Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Beginnings

Given its the last day of the year 2011, I've been reflecting a lot on this past year. Mistakes I've made, the heartbreak I endured towards the middle of the year, all the new things I've learned, the hurdles I've overcome, and how much of a better person I am. The year 2012 for me really is a fresh start. The latter part of 2011 I wish I could just go back and delete.

I hate making New Years resolutions because many of them are not long-term goals, and they often fail. My goal for the year is to do a photo blog: Project 365 - with one photo for everyday of my life. It will be posted on here, as well as on Facebook. One of my classmates from university did it, and it was interesting to see all the things she did over the course of an entire year. I think it also forces me to get out and do more on a regular basis so that my life doesn't become boring. I also love taking pictures and photos require a lot less writing than a regular blog, so I don't anticipate it will be too hard to keep on top of. These last couple of months I have been getting better at goal setting and undertaking new things.

So far in January I will be:
- starting a chess club at the school I work at
- volunteering in the french classroom
- teaching badminton at the YMCA
- joining a second badminton club
- starting zumba classes
- continuing with my 3x/ week yoga classes
- starting my photo blog
- taking care of my new Betta fish Sébastien
- continuing the organization of a Quizbowl tournament to be held in early February

It's no wonder I'm single eh? I have no time in my schedule. And to be honest, it feels great to be "doing me" for the first time in nearly 3 years. I do what I want and don't give a flying fig about what anyone else thinks. Being single is so much easier than being with anyone. Sure it gets lonely sometimes, but you can't ever be let down. The only person you can ever rely on is yourself.

Parenthood 101 (Day 5)

I have reached the halfway point of my journey. Wow. Today is New Years Eve and then I only have 3 more days until I can get my old life back. That sounds awful, as if I'm trapped, but in a way I am. My entire day revolves around the kids and I can't really go anywhere without bringing them with me. Even the 10 minutes I spend in the shower away from them, my mind is going through horrible scenarios that could be taking place when I'm not there to watch them.

In a few ways, this experience has gotten easier. Over 5 days, I have gotten used to the new routine of the day, the smells and sounds of the house, the personalities of the two kids, and whereabouts to find everything in the kitchen. I've also gotten better at deciphering what the two of them are saying. Neither of them speaks very clearly and as a language major it's very infuriating to not understand what someone is saying.

Currently supper is in the oven, as well as a batch of cookies that I turned into a loaf shape. I figured they wouldn't care what shape their cookies were in, and frankly I didn't have the patience to dick around with all the spoonfuls of cookie dough.

As tonight is New Years Eve, I'm praying that both kids pass out around 8am at the latest and I don't have to listen to the wailing of Isla again for another four hours. FML. Again, I am getting paid for this, and sometimes that is my only incentive not to put my hand through the wall. It's kinda hard for me to read all of my friends on Facebook posting their status about what they are going to be doing this evening, knowing that I'm rooted here with no possible way of leaving.

Admittedly I'm not a party animal (part of the reason I decided to take this job) but my evening will be consisting of a bottle of sparkling wine and the couch, and possibly some Lindor chocolates. It's kinda depressing in a way too because this time last year I was with my ex on New Years; the party, the kissing at midnight, the whole shebang. Sigh. How things can change in a year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 4)

Woke up a little later than usual this morning to find the kitchen had been ransacked. Isla had taken the liberty of going through the cupboards and fridge. I was far from impressed. Just like last night, she cried for hours over her mom. I've almost had it with her, and I'm slanting towards wanting a son over a daughter when I eventually have kids :P I know that's a general statement because I know some boys can be hellions, but wow. Cyrus is so calm and collected about everything. Isla throws tantrums and cries over the minimalist things.

Currently she is sobbing in her room because she doesn't want to have a shower before we all head to Playtrium today. I asked her to get a towel and now she's bawling as if her dog just died. Ugh. I don't think that showering is an unreasonable request. I love the show Supernanny. She's just great because she has a backbone and doesn't let the kids get away with garbage. I think alot of people learn to parent by what they grew up with, and in retrospect, my parents did a pretty good job. I can also see why mom opted to stay at home and raise us; it's a fulltime job and unlike me, she didn't get paid a cent for it. They wound up with three kids who all completed high school, who all have friends, who never got strung out on drugs or alcohol and who don't have kids yet. We all have good morals and goals in life.

I have a new found respect for parents, it is without a doubt the toughest job out there and you don't even get paid for it. It's also a minimum 18 year contract.

I know also understand how annoying it is to be constantly asked: "When's lunch?" and "What are we having?" My mother must have the patience of a saint.

The notion of childcare is an interesting one to me, largely I think because I never had it growing up. My mom stayed at home for nearly 20 years before heading back to the workforce. Stay at home parents are growing more and more scarce, as people are trying to create a better life for their kids by buying them things, instead of actually taking the time to parent. With my dad as the only income in our family, my parents learned to stretch a dollar. We never went without food, or new clothes or any of the essentials - but there were no family vacations or flashy new cars or a brand new in ground swimming pool in the backyard. My parents were really great with their money, instead they invested in real estate and land, two things that gain value instead of lose it.

I took the kids to Playtrium today, which is just a glorified indoor jungle gym. I remember going there for birthday parties when I was little. The two ran around for the better part of two hours and I took them to McDonald's afterwards for cheeseburger happy meals. We got to take a taxi, as I don't drive and the kids were pretty enthused haha.

10:19pm: The battle of Put-the-Three-Year old to bed is still raging. I shall update you tomorrow. Kids are great, but damn do they ever make you want to punch things sometimes :S

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 3)

Made it through two days and two nights. That sounds awful, as if I'm on some survivor show, but wow. It has been eye-opening for sure. It not even having to deal with kids that is wearing on my patience, its the screaming and fighting. The youngest one, Isla, screams over EVERYTHING. And most of the time, there is nothing wrong - she is only doing it to get attention. I caught on to this pretty quickly and have been ignoring it. Its miraculous how she can turn her crying powers on and off. Last night she was homesick for her home, which was genuine. Problem was she cried for four hours. I have worked as a camp counselor and was also occasionally homesick as a child, and as awful as it sounds, a lot of kids just cry themselves to sleep. For me personally, stuffed animals make everything better, and even for this week long excursion, I brought along Billy Idol the sock monkey my mom made me for Christmas.

Just served the kids breakfast; a waffle for Cyrus and a bowl of Lucky Charms for Isla. Another thing that astounds me at mealtimes, these two don't have the concept of dessert after a meal. When I asked the pair of them what they wanted for lunch yesterday, they replied "chocolate pudding". O.o

Lunch was comprised of finger foods - cheese and crackers and grapes. Both of them gobbled it up upon hearing that they could get pudding for dessert if they finished everything on their plates. I'm gathering they don't have regular mealtimes and are generally picky eaters. Supper was chicken nuggets, sweet potato fries with corn and peas and neither of them were able to eat much of the veggies. I guess I was never a very picky kid - largely I think because I was forced ti learn to like most foods. Mom made one meal, if we didn't eat it - we went hungry. Hence I learned to like whatever was placed in front of me. The one exception being tuna casserole, which to this day I can't stomach. I'm not even entirely sure why - I like all the ingredients in it, just not all together.

Both of them passed out around seven last night; I took them to the park for an hour today and they both had a jolly good time sliding around on a giant patch of ice and seeing a dog come by the park with a jogger. They were tuckered out and we're heading to Playtrium today - basically a ginormous jungle gym. I plan to take them to McDonald's for supper afterwards. Should be a good day. Kids are a little easier to deal with when they are tired :P

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 2)

Woke up at 9:04am this morning after passing out last night around 10pm. After a whole day of running the kids around, I really had no patience by the time they had to go to bed. Thankfully it only took two tries to get them to stay in their beds, leaving me to curl up in front of the TV and watch America's Next Top Model in french on MusiquePlus. I also started a new crochet project which will no doubt be finished in a couple of days. All I was missing was a glass of red wine.

The kids got up around 8am, but they were playing nicer with each other than when I was around, so I let them be for an hour or so. I still can't get over how nice this lady's house is. When I saw the place nearly two weeks ago, I couldn't believe two young children lived there. Every room looks like its been plucked straight out of an IKEA catalogue with everything matching and all the wall decor to match. Last night was my first time sleeping in a King sized bed. O.o
It started snowing this morning so there is a light dusting of white over the front yard, to which Isla replied "WE CAN MAKE SNOWANGELS!!". Not entirely sure what the plan is for today.

I would like to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the kids. From one of my students from work I got one of those cookie mixes, where all you have to do is add the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, etc). I figured it would be a good way to use it up.

One thing I have discovered. Kids are easier to deal with outside, while they are running around and burning off energy then when they are doing the same thing inside the house. The fresh air and getting out of the house also does me some good I think. This experience has been relatively enlightening and gives me a much better idea of how to parent my own kids (when I eventually have them). I'm not entirely sure how often their mom works, but it seems that the two of them don't really have any boundaries. I don't think my rules are terribly strict ie: wash your hands before meals, keep your feet off the table, etc. I've read in many places too that kids thrive off routine so I've been attempting to keep the schedule similar:

Breakfast 9:30am
Dressed and Teeth Brushed 10:15am
Board Games/ TV time/ Games till lunch
12:30 Lunch
1:00pm Quiet Time for an hour
2:00 Go to the Park
3:00 Board Games/ TV time/ Games till supper
5:00pm Supper
6:00pm Wind Down time, get into PJ's and brush teeth
7:30pm Bedtime

I think its a matter of me adjusting to the schedule too. My days (now that I'm on vacation) were pretty unstructured except for mealtimes which stay pretty consistent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Parenthood 101

Today is day one of my journey into being a mom. Hold on! Wait! I guess I should go back a few steps. Several months ago, a co-worker of mine asked if I would be interested in making a little extra money over the holidays. A friend of her dad's would be heading down to Cuba over New Years Eve and needed someone to take care of her kids for a week. I jumped at the chance - I can always use some extra cash and I love kids.
While I work with kids from Monday-Friday on a regular basis in the school system, being a nanny is a whole different thing entirely. I don't have to cook for them, or make sure they've brushed their teeth, or make sure they are going to bed in good time.
I got the chance to meet the two munchkins a couple of weekends ago - and they were nice as pie. That being said, I'm not expecting things to run as smoothly as they did the previous time. I babysat them for 6 hours...not for an entire week. I really have no clue what to expect - the whole realm of running a household (children included) is pretty foreign territory for me. As per the request of a couple of friends, I will be blogging about this experience in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed, and I actually get a few hours to myself. Should be interesting.
I'm currently packing my suitcase for the week and will be getting picked up in about an hour to start my crash course in motherhood. Wish me luck!

Day 1: 10:33 am
So far my morning has comprised of watching Bob the Builder, getting the kids a nutritious breakfast of Lucky Charms and apple juice, opening the new play dough containers they got for Christmas and attempting to play one game of Candy Land. You have never really played any board game, until you try to with a three and a four year old :S The pair of them are chatterboxes and I guess its always difficult with someone elses kids - how you go about enforcing rules is kinda up to your discretion. I consider myself a firm but fun person. I'm a very energetic but that being said, I do demand respect. My mom was a pretty strict disciplinarian growing up, and while I don't think I'll ever been that strict, I can see know how there was method to her madness.
So far the youngest one, Isla, has taken to calling me "babysitter" while the four year old, Cyrus, has called me Bethany on several occasions. I guess I'm sorta used to having my name misspelled and mis-said often enough. The kids are still pretty wired that there is someone new in the household to show all their new Christmas presents to, but I expect that to calm down by the end of today.
The idea of having a babysitter is still a pretty foreign idea to me - I never had one growing up. I never went to before or after-school care, as my mom stayed at home. The only time I ever remember getting babysat, it was by my aunt while my mom and dad went to Canada's Wonderland on a day trip.

Day 1: 3:01 pm
Just finished washing up all the dishes from lunch: a box of Spiral Kraft Dinner. Took the kids to a nearby park and they ran off some energy for half an hour before it started to rain. Had to listen to an entertaining argument about whether we were going to watch The Incredibles or The Land Before Time, only to find out that both DVD's were missing. Chaos ensues and I had to sit though Star Wars:The Empire Strikes back instead. Oh joy. Anyone who knows me at all, knows I loath anything science fiction. Had Isla insist that the extension cord she was dragging around the house was in fact her skipping rope. Sigh. I know I'm far more patient around kids than I am with adults, but dang they can be trying on the nerves. Its the constant chatter and the persistent questions that can drive anyone nuts. Its the constant reminders to not do things and to stop hitting your sister and to finish your meal before it gets cold. Gosh it's only been one day. I know I can do this, but wow the days as a full time parent pass by slowly. I get that these two are not my biological kids, but for simulation sake I feel I'm getting a pretty good dose of reality. I can't even imagine how some (single, unwed, teenage or otherwise) parents do this. I believe I want kids, but this experience so far has made me very happy I don't have any yet.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

The majority of people will recognize the characters of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Red Queen, The Walrus and the Carpenter, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledum and the White Rabbit. Most could probably name the film or novel that the characters belong to as well – Alice in Wonderland of course. I have seen 2 different film versions of the book by British author Lewis Carroll; the classic Disney version with the usual catchy songs (ie: Painting the Roses Red) that was released in 1951 and the version by Tim Burton that came out in 2010. The children’s book full of anthropomorphic animals can easily capture the imagination of young readers, but is still a wonderful and fantastical tale for adults to relive. Both films do not stay 100% true to the literary text from which it is derived, which I suppose is common in most cases when changing mediums. They have added and omitted events and characters but the core of the story remains the same.

Alice’s age is never stated in the Disney film, but she is able to daydream this entire world of Wonderland. Oh to be a child again. They have such wonder filled and expansive imaginations. Their ability to create has no boundaries.

The version directed by Tim Burton is far more fantastical than that of Disney in my opinion. Not animated, the movie has to rely on incredible costumes and makeup to recreate this magical land and characters (which also garnered them a Best Costume Design Oscar).

I have been a huge fan of Tim Burton for several years. He is unique and bizarre, which makes him memorable. I remember a few months ago I was watching Burton’s remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the family room. My mom came in, took one look at the screen and asked, “That’s by Tim Burton isn’t it?” He has such a style that it makes any of his films recognizable. Even his live action ones tend to resemble the animated ones. Having watched a solid handful of his movies: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and 9, it is easy to pick out the commonalities between them. Johnny Depp stars in the majority of Burtons works – playing the title character in Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, and Willy Wonka – and playing the secondary role of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Burton’s partner of many years Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films) also appears in his films; the wife of Sweeney Todd, The Red Queen, and Charlie’s mother Mrs. Bucket. His movies tend to have dark themes but they are also fantastical. The man is undoubtedly a genius, and I was excited to hear that a Tim Burton balloon would be unveiled at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the United States. I unfortunately missed out on the Tim Burton exhibit that was being held to showcase TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). That would have been absolutely incredible to witness and grab some photos of. The “twisted, nightmarish, and dark” world of Burton is what sets him apart and has contributed immensely to his success.

In a world of millions of people, making a name for yourself and distinguishing your identity can be difficult. I like to go against the grain, against what is out there. I would rather be overly ridiculous than overly boring and have people forget me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yoga and Me

Yoga and Me is a documentary film which explores the psychological benefits of yoga. Yoga teachers from around the world share their personal journeys to show how the ancient teachings of yoga can be applied to modern day life. Feel free to check out the trailer:

And the website to purchase the film on DVD:

While I am not a renowned yoga instructor like those in the video, I took up yoga as part of my life. I started doing yoga just over two years ago. It initially was a health kick that myself and my two roomies started together while in university – waking up at 6am, changing into our workout clothes, and doing yoga to one of the multiple DVD’s we’d purchased. As it turned out, I was the only one to stick with it. Two months into the semester, their schoolwork/programs were far more time consuming than mine, and I was soon the only one waking up at the crack of dawn to get my yoga on and my endorphins going. As it turned out, yoga was also a wonderful part of my recovery from G.A.D. (generalized anxiety disorder.) It was a great way to de-stress not only my body, but my brain.

I currently have a membership at the YMCA, which as it turns out offers yoga classes nearly every night of the week. I go to the Yogafit classes (which are far more of a workout) and to the regular Yoga classes (which are focuses more on mindfulness, relaxation and very exotic twisted positions of the body). I encourage everyone who has not tried yoga yet to give it a shot. Admittedly I know very few guys who do it, which I assume is because they are less flexible. I have always been a pretty flexible person, despite having never taken gymnastics or the like.

There were/are a lot of reasons I love yoga:

1) The cost: a mat is around $30 and assorted DVD’s are between $7-$15 depending on the length and where you purchase them. It’s not a huge monetary investment to start doing yoga at home. A membership to a yoga studio however can be considerably more costly (between $100-$135 monthly for unlimited sessions from what I’ve seen)

2) Low intensity: Yoga is gentle, fluid and not stressful on joints and ligaments. I have never been a huge fan of running for this reason – it’s hard on my knees. In my classes, the ages of participants stretch from people in their twenties to ladies in their fifties and older.

3) Multi-purpose: Yoga is multiple workouts rolled into one – it helps your flexibility, core strength, and cardiovascular system as well as including meditation.

4) Time commitment: in a busy world, with a to-do list the length of my arm, making time to workout and exercise is difficult. But even 30 minutes of yoga makes you feel like a million dollars.

5) Self-awareness: Yoga incorporates mediation and focus on breathing as part of its practice. This might just be my favourite part. After a workout, the relaxation of the body is overwhelming and is pure bliss. You become not only more aware of your body but of your place in the world. Yoga really is an inspirational journey.

6) Variety: from Hatha yoga to Hot yoga, the discipline has a wide range of styles and positions, which prevent it from becoming boring. Switch it up! Try a new class!

7) Results: within a month I noticed the results of practicing yoga. There was less tension in my muscles and my mind was more at peace. I was also considerably more flexible and lost about 10lbs. My clothes were all looser, and I went down a size at Lululemon.

8) Lack of equipment: other than yourself and your mat, there really isn’t anything else you need. You use your own body weight to strengthen, balance and tone during your practice. You don’t even need to wear shoes!

I’m not going to lecture you on the benefits of yoga – there are thousands of websites out there already for that. Plus it’s always nice to be surprised by the results of something new. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and try something new! Happy Yoga-ing! :D

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna

I remember receiving this two cassette length movie for an Easter present when I was 14 years old from my parents. Staring Amy Irving in the title role, the film follows the life of Anna Anderson, a woman who gained notoriety after claiming that she was the last Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. The movie originally came out in 1986, three years before I was born and before DNA testing was able to prove whether Anna Anderson was indeed a descendant of the Romanov's or an impostor. Testing later proved that she was genetically linked to a Polish factory worker and not the Grand Duchess.

The mystery and allure of the story of the Romanov family has captivated me since I was 9. At my public school’s book fair, I bought a copy of My Anastasia by Canadian author Sharon Stewart. To this day it still remains one of my favourite books; I must have read it at least 25 times as the dog-eared pages proves. This book tells the story of Dunia Ivanova, who runs away from her abusive father and through a twist of fate, encounters Gregori Rasputin. Rasputin has connections to the highest of powers in Russia, the palace of the Tsar and Tsarina. In turn Dunia meets all the grand Duchesses and becomes the protégé of Alexei, the heir to the throne. This rags to riches story enthralled my young mind and I didn’t realized until years later that it was a piece of historical fiction, and that the Romanov's had existed as the most powerful family in Russia for a couple of centuries.

The last of the Romanov family was comprised of Tsar Nicholas the Second, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia, and their only son Alexei. Tsar Nicholas II was a timid man who never wanted to become emperor. He was a kind man but was not suited for politics. His wife Alexandra was a German princess before she married the Tsar, which was not well looked upon in later years because Germany and Russia were enemies during WWI. She was not well liked by the Russian people and was made the scapegoat of anything that went wrong, namely the genetic cause of the only heir’s ailment. Their youngest child and heir to the Russian throne Alexei was born with Hemophilia, a disease which prevents the clotting of blood and causes incredible discomfort and bruising. Only women can pass along this gene, and only men can be hemophiliacs. Alexandra, as a descendant of Queen Victoria, was responsible in the eyes of the Russian people for giving Alexei the disease.

It was imperative that this terrible secret be hidden from the public. The faith in the Tsar was already waning and the mob could not know that the heir to the throne had a life threatening disease. Any bump or bruise could trigger internal bleeding. Doctors were summoned to stop the bleeding but few knew anything about how to treat it. Gregori Rasputin was considered a holy man, and had made his way into the upper ranks of society. Despite his womanizing and alcoholic ways, he seemed to be the only one capable of stopping the bleeding. Because in the eyes of the Tsarina, Rasputin was the only one who could save her son’s life, he was a man to be trusted and kept close. He held ultimate power and became a dangerous player in the fate of the Romanovs. While the Tsar was on the front lines during WWI, the Tsarina was left alone to run the country. With Rasputin whispering things in her ear, she rarely denied him what he wanted. This fact sparked rumours of an affair between the Tsarina and the monk. Rasputin made the rulers of Russia his puppets. For those of you who haven’t heard the song “Ra Ra Rasputin” by Boney M, should have a listen: It’s a Russian history lesson in a song!

The death of Rasputin is shrouded in legend and mystery. It is said that Rasputin warned that if anyone in the Romanov family should contribute to his death, the entire dynasty would fall within a year. This turned out to be the case. In multiple ways Rasputin was a major contributor to the fall of the Romanovs. He had many enemies in the Russian government who were not pleased that a man of the church could have so much influence. It has been claimed that he was poisoned, and shot several times, before being tossed in the river to drown.

Nearing the end of the war, Russia was a pot that was able to boil over. Nicholas II resigned the throne and the family was taken into captivity for their own protection. They were shepherded across the country, far from their lavish lifestyle at the imperial palace by the Red Army. On the morning of July 17, 1917 the family was awaken in the middle of the night, and ushered into the basement of the Ipatiev House – or the “House of Special Purpose”. They were told that they were going to have a family portrait taken and were arranged in two rows. Then without warning, firing squad-style, the soldiers of the Red Army open fired on the imperial family. They burned and buried the bodies in an attempt to remove all traces of evidence. They rewrote records and tried to erase the history of the family’s existence. This sparked the possibility that one or more of the Grand Duchesses may have survived the massacre and would thereby be entitled to the families inheritance. No surprise, this resulted in an onslaught of impostors claiming to be Anastasia Romanov, none of whom were real.

There is a great documentary that National Geographic did about the discovery of the remains, and the attempt to piece together the last days of the family: The story of the Romanovs remains one of mystery and tragedy. They were canonized as saints in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church, a lasting impression on their importance in Russian history.