I have always been creative, but I have never been good at Halloween. As a little kid I was, of course, always excited for the dressing up and the candy. I lived in a neighbourhood full of young families, so everyone took part. It was one of my father’s favourite times of the year, and we always stopped at his house to see if he would recognize us. One of the only pictures he had of us on display n his house from taken by him, at his front door, on Halloween.
For costumes my sister and I would usually raid the costume basket my mother kept stocked for us, and a wardrobe she had in the basement full of her old clothes (including a gorgeous red velvet bridesmaid dress that we horribly mistreated).
There was one year when my mother caved to our requests that she buy us costumes – which in the 80s meant plastic smocks with a picture on the front that came with a plastic mask. Rather than wear the mask, though, I scribble on my face with all of the face paint crayons at the same time. Like no other Cabbage Patch Kid seen before.
Twice my mother tried to make us costumes. The year my sister and I were both My Little Ponies was awesome, and the poodle skirts were pretty great too. But she hated sewing clothes, so there weren’t a lot of those years.
My proudest moment was probably the year I dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, complete with mask and cape. There aren’t a lot of other costumes I really remember – most were some version of witch or princess.
I was also one of those kids that stopped wearing a costume in high school for fear that it would be embarrassing or I’d be the only one.
I never would have been. Lots of people at my school dressed up, including some very creative teachers, but I just sort of ran out of creativity.
And then my kid came along, and I love helping her be whatever she wants to be for Halloween.
When she was a baby I bought her a money costume, because she was our little monkey, but I hit my stride on her second Halloween.
I got her a lion costume, but rather than just let her be a lion, we put on her jersey and she became Ottawa Senators mascot Spartacat.
She has been a princess, a Mountie, a rainbow unicorn, Doc McStuffins, who is awesome and amazing.
This year she had talked about being Hermione – mostly because I once pointed out how much she could look like Hermione given how poufy her hair gets if I braid it when it’s went and then she takes the braids out after it dries. I even bought her a Gryffindor robe in anticipation, though she hasn’t seen the movies or read any of the books yet.
(Soon, my pet, very soon).
And then we sat down as a family and watched The Force Awakens.
There was no turning back.
We had a good baby. She did all the baby things as she was supposed to – a cycle of sleeping and eating and pooping for the first few weeks. Gradually the cycle got longer and there was babbling and play time thrown in. She was a good baby. And when she was a baby and I rocked her to sleep with her bottle late at night, or early in the morning, I never envisioned a 7-year-old who still can’t get herself to sleep.
I know it’s in her nature. Just as it is in mine.
I used to sneak out of bed to read by nightlight – and I had the blankets with burn marks to prove it.
It’s very hard to explain to the little girl who comes to you, an hour or two past her bedtime, and tells you that she just can’t sleep, that you do, in fact, know how she feels. That sleep has always been your enemy too.
I understand how incredibly difficult it is to just lie there and try to clear your mind and let sleep in. To lie there with thoughts coming into your brain that you really need to just right down or you’ll forget and then you won’t be able to sleep because you’ll be trying so hard not to forget.
And then add on the fact that you can’t just turn on the light, grab a pen and write something down, but you have to go and ask Mommy or Daddy how to spell one of the words you need to remember, because this thought won’t leave you alone.
I am 29 years 0lder than you, kid, and I still wait to go to sleep until I can’t keep my eyes open, for fear of having to just lie there quietly and wait for sleep to come to me. Even though I know it does physical and mental damage to me.
And I laugh at how much I understand you when Daddy tells you to try counting sheep to fall asleep when you promise us that all else has failed, and you tell me the next morning that you were counting narwhals instead and maybe you could have fallen asleep early, but you were excited to get to 1,000 anyway, and then you went to 1,013, because 13 is your favourite number, oh and you counted 600 unicorns before you decided to switch to narwhals.
And in that one moment you are so very much like me, in all my sleep avoiding ways, and exactly like your father, because I cannot get a word in edgewise.
You could probably add up all the words I have ever said before 7 am and not get close to the number that kid said yesterday morning.
And so, I beg. I plead. I kindly request that you please, please just stay in your bed and do your best. We’ve tried reading and music and ebooks and blackout curtains and it all just comes back to your stubborn brain.
And I can’t imagine where that came from.
Just about 12 years ago I met a very special guy. I knew pretty quickly that we were meant to be together. We even slept together before we’d known each other a full 24 hours. Now I can’t nap without him.
Originally Joe and I talked about getting a bunny. A cat was out of the question. But when the idea of a dog started to percolate it became pretty clear that we needed a schnauzer, and after finding a family that had bred their own dog and meeting the puppies, this little guy made it pretty clear he was choosing us.
He was thrust into my heads by one of the daughters and as soon as he licked my nose I knew he had stolen my heart. We dubbed him Henry, sort for Heinrich, since schnauzers are a German bread. If you want to maintain formality you can call him the Chancellor. Often at home he is simply The Poo.
Whatever you call him, he’s a very good boy.
He’s had his ups and downs over the years. Two bladder surgeries, an embolism that left one of his hind legs partially paralyzed. This one time we brought home a loud squirmy thing that stole his laps and much of his attention, but he’s grown to tolerate her.
Overall I think he would say we’ve been good to him. We’ve loved him as best we can, but sometimes he just really needed a bath. He’s part of the family.
As he gets older, I start to wish more and more than he could talk to me. That he could tell me what he needs and wants.
We found out about his second round of bladder stones by happenstance. It turned out he had been in probably some pretty bad pain and we had no idea. That’s left me a little brokenhearted. What if he’s in pain right now and I don’t know it? How long do we have before we say goodbye?
His habits are changing. He’s an old man now. He struggles with stairs and sometimes he just wants to be alone in his crate. But then I’ll grab his leash and he’s ready to do, or I’ll lie down for a nap and he’ll be right back beside me.
He just is the best buddy I could have asked for, and I hope I have returned the favour.
I’ve been trying to get this bullet journal thing down.
I love having to-do lists, and when I did a weekly list in university I was usually very successful in getting things done. In theory a bullet journal is just extending my weekly lists into monthly lists. I have also learned a lot about the things I need to do more regularly to keep myself healthy in the past 10 or 12 years.
The list gives me the opportunity to remind myself daily of things I need to do for me, and look back monthly to see where my focus needs to lie.
On my list are exercise, flossing, taking my meds, drinking more water, and writing. Every day. At least 500 words. These are things I now will keep me at my best.
These are things I’ve managed to make into habits before. These are things that will get me where I want to go.
Every great writer has told an audience about the need to write every day. Some of them have page counts, words counts, time limits, but they all talk about forcing themselves to sit down at a blank page (or screen, I guess, these days) and put something down.
I used to write every day. All day. It used to flow out of me. Stories and streams of consciousness and pure ideas that I had to write down before they could escape. And then life.
My writing habits changed drastically when I went to journalism school, and then back into an academic-style of writing (though I was always, always short on the word count). Somewhere the young girl who wrote fiction and poetry fell away.
Sometimes I get a glimpse of her. Right now I can see her. Because I have an idea. I have an idea that’s been fermenting for a few months now, and it is almost time for NaNoWriMo. These two things have come together to give me an excuse to practice my craft. A craft I love dearly.
And the other great thing about writing is that to get really good at it, you also have to read. You have to find books and devour them to learn more about yourself and where you’re going.
This year I have read a lot. I have experienced a lot. (So much, in fact, that I thought something that happened one year ago was two years ago. It’s been a time).
And now I have something percolating and it is my time.
1,667 words a day, 30 days, let’s go.
The kid is in immersion, just like I was at her age. She started with a bit of French in kindergarten and now she spends half her days immersed in an entirely new language.
We weren’t at all worried about this, since she loves learning and she’s still young enough to catch on quickly. In fact, she did. She’s picked it all up very quickly and now she’s reading in French but we need to find something more challenging.
This week on her visit to the school library she picked out a book that’s a bit too young for her, as far as I’m concerned. We talked about it and she told me she’s not ready to read chapter books in French yet. I think she’d intimidated, even though she’s been reading chapter books in English for a few years now.
So I emailed her teacher and asked if there is an in-between where we can stick for now so she can get her reading done and gain the confidence she needs to move up to longer, more complex books.
And Madame wrote me back and she said ‘Of course!’ and said they would help the kid find a book from the J’aime Lire series next library day.
And I instantly flashed back to my own elementary school library. The red covers. The pencil-faced mascot. J’aime Lire. They were what I always chose.
Et maintenant j’ai la possibilité de partager mes souvenirs avec ma petite fille.
It also reminds me of how much time I spent in my elementary school library. I wasn’t just a patron, I was a volunteer for the wonderful librarian, Mrs. Pauls. It was, perhaps, one of the first major responsibilities I took on and one I dedicated myself to – arriving at school early, giving up morning recess for re-shelving books, tidying, getting the library ready for the day. And I got to use one of those cool date stamps, which made my office supply loving heart sing.
Part of the reason I did it was because my older sister did, and part of it was to be there, just hanging out with the books.
I still love being surrounded by books. I’m usually reading more than one at a time. Though I couldn’t say the last time I read a book in French – what is supposed to be my second language. It’s something I used to be quite capable of, perhaps it’s time to dive in and show my daughter what’s what.
I grew up in Ottawa and I have vivid memories of visiting all the city’s museum – and since we’re the capital we get a few. Science and Technology was one of my favourites – the trains, the crazy kitchen – and I took my kid there a couple of times before the museum had to shut down for renovations.
When we were given the opportunity to go and visit the re-vamped kids’ zone before the museum officially re-opens on November 17, I jumped. You see, my kid loves science and math. She wants to be a science teacher when she grows up (for now). I will do anything to foster this love.
We almost didn’t get there, but in the end I forced the family into the car and across town, and we had about half an hour to explore the new space. During that 30 minutes the kid and I both proclaimed many, many things to be cool.
The whole space looks cool.
The zone is wide open. There is lots of room to run around and everything is hands on. Kids can literally climb the wall. There are things to build and things to play with, there are things to be active with. They can use every sense they have.
Actually, no, I didn’t see anything to taste. Though some of the younger kids will probably be tasting anyway. They did build scents into a wall you can actually climb and some of them smell pretty tasty. But the listening, touching, seeing stuff was all very cool.
The kid didn’t like oregano though. I thought it smells like freshly baked pizza.
As we were walking back to the car the kid expressed her excitement at seeing the whole museum next time, and having more time to spend. I’m very interested to see it all too. And we’ve missed the science demonstrations – kid wants to learn more about chemistry and there’s only so much I’m willing to try at home.
We’ll start the countdown to November 17 now.
I will not claim to be the biggest Hip fan in Canada, or even in Ottawa. I never saw the band in concert. I knew them. I knew their songs, but I didn’t own all their albums. Only a few. But I loved their songs. You could hear it on the radio and instantly recognize it. The power behind it and the lyrics. Those lyrics.
That’s what Gord taught me. That when you write, if you’re writing with passion it will make sense even if it doesn’t make sense. That thoughts come together to express what it is you’re trying to say, no matter how you go about saying it.
That’s what speaks to me most about Canadian music, of which The Tragically Hip are the ultimate example. The fact that Canadian artists fit so many words and thoughts into such small places.
True to form, it’s the words that get me.
Stare in the morning shroud and then the day began
I tilted your cloud, you tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time and rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
I saw my first musical in 1989.
My mother took my sister and me on a rare trip with just the three of us. Three days in Toronto, and on the first night Phantom of the Opera. We sat in the third row and when that chandelier came down it was right above our heads before zipping onto the stage to play its assigned role. (In the book I believe it kills Raoul’s brother, but in the play Raoul saves Christine’s life by pushing her out of the way, though my memory may be fuzzy).
Later that summer my mother would take us to two more shows back at home at the Nationals Arts Centre – Les Miserables and Cats. Les Mis would become a favourite, Cats is stupid.
I don’t know what it is about these shows that I love so much, but love them I do. Some of them captivate me when I see them, some of them before I ever get the chance.
I was living in a small town in Northern Ontario when I first watch the Tonys and saw a performance of Defying Gravity. I knew I had to see Wicked the minute I listened to that song, and eventually I would take myself to Toronto to do just that. I went there and back in a day and it was totally worth it.
The minute I heard Waving Through A Window on the Sirius XM Broadway channel I knew I needed to see Dear Evan Hansen.
The full soundtrack wasn’t even out yet, the show hadn’t officially premiered, but that song told me all I needed to know, and I listened to it on repeat for days.
Last year Joe and I were planning a trip to New York City. We had tickets for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, before it won the Tony for Best Musical. But the election came and went and things started to feel very uncomfortable, and then I was out of work for a bit and our budget was also feeling uncomfortable. I sold the tickets and went back to only being able to think about a trip.
But then the last little bit of inheritance from my father came in. We had talked about what to do with it, and the possibility that I could use it to take a trip, either by myself or with the kid. My father loved to travel, and I’ve seen a lot of Canada but very little of anything else. My father also loved Broadway and the West End in London. He took me to see Mamma Mia one Christmas as my gift. I thought it so funny that he didn’t live to see a musical about Gander’s support of those waylaid there by 9/11 gain such success. He spent years studying Gander. He would have either loved it or picked it apart, or both.
So, in a way, I am going to New York for me and for my father. I am going to New York City by myself and I am seeing three amazing musicals while I am there and I might cry every night out of sheer joy. I am going to see Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen before the end of Ben Platt’s run, and the one and only Bette Midler staring in Hello Dolly.
I don’t know if there is a movie musical that I have watched more times than Hello Dolly.
I’m a bit scared, but also not. I’m excited. I don’t have to answer to anyone but me and I don’t have to be anywhere at any specific time, except when the curtain goes up. I can spend a whole day just walking around, being amazed by all the things I recognize.
And when I get home I will listen to the same soundtracks with a new and better understanding and it will be glorious.
Like most people, I was confused when I first started using Twitter. It seemed ridiculous, communicating in short bursts like that. I didn’t even really text at the time.
Very quickly I figured out that Twitter was a place I needed to be as someone who was working monitoring the media. The Parliamentary Press Gallery was all over Twitter, and many of them were posting their stories there before I ever would have seen them otherwise. Being on Twitter became a place I had to be.
And even when I went on mat leave, I kept using Twitter. I credit it with helping me through post-partum, because even on days when I couldn’t get myself together to get out of the house, I could still connect with people online and have conversations. Not just conversations, but understanding.
Slowly but surely the people that I met on Twitter became friends. I met many of them in person, I’ve worked with some of them, volunteered for others, and had playdates with many. I even went to blogger conferences to meet and talk to these wonderful women in person. I have had the chance to see some of them change their lives.
One of these friends once told me that she wished she could be confident like me. I thought no, you’re thinking of online Amy. Online Amy expresses herself much better than in-person Amy. But, in fact, who I can be online has changed the person that I am day to day. That person, I think, is who I have always been when I’m alone.
She’s still more articulate though. The ability to edit does that.
I still love Twitter, though many people have moved on. I love interacting with the news there, I rant there, I still have great conversations there, and I get to hear voices that I don’t necessarily hear anywhere else. But.
But Twitter is often a hateful, awful place. There are people there that spew racist, sexist, homophobic trash day in and day out. There are people who threaten to hurt, maim or kill other people. There are women who can’t look at their mentions because they are filled with angry, idiotic men who are threatening to rape and murder them and their families. Because she said something they didn’t like. Because she had an opinion at all. Sometimes just because she existed.
Honestly, if Twitter has taught me anything recently is that there are people who will hate you no matter what you do or don’t do, and Twitter has become their arena to speak hate and display their total idiocy without fear of reprisal. I mean, there is one obvious example.
And something else that has become clear is that Twitter really doesn’t care about the abuse being hurled at members of their community. Well, that’s not true. Sometimes they do act and sometimes they ignore, and it seems that often when they do act it is against someone whose actions pale in comparison to what others are doing.
Now, this is not just a Twitter problem, lord knows Facebook is filled with racism and misogyny and hate, but this one step, boycotting Twitter today, is just the first step.
If we don’t call them out on this, then we’ve done nothing, and I can’t do nothing any more.
A friend of mine posted a link to an article the other day on Facebook. The article itself is about a book and a new trend – the new form of decluttering – called Swedish Death Cleaning. This is the art of slowing riding yourself of things as years go by so that when you die there is not much junk left, just things that matter. And the people who matter understand why the things matter.
I am a purger. I get rid of things that are no longer of use, taking up too much space, things that don’t fit, things that aren’t ‘me’ anymore. I don’t hold on to much. I am not sentimental about most things. I believe that the things in my home that are important are understood by my husband and daughter – the dining room table that my grandfather built for my parents, that my father kept in their house until his death, a beautiful, sturdy table with memories all over it.
I have been a purger for most of my adult life, but I am perhaps more focused now after experiencing my own father’s death.
My father left behind a three-storey three bedroom house with an attic office completely and totally full of stuff. Not only was it full of stuff, that stuff was almost completely unorganized. His filing system consisted of throwing papers into a box until it was full and then starting a new box.
It was a running joke in the family – how messy my dad was – but I don’t know that any of us ever anticipated that he was also completely unprepared for death.
My father had five children and he had mentioned his will to all of us on some occasion or another. I knew that my brother – the oldest and only boy – would be the executor. What we didn’t realize was that the will was the only preparation he had made for his eventual demise.
The man was in his 80s.
The five of us were faced with a house full of stuff, a will that dated back to 1996, and no indication whatsoever of what of all that stuff was important.
We found a pair of candlesticks that none of us had seen before. We assumed they were a recent purchase. Our cousins from Denmark showed up and informed us that those were family heirlooms that had been in their mother’s possession before she died.
It took the five of us more than two weeks to clear out that house, even with occasional help from our partners. There were piles of trash, we rented a truck for all the donations, and we each took something that meant something to us. And I asked to please have the table.
I have no idea whether that table was just another piece of furniture to my dad, but to me it was something built by my grandfather as a gift to my parents, that we ate family meals at for years to come, and I wanted it in my home.
What is even better about this idea of death cleaning is that it forces you to talk to your family members about what you want.
Now, Joe and I have talked with each other about our wishes, and family members know what happens with the kid if we both meet our ends. My mother has her cremation planned and paid for, as does my grandfather. My father, on the other hand, left us no indication whatsoever. He mentioned his will repeatedly (despite failing to update it), but he never told a single one of us whether he wanted to be buried and where, whether he wanted a funeral and what kind.
We were flying by the seat of our pants, and so we decided to make it less about him and more about what we needed. What his partner of 15 years needed. If I could speak to him again I’d probably say something like “Dad, come one, you were 82.”
It’s been more than two years and I’m still in utter disbelief about how unprepared my father was for his sudden passing. I plan to be as prepared as possible for mine.