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.