What’s In My Car? A Whole Lot.

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I drive a mini-van.  I love it!  For real.  Like an evangelical preacher, I praise the mini-van – I have got the converts to prove it!

For starters, it’s roomy.  My three boys can spread out and there is no touching.  None.  Secondly, I can make a Costco run or make out at IKEA like a bandit and never worry how I am going to get everything home.  Open the hatch and pile it in.  No finessing required. Thirdly, I never feel cramped when we are driving all together and I always feel cramped.  No one can touch me when they are belted into their seats.  No one can encroach on my space.

Unlike Nathalie, I spend a lot of timing driving the boys around to activities, school, their grandparents, the grocery store . . . pretty much everywhere.  I gave up feeling guilty about this in the throes of the polar vortex.

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Like Nathalie, we’re never far from sporting equipment.  Spring marked the transition from skis and toboggans to baseball gloves and balls.  My boys will toss the ball around any chance they get; when they are waiting for their brother to finish an activity, waiting for a school bell, waiting for me to finish yapping with my friends.

Before children we used to switch out the winter mats of our car.  After children, we NEVER switch out the winter mats of our van.  Why?  If you are asking, then you clearly don’t have children.

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I always have juice boxes.  You’d think my kids are in a constant state of dehydration based on how often they ask for something to drink.  Since we pepper our day with outdoor play at any opportunity, I usually have a sweaty crew of boys.  Juice boxes store nicely in the side compartment because the million cup holders that come with the van are always in use, holding anything and everything but cups. (See above picture)

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This CD saved my sanity more times than I care to admit.   Even though my boys have long outgrown listening to the story, I can’t bring myself to remove it from the van because for so many years I needed to have it at arm’s length.  There may or may not have been times when I drove around the city childless with this playing in the background.

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I will never be without the following essentials:

-       Ziploc baggies (the uses are too numerous to list, but barf bag tops the list)

-       Kleenex

-       Wet wipes (every parent knows why)

-       Umbrella

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Here is what I like to call The Abyss of Crap.  It’s a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag: a complete mash-up of random things.  Math flashcards, sunscreen, CDs, hand sanitizer, earpieces, sunglasses, more Kleenex, crumbled crackers, stale Goldfish . . .

 

What We’re Reading: Kids Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Di Camillo

I wish that I read aloud to my kids more often but time always seems to get away from me.  I tried making it a part of the bedtime ritual but putting three kids to bed at night with varying bedtimes, and a strong-willed son begging to watch his beloved sports teams, slowly chipped away at this precious time.  Whenever I do get the chance to snuggle in bed with the boys and read, I find it peaceful.  Our latest family read aloud has been the 2001 Newbery Honor Book, Because of Winn-Dixie.  Opal is a young girl, recently transplanted to a new town, struggling to find her footing.  She forms a lasting bond with a stray mutt she rescues from the local supermarket.  Winn-Dixie is more than just a furry companion; Winn-Dixie helps Opal to rediscover her confidence.

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Mercy Watson series by Kate Di-Camillo

Middlest is an avid reader (one out of three ain’t bad!) but at 5 years old he was stuck in an in-between stage.  Picture books weren’t holding his attention long enough and many of the early readers, while fun, they lacked any sense of “literature”.  Feel free to insert your eye-roll here, but it bothers me that so many books marketed towards kids are gender-biased and lack both a creative storyline and complex characters.  So I was thrilled when we discovered the Mercy Watson series about a precocious pig adopted by a delightful couple.  Mercy gets up to all sorts of shenanigans much to the chagrin of her neighbour Eugenia.  The chapters while short are the perfect length for emerging chapter readers and each storybook is chock-full of imaginative plots and expressive dialogue that make read-alouds lots of fun too!

From Nathalie

untitledSo, I am basically of the opinion that Mo Willems should be king of the world.  I believe this as a matter of course, but my conviction is strengthened each and every time Youngest (6) and I read his Elephant and Piggie books.  The Elephant and Piggie books are the funniest, most durable learn-to-read books you will ever encounter.  We currently have I am a Frog and I Will Surprise My Friend on high rotation.  By “high rotation” I mean I’ve read these books 50 times.  And each and every time they get a belly laugh.  Youngest reads them all himself, whether he has them memorized or not I don’t care because what these books teach is that reading is some of the most fun you will have all day.  We are the proud owners of every last book in the series, and I think they are the best value for book money I’ve ever spent (or had spent on me–some were very gratefully received gifts).

Middlest (9) and I are currently on book two of Kevin Crossley Holland’s Arthurian trilogy.  We are in it for the long haul with this series, and I rather like the very slow pace at which we are reading.  (He has to wait for a night when I can read to him alone and when his dad is not home and reading The Bobbsey Twins to him and Youngest.)  The books are lush with detail about medieval life, and the protagonist narrator is a boy who graduates from page to squire to knight.  All the while, he is able to follow the story of King Arthur in a seeing stone provided to him by Merlin.  The book tackles difficult issues of illegitimate children, infidelity, and some of the cruelties and inequities of the feudal system.  It’s a good book to read at a slow pace because the action stops and starts a lot, but we are both enjoying the pace.

2114086I am also reading Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys to Youngest and Middlest.  It’s a hilarious and rather dark send-up of children’s books, including the Bobbsey Twins.  (The kids gasped aloud tonight when we got to the part where the Willoughby children reference them!  Hey!  Books talking to each other!)  The Willoughby children do not like their parents and make plans to become orphans.  The parents feel much the same about their kids and are greatly inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel.  Nefarious plots ensue.  One of the best bits is the author’s bio on the back flap:

Influenced in her childhood by a mother who insisted on surrounding her with books instead of roller skates and jump ropes, Lois Lowry grew up lacking fresh air and exercise but with a keen understanding of plot, character, and setting.  [And Oxford commas.  Ed.]  … Today she is a wizened, reclusive old woman who sits hunched over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.

Eldest (13) just finished school for the summer today.  He is not reading anything.  When he is finished not reading anything (I’ll give him until Monday), I have a fun summer read lined up for him: Itch and its sequel Itch Rocks.  Itchingham Lofte is a child hero much like Alex Rider (in fact, Anthony Horowitz is a big fan of the books), who is an element hunter: he collects elements from the Periodic Table, sometimes by doing experiments to isolate them.  The first book opens with him burning his eyebrows off, but his mother’s ire is nothing to compare to the danger he gets into when he discovers a new element.   The publishers sent me a copy of both books, and I think they will be the perfect summer read.

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Be Green and Detox Your Home

images-1Carol is my go-to green expert.  She’s most likely cringing right now because she considers herself anything but an expert on the topic.  She is, however, the most environmentally conscious person whom I know and instead of wanting to stick my fingers in my ears and ride out the guilt wave whenever she talks about her latest greening project, I am inspired!  That’s right folks, inspired!

This woman makes her own soap, grows her own mushrooms and boarded the eco-train long before it became mainstream yet she is anything but a green snob.  Her quiet enthusiasm spurs me to try new things and step way out of my comfort zone.

A few weeks ago, Seventh Generation sent over a home detox kit and I figured why not give it a try?  I have made strides to introduce more organic, whole foods in to our every day diet but I have been neglectful on the home front.

I am not easily impressed when it comes to “green” cleaners.  The few that I have tried have delivered lacklustre results that left me wondering how clean the toilet/counter/floor really is?

I was pleasantly surprised with Seventh Generation’s granite counter cleaner and dishwashing detergent but the laundry detergent made me a convert!  images

I do laundry like it’s my job.  Well, it kinda is my job.  I easily push through 10 loads a week of grimy, sweaty, stained clothes running the gamut from sporting uniforms to my beloved skinnies and EVERYTHING CAME OUT SPOTLESS with no soapy residue.

Thinking of “leaning-in” to become more green conscious when it comes to your home?  Here are some easy-to-do tips from Seventh Generation:

  1. Open The Windows – avoid synthetic air fresheners and sprays.
  2. Leave Shoes At The Door – and wash those welcome mats!
  3. Plant More Indoor Plants – they help purify the air.
  4. Clean With Plant-Based or DIY Cleaners – or choose a brand that lists all of their ingredients so you can make an informed choice.
  5. Sleep On Organic And/Or Natural Fibres
  6. Detox Your Home From The Outside In – spray your lawn with white vinegar to combat those pesky weeds!
  7. Choose Toys Made From Natural Materials – and wash them with natural detergents.

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Dads can be tricky people to shop for because they always seem to have everything that they need because they buy it for themselves with little fanfare.  I am forever suggesting with a wink and smile that maybe someone can buy that apple tv/squash racquet/shirt and lo and behold, I find said item in the house a few days later.  Dads can also be the easiest people to shop for.  Food is almost always a home-run and so, come to think of it, are sporting events and experiences.  And every dad, no matter how macho, is a sucker for a painted handprint and a simple “I love you” scrawled across the page.

Here’s a round of up of some gifts that may make dad extra happy on his special day.

From Beth-Anne

I know that the hipster dads are rockin’ the beards but there are still plenty of guys (and their gals) out there who love a close shave.  Son of a Sailor makes these beautiful, stained wood shave kits ($72) that may just make some hipsters rethink their look.

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And because every daddy has their admirers, there is Harry’s father and son shave set ($36)

B3361_EF0490I know quite a few dads who can vouch for having seen every episode of Seinfeld, but that doesn’t mean they have to show solidarity and sport a Constanza-esque wallet.  Thin card holders are the way to go and XO Bruno’s ($35) are simple, no-fuss and all that’s needed.

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It’s a bummer when your phone or mobile device runs out of juice.  Nomad, a company of spry young smartypants (seriously, I could have babysat these kids!) have come up with a simple, easy-to-use solution.  The CHARGEKEY and CHARGECARD are sleek portable smart phone cables ($29) that either fit nicely onto a standard key ring or in a card holder (see above).  It works by plugging one end into a USB port and the other end into your mobile device.

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A guy that I went to high school, and whom I am friends with on Facebook, is dapper.  There really is no other word for his style.  His look is unique, well-put together and he appreciates the quality of fine craftsmanship.  I love seeing how his little guy is following in his footsteps.  When I saw this book, Vintage Menswear: A collection from the vintage showroom, ($58) I thought of him.  Happy Father’s Day, J.G.!

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Along the same lines, whatever happened to money clips?  Are they making a comeback along with the pocket-square and slim-cut pants?  I do love a nice money clip, so if the thin-card holder isn’t your guy’s thing, maybe a money clip ($262) is just what he needs.  Besides a cash diet is a good thing, right?

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My boys are baseball obsessed!  Any chance they can get to a game, they are thrilled beyond belief.  It would make their day to see their dad wearing this fan t-shirt ($38).

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Or maybe he will rock an old-school look ($38).

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It’s not just moms that have a lot to tote around.  Dads have things too.  Like their workout clothes and . . . .um . . . I am not sure what else, but this sailor bag ($79) would be an easy bag to toss workout clothes into.

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Cufflinked out?  This simple, leather ID bracelet ($42) is an alternative.

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Have a dad that likes sipping on a drink on the back patio?  Check out these glasses made from recycled beer bottles ($19).  The artists have several to choose from – I bet your dad’s favourite brand is available too.

heinekenHere’s something that is on MY list (for me!) so I may just have to get it for him.  Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton is based on his popular blog of the same name.  He has 4 million followers.  Wow!

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Did this list not spark your interest?  Why not try Urban Moms?  Sonya has some great ideas for the hard-to-buy-for dad.

From Nathalie

I love the messaging that has been coming from Kerry Clare at the 49th Shelf about their Father’s Day book recommendations: not all dads are only about golf, barbecue and beer.  If you are looking for some great books to gift that go beyond the usual father’s day stuff, this is your list.

A while back, we were sent a label making kit from Epson.  The first person I thought about when I got it was my husband!  The custom label makers for wires is perfect for him!  (Available only in the US.)

kt_c51cb70190-4_396x264For Mother’s Day, my husband gave me a t-shirt that says, “I am silently correcting you’re grammar.”  I wore it out today for the first time and was overwhelmed by how many laughs and comments I got.  The shirt also comes in me’ns.  From Arrant Pedantry.

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Experiences.  What does the dad in your life like to do?  What does he like to do with the kids?  Last year, my Father’s Day gift to Ted was a family chess night.  We didn’t actually manage to host it until winter, but no matter.  It was such a hit, we did it twice, the second time I also included my dad!  Three generations learned and laughed together.  It’s one of my favourite gifts ever.

Yakos plays three against one.

Yakos plays three against one.

Finally, another experience-based idea is to be a tourist in your own city.  The rules: plan a family day out and about without going anywhere you have gone before.  New parks, new attractions, new restaurants, food trucks or grocery stores for a picnic.

 

 

 

 

Summer To-Do

imgresBeing a contributor to this blog has given me the opportunity to meet fearless women charting new paths for themselves.  I am always slightly envious of these women who jump into passion projects where they are pushed out of their comfort zones, learn new skills and ultimately carve out a business.  The Doodle Post, Playjamas, Baby Robin’s Nest and Mail A Tale have all been recently feature on 4Mothers.

Last week I met with two mothers who for years would joke with each other while passing in the schoolyard about starting up a business together when their kids started school full-time.  Much more quickly than they thought, reality was upon them and they were faced with a much quieter house during the hours of 9 am – 3 pm.

Armed with coffee and a notebook they sat down one morning to cultivate one of their ideas: pre-made care packages for kids at camp.

Notably absent in the Canadian market, Sarah Barbour and Josie Bohm set out to check one thing off mom’s busy summer to-do list.  With a few clicks of the mouse, a personalized care package can be en route to camp; eliminating the hours spent traversing from store to store looking for just the right items that are also approved by the camp’s sometimes-strict rules.  What’s even better? No more standing in the line-up at Canada Post while struggling with the hassle of packing the loot into the best-fit box.  A busy mother-of-a-camper’s dream come true!

Parcelled with Love is a project of love.  Barbour and Bohm have logged countless hours scouting toy shows and researching suppliers to ensure the best quality items fill their care packages.  And their kids have given their picks a stamp of approval!

Having grown-up spending their summers at camp, both women value the experience of being campers: forging friendships, building confidence, testing limits and trying new things.  Their experiences have meant so much to them, that Parcelled with Love has partnered with Amici Camping Charity, a charity committed to sending children to camp year after year until they are too old to be a camper or until the financial need longer exists.  With every care package purchased through Parcelled with Love, a percentage of the proceeds are donated to Amici Camping making Barbour and Bohm’s dream to make a child a life-long camper a reality.

Visit Parcelled with Love and pre-order your summer care package today and make a Canadian kid a real happy camper!

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning: Ways To Store Sporting Equipment

imgresIt’s springtime.  Every springtime mothers in my neighbourhood groan about what a pain it is to pack away the winter sporting equipment and retrieve the soccer, baseball, tennis, golf and basketball paraphernalia.  The switch-over isn’t what causes fits of swearing, it’s the storage of said items, or more accurately the lack thereof.

If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes about “first world problems”, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Now, onto solving my dilemma.

Thankfully, I do not have to contend with hockey equipment like my friend, Nathalie, but I do have skis and toboggans and some skates that need storing and a plethora of balls of all types, racquets – badminton, tennis and squash for every member of the family, golf clubs galore, soccer nets, scooters, bikes and trikes, helmets, bubble machines, “lawn mowers”, sprinklers, bases and cleats that need to be at the ready.  My God, the cleats!

I grew up in the suburbs were space was never an issue.   Everyone had ample room in their garages for two cars AND all of their stuff but now I live in the city where space is at a premium. My friends drool over closet space like it’s porn.

I have been researching all sorts of storage ideas and basically, unless you have cash to burn or LOTS of space to start with, many of these ideas are useless.   You can see my feeble attempt at solving this problem on our Pinterest board, click here.

Most likely I will resort to the method that is tried and true: the clear plastic bin.

Please share!  What are your equipment storing tips?

Motherhood is Like a See-Saw

10267762_10154070721210014_6298337845483811914_nI met Nathalie more than 4 years ago. At our first meeting sitting across from each other at the Momoir writing class, she described her feelings of ambivalence about motherhood to the circle of six women.

I remember the woman sitting across from me had a shocked look on her face and while there were no words, her message was clear: how can you feel so-so about being a mom!?

Nathalie went on to explain that ambivalence doesn’t mean, “take it or leave it”. It means having contradictory feelings about something or someone.

That evening, sitting on a plush couch in a darkened Forest Hill basement, I found my way. Nathalie gave a name to the feelings that had taunted me for the past three years. I was finally moored.

For me, motherhood is a constant state of contradiction. My opposing feelings struggle to take center-stage, demanding to be heard. Parenting isn’t about attachment or a helicopter, a tiger or a presence of mind; it’s a harrowing see-saw ride with such soaring highs that it can shock the breath right out of you and thud-to-the-ground lows that will diminish you, gut you, scare-the-shit-out-of -you.

The essayists featured in The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, narrate ambivalence thoughtfully – with reflection, humility and honesty. Heather Birrell’s Truth, Dare, Double Dare, starts off the compilation and immediately I felt the same sense of kinship that I did years ago when I first met Nathalie.

I have re-read Heidi Reimer’s The Post-Maia World several times, each time gleaning more from her intimate narrative. Like Reimer, I am baffled, completely flummoxed by the contradictions that make up motherhood.

My emotions alone, and the intensity in which I feel them and express them, are like two sides of a coin. Reimer writes about emotion after becoming a mother:

“I yelled more, cursed more, became gripped with stronger rage . . .I smashed objects against of the floor and pounded my fists into walls.”The Post-Maia World

It’s what keeps me awake at night. Are my children going to grow up and their dominant childhood memories include me screeching at them, an ugly snarl on my face, to hurry-up, get dressed, stop fighting and get to school. Are they going to remember the time I smashed the truck plate in two jagged melamine pieces because I could not bear to listen to yet another squabble over whose turn it was to eat a grilled cheese off of it? Is the time, when in a rage of impatience I regrettably zipped-up a winter coat and a lip in one angry jerk, going to be what they remember of me?

I hope not.

I want them to think back on their childhood and recall all the times that I tried to kiss them a million times in a row, when I traced letters on their back, and squeezed our hands together in a cryptic code.

Of course they will never know how intensely I love them, how I have never loved anything with every fiber of my being, the way that I love them. The connection that I feel to them is visceral, so powerful that words could never suffice but Reimer is able to describe the initial feelings that overwhelmed me those early days with such uncanny accuracy.

“ . . .our connection to each other was primeval, animal, beyond rationality; it grew through nine months’ gestation, an umbilical cord between us, a birth canal, a mouth on my breast, hormones clamouring, “You are mine and I have never loved anyone before you!”The Post-Maia World

The emotional extremes that I experience are just one of the contrasting aspects that, for me, define motherhood.

Motherhood is just hard. As Julie Booker writes, “It’s really fucking hard.” Twin Selves.

Shadow Eyes: Reflecting on Dementia

wbhi_silver_pendant4_grandeA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was researching my family tree and working on a keepsake book.  It’s a project that was intended to be a hobby, a brief diversion from the everyday, but it’s taken on a life of its own.  I have accumulated documentation and pictures galore, uncovered some family “scandals” and discovered babies who lived for such a short time that no one living knows they ever existed.

While I was scanning several photos onto my computer, my 6 year-old son offered to help.  He was keen to ask questions about the grainy black and whites that he gingerly passed to me.  He asked about the old-fashioned clothing, the dour backdrops and the sour expressions.  His comments, as they always do, caused me to laugh but also to reflect on how childhood has evolved over generations.

He passed me a square sepia photo; the edges soft and worn thin.  The year 1929 is scrawled in faded ink on the back. A baby, maybe 6 months old, is dressed for winter.  Tiny mittens covering tiny hands, a knitted cap pulled down low, and a blanket pulled up high exposing only pudgy cheeks that appear flush from the cold, a button nose and dancing eyes.

“Do you know who this is?” I asked him; sure that he wouldn’t have the faintest idea.

“It’s grandma,” he said with certainty, without pause, without even a moment to focus on the face of his great-grandmother.

It had taken me a few minutes to place my grandmother’s face.  I had to take care not to confuse her distinct features with those of her siblings, consulting the date to prove my guess.

“How did you know it’s her?”

“Because her eyes are the same.”  He says this as he scoots off the chair and races out of the room. Bored with scanning pictures and hearing about orphaned relatives.

Of course he’s right.  I stared at that picture and compared it with a more recent one of my grandmother, accurately representing her 86 years. I laid both pictures along side several others.

Pictures of her as a young woman with a page-boy and a clingy sweater, as a young mother cradling her third baby on the front porch in the spring of ’56, the undeniably 70’s era shot where she leans into the camera flashing a smile while holding my grandfather’s shoulder, another image of her holding his same shoulder but this time decades later at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  All of these photos are on the table, looking up at me.  The hairstyles, the fashions, the décor are different in each photo, telling a story of their own and yet her eyes remain the same.

But my son was only partly right.  Her eyes may be same shape, the same colour blue dotted with flecks of black, but they are not same.  They are shadowed now.

I come from a long line of octogenarians.  Most of my predecessors have lived well into their seventies, eighties and nineties – even back two hundred years ago.  I like to loom this over my husband’s head from time-to-time.  I like to remind him that when he finds me annoying after 10 years of marriage, I have the potential to give him at least another 40 more.  He likes to remind me that his genes don’t offer such promises.  Sometimes I wonder which of us is holding the winning hand.

Times are changing and people are living longer and more enriching lives.  For the most part people (who live in this country anyway) don’t die from diseases that their ancestors may have succumbed to.  It’s rare to hear of someone dying from tuberculosis or dysentery today just as it was less common to see people living well into old-age hundreds of years ago.

However, it is estimated today that 550,000 people living in Canada have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Like most diseases, the patient is ground zero and families feel the collateral damage.  Caregiver fatigue and the Sandwich Generation are hot topics with politicians, policy makers and employers, never mind the voice writers and researchers give to the thousands of people who identify themselves as such.

Lynn Posluns, a long time Toronto volunteer, philanthropist and activist, is one such voice and a powerful one at that.  She recently founded the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to raise awareness about the inequity in brain aging research funding for women.

Women are twice as likely as men as to suffer from brain aging illnesses, stroke and depression.  In fact, 70% of newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients are women.

The WBHI puts out an informative magazine (available online here) with articles written by leading researchers and doctors about how estrogen, stress, cortisol and pregnancy/motherhood may influence your overall brain health as well as simple lifestyle modifications that may have significant long-term benefits.

I have discovered that while my genes my have a ticket for longevity, I want to those years to be as fulfilling as possible.

More and more the research is showing that the choices we make while we are young and healthy directly affect how we age.

I see my grandmother in these pictures as a young woman, a wife, a sister, a mother.  I see how she changes with each passing decade.  I see how her role changes too. No longer is she the central hub of her family, mothering her four children.  No longer is she the grandmother called upon to host family dinners or arrange annual reunions.

Time is sneaky.  The photographs are all the proof that I need.  Generations pass in an instant leaving nothing more than a trail of pictures, and if you’re lucky, memories.

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Visit the Women’s Brain Health Initiative.

The Hope-Knot designed by Mark Lash, to represent brain health, is available as sterling cufflinks, a pin or a sterling pendant and chain.  Prices start at $10.

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What We’re Reading: Non-Fiction

From Beth-Anne

imgresThe Can(‘t) Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

It’s no secret that I can’t cook.  Correction: I don’t like to cook.  However, since becoming a mother, I have honed some survival skills in the kitchen but cooking up a feast I have not yet done.  Nor do I have any plans to do so.  In my most recent cleaning purge, I finally tossed the file folder of recipe clippings I have been collecting since 2003.  Let’s be real: I was never going to cook anything from that packet of papers and it was liberating to watch the magazine pages flutter to their demise in the recycle bin.  Best to concentrate my efforts on what I enjoy doing and not trying to be someone who I am not.

That being said my three little boys ALWAYS WANT TO EAT!  What’s with these kids?  I am reminded of Nathalie’s favourite meme that depicts an exhausted looking mother slumped over, cradling her head with the words: Why do they want dinner every single night? url

Enter Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can(‘t) Cook Book, a simple how-to guide for the absolute beginner cook.  She gives all the basics: what tools your kitchen needs, what to stock the pantry with and visual step-by-step instructions on proper cutting technique.  The recipes claim to be easy and quick (they are).  She had me at easy and quick.

This spiral-bound, picture heavy, simplified cook book is all that I need.  Family favourites include pan-roasted chicken breasts (I made these without setting off the fire dectector), crispy shrimp (so ridiculously easy and delicious that my 7 year old can make them with little supervision) and Mexican corn (but really, who doesn’t love Mexican corn?).

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SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN by Mary Anne Radmacher and Liz Kalloch

Sometimes you just need a little pick me up.  Retail therapy, a hot bath, a good book, a night out with friends: all of these are often cited as just the ticket to boosting a sad mood.  But what if you’re looking for a little inspiration or some words of encouragement?  SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN is just that.  This elegantly illustrated book features words of wisdom from many wise women including Harper Lee, Peal Buck, Rachel Carson, Hilary Clinton, Mother Teresa, and many more.  Their words are meant to empower, inspire and encourage women on the topics of leadership, friendship, purpose, risk-taking, compassion and more.  Maybe she is a recent graduate?  Maybe she is looking to change careers?  Maybe she is about to embark on travel adventure?  Maybe she is unsure of her future?  Whatever the challenge she is up against, SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN offers advice from women who have been there, done that and have lived to tell the tale.

From Nathalie

keeganThe Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Anne Fadiman, one of my all-time favourite writers, wrote the preface for this posthumously published collection of essays and short fiction written by a former student of hers.  The book is named for the essay that she wrote for the Yale Daily News and that went viral when she died in a car crash.  It’s a wonderfully passionate essay.  I would read the back of a cereal box if Anne Fadiman recommended it, so I have to say that I was surprised that this book did not quite live up to its hype.  The essays are impressive, and she does have a voice that is uniquely her own, and it is clear that this is a writer with many talents and a lot of promise.  I had the feeling, though, that I’m just too old to appreciate them.

RR_InPraiseIn Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe

We are not supposed to like Katie Roiphe.  She wrote a book a few years back in which she said that part of the blame for date rape rests with the victim.  I can’t comment; I didn’t read the book.  I wouldn’t read it because I don’t like that kind of shock tactic stunt.

I’m beginning to think that I made a mistake to dismiss it on the basis of the reporting of that stunt.

This collection of essays knocked my socks off.  She’s ferociously smart, incisive and, yes, opinionated.  Her opinions, though, she backs up with powerful and persuasive writing.  Her essay on Joan Didion is so beautifully crafted I want to frame it, but it is her essays on parenting that really hit home with me.  She tells things that make me uncomfortable, she makes observations that make me squirm, and I think that’s a good thing.  In “The Feminine Mystique on Facebook” she writes about the trend of using your child’s photo as your profile picture:

Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favourite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century.  Where have all these women gone?

And in “The Child is King,” in which she reviews Elisabeth Badinter’s  book about our child-centric culture, The Conflict, she draws attention to

the dark idea…that children are the best excuse in the world not to pursue happiness, not to live fully or take risks or attempt the work one loves.  The compromises we make are justified, elevated, and transfigured by the fact of children, and this can be a relief.

I really enjoyed sparring with the ideas in this book.  I found myself disagreeing sometimes, but always able to respect the thread and construction of her arguments.

Book-Cover-Dreaming-of-Elsewhere_mediumDreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home by Esi Edugyan

This slim book is Esi Edugyan’s lecture for the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series at the University of Alberta.  Edugyan, the winner of the 2012 Giller Prize for Half-Blood Blues, explores her sense of “home” and “belonging.”

Home for me was not a birthright, but an invention. … I do not think home is a place, only.  Nor do I think belonging is the most important of our possibilities, long for it though we might.  I believe home is a way of thinking, an idea of belonging, which matters more to us than the thing itself.

 

From Carol

start somethingStart Something that Matters by Blake McCoskie

Easy and uplifting read about a young man’s successful foray into unconventional business with heart.  He started TOMS, a shoe company that promised that for every pair of shoes sold, a pair would be donated to a child who needed them.  Apparently these shoes are everywhere, and just last week, I saw my first pair at my son’s school.  McCoskie is unabashedly passionate about the uncharted possibilities of social enterprise; I felt old when “youthful exuberance” came to mind to describe the tone of the book.  It’s not to be dismissed for this but appreciated, and I finishing the read with the feeling that the world of business doesn’t just need more infusions of ethics, but also imagination.

4 hourThe Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

I surprised myself by picking this up again – I had borrowed it from the library and failed to read it a few years ago – but I got through it this time.  Ferriss is the founder of a sports nutrition company and tells the story of how he mastered the art of streamlining his work processes so he can – you guessed it – work four hours a week.

I don’t subscribe to major premises of his book.  He asserts that for 90% of us, the best job is the one that takes the least time; I disagree so fall into that little 10% window.  His master tools for freeing up time are outsourcing as many tasks at work and home as possible and leveraging the power of the Western dollar by living for extended periods somewhere with a weaker currency.  Neither of these ideas appeal to me:  I both want to live the details of my life and enjoy the rootedness of living in one place, single currency and all.

But I was drawn to the ruthlessness with which Ferriss cuts out things he didn’t want in his life.  He guards his time passionately against infringements he doesn’t want and gives firm reasons and methods of saying no, which can be summarized neatly by the mandate:  say no.  He recognized in his life the existence of the Pareto principle – that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, for better or for worse – and worked to maximize the beneficial 20% and cut the crap 20% that was causing 80% of his grief.   Most impressive is how he eliminating a few toxic connections to huge benefit.   And he slices through common and generally accepted excuses for living less than a full life.  His version of this is not mine, but I was persuaded by his basic argument that all of us have far more choices than we exercise.  The book galvanized me to make a couple of difficult but positive changes after reading it, so I have an indebtedness to it.

all you needAll You Need Is Less by Madeleine Somerville

I was given this book to review, and have been looking for a good way to describe it.  It’s subtitle is “The Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity”, and this type of claim is made on a zillion green books.  This one is different because of its content though, which I think I might describe it as the next generation of green living.  We’re beyond turning out the lights when we leave a room and only running the dishwasher when it’s full in this book; we’re into clotheslines and worm bins and neti pots.  Somerville is easy-going and self-deprecating while she tries to bring this next tier of green into the centre – she makes fun of “hippie-ness” so no one else can and there’s no holier-than-you tone in this book.  Sometimes she tries a bit too hard – I cringed when she reduces the benefits of acupuncture mostly to creating a placebo effect – but this is a good resource for anyone who has made the more well-known green changes and wants to take it to the next level.