Finding the Sweet Spot

A couple of months ago I was chatting with someone local on Twitter, making empty promises to pass along some of my homemade ice cream. Someone else joined in, and said that if I brought ice cream she’d bring cookies. And then a few more people chimed in. Before you know it, an idea was born: a Vancouver-area, family-friendly dessert pot luck. We even chose a name: Sweetspot 2011.

It all went down on Saturday. My sister was kind enough to allow us to use her building’s common room, which just happens to be right downtown. And then we all baked and baked and baked.

My cinnamon heart bark

My cupcakes

Alexis made blueberry tarts

Karen's cookies

Karen's brownies

Just part of the dessert-y goodness

I didn’t think to count everyone who attended, but if memory serves me there were 16 adults and 13 children, and a whole lot of dessert. I think the big prize goes to Tracey, who brought mint chocolate chip cheesecake and wine and her own portable wine glass.

Mmm, mint chocolate chip cheesecake
Mmm, mint chocolate chip cheesecake

Tracey brought wine. Tracey rocks.
Tracey demonstrates her travel wine glass
Ta da!

Wine and travel wine glass

It was great to hook up with long-time friends, new-ish friends, co-panelists and new friends. There was even one non-blogger and a couple of fabulous life crafters there.

Life-crafters
Crafting my Life ladies

I attended my first blog-related meet-up in June 2009. I remember how terrified I was to be showing up, and meeting these folks in person. My social anxiety really went overboard. Several of the people that I met there for the first time were at Sweetspot this weekend. As intimidating as it was to bring my online world into real life, I’m so glad I did.

Yes, it’s a little bit awkward to explain to my sister that I want to use her common room to meet up with my online friends. Yes, it’s a little bit weird to meet someone in person who you know really well online. No, I’m not really sure how to explain to my 5-year-old who we’re getting together with. But it’s worth it. Behind our blogs, we are all real people. Real, really awesome people, who are worth knowing and actually connecting with.

I think we’ll make Sweetspot Vancouver an annual event. If you’re local, I hope you can come next year. If you’re not, why not plan a dessert pot luck where you are? It might be even sweeter than you think.

Have you ever gotten together with people you first met online? What was that experience like for you? And if not, would you like to, or are you happy to avoid it? I’d love to hear!

If I Didn’t Have Kids

If I didn’t have kids, I would have slept in this morning. It is Saturday, after all. I would have slept as long as I wanted, and then eaten a leisurely breakfast while I read the paper, or maybe even a book. My breakfast would probably be the same, but it would come in single-serving size, and I would be able to consume it while it was still the correct temperature and texture.

If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have stepped on that toy and nearly broken my ankle. And I wouldn’t have stuck to the floor when I opened the fridge. My floor would be a much less menacing place in general.

If I didn’t have kids, I could spend today watching TV or DVDs, or playing games on my iPhone, and no one would be demanding their turn. I wouldn’t have to worry about questionable language or questionable content. In fact, I might even seek it out. And I wouldn’t have to set a good example by limiting my own screen time.

If I didn’t have kids I would be able to sit here, right now, and eat chocolate out in the open without sharing or explaining myself. Ditto any sort of treat, for that matter.

Hannah moves some fallen branches

If I didn’t have kids I wouldn’t have googled that video about sea turtle eggs hatching. Which would be too bad, because little baby sea turtles are pretty freaking cute, and watching them head to the sea is amazing. I also wouldn’t know that YouTube has thousands of videos of trains. That one I could probably live without.

If I didn’t have kids, I would not have spent any time at the park at all. I might have gone on a leisurely walk with my husband, though, and we wouldn’t have had to stop even once to comment on a rock, a leaf or a pile of dog poo.

If I didn’t have kids I would have visited the bathroom by myself. And I wouldn’t have burst out laughing when my almost-6-year-old told me that I should thank her for keeping me from being lonely while I pee.

If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have had to wipe up anyone’s pee even once today. And I wouldn’t have had to remind anyone else to visit the bathroom, either.

My boy

It sounds kind of luxurious to imagine what my child-free life would be like. But if I’m being really honest, from my vantage point it wouldn’t be as full. Full of chaos and tumult and stickiness, yes. But also full of exuberant awesomeness from two fabulous little people. They rock my world in the best way possible, and they make sure that I’m never alone when I’m peeing, because they’re thoughtful like that. I’m a lucky, lucky woman, indeed.

What would your day look like if you didn’t have kids? I’d love to hear it – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running it on Wednesday, February 2. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

A Sunshiney-ish Day in January

We have had a lot of rain here in Vancouver in recent weeks. The low spots in my neighbourhood are all filled with puddles, the umbrella lives on our front porch where it is always at the ready, and we have been spending too much time indoors. We’ve all been going a little stir-crazy. It probably explains why I’ve been roaring.

(Aside: I know that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. But a person can only get so wet before starting to think that it’s better to stay inside sometimes.)

Luckily, the rain doesn’t last forever, not even in Vancouver in January. The other day, we woke up to something that was almost sunny. And so we all headed outside, pretty much the whole city, to soak it up. Everyone who wasn’t trapped in an office seemed to be outdoors, enjoying the novelty of not becoming drenched in the process.

Evidence of the recent rain on the slide
Evidence of recent wet weather remained

January tree
January tree, standing watch

It’s amazing how the slightest bit of bright can make me feel like a whole different person, especially when I haven’t seen any bright for a while. It changes my whole perspective, just like that. Suddenly, I breathe more easily. I feel lighter and more alive and more hopeful. I can see, once again, that winter will not last forever. The world will not always be dark and wet, testing my resolve to walk my daughter to school and back every day. Sometimes I will actually enjoy being outside.

Me, in some much-needed nice weather
Me, soaking in the almost-sunshine

As I basked in the not-entirely-inclement weather, I had to laugh to myself. It wasn’t even really sunny out. There were sunny moments, but mostly in my neighbourhood there was a lot of high cloud. It’s funny how your perspective shifts. In May, it would be unseasonably cold and kind of grey, and I would not be bounding out my front door. But in January, it was a found treasure, a much-needed respite, a chance for me to shrug it off when Hannah refused to wear her winter coat for a while.

My girl

Jacob's climbing

Watching my children run and play with other children they’d never met before, as they always do at the playground, I exhaled a long exhale. They chased each other, they threw a dog toy to a dog, and I pushed them on the swings. I felt like a whole new mother. Sometimes, all that you need is one bright-ish day, and it changes everything.

Jacob contemplates the "big kid" climbing structure

Hannah playing in the sunshine

As awesome as it feels to go outside in the sunshine, the very best part comes later. All the running and playing leads to tired kiddos, and the smoothest bedtime in ages. Spring and real sunshine can’t get here fast enough!

Does the weather affect your mood? And how do you counter-act its effects when it’s been cold and dark and miserable for too long? I’d love to hear!

Everything is Subject to Change

Today’s Thursday so I’m Crafting my Life! I’m hard at work on the Crafting my Life e-course. While I work on that, I’m shaking things up over here. I’m continuing the “crafting your life” theme through January, in which I welcome guest contributors to share their journey with you. This week, it’s the awesome life-crafting Harriet.

Newsflash! Having a baby fundamentally and irrevocably changes your life. Suddenly, everything is subject to change.

In my pre-parenthood days, I had a stable 9 to 5 job as a communications manager for a small arts organization. In my spare time, I attended gallery openings and movies, hiked, met friends for brunch and sat in cafes lazily wondering what my future would look like. I was also stuck. I wasn’t happy where I was, and I didn’t have a plan. I needed something to shake me up.

The out-of-the blue arrival of my son Theo, now 18-months, did just that. A job that wasn’t quite doing it for me wasn’t a good enough reason to be away from my son. When my parental leave was up, I didn’t go back to work.

Since becoming a parent, I’ve had this dizzying feeling of being in perpetual motion and constant transition. “He’s sleeping! He’s not sleeping! He’s climbing! He’s falling! He’s eating. He’s not eating! He doesn’t need me! He needs me!” Despite this, I’m amazed at how many new things I’ve learned over the last year-and-a-half. I started an adoption blog, regularly comment on other blogs, and tweet with abandon (an embarrassing 18,700 and climbing). I’ve attended tweetups, mom events and sat on a panel at the Northern Voice social media conference. I’ve met some amazing women and their well-documented kids. I joined a business book club (this month’s book is Sociable by Steve Jagger), and try to attend momcafé for inspiration and socialization.

All this momentum led me to a few writing and PR contracts. By the time my EI ran out at nine months, I had enough work to justify going it alone. Since September, I’ve been working steadily with a local PR company doing research, blogging, social media strategies, outreach, and media relations.

Still, the quirky people who inhabit the border world of the arts were no longer part of my daily life and I missed them. When a friend suggested we podcast chats with artists about social media, I leapt at the chance. I’ve long held a secret dream of working in public radio, and our weekly podcasts allow me to experiment. I’m also on the Roundhouse Community Centre program committee, which keeps my toe in the arts.

But what about Theo? If you think I’m doing all this while he naps, let me laugh for a few minutes (ha ha ha ha). Firstly, he barely naps, and secondly he doesn’t watch Dora or The Wiggles (yet). If he’s awake, he’ll be on the counter pulling toxic chemicals or glasses out of the cupboards. We are lucky to have a nice setup where my neighbor, who lives below us and has a young daughter, takes him for one day a week, and Theo’s grandfather takes him for two days. I use these days for work and look for additional help where needed.

When I look at all that, I think “Wow, what a superstar I am!” On the surface, I seem to be on a roll. But I have challenges. Working alone with only my cyber-friends for company makes me feel disconnected and lonely sometimes. I get sucked into virtual black holes (Twitter, I want that hour back!) and I wonder about other dreams (radio and academics) and how to fit them in.

I’m also a sucker for stability. I feel better with a schedule and a regular paycheck. I like to know what the plan for dinner is and what we’re doing this weekend. So I try to stay balanced, because as unfashionable as it is to be balanced these days, I need a good night’s sleep, I need time with my son, I need fresh air and exercise, and I need to feel good. I try to achieve balance through craft nights, working in cafes, and getting outside daily.

I don’t know what the future holds but I do know that I’ve grown more in the last 18-months than I did in the previous ten years. I just need to stay calm, watch for the signs, and remember that everything is subject to change.

Harriet Fancott is a mom, web writer / PR associate, arts enthusiast, newbie podcaster and nature-lover. She blogs about open adoption at See Theo Run and about movies at www.karmavore.com. Her twitter handle is @harrietglynn. Sidenote: Glynn is her middle name, which came from her grandfather Gore Glynn St John (pronounced Sinjin) Ouseley.

Just. Go. To. Bed.

I never had a problem keeping my daughter Hannah in her bed. As a baby, she usually woke up screaming. She slept in a bassinette beside our bed, down the hall in her own room, and in bed with us by turns. And in every setting, she went from “out like a light” to “wailing” in an instant, and with little in the way of gently stirring beforehand. This meant that we were always alerted instantly to her night-waking, well before she had any chance to consider wandering around or getting into mischief.

When we put Hannah into her big-girl bed when she was 18 months old, the pattern continued. Hannah stayed in bed and called for us, typically at top volume. It didn’t seem to occur to her that she could get up and do her own thing. I was still nursing her to sleep every night at this point, so maybe that played a part. She wasn’t left on her own when she was awake, so there was little opportunity for her to be in and out of her bed. And when she did happen to wake up at 4am, she wasn’t in the mood to play.

Sleeping
Hannah as a newborn, well before she could wander around at night

After Jacob was born, Jon took over Hannah’s bedtime, and he introduced the idea of leaving her in her own room to go to sleep by herself. It was a gentle and gradual process, but by the time that she was 4 years old you could give her a hug and a kiss and say good night and she would drift off to sleep on her own. This was a huge relief for me on the nights that I found myself handling bedtime solo, because by this time Jacob was 6 months old and not so good at just falling asleep wherever he was anymore. When I no longer had to actively parent Hannah to sleep, it made the job of putting two kids to bed that much easier.

Hannah and Dorothy napping together
Toddler Hannah napping with the cat

Hannah’s been putting herself to sleep for nearly 2 years now, and recently a lightbulb came on. She is up and down like a toilet seat all night. As I type this it’s almost 10pm, and I just heard her in the bathroom again. We turned off her light at around 8:30, and she was clearly tired already. But sleep is not coming her way, mostly because she doesn’t want it to. She gets up to ask us questions. She gets up for water. She gets up to pee. (Yes, I know there’s probably a connection there.) She gets up to tell us she’s lonely, or bored, or (I can’t imagine why) tired. She’s sad that the cat’s not in her room. She’s sad that the cat is in her room. On and on and on.

Hannah pretending to sleep
Hannah pretending to sleep when we got Jacob’s new bed last year

It’s taken Hannah almost 6 years to figure out that she can get out of bed and wander, and she seems to be making up for lost time. It’s not super-fun for me, I’ll admit it.

I’ve been at this parenting gig long enough to know that this will not last forever. I also know that, try as I might, I can’t make my kid go to sleep. But as the night wears on and I just want Hannah to be asleep already, I wonder why children don’t come with an ‘off’ switch. It would come in terribly handy, don’t you agree?

I am Mama, Hear me Roar

I recently discovered my roar. I don’t mean my yell, I’ve kind of always been a little yell-y. It’s not something I’m terribly proud of. My roar is something entirely different. Let me explain.

Here’s the deal: I am just a mom doing my best. Sometimes, my “best” is not so hot. I am a human being, after all. Sometimes I’m short-tempered and grumpy and just not a whole lot of fun to be around. Sometimes my hormones have their way with me, or I’m worried about an email conversation I had with someone, or something I wanted falls through, or I haven’t slept all that well and then my temper is even shorter. That’s just life.

Unfortunately, my children don’t seem to understand that the short-tempered days are not the best days to ask me for stuff. In fact, the converse is pretty much always the case. Their reaction to my bad mood forms a perfect loop that feeds on itself. I’m withdrawn and cranky, so my children cling to me. I try to push them away, and they cling harder. I become crankier and more withdrawn. They become clingier. And on and on we go, reaching ever new heights of crankiness and tenacious clinging. Fun times.

In the moment, I usually see what is happening. I know that if I could just get over myself for 20 minutes, get down on my kids’ level and replenish their emotional reservoirs, that the day would be better. I can see very clearly what is happening. And yet, I can’t always do it. Human that I am, I can’t always suck up my own emotions and fill someone else’s reservoir. I have go-to tactics that I do try to employ, like heading outside or having an impromptu dance party in the kitchen, but even those don’t work every time.

In those moments when I am at the end of my rope and I just really need a little person to listen, I roar. It is fearsome and awesome and I feel guilty and liberated all at the same time. I call out, in my loudest voice, “Listen to me now! I am trying my best and it is not working! And you! You are driving me up a tree! BAAAHH!” It is booming and it calls for immediate attention. But it is not shrill. In fact, it is not even really yelling, it’s more like projecting.

When I roar, I keep it up just a little too long. I use a different voice than usual, a kind of theatrically exasperated voice. It’s not that hard to muster that voice when I really am exasperated. When I start, my children stop and look at me with wide eyes. Their mouths hang open a little bit. And then, when I am done, they burst out laughing. Because their mother roaring at them about how they are driving her around the bend is, apparently, ridiculous.

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that when I’m at the end of my rope I raise my voice. I have yelled, and it is not good. I have broken down crying, and it is not good. I still do both of those things, on occasion. But roaring is a little different. It lets out my pent-up frustration, commands attention, and then leaves everyone laughing. Sure, I’m making loud noises about how my children need to stop making loud noises, and that makes no sense. Sure, it would be better if I really could just suck it up and be present in the way my children need. But sometimes I can’t, and I need another out.

Like I said, I am human. A very human, very real mother. I am the sort of person who doesn’t sweat the messes that my kids make too much. I am the sort of person who tries not to belittle or demean others, even if I am bigger than they are. I am the sort of person who’s not so great on less than 7 hours of sleep. And I’m the sort of person who, once in a while, roars in the kitchen in a desperate effort to be heard and dispel tension. It’s not the roar of a Tiger Mother. But it is the roar of a mother, all the same.

What about you? Are you the sort of person who raises their voice when things go badly? Or do you have a better way to diffuse tension and frustration? And am I the only one who sometimes just can’t suck it up? Tell me!

Scenes from a Weekend

My blog’s tagline is “keeping it real in the suburbs”. Before that, it was “following our family since 2003″. My husband Jon came up with that one. Originally, the blog was more of a collaborative effort, and Jon handled the technical details. Although I made him put up a splash page, for some reason. Thinking back, it totally cracks me up. What was I thinking with the splash page? And how could I give up control of the rest of the site?

These days, I am firmly in the driver’s seat, and this blog is mine. So is the tagline, and now I feel the need to live up to it. So let’s keep it real by looking at some images from my weekend. Call it a photo essay, or a story in pictures. Either way, I promise it’s totally real, and totally suburban.

Kids watching TV
While I got some work done, the kids watched (GASP!) TV

Me and my favourite sweater
I wore my favourite comfy sweater, because comfort matters

Jacob had his way with the toilet paper
2 1/2 year old Jacob had his way with the toilet paper

Broken pentatonic kinder lyre
The fancy and expensive pentatonic kinder lyre that Santa stayed up late assembling is already broken and missing pieces

Overflowed marmellata
I tried making Francesca’s marmellata di latte, and of course the pot overflowed

Finished marmellata
The finished marmellata was tasty, anyway

My first attempt at homemade soda
I also made my first attempt at homemade pop, using the Soda Stream I got for Christmas and black cherry juice

Jacob and the carpet cleaner
Jacob peed on the stairs, so we got to use our carpet cleaner

Playing with the fridge magnets
Hannah played with the fridge magnets

Hannah shows off her art
Hannah made art

Nursing my toddler
Jacob had some “side nurse

Jacob and his maple taffy
Jacob swiped some maple taffy at the farmers market, so I had to pay for it, and he got very sticky

Making faces in the double cart at Costco
The whole family made a trip to Costco for serious suburban provisions

That’s the reality of my suburban weekend. Now, tell me – what did your weekend look like?

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