Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dual Warning: Language alert and incitement of animal deaths

Those mother effing squirrels are at it again in my backyard. I feel like my mum, who always wanted to shoot the deer that ate the buds off her new trees.

Earlier this summer, in the throes of spring and energy and the blissful happiness that people from warm places simply cannot understand, the happiness that rushes through and warms every last in of your body after a long and very cold (and very snowy) winter, when the sun comes out and the air smells fresh, yes, earlier this year I picked up some backyard lights ON REBATE from Costco.

So ON REBATE means that something that was already a good price was now a great price. I've wanted these little lights forever, and now here they were, right in front of me, dirt cheap.

Except that just would be too simple.

They needed to be hung high, up in the trees. Husband said he would do it but let's face it, perhaps he would, in about twenty years. I called up my handyman (a very handy person to have around) and he expressed interest in the project, likely anticipating (as I did not) a lucrative project.

We took the lights out of the box. They were even cuter and more perfect in my hands, heavy duty and solid feeling. This is important in my neck of the woods, where we ain't called land of the living skies for nothing. Our skies bring murderous winds and raging lightening.

Handyman admired them too and said kay, well, I'll start putting these up. Instructions much? I replied, as I skimmed the instructions that said things like, purchase airplane wire for hanging and secure hooks for attachment and check your electricity for load (or something like that, I made that up, but it was a) something complicated and b) something that required my electrician to come. I've written about him before, my electrician, but I feel kind of bad about it so I won't link to it.

I called the electrician and he and his minions came over and three thousand or so dollars later I have four certified safe grounded plug ins that work in my back yard.

Handyman came back and did a lot of measuring and buying things and figuring. I provided coffee and GoodHost iced tea and a listening ear. He's going through some shit in his personal life.

[May I digress?? I love One Republic. Does that make me old?]

Handyman hung up the lights perfectly, in a diagonal that met in the middle above the pool. Yah, I know, it looks all obvious and shit when you read it in a sentence like that but you know, it wasn't obvious to EITHER of us that hanging up some serious lights OVER a pool was maybe a bad idea.

However, Handyman went home and discussed lights with electrical engineer son and immediately texted me that he was not "comfortable" with our decision. I argued, pleaded, resorted to calling my own electrician who gave me a freebee and consulted, returning an adamant nogo.

Lights were then taken down for an extremely sulking homeowner (that would be me) and rehung. I got over myslef and had to admit that they look pretty darn good. Handyman happily billed me five hundred dollars for the trouble.

So now this morning the kids are playing in the backyard and they bring me THIS.

The squirrels have been pissing me off already in the last few years. They burrow into our fireplace in the fall, squeaking and being loud and terrible till I blast them with ABBA and they leave. They chewed on the beautiful boards on our house with their sharp angry teeth. Why? Because they have teeth, and I have a house. Seriously. For a couple days in June I was like, I think I hear chewing? Nah. But yes, I did hear chewing and they chewed away on a very nice board because their teeth are so sharp.

They piss me off because they hide shit in my planters and then later they dig up my planters to find their SHIT. And the items they leave around my yard is perhaps the worst of this all - they leave peanuts.

How could this make me so mad, you wonder? Why would the sight of peanuts laying all over my yard bug me, do you say? Let me enlighten.

We have a super safe backyard. Super safe because we have a pool (it has a secure cover, don't worry), so we have tall fences and locking gates and no one can get in and, more importantly, little people cannot get out. So if my little has a friend over they can play happily in the backyard and I don't have to worry that they have left the premises.

Except that now they can't play in the backyard because seriously stupid people have been feeding the fucking squirrels NUTS and my kids have many friends who have anaphylatic allergies to nuts and now there are nuts laying around in my backyard. But thank god the squirrels are fed.

So I was already pissed and now I find the little fuckers chewing up my lights. I'm going to Peavy Mart to buy an air gun (I discussed this with a police officer and he said that it wasn't exactly legal but it wasn't exactly illegal either, just not to go out of my yard with it) and I am going to shoot them and I purchased some Critter Ridder (I would've bought more had it been labelled Critter DEAD) and I will coat my yard in it and seriously, if I caught one I might hang it up by its tail from the back of the fence, as a deterrent to the other nasty little pests. I won't do that, not because I don't want to, but because I'm too weak. Same as if I had to kill my own food I might become a vegetarian again. I don't even think I could collect eggs.

So many potential mine fields this blog is evoking. Best to stop.

Friday, July 22, 2016

of language and words...

Usually the Ups guy, as the kids call him, technically known as the UPS delivery person, brings cardboard shrouded packages that open easily, divesting all sorts of fun treats. Like China Rich Girlfriend (started slow, ended better), or current summer beach read, The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Plazza. But occasionally it is something so much more than a stack of novels. Occasionally it is something like what arrived this morning. 

LOST IN TRANSLATION: An illustrated compendium of untranslatable words from around the world, by Ella Frances Sanders, one of the sweetest little books with beautiful words, gorgeous definitions, and the prettiest illustrations, was dropped off in a wrinkled wrapper this morning. The damaged packaging thankfully wasn't an indication of damage to the book. And such a book...

Did you realize we have no word for the sunlight falling through the leaves of trees? Or here, this is what I am doing with writing, I am going meraki on it. Meaning I am "pouring myself wholeheartdly into something, such as cooking, and doing it with soul, creativity, and love." Sanders describes the concept of meraki as "emphasizing a thoughtful kind of passion and appreciation for the small things." I like that description a lot. I want a thoughtful kind of passion. I mean, it's all well and good to be passionate, but I do like the sound of thoughtful passion. 

I'm on a banana timer a lot, I've realized. Pisan zapra, a Malay noun meaning "the time needed to eat a banana." Of course it means that. It's perfect. It takes me a pisan zapra to pee, to brush my teeth, to make my shake in the morning. Plus, I quite enjoy saying pisan zapra. I can see the upcoming months with me doing running commentary on my morning routine, as I take just a pisan zapra to finish my coffee or make some toast.

I can't say I have a particular favourite as so many are so good, but kummerspeck just might be one of the top few. A German noun literally meaning "grief bacon," Sanders says "this word refers to the excess weight we can gain from emotional overeating." Of course the Germans would actually define this. I just read a hilarious article about Germans, I think it was in the Economist. Anyways, some German guy moved with his family from English speaking countries to Germany. He and the kids were used to speaking English but when he took them to the zoo in Germany he ordered their tickets in German. Having raised his children to have humour and understand irony, he cracked a joke to the woman at the counter about how if she charged him a bit more he would leave his children at the zoo. She was aghast, he said, and leaned out of the window and looked at his children sternly, telling them that their daddy loved them and would never do such a thing. He used this and a couple other anecdotes to illustrate his theory that Germans have no sense of humour. This article and theory provided an excellent and very stimulating conversation starter which went over like a lead balloon at a recent family gathering, populated by Germans, who also proved his point that Germans like to be right. Of course this proved my point. As James Parsons, an English speaker teaching business in Germany says of Germans, "They cannot produce good humour, but they can consume it." And I say this with all the love in the world to my very serious and ernest German family. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016


This permission slip is inspired by the creativity workshop I've been taking with Elizabeth Gilbert. Seriously, I just love her. So completely down to earth and reasonable. I'm supposed to hashtag this slip, which I am only just coming to understand although my very narrow focus suggests that hashtags (an ugly word, I think?*) apply pretty much to only instagram and tongue in cheek t-shirts and the like.

I am Kristen, and I give myself permission to be more than one thing. I get to be a wife and mother, and I get to do those things well but I also get to have minor and more epic fails. I have permission to have both fleeting and sustained interest in projects. To ask for help when I need it and then accept it when I get it.

I now have permission to relinquish the storybook dream that gives me several uninterrupted hours in the day at the peak of my sense of well being and the height of my happiness for writing. I have permission to take the writing time from wherever it fits best within my other responsibilities. I have permission to enjoy that time and treasure it, instead of begrudging what I don't have.

I have permission to dabble, to flirt, to flit from one medium to the next and if I feel like painting I can paint and if I feel like glueing I can glue. I have permission to immerse myself in linguistics even though it appears to serve no purpose other than to bring me joy.

I have permission to continue on a lifelong journey of curiosity and learning and generally surveying whatever I can. I have permission to no longer be embarrassed by this passion to learn.

I have permission to have cloudy days and downright dark days and permission to stay home and not have a shower. Not for too many days, but days nonetheless and I have permission to remember that we can only recognize happiness when there is occasionally or sometimes an absence of it.

I have permission to surround myself with those who inspire me and remove those who do not, and if not removable due to circumstance, to watch them and learn from them. I have permission to indulge the introvert that occasionally lurks within.

On the flipside, I have permission to sometimes force myself to do something. When the clouds don't clear on their own I have permission to go out and do something kind, go out and help someone, go out and go to the mall, for chrissake, just go out go out go out.

I have permission to learn new tricks, savour my life, and weep with both sadness and gratitude. I have permission to not know the answer (very unGerman but yet) and I have permission to pause and think.

But most of all, and tellingly, and for this purpose, I have permission to tackle the project that is seething and teeming and frothing. The project that I dream of, that I research, that I wonder about. I have permission to begin and I have permission to work and I have permission to complete.


* perhaps that whoever named the # a hashtag never expected it to become a popular word? If they could have predicted the constant verbalization of the symbol name they would have named it something beautiful. Like sance or elah, something more dainty or lovely, instead of a lump of a word that lies heavy in the mouth and on the page. As usual, I digress.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Creativity Notebook: Hobbies, Jobs, Career, & Vocation

On a daily basis I perform, typically, the following tasks. Some days better than others.
  • Cleaning of and caring for self
  • Prompting of cleaning and caring for 3 others under the age of 12
  • Making of breakfasts, lunches, suppers
  • Registering for and then providing transportation to and from events and programming
  • Laundry and laundry related (i.e. steaming of clothes, facilitating dry cleaning)
  • General and more intensive tidying
  • Mediating disputes
  • Disputing quality of chores, disputing screen time limits
  • Seasonal activities (i.e. sweeping of leaves, getting water off the pool cover)
  • Arranging social activities
  • General counselling services, motivational speaking, etiquette training
  • Grocery shopping (NEVER-ENDING)

Weekdays and weekends are much the same. 

I wish I could do more reading, both mindless reading and thoughtful reading. Currently it's mostly mindless. By mindless I mean reading to read, and by thoughtful I mean paying attention to dialogue, pacing, structure, and quality.

I also wish I could do some more writing, working on my class, and planning next stages of writing. I wish I could go to yoga more and meditate more.

Now she [Elizabeth Gilbert of the workshop] wants me to draw a chart but that never went that well for me when I was working so I will instead just make a list. Feel free to opt out now, I never said this was interesting to anyone but me.

  • Write in white notebook
  • Blog
  • Read books, magazines, newspapers, the back of the cereal box
  • Listen to Audible
  • Art
  • Yoga
  • Spin
  • Walk around the lake
  • Caring for family
  • No career
  • Writing
Hobbies are things I love to do. A Job is something I do because I need to do it. In our house, the way it works is my job is to look after the house and family. It's tricky, when this is your job, as it is all-consuming. This means that if I had a bad day I can't leave it at the office. The trade off is that if I'm having a bad day I don't have to change out of my pyjamas. 

I'm not sure I need to worry about moving any of my Hobbies out of their category into the Job category, as I have thought about becoming a yoga teacher but it doesn't call me, I have no interest in teaching spin, my art is personal and unless I become a dog walker no one is going to pay me to walk around the lake. Perhaps at some point the writing will pay, but whether it does or does not matters not at all as it is something that I will continue to do. Hence, Vocation.

This conversation about jobs/hobbies/vocation/career is something I have struggled with all my life. I don't have a career, and I don't necessarily feel badly about that. I admire people who do, people who are dedicated to and get great joy out of their work get my kudos and admiration. Perhaps had I pursued a career and if I were nestled in academia somewhere I, too, would get something out of a career but typically what I have had were "jobs," meaning, things that paid the bills. Or a portion thereof, anyways. Don't get me wrong, I had some really great jobs. It's amazing how much fun a person can have in a job, when you don't have to worry about going further or being the best. 

I need to be sure to keep on keeping on. I need to study and write and keep the vocation a vocation. To be curious and to follow through on curiosity.

Because these are the things that make me luminescent. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Creativity Notebook

I'm doing a tiny little workshop, hosted by Elizabeth Gilbert. She wants us to work online and share the work in one of a few forums, none of which I have other than Facebook. I'm too lazy to set up another online presence and also I find they all sort of get lost for me after an exciting start, other than Facebook (which I want to keep Facebook-y) and this blog, which comes and goes in my life according to, well, my life.

So the first 20 minute rambling soul-searching commences:

The last thing I really wondered about is linguistics. The first time I wondered about linguistics was in a high school English class. I remember the classroom, it was in the portables, which meant it was cold in the winter and the floors were echoey. I loved the idea that I could figure out words based on their parts, that if I knew the clues I could decipher anything. I tried (not too hard, obviously) in university to take a linguistics class as an elective but given the size of our university and the obvious lack of interest, the 100 level was only available in the fall semester and it didn't work with my schedule. Now, I have fallen in love with Audible and I am listening to one of those Great Courses and it is called The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins and I am completely besotted.

The last time I experienced creative flow was when I was blogging. Somehow my stars aligned and the time + ideas + sit down and do it = a great feeling of ahhhh.

Frick, what did I most love to do when I was 8 years old. This is a rabbit hole question if I ever saw one because 7 years old was when my world went crashing down around me. I may have blocked out the 8 through 25 years. So when I was 8 I was in grade 3, I loved my teacher. She was a farmer and had all of us kids fall in love with farm animals. I loved learning about rabbits. "Working" at Agribition and taking care of my rabbits for a day. I felt such a serious and intense feeling of responsibility for those rabbits. This is a little sad for me. I really have no connection to my 8 year old self. I can assume, given that I have an 8 year old, that I loved to play and run and go to the park and fight with my brothers and read. However I can't actually be clear about that and will have to give it some thought. Good times.

The last piece of music that inspired me is lost for the moment. I found a beautiful cello playlist on Apple Music and listened to it like crazy, feeling my heart warm up and well up. In the car, as I cooked; the music was the soundtrack to my life for a while. And then one day it was not on Apple Music anymore or if it is I can't find it and I had naively assumed that what I liked and listened to on Apple Music would stay. Not so. The last piece of art that inspired me was today at 4Cats when I saw my 8 year old's beautiful painting. Her accomplishment and sense of pride were lovely. I might be a bit nerdy here but it was actually Elizabeth Gilbert who last inspired me, her book about living a creative life just makes sense to me.

When I feel beautiful I'm sweating in a yoga class or a spin class. I feel healthy and alive when I'm exerting my body. I used to feel beautiful if I had on high heels. I liked the shape of my legs and I liked them even more with heels on. Now one leg looks funny so I feel 1/2 beautiful with high heels on. This is why I still wear them, even though I walk so gingerly I know I make people uncomfortable.

My superpowers are an ability to read anything and good research skills. Sometimes I have the gift of the gab but I'm careful with that superpower. It is also my kryptonite.

If I wasn't afraid of anything I would be a writer living in an apartment the size of a closet in New York City.

The theme I see in the above is a love of reading and writing and words. This is not news to me, but I must whack myself over the head with it every once in awhile when I get lost in Life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

an audible addiction

Have I mentioned Audible? At the risk of sounding trite, it's been life changing. Truly, madly, deeply: life changing.

So I pretty much could just read all the time. I'm sure if there was a problem with reading, like if people all over the world were doing it too much, if gangs were killing each other on the streets, eking out their turf so they could sell illicit books to unsuspecting people (normal people, you know, just like me and you, someone you never thought would get sucked in by Jodi Picoult or Stephen King), people whose Amazon accounts were being frozen and whose neighbours watched, through the curtains, as Canada Post pulled up yet again, with a brown parcel that you just knew contained books, I'd be the first to go down with an Addiction, capital A.

In grade seven I used to read under my desk. I know, such a nerd. I would put the book on my lap, or in the grey drawer that pulled open to reveal the mess of erasers and pencil cases, and set the book on top. I'd pretend to listen while my eyes skimmed quickly over the addictive pages of a choose your own adventure or, truth be told, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. My teacher caught me and, after checking out whatever junk I was reading, put another book on my desk. Here, he said, peering at me through the gold rimmed glasses he wore, if you're going to read something, make it something good. So I read the book, the one that created a lifelong and intense fear of nuclear war. It was a book that I've forever wished I could recall the title to*, about a group of people living underground, because the entire above ground earth had been annihilated by nuclear war. I'm not sure if his intent was to frighten me out of reading during class or spark a revolution, one grade seven kid at a time, but he managed half of each. I was frightened, for sure, and he did spark a revolution in my mind, but it never got any further than that.

Anyways, I've never been able to shake it, the feeling that I'd pretty much rather read a book than do anything else. I keep them stacked everywhere, just in case. In the car, my bedroom, by the tub, in the kitchen. I've perfected standing up reading, reading while people are talking, reading in cars (which induces motion sickness, but still), reading in the pool, on the step, at the park. But I couldn't get over the fact that these three blessed children and one blessed husband plus activities and grocery shopping and meal planning, let alone preparing and eating, and all the other crap (let's face it, compared to reading it pretty much is crap), I couldn't get over the fact that there was so much time in my day where I'd rather be reading but couldn't.

Until Audible.

I know, I know, it's been available for years and before that even there were books on tape and then books on CD. I thought, yes, that would come in handy. If I become blind, that is. I just couldn't stomach the idea of a) not owning the physical book, like one I can put on my shelf, and b) the idea that someone would be reading to me. I figured I'd drift off, never be able to pay attention, constantly snapping back to the feeling of holy shit, did I just ignore a whole chapter????

But someone I like and respect (deadly combo) suggested Audible and I thought, okay. I'll try. Give it a go. So I downloaded a book, not one I was terribly interested in because I didn't want to waste this book on something good. And crikey if I didn't just fall in love. I mean, let me be real, here, I downloaded The Martian, which I had already seen as the movie, and this also goes against the grain of everything I Believe To Be True About Reading, which is in a nutshell, that if there is a book it is better than the movie (sole exception to this is The Green Mile which is outstanding as movie versus so-so as novella), and if I've read the book I will never watch the movie (proved true by watching of Still Alice, with husband, where every two seconds I was interjecting with, but they just skimmed over this, it was SO much better in the book).

So I listend to The Martian and I was hooked. I propped up my phone in the kitchen while I cooked, and listened and listened. I hooked it to the little cord in my van (old van) and listened and listened while I drove and drove. I put it on the counter in the laundry room and now I can bear folding laundry, an historically unbearable task. And then I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert read to me in her wonderful own voice about being creative, and I listened to seventeen hours of my book club book, The Shoemaker's Wife, and I listened to books I would've never bought and read on paper. Like Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, in his own hilarious voice, and The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton in his stilted voice. And by gosh, there is something, something, to listening to a book versus reading it on paper. I'm not sure I can put my finger on it, but there is something intimate and personal and leisurely all at once, listening.

I'm hooked. Try it. You'll see.

*Please forward any suggestions about what that book could've been called, I'd like to re-read it with an adult's gaze now, perhaps if only to release some of its dreadful power over my imagination.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Neuroplasticty, anyone?

My life is just killing me with its excitement lately. Recently I got to drive really far to my really far away physiotherapist where I got my first assignment. No, it wasn't running on a treadmill, with the sweat of hard work coupled with fear trumped by a can-do attitude. Nor was it lifting heavy weights strapped to my leg, feeling that last press of exertion lifting the weight to the top before the plates slammed down.

No. My super fun time assignment was to find an old magazine a day (this could be tricky, given I succumbed to Texture, hopefully I won't give in and give up on paper in its entirety), and to circle all the right knees in it.

This, my friends, is exciting stuff.

She flipped open a February 2014 copy of InStyle, thumbed through a coupe of pages and pointed to a layout with perhaps seven models sprawled out in their spray tanned glory.

Circle all the right knees, she said, handing me a pen. And I'll be darned, but I fumbled. I had to think. I looked at both my hands and decided which was correct. I then had to flip the images around in my head, figure it out. Nothing was intuitive and nothing was quick.

We flipped through more pages, where I am proud to say I got faster, circling the knees, but it was annoyingly noticeable how the right knee circle didn't just roll of my tongue, so to speak. Wasn't natural. Fast. While yes, I got better, it was an odd and painful drawn out thing.

She says that when something happens the brain rewires itself to accommodate and since my brain has pretended for so long that I simply don't have a right knee, it has trouble even recognizing them in photos. Huh. Whooda thought.

So that I can do, my assignment, followed by watching YouTube videos of people riding bikes. Yawn. I find people riding bikes perhaps more boring than tennis, which I find weird, and golf, which I find soothing in an old man sleeping in a chair way. I mean, I feel like an old man, sleeping in a green velvet chair. That's what I think of when I think of golf. I have an inkling why but the connections aren't making sense. I'll sleep on it and see what I come up with.

All this reminds me of one of my go-to books, The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge. This simply fantastic, down-to-earth, completely readable book is a surefire help to anyone who has a brain, but especially anyone who has suffered from pain, or is recovering from injury, or who has been diagnosed with things like Parkinson's. Neuroplasticity, all the way. After I hurt my knee, after hurting it over and over for so many years, the pain pathways were crazy embedded in my brain, ready to rip at any given moment. Doidge taught me so many things about my brain - how to use scent, for instance, to calm the pain. This of course led to the purchase of a lovely diffuser and many lovely scents for said diffuser (in particular, for pain, it is lemon and peppermint). I also learned tricks like building a visual of turning the pain down. My personal imagery consisted of these large plug ins, with massive plugs plugged in. When the pain was really bad, the image in my head was of huge plugs plugged in, in an endless seeming row. I would go to each plug, reach around it, and pull hard to unplug it, laying it down on the ground and moving on to the next. With each plug I pulled, the pain receded. As the pain abated, the plugs were smaller, and smaller, and there were less.
I also have a volume switch, for pain, that I've created a visual for, mine is a physical dial whereas when I teach my kids this they tap on volume down buttons, as they would on an iPad. Crazy stuff, I know, and yet.

And yet the possibilities are endless.