Monthly Archives: March 2012

Kids say the darndest things, backseat edition

This is too good not to share.

Last week, we were all in the car driving around looking for places to rent in Drayton Valley – a fruitless endeavor, right up there with hunting unicorns and spying a flying porcine. Anyway, I had to pee. (My initials don’t stand for Little Bladder for nothing.)

I told Travis I could hold it until the Mohawk (gas station) but he knows me better than that and pulled into the first available parking lot – McDonald’s.

He drew up to the door and I hopped out to avail of their facilities.

Sylvia was in the back seat, taking it all in.

That was last week.

We have to drive past McDonald’s every time we go anywhere, which could be upwards of six or eight times a day.

And now every time we do, Sylvia – who has not so much as set foot inside a McDonald’s in all of her 23 months – points and shouts, “Mommy! Pee? Mommy! Mommy! Pee?”

A whole new meaning to Golden Arches, I guess.

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What makes a good book

I stayed up way too late reading last night. We were all in bed before nine (as a product of ridiculous work hours and sharing a room with our toddler, this happens more often than not), but I kept my light on to read.

(The lamp keeps Sylvia up and bothers Travis, so I’ve rigged up my e-reader light to shine on my real book so it’s not so bright. My e-reader might be the most expensive nightlight ever.)

Reading is what I want to do when I have downtime. Books, preferably. I like magazines and websites too, but too much time with either of them and I start to feel anxious or unproductive – as if I should hurry to the kitchen and make that fabulous recipe or organize my desk kitchen table to look like that cute home office on the glossy page. (Trust me, as soon as I HAVE a home office I’ll be organizing the hell out of it, but for now my notes are stashed in stacks of index cards and I have just one binder for three major projects).

I also get a huge kick out of the “STEALS! Finds for under $100!” features in magazines (Real Simple, I’m looking at you) because, um, $99 is not a steal unless you’re talking a taxes-in all-inclusive round-trip to Easter Island.

But books don’t make me feel inadequate (except as a writer) or anxious (unless it’s on behalf of one of the characters).

There are people who get reading, and people who don’t. Travis finally gets it, insofar as he has stopped asking me a billion questions when I’ve got my nose in a book. But when I’m sobbing through a final chapter he’ll wryly ask, “good book?”

If it’s making me cry or laugh out loud or stay up past midnight, or if the book is propped open on the counter while I make supper? It’s probably a good book.

I recommend Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Actually, I was given this book by a friend who was purging her stash, and I’ll happily pass it along to anybody who would like a good read. Let me know in the comments below. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Call it The Sheds’ mail-service book club!

Quelque chose a travailler

Whoa, that last post threw me into a bout of nostalgia of the likes I haven’t felt in years.

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about my time in France, largely because I think I wore out the topic over the course of the past decade. When I first came home, it was my novelty. People asked, and I talked. Non stop. For about a year.

My biggest regret is not keeping up the French language. I have 12 years of public immersion education, two years of true cultural and language immersion, and a four-year university major in French behind me, and yesterday I spent a solid 90 seconds trying to remember what the French word for cell phone was. Handily, I had a Quebecois nearby and asked him. Telephone cellulaire, he offered. But I knew that wasn’t right.

Portable.

I can still read and write and eavesdrop, but when I try to speak I stall out on simple, common words.

Like portable.
Chausettes.
Vachement.

(Okay, I didn’t forget that last one – it’s slang for “very” or “really,” used for emphasis. I use it a lot, which earns me raised eyebrows from the resident Quebecois.)

I know I’ve written a few times here in French, and I’m going to make a concentrated effort to do so again. (My keyboard spontaneously switches to Canadian French a few times a day, so that’s probably a sign).

Oh, Toulouse.

Throughout my last year in Toulouse, every weekday afternoon at 15h I would join a dozen other nannies, moms, and the occasional dad at the primary school gates just a short walk from my flat. We’d wait together until the doors were opened and children would rush out into waiting arms and strollers.

After two years, some of my little charge’s classmates and their parents still thought I was her mother.

I wasn’t. I was her nanny, her person. And together, we conquered Toulouse.

I pretty well had full reign of her schedule. Where we went, what we did and at what time was all up to me. We took the Metro and the city buses under the river and over the many bridges. We danced through every park. We took a train to a swimming pool and got lost on the final leg on foot. I knew I had left my indelible mark on the three-year-old in my care when she paused on a street corner, put both hands in the air and asked in a perfect Newfoundland accent, “Sure, where we to?”

We were in Toulouse. Our city of roses. That was ten years ago.

I spent two years as an au pair. The family took me on holiday to Tunisia and Turkey, flew me to Paris dozens of time, and took me skiing for my 18th birthday. We got along well, but I was never truly part of their family and so I’m not saddened that we’ve lost touch. I don’t even know if they are still in Toulouse.

But that city – La ville en rose – remains in my heart. It’s where I first bought wine, ate goat cheese, met my farmers and my fishmonger and my baker. Where I learned about long-distance love and suave men. Where I developed my expensive taste in tights and cosmetics. Where I tagged along on the stunning good looks of my friend and fellow nanny – a Colombian – and learned that beautiful women really do lead easier lives. Where I discovered cherries don’t all come in a bottle labelled Maraschino, and true licorice is a sensory delight. Where I saw alcoholism eat away at my neighbour, she who loved Celine Dion so much, and where I bought my first and only pair of high heels a full size too small just because they were so darn pretty.

It’s where I learned about fetal death and efficient French appendectomies and health care in general and cycled with Laurent Jalabert. It’s from where I launched several adventures to see the Tour De France, and ended up picnicking with strangers on the side of a mountain as men in coloured jerseys raced by.

It’s where I had this memorable conversation that told me more about Quebec separatism than any of my highschool textbooks:

The fish merchant was advertising Canadian lobster for some exorbitant price, but seeing as I was homesick that day (and love nothing more than a feed of lobster) I decided I would shell out the Euros if it was Newfoundland lobster. I went in to enquire about the origin of the shellfish.
“Excuse me, what part of Canada is that lobster from?” I asked.
Only he thought I was wondering where Canada is.
“You know Quebec?” he asked. When I nodded, he continued: “Well Canada is right next to that.”
I quickly caught on and tried to explain that no, Quebec and Canada are one and the same, but he was having none of it. Did I want the lobster or didn’t I?
“Non, merci. Bonne journée.”

I can still call up the scent of La Garonne and the thick mud left behind by the spring flood, and the crazy vent d’autan that I’ve written about before. Occasionally I would get up early and walk down to the river to see the morning mist over the water, the closest thing to fog I saw for two years. Sometimes I was homesick, but for the most part I was too busy exploring and just so damn excited to be there.

I left Toulouse to go to University and study journalism. I could have stayed to do the same – I had a place in the École De Journalisme De Toulouse, and it actually would have been cheaper to study there as a foreign student than pay Nova Scotia’s outrageous tuition fees, but I thought I was in love and so I moved back to Canada. I’m certain my life would be different now had I decided to stay, but I’m not sad I came home. In fact, I’m more than happy about how it has all worked out so far.

But today, I’m saddened for my European hometown. They’ve suffered an unspeakable tragedy. And while many cruel acts of violence are playing out all over the world at this very moment, it’s the ones that have some relevance in our own lives that affect us most.

And Toulouse, for taking on a somewhat naive and awkward 17-year-old girl and making her the more worldly, less awkward but equally bookish version of myself that I am today, is very relevant to me.

The bumpy road home from BlogWest

My BlogWest notebook ends abruptly on page 31 with a rough sketch of the intersection of the Kinsmen sports center parking lot and Edmonton’s Walterdale Hill. That’s where we were rear-ended by a synchronized swimming coach. Because if there’s one thing I remember from my Young Drivers of Canada lessons over a decade ago, it’s always sketch the accident scene. And stagger yourself in traffic. And turn on your headlines, even in the daytime. And don’t ‘squash the tomatoes’ when you’re changing gears. (I never got the tomato analogy, but I don’t grind gears today so something must have stuck.) And keep your eyes on the damn road – guess the synchro coach missed that class.

The Sylviamobile suffered some damage to her hindquarters that should be repaired before the end of the month. I spent five days wrapped around a heating pad, whenever I didn’t have to surrender it to Travis. It was a minor accident that threw all of last week out of sync. (As my former colleague would say, it really messed with my Chi.)

So I’ve missed the boat on the BlogWest wrap-up party, and if I learned anything at all during my two days there it is the Internet moves really, really quickly! (If anyone would like to weigh in on my continued capitalization of Internet, now would be the time.)

But! Here are some exciting things I learned anyway…

1. People actually make MONEY blogging! I know! I could hardly believe it! Okay, not entirely true. I knew it was possible to make money online (in spite of everything I was told in journalism school all those years ago), but I thought it was an all-or-nothing deal. But apparently there are all kinds of ways to make moolah, like selling ad space, writing sponsored posts, running an online store, joining ad networks and publishing affiliate links. These are all find and dandy, but I have a complicated enough relationship with the advertising in my offline life, that I don’t want to clutter up my headspace (and by extension, blogspace) with it too. This is probably the most you’ll ever hear me talk about advertising on my blog. Fin.

2. You can make money doing other things online, and not *those* things, either! Yes, it’s true. You can get paid to write online, in places other than your blog. I already knew this, and if I could ever get away from the damn trad. media racket I would pursue this much more thoroughly. This was my main reason for attending BlogWest – to learn about pitches and how to find writing gigs. Turns out, I knew most of it already. Now I just need to find the time to follow through. (Hello, day job. Suck it.)

3. I’m just not in it for the money. We all had to come up with our REASON for blogging. Our WHY. Why do I spend so much of my time thinking about my online presence, crafting blog posts in my head and engaging with strangers on the Internet? The most I came up with is “My name is Laura” and “I am from Newfoundland,” but neither of them really answer the question.
Why do you blog? Because my name is Laura!
While I met another awesome Laura and one cool Laurie, I bet neither of them blog just because they are from Newfoundland. So I’m going to keep working on that. Which is a very nice segue into…

4. I have a brand. I do! And it’s not just those snazzy puffins at the top of this page. It’s my voice and my identity – what you will take away from just a few moments on my site. Newfoundland plays a big role in who I am, so understandably it is part of my brand, but what else? And Why? Because I like Alberta an awful lot too, but the common denominator is Canadian rural living, and that’s something I find missing in many parenting books and magazines. And as Natasha wisely pointed out, parenting is what I do right now, so obviously my blog will reflect that. So, why do I blog? To talk about rural Newfoundland parenting, and connect with other natural rural and urban parents, and smart people in general. What’s my brand then? Natural, rural parenting with a big dose of practical reality thrown in (like living in the oil patch, when our hearts are in Bonavista Bay).

5. Ain’t no strangers no more.
A few weeks ago I was talking (on the phone!) to a friend who reads my blog occasionally. (She is actually my long-distance training partner, and would make a fine blogger if she ever put her mind to it. Bonus! she could join the Laura/Laurie/Lora/Lauren name club!) She mentioned it, and said “I saw one of your friends had commented…” And I jumped in and said “Oh she’s not my friend, she’s just someone who reads my blog.”

I SHOULD BE SO STUPID!

(Look at how fast the Internet moves! Just LOOK at it! Six weeks ago I was a naive babe in the woods, and now I’m all over Twitter and have Internet peeps!)

Obviously my readers and commenters are my friends! Even ones I’ve never met in person! Yeesh. And it’s not just because I got to shake hands and trade business cards with a ton of people that I’ll now call them friends – it’s because I learned that my online life and my offline life are not mutually exclusive. It’s all just Real Life. Embrace it.

6. Results.
Tonight, I watched a CTV Edmonton segment on how online parenting networks are a great way to counteract baby blues or postpartum depression. It starred Kristin, of Momstown Edmonton South. At BlogWest, I gave Kristin and her sister Janine the inside scoop on how editors read press releases. My advice was certainly not the reason Momstown got airtime, but it was SO COOL to feel like part of it, and from the other side of the recorder and notebook this time.

7. Traditional Media and Blogging don’t always get along.
I missed the lively discussion on the Wild West of online reporting, but let me add my two cents here: In my (offline) job, I use social media every single day. Trad media? Y’all had better catch up!

So! That was BlogWest! Actually, that was just a teeny tiny part of BlogWest, you can read a whole lot more here, courtesy of Tamara Stecyk. I just realized there’s a bunch more posts up, so I’ll be doing some reading right along with you.

I also got the sense that Blogrolls aren’t in anymore. Can anybody fill me in on this? Because I love scrolling through rolls of other bloggers. I also want to link up more of the fabulous blogs I discovered at BlogWest, and I thought updating my lackluster Blogroll would be the best way to do that. So watch for that in the next few days.

One big reason to stop scorning safety

I was all set to re-cap my time at BlogWest, but then I hopped on Twitter and was not so subtlety reminded that today is the third anniversary of the Cougar flight 491 helicopter Crash in Newfoundland.

So BlogWest is going to have to wait.

I can’t believe it’s been three whole years. I was on the road for work that day, driving along the Route 235 on the Bonavista Peninsula when my work cell rang. It was my father, wondering if I had heard anything about a helicopter crash. Because I was (am) in the news biz, he thought I might have some knowledge. I didn’t, but I had an address book full of phone numbers of people who might. Because I was in a spotty area for cell service, I called my colleague at the office, and had him call the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre out of Halifax, the centre that handles all aircraft searched on Canada’s East Coast. Word quickly filtered back that yes, there had been a crash at sea, and no, there were no more details forthcoming at that time.

It didn’t take long, though.

18 people on board.
One survivor.

Months of accusations and enquiries and settlements. And now three years later, still 17 people dead and just one survivor.

I’m not old enough to remember the Ocean Ranger disaster, though I knew the story of course. A drilling rig capsized off the coast of Newfoundland during a winter storm in 1982, killing all 84 people on board.

So now I’m in Alberta, sending my other half into the oil patch every day. I know ocean storms and helicopter gear boxes have been removed from the equation, but the pursuit of oil still offers very real risk.

People, these are dangerous occupations. Wear your hard hats, your H2S monitors and your steel-toed boots. And look out for yourself.

I can’t change the world’s dependance on oil, nor do I think other energy sources would be any less hazardous. But I can remind people to slow down and stay safe, because there are other people waiting for you to come home every night.

HANDmade in China

There’s a lot in the news this week about Apple products being made in China. Why this surprises anyone, I’m not sure. From there, we’re hearing about everything made overseas, outsourcing Canadian and American designs to foreign factories where workers are paid a pittance, bent over assembly lines for long hours.

I’m not sure why the western world has decided to pick this particular bone this week, but I do know it’s about time the first world took a long hard look at our buying habits.

And yet, I’m going to wade into the debate with my own small experience.

Tarnishing all Made In China products with the same black brush really gets my dander up.

Here’s why:

My favourite belt and my only wallet were both made in China, each in a different way but both in ways that make me proud to wear and carry them every day.

I met the woman who made the wallet in her small shop on a Beijing street. None of her products suited me as they were, but I loved her felt wallets and purses. So I placed an order (a commission?) through a series of hand gestures and primitive sketches and the interpretive help of my friend Claire. I chose the red and maroon felt, the magnetic clasp, and even had it sized to Canadian bills. We came back the next afternoon to pay her, and pick up the wallet and a few other odds and ends we chose from her shop. My Christmas tree is decorated each year with a few of her wares as well.

My wallet was made in China, and I’m proud to unfold it multiple times a day. I’m always happy to tell the story when people admire it (as they often do).

Next up, my belt. Also a daily accessory, I wear it mostly in jeans, but sometimes over shirts and dresses and even once on Sylvia a few months ago to fashion a makeshift outfit when I forgot a spare.

If my belt were made by a less-scrupulous company, it would be the kind of product that would try to dupe you by claiming it was designed in Canada. But no, Flatter:Me is owned by a very responsible businesswoman who wants to change that terrible Made In China sweatshop stigma.

Claire, (the same one who translated my wallet order four years ago) launched Flatter:Me in 2011. The belts are all sewn by hand, by talented and fairly-compensated employees in Shanghai. (You can read the story here: The Flatter:Me story – and while you’re there, buy a belt!)

Not everything made in China is done so by child sweatshop labour. It’s not about checking for a Made In China label and leaving it on the shelf, but rather checking your facts to making better choices.

Hopefully, this latest media storm inspires a few people to do just that.