Author: melanie

What we are reading lately.

I love Fridays. I love Mondays too because the girls all go back to school and I can get back to a routine. But I also love Fridays because the girls don’t come home until 12:30 – and even though they have the afternoon off, that time difference gives me almost an extra hour to myself.

This extra time means I can tell you about this book series we are currently reading:

The Wells & Wong Mysteries by Robin Stevens. (Series is called Murder Most Unladylike outside of North America.) Agatha Christie-esque middle grade detectives set in the 1930s. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends who attend boarding school together. Moira and Fionnuala are loving these. So much so that I find I’m reading long after my throat has gotten sore. Also, they couldn’t wait for me to finish Poison is Not Polite – which we were reading together – and they both read First Class Murder, the book that comes after it. Now we have finished Poison is Not Polite and I am being forced to skip to reading Jolly Foul Play aloud and read First Class Murder on my own. This is very frustrating when I like things to GO A CERTAIN WAY but I certainly can’t let my stick-up-the-bum-mommishness ruin their enthusiasm about a book series. In fact they are enjoying it so much that they are on the hunt for second hand copies for us to keep and to give away to friends.

Hazel Wong is Chinese. Her family is rich and from Hong Kong. Robins often touches on how Hazel is treated by 1930’s British society. Hazel considers herself a proper English girl – mostly: dad was educated at Eton after all. Her best friend Daisy Wells is from an old aristocratic family that have title but little money (by aristocratic standards – genteel poverty as opposed to real poverty). But of course it is Hazel who often gets mistaken as a servant. I’ve mentioned the series to a couple of friends whose daughters would like to see more representation of themselves in books. I don’t feel I am qualified to make a judgement whether this is well done or not from their point of view. I know we all love Hazel. She is the smart and astute Watson to Daisy’s Sherlock.

I’ve really been enjoying mysteries lately – whether they are genuine old mysteries of Ngiao Marsh and Agatha Christie or the more modern Lady Julia Grey series and Veronica Speedwell series of Deanna Reybourn. We have taken to getting older BBC Agatha Christie DVDs out of the library too (the ones staring Joan Hickson). So far I haven’t been able to play my favourite game “spot the Harry Potter actor” while watching any of them though.

All this mystery reading has me wondering if I could write a mystery novel for the girls but I have so many other things on my plate to finish first. I did what I set out to do this week – submit my completed (or as completed as I can get it at this time, is anything ever really finished?) picture book manuscript to an agent. Now I’m trying to put it out of my head for a while and work on other things.

Other things I am reading:

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen. This is in preparation for a trip I am taking in May when I hope to stop off in Corcord, MA.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I’m listening to this on audio while I knit (almost done the third owlet sweater). It’s unusual that I would watch something before reading it but I finished the TV series recently and wanted to know more. The book is answering a lot of questions.

Anyone else watch A Discovery of Witches on TV? And are you a Miss Marple or a Hercule Poirot fan? I’m a Marple fan.

Never gonna give you up

People every where are giving up things for Lent (which starts today). Various friends have told me they are giving up chips, chocolate, coffee. Moira asked me what I was giving up and I joked “swearing” which is an f**king lie and probably impossible anyway – although I am quite good at not swearing in front of my children.

My real answer to Moira was this: I feel like cancer has made me give up enough in this life.

I thought this year instead of giving up something for Lent I would add something. Except usually once I set myself a hyper-specific task like “you will blog every day for 40 days” my inner-rebel immediately starts looking for ways to sabotage my efforts. But as I try to build up a writing practice maybe this isn’t such a bad idea? Who says all blogging has to have something illuminating to say anyway? Sometime it can be just a brain dump. And I rarely talk about writing on here but maybe I should as a form of accountability. Maybe what I need for Lent is 40 days of accountability. Of course, it doesn’t have to be for Lent. I’m not even a Christian. But it is -24 degrees out right now and we know it will probably be 40 days before Spring really arrives so maybe this is my waiting-for-Spring project.

I’ve almost got my first children’s story ready for sending out on agent queries. I know that this is going to take a long time and I’m prepared for that, but the agent research is overwhelming. I keep wondering how I can make the story better but at this point I think changes can only come from the outside. It’s that first step that is so terrifying. But I will be happy to get it out there into the world so I can say I have done so and then put it aside for a couple months (waiting for the rejection letter) and move on to my next story – which is almost finished as well. I know rhyming stories are not popular in children’s literature these days but I don’t care. The second story is about a little girl who is a mathematician in a family of witches and I love it even if no one else ever wants to publish it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusivity in my writing lately too. How do I, as a cis-white woman, make my work accessible to all children? I think it is easier (for me) when writing picture books because I just provide the words. In the story that is going out to agents this week it is about a neighbourhood and, in my eyes, the possibilities for representation are endless – just like in a real neighbourhood. For my witch girl the same thing. I have given her a description because that is part of the rhyming scheme but the rest of her family and friends can be anything. My stories are usually about family or community dynamics with a twist – and every one has a family or a community (or they should). Once again I lament my lack of drawing skills because I can’t put my vision down on the page – but I can provide the words.

I find myself noticing that Representation Matters in little ways these days. A couple months ago one of my closest friends was in town visiting with her daughter. My friend is white, her husband’s family is from the Philippines. Their little girl was playing in our basement and found one of my daughters’ dolls that had pale skin and dark hair. She played with it for a while and then lost the doll (because honestly what she loved the most was the giant spider in our basement which she kept kissing and hugging and it was freaking adorable and I love her) . She picked up another doll, this one identical but with red hair – and stared at it for a moment and immediate threw it away and went looking for the dark haired doll – the doll that looked more like her. Subtle, but so important.

My babies (so many years ago) with their babies.

Also, I thought I would mention that Moira has trouble falling asleep a lot but lately I’ve had her listen to the Sleep Stories on the Calm app and it has been super helpful. Instead of going to bed worrying about how she isn’t going to fall asleep (and then keeping me awake because I’m worrying about how she can’t sleep – I never said she didn’t come by this problem honestly/genetically) she now looks forward to bedtime because she knows she gets a relaxing story. (In addition to me reading to them every night because I’m never gonna give that up.)

Have we reached peak parenting?

Current parenting win: I knit a sweater that a child is excited to wear. She even wore it to school this morning.

This morning I could hear Oonagh unloading the dishwasher while I was still laying in bed. She can’t reach the upper cupboards (even standing on a stool) so when it is her week to unload she leaves most of the dishes on the counter. However, when I came downstairs the dishes were all away which means one of her sisters helped her (it was Moira). The three girls were sitting at the table eating their breakfast and having a conversation as I sat all bleary from sleep and watched them. Then Moira announced it was time to get dressed and off they went.

This is not a typical morning.

Some days the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded until after school no matter how many times I ask. Some days getting dressed is a fight.

But not this morning. The goal, I found out later, was to get ready for school so they still had time to play The Game. We call this “The Game” because there is always a never ending game going on – the toys and rules are different but its always The Game. Sometimes when I tell Oonagh it is bed time she screams at me “but we haven’t finished The Game yet!” And I laugh at her because The Game is never finished.

Anyway, my girls are hilarious and I love how they play with each other. They fight a lot too and dynamics are changing as people get older and the oldest of them is heading into puberty. But compared to my early mommy writings on this blog the old adage “things will get easier” is so true.

Part of yesterday’s game consisted of a fashion show where they barely wore anything but these handknits given to us by a friend, it was -25 degrees outside. They then got dressed in full winter gear and went and played outside.

This morning was easy – I even went to the basement later to get something and ALL THE LIGHTS WERE OFF.

In fact, it seemed almost a little too easy. I keep wondering if we have reached Peak Parenting? Years and years of little irksome issues that compound with child rearing to give you one perfect morning. (Made more perfect by the fact that no one is sick and they all went to school.)

I hope we get more than this one perfect morning. I should make something really challenging for lunch just to see if they will eat it. (Just kidding. Why would I want to jinx things?)



Birthdays and a Fast Fashion rant

Now we are Six – and the love of dinosaurs continues.

I had big plans to write a loving letter to Oonagh for her 6th birthday (which was on Friday) and something about World Cancer Day – which was yesterday – but things got away from me. We have had multiple illnesses in the family culminating in my own body deciding to purge everything yesterday. The answer to the question, ‘why is mummy sick?” I think can be easily explained away by the fact that I have had a sick Oonagh practically on top of me at all times for the last two weeks. Not every illness is about cancer even when you have cancer, but sometimes I wonder if I get hit harder because my body is so busy fighting everything else.

So instead of any of those things I’m just moving on and looking at today as a fresh start – like every day should be but I’m better at living in the past and wallowing in regrets even if they are minor.

I had my “Monday morning meeting” (with myself) this morning instead of yesterday. I’m building up my to-do list for the week and even managing to cross some things off of it. I’m pretty sure Oonagh had a good birthday. I knit her a beautiful sweater which she will most likely never where except for the one time I’m going to try and get a photo of her in it (which I haven’t bothered to do yet). She is going through a phase where everything is uncomfortable except one pair of black leggings and a Pokémon t-shirt and I’m not going to fight it. She is the third child after all and I have been down this road before.

I made her pants too but haven’t finished putting the elastic waist in because I suspect these pants will also be rejected so what’s the rush. It has been years since I’ve sewn an article of clothing and I had to re-teach myself so many things but managed to enjoy the process so I’m counting it as a win. Those pants were also made from fabric that has been languishing in my stash for almost a decade and it feels good to use some of it up. It is hard to compete with the cheap tackiness of stores like Justice with their cutesy unicorn-barfed-on leggings. The Justice website say they are “empowering girls” – and they mean that by way of slogans on their shirts – but have sketchy labour practices in countries known for not doing enough for workers rights. On their website they say they have Supply Chain Transparency but according to the Good On You app their labour rating is “Not Good Enough” because they “source from countries with high or extreme risk of labour abuse.” So, I suspect this “empowerment” doesn’t stretch to the girls making the clothes. (Duh.) Also, their environmental rating is “very poor” which doesn’t surprise me because the clothing is already falling apart before it even leaves the store.

Anyway, to end today’s post here is an oldy-but-goody of our birthday girl.

Kicked out of my own kitchen (because it isn’t just “my” kitchen).

We had a great weekend. I knit. I sewed. I even left the house and hung out with a friend (one of my goals this year: to say yes to invitations). Yesterday Miss Oonagh woke up sick so I got a lot of snuggles. Plus we had book club on Friday which means I am DONE with Us Conductors and never have to read the book again. (Why no, I did not enjoy it, thank you for asking.) Today Oonagh and I are home and I’m taking a break from snuggles to write. Also, what I have dubbed as my “cancer period” has finally started so I am basically hemorrhaging right now and can’t leave the house anyway. (Really looking forward to a nap!)

This weekend I also thought a lot about how important it is to empower your children.

On Friday Fionnuala made cupcakes. Saturday morning she made pumpkin pancakes and then planned out lunch for Sunday – which she also made: Oh She Glow’s Mac and Peas (It was delicious).

She’s eight.

Of course, I had to help her but I tried to step back as much as possible and just be near enough to answer questions. During the course of the weekend she learned to double a recipe, peel potatoes and get over her fear of knives. I was nervous about her being around the stove but tried not to freak her out by showing my nervousness. I didn’t always do a great job because at one point she told me I had to leave the kitchen. (Small child! Hot stove!)

Fionnuala, age six, cooking at the stove.

Years ago we tried to have a schedule where the kids helped out in the kitchen one night a week – but we aren’t that great with those kind of schedules in this house. Of course we have a rotating chore chart so they always have chores to do (and no, they don’t get paid for them – just like we don’t get paid for them) but the cooking thing never worked out and they were young. I find it works better for us if someone decides they want to spend time in the kitchen – like Fionnuala did this weekend. Initially it seems like a lot more work for me but it really wasn’t – I mean, one of us would have been in the kitchen cooking anyway because everyone still needs to eat. But my initial reaction when confronted with a child who wants to take over in the kitchen is “ugh” because that involves a lot of patience and guidance on my part for something I could just do myself.

My initial reaction to a lot of things is “ugh” but thing almost always work out well – I just need to get out of the way of myself.

From day one my parenting philosophy has been to raise people I can stand being around as adults. (The fact that I most likely won’t be around when they are adults isn’t lost on me but the goal hasn’t changed.) When I was first diagnosed we also knew that the girls had to become more independent because I just couldn’t be relied upon to do every little thing for them anymore and their dad still has to put in a full day at work. Unless I’m making porridge they all get their own breakfast in the morning. They can make themselves snacks (smoothies are popular). They have to make sure they are organized and ready for school because if they forget to bring a snack to school or their homework I’m not bringing it for them even if the school is across the street. This frees up a lot of my time and brain space – which I appreciate.

Also, I know so many people who reached adulthood and didn’t know how to cook (or do laundry, or clean a kitchen) and I just can’t imagine. I love cooking because I love eating. And while our whole foods, plant-based diet might seem strict or limiting to some it has felt like one big culinary adventure for me.

I will admit, however, that it is kind of nice being kicked out of the kitchen once in a while. Giving up control is hard but I am getting so much more back in return – and so are the girls.