20 Years Goes By in a Flash

Tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of the day that this boy named Jon asked me to be his girlfriend. We were in a park in Abbotsford, not far from the Jr. High where we were both grade 9 students. We were 14 years old – so, so young. Unbelievably young, really.

Jon kissed me in that park that day – my first real kiss from a boy. And, to this day, he’s the only boy I’ve ever really kissed. (Although Jon, ever so much more worldly, apparently kissed his grade 7 girlfriend. I’m still vaguely jealous.) And now, through some fluke of time, we find ourselves 20 years later, we’re still together. We’ve never been apart. Well, I mean, physically we’ve been apart. Sometimes Jon goes to work and stuff, and back in 1991 we lived in different houses with our own parents. Because, you know, we were 14. But we’ve never broken up, and never dated anyone else in all that time.

How does 20 years go by so fast? How did I end up here, today, married to that boy? I remember every step along the way, but it sure doesn’t feel like it was 20 years. 10, maybe. But surely not 20. And yet it was – I have the photographs to prove it.

Amber and Jon (with Jim Lind) in March '91
Back in 1991 with our friend Jim

Year-end dance in grade 10
Year-end dance in 1992

Amber and Jon, all dolled up for high school graduation
All dressed up for our high school prom in 1994

A summer day in 1996
A summer day in 1996

Amber and Jon at Harrison in '99
On a weekend get-away in 1999*

*Tip: When your girlfriend’s expecting you to propose anytime, and you’re all dressed up and seated in a fancy restaurant, instead of saying, “I forgot something in the car and I need to go get it,” say, “I forgot the camera in the car, I’ll be right back.” Unless, of course, you particularly enjoy the hairy eyeball when she decides this is it, and it turns out not to be it at all.

At our engagement party
At our engagement party in 2000

Amber graduating from university
Amber’s university graduation in 2000

our wedding
Our wedding in 2001

Self-portrait in Peggy's Cove
Visiting Peggy’s Cove in 2004

Family of three
Welcoming baby Hannah in 2005

Our family
Jon’s brother’s wedding in 2008

Happy parents
Welcoming baby Jacob in 2008

Our family on Jacob's new bed
Our family in 2010

It turns out that 20 years is not so long at all. And it also turns out that sticking it out through thick and thin, when you’ve found the right person, is totally worth it. I can think of no one more right for me than my husband Jon. He is truly the very best person I know, and I’m so glad that I found him so early in life.

20 years ago I never could have imagined that day in the park marked the beginning of a journey that would bring me here. That we would weather so many changes together – learning how to drive, graduating from high school, starting first jobs, going away to university, marriage and cars and a mortgage and babies. 20 years has certainly brought us a lot of changes, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 20 years. To us!

Provider of Dire Warnings

I have two small children. And it feels like at least one of them is doing something that I would consider ill-advised at any given moment in time. Whether it’s physically dangerous, messy or just demonstrates a general lack of foresight, I am frequently gobsmacked by the stuff I find my kids doing. This is no big surprise, really. Children don’t yet have the judgment to make the best choices, which is why they have parents. Our job is to keep them alive long enough to develop that judgment.

Because my kids so clearly don’t understand the potential consequences of their actions, I feel compelled to warn them. If you were to come up with my full title it would something like, “Mother of Hannah and Jacob, Wiper of Surfaces and Children, Maker of Meals, Driver of the Family Car and Provider of Dire Warnings”. Oh yes, I do provide rather a lot of dire warnings.

My kids playing puppy on a walk
On this occasion, I warned against dirty hands and ruined clothing

If you are a parent, you have likely provided some dire warnings yourself. And if you’re not, you were surely on the receiving end more than twice during your childhood. Here are some examples of dire warnings that I have personally provided, many of which I am thoroughly embarrassed by:

  • If you run into traffic, you’re going to get killed by a car!
  • If you lean over that railing, you could fall into the water and I don’t want to have to jump in to save you!
  • You’re going to have to clean up all these toys all by yourself before you can eat dinner!
  • For the love of Mike, there’s dog poop on this playground! Put your shoes back on!
  • If you break your bed I won’t be able to buy you a new one, so you’d better stop jumping off the headboard!
  • Stop! Don’t eat that! If you eat berries without checking with me first, you could be poisoned!
  • If you guys don’t stop fighting with each other, I am going to run screaming into the street!
  • If you can’t take care of your toys, maybe we should find a kid who can!

Hannah slides
On this occasion, I warned against butt slivers

All of the warnings, you may have noticed, involve exclamation points. This is because they are rarely never delivered in a calm, measured voice. No, you’re issuing these warnings to put the fear of God into your child, and you may even be justified in doing just that. Like I said, kids lack judgment. Sometimes they’re doing something that could actually kill them at any moment. And other times, you may be on your 247th dire warning of the day, and you’re not thinking so clearly anymore.

I don’t think providing dire warnings is what you would call the most effective parenting technique. Somewhere between, “Cars drive quickly on this street and they may not be able to stop in time to keep from hitting you,” and, “If you’re not careful your face will freeze that way,” we cross from needed information to irrational threats. We’ve all had irrational threats lobbed in our general direction, and once someone resorts to that, we tend to take them a whole lot less seriously.

I caught Jacob in the fridge
I had already warned against getting stuck up there, and now he is stuck up there

The other problem is that dire warnings naturally lead to lectures. Because, as it turns out, those little dears of ours just don’t appreciate our wisdom. They don’t understand the potential danger of their actions. And so we must make them understand. By droning on and on and on and losing whatever tiny remnant of their attention we actually had. Sometimes I can actually see the moment when all of my words just become the Charlie Brown style ‘wah wah wah’ for my kids. They completely tune me out, their eyes glaze over and they sit motionless, waiting for me to stop.

And yet, I can’t stop. Even though I know they’re ineffective and make no difference, I have to keep providing these warnings. Because I can’t just let all of the ill-advised actions pass by without notice. It goes against every parenting instinct I have. So I persist in warning, my kids persist in ignoring, and we all just wait for the day when they’re old enough to know better than to eat candy they find in a puddle. (They will eventually know better, right?)

What is the most ridiculous warning you’ve given your kids? And do you think warnings are sound parenting, or a waste of words? I’d love your thoughts!

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 my April review on Monday, May 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.

Crafting Your Country

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! Right now I’m hard at work, getting ready for the second run of the Crafting my Life course. The start date is coming up fast, so if you want to live with greater intention and purpose, sign up now. I’d love to have you along for the journey!

I talk a lot about taking steps to change my own life. Today I’d like to talk about using your voice to create broader change within a country. Here in Canada a federal election is taking place this coming Monday, May 2. The campaign signs that are blighting dotting the landscape remind me every time I step out of my house. The government has fallen (it sounds pretty exciting when you put it that way, huh?), and now we’re taking to the polls.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for. If you want to know more about where the major parties stand on family, parenting and women’s issues, visit Annie over at PhD in Parenting. She’s done an excellent job of compiling an overview. If you want to know more about your local candidates, check out your local paper, or search out your candidates online. If you look, you’ll find more info than you could ever want to know about the smiling-faced people who hope we’ll vote for them.

As for me, I honestly don’t care who you vote for. I have voted for every major party except the Bloc (since I don’t live in Quebec) at least once, and I remain pretty neutral. I can think of more reasons not to vote for any particular party than I can think of reasons to vote for them, and I doubt I’m the only person who feels this way. Looking at the historical voter turnout in Canada, the last few elections show a general downward trend. The last election had the lowest turnout ever, at 58.8% of registered voters. I suspect that the voter apathy is due, at least in some part, to not finding any candidate compelling enough to vote for, and being generally turned off by the tenor of the discussion.

But feeling underwhelmed by the options is not a good enough excuse not to vote. Unless you go into labour on Monday (like one of my friends did on voting day in 2008), you can drag yourself to the polling station. And when you’re there, forget strategy and who you think will win. Vote for the person or party that you think will best represent you. Because I think that if we all did that, we would see some actual political change.

Consider these two snazzy pie charts, showing the percentage of registered voters who chose each party in the last two elections:

As you can see, the “None of the above” party carried the last two elections by a wide margin. This number represents the percentage of people who didn’t vote. If they all showed up and voted, they could sweep an unknown party to power. They could, for instance, give the Communist Party or the Pirate Party or the Marijuana Party the biggest majority in Canadian history. If the Natural Law Party was still around, they could put those 7000 yogic fliers to work:

We know that the last couple of elections had low voter turnouts, and resulted in minority governments. But let’s pick a couple of examples with far higher voter turnouts and strong majorities. In 1984 the Conservatives won the most seats in Canadian parliamentary history. Here’s what the results from that election looked like:

The Conservatives managed to beat “None of the above” that year, but none of the other parties did. And with 37.7% of registered voters casting their ballot for the Conservatives, they still come second to “None of the above” in 2008 with 41.2%.

I didn’t crunch the numbers for every election, but I could find only one example where the ruling party won more than 41.2% of votes from registered voters. It was in 1958, when John Diefenbaker‘s Conservatives won the largest majority in Canadian history, with 42.6% of votes from registered voters.

As you can see, if those 41.2% of registered voters actually voted, they could totally change the election’s outcome. But voting “None of the above” won’t change a thing, because no matter how they dominate on voting day, they never get a single seat in parliament, and they never pass a piece of legislation. And, what’s more, I sometimes think certain politicians like it when we give “None of the above” our vote. It lets them continue doing whatever it is they’re doing without fear that we’ll call them on it. If we all showed up to vote instead, they’ll feel far more compelled to address the issues that matter to us. And we’re more likely to have a country that we can actually stand to live in.

So, please, take 20 minutes out of your day on Monday and vote. It’s fun, fast and free. And maybe together, we can make our leaders take notice. I think it’s our best shot.

How do you decide who to vote for? What issues are important to you in this election? And what do you think we can do to get people engaged in the political process? I’d love to hear!

Oh Happy Day

In less than a week my husband Jon and I will celebrate 20 years as a couple. When we started dating in 1991 I was a few days shy of my 15th birthday, and as Jon is a few months younger than me, he was just 14 years old. We were babies, and we never could have imagined that we would find ourselves here, today – married with children, two cars and a mortgage.

I’m sure our families couldn’t have imagined it, either. I remember the first time I met Jon’s youngest sibling, Christy. She was just 10 years old at the time, and she was discussing her upcoming dance recital with her mother. If I recall correctly, her number had a 1950s theme. She was, at the time, still very much a little girl. I’m not sure she was terribly interested in her older brother’s girlfriend, and I don’t think anyone could blame her.

But of course, children grow up. During the years I spent with Jon I watched Christy finish elementary school, and high school, and university. I saw her move away from home and chart her own course. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and she was at the hospital on the day my first child, Hannah, was born. We have come to share a certain amount of history, and our lives are now connected. And so I was overjoyed when she got married on Saturday and I was there to see it.

Hannah was the flower girl, and she performed her duties admirably. Jon was the master of ceremonies, and he performed his duties admirably, too. I had no duties at all, and that was cool with me. While Jacob visited my mother, I got to sit back and enjoy myself.

It was a really lovely day. I’d like to extend my congratulations to Christy and Steve, and offer my best wishes for a long and happy life together. I look forward to seeing what the next 20 years hold for them, now that they’re walking together. I hope they’re every bit as beautiful as the day that started it all was:

Hannah holds Christy's bouquet during the ceremony

Taking some photos after the ceremony

Bill signs the register

Chatting

Christy, Steve and Laurie

Sara helps Christy with her dress

Me and Hannah

Posing for a photo

I’m really terribly glad that my own wedding is long over, and I don’t have to do that again. But there’s still something amazing about a day when two people make that commitment to each other. Love and happiness overflowing until you can’t help but feel the joy. It fills me with hope, in the best way possible. Maybe because I didn’t have to write up the seating chart.

Care to share your own wedding stories? I’d love to hear!

Sugar Sugar

I love sugar. I mean, I really love sugar. If I have a choice between sweet and salty, I’ll go for sweet every time. And once I start eating sugar, I have a really hard time stopping. Leave me alone with a bag of Mini Eggs and I’ll make myself sick. So when I saw an article in the New York Times Magazine asking if sugar is toxic, I had to check it out. I didn’t particularly like what I read.

We’ve all heard that high fructose corn syrup is bad news. One study found that it was contaminated with mercury. Another study found that rats gained more weight when they consumed high fructose corn syrup than when they consumed table sugar. And so, I’ve been working to avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is called glucose/fructose here in Canada. And I’m not alone. So many of us have gotten the message about high fructose corn syrup that the corn refiners have decided to re-brand it as “corn sugar”, and launched a massive campaign to clear its name.

The article in the Times actually agreed with the corn refiners, believe it or not. It quoted Robert Lustig, a Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology as saying that high fructose corn syrup is effectively the same as table sugar. But that doesn’t make high fructose corn syrup OK in Dr. Lustig’s eyes. On the contrary, he claims that all sugar – and particularly, its fructose component – is toxic. And there are actually many people who agree with him.

What’s so bad about sugar? The fructose that is present in refined sweeteners leads to an increase in fat in our bloodstream. This is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. According to the article in the Times, it’s also associated with increased rates of certain kinds of cancers. Basically, high amounts of fructose seem to throw our body chemistry out of whack in such a way that we end up consuming more calories and suffering from insulin resistance, which leads to a variety of health problems. And table sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, contains about 50% fructose. Chemically speaking, there’s very little difference.

Because of corn subsidies, high fructose corn syrup is really cheap to produce. Food manufacturers can produce soft drinks and a whole lot of other sweet treats at low cost. And they do. But that’s not the end of it – there’s added sugar in pretty much everything we eat, from bread to pasta sauce to chicken nuggets. And it only got worse when we were all told to eat less fat. Have you ever had a low-fat cookie? It’s really, really sweet. When we ate less fat, we ate more sugar. If Dr. Lustig is right, then our dietary changes over the past couple of decades actually increased our problems instead of solving them.


How can something that tastes so good be so bad?

Because I love sweet things, I decided to look for a loophole. If sugar is bad, what are my options? I’m not comfortable with artificial sweeteners like aspartame. But I could switch to honey or maple syrup. I’ll just go full-on hippie and only consume natural sweeteners. Would that work?

The answer isn’t totally clear. There’s some evidence to suggest that the fructose in honey is processed by the body differently than the fructose in table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. But that doesn’t mean that you can drink the stuff – honey is still a sugar, and as such, should be used sparingly. Plus, honey is really expensive compared to sugar. Although I guess that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

So, where does this leave me? I don’t want heart disease or diabetes or cancer. I certainly don’t want my kids to have heart disease or diabetes or cancer. I don’t drink soft drinks, or even really juice, but I do eat rather a lot of homemade ice cream and more than my fair share of chocolate. And, honestly, I can’t see quitting that altogether. I also can’t see cutting my kids off from all sweeteners. We could reduce our consumption, for sure, but eliminating sugar entirely from our family’s diet would be a very tall order.

I am viewing this article as something of a wake-up call, though. I’ve known for a long time that eating so much candy that I don’t feel good isn’t healthy for me. It’s no surprise, really. So I plan to work on cutting back. Maybe I won’t buy the extra-jumbo bag of Easter chocolate, and maybe I won’t add chocolate syrup to my ice cream. Or maybe I can (gasp!) just eat a piece of fruit (which, by the way, is far lower in fructose than table sugar is).

I wonder what you think. Do you avoid high fructose corn syrup or refined sugar? Do you have a sweet tooth like me? And do you think that sugar really is the root of all of our health problems? I’d love to hear!

Dandelion Blossom Fritters

Please allow me to engage in a little plug up front. Today is the last day for the early bird discount on Crafting my Life. If you’d like to live with more authenticity and passion, head on over and sign up now!

Last year I decided to try making dandelion blossom fritters. They were really good. Although I suspect most anything would be really good when fried in dough and drenched in maple syrup. Perhaps even dryer lint.

Anyways, it’s dandelion time again here in Metro Vancouver, and I am a pro at growing dandelions. Seriously, it’s like I’m not even trying, I’m so good at growing dandelions. So I decided to give the fritters another go. I got my recipe and instructions here and here. Here’s what the process looks like:

1. Go out on a sunny day and find some dandelions. Ideally, your collection spot should be someplace where there’s no chance the flowers were exposed to chemicals, and you may want to avoid parks where a lot of dogs hang out, too. I picked my own dandelions in my back yard.

Dandelion

2. Pluck off the blossoms.

3. Wash them thoroughly. I used a salad spinner to dry mine, and it worked well.

Clean dandelions in the salad spinner

4. Pick off the tiny little leaves at the base of the flower, and any remnants of stem. Here are before and after shots of what I’m talking about:

Dandelion blossom
Before

Blossom with little leaves and stem removed
After

5. Put about 1/4″ of oil in a pan, and place over medium heat to warm.

6. Mix up your batter. I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg. But if you have a standard batter recipe you use, it would probably work, too. You can also use your favourite gluten-free flour blend in place of wheat flour.

7. Once the oil is hot enough that it sizzles nicely when a few drops of batter are placed in it, it’s ready to go.

Fritter assembly line
My fritter assembly line

8. Coat your blossoms in batter and fry them for a couple of minutes on each side, or until nice and golden brown.

9. Remove the fritters from the pan and place on a towel to remove excess oil.

Dandelion blossom fritters

10. Drizzle with maple syrup or honey, or cover with icing sugar. Then eat them while they’re still warm.

If you’re into local eating like I am, you can’t do any better than picking some dandelions in your back yard to have for a snack. If you’re similarly blessed with yellow flowers, why not give it a try? Eating flowers sounds a little weird, I’ll admit it, but you just might be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the weirdest fried food you’ve ever eaten? Have you sampled a deep fried Mars bar or Twinkie? Or have you fried your Thanksgiving turkey? Do share!

Interview with Tamara Champion

Yesterday was Earth Day, as you probably know. A day to celebrate the planet, and resolve to live more sustainably. Even though it’s just one day, the entire month of April tends to take on a greener hue. Maybe it’s because it’s spring, or maybe it’s just because we love a good marketing tie-in. Who knows?

Because we’re all thinking about the environment, I thought this would be a good chance to chat with Tamara Champion, the mom behind ByNature.ca, an online store that sells safe and sustainable products for babies and families. Tamara is a mom of two girls, and she started the shop when she was on a quest to find cloth diapers for her firstborn. It grew from there, and now Tamara’s husband works full-time for the company, too.

I was really interested in finding out how Tamara makes decisions about product safety. I strive to avoid potential toxins and carcinogens in the products I buy for my own family, but it’s not always clear what the best way to do that is. And when I find myself in the grocery store with a rambunctious toddler, I don’t necessarily have the time to read all the labels. So in our interview I asked Tamara for her thoughts, and got some great tips.

I wanted to make a quick statement about the interview. I have collaborated with Tamara in the past. I’ve produced product demo videos for her site, and she’s currently advertising here on Strocel.com. However, I am not being compensated in any way for this interview. I wanted to interview Tamara to get her honest opinion about how to make safer product choices. I also wanted to hear her thoughts on combining growing a business with growing a family. Regardless of our past collaborations, Tamara’s a mom who’s really doing her Thing and living her passion, and that’s what I find inspiring.

I hope that you enjoy the interview!

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