A Hell of a Week

It’s been a hell of a week.

I’m usually a pretty appreciative person and that’s with good reason, because I have a pretty cushy and happy life. I mean, I have fantastic friends, who rush to tell me what a great writer I am when I lose my favourite writing gig. And a wonderful husband, who is gentle and supportive when you smash the van into the side of your neighbour’s parked car. And sweet kids, who lead you away from the sink full of dishes when they find you sobbing into the suds because you’ve pushed yourself physically too far, then make you a cup of tea and a plate of strawberries and crackers in the shape of a happy face. And kids who don’t complain one bit when they have to submit to a barrage of tests and possible new medical issues, or the daily turning of the crank inside the roof of their mouth that is widening their jaw. And extended family who tell you they love the Easter dinner, even when you forgot to put salt in the pie crust and the turkey went a little too far to the crispy side. And clients who are understanding when things just get away from you and you don’t finish their stuff on time and feel totally unprofessional and stupid.

But still – a hell of a week.

The Business of Spring

Thanks so much to everyone who left a comment on yesterday’s post, you guys are awesome. I have been making the children give me lots of extra hugs, big tight squeezes, that some have embraced and others have met with eye rolling, but that is just too bad for them. It’s what we all need, I have decided.

Today I dropped the kids at school – Sir Monkeypants usually does this – and I was surprised at how normal everything seemed. Kids with backpacks, kids dashing across the road to join up with friends, one kid even riding his bike. It felt strange but also hopeful. The world ticks onward and spring might actually arrive soon and those are good things.

In the spirit of returning to business as usual I’d just like to hijack the blog for a moment to promote an event I run annually, called Blog Out Loud. It’s an open mic night for bloggers where you can read your favourite post of the year in front of a live audience, at the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival where some pretty big headliners have appeared as well. If you’d like to read a post, you have to submit (up to two posts) by emailing me a link at lynnturtlehead@gmail.com. There’s a panel that picks out a great combination of posts to be read that night, and the deadline for submissions is this coming Sunday, March 29. It’s a very cool thing to read your words out loud, but if you aren’t selected, I hope you’ll still come out to hear the selections – it’s on Tuesday, April 28.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

To My Family, After I’m Gone

A cousin of mine passed away yesterday. She was a few years younger than I, in her late 30s, with a loving husband and three small children – two tweenage boys and a girl, just turned six.

It was pancreatic cancer, which is a pretty evil thing. No known risk factors, can strike at any age. Very few symptoms, the kind that can just be brushed aside, until it moves into other organs. The vast majority of patients aren’t diagnosed until it’s already stage 4 – giving them less than a year to live. My cousin got just six months out of the deal.

I live pretty far away and so it was easy to pretend that nothing was wrong. She was cheerful about it, and had a strong faith in God that meant that her Facebook posts were upbeat, showing her feeling like everything would work out according to the world’s intended plan. She never complained, only cherished those around her; she didn’t look sick because she didn’t undergo any major treatments – there wasn’t any point.

So it’s been a bit of a shock. I am sad. I am angry. It doesn’t seem right to be eating or sleeping or reading a book when there is such a wrong that has been done.

When the kids were still a twinkle in our eyes, I used to think the worst possible thing would be losing a child. And don’t get me wrong – that’s still completely unthinkable. But after they were born I gained a new top fear: the fear of something happening to me. The fear that I wouldn’t be there to hold their hands, wipe their noses, help them figure out this crazy thing called life. The fear that they’d be sad, or lonely, or sick, and they’d call out for me, only I wouldn’t be there to make it all go away. It made me be extra careful every time I walked down the stairs or crossed the road. I started eating more vegetables.

It seems like some sort of hubris to think that I’m irreplaceable. That no one could ever make them a cheese sandwich in exactly the right way, that no one else could ever keep the names of all their stuffed animals straight, that no one else will remember what brand of underwear is the only acceptable brand (different for each kid, of course). It even seems conceited to think that no one could ever love them like I do.

And yet, I do think that. Recently Gal Smiley told me that when I die, she plans to take my brain and put it in a robot version of myself so I can be with her always. That’s just about the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard. I want that too, honey.

I want that for my cousin as well. She has a strong church community and loving relatives and I know her family is going to be okay. But they’re never going to be the same.

Stories like this are the kind of thing that make you feel like you should be spending every moment, every day, cherishing the time you have with your kids. You should be thankful for the chance to be together, grateful for this life. But you just can’t be like that every single second, just like you can’t not complain about the food because people are starving in the world, or not feel frustrated at traffic because some people don’t have a car. Kids are frustrating sometimes, and sometimes you have a bad day, and sometimes these things collide to mean you’re not quite as thankful and grateful as you should be. That’s okay. But today, for just today, I will value them. I will feel joy that I am their mother and wife, that I am here and they are here and we are all healthy.

People sometimes ask a fun party question – what would you do if you found out you only had a few months left to live? I know my answer. I would write. Write through the sadness and the anger until my hands were too sore to continue. I’d try to pour everything I am and everything I think and everything I value onto the paper. I’d try to give my children a lifetime of my advice and caring and love in page after page of words. Words they could come back to time and again, words that kept me alive in a little way, a small way. Words that showed them that I didn’t want to leave them; words that would help them tell their own children about who I was.

And so: this blog. May this little diary keep me alive long past my assigned years. May these words tell my family, over and over again: I love you.

A Couple of Minor Complaints

Lately I have been watching Jeopardy faithfully, because I am on a trivia team and it’s research, and totally not one step closer to embracing my future life in a nursing home.

Here’s something that bugs you when you watch Jeopardy all the time: people who say “please” every single time they ask for a category. “Civil War Battles for $400 please,” “Role In Common for $1600 please,” “European Bodies of Water for $1000 please.”

I realize this sounds curmudgeonly (one MORE step towards embracing the nursing home), but when you watch it all the time, it gets so annoying. You have the RIGHT to choose a category, players. TAKE IT.

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Also bothering me lately: recipes that say “salt to taste.” I am a science cooker. I cook a lot, and not by choice, not because I enjoy it or because I have some sixth sense about flavour or want express my creativity in the kitchen while salting-tasting-salting-tasting happily over a steaming pot for an hour. No, I want to follow the directions as quickly as possible and get that food on the table.

Would it be so hard to give me a general guideline to follow, say “1 tsp salt, or to taste” or “dash of salt, or to taste” or “1 Tbsp salt, or to taste.” I think we can all agree that these three salt amounts are very different, and I am not looking for guesswork. JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH SALT TO PUT IN. Thank you.

Time and Again

Today is the Captain’s 12th birthday. I rarely post on the girls’ birthdays, but the Captain’s birthday usually brings about a good wallow on the theme of They’re Not My Babies Anymore, eventually coming around to the personal growth moment of Perhaps That Is A Good Thing. This year: lather, rinse, repeat.

Working in my favour this year: no real signs of puberty yet, as he’s still safely below my shoulder in height and weighs less than most people’s pet dogs. I keep having to buy him bigger socks, and yet his shoes and boots seem to still fit, so possibly his feet are growing, but possibly not. Puberty! It’s such a mystery.

(Puberty, by the way, is his most hated word in the English language, giving him the willies like the word “moist” does to some people, and the word “lover” does to me, except when used ironically in a “Hello, lover” kind of way to refer to chocolate cake.)

Twelve seems like kind of a big number, though. By the time I was 13 I had a paying job. By the time I was 15, I was working all summer, and by the time I was 18 I had moved out to go to university. I feel like our lazy Summers of Awesome are limited, and that makes me sad.

Counteraction: make family memories! Now! As much as possible! CRAM IN THE MEMORIES.

So this year we are planning a Big Family Trip, something we have been saving for since we went to PEI. Our trip to PEI was awesome, we all had a fantastic time and were very sad to leave, but rather than go back we decided there was so much more of the world to see, and that we better get On It. We spent a lot of time out east talking about geography and oceans and tides and the different environments you’d see right here in Canada, and that led to a lot of talk about the Rocky Mountains, and THAT led to a lot of talk about how Sir Monkeypants has always wanted to go out west, so…

Calgary, Banff, and Jasper – Summer 2015. IT’S HAPPENING.

Happy birthday, Captain!

New Signs of Maturity

The other day we were riding in the car and the Little Miss asked me:

“Mommy, you know the things in our Easter basket? Do you leave them, or does the Easter Bunny?”

So I sighed – my last baby! – and I admitted that I do the leaving of treats.

Then she said, “Great. Can I have a stuffie then?”

Not fazed at all. Just happy to have a direct line to the supplier.

She appears to still totally believe that the Bunny brings the hidden eggs, though. I’ll be happy when all the “magical nighttime vistors” have been outed but it’s kind of sad, too, you know?

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A few days later, we heard an ad featuring Stephen Harper on the radio in the car, and that sparked this with the Little Miss – A Child’s First Talk About Politics.

Little Miss: Who is Stephen Harper?

Me: He’s the current Prime Minister of our country.

Her: I knew he was someone. Why is he on the radio?

Me: There is an election coming up, and he is telling us why we should vote for him.

Her: Doesn’t he just get to keep his job if he wants?

Me: No, we can pick someone else if we want.

Her: I think we should keep the old guy, IF he is not a bad guy, because you don’t know if the other guy is going to be a bad guy or not.

Me: Very true. But, they have to tell us before the election what they will do if they get picked.

Her: Oh, so you can pick a good guy.

Me: Yes. Sometimes they lie, though, so you have to decide who you are going to trust.

Her: Here’s how you can know. If they say “ummm…” and then take a long time to answer, they are probably lying. But if they answer right away, they are probably lying because they probably thought about what they would say. So if they take like, one minute to think, then they answer, that is probably the truth.

Me: I will keep that in mind.

Her: You also have to look at their face and body and stuff.

Alert Justin Trudeau: the Little Miss is available for pre-debate vetting if required.
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In other news, I had to renew the kids’ passports last month and seeing as how the Captain is now 11 (and actually, will be 12 TOMORROW, SNIFF), he had to sign his application. He can barely write in cursive and definitely has never signed his name to anything before, so we had him practice a few times before laying down his very first John Hancock, a sweet babyish scrawl of his name in all lower case. Aw.

Now he’s totally ready to sign autographs as a famous teen rock star. They grow up so fast!

Family Games: Spot It and Love Letter

When we finished our basement last winter, all our games moved downstairs. That’s a good thing, as there’s literally nowhere on the upper floor to keep them, but it’s also a sad thing, because I find we are not playing as much as we used to. It’s just easier after dinner to flop on the couch than to have to go downstairs and root around on some shelves for a game.

As a result I’ve started keeping a few small, quick little games on my office desk for us to grab on a weeknight. We have several of these but today I’ll chat about two of them: Spot It and Love Letter. Both are small in size (perfect for travel), quick to play, and easy to learn. Win-win-win!

About Spot It

Spot It is a great game for younger kids – our seven year old LOVES it, and is quite competitive with us. I see on the box it’s rated for ages 7 and up, but I’d say any child that’s into I Spy books would like it – there’s no reading at all, which makes it a great choice for the younger crowd.

spotit1 (Small)

Spot It is a deck of round cards. Each card has several different symbols on it. Here’s the cool part: every single card in the deck has exactly one, and only one, symbol in common with every other card.

(Aside: this desperately makes me want to get out my calculator and figure out the mathematical relationship here: X many symbols with Y symbols on each card will result in one-and-only-one matches for Z number of cards. Aren’t you tempted? No? Just me?)

(Aside aside: Bet my friend Mark is working that out RIGHT NOW. He gets me.)

Anyway! You can play several different games with the Spot It deck of cards, but they all involve finding the one matching symbol given a pair of cards. The faster you are at finding the one-in-common, the better you’ll do.

We usually play the traditional Tower version. Every person gets a card, with the remaining cards in a central pile, face down. You flip the top card on the deck, and everyone flips their personal card, and starts to look for a match. If you see the one symbol that matches between your personal card and the central card, you call it out (“Lips!”, “Tree!”, “Igloo!”) and whoever shouts first gets to take the central card and put it on top of their personal pile, then flip over a new card. The moment the new central card is flipped, we match again, until the deck is gone; at the end, the person with the most cards wins.

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It's hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.

It’s hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.

It works well because the person who just made a match now has a new card on their deck, while everyone else is working with the same card and its now-familiar symbols, so it helps balance things out. The kids definitely have a fighting chance – in fact, Little Miss Sunshine, who LOVES I Spy/Where’s Waldo type books, is practically a Spot It Savant.

(Also, this is a very friendly and cooperative game for us, so if one of us adults starts getting too far ahead, it’s easy to take your time looking for matches, giving the kids longer to look. But that leads us to a whole “should you throw games to your kids” discussion that we will definitely be having here, but at a later date.)

So to sum up, we love Spot It because:
* it’s great for younger kids, since there’s no reading
* it’s super fast to set up and play
* lots of people can play; I think it’s officially for up to 4 players but we play with five of us all the time with no trouble
* it’s fun for us as well as the kids, and we can be competitive with each other on a fairly even level
* it comes in a handy tin which makes it great for travel

It’s a great early family game and perfect for throwing into your carry on for your next vacation.

About Love Letter

Love Letter is another small card game that travels well, sets up fast in very little room, and is fairly easy to learn – but complex enough to keep the adults interested. It’s actually the fourth in a series of games made by AEG, all set in the same world called Tempest. You definitely do not need to collect all the games, but they do follow a kind of overall storyline, and share the same artwork and characters, while being wildly different in play and strategy, so it’s an interesting concept.

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Love Letter is by far the most popular of the series, and I can see why. It’s just 16 cards and some little red blocks (“love tokens”). The cards all feature a character in the game – some characters, like guards, appear more than once, while bigger characters like the Princess or King appear only once.

The story is that the Princess has locked herself away, and you want to get a love letter to her by getting the card of the person “closest” to her. In practice this means you want to end up with the highest card at the end of the round. You’ll be dealt one card only, and that card has a number on it – the higher the number, the “closest” to the princess. So, the princess herself is marked with an 8; the king is 6, guards are 1, and so on.

loveletter3 (Small)

So everyone gets their single card, and the rest go into a pile in the centre, face down. On your turn, you’ll draw one other card, then decide which one to keep, and which one to discard face up in front of you.

Simple, right? Keep the higher card, right?

Not so fast. The card you DISCARD has instructions on it, and you must follow those instructions. Sometimes these work in your favour; sometimes not. You might get to peek at someone else’s card. You might be forced to swap hands with someone. You might have to have an immediate head-to-head showdown with one other player. So, it’s not always an easy decision – what to keep, and what to discard.

Also, your discards sometimes have the power to knock others out of the game. So it’s not just a matter of having the highest card at the end, but of being deceptive enough with your discards to protect yourself until the end.

It’s simple in rules, but there’s actually a lot of strategy here, which keeps it interesting for us.

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The round ends when there’s only one player still in, or when the end of the deck is reached – which happens quickly, since there’s only 16 cards in the deck. Of the players still in, the one with the highest card at the end of the round wins a “love token,” and you re-deal. You can play for up to 7 “love tokens” but you can play for fewer – up to 3 say – if bedtime is looming. If you’re in a rush while waiting for the spaghetti to cook, you can even just have one round, winner take all.

In terms of ages, we can all play this game, but I would recommend it for ages 8 and up, I think – our older two, ages 10 and 11, have no trouble with all aspects of the game but we can usually out-fox our seven year old with our crafty discards, so if she is playing we do a lot of “thinking out loud” to give her clues about the kind of thing she should be noticing or paying attention to.

(She totally loves to get love tokens, though. “Love token” is possibly her most favourite phrase ever.)

So to sum up, we love Love Letter because:
* it’s easy to learn, but involves enough strategy to keep us all intrigued
* it’s small and travels well (and is also inexpensive)
* even though you can personally knock people out of the game, it never has that “ganged up on” feeling of other games (hello, MUNCHKIN)
* it’s very fast to set up and play
* you can play as many rounds as you like, making the whole game as long or as short as you like
* the cards are really, really pretty (enough to make me want to buy more of the games in this series, just to see the artwork)

I got this one in my stocking just this past Christmas but we’ve already played it a ton, and when a game is suggested it’s always the first one I call for, because it’s my current fave. Recommended!

Orthodontics

My older two had their first visit to the orthodontist this week, at the recommendation of our dentist. I thought it was a bit early – the Captain will be 12 next week, and Gal Smiley is only 10 1/2 – but both had alarming-looking sideways teeth on their recent x-rays so we went for the consultation.

Here’s the conversation I had with a nervous Gal Smiley the night before:

Her: What’s going to happen there?

Me: Nothing scary. They will be just looking at your teeth and taking some measurements. At most, they might ask for new x-rays.

Her: Will they be pulling out my teeth?

Me: Definitely not. Even if that’s what he thinks is required, he won’t do that tomorrow. He will give us all the information and we will have time to think about what we want to do.

Her: Do I have to get braces?

Me: We don’t know, but if so, likely not for a while, because you are very young still and you have lots of baby teeth left. We will consider the options, and take our time thinking it over.

So, that was the plan, anyway. Actual events: we went, there were measurements and discussion and a lot of tut-tuts, and next thing you know I’m making an appointment two weeks out for her to have an appliance put in. GAH.

Lest you think the orthodonist is some sort of money-grabbing charlatan, I actually really liked him a lot, and he was very cool about the Captain, saying he just needs time for his mouth to get bigger and there’s no rush and his bite is fine for the moment, so let’s just let him grow a bit and we’ll see.

(Except for the fact that he does need one baby tooth pulled, because the molar above it is breaking loose out the side of his gum, which is SO HORRIFYING TO ME I cannot even type it without squirming, but our dentist can do the tooth pulling in 10 minutes some morning next week, although we may have to literally drag the Nervous Nelly Captain kicking and screaming into the chair to make it happen.)

But for Gal Smiley, her upper palate is smaller than the lower, and she is compensating for the mismatch by shifting her lower jaw to one side, resulting in a noticeable shift in her face that will cause weird jaw growth that is “easy” to fix now, but hard to fix later on, so yes, now it is. She has to have this device like a metal butterfly put into her upper mouth that we will expand with the turn of a key once a day for a month, then she has to keep it in for another six months to set the bone.

I’m trying to be Super! Upbeat! about the whole thing, and not just because I don’t want to seem like the Biggest Lying Mother That Ever Lied after promising her an ortho appointment with little ongoing impact. Also, I didn’t have braces and neither did Sir Monkeypants, so as far as we know, braces are just pretty little things that make your mouth pleasantly sparkly for a year or so. It COULD be true, right?

But the more I think about it, the more I worry – WILL it hurt? Will she drool a lot? Will she talk funny with it in? Will it stop her from eating her favourite foods? Will it stop her from eating altogether? Is it worth it?

Any advice would be welcome.