baby safe. And that’s what makes me shake. The power that is contained in the heart of a mother. It’s amazing and frightening and ferocious. And it cannot be contained.

So I’m putting the cougars on notice. They had better stay elusive, because they don’t want to see just how ferocious I can become.

Maternity Leave Manifesto

It’s Mat Leave Monday! I’ve spent a lot of time researching maternity leave in the past few months. During that time, I’ve formed some opinions as to what ‘great’ maternity leave looks like. What features are helpful in getting families off to the best start possible. Here is what I think all maternity leave plans would look like in an ideal world:

Maternity leave should be administered and paid for by the government.
On the whole, countries where the employer pays for maternity benefits offer lower pay, or provide benefits for shorter time periods. After all, forcing an employer to pay a good wage over a long period may represent a significant hardship. The government, as the representative of society, holds a larger stake in getting families off to a good start. Also, because the government plan includes all employees in a whole country it has more funds at its disposal and can administer a more comprehensive system.

Maternity leave should last at least one full year.
The first year of a baby’s life is amazing, it’s the most rapid and critical development anyone experiences in their whole life. And during that time babies are very dependent on their primary caregivers. Breastfeeding and bonding are much easier if mothers and babies can be together. Separation is never easy, but it does become less difficult as children move into toddlerhood.

Adoptive parents should receive comparable leave.
A parent is a parent is a parent. A woman who has just given birth does face a physical recovery, I do not mean to minimize that at all. However, adoptive parents face unique struggles of their own. Their children may be older and may have emotional or physical challenges. They may have come from a different country or very different circumstances. While it might be reasonable to deny adoptive parents days off for prenatal care, it’s not reasonable to deny them leave, or to give them much shorter leaves than birth parents.

Fathers and partners should receive dedicated paid paternity leave, and have the option of sharing parental leave.
Dads matter. And just like moms they need time to bond with their new baby, and adjust to this dramatic life change. When fathers are eligible for dedicated, paid leave, they are far more likely to take it. Beyond that, allowing fathers to share leave provides families with greater flexibility. Parenting is a shared experience, after all, and leaves should be no different.

Maternity benefits should represent a significant portion of your normal wage, and should be paid throughout the whole leave.
If maternity benefits are much lower than your working wage, it is not practical for many mothers to take a full leave. They may be forced to choose between paying the mortgage or staying at home with their little one. I believe that offering 70% or more of an average weekly wage, with a high maximum, is the best way to ensure that families can take time with their new babies and not face hardships. Maternity leave should not be reserved for the affluent, or those who have lots of money in savings.

Employers should provide benefits coverage throughout maternity leave.
The last thing you need when you have a new baby is to lose your health coverage. The law here in my home province says that employers must continue your benefits coverage while you are on maternity leave. This isn’t true in every province in Canada, but I think it should be. I pay my premiums during leave just as I normally would, and they pay theirs. There are few times when your benefits plan is more important than when you have a new baby at home. Your coverage ought to continue while you are on leave.

Maternity leave should be available to part-time and casual employees, and the self-employed.
A lot of women work on part-time or casual schedules when they have young children. Many others are self-employed, work-at-home moms. In many countries these mothers do not qualify for leave because they don’t have the required minimum hours, or haven’t paid into the maternity leave plan. To prevent undue hardship minimum maternity leave requirements should be very low, and these mothers should be allowed to pay maternity premiums when they work so that they qualify for maternity leave when they need it. Their babies are no less important than the babies of mothers who work full-time for someone else.

Flexibility should be provided for during the return to work phase.
Returning to work after a baby is born is a huge transition for everyone. It is never easy. Many parents enjoy their work and are happy to return, but wish they didn’t need to work full-time right off the bat. There are countries that provide for a reduced work schedule while small children are at home. I believe this provides a good middle ground for a lot of families. It allows parents to work and earn money while easing the transition. It also allows parents to spend more time with their children during the critical early years if they so choose.

That’s my maternity leave manifesto. What about you? Is there anything you would add? Any points you disagree with? I’d love to hear what your ideal maternity plan would look like.

Raspberries

When we first bought this house, and I had a real garden, I knew I wanted to grow raspberries. One of my favourite childhood memories is visiting my grandparents’ raspberry patch. Although I know that raspberry season lasts only a short time, in my memory there were always raspberries at my grandma and grandpa’s house. Clearly, these little bites of summer loom large in my memory.

img_7497
The first of the ripe raspberries

As soon as I had a garden of my own, and a spot cleared out, I hied myself to the garden store in search of raspberries. I picked up the last two spindly canes they had and planted them. It was a long wait for spring that year, let me tell you.

img_7499
I pick the berries

In the past six years we have gone from two scrawny canes to many massive, bushy raspberry plants. I love them because they are very hardy. They survive my neglect, year after year after year. Even more than that, they thrive and produce amazing yields of delicious berries.

img_7501
Hannah lines them all up in a row

My daughter Hannah loves raspberries, they are her very most favourite berries. If I want any for myself I have to eat them behind her back. She claims them as her own, and only shares if she is made to. Heading into the garden to search for ripe raspberries is a highlight of her summer days.

img_7509
Eating the berries

I imagine that Hannah will remember raspberry season fondly. That it will loom large in her memory as it does in mine. And that, should Hannah ever buy a house, she will make a pilgrimage to the garden store for raspberries of her own. Because they’re her favourite thing in the garden.

Selling Out

I am now running ads on Strocel.com. I decided to join the BlogHer advertising network on a whim some time back. I got on their waiting list and then I sort of forgot about it. Until they contacted me a few weeks ago to let me know that I had a place if I wanted it.

I waffled back and forth. Here are the downsides to advertising I considered:
1. Ads can be distracting and/or unattractive.
2. I might not agree with or endorse every advertiser on my blog.
3. I don’t want to alienate anyone.
4. It feels weird to run advertising alongside my kids’ photos, as if I’m using them to sell something.
5. The income generated through blog ads is quite small.

Here are the upsides to advertising:
1. It’s completely passive income, and it requires almost nothing from me that I’m not already doing.
2. My lay-off will be finalized in mid-August and every little bit helps.
3. The BlogHer network supports bloggers, and includes links to my posts and other bloggers’ posts with each ad.
4. Blog advertising is very commonplace now, it doesn’t bother me, and I assume most people would agree.
5. I have the option of declining to participate in certain campaigns, and can choose not to run ads for certain products or companies.
6. The only way I’m really going to know how ads work is to try them. I can pull them off if it goes badly.

In the end, clearly, I decided to run the ads. No one (well, almost no one) gets rich from blog ads. I know this. But I also know that making any amount of money, however small, feels important to me right now. It feels like I am at least contributing a token amount to my household. And maybe I can save the money and make some site upgrades down the line.

The other big deciding factor for me was the community nature of the network. BlogHer as an organization works to support women bloggers, and foster a blogging community. It’s an idea I can certainly get behind. And their advertising network is no different. I like that bloggers’ posts are included in the ad. I like reading what other people have to say, I like the communal nature.

What I write about won’t change. There are no limits placed on me, other than some rules about participating in other ad campaigns or promotions. I remain free to share my dislike of the Disney princesses or to talk politics. I am not being paid for what I write, one way or the other. Although I did tick the little ‘doesn’t use profanity’ box, so now I suppose my use of expletives will drop right off.

Of course, you are free to disagree with my decision. And I am open to hearing what you have to say for or against advertising. I want to be transparent, to let you know what I’m doing and why. It means more to me to know that people are out there reading along than anything, and I hope that you continue to do that. Even if I totally sell out. 😉

Squirrels

As a child I loved squirrels. There weren’t any in my immediate neighbourhood, so I was always very excited to spot them on trips Stanley Park in Vancouver. I loved their fluffy tails and their twitchy little noses. I would totally have had one as a pet if my mother weren’t so dead set against it. She was always ruining my fun, let me tell you.

My love of squirrels ended abruptly in 1997. I moved into a third-floor apartment surrounded by trees and a lot of squirrels, who took up residence on our balcony. There was no sliding screen door, so in the heat of summer we had to keep the patio door shut tight. It was a minor annoyance, but I could live with them. That is, until they crossed the proverbial line.

Cheeky squirrel
A squirrel we came across on a recent walk

I bought a window box and planted bulbs, my first foray into a garden of my own. I carefully chose crocuses and tulips and an expensive bearded iris. I planted the cheap bulbs first, to see what the squirrels would do. And…nothing. But no sooner did I decide it would be safe to plant the iris than there were four squirrels digging that bulb up. That flower represented all my hopes and dreams and $10 I didn’t want to see wasted.

And more cheekiness
Your charms will not work on me, Mr. Squirrel

I tried to discourage the squirrels. I yelled and hollered and banged on the glass, but they were unmoved. I stepped outside and waved brooms in their general direction. I tried tricks involving plants squirrels dislike and spices. The squirrels were completely unconcerned about my various efforts. I’m pretty sure some of them even laughed at me.

These days I have a kid of my own and she’s very excited when she sees a squirrel in the yard. Now she wants one as a pet and I am ruining her fun. But after my experience squirrels are no longer cute and furry creatures in my book, they are pests and rodents and they had just better stay out of my garden. Nobody wants me to be forced to break out my completely ineffective squirrel deterrents, let me tell you. 😉

PS – You may have noticed that blog ads went up on this site last night. I will be talking about that tomorrow, so check back if you’re curious. I don’t want you think that I’m trying to sneak something past you, like I’m some sort of cheeky squirrel or something.

I am Their Natural Habitat

When you’re pregnant your baby is part of you in a very real and physical way. Your little one shares your food and the very air that you breathe. You feel each other move, you can tell when the baby is awake or asleep or has the hiccups. You give up your own personal real estate as your abdominal cavity is gradually taken over by a whole other being entirely. You are one person and two people all at the same time.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t really change after the baby’s born. Sure, you can tie your own shoes and fit through doorways again. These are very good things. But all the same that baby depends on you for everything. This little one’s very life hinges on you. It’s almost like this newborn person is still part of you, sharing your space and your being.

Sometimes I’m lying in bed nursing 10-month-old Jacob, and 4-year-old Hannah is on my other side vying for her space. She clings to me, she kneads my belly and grabs my arms. She pushes her face into my neck as if I am her life’s breath. She wants me to do things for her. She wants me to be with her every minute. She wants to claim the real estate of my body for herself.

In these moments I am struck by how these children view me almost as a habitat. I am not really a person in their eyes. I am more like a physical presence sustaining them, a guardian in whose arms they will always be safe. I am their mother, and they are still small enough that this is a potent thing. I am their divine authority and their greatest truth.

Sometimes it grates on me, the way these children clamber and climb and cling. The way I can’t get 3 seconds of peace, visit the bathroom by myself, sleep in on a lazy Saturday morning. I am Needed. It is a mortal offense if I close the door behind myself after I enter a room. It is an outrageous affront if I attempt to have some time alone for any reason.

At these times, when I am on my last nerve and I do not want two children using me as a jungle gym I become angry. I glare at my husband who does his best, but at the mere sight of him the children shriek and cry for Mama and cling ever harder. I sometimes try to hide, but I am always found or drawn out by the despair of little voices. I know that my temper tantrums are fruitless, and in the end I will only have to return and placate the feelings I’ve hurt.

So I try to keep my focus. I remind myself that it won’t always be like this. My children will grow up, as surely as all children do. I will not always be some sort of mother goddess in their eyes. Too quickly they will want nothing to do with me. They will see my feet of clay. I will have all the bathroom privacy a person could ask for.

When that day comes, when I can sleep in or spend the day reading a book, I might even miss the clinginess. Those moments when I was at the centre of my children’s universe. When they hung on to me for dear life. I try to appreciate the good parts while they last. The many upsides of being the first and best home for these amazing little people.

Garlic Scapes

I grow garlic in my garden. It’s pretty tough and resilient stuff. It really has to be to thrive under my care. In October I buy some local organic garlic from the farmer’s market. I break the bulb up into cloves, and plant each one point up about 1 1/2″ down. The hardy little leaves poke up in very early spring, maybe even late winter. Come July I uproot the plants and I have garlic of my own.

But that’s not really my point. A quick Google will net you far better resources for growing garlic than I can provide.

img_7514
Garlic scapes from my garden

My point today is about gardening and local eating, and the hidden treasures you can find. In mid-June the garlic plants shoot out the long curly ‘scapes’. They are the beginnings of garlic flowers, and if you leave them they will bloom and produce seeds. But you shouldn’t leave them. For one thing you want the plant to put its energy into making a nice healthy garlic bulb, not a pretty flower. For another thing garlic scapes are delicious. Sort of like garlicky green onions.

img_7520
They also make excellent bracelets

I saw garlic scapes at the farmer’s market last year, but I was intimidated. Occasionally I will buy something exotic and it usually just languishes in my fridge until it reaches the point that I no longer have to feel guilty about composting it. Purple potatoes, sunchokes and beet greens have all met this fate. But this year I decided things would be different. I would harvest my own in an effort to improve my garlic yield.

img_7524
The flower parts, which you don’t eat

I decided I needed to get over my fear of strange foods and do something with my garlic scapes. After all, I grew them my very own self, and they couldn’t be any fresher. I did some searching online and settled on a recipe for garlic scape pesto. I did some substituting, using hazelnuts instead of the suggested walnuts, and added a splash of lemon juice. It was very, very good. I ate it on tortilla chips and pasta and straight from the spoon. Garlicky heaven.

img_7536
Spaghetti with garlic scape pesto

The thing about garlic scapes is that they are truly seasonal fare. I harvested all my scapes – they’re gone. I might be able to find some at the farmer’s market for the next week or so, but then that’s it. No more garlic scapes until next June. It’s a different way to eat, savouring each item while it lasts because it will soon be gone. I think I kind of like it. It makes me appreciate food in a much different way.

So if you’re wondering why my breath smells the way it does, now you know. I am living on garlic scape pesto. 🙂

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...