Marching on

March 1
Nope, no daffodils here.

I woke to a light dusting of snow this morning, delicately covering the muck and grit and frozen mud-puddles that make my usually straightforward  trek to and from the bus stop an extreme adventure.  The snow was just enough to render the icy patches even more treacherous than usual by virtue of being invisible. It was not enough to render the filthy sand-encrusted snowbanks any more lovely.


Yesterday was the vernal equinox. Where I live, however, it’s hard to get excited about that date as the start of spring. Here we are secretly just celebrating the fact that we are getting closer to the end of March.  I am convinced that T.S. Eliot wrote “April is the cruelest month” only because he never spent March in Manitoba.

March 3
To cross or not to cross?


The return journey at the end of the day is treacherous in different ways. By then it has warmed up just enough to turn the ice into murky pools, many of which are too large to be legitimately called puddles but not quite large enough to warrant naming as major bodies of water.  As the snow subsides, revealing the roadside litter of car parts leftover from incautious winter drivers, the pavement deteriorates into a minefield of axle-busting potholes and the occasional newsworthy sinkhole.

March 2As you might have guessed, I am not a fan of March. I will take a nice definitive snow storm over this waffle-weather any day. (I should acknowledge that in late March that snow storm is still a very real possibility!) March in my home town is a meteorological guessing game. March does bad things to good shoes and makes getting dressed to leave the house a sort of game show in which you are guaranteed never to choose the right door– or in this case, the right coat.March 4

It doesn’t help that where I work March is also year-end, with all the stress and silliness that always seems to entail. Even when I worked elsewhere, March was always a particularly wearying month. Either I unconsciously gravitate to career options with major March issues, or March itself is the issue.

For me, personally, I know that a big part of my problem with March is that its peculiar weather patterns and filthy sidewalks still evoke somatic memories of the March my father passed away. It has been nearly three decades, but grief etches itself into muscle memory and neural pathways in ways that continue to awe me. Conveniently, March is also when the Canadian Cancer Society holds it’s annual daffodil fundraiser.

In March in Manitoba, you take your spring where you can get it, even if the best you can muster fits in a coffee mug on the corner of your desk.



Campfire Stories: Childhood Arthritis


When I tell people that I was two years old when my arthritis was originally diagnosed, the reaction is usually shock. In this era of everything-we-want-to-know-at-our-fingertips, I am surprised by how many people still don’t realize that arthritis is a disease that can afflict all ages. In fact, according to the Arthritis Society Website  “it is estimated that as many as 24,000 Canadian children aged 18 and under live with a form of arthritis.”

Yesterday I attended a fundraising luncheon hosted by the Manitoba chapter of the Arthritis Society. The goal of the luncheon was to raise funds for Childhood Arthritis Camp—an initiative that has been around in other parts of the country for a while and, thanks to the generosity of many donors, will be happening in this region for the first time this July.

One of the features of the luncheon was the opportunity to meet a group of young ambassadors—kids living with Childhood Arthritis—who openly and articulately share their stories to offer a glimpse into the impact of this disease on their lives. These are kids who are dealing with daily pain, mobility challenges, physiotherapy, fatigue, and some pretty heavy-duty drugs. I know what they are living, because I’ve lived it. But they are also kids who play hockey and basketball, who take dance lessons and gym class, and who are really excited about going to camp with other kids who comprehend the unique challenges they face.

Fifty years ago, I would have given anything to know another child with arthritis. There was no Arthritis Camp in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was navigating school with an invisible disability that no one seemed to understand.

My primary school music teacher clearly did not understand how painful it was for me to sit cross-legged on the cold, tile floor for the duration of music period.

My elementary school teachers clearly did not understand how the practice of inviting students to “pick teams” for a gym activity can quickly become a form of teacher-sanctioned bullying.

My junior high gym teacher clearly did not understand that there were better ways to accommodate my limitations than relegating me to the bench.

To this day, I feel a residual discomfort in school gymnasiums, and I avoid any sort of team-based physical activity because I carry the deeply ingrained assumption that I will be a liability.

A different camp, but with the same powerful potential for community. My own kid is in this huddle, not wanting to tear herself away.

I’m fortunate to have had five decades of good medical care, and no shortage of good friends. And I did go to camp. But I have never had a community in which I could look around and see my experience of living with childhood arthritis reflected back in the experiences of my peers. I envy these kids that, even more than I envy them the huge leaps in medical research and awareness that have occurred in the past 50+ years.

My parents didn’t have the benefit of that community either. Which is why I made a point of introducing myself to the mom of one young ambassador. Why I took the time to tell her that, just like her son, I was a toddler when I was diagnosed. And that here I was now— A successful professional. A parent. A happy and healthy adult with my arthritis well-managed and having minimal impact on my day-to-day existence.

One thing I’ve learned from living a story that others didn’t always understand is the importance of telling that story. And telling it again. And again.

Telling it, so the people who have never lived that story can grow to understand. And telling it so the ones who are living it will know that they are not alone.


Do you have a story that someone needs to hear?


For more information about Childhood Arthritis Camp, or to donate, click here.





Imagine your house is on fire. All of the people and pets are safely out, and you have time to save only one item from your room. What do you take, and why?

I might have been in grade five or six when we were given this writing assignment. Even at the time I thought it was a weird question to ask. If my house was truly on fire I am not certain I would have the presence of mind to think through which of my possessions was most important to me. Maybe that was the point of the assignment—a sort of mental dress rehearsal so that, in the unfortunate event that my house DID burn down, I would know what to grab.

But because I know people who really have lost everything in house fires, there’s something about the writing prompt that makes me uncomfortable. I tried looking around at my stuff today and asking myself “what would I save?” The only thing that came to mind wasn’t even mine—I thought if I really did have to grab something quickly I might go for my daughter’s Envirothon trophy—in part because of what it represents, and in part because I have been entrusted with keeping it safe while she is away at school.

The truth is, the older I get, the less sentimental I am about things. Sure, I have things that are special because of the people and the memories with which they are associated. But it’s ultimately the people and the memories that are important to me—not so much the thing itself.

I’ve been thinking about my attachments to things this week, because I let go the biggest thing I owned—my car.

It had more hubcaps when I bought it.

I’ve never been one to anthropomorphize my cars by naming them, but this decision did feel in some ways like saying goodbye to an old friend. I bought the car new in 2003, and, over the 14 ½ years I drove it, accumulated a lot of memories.

That car carried me through a divorce and three house moves. It travelled east as far as Toronto, west as far as Lethbridge and south to Minneapolis. It started up reliably even when parked outside through a Winnipeg deep freeze and negotiated a lot of Friday night highway traffic in pursuit of summer weekends. It hauled tons of holiday groceries down the highway and up the gravel road to the boat landing. It ferried kids to many camps and home from many late-night parties. The back-seat upholstery is deeply infused with banana loaf and goldfish cracker crumbs. And the duct tape anchoring the side mirror to the door has withstood several winters.

I taught both kids to drive in that car—one of the single-parenting accomplishments of which I am most proud. The kids, in turn—both excellent drivers—have subsequently had the opportunity to acquire their own set of memories at the wheel of that car.

It is my eldest, in fact, who will have the dubious honor of remembering the smoking engine.

As I cleared out the crumpled roadmaps and dusty window scrapers in preparation for relinquishing my too-broken car, I found myself conjuring specific car memories. The time the tire blew and I was stranded on the Trans-Canada with my daughter and her friend. The time the garage door narrowly missed falling on the hood of the car. All the times I got stuck in the snow, and all the friends and strangers who helped me out. The cherished opportunities to get to know my children’s friends, because I was the mom who would drive.

The time we loaded it up with everything my youngest needed to embark on her first year in residence. How anxious I was about the prospect of driving it 2,000 km back all alone, and how thrilled I was to have done it. So thrilled that the next summer I drove off in the opposite direction on another solo road trip, just because now I knew I could.

But in the end a car is just a thing—and in this case, a thing no longer worth rescuing from the “fire.” Even my solo summer road trip was important more because of the people that were at the end of the journey than because of the car that took me there. On reflection, all of my most cherished car-memories are really about people—the people I was driving with, or away from, or towards.



Making it look easy

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of master associated with being a world-class expert—in anything, “writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

– Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Canada’s favorite skating pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir scored Olympic gold again. I’m not much for watching sports, but I find something captivating about the blend of technical athleticism and artistry that is ice dancing. I watch them with some degree of dissonance between my rational awareness that they have invested hours and months and years in grueling preparation to get to this moment, and the perception-in-the-moment that they make it look easy.

I can’t skate. Not because I lacked opportunity to learn. I had ice skates as a kid. I even lived a short walk from a duck pond that was converted to a public rink every winter. I recall going skating with my family periodically. I managed to stagger around the ice with sufficient coordination to survive my cousin’s childhood birthday parties and the occasional winter sports day in elementary school. My one disastrous roller rink experience is proof of my failure to transfer whatever minimal ice skating skills I did acquire.

The last time I remember being on ice skates was in university. It was an outing of a student group I belonged to – at that very duck pond I had skated on as a child. I remember that for a fleeting moment I actually felt like I was getting the hang of it. I was just starting to progress from a cautious shuffle to something resembling a glide and thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I actually put some effort into it, I could someday get to a point where I would be comfortable on skates. Then I wiped out.

I’m willing to bet that Scott and Tessa have fallen a thousand times each for every time I ever laced up a pair of skates. In fact, as I learned in this lovely TED Talk, Tessa fought her way back up onto the ice several times after painful injuries and multiple surgeries and had to relearn much of her technique to accommodate her overtaxed muscles. If you’re going to do anything for ten thousand hours you’re going to have plenty of opportunities to do it badly before you get to the point where you can do it well.

Still, even if I had persisted with skating to some level of mastery, it is unlikely my arthritic knees would ever had taken me to an Olympic podium. I don’t really think that’s how the principle of ten thousand hours of practice works. I don’t think that you can just pick something at random and become a world-class expert on the sole basis of logging rehearsal hours. As Levitin suggests, not all practice is created equal. Plus, there has to be a place in the mix for that mysterious quality we call talent.

I don’t know for sure if I’ve spent ten thousand hours writing throughout my lifetime, but I expect I have come close. Do I think of myself as a “world-class expert writer?” Absolutely not! There are lots of writing spins and jumps left for me to master, if only I can manage to carve out enough hours on the “practice rink.” I suppose that’s one reason for my return to blogging.

When I listen to Scott and Tessa speak, I am struck more than anything with how comfortable they are with their expertise. They have proven themselves the best at what they do, and in talking about their accomplishments there is no hint of either boastfulness or false modesty. They know what they are good at, they know how hard they worked to get good at it, and they own it.

Unlike ice dance, writing is not typically a spectator sport, but once in a while my work places me in boardrooms with large screens, essentially writing for an audience. I was helping someone write something at work earlier this week and, as sometimes happens, there was a moment when I was able to take a cluster of complicated sentences and render them into a single clear statement. As also sometimes happens, someone commented on my skill. When this happens, I’m always surprised that I have, in that moment, taken this thing that I continue to  work so hard to master, and somehow made it look easy.


lazarus-plant.jpgI am not in the habit of naming plants. But this one has earned a banner.

I’m plant-sitting this winter. My sister’s family began the process of putting their house on the market in mid-October just before winter descended, and the plants came to visit as part of the decluttering/ house-staging operation. Since the house sale and subsequent move dragged on into the heart of the Winnipeg winter, the plants are here to stay until spring when Mother Nature finally renders it safe to transport them outside.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing nursemaid to Lazarus, who arrived at my door as one withered leaf dwarfed by an enormous pot. It’s a plant with some sentimental significance to my brother-in-law, and so I was entreated by my sister to see if it could be salvaged.

I would like to be able to say that I performed some clever acts of horticultural wizardry, but the truth is Lazarus was stuck randomly near a nice big window, and watered generously once a week. Maybe it just needed a change of scenery. For what ever reason, it’s back, and growing.

I’m back too, after a blog hiatus of over two years. I have no intention of boring you with a lot of excuses reasons for my long silence. Let’s just say I needed a change of scenery.

I’ve celebrated my return with a new look for the blog. Bear with me, because it’s still a bit of a work in progress.

As am I. Because one of the reasons I will acknowledge for my long hiatus is that the things I want to write about are changing. Maybe not drastically– I’m still me, after all. But just as Lazarus is essentially a whole new plant sprouting from an old root, I’ve been growing some new metaphorical foliage of my own. “Turning over new leaves,” as it were.

Stick around if you want to watch me bloom.


fireworksI don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions. Well, not officially. To be honest I’m always making resolutions. The only thing special about the New Year’s ones is the timing. The fact is, I am constantly making myself promises I fail to keep. I will eat less cheese and more salad. I will spend more time walking and less time on FaceBook. I will accomplish some great project instead of frittering away the evening watching YouTube.

You know how it goes. Really, the only resolution that I should ever make is to stop making myself unrealistic promises. But that, ironically, would just be an unrealistic promise.

So tonight, as I prepared to flip the calendar page to a new year, I decided it was time to rethink the whole resolution thing. Time to write some resolutions that will last past the first week of February. Time to get real.

So here goes. In 2016:

  1. I will screw up lots. I will make less-than-perfect decisions and do things that annoy my children and my co-workers. It won’t be for want of trying to get it right, but because I’m human. And that’s just fine.
  2. I will want some things I can’t have, get some things I didn’t know I wanted, and in general end up with what I need, even though I don’t always know what that is until I have it.
  3. I will learn new things about myself and work really hard at trying to put those things into the words I need to explain them to those around me.
  4. I will try to wear shoes that make my feet happy.
  5. I will eat too much dark chocolate and not regret it. Because actually, is there such a thing as too much dark chocolate?
  6. I will read great books, and feel like I should read more.
  7. I will visit with great friends, and feel like I should spend more time with them.
  8. I will write, and it will never feel like enough.
  9. I will keep resolving to make changes, both small and large.
  10. I will only succeed at making some of these changes, but I will keep resolving the others over and over nonetheless. And that, too, is because I’m human, and is also just fine.

And life will continue to be all the surprising and astonishing and mostly wonderful things that happen while I am stubbornly and naively making other plans.

Happy New Year!

Fifty (plus) Things of Happy: an exercise in Gratitude for the Longest Night

I owe this post to the inspiration of one of my favourite bloggers, Fish of Gold. The instructions for this challenge are as follows:

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list (the timer doesn’t matter for filling in the instructions, intro, etc). The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! (OK I confess my time may have been a bit off the 10 minutes because I was interrupted in the middle, but you get the idea…)

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at Tales From The Motherland  3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2016. After that date, no blogs can be added.

Please note that only blog posts that include a list of 50 (or an attempt to write 50) things that made you feel Happy or 50 things that you are Grateful for, will be included. Please don’t add a link to a post that isn’t part of this exercise; I will remove it. Aside from that one caveat, there is no such thing as too much positivity. Share your happy thoughts, your gratitude; help us flood the blogosphere with both.

In latter years, I have begun to feel the cosmic turning point of the winter solstice as a more fitting start for the “new year” that the arbitrary turning of the calendar page that takes place on January 1st. The solstice is, after all, nature’s new year. The day the days begin to lengthen towards the spring. It has been so unseasonably warm here this fall that it seems a bit odd to think of the days returning when we have scarcely gotten started on winter, but still it is nice to look forward to the day when we don’t both arrive at and depart from work in darkness.

When I came across this challenge on Fish of Gold’s blog this evening, it seemed like a fitting way to mark the turning of the sun towards a new year.

So here I go with my list of things that made me happy in 2015.

  1. helpful catDark chocolate
  2. Raspberries
  3. My kids
  4. My sisters
  5. My mom
  6. All my nieces and nephews.
  7. The rest of my amazing and slightly wacky extended family.
  8. My cat, even if she is evil incarnate.
  9. forestWalking.
  10. Trees
  11. Walking in the trees.
  12. Listening to my sister sing.
  13. Writing—just about anything.
  14. Young adult science fiction. Yes, really.
  15. Anything at all by Margaret Atwood.
  16. school booksTeaching teachers.
  17. Making collages.
  18. Making pie.
  19. Making chocolate chip banana muffins for my niece.
  20. My sister’s Facebook statuses.
  21. My other sister’s impromptu dinner parties.
  22. The call of a loon.
  23. Any body of water larger than a mudpuddle.
  24. Houseplants that don’t ask a lot of me.
  25. Creative coworkers.
  26. A manager who makes things happen so that I can get things done.
  27. Good butter chicken.
  28. Coffee with a good friend.
  29. Lunch with a good friend.
  30. Dinner with a good friend.
  31. Heck, just all the good friends. Old and new.
  32. Brilliant musical theatre.
  33. The sense of accomplishment I felt from driving all the way home from Toronto by myself.
  34. red bootCousins.
  35. Small indulgences.
  36. Red wine with spinach pizza. (see above.)
  37. Anything that involves Feta cheese.
  38. Not having lymphoma (long story!)
  39. My artificial hip.
  40. Jeans that fit.
  41. Red boots.
  42. Shedding my mortgage.
  43. Rocking chairs. Just in general.
  44. Did I mention trees?
  45. And water?
  46. And trees by the water?
  47. My favourite black shirt.
  48. Tattoos.
  49. backClassic videos on YouTube.
  50. Used bookstores.
  51. The full moon on a clear night.

Happy Solstice!