Monday, 22 May 2023

Sometimes rain that’s needed falls

It’s been an interesting few weeks. Certainly not all bad, but just a lot of mental load and long days.

  • Mr Turtle took a long time to get over the infection he developed end of April, though finally he is on the mend.
  • My province has been crazy hot and dry and hundreds of wildfires have broken out over the past few weeks, especially in the northern areas (none near me).
  • Last week I took the kids on a solo road trip to AJ’s dance festival (about a 3 hour drive away). Usually this would be a fun family weekend, but Mr T was on IV antibiotics and could not come. I took a deep breath and decided I could do the trip on my own. 
  • …..and all was going well until about half an hour from the hotel when my car broke down on the highway.
  • I kept my head and did all the right things, getting the car off the road, calling AMA, etc.
  • The weekend was still enjoyable in many ways. There was no wildfire smoke at the time (though it was unseasonably hot) and AJ’s performance went swimmingly. Gold medalist!
  • One of the nicest parts: thanks to my car trouble, we reconnected with an aunt and uncle of Mr Turtle’s we hadn’t seen in years. The kids were especially happy to meet this lovely new auntie after they had just had the stressful experience of getting stranded by the road in an unfamiliar place.
  • My father in law drove up to rescue us, yay.
  • Back in home city, we went out for a nice dinner on Mother’s Day with the recovering Mr Turtle. All was great, and then AJ woke up puking the following night. She recovered quickly though and nobody else got sick.
  • The wildfire smoke blew in with a vengeance last week, turning the air yellow on the worst day. The air quality index was 11, which sounds like a number somebody made up because 10 wasn’t bad enough.
  • Several of my students graduated this week. I think work is going fine. I can’t remember right now.
  • My car is still in the other city, but reportedly fixable. It’s getting expensive to maintain through, so probably will be car shopping in the future. Not exactly excited about that but better in summer than winter.
  • Mr Turtle is off the IV and able to do most things again. Yay!
  • On a day with no smoke, we met up with some friends in the park. The kids played, and we just did nothing and talked, then went out to dinner and talked some more. The sky was blue.
  • The smoke came back. It was hot. I couldn’t sleep.
  • I came down with a cold.
  • But most importantly…..

Not spitting, but a juicy downpour spiced with thunder, for several hours. I’d forgotten how good it feels to hear and see and smell rain. I think I believed it might never rain again. I’m typing up these ridiculous bullet points with my stuffy nose listening to the rain through the open window, and it makes me unutterably happy. I’m assuming it won’t lead to floods or other epic nonsense. But right now everything is just right.

(The title is from Painting By Chagall, by The Weepies, which is also Dani’s song in my mind)

Sunday, 30 April 2023

Spring moments

It’s been a busy weekend, mostly in a good way. I took the opportunity to sit down and relax, and when I do that I can slip into contemplative mode. I think about how this blog started, about how unstable things felt when the future was in flux. The future can never be predicted or taken for granted, but when things settle a little, it does take on a shape. Then it seems like my work is to make a coherent story out of the past, present and future, because that story gives purpose to each day.

This weekend the sisters participated in their second spring concert since they started Ukrainian dance. It was great fun, and they did awesome work, although the celebration afterwards was marred by Mr Turtle feeling unwell. With his chronic illness there is always worry there but he should be on the mend soon. The girls and I ended the day with a nice dinner out with my mom and older brother. I feel hugely grateful that compared to this time last year, my mom is doing better physically and emotionally and that she is living in a safe, supportive place. I am hugely grateful for my eldest brother and all the support he gives her and me. I am grateful that I got to see my middle brother in January.  And the girls’ seasonal performances are a ritual that helps bring us together. So I am grateful for that.

We have become quite immersed in amateur entertainment and I am happy with that. I don’t miss professional entertainment at all. We did go to one concert in the fall (Natalie Macmaster, whom I’ve seen multiple times). I investigated other concerts once or twice  but like everything else they seem so much more expensive now. It’s not that I think the performers don’t deserve the money but I don’t want to go badly enough to pay so much for tickets.

Above: AJ and Dani shortly before their technical rehearsal, wearing their matching shirts. (I am wearing one too, behind the camera.) The exhibit featured huge model Ukrainian eggs and the yellow and blue one was designed by their dance organization. 

Although I did not dance with the girls yesterday, my leg muscles ache today as if I did. I checked my steps data from on my phone and apparently I climbed the equivalent of 8 flights of stairs on Saturday. I didn’t count how many times I ran up and down the theatre stairs but I know I was constantly on the move as a dance mom and volunteer coordinator, so it makes sense. 

That is life right now: constant motion and occasional moments of contemplation. Maybe I steal them or maybe something bigger than me insists I take them.

Saturday, 15 April 2023

Visual journaling 1a

As a follow up to my entry on my sketchbook, here is some of the art I created on our recent family vacation:

Marshmallow roast, semi-realist. It was chilly at the cabin but we were able to have two fires and we ate an entire bag of marshmallows in one evening.

Marshmallow roast again, abstract. I really like this one. The words that weave through the fire are what the kids told me about their experiences.

The girls made a fairy garden with one of the little girls they met there. Again, I tried to create a realistic depiction. It was difficult because of all the detail and light and shadow in the photo I was using. But I kept playing with it and actually I enjoy the result. It is called “Nature did most of the work” since that is how AJ described the process.

In the previous picture, I particularly liked how I drew the evergreen branches. So I did a piece just using that technique.

One morning AJ and Dani wanted to dance to “Frozen” music. This is my interpretation. Each wave represents a daughter and how I see them at this time.

What I learned:
  • I enjoy visual journaling 
  • I’m more likely to do art when there is no wifi
  • It works to start drawing as soon as I have an idea (do not overthink)
  • I’m inspired by life but I like to represent abstractly
  • I like playing with textures and patterns
When done, I will link to an entry with some of my other art inspired more by ideas.

Friday, 7 April 2023

Birthgap Documentary

Recently I listened to an interview with Stephen W Shaw about his documentary “Birthgap.” From the interview notes: “Stephen is a British national who has studied and lived on three continents. He studied as a computer engineer and data scientist before starting his first film project, “Birthgap” at age 49. He is president and co-founder of the data analytics company Autometrics Analytics LLC.”

The interview was very interesting. I made the mistake of listening to it in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, and I stayed awake for the whole thing instead of falling asleep in the middle like I usually do. So that made for a sleepy day the following day but with some provoking ideas to consider.

“Birthgap” is about the huge increase in unplanned childlessness around the world, why that might be happening and that consequences of it. 
Part 1 is available on YouTube . Update (April 8th) I watched Part 1 and I recommend it: well explained and enjoyable to watch. However, the interview (linked in next paragraph) perhaps gives a better sense of the overall structure and findings of the project, since parts 2 and 3 are not available.

This is the interview with Mr Shaw. He shares in detail about his research and some of his conclusions. Prof. Jordan Peterson, the interviewer, chimes in with his talent for sound bites and memorable bits of advice. Many people love Dr Peterson’s advice; many people find it infuriating and this interview isn’t an exception: there are a more than a few comments that could rankle sensitivities. I personally enjoy JBP's style, probably in part because I come from a straight talking family with a lot of discussion and debate. I don't find it offensive or insulting; I find it stimulating. (But consider that a trigger warning if needed.)

I continue to be interested in voluntary/involuntary childlessness because 1) in my peer group* and extended family, childlessness is more common than families with children, and 2) As a parent I think about how to approach such topics with my daughters. My own story / fate / wyrd is pretty much decided and I'm happy with it: I have little or nothing to gain by dwelling on "what ifs." But I have invested in the future and that requires some effort to understand it and plan for it. I balance this with reminders to myself that life is way more complex than any model, and that its not my role to control people or "change the world.” However, there is a role for curiosity and questioning, especially when accompanied by humility.

* I refer to long term friends from university or before, not friends I’ve made through my kids, who obviously also have kids. Of my friend group from age 25 or earlier (a group of about 10), only three women had children. One was an unplanned pregnancy; the others had children in their 30s / 40s. I also know a lot of people who had/have fertility challenges. All my current close mom friends accessed some kind of assistance. These are not people I met through support groups or anything like that, just through the normal channels. There likely is some selection bias at work though in that I am more likely to become close to people who share a defining experience. 

Monday, 27 March 2023


I have been thinking about ways to respond to the books I have been reading, and other things I’m learning, in a way other than writing. I decided I needed a sketchbook.

Instead of adding to our already rather chaotic collection of art supplies, I went digging in the box today to see what I could find. I found a Trolls themed watercolouring book that AJ had barely used. Add some scrapbooking paper, lace, a hot glue gun and the strategic procrastination of more practical matters, and voila:

My own upcycled sketchbook!

All I did was turn it upside down to be able to access the blank pages. 

I never much liked Trolls, but Branch would be my favourite character of them all. (Thanks to the fact I ditched most social media more than two years ago, I will not be learning to embrace my inner troll.)

Let the spring break creativity begin!

Saturday, 18 February 2023

Living inside stories

I realized the other day, several weeks past the anniversary date, that I’ve been writing in this blog for ten years. 2013 to 2023. This was my very first entry. I had nothing to write about, but I had to write something just to begin. I then found things to write about, not because anything very exciting happened but because I started, well, writing.

By April 2018, I had been writing for 
5 years and that felt like a long time. And I suppose it was, encompassing two entire new lifetimes: AJ’s and Dani’s.

Now ten years on, there is a lot of learning and change documented here. It is not a straightforward narrative either: I may be becoming more of a mystery to myself and others, rather than the opposite. 

I’ve alternated between raw confessional writing, journaling and personal essays. But I think the blog is a success because it still feels alive to me. And maybe that’s because it’s none of those things all of the time. My life is not dramatic enough to make journaling or confessional writing consistently interesting. Thank goodness! I am NOT into drama. But writing a sort of never-ending-Christmas-newsletter where I get more respectable and admirable and successful with every passing year would also be an exhausting conceit. And untrue.

I experience life as a cycle of coming home and going into exile. Sometimes I think I have it together. Sometimes I fall apart in ways that astonish me. I try not to stress over it. The pattern suggests things will come together again, and kinda make even more sense than they previously did.

I had a wonderful conversation today with a wonderful friend where we talked about how we have both felt pride or relief at certain points in our lives because we had almost convinced everyone around us we were normal people. And then we laughed and laughed and laughed because of course we know we aren’t, and the laughter was like coming home.

Anyway, among other things I’ve started 2023 thinking about the kinds of stories I find myself telling and living in. This is not a new theme for the blog, as I started to think deliberately about such questions a while ago, while we were still considering fertility treatments: namely, what kind of stories am I being told and what stories do I want to tell my children? I still think about those questions, albeit not in the context of fertility.

AJ and I have been periodically reading an anthology I owned as a child, which has a lot of traditional fairy tales, as well as whatever was considered contemporary a few decades ago when it was published.

I spent hours reading this book as a child, and many stories I have read over and over. It is interesting to share them with AJ, starting with my favourite fairy tale, “The Wild Swans.” I like seeing her reactions to things that are odd or surprising. It is important to me that the girls experience the more traditional versions of fairy tales, though they have been re-invented and inverted countless times. I try to keep my commentary to a minimum.

I also have tried playing stories from the podcast In A Certain Kingdom for the girls on road trips. They were riveted!

I haven’t listened to any of the analysis yet: again I like to allow myself and others to experience something on our own terms before going into the other layers. I’m always curious if I can find a way to understand and relate even to my presumably different experience. My observations on these fairy tales?

  • Lots of repetition: everything is organized into in 3s. Each event happens 3 times: the first two with very similar outcomes and the third time with a twist. It is a bit odd till I remember stories used to be passed on orally and if nothing else this would make them easier to remember.
  • I have kind of a fixation on 3’s so this was amusing. 
  • Random life lessons I have picked up:
  •  if you meet a wild animal on your journey, don’t try to eat her babies, not even if you are really hungry. 
  • Let your sisters marry whom they want: they probably know what they are doing. 
  • Always get lots of sleep, even under extremely stressful conditions. Example: you are living with a witch and she is hoping to put your head on a stake that next morning. But have a good rest and most likely a critter will help you out the next day.
Music: I try to expose the kids (and myself) to a variety of music. I don’t mind pop music but it feels like a very narrow slice of human experience. I don’t force anything though. It interesting to see what they gravitate towards. Lately AJ has really liked The Cottars, a group of (formerly) teens and tweens that performed Celtic and some contemporary folk songs. I think AJ likes them in part because the voices sound somewhat like hers (she is taking voice lessons) and also the tunes are very easy to sing along to: strong, simple melodies and arrangements.

Finally, we are trying to plan more family vacations this year and the next one is going to be to a resort with fairy tale cabins! This is the one we booked for next month:

I’m very excited and looking forward to planning our trip as the world wakes up into spring, which always feels magical to me.

Life is interesting right now, and I find myself inclined to be playful, and curious, and to do serious things while not taking myself too seriously.  Sometimes you can’t see reality by trying to look at it from the outside: you must crawl (or fly) right in and inhabit it. 

Saturday, 4 February 2023

Art of '23

This is the third time that each person in our family has created an original painting around the time of the New Year. I think I truly can call it a tradition now because it was AJ who reminded me this year.

Left: AJ, Right: Dani, Centre: Mr. Turtle

The girls, of course, create art constantly: any time is the best time. It is as natural as breathing to them. Mr. Turtle and I need to be more deliberate about it.

Previous years: 2021, 2022

I was the last to participate. The idea that came to me was to do something organic, abstract and inspired by ancient cultures. Sometime completely different from last year's attempted realism and symbolism.

I started by collecting a few images, specifically from Neolithic Ireland and Mesopotamia. But it was after reading the beautiful essay Time Unweaved by Flat Caps and Fatalism that I felt I was onto something.

My creation for 2023:

My workspace before I tidied up:

I started with a pencil sketch, but didn't particularly like my sketch, so I painted a texture over the pencil markings, mostly covering them. Then I painted my spirals, which was a lot of fun. As I was painting I was listening to my Ancient Mesopotamia lectures about the peoples of early civilization working with plaster, clay, bronze, copper and gold, and the colours I was drawn to echoed those materials. After working on the spirals, I noticed I could still faintly see some of my pencil drawings, so I painted in those designs here and there, and also added new ones.
"If time is a directionless field for the email worker, a forward arrow for the mill hand, and a turning circle for the peasant, then what is it to the people who know how to stay alive? Perhaps it is the spiral, of which there are many prehistoric examples in Yorkshire.

"The spiral has the rhythm of agricultural time without the lie that we can return to the same point. It has the movement of mechanical time without the lie that it has a direction. It has the all-encompassing field of flat time without the lie that nothing will change. Perhaps we can sing a spiral song with the world awhile." --FFatalism, Time Unweaved