Monday, 11 February 2013


Hi, all...thanks for your continued support with the blog.  It has been great to begin writing again.

Unfortunately, I will have to take a hiatus from blogging for a little while to focus on some other things in my life.

Not to worry - I'll be back.

Be well,


Sunday, 10 February 2013

On fun.

Me:  "Ok, it's time for bed..."

7-year-old: "No!  I don't want to go to's not fair!"

Me:  "I know.  But it's late and it's time for bed.  Hop in, please."

7-year-old: "Not fair!  When I am a grown-up and I am going to stay up as late as I want!  And I'll have as many animals as I want!  And I'll do fun, like...go fungee jumping!"

Be well,


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Leave my skin alone, please.

One of my little pleasures is a great cup of coffee paired with the Saturday morning paper.  So, as I settled in last Saturday morning, I was intrigued by the front sheet of the Ottawa Citizen - a blurry picture with the tag-line, "Only a miracle can blur the lines."  I turned the page to find a full two-age ad declaring a new product that can "instantly" blur the look of my lines, pores and wrinkles.

My response was to immediately write a letter to the editor of the Citizen to explain that my skin is fine the way it is and that I would prefer that the newspaper stick to reporting newsworthy events rather than   promoting the idea that I need yet another beauty product to be okay.

Ah, the media.  A complex and, dare I say, toxic playground for advertisers to convey the message that I am not acceptable the way I am.  I need to change.  And if I would just buy this product or that, I'll most surely be better...stronger...prettier...thinner...and so on.

No one articulates the toxic impact of the media more succinctly than Jean Kilbourne, Ed. D.  For more than 40 years, Kilbourne has been researching the impact of advertising on our collective self-esteem - especially women.  Her "Killing Us Softly" videos are classics and a must-see for anyone who is or who knows a female.  Here's a trailer for the 4th and most current "Killing Us Softly" video.  Please be advised that after you watch any of Kilbourne's videos, you will never see print media the same way.  You've been warned.

My two girls are well-schooled in the perils of the media.  From the time they could talk, I have pointed out to them that the people we see in advertising don't look anything like the people that we actually know.  They are fully aware that Barbie's measurements make her such that, if she were a real person, she would be physically incapable of standing erect.  Her breasts are simply too large and her waist impossibly small.  Poor thing.

Does this mean that my daughters are immune to societal expectations of what "beauty" means?  Hell, no.  My 13-year-old (a competitive athlete who exercises strenuously 5-7 hours per week) hates her muscular, athletic thighs, noting that they are too big.  My 7-year-old laments that her body is "different" than her peers because her tummy is too round.

I don't parent any boys but I would argue that images of men in the media are just as distorted as women, if not as prolific.  Further, I would advocate that unrealistic images of both men and women are damaging to all of us because they suggest that people should look and be a certain way - although that "way" is utterly elusive for all but a small percentage of people.

So, what's a parent to do?  We are literally saturated with these unhealthy and unrealistic images - so much so that we rarely stop even to question them.  They are everywhere.  It's impossible to shield your children from them, although limiting television advertising and print media in your home is a good start.  I would also advocate that a great first step is also to get a handle on your own body image issues.

I know.  It's a tall order, isn't it?  I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't have at least one hang-up about his or her body.  Focus on what your body can do and not what it looks like.  Throw out your scale and concentrate on eating in a healthy way most of the time.  Indulge once in a while.  Don't label food "good" or "bad."  Food is just fuel for our bodies.  Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full.

I know, I know.  This is North America.

But stop anyway.  It's important to enjoy a range of foods - some more often than others.  You know when your body feels good and your clothes fit comfortably.  Attend your yearly physical and have your family doc take your vitals - including your weight - so that you stay on track health-wise.

Find a form of exercise that works well for you and that you can stick to.  Our bodies were made to move every day and, even if you're not a star athlete, there are lots of things you can do to increase your heart rate, like walking, dancing, cleaning and taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator.  If people you know tend to discuss on weight and dieting, ask them to respect a "no-diet" zone when they are with you - there are far better things to talk about.  Be mindful of the messages you are sending your kids when you comment on the way others look.  Whether your comment is positive or negative, you're still sending the message that how people look matters to you.  Talk instead about the great qualities that you value in your friends and family.

For more ideas, check out The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (  It's a great resource for ideas on how to promote health eating and body image.  For more info on how to think critically about media images, visit About-Face (  Their tagline, "don't fall for the media circus" kinda says it all.

As for me, I'm off to enjoy a steamy chai latte and a visit with one of my favourite people.  Oh, and I'm having the whipped cream, thanks.

Be well,


Thursday, 31 January 2013

Maybe the best darn website out there...

If you're looking for some levity in your chaotic day, I highly recommend the Onion website.  For those of you who don't know, the Onion is an online "newspaper" that presents a cheeky take on current events.  And it never fails to make me laugh out loud with its uber-satirical take on some of the most compelling issues of our time.

Here's one that had my husband and I laughing uncontrollably:,31061/

Hey, if you can't laugh, there is no mental health...

Be well,


Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Best Non-Fiction Read of 2012

If you read only one non-fiction book this year, make it "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" by Paul Tough.  Tough, a Canadian-born journalist and broadcaster, has written extensively about poverty, education and politics.  He's a regular contributor to my all-time favourite podcast, This American Life, as well as to magazines including Harper's, The New Yorker, Slate, and GQ

In "How Children Succeed," Tough examines a wealth of research from diverse fields of economics, politics, child development and education.  He points out that over the past decade, experts have shown that character traits are more important than cognitive ability (i.e., IQ) in predicting success in later life.  As such, character traits (sometimes termed "non-academic" or "soft" skills) like perseverance, openness to new experience, and ability to regulate one's emotions are critical components of equipping our kids for life's rigours.

The good news here is that, unlike cognitive ability which is relatively static past the age of 6 or 7 years of age, character traits can be learned throughout the lifespan.  And so it follows that all kids, regardless of cognitive resources, can benefit from learning how to deal with difficult things, how to keep trying in the face of adversity and how to keep their emotions in check.

Let's be honest.  These are skills that even some grown-ups struggle with.  How best, then, to teach these elusive qualities to our kids?

First, let me say that I wholeheartedly agree with Tough when he asserts that our public education system could be (and is, in some rare instances is) an ideal forum for helping our kids acquire these skills.  In my perfect world, school curriculum would address, in equal parts, children's emotional, physical and academic needs.  For example, conflict resolution and mediation would be a bone fide curriculum goal that all kids must acquire some skill in.  Similarly, curriculum infused with the importance of emotional intelligence would be non-negotiable.  And the importance of physical activity would be consistently emphasized from K-12 - not only because it is good for one's body but because a wealth of research has demonstrated that better physical fitness is intricately related to improved brain functioning.

From a parenting perspective, there are many things that you can do to help your child develop solid character.  In fact, you probably already are.  Every time you listen respectfully (and no, not that half-assed-messing around-with-your-iPhone-and-listening-crap) to your child, you build her sense of worth and therefore her character:  you're conveying that she is worthy of being listened to.  Every time you encourage your child to try again, even though it sucks and he hates it, you're building character.  When you praise your child for the effort she put in rather than the outcome she obtained, you're building character.

Here are some other practical character-builders (in no particular order):

1) Do something new with your child.  This type of learning stimulates growth and development in the frontal lobe of the brain (i.e., the combined parts that control higher-order thinking like planning, initiating and abstract thinking), as well as helping to build confidence in trying new things.  To solidify the learning, set up opportunities for your child to apply his or her newly-acquired skills.

2) Encourage your child to keep a "rose file" - that is, a scrapbook or journal of mementos and examples that demonstrate your child's great character qualities.  Include, for example, reminders of when he was a particularly good friend to someone, or made the right choice even though it was really difficult.  When your child is experiencing challenging times, check out the rose file and show her the "evidence" that demonstrates the great qualities she possess.  Reminder her of how good she felt when she exercised these qualities.

3) Let your kids try things you know they'll be horrible at.  And then be there to support them when they fail miserably.  Remind them that failing is a really important part of learning, as well as a necessary part of life.  Help them understand what they might do differently next time to improve.  And insist that they do it again.  Resist, at all costs, the urge to do it for them.  Watching your kid suffer is excruciating but it's a critical way for her to become adept at coping with feelings of all kinds in a productive, healthy way.

4) Learn to manage your own stress effectively.  This is key.  Consider Paul Tough's exploration of the compelling research findings that kids who grow up in impoverished circumstances are most adversely impacted not by the deprivation per se, but by the stress that the circumstances cause in their family unit.  Otherwise stated, kids suffer when their parents are stressed - probably for a lot of reasons, including the fact that their parents have less time to spend with them, as well as fewer psychological resources to share with them.

And, last and certainly most importantly, try to model good character qualities for your kids.  Your kids will probably remember very little of what you say.  They will remember the things you do.  So, be nice to other people - even when they are rude to you.  Next time you're in the car with your kids and that ass-face cuts you off, take a deep breath and count to ten rather than shrieking what you're really thinking.  If you make a promise, keep it.  Be consistently reliable (and that includes being on time).  If you make a mistake, take responsibility.  Do the right thing, even when it's difficult.  Share your failures with your kids, and talk about how you dealt with them.  In the words of H. Jackson Brown, "Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you."

Be well,



Thursday, 24 January 2013

7-year old wisdom

Dad:  "Hey, I'm almost up to Level 70 on this game!"

7-yr-old: "Awesome!  You should try for the next level...after all, it is your birthday and you should get lucky on your birthday."

Enough said.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Parent Trap

Your kids have an uncanny way of breaking your heart, like no one else in your life.  Take tonight, for example.  I had occasion to say no to my teen daughter who, in turn, has given me the silent treatment for the past few hours.  I know that I made the right decision - that's not in question.  Yet, I still feel pulled to run to her and say, "I've reconsidered. The answer is yes."

Why?  Because it's way harder to be a good parent than a bad one.  It takes effort.  It would be way, way easier to say yes to my kid, be the hero and bask in the "you're the best" accolades that would surely ensue.  Saying no is really hard.  It means setting limits and exercising my judgment in what, I think, is her best interest.  And weathering the fall-out.

Many years ago, before I had children, a friend said to me, "Sometimes I wake up and think 'I don't want to be a mom today'."  I was horrified.  How could she say such a thing?  Having children was surely the most wonderful, gratifying and rewarding job ever!

Wasn't it?

Some years and two kids later, I hear her.  Boy, do I hear her.  Don't get me wrong: parenting is all those things I thought it was before I had kids.  Some of my most cherished memories have to do with my girls: breastfeeding and rocking them during a quiet, still night, gazing at them sleeping peacefully like wee angels, or the look on their faces when they saw something incredible for the first time.

But, these moments are, understandably, punctuated by the everyday work of raising kids - hard, financially-draining, marriage-straining work that it is.  Indeed, a plethora of academic studies demonstrate that parenting does not equal happiness.

Probably the most frequently cited research in this area is that of Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prize winning behaviour economist who studies the irrationality of how humans make decisions.  Kahneman's 2004 survey of over 900 Texan women found that child care was ranked 16th out of 19 possible pleasurable activities.  Interestingly, activities such as exercise, shopping, napping and watching t.v. were all ranked higher than child care.

So there you have it.  You're not alone in preferring a good spin class to spending time with your kids.

I suspect this is because parenting is the most difficult, unrelenting and yet rewarding job most of us will ever do.  Above all, it requires countless sacrifices.  This is perhaps the most diabolical part of parenting:  sometimes the decisions that are good - nay, even necessary - for us are entirely at odds with what might be in our children's best interest.  And so our job as parents is to figure out this precarious balance.  Sometimes we get it right.  And sometimes not so much.

My advice?  If you don't have kids, think long and hard about it before you do.  And if it's not for you, then don't do it because you think you should.  If you do have kids, talk about your experience with people who aren't afraid to be brutally honest about parenting.  Book regular dates with trusted others who will both laugh and cry about their parenting challenges and triumphs.   When someone tells you that parenting's a breeze, immediately place them in the same category as smarmy men who endeavour to sell you cheap real estate.  Learn, as best you can, to live it the moment and remember that whatever's happening right now, it won't last.  When you make a mistake, say you're sorry and mean it.   Invest in an TSP (Therapy Savings Plan) for your kids.  Because, despite your very best efforts, they'll probably need it.

I'll leave you with poet, Philip Larkin's cheeky take on parenting.  For what it's worth.

Be well,


This Be the Verse
By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.