The Many Faces of Preserving Family History

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We’ve devoted this month to family histories because we are, quite simply, captivated by them. They feature in Beth-Anne’s, Nathalie’s and my life in various forms, not least of which our efforts to capture what is happening in our lives with our families now, which we know will become historical soon enough.

I love to listen, and have listened, for hours to my elders telling me stories of their lives.  I’m most struck by content of these family stories, but form can also be mesmerizing. There was the breath-taking quilt hand felted and stitched by a older friend who wanted a way to commemorate the pile of sweaters her mother left when she died.  Or the one I saw online that salvaged the favourite pieces of clothing of her children. Or a handmade item, like the sweater my mother-in-law knit for my husband bearing his name across the chest, that all three of my children have worn in turn.

Then there are photo books, photo walls and even birthday cards that depict the highlights of the year. The video footage, the journals, the personalized children’s stories or songs or paintings created by the people who love them most. The carefully saved letter stacks, the elaborate family trees, the sepia images captured on slides or cracked photo paper.  I’m greedy for all of it.

Here on the blog, over the last few weeks, we’ve given some windows into preserving our own histories, and this week, we’re delving into this domain a bit more. To share what we’ve done to document and capture what it is that makes up who we are and the ones we hold most dear.  Maybe talk a bit about what efforts we’ve undertaken and what has worked, and maybe also about what has stalled or been let alone altogether. Trying to preserve memories reflects a bit of the scope and depth of the histories themselves, and we hope you’ll find it as interesting as we do.

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My Grandmother’s Teacups

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When Nathalie first proposed the topic for this week – how a single object recounts some part of our family history – I knew this was a simplified project for me.  This is because there are only two older objects in my possession to choose from.  One is a batik sarong from my mother’s eldest sister; the other is a set of teacups from my maternal grandmother, who I saw for the last time as a four year old, and who I don’t remember.

I’ve opted to tell you about the teacups. A few years after my mother immigrated to Canada with me and my two siblings, she received word that my grandmother was dying.  My mother got on a plane for a final goodbye, too late in the end, and these teacups eventually came back with her.

There are five of them, blue and white.  I think they are made of porcelain. I don’t know whether they were once accompanied by a teapot; neither does my mother remember.

I don’t know if they were used for drinking, either for everyday or for special tea ceremonies, or whether they were ornamental items.  I don’t know whether they were treasures handed down to my grandmother or whether she bought them at the corner stall.  I don’t know where they were made, or the meaning behind the images on them, and have never tried to learn.  I have no idea if they are valuable or not, and couldn’t be less interested.

I do know that my mother has let me have them.  They sit atop a high ledge that surrounds my dining room, about a foot away from each other, and high enough that they are as secure as they can be from my three playful boys. Even so, it’s possible that a ball or plane or other projectile could shatter one (but hopefully not the others as they are interspersed). While the children are young, the only truly safe alternative is to put them away, out of view, and this I will not do.

When my mother came to Canada with her three kids and little else, she left quite a lot in Malaysia:  a large, close-knit family, a career as a nurse/midwife, a good standard of living, a life she built with her husband before he suddenly died.  For reasons only she will really know, she doesn’t, or can’t, talk much about the things she left behind.  I used to wonder about this, question it, evaluate it, because I so much wanted to know something, anything, more.

I don’t do this much anymore. I have my grandmother’s teacups, and I will be careful with them.  And if I’m not mistaken, it gave my mother some pleasure when I put them up on my dining room ledge.

Guest Post: Lisa Olafson of Dirty Dishes

To round off our month on humour, we are pleased to introduce the talented Lisa Olafson, singer, actor, clown and mother of two kids. Her infectious humour and high energy are known to everyone around her, and her band Dirty Dishes is on the cusp of releasing their third CD of country/bluegrass/gospel music – check it out!

Lisa Olafson on herself:

Loving my kids is easy. Looking after them day in day out has been made bearable by the fact that I am in a band. I sing three part harmony with a couple of amazingly talented funny women who have basically become my social life since child rearing started. We play, sing, laugh and eat in various orders of that on each rehearsal/gig. I truly could not have made it through the past 7 years if I didn’t have Dirty Dishes in my life and I can honestly say I don’t think my kids would have made it through either….

Lisa Olafson on humour:

It’s never funny when someone says: be funny. That’s the first thing that you learn in clown class. Yup, I’ve taken my fair share of clown workshops and have been really not funny! What we learn is, by standing on stage, and just looking out, waiting patiently and honestly (with a clown nose on) something funny happens. It just does. Whether you’re so nervous you start to hum, or so scared you start to cry, the honesty of your emotions with a clown nose on, it’s just funny. I’m not talking about laughing at people here, just the truth of human frailty. It’s a challenging and beautiful place to be in as well as to watch.

When I thought about what makes me laugh, it’s definitely not the fart jokes that my kids are into now, although my husband finds them funny. No, when I thought about me laughing, it actually made me realize that motherhood hasn’t tickled my funny bone. I used to laugh, but it’s hard to laugh with to-do lists running through my head, kids’ fights to break up or whining to endure. It’s often hard for me to find the laughter these days.

However, when we get the chance and one of my oldest best buds, Suzette, comes over with her kid for a play date, at a certain point in the conversation, after all the updating and complaining and comparing is done, we end up laughing. Laughing so hard our bellies ache.

It’s always been this way with her. She’s a clown, you know. She was in Cirque du Soleil. She is truly a clown. In true clown fashion, we always end up laughing at ourselves and our foibles. How ridiculous this whole child rearing thing is and how we make things so hard on ourselves. We laugh until tears roll down our cheeks and our bellies hurt.

Not fart jokes, but the clown enduring the human condition. That’s what makes me laugh. And what makes me happy is having a friend to share that with.

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Childhood Diaries Long Gone and All Is Well

I had a good laugh when I read Nathalie’s post a couple of days ago, but was surprised at her surprise in discovering the schlock that existed in her diaries.  I’ve known for ages about mine, which is precisely why I have long since recycled all of it.  I’ve never missed it either. Partly because the writing is hopelessly bad, and partly because personally I found being a child quite a bit harder than being an adult, and reading about what now appears to be non-events to my adult self seems to mock the real hardships of that earlier time.

So the crummy diaries are gone – not burned, but gone nonetheless.  I can’t tell you what I wrote in them and all is well.  I can tell you what I wish I had written though, and it might have been something like these excerpts from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend.  I read this book as a teenager, and was not too much of a child or an adult to appreciate it completely.

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Monday January 12th

The dog is back. It keeps licking its stitches, so when I am eating I sit with my back to it. My mother got up this morning to make the dog a bed to sleep in until it’s better. It is made out of a cardboard box that used to contain packets of soap powder. My father said this would make the dog sneeze and burst its stitches, and the vet would charge even more to stitch it back up again. They had a row about the box, then my father went on about Mr Lucas. Though what Mr Lucas has to do with the dog’s bed is a mystery to me. 

Tuesday January 13

My father has gone back to work. Thank God! I don’t know how my mother sticks him.

Mr Lucas came in this morning to see if my mother needed any help in the house. He is very kind. Mrs Lucas was next door cleaning the outside windows. The ladder didn’t look very safe. I have written to Malcolm Muggeridge, c/o the BBC, asking him what to do about being an intellectual. I hope he writes back soon because I’m getting fed up being one on my own. I have written a poem, and it only took me two minutes. Even the famous poets take longer than that. It is called “The Tap”, but it isn’t really about a tap, it’s very deep, and about life and stuff like that.

The Tap, by Adrian Mole

The tap drips and keeps me awake,

In the morning there will be a lake.

For the want of a washer the carpet will spoil,

Then for another my father will toil.

My father could snuff it while he is at work.

Dad, fit a washer don’t be a burk!

I showed it to my mother, but she laughed. She isn’t very bright. She still hasn’t washed my PE shorts, and it is school tomorrow. She is not like the mothers on television.

Giveaway and Review: Alcatel One Touch Idol S2 Smartphone and Tablet

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Until a few short months ago, I still used a phone that looked pretty much like this. Well, not exactly like that, because it was portable.  But it did have a screen that was about 1.5 inches square, with no data capability, and you had to press a key three times to get the right letter of the alphabet when texting. Which meant that it was never used for texting. It was basically like an emergency phone line. Or a walkie-talkie. Or maybe a bottle containing a SOS note.

For a long time, this didn’t bother me.  Who wants to be available 24/7?  I’ve given up instantaneous everything almost, even the Ramen noodles which I love. Convenience isn’t everything; slow and plodding could be a decent personal motto.

But then things started happening. My husband was gifted two iPads from work, and I got the little one. And you know, after I got used to it, the thing was actually pretty handy. It was nice not to have to rely on the big now-clunky desktop all the time.  And those smartphones… people did look kind of smart using them.  I started to notice how agile Beth-Anne and Nathalie were with their phones and, well, as someone on social media, I finally began wondering whether I ought to join the game. Sure it looked efficient and all that, but it also looked kind of fun.

And then, as I contemplated relaxing my grip on the Ghost of Telephones Past, I got the most perfect gift over the holidays and in time for 2015: my very first smartphone. The crew at Alcatel One Touch generously gave an Idol 2S as well as a Pop 8 tablet and just like, they swept me into the new millenium.

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Like a proper nerd, I read the manual (a couple of times). The truth is I had never used a smartphone before and had no earthly idea how they worked. I was nervous, but didn’t need to be – the phone is easy peasy to use, and it was a cinch to start figuring out what all the fuss is about. Turns out these gadgets are really useful!

Texting, unsurprisingly, is a revelation.  Tapping a big key just once is a lot faster than punching a little one three times. But not just that – the Idol S2‘s predictive keyboard is fast and accurate. In the spirit of research, I borrowed my sister’s smartphone to compare, and was that new phone’s texting capabilities ever clunky (how does she manage with something so slow)!  I double-checked my impression with my 14 year old nephew, who categorically strikes me as the best possible judge of my phone. He played around with it for a few minutes and handed it back: It’s a good phone. It’s fast.” Gold seal of approval, people.

There’s a lot of other things to like about the phone.  It’s very slim and good-looking, for starters. It’s gentle on the eyes, with its clear wide screen (5″ HD 720 display), which is lovely when using the 8 megapixel camera.  As a blogger and a mom, this is a boon.  I also like that the battery lasts a good while.  I’m not glued to my phone, but heavier users will be glad to know that charging the Idol S2 is fast.  I love the camcorder, and that the phone can turn into a little flashlight.  It’s a marvel!

The Pop 8 tablet is a great little toy too.  Like the Idol S2. the Pop 8 is slim and sleek, and handles easily.  I was a bit less of an inexperienced user when it came to tablets, and the Pop 8 is intuitive and simple to use. It’s perfect for check-ins with the online world and handing to the kids for an educational app or 5.  Both the phone and the tablet clock in as fast, effective devices at affordable price points.

I can say without hesitation that my presents from Alcatel One Touch are among the most impactful items to enter my realm.  And as a former Techno-Resister, you’ll know I speaketh the truth when I say I really love my phone!!

The amazing thing is that you can enjoy similar presents too:  Alcatel One Touch is generously offering both the Idol S2 smartphone and a Pop 7 tablet to one lucky reader!  The contest will stay open until Sunday at midnight EST, and is open to Canadian readers (except Quebec).  Enter to win by liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter or Instagram or simply leave a comment. It’s a great giveaway – best of luck to you!

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A Parenting Trial

I thought for a good while about what I’d like to post for today and realized I couldn’t do much better than to re-post an anecdote I wrote almost five years ago (five years ago!).  I’m not sure how to introduce it, except to say that sometimes life’s like that, and to give thanks to my husband’s robust sense of humour, which helped him through this and many other trials.  And, of course, if you have your own, please do tell!

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It happened on the way to the cottage.  We got stuck in traffic, as we often do, in congestion worse than usual.  Also worse than usual was the mood in the car, due to bickering between my husband and me.  We were headed for a long, long drive.

My husband tried to pacify himself with an extra large coffee at the Tim Hortons drive-thru.  I don’t like coffee but used to take a mouthful or two when he would douse his Tims with double sugar and double cream.  Lately my husband had cut these indulgences out though, so he alone made short work of the bitter blackness.

As we continued to idle in the middle lane going pretty much nowhere, our then 4 year old son announced that he had to pee.  No one can really agree on whether it’s better to have boys or girls (thank God), but there are indisputable advantages to sons when it comes to peeing in a pinch.  Seizing the day, and the fact that we were barely moving, I unhooked the boy from his car seat.  In inspiration I grabbed the empty Tim Horton’s coffee cup as a urinal while he stood up in the car and peed into it.  My son silently followed all of my instructions with the acquiescence of the child aware he is in the midst of unusual and interesting permissiveness.  When he was done, I snapped the plastic lid back on the cup, returned it to the cup holder, and re-buckled my son, feeling pretty satisfied at the efficiency of it all.

As the going nowhere waxed on, my husband got bored.  He pulled out one of the harmonicas he keeps in the car.  He likes to play them when he’s driving.  I think it’s unsafe driving practice to play an instrument while driving, but my husband ignores me and it’s not illegal and I have to pick my battles.  That’s why we have a full set of harmonicas in the car.  Except that it’s rarely full.  There is usually at least one harmonica missing because the kids love to play on them, and freely I allow it, and reluctantly so does my husband, and somehow the little instruments don’t always make it back to where they belong.  And when they don’t, my husband blames me for it.  It’s kind of The Harmonica Issue.

Anyway, on this motionless car trip, during which my husband and I have given up trying to talk to each other, he tried to entertain himself by making a little music.  I was looking out the passenger window, but still saw his arm lift to bring the little silver instrument to his lips.  I heard his deep inhale.

But the expectant brassy blast of sound didn’t come.  Instead, flipping his head from left to right, my husband was sputtering in disgust.  There was some old mushed up peanut butter and jam residue in the harmonica, and he had sucked it right into his mouth.

I knew he wanted to blame me for this incident (if I didn’t give the harmonicas to the children then they wouldn’t be able to input their lunches into them for later resurrection, blah, blah, blah).  But since he wasn’t talking to me, he couldn’t.  So he said nothing and I continued to look out the window, trying not to laugh.

Then, suddenly, from the corner of my eye I saw his arms waving  all over the place.  I turned to look.  My husband’s face was red, eyes darting.  There were more sputtering noises, louder and more dramatic than before.  Also a good bit of cursing coming from him.  His window went down, Ben stuck his head far out of it, and spat and spewed and then spewed some more.

He had tried to cleanse his mouth of the peanut butter and jam residue in his mouth.  By drinking from the Tim Horton’s coffee cup.

Post printed with reluctant permission of husband.

Laughter Might Just Be the Best Medicine

WrBMbB7RxM4u5JIqXabhCKuTR0zsSEMC8Xdf1FuxKIhsMI2ViuajPHeRyrGeWZxHThere used to be Readers Digest magazines scattered around my childhood. I didn’t read many articles, but I did always search out the jokes and riddles of the Laughter is the Best Medicine section. They were short and easy to read, and I liked the little cleverness of each short set of lines. And yes – sometimes they were funny.

In the (gaping) span of time from then until pretty much last year, I think I had what I can only call an under-appreciation of the power of humour. I have always loved a good laugh, but I didn’t seek it out. It never occurred to me that one could inject more humour into one’s life. Laughter and jokes were more like the good fortune of stumbling on a penny on the sidewalk. It didn’t help that I didn’t watch much TV.

Gratefully, late to this game (like so many others), I have clued into the fact that popular culture is a great source of good times and good laughs. Last year someone told me to give Chuck a chance. I watched that show to its bitter end, primarily because most episodes afforded me one good belly laugh. Which is sometimes precisely what is needed at the end of the day.

It made me think: there must be more.

I revisited Russell Peters‘ stand up shows, and tried out a few others. This year I discovered Sherlock which isn’t really a comedy but it does combine some great light moments and good fun with mystery and drama. I watched The Heat with my husband. On my bookshelf is People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Beth-Anne reminds me that I can re-read comedy (I thought Bossypants was a great read too). And because Tina Fey created it, I watched the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episodes (the supporting cast is so funny).

This newfound discovery of humour has given me a more conscious respect for humour, in all its forms. I’ve always appreciated it in person, but words and the screen offer rich possibilities too. I also have a burgeoning realization of the potency of humour – it can be a much needed distraction, but it seems like regular applications of it, like exercise, can have more long-term effects too. Keeping laughter closer to the forefront of the mind can lighten a heavy load, or shed a layer off a gray day.

Like many moms, I’m trying harder to toss myself into the mix of people that I take care of, and finding funny moments has become a regular tool with which to do just that. It turns out that laughter really is one of the best medicines in the cabinet.

The New Domesticity: More Choices

I read Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity shortly after it came out. Of course I did; I’m interested in urban homesteading and had just opened a store along these lines. Soon after though, I came to the realization that I couldn’t continue working on the store – it just wasn’t compatible with my home life with young kids.

This work snapshot, though it involved challenges, still encapsulates to me a lot of positives. I was able to choose to try a venture, and I was able to choose to stop. I think about this when I hear the term women (and sometimes men) “opting out” which has negative connotations. I like to focus on the “opting” part, which means there is a choice or options, which I see as a good thing.

I’ve chosen to stay home for a few years while my kids are young; I’m choosing to return to my paid work as a lawyer when they are in school. Maybe you are making similar choices; maybe yours are opposite. I appreciate the frankness of my work colleague who once said of my decision to stay home: “I don’t know how you do it. I’m never happier than on Sunday night, when I know I can have a break from home and go to work.” We shared a laugh and that was it. No drama. She knows I know she loves her kids and is raising them well with a knowledge of herself; I hope I am doing the same.

I like being at home. I like doing things with my hands as well as my head, so I often make things: bodycare products, arts and crafts, toys, gifts, dinner. Making do is also something I do well. The “new domesticity”, as Matchar calls it, makes staying at home more interesting for me – often making something, with its space for creativity and a personal touch, is more fun and satisfying than buying it.

But not always. Sometimes making something is actually quite hard, or too time-consuming, or just not fun. In these cases, I either go without it, or if I need it, I relish being able to go online or to the store and employ cash or plastic to buy it. Ah, the luxury of choice.

I’m also not sure I agree that women (and some men) who are opting for the new domesticity somehow become detached from the collective action that makes the world a better place. Does knitting your own scarf or chopping wood for your own heat really mean that you can’t join a protest or attend a meeting or sign a petition, especially in the world of online communication?

I’ve met many people who are staying at home for various reasons, and these people are at least as active, and often more active, in their involvement in the causes that are close to them than they would be if they were working full-time. They are advocating for changes in their children’s schools, to protect the environment, for a wide range of the social issues that they believe in. I really am not persuaded that choosing the new domesticity equates with civil irrelevance.

The emergence of the new domesticity, or any unconventional path for that matter, is a good thing insofar as it’s a manifestation of greater choices. I understand that if workplaces offered greater options for its workers that these alternatives might be less attractive or necessary. But while we work toward those changes in the future, it’s good to have greater options for the present. The traction of the new domesticity seems to show that these options are sorely needed.