Backyard food gardening: If I can do it, ANYONE can!

Embarrassing confession time: I’m a little obsessed with the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe a lot obsessed. Obsessed enough to know that for the most part they aren’t her writing at all; they were essentially ghostwritten by her daughter Rose, who was a far better and more prolific author, though largely unknown today, and a much more interesting character – an early feminist and globe-trotting journalist who died in her 70’s the night before departing for Vietnam on assignment. Vietnam! On assignment! IN HER 70s!! But I digress.

From a young age, I loved reading stories about “the olden days” and wishing that I too could pick fresh pieplant, whatever that is*, bake vinegar pie for my family, and hand-sew a perfect shirtwaist.

A theme running through the stories is that of self-sufficiency and independence – living off the work of your two hands and taking nothing from anyone that you didn’t earn with the sweat of your brow (Again digressing slightly – the books, while semi-autobiographical, are classified as historical fiction – both Laura and Rose heavily edited many of the stories to emphasize that theme in keeping with the family’s political leanings).

For the (semi-fictional) Ingalls family, this worldview was a necessity of their chosen lifestyle – “pioneers” on the frontier of had to be self-sufficient or they might as well pack up and head “back East.” As for me, I’m quite happy to have the luxury of living with all the modern conveniences and picking and choosing my DIY jobs, and this year I decided of channel my inner pioneer woman and grow a vegetable garden.

This was a pretty major decision, considering I only started (successfully) gardening last year. I’ve had good luck with most herbs (last year’s basil was a dismal failure, but everything else thrived), and middling success with tomatoes and hot peppers (hit and miss, depending on the weather, since I rarely remembered to water them).

I decided to go whole hog though and we built 2 full-on raised vegetable beds, using the 2×10 boards that had a couple of years before contained our ill-fated backyard skating rink. (Props to my hubby, who suffers my grandiose schemes with a sigh and a “Yes, dear,” as he pulls out his circular saw.)

Building the frame for raised bed gardens - super simple. 2x10 boards screwed together at the corners. www.picklesINK.com

Building the frame for raised bed gardens – super simple.

The process was pretty simple – Ian cut the boards down and screwed them together at right angles to make two 4’x 12’ rectangles. We laid weedproof(ish) landscaping fabric under and around them, calculated the volume, and ordered 4 yards of triple-mix soil, which was delivered and dumped on our driveway (and the neighbour’s path) the next day (turned out it was more like 5 yards, so one of our neighbours peddled the excess door to door for us while we were away at BlogU.

Raised bed gardens - super simple. 2x10 boards screwed together at the corners, weed barrier fabric, and triple mix soil. www.picklesINK.com

Laying the weed barrier under the frames.

With the help of another neighbour, we spent 3 days loading and unloading wheelbarrows and raking the soil flat (the kids *sort of* helped with that part).

Triple Mix

This is about a quarter of the original pile of soil. Phew!

Then we planted seeds (carrot, radish, zucchini, lettuce, kale, pumpkin, marigold, and nasturtium) and plants (tomato, tomatillo, sweet and hot peppers, watermelon, bean, and pea) and let ‘er rip…

Raised bed gardening - so simple! www.picklesINK.com

We planted late – middle of June. This is the garden about 10 days later – June 23.

So far, so…AWESOME!!

Raised bed gardening - so simple!! www.picklesINK.com

…and this is it four days later, on June 27.

~ karyn

 

*Spoiler: It’s rhubarb. Who knew?

 

Backyard Vegetable Gardening. If I can do it, anyone can. www.picklesINK.com

Backyard Vegetable Gardening If I can do it, anyone can.

Why a newspaper “Ethics” columnist thinks 7 year-olds in competitive dance are akin to sex workers.

Good news, everyone! I’ve decided to feature an occasional anonymous feminist advice column. Please feel free to send along your submissions and tell your friends!

Dear Sylvia,

I just read this article in an online newspaper, and it left me deeply troubled. It called itself an “ethics column” but really seemed much more like a “patriarchy judge-o-matic.”

A concerned party wrote in with a question about a 7 year-old girl involved in competitive dance; apparently this person’s colleague showed him/her a photo of the colleague’s daughter in dance competition costume. Rather than respond with a socially acceptable, “That’s nice,” the letter-writer, judging that in his/her opinion, the girl in the photo was made up to look like a sex-worker, said something along the lines of, “Hey, I don’t know much about you or your family, but based on this single picture of your daughter about which you were obviously excited enough to show me, a work colleague whom you clearly don’t know all that well or you might have expected such a tirade, but I feel that your parenting skills are inadequate, your judgement is lacking, and if left unchecked, your daughter will probably grow up to be a whore. You should be ashamed.”

The “ethics columnist” responded confidently with what I can only assume were reminiscences about his own time as a 7 year-old girl, since he made no mention of any kind of education in the field of child development to support his assertions that around the age of 7, all girls begin to become clinically depressed upon realizing that there parents no longer love them and they aren’t the best at everything, or something. To thwart this developmentally-based emotional downward spiral, he asserts, it is crucial that young girls receive clear messages from their loved ones, such as the message that wearing makeup makes them sluts.

In addition, he notes, since 7 year-old girls are starting to emerge as sexual beings but should not be sexualized and are surrounded by sexualization but shouldn’t be made to be sexually attractive for the titillation of adults who would rather be tilitated by their natural beauty or something I don’t know I actually got both really confused and super-skeeved out by the last couple of paragraphs.

Anyway, I guess my question is, on a scale of 1 to 10, how problematic was this column?

~ I Think My Daughter Is Actually Really Cute In Her Dance Makeup

****

Dear ITMDIARCIHDM,

Twenty.

~ Sylvia

Actions Speak Louder Than Words – Part 2

Subtitle: Or that time I threw my kids’ stuff all over the family room to prove a point.

One of my biggest “mommy meltdown” triggers is mess. Not so much the mess itself but the attitude that accompanies it. I can live with a bit of clutter, but the lack of concern that the other residents of my house seem to show their personal belongings and our shared space by carelessly leaving everything everywhere, happily stepping over the “stuff” in their paths going about their business drives me batty.

I have a tendency to lecture and of course I’ve found that this is not particularly effective at getting my point across to two hyperactive kiddos. (Read about the last time this happened here). So WHAT THE HECK DO I DO??

Is there anyone out there who can honestly say that they have no trouble getting their kids to pick up after themselves? Who never finds themselves sighing and tidying it all up yet again, deciding it’s just not worth the fight today? Who has found the solution to the age-old problem of their kids (and spouses too…and heck, probably themselves also) always letting the chips, not to mention the Cheerios, markers, Legos, and dress-up, stuff fall where they may?

If there is, for goodness’ sake, please drop me a line and tell me HOW YOU DID IT…but for the rest of you, let us take a moment here to commiserate…

As a parent, it seems like my life is a constant battle against a slowly encroaching mass of clutter. No matter how often we cull our “stuff” and deliver carloads to Value Village – and vow not to buy any more crap to replace it…No matter how many times we lecture Ben and Molly about picking up after themselves….No matter how many times Ian and I both vow to turn over a new leaf ourselves, find a place for everything and everything in its place and THIS TIME WE’RE REALLY SERIOUS.

Garbage Depot

M*A*S*H fans will get this.

And by virtue of being the adult who spends the most time in the house, most of the time when something needs doing around here, including picking up the clutter and cleaning up the messes, I’m the one who winds up doing it.

This weekend Ian tackled a “Honey-Do” list of yard work while I took a break from house and kid stuff and concentrated on work stuff. He stepped up and exceeded expectations – the yard looks fantastic, we ate like kings, and the kids even got bathed! He figured he was on a roll, I guess, and while cooking dinner, he directed the kids to tidy up their craft corner.

Ben and Molly are very fortunate to have an incredible craft corner – a table and chairs in the corner of the family room surrounded by shelves and drawers full of craft supplies; heaven for a couple of creative kids like them. The only trouble is that whenever they emerge with the products of their creative process, the corner looks like a battlefield upon which pixies mounted on My Little Ponies waged a war to the death armed with pipecleaners and tapeffiti.

Oh, the humanity…

So when Ian issued his directive, the kids launched into their usual laundry list of complaints: “I don’t FEEL like it!” “I don’t LIKE tidying up!” “I wasn’t the one who MADE the mess!” “It’s TOO MUCH work! There’s TOO MANY things to pick up!”

With much prodding and reminding and at least one time out (Molly, natch), they got on with it, and fifteen minutes later Ben came to tell me they were done.

I went to inspect and found…less chaos, but still chaos – the bulk of the craft supplies had been put away, but the table and floor were still littered with scraps of paper, the odd pencil crayon, and pieces of torn cardboard packaging destined for the recycling box…and I kinda snapped.

In my defense, this is not a new issue. Ben and Molly are now 7 and 4. They have each had years of schooling in a Montessori classroom where they are responsible – from the age of 2 – for putting back every single item they take out before they start another activity. They are both ever-so-slightly nearsighted but I have no reason to believe that they are incapable discerning the difference between construction paper and carpet from a distance of 4 feet.

Cue the mommy tantrum: I ranted. I raved. I lectured. I self-pitied. And then I picked up a handful of papers and yelled, “This is what you guys do. You just toss stuff around, and then you say, ‘Oh well, I don’t want to pick it up…’” and tossed it in the air.

Ben and Molly said, “Hey!”

And then, just as suddenly, I became utterly calm. I slowly and deliberately picked up the rest of the pile of papers and I tossed it as high as I could in the air. Ben and Molly’s jaws dropped as it slowly drifted back down in soft construction-paper flurries.

Ben admonished, “Mommy! We JUST cleaned that all up!”

A slight smile playing at the corner of my lips, I said, “I know.

Ben demanded, “You did that on PURPOSE!! WHY did you do that?”

With a shrug, I said, “I don’t know. I just felt like it.”

Utterly indignant, Ben cried, “But we JUST cleaned it all UP!”

Nodding sagely, I said, “I know. And now you have to do it all again.”

Molly shouted, “NO!” stomping her foot for emphasis.

I smiled. “Yes.”

Ben argued, “But that’s not FAIR! We didn’t make the mess! We JUST finished cleaning it up!”

I agreed cheerfully, “That’s true. You did. Now do it again.

Molly countered, “NO! You do it!”

I grinned broadly and replied, “Nope. I don’t feel like it. I don’t actually like tidying up. It’s too much work. There’s too many things to pick up. You guys can do it for me.

Ben and Molly stared open-mouthed, and I walked away.

As I passed through the kitchen, Ian high-fived me and grinned. “Well played.”

Kids art station - all their art supplies in private corner for them to create.

The craft corner, post clean-up (#2).

 

By the time dinner was ready, the craft corner looked great. Over bangers and mash, we discussed why I had done it and how it made them feel. We talked about how we all like the house better when it’s tidy, because it looks nicer and we always know where to find our stuff. We discussed how no-one likes cleaning up messes, especially someone else’s, and about how putting things away as you go prevents  messes in the first place. And after dinner we had a family race to put 10 things away each – winner got to choose dessert.

The real problem is, Ian and I are as much to blame as the kids – if not more so. We tell them we expect them to pick up after themselves, but we don’t do a very good job of setting the example. We walk around leaving stuff behind too – the only difference between us and them is that we *really* mean to put it away where it belongs at some point; just not right now. 

Admitting we have a problem is the most important part, of course, and we are both trying to reform. It’s a vicious cycle, though – the more we try to pick up after ourselves, the more frustrated we get at the messes that remain, the more discouraged we get, and the more likely we are to backslide.

But we’re all going to work together as a family to keep each other on track, and hopefully it will make the difference.

Teach your kids to pick up after themselves with this ONE easy trick from www.picklesINK.com #parenting #organizing

Teach your kids to pick up after themselves with this ONE easy trick! At least that’s what I captioned this so people will want to Pin it. But seriously, it’s easy – easier said than done, that is.

I’ll keep you posted…

~ karyn

Emergency T-shirt refashion!!!

You know those times when you’re just minding your own business, trying to convince yourself to stop procrastinating and start working, when suddenly your best friend calls you up and is all, “So I just scored free tickets to the grand opening party for the new rock and roll exhibit at the Science Centre with Q107 tonight. Wanna go?” And you’re all, “Well, I really have to work and look after my kids and be a good wife and mom but uh HELLZ YES.”

So. Annoying.

Then I said, “What the hell am I going to wear?”

And she said, “Something rock and roll. Like a concert tee.”

But I was like, “The only concert tee I have is my Bowie shirt and it doesn’t fit.”

So she was all, “Too bad, SUCKAH!!!”

And I was totally, “OH YEAH? YOU WANNA GO? RIGHT NOW, BEE-YOTCH?? THAT’S RIGHT!!”

Then she was all –

All right, fine…that’s not *exactly* how it went, but it pretty much captures the essence of the conversation.

So there I was, faced with a fashion emergency, and there was only one possible answer: “Hie, my good steed – we must away to the land of PINTEREST,” and off I went to my handy T-shirt refashion board for inspiration. One pin was not quite what I was looking for but pointed me in the right direction (see what I did there with “pointed”?), and it was off to the races, or at least the sewing machine…

…and now I’m back to share my simple t-shirt + jeans refashion with you, dear readers!

Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert Tee + Jeans 30 Minute Refashion

(or more like 15 if you’re more experienced than me!)

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

T-shirt + Jeans = 30 minute refashion

Step 1: Find that one too-small t-shirt that you have kept in your pajama drawer for 10  years even though it has never actually fit because they only had small when you bought and you haven’t been an adult size small since you grew boobs in grade 6 it so it’s wishful thinking to imagine that it will ever be wearable even as PJs because there is basically nothing in the world less comfortable than a too-tight, too-thick long-sleeved t-shirt but you never threw it out because BOWIE, amiright??

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

David Bowie concert tee – would ANYONE throw that out??

Step 2: Find the ripped jeans that your big brother was kind enough to donate to your collection of random fabric and other assorted sewing crap.

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

Every pair of my brother’s jeans for the last 30 years has wound up looking like this.

Step 3: Either using a shirt that you like the neckline of as a guide, or just winging it, depending on your comfort level, cut a more flattering neckline than the cross-between-crewneck-and-noose that the shirt came with. Again, using a shirt that you like as a guide if you wish, cut your choice of sleeve (or leave as is). I cut down the long sleeves to a short flutter sleeve. Finally, laying the shirt flat and making sure the sides are even, cut the sides of the shirt open up to just below the armpit seam.

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

I winged it. I like to live dangerously.

Step 4: Okay, there’s 2 ways to do this next part:

EITHER

Measure around your hips (adding as many extra inches as you would like if you want the top to be flowy). Divide that number in half. Measure the width of the shirt, subtracting 1/2 inch for seam allowances (2 x 1/4 inch) Subtract the width of the shirt from the first number. Divide *that* number in half. Flatten the legs of the jeans with the inseam on the edge (I used the inseam because it was more visually interesting). Measure your latest number along the cuff of the jeans from the inseam edge towards the middle, add 1/4 inch seam allowance, and mark it. Measure the length of your cut from the bottom of the shirt to the armpit and add 1/4 seam allowance. Measure along the inseam of the jeans from the cuff up, adding 1/4 inch, and mark. (Are you confused yet?) Using a ruler, draw a line between your two markings and cut along the line. You will now have a right-angle triangle of folded fabric that will form a triangular insert on one side of your shirt. Cut the other jeans leg to match.*

OR

Lay a shirt that you like the fit of (I used a flowy one) on top of your t-shirt. Lay the folded jeans leg, cuff lined up with the bottom of the good-fit shirt and outside seam edge along the edge of the good fit t-shirt, and draw a line on the jeans from the bottom corner to the armpit of the t-shirt you are refashioning. Cut about 1/4 inch outside of that line for seam. Repeat with the other jeans leg. (My sister the quilter is currently going “EEP! EEP! EEP!” at my reckless disregard for exactness.)

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

I think we all know which method I chose.

Step 5: Pin the insert  into the shirt, good sides together.

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

Jeans, meet shirt. Shirt, jeans. You might as well get comfy with each other.

Step 6: Sew the insert in, starting from the bottom. The t-shirt will probably get a little gathered up in the armpit and that’s okay. I did both sides up to an inch or so below the armpit – it gets a little tight in there with the sharp turn, so I finished the rest of the sides before I tackled that, and I went over it a few times for strength.

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

Sew, sew, sew your shirt, gently down the seam…

Voila! Attempt to take a flattering selfie that shows the whole shirt, fail miserably, and ask your neighbour to do it for you.

Too small t-shirt + old ripped jeans = simple 30 minute refashion #DIY www.picklesINK.com

On the left, my super-flattering, Instagram-worthy selfie that sadly doesn’t show the whole shirt. On the right, less flattering but more complete. Can’t win ‘em all, right?

 

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

~ karyn

*This is not the method I used, so I apologize if it makes no sense at all. I’m making it up. If you are using this method, you are probably better at this than I am and can probably figure out what I meant. Either way, good luck to you. If you do get hopelessly screwed up because of my screwing instruction, please feel free to comment, “You’re a complete jerk, Karyn,” and I will reply with a heartfelt apology.

Sometimes the universe nudges you onto the ‘write’ path

I haven’t really said much about this yet – maybe because I’m still not totally sure it’s actually true – or maybe because there just haven’t been enough hours in the day (damn you, mesmerizing Facebook newsfeed) – but I have a new job! And when I say, “New,” I mean I’ve been doing it for over 6 months now (HOLY CRAP, I just counted that out!).

Why yes, this is a gratuitous smokin' hot firemen picture. Why, do you ask? Read on... www.picklesINK.com

Why yes, this is a gratuitous smokin’ hot firemen picture. Why, do you ask? Read on…

I was never, ever going to be a writer. Never. I was going to be a doctor very briefly, until I realized that doctoring was the reason my mom didn’t get home until 8:00 every night.

I probably entertained some vague thoughts of geology or mining engineering, but those were quelled by the 3-foot tall poison ivy my dad casually pointed out on a field trip to look at interesting rocks (“Yep. Right over there by those rocks. No, not those rocks. The other ones. No, the ones to the left. Nope, not those. Even more left.”). Molly intends to carry on that proud family tradition by pursuing a career as a rock scientist who’s also a fairy princess and possibly Katy Perry. Note to self: Purchase stock in calamine lotion.

From a long time I was going to be a marine biologist, until I learned that I could never get a scuba licence because of my asthma. “Glub,” went that dream down the drain.

After that I went to school to be a kindergarten teacher until I realized that I can’t stand kids. (Not your kids though. They’re great. Really).

I toyed for a while between social worker and professional barista, which, when you think about it, are pretty similar: You talk people through their problems, figure out what they need to make it through the day, and help them get it. And you make about the same amount of money. Frankly, the only real difference is the quality of the coffee.

Now that I think about it I may have made the wrong choice.

But writing? Never even crossed my mind. Writing was just something you did because you had to, you know, because the filter basket on your coffee-maker is broken and the company wants you to pay for a replacement. Or because your professors look at you funny if you present a research project in interpretive dance. It just happened that when I put words to paper or computer screen, I generally did get my free replacement or reasonably good grade (The same cannot be said re: interpretive dance; never earned me anything but awkwardly averted gazes. Philistines.).

Then I decided to put off going back to school after Ben and Molly were born and started this blog out of sheer peer pressure – people on Facebook kept saying, “You should start a blog,” so finally I did, and then I said, “OKAY FINE I STARTED A BLOG!!! ARE YOU ALL HAPPY NOW??? WILL YOU STOP BUGGING ME ABOUT IT?? GOD!!” which, now that I think about it, would be AWESOME through interpretive dance. *GASP* I HAVE A IDEA!! Challenge issued: Get me to 1000 Facebook followers, and I will post a video. And GO!

Anyway, I started a blog, realized I was writing when I didn’t actually have to and kind of liked it, and people were reading it and I kind of liked that too. Yada yada yada (that’s for Ian and all of you other weird folks who enjoy that awful show that makes me want to stab myself in the earsdrums Seinfeld) was serendipitously offered a job writing for a marketing agency.

Perks of said job include getting paid to do something I’ve discovered I love, stretching my creative muscles, not just writing but also photography and interviewing, and getting up close and personal with smokin’ hot firemen. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Smokin' hot firemen group shot.

Smokin’ hot firemen group shot.

 

I guess what I’ve realized from this journey is that sometimes, even if you think you have a handle on exactly what you want, the universe comes along and gives you a little nudge onto the right path.

~ karyn

Sometimes, even if you think you have a handle on exactly what you want, the universe comes along and gives you a little nudge onto the right path. ~ www.picklesINK.com

Sometimes the universe gives you a little nudge onto the right path.

Would you like a side of sarcasm with that?

Corporate Relations Department
Cara Network
199 Four Valley Drive
Vaughan, ON L4K 0B8
 

July 3, 2014

Dear Sir or Madam,

On March 30, 2014, at 8:43 pm, I placed a delivery order through swisschalet.com which I foolishly assumed would result in my eating rotisserie chicken, perogies, pork ribs, delicious signature chalet dipping sauce, and assorted sundries within the hour. My assumption that the food would be prepared, packaged, and delivered in short order was only encouraged by the fact that my husband received a confirmation email shortly after placing the order (Conf. #01250-11).

As 10:00 pm neared and our combined hunger pangs reached epic proportions, we considered giving all up for lost and simply starving to death, but decided that a more effective course of action would be to call the phone number listed on the website under the seemingly appropriate heading “Is there a problem with your delivery or call ahead pick-up order?” (1-866-439-0439).

The CSR who answered informed my husband Ian that the order had been confirmed but subsequently cancelled when to the website’s surprise, it turned out that our local Swiss Chalet restaurant was in fact closed for the evening. The CSR further informed Ian that we had received a phone call advising us of this fact. On checking with me and learning that I was as surprised as he about this, Ian tried to troubleshoot, asking if it was possible they had phoned the wrong number, but was told in no uncertain terms that they had in fact called our home phone, presumably in an alternate dimension where it makes sense that a website is not programmed to automatically decline an order for food from a restaurant that isn’t actually open. But I digress.

Ian, quite reasonably, I felt, requested that the $42.33 that had been debited from our bank account in exchange for the food that was neither prepared nor delivered be refunded. In a stunning plot twist, this request was denied. At this point a new character entered the scene, Kevin the Manager, who doggedly insisted that our request for Swiss Chalet to reverse the charge was totally out of the question, and explained that it was our responsibility to speak to our bank because the transaction was handled by “a third party” and the money had not gone to Swiss Chalet.

I imagine that conversation going something like this:

Hi, —- Bank? Yes, I’m going to need you to refund the $42.33 I paid to have food delivered from Swiss Chalet, because it never showed up. Uh huh, I called them. Yep, they know the food never came, because they canceled the order. Right, that’s what I thought too, but apparently it’s not their job to give the money back. Something about a third party handling the transaction…Yep, I know it says “SWISS CHALET #1 _V” on the bank statement, but they insist that somehow it’s my responsibility to get you to give it to me even though it’s now in the possession of some entity they engaged to handle their online transactions. Nope, doesn’t make much sense to me either….Uh…prove I didn’t get the food? Umm…I guess I could send you a picture of me with a sad face because I’m really hungry?

With Kevin not prepared to budge, we gave up for the night and decided to try again the next day. Subsequently I contacted you folks at Swiss Chalet through:

  1. Guest Services at 1-866-450-2903, where I was told again that the onus was on my to contact my bank, and then on further questioning the CSR passed the literal buck to the local restaurant, conferencing in Annemarie, the very friendly but confused manager whose store actually had nothing to do with the issue whatsoever since it had been closed through the entire event.
  2.  Swiss Chalet on Facebook, where I was advised to phone guest services at 1-866-450-2903 (see above).
  3. @mySwissChalet on Twitter, where I received no response at all. (You should consider working on your social media strategy. I know a few bloggers and social media strategists who might be able to help out with that.)
  4. Cara corporate headquarters, at 905-760-2244, where I finally encountered the most helpful CSR thus far, who sympathized completely, agreed that it really did not seem like good corporate practice for a company to refuse to refund money that had been paid by a customer for an order that said company had declined to provide. He discussed the situation at length with his manager, apologized to me personally and corporately, took my contact information, and vowed that “something” would be done. Sadly, that “something” never materialized.

And so here we are. I continue to be $42.33 poorer and you will remain one household’s worth of customers poorer, not to mention all the lovely folks who come across my tale of woe on the interwebs. *waves ‘Hi’ to blog readers* I’m sure that’s just a drop in the bucket to a conglomerate such as yourselves though; certainly well worth that $42.33 you seem determined to hold onto.

Going ever so slightly more serious for a moment, I would like to mention that some of my earliest and fondest memories are of chalet sauce and festive specials. For as long as I can remember and until both of my grandparents passed away, my dad’s extended family would gather at Swiss Chalet, where we would take up a giant extended table and order festive specials all around. The meal wasn’t complete until all the cousins had we had drained the last of our Shirley Temples, rinsed our greasy hands in tiny finger-bowls, fought over the most desirable toys in the treasure chest, and tried to talk Grandmother R. into giving us her Toblerone bar – memories that it’s too bad I won’t be able to recreate with my own children.

I am enclosing the coupons that you were kind enough to deliver recently through the flyer mail system. Feel free to pass them on to someone who finds a heady thrill in taking the risk of paying for goods and/or services that they may or may not actually receive.

Thank you for…uh…well, thank you for nothing, I guess. Thank you for providing me with nothing. I look forward to receiving the bill.

Sincerely,

 Karyn Pickles

To Swiss Chalet: Epic customer service fail, bro. No Love, Me. www.picklesINK.com

To Swiss Chalet: Epic customer service fail, bro. No Love, Me.

Yes, Virginia, feminists do wear miniskirts.

When I was in high school, I was the goodiest of all two-shoes. My marks were in the high 80-90s across the board. I sang in 3 choirs, if you count the children’s church choir I assistant-directed. I played 2 instruments in 3 orchestras, including my school’s professional double quartet. And by professional I mean we played actual paid gigs; the school hired us out to play functions on our own time, earning $500 a pop which went straight into the school’s bank account. But, y’know…happy to oblige, right?

I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t even know what a mary-ju-wanny cigarette looked like, and I didn’t even round first base until I was in university.

When you consider the external pressure of a high-achieving family and an expensive private school education, combined with the internal pressure of a type A perfectionist personality, something’s bound to give, right? On top of that, there were a lot of shitty things going on at my school, some that I was just witness to and others that impacted me personally, and there comes a point when you have to do something to push back.

I directed the majority of my aggression internally, as many of your teenage girls do, but I had one small form of outward rebellion – just one. Every morning I woke up and put on a dark-coloured brassiere before I buttoned up my white oxford shirt. It was my way of subtly flipping off the entire institution. I was well aware that my snazzy undergarments were visible through my uniform shirt, and I loved it.

I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of us with our little micro-rebellions – rolled up kilts and rolled down socks; hiding friendship bracelets under our shirtsleeves and concealing polished fingernails in our fists. One student wore a band-aid over a nose piercing for months, ripping it off every day at 3:45 and letting her silver ring breath free. We weren’t trying to impress any boys. There weren’t any boys to impress, unless you count the maintenance guys we used to bum cigarettes from or that computer tech who offered to split a joint with me at a club.

It seemed fitting – the ways that they were screwing me over were well within their framework of rules and policies, and so was this. Trust me. I checked.

By all accounts though, my choice of attire was “unprofessional.” Shouldn’t the school have put a stop to this? Isn’t it their job to teach me to maintain proper decorum? How would I one day find gainful employment if I didn’t even understand how to dress the part?

The thing is – I did understand. Completely. I understood that school was not, in fact, a job. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to study and learn so I could get good marks and go to a good university. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to treat my teachers and fellow students with respect. School may have been a lot of things, but a job it was not; a job, you see, pays you money.

Of course, it being a private school, I also understood that I was required to follow certain standards of dress and accessorizing (uh…none), so I wore all of the uniform pieces that were required of me. I carefully noted, however, the lack of supportive undergarment-related parameters in my school’s Code of Conduct – Uniform Policy, and smiled to myself as I hooked together my navy and white gingham bra.

I also understood jobs. My job at the time was babysitting, of which I did rather a lot, and for that endeavor, I dressed differently – appropriately, one might say, if by appropriately one meant, “Wearing stuff that wouldn’t be damaged while playing with children and was easily laundered.” Obviously, this ruled out my uniform since that blinking kilt had to be ironed within an inch of its life. Word to the wise – if you’re choosing a private school for your daughter, the wider the pleats, the easier the care.

And interestingly enough, I figured all this out by myself. My school didn’t educate me in how to dress appropriately for babysitting. Or for being an auto mechanic. Or a flight attendant. Or a swimming instructor. Or a lawyer. Or a professional beach volleyball player. When I hear people say that students need to dress appropriately at school to prepare them for the standards of dress they will encounter in their workplace, I always wonder, “What kind of workplace?”

At school we sit at a desk and write stuff and sometimes we use computers, so I guess we equate it with an office job and impose or encourage standards similar to what you would find in that environment. But if school is supposed to prepare students for entry into the workforce, why can’t we think outside the cubicle?

Or is it less about clothes and more about teaching students that in the workplace they will be expected to follow instructions, including but not limited to standards of dress. I guess that makes a little more sense, but aren’t there enough rules for them to follow already before clothing even enters into it?

All right – let’s accept for the moment that it *is* the education system’s job to prepare students for the workforce, and that setting and enforcing clear dress codes are one way to do that.  The next issue that we arrive at is the fact that school dress codes are inherently discriminatory, disproportionately singling out women and girls.

With the help of my friend Google, I’ve had a look at some school dress codes in Ontario – elementary and secondary schools in both the public and Catholic boards, and here is what I’ve come up with:

We are fortunate that school dress codes contain helpful, concrete descriptions that can in no way be misconstrued, like “modest,” “respectful,” “respectable,” “inoffensive,” “non-distracting,” “neat,” “appropriate,” “proper,” and “decorous.” Clothing should not, on the other hand, be “distasteful,” “revealing,” “distracting,” “offensive,” or “sexually provocative.”

Well, that should be easy to figure out and to follow, right? No margin for error there! On the off chance that you do have difficulty interpreting the guidelines (or *cough cough* happened to stumble upon a loophole), they often include helpful summary sentences like these:

“All clothes are to be appropriate for the learning environment as deemed so by the staff at the school.”

The Administration reserves the right to decide on appropriate attire.”

Perfect! No matter how iron-clad the rules are, there’s a leetle space for wiggle room in the form of arbitrary judgement.

This one actually acknowledges that different attire is suited to different settings:

“Clothing that may be appropriate at home, at the beach, or at a nightclub may not be appropriate at school.”

Unfortunately, that sentence is preceded by this one:

“All members of the school community must dress in a way consistent with a scholarly tone: dress that reflects personal pride and respect for others.”

A scholarly tone? I’m not sure what that means. Can you elaborate? “Members of the school community are required to be adequately covered to be consistent with a scholarly school tone.”

Scholarly tone = adequately covered = reflecting personal pride and respect for others.

Gotcha. I do apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.

Not wanting to leave anything up to chance, it gets even more specific: No clothing or accessories which “are unduly distracting, including but not limited to, dress which is sexually provocative, torn or ragged.”

Ah, there’s the rub, right there in black and white:

Sexually provocative = unduly distracting.

This one includes a rationale . Apparently, the dress code contributes

  • to a safer and more secure school policy;
  • to the development of an educational learning environment;

I had no idea that modest dress was safer and more educational. You learn something new every day. Oh, but wait…Something’s coming back to me…Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing something about that back in “How Not To Get Raped 101,” otherwise known as a day in the life of a girl in rape culture.

That very same school concludes with a catchy little slogan just to drive the point home: “Remember: If we can see up it, down it, or through it, then it shouldn’t be worn at school!”

But I’m sure that’s directed at both genders equally…

I’m happy to report that my school took my rebellion in stride. While I happen to know that there were several changes made to the uniform policy after I left, it was never addressed with me, aside from the one teacher who, her clipped English accent dripping with sarcasm, “That’s a very nice checked brarr, Kahryn.”

The lack of reaction was a surprisingly feminist response. They had certainly come a long way from the lines of girls kneeling in the hallways to face the yardstick kilt-measure of my middle school years, and even farther from the “line up and bend over,” bloomer-checks that were rumoured to have been conducted not long before my time.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’m telling you this because it is important to understand that there is a person in those short-shorts or wearing those visible bra-straps, and she doesn’t necessarily lack self-respect or an understanding of appropriate attire.

She may have a stable father figure, or she may not. Her parents probably raised her just fine, or maybe they didn’t, but her clothes don’t tell you anything about that.

She’s not “asking for it.”

She’s not necessarily wearing the only thing she can afford, or she might be, and she might have chosen to wear it anyway, or maybe she wishes she had something different.

She’s not doing it because she enjoys the attention from most of the boys and some of the girls. Or she might be, and that’s her business too. Me, I enjoy attention, so I dye my hair purple, because sadly, the attention I get for showing parts of my body is not what it used to be – “Mommy!! Your breastses are HANGING DOWN!!”

She’s not showing disrespect to her teachers or to her classroom, because how is showing her own skin, or a half-inch wide strip of elasticized fabric, being disrespectful, unless of course we are operating on the premise that a woman’s body or undergarments are somehow offensive?

She’s Just. Wearing. Clothes.

And maybe if we stopped getting our granny panties in a knot about it we could get on with dealing with the far more serious things that teenagers today are dealing with.

Like Bullying.

Mental illness.

Substance use.

Rape and sexual assault.

Academic disengagement.

Unemployment and underemployment.

Perhaps our outrage and our measuring tapes could be put to better use.

 ~ karyn

Maybe it's time to reconsider school dress codes - or at least consider why we have them.

I apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.

The Top 8 Things I Learned Going Back to School

Team Pickles moseyed* our way down to Maryland this weekend where Ian, Ben, and Molly hung out with Uncle Chris while I got back in touch with my inner university student at Blog University. I’m not going to bore you with the details because if you’re reading this you were either there or you’re one of my other 4 readers and are like, “Riiight…blogging conference…that’s nice. Now have you got a pithy, pun-filled story about something cute my grandkids did or not?”

I will tell you that going back to university, unfettered by worldly concerns of husband and children; released from practical considerations like laundry, pull-ups, and how on earth I’m going to work off the calories in those cupcakes; and free to pretend I was 21 again with open heart, open mind, and open bar, resulted in deep self-reflection and soul-searching.

As such, I want to share with you The Top 6 Things I Learned Going Back to School:

    1. College dorms make economic use of space. The dorm we stayed in, for example, had soaring approximately 25-foot ceilings. To make the most of the vertical space, they provided wooden bedframes that elevated the mattresses 5 feet off the floor, leaving an open space underneath perfect for storage or offsetting your tuition costs by subletting to a family of gnomes.

    2. Dorms are also much more eco-friendly than they used to be. Our blankets were obviously repurposed from those railroad-striped train engineer jeans we all wore in the mid-90s. This had the added benefit of grounding us all in the decade when most of us went to school in the first place and making the experience that much more immersive!
      Railroad striped jeans: Admit it - you had them too.

      Dorm room blanket, obviously made of repurposed 90′s jeans.


    3. No matter how old you are, how long you’re staying, or how big your dorm room is, somehow it will STILL wind up looking like this:
      If your dorm room didn't look like this, I'm not sure we can be friends any more.

      If your dorm room didn’t look like this, I’m not sure we can be friends any more.


    4. If you were a back-of-the-classroom student back then, you will still automatically head for the back of the room now; and if you overcome the urge and go for the front row you may catch yourself rolling your eyes and muttering, “keener,” derisively in your head.

    5. If you put 400-odd X-chromosomes (and 1 Y) in a room before 8 am, you’d better keep a close eye on the coffee service because if that baby slows to a trickle you’ve got about 30 seconds to act before waves of panic start to set in.

    6. Dress me in sequins and get the margaritas a-flowin, and sooner or later I’ll wind up either singing along to the Spice Girls or stealing random stuff.
      Prom hairstyle - short, purple, and teased straight up!

      Does this look like the face of someone who would sing Spice Girls in her right mind?

      ♫♪“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends…” ♪♫♪   *shakes fist at Becoming Supermommy*

      Retro dance party decor idea - vase made out of old cassette tapes #NickMomProm

      How could you not have fun among NickMom’s amazing retro prom decorations?


    7. Our kids may think we’re boring, but moms (and dads) have The. Best. Parties. Let’s just hope by the time they’re teenagers we’ve found a way to get these pictures the heck off the internet.
      Retro Prom at Blog U. We ROCKED that joint! #NickMomProm

      NickMom’s Retro Prom at Blog U.  Mommies and daddies in the HOUSE!!


    8. If you pour your heart and soul into something like planning a conference for like-minded people, focusing first and foremost on community- and relationship-building – before, during, and afterwards – and secondly on sharing amazing insights and information, you are going to have a success on your hands, because as we all learned this weekend, it’s collaboration, not competition. Community is the cornerstone of this whole blogging thing – for most of us it’s the reason we got into it in the first place. Everything else is just the icing on the cupcakes.
BlogU Cupcakes: Just Just a little snippet of the giant cupcake bar. I'm going to be dieting for a year.

BlogU Cupcakes: Just Just a little snippet of the giant cupcake bar. I’m going to be dieting for a year.

~ karyn

*Correct spelling – “moseyed,” not “mosied,” as I had originally guessed. Sometimes you can be pretty ducking annoying, but thanks for having my back on that one, Spellcheck!

What I learned from going BACK TO SCHOOL - the BlogU experience from www.picklesINK.com

What I learned from going BACK TO SCHOOL.

Adventures in Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day – the day when mothers around the world (or at least North America) are celebrated with heel of bread sandwiches, fact sheets about themselves, and the opportunity to sleep in as long as they like. (“IS SHE AWAKE YET?” “SHHHHH!!” “I’M JUST GOING TO CHECK IF SHE’S AWAKE YET!” “OKAY BUT BE QUIET!” “MOMMY? MOMMY? ARE YOU AWAKE YET? NO? OKAY!!” *CRASH* “OH NO! QUICK! GET A TOWEL! NO, A TOWEL! A TOWEL! YES, A TOWEL! I DON’T CARE WHICH ONE! JUST BRING ME A…” “SHHHH! YOU’LL WAKE HER UP!”).

Adventures in Mother's Day

Adventures in Mother’s Day www.picklesink.com

All Most joking aside, my Mother’s Day was lovely. Molly’s school’s Mother’s Day Tea was as lovely and entertaining as always.

Molly with teacup

Molly delivering my tea cup

Ben’s fact sheet was reasonably accurate  (“Uh, mommy? Do you read before you go to sleep to relax? Okay, good, because that’s what I wrote.”)

Ma mere est speciale

Ben’s “My mommy is special” fact sheet (in French)

We gave out flowers to all of the ladies at church to celebrate all forms of motherhood – and I had to break the news to the choir that we couldn’t have any because we were RUNNING OUT (which, in a small town United Church is a pretty big deal).

My cherub choir did their best rendition ever of “God Bless Families,” enthusiastically supported by Molly on percussion and interpretive dance.

My gourmet chef hubby created a delicious cinnamon-maple-walnut pancake breakfast which was served to me in bed on only the second try (the first having been drenched with water from a top-heavy vase of flowers).

Molly survived the dishwasher’s attempt to eat her with only a bump on the head, and we learned a valuable lesson about leaving kitchen renovations half-finished. FYI – A heavy slow-cooker as a counterweight (pun not intended, but actually quite clever – go subconscious!!) is not an adequate replacement for an actual built-in dishwasher cabinet. We should probably get on that.

Scary dishwasher

The evil child-eating dishwasher of doom.

And I got a pretty necklace!

~ karyn

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? How successful was your day this year?

More of a grown-up than a kid?

This has come around WAY too soon for me. It’s May first AGAIN. Another year has passed, and it’s time for me to remember that day that I lay prostrate in a hospital bed, doped up on Morphine, and listened to a high-risk OB/GYN explain with remarkable calmness that 33 weeks or not, this baby was coming today.

Ben's 7th birthday Collage

Why’s mommy freaking out anyway? It’s only a birthday!

Ben-Magoo, I simply refuse to believe that you are now SEVEN. YEARS. OLD. It simply isn’t possible. I forbid it. You must stay my baby forever. I know, I know…you SAY that you’ll always be my teeny baby, and you’ll ALWAYS want mommy cuddles, and you’ll ALWAYS be my same silly Ben-Magoo, but SEVEN? You’re practically a teenager. I mean, just look at your hair! Teenager hair, that is.

SONY DSC

See? Totally teenager hair.

And listen to you talk – teenager talk, that…no, scratch that. You talk like a grown-up with a post-graduate degree. Ben-Magoo, you asked me some questions this morning, and I think I did a pretty good job of answering them, so I’m going to write down what I can remember here to make sure you can re-read it any time you want to.

We started out talking about your birthday presents – You got a few presents this morning that I picked up yesterday at the Royal Botanical Gardens – some pretty cool bug books, one from the grown-up section, because most of the kids books were just way too, as Molly put it, “kiddy” for you. You were a little disappointed that you didn’t get any ocean books, but I explained that right now you seem really focused on your Bug Clinic.

Just in case you’re reading this years from now and can’t remember, let me remind you about your Bug Clinic. Last year at daycamp, you and your friends noticed that there were a lot of caterpillars around and you wanted to do something for them, so you created a bug hospital at the base of a tree. You carefully brought any injured caterpillars you found there, and you collected a stockpile of carefully peeled maple seeds for caterpillar food.

I figured the end of the summer would mean the end of the Bug Clinic, but it turned out that friend from daycamp was in your class at your new school and you revived the Bug Clinic at school in the fall. You now have an army of “doctors” on your roster and you run a pretty tight ship, assigning them jobs, scheduling shifts, and of course protecting the clinic from the other team, the Bug Clinic Destroyers. You have quite a lot on your to-do list – literally – but you’re fully committed to it. In fact, when I said that you sure had a lot to do, you explained patiently, “I know, mommy. But that’s what you have to when you’re the boss.”

Bug clinic to-do list

To-do list reads: Make the day off cards; draw picture of bc tree fort; Make pillow + blanket; Make bug clinic dead or live list; Make spar bussnis cards for bug clinic”

What’s even cooler, Magoo, and I don’t think you realize that you do this, is how huge your heart is. You don’t just accept everyone who comes along – you find ways to bring people together.

When some of your friends were more interested in playing Minecraft than Bug Clinic, you invited them to make a Minecraft tower on the top floor. When we had that incident a couple of weeks ago where another student made a poor choice and deliberately threw away the special piece of coral you brought to school, and later offered to work at your Bug Clinic to make up for it, you not only accepted her offer, you named her the “First Prize Winner” at your latest Bug Clinic Award Ceremony.

I mean, there’s forgiveness, and then there’s what you did. You have so much goodness in you that you respond to a deliberate injury by simply loving MORE. I think there’s a lesson in there for all of us.

You’ve been telling me that the Bug Clinic is a secret, but this morning you changed your mind and said it was okay for me to talk about it, and I’m really glad because I want to share it with the world. If more six…no, SEVEN year-olds were as dedicated as you are to caring for the very tiniest of creatures on this earth, how amazing would your generation become?

Bug beds

Tinfoil Bug Beds

Getting back to the bit about the birthday presents – you loved your bug books, but you did mention in the car, “I wish I had a whole LIBRARY of ocean books!” And then you paused thoughtfully for a minute, and then you asked me, “Mommy? Why am I so different from other kids? Why am I into things like biology and stuff, and not just superheros and toys?”

Magoo, every once in a while you and me have these really profound talks, and this was one of them.

I said that there are a lot of reasons. There’s the ordinary reasons: We tried to expose you to lots of different playthings and experiences, not just superhero toys and sports. Honestly, you never had much interest in any of the sports we tried (“Except skiing! I really like skiing!” you point out), so we weren’t going to force it, as long as you’re active and healthy. And whatever toys you played with, you created your own worlds with them instead of being stuck “in the box” playing with them exactly the way they were intended. Just think about Brio Peak - Your track-building adventures rose (again, literally) to new heights, and led to your first published book!

bens-book - blurred

Ben reading his book, “Your Favourite Brio Peak Story Collection” to his friends

Likewise, you don’t watch the typical TV shows for your age and gender, and I’m actually pretty happy about that. We’ve talked about this before, but with your innate kindness, and your tendency to be a bit anxious, you don’t like shows or movies with shooting and meanness, even if they do have happy endings. You just don’t enjoy watching them, and that’s okay. You get a little frustrated with your friends sometimes when they tell you the shows you like to watch are babyish, but you never fail to remind them “That’s a STEREOTYPE.” I do get a little sad because I know you censor yourself and don’t talk about those shows at school so you don’t get teased, but that of course is not a problem with you but with the world, and it’s not your job to fix it!

And I think daddy and I are doing an okay job at this parenting gig, because we try pretty hard to encourage you and Molly when you find something that you are interested in, like when you started to be interested in ocean creatures…

You interrupted me here to say, “It was when we were watching the life cycle DVD about the dolphin and the shark and you got the Eugenie Clark book and read it to me! THAT’S when I started loving ocean creatures!” and I’m pretty sure you just wrote the first sentence in your autobiography.

Well, that got me thinking and talking about the not-so-ordinary reasons. Eugenie Clark started being interested in natural science and ichthyology when she was very young, just like you, and I think you’ll find that the same is true of many scientists and leaders in their fields. People who have a passion for something often came to that passion very early in life, and many of them were lucky enough to be encouraged in that passion from early on. So you might be different from the other kids because God has a plan for you to do something really special – like to become a marine biologist or entomologist – or even something else.

One of the things that is really, really cool about you, Magoo, is that you don’t just get excited about things yourself – you have an incredible gift for getting other people excited too. Just look at your Bug Clinic – even though most of your friends are more interested in the usual stuff, you have somehow managed to get them totally excited about the Bug Clinic. When you started drawing ocean creatures, all of your friends did the same thing and for weeks you came home with your backpack stuffed with drawings of sea life – “To Ben, From _____.” Maybe you’re going to wind up using that gift to make a difference by getting people excited about learning or about conservation.

That, of course, led to a conversation about conservation (say that 5 times fast!) and a decision to write a letter to your principal outlining ideas for improving your school’s Enviro Club (“All we ever do is collect the recycling bags from the classrooms and dump them in the bins!”). Oh, and you remembered that you’d better get started with your letter-writing campaign to Marineland. And I promised to tell you about Craig Kielberger later. I guess Free The Children will be next on our reading list.

As we walked from the parking lot into your school, Magoo, you pointed at yourself, grinned at me, and said, “This kid is more like a grown-up than a kid,” and then ran inside to show off your birthday cupcakes.

I’ll have to meet you halfway on that, my baby Ben Magoo.

~ karyn