10 Things I Learned at Blissdom Canada

I attended Blissdom right here in Toronto this weekend and I’m still trying to process everything that went on. I got a little crazy and booked a hotel room for both Friday and Saturday nights, with the full approval of Muppet, who figured he owed me a weekend of being a single dad for all those week days I am a single mom. I kissed everybody goodbye and hopped in a cab Friday evening, then off I went. Here are some things I learned at my first Blissdom:

1. Everybody is super duper nice. Like, almost strangely so. Maybe because it’s because I’m fairly new to blogging but I had no idea how warm and welcoming the experience would be for an unknown like me.

2. Free stuff is awesome. Nuff said.

3. Lynn of http://diaryofaturtlehead.wordpress.com/ is a Macarena goddess.

4. It’s difficult to answer questions about your skin care regimen when you haven’t had any coffee and it’s 8am.

5. It is possible to drink too much coffee, especially when Starbucks is shelling it out for free and the employees are so pumped about making you latte after latte

6. I am not a person who is good at coming up with clever costumes and I have intense envy of those who do.

7. It is very nice change to sit in a room where the use of smart phones and computers is encouraged at every possible opportunity.

8. I will never again go to a conference without kick ass business and/or personal cards. I was rather embarrassed.

9. It is possible to not eat a single vegetable or piece of fruit for two whole days and live to tell the tale (although I am paying the price now)

10. I will never miss another blogging conference in Toronto ever ever again.

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Remember Me?

My new teapot

Well, hello there. It has been a while, hasn’t it? As it turns out, being a full-time mom, holding two part-time jobs and trying to sleep occasionally means that something often has to fall through the cracks. Turns out that something was my blog. But, it’s Saturday and the sun is shining and I have a steamy cup of tea and I missed writing about what’s going on in my life.

Of course, the biggest thing lately has been this new job. I’m a few weeks in now and I don’t know how I got so lucky. The pay is crap (it is a start-up, after all) but I get to work with other women who all have the same desire to communicate with smart, driven women out there and form a community. I work from home every day but one, where I hop on the subway with my 4o-pound laptop case and work from my boss’ condo (which has a Starbucks on the corner). Sometimes we eat cake or chocolate. It’s like paradise.

The important thing, though, is I get to write. Whether it’s a Facebook post or an article or an opinion on one of the blogs we follow, I am writing all day every day. I wonder sometimes if this blog wasn’t what prepared me to have a job where I am writing. For so long, I had opinions or ideas, but the only people who got to hear them were Muppet and some of my girlfriends over a glass of wine. Even though this blog is anonymous, I still get to say things about my thoughts and my life that I would never normally share with anybody but my closest ‘inner circle.’ The blog has taught me that maybe other people are thinking the same things and going through the same struggles.

It was this blog that got me to sign up for Blissdom in Toronto next week. I’m sooo looking forward to it because I love learning new things, but I think that it will also be fun to see some of the bloggers that I follow live and in the flesh. It’s also my official ‘coming out’ because not only is this blog anonymous, I have never posted a picture of myself. But, the blog name will be there on my name tag for all to see and there will be women attending who know me from my previous career so I’m being outed no matter what. I’m kind of excited by the thought, honestly. It may be time to come out of the blogging closet. I have this new job to thank for that, because it has boosted my confidence in my writing. The ladies at work listen to what I have to say and they value my ideas and my opinions as much as Muppet or my girlfriends or my readers here.

So, I may have been MIA from the blog for a bit, but I have made a promise to myself to not let it slip again. Maybe I could just not clean the house anymore. That would give me more time, because I sure as hell am not giving up any more sleep.

Balls In the Air, Nose to the Grindstone

Being a stay-at-home mum is something I never thought I would do. Actually, being a mum at all is something I told myself I didn’t want until well into my twenties but by then I had met Muppet and I think I just knew right away that he would be the kind of dad to our kids that mine never was to me. So, we talked about the idea of kids and exactly when I had just gotten a promotion and a bunch of new responsibility at work, I got knocked up. Of course.

But then along came Mini Me and I took my year of maternity leave but went back to work because I liked my job in book publishing. It was fun and challenging and a bit glamorous. I got to meet important Canadian authors and go to cool parties and talk to interesting people. But. Very few of the women who held higher positions in the company had kids, including my boss, and the hours were rough, with night events and some weekends. With Muppet working as a computer animator in film and television, having punishing deadlines at the same time, it was too much.

When we got pregnant with Monkey, we talked a lot about whether I would go back to work afterwards. I loved the glamour of the job and certain aspects of it, but it was draining and I didn’t feel that there was enough flexibility for a woman with one kid, let alone two. Then fate intervened. The company was slowly being swallowed up by a larger publisher and they took over my department while I was on leave, getting rid of all of us in senior positions. I was packaged off (cue happy dance!). There it was. The decision was made for me. Not only would I stay home, but I would be getting money for it, for a while at least.

The funny thing about deciding to stay home is that you enter a whole new world. You have ‘mummy friends,’ and those who don’t have kids, you just don’t see as often. Your days are overtaken by diapers and potties and Cheerios and the constant picking up of toys on the floor. You go to ridiculous music classes and clap your toddler’s hands along with some over-enthusiastic instructor because you want to aid their growth and development. It becomes acceptable to wear yoga pants every day of the week. And your brain can really take a beating.

When Monkey started junior kindergarten, I decided to look for a part-time job that I could do from home and within a couple of weeks, I had landed an admin assistant position with a cheerful, ambitious I.T. guy who needed some help getting organized (thank you Craigslist). That job led to another and then another, with a slight detour along the way with a job that sounded great, but never did pay me.

My most recent job was data entry with some research added in, until my bosses decided to throw me some more interesting stuff about 6 months ago. Social media, article writing, research, reaching out to bloggers, forming a community. It all sounded right up my alley. But, being the I.T. guys that they are, they decided that it just wasn’t the way they were going to increase traffic to their particular website. It just wasn’t making money fast enough. So, back to data entry I went but now I had a taste of something I really loved.

That was when I started shopping around and sent out a few resumes. I applied for anything that had to do with writing that didn’t look like a scam (but some of them still were). I found out that writing reviews for ‘dating’ sites meant porn and that a lot of people want writers to work for free. But then I came across a posting that seemed like it may be legit and I sent in my resume. They emailed me and we set up a telephone interview.

When the call came, it was a cheerful sounding woman who spoke about how important it was to have a work/life balance and doing something you really love. She said that all of their employees were mums who were making their way back into the workforce bit by bit, at their own pace. She said that being a social media and communications associate could lead to writing articles if that was what I wanted and possibly blogging for their readers. It was important to the company that their employees felt fulfilled. Imagine me, sitting on the other end of this phone conversation just vibrating with excitement. It seemed too good to be true.

I went on to speak to the president of the company, a strong, independent businesswoman, who asked me to come to the office the next day. The office, it turned out, is a comfortable condo where brainstorming sessions happen a couple of times a week. I felt immediately at home. We spoke about everything from my dream job to my opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey and by the time I left, they were talking about having me start on Monday. Which is tomorrow.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. These women seem amazing and it is going to be a fantastic learning experience working with them, but I hope I am up for the challenge. I will be working 20 hours a week between their office and my home, making sure I can pick up the kids every day at 3pm. And to add to the crazy, I am trying to keep my current admin job at least until Christmas because it is only 10 hours a week at this point and we could frankly use the money. I am also looking after my friends’ son two days a week after school and in another couple of weeks I will add swimming lessons for both my boys, on two different nights. Gulp. Too many balls? Maybe, but I’m gonna give it my best shot.

I head to the office for the first time tomorrow morning. The outfit has been chosen, laundry done, computer bag packed. I am ready to start what will hopefully be a whole new chapter in my life. Wish me luck!

Is Finding Balance a Myth?

I have been struggling lately with the idea of finding some kind of balance in my life and I think that in order to save my own sanity and that of those around me, I am going to take a deep breath and admit that balance is elusive, maybe even impossible and I am okay with that.

Right now, I am sitting in my backyard with a steaming cup of tea, laptop open in front of me and a beautiful male cardinal just came to perch a tree near me. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and the weather is finally cool and comfortable with not a cloud in the sky. Sounds ideal, right? Yet in the back of my mind are a hundred things that are keeping me from enjoying this moment.

I should be working because I need to take this Friday off and if I don’t make up my hours in the next two days, it means trying to fit in some extra time on the weekend when the kids and the guy are around to distract me and make me feel guilty for not spending time with them. I need to work on the choreography for my belly dance showcase on Friday night (Yes, I belly dance. No, I’m nowhere near a professional but our school has its spring student showcase this week.). I should be working on my costume for said showcase, which is nowhere near put together. I need to figure out what we’re having for dinner tonight and plan something to make for Friday when I am away and my awesome brother-in-law will be watching the kids. There is laundry to be folded and dishes to be done, a dishwasher to unload, and yet here I am sitting in my backyard blogging.

I also haven’t been to the gym in what seems like forever and my body is starting to complain about it. I have a history of lower back pain and I am not doing myself any favours by sitting and working at a laptop when I could be strengthening my abs and stretching my muscles.

I know that it all sounds trite and unimportant when I put it in writing and that is exactly why I am doing it. The fact is that my life has had no semblance of balance in the past couple of months. I have been constantly struggling to keep up with everything and feel like I’m doing a good job at nothing. And I need to just let that go.

I pride myself in being a feminist and a well educated woman, but I still buy into the idea that I am never doing enough or doing things well enough. Shouldn’t I be getting up an hour before the kids so I can go for a run or to the gym, then make them hearty homemade oatmeal and send them off to school with lunches full of homemade, healthy foods? Shouldn’t I be giving my undivided attention to my work while they’re gone, excelling at my job while miraculously getting all the laundry done, and then picking the kids up at 3:20 with a smile on my face? I should bring them home and make a healthy dinner from scratch that we will all enjoy, sitting together at the table, recounting our day, then tidy up, help with homework, and shuffle them off to a drama free bath and bedtime. And in between all that, I should make sure my nails are done, any (surely non-existent) grey in my hair is covered, my eyebrows plucked, legs shaved and clothes immaculate. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?Image

And yet, I would love to be able to do all those things. I am not good at being ‘good enough.’  I am a self-professed control freak, and that has to change.

Which is why I am sitting in my backyard. The tea is now lukewarm and the little dog next door keeps barking at me through the fence because she apparently can’t remember that she sees me pretty much every day. But my mind is clearer and I am feeling refreshed and happy. My lovely old cat just came out to see what I’m doing. She is now going to eat grass in the backyard and surely barf it up all over the dining room floor but that’s okay. She’s happy, I’m happy. I am going to ignore the dishes and the dishwasher and get to work. But first, another cup of tea.

Trying to remember who I was…

I recently found some of my old high school creative writing assignments and remembered that I loved to write. I spent hours in my bedroom holed up with lined three hole paper and a bic pen, listening to ‘80s new wave bands and lamenting the future of man and woman kind. ‘Dancing With Tears in Their Eyes’ still gives me a creepy feeling down my spine. I joined Amnesty International and wrote protest letters to governments around the globe, much to my mother’s paranoid chagrin. I had penpals from all around the globe and we exchanged pictures and comparisons of our respective homes.

Now, I’m a stay at home mother and as my kids are getting older, I want to try and recapture some of that passion I had when I was younger. Not easy when you’ve spent the last few years writing nothing more thrilling than a grocery list.

I had a career before and after my first child. I worked for a high profile book publisher and got to meet all kinds of glamorous people (well, glamorous by literary standards anyway), attend parties, swan off to television and radio studios, escort some of our country’s top literati. But after my second, I didn’t go back (a whole other post entirely) and promised that I would be true to myself and what I really wanted.

Being a mum is distracting and all-consuming though, and as much as I and my other stay-at-home mummy friends joke about sitting on the couch eating bon bons, it’s damned hard work raising human beings to be productive members of society.

Still, its been almost 3 years since I’ve changed a diaper on one of my own kids and I find myself emerging from mummy mode and wondering what to do with myself. Any of you out there sympathize? Then let’s get going…