Archives for February 2012

A List of Leaps for the Leap Year

Today is Leap Year Day. It’s not an official holiday, or even much of a commemoration, but it still feels significant somehow. It’s like an extra special bonus day, a special something that only happens once every four years. It keeps the calendar on track, the seasons on course, and calendar makers on their toes.

In honour of this auspicious day, I thought I’d reflect on leaps I’ve taken, and leaps I wish I’d taken. I’m not going to talk about the risks I took that didn’t work out. I’m celebrating leaps today, so I’m all about the good things that can come from putting yourself out there. Cautionary tales can wait until tomorrow.

A List of Leaps for Leap Year Day

    Me and my babies

  1. My children. Okay, so this is sort of a cliche, but I can think of no bigger leap than welcoming a child into your family. It’s a big hairy deal, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because it’s also the most amazing thing ever.
  2. Travel. I haven’t done that much, relatively speaking. I wish I’d done more. It takes you out of your comfort zone, exposes you to new places, people and ideas, and reminds you how very small you are. Luckily, there’s still time for me on this one.
  3. Jon retrieves the garter

  4. Love and marriage. Apparently, they go together like a horse and carriage. On that day in 1991 when Jon asked me out I couldn’t have anticipated the decades that would follow. I wasn’t always sold on the idea of marrying my first real boyfriend, but I’m so glad I took this leap.
  5. Following my bliss. Creating a life of intention and purpose isn’t always easy. It was much more straightforward to follow a conventional career path. But honouring my dreams and charting my own course has been totally worth the difficult bits.
  6. The first sprouts of the season

  7. Gardening. Each little seed I plant is like a leap of faith. I’m trusting in the mystery of life. I’m trusting that spring will come. I’m trusting that I will not kill the little plants, and neither will my kids or my cat. Tasting food I have grown myself validates that leap in the best way.
  8. Blogging. Each post I publish is a little leap. I’m putting my words out in the public sphere, trusting that people will read them. Sometimes it feels a little risky. The payoff in community has convinced me to leap again and again and again.
  9. Victoria's Inner Harbour

  10. Leaving my kids. Going away overnight without my kids always makes me a little bit anxious. Will they be okay? Will they notice I’m gone? What if they do? What if they don’t? As I go I’m trusting in our relationship, and knowing that it’s strong enough to withstand a little bit of separation. It totally is.
  11. Breaking the rules. I have always been a rule-follower of the highest order. As I get older, though, I understand more and more that some rules are made to be broken. I wish I’d seen this sooner, and spent more time considering what made me happy, rather than what the rules said I should do.

What leaps have you taken that have paid off? I’d love to hear what’s on your list of leaps this Leap Year Day!

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 February review on Saturday, March 3. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before March 3 and come back here to include it in my link-up!

Done with Childhood Obesity

I am tired of hearing about childhood obesity. I’ve read the statistics. I know it’s a problem. But I’m also sort of over the guilt trip and the fear-mongering.

My own kids are not obese. They tend to hover somewhere around the 20th percentile on the growth charts when it comes to their weight. They have skinny legs and knobby knees. Try as I might to feed them, they eat less than I think they should. All the same they seem healthy. Kids can be like that, so I don’t sweat it. I know that if they’re really hungry, they’ll eat, and I don’t want to make food a battleground.

What if my kids weren’t so skinny, though? What then? There’s no shortage of articles rushing to blame parents for having overweight kids. Some of them are based on scientific studies. Some of them point the finger at what we pack in their lunchboxes. Some even suggest that parents of obese children should lose custody. And what does all this finger-pointing accomplish? I honestly don’t know.

If our kids are facing health issues, of course we should know. But why the rush to blame parents? In the 1950s we blamed autism on “refrigerator mothers”. It’s an extreme example of an all-too-typical response. The idea that we’re responsible for every aspect of our children’s development is deeply ingrained, and extends far beyond obesity and autism. Does your baby wake often? You’ve created bad sleep habits. Breastfeeding didn’t work out? You didn’t try hard enough. Does your child have a hard time paying attention in class? It’s probably ADHD caused by vaccine injury. But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t drug your child, you bad parent.

We’re constantly being told all about everything we’re doing wrong. Or could be doing wrong. Or probably did wrong in the past, without realizing it, which may lead to some unspecified future disaster. When I get press releases urging me to watch TV shows about childhood obesity, or accusations that allowing my three-year-old to ride in a stroller is contributing to childhood obesity, or yet another sheet full of handy tips for avoiding childhood obesity, it feels like the same sort of thing. We’re doing everything wrong wrong wrong. We’re at fault. We should be scared, and we should also feel guilty.

If childhood obesity is a medical issue, then why don’t we treat it that way? You’d never see fliers on telephone poles advertising classes to help your children avoid asthma or tooth decay. But I regularly see the specter of childhood obesity pulled out in order to promote sporting activities and exercise classes for kids. And how much would those classes really do, anyway? We know that kids need to eat healthy food and get moving, but they need a whole lot more than an hour each week. There’s no weekly class, quick fix or tip sheet that can solve a complex social issue like obesity. When we use childhood obesity as a marketing tool we suggest otherwise, and I don’t think that helps anyone.

I hope that we’re able to make some changes, as a society, that help us all to live longer, healthier lives. I don’t believe that health is all about the number on the scale, either. There’s a whole lot more at play, and the truth is we don’t have a good handle on exactly what factors are leading to increases in health issues like heart disease, cancer and childhood obesity. We know about some contributing factors, but we can’t state definitively what causes any of these. So for now, I wish we’d stop pretending like it’s easy and simple. I wish we’d stop laying blame, and start treating childhood obesity in the same way we’d treat any other medical issue – by leaving it between a family and their health care provider.

By all means, eat healthy food. Get out and get active. Raise important issues about public policy and the food that you find in school cafeterias and the chemicals we’re exposed to and the fact that fewer and fewer kids have recess. But stop using childhood obesity for marketing purposes, and as a tool to create parental guilt. We have more than enough already, thank you.

What do you think? Are you also tired of hearing about childhood obesity – or do you think we should be hearing more? What do you think is the best way to tackle the issue? I’d love your thoughts.

Scenes From a Weekend Escape

Several months ago, I was chatting with my friend Amanda at a networking event. She was thinking of escaping by herself for the weekend, and I suggested that I could tag along. At the time, we both just needed a break, and we were talking out loud. I doubted that it would actually happen. But then we got it together, and it did actually happen. This is how I found myself boarding a ferry on Friday afternoon, headed off to Victoria without my children or my husband.

Looking out across the inner harbour
Taking a walk on the seawall on Friday evening

We walked along the seawall. We visited a museum and took in the exhibits at our own pace. We sipped cocktails and listened to some, um, interesting jazz. I had my first proper martini, met up with the fabulous Melodie for lunch, visited what may just be the best shoe and handbag shops in the world, bought an eco-friendly tunic from an eco-friendly clothing store, ate all kinds of yummy food and went to sleep and got up on my own schedule.

You are here
“Here” was far from home, and child-free

I was away from my kids for longer when I attended BlogHer in San Diego last August. Even so, I was nervous about leaving. Getting on a boat and sailing away from your family seems like a big deal. But luckily everyone survived in my absence. In fact, everyone thrived. It’s a good reminder that my husband is a competent, loving parent, and he’s fully capable of taking care of his children. It’s a good chance for everyone to bond a little bit without me. And it’s a much-needed escape from my normal life, which I embraced fully.

Darth Fiddler
Apparently Darth Fiddler is a Victoria institution

One of the lessons of childhood is how you can go away, and find things exactly as you left them when you come back. The world doesn’t change just because you’re not in it. This is a lesson that I’ve had to re-learn in motherhood. When my children were babies and young toddlers, they had a strong need to be with me. I was their primary relationship, and even their source of food. But gradually that need changes, and the urgency diminishes. They need me – but they don’t require my constant presence. Once again, I can leave home, and find things just as I left them when I return.

In front of the BC Legislature
Look, I’m in front of the Legislature!

The world won’t stop spinning because I am not in it. I can choose to take a couple of nights away, sipping cocktails and window shopping and taking time at my own pace. And then, when it’s over, I return, eager to see everyone again. I come home, and scoop my children up in my arms, lavishing them with kisses. They rush eagerly to see me, talking over each other in their efforts to fill me in on the latest news. Then they head off to play, holding the gifts I bought them in their hands, continuing on as before. I see their increasing independence, and the way that my own independence increases in the process. I feel a little bit wistful, but I also really, really like it. It gives me the space to be find myself again, if only for a weekend.

Do you ever travel without your kids? I’d love to hear all about it!

Podcast: Part II with Marcy Axness of Parenting for Peace

Last week I shared an interview with Marcy Axness, author of Parenting for Peace. I also mentioned that our discussion went on a lot longer than I expected it to. I decided to split the podcast into two parts, and I’m sharing the second half with you today.

Strocel.com Podcast Marcy Axness Parenting for PeaceIn her book – and in our podcast – Marcy shares some very practical, easy-to-understand tips for parents who want to raise peaceful children. She’s taking what we know from research and hard science about infant and child development and distilling it down. In the process, she’s helping us raise kids who are intelligent, imaginative, trusting, empathetic and have a strong inner balance.

During the second half of our podcast Marcy really gets into the nitty-gritty. She shares what she sees as the three biggest parenting mistakes people make. I make two of them pretty much every day myself. In fact, I found what she had to say compelling enough that I’ve made some big changes myself since I spoke with her. It’s still a work in progress, but I found much of what she had to say seriously practical and helpful. It was a perspective-changer, for sure.

Strocel.com Podcast Marcy Axness Parenting for PeaceMarcy isn’t sugar-coating life with kids when she talks about raising peaceful people, she’s giving you tools to make it better. In the process, she doesn’t just help to create more peaceful kids, she helps to create more peaceful parents. If you could use a little more peace in your life (and really, what parent couldn’t?) you’ll want to listen to my interview with Marcy Axness:

Next week on the podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Bridgitte of Natural Pod. Her business manufactures and sells natural toys, and also creates spaces for play and learning. We talked about creating intentional play spaces for kids, we discussed why she feels open-ended, natural toys are important for children, and she shares her own journey as an entrepreneur. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Even Life Crafters Have Bad Days

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life and talking about dealing with bad days! If you’d like to share a story from your own Crafting my Life journey, drop me a line and let me know.

Everyone has Bad Days

When I have a bad day – and I do have them – I feel like a fraud. After all, I run a business that’s dedicated to helping moms live happy, purposeful, meaningful, fulfilled lives. Shouldn’t I have a life like that, myself? And how is there any room in a life like that for the normal nitty-gritty of everyday life with two small kids and one husband and one cantankerous cat and multiple clients and a house that doesn’t clean itself?

Here’s the truth: everyone has bad days. Everyone. Hackers attack your website. Cars break down. Kids get sick at the most inopportune time. You have a stupid fight with your partner, who simply refuses to see the logic of your argument. The haphazard randomness of life encroaches, and it brings you down. It’s normal to feel less-than-thrilled when this happens. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad life-crafter. It means that you’re a human being.

A very Vancouver view
Hannah has a moment of frustration

Choosing Your Response

What makes the difference, in the end, isn’t whether or not you have a bad day every so often. You can’t control every little thing that happens to you, and you can’t always control your emotional reaction, either. No one expects you to. What makes the difference in the end is how you respond and move forward in the face of whatever it is that life hands to you. Do you surrender to the dragons and give up on your dreams? Do you drown yourself in a bottle of wine? Do you pray or meditate or take a walk by yourself? Do you draw mustaches on photos of people who wronged you? Do you call a trusted friend and cry on her shoulder? This is where you make a choice about the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of life you want to live.

Many of us choose not to share the details of our bad days with the world at large. It’s understandable. You don’t always want to broadcast the stuff that’s going wrong in your life. What you share, and who you share it with, is always your choice. At the same time, when we show only our best, most polished selves, we’re creating a false image for the rest of the world. When we pretend that everything’s okay and it’s really not, we perpetuate the illusion that bad days are an anomaly and not everyone has them. We’re also reinforcing the notion for ourselves that we’re frauds or failures if we’re not perfectly happy all the time.

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

I’m going to say this again: we all have bad days. I have bad days. The person you admire most in the world has bad days. Super-duper-rich-and-famous people have bad days. There’s simply no escaping it. Having a bad day doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing a bad job of following your dreams and creating a life of purpose and meaning. It just means you’re a human being.

I’m choosing to cut myself some slack. I hope you’ll do the same thing for yourself. And then I hope we’ll both be as honest as we comfortably can about the realities of life, so that other people can cut themselves some slack, too. Maybe together we’ll create a world that’s a little bit more forgiving, where we can live honest and authentic lives as our honest and authentic selves. Warts, dirty children and all. That’s what crafting a life of meaning really means to me.

How do you respond when you’re having a bad day? And do you ever feel that you’re the only one who has them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

What I did While the Spam Ninjas Were at Work

On Monday morning I got a Twitter message from the fabulous Wendy Irene telling me that her anti-virus software had nothing nice to say about Strocel.com. This made me sad, because I’m pretty sure I have only compliments for the anti-virus software. It’s clearly very diligent and what-not. An investigation ensued, and by Monday afternoon it was clear that no only was Strocel.com infected, but so were most of the other sites my husband Jon and I run, including Crafting my Life and TheV3H.com.

Jon spent Monday evening cleaning all the malware off our servers to the best of his ability, and on Tuesday he called in some spam ninjas to finish the job. While they were doing their work, I was forbidden from posting. Because I’m not always good at following directions I did a little bit of writing anyway. After all, when a writer faces difficulty, she writes it out. But I did a whole lot less writing than I normally would.

While I was on an enforced blogging vacation, what did I do? Well, let me tell you.

My little Valentines
Hannah and Jacob say no to spam

How I Passed the Time While Spam Ninjas Cleaned up After Hackers

  1. I obsessively re-loaded my web page, over and over again, to see if it was still there. It was.
  2. I downloaded and ran every free anti-virus program with a good reputation I could get my hands on. I consider this the digital equivalent of bathing in bleach. Impurities, be gone!
  3. I hung out on Twitter. I do love Twitter.
  4. I went grocery shopping with my son Jacob. He insisted on handing my loyalty card to the 20-something checkout guy. Luckily the 20-something checkout guy found his three-year-old insistence that things happen just so to be charming. I wondered how spammers could attack a website containing photos of such an adorable child.
  5. I bargained with God and the Universe and anyone who would listen, because my fridge is already sort of broken and so is my pantry door and my floors are always covered in stuff and it was really raining yesterday and I really don’t want anything else in my life to be broken, too.
  6. I practiced my daughter Hannah’s spelling words with her. Normally we only do this on Wednesdays, but I decided to work in some extra review time, because I couldn’t write, anyway.
  7. I wrote in my head. This isn’t really any different than what I normally do, except for what I wrote in my head were long, insulting diatribes about spammers that I never intend to actually publish.
  8. I interviewed a mom of four who does roller derby. I imagined doing roller derby myself, and totally taking down the hackers. It would be glorious, indeed.

I’m happy to be back here writing today. I’m happy that there are spam ninjas in the world, and people who let me know when their anti-virus software pipes up. But try as I might, I cannot see any redeeming good in the hackers. May we never cross paths again.

Have you ever had to deal with the pain of a malware attack? I could use some commiseration!

Becoming a Mother: Reflections on my Daughter’s Birthday

Seven years ago yesterday I was awakened at 4:50am by a popping sensation and an intense urge to run to the bathroom. What I knew instinctively – but I didn’t really want to believe – was that it was my water breaking. My due date was still six weeks away, and I had plans for the day that definitely did not involve having a baby. As it turns out, my plans didn’t matter one little bit. Babies will come when they come, and so my daughter Hannah arrived later that afternoon, five pounds and four ounces of life-changing newborn.

People use the phrase becoming a mother as if it happens instantly. The moment your baby draws their first breath, BAM!, you become a mother. My experience says that’s not the way it works. I believe that I started the process of becoming a mother when I pushed Hannah into this world. I have continued it each and every day since then. I am still becoming a mother, with every new experience, challenge and stage. I learn new things, I grow, I change, I evolve. I become more and more the mother I couldn’t yet see on that afternoon in 2005 when I held my newborn child for the first time.

Day 1 in the Incubator

The thing about first babies is that they really come on the journey with you. You teach each other, and learn from each other. It’s not easy, and it’s not always smooth, but always you do it together. I haven’t just spent the past seven years becoming a mother, I’ve spent the past seven years becoming Hannah’s mother. While each baby is unique, and each brings his or her own lessons, the first is always the trailblazer. They are always the experiment in progress, as you hone your skills and find your feet. They are the ones who bring you to your knees in wonder and fear. Can I do this? Can I really be a mother? Yes, yes you can. And anyway, you have no choice – but you’d never choose differently, anyway.

My babies’ birthdays always make me cry. They’re tangible markers of the passing time. Reminders of what was, and how far we’ve come. To mark the occasion I look back on photos, moments captured in time, pieces of my daughter’s childhood. They tell a story – her story – and I am re-reading every word in shadows, reflections and light played out on my computer screen.

Hannah at 1 month old

Helping Mom fold laundry at 8 months

Hiding in the bin

All dressed up for some fun on the playground

Rockstar Fairy, 2 3/4 years old

Smiling Hannah

Experiments in mixing paint colours

Smiling on the swing

Playing under a tree

See the missing tooth?

My girl

Snowy day Hannah

I’ve spent the past few days celebrating Hannah, and all that she is. There was a mother-daughter trip to the aquarium and lunch out, a house full of little girls making sock puppets at full volume, present opening after present opening, and a visit with my family. It was joyous, and raucous and fun. Today, I’m taking the time to celebrate myself.

When I was pregnant, I thought that birth would be the hard part. Now I know that it was just a very small piece – the beginning to an entire human life. I worked hard then, bringing my daughter into the world, and I have worked hard every day since. I have agonized over (and made) hard decisions, cleaned up bodily fluids, soothed hurt feelings and made rush trips to the ER. I have fed, clothed, bathed and sheltered. I have had parent-teacher conferences and meltdowns in grocery store parking lots. I have had moments of transcendence that I can’t begin to put into words. Every day, I carry all of that with me. Every day, it shapes me and changes me. Every day, piece by piece, I become a better, wiser, stronger person. I become a mother.

Happy birthday to Hannah … and happy becoming to me.

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