This is the reason why this blog has become quieter:

his name is Blaze
and he's a Portuguese Water Dog

We brought him home Nov 6, 2009 when he was eight weeks old. So things have been different in this house. Which I'm so happy about -- I've wanted a dog for a long, long time.


no more

How wrong is it that I don't like Christmas songs? I own maybe a dozen, and by early Dec I walk out of the stores that are playing the songs realizing I've been grinding my teeth. I keep hoping that maybe one year they won't drive me nuts, but this year I'm owning my sense of guilt - my bahhumbug - and am deciding as of today I shan't be ashamed anymore.

Admittedly I don't really 'get into' a lot about the holidays. I mean, I like making goodies (I make some mean chocolates if I do say so myself) and I like getting gifts for family and friends. And I like winter and snow and little twinkling lights on fresh snow. But ALL the cutesy penguins and snowmen and lawn ornaments ... not so much. Is one person's cute another's tacky? I don't know. How else to explain all those damn blowup Santas...?

I think my problem with the music is I have an excruciatingly short span between liking a new song and feeling it's overplayed. I actually turn the radio off in the car if I've heard a new Coldplay song for instance more than once. Because I know that I'm going to buy the CD and don't want to wear the music out before I thoroughly enjoy it.

And let's face it, holiday music is so very well worn out.


family trees and frustration

I've been dabbling in genealogy for years, and have a fairly detailed family tree now. It's interesting; simply pondering sometimes what my 93-year-old Grandma-in-law has seen in her lifetime is mind-boggling.

On this family tree, I apparently have a great-grandfather who was Scottish. From the Blair Athol clan the story goes, which is in the Perthshire region of Scotland. Well, when we were visiting Great Britain this past spring, we'd be travelling through the Perthshire region... and we had to of course go and see Blair Castle.

We discussed with our kids what the grand overall plan for the trip was, and when it was appropriate we let them know where we'd be going soon, or the next day, or whatever. For some reason my son seemed to believe that we'd be staying in Blair castle. That it was his ancestral home or some such nonsense and we'd be tossing the present owners out while we took over the castle. Had to set him straight on that one.

On the day that we were to visit Blair Castle, we started out in Inverness and were to make it all the way to Edinburgh that evening. Not too tight a schedule, but we had to keep moving mind you.

In the morning we visited Culloden Battlefield visitor centre, which was opened in 2008. Wonderful, modern, enticing museum all about the last civil battle on British soil. While it wasn't exactly my cuppa tea ~~ I find my interest in war details wanes quicker than most ~~ it was an excellent museum. It even had GPS-linked audio guides for you to walk around the actual battlefield. Very cool. But I had to make sure we kept to our schedule if we were going to visit the oh-so-important Blair castle before we got to Edinburgh. (not to mention Crieff, but that's another story)

Finally we get to the Blair Athol region and wow, there's quite a queue of cars! ...oh, but it's okay, they're going to the highland games right next door and not going into the castle proper. But we are! Which is too bad in a way, because those highland games look like fun...

We get inside, and some nice greeter happens to ask us just what brings us... hmm, the accent is not quite American... are we perhaps Canadians? to the castle. Joe thumbs towards me and says 'she has Blair ancestors' ... whereas the nice Scottish gentleman turns to me and ever so slightly apologetically (after all, we've already paid to enter) confesses that the Blair castle is actually in the Murray clan.

The Murray clan owns Blair castle.
Not the Blairs.

I'm sure my disappointement showed on my face, but we accepted the nice gentleman's Kids Quiz to complete whilest touring Blair castle and trooped off.

Picture the most boring, staid, stuffy home. Hunting rifles and antlers on display everywhere. Now picture curling, ancient-fonted paper labels of the hundreds and hundreds of utterly useless artifacts displayed. Oh, but there's more: the Incredibly Difficult Kids Quiz to complete!

Which had as one of its objectives to Find the Highlander. Midst all the clutter, in every single room, there was hidden a Scottish figurine, about one-and-a-half inches in height. On windowsills or behind bed legs or on lintels. And the kids were not going to finish the tour until every one of those highlanders was found...! Maeve was almost in tears one time because we were forcing her to leave one room without having found the little... well, I tracked a guide down and asked very calmly between clenched teeth just please where is the little *&$#! in this room??

Skip ahead forty-five minutes, we enter the ever-present-at-the-end-of-every-tour gift shoppe so the kids can hand in their completed quiz and claim their prize (a lolly, a pencil... those were some of the previous spoils). However when they hand over this quiz they are cheerfully informed that their names will be put in the bin and one lucky winner will be notified at the end of the month. Did they make sure to include their address and phone number??

So now we're all grumbling. Joe because I've dragged him away from the fantastic museum at Culloden, me because we've just wasted precious travelling time by visiting this castle. And the kids now because they've busted their haunches finding that damn highlander and answering all the oblique questions throughout this dustbin only to find out that there wasn't any reward at the end. Oh, and everyone was hungry.

Joe and I both had booze with our lunches at the Blair Castle cafe.

I titled this The Most Frustrating Day of the Trip in my journal that evening.

But wait, the irony has another layer. One that was slathered on only once we'd been home for months.

In the process of transferring data between computers recently I tidied up some of my genealogy files and happened to get curious one evening. It's been years since I collected any more data, and this internet has grown a lot in the interim. I decided to look up some names online.

I found some British censuses, and on one my great-grandfather is listed. With his place of birth, hereto unknown to me. But now I know that my great-grandfather is not Scottish. Nay, for this census lists his place of birth as ... London.

As is his father's. And... the neighbourhood in London in which at least two generations of my family lived, worked and died was mere blocks from where we picked up our rental car. I could've walked over to the church where my great-grandfather was christened. Instead we... well, you know what we did. I won't mention it again.

So as it stands right now, my family tree has no Scottish ancestors. Which is too bad, because I certainly loved the country...


tuxedo mousse

When my daughter was about three-years-old we were out for dinner with friends. She had ordered a dessert called Tuxedo Mousse, which were layers of milk, dark and white chocolate mousse. As the server walked away she leaned over and whispered loudly

"d'you know what part of the mousse I'm gonna eat first, Mummy?"

As I shook my head she, with a smile of anticipation, proudly announced

"the antlers"

I was lucky enough to not have anything - especially liquid - in my mouth or else I would've christened everyone at the table I'm sure... She still remembers this incident (or so she says) and every once in a while brings it up.

Good. Times.

Yummy yummy antlers.


smile through

There's a line from the song Smile:

... smile through your fear and sorrow

that ran around my head today. I also have just DO it as my personal internal mantra during tough times. I realize it's been used elsewhere, don't worry I have a little TM superscripted in my head too.

I used to think that the whole idea of just pushing through something, of smiling now and things will get better later was simply a way of ignoring the pain or anxiety. I now see the value of just getting through, of taking a deep breath and jumping off or running through. You learn - by experiencing it directly - that you can get through something uncomfortable and survive till that next day.

It's one thing doing it yourself. It's another whole ball of wax to watch one of your children experience it themselves. This has been, by far, the toughest part of being a Mum. Hopefully I'm able to provide some guidance so he's not left to fend for himself like I was.

(don't worry, gin helps)

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

gender binary system

It's the first question we ask when we hear of a new birth: boy or girl?

I've been fascinated with many speculative fiction themes and gender is one of the main ones. I think I'm drawn to spec fic because it ponders the What If... question. Good spec fic takes our present day humanity and weaves a possible answer. Well, What If... you were neither? Or both? Or inbetween? (I'm not a spec fic writer and don't have any answers, possible or otherwise, so don't look at me.)

I have a biological science background; one of the courses I took at university was Cytogenetics. I learnt about Klinefelters syndrome and androgen insensitivity syndrome, and I've known of a couple of people who've transgendered. I find this... this... gender binary(?) topic really really fascinating.

Not fascinating in a let's all observe them in a glass petri dish kind of way. I mean how will society react? How will we eventually treat these people? What does it mean about our assumptions up to now?

Caster Semenya -- the runner from South Africa -- apparently has three times the normal level of testosterone for a female and has undergone genetic testing. Even though the headlines scream that she's an hermaphrodite, I think her story will be that she has Androgen insensitivity syndrome. (Imagine finding out in the media that you are genetically the 'opposite' sex...?)

As a whole, I think we've become more comfortable with homosexuality, I think this topic will be next.

Perhaps things aren't so binary after all.


every. time...

I open Skype,
I take a deep breath.

Every time! I click on that big blue S and think 'no! not this time' but before I know it my body is taking a deep breath. It's like yawning, resistance is futile.

The Zen of video-chatting.



For the past number of years we've booked adjoining campsites with family at a nearby provincial park. The combined kids have a blast, even when it rains. Actually, it does more than rain... three times now in the past four years the skies have opened and we've had to make sacrifices to the gods to appease them before it'll stop. Or so it seems.

This year when we angered the gods, while all the Growned Ups were madly digging trenches to redirect the onslaught, my daughter ran by me and then skidded to a halt. She backed up, looked up into my face and yelled "now THIS is camping!!" and then took off again.

I guess it's all in your perspective.

life really IS messy

OK, what's going on...? Are the planets aligning incorrectly or is someone noodling around in the dark arts and inadvertently knocking things ever so slightly off kilter??

I've got friends splitting up after fifteen years (and a five-year-old), other friends with scary family health issues, my husband is busier than ever at work (which quite frankly I didn't think could physically happen), and my son's anxiety level is very low.

I've lost track of the number of times I've slowly shaken my head while muttering Life Is Messy under my breath. I mean, that is where the title of this blog came from: life is messy, eat it up. And if it weren't messy, it wouldn't be worth living, would it. It's just hard to see good friends go through rough times.


what paradise?

I snipped this article out of a magazine back when Maeve was just two-years-old. If I remember correctly, I think at the time I was getting fed up with the talk around me about the 'good ol days'. I've kept it all these years and come across it every once in a while. Afterwards I'm re-energized in believing in humanity's yearning to make this a better world for the next generation.

I love a bit of nostalgia as much as the next person. I just wish we had a more balanced retelling of history, personal or otherwise.

I thought the piece was worth including here:

What Paradise?
It's fashionable nowadays to hark back to the optimistic 1950s as the paradise and golden age of the Canadian family. Mom's meals, Dad's job, innocent children. But were the '50s such a Utopia?

In that decade, family planning was in its infancy. Many mothers had larger families than they could handle, some juggling births little more than a year apart. Some moms did daily loads of cloth diapers using wringer washers and outdoor clotheslines. And at mid-decade in 1956, 278 Canadian women died in childbirth; by 1990 maternal mortality had dropped to 10 deaths.

The divorces of the '50s were costly, hard to get (private eyes and in flagrante delicto) and devastating economically for both parties. And in those days an out-of-wedlock pregnancy "ruined a girl's life." One 40-something widowed friend of ours who had a baby on her own had to pretend she was babysitting 24-7 for her married daughter's newborn.

Despite postwar prosperity, the long arm of World War II had claimed several young fathers in our neighbourhood, including my own, who died by his own hand in 1950, a casualty of mental trauma suffered in combat. Another local dad "went" very suddenly in his mid-40s with a massive heart attack, a not so uncommon fate of middle-aged men in that tobacco-loving, steak-and-eggs era.

And if the goal was to have a new Chevy in the garage every other year, families drove without the net of no-fault auto insurance (often with no car insurance at all). And they lived without government health plans and comprehensive employee benefits.

While a lucky few had private coverage, for many, a child's illness, a mother's pregnancies, a grandparent's surgery could cripple family finances. When my half-sister needed costly anticonvulsants and weekly nursing visits for her epilepsy, the whole family was held hostage to the bills. My stepfather, a senior company accountant, spent his princely one week's vacation working an extra job to pay her costs.

Most primary school teachers had only a Grade 12 education, plus a year or two of normal school, and were generally ill-equipped to simulate children's intellectual curiosity. Once my Grade 4 teacher went through a proud little essay about the Shriners' Circus and red-pencilled "crimson fez" and "scintillating scimitar" into "red face" and "shiny sword." And, of course, teachers were free to humiliate, ruler-slap and manhandle kids with impunity.

On the streets, lax animal control let roaming packs of dogs, often chasing an unspayed female, terrorize us. The bullying of girls and especially little kids ("Kindy-garden baby, stick your head in gravy") was accepted as normal behaviour. No conflict-resolution and minority-tolerance programs then.

So let's not glorify as a paradise lost what in many ways was a rough, materialistic and frontier-like time.

Diana Swift, Editor
Canadian Family Magazine
April 2001



I've been having a horrible time lately. May I just come clean now and say that I hate summer? I know, blasphemous. I also don't understand the appeal of reality tv shows or Guitar Hero. There, I've said it.

Summer, right. I have an invisible tether that anchors me to this house. I thought it was restricting when they were young, but I now realize that I was wrong. I feel more restricted now. They're too old for the wading pool and yet there are no deeper pools nearby. They're getting pickier about what summer camps - if any - that they attend.

And I don't believe in scheduling their summers completely. As necessity is the mother of invention, so too I believe boredom is the mother of creativity. Except that as a mother I have headaches from grinding my teeth every time I hear the B word.

So I do realize that summers are not my time off. That starts in September for me. (Just how much can I skip and cheer on my return home from dropping off their sun-kissed fresh scrubbed eager little faces at school before it looks bad...?)

But I've been having a more difficult time this year. I feel very particularly this summer that there's nothing to look forward to. Same drudgery... end of summer, school starts and then pretty soon I'm wading through Hallowe'en candy. Then before you know it it's another holiday season bearing down on us.

Because the last three years or so I've had Something Else in the back of my mind. And starting in January of this year it jumped into the forefront (forebrain?) and I started actively planning the five week family trip that we took this past May & June. I spent a lot of time planning that trip. And even though I knew I would miss the expectation and then execution of said trip, it hasn't seemed to let me handle this depression any better.

I started hatching the idea of travelling after watching Long Way Round. I'm an anxious traveller; the thought of not knowing where I'll be every night makes me act very oddly. I'm not fun to be around, and my husband has proof.

But watching Ewan and Charley travel by motorcycle east around the world, and then reading the accompanying book made me think that I'd love to attempt an adventure. A travel adventure. With the kids.

My Dad emigrated here in 1952 from England, so for some reason I decided that we should travel the United Kingdom. But then well you're so close to Paris... and Joe lived in Paris with his family when he was his son's age, so wouldn't that be a great place to visit too? The trip ended up being a week in Paris, then four weeks in Great Britain. Had to leave Ireland off the itinerary; that'll be another trip.

And I had a great time. We all did. I prepared myself for an adventure, and had one. I didn't have any anxiety, which completely surprised me. I was comfortable the entire time, and we didn't have all the places booked ahead of time. I had... like..., a runner's high (or what I imagine that must be having never liked running) from the trip.

But now.

Now the endorphins or adrenaline or dopamine or whatever have worn off. I had this trip in my head for so long... now what do I do?

I suppose it doesn't help having to look at all the photos and video I shot while travelling. That's my summer project; to organize all that. It's difficult to move on when I'm forced to reminisce so much.

I place the blame squarely on your collective shoulders Ewan, Charley et al. You've created a monster!



And I'm not kidding about the chattering. When Maeve was young, say around two years old, she would natter on and on so much sometimes that I resorted to setting the kitchen timer for ten or fifteen minutes and then instruct her to not speak to Mummy until it beeped. I kid you not. She usually wandered off during the imposed quiet time and sometimes became so absorbed in something else that she wouldn't even hear the beeping.

The first time I did this I did feel kinda bad, but my god that little trick that I occasionally had to resort to saved my brain from bleeding out of my ears.


for want of peers

My parents own a cottage north of the city in which I grew up. At two-and-a-half hours it was a long drive when I was a kid, and it's further away from where I live now so I imagine it's a really long drive for my kids. We only manage to get there once a summer, at least for one week and usually for two.

My father was a teacher and so we spent all summer, every summer from about when I was seven onwards at the cottage. There were a whole bunch of kids up there, enough to have a really great game of hide-n-seek. I can remember long days outside, being eaten by bugs earlier in the summer, living in my bathing suit as the summer wore on. Attendance at the bonfires sometimes required two circles of lawn chairs there was so many people. We'd do skits, and there was a barbershop quartet that would sing - seriously, that's how word spread about the lake lots, through this church men's quartet.

When I go to the cottage now with my husband and kids, there are no other children for mine to play with. Well, on occasion there'll be a couple. But not enough for a game of Monopoly, let alone Kick the Can. It's to be expected, my parents say. These things go in cycles. I'm not so sure; I don't think many families have either the lifestyle or financial means to afford a cottage anymore.

Because we go for only short bursts of time, my kids don't really get comfortable until it's almost time to leave. Usually one of their last swims is when they'll get adventurous. I have to admit, it bugs me to see my kids behaving like sissies. I tell myself that I had entire summers to get comfortable, and that I've never been able to swim under rafts or docks and will absolutely not swim if I can't see the bottom so I shouldn't be so harsh.

My son happened to see a leech when we were bringing the raft in on our last day a couple of years ago and talked about it all winter. And then the next summer wouldn't go swimming in the lake for days! All because of one leech that was attached to the anchor. I can recall mucking about at the shoreline and having more than one leech attached to my leg at the end of it. Salt poured on them solved the problem right away, and it was painless. Well, at least for me.

So this year I was floored when the two of them hopped in the kayaks and took off across the lake in search of a friend. I stood on the dock, watching them paddle away, listening as Maeve's chattering got fainter with time. It felt so weird! I wasn't quite sure what to do, but it was very freeing that's for sure.

This year Neal decided ahead of time that he wasn't going to get over his fears gradually this trip, spending the entire time getting comfortable enough only to regret that we were leaving just as he could enjoy himself. He jumped in the lake the moment we arrived, even though it was dusk and he was afraid jumping in the lake at that time. I was immensely proud of him, I gotta say. More than if he brought home a report card coated in As.

And it worked! He had a great time in the lake, even though we could only manage to be there for a week this year. Lucky for us (for them) there happened to be a family with kids their age visiting next door so they had friends they could play with. I just wish there were more.


why blog??

I guess the short answer is because I can no longer not blog. If that works for you, stop reading now. If you need to know more, forge ahead -- !

For years friends have recommended - sometimes rather forcefully - that I should blog. I occasionally create ponderous, quirky email messages and I guess they've been on the receiving end of one of them. They'd tell me that they had a great laugh, or at least were entertained enough to mention the receiving of my email, then whack me gently across my arm and exclaim 'you should blog...!'

I read blogs. I find less time now to read them, but I still read 'em. And whenever someone would bruise me with a declaration that I should too I would think of dooce or suburban bliss or mighty girl and feel very very daunted.

I have always wanted to write, and I had entertained the idea of becoming a journalist when I was young. But as I got older, I found it really difficult to write a good essay for school. So I figured that if I couldn't write essays, I should shelve my writing hopes.

Three years ago my son was diagnosed with a learning disability. When the psychologist was describing to my husband and I just what he had difficulty doing I sat there nodding along, all the while thinking "what's so different about that?? doesn't everyone have those kind of difficulties..?" It was all very very familiar. I finally voiced that thought and had two heads swing around at me. 'hmmm,' I thought... 'I guess we know where he gets it from, huh? '

So I tried blogging a couple of months ago, and lo and behold I really liked it. It had a specific theme - our family trip - and I missed it once we returned home and I no longer needed to update friends and family as to what we were seeing.

"Why another blog?" could also be the title for this post. Is there really a need for more navel gazing? I fit very neatly into the Mommy Blogger archetype, and godonlyknows there are more than enough of those. (and some damn fine ones too!) My kids are old enough that I don't need to reach out and reassure myself that much anymore. Mind you, they aren't teens yet, so that may change...

No, this is for me. I just feel the creative need to jot things down and send them off into the Void. I don't know what will become of the thoughts, untidy little things that they are.