Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tell me a story without an ending.

I have happily spent this summer devouring fiction and memoirs, a veritable deluge of stories. Morton, Flynn, Graham, Hunt, Moriarty, Worth, Picoult, Green, Niffenegger; love and loss, murder and mystery, birth and paper towns and secrets and time travel. Each one has been delicious as it sinks into my marrow, my very being, in a way that no instructing or soap-boxing or arguing ever could.

The stories become part of me, and through them I come to better know the heart and soul of humanity.

* * *

I've become weary of conclusions.

How I Quit Sugar For Good

10 Steps to Stop Yelling

5 Products You Need Today

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

50 Ways to Make Summer Memorable

How _______ Changed My Life for Good

Conclusions, all of them. The last page of people's stories. The ending, the final thoughts, the lesson. They're tidy and clean and instructive and often quite lovely...but I'm feeling burnt out on lovely. What happened to the middle part, the long messy twisting journey that preceded the arrival?



What do I want? I want unfinished. Unpolished. I don't want the conclusion or the lesson or the ten-point how-to. I want the adventure, not the destination. The mess, not the polished finale. How about a bit of uncertainty? Some loops back to try again? And what of dreams still far off, not just the ones coming true now?

I want to read more than the last chapter of the book, where everything comes neatly together and Happily Ever After begins. I could do with less outrage and certainty and cynicism, more questioning and wondering and wonder. A story without an ending.

* * *

Stories are what make us unique. Even computers can't do it. Just us, just people, telling our stories to each other and down through the generations. They endure. They help us to see one another - not labels and divisions and boxes, but one another. Not judgement, but compassion and understanding. Not lines in the sand, but hearts and souls that are so much more like our own than we ever before realized.

Tell me a story. Just the beginning, the middle, the cross-road, the climax, the wherever-you-are along the path. The end of that particular road will come in time, and there will be other roads that begin, so many of them, branches and twists and forks and where next? Snippets from the journey, that's what I want. I'm tired of only hearing the endings.

Tell me an unfinished story.

* * *

Once upon a yesterday...

I splashed boiling water on my 40-weeks-pregnant belly and damn, did that hurt. I fell straight asleep that night and woke up in the morning still waiting, waiting, for that 40 week baby to arrive. And in the waiting there was boredom, jumpiness, a bit of anxiety and impatience alongside the anticipation.

Perhaps tomorrow there will be more to tell.

And perhaps not.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

This hot and sticky summer

This summer has been hot days and cold iced tea, week after week, as we make our last memories as a family of five and prepare to become six. And what treasured memories they have been...

Reading poems to the kids as we drive along the dark highway, breaking up the arguments and the he-touched-me's with some Roald Dahl and A. A. Milne and whatever else I could find on my phone.

Going to sleep smelling like a campfire and waking up eager for that one-dollar five-minute shower. New friends at the campground and new words brought back to the tent and new freedoms as they head off to play some more while we try (again) to get the campfire to stay lit. Hiking, museums, and dinosaurs (oh my).


The boy's first time getting lost in the neighbourhood, and remaining calm while walking fast and then relief and hugs and dried tears and reassuring words. And then a printed map and a review and trying again and sweet success. Swim lessons and ice skating lessons, badges and goals.


Weeding the garden again and again (and again and again and) the way it becomes one more reminder of the inner weed-yanking that must happen endlessly within me. Fresh carrots eaten daily, green tops strewn around the yard by children with more pressing matters to attend to than keeping the yard tidy: playing soccer, riding bikes, drinking cold water from the tap.


Cherry stained fingers and boxes of blueberries, handfuls snatched by hungry children every time they walk by. Blueberry jam spread on toast, jars of it stored for future less bountiful months.

A certain baby girl's second birthday, with balloons and chocolate zucchini cake and gifts and a new birthday skirt, elastic still safety pinned together at the back because she won't take it off long enough for me to finish the waist. A new backpack and a beautiful Oma-made quilt and puzzles and joy and celebration and singing, all for this delightful child.


A new van and a borrowed bassinet and soft lambskin and tiny clothes, all in preparation for the newest little one, any day now. Waiting. Waiting.

Good moments and bad moments all jumbled together, grace and impatience and apologies and naps and love and laughter and tears. Every day a bit of everything, messy but mostly good, I think.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

On not writing

Half-written stories sit unshared because they have no tidy beginning or ending. They're just snippets, really, but I can't stop myself from writing them.

For as long as I can remember, I have narrated my life. Often I narrated in the third person, which drove me crazy but my brain just wouldn't stop, wouldn't stop silently telling the story of my life back to myself. Even the most mundane details ran through my head in story form:

"She headed to the bathroom, emptied her bladder, wondered once again how many squares of toilet paper the average female used afterwards. It irritated her not to know - is she typical? efficient? wasteful? With all the ridiculous studies out there, has no one bothered to study this?"

As though my trips to the bathroom needed narration. Or my choice of breakfast cereal. Or the things I noticed as I wandered through the halls at school. As though anything in my quiet average life even warranted narration.

Even as a little girl, both the narration and the annoyance with the narration were there in my head:

"She sat down with her Barbies, trying to decide which storyline to act out today...Oh STOP, just let me play!"

And then - then! - the most irritating of all, when I would third-person narrate my annoyance with the running stream of third-person narration:

"Why couldn't she turn it off? Why couldn't she just wash her hands or observe an interaction or pay the cashier without her brain mentally writing it down, as though she isn't already aware of what she herself is currently doing? Maddening! Infuriating! And most of all, unbelievably annoying."

I remember spending weeks trying to at least shift to a first-person narrative. I was a teenager by then, already in love with writing. I had my pen-and-paper diaries, my online diary, my secret poems that I have never shared with anyone because somehow I find poetry to be the most intimate of all forms of writing. There were stories for English class - one particularly dark one was passed around by friends and classmates, my quiet shy self enjoying a bit of attention for a few days. Even essays were a pleasure to write, choosing just the right words, transitioning from paragraph to paragraph, topic to topic, presenting my arguments and sources and oh, it was satisfying.

I did manage, at last, to get rid of the third person in my head. That first-person narration continues, though, and tiny blog posts continually draft themselves without my permission. Even when I'm not writing, I'm never really not writing.

It feels good to let those words out, but sometimes it feels better to simply keep them to myself. Let the story write itself, silent and unshared, and hope that the words will still be there when I'm old and sifting through memories of the past.

Onward we go, ever onward, as the story unfolds around us.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Evening for one

They've been going to sleep well, these kids, a mercy after long days of skating and swimming and errands. And dinner, why does it have to come every night? Odd how the simple act of eating can cause such mental exhaustion - choosing, cooking, cajoling, cleaning. I'm ready to put myself to bed after all that.

But I don't. They tidy their toys and eat their snack and brush their teeth. I read to them about Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson ("I think she's the meanest person ever!", they exclaim). At last I put them to bed and then I stay up too late playing spider solitaire while listening to sappy love songs. It's kind of pathetic but it's nice, too.

Eventually the satisfaction of lining up all the cards just so wears off, so I close the computer and read for the next hour (or two or three) instead. I'm going to regret this in the morning, I know.

When it gets too late to justify just one more chapter, I head to the boys' bedroom where they're both sound asleep. The preschooler looks like an angel, as he always does when he's sleeping (perhaps simply by virtue of it being the only time he's quiet, ever), while the long and lanky boy is sprawled out, arms grazing the floor, like a gangly teenager who doesn't quite fit into his bed anymore. I want to leave them both sleeping peacefully where they are, save my arms and my back the effort of carrying them down the hall and depositing them on my bed, where they proceed to squirm around and kick me all night long. I promised them, though, and a promise is a promise, so my arms and back and I suck it up and move them into my bed. The oldest startles when I lay him down, swinging out his hand and catching me square in the bridge of the nose. This must be my thanks, I think sardonically, for keeping my word.

They ask to join me every night when their dad is out of town. Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I insist on a night of sound sleep by myself. I don't know if they sense, like me, the emptiness that seems to pervade the house when he's not here at night, even with the four (and a half) of us still remaining, or if they simply like to take advantage of the chance to snuggle back into the bed they each slept on until they were kicked out by the next baby, one after the other. Baby girl got kicked out early, though; maybe these kids are just preparing me again for the extra space I'll lose when Baby Number Four arrives to fill it.

I re-read the recipe for the lentil, carrot, and potato hash I have planned for tomorrow evening's dinner, jotting down the items I need to pick up. The kids are likely to complain, but I'm thoroughly tired of the various combinations of sandwiches, soup, and breakfast food that we eat so often when it's just us. What else...blood test tomorrow (oh boy). The boy's swim bag is by the front door; the preschooler's skates and warm clothes are in the trunk. Everything's ready, I just need to convince myself to turn out the light and go to sleep.

I suppose now's as good a time as any. Good night, world.


Just writing along with the EO...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Missing him

I'm tired. Combine pregnancy with The Cold That Will Not Die, and it doesn't make for awesome sleep. So when she stood beside me asking up! up!, I really just wanted her to go find some toys and leave me to my coffee.

But she's feverish right now (this hasn't been a healthy week for the Hippie Household) and also adorable, so I picked her up anyway. She wrapped her arm around my neck (one-armed hugs only from this little thumb-sucker) and how many times have I missed such moments because I want just five minutes to drink my coffee or please, I just don't want to be touched for a moment or can't you see I'm trying to have a bit of a nap?

But I didn't say no today and what a reward, to have her hug me so tightly for so long.

The husband left this morning, another two weeks on site before two weeks back here and then gone again. I'm mopey and melancholy and I wonder, often, how other wives feel as they say goodbye. Am I as whiny as I feel? Do they wave goodbye, see you in a while, no big deal? I have no idea. My dad never traveled; it's outside my paradigm and I don't like it one bit, this new reality. It just doesn't feel right when he's gone.

I'm the lucky one, though. How lonely can I be, really, when I get these one-armed hugs from my baby and sloppy kisses from my preschooler and late-night chats with my growing boy? When I wake up more mornings than not with three kids in my bed and a fourth one kicking inside?

Still, I feel his absence and I'm mopey and mostly unapologetic for being so. I feel aimless; I don't really know what to do. I just wander around Cleaning All The Things. I hadn't realized how many of our daily anchor points depend on him - his coming and going from work, our mealtimes (which are so much more casual when he's not here), our evenings together after the kids are in bed, a kiss good-night and again in the morning. Now so much of our daily rhythm feels fluid, optional, drifting.

There was a time when I wasn't so bothered by our being apart. I looked forward to being together again but I didn't particularly miss him in the meantime. It just was. Things are different now and maybe we just need to find our way back to the middle. Or maybe not, maybe this missing him is just fine.

And maybe that's just an odd thing to wonder about.


Just writing along with the EO...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Returning

There's something about returning home that feels like fresh air, even if the air itself is a bit stuffy after a couple of weeks away. The husband and I walk through each room, opening blinds and windows to release the heat and stuffiness. It's rewarding to see everything just the way we left it. The beds are neatly made, clean towels are waiting for that first oh-how-I-missed-you shower, and our pillows have never felt so deliciously comfortable as they do that night. Only the empty fridge needs to be taken care of.

I unpack suitcases and backpacks, storing the empty luggage until next time. It's satisfying to put everything in it's proper place again. I start the laundry and empty the dishwasher before beginning the next day's grocery list. The kids are rediscovering all their favourite toys while the husband and I enjoy the quiet of our own separate activities, introverts recharging after all that travelling and visiting.

We haven't yet lived in this house for a year, but as soon as we stepped inside, the husband noted that it felt like home. The boy declared that he likes to be home the best, and I agree with the both of them. Being here just feels right.

The garden has grown beautifully in our absence - both the vegetables and the weeds. I'll take care of the weeds first and then we'll plant some more. We'll get back into our small routines of mealtimes and bedtimes and read-alouds and the rest. There's a midwife appointment marked on the calendar for next week; it feels grounding, somehow, that small square of evidence that we're returning to our daily lives, business as usual.

Ah. It's good to be home again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Encouraging Young Children to Write

Today's guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.com. Having two enthusiastic young storytellers in my home (and a third who's well on her way to becoming quite the storyteller herself), I love the tips and resources Nikolas shares to encourage that delight to persist as they grow older.

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Young children want to tell stories. They want to tell us about the things they've seen, especially if they're discovering it for the first time. If they experience something that they enjoy, they especially want to share that joy with others. As they grow, many of them carry that love of storytelling into a love of reading. And, while it would be wonderful if this love of reading and writing continued into later years, that's not often the case. Unfortunately, when most children reach junior high or high school age, they're forced to read and write, and because of this, they tend to lose their love of stories. Reading and writing become additional chores, which they have to do alongside solving math problems and cleaning the kitchen. How, then, can we encourage our children to maintain this love going into these later years? By taking that early desire to tell stories and fostering it, encouraging them to view their world through words and express their imagination. Doing so will help them understand the power of words and, hopefully, develop a love of writing as they grow older.

So, how do we do all of that? The easiest way is to just take some time to tell stories with your young children. When they want to tell you about this thing they discovered outside, don't just half-listen, responding periodically with a “uh-huh.” Engage yourself in their story. Ask them questions. Encourage them to further think about how to express themselves.

Participating in your child's storytelling doesn't have to stop with listening to their experiences. Take them out to the park and look for stuff to tell stories about. If you see a squirrel, ask your child what he or she thinks that squirrel does when it's not in the park. Does it go home to its own squirrel family and watch squirrel cartoons on a tiny TV? While it may seem silly, doing this will encourage your child to engage his or her imagination and express what he or she is thinking.

As your child grows older, it may become fun to work with him or her to get his or her stories down on paper. In my work for Grammarly, I research how people are writing and what tools they're using to improve their skills. I can tell you that there are a number of online resources that will not only encourage you and your child to write together, but also help them create a visually fun and engaging storybook.

  • ArtisanCam's “Picture Book Maker” is one of the most basic ways you can begin. It provides all of the scenery and character art, allowing you and your child to compose the pictures on the page and write the words below. When the picture book is complete, you can then save it to a gallery and email a link to one or two friends or family members. In doing this, your child is not only getting a chance to share his or her story with you, but with others, which can be further encouragement to continue storytelling.
  • “My Storymaker” is similar, in that it provides the artwork for you and your child to compose a picture book. It differs from ArtisanCam, however, in its complexity. “My Storymaker” allows you to insert other objects into the scene, and even animate characters as they interact with those objects or other characters. As you make selections, “My Storymaker” will write many of the sentences for you.
  • “Little Bird Tales” takes the complexity even further by allowing you to upload your child's own artwork to build the picture book. You and your child can then write the story below, and even record your voices narrating that story.

Taking some time to foster a love of storytelling within your children can go a long way to maintaining that love into their later years. And, as they grow older, they may want to continue telling their own stories and further developing their writing skills. When this happens, it's important to help them develop a stronger understanding of some of the more specific grammar lessons. The grammar check at Grammarly can be a great way to do that. It will take any chunk of text and check it for over 250 grammar rules. This can be an easy way to catch basic mistakes, helping young writers develop solid writing skills.

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Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children's novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.