April 2007

As I’m painting our main-floor two-piece bathroom, I’m blogging the entire thing in my head. I have no idea why I think anyone in the blogosphere needs a scintillating stroke-by-stroke account of me painting the bathroom, but here you go.

  • I like painting. It requires a meticulous mindlessness that is peculiarly calming. Just the right parts of my brain are being engaged in making sure I don’t get excessive paint on the baseboards and ceiling.
  • I like the detailed bits, taping around all the edges and the fixtures, cutting the edges with long strokes, and how just when you think you will never be done – because in a 5 x 5 bathroom with two fixtures it takes five times as long to cut as to roll – you haul out the roller and you go from not even close to done in about seven minutes.
  • We have lived in this house for almost four years, and are just now getting around to painting over the pepto-bismal pink and cream colour of the main-floor bathroom. We tore down the pink and blue flowered wallpaper border more than a year ago. We are, on the whole, fairly lazy about home improvement tasks around here.
  • When we moved in, the whole house was dominated by a pink-and-blue colour scheme, with several variations on a floral wallpaper border. I’m so not a pink-and-blue-with-flowers sort of girl.
  • Five foot eight inches seems to be about the perfect height to be able to reach the ceiling cut line with a handheld roller, without having to stand on tiptoe. Conveniently, I am exactly 5’8″.
  • The people at Home Depot need to take a page from the people at Ikea and provide some sort of diversion for kids if they want to maximize parental spending. Mischevious three year olds do not have much patience for the selection and preparation of paint and primer.
  • It is nearly impossible to paint a 5 x 5 bathroom without getting paint on your ass.
  • Whomever said you shouldn’t fret over choosing a paint colour because you can always just buy another colour and do it over again obviously never painted with a three and five year old in the house.
  • The average preschooler can ask approximately 3,923 questions about paint, colours, masking tape, rollers, brushes, sponges and rocketships in the time it takes to paint a bathroom.
  • There is no easy way to paint behind a toilet, and it is simply impossible to paint behind a toilet without getting paint in your hair. It’s been many years since I spent so much time in such intimate contact with my toilet.
  • If the paint drips into your coffee, it makes your coffee taste very, very bad.
  • Long after both boys are potty trained and we leave the world of diapers behind, I will continue to buy baby wipes. I used them to dust the top of the door frame, wipe paint drips off faucet, get smeared paint off the towel bar and wipe the black ink off my feet from standing on newsprint.
  • Writing a post about painting the bathroom takes up exactly the right amount of time to let the first rolled coat sit before you roll on the second coat.
  • Blogging about painting a bathroom seems like a much better idea when you are painting the bathroom and thinking about blogging than when you are blogging and thinking about painting the bathroom.


After years of listening to friends rave about Costco, I took advantage of a deal that knocked $20 off the price of a membership and signed up online. Today, we took our first trip.

I swear, I must be the only person in North America who can walk into a Costco and walk out with nothing but a bag of milk and two loaves of bread.


This post was inspired by MotherTalk’s Blog Bonanza called “Fearless Friday”, to support the paperback launch of Arianna Huffington’s book On Becoming Fearless.

In thinking about what to write about, I chewed over lots of times when I’ve been fearless: travelling for a month by myself through Europe when I was 25 comes to mind (except, I wasn’t so much fearless as terrified and too far from home to to anything about it except keep going), as does when I left my ex-husband. Even choosing to undergo the IVF treatment that lead to Tristan begged a leap of faith, and more than a bit of fearlessness.

That’s not where I want to go with this, though.

Last Saturday, I took the training wheels off Tristan’s beloved bicycle. We had been talking it up for a while. Since the middle of last summer, I’d been asking him if he was ready for me to take off the training wheels, and he’d answer unequivocally, “Not until I’m five.”

He turned five this March, and I think we both knew it was time. It’s been a funny season here, and we’ve had snow on and off enough that he’s only managed to ride his bike a few times – although I’m sure he asked for it every single day. Finally, last Saturday was one of those gorgeous days that vault over spring entirely and instead more closely resemble early summer. Tristan and I decided early that morning that it would be the big day, the day the training wheels came off, and he pestered me with endless enthusiasm as I tried to get a few quick things done before we set off for the school yard with its wide expanses of flat, untrafficked pavement to try it out. In the end, it was just easier to drop what I was doing and indulge him than to keep putting him off. He practically flew into the house when I told him to go find not only his helmet, but a set of knee and elbow pads, too. (He is my son, after all. We’re not graceful people by nature.)

Somehow, I thought it would be difficult to take off the training wheels – I’m always thrilled for an opportunity to haul out my toolbox – but the bolt holding the wheels in place twisted off in my fingertips. Just a few twists, and suddenly my oldest son was the proud but nervous owner of a wobbly, unpredictable two-wheeler.

Used to a bike that didn’t fight back, he was having trouble controlling it even in the driveway. We only made it as far as the stop sign at the corner, him not sure how to maintain his balance and me not sure how to impart my knowledge on to him, before he started losing his patience.

“I can’t do it!” he whined. “It’s too hard.”

“Yes you can,” I said through gritted teeth, hot and frustrated and more than a little impatient myself. We stumbled on for a few more meters, but both of us were rapidly losing interest.

“I think maybe I have to be six,” said Tristan, now pushing his bike and walking beside it.

“You know,” I replied, getting my breath and composure back incrementally, “nobody can ride a bike without training wheels perfectly the first time. It’s a little bit of work, and you have to learn to balance yourself. But if we practise a little bit each day, I’m sure you’ll be able to do it.”

He remained unconvinced, and politely declined when I suggested we try again. Later that afternoon, I suggested we have another go at it, but he again declined. We’ve had the most gorgeous, mild weather this week – perfect for bike-riding – and yet Tristan’s bike has languished, abandoned in the garage on its kickstand.

He’s so much like me, Tristan is. He doesn’t like to fail, doesn’t like to do it wrong. He doesn’t like to be anything less than perfect. This, I think, is at the root of – among other things – my endless troubles with acquiring the professional level of French I’ll need for my job if I want to get a promotion some day. I don’t like looking foolish, don’t like taking the risk, don’t like facing the possibility that I won’t be perfect the first time I try.

I found myself thinking about it over the last few days, this fear of failure. It’s a strong fear in me, perhaps even more so than my near-legendary fear of change. If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m often too embarrassed to try it at all. In thinking of all the things in my life that would not have happened if I hadn’t been afraid to screw things up royally, I’ve realized that the best things have come from throwing that fear to the wind. One can only ride with training wheels for so long.

Wednesday night after dinner, I suggested to Tristan that we try again with the bicycle. He’d had it in the driveway a couple of times to practice his balance and scoot about by himself, but we hadn’t really tried any long distances since that first day. To our mutual surprise, half way around the block some synaptic/physical connection was forged and Tristan was suddenly pedalling madly with me running beside him but no longer holding the bike seat. If I lagged behind, he would falter, but as long as I kept up with him, panting heavily at his shoulder but not touching him, he was able to maintain his balance.

We were both delighted. “I did it!” he cried, pride and surprise mingling in his voice. “I can’t wait to tell Daddy. I did it!” Just before the final stretch to the house, he hopped off his bike and started to walk it the rest of the way home. “I can do it if I want to,” he assured me. “I just need a little rest.” He knows his limits. I don’t know many adults who have acquired that skill yet.

It never fails to amaze me how much our kids teach us about being parents, and about being people. Sometimes, you just have to suck up that fear of gravity, that nauseous uncertainty, that reluctance to risk an ungainly crash. Sailing down the street with the breeze in your face for that first liberating ride is a lot more fun than sitting on the porch, watching the other kids whizzing by on their bikes while you wish you were brave enough to try.


I peed on a stick yesterday morning. One line. Sigh.

I’m not terribly surprised. I knew I had ovulated fairly late in my cycle, if at all. (Funny, I spent all of our infertile years being mystified by my body, using a microscope to read its inscrutable signs. Now it sends me fertility signals in 72-point font, and yet I still can’t force it to succumb to my will. I am truly my own worst enemy.) I would have been expecting day one last Friday given an ordinary cycle, but I might have ovulated up to five days or a week late, so I really shouldn’t have been expecting my period any time before this weekend.

I got sucked in by hope, though. Damn optimism. There was nothing I could put my finger on, but I simply felt like I might be pregnant. Part of that might have been the absence of the injustices my body usually offers in the week before my period arrives either. I’ll save you the gory details, but we’re mostly talking about minor mood swings, bloat, and an inability to stop eating – especially eating junk food.

By Monday, pregnancy watch had officially commenced with the scrutinizing of the toilet paper. You know how it is, where you begin wondering if you are peeing all the time because you are pregnant, or because you just want the chance to check the toilet paper again to stave off doubt and denial. And there’s that brief suspended moment just before you examine the tissue where you are braced for the tell-tale smudge of blood, but holding out hope for a pristine smudge-free wipe.

While making dinner Tuesday, I had begun thinking about home pregnancy tests and when I might be able to test without feeling foolishly premature. I’d been idly thinking about a possible leftover (unused!) test from last summer, and when I rooted through the bathroom cupboard and found one, it seemed like a postcard from fate. It was a freebie; I could test and be sure of the answer and stop what had become a near-constant cacophony of “what-ifs” in my mind with one quick trip to the bathroom.

To test or not to test. This is the question of women the world over. So much hope, so much fear, so much possibility, so much dread, all imbued into one little chemical strip. There is widespread agreement in the infertility community that “pee sticks” are evil. Assuming you are trying to conceive, the positive test is the best possible outcome. However, the negative test doesn’t allow much closure. We’ve all heard the stories of people who have negative hpts and go on to have lovely babies nine months later.

I’ve had a rocky relationship with the pee sticks myself. Three positives, one of which was Simon (I never got that far in to the two week wait with Tristan; I had a positive blood test when I started showing signs of OHSS nine days after the embryo transfer.) I can’t even count how many negative ones. Dozens, probably.

So in the gloaming of an early morning, before anybody else in the house is awake, I pee on a stick. Every single time I’ve taken a pregnancy test, I am swept up by the swell of possiblity and the suspension of disbelief in that breathless moment where the urine surges up the little stick. I’m almost afraid to look, afraid to give up the hope of speculation to the harsh reality of fact. The moment seems endless, my optimism champing at the bit, my mind already formulating announcements and due dates and nursery colour schemes.

One line. With an exhalation of breath, I take an embarrassed moment to reign in my rampant optimism. Of course it wasn’t positive. How silly of me to think so. I never really thought I was pregnant. I was just, you know, making sure.

Later that afternoon, I can’t help myself. I pull the test back out of its nest of tissues in the bathroom garbage bin. I peer carefully at the used test, trying by sheer force of will to conjure a ghostly pink line in the hopelessly blank space beside ruby-red test line. I step to the window and turn the test back and forth, squinting at the test from various angles until I am nearly cross-eyed. Despite my best efforts, the test remains stubbornly negative. I move to toss it back into the waste bin, but stop and lay it carefully on the counter. I’ll check one more time, later.

You never know. Hope springs eternal.


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I love this.

Canadian author Yann Martel, perhaps best known for his book Life of Pi, has taken on a project of sorts. He has appointed himself literary tutor of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an attempt to make Harper “a more arts-friendly prime minister.” Part of that campaign is to mail Harper a new book every two weeks as long as Harper is prime minister. Not only a new book, but a book inscribed by Martel and introduced with a personalized letter explaining why a particular book was chosen. Martel is chronicling the experience on his Web site called What is Stephen Harper Reading.

Martel writes on his Web site:

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares not a jot for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness. For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness.

That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any esponse I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.

The first book is Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych. I haven’t read it, but I’m thinking about it now. Here’s what Martel said about why he recommended it in the introduction to his letter:

The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy, is the first book I am sending you. I thought at first I should send you a Canadian work—an appropriate symbol since we are both Canadians—but I don’t want to be directed by political considerations of any sort, and, more importantly, I can’t think of a work of such brevity, hardly 60 pages, that shows so convincingly the power and depth of great literature. Ivan Ilych is an indubitable masterpiece. There is nothing showy here, no vulgarity, no pretence, no falseness, nothing that doesn’t work, not a moment of dullness, yet no cheap rush of plot either. It is the story, simple and utterly compelling, of one man and his ordinary end.

He goes on for quite a bit longer; you can see the full text of Martel’s first letter to Harper on the Web site. But I loved the concluding paragraph and wanted to share that, too:

I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. Meditating monks in their cells are busy. That’s adult life, filled to the ceiling with things that need doing. (It seems only children and the elderly aren’t plagued by lack of time—and notice how they enjoy their books, how their lives fill their eyes.) But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep. And there are other possibilities, too. Sherwood Anderson, the American writer best known for his collection of stories Winesburg, Ohio, wrote his first stories while commuting by train to work. Stephen King apparently never goes to his beloved baseball games without a book that he reads during breaks. So it’s a question of choice.

It’s a question of choice. I’m tempted, so tempted, to turn this into my own personal book club and read along, but I acknowledge that there are simply too many other priorities competing for my time right now and I choose to delay reading these books until some future date when my life is a little bit less full of the joys of life with preschoolers.

But I do love the idea. If you could recommend a book, any book, to send to Stephen Harper – or, for our American cousins, George Bush – or to any national leader, for that matter; if you could choose a single book to send to your prime minister or president, what book would you choose?


Choose the gift of life

23 April 2007 Life, the Universe and Everything

It’s National Organ Donation Week in Canada. Those of you who have been reading for a while know that this is an annual post for me. I wrote about it in 2005 and again in 2006. And you know what? I’ll write about it again in 2008 and 2009. I’ll keep writing about it, and […]

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The betrayal

22 April 2007 Ah, me boys

We’re at my folks’ place for the first bbq steak dinner of the season. The grown-ups are still lingering over dinner. The kids have scarfed down their food and resumed their soccer game in the back yard. Overheard through the open window: Tristan: Don’t tell, okay Simon? Don’t tell! Simon: Mo-om! Tristan (stage whispers) : […]

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What’s that you say? You need to know even MORE inane and excruciating details about my exciting life?

22 April 2007 Memes

James tagged me for this mammoth meme, and I couldn’t resist. FOODOLOGY Q. What is your salad dressing of choice?A. Paul Newman’s Balsamic Vinagrette Q. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?A. Dairy Queen Q. What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?A. Lone Star Texas Grill – partly for the fajitas, partly because it’s a great […]

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Confessions, candy swaps, connections – and books

20 April 2007 Books

This is going to be another of those posts where I dump the contents of my brain (and my in-box) into your lap and let you sort through it like bargain hunters at a flea market to find the shiny bits in amongst all the drivel. First and coincidentally, I think it was the last […]

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