Archives for September 2013

Going Out Anyway

The past two Wednesday evenings found me stomping around the house, all stressed out. I had a bunch of work to do, but I had to go out. Last week, it was to attend a long table dinner (my first!) hosted by the fabulous folks from Vitala Foods at their Bakerview EcoDairy. As I write this, I realize that complaining about ‘having to’ attend a long table dinner is incredibly whiny, and ranks among the most first world of first world problems. The point remains, however, that I was stretched for time and this exacerbated the issue.

long table dinner bakerview eco-dairyLast night, I was heading to my first-ever tap dancing class. My daughter Hannah is taking tap dancing this year, and I decided to sign myself up for the adult classes they’re running in the evening. I’ve always wanted my own tap shoes, and now I have some. Plus, I’m learning what to do with them. Again, complaining about how hard my life is because I ‘have to’ go to completely optional tap classes demonstrates a complete lack of perspective. I can admit that sometimes I lack perspective.

Something funny (or maybe it was entirely predictable) happened when I decided to leave the stress at home and go out anyway. I had a great time. At the EcoDairy I met new people, got up close and personal with some cows, sipped champagne and ate amazing local food in a beautiful setting. I talked food with farmers and food bloggers, laughed about parenting with other moms and came home with great (mostly edible) swag. What’s not to love about that?

tap dancing tap shoesAt my tap dancing class I tapped. I was good at some things and not so good at others. I laughed. I sweated. I galloped across the room, and every step I took echoed. I met other people – some of them absolute beginners like me, some who were experienced tappers. I listened to the music and tried to keep the rhythm. At the end of it, I’d had a good workout and I was no longer so caught up inside my head.

Sometimes, when I step away from all those things that are freaking me out they don’t seem so bad. In these moments, I can see that a lot of the stress I feel is stress that I place on myself. Stress to do it all, perfectly, all the time. Stress caused by self-imposed deadlines and unrealistic expectations.

I think maybe it’s important to just say forget it and go out anyway once in a while. The world won’t end if I spend an hour or two enjoying myself instead of agonizing over every little thing. In fact, maybe it will be the better for it. I know my world will, anyway.

Podcast: Just Imagining with Will Stroet

In my time as a parent, I have witnessed some truly terrible children’s entertainment. From plots that make no sense, to seriously grating music, to JUST PLAIN YELLING FOR 20 MINUTES STRAIGHT, I’ve pretty much seen it all. This is why, when I find something my kids and I both enjoy, I view it as a gift. Enter Will Stroet – fellow Vancouverite, former teacher, father and children’s entertainer. My kids and I recently got our hands on his newest English-language CD, Just Imagine, and I can confirm that it is not only not annoying, but actually downright catchy. I recently had the chance to catch up with Will for the Strocel.com podcast.

strocel.com podcast will stroet

Will Stroet is a former teacher, whose love of music turned into a career. He performs in both English and French with his Backyard Band. In fact, when Just Imagine launches at the end of this month, it will be released alongside its French-language counterpart, Imagine. (I always make sure to read the word ‘imagine’ with a French accent.) He’s also going on tour, performing a series of CD launch concerts across Canada during the fall and winter.

will stroet podcast just imagine kids musicDuring our podcast, I asked Will how he makes sure his music is both kid-friendly and parent-friendly. We talked about the messages he strives to communicate through his music, and what his daughter, Ella, thinks of his latest CD. I also asked him about his upcoming concert series, and what you can expect if you attend.

My five-year-old Jacob has been playing Just Imagine on repeat since it came into our house. After some seriously long-term exposure to the CD, I’m still finding it catchy and non-irritating. If you’d like smart, fun music for your little ones, you’ll want to check out Will Stroet. Hear more about him – as well as some snippets from his new CD – by listening to our podcast:

If you enjoyed my conversation with Will, you can pre-order your own copy of Just Imagine at willmusic.bandcamp.com/album/just-imagine. Also, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. With school back in session and my blog’s technical issues apparently resolved for the moment, I’m planning more podcasts throughout the fall. I’m in the process of lining several up right now, and I’m excited to share them with you. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

My Happiness List: September 2013 Edition

I blogged my last personal happiness list over three months in June, before my kids got out of school for the summer. I’m feeling like it’s time to re-visit it, and remind myself about the things that are going well in my life. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

fall apples local food happy list happiness crafting my life

My Happy List

  1. Ripe autumn raspberries in my garden. They feel like a total gift as the days grow cooler and wetter.
  2. Having the opportunity to be part of successful Leading Moms event yesterday led by my fabulous and inspiring VancouverMom.ca teammates Christine Pilkington and Bianca Bujan, plus way too many other people to mention.
  3. Licorice tea.
  4. A new knitting project – I’m finally trying out the Clapotis.
  5. A weekend retreat to look forward to on Friday, led by the amazing Joyelle Brandt.
  6. Real progress being made on my renovations, with the result that the sunroom in my kitchen is no longer scorching hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.
  7. The fact that my kids are finally starting to settle into their school routine and I am, too.
  8. Excellent dark chocolate.
  9. Fresh local apples.
  10. An impending blog upgrade, which will hopefully reduce all the technological frustration and allow me to post more often here.
  11. Fall TV. I’m already sucked in to Sleepy Hollow, and I’m eagerly anticipating the return of Parenthood, The Good Wife and Person of Interest.
  12. Sweaters and boots, which help to make up for the fact that summer is over.
  13. A kid-free trip to Tofino with my husband to look forward to in November. It will be my first time!
  14. The way my son cuddles up to me and says, “Mama, you are so cozy!”
  15. The way my daughter cartwheels wherever she goes. (We’ve set some ground rules – no cartwheeling in the street, in parking lots, or in Starbucks.)
  16. I’m starting tap dancing lessons this week. I’ve never done it before, and I’m pumped!

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Little Interruptions, Big Moments

My blog has been feeling uncooperative lately, and it’s getting on my nerves. You can read and comment just fine, but the back end isn’t working so well. Sometimes blog posts won’t save, and frequent lost work is common. When I try to delete my spam comments, add a new post or updat a plugin, instead of getting the right page I often get a ‘page not found’ error. It means that instead of taking 30-45 minutes to write a normal blog post, it’s taking me hours of re-loading and waiting, re-loading and waiting, re-loading and waiting.

I love my webhost (the people who provide my blog a home online), and I’m working with them on this. We’re upgrading this weekend and hopefully that will help. In the meantime the tedium is getting to me. I’m publishing fewer blog posts, and the aggravation I’m feeling is one reason why. It’s funny, though. Sometimes those little interruptions in life that make you want to grind your teeth also provide these big moments that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’ve recently started taking out the garbage. We have to cart it to the curb early in the morning on our collection day, because we live in an area where bear sightings are common. My husband Jon had this job for years, but since I wake up earlier than he does we recently agreed that I would take it over. It just makes sense. And yet, throwing a sweater over my pajamas and rolling my green bin and garbage can out to the curb feels like an interruption to my morning. I already have more than enough to do on weekdays, with getting two kids up, dressed and fed, making lunches, and so on. Taking out the trash is just one more thing – and not a super-fun or glamourous thing, either.

flower gerbera daisy

Flowers provide a great distraction from little annoyances

This morning, as I stood at the curb in the early morning light, bleary-eyed and hoping that none of my neighbours appeared, I had a moment. There is a particular smell that you only smell first thing in the morning after a night of rain. It’s the freshest, cleanest smell. When you combine it with the sights and smells of a day that’s just beginning, you have the sense that the whole world is starting anew, and maybe you can, too. Just for a moment, things were pretty great for me out on that curb, until my neighbour across the street wheeled out her trash, fully-dressed, fresh-faced, and trying not to laugh at my crusty eyes and flowered pajama pants.

The same sort of thing can happen for me as I try to type out a blog post. At this moment, I’ve given up with my WordPress editor, because it keeps going offline. Instead, I’m typing this post into a text editor. Once I’m done, I’ll try jumping through the hoops of adding photos and getting it to publish. For now, though, I’ve freed myself of the distractions that come with writing in a web browser. When I’m working online and I experience a break in my writing, I tend to wander away as I mull my words. Before I know it I’ve become completely sidetracked by funny cat videos and social media. Right now, on the other hand, there’s no other window for me to click to, and so I sit and write. It’s not quite as pure of a writing experience as taking a pen to paper, but it’s almost as good, and it’s more conducive to copying and pasting later.

Right now I’m just writing, choosing words and communicating ideas. This is a moment that I wouldn’t have if my website were cooperating.

Later this morning I have a dentist appointment. I’m not particularly looking forward to it – I have a busy week, and it feels like an interruption in the middle of that. It’s not a particularly welcome one, either. I don’t hate visiting the dentist, but I don’t love it, either. On the other hand, I know that for at least 30 minutes today I’m going to be in a chair, unconnected to the internet, unable to so much as speak. If I can overlook the fact that there will be a bunch of hands in my mouth, it’s a gift. A chance to do absolutely nothing in an otherwise packed week.

John Lennon famously said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. These big moments that crop up in the middle of annoying interruptions are one of the best examples. We so often think of these times when our plans are thwarted as intrusions, and in a way they are. In another way, though, they’re the stuff of life. Interruptions will come no matter what we do. The way that we experience them can change the way we think about this moment, this day, this week, this life. Why not try to look for the good things that come along with them?

(Remind me that I said that when I spend the next 45 minutes trying to publish this post, okay?)

(Update: 45 minutes? Ha! Try three hours. Blargh. I’m eagerly awaiting the upgrades.)

What If

If you were to sum what the inside of my head is like in two words, those words would be what if.

what if

 
 

What if the reason my husband is late getting home is because he was in a car accident?
What if I haven’t received a reply to that email because no one received it?
What if they received the email, didn’t like it, and are now angry at me?
What if they received the email, and they reply soon and I have to do something about it?
What if I haven’t heard from that friend in a while because I said something that upset her without realizing it?
What if I had said or done something different in 1993 and managed to avoid that stupid fight back in high school?
What if I call someone and once they’re on the phone I forget what I wanted to say and I sound ridiculous?

It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes I what if about things that might be considered positive.

What if everyone loves this blog post?
What if my kids totally rock at school and everyone loves them?
What if I really love the tap dancing classes that are starting this month?
What if I get around to writing that book proposal I’ve been sitting on for ages?
What if I have a lot more free time now that both kids are in school?
What if I get sushi for dinner so that I don’t have to cook tonight?
What if I get some new furniture for my living room?

Whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the what ifs aren’t really positive for me. In either case, they take me away from what’s actually happening around me, and focus my attention on intangible outcomes in the future. Or, in some cases, they focus my attention on events long past that I can do absolutely nothing about right now. When I’m caught up in all the what if thoughts, I’m not present in my life as it is right now.

Sometimes I describe myself as ‘delightfully neurotic’. Really, this is shorthand for saying that I’m an anxious person. The truth is I more or less always have been. I remember, at six years old, sobbing because I had to make a phone call. When I started swimming lessons my mother had to carry me kicking and screaming to the car because I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do, since I didn’t know how to swim. For as long as I can remember I’ve been overly invested in outcomes, worrying about what would happen next. It’s why I read the end of the book first – only when I know how it’s going to turn out can I relax and enjoy the ride.

I can see the my daughter Hannah shares some of my anxieties. The first thing out of her mouth every morning is a question about what is going to happen that day. She wants to know what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when we’ll go and buy her Halloween costume, and what time we’ll be leaving to go grocery shopping. I can understand how she feels, and at this point I’ve mostly stopped blaming myself for passing this trait along. I’m not sure I ever could have avoided it, and the truth is that I have a pretty happy and fulfilling life. I know my daughter can, too.

Sometimes I wonder, though. What if I didn’t spend so much time wondering what if? (The irony of this question is not lost on me.) How would my life be different if I looked at what was in front of me right now, instead of what may be in front of me later, or what was in front of me that one day 12 years ago? I don’t know. With September here, though, I can’t ignore that 2013 is starting to tick away. Since my word for this year is presence, I really would like to focus on spending less time on the what ifs.

The good news for me is that I actually have the space in my life right now to be more present. As I near the end of the first week of having two kids in school, I am beginning to see how this transition will impact my life. I am spending more time alone. It actually feels a little bit like when I was working in an office. I have more control over the little ways my day is structured. I can eat lunch when I’m hungry, and choose food I like. I can take time to make a cup of tea, or stand up and stretch. I can listen to my music and choose when I take breaks. This is giving me the ability to connect more with my own rhythms, to breathe a little deeper, and to sink into the present moment.

Of course, I still have things to do. I still have work that takes up my time, deadlines to meet, extra-curricular activities to shuttle the kids to, and multiple obligations competing for my time and attention. The shift is there, though, and I can feel it. For today, I’m doing my best to just be here, and let it seep under my skin. I want to fully inhabit this space before I make plans about what to do with it, or descend into all the what ifs about what it means to have school age children. For this moment, I’m doing my best to just be.

What if it turns out I’m good at it?
What if I’m not?
What if I stop asking, allow this blog post to stand, and eat some lunch?

For today I’ll choose option three.

My Kindergartner

first day of kindergarten

Sitting on the carpet on the first day of kindergarten

At long last, kindergarten is well and truly underway for my son Jacob. Two days in, it seems to be going well. He’s been to the computer lab, found his cubby, enjoyed playtime, and waved at his sister outside on the playground. While there’s no denying that he’s one of the smallest students in the school, especially with a birthday late in the year, the whole thing is driving home to me just how very big he’s getting.

I can see how much Jacob has grown in just the past few months since school ended in June. He can keep up with his sister better than he could before summer vacation started. His balance is better and his legs are longer. He’s also getting better at explaining himself, and he’s started drawing. He’s even experimenting with printing, and while his sister started reading a little later, his early literacy skills are increasing with leaps and bounds. It’s as if, with the start of formal schooling, he’s decided to go and grow up right before my eyes.

Super Jacob kid art 5 year old

This says “Super Jacob”

You might think that with my baby starting school, I’m feeling wistful and a little sad. I was last week, but not so much now. There are some serious perks to having two kids in full-time public school. I’m not paying for daycare anymore, and I don’t have to juggle two drop-offs and pick-ups. My son’s increasing independence is also making my life easier. He chooses his own clothes and gets dressed by himself. He puts his lunch in his backpack, and then carries it all to school. There is parental freedom in having school-age children. I have more time to myself during the day, and while I’m still trying to catch up on the work backlog that developed over summer vacation, I can see that this will make my life easier in many ways.

It’s amazing, watching your children grow up and become their own people. It kind of sneaks up on you, so that you don’t notice it until one day, you look at your kid and see a totally different child. A child who can do more, say more and understand more. An awesome little person that you’re proud to know.

My son is in kindergarten, and he’s getting bigger every day. I’m so glad that I have a front row seat on his life. I’m looking forward to what this next chapter in my life as a parent holds.

Nature Promotes Parental Sanity

getting outside nature parentingI’ve shared before that my daughter Hannah cried a lot as a baby. She was just one of those kids who had a great set of lungs on her, and wasn’t afraid to use them. As a result, I came up with a lot of coping mechanisms, both to deal with the crying, and to help fend it off. I went to as many playgroups as possible (I was the only one with a two-month-old at baby time at the library). I used baby carriers and memorized The Happiest Baby on the Block. One of the first coping mechanisms I came up with, however, was to head outside.

Somehow, being outdoors makes pretty much everything better, no matter your age. Of course, sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but even standing out on the front porch on a rainy day feels different than standing in the living room with a cranky child. The air is different. The sounds are different. The world is different. In fact, there’s even research that suggests that engaging with nature – whether looking at photos in a book, taking a walk through your neighbourhood, or working in the garden – has positive mental health effects. It’s lovely to have scientific evidence, but I think most of us know instinctively that nature makes things better.

Now that school is underway, I’m out walking in my neighbourhood more regularly again, as I make the twice-daily trek to the school and back in the morning and afternoon. While it’s certainly more fun to be out there on warm and sunny days than cold and rainy days, I notice that I feel better when I’m getting this daily fresh air and exercise regardless of the weather. As a result, I’m a little calmer and more patient with my kids. Plus, when they’re out walking and running and collecting sticks and rocks and leaves on the way to school and back, they’re less prone to tearing up my house back at home.

Of course, not everyone walks to school and back every day. I didn’t myself, over the summer. All the same, I think most of us can make a few minutes to get outside most days. Over the summer, when I wasn’t walking to school and everyone’s nerves were fraying, getting outside was a sure-fire cure. Sometimes that meant heading to a local park or lake. Sometimes it meant working in the garden. And sometimes it just meant opening the back door and heading into the yard. After a few breaths outside, the world just seems that much easier to handle.

I was inspired to write this post for to the 10 Week Peaceful Parenting Challenge Blog Carniva hosted by Prenatal to Parenting. This week the participants have written about spending time outside. We hope you enjoy this week’s posts and consider joining us next week when we share about a week of practicing yoga.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Some of My Favourite Things – Sarah from Prenatal to Parenting shares some of her favourite things to do outside with her kids.

Get Outside – Peaceful Parenting Challenge – Week 9 Katrina from Kalem Photography has made quite a few changes since this challenge began and wonders if you have.

Nature Promotes Parental Sanity – Amber from Strocel.com declares getting outside a fantastic coping mechanisms for difficult parenting days.

Week #9- Spending Time Outside – Jennifer from the Children’s Directory let the expert lead the way.

Amy from The Connection We Share takes a break from work to go fly a kite.

Week 9 – Get Outside – Amanda from Sticky Hands spends the week camping.

Week 9 – Spending Time Outside -Kathryn from Curiosity and the Kat learns that her agenda isn’t always the same as her twins.

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