Thursday, December 31, 2015

One year

1) What did you do in 2015 that you have never done before?

- Broke my ankle while out on a walk with the kids. Spent the next little while cursing my crutches and cast.

- Became a landlord. Hated it. Had the rent-dodging family evicted, complete with the use of a bailiff. Will now have the pleasure of dealing with a collections agency in the new year.

- Was published in a couple of magazines put out by the Edmonton Journal.

- Participated in a Fear Factor food competition at the annual Halloween potluck at work. The smoked-duck's neck is what did me in.



2) Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make any more next year?

No, and no.




3) Where did you travel?

Flew to Kelowna and then visited the Kootenays of British Columbia for a family wedding in May.



4) What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Went back to work full-time and didn't end up losing my mind. Although the latter remains debatable.



5) What was your biggest failure?

The debacle surrounding the rental of my mom's house via the use of a management company that required me to micro-manage them every step of the way. The entire process cost us thousands of dollars and has exponentially increased my homicidal tendencies.

Oh, and I also failed at this:




6) Did you suffer illness or injury?

As mentioned, I broke my ankle in late spring. The bigger you are, the harder you fall... and the further the resulting setback becomes.



7) What things / people disappointed you the most?

Just people, in general.

I'm disappointed that my work doesn't allow for enough flexibility when it comes to dealing with personal, life-altering issues.

I'm disappointed that the management company I dealt with screwed us over in every way imaginable.

I'm disappointed that people will lie and fake illness in order to get out of contracts.

I'm disappointed that there are only 24 hours in a day, which is certainly not enough time for me to achieve such basic tasks as preparing dinner, getting enough rest, or spending quality time with family.



8) Where did most of your money go?

- Mortgage
- Renovations
- Daycare / School
- Lawyer Fees



9) What did you really get excited about?

Having a clean house. The feeling lasted all of 10 minutes before the place was destroyed again.



10) What song will always remind you of 2015?

Thinking Out Loud, by Ed Sheeran
Hello, by Adele



11) Compared to this time last year, are you:

- Happier or hardened? Hardened.
- Thinner or fatter? Fatter.
- Richer or poorer? Poorer.



12) What do you wish you'd done more of?

Been more physically active.



13) What do you wish you'd done less of?

Screen time, even though much of it was work-related.



14) Favourite film this year? Least favourite?

Really enjoyed That Sugar Film (for being such an eye-opener) and Identity Thief (for my love of Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, and Robert Patrick).



Didn't really care for August: Osage County. The acting was well done, but the movie itself was meh.



15) What was the one thing that would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Good health for me and the people I care about. Plus having good renters would have done wonders in terms of keeping my cortisol levels in check.



16) What kept you sane?

As much as it gets in the way of just living life, my work has kept me sane in that it's been an escape from the life that has been challenging me the most.



17) Which celebrity / public figure did you fancy the most? Fancy the least?

Same as last year: Andrew Ference, the (former) Edmonton Oilers captain, has such a great perspective on life, and he makes me want to go out for a jog or something.

On the other hand, it's mind-boggling to me that someone like Donald Trump can have so much power and influence. 'Murica.



18) What news story fascinated you the most?

The day that Spider Mable united a city was truly remarkable.



19) What sports moment did you like the most? Hate the most?

Jose Bautista's bat flip is something we'll remember for a long time.




That the Mets lost to the Kansas City Royals is something we'd like to forget.




20) Who do you miss?

My mom, still, and always.




21) What do you look forward to in 2016?

More sleep, less stress, and a happier household.



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perspective

So my son was back in hospital earlier this week. Luckily his bloodwork was normal, and he didn't have to stay long and was just treated with some IV fluids, but it was still stressful on all of us.

This incident took place a year to the day when he first became sick last December, and we had even joked about it before this latest ER run. It seems that we jinxed ourselves, though, because there he was, back under the care of Nurse Emma, who's come to know my boy by name.

Yeah, we're that family that's spent a little too much time in the ER.

I can joke about this now, only because my son recovered and is back to his usual bouncy, wiggly self again. But that moment always exists when I think to myself, "What if he doesn't recover?"

It's horrifying to think about, and I know I wouldn't be able to carry on if something serious happened to either of my kids.

The only thing that terrifies me more these days is the thought of something happening to either myself or my husband, thus leaving the kids to grow up without us.

While on a play-date yesterday with one of my daughter's former daycare friends, I learned from his mom that another of the moms in our circle has been going through chemo treatments this year.

And now I just can't stop thinking about her and how she must be handling each day. Like me, she has two young kids, a boy and a girl. And they are her world.

I messaged this other mom today to see how she's doing and to offer some assistance, and also to set up a play-date in the new year for our kids to run around and tire each other out while we adults get caught up. She sounded upbeat in her message back to me, but I just can't shake this feeling of dread.

This news is just so devastating and, unfortunately, a sober reminder that life can change in an instant.

Hug often. Live life. And, if blessed with longevity, make your moments count.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Barely above water

Valentine’s Day 2011. My husband took the day off work, not so we could spend some romantic time together, but rather to help me dismantle the Christmas tree and decorations. I was eight months into my maternity leave at the time, and the thought of doing this task by myself was so daunting and so overwhelming that I was immobilized, and I consequently left our Christmas relics set up for several months.

This is when I realized something was seriously wrong with me, and I needed to get help.

The real me has been described as a borderline Type A personality – I maintain a daily To Do list, and I get anxious and impatient if I’m not able to achieve my tasks in the time frame I’ve set out for myself. So, leaving the Christmas tree set up until Valentine’s Day? That’s not the real me. The real me would have had everything disassembled with military precision and placed into storage no later than the first week of January.  

But it wasn’t just the Christmas decorations that overwhelmed me. It was everything. I was barely able to shovel snow, I almost never had dinner ready, and our living room was turned into an obstacle course of laundry baskets and baby toys.

At the time I thought I just hated being a mom. Yes, I loved my daughter, but I certainly didn’t feel cut out for being a parent. There was no going back to the way things were before she was born, though, so I figured I just had to tough it out and adjust to this new routine. Things would sort themselves out and get better once I eventually got the hang of motherhood, right?

Sadly, no. This was made very clear when my husband – who is usually mild mannered and not at all bothered by clutter – became so fed up by the Christmas tree that he took it upon himself to finish the job I couldn’t even start.

Later that week, when I was finally able to muster up the courage, I booked an appointment with my doctor to discuss the possibility that I might be dealing with postpartum depression.

---

The above is an excerpt from a piece of writing I submitted years ago for a book celebrating motherhood. 

My submission was declined, which I think is a real shame given that so many parents seem to be facing their own challenges, just struggling to make it through the day, much like myself. 

The current issue of Today's Parent magazine also touches on this subject, as they often do, which is a credit to them since they obviously realize how prevalent this issue has become.

But as for me, things have mercifully improved, at least in terms of this year's Christmas tree. I normally like to leave it set up until Epiphany, but we somehow managed to place it back into storage just yesterday. 

Which, for me, can be considered nothing short of a Christmas miracle.




Monday, December 7, 2015

Reluctant mommy

My 20-year-old self would be horrified by this post.

Once upon a time, when I was young and fearful of what I anticipated to be my lack-of-a-successful-future, all I truly wanted in life was a family that loved me.

Mercifully, I've been blessed with just that -- a husband who loves me unconditionally, and two kids that are still young enough to think I'm pretty cool.

So then why am I so miserable? And why do I not-so-secretly hate being a parent some days and instead dream of a land where I can live alone and only have to take care of myself?

At the risk of sounding whiny, I'm tired.....  every day is like groundhog day. And it's sad that my goal most days is to just be able to use the potty in private, without my daughter using her barrette to pick the lock and walk in. (True story. She does that regularly now.)

I look upon single parents with sheer bewilderment. How do they do it?

But I also keep reminding myself that it won't be like this for long, and one day I'll yearn for these simpler times when my kids are small and sweet and want nothing more than to spend time with their parents.

They're only this size today, I keep telling myself.

And one day I'll miss all of this.


It Won't Be Like This For Long - Darius Rucker


You're Gonna Miss This - Trace Adkins

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cowardly violence

"What did you learn at school today, Marina?"

"I learned to stay really quiet during a lockdown."

My daughter's elementary school held a lockdown drill on September 24th, in which students learned everything from locking doors and closing blinds to putting their feet up on the toilet seat if they're using the bathroom, so that no one will see them during a real lockdown.

"But the bathroom is not a safe place to be during a lockdown, Mama, because the bad guys can still crawl under the door and find you."

We're grateful that the school is proactive in these lessons, in the same way that they rehearse for fire drills, but we obviously hope that our children will never have to put any of these lessons to use.

Exactly two weeks after this drill, though,there was another school shooting in the US, this time at an Oregon college campus.

Populated areas like schools and campuses are such easy targets for gunmen, simply because there are a lot of people located in one area..... which makes their act of violence even more cowardly.

Given that both my husband and I work at local post-secondary campuses, it's vital that we, too,are prepared for the worst.

The below dramatization was put out for staff and students. And, frankly, I think this is a video that everyone should watch, regardless of their place of employment.


And while I think it's wonderful that these lessons are being put forth for school children and adults alike, it's still deplorable that nothing is being done to change gun legislation.


Birth control?
BAN IT!
Abortion?
BAN IT!
Gay marriage?
BAN IT!
Guns?
Look, banning things never works. People will find ways to get them.

(Posted on Twitter by Nick Martucci, August 4, 2015)




I'm not an expert on the legislation of firearms in North America, but I think it's become pretty clear that, if we continue to do nothing to prevent these acts of violence, then they will only continue.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Parenting fail

To paraphrase John Denver, some days are diamonds, while some days are stones.

And today was a great, big lump-of-coal-kind-of-day for us.

My husband and I are growing increasingly frustrated with our daughter's behaviour, both at home and at her music class. While her teachers at school and day care comment to us that her behaviour is exceptional with them, it's the complete opposite when she's with us.

Today was an abysmally horrible outing for her with my husband at music class, and we're both horrified by what transpired. And, because our daughter repeatedly shows no true remorse for her disrespectful behaviour, we had to come down hard on her today and not allow her to attend a friend's birthday party this afternoon.

And, with our punishment, came nothing but more drama and bad behaviour from our daughter.

To clarify some things here, this was not an easy decision for us. Not only did it punish our daughter, but it punished the birthday girl, too, as well as us parents who were actually looking forward to spending time with other adults.

In the end, nobody won, and everybody lost out today.

The thing with consequences for children is that there needs to be a natural consequence that fits the offence. For example, if a child refuses to do homework, then they fail the class. Or if they don't clean up their toys and something gets broken, then the natural consequence is that they can't play with that toy anymore.

We absolutely did not want to miss out on this party today, but we felt we had no other feasible option. Our reasoning was twofold:

1. Until our daughter can show us that she's capable of behaving properly at music class, then she shouldn't be allowed to go to other outings where her behaviour may come into question as well.

2. She wasted that entire hour of class today and, therefore, we needed to make up the lesson again somewhere today. Meaning that, while her friends were together and having fun at the party, she would be home repeating her music lesson.

All of this reasoning made sense to us at the time, but now my husband and I feel absolutely remorseful for not allowing her to attend the birthday party. We just don't feel like she learned anything from this, and instead we fear that she'll grow increasingly resentful of her weekly hour-long lessons.

Plus, the absolute devastation she felt when we told her she had to stay home completely broke us. Truly, our daughter lives for birthday parties with her friends, and she was an emotional wreck for the rest of the day at home.

The amount of guilt my husband and I feel over this is staggering. We wish we could have a do-over of the events that transpired after her class..... but, then again, we truly don't know what would have been a more appropriate consequence for her today.

This isn't the first time she's acted up during class. In fact, it's her usual behaviour when we go there, but it seems to be escalating each week. We've tried everything, and nothing has worked. (FYI - just having her quit going to music class is not an option, so we have to try something else.)

To be fair, she's not the only child who has difficulty making it through this class. There are only two other children with her, and each of them have had their moments. The teacher has conceded that the class is probably moving too slowly for these kids and that they're bored and can't sit still for the entire hour (or even a portion of it.....).

Maybe we can prevent this bad behaviour by adjusting the structure of the class, or even just switching to private (rather than group) lessons. And maybe she'd be better off if we, the parents, were not in attendance so that it could be just her and the teacher. I guess that's something we'll have to explore in coming weeks.

But the issue remains that we still need a better way of dealing with our daughter when she misbehaves like this right now.

I know I'm going to regret this, but I'm essentially here now asking the internet-world for parenting advice. I'm at my wits end, so come on and take your best shot at me.

What would you do if your five-year-old was repeatedly disruptive and disrespectful during class?

(I'll just be sitting here drowning my sorrows in some Girl Guide cookies while you guys tell me everything that I'm doing wrong as a parent.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Superheroes

Life can be downright cruel sometimes.

I keep losing and regaining the same 10 lbs. My investments are tanking at an alarming rate. And we're still bemoaning the lack of peace in the Middle East.

But for this one day, I actually made a point of turning on the evening news and having my daughter watch alongside me.

Edmonton Oilers captain extraordinaire, Andrew Ference, was "kidnapped" and required rescuing by 6-year-old SpiderMable, who has been battling cancer for the last two years.

My daughter -- who lost both grandfathers to cancer -- was shocked to hear that a little girl like her was so sick.

"But she can't fight crime -- she has cancer!"

Well luckily, for this one day, SpiderMable could do anything. And she raised morale for an entire city during a time when we desperately needed something for which to cheer.



Friday, August 7, 2015

Home Again

I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter when my husband and I finally finished working on our house and were able to move out of my mom's basement. It was a beautiful spring day, and I was both excited and terribly sad. 

My mom's house was the family's epicentre, but in a good way. And my mom was very much a part of our lives. 

At the end of that day, once all the boxes and furniture had been moved out, my husband and I stood in my mom's empty basement to have one last look around. And we were both so overcome with emotion. 

Even though we were only moving 1.5 km away -- which is a slow 20-minute walk or a quick 3-minute drive -- it felt to us like we were not only leaving the house, but also turning our backs on my mom. Though we continued to include her in all our daily activities, including traveling the continent and beyond, I know that my mom was left to feel incredibly lonely.

That entire day, Miranda Lambert's The House That Built Me continually played through my mind.




One year ago this month, I again briefly moved into my mom's house, but with my newborn son, while my mom was recuperating from one of her many hospital stays. It was an oddly comfortable feeling, just me and my mom, like old times. We had been alone in that house for 15 years after my dad died, and so, in a sense, it was like I really was able to go home again.

But I remember thinking that this would more than likely be the last time any of us spent any significant time in that home. The house that built me.

And now here we are, one year later. My mom is now gone, and her house is inhabited by renters.

Her beautifully large garden hadn't been attended to in the last year, and so it had gone to weed. It broke my heart to do this, but I hired a landscaping company to clean it out and lay down some sod and an additional parking pad where my mom's vegetables once grew. I think she would have liked the end result.

And I hired a property management company to look after the house and the tenants, which has already been a huge nightmare in and of itself. But I don't have the time or energy to micro-manage the management company, and so I have to let go and put my trust in them. 

But when we visited the house last week to drop something off for the renters, I felt like a stranger in my own home. And I couldn't bring myself to go inside and see someone else living in my mom's house. 

All I can do is hope that she's all right with the decisions we've made so far.

My daughter keeps telling me that she wants to live in her Nonna's house when she grows up, and I absolutely know that would make my mom so incredibly happy. 

And maybe by that time we'll finally be able to build that in-ground pool that I've coveted for all these years.

Hopefully my daughter will allow me to come over and swim in it.


I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it's like I'm someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could walk around I swear I'll leave
Won't take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

Friday, June 19, 2015

On the bright side, I am not addicted to cocaine.

You know you have a food addiction when you're stealing other people's chips and devouring them at 10:30 in the morning.


It's true that I'm a stress-eater. In the six months since my mom died, I've gained an obscene amount of weight.

To say that I feel disgusting is an understatement. And yet it's felt near-impossible for me to change my habits in the last year.

The programs that used to work for me just aren't anymore. Not because they're flawed, but because I am.


Even when I prepare a healthy meal, I still overeat. So I've decided to take the Fresh Fit Foods 21 Day Challenge, in which all my meals and snacks for 21 days are prepared and perfectly portioned just for me.

I've just completed my third day, and so far I'm down 5.6 lbs., which I can easily gain back in one big meal. But, for now, I'm pleased.

The real test will be once I've completed the 21 days. Will I be able to replicate these fresh and healthy meals and portion sizes so that I can live a healthier life?

That will be the ultimate challenge, and it will hopefully lead to a new addiction.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bad mommy

Late last month we traveled to the Kootenay region of British Columbia for my niece's wedding, which was held in the tiny, picturesque, little village of New Denver.

With it's wee population of 504 residents and its remote location -- we had to cross a body of water via ferry and drive through winding mountain roads -- it was a challenge finding adequate accommodations for our family.

Most of my relatives booked early and snagged all the local motel space so that there was no room at the inns for us, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We just rented our own private lakeside cottage instead.

Searching for skipping rocks among the driftwood at the beach, mere steps from our cottage on Slocan Lake.

Our cottage was such a hit that we constantly had family members stopping by to escape the confines of their motel visit us.

On one such morning, I had gone back to bed for a quick nap after having gotten up early with the kids. When I awoke, I found my husband and kids entertaining my cousin, her husband, and one of their sons.

My husband had done a grocery run, which is where they were as well, so he invited them over.

After a short visit, my husband offered to drive them back to their motel since it was now raining.

Upon their exit, I noticed a grocery bag on our coffee table containing the following: two apples, two oranges, and a family-sized bag of salt-n-vinegar chips.

It was maybe 10:30 in the morning, and of course I choose to open the bag of chips while sitting down to read my book.

Not 30 seconds later, my cousin's husband ran back into our cottage and apologized because he forgot their grocery bag on the table.

Oh hell. Busted. Caught literally with my hand in the bag.

I tried to give him back their bag of chips, but he laughed and told me to keep them. And in a flash, he was gone with their produce, leaving me still standing there and licking the salt from my fingertips.

It was during moments like this that I know I would have been less embarrassed had I just taken one of the fruits instead. But of course I didn't.

Since the damage was already done, I justified it by telling myself that we would go out and buy them another bag that afternoon. And so I sat down with my book and kept eating.

Moments later, my daughter entered the room, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Mama, I'm sad."

More bouts of crying while I hugged her.

"What happened? Why are you sad?"

"I'm sad because you took the food that was theirs. You STOLE from them!"

Cue even more hysterical crying.

I explained to her -- and to my husband, who had now returned -- that I made a mistake, and I thought the food was ours. I consoled her by reassuring that our cousin let us keep the chips, and we would just buy him a replacement bag.

She seemed okay with that, but my husband wasn't.

"You've brought shame to this family. I'm horrified."

At this point, I found the situation laughable, and I knew my cousins would, too. But my husband and daughter were still less than impressed.

"Mama, I'm horrified."

The child is a parrot. And still not allowing me to live down this moment.






Monday, May 18, 2015

Nature's artistry

I can't take my eyes off of it.

To outsiders, it's just another painting of a river and some trees, but to me it's a reminder of the innocence of summer from so long ago.


It's called Glenora Summer / MacKinnon Ravine, and the artist is Lori Frank.

This is a scene I've looked upon hundreds of times, and yet I never tire of taking in its natural beauty.

It's my favourite part of Edmonton. And now it hangs in my kitchen.






Saturday, May 16, 2015

Silence, solitude, and togetherness

I watch her navigating the park, gravitating toward another little girl and making new friends so effortlessly. She's so different from me in this regard and so much more like her dad.

"How old are you?" she asks the little blonde girl as they begin swinging side-by-side on the big-kid swings.

"I'm five."

"Oh, I'm only four-and-a-half. And I have a brother who's still zero."

"Hey, there's my dad! He's 71. Wait, no. My Papa is 71. My dad is 45, and my mom is 44.

"My Nonna is 78, but she died already."

"My Uncle Pete is 92, I think."

"He must be really tall!"

"Want to build a rock cake in the sand with me?"

"Okay!"

Later, a woman comes by -- her grandmother, maybe -- and tells the little blonde girl that they'll be leaving soon.

I smile politely at the woman, but I have no desire to begin a conversation. It's not that I'm being anti-social, per se, but I just don't feel like talking.

Again, this is where my daughter and I differ. She seeks people out and makes a point of acquiring new friends. And she talks non-stop.

I think back to my childhood. Was I like this, too, at that age? When did I stop being so carefree?

It was probably in my pre-teens, when the world became harsher and more judgmental.

But to my daughter, the world isn't like that. It's just a place full of new friends that she hasn't yet met.

I try to justify my behaviour by acknowledging that I already have plenty of worthwhile friends, and I'm okay with not seeking out new people to talk to each day.

I feel like I'm in constant communication with dozens of people everyday anyway -- whether they be friends, family, business associates, or the parents of my daughter's friends -- and I sometimes just want to shut the world out and enjoy some quiet time alone.

And so I don't strike up a conversation with the little blonde girl's grandmother.

Instead, I just stand back, enjoying the late-afternoon breeze, and watch my daughter innocently play in the park.


The little blonde girl's dad comes toward us. "Lauren, it's time to go!"

"I have to go now," the little blonde girl -- Lauren -- turns to face my daughter. "See you later!"

"Okay, bye!"

And she walks away, my daughter's newest friend, toward her family.

"Can we come back here tomorrow, Mama? I want to see her again."

We begin the walk home ourselves, passing another dad who has just arrived, pulling two kids in a wagon.

"Are you going to be at the park for very long?" my daughter approaches the man.

"Yeah, we'll be here for a little while."

"Here, then you can play with this!"

My daughter hands one of his children a toy shovel that she'd found in the sand and was using to make her rock cakes.

"Oh, thank you!"

And, with that, another new friend is made. So effortlessly.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Selflessness


Yesterday marked the passing of my first Mother's Day without my mom, which certainly made for a bittersweet day. 

I remember last year at this time, we celebrated Mother's Day with her in the hospital. I was pregnant and pretty much only thinking about myself, wishing that I could lay down and put my swollen feet up somewhere.

My mom, who always put her family ahead of herself, also told me to go home and rest. She insisted she was fine and didn't want me spending so much time at the hospital when I had a family to take care of.

That, just like the quote above, is what defines a good mother. And my mom had selflessness in droves.

The plan all along, once she was completely healed and out of hospital, was that she would help take care of my son once a week when I went back to work. Though she wouldn't be able to care for him four days a week, like she did with my daughter for nine months, she still wanted to help out in some capacity.

When it became clear that she just wasn't going to get better, my mom came to live at our house in between hospital stays. She didn't have the strength to lift up my son, but she could hold him for a short time if placed on her lap. And so that's what she did when he needed his bottle.


I was always hesitant to leave her alone with him, but on one day I had no other option. He was napping upstairs, but I had to run out and pick up my daughter. And so I left him alone with my mom.

Her instructions were that under no circumstances was she to go upstairs to pick him up. Regardless of whether he woke up early or began crying, she was to leave him up there, as I would be back within minutes anyway.

But, of course, when I came back home, my mom was upstairs, looking over him in his bassinet and speaking to him in Italian. I don't know how she made it up the stairs without falling herself, but she did it because she couldn't leave her newborn grandson up there all alone to cry.

Then, a few days later, my mom even attempted to help me shovel snow. I was out there clearing the driveway while my son napped, only to find that my mom had put on her coat and came outside to push snow off our deck. 

I'm sure the weight of the snow was at least half her own weight, but she did the best she could despite her grave condition. 

Less than a month later, she was gone.

None of us are perfect individuals and, by extension, none of us are perfect mothers. I make parenting mistakes on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

My mom was no different, except that she lived the quote above and always put the well-being of her family ahead of her own. 


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shoreline of wonder

Maybe in my next life I'll be as carefree as Noelle Hancock. But, for now, I can only admire her life from afar.

Hancock's thought-provoking tale recently appeared online for Cosmopolitan, where she explained to the world why she left her nearly-six-figure Manhattan job to go live on an island and scoop ice cream.

There are plenty of times I've dreamed of doing something like this, but let's face it. I don't have the guts to go beyond dreaming.

What I do have, however, is a family, a mortgage, and other elderly relatives to care for.

So, yeah, even if I wasn't so afraid of the unknown, I still would not pull up stakes and just move to the Caribbean.

Plus, where Hancock is the free-spirit, I am the worry-wart.

What if I get sick? What are their doctors and hospitals like?
Do they have a legitimate education system down there?
And is it a safe place to live? Is their police force corrupt?

I know, all these thoughts of mine are closed-minded and feeding off of negative stereotypes. But that's what fear does to people, and I am definitely too afraid of making such a life-altering change.

I remember once, on a visit to Barbados, my mom and husband and I went on a jeep-riding adventure where we visited a wildlife reserve and went off-roading past some sugar cane fields and various neighbourhoods.

During a pit stop on the eastern coast bordering the Atlantic Ocean, our driver spoke to us of all the places he'd traveled in the world. And despite all he had seen, nothing took his breath away like his native Barbados. He was happy to make a simple living there, rather than living a different life in a richer country.

At the time, I remember thinking that his life seemed plenty rich already, given his surroundings and relatively stress-free lifestyle.

My mom and husband, enjoying a well-deserved break in Barbados.

But despite all these yearnings I have to live a similar existence to that of Hancock and the driver, I know that my destiny is to just visit these places rather than making them my home.

Like I said, maybe in my next life things will be different.


--


As an aside, Hancock is also the author of the current book I'm reading, My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir.

Here, Hancock makes good on Eleanor Roosevelt's famous advice to "do one thing every day that scares you."


I've only just begun reading this book but, so far, I'm already feeling inspired to do and achieve more..... even if I never do move to the Caribbean.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Magical

For those times when I'm stuck at home because my son is napping, or when my mind is just too scattered for me to do any decent writing (or anything else resembling productivity), I like to read. Which is good, because it's a much healthier escape for me than just venting my frustrations online.

And, as my husband often relays to our daughter, books are magical because they can take us anywhere.


About a month or so ago, I finished reading two very different, though equally engaging, books.

It Was Me All Along: A Memoir is a sad, yet uplifting story by Andie Mitchell. She tells the tale of growing up overweight in a dysfunctional home and then, ultimately, losing all the weight while on her own in university. 

Sure, there are plenty of stories out there just like this one, of women who have beat the odds and changed their lives for the better, but hers makes for a remarkably inspiring tale. It made me feel like I could do it, too. 

In fact, when I was done reading, I just wanted to set the book down and go for a jog or something, except for the fact that, you know, my son was napping. Ahem.



And then there's Holy Cow: A Novel, by television's favourite paranoid Special Agent, David Duchovny. 

Unlike the above novel, I can pretty much guarantee there is no other book out there quite like this one. 

As is widely known, this is the story of a gallivanting cow named Elsie who travels the globe and unwittingly solves the world's problems.

And while it sounds bizarre and unconventional, I really did enjoy this book. It was a page-turner, and my husband and I were both able to finish it in less than 48 hours.

It's a good thing Duchovny was able to put his Master's Degree from Yale University to use after all, as he really is a terrifically fun and witty writer. 

Here's hoping he continues this writing trend.



Aside from these two novels, there was actually a third book I checked out late last month as well. 

Alberta 100 Years a Home was put together several years ago by articles from the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. And it is fascinating. 

We're often inundated with histories of other provinces or nations, only to neglect our own, which is why this book is so magical. The photos alone are mesmerizing, if not a little heartbreaking.

This book is a must-see for any good Albertan looking for a sense of local history.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Drowning

I feel as though I'm drowning.

It's almost midnight, there are a million other things I should be doing right now besides blogging, and yet I just need this escape.

At first glance, the idea of having a year off work to care for your newborn baby sounds like a relaxing endeavor ...... but as one of my favourite sayings goes, "The days are long, but the years are short."

And so here we are, mere weeks before I'm expected to return to my day job, yet feeling as though my son has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of parental care this year.

And, quite frankly, I feel as though I need another year off work myself just to tie up all the loose ends and recover from the hell our family has been through in the last 12 months.

Just to recap, the first half of my maternity leave was spent caring for my dying mother, and now the second half has been spent caring for her estate. Between lawyer visits, mortgage negotiations, and interviewing property management companies, I've barely had any time to actually empty and clean my mom's home.

And, oh yeah, I also have that baby to pay attention to from time to time.

My mom has been gone for nearly five months, the lawyer fees long ago surpassed the five-grand mark, and my employer rejected my proposal of returning to work on a part-time basis for the remainder of this year.

Either I go back to work full-time in June, or I don't go back to work.

And given those lawyer fees and mortgage payments -- among other things -- it looks as though I'm definitely going back to work full-time in a few weeks.

It wouldn't be so bad if I had just finished up everything at my mom's, but that's way behind schedule. Her house and yard and garage are in a state of transition (read: chaos and in need of repair).

Plus, my own house is also in complete shambles, with stacks upon stacks of boxes piled in every room, in every hallway, and in the garage.

We consider it a small accomplishment when we're able to actually fit both vehicles in there these days.

And it also would have been beneficial had my childcare options not fallen through on me for the summer, thus leaving me scrabbling to find adequate care for my son at the last minute.

(Did I mention that I have to go back to work in just a few weeks?? And I have NO CHILDCARE.  I wonder how well it will go over when I just bring the kid in with me on that first day.)

On top of all this, I also have a deadline coming up in which three articles are due next week. Three articles of which I have yet to research or contact the involved subjects.

And then there's our taxes! I file all the taxes (Canadian and American) for our household and a couple of other households, and it looks like the final three remaining sets are going to be a little late this year. (Frankly, it was a small miracle that I even finished the first five sets on time.)

I know it's unbecoming of me to rant like this, but sometimes a girl needs to vent. Even though my time is better spent doing any of the above outstanding tasks required of me, I just needed an outlet in which to express my frustration.

They say that God never piles more on your shoulders than what you can handle -- and so of course things can always get worse -- but this girl's had it.

I need help. And, most of all, I need more time.








Thursday, April 16, 2015

Party-prepping season

Both of my children were born in the month of June, which was intentionally planned by my husband and I for one reason only: We hate throwing birthday parties and will do just about anything to get out of this task. (Including having our children born in the same month so as to only host one combined party each year.)

Seriously. That's how methodical we are I am.

Part of the problem is that I dread having large groups over at our too-small-for-entertaining home, especially if the weather is problematic and the kids can't play outside.

The other issue is that our kids have already been blessed with so many things that there's really nothing more that they need. That, and we really don't have the room for any more stuff in our lack-of-built-in-storage-space home.

For the last six months I've been planting the seed in my daughter's ear about having a "no gifts" party from now on, but it hasn't gone over very well. And, in her defense, I get it. She's four years old and is naturally just as excited about the gifts as she is about playing with her friends.

Recently, though, I seem to have found a solution, as was presented to me by this clip from the BT Parent Panel a few months ago:


YES. A thousand times YES.

I am all over this idea for a "two-toonie" birthday party for my kids.

In short, each child attending the party is to bring two toonies ($2 coins for the non-Canadians out there) instead of a gift. Half of the money received will go towards the birthday girl/boy's charity of choice, and the other half will go towards a gift they will later choose for themselves.

The benefits to this, in my opinion, are threefold:

1. It teaches children to give (to charities) and not just to receive.

2. It saves the parents of guests from having to dish out excessive money for presents that will inevitably just clutter up the host's home.

3. It reinforces the idea that the party is about celebrating and spending time with friends, rather than placing all the focus on gifts.

I introduced the idea to my daughter tonight and, although she wasn't overly thrilled with the idea of only getting one present, at least she didn't immediately shoot it down like she did with my "no gifts" proposal.

So what do you all think about this? Have you been to a "two-toonie" party before? How did it go over for everyone involved?


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Time to SPARK-le?

For a few years during elementary school, I was a member of a nearby Brownie troop.

I wouldn't say I loved it or anything -- in fact, there were a number of things I really didn't like about attending each week. But I admit that I kind of missed it once I finally dropped out, and I secretly wished that I had stuck with it.

Recently some Girl Guides came to our door looking for portion-control victims selling their deliciously-addictive cookies, and my daughter was smitten. What could be cooler than going door-to-door selling cookies??

I explained to her that they do more than just sell cookies, but she still said she'd like to become a Girl Guide one day.



Looking into it a little further, I found that she'll be the right age to join a nearby Sparks troop in the fall. At first glance, the whole program looks pretty good.

While Sparks is kind of an introduction for the girls -- getting them used to meeting new people while doing fun things like scavenger hunts -- they'll then have to work their way up to becoming Brownies and Guides, etc.

And it seems that things have changed a bit since I was involved, at least in terms of the badges they'll earn. Things like Streetwise, Business Communications, and Feeling Good (where they learn to cope with stress) all seem very relevant in today's world. 

I don't personally know anyone else who is currently in Sparks / Brownies / Girl Guides, though, so I welcome any insight into these programs.

Is it still as worthwhile a program as it used to be for young girls? Thoughts?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Stockpiling

You've heard of the blind leading the blind -- well this was hoarders helping hoarders.

A couple of my sisters came over a few weeks ago, essentially staging an intervention against the clutter that is my house, and helped to reorganize my kitchen.

This came about because, since we've been cleaning out my mom's house, I've been complaining that there are so many things of hers that I want to keep, but I just don't have the space for them in my home.

My mom's house has a tremendous amount of storage space, as well as a functionally-sized kitchen, whereas my house has neither of these two things.

So when my sisters first came over and did a walk-through of my entire house -- including *shudder* closets and cupboards -- the consensus was this: I need to get rid of some things.


And then they went to work, tearing apart my kitchen while I stood around helpless, hands on my cheeks, feeling completely overwhelmed.

But don't get me wrong -- it was actually really great.

I usually try to be a super-organized person, but I've just been so overwhelmed by, well, everything lately, and it's like I've been physically incapable of cleaning my own home.

I know that sounds ludicrous, but most days I wake up saying, "Okay, today's the day I'm going to tackle that closet / pantry / cabinet / fill-in-the-blank." And then I approach said task but just don't know where to start.... and so I don't. I don't start at all, and I continue to feel bogged down by the clutter.

Which is why I needed an intervention.

My sisters did such a great job in the kitchen -- I have counter space now, you guys!! -- that I want them to come back and do the rest of the house.

It's a tremendously vulnerable feeling, having someone come in and tear apart your home, but it needed to be done. And they reminded me that they, too, are hoarders in their own right, and that it's always easier to clean someone else's home rather than your own.

This could be true... or maybe they were just trying to spare my feelings. Either way, they heard my cry for help and gave me a much needed boost in my war against the clutter.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Revelations

Shortly after my dad died, when I was maybe 13 years old, I found out that my mom had a twin sister.

But it wasn't my mom who told me this. Instead, I learned the news via one of my young cousins. Shocked, I asked my mom about her sister, and she confirmed the details.

They were born on July 5, 1936, in Lago Cosenza, Italy, in the province of Calabria, which is at the toe of the boot. Calabria was probably the most poverty-stricken area in Italy, and it really hasn't changed much over the years.

My mom's family had no money, and they also had a distrust of doctors and hospitals. Midwives were often called in to deliver babies at home -- 'home' consisting of a shack-like structure on the side of a hill in the middle of no where the Italian countryside.

The details of their birth are fuzzy to me. I'm unsure if my grandfather, my mother's father, was there for the birth or if he returned home from the war in Africa shortly thereafter. Regardless, I do know that he gave the twin girls names that were African in origin.

'Adua Liberata Italia' was my mom. 'Adua' is an Ethiopian city that has sometimes also been spelled Adowa or Aduwa.

Her name is in reference to the Battle of Adua in late 1935 in which Italian troops conquered (or 'liberated', as her name suggests) the city of Adua. My grandfather was among those troops.

My grandfather in Africa, circa 1935-ish.


And my mom's twin was named Libya, like the African country just south of Italy, though we're unsure if she had any middle names like my mom's.

Unfortunately for my Aunt Libya, she passed away at the age of approximately four years.

When I asked my mom what happened to her, she simply said that she got sick and died. There were no doctors back then -- Or maybe they couldn't afford a doctor? Or get to one in time? -- and so she died at home, in the same place where she was born. My 85-year-old uncle seems to think she died of pneumonia, which could very well have been the case.

I'm unsure of the identity of the woman on the left, but the woman on the right is my grandmother. The two children being held are my mom and her twin. The other children are my mom's siblings. Photo taken in Italy, circa 1937-ish.


Up until this week, I had thought this was the only major detail of my mom's life that she had kept from me. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Myself and two of my sisters (half-sisters, actually, as I only share the same dad as them), were at my mom's house yesterday cleaning out the closets in her room. At some point in our casual conversation, my one sister said to me, "You know that your mom had a miscarriage before you were born, right? It was a boy."

Stunned. Completely and utterly.

My mom and I were very close. Up until my husband came along, my mom and I only had each other on which to rely. I thought I knew everything about her, but obviously there were too many pains in her early life that she just didn't want to remember or share with anyone.

Still in shock, I frantically began asking questions, desperate to know more about what my mom went through.

How far along was she?
When did this happen?
How did it happen?
Was she in hospital long?
Was she sad? 
Did she cry? 
How did dad feel?
What happened to the baby?

Given that this took place nearly 40 years ago, during a time when families -- especially poor immigrant families -- were expected to keep their hardships hush-hush and not over-share or even speak of tragedies, I suppose it's understandable that no one remembers anything.

I admit I'm angry that no one shared this with me earlier, though, because now the only person who could have honestly and accurately answered these questions for me is gone. It's too late for me to talk about this with my mom. All I can do is speculate.

My sisters only remember that it was a school day when it happened (so sometime between September to June) and that she wasn't in hospital for long, but she did mourn when she came home.

And then, shortly thereafter, I was conceived.

I lived my entire childhood wishing that I wasn't my mom's only child. I so desperately wanted another full-fledged sibling to play and share things with. So to find out now that I have a brother is truly remarkable. I'm mindblown.

But, the reality is that, had my brother been born alive, I probably would never have been conceived.

If you recall from this article I wrote on October 31, 2007, I learned that my mom had her tubes tied when I was born. So the odds are that she would have had them tied after my brother instead. And then he would have been the only child, not me.

It also occurs to me now that, when the ER doctor saw the peculiar scar on my mom's abdomen back in 2007, it probably had something to do with her miscarriage. Things are beginning to make sense to me now.

My parents in Edmonton (August 18, 1979)


When I came home last night, I was overcome with emotion trying to process all this information. I just feel so sad for my mom.

I already knew she had a very hard life -- she was forced to leave her Italian home at a young age to find work in Switzerland..... then she came to Canada on her own, speaking no English, and went to live with some siblings of hers that were already here..... and then, out of convenience and not love, she married a man she barely knew, a widower, 10 years her senior, who already had seven children of his own.

She was utterly and completely alone, barely seeing her siblings anymore...... and then she lost the one thing that was truly hers. I can't imagine the despair that she must have felt.

Even though my mom suffered miserably during the final eight months of her life, I prefer to remember the years before that, when she was happy and at peace. My favourite memories are of her in the Caribbean, living a stress-free existence.

That's the life she deserved.

I felt compelled to share this news of the miscarriage with my daughter last night. In fact, she was the first person I told. And what I told her was simply that Nonna had another baby before I was born and that he died and is now in Heaven.

And my beautiful, innocent, and thoughtful daughter said that Nonna was up there holding her baby now and introducing him to Mickey, our beloved dog that died when my daughter was nearly two.

Perfection. I just have to believe that my mom is finally at peace.

And with regards to my children, they were the loves of my mom's life. One girl, and one boy. I like to think that they are my mom's legacy.

And if they grow up to be happy and confident and strong, then they will have fulfilled all of my mom's dreams for them.

Her courageous battle through life, facing challenge after challenge, will have all been worth it.








Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Purging at a standstill

You know when you're watching a television show like Criminal Minds and they visit the house of a family who's child perished years ago? And then they find that those parents have left the child's room completely untouched, despite all the time that has passed? Well, I get it.

I TOTALLY GET IT.

It turns out I'm just like those parents, but in a reverse role.

My mom passed away just over two months ago (has it really been that long?), yet today was the first time I was actually able to go into her house and begin the task of tidying up.

I've dreaded this day for so long, simply because I don't want to touch anything in her home. I want to keep it as she left it.

Her slippers are still at the back door entrance.

Her most-recently washed dishes are still in the dish strainer by the sink.

A set of clothes are perfectly laid out on her bed, just where she left them the last time she was there.

And the contents of her purse are essentially untouched, ready for her to go out shopping or to get her hair done.

I'm just so emotionally attached to everything about that house, and I feel that cleaning it out will essentially be erasing my mom's memory and everything about her life.

How do people do this?

I remember that, when my dad died, my mom was relatively quick in cleaning out his dressers and closets, donating all of his clothes and belongings. I know it was an overwhelming task for her, too, but it needed to be done, and so she just did it.

But, for me, I'm just having a really difficult time letting go.

My husband was off work this morning, so he came with me -- partly to lend a hand.... but mostly to ensure that I didn't back out and just head home or to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where I could drown all my sorrows in some comfort food. (Because you know I totally would.)

Mercifully, though, I had a plan going in.

Since the basement of my mom's house is still mostly occupied by our belongings and not my mother's, I decided we should start down there. Which was smart, because it turns out it's much easier for me to sort through my own old clothes and items, since I've gone so long without them anyway.

The albeit-small dent we made this morning actually felt really good, and I'm hoping my motivation to continue will carry over when I head back tomorrow.

Otherwise I may be hitting that buffet table sooner than I think.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Old souls

Back in late 2013, a Canadian family posted a YouTube video of their 10-month-old baby online, crying as her mother sang her an emotional song. It's so beautiful and touching to see such a little person tune into the emotion of a song, obviously without even knowing the meaning of the words.


This video has had nearly 16 million views, and the family even appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show.


Last night, my 8-month-old son did the same thing when my husband attempted to give an emotional reading of the children's book Little Baa.


In the story, Little Baa becomes separated from his mother, who searches everywhere for him. Early in the reading, my boy's eyes reddened and his lips started turning to a frown.

Then, all of a sudden, my little man violently burst into tears and was inconsolable.

Several hours later, my husband again attempted reading him this book. But he barely made it past the first page this time before my son again burst into tears.

My poor little man. Sweet and overly sensitive, just like his mama.

Maybe one day he, too, will be expressing his feelings in the form of a blog. Or an emotional song or book.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Reading out loud


I knew I wasn't the only person who did this.

While doing some online research for a couple of home renovation articles I'm working on, I stumbled upon this handy tidbit about how to spice up the ordinary laundry room and laundry-doing experience:


"Hearing Things? Hope So: Bring your radio into the room and tune to your favorite station. Make sure you have a long, functioning antenna if your laundry room is in the basement. Wait a minute... are we in the 90s? Get a nice sound system and hook up your iPod or Pandora to listen to the best laundry-doing music to keep you going strong. Also, although it may seem a little old school, look into books on tape! You have to do laundry. It's just inevitable. Use the time it takes to accomplish this household chore to your advantage and listen to that book you've always wanted to read but never had time to."



You see! I'm not the only person who swears by listening to books on tape.

Who has time to just sit and read a book, anyway?  This way, you can finish a novel while doing laundry.... or on the treadmill.... or making dinner..... or washing dishes..... or laying in bed..... or driving..... or......

This is multitasking at it's finest. And I feel vindicated in knowing that books on tape are trendier than they sound.

(If the internet says so, then it must be true.)


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wild on screen

“…the death of my mother was the thing that made me believe the most deeply in my safety: nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst thing already had.” 

― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


For those who are interested in seeing Reese Witherspoon portray Cheryl Strayed in the movie version of Wild, your best bet is to read the book first. Or better yet, listen to it on tape, like I did.

Truth be told, it took me a little while to really get into the story, which is why it's a good thing that I was listening to it on my iPod. Had I just been reading the book, I may never have gotten past the first couple of chapters, which would have been a real shame.

Last Friday was my 37th birthday or, as my husband put it, my first birthday without parents.

Only two movies that interest me are playing in theatres right now: American Sniper and, of course, Wild. Given the circumstances, it was a no-brainer for me to select Wild for our first night out alone in months.

For the record, I did really enjoy the movie, and I'm glad I got to see it on the big screen. But for others to enjoy it, too, I really do feel that the book needs to be read (or listened to) first. 

I don't know anyone who's read the book and didn't love it. It moved me in many ways, but, of course, it will affect everyone differently depending on what they're going through in life.

So go out and read the book, then see the move. You won't regret it.





All the things I’d done in my life, of all the versions of myself I’d lived out, there was one that had never changed: I was a writer.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail




Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome, 2015

My boy is home, and I have much to be grateful for.


I need to remember this quote in the coming year. 

Happy New Year everyone.