Matin d’octobre


Sous la chaleur timide d’un matin d’Octobre, le sol s’étire et expire une couche de brume comme un soupir. S’élevant vers le ciel qui les appelle, les gouttelettes se prennent aux aux herbes longes que le contre-jour couronne de lumière. L’horizon se dilue comme une aquarelle au passage de l’eau que le ciel rappelle à lui. La nature retient les nuages entre ciel et terre.

 

Mixed Nuts: Election Day in Canada 2015


I started this post the day before the election and since I don’t have the luxury of writing as the results come in (because: bedtime) I decided to start writing Sunday night. The unfortunate colateral result is that I will be writing in light of the most recent polls as opposed to the results of the elections. If the last campaign is any indication, those will be wildly inacurate. Why?

Uno. The “Shy Tory Factor” is something that is consistently throwing pollsters out of whack. I think that this opinion piece from The Guardian is accurate and the source of much handwringing and hangover the day after conservative electoral victories. On Tuesday, before you clutter my Facebook feed with your outrage, remember that I told you so.

Dos. Three years ago, when the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) started cranking out attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau (the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada — LPC), I was working on Parliament Hill as a writer for a local Member of Parliament. Attacks ads went after Justin Trudeau’s vacuity, lack of substance and absence of platform. As a writer, I had to write a lot of things that annoyed me, such as explaining politely to a variety of Mrs. Lalonde’s that her federal MP could not help her with her hydro bill, school bus issue or culvert. I regurgitated my Grade 5 Civics more times than I care to remember. Yet, nothing was quite as repulsive as having to reply to letters criticizing attack ads. I had to craft a reply that communicated our concerns about Justin Trudeau without wholeheatedly endorsing the more puerile aspects of the ads. Thankfully my boss was ok with it, I’m not sure how I would have dealt with having to write a cheerleading endorsement of the ads. All this to say, part of me is secretely jubilant that Justin Trudeau and his team were able to play these ads to their advantage. If it wasn’t for the part where they were so successful they might win the election, I’d be cheering for them. But my husband is packing us up and moving to Texas as I write so…

Tres. How did Justin Trudeau turn the attack ads around? It’s simple. All you have to do with attack ads is to not prove them right. The challenge is that attack ads are not made out of thin air, they are rooted in reality. The image of Stéphane Dion as a weak, dithering, out-of-touch professor came from somewhere. As did the image of Michael Ignatieff as an oppotunistic, temporary leader. Both former Liberal leaders walked right into the sterotypes the Conservative ad machine had made them out to be. Justin Trudeau defied them because he kept his cards very close to his chest. His absenteism record in the House of Common was notable but allowed him to duck more than a few potholes on the road to the campaign. His refusal to lay down a party platform ahead of the election campaign was also criticized by friends, foes and journalists alike. Yet, it gave no new ammunition to the attack ads machine, leaving it to work with Justin’s hair and Justin’s car and Justin’s former job as a drama teacher. Not only did the attack ads run out of steam and credibility, but Trudeau was able to prove them wrong. Which wasn’t hard at all.

Cuatro. Why wasn’t it hard? Because 3 years of attacking his credibility with almost nothing to go on has lowered the expectation of the public toward Trudeau to such an extent that he exceeded them just by showing-up with his pants on. (If the image of Justin Trudeau strolling on debate stage without his pants on just made your day my work here is done.)

Cinco. Faced with a negative campaign about Justin Trudeau based on image, Trudeau’s managers were able to duck most of the negative characterization of their leader by running a very tight and disciplined image campaign. It was so good, it was bad. Kelly McParland explains why in this piece. As a student of political campaigns, I can’t help but take notes. That said, if you expect elected Trudeau’s handlers to feed him freely to the Parliamentary Press Gallery,  you will be sorely disillusioned when you realize that Stephen Harper’s tight media access rules were just the warm-up. The Conservative learned partisan politics from the Chrétien Liberals.

Seis. Does this mean that Trudeau-for-Prime-Minister is a done deal? Well, by the time you read this piece, it might be. But for now, my call of a Conservative minority with a NDP opposition still stands. If you looked under the hood of elections statistics, you might be surprised to learn that many close campaigns are decided by the advance polls. It is enterily possible for a candidate to lose election night and be bolstered over the wall by advance polls results. The NDP and the Conservatives can boast of the best and brightest committed voters. The Liberal appeal is to the mushy middle, the same people who don’t vote on election day. We have seen unprecedented levels of voter participation at the advance polls and while it might point to a higher voting rate overall, my guess is that this was the result of Conservative and NDP campaigns ferrying their committed  voters to the advance polls. You know what they say about a bird in hand.

Siete. All this said, this has been an exciting election campaign and last minute swing voters might brave the cold and the waiting lines to cast their votes. I’m not sure the charm of Justin Trudeau’s inexperience will last long under the harsh light of reality. Minority governments, which is the best the Liberals can aspire to, are long, frustrating, and unproductive campaigns. Minority is not a healthy state in Canadian Parliamentary democracy.

Posting this before heading to the polls. It will be an exciting, nail-biting, evening and while worried about the spectre of a Liberal government I am also very curious to see if some dead wood will be replaced and how.

(If you wonder why I wrote my numbers in Spanish, it’s because WordPress kept indenting my numbers. Drove me nuts. I’m one of those old people who believe that machines should do strictly what they are told.)

 

 

 

Going down a rabbit hole: Learning from GOMI


A blogger I follow on Facebook recently mentioned GOMI and why she didn’t want to know what people said about her on the popular forum. GOMI stands for “Get Off My Internets” and is a blog about blogs. The blog itself follows the big names on the Internet but wading in the forums will show you the second tier bloggers, popular enough to annoy people but not so much that they would land a mention on the blog. And oh my goodness, “wading” is the proper term.

I first went wading into GOMI forums out of curiosity. My husband and I are preparing a re-launch and re-branding of this blog with the hope of building an income-generating website. Reading GOMI was first shocking, then amusing, then I figured that I could probably learn a thing or two about what pushes people’s buttons. Not being popular enough to register on the GOMI scale also means that I am not popular enough to have dedicated haters. There is something about popularity and envy that draws people to read something just to get their buttons pushed. I’m not sure I understand this about human nature but I’ve been around the Net enough to know it’s true. I think that people who don’t like my blog simply stop reading it. That’s the advantage of being small fry. Of course the disadvantage is that I don’t earn income from my writing.

Freed from the fear of finding my blog mentioned on GOMI, I was able to find a groove reading people’s beef. I focused my attention on the “Mommy/Daddy Bloggers” and the “Annoying Catholics” sub-forum found in the “Fundie Blogging” (Fundie as in fundamentalist as in “cults or extreme religion” which  in reality means “Christianity writ large with a sprinkling of Mormons”.) I don’t think I broadcasts my beliefs too much on this blog but as a practicing Catholic homeschooling mom of 9 children, I think that I get an Annoying Catholic mention just by getting-up in the morning. I swear that’s not why I do it.

I learned a few things about the treacherous waters of mommy blogging, and the even riskier waters of Annoying Catholicity. How do you feel about each of them? True, false, OMGoshNailedit!?

  1. There is a fine line between showing your children and exploiting your children. The raison d’être of family bloggers is to let readers peek into their lives but readers will turn on their favorite bloggers if they cross the line into exploitation. If it looks like your children are making the money and you’re just using it, watch out. Think Kate Gosselin.
  2. Bloggers should respect their children’s privacy. Think about your 2 year-olds as job-seeking 25 year-olds. How will they feel about having their anal retentiveness expounded over a Google-searchable 10-posts series?  You can write about potty training challenges without naming names.
  3. You should be “relatable” but not too real. That’s a tricky one. If you are a lifestyle, food or fashion blogger, you have to look perfect. However, if you are a mommy blogger you are expected to perform a tightrope act between looking like you have it all figured out (condescending) and being too whiny (get off the Internet and figure it out). This is especially true for Annoying Catholics who do not use artificial birth control. If you make having 10 children in 8 years look easy and fun you are obviously hiding something (like a full time nanny and a six-figure salary). If you make having 10 children in 8 years look difficult and challenging then you should start thinking for yourself and get an IUD.
  4. The way to make money blogging is through sponsored posts. A sponsored post is a post for which you are paid by a sponsor. It is usually written by the blogger although it can also be written by the sponsor and published on a blog. This is another tightrope act: it’s ok to make money blogging but you can’t be too obvious about it. You’re damned if you read like hired PR but you are also damned if you bite the hand that feeds you. In other words, if some clothing company flies you and your family someplace warm for a holiday-photo-shoot and you publish a sponsored blog post that is both crass and poorly written, and the sponsor gets angry and withdraws its sponsorship and you whine about it ceaselessly on your blog, you’ll end-up on GOMI. We’re not even close but I promise that if you fly my Annoying Catholic family anywhere south of Ottawa, Ontario, I will write you the best and brightest write-up you’ve ever read. I don’t even care if it’s for cat shampoo and we don’t own a cat.
  5. People want drama. But not too much drama. People want drama they can consume with their popcorn. popcorn-blankNobody wants to be privy to a train wreck in slow motion. It’s better to take it off-line for a little bit and write about the experience in hindsight (and with a little bit of perspective) than fall apart in public. It makes people squirmy and it makes the popcorn soggy.
  6. Finally, all of the above can be forgiven if you are a really good writer.

In other words, I will never get rich writing.

 

Whine and cheese


 

This post started as a description of a bad day. We all have them, don’t we? No matter how heavy or light our burden, some days (weeks, months) just won’t end. Or so it seems. The whine was spurred by a somewhat critical “You make everything look easy” from a friend. This shook me a little because if anything looks easy I can assure you that it’s all fluff and no substance. Anybody who sees me in real life – as opposed to social media – knows that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m (a) fumbling all the way; and (b) not doing it all that well. Every. Single. Day. I recently posted late birthday wishes to my father on Facebook, hoping that a public self-shaming would make-up for my poor daughterly behaviour, adding:

“Next time any of you wonders how Véro does it, remember that I don’t.”

That’s it in a nutshell. For every finite “thing” I do, there’s an equal amount of something else that doesn’t happen. My days, like yours, have 24h. If you look at what I don’t do, you will notice that the list of what I get done pales in comparison. That’s why I find it very irritating when people bow before me, which happens about 10 times a day when I am out and about with my family. Yes, you read that well, people bow before me. They actually, physically, bow before me. You can’t imagine how uncomfortable being worshiped can make you feel when you are not — you know — God.

Not only am I not God, I’m a wretched sinner. I order my life in concentric circles, building priorities from the centre and adding larger circles as I master the smaller ones. The smaller circles are my husband and children, my home life, around that core is my family, parents, siblings, in-laws; around the family circle are friends and close ones, this circle extends into my community. The largest circle would be those in need of my time and talent but who are not directly linked to me by the bonds of family, friendship or community. My faith radiates through from the core, informing how I (try to) relate to myself and others.

On a good day, I might make it to circle number 2. Everything else – friends, community, service – falls by the wayside. My every hour is consumed by caring for my basic needs and raising my children in a cheerful, peaceful and stable home where they can grow happy and healthy. Putting good food on the table, having clean clothes, a happy face and a listening ear takes-up my entire day. I am horrible at keeping in touch with my parents and siblings. I never remember anyone’s birthday, and when I do I don’t do anything about it. I’m a write-off when it comes to social graces like thank you notes. I have very few real friends left, and those who stick by me have precious little needs. I am not involved in my community; our family gives money to a few good causes because we can’t find the time to help out in a more meaningful way. If you are impressed because I manage to keep 9 children fed, dressed and somewhat educated assuming that I am also doing what normally productive members of the society do on the side, be informed that there is no side here: it’s all inner circle with a smattering of social media. In a nutshell it takes me 24h a day to be a decent wife and mother. That’s nothing to bow to.

Unlike some of my friends with larger-than-average families, I don’t have children with special needs. I don’t even have children with learning difficulties. In fact, all my children are above average students. They are physically, mentally and emotionally sound. My parents, my in-laws and my siblings are all in good health and economically wealthy enough to cover their needs as they age. There is no strife on either side of our extended family. There are no obvious mental health or substance abuse problems in our immediate family. We have been undeservedly spared by grief and loss. I should be able to do more with my 24h but for the limitations of my own person, my intelligence, my heart and my body. I am raising children whom I hope will be positive contributors to society, competent men and women committed to live by principles of integrity. I hope to look happy and peaceful doing it because the least I can do for the world from the confines of my kitchen – where I spend most of my life cooking, cleaning and homeschooling – is to give my children an example of self-giving that makes them want to choose others before themselves as they grow-up. Some days I fail miserably and that’s why I am still stuck in the innermost circles, trying to be a good mother, daughter, wife and sister before I move outward and onward.

Next time you are tempted to feel inadequate or bow before me or anyone else, remember that people like me need people with less stringent family obligations to make the world go round. Because I sure ain’t doin’ it. I need people like you to volunteer on school trips with my children, participate in bake sales, sit on board of directors, work as doctors, nurses and midwives, teachers, managers and creators. If you are dealing with loss, grief, illness, special needs or below average intelligence, you are already doing more than I am with my 9 healthy and bright children. So don’t bow. Don’t feel inadequate. Just go out and do your thing. From talking with you, I know that the more you already do, the more likely you are to feel like you’re not doing enough. Fill your 24h with purpose and hold you head up high.

Now go.

Parenting Quotes I’m Eating Back Today


I once read a quote. It went a little like this: “at the beginning of my career I had no kids and 12 principles; today I have 12 kids and no principle.” I was blessed with 4 relatively compliant children before I gave birth to 4 more. When I was having children in my 20s, I believed – clears throat with embarrassment — that my success in raising easygoing children was no-doubt related to my stellar parenting skills. What I lacked in skills, I made-up in youthful exuberance. Now that I have experience and some skills, I will readily admit that I have no clue. It’s true. My experience parenting is like the used children’s shoes in my basement: no matter how many I keep, I can never find a pair of the right size, at the right time, for the right season. Over the years, I have developed an expertise in each one of my children but here’s the catch: no matter how many children I had, they all came out as unique individuals. Never seen before and never to be repeated again. Isn’t human reproduction amazing that way? If 18 years of parenting has taught me anything, this is it: the lessons learned from raising this child are rarely applicable to raising that child. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am more “zen” about it. Instead of seeing children as problems to solve, I see them as a puzzles to complete. I did not draw the picture, but with careful dedication I can help it come together.

When I think about my early years as a parent, it is often to eat back some pearl of wisdom with a generous serving of Humble Sauce. Gulp. Here are some of my gems.

“Children won’t draw on walls if they have access to paper.” Did you know that I spent the first 8 years of my life-with-children without a single drawing-on-walls incident? Then we sold a house and shortly before we moved my 3 year-old decorated a wall with black permanent marker. Now I have children who won’t draw on paper if they have access to a wall.

“I will never buy size 6 diapers.” Seems simple enough: if a child is big enough to wear size 6 diapers, he’s old enough to potty train. Right? Guess who just purchased a Costco-sized box of size 6 diapers for her nearly-3-year-old child? Take heart, all you parents of late potty-trainers for it turns out that potty-readiness is completely out of your hands. The good news is that accepting this simple fact will make potty-training a lot easier for everyone involved.

“I won’t let myself get fat.” When I was dating my now-husband, he came to visit me at my parents’ house on his motorcycle wearing his full-leather gear. I was in the pool at the time and we couldn’t resist the temptation to take a biker chick picture, him in his leather chaps, me in my bathing suit. I found out that I was pregnant shortly after and upon seeing the picture, my aunt – who had 4 children – said “Keep that picture because you’ll never look like this in a bathing suit ever again.” I declared that I would not let maternity ruin my body. Well guess what?? Maternity never asked my opinion. Maternity took my body and turned it upside down. It moved my organs around and re-shaped my pelvis to its liking. It not only packed-on pounds as it was growing 9 healthy humans, it refused to lose even one as it was busy feeding them. I ran and I dieted and I ran some more. I stretched and planked and even starved myself at some point. It never went down. I got sick, I de-calcified my teeth, but I never lost a single breastfeeding pound. Today, after my easiest pregnancy and a beautiful home birth, I am breastfeeding a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old and I weight as much as I did during my last week of twin pregnancy. I am 60 lbs heavier than I was on that infamous picture 18 years ago and my dress size has more than doubled, going from 6 to 14. I’m definitely bringing booty back. And boobs. And legs.

“If your child is old enough to ask for breast milk, he is too old to nurse.” Refer to previous paragraph about nursing a 3 year-old. She’s been old enough to ask for milk for almost 2 years. She can explain the difference between cow’s milk (milk in a cup) and breast milk (milk in the mouth). Heck, she can ask for milk in both official languages.

What about you? Did you know everything about parenting until you had kids? What pearls of wisdom are you eating back today? Share in the humble pie!

Par une belle journée d’automne à la plage… Un aéroglisseur!


Après un mois de septembre un peu frisquet, l’automne est venu cogner à notre porte y apportant les derniers jours de l’été qui nous avaient tant manqués. Les arbres passent du vert au rouge orangé et le contraste entre le bleu du ciel et les couleurs éclatantes de l’automne est spectaculaire. Pouvoir l’apprécier sans se geler les doigts est un de ces petits luxes que nous offre la nature lorsqu’elle se sent généreuse.

À la plage en octobre, le bord de l’eau nous appartient. Nous aimons nous y réunir pour jouer dans le sable sans la foule. Aujourd,Hui, nous y avons vu un spectacle inhabituel: un aéroglisseur de la garde côtière. Que faisait-il là? Aucune idée! Mais quel spectacle de le voir traverser la rivière et venir s’échouer (se stationner?) à la plage!

Si vous cliquez sur la première photo, vous pourrez toutes les voir en album photo.