Archives for July 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane: BlogHer Edition

There’s something so bizarre about flying off on an airplane. I still find the idea that I could wake up on in my own bed in the morning, and go to sleep a whole continent away that evening to be a little bit mind-boggling. In the days leading up to a big trip, I keep thinking about this. I say to myself, “In less than a week from now, you won’t be here anymore. You’ll be someplace else.” While air travel is carbon intensive and kind of inconvenient, it is also a modern miracle. It makes the world so much smaller, and allows us to see far more than we ever could otherwise.

Tomorrow I will be flying off to New York with my husband. I’ll attend the BlogHer Conference, we’ll explore the city, and our kids will get to spend lots of quality one-on-one time with their grandparents. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been dividing my time equally between planning my trip to the Big Apple, trying frantically to get as much work done as I possibly can before I leave, contemplating air travel, and worrying about how my kids will do when I’m gone for six nights – our longest separation to date. It’s been a full schedule.

The closer my New York trip gets, the more strained my smile becomes
My smile is getting more strained by the minute

Leaving your children at home while you head off in search of adventure is both liberating and terrifying. And while the truth is that I wouldn’t be flying off to the East Coast if I didn’t already know my babies would be totally fine, there’s still part of me that never really wants to be away from them at all, ever. That part is currently doing battle with the part of me that’s super-excited about going to bed and getting up on my own schedule, going to see a play, and lingering over dinner in a restaurant.

This is my second year attending BlogHer, and the one upside is that with a little bit of experience under my belt I’m not worried about the conference portion of my trip. I enjoyed myself so much last year – I thought BlogHer was really fantastic. I felt as if I was among my people, and they were fabulous. This is what tips the balance for me from fear to excitement. I’m so looking forward to being in that community again. This is what that miracle called air travel facilitates. While connecting online is great, and reading other blogs is awesome, there’s nothing like meeting someone you already know and admire and sharing an in-person moment.

Green Moms at lunch
At BlogHer 2011 in San Diego, having lunch with members of the Green Moms Carnival

Two years ago BlogHer was in New York, as well. I wanted to go, but I knew I wasn’t ready to be away from my not-quite-two-year-old son Jacob overnight, let alone for several nights. I stayed home, trusting that my time would come. Tomorrow, it will. If you will be there, too, I hope we’ll get a chance to say hello. But mostly, I hope that you find your community, as well. As bloggers we spend most of our time in our own space, working by ourselves, but we’re never truly alone. Attending a conference like BlogHer is the most powerful reminder of that you can find anywhere.

Now, I’d like to turn things back to you. If you’ve travelled without your kids, how did you prepare? If you’ve visited New York before, what must I be sure to see? And if you’ll be at BlogHer as well, leave me a comment and let me know!

Things my Kids will Never Know About

When I visited the Royal British Columbia Museum last October, they had an exhibit showing “artifacts” from the 1980s and 1990s. Think posters advertising Nirvana concerts, Doc Martens boots, Nintendo video game consoles and the like. Part of me died a little bit inside to see not only my childhood on display, but my early adulthood, as well. However, a recent conversation with my seven-year-old daughter Hannah drove a point home for me. She was listening to the soundtrack from Annie. The song “Maybe” contains the line: bet they collect things like ashtrays and art. On hearing it, my daughter asked me what an ashtray was.

The fact is there are many things that I took for granted when I was growing up that my children will probably never be familiar with. Today, I’m thinking of what some of those things are.

Amber and Gretchen
Me and my sister, back in the olden days

Things my Kids Will Never Know About

  • Rotary dial telephones
  • Answering machines
  • The frustration of having to wait until you could get to the library to find an answer to your question
  • Vinyl car seats that burn your legs when you’re wearing shorts
  • Walkmans and discmans
  • A television universe with less than 57 channels, where children’s programming is not available 24/7
  • Video tapes and VCRs
  • A world without spellcheck
  • Cassette tapes
  • Disposable flashbulbs, mounted on the top of the camera
  • Waiting for your film to be developed, or counting how many photos you have left on a roll
  • Typewriters
  • How the wind feels in your hair when you’re riding a bicycle without a helmet

It’s not a bad thing that some of these parts of my own youth are no more. There are upsides and downsides to everything, and the march of technology is no different. And yet, I’m sometimes caught unaware when I realize that my children and I have different cultural experiences. It’s the generation gap at work, forming under my very nose.

I’m sure there are lots more things that I just can’t think of at the moment. I wonder if you have any. What everyday things from your past have disappeared? Please share!

Podcast: Crystal Stranaghan on Creativity and Inspiration

Sometimes life is very serendipitous. This is how I happened to meet Crystal Stranaghan, my guest on today’s edition of the Strocel.com Podcast. Crystal and I had never met, but we both submitted speaker applications for Northern Voice, Vancouver’s annual blogging and social media conference. Since both applications revolved around blogging and inspiration, the organizers thought it would make sense to combine our submissions, and have my co-presenter Samantha Reynolds and I appear on a panel with Crystal.

Strocel.com podcast Crystal Stranaghan

Samantha, Crystal and I had a chance to meet briefly before the panel, and it was good. But it was only as we sat side-by-side up on stage during our session that I really felt like I got Crystal. She was awesome! She was inspiring! I wanted to hear more from her! So, since I had a podcast, it was only natural to invite her to be a guest.

Strocel.com podcast Crystal StranaghanCrystal Stranaghan is one of those people who has a complicated job description. She’s a write and health psychologist, and she specializes in offering creative solutions in education, communication and publishing. She’s run her own publishing company, she’s written books, she offers coaching for creative people, she’s a freelance writer, she does public speaking and a whole lot more. In speaking with her, you can feel that she lives with passion and intention, and that by itself is something that totally inspires me. She’s doing her thing. It might not be easy to fit on to a business card, but that’s not really the point, is it?

If you have your own publishing dreams, you want to hear some tips for improving your well-being from a health psychologist, or you just need a little inspiration, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

Next week on the podcast I’m going to be sharing an interview with Janet Frongillo, blogger at Muffin Top Mommy and author of the new book Mommy Mixology. If you’d like some sure-fire suggestions for cocktails to keep the grown-ups happy, or you could just use a laugh, you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute!

Of Oil Pipelines, Politics and the Planet

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here at Strocel.com, and today I’m thinking about oil pipelines, politics and the planet.

There’s an ongoing public debate happening in my backyard over the Northern Gateway project. The project, which is being operated by Enbridge, aims to build an oil pipeline from the oil sands in Northern Alberta to the coast in Northern British Columbia, where it can be shipped to Asia and elsewhere. On one side, you have the Canadian government and the oil industry who are arguing that we need this in order to open new markets. On the other side, you have environmental, First Nations and other groups who feel that the risk isn’t worth the reward.

Here in British Columbia, there’s a lot of airtime devoted to discussing the project. Many people are publicly opposing it, others feel it’s necessary, and most people probably don’t really know one way or the other. When a report was released earlier this month lambasting the way Enbridge handled a spill in the US, it only upped the ante. The idea that the company that totally botched one spill would be building a pipeline through some of the world’s most pristine wilderness raises some pretty legitimate concerns.

Earlier this week British Columbia Premier Christy Clark added more fuel to the fire by imposing conditions that Northern Gateway must meet in order for the province to consider allowing construction to happen. There are five, and they include successful completion of the environmental review process, world-leading land and water oil spill prevention and response, addressing First Nations concerns, and money. The money appears to be the big issue and the primary sticking point, at least for now.

The Premier makes some opening remarks
Premier Christy Clark

I honestly have mixed feelings about this project, just as I have mixed feelings about oil and gas in general. On the one hand, I drive a car and use petroleum products in my daily life. It would be hypocritical of me to say that we shouldn’t extract and ship oil. As well, I understand why Canada, as a country, wants to reach out to developing markets. On the other hand, I see that there are a some serious concerns that need to be addressed around Northern Gateway. And what’s more, we need to be investing in alternatives to burning fossil fuels, rather than just increasing capacity so that we can burn more.

I think that last bit is the crux of things for me. I believe that our reliance on petroleum is causing us a whole lot of problems, including pollution and climate change. It concerns me when my federal government is labelling those who hold environmental concerns about a new pipeline as “radicals”. Can we end our reliance on oil tomorrow? No. Do we need to consider the financial needs of our nation? Yes. Does it make sense to have a thoughtful, in-depth conversation, where all viewpoints are represented? I say it does. Does it make sense to invest some of our money into researching the next thing, instead of maintaining the status quo? Once more, I say it does.

Trees, sky, clouds

In part, anytime that a new pipeline is built and more oil is extracted, it’s being done for us. It’s being done to fuel our cars, generate our electricity, and produce our plastic products. If we want to change things, we need to take a look at ourselves. And yet, we need strong leadership as well. We need governments who are forward-thinking. We need to ask ourselves what the outcome of our actions will be. And we need to think about more than money.

Last summer hundreds of people – including many celebrities – were arrested at protests in Washington, DC against the proposed Keystone Pipeline. In January, Obama nixed that project. We don’t really roll that way in Canada. Large protests aren’t really our thing, and celebrities don’t tend to get involved in political causes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our voices heard. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask serious questions and expect serious answers. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t make changes in our personal lives to benefit the planet.

What will happen with Northern Gateway? I don’t honestly know. Because of the way the Canadian government works, I expect it will probably be built eventually, Christy Clark’s conditions notwithstanding. Regardless of what happens here, though, I hope that we take this discussion to heart, and that we consider changing our course. We can’t just keep doing the same thing, and expect to get different results.

Maternity Leave: Allowing and Honouring Choice

My husband and I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. This week, as I sat down over my breakfast cereal and opened the Style section in search of Social Q’s (I love Social Q’s) I was greeted by an article about Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave. If you’re not familiar, Ms. Mayer is the new CEO of Yahoo!, and she recently announced that she’s six months pregnant. She also announced that she plans to only a few weeks of maternity leave, and she’ll work throughout it.

My first reaction was to wonder why this was in the Style section. Hello, New York Times, stories about women don’t automatically belong in the Style section. This seemed more like a business story than a fashion story, but maybe I just think that because all the estrogen has gone to my head. My second reaction was to think that if a male CEO’s partner was expecting their first child, and he planned to take a couple of weeks off work after the birth (while checking in periodically), it certainly would not be considered newsworthy. However, having given birth and breastfed two children of my own, I do concede that there is a difference when you’re the one carrying the baby.

I spent years on this blog researching and writing about maternity leave. I know how important maternity leave is. I wrote a Maternity Leave Manifesto, which argues for paid, year-long maternity leaves for everyone, as well as dedicated paid leave for co-parents. I’ve taken two such leaves myself, and I was extremely grateful that I was able to take that time with my children.

Having said that, I think that there’s a difference between making leave available, and compelling new parents to take it. Even here in Canada, not every mother who qualifies for a year-long paid maternity leave takes advantage of the whole thing. There are a wide range of reasons why someone may choose not to use all of the benefits available to them, and I believe we need to allow everyone to make their own best decision for themselves, whether it’s Marissa Mayer, or someone with considerably fewer resources. The point is to provide choice, not to dictate one correct choice.

Still, there’s something about the idea that someone can’t take leave that implies there is no real choice. My mother tells me that she wasn’t planning on having any children. When she interviewed for a job at a bank, the interviewer didn’t want to hire her, because he felt that as a young woman she would just get pregnant and leave. She assured him that was not the case, and while she did eventually get pregnant and leave, I think most of us can agree that was her right. In the intervening 30+ years, our societal attitudes have changed. It’s no longer acceptable to say that you won’t hire a young woman because she may become pregnant. That’s a good thing. But as the attention Marissa Mayer is getting shows, we have not come so far that a woman’s decision to become pregnant is a non-issue. We also have not come so far that her professional dedication isn’t called into question as soon as she starts to show.

The more powerful a position that a woman holds, the more likely that her pregnancy is going to become a source of societal debate. We’ll hear that you can’t have it all. We’ll hear that her child is being shortchanged. We’ll hear that she’s not doing her job as well. We’ll hear snide comments about nannies and baby nurses. We’ll hear that no one would speak this way about a man becoming a father. Somehow, we’ll decide that someone else’s decisions about how to combine work and family are our business. And we’ll reflect on what this debate shows us about the state of motherhood and career and gender relations.

If I were to write my Maternity Leave Manifesto again, I would add two more points:

  1. It’s up to every parent and family to decide how to structure their own leave. No one should feel compelled to take either an abbreviated or extended maternity or parental leave.
  2. We must protect each parent’s right to choice, and honour that choice when it’s made. This means we have to change the corporate culture so that women aren’t penalized for taking leave, and we need to get over ourselves when we start thinking that women can’t combine a high pressure career with motherhood.

I don’t know the first thing about Marissa Mayer, and in truth this isn’t really about her. I’ve seen the same discussion many times before when high-profile women announced their pregnancies. I imagine I will see it again. Rather than focusing on what any one person decides, though, I’d like to see the debate move towards an intelligent discussion about labour policy and gender equity. Women will not have equal status in the workplace as long as pregnancy is the source of much hand-waving and public debate. And babies will lose out as long as their parents feel forced to make a decision, instead of free to make the best choice for their families.

Have you seen the discussion over Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy and maternity leave? What do you think would be a positive outcome of the discussion? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

No Place to Lay my Head

One day recently my son Jacob, who is almost four now, was telling me where everyone sleeps. According to him Hannah sleeps in Hannah’s room, Jacob sleeps in Jacob’s room and Daddy sleeps in Daddy’s room. Then I asked him where I sleep, and he looked confused. He had no idea how to answer the question – and I can understand his confusion. Years of co-sleeping have blurred the issue considerably.

Serious boy
Jacob doesn’t know where I sleep

The truth is there is no single place that I sleep. When one of my kids wakes up at night and needs me, I crawl in with them. This is why I got them double beds as toddlers. I didn’t relish the idea of trying to squeeze myself into a car bed with a two-year-old, as I’d heard many of my friends had done. When it’s really hot out and my husband Jon wants to have the fan on and the window open, I go to sleep in Jacob’s room, where it is more than a little too warm but blissfully quiet. And sometimes, it really does happen that I get to sleep in my own bed with my husband and no children all night long. (Dare to dream!)

In Jacob’s mind, all the other members of our family have a room of their own, and I just drift about between them. Sometimes it really does feel that way. I am a woman without a country. I have no single place to lay my head. I go where I am needed, I get enough sleep most nights, and I try not to overthink it.

There was a time when I never would have dreamed of sleeping any place other than my own bed, beside my own husband. In the early years of our marriage we would argue most every night about the temperature (I like it hot, he likes it cold) and the sleeping conditions (he likes the fan, I like it quiet). Not once did it occur to me to sleep someplace else. I would have viewed that as a sign of marital discord. And so we compromised, and both of us were unhappy, and I could rest easy knowing that if my husband and I were tossing and turning, we were tossing and turning together.

Time changes things, though. Two children and various sleeping arrangements and some major furniture purchases later, I’m much less fussed about where I sleep. I no longer consider it a necessity that I sleep beside my husband all night, every night. The truth is, really, Jon likes his space when he sleeps anyway. He’s never been one to spoon, preferring not to touch me at all while he slumbers. And yet, our marriage survives. The difference between sleeping on opposite sides of the same king-sized bed or sleeping down the hall from each other is largely academic, and I don’t think it signals imminent marital meltdown.

Is it unfair that with four people in my family, I am the one who doesn’t get a room to call my own? Maybe. Mostly, though, I just think it’s a pragmatic reality. My goal isn’t fairness, it’s sleep. I’ll do whatever I can to get the most sleep for the most people in my family. If that means that my preschooler can’t tell you where his mom sleeps, well, I can totally live with that.

What about you? Do you find your sleeping arrangement changing from day-to-day? Does it bother you, or do you accept it? I’d love to hear!

Scenes from a Beach

There’s something about the beach. It’s like a little microcosm of society, a place that draws people from all walks of life to share an experience. It has a sort of a timeless quality, reminding you that there really is nothing new under the sun. While the beach I visit today is a different beach than the one I frequented as a child, and while decades separate the beach scenes of my youth from the beach scenes of today, I see many similarities. The teenage couples, as close to naked as they’ve ever been together, cuddling out in the water. The children building sandcastles, their parents hovering nearby. The families grilling, the young men grandstanding while they play frisbee, the girls laying out under the sun.

The beach

I go to the beach as a way to get out of the house and escape the heat with my children. They are so excited – so excited – to be there, eating a picnic lunch in their bathing suits and sun hats. We have come prepared, with big bags packed full of food and supplies. They exclaim over everything they see – the people on rafts and in boats, the little speckled fish in the shallow water, the sand and the rocks and the trees and the mountains and the lake itself. None of this is new to me, but through their eyes I see it as if for the first time. I recapture the excitement I felt as a child myself, when my parents took me to the beach. It’s a place where I am seven years old again, ducking my head under the water and coming up laughing.

Scene from Buntzen Lake

The beach I like to visit most isn’t far from my house – less than 20 minutes by car – but it’s officially in the boondocks, surrounded by mountains, and I can’t get data on my phone. It forces me to be present. There’s no tweeting, no Facebooking, no checking out Instagram (although I do admit to snapping lots of photos, because I can’t resist that). It’s just me, my kids, the sand and the water, and lots of fodder for people watching. And oh, how I people watch.

Floating on the lake

I don’t know what memories my children will carry of our visits to the beach, but I hope they’re as good as mine are from my own childhood. And I hope that one day they feel the same sense of nostalgia, as they return to this place that calls us all, no matter who we are.

What are your favourite parts of visiting the beach? Please share!

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