A Letter to Myself

How are you? I am poking my head up from watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix.

The first episode of Gilmore Girls aired in October, 2000. At the time I had just graduated from university with my engineering degree. I was engaged and living by myself in a one bedroom apartment in a much cooler neighbourhood than I lived in now. I had just bought my first car and I was volunteering as a Brownie leader and planning a wedding. Things were very different for me then than they are now. For one thing, binge-watching TV is much harder for me now these days, which is why I haven’t already finished Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

I also have my eye on another Netflix series, which I will get to…eventually. You get it, right? Anyways, I’m looking forward to checking out The Crown, which depicts a young Queen Elizabeth II. Inspired by that series, a few of Netflix’s leading women drafted notes to their younger selves. Here are my two favourites (you can click on them for a larger view):

netflix_letter_thecrown_english_v1

netflix_letter_chelsea_english_v1

 
 
Looking back on my own life, and how much it has changed in the past 16 years, I also wrote a letter to myself. I chose to write to myself back in 2000, when the original Gilmore Girls first premiered.

Dear Amber,

You worry too much. You already know that, but it bears repeating.

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but you have a lot of freedom right now. More than you will appreciate until you find yourself with two kids, a mortgage, a cat and a tank full of fish.

So that voice that is telling you that you want to do something different? Listen to it. This is your time to take risks and make mistakes. Big ones and little ones. Every mis-step will teach you way more than you will ever learn by following the rules.

That boy you’re engaged to? He’s a keeper. You already know this, but it will take years for you to learn what a strong force for good he will be in your life.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and make other friends, though. You need people more than you know. Cultivate relationships. Put yourself out there. And don’t be afraid to show people your imperfections. That’s where the magic is.

And also: you are way hotter than you give yourself credit for.

Love,
Ms. Strocel

2000

2000

2016

2016

What would you say to your younger self if you could?

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

My Happiness List: November 2016 Edition

I am a Canadian, and a relatively liberal Canadian, at that. Because of that it probably won’t surprise you to learn I was rooting for Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election. My children were, too. Last night, as the results became increasingly obvious, my son Jacob became angry and my daughter Hannah became sad. At first I just sat with them and validated their feelings, sharing my own discouragement. And then I moved on to reassure them, as best I could, that as their mother I will take care of them and keep them safe and they don’t really need to worry about this stuff.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I was very unhappy. Today, I am determined not to wallow. I need some positivity. I think a lot of us need some positivity – even if you’re pleased about the outcome of the election, campaigns have a way of breeding divisiveness and bad feelings. So I’ve decided to count my blessings and look on the bright side. I blogged my last personal happiness list over a year ago, so it’s clearly high time for some happiness up in here.

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

happiness

My Happy List

  1. My daughter Hannah, who baked cookies yesterday, completely of her own accord.
  2. Singing along to a great song.
  3. Kindergarten. I spent today as a substitute teacher in one, and while those kids are super energetic, they are also hope in human form.
  4. Speaking of substitute teaching, I am so, so, so happy to have a job that I love and that energizes me every single day when I show up to work.
  5. Great boots, that make me feel super cute when I wear them.
  6. My son Jacob, who recently started piano lessons and loves them, and who shares my love of doing math calculations in the car.
  7. Chocolate, which never disappoints.
  8. Justin Trudeau. Is he perfect? No, but he’s a leader that many of us, as Canadians, are justly proud of.
  9. Speaking of being Canadian, I’m especially happy about that right now. Eh.
  10. New skis for my husband, and ski passes for my family, which means a really fun winter (provided the weather cooperates).
  11. The camera on my phone, which allows me to capture so much of life – and especially so much of my children’s lives – that I never would have been able to in the past.
  12. Colourful fall leaves, which brighten up an otherwise gloomy month like November.
  13. My husband, who supports me in so many ways, in particular as I went back to school and earned my teaching degree.
  14. Guitar Hero, which saw me through the couple of weeks when I was sitting around waiting for my teaching certificate to be finalized so that I could work.
  15. The peaceful transition of power, which is such an amazing thing, whether I disagree with the final decision or not.

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

Happy Halloween!

It’s Halloween! I freely confess, this is not my favourite of holidays. When you’re a little bit introverted the whole thing can feel slightly intimidating. Plus I’m actually a gigantic scaredy cat. Horror movies are so not my thing, and the loud noises of the neighbourhood kids setting of firecrackers in the park all night are jarring to me.

But my kids adore Halloween, and now that I’m a teacher I’m required to get in the spirit of things at work, as well. So, I help my kids pull together costumes every year, and get dressed up myself. I buy a bunch of candy and am very generous with trick-or-treaters who come to my door. I decorate the house and try to make it fun for everyone else.

One thing that I do actually enjoy every year is carving pumpkins with my kiddos. I am not the most confident carver, though, and usually stick with a pretty basic design. These jack-o-lanterns from 2013 are a good example of my typical handiwork:

jack o lantern halloween pumpkin

This year I decided to step things up a notch, though. I got some templates from Netflix and opted to create this Panda, from Jim Henson’s Word Party.

netflix

Meanwhile, my kids carved their own pumpkins.

halloween jack o lantern pumpkin

Here is my result. Not perfect, but not too bad!

halloween pumpkin jack o lantern

And here are all of our pumpkins, all lined up in a row.

halloween jack o lantern pumpkin

After finishing their pumpkins, my kids spent the evening watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on Netflix and discussed exactly how much candy they will collect when they’re trick-or-treating. Spirits are high around these parts, yo.

As for me? I think I’ll continue to catch up on Season 11 of Supernatural on Netflix this evening. An actual scary movie is just a little too much for me.

Happy Halloween!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Riding the Ghost Train

I have been invited to visit the Ghost Train in Stanley Park, here in Vancouver, for a number of years. But I didn’t take anyone up on the invitation because (1) I often had a time conflict, and (2) my kids are super afraid of spooky Halloween stuff.

I feel the need to defend my offspring at this point. They are actually quite brave. They will try new things, push themselves, ride roller coasters and jump off of diving boards. But people in scary costumes? Not their thing. Which is fair, because I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world when it comes to horror movies and haunted houses.

This year, I was free and so was my friend, so we decided to go together. It gave me a chance to scout it out and decide if my kids would enjoy it. Plus, the 2016 theme is “Day of the Dead”, which is right up my alley. I especially enjoyed the mariachi band playing on the train plaza.

stanley park ghost train mariachi day of the dead halloween 2016

So, what did I find? When you enter there is a pumpkin patch, which is totally not terrifying. Ditto on the folks collecting for the food bank. The decorations are on theme and non-terrifying. There was a man in a devil costume roaming the train waiting area. He was being pretty respectful of the children there, which made him only slightly scary but not particularly overwhelming. So far, so good.

The train ride itself got off to a spooky start because a rider behind me was scared that something would jump out at her and she was giving vent to her fears. After a couple of minutes, though, it was clear that nothing particularly startling would happen. There were live performers who did look at the train, but nobody jumped or ran at me. Much like the guy in the devil costume, it was only mildly scary.

After the train ride, which took about 15 minutes and was enjoyable, we headed to the Spooky Barn. It featured Shakespearean dioramas that you can view through little holes in the wall. It was cute, and it was dry and warm. I wouldn’t recommend it for preschoolers mostly because I don’t think it would be all that engaging for them, but older kids would probably enjoy it.

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My friend and I skipped the activities and maze, because we weren’t there with kids. But all in all it was not nearly as scary as I had feared. I would totally bring my very cautious eight-year-old along. And for younger kids, or those who can’t stay up late, there is a matinee train during daylight hours that doesn’t include live performers.

If you’re local and want to know more about the Ghost Train, visit www.ghosttrain.ca.

What’s my conclusion? Sometimes things aren’t as scary as they seem. And also, it’s good to have friends to come along for the ride once in a while.

Happy Halloween!

Graduation

I’ve written here about finishing school and starting my teaching career. It feels like I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed my education more than once, but here I am going to go and mention it again. It’s a little bit confusing so here’s a rundown of how it all works:

  • In April I finished my student teaching practicum
  • In May I was hired by two districts to be a substitute teacher – pending receipt of my teaching certificate
  • In early August I submitted my final assignment for my teaching degree
  • In late August I had received all my grades and fulfilled the requirements for my degree
  • On September 7 I worked one half-day as a substitute teacher before the district changed its requirements and said I needed to be officially certified to teach
  • On September 12 the university Senate formally approved grades and awarded degrees, including mine – this means the university acknowledged that I had completed the requirements to become a teacher
  • On September 19 my teaching certificate arrived in the mail – this means the government licensed me to teach
  • On September 20 I started working more or less full-time as a substitute teacher
  • On October 7 the university held its convocation ceremony and I received the actual paper copy of my degree

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s formally over. As of October 7 I had all of the paperwork. I’m a teacher, and I have a B.Ed. in addition to the engineering degree I received 16 years ago.

The convocation ceremony, for me, was a real celebration of what I have achieved. The best part was having my kids there. When we processed in and I saw Hannah and Jacob waving at me the tears welled up in my eyes. I paused to give Jacob a high five and felt full of emotion. I didn’t do this by myself. My family was with me the whole way. My kids had to put up with a tired, stressed-out mother with not much time for them. They rarely complained. Instead they cheered me on. I hope that they learned something about setting goals and working hard. I think mostly, though, that I learned something about love from them.

It’s funny how it always happens that way, isn’t it?

But enough navel-gazing though – let’s look at pictures! Here’s what my graduation day looked like, at least in part.

Free! Evenings!

So, I’m officially a substitute teacher. My teaching certificate arrived a week and a half ago and since then I have taught everything from kindergarten to precalculus 11. It’s interesting. I’m learning a lot. I’m sort of getting my feet under me. Sort of. I will write a lot more about it later.

For right now, the pertinent thing is that there is a big upside to being a substitute teacher. Specifically, as a substitute I don’t do all the things like plan units and mark projects and write report cards and meet with parents that take up a teacher’s time outside of school hours. I show up about 40 minutes before school starts and leave about 45 minutes after it ends, give or take. And then when I’m home, I’m home.

This is novel for me because before I was a teacher I worked from home for years. There are a lot of great things about working from home. However, the downside is that you’re always at work and you rarely have set working hours. It’s very easy to find yourself spending your evenings trying to finish an article or writing invoices or trying to stay on top of your email. The same thing was largely true for me as a student teacher, as I tried to stay on top of both schoolwork and teaching at the same time. I was always working. It was good. I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining how liberating it feels to have my evenings to myself.

This evening, for instance, I found myself home alone with my son Jacob. My husband was working late and my daughter was at a performance of the community theatre production she’s a part of. Jacob and I had a couple of hours to kill while we waited for Hannah to finish. He got to stay up until nine o’clock on a school night (!!!). I got to enjoy some mother-son bonding. We decided to settle in for some Netflix.

mother-son bonding

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a whole TV show or movie with my kids. That work from home thing meant that I mostly used screen time as work time. Movies and TV shows were my electronic babysitters. This evening, though, I was free. So Jacob put on his pajamas and we each chose a beverage to accompany our viewing. For him, it was milk. For me it was Trader Joe’s Sweet Tea, which my husband kindly brought back for me when he made a recent trip to the US.

Once we were ready we pulled up Netflix and had some deep discussions about what to watch. We started with a couple episodes of Teen Titans, which is one of Jacob’s favourite shows. Then we had a disagreement. I wanted to re-watch The Force Awakens, but Jacob wasn’t into it. In the end I deferred to him and we watching the beginning of Zootopia. Jacob has already seen the movie, but I haven’t. So far, it’s good. I enjoyed it.

Jacob milk netflix

A lot of things are changing for my family now that I’m finished with school and working as a teacher. We’re still figuring it out, but so far it’s been really positive. I’m excited by this new chapter, and I’m enjoying the chance to spend more time with my children again now that I’m not a full-time student. It’s pretty sweet!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

I Will not Take Your Trash

If you are a parent you have probably experienced this scenario.

You are out somewhere in public. A grocery store. A park. Church. A festival of some sort. Your kid puts something in their mouth and then promptly decides that they do not like it. They hate it so much, in fact, that they indicate they simply must spit it out. Right! Now!

So what do you do? Without thinking, you hold out your hand for that child to spit into. Sexy? No. But at least it keeps the partially chewed food off the ground where other people will be grossed out by it and/or slip on it.

trashThis happens less and less as kids get older, thank heavens. But the habit, once established, asserts itself in new ways. Kids give you their trash. Their apple cores. Their friend’s trash. They have learned that if they have something that they want to get rid of, you will take it from them. And without thinking you usually do.

What happens once you have this half-chewed food / gross apple core / used tissue in your hand? Inevitably you look around and realize that there are no signs of a garbage can in the vicinity. As in, you could walk for three fricking days and not find a garbage can. Or a compost bin. Or any sort of likely place to leave the crud you’re holding.

Unless you’re at Disneyland. There are trash cans everywhere at Disneyland. But really, how likely is it that you’re at Disneyland?

This is why my purse contains old cheese string wrappers and wadded-up napkins and popsicle sticks that have been licked clean and sometimes even chewed on. I usually persist long enough to find an appropriate receptacle for things that will rot or very sticky things, but the rest has a way of ending up stashed somewhere for the moment and then of course I immediately forget about it because I’m in public with kids and my mind is sort of occupied.

This summer while visiting the PNE, which is the annual summer fair in Vancouver, I experienced this scenario when my daughter attempted to hand me her empty snow cone cup. Without thinking I started to reach my hand towards her to collect her trash. And then mid-stride I had a moment of clarity.

Amber! the voice in my head spoke, you do not have to carry your children’s trash around. You can just say no.

And so I did. My daughter looked puzzled. She asked where to put it. I told her that, in fact, I didn’t know. I do not have magical garbage disposal abilities. But she could look for a trash can. And she did. And then we continued our day.

It’s funny how you get into these parenting habits when you have two-year-olds and then just carry on for years without a second thought. Of course you’re going to deal with gross stuff when you have a two-year-old. Toddlers are gross. And loud. You’ll go a long way to avoid exposing others to their grossness and loudness. If they’re melting down because their tongue touched cheddar when they were expecting mozza you’ll hold out your hand just to avoid the stares of passing strangers.

But then, one day, you realize you’re taking your 11-year-old’s trash for no good reason. Or tying your eight-year-old’s shoes for him. And single-handedly doing all the cleaning and meal preparation and so on. Because you’re used to it. Your kids are used to it. And it’s just easier. With each realization, you have a decision to make. Are you ready to take a stand? Are you ready to go through the effort to change things?

On the trash collection front, I am ready. I am taking a stand. From here on in, my kids can throw out their own trash. And maybe the next time I rifle around in my purse for my keys, I won’t pull out a half eaten cereal bar and three empty food sample cups in the process.

A mom can dream, right?

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