Nosy, awkward and outrageous: how I cope with comments about my family’s size


Having a lot of children raises eyebrows. Heck, having children in any circumstances not reflecting a perfect sequence of material acquisition and career advancement raises eyebrows. Having a large family flies in the face of common sense. Thankfully for my children, common sense ain’t that common.

While we know the reasons that reason ignores, and while each child coming after the second adds a new thickness to our hides, comments about family size always hurt. The intensity of the burn ranges from mild annoyance at the grocery store to lasting pain and resentment at the hands of our families. No one likes to feel like an idiot, not even mothers of 4+ children.

We have 9 kids so we’ve been raising eyebrows since 1999. I have almost heard it all. I have heard really awkward. Awkward as your three year-old making a clear-as-springwater observation about someone’s dress or facial hair. I have heard outrageous. Outrageous as only an older person with cognitive issues and no filter could possibly muster. No one has ever called me “selfish” but most moms of many have been called selfish to their face. Come spend a weekend with 5+ kids, it’ll knock the selfish right outta ya. I rent my family by the week — if you can last that long — for self-centered relaxation. Try it if you dare.

I am asked often how I deal with negative comments about my family’s size. I have a supernatural ability to ignore things that bug me, that’s the easy answer. I’m like the Penguins in Madagascar:

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That said, I had two meaningful interactions with older folks when I was a young mom expecting my third child. One had had one child (whether by choice or circumstances, I don’t know) and that one child had died suddenly in his mid-forties. The second had had 10 children in close range. The one with one child still had regrets at age 80 about not spending more time with his family, about not seeing his son grow-up. The one with 10 children told me of the people in her nursing home: “All these people were sorry for me when I was having my children one after the other. Now they think I’m lucky.”

These two conversations had a profound impact on me. On my perspective on having children and making family-centered decisions. It taught me that (1) none of us gets another kick at the can once our fertile years are behind us and once our kids are grown; and (2) that raising young children is the grunt work of parenting, the tiling of the field from which the harvest will later come forth. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition: we don’t get to pour the time, care and affection we didn’t pour into our children once they are grown and we don’t get to have more children once we are older and lonelier. The blessings of children are not the sleepless nights, the bum-wipings and the ear-piercing shrieks. No. Those are the latrines of parenting. The blessings come later, once the field has been tended and nurtured, early in the morning, late at night, in the cold, in the rain, back-broken and exhausted, when you felt like it and when you did not.

Most people make their family size decisions in the here and now. That’s fine, whatever floats your goat. whatever-floats-your-goatBut we never consider what comes after the crazy years of raising small children. Of course two children under 3 is enough! Children under 6 are crazy animals. Maybe some people have large families because they love being pregnant while chasing a potty-training toddler who still doesn’t sleep through the night but I sure as heck did not. I have more children because I know that however intense these years are, they are but a flash in comparison to the other lifetime I will spend in my older years.

Bear with me for a second. I started my family at 21, now I’m 42. That’s 21 years of having little kids in the house. Assuming my 9th is my last, I have another 5 years of little-kid-madness ahead of me, for a total of 26 years. Insane right? That said, assuming I live as long or longer than my grandparents, who died between the ages of 80 and 100, I have another 42 years — probably more like 50 — of life without small-kid-insanity on the horizon. Fifty year. I haven’t even been alive that long! That’s what I mean by “another lifetime”: 40-50 years of friendship and support and family meals and visits and help and whatever other amazing things will come out of having a large gang of properly attached people around me. And no one will burn-out supporting me because the work will be split 9 ways, times their spouses, times their own kids.

My husband and I were on a dinner date last year and while chatting with the waitress she pointed at a large group seated nearby. She mentioned that it was a group of 14 celebrating their mother and grandmother’s 80th birthday. All her children and grandchildren were present around the table and the matriarch was beaming, seated in the center of the table as I had seen my own grandparents do so many times when their descendants were visiting. I counted 4 grown children and their spouses with 6 grandchildren among them. The small popular restaurant was almost full and renovations were underway to open-up a mezzanine overlooking the main floor. I told my husband: “It just occurred to me that if most of our children get married and have children, and if some of their children have spouses and children, we will need to book the entire restaurant when we turn 80. It will be full to the rafters.”

When I get totally overwhelmed by the present moment, I remember the “after” and the rafters. People who think we are nuts today can’t see what we’re seeing. This is the truth.

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Été 2016 – Des nouvelles de la famille


Bonjour tout le monde, ou du moins ceux qui me lisent en français! Il y a longtemps que je vous dois des nouvelles fraîches mais j’ai à peine écrit deux phrases qu’un enfant se réveille: interruption à point qui illustre bien pourquoi je n’ai presque rien écrit depuis un mois. Alors on commence comment?

L’été est arrivé comme à chaque année le 21 juin, avec l’anniversaire de Colin, mais pour notre famille les vacances ont commencé un peu plus tôt — en mai — afin de me permettre de travailler sur un contrat de rédaction technique. Nous avons eu le plaisir d’accueillir une jeune fille pour l’été qui est venue garder les enfants pendant que je travaillais. Travailler de la maison avec de l’aide s’est révélé une solution idéale qui m’offrait un certain équilibre et me donnait un peu d’espace pour respirer après une année intense d’école à la maison et de récupération.

Au tout début des vacances, Lucas s’est cassé la jambe en sautant sur le trampoline. Avoir un petit éclopé a certainement mis une bonne cuiller de sable dans nos engrenages. Les 5 plus jeunes allaient passer l’été à la maison, un petit été tranquille, marqué par les randonnées dans la forêt autour de la maison, les picnics à la plage du village et les visites au Daily Scoop, le comptoir à crème glacée local. Avec la jambe dans le plâtre jusqu’à la hanche, les randonnées en forêt étaient difficiles, la plage était impossible, ça nous laissait le comptoir à crème glacée que nous avons honoré par notre présence sur une base presque quotidienne. En août, nous avons fait notre pèlerinage annuel au camp familial, lieu de repos et de ressourcement — enfin, autant que les vacances avec les trois plus jeunes le permettent.

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Au début de l’été, j’ai commencé à publier des vidéos genre “tranche de vie” sur YouTube avec l’espoir d’augmenter ma visibilité en ligne. Je n’ai pas eu le succès espéré et je me suis retranchée en août. Le temps requis par l’assemblage de me petits vidéos empiétait sur tout mes autres projets et sans vraiment faire de différence sur mes statistiques. Bref, je dois accepter que mon message — qu’il soit écrit ou filmé — n’est populaire qu’auprès d’un noyau loyal de supporteurs — et de membres de ma famille — qui me suivent depuis le début. J’ai beaucoup de plaisir à écrire et à produire mes vidéos mais je ne crois pas que mes publications vont me permettre de gagner un revenu. Bref, j’ai passé un peu de temp cet été à accepter que mes projets écrits ne sont qu’un hobby et que la rédaction technique est mon gagne-pain. C’était une réflection importante pour moi car j’ai passé les dernières années à justifier le temps que je passais à écrire et à produire mes vidéos comme un investissement dans ma carrière. Cette conclusion donnait un certain aura, une priorité, à mon écriture en relation à mes autres ambitions et passe-temps. Lorsque j’ai accepté que mon écriture ne résonnait pas auprès d’un large public, ça m’a donné la permission d’explorer d’autres formes d’expression qui m’apportent du plaisir mais pour lesquelles je n’ai aucun talent ou ambition, comme la peinture, la poésie et la musique.

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En partageant cette reflection avec vous, je ne cherche pas les compliments ou les encouragements. Je veux seulement vous dire que le monde de l’Internet dans le fond, c’est un grand concours de popularité. Et je n’ai jamais été populaire à l’école. Là où je réussi à faire une différence, c’est plutôt dans les présentations que je fais auprès de petits groupe intimes et dans le contact personnel avec les lecteurs qui communiquent avec moi par téléphone ou par email pour avoir des conseils et de l’encouragement. J’ai rencontré des familles extraordinaires par le biais de mon blogue et c’est une présence en-ligne que j’ai du plaisir à maintenir. J’ai beaucoup réfléchi sur la tension qui existe entre rejoindre une large audience qui me permet de gagner un revenu ou poursuivre mon bout de chemin anonyme mais significatif. Idéalement, j’écrirais des choses qui changent la vie de millions de personnes et j’en ferais ma carrière. Cependant, il semble que pour le moment je ne réussi à toucher qu’une poignée de familles mais que ce contact est significatif. Qualité versus quantité. Je rêve d’avoir une grande quantité de qualité mais ce sera pour plus tard, peut-être quand les enfants seront plus grands.
Les enfants vont bien. Clara commence sa troisième année d’université et travaille pour la réserve des Forces Armées Canadiennes comme ingénieur de combat. Colin commence sa deuxième année d’université au Collège Militaire à Kingston en Ontario. Éloïse et Marie sont retournées à l’école cette année après 2 ans à la maison pour terminer leur cours secondaire. David et Sarah continuent à être éduqués à la maison, les jumeaux — qui vont avoir 5 ans cette semaine! — commencent à faire “du travail” avec beaucoup d’enthousiasme. Nous avons terminé l’année d’école 2015-2016 à la maison par la peau des dents en mai dernier et j’ai immédiatement commencé à faire de l’anxiété en pensant au mois de septembre. Je croyais que j’étais un peu brûlée et que mes nerfs se calmeraient avec un peu de repos et un changement de routine. Malheureusement, l’anxiété est devenue de plus en plus sévère alors que Septembre approchait et vers la fin août, j’étais complètement sur le carreau. Nous avons dû changer notre plan d’attaque afin de continuer à mettre un pieds devant l’autre. Paul a pris la responsabilité de l’école à la maison et reste à la maison avec les enfants deux jours par semaine et le samedi. Je m’occupe de l’école le lundi et le mercredi. Cet ajustement devrait me permettre de respirer et offrir aux enfants la structure dont ils ont besoin et que Paul est plus apte à fournir. La dynamique entre les enfants et moi est tendue, sans doute parce que je suis tendue, et j’espère que je vais retrouver mon air d’aller plus tôt que tard.

Je vous souhaite une bonne année scolaire. Rappelez-vous que que dans la vie, on avance ou on recule, il n’y a jamais de beau fixe. Du moins jamais pour longtemps.

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Mixed Nuts: 5 reachable goals


Thank you everyone who answered last week’s question about the Mixed Nuts, here on the blog or on the Fearless Family Life Facebook page. I wanted to know if you preferred the short and sweet “5 quick-takes”-style blog post where I share links without commentary or the longer “fruit of my brain” commentary on things I’ve read throughout the week. The dominant opinion was that whatever I posted was fine (you are all so nice!) but that a mix of longer and shorter, especially during the summer, would be perfect. Today, I will share 5 quick reflections — something between a link and a ponder — about my goals for the near future.

1 Pick a project and pursue it .

“If you only have one ass you can’t sit on two horses.”

My creative projects are as scattered as they are unfinished. I have a tech writing project that pays bills and as such takes priority. I am learning how to make better YouTube videos and edit them faster. I am trying to find an agent, a publisher and a ghost-writer for my friend Johanne, if anything we need to write a test chapter and a rough road map of the book to increase our chances of catching a publisher’s eye. I also have a parenting memoir project and, last but not least, my beloved novel.

I struggle with picking the right horse to sit my one ass on. Creators are often advised to create regardless of the commercial potential (or lack thereof) of their projects: every successful writer, musician or movie producer has a pocketful of stories of bitter rejection. They are the battle wounds they show-off in interviews, laughing about the butts they’d like to wipe with the million-dollar scripts once rejected without as much as a call back. But this creator has 11 mouths to feed and cannot blissfully disappear in a fog of inspiration. My income goes into the necessities of life for a large family, not into boot-strapping my next project. I can’t pull a Steven Pressfield, sell the coat off my back and move into my car until my first novel is finished. Raising my children is the creative work that I have to do relentlessly, with discipline and laser sharp focus. I have no illusion of growing as a creator without pounding the appropriate amount of pavement but I have to choose the road wisely, with some discernment as to which pavement is most likely to yield an income. Right now, I feel like a Canadian twist on Sisyphus: rolling my 4-5 snowballs up the hill, hoping that one will get to the other side and roll into some momentum. But they still roll back down the way they came.

2 Believe I can do this.

Last week I sat on the Jody Mitic podcast (episode 7) and played a bit of the devil’s advocate about the Black-Lives-Matter-Toronto-Pride-Parade sit-in where the group demanded —among other things — that police floats no longer be allowed to participate. I don’t do parades, never been to a Pride Parade. Never been black, or queer, or even arrested. I don’t even have a single clue what I’m talking about but I did enjoyed shooting the stuff with Jody. He is the most un-politically correct politician I have met and I do believe that our political discourse would benefit from having more elected officials speaking from a place of genuine emotion the way Jody does: if anything it’s entertaining. I also got to pick his brain (off air) about his experience getting his book published and reaching number 1 of the best-sellers’ list here in Canada. One of the positive side effects of being an opinionated one-man-show is that it makes you a great cheerleader. He has a knack for convincing me that living a normal life with 9 children is as remarkable as being a sniper, getting your legs blown-off, running a half-marathon on prosthetic legs, almost winning the Amazing Race Canada, getting elected to City Hall and writing a best-seller. Then of course I got home to my 87 YouTube subscribers, my $1.47 of lifetime add revenue and remembered exactly how far I was from going anywhere. But that kernel of encouragement lives on and someday, maybe, it will grow into something.

3 Read more and write more about what I love.

I started reading Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” and I downloaded Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” on Audible. In general I find that reading about writing is a form of avoidance. The fear of wasting my time writing something bad keeps me reading about writing instead of diving headlong into my projects. When Stephen Pressfield characterized writing workshops as “pits of resistance” I knew that I had found my match. His scolding about “the resistance” — a mix a of pride and fear — shed a hard light on my own avoidance mechanisms and excuses. That said, “On Writing” by Stephen King and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White kept nagging me through blog posts and podcast interviews and I knew that they should be part of my reference library, if nothing else. In the first chapter of “On Writing”, Stephen King lays down the law on writing: reading a lot and writing a lot are key. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes need permission to do the things we know are right? For the last couple of years, since I started homeschooling, I have been constrained by a sense that I should use my reading time wisely by focusing on non-fiction so as to learn something useful. The problem is that I don’t love non-fiction. I like it as one likes vegetables and exercise but not with the breathtaking emotion reserved for stunning landscapes, newborns and lovers. Learning that Stephen King read mostly fiction gave me permission to return to my one true love: the good work of fiction.

4 Find YouTube collaborators

To celebrate my liberation from the shackles of self-imposed boredom — yawn — I decided to read “Far from the madding crowd” by Thomas Hardy and “Au bonheur des dames” by Emile Zola. I would love to chat character development with other like-minded people. If you are a Youtubber or a podcaster looking for a fun collab, please wave in my direction and we can overthink how Bathsheba Everdene doesn’t deserve three suitors, let alone the devotion of a man of Oak’s caliber. In the mean time, just enjoy this Gabriel Oak on me:

“Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and his expression was more sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignified calm he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.” (p.45)

If you are more of the movie kind, enjoy this interview with Thomas Vinterberg and Matthias Shoenaerts (the producer and main character of the latest film adaptation of Hardy’s novel, available on Netflix). You should still read the book to better appreciate each character’s depth.

5 Get in shape and start lifting weights

Finally, I wanted to share one of the highlights of my week. I bought a membership at my local Movati gym from a from a former member who was moving away before the end of his one-year enrollment. Movati Kanata made it an easy and pleasant experience, showing excellent business sense and superior concern for the customer. I imagine that the low-lying fruit of making membership transfers such a pain in the neck that members never dare to leave is tempting but in my case, it has made gym memberships verboten. I cannot commit to a yearly membership in anything and cannot afford the unfavourable short-term membership fees. Transferring membership is the perfect solution for me and Movati can be sure that when I am in the market for a gym membership, theirs will be the first door I’ll go a-knocking.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts on a Saturday: the quicker version


  1. One video I posted on YouTube:

2. My favorite casual dress for under $50 (or less if you wait for sales): Marks’ notch neck knee-length dress

3. One new podcast I subscribed to: Freakonomics 

4. One book I want to read: The checklist manifesto by Atul Gawande

5. One thing I dream about at night but will not buy in American dollars: Saddleback Leather Satchel

And a question: Do you prefer this short and sweet version of the Mixed Nuts or the lengthier one with commentary? Your feedback matters to me.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I care to share


1. I woke-up this morning to a world slightly different than it was when I went to bed. I did not follow the #Brexit referendum until its very last weeks. I watched John Oliver, he seemed to support the “stay” vote. Lately, I have taken an interest in the geo-political history of the First World War and it has made me aware that history unfolds in haphazard ways. In the early weeks of the first World War, many moments presented as forks in the road where the course of history could have gone either way. Our present-day way of life hinges in many ways on split seconds, swing decisions, rolls of dice, made by military and political leaders long before we were born. The Brexit vote was history unfolding itself in its usual, random, way. In that sense, I am curious to see where this most recent turn takes us. I hope to live long enough to see how it will eventually fit in the bigger picture of the rise and fall of Western Civilization. That said, I have enjoyed watching my friends and acquaintances on the progressive left wake-up with a hangover this morning. Progressives have been pretending that the rise of populist nationalism across the world is the realm of a few unenlightened minds. It’s been a fun zinger-fest on Twitter, sharing John Oliver on Facebook, I have enjoyed it tremendously while nationalists everywhere are counting their chips. And Donald Trump, what fun it has been to watch a few unenlightened knuckledraggers propel him this close to the White House. Populist nationalism. It’s a real thing and it’s starting to call some serious shots.

When you get tired of having your opinion handed to you by humorists — who are very funny, don’t get me wrong, but stuff’s about to get real here — you might find this breakdown of Trump supporters interesting.

2. Speaking of getting stuff wrong, I was listening to a podcast interview with star rock climber Alex Honnold where he spoke about fear and assessing risks. It takes someone who lives with life-threatening danger to avoid platitudes about ignoring fear, I liked that. I believe that fear and doubts are important sources of information that should be honoured rather than ignored: there is a darn good reason why you are afraid of swimming with sharks, know what I mean? At some point in the interview, Honnold answers a question about his spirituality and religious beliefs. Raised in a nominal Catholic household, Honnold remembered never believing in any of that stuff. Even now, he added, he is dumbfounded that grown-ups believe in what are essentially fairy tales. When I heard his comment I had to chuckle because whether or not you accept the existence of God, it’s impossible to deny that religious belief has been part of the human experience since, well, the human experience started. Of course, the reality of religious belief does not prove the existence of anything but it takes some gall to overlook how some very intelligent grown-ups — Aquinas, Augustine, Teresa of Avila come to mind — have explained their belief in fairy tales. It’s one thing to know how Christopher Hitchens explains religious belief but the real test of atheism should be to go beyond atheist writers and read how Aquinas explains it too. It would be like saying “That gravity thing — it made no sense to me as a child and now that I am an adult who is thoroughly uneducated in matters of physics, it still makes no sense to me. I can’t understand how anyone believes in that stuff.” Or “I don’t care what Newton and Einstein have written about gravity, I read Aristotle on gravity and he’s pretty smart.”

Imagine my delight later last week upon stumbling on this excellent piece shared by journalist Andrew Coyne via Twitter. We were wrong abut gravity for thousands of years, what might we be wrong about today? It’s a fun question to ask.

3. Speaking of things that change, one of my favorite things to observe in my fellow humans is how quickly those who reject religion build new churches in their lives, whether it’s jogging, nutrition, politics, I’m sure you can come up with a few more if you look around for a hot second. I find that it speaks to a fundamental human need for absolutes, even when the absolute is that there be no absolutes. There is a drive toward moralistic thinking, clear definitions of right and wrong, that is wired-in human nature. This disquisition on food and sex speaks to our changing morality, or as they say “The more it changes, the more it stays the same.”

4. If all this is too much to bear, I strongly recommend knitting something. Knitting something is always a good bet. This Tulip Tank Top by Purl Soho hit all my buttons until I tried to order the Euroflax yarn required for this pattern. At $26 a skein, requiring 3-4 skeins for my 39 inches of chest circumference, it seems like a bit of a luxury. If you want to buy the yarn, I’ll knit it for you. How’s that?

5. If knitting something is not for you, there is always this fragrant, beautiful cake. In French but learning news words never killed anyone. To serve with tea and eat in one sitting.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked (and so should you)


    1. I have a songwriting hobby, and by this I mean that I am completely obsessed with the songwriting creative process. I am a writer who is also a musician but I do not have a good-enough grip of music to set words to melody. I am fascinated by the ability of those who can write a 4-minute story that sometimes rhymes and touches million of people’s hearts. Nothing cracks me open like a good song. Should it come as a surprise then that one of my favourite podcasts is Sodajerker on Songwriting?I was especially thrilled with their interview with Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriting husband/wife team behind the Frozen powerhouse. In the podcast, they discuss the back-and-forth with the scriptwriters and how their songs changed the nature of the characters of Elsa and Anna. I doubt that the movie would have enjoyed its lasting success had the two princesses remained what they were meant to be in the original script. It was also a geeky treat to learn that in Life is an open door Anna and Hans never sing in harmony. We knew that right? But it was done on purpose! This is how gifted songwriters can build a story with details that you hear without hearing. Magical! You can hear the full interview here. A note for parents: the podcast is slapped with the “explicit” rating because Robert Lopez explains how the rhythm pattern for a certain song came from the title of a porno videotape he saw on a friend’s shelf one day. The title is quite crude. If you listen in the car with children there might be a 30-seconds of awkwardness. Forewarned is forearmed.
    * BONUS FREE NUT: If you were a teenager in the 80’s or 90’s, the podcast interview with Glen Ballard will be a giant, crimped, glitzy treat. Listen to it — and its accompanying Spotify playlist — here .

    2. Speaking of Glen Ballard, he happened to write Man in the Mirror for Michael Jackson, a song which message is always on point. You’ll notice some interesting footage in the music video from the rescue of baby Jessica McClure in 1987, a toddler who had fallen down a well on her family’s property. She was rescued after 58 hours of harrowing work by paramedics and mining engineers. That was back in the days when criticism was directed at the media circus rather than the grieving parents; and the heroes of the story were given more attention than what the parents should have done to avoid the tragedy. Fancy that…

    3. Speaking of songwriting, the Canadian political class deemed it desirable to re-write the Canadian National Anthem to replace “in all thy sons’command” by the gender-neutral “all of us command.” Now, I have to declare myself as one of those bleeding hearts liberals who believes that language and culture walk in lockstep; but I also want to declare myself as one of those hardened conservatives who don’t think our historical heritage should be re-written, warts and all. There is always room for adding diverse voices and clearer context to our history. As Dan Carlin puts it — pardon my shameless paraphrase — it’s as if history had a CNN and a Fox News but only the CNN version of everything had survived. History always benefits from a diversity of sources, it gives it colour and texture. Perspective doesn’t right wrongs but it puts them in context. History never exactly repeats itself: the lessons are in the nuances, in how humanity faced want, pain and desperation, how it failed and how it succeeded. Stripping history of its offensive bits is tantamount to spitting upwind: it only feels good for a second. On the other hand, our National Anthem is not merely a piece of historical artifact: it lives in our schools, our churches, our sports halls and institutions. We are not rewriting history as much as making our anthem more representative of our culture as we sign it every day. How do you feel about changing the words to our National Anthem? Are we shaping culture to make it more just or are we rewriting history? Andrew Coyne explains here how the meaning of words can change even when the words stay the same.

    4. Speaking of writing, I started writing a novel set in the intersecting worlds of healthcare, law and biomedical ethics, in other words my academic background. One day I decided to stop joking that my Master’s degree’s specialization in biomedical ethics had been a waste of time and the next day the idea had come to me. For two years while at McGill University I was a fly on the wall in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units where I learned more than I ever expected about humanity, tragedy and what’s found in the space between the two. My novel is written from the bedside of a critically ill infant and explores the evolving relationships between the infant’s family, his medical caregivers and a cast of lawyers and administrators who are drawn into the medical decision-making process. I love how this poem communicates the chasm of perception that often exists between patients and their caregivers. It touched me in a profound way. To read and let sink-in.

    5. If writing never amounts to anything, I could become an astronaut. I have the right blood pressure.

Mass shootings: Prayers and policy changes are not mutually exclusive


You need the prayers because you need the prayerful.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are overrun — with good reason — by commentary about the Orlando shooting massacre. This is neither surprising nor troubling. What did take me by surprise is the outrage and exasperation aimed at those who wish to #prayforOrlando. “Keep your prayers” they say “we need policy change, not magical thinking.” The sentiment was clearly expressed by this illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, posted by the Brain Pickings Twitter feed:

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Prayer and policy change are mutually exclusive, or so it seems. I don’t know how to segue gracefully into what I have to say so let me lumber into it: Isn’t it “interesting” that the people who are quick to tell believers to shove their prayers where the sun don’t shine are the same ones who are pleading through hashtags and social media posts to “stay strong” , “stand up with” and sending equally magical “healing vibes” and “positive thoughts” to the latest site of terrorist horror as if those could patch-up bullet holes and solve hatred any better than prayers could. We’re content to wring our hands over Trump’s tweets and telling Republican politicians to stuff their prayers where they keep their broomsticks and feel like we’ve done something for the cause when really, all we’ve done is dig ourselves deeper into the silos of intolerance where hatred is hatched.

You know what? Telling believers to shove it with their magical thinking is on the same spectrum of bigotry as religious fanaticism. Different ends, same spectrum. Whether you hate believers or unbelievers, you still hate. You still show an unwillingness to understand, to empathize, to hold hands and find common ground. Across the spectrum we prefer seeing things in the isolation that leaves room for feeling good and justified about our own biases and inconsistencies. To this one it’s about Islamic extremism; to this one it’s about homophobia; to this one it’s about mental illness; to this one it’s about gun control; to this one it’s about Western imperialism; religious right, intolerant left; to everyone it’s about something else than whichever hand they have in maintaining the status quo. This is why we can’t affect the policy change we so dearly need. Policy change requires common ground and common ground is hard to find around the navel area.

We’re all mad here Alice.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked this week (and so should you)


Every week I will try to post 5 links I clicked and wish you would too. I take suggestions for free.

  1. Sometimes you come across a figure from history that really makes an impact on your life. Major Dick Winters, Second World War Veteran and the subject of the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, is one of these characters. Stories of exceptional leadership and courage leave their mark on the minds of young men such as my son, who watched the miniseries as a teenager, joined the Army Reserves at age 16 and is currently studying to become a military officer. One of the greatest things about Winters is that the person overshadows the TV character. I chuckled when I read about how he played chicken with Tom Hanks over cursing in the miniseries. It may sound like an issue of little consequence but self-discipline and dignity repose on the myriad little things that lay the foundation on which the greater things repose. Read more life advice from Major Dick Winters in this post from The Art of Manliness.
  2. If reading the article about Major Winters made you want to read his book but you don’t know when you’ll have the time to do it — if ever — I strongly recommend listening to podcast #17 from Jocko Willinks (also available on iTunes) where he reviews the book, reads extensive excerpts and offers his commentary about leadership, courage and physical fitness. Bonus link, for those who are curious about Jocko Willinks, his life and creds, here is one of his few interviews from the Tim Ferriss podcast.
  3. Listening about Major Winters reminded me how much periods of conflict in history can teach us about the extremes of human vice and virtue. Extended periods of peace and affluence such as we have been knowing in Canada numbs us to what we — as a human race — are able to do, the good, the bad and the ugly. If, like me, you are looking at improving your history game, I recommend subscribing to the Hardcore History podcast by Dan Carlin. I am currently listening to the Prophets of Doom podcast (all 4 hours of it, I spend a lot of time in the car…). At the beginning of the podcast Dan Carlin says that he will probably offend both believers and unbelievers and apologizes for it. I’ll have to take his word on the unbelievers front although I can’t see how this podcast could be taken as anything but a vindication of Christopher Hitchen’s thesis that belief in a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom. From a Catholic perspective however, I observed that while Carlin goes to great pains to explain that his aim is to expose how thin the veneer of civility resting on our advanced civilization really is and not argue against religious belief, he consistently confuses Catholics behaving badly with “the Catholic Church”, a mistake he does not extend the reformers, whose murderous preachers and prophets are not confused with the Reformation itself. This may sound like an irrelevant distinction but for Catholics it’s an important one. The tenets of our faith are clearly laid out in the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It should be easy to sparse out the difference between what the Church believes and what failed humans make of it. And yet, every day, Catholics and non-Catholics alike mistake the two. Still, you should subscribe to Hardcore History because it’s a fascinating, engaging and well-produced romp through our stories.
  4. One of the issues that Dan Carlin exposes in the Prophets of Doom podcast — and I can’t find where in the 4 hour opus, you’ll have to forgive my shameless paraphrasing — is the explosive cocktail born out of alienation, religious fanaticism and what happens when you dilute an established and stable society with newcomers who neither share its culture or religion. If this bell rings uncannily familiar — as it would to anyone acquainted with the Swedish town of Molndal — it may be time to listen (again) to the last installment of the Munk debates on the global refugee crisis. History may not exactly repeat itself as the poet noted, but it sure rhymes a lot.
  5. Finally, if all this military and history stuff seems heavy, you might need to listen to this TED-like talk by satirist Pat Kelly of CBC This is That fame. #12 will blow your mind!

***BONUS FREE NUT!

6. I bought two pairs of Roots 2-Stripe Tribe Sandals, one to replace the pair of knock-off Birks I wore indoors and fell off my foot one sad morning and another one to wear outside because they are so amazing. You can take my word for it: Roots will not be sending me 11 pairs of 2-Stripe Tribe sandals for raving about them. “Comfortable insole with memory foam padding covered in suede” are not only the operative words here, they are the understatement of the century. This is like hugging your feet with clouds. Clouds with Cherubim, singing sweet nothings in four-part harmony to your tootsies.  Currently on sale, by the way.

 

You don’t have to be on all the time


I was listening to the CBC Radio: Spark podcast on the effects of parental use of technology on children. This hit close to home. I use my iPhone for everything — from reading and writing to looking up recipes, words and maps, taking pictures, recording voice memos, shooting and editing my YouTube videos, communicating with my parents, husband and children, checking the weather, traffic, the news, streaming music and podcasts, look-up knitting patterns, get calendar reminders, learning Spanish on Duolingo, Netflix & Chillaxing, I must forgetting some — often fielding accusations from my children of being “always stuck to my phone”. My technology use is mostly family-related, serving their needs more than mine but appearances don’t lie: I use my phone a lot. I also remember how lonely, isolated and depressed I was before being able to connect to friends via social media. The podcast didn’t make any earth-shattering revelations for anyone who is aware that young children need their parents to be emotionally engaged. Whether you are distracted by your work, your book, your latest fling or the money you just don’t have, the question is not whether being tethered to your phone is harmful but whether it is harmful in different or more severe ways than everything else going on in your life. The study discussed in the podcast points to a shrinking attention span for children when their parents’ attention wanders.

Where the podcast rubbed my buttons the wrong way was with this quote:

“I see parents mindlessly pushing their kid on a swing while looking at their phone”

To be fair, the message was not that it is wrong to check your phone at the park but that your device should not prevent you from engaging in the normal activities of parenting such as the park. The image of the parent revelling in every ounce of childhood is one that won’t die. Once you are done cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing, cuddling, control-towering, time-managing, refereeing and driving, you should also make a public display of gleeful cheer-leading while your children ask you for the 12 millionth time to look at them climb the slide backward for the 20 millionth time. I’m sorry but no. There is a surface covered in expensive, obsessively safe, kinetically-correct, expert-approved, City-stamped, edible, equipment right here. It has been designed to foster cooperative play with other children who are, conveniently, here at the same time you are, doing exactly the same thing you are. I gave you a bunch of siblings and believe me, it’s not because I like hospital food. So don’t mind me while I sit my ass down on this bench right here and check my phone while you have fun.

You don't have to be on all the time

Netflix and Chills: Gran Hotel


Today I am reclaiming the concept of Netflix & Chill because someone has to and because there has to be a voice for people watching a period drama while knitting. Edgy. In Canada good TV shows are few and far between. Regional licensing *yawn* agreements — or lack thereof — mean that the Netflix Canada catalogue accounts for about half of what is available in the U.S. I don’t fancy myself a TV critic, even less a TV writer, but I do fancy myself demanding when it comes to how I waste my time. As such, I decided to share with you my favorite series and movies from the very limited selection available on Netflix Canada, starting with my latest infatuation  obsession, Gran Hotel. (The trailer below is in Spanish only but the Netflix offering has subtitles.)

After Downton Abbey was wrapped-up with a bow and a cherry on top — I like my endings happy and this beautiful series was tied-up with the same flawless class that characterized all 6 seasons – I found myself suffering from a severe case of hangover, which may have been due to my unapologetic crush on everything Matthew Goode . I started scouring Netflix for something, anything, to scratch that itch. Netflix kept suggesting “Grand Hotel” but from the cover pictures I could see that the production — including the costumes, writing and verisimilitude — would not be as tightly spun as my beloved Downton. Well, was I ever right in a wrong way!

 

Cast as the “Spanish Downton Abbey” Gran Hotel — titled “Grand Hotel” on Netflix — is set with the same “upstairs-downstairs” dynamics as Downton Abbey, and that’s about where any possible comparison stops. Where Downton Abbey sought to be a reflection of the era it portrayed, Gran Hotel is using the period as an accessory to its storytelling.

 

The popular series, which ran from 2011 to 2013 in Spain, is offered by Netflix in 3 seasons totaling 65 episodes of about an hour each (so that’s about 100 hours when you factor-in re-watching all the hottest kissing scenes, *coughs* *loosens collar*). The series is in Castilian (European) Spanish with English subtitles. The subtitles are easy to follow — and entertaining for the third season where typos, missing words and the original Spanish sneak-in, suggesting that the translator got as carried away as I did — and the repetitive nature of the plots, roving and twisting around each other, may even allow you to pick-up a few words of Spanish such as disculpe, lo siento and perdon (excuse me, I’m sorry and pardon me). It turns out that Spaniards apologize as much as Canadians do.

 

Each one the three seasons is wrapped around a main plot and a few simple subplots. But unlike American series who like their plots and subplots to go on forever and finish abruptly, Gran Hotel’s writers wound and unwound each plot with satisfying regularity. Questions are answered in ways that are not always believable but consistent once you accept to suspend just enough disbelief to enter into this lavish parallel universe. Gran Hotel is light and satisfying entertainment. There are no zombies, no gore, except for some obvious cinematic blood, and your favorite characters will not be killed willy-nilly. If this is how you like your entertainment, read on as I share — without spoilers except for one that should be obvious from the series’ cover picture — my 7 (plus one)  favorite things about Gran Hotel.

 

1. The romance. Here comes the obvious spoiler: the series is spun around the star-crossed romance between Julio (Yon Gonzalez) and Alicia (Amaia Salamanca). Now, I am a very demanding consumer when it comes to fictional romance and let me tell you, this is one of the most contagious TV romance I’ve seen since Colin Firth longingly beheld Jennifer Ehle in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. Gonzalez and Salamanca have incredible chemistry, they burn right through the screen. Pacing is the key to a good romance and this romance is perfectly ordered. It always leaves you yearning for more but never frustrated. Their first kiss — deservedly — won TV awards in Spain and each subsequent one is equally deserving, not to mention the hotter stuff. I’d watch the series just for the kissing, seriously. Add two beautiful actors speaking Spanish to each other with the slow-burning emotionality we’ve come to associate with everything Spaniard and you have a love story playing out without a false note over 60 hours.

2. The pacing. One thing that seriously annoys me in American TV entertainment is the tendency to take viewers within a hairsbreadth of a plot resolution, only to be taken on another round of near discoveries, near deaths and missteps. I heard Gran Hotel aptly described in The Protagonist Podcast — listen here, it takes about 10 minutes to get in gear but it does justice to the first 2 episodes and doesn’t contain any spoilers — as “Downton Abbey meets 24” and it’s a true description. Of course — as with 24 — viewers need to overlook how quickly characters get from one place to the next, get changed and read letters. But I was happy to oblige in exchange for not being taken down some obscure plot rabbit-hole.

 

3.The physicality. Spaniards sure like their face slaps and Gran Hotel actors really know how to put their backs into it. When Julio fights, he fights. At first I found it a little ridiculous, over the top maybe. But I came to appreciate the unrestrained physicality because it carried over to…

 

4. The men-hugs, men-tears and men generally being very expressive with each other. The friendship between Julio and Andrès is real and meaningful and nothing else would explain how Julio can keep his job by so rarely doing it. My British period drama habit had me used to very restrained displays of manly emotions. The spectrum of British male emoting oscillates between angry, outraged and “I’ll go speak to your father…” Julio and Andrès hug, kiss, confide in each other and cry in each other’s arms, while remaining perfectly attractive — and attracted — to the female kind. Fancy that.

 

5. The smoking. The series is a 60 hour long shameless and unrestrained cigarette advertisement. The smoking=sex pipeline is not even thinly veiled. To this Canadian viewer this is entertainment anathema and I love the Spanish for their unapologetic want for political correctness.

 

6. The beauty. This series is visually enchanting. The outdoor scenes were filmed at the historic Palacio de la Magdalena in Santander, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The men are good looking but the women are stunning in a non-Hollywood kind of way. The make-up was purposely kept to a very natural look, allowing us to truly appreciate the beauty of the ladies. Except for a few shots of bare backs throughout the 3 seasons, everyone keeps their clothes mostly on, even the few sex scenes are tasteful and understated. The beauty and romanticism are wrought through acting only and this is a feat that should be attempted by American entertainment sometimes.

Women of Gran Hotel

 

7. The cheese. There is some seriously awesome cheese in Gran Hotel. From oodles of fake blood, to a Laurel & Hardy-like policemen duet, to Julio digging his own grave with his shirt off, fighting with his shirt off, looking for a lost button with his shirt off, to babies being born completely clean and as chubby as 3 month-olds, to weird twists and turns in unlikely plot lines, Gran Hotel has a soap-operatic quality that would be overwhelming if it wasn’t for how honestly it comes by it. Embrace the cheese, don’t fight it.

(Plus one) * A word of warning to my Catholic readers. I know that many Catholics are sick and tired of the perpetually negative portrayal of the Catholic Church in entertainment. The third season of Gran Hotel features a plot line involving an affair with a Catholic priest. If you can’t stand the sight of a Catholic priest behaving badly, you might need to give the Padre Grau story-line a pass. I found it tolerable myself because unlike in American entertainment where he would have been portrayed as a cruel or sick pervert, Padre Grau comes across as just another sinner, which most priests of my knowledge would admit to be. Every single character in Gran Hotel has a morally questionable dimension. Everyone has a secret, everyone hides something, protects someone, makes poor decisions. The Catholic priest is just as sinful as the rest of the cast, no more, no less. Otherwise, Catholic ceremonies and Sacraments are portrayed tastefully and many a thing are left “en las manos de Nuestro Señor” (in the hands of Our Lord).

Et voilà! Gran Hotel is the stuff cult followings are made of and considering how much fun I had looking-up links and information for this post, I am in grave danger of booking a themed tour of Spain’s Mediterranean coastline soon. This is a series that remains true to itself from start to finish and consistently treats its viewership with respect. If you have a taste for pure escapism entertainment, book at night — or 20 — at the Gran Hotel.

Julio y Alicia