Archives for January 2010

I’m Sorry I Don’t Have a Better Title

The other day I was at a mom and baby group that I volunteer with and some people started smoking outside one of the windows. Technically this is illegal here, as they were also right beside the entrance and no smoking is permitted within 10 feet of any door or air intake. It was rainy and wet, though, so I can understand why they stood there, huddled under the awning. All the same, smoke was getting into the room filled with pregnant ladies and newborns and that wasn’t so great. In spite of my resolute staring at the floor I was elected to go and ask the smokers to move.

Me and the Calgary Tower

I do not enjoy confrontation, so I was somewhat nervous. I opened with my standard line when I don’t want someone to be angry at me, “I’m sorry to be a bother, but …” Once I explained that the smoke was traveling inside the smokers apologized right back at me. And then I apologized again. And they apologized again and moved. Thank heavens they moved, or we might have been stuck in some endless vortex of reciprocal apologizing, never to be seen again. Because we are Canadians, and this is what we do – we apologize.

It’s hard for me to objectively evaluate if Canadians really do apologize more than other folks, since I am accustomed to the apologies everywhere. For example, if someone bumps into me on the street we both say ‘sorry’. It’s just the done thing. Is that weird? I don’t know. Would I see the same behaviour in, say, Scotland? Again, I have no idea.

With Canadian icons Tim Horton's and the Bluenose II

You don’t really notice the quirkier aspects of your own regional dialect until you travel. In the US, for instance, when I buy an ice cream cone and thank the clerk they respond with, “Uh huh,” or sometimes, “You’re welcome.” Both of those sound odd to me, because here the clerk would must usually say, “Thanks!” right back. It seems to be the norm to thank each other here, but I couldn’t have told you that until I experienced a place where it wasn’t the norm. That’s the same way I learned that some (clearly misguided) people use ‘soda’ when I would say ‘pop’. Tomato, tomahto and all that jazz.

Showing my colours

What if Canadians really do apologize with unusual frequency? Does it mean that we’re more polite, or just that we’ve been trained to say ‘sorry’ all the time? I kind of waffle back and forth on this one. On the one hand people are entirely too complex to be categorized simply by country of origin, and there are certainly some rude Canadians. On the other hand, I recognize that culture does play a role and words carry weight. That’s the idea behind affirmations, or prayers, or the national anthem. By repeating the same words over and over you send yourself a message, although how well it takes root is anyone’s guess.

I will continue to pre-emptively apologize to random strangers, as a way to smooth over any possible confrontation. It works for me, for the most part. But still, I wonder. Is this a particularly Canadian trait? What do you think? I’m sorry to put you on the spot, but I’d love to hear your opinion. 😉

Breastfeeding Acrobatics

Jacob is currently 17 1/2 months old. His main interests seem to be climbing things he shouldn’t, pressing buttons and playing outside. Oh, and breastfeeding. While my toddler eats a wide variety of food now, he still relies on nursing to soothe him when he’s hurt, to lull himself to sleep or just for a quick snack on the go. Having breastfed his sister until she was almost 3 years old, I am in no rush to end Jacob’s time at the breast.

While our nursing relationship is still working well for the most part, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Toddlers, as it turns out, are not that considerate of others. They are hooligans, if you will. It’s not malevolent, really, they just don’t understand that you have feelings and can be hurt, and so it doesn’t occur to them that pulling your hair just to see what you’ll do is unkind. And so, it also doesn’t occur to them that performing daring feats of acrobatic skill while breastfeeding is kind of, well, rude.

Jacob, all dolled up
The little monkey, dressed the part

If you have ever breastfed a toddler, some of Jacob’s latest tricks while nursing might sound familiar to you.

  • Kicking me in the face.
  • Playing with my moles or my bellybutton.
  • Craning his head to look around without letting go.
  • Pulling off and squirting himself in the face and laughing.
  • Asking to switch sides every 3 seconds.
  • Undressing me in public so that he can nurse.
  • We are slowly working on some nursing etiquette. My current boundaries are that I won’t nurse him at the table or in the bathroom. He seems to be getting the message on those fronts, so we will gradually expand from there. I expect that he will also naturally develop more consideration as he gets older, children always do. But for right now, I will admit that occasionally when he makes the sign for nurse I offer him a cracker instead. Because as committed as I am to breastfeeding, sometimes I need a 5 minute reprieve.

    So, tell me? Have you breastfed a toddler who could put Cirque du Soleil to shame with their handstand-back flip-double pike while nursing move? I would love to hear that I’m not alone.

    Re-evaluating Your Dreams and Desires

    It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! This month I’m writing about deciding what you want and going after it. Over the last few weeks I wrote about figuring out what you want, the practicalities of goal-setting and the value of asking for what you want. Today I’ll talk a little bit about re-evaluating your dreams and desires.

    I’m going to offer a little bit of music to put you in the mood again. That Carrie has the best ideas. Music lifts the spirits, even if we can’t always get what we want.

    I can be a little, um, tenacious. Or maybe strong in my convictions. I stick to things, even if I shouldn’t. Some people might call it obstinacy, but I don’t really like that word, though I will concede it’s probably accurate. Anyways, the point here is that if I’ve written a list of the things that I want to accomplish I will usually accomplish those things even if they all turn out to be somewhat ill-advised on closer examination. Because I’m not a quitter, man! I see things through!

    There are advantages to tenacity, I will say that much. Persistence is often rewarded in life. When you’re pursuing some goal, whether it’s a big huge life-altering one or just preparing dinner, obstacles inevitably arise. The ability to stick to it and overcome those obstacles is valuable and it has served me well.

    Life requires balance and moderation in all things, including the pursuit of your dreams. If you really, really want something, and you know that it can work, stick to it. But if you find that you hate what you’re doing and you don’t even know why you’re doing it anymore, that’s another story. As you’re making plans and imagining what you want your life to be like, you need to give yourself the freedom to say, “OK, this is not what I really wanted after all and that’s OK.” Because it is. There is just as much value in knowing when to walk away as there is in being able to see things through.

    I studied karate for 5 years, throughout my time in university. I was pretty good, and I earned my first kyu, which is the highest level of brown belt. I planned and practiced for my black belt test, which was to take place in June. And the whole time I did this, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying karate anymore. I had a moment of clarity one day during a tournament when I was sparring with someone and I thought, “This chick is trying to hit me and I don’t want to be here!” I knew that I didn’t want to continue in the karate class, but I thought I should at least plow through until the black belt test. Because I am not a quitter.

    Then something happened. For a number of reasons they postponed the exam by 6 months. I had spent ages preparing for the test in June and now I would have to wait until December. And this is a physical test, it’s not like I could just walk away for 6 months and then brush up again a few weeks in advance, I would have to continue seriously training if I had a hope of passing. And so I made the decision to quit. When I tell people that I was within a few weeks of my black belt test and I quit, they’re often surprised. Why would I do that? And the answer is, I did it because I saw that my happiness mattered more than this goal.

    As I work to craft my life, I try to keep that in mind. The whole point of this exercise is to create a lifestyle that is better for me. Perfection isn’t possible, I know that. I also know that sometimes I may have to do something that’s not super-fun while I get my ducks in a row or make ends meet. But if I find that my dreams are turning into my personal nightmares, then I give myself permission to lay them aside. There is no room in the life I am creating for abject misery in the name of never quitting, I say. And I think I even really mean it.

    Now it’s your turn. Have you written a post about figuring out what you really want and pursuing it? Or, for that matter, choosing not to pursue it? If so, enter the details below. Please, I’m beseeching you, don’t leave me hanging!

    Not-so-Bleak Midwinter

    The rains abated here somewhat in the second half of January, and the kids and I have been outside. It has made a huge improvement to our collective sanity, I must say. A little bit of weak winter sunshine and a chance to play on the swings will cure what ails you, especially if what ails you is being totally sick of being cooped up inside. I was feeling so full of energy that I even tried tree-climbing for the first time in decades. I am happy to report that I’ve still got it!

    Here are some scenes from our recent adventures. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade Hannah to get a photo of my tree-climbing, so you’ll have to take my mad skills on faith.

    Hannah's winter bouquet
    Hannah’s winter bouquet of dead flowers and weeds

    Ming Ming all dressed for the park
    Ming Ming all dressed up and hanging out at the park

    Jacob playing in the garden
    Jacob checking out the state of the garden

    Smiling on the swing
    Smiley Hannah on the swing

    Jacob checking out a windchime
    Playing with a windchime

    I hope that you’re finding some sanity in the bleak midwinter, too. The days are getting longer and the bleakness will soon be past.

    Package Sizing Rant

    My grocery buying habits have shifted over the years. There was a time when I was a single university student living alone and most of the food I bought came in small packages. In the first place, there just wasn’t much cupboard space in my tiny apartment. In the second place, there was no way I could get through the economy sized tub of mayonnaise before it spoiled. But then I got married and had one baby, and another. And those babies started to eat solid food and I started buying the economy sized mayonnaise because we will eat it and it’s, you know, economical.

    Buying the largest size I can use isn’t just economical, it’s also more sustainable. Far less packaging goes into producing a single very large jar as compared to many smaller jars that add up to the same amount of mayo. And, of course, this isn’t just true for mayonnaise. It’s true for pet food or pasta or shampoo or cheese. Steering clear of single-serving sizes is one great way to reduce the amount of waste that you’re producing, as anyone who’s ever compared a block of mozzarella to a bag of string cheese can tell you.

    Now that I’m making much more of an effort to shop consciously I spend more time in the natural food section of the grocery store. And while I peruse organic salsa, phosphate-free dishwasher detergent and fair-trade chocolate, I can’t help but notice how pretty much every product in those aisles comes in teeny-tiny packages. Some of the size difference can be explained by increased concentrations, especially in cleaning products, but that does not account for the entire difference. The organic spaghetti, for instance, is half the size of the conventional spaghetti. And it is not wonder spaghetti that somehow requires half as much pasta for the same meal. (Although wonder spaghetti would be very cool, and I would totally buy it.)

    Small package sizes in the natural food section are a big pet peeve of mine. I’m buying for a family of 4, we eat a lot of food and create a lot of dirty laundry. While I like the idea of buying organic and sustainably-produced products, I fear the much smaller unit sizes negate the environmental benefit of buying ‘natural’ products in the first place. I understand that producing organic food costs more, and I suspect that by reducing unit size they’re trying to reduce sticker shock. But I can do basic math, so they’re not fooling me. Why not offer an ‘econo’ option, make it a little cheaper than the 4 packages I would have to buy now, and make customers like me happy? It really would reduce a lot of my grocery store angst, Product Marketers of the World

    At the moment, I often head to the bulk bins to reduce my packaging. In the bulk aisle I can get the same products more cheaply, and I can buy as much as I want. If you bring your own re-usable bags you can do some completely waste-free shopping that way. It’s great for dry goods especially. But I buy things that they don’t carry in the bulk aisle, so it doesn’t completely solve my quandary. And so you will regularly find me in the natural food section, holding a small jar of organic peanut butter and shaking my fist at the universe in frustration.

    What about you? Have you also noticed that natural and organic products come in smaller packages, and how do you feel about that? And, do you have any tips to reduce the amount of product packaging you bring home from the grocery store?

    PS – Just a reminder that on the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 28th, I will be holding a link up as part of Crafting my Life. To participate, write a post on figuring out what you want and going after it. Then on Thursday add yourself to the list, and read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired!

    Imperfection

    I am a perfectionist. And I don’t mean just in the sense that I would use ‘perfectionism’ if a job interviewer asked for my weakness in a ploy to make myself sound better. I mean in the sense that I am sort of neurotic and snappy when things aren’t going my way. When I attempt something and I know I could have done a better job I will keep at it, obsessively, until I have achieved success. This is how I ended up with 10 hand-sewn baby carriers in a basket in my entryway, and why I have always struggled with handing in assignments. Declaring something ‘good enough’ is difficult for me.

    I am terrible at mini golf, and I can’t play volleyball to save my life. I am also quite awful at chess and checkers, or really any game of strategy. Strategy is not my strong suit. Since I’m not good at these things, I just don’t do them. The idea of pursuing something that I can’t be phenomenally successful at does not appeal to me. And so I play computer solitaire on the easiest setting I can find, or I stick to leisure activities that don’t allow the possibility of failure, like reading magazines.

    Fishy hat on an angle
    Like the fish hat, don’t like the eyes, but the kid I made the hat for does

    I think that blogging and crafting have both been good for me, in the sense that they have forced me to overcome my perfectionism. I am never going to get a post perfect, let alone every post. It’s not going to happen. Plus, it’s impossible to even know what perfection is, since the posts I love are not necessarily the ones that other people seem to love, and vice versa. But I gain so much out of this blog, and out of interacting with others, that I don’t really care. I’ll keep blogging even if I can’t be perfect.

    Detail of first leaf
    The gap between the bottom of the two leave halves annoys me

    Crafting is much the same – perfection is subjective and difficult or impossible to obtain, at least consistently. But perfectly serviceable hats are less elusive. And other people have less critical eyes than I have for my own work. Plus, there’s a miraculous truth to crafting, and writing, and all creating, that time softens your critical eye. If I read something I wrote 2 years ago, or use a scarf I made in 2007, I do not spend any time thinking about how it could be better. I am not in that place anymore. The flaws fade and the joy of the thing remains.

    I will continue to write and sew and knit and create, and strive to embrace the imperfection. Finally, after more than 33 years on the planet, I am learning to do things simply for the joy of it. I wish I’d learned to do this sooner, because it’s much more fun than obsessing over perceived inadequacies, and the quality of my work actually improves because I feel more free to experiment and play. Perhaps, if I work hard enough, I can be perfectly imperfect. Because, you know, I’m still sort of a perfectionist at heart. 😉

    Any fellow perfectionists out there? How do you bring yourself to declare ‘good enough’ and then move on?

    What is This Post About Again?

    I have an excellent memory. This is something that I have always prided myself on, and it has served me well. I credit my memory with my success in high school and university, for one thing. I did well in school because I am good at taking tests, and I am good at taking tests because I can recall information with accuracy, especially in the short term. My memory helped me earn scholarships and become an engineer and launch a reasonably successful career. It was very good to me.

    Since I remember things easily, I don’t write much down. My schedule is in my head, along with my shopping list and my action items, and in general that works well for me. While I might have a good memory for details like my mother’s license plate number, I am constantly losing things. I might occasionally claim to lose my mind, but that’s not a physical reality. My head has not yet detached itself from my body and gone to live with my slippers and my cell phone charger, wherever they may be, so my memory is the safest place for details I need to remember.

    But. (Why must there always be a but?) My amazing recall is not what it once was. I blame a variety of things for the rust that is growing on the steel trap of my mind. Age is probably one factor, sadly. Also, I have way more details to remember than I used to, what with two little people who have schedules of their own. And on top of that I fear that the nature of my life at the moment, with little in the way of structure or routine, isn’t helping. I don’t get the same cues when every day is more or less the same and I’m not exactly sure if it’s Wednesday or Thursday.

    Angsty Amber
    Am I losing my mind?

    As my recall declines, I start forgetting things. I drop the ball and my kid misses her clayworking class, or I never send the email I swore up and down that I would. And when I forget things, panic sets in. I am the person with the amazingly good memory – if I lose that, who am I? What do I have left? The answer, as it turns out, is lists.

    I have lists, though not physical lists, because I would lose those. Mine are all virtual lists. A draft post that has blog ideas, scheduled for 15 years from now so that it’s always at the top of the screen. A shared Google Calendar with my husband so that we can keep tabs on each other. I am sort of resentful of the lists, since they represent my forgetfulness, but I keep them because I have no other good choice.

    Surprised Amber
    I do not enjoy lists!

    Tell me, dear internet, because I want to know. Do you find that age and children are affecting your memory? Or are you getting sharper with time? I will admit, I hope that I’m not alone on this, although maybe if I am I’ll just forget that anyway. Losing my memory may offer certain compensations, after all.

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