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Waste Not, Want Not

October 18, 2014

Did you know that it’s waste reduction week in Canada?
I spent over 10 years educating people about the 3 R’s, and I look for examples of them in action wherever I go.  There is a really cool culture that springs up around trash.  Anyone can go to the store and buy something brand new that was designed and manufactured somewhere else, by someone else.  It takes ingenuity and skills to repurpose, revision, and reincarnate something that was discarded.  Isn’t that kind of creativity exactly what makes humans different from other animals?  The 3 R’s culture has exploded with the invention of maker spaces worldwide.  A makerspace just opened in my home town – woot!

My family has spent time in a little place outside of Puerto Vallarta called San Pancho that has really figured out how to used cast-off materials to enhance the community.  Entre Amigos has built a library, refurbishes old sewing machines and teaches local people how to use them, hosts crafting workshops that result in some beautiful, functional pieces (chairs, brooms, purses, toys!), and even hosts acrobatics classes by a former Cirque du Soleil performer.  On any given day, the place buzzes with people of all ages dropping off materials for recycling, taking part in a workshop or class, and shopping in the gift shop or secondhand store.  Did I mention there’s a coffee shop and juice bar on site?

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There’s another place I’ve seen that does recycling RIGHT.  Maybe you’ve heard of Hornby Recycles and their legendary Free Store?  To get to Hornby Island requires two ferry trips, so residents and visitors must be very conscious of what gets packed in and packed out.  The campground where we stay boasts an elaborate recycling station that sorts everything, including organics.  Very little waste actually ends up in the garbage there.  A visit to the Hornby Recycles central depot is a lesson in how to manage waste.  It takes work to sort materials appropriately, and time, but if you consider the amount of energy, effort and materials that went into the products we possess, it makes sense to carefully consider how to dispose of them.  Even if you don’t live on a tiny island, there’s no such place as “away”.  Trash that we send somewhere else becomes someone else’s problem, and with bulging landfills worldwide and a planet with finite resources. it makes sense to harness our human creativity to revision waste.  Happy Waste Reduction Week!

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letter to BC Premier, and Minister of Education

September 5, 2014

As I rode my bike to work this morning, I stopped at the bottom of a steep hill, which happens to be in front of the local high school. I wanted to stop and tell the teachers picketing there how much I appreciate them, and how sorry I am that they are standing on the sidewalk instead of in their classrooms. I joked with them that I was daunted by the hill and had decided to walk my bike up, and they unanimously chorused, “Oh, you can do it! Just take it slow and steady.” When I told them the real reason I had stopped, they said, “Well, we’ll give you a hand, then. Let us give you a push to get started again.” We shared a laugh, but the moment struck me as the epitome of why I appreciate teachers so much. Instead of seeing the obstacle, they saw my potential to overcome it, with a little help, and they were there to be positive and encourage me to try.
My kids would normally be riding their bikes to school, too. These days, however, we are up early so I can drop them off at day camp, where they play board games and run around the playground – great for their social skills but not their brains. I arrive late for work, and leave early to pick them up in time, and then try to squeeze in some math and language arts work before they go to bed. I’ve looked up the curriculum online and have a renewed appreciation for how teachers meet all the expectations we put on them.
The cost of day camps for two weeks for two kids at the end of June, $800 that I hadn’t budgeted for on top of the summer camps they were registered for, was a blow to our family finances. But the bigger pain is the fact that the government doesn’t seem to support teachers. Teachers put in countless unpaid hours, and do a very demanding job under incredibly stressful conditions. I strongly believe that each government negotiator should spend a day trying to bring the best out of 30 kids in a classroom, each of whom deserves a special kind of attention for his or her needs, to better appreciate their position.
I was registered to complete a post-baccalaureate in Education this fall, but was offered a dream job close to home which caused me to postpone my education. I feel so lucky now that I may have found a job that still allows me to teach children every day, but through a local government outreach and education program instead of as a classroom teacher. I have talked to countless teachers this summer who have decided to leave the profession out of frustration. These lucky people who have other opportunities leave the system poorer, as do children who have the opportunity to be homeschooled or attend private school. I am so frustrated at the erosion of an institution that should be serving the needs of our whole community. Please consider my words and think about those teachers that helped me today, and all the teachers that helped you as a young person, and all the young people in our province who deserve a great education.

How Did I Get Here?

March 1, 2014

Our baby turned one a few days ago!  With all the celebrating and bittersweet reflecting on how much she’s grown came a chance to look back on all the changes in the past year.  We moved to a new house, in a new town; the kids started at a new school, I started a new job, and baby started going to daycare.  We have had such a huge change to our social group, our support network, and our daily routines – mostly for the better, I should add, but it has been a whirlwind.  Most of this change was to set us up to raise our big family.  We needed a bigger home, closer to our parents, where the kids could walk to and from school, and our commute to work was shorter.  So we left our idyllic Oceanside sanctuary and moved to the city, and signed up for a hectic pace of life. 

The change was inevitable; even if we hadn’t moved, life with four kids would have necessitated two incomes and a whole lot of logistical organization.  But I caught myself humming that Talking Heads song as I pulled out of my suburban driveway in my minivan the other day, “Well, how did I get here?”  Is this midlife?  Is this why people have a breakdown and walk away from it all, or do something drastic and stupid to feel powerful in the face of all this responsibility?

I’m reading a book with the most ridiculous title that was given to me by a very wise friend (which is why I’m reading the book) that talks about the pressure in a marriage and how to avoid criticising the other person when life isn’t going your way by trying to make things just a little better.  This kindof goes along with wisdom another wise person (my mom) says, which is – don’t go global.    The idea is to do something small, right now, to make yourself feel better.  Take a walk, listen to music, look at photos, prepare a favourite dish…something small to turn your mood around.   This isn’t a head-in-the-sand technique, but rather a way to get your mind onto a plane where you can actually contemplate the future and make rational decisions.  It can also be a way to switch from “poor me” to gratitude.

When I need to feel better I look at photos, listen to CBC Radio 2, do art with my kids, read a book to zone out, or write my thoughts down.  Or I go online to get inspired by others’ art, craft, cooking, or photography.    As long as I surf the web just looking for beauty, with no expectation of replicating anything I see, it can remind me of who I am.  Meagan Francis’ blog has a whole page of posts on the topic of Struggling, Mom? that helps me put life in perspective and find ways to get things done while being realistic in my expectations.

Today, I’m cooking up a storm to clear away the winter blues.  Preparing spaghetti sauce for dinner next week, quinoa salad for lunch at the ski hill tomorrow, and cole slaw to go with roasted fish tonight.  Cooking is one way I flow that leaves me so grateful to be just where I am.

There is only love.

June 13, 2013

Every three months I go to the hair salon and esthetician to get “all spanked up” as my mom says.   My cousin is the queen of waxing, and her stylist friend works magic with the hair left behind.  I like to joke that they’re cheaper than the $100 an hour I’ve paid for therapy, and I leave looking much better.  The stylist is a stepmom, and has sharp insight into the challenges of stepfamily life.  Yesterday she got into describing her oldest stepson, and he sounds eerily similar to my Big Boy: really bright when it comes to math and reading, but socially inept.  He would play video games all day if allowed, and it’s very hard to get him out of his head and into the here and now.  The family finds him exhausting and difficult, and have decided to have him tested for Asperger’s syndrome.

Their story has haunted me since I left.  I have never thought my Big Boy has Asperger’s, and I’m sure those of you who know him would say, “No!  He’s just a very bright boy who likes to sort and categorize things.  And all 8 year-old boys love video games.  He plays soccer, loves to ride his bike, and is well-liked at school.”  But I wonder if my love for my son is blinding me to some signs that he’s really exceptional.  What if he’s on some kind of spectrum and having him tested could help him in the long run?  Would labelling him get him access to help in developing empathy and social skills, or would it further alienate him from his peers?  I have known challenging children before whose parents seemed blind to their behaviour.  I have questioned why these parents denied the concerns of friends and caregivers.  However, when faced with the question of whether I should investigate my son’s behaviour, I understand how hard it is to open the door to the possibility that he may have a syndrome with a capitalized name, instead of just being a smart , if socially awkward, kid.

 

I watched this great TED talk last night about how it feels to parent a child that is exceptional in some way.  The lecturer describes how parents deal with a child who is deaf, or has Down Syndrome, or is gay/lesbian/transgendered.  He theorizes that some parts of our identity are laterally transferred down through generations: ethnicity, usually nationality, etc., and other parts of our identity are acquired horizontally, either from peers or spontaneous genetic expression.  If those horizontally acquired traits don’t match the parents’, there’s a culture clash.  In these cases, exceptional children must find their tribe, find a community of individuals who share their exceptionality and build culture around that identity.

The talk made me think about my sister, who is transgendered.  When her uniqueness became unavoidable in teenagehood, we all struggled to understand, but we never rejected her identity.  In some ways it was a relief to put her differences into context, even if letting go of the boy she was, and the expectations around that, was really hard.  She has found her tribe, but she is also an admired and adored member of our family.  I think because she has both, she’s been able to avoid any personal issues around her identity and has dedicated her life to helping other youth discover and embrace their uniqueness.

We are all unique, it’s just that the traits that make some people special are a little more socially acceptable than others.  My hope as a parent is that my Big Boy can find his tribe and feel like the way his brain works is okay, and even cool.  With these labels, if they lead to greater understanding, instead of stigma, then I hope tolerance and acceptance can ultimately happen, and the people who wear the label can realize their ultimate potential, something every person deserves the opportunity to work towards.

for the record

May 14, 2013

This year, the way the “every other weekend” kid-sharing schedule worked out, the Big Kids were with their dad on Mother’s Day. I might have been more upset, but it meant that I could take the kids to the Vancouver Island Children’s Book Festival the weekend before, which we’ve missed for the past three years (again, because of our schedule).  Still, their dad offered for me to have the kids back early on Mother’s Day to at least have dinner with them that night.  That precipitated a discussion about what the kids wanted to do. 

My Big Girl said, “Of course we should be with you on Mother’s Day, and with daddy on Father’s Day!”  I explained that this year we are trying to plan a family holiday on Father’s Day weekend, so I couldn’t reciprocate their dad’s offer.  To make it more complicated, I explained that in many ways the Big Guy is also their father, and he would like to be with them on Father’s Day too…  I added that when the kids are twelve they can decide for themselves where they want to be, and they could stop going to their dad’s altogether, or they could decide to live with him full time.  I had just had a conversation with a mom who’s younger son is in the Big Girl’s class at school.  Her twelve-year-old son had moved to England to live with his dad because he was struggling to focus at school and feeling left out of the new family his mom has created.   While heartbreaking for that mom, it was absolutely the right decision for her boy.

My Big Boy’s eyes got wide and he said, “That is never going to happen.”  I was secretly relieved but said, “Well, you never know.  Maybe things will be different down the road.” 

“No mom,” he said emphatically. “That is never, ever, going to happen.”

Can I hold you to that?

Helen Butling’s Salmon Quiche

May 13, 2013

 

I have been crushing hard on Smitten Kitchen lately, so much so that one highlight of Mother’s Day was my partner recreating Deb’s huevos rancheros for breakfast.  In addition to the beautiful photographs, I appreciate the stories that go along with each mouth-watering recipe.  Isn’t that what food is about?  It’s so much more than sustenance.  It’s that dish that you eat when you’re sick because your mom always made it for you when you were sick and just eating it makes you feel cared for and nurtured and nourished because of the history and the tradition it’s steeped in.  It’s the delight and satisfaction of the first asparagus salad, or the first rhubarb dessert, of spring.  I could go on and on…

Today I’m making Helen Butling’s salmon quiche for about the hundredth time, and every time I make it I have to retell the story of the legendary lady who is immortalized in the recipe’s name.  In the Kootenays there are several ski huts where you can go away into the wilderness and backcountry ski and sleep out in a cozy cabin for days.  Helen Butling was an outdoors woman extraordinaire, and the person to invite along to ramp the comfort level of the trip up to a new level.  When I’m planning wilderness trips I still recall her rules about “one role of tp per person per week” and “one litre of water per person per day”.  And even though after a full day of fresh air and exercise you could wolf down whiskey-spiked burnt KD (right, mom?), I’ve learned that great food can elevate a wilderness trip to a near spiritual experience.  Helen Butling did some skiing, but she also ensured that everyone on the trip was comfortable and fed.  My parents describe the feeling of luxury when they would arrive back at the cabin to find a hot meal waiting. I’ve never made this meal on a trip, because I don’t have a camp oven, but I have pre-made little quiches and served them cold at many a beach picnic.  They can be eaten with one hand and leave no dishes to clean up.  To keep my gluten-free partner happy, I slick some muffin tins with olive oil and bake them crustless, and the kids get theirs in store-bought 3-inch tart shells (or my mom’s homemade pastry, if they’re lucky).

Filling:

3/4 c sour cream

1 c cottage cheese

1/4 c mayonnaise

1/2 c milk

2 Tbs flour (leave out and decrease milk for gf version)

2 eggs, beaten

1 can salmon

1 c grated cheddar

1 c grated mozza

Stir together and pour into 2 regular-sized pie shells (or 24 muffin cups or tart shells).  Bake at 350 F for one hour (half hour for little ones), or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Whirlwind

April 1, 2013

This year rebirth and renewal are juxtaposed with the loss of my partner’s “Nanny”, his paternal grandma.  When the door closes on someone’s life it always feels so final, which is stating the obvious, but the sensation  somehow catches you off guard anyway.  The story of that person’s life is written.  The last chapter wrapped up.

This year, too, we just welcomed the fourth child into our family.  So birth and death happening at once have heightened the emotions of each experience: joy, relief, sadness, finality, hope…  While it is a big decision to have this many children and commit to actually bringing them up well, I feel like it was absolutely the right decision for us.  I watch my older daughter hold this new precious girl, watch them lovingly gaze into each others’ eyes, and feel so darned blessed.  As our toddler gets older and my older son finally has someone to wrestle with and pal around with a bit, I feel like our family has balance.  When I am absolutely maxed out with feeding, bathing, clothing, playing with and hearing all of these beautiful beings I feel satisfied by the challenge of this job.  Isn’t there something about bones being strengthened by pressure, or metal being strengthened by being tested?  That is me – an athlete in training for this marathon of mothering.

I want to record a couple of funny moments, because this last two weeks of Spring Break have been such a whirlwind.  I’m sure when I look back on these years I won’t remember many details, so I hope I can find time to post a few here to look back on in my old age and chuckle over.  A moment of pride in pulling it all together – getting over to Vancouver for the night to visit my siblings.  I packed for four kids and myself, including activities for the ferry, diapers, blankies, soothers, snacks, and books.  I got myself and all of them washed and dressed and fed by 8:30 am (it helps that Baby sleeps in), put the three older ones in the van – Big Boy with DS, Big Girl listening to an audiobook on the car stereo, and Little Guy in his carseat with a whole apple to munch on.  Baby in the Ergo, I rushed upstairs for 10 minutes to blow out my hair, phew!  The trip itself was so fun, mostly because we had the ferry to ourselves on the way over and my mom is so super at preempting problems, and my brother and his family are such easygoing, gracious hosts. 

Coming home we decided to go through downtown Vancouver, got stuck in traffic with Baby screaming, then Little Guy crying about his full diaper.  Arrived at the ferry to find out it was full so had to use my parents’ assured loading passes.  Waited in line for 40 minutes of diaper changes, Big Kids whining, and Little Guy climbing all over the vehicle. By the time we got back on the Island I was exhausted.  We transferred everything from my mom’s vehicle into mine, strapped in tired kids and headed home for dinner.  I said, “Guys, it’s been a busy day and I need to have a quiet drive home.  I don’t want to hear a peep.”  From the backseat, Little Guy, who parrots everything these days, started saying, “peep, peep, peep!”  We all had a good laugh.

Baby’s waking up again, hopefully for a dream feed before a longer stretch of sleep.  Lots of exciting change on the horizon that I hope to write about soon.  Bring Spring!