Sunday, 18 December 2016

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To...

I was born to a farming family in small town Saskatchewan. I grew up in a 'traditional' home...My mom stayed at home, my Dad was happily married to her and his farming business, but probably the farm got more of his time. Us kids had a good life, there was everything we needed, enough of the basics to go around and bit more, there was love, and a gigantic ice rink every winter.

For better or worse, this was the life I left behind when I moved to the city to attend university. As one does, I met people, I traveled the world for a few years, and eventually married a good man. During this time, I often thought fondly of my parents—of how hard they worked, how generous they were, and of what an amazing family they built. More often than not, I came to the conclusion that 'they just didn't make people like that anymore.' Now, you should know that my parents not only had 16 children and a farm but they also worked tirelessly to better the community we lived in. To this day, what they accomplished in their lives seems impossible to me. 

My mom passed away when I was twelve, and I have never thought of her more often than I do now that I have my own children. I remember her to be calm, wise, and unfailingly kind. Perhaps those are memories tinted with rose-coloured glasses and god knows she's not here to set the record straight, but I'm sure I'm not entirely wrong. Recently, I was describing her to a friend who'd never had the chance to meet her and in my description I chose the word 'tireless' and again used the phrase, 'they just don't make people like that anymore.' Time and again, especially as a mom, I find myself wondering what Mom would have to say about this or that, but if she'd heard me utter those words—tireless, they don't make people like that anymore—I have a pretty good idea what she would say...

She would probably call me a 'Dummkopf,' and say something like... Of course they make em like they used to! Do you think you're any different than me? You think I was 'tireless' raising 16 kids? There's a better word for that....Tiresome. Bleeding tiresome. (except she wouldn't swear, because she never swore, But maybe she did when we were out of earshot). She'd probably tell me she got frustrated with needy kids at her legs during the supper hour, insurmountable laundry, people in the community that were difficult to work with, a marriage that required energy she lacked, and exhausted of working a thankless job.

Except of course, she wouldn't have said any of that because she knew I would figure it out.

After all, when she was a young lady, she probably thought fondly of her own parents who raised their own brood before there were even hospitals or electricity. Perhaps she counted herself lucky for the modern world in which she lived that offered her opportunities and luxuries not afforded to her own mother, and marveled that they just didn't make people like that anymore. But they did—they made her—and maybe they still do.

Perhaps after years of seeing a world my mother never got to see, getting an education that she could only have dreamed of, of working jobs that wouldn't have been available to her, knowing comforts beyond her wildest dreams, its been easy to write her off as a woman of a different time, a legend, a dying breed, the likes of which they don't make anymore. But I can see that for the cop out that it is. I'm sure if I could ask her the question that I have always wanted to ask—How did you do it, Mom?—she would just say she did her best with what time and fate dealt her. And of course, no less should be expected me. After all, when I take a step back from my own life of managing our busy family schedule, sharing my wonderful husband and marriage with a business he created, and even as I look out onto my backyard ice rink, I know we are not that different.

We will never be our parents, for better or worse, but surely they have all taught us something--whether that be lessons of unfailing patience and love or that we want to be nothing like them or anything in between. Whatever those lessons, it seems as you age, you realize just how much you share in the same humanity.    

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas--Are Too Many Good Ideas Getting in the Way of the Main Idea?

A bake sale for charity is a good idea. Parents being more involved at school is a good idea. Sponsoring a child through World Vision is a great idea. Christmas parties are good—the work party, the kids party, the work-kids party, the neighbor’s party—they are all great fun. Attending a steak night to raise money for Sally’s volunteer visit to an orphanage is a Peru, well, who can say no to that? Buying poinsettia’s from a school fundraiser only makes sense. Putting up Christmas decorations is a must. Getting a gift card for that helpful neighbor is the least you can do. Volunteering to help with the church Christmas concert seemed like a good idea at the time. A Tim Horton’s gift certificate for hard-working teachers, bus drivers, dance instructors, and sitters is a simple way to show your appreciation for the work they do all year. Setting a puzzle with your kids is a good idea. Reading EVERYDAY with them is a sure way to ensure their lifelong success--so is getting outdoors, remembering to take Vitamin D, and getting enough exercise. Hitting up an AWESOME Christmas sale is a smart way to save a bit of dough at a spendy time of year. Attending work everyday is a good idea, and while you’re there, why not organize a secret Santa exchange?! Not missing the kids’ dance classes, gymnastics, or piano recitals is a good idea. Attending my yoga class is a lifeline. Organizing the house makes everything else run a little smoother. Cooking a healthy meal is a good idea. So is sitting down and eating it while finding out about your kids’ day. A Christmas baking exchange is a good idea. Little O’s special school holiday charity event is so thoughtful! Delivering presents as a family to the local food bank is good idea. Cuddling up with a Christmas movie is a great idea. Writing Christmas cards is a great idea…

But you know what? Doing all of these things in one month? That is a BAD idea.

You know what the problem is with this world sometimes? TOO MANY GOOD IDEAS. With so many things to do that are helpful, philanthropic, fun, progressive, practical, healthy, kind, you name it—it is SO hard to say ‘No!’ Am I mistaken or is the whole point of the Christmas season not to spend some time connecting with dearest of loved ones? Because all these damn ‘good ideas’ are starting to get in the way of that.

The other day my 8 year old son and toddler daughter were crafting together at the kitchen table while I made supper. I was happy for the welcome time to zone out and get some work done while they entertained each other. After about 15 minutes, my son comes running into the room saying, “Mom, Mom, look what I made for Melea!” and he showed me his creation…

10 pages of paper stapled together each with a picture of a different mermaid/princess character of my toddler daughter’s request (ahem, demand) drawn on them in marker. Now this seems like a good enough idea, sweet of him to draw for her, but, honestly, he couldn’t have spent more than a minute on any of those drawings--a book full of half-assed ‘good ideas’ that would hit the recycling bin within a week. I kept this to myself, but I couldn’t help but wish he’d saved the paper and condensed his efforts into a more meaningful, singular creation into which he’d put more time and care! Something worth treasuring.

Poor kid, he comes by it honestly. His quantity over quality efforts are so reflective of my own, especially those I find myself making during the busy lead up to Christmas. Perhaps a singular charitable effort made as a family or community is just as effective (and perhaps more meaningful) than spreading ourselves thin over the 20 charitable opportunities that might present themselves in December. Maybe we need to let someone else have a turn running the Christmas concert or consider the worst case scenario if there is a hiatus with the office secret Santa exchange. Maybe we all need to just spare ourselves the efforts that inevitably end up in our energetic recycle bin, find a place to draw a line and say 'No' to rest of the ‘good ideas’ that come our way. Because it seems to me that if we cram too much into the season, we miss the chance to create much worth treasuring—namely time with the ones we love. Perhaps, all of these good ideas are getting in the way of the main idea?!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dear Husbands, Here is a List of Things Your Wife Wants for Christmas

Dear Husbands,

Guys, some days I'd just love to be among your ranks, if only because, seriously, women are SO easy to please! Maybe that sounds like the world's biggest fib to you, and you're probably not alone if that's what you feel, but I can assure you it's the truth. Anyway, I'm writing this letter to help you out a little during the Christmas season. At my house, as the month of December wears on, I inevitably start to sense my husband's stress level increase as each day passes and he realizes he is one day closer to Christmas with no present for me and, worse, no idea where to start! This is really all an unnecessary process, and I hope today to spare as many well-meaning men out this unnecessary unpleasantness. It's not rocket science, guys, here's what you do...just be thoughtful and get your wife a Christmas present she will like. (Cue eyeroll) I can hear you thinking...Easier said than done. I don't know what she wants. Or she already has everything. Well, it can be done, yes you do know, and no she doesn't have everything. I can hear how complicated that sounds, so I'm just going to lay this right out for you...Husbands, here's a list of things your wife wants for Christmas....

She wants to be pampered – It's tough being a lady, a mom, a wife, and women love to be pampered! They love (NEED) time to nurture themselves or be nurtured by others. Here's the trick though--pampering will look different for every woman. Ask yourself, what does your wife love to do for herself? Does she love a pedicure? Does she love time alone? Does she do yoga? Does she feel fantastic after kick-boxing class? How does she re-energize? What makes her feel like her needs matter? Gift her that. For me, this gift would be a gift certificate to a spa, but maybe, for your wife it would be a yoga retreat, or a cooking class (be careful with that one!) or a massage. And if you REALLY want to please her, book the thing and arrange childcare so all she has do is show up and feel awesome!

She wants a date – For the woman who 'has everything,' why not book her a date!? If you're married with young kids, maybe arrange a date for the two of you. If you're free as birds and get enough of each other, arrange a date with her besties to do something they love to do. The key word being 'arrange'--she will feel so much more thought of, so relieved of the stress of doing the 'arranging', if you go this extra mile!

She wants an oil-diffuser – Whoa, DO NOT go buy your wife an oil-diffuser. That's what I want, and I have told my husband this on a number of occasions. What has your wife told you? Listen to her words, all throughout the year. Look at items she picks up and leaves behind with a bit of longing in her eyes. Make notes of these things. Not mental notes, those things go missing like nuts at a squirrel party... Put them in your phone or something, and when a special occasion comes along, you're covered!

She wants tickets – What's you're wife into? Music? Theatre? Jamaica (if you have the $$)? A certain band? Does she keep saying she wouldn't mind seeing the opera? Buy her tickets for something that would interest her. This shows some thought and possibly the intention that you intend to spend this time with her! Double win.

She wants something from that store she loves – Are you tired of finding bags and receipts from a certain store at your house? It's because your wife likes that store (no, NOT Toys R Us, dummy)! Take a hint, buy something for her there and if worse comes to worse, she can return it and get something she does like!

She wants something _________ . Pretty? Useful? Fun? Relaxing? What's a thoughtful word to describe your wife? For me, the word that best fills that blank is 'useful.' I LOVE useful presents, and you know what's useful? Gin. Gin is useful for me, and quite honestly I would be happy with a special bottle of that. Not every wife would. Maybe your wife likes pretty things. Get her something pretty. Maybe she's fun! Send her on an adventure or gift her some activity she's never tried before like paint-balling or an escape room. Give it some thought. I promise it will not go unnoticed!

She wants your heart – Forget Christmas, this is what your wife wants 365 days a year! And when I said women were easy to please, this is EXACTLY what I was talking about. She wants your heart more than any gift you could give her. (No, that does NOT mean you shouldn't get her a Christmas present). For Christmas, she wants a thoughtful present and your heart. Easier said than done? Bullshit, husbands. Spend some of the season playing a game or doing a puzzle with her. Put down your guilty distraction and see what happens. Ask her about her day. Talk about yours. Express concern about something that has been difficult for her. Cuddle up and watch a favourite movie—you make the hot chocolate and popcorn. Write her a love note. Do it again tomorrow, and next week, and on February 3rd and Easter Monday and on Tahitian Independence Day. Give her encouraging words, EVERYDAY. If you do that, I promise you'll be well on your way to understanding just how easy women are to please!

Merry Christmas, husbands! And best of luck!


A Hopeful Wife

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Donald Trump - How the Same Thing is Going to Go Down in Canada

You've probably heard the remarks and rumours of Democrat-Americans coming to take refuge in Canada post-election, fleeing from the anarchy that will imminently ensue. Maybe this has made you cringe for your friends to the south or maybe you inwardly giggle or feel a little proud to be from a country that in so many ways stands for freedom, compassion, and equality. But from where I sit, I think those Americans might want to think twice about where they are fleeing to. And where do I sit, you ask...Well, I would like to sit somewhere where political discussion is vibrant, progressive, and productive. I would like sit somewhere where people can see through left and right ideologies to the common goals they hold—security, family, economy, and justice. But instead I find I am sitting smack dab in the middle of an ever-expanding no-mans-land between the political left and right in this country. The left is blind to the indignation of those around them and self-righteous to the point that they freely sling hateful comments like racist, bigot, and misogynist at every hint of disagreement, and the right feels taken advantage of, abused, unheard, and under-represented and eventually lashes out.

Wait a minute! Aren't these the exact same conditions that led to the rise of an (IMO) extremist for president?

When the dust settled after the recent American election and the votes were all counted, what became clear was that the divide between Republican and Democrat voters largely came down to one divide—rural and urban. And in this case, I'm going to surmise that rural Americans were tired of being left out of the political equation, they were angry at a leftist media that both misrepresented and under-represented them (those results sure did come as a surprise!), their social and economic situations were increasingly stressed, they favoured a less-talk-more-action approach, so to speak, and they wanted to be heard.

Canada, is this ringing any bells?

Trump didn't happen overnight, not even close. And he didn't happen because the people who voted for him were all racist, hater, hill-billies and, if you that’s what you think, you'd best take a careful look at your own biases. No. He happened because good people were not heard and cared for by the institution for many years, and people felt abused, and others felt righteous and wouldn't listen. Then both sides got angry and the political divide grew until conversation stopped and the divide was so great that only a revolution would change the situation. From that was born Donald Trump. The left in America bears as much responsibility for the unfortunate goings-on of this election as the right. And if we Canadians think we are in some way immune to this, we'd better wake up and smell the Tim Horton’s, because here's a few things happening right here at home...

Conservative voters and even the former prime minister endure all manners of hateful comments-- racist, hater, bigot, etc.--during the 2015 election campaign. The right feels abused.

Conversations regarding legislation, immigration, foreign policy, and military intervention degrade quickly to accusations of fear-mongering and racism. The right feels misunderstood.

The West resents years of crippling, liberal-dictated economic policies that see profits shipped eastwards while receiving little in return. The right feels taken advantage of.

The West feels angry when, finally in their hour of need, the once again left-dominated institution responds with a slap-in-the-face carbon tax tempered by a petulant pat on the head of meager assistance provided to their crippled economy. The West feels abandoned and further disenfranchised.

The leftist media... Well, where does one even start with that? Our major political parties completely at odds with it for obvious reasons, a shameless eastern and liberal bias that the west and conservatives are forced to not only endure but pay for. The left doesn't even see it. The right feel misrepresented.

The electoral system is set to perform at Ontario's whim time and time again while the rest of the country just hopes for the best. People feel powerless and voiceless.

Our newly elected prime minister touts his victory as 'hope' triumphing over 'fear'. Canadians applaud at this grossly over-simplified statement which glorifies political extremes and shames conservative voters in the process. The divide grows.

The right, tired of being on the wrong end of insults, policy, and government lashes out. The right moves further right. The left feels offended, righteous and sees this as further justification of their position and efforts. The left moves further left.

One might argue that these are just perceptions, biases, pieces of the picture—of course they are--but these feelings of resentment and righteousness are real and they are an ever-growing source of political polarity and discourse in this country.  This divisive reality persists and grows, little different from what happened in the United States. Canada’s disgruntled right feels angry and voiceless, and our left feels righteous. Conversation stops. Our own revolution is imminent. Wake up, Canada.

Here in Canada we have two choices, we  can either learn from the events that have transpired in the US or we can imminently repeat history. We can drop the insults, the regional discrimination, the political extremism on both sides, we can consider the follies of our electoral system and revise them, we can address the biases of our media, or we can damn well swallow whatever form of a bitter pill our own revolution will take because it will be no one's fault but our own. We can sling insults back and forth over the political fence while we nurse wounded egos and hurt feelings or we can have a damn conversation. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Small Towns, Small Minds--Lessons Learned Growing Up in Rural Saskatchewan

I have lived a number of places in my life. I grew up in the farming community of Nowheresville, Saskatchewan. Like many, I left that small town and moved to 'the city' where I went to University. After that, I traveled around a bit and lived in a few places varying in population from 7000 to 2 million until I returned to Saskatoon with my husband to start a family. We've been here for 10 years now, and I'm proud call home it home and thrilled to be raising my family here. I have nothing to but the winters to complain about, but one thing is clear to me after years of living here and there...This whole small towns-small minds thing?...It's a load of crap.

During the first number of years when we were back here in Saskatoon, of course we were eager to establish a network of friends. We met lots of people, dabbled in different hobbies and friendships and capitalized on lots of the opportunities living in this city affords us. There was lots of flux and change and new experiences during this time until we had our three children and life “slowed down” a little. After that, some friendships came and went while others stuck and stayed and became a lifeline—people we hope to know and love forever. But I have to be honest, when I reflect on the circle of people I have accumulated in the big city of Saskatoon... I have never been part of a more homogeneous group. I am saying nothing bad of these wonderful friends of mine, but we do all come from the same income bracket (-ish), we live in the same type of neighborhoods, we come from similar backgrounds, and, I would even go as far as to say, we share to same values. Perhaps it is natural that things have played out this way, but I guess the irony of the whole situation strikes me. Here I am settled in metropolis of Saskatoon—by all counts a very diverse community where I brush shoulders every single day with different people of varying races, religions, values, incomes, backgrounds—yet I maintain a more singular circle of people than I ever did in Nowheresville!

Diversity is here in Saskatoon--there's no doubt about that. It's right at our fingertips everyday in this city, but the reality is that the people inside our house that share our lives with our family would all fit pretty nicely into any type of box you'd like to put us into. Living in the city, I think many of us take comfort, not only in surrounding ourselves with like-minded (I've always hated that term) people, but also in anonymity. I certainly do. We value closing our doors at night to what is going on in our community—living in our own bubble, as they say. You know, I used to have this neighbour here in Saskatoon who was a loony as a one dollar coin. She was opinionated, rude, and occasionally a bit nasty to my kids so I as much as I could I avoided her. If she was out front when I pulled up with the van, I took my time parking or rushed the kids into the house and closed the door. It was just easier to pre-empt any unpleasantness that any encounter might bring.

All of this is markedly different than my experience growing up in Nowheresville. There was no 'closing the door.' There we truly lived in community. We all went to the same church, we played on the same hockey teams, we bumped carts at the grocery store, we stole back and forth to each others' houses freely. For better or worse, we built community together. We lived side by side in a way that is different from 'the city.' Rich or poor, culture by culture, different values by different values, we made it work. We didn't have the comfort of 'closing the door' because these people were inside our homes sharing our lives with our family every single day. There was no escape short of being a hermit. We didn't have the luxury of falling out of friendship with another because we knew it would be SO awkward when you had to see that person face-to-face at the hockey rink for the next 10 years. You knew Suzie and Sammy Gossip and kept your mouth shut when your were with them, but you forgave them for the tireless efforts they made for local charities. If experiences like that don't make an open mind, I don't know what does.

I say this because I don't think the size our mind is in any way directly proportional to the size of our town. There are small minds wherever you go, and, believe me when I say Nowheresville has a special way of forcing a small mind wide open! Here's the thing, I don't come from Nowheresville, SK where minds are small and diversity is a nuisance. That place doesn't exist. I come from Macklin, Saskatchewan. And in Macklin Saskatchewan when you have a loony neighbour that's crochety and opinionated, maybe you know that she had a daughter that died at the age of two. Or you forgive her when she's been a bit crappy to your kids because you suspect it's been difficult for her coming from a long line of abusive alcoholics. Maybe you end up sitting next to her at the church social and find you have a few things in common after all. Maybe you see first hand how her fortuitousness serves the community well. In Macklin, you learn about her, from her, and she opens your mind.

In Saskatoon, I just closed the door.

For all the fabulous people who make Macklin, SK a fantastic place to grow up...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

When the One You're Married to isn't 'the One'...

10 odd years ago when I married my husband, I was convinced he was 'the One'. He was the One I felt utterly safe to be my quirky self with. He was the One who seemed to always have the answer to questions like, 'Where did I put my keys?' Later, he was the One who held my hand during the births of our children and also the One whose simple calming presence gave me something strong to hold onto during some really tough times. He is the One I want to call when one of the kids does something amazing and the One who has helped me put my day to bed for nigh on 15 years. He is still all of those things, and I can't be thankful enough for the person he is. But as the years of our relationship have worn on, I have noticed holes in the whole 'he's the one' theory. Quite early on in our relationship, for instance, it became clear that he was not the One who wanted to share riveting conversation with me at any given hour of the day, nor was he the One who would share some of my greatest passions--long walks, fancy food, and politics. Later on, I learned (with considerable frustration) that he was not the One to call when I needed an sympathetic ear about how long the baby did or didn't sleep that day nor was he the One showing up with a cup of coffee or a ready-made meal when I was at the end of my rope. And, still he wasn't the One interested in riveting conversation, no matter how my topics varied and changed over the years. But I'm here today to tell you that he is not the One, but that is okay... And it is not only okay, it is GREAT actually.

Because if he had been the One, I never would have met some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing—people who LOVE to converse about everything from politics to diapers. I would never have needed to find someone to share my Tuesday walk-night with, a hobby that has become nothing short of a life-line over the past few years. I never would have had to challenge myself to sit with own thoughts sometimes rather than succumbing to the verbal diarrhea that I am so prone to. I never would have experienced the humility and honour of accepting those ready-made meals and cups of coffee from people who were not bound by a marriage contract to love and support me. AWESOME. It would never have been necessary for me to re-frame my familial relationships into the adult realm—a valuable and rewarding experience to say the least. Not finding everything I need from the man within the four walls of my home has pushed me to seek new experiences, new people, and new direction. I am immeasurably thankful for all the ways in which he is not the One.

I'm guessing he is pretty thankful for this little revelation of mine too. It is a pretty ridiculous notion after-all to expect one person to be all-things to you. In fact, I'm sure I have seen the look of utter relief on his face when my phone rings just as I am getting fired up for a political rant about something or other. And on the flip side, I am sure I'm not 'the One' for him either. I'm sure he's thrilled to have Tuesday nights by himself to watch all those scary shows I never let him watch. I'm sure as sugar not the One who shares his passion for sailing and who wants to accompany him when he want gets his blood pumping on a windy-day. I'm guessing I'm not the One who he most enjoys conversing with about the ins and outs of his job and, sadly, I KNOW that I'm not the one who gives him the quiet head-space he needs to put his own day to bed. But I am hopeful that this is all as it should be...

So to those of you out there who have found 'the One' that just keeps falling short... Take heart and know that no One person ever needs to be everything to you. There is so much more in this world than what One person can offer. My wish for anybody out there struggling to make their relationship with the One work is this...I hope you find two, three, or thirty people to share your life with—friends who will embrace the all the different aspects of your person-hood. I hope there are gaps in all of those relationships, and I hope no One ever completes you or makes you entirely satisfied. I wish you all the challenges and change that come with finding out that 'the One' is never enough.

Friday, 28 October 2016

There's No Such Thing as a 'Dance-Mom' (Or a 'Trump-Voter')

I’ve recently become a ‘dance-mom’. Whatever that means. In the past, this expression for me drummed up visions of a frantic, well-kept, uber-competitive woman wrapped up in living (or reliving) her dreams of being a prima ballerina through her daughter who grew up to have a corporate job, an eating disorder and OCD. Nonetheless, last September when I was preparing my daughter for her first dance class, I made sure to do an extra mid-day hairbrush (for BOTH of us), I bought every last item on the suggested rehearsal gear list, and I may even have run back into the house to exchange my sneakers for my spankiest pair of boots before we headed out. We arrived early (a feat in itself), and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m sure my daughter could sense my nerves even through her own excitement. I hustled her into the class, gave her my winning go-get-em smile and sat down to wait. I sat next to woman (who I noted was wearing sluppy, athletic pants and a pony tail) and we exchanged pleasantries and eventually got to talking about our mutual interest in the Bachelor series. She was nice enough, certainly not the embodiment of the stereotypical 'dance mom' I'd had in mind, but I remained convinced that, come recital day, her finely honed hair and makeup skills would make an appearance and her daughter would look just the part while my poor daughter would resemble a street performing clown.
Fast forward a few months, I'd made a few connections with other women outside the dance studio. One woman was a professor, another worked in retail. Several women stayed at home with their children, and others seemed to be making the mad dash every week to dance class from somewhere requiring a suit. Some wore make-up, others, like me, didn't. Some arrived at class looking like they'd rolled out of bed, others seemed pretty 'put-together'. It varied week-to-week. On several occasions, several of us commiserated about our fears about the dreaded 'recital makeup.' Some of us got along better than others, and, come recital day, I fudged my way through the hair and makeup component like everyone else and watched for two of the most heavenly minutes of my life while my daughter danced her first dance on stage in a ridiculous bee costume. I noted that I was not the only crying.
I learned something that day--a valuable secret that shouldn't be kept...
There's no such thing as a 'dance mom.' At least not the one I'd imagined. As far as I can tell, the only thing we really had in common was that we really loved our kids and wanted to see them do well. That's it. What a wonderful relief!
Perhaps you buy my premise... So what if I told you, there was no such thing as a 'Trump-voter'? At least not the image of the racist, bigoted, xenophobic jerk you hold in your head. Would you believe me? Because a few things have come to my attention recently. One is that a lot people are not shy to call conservative voters of America all manners of strong adjectives—racist, sexist, haters—I'm sure you could add a few to that list. Another is that people I would never in my wildest dreams have thought to back a man like that have come out in favour of him in one way or another. To say hearing these people come out in support of Donald Trump was a surprise to me is the understatement of the century. These people were compassionate, kind, and forward-thinking. They were people I believed to share the same values as me. How could they be 'Trump supporters'? This bothered me. Very much actually.
Now, I am very glad that I will not be casting a vote in the American election come November, not the least of which is that I can't stand the polarization of a two-party system. But I have realized something...if I did have to vote in that election, I would have to put a check mark beside Hillary Clinton's name. Would making that check mark make me a 'Hilliary-voter'? I suppose it would. But would it mean that mean I supported her position on partial-birth abortion? No, it would not. Would it mean I consider her political position and actions to be entirely cohesive? Nope. Would it mean I thought she was the best person to lead one of the most powerful countries in the western world? Again no. Being a 'Hilliary-voter' would tell you next to nothing about me or anything I stand for. It would not tell you anything about my values, my person-hood, or my ability to be compassionate. So, how wrong I have been to make these assumptions about 'Trump-supporters'!? What do I know about them and their values?
I think we would be fooling ourselves to think we are any different here in the great white north. Now this is going back a year or so, but it could be said that those who came out in support of Stephen Harper's government during the run up to 2015 election were on the receiving end of many of same nasty adjectives and assumptions as Trump's supporters. There were plenty hell-bent on demonizing the person-hood and values of those who dared to vote differently from them. It bothered me at the time and it bothers me now because I was of the belief that we were somehow immune to such extreme political polarization here in Canada, but we are not. Sadly we are not.
I remain passionately against polarization—whether it be political, ideological, social, or otherwise-- particularly when it is used as tool demonize one's opposition, and I have often wondered why we as a society gravitate so easily towards it. I was discussing this issue with a friend recently, and she put it this way, 'People like someone to blame, someone 'bad', so they feel like the problem is not with them.' I thought that was quite profound, and I have to say that I agree with her. Some people want to people want to blame ISIS. Others want to blame greedy corporations. People will call out 'Trump-supporters' for this, that, or the other thing. They will blame the government. They will blame the political left for their idealism or tarnish the political right with accusations of profit-over-people. People like someone to name, blame, and polarize as their opposition.

But I would like to put forth the challenge that whatever your notion of the opposition, whoever you like to blame—the evil corporations, the Big Bad Middle East, the Idealistic Left, the bigoted Trump supporter—these notions are not real. Or at least they are no more real than my ridiculous, narrow vision of a 'dance-mom.' And more than not being real, these notions are actually harmful. Just as I (ridiculously) pulled on my spanky boots to drop off my daughter for dance class, so others actually play up to these stereotypes which tend to be narrow, extremist, and baseless—not desirable qualities in the least. The problem is absolutely within ourselves and these notions we hold of our 'opponents.' If we could all just sit down outside a dance studio once a week for a year, we'd probably find we weren't in opposition at all--that we all valued family, health, security, and compassion much the same. What a wonderful relief that would be!

For Charlotte--A true moderate. Just one of your many amazing qualities. Love you.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Grounders--I don't get it!

Parents, do your kids come home talking about 'Grounders'? Mine do. Wtf? I first heard the term 'Grounders' about 8 years ago when I was working in a daycare. I had come to pick up some kids at an elementary school and, when I asked what they were playing, they gave me the rundown... According to them, 'Grounders' was a tag game played on playground equipment, and the person who was 'It' had to close their eyes while trying to tag other people also on the playground equipment. Anyone on the ground was 'T' (formerly 'time-out,' apparently this phrase has negative connotations for the wuss- generation) and couldn't be tagged. My first thought was 'Awww! Kids are so stupid!' and my second thought, naïve as I was, was that Grounders was just a flavour week and they would move onto something else next week. Well, stupid me, they did persist in playing it quite regularly until the end of that school year at which point I went on mat leave and largely forgot all about it.

Grounders continued to pop into my awareness over the years--I'd overhear it on the playground or a neighbor kid would mention it--and eventually I accepted it was actually a 'thing.' I went on the assumption that the kids on the playground had relayed the rules incorrectly or that I'd remembered incorrectly until one day a few months ago...

Me: Hey Bud! What did you do at recess today?
Him: Played Grounders.
Me: Hmmm. Grounders? How do you play that?
Him: Well, it's like tag and the person who is 'It' has to close their eyes and try to tag people on the playground equipment. But if you're touching the ground, you're T.
Me: Huh.

Part of me is a big fan of logic. And that part of me, just really wants to say...
Kids, I take issue with your stupid Grounders game. You've heard the phrase, “The blind leading the blind...” No? Whatever. Surely this is a case of 'the blind chasing the way-fucking-faster,' because, seriously, I just had a go with this whole running-around-with-my-eyes-closed thing and, I'm not going to lie, I've had more graceful walks home from the bar at 2AM. Respectfully I ask, how (the fuck) is someone with their eyes closed supposed to chase a seeing target down on a play structure? Seriously, you guys have had some stupid-ass ideas over the years, but running with your eyes closed on a play structure makes the top-five. As far as I can tell, kids, this game leaves you only two choices...Cheat or endanger yourself by actually running around with your eyes closed. Can you spell STUPID? Actually there is a third choice, and let me tell you, if adults played this game this is totally what they would do...You can sit your ass down on the grass, declare yourself 'T,' drink a glass of something fruity, and watch sir-it-alot stumble around blindly on the equipment. Score! …
...but, I'm a classy mom and, as such, I have kept those words to myself for the time being. However, I did decide to pay a little extra attention the next time I was on the playground. Sure enough, the kids were playing Grounders, and, as predicted, the sad little kid who was 'It' squinted shamelessly through her half-closed eyes while chasing the other kids around. Stupid.
So here I sit, blogging angrily about my pointless little gripe, and remembering how when I was kid I used to look at adults sitting (literally and metaphorically) at the sides of some AWESOME game I was playing and vow that I would never be so STUPID and grumpy as them.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome--Worst. Name. Ever

Imagine the following conversation...

Jerry: Heard you weren't feeling well lately.?
Me: You could say that.
Jerry: So you're just tired all the time?
Me: Yeah, and a few other things...
Jerry: Girl, I hear ya. When I got back from Hawaii in January, it took me a week to turn around and then I made the mistake of going on a bender the weekend after. You know how that goes, and then last week I ended up with a flu and it feels like it's been a month since I felt normal, you know?
Me: I can relate to that.
Jerry: I remember last year there was like this 3 week period where I couldn't sleep past 5 AM.  Man, I was SO BAGGED at work. You don't even know...
Me: Yeah, that sucks, but it's a bit different.
Jerry: How so?
Me: Dude, I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Jerry: You know, I wondered if I had that and then I had some bloodwork and turned out my hemo-something was low. Took some iron and I was good as new! Have you ever had your blood tested?
Me: Yes.
Jerry: Hmmm. I hear lots of people have luck with acupuncture for fatigue. I've never tried but I keep meaning to. Why don't you try that?
Me: I'll keep that in mind.
Jerry: You're not like (whispering) depressed or something?
Me: (Forehead slap)

Let's clear the air about a few things here... For one thing, I love Jerry. He's a kind and well-meaning friend, and I'm not being ironic. For another, I am not running down depression or any other mental illness as a diagnosis. And lastly, as irritating as it may be, I TOTALLY understand why conversations like this are inevitable... and do you know what it is? It's the DAMN NAME—Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Worst. Name. Ever.

Why? Because upon hearing these words, everyone and their dog feels compelled to:

a. Commiserate with their stories of tiredness—I get it, and I'm not belittling anyone's experience. It's true we have ALL been tired at times, some extremely so and some for long periods of time. It sucks. I understand. I guess why I find this slightly irritating is that Jerry's friend, Bill, with lung cancer would never have to endure a lengthy commiseration about Jerry's going cough. He wouldn't dream of it, because it's not the same thing. I can only blame the illness' name for Jerry's lapse in judgement here, and he probably would do the same to Bill if lung cancer was called 'chronic coughing syndrome.'

b. Offer an alternative diagnosis—everyone with a smartphone is a doctor these days! Maybe you're pregnant? Have you ever thought you might have MS? Lupus? Lyme disease? Thyroid disorder? Iron deficiency? I've heard them all. I can only assume that Jerry and other friends do this because the name CFS is somehow not convincing or weighty enough for the multi-faceted illness that it is.

c. Offer medical advice—I'm sure offering unsolicited medical advice is not limited to CFS. The reason this irritates me slightly is that after 4 years of living with this illness, does Jerry really think I have never had a blood test? Or considered an alternative treatment? Or given any thought to what might be causing this? Does he REALLY think he has a better idea about managing CFS than I do? I'm being too hard on the guy... He probably wouldn't be so inclined to offer advice if the illness was more frequently referred to Systemic Extertional Intolerance Disease (it is).

d. Make awkward references to mental illness—Jerry is a good guy, but sometimes I'm not sure what century he lives in... 'Whisper, whisper, depression. Ahem, anxiety. Ppppsst, anti-depressants. Have you ever thought about talking to a counsellor? No one has to know.' For Jerry and anyone else out there, I'm just going to put this out there loud and clear...I do not suffer with depression. I have experienced anxiety unrelated to CFS. It sucks BIG TIME. I have talked to counselor who I would see more frequently if I had unlimited time, funds, and babysitters, and there are no commonly prescribed meds for CFS. Oh, and the words 'depression, anxiety, anti-depressant, counsellor,' are not swears and they do not need to whispered for any reason. ALL CLEAR?

For the record, there are a number of alternative names for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that I occasionally offer as an alternative, but, to be honest, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is REALLY hard to say and confuses people. As for Systemic Extertional Intolerance Disease, well, it's neither catchy nor memorable nor currently accepted as a clinical diagnosis in this country, and conversations where I do offer these names inevitably go down something like this...

Me: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
Jerry: Huh?
Me: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
Jerry: The who said the what now?
Jerry: I thought you had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome!
Me: (Forehead slap. Cue annoying conversation)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Science Shamers--It's time to Take it Down a Notch

The scientific method is not perfect. Any good scientist will tell you that. It's subject to flawed methods, imperfect experiments, societal pressures, at times it sells itself to the highest bidder, and it is planned and executed by fallible humans on dynamic situations—just like everything else. It is for these reasons, and for many others that I haven't touched on, that I respectfully ask the science-shamers (that is, those who use science to shame others) of this generation to take it down a notch.

Science-shamers? You know who you are.
You litter my newsfeed with things like, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not.” You are the mommy-gangs that constantly deride the 'anti-vaxxers' (oooo…two X's!) with facts and studies in support of your position.  You are the jerk who during a conversation last week laughed in the face of a woman who said she thought the whole 'carbon-thing' was a bit of a cash-grab. You make no pretenses about shaming those who access 'alternative' health-care services. You roll your eyes at anyone whose ideas or practices appear to contradict the going scientific trend. Need I go on?

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight…I am a self-professed 'science-person.' It is my university major, my kids are vaccinated, I believe in evolution, I utilize the best of modern medicine. I think what science has done for mankind in terms of quality of life is nothing short of miraculous. I am not anti-science, and I believe that it is a fine, even exceptional, tool for humanity. Science is what we use to make our best guess at any point in time, but I think it is important to remember that our 'best guess' today is not what it was 50 years ago nor is it what will be 50 years from now. To give you an example, consider the evolution of health care, specifically child-birthing practices, since the 1970's... If you're a thirty-something woman like myself, your birthing experiences were probably quite different from your mother's, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your experiences will probably be very different from those your daughter will have. Science probably had a lot to do with that. In the area of health care specifically, science uses information to inform best-practice as it always has, but science is not complete. ‘Best-practices’ in health care are not fact in themselves. They are merely guesses based on the pieces of fact we currently have at our disposal and they will continue to change. Perhaps that is something the science-shamers among us need to keep in mind. 

When I say science is not complete, I say that for a few reasons…One is that the inherent nature of the scientific method is to study variables in isolation. Of course this has its purposes, but as we know, NOTHING on this planet happens in isolation. Every tidbit of discoverable scientific fact is just a piece of a much larger picture. I do not think it is uncommon for the public or even prominent members of the scientific community to draw incorrect or overly broad conclusions based on a scientific study or two. Remember in the 1980's when cholesterol was the metaphorical anti-christ? There were some convincing studies linking blood cholesterol to heart disease, and suddenly everyone and their dog stopped eating eggs and minded their cholesterol and the food industry jumped on the opportunity to sell low-cholesterol-this and no-cholesterol-that. Of course science has gone on to create a more complete picture of the function of cholesterol in our diets and bodies, and, of course, everyone's eating eggs again, but the lesson for science-shamers here is: 

blood cholesterol linked to heart disease ≠ eggs are bad for you

I can just imagine the science-shamers of the 1980's in their acid-wash jeans citing all kinds of evidence to their egg-eating friends about what a poor dietary choice they were making.
Perhaps this type of shaming is not unlike those who recently turned their noses up at me when I opted not to take a course of antibiotics for a throat infection. (Antibiotics! Ha! If there is a better example of science being incomplete, I can't think of one!)

Finally, science is incomplete for another reason. Mockers, mock if you may. Haters, hate if you will, but in the words of Shakespeare, 'There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' There are countless items which have yet to be studied, whether that be because science hasn't gotten to them yet or because there are matters in this universe that are simply un-study-able. There are factors that we may never be able to observe through the scientific method--love, hope, reason, and spirit, to name a few—if these un-quantifiable forces don't have an impact on the physical, then I am a monkey's uncle! There are forces at play in this universe yet undiscovered and perhaps never measurable…even a scientist will tell you that.

Science-shamers, I get it. Sometimes the actions and choices of others are utterly baffling. They may counter your instincts, challenge your sense of reason and everything you think science has ever told you. I have certainly been among your ranks from time to time, but please, the next time someone’s ideas offend yours sense of scientific decency, consider that they may not be denying the facts. They may simply have used them to reach a different conclusion, or perhaps they are accessing a different set of facts entirely. Who knows? Or maybe, just maybe, they have not based their ideas on science at all (gasp!) They are allowed to that.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Dad--Man, Myth, and Legend...

With Dad's 80th birthday this year, I knew I wanted to write a tribute of some sort for him, so I made a simple prayer asking God to send me the words. As many of you will know, I have spent a lot of time writing the last few years, and as has often been the case many times in the past, God delivered the words… but for this occasion, he gave me just three—Man, Myth, and Legend.

Dad—The Man

I would like to tell you a little bit about Dad who was born the fifth child in large homesteading family in 1936. I would like to tell you that, as a boy, he was the same mischievous, hard-working person we know him to be today, but, let's face it, I have no idea because that stuff all happened before I was born. And, I'm sure any of his siblings would more equipped to provide information of that sort, So I’ll leave that to them.

Anyway, as Dad is fond of saying, “Your parents don't raise you, your kids do.” so, instead, I'll tell you a little bit about “The Man” I had a hand in raising. And Dad, “The Man” I have known for the last 35 years, I can only think to sum up in three simple values…

1. Hard work – I remember going for a run one day down correction line road, as I did many times. Dad was already living in town by this point, and I see the old Brown Ford dusting down the road, and I know I'm in trouble. Now some parents, other parents, might have been proud to see their daughter taking an interest in her health, getting out for some fresh air and exercise, but not MY Dad. The truck pulls up, “Get in,” he says, “there's strawberries that need picking.”
Anyone who has known Dad for longer than 10 minutes can attest to his tireless work ethic, if that's what one calls 80 years of devotion and long hours of farming, gardening, fixing, finishing, building, and raising a family, community, church, and so on.
Well, to this day, Dad has not actually succeeded in thwarting mine or any of his kid’s obsessions with physical exercise, but as I've grown older, I have really come to appreciate Dad's dedication to hard work. Which brings me to the second value that Dad, the 'Man' embodies...and that is

2. Generosity – All of Dad's hard work is not for naught. The fruits of 80 years worth of labour are rich and plentiful. You may ask what one does with such abundance… Well, they share it of course! Whether you’re his daughter receiving a trunk full of produce, or the Friendship Inn intaking enough garden potatoes to feed a small army, or whether you are the church basket or the new guy in town, or a stranger needing a hand with some household task, or a community member or one of the many others that I suspect no one will ever know about, we have all been on the receiving end of Dad's generousity and selflessness—A truly 'divine' quality.

3. Faith – What does my humble Dad or any of us for that matter know of faith? Well, have 16 children who you intend to raise on a farming income, and you will know faith--Faith in God's providence, Faith in the goodness of family and love, And Faith in sacrificing for others. I think I speak for all of Dad's children when I say that the gift of faith in a God that loves his children through anything this life has to throw at us and no matter where we roam or stray is the greatest gift anyone of us could hope to receive.

Dad- The Myth

Well, if you’ve lived 80 years and there isn’t a myth or two circulating about you, you’re probably doing something wrong, so I’m here to dispel a few.

Myth: With all those kids and a big farm to run, Dad didn’t have time for much else.

Fact: This is simply not true, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the Knights of Columbus, the Pro-Life Association, the local priest, or any newcomer to town if Dad doesn’t have time…

Myth: Dad was once caught throwing out a piece of rotting fruit at the Eastgate mall

Fact: The local Co-op stocks ‘cooking bananas’ just for Dad and in his 80 years not a single piece of fruit, ripe or otherwise, has gone to waste under his vigilant watch. Just as a side story, I remember walking in front of Grandma’s one day, and stepping over a little package or saran wrapped watermelon, complete with ants and such. Later, I was at Dad’s and he brings out a little plate of watermelon which I am eagerly tucking into, when he says, “Do you know where I got that?”

Myth: Years of hard-work, farming struggles, and difficult trials have left Dad a hardened man--stoic, and with opinions that are stuck in stone.

Fact: Dad unfailingly treats anyone he meets with kindness and compassion. When new people come into his life, Dad embodies the most true and pure definition of ‘acceptance’ I have ever witnessed—acceptance of different faiths, different nationalities, different walks of life, and different values. For me personally, this is one his most unique and proudest characteristics.

Dad—The Legend

Dad is a legend for two reasons:

  1. I’ve never met anyone like him – The world over, I’ve truly never met anyone like my Dad. Dad does not wait for good to happen. He doesn’t cast his vote and wait for politics to achieve some distant goal. He doesn’t utter things like, “Someone needs to cut those ditches,” and then wait for Ted Gartner to do it. I’ll bet the shirt on my back that he isn’t active in ‘awareness’ campaigns or frequenting benefit banquets for newcomers to Canada. No. The banquet is in his home, THEIR home, literally. If he is ‘aware’ of some problem, some good that needs doing, Dad does it himself. He cuts the ditches, he and Rita grow food, prepare it, and share it on a near daily basis. He changes the church light bulb himself, addresses the golf-course litter problem personally, and he lends his tools, his time, even his cars without blinking an eye, even when those items occasionally return from, say, Edmonton a little worse for wear. It may seem a simple quality, but can you imagine how different the world would be if more people approached things this way?
  2. He is an inspiration – For all the reasons I’ve talked about—generousity, hard-work, faithfulness, compassion, acceptance, and for any other reasons anyone else has in their hearts, I’m sure we can all agree Dad has inspired each of us in our own ways. I see little pieces of you, Dad, in all of us. Like Jesus, you are and will be a gift that keeps giving. Happy birthday and more to come.

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Letter to Friends Who Didn't Know Me Before Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Dear Friend,

I'm writing you this because our friendship our has grown into something beautiful over the past few years, and I'm also writing this because friends should be honest with each other. And if I'm really honest, I'd have to tell you that there are two things I have been dying to tell you...

The first is that I wasn't always like this. If you knew how often I have I wanted to say that, you'd think me a lunatic. I want to tell you that I looked different, maybe more youthful, certainly more athletic. I had interests. I went out in the evening. I spent more time with friends and held a full-time job. I liked dancing and running and biking and going out on the town, but most of all, I felt different. I was happier, more energetic, sillier, more fun. I saw brighter futures, potential and opportunity. I was lighter and busier and just more. In fact sometimes I'm so desperate to tell you this that I want to scream it out loud. I WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS...

But then I want to say--what I REALLY want to say--is simply... Thank You.
Thank you because you never demanded this explanation of me. So often I see myself as two people—the person before this illness and the person after it. I know it's silly and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I can't help sometimes but think that my old friends stuck by the 'new me' out of some sense of loyalty or duty. But for you, there is no 'new me' or 'old me' or anything else. There is just 'me'--Good enough as I am to find an awesome friend like you! You see, the greatest struggle with this illness outside of the everyday physical stuff is believing that, in spite of everything I have lost, I am still enough. And the knowledge that the me-after-Chronic-Fatigue is enough to befriend your awesome-ass is incredibly affirming, more than you know. So, thank you for that.

You know, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to see myself outside the parameters of 'before' and 'after' this illness or if I'll ever really let go of the notion that I was somehow 'more' of person before Chronic Fatigue wreaked havoc on my life. But on days when thoughts like that get me down, I will try to see myself through your eyes.

Lots of love,


Thursday, 7 July 2016

The One 'Must-do' Summer Activity for 2016

School's out for summer! If you're anything like me, those words fill you with one part 'Sa-weet!' and three parts 'OMG! What am going to do with them for all that time?' Well, I'm sure you've already come across your fair share of lists of must-do summer activities, you've enrolled your kids in swimming lessons, and concocted grand plans for day trips and week-long holidays at the lake. You're mentally compiling a list of craft ideas and outdoor activities for play-dates with friends and you've spent a small fortune on gadgets, water guns, and slip and slides, all to ensure that neither their boundless energy nor a day of the precious summer season is wasted. But, you're forgetting something... In fact, you're forgetting the best thing about the season--something we just don't get enough of the rest of year--an activity that is both timeless and revolutionary at the same. And that is this...


Sweet nothing.

If you're anything like me, the thought of doing or planning nothing makes you uneasy. It conjures up visions of your household positively erupting in mess with bored kids fighting and screaming while you pull your hair out until such a time that you become adequately defeated enough to enlist the services of Captain TV and Nanny Smartphone to rescue you from imminent disaster. Now, I'm not guaranteeing that won't happen, but I will guarantee that it wouldn't be the end of the world. I guess I'm just suggesting that kids, like us, need a little more of, well, nothing—time and space to be creative, relax, and to just let things happen (or not happen).

Occasionally the shift that occurs from one generation and the next is quite surprising to me, and this is one of those times.  Do you know what my mom planned for me every summer? Nothing.
Do you remember what your Auntie Martha used to do when you came over to play with your cousins? Well, if she was like mine, she watched All My Children and brought out some orange Kool-Aid around 3 o'clock. Your grandma? Mine made me pull weeds and pick raspberries and paid us in lemon drops and rosebuds. From memory, NO ONE in my neighborhood really planned anything for their kids, and, do you know what? IT WAS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR!

In my neighborhood, we used to get up to all sorts of things...tree houses, swimming (no one drowned in my memory), we played in the sprinklers, we let our imaginations run wild, we camped in tents made out of nets and blankets, we collected sticks and rocks and bugs and bottle caps, we got dirty, we ran in the rain, we jumped, we climbed, we ran, we hid, we had so much fun we forgot to hydrate or put on sunscreen. We even found other kids to play with and we adventured in pastures and groves of trees, we kicked balls and played 500 (does anyone else call it that?), we learned to catch and shoot hoops without drills or instruction, and unless our parents commandeered us into some house or yard work, WE JUST PLAYED, and I'll say it again, it was the BEST!

When my mind runs away with thoughts like these, of childhood summers that were easy and carefree, I worry that I just might be doing a disservice to my kids with all of this planning and structure. My guess is that there might be a hiccup or two and maybe an adjustment period while we learn to slow down, but my pledge this summer for my family is to do a little less of something and a LOT more nothing! Join me if you dare!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Fear--The new F-word

You can’t turn your head these days without hearing some expression with the word ‘fear’ in it--fear-mongering, ‘the politics of fear’ or, my personal favorite, ‘hope over fear.’ Or failing that you hear someone accusing someone else of having the latest ‘phobia’-du-jour—Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, you name it. If these expressions and accusations are to be believed, it would seem Canadian society is hopelessly plagued by spineless, ignorant, and hateful people only capable of making decisions based on these less-desirable characteristics. But you know what? I beg to differ. I don’t think that this the case at all. I think most Canadians are empathetic human beings capable of drawing rational conclusions, even if one doesn’t entirely agree with them. If there is one thing on this planet that I can’t stand, it is when people demonize their opposition. I’m not joking when I say this, not fear, is the thing wars are made of, and, in my humble opinion, that is exactly what the use of these fear-phrases intends. I’m talking about things like, ‘Oh, you don’t agree with my stance on immigration? You must be xenophobic’ or how voters in our past federal election who favored a more proactive approach to ISIS were labelled ‘fearful’ or (my favorite) blaming religion for using scare tactics to encourage bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and every other world problem. Oh, and if my facebook newsfeed is to be believed, this whole fear-slinging phenomenon is not limited to North America as I recently had the pleasure of hearing similar garb from British friends accusing their Brexit opposition of spreading propaganda and fear-mongering for this, that, or the other thing. Quite frankly, I’m sick of it for a few reasons…

#1 Information that does not support your position does not equate to fear-mongering (necessarily). Before I get into a rant, let me give some credit to the whole ‘fear’ thing. I don’t think it is disputable that people occasionally employ fear-tactics to sell things, sway votes, or otherwise push their agenda. It happens. I am just of the opinion that the phrase ‘fear-mongering’ is now a grossly overused default for anyone who wants to discredit information or people they disagree with. Sometimes information is just information, and, what’s more, I think the vast majority of the Canadian public is intelligent enough to know the difference.

#2 People make decisions out of fear all the time. Do you have a lock on your house? How about your car? You act out of fear. Do you avoid certain things, say delicious foods, because they might harm your health? You act out of fear. Maybe you live in a certain area of your city that you feel is ‘safer’ for your family. You act in fear. Why else would you spend a hundred thousand dollars more to live in the exact same house you could choose in a different area of town? Do you avoid tall grass for fear of ticks? Have you ever avoided a bad area of town at night or maybe chosen a less treacherous route over a shorter one? You act in fear. Do you look both ways when you cross the street or salt your steps when they get icy? You live in fear… I’m being ridiculous now? I can hear you thinking…that is just exercising reasonable caution to avoid catastrophe. Couldn’t agree with you more! People exercise reasonable caution when it comes the protection of their jobs, homes, property, children, communities, and countries ALL. THE. TIME. This does not make them fearful, ignorant or spineless or anything else.

#3 The surest way to spread fear is by talking about fear all the time. So if you really buy into all this fear business (which I don’t) and you actually desire to stop it…Stop talking about fear all the damn time! Is it too much to ask for you to inspire the masses with your fearless, hopeful ways without calling others down?

#4 The strongest fear operating in this country right now is the fear of being called fearful. Let’s be honest…the last thing anyone wants to be called is a coward. Nobody in their right mind wants to be called a racist, a bigot, or a ‘phobic’ of any kind, and ironically this unique brand fear is being spread by the fear-phobes themselves. People walk on eggshells, they skirt around vital issues, they turn blind eyes, they don’t say what they mean, they agree for the sake of keeping the peace, politicians are backed into corners, our society doesn’t act when it most needs to…all for what? To avoid being called fearful. That’s not something to be proud of.

Last but not least…

#5 The mentality that ‘if you’re not with me, you’re fearful’ (AKA against me) is absolute crap. Again, if you want to start a war, divide people into friends and enemies…this is absolutely the way to go about it. This is the roots of extremism--My way or the highway. With me or against me. Hope or fear, which do you choose? DON’T DO THIS STUFF. Between your way and my way—between hope and fear—are a million wonderful shades of grey where real conversation, compromise, and growth will thrive. Of course there are people out there that you will think are pretty crappy but, hey, they probably think you are pretty crappy too, and guess what, we are ALL invited to the conversation. There are even those that are worthy of some of the awful titles I’ve mentioned earlier, but, the majority of Canadians, in my opinion, tread with decency and compassion in the grey areas, and that is a good good thing. Don’t mess with it. Don’t back people into corners with this fear propaganda. Hope or fear? It is not one or the other. Stop talking like it is.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

To Anyone's who's ever asked what Chronic Fatigue Feels Like

I don't get many questions about my illness—it's a pretty boring subject, after all—but one I've had one a few times is this... What does it feel like? I really get the sense that people have asked this out of genuine concern and curiosity, but, in the moment, I've probably offered a short and not particularly informative answer. It's not that I don't appreciate the concern, it's more that the answer is more lengthy than the social rules of conversation permit. At any rate, today I will do best to answer it, and I will venture to do that without the use of confusing metaphors or in the spirit of a pity party. So, keeping in mind that my experience is just one of many…Chronic Fatigue Syndrome--what does it feel like? Well...

It feels tired. I know this is a bit vague because everyone feels tired sometimes, even a lot of the time, but, trust me, it is different. If you have ever been pregnant and yearning to end your day at 1 pm—it's kind of like that. Or maybe if you've flown to the other side of the world and spent a day or two feeling incapacitated by jet lag—yea, that feeling. Or maybe you're familiar with that sickly tired you get at about 330 on a night shift—similar to that, just ALL day, even at 8 am after a 10 hour sleep. It is the kind of tired that isn't a side show, but the main act in your day.  Add to that...

It feels heavy. To me the heaviness is most pronounced when I am grocery shopping, so I'll use that as an example. Imagine pushing a loaded refrigerator around instead of a shopping cart—that's what it feels like. Or maybe wearing lead suit while you climb the stairs or chase your toddler around. Not always, but sometimes it so heavy that I can't lift my limbs off the bed.

It cycles like a binge-drinking alcoholic. (That's a simile not a metaphor!) One of the most universal components of CFS is a something called post-exertional malaise which basically means symptoms of fatigue and malaise surface 24 to 48 hours after some kind of exertion. This aspect also likely confuses people because it is not uncommon to see a person with CFS out and about, seemingly living an ordinary life. The best way I can think to explain it is this...When you see someone with this illness engaging in normal to strenuous activity, essentially what you are seeing is an episode of binge-drinking—all fun and games...until hangover time tomorrow. So, say, from time to time, you might find me out gardening or staying out late with my girlfriends. Well, post-exertional malaise will ensure that I feel all kinds of shit for doing that tomorrow. That's just how it works.

Also like an alcoholic, a sufferer of CFS can have periods of sobriety (or remission) where symptoms fade and he/she may be able to increase their level of activity for a while. I had a lengthy (over 6 months!) remission recently—an awesome time of which I relished every waking second of that feeling of wellness. Unfortunately, like alcoholism, it is a disease that lingers and a 'fall off the wagon' can be triggered by the smallest of things, as was the case for me when I got simple case of strep throat. Speaking of which...

It feels like sick. The science behind CFS isn't entirely complete, but it is known to leave sufferers immuno-compromised. I find that when a run of the mill virus runs hits our household, I am the first to get it, the last to shake it, and the most miserable in between. Comprendez?

It feels like I've been robbed—mostly of time and quality. Managing this illness, for me, means consistently early bedtimes and rest periods during the day. If I were to quantify it, I would say that it feels like I operate with 2 less hours a day than everyone else, and the hours that I do have are not always that great. For me, this has meant the loss of 'extras' like hobbies, evenings in with my husband, and time with friends.

It feels a bit like I have become my 90 year-old neighbor. Whenever I enter a conversation with old Gladys next door, she inevitably tells me about how her health has deteriorated such that she can't grocery shop or vacuum or keep her flower beds or walk to the end of the block, etc. And then she'll get into how she really should get a cleaner or downsize and how she just can’t manage anymore...All the while, I'm thinking, 'Yes, Gladys, don't I know it!'

It feels up and down. On any given day if you ask someone with CFS how they are doing, the answer will heavily depend on if they are having a 'good day' or a 'bad day.' I have heard those expressions SO often from other sufferers of this illness. And whether or not you are having a 'bad day' largely depends on if you overdid activity the previous day by, say, attempting physical exercise (BIG no-no) or going to bed late, etc. On the flip side, if you behaved like a proper lazy ass and had a good sleep, you might actually feel quite well.

It feels like paranoia. One of the less-than-awesome side stories to this illness is that I have become totally self-obsessed with my health. I can't help but forever sizing up how I am feeling today and what caused me to feel that way and what I might avoid in the future to prevent episodes of fatigue. Even when I am feeling well, I am always wondering what tomorrow will look like and carefully choosing whether or not to engage in A, B, or C in case I inflict the wrath of the illness. Add to that the anxiety about career prospects, my abilities as a mother, and whether or not I will ever enjoy life like used to and so on.

Hope this answers the question for anyone who’s ever wondered. I realize my illness is not the most exciting of topics, but, I do appreciate the concern and the opportunity to vent a little sometimes. Thanks for listening and Happy Tuesday.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Are you really OK with difference?

An acquaintance of mine was telling a story about how, as a member of a recent-immigrant resettlement group, she volunteered to meet some newcomers at the airport as part of a team that would assist with the details of their immediate resettlement. She was surprised, and I would say unpleasantly so, when the men in the newcomer group refused to shake hands with any of the women who had come to greet them. There was a number of people present at the time she was relaying this story, and the variety of reactions that it elicited was quite fascinating...

One female quite strongly stated, “Well they can turn around and get right back on that plane then.” Another mused, “Maybe it is their custom not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex?” Quite likely IMO, so I added, “Surely, you don't expect people to leave their customs and culture at the immigration desk.” Another suggested that perhaps the men would react differently in a few years when they were more familiar with Canadian customs. Interesting. What was clear to me anyway is that a random sampling of assholes didn't get off a plane from somewhere and decide to flex their misogynous muscles by not shaking hands with women. No. There is some story of deeper culture here.

I'm happy to report that I have no recollection of where these immigrants were coming from because it is not my intention to encourage discourse or spread hate against any group of people. The reason I share this story is to pose the same question to you as has circled round and round in my head with regards to this story...Are you really okay with difference? Or otherwise stated, are you okay with real difference?

I ask this because I think often culture, from an outsider's perspective, is characterized by surface expressions such as food, language, or dress—all important aspects, but, let's be honest, these are no-brainers in terms of acceptance. You eat different food than me? Great, can I try some. I can observe that you are dressed differently than me. Fine. You view gender roles differently than me? Um... Your disciplinarian practices with your children greatly differ from mine? Uh...

The following illustration captures so poignantly what I am getting at:
Culture is SO much deeper than what we eat or wear or even what language we speak. Real differences in culture—stuff that might make you uncomfortable—is unlikely relegated to extremist groups, and the devil's advocate in me, when topics like this come up, wants to ask questions like...

Are you okay with men greeting women differently than women?

Do you think that the ideology behind such a practice might be further reaching? Are you okay if, say, daily relations relations with wives and daughters are enacted differently than you have come to expect in greater Canadian society?

What might an extension of the whole not shaking hands thing look like in a workplace? Are you okay with that?

How would it make you feel to know other women condoned, expected, even celebrated these types of gender relations?

How would you feel if similar behaviors were expressed or encouraged in schools?

If 10 or 20 years down the road, these types of cultural variations thrive (and I expect they will), how would you feel about them entering the political arena, say if male MP's refused to shake hands with female MP's? Or perhaps if Canadian law began to reflect these types of practices?

An answer I get often when I ask these sorts of questions is, “I'm okay with anything so long as it doesn't affect me.” But to me if the whole no-hand-shaking story tells us anything, it is that 'real differences' can, will, and DO affect you. Are you okay with it???