Just Call me Hermione

I am nearing the end of my second semester back at university, in my quest for my teaching degree. While there continue to be high points and low points, I have gotten into the swing of things. It’s been a struggle to make time for my own schoolwork with my kids on summer vacation, but they’re in summer camp this week so that helps. To quote the opening credits of 19 Kids and Counting (a show I am embarrassed to admit I am addicted to), “It isn’t always easy, but somehow we make it all work.” Mostly.

I had a good inkling that I would do all right in my classes. I have always been a good student. Schoolwork came easily to me from the start. My delightfully neurotic nature helps, because I really do care and want to do well. I get good grades, I raise my hand in class, I work hard and I hand my assignments in on time.

good student hermione grangerWhen I hit puberty my academic success caused a lot of conflict for me. I didn’t really want to be the smart girl, because it didn’t really make me popular. The other girls in my elementary school were often annoyed by me. The boys, when they started to pay attention, were put off by the fact I got better marks than they did. I tried to play it down, play dumb, speak up less, make myself blend in. It never really worked. Looking back I’m glad I wasn’t more successful at making myself into someone I’m not. At the time it was hard, though.

Going back to school, I wasn’t sure I would do as well academically. After all, my brain isn’t getting any younger. I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t what it was when I was 18 years old anymore. I also have a whole lot more going on, with kids and work and a house to take care of.

The good news is that while I might be older, my life experiences have actually proven very helpful. As a parent I’ve had to become much more organized and focused. I procrastinate less, and get things done more. I know how to prioritize, because if I didn’t dinner would never get made. My life is a bit of a balancing act, but luckily I have a lot of experience with balancing acts at this point, so that’s to the good. As a result, I am still a good student.

My daughter Hannah and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together again recently, and the combination of re-entering that literary world and being back at school has driven home for me how very much I am like Hermione Granger. I like to follow rules. I raise my hand a lot in class. And I’ve even found myself reading my textbooks to unwind. On a recent exam, I spotted an error in the answer key. I get my work done ahead of schedule, and talk about what I’m learning in class to anyone who will listen. Typing all of this out I want to apologize for it. I feel that same conflict I felt when I was 13. I’m worried that people will find me insufferable, and they won’t like me.

One other advantage of age, though, is realizing that you can’t please everyone. No matter what, someone will disagree with you, question you, or just plain dislike you. Given that, you might as well just please yourself. So, go ahead, call me Hermione. I can be the smart girl, who is good at school and actually enjoys the academic process, and not apologize for it. In fact, I am that girl, and pretty much everyone who’s ever sat in class with me knows it, so there’s no use in pretending. Instead, I can let my inner geek loose, to revel in academia.

Now, if only I had the ability to get my kitchen to magically clean itself, life would be perfect.

I Tried Wakeboarding!

Last week was a pretty sweet week to be me. My family and I were hosted by Destination Osoyoos, promoting family-friendly getaways to a beautiful part of British Columbia. It took us about four and a half hours to get there by car, but it’s a very different place than Vancouver. While I live in a rainforest, Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert, with a dry and sunny landscape. And there’s a lake, too, and some totally fabulous wineries. What’s not to love?

While we were planning the trip, the organizers presented me with a number of things my family and I could do during our visit. Wakeboarding was on the list, and on a whim I thought, “Okay, sure, why not?” This is how, last Thursday at 2:00pm, my nine-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on the dock in front of our hotel shaking hands with Rob Rausch, owner and manager of Wakepilot. (PS – It looks like he’s not just an amazing wakeboarding coach, but he also flies Boeing 777s for Air Canada. So, you know, not too shabby.)

osoyoos walnut beach

My daughter was super-pumped to try, so she put on her life jacket and jumped in the water first. Rob took her through exactly what would happen, and had her practice her stance and holding the rope. She had a helmet with speakers in the ears, not for safety but so he could communicate with her. When she was finally ready (and she was So. Ready.) she actually stood up on her first try. Then she had another go, and she stood up for even longer. After that she was done, though – she was not a big fan of the water that she got up her nose when she fell.

I was intimidated when it was my turn, I have to admit. I’ve never tried wakeboarding or snowboarding. I’m not exactly what you would call super-athletic, and I’m not as young as I once was. I wanted to give wakeboarding a go, but I didn’t expect to succeed. My first two tries I wiped out spectacularly before I was even able to stand up. Rob told me to let the boat do the work, and I think I did that too well because I let the boat pull me right over.

After two epic wipeouts in a row Rob decided to pull me a little slower (actually, at exactly the same pace he’d pulled my daughter, as it turns out) and I did it! I stood up … for about one and a half seconds. Then the fourth time I stood up for a little longer. And finally, I gave it one last go, and I did it! I actually managed to wakeboard for a few minutes, as Rob coached me through the speakers in my helmet. It felt pretty good, skimming over the surface of the water, sunshine all around me, looking at the beautiful scenery. It made the eventual wipeout when I flushed out my sinus cavities with about half of Lake Osoyoos totally worth it.

osoyoos

After my last ride I was done. My arms were really aching, and I needed a rest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the rope any longer, so I got back on the boat.

My wakeboarding adventure was three days ago now, and I’m still feeling it, especially in my forearms. I’m not used to holding on to something as tightly as I held on to that rope. I’m also really glad I did it, though. As a suburban mom of two who’s in my late 30s I don’t push my physical limits or try adventure sports on a regular basis. This was a chance to step beyond my boundaries, do something totally new, and remind myself that I am capable of more than I think. And you know what? We probably all are.

Thank you so much to Rob and Wakepilot for a wonderful introduction to wakeboarding. If you want to see actual wakeboarders in action, check out this video. It’s shot at Walnut Beach Resort, which is where I stayed in Osoyoos. You can also see Rob at the end – he’s the one in blue handing out the prizes.

My 5-Year-Old CAN Read

One of the most-read posts here at Strocel.com is My 5-Year-Old Can’t Read, which I wrote more than four years ago about my daughter, Hannah. I wrote it after watching a four-year-old actually read words, when my daughter didn’t even recognize all the letters of the alphabet. At the time I concluded that there was no rush, and that she would learn to read in good time. She did. During the second half of grade one, right around her seventh birthday, Hannah experienced a reading explosion. Today, she reads well, and she spends hours poring over the Dork Diaries series.

Every child is different, though. Anyone can tell you that, but parents of two or more children have very personal experience with this truth. What works well with one child utterly fails with another. What one child masters with ease another child struggles with. It has a way of evening out, though, as each child has their own aptitudes and weak spots, as well as their own interests and experiences.

My son Jacob is now five and a half, and just finishing kindergarten. At the beginning of this school year, he was the same age his big sister was when I wrote about how she couldn’t read. At that time, he recognized all of the letters of the alphabet, and knew many of the sounds the letters make. Over his time in kindergarten, Jacob’s reading has really taken off. He now reads words on signs and gets through simple books with ease. He also writes his own messages on cards, and while he’s still working on his spelling, I can usually understand what he wrote.

5 year old reading and spelling
“I love you Mom because you have the best hugs, From Jacob”

It’s an amazing thing, to watch a child learn to read. A whole new world opens to them. So much information is contained in written form, and once you can decode that information you’re in the know. You understand what’s happening in new ways. It’s not all good, as anyone who’s answered awkward questions from a child scanning tabloid headlines in a grocery store line-up can tell you. On the whole, though, it’s overwhelmingly positive to watch a child’s horizons be expanded.

Hannah may not have been an early reader, but she has many gifts. She’s something of a born performer, who can sing in front of a group of people without breaking a sweat. She’s an artist, who was drawing better at six-and-a-half than I can as an adult. Jacob has different gifts, and one of them seems to be learning to read. It’s coming easily to him, and he’s so proud. I love to see him smile as he figures out what something says. I’m also grateful to his teacher for the support he received in kindergarten this year.

Does every child need to read at the age of four or five or even six to live a full and happy life? My experience with my daughter says no. But my experience with my son says that some kids will read at four or five or six, and that’s good, too. The key, in my mind, is letting them develop at their own pace, and trusting that they will figure it out in good time. Because usually, they do.

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

Every morning my son’s kindergarten class starts off with reading time for the first 15 minutes of the school day. The children choose books from the class library, and parents and family members are invited to stay and read. I try to be there as often as I can, which is two or three days a week at the moment. I enjoy spending that time with my son, and getting to know his classmates.

At least half of the time when I sit in on reading time I’m there for the morning announcements. The principal comes on the PA system and fills the school in on what to expect that day. He also shares daily tips. As I was thinking about it on the walk back from school this morning, it occurred to me that my children’s elementary school principal has a lot of wisdom to share that applies not just to children, but to everyone. Today, I thought it would be fun to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from those morning announcements.

lessons from elementary school principal wisdom

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

  • Don’t use more toilet paper than you need.
  • When you meet a stranger, greet them with a smile and share your name.
  • Eat your healthy food first.
  • Put your garbage in the garbage can.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Everyone has more fun when you include all your friends.
  • Put first things first.
  • If you don’t understand an instruction, ask for help.
  • Take care of your things.
  • Ask before you use something that belongs to someone else.
  • Take turns doing the things your friends want to do.
  • Looking for a great book? The librarian would love to share a suggestion with you.
  • Prepare for your day before you arrive.
  • Try something new today.
  • Take care of the spaces that you use.
  • Congratulate others on their successes.
  • Never, ever throw snow, or you will have to come to my office and talk to me. (Okay, maybe this one doesn’t apply in general.)

What about you – what wisdom have you gleaned from teachers or principals?

Making Your Own Cleaning Products

homemade cleaners green living enviro-mama booksHave you ever had something nagging at the back of your mind? Something that you really want to do, and have been meaning to do, but just can’t seem to get around to actually doing? I’ve been feeling that way about a fabulous book that has been sitting in my tray for months. It’s called Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes, and it’s written by Mandy O’Brien and Dionna Ford. Unfortunately, being back at school, living through a major renovation fiasco, working and parenting all conspired to keep me away from this book.

I knew I wanted a copy as soon as I heard about it. I’ve always been intrigued by making my own cleaning products. I did attend a local event last year where I tried making my own all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. It was good, and it whet my appetite enough to learn more. I’ve looked online, but I found it overwhelming. There’s so much out there, and people seem to experience such mixed results, that I’m not really sure where to start. This is why I appreciate this book, which provides a friendlier introduction to non-toxic cleaning.

For such a small book, Homemade Cleaners is packed full of information. It starts out by encouraging simple steps, and explaining why we should care about the chemicals in our cleaning products. Then it’s divided into sections by cleaning task. There are tons of tips, and recipes for everything from all-purpose cleaners to glass cleaners to furniture polish to laundry soap and more. There’s also information on dealing with bugs, keeping your yard healthy, purifying indoor air and choosing and cleaning a grill (which, being from Vancouver, I will insist on calling a barbeque).

I haven’t tried as many of the recipes as I would have liked, but even on first glance I’ve appreciated that green cleaning doesn’t require you to go out and buy a whole lot of stuff. If you’ve got baking soda, vinegar, borax, castile soap, lemon juice and some essential oils you’re most of the way there. There are multiple recipes you can try for most cleaning tasks, so if one doesn’t work for you there are lots more to try. With the renovations happening in my house and new wiring, tile, cabinetry and paint in my bedroom and ensuite, I especially appreciated the tips on how to use plants to remove chemicals from indoor air.

homemade cleaners non-toxic cleaning book review

I would say that Homemade Cleaners is mostly about how to adopt a simpler, less toxic cleaning philosophy for yourself and your family. It’s much more than a recipe book. If you’re wondering how to reduce the number of chemicals your family is exposed to at home, it’s a great place to start.

What about you – what are your favourite green cleaning resources?

My Writing Process

I realize it’s tedious to blog about this, but I really wish I were blogging more than I am. This is why, when the fabulous Dana at Celiac Kiddo invited me to participate in a blog tour about my writing process, I was all over it. It simplified the posting process by giving me a good, solid framework, and gave me a reason to write. The tour involves answering four questions, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.

1. What am I working on?

Honestly, I’m mostly doing writing for school and work right now. This means churning out articles for local moms at VancouverMom.ca, and writing for the English lit and geography classes I’m taking this semester. I also blog a lot, but mostly in my head while I’m driving or in the shower. I’ve composed some great posts … they just never actually got written. I’ve also taken to composing fiction in my head recently, which is something I haven’t done for ages.

textbooks
My current writing fodder

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly have no idea how to answer this one. I think all that I can say is that we all have our own unique voices, and I am no different. Beyond that? I’m not sure I even have a genre. I’m not high brow enough, since I mostly write online.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The writing I do for work and school is obligatory, for the most part. However, I do try to make it good, and I actually find that I enjoy it once I get into it. For instance, last semester I wrote a history paper about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan that I’m rather proud of, and which I derived quite a lot of satisfaction from. The other writing I do satisfies a need inside my soul to write, even if it’s not nearly as frequent or meaningful as I would like it to be.

4. How does my writing process work?

I am the sort of person who sits down at the computer and bangs away until I have something that resembles a blog post, article or paper. When I have to submit an outline for school, I often write the paper and then go back and re-construct an outline because I find it easier to tease out a structure after the fact than to write in a methodical and organized fashion. Sometimes I’ll change subjects or tracks a number of times, deleting and re-ordering paragraphs, adding extra points and re-drafting my concluding paragraph until it’s perfect.

There are a few thing that are non-negotiable to my writing process: I need to be warm, so I keep a blanket near my chair. I like to have the radio on, even though I’m probably more productive when it’s quiet. Finally, I think I do my best of writing while I’m sipping a cup of herbal tea.

What about you – what does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear!

What I Will do This Year

Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, shall we? Home renovations are progressing (at long last), and they’ve preoccupied me. Also, I’ve been preparing to head back to school for another semester, which just started today. At the moment I’m signed up for geography and an English course on drama. In case you were wondering how last semester went, I took three classes and got two A’s and one A-, which I am very happy with. But enough with the housekeeping.

birthday year ahead navel gazing

Birthday extreme close-up

Today is my 38th birthday. For the past few years my birthdays have triggered something of an existential crisis. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that surely I should be wiser, more grounded and more accomplished at this point in my life. To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in the past year (or the past 38 years), I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. I believe it’s still a worthwhile exercise regardless of how it turns out, because it gives me a chance to focus on reflect, and think about what I want more of in my life. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.


What I Will do at 38

  • Finish up the renovations that have taken almost a year, and then resist the urge to make even more home improvements.
  • Go running.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Volunteer in a middle school.
  • Sing.
  • Learn how to use my camera.
  • Write.
  • Finish my prerequisites so that I can apply for teacher training.
  • Nap more often.
  • Laugh more.
  • Apply for teacher training.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Practice forgiveness of myself and others.
  • Drink even more herbal tea.
  • Eat more leafy greens.
  • Take some mini vacations with my family.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

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