Archives for December 2009

The Next 10 Years

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! Today is the last day of 2009, which means that tomorrow will be a whole new decade. Today I am talking about what the last 10 years brought me, and looking forward to where I’d like to be when 2020 dawns.

(I know that technically decades start on the 1s, but the days when the odometer rolls from 9 to 0 are the big ones. 1999 to 2000 was far more exciting than 2000 to 2001, and so I choose to perpetuate the myth, with apologies to the more precise among us.)

I will admit, I frequently feel discouraged as I work to re-create my life. The progress feels slow, or possibly even non-existent. I declared that I wanted to write, and it took me months to submit two articles for publication. The first was rejected, as most are, and I still haven’t heard back on the second. I have ideas about what I want to do, but it’s difficult to carve out time while I care for a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old bent on self-destruction. It frequently feels like I’m drifting and directionless, and I worry that I made a terrible mistake in giving up daycare and trying to chart a new course instead of just hunting down the first engineering job I could find.

But then I stopped for a minute, and remembered where I was 10 years ago. On this day in 1999 I was a single university student, working on my thesis. I had been dating my high school boyfriend for 8 1/2 years, and I was way, way more than ready to get married. I lived alone and had no car, opting for a more frugal lifestyle so that I could live within the salary I earned in my practicum jobs. I was not, in any way, unhappy, and my life was pretty good all things considered, but my existence was geared very much towards the future. Finishing school, getting married, embarking on ‘real life’.

That very New Year’s Eve Jon proposed to me. If the world ended due to Y2K, he said, he wanted to be with me. It was cheesy but cute. In the next decade I finished my thesis and graduated, we got married and got our first apartment, and I got a ‘real job’ and bought a brand-spanking-new Honda. We moved further out to the suburbs and bought a house. We adopted our cat, Dorothy, and had a couple of babies. I remained in my real job for 9 years, until I got notice of my lay-off. With money in the bank and a severance package, I decided to take some time away from that career and see if I could create a new one.

This is where I am now. When I look back on my life this way, things look much better to me. I set out to create something, and I succeeded. Now I’m starting again, but not from square zero. I have experience that will stand me in good stead. I have resources that I’ve accumulated, and a family that is cheering me on. Of course things are slow-moving, I am doing something totally new and I am doing it at home with my kids. If you had told me in 1999 that this is where I would be in 10 years, I would not have been sad. I would have looked forward gladly, knowing what lay in store.

This raises the question for me of where I want to be in another 10 years. What do I hope my life will look like on New Year’s Eve, 2019? It’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have a concrete picture. But I do hope for a few things. I hope that I am making a living income as a writer and maybe a workshop leader. I would like to help others to craft their own lives, having successfully crafted my own. I want a house on the water with chickens in the back yard, and I want to belong to a choir and do yoga. And I would like my adolescent children to go easy on me.

We all feel lost sometimes, unsure of what to do next or what we even really want out of our lives. That’s probably OK. As I’ve found, at times like this it can really help to take stock of what you’ve accomplished. It’s renewed my sense of perspective, and reminded me that I am maybe not so bad at achieving my goals after all.

Speaking of goals and life-crafting, I have an idea for the Crafting my Life series that I will try out starting in January. Over the course of the month I will follow a particular theme each Thursday – January’s will be ‘What do I want, and how can I get it?’ Then, on the last Thursday of the month I will include a widget so that you can link up any posts you’ve written on the theme. It’s a way that we can join forces as we all work to create our lives together, build community and cheer each other on. What do you think? Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? Let me know!

When Parents Have Different Styles

My husband Jon and I have different parenting styles. I would say that we agree on most of the big stuff – for instance, neither of us are in favour of spanking our kids. But when it comes down to specific situations, and the day-to-day nitty gritty of dealing with two small children, we often have different approaches. Or maybe, sometimes, one of us just has more patience at the moment. Either way, our kids learned early on that you can’t expect Mom and Dad to react the same way most of the time.

Some experts suggest that our different approaches might be a problem. This wisdom states that the children will use our differences to drive a wedge between us and manipulate us, or that because our parenting lacks consistency our kids will be confused and insecure. And I suppose those things could happen, but honestly, I’m not all that worried. In spite of my best efforts I’m not even super-consistent with myself. I forget what I said yesterday, or I’m in a bad mood, or the circumstances are slightly different. If I can’t even maintain the same approach in all situations on my own, how can I expect two totally different people to do any better?

My babies and me
The kids and me

The reality of my life is that my husband and I do not have uniform views on most topics. I enjoy costume dramas, and he enjoys documentaries. I enjoy spicy food, and he enjoys peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I am a crunchy granola mom, and he will watch any sport on television, no matter how obscure. Sometimes I read blogs where people talk about the things that their family believes and does, and I wonder if their husband, like mine, finds the compost bucket vaguely distasteful and would rather eat fast food than lentils. Is their family really all on the same page?

I am not asking this question maliciously, I assure you. If you have found someone who shares your view on pretty much every topic, I think that’s fabulous. Having a shared vision and a strong sense of purpose can really help you to see where you’re going in life, and enable you to work together. I’m not discounting these things, and I would be lying if I said that Jon and I had nothing in common. But it would also feel like lying to me if I said that my family enjoys shopping in thrift stores, since no one but me particularly enjoys either shopping or thrift stores.

Jon reading to the kiddos
The kids and their dad

To bridge our parenting differences, Jon and I have had some discussions and agreed to an overall approach – a theory of parenting, if you will. But, sadly, parenting is really not very theoretical. I can understand the theory very well, but my kids do not. Moreover, they don’t even really care. Parenting happens on the fly, in the moment and often in front of other people. So while I have confidence that neither of us will do something that the other one finds truly horrifying or unforgivable, I accept that Jon will not necessarily do or say what I would, or what I think he should.

I’ve decided, for now, that the differences are actually good for my kids. Learning to deal with different people is a life skill, after all. You can’t talk to your grandmother, your boss or your friends in the same way. For this reason, I choose to believe that failing to be on the same page as parents all the time might just be good for our kids. Switching things up and keeping them on their toes is least we can do, really, to set them on a good path in life. And so I will not sweat the little differences, I will embrace them.

What about you? How do you bridge the parenting gaps? And do you worry if you and your partner aren’t always ont the same page?

Homemade Holiday Show and Tell

Back in November I shared my grand plans for a handmade Christmas. Sadly, for quite some time I remained in the planning stage, not doing much more than telling myself how fabulous it would all be and believing that I had plenty of time left. Finally, a week before Christmas I could no longer deny the advancing date, and I got to crafting. The verdict? In spite of my late start, I still accomplished a fair bit.

4-year-old Hannah and I worked together to make some embroidered pillows.

Hannah's Christmas heart

Handsewn cushion with my 4-year-old's embroidery

A special pillow for Nan

I sewed some aprons for the ladies, too.

Modeling the aprons I made them

Gretchen's new apron

And I did a little bit of knitting (I confess, this is the one thing I started well enough in advance, I just don’t knit that quickly).

Mittens for Jacob

My mom's Christmas socks

But the piece that I am most proud of, and the thing that I was up late finishing on Christmas Eve, is the puppet theatre that I made for the children. I got the pattern from Amy Karol‘s Bend the Rules Sewing, and I love it. It hangs in the doorway on a tension rod, and then packs up in a pouch for easy storage. It’s really, really fabulous, and thankfully my kids love it just as much as I do.

Puppet theatre, closedCase to store the puppet theatre

Hannah performs

Once I threw in some jam and jelly that I made in the summer, I was pretty happy with how my crafting turned out. Although starting earlier just might have worked to my advantage. I don’t know for sure, but I have my suspicions.

How about you? How did your holiday crafting go? Do share!

Resolving to Live Sustainably

I consider myself to be pretty environmentally responsible. I work hard to reduce my consumption, to re-use items I already have, and to recycle the things that I can’t re-use or re-purpose. I garden and shop at farmer’s markets, and I buy local and handmade whenever I can. Of course, I am far from perfect. I don’t think anyone is, and I’m certainly not holding myself up as an example for everyone to follow. But I really do try to consider the impact of my actions.

How well am I doing? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question, but I decided I would look to the internet to see if I could find any clues. I came across an Ecological Footprint Quiz, which calculates the impact that your choices have on the earth. Overall, my results were pretty good. I have a much lower carbon footprint than the average Canadian, and my goods and services footprint is less than 25% of the national average. My housing footprint is lower than the average as well, and my food footprint is only a little higher. But even still, if everyone lived as I do we would need 3.43 Earths to sustain us all.

Where am I falling down in my efforts to live sustainably? Our single family home in the suburbs is not the most environmentally-friendly option, but I’m not planning on moving. Plus, in some ways living where I do actually helps since I have a garden, and I have excellent access to composting and recycling unlike my apartment-dwelling days. But the other big area is my choice to eat animal products. I eat meat and seafood and lots and lots of dairy. There are few foods that are not improved by a generous topping of cheese, in my opinion.

After I finished my quiz I read the suggestions for reducing my carbon footprint. And in the spirit of making a fresh start for 2010 I resolved to make a few changes.

1. Reduce my consumption of animal products. I will not cut these out completely, but I could certainly get by on a little less. Baby steps, right? I will start by doing one meatless day a week. I will also strive to find ways to cut back on dairy while I’m at it. Recipe suggestions are welcome!

2. Wear a sweater. We keep our house really warm. Last year I considered lowering the thermostat, but with a small baby I was hesitant to go that route. This year, though, I have a robust and active toddler who never stops moving. Reducing the temperature by a couple of degrees would not hurt us, and it could save some money, too.

3. Expand my garden. I would like to put in a new raised bed so that I can grow more of my own food. I also think that with a little more effort in the planning I could get a better yield of produce that we actually want. I like cucumbers, but we really will not eat more than 70 of them over their short growing period, you know?

These are not huge, earth-shattering changes by any means. But smaller changes are more likely to stick, I think. And then maybe next year I can grow on these changes even more. What about you? Do you have any plans to implement a more sustainable lifestyle in 2010? If so, please share!

I wrote this post for the Green Moms Carnival, which is all about green resolutions this month. To read some more thoughts on a greener 2010 visit Non-Toxic Kids on January 1.

Mama’s Little Alarm Clock

Some mornings I cry when I wake up. Not because I’ve had a bad dream, or my neck hurts, or I have something unpleasant to do that day. I cry because I have been ripped from my comfortable slumber at I-Don’t-Even-Want-to-Know o’clock by the friendly little fellow that I gave birth to, and try as I might I cannot convince him that going back to sleep for another hour or two is a good idea. So I bury my head in my pillow and have a 20-second pity party before I plaster on my game face and struggle to my feet.

This is the reality of parenthood. It’s not the sticky fingers or the relentless whining or the insipid children’s music that really get to me, it’s the way that I have no control over what time I wake up. I cannot allow a 16-month-old to wander the house unsupervised, if I want both 16-month-old and house to remain standing. I have no TV to park the child in front of, and he’s a little young for TV anyway. And, to my chagrin, I have found no successful way to make a child sleep in almost 5 years of living with children. This is the lot I chose when I decided to procreate, waking up on someone else’s schedule.

Yogurt face
My little alarm clock, with evidence of the day’s chaos all over his face

While I cry into my pillow Mr. Wake-me-up is relentlessly cheerful. He laughs as he climbs all over me and turns my bedside lamp on and off, on and off. He smiles and coos as he pokes his finger at my eye to see if it will open. He ignores his father’s groans when he turns on the clock radio and dances. Finally, the kid hands me my slippers as if to say, “Put these on and follow me, we shall venture forth to meet the day.” In spite of myself I find this so charming that I comply, not even all that reluctantly.

Every night I swear that I will go to sleep earlier, so that the early morning isn’t quite so abrupt. But when the peace finally descends on the house I find myself using the quiet to my advantage. My kids are not good nappers. They wake early and live hard all day. If I want uninterrupted time to myself when I’m not holding at least one little person, it has to come at night. For example, as I write this it’s a little after 10pm and my trusty toddler alarm clock is hurtling headlong to morning. But I tell myself I have adapted. I can function on 7 hours of sleep far better than I used to function on 8 1/2. My justifications are even mostly true, so I continue to push the boundaries, and cry into my pillow.

Do you fall prey to the evening quiet, too? Or are you an early riser? How do you find your moments of peace amidst the chaos?

A Christmas Wish

I hope that you are all safe and warm and happy today. I am spending this Christmas with just my husband and kids, cozy at home. And I will be grooving to my favourite Christmas song, sung by none other than the fabulous Kermit the Frog. Because if you believe in love, that really will be more than enough. Peace on earth, and good will towards all.

Crafting my Christmas

It’s Thursday, and I’m Crafting my Life! Or, more specifically, I’m Crafting my Christmas, since today is Christmas Eve and all. So grab some hot chocolate, turn up the Bing Crosby, and join me.

I am not very good at Christmas, I’ll put it right out there. I make far too many promises, to myself and to others. I am currently in a last minute sewing frenzy, and I haven’t done any of the baking I swore I would do. I just love the idea of a holiday that involves handmade ornaments and lots of special moments with the kids. The problem, of course, is that what is supposed to be a happy moment turns into two children hopped up on sugar, a kitchen that is so sticky the cat is affixed to the floor, and me crying because I just wanted to make memories. The reality of life can’t possibly live up to the picture in my head.

I pay a lot of lip service to how I’m cutting back and not doing so much, but when push comes to shove I try to do all of it. All of it. I’m dragging the kids to Christmas pageants and holiday shows and ornament making classes. I re-decorate the tree twice a day, even as my kids un-decorate it. I host parties and dinners and make sure my kids see Santa in every possible venue available to them. And I give myself a massive guilt trip because, yet again, I didn’t manage to get the Christmas cards written up this year. It’s crazy-making.

Why do I do this? Why do I allow my life to become a whirling dervish of holiday festivities? It’s a good question. My best answer is that I am a pleaser. I want to be good and do the good thing, and that means a whole heaping plate full of sugar cookies and mild insanity.

It’s not all bad, the maelstrom of holiday cheer. Hannah is almost 5 years old, and she is at the height of magical thinking. She believes in Christmas and Santa and angels and fairies and the power of wishes. She is enchanted by lights and decorations and holiday treats. That enthusiasm just spills over the rest of us until we are sort of enchanted, too. This year the holidays are not really about me at all, and that makes it a little easier. Because no matter what I’m doing, I know that at least one person will appreciate it ardently. She will remember these days as the magical Christmases of her childhood, and forget about the sticky floors.

Perhaps next year I will get better at setting boundaries for myself. Perhaps next year I will not find myself trying frantically to sew the last Christmas gift an hour before the guests arrive. Perhaps next year I will get the cards in the mail, or even remember to buy cards at all. It could happen. But for this year I’m making the best of the table I’ve set for myself. It’s not even all that bad here, if you can pause long enough to enjoy it.

How do you create a holiday you can live with? What have you let go? Or, are you joining me in the late-night scramble and insanity? I would love to know!

Tree and stockings

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