Archives for April 2010

Buying Local in Vancouver

Before I gave my talk at the Bellies to Babies Celebration I had a chance to wander around and see the exhibitors. I met the fabulous Karen Randall from New and Green Baby in person, and got a hug from Allison of Stylekid. I also came across some super-cool baby gear from Snugglings, and even bought one of their T-shirts for my new little nephew who is expected to arrive in July.

While I was chatting with one of the owners of Snugglings, she filled me in on a great event happening in Vancouver for the month of May. From May 1 – 30 a whole bunch of local designers are getting together to create Pop-Up Vancouver. They will have a temporary retail location at 1-4421 West 10th Avenue [map] where you can drop in and shop. I hear there will be loads to see, like baby and kids’ stuff, handbags, jewelry and art.


A handmade doll of Hannah’s made by a local mama

I love the idea of Pop-Up Vancouver. There is something really cool about having things that are designed and made right in your own back yard. There is something really cool about meeting people who are doing their thing and making their art. And there is something really cool about local designers coming together to support each other and work together. It makes me want to join hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah” because working together is how great things happen, even if it does sound a little schmaltzy. Just because your kindergarten teacher said it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

This sense of community and shared purpose is the same sort of thing you also see at local craft shows. My father was a goldsmith and so I attended a lot of craft fairs as a kid. They have a unique vibe that I love. Vancouver’s biggest, Got Craft?, is happening this Sunday May 2. One of my local bloggy friends, and regular blog commenter, PoMo Mama will be there with her creations. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it this year, but I’ve been before and it’s definitely one-of-a-kind. A random stranger commented on 9-month-old Jacob’s aura. Do you see that at Wal-Mart? No, you do not.

seaglass wire collar
Photo credit – PoMo Mama on Flickr

A few years ago I didn’t know about all the ways to buy locally produced stuff from people who live where I do. My new awareness is at least partly due to the way that handmade and local is catching on. Etsy, anyone? But it’s also partly because I’m looking for it. It’s surprised me to see how many ways there are to buy things that don’t involve a trip to the mall. I love it, really.

How about you? Do you look for local or handmade when you’re buying things? Are you an Etsy fanatic? Tell me all about it!

A Van Down By the River

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! April’s theme is dealing with negativity. When you decide to go in a new direction you can encounter a lot of it, from yourself and others. In the past few weeks I spoke about that pesky voice inside my head and how I’m learning to understand it. I also discovered who I think I am, anyway and dabbled in some anxiety-reducing rituals. Today I’m going to talk about what I’m really afraid of.

In her fabulous book Escape From Cubicle Nation, Pamela Slim talks about the fear that keeps us in bad situations. She argues that the reason we stay in jobs we hate or terrible marriages is that we’re afraid of ending up like ‘motivational speaker’ Matt Foley, as portrayed by Chris Farley. That is – we will be 35 years old, divorced and living in a van down by the river. We’re afraid that if we leave our comfort zone, we could lose it all. This is the fate that little negative voice inside our heads is trying to save us from.

Here’s the scary thing about Matt Foley – I know people like him and you probably do, too. People who, try as they might, can’t pull it together. People who gambled it all and lost. It is sad and it scares me. But even if we play it safe, we aren’t necessarily protecting ourselves. Events happen that are outside of our control. Avoiding risks won’t keep you out of the proverbial van down by the river.

If there is no guaranteed way to avoid ending up in a van down by the river, what is one to do? First of all, I think it’s helpful to remember that our fear lacks rationality and likes extremes. When I set out on a task the only two outcomes my fear sees are raging success and utter failure. But that’s now how life works. Most of the time, things fall somewhere in the middle. Career choices, businesses, neighbourhoods you live in, they all have upsides and downsides. Maybe the van down by the river does, too. Every path offers setbacks and advancements, joys and sorrows. Fear presents a false dichotomy, a world with black and white and no shades of gray.

It’s also helpful to recognize when your fear is causing you doubts, and when something else is. Your fear (or mine, anyway) has a one-track mind. It’s going to rain on your parade no matter how well-organized that parade may be. You want to better yourself? Your fear will tell you not to bother, because nothing will come of it anyway. And everyone will laugh at you, too. But your rational mind’s doubts are a little more fully-formed. They can dwell in the gray area. They might be based on lofty concepts like ethics and morals, ensuring that you have enough time for yourself and your children, or your financial future. If you can get to the bottom of your doubts and figure out what’s rational and what’s not, you can address them more effectively.

Knowing where your doubts are coming from and recognizing the false dichotomy of fear are not magic bullets. They can help, for sure. But sometimes our fears are valid. And sometimes, even if they’re not, we can’t overcome them. I think we can be gentle with ourselves as we work to make progress. Growing, learning and taking risks is a process, and it’s fine if it takes you longer than you hoped. It’s fine if it doesn’t always follow a straight line. The important bit is that you’re working on it, piece by piece, at your own pace.

Take heart. While a few people do end up in a van down by the river, most of us do not. It’s not a very likely outcome, no matter how we live our lives. Matt Foley didn’t end up in the van because he followed his dreams. And you won’t end up in a van down by the river if you follow yours. In spite of what that negative voice in our heads believes, dreaming isn’t dangerous. Building and learning and trying aren’t dangerous, and our worries rarely represent reality. So feel free to tell Matt Foley off, the next time he comes knocking. Or just laugh, because he is really funny, when we’re not afraid of what he has to say.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written a post about dealing with negativity? If so, enter the details below. And whether you have or not, go check out these other blogs for some inspiration or helpful advice.

Disclosure – the book links to my Amazon associates account, so if you buy it I earn a small commission.

My Yoga Mat

The last time that I took a yoga class was in 2005. My firstborn Hannah was 4 months old, and I did a mom and baby class. It was … OK. My kid was not happy to lay on a mat beside me and kick happily while I achieved a zen state. I spent at least half of every class trying to keep her from crying. It was slightly discouraging, to say the least. And then I returned to work, and I didn’t want to take extra time away from Hannah. Plus my husband Jon worked an unpredictable schedule, so I didn’t have reliable child care. This is why I didn’t do any yoga for 5 years.

Close-up of my new yoga mat

Many times I made plans to do yoga at home using one of my DVDs. I’m sure you know how that goes. Doing yoga with a toddler for company is hard. My balance is sketchy at the best of times, never mind when a child is hanging off of me. Plus, at home there’s always something else to do. I could do yoga, or I could clean or watch TV or write a blog post or sew or bake cookies or answer emails or balance my chequebook. There’s always some distraction or obligation.

My feet, soaking up the zen

Now I’m at home with a 5-year-old and a 20-month-old. My daily life is very much about other people, and I find myself craving alone time. Time where I am not looking at and thinking about the countless things I could (should?) be doing. Time where I am not focused on the needs of the other people in my life. Time where I can get a little exercise. I couldn’t put myself off anymore, so I scoured our local recreation guide and seized on Yogalates. Mostly because the time and day worked for me, but also because I like to say the word. Yogalates. Yogalates is for me.

Jacob loves rolling up the mat

I missed the first class because Jon was out of town and I didn’t have childcare. It was with great eagerness that I rolled into the second class, only to discover that I was the only one who didn’t have my own mat. When I took yoga 5 years ago no one had their own mat. Maybe it’s the class that’s different, or maybe everyone just has yoga mats now. Either way I decided I needed a mat of my own. I found some on sale, chose my colour and laid down my $18.

New yoga mat, all rolled up

My mat is extremely basic, but I love it. It’s mine and mine alone. It symbolizes taking time for myself, because I matter. I was so excited to have it that I even squeezed in a yoga session on Saturday with the kids around. My 5-year-old Hannah did yoga alongside me, and 20-month-old Jacob hung out with his dad. It was nice. I liked it. This may be one of the best $18 I’ve ever spent. I realize that’s highly optimistic, but I’m feeling optimistic and I choose to roll with it. I have a yoga mat, and everything’s coming up roses.

How do you get time for yourself? Or do you? It’s hard when you have little kids, but I am working on it. Slowly, bit by bit, I’ll figure it out. I hope that we all will.

PS – I am a finalist in Vancouver Mom‘s Favourite Vancouver Mom Blogger contest! If you’d vote for me (and any other fabulous contestants you read) once a day until May 6 I’d be ever so grateful. 🙂

Women in Tech and Men in Nursing

I recently read an article in the The New York Times discussing the lack of women in technology, and especially running technology start-ups. According to the article, women account for 22% of software engineers in high-tech companies, and run around 8% of venture-backed tech start-ups.

I am an engineer and I worked for a decade as a programmer, so these numbers don’t surprise me. My office was one of the few places where you’d be more likely to see a line-up for the men’s washroom than the women’s. I entered engineering school in 1994, and over my 16 years in school and in the field, the gender divide more or less held steady. But raising the issue begs the question – so what?

Engineers and scientists and programmers create the things we use every day, and sometimes men don’t understand what it’s like to navigate the world as a woman. For example, I once talked with a colleague who was working on a product that would be worn on a clip on a pants pocket. When I asked him where you would put it if you didn’t have a pants pocket, he looked a little flummoxed. He had never worn a dress or a skirt. But I had, so I could immediately see an issue he’d overlooked. If women are involved in product design, they can spot issues that affect women more than they affect men. That’s a good thing, because who wants to be frustrated when their ability to use basic tools is compromised?

Beyond design issues, there are basic questions of how we structure society. Women are chronically underrepresented in technology, on corporate boards and in government. When we exclude, explicitly or otherwise, a whole gender from certain roles we really ought to ask why that is. Ideally, anyone should be able to pursue any occupation without regards for gender, with a few possible exceptions. My husband would not make a good surrogate mother, and I will concede that my total lack of upper body strength might be detrimental in certain jobs. But if you’re talking about wrestling bureaucracy or working at a desk, no such differences exist.

While can readily point out issues with gender imbalances in tech companies, the one-sidedness of this discussion concerns me. For instance, I can’t recall reading articles about how we need more male nurses or elementary school teachers. According to Wikipedia, only 5.4% of registered nurses in the US are men. And in elementary school classrooms in the US the number of male teachers is in decline, with the latest figure being around 9%. Wouldn’t our children benefit from both male and female perspectives in schools? And wouldn’t the health care system benefit if genders were more evenly represented in all roles?

Focusing on increasing the number of women in traditionally male roles, without also encouraging men to pursue traditionally female roles, betrays a sexism all its own. In a nudge-nudge wink-wink way, we are made to understand that real men shouldn’t want to work in the nurturing fields. It supposes that male-dominated fields are more desirable or important and that everyone should prefer them. We acknowledge that they aren’t family-friendly, but we say that we need women to enter the fields to bring change. Why should women want to make that sacrifice? Why should we want to work in male-dominated workplaces, if men would never dream of working in female-dominated ones?

I don’t want to see women held back from holding government office, running companies or writing computer software on the basis of their gender. I wrote software and I think it was a great thing for me. But if we really want society to change we need to take a broader view. We need to consider why women aren’t pursuing those avenues and correct the inequities that exist up front. And we need to lose the pink collar stigma. We will never have true equity as long as “women’s work” isn’t valued or viewed as important and worthy enough for anyone to pursue.

What do you think? Do you think that we should focus more on encouraging women to pursue traditionally male roles because of past inequity? Do you see any problems with the lack of men in nursing or teaching? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Just a quick reminder about April’s Crafting my Life series link up this coming Thursday. To participate, write a post on dealing with negativity anytime in April, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s posts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

Sewing Project: Balloon-y Baby Blanket

I like to make things. Crafting gets me out of my head. It gives me tangible evidence of my accomplishments. It provides me with a creative outlet, makes for affordable one-of-a-kind gifts, and sticks a thumb in the eye of the consumer culture. I particularly like to make things for little people. For one thing, they’re smaller, so their stuff is usually smaller, and smaller = faster. Plus, these first gifts that someone made just for you are so special. These are the things that become family heirlooms.

I recently made a baby blanket for a special little someone. I had some wool felt on hand, and it called for something colourful. A hot air balloon seemed just the thing. You can see how it turned out, and make one of your own, by reading on.

Balloon close-up

How to Make a Balloon-y Blanket

Materials:

  • 2 – 30 x 36″ pieces of fabric for the blanket (I used organic cotton flannel)
  • fabric odds and ends to create the design with (I used wool felt)
  • co-ordinating thread
  • black embroidery floss

Instructions:

Plan out your design by sketching it on paper. This will serve as your pattern. If you want to duplicate my blanket feel free to use my pattern, which filled most of an 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of paper (click to enlarge).

I used five 8″ long fabric strips to make the colourful stripes on my balloon. The outer two were 1 3/4″ wide, and the inner three were 2″ wide. Before I cut them I measured their width using my ruler, and ran my scissors along the edge to score the felt. Then it was really easy to just follow that score and cut a straight line. I also cut out a 3/4″ square piece for the basket, and a 1 5/8 x 3/4″ piece in purple for the balloon skirt. (I looked up hot air balloon terminology online, can you tell?)

(Note: I made a 7 1/2 x 8″ square using my fabric strips. If you used fewer colours, or created a different design, you would just need to make sure that it was 7 1/2″ x 8″ once it was sewn together, accounting for seam allowances.)


Scoring the felt

Working from left to right, I pinned the felt strips with their wrong sides together, and sewed along the long edge, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Once all 5 pieces were together, I trimmed the seams, leaving about 1/8″ of fabric. If you were using a fabric that may fray, like cotton, I wouldn’t do the trimming. Instead I would press the seams open so that you end up with a flat square. Once my square was finished, I cut out my balloon shape using my pattern.

Next, I took my purple skirting and sewed it along the balloon’s bottom edge, wrong sides together. I trimmed the seam in the same way I trimmed the others.

I used the seam side of my balloon as the wrong side, although if you’re using felt you could go either way. Since it won’t fray, it might look sort of cool to have the seams exposed. The choice is yours, but you have to decide because next you’re going to pin the balloon, wrong side down, to the right side of one of your blanket pieces. I decided to put mine near the top, so that it would look like it was floating.

If I use a fabric that may fray, I use a tight zigzag stitch to sew my work to the blanket. You want the outside of the zigzag to just catch the outside edge of the balloon as you sew. Since I was using a non-fraying fabric this time, I used a regular straight stitch, about 1/8″ in from the balloon edge. You can see examples of both here (click to enlarge):

Next I sewed the basket about 3/4″ below the bottom of the balloon, roughly aligned in the center. At this point, I decided the blanket needed a little something extra, and cut out a couple of small, fluffy clouds using light blue felt. I pinned those right side up to the blanket, and sewed them in the same way I sewed the balloon.

Now I got out my embroidery hoop. I used three strands of embroidery floss doubled over to create the ropes. What I mean is, I took three strands, threaded them through my needle and knotted it at the bottom, because that’s how I did it in grade 3 when we cross-stitched Mother’s Day gifts in school. It might not be the best way, but it works, and I am not picky. Anyways, my point is that in the end I used six strands altogether. I sewed four ropes from the bottom of the skirting to the top of the basket.

At this point, the heavy lifting was done and I just had to sew the blanket together. I pinned the two blanket pieces right side together, and sew around all 4 edges, leaving a 5″ gap. I used a 5/8″ seam allowance. In a nod to diligence I trimmed the corners on the diagonal, being careful not to cut through the stitches.

Feeling very close to completion, I turned the blanket right side out. If you felt like doing the right thing, you would press the blanket. I did not. I may be a bad example. I just topstitched around the entire blanket, 1/4″ from the edge. This closed up the 5″ hole that I used to turn the blanket right side out. Then I topstitched again, approximately 1 1/2″ from the edge.

If you’re playing along, lay out your blanket and admire your work. You’re done!

Balloon-y baby blanket
Finished blanket!

If this is kind of your thing, you might want to check out my other super-fun craft projects and recipes under the Making Stuff menu header. We can jump on the handmade bandwagon together!

Northern Voice

If you are a bloggy type, and you live in or around Vancouver, you might be interested in Northern Voice. It’s a two-day, personal blogging and social media conference, which is held out at UBC. This year is its 6th incarnation, and it will run on May 7-8, 2010.

There are a lot of reasons to go to Northern Voice. It’s billed as “cheap, friendly and open to all”. It’s the premiere blogging event in Vancouver. And, as icing on the cupcake, I will be speaking!

I will be join the likes of Kerry from Crunchy Carpets, Harriet, The Green Mama and Danielle from The Momoir Project in a panel called Family Matters: Blogging the Parenthood Experience. They refer to us as “some of the nation’s top mommy bloggers”, which is really quite flattering. We’ll talk about the intersection of family life and blogging and that sort of thing. There are a lot of us, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Will I be able to get a word in edgewise? Given my love of talking, I think my chances are good, but you’ll have to be there to see for sure.

Our panel will be taking place from 2:30-3:15pm on the Saturday. Which is serendipitous, because I don’t think I can make the Friday in spite of the co-operative childcare. I’m really looking forward to the day. I’m also looking forward to attending the other panels and hearing what everyone else has to say. This is my first Northern Voice, and so I’m really excited to connect with some other local bloggy types.

(Aside – I originally wrote, “I’m really excited to hook up with some other local bloggy types,” but then I decided that might be misconstrued. Ahem.)

If you’re local, I’d love to see you there. If you’ve been before, I could also use some pointers. Either way, I will take lots of photos and report back on the whole thing. Wish me luck!

Naps Are (Apparently Not) for Babies

When I was pregnant I didn’t know if I wanted a boy or a girl, but I knew for sure I wanted a good sleeper. I was on to something – living with a small person who wakes up frequently at night, sleeps sporadically during the day and decides that 5am is a great wake-up time is not fun.

Luckily, my first child Hannah seemed to be a good sleeper in the early days. When she was 6 months old and gave me 11 hours solid every night I was smug, man. I thought I had it figured out. But then, when she was 9 months old she put an end to that and reverted to waking up every night until she was almost 2 1/2. My new hope, her little brother Jacob, only slept through the night once back in November 2008. It turns out the early good sleep was less about me and more about the baby. Drat it.

While night sleep has waxed and waned, naps have only waned. Hannah napped as long as I held her. If I tried to lay her down in her crib she woke up, like clockwork, 20 minutes later. Hannah’s non-napping ways weren’t universal, though. At daycare Hannah was a napping star. All you need to convince her to sleep is 2 dozen other children showing her how it’s done. I decided the potential downside of inviting 2 dozen kids over for naptime wasn’t worth it, and accepted my fate.

Cranky Jacob
This is what a cranky, non-napping toddler looks like

Jacob is even more wakeful than Hannah ever was. I think part of that is that if I lay him down Hannah ‘checks’ on him, which typically involves poking. So Jacob naps on me, when he does, which isn’t always. At around 21 months Hannah gave up her naps, and at 20 months it looks like Jacob may be headed in the same direction.

I am finding it harder and harder to convince Jacob to nap during the day. He’s just way too busy to sleep. I try one tactic and then another, until 4:30 rolls around and I know that if he falls asleep I’m really in trouble. On those days, the non-napping days, my evening becomes ‘operation keep the cranky toddler awake’.

The night waking, the no napping, and the go-go-go nature of children wears on me. I forget stuff, I cry easily and I snap at others. I’m groggy, especially when my sleep is disturbed. The other night, Hannah crawled into bed with Jacob and me to sleep and I didn’t hear her. When Jacob stirred at around 3am I grabbed him and tried to nurse him. Only it wasn’t him, which became clear when Hannah said, “Mom, you’ve got the wrong kid!” Fun times.

Off goes Jacob
Even when Jacob doesn’t nap, he still has plenty of energy to cause mayhem

I’m not looking for sleep advice. I know this will pass, and I mostly get the sleep I need, if not exactly the sleep I want. That’s parenting, and I can live with it. But I would love your commiseration, your stories of your own non-napping children, or tales of things you’ve done in a sleep-deprived haze. That, I think, could see me through.

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