Friday, October 31, 2008

BOO!

Halloween greetings, all! Firstborn has just gotten on the schoolbus in his Superman costume and I'm preparing for an early evening of trick-or-treating before handing out a few treats myself. Frankly, I can't wait for November 1st.
As a kid, I didn't really start trick-or treating until I was about 11. Before that, we lived in England, where that sort of thing just isn't done. But it didn't take long to figure out that it was the greatest candy-grab anyone could've ever come up with, and for the couple of years I was still young enough to participate, I looked forward to it, eagerly planning my costume from the first day of school in September. These days, I can't help but see it as one more thing to get through. It's a hassle having to put kids into costumes and strap them into the car (because we can't walk anywhere from here), then walk them all over some little neighbourhood, all the while having to rein-in Rosemary's Baby as he attempts to wander into the street, or dig up the dirt under someone's rose bushes. And after that, it's finding a nice quiet place to toss the dogs so they don't scare someone's kid to death while I hand out candy on the front steps until all hours. Not to sound like a Halloween grinch, but I'd rather make myself a cup of decaf and spend a quiet evening in front of the TV, further acquainting myself with Tony Soprano.
However, making the most of this short period in my life is all about embracing motherhood, and all the little inconveniences that come with it. So instead of focussing on the annoyance that is Halloween, I will choose to rewind a few years and concentrate on the stuff that made me look forward to it way back when I could never have imagined it being anything but plain old good fun. So, without further adieu, I present to you my list of why Halloween rocks.

1. Candy. Well, duh! This is obviously the reason every kid in North America looks forward to All Hallows' Eve. I think it's probably also the reason Weight Watchers continues to be so successful throughout the fall (followed closely, of course, by the ultimate season of overindulgence, Christmas). I, myself, have a box of 75 chocolate bars. Last year, we got 4 trick-or-treaters. You do the math.
2. Costumes. Okay, okay. So, I admit that I hate having to dress my kids up, but how cute are they when they get into their costumes? And, I must confess, seeing a baby dressed up as an animal creates certain gurgling in my reproductive system.
3. Pumpkins. My favourite fruit/vegetable is the gorgeous orange gourd we call the pumpkin. There's just something about it that ushers in fall for me. And once fall is here, there's the neverending possibility of new fashion choices...scarves, jackets, boots (and boots, and more boots!). In conjunction with the gorgeous colours on the trees, the pumpkin screams "AUTUMN" for me. And I haven't even gotten to the cheesecakes, pies, muffins, soups and pastas you can turn the pumpkin into. We grew 4 pumpkins in our garden this year, so I'll be eating lots of it come November. And what could be more comforting when the snow starts falling?
4. TV and the Movies. Okay, I don't go in for any of that blood-and-gore stuff and I think, looking at some of the junk being churned out today, it's safe to say that moviemakers of yesteryear were far more adept at striking terror into our hearts (see Rosemary's Baby, of course, The Exorcist, The Shining and The Omen, just to name a few of the best, and never underestimate the brilliance of the late greats, Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock). TV, on the other hand, seems to get better with time. If you have cable (and, sadly, I don't), you can watch all manner of creepy true-to-life stories of ghosts and hauntings. Of course, with the Captain gone, and me living in the middle of nowhere, there's no way I'd actually sit by myself and watch any of this stuff, but I can dream of an autumn in the future when the Captain and I can flop onto the couch with a bowl of popcorn after the kids are asleep and scare ourselves silly.
5. The Halloween Tree. I'm talking about the most excellent novel by Ray Bradbury, not to be confused with the fairly lame cartoon adaptation. The Captain introduced me to this book during my last year of teaching grade 6, when I wanted to find an age-appropriate story that dealt with Halloween but also touched on another area we were studying, Ancient Civilizations. And this book was no disappointment. Through this novel, my students learned that Halloween is so much more than trick-or-treating. There are cultures around the world that honour their dead in the most meaningful and interesting ways. We, as North Americans, have taken these traditions and manipulated them into an opportunity to hit up our neighbours for candy, then toilet paper their trees if they refuse to comply. Meh. It's what we do. But there's no reason we can't educate ourselves, and this book is one entertaining, eye-opening way to do it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

And there you have it. While I do look forward to getting the excitement of the day over and easing into a nice, relaxing weekend at home, I guess Halloween isn't all bad. Maybe I'll even whip us up a spooky dessert tonight and find a big bowl to keep the leftover candy in. And then I guess it'll be time to give Weight Watchers a call.
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taking the Easy Route


Before we had kids, the Captain and I dreamed of living in the middle of nowhere, with a big chunk of land to call our own. The idea of growing our own vegetables, chopping our own firewood and working on an old fixer-upper was our idea of heaven. But after a couple of years (and a couple of winters) out here on the farm, I've learned something about myself that I think is pretty key. I am all about convenience.
Today I will tackle the last 30 pounds of home-grown tomatoes. They will be stewed, strained through a seive, cooked down to a sauce and canned, to be stored in the pantry for those cold winter days when I want a taste of proper summer tomatoes on my spaghetti that you just can't find in a tin at Wal Mart. By the time Firstborn gets off the bus at the end of our driveway and demands an after-school snack, I will have finally finished the week-long process of canning a total of just over 100 pounds of tomatoes from our garden. And it's been hell.
Last year, it was summer squash and tomatillos. At least this year, the product is a little more versatile, but between the blisters I've gotten from forcing them through the seive, the mess of tomato juice dripping onto the kitchen floor, and the piles and piles of dirty dishes from the whole operation, I never want to see another tomato again. And it makes me wonder if any of it is worth the trouble.
Last year, we embarked on a kitchen renovation that turned into a kitchen, hallway and living room renovation. The job was a nightmare. I got stomach flu 3 times last winter, which is unheard of for me, and I'm positive it had something to do with the 2 weeks I spent having to wash dishes in the bathtub. By the time it was over, I swore I'd tackle whatever jobs around here were absolutely necessary to sell the place when the time comes, but nothing more. Well, here we are a year later, and we need a full bathroom renovation, some new plumbing and drywall in the laundry room, and a few other aesthetic jobs done on the main floor. The whole thing just gives me a headache. I now get--and I mean I really GET--why people buy those brand new show homes you just move into and live in, with never any thought about renovating, or even redecorating.
The Captain isn't here nearly as much as I am, and he doesn't really see what the big deal is. He's happy to live in the mess, with jobs left perpetually undone when he IS here. He didn't have to plant, harvest or process the tomatoes this year, but will undoubtedly think it was the greatest plan ever when he's eating homemade sauce this winter, and will have similar ideas for more of the same next summer (when he won't be here again to deal with the misery of it all). He loves to roast and grind his own coffee. He occasionally makes his own cheese. And he's had, for some years now, this crazy, half-cocked plan to make his own sausages.
It isn't that I don't like doing things from scratch myself. I've mentioned before that I'm pretty crafty. I love to cook, I make my own bread, and I enjoy refinishing wood furniture I've bought for a next to nothing at Value Village. There are many things that for me are worth the work. But I've learned the hard way that not EVERYTHING done myself is worth my time.
So, my plan is to buckle down and pay someone else to get this place finished and ready to just be lived in and enjoyed for the remaining couple of years we'll likely live here. The garden will be reduced to a manageable size for next year, and when Rosemary's Baby refuses to eat homemade beans, spaghetti or mac and cheese, I will take it as a sign that it is actually OKAY to buy that stuff, preservatives and all, ready-made in a can or box. If I feel like buying ground coffee in a can, ready-ground flour instead of milling my own, or tins of tomatoes (not that I should ever need them again, judging from the contents of my pantry) while the Captain's away, it will not make me a failure. I will embrace convenience and use the time I save to play outside with my kids, or make something pretty and fun. At least that's my plan until next spring comes. By then I'll have forgotten the hassle of the enormous harvest, the way we all forget the pain of childbirth, and decided I may as well put in that farm-sized garden again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

How Many Army Wives Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?


Technology waits for no man, and this weekend marked a new scientific breakthrough for me. For the couple of you following my little blog, you may note that there has been a layout change, and I've also learned to include photos in my posts. While these skills are certainly basic, for me they're actually pretty exciting. But, as ever, my quantum leap also brought with it the inevitable frustrations that made me want to throw a lamp through a window.
The Captain usually takes care of things like setting up the stereo system and fixing the computer when it unavoidably starts crashing every 4 months or so. So, when he's gone I like to steer clear of rocking the boat. If I can just keep the computer on an even keel, I figure I'm doing okay. But being a military spouse is about being independent, being able to fix problems yourself, even if they are what I like to call "Man-jobs". So, this weekend, I decided it was time to stop namby-pambying around and figure out how to personalize my blog a little.
It turns out that, for the few rudimentary changes I wanted to make, it was a pretty quick and easy process, but I only figured this out after about 2 hours of screaming at the screen and seriously considering just deleting the whole thing altogether when it looked a lot like my only other option was to live with a lime green background and neon pink script. It turns out that if you're bringing your layout in from elsewhere, it comes up as its own post and all you have to do to get rid of it is delete that post. Elementary stuff, people, but for the technologically illiterate (ie. ME), it took a little work and panic to figure that one out.
Once I'd surmounted this monstrous hurdle, I felt, as Firstborn would put it, invincible, and I moved on to another mechanical task that I'd usually leave to the Captain. This one wasn't so hard, but it did end up warranting the same anger-management breathing exercises as the computer job.
After spending the last year or so in a very dim living room, I splurged at Wal Mart and bought myself a set of 4 lamps. It was a good move, and I'm very pleased with the result, but it took a little while to get me there. First was the packaging. Upon opening the box, I discovered that all the pieces were individually wrapped in plastic and then taped inside a giant molded piece of styrofoam. Styrofoam itself was once considered a mark of technological progress. Now we know it simply as an environmentally destructive eyesore that kids love to break into tiny pieces and spread all over the house. But we use it anyway because we are too lazy to do anything else.
To make a long story short, by the time I had it all (or all the stuff that didn't crumble and magnetically attach itself to me) in a large garbage bag, I was swearing through gritted teeth. I got the lamps themselves together with little problem, found one piece missing, replaced it with a suitable substitute, realized I'd forgotten to buy bulbs, scoured the house and found a few, fumbled and broke the only 3-way bulb I could find in the tightest corner possible, swore some more while sweeping it up, and eventually ended up with 4 very nice-looking lamps and a living room that no longer has the atmosphere of a funeral parlour. Me: 1, Technology: 0.
So, while I'll probably never learn how to install a new video card in my computer (and why would I WANT to?!!), and I'll always grapple with lightbulbs and extension cords, I'll ride this high for a while and feel just a tad more capable, knowing deep down that I can handle the problems that come up in the Captain's absence.
That is, until the computer starts crashing again.



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Test Picture




Here we have Firstborn and Rosemary's Baby on the sled hill our wonderful neighbour made for us last year out of snow from our driveway. If this makes it successfully into my blog, it will mark a technological breakthrough for me,
and will open up a whole new world of opportunity in terms of my blogging!
Proper post tomorrow!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Movin' Easy

There are advantages to having the Captain gone for weeks or months at a time. Sleep is a big one. No one is there to steal all the blankets, accuse ME of stealing the blankets, snore all night or (my personal favourite) decide at 3AM that he has insomnia, turn the lights on and start reading without clue-ing in that this might bother me. Food is another. I can go on whatever diet I like and not have to deal with his complaints when I refuse to keep potato chips in the house, and I can have cereal for dinner, cake for breakfast and eat at whatever time of day or night I please. But the best thing about the Captain's absence is, by far, the music.
When our family is together, Saturday and Sunday mornings are lazy. We eat a big breakfast and rarely get out of our pajamas before 11AM. The kids eat, watch TV and play while we surf the internet or read magazines over a third or fourth cup of coffee. The atmosphere would be heavenly if it wasn't for the Captain's nasty little habit of blasting loud, rowdy, angry music from the moment he wakes up (usually before 0600--the army has him well conditioned) until I can take it no more and turn it off, under the guise of breakfast being ready.
With the Captain safely across the country, control of the music is all mine. Well, mostly mine. The Captain's birthday gift this year was a Sirius Satellite Radio . We're all finding it awesome, and the kids like the children's music station. So, to keep the peace around here, we can sometimes be found listening to that. But I'm mostly in charge, so we usually listen to whatever I feel like hearing. I have a good dozen or so stations I like, ranging from classic rock, to cheesy hair bands, to country, to 80's new wave, to talk of all kinds, to pop. But this week, I stumbled across a station I'd never listened to before, and I must now claim this station as my secret shame. It's called "Movin' Easy", and it's exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes it cools itself up with more mellow selections by people like Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, or lends an element of respect to the genre it plays by throwing in some Commodores or James Taylor but in general what I find myself listening to (and secretly loving) is the most embarrassing, corny stuff allowed on the airwaves. Between Peaches and Herb's "Reunited", and "Wedding Bell Blues", by the Fifth Dimension today, I found myself both nostalgic for my (decidedly unromantic) husband, but also glad for his absence because he'd undoubtedly insist on turning the radio right off when Air Supply came on.
Finding this new station, and surprising myself by actually liking it, has made me wonder what on earth happened to my taste in music. While I could never have called myself a serious appreciator of music, there was a time when I, too, would've happily woken up to the soothing sounds of electric guitars and screaming. But over the years, I've gone from (among others) loud rock, to rock, to classic rock, to pop, to country. And apparently, this is the next stop. I guess it really is true that as you get older, your tastes just mellow. This isn't to say that I won't ever listen to my rock stations again. Maybe I'll get up and change the station right now.
Okay, right after Barry Manilow is done singing "Mandy".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beating the Blues

The wedding is over, and the verdict is in. The bride was gorgeous, and everyone in attendance had a fantastic time. So, why do I feel like crap?
It's not like I hoped it'd be a disaster in my absence. Quite the contrary. That everything went off without a hitch was the best news I could've heard. But there's something about hearing it from other people instead of witnessing it myself that has sent me into a bit of a downward spiral today. Yesterday, I felt a little miserable, but also like it wasn't the end of the world. I was at least able to focus on my most shallow losses. Today, the real disappointment of having no wedding memories to speak of has kicked in, and I just plain feel blue.
Some people really revel in feeling depressed. They make sure everyone around them knows it, don't get out of their pajamas all day and cry into their ice cream bowls while watching old episodes of The Waltons. This doesn't do it for me. When I feel gloomy, I want out. NOW. And, while I'm still trying to find the one cure-all for feeling bummed, I have come across a few helpful strategies.

1. Eating. Yeah, yeah, I know how dangerous this one is. For people with food addictions, this is likely to just make depression worse, so it's not for everyone. But there's something about indulging in anything from a piece of chocolate, to a fast food burger, to a fatty 9-course meal that dulls the pain a little. While I'm not a stranger to the flabby middle, I find a little comfort eating (followed by a lot of restraint and a re-introduction to my good friend, the treadmill) can go a long way towards beating the blues.
2. Shopping. Again, a potential serious hazard, but a new sweater (or, in cases as grim as mine, a Cuttlebug) can afford someone steeped in misery enough temporary relief to just get them through the funk. However, this must never be tried if you're prone to unmanageable credit card debt or have a spouse who nags you right back into Drearytown about the finances.
3. Crafting. Alright, not for everyone. But for me, making cards or knitting or beading is just plain fun, so I can't feel lousy while I'm doing it. Plus it's productive, so it's like I'm getting something done. I know, I know. Tell it to the Captain when he arrives home after a long day to find the breakfast dishes still in the sink, the laundry still piled up and half a dozen pretty new cards on display. If you're not a crafter, substitute something like playing an instrument or amusing yourself with your toy trains.
4. Exercise. No, I do not mean the aforementioned treadmill. Perish the thought. I'm talking about things like going ice (or roller) skating, getting out to the garden and doing a little digging and pulling, taking a hike in the woods, or riding a bike. I mean the kind of exercise that will get you the fresh air and raised heartbeat that's good for you, without the misery of actually focussing on the good-for-you part.

Since there's no guarantee any of these things will pull me out of the dumps, I'm open to other suggestions. But for now, I figure I'll start with a little online shopping and then move into the other 3 tactics that work for me, bringing my monkey-kids along for the ride. If nothing else, we'll have a little fun together and make a few memories of our own.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

LBD: The Only Surefire Way To Avoid Asking "What Was I Thinking?!!"

Today is an extremely important day for our family. My second-youngest sister (let's call her Sister #3--I have a lot of sisters...) is getting married today. And I won't be there. Suffice it to say that, with the Captain gone, Firstborn both in school and suffering from some pretty severe separation anxiety since his father's departure, doing the 40-hour round-trip alone with 2 small children just wasn't possible. It's at times like these that I question what on earth we were thinking plunging our little family into military life. But, what's done is done, and I will simply have to live with the disappointment of being absent from yet another family portrait. I could go on about this disappointment all day, all the important things I've missed, all the meaningful speeches I haven't heard and all those small moments that will never linger in my memory. But that's just not me. At this very second, as miserable as I feel for missing the wedding, what's also sticking in my craw is something far, far more shallow.
I've missed my chance to wear my new Little Black Dress.
Oh, you should see it! Hanging in the closet, it actually looks no more flattering than my bathrobe, but when I put it on, it emphasizes all those body parts that haven't yet gone south, and skims nicely over the ones that have. It is made of a slightly stretchy fabric and is one of those wrap-style dresses that all the magazines have been telling me I should own. When I wear it, I look like a grownup, stylish but classic.
Seeing this dress, of course, brings my brain around to all the regrettable clothing decisions I've made in the past. To mention just a few...the stretchy, skimpy, skin-tight red thing I was prone to throw on every dressy occasion at the age of 20 (long retired, thank god), the 10 year-old blazer I decided to wear rather than replace to one military function or another last year (just because it's black, it doesn't make polyester right--it is now, also, retired, enormous shoulder pads and all) and the homemade 2-piece gold satin dress I made myself for the Captain's Spring Ball last year. In my defense, the dress itself wasn't bad, even if the style I chose couldn't really be called "flattering", but the ball was held on a humid day and I made the unfortunate decision to curl my hair. Also, I inexplicably decided to wear contact lenses instead of my signature specs. So in the pictures, I kind of have the look of a deranged woman going home to her 54 cats and shopping cart full of cans.
But I digress.
The ultimate awful dress for me also doubles as the most expensive thing I've ever worn. And I think most women would nod their heads in sympathy for me, knowing exactly how this one feels, when I say it was a bridesmaid's dress. Some years back, I stuffed myself into a poofy, pastel, hideously outdated travesty of a dress that, at $400, was a steal, considering it could only have come from the Queen Mother's personal collection. The bride loved the style, and I loved the bride, so I wore the thing with a smile on my face, all the while secretly wishing I was part of the wedding party across the park who were all wearing something gorgeous and stylish. This dress ended up being cut up the following fall and used as a halloween costume, and it is one good reason I avoid as much as possible ever agreeing to be a bridesmaid again. A wedding is only fun if you're way off in the back, enjoying the meal and wearing whatever you like. And for me, I like the LBD.
So this evening, after the kids are in bed, I may whip up a few appetizers, pour myself a glass of wine, slip into my new LBD and quietly celebrate the marriage of Sister #3 all by myself.
Okay, okay, that would just be sad. But I won't say no to the wine and appetizers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Dream Wedding

The Captain and I were fortunate enough to attend a wedding this past weekend. And, while it wasn't the wedding I desperately hoped to attend this month (I'm missing one next weekend and am gutted about it), I'm glad we went.
With apologies to all the devout Roman Catholics out there, sitting on the groom's side of the church, we prepared ourselves for what we expected to be a mind-numbingly long mass. So, we were surprised to find ourselves in and out of there within about a half-hour, but this didn't mean the ceremony itself wasn't meaningful or thought-provoking. As usual, given a few minutes of quiet, I got to thinking. And what I thought about was my own wedding.
Nothing was particularly wrong with my wedding. It was, in fact, quite nice. The Captain and I, being up to our ears in the kind of debt reserved only for students and idiots, couldn't afford a five-figure affair. So we accepted my father in-law's gracious (and likely drunk) offer to host our nuptials in his large rural backyard. Father in-Law ended up doing huge amounts of legwork, finding us deals on everything from tents to food to a string quartet, so I didn't have to walk down the aisle to the sound of the Captain singing "here comes the bride, all fat and wide". My mother made all the dresses for the wedding party (including mine) and spent hours and hours helping to plan the pretty, crafty stuff, which sounds fun, but really, really isn't. For this, we still owe Father in-Law and my mom a debt of gratitude. And, in front of 50 or so of our family and friends, we embarked on the cosmic gag that is marriage.
This isn't to say our day was perfect, and I think if you asked any bride if she could look back on her big day with no regrets, you'd never get an honest answer in the affirmative. The Captain's stepmother (heretofore to be referred to as "Monster in-Law"), realizing this was her chance to host the wedding of her dreams, went crazy. And by crazy, I mean even crazier than usual.
Our wedding, though small, included some guests who were extremely important to us. My godmother crossed continents and oceans and went to unthinkable expense to be there, and a very good friend of mine, who later stepped in for the Captain when he was unable to be present for the birth of Firstborn was also there. Both (undoubtedly along with countless others we've never heard about) were, at one point or another, unceremoniously booted out of the house by Monster in-Law, who determined all by herself that the house was "the church", the only people allowed in it were bridesmaids, and that anyone seen inside with (horrors!) an alcoholic beverage was condemned to hell.
I, of course, did not catch wind of any of this until days after the event, but it has forever marred my memory of our wedding, and for this, deep down in my heart, Monster in-Law has never really been forgiven (nor has she ever, in the eleven years following, taken responsibility for doing it.). But the one good thing that has come out of this experience for me is that, should I ever have to remarry, I know EXACTLY what my next wedding will look like. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm not alone in this. Second weddings tend to be happier, less stressful affairs than first ones, and it's because those who remarry tend to be older, know themselves better, and have enough experience with wedding (and marriage) nightmares the first time around to be bound and determined not to make the same mistake twice.

So, for the record, here is what I like to call my "Dream Wedding":

1. It will take place at 9AM at City Hall, with no guests, barring my own children and (presumably) those of husband #2, and one witness if absolutely necessary.
2. I will wear something kick-ass (but appropriate) from my own closet, as will everyone else in attendance.
3. The ceremony will be followed by pictures taken on the front steps using my own camera, a tripod and a self-timer.
4. Pictures will be followed by a late breakfast at a local diner or, barring that, McDonald's.
5. Breakfast will be followed by spending the rest of the day in front of the TV, craftily composing wedding announcements to be mailed the next day.

Inspired? Not particularly. But it's all mine.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Walk This Way

Well, at some point, I had to get around to this topic, and I can hold back no more. Shoes!!!
I've noticed that there are two kinds of people in this world: shoe people and not-shoe people. My friend Thelma falls into the latter category. She owns something like five pairs of shoes. These would include running shoes, winter boots, work shoes and slippers. I can't remember what that fifth pair is for, but I'm guessing it's something sensible and utilitarian.
I, on the other hand, cannot get through a day without thinking about shoes, and I own so many pairs, I could (hypothetically speaking, of course) never buy another pair and have more than enough to get me to the end of my life. And I'm assuming here that I'll live to a ripe old age. Off the top of my head, I can count about 50 pairs sitting in my closet, a quarter of which would be boots. Stylish boots, boots that are literally unwearable in my present life, boots with heels that'd make chasing Rosemary's Baby through the hay fields of rural Manitoba a completely impossible task.
So what's the attraction? I think it comes down to a couple of things. First, I'm a girl. And girls dream of commitment. No matter how much weight we gain or lose, our shoe size never changes. And because of this, shoes, unlike pants or sweaters, are something we can see as a long-term investment, something that may not even fit our lifestyle today (like my numerous pairs of suede stiletto boots), but that could eventually be our go-to pair on days when we want to feel pretty. In most cases, these kinds of shoes end up on the donation pile before our lives change enough to fit them in, but they represent our hopes and dreams for the future nonetheless, and for this they are well worth the expense.
Secondly, shoes transform us. A pair of well-fitting jeans and a plain white t-shirt can take on a lot of looks and serve a number of purposes with the right pair of shoes. When we go out in public wearing that great pair of red kitten-heel ankle boots, and someone at Wal-Mart asks where you got your shoes because they want a pair too, it tells you you look good, even kick-ass. For a brief moment in time, you get to feel like one of those well-dressed celebrities, or a wardrobe organization expert, or someone in the fashion industry (or whatever it is you aspire to when you're at Wal Mart), instead of a harried mom trying to get a good deal on dog food.
The Captain is not much of a flowers-and-candy kind of guy, and this suits me just fine because I'd much rather him spend the dough on something I can wear or carry, or turn into something impressively crafty. But when he goes away for any extended period of time, he eventually starts to miss me. And when he misses me, he starts sending me shoes. Being a man, he loves a sale, so he gets online and starts looking around for great deals on things he thinks I'd like. And he always finds me something. For this reason, I actually find myself looking forward to his little absences. Hitting the post office on a Wednesday morning to discover a huge box filled with boots and sandals waiting for me is a high like no other. But like all highs, it doesn't last forever, and I have yet to find myself finally satisfied. And herein lies the crux.
I am perplexed as to why I can rip open my latest shoe shipment, try on my new stuff, deem it the best shoe score EVER...and then immediately start thinking about some other style of shoe I simply must have. This, I suppose, is the disease of North American consumerism. Nothing is ever enough, and we buy, buy, buy for fear we will suddenly find ourselves left with nothing.
So, today I turn over a new leaf. No more constant searching for that one pair of shoes that will make me complete. Today (and tomorrow and the next day), I will enjoy the 50+ pairs I already own, save my money for a rainy day, and rest my brain, content in the knowledge that I already have more than I will ever need.
Until I find that perfect pair of black ballet flats in my size.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Families

I must respectfully disagree with Tolstoy's theory of happy families. I have a little experience here, having grown up in a happy, if unusual, family and, all biases aside, I believe my current family situation to be a happy one as well. But happiness within the family unit does not look the same wherever you go, and I think this is especially true for military families.
Like me, the Captain did not step off the campus of his university on graduation day and fall into a lifelong career. He had a couple of false starts, and by the time he found his true military calling, we had been married for 6 years. Throw into the mix the fact that I was a week away from giving birth to Firstborn the day he left for Basic Training, and our initiation into army life, while perhaps fairly common for military families, didn't look a whole lot like anyone else's.
The Captain is away right now. He is, in fact, away a lot. This year has been good, in that by Christmas he will have spent only about 6 months of it away from us. Next year, we should see him for a total of 2 months. To anyone unacquainted with life in the forces, this would seem like grounds for divorce. And sometimes it is. But for us, a combination of our own unique life experiences and personal character traits have made this lifestyle oddly manageable. This is not to say we live a fairy tale existence, and on this point I'd like to be explicit. Military life is not for everyone, not by a long shot.
Let me clear up a common misconception. On TV, in movies and throughout the media, the military family "reunion" has been depicted as some sort of happy ending, and for a short moment in time it is. Your loved one is stepping off a bus or plane, safe and sound, handsome in his uniform, and the promise of a normal life kind of wafts around in the air. You're elated and looking forward to spending time together as a family. You hug, you kiss, you feel for a short time like life is finally back to how it should be. And then you drive home, the ball drops, and reality presents itself on your doorstep like an unwanted visitor with no set departure date. When your spouse has been in the field, on an exercise or course, or overseas for weeks or months at a time, something happens in the family. You get used to his absence, you create routines that don't include him and, in a way, you become single again. Emails and phone calls do not replace proper, spontaneous, in-person, intimate conversations, and when you find yourself alone with him for the first time in months, it can be something akin to an uncomfortable first date. A little voice in the back of your head hints that the love is lost, the marriage is over, and it can take days, even weeks for that voice to shut the hell up. Of course, eventually all goes back to normal. The easy closeness returns, the kids warm up to him again, but only after he's driven you to nearly rip all your hair out with his sloppiness, his laziness and his complete inability to fit himself into the routines you've set up without him. There can be a lot of fighting, a lot of crying and a lot of stress. And this is a letdown, even for those of us who have been through it time and time again and should know better. Because when we're sick of the loneliness, the sporadic phone calls that leave you feeling like you've forgotten to tell him something after the hangup, and the exhaustion of running day-to-day life for yourself, kids and pets alone, you can't help but believe the hype, and long for the fairy tale.
But the separation of military life prepares you for something else. It shows you what life would be like without him. And this is something you have to be prepared for, considering his line of work. So, while I do love having a tidy house, the remote control entirely to myself, and the option to eat potato chips for dinner every night if it so pleases me, I do also make note of the downside of his absence. After the kids are in bed and the dogs have settled in for a night of lounging around, things get quiet. You find yourself completing home improvement projects to stave off loneliness. You get a lot done, but you remember what it is about him that makes you happy, and you want him home again, playing with the kids and just having a presence in your life.
So I count down the days until I see him next (he WILL be home for part of the long weekend before heading out again, not to return until mid-December), I reassure Firstborn that Daddy won't be gone for long, and I prepare for the inevitable separation/reunion misery, secure in the knowledge that despite the temporary anguish it causes, we are ultimately a happy family.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Naked Soccer, Grey Hair and the Three Year-Old

Whoever coined the term "terrible twos" didn't stick around to see three.
No, this won't be a diatribe on some new horror that Rosemary's Baby has committed. He's still only two for another month or so, and he's been suspiciously inert where mischief is concerned these past few days, leading me to believe that he's going to come up with something mind-blowing this weekend. My hair turns greyer just thinking about it. But looking back to Firstborn's antics after he hit the big 03 gives me a little cause for concern. Today, he is a happy, basically well-behaved five year old. He was never as "busy" as his little brother, generally preferring to read books and sit still and play with things. But we had our fair share of "episodes" with him as well.
I've already referred to the chocolate syrup debacle, and the vapo-rub disaster and that alarming hot pepper thing. But there were others. Entire bottles of baby powder sprinkled all over himself (we called him "The Mime", but he did at least smell nice), jugs of sticky Kool-Aid all over the kitchen floor, and the unfortunate day he discovered he could climb up onto the stove and reach back into the highest cupboard in the house to down half a bottle of those delicious chewable children's vitamins. I'm still not sure why he doesn't have superpowers.
Before we moved off the army base which was our last home, we were preparing for one of those outgoing inspections. You know the drill. You scrub the house from top to bottom in an attempt to mask the fact that you've utterly neglected the place since the day you moved in, never mind the day-to-day damage done by dogs and kids and spouses who don't think they need to clean up after themselves. So, one evening, after an hour or so of quiet in front of the TV, children sleeping (or so I thought), I headed up to bed to prepare for another long day of cleaning. Firstborn hadn't made a sound all evening, so I was surprised to find him still awake when I got up there. I was even more taken aback to discover that he'd tiptoed into the spare room, found himself a permanent marker and gone to town on every wall on the upper level of our house. After suffering a small heart attack, I made a mental note to hit the store first thing for some damage-control. Thank god for Magic Erasers.
And then there was naked soccer. One gorgeous summer afternoon, I put my kids down for naps and headed to what used to be the "computer room". Again, I heard nothing unususal coming from the bedrooms, or elsewhere. I swear, the kid should be a cat burglar. But halfway through an email to a family member, I was pulled out of my train of thought by an almighty crash coming from the area of the front hallway. So, I booked it upstairs to find the front screen door off its hinges in the driveway and Firstborn standing on the gravel, buck-naked, bleeding from the head and crying loudly. Thank god we live in the middle of nowhere. I really should've had a visit from Children's Services by now. From his garbled explanation, I was able to make out that he'd decided he didn't want to take a nap. He wanted to play soccer on the front lawn (naked), but had run into trouble when he tried to open the stiff screen door. Ever the thinker, he determined that the best way to get out of the house was to move back a few steps and take a flying leap at the screen. The entire thing came out of the door frame and toppled down the four concrete steps out front, taking Firstborn and his soccer ball along for the ride. Never a dull moment.
These incidents, of course, scare the bejeezes out of me when I think of what Rosemary's Baby will inevitably get up to over the next year or so. We already have deadbolts and alarms on all the doors leading out of the house, and our every item of value that was not ruined by one or the other of them has long since been boxed up and put in a far corner of the garage. But three year-olds just seem to have a knack for finding something they shouldn't be doing and then going ahead and doing it. So I am resigned to the idea that I will need to be particularly diligent in knowing where he is at all times over the next 12 or 13 months.
In the meantime, I could use some tips on covering these greys.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Big Picture

The old school pictures. Whooda thunk that one day, my fluorescent-pink-sweatshirt-and-purple-feather-earring-wearing self would produce her very own subject for funny school pics? No one in my seventh grade class, that's for sure.
Firstborn is in kindergarten. It's been a harrowing first month for me. On the first morning, before having to put him on the bus (and subsequently following it to school to make sure the centre of my universe arrived unharmed), I spent the morning bawling like an idiot. The end of an era, the beginning of the end of stay-at-home motherhood. I do, of course, have a couple more years here with Rosemary's Baby, and I'll make the most of that time, but waving bye-bye as Firstborn happily trotted off to his classroom that first day was devastating.
But with the inevitable chore that is school comes some fun stuff too. A few days ago, he hopped off the bus and handed me his backpack, protruding from which was an envelope. An unmistakeably glossy envelope. School pictures were in! With great anticipation, I ripped open the envelope and pulled out the proofs to discover...two of the funniest faces my already pretty weird kid has ever made. My first instinct was to look for the retake date, but after a few minutes of staring at what I now refer to as "frog-face" and "this is the closest you're getting to a smile, so snap the damn picture already", I realized that these photos were the essence of my child, facial expressions that represent exactly the things about him that I love and cherish. So I yanked out the chequebook and put in my order. Now, I'm just DYING to be a fly on the wall when the Captain's uptight, judgemental and ultimately childless stepmother opens up the Christmas card to see her first set of class pictures. Heh heh.
Before foraying into the exhausting, challenging and ultimately rewarding world of public education, I had other aspirations. First it was to be a "writer". As I worked towards my English degree, and met a whole lot of people who pretentiously quoted Proust and aspired to the same dream I did, it became clear that I needed to focus my goal a little. One does not just step out into the world at the age of 21 and write the Great Canadian Novel. So, after finishing my degree, I enrolled in a print journalism program. This was not entirely a mistake because this is where I met the Captain, and I'll save that story for another day. But minutes into my studies, it became obvious that I do not, in any way, possess what's known as the "journalistic instinct". But I've had kind of a side hobby since I received my first little camera as a gift at the age of nine, which was also covered in this program, and it is photography. I started studying this area heavily, going so far as to set up my very own darkroom in my bathroom (this was a time just before the explosion of the awesomely-convenient and much less messy digital camera). And after graduation, I set out to make photography my career.
I lasted 8 months.
To keep it brief, working for a large portrait studio chain that housed itself inside a large department store chain (no names mentioned) was what I fully expect hell to be like when I inevitably show up there. The objective in a place like that is not to create interesting, beautiful, thought-provoking photography. It's to make money by telling people to say "cheese", then threatening parents that their kids' portraits will go through a shredder if they don't fork out a couple hundred bucks and buy them. I was not a photographer. I was a corporate shill (and that's the nice way to put it), and it made me feel so yucky that, after my escape, I used nothing more than a point-and-shoot to take shots of important events, pets and kids for the next 12 years.
Until this past August. The Captain, in his infinite wisdom, proved to me once again that jumping into his pool of insanity was the best decision I ever made. He bought me a digital SLR camera. My love of finding cool stuff to capture in still was instantly reborn, and I've since felt a resurgence of creativity that I figured was long gone. Blogging, incidentally, came shortly after, and I credit the Captain for this as well.
So, today you might drive by our armed compound and see me out front finding compelling things to snap, or following the kids while they play, in the hopes of capturing a few moments in time for posterity. Feel free to slow down, lean out the window and make a funny face at me.
Just don't say "cheese".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Math Problems

Warning: I'm about to sound like one of those stand-up comics whose observational humour rocked the 80's and shaped the comedy of today. For this I apologize.
WHAT is WITH those skill-testing questions you have to answer every time you enter a contest?!
In magazines, online, even on kids' cereal boxes, it seems every contest out there requires you to do some multi-operational mathematical equation in order to be eligible to win. So, what, the mathematically challenged among us don't deserve awesome prizes we could never afford to buy ourselves? If the world wasn't already such a messed-up place, we'd recognize this as blatant discrimination. But it does beg a compelling question. Is there a government conspiracy to improve our math skills?
Whoa, I think I got a little crazy there for a minute.
In my last life, and there have been a few, I taught grade 6. In the district where I taught, there was a manditory professional development project we all participated in where we picked an area or two of growth for ourselves and focussed on that all year. During my last 2 years in the classroom, my focus was my math program. For those who don't spend much time in a classroom setting, math is the dinosaur of the elementary education system. While language arts, science and social studies move ever upward, evolving with the professionals who seek to create a meaningful and enlightened learning experience for their students, math is one of those things that stumps us. And when we're stumped, we tend to go back to what we know.
Now, I do not profess in any way to be talented in the area of math. I routinely find myself having to count using my fingers. But as a teacher, I knew instinctively that there must be some better way to teach math to children than cracking open a musty old text book from 1985 (or 2003, for that matter) and drumming the concepts into their little heads through a mind-numbing routine of rote memorization and practice, practice, practice in those lined and margined exercise books that would later end up in a landfill. Don't get me wrong, practice is still necessary, but a little balance never hurts.
So I embarked on a plan. I brought in flyers and gave the kids "cheques" and set them free to budget their money. We read books that had connections with mathematical concepts we were learning. And we played games. Lots and lots of games. Eventually, the kids were coming up with games of their own and writing their own (insert horrified shriek here) WORD PROBLEMS. And wouldn't you know it, even kids with learning disabilities pertaining specifically to math started to have success when we had to inevitably get back to worksheets and tests.
Now, of course, we're not all teachers, but this brings me to the subject of my own two kids--the product of two pretty mathematically clueless people--who already show signs of being far more interested in reading and singing than in math and science. How do we go about setting them up for success at school? Please don't say Flash Cards.
While the purist in me resists at all cost the corporate solution to this question--things like Leapsters and the WALL-E Learning Laptop (I foresee trouble with Firstborn over this one)--there are other things I should really be doing to help them not wake up in a cold sweat every time there's a math test coming up. I figure in our house a couple of good ways to start would be a piggy bank and a lot of baking. I'll let you know how Rosemary's Baby does with 6 cups of flour and a 3-speed mixer.
As for me, I really hope my answer of 16 on the online contest I entered last night was correct. I really want that $1000 in Coach products. However, having never won a thing in my life, I have to wonder, even if I do get the skill-testing question right, what are the odds?
No, really, I want to know.