Monday, March 31, 2008

Improg word: Small

I don’t know how Hayley does it. It’s been months since she sent me her envelope of words, but somehow almost every time I pull one out, it’s got a message that I need to hear on that particular day. A case in point is today’s word, small.

I have been in a funk for the last couple of days, ruminating, as I sometimes do, on the fact that the big things in my life are not really what I want them to be. If you know me well (that’s you, Hayley), you have some idea of what I’m talking about. If you don’t, suffice it to say that there’s quite a gap between my ideal life and the one I’m living.

When I get in one of these moods, I try to keep my perspective (instead of falling into the black hole of depression which has claimed too much of my time in the past) by reminding myself of two things. First, the challenges I face at this point in my life are very, very small compared to what probably 95% of the world’s population is experiencing. And second, most people could truthfully say that at least some major part of their life is not going quite as they’d like it to. That’s just life. And then I sigh a bit (a habit faithfully passed down among the women on my mother's side) and get on with my day.

When I unfolded the little slip of paper with Hayley’s word on it this morning, a third thing occurred to me. Concentrating on the big issues makes the gap between the life I would live if my fairy godmother ever showed up and the life I live in the real world seem huge. But if I look at the small things instead, I find that many of the details of my wishful-thinking life and my real life are the same.

And then I thought of a fourth thing (four thoughts in one morning—it must be that extra cup of tea I had). I already know that I can change some of the big things in my life that aren’t right and I can’t change others. Figuring out the changes I want to make is one of the goals of my Getting My Shit Together project, and so is making peace with the things I just have to deal with. Here’s the thing: how well I do both of these depends on my attitude, which in turn is heavily influenced by all the small things I experience every day. So, with this caffeine-inspired wisdom, I’m focusing today on the small things—the everyday things that make me feel happy or capable or confident.

Here are some of the good small things in my life:
  • hanging out with my kids

  • mail from a friend

  • talking to my brother and sister-in-law on the phone (this is not a hint, by the way, if either of you are reading this)

  • tea

  • chocolate

  • tea and chocolate at the same time

  • books (although the piles of books in our house are very large things)

  • yarn, fabric, buttons, thread

  • books about yarn, fabric, buttons, thread

  • my cats

  • crossing something off my to-do list

  • anything blooming in my garden

  • suddenly remembering that the Easter Bunny hid the extra jelly beans in my closet (it’s a good thing I’m typing this and not talking, because my teeth are stuck together right now)

  • sunshine after days of gloomy weather
There, in about two minutes I came up with more than a dozen small things that would make my day better even if my fairy godmother had sent me off to my perfect life in a magic pumpkin coach. With some more thought and another cup of tea, I could come up with dozens more. And they’re all things I have in my imperfect life right now (except for the jelly beans, which I've eaten).

What are the good small things in your life?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Improg word: Remove

My improg is appearing later than usual this week due to the many distractions of spring break. One of the less exciting ones—and one of my “Enough procrastination, already!” jobs—ties in with my improg word for this week: remove. I made a trip to the transfer station (a fancy term meaning “the dump”) to remove some things that have been sitting around here for far too long.

On Tuesday morning I loaded up my car with various items too big for the garbage collection and too old or worn out to pass along to someone else, including a used-to-death vacuum cleaner, which was more duct tape than original parts, and three carseats. As I waited in line to get into the hangar-like shed that houses the huge pile of garbage, I found myself looking at a smaller pile outside. I was surprised to see a lot of recyclables in there—things like newspapers that are collected in our curbside program. It would actually take less effort to recycle them than to bring them to the dump, so why were they there?

I pondered this until it was my turn to go into the shed. I was directed to a spot at the base of the garbage pile. I opened the back door of the car and took out the first carseat—and started crying. This seat had been in daily use from the time Child One was 6 months old until Child Two was finally big enough for a booster-style carseat about eight years later. It had been puked on and peed on. The fabric was held together by goldfish cracker residue. The safety standards have been upgraded numerous times since it was made. There was no way it would be considered usable by anyone, but it broke my heart to have to fling it onto this mountain of stinky trash.

I had to do this three times, with tears streaming down my face (and with guys in hard hats pretending not to notice). These seats had travelled thousands and thousands of miles with us, on mundane trips to the grocery store, on vacations, to my dad’s funeral, on first days of school, when we moved to California, and when we moved back to BC.

But it wasn’t sentimentality making me cry. I knew the seats had passed their best-before dates. Removing them from my home wasn’t really the problem. It was the fact that they were being tossed onto this horrible monument of consumer waste that was breaking my heart.

The plastic in those seats (and in the vacuum cleaner) is, in an ideal world, probably recyclable. The metal certainly is. Even the fabric could probably be chipped up and made into a park bench or something. But instead, it will all probably be trucked hundreds of kilometres away to an enormous landfill in the interior of the province, where it will spend eternity.

My husband and I have tried to live an environmentally conscious life since long before it became cool to be green. Before we had kids, we produced one small plastic shopping bag of garbage a week. We saved our food scraps in ice cream tubs and brought them to a friend’s house (some friends bring wine; we brought banana peels). I regularly got into arguments with shop clerks when I asked for no bag. We recycled everything we could, even if that meant bringing stacks of used paper on the bus to put in our university’s recycling bins.

Even now, with two kids, we fill up only one green garbage bag in a typical week. We think about these issues more and produce much less garbage than a lot of people we know. But we are nowhere close to perfect. We buy too much. We buy things that are overpackaged. We waste food. We get lazy and throw things away instead of fixing them. We buy new when we could buy second-hand. We buy more and more even though we already have more than enough.

The environment is a hot topic at my kids’ school right now, so we've been thinking about our family's impact a lot lately. But this trip to the dump was like a visual smack in the face for me (if that makes any sense). It hit me just how much stuff we bring into our home only to remove it. And how our family’s contribution, although smaller than many others’, is just as much a part of the problems our earth is facing. I might have felt just a bit smug before, putting our small garbage can out on pick-up day. But actually seeing where that garbage goes and how one small can added to another soon produces a smelly Mt. Everest—and having to throw my babies’ carseats onto that mess—stopped me in my tracks.

Although the sadness stuck around me all day (as did the smell in my car), my adventure at the transfer station was just the kick in the butt I needed to reevaluate what we bring into our home and how we remove it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #5: Flying High

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #4

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Improg word: Stapler

Did Hayley send me stapler because she knows about my love of office supplies (a love, by the way, that she shares) or because she was stuck for words and looked around her office for inspiration?

I own three staplers: a tiny one that lives in the kitchen junk drawer for those need-a-staple-in-a-hurry jobs, a run-of-the-mill one that we’ve owned forever, and a be-careful-or-it’ll-take-your-thumb-off one that I bought a couple of years ago for work, when I got fed up cutting my fingers on the not-quite-closed staples that were my poor old stapler's best effort on 50-page documents.

So I can justify the three staplers. But what about the fact that I own so many notebooks that I’m scared to count them? And can I rationalize the mountain of Post-it notes (especially the heart-shaped ones)? The rainbow of Sharpies? Do I need half a dozen tape dispensers?

The volume of office supplies in my house is not entirely my fault. My mother is also a sucker for anything that’s both cute and functional, but she positively hates clutter, so she gets her fix by buying stuff and then passing it on to me. Then, at the end of every school year, my kids each haul home a pile of school supplies that are too good to throw out but too used to last through another school year. And Hayley, that paper-clip and sealing-wax pusher, sends me stuff, too.

But, no matter how hard I try in this blog to blame things on other people, I always come back to myself. Office supply stores are like candy stores to me, except I don’t eat paper products anymore (I say “anymore” because I did regularly eat my straw wrappers at snack time in kindergarten. I guess the graham crackers and milk weren’t quite enough. I do wonder whether there’s any relationship between my eating dioxin-laden paper and the fact that I flunked kindergarten).

It’s not just office supplies. It’s books, yarn, fabric, craft supplies, note cards, and magazines, too. I have enough dental floss to make a macrame plant hanger. But I don’t buy these things for the sheer pleasure of spending money. If that’s what I were looking for, I’d spend the money on a plane ticket to Hawaii.

No, I’m a squirrel. I call it my “just in case” hoarding. The things I’ve piled around me are all items I use on a regular basis (although nowhere close to the rate at which I’ve acquired them). When I feel insecure, I buy them as a hedge against future misfortune, just in case. It’s as if I’m thinking, “Well, I may lose everything and not be able to buy food, but I’ll have something good to read. Plus I’ll be able to send Hayley a plea for help on a funky card.”

I’ve figured out just why I do this, although the reasons are too long to go into here. I’ve also realized that Post-it notes are not going to keep my family safe from impending doom and that this stuff was costing me more in money, time, space, and the stress associated with having too much than it was worth in feelings of security. So I’ve stopped buying things just in case. As with the take-your-thumb-off stapler, I have to be able to convince myself that I need this in my life as it is now, not that I maybe just might need it three years from now.

(Hayley, if you’re reading this, send colored paper clips. Quick!)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A realization and the diorama revealed

A realization
Yesterday one of Child One’s choirs did a concert at a retirement home. This was the first time he had to wear a proper white dress shirt. In the afternoon, as I was ironing (shocking, I know) his shirt, I was hit with a realization. The shirt is big—almost man-sized. While Child One has inherited the scrawny genes from both sides of the family and is not a particularly tall kid, this shirt is closer in size to his father’s shirts than it is to the stripy little-boy ones he used to wear (oh, how I loved those stripy little-boy shirts).

I drove Child One and his friend to the retirement home and stood with them as they put on their vests and ties. This was also the first time that he’s worn a suit-type vest and a tie. As he stood there, dressed up and with his hair slicked to the side, I got a glimpse of what he might look like as a grown-up. And when my husband went to pick them up, at first he didn’t recognize his own son.

Of course, I’ve watched him grow over the years, from a little-bit-premature baby to the almost-teenager he is now. He’s measured his growth against me, his head reaching my hips and then my stomach and then my “pointy bits” (as he called them then) and now passing my shoulders. But until yesterday it didn’t occur to me that he is much closer to his future adulthood than he is to his past toddlerhood.

My guy is growing up.

The diorama revealed
And now, due to popular demand (well, Margerie), here’s a picture of Child Two’s diorama of Inuit life in the summer, taken yesterday. I’m happy to say that almost a week after it was brought to school, everyone’s body parts are still attached.

Here you can see (clockwise from the left)

  • one guy (who lost his legs twice during construction) sleeping in the tent (which underwent a major collapse at one point),
  • one man (who lost his head) training a dog (who kept all his body parts the entire time),
  • two children (one of whom lost her head and the other of whom lost an arm and a foot) playing with a sealskin ball,
  • the famous hunter (who not only lost an arm and a whole leg, but whose foot broke in two) getting ready to aim his bow and arrow at a bird, and
  • one man (who lost an arm twice and his head once) fishing using a traditional rock weir and pronged fishing stick (looking at it now, I wonder if he’s meant to be standing right in the river).
Sadly out of the picture is a woman (who lost her head) picking berries. To give you some idea of scale, the box is the kind that copy paper comes in.

Materials used include various types of fabric (cotton, burlap, fake fur, and felt), salt dough, paint, twigs, rocks, embroidery floss, thread, yarn, cardboard, brown paper, wrapping paper, cellophane, moss, wooden sticks, toothpicks, and copious amounts of three kinds of glue.

It’s not as slick as some, but the teacher’s comment as soon as she saw it was, “Oh, that is so Child Two. I can see all the thought she put into it” (although, of course, the teacher doesn’t call her Child Two). My favorite parts are the wildflowers (tiny flowers cut out of fabric glued onto colored stick stems) and the river, which is made of two layers—blue shiny paper on the bottom and blue cellophane on top—so that it looks like the fish are underwater and the river gets shallower on the edge. I also love the fact that Child Two, always one to appreciate diversity, has given some of her pre-contact Inuit people blue and green eyes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #3

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Improg word: Yodel

Hayley was incredulous last week that she had to write about duck. Well, tell me which is worse, duck or yodel? After we agreed to send each other a list of 30 words, I bet she got stuck at number 28 or 29 and then decided to make herself laugh by sending me the most impossible words to blog about.

I could make this a very short post:

I can’t yodel.
But I’m a wordy person, so I’m guessing I’ll have more to say than that.

I can’t yodel. I can’t sing either. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Or sing to save my life. Or any other cliché involving singing.

I have the great luck to live with three very musical people. My kids have inherited a natural talent from their father, who can ignore his guitar for weeks, pick it up again, and play better than he did before (sickening, isn’t it?). Child One participates in two choirs and two bands and plays guitar, bass, clarinet, and some piano. His weekly repertoire ranges from very, very formal choral music to Led Zeppelin. Child Two sings in a choir, plays piano, and plans to add flute next year.

And then there’s me. I can’t sing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sing. I sing a lot. I sang to my kids so much when they were little that they’d ask me to stop. When Child Two learned some music vocabulary, she informed me that I sing off-key. At least I sing better than the cats, two of whom yodel regularly, usually in the middle of the night.

I don’t sing in public much, though, unless I've been drinking, which I don't do much either. I still haven’t recovered from the horrific Christmas concert of 1976. I was supposed to sing a duet of "O Holy Night"—in French—with Peter Whathisname, but Peter decided at the last minute to just mouth the words. There I was, 12 years old and trying to reach those high, high notes, in French, all alone, in front of what seemed like a huge audience, with Peter Stupid Whathisname standing silently beside me. I prefer not to do my singing on stage anymore.

In the past, I would have said that I can’t play an instrument either, but the way I think about it now, I don’t know if I can play an instrument because I’ve never really tried.

Oh, there was my very brief clarinet period in elementary school, followed by my even briefer French horn period (was it the French horn? I don’t even know for sure. All I can say is that it was a real pain to carry). My excuse for quitting clarinet was that I couldn’t play it anymore when I got braces. But when Child One got an even bigger set of orthodontic devices, his clarinet playing got better, so maybe the truth was that I just sucked at it.

What I really wanted to play was the flute. The popular girls—the ones with perfect teeth—played the flute. Oh, how I envied them as they carried their graceful little cases while I lugged my whatever-that-instrument-was to school. Alas, we didn’t have money to rent an instrument so my choices were limited to what the school could lend me. But I didn’t want to take band anyway. The only good I saw in it was that my stepsister, who was learning the violin, and I could clear out the entire house in minutes merely by playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” together.

These days, trying the piano is on The List of things I’d like to do. I have a book, I have two kids who can help me—now I just need to make the time. I figure that once I’ve given it a good try, I’ll be able to say whether or not I can play an instrument.

What I can do is make up ditties, usually about the kids or the cats. We had a whole series of songs about our last cat sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.” In progress is one about Jamie sung to “O Canada”—it’s especially popular because it includes the always-funny word fart (does that count as sacrilegious, do you think?). I inherited this skill from my father, who penned the ever-popular “Brother Michael/Sister Suzy” pair of songs (there must be a word for a pair of songs. See how little I know?).

Maybe I can’t sing well, but my life—and, every evening, our house—is full of music. How lucky am I?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Diorama update

The diorama made it to school this morning. It was touch and go for a while. Yesterday evening saw a last-minute housing crisis when the twig frame for the main tent collapsed, but with two pairs of hands, lashings made of sewing thread, and copious amounts of hot glue, it was repaired. Fortunately the tent was not actually in the diorama box at the time, so the dough guy already glued to his sleeping mat was uninjured.

The hunter, however, looked like he might permanently lose a leg. Not only did it fall off at the hip, but his foot broke in half. Child Two told me that the Inuit did sometimes lose fingers to frostbite. Maybe she could make up a story about how this guy managed to lose a whole leg but still lived? Or maybe he shot himself in the foot with his bow and arrow? The bow is a nasty one, after all, bigger than he is (models may not be true to scale). Lucky for him, despite living in the Arctic in pre-contact times, he was airlifted to Dough Guy Hospital, where Dr. Mom barely saved his foot and leg with white glue.

Finally, after many shouts of “Watch out for the box!” and “Stop picking up the people—their arms will fall off!” and “Get that cat out of here!” we got everyone glued down into their spots with no body parts left over. We did a partial clean-up of the sewing room, which today is still strewn with twigs and bits of moss, paper, and string; discovered a whole trail of brown paw prints along the windowsill and evidence of bright yellow paint still on one of Jamie’s paws (he must have made three separate trips through the paint, getting a different color each time); shooed all the cats out of the room; and carefully closed the door.

In the night, I dreamt of little arms and legs and heads coming unglued, but this morning all was well. I carefully carried the box across the playground, while Child One and Child Two acted as bodyguards, warding off jump ropes, soccer balls, and children on scooters. Worried that someone would lose a head if I jostled the box too much, I used my best belly dancing techniques for moving my bottom half while keeping my top half still. Abs tight, knees loose.

We made it into the classroom unscathed and carefully placed the box on the windowsill with the others. Some of them are amazing. In a few, the Inuit wear little sewn fur outfits (I heard a rumor that one mom got her neighbor to sew the clothes). Some have faces painted by hands much steadier than a 4th-grader might have. One even has twinkling battery-powered lights as stars. Child Two’s looks very much like it was made by a 10 year old, but her teacher thought it was great.

And amazingly, apart from some fake fur for the tent, Child Two made it entirely with materials we had at home. Does that say something impressive about her ingenuity or something scary about how much we have crammed into that sewing room?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The 4th-grade diorama

Is there any homework assignment that fills a mother’s heart with dread more than a diorama?

Child Two’s 4th-grade class is currently learning about the Inuit and each child has to create a diorama—a three-dimensional scene in a box—showing how they lived. They’ve been given a pages-long set of criteria to follow and three weeks to get it done. And parents are welcome to help. Oh, joy.

Some parents have taken the invitation to help to amazing levels, referring to the project as “mine” instead of “my kid’s.” My husband and I, who are both ridiculously overeducated, have always vowed that we won't push our kids to be perfect students. We’ve watched a good friend deal with the fallout of his mathematician father’s harsh expectations, and we know people who make their children play soccer year after year because they—the parents—love it, even though their kids hate running around in the rain kicking a ball. We want our kids to feel that they’re free to follow their own paths even if they’re different from ours.

And I don’t want my kids to be plagued with the perfectionism that sometimes makes me lose all sense of reasonableness. While we encourage them to do their best, we tell them that the learning is more important than the grades and that doing your best doesn’t mean being perfect.

We certainly help our kids when they ask for it, and sometimes when they don’t but we know they really need it. But we do not do their work for them, ever, and if they’re determined not to take our advice, we let them do it their way, even though we know we’re right (of course).

Child Two brought her box home a couple of weeks ago and put it in her bedroom, where it sat and sat. When she decided it was time to get to work, she first made a plan, but she was so overwhelmed with it all that she worked at a snail’s pace. Painting her mountains—something that would normally take her half an hour—took days, interrupted by frequent breaks to play with the cats.

As the deadline loomed, she started asking for help. There were some things that she just doesn’t have the skills to do alone and others that involved sharp implements and the hot glue gun. For the last several days, that diorama has demanded more attention than a cranky two year old.

Disregarding my suggestion to use toothpicks to hold together her salt-dough people, she’s had recurring trouble with body parts falling off—one poor guy has had his legs glued on at least three times. This morning, a mere 24 hours before the due date and too late to make new people, she discovered a horrifying scene of heads, legs, and arms on her work table. The dough is not dry enough and now that they've been glued, it's too late to put the figures in the oven. As I write, they lay on a baking tray over the oven vent with the oven on low. When I make a cup of tea, which I do whenever I encounter a really difficult sentence or a particularly boring passage or I’m overwhelmed with my workload (see where Child Two gets this habit?), I blow-dry the little bodyless heads and headless bodies while I wait for the kettle.

Assuming she can get her people to stop spontaneously decomposing, she’s almost done. The goal is to keep everything in one piece until the teacher has seen it. If all those little people want to lose their heads (and arms) after that, that’s okay.

Child Two, who had already learned about the Inuit way of life in class, learned some more lasting lessons during this assignment:

1. If you leave a cup of brush-cleaning water on your work table, a cat will knock it over into your scrapbooking box.
2. If you leave plates with wet paint unattended, you will end up with yellow paw prints on the carpet, blue ones on your chair, and brown ones in your textbook.
3. Acrylic paint can’t be removed from a textbook once it’s dry.
4. To be on the safe side, just go ahead and close the door whenever you leave the room.
5. It’s better to start right away and finish early than to start late and be stressed out.
6. Sometimes you have to scale back on your plans.
7. Even though it’s stressful, making a diorama is still more fun than spelling drills.
8. Your mother knows a thing or two. Listen to her advice.

And I (re)learned something. Some of the traits that drive me nuts in my kids they’ve learned by example—from me. As I talk to Child Two about time management and perfectionism, I realize that I’m talking to myself too.

Now it’s time to make a cup of tea and blow-dry some body parts.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #2

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The dreaded grocery shopping

Every week I head out on an adventure of mammoth proportions: the dreaded grocery shopping.

My problems start with the grocery cart. For those who don’t live here, I’ll explain our system. The carts are chained together in long lines. To release one, you put a quarter (or, at some stores, a loonie—that’s a dollar in this crazy country) in a slot on the lockbox mounted on the cart. When you’re finished with the cart, you chain it back into line and your quarter (or loonie) pops out. The good thing about this system is that our parking lots are not full of left-behind carts taking up the last parking space or waiting to scratch your car’s paint in a big wind. The problem arises when someone has raided the stash of quarters and loonies that you keep in your car so that he or she can buy a double chocolate dip donut at Tim Horton’s. On these days you have to go into the store and stand in line at the customer service desk to get change, and then go back out into the parking lot. Since this is Vancouver, on an average of 154.5 days a year you are doing this in the rain.

Clutching my quarter (or my loonie), I approach the cart garage (I’m sure that must be the technical term). Despite the fact that dozens of carts are parked there, the only ones on the ends of the lines are those containing dirty tissues or the remains of someone else’s free food sampling. Wrinkling my nose, I choose the least offensive cart, transfer the garbage to another one, and head to the store.

At this point, the cart seems fine. But as I get closer to the store, it starts to squeak or pull to the left or a wheel starts shuddering, or, if it’s really my day, all three. I decide it’s not bad enough to trudge back to the cart garage in the rain, but as my shopping progresses and the cart gets fuller, it gets louder and wobblier and impossible to steer. By now, I can’t trade carts without a major production, so I put up with it, pretending that the noise isn’t making people look at me with pity (or is that annoyance?) and trying not to crash into anyone. You know that cart you can hear squeaking three aisles over during your whole shopping trip? That’s me. And you know that woman who has to lift up the back wheels of the cart to get it to turn right? That’s me, too.

There are at least eight grocery stores in my town and I’m not loyal to any one of them. I choose one based on which is closest to other places I need to go to or, because not one of them carries everything we use, based on which best fits that week’s shopping list. This means that I have the layouts of at least eight stores taking up precious room in my brain and sometimes I get them mixed up. I comfort myself with the thought that all my backtracking is a good source of exercise.

And sometimes they change the layout of the store, causing mayhem. The biggest store I regularly shop in did this recently. For weeks, products were shuffled into temporary spots that made no sense. The potato chips were in the frozen food aisle one week and with the light bulbs the next. The soup was first with the pop and then with the paper towels. Customers wandered around in a daze. I’d never seen such confused looking people, even in the middle of a calculus final. For those weeks, I shopped by accident, buying whatever I happened to come across. I wondered if the managers were watching us through their surveillance windows, laughing as we tried to find the Cheerios.

Once I have my groceries, it’s time to pay for them. No matter how carefully I choose a check-out—looking for the shortest line or one with a bagger in addition to the cashier and avoiding the one with the trainee cashier or with a customer buying a whole cart of produce (“Hey, Sylvia! What’s the code for rutabaga?”)—it seems that as soon as I park my cart in a line-up, it slows to the rate of the proverbial molasses in January. As a public service, I should wear a sign on my back that says, “Don’t stand in this line. You will grow old waiting.” On the bright side, it gives me time to flip through the magazines and determine that, despite the claims on their covers, they do not contain the ten tips that will give me a smaller butt or the secrets to finally organizing my house forever.

I avoid the store that makes you bag your own groceries. First, they also charge for bags and more likely than not I’ve left my stack of nicely folded cloth bags in the car. And second, despite the fact that I’m a competent and intelligent woman who has packed for a family of four innumerable times, who has packed for I-don’t-know-how-many house moves, who packs lunches every single weekday, I get complete performance anxiety when it comes to packing my own groceries when there’s a line-up of people behind me.

Having finally paid, with a few more gray hairs gracing my head, I push/tug/crash the cart outside and try to remember where I’ve parked the car (eight different stores means eight different crowded parking lots). If I’m desperate, I walk around pushing the trunk button on my key fob until my trunk pops open. Then I realize that I’ve left the soccer box (a big Rubbermaid bin full of all the things that I, as the team manager, am required to have at practices and games: first aid supplies, extra water bottles, tissues, emergency contact information for all the players, etc.) in the trunk again and there’s not enough room for the groceries. I pile them into the remaining space and into the back seat of the car and turn my now miraculously silent and well-behaved cart toward the cart garage.

If you see me in the parking lot, don’t offer to trade me your quarter (or loonie) for my cart. Really, believe me when I tell you that you’re better off choosing your own.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Improg word: Bop? Or is it?

When Hayley made her list of improg words to send me, she typed them in different colors and fancy fonts, unlike me, who scrawled them by hand (although I did send them in a handmade envelope). Today I reached into her envelope and first found another little friendship note disguised as a word slip (Hayley, how do you manage to make me pull those out on the days I need them most? You’re kind of scary). Then I pulled out a word written in a very curvy font: bop.

With much loud sighing, I started to think about bop. Let’s see—I take belly dancing lessons, but while belly dancing is curvy and swervy, like the font this word was written in, it’s not really boppy. I recently started taking a salsa fitness class. I bet I could get something bop-related out of that.

As I stared at the word, I realized that the b had a very curvy top, even for a font like this. I turned the slip over and discovered that my word for the week is not bop. It’s dog. And I am a twit.

I’ve already told one of my best dog stories, so I’ll write about Sam, my childhood dog. We got Sam when I was 7 or 8 years old (I flunked kindergarten, so my ages and grades didn't line up for a few years. I know we got Sam when I was either 7 or in second grade (which is the same year for most people but wasn't for me)). My brother and I had been begging our dad for a dog for months. He kept saying that he’d trade me in for a dog and a dollar if he found a place that would take me.

One day he drove past the pound and saw Sam in the window. I don’t know what made him stop and go in, but he did. They told him that Sam was slated to be put to sleep if no one adopted him that day (whether or not this is true or was just a desperate sales pitch, I don’t know). Apparently without a second thought (and according to my mother, without consulting her), my dad bought Sam for the whopping sum of $8.00.

I usually came home from school to an empty house because my mom worked. But Sam came into our lives during the one short period when she wasn’t working, so my dad brought him straight home. I came home from school that day to be greeted by 17 pounds of black curls, a pink tongue, and a wagging tail. My second thought (my first was a joyful “Doooggg!”) was a stomach sinker. My dad had traded me in.

According to him, the pound was willing to trade the dog for me but wasn’t willing to give him the dollar too, so Sam and I both got to stay. Thank goodness, because that dog was the best part of my childhood. He was a joy and my rock during some very hard times. I don’t think I let go of him at all on the day my dad moved out. When my brother moved to my dad’s two years later, I locked myself in the bathroom, unable to say goodbye, and Sam became even more important to me. When, less than a year after that, my mom sold our house and Sam had to move to my dad’s, I packed him a little suitcase and again locked myself in the bathroom, unable to say goodbye.

For the next two years I saw Sam every second weekend when I went to my dad’s and once in a while when my brother brought him to my mom’s apartment for a visit. Then my mom decided to move to Vancouver and I had to go with her. In the previous five years I had gone from a 9 year old living with two parents, a brother, and a dog in a house in the suburbs to a 14 year old living with just her mom in a tiny apartment in a different country, 1000 miles away from her dad, her brother, her family and friends, and her dog. Saying goodbye to my friends and the only town I remembered living in was hard. Saying goodbye to my family was harder. But saying goodbye to Sam was the hardest of all. I was so scared that he would forget me.

But I didn’t need to worry. I lived at my dad’s for two months during the summers and visited every second Christmas break, and each time we pulled into the driveway from the airport, Sam raced out of the house, crashing into me full force, knowing just who I was. And when I’d gone back home, he tore apart my bed, looking for me.

Sam—that little bundle of energy whom we supposedly rescued from imminent death—lived a good long life. I was 24 when my dad called to tell me that he’d died and I sobbed like the little girl I was when we got him. Here I sit, 36 years after I first set eyes on him, living now in a house full of cats, and the thought of losing him still makes me cry.

But I don’t want to think of him with sadness, so instead I’ll remember his snore (which rivaled my dad’s) as he slept on my bed, the way he could pull me down the street even though he weighed only 17 pounds, how funny he looked when we gave him a bath, how he would steal my underwear out of the dryer and bury it in the backyard, how he would hide under the bed when he got an embarrassing haircut. I might dig out his old license tags, which my dad sent to me every year. And I’ll thank whatever it was that made my dad go into the pound that day.

This picture is tacked above my desk in my office. I know I have better ones of Sam, but finding one would involve looking in the Photo Cupboard of Doom and would take all day, so this one will have to do.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Enough, already!

The other day a thought—I can’t remember just what it was—went through my head for the gazillionth time and I said to myself, “Enough, already!”

English is a foreign language for at least one of my hundreds of dozens of three regular readers, so I’ll explain that this phrase expresses exasperation. When siblings have been endlessly arguing over whose turn it is to clean the litter box, their mother might shout, “Enough, already! That box better be clean before dinner or you’ll both be on litter box duty for the rest of your lives.” When a group of friends has been wandering around the video store for half an hour trying to decide what to rent, one of them might say, “Enough, already! Why don’t we just admit that we all want to see Saturday Night Fever one more time?” (By the way, the latter is not a true-life example. Neither is the former, as Child One can’t go within 10 feet of the litter box scoop without gagging.)

When I said “Enough, already!” to myself, it was a light-bulb moment. My head was filled with all the things I have enough of in my life: stuff (especially certain categories of stuff), clutter, stress, disorganization, disappointment, negative people, procrastination. I could go on, but it’s a bit overwhelming. And I thought of all the things I definitely don’t have enough of: furniture (we left much of ours behind during our last big move and haven’t replaced it yet), organization, fun, time spent doing what I love to do, and so on. I kept trying to add yarn to that list, but I knew I was lying.

Like the mother who just wants the litter box cleaned, I’m exasperated with many aspects of my life right now. When I think about it, the whole idea of my Getting My Shit Together Project (started in September) and its subproject, the Year of Living Differently, was borne out of frustration with the status quo. I’m saying “Enough, already! Make your life what you want it to be.”

Because I’ve realized that any life improvement project is easier for me when I give it a catchy title (probably because I’m more likely to actually remember I’ve embarked on a life improvement project instead of making a great plan and promptly forgetting it), I’m going to try something new for March. I’m saying “Enough, already!” to procrastination for the month.

I chose procrastination for a few reasons. First, my procrastination habit has gotten worse over the years, growing from almost nonexistent to a major force, and I’m worried that at this rate, by the time I’m in my 60s I’ll be putting off basic things like eating and getting out of bed in the morning.

Second, procrastination takes a lot of time. There’s the time I spend listening to the infinite-loop to-do list in my head, the time I waste when I’m avoiding doing something I don’t want to do, and the time it takes to remember how to finish something I started weeks ago or to find the things I need to finish it.

Third, procrastination is a big source of stress in my life. Every time I see something I’ve been meaning to take care of or something has to get done in a rush at the last minute or something is forgotten altogether because I’ve put it off, I mentally hit myself in the head and call myself names.

On most mornings in the last couple of weeks I’ve spent half an hour on neglected paperwork before starting work. When I do something that I’ve been procrastinating about, it no longer plays on the to-do list several times a day. I no longer tense up when I think about it, because I don’t think about it anymore. It’s done and it’s gone from my mind!

So I’ve made a list of five things I’ve been putting off that I will take care of this month. Some are bigger and some are smaller, but they’re all things that have been hanging over my head for weeks or months or (I hate to say it) years. I could have listed dozens, but these are the first five that came to mind. When I get them done, I will pick five more. I’m also going to try to recognize when I’m procrastinating about everyday things.

If this works well for me (that is, if, at the end of the month, I don’t stumble across this post and say, “Oops. I forgot I’d planned that”), then I’ll pick another theme for April. My hope is that by declaring “Enough, already!” about the stuff and emotions and habits cluttering up my life, I’ll be making room for the more positive things that I don’t have enough of.