Mixing It Up

Our family is a multiracial family – my husband is Indian – and I feel so lucky to live in a place where a) I have never once thought that this could be any kind of problem, and b) at least ten other mixed race families live on my very own street, so it’s literally no big deal. Surburban Ottawa rocks, y’all!

But that said, I am vaguely and mildly aware that there are very few mixed race characters on TV and in the movies. So when I see one, I do notice, and I like it.

Recently I watched a Christmas movie on Netflix while I was spending the day cooking for a Girl Guide sleepover. It was called The Holiday Calendar and the main character had a white mom and a black dad and it was all super casual, like not even pointed out, absolutely not any kind of factor in the story.

Don’t get me wrong, you should NOT watch this movie. It was terrible. (My apologies to those friends of mine on Facebook who liked it and recommended it.) Terrible acting and writing. But still, it will always have a little special place in my heart for the way it showed a multirace family as being a totally normal thing.

In a similar way, this is my favourite TV commercial. It’s for Tide Pods and they have bought my respect and goodwill forever for the same reason – the way they showcase a multiracial family like it’s no big deal.

Hard to believe that no more than five years ago, similar commercials from Old Navy and Cheerios caused a big stink. We’ve come a long way, which is nice, considering the first black-white kiss on TV was back in 1977 and was a huge, huge deal. No need to rush or anything, pop culture!

When you see yourself reflected in movies and TV, it’s something, isn’t it? I don’t know, I just get a warm feeling. I shouldn’t need a cheesy romance movie or a Tide commercial to feel like my family is normal and accepted, but I guess I do. It’s just reassuring – especially the ad, as advertising is usually all about including the widest audience possible and not offending anyone. Canada is a pretty awesome place to be right now, I’d say.

Getting Crafty

I love a good craft.

Some people like a craft where they are given a random assortment of supplies and then they invent something. Or they love taking a jumble of home-related stuff and creating a tableau. Or they like just getting their hands into some clay or paint or pastels and seeing what happens.

I am not that kind of crafter – I really love to make a THING out of a KIT. I am a paint-by-numbers, follow the Pinterest directions, use this pattern and instructions kind of girl. But that is good crafting, too. It’s just creative enough for me and I get a lot of satisfaction out of making something and that can be fun.

This weekend, for example, I made some flags for a Semaphore station I am running at a city-wide Girl Guide event on Saturday.

It took a long time and I had to invest my own money in the supplies, both of which are the primary things I like to bitch about when it comes to Girl Guides, but on the other hand I MADE FLAGS, which is pretty much my most favourite thing in the world so it’s all good. Hopefully the event goes well, as I am not just running a station, but I am supervising 12 of my guides on my own because no other leaders could come, plus I am cooking four different dishes for 300 people because they couldn’t get enough people to cook, AND I have to sleep on the floor because there isn’t any room for blow-up mattresses. SIGH.

I really am not doing a good job of convincing you all to be Girl Guide leaders, am I? PLEASE COME LEAD MY UNIT.

My youngest is also heavily into crafts and when she is bored around here, she is driven to create. Which I totally get, but also, it often means there is crafty stuff all over our one table when it’s time to eat/do homework/play cards/literally anything else that requires a flat surface. We really need a craft room here but sadly, three rooms of my house are now given over exclusively to Girl Guide storage so that makes it tough to find room.

(Really, you WANT to come lead my unit! You do!)

Little Miss Sunshine is also a by-the-kit kind of crafter so she likes to look things up on Instagram (she subscribes to many, many crafting feeds) and then mimic them. Lately she has been working on a series of Jars Painted To Look Like Fruit, which I think is actually a mish mash of a craft we did in guides combined with other stuff she’s seen online. She has several of them now but I could only find this one – it’s her Strawberry – for a photo:

I forsee an Etsy shop in her future.

And while we’re talking about getting creative, I was tired of my middle daughter’s bedroom floor having a foot-deep layer of discarded clothing on it all the time. So I bought her some of those temporary mount hooks for her wall and now it looks like this in there:

That’s making me happy. Man, that girl sure does love her plaid.

And On To Winter

Halloween was last night. I have a firm “no trick or treating after Grade 8 rule” but then a friend of Gal Smiley’s, who moved away over the summer, called and said she wanted to go out and so I let her go, along with Little Miss Sunshine. The Captain is now in Grade 10 and he said “all his friends” were still going out and he was quite bitter about not being allowed to go. Am I a Halloween Scrooge? Just wondering.

One of my favourite things about Sorting Through The Candy is looking at the unusual treats some people give out. Last year we got several Fortune Cookies and personally I thought that was pretty cool. This year each of the kids got a freezie, unfrozen, which is interesting (and likely very cost effective) but I envisioned several exploding inside the trick-or-treat bags of small children, leading to unhappy kids and even more unhappy parents, so I’m thinking that’s a pass. The Little Miss also got two Kool Aid Jammers, which are definitely sweet enough to count as a treat but I still would guess that they came from a “we ran out of candy” house, or possibly a “we forgot to buy candy” house.

We have one house on our street that hands out cans of pop. (The Little Miss pointed out that it is always caffeine free pop, like Sprite or Cream Soda or MUG Root Beer, in case you are wondering about that.) I used to think this was weird and also decadent, as we usually get at least 300 kids on our street each year. But this morning Little Miss Sunshine and I were talking it over, and I may be sold.

If you buy your pop at Costco, you are likely paying in the range of 20 cents a can.

With 300 kids at your door, that’s about $60.

I bought 8 boxes of candy – because the pieces are so small, I like to give two per kid – and I got it on sale at $15 a box, but that is still $120.

Plus, if there are leftovers – and we do have some this year, as we only got 270 kids at the door last night – we are stuck with a lot of leftover candy, which I either have to give away or eat, and then I have to buy new pants. But the pop family – a family of six – will likely use up the leftovers over the course of the year, even if they only have it as treats or on special occasions.

Conclusion: GENIUS.

The only real drawback is that it is very heavy in a kid’s bag, and for very young kids, they often have a pretty small bag to boot. So maybe they have one box of small treats for the under-three set, and everyone older gets a pop. It works! I’m making a note to at least consider it for next year.

And as always, the end of Halloween means Christmas decorations are flocking to the stores and we’re on to the winter season. We’ve already had one light snowfall here, and the days are grey and rainy and cold. But I love November – it’s my birthday month, and there’s always cheer and warmth inside by the fireplace, and the first few snows are still exciting and clean and white, and I can look forward to shopping for Christmas presents and ski season and World Trivia Night.

Plus I have a huge bucket of leftover candy to go through. Things are looking up!

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?