You've come to right place if you're looking for some good stories, reliable recipes, interesting photos (if ever I figure out how to use my new camera), household tips, book recommendations, advice and discussion on everything from aquariums to zabaglione, and you'd like to read about the world according to me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Momma's Boy

Photo: 2008 Bolivia

No, he's not a "momma's boy" but I thought that was a catchy title. Since I did a blog post recently about my daughter, it's only fair that I devote one now to my son. My son is 23 years old last month and currently living and working in Uruguay. I miss him very much, and I haven't seen him since last June.

David was an easy baby. He cried a lot until he learned to crawl, but he always ate good, slept good, and was happy as long as he was moving around. That crying until he crawled was an early indicator of a common theme. David craves activity and loves the thrill of sports and action. When he was a toddler I tried to satisfy this need for speed by pushing him around on the floor in a laundry basket while he squealed with delight. Believe me, I was plenty happy when he went to sleep for the night. As he grew up he tried--and was good at--several different sports, finally finding his place with soccer and then rugby, loving both the speed and the camaraderie.

David's noteworthy academic credentials include getting A's on tests despite getting zero's on homework and spending 90% of his school time sitting in the hall outside the principal's office for being a class clown. He wasn't mean-spirited, just funny, and distracted the other kids like nobody's business. He finally got A's in his last year of high school which by that time didn't help him much getting into university. Luckily, because of high SAT scores, he had an automatic buy into Texas A&M where he had a series of rugby scholarships and graduated last year.

Another of David's claims to fame is having been bitten at least once by every pet we ever had. I'm not sure how he achieved this, but let's just say he doesn't have a natural affinity for animals. He also has a lot of allergies, and I know he suffered with all the dogs and cats we had. He told me, recently, out of the blue, however, that he is happy to have had that experience living with animals and thinks he is a better person for it. I was also amazed, the first time I visited him at A&M, to see one of our dogs as the wallpaper on his computer.

David's loud humor belied a gentle individual inside. I remember once on a snowy Saturday night I was playing Hearts with David (then aged 10) and his sister, me playing 2 hands and them each playing one. I was wearing one-piece pyjamas and a pair of those giant oversized kiddie sunglasses. The kids' father and I were divorced and I had not yet considered remarrying. All of a sudden David jumped up, threw his cards down, and started to cry.

"Look at you, Mom. You're never going to meet a man looking like that!"

I told him I wasn't planning on meeting any men in my Family Room while playing cards with him.

In 8th grade he told me one evening with a smiling serene look that he understood "everything."

"Everything?" I asked him.

"Yeah, Mom, you know--about life!"

"That's great son. I'm happy for you. Most people spend their whole lives trying to understand that."

One incident I recall from years gone by was the time David was showing me a tooth, a pre-molar, that was loose. It was slightly loose, but he wanted to show me that he could turn it this way, and That Way, and THIS WAY, and THAT WAY and THEN IT WAS OUT, and of course he was bleeding like a stuck pig because the tooth wasn't READY to come out. He once gave himself a black eye by accident while trying to practice a wrestling move before a match. I'm shaking my head as I write this. It's amazing what ridiculous things a smart ADHD kid can come up with if he's bored for a minute.

Photo: David's High School Grad 2005

It's hard to recreate how funny David was (and is) all day long. I want to be clear that Rachel is funny too, but a different kind of funny, a more deadpan, straight-man type; Rachel isn't as loud and overwhelming. We all had humor in the house, but David's was constant, in-your-face, razor-sharp, and electric. Just a few examples: as a small child getting real close to me with a conspiratorial look, then exhaling and shouting, "SMELL-O-GRAM"; creeping up real close to me when I was reading in bed and asking, "Are you enjoying your Encyclopedia of Brown Thread in 3 Volumes?"; standing outside the bathroom when I was in the shower asking louder and louder, "MOM, I NEED A CHRONOMETER." "What?" "A CHRONOMETER." "Huh?" "CHRONOMETER, YOU KNOW, A WATCH!"

David calling a friend on the phone:

"Bro, I have some great news for you. GREAT NEWS. UNBELIEVABLY FANTASTIC NEWS FOR YOU"



David and his sister, Rachel, have always been very close. I recall from the beginning them sitting arm in arm watching cartoons together on the couch. She was the quiet one, and he was the squeaky monkey climbing all over everything. One time she was sitting on the floor playing some video game on the TV and he was circling around her, trying to get her attention. He pushed her, she leaned over and then she straightened up (like one of those inflatable clowns that rights itself); he pushed her again, she leaned over, and then she sat up again ignoring him. He pushed her a third time and she wound up and gave him a good roundhouse punch. He looked at me wide-eyed like "I have no idea what's wrong with her!"

Photo: David and his sister, Rachel 2004

David going away to university was tough on all of us. Rachel had to come to terms with losing her best friend/companion and accepting him going on to live a life without her; I had to accept my first-born leaving home. It was especially difficult because he always took up so much SPACE and made so much NOISE! When he first left it seemed there was a vacuum. Of course, after he'd been gone for a while, we felt the same shock when he was HOME. I was relieved to see that when he *was* home, his relationship with his sister had not changed. They still sought out each other's company, wrestled around, bickered over the bathroom (even though we had several) and chased each other around the house.

Drawing Rachel did in 2005 when he left for university. We sent it out to friends and relatives with his new address.

I can remember him sitting in the kitchen doing a project in Grade 12 which consisted of creating a realistic monthly budget for living expenses. Listening to his budget details, I laughed until I cried. The biggest chunks of David's budget were not for rent and food and utilities but for soap and condoms. In those days he was very preoccupied with his soap and that no one should, God forbid, touch it. Since he spent as much time washing the soap as using it, he went through bars of soap like salts through a widow-woman.

I know he definitely got over the obsessive-compulsive-clean anxiety because a year later at university he didn't mind both me and his sister sharing his double bed with him, and the bathroom there....well, let's just say I needed a bio-hazard suit to go in it.

Now David is in Uruguay with a food and beverage manager job at a beach resort, surfing every day. I'm sure glad he got a Bachelor of Science in Physics to prepare him for that job. I don't know when I'll see him next, but my job was to prepare him to be independent and live his own life, and that's exactly what he's doing. For all my years as a parent I wanted two things for my children: for them to be happy, and to be productive members of society. It's bittersweet for parents when kids achieve all those things far away from home, but seeing them happy is the greatest reward.

This is my son.

Photo: Rachel visiting David in Guatemala 2009


Monday, March 15, 2010

Letter to My 20-Something Children about Why I'm on Twitter

Dear David and Rachel:

Both of you have expressed some concern about the amount of time I spend on Twitter and my apparent interest in it. So I write this public letter in an attempt to allay your fears and memorialize my view on the subject. Rest easy, I am not plunging into insanity.

Since neither of you are on Twitter, my guess is you don't know much about it. Here's a good explanation and history of Twitter. Yes, there's no doubt that some people think it's idiotic and a waste of time, but some people feel that way about Facebook or text messaging. How do you feel about those things?

The original reason I decided to start using Twitter was because my webmaster, Willy Grieve, suggested I do it to try to generate traffic to my blog. In fact, I like doing the blog whether anyone comes to read it or not. So when I do a new entry in the blog, i mention it on Twitter, but only once or twice. It *has* generated some traffic.

The second major reason I wanted to get established on Twitter was because I want to get a book published. I have a finished manuscript of one quilting book. When you're doing a book proposal, one of the things you have to discuss is "platform" as in what do you have as a platform for letting people know about your book and helping in advertising. I will have Twitter as my "platform".

So those were the original reasons I signed up on Twitter 2 months ago. I'm not on Twitter because I'm bored or unhappy. I had specific reasons for getting started on it, but I participate lots because I like it. I'm ADD like you, David, and I get bored easily. Man, I need to fold some laundry. What was I saying? Twitter was made for me. It consists of little snippets of conversation that you can have with lots of different people from all over the world. There's a running feed of information, links to articles, news, jokes, quotes; there's something for everybody. And it's very simple to do. Facebook, on the other hand, gets more and more complicated and I enjoy it less and less.

Participating on Twitter is a lot like reading a book of very short "flash" fiction. You can pick it up or put it down anytime you want. I have a lot of fun with it. I laugh all the time talking to Twitter buddies. Most people call Twitter friends Twends or Tweeps. I call them Fritters. I have acquaintances that I've made in Australia, in the States, Canada, Holland, England and S. America.

I not only keep up with news, but I can ask a question like "The thread on my sewing machine keeps breaking...anybody have any idea what's wrong?" or "my rose bush has aphids, what should I do?" and 2 or 3 people immediately reply. Actually I don't have any roses, but you get the idea.

So while you may not understand it, I urge you not to worry about me. I'm fine. Even while participating on Twitter, I've gotten back into cooking, I've made 2 quilts in the last month (with a 3rd on the way), and I got a part-time job teaching quilting. I'm trying to adjust to a new city, new married life, new identity, and, remember, we're moving again before too long.

While both of you are very smart cookies, I'm pretty smart myself. And I have something you don't have: the wisdom of age. I think you're going to have to trust me on this one and quit worrying, but I'm grateful that you care enough to voice your concern.

Do you remember that trout that used to sing that we had hanging on the wall?

"Don't worry, be happy."

I Love You With All My Heart,



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cynthia's Quick and Dirty 12 Rules for Using Twitter More Effectively

Twitter fascinates me. And I spend a lot of time on it. I decided to write a blog post on using Twitter because there are so many people who don't use it to its fullest capacity and don't seem to understand some basic things about it. If you know nothing about Twitter, then you should start by reading my earlier blog post about it. Today's article is for people who are already using it but want to use it more effectively.

The reason I'm allowed to have an opinion on this subject is because I've been on Twitter only 2 months and have amassed 2200 "followers". I haven't used any gimmicks or weird or paid services to attract followers. I attracted them the old-fashioned way--just hard work. For what it's worth, I'm now ranked #6 in British Columbia by Twitter Grader and about the same by Twitterholic --if they knew I existed. See tools for understanding your significance on Twitter. I have regular people I interact with daily on Twitter. I recommend people to others and others recommend me.

So here are my Quick and Dirty Rules for attracting the most followers on Twitter. There are other things that may or may not work, but if you follow these rules, you will maximize your chances of attracting people.

1) On your personal Twitter profile page have a very descriptive bio.

Why? There are several reasons: having a descriptive bio makes you appear to be a live person. Twitterers abhor "bots" short for robots or automated presences on Twitter. Also using several key words enables people to find you in searches by looking for words like "reader" or "writer" or "candlestickmaker".

2) On your personal Twitter profile page upload a picture.

Why? Bots usually don't have photos. What are you hiding? People like transparency.

3) On your personal Twitter profile page fix up the background.

Use one of the free tools available to create something unique and attractive.

Why? Bots usually don't have pretty backgrounds. A personalized background makes you look more real and more permanent.

4) Have a few tweets on your page.

No one is going to follow you with zero tweets on your page. No one is going to follow without a recent tweet or at least half a dozen tweets because you look like a bot. I shouldn't say no one. A few people who don't evaluate the ones they follow might follow.

5) Follow everyone back who follows you. Except of course, obvious bots, spam, and porn.

Why? Because you will attract more followers. This is a controversial topic, but I have a strong opinion on this, and here is some support for my opinion. Most people are not willing to follow others who won't follow back. Who wants to listen to someone who is not interested in hearing what you have to say? NOT ME and not most others. A lot of people seem to think that what they have to say is so interesting that they don't have to follow people back and they will attract others by the tens of thousands just by existing. NOT TRUE. You're kidding yourself. Unless your name is Heather Armstrong or Conan or Craig Ferguson, most people don't give a rat's ass what you have to say if you're not willing to listen to them too.

So ask yourself this. Do I want a big presence on Twitter--for business, for example? Then you increase your probability of attracting people by following back.

The key here is to keep the "following" number higher than the "followers" number. ALWAYS. This becomes more difficult as time goes by--BUT DO IT ANYWAY. Let me use my own case as an example. At the time of this writing I am following 2252 people and I have 2223 following me. Of the people following me, there are about 100 that I don't follow--because they're bots, spammy or porn. That means that the people I am following who aren't following me back (YET) are about 130 even though it appears to be only about 30 (difference between following and followers). As people follow me at an increasing rate, I have to scramble more and more to keep ahead.

To those who say, "I can't make sense of such of big stream of incoming tweets," I respond, "then use Lists". That's how you set aside what you *really* want to listen to (read). If you don't want people to know what you're *really* listening to, then just make the lists private.

To those who say, "you're artificially inflating your numbers of followers," I say, "you don't know what you're talking about." This is real simple: you want lots of followers--then you have to follow a lot of people. PERIOD.

6) Be nice.

Why? People like it better and want to hear what you have to say. Thank people and suggest following people by name and publicly. That's how their name gets circulated. It helps them, and it helps you get the reputation as a nice person that others thank. It doesn't cost you anything extra to be nice--if that's not your nature.

7) Be positive.

Why? See above. Personally I get tired of a steady stream of saccharine quotes, but that's what most people like. There are a few exceptions, but most people don't want to read tweets that are mean-spirited and sarcastic and downers.

In real life do you want to hang out with Mr. Grumpypants or Mrs. Sunshine? Yeah, I thought so. Same thing on Twitter. So in the morning when I look and feel like roadkill I tweet things like, "and how are my twitter buddies this fine morning!" Why? because it's pleasant and that's what people want to hear. Moreover, if you talk like that enough, eventually you start to feel like that.

8) Don't be vulgar.

Every time I say "shit" as in "the weather is shitty in Vancouver" a handful of people unfollow me. If you don't care about that, then go for broke. If you're a business trying to amass followers, then don't do it.

Similarly don't have a "porn-ish" background to your page. People don't like it--unless you're trying to attract sex-offenders. Make your background "vanilla" flavored. Every time I see large breasts falling out of bikinis on background pages, I just roll my eyes and click away. Idiots.

9) Retweet.

Retweeting or RT'ing circulates peoples names, and gets you a reputation as a retweeter--that's a great thing. Everybody wants to be retweeted. I try to Retweet at least 2 or 3 things every day. I find it a waste of time and impossible to try to predict what others will retweet. Just be yourself. I'm always surprised by which of my tweets get retweeted.

10) Tweet something interesting.

Tweets like "I'm brushing my teeth." or "My toe hurts" or "I hate Democrats" are BORING and don't encourage people to follow you.

11) Engage other twitterers.

Ask questions and make comments with @ messages. It makes life interesting and encourages others to join in. It's good vibes and helps your overall reputation on Twitter. The fact is no one knows you exist until you talk to them.

12) Sometimes break your own rules.

Samer Forzley on Twitter @sforzley is an example of me breaking my own rules. I followed him not expecting him to follow me back. But I engaged him and asked him about an article he had written about Twitter. In fact, he was happy to follow me back and has turned into a really nice and helpful guy. You should follow him too.

There are also about 50 accounts that I follow even though I expect they will never follow me back (although one did recently to my surprise). These include a couple of well-known comedians and several news-feeds.

Follow these suggestions, and I know you will have more success on Twitter than you are having now. If you want to follow me @quinceandquilt on Twitter, I'd be delighted to follow you back.

Epilogue: The people who have been most helpful to me--getting me going on Twitter--are @agrevet and @keithborgnet and @trotlinedesigns These are folks who have spent (and still do spend) a lot of time explaining things to me so that I can make sense of them. I am very grateful to them.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Daughter and Me

My husband has been quite unwell the past couple of weeks. He hurt his back and, as anyone with a bad back knows, the pain can be debilitating. I was planning to blog on this subject because there has definitely been some laughter through the tears, but my daughter asked me not to. She told me on the phone yesterday, "Don't you dare write about Flabio being sick." I'm not sure why she's so concerned about this, but in deference to her, I won't tell you about him or why I've taken to calling him Frankenstein--or Frank for short--this week. Instead, I'll talk about her.

My daughter's name is Rachel and that's a fairly recent photo of her above. Some people who knew me at that age say she looks a lot like I did, but I say that's bullshit. I never looked that good. My daughter is 20 and she's in 3rd year of university. And I adore her.

I want to get that straight up front because she has told me that she thinks I portray her in an unfavorable light in my blog. I don't mean to. I just think she says things that strike me funny. I don't look down on her or think she's stupid and I don't want you to either. I am proud of her, in awe of her, and wish I had been more like her when I was young. From time to time she just amuses me and I like to relate some of those anecdotes. So when I tell stories about my kids always remember I tell them out of love. I find humor in observing the naivete of youth. I just want to be clear about that.

Many summers ago, I took my kids for a week to Northern Saskatchewan for a few days of wakeboarding lessons with a well-known coach. The lessons were for Rachel, her friend, Chelsea--who often vacationed with us, and my son, David. Rachel was always the one most "beat-up" at the end of the day. Once I was in the boat with the coach and he explained to me why that was the case.

"Most people," he said, "like Chelsea and David, let go of the rope when they get in trouble. Rachel will never let go. She wants to recover if she's going down. She thinks she will recover. That's why she does these face-plants. I've rarely seen such tenacity in a student."

She has an unusual mental toughness. Rachel's brother and I used to joke that from a young age she very much resembled the ground commander played by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13. The one who holds everything together when others are in a panic. She has courage and composure. When she was 4, she once offered me her views about the child custody arrangement I had with her father while I was driving her somewhere. "I don't think it's fair that I stay with you all the time and only see him every other weekend. I think I should live with him and visit you every other weekend." I'm glad she couldn't see the expression on my face, but I just said, "I hear what you're saying. Right now you're too young to make that decision, so your Papa and I have to decide what we think is best. When you're older you can have more input into the decision-making."

She got it in her head recently that she wanted to do "tree-planting" for a summer job and no other job would do. Well, that's what she's going to do this summer in northern British Columbia near Prince George. Back-breaking work in the middle of fucking nowhere with a crew of 25 strangers in the bush. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. Whatever happened to kids working at the local Dairy Queen?

In 2003 I broke my back in a riding accident. When I got a big ugly clamshell brace like this, Rachel's first comment was "Oh mom, what will you wear to work?" It proved to be a very intelligent observation because what to wear to work became a major problem.

When my 2nd husband moved out, Rachel was quite broken up for a while. She was especially worried about me.

Once she tearfully said, "Mom, you're over 40, you're hair is grey, you're overweight, and you smoke. Do you think any man will ever go out with you again?"

That made me laugh then and it makes me laugh now. She was so concerned, so worried, and when you're young, you can't necessarily see the attractive qualities in a 40+ individual. I told her not to worry about it, that plenty of men would think I was a good catch and a hot tamale. And guess what! I got married again.

A few years ago when I wasn't there, Rachel got a bad concussion on school grounds playing sports that was totally mismanaged by the school administration, namely, they did NOTHING. Only by the grace of God, and the intervention of a friend of mine, was she prevented from driving away and going to ANOTHER athletic practice and instead, taken screaming to the doctor. A few days later, loaded for bear, I went to her school and told them what I thought of their handling or rather non-handling of the situation. Rachel was furious with me then, and I think she's probably still mad about it now. [Of course, my job is to be the parent and do what I think is best for the welfare of the child, not to be her girlfriend and do what she tells me to.] She softened her position slightly when her brother--who played rugby in university--told her that they had ambulances standing by at the field during a game and that all concussions or head injuries are required to go to the hospital for evaluation. A few years later she told me that she realized that I was right. She was still mad at how I handled it, but she knew I was right. I respect her for that. I believe that the ability to say, "I was wrong" is one of the most important things that a person has to learn to get ahead in life and to have productive relationships with other people.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and that reminds me that the nicest gifts I ever received from Rachel (and her brother) were home-made coupon books that she gave me with coupons for things like "I'll wash your car" or "I'll get you whatever drink you want at Starbucks" or "I'll cook dinner". I think things like that are heartfelt and creative and much more valuable than a gift bought with money that children don't have to spare. Son and daughter below, 2009

The kindest and most special moment I recall with my daughter happened about a year ago. We were alone on a Saturday afternoon, and I was very upset. Without going into detail I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration about something unrelated to her, and I burst into tears in front of her. I have made it a personal policy never to cry in front of my kids. I have failed a couple of times, but not often. But this was over-the-top. I SOBBED like a 4-year-old and was inconsolable. She came to me and comforted me in the same way that I have comforted her over the years. "Oh don't be sad, Mom. It'll be okay. Come sit with me and tell me all about it." She cancelled her plans to go out and spent all afternoon with me trying to make me laugh. This is my daughter.

High School Grad Photo, 2007


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