Friday, February 27, 2015

Pop Parenting Quiz - The Gay Edition

It finally happened.

I overheard my oldest child, at nine years old and in grade four, mumble without thought, “That’s gay.”

My head jerked up from the laptop. I’d had one ear open for the boys’ voices while they shared turns on their tablet, and now my hackles were on the rise. I called over the boy-child in question—reminding myself that he is, in fact, a child—with a sinking sensation in my gut.

Here we go.

We have rules in our house. Rules for kids and rules for parents. Our parenting strategy dictates that you can’t get someone in trouble for an infraction without a warning and an explanation as to why that particular act is outlawed. Second time through? Open season.

That’s gay.

I shuddered inwardly, my mind running, scattered... Was he old enough for that to be tossed around so blithely? Did parents actually allow their children to repeat that in this day and age?

We ran over the basics—what does being gay mean?

I was satisfied with his answer that it meant a man loved another man, and added that it covered women (as lesbians), and that relationships—like families—take many different shapes.

I asked him where he’d heard the phrase. Suspicions confirmed: the schoolyard. (Gah!)

I asked him what it means when someone says something lame is girlie—they’d gotten a lecture on that a few years ago, and it had sufficiently nixed that adjective as a default negative from their vocab.

He shuffled his feet, “When said like that it’s an insult to every girl we know. Including you.”

“Exactly. And that term? Saying something’s gay? That’s horrid, to use that term that way. It’s as bad as a swear word—it sounds ugly. Disgusting. And no one should ever say it like that.”

The eyes went wide. He hadn’t considered it on a level of—oh, horror of horrors!—a swear word!

“But Mom,” he said tentatively. “You told us being gay was not a bad thing...”


Gah. The kid had me on the ropes. I had to proceed carefully...

“It’s not a bad thing. But describing things with that term is insulting to anyone who is gay. And you never know who you’re insulting. Because unlike the word ‘girlie,’ you can’t look around and see who’s gay. Because gay people look just like everyone else.

His eyes: saucers. The barbarity, of accidentally cutting someone deep without knowing the victim or anticipating the wound. Silence.

“You have better words you could use,” I offered. “Good words. Words that no one would mind hearing, right?”

He nodded emphatically. “Like ‘kabloosh.’”

Buh...? Er...

“Sure. Like kabloosh,” I agreed. “Great word. Highly preferable to ‘gay.’ And I’m sure people will know what you mean through your context.”


“You’re going to hear a lot of people use a lot of different language in this world. Kids, adults, everyone. And some people are going to say things that aren’t right. Just because you hear it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Dad and I are trusting you to use your judgement and not repeat things you can tell are bad words and sayings. And if you ever want to know what something means, you come and ask. You’ll never get in trouble for a question.”

Vigorous nodding in response.

“You will, however, get in trouble if I ever hear you say ‘that’s gay,’ now that we’ve had this chat. Understand?”

More vigorous nodding, and then he was blessedly dismissed.

Whew. I think that went okay... Except, I realized later, that I should have pushed pause on the youngest boy’s tablet turn and given them both the same lecture at once...

So I suppose I can expect a surprise retest at a later date... sigh.

Can Mr Lannis be on the receiving end next time?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Roots Lunch Bag

It occurred to me that I’ve been sitting on this gem (figuratively, natch), and sharing could help others.

This is my son’s soft-sided lunch bag. Both of my boys are rough on their belongings. This particular lunch bag has served stoically through the 2013-2014 school year, and is currently serving the 2014-2015 school year.

And it’ll likely serve the 2015-2016 year, too.

No joshing. These Roots bags are the most durable lunch bags I’ve ever seen. I have no plans to shell out for a new lunch bag anytime soon.

If I recall, it was less than $15 CAD new at Costco. Recently I saw some with different colours still stocked in a corner of Costco near the snowshoes and bread (you can’t make this up).

They come with a stainless steel water bottle (that apparently people keep gifting unused to second hand stores, if you’ve got a kid like mine who constantly loses water bottles...), with a wide enough mouth to toss in an ice cube or four during the summer months. 

They also come with a clip on strap that we’ve never bothered to use, I’ve just lost them, put them aside for future use.

Now these lunch bags aren’t in perfect condition after 18 months, but they might as well be. They have a couple stains (is that pink crayon? Jello?). But the only items that have fallen apart are negligible ones, in my opinion: the mesh on the bottom of one bottle holder has let go, and my youngest son’s bag has lost the bungee cord to secure his bottle (but it still works fine). The stainless steel bottle that hasn’t been lost is dented up the wazoo, but is functional.

Overall importance in usability and durability:

- These lunch bags don’t smell. They have a plastic zip-out liner to ensure leaks are contained, but I preemptively put the boys’ refillable drink boxes in an empty bread bag because I’m OCD like that. And whenever the boys have a break from school I wash the entire bags themselves and hang to dry, so they get a good wash 4-6 times a year, and that's on top of the daily wipe out.

- The silver insulating lining has not cracked or gotten caught in zippers.

- The fabric has not frayed. The handle is padded and comfortable.

- The zippers are tough: they zip smoothly and haven’t begun catching on anything.

- It’s roomy. Since it's soft-sided there's some wiggle room on the dimensions listed below. Daily I pack the lunch bag’s main compartment with multiple items/containers, specifically: a sandwich container, two small containers (a serving each of apple sauce and Jello), a medium container with a muffin, and/or an apple, a refillable drink box, an ice pack (held in place by mesh), and two spoons (because using the same spoon for both apple sauce and Jello is just gross, Mom). In the past the main compartment has also held a small Thermos for hot lunch instead of a sandwich container. There’s another narrower compartment on the outside to hold snacks (a tub of crackers and a granola bar or two. And I have boys who appreciate crackers that aren’t cold).

Main compartment: 25cm/10" tall, 20cm/8" wide, 10cm/3.5" deep
Smaller compartment: 22cm 8.5" tall, 20cm/8" wide, 5cm/2"deep

These Roots lunch bags are available at Costco on and off during the year, and—being Costco—it’s one of those hit or miss things to watch for in off seasons. If you see them grab them quick, you never know when they'll be back. They’re usually promoted next to matching Roots backpacks (another great buy I’d highly recommend—$20 CAD and extremely durable, with multiple pockets for proper weight distribution and gadgets my kidlets don’t possibly need).

No, I’m not receiving any compensation from Costco, or Roots, or anyone else for this review (if only). This is a case of simply walking into my laundry room, seeing these bad boys hanging to dry, and thinking they were one of the best buys in a long time. 

So I had to share.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.  

Title: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Author: Saladin Ahmed

Format: trade paperback


Genre: fantasy

Publisher: Orion Publishing Group 

Landed in my hands:
purchased myself


The Crescent Moon Kingdoms is at boiling point. A struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious Falcon Prince is reaching its climax. In the midst of this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, three score and more years old, has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives. But when and old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path. Raseed bas Raseed, a hidebound holy warrior, is eager to deliver God’s justice. Zamia Badawi has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the brewing revolutions are connected, the companions must race against time to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the city, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.


To be completely honest, before Saladin Ahmed had been announced as the JordanCon 2015 Author Guest of Honour, I hadn’t heard of him. Of course, I’m all for supporting our beloved JCon guests, so I had to pick up his book.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

I believe I’ve said before that I’ve struggled lately with reading heroic fantasy. It was once my go to genre; my staple. And because of that I’ve suffered burnout: everything reads as categorical tropes... tired, old, redundant. Predictable.

Hence my surprise with this, the first installment of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms series (trilogy?).

Throne of the Crescent Moon has a welcome twist. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me how much of fantasy is entrenched in Western culture—a mesh of altered European medieval history and mythical tropes. So to read a novel where the action takes place in a skewed middle-eastern setting was, well, refreshing. And Ahmed’s narrative is finely descriptive—the details are revealed naturally, and don’t seem forced—I found myself easily transported to the marketplace setting that is Adoulla’s common stomping ground (a thankfully exotic place to visit, when one is stuck in the middle of Canadian winter).

But Ahmed doesn’t stop there. He’s subverted the genre further; his central characters aren’t nobility—or even nobility in disguise. His central characters aren’t a cast of young kids who need to come of age during their struggles—nope, in fact the primary character is a senior, one who’d happily retire if the world let him, but that doesn’t seem feasible anytime soon. A senior and his friends (contemporary in age, even—more old people! And look, they’re not useless to society, as the media’s brush occasionally paints them!), as well as his protégé. Oh, and a badass independent young woman they pick up along the way.

In fact, this book has quite a nice feminist spin. A girl is uncharacteristically given an honour historically reserved for males. Two older women are respected professionals in the community—one educated with skills integral to the group, and the other a business entrepreneur with powerful connections. Characters of various ages are respected for their skills, and the knowledge they bring to the table.

(Equality makes for a good read. Go figure.)

Without setting off my spoiler alarm, there was a particular dynamic between two characters that I found to be rather predictable, but I suppose we can't have everything be a surprise... and a small area of predictability is a small price in my mind.

(Especially considering there's a rather large shudder-worthy concept that made my skin crawl, it was so unanticipated and supremely... creeptastic. All I can do is shudder inwardly at the thought.)

I like subversion. I like not anticipating the direction of a narrative. I like seeing women being respected, taking charge, and kicking butt.

Which is all to say I’ll be waiting for the next installment, and looking forward to meeting Ahmed come April. And saying thank you.

Because old people and women have value, so thanks for noticing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Zero Dignity Cold

Today (or yesterday, since that’s when I went grocery shopping) it is -34c/-29F with the windchill.

There’s an extreme cold alert issued by Environment Canada.

It’s stupid cold. Make your face hurt cold. Exposed skin freezes in minutes cold. So cold your frozen fingers fail to register on touchscreens as human skin.

Or, as I call it: zero dignity cold.

What does that mean exactly? Well, aside from encompassing the descriptions above, it’s so frigid that anyone not wearing a hat or coat or mitts stands out, receiving shocked glances and—if the person in question is a child in the schoolyard—looks of horror and pity on their behalf.

(Let it be noted those children are hassled by present adults to zip coats and put on their hats/scarf/mitt/insert-cold-appropriate-gear-here. Usually these kids are making executive decisions outside of the realm of their parents’ gaze. In the past I’ve contacted the school regarding serial offenders and their possible lack of owning winter gear in the interests of anonymously gifting them some, to be rebuffed by administration. Then there’s also the parenting philosophy of giving their children access to abundant gear yet, “if they want to freeze, let them. They’ll learn.” I prefer to browbeat my children into their gear. It’s a parenting choice I own.)

My point is that anyone not dressed appropriately for the weather stands out. It’s expected. It’s natural. If you’re bundled you blend.

This translates to public dress in that when you’re outside every adult is interchangeable unless people recognize your coat/hat/sunglasses, etc. Seriously, no exposed skin. We’re covered, except for maybe a band across the nose and cheeks.

(A girl's gotta breathe.)

So. Don't know what I'm wearing or what I'm driving? You have no mother-loving CLUE who I am.

It's freeing.

And when you’re inside? Like say, grocery shopping, or at work? Well, everyone has toque head. Don’t bother doing your hair—your 'do will be frizzy, or staticky, or dented from perpetual hat head. Might as well succumb to a ponytail until we can all see grass again.

Hell, even makeup is sandblasted off your skin in the extreme wind. Eyeliner and mascara smear or run when your eyes drip from the cold, and your cheeks glow with a natural blush thanks to windburn. So why bother?

Yes, you will run into everyone you know. Get over it. They don't even notice. Trust.

Out and about sans makeup with pony-tailed toque hair. This is an everyday winter occurrence.
And there’s no point in trying to look slim and sexy. Big clodhopper Kodiaks or Merrells are what keep you warm, not thigh-high leather boots—unless you’re pulling snowpants up them, anyway.

The accidental cell phone shot that inspired this post, as I'm swish swishing my snowpanted way through the grocery store. (Yes, everyone hears me coming a mile away.)

Nope. No sexy boots. It's sensible all the way. There’s no cute-to-look-cute coats, either, unless you want to freeze, they won’t fit over the rest of your gear. Any cold weather lovers, survivors will tell you you need to dress in layers.

Daily I wear a long sleeved tee, under a short sleeved tee, and a hoodie over all. Oh, and a neck warmer. That I wear to bed. I have four identical black and grey fleece neck warmers I rotate through the laundry and perpetually sport.

Read that again: I sleep in a neck warmer in the winter time. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.

That’s some sexy, folks, just ask Mr Lannis.

In -34c, I wear snowpants whenever I leave the house.

Whenever I leave the house.

This is the rule.

So, when driving the kidlets to school and then heading out grocery shopping? Oh, I’m absolutely wearing my snowpants (regardless of the fact that I'll likely be inside businesses over an hour at a time). And likely two pairs of pants underneath: leggings and plush sweatpants.

Literally three pairs of pants, and one has an insulating layer.


You know what? No one cares.

Zero. Dignity. Cold.

Bad hair. No makeup. Bulky clothes.

And that’s the norm.

So this? This is the upper tray of my shopping cart. My mitts. My infinity scarf, my hat, and my Tim Hortons steeped tea (it's Roll Up season—j’ai gagné un cafe!), and below in my bin of reusable bags: my purple winter jacket.

Not pictured: my sunglasses.

Because zero dignity cold generally comes with one upside: it’s so damn blindingly bright you can’t help but enjoy it.

Well, if you're dressed right...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Muffin Math

We like our muffins here chez Lannis.

Occasionally I make from scratch, but usually our staple is Quaker’s Low Fat Oatmeal muffin mix. Just add water, and whatever you’ve got (raisins, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, frozen blueberries, chunks of fresh apple and cinnamon--have at ‘er).

I go through at least one package of muffin mix per week. I bake them on mornings like today when my table is full of kids (my own and extra), or when I need something different to bulk up the boys’ lunches, or when I know I’m going to be on the road and would rather bring a snack than stop and find one, or, well, if we simply haven’t made muffins in a while...

You get the idea.

The thing is, I make them as per the instructions. A cup of water to half a package of mix. And it always turns out like this:

Despite my adding ingredients.

And we're not talking giganto muffins here, these're itty things that are the perfect size for a kidlet portion, or a snack on the go.

Look: same muffins, after a visit in convection heat...

Now the maths, they’re not always my friend.

But I’m pretty sure that 10 + 10 =/= 24

So where're my four muffins, Quaker?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015