At Issue: Imperfect People

gavel-568417_640One of my favourite comments from this week’s At Issue came from Defining Motherhood, who said, in part:

It’s important not to mistake fame for character. As a mother, I must teach my kids the difference. On the other hand, I want my kids to be free to admire imperfect people. It is sad – for both the admirer and the admired – when vilify role models for their flaws and mistakes.

This notion — that fame and character are not the same thing, is one that I agree with wholeheartedly. I often find it interesting that the two are so frequently conflated in the media, and find it equally baffling that actors, sport stars and other people in the spot light are often held to some higher standard of behaviour simply because they are famous.  Fame does not equal character, nor is fame a constituent part of character, either.  Undoubtedly, the majority of people who live in the public eye are people of integrity for reasons that have nothing to do with their fame.  On the other side, some people in the public eye are just not, to be blunt, very nice people, but the only difference between an actor who is a boor in real life and the mean guy who works at  your local grocery store is several million dollars and a regular television gig.

It’s the second part of this quote that resonates the loudest for me, though:  the idea that it’s okay to admire imperfect people,  for this is what we do with role models of all stripes, every day.  I believe it is human nature  to seek out  people whose lives inspire us to think differently about our own.   Sometimes, because we are ourselves imperfect, we find ourselves drawn to people whose behaviour is less than savory,  but other times, we are drawn to people who demonstrate excellence. Sometimes, we find those characteristics in the same body.

All people, whether they be pop stars, pundits or preachers, are equally capable of good and bad behaviour.  The best role models teach us by example that we are the best we can be by overcoming the superficial and selfish tendencies that inhabit us all.  They are not, themselves perfect, because no one ever is.   It is the veneer of perfection that makes mere mortals into role models in the media, but it’s only when the cracks in the veneer are visible that a true role model is made.


At Issue: Finding Role Models

Exhibit One:  Miley Cyrus’ appearance at the MTV Video Awards a few weeks ago.

I won’t link to it. You’ve seen it already, or if you haven’t, it’s because you’ve steadfastly decided not to. Still, you know what happened:  Miley  performed an over-the-top, highly sexually suggestive dance with Robin Thicke. There was grinding, and twerking, and a foam “Cheer Finger” was used to naughty effect. It was, for most of us, crass and uncomfortable to watch.

The headlines the next day proclaimed the official “death” of her Disney character, Hannah MontanaHanna Montana, for those of you with younger children, was a Disney TV show staring Miley Cyrus, who portrayed an average pre-teen by day, and a famous pop-star by night. Beloved of many, Miley Cyrus was considered a role model for her wholesome portrayal of an ordinary kid with a secret identity.

English: Miley Cyrus at the premiere for Hanna...

English: Miley Cyrus at the premiere for Hannah Montana: The Movie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exhibit Two:   Justin Bieber,  who went from squeaky clean teen sensation to someone whose club hopping, occasional paparazzi-scuffling antics threaten to overshadow his musical career.

Exhibit Three:  Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, or any other athlete whose personal misdeeds  belied their public persona.

This week,  4Mothers looks at role models.   As parents, how do we talk to our kids about finding positive role models in a world where fame appears to equal integrity? On the flip side, is it possible to find positive role models in the media, and what do we tell our children when, as often happens, these people turn out to be mere mortals like the rest of us? Join us this week, and as always we invite you to join the discussion.

A Gluten-Free Confession

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-glut...

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-gluten wheat flour. Right: European spelt. Bottom: Barley. Left: Rolled rye flakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after I stopped eating gluten a few years ago, a friend of mine confronted me about it: “Are you just suddenly celiac or did your homeopath tell you to stop eating gluten?”

“Neither. I just feel better without it”.

“Oh. Whatever”, he said, with a dismissive wave.

That dismissive “whatever” cut close to the bone. I stopped eating gluten just as the current gluten free craze was starting to gain traction. I recall feeling a bit embarrassed at first when I told people that I no longer ate gluten. I felt like a bit of a poseur, jumping on the latest health craze based on something I found on the internet.

Now, it feels like the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, fad diet trend or no.

About three years ago, I started having terrible stomach and gastrointestinal pain. After the usual battery of tests, I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and prescribed daily medication. Occasionally, I’d find myself in terrible pain, all of my joints feeling like they were on fire. My doctor could find no reason for this. Most significantly, I’d also been having migraines with aura, sometimes two or three a week, for years. My neurologist told me to be happy with a 50% reduction in headaches while on medication, as that was the best that anyone could hope to achieve. I was trying my best to take care of myself; eating regularly and trying to exercise, but by this point, a fifteen minute slow run triggered a migraine. I was terribly unhappy, worried about work, and conscious of the effect that my having to crawl into bed constantly was having on my family.

Running out of options (and patience), and on a hunch, I started keeping a food diary. After a couple of weeks, an interesting pattern emerged: my migraines, which often came in the morning, were usually preceded by a dinner of pasta the night before. The migraines that hit during my Sunday morning run looked like they were the result of carbo loading on Saturday night. I started researching the connection between migraine and gluten, and found this article, which suggested that the connection, pardon my pun, was not all in my head.

So, just to see what would happen, I cut gluten out of my diet. Just for a week, I though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A week later, I felt like a new person. I can count on both hands the number of migraines I’ve had since that week. I don’t recall the last time my joints hurt. My stomach no longer cramps and my throat no longer feels like it’s burning.

Most importantly, I feel healthy, and I don’t crawl into bed unless I want to.

I am the first person to acknowledge that my general level of health may have improved for reasons unrelated to the removal of gluten from my diet, correlation not being equal to causation, and all of that. It could be because of a shift in hormone levels (I’m not getting any younger, after all) or because of a reduction in my general level of stress since that time (ha!). I eat better, of course, and eating better is bound to make one feel better. Maybe there’s an element of the psychosomatic at play: I’ve felt so incredibly awful after the few times that I’ve eaten gluten (my last slip up was half a McDonald’s chicken nugget a year ago, and let me tell you how much I regret that for so many reasons) that I always swear to myself I’ll never ever eat gluten again.

Then again, when I have had days when my joints flare up or my head pounds, I can almost always pin-point the source of the gluten I inadvertently ingested, after the fact.

So now, I live gluten-free. As a caveat, my experience is mine alone, and not to be taken as an endorsement for a gluten-free lifestyle. I strongly suggest consulting with a health care practitioner before someone cuts gluten from their diet — or in other words, do as I say, not as I do. A genuine diagnosis of celiac disease can be missed if someone cuts gluten out of their diet prior to testing, with potentially life-threatening consequences, and any unexplained changes in your health should always be thoroughly investigated. I certainly wouldn’t endorse it as a weight loss regimen, despite those claims that cutting out wheat will lead to a flat stomach, although I can’t say I miss the fifteen pounds that I lost almost immediately. It takes work to ensure that everything I eat is gluten free, and more importantly, that I’m not just filing myself up with gluten-free bread substitutes with minimal nutritional value. Yes, I miss baguettes and and croissants and good pizza with a thin crust; ales, porters in the winter, wiessbiers with oranges slices in the summer; and more than anything, going out to a restaurant without fear. But for all of that, it’s been worth it, because the pain? I don’t miss that at all.

Homemade Fudgsicles

To end the meal, and this scorching hot week, one must have dessert. I claim absolutely no credit for this recipe:  there are a few similar recipes kicking around the internet and Pinterest, but I more-or-less follow the version posted by Chocolate Covered Katie.

These delicious homemade fudgsicles are almost too good to be true, as they are vegan (depending on the sweetener), gluten-free, and contain only six ingredients,  all of which you’re likely to have on hand:

  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (Feel free to use your good stuff here; it makes a difference)
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (Shake the can before pouring. You want the coconut cream to incorporate into the liquid)
  • 2 small, very ripe bananas
  • a couple of dashes of salt (trust me…)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • sweetener to taste ( I use honey sparingly as I find ripe bananas are sweet enough; agave or stevia work as well)

Chuck everything into a blender and blend until smooth, pour into freezer pop molds, and freeze until set. Then, try to eat just one.


Better the Devil You Know … Than Doing This!

Eldest Child had a lot of fun completing this little quiz that I set for him. I’m guessing we speak in proverbs quite frequently, since Eldest Child knew most of these.

Youngest Child refused to give any answers, proving that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

A rose by any other name would  smell as sweet

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

A fool and his money are divided

A good man is wise

A leopard can’t change its spots

A penny saved is a penny earned

A picture is worth perfection

A poor workman always blames the plan

A problem shared is a problem solved

A rolling stone gathers dust

A thing of beauty is beautiful

A watched pot never gets dirty

A woman’s place is home.

All good things come to an end

All that glitters is valuable

All you need is love

An ounce of prevention is worth everything

Ask a silly question and you’ll get a silly answer

You’ve made your bed, today

Beauty is only an illusion

Behind every great man is a great weakness

Better the devil you know than  than doing this

Boys will be awesome!

Don’t bite the hand that talks

Don’t count your chickens before they are cooped

Don’t cut off your nose  because it hurts!

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Don’t put the cart in the middle of the aisle

Don’t teach your Grandma to dance

Don’t throw the baby in the garbage!

Every cloud has a dark side and a light side

Everything comes to him who wishes

He who laughs last, laughs first!

Marcelle’s favourite: Another Half an Hour

My favourite of 2012. Note to readers: Laura Vanderkam is the author of the time-management book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.


I just need another half an hour.

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I’d have been more present in the moment while helping one child with homework, motivating the other child to practice his piano piece just one more time and cooking two separate dinners (one for eldest child who’d had orthodontic work done earlier in the day and who was having trouble figuring out how to swallow with a new dental appliance in his mouth, and one for the rest of us).

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I might have had time to fit in a run. I’ve committed to a 10km road race in May. I have plenty of time to train for it, if I start training now. I just need to figure out when to slot in some running time.

If I’d had another half an hour, I would have gone to bed half an hour earlier. But the clothes in the dryer were still damp at 11 pm, and I didn’t want to leave them in the dryer overnight, getting wrinkled and requiring more of my time in ironing.

If I’d had another half an hour, I’d have finished this blog post last night, in the time between when I discovered that our old computer had finally given up the ghost and when my husband, working to deadline (in paid employment, need I point out our priorities) needed to use our working laptop again.

Do Laura Vanderkam and her ilk account for those small, incremental events that steal away portions of the day? By my count, I require an extra two hours every night to accomplish everything that I want to do: not well, not perfectly, just adequately. Even if I scheduled every waking moment, I can’t anticipate every contingency, and what kind of life would we all be leading if we kept to such a schedule?

Here’s our evening planned out:

  • 5:00 – 5:45: Commute Home (ETA 6:10 every second day because of transit delays; ETA 6:30 if youngest child needs to use the facilities for “pooping time!”).
  • 5:45 – 6:30: Change out of work clothing into workout wear in vain attempt to fake it until you make it. Commence cooking dinner. Children to commence homework and music practice.
  • 6:30 – 7:00  Dinner. (ETA 7:30 if any of the following events occur: (a) dinner burns because person cooking must also mediate a light sabre battle gone wrong; locate a glue stick needed for homework; engage in interesting conversation with a child who needs your attention; or (b) phone is answered immediately before dinner by child under age 18 who does not recognize that a 1-877 number (or worse, 1-234-567-8900) means someone we don’t want to talk to; or (c) “Pooping time!” delays arrival home to 6:30.  Dinner may be ready in 45 minutes or less on nights when both parents realize too late that they both forgot to defrost the pork chops; use emergency telephone code 967-1111 for rescue option.
  • 7:30 -8:30: Completion of homework. Showers. Reading. Family time.
  • 8:30 – 9:00: Tooth brushing. Pajama wearing.  Lights out at 9:00.
  • 9:00 – 9:20: One more chapter. Parent may or may not fall asleep on child’s bed whilst finishing said chapter; this is optional.
  • 9:20 – 9:30: Change out of workout wear, and into lounge wear (Really, this just means taking off my sports bra, but it’s important to acknowledge the day’s little victories).   Curse the winter for making it too dark outside for running.
  • 9:30 – 10:00: Clean kitchen, prep meals for next day, plan clothes, review work. Optional: talk to spouse about their day. End time may be delayed to 12:00 am in the event of work deadlines, overloaded dryers (12:20 a.m. if you do the “smart” thing and split the load into two) or anything spilled on the kitchen floor that requires more than a paper towel to clean up. Consider going to sleep. Maybe.

Another half-hour? Multiply that by four, and we’d be golden. And lest you scoff, thinking that there’s no way anyone’s schedule can go so continually pear shaped as to necessitate two hours of contingency time, I have two words for you: Stomach Virus. Spilled milk.  Book Report. Hockey game. Stale bread. Dead line (okay, that’s one word, but work with me). Only the book report and hockey game can be planned for with any certainty, but they’re all equally likely to occur in any given week.

I wonder sometimes, whether it’s possible to have a “time deficit” the same way we speak of people having a “sleep deficit” — which, I suppose, is just a time deficit in a disciplined form. Don’t we all have this? A collection of things we should be doing, or want to be doing, in addition to the things that we have to do every day? Writing more. Exercising more. Spending more time with family. If the eventual outcome of a sleep deficit is that you crash, what’s the outcome of a time deficit? I suspect, it’s the same: a sudden, overwhelming urge to just lie down and NOT plan, not schedule. Not do. Just be. Or maybe to take a nap.

A half an hour should be enough.

Father Christmas

Raymond Briggs’ 1973 portrayal of a decidedly human Santa Claus, Father Christmas gets 71PDRDWHJVL._SS500_.gifmy vote as my favourite Christmas book ever. In this graphic novella, Briggs turns the traditional stereotypical view of Santa — jolly, benevolent, good natured — on its head.

Awoken from a dream about sunning himself on a tropical beach, Santa greets Christmas Eve with a mild curse: “Bloomin’ Christmas here again!”. This a very modern Santa, who grumbles about the weather (“bloomin’ snow!”) his herd (“bloomin’ deer!) and the demands of his work (“gettin’ a bloomin’ cold, now!”).  He’s a one-man show: with only a couple of reindeer to help him, and no mention of Mrs. Claus, we follow our man as he readies himself for the biggest day of the year: Christmas.   He flies around the United Kingdom delivering presents, visiting cottages and caravans, and ending, appropriately, at Buckingham Palace.  Gifts delivered, he settles down to a nice dinner, a lovely nip of brandy, a cigar (I know!) and peruses travel catalogs for warmer climes,  which is just what you’d probably want to do too, if you were in his boots.

There are few words in this book (and most of them are the word “bloomin’!”) but Briggs’ colourful and evocative illustrations more than make up for the absence of text.  I’ve blogged about this book before, at least in its movie form, so great is my affection for it.  Father Christmas appears to be out of print here in Canada, but it is available from and

Can’t catch me, I’m the Ninjabread Man!

Beth-Anne was talking about these this evening, and in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing them with you.


Aren’t those cool? I’m thinking these cookie cutters are required for some stealthy pre-Christmas baking:


Don’t be alarmed if the butter sneaks up on the sugar.

Ninjabread Men Cookie Cutters are $10.99 at IQ Living online or at 542 Danforth Avenue.

(Full disclosure: No promotional fee or benefit was provided to us. We know what you like!)

Danforth East Pops Up!

I live in the east end of the city, close to the Danforth, but not the part of the Danforth known as Greektown. No, we’re further east, beyond the reach of Starbucks, in a (so the lingo goes) gentrifying part of town: Danforth East.

It’s a great place to raise a family, as it has all the community amenities that one could want: a great library, good schools, local sports facilities, and a vibrant community-run farmers’ market in East Lynn Park.  However, if you were to walk along our stretch of the Danforth, you’d probably be less than inclined to stay and find out what the neighbourhood is about, given the number of papered-over storefronts that line the street between Coxwell and Woodbine.  There are fantastic independently-run businesses in the area deserving of foot traffic, (I’m looking at you, Better Bulk, Royal Beef, and Silly Goose Kids ) but with so many For Lease signs in windows, the whole area has the appearance of being down and out:  those empty storefronts make you want to go elsewhere.

Enter the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) and their Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project. Modeled after a successful similar project in Newcastle, Australia, the Pop-Up Stores project links building owners with potential short-term tenants. DECA volunteers paint and ready the stores for the tenants, and landlords donate their empty premises for a short period to entrepreneurs looking to get their feet wet in the world of retailing. After a successful pilot this fall, DECA has organized a full-month of Pop-up stores  — nine shops in six storefronts — in anticipation of the holiday season.

The Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter, who is also one of the project’s organizers, wrote a great article recently about the project’s genesis and aims:  take a look!

It’s a great project with a smart bottom line: if you want to revitalize an area, you need to make it vital for people to come.   By creating foot traffic on the street, DECA is creating buzz  and turning the Danforth East into a destination.  Newcastle, Australia saw a complete turn-around of its downtown business district in three short years. Here’s hoping the Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project can do the same here.

For more information about the Pop-Up  Stores Project and the artists, entrepreneurs and creative minds who will be setting up shop, click here.

Buy local this holiday season, and pay us a visit out east. I think you’ll be glad you did.