Archives for May 2013

Walking Alone at Night

walking alone at night

If there was one message I got as a teenage girl, it was this: never walk alone at night. Bad things happen to women who are out by themselves after dark. This was in the days before cell phones, as well, which meant that if you were alone you were really alone.

I remember, very clearly, sitting in my grade 10 girls’ gym class, not quite 16 years old, and looking forward to my birthday so that I could get my driver’s license. Our teacher, presented with a room full of girls who would soon be driving, gave us tips to keep us safe when we were out on the road at night. If your car broke down, she said, you should pull over, lock all the doors and turn on your hazards. If a man stopped to help, you should open your window only the smallest crack, and ask him to go get help before you closed that window up tight again. If you had to walk through a dark parking lot to your car, you shouldn’t walk alone, and you should have your keys ready before you entered the parking lot both to reduce any lingering and to use as a potential weapon.

You don’t have to do much searching online to find safety tips for women who are walking alone at night, or people urging us not to do it. The message of danger is ever present, and women are told to be cautious and vigilant, in North America. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the world, but I know that I’ve heard the warning calls loud and clear here.

When I was in university and didn’t have a car, I found myself taking the bus after dark. This also meant waiting for the bus after dark. Mostly I was taking the bus from school back home, and the bus loop there was busy and well-lit and I was rarely afraid. Sometimes I was taking the bus from home back up to campus for my evening karate class, and that felt less good, standing on the side of the road in the dark by myself. I felt nervous.

Somewhat ironically, the only time I ever actually encountered something untoward at the bus stop was not at night. It was at about 2:00pm on a Sunday afternoon, in the full light of day. As I sat by myself on the bench a man walked by. I had seen him approaching, but hadn’t looked closely. It was only when he passed directly in front of me and stopped to lean against the bus stop sign that I realized he wasn’t wearing any pants. He had on a T-shirt, socks, shoes, and a sweatshirt tied around his waist so that it covered his rear end and passing cars couldn’t tell that his bits were hanging out. I contemplated how I would defend myself if he did anything, but he just engaged me in light chit chat (How long until the bus comes? Too bad it’s cloudy today.) until I got up and left.

Back in my apartment, I told my roommate what had happened and she fell down on the floor laughing. Later, on the phone to the police non-emergency line the woman asked if the man had exposed himself to me. I just kept saying, over and over, “He wasn’t wearing any pants.” The police sent someone to look for him, but I’d bet $5 he was long gone by the time he arrived.

Back to the point at hand. Lately, I’ve been out walking by myself after dark more often. I’ve attended a number of events at night that are a 10-15 minute walk from home, and at which I’ve been drinking. If I weren’t drinking, I would drive, because I’m honestly more comfortable not walking by myself after dark. But after a couple of glasses of wine that’s both unsafe and illegal. On top of that, with these events so close to home, paying for a cab just feels like overkill. My neighbourhood feels pretty safe to me, on the whole, recent cougar sightings notwithstanding.

So how foolhardy am I actually being, going for a walk by myself after dark? Does danger really lurk behind every corner?

I think that when we talk about the potential dangers women face after dark, we’re mostly talking about theft and sexual assault. Of the two, the more frightening for me (and probably most people) is sexual assault. Take my wallet, honestly. I carry about $17 in cash most of the time, and I can cancel all my cards. But don’t attack me.

So, let’s look at sexual assault rates. Apparently, 472,000 were reported by women in Canada in 2009, for a rate of 34 per 1000 women age 15 or older, or 3.4%. That’s sobering, for sure. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in the US, 73% of perpetrators of sexual assault are not strangers. The US Department of Justice puts that number at nearly 80%. Of the women who are sexually assaulted by strangers, about 28% happen on the street or in a parking lot.

What this means, is that most sexual assaults occur at home, or in someone else’s home, at the hands of someone the victim knows. The actual rate of sexual assault on the street, by a stranger, is something closer to 0.2-0.25% by my math. It’s not negligible, and I do not in any way mean to discount it. Any sexual assault, in any place, by anyone, is one too many. We all need to be working, every day, to end rape culture. However, 186,543 Canadians were injured or killed in car accidents in 2009. That means my likelihood of getting hurt when I’m in a car is about 0.55% in any given year, and I don’t think twice about that.

So, I’m going to keep walking at night, in my neighbourhood, to meet my friends at a local restaurant or attend a wine tasting. I will likely still feel afraid, because it has been thoroughly drilled into me. But I will do it, because of the various options available to me, I think it’s the best, and likely actually the safest. And I also believe that I shouldn’t have to change my actions out of fear of what someone else may do. Walking at night is my choice, and I’m not asking to be attacked if I do it.

What about you? Do you walk alone at night? Are you afraid when you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ditching the Schedule

blogging schedules

For a few years now, I’ve scheduled my blog posts to run every morning at 6:00am Pacific time, five or six days a week. Sometimes, I wrote several posts all at once. Sometimes I sat up late at night, trying desperately to finish something to run the next morning. But I did it, because I feel pretty strongly that in order to get better at writing, you have to write. The other reason I did it is because schedules work for me. I’m a planner by nature, and knowing what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it creates the sort of order that I enjoy. It’s freeing to me, in fact.

Recently, though, things have changed. For one thing, I’m writing a lot more for work. A lot more. I enjoy it very much, working as a writer and editor. However, it’s leaving me feeling a little bit lost when it’s time for me to sit in this chair and write for myself. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m all written out. On top of that, having the structure of a specific editorial schedule to adhere to in my working life has more than filled my need for structure. My planning cup runneth over, and at this point having yet another writing obligation to fulfill is just a little bit too much. And so, I’ve decided to ditch my blogging schedule here.

I will still write here, more days than not. I will still sit in this chair and think out my thoughts and write things simply because I want to write them. But I will do that on my own schedule, and in my own time. I guess you could say I’m giving myself the gift of freedom. The freedom to write, or the freedom to not write, as the muse dictates. Or as my energy level dictates.

At this point in my life, my biggest fantasy is to be able to tuck my kids into bed, then head downstairs to do whatever I want. This isn’t a reality for me, for a couple of reasons. The first is that my four-year-old Jacob is giving his father and me a workout every night as he gets out of bed for one more drink of water, one more hug, one more thing he has to tell us. I’m getting my daily exercise running up and down the stairs every evening, more times than I care to count. The second reason I can’t just do whatever I want when my kids are in bed is that I don’t have enough time during the day to finish all my work. But by streamlining things, maintaining focus, and making sure that I meet my basic needs so that I’m efficient, I do better.

My hope is that by easing up on the requirements I set myself, I can cultivate a greater sense of ease and spaciousness in my life. I can spend more time being present in the moment, rather than thinking about all the things I “have” to do. I can spend my evenings reading, or watching TV, or meditating, or taking a yoga class, instead of forcing myself to follow an arbitrary schedule. I have a long way to go, but it’s a goal, and it’s a big part of why I’m easing up on myself.

So, if you’ve noticed that my schedule has shifted, you’re right. It has. I’m not going anywhere – this space means to much to me to do that. But sometimes, I may be too busy living to sit in this chair and write. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, maybe it’s even better than okay.

I’ll let you know how this new approach to blogging works out for me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Do you set schedules for yourself, or do you find them constricting? And if you blog, when and how often do you write? Tell me!

Podcast: Label Lessons with Andrea Donsky

strocel.com podcast andrea donsky label lessonsWe all know the drill: Eat whole foods, mostly vegetables. Don’t eat too much sugar. Don’t eat too much fat. Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat things that come in packages. Don’t eat things with ingredients you can’t pronounce. There are lots of rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and most of us are at least somewhat familiar with them. Following them, however, is a different story. It turns out that junk food is so popular for a reason, and the reason is that it’s easy and it tastes good. So, when I had the chance to record a podcast with Andrea Donsky, founder of NaturallySavvy.com and author of Label Lessons and Unjunk your Junk Food, I was in.

Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, but she’s also a mom of three. Through her books and website she endeavours to help us navigate the aisles of the grocery store, making healthier choices. She’s pragmatic and non-judgmental as she does so, focusing on what ingredients we should seek to avoid, and how we can decipher ingredient lists and nutrition labels. Rather than lecturing us to eat more kale, she helps us to choose a better granola bar for when we need a fast snack on the go.

strocel.com podcast andrea donsky label lessons unjunk your junk foodDuring our podcast I asked Andrea just what a Registered Holistic Nutritionist is, anyway. We talked about what ingredients are red flags, and why. We discussed how to appropriately set limits on junk food with kids. We discussed organic food and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We talked about where to shop, how to shop, and why you have to vigilant when you’re choosing what to buy.

If you could use some practical, judgment-free help choosing food for your family, or you’d like to hear what seven ingredients you should be on the lookout for, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Andrea Donsky:

If you enjoyed my conversation with Andrea, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

We Didn’t go to London

When we bought this house 10 years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into. As young professionals with two incomes and no kids, we had saved a fairly sizeable nest egg. We planned to buy our house, do some renovations, pay off the moving expenses, and then take a trip to London, England a few months later.

Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

home improvement renovations moneyIt turns out that renovations don’t work like I had anticipated. For all the schtick about getting a written estimate in advance and planning your expenses and so on, the truth is that renovations just get bigger and bigger as they go. Contractors find unpleasant surprises when they remove your old bathtub. Materials don’t arrive on time. The retailer decides to increase the price on that bathroom tile you looked at two months ago. On and on it goes, until you’ve spent twice what you had budgeted and it’s three months after your anticipated completion date and the end still isn’t in sight.

We didn’t go to London.

It’s now almost 10 years to the day since we took possession of this house and started our renovation journey, and this morning I called up a local contractor and gave him the go-ahead on more work on our house. After we almost bought a house in our neighbourhood last month, we’ve been keeping our eyes on the local market and visiting some open houses. We haven’t seen anything else in our price range that really tickles our fancy. So, instead of moving, we’ve decided to invest in the house we already own. We know we like the neighbourhood, all of our stuff is already here, and we can side-step the expense of taxes and realtor fees and all that jazz if we just stay put and do some work to make our current home more liveable.

As I stare down the home improvement barrel once again, I’m reminded of the first time. I’m working more right now, my husband is in line for a promotion, and soon my son will be going to public school (which is free) rather than daycare (which is not). I’ve been contemplating a trip with my kids. Not to Disneyland, this time, but to someplace more ambitious. Today, however, I authorized a whopping deposit on my credit card. That trip won’t happen. My daughter probably won’t be going to day camp all July, as I’d been contemplating. All of those little expenses are going to be eaten once again by the renovation monster.

This house I live in has seen a lot of my life. I’ve spent more time here than in almost any other house I’ve lived in. In a year or so it will surpass the place I think of as my childhood home. This is the place I painted and landscaped and installed baseboards. This is the place where I found out I was expecting two babies. These are the floors where my children took their first steps. These are the rooms that have provided a landscape for my life for a decade now, and these are the rooms that my family will fill for the foreseeable future as well. It is my home in every sense of the word. This is the place I was sitting when I got the news I was being laid off. This is the place where I write.

Instead of traveling, I invested in my home. Instead of buying clothes or fancy new cars or going back to school I invested in my home. Its walls are my London, and its bathroom tile is all of the other things I could have bought but didn’t. And, truthfully, I don’t regret that. When my daughter tells me that she loves her home, and I remember all the times we’ve shared here, I know it’s been worth it. Creating a place for my family to be is maybe the most important thing of all.

My problems are first-world problems. Which is to say, they’re good problems to have. Trying to decide whether I’m going to spend my money on a new ensuite and an updated sunroom, or a family trip to Hawaii, means I’m really very privileged. So I can only feel thankful, as once again I wade into the waters of home improvement, and hope that this time I can swim through them smoothly.

Pondering Life’s Mysteries

eight year old big questions

Sometimes being a parent is totally awesome. Other times it’s a whole lot of work, and maybe even a little (or more than a little) icky, but for today I want to focus on the awesome parts.

One of the things that makes being a parent awesome is the way that it forces you to look at the world through new eyes. As my daughter Hannah gets older, I find that her perspective changes and matures. No longer is she a lisping toddler who mispronounces words and believes that I know everything. As an eight-year-old she has insights she didn’t have before, asks questions she didn’t ask before, and considers how I’ll react to her words before she shares them.

Recently, Hannah told me that she’s been thinking about questions with no answers. She’s pondering life’s mysteries, my child. For example, she’s wondering:

  • “Why am I me, and not you?”
  • “How come you’re my mom, instead of someone else’s mom?”
  • “Why do the mountains go up, and not down?”

There really are no answers. It’s humbling to me that my child is now sophisticated enough to understand that.

There was a time in my life when I pondered the same sorts of questions. I wondered if what I think of as blue is the same thing that other people think of as blue. Did some people see blue as orange, and vice versa? I wondered about worlds that were too small, or too big, for us to see. I wondered why some names were girls’ names, and some names were boys’ names, and some names were both. I wondered what a soul looked like.

The truth is that I don’t ponder those questions so much anymore. The petty details of grown-up life take up all of my mental space. Instead of thinking about life’s mysteries, I think about what I have to buy at the grocery store, what appointments are in my calendar this week, about the fact that it’s Hannah’s library day tomorrow so we need to put her books in her backpack. I think about home renovations and cooking dinner and how much money I have in my bank account. I think about work deadlines and summer vacation plans and on and on and on. I am always thinking, but I am very rarely pondering.

Spending time with my daughter right now forces me to slow down and shift my thinking. It reminds me of all those questions that filled so many of my thoughts as a child. The questions that were just as much about who I am and how I exist in the world as they were about the fathomless mysteries of an infinite universe. When we contemplate the vastness of life, time and space, we can’t help but consider our place in it, and remember how very small we really are. These questions are the stuff of wonder and majesty and the divine.

And so, as my daughter shares her questions with me, I agree with her and say Yes, you’re right, that question doesn’t have an answer. And just for a minute, I see beyond myself, and into a much larger world. In doing that, I am once again thankful for the gifts that parenting brings, slipping into my life and enriching it in so many ways.

2013 Victoria Day Garden Tour

It’s Victoria Day here in Canada, which is officially considered the kick-off to both summer and the high season of gardening. In honour of that, today I’m sharing my annual Victoria Day garden tour.

Up first, I have lettuce and potatoes in planters. The lettuce is there to protect it from pests until it’s big enough. The potatoes are there because I’m trying to cram more into my garden. If you’re curious, I bought the potato planters from West Coast Seeds, and they work really well. They’re not too heavy, either, so I can shift them around as needed. Plus, they fold down for storage when the potatoes are done. I’m happy with this purchase so far.

Romaine lettuce seedling

Potato patio planters

Up next, in the warmest spot in the garden I have herbs. In this photo you can really only see the sage, but there’s also rosemary, thyme, bergamot and oregano hiding in there. Also, my tomato plants are in the back, and they’re very happy so far. I had an excellent harvest when I planted them here a few years ago, and I’m hoping for something similar this year. With a fairly warm spring so far, things are looking good.

Herbs and hidden tomatoes

In the narrow, sunny bed in front of my sunroom window, I have peppermint and some beneficial flowers, as well as peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Down at the very end you can see the strawberries. Last year my peppers and broccoli both failed, but this year they’re doing much better. Once again, I credit the warm spring.

Peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries

My raspberries, rose bush, and blueberries are ticking along as well.

Raspberry plants

Roses and blueberries

I’ve had mixed success with the garden bed that extends down the side of my house. The plants here seem to be especially prone to pests, as it’s not the sunniest spot, and it’s right up against the house where bugs like to hide. I’ve been using slug traps this year, with some success. It seems to have saved my basil, which didn’t survive in the past. My onions and bush beans are also pretty happy here. However, most of my amaranth seedlings have disappeared, and so I’m considering starting them in a planter like the lettuce.

Basil

Onions and bush beans

In the final garden bed alongside the house, in addition to the weeds you can see some volunteer potato plants, spinach and kale. I’ll be transplanting my lettuce here once it’s big enough as well.

Potatoes, kale and spinach

My raised bed is currently home to some beneficial flowers, carrots, melons, tomatillos, eggplant, the first of my corn seedlings, and pumpkins. The pumpkins seem to have been confused by the early good weather, putting out flowers long before they ought to have. I planted some extra pumpkin seeds when I put the plants out, in the hopes that if these ones fail then the younger ones will succeed. This is the third year I’m trying melons, and they haven’t succeeded yet, but with the good weather the plants are doing pretty well so far, so I’m hopeful that this year will be different.

Melons, tomatillos, eggplant, carrots, pumpkins and more

If you were to visit my garden today, though, what you would most likely really notice are all the bumblebees. They’re buzzing around the strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and sage flowers, doing their pollinating. I’m glad to see them, and I hope that they bode well for a good summer ahead.

Pollinating sage flowers

Bee on sage flowers

What does your garden look like right now?

Little Boxes, Full of Me

I keep my life in little boxes inside my head. This box contains my multiplication tables, which I learned in elementary school, standing beside my desk and clapping out a rhythm. Five times six is thirty. Five times seven is thirty-five. Five times eight is forty. Five times nine is forty-five. That box contains advertising jingles. Another box contains old locker combinations and computer passwords. It’s a little dusty, and sometimes hard to find. A small opalescent box contains barely conceived fragments of dreams, which I’m not quite ready to give voice to.

little boxes full of memoriesSometimes, a trigger I wasn’t expecting causes me to trip over a box, and long-forgotten feelings and memories come spilling out. Like yesterday, when I heard Garth Brooks singing The Dance.

In 2001 my only cousin died. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that he was murdered. He had just turned 21, and his life had taken several wrong turns, until he found himself in a place he couldn’t get out of. He was shot, and after spending a few days in the ICU he passed away.

At his funeral my uncle stood and shared some memories of his only child’s early years. Lying on the grass, looking at clouds, asking questions. Playing together. Full of life and full of promise. And then my uncle played The Dance, which is of course the perfect choice in so many ways.

I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

When the song came on, I was standing in my kitchen washing dishes. As the box that contained all my memories of that June day 12 years ago opened up, I started to cry. I thought about my cousin, four years younger than me, and what he’d been like as a child. I recalled sleepovers at my grandmother’s house when we were kids, and I pulled him and my sister along in a wagon. I thought of how happy he was then. And then I thought about my own children. Can I save them from the same fate? Can I keep my own happy little boy from taking too many wrong turns?

Life is funny, though, and people are resilient. I’m resilient, too. I know how to bend and not break. So I shed my tears, and remembered the people who I loved and who aren’t here anymore. The people who helped me become who I am. The people who got lost, and the people who just couldn’t bend anymore. The people who lived good, full lives, and then moved on. And then I wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my hoodie, and rinsed the pot I was scrubbing, while the memories disappeared back inside their box, and the box receded back into its place in a small corner of my mind.

So many boxes, so many pieces of me. Big pieces and small pieces. Happy pieces and sad pieces. Old pieces and new pieces. All of them just waiting for a cue to open, and remind me of what this particular piece means to me. How it contributes to making me the person I am, full of life and full of memories.

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