Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Make a Covered Notebook

A while ago I posted a picture of a journal I had covered to Facebook, and a friend asked me how I did it. It's pretty easy, actually, and you only need one piece of specialised equipment, which is the spiral border punch from Stampin' Up. It looks like this:

(Actually, that is the model from a few years ago, and the new punches are much slimmer and more fancy-looking. But this one does the job just as well.)

Once you have obtained (or borrowed, as I did) this punch, you will next need to obtain a spiral coil notebook and some paper.

I chose pretty muted colours for this project because it is going to be a Christmas gift for my almost-nine-year-old nephew, Andrew. (If you are my nephew, Andrew: Stop reading this blog! Go do your homework. Also, stop putting your arms in the crumbs! Love, Auntie Laura.)

Measure your notebook cover and cut the paper to the required size. Measure the entire cover, including the part that has a spiral notebook coil going through it.

Then take the covers off the notebook by bending the coils a bit. You will be left with a sheaf of paper held together with a spiral coil. For some reason I took a picture of this.

Lay out your paper onto the covers exactly as you want it to look, so that you can see where to use the punch.

Use the punch to put spiral-coil holes in your paper. You have to use the punch from right to left.

Apply adhesive to the back of the patterned paper. I use insanely cheap-o Dollarama glue tape. Glue stick and white glue would probably work as well.

Line up the punched holes with the holes in the cover and stick it down. This is where I found out that not all coil notebooks are created equal, and some have a deeper coil gutter (I just invented that term! It sounds dirty) than others. So my paper measurements turned out a little off. I think it still looks pretty good.

At this stage, you may choose to use a distressing block or plain ol' sandpaper to sand off the edges of your paper. This makes it sit a little bit more flat against the edges of the notebook cover. I used sandpaper from the garage and it worked fine.

Both finished covers. As you can see, I used a different patterned paper for the inside covers. You don't even have to do the inside covers, but I did.

If you are anything like me, the next step will make you a bit crazy with impatience. If it doesn't, I don't even know what to say. Is it really all that great to go through life with an endless well of patience and tolerance? Seriously, I want to know. Not that I can actually change, but it would be interesting to hear about. Anyway, use your chosen adhesive to stick down every little tab of paper in between the spiral coils. You will think that this step isn't important, and you will want to skip it, but if you do you will pay for it. More on that in a minute.

Now you get to put the book back together, pretty much the same way you took it apart. Line up your cover to the gap between the coils and work it in bit by bit.

Now you will thank me for making you glue down all those silly tabs. Working the covers back into the coil is a tricksy, fussy little job, and if you didn't glue down the tabs, you'd be driven even more crazy by them all sticking up and getting in the way. Here's a picture of how annoying that is:

Now use your chubby, weird-looking hand to pinch the coils back together. Or, if your hand looks normal, use that. Don't get all braggy about it, though.

Repeat the steps for the back cover. Your notebook is now covered!

Now it's time to decorate it a little. I had some scrapbook paper with quotes on it, so I cut it up and stuck them onto random pages throughout the journal.

Note that I did not stick three on one page, this is just an example of the quotes. In some cases I used a punch or my die-cutting machine to cut them out.

Decorate the front cover. As you can see I added my nephew's name and some stuff that I hope will make him feel really special and important when he writes in his journal. Because being a writer is awesome!

And that's it! The whole job took probably an hour. Of course, my life being what it is that meant it took a week of 7-minute stints as various people clamoured for my attention. Maybe it will be different for you. Happy Crafting!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meme Monday

For NaBloPoMo, I decided to update my old "100 Things About Me" list and run 25 items for each of the Mondays in November. Here is part four.

Practical jokes and gags make me very uncomfortable. VERY.
Someday I will do another marathon.
The best advice I’ve ever been given was, “Do something every day that stays done.”
I lived in one house for my entire childhood until I moved out when I was 20.
My parents still live there. But they just put it up for sale.
My former room is now a computer/sewing room.
I remember when we only had to dial 5 numbers on the phone.
I remember having a "party line".
I remember when modems had to be dialed, too.
I remember when you had to request a song on the radio instead of downloading it.
I remember top-loading VCRs.
I also remember renting VCRs from the video store.
I believe that lifelong learning is the closest thing I've found to "the meaning of life".
I believe in global warming, and it scares me.
I believe in God and the power of prayer.
I believe in Santa Claus.
I believe that parent is a verb.
I think using the word "Huh?" makes even the most intelligent person sound like a drooling moron.
I think tasers should be outlawed.
I think children's rights should be revisited.
I am getting more open-minded the older I get.
I believe in way, way more than one right way to live.
I believe in the power of attitude.
I can't believe it took me 4 months to come up with this list.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five

1. NaBloPoMo is almost over! (A sigh of relief from all.) It's been kind of fun, and interesting, to post every day. I really enjoyed the challenge and especially leaning on little routines like "Friday Five", "Wordless Wednesday", and "Meme Monday" to get me through the 30 days. I noticed - and others did too - that my writing improved over the course of the month, and I'd like to say I will use this momentum to continue blogging on a more regular basis. HOWEVER, every time I have publically stated on this blog that I am going to write more often, some catastrophe intervenes and prevents me from doing so. So, I'm not going to say it.

2. My next big project will be over at my Etsy store, where I will be doing a Twelve Days of Christmas promotion. Every day for the next twelve days (that's November 25 through December 6) I will be showcasing a brand new, never-before-seen Christmas card and offering some kind of awesome deal on it. This is another challenge for myself since, you know, I had this idea about four days ago and started designing the cards that evening. Like NaBloPoMo, this is an opportunity to give my card designing skills a workout, and perhaps if I'm lucky I will even get to make some sales.

3. The fact that I live my life like this ... from one project/goal/challenge to the next ... might mean that I'm a genuine headcase. But who cares? Because I am also considering another project for this blog: committing to taking a picture of Gwen every day in December and posting it. Not at all a unique idea, but could be fun. She is an awfully cute kid, especially since I have persuaded her that ponytails are an everyday event. (I also credit Sally, who encouraged me to let Gwen's crazy curls grow long.) At the very least it will be a refreshing change from photographing cards, which is very, very boring.

4. My OCD is flaring up and I am writing a LOT of lists these days. I feel twitchy and anxious most of the time and the only thing that makes it settle down is to work on a list: writing it, re-prioritizing it, refining it, etc. It makes me grateful that my OCD is not more severe. Everyone can get behind a good bout of list-writing, right?

5. I took Gwen out to the first of many Christmas season activities last night: the Ladysmith Light-Up. She was an absolute star as we waited in the cold for nearly two hours for the parade to start. (It didn't help that I'd forgotten the schedule at home, so had no idea how long the wait was going to be.) Thank goodness the rain let up and the wind died down - it was bucketing rain yesterday afternoon, which really made me reconsider the wisdom of a winter parade. But it all went well. Santa was there, and he waved RIGHT AT GWEN, and we also got to meet some of his elves, who promised to pass on to the Big Man her Christmas request (a rocking horse, unfortunately). The lights were undeniably lovely and the fireworks at the end were absolutely spectacular. The only improvements I could have wished for were to skip the long wait, to have a chair to sit on (but somehow, not have to carry that chair up and down the streets of Ladysmith), and, you know, for it not to be so flippin' cold. But I guess we're stuck with that, until we all agree to just start having Christmas in July or something.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Forty-Three

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are forty-three months old. You are officially on the road to being FOUR. This is no surprise, as you have been wearing size 4 (and even size 4X) for a while now. You are a long, tall girl and there's no way around it. Fortunately, everyone loves buying you adorable clothes and as soon as you outgrow one item, there are two more to take its place.

This is the first year that you seem really thrown off by the time change, or more specifically by the fact that it is now dark when I pick you up from daycare or preschool. You seem quite distressed by the darkness, and anxiously announce that it's "way past my bedtime" but that you still want to play! Every day, I reassure you that we still have time to play, that we haven't had dinner yet, and that you don't have to go straight to bed. The message doesn't seem to be sinking in, though. I admit, driving home in the dark is no fun at all, but it's just part of winter. Get used to it, my girl, because it's pretty much going to look like this until May.

You've spent most of the last month being really excited and looking forward to winter, asking me every day when it was going to snow. My repeated answer was, "Don't worry, Gwen, winter will be here soon enough, and there will be plenty of cold and snow to go around." Winter did arrive last week with just enough snowfall to play in (but not enough to make the roads treacherous or otherwise inconvenience us), so that was fun. You enjoyed making a tiny snowman and playing with our neighbour Lily's sled, but I think your favourite winter thing to do is eat the snow. "How does it taste?" I asked, and you excitedly told me that it tastes JUST LIKE SNOW!

Your imagination is absolutely mind-boggling these days. You make up songs and stories and games all the time, often so lengthy and involved that I can barely follow them. In the car, you will often make up a song with nonsensical lyrics and a tune that goes nowhere, and expect me to sing it right after you. This doesn't usually work out the way you'd hope. Listening to you sing your silly songs is much more fun than me trying to learn them. Here is one you made up recently:

Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins
Cute and cuddly
Sharks, sharks, sharks
Cute and bitey
Jellyfish, jellyfish
Cute and yummy!

You also have this charming habit of telling us stories about you as a 'big girl'. You are not yet clear on the usage of past, present, and future tense, so you tell these stories as if they happened in the past: "When I was a big girl, I went to the circus." The big you has had a lot of fascinating adventures, let me tell you.

One improvement we've made over the past few weeks is that I have bought you a clock radio for your room. It seems counter-intuitive that if we want you to sleep later in the morning, we should get you an alarm clock ... but I went with my hunch and it seems to have worked out. The clock radio sits on a high shelf where you can't reach it (preventing you from tampering with the buttons and changing the time), and we set your 'alarm' to go off about 10 minutes before ours does. This means that you wake up to the radio, and come into our bed for a snuggle for ten minutes before we all start our day. Snuggling with you in the morning is always the best part of my day, but the fact that it now happens at a reasonable hour instead of 5am makes it that much better. You have become pretty well-conditioned to this routine: I can turn off the alarm on weekends and you will sleep in a bit, and you rarely wake up before 7am now. Gotta love it when you can make behavioural conditioning work in your favour!

Well Gwen, I guess that's all for this month. As always, I love you a million billion kajillion and three, and can't wait to see what the next month will bring!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


A small glimpse into how my brain works. Over the past week I have been the recipient of two remarks, one of which wounded and upset me and one which didn't. In both cases, the results are surprising.

Remark #1: I was telling a colleague about my recent trip to Seattle. She remarked, "Well, I'm really glad that even in your current situation, you can still do things like that." For days, I could not let go of this remark. I felt like I had to defend myself, pointing out that I spent weeks preparing for a yard sale that netted me $250 and that I socked that money away for Christmas shopping. Or admit that actually, my mom paid for the hotel as well as the gas to get us there, because she knew I couldn't afford to chip in. I heard that remark and I thought of all the scrimping and saving I did for this trip, and how heavy the 'careful' mindset weighed on me through all our shopping. At the same time, it's ridiculous to want to defend myself, because my colleague has no idea her remark made me feel in need of defense. I'm sure she forgot about the entire conversation immediately after it ended.

Remark #2: A new mommyfriend was looking at a framed wedding picture on my wall. "How long ago did you get married?" she asked. "It was five years ago this fall," I responded. "Hmm, it's funny how we age, isn't it." I didn't even have time to process this remark when she suddenly exclaimed, "OH MY GOODNESS! I didn't mean that the way it sounded." We had a good laugh and agreed that it did sound really terrible, and it's true that parenthood makes us age faster. Hours later when the playdate ended she apologized again, but to me it wasn't a big deal. It's true: I am five years older than the woman in that wedding picture. And they were really full and intense years, too. But I wouldn't want to change any of those events, so why would I regret the changes to my own appearance that have taken place at the same time? I'm not an appearance-obsessed person to begin with, but of all the appearance-changing efforts people go through and all the related products they buy, aging seems to me to be the most silly. We all get old. That's not an insult. There's nothing in the world that could make me want to be sixteen again, so by that same token I'd better embrace and enjoy the fact that I'm thirty-six, and look it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meme Monday

For NaBloPoMo, I decided to update my old "100 Things About Me" list and run 25 items for each of the Mondays in November. Here is part three.

The best way to my heart is through my funny bone.
I have always known how to spell.
I don't like talking on the phone in front of other people. I don't know why.
Also, I only use my left ear when talking on the phone.
My parents sent me to a psychiatrist when I was little. I have never asked them why - or why they stopped.
I think everyone in the world could benefit from some good counselling. It should be as accessible and de-stigmatized as massage or dentistry.
I don't have any secrets to send PostSecret, because I talk too much.
My best friend is a man who is not my husband.
I haven't slept with him, either.
I think people who complain that it's way past the year 2000 and we don't have any flying cars deserve a smack upside the head.
I love stand-up comedy.
I often offend people without meaning to.
Also, people have a hard time differentiating my sincere tone and my sarcastic tone.
I don't drink or smoke, and never have.
I have a strong aversion to the non-word "hubby". It just makes me cringe.
I have a rage reaction to misquoted idioms such as "for all intensive purposes" and "once and a while".
If I make a mistake while typing and don't notice it until I've typed a few more words, I won't use the mouse to selectively correct it. Instead, I use the backspace key and delete all the correct words back to the mistake.
I find the plots of horror movies compelling, but I can't actually watch them without sustaining mental damage and losing a great deal of sleep.
I never get the fitted sheet aligned right on the first try.
I don't understand the need to call things other than what they are (Crappy Tire, compu-tor, Home Despot,etc. Why?)
I am scared of those weird inflatable flappity people they use to advertise sales at sports stores.
I give blood as often as possible.
I believe in vaccinations and I usually get my flu shot.
I once yelled at someone from the Health Authority because they wouldn't tell me where to get my flu shot.
Two weeks later, I had a job with the Health Authority.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Three Quick Takes

1. I have an Etsy store now. I sell things like the above, all handmade by me. Please come check it out and pass on the link. Also, if you actually know me in person, you can buy direct from me and save paying the Etsy commission. Not only is this an excellent creative outlet for my stressful life, but it's kind of nice to make a bit of pocket money.

2. I have to talk at church tomorrow. I did not volunteer, but neither did I say no, when I was asked to speak to my experiences with the Advent Conspiracy and challenge the congregation to donate monies towards clean water. I'm really really nervous. "Why are you so nervous? You've done this all before!" Yes. At a different church. Yeah ... I kind of never told you guys I changed churches, did I? I did. And I'm brand new and I'm going to get up and talk and no one even knows who I am and I'm nervous. Let's change the subject now.

3. It snowed last night. This morning we made the tiniest snowman ever. Then Gwen ate its head. Not even kidding.

(Look very carefully, near her right foot is our tiny snowman. What's left of him.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: Gratitude

Five things I've been feeling grateful for:

1. I had a terrific time in Seattle with my mom and sister. We had excellent shopping and a lot of laughs together. The concept of going Christmas shopping together, picking out stuff for each other and then getting an immediate yes/no, as well as making suggestions about what our kids and husbands would like is ... in a word ... awesome. Definitely need to continue this tradition.

2. Also, an offhand remark I heard on this trip has got me thinking about Christmas in a new way. I know it's hip to be really angry about the cheesy Christmas music and the elaborate decorations and especially the way that these things start on November 1st (or even earlier). But you know what? It's a season. It's more than a day. I recognize that stores profit from making that season start earlier and earlier and whipping us all into a consumeristic frenzy, but I can opt out of the consumer madness and still enjoy the season. And I do.

3. Speaking of Christmas (just over 5 weeks away!), I am really looking forward to it this year. I feel like we got a little bit ripped off last year in the Christmas spirit department, and I'm not going to allow that to happen again. Gwen and I are going to have lots of delightful Christmas-related fun throughout the season. Chris will likely be at the mall dealing with the consumer frenzy, but there's not much I can do about that. On the horizon: The Santa Parade, The Bethlehem Walk, The Singing Christmas Tree, and the Christmas Pantomime, maybe the Ladysmith Light Up. That doesn't even count the usual visit to Santa, travelling to see her cousins, and the stuff she will be doing with her preschool, which seems to be pretty extensive as well. I am pretty stoked about having a kid who is old enough to enjoy, anticipate, and be as excited about these events as I am! I wonder what she'll ask for in her letter this year ...

4. I had my best ever Hip Hop class this week. A couple of weeks ago, it was Halloween and I went to Hip Hop class and only one other student showed up. That was legitimately terrifying, because there weren't a dozen other people for me to hide behind: my incompetence was in plain sight. Anyway, this week we did the same choreography that we did at that Halloween class, and guess what? I sucked less! Because I am starting to learn! I was very pleased. One of the things I really value about the class, and that made me feel comfortable signing up for it, is that the choreography changes every time; we are not practicing the same routine every week in preparation for a recital. (This also means that missing a class here and there, which I can't avoid, doesn't set me back.) So it's pretty amusing to me that in fact, doing the same choreography more than once actually makes a huge difference to my enjoyment of the class.

5. I have an amazing daughter who makes me laugh every day. She is such a joyful and exuberant girl. I am a lucky Mama.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Right around the time Gwen started school (and Chris started working weekends), I made this:

It's a very haphazard calendar, and it hangs above Gwen's bed. It's made up of photographs of the many places and activities in Gwen's week, and a pointer that we move from day to day. In this particular picture, you can see the pointer (which is Gwen's tiny face and a red arrow) over Wednesday.

I really wanted to give Gwen a sense of routine and continuity. Right off the bat, she adored school, but it was confusing for her that she wasn't going every day. Having a visual aid that shows two pictures of school activities helps her understand that she goes to school twice a week. Every night before bed we reflect on this - "Today was Tuesday, it was Gwen and Dada day. Tomorrow is Wednesday, and you are going to Denise's," - and move the pointer to the next picture.

This system is working incredibly well and Gwen is starting to understand and predict her routine. Even when the calendar is not right in front of her, she can remember what's coming up next. For example, last night as she left Denise's house, she said that the next day was a school day, which is correct. Similarly, she told me she wanted to go to the library, and I agreed we would go on our next Mama-and-Gwen day. "That's after school day and Denise day," she said. I was impressed that she didn't whine, "But I want to go to the library RIGHT NOW!" as she sometimes does - I think being able to conceptualize how long the wait was until Mama and Gwen day helped her to be patient and not insist on getting her way immediately.

In addition to her caregiver pictures - there are photos of me, Chris, Gramma, school, and Denise, her daycare provider - we have lots of activity pictures as well. In the photo above, you can see a girl in a red leotard; this was our photo for her weekly gymnastics class. We also have photos of the library, the pool, the skating rink, a forest (for nature walks), a playground. There are pictures of Gwen making cookies and Gwen doing crafts. Whenever we agree to do a certain thing on a certain day, it goes on the calendar so we can anticipate it. I even took a photo of our occasional teenage babysitter so that Gwen can look forward to those visits. All the pictures that aren't being used in the current week live in the Ziploc bag pinned to the board.

I am so very pleased that this system is working, for both Gwen and for me. The calendar is certainly not as polished and lovely to look at as some that I've seen, but I like the fact that it's personalized, simple, and easy to add on to. It's become an important part of our routine and I love that it is really helping Gwen to start understanding the abstract concepts of time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Public Parenting

My awesome friend Amber sent me this article called, "Yes, I Have Only One Child" thinking it would be about the dumbfounded-ness people respond with when you confirm that, you know, you only have one child. It was, but only a little bit. The writer's situation is nothing like mine, and in fact I imagine that her many ambivalent feelings about the potential second child cause her to feel the pressure from others even more intensely. In my situation, there is no ambivalence, and therefore I feel no guilt/stress/anxiety/pressure when people ask if Gwen is an only child, and, as they frequently do, follow this up by inquiring why.

What interests me on this topic, what I think could have been explored more in this article, is the question of WHY people feel the right to get nosy about how many kids you have (no matter what that number is). People ask you when you're going to have kids, and then once you have one, they ask when you're going to have another one. Why is it anybody else's business? Not to mention the fact that people love to tell you exactly how to parent (which starts as soon as you are visibly pregnant, when people start telling you what you should/shouldn't eat, how much weight you should gain, and where and how you should give birth).

Why do people feel it's their right to comment on these things? My own personal theory is that parenting is one of those things in which there is NO one right way to do things. (Sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.) If I was wondering how to calculate a math problem, I could consult a math text or a mathematician and soon, a definitive and inarguable answer would be found. With parenting - not so. Parents are individuals, kids are individuals, situations and environmental factors can change from day to day or even several times throughout one day. There is no definitive and inarguable answer for how to raise a child, and if you don't believe me, please visit the "Parenting" section of any bookstore and note the hundreds of books that have been written on the subject.

So, here we are with this task that no one knows for sure how to complete perfectly. And this task, this transforming of squalling helpless poop-machines into charming and intelligent world citizens who contribute to society, well, it's an important job. The lack of definitive knowledge, combined with the importance of the task, means we all get a tad defensive and self-righteous when it comes to parenting. If I realize someone else is doing the task differently from how I'm doing it, the tendency is to vehemently insist that they are doing it WRONG, because if they're not wrong then that means I am and that's too terrifying to consider.

What works for one family may not work for another, and though we all hear that and repeat it and nod along sagely, sometimes emotions get in the way and prevent us from really internalizing it. I think many of us feel threatened when we confront a real-life situation in which parents are parenting differently, and that can mean anything from how to handle a dawdling kid to how many kids you have, anyway. I have worked really hard in the past few years to step away from the judginess in myself and accept that no matter what I see other families do, my own task is to figure out what works best for our family, not pass judgment (even silently) on theirs.

As for what to do when the inevitable judgy comments come my way, that one I haven't figured out yet. What judgy comments do you get about your kids/parenting, and how do you handle them?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meme Monday

For NaBloPoMo, I decided to update my old "100 Things About Me" list and run 25 items for each of the Mondays in November. Here is part two.

I have never (yet) owned a dog.
I have an ex-husband and a whole previous life that most of my current peeps don’t know about.
I have a lifelong hate-hate relationship with my hair.
If I had a prettier face, I'd shave it off.
It kind of irks me that it matters how pretty my face and hair are.
I don't wear makeup; not for any particular feminist reason, but because I can't be bothered.
I don't drink coffee or tea. People find this very confusing.
I own a house. I want a bigger one.
I have a wonderful husband, who sometimes makes me crazy but most often makes me very very happy.
I have a younger sister whom I completely adore. She drives me crazy sometimes too.
I have a child, just one, and she is magnificent. And, of course, crazy-making.
I am a distance education student at Athabasca University.
I am going to graduate with my BA in English next Spring.
I am a talented singer.
I like to take photographs of things that amuse me.
I don't usually enjoy doing things unless I am good at them.
In an effort to break this habit, I am currently taking Hip Hop dance classes even though I am terrible at it.
I define my self-worth through my sense of accomplishment.
I am an impatient person. My dad used to say I had "all the patience of a boiling teakettle." He's right.
I am a Christian.
I am glad I'm a woman.
I am a feminist.
I am an arts person, and definitely not a science person.
I love to read. I think people who don't read are scary.
I am good at reading out loud.
I get uncomfortable at parties. I prefer more honest and intimate gatherings.
I will tell you pretty much anything you want to know about me - if you ask.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Favourite Site: Goodreads

Let me tell you how much I love Goodreads.

Goodreads is pretty much a gigantic database of books. Once you set up your (free) account, you can start putting virtual books on your virtual shelves: the defaults are read, currently reading, or to read. Every time you mark a book as "read", you have an opportunity to rate that book from 0-5 stars, and you'll want to take this opportunity, because once you've provided some ratings, Goodreads will start giving you recommendations based on what you've enjoyed in the past. You can also write a review which will help other Goodreads members decide whether they would like the book.

In addition to the above-mentioned shelves, you can also create your own shelves based on subject matter or other criteria. For example, you may want a shelf for all your historical fiction, or a shelf for all your memoirs. Because this is a virtual shelf rather than a physical one, each book can be on more than one shelf. For example, you may have a book on the "read" shelf that also exists on the "history", "non-fiction", and "World War II" shelves. In addition to being really appealing to those of us with OCD, this functionality allows you to ask Goodreads to show you all the books on any given shelf - e.g., all books marked with "history". I also have shelves for things like "read for school" so that no one thinks I actually read "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" on purpose.

I love being able to have an enormous, ever-growing, easily updated and always accessible list of books I want to read. (My to-read list is currently at 457 books.) I am a voracious reader and am always looking for a great book to sink my teeth into. Goodreads offers a lot of excellent ways to grow your to-read list: in addition to the personalized recommendations mentioned above, they send out monthly newsletters featuring author interviews and suggestions, and you can also sign up to be notified when authors you've rated highly release new books. Thanks to this feature and the online request system at my local library, I've been able to read brand-spanking newly-released books right around the time they hit the bookstore and the general public finds out about their existence (if, that is, they happen to walk by a bookstore).

There is also a social media aspect to Goodreads, in that you can "follow" other members and get updates as to what they are reading. If it turns out you have similar tastes in books, you might get some good recommendations this way. You can also join "book clubs" to read the same book as a far-flung group of people and participate in online discussion about it. Goodreads also holds Q&A sessions with authors where members can submit questions for the authors to answer. I haven't explored these aspects very much but I'm sure lots of people really appreciate these functions.

Goodreads is easy to use and has become an incredibly valuable and fun tool for me. If you like to read, chances are you will find something at Goodreads that will make your reading experience even more enjoyable. Come visit!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Five

1. I just got back from my first whirlwind trip and I'm about to head out on the next one! They Might Be Giants were awesome, and I just about lost my mind a few times when they played some of my favourite songs (Birdhouse in Your Soul and When Will You Die). I did learn that I am old: spending 4+ hours on public transit on Tuesday, then another 4 hours on my feet waiting in line to get into the show, and during the show, was exhausting. So exhausting, in fact, that I was able to fall asleep at 12:30am without the benefit of pharmacology. That hasn't happened in a while.

2. Continuing in the theme of exhaustion, it seems that I have agreed to catch a 6:30am ferry tomorrow for my trip to Seattle. Aren't holidays supposed to be a time to get more sleep instead of less? Ah well ... there is a hotel bed with my name on it waiting for me, and I'm not getting out of it on Saturday until I'm good and ready. Also planned: Pike Place Market, outlet mall shopping, and a chocolate indulgence tour.

3. Here's something odd I noticed. First, my daughter (as previously discussed) dressed in a really obscure and homemade Halloween costume. Right around the same time, Chris and I went out to a movie with a huge budget and a cast of megastars, which you'd think would be pretty well-known, but whenever I mentioned its name no one had ever heard of it. Then I went out to see this concert in Vancouver by this band that has been making music for like 30 years and again ... no one in any of my various circles (with one exception) knew who the heck they were. I guess hipsters experience this kind of thing all the time, and seem to enjoy it ... well, I found it annoying as hell. When I talk about stuff, I want people to know what I'm talking about! I understand that no one knows who Domo is, I saw that coming, but Contagion? Really? Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon? How did this movie slip under your radar? And immediately after that ... spending a few weeks telling various inquirers that I was going to see a concert with "Who? Wait, what was their name?" Man, it got old. The point of this rambling complaint is that being in a crowd of 200 or so people who all knew exactly who They Might Be Giants were, and were enthusiastically dancing and singing along with all the crazy lyrics, was a lovely experience and almost made up for the previous weeks of blank stares. My people! Hooray.

4. I have discovered that my husband doesn't like fun anymore. I offered to buy tickets for us to go see this (in Vancouver, not Modesto, just so we're clear) as a Christmas present, and he turned it down. His stubborn refusal to enjoy life contrasts greatly with my ferry-setting lifestyle, which is just a fancy way of saying that I'm going to keep on having fun without him.

5. Housekeeping: Yes, I have posts scheduled to run every day this long weekend. However, I won't be here to update the Facebook group or the Twitter feed with links to the posts. If you usually get notified via one of those two options, you have two choices: come directly to bloggingfortwo.blogspot.com each day to see the new posts (they are all going to pop up around 7am), OR wait until I get back to town and get all the links at once. The third choice, I suppose, is to skip the upcoming posts altogether. Bwahahaha how ridiculous! ~slaps knee~

Have a great long weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Secret Storm

Last summer, Gwen and I went up to our family cabin (Twin Fir Haven) on Powell Lake with my parents. It was an absolutely lovely trip ... so peaceful, just the four of us, and so wonderful watching Gwen and my parents spending time together and enjoying each other.

One night I woke up at some unknown time (no digital clocks at the cabin) and lay in the darkness next to Gwen. Rain poured on the metal roof, unimaginably loud. Suddenly brightness slashed across my vision. Lightning? When was the last time I'd seen lightning? One-one thousand, two-one thousand ... a few seconds later the crash of thunder. Gwen slept on beside me. It felt like I was the only one witnessing this immense display of nature's power.

Another flash of lightning, this time with thunder closer on its heels. The storm was getting closer. Having watched more than my fair share of DVD special features and behind the scenes footage, I recognized that actually, thunder does sound EXACTLY like sheet metal being shaken. The rain was deafening. Another crash, this one long and, well, thunderously loud. Did the cabin actually shake, or was it just an effect of the air pressure rapidly shifting? Gwen stirred and softly whimpered but still didn't wake - I stroked her hair to soothe her and she fell back into a deep sleep. The storm started to move on - thunder followed lightning a little bit more distantly now, and the crashes were quieter. And suddenly the rain ceased, as swiftly and efficiently as if someone had turned off a faucet. Moments later, it felt like I had imagined the entire storm. And like Gwen, I rolled over, snuggled in, and went back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And Now For Some Parenting

On Sunday, after chatting with a few different people (including an elementary school teacher) and brainstorming about how it might work, I tried this sticker experiment type thing with Gwen. The only thing I have found that motivates Gwen is her bedtime stories - she is DEVASTATED when that privilege is taken away. At the same time, her newfound competence and independence has brought a new habit into our lives: dawdling. There are several jobs she can do for herself throughout the day, such as taking off her pajamas and pullup and using the potty in the morning, or washing her hands and face after a meal. But there are times when these tasks take up to TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES and by that time I am a yelling, frustrated nagface. And no one is happy.

So, on our way home from church on Sunday I told Gwen we were going to try a new game. "Every time you do something the first time I ask, you will get a sticker. And when you get three stickers, it means you get an extra bedtime story." She mulled that over for a few minutes and thought it sounded like a good plan, and then I told her that when she argued or was rude to me, she would lose a sticker. She seemed to understand.

What followed was the most pleasant six hours I have ~ever~ spent with my daughter. She was like a different kid. At the grocery store: "What do we need, Mom? Butter? Here, let me get it for you and put it in the bag. I get a sticker now, right?" At home: "I put my jacket and shoes away without even being asked! Can I have a sticker?" Throughout the day, anything I asked her to do, she did - without the fight, without the whining, without the constant negotiation. She's a smart kid, and she was working the system - with no complaints from me. She must have earned two dozen stickers. BEST DAY EVER.

Then it was 5:15 and all of a sudden the behaviour was over. Dinner was ready and all I needed her to do was pick up her toys from the floor and put them in the basket. This is our typical routine. Every bad behaviour I didn't see all day was suddenly back. When I initially asked her to clean up, she shrieked at me. I walked away and returned a moment later, reminding her that I still needed her to tidy up and that she'd already lost a sticker for being rude. "NOOOOOO!" she howled. Another sticker gone, and again I walked away for a moment and then returned. I got down on the floor with her and started to tidy up a few toys, demonstrating what I needed her to do, and gave her another encouraging comment, which was roundly ignored.

It all went downhill from there, and I'm not sure what I could have done differently. To make her understand that time was important, I decided to sit in the chair next to her and continue to take her stickers off her sticker book until the toys were cleaned up. This didn't take long, and no toys were picked up the entire time. Now what? I went and set the timer on the microwave. "You've got three minutes to clean up the toys, and if you don't, then you won't get dinner." Timer went off: toys were still not cleaned up. And now she's lost dinner. CRAP.

So, in only fifteen minutes of bad behaviour, she lost all the wonderful rewards she'd earned, and didn't get any payback for her efforts. Maybe I should have rigged it differently to ensure she had a success on the first day. As it was, I had to put her to bed with no dinner and no stories, though I did ensure we did other fun things at bedtime so that we still had a nice time of closeness and ended our day on a positive note. Both of us were indubitably upset by the turn of events, however. We talked about it in our usual way, telling a story about a little girl named Gwen who was such a good listener and awesome helper all day long and then didn't pick up the toys and so she didn't get to have any bedtime stories. "What do you think Gwen should have done?" "She should have picked up the toys." Well, that's every indication that she learned a lesson - that's the best I can do. Guess I'll keep trying it and see what happens next.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Meme Monday

For NaBloPoMo, I decided to update my old "100 Things About Me" list and run 25 items for each of the Mondays in November. Here is part one.

I fail to see the appeal of Harry Potter.
I really don't want you to explain it to me.
I very much dislike The Simpsons.
I think JAWS is the greatest movie ever made.
I will tell you why if you have a couple hours to spare.
I once opened for Trooper.
I once walked (yes, you can do that) a marathon in Rome.
I think Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, and Bon Jovi make really dull music.
Though I am a child of the 80s, I missed most of the great pop culture stuff due to not having a TV.
Due to this I have excellent pop culture osmosis, and often know more about music I haven't heard or TV shows/movies I haven't seen than many people who have.
I despise being lied to.
I hold ridiculous grudges against businesses/services/corporations.
I will forgive my friends nearly anything.
However, I write off acquaintances pretty easily.
That doesn't mean I despise them, it just means I recognize that not all friendships last forever.
I am about as OCD as you can be without ever having been diagnosed with OCD.
I once lost fifty pounds, and kept about 90% of it off until getting pregnant.
I have problems with binge eating. I never had these problems when I weighed 200+ pounds.
I am not good at keeping in touch with faraway friends.
I love ice cream, and always will.
I believe that there is value in every life experience, though we are often (maddeningly) unaware of what it is.
I got married at Butterfly World.
My favourite robot is Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
I love the English language and hate to see it violated.
I think the term “Grammar Nazi” is incredibly offensive and belittles the experience of those who suffered in the Second World War.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Morning Snuggles

We were snuggling in the big bed this morning when Gwen picked up a grown-up hand and asked, "Mama, is this your hand? Or is it Daddy's hand?"

Chris said, "Turn it over and look at it. Is it smooth like Mama's, or furry like Dada's?"

Gwen turned it over and then sat up so she could trace the hand back to a body. Then proclaimed, "It's yours, Daddy. It's plugged into you!"

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five

1. After a few supportive comments from knowledgeable people, I booked Gwen in for an eye exam to see if there was a vision-related cause for her recent ailment. The optometrist gave her the all-clear: no vision problems, and her eyes are healthy, except for a small allergic flare-up that could be caused by anything from grass to pollen to her recently-worn Halloween costume. So, on the one hand, we don't have to deal with a clumsy three-year-old needing glasses. On the other hand, we still don't know why she's so darn clumsy. In any case, after seeking guidance from a lot of different sources I feel that if Gwen should get another headache, I will be much better able to manage it and keep her comfortable.

2. Next week is going to be a crazy one for me. On Tuesday morning I'm heading to Vancouver to meet my best friend and go to a concert together (They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Coulton). The next day we will spend some time exploring the city, and then that afternoon I head back to the Island in time to pick up Gwen from daycare. I work the next day, and then on Friday (a stat holiday) I head back to Vancouver to meet my mom and sister for a girls' weekend in Seattle - our much smaller-scale follow-up to last year's trip to Las Vegas. In conclusion, I am only spending about two-and-a-half days out of eight at home. Whee!

3. In case you're curious, Gwen's Halloween costume was Domo Kun, who is a mascot for a Japanese television station and thus the equivalent of the NBC peacock. Domo is also an Internet sensation (see one of Gwen's favourite Domo videos here). Unfortunately, Gwen was not trick or treating on the Internet, so most people we saw had no idea what she was ("Are you a Nanaimo bar?"). That was totally made up for by the occasional group of teens or twenty-somethings who LOST THEIR SHIT when they saw her and begged to take her picture. I wish Chris - who worked his butt off making the costume - could have been there to take some of the credit, but he had to work.

4. Know what bugs me about doctors? Gwen has had this very uncomfortable-sounding cough for about a week now, the kind where she is suddenly and violently coughing in the middle of the night and then I lie there wondering if she's can breathe and I can't really relax until she coughs again, but then the cycle continues. So I took her to the doctor, where she was an absolute model patient - even the doctor was impressed. Anyway, the doc spotted a white spot at the back of her throat and thought it might be strep. So she took a swab and told us we'd have the results in about 24 hours, then did everything but physically escort us from her office. The next day, we get the call that lab results show it wasn't strep. Great, but NOW what, because she is still sick and we have no idea how to help. BOO.

5. I am doing a nifty little bit of business on the side selling my handmade cards and Christmas tags. I really enjoy making them and am happy to bring in a little bit of extra money as we're still struggling financially. I have spent the last couple of days setting up an Etsy shop and a Facebook group, which is way more work/time than I expected. The main challenge at this point is trying to learn how to take quality photographs of my products. In any case, the Etsy shop is now live (if small), so anyone who wants to can have a look. Custom stuff is available too. Please check it out and pass it on!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Spooky Story

With Halloween just behind us, I thought it appropriate to share a spooky story. AND IT'S ALL TRUE!

Last year I won this crazy and amazing trip from the local radio station, and we left Gwen with my parents and headed to the mainland for a long weekend of adventure. One of the things we did was visit the PNE, which I don't think I'd ever been to as an adult. Holy CRAP it was fun. Somehow, in the preparations for this trip, Chris and I came up with a deal: he would ride the roller coaster with me if I would venture into the haunted house with him.

See, Chris is terrified of heights. And I am terrified of being terrified. In some weird way, though, Chris thought he could cure me of my fears by talking me through the haunted house experience. Oho! Did this plan fail spectacularly? WAIT AND SEE!

We rode the roller coaster first, and Chris was stressed and alarmed by the fact that when we went over the bumps, his body rose up out of the seat and was only prevented from flying out of the car (it seemed) by his elbow being locked under the safety bar. Yeah, he's a skinny guy, but kids ride that thing and "woooooo" their arms up above their heads and somehow avoid dying, so I didn't think he was really at risk. Still, he had that utter concentration of the cliched airline passenger who believes that only by clenching both armrests with fanatical strength, as well as devoting every inch of concentration to the matter, will the plane stay in the air. In any case: we survived the roller coaster. Now it was time to deliver on my part of the deal.

I felt pretty nervous as we waited in line to get in. I was curious about whether I could actually be cured, but I was worried about whether I'd be able to handle the experience of being actively terrified. I have a hard time letting go of the scares when they're over. As my friend Sue says, "Watching horror movies once is fine, but watching them over and over in your mind for the next several months is not so great." My brain works that way too. I tried to let go of my nerves and remind myself that it was all pretend.

As we entered the house, a costumed actress reminded us of the rules, such as the fact that no one would touch us and we should not touch anyone. I got a little more freaked out. What were these people going to do once we were inside? The fact that they needed to assure us we wouldn't be touched, for some reason didn't feel reassuring at all.

We went down the first hallway and I was holding myself together reasonably well. Chris was talking constantly, telling me the tricks and effects behind what we saw and felt and heard. For example, he noted that when we walked by certain spots, a sound of puffing air was audible; this indicated that we'd tripped a sensor of some sort, and that some animatronic thing was about to jump out at us. These types of warnings were helpful, as they did somewhat alleviate the startle reflex.

And then.

We walked into the first room, which seemed to be some kind of sitting room, where a creepy animatronic grandmother-type was seated in a rocking chair. The sound of a creaking rocking chair was loudly playing over the speakers. Chris was talking me through all of this: "There's someone sitting in the chair, she's not real. There's an actress in the corner." And then the actress in the corner pounced towards us and shrieked, "GET OUT OF HERE!" and I lost my mind.

Admittedly, on the page it doesn't seem that frightening. But it was really dark, it was obviously an unfamiliar setting meant to make me feel threatened and disoriented, and the physical act of getting in my face and yelling at me broke my ability to tell myself it wasn't real. The actress didn't seem like an actress, she seemed like an angry and possibly insane person who wanted me to leave. I wanted the exact same thing - but there was no way out except through the rest of the house.

We walked as fast as possible, but the house seemed to go on for-freaking-EVER. Chris walked in front, with me huddled behind him hiding my face in his back. He continued to talk me through things, warning me when an actor was going to interact with us or when something was going to jump out at us. It didn't help. I was hyperventilating and shaking and desperate to get out, but the hallway kept twisting and turning back on itself and leading us to more and more horrible scenes. Most of which, I'm happy to say, I didn't see at all.

And then we walked into the baby's room.

A baby's room. In a haunted house. Are you freaking KIDDING me? I have never been much for horror, as I said above, but since becoming a mom - well, really, since having a miscarriage - the ideas and imagery around babies or children in peril is unbelievably devastating to me. Saying "I cannot handle it," is a simple sentiment that doesn't begin to do justice to the actual effect it has on my psyche. I can't be the only one who feels this way, right? I mean, even if you don't have children, there's a whole societal belief that children are innocent and perfect and deserve to be protected - that a child's death is so much more tragic than an adult's death. The idea of a child being hurt or abused is a trigger on every level, and so somehow it seems like putting this kind of imagery into a haunted house is going way, way over the line. Then again, maybe that's why they did it.

So there we were, in the baby's room. I knew it was a baby's room because I could hear a baby crying over the sound system. I could glimpse a crib out of the corner of my eye. Chris said, "There's someone here, she's going to say something." And she did. She got out of her chair, came towards us, and wailed throatily, "What have you done? What have you done with MY BABY?"

This is when I realized the enormity of the mistake I had made. It wasn't just a matter of getting out of the haunted house. The problem was, the haunted house images and noises were in my brain now, and were going to keep replaying for months to come. This wasn't just a 5-minute experience, it could conceivably last a lifetime.

I think I may have started crying at this point. We turned to leave the room and were faced with another actress, holding an enormous cleaver and cutting something up on a cutting board. I didn't look at what it was, because I wanted to spend the rest of my life NOT in a padded room.

From that point on I didn't even open my eyes. Chris led me out of there as quickly as he could (not quickly enough), and finally we burst into the sunlight. I sat down on the dirty ground immediately as my legs could no longer hold me. I filled my eyes with sights of normal people, including the shaken Chris, who apologized over and over. (It wasn't his fault - I agreed to it. I didn't know it would be that bad.)

The experience did have its effects. Later that evening in our hotel room, I was quite frightened to be alone, and the way the sheer curtains billowed in the breeze subconsciously reminded me of the gauzy fabric used in the haunted house, putting me on edge and causing me to stare at them anxiously.

Chris's plan to 'cure' me of being afraid by explaining it all ... well, it came from a loving place. But I don't think fear can be rationalized away. If it could, no one would have phobias or anxiety. I am still afraid to watch scary movies, and I'm pretty okay with that. And next time we get to go to the PNE, we have a new deal: I get to go on the roller coaster while he goes in the haunted house, and then we both get to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl as many times as we want.


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