Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The end of the year

My goal for the end of the year was to be able to take some time off over my kids’ Christmas break without the constant feeling that I should be working. So November was “Enough trying to do everything at once, already!” month. My priority was work and almost everything else just had to give—hobbies, reading, taking photos, staying in touch with faraway friends. And blogs, both the reading and the writing of (my blog reader has given up trying to keep track of how behind I am, telling me only that I have a total of “1000+” unread posts in the blogs I subscribe to).

There are almost no pictures on my camera between this one

Taken October 25, 2008, in Burnaby, BC.

and this one.

Black bench, white snow. Taken December 19, 2008, in North Vancouver, BC.

Due to the hell-inducing project mentioned in my last post, “Enough trying to do everything at once, already!” month spilled over into December, merging with “Enough Christmas mayhem, already!” We’ve never been a family for consumeristic Christmases, but this year we scaled back yet again. Between work, the cold that never ends (please let it end soon; I’m tired of coughing), the usual slew of Christmas performances to attend, and being snowed in, there just hasn’t been time for as much shopping or for writing so many Christmas cards.

The result of all this is that, for the first time in years, there are no longer several large projects pitching battles for space in my schedule. I’m starting the new year with a reasonable amount of work and a much-improved ability to say no to my clients when I need to. This is one of the most important outcomes of my Year of Living Differently.

Because of the unusual amount of snow we’ve been getting, most of my time off has been spent shovelling, learning how to put chains on the car, and crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to drive to within walking distance of the house whenever we go out, but still—time off! Just like I used to be at the end of every term during my ridiculous number of years in university, I’ve felt a little lost, at loose ends, not sure what to do first.

The intensity of my work over the last couple of months has also made it hard for me to write. Sometimes spending so much energy on other people’s words makes it difficult for me to find my own. And I’ve been going through some adolescent blog-angst, wondering whether I should combine my blogs or even whether I should start blogging again at all.

As the year comes to an end, though, I’m finding my feet. I’ve taken some pictures. I’ve done some knitting. I’ve slept a lot. And now I’m planning for the new year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is it hot in here?

I have not fallen off the face of the earth, although I'm kind of wishing I had. I am working on a project from hell. I can't say anything specific about it, of course. All I can say is that my little office has become an inferno of bad writing that needs to be made good. And like any true hellish form of punishment, it's lasting an eternity. I'm now feverishly trying to get what is supposed to be the last (please, God, let it be the last) round of substantial editing done.

I could swear I just heard Beelzebub laughing from behind the filing cabinet.

I must have done something terrible in a previous life, because I'm paying for it now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Green Friday--Working with the weather

The weather and I don’t always get along. I’ve been known to garden in the rain and to stand over a hot stove making jam on the hottest day of the year. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to think of ways that I can work with the weather to decrease the amount of resources that I use.

For example, we’ve always been ones to hang our laundry outside, if we happen to do our laundry on a sunny day. Now I keep an eye on the extended forecast and try to save the laundry for days when I can put it out for at least a few hours. Given that we live in a place with an average of 154.5 days of precipitation a year, this isn’t always possible. And sometimes, through a lack of planning or a spell of bad weather, someone runs out of clean underwear and a load just has to be done no matter what it’s doing outside. But there are some weeks in which the dryer has hardly any work at all and I would guess that we use it maybe 50% of the time we would if we were using it to dry all our laundry.

My office is cold—so cold that my fingers sometimes go numb and it’s hard to type. It doesn’t help that the only thermostat for the whole house is upstairs, where it’s brighter and warmer, and my office is downstairs, where it’s darker and colder. In the past, when it got cold enough that a couple more layers of clothes couldn’t keep me from shivering, I either turned up the heat for the whole house (which I hate to do, since it’s a big waste) or kept a space heater near me all day (which I don’t like much either, since it’s noisy). Now I take my laptop upstairs on cold days. Two added benefits are that (a) on particularly gloomy days, of which we have many, it’s much nicer to be upstairs and (b) I get extra exercise—and generate heat—by running downstairs several times a day for reference books, files, or the chocolate bar I’ve hidden in my desk.

If I’m planning to do some baking, I try to do it on a cold day rather than a warm one. Our oven is a 1970s classic and not very efficient, so it makes sense to have it leaking heat on a cold day instead of when the house is already warm enough. It heats up our tiny kitchen so well that I can do my work at the table and turn the heat down a little bit in the rest of the house.

Child Two and I walk to school whenever we can, but when it’s really raining, we drive. Now that the fall weather is truly here, that’s happening more often. If I have errands to do in that direction, I save them for the days we drive so that I can drop her off at school on the way and not use any extra gas. Errands that are closer to home I save for nicer days and I walk instead of taking the car.

I can’t control the weather. I have to stand at the sidelines at soccer games and cross country meets no matter how hard it’s raining (why can’t my kids pick indoor sports?). But in trying to work with the weather, I’m finding that, in addition to saving some energy, I’m a little more appreciative of the variety we have here. I’m grateful as I hang out the laundry on a sunny day and I enjoy the coziness of a warm kitchen on a rainy one.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Enough, already!--Month eight

Well, here I am being completely wordy on Wordless Wednesday yet again. It’s the eighth month of my “Enough, already!” project and this month—strange as it may sound—I’ve decided say “Enough reality, already!”

I don’t know if I can explain this clearly, although it makes sense in my own head. It’s based on two concepts I’ve come across in several different places. The first is acting “as if”—the idea is that if you don’t know how to do something, or don’t want to do it, you act as if you can or you want to until you learn how or start enjoying it or get it finished. The second is the idea that your experience of what is going on around you is heavily affected by the filters you see it through, and those filters are based on your past experiences, your relationships with others, and so on. I’ve heard this idea before but lately I’ve been coming across it over and over: online, in magazine articles, in books. I’m taking it as a message from the universe (self-centered, aren’t I, thinking that the universe is sending me messages again?).

I’ve been trying this out to see how I can use it. Take, for example, walking. Not the actual physical act of walking—even though I’m a total klutz and have been known to trip on air, I’m pretty successful at walking most of the time. For the past few years I’ve been wanting to exercise more by going for regular walks. But I don’t have the time. Really, truly, if I compare all the things I have to do with the amount of time in the day, I do not have time to go for walks—I barely have time to go to the bathroom. But since school started, I’ve been acting as if I do have the time and going right ahead and doing it.

I’ve also been spending more time cooking and crafting and gardening. In reality, I don’t have time for them. But I’m doing them anyway and somehow my schedule is shifting to fit them in.

These concepts work in other ways too. In reality, I’m a person who usually heads straight to the cookie jar for a snack. But now I’m acting as if I’m the kind of person who eats some fruit first. In reality, my sewing room is a cluttered mess, a fact that is often enough to stop me from working on a project. But now I’m acting as if I can find what I need—looking until I do and slowly but surely getting things in order as I look.

I’m refusing to accept the reality that I live with psychotic, plant-killing cats. I potted up some cuttings from our never-say-die spider plant and planted seeds for a kitchen herb garden and I will find a way to have plants in my house again (I am staying in touch with reality enough to plant only things that won’t harm the monsters).

I’m also refusing to accept the reality that over the years I’ve become very disorganized. Because I’m acting as if I were the old organized me, I now find myself filing papers instead of piling them on my desk and writing things down instead of trying (and failing) to remember them.

I’m finding that these concepts work well in dealing with people too. If, for example, when I ask my son to take out the garbage, I speak as if I expect him to remember and follow through, he’s more likely to do just that than if I’m thinking “I know he’s going to forget, just like he usually does.” If, when I’m talking to someone I’ve had bad communication patterns with in the past, instead of interpreting this person’s words and actions through the filter I normally use (and reacting accordingly, whether it’s warranted or not) I act as if we are perfectly capable of having a constructive conversation, we are less likely to fall into our old pattern.

So this month I’m going to ignore reality and live in my own happy little world—one in which people are mostly reasonable and cooperative, I’m organized and eat more fruit than cookies, I have time to do the things I love, and, I hope, a few plants escape death by feline.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Guess who came to dinner?

Carmi’s Thematic Photographic theme of the week is nature and, boy oh boy, did we have some nature in our backyard tonight.

(I’m sitting here laughing at my own joke, which is funny to no one else but me because you all haven’t seen my backyard. My backyard is full of nature. We’ve got a forest back there, with trees that tower over our house and make me nervous when the wind comes up. We’ve got a little creek. We’ve got a tree stump big enough to seat four for a formal dinner. We’ve got bushes and flowers and berries and grass and squirrels and birds and neighborhood cats and wandering dogs and lots and lots of weeds. Considering we live in a metropolitan area, our backyard is a virtual Nature City, which is itself an oxymoron. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Anyway, tonight we had some extra nature. Child Two and I had just come in the side door (which, as its name would imply, is between the front yard and the back) after her piano lesson when my husband said, “Make sure the door is shut. There’s a bear in the backyard.”

Child Two ran downstairs to the window. I ran upstairs for the camera. Then I heard some kids riding their bikes in front of our house, so I ran out to tell them to go inside until the bear was gone. Then I ran downstairs just as the bear went behind the playhouse and into the forest.

I missed it! And for nothing—those darn kids didn’t go inside anyway. We get evidence of bears in our yard, if you know what I mean (it’s no fun cleaning that up, let me tell you), but this was our first bear sighting in over a year and I didn’t see anything.

A while later, when I went onto the deck to bring the laundry in, I saw that the bear was back. I ran inside for the camera—which, for some ridiculous and unprecedented reason, I had actually put away (when do I ever do that?)—and ran downstairs. This time, I saw him (or her—I’m not sure, as there were no babies around and it’s hard to see the defining bits under all that fur).

Most of the pictures are blurry since I was panting from all that running, and I was shooting through a window in less-than-great light. And most of the picture are of his/her bum as he/she ate the few blackberries on our bushes. And there was a big splotch of something on his/her flank, which, in our benevolence, we’re assuming is mud. But still, here are the best ones.

It's time to fatten up for winter. At this time of year, black bears spend up to 20 hours a day eating, consuming up to 20,000 calories every day. It's slim pickings this year; the berry crops are very small due to a wet spring and summer.

Here you can see part of the forest. By the way, that weed in the foreground is not 20 feet tall. There's a big slope between the house and the bottom part of the yard.

Our visitor followed up his berry dinner with a mouthful of grass for dessert.

We can't help getting excited to see such amazing creatures in our own backyard, even though we know it would be better for them if they didn't live in such close proximity to humans. It's been a very hard summer for the bears; a lack of food has led some to be much bolder than normal and several have been shot. People's ignorance doesn't help them any, either. We hope this one can safely make it through to hibernation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Don't just sit there!

Deep vein thrombosis. Pulmonary embolism. Not sexy or funny subjects, but the topic of many news stories this week after the surgeon general put out a call to action to prevent these life-threatening conditions.

You might think this is a problem only for the jet-setting crowd (does anyone actually say jet-setting anymore?). But let me tell you, it’s not. Anyone who stays put for a long time—in an airplane, in a business meeting, sitting in front of a computer—even during the three-hour long The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers—is at risk for developing a blood clot.

I’m going to tell you the story of my blood clot. If you don’t want to read all the way through my verbosity, just take this message to heart: Deep vein thrombosis affects up to 600,000 people in the U.S. every year. One in every 100 of them dies. For untreated DVT, the rate is much higher.

Don’t sit still, people!

Several years ago, as I sat in a crowded classroom for a full-day class, my left leg fell asleep so badly that I wondered what I would do if it didn’t wake up before the class ended. Crawl to my car? Ask a classmate to carry me? Sit there until my husband came to find me?

Two weeks later, I woke up in the early hours of a Saturday with a cramp in that leg. Or at least I thought it was cramp. But it didn’t go away, not that night or the next day or the next.

Since I was on the Pill and had read the little brochure that warns about blood clots, I called my doctor’s office first thing Monday morning. The earliest appointment the receptionist would give me was on Wednesday.

Thinking that it was just a muscle thing and no cause for panic, I tried to get rid of the pain while I waited for the appointment. I stretched. I walked and walked. I massaged my calf.

I drove to and from my all-Saturday class 100 miles away, working the clutch through heavy San Francisco traffic. It’s amazing that I didn’t suffer an embolism right there in the middle of 19th Avenue.

I almost had to beg to get the ultrasound. Due to the illogical rules of our insurance company, the doctor couldn’t order the test to find out if I had a blood clot unless she was almost certain that I had a blood clot. And she wasn’t. I was too young. I didn’t smoke. There was no family history. I hadn’t taken a long flight or suffered a blow to the leg.

I tried logic: This was a life-threatening condition, not the common cold. Eventually she agreed and I got the test that afternoon.

For me, a mom of a kindergartner and a toddler, the ultrasound was like a spa treatment. Lying in a quiet, darkened room as a very handsome technician put goop on my legs, I almost fell asleep. He told me that my doctor would get the results that evening.

The next morning, I called the office and left a message. I called again and again. Finally, at 6:30 pm, after another day of running around and potentially dying, I got a call. The doctor told me to lie down with my leg at a 35-degree angle, right now. Get someone to pick up a prescription for a blood thinner, right now. Go to a special clinic first thing in the morning to learn how to inject myself with a second blood thinner. And for goodness’ sake, move as little as possible.

I’d had that clot for two and a half weeks before I learned that there was indeed a reason to panic. I can only be thankful that it hurt like hell, because for some people the first sign of a clot is collapse.

And so started six months of a scary anticlotting medication. My body needed such a large dose that the nurse practitioner in my doctor’s office said “Holy shit!” when she asked me about it (aren’t they taught that saying “Holy shit” is not a confidence-instilling response?).

I had to watch my diet and other medications carefully to avoid dangerous interactions. I wore a very fashionable Medic-Alert bracelet, so that people would know that I could easily bleed to death, and lovely compression stockings to keep the blood in my legs from pooling. I gave myself shots in the abdomen (and was very grateful for that roll of baby fat still hanging around). I met a lot of great lab technicians as I went for the blood tests that made sure the medication was balanced (daily for the first few months, then every other day, then twice a week, and finally once a week for last few weeks).

I was told to avoid activities that could involve falls, bumps, or other trauma: no horseback riding, bike riding, motorcycle riding, waterskiing. Not so hard. But also no cutting myself, no bumping into things, no falling down (if you know me, you know what a complete klutz I am). I was told to use an electric razor because a regular one was too dangerous. A few weeks in, I got hit hard in the head with a soccer ball and spent a day wondering if my brain was bleeding.

For the first two weeks, until the medication was balanced and the clot was stabilized, I was supposed to remain as motionless as possible, while somehow also driving myself to the hospital, taking care of my kids, working, going to school, and watching for signs of an embolism (chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, falling down dead). I was told that “any movement of your foot or leg can send that clot flying through your veins and into your lungs or brain” (more stellar bedside manner from my medical team). I carefully considered every trip to the bathroom and to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Just how desperate was I for that cup of tea?

I also got to be a pushy self-advocate with a doctor who, going through some issues of her own that eventually led her to take a personal leave, made life-threatening mistakes with my medication, and with a receptionist team who didn’t appreciate my daily calls to the office for blood test results. I had learned hard lessons about advocacy during my first pregnancy and I was more than willing to be “that woman” who called until she got an answer.

Now, over seven years later, I still have post-thrombotic syndrome caused by permanent damage to the vein where the clot was. If I sit on the floor too long, I can feel the blood pool in that vein. My leg often aches; high-impact exercise and yoga cause it to hurt for days (on the bright side, I have a great excuse for not jogging!). I'll never be allowed to take estrogen again, in case it was a factor. I’m at higher risk for developing another clot and any time the pain is particularly bad or long lasting, I start to worry. I can’t sit still for long periods of time, which, because I work at home, means I make frequent trips to the kitchen “to stretch my legs” (= to get a cookie). I constantly nag my kids not to let their extremities go to sleep.

Before I went through this experience, I had no idea of the dangers of sitting still or crossing my legs. If I hadn't been on the Pill at the time, I would probably have ignored the pain, maybe with dire consequences. The moral of this very long story is this: Be aware of the causes and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, and get up and move around!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Improg word: Euphoria

Last week’s improg word was euphoria. I waited all week for some euphoria-inducing event to happen so I could write about it. How about getting up at 6:30 on Sunday morning for Child Two’s soccer game? Or maybe getting the dreaded grocery shopping done? Pulling out a huge pile of the morning glory that is not-so-slowly taking over my garden and heading across the lawn toward the blackberries?

Is my life glamorous or what?

As I usually do, being the glam language geek that I am, I looked up the improg word. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:

euphoria (n.): a feeling of well-being or elation, especially one that is groundless, disproportionate to its cause, or inappropriate to one's life situation.
And, as I usually do, I learned something new. I had thought that euphoria was extreme happiness—the kind of thing you experience when you realize that those are your lottery tickets numbers on the TV screen—or the feeling you get from altered-state inducing substances, which I don’t do (anymore). But if you want to be technical about it, jumping up and down when you win the lottery is not true euphoria because it’s completely appropriate.

Now, if you want to talk about happiness disproportionate to its cause—well, that I do experience on a regular basis. I know I’ll feel it tonight, at my first belly dancing class since May. Just being in that room with the noise of the music and everyone’s hip scarves, struggling to do glute squeezes or getting dizzy doing spins or constantly picking up the cane (I don’t dare dance with a sword) that will not stay on my head—I blame it one the silkiness of my hair, of course—is enough to give me a feeling of well-being or elation that some would think is disproportionate to its cause.

I felt it one day last week when, as my mom and I walked to my car after an appointment, we passed a florist’s shop and saw plants covered in baby cucumbers. We each bought one. I felt a disproportionate happiness from the sight of my mom, who is easily embarrassed and much too concerned with what others think of her, walking down the busiest street in town carrying a plant that she could hardly see around (I firmly believe that doing things like this is good for her psyche). And when I brought my own plant home, I euphorically kept going out on my deck to look at it. I am smitten with those baby cukes.

I felt it again yesterday when I checked the Improgging site and saw that last week’s word was still up. Since the Improgging Fool is like that cool teacher who lets you hand in your assignments late, this means that I can keep my perfect improgging score.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Green Friday--One step at a time

Now that the school year has started, the dreary, rainy, late-summer days have given way to sunny, dry, glorious ones. Of course. That’s life here in Vancouver.

Child Two and I have decided that this year we are going to walk to and from school as much as we can, driving only when we have a very compelling reason to do so, such as needing the car for a bunch of errands or an after-school appointment, having to carry something heavy or fragile, or very bad weather. If the weather is downright awful, however, we’ll be walking because we won’t be able to get the car off our road.

I used to walk everywhere I could. I would bundle my kids in the stroller to go to the grocery store, the library, the fabric store (doesn’t everyone make regular walking trips to the fabric store?), the video place—if it was at all feasible to walk, we would. Then we lived in California for five years, in a neighborhood where the only store within walking distance was 7-11. We couldn’t even walk to school.

Back in B.C., my kids were placed in a school not far from our house, directly uphill (and when I say “uphill,” I really mean “upmountain”). Getting there just about required grappling hooks and climbing ropes or whatever it is that mountain climbers use. I would often scale that slope to pick the kids up in the afternoon, holding tightly onto Child Two’s hand on the way back so she didn’t trip and roll all the way down. Climbing up in the morning was just too much for their short legs.

When that school closed, we moved to one in the next neighborhood over. It’s a longer walk and requires us to go both uphill and downhill each way, with two rather nasty hills on the way there. As with the other school, I often walked there (the hard direction) to pick them up, and on many mornings we parked just over the second bad hill and walked the rest of the way. But this year we agreed to try walking all the way as much as we could.

We decided to do this because of the obvious benefits. By my very rough calculations (made even rougher by the need to convert from imperial to metric—I came to metric late in my childhood and haven’t yet mastered it), if we walk an average of 50% of the time, we’ll save about $100 worth of gas this school year, not to mention reducing the amount of wear and tear on the car and the emissions it’s pumping out.

We’ve added a huge amount of exercise to our week—when we walk in both the morning and afternoon, I’m totalling 80 minutes a day, much of it uphill. We’ve both noticed that those nasty hills are getting easier—we hardly even slow down now.

We’re discovering some unexpected benefits, too. Our morning trip is not the frenzied rush it used to be. No longer am I trying to cram one more thing in before we go. We have to leave on time or we face dire consequences—hurrying up the hills, oh no!

Instead of driving past our neighbors, we’re walking past and saying hello. And, even more importantly to Child Two, we’re getting to know the cats and dogs along our route.

As we huff and puff, we talk about all sorts of things, from the environment to how overscheduled kids are today to what cats think about. When Child Two brings a friend home, the walk is full of laughter. She and her friends have started a new tradition: they find a good rock, kick it between them all the way home, and then put it in a special place in the garden.

On the way home in the morning, I think about what I’m going to be doing that day and find it much easier to focus when I start work. This is one of the things I miss most from my days of walking wherever I could: the transition between one place and another—a time to organize my thoughts, look at my neighbors’ gardens, and just enjoy the quiet.

We’re taking our effort to live in more sustainable way one step at a time. And a lot of what we do out of concern for the earth’s well-being has a big impact on our own as well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Enough already--Month seven

The great house decluttering that we started in the summer is progressing—slowly, yes, but progressing nonetheless. This month I’ve decided to declutter by theme instead of by room. We’ve got a lot of paper in this house—books, magazines, patterns, work files, old term papers, kindergarten drawings, scraps with scrawled phone numbers, instruction manuals for things we no longer own. There’s enough paper here to start a serious bonfire (not that I would, since backyard burning is not allowed in our town). My computer, too, is stuffed full of paper of the virtual kind— thousands of old emails, unsorted photos, and outdated files. So this month's “Enough, already!” rallying cry is “Enough information, already!” as I try to keep my head above the piles while I sort, shred, file, give away, and recycle.

Of course, I can’t really say “Enough!” to information. My whole professional life has centered around information and I’m an addict. But what’s the use of collecting knowledge, ideas, and inspiration if it’s all so disorganized that you can’t find those darn instructions for propagating fuchsias or your third cousin’s address or that book (or, in my case, books) on funny word origins when you need them?

Shredding old tax returns is not really my idea of fun. But it’s not all drudgery. Since I can’t give up multitasking entirely, I’m combining this idea with my attempt to make more time for ponytail-requiring activities by going through the humungous file of recipe clippings I’ve been collecting for years and years. I have so many that the file is almost wider than this cat:

Like the general decluttering, this job won't get done in a month. But I'm expecting that by October 1st my recycle bin will be bulging and I'll be well on my way to making better use of the information I decide to keep.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #26--Faded hearts

Taken February 17, 2008, in Vancouver, BC.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's
Thematic Photographic
theme of the week, faded.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see
my other blog. For other people's, see

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Catching up

I participate in three memes most weeks: improgging, Wordless Wednesday, and Thematic Photographic. Recently though, my meme fulfillment has been spotty. First, we took two trips out of town in just over a week—we were out, we were in very briefly, we were out again.

This was followed by a week of gearing up for the start of the school year and extracurricular activities, which involved much shopping: soccer gear, dance clothes, a flute, school supplies, shoes (how the heck did my son get big enough to require adult size shoes, and why do men’s soccer cleats cost twice as much as boys’? Is there twice as much material in a shoe one size bigger? I don’t think so). . . . The list was as long as my Christmas shopping list, and my credit card bill will be, too. We also squeezed in some outings which we’d meant to do all summer but hadn’t gotten around to.

Now it’s the first week of school, which means hours spent filling out forms (which are, for the most part, exactly the same as the forms I filled out last year, and the year before, and the year before that) and writing cheques. Really, for the form-filling-out, cheque-writing parent, the first week of school is just one big case of writer’s cramp.

I’ve also had to accompany Child One to his high-school orientation (how the heck did he get old enough to be in high school?). Yes, a parent was supposed to go—I didn’t just tag along. I did, however, find myself having a small anxiety attack about what I should wear, until I realized that I was not the one going to school with a bunch of adolescent fashion mavens.

And—oh, joy—soccer season has started. As manager of Child Two’s team, I am busy this week picking up equipment, updating the first aid kit, assigning snack days, emailing parents, printing up more of those forms we all dread filling out, and demanding that parents grip a pen in their now-clawlike hands one more time to write a deposit cheque before I hand them a uniform.

Even in a normal week I have a limited amount of time for blogging—that is, if I want to get my work done without my clients hanging over my virtual shoulder, wondering why the heck I’m writing about random words instead of polishing their prose. And because of that, I sometimes feel hemmed in by these memes. I have something I want to say—but, darn it, it’s Wordless Wednesday so I have to keep my mouth shut. I took a great picture—but darn it, today is the only chance I’ll have all week to post something related to the theme and this picture just doesn’t work. I have a great topic for a blog post—but darn it, how will I ever fit the word kumquat into it?

Now, I know that most people—normal people, those without the horrible drive for that 100% mark that often made me crazy during my ridiculous number of years in university—would say, “I don’t feel like doing that meme this week, so I won’t.” But even if I try to fool myself with such carefree bravado, inside it’s bothering me that I haven’t blogged about the word saving or posted a photo that fits the “poignant” theme.

Then, just like when I was in high school, I get the urge to rebel. This morning I declared, “I will go memeless this week!” (not related at all to going topless, thank goodness). And at first I revelled in the thought of all the non-meme-related things I could write about. I don’t have to write about the word coupon! Or post a water-themed photo! But as the day wore on, I knew that my mind wouldn’t rest until I at least got caught up on those improgging words.

So now I have managed to work the three improgging words I missed into one blog post, restoring my 100% participation rate—that is, unless the Improgging Fool takes marks off for late assignments.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Green Friday--A Safer Beauty Routine

Most of us use dozens of chemicals on our skin, teeth, and hair every day, without any real knowledge of what they are or how they can affect us or the environment. It’s hard to decipher ingredients lists, if they’re even given, and to figure out which products are safer than others.

It seems that every year we’re told that things we thought were safe actually aren’t. The cosmetics industry is not regulated as strictly as the food industry—neither for its ingredients nor for the accuracy of its claims—and some companies use known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals in their products. Many other ingredients, while not proven to cause health problems, have been associated with them in scientific studies. And for a lot of what we pour, rub, or brush onto ourselves, and then wash down the drain, we just don’t know if they are safe for long-term use.

The Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, maintained by the Environmental Working Group, can help you evaluate products you use every day: soaps, make-up, shampoos, toothpaste, nail polish, hair color, baby products, and so on. They rate products according to known or suspected hazards, based on databases of government and academic research studies on their ingredients.

You can look up your favorite products and see how they compare to others. You can search for specific brands, fragrance-free products, those with or without certain ingredients, those associated with or not associated with specific health concerns, and those likely or unlikely to contain allergens. You can also find out which companies are testing their products on animals and which have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

One of the important messages of this website is that we—meaning not just consumers, but scientists and regulators—know very little about the safety of these products. Most ingredients have not been fully tested and we can’t say with any certainty whether or not they are truly safe. But with a little knowledge we can at least limit our exposure to the most worrisome ones.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #25--Why I've been so quiet lately (Trip 2)

Taken August 21, 2008, in San Francisco.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of the week, colorful.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Green Friday on Thursday--Better book buying

Last week, Green Friday got buried under a mountain of work as I tried meet a deadline. Not only did I get the job done on time, I got it done early. Did you feel the earth momentarily stop spinning on its axis in shock when I sent the files to my client four days before the deadline?

I won’t be able to post tomorrow, so I’m doing Green Friday on Thursday this week.

We’re a family of readers and our house is already full of books. We’re also heavy-duty library users. So any book I actually plunk down my money for—especially new—has to meet certain criteria. It has to be something that will get read more than once, or that we can share with someone else, or that requires writing or drawing in, or that I need for my work, or that we’ll refer back to over and over.

For me, it comes down to this: I don’t want to spend my money or the world’s trees on something I will read once and then stick on a shelf for 20 years (although I think the insulating value of the books we have could save us quite a bit in heating costs if we stacked them all up along the outside walls). If I can borrow a book instead of buying it, I will. If it turns out that I absolutely love it or need to have it on hand, then I’ll buy it, preferably second hand.

When I am going to buy a particular book, I always check first with Better World Books, an online seller that sells both new and used books. One of their goals is to demonstrate that a business can make a profit while having a positive environmental and social impact.

They collect unwanted books from thousands of universities and libraries, many of which would have otherwise ended up in landfills or spent years in storage facilities. They buy carbon offsets to make their shipping carbon neutral. The shelving in their warehouse is reclaimed library shelving.

And they’re devoted to literacy, which, in terms of social causes, is my “thing.” Every sale generates a donation to a literacy organization. On their website they say “So far [since 2002], the company has converted more than 11 million donated books into $4.5 million in funding for literacy and education. In the process, we’ve also diverted more than 6,000 tons of books from landfills. . . . [And] we’ve donated nearly one million books to partner programs around the world.”

Not only that, but their prices on new books are often as low as or lower than other online sellers (at least the ones here in Canada), and they have reasonable shipping costs (free in the States—can you get more reasonable than that?—and $2.97 per book anywhere else). Every time I’ve ordered from them, I’ve been happy with their service.

Please note that I have received no money, free books, credits, or other perks for writing this review (darn!).

I’m always on the lookout for businesses like this. If you know of any, tell me about them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #24--Pattern in the sand

Taken February 29, 2008, in North Vancouver, BC.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of the week, patterns.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Enough, already!--Month six and Improg word: Sassy

Isn’t it funny how sometimes certain words or themes will keep popping up, almost as if the universe were whacking you over the head, trying to tell you something very important?

Last month I did a calendar journal in which I cut out a word or two for each day. As the month drew to a close and I looked over my calendar, I realized that my month had been kind of boring. It’s not that it was a bad month or a hard month. It was just a rather serious month, and on many days I was hard pressed to think of anything that defined that day other than work.

One of my favorite days was a Saturday late in the month when, without any forethought, I bought a small mountain of blueberries and made jam for the first time in at least a decade. So by the time the month and my calendar were done, I had already decided that in August I would declare “Enough already!” to seriousness and make at least a little bit of time every day for some kind of simple pleasure. Nothing huge, both because I don’t have time on most days for huge and because I do believe that it’s the small things that make for a happy life.

Then, on Sunday, the second day of “Enough seriousness, already!” month, two of the funnest people in the world came to stay with my mom: an old family friend, who is in her 60s, and her 40-year-old daughter. My mom and I hadn’t seen this friend for over 30 years, nor had we been in close contact with her, and we’d never met her daughter, so we didn’t really know what to expect from this visit. As Child One said, “I expected two ladies to come and sit around Oma’s kitchen table for days. I didn’t expect to have so much fun.”

One of the daughter’s favorite words is sassy, so on Monday, I laughed out loud when I saw that this was the newly posted improg word. Oh, Universe, you’re not subtle with your ways of getting your point across, but you are funny.

Over the last five days, we’ve done all sorts of sassy things, from dancing at a free bluegrass concert to stuffing five people—including my 75-year-old mother—into a photo booth in the mall for a raucous picture-taking episode. I’ve laughed more than I usually laugh in six months—the kind of laughing where your legs go wobbly and you think you just might pee your pants. And despite several late nights due to long conversations and despite more than one trip to Dairy Queen, I’ve felt more rested, relaxed, and healthy than I have since I don’t know when.

I was sad to say goodbye to these friends, who are now on their way home. But I’m determined to keep some of their sassiness in my days from now on. Thanks, Universe, for whacking me over the head and reminding me of when I used to do fun things just for the sheer joy of it. Enough seriousness, already. It’s time for some sassiness.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Thematic Photographic--Signs

Taken June 13, 2008, in West Vancouver, BC.

Carmi's thematic photographic theme this week is signs. Like Hayley, I collect pictures of signs; I've posted some of them on my blogs (here, here, here, and here). I've posted another thematic photographic entry on Making Do today.

Although I live in a big city, I often see warning signs about wildlife--bears, coyotes, even cougars. But this one was new to me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Green Friday--Composting

We’ve composted for years, but it was only recently that I learned (from my kids, who learned it at the environment club at their school) that composting has a major benefit besides reducing the mass of garbage going to landfills and producing wonderful stuff for your garden. As produce and yard waste decomposes in landfills, it gives off methane, a major greenhouse gas. But because composting involves a different decomposition process, no methane is produced.

Some people don’t want to compost because they think it’s stinky, but a smelly compost pile just means that the balance of materials is off. We keep an old garbage can full of dry leaves, dead flowers, old potting soil, and other “brown” materials next to our compost bin and every time we empty the kitchen compost pail, we add approximately the same amount of brown stuff on top. No smell at all.

If you can’t or don’t want to have a composter in your yard, consider vermiculture, or worm composting. We did this when we were living in a rental house. It was easy, fun for the kids (and educational), and helped us keep at least some of our garbage out of the landfill.

I used to be kind of squeamish about worms—due in large part to some boys who lived on our street when I was kid, who liked to chop them up—until I started gardening and realized just how important they are. But worm composting is not at all gross and you won’t end up with worms all over the place (unlike the time I dropped a full container of live crickets in my kitchen when we were frog-sitting for friends).

There are many resources available to learn about composting, and your community, like mine, might offer workshops. Some towns even subsidize the cost of backyard composters or offer them free to residents. Environment Canada and the Composting Council of Canada both have information to help you get started.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Improg word: Facetious

Every Monday, the Improg site posts the word of the week for your blogging pleasure.

I’ve been putting off writing this improg post because I don’t have much to say about facetious, other than it is one of the handful of English words that contains all five vowels in alphabetical order (I like alphabetical order, which helps to explain all the dictionaries in my house). It hasn’t been a very facetiousness-inspiring week around here.

Child One has to have minor surgery in August; we found out today when it is, and his stitch-removal day is in the only week we had clear all summer to potentially take a trip further away than a weekend destination.

Both Child One and Child Two were diagnosed on Monday as needing glasses for distance. We knew this would happen sooner or later with One, but Two, unbeknownst to us, has gone from being farsighted to now being more nearsighted than her brother—a big change which we hope is not a sign of things to come (the doctor said, without a trace of facetiousness in his voice, “Oh, my, I hope she hasn’t inherited her father’s eyes”; my husband pretty much can’t see past the end of his own nose without his glasses). This diagnosis resulted in shock, dismay, some tears, and—once she’d accepted the situation—much trying on of frames. Both kids are now fitted out with glasses, cleaning cloths, and cases, and are marvelling at how much better they can see the TV.

My mother has once again created a situation that will involve a great deal of my time, energy, and gas budget; it includes one, maybe two, completely unnecessary two-hour round trips to the airport, one of which is to meet a plane whose time of arrival and city of origin we are not entirely sure of. And I am not being facetious about any of that.

I am having extremely unfacetious trouble with a client. I can’t say much, seeing as how I’m so professional and don’t talk about my clients (much). Suffice it to say that his never-ending project has become even more fraught with author-induced problems than it was before and I am seriously considering running away from self-employment into the arms of a library or bookstore job. Or even going back to waitressing at the family restaurant I used to work at, despite the fact that I swore in true Scarlett O’Hara style over 20 years ago that I would never go back even if I had starving children to feed. This project is that bad. You people who say you’d love to be an editor or proofreader because you enjoy reading have no idea. Now, if you enjoy banging your head against brick walls, I’ve got a client for you.

And I am sick with a summer cold, which includes—at no extra charge—the kind of cough that makes you wonder if your internal organs are going to end up in your lap and prevents you from sleeping more than an hour at a time, even though you’re propped up on 14 pillows to try to prevent the coughing fits that are strong enough to propel the cat who unwisely chose you as a bed right across the room. The last time I was this sick with a cold I turned out to have pneumonia. I’m hoping for the best and trying to focus on the bright side: my abs are getting a good workout, which will come in handy when belly dancing class resumes in the fall.

It hasn’t been a terrible week. Nothing earth-shattering or horrific has happened (knock on wood). It’s just been a very serious week, without much time or energy for facetious behavior.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #23-Waterlily

Taken July 19, 2008, in Kelowna, BC.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Friday, July 25, 2008

Green Friday--Out with the clutter!

I didn’t write a Green Friday post last week because I was in this beautiful place without a computer.

Taken July 18, 2008, in Kelowna, BC.

July is “Enough stuff, already!” month here, and we’ve slowly been decluttering our house. We’re finding things we’d forgotten about or misplaced. We’re making a point of using what we already have (which gets much easier as we discover just what it is we do own) instead of buying new things. We’re sharing what we don’t use anymore with others.

How many times have I bought something I already own because (a) I don’t remember that I have one or (b) I can’t find it? How many times have I bought something I could make or fix because it’s just too much trouble to find the stuff or clear the room I need to do it? How many things have I bought when there’s something I could make do with right here already? How much stuff have we hung onto that could be used by others, so that they buy new things while ours sit in a box unused? How often have I walked away from my house because I’m overwhelmed or unhappy with it, and gotten in the car to escape? How many questions can I write in one paragraph?

So far, decluttering has had the usual green benefits for us. By cleaning out the hand-me-down boxes in Child Two’s closet, we found enough summer clothes in the right size that we didn’t have to buy anything new for her. And when someone posted in our local Freecycle group that her children had become obsessed with My Little Pony, we were able to give her Child Two’s collection and she didn’t have to go out and buy new plastic toys with their associated overpackaging. Instead of replacing our aging plastic kitchen storage containers, we’re making do with the five boxes of mason jars which, for some unknown reason, moved all the way to California and all the way back with us and have been living in the shadows of our shed (I prefer the jars to plastic anyway).

But it’s also having some less obvious effects. The less cluttered our house is, the more enjoyable it is to spend time here and the easier it is to enjoy the things we have. With our summer battle cry of “Use it or lose it,” we’re making a point of enjoying the things we’re finding: the games that got buried in the back of the cupboard, the DVDs the kids got for Christmas that still have the plastic on them, the boxes (and boxes) of unread books. Not only does this keep us from buying more, but it makes home a nicer place to be. More time at home means fewer car trips and less shopping for even more stuff.

Most importantly for the long term, I’m finding that as I put the work into decluttering and as I find out what I already have, I don’t want to buy more and more stuff. I don’t want my house to get more and more crowded. I want to make the projects I bought all the supplies for but haven’t gotten around to. I want to read the books I bought months or years ago with such anticipation. I want to spend time fixing the house and garden up instead of escaping.

And I am much more aware of how much stuff we’ve bought for the wrong reasons. Instead of providing enjoyment, that stuff results in frustration (as I trip over it) or guilt (as I realize we’ve hardly used it) or despair (as I wonder if there will ever be room for a bed in the guestroom).

A neighbour was commenting to me the other day that we could build another story on our house without blocking anyone’s view—in fact, the previous owner had plans drawn up to do just that. Right now, the stuff we own doesn’t fit well in our house. But this is not because we need a bigger house, nor do we need to use a bunch of resources to build and maintain more space or to buy complicated storage solutions. We simply need less stuff.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #22--Jamie

Taken August 19, 2007, at home.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of "animals."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Improg word: Ponytail

Every Monday a new word is posted on the Improgging site. Visit there to read how others have blogged about this week's word, ponytail.

Too bad this wasn’t the improg word when Child Two donated her ponytails. The Improgging Fool does allow links to previously written posts, but since that post was done for an improg word, I’d better do a new one.

Although my hair is long more often than it’s short (due to my inability to remember to get it cut on a regular basis), I don’t wear a ponytail unless I need to keep it out of my face—or out of the cookie batter, the bread dough, the paint, or the potting soil, or away from the fabric shears or the sewing machine mechanism (I learned that one the hard way—ouch!).

I used to put my hair back so often that I kept a ponytail holder in my pocket all the time. It’s not that I wasn’t busy with other things. I was a full-time student for a ridiculous number of years and I worked part-time and did volunteer work; I had a husband and friends whom I spent lots of time with. But somehow, no matter how busy I was, I sewed for an hour almost every single day. I baked several times a week. I did all sorts of crafts and potted up baby plants and worked in the garden. And my trusty ponytail holder was always at the ready.

The activities I tied my hair back for were the things I loved to do, the things that gave me a break from the reading and writing and working I did most of the time. The very act of putting my hair in a ponytail was a signal that it was time to relax, to have fun while still getting something done. And somehow, no matter how busy I was with work or other people, I made time almost every day for those things.

Now I hardly ever put my hair back. Even when my kids were small and needy, my hair was in a ponytail more than it is now. It’s been a gradual shift from having that holder always in my pocket to having to scrounge around the house to find one on the rare occasions that I need one.

Why is that? My “spare” (i.e., non-work) time now is usually spent taking my kids to an activity or running errands or getting caught up on the work that didn’t get done because my mother wanted me to do something for her—or collapsing on the couch or in front of the computer because after spending the day working and running around, I don’t have the energy for much else.

Slowly, though, during my Year of Living Differently, I’m starting to shift my time back. My kids and I are fixing up the “sewing room” (= room where we put everything that doesn’t have a home) with a table for each of us so we can be together while doing our own thing. I’m trying to spend a little bit of time each day—even if it’s only 15 minutes—doing something creative. I’m rethinking how I run my business and am putting together ideas for some major changes once my current batch of work projects is done. It’s a real challenge and it’s not happening as quickly as I’d like it to, but sooner or later that ponytail holder will be back in my pocket, ready for anything.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #21--Garden fairy

Taken October 12, 2007, in Vancouver.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of "light."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Giveaway on Making Do

I'm hosting a very small giveaway on my other blog. If you're a crafty type, check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Green Friday--Reusing magazines

It takes a lot of resources to produce magazines. If I had more time, I would do some research and post all sorts of interesting stats here. But I don’t, so just take my word for it. There's a lot you can do with those resources before you toss your magazines in the recycling bin.

I used to be a magazine junky. Well, I still am, but I try not to use up so many resources to feed my habit. I let all my subscriptions run out because of the junk mail and plastic wrapping that came along with them. I no longer buy magazines automatically or based on the cover (no matter what miracles that cover promises). There have to be several articles I’m really interested in—with information I’ll actually use—before I plunk down my money. If there isn’t, I either pass it up, read it while waiting in line during the dreaded grocery shopping, or check it out from the library.

I belong to a not-so-secret magazine network. My mom and I share a lot of our magazines, and when we’re both done with them, she passes them on to a friend who, after she’s read them, gives them to her daughter, who passes them on to someone else, and so on.

I donate some to our library, where they’re sold on the Friends of the Library book sale table, or to the recreation center, where they’re sold to help pay for adaptive equipment for people with special needs. Other libraries we go to have boxes set up where you can leave your magazines and take others.

I leave them in places where people will be stuck for a while, like laundromats, hospitals, clinics, the car repair shop, and my kids’ music and dance schools. I used leave them in the laundry room of my apartment building or in the staff room at work, back when I lived in an apartment and had a real job.

You can use reuse magazines in other ways, too. Since it’s more efficient to run a full freezer than a partially empty one, use them to fill empty space. Or tear pages into strips to use as cushioning material for packages.

And, of course, I use them for crafts, including making envelopes and calendar journals. Child Two and I are planning to make our own magnetic poetry set from words cut from magazines and flyers and I’m collecting beat-up craft and knitting magazines for a big decoupage project. Both of my kids have done some great art projects at school with magazines, like paper weaving, color collages, and mosaics, and at home we’ve used magazines to make greeting cards and to turn shoeboxes into treasure boxes.

One summer, a little girl I babysat and I made an ABC book out of magazine pictures. (Oh, my. I’ve just realized that little girl is now 34 years old.) I stapled together blank pages, one for each letter, and we glued pictures that she liked onto the appropriate pages. This idea could be used to for all sorts of themes: colors, numbers, simple words, countries, foods, animals, etc.

There are tons of creative ideas for reusing magazines, from sophisticated art pieces to fun ways to spend an afternoon with your kids. I’ve posted some links on my Making Do blog.

We recycle magazines only when they’re tattered and falling apart. Along the way, we’ve shared them with others and had some creative fun—a much better use of resources (and money) than reading them once and throwing them away.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #20--Not a typical mermaid

Taken September 8, 2007, in Victoria, BC.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Improg word: Plethora

Every Monday a new word is posted on the Improgging site. Visit there to read how others have blogged about this week's word, plethora.

Earlier today, Child Two had an overabundance of hair.

Now it's gone.

She'll be sending her plethora of hair to Eva & Co. Wigs' Hair Donation program, the very place that gave our cousin a free wig just last week.

We can't quite remember how long Child Two's been growing her hair to donate--over a year, we're sure, but less than two. Although it was long enough several inches ago, we had to time the cut so that it didn't interfere with her ballet shows. Now, as the weather is warming up and the next show is months away, and as our cousin is going through chemo, it seemed like the perfect time.

This occasion marked her first real grown-up hair appointment, with a shampoo and a scalp massage and everything. Child Two was relieved that the stylist is as quiet as she is, so she didn't have to make small talk.

She's planning to grow another plethora of hair over the next year or two and then donate it again.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thematic Photographic--Sky

Taken February 22, 2008, in West Vancouver, BC.

I'm posting this photo for this week's Thematic Photographic theme, "sky." Vancouver, especially the North Shore, where this photo was taken, can be a gloomy place. But when the sky is blue and full of cotton-ball clouds, the rain (at least for a little while) is forgotten.

We're surrounded here by big things--the ocean, the mountains, the trees--and from some places you can hardly see the sky. But on this day, with my back to the water, the sky seemed huge.

For another Thematic Photographic entry, see this my other blog.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wish me luck

I am now officially the mother of a teenager.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Green Friday--The shopping question

This is “Enough stuff, already!” month around here and the decluttering is in full swing. In addition to getting rid of what we don’t use, we try to minimize the amount of stuff we bring into the house in the first place. It helps that neither my husband nor I are big shoppers. Neither of us feels the need to own the latest fashions or the newest gadgets, and—luckily for us—our kids are the same, at least for now.

One of the most effective ways for us to reduce our consumption is to ask ourselves one question as we’re contemplating a purchase: Do we really need to own this?

Then, because I’m a wordy person, I follow it up with several more: Do we need it at all? Can we make do with something we already own? If we do need it, can we borrow it from someone? Get it from the library? Rent it? Find a used one? Make one?

I still use a bowl over a pot of hot water when I need a double boiler. We borrow or rent tools unless they’re things we’ll use over and over. A great deal of my kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs from their cousins. Child One and I recently made a path from old bricks instead of buying new stepping stones. We rarely buy movies. We share books and magazines with friends and family.

Very often the answer to the shopping question is a resounding “no.”

When my kids started getting an allowance, it came with a big string attached: With the exception of Christmas and birthday gifts, they were now solely responsible for buying their own toys. Now, many years and valuable lessons later, they ask themselves the shopping question. The result is much less plastic crap and packaging filling up our house and our garbage can.

I’m prone to buying certain kinds of things on impulse: notebooks, stationery, craft supplies, books, and magazines. But I’ve recently remembered an old trick I used to use. I walk away. If whatever it is still seems irresistible several days later, then I consider going back and buying it. More often than not I forget all about it.

The ramifications of the shopping question can be much bigger than an occasional magazine or plastic action figure. When we bought this house, we knew we would need to haul in dirt and haul out mountains of laurel branches, bring home new furniture (because we left most of our old hand-me-downs in California), and carry loads of wood and other treasures from the hardware store. We had every excuse to buy a pickup truck, but we decided that we didn’t really need to own one. We borrow one a few times a year or get things delivered instead.

Some people complain that trying to be environmentally friendly is expensive. But we find that the money we save by buying less far outstrips what we spend on green products. You can buy a lot of organic apples for the price of a pickup truck.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Improg word: Smitten

Every Monday, the Improg site posts the word of the week for your blogging pleasure.

On long car trips, I tell my kids that they shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to use the washroom, even if they don't think they need to, just in case. I follow the same principle when it comes to dictionaries: I rarely pass up the opportunity to look up a word, even if I don’t think I need to, just in case.

As I do almost every week, today I looked up the current improgging word, smitten. And, as I do almost every week, I learned something new—or really, I realized something I hadn’t put together before. I’d always thought of smitten in its meaning of “infatuated,” but, being the past participle of smite, it means more than that. The primary meaning of smite is to strike something with heavy force. The various meanings of smitten share the notion of being struck forcefully, literally or metaphorically. You can be smitten by a thug wielding a hammer, by the plague, by fear, or, like Margerie, by the charms of your kitten and your children.

You might be able to tell that I am smitten by words. I mean this in the love-them-want-to-marry-them sense, but I, like everyone, can also be smitten in the just-got-smashed-in-the-head-with-a-rock sense when words are used as weapons. I’ve been smitten (in the good sense) with language for as long as I can remember—not by literature so much (while I love to read, I am not particularly highbrow in my tastes and will read just about anything), but by the nuts and bolts of language.

I remember the first time I skipped out of school, smoked a cigarette, kissed a boy, had sex, rode a roller coaster, and drove a car (not all at the same time—what a day that would have been!). But I remember just as clearly the first time I realized I was thinking in French—not thinking about French, but thinking my everyday thoughts in French—and the first time I learned about the field of linguistics and realized that I could spend a ridiculous number of years learning about language with people who wouldn’t think I was weird (or, if they did, it was for other reasons entirely). I spent many, many hours of my prime with my head in dictionaries and grammars, learning or analyzing how one language or another worked.

To illustrate just how smitten (= strange) I am, I ask you this: Am I the only one here who wonders why the American Heritage Dictionary and the Nelson Canadian Dictionary say that smite has two past participles, smitten and smote, but the Oxford says it has just one, smitten? Did North Americans start using the past tense as the past participle for some reason, or did the British stop?

And am I the only one here who wants to know why smite, smote, smitten (or smote) doesn't follow the same conjugation pattern as bite, bit, bitten?

And am I the only one here who owns several English dictionaries and looks up words in all of them just to see how they differ? Or who owns dictionaries in a variety of languages that she doesn’t speak, some of which are dead?

Am I smitten or am I a total geek?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #19--Wild daisies

Taken June 29, 2008, in North Vancouver, BC.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Enough, already!--Month five

Last month’s “Enough, already” theme was multitasking. My experiment in monotasking was illuminating. For the first two weeks of the month I was able to follow my plan very well. Each day I focused on just one of my large work projects, cycling through them during the week. I kept my email closed most of the time and didn’t drop everything when small, urgent jobs came in, but instead allocated time to deal with them. I got way more work done than I normally do—I even got my invoices done for the first time in three months—and I felt much more in control of my time.

Then the last two weeks of the month brought all kinds of end-of-the-school-year activities as well as increased family pressure. The number of interruptions to my work time increased by about a zillion percent. I struggled (unsuccessfully) to get my work done. I went back to feeling scattered. I constantly had a knot in my stomach. In other words, I felt like I usually do: like I’m about to be swallowed alive by demands and worries.

So obviously I’ve learned an important lesson about the better way for me to work.

Now, somehow, it’s July. A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I decided (well, I decided and they agreed) that this would be the summer of getting things done around the house. The theme this month is “Enough stuff, already!” and our motto (well, my motto, since both of them went quite pale at the thought) is “Use it or lose it.” We’ve already started decluttering their rooms, which are much too small for their packratty ways, and I’ve started on the rest of the house.

This theme applies to the yard, too, where we’ve declared “Enough weeds, already!” My work has been so busy this year (and the year before and the year before that and . . . ) that I haven’t been able to keep up with the garden, so this summer I’ve hired the kids to do a lot of the work for me. Child One has recently decided to save up for a Gibson SG guitar—the cheapest used one we’ve seen around here so far is over $900—so he’s motivated.

It won’t be all hard work, though. In the spirit of using it or losing it, we’ll be digging out the games that have migrated to the back of the cupboard. We’ll be setting up the croquet and badminton sets, both of which sat in the shed all last summer. Child Two and I are going to try to use every type of art supply we own at least once before school starts. Our goal this month is not to get rid of everything we own, but to pare it down to the stuff we really want so that we can enjoy it.

And as for my work, I’m definitely taking last month’s lessons to heart.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Wood (again)

Taken August 21, 2007, in Burnaby, BC.

This is another entry for Carmi's weekly Thematic Photographic theme. This wooden horse is part of a beautifully restored carousel at the Burnaby Village Museum.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Wood

I'm posting this photo for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of wood. This is the very roller coaster that I almost flew out of 27 years ago.

For another wood photo, see my other blog.

Taken September 2, 2007, in Vancouver.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Green Friday--Green Guide magazine

Green Friday was pre-empted last week. The school year ended for us just yesterday, and as anyone with children in elementary school knows, June—with its year-end performances, field trips, and parties, as well as the last-minute panic to get projects done—is as busy as December, only without so much shopping. Between that, work, and a bunch of nonsense I was going through, I barely had time to brush my teeth last week.

This week I want to tell you about National Geographic’s Green Guide. What I like about this magazine is that it’s aimed at consumers like me, with busy lives and a budget, who want to know what they can do in their everyday lives to have a smaller impact on the environment. It goes beyond the information we’ve all heard a million times but doesn’t expect its readers to grow every scrap of food they eat, use nothing but pedal power, or dress in only organic hemp clothing. In the two issues I’ve read so far, I’ve found information that is immediately usable.

Each issue contains buying guides that tell you what to look for and what to avoid when you’re shopping for everyday items. For example, the summer issue has a guide for shampoos, including a wallet-sized “smart shopper’s card” that lists ingredients linked to health concerns such as cancer and hormone disruption. Other features include comparisons of different versions of a product (for example, is it better, from a nutritional and environmental standpoint, to buy juice as frozen concentrate, in plastic bottles, or in cartons?).

I found this magazine at the grocery store, but I discovered today that you can also subscribe online at the Green Guide website. Even if you aren’t a paid subscriber, you can access the buying guides, smart shopper’s cards, blogs, tips, and a free newsletter on the site. If you're looking for a way to go beyond curbside recycling and using cloth bags, check out the site or the magazine.

Note: No bloggers were paid in the preparation of this review.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #18--Tall Ship

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Glass

I'm posting this photo as part of Carmi's "Thematic Photographic" project. The theme this week is glass. This picture was taken through the window of an old building on the beach in April.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An open letter to late-night callers

To the young woman who has decided to drunk-dial her ex-boyfriend and got me instead, I’m very sorry for your suffering. And if you call me back at, say, 11:00 in the morning, when I could really use a break from my work, I’ll be happy to listen to you weep and tell me what an ass he is.

To the socialites who call looking for Bob or Barbi or a taxi at 3:00 in the morning, I’m very happy for you that your social life is so full. I can tell you’re having a wonderful time at that party. The music sounds great—whoever is in charge of the stereo is doing a fabulous job. But Bob doesn’t live here, nor does Barbi, and there’s no way I’m getting out of my warm bed to come and pick you up so you can throw up in my car.

To those who are calling the Metro Vancouver area code from the other side of the world, please be especially careful with your dialing. I know it’s a lot of numbers and it’s easy to get one wrong, but consider what it’s like for me to fumble in the dark for the phone and to hear you asking over and over again for your intended party in a language I don’t speak. Here’s a handy tip: If the person who answers the phone clearly doesn’t understand you, you’ve probably got the wrong number. Shouting loudly will not help her find the person you want.

If you happen to be a client of mine and are sending me a fax from Europe or calling me from the East Coast, stop for just a minute and remember that I’m in the Pacific time zone. Where you are it may be a perfectly reasonable business hour, but where I am we are all snoring gently in our beds (except for those who are out partying and calling me for a ride). Keep this in mind: I edit much better and more efficiently when I don’t have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks because I’ve been woken up by your call in the wee hours. I’m also much less cranky when I’ve had a full night’s sleep and therefore less likely to write “Did you never learn grammar in school, you moron?” in big red letters on your manuscript.

I know you’re probably thinking I should just turn the phones off at night so that you don’t have to worry your drunken or thoughtless little heads over waking me. But we have elderly relatives and sick relatives and my husband is part of an emergency response team, so that’s not an option. When I hear the phone ring at night, my first thought is that someone has died or there’s been an apartment-building fire and 50 people need help finding food and clothes and a place to stay. And with all that phone-induced adrenalin rushing through my body, it’s really hard for me to make sense of your weeping or drunken slurring or foreign-to-me language or requests for a rush job.

Please, late-night callers, please, think before you dial.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #17--Waiting for summer

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Improg word: Fair

Improgging is improvisational blogging. A word is posted on the Improg blog twice a week. Take that word and blog about it in anyway you’d like: happy, sad, thoughtful, funny, short, long, with pictures, with words—anything goes! To read other people's interpretation of the current word, go here.

Monday’s posted word was fair. I was thinking about posting about things that are fair and things that aren’t—I could go on forever about this, I bet. But then I started thinking all the fairs I’ve gone to. I grew up going to the county fair and for a dozen years lived in an area that holds a big agricultural fair every summer.

But the best years, fair-wise, were the years we lived in California when our kids were younger. Some people call the area we lived in Wine Country, but to us it was Fair Country. We usually went to five or six fairs every year, starting with the Apple Blossom Fair in April and ending with the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in October. We went to the fair (two, actually) in our first month living there and we went to the fair in our last month living there.

Now I live close to the grounds for the Pacific National Exhibition, known as the PNE. It has a midway and rides (they’re actually there all year), and there are some farm animals, but it’s much bigger and more commercial than the fairs I love. There’s no home ec building where I can see everyone’s strawberry jams or check how many ribbons a friend won for her crafts like I could at other fairs. The vendors are commercial ones. I can’t buy a wall-hanging for my daughter’s room from a member of the quilt guild or a hemp bracelet from a guy with dreadlocks. There are no displays of kids’ science projects or Lego creations. The PNE is fun, but it’s not a community fair.

My stepsister and I liked to go to our county fair during the day when it was quiet, because the guys running the rides would let us stay on as long as we wanted. I still feel bad about the time we were on the Octopus and, thinking we were the only ones, we had the guy keep it going around and around and around, until finally the short kid we hadn’t noticed before threw up.

We were also crazy about roller coasters. Take a lesson from me: Don’t wear a strapless top on a roller coaster, or if you do, don’t put your hands over your head as you go down the big hill. Hello, Santa Cruz!

My kids are not big fans of fair rides and for this I’m kind of grateful. For one thing, as I’ve gotten older, even one round of Ring around the Rosy makes me so dizzy that I have to sit with my head between my knees. I don’t think I could take the Tilt-a-Whirl anymore. For another, we rarely have to stand in line for an hour and a half and pay $5 each to enjoy a 45-second ride.

And once you’ve become a mom, the rides that used to seem so thrilling are downright scary. I was never truly frightened on a roller coaster—not even the time when, with my hands in the air instead of holding onto the bar like a smart person would do, I flew right out of my seat and the guy sitting with me had to haul me back down by the waistband of my jeans—until I took my three-year-old son on the kiddy roller coaster at the Sonoma County Fair. No safety bar seems safe enough when it’s your kid. When were those bolts last tightened? Is that seat belt frayed? As we rode around the Dragon Coaster, a good five or six feet in the air, I had a death grip on his little shoulder.

Soon my son’s class is going on a field trip to the PNE grounds. Having inherited the family pukey gene, he won’t go on the dizzying rides, but he is planning on trying out the very roller coaster that I almost flew out of almost 27 years ago. He’s smaller and skinnier than I was then and if the safety bar is the same, it won’t come anywhere close to his body. But he’s also more sensible than I was (and he’s heard my story), so he’ll probably be holding on. I won’t know for sure, though, because I won’t be able to watch.