What is a “Week-End”?

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I’m sure you’ve seen these e-cards popping up on your Facebook newsfeed periodically.  This one is particularly fitting for me.  I’m a stay-at-home parent to my eighteen-month-old, and weekends don’t really exist anymore.  The problem is that I still (after a year and a half) haven’t managed to absorb this new reality.

All week, I look forward to Friday.  I think, “Friday’s almost here!  Woooo!”  And then Friday arrives and Pete and I are both exhausted.  We put C to bed, have a beer, watch Marketplace (and The Fifth Estate if we’re staying up really late) and go to bed.

Before you feel too sorry for me, we sometimes have date nights.  We will often visit with friends during the day and we occasionally go away for the weekend.

But typically, weekends are very similar to weekdays around here.  They involve making meals, cleaning up after meals, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and more laundry.  I’m starting to forget what a real (read: childless) weekend is like.  I’m a modern-day, non-fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham.

maggie smith weekend

Of course, the Dowager Countess doesn’t know what a weekend is because she doesn’t associate with anyone with a profession, but that’s neither here nor there.  I have something in common with the inimitable Maggie Smith.  Glass half-full!

I think the solution is going to be letting go of the concept of a weekend.  Weekends no longer exist.  They have been abolished by a small, semi-benevolent dictator.

The problem hasn’t been that I have bad weekends.  They just don’t live up to my old expectations of relaxation and rest.  In order to avoid the disappointment I feel every Sunday (when I’m more exhausted than when I started this weekend business on Friday) I have to make myself forget about the existence of the forty-hour work week.  If I just conceive of Saturday and Sunday as days when Pete happens to be around more, I think I’ll be able to enjoy those days for what they are now, rather than what I think they should be.

And besides, weekends are terribly middle-class, dear.

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A Year in Books

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A few months ago, I posted about struggling to finish a book.  I used to be a voracious reader but I found, especially when C was an infant, that I had trouble fitting books into my schedule.

I read a decent amount of books in 2011, mostly before I had C in August of that year.  Here’s 2011’s list:

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Paris 1919 – Margaret MacMillan

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene (I really, really love Graham Greene)

Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Room – Emma Donoghue

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The Birth House – Ami McKay

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

Photo via Wikipedia

Aaaaand, here is what I read in 2012:

Drop Dead Healthy – A.J. Jacobs

Why Have Kids? – Jessica Valenti

How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles – Peter Brown & Steven Gaines

A Nation Worth Ranting About – Rick Mercer

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

1982 – Jian Ghomeshi

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

So that’s it.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.  If I included What to Expect the First Year /Toddler Years, Barnyard Dance and Animal Boogie, the list would probably be a better representation of what I actually spent my time reading.

I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a better year, literature-wise.

And I’m hoping that you, readers, can give me some suggestions.  From my lists, you can see what I tend to gravitate towards.  I’m currently tackling a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis (the fantastic Armageddon Letters).  But I’m open to other things, and I think it’s important to branch out and broaden one’s horizons.  So, please, send me your suggestions!

Happy reading!

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant

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My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.

Excuses, Excuses

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I’ve been having difficulty keeping up my blogging lately, for a variety of reasons.  Here’s a quick list:

1) Toddlers are BUSY.  It’s getting harder to find free moments when C is up and about.

2) I never have time for everything, and right now the two things that are suffering are blogging and banjo-playing.  I’m not happy about it, but I have to prioritize.

3) I’m following through on my goal of volunteering my time with a community organization that I think does really good work.  That’s definitely time well spent.

I’m hoping to keep things up and running here, despite the time-crunch.  Tomorrow night I’m going to a lecture and book signing by Linden MacIntyre of the Fifth Estate.  I read his Giller Prize-winning book, The Bishop’s Man, while I was pregnant with C and I loved it.  I’ll be sure to report back…someday.

 

My Good Deed Went Unpunished

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I’ve been struggling with this blog lately, for a few different reasons.  Firstly, the baby has been sick, she’s been teething, and I haven’t been getting much sleep or free time.  But more importantly, I’ve been trying to figure out what I want this blog to be.

At first, I thought this would be a good place to document my efforts to keep some balance in my life while looking after my baby daughter.  Pete and I have managed to do some biking, some banjo picking, some cottaging, some camping, and lots of other fun things we used to do before C made her debut.  I have to admit that it’s nice to keep a little record of our lives during this time, because it goes by so quickly and it can be such a blur.  I’m sure I’ll look back and be grateful that I’ve written these posts.

At the same time, blogging can feel self-indulgent.  I’d like to be blogging about how I’m contributing, in some way, to making the world, or at least my community, a better place.  I’ve always volunteered, and I’m beginning to think that I should direct some of my extra energy toward something positive and productive.  I’ve considered a few different options.

I’ve been mulling this over for the past few weeks.  I really want to be making a difference.  I want to set a good example for C.  The culture she is growing up in can be so narcissistic and I’d like her to be a generous, empathetic little person.

This was all in the back of my mind the other day when I went out to Dairy Queen to get blizzards for Pete and me.  Pete would probably like for me to point out that we have Dairy Queen about twice a year (the last time was on two-for-one blizzard day, which was crazy).  It was about 6:30 pm, but it had been extremely hot that day, and was still quite warm.  I pulled into the parking lot next to an orange car and when I looked inside, I could see that someone had left their dog inside with the windows up.  The dog seemed fine, but he was panting.  I went inside, looked around at the other customers, and hoped that when I went back outside the car would be gone.  But when I got my blizzards and went back outside, the dog was still there, in the car, with the windows still up.  I considered my options.  Go back inside and let the staff know?  They were all teenagers running around trying to take orders, and I didn’t think they would be able or willing to do much.  Ask around to see whose dog it was?  That was a bit confrontational, and the thought scared me a bit (there were a few rough-looking characters in there).  I decided quickly to just check the doors of the car, in case they were unlocked.  The front door was, in fact, unlocked, so I opened it quickly and tried to roll down the window for the dog.  The dog jumped into the front seat and for a split second I thought he would either try to attack me (he was a big guy and I was in his territory) or try to escape.  The window didn’t roll down easily, since it was a pretty old, rusty car.  I managed to get it down a bit and quickly closed the door again.  I jumped into my own car and as I did I saw a man set down his order on a picnic table near the restaurant and start to walk towards our cars.  I’m not sure whether he saw me close his car door, but he gave me a very intimidating look as he walked toward me.  My heart was racing.  I didn’t look away, though.  I stared right back at him.  This was a scary, scary-looking guy.  I quickly started the car, drove off, and vowed that I would never do anything like that again.  It was stupid.  I put myself at risk.

I’m not sure if there is a moral to this story or not.  I tried to do the right thing, but that poor dog is still living with that man.  I didn’t save it.  I put myself in harm’s way, and for what?  I’m sure that guy didn’t learn a lesson about animal care that day.  He didn’t have a Disney-esque change of heart and decide to do right by his dog from now on.

I’m hoping that the lesson I’ve learned is that there are many ways I can make a difference that don’t result in a frightening showdown in a Dairy Queen parking lot.  And I’m hoping that I can blog about those things here.  (I do realize that blogging about them is still self-indulgent, but hey, baby steps.)  Whether I’m able to do so mostly depends on C, and those pesky teeth of hers.

Setting My Literary Sights a Little Lower

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For the past six weeks, I’ve had this book sitting on my coffee table, taunting me with its starkly beautiful cover photo:

I’ve wanted to read this book since I first read a review of it, shortly after C was born.  The Guardian writes that it is “a magnificent account of the British assaults on Everest in the 1920s [that] puts Mallory’s adventures in the context of war and imperialism.”  I love reading magnificent accounts of assaults on Everest.  I stayed up until all hours reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  And as a history buff and political science grad, I’m even more pumped about putting these adventures in the context of war and imperialism.  World War I is endlessly fascinating to me, and this book manages to bring these themes together in a vivid and poignant narrative, or so I’ve been told by various book reviewers.  I haven’t managed to read even the first chapter.

We’ve had so much going on, including lots of company, various doctors’ appointments, and a teething baby.  And since the library is becoming impatient with my renewing shenanigans, I’ve decided to return Into the Silence and to try to read something a little lighter instead.  So yesterday, on a whim, I picked up the newest book by A.J. Jacobs:

A.J. Jacobs writes lighthearted books that are similar to a blog put to paper.  He usually lives some sort of wacky experiment and hilarity ensues.  I’ve read three of his books and loved them all: My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself; The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible; and The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.  I’m chuckling to myself as I write these titles.  I really enjoyed these books, particularly the latter two.  Jacobs really commits to his experiments in his books, including stoning a suspected adulterer in The Year of Living Biblically (as far as I recall, he throws a pebble and then scurries away).  In The Know-It-All, Jacobs reads the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and becomes so frustrated with the monumental task by the letter F that he becomes enraged about Daniel Fahrenheit’s temperature scale.  It’s hilariously nerdy.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading Jacobs’ latest book.  His interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio’s Q was great and reminded me how much I enjoy his writing.  Now the only challenge is to wrestle this book away from Pete, who has managed to start reading it first.  He has been home for two days, ill with a fever, so I think I can overpower him.

And now for a quick question: what are you reading right now?

The 30/30 Challenge

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I subscribe to David Suzuki’s Facebook updates.  I love, love, love The Nature of Things, I have tremendous respect for David Suzuki and I nearly voted for him for CBC’s The Greatest Canadian.   Unfortunately, David Suzuki’s Facebook and Twitter updates usually have the effect of terrifying me that everything in my house is toxic and will kill us all.  That’s probably true.  But I’m a worrier and often these updates just send me into a worry tailspin.  But once in a while, Suzuki cheers me up with an inspiring call to action, with some words of wisdom, or with a good old-fashioned photo challenge.

Earlier this month, I signed up for The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30/30 Challenge.  I felt a little lost after the adventure race was finished and decided that I needed another project to keep me occupied.  This one is considerably less time-consuming, thank goodness.

Simply, I pledged to spent at least 30 minutes a day outside “in nature” and to capture these moments in photos.  As part of the challenge, participants are encouraged to upload our photos to David Suzuki’s Flickr group.  There are prizes for the best shots.  I have an inexpensive camera that has been dropped a few times and very unimpressive photographic skills, so I’m not really in it for the competition.  June is a really lovely month to spend outdoors, and I figure it’s good to have a little reminder to get outside when life gets hectic.  And it’s been great for C.  She loves being outdoors, and she had a great time today at an outdoor baby yoga class.  It mainly consisted of her doing forward folds to reach for grass she wanted to eat.  But still.  Nature.

I’m not going to post all of the photos I’ve taken so far, because some of them are pretty terrible (the lack of camera skills sometimes lead to fuzzy, out-of-focus shots of our lilacs) and I don’t want to subject readers to that.  But I’ll post some of the highlights throughout the month of June.

C and me (not pictured: Pete) out for a stroll near our house.

Words, words, words

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I love reading.  I love it a ton.  I crammed in a bunch of thousand-page Russian novels before C was born because I figured I wouldn’t have much time for that sort of thing once she arrived.  I saved up some popular page-turners for after her birth because I knew that I would still want to read, but that I wouldn’t have much time or brain power.  So, since I had her, I’ve managed to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games trilogy.  That’s it.  In nine months.  Sigh.

More than anything else, I’m really struggling to find the time to read.  I can find a few minutes to pick the banjo, I can take C out to exercise with me, and I can do some evening baking, but lately, I just can’t seem to finish a book.

I think there are a few things going on here:

1)      I like to read in long sessions.  I should try to just get over this and get used to reading a page or two at a time, I guess.  Changing is hard.

2)      I need sleep.  I know people who stay up late reading in bed and I just can’t do it.  When I’m in bed I’m sleeping.  End of story.

3)      I don’t like to speed-read or skim.  Case in point: I read the farming chapters in Anna Karenina.  Thoroughly.  I did not skim those suckers.  Ask me about 19th century Russian farming practices.

This pretty much sums it up.

4)      When I’m reading and Pete is puttering or working, I feel lazy.  And he is always puttering or working, so I end up puttering or working along with him.

I may have to just change my reading habits for a bit while C (and hypothetical second child) is little.  I’m thinking that I should just set some small daily goals for reading.

Busy readers, do you have any tips on how to squeeze some literature into my day?