Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.

My words seem to have dried up.

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I have a notebook that I carry with me everywhere I go. I pull it out of my purse often, to scribble – or build on – ideas for blog posts. When I use an idea, I scratch it out. There are many ideas in my notebook that have not been scatched out. Yet I have not written a post in a month …. Each time I try, something awful comes screaming to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, and I can’t think of anything to say.

France.

Belgium.

Afghanistan.

Pakistan.

Iraq.

Bangladesh.

The Philippines.

France again.

Africa, all over the bloody continent.

Syria.

Russia.

America, America, America – and its cursed love affair with guns.

Trump.

Dallas cops dead. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Plane crashes under mysterious circumstances.

Hostages taken, used as collateral – and murdered while cameras roll.

Children abused, children missing, children murdered.

Each time some new, awful headline leaps out at me from the newspaper or the internet, I try to make sense of it. I think about how I might frame it – what I could say about it. Then, I think about how many ways I’ve said the same damn thing over the same damn things – and I wonder what’s next. Heavy-hearted and just plain tired, I shrug and move on, because there isn’t anything else I can do. I have no comfort to offer because I’m fairly certain the next spectacularly rotten failing of humanity is just waiting to extinguish whatever tiny flicker I can coax to glow. And I’m not about to join the ranks of slacktivists hashtagging memes and feeling like they’ve made a difference when all they’ve done is add to the noise …. I can’t see that being satisfying or even meaningful.

So I guess I’m taking a break from writing …. ? I’m about to hit the road with my three favourite faces – our road trip is just minutes away. When I’m on the road, I tend to stay away from the internet. I get the odd bit of news from the free newspaper that some hotels hand out with their morning offering of coffee and muffins (or stale donuts or decisively firm pastries or, if we’re far enough south, biscuits and sausage gravy), or the radio. Ryan or Fiona or Bridget might announce something to me. But I won’t be drowning in it like I am here at home, wave after wave of sorrow and cruelty crashing over me while I start to understand why so many people tune out and watch videos of kittens.

I’ll be back. Life is still beautiful – and filled with things for me to get ornery about, too. And I will, of course, have to report on all the crazy, weird and wondrous things I come across as we wander across the map of North America. In the meantime, I pray peace and compassion and good will for us all.

 

All parents come a little too close to the gorillas and alligators sometimes.

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It’s been a month since I last wrote anything more than a one-line love note or a grocery list. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to write, or that there’s been nothing to write about. It’s just writer’s block, really – or maybe plain old laziness. In any case, I’m back today because of two animals: a gorilla and an alligator. By now, the stories are well-known. A four-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo climbed into the enclosure of Harambe the gorilla. The gorilla started dragging the boy around. Zoo officials made the heart-wrenching decision to save the boy’s life by shooting Harambe. A two-year-old boy visiting Disney was snatched by an alligator while wading in a lagoon. His father fought with the animal, but was no match for it. Divers recovered little Lane Graves’ body yesterday. The parents of both children have received harsh criticism – and, in some cases, pure cruelty – from around the world. These days, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection can say whatever they want to a massive audience in a matter of seconds. In some cases, of course, what people have to say is enlightening and uplifting. Other times, it’s as if we’ve handed a bullhorn to bullshit.

In all honesty, I am often quick to judge, myself. My first thought when I heard about these incidents was to wonder where the parents were and what they were doing. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt the uncomfortable sensation of my own pointing finger turning back to me. There are no perfect parents. On our confident days, we just know we’re doing a damn fine job. Other days, doubts gnaw at the edges of our underslept, overstimuated minds, and we feel like we’re doing everything wrong. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

If the mother in Cincinnati had caught her son by the back of his shirt as he was scaling the barrier, if the father in Florida had picked up his son just seconds earlier, they’d be just like the rest of us – laughing uneasily about a near-miss, and deeply grateful that nothing bad happened. Because it happens to all of us. A few seconds here, a few inches there, a last-minute detour – and it could have been us and our children. In solidarity with these parents, I present my own gallery of gorillas and alligators:

  • When Fiona was just days old, I accidentally dipped her face below the bathwater. My mother noticed before I did, yanked her out of the bath and pounded her back until she sputtered and wailed. Would I, inexperienced, hormonal and sleep-deprived, have noticed in time if my mother had not been there?
  • A few months later, Fiona rolled off the couch onto the hardwood floor. I just didn’t know she could roll yet …. What if she had landed on her soft baby head?
  • Strolling along on a sunny day, Fiona’s car seat (with her in it) was ejected from her stroller as I rolled it over a bump, because it wasn’t connected to the stroller properly. She flew through the air, landing face down, and I cried with gratitude when I saw that somehow she was ok. She could so easily have not been ok.
  • Fiona just about severed Bridget’s pinky finger playing a door-slamming game. (And can somebody, anybody, tell me what is so amazing about slamming doors? Every time the girls get together with their friends, there’s always some point where I find myself yelling at them to stop slamming doors.)  Blood everywhere, screaming, stitches – and where were the parents? Having a coffee in the next room. Yes, that’s right, we were in a different room than our 3- and 1- year-old daughters, relaxing – and one of them got badly injured while we were at it.
  • Bridget had not one, not two, not three, but four allergic reactions to eggs before we figured out that eggs were her issue.
  • Fiona once opened the car door on the highway. And it wasn’t rush hour, either, so we were going full-speed. Thankfully, she was strapped into her booster seat, and the wind quickly forced the door shut again.
  • I turned my back for the length of time it took to tell Fiona to put on her shoes, and Bridget fell off the toilet straight onto her face. She still has a small scar on her forehead from the edge of the trash can. I suppose it could have been worse ….
  • Fiona toppled over on an escalator, tumbling down a few steps and crouching in fear as she neared the bottom. She bawled while I hollered at her from my place at the top of the escalator, clutching Bridget, to stand up and get off the escalator when it reached the bottom – and I was petrified that her hair or clothes would get caught.They didn’t. She listened to my frantic, barking instructions, and stepped off unscathed, aside from a few nasty metal-teeth gashes.
  • Bridget tried peeling potatoes …. and peeled a deep strip of skin off her finger. She bled copiously, and I worried about potential infection from dirty potato skins for days afterwards.
  • Fiona recently had an anaphylactic reaction to …. something. Her appointment with an allergist is in November, so I guess we’ll know then. Her reaction was not recognized until her face was swelling up and she was wheezing – because neither Ryan nor I thought she was that serious when she said she was winded from her time at the park.

The girls have been left alone in the house, and in the car. There’s been carpet burn because we weren’t close enough on the stairs, road-burn because we weren’t in reach during bicycle incidents. We’ve arrived at our destination and seen that one or the other of our daughters wasn’t strapped in properly. We’ve found ourselves in a scary situation because one or the other of the girls is choking on a food they weren’t ready for yet – or crammed in too fast. Both girls have broken away in a parking lot or across a street. They’ve both disappeared in stores. More than once, I’ve scanned the horizon at the beach and waited breathlessly for their sleek, wet heads to surface. They go to the park by themselves, and I wonder while they’re gone whether this is a healthy part of their development or me jumping the gun for convenience. Both Ryan and I have been distracted while driving. In fact, find me one person on the face of the planet who has not been distracted while driving kids around! But we’re ok. The kids are still living, breathing, fighting, lipping back, making messes and eating money – by the grace of God, by the hand of fate, by a hair, by the skin of their teeth. What would the headlines look like otherwise? I remember my brother almost falling into the Grand Canyon, and my father catching him by the back of his overalls. Stupid family drops preschooler in the biggest hole on earth. I remember being on a trip to Florida with my family when I was a child, and parking beside a beach and dashing for the cool blue water. My mother lingered behind and read a sign that warned of the danger of a Portuguese man o’ war infestation. She called us back to shore, and explained that this was not a good place to swim. We moved on. Stupid family ignores warning signs, swims in infested water, loses child to venomous creatures ….

There are so many times when the outcome could have been horrendous, heartbreaking, crippling. But it wasn’t. We got away. These families didn’t, who knows why – and they deserve our sympathy, not our ridicule. Imagine the emotions of the mother in Cincinnati as she saw her child at the mercy of a 450 lb gorilla and waited helplessly to see what zoo staff would do. Imagine the desperation of the father in Florida as he fought off the alligator. His son was dragged into the water by a prehistoric reptile, never to be seen alive again. What punishment could be harder than that? Yet asshole armchair quarterbacks do not hesitate to add to the pain by blaming the parents, who were doing their best.

In as much as we are all Nigeria, Charlie Hebdo, France, Syria, Orlando …. we are also all that mother, that father. The only thing standing between us and them is the luck of the draw. We are humanity, and the death of one diminishes all of us. Love and mercy today. That’s all.

Lived-In

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A sign I pass several days per week really irritates me. It’s an advertisement by Alterna Savings on the main level of the building I work in – for loans, I guess? I don’t even know, because I don’t want to dignify it with a detailed look. It says “your living room shouldn’t look lived-in.” For one thing, the ad is playing on a weakness common to many people – the desire for shiny, new, different, perfect. For another, the ad is implying that your living room (and, by extension, everything else in your home) is an exhibit. A thing to look at and admire rather than use and enjoy.

Our living room is a lovely place to be. It’s got two big, comfy couches and a blue armchair. None of them match. The armchair is a little rickety. We don’t know how old it is; it was salvaged from the area surrounding the dumpster in the basement of the building I lived in 13 years ago. I have always hoped that nobody died in it …. In spite of its dubious origins, it’s a favourite of Ryan, and his father, too, when he visits. People who like to sit in corners like this armchair – it is placed just-so. You can see everything that’s going on but you can’t necessarily be spotted right away yourself. We bought the checkered couch shortly after we were married. The arms of the couch are somewhat smudged from fingers covered in oil, chocolate and newsprint, and the cushions can no longer be turned over to hide stains – the stains are on both sides. The cushions are a little woolly. But that couch gives me amazing naps. Sleep has never come easy to me, but – for some reason – that couch embraces my body and eases my mind. The red couch is enormous. We bought it when we moved to our current house. It’s a bit too big for the living room, and almost got sent back to the furniture store, but then we warmed to it. It’s got plenty of room to lounge, to stretch out – and plenty of room for several people to squeeze in. There are lots of plants for the daytime and candles for the evening. A big window lets in generous pools of sunshine during the day and features a glowing street at night. There is a scuffed set of coffee and end tables. There’s a fireplace with a cracked grate and at least one loose tile. There’s a battered piano and an overflowing bookshelf. Several drawers stuffed with craft supplies, and a well-scribbled set of table and two chairs, for when inspiration strikes one of our budding artists. It’s definitely lived-in – in the best way. When we are there, we feel a richness Alterna Savings wouldn’t understand.

The terribly frightening, sad stories coming out of northern Alberta over the past few days does nothing to lesson my ire with that sign. Nearly 90,000 people made a harrowing escape from the burning city of Fort McMurray, with flames leaping behind and alongside them, taking with them only what they could fit in their vehicles. None of the survivors interviewed appear to have mentioned what’s new and expensive. They’re talking about the parks where their children played, gardens, photos, wedding dresses and baptism gowns and baby booties, World’s Best Dad mugs, homemade birthday cards with crooked lettering, beloved views and trails, church picnics, school plays. Memories, lived-in and loved ragged. Watching their painful ordeal, feeling the heavy loss of what these people will never get back, has given my own life a sudden preciousness. It has given that sign a heightened vulgarity.

Today, I attended a choral celebration. Several elementary school choirs came together to sing for their teachers and families at Notre Dame High School’s auditorium. Bridget and her choir have been practising for weeks for this. As with any children’s performance, there were lows. Two choirs appeared to be composed entirely of tone-deaf kids, in fact. But there was so much heart in each school’s offering – and there was a wonderful feeling in the air. At the end, all the choirs joined in singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and “It’s a Small World”. Every surface in the auditorium is scuffed and scratched, and the chairs don’t match. Like every high school I’ve ever been in, it smells like sneakers, hormones and dust. But the music, and the sight of all those earnest, happy faces, filled me with joy. I was lifted to a higher place. My eyes welled with tears and I let them fall unchecked. As I drove home along the lumpy spring pavement, past sidewalks with weeds pushing through the cracks and construction and graffiti, and pulled in next to my scruffy lawn, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my lived-in life. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The gift of changed plans ….

I have been living on the mainland for nearly fifteen years now – long enough to have been domesticated, or (at least) naturalized. It was my fortune – and misfortune, depending on how you look at it – to have grown up in rural Newfoundland. My friends and I ran wild along the beach and over the hills and through the forest, and we spoke a strange variant of English. We were raised by everybody in town and, consequently, we were watched by dozens of pairs of eyes – yet our parents would have been hard-pressed to say where we were at any given time. Our education was somewhat substandard, due to the perpetual lack of funding and interest by young teachers in travelling to the arse-end of nowhere to work. However, I caught up with everybody else, and every time I tell people where I am from, I get a hearty slap on the back, and am regaled by stories of all the wonderful Newfies they’ve met. And, yes, I’ve been asked a time or two if I know so-and-so from wherever. I never do, but that never deters them.

When you move from the coast of a huge country like Canada to the interior, you encounter many differences. One that stands out to me today is the abundance of snow days in Newfoundland as opposed to the paucity of them here. Oh, sure, we have dirty weather here in Ottawa – an awful lot of it, in fact – but, in all my time here, I can count on one hand the number of times its been declared a snow day for anyone. People battle through sleet, hail, snow and fishtails to get to work, whatever work is. You’d think we were a city of continuously engaged brain surgeons, so great is our dedication to getting to work even if we have to dig our way there. We’re actually civil servants, which means that we probably could take a break in the name of not ending up in a ditch – but we don’t. Back home, though, snow days are scattered generously throughout the calendar. Yesterday was one such day. Yes, yesterday, April 20 – and that’s not all that crazy on the Rock. I have a distant memory of snow falling on my birthday. My birthday is in June.

So, at a time when people in Ottawa were dusting off their golf clubs, reseeding their lawns and hitting pub patios for lunch, many of the people I grew up with were shovelling snow. A wise and witty friend of mine, Marsha, posted this on Facebook:
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I sympathised. My-friend-the-optimist responded that it was already starting to melt – “and we had a relaxing day home yesterday, so it isn’t all bad”. It made me think back to the handful of snow days we’ve had over my time here in Ottawa. On one of them, I learned how to open a pomegranate without making the kitchen look like a murder scene, and we all made a snowman on the lawn. We made him facing our house instead of the street, so we could see him smiling at us through the living room window. On another of them, after we got stuck multiple times on the way home, after Ryan had helped neighbours out and the girls were red-faced and wet from the exertions of the day, I made hot chocolate for everyone. We did something we hardly ever do: all of us sat on the couch together with no fixed time for swinging back into action. Fiona smiled at me, and then said “look, everyone, Mommy’s actually relaxing“. Yes, I was – and it felt good. This is a very rare occurrence for me. Usually, I’m the opposite of relaxed – a whirlwind of tightly wound plans, activities and blunders. The thought of these plans going awry fills me with dread, and frantic thoughts of replacement plans, and all the awful things that will happen if I don’t get to do those things I think I have to do. In reality, though, what a gift: changed plans.

Last spring, Ryan and I went to Vegas with friends of ours for a long weekend of glittery fun – and we had exactly that. Our flight home, though, was a fiasco. It was delayed, so we were moved to a different flight so we wouldn’t miss our connection. The plane we were switched to filled up with smoke before it even left the ground, and we deplaned. We stood in line for over an hour trying to find a place on another flight. We got that, but it would be nearly twelve hours later. We would miss work the next day, our kids would miss school and spend an extra day with their grandparents, I was supposed to have dinner with my cousin and I couldn’t because I would be in the air somewhere between Chicago and Ottawa at that time. The airline shuttled us to an off-the-strip hotel called South Point. It was lovely. The room was clean and comfortable, and the hotel had five different restaurants, a pool, a theatre, a spa, a gift shop. We were given a book of coupons for free drinks and discounts on meals, and all the servers were very friendly. The receptionist looked us up and down when we said we were checking in for only a few hours, and carefully stated that we could have the room for all night. We thanked her, and reiterated our request for an airport shuttle in a few hours’ time. I can only imagine what she imagined. We had a wonderful afternoon there. We’ve talked about going back sometime. We were forced to delay jumping back on the treadmill after our vacation, and we soaked it in – and it was beautiful. Changed plans.

Changed plans used to be an occasion for tight knots in my neck and shoulders, worry over what wasn’t happening, wondering how I was going to make up for whatever had been scuttled, frustration over my lack of control. These days, though, I’ve been making more of an effort to embrace the gift of changed plans. Some of my best memories are times when things didn’t go the way I thought I wanted them to. Unexpected guests, five for dinner instead of four, last-minute invitations, wrong turns, heartfelt confessions, people needing me and me needing them, days off – and days on – it’s all life. I’m blessed in ways I could never have predicted because of missed connections, changed plans and serendipity. I’m learning to lean into – and be thankful for – the curves, and I hope they keep coming.

Apparently, Marsha has learned to embrace changed plans, too. Check out what she did with her out-of-the-blue day off:

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Some shockin’ good, me ducky! Fist bump from afar ….

Filling my unforgiving minutes with sixty seconds’ worth of distance limped, leaving a trail of blood behind me ….

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I have a decent job, and most of my colleagues are good people – but when it’s quitting time I hit the ground running. When you have a husband and two kids and a house and a job (and no nanny or maid or chef) your evenings are busy – and it feels like every second counts. Christmas is less than a month away, and I do Christmas big. This, of course, adds to my to-do list. Today was no exception. Having spent my adult life not even trying to fight my addiction to artificial height, I was wearing five-inch heels, so I wasn’t running – just walking really, really, really fast (which, I am aware, looks ridiculous). I hit a crack in the pavement at the wrong angle, and nearly fell, wrenching my ankle a bit. So I limped really, really, really fast the rest of the way to the car (looking, I know, even more ridiculous).
Traffic was doing what it always does between four and six in the afternoon – crawling. Shoulders and neck tense and hunched, eyes narrowed, I silently cursed every car that wasn’t parked. I wasn’t enjoying the beloved Christmas music on the radio, or the glorious sunset. I was in a hurry to get to the Y to collect Fiona and Bridget and get them home, and every car between me and that smelly church basement was stealing my precious time. (This has nothing to do with anything, but why is it that, when you kennel more than three kids in a room, it always ends up funky? A solid 90% of the classrooms and daycares and party rooms and dance studios and gymnasiums that have been frequented by our girls over the years smell like feet. Why?)
After hustling Fiona and Bridget into the car, and completing the drive home, I started my second shift at breakneck speed. Ryan was out, so I decided that we three ladies would indulge in a very girl activity: sharing baked brie and fancy-pants crackers and pink milk in front of “Madeline at the North Pole”. Yes, even Baby Bear Bridget is too old for Madeline, but the movie is sweet and Christmassy and we like it. Who can resist “an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and “twelve little girls in two straight lines”? And those adorable beribboned boaters ….
Before relaxing, though, there were things to do. Their agendas needed to be reviewed and signed, and food prepared for tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow’s Pizza Friday – but they still needed juice boxes and snacks and a side of veggies to ease my conscience about the pizza. The dishwasher was filled with clean dishes, and the counter was covered with dirty ones. I’m one day away from going commando, so Mount Laundry (soaring into the clouds like Everest, if slightly less majestic) had to be conquered. The beds needed new sheets. And the kitchen was filthy. The girls and I, along with my mother, had a Christmas baking marathon last Friday – sugar crystals, coconut and blobs of dough everywhere. That night, a gaggle of girlfriends came over to make dozens of chocolates (while, of course, laughing our heads off and drinking gallons of wine). Ryan and I made a pizza together, always a messy affair, and more cookies were churned out. Before I knew it, it was Monday, the beginning of another four days of hastily assembled meals, haphazardly swept and swabbed away just in time to rush off to the next thing. As I said, filthy.
I decided that I would tackle everything but the kitchen. I would do that chore after the girls were tucked away for the night. With the help of two little elves (and now that they’re eight and ten they actually do help when they try to be helpful), I blazed through the agendas and school snacks and laundry and dishwasher – tripping over things, bumping into things, saying “excuse me” alot, wearing out the carpet on the stairs. Still, despite my determination and my enthusiastic crew, I was dismayed to see the clock ticking forward at an alarming rate. I attempted to shift into a higher gear, tackling one thing while my mind focused on the next thing. It all came to a stinging, yelping, bleeding halt when I attempted to shave the top skin off the brie and shaved a slice of skin off my finger instead. In the follow-through, before I realized I’d parted with a piece of my self, I sank the knife into the ball of my thumb. Pain, and then blood – and I was forced to stand still. I wondered if I might need stitches for the finger, and then realized there’d be nothing to stitch together – the chunk of flesh was resting on the knife I’d abandoned on the counter. Bridget fetched me a bandage, and Fiona (with all the staggering sensitivity a fifth grader can muster) requested that we use a fresh knife for the rest of the brie. Because we were all hungry and my finger and thumb had become numb anyway, I finished preparing our dinner. I hadn’t learned anything, though. Trying to carry too much at once, I slopped pink milk all over my already-disgusting kitchen floor. Trying to retrieve green onions from the fridge while opening the freezer to scoop out some ice cubes, I bumped my head on the freezer door. It was only when we were finally relaxing in front of Madeline and her friends, snuggled deliciously together in a nest of blankets like a litter of baby animals, that I realized how stupid I had been.
What, exactly, was I rushing for? Would it have made that much of a difference in my evening if things took ten or fifteen minutes longer to finish? Would it have mattered if I had left the damn laundry one more day? Was I any faster for all that hurry? Not really. I shared my thoughts with the girls, and Fiona said “Mommy, you should write a blog post about this”. Great idea – so, here I am, writing a blog post about this. It’s not as if I can clean my kitchen now anyway. Just the thought of warm, soapy water anywhere near the crater in my finger and the crevice in my thumb makes me want to paste myself to the ceiling and make noises only dogs can hear. So I might as well do what writers do when they slam into a revelation: write. My throbbing finger and thumb are a constant reminder of the fresh breeze and sunset and crunchy leaves I didn’t appreciate, the precious evening hours I spun away from me like a top, and the fact that I need to slow down.
I’ve always admired “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It’s a beautiful poem, insightful and encouraging. However, right now, I’m heavily questioning one of the lines – the one that recommends filling “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”. I think I need to fill more minutes, forgiving or otherwise, with nothing but my heartbeat and my thoughts. Maybe that’ll be a Christmas present from me to myself this year – second-guessing what I’m running for, and slowing down when I can. If I had done that today, I wouldn’t be typing an entire bloody blog post without my left thumb and index finger – and my kitchen would be clean.

35 Things

It’s been a while, I admit. We went to Vegas (and took about thirty hours getting home). Then, there was some writer’s block. Then, it was my birthday. I turned 35 last Tuesday (because, as discussed when I turned 34, my birthday has made a yearly habit of ignoring the fact that each week contains a Friday, Saturday and Sunday). I had a lovely birthday. Ryan, Fiona and Bridget wished me a happy birthday first thing Tuesday morning. A good friend left a bottle of red on my desk for me to discover upon my arrival at work. Co-workers treated me to lunch.The Facebook love was being free-poured. After work, I went out for dinner with my family, who gave me some wonderful presents. And they sneakily made me an adorable cake while I was out of the house: 11425242_10155727983395173_3505860502389380124_n

Some days, I feel every bit of 35. Most days, though, I have to shake my head like there’s a fly buzzing around inside it when I consider my age. I am now a teenager’s lifetime past my teen years. I am half of 70. This doesn’t upset me, but it surprises me – I feel like 35 jumped out of a closet at me and yelled “boo”. Wasn’t I 25 just a couple of years ago? Where did my twenties go anyway? Aren’t my thirties a new thing? They (the oft-quoted they who are never done saying things) say that with age comes wisdom. I don’t know if I’ve become ever-so-much wiser – but I do know that I’ve learned many useful things. Some of them, I’m still working on – but it’s always rewarding when I get it right. Because I’m a blogger, I just know the world can’t go on turning unless I share my observations. In the spirit of my current state, I give you 35 things I know now that I’m 35:

1. Try not to watch everything through cross-hairs. Every now and then, put down the camera and soak in the moment. Pictures are wonderful, but they’re no match for being there.

2. That being said, take pictures (or videos, whatever’s your thing). Most things only happen at this time, this way, with these people once. You can’t repeat the past, but you can make a collection of pleasant reminders that you will enjoy for years to come.

3. Embrace shortcuts. There’s no shame in doing some things quick-n-dirty, especially if they are just things you need to get through in order to move on to what you really want. Don’t buy clothing that needs to be ironed. Your baby doesn’t need homemade applesauce made from organic apples. Don’t torture yourself trying to replicate what you see on Pinterest: craft kits and colouring sheets for everyone! Unless you’re a seamstress, the real fun is trick-or-treating – just buy a Halloween costume. You get the idea.

4. Flowers only bloom for a little while. Enjoy them while they are here, don’t wait until it’s convenient to do so – they may be gone by the time that happens.

5. If you screwed up, eat crow. Sometimes, people – particularly those who love you and expect alot of you – need to hear “I’m sorry”. And saying it can be as good for you as hearing it is for them.

6. Some things are just a broken heart waiting to happen. Balloons. Pet fish. Clothing a size too small because you’re working on losing weight. Items that require batteries other than AAs and AAAs or specialty light bulbs. Most new year’s resolutions.

7. You can’t change people, they have to change themselves. You can present your side to them, and down the road they won’t be able to say you didn’t tell them – and that’s about it.

8. When it comes to make-up, less really is more. You look way better wearing not enough than you do wearing too much. Think about the dreaded foundation line ….

9. You don’t get a do-over on some things. Births, deaths, weddings, divorces – people will remember forever who made their day, and who dragged them down.

10. Not everything is a hill to die on. If you have a hard head and a nasty temper like me, you want to win everything, all the time. But some battles probably won’t matter as little as an hour from now, and aren’t worth my time or energy.

11. Listen to people. All it costs is your time, and maybe a bit of your patience, but it might mean the world to the person who’s talking.

12. Sometimes, the only prize for being right is knowing you’re right.

13. As I move through life, encountering more circumstances and gathering more experience, I find myself forgiving many people I once condemned. Because life can kick your ass, and you don’t know how you’ll be affected by it until it’s happened.

14. Brown-bag it at least half the week. You will save so much money.

15. Speaking of lunch, don’t put off packing your lunch until morning – do it the night before. Mornings are crazy enough.

16. Tasks that are boring, stupid or awful (or all three) don’t improve with procrastination. Getting them done lifts a weight from your shoulders and gives you peace of mind.

17. Make lists. Until you commit them to a list of some kind, your to-dos will buzz around in your brain, generating stress. Writing them down frees up space in your head that you probably didn’t know they were hogging – and an uncluttered mind feels good.

18. Don’t be inconsiderate. Replace the toilet paper if you use the last square. Open a new bag of milk if you drained the old one. Empty the trash can if you see that it’s full. Say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me”, even if you’re just talking to the people you see every day. These little everyday bits of courtesy make everyone’s life easier and more pleasant.

19. There are no boring people – people who may seem boring are just people you don’t know well enough yet. Everybody has something to offer. Sometimes you have to dig really deep, and you may decide that it’s not worth the fuss – and that’s ok, too. We don’t all have to get along all the time.

20. Work with what you’ve got. There’s no guarantee that you will ever have more money or time, or a better job, or be thinner, or have nicer hair. All you can be certain of is this version of you and this point in time. So take what you have and use it to the best of your ability to accomplish whatever it is you want.

21. There’s always someone who does it better – or wears it better or has it better. Enjoy what you have. If you must compare, try to remember that there’s also always somebody who does it worse.

22. Be as kind as you possibly can, always. You don’t know what’s in other people’s hearts, or what their lives are like.

23. Don’t wait til you’re ready for the big things – because you never will be. Nobody’s ever actually ready to move across the country or get married or have babies or quit their job to go back to school. Just do it.

24. Some things should not be rushed. Cooking, gardening, conversations, hugs, a cup of tea or a glass of wine, a good book – these things should be savoured, not guzzled.

25. When dealing with a dramatic daughter, hug first and ask questions later. Or maybe never. Sometimes, a hug is all that’s needed.

26. Don’t put it on your credit card if you don’t have it in your bank account. Alot of people I know, myself included, have learned that lesson the hard way – and credit card companies are tough teachers.

27. Don’t over-commit. I try to be everything to everyone way too often. I end up tired, stressed, frustrated by my lack of free time, and resenting everyone I started out wanting to help.

28. Never ignore plumbing problems, leaks or insect infestations. They never go away on their own.

29. Take care of yourself. It’s far easier to maintain good health and a decent weight than it is to restore yourself to health or lose weight.

30. Experiences trump stuff, every time. You will never smile wistfully (or laugh til you cry) as you flip through photos of your new couch or your crown mouldings or your immaculate lawn.

31. Sometimes, the brand is worth it. When it comes to clothing, though, all a brand name says about you is that you are willing to pay more than you have to for what you wear. The people of Walmart are smarter than they look.

32. Surround yourself with things that make you smile. Whether it’s your favourite colour, your children’s artwork, potted plants, candles, good music – or all of the above – set the scene, and suddenly even ordinary moments have a touch of grace and beauty to them.

33. Figure out your best features and play them up (this applies both to appearance and character). Accept what you can’t change, because – well, you can’t change it!

34. If you weren’t out looking for it, you probably don’t need it – so say “no” to telemarketers and those people who flag you down and wave you over to their kiosk at the mall.

35. Do not worry about what other people think of you. As my Dad always said, people gossiping about you says more about them than you – imagine what a sad life they live, with nothing better to talk about than what you’re up to.

These 35 things are in no particular order, and I’m still wrestling with many of them – and I think the list could be alot longer if I really applied myself. However, writer’s block has set in again – and I only promised 35 things anyway.