Sunday, July 27, 2008

And More Thoughts...

I wrote the last post Friday night, but admittedly didn't publish it till Sunday night. It just didn't flow like I wanted it to. Oh well...

Since publishing, I've read a fantastic article that Erika passed my way entitled "Moving from the Ivory Tower to the Community," by Margot Fryer, and published in Academic Matters. The article discusses "how the UBC's Learning Exchange has created new community in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside."

The article discusses how UBC wanted to contribute more to the larger community, and so decided to open up a storefront, offering free computer and Internet use, and striving to build relationships and trust within the community.

There are so many amazing things said in the article. For instance: "A community had been created - not by the staff from the university but by the local residents. We made the space, but they populated it and gave it life." I love that. Fryer writes in the article about how the Learning Exchange is different from what both the university and the community had first envisioned. I love how the space was essentially co-created, with the community itself taking ownership and determining, in large part, the direction this initiative would take.

Another quote: "It is tempting to think of the Learning Exchange as a bridge between two very different communities. But this is the wrong metaphor. Neither the university nor the Downtown Eastside is a homogeneous entity. The Learning Exchange is not a hard structure between the university and the community but a fluid, changing force that resides within both." I love this quote because it goes back to my dislike of the "us" and "them" dichotomy.

And more: "The stereotypes about the Downtown Eastside evoke fear because its residents seem foreign, but one quickly discovers that most people in the neighbourhood are pretty ordinary. What then becomes unsettling is the realization that there is not that much separating those who sleep in warm, comfortable beds from those who sleep on cold, hard sidewalks."

And finally: "It is not only that being involved in a community that is struggling to overcome serious challenges can provoke reflections about how society is structured, how resources are distributed, and how government and corporate policies shape everyday life. But the engagement itself teaches that democracy and citizenship are not abstract ideals... The state of our society is not something that only elected representatives can influence. Citizenship is what is happening right here and now. Are we doing enought? Are we including people? Ensuring that everyone can contribute and feel valued?" Great ideas and great questions...

I think what's so exciting to me is that these are ideas I have been mulling about recently. Living on George Street, watching Jeff struggle in his teaching job in inner city Hamilton, hanging out at Women 4 Women... these have been major influencing factors in my thought processes these past five months or so. But now I've found someone who has expressed these ideas so much better than I ever could! Exciting and inspiring all at the same time!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Have I Told You Lately... Part II

So I've been reflecting on my post from the other day, and the myriad responses I received, both via your online comments, and -shockingly enough- face-to-face conversations. I've mulled and come to a few conclusions.

First, I'm completely amazed at the variety of responses and opinions I've heard/read. It's made me see, once again, how differently people will interpret a text based on their own background and experiences. With some responses, I've had to re-read my post, searching for the trigger, for the correlation between response and post. Mysterious indeed.

And now for a few other thoughts...

Oh, man, where do I begin?


First off, I think the thing that really gets me is the "us" and "them" dichotomy. I find this in a lot of church ministries and "helping" organizations, and I don't agree with it, even as I see myself struggling with it. You could also call it the "project" mentality. (Thanks, Jeff!) To explain, it's the thinking behind the helping that goes something like this: I am helping you; therefore, I have all the answers. You're broken; I need to fix you. I've got it together, so I don't need your help. There is nothing you can do for me, thank you very much. It's very uni-directional thinking. We don't feel we can learn anything from the people we're helping. At the same time, we're trying to make them into a mini-me. So we're uncomfortable when they show up to church drunk, or smelling bad. And we get frustrated and feel our help is worthless when we don't see them "change." Do you know what I mean?

What I do believe in is a place like Women 4 Women, where I'm just as likely to snag some free clothes and benefit from a free lunch as the next person. And where it's not always clear who's doing the "giving" and who's doing the "taking." Where we each get to feel a sense of ownership for the thing that we're a part of.

I guess you could say I want life to just be a big "US" talking to and learning from each other, trying to figure out this complicated world together.

I had a hard time composing that part. I hope you get what I was trying to say...


As for the issue of what schools our kids attend...
Rose, you brought up some good points. And admittedly, my idealism falls short. I'm fine with sending Kaiya to our local school. But would I want to send her to the school where Jeff works? Absolutely not.

It seems we have a dilemma.

I guess when I hear some parents talk, I wonder about the fine line between "giving our kids the best we can give" and simply sheltering them. And I don't agree with sheltering them. That's where my line about teaching our kids street smarts came in. A line I, unfortunately, simply threw in without thinking much about it. What I really meant to say is that I think we should be trying our best to be open, honest, and humble with our kids. Teach them to ask lots of questions and be open-minded. And don't be afraid to simply say, "I don't know" when we actually don't know.


Since I wrote the post, the line that keeps popping into my head, and I apologize, it is slightly lame... is "bloom where you're planted." What I mean is, if you live on George Street, get to know the people who walk, bike, and stumble by. Connect and build your community. And the same goes for if you live in a subdivision. Meet your neighbours. Connect. Offer help. Have a barbecue. And the same if you volunteer somewhere. Don't just be a body. Connect with the people you're helping. Learn their names. Learn their stories. Let their lives affect you and change you.

Yes. Bloom where you're planted.

Oh, and I'm still frustrated by the tendency people have to want to book it to suburbia/the country once they have a bit of cash. Of course I don't think we should all live downtown. Talk about overcrowding! But why don't more people choose downtown? Why is it seen as a bad place to raise a family? Because it's busy? Because I have to take my kids to a park instead of the acre out back? Because there are "colourful" people hanging around? I'm going to keep asking it. What are we afraid of?

There you have it. My smorgasbord of thoughts. Hopefully I made some sense. It is, after all, Friday night, and I'm trying to think semi-clearly after a day of painting baseboards following a night that involved waking up 5 times to soothe my poor, teething daughter. I think a strong drink is in order.

So what are your thoughts? Go on folks, hit me. This time I'm ready for you. Even you, James.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Slovak Day!

  It was a grand day in Milton, in the pouring rain. Drinking, dancing, colourful costumes. Eating MEAT, eating raw garlic, eating poppyseed strudel, and eating more. Oh, and we can't forget the spontaneous rounds of rousing folk songs sung along with accordion accompaniment. This done after copious amounts of drinking, of course.

Nothing like getting in touch with your roots.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Have I Told You Lately... much I love our neighbourhood?

I am in love with our front porch. I love sitting there and saying hi to neighbour Dave and neighbour Sue in their comings and goings. I love chatting with Barb and Arnie as they go on their daily walks, and thanking Arnie as he, once again, cuts four houses worth of front lawns, including ours. I love talking to the guy who slowly walks his Golden Retriever at least twice a day. And the man who always compares reno notes with Jeff. We don't know his name, but his dog goes by the name "Shadow." And the guy around the corner on Albert Street, who acts like the neighbourhood security guard, regularly patrolling the streets. He promises to give us his grandson's toys once he's done with them. Some days I even have a soft spot for Tony, who jealously eyes "his" parking spot on George Street, and who works on his Dodge Ram as though he owns a garage, when he doesn't even have a driveway.

In short, I love being a part of this community.

I also love that here on George Street, we are not insulated from the hurts of society. In addition to the above folks, I also say hello to the intimidating teens who live on the corner. I say hello to the young, pregnant moms who walk the streets with 7-11 Big Gulps in hand. I see the crackheads, whose screams sometimes wake us in the night. And I talk to the one who regularly asks me for spare change and for the time. I watch rather dishevelled looking men and women trudge to and from the beer store with their granny carts and wagons being pulled behind them. And although I could do without the resident crack houses, I don't feel frightened by these folk. In fact, I find that when I just take the time to talk to them, they're just like me. A little worse for the wear, perhaps, but not much else. And more than anything else, I see it when we connect over little Kaiya. No matter what the age, social class, upbringing, drug of choice, a baby somehow is able to bridge the differences. We all coo at her the same and talk about how important it is to enjoy her baby-ness while it lasts.

I get so frustrated at churches who have programs to reach out to "these people." The churches that most frustrate me are all generally located in nice, white, upper middle class neighbourhoods, and the people who attend them and volunteer in these programs pat themselves on the backs for "helping the poor." Now I admit that many of these programs have been set up with good intentions. People really do want to help. I know I can't dismiss them all with one keystroke. I guess what frustrates me more is individuals' attitudes of "not in my backyard." They drive to their church, ladle out some bowls of soup, and drive back home. They are content to do their part as long as it doesn't interfere with their lives. As long as they don't have to question their way of doing things. As long as they can continue to live their happy, insulated lives.

I have some questions for folks like these:
-when was the last time you really talked, and really listened to the people you're trying to help? I mean, without wincing at the curse words, or trying to correct what you perceive as faulty theology?
-when was the last time you let the problems and pain of the people you're trying to help go deep? I mean, deep to the point that you felt it yourself, and it made you question your norms, your priorities, and society's methods of dealing with these hurts?

And for all of us: Why is it that our collective goal in life seems to be to move AWAY from the hurting parts? It's like as soon as we make some money, the first thing we do is buy a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house with a big fence in a nice subdivision. And we try to protect our kids from "the bad people." What are we afraid of? I know of plenty of kids in suburbia who ended up on crack, pregnant, with an alcohol problem. Something tells me it's not where you live, but how you live. And if we're really interested in helping the down and out of society, why don't we plunk ourselves right down amongst them? Walk with them, talk with them. Teach our children street smarts instead of just trying to shield them from the seedier sides of life. Teach them to have an open heart, that is willing to question.

That's my soapbox for today. Yes, I'm an idealist. And I will bloody well hold onto that idealism as long as I can. I just don't see how all this segregation does anyone any good. Let's keep questioning, keep doubting, keep stretching ourselves. Let's not label people just so that we can avoid having to think about what their lives present to us.

Have a great weekend, folks!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Half a Year Old!!

  Oh, how I love my sweet baby girl.

I took Kaiya to Auntie Dagmar today to take some 6-month shots. For a full hour, Dagmar and I jumped, sang, shook toys, giggled, tickled, and made funny noises all in the hopes of a smile. Oh Kaiya, just a smile. That's all we wanted. But Kaiya was so mesmerized by her surroundings. So many props! Strange lighting and noises! She stared dumbfounded at it all while we begged her to smile. A few half smiles were the best we got. And papa Jeff took care of the rest at home.


Kaiya has taken to rolling over onto her belly. Unfortunately, she hasn't yet mastered rolling back. This is doubly unfortunate as she doesn't much like being stuck on her belly. A few times now we've been startled by her muffled cry as she wails with her mouth in her mattress, waiting for us to flip her over. Poor, sweet thing.

And I wasn't going to add this one, but what the heck. Jeff really likes it.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Hello Readers,

I feel like I haven't written for a long time. But I guess, really, it's only been a week. I just know that since my posting blitz of June, you've probably come to expect more regular installments. But it seems the summer is going to be busier than expected. Which I'm not complaining about at all.

We've settled into a bit of a routine. Jeff works on and putters around the house all day. I now have more outlets in my kitchen than I can count (remember, it's a very large kitchen). Absolutely all the electrical in the kitchen has been replaced, and today, he's installing a range hood above the stove. Then, he'll finally be done. In the kitchen, that is...


I was going to say that Kaiya has been adjusting well to all the noises, but then I had to go comfort a child who woke up screaming from her nap when daddy starting drilling into the kitchen wall. Poor girl. She has just recently started showing fear reactions (like to dad's big, long, dark blue bathrobe hanging on the bathroom door), so it's probably not the best time to introduce her to power tools. Live and learn. As Jeff says, "She's my girl. I'm not gonna have her afraid of big tools."

So, back to our routine. When Kaiya sleeps in the mornings, I usually run out and try madly to sand down and prime a few baseboards. Then, for the rest of the day, I alternate entertaining Kaiya, preparing food, meeting up with friends, and then falling into bed by 10. Notice cleaning was not in that list. The omission was purposeful. Our house is quickly becoming a pigsty. And it's wonderful not to care! I love summer!

It's really great to hang out with friends more. I went into a bit of withdrawal, what with having a new baby and Jeff spending every last minute on school work. Sunday's are the best. No more freaking out about the upcoming week. We relax and even stay out late if we want. I don't even want to think about September!

We continue the solids battle with Kaiya. Forget the rice cereal. We've been on carrots the last few days. She still spits most of it out, and her initial reaction is often still one of disgust, but it does seem to be getting better. She actually does eat some of it. Her favourite thing is to put her fingers in her mouth along with the spoon. Bibs and wet rags have become items of absolute necessity!

Okay, that's the lowdown on the Epps for now. One last thing. Don't be surprised if you start seeing me write about pregnancy in the next bit. No, no, silly, I'm not pregnant again. But I have been reading a wonderful book that Rose passed my way, "Misconceptions" by Naomi Wolf. It's been helping me to process many of the feelings and fears I had during pregnancy. And it's been affirming those feelings and fears, rather than downplaying them. Pregnancy and childbirth are huge, life-changing experiences, and I'm glad I've finally found a book that goes there, into the depths, without trivializing and sentimentalizing the experience. What a wonderful gift. I admit, I'm often loath to share my opinions with you, dear readers. It's easier to keep this blog as a light distraction for all of us. After all, at the end of the day, I want you all to still like me. But every now and then, there are issues that tug at me and arouse my passion. And I'd be a fool to not have opinions about them. So there's your preamble. Consider yourselves sufficiently warned!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Renovation News Flash!!!

Hot off the press! We now have not one, but three working electrical outlets in the kitchen. THREE outlets, oh my, oh my!! No longer do I have to alternate plugging in the toaster, kettle, and wash machine. (Yes, the wash machine is in the kitchen. Did I ever mention we have a large kitchen? As my sister said when we first bought the house, "You could play volleyball in here!" And as our neighbour said, "When you said you have a big kitchen, I was expecting a big kitchen, not a small house." Yes Brian, probably larger than your Tokyo apartment.) Okay, enough about the kitchen. But yes, now the microwave has its own outlet, the kettle has its own outlet, and the toaster and fridge cozily share an outlet. The wash machine is sadly still on an extension cord, but that situation too will soon be rectified! I hear the drill as we speak. I mean, as I write. You know what I mean.

Yay for dad!!
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Monday, July 07, 2008

Starting Solids...or Not

Kaiya's almost at the 6-month mark. For the past few weeks, she has been showing increased interest in the food Jeff and I eat. So we thought it was about time to start her on solids. According the the latest recommendations (which are constantly changing) baby's first "solid" should be rice cereal, served with a spoon in a very runny consistency. At first Kaiya seemed game:

But after one taste, this was the response:
It soon became obvious that Kaiya was NOT interested. Every time the spoon came her way, she turned her head. And when I managed to trick her into opening her mouth, its contents were soon spit right back out. All over me and her.

I called the "Parent Talk Line" today, a free service offered in Niagara. You can call and ask a nurse any question you may have related to parenting. (I can give you the number later, Maria ;) ) When I told the nurse my daughter was rejecting solids, she asked, "Did you try mixing the cereal with breast milk?" (Yes.) "Did you try altering the consistency of the cereal?" (Yes.) She then went on to suggest that we let Kaiya have the spoon and "play" with her food to make the experience enjoyable and get her used to it. Ha. Right.

Unfortunately, we did not take pictures of this event. Because it was quite the event. It's not like babies come equipped with the knowledge of how to hold a spoon. Apart from flinging the cereal into my face or across the room, she alternated dribbling it all over her big Buddha belly and gagging herself on the wrong end of the spoon. Luckily, we had the foresight to strip her down to her diaper first. Did she enjoy it? Yes, she did. She smiled and giggled and talked her way through the whole mess. Did she actually ingest any of the food? Probably not. Did we have to clean the entire area surrounding our sweet child? Absolutely. Ultimately, we enjoyed the experience too. I'm just not sure it's something I'd want to do every day. Unless of course we're going to make a habit of taking our daughter out back and hosing her down after every bit of cereal. At one point she started blowing bubbles with rice cereal in her mouth. Bubble, smile, bubble, smile. Drip. Drip. Drip. Not a pretty picture, sweet delicate flower of mine.

One thing Kaiya really loves is drinking water from a glass. I think it makes her feel like a big girl. Every time she sees us drinking, she stares intently at the glass and starts flapping her arms around like a penguin. So after our severe lack of success with the cereal, I decided to end on a positive note:
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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Cute Warning!

Jeff's favourite time of the day is when Kaiya wakes up. In the morning, from naps, any time, really. She's very adorable and happy when she wakes. And now he has a bit of spare time to capture these sweet moments.

Sleeping beauty...

Waking up...

Hello daddy!
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Welcome Summer!

Jeff is done. I have my husband back. No, really, I have my husband back. Everyone keeps saying it. He's back to saying lame, corny jokes, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and wasting away hours in front of the TV and computer. It's wonderful. We've enjoyed some terrifically lazy mornings lounging in bed, Jeff, Kaiya and me. Kaiya knows her daddy's back too. She's even happier than usual, and for the first couple of days, she was hesitant to take naps. She just wanted to be in on all the fun!

We're mostly looking forward to a summer of renos, but not the horrible, tear everything down, gut the house, and live in dust all summer renos we did last year. These will be more of the "finishing" type of renos, so although time-consuming, they'll feel more rewarding. I hope.

  Kaiya tried the swings at the park for the first time this week. She loves them! She squeals and screams and opens her mouth wide in what we think is a smile. ;)
Look at those chubba chubba legs!
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