blogging · community · love and marriage · waxing philosophical

It’s an honour just to be nominated… the Liebster award

I recently received a message from my bloggy friend Rivki over at Life in the Married Lane that she had nominated me for a Liebster award. I’ve never heard of these awards before, but it’s an honour to be chosen. Here are the rules:

1) Tell 11 things about yourself.
2) Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
3) Post 11 questions for those who will be nominated by you.
4) Nominate 11 bloggers.
5) Get in contact with those bloggers to inform them that you nominated them

It’s easier than thinking up a totally original post, so here goes…

11 Things about me:

1. I once ran a half-triathlon. I was 19 years old and reeling from a recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I set my own training schedule, trained for three months, and came in second in my age class… out of two athletes. I am immensely proud and still have the plaque and the photos to prove it.

2. I knew that I would marry Mr. December within moments of seeing him. Not meeting him, seeing him. And it wasn’t a conscious, “wow, he’s so gorgeous I wanna marry him.” It was more of an intuitive flash: my brain said to me, “I’m gonna marry that guy,” and I said to my brain, “What? That’s crazy! You don’t know him! You don’t even know if he’s Jewish!” Needless to say, my intuition was correct. I was 15 years old.

3. My children did not come easily to me. I was infertile. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and completely changed my perspective on life. Truly. I’ve been depressed, bitter, emotionally unstable, jealous, and every other ugly emotion you can think of. Infertility is brutal. One of my biggest fears is that infertile people may see me with my three children under the age of 5 and feel jealous and resentful. Our past struggles aren’t out there for all to see. I sometimes wish I could dress my kids in t-shirts that say “IUI Baby”, “IVF Baby”, and “We thought we were infertile. Surprise!”

4. I’m very comfortable with the elderly. I used to work in a nursing home. Dementia doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I’m happy to sit and converse with elderly people for hours. I wouldn’t normally mention this, but it’s been brought to my attention that many people are extremely uncomfortable in those situations.

5. I once spent a month in a wheelchair. It was crunch time in second-year university and my fibromyalgia was flaring up and making it difficult to get through the day. Staying home sick wasn’t an option, so I used a wheelchair to help me conserve energy so that I could keep up with my schedule. It was definitely an education. To this day, that was the only time anyone at Tim Hortons has asked me if I’d like my muffin heated up.

6. I like sex. I hear jokes and anecdotes about wives not being interested in sex and I’m completely unable to relate. This is verging on TMI, so I’ll leave it at that.

7. My guilty pleasure? Ready Pride and Prejudice Fanfiction. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I never get tired of the “what ifs?” inspired by Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. It’s like reading trashy novels, I suppose. Also, some of it is surprisingly (and enjoyably) smutty (see item #6.)

8. I’m not happy unless I’m creating something. I actually kind of dread vacations, because I don’t know what I’d do after the first few days without my sewing machine and power tools. Honestly, just how many novels can one person read?

9. I had some seriously low self-esteem. I had practically no friends in elementary school. I was frequently the only kid in my class not invited to bar mitzvahs (really, what kind of parent allows their child to invite the whole class minus one?). I was teased about my clothes, my hobbies (apparently classical opera-style singing isn’t cool,) the way I spoke (my mother was from a British colony. We didn’t braid my hair, we plaited it.) It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized the problem wasn’t me – it was the culture at my old school. Suddenly my skills and talents (and quirks) were valued, I had friends, and my whole self-image changed.

10. I kind of wish I had the discipline and dedication to be frum. I love Judaism, its traditions, its community, and I wish I could really be fully part of a frum community… but I can’t. I’m just not there. I’m still coming to terms with that realization. Good thing my frum friends still love me regardless.

11. I have no regrets. I’m one of those annoying people who feels that everything that’s happened has made me into the person I am, so no regrets. Not one. Well, maybe one: I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar today. But aside from that, no regrets.

Now, Rivki has asked a bunch of questions that I’m supposed to answer. Let’s see how many I can get through before my eyes start to close:

  1. If you could outsource any domestic chore or duty, which one would you choose?

Definitely laundry. I’d rather scrub the bathroom than fold laundry. It used to be grocery shopping, but now I’m all organized and in a groove, so I don’t mind it so much.

What mitzvah, or spiritual practice, do you connect with the most?

Oh, boy. I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between Mikvah and the Passover Seder. Mikvah because it was personally very relevant right after my miscarriage and through the years of infertility treatments – it felt very much like a fresh start, physically and emotionally and spiritually. And the Passover seder? I love the wisdom inherent in it: our culture and religion are passed on through the things we tell our children. I love the ritualization of that retelling.

What’s your favourite holiday?

Passover, hands down.

Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve visited?

You’re going to make me choose? Okay, fine. We went on a hike in the Golan heights to a river called the “Jilaboon” (Nahal Giv’on, in Hebrew) and it ended in a deep valley, covered over by oleander trees in bloom, and a waterfall cascading into a deep pool. We went swimming there. It was gorgeous.

What song would you listen to for a burst of energy?

Walking on Sunshine. How can you not want to get up and get moving when you hear that song?

What do you consider comfort food?

Chocolate. Preferably Cadbury’s pretzels & peanut butter chocolate bar. Yum. Also on the comfort food list are hummus and pita, and chicken soup.

Prior to marriage, did you have a “list” of qualities you wanted in a spouse? If so, how close was your list to reality?

I’m sure I had a list running in my mind. I wanted a man with a beautiful voice, who would sing to me. I wanted someone who loved being outdoors. Someone who knew that chivalry wasn’t dead – who would open doors for me, etc. I wanted someone gregarious and optimistic. And who did I marry? I call him “Tall, Dark, and Broody.” He doesn’t really sing. He’s practically a vampire – feels no drive whatsoever to go outside. I trained him in the art of chivalry. Gregarious and optimistic? Hmmm… he’s a charismatic skeptic. He’s my perfect other half, and I’m crazy in love with him.

If you could play any instrument, which one would it be?

I do play an instrument. No, I play five or six: voice (yes, it’s an instrument,) piano, guitar, viola, flute, drums. If I could choose another to learn magically? I wouldn’t… I’d just choose to become very, very good at guitar.

You won a free trip to anywhere you like. Where would you go?


Okay, now it’s my turn to ask the questions! Here goes…

1. What’s your passion in life?

2. Given the option, what time would be the “perfect” wake-up time for you?

3. What’s your favourite mode of transportation?

4. What do you think of The Simpsons?

5. If you were a food, what kind of food would you be?

6. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it pay off?

7. If you didn’t have to work for a living, how would you spend your days?

8. What’s your favourite charity?

9. If you had two hours a day all to yourself with absolutely no other obligatons, how would you spend them?

10. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

11. Why do you blog?

And now for the nominees…

Jennifer from Adventures in Mama-land
Lisaleh from Modern Balabusta
Miri from Here we are together
Andy from Fly, little words, fly!
Sheryl from Little Snowflakes
Gideon from Exploring Souls and Cities
Elizabeth from Project Progeny
The ever-skilled at Lego, and apparently kind of anonymous, Bible Belt Balabusta
Cheryl from Wunch Break
Lisa from Helical Smile

And… that’s it. I know it’s only 10, but you’ll forgive me. Right? Right? If I’ve forgotten you, by any chance, please consider yourself nominated.

And now, off to inform my nominees. Can’t wait to see their answers!

… 1506 words later, I must conclude that it would have been easier to come up with my own post idea!

bikes planes and automobiles · community · Jewy goodness · mental health · waxing philosophical


Hi. I’m Sara, and I’m a cycle-a-holic.

I didn’t think it had come this far, but here I am. My knee hurts badly; I know that I shouldn’t bike tomorrow morning, and that makes me feel bereft. I don’t bike every single morning but I don’t take kindly to knowing that it’s off limits for now. The cravings are beginning. Driving the car is, at best, a necessary evil. There’s no joy in it; it just gets me from A to B and back. But cycling… aside from the obvious fitness benefits, it does wonders for my seasonal depression. Also my soul, my wallet, and my general sense of well-being.

Here’s why:

When I’m cycling, I’m close to the ground and there’s nothing between me and the world around me. I sing out “good morning” whenever we pass a pedestrian. We stop to examine the fire hydrants that haven’t been installed yet. We greet the same construction workers and crossing guards every time. Cycling gives me this sense of being part of the city instead of separated from it in a metal-and-glass bubble.

Nature is right beside me all along the road. I see the trees in various stages of autumnal undress, the places where there are more weeds than grass, the wetness of the road after a night of rain. The air feels clean in the morning, especially on the residential streets that make up most of my ride. I can see the sky – not a piece of it through a windshield, but the whole expanse – and I often marvel that even on cloudy days there is usually a clear patch of blue peeking through somewhere.

Throughout my ride, I have many opportunities to make it easier or harder for myself. I can relax and ride slowly if I feel like it, or I can push myself to the limit and set a new time record. I can lean into the turns more, challenging my skill and balance. I’m up against my own limits, and I often astonish myself.

I can chat with my children, point out landmarks, and ruffle their hair at stop signs. I get to watch them wiggle in time to the music from my iPod. When I greet pedestrians with a smile the children and I get to watch wizened old faces and jaded young faces break into a tentative smile or a grin and a surprised laugh. Even the grumpy-looking old man with the tiny dog (practically a fixture in our parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times) looks handsome when he smiles at us.

Even at my fastest, my speed probably tops out at 18 km/h. Fast enough to get where we’re going, and slow enough to not feel harried and rushed. Traffic means very little to me, gliding along residential streets and through pathways where cars can’t travel.

It’s possible to drive a car on autopilot. We’ve all done it, I’m sure, getting somewhere and realizing we have no particular memory about the journey. I’ve never been able to bike on autopilot. Cycling makes me feel connected – to nature, to the city, to the people, to myself and my limits. To God.

To paraphrase the milk commercials of my youth, cycling does a body good… but it does a soul great.


community · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Hallowe’en vs. Purim

I don’t do Hallowe’en. Never have, and, I hope, never will.

Most of the time I tend to forget that we’re in a religious and cultural minority. But then K brings home notices from extracurricular activities inviting the children to wear their costumes to class and asking parents to send treats for the group. The first such notice I got threw me into a minor snit – I hate Hallowe’en! – until, eventually, I remembered that I’m in the minority here, and largely by my own choice.

I suppose you could also call it a religious decision, but looking around at the Jewish families who do celebrate Hallowe’en I’ve begun to realize that it’s not so clear cut for everyone. Nevertheless, I feel that Hallowe’en expresses values that are the opposite of what Judaism teaches us, and what I’d like to teach my kids. If you contrast Hallowe’en with Purim, the Jewish dressing-up-and-eating-treats holiday, you’ll see what I mean.

Treats. On Hallowe’en, children go from door to door in their neighbourhood requesting treats (or, as is often the case, demanding treats.) The goal seems to be to amass as much candy as possible from as many people as possible, including complete strangers (I don’t have anything against complete strangers, but I get a bit miffed at being expected to provide candy for a bunch of kids who would otherwise never even say “hello” if I saw them out and about.) On Purim we deliver gifts of food – baked goods, candy, fruit, drinks – to family members and friends, as well as neighbours we know or would like to meet. We also receive goodies, of course, but the focus is on the giving.

Dressing up. In this department the two holidays seem about equal. On Purim, as on Hallowe’en, anything goes. Even cross-dressing, which is prohibited by the Torah, is permitted on Purim.

Decorations and general theme. The theme of Hallowe’en is death, gore, and horror. I’ve got nothing against the pumpkins and witches that grace some front lawns, but I’m truly creeped out by faux corpses hanging from trees, front lawns turned cemeteries, and severed limbs dotting the landscape. It just seems so macabre, and so unnecessary. Purim, on the other hand, is a giant festival. Decorations are often colourful, glittery, and just outrageous – more like Mardi Gras that Murder She Wrote.

Demographic. While there are some adult Hallowe’en celebrations, the holiday is mainly aimed at kids. Purim, on the other hand, is a religious holiday with certain religious obligations that apply only to adults. Children have fun on Purim, but it’s the adults who really have to celebrate. That being said, non-religious Jews frequently relate to Purim as a children’s holiday. Pity.

Broader Message. Last time I checked, Hallowe’en didn’t have a broader message (I know that those who celebrate it as a holy day would disagree, and they’d be right, but I’m talking about the Hallowe’en celebrated by the majority of Canadians and Americans.) The story of Purim does: from it we learn to recognize and defeat evil, to remain connected to our heritage, and – most importantly – that many things in our world are hidden and disguised, including God’s intervention.

This year was the first year that K has asked us about Hallowe’en and Trick-or-Treating. “We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en,” I told her. “It’s not a Jewish Holiday. We have Purim, where we get to dress up and take people treats and have a big party.” K’s eyes lit up and she began reminiscing about last year’s Purim feast with the dinner in disguise.  The day after this conversation I overheard her at one of the extracurricular groups’ parties saying, “I don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, I have Purim. But I dressed up anyway because I wanted to come to the party…”

Hey, if we can tackle Hallowe’en so easily, the predictable Christmas envy should be a breeze.

Tell me about your Hallowe’en. Eventful? Non-existent? Do you love it or hate it?

community · crafty · DIY · el cheapo · mental health · weight loss · whine and cheese · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – mental health day edition

I am severely sleep deprived, and it’s starting to show. This morning I woke up (that’s too strong a term for what happened, actually. Let’s say I achieved consciousness) and realized that my limbs felt heavy and my speech was really slow. I made Mr. December drive K to school (anyone who is sleep deprived has no business driving a car, in my opinion, although I understand the necessity of driving sometimes) and I went back to sleep. I just need to catch up before I really make a mess of things – for the past five days I’ve had a case of what I call “the stupids”, which means that I was aware that my decision making abilities were way, way off – or seriously yell at the kids for all the little things that are driving me nuts right now (why are there stickers on everything? Why does K need to hoard toys and then haul them all over the house? And so on.)

Right. So it’s “restore my mental health” day today, which seems fitting since yesterday I found this door while on my way to an appointment:

I definitely need to get my hands on that key. In the meantime, here’s my progress for the week:

In Progress: choosing my apps

I really, really like Remember the Milk. I like it enough that I bought the Pro version. It’s a bit like a hybrid between a calendar and a to-do list, and it lets you tag things, set priorities, schedule tasks, set deadlines, postpone… and to-do items can have notes attached, so if my to-do is to phone someone, I can have all my information right there – telephone number, what we need to talk about, reference numbers, etc. It’s really awesome. Even better is the fact that I can use it on my iPod and on my Mac, so I can organize lists and notes on my Mac so that the typing gets done faster, and then sync it with my iPod to be able to refer to it throughout the day.

Yesterday was the first day that I organized myself with RTM, and it went very, very smoothly. I got everything done. Even more amazingly, I was able to see that I really have no spare time in my day, and I could see how long it will be before all my items actually get done, and so I was much more able to say “no” to new commitments.

I’d still like a month-at-a-time calendar view. I think I should be able to sync it to my iCal, but I’m not sure. I’ll play around with that this week.

In Progress: weight watchin’

I’m up two pounds this week, and I know exactly why: when I’m exhausted but circumstances dictate that I can’t (or shouldn’t) sleep, I eat to keep myself awake. Also, I was exceptionally testy on Shabbat and so had Mr. December go out on Saturday night and get me some cookie dough and some ice cream. I ate all of it.

I’m hoping to make this week a better week, but there’s only one thing I can prioritize at a time, and right now it has to be sleep.

In Progress: Upcycling clothes!

I have a whole lot of t-shirts stashed in my workshop. In (seemingly) unrelated news, most of K’s stretchy play dresses have seen better days. This week I’m going to make her some play dresses (and matching bike shorts to wear under them) out of my old shirts. Wish me luck!

So nu, what are you up to this week?

blogging · community · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Repost: It’s not about the dishwasher unless I make it so.

This is a repost from a very old blog of mine. Ruchi over at Out of the Ortho Box just posted about this issue, so I dug this one up so that current readers can have a look. I believe this was published in 2009. It still applies today.

A friend of mine just wrote a post about how, as an Orthodox Jew, she really regrets that she can’t eat in someone’s house just because they use the same dishwasher for both their meat and dairy utensils. She goes on to talk about how many people accuse the Orthodox of caring more about the dishwasher than about the friendship.
I understand that point of view. But I also think that it’s not about the dishwasher until I decide that it is.(full disclosure: I’m pretty sure that I’m the person my friend is referring to, given that we just had this conversation about her eating in my home. Maybe it comes up a lot, but I’m not betting on it.)

Here’s my point:

I understand why, for an Orthodox Jew, it’s impossible to eat things cooked in my pots and pans, served on my plates. It’s like asking a paraplegic to walk up the steps into my house. Impossible. When that person says no, it’s not a judgment – it’s simply a statement of fact. So I can grouse about how offended I am, about how seriously I take my Judaism and how picky this friend is being. But ultimately, it’s a fruitless exercise. Alternately, I can offer a solution or a compromise: eat in my home, but on paper plates. We’ll order takeout. Or I can cook things in foil pans with single-use utensils.

It’s just as if I invited a person who is wheelchair-dependent to my house with stairs. I could build a ramp. It won’t be pretty, or as elegant a reception as I like to offer my guests. There are some parts of my house a wheelchair-dependent person would never be able to see. But we could still enjoy each other’s company, a bite to eat, and stimulating conversation. It’s not about the stairs, just as it’s not about the dishwasher.

There are some of my much-loved recipes that my Orthodox friends will never taste. That’s unfortunate, but far from a deal-breaker. Where I come from, hachnassat orchim (welcoming guests) is taken very seriously. It’s about accommodating your guests to the best of your ability, and seeing to their needs, not to your own. And so I’m choosing to overlook the small sting to my pride and build the metaphorical ramp. And when we all sit around the table in the succah, breaking bread and celebrating together, the dishwasher won’t even be relevant.

community · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · weight loss

Shabbat reality check

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my post about Shabbat observance. I haven’t had time to respond to comments this week, but every comment was read and appreciated. Keep the ideas coming!

So, you may ask, in the wake of that post, how was Shabbat for me this week?

I started off with the attitude that “Shabbat is our day of Yes.” All Friday afternoon I was running around cooking, quilting, cleaning, and generally trying to get absolutely everything done before Shabbat. As usual, my children were at my heels, begging for a scrap of attention. “Ima, will you read me this book?” “Ima, come watch our play!” “Book!” “Baff!” and so on. This time, though, instead of acting all frustrated with them, I told them, “I have to finish this work before Shabbat. As soon as Shabbat comes, I’m all yours.” This appeased them for 10 minutes at a time and got them very excited about Shabbat.

We eventually lit the candles, and so began our “Day of Yes.” We sang and danced. We allowed the kids unlimited grape juice refills. K requested that I sing one Passover song after another, and I obliged her without so much as an “Ima needs to eat too, you know.” We had dessert. After the kids’ bedtime I sat down with a glass of wine and a book. R sat on my lap and played with my fingers as I read.

Amazingly, I was able to get out of bed pretty swiftly on Shabbat morning – simply shifting my expectations allowed me to look forward to focusing on the kids instead of grumbling that I had to get up early on a weekend. Everything was luxuriously slow – we took our time getting dressed (we read books in between articles of clothing,) brushing our teeth (we sang songs,) choosing breakfast foods (rice pudding for K and “lalla” (challah) for N.)

The kids wanted to play “camping” and wanted me to watch – and I actually did. It was unexpectedly interesting. K was pretending to sleep in her “tent” (read: under the kiddie table) which involved her sucking her thumb with her eyes closed, and periodically peeking at me to make sure I was still watching. If it had been a TV pilot it would have been cancelled after the first broadcast, if it even made it that far. What it lacked in plot, character development, and acting skills, it made up for in opportunities to really look at my kid for the first time in a while. She’s beautiful, with delicate features and long eyelashes. I fell in love all over again.

Mr. December took the “big kids” (laughable because really, N isn’t even two years old) to his parents’ house. R and I got ready to go to shul and eventually made it there – just in time for the kiddush lunch.

(Side note: Kiddush lunch was really great this week, and very kid-friendly. Baked mac and cheese, tabbouli salad, banana bread, fruit. Maybe my kvetching helped after all!)

I discovered something: Nobody cares if you show up at shul just in time for the food. They’re just glad that you’re there. I used to feel like if we didn’t get there by 10:30 or 11:00 there was no point; yesterday I arrived at 12:45 and spent over an hour chatting, singing, and praying (grace after meals) with my community. It was lovely.

I took the subway up to the home of a friend who was having a baby shower (not a Jewish friend, obviously.) In my view, a party at someone’s home is the perfect Shabbat activity: food, folks, and fun, as the treyf fast-food giant’s commercials used to say. An afternoon spent with other women, wishing our friend well and sharing stories about our kids. The addition of cupcakes didn’t hurt either.

I walked home through the ravine, which took about 40 minutes… had to take care of those cupcake calories, so I walked pretty quickly. That was definitely out of tune with how I want to be on Shabbat: walking for the enjoyment of nature and to get somewhere in a relaxed manner? Great. Walking at a slightly uncomfortable pace in order to get my cardio in and burn extra calories? Not so Shabbos-y, in my opinion. I’ll remember that for next time.

The other not-so Shabbos-y thing was that I used my cellphone to make arrangements for my brother to come over as soon as I got home. I really prefer the Shabbat “go with the flow” feeling where you drop in on people, or arrange a time in advance and recognize that timing is approximate. I felt like the cellphone was taking me away from the present moment and focusing me on future plans, and that didn’t sit well with me.

Did I mention that my big brother was here from Vancouver? He came over to chat and ended up leaving with most of N’s newborn and 0-3 months clothing (his wife is very, very pregnant.)

And just like that, Shabbat was over.

I walked through about twenty minutes of this on my way home. Hard to believe it's right in the middle of the city, isn't it? I need to bring the kids here this summer to play in the creek.

Things I’d do again: Dedicate lots of time on Shabbat to just being with my kids, however they want me. Go for a nice long walk. Visit with friends and family.

Things I would change: No more exercising with a goal in mind. Turn off the cellphone and leave it at home. Make social plans either in advance or in person (i.e. arrange a Shabbat afternoon playdate in the morning at shul.)

All in all, I was reasonably happy with Shabbat this time. Tune in next week, where I’ll tell you how I managed the Shabbat right before the second seder (will we be setting up and preparing? I hope not!)

Shavua Tov! (have a good week!)

community · family fun · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Getting soft.

For those of you living under a rock, this has been an exceptionally mild winter – and that’s an understatement.

Today it was 7 degrees Celsius outside (that’s about 45 for you Fahrenheit people) and sunny. Clear, unadulterated sunshine. And let me tell you, 7 feels mighty warm to a Canadian in February.

I did what any sane, sunshine-loving parent would do: I bundled the kids up and took them to the park to run around. At least, I thought that’s what any sane parent would do, but apparently not. The park was practically deserted.

Where are all the children? Are we so married to the calendar that we just don’t think of outdoor play in February? The exact same weather in March or April would have kids outside on their bikes and dozens of toddlers vying for our park’s single baby swing. As a matter of fact, this kind of weather in March or April would have the adults out, too: walking, biking, gardening. Where the heck was everybody today?

I can’t help feeling like we’re all getting a bit too soft. Not to sound like an old lady here, but when we were kids we used to run outside and play in the snow for hours. I’m not exaggerating. These days everyone just whines about how cold it is. Even my daughter’s school, as free-range and commonsense as it is, keeps the kindergarten classes inside if it’s “too cold”, which in my opinion it simply hasn’t been at all this year.

I have to admit that I’m guilty too. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting the kids bundled up to go out. Sometimes it seems to get dark so early that I can’t get them all outside after picking K up from school. Most of the time it’s just laziness, or maybe I have a tendency to forget how much better life is outside. Maybe we all do.

But now that I’ve been reminded, I feel extra motivated to get the kids playing outside every single day. For at least an hour. The question is, will there be anyone else to play with?

"Hey... come out and play!"
bikes planes and automobiles · community · fame and shame · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not.

Boxing Day

Today we woke up to the realization that we had no plan for the day. Mr. December and I were exhausted. K and N were ready for some action. Days like this are the reason I’m glad we have a membership at the science centre. Some googling revealed that there was a special planetarium show just for little kids, so off we went.

As we left the science centre three hours later, Mr. December and I disagreed on which route to take. I thought the highway would be nice and fast. He felt that the highway would be backed up with Boxing Day shoppers and that we should just take city streets all the way home. I was at the wheel, so I decided. Even if tons of people were going to the mall, how bad could traffic really be? And if it was as bad as Mr. December predicted, I was going to have to see it to believe it.

It was bad, y’all. Even worse than Mr. December thought.

The highway was backed up for about five kilometres. Five kilometres of stop-and-go traffic, barely moving at all. I joked that we were all waiting for one guy in the Yorkdale parking lot to finish loading his purchases and move his car so that one person could park and we could all move ahead ten feet. At the time it was a joke; thirty minutes later, still waiting, it seemed a lot less funny and a lot more plausible.

We were soon able to get to our exit, and as we peeled away from the masses of cars we got a good look at the rest of the situation. Had we wanted to go to the mall we would have probably waited another thirty minutes to actually get to the parking lot. As we passed the mall itself, the LED sign out front declared the state of the various parking lots: FULL. FULL. 6 spots. FULL.

I don’t understand what makes people want to go to the mall on Boxing Day. It’s a total zoo. Besides, didn’t everyone just get piles of gifts for Christmas? What more do people need?

Probably not much. I remember when K was about 2 years old I began to correct her when she said she “needed” something like a cookie, a trip to the park, a new shirt, etc. I was explicit about the difference between “need” and “want”. She now uses those two verbs appropriately, which is impressive given how many adults seem to have trouble telling the difference. At the risk of being flamed, I’m going to suggest that nobody actually needs a flat-panel LCD television. Probably most of the people at the mall don’t need new clothes either, but they sure want them – must keep up with the latest styles! And the retail industry knows this.

It’s amazing how a day that used to be about wealthy landowners taking boxes of gifts and necessities to their tenants and poorer neighbours has been turned into a push to buy more stuff. Heaven knows that if left to their own devices most people wouldn’t feel the need to go shopping again after the gift-buying frenzy leading up to Christmas, but wave a 50% discount in their faces and suddenly all kinds of “needs” crop up, needs dire enough to make folks want to spend two hours sitting in traffic and trying to find a parking spot, heedless of the value of their time and not thinking that those are two hours of their lives they won’t get back.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all went back to the original meaning of Boxing Day? Everyone could load up a box with things for a needy individual or family – toiletries; warm hats, gloves, and coats for the winter; some food; a toy or two for the children – and deliver it in person. Then we could all come back to our warm and cozy homes filled with all the things we need (and most of the things we want), and get on with enjoying the day off work. I’d even be willing to sit in traffic for that kind of Boxing Day.

In the meantime, today’s traffic jam taught me something important: when the zombie apocalypse comes and we all need to flee the city, don’t drive – take the bakfiets!


bikes planes and automobiles · community · parenting

what the flat tire taught me

The flat tire has been fixed, actually replaced with a kevlar-lined tire that is 80% puncture-proof. I’m not quite so annoyed as I was yesterday, and I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole flat tire incident.

After discovering that my tire was flat, I went into the school office to call Mr. December and let him know that he’d have to pick us up from our playdate at the park. I figured I could make it the five blocks from the school… turns out I couldn’t. On the upside, when I dismounted just 50 metres from the school entrance, another mom stopped and offered assistance. I sent the two girls to the park in her car, walked the bakfiets to my parents’ house (two blocks away) and hitched a ride back to the park with my mom (plan b was to put N in the baby seat on my mom’s bike and cycle to the park). Problem solved.

It would undoubtedly have been easier if I’d had my cellphone with me. I could have called the other girl’s mom and explained the situation. She could have met us at the school and driven all of us to the park. I could have called Mr. D at the exact moment I wanted him to come pick us up. But you know what? I found a solution (with the help of members of the community) and everyone got where they needed to go.

What I realized was this: these days parents send their kids off with cellphones, secure in the knowledge that if anything unexpected happens their child can call them for help. What our kids might be missing, though, is the opportunity to learn about problem-solving. Will they know what to do if their cellphone battery dies, or if the phone is lost or stolen? Or will they sit down helplessly and cry about it? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not sending my kid out armed with a cellphone and nothing else. Before K and N are allowed to venture forth on their own, they’re going to need to understand how to access help in our community.

Community. It’s the operative word in this post, isn’t it? Our school community helped me solve a problem. Community is a safety net for us and our kids, but only if we actively build and nurture it.

community · parenting · radical homemaking

The community we crave

Mr. December and I have been reading and discussing the book “Radical Homemakers”. If you haven’t read it, you should. One of the things I love about it is the fact that it acknowledges the sick devotion our culture has to “work”, which we all use to mean a paid career. It’s killing, isn’t it, that people work a whole month to earn enough money to pay for their second car, which they wouldn’t need if they weren’t working? But I digress.

The thing about the book and its philosophy is that, in order to be more self-sufficient and become a “net producer” rather than a “net consumer”, it really is best to be in a community of like-minded people. Community support, bartering, and skill-sharing seem to be integral to the life of a Radical Homemaker. They are also essential to the kind of community I want to live in. And yet… it just doesn’t exist.

Today a friend remarked to me that she had moved into our neighbourhood because so many young families from our synagogue live here, and she was excited at the prospect of finally living within a community. Sadly, it didn’t live up to her expectations. People just didn’t get together very often, nobody was interested in the babysitting co-op she proposed, and in the end she felt as isolated as she had when she lived elsewhere. We discussed possible reasons why that was, and I came up with a few thoughts.

First, What she considered “the neighbourhood” was actually an area that stretched about two kilometres by half a kilometre – not exactly a distance you’d want to traverse to drop the kids with a neighbour while you run to the store, or to pop over and borrow some flour. It may seem that these homes are close together, but I think it’s just the size of this city that gives us that impression. In reality, the kind of day-to-day interactions my friend was envisioning tend to happen over much shorter distances, especially in winter.

The second reason is the real community-killer, though: all of these people work outside the home. Full-time. For very legitimate reasons – lack of time, exhaustion, different priorities – it’s impossible to develop a close-knit community if nobody is home all day. Like parenting, community-building doesn’t just happen over evenings and weekends. The neighbour kid gets locked out accidentally… at 3:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. A disabled neighbour has noticed damage to a car parked on our street, but can’t walk up the block to inform the owners. A subway commuter notices the vegetable garden on her way home from the nearby station and wants to ask a question about growing potatoes. These are all opportunities for community growth, for neighbourly interaction, and they get missed if you’re not around. If I weren’t home with the kids, and bored stiff around 5 p.m. every day, I’d never drop in on our elderly neighbour, a retired nurse who’s been living on this street longer than I’ve been alive. She would be lonelier and my children would have missed the opportunity to learn about social visits and neighbourly helpfulness.

In fact, we have a lot of retired folks on our block, and it’s mostly due to them that this street still feels like a neighbourhood. Granted, these are the people who complain that my vegetable garden is in the front yard instead of behind the house. But they are also the people who pay attention, who notice that someone hasn’t left the house in a few days and come to make sure everything’s ok. These people heard something in the night and discovered a man breaking into our car, so the husband simultaneously called 911 and ran outside, half naked, to scare the guy off. My neighbours participate in a thriving “curb economy” – one woman took the storm windows we no longer needed, another family put out some beautiful wrought iron benches they didn’t have time to rehabilitate (I haven’t had time either, but I’ll hang onto them until I do), and two of my neighbours were happy to rid my backyard of unwanted hydrangeas in exchange for getting to keep all the plants they dug up. With a single exception, all of the neighbours alluded to here are people who do not have full-time jobs outside of the home.

One of my frequent stay-at-home-mom laments is that there aren’t a lot of other moms around. Most of the young families around here are double-income families, so the park and community drop-ins are populated by nannies and their young charges. Sure, there’s a thriving nanny community, but when the nannies go home at night and on weekends the community goes with them. As we get more successful, as we pay more people to do our work in and around the house, we fragment the knowledge of what’s going on in our neighbourhood. The gardener knows who likes our flowers and the nanny knows who likes our kids, but neither the flower-admirer nor the kid-friendly neighbour knows the homeowner. Our affluence causes us to lose those connections.

I don’t intend this as a diatribe against hiring people to do the jobs we dislike. If you can afford it, if it makes you happy, go for it. I also don’t want this to come off as anti-career. If you genuinely have career aspirations and love the work you do, please continue to do it. And if you have to work to support your family, then do. Somebody has to keep the city humming and the banks running and the supermarkets stocked. But when we all do, and when we neglect the very important work of being at home, we lose the community we crave.