Archives for January 2013

On Making Mistakes

My daughter, Hannah, is kind of an anxious kid. Not as anxious as I was at her age, but still fairly concerned with doing the right thing. On the one hand, I like that she’s driven to good behaviour, because that certainly beats the alternative. On the other hand, she’s not even eight years old yet. If there’s ever a time when imperfection is okay, it’s now. The stakes are still really low for her, and I see this as the best time for her to explore and experiment, without fear of the consequences.

To help allay Hannah’s fears, I point out that mistakes are how we learn. I tell her how, when she was learning to walk, she fell down a lot. Each time, she got back up. The more that she tried and the more that she fell, the better she got, until soon she was steady on her feet. Babies, in my experience, are masters at learning through experimenting and falling down. They don’t become dejected by the process, they just keep at it.

At some point, however, we start to think that we shouldn’t make mistakes. We think that we should always know just what to do, and that we should never change our minds. Closing a business, quitting a volunteer gig, giving up knitting in disgust – all of these things seem, to our adult minds, to be a sign of weakness. A sign that we’ve made a mistake. And now, even my bright and beautiful daughter is starting to think that way. A mistake is a failure, a shortcoming, a source of shame.

make mistakes learn from themWhen I embarked on my own personal Crafting my Life journey, I quickly realized that mistakes were inevitable. I was going from being an engineer to being a writer. While many people had nice things to say about my way with words, the truth was that I knew little to nothing about how to write. As a life-long perfectionist and Type A personality, this didn’t feel comfortable to me. I didn’t want to make mistakes. I didn’t want to appear weak. I wanted to know it all, before I even started. Even as I knew this was impossible, I viewed the mistakes with trepidation.

I’ve learned a thing or two about mistakes along the way, though. The first thing I learned is that the less you fight the mistakes, the easier they are. When you’re facing internal resistance, and every cell in your body is tensed in fear of doing the wrong thing, the worse it’s going to feel when the inevitable happens. On the other hand, the more that you can accept that it’s okay to be human, the less you’ll get caught up in a cycle of shame when things don’t go your way. It may not feel good, exactly, but it won’t feel terrible.

Something else I’ve learned about mistakes is that, in retrospect, they’re often the best thing that ever happened. I am a huge fan of The Princess Bride. Here’s a quote from that movie that always makes me laugh:

Buttercup – We’ll never succeed. We may as well die here.
Westley – No, no. We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt – no problem. There’s a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand, which you were clever enough to discover what that looks like, so in the future we can avoid that too.

Westley suggests that Buttercup did them both a favour by falling into the lightning sand and almost dying, thereby forcing him to rescue her. She wasn’t making a mistake, she was making a discovery. Was it fun at the time? No. But by making it, she saved time and allowed them to avoid future danger, far more effectively than she could by almost any other means.

These days, when I absolve Hannah of her mistakes, I’m really absolving myself, too. I’m reminding us both that sometimes we’ll fall down, and that’s okay. In the end, those slip-ups are what make us who we are, and help us to avoid making the same mistake the next time around. They might not be fun, but the more we embrace them for what they are, the less terrible they’ll be.

Are you good at embracing your mistakes? Or are you a perfectionist, like me? Tell me all about it!

Annie, Don’t Get Your Gun

Gun control in the United States is one of those issues that, as a Canadian, I almost feel uncomfortable commenting on. It’s not my country, and so I understand that I don’t really have any say on what happens inside it. That’s up to American citizens to work out together. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I have many American friends, and I care about their safety. Also, I’m a human being, and a parent. When I hear news of mass shootings, I’m every bit as devastated regardless of what country they occur in.

When I watched Bowling for Columbine I was surprised by Michael Moore’s assertion that gun ownership rates are similar in Canada and the US. It contradicted my preconceptions, and I doubted it. I decided to do some digging of my own. On Wikipedia I found a list of countries by per capita gun ownership. On that list, the US is first with 89 guns per 100 people, and Canada is thirteenth (behind Switzerland and Finland, among others), with 31 guns per 100 people. NBC News says that there were 310 million guns for 314 million Americans in 2009, which is about 99 guns per 100 people. The National Post says that in 2010 there were 7.6 million guns in Canada, when the approximate population was 34.1 million. That’s about 22 guns per 100 people.

It seems clear that Canadians own fewer guns than Americans. Even if we didn’t, though, there are other significant differences between the two countries. Of the 310 million firearms in the US in 2009, 114 million were handguns. In contrast, handguns are tightly controlled in Canada. As restricted weapons, owners must have a special license, above and beyond the license that any gun owner must possess. In order to transport a handgun, you need authorization, and the gun must be unloaded and stored in a secure case. Carrying a concealed weapon is simply not allowed. As a result, the rates of handgun ownership are much lower on my side of the border.

gun control canada vs. united states

In order to own any type of gun in Canada, you must go through background checks and safety training to get a license. You need this license in order to purchase ammunition. Restricted and prohibited weapons require additional licensing, and the guns themselves must be registered. While you can own a gun in Canada, and I have family members who do, there are real controls in place. I wouldn’t say that Canadians are all on the same page about this, but I would say that most of us agree that the need for public safety outweighs any individual’s desire to own a firearm. And, since our constitution does not protect our right to bear arms, the result is that we have nationwide restrictions on who may own a gun, what type of gun they may own, and where and how they may carry it.

Canadian gun control laws do not make me feel as if my liberty is being infringed upon. On the contrary, the knowledge that the people I encounter on a daily basis are not likely to be armed makes me feel more free. For me, it’s similar to imposing car safety laws. I don’t think my freedom is impinged upon when I buckle up, or when I strap my children into their car seats. I feel safer, and therefore less afraid. Freedom from fear is more important to me than individual liberty at all costs. And, in the case of both gun laws and seat belt laws, I’m safer because of the controls.

The statistics support my belief that gun control laws lead to greater public safety. Deaths by firearm are almost 80% lower in Canada than the US on a per capita basis. The homicide rate is three times higher in the US than Canada. Rates of rape, robbery and assault are also higher in the US. The idea that I am somehow less safe because I’m not armed doesn’t hold up.

gun control canada vs. united states

Certainly, there are a number of factors at play here, beyond gun laws and gun ownership rates. There are cultural differences, socio-economic factors, and a whole lot of other things that influence crime rates. Although I should point out that Canadians watch the same TV shows and movies, and play the same video games, as their American neighbours. What’s more, we’ve had mass shootings in Canada, too. There’s no such thing as perfect safety, regardless of where you live. And yet, if we can bring more safety even as popular media glorifies gun violence, isn’t that worth investigating?

While I recognize that there is some complexity around guns and gun violence, in my mind it’s pretty clear that the NRA’s executive vice president was wrong when he said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Gun control laws, when they’re enforced, make us safer. Arming more civilians does not, statistically speaking. I believe that the difference in gun laws explains the difference in rates of gun violence between Canada and the US, at least in part. As a result, I’m glad to see that there is now a real conversation about guns happening in America.

As I wrote at the outset, it saddens me when people die. It saddens me even more when I believe that, with some well thought-out laws, it would be less likely to happen. This is why, in spite of the fact that I’m not an American, I continue to hold a strong opinion about the gun control debate. Too many people have died already.

The Responsible One

Sometimes I get tired of being the responsible one. The one who gets the kids up on time in the morning, makes their lunches for school, cajoles them into eating a healthy breakfast. The one who makes sure homework is done, teeth are brushed, and reusable water bottles are full so that everyone stays hydrated and the earth doesn’t suffer in the process. The one who’s pretending to be a real adult, because even though I don’t feel like one, there’s really no other choice. There are children to take care of, a house to maintain, pets to feed, and a career to keep up.

teaching responsibility

Hannah drew this picture of me (responsibly) teaching her to cross the street

Before I had all of these responsibilities, I didn’t appreciate my freedom. I didn’t understand what life would be like when it wasn’t just about me. When I would be woken up at 5:00am every morning by little children climbing into my bed, sticking their cold feet on my belly to warm them up, insisting they need me because they’re scared. I didn’t understand the urgency of fighting traffic to make it to daycare pick-up on time, or how hard it could be to visit a grocery store with a two-year-old. I didn’t know what it was like to have to set an example, constantly, all the time.

Now I’ve sacrificed all those little freedoms on the altar of parenthood, and of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would give it up all over again in a heartbeat. But sometimes I wish I could be more irresponsible. I wish that I could eat junk food for supper and sleep in, at all, ever. I wish I could spend my Sunday watching a movie marathon and eating ice cream out of the carton. In my underwear. While drinking wine. And swearing out loud without having to explain to anyone what that word means, and why you, as a seven-year-old, shouldn’t really use it.

Irresponsibility is so alluring to me these days. And so, once in a while, I rebel in small ways. I eat chocolate when no one’s looking. I turn on Saturday morning cartoons and plunk the kids down in front of the TV so that I can sleep longer. I stay up too late, almost every night. I let my kids sneak cookies and pretend I don’t see, because I don’t have the energy to call them on it. I hide in the bathroom to escape for a little while. Just little things, small things, that let me off the responsibility hook for a moment or two. These tiny rebellions allow me to maintain the illusion of independence, and let me feel as if it’s okay to get sick of being a grown-up.

And yet, I often find myself regretting my little moments of irresponsibility. Almost like clockwork, the night I stay up too late will be followed by the morning that my kids wake up too early. The bad word I slip up and say in front of my toddler will be repeated at full volume in the grocery store, in front of a throng of grandmotherly women. The cookies I let my children get away with pilfering will be all gone when I really need one. Irresponsibility comes at a price. And so I suck it up, and try to be responsible, even as I chafe against it. It’s tiring, but then pretty much everything is tiring these days. Why should setting an example for children be any different?

Do you ever rebel against responsibility? How do you do it? I’d love to hear!

Remembering my First (Fur) Baby

My first baby was a guinea pig named Tilly. I had other pets before her – in fact, I had many of them. A faithful German Shepherd cross named Kali was my childhood companion. A fierce cat named Fluffy came to live with us when I was six years old, and survived to see her 20th birthday. There was a budgie named Benjie, and a hamster named Patches. And so many goldfish, whose names I no longer recall. But none of these pets were truly mine, in the same way. They were family pets, and ultimately the responsibility for them rested with the fully-fledged adults, not with me.

Tilly was different. I adopted her in the early days of 2000, after moving into my own apartment. The apartment allowed pets, but only if they lived in cages. Dogs and cats were out of the question, but after doing some research a guinea pig seemed like a genuine possibility. They were awake during the day, and large enough not to sneak into a crack and get lost. They couldn’t jump like rabbits, and they couldn’t climb, which meant that you had no fear they would somehow end up peeing on your bed. It seemed the perfect answer to my desire for a little companionship.

Amber with her guinea pig Tilly in 2001

My trip to pick up Tilly was delayed by several days, because Jon had the nerve to propose to me on New Year’s Eve. It was Y2K, and we were all going to die when the computers stopped working and the planes fell out of the sky. The man I had been dating for over eight years at that point was planning to seize the day and pop the question, but I didn’t know it. Not for sure, anyway. When I suggested he could take me to pick up my new guinea pig on December 30 (having no car of my own at the time), he balked. Couldn’t it wait a few days? Just a few? He wanted us to stay in Abbotsford, where our parents lived, on New Year’s Eve. Then he wanted to spend New Year’s Day with our families. It was important, although he wouldn’t explain why.

I suspected that something might be afoot, but there had been several moments over the previous year and a half when I had thought to myself, This is it, he’s going to ask, and then he didn’t. There had been a Valentine’s Day when I asked what he wanted and he told me he knew just what to get me, he’d been planning it for ages. His plan wasn’t a diamond, as I hoped, but a Home Depot gift certificate. And then there was a weekend getaway when he left me at the table in the fancy restaurant to get something he’d forgotten back in our room. I thought maybe this was a set-up, and he’d return with a ring. Instead, he came back with his camera, and snapped a photo of me looking aggrieved.

Where did Tilly go?

As we approached the New Year’s Eve when the world didn’t fall apart in spite of our Y2K fears, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. So instead of speculating about why Jon was insisting on spending time with our families, I pouted about the delay in my guinea pig plans. All was forgiven when he got down on one knee in the same park where he’d first asked me out. However, I didn’t allow my mind to wander too far. This is how, a few days later, I stood in the PetSmart sporting my new engagement ring and surveying the guinea pigs.

I was smitten with Tilly right off the bat. She was so cute, and her squeaks of delight when she heard me opening a treat bag slayed me every time. My family liked her, too, and looked forward to having the chance to take care of her when I was out of town. When we moved to this house, and adopted our cat Dorothy, Tilly even got a room of her own where she could run around without fear of being attacked. She was thoroughly spoiled in her way.

guinea pig house guest

When Tilly was four and a half years old, Jon and I went on a trip to Atlantic Canada. Tilly went to stay with my mom and her husband. When I got back, I could see that she wasn’t well. Her health had probably been declining slowly for a while, but the extended absence made the situation obvious. I took her to a small animal vet, who confirmed that she was deydrated, and diagnosed her with a kidney blockage. She could operate, but it would be expensive, and the odds that Tilly would come through it well were low. I cried a lot, but ultimately made the decision that it was time to let her go. That prolonging her life through procedures that would terrify her wouldn’t be a kindness.

This week, however, I have again welcomed a guinea pig into my home. My good friend and her family are off on a trip, and her guinea pig is visiting. My children, who were both born after Tilly died, are enchanted and enthralled. My cat, trained from a young age to give guinea pigs a wide berth, is keeping her distance. Once again the rustle of a plastic bag is greeted with high-pitched squeaks, from a small animal hoping for a treat. And I am remembering my first baby, the first creature that was truly mine and mine alone. Sometimes I still miss her a whole lot.

Did you have a first pet that truly captured your heart? I’d love to hear about it!

Podcast: Van Clayton Powel of You Are NOT What You Eat podcast you are not what you eat van clayton powelI can’t be the only one who ate my way through the holiday season, and then spent most of January recovering. And, sadly, the older I get, the harder it is for me to recover from my overindulgence. I’ve dutifully spent my month eating more veggies and less chocolate. However, today on the podcast I’m sharing an interview with Van Clayton Powel, author of You Are NOT What You Eat. Van says that, when it comes to digestion, it’s not so much what you’re eating, but how you’re eating it.

Digestion is one of those slightly squeamish topics for many of us. It borders on the icky, and doesn’t exactly make for polite dinner table conversation. Spending your time complaining about digestion seems to be the province of cranky, older relatives, and not one that most of us would choose to veer into. But Van makes a very good point when he says that our digestive system is one of the most critical systems in our body. Understanding how it works, and how best to promote your own digestive health, is very important. podcast you are not what you eat van clayton powelDuring the podcast, Van shared his own story, explaining how he healed his digestive system. We talked about modern science and ancient wisdom, and the preoccupation our society has with food. Van is very passionate about this topic, and his enthusiasm was catching. It was really interesting to learn about how different cultures approach food and eating and digestive health. Even though I, personally, have what I would refer to as an iron stomach, I definitely learned some things in speaking with Van.

If you’re still trying to get over the indulgences of the holidays, if you or someone in your family struggles with digestive issues, or if you’d just like to learn something, I encourage you to listen to today’s podcast:

I’m still working out what I’ll be sharing next week on the podcast. I have several good options to choose from, so I’m playing scheduling Jenga at the moment. I can promise it will be worth tuning in for, however. 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!

The iPad Mini and the Enviro-Mama

I just can’t seem to shut up about my new iPad Mini. Clearly, I am totally taken with this technology. Thanks to my tablet I’m reading more. I’m catching up on blogs and checking out magazine articles and finishing actual books. I feel like I’m a hungry person, and my diet has just ended. I’m re-immersing myself in words. It’s wonderful, particularly as someone who writes for a living.

All of this time in front of the iPad raises a question, though – how green is it, exactly? I would assume that by reading e-books rather than paper books I’m saving the trees, which seems like a good thing. But it’s not that straightforward. Manufacturing a tablet has an environmental impact. So does packing it in a box and shipping it halfway around the world. So does plugging it in and charging it each night, and eventually disposing of it at the end of its life. When you compare a book with an e-book, you’re sort of comparing apples and oranges. You need to dig a little deeper.

Apparently the lifetime carbon footprint of an iPad 2 is 105kg. Undoubtedly the lifetime footprint of my mini is less. First of all, it’s smaller and therefore uses fewer materials. Second of all, power efficiency of most electronic devices is constantly improving. The carbon footprint of the first generation iPad was 130kg, as a case in point. But, for argument’s sake, let’s go with the 105kg number.

book e-book environmental impact

The production of a single book generates 7.5kg of carbon dioxide. This means that, if you’re buying new books, one tablet consumes as much carbon dioxide as 14 paper books. Other estimates say that you need to read 23 new books a year before the two are equivalent. Given that I’ve finished 10 e-books already, I’m definitely on my way to justifying my tablet. However, there are two mitigating factors to consider here:

  1. I likely would not be reading as many paper books, so it’s not a fair comparison.
  2. I would likely not be buying all of my paper books new from the bookstore.

On top of that, you need to consider factors beyond the carbon footprint of your reading material. For instance, what chemicals are used to manufacture it, and what are your fingers coming into contact with when you hold it? Apple is trying to be green in this regard. Its LCD display is mercury-free, and its display glass is arsenic-free. The device doesn’t contain brominated flame retardants or PVC. But that doesn’t mean that it’s completely free of any questionable chemicals. Books aren’t either, though. The ink used in printing releases volatile organic compounds. Chemicals are used in the production of paper, as well.

book ipad environment

We also need to remember that many tablet users, like me, don’t just read books on their devices. They surf the internet, update social media, check email, and so on. More and more, instead of sitting down at a computer, we’re using some kind of portable device. From an energy standpoint, it’s better to use a smaller device than a bigger one. If we ditch clunky desktop computers for tablets, and we keep the tablets for several years, we’re probably coming out ahead. If, instead, we just add the iPad to our growing collection of electronic devices, and ditch it as soon as the next version comes along, that’s not so great.

The long and short of it is that my iPad Mini could be very green, depending on how I use it. But to be perfectly honest, I mostly just enjoy it. I like that I’m reading more, so even if I can’t directly calculate the impact on my carbon footprint, I can see the impact on my lifestyle. And I can see that if, for instance, I start shifting more of my reading to the tablet that I already own, I can maximize the positive benefits for the environment. Call it justification, but the thought makes me happy.

Does the environmental impact of reading a book vs. reading an e-book sway your decision? And do you think that a tablet is actually the greener way to go? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What’s in a Baby Name?

Yesterday I heard a story on the radio about choosing baby names, and current trends in naming. This is a topic of some interest to me at the moment, as my children are about to welcome their fourth new cousin in under 10 months. While I am very decidedly not part of it, there’s been a baby boom in my family as of late. While I have absolutely zero input into the decision, I find it somewhat fascinating how parents go about it. Everyone’s approach is different. Everyone takes a different amount of time to settle on a final choice.

My husband and I settled on baby names very early in my two pregnancies. While I was still in my first trimester, I compiled a list of my top choices for both boys and girls. Then, together, we chose first names from those lists. My children’s middle names were chosen for family members. Hannah’s middle name, for instance, is Lauren, for her grandmothers Laura and Laurie. Jacob’s middle name is Theodore for his grandfather and great grandfather. Once we’d chosen, we stuck with the names. I got lucky in this regard, because when I was pregnant with Hannah I started to sour on our boy name, and when I was pregnant with Jacob I started to sour on our girl name, but this ended up not being an issue either time.

I know other people who wait to meet their new baby before they settle on a name. Here in British Columbia you have 30 days to register the birth, and I’ve known parents who’ve gone right down to the wire in naming their little ones. In fact, I’ve even known people who’ve gone over, and had to pay fines. I know others who, once they see their baby, decide their chosen name just doesn’t fit and start the search all over again. There’s a lot of responsibility in choosing a name, and you want to make sure you have the right one for your new arrival. I can understand that. This is the label your child will carry for life, after all.

choosing a baby name

As is probably obvious based on the fact that our children are named Hannah and Jacob, Jon and I weren’t searching for particularly unique names or spellings. Vancouver is a very multi-cultural city, and I thought that the simpler my name choices, the easier it would be for everyone to pronounce my kids’ names. My own parents, by contrast, wanted unique names. In the 70s when I was born, Amber was still a pretty unusual name. Now it carries certain, er, connotations. My middle name is Dawn, and if you combine the two, you have Amber Dawn. As you can see, I don’t need to do a quiz find my stripper name, I already have it. (Although, for the record, I actually do like my name quite a lot.)

There are some countries where the parents’ name choice isn’t the final word. In an effort to avoid possible trauma, governments have implemented laws around what you may name your baby. For instance, in Germany the baby’s gender must be obvious from the choice of first name, and in Denmark parents must choose from a list of 7000 approved names, some of which are for boys and others for girls, or go through an approval process. And in Iceland a teenage girl is fighting with the government to get her name back.

The real truth about naming your baby is that whatever you choose, you’re probably going to choose wrong. Either it will be too common or too unusual, too hard to spell or too boring, too hard to pronounce or too long or too short. There will be too many weird nicknames, or not enough personalized products with the name printed on it. There are so many ways to mess up, but a choice must be made. In the end, we all just need to shut out the outside ideas and opinions, and do our best. And maybe choose a really good middle name or two, so our kids will have options.

What approach did you take to naming your babies? Did you choose names early on, or at the last minute? I’d love to hear!

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