Archives for August 2009

Waiting on Hold

As I write this I am waiting on hold. I have been waiting on hold for 27 minutes already, and I’ve heard the instrumental piano song they have on repeat about 3756 times. It’s no longer soothing. I think it may become the soundtrack of my nightmares. Every time it winds down at the end and pauses before re-starting I think that someone’s answering my call. But no, no such luck for me. In fact, since it is 12:30pm as I write this I’m rather afraid that the person I want to talk to has forgotten about me and gone off for lunch.

While I’ve been on hold I’ve been wondering – what is it about being on hold, exactly, that is so anxiety provoking? I totally, totally hate this, and I know I’m not the only one. But it’s not like it’s painful or dangerous. You can even set the phone to ‘speaker’ and wash the dishes while you wait. It’s just a minor inconvenience in the course of your day, waiting to speak with someone who is otherwise engaged.

I have a few theories as to what it is about being on hold that is so awful:

The Traffic Theory
I hate being in traffic even more than I hate being on hold. It’s a really powerless feeling. You’re trapped in your car in a long line of cars and there’s likely no way out of it. If you want to get to your destination you just have to be patient and creep forward inch by excruciating inch. But the thing about traffic is it’s not like you can just zone out completely and take a nap or read a book. OK, there are probably other drivers you’ve witnessed doing exactly that, but I think we can all agree it’s a bad idea. In spite of the tedium you need to pay attention because you’re in control of thousands of pounds of metal.

Being on hold is the same as being stuck in traffic because it’s outside of your control. You are at the mercy of fate if you want to accomplish the task at hand. And you have to pay sufficient attention so that you don’t miss your call. Not. Fun.

The Bad Call Theory
Very rarely, or never, am I making a call I really want to make when I’m stuck on hold. I’m usually trying to sort out a problem or question with the cable company or the phone company. I might even be really cheesed off because my internet is down and that’s my lifeline, man, don’t mess with it. Or maybe I’m making an appointment with the doctor or dentist. Really, who wants to go to the dentist?

Being on hold when you’re already irritated or don’t really want to make the call in the first place is like pouring salt in the wound. No wonder we hate it so much.

The Muzak Theory
When you’re on hold you’re usually subjected to some sort of ‘music’. It’s never good, and never what you would choose to listen to yourself. Often the sound quality is even poor and so along with Girl from Ipanema you’re hearing annoying cracks and pops. Sometimes they even do this horrible thing where they cut into the music every couple of minutes with a recorded voice reminding you how important your call is, and asking you to please be patient. This pause in the music causes you to leap to and grab the phone because you think your call is being answered. Only not.

What’s fun about bad music, recorded messages, and poor audio? Nothing, that’s what.

Anyways, my call was finally answered after 32 minutes on hold. And then when I tried to switch from speaker to handheld I cut her off. Go me! Luckily I was able to call back immediately and get the person I needed right away. I’m not sure I could have endured another 32 minutes, at least not today.

How about you? Do you hate being on hold as much as I do? Do you have any tips for avoiding it or passing the time? Do share!

Attack of the Cucumbers

Today I am bringing you a new installment in ‘as the garden turns’. You may remember that back in May I was plagued by something eating my plants. To compensate I planted more and more and more. Eventually the plants won the battle against the pests and I had too much lettuce.

It’s August now, and the lettuce is winding down. But it turns out the overabundance of leafy greens are not going to hold a candle to the overenthusiastic cucumbers.

Back in June I had a dozen or so timid and small cucumber plants. I still have a dozen or so plants, but no one would think of calling them ‘small’ or ‘timid’. They have taken over the whole garden, and they just keep going and going and going. To date I have harvested 18 cucumbers, and there is no end in sight. Luckily my 4-year-old adores cucumber, and the baby’s a fan, too. I’m also pressing friends with at least a few whenever I see them. So far we’re staying on top of the cukes, and I have plans to do some pickling. Although the last time I made sweet pickles I went into labour, so I do find the idea a little intimidating.

You know, gardening is something you just kind of learn as you go. And I’ve learned not to underestimate the ability of a plant to overcome a rough start. Really. Life is tenacious, and will overcome all obstacles. And you want to be able to walk through your yard without becoming entangled in creeping cucumber vines.

Cucumber blossom
The cukes that ate my garden


The end of July was stinking hot here in Metro Vancouver. We experienced the hottest day on record, ever, in a whole string of ridiculously hot days. The temperature was in the mid to high 30s Celsius (95 – 104F) for days on end. I realize that may not sound hot if you live in Arizona, but the problem is we don’t have air conditioning in our homes. Or at least very, very few people do. If it’s 37 degrees C outside, OK. When it’s that hot in my bedroom and rising, not so OK.

Farm on Matsqui Prairie
Abbotsford’s farm country

I set my jaw, determined to sit it out. If everyone else can do it, I can do it, too. Plus I like summer. It seems sort of ridiculous to complain about the hot days when I spend all year waiting for them. Really, it’s just weather. The problem is that the kids weren’t quite so stoic. They were cranky, especially Jacob. And I wasn’t at my most patient, what with the sweat pouring off my body and whatnot. Holding a clingy baby and listening to an unhappy 4-year-old just added to the oppression.

Grannie has the best snacks
Hannah enjoying the good snack food

In the midst of this my husband came home one afternoon after spending the day in an air-conditioned office. He walked into our house and felt the wave of heat. He saw his crazed wife and children, all crying and sweating. He made a decision. It was time to flee, to seek sanctuary at his parents’ air-conditioned house in Abbotsford 45 minutes East. So we loaded up the kids, and for 3 nights we hid in the cool, cool comfort of Grannie and Grandpa’s.

Jacob escaping the heat at Grannie's
Jacob eyes someone else’s bookshelf for a change

It was heaven. I got to re-visit my old stomping grounds. I showed Hannah the house I grew up in. I stopped in at Wong’s and Birchwood Dairy. I met a friend for a playdate and ate ice cream. Hannah ate the good snack food and watched far too much TV. Jacob tore a different house all to pieces. And I learned a lesson in seeking help.

Produce at Wong's
Produce at Wong’s

Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to prove a point about how I can stick it out. Maybe I don’t have to stay home because I’m so busy and important that letting everything go for a few days is just impossible. Because it isn’t. I came out of those days in Abbotsford refreshed and focused and in a much better frame of mind than if I hadn’t sought refuge. Along with the heat I escaped from my appointments and obligations and to-do list. Taking a break is good for the soul, and as I explained yesterday in the long run I think it makes you more productive. I’m so glad I did that for myself, and for my family.

PS – For the people who come here mostly to see photos of my kids (I’m looking at you, grandparents) I wanted to explain how to find my photostream since I moved everything around again. At the top right, you can see the latest photos of our adventures by clicking on the icon with the two little dots, for Flickr.


In our culture keeping busy is almost like our religion. You can speak a different language, go to a different church and vote for a different candidate and that’s OK. But you’d better not have too much free time on your hands, no sirree. That would mean you lack status and importance, because we all know that someone’s standing in society is in direct proportion to how busy they are. Status comes with lots of responsibility, after all, and lots of responsibility means you’re busy.

At times in my life I have knelt at the altar of Having So Much to Do. I have cited how very, very busy I am as an excuse to cover all manner of shortcomings. I have also used my busy-ness to claim status. I’m no different or better than anyone else, and if I can possibly find 5 minutes I’ll tell you all about that.

When I was in university I learned that being busy is something of a paradox. In my second semester at school I was taking more than a full course load. I was in 6 classes and I was still adjusting to the university setting, as were my classmates. We were seriously overloaded, all of us. People were pulling all-nighters in the lab and sleeping in the student lounge in an effort to get their work done on time. Some students even suffered breakdowns under the strain. As much as we worked, we just got further and further behind.

One night at 2am I was working on some homework with my friend. We both completed the same problem, and got different answers. We tried again, and this time each got two completely new different answers. I was forced to admit that my efforts were futile. I went to sleep, and in the morning completed the problem easily. The lesson I learned that night was that taking a break, taking some time off to relax and recharge, made me more productive. The loop of go-go-go that I was caught up in was half the problem.

I’m glad I learned that lesson when I was 18 years old, because it’s served me well. When I’m stressed out and overworked and busy-busy-busy taking time off actually helps. Very few of us function well when we’re overtired and hungry and highly anxious. It’s difficult to be creative and focused when you’re falling apart.

In reality being busy or not is about making choices. When I was single and newly employed in my full-time job I was very ‘busy’, but I watched 4 hours of TV most evenings. I couldn’t possibly find time to exercise, or cook, or sew because I was just so busy. I defended my TV time to the death because I needed it. I needed the decompression it offered me. Fair enough. But it wasn’t true that I had no time to take on other activities. I was just making a choice about how to use the free time I had.

Now I’ve stepped off of the career track, and I’m suddenly not busy at all. Oh, don’t get me wrong, motherhood keeps me hopping. I can barely get a second to myself some days. But I also have nothing particular to do on any random Tuesday. I have no meetings to attend or deadlines to hit. This lack of ‘productive busy-ness’, I think, is one of the reasons that being at home with small children is stigmatized. We’re operating outside of the culture of keeping busy-busy-busy.

I’ve decided I’m really happy making that trade, though. I’m tired of being busy, or pretending to be busy. Any loss of status that comes with that is fine by me. I’ve made my choice about how to use my time, and I’m happy with it. Although I would appreciate the option of showering alone once in a while. 😉

What about you? Do you feel you’re busy? And do you thrive on busy-ness, or find it panic-inducing?

Tomatoes Really are Fruit

The first tomatoes are ripening in our garden. As anyone who’s ever picked and eaten a fresh, ripe tomato knows, they are something else. They’re a totally different kind of tomato altogether than the the crate-ripened ones shipped from halfway across the continent that you find in the grocery store. They’re sweet and juicy and they actually taste like the fruit they are.

My four-year-old Hannah has never been a fan of tomatoes. I’ve fed her all different kinds, including sweet fresh ones, and she’s turned her nose up. But one-year-old Jacob adores tomatoes. He flaps his arms and yells and lunges when he sees me pick one. And then he demolishes it.

Jacob eating a tomato

More tomato eating

Tomatoes are good!

Oh, yeah, I'm feeling the tomato

You know, if he’s going to cover himself in something, you could do much worse than a tomato from our garden. That’s some good stuff right there!

The History of Formula

I talk rather a lot about how great breastfeeding is. Helping mothers have the best breastfeeding experience possible is something that I’m passionate about. Today, though, I thought I’d switch things up a bit and discuss the history of infant formula, both good and bad. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

Prior to the 20th century the overwhelming majority of infants were breastfed. There simply wasn’t a viable alternative. If a mother couldn’t breastfeed, or chose not to, she employed a wet nurse. Or, failing that, the infant was fed some sort of home-made substitute. The situation was dire for those who weren’t breastfed. In foundling homes (think orphanages), only one in three of those who were wet nursed survived to age 5. Those who were artificially fed had only a one in nine survival rate. Infants who were artificially fed at home had a fatality rate in excess of 99%.

Even using a wet nurse was not an ideal situation. The market was not controlled, and women were not screened for diseases. Neither were babies. Pathogens were sometimes transmitted from the baby to the wet nurse or vice versa. Women in slavery were forced into wet nursing. Their own babies suffered as a result. There is a very real history of impoverished wet nurses facing subjugation at the hands of wealthy families.

Henri Nestle was horrified by this situation. He was the 11th of 14 children, half of whom died in infancy. He decided to use his background as a pharmacist’s assistant to create an infant formula. In the 1860s and 1870s Nestle and his competitor Justus von Leibig developed and introduced the first powdered infant formulas. Although the products represented an advancement over existing breast milk substitutes, they were slow to catch on. By the 1910s, the manufacturers realized that developing a close relationship with the medical community would help them sell their product, and that helped grow their market.

The number of mothers using infant formulas increased slowly through the early part of the 20th century. Partly, this had to do with the norms of childbirth and infant care. In 1900, 95% of babies were born at home. By 1940 that number had dropped to 50%, and by the 1950s about 95% of babies were born in the hospital. Birth and baby care became highly medicalized. Doctors were men, and science was king. Formula feeding rates skyrocketed in the 1950s and 1960s, reflecting these prevailing attitudes.

Breastfeeding rates reached their all-time low in 1971 in the US, when fewer than 25% of mothers attempted to nurse their babies. In addition to societal attitudes more and more women were working outside the home, meaning mothers and babies were separated during the early months. Formula feeding was the norm, and few women even attempted to breastfeed. We developed the culture that still exists today where baby bottles and soothers are ubiquitous symbols of infancy. With the baby came the bottle and the formula, along with the diapers and the itty bitty clothes.

But then some things changed. Childbirth practices started to shift. Groups like Lamaze took hold and more women took prenatal classes and sought natural childbirth. Hospital policies evolved to promote early bonding, with practices such as keeping mothers and babies in the same room. These changes supported breastfeeding by keeping the mother-baby pair together and alert during the critical early days.

Formula companies also started to comme under attack in the 1970s for their marketing practices in the developing world. A brochure called The Baby Killer claimed that the use of infant formula in the third world was leading to infant death or illness. Infant formula is expensive. This can lead impoverished families to use less formula powder than they should when mixing it. Compounding that, many people in developing countries do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. Using this water to mix up formula for very small babies is a recipe for disaster. But once mothers have stopped nursing, re-establishing exclusive breastfeeding is very difficult or impossible, leaving them with few options.

The accusation was made that companies such as Nestle were deliberately marketing their products as ‘safe’ when they knew full well they weren’t. They encouraged families who weren’t in a position to use formula properly to switch, and then their babies paid the price. There was some backlash, and an ongoing boycott was launched against Nestle in 1977.

Today breastfeeding initiation in the United States is over 70% and climbing. Formula use is on the decline, and human milk banks are opening across North America. The trend is positive, but there is a lot of work left to be done. Our recent formula-feeding history remains strong, and many people don’t have access to good breastfeeding information and support. The result is that while many women try to breastfeed, the success rates are much lower than they should be. I wish that this wasn’t the case, but I am happy that a generally safe alternative to breastfeeding exists. Now I hope that we can restore a breastfeeding culture so that fewer women need to use it.

Getting Over Myself

I have been pretty grumpy lately. OK, scratch that. I have been phenomenally out of sorts. This has just been one of those times when it feels like everything is going wrong. My severance agreement has been finalized, and that took a fair bit of wrangling and paperwork and meeting with accountants and crying. Being laid off is like the gift that keeps on giving. On top of that I don’t get enough sleep and someone’s always screaming around here and Jacob is going through a biting phase (though not while nursing, thank heavens, mostly on my shoulder because he thinks it’s funny).

So I’ve been feeling more than a little sorry for myself. Understandable, under the circumstances, but it creates this horrible cycle. I feel sorry for myself. I am grumpy. This, in turn, makes the children grumpy. They become whiny and clingy. This irritates me, and I get grumpier. They get clingier. Pretty soon we’re all sobbing and I’m yelling, “You have no reason to be sad, so just stop crying!” Which, as it turns out, is not an effective way to calm an upset child. Who knew?

So last week, amidst the crying and wailing and the gnashing of teeth, I was able to get over myself enough to get in the car with two children and drive to Buntzen Lake. It is summer, after all. As I drove the weight melted away and I let the anxiety go. We all felt better. At the lake we ran into some friends and had a great day. It might have looked inauspicious at the start, but in the end Hannah told me it was the ‘best day ever’. I guess the moral of the story is that if I can get out of my head and out of the house we all feel much better.

Buntzen Lake

Having a picnic lunch

Canada goose family

Mom is chilling

Squirrel who stole our PB&J

Jacob contemplates his next move

What about you? Do you have any sure-fire ways to turn a bad mood around? I could really use some ideas right now, let me tell you.

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