Crafting my Life: The Course

For a little over a year I’ve been running a weekly blog series I call Crafting my Life. The series documents my journey to craft my life into something new, more in line with the way I want to live. It’s not about being crafty, per se (unless being crafty floats your boat, in which case have at ‘er). It’s about living with intention, and seeking out purpose and something approximating balance.

As part of my journey, I took a class on dreaming. As part of that class, I wrote my life list. It included things like sewing skirts (check!), doing pottery (not yet) and living on the water (someday). It also included this:

  • Create a ‘Balancing Motherhood’ workshop.

I’ve decided that it’s time to go ahead and create that workshop for mothers. I’m grabbing life by the horns, and I’m doing it. It will be an online course. It will run for 12 weeks. I am planning to launch it in mid-January, 2011. And it will be called (surprise, surprise!) Crafting my Life. It has its very own website and logo and everything.

What will the course look like? Every week I’ll cover a different topic. I’ll send you a few emails each week. Some of them will include video or audio interviews. Some of them will be mostly informational, and some of them will help you find ways to implement change in your life. All of the emails, interviews, videos and activities will be in small, manageable pieces, that you can do in 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Because I don’t have hours to devote to finding myself, and I’m guessing you don’t, either. On top of the emails, there will also be an online community, so that you can share your ideas, gain inspiration and find some like-minded folks to connect with.

If this sounds like your thing, head on over to Crafting my Life and sign up for my super-cool email list by entering your info on the right where it says ‘Subscribe’. You’ll get emails once a week or so updating you on how the course is progressing, offering tips and giving you access to advance registration and course discounts. I’ll just wait here while you do (or don’t – no pressure).

You’re back? Cool. Here is where I spew forth angst.

I’m terrified. I am creating a course, which is something I think I might be good at but I’ve never done before. The course will not be cheap – it will be more than $80, for sure. I’m afraid that I’ll create it and no one will register. I’m afraid that the people who do register will hate it, and by extension, hate me. I’m afraid that the people who don’t sign up will hate me because I’m engaged in some fairly shameless self-promotion here. The dragons (a.k.a. my lizard brain) are saying that I will put in a bunch of work and the end result will be that I alienate everyone and I’ll be all alone.

Fun stuff, right?

So, let’s make a deal. My end of the deal is this: I am going to do my best to create an awesome course, because this is my freaking dream. But I will not be the least bit offended if it’s not your thing. I am not going to keep mental track of who does sign up, and who doesn’t sign up, or any of that stuff. Your end of the deal is this: you decide if this is your thing or not. If it’s not, know that tomorrow I will be back to my regular schedule of blogging about my kids, so you can still come around and we can still be friends. Fair enough?

But seriously, go visit the site. Leave me an encouraging comment. Vote in my tagline poll. Sign up for email list. Or just stay here and tell me that everything is going to be OK, and you really won’t hate me. Pretty please?

PS – As you may know, I have started including a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. My November review will go live at 6am tomorrow, which is December 1. If you want to play along, write a post and link up!

How the Mighty Have Fallen

A little over two years ago our TV died. It was a Wednesday afternoon. Hannah had just gotten home from preschool and I was attempting to entertain her with a DVD we’d borrowed from the library while I started working on dinner. Only the TV turned itself off and wouldn’t come back on. It soon became apparent that it never would.

I panicked at first. I had a 3-month-old and a 3 1/2-year-old and we were just heading into winter. How would I get anything done without TV to keep my preschooler occupied? But as I shuddered at the thought of having no TV, it also occurred to me that maybe this was an opportunity. Our family loved TV. Perhaps going without TV for a little while (two weeks, or three at the most) would give us a chance to re-adjust our priorities.

Two weeks without a TV came and went. I found, to my surprise, that I could manage quite well without a TV. Hannah learned how to entertain herself in other ways. And while I didn’t have the TV to keep her busy, I also didn’t have to contend with the twice-daily meltdowns over TV that had been happening before our set died. Not spending over an hour every day negotiating over TV, and calming down an irate preschooler when I turned the TV off or denied a request to watch more than compensated for losing the electronic babysitter.

About six weeks after our TV died we officially gave up TV. We canceled cable, re-arranged our living room, and embraced a (mostly) TV-free lifestyle. Jon and I still spent plenty of time in front of the computer, even watching some TV shows and movies that way. But it took six months for Hannah to figure out that she could play a DVD on the computer. And by that point, we were able to re-set our TV guidelines. One DVD a day, on non-school days. We watched TV, but it didn’t own us. I didn’t want a TV anymore.

I didn’t bargain on Jacob. He was 3 months old when our TV died, at the time he wasn’t a factor. But now he’s 2 years old and he loves sports. If my husband Jon watches a hockey game on the computer Jacob is right there, sitting in his lap and exclaiming excitedly. Jon is a sports fan, so watching sports with his son tugs at his heart strings in a special way. They’re bonding over a game in the same way that he bonded with his own father. And a lot of sporting events simply aren’t available online – you need cable to watch them, and you need a TV to watch cable.

Post-haircut cheesy grin
Who can say no to this face?

And so, this past weekend while Hannah and I were out on a date seeing Tangled, Jon and Jacob did some shopping. They returned home in the late afternoon with a 46″ LED TV.

The boys show up with a new TV
The boys return in triumph

That evening, our friend Mike came over to help Jon install the new set. I watched, and tried to corral the children with limited success. It took slightly much longer than the original time estimate of 9 minutes, but at the end of the evening we had a snazzy new TV that was installed on our wall very securely. In spite of the fact that our studs are apparently too far apart or something. Once again, whoever built this house fails to impress. But that’s not the point here, the point is SHINY NEW TELEVISION.

The kids get in on the TV installation action
The kids ‘help’

Two men in search of a stud
Two men in search of a stud [insert joke here]

Drilling
Using power tools

Jon and Mike at work
Almost finished

We haz TV
Look, it’s a TV!

Living room, re-arranged around the TV
Furniture re-arranged around the new TV

In spite of my own reservations about having a TV again, I do have to admit that this TV is gorgeous. We have agreed to some TV limits with Hannah, and she seems to understand the deal. I’m really hoping that after 2 years without a TV, things will be different now that we have one again. I guess that only time will tell. For now, we’re busy catching up on all our shows.

The family watching football on the new TV
The family watches some football

Have you ever been TV free, and then gone back to having a TV? How did it go? And even if you haven’t, I’d love to hear how you set reasonable limits on TV with your kids. How do you avoid TV battles, while still letting your kids watch? Tell me all about it!

All the Stuff that Never Happens

I have a to-do list in my head. I don’t write it down, because really, it would just depress me. Instead, I try to keep mental tabs on all of the stuff that I have to do.

It usually works. The things that are urgent get done. They have enough urgency to motivate me. The classes and things that absolutely must happen at a certain time go into my calendar and then my phone beeps at me when it’s time to do them. For the most part, I don’t let the big stuff slide. But not everything qualifies as ‘big’.

Hannah's crow wings from the front.
There are always markers on our kitchen floor

Some things stay on my mental to-do list indefinitely. Things like balancing my La Leche League group’s books, or cleaning the playroom, or folding my kids’ laundry. Every time I open my cutlery drawer I think to myself that the cutlery tray needs cleaning, but it hasn’t been cleaned in living memory. I have grand plans to write my book proposal, submit some article queries to magazines, and organize my sock drawer. But these things all remain in the planning stages.

I have tried to set up systems to keep on top of all the little things that I mean to do but never get around to. I’ve attempted to implement more structure in my days. I’ve tried assigning daily tasks to myself. And I’ve tried involving my kids in some of the housework. None of this has been really effective.

Hannah's laundry that never gets folded and put away
At this point, Hannah’s clean clothes live in this basket

Here’s the truth – the stuff that never happens, never happens for a reason. It’s not because it’s too hard. It’s not because I couldn’t figure out a way to do it if I really wanted to. It’s because I don’t really want to do that stuff I never get around to doing. It’s not fun enough to help me get over my inertia. It’s not urgent enough to motivate me when it’s no fun. And there’s a certain degree of futility to many of the tasks. As soon as I clean the playroom the kids will just make it dirty again. The cutlery tray won’t stay clean. The books won’t stay balanced.

I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for not being on top of everything. But you know what? I’m kind of tired of it. I might not have the world’s most pristine cutlery drawer, but I do a lot with my days. The fact that I published five blog posts on five different blogs in the past 24 hours speaks to that. The fact that I chose a logo for my Crafting my Life mission and got a start on prettying up the website speaks to that. The fact that my kids are clean and fed definitely speaks to that.

The reality of our playroom
The playroom, un-retouched

My name is Amber. My playroom is messy, I have granola ingredients that I bought 3 months ago and still haven’t opened, and I haven’t gotten around to reconciling my bank account in the past 6 weeks. And I’m OK with that. Because my worth as a person is not measured by the state of my cutlery drawer.

How about you? What things do you never get around to? And how do you reconcile your feelings about that?

The Curse of the Internet

On Wednesday I was all, “It can’t be the Christmas season yet, it’s still autumn, la la la!” I should not have written that, as it turns out.

I forgot about The Curse. And not the kind of curse that comes to visit every month because it’s wonderful being a girl. No, I’m talking about The Curse of the Internet. Yesterday I extolled the virtues of the internet, but today I’m going to expose its dark underbelly. Because in addition to providing any information you could want instantly, the internet is out to get you.

Do you doubt me? Less than 24 hours after hitting publish on my “it’s still autumn” post, I woke up to this:

Snowy street

It’s a flipping winter wonderland out there. In Vancouver. In November. It’s supposed to rain in November. And rain, and rain, and rain. We’re all supposed to get a little tired of it. But snow? Not so much. We might get a few snow days in January, or maybe December. But not November.

Me in the snowy park
That smile I’m sporting is rather sheepish

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. The surest way to ensure that things don’t work out according to plan is to tell the internet about it. Your child’s toilet training is progressing fabulously? Don’t brag about it on Facebook, or they’ll refuse to use the potty for the next 4 weeks. Your toddler just started sleeping through the night? Do not, at any cost, tell Twitter all about it if you want it to continue. You also should not tell the internet that you’re picking up knitting faster than you ever expected to, or that your dinner is going to be awesome, or that it is far too early to think about winter.

Snowing in suburbia

I told you all about Bob, the little man inside the internet who makes sure that my posts go live at the correct time. Well, he has an evil twin named Bill. While Bob does his best to make life easier, Bill does his best to mess with your plans. If you tell him those plans, or let him know about your accomplishments, you’re asking for trouble. I’m not entirely sure why Bill does this, but I suspect he’s always been a little jealous of Bob. Their mom always liked him best.

Snow on the schoolyard

Constantly hearing about how awesome Bob is would give anyone a complex. But it doesn’t really matter if that’s the reason, or there’s even more backstory I haven’t heard about. Because either way, Bill had his way with me, and with everyone who lives near me, by exacting The Curse of the Internet.

Snowy shrub

As much as I’m not impressed by the wintry weather, there is an upside. Maybe Bill knew about that – maybe he’s not all bad. Snow is awfully pretty. And my kids are ecstatic. Snow! Is! So! Much! Fun! For! Kids! And if you ask Hannah, it’s pretty delicious, too.

Hannah sampling some snow

Jacob checks out the snow

We’ll do our best to enjoy the snow while it lasts, and I’ll be more careful about what I post in the future. How about you? Have you ever been bitten by The Curse of the Internet? If so, I’d love to hear all about it!

PS – As you may know, I have started including a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. My November review will go live at 6am Pacific on Wednesday, December 1. If you want to play along, write a post on or before December 1, come here, and link up!

The Biggest Library in the World

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! November’s theme is learning. Because we’re always learning, but especially so when we decide to take our lives in new directions. In the past few weeks I talked about traditional education, ‘the school of life‘ and viewing mistakes as learning opportunities. Today I’m talking about the easy access to information we enjoy today.

Jon and I have been together for almost 20 years. When we were dating as teenagers, we didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t have a computer, and no one had the internet. Well, maybe Al Gore did since he invented it, but no one else. There was no email and no texting and no Twitter. When we would disagree on a piece of trivia, we could argue back and forth about it for months. We would debate when Elvis died, or what year a certain movie came out, or who sang a certain song. And we didn’t always have a good way to figure out who was right.

We don’t have those long drawn-out debates anymore. Today, if we want to know when Elvis died, we Google “when did Elvis die” and Google informs us that it was August 16, 1977. I was 15 months old, I remember it well. Only not, which is why Google comes in handy. If my husband and I disagree on a fact, we can have a conclusive answer in seconds using our iPhones wherever we are. Proving how very right I am has never been easier.

Thanks to the internet, we can tap into the collective knowledge of the whole freaking world instantly. It’s a powerful tool. It can be very helpful when you want a recipe, or you want to know how to fix your fridge. I’ve used the internet to help me become a better gardener, to hone my web design skills, and to learn about history and religion. There are so many resources that are available online, and so much we can learn from it.

And yet, many people are quick to point out that much of the information online is unreliable. After all, anyone can create online content, and no one is vetting that content to ensure accuracy. Conspiracy theories thrive on the internet. For instance, did you know that the Illuminati control the government, that NASA never landed on the moon and that a plane didn’t fly into the Pentagon on 9/11? I have the links to prove it. Of course, I also have the links to disprove it. Clearly, you can’t rely on everything you read online.

I don’t think that some questionable sources render the internet useless. Let’s think of a traditional library, which is the best analogy I can come up with for the internet. There are many books that I believe are of dubious credibility, or that contain advice that just doesn’t work for me, in my local library. There are also many books that are helpful, factual and entertaining. No matter where you’re obtaining your information, you need to consider the source and sift information based on your own experience. But thanks to the internet, we have access to more information with greater ease, even when the local library is closed. That’s its strength.

The internet is good for tracking down generally accepted information. It’s also pretty good for sharing experiences, and reading other people’s accounts of how they have done whatever it is that you are trying to do. Is it a substitute for traditional learning? No. I wouldn’t trust a doctor who attended an online medical school. But I do trust people to share their personal experiences of writing, or starting a business, or parenting their kids. I do trust people who share recipes or craft projects. And I do trust the sources who state that Elvis died on August 16, 1977.

Ready access to information, and online communities built up around shared interests, are of great value as you build your life with intention. You can communicate with people all over the world. You can find resources instantly. You can share and engage and read and interpret in more ways than ever. You won’t get a medical degree out of it, but you just might encounter a person or idea who shifts your perspective and changes your life. I think that’s worth a little weeding, don’t you?

I’d love it if you would play along in my link-up. Include a link to a post you’ve written anytime in the past about learning.

PS – Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

Ho-Ho-Holdout

Did you know it’s officially the Christmas season? If not, you clearly haven’t visited a grocery store, shopping mall, drug store, dentist or gas station in the last two weeks. And you haven’t been to Costco since mid-July, where they take the whole “Christmas in July” thing just a little too literally. You probably also haven’t collected your mail and perused all of the holiday-themed flyers, or turned on the TV or radio, where the jolly advertising is in full swing.

I love Christmas. Really. It’s my favourite holiday, hands-down. The lights, the music, the food, the message of goodwill, these all speak to my soul. The idea that in the dark of winter, the light of the world is born – it’s truly beautiful and stirring. I do the whole Christmas thing – the tree, the lights, the music, the meal, Santa Claus and carrots for the reindeer and the church pageant. Thinking about it makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Leaves on Grass
This is what the ground looks like right now

Much as I love Christmas, I’m not diving in just yet. I have ordered a few gifts from the US, because it can take 3-4 weeks for those to arrive on my doorstep. But I haven’t done any other Christmas shopping. Our lights are not up. Our tree is still in its box in the crawlspace, where it will stay for at least 3 more weeks. I am not getting festive with it. I am still very much in an autumn state of mind.

Golden tree
The trees are golden, not evergreen

As I was walking Hannah home from kindergarten today, it certainly felt like winter. An arctic front has blown into town and we all bundled up against the cold wind, which stung our cheeks on the walk. But underfoot, the dry leaves crunched. Hannah kicked at them and threw a few in the air. I could smell them – a smell that evokes nothing but autumn. The sounds, the sights, the calendar all still solidly point to autumn. Especially here in Canada, where we tucked into our Thanksgiving feast some six weeks ago.

Skeeter Farm
A misty autumn day on Skeeter Farm just over a week ago

I’ve decided to hold on to my autumn frame of mind. In the past I’ve gone overboard with Christmas. I took on lots of sewing and knitting and holiday baking. I agreed to things in the middle of November, when there was plenty of time left and the world was my oyster. I regretted that come December 22, when I was staying up late to get it all finished. Starting early may help beat the rush, but it also leads me to take on too much because I’m just so very impressed with myself for being on top of everything.

Christmas will come in its time, and I will welcome it gradually. Decorating will happen when it happens, and probably not all at once. I’ll put things up as the mood strikes. I’ll bake some cookies if I feel like it, and I won’t if I don’t. I’ll try to create some hand-made Christmas gifts, but I’m not setting big goals or sweating deadlines. I’ll go shopping in the crowds and take my time, and I’ll be OK with that. Because today, I’m still crunching the leaves under my feet and smiling at the sunny, cold autumn day.

Are you a holiday keener? Have you already put up your lights and your tree, and addressed and stamped your cards? Or are you a fellow holdout? Tell me all about it in the comments.

No Explanation Required

I give talks at mom and baby groups about breastfeeding. By the time most moms make it out to a group, they’ve passed the very early, make-or-break stage of breastfeeding. They have two-month-olds or four-month-olds, and while they still have breastfeeding questions, they are definitely past the point where I’m selling breastfeeding to them. Some of them have given up on breastfeeding, most of them haven’t, but either way I’m not looking to single anyone out.

I usually get the discussion rolling with an opening question that any parent can answer. Something along the lines of, “What’s one thing that surprised you about parenting?” Or, “If you could go back to before your baby was born and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?” I emphasize that no one has to share their breastfeeding story with me, and that I am not there to evaluate anyone’s parenting. I’m just there to answer questions they may have.

In spite of my efforts to not be the breastfeeding police, most of the moms do share their breastfeeding story. Whether they’re breastfeeding or not at this point, they all at least tried, and so they have some experience good or bad that they’re carrying around with them. I listen and do my best to honour their experience, however it turned out.

There are a few things I’ve learned from my time playing ‘Representative for Breastfeeding.’ One is that we all want our stories to be heard respectfully. Another is that most of us (myself included) take parenting choices very personally, and it’s hard for us not to internalize someone else’s statements about breastfeeding or discipline or infant sleep. But my biggest lesson, by far, is that pretty much no parent knows what they’re doing.

Babies don’t come with a manual, and they can’t provide you with regular reports on the quality of your parenting. When you have an infant, you’re working largely on instinct and second-hand information. But it’s important that you don’t mess this up too badly, so you try to evaluate the data to see how you’re doing. How much does your child sleep? How much does your child poop? How much does your child cry? How much does your child weigh? We read these signs like we’re reading tea leaves, searching for order in the chaos. And then we look at our neighbour’s kid, and try to see how our kid measures up in comparison.

Inevitably, as mothers share their experiences, two mothers come up with stories that stand in direct opposition to each other. Which is OK – no two mothers are alike and no two babies are alike. Trying to make everyone fit the same mold is fruitless. But still, when it happens, the question hovers in the air. Who’s right?

This is what I’ve come to believe about breastfeeding, and parenting in general: If your child is healthy, and it’s working for you, that’s all that matters. No further explanation is required. If you have the sort of kid who likes to sleep in a crib, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who likes to sleep with one hand on you, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who feeds every 3 hours for 10 minutes, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who feeds every 2 hours for 45 minutes, that’s all right. As long as the kid in question is healthy, and you are generally OK with things, no one else matters.

Sometimes, people from outside your family feel concerned about you or your child. They interpret your child in the light of their own child, or something they’ve read, or an experience they had 30 years ago. They say something because they genuinely care. They offer books or the number for their naturopath or a suggestion for how to better discipline your toddler. When someone offers unsolicited advice to me, I often don’t know how to respond. I may begin to question myself, or wonder if there’s really something wrong. Because I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, here, either.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered that you do not owe anyone outside of your immediate family an explanation. Other people can provide advice or experience, but you are free to take it or leave it. As long as your child is healthy and safe, and things are working for your family, you don’t have to provide any further explanation to anyone. Whether it’s me talking about breastfeeding at a mom and baby group, or the cashier at the grocery store, or a well-meaning older relative. If the question is Who’s right? the answer is No one. And everyone. It depends. Have a cookie.

Cookies are always the answer. And this is straight from the keyboard of the breastfeeding police, so you know the information is solid.

Have you ever received advice that was clearly off-base for yourself or your child? How do you react when that happens? I’d love to hear your tips!

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