Archives for November 2012

Repost: Podcast with Bad Mommy Willow Yamauchi

I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from podcast scheduling over the holiday season. But with more than 70 episodes in the vault, there are plenty of great conversations to re-visit. Today, I’m once again sharing my interview with the fabulous Willow Yamauchi. It was seriously the most fun I’ve ever had during a podcast. If you could use a good laugh, you’ll want to listen, whether for the first, second or fifth time.

Picture it: Christmas, 2010. My husband Jon comes across a book called Adult Child of Hippies by Willow Yamauchi. Immediately, he knows that he should buy it for me, as I myself am an adult child of hippies. On Christmas morning I open the book. I promptly devour it. I laugh heartily, in a knowing fashion, at such gems as:

You know you are an Adult Child of Hippies if…
You chewed licorice roots as a treat.

– and –

You know you are an Adult Child of Hippies if…
You shaved your legs as an act of rebellion.

As an extra-fun bonus fact, my mother really wanted to name me Willow, but my father didn’t like the name. Instead, I was named Amber Dawn. If you had any doubts about my hippie roots, revealing my middle name should have put them to rest. Given our similar pasts I felt a certain kinship with Willow Yamauchi after reading her book, even though I’d never actually spoken with her. podcast willow yamauchi adult child of hippies bad mommy

Bad Mommy

Fast forward 17 months, and Willow herself got in touch with me via my job at, telling us about her new book, Bad Mommy. I knew immediately that:

  • I had to read the book.
  • I wanted to interview Willow Yamauchi.

Luckily, Willow is an incredibly good sport. She left a copy of Bad Mommy hanging in a bag from her doorknob at her house in East Vancouver. I stopped by, picked it up, and devoured this one, too. podcast willow yamauchi bad mommyThe premise of Bad Mommy is that, as parents – and particularly as mothers – we’re served a heaping helping of guilt and blame. There’s simply no way to do everything right when it comes to raising kids. From the moment of conception someone, somewhere, believes you’re doing something wrong. Childhood vaccines are a perfect example. Miss one, and you’re a bad mommy. Vaccinate your child at all, and you’re a bad mommy. There’s no shortage of ways to fail your children at every turn. Willow’s turning that on its head so that we can laugh at it, and liberate ourselves from the cycle of mom guilt.

Willow and I set up a time to chat, and she was every bit as awesome as I knew she’d be. We talked about our respective hippie childhoods (hers was way more hardcore than mine), all the ways that we fail as parents, and what it means to embrace the “bad mommy” label. If you’re tired of trying to do everything right and failing, Willow says that it’s time to do what works for you. And you know what? I agree completely. Podcast with Willow Yamauchi

If you’re a mom, an adult child of hippies, or you’d just like a good laugh, you’ll want to listen to what Willow had to say:

Over the next two weeks on the podcast I’ll be re-sharing my interview with Marcy Axness, author of Parenting for Peace. Our conversation was so amazing that I had to break it up into two parts. We covered a lot of ground, and I had a lot of my parenting pre-conceptions challenged. I’ve listened to the conversation many times myself, and I can tell you that I’ve learned something from Marcy each time. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Winterizing my Garden: Progress Report

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on Today, I’m taking some time to update you on my One Green Thing for this month, which is winterizing my garden.

As I explained at the beginning of the month, I tend to be fairly haphazard when it comes to gardening. I plant a whole bunch of things, without spending a whole lot of time considering things like soil pH, drainage or pest control. I do try to find sunny spots for my sun-loving plants, but even there I’m not spending a whole bunch of time agonizing over the decision. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my results are hit or miss. Some years, I get a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers or lettuce. Some years, I get a total of three tomatoes from five plants, and all my cucumber seedlings are eaten by slugs. I’d like to change that, though, so this fall I’m getting serious.

I thought all my potatoes failed. I was wrong.I did some reading on how to prepare your garden for winter. It turns out I’ve missed the fall window for applying pest control measures like nematodes, so at this point I’m thinking ahead to next spring, and how I’ll battle those dastardly slugs. I have my eye on a slug trap that you fill with beer, and some Diatomaceous earth to put around my fragile seedlings. I also have my eye on some proper seed starting trays with domed lids, so that my little plants get off to a better start. The bigger they are, the harder it will be for a pest to eat them in one fell swoop.

While it’s too late for pest control now, I have been spending time out in the garden. I cleared out all the weeds from my garden beds, and in the process I found some unexpected bounty. All of my potato plants died in early summer, so I’d given up on the potatoes. However, when I was weeding my potato bed I uncovered a small potato. Some serious digging turned up more than two dozen small potatoes. It’s fewer than there should have been if the plants had done well, but at this point it’s kind of like getting a free lunch, so I’m thrilled.

Gathering leavesOnce the beds were cleared out, it was time to think about mulching. You want to protect your garden over the winter, so that valuable nutrients – or the soil itself – doesn’t wash away. I’d heard that leaves work well. Plus – bonus points – they’re free! For a couple of weeks I carried a couple of nylon bags in my pocket when I walked Hannah to school and back, and stopped to collect leaves. They were wet and dirty, since it’s November in Vancouver, and kind of heavy to carry. I probably looked a little funny to passersby, carrying dripping bags full of leaves. But in the end I laid a good layer of mulch down on my garden, so I’m the one laughing.

The last item on my list – and the one I am most intimidated by – is pruning. I asked around on Twitter and heard back from a reliable source who lives nearby and hence understands the local climate. She told me to wait until early spring, because it’s better for the plants and the birds. Since that gets me off the pruning hook, you don’t have to ask me twice. I did a little Googling, though, and the one exception may be the out-of-control hydrangea in front of my house, so I’ll be tackling that shortly.

I’m not sure if my efforts to winterize my garden will make a difference come spring, but I feel like I’ve done what I could. One thing I have learned for sure over my years gardening is that even if you plan perfectly, you’re still at the whim of nature. This is why experienced farmers can have failed crops. Some years, the weather just doesn’t cooperate, or things go sideways for another reason, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. If I hold up my end of the bargain, though, I’ll at least be giving my garden a fighting chance.

Do you garden? Have you taken any steps to winterize? If you have any tips, I’m all ears!

The Cries that Still Echo

When my daughter Hannah was a baby, she cried in the car. Actually, cried doesn’t even begin to cover it. It would be more accurate to say that she screamed inconsolably as long as she was strapped into her car seat. Just screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

The first time that it happened was on a cloudy-ish June day, when she was four months old. She and I were at my La Leche League group’s Walk for Breastfeeding. It was a fundraising event, which involved a walk around a local park, and then a short drive to a local housing co-op for a pot luck lunch. I was excited to be out of the house with my baby, doing something with my friends. The drive to the park was uneventful, and when we got out of the car I strapped Hannah into my trusty sling. We paused for a group photo, and set off for the walk at a leisurely pace, accompanied as we were by toddlers. The walk was just one kilometer, not long at all, and I was having a good time talking to the other parents and meandering my way along the path beside the lake. But then, about halfway through the walk, Hannah started getting fussy.

When you’re with a La Leche League group and your baby gets fussy, lots of people jump in, trying to help. One of the group leaders tried to show me how to nurse Hannah while she was still in the sling, but Hannah was having none of it. I tried moving her around in the sling, but she only cried harder. I stuck my thumb in her mouth for her to suck on. She took a few half-hearted sucks, then spit it out and resumed her wailing. Other people tried to distract her, offered toys, and made suggestions. Nothing worked. I decided she was just tired, and hoped she would fall asleep on the 15 minute drive to the lunch, since that usually worked.

Amber and Hannah, 4 months old, Vancouver, Planetarium

Me holding 4-month-old Hannah on a family outing, hoping she won’t cry on the drive home

Things went sideways in the car, though. Hannah’s cries escalated until they were full-fledged screams as I drove. I tried playing music, I tried singing, I tried talking to her. Nothing worked. As the crying got louder and more insistent, my driving deteriorated. I just wanted to get out of the car, nothing else mattered. I found myself going faster, pushing through yellow lights and moving around slower cars. Anything I could do to get to my destination sooner.

That was the first time that Hannah really screamed in the car, but it was far from the last. For over a year, my car trips were dictated by whether or not Hannah would cry. She cried less earlier in the day, and less on short trips. So, a 10 minute drive to the library for baby time at 9:30am was safe. A 45 minute drive downtown was not. Any car trip after 4:00pm or so was not. When I returned to work and read the suggestion that I find daycare near my office so I could visit over lunch I immediately ruled that out. If I had to pick her up at 5:00pm each night, I wanted a three minute drive, not a 30 minute one.

My husband and I tried lots of things to make the crying stop. She cried in his car as well as mine. She cried as I sat beside her while her father drove. She cried while I tried to contort myself to nurse her while her father drove. She cried when we played music, or when it was quiet. She cried when we dangled colourful toys in front of her, when we hung sunshades on the car’s windows, and when we held her little hand. When we stopped the car to let her calm down she stopped crying as long as she was out of the carseat, but she started again as we were strapping her back in. Avoiding long trips at times when we knew she was likely to cry became the only answer, lest we become so worn down by her screams that our driving began to suffer.

The sound of that crying, and the fear it created in me, has stayed with me through more than seven years since that first tear-laden car trip. To this day, I find that I avoid long car trips with my children. While my sister’s firstborn is only two years old and is better-traveled than I am, our family has stuck close to home. It’s been years since Hannah stopped crying in the car, but the sound echoes in my ears anytime I consider taking a long trip with my children. It still feels much easier – and much safer – to choose shorter trips that don’t require us to be strapped in for too long at a stretch.

I don’t think you can ever look at your children without seeing echoes of the past flickering across their faces. That time your son lost his footing on a play structure, and you watched helplessly as his little body fell limply to the ground. The way that your daughter used to insist on dressing herself in garishly mismatched patterns. The countless diapers you changed, sticky fingers you washed, and little hurts you soothed away. All of these memories are carried with you, years and years later, colouring your relationship.

I will always carry the memory of that June day when my baby transformed from a complacently sleepy traveller into an entity with her own mind who was extremely unhappy. It was yet another reminder in those early months of parenting that I was no longer in control. I had almost three decades on her, but I was very much at her mercy, and there was nothing for it but to surrender to the reality of parenting. And so, I surrendered.

Even today, I continue to surrender. It’s different, now that my children are seven and four years old. They no longer scream wordlessly, leaving me to guess at their desires. But I will still do almost anything to keep things on an even keel. I bring snacks so no one’s overly hungry. I don’t try to pack too much into a single day, or a single outing. Anything so that I don’t find myself back in a car with a screaming child, their cries ringing in my ears and filling me with panic. My children may be smaller and younger than me, but they are nonetheless mighty. Driving my crying baby around taught me that, and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

Back to the Basics: Things I Know to be True

Sometimes, in blogging and in life, you need to go back to basics. You know, think about those things that are real and meaningful for you. They don’t have to be big, and they don’t have to be important to other people, but they carry weight for you. I’m doing that today in this blog post.

10 Things I Know to be True (For Me)

4 year old self-portrait1. Butterscotch pudding is the best kind of pudding, bar none. I know many people favour chocolate, and while in general I agree that chocolate is awesome, when it comes to pudding it’s butterscotch all the way.

2. My husband agrees with me on the butterscotch pudding. When I discovered that we had this in common as 15-year-olds who were newly dating, I knew it was l-o-v-e.

3. In the 21 years since we bonded over pudding, my husband has discovered that he’s lactose intolerant. No more pudding for him. But it’s still l-o-v-e all the same.

4. The only thing more awesome than pudding is ice cream. The best kind of ice cream is mint chocolate chip, although it’s hard for me to say bar none, because there are so many good kinds of ice cream. Really, I just want all the ice cream.

5. Since my husband is lactose intolerant, that means I have one less person to share my ice cream with. I should feel sorry for him, but I’m too busy gloating over the extra ice cream.

6. My husband can still eat potato chips, and we both agree that the best kind is salt and vinegar, bar none. See? We were meant to be.

Working on some art before school7. Potato chips are my example of a food that is nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan, and that is still not good for you. This means that pretty much anyone is free to eat potato chips and feel guilty about it, without violating their dietary restrictions.

8. Ice cream is still better than potato chips, though.

9. You know what’s better than ice cream and potato chips and pudding? A four-year-old who holds your hand, looks deep into your eyes, and says, “I need you to listen to my words.” The combination of imitation (it’s the sincerest form of flattery), calmness when three months ago he would have been losing his head, and unintentional sass is just too awesome for words.

10. A seven-year-old who draws at least one picture every day just for you is exactly the same level of awesome as the four-year-old.

What do you know to be true?

High Heels and Me

I have an, erm, tenuous relationship with high heels. I like the way they look, for sure. However, I don’t really like the way they feel. As a result, I go through a high heel shoe cycle. It happens something like this:
high heels

  • Decide I need to buy some heels, because I don’t have any
  • Find a couple of pairs that don’t hurt too much when I try them on in the store
  • Wear the shoes once, for about 45 minutes, before switching into the flats I brought along just in case
  • Look at the shoes each time I dress up, and then think the better of it
  • Realize it’s been at least two years since I last wore the shoes, and cart them off to the second hand store
  • Let another year or two pass, so the memory has worn off
  • Get invited to a fancy party, and realize my fancy shoe options are extremely limited
  • Decide I need to buy some heels, because I don’t have any

And so it goes. I buy heels. I realize they’re awfully uncomfortable, and give up on them. Then I forget about it, and get smitten with the idea of wearing them again.

high heelsThe fact I’m short – just 5’2″ – factors into my attitude towards high heels. While I don’t feel there’s any height limit associated with the shoes you wear, I have heard many of my tall friends express the sentiment that they’d rather lose a couple of inches than gain a couple. This isn’t me. Quite the contrary – I could use an added boost. My own mother, who is shorter than me, often wore heels for just this reason. But I’m just not prepared to suffer in the name of fashion.

And yet. And yet. I am currently in a phase of not owning any high heels. I see other women around me wear them, and they don’t seem to be constantly wincing in agony. I have my husband’s fancy work holiday party coming up in mid-December, and I scored a designer dress at a bargain basement price at Nicole Bridger‘s warehouse sale. I’d like nice shoes to wear with the dress. Plus, when I celebrated my birthday in May I declared that this year I would learn to wear heels. The cycle of high heels is starting all over again.

This is where you come in. I am planning a trip to the thrift store in advance of the party, on the hunt for a pair of wearable heels. I’ve found I can handle really short heels all right, but I’d like to brave something with a little more lift. So I’m turning to you. What are your secrets for wearing heels for longer than 45 minutes at a stretch? Do you find certain styles easier to handle? Or is it just a matter of constant practice and gritting your teeth? I will take all the advice I can get!

Repost: Podcast on Facebook and Breastfeeding

I’m re-sharing this episode of the Podcast. My friend Gina Crosley-Corcoran (a.k.a. The Feminist Breeder) recently had her breastfeeding photos removed and her account suspended by Facebook, and I’d like to shine a light on this issue again.

Over the years there have been countless stories about mothers having their breastfeeding images removed from Facebook. In some cases, mothers even had their accounts deleted. Over three years ago, in December, 2008, I myself participated in a virtual “nurse-in”. I updated my own profile photo to an image of myself breastfeeding my daughter Hannah and changed my status to say, “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” And yet, in spite of the outcry, new stories continue to crop up all the time.

Facebook Breastfeeding Emma KwasnicaEmma Kwasnica lives here in Vancouver, and she herself has had a number of photos removed from the social networking site. She’s also had her account de-activated. Finally, it reached the point where she had enough, and she went public with her story. Media coverage followed, and as it did, Facebook took notice. They held a conference call with Emma, and issued statements underscoring the fact that they welcome breastfeeding photos on Facebook. In part, their policy regarding images depicting breastfeeding reads:

We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful…Photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

The problem, according to Emma (and other mothers whose images have been removed), is that Facebook sometimes removes photos that do not show an exposed nipple that is not engaged in breastfeeding, and which therefore comply with the site’s policy. It has also locked mothers out of their own accounts without warning or recourse. Emma is trying to stop that from happening. She wants Facebook to follow its own rules and regulations. Breastfeeding is not an obscene act, and the Facebook policy agrees. It should be applied properly, and it should be applied in the same way for all users. The question of whether or not an image is obscene should not depend on whether someone else decides to flag your photo or not, and it also should not depend on who happens to be evaluating a complaint on any given day. To reinforce this message, a Facebook page called FB! Stop harassing Emma Kwasnica over her breastfeeding pics was started.

Like Emma Kwasnica, I’m one of the one billion Facebook users worldwide. The odds are pretty good that you are, too. Facebook depends on us for its livelihood. It might be free to sign up, but our presence allows them to sell ads, which make them a lot of money. We have power in this relationship to make our voices heard. To get started, listen to my conversation with Emma, find out how she’s working to ensure Facebook plays by its out rules, and learn how you can take action:

I’m working on an interview for next week at the moment. No matter what happens, I promise I’ll be sharing something worth listening to, so please tune in. Or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Gratitude, Identity and the Planet

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on It also happens to be Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Today I’m thinking about gratitude, minimalism, and how appreciating what we have can impact the planet for the better.

Last week I talked about how, when environmentalism forms a part of our identity, we’re more likely to make green choices. As we live those choices, like ripples on a pond, we’re contributing to a critical mass and implicitly encouraging other people to make changes, as well. This is apparent around choices like recycling. When I was a kid, no one recycled. Now, thirty years later, every house in my neighbourhood has their blue bin out on garbage day. As more and more people did it, it caught on and became the norm.

As I mentioned earlier, for many of you today is Thanksgiving. This is traditionally a holiday when we consider what it is that we’re grateful for. This is a great opportunity to shift your mindset from one of thinking about all the things you don’t have in your life, to one of seeing all the great things you do have. After all, most of us in the developed world live in relative abundance. We have more than we need, and far more than most people throughout most of history have had. By taking time out to practice gratitude, we’re able to actually see that.

thanksgiving, gratitude, the environment, identity

In your daily life, it’s easy to fall victim to the trap of acquisition. We try to buy things that aren’t for sale at any store – things like happiness, fulfillment, and an identity. We define ourselves by the things we own and the things we want to own. We think that we’ll just be satisfied after we renovate the kitchen, get that perfect pair of shoes or buy that new cookware. But, of course, there’s always something more we could have. I’m no stranger to this myself. Right now I really want a new desk, I want to remodel our ensuite bathroom and I have my eye on a tablet. Much of our identity is built around stuff.

All of this buying comes at a price, though. On a literal level, all of our spending results in a high debt load. The average American household owes $7150 in credit card debt. If you eliminate the households that aren’t carrying any credit card debt at all, that number rises to $15,328. On top of that, all of our buying is bad for the planet. Every hand towel, each piece of electronics and every pair of shoes carries a carbon footprint. We’re burning fossil fuels for materials, to power production, and ship all of this stuff. Plus, when we’re done with it, it has to go somewhere, leading to our massive waste problem.

When we spend less time consuming, and more time enjoying the stuff we have already, we’re saving money and reducing our environmental impact. When we incorporate minimalism into our individual and collective identities, we make different choices. Once again, how we think of ourselves has an impact, for good or ill. And as more people opt out of the cycle of consumption, the greater the critical mass, and the farther it will spread.

Today, I’d like to wish a happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. And wherever you live, I hope that you’ll take some time today to think about the things that are good in your life. What is abundant? What brings you joy? These are the things that will actually make your life better in the long run, not the stuff you buy at the Black Friday sales.

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