Why I’m Excited About Canada’s New Food Guide

Yesterday, Canada’s new official Food Guide was released, and I am stoked about it!

canada-food-guide-2019

For the first time EVER in this country, the Food Guide has not been influenced by agricultural promotion. Instead, it has been influenced by SCIENCE. As it should have been all along. Way to shake off the fetters of commercial enterprise, Food-Guidologists!

That’s Reason Number One that I’m stoked. I believe that a document meant to teach people best practices for feeding themselves should be based solely on actual best practices, as determined by people who study the effects of foods on humans (not by people who study previous food guides, or who study advice from people who produce a particular kind of food). It is time, as Prof. Sylvain Charlebois put it in the Globe and Mail, for the Food Guide to “depart from its humble initial purpose of sponsoring agriculture and […] finally serve our quest for a better quality of life.”

The next reason is, I really think it will improve Canada’s health. It says:

  1. Eat your veggies.
  2. Cook your own food as often as you can.
  3. Appreciate your food (i.e. make meals important – share them with others, notice and enjoy what you’re eating).
  4. Focus on whole foods and plant foods in your diet.

canada-food-guide-2019

I see this as being not just about physical (especially arterial) health, but also mental health. Mindfulness, and slowing down, getting joy out of the simple act of eating, and having your fellow humans close to you when you can. Bravo for saying it explicitly!

As many of you will have guessed, I am not sorry to see meat kicked off the title of a food group. Its importance has been artificially inflated all this time, and it’s time to get back to reality.

I have been vegetarian since I was fourteen. (I might have converted earlier if I hadn’t been the middle of three sisters, the other two of whom had already converted and tried to convince me. I dug in my Taurus heels and only made the switch when *I* wanted to. But I can remember being traumatized, at age ten or so, by the idea of all those cows dying.) The summer I was fourteen, I attended an animal rights seminar at Camp in which I learned about factory farming. One morning I looked at my bacon – which I usually liked, but it suddenly didn’t look so good – and decided I would give vegetarianism a try. After that, I was so proud of myself that I didn’t look back. Not even while pregnant.

But I do remember what it was like to like meat. I missed ground beef in spaghetti sauce and hamburgers, and I missed turkey on holidays, and a couple of times I randomly missed the canned corned beef hash we sometimes ate during my childhood.

There are certain people who, when they find out I’m a vegetarian, immediately go on the offensive. I am careful not to preach about it – I don’t flinch when other people eat meat around me, and I’ve cooked meat many times for other people. But the very fact that I don’t eat meat compels some people to justify (vehemently) their animal consumption. It is one of those choices that offends some people, and that people feel entitled to belittle, though I don’t really know why.

It’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago. And it’s way better in Canada than in many other places. (I can remember being ridiculed by the man who ran the Chinese restaurant in France where I ordered a vegetable soup and then wouldn’t eat it because it had chicken in it. He scoff-laughed, in broken French, “This is a restaurant, not a vegetable!”)

Nonetheless, I still encounter people who are all caveman about their meat. Grrr! I get my muscle from this meat, why would I waste away eating rabbit food, bacon is LIFE, grilling animal flesh is my heart’s greatest passion, blah blah.

**Can I just note here that “rabbit food” is also horse food, cow food, elephant food, and gorilla food. The tiny fuzzy scaredy animal is not the only example.**

The cultural hold that meat has on people, especially Westerners, in 2019, is big and powerful, with sharp teeth and attacky-type claws. So it is utterly unsurprising that the meat industry doesn’t like being shuffled into a group with beans and lentils and of course that uber-pansy of foods, tofu. I heard a well-spoken and well-meaning beef farmer on the radio last night talking about the “disappointing” news, reminding listeners of how much more efficient meat is at delivering protein.

I feel for her. It’s awful to have your livelihood threatened. I feel the same for the workers at the GM plant in Oshawa – people are just trying to do their jobs and support their families. The bad luck is that they work in industries that depend on the rigidity of certain standards… which are now shifting with the times.

The protein obsession is hand-in-hand with the meat obsession. Did you know that one medium russet potato contains between 4 and 5 grams of protein? Nobody reading this blog right now is in any danger of a protein deficiency. If you’re getting enough calories from nutrient-containing solid food, your protein is fine. (So not if you’re that guy who only consumes Coke and Oreos. But basically everyone else.)

The other lobby that’s taking a hit right now is Big Dairy. It has also lost top billing in food group land. We know from the NAFTA milk disputes that dairy is a hugely influential industry in Canada. Milk has been equated with health and wholesomeness since… well, since at least 1942 when Canada’s original wartime “Food Rules” were published. And gosh darnit, we believe what we’re told. We’re following the rules.

Plus, who doesn’t love cheese? (Other than folks with dairy allergies?) Who doesn’t love ice cream?? And stuff with butter in it?

I admit, there are many dairy and dairy-containing foods I love. Quite a large number. But my perspective on them has changed in the last couple of years, since my hubby was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

He was not yet at the point where he needed medication, and he vowed to himself that he would get his diabetes under control with his diet. The doctor said Sean’s main concern should be losing weight, and gave him a list of foods to eat – kind of a low-carb whole foods diet, but not one that matched up with any well-known diet people talk about.

Sean did his own research and experimented on himself. He tried the ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat) diet – said to reverse Type 2 diabetes – for a couple of months, and did drop a bunch of weight in a short amount of time. For a bit, it seemed like an excellent solution. But then he also found that keto did bad and sketchy things to his digestive system  – and also our kitchen was So. Effing. Greasy.

He did not feel good about that, as you can imagine. He spent some time trying to eat more simply, more whole-foods-based, but there’s too much grey area in a diet like that. Too easy to eat whatever.

What he eventually landed on, and has stuck with for well over a year (with some periods of relaxed parameters but always coming back to it) is the Starch Solution. High-carb, low-fat, vegan – the polar opposite of keto.

I have to tell you, if you’d told me three years ago that my husband would go vegan, I would have said, with a sardonic laugh, “Yeah, right. When pigs fly, fool.” (Okay, I actually probably wouldn’t have said those exact words.) In all the time we’ve been together – almost 17 years! – he has flirted many times with vegetarianism, and never stuck with it. Now suddenly he’s able to restrict himself way past anything I’ve ever tried, and stay true?

The thing is, Sean’s a compulsive researcher. The more research he did, the more evidence mounted saying that this was a way he could reverse his diabetes – cheaply, and with a much smaller carbon footprint, and much MUCH less negative impact on his arteries and heart. And other organs (which all need clear arteries to function well).

Also, Sean worked at an old-age home when he was younger, and he’s seen people with wounds that never heal and limbs that have to be amputated because they had unchecked Type 2 diabetes. He does not want that.

And here are some other things. When he is loyal to the principles of the Starch Solution, he:

  • feels great (to the point where sometimes he’ll just randomly text me, “Man! I feel great today!!”) – physically and mentally
  • has lots of energy
  • sleeps better
  • is digestively happy
  • barely gets sick – hardly even a stuffy nose
  • feels less drawn to junk food
  • cooks a lot more
  • finds his neuropathies (numbness in limbs) disappearing
  • is clear-headed
  • loses weight
  • has normal blood sugar readings.

Clearly, this is the lifestyle for him. As a result, our whole family eats a lot more vegan food. I am usually eating in solidarity with Sean (although I am less strict than he is), and I have to admit, I feel better when I eat this way too. Lighter, less bloated, more energetic. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Even the kids, who still eat dairy but not as much of it, have rarely been sick since we made the shift.

Obviously, the new Food Guide is not suggesting that everyone immediately start eating high-carb, low-fat vegan. (Can you imagine? Agriculture in Canada would implode, and the cave-people would riot.) Obviously, people are going to eat meat, and vociferously so, I’m sure. Cheese and butter and eggs, too.

But it is so, so nice, after all this time, to have a food guide that does not imply that you will be unhealthy if you are vegetarian or vegan. (My son has a friend who told him last year that he would be unhealthy because he doesn’t eat meat.) A guide in which plant-based proteins are not just dubbed “alternatives” to the REAL FOOD of meat and dairy. Now we can officially teach kids that if they are vegetarian or don’t like meat (and many don’t), or if they’re allergic to dairy, they will be FINE – or better.

canada-food-guide-2019-lentils-legit

Plant foods have incredibly healing properties. Plant fibre is what keeps our gut healthy. We need plants to fill us up and clean us out. And on a planet smothered with almost 8 billion people, it is simply unsustainable for everyone to eat animal products in the quantities that North Americans do. So plants will also be what provides for us to survive as a species.

Lovelies, I did not intend to make this into a huge post. I was just excited, and then got carried away. But since we’re here, if you feel like cooking tonight, lentil pie is a vegetarian WINNER.

And if you want more information on plant-based nutrition,

  • Dr. John McDougall literally wrote the book on the Starch Solution and has been studying plant-based eating for over 40 years;
  • Dr. Michael Greger makes nutrition very easy to follow;
  • Mic the Vegan combs through ALL the studies so you don’t have to;
  • YouTube is FULL of amazing innovators who invent recipes for you to use.

You’ll find that the vegan-research rabbit hole, once you get into it, is more of a gorilla-hole.

I wish you lots of wholesome, delicious meals, eaten in good company!

***

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The Dilovely New Year Questionnaire for 2018

So, my lovelies. Happy New Year or something! It’s only January 16th. It’s a super-reasonable moment to post a 2018 questionnaire completed in time increments of 20 minutes or less over the course of three weeks.

1. What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?

Me, Sean: Hiked Niagara Glen Trails in celebration of our 13th anniversary! Also visited some new wineries, had some chocolate icewine shooters, and saw Henry V, WWI trench-style, at the Shaw Festival (first Shakespeare EVER at Shaw! We thought it was well done).

The mighty Niagara River.

Me: Gave my first dose of insulin to my diabetic cat – and a least a couple hundred more since then. Also made vegan cheese. 

Sean: Saw Stephen Fry live! HE WAS AMAZING. Oh, and the diabetic cat thing too.

E, AB: Went to Ripley’s Aquarium, the CN Tower, Storybook Park, the Donkey Sanctuary, and Wild Waterworks. Also, GOT OUR OWN ROOMS!

shark-rippleys-aquarium
At Ripley’s Aquarium.
cn-tower-view
At the CN Tower.

E: Became a Junior – Grade 4, what!

AB: Started Grade 1, and joined Sparks with my BFF!

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Me: I was not exactly a PARAGON of calm in the mornings. However, I did do better after making the resolution. And when school started up in September, I made good on my threat promise to get the kids up earlier… and crazily enough, IT WORKED. We are way more calm in the mornings, because we are way more likely to be running on time.

Sean: I half-hit it… I am making strides with being more present and less on the internet. That internet never tires of wrestling with me, though. Not to mention pesky Apple vs. Google vs. everyone else.

E: My marks, it turns out, tend to be exemplary.

A: I did not get a horse. This still rankles.

3. What is your resolution this year?

Me: To spend more time in meditative quiet.

Sean: To be under 200 pounds, to pass four Open Ed university courses with at least 70% average, and to keep a neat and tidy house.

E: To beat the Ender Dragon in Survival mode, and eat thirty pounds of Life cereal.

A: To be a very good dancer at the big show, and to become the best student in my class. (I might already be the latter.)

4. Did anyone important to you die?

Me (and all): My sweet grandmother, Wina. She got to strike “turning 100” off her bucket list (if she had one), and died peacefully, with family, on New Year’s Eve. We are happy for her to shed her mortal shell, which was not in the best shape after a century of living… But she leaves a hole in our hearts.

Sean: A wonderful cousin who was gone too soon; and a friend and former coworker who was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Also of note (and important in their ways, though not necessarily more so than the above-mentioned dear folk): Kofi Annan, Charles Aznavour, Sister Wendy Beckett, Arthur Black, Anthony Bourdain, Barbara Bush, George HW Bush, Aretha Franklin, Hubert de Givenchy, Stephen Hawking, Ingvar Kamprad, Margo Kidder, Stan Lee, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, John Mahoney, John McCain, Dolores O’Riordan, Burt Reynolds, Neil Simon, Kate Spade, and Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor.

5. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?

Me: More sleep, and subsequently more energy. Actually I guess the thing I need is discipline – for the going to bed at a good time.

Sean: A competent president for the southerly neighbo(u)rs.

E: A Minecraft Lego jungle hideaway, and a dog.

A: A horse! Again. FOR REAL THIS TIME.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Me: Entering two groups of students (one English, one French) in the CBC Music Class Challenge (thanks for the inspiration, Skye!); facilitating birthday slime-making with ten excited Grade 3 boys (plus AB) and coming out unscathed. Also, I was pretty proud of this hedgehog rock I painted for E. (I was his Secret Friend at Camp.)

painted-hedgehog-rock

Sean: Went on the longest bike ride of my life!

E, A: Learning to swim for real, at Camp! No life jackets!

E: Finally beating the hardest level of Horizon Chase, and producing several (ongoing) literary works, including The Sheep (stay tuned for a sample).

A: Reading – and writing – chapter books.

7. What was your biggest failure?

Me: Failure to check the date on our passports. And realizing they’d expired a scant few weeks earlier and we couldn’t go to North Carolina, only a few days from our scheduled trek. (At least we’d planned to drive so there were no plane tickets. Sighhhh.)

Sean: Failure to lose the weight I wanted to lose.

E: Failure to fulfill my responsibilities without complaining bitterly.

A: Failure to come to terms with the fact that yelling as loud as I can does not get me what I want. One of these days, it’s going to work. It has to.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Me: I suffered my cat’s illness by cleaning up innumerable messes of various types (although Sean cleaned up even more of them, home alone while the rest of us were away).

Sean: Broke my left wrist for the third time in my life. Right before Christmas holidays.

E: The usual grievous injuries ALL THE TIME. I’m in pain 40% of my waking hours.

A: I was pretty impervious this year! (As Mummy knocks ALL the wood.)

9. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

MeSean: Trump; Doug Ford; Japan (reintroducing commercial whaling)… And ALWAYS Nestlé.

E: My sister, when she yells at me.

A: My brother, when he kisses my adorable face without permission.

10. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Me: My Grade 5/6 class, for being calm and awesome, even though they always come to me (for French or Music) at the very end of the day.

Sean: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for neatly shutting down every GOP troll who tries to invalidate her accomplishments.

E: Our cat’s, when he finally remembered how to pee in the box.*

A: Mine, when I found my Responsibility Button. On special occasions, I turn it on to “Full Power” and then I cooperate on EVERYTHING!

*{Actually, it was getting rid of the litter that seemed to be the key. You see, diabetic cats have more sugar in their pee and it makes the litter sticky… Then they have to whip their paws around to get the litter out of their claws, and then it sticks to the wall and many other random things. Bad for everyone. So we are using puppy pads instead. Painful amount of garbage, but maybe we won’t have to completely replace our floors.}

11. What did you get really excited about?

Me: Several cherished women I know – including both my sisters – getting together with loving partners! YAY!

Sean: Teaching the kids to swim… and of course seeing Stephen Fry. {insert googly-eyed love face}

E: My cactuses! Tall Joe, Short Joe, and Alfred.

A: That time I had the same tattoo as Mummy! And my birthstone ring for my sixth birthday, which is also a lot like Mummy’s… and our matching leggings for Christmas! (We know that matching Mummy will not be on the agenda for too much longer, so Mummy is relishing it while she can.)

dove tattoo

12. What events from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:

Me: Humboldt Broncos bus crash tragedy, Tham Luang cave rescue… because obviously. Intense human drama (that has undoubtedly already been optioned).

Sean: Doug Ford’s election, because TRAVESTY.

E, A: Our first Junior Camp, because we did so many fun things!

13. What political issue stirred you the most?

Me, Sean: Federal purchase of TransMountain pipeline, NAFTWO, carbon-tax squabbles… and for posterity, one must mention legal weed!

E, A: The sheer number of signs every time there’s an election. All those names bombarding us (which we feel compelled to read aloud whenever we’re driving somewhere)…

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Me: Blogging.

Sean: Even more cycling.

E, A: PLAY DATES.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Me: Picking up my phone for no good reason.

Sean: Falling off the wagon.

E: Missing ChromeBook time because my class was too noisy.

A: Waiting for play dates.

16. What do you regret?

Me: Please refer to biggest failure.

Sean: Time spent in rabbit holes (except maybe on reddit… those are high-quality rabbit holes).

E: Losing my Lego Minecraft Creeper. Also signing up to be a lunch monitor – those Grade 1 kids are noisy punks, and I don’t even like pizza (which was the reward party for lunch monitors… which might be why I signed up).

A: Not INSISTING upon horse-riding lessons.

17. What decision are you glad you made?

Me: Taking a two-day choral conducting course in the summer. Also, installing an amber lightbulb in E’s reading lamp. It really seems to help him wind down.

Sean: Sticking with The Starch Solution. And the purchase of the Instant Pot – not to mention the Air Fryer!

E: Going to Sherwood Forest day camp with my friends.

A: Getting my hair cut (and donating it).

We were afraid she would regret…
… but she didn’t!

18. How did you spend Christmas?

All: With people we love, all kinds of family. Lots of games, fun drinks, way too many snacks, general cocooning. So very fortunate. (Sean even shared our two weeks off, between shutdown and vacation days! Très exciting.)

19. What song will always remind you of 2018?

Me: Fireflies and The Verge, by Owl City.

Sean: Empire, by Sarah McDougall.

E: ALL the Flood Escape 2 songs, especially Sky Sanctuary.

A: Havana Ooh Na-Na. (By Camila Cabello. AB has never seen this video, BTW. Pretty entertaining! The song actually starts at 2:29.)

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Me: The Good Place, Bojack Horseman, New Girl.

Sean: The Good Place, Bojack Horseman, Voltron.

E: I’m not really into TV. I like to escape floods, build block facilities, and take care of pets and bee swarms on my screen time.

A: Home, Teen Titans Go, Puffin Rock (Mummy’s favourite because those wee British-kid accents are THE BEST).

21. What was the best book you read?

Me: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.

Sean: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.

E: Wild Robot books by Peter Brown, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers. 

A: Harry Potter books (which Mummy has been reading to me all year long!) and Fairy Ponies #1 and 2 (by Zanna Davidson) – read between Christmas and New Year’s.

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Me, Sean: Ant Man & the Wasp was funny and exciting, First Man was gripping and very memorable, Crimes of Grindelwald was gorgeous and entertaining… But honestly, for sheer viewing pleasure, for a movie you’re just glad you went to see… it has to be Paddington 2. 

E, A: Peter Rabbit, Paddington 2.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Me: 40, got sung to by the whole school (one of my coworkers broadcast the news at an assembly), had dinner with lots of family at a local vegan restaurant (plus sister-made pie options back at home).

Sean: 41, ate vegan pizza and chocolate cake, received and played “Snake Oil”; hilarity ensued.

E: 9, bounced sheep (aka balloons) around the rec room and made slime with 9 of my friends, got my own logo!

Designed by Auntie Beth. We painted it on our faces.

A: 6, had my friends over for refreshments and Auntie Beth’s magical face-painting, got my first LOL Doll and unicorn-poop slime!

24. What new thing would you like to try in 2019?

Me: Dance for Kindness.

Sean: University! Starting with Anthropology, doing great so far.

E: Indoor soccer, since I’m pretty awesome at outdoor soccer.

A: Horse-riding lessons. (Haven’t you been listening?)

25. Whom did you miss?

Always Sebastian.

26. Who was the best new person you met?

All: Uncle Agates! (It’s Alex, but this is his clan monicker, from which he will never henceforth escape.) (We were stoked to have TWO people we newly call Uncle this year!)

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018:

Me: Leave more time than you think you need to get a large group of children to follow a beat and sing in unison. If you think it’s simple… you’re showing your newbie choir conductor pinfeathers.

Sean: Always corroborate your research, and watch out for spilled coolant.

E: Clothes-putting-away is not nearly as hard when you do it every day.

A: Having your own room (once you get used to it) is awesome, because you can have PRIVACY. More or less. For a few minutes, if you really slam your door.

28. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

“Ladies all across the world, listen up, we’re looking for recruits / If you with me, let me see your hands, stand up and salute / Get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps or lace up your boots / Representing all the women, salute!” – Little Mix

***

 

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Sing In the New Year

Happy New Year, lovelies!

It has been an emotional New Year’s for us this year. Many mixed feelings, and lots of gratitude in spite of everything.

Here is another example of Dilovely’s infinite nerdiness, in the form of rounds. Some call them canons; like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, one person starts the song and then if others start singing the same song at appropriate intervals, it sounds dope. I mean, it sounds pretty. (Sean and I watched Trevor Noah’s “Son of Patricia” last night, so “dope” came to mind, but who am I kidding? I can’t pull that off.)

I have loved singing rounds since I was a girl – too young to remember learning my first ones. I was (am) lucky to have two sisters and a mom who could all sing, so sometimes we sang them together. Also, in my experience, Quakers know lots of rounds. We used to sing them at Camp NeeKauNis, and I once attended a Folk Song Weekend at Journey’s End Farm Camp (also run by Quakers) where we learned some new ones. And I have fond memories of singing rounds in front of a campfire at a family reunion once.

I always wish they would keep going forever, because when you’re actually singing them, it takes a while to get the hang of it – and then it sounds magical. I have kept these ones short, though – they are mostly for reference. My nerdy ambition is to make an online collection of rounds I know so that they don’t die (not that they necessarily would without my patronage… but round-singing isn’t as common as it used to be, I think).

So here are the two I prepared earlier. They constitute the collection so far. The first is a wish for the new year, and the second is simply one of the shortest and prettiest rounds EVER. (Apologies that on the first one, the key I’m singing in tends upward by at least a half-step by the end.) They are only briefly in four parts – mostly it’s three parts, to hear the roles shifting. Voilà, et bonne année!

***


 

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14 Holiday Songs That Don’t Mention Christmas

Christmas is here, which means Christmas songs – yay!

winter forest
Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels

I look forward to this music all year. I do not listen to it off-season, as I don’t want it to lose potency. If I’m honest, the holiday-themed songs that play at the mall are not usually what makes me feel festive. Although my relationship to Christianity is complicated, to me Christmas music will always be what I was brought up on: sacred music written between 1550 and 1860 (plus a few worthy classics from the 20thcentury). Some of my favourite melodies ever in the world are traditional Christmas carols: Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, Angels We Have Heard on High. (This is not to say that current musicians aren’t making some great versions of classic Christmas songs, as well as new ones that deserve to be classics… I just don’t often hear those at the mall.)

A few weeks ago, I was shopping with AB for a birthday present for her friend, and we heard singing outside the toy store. There was a women’s choir, spanning at least three generations, singing carols for passersby. AB was really excited and we made the time to listen to a few songs. Being the mush-ball that I am, and especially now, being a music teacher, I got teary-eyed. I never fail to be moved and exhilarated by a group of human voices singing a beautiful song together. It just makes me really happy – and generally speaking, it’s more likely to happen at this time of year than at any other.

Being a teacher in the public school system, I’ve also learned to tread very carefully when it comes to cultural and especially religious traditions. That is partly what inspired this list of “Christmas” songs that don’t contain the word Christmas (or Jesus, or Mary – or even Santa). It’s good to know what the options are, if you need to be secular. It’s also good to know what other traditions have inspired singing around midwinter – since there are lots. Lastly, it’s an interesting exercise to look at songs that are ingrained in the holidays and realize that some are not Christmas – just jolly.

{Side note: I am aware that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” qualifies for this list. I’ve decided not to talk about it at this embattled moment. Not because I usually shy away from hot-button issues, but because I can see both sides of the argument, and that’s boring. Plus, no one’s going to sing this one for an elementary school holiday assembly. Plus, I began writing this post at the beginning of December. Get ‘er done already, Dilovely.}

1) Gloucestershire Wassail (Middle Ages)

Okay, chances are that this isn’t going to be sung at a school assembly either. Songs about wassailing come from the tradition described thus by Wikipedia: “In the middle ages, the wassail was a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient-initiated charitable giving, to be distinguished from begging.” It’s mostly about drinking and sharing food. There are at least six verses to this song, and one of them does mention Christmas pie – but many recordings leave that one out. My personal point about this song is that it’s simply exuberant and I love it. (In case you’re all “WHAT is this ancient song I’ve never heard of,” my mom was in a Renaissance choir when she was pregnant with me, and for many years of my childhood. I come by my early music fetish honestly.)

2) Deck the Halls (Tune written 16th c., English lyrics 1862)

This is one of those songs that was actually about Yuletide (a 12-day pre-Christian festival beginning on the winter solstice) until someone switched out the word “Yuletide” for “Christmas.” Both versions still seem to be well-known. I relate deeply to celebrating the solstice – the fact that people instinctively gather together, share meals, and burn candles and wood fires to bolster themselves against the darkness and cold.

3) Ding Dong Merrily on High (Tune written 16th c., English lyrics late 19th c.)

Is there anything more thrilling than the beautiful notes of the Gloria section, weaving around each other like dancers? Ach, so great. And this song does mention heav’n and angels, but it doesn’t say what or whom all the hosannas are about. This video was taken in Australia, which is why the audience is outside… IT’S SUMMER.

4) Here We Come a-Wassailing (c. 1850)

More boisterous singing door-to-door in exchange for food/gifts. As above, there is a mention of Christmas in some versions, depending on how many verses you sing – again, asking for Christmas leftovers – “Christmas loaf” along with some “mouldy cheese.” I always wonder – is that the good cheese mould, or is that just whatever crappy cheese is still lying around?

5) Good King Wenceslas (1853)

For the longest time, I thought the “feast of Stephen” was a hill or plain that the good king looked out on, because OBVIOUSLY. That’s where the snow was lying round about. Turns out it’s St. Stephen’s Day, variously mentioned as December 26th or 27th. Good old K-Wen brings flesh and wine to the poor man who lives by Ste. Agnes’ fountain – and, I would think, probably some mouldy cheese or Christmas pie, although that’s not mentioned. The poetry of this song plus the rather swashbuckling tune is a winning combo. Oh, and the message of being kind to those less fortunate (St. Stephen was all about that). That’s great too.

6) Jingle Bells (1857)

Arguably the most iconic holiday song ever EVER. When I ask kids to think about the first “Christmas” song that comes to their minds, the first hand up is for Jingle Bells. People compulsively incorporate bits of it into other songs, it has a proper fully-realized French version, and everyone knows the words to the chorus (which, I’ve recently realized, can be played on a class set of handbells). So joyful, so simple, and it’s always fun to sing a good, hearty “hey!” – not to mention a nice overdone “HA HA HA.” Kinda perfect.

7) Winter Wonderland (1934)

Not only is this song not about Christmas, it’s not even really about snow, in my opinion. It’s about being giddy in love, and the world seeming enchanted as a result. Which is sweet – I know the feeling of being all in a tizzy about a guy (in the winter), and it does feel magical. The “glistening” and the “heaven of diamonds” and all that.

8) Let It Snow (1945)

This may be the story of the same couple, a little later in the relationship, a bit more settled and cozy. It’s got that feeling of a snow day when you’re a kid – you watch the snow coming down and cheer for it to keep coming so you can stay home all day in your pyjamas.

9) Marshmallow World (1949)

This one is whimsical, childlike – though I must say that the lines “Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly / In the arms of the evergreen trees” have a psychedelic poetry to them that seems ahead of its time to me.

10) Sleigh Ride (Instrumental 1948, lyrics 1950)

The instrumental version of this is my favourite, with the vivacious tempo, the clip-clopping woodblocks, and the masterful trumpet whinny at the end. (Probably because I have great memories of playing it with the Concert Band in the main foyer of my high school before Christmas break – ages ago.) But I like the lyrics too. I can’t help but agree with “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy / When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.” Having a festive meal with people you love is one of those human things I would really miss if I had to go live among the aliens.

11) Frosty the Snowman (1950)

“Thumpety-thump-thump” is almost as Christmassy as the sound of sleigh bells, no? Well, maybe not. But Rudolph and Frosty go hand-in-hand – at least in my mind – even though one is absolutely Christmas Eve and the other, if we think about it, probably takes place in March. On one of those freaky days when the temperature shoots up and you go tromping through slush in a T-shirt and rubber boots.

12) Jingle Bell Rock  (1957)

I have really liked this song ever since several years ago when a couple of my Grade 2 students accosted me at recess and sang it to me, with actions. Especially “Giddy-up, jingle horse, pick up your feet,” because of the way they bounced around, full of joyful energy.

13) Shall We Gather by the Fire (2010)

This is from an album of the same name, by a Ren-Fest group called Three Quarter Ale. Interestingly, the majority of the songs on it are not about Christmas – some are about Hanukkah, and quite a few are just about life, but relate somehow to the holiday season. This carol ends the album, and is just as cozy a Neo-Renaissance song as you will ever find. I also love “Any Day’s a Holiday” from the same album – it’s just about the exhilaration of conviviality, and dang if it doesn’t make you wanna go dancing in your pantaloons.

14) The Holly and the Ivy

I’ve put this in the last spot because it’s a bit of a mystery. There is some debate about how old its origins are; some say it began as a druidic song, before Christmas was a thing. I came upon a post written by someone who grew up with a secular version of this song and who didn’t know until much later that the most common version is Christian. I was intrigued, because the forest-y imagery is what I love best about this song – the bright plants, “the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer” through a majestic snowy woodland in my mind. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a truly listenable pagan version, so here’s a very listenable Christian version… and for your reference, two different non-Christmas lyric pages here and here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the list, and are enjoying some togetherness with good people, yummy food, and warm toes. Wait, that kinda sounds like toes are food. No. Dang it, Dilovely, wrap it up.

I just wish you happy glowy times. Love to you and yours!

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The Apocalypse is now… and the kids know it.

It’s Monday, and the 2018 Climate Conference in Poland (COP24) is in full swing. Seems as good a day as any to talk about the Apocalypse. I’ve been hesitating on this writing, because I understand that a blog post about the world as we know it going down in flames is… a bummer of sorts. But I need to share some things with you.

I think we humans are trained to expect the Apocalypse to be beyond obvious. We are excellent at denial. Unless we can actually see a meteor hurtling towards us, or a tidal wave engulfing the Statue of Liberty, we will act like everything’s business as usual.

statue-of-liberty-tidal-wave-apocalypse
Image via yournewswire.com

But seriously, isn’t it getting harder and harder to dismiss how badly we’ve f*cked things up, as a species? It’s biblically disastrous out there. The world is a fury of burning and flooding at the same time. Humanitarian crises are so ubiquitous and interminable that they become background news. Conscious bigotry has never been stronger. In the US, there are now so many guns that kids are getting killed by stray bullets, inside their own homes. And with all of our knowledge and progress, there are still innumerable humans who think we can afford to throw garbage around – both literally and figuratively.

flooding US 2018
Flooding in southeast US, 2018. Image via climatesignals.org.

The Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, California, August 9, 2018. Image by Robyn Beck via The Atlantic.

This post has been brewing for a long time, but especially since October when I started working with my Grade 5/6 class on our Remembrance Day assembly contribution.

This class is a relatively small, calm group of kids who live in a nice, safe, pretty neighbourhood. The average income around here is very healthy, as is the proportion of highly educated parents. It’s a tight-knit community, very supportive. I’m lucky to teach at my school, and this group of Grade 5/6s is frankly lovely.

The sad part is that, as a group, they are not optimistic. They don’t think the future is rosy. They live their lives and have fun and get silly and run around, but they don’t see their adulthood as an exciting realm of possibilities. They’re not even sure how much adulthood they’re going to get. One girl has already sworn off of having children, because she doesn’t want to inflict the world on them.

These are 10- and 11-year-olds. They are smart, they think a lot, and they can see that we’re in dire straits.

We began talking about Remembrance Day from the perspective of why we commemorate it. Most of these kids have not experienced war first-hand, but they understand that they wouldn’t want to. They are grateful for sacrifices others have made – that their families, for the most part, have not had to make. They can imagine the awful things people have gone through. They want to show respect.

But… what has all the suffering been for? Has it earned us the peaceful world that so many humans have imagined and wished for?

Is the world at peace? I ask my students. No, obviously not, they reply. They know that wars are still happening all over the world. They also know that peace is about more than a lack of wars, and that even our part of the world cannot be called peaceful. Not right now.

We started writing about it. Here’s a list of things they worry about, in their words. (I’ve alphabetized for your convenience.)

Why the World is Not At Peace:

  • abduction
  • abuse
  • animal abuse
  • anxiety
  • bad environments
  • bullying
  • cancer
  • child abuse
  • climate change
  • corruption
  • cyber bullying
  • depression
  • drugs
  • drunk driving
  • equity problems
  • expensive child care
  • food
  • gun laws
  • land
  • littering
  • low income rates
  • hackers
  • homelessness
  • homophobia
  • money
  • no food
  • no schooling
  • North Korea
  • not awareness
  • not proper rights
  • overpopulation
  • people being mentally unstable
  • people not believing you
  • police getting off easy
  • politics
  • poverty
  • racism
  • rape/hiding it
  • sexism
  • shootings
  • starvation
  • suicide
  • terrorists
  • trash/pollution
  • Trump
  • violence
  • war
  • young marriage

It’s no wonder that anxiety and depression form the latest children’s health crisis in the western world. (And this list doesn’t even mention water supply, the issue I think is most likely to screw us all for good.)

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I worried about a lot of stuff too. (Most of the same stuff, actually. Things haven’t changed as much as I hoped.) I knew the world was dangerous and not within my power to fix. Sometimes this knowledge loomed large over me, and I struggled. But I never felt hopeless. I never stopped planning for a good – better – future.

Folks. IT IS NOT OKAY WHEN KIDS LOSE HOPE. They are built to be hopeful creatures, and they deserve to be. And we need them to be.

I think a lot of the problem stems from kids’ knowledge, confirmed every day on every branch of social media, that adults are not only human but A) a lot of them are assholes and/or idiots and B) they don’t know how to fix things. The whole role model situation is a total snafu. If you can’t esteem the available leaders, then nothing and no one is safe.

Although I was shocked at the cynicism of the discussion we had, I did my best to lift things up a bit. Yes, it all seems overwhelming and insurmountable. We talked about the value of attitude, of small steps in the right direction, of cumulative effort. When everything seems doomed, it’s better to do something than nothing.

Here are some ideas they came up with to improve things:

  • be nice
  • check in on people
  • don’t litter
  • don’t vote for Nestlé
  • end war
  • fix the government
  • have a better attitude
  • have better laws
  • help people with no food
  • help places with no good water
  • kick out Trump from presidency
  • LGBTQ+ President
  • listen
  • make a treaty
  • meet in the middle and try to figure it out
  • more homes for the homeless
  • more school safety
  • more women’s sports on TV
  • no guns
  • proper jail sentencing
  • protest
  • raise awareness
  • raise incomes
  • ride a bike
  • stop bullying
  • stop polluting
  • vote for better candidates
  • we can share the money
  • woman president

I love how simply these things are put. Some of them truly are simple and feasible. And of course many of them are dauntingly complex and subject to infinite interpretation. Things like “fix the government” and “proper jail sentencing” could be debated until the end of the world.

Here’s one so meticulous it made me laugh:

  • show people what they’ve done over the years in a slideshow but adding every little detail in public

And another that didn’t make me laugh at all, because I know it was seriously written:

  • last resort leaving Earth and live on the Moon

As though we’d be any better behaved on the moon. Sigh.

Right now, Sir David Attenborough is doing his best to tell changemakers that THIS IS SERIOUS AND REAL, ALREADY. As did Mark Ruffalo and Cher and co. in the Liberatum film “In This Climate” and Leo DiCaprio in his film “Before the Flood.”

These UN climate change conferences have been going on since 1995 (hence “COP24” – 24 years of talking about this problem and watching it get worse). In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us the outlook was considerably worse than previously thought… And we talked about that for a few days – and moved on.

It feels like forever that people have been saying We need to do something, we need to fix this as other people deny the whole thing… And here’s us, as a species, still squabbling about stupid stuff, as though selfishness and hatred were sustainable options.

This is not fair to the kids. Sean and I know that our children are taking in practically everything we say (when we’re having our own conversations – not when we’re asking them to do things) – and it’s a huge burden on them just knowing things about the state of the world. They fret and worry, and we try to say less when they can hear us. It’s not that we want them to be oblivious, but at six and nine, they need time to build up the good anticipation that will help them to persevere as the shit continues to hit the fan.

On the bright side, things we do to change the world for the better are often overlapping and symbiotic. They can improve many layers of a situation. As Rebecca Solnit pointed out ofter the IPCC’s announcement, climate action is human rights. There is still a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario for our species on this planet, and we owe it to everybody to shoot for the latter.

I promise that my next post will be less depressing.

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NINE YEARS of blogging. WHAT.

Hey, Lovelies,

It’s my blogiversary this weekend! Technically yesterday – November 3rd – it was nine whole years since my first blog post ever. About which I said nothing to anyone. I barely knew what a blog was, but I was inspired by my sister blogging about her experiences in Europe, and had also read some blog posts by another friend who wrote about random things, very briefly, and made blogging seem so… feasible.

Man, things were really different back then. Sean’s and my marriage was only four years old, and my teaching career barely older. I had one wee babe. We had a little house on the opposite side of town (and had barely even thought about school catchment areas). Emi and our friend K still lived with us. My whole world was my baby and family at that point. And it was such a joy to spend basically all of my time and brain power on one tiny, squishy-cheeked human that I loved unimaginably – who also happened to be a pretty easy customer.

baby
Gah, he was a cutie. He’s still a cutie, but so big and way more obsessed with farts. Also of note: I took this pic with the super-slow camera of the first-gen iPhone… weird. Hence the blurriness.

I remember how much I wanted to get parenting right (LOL!), and how everything my son did was special and amazing. I also remember that my first several blog posts were written sitting in the glider in E’s room, just being near him as he slept.

I had no inkling, while writing those first blog posts, that this blog would still be alive nine years later – because of you. If you hadn’t been reading, imparting legitimacy to my words, it would have been hard to justify this therapeutic but self-indulgent hobby all this time. Thank goodness you were there. I could not have predicted that blogging, through your compassionate readership, would become a lifeline of solace when Sebastian died. Nor did I imagine that I would one day write a post that would be viewed over 50,000 times in a week, or that I would have readers who would insist to me that my blog was important – to folks other than me.

These days, I sometimes wrestle with myself about what to write. Not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of clarity. Part of me feels that I should go back to my origins of writing whatever I feel like, whenever, even if it’s insignificant and random… Because that’s how this all started – as an excuse to write stuff. “Just write… and see what happens.” The other part of me feels like I should only write when I have something truly meaningful to say, and time to polish it properly, out of respect for you. I mean, what right have I to assume that you want to read my arbitrary woolgathering? There are already plenty of bloggers – and commenters, and tweeters, and Facebookers, etc. – out there who blather.

The truth is that this blog’s steady readership of lovelies is not large. It’s not like I’m proclaiming to the masses. I would love to know what you feel is worth reading in an age of overwhelming internet noise. So if you’re reading right now, please feel free to weigh in about… well, anything you want. (Requests?… Pet peeves?… Guest posts??) I am very, very grateful to you for reading, and it seems only fair that you should have some input. If you want it. I’ll accommodate it as best I can (in my inconsistent fashion).

Anyway. Thank you, as always, for being here. Thanks for reading, and nudging, and commenting, and sharing, and being part of this li’l community with me. I will always be grateful for you. [Insert whole rainbow of heart emojis.]

***


 

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A Romantic Story… Unfinished

Did you know that my daughter has been married for almost two months? She’s a romantic, but she needs no extravagant proposal. In fact, she doesn’t even need a groom.


Back at the end of the summer, she drew the above picture on our white board, with great attention to details like rings and gloves and such. She told us that she would be marrying a boy she likes from her school (Lorenzo – he couldn’t’ve had a more romantic name if she’d made him up). She added “Wedding Today” on a Sunday at the end of summer, and got dressed up fancy.

She was really happy and excited. She did ask at one point, “Could we go pick up Lorenzo?” but I’ve never seen this kid, much less met his parents/gotten his number/found out his address. Fortunately, she didn’t seem that perturbed that he wouldn’t be there for the wedding. There wasn’t even really a ceremony (which would only have served to make the groom’s absence more noticeable – who needs it?). She liked wearing her sparkly shoes and Tinkerbell dress and feeling special for the day. She was celebrated and congratulated heartily by all who were present.

Emi and Uncle Matt holding the bride aloft.

Ah, the glory of it all.

Soon afterward, she began work on her first book. It wastes no time with preamble (or writing word order, at least on the first page).

“One day two lonely people crashed in the night. It was love at first sight.” And the rest is history (and more legible).

[It seems worth mentioning that both my kids write on much more mature themes than I did as a child. As you may know, my masterwork Rainy Day Cindy had no romance in it whatsoever (although there were some decent present-giving moments). Nor did it have the kinds of heisty hijinks E likes to write about (superheroes with animal sidekicks fighting evil scientists – more on that later). Mini-Di  just followed Gilbert Blythe’s advice and wrote what she knew. More or less.]

I’m pretty sure that this manuscript is not done. I, for one, have many questions and will need some more instalments. I feel like Lorenzo’s behaviour in this book could take a dark turn, as it seems a little stalker-y; but then, maybe he’s just showing perseverance to be rewarded. In the meantime, I’m pretty proud of my kid’s word choices and indomitable spelling.

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Orange Shirt Day for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30th and every day

Tomorrow, September 30th, is Orange Shirt Day. In schools, we will commemorate this day on Monday by donning orange and discussing with our students what it means. “Orange Shirt Day” recalls the beautiful, brand-new, bright-orange shirt that was taken away from Phyllis Webstad at age six, on her first day at Mission Residential School in 1973.

orange-shirt-day
This year’s official orange shirt – art by Janet Cromarty of Kasabonika First Nation, writing by Scarlett Verbeek of Grindrod Elementary School.

My daughter also happens to turn six tomorrow. She, like Phyllis, was proud to be starting grade school this year, being in Grade 1 – and also with a carefully-chosen outfit. I walked her to school through our own pretty neighbourhood, to a school that is full of compassionate educators who work hard to create welcoming classrooms, and to teach inclusion and character development. She had a complete nutritious lunch and a nice jacket for the chilly weather. When she got home that day, she declared: “I LOVE Grade One!!

I try to imagine taking my child – or being forced to let her go – to a school far away, where I won’t see her for many months. Or even years. I try to imagine her staying at that place where she is underfed, underclothed, expected to speak a language she doesn’t know, made to do manual labour, punished frequently and physically, and forbidden to speak to or even acknowledge her brother. And can’t see her parents at all. It is too awful to contemplate for long.

I often think about this, especially since visiting the Mohawk Institute Residential School and having the privilege of hearing survivors speak about their experiences. It’s a chilly, forbidding place. Thousands of children learned misery between its walls.

Below is what I wrote, compulsively, after my visit to the Mohawk Institute almost a year ago. I know this is not my story, and my voice is not an important one in this discussion. I can only say that I’m haunted by this tragedy, in a tiny shadow of the sorrow and trauma plaguing so many, and this is how I begin to process. (Thank you, Emi, for helping me clarify these thoughts.)

***

Assimilation

 

Maybe you were one of the tiny ones 

And you cried every day

In your scratchy clothes and hard shoes

So the bigger kids hoisted you

Atop the lockers so you could cling

To the hot water pipe

Warm like your mama’s arm.

 

Maybe you arrived hearty

so you were picked 

most often

to slug your friends in a dank

basement echoing

with unholy cries and money

changing hands.

 

Maybe you weren’t a fighter

so you were picked 

most often

to be summoned to the rumbling

boiler room where no one 

would hear the sinning sounds

from their faraway numbered beds.

 

Certainly you were strapped

for drudgery unfinished

clothes askew

that apple you picked for your sister

especially for your tongue

impertinent to theirs.

 

Of course you hungered

after every meal on and on

and for rhythms

sun in your lungs

sheltering voices

fragrant medicines

a soft hazy nest.

 

Perhaps you crept – shinnied – fled

streaked through the trees

but landed in the hole

in the wall under the stairs

just you

and the salt they gave so your cheeks

would look plump.

 

Perhaps you died

in a narrow bed, lungs clouded 

in a struggle, wounds streaming

in the woods, limbs like stones

reaching for your ancestors

 

or perhaps you lived with your broken 

spirit tolling as the pieces

fell and kept falling

you collected what you could

and wear them every day

shards piercing your scars

wondering if someday sorry

might mean something

***

Thanks for reading today. You can learn more at Where Are The Children and We Were So Far Away. You might consider donating to Indspire. And if you haven’t watched/listened to The Secret Path yet… although Gord Downie was not an indigenous voice, this work is a valuable access point for those who understand best through music. And of course – please consider wearing an orange shirt on Orange Shirt Day.

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The Keys to Happiness… Are In This Blog Post

Do you ever ask yourself if you’re happy? Have you figured out what happiness is in the first place? Do you believe it to be achievable?

Ostensibly, happiness is what everyone wants, but there’s a lot of debate about what that looks like, and whether it can last, and how you know when you have it, and whether you even appreciate it when it’s there for the taking.

Niagara-Glen-Hiking-Trail-River
Niagara River

Sean and I have talked a few times about when/whether we’re happy. Not in terms of our marriage – we know we’re happy to be a unit. And not in terms of whether we should be happy – we are so fortunate in life, we surely have access to all the puzzle pieces needed for happiness. But day-to-day, in general, are we actually happy?

Perhaps the more pertinent questions are: what are those puzzle pieces? and which pieces really count?

You’ll be glad to know that I found the answer for us all – at the donkey sanctuary.

essential-requirements-contented-life
Here they are, the keys to happiness! YOU’RE WELCOME.

Essential Requirements for a Contented Life. Right there on the wall of the Learning Barn, complete with grommets.

Looks like a simple enough list… but I’ve been pondering it and I’ve come to see that it is actually profound.

You see, I’ve been fretting as summer comes to a close, because of a feeling of incompleteness. I’m a teacher – I get more time off than any other profession – how could I possibly be discontent?? What kind of ingratitude is that?

I had a fun summer – spent two weeks staffing at Camp NeeKauNis (with kids), visited with family and friends, picked berries, cleaned out the garage with Sean, purged a bunch of stuff, visited Story Book Park and Wild Waterworks and the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada with the kids, visited Niagara-on-the-Lake with my hubby to celebrate our 13th anniversary, attended my school board’s two-day Learning Fair, took an Elementary Choral Conducting course, painted my son’s new bedroom…

Very productive, with lots of fun things in it. So WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?

I think the problem is my mindset. As you know, I have a robust guilty conscience. Naturally, I feel guilty about my teacher’s summer, since my husband gets the same ridiculously insufficient amount of time off per year that most Canadians in the workforce get. So I feel the need to get tonnes of sh*t done every day, to justify my summer… And also to make less for him to do, so that he feels at least a little more relaxed.

It ends up that I don’t feel relaxed – except for the times that I schedule in relaxing activities. And as you may have noticed, I did not blog all summer – for the second summer in a row. Why? Because it never got to the top of my To Do list. Because I feel weird about prioritizing it. Same goes for the other artistic projects I have started in the last three to six years: they don’t ever get to the top. Even though I know they provide me with happiness, on a deep-heart-level.

This makes me bananas.

I mean, I’ve read Big Magic. I know in my brain that I’m supposed to DO CREATIVE THINGS, unapologetically. That it’s valid to make time for art, even – or especially – when life is crazy. And nobody likes that person who works constantly and suffers on purpose and then complains about it. It’s just that… there’s so much other stuff that needs doing.

When we went to see the donkeys on Labour Day weekend, it was a beautiful, peaceful day. Those donkeys, although they’ve been through hardships, are great at chillin’ and soakin’ up the love at this point in their lives. Happiness is all around. We feel it and it makes us smile. It’s time to learn from their paradigm.

happiness-donkey
I’d say this is the Poster Donkey for happiness.

What was on that list again?

Adequate food

“Do I have enough of the right kinds of food to eat?” Hmm. The “right kinds” of food, they say. Am I eating stuff that’s actually food, or is it actually modified/hydrolyzed/hydrogenated/blah blah blah? The more I pay attention, the more I see that what I eat affects my mood and energy level dramatically. (It’s amazing, in fact, how many of us ignore this direct causal relationship.) Sean and I are eating mostly plant-based nowadays, and we both feel a lot better when we’re on that track. And yet I still ignore it quite often. Silly human. So, Dilovely: eat what makes your body happy (as well as your mouth).

Adequate shelter

“Can I get away from wind, rain, sun, and snow?” Yes, our home is more than adequate. I can’t deny that there were moments this summer where my productivity suffered due to our lack of air conditioning… But not many, considering. And in the winter, I think every day about how lucky I am to have coziness as an option, thanks to my home.

Adequate water

“Do I have access to fresh, clean water to drink, even on the hottest and the coldest days?” YES. I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude for the water. I am so, so thankful that I live in a place where water comes right out of the taps and is safe to drink… And this same place has countless beautiful rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams that support so much life. It is an abundance of riches that we ALL need to protect… Because water is also the most important thing. Period.

Space to move and exercise

“Do I have enough space to move around, in keeping with my biological needs?” To me this says: GET OUTSIDE. Run around. Get some fresh air like your mama toldja to. We never regret having gone outside, especially to get some exercise. Our biology needs it.

Freedom of choice

“Am I allowed to make choices about how I live my life each day?” Whoa. This question is deep. Have you ever read a book set in a place where citizens are super-oppressed and/or fear for their lives? And then looked at your own life and marvelled at how you can freely go to the grocery at 10:30 pm or meet friends for coffee wherever or have a university education and a job even though you’re a woman or take your kids to the park without worrying about gunfire? It’s good to be acutely aware, sometimes, of how free one’s life is.

But also. On a daily basis, I (and I’m sure many many others) box myself into a state of near-constant obligation. I brought myself here by freedom of choice, but if I were making thoughtful choices about how I live my life each day, wouldn’t I, I don’t know, blog more than once in three months?

Of course, lots of us, a lot of the time, have a lot of things happening in our days that we wouldn’t choose, but still have to deal with. In that case, I’d argue that the other points become even more important.

Proper social context

“Do I have the opportunity to live with my own kind, and relate to them as I would in my natural environment?” Humans are social animals – we need to have peeps. We need to be with them, relate to them, in person, authentically present. And for the introvert animals, we also need to have times without so many peeps. Neither of these things is too much to ask.

Mental and physical stimulation

“Is there variety where I live?” This one makes me think, too. Do I do the same thing day in, day out? I know Sean and I both have those moments when we feel that drudgery – although Sean perhaps a bit more than I, because my job is never boring. We need to exercise our brains, do different things, challenge ourselves, get into the flow, feel alive. This also is not too much to ask of our modern, civilized lives.

Boom, there you go, the contented life in a nutshell. Do you have one?

Dear lovelies. I’m afraid this blog post is not as thoroughly-crafted as some… it doesn’t have the cohesive arc I wish it to. Probably because I’ve been trying to get it done for over a week, ha. You’ll have to forgive my rustiness; it’s been a while.

But I do like what this list does. It makes me think about what is ESSENTIAL in life, and what I already have to be grateful for. Donkeys don’t do any unessential crap. If we humans could cut down on activities that are both  A) unnecessary and B) don’t make us contented or bring us happiness, then we’d be living more like the donkeys. That’s an idea worth pursuing.

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Raising a Daughter in Scary But Hopeful Times

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.

jean-jacket-mom-daughter
And we’re jean jacket buds.

Let’s see:

  1. Always wipe front to back
  2. Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
  3. Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.

Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.

Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).

Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.

Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.

Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.

Pretty is as pretty does

The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.

Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.

Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.

And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.

Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?

But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.

So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)

[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]

We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.

Nurturing is for everybody

Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.

I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.

At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother”  and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.

little_girl_puppy

Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME

I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.

It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they are adorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.

The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?

Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.

[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]

little_girl_art_paint

No means No. Except when it doesn’t.

Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so  ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.

Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.

[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]

My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”

If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.

Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.

The Herbivore’s Dilemma

To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.

In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.

little_girl_joy

I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]

Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice

Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.

Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.

There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.

Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.

As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.

little_girl_smiling

Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?

Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)

Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.

However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.

[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]

I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.

Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”

Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please.  YES.

This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.

I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.

And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.

I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.

We’ve got this.

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Photo credits, in order: 1. Auntie Beth, 2. Bess-Hamiti, 3. pikauisan, 4. yohoprashant, 4. cherylholt, 5. skimpton007. Photos 2-5 via Pixabay.

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