Saturday, May 30, 2009


Wanna know why I loves the Internets?

I loves it because so many readers who know of my fears that Graham will forever be an only child, pointed out echoes of symbolism in my recent lonely tree lament that I didn't even see myself when I was writing it.

I loves it because within 24 hours of posting that lament for my lonely wedding tree I got e-mails from two cousins - both women I have always loved as sisters - reassuring me that the seedlings they had received at our wedding had been planted and were flourishing under their care.

One of them wrote: "Interestingly, or perhaps symbolically, the (tree) that lived is planted right beside the kids' wooden backyard climber (their choice location) and has been beaten with bats, tied up with skipping ropes, hugged mercilessly, jumped on from above, run over with sleds and crazy carpets, fed to guinea pigs, peed on by dogs and almost loved to death.

"It seems to thrive on the abuse of my four children as well as dozens more I have daycared in the past years. It was the perfect height for a preschooler, so every winter when we made bird feeders to hang up, or Christmas decorations, it was the perfect choice. If facing adversity builds strength and character, this tree shall have a long and happy life."

But not a lonely one, it seems. Not a lonely one.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

My tree

I am unabashedly sentimental about my tree.

It is a fir tree and it started as one of more than 125 seedlings, perhaps eight inches in length, that we handed out as gifts to our wedding guests in September 2002.

We planted three of the trees, just days after our wedding, in the backyard lawn of the house that we had recently purchased; the house where we were sure that our dreams would take root and blossom just as surely as our seedlings.

But two of the trees died almost immediately.

And the seedlings that my parents planted at their house promptly died too. And over the next few years as I asked other wedding guests about their trees I learned, to my dismay, that it seemed all our gifts - our symbols of growth and promise - had similarly failed to grow and take root.

It shouldn't have bothered me, but it did.

I started to inquire in earnest and before long I determined that the remaining tree in our backyard is indeed the lone survivor of our marriage celebration, the only tangible evidence of how far we have come and how much we have grown.

And so, I am just a little bit protective of my tree.

I have watched it for almost seven years now. I have despaired about its ability to withstand the sleet and the snow and the rain.

But I have marveled at the way just a day of sunshine has the power to make it seem new and how swiftly nature's warmth and kindness can bring forth tiny, hopeful buds.

But now that my tree is clearly growing big and strong and independently, I worry about how I can possibly keep it close as we move into a new home and a new chapter of our lives.

There is no room for my tree at the new house, but there is no way I can just leave it behind.

Because it is my only one.

And I am unabashedly sentimental about my tree.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I wish

I wish I only wanted one child.

I wish I could be one of the thousands (millions?) of people who choose to have an only child and are perfectly happy and content with their decision.

Some days, days like today, I would give anything for the ability to be one of those people who can argue with conviction that having an only child is not just okay, it's preferable.

Only children:

Are greener.
Are less of an financial and emotional stress for parents.
May be more likely to flourish under their parents undivided attention.
Are easier to travel with and provide extraordinary experiences for.
Need not be spoiled if parented judiciously.
Need not be lonely in the embrace of a large, loving extended family.

Great points aren't they?

It would certainly be pretty hard to argue against them with someone who was equipped to debate with confidence and passion and heartfelt conviction.

God, I wish I were that person.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

In good time


It's amazing how hearing about the misery of others can make you feel soooo much better.

That is to say, it has been an extraordinary relief to read your dozens and dozens of comments and e-mails reassuring me that Graham's abject refusal to fully potty train at the age of three and a years of age is neither unusual, nor a reason to fear that I will be changing diapers in perpetuity.

Thank all of you for generously sharing your wonderful stories and advice, tips and tricks.

And forgive me for deciding to ignore all of them.

That is to say, I've decided I'm going to just give it a rest.

I know my son. I know he has inherited the stubborn gene from both parents and I know that his refusal to poop on the potty is, more than anything, an opportunity to test that inheritance against us.

As I said last night to Rob, "It's impossible to win a battle of wills against someone who doesn't even have the the ability to reason logically."

And so yesterday, after he used the potty all day to pee, I gave Graham his pull-up as soon as he asked for it and advised him casually, "You can poop in the potty if you want, it's up to you."

"That's great mommy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" he shouted, with a smile so happy and so clearly full of relief that I felt a little guilty about the boot camp mentality I've been subjecting him to all week.

Because the thing is, seeing him smile like that? Makes me think that, if I had to, I could probably change his damn pull-ups forever.

Just don't tell him that, m'kay?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Wit's end

It appears, God help me, that I am in exactly the situation that I swore I would never, ever be in.

After avoiding it for as long as I thought I could, it appears that potty training (or more accurately, the lack thereof) has become a battle royale in our home and that Rob and I are now locked into a power struggle with the most stubborn boy EVER.

It is ugly, my friends, it is really, really ugly.

Graham, aka the most stubborn boy EVER, has been wearing big-boy underwear all day, every day for weeks now. He lets us know when he needs to pee and does so in the potty several times a day.

But, with the exception of that one time when he was rewarded with a toy and a celebration so exuberant you would think he had graduated goddamn medical school, he will not use his potty for number two.

Graham is three and a half. He is ahead of the curve in every other aspect of physical, emotional and intellectual development. We have tried to be patient, but finally drew a line in the sand when for weeks he never wavered from his routine of using the potty all day to pee and then soiling his night-time pull-up withing minutes of putting it on every night.

He is more than capable of pooping in the potty.

But he won't.

He holds it. He clenches. He begs for his bedtime pull-up. He cries and rants and raves and sits on the potty, sometimes for over an hour at a time chanting "I want a pull up, I want a pull up, I want a pull up."

He has, the last two nights, spent nearly all evening on the potty and started to fall asleep there before being sent to bed, without a story and with a pull-up that was soiled within five minutes.

And while on the potty last night he looked me straight in the eye and with just the hint of a smirk threw down the gauntlet.

"Mommy, I am NEVER going to poop in the potty...NEVER."

And I have no idea how it came to this but, God help me, I believe him.


*Do you think it's possible that the folks at the Parent Bloggers Network can read my mind? I was actually writing this post when they sent out an e-mail asking bloggers to post about their potty-training trials as part of the Pull Ups brand's Potty Project, which is a series of webisdoes following six families attempting to say bye-bye to diapers.*

*Raising a kid can be hard on you AND your wallet. All the expenses can begin to drain your account faster than you can throw out dirty pull-ups. That's why there's tons of help for you online. Log on to find a variety of financial aid services, including payday loans waiting for you to choose from. Find it all, and save yourself some stress!*

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The one where I look dumb in front of a Buddhist monk

Just about five and a half years ago Rob and I were traveling in a remote, mountainous area of northern Thailand when we stumbled across a Buddhist monastery.

We were awestruck by its beauty and felt almost as though we had stumbled into a magical rabbit's hole as we explored it.

For the longest time, there didn't seem to be anyone around, but then we noticed the wispy figure of a young, yellow-robed monk watching us from a distance. We smiled and waved and he smiled back and continued to discreetly shadow us.

After a few minutes he approached us with a wide grin. "Come," he said. "Come with me."

And so we followed him through the series of temples to a little house tucked away inside the complex. We followed him all the way inside where he bowed deferentially, presented us to a wizened, old man and quickly disappeared.

We were uncertain what to do next, but the old monk smiled and gestured.

"Sit, sit with me."

And so we sat while he poured tea into plastic cups for us from a tall metal canister. It was clear that he encountered few visitors and was curious. He asked us questions in halting English: where were we from and what had brought us here? In no time, he smiled shyly and pulled out a book of faded newspaper clippings with photos of him with various dignitaries meant, I assume, to demonstrate to us that he was quite celebrated as a Buddhist leader.

We were completely charmed, but after several minutes of small talk silence overtook us and the visit started to feel a little awkward. Rob and I were unsure of what to do next. Should we leave? Would that offend him? Were we overstaying our welcome by not leaving?

He watched us carefully and then very deliberately pulled out an exquisitely-carved pill box and removed three large, white tablets. He put one in his mouth and handed one to Rob and one to me.

"For you," he said. "You must take this."

I looked at Rob and saw my own trepidation reflected on his face. Could we? Should we? What were the dangers inherent in ingesting some unknown pharmaceutical from some mystical religious leader in a remote region known for opium production? What were the implications of refusing and mortally offending the gentle and hospitable spiritual leader who had generously welcomed us into his home?

I gulped. Rob gulped.

Our eyes met as our new friend watched with interest. Finally Rob gave a slight nod and swallowed the pill with a shrug. Quickly, before I could change my mind, I did the same.

My stomach was in nervous knots but I sighed, steeled myself and forced a smile at my host.

And he smiled back and leaned in close.

"It's Vitamin C," he whispered. "It's very good for don't look so good."

Indeed I didn't.

And why am I telling you this story?

Well, LeeAnne wrote a little something over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews that brought back some fond memories of Thailand for me. I ate some of the most delicious food I've ever tasted while traveling there and if anyone is capable of recreating those delicious memories, it's LeeAnne. Check it out!

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Friday, May 15, 2009

How Martha and Quentin messed up the world

Yesterday, on the short walk to my office from the car lot where I park, it struck me that both Quentin Tarantino and Martha Stewart are 21st century Frankenstein monsters.

Oh, they might look a little less frightful (at least Martha does anyway) but Quentin and Martha have a lot of common with the creature who was the embodiment of Dr. Frankenstein's wish: they are all examples of what happens when good intentions, talent and formidable intellect are pushed too far and go horribly awry.

The thought first occurred to me when I passed a movie theatre and saw several disturbing, full-coloured posters advertising the latest orgy of gruesome violence that passes for cinema these days.

Thanks Quentin, I thought with just a touch of guilt, Thanks a lot.

The twinge of guilt came because I have to admit that I loved Quentin when he first hit the big time with Reservoir Dogs. I mean, didn't we all?

At first I resisted watching the movie, even though everyone told me that cinema's new wonder kid had somehow managed to make violence palatable. But they were right: when I finally screwed up my courage, I was astonished to find myself chuckling and singing along to Stuck In The Middle With You during the torture scene.

Afterwards I felt exhilarated. The juxtaposition of violence and humor was like nothing I had ever seen before! It didn't bother me at all! Clearly I still had the edge required to absorb and enjoy cinema that pushed the envelope.

Honestly? I felt never more cool.

I wasn't alone. Quentin Tarantino became celebrated as the most original filmmaker in years and proceeded to churn out violent, blood-spattered movie after violent blood-spattered movie. And he soon spawned imitators who pushed the envelope even further, though increasingly without his signature rapid-fire and admittedly witty dialogue which cleverly referenced cinematic classics from around the world.

Fifteen years later, Quentin Tarantino's legacy is one I have lamented before in this space: a never-ending parade of torture-porn crap like Saw and Hostel (which he executive-produced) that is less about cinema and more about how much graphic human suffering (mostly young male) theatregoers can dare each other to sit through.

So what does this have to do with Martha?

Well, just past the movie theatre is old building which once apparently housed a shop specializing in upscale Italian fixtures for the home. It is vacant now in these recessionary times, but in an elegant and delicate script, outrageous slogans still beckon from the windows...

"It's not just a tile, it's your style" and "Your home is your style statement."

To which daily, I respectively and emphatically reply: "Yes it is, no it isn't" and "When the hell did everyone start thinking that homes were supposed to be style statements?"

Because they're not. Or rather they weren't before Martha got started on us.

Martha's revolution seemed just as innocuous to me as Quentin's when it first started. Many years ago when she first introduced the concept of gracious living to the great unwashed, I thought it was perfectly lovely. She was bringing into fashion the notion that people like me could and should take pride in their domestic activities.

Honestly? I felt never more posh.

But years later, I think that Martha Stewart and her legacy has become just as monstrous as Quentin Tarantino's.

Ultimately what Martha Stewart did was not about helping people live better, but about commodifying people's lifestyles in order to move product and make sales. She, and her increasingly craven imitators, helped usher in the belief that gracious entertaining was less about treating visitors with courtesy, respect and affable kindness, and more about designer cutlery and fancy table settings.

She, and a thousand others like her, made a fortune by fooling people into thinking they could quite literally buy style, rather than develop it on their own, and that class was personified by the exhibition of superior cooking and decorating skills as opposed to the exhibition of poise and dignity under difficult circumstances.

Before Martha Stewart rose to fame, the belief that class or style was related to the kind of floor coverings one purchased was merely an Achilles heel of the wealthy, chattering classes, not a widely held belief amongst the middle class. Today the economy and millions of North Americans are trying to recover from the misguided belief that style involves buying things you can't afford and impressing dinner guests with leased china.

I think society has created and fed more than a few monsters over the last several years and I'm sure it will create and feed many more in the years to come.

But the next time I make the trek from my office to my car I'm going to think about Martha Stewart and rampant consumerism and Quentin Tarantino and the proliferation of graphic human suffering as casual entertainment and I'm going to be careful what I wish for.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Always and forever

Just to clarify for those of you who aren't familiar with Toronto and its neighborhoods.

Don Mills was a suburb many years ago - Canada's first ever suburb actually - but Toronto is now such a huge city that Don Mills is really just a large northern neighborhood inside the city proper, about a 15-minute drive from the downtown core.

My current home is in the northern reaches of Don Mills in an area that is poorly served by transit and full of large, lovely homes and manicured lawns. My new home is approximately five kilometres away, in the southern reaches of Don Mills on the transit line in an area that is undergoing an exciting urban revitalization.

That is to say...even after I move I will still be the Don Mills Diva.

I will always be the Don Mills Diva.

And also? In addition to rocking Canada's oldest suburb, I'm also pretty competent in the woods of Ontario's near north.

Don't believe me? Check out Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews where LeeAnne takes the foods I foraged a few weeks back (with a little help from my dad!) and whips up another of her amazing, original recipes.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Middle-aged crazy

We sold our house on Saturday night.

And it was a relief, to say the least, because we had already finalized the purchase of a different house on Friday night.

But while that window of time in which we owned two homes was excruciating (as were the five(!) days of back and forth and failed offers and complications) the fact that we are changing houses is not the full story.

The full story is that we are changing our lives.

But let me start at the beginning.

I was a bit of a hippie chick when I first met Rob. I did not aspire to a big home or expensive things. I always envisioned my future self backpacking the world, tots in tow, based in a little city house surrounded by art and funky, creative friends.

And that's the way it went for a while.

We fixed up a downtown row house just steps from one of Toronto's main thoroughfares and we backpacked through Africa and South America. Even after we moved out of the city's core to our current huge home, with its huge yard and suburban trappings, we continued to travel and even wrote, produced and directed a short film that had some success on the festival circuit.

But that house, our house with all its attendant suburban trappings that at first we loved, started to become a monkey on our backs.

The thing about living in a big house with a big yard in a suburban neighborhood is that, as much as you might fight the transformation, you inevitably start to become the kind of person who lives in a big house with a big yard in a suburban neighborhood.

And I never felt like that person was me.

I am fiercely proud of my small-town roots. Anyone who frequents this space knows I am as comfortable tooling a float plane into my father's fishing camp as I am socializing at a film wrap party in the heart of downtown Toronto. Cities and small towns: I love 'em both.

But it's the in-between places I'm not crazy about.

A few months back when it became apparent to Rob and I that his beloved mother was very, very sick, it caused us to re-examine our priorities and our lives in short order.

And in short order we realized that we were working very, very hard and experiencing huge amounts of stress in order to maintain a home and a lifestyle that wasn't making either of us very happy.

My parents live on a lake and own a motorboat, a float plane and a rustic fly-in fishing camp. Rob's brother has a gorgeous rugged lakeside cottage. We have a ton of camping equipment that every weekend gathers dust in our basement while we rush to complete hours of yard work and home maintenance in a vain attempt to relax and start enjoying weekend activities before mid-day Saturday.

Our current house is affordable, but just barely so. It's certainly not affordable enough to allow Rob to relax and take in stride the inevitable ups and downs that come with being a freelancer in a volatile industry and it's enough of a stretch that we must remain ever-vigilant on the financial front.

Being ever-vigilant? Is tiring.

In addition to the loss of Rob's mom, during the past 17 months we have weathered the sudden and untimely deaths of three work colleagues and friends who were all family men under the age of 50 - two in separate, horrific, freak accidents and one by his own hand.

In the face of so much unexpected, random loss it became crystal clear to us that life is short and so too must be our time spent pursuing anything not directly related to the health and happiness of our family.

There is stress in life that you can control. There is stress in life that you can't control. We can, and we will, seize control of and excise from our lives, the things that stress us out.

This is our new home.

It is a large, new and (I think) chic townhouse.

It is within walking distance to great shops and restaurants and a short bus ride from the subway. It has a tiny, tiny backyard, but loads of style, a fabulous balcony and a great park with a wonderful children's playground just 100 metres away.

Our new home will allow us to live virtually stress-free financially with a modest mortgage, zero debt and a hefty chunk of cash in a savings account.

It will allow us to shut the door and walk away: to be weekend warriors, to possibly travel longer term and to pursue whatever opportunities life throws at us.

And we are working to create those opportunities.

Our ski chalet, an investment property that we rarely use, is next on the chopping block. We don't need more investments, we need more joy. When that property is sold we will look for a small house in the sunshiney place that we love and for where we are currently arranging work visas.

We don't yet know if me or Rob or Graham or all of us will be there three weeks a year or three months. We don't know if it will remain a vacation idyll or the place where we eventually make our home, but the weather and the strong arts and culture community there is extremely appealing.

And that is enough to compel us to dip our toes in the sand.

That is more than enough actually.

And I don't care if our ultimate plan to follow our hearts sounds middle-aged crazy. We are taking control of our lives and our joy before we lose the nerve or the ability to do so.

We are committed to being fully present for our son and to showing him (and hopefully a sibling that, until now, we have apparently been too stressed and too busy to produce) that there is more than one way to organize your life and that the world is an exciting place full of adventure and beauty.

And to showing him also that his parents, for all their foibles, still possess the courage to live their lives with passion.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009


I don't think I'm very different from most moms in that my expectations for Mother's Day are generally very modest.

And given that Rob lost his mom less than two months ago, it would have been particularly unseemly for me to insist on an over-the-top celebration this year.

So of course I didn't.

I prayed for only one thing and I asked for another and I am proud to report that both my requests were granted.

Yesterday, I let out a long, slow breath of anticipation and fear and uncertainty.

Today, after cuddling with my boy and watching cartoons in the early morning hours, I sent husband and son away, locked the bedroom door and availed myself of a sleep aid.

I am currently enjoying my "morning" coffee and don't expect them home for at least an hour.

And it feels good.

I am itching to write. From the very moment yesterday when it was confirmed that Rob and my plans are well and truly in motion, ideas for stories and posts have flooded my brain.

I'm going to tackle an explanation after I have enjoyed a family dinner here with Rob's dad and his brother's family (including the lovely LeeAnne).

I wish each and every one of you happiness and peace this Mother's Day.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Waiting to exhale

More than once over the last few days I have caught myself holding my breath.

I am on tenterhooks.

I am on the verge of a major life change. I am marking time, counting the days (hours?) until I can let it all out here and resume the style of writing that has both sustained me and allowed me to amass quite a large number of readers who I fear are growing increasingly bored and frustrated by my paralysis.

I'm sorry.

I thank you for your patience and I thank my sister-in-law LeeAnne for continuing to write entertaining things for you to read over at my other joint. You can check out her latest by clicking here.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And the cute one's will shall be done

It was so hilarious I had to tell my mom.

Before I jumped in the car and headed up north to the land of childhood memories and magical Grandmas and erstwhile unimagined tire swings I jumped on the phone and shared with my Mom Graham's assertion that she possessed superior engineering skills to my Dad.

And, of course, she told Dad all about it.

And damned if Grandpa didn't take Graham's unintentional slight just a tiny bit to heart and was therefore moved to rig up this contraption which was ready for use even before we completed the drive up there...

Someone might be just a little bit spoiled.


What a family! Graham is spoiled and LeeAnne is a total SNOB! Seriously - see what I mean over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews...

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

The tire swing

This morning as I rushed about, packing clothes for a much-needed weekend sojourn to my parents' lakeside house Graham chattered about what we would do there.

"And Grandpa is going to build me a tire swing so I can swing into the lake!"

Notwithstanding the temperature of the lake, I considered whether the lone tree at the water's edge would facilitate such an arrangement.

"Well, I'm not so sure Grandpa can do that..."

Graham was undeterred.

"Yes, he can. It's easy just need a tire and some rope."

Honestly? I couldn't see it happening.

"Graham, sweetie, I'm just not sure Grandpa can do that."

There was a long pause.

"Oh. Okay Mommy."

There was another long pause and then a sudden, exuberant outburst.

"But Mommy it's okay that Grandpa is not smart enough to build a tire swing! We can get Grandma to do it!"

Would you trust this man to build a tire swing?

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