Going Back to High School

When I was growing up, the movies always made high school seem like the golden years, the happiest years a young person could have. Carefree, discovering love and making lasting friendships, all American Graffiti.

These days, high school is usually portrayed as a cesspool of the worst kind of human behaviour, where all that is evil thrives and is amplified, and you are either a bully or bullied. My son and husband have been watching the second season of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, and don’t get me wrong – it is interesting and engrossing and has led to lots of interesting discussion around here. But between that, and Riverdale, and even things like Glee, the whole picture of high school life is pretty grim. The heroes are constantly getting stomped on, and the elites seem like all they know how to do is exploit power and take advantage of people. Where are the average people who are just trying to figure it all out? Where are my modern day Napoleon Dynamites and Freaks and Geeks?

Anyway, that is not the point of this post. My point here is that although I do not look back at high school with some kind of rosy glow, it was a pretty good time for me. I was on the outside of most of the usual drama and I was super active in clubs and activities, so I had a lot of fun and made some good friends and learned some great stuff. It was overall pretty positive, I’d say.

So now that my two older kids are in high school, I find myself getting wistful – not for the social stuff or the activities, but for the learning.

I remember a lot of memorization of facts kind of stuff, but the stuff they are doing now? It’s so cool!

(They might not quite feel the same way.)

Some of their teachers are really creative and smart and engaging. For example, in history class, my son had an assignment to take a real life, Canadian WWII soldier, read his file (available in the Canadian archives), and then “become” that guy for a week – know everything about him, write his diary entries, present a talk as if he were that soldier. So cool, am I right?

And in English class, he’s reading Lord of the Flies (ugh), but at least his teacher has tried to liven things up by grouping his class into “islands” where they will have to complete a variety of survival challenges as a group. They even got to name their island and then design a flag for it – FLAG DESIGN, I am swooning.

In Gal Smiley’s English class, they are reading Romeo and Juliet. They are reading the old English in parallel with the graphic novel, and then once they are done both they will be making a Spotify playlist to parallel every scene in the play. Which, seriously, SO COOL.

In Geography, she went on a nature hike to examine local rocks; in gym class they are taking self-defense and getting CPR training. In drama, the Captain had a day-long fake fighting seminar and in computer science he’s writing a video game for kids in grade 3 at a nearby school, incorporating their own artwork.

I mean, I liked high school, and I don’t remember it being anywhere near as fun and interesting as all this. Makes me want to throw a party for all their teachers, who are rocking it.

(Also perhaps said party will buy me the ability to sit in and audit all their classes because – SO COOL.)

Be the Black Squirrel

The other day I was driving down a quiet neighbourhood street and a grey squirrel ran out in front of the van at the last moment.

I slammed on the brakes and managed to stop with about six feet to spare, but the squirrel was totally freaked out. He froze in an upright position, not moving at all, as if he could magically make himself invisible.

I wasn’t in any kind of rush, so I sat there too. I figured he’d eventually settle down after a few moments and run off, and I was afraid to try to pull around him because I envisioned that being the exact moment he pulled his crap together and moved, and then we’d meet up in a very unhappy manner.

So I waited, and he froze, and this went on for at least three or four minutes. I started to wonder if he was having a stroke or something.

Then, a black squirrel hopped out on the side of the road where the grey squirrel had been heading. He looked both ways (good boy!), determined there was no danger, then hopped merrily across the road, darting past the grey squirrel as if he really were invisible.

Oh, the poor grey squirrel. He snapped his head around, watching the black squirrel skip past, but continued to sit there in the middle of the road. The look on his face – one of complete confusion – was so funny. HOW did that black squirrel make it? Did he have super powers? Can he run at lightning speed?

Grey Squirrel just could not process the remarkable powers of Black Squirrel.

I took this as some kind of sign, and gently eased the van past Grey Squirrel, who was still sitting there frozen, with his head turned almost all the way backwards, seeking answers. For all I know, he sits there still.

It’s hard not to notice that I’m quite a Grey Squirrel myself. Frozen in place with indecision or fear, unable to move forward, even when I see progress coming easily to others.

Be the Black Squirrel, I thought to myself as I drove away. Some things that look like safety are really more dangerous than just moving forward and seeing what happens.

(Is it illegal to keep a pet squirrel? Because I feel like if I see Grey Squirrel again, I may have to adopt him, poor guy.)

Age Fifteen and a Half

Last night I was sitting on the couch flaking in front of the TV with the Captain, age 15 and a half.

Then, out of nowhere, he announced that he was in the mood for a little spaghetti.

And THEN, he got up and went over to the kitchen and proceeded to make himself some spaghetti.

This does not sound like a huge deal but I just about fell off the couch, and my mouth was hanging so far down I think my chin scraped the floor. It’s not amazing that he physically is capable of doing this – we have been training him to do some basic kitchen things, under duress, for a couple of years now. What was so amazing to me was the agency of it. The fact that he felt hunger, and then rather than just gazing about hopefully after declaring his hunger, expecting someone to do something about it, he decided that he, he himself!, would take action and make food happen.


And! He even fried himself a hot dog on the side to put on top (we were watching Young Sheldon, so it was thematically appropriate). Which involved getting out a whole other pan! And using a secondary cooking technique!

AND! This was maybe an hour after we had just had dinner. The spaghetti and hot dog were a second dinner. I can’t even. This, from a guy who is fifteen and weighs, on a good day, if you weigh him after a really big meal, a scant 80 pounds.

So needless to say this was a pretty BIG DEAL as far as I am concerned. Lo, we have created A HUMAN BEING. Amazing!

Then, this morning I took all three kids to the dentist, and we have one with a cavity, a second one with a cavity, and a third one with THREE cavities.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

An Odd Day

Friday was weird.

It was Gal Smiley’s birthday, so I was going to make cupcakes, and pizza pockets from scratch for dinner. And I did that. We were going to send the cupcakes with her to Pathfinder camp, which was supposed to be that evening in tents at Camp Woolsey, which is Dunrobin, about a half hour from here.

All day long the weather got weirder and weirder. It was very windy, and cloudy. They said a thunderstorm was coming in. Some of the moms in the Pathfinder unit were worried about the tents, but Girl Guides are a hardy bunch so they planned to go anyway, and we were fine with it.

Then we got a tornado warning on our phones, which frankly I thought was overkill. I wondered if we were going to get one every time there was a bit of windy weather around here. We haven’t had a tornado in Ottawa as long as I’ve lived here.

It’s not exactly Kansas.

But due to the warning, the guide leaders decided not to go up to camp after all, but rather to head up first thing in the morning.

Now we were home with Gal Smiley on her birthday, and no plans. So we ate a few of the cupcakes and let her pick out a movie to rent.

Ten minutes into the movie we lost power – along with most of Ottawa.

And about that same time, a tornado touched down in Dunrobin, minutes from the camp, destroying several houses and businesses.

So it was a weird night. We spent her birthday in candlelight. The kids built a fort. We played some cards. We ate ALL the cupcakes. We checked the Hydro Ottawa Twitter feed compulsively on our phones.

We were grateful our brand new fourteen-year-old was not at camp in a tent.

Then we all went to bed early because it was dark, and it’s weird how your body starts to think about sleep when it’s dark and there are no glowing screens to keep you distracted from your own exhaustion.

By the next morning our power was up, but it was still out a few streets over from us – we had no idea until this event how localized power supply can be. Some in our local neighbourhood were without power for a full 48 hours. Some parts of Ottawa are STILL without power, and it’s been almost three days.

The camp was cancelled.

It does make you think, about how plans can change, about how the earth is a mysterious place, about how lucky we were to be at home and together on the Blackout Birthday.

Hopefully wherever you are, you are safe and warm and well fed, too.

Blogging While Eating An Entire Tin of Shortbread Cookies

I really had no choice. I bought this tin of shortbread for my parents-in-law last Christmas and yesterday I found it in my closet, behind some storage boxes, where it had fallen. So I had to open it to make sure it was still good, and through the amazing powers of modern processed food chemistry the cookies were just fine, but then I felt I couldn’t give it to my parents-in-law with one cookie missing, so now I am eating the evidence. Later I promise to at least THINK about doing a set of situps to compensate.

Anyway, updates! My hair continues to grow out the grey. It isn’t as white as I thought, which is disappointing – I was really picturing myself as a slightly rounder Jamie Lee Curtis – but I am getting used to it. I can definitely say this: my hair is SO MUCH healthier. The new stuff is unbelievably soft, so soft! And I have had a problem for the past five years or so with massive hair loss – like, handfuls coming out every time I washed it – and I’ve lost hardly any since I stopped dying it. So I think I’m sold on keeping it natural, and that deserves a shortbread cookie, wouldn’t you agree?

Handbags! I have purchased a Lug Shimmy Cross Bag in Red, which can be seen here. Many thanks to the handful of you who recommended this brand! I am not sure about the colour, but I wanted to see it in person before ordering online, so I went down to Readi Set Go on Bank Street, and they had exactly one. And I was thinking of coming home to order a different colour online, but then it turned out to be on sale for 40% off, and who can say no to that, right? I haven’t used it yet because, due to the cost of it, I plan on giving it to Sir Monkeypants to repurpose into a birthday gift for me (my birthday is coming up in November). But then I will wear it everywhere and look cool AND have space for a water bottle! And that deserves a cookie.

Yesterday I had to drive downtown for a networking/work event, and those two things combined made it nearly as bad as camping. But I made it, and I even managed to find parking relatively easily, which is a goddamn miracle. I did notice, though, that I am having to concentrate really, really hard on driving these days. I have always been a terrible driver, although I always claim to be not that bad, I know others shudder at getting into a car with me and they are not wrong to be afraid. Last night I was thinking, during a harrowing highway merge on the way home, that it is only six more months before the Captain can get a driver’s license. And although many parents shudder at the idea of their teens behind the wheel, I cannot wait to hand over all driving duties. I shall sit in the passenger seat and daydream or sleep or work the radio, and someone else will do all the merging. Perhaps while being driven around, like the queen, I will indulge in a tin of shortbread cookies, or two, depending on the length of the trip and whether or not I will be forced to network at the end of it.

This is going to sound very Old Lady of me, but I am in serious Jeopardy withdrawal. We switched to an antenna system…I was going to say a year ago, but now I think maybe it’s more like two years? In any case, we got one channel over the air that showed Jeopardy – interestingly, it is the local religious channel, YesTV. But suddenly about three months ago we just stopped receiving the channel, and we don’t know why. Our antenna is a cranky beast that lives in our super hot, super itchy, super horrifying attic, and neither Sir Monkeypants nor I want to go up there to check it out, so I had resigned myself to a future without Jeopardy. But now, I am hearing that Alex Trebek has hinted that he is going to retire in 2020, and the race is on to become his replacement, and trust me when I say: this is my DREAM JOB. So I feel like I should train up, which may mean a visit to the attic, in which case I am going to need a LOT more cookies for fortification.

Meanwhile, at home, we have unexpected workers in our front yard. We are having a little landscaping done and I was not expecting them until October but they had a cancellation and called at 9 p.m. last night to ask if they could come and get started in the morning. I am happy for the work to be done, but I always feel a little off-balance when unexpected things arrive. And now I am doing the usual trapped-at-home thing, where I feel like I can’t go out, or use the bathroom, or get on a client phone call, because what if they need something? Of course, on any other given day I’d be happy just sitting at my computer, eating cookies and not moving, but as soon as they arrived this morning I thought of several urgent errands that needed running and I had to pee and I noticed I have a client call booked for 1 p.m. Sigh.

Luckily I have a lovely cup of tea here to go with the tin, which is nearly empty, so it’s time to stop blogging and get back to work.

Poetry is the Chicken Wing of Writing

Me: So, what did you do in school today?

Captain Jelly Belly, Age 15, Grade 10: We are doing poetry in English class, UGH.

Me: Oh, I kind of like poetry. What did you do?

CJB: We did this one about a wheelbarrow. It was so lame! There was like, eight words in it!

Me: Oh, William Carlos Williams! He’s great, but I can see your point. You have to work for it.

CJB: You have to work for all poetry. It’s like the chicken wing of writing. You do all this work to get this tiny little thing out of it, and then the chicken wing gets all the credit for being SO tasty, when you had to dig and dig for almost nothing.

Me: That is actually pretty brilliant.

CJB: I just don’t like the way you have to interpret everything. Everyone comes away thinking something different. They should just say what they want to say.

Me: But that’s the good thing. It’s like sharing something with the author. You and he together have made something and that something might be different than him and someone else.

CJB: That’s dumb. It’s like conspiracy theories. There’s like, eight words there, and you keep adding and adding and looking and looking and stringing things together until suddenly you magically connect it into one BIG IDEA and everyone freaks out. But really there’s NOTHING THERE on the page, and you have created a big fuss over nothing.

Me: You are kind of making me re-think all of poetry here.

CJB: Saving one lost jedi at a time, mom. It’s what I do.

The Handbag Search

Ever since my kids were born – this is more than 15 years now – I have carried a backpack with me everywhere. It was easiest to manage when my hands were full of babies and strollers; it had room for all the stuff I needed to carry around, plus two convenient water bottle holders. Eventually I moved down from a full sized backpack to a cute little day pack but I still looked like a perpetual university student on her way to class.

Now that the kids are bigger, I don’t carry around as much stuff anymore (but don’t get me wrong, I still am anything but a light traveller). So lately I have been wanting to ditch my daypack for something that falls more into the “handbag” genre, but I can’t find anything that works.

My shoulders are weirdly rounded – I assume, because anything that follows the traditional one-strap style just slips off my shoulder all the time and is SO annoying. But bags like a cargo bags, where you sling the strap across your body, are uncomfortable and rub on my neck and make my chest look weird.

I need something big enough to hold my giant wallet and several smaller personal items and a camera and a phone and keys. It can’t be anything to narrow because my wallet is really, really fat. And it can’t be anything too deep as I hate having to dig in the bottom of an endless Mary Poppins style bag for the one small little thing I need.

I’d love it to have a bottle holder, so my ever-present bottle of water doesn’t leak all over the inside. But that seems to be kind of a pipe dream so I’m willing to let that one go.

And I have security issues so things that are open at the top, or just close with a little magnetic snap, are out.

What do you use to carry around your stuff? What do you recommend?

Just One Thing

I have a friend who has recently embraced daily exercise, and she has lost a ton of weight and looks amazing. She’s now started up a side business, coaching people through weight loss, and I’d love to do it, but I feel like I can only do one thing, so committing is a really big decision.

Here’s what I mean: I can work, and I can take care of my family and the house, and that’s manageable. And beyond that, I can do just ONE more thing. I can become a knitter, or do a bunch of puzzles, or be a Girl Guide leader, or read through the epic backlist I have on my bedside table, or devote myself to daily exercise and tracking my calories, or build tiny dollhouses, or write a novel, or organize a blogging event. But I cannot do more than one other thing.

This year I’ve signed up to do Girl Guides again so that’s my one thing. When I am not working or doing kid-related stuff, I will be planning and executing Girl Guide activities. I’ve learned that that means I won’t be writing anything, or working out, or getting through that backlist.

My sister told me once that there are very few true multitaskers – people who can manage more than one project at once. As I age I find I get really stressed out when I have more than a couple of balls in the air. It starts to feel like too much is being asked of me, and I freak out.

So I’m going out today to buy some bigger pants, and maybe I’ll walk around the mall a bit while I’m there, but I’m afraid the body makeover plan is going to have to wait for some other year.

Rocking The Grey

In today’s Getting Older news, I think I am at the point where I want to stop dying my hair.

There is a history of early grey in my family, and I’ve had scraggly grey hairs since I turned 30 (famously, my husband plucked my first ever white hair from the back of my head at my own 30th birthday party, and I wailed in horror over it for like, half an hour before being comforted with cake). I’ve been dying it since just after I had Little Miss Sunshine, because I hated the weird striped look. It’s been about ten years of Nice and Easy every six weeks.

But lately I have become tired with the process, the smell, the toll on my hair, the roots. I’ve been looking long and hard at my roots every time dying time comes around, to try to determine what the current percentage is of white, and whether that’s enough to go gracefully all-grey.

It’s really hard to say, but I think my hair is now mainly grey with white bits, and very little of the original brown. I should have dyed it a couple of weeks ago, but when the day came I just…didn’t. And now it’s been about 10 weeks, and I’m of a mind to just kind of see where this is going, and if I like it. Already I can say that a) I do not mind at all not going through the dying process, and b) my hair seems healthier and less brittle already, so that’s good.

I spent some time looking at older actresses for inspiration. Of course, Hollywood pressures women to Stay Young Forever, so making the decision to Go Grey probably comes later in life. Debra Messing, Lucy Liu, Molly Ringwald, Naomi Watts, Ashley Judd, Patricia Arquette, Gillian Anderson, and Parker Posey all turn 50 this year and show no signs of grey, which probably isn’t natural. Age 60 seems to be the usual “considering it” age – Annette Benning, Holly Hunter, Megan Mullally turn 60 this year and are still dying, but 60-year-olds Sharon Stone, Ellen Degeneres, Angela Bassett, and Jamie Lee Curtis seem to be transitioning or going all-out-grey.

Susan Sarandon is now 71, but still rocking the red hair, which cannot possibly be natural. But on the other hand, I so strongly associate her with being a redhead that I would support her continuing to dye it until she is an invalid in a wheelchair with feathered lipstick. Rock it, Susan.

Susan Junket (cropped)

Helen Mirren was a natural blonde in her youth, which I think makes the transition to grey easier. Still, looking at photos, it seems she was still tinting it a golden colour up until two or three years ago. Now that she’s 73, she’s been appearing more often with a solid head of pure white hair, but of course she looks amazing.

The Leisure Seeker 07 (37044398702)

Judi Dench had dark hair as a young woman and it seems she was not too fussy about embracing the grey. Pictures of her at age 50 or so still show her with longish brown hair, but shortly after that she went super short and let it go grey, the way we think of her today. By the time she won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love – she was 54 at the time – she was all white/grey and looking like a boss. Today she’s 83 and the very definition of no-nonsense.


Frances McDormand is an awesome inspiration here too. She famously has said that she intends to age gracefully and not try to hide it at all. She was still dying her hair at age 40 (short and dark brown), but by age 45 she’d gone super short and mostly grey with a blonde tint, and now at age 61 she’s totally grey and looking amazing.

Frances McDormand 2015

And in real life, I am inspired by my friend Lisa (hi Lisa!), who is my age and has long curly hair that is now a gorgeous salt and pepper. She recently had head shots taken and she looked so elegant and powerful that I thought, that could be me too.

I’ll be 48 in a few months, and 50 isn’t that far away, and 50 does not seem too young to have grey hair, regardless of what the majority of Hollywood says. I know it’s going to make me look older. Maybe even all the way to “old.” But it’s who I am, and I like who I am, and I’m ready to go for it.

Summer Randoms

My oldest, Captain Jelly Belly, is fifteen years old, and out of nowhere his voice is breaking. It’s filling me up with ALL THE FEELS. My babies!

The Captain, Sir Monkeypants, and I have been working our way through the entire seven seasons of The Good Wife on Netflix. This is my second time through the series, so I have the luxury of sometimes letting my mind wander a bit, and thus I have become completely obsessed with Alicia Florrick’s apartment. First, it’s huge and it’s gorgeous, which I don’t know how she maintains as she goes in and out of jobs on the show.

But more importantly, the layout completely escapes my ability to mental map. Sometimes she’s in a room and I can’t quite figure out where that room came from, or if it was always there, or how it fits in with the rest of the space. I have spent hours looking at photos of her apartment from all angles to try to figure out how the rooms are arranged and I even tried drawing out a floor plan but there’s too much that just doesn’t add up.

We actually finished the last episode a week or so ago and I might have to go back and start over from the start just so I can slow-mo through every single apartment scene and try to sort this all out.

We have been back on the “getting a pet” merry-go-round around here. My youngest, Little Miss Sunshine, would so much love to have a pet. But all pets have things that make them difficult for us; we can’t have anything that eats seeds or grass due to allergies, we have very heavy cat, guinea pig, and rabbit allergies in the house, fish are too boring, and a dog is just too much work. We have been flirting with the idea of getting a hedgehog but I worry about a) my daughter’s ability to hold it safely (she is a cuddler!) and b) whether or not a hedgehog can actually be happy in captivity.

The other day I opened up a puzzle my son bought for me used, at a school sale, and it was full of dog hair. I don’t know how people with dogs can live if their house is so thickly coated with dog hair that it gets all over a puzzle they are doing, in theory on a table surface. It has definitely turned me off the whole pet idea for the time being but my daughter continues to look at me with big sad brown eyes, so we’ll see.

The other evening I made ratatouille for dinner, and then we watched the Pixar film Ratatouille, and man, does that movie ever hold up. We laughed and laughed, and since it had been a few years since we’d watched it last, my two oldest in particular were amazed at how charming and appealing it was to them, even more so than when they were little. They are now on a mission to re-watch all Pixar films which is fine by me. I think we own most of them except Inside Out, which is happening…(goes to Amazon, clicks around)…now.

Our summer so far has been very random and scattered. I’ve been working more than I wanted to, and two of the three kids did summer school, which ate up most of July. Now that it’s August, we are doing a lot of lazing around the house, working on important projects like Good Wife apartment plans and cleaning all the dog hair out of my new puzzle.

I declare that age 15 is the official cut off age for Summer of Awesome, sadly. I can still drag the Captain along with us to museums and parks and events with threats, but he doesn’t really enjoy it. Gal Smiley, who will be 14 in a month, is at pretty much the same point. So this year I stopped pressuring them, and some days it’s just me and the Little Miss going on adventures while the other two flop at home and read or watch YouTube.

I am a little sad for the days spent on outing after outing, but I’m okay with it at the same time. I’m still having fun with the Little Miss, who is willing to indulge my desire to see every museum special exhibit and every art gallery in the city. Both of my older two are making solid progress towards getting qualified for jobs (the Captain took a course on becoming a camp counsellor, and Gal Smiley is working hard on her lifeguard certification), and I’m proud of them both for that. Next year perhaps they will have part time jobs. They’re moving on to a new phase of life and I will miss my babies but I love my teens, too. They’re really cool people.

Hope your summer is awesome!