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The end of the Endless Summer

Today marks the first day back to school for many children in British Columbia. The teacher strike is over, and today, children across the province what it back into their schools.

My kids go to an independent school so we been back for a while. A week or so before school started I wrote the following poem and I thought that it would be appropriate to post it now.

Summer’s End

Summer’s waning
The bare shoulder of the season
Turns towards the setting sun
To catch the last rays, warming,
As they fall below the horizon.

The evening breeze whips about the damp of the grass
Cooling the evening air
Chilling my daughter as she rides her bike
Through the growing shadows.

These are the last days of August
In which we trudge towards fall
With the reluctance of a child being drawn out
From a candy store.

When lazy summer mornings begin to have
Overtones of anxiety – this time cannot last
But must be replaced by those harsh taskmasters
The alarm clock and the school bell.

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Anatomy of a Selfie

This afternoon my sister Laura challenged a handful of friends, me included, to post a makeup-free selfie on Facebook.  I’ve taken selfies before, but I’ve only ever posted it on Instagram, and I only have a handful of followers there, so I don’t think that really counts. Going makeup free is not a super big deal to me – I don’t wear a lot of it anyways, but I would prefer to have makeup on when I am seen in public, especially when I am short on sleep, which is most of the time.  What really interested me about all this was the process.  I suddenly became very aware of my positioning, my hair, my expression, my filters…  Look, I’ll show you.

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This is the first one that I took and the the one that I posted.  I figured it was as close to “raw” as I was going to get.  Oh wait, I might have deleted the first one.  Well, this is as close to raw as I was willing to have exist on my hard drive.

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So I’ve been playing with my hair and experimenting with a less smile and more sultry. I look more tired too, and this is where I noticed that my face kind of veers off to the right.  I am 34 years old and I never noticed that before.  But does this matter? Why am I worrying about this? Hmmm…don’t think this one should go on Facebook, looks like I am trying too hard.

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Profile shot?  Too pretentious? Too self aware?  Yes. Not posting this one.

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This is a legit smile.  That one might work.

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Hmmm….fiddle with the contrast and brightness?

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Too saucy?  We are verging on duck-lips here… mmmmmm…no.

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Maybe I should try it with my hair up? I spend a lot of time with my hair up…

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And then I got curious, do I have a good side?  The right one?

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The left one?

At this point I was just getting sick of looking at myself and I thought that things were getting a little out of control, so I just posted the first one. Hopefully you’re sick of all this too, because really, should I be spending this much time on taking my photo?  No.

There is a lot out there on selfies and whether they are empowering or whether they contribute to negative self images.  I know that young girls in particular will spend a lot of time getting the “right” selfie to post online, and after this experience, I totally get why they do that.  I hope the “no-makeup selfie” challenge helps people to be more accepting of who they are, but at the end of the day, we are still curating a version of ourselves, just with one less filter.

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The Final Hurrah

It is Labour Day, the last day before the beginning of the new school year. We arrived home in the early afternoon from my parents’ house in Chilliwack – the final hurrah before the onslaught of ten months of regimented life. I don’t object to daily routine, in fact, this past week I have seen that my kids will benefit from the interactions of school (translation: they are getting bored at home and need to interact with other kids on a regular basis so they don’t fight quite so much).

But this has been a good summer. In past years we have struggled with balancing work and holidays, but this year we reached a happy medium, spreading out Darren’s holidays over the two months with a healthy mix of work and play. We have played at home, reorganized and reshuffled, visited my aunt and uncle in Victoria, attended Vacation Bible School, painted the master bedroom, spent a week in Lincoln City, Oregon, with my entire extended family, gone to play dates and birthday parties, visited the Burnaby Village Museum, and played some more at home. Today we are finishing off with a bang by making grape jelly, cleaning our outdoor toys, and attempting to get the kids to bed on time.

What a summer. Lots of transitions. Ben is showing an increased maturity and is more willing to help out around the house and with his siblings. I am learning to let go and let him do more. Cate is no longer a chubby toddler, but has stretched and learned to do new things like ride a bike. John is beginning toilet training and is falling asleep on his own in his cot (formerly his crib, we just removed the side). I am looking into the possibility of part time employment, while pursuing a couple of independent projects, and Darren continues to do research for his law firm. He is picking up the guitar more often these days – Ben and John sometimes accompany him on the small guitar and the ukelele.

I am so glad to have all these things in my memory bank. I will drive into the school parking lot tomorrow (on time, please God!!!) with a Grade 4, a newly minted Kindergartener, and an energetic two year old. Sometimes, in moments of doubt and distraction, I wonder if I am up to the responsibility of co-raising three human beings. Summertime helps to ground us and to unite us as we continue to write our family’s next chapter. Onward!

CODA
At about 6:30 this evening the doorbell rang. It was two of the neighbourhood boys – they had been racing on their bikes and Ben was hurt pretty badly. Darren went to assess the situation and he returned home towing the bike with Ben limping behind. Ben was indeed hurt. He had fallen on his right side and his elbow, hip, and knee had all been scraped raw. He held it together as he came inside, but as he climbed upstairs he fell apart. Poor guy. He is about as good with blood as I am, which is not at all.

Darren went to the grocery store for bandaids and other necessities while I cleaned up the injured cyclist. Dinner was late anyways because of the grape jam, but this pushed everything back by a good 45 minutes. Due to the extenuating circumstances, we broke the “no TV on a school night” rule and let the kids watch a few episodes of “Shaun the Sheep”. I’m still kind of surprised that everyone had lights out by 9:00 and all the kids were asleep by 9:30. Not ideal for a school night, but not bad, considering.

Now, shall I interpret this as an exciting end to the summer or an ominous beginning to the school year? Hmmm…

Summer MacGyver-ing

Hot - canon 550d

Well, a rather rainy June managed to end with a blast from the sun’s fiery furnace, and as a result, my family has been juggling fans, blinds, and curtains in an attempt to stay cool. In view of the weekend forecast, I thought I would pass on a couple of strategies that have worked for us.

1. Close the blinds

Well, this one is rather obvious, just a reminder that you should close the blinds on whatever side of the house is getting sun.  Conversely, open the blinds (and windows) on the side of the house not getting sun.  If there is no wind you might feel like there is no point, but if there is wind, you will be rewarded. You might even feel a little bit like Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch.

2. Cold water bottles

Apparently I’m not the only person to think of this, but if you send the kids to bed with a hot water bottle filled with cold water, they will be cooler, they will go to sleep more quickly, and you, the parent, will be happier!  But watch out, if you have two waterbottles of different sizes, there will be fights.

3. Turn off the lights!

Another “well, duh” but what happens when you need to use the extremely heat-generating thrice-halogen-lighted washroom for long periods of time to give the kids a cooling bath before bedtime?  Or what if you want to take a shower at 8:00 in the morning when it is already getting hot?  You…

4. Break out the LED camping lantern!!

It is bright enough to light a small space, even when on the “Night Light” setting, the kids love it, and it doesn’t generate NEARLY as much heat as halogen lighting.  Ours is currently living in our main bathroom and good money says that it will stay there for the rest of the summer.  We started using it on the second really hot day last week and we really noticed a drop in the overall heat level of our top floor.

Does anyone else have any good ideas for keeping yourself (and your house) cool when it gets hot?

Fresh Air

Photo courtesy of www.pixproductions.ca

Every Wednesday my mother-in-law picks up Ben from school and brings him home for me.  It’s early dismissal at the school and it clashes with naptime for John and my niece, so the Wednesday pickup is my mother-in-law’s weekly gift of sanity to me.

As I was standing on our front doorstep yesterday talking to her after Ben had run upstairs to watch George Shrinks with Cate, a little breath of wind came down the lane between the townhouses opposite and blew into our house.  It had rained earlier in the day and the air was cool and fresh.  It was cloudy overhead, but the kind of cloudy where you know that somewhere back there is sunshine, but it hasn’t yet broken through.

I sucked in that breath of wind and all of a sudden my sensory memory jolted awake.   I was standing on the banks of Cultus Lake, I was waiting for the elementary school bus on a cool spring morning, walking to university on a crisp fall day.

I was able to take in two deep breaths of this memory-inducing wind, right in the middle of the conversation with my mother-in-law.  I didn’t say anything about it to her, just kept it all to myself.  And just like that, the wind was gone.  The whole thing had taken about two seconds.  But there it was, the wind connecting my present and my past, then vanishing off around the corner to shore up the wings of one of the pigeons that nest in the eaves of the townhouses.

Skyscrapers, Ok Go

This song has been in my head all week.  I cannot get rid of it, and I don’t much want to.  I love how the more I watch, the more I see – the intimacy, the betrayal, the redemption, all in three and a half minutes of tango. Beautiful, just beautiful.  Ok Go has produced some amazing videos, but this may just be my favourite.

Here is the video:

And just in case you are curious, here are the lyrics:

Skyscrapers, please forgive me.
I didn’t mean a word I said.
Skyscrapers, I was just tangled up in my own head.

And somehow in all the madness,
I thought that I was seeing straight.
It ain’t always pretty, but it seemed there was no other way.

And I guess all I ever loved was standing right before my eyes,
and I, oh oh oh I .. I was blind.

So skyscrapers, please forgive me.
I stand here a penitent man.
Skyscrapers, I’ll never look down again … again …
‘Cause I guess all I ever loved was standing right before my eyes.
Oh yeah, I guess all I ever loved was standing … was standing … was standing here all the time, and I .. yeah I .. I was blind … I was blind … I was blind

You were right here all the time.
You were right here all the time and I was blind.
I was blind.
I was blind.
oh I was blind.
I was blind.
(outro)

 

PS.  I would love to have the green-blue-purple spectrum clothes.  Not sure if I could get Darren into any of those suits though…

 

Punny Guys

For those not acquainted with my family, it is a well known fact that my father is a punster. He’s a smart guy, and while his jokes occasionally fall flat, most of them are pretty good. (I laugh at the good ones anyways). But he really shines when it comes to puns. Enter my husband, also a smart guy, and a closet punster. Over the past eleven years it has been a pleasure to watch their punny battles – the mutual admiration as one of them nails a really good pun and the growing one-up-manship as the pun-skirmish gets longer and longer is a delight to behold.

The following exchange occurred this past Boxing Day. Darren and I had spent Christmas night at my sister’s house while our kids slept at my parents place.   Boxing Day dawned, cloudy and cold, and the exiles were summoned back to the homestead for brunch…

(Darren is the green, Dad is the white, “NitNits” is my Dad’s word for “Tintin”.  He likes to reverse words for fun.  Benno becomes Onneb, you get the idea.  Anyway, on with the hilarity!)

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So, did you laugh or groan or both?

Happy Friday:)

Alice Advice

“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”
Alice, “Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll

What I try to do when I am sad and feeling low.

  1. Don’t look at blogs and websites that are better than yours.  You will just get more depressed about how much you want to do with yours that you don’t have the time to do.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t look at the “Home Decor” or “DIY & Crafts” sections on Pinterest.  Stick to “Humour” and “Geek”.
  2. Pick one small task.  Do it. This could be as little as clearing off one spot in your kitchen.  Then you can look at that clean spot and think: “I did that” And you did!
  3. Eat a butter tart square.  Just one.  You will feel better.
  4. Pick one more small task.  Do that.
  5. Take a couple of deep breaths.  Look out the window.  Hopefully it is sunny.  Smile, even if it isn’t.

You will be okay.

Most Beautiful Thing: Literature and Imagination

A few days ago Jason Borkowski, the principal of Benno’s school, wrote about upcoming changes to our school library on his blog, CatholicPrincipal.  For those of you who may not have time to read the post, the gist is that because our school is offering two classes of kindergarten next year instead of the regular single class, space is at a premium in our small school.  As a result, the library will be temporarily displaced.  Mr. Borkowski asked for parent feedback and, in a fit of inspiration, I replied to his post with the following behemoth. Coincidentally, my reply happens to fit in nicely with my Monday posting about “The Most Beautiful Thing”.  Ah, serendipity…

I think downsizing the library is a good opportunity to “refine” the book selection available to make sure that our kids are reading beautiful, uplifting, interesting, and creative material that will feed their imaginations and their intellect.

If the universe was mine to control, or the CCS library selection at least, I would keep all the books that are original works and temporarily archive all the books that are spin-offs of other media. For example, keep “Asterix and Oblix” but pack away all the Star Wars books (my son loves both, by the way, so I am not making these comments based on my child’s preference, but my own). If the book came first, keep it. If the book is a merchandising spin off, box it up for a year.

From their first poop in a “Winnie the Pooh” newborn diaper to their first “Thomas the Train” swimsuit, from their first pair of “Dora” runners to their first “Transformers” school backpack, our kids are bombarded with profit-driven merchandise that demands their allegiance to a particular product. Maybe instead of reinforcing these patterns in our school library, we should give their brains a rest from all this profit-driven advertising and, just for a single year, give precedence to original creative works.

Original works of fiction have the ability to open up our imagination in surprising and delightful ways. I first read “The Lion. The Witch, and The Wardrobe” when I was in grade two. I was a voracious reader, I was home with a cold, and I was bored to death of everything else in the house. I remember looking at my parents’ bookshelf at the end of our hallway, picking up Lewis’ work, and going to the living room to curl up on the couch to read and feel wretched. (I may have asked my Mom’s permission to read the book first – I can’t remember that part). As I began to read about the Pevensies and their adventures I was transported away from my home on Fairfield Island in Chilliwack to wartime England and then to Narnia, that most magical of worlds. When my Mom called me in to dinner that night my body may have been at the dinner table with the rest of my family, but my mind and my heart were with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as they struggled to defeat the White Witch.

To this day, I love being utterly captivated by a good work of fiction (just ask my husband and my kids!). A good book has the capacity to change us, to transform us into better people, to turn our hearts towards the good, the beautiful, and the true so deftly and silently that we hardly realize the transformation until we finish the last paragraph, close the cover, put down the book, and give a sigh of contentment. When I’m reading to my kids, it isn’t Strawberry Shortcake or the retelling of Disney’s “Cinderella” that holds my interest. For the most part I suffer through the stilted storylines and mundane illustrations. It’s “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Pinkalicious” and “The Hobbit” and “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall” and “The Boy Who Ate Books” and all the other myriad of original works that sparks my imagination and makes reading to my children a joy rather than a chore.

Why not use this opportunity to encourage our children to explore creative and original works of fiction, rather than reinforce media-driven literature? Now that would be truly counter cultural and would, I suspect, substantially help the school to live out its mandate* of teaching our children about truth, goodness, and beauty.

*(“Statement of School Philosophy”, page 4, CCS Parent Handbook)