My Name is Not Megan

I am not really much of a blogger anymore, but I still get a lot of unsolicited email. I usually ignore it. When people get in touch asking me to cover stories I understand why they’re doing it, and to some extent I’m flattered, but I just really don’t have the time to respond to everyone.

On Wednesday I got an email that at, at first blush, I took for one of those messages. But for whatever reason I took a closer look and quickly realized it was something different. A woman who I’ll call Ms. X was emailing to let me know that my photo was being used in connection with a house for rent in St. Catharines, Ontario. The photo didn’t appear in the rental ad itself, but when she emailed she got a reply that included this:

Thank you for your interest in our 2 bedroom.

About us:

My name is Megan and my husband is Thomas, blessed with 2 Children; Jason and Sara, We have a 2 bedroom house in…St. Catharines, ON

At the bottom of the email was this picture.

Strocel Family Portrait

Clearly, the idea was that “Megan” and “Thom” and “Jason” and “Sara” were the people contained in that photo. A lovely family that moved and now needs renters for their home. Which, no, they’re not. That’s Amber and Jon and Jacob and Hannah. I can offer that on the best authority. And I have never been to St. Catharines, Ontario, nor do I own property there. Although I’m sure it’s lovely.

Ms. X discovered that I used that image in this blog post: A Canadian Family: Heritage and Identity. She surmised, correctly, that I was unaware and sent me the email she had received. So thank you, Ms. X. I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to go out of your way and you did.

After the first vaguely nauseous feeling passed, I got in touch with a close friend of mine who’s a lawyer. He informed me that this wasn’t just bad Internet etiquette, it was out-and-out identity theft. Regardless of how or where I had shared the image, it is unlawful for anyone else to misrepresent my likeness as their own for any purpose. This made me feel better. People have used my images before, sometimes with permission and sometimes without. But they’ve always been properly attributed, and used in ways I was comfortable with. This felt…different. And it turns out that it is different.

Plus, he told me that in all probability this rental ad is fraudulent in and of itself. The spelling mistakes, the religious references, the fact that they’re sharing my photo when I obviously won’t be around to hand over keys – they’re all red flags. This is what makes it particularly gross – my kids were being used in an attempt to dupe people out of their money.

Apparently, this sort of thing is on the rise. Jon and I have a friend who recently rented an apartment. When responding to ads on Craigslist she got a couple of replies that were very fishy. And I read this story about someone who found a whole lot of furniture in his driveway because a fraudster rented his Ottawa house, while he was living in it and had no awareness of the situation. Of course the person who thought they were renting the house was the real victim, but it sucks for everyone. Except, I suppose, whoever made off with the cash. They’re doing fine, other than the bad karma.

Today I got a Facebook message that confirmed my worst suspicions. Someone I’ll call Ms. Y sent me a message letting me know that someone used my photo to scam her out of over $2000 on renting a house that wasn’t really for rent. I’m going to assume it’s the same person. I really hope it’s the same person who emailed Ms. X, because if it isn’t, well, it means things have gone even farther, which makes a gross situation even grosser.

In truth I’m the lucky one here. I might feel icky but I haven’t lost any money. I was not the victim of fraud myself. My lawyer friend drafted a strongly worded letter and I submitted a report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre so they’re aware of the situation. My hope is that whoever is using my image decides that it’s more trouble than it’s worth and moves on. But much more than that I hope more people become aware of this type of scam, and fewer people fall prey to it.

My name is not Megan. My husband does not work for Canadian Tire. I do not have a house for rent in St. Catharines or anywhere else. And I am now the victim of an identity theft that fraudsters used to scam people out of thousands of dollars.

Some days it’s harder to have faith in people than others. Today is one of the days when it’s harder.

Poem for March: All In

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

Here is a poem I wrote just now. Today was the first day of Spring Break. In the six months since I shared my last poem I have been busy. I’m working full-time as a substitute teacher. I love it. Every day is an adventure, getting to know new students, learning new things. I teach every subject, from kindergarten to grade 12, depending on where I’m most needed. Spanish. Art. Wood shop. P.E. Math. Science. Social studies. English as an additional language. You get the picture. Some days I go to more than one school, and work with more than one class in each. It’s busy and hectic and amazing.

And then, when I have time off, I do my best to make the most of it. I go skiing. I take my kids on adventures. I spend time with friends. My life feels full. Replete.

Don’t you love that word?

And so I wrote this poem, which is about diving into life head-first and embracing what it holds.

All In

Moderation in all things
Even moderation
Such common advice
It must be true
Just not for me

I do not sip life
I gulp it thirstily
Let its juices dribble
Down my chin
Experience is
Such messy stuff

Coffee, wine, joy
Pain, milkshakes
They sit in my heavy
Stomach filling me
With love and regret

Had I known then
Maybe I would
Have learned a
Different way
Now I am too wise
For actual wisdom

Now I dance under
Wide skies with mages
Abhorring temperance
In a universe of
Utter repleteness

A Word for 2017: Adventure

For the past number of years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. For 2014 my word was forgiveness. For 2015 I chose strength. And for 2016 I chose confidence. For 2017 my choice is a little bit different: adventure.

adventure word of the year creek

Over the course of 2016 I had a number of experiences that stretched me in new ways. I completed my student teaching practicum in a grade 6/7 class. I attended environmental education field school here in the Vancouver area, which involved two overnight retreats (one at the beginning and one at the end), a visit to the landfill, interviewing a rock (for real), mapping an urban neighbourhood, and hanging out with some of the most awesome people I have ever met. Plus a whole lot more. I graduated and earned my teaching certificate. I started substitute teaching. I started skiing again. I turned 40.

And out of all of this came a big shift in my mindset.

I have always been a naturally conservative person. I don’t mean that I am politically conservative, or socially conservative. I mean that I am personally conservative, in that I resist change and upheaval. But what I learned by hanging out around a campfire with a bunch of people I really didn’t know at all, going swimming in an ocean that was cold enough to take my breath away and coming out laughing, and learning to ski on moguls, is that new and different can be good. Very, very good, in fact. Taking a leap and embracing new experiences leads to great things.

In short, I have discovered the wonders of living adventurously. Of accepting physical discomfort in exchange for personal growth. Of waking up to a phone call at 6:00am telling me what I’m going to teach that day and where, but never really knowing what’s in store. Of seeing what the trail holds for me as I whiz down the mountain.

I was recently speaking to a friend about my tendency to want to control everything in life. I love a meticulously crafted plan. I adore knowing what will happen, and when it will happen. My friend said that the trick isn’t giving up control. It’s not trying to control the things you can’t control. And for whatever reason, that hit me like a ton of bricks, the idea of acknowledging that I can’t control everything, and sometimes I shouldn’t even try. It makes logical sense, but it feels like a leap.

It also feels tremendously freeing. Because trying to control the uncontrollable is tiring – intellectually and emotionally. Giving that up would be a whole new way of living for me. A way of living that might just facilitate adventure.

That is exactly what I want more of in my life this year. Adventure.

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2017!

The Post-Christmas Lull

Well, hello there! If you celebrate Christmas, like I do, I hope it was good.

My Christmas was, all in all, fairly relaxed this year. In part this was because I had more than a week off leading up to the holiday, since the last day of school was December 16. And in part this was because I had (minor) dental surgery on December 21. It was my third gum graft, and it went well. Since I didn’t want to have to do any shopping after the procedure, though, I did my best to get all of my preparations squared away by December 20.

This level of preparedness is unheard of for me. But I pulled it off. And so, by the time the procedure was finished at noon four days before Christmas, I didn’t have much to do. I went home, laid on my couch, ate pudding, and binged holiday movies on Netflix. My favourite? Love, Actually. It was kind of nice to just relax and enjoy, hanging out with the kids and taking Christmas at a slower pace.

pudding gum graft dental surgery

Once our Christmas celebrations were over (which was at around noon on Christmas day), however, all this downtime started wearing thin.

I started knitting, which has been great. It’s been a while since I took needles to yarn, but I’m back at it. As I noted in my last post I recently ordered some yarn. While I wait for it to arrive, it occurred to me that maybe I should finish that Clapotis I started three(ish) years ago. I’m still not done, but I’m making headway.

My husband has taken advantage of this opportunity to work on a freelance project that he’s got going on.

My daughter has been drawing. Because she is always, always, always making art. Plus, she got a new artist’s tablet for Christmas.

My eight-year-old son, on the other hand, started watching Trollhunters on Netflix. So far, he’s four episodes in. Here’s his review:

I would give it four out of five stars. I like that it has funny things, like Toby. I also liked it when the gnome attacked Jim in the dollhouse. I did not like when Aargh said ‘pacifist’ instead of ‘no fighting’ because then the littler kids wouldn’t know what it means.

So, that’s his take on that. The folks at Netflix also sent me a recipe for an Aargh approved gemstone candy recipe. If you don’t already have too much sugar in your house, give it a try. You can click for a larger image.

rock candy recipe netflix trollhunters

We do have plans to get out of the house, too. Tomorrow my daughter and I are going to see Mary Poppins on stage with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Later this week we’re planning on going skiing. But all in all, things are pretty chill.

I hope your post-Christmas lull is going well. What have you been up to?

This is my final post as a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I received cool promotional swag from Netflix while I was on the team as you will.

The Sounds of Silence

There has been a lot of snow recently in my neighbourhood. All of Metro Vancouver has been nestled under a blanket of white for a couple of weeks, but here in Coquitlam we got more than most communities. It’s pretty, for sure, and my kids love it. However, it does pile up and need to be removed from sidewalks and driveways and so on, which is how I found myself out shovelling this morning.

snow shovellingNormally while I do a task I don’t enjoy, like cleaning the kitchen or shovelling snow, I distract myself with some music or a podcast. It helps the time to pass more quickly, and makes menial work less mind-numbing. However, today I forgot my earbuds somewhere inside the house. By the time I decided I wanted them I didn’t feel like taking off my snow gear and searching, so I gave up and shovelled in silence.

All that nothing in my ears? It actually felt kind of uncomfortable. It made me think about how rarely I experience quiet in my life.

I always have music or a podcast going in the car.

I’m a substitute teacher so work is pretty much never quiet, and on the occasions when I’m alone in the classroom I often play music.

I have two children and a husband. Enough said.

I spent about an hour and a half shovelling today, and by the time that I was done I had moved through my discomfort to appreciation. I was outside, I was exercising, I had accomplished something and I had some quiet time to myself. In the lead-up to Christmas, when my to-do list feels long and my days feel hectic, it was actually a rare treat.

Maybe I distract myself too much. Maybe I should stop and just be where I am. Be mindful. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Or shovel the snow to shovel the snow.

I have the next two weeks off, so this is timely for me. How will I use this vacation? Will I distract myself, or will I be present? If my experience this morning is any indication, I should probably choose to be present.

Or, at least, that’s how I justified the yarn I bought online this afternoon. Because knitting can also be about mindfulness, right?

Here’s to personal growth, impulse purchases and finding some peace in the busy holiday season.

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!

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