cardboard box

Tidying Up, In the Bleak Midwinter

Before anyone starts thinking of possible prescription meds to solve this, I’m happy to report that I’ve found an effective treatment. Last year, while immersed in the post-Christmas doldrums, I binge-watched a show on tidying up (yeah, it was that one). Then I went on Amazon, the officially supplier for cold-weather shut-ins, and had a whole whack of itty bitty boxes with dividers delivered. Then I systematically went through everything. I mean, everything. For a couple of months, I picked through every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, and toted out bag after bag of nothing in particular (and yes, I thanked it before I pitched it).

It felt really good, good enough that the fact that it was winter didn’t bother me so much. Like, good enough that this year, once the holiday hullabaloo was over, I just automatically launched into it again (holy crap, it’s amazing how extra stuff can grow back in only a year). Like, good enough that I actually look forward to the next domestic vivisection.

While I am somewhat beholden to a certain home organization guru for kicking me off on this endeavour, this post isn’t intended as a testimonial or an endorsement for any particular methodology. It’s just that, while I’m turning over proverbial rocks and dealing with everything that scurries from underneath them, I feel the need to also take stock of my reasons for doing so. I like to gut my mindset as I gut my closets.

So, into my second winter of epic tidying of the space between walls, here’s what I’ve found in the space between my ears. Being inside most of the time forces one to be alone with one’s thoughts. Yeah, I know, good Canadian girls get out and go skiing and skating and tobogganing, but…ew. For better or for worse, I spend the winter months reorganizing my ideas, my priorities, my goals. And just like the space at the back of my cupboards, sometimes it ain’t pretty. Type A extroverts like me tend to let things stack up, go unnoticed, get moldy with neglect. I’m forced to ask “Why did I ever think that was a good idea?” and then I’m obliged to thank it for doing its job, stuff it into a proverbial bag, and take it away.

As is part of the process of tidying my possessions, cleaning up my mental space also necessitates that I revisit the good ideas as well. There are sparks of awesome that get hidden underneath routine and foolishness. As I dig out cute, snarky t-shirts, cartoon socks and a pair of jeans that fits like it was meant to be travelling pants, I also excavate happy thoughts, plans that might still work. It’s strange how good ideas get lost in the shuffle just as often as less-than useful ones, maybe even more often. Good ideas are sometimes hard to wear and use, and easy to put away and forget.

Do I still feel at odds with winter? Hell yes. Do I still want the apple fritters, the hot baths, and permission to nap unabated? Absolutely. But I’m finding that a stack of empty bins, some garbage bags, and a little time to take stock of the clutter both inside and outside of my head can make it easier to find contentment as I wait for spring.

On Being Canadian. And Nice.


Just like you never notice your own accent until you travel somewhere else, sometimes you don’t acknowledge your cultural identity until you’re far away from it. Last week, I went to a conference outside of Canada, and did several very Canadian things that led to me being almost blinded by my own Canadian-ness.

1. I spelled out loud with the letter Z. That’s zed, not zee. And then I apologized.

2. I had no idea what the temperature was in Fahrenheit. And then I apologized for that too.

3. When people commented on how nice, and polite, and considerate Canadians are, I got all awkward and humble and denied it. And yes, I apologized for us not being as nice as people think we are.

The first two are all in a days work when visiting our southern neighbours. I can’t help it if our alphabet is a little different, and our units of measurement vary. No biggie. The third one, in hindsight, really bugged me.

You see, I didn’t just do the “aw shucks” maneuver and thank them for their kind words. I kind of launched into a series of mini-lectures on all the ways in which we aren’t always nice. I’m not just talking about our prowess in hockey fights, or our tendency to passive aggressively poke fun at other people behind their backs, either. I got into our own recent increase in populism. I spoke of our history of oppression of indigenous people and minorities, and how current efforts to make reparations might not be doing the trick. I had intended to be cute and clever, but I think I came off as a little bitter. I made one American stare at me blankly and say “Well, you’ve burst that bubble.”

The strangest thing is, I love being Canadian. Even with our extreme weather and funny accents, I’d still rather live here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Canadian modesty keeps me from shouting it from rooftops, but we’re really quite awesome here in the Great White North.

Maybe it was my Canadian modesty that made me tell the truth about us, instead of just smiling shyly and saying thank you. I’d like to think that part of my identity as a Canadian involves admiring our way of life without idolizing it. My love for my home country, for my fellow hosers, and love for what we’ve built together don’t stop me from keeping a critical eye open.

Maybe what others see as humility is just our Canadian sensibility that we’re not done yet. Humans have been stomping around our rugged landscapes for tens of thousands of years, and yet, we’re still figuring out how to get along with one another, how to love the land, and how to express ourselves on foreign shores. Part of being Canadian may just be the recognition that we’re not finished, not settled, still seeking. Our village (look up the origins of the name “Canada”) was built on a tacit agreement that we would forever be rebuilding and repairing it.

We are a nation of upgrades waiting to happen, a living laundry list of bug fixes and new versions waiting to be released. I may have seemed a bit of a downer when I was chatting with my new American friends, but in reality, they just happened to catch this Canadian mid-hiccup. A year before, or a year into the future, I might have had a very different list of changes to report. Make no mistake, though, there is still awesomeness to be found in the process of working on ourselves, of constantly being in the midst of a tune-up. I don’t feel like less of a Canadian for asking “What can we do better?”

So, here we are sitting on another birthday as a country (heck, even this holiday itself could use a little re-evaluation). Please join me in raising a beer, or a double-double, or a butter tart to this 9.985 square kilometer work-in-progress, and to the 37 million toque-wearing, notoriously sarcastic, Kraft Dinner-loving, overly-apologetic souls who aren’t afraid to constantly pose and re-pose the question “What is Canada, eh?”

I Made Friends With A Yeti.

My apologies for not blogging much these past few months, but I’ve been making new friends and creating new stuff. As it has a tendency to do, spring whizzed by me, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out where time went. Okay, a bunch of time went into my newest book, and I’m completely smitten with it.

Some time ago, I uttered the words “If you met a yeti” in conversation (no idea how it came up), and the lovely lilt of that phrase got stuck in my head. The same way I wonder what animals think of humans, I wondered what a yeti might make of us, if they stumbled out of the woods and happened upon a person or two. I made a list, which turned into verse, and the very talented artist Toni Cater agreed to give our yeti friend a face and a form.

Yeti is cuddly, and sweet, and curious, and I can’t wait for people to meet him/her. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past few months. The print book was just released, and the interactive eBook is nearing completion too.

Please give it a whirl, and enjoy the marvelous conversation that ensues. Children, like yetis, have some pretty deep thoughts about human beings.

You’ll find it on and



I Resolve to Find a Better Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas (cue humbug). I’ve got nothing against the holiday, per se, but I really don’t like what we do to ourselves (and each other) in the name of all that’s holly and jolly. We shop, we make, we clean, we bake, we run around with big, nervous smiles embedded in our faces. There’s the expectation that we’ll get this holiday to be the best one yet, but when the ribbons eventually come off, we’re exhausted, and left wondering why we don’t feel all egg-noggy and cinnamon-sprinkled about the whole thing.

And then, only a week later, we make ourselves promises about the coming year. I will get my squishy, cookie dough butt to the gym and will make my muscles the consistency of fine Italian marble by Valentine’s Day. I will climb at least three rungs up the professional ladder. I will keep my new rhododendron alive at least until summer. And then I will pretend I never promised any of this stuff, lest I end up looking like a first-class dork later on.

I don’t know about you, but I work pretty hard, all year long. I’ve done my best in 2018, both at times when the universe gave me a cookie for being a swell gal, and when it flipped me the bird and said “Let’s see what you do with that.” I’m light years from achieving perfection in any one area of my life, but I’m not a slacker. Never have been, never will be. I’m not keen on the inevitable guilt trip that will come if I make resolutions, and then can’t fulfill them (and yeah, it’s gonna happen that way). So I just don’t make them anymore.

But what to do instead? I mean, just because I don’t make resolutions, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to pay respect to the year about to tap out, and welcome the one waiting to come in. Attention must still be paid. I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives, suggestions that still give a nod to the changing of the temporal guard, but that won’t make me feel like sheepish, inadequate garbage at any point next year.

First alternative: choose a personal theme song for 2019. Find a catchy little tune to play as a condolence whenever life appears to go off-book, or as a victory march when things work out. It should embody who you are, and your general goals, without being specific enough to set you up for failure. Really, it should be more about your frame of mind than about specific tasks or projects, and yeah, if you get part way through the year and find it isn’t cutting it anymore, you get to change it. Since I’m more about playlists than about single tunes, here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order:

  1. Ukulele Anthem, by Amanda Palmer
  2. What a Difference a Day Made, Jamie Cullum Version
  3. And She Was, by Talking Heads
  4. Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell
  5. Raise Your Glass, by Pink

Okay, so maybe a theme song isn’t direct enough, or it won’t work because you can’t pin it up above your desk. Fair enough. There’s also great value in a slogan or a catch phrase. Choose a quote to light your way through 2019. Use it as a mantra, or a battle cry (depending on the level of zen in a particular situation). Heck, choose a whack of them, make multiple copies on sticky notes, and plaster that business all over the place. Words pack a pleasing wallop. For myself in 2019, I’m thinking of:

“My optimism wears heavy boots, and is loud.” Henry Rollins

“I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.” Dorothy Parker

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” C.S. Lewis

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

“You are what you settle for.” Janis Joplin

There, now isn’t that a whole lot less intimidating than solemnly swearing to read War and Peace or single-handedly finish the bathroom reno? You can still start a new year with intention, without having to adhere to a specific checklist. You can set yourself in a general direction and enjoy the ride, take advantage of the pleasant surprises along the way, and not be too thrown off by the bumps in the road. Best of all, you can maybe come to realize that life, the universe and everything don’t unfold in one-year chunks, if they unfold at all. We are ourselves on-going projects, impossibly complicated and lovely.

Happy 2019, all. I wish you beautiful theme songs, poignant words, and a palpable lack of resolutions.


How Kids Can Help Us Rethink Philosophy

shutterstock_191437544At what point did philosophy become a luxury, rather than a necessity? We’ve never needed critical, rational thought more than we do now, and there are more reasons to embrace our inner philosopher than I can cover in a blog post. Yet it’s often a bit of a hard sell. I don’t get it.

Here’s something even more strange about our aversion to philosophy: while we moan and groan about it being too hard, or not necessary, our kids are doing it (and doing a pretty good job). Right under our collective, grown-up noses, there is philosophy going on amongst those who aren’t old enough to vote or even stay home alone. I know because I’ve seen it, and I’ve marveled at it.

How do we keep ourselves from being lapped by minors, when it comes to philosophical thought? Well, maybe we need to put on a pair of kid goggles and try seeing philosophy through their eyes. How does a child do philosophy, even before they know what it is?

For starters, children aren’t hung up on the notion that big questions belong solely to academics. They aren’t afraid to join in this very ancient, human pursuit. They don’t ask permission, and they don’t shy away from an argument. For them, asking these questions is just part of being a person. This isn’t to say that children (or anyone, really) can’t benefit from a little formal practice, a little structure, and some feedback, but kids seem to know that philosophy is still available to them, years before they’re ready for university. The fact that they’re so willing to ask us so many big questions seems to indicate that they know it’s available to the rest of us too.

To a child, philosophy doesn’t have to be written down or published. Some of us grow up and dive into the thousands of years of documented philosophy, and we find it inspiring and even life-changing. That’s all well and good, but as a child will demonstrate, there’s also philosophical content to be found in a crayon drawing, a puppet show, a discussion over an afternoon snack, a story, or an anecdote. It happens in many forms.

As little thinkers show us, the practice of asking big questions doesn’t always have to be serious. Philosophy does ask us to use reason and logic, to be objective and respectful of opposing viewpoints, and yes, philosophy does tend to take on some fairly heavy issues.  But why should this have to negate play and fun? Why shouldn’t there be humour in trying to find our place in the universe? Why shouldn’t playing with ideas be acceptable? We thrill when we see our children learning through play, including when they delight in asking big questions. Why do we deny adults the pleasure and joy of thinking big?

What’s more, children remind us that philosophy shouldn’t be a solitary practice. It can’t be. We insist that children learn to share, to be kind to one another, to cooperate, even when their ideas and those of their fellow humans don’t match. Somewhere along the line as we mature, we become unable to examine two sides of an issue without going at each other’s throats. All the lessons we learned while sharing a sandbox seem to disappear. Child philosophers teach us is that we’re in this together. Philosophy demands that we learn to talk to one another, learn from one another. There’s just too much to process, too much ground to cover for us to do it alone.

A final, and very important lesson that wee folk teach us is that the big questions asked by philosophy are applicable to real life. Talk to a child about a philosophical question, and they’ll tell you about an instance when they encountered it in their daily activities. They immediately see connections between the big questions they ask, and the way they live. That’s why they ask them in the first place. They need to talk about fairness so that they can play well in the school yard. They need to talk about beauty so that they can express themselves through art and appreciate nature. They need to know what makes a human because they have rapidly growing minds and bodies that beg to be understood. They need to understand the difference between true and false, real and imaginary, so that they can make decisions and keep themselves safe. Children see that philosophy questions are rooted in real life.

As I see it, we have two options. We could go on thinking of philosophy as an outdated practice stashed in an ivory tower somewhere, an amusing hobby, or a conversation starter at cocktail parties. We could continue to paint it as too abstract, too intellectual, too impractical. Or we could take cues from our children, and examine philosophy through a different lens. We could sharpen our minds and embolden our spirits to look difficult issues square-on, with the critical, yet curious eye of a kid. We can go back to a point in our lives when it was still cool and acceptable to see ourselves as relentless, unapologetic, and joyful, question-askers.

I’m for the latter. Who’s with me?


Growing a Voice

children shouting

A few months ago, I watched my kid get up in front of about 800 people, many of whom were strangers, and sing. By herself. A capella. She auditioned without telling us, and beamed when she was selected to perform. There were no sleepless nights, no mysterious stomach aches, no nails bitten down to the quick. She was suitably nervous beforehand and during, relieved when it was done, and unsure what her peers would think of her performance. She is, after all, a kid. At no point, however, did she doubt that she deserved to be there, to be heard. What’s more, there was never a moment when I thought she couldn’t do it. It was just another instance when I was left to wonder from whence this kid got her courage, because it certainly wasn’t inherited from me.

I was the runty kid who cried if anyone looked at her the wrong way. The very last thing I wanted to do when I was little was speak up or ask for an audience. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot to say…when I was by myself. I had monkey brain from a very early age, and there was no shortage of ideas and opinions, but I was out-and-out terrified of other people listening. There were guarded monologues, performed in front of my toys and secret thoughts, stories and poems scribbled in journals.

I didn’t find my voice until I was an adolescent, when a part in my favourite musical came up at school, and I knew I’d spend eternity giving myself face-palms if I didn’t at least try out for it. In addition to my persistent childhood timidness, I was at the tail end of a freakish growth spurt, and I was all bad perm, gangly limbs, and a unibrow. It took everything I had (and a fair bit of coaxing from my friends) to sing an audition piece in front of my teachers. When opening night came, I managed to catch a horrible chest cold, and I sounded like Harvey Fierstein after a month of chain smoking. But I still went on, and it was good. I was in front of hundreds of people, and they were listening. Being heard didn’t cause me to implode. In fact, it triggered a lot of growth. I probably had a fat head for a while after that, but the seal was broken, and I started making up for more than a decade of keeping to myself.

The quiet, shy kid is still part of me. I still get sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat before I have to give a talk or appear on camera. If I know there’s a meeting coming, I rehearse what I’m going to say the day before, in the car, in the shower, in front of my dogs. I worry a lot about screwing up, about being misunderstood. Despite my best efforts, I still have a wobbly, little-kid squeak in my voice, which I’m convinced is my shy inner child speaking her mind through my grown-up body. But what used to terrify me is now a rush, and I relish the opportunity to speak the contents of my jittery little mind. I now make my living screaming into the void.

There’s still room for improvement, mind you. I have not, as of yet, done a solo in front of 800 people in a school talent show.


A Letter To My Daughter, On Mother’s Day

Hey Kiddo,

I hope it won’t offend you to hear that I never wore rose-coloured glasses when it came to having children. At eighteen, I was convinced I would have three of you, immediately after finishing university. At 25, I thought maybe two, and not for a while. By the time I hit thirty, I was leaving the number and time frame blank. Life kept getting more interesting, and the task of being someone’s mother got progressively more daunting. Once in a while, some brave older woman would confess to her shortcomings as a mother, tell me that she had no idea what she was doing, and that she wasn’t sure she’d done anything right. I wasn’t disappointed to hear any of this, I was just relieved. I didn’t think I’d do it right either. For me, motherhood always seemed really interesting, but hard.

But you knew that when you picked me, didn’t you? You were prepared to love me, warts and all, at every stage of the game. There’s never been an off-handed comment about how I don’t wear make-up, or a snide remark about me spending too much time on my laptop. You leave me sweetly-doodled notes on my messy desk, and when you come in to our room in the wee hours of morning, you wake your father first. You introduce me to your friends as someone who does cool things and knows cool stuff. You’ve been happily letting us drag you all over the world since you were smaller than my carry-on. I think you actually dig all of my quirks and weirdness.

I have to admit, I still feel like I’m screwing things up in not living up to some “Leave It To Beaver” standard (look it up on YouTube). There will inevitably come a time when you wish I had done a few things differently, and if you choose to have children one day, they’ll do the same for you. I still wish for more sleep, maybe a little more quiet, certainly more hours in the day. But believe me when I say that when I tell you to always be yourself, it’s partially because you’ve always let me be myself. You’ve more than let me, you’ve insisted on it. The only way to really screw up would be to not recognize this as a gift, to not take it in stride.

Five Mother’s Days from now, I will still be me (even more so) , and you will still be you (even more so), and I will still be grateful that we two strange creatures bumped into one another. We work, don’t we?

With love,



This Is Doubt, And It Is Your Friend


I have a warm, fuzzy relationship with Doubt. No, I’m not one of those annoying naysayers who jumps on every opportunity to pull things apart. I take only a little bit of joy in proving people wrong. I just tend to be a big picture kind of thinker, and as such, I get swept away in enormous clouds of ideas. Getting down to the details and execution part of things isn’t exactly second nature to me.  I have to be dragged out of the stratosphere on a regular basis. And that’s where Doubt tends to do me a solid.

For me, Doubt is kind of like Jiminy Cricket (maybe a less naggy, whiny version of him). Somewhere in the mush that is my consciousness, there is a firm, but friendly little voice that reminds me that I’m missing something, that I’m being goofy and irrational, that I need to settle down and give things another look. Doubt keeps me grounded and honest. Doubt reminds me to do something productive with these big ideas I have. Doubt is always there, watching carefully and taking notes, and I’m grateful for it. I’d be a terrible flake if I hadn’t made friends with Doubt long ago.

It hurts me when my friend Doubt gets a bad rap. At times, I see Doubt trying to interject itself into heated conversations, or speeches given from atop soap boxes. It asks (politely) things like “Are you sure that’s true?” and “Have you considered this side of things?” It’s not trying to be a jerk about it, it’s just trying to help. But on many occasions, people seem to feel personally attacked by it. They think to Doubt or to be Doubted, is to have their voices and their views negated entirely. Maybe they’ve chummied up with Status Quo and Everybody Knows, and don’t want to offend them by making friends with Doubt.

Here’s the thing about my friend Doubt: it tends to show up when and where it’s needed. It’s not vindictive or pedantic, and it doesn’t have an ax to grind with us. It doesn’t pop in because it was bored or it was in the neighbourhood. Doubt calls attention to the gaps that would otherwise go unnoticed, and gives us the opportunity to fill them in before we fall into them. That niggling feeling we get in our stomach when Doubt pops up is a good thing. The nights we spend awake, staring at the ceiling, that’s a good thing too. We’re in a time and place where there’s more to doubt than there has ever been before. Maybe it’s time we let Doubt do all of us a solid.



More Accolades. I’ll Take ‘Em!

“Zoom In, Zoom Out” is the little book that could. What started out as a fun project I did with some very cool people at work has taken on a life of its own. In the past few weeks, we’ve been awarded a bronze medal from IPPY and a Nautilus silver medal.

Being a writer can be a lonely business, producing interactive media even more so. You spend a lot of time shouting into the void and sometimes the only response you get to your shouting is trolls telling you that they don’t like your shoes, or critics who make comments like “This book is too bookish.” I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have three separate entities tell me that the thing I pour myself into is useful, and good. I’m feeling lucky to have a voice, to have an amazing team that helps me shape it into something presentable, and now, readers responding from the other side of the void.

From this humble word nerd, a heartfelt thank you.

Feeling Very Zoom-Y

Now, this is how you start off a week! I opened my email this morning to find that “Zoom In, Zoom Out”, my latest book for kids, is on the winner’s list for the Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards! I just wanted to say thank you to the wonderful team that helped me make this wee book, and to all the readers who’ve loaned us their eyes.

If you haven’t yet, definitely check it out. Here’s a peek: