Thursday, July 31, 2008

In Canada, Girls Can--And Do!

There is not much that still bothers me about living in Switzerland. Most things that did I've come to accept and even appreciate. Aside from a few notable exceptions, shops are closed on Sundays. Vegetables and fruit are available seasonally. Chocolate is considered a health food. But one thing that still irks me the relative scarcity of girls' athletics.

Football and hockey are boys sports in Switzerland. Girls are not turned away, but it is an exceptional child who can ride out the conspicuousness that comes from being the token member of the opposite gender. Mighty Mouse and Emma the Brave aren't quite there yet. When I heard their Canadian cousins had a soccer game on the day of our intended visit, I promised we'd attend. In Canada, girls can--and do!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Homeward Bound

The girls and I took flight yesterday for our annual trip back to Canada.

When we moved to Switzerland four years ago, we'd travelled as a family. Mighty Mouse, at barely a year old, was in diapers and Emma the Brave, two years her senior, still needed them, too, but only at night. It was a night flight. While airplane change tables were (and still are) ideally suited for infants, they terrified my spirited toddler. She'd heard the sound the toilet made and there was no way in hell she was going to be suspended on two foot plank above it. I couldn't blame her, so I set to work changing her in one of the galleys. A thoroughly outraged flight attendant ordered me to stop, insisting it was 'not hygenic.' I informed her that the alternative would be worse for everyone on board and carried on. To make matters that much more uncomfortable, Mighty Mouse was showing the first signs of a mysterious rash that, in a week's time, would cover every inch of her. When she was awake and not feeding, she cried. It was a journey I would just as soon forget, but it's been branded into my brain by hostile looks and my own desperation.

Our challenges didn't end when we reached our destination. We had the address of our temporary apartment and the cell phone number of the person who would meet us there to let us in. After multiple tries we figured out how to dial a local Swiss telephone number with the requisite zero before the area code. When the call finally connected, we reached the person's voice mail. Exasperated, we left a message and headed off to get our rental car. For the next hour the Captain struggled to load our luggage and double stroller into the compact hatchback we'd been assigned, firing off expletives I've not heard him use since. In the end, we hit the road with bags crammed between the girls, at their feet, and on my lap.

Yesterday's trip was a surreal experience in comparison. Even though the girls and I travelled on our own without the Captain, there were no delays and, other than our luggage not making it out of Geneva, it was a generally pleasant experience. We slept in our clothes last night, but we did so for almost ten hours. And I didn't have to change one diaper!!! As for the in-flight entertainment, Mighty Mouse was strangely subdued this time around. Pity--I was counting on some good blog fodder. As we'll be in mostly English-speaking Ontario for the next two weeks, there's still hope.

Well, I can smell the bacon is almost ready, so I'm going to sign off. Stay tuned for some reverse culture shock. Here are just a couple of the comments the girls have made so far:

"Why does everyone here speak English?" and "How do you flush this thing?"

Thursday, July 24, 2008


A few posts ago I made my first avatar. By definition, an avatar is a 2- or 3D image which a person uses to represent themselves in cyberspace. I was introduced to the trick in a post from Earth to Danie and decided to try it out. Here's how it works:
  1. Go to
  2. Click on the pink banner in the center of the page which says 'Create an Avatar'
  3. This brings you to the Meez Maker where you can change your look (i.e. skin tone, face shape, eye colour, etc.), get dressed, and add an animation or background. Some of these cost 'Coinz,' but don't worry. You'll get 2500 of those babies when you register, a necessary step if you want to save and share your Meez Avatar.
  4. Once you have your Meez Avatar the way you like it, click save and register. Be sure to take time to check or uncheck any boxes that would put you on a mailing list automatically. Leave them checked if you want some extra Coinz.
  5. Now it's time to export your creation. Click on 'Export' and then on 'Get Codes.' If your Avatar is animated and you want to publish it that way, choose one of the first two 'sizes.' I always go with the smaller of the two. Then click on 'Copy to Clipboard' to get the necessary code in the format you prefer. I choose HTML.
  6. Then go to your blog's compose screen and paste the code into the body of your post. Center it if you like. When you click on 'Publish Post', it should look something like this:
Meez 3D avatar avatars games

I challenge you to do better!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On The Ball

Admit it: you can't get enough of the hamster pix!
Photo credit for the above goes to the Captain.
(Thanks for the plug, DL!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: The Myth of Laziness by Mel Levine M.D.

I was watching Oprah while feeding Mighty Mouse when I first heard Dr. Mel Levine speak. A renown American pediatrician, Dr. Levine had written a book, A Mind at a Time, about the the varying neurodevelopmental systems involved in learning and how relative strengths and weaknesses can effect a child's ability to succeed. Given that I had a newborn in my arms, I was strangely alert--more so than I'd been in weeks. I prayed that Emma would keep sleeping until the interview was over. She did. Days later I bought the book and spent the subsequent weeks reading snippets between feedings, play groups, diaper changes, and naps. When I was done, I broke the news to the Captain.

"I think I want to teach."

The Myth of Laziness, a second book by Dr. Levine, focuses on neurodevelopmental dysfunctions which contribute to a person's inability to get work--particularly written work--done. As the title states clearly, the doctor believes that laziness does not exist, that every person possesses an inherent need to contribute and succeed. It is his theory that success deprivation leads to avoidance behaviours which we, in turn, label as laziness.

Through eight case studies, Levine illustrates how varying combinations of neurological glitches can result in an individual's inability to produce and, when addressed, how a person can rise on the wind of his own success. The deficits discussed include: graphomotor dysfunction, impaired memory feed into output, poor active working memory, difficulty converting thought into language, poor organization, impaired mental energy controls, weak impulse control, and insatiability.

Some cases evoke more sympathy than others: the first case--a boy with significant graphomotor dysfunction among other conditions--breaks my heart; the teenaged multi-millionaire playboy with weak attention controls, not so much. In all cases, reading is not an issue, with difficulties in output typically arising during the middle school years (ages 9 to 12) when demand for written work escalates dramatically. According to Levine, identification of a neurodevelopmental difference is neither a label, nor a get-out-of-work-free pass. Accommodations and pointed interventions at the neurological break down points can help, but won't without the commitment of the child and the child's family and educators.

So, am I convinced? Is laziness a myth? Do all humans have an inherent need to contribute, to succeed? I believe they do, but I must temper this by saying that not all persons can be successful at all things. For instance, I cannot play tennis. My eye-hand coordination is abysmal. No, really. With practice, I might improve, but only marginally and likely not enough to experience adequate emotional or financial payback to warrant the effort. Luckily, I can easily avoid the sport. I need not return a volley in order to keep my children clothed or fed. The impact of this skill deficit is negligible. Now, let's say that, instead of tennis, I was poor at writing. (No snide comments, please!) Writing forces a person to organize her thoughts into words, then sentences and, finally, into a story or argument. What if, through no fault of my own, I couldn't do it? Would I have finished high school, let alone university? Would I have had the ability to identify my strengths in the face of such a flagrant weakness? What would I think of myself? What other means would I use to feel the same pleasure and satisfaction that success affords? How would that shape my personal ethics and values? It's my suspicion that a person's neurodevelopmental profile is a large contributor to the attitude and behaviour we call laziness, but it isn't the only one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Spirit at the Dentist

Tuesday morning I heard Emma the Brave before I saw her. She was stomping elephant-style down the stairs from her room, alternately laughing and making a noise I've lovingly dubbed 'the most annoying sound on Earth.' I've often wondered if she was a banshee in a former life. In any case, this rush of unbridled spirit, when it presents itself so flagrantly at dawn, bodes of a day packed with the highest highs and lowest lows. I thanked my lucky stars that it was both sunny and summer and subsequently planned a day of hiking and swimming such that she could discharge without evoking her mother's rage. (Yes, rage, dear Reader. Remember, I am spirited, too.) We headed out the door soon after breakfast and were gone most of the day. Thankfully, by 8pm the banshee had left the building. Emma and Mighty Mouse were peacefully tucked into bed and I went soon after. It was a wonderful yet exhausting day.

Wednesday morning, Emma the Brave slipped into her seat at the kitchen table without a peep. She still had her blanket wrapped around her and her precious toy, Danny the dolphin, cuddled to her cheek.

I kissed her on the top the head. "Good morning, Sweet Pea," I said.

She didn't say anything. Instead Emma stared up at the chalk board that told the events of the day:
Dentist 10am.

Both Emma and Mighty Mouse had been to the dentist the previous week for a check-up and cleaning. Despite obvious anxiety, Emma the Brave lived up to her name, allowing all necessary procedures to be done with only a few tears. Mighty Mouse, not at all perturbed by bizarre instruments and noises--likely thanks to growing up with Emma--flew through her turn in the chair without so much as a whimper. Once finished, they each chose a little surprise from the dentist's drawer --twin packs of arrow-shaped Post-it notes--and headed for the door. That's when the dentist broke the news: Emma the Brave needed to come back to have the deep grooves in her adult teeth sealed. I understood the benefits of the procedure well, having undergone it myself. I made the appointment as its reality sunk into Emma beside me. She would have to come back--not next year, but next week. And now the day was upon us.

"I don't want to go to the dentist," she said, lying her head on the table.

I am wise enough at this stage of the game not to argue with such a statement. It was honest and not negotiable. She didn't want to go and nothing I could say would change that. Instead, I made her breakfast and reminded her that we would have lunch and a swim with her school friends, too.

After she'd eaten some toast and cereal, we moved to the living room where I told her step by step what was going to happen: she had four adult molars that would be first cleaned, then dried, and finally sealed. We talked about the instruments the dentist would use: the suction, the water pick and air blower, a scraping hook, a little electric tooth brush, and a purple light to harden the sealant. She asked how long it would take. I didn't know. We would have to save that question for the dentist. A bit more animated, she headed upstairs to get dressed.

An hour later she was in the dentist chair, pleading with her eyes at me to not make her go through with it. Tears streamed down her cheeks that were flushed with fear. As much I would have loved to spare her from the present procedure, I knew fillings were inevitable without it.

Five minutes in, I discovered that the process had changed somewhat from what I'd remembered-- and not for the better. The dentist took a thin sheet of elastic material, pierced it, then slipped it over the tooth in question, holding it in place with a metal ring. The material was then held taught by a wire that looped out of her mouth like the orthodontic headgears of old, all to keep the tooth as clean and dry as possible. It also had a bonus feature: the ability to send an already sensitive, and intense kid nearly over the edge.

For the next hour I ran a steady commentary on what was going on:
"She's cleaning the tooth now. It's all clean. Now she's drying it. Don't move. Take deep breaths, Sweetheart. That's it. Now she's putting on the sealant. You're doing really well. Here comes the light. Squeeze my hand if you need to or wiggle your feet. You are so brave, you really are! There, it's done. Good for you. Only three more to go."

Over and over I wished we were in Canada where dentist offices are equipped with televisions on the ceiling to distract even the most mature clients from the necessary evils of 'the chair.' It probably wouldn't have helped much, but I would have felt better with Dora on the ceiling. What did help was for Emma to know what was going on. She was even able to watch from time to time with a hand-held mirror. While she didn't have much choice in the matter, the knowledge of what was happening proved soothing.

When the fourth tooth was complete, everyone in the room sagged with relief--everyone except Emma, who bounded to the surprise drawer with newfound enthusiasm. She'd done it! We'd done it! I could hardly believe it. I peeked in the drawer, too, hoping there was a little something in it for me. A mini-bottle of bubbly? Some chocolate? A tranquilizer? No such luck. I looked up at the dentist, who was smiling at me.

"Good job, Mommy," she said.

I guessed that was the best I could hope for. As it was, I could sense the banshee returning as we walked to the car. Emma was happy and proud--and mine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tastes Like Home...Almost

We'd just finished lunch at our favourite Indian restaurant when we passed by the American Market.

"Let's go in," said the Captain.

I resisted. We didn't need anything, particularly not a 10 franc box of Cheerios, but the Captain's sweet tooth prevailed.

Walking through the front door, I was immediately transported to small town USA. It smells American, if that's at all plausible. (I don't say Canadian because, having grown up in pre-Wal-Mart Canada, I remember the days when obtaining Ranch-flavoured Doritos demanded cross-border shopping.) The shelves were packed with every American processed food and confectionery you can imagine, and a few you'd never thought possible. Crunchy apple bits in a chip bag? I shuddered to think. To complete the illusion, 1960's rock 'n' roll played on the radio behind the cash. Need your Ben and Jerry's fix? Look no further. Sour Cream and onion chips? This is your place. Need to rid yourself of excess cash quick? Fill your basket. Trust me, you won't need two.

We left the market one bag heavier and 72 franc lighter. Here is a picture of our haul less two Blow Pops, a bottle of cream soda, a pack of Twizzlers, cinnamon Tic Tacs and some Bubblicious -- all but the Tic Tacs are gone.

To be honest, the real tastes of home, the ones I look forward to having in two weeks' time, were not to be found. Things like my mom's roast beef, bagels from St. Viateur, sushi from Kaizen, and Swartz's smoked meat don't travel well and can't be found anyplace else. Like most things in life, there are no short cuts to the things that mean most. I know that someday I will be mourning the things I love about Switzerland. And when I do, I know I won't be able to find them in any store.

Now, where are those Tic Tacs?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Presenting the Palace

Peanut broke her exercise wheel yesterday. To be honest, it's a wonder it lasted as long as it did. When the babies were around--and not sleeping or nursing--there would be a minimum of three pups on the wheel at any one time. It's maximum capacity appeared to be six unless Peanut exerted her territorial rights and climbed aboard. At those times, the only babes not flung to the wood chips were those trapped behind or beneath her. The wheel's popularity resulted in a near constant nocturnal rumble which, in turn, necessitated the litters' exile to the guest room. Yet, even with the door closed, reverberations could be heard throughout the house. Discovering the axle snapped at its base came as only a mild surprise. It was only a matter of time.

After breakfast, the girls and I hopped in the car in search of a new wheel. We came home with a split-level palace. The new cage could accommodate a wheel nearly twice the diameter of the old one. Now Peanut could run without craning her neck, thereby improving her quality of life immeasurably. Coconut and Pineapple, eat your hearts out!

That evening the Captain came home from work to discover Peanut's new quarters. After conceding to it's obvious superiorities, his comment was: "It wasn't really necessary."

I reminded him that a hamster wasn't really necessary either.

(As much as I love Peanut, I will never let the Captain live down buying a pregnant hamster.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Simple Treasures

Snail shells by Mighty Mouse

The Road from Picky to Discerning

"We had salad today. It was so yummy!"

The first time I heard this I almost fell off my chair. I don't remember which girl said it but within seconds the other had agreed. Salad at restaurant scolaire, the school lunch program, was good. Mommy's was not.

How could this be? My salads are excellent: greens from the neighbourhood marché tossed with slivers of fresh garden vegetables, dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts, and a home made vinaigrette. Yet, when served, they are met with less enthusiasm than a trip to the dentist. Mighty Mouse prefers to nudge the offending greenery off the edge of her plate while Emma the Brave ignores it after the first compulsory bite. News that a salad could actually be described as 'yummy' by either of them came as a shock--and a challenge. If restaurant scolaire could do it, then so could I.

Introducing the Summer Salad Taste Test.
The girls have eaten more greens in the last two weeks than they have in their lives. I'm amazed. What's equally amazing is that the person hardest to please is me!

The girls turned out to like the following greens: sucrine, feuille de chene, baby spinach, and rampon. They didn't like rocket or watercress. Unfortunately, it is Migros-brand French salad dressing that they prefer. Tant pis! I guess I can't have it all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Snack Time à la Suisse (some assembly required)

A child's mid-morning or afternoon snack is called a gouter (goo-TAY). The most traditional gouter is pain au chocolat or chocolate bread. Here's how it's done:
  1. Prepare some fruit, any kind you like. (Kids will eat anything for what's coming next.)
  2. You'll need one branche of chocolate (a bar of chocolate with or without nougat) and one pain au lait (Bread made with milk shaped like a hot dog bun).
  3. Cut the pain on it's length, lay the branche inside and, voilà, gouter is ready.
  4. Insist the child eat the fruit first, then let them devour the pain au chocolat in relative peace.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Book Review: Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Emma the Brave and I were struggling and I didn't know why. She was having multiple meltdowns a day and my patience was wearing thin. Don't misunderstand: she was (and is) a happy kid--almost euphoric. But she had (and still has) a unique ability to swing Tarzan-like from slap-happy to guttural rage with almost no warning. How could a child so exuberant and willful be constantly a hair's breadth from becoming a puddle of mush? It was dumbfounding.

Had she always been this way? I didn't think so. Maybe. If not, when did it start? I couldn't say. Was it because we'd moved over 6000 kilometers from our native country and culture? Was immersion in a second language too much? Were my expectations of her evolving faster than she could keep up? My questions were endless. All I knew for certain was that something had to change.

I bought two books simultaneously, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Raising Your Spirited Child, then I read--or at least I read one. Three-quarters of the way through How to Talk, Emma and I had made real progress. It took another two years for me get to around to Raising Your Spirited Child, but I finally did. In retrospect, maybe I should have read it first.

First published in 1991, Mary Sheedy Kurchinka begins by defining who is the spirited child.
"They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than normal children."
She goes on to have the parent-reader rate their child's temperament and then their own based on nine temperamental traits. She also has them determine whether their child is by nature an introvert or extrovert thereby determining their energy source. A big fan of measuring tools, I decided to rate the whole Mighty family. Here's how we ranked out:

Mighty Mom: spirited introvert
The Captain: spirited introvert
Emma the Brave: spirited introvert
Mighty Mouse: spunky extrovert

It's easy to assume that we should all get along famously, having so much spirit in common, but it's actually is a source of conflict. The Captain is the king of persistence. Try getting him to do anything before he is good and ready is next to impossible. Emma and I are pretty intense, but her far greater sensitivity and introversion requires patience from me when I'm at my worst. And then there's Mighty Mouse, highly persistent, as well, and the token extrovert. Try to get an introverted moment's peace when she needs to recharge by talking--it's not going to happen.

The book goes on to teach the reader how to work with spirit and plan for success. Ms. Kurcinka in no way gives spirited children free reign to overstep the bounds of respectful conduct. She does, however, place the onus on the parent to predict and prevent trouble spots such that their child has the greatest chance of success. The strategies she suggests would be effective with any child regardless of their temperamental profile. Her message to parents is that you are not alone, that your child is 'more,' and therefore requires 'more' from you, but, with the right care, they will be the rose in your garden, a joy like no other.

Other books by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka include: Sleepless in America; Kids, Parents and Power Struggles; and the Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook. I've listed them more for me than anyone else. Who knows? They may come in handy some day.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Blogging My Novel: Draft 5 Complete!

First of all, thanks so much to all of you who cheered me on. It's been a rather intense week. I'm not used to spending so much time just me and the old laptop. I can hardly believe it's done--even chapter 14, which was a complete nightmare. I've written a children's novel. Whoopee!!!

Now what?

It's time to send it off to my SCBWI critiquing partner. She'll give it a once over before I zip off copies to the agents who seemed to like it so much back in the spring.

Eek. I can almost smell the rejections already.

Draft Five Total: 26 hours

Friday, July 4 - 3.5 hours
Thursday, July 3 - 3h
Wednesday, July 2 - 4h
Tuesday, July 1 - 3.5h
Monday, June 30 - 2.5h
Thursday, June 26 - 1.5h
Tuesday, June 24 - 1.5h
Monday, June 23 - 1h
Friday, June 20 - 1.5h
Thursday, June 19 - 2h
Monday, June 16 - 2h