I Need Words (A Poem)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The days when I’m scrambled
are the days
I need words,
words to string through the buzzing,
the fragments,
the things I can’t keep
or hold in my hands,
collecting them around my neck.
The words are the pins
That hold them in place.

It doesn’t have to be pretty,
I just need the words
to address the chaos,
to shake the hands of the shards
and make sure we’re all friendly.
Let them run their course,
spark the storms
spin the feelings,
so I can be on good terms
with the mess in myself.

Five Ways We Anchor Our Days (in a Homeschooling, Work-from-Home Family)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

In case you didn't know (not being cheeky, you really might not know, haha), I have four kids. The ones that are old enough to attend school are homeschooled. They are currently my sole full-time job. My husband is a professional photographer and works from home. All of this to make the point: we are all home together a lot, more often than is culturally typical for our demographic and area. During the winter, we're home together most of the time because that's my hubby's slower season as well and it can get reeeeally cold out.

Spending that much time together and following a schedule we all pretty much set for ourselves has some serious advantages (impromptu road trip, anyone?), but it has its drawbacks, too. In order to offset some of the natural consequences of spending a lot of time together on a very open schedule, there are a few key things that we do daily to keep us all alive and well. They are currently important to us for adding structure and rhythm to our otherwise unstructured day, but I think they would also help anchor us in crazy-busy and super-scheduled season of life, too. They add calm, stability, and sweetness to our days...and prevent us from strangling each other by the end (most days...).
They are:

1) A Gathered "Start" Time.
     We call ours Morning Basket, but there's not really a "basket" involved at all anymore, so the name actually makes no sense. Ha! I feel like a more appropriate name might be the "family huddle" as a nod to sports metaphors before we "break" for the day...but morning basket is fine, too, I guess. We'll live with it.
     Our morning basket ritual includes us all gathering at the kitchen table around a lighted beeswax candle to enjoy a snack while having our family scripture reading/prayer and go over the day's events and expectations. It usually happens around 9am, following the craziness of breakfast/getting ready/morning chores, and lasts for maybe 10-15mins. The snack is because everyone gathers more willingly for food (riiiiight!?), and the candle is just because it's cozy and pretty; the kids have fun taking turns being the one to blow it out at the end. It marks an official "start" to our day together. Darren heads back to his work, and we get started on the rest of our morning.

2) A Basic Outline for the Day
     This one might initially sound a little homeschool-centric, but hear me out. My school-age kids each have a thin coil-bound notebook (not my idea...read more about it here). Each day, I start a fresh page and write the things they'll do that day with little boxes to check off when they're completed. Most of them are school assignments, but sometimes there's a chore or two...or even just activities we've planned like "library visit." It's basically a bare-bones sketch of what their day ahead will include. Since they're pretty little, I keep the list under 5 school-specific things, and under 8 things total so it's not overwhelming.
     The reason this works is because it takes the schedule or 'to-do list' for the day and makes it something we are all tackling together, as opposed to "Mom just telling us what to do and we have no idea what's coming next." It transforms the daily grind from being kids vs. the grown ups' schedule to all of us vs. the day ahead. I find this is especially helpful for my kids feeling more calm and secure; they're reassured by knowing what's expected of them and what to expect of their day and less 'at the mercy' of an adult world.

3) Afternoon Quiet Time
     This one is especially essential to our sanity. It's 30 mins of everyone separate and alone doing quiet, screen-less activities, including Mom. Activities include reading, toys, puzzles, colouring, staring at the ceiling and letting their thoughts wander, whatever. It amazes me how much LESS the kids want to kill each other at 4:45pm when they've had a mandated break from each other part-way through the day. It's MIRACULOUS. Plus sometimes I need the excuse to unplug and read a book or close my eyes and rest for a bit. I'm a nicer mom after that.

4) Family Dinner
     Honestly, there's just something about humans gathering around food, isn't there? This is one of those things that has scientific proof to back it up in the "helping create stronger families department." It's simply just a great time for us to regroup & catch up, practice face-to-face conversation skills, and share a meal.
     Even when we are mostly together during the day, it still surprises me sometimes to hear what my kids' thought the best/worst parts of their days were.
5) Bedtime Routine
     This includes all the regular things like jammies and brushing teeth and prayers and such, but what makes it special is the time to cozy up to our read-aloud book together (just finished "Red Sails to Capri" and about to start "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe") and bring back the lighted candle. After storytime, I bring it around to each bed as I go say goodnight and spend a minute or two chatting quietly with each kid (and tryyyying not to rush through it). The last kid gets to blow out the candle (taking turns of course or it'd be mutinous around here). It's nerdy, I know, but there's something poetic about a lit candle to mark the beginning and ends of our day.
     You guys, I used to hate bedtime and just want it OVER already because I was emotionally done for the day. There are still days like that, make no mistake, but it got so much sweeter when we intentionally added little things to make it lovely. I think the key was winding down with a good book together that I also enjoyed reading aloud to them. Adding something sparkly to the monotony with the candle reminded me to slow down and enjoy the process more. Watching that flickering flame with the kids still hasn't lost its magic! 

And just to reality check: we still have awful & grouchy days! These wonderful things are not the whole picture...but somehow even coming to each of these familiar points during the day helps push the reset button sometimes, adding high notes to the low ones in our daily family rhythm.

What are some of your family's essential daily things that keep you happy and sane? Breakfast together? Walks to and from school together? After school snack chats?

The New Year's Post

Monday, 15 January 2018

Because it's that time of year, right?

I love fresh starts, new years (and their resolutions) included. I mentioned on Instagram how I'm focusing on establishing new habits and living according to "who I want to be" at the end of the year as opposed to setting large goals I can check off as done. While I do think those kinds of clearly outlined and accomplishable (check-off-able?) goals are really effective, I want to use goals in the measurable/achievable/time-restricted sense for my smaller scale goals and sparingly this year. Just feels right and seems to be what I need right now.

Can I chat with you about this blog a little? I promise I'll be brief and to-the-point, cross my heart.

I started this blog because I wanted to share creative parts of myself, specifically writing, and be braver about putting myself out there, come what may. Brene Brown would be so proud, right? Vulnerability, baby.

While I know professional blogging is a thing, that kind of schedule is not what I want for me or this blog right now. I mean, that's kind of obvious from its history, but just to make it clear I won't be running this like a blog that wants to be famous or monetarily rewarding either (according to all the internet experts). But I won't stop writing either, still sharing in a way that feels right for this season of my life. I'll post when I want/can, about what I feel like sharing, still pushing myself creatively even if it's a little uncomfortable for me. I'll try to post more often, but won't apologize for not posting regularly because I know we don't owe that to each other...just like I don't expect you apologizing for not reading regularly. We are living our vibrant & beautiful lives outside this space called the internet, and we've got things to DO, yo!

My stance on the status of this blog might change someday, I don't know...but for now, this is just where I'm at with this space and I'm happy about it.

Aaaaand I know I just talked about not feeling pressure to post regularly, but here's the thing: I've got to get over some mental blocks and chronic over-thinking when it comes to writing and posting SOOoo for the next few weeks, I'll be posting daily. It's my immersion exercise! You know, where you immerse yourself in things your scared of or that make you uncomfortable to wear it down into something that's not a big deal anymore? Bring on the flurry of posts and my dis-comfort zone. *fist bump*

Also, this post here? It's day one.

Book Review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

→Laura's Book Review Caveat: I don't usually tend to hate books, (and if I do I just stop reading them so I wouldn't review them anyways) so you won't see me ranting and railing on any here. I tend to read books as a spectator of sorts to the creative work the author has done; I try to be respectful of that. I don't consider myself an authority on literature, just a grateful consumer with an opinion. The opinions I do share are my own musings from who-I-am/where-I'm-at in my life...both of which are obviously constantly evolving. Take my thoughts for what they're worth to you.←

I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai (and Christina Lamb)

What It’s About:

It’s about Malala! Haha. She’s the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in history for her outspokenness and activism from such a young age about the right that women have to education, particularly in her home country of Pakistan. This book tells her story, growing up in her beautiful Swat Valley, inspired and supported by her father’s view of education, and then watching the Taliban gain power and destroy the lives and homes of her and her people. She ended up being shot point-blank at 16 years old by a member of the Taliban for her high-profile opinions and lived to tell the tale and continue her courageous work.

What I loved:

I found Malala’s story SO fascinating and inspiring. Hearing of how the leader of the Tailban in her area rose to power sounds VERY Hitler-like: gaining favour during a vulnerable time, spouting hope and promises, and then slowly cinching up the chains until it was too late to escape.

It gave me a soft spot for the people of Pakistan and their beautiful culture. I loved hearing about her life pre-Taliban and how her faith helped her pull through difficulties in her life.
I loved that I was able to see post-9/11 incidents from her perspective, and also from the perspective of others in Pakistan  (that she didn’t necessarily share, but could empathize with). It was good to have more light and understanding shed on those complicated circumstances.
I loved her honesty and straightforwardness, her willingness to be bold and be herself.

What I didn’t love:

I honestly can’t really think of anything; I love memoirs and human stories. Sometimes I got lost in the history as she was running me through it because I didn’t have a great understanding in the first place to give some context to adhere to in my brain, but she laid it out simply enough that even I got it eventually.

Also, reading about how vicious and cruel the Taliban were is pretty horrifying. It made me so grateful for my life and freedom.

I’d recommend this book if:

You wanted greater compassion and understanding for Pakistan or middle eastern countries in general, or during the post-9/11 timeframe in particular; if you wanted to be inspired by a young girl's bravery and her father’s pioneering spirit in education for girls and women; or if you don’t really know much about Malala and why she’s so special and want to get to know her story better….then I definitely recommend picking it up!

Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Going to try something new here, folks: writing up little reviews of the books I read from here on out. I don't know why this text is different and little. I can't change it. Ha!

→Caveat: I don't usually tend to hate books, (and if I do I just stop reading them so I wouldn't review them anyways) so you won't see me ranting and railing on any here. I tend to read books as a spectator of sorts to the creative work the author has done; I try to be respectful of that. I don't consider myself an authority on literature, just a grateful consumer with an opinion. The opinions I do share are my own musings from who-I-am/where-I'm-at in my life...both of which are obviously constantly evolving. Take my thoughts for what they're worth to you. ←


BETTER THAN BEFORE by Gretchen Rubin

What it’s about:

Habits, and how to make them stick. Based on her research, she’s divided everyone into four main tendencies based on the way they respond to inner (ex. new year’s resolutions) and outer (ex. work deadlines) expectations. The four tendencies are:
Upholder (meets inner and outer expectations),
Obliger (meets outer expectations, but resists inner expectations),
Questioner (meets inner expectations but resists outer expectations),
and Rebel (resists both inner and outer expectations).

She then provides 21 strategies you can use to implement good habits and/or nix bad ones. Some of the strategies work better for certain tendencies than others, and she makes sure to mention which ones work especially well for specific tendencies. Side note: she actually has a new "handbook" out that further investigates the four tendencies…like that’s ALL the little book focuses on. I’m curious!

What I loved:

-I admittedly struggled a bit to get into the book as it felt very “surface-level” to me at first. She doesn’t delve into the psychology of why you are the way that you are (say that in your best drawling philosopher voice), which is the kind of stuff I usually love to get into. She would talk about a tendency and then leave me asking, “yeah, but why did they turn out that way? Upbringing? Nature? TELL ME MORE” (p.s. I’m a Questioner as far as her tendencies go so...). But once I let go of my need to go deeper, I actually ended up really appreciating that she drew that line in the sand: she was careful not to assign greater value to one tendency over another (because all have their strengths/weaknesses), dive into the out-of-her-depth background psychology, or draw overarching judgments on what was right/wrong (though there’s definitely a ‘tone’ when she discusses her low-carb diet, ha!). Overall, It’s a really practical guide to taking yourself as you are and working to establish better habits from exactly where you stand. I ended up loving that about it.

-I liked that it helped me understand my loved ones a little better (and cut them a little slack in certain instances)!

-I loved the strategies. Some of them are common sense, but it's awesome having them all in one group like this. I want a little shorthand list to refer to when I’m struggling to make a new habit stick! I feel like glancing through it could spark fresh inspiration for a new approach. I've used a few of them already with success.

-The portion on The Danger of the Finish Line (link to one of her blog posts on the same topic) really spoke to me, in particular! I struggle with this one all the time! I’ll set goals, reach them, and thennnnn….no long-term habits stick. Now I get why!

-I also enjoyed listening to her podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” during/after reading the book. The episodes shed extra light on the tendencies and the strategies; it’s uplifting and bite-sized (most episodes around 30mins). Also Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth are so funny and so gentle with one another; I love their chemistry! I also respected Gretchen Rubin more after listening; she knows her stuff.

What I didn’t love:

-Just the whole surface-level thing, initially. And also the plentiful talk about her low-carb diet, but I also get that her changing her diet also provided a lot of fabulous examples of implementing strategies for new habits so I wasn’t offended.

-I initially resisted the idea that people were either one thing or the other thing in her ‘getting to know yourself better’ section since it's basically categorizing yourself into one of two categories, but I tried to keep an open mind, rolled with it, and ended up having fun determining which category I fell into. For those who have read it and care I’m definitely a lark (vs. owl), abstainer (vs. moderator), under-buyer (vs. over-buyer), opener (vs. finisher), sprinter (vs. marathoner), and a simplicity-lover (vs. abundance-lover).

I’d Recommend This Book If:

You’re looking for a practical and transformative (but not profoundly soul-searching) book to boost your self-understanding and provide skills and strategies to establish better habits. Like I mentioned before, I’ve had success already with using her strategies on some stubborn habits of mine! It's a great handbook on its subject.


Have you read this book yet? If you have, what did you think about it? Was it helpful to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Our First Year of Homeschooling: A Summary.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Well, we officially have survived our first year of homeschooling! I mean, we’ll still be doing stuff through the summer (more on that in a minute), but as far as the typical school year goes, we’re calling it.

WE MADE IT. It's already two weeks into summer, but I wrote the bulk of this post at the end of June...it makes more sense if you read it like that. 

It’s been quite the year, I’ll tell you that. In fact, I’ll tell you aaaaalll of ‘that’ if you have the patience to get through this post. I’m going to lay it all out there and let you see the naked truth, from wrinkles to cellulite…metaphorically speaking, of course.

Spoiler: It’s been really good, and I want to continue. It’s just also been a STEEP learning curve, luckily one with a good payoff, though.

I was going to include a run-down of some basic homeschool philosophies so that my struggle to settle into    one was easier to understand…buuuuut it meant this post was, like, a novel. SO I deleted that part. You’re welcome, or I’m sorry, you pick.

Okay, SO. The beginning of the year began with me kind of giddy, kind of nervous. I was excited to put my ‘teacher muscles’ to good use as I made little lesson plans and critically researched homeschool curriculum materials out there and philosophies galore. I was adorable. I felt like Renae would probably do well with a more student-led approach, but feared that (if we gave our whole selves to it) she would not be prepared to re-enter grade three at regular public school if we decided not to continue homeschooling after this year. I wanted to make sure we stuck close to the same curriculum she’d be covering at school so that she was ready if that was the case. We decided to declare ourselves “aligned” (meaning you align with the regular provincial curriculum) instead of “traditional” (where you follow different curriculums or learn as interests arise…basically “choose your own adventure”).

With that decision made, I set out to create awesome lessons for her. But she resisted, LOTS. I know many of you have mentioned that particular risk as your concern for trying homeschooling...and let me tell you, it’s LEGIT. You literally CANNOT make a kid learn something who doesn’t want to learn it. They might memorize something under duress, but it won’t stick (example: cramming for every test I ever took in my first year of university). Even though I knew this, I thought if my lessons were awesome enough, exciting enough, jazzy enough, I could “trick” her into learning anyways (or at least spark her interest), even if she was feeling stubborn. But, NOPE.

I mean, I definitely tried to keep the pace of things easy and light, consistent with (what I thought was) a “school detox,” but she was mostly just grumpy about pretty much ALL of the things I wanted her to do. However, she was really passionate and engaged in the things that were her idea and that she was interested in. I let her do plenty of the latter, which included lots of art projects and creative play, lots of time spent outside, and audiobooks and my reading aloud to her, and trips to the zoo…and I felt good about all of those. They really were all excellent learning experiences, and she was definitely learning, even if I didn’t get to mark a cute worksheet.

But still, I pushed. I would tell myself to chill out, that she was learning just fine, but then would start to get worried about covering the material we were “supposed to.” I would start to get driven by the fears that I would get in trouble or something if she wasn’t learning the material from the provincial curriculum and, like the smell of skunk, she could sense it on me and was instantly turned off of whatever we were doing that I tried to introduce in this state of anxiety…no matter how well I masked it with my cheery teacher-voice or plastered-on smile. The smell of obligation to learn radiated from me anyways.

Around Christmas/January, I finally gave in. I just kept feeling more and more strongly that this way of doing things was NOT working for Renae. If I was being honest, I had been approaching education like a to-do list, checking off boxes to appease my own fears of “covering things,” (which, consequently, tends to be the way we can approach education in public school as well) instead of really letting the deep love we both had of learning to lead the way to truly educating ourselves. (And yes, I’m including myself because I don’t think I can be an effective mentor on educating and learning if I’m not passionate about pursuing my own education in my areas of interest).

I finally realized that we weren’t even really giving homeschool a real shot at being amazing unless I let go of meeting these expectations that I was imposing on our experience. If this was supposed to be a true “trial year” for homeschooling, then shouldn’t I be letting it be every bit as potentially cozy and carefree and fascinating as it could be?

During this time of gradual surrender I was also reading (well, listening to) the book “Hold Onto Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate…as well as the book “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay…as well as making a small investment in a homeschool workshop by a lady named Bonnie Landry. All of those things sealed the deal and seemed to be telling me the same things: my daughter was the most important, her unique skills and talents were her gifts and also the gateway to gaining the knowledge she needed to develop them (and holy, just respect that already!), and our relationship was more important than any arbitrary learning outcome. Keeping things simple and non-coercive was the key…and it was all going to be okay.

So I officially let go of my grip on very tidy and clear expectations, which was scary. It still is, actually. And I picked up my sweet girl, our relationship, and her unique talents and worked hard at helping her learn the skills to let them shine. I’m still figuring out how this works, but it feels SO much better…so much more like I’d hoped it would feel.

Our days look like a lot of different things: plenty of open-ended play where she often comes up with elaborate games of imagination with intricate story lines, lots of bike-riding, lots of building traps to try and catch the plentiful wildlife around where we live (as yet unsuccessful, haha), watching the birds outside lay their eggs in their nests and learning their names and how they’ll nurture those babies to adulthood, “saving the worms” after it rains, creating “secret hideouts,” organizing her siblings into putting on show after show (after show…) for us parents, doing art projects, learning different art techniques from YouTube videos (so long as mom isn’t the one to choose it…*eyeroll*), doing work around the house, helping in the kitchen, learning to cook recipes on her own, coming up with her own recipes, writing her own books and stories, visiting her older lady friends and bringing them treats she’s made, audiobooks in the car, educational DVD’s on long trips, quality educational iPad games, and read louds from beautiful books of literature in the evenings before bed, and SO many discussions about all the hows and whats and whys and I-wonders about allllll of those things and more.

The beauty is: there’s plenty of time leftover for chores and for organized afternoon activities like gymnastics, piano lessons, swimming lessons, and playdates with friends. One of my concerns with her being in school so much of the day was making sure she had plenty of free time after school to decompress, be creative, and just play…which meant I was hesitant to engage her in learning family chores in the evenings or enrolling her in MORE instructor-led classes after she’d been doing that for 7 hours already. It feels good to have time for ALL of the good stuff: learning from passionate instructors, learning family work and community service, and still having time for wide stretches of wildly imaginative open-ended play.

Oh, I still sneak things in as far as instruction and curriculum-covering goes, but it’s gently and without the stress I once felt. I have more faith that she’ll learn it when she’s ready. We like to do science experiments together, so I’ll choose ones generally along the lines of what her peers are probably doing in school, if she doesn’t have something she’s particularly eager to learn about. We read aloud throughout the day and in the evenings before bed (homeschool has no hours, haha) and I’ll make connections between the literature we’re reading and things we are doing throughout the day to encourage discussion. She loves to help me out, so I get her writing practice in by having her write out my shopping lists or meal plans while I dictate them to her, all while I verbally muse about interesting spellings of words we happen to be including in our lists. She is weirdly good at memorizing things so she’ll memorize poems here and there to perform for the family or for grandparents. We still do little formal math lessons and math games together almost daily, but I try not to push it if she’s having a moment about it…she will do three lessons on a good day and make up for the ones she’s missed eventually, so it’s not worth forcing her to do the work when she’s in a mood where she won’t retain it and will only resent the process. When she’s ready, she gobbles it up and we have a grand ol’ time together. I think she’ll be more receptive to my suggestions as our learning relationship heals…but for now, I tread lightly and respect her readiness and interests. And in all our time outside, I like to be there (or at least available), sincerely interested and involved in her discoveries and eagerly sharing what I may know about the things she’s found. I also like to take out books from the library on certain topics to spark interest…but don’t push it if it doesn’t “take.”

I save the “Too bad! We need to do hard things anyways!” lectures for character-building things like cleaning her room and contributing to the family through household chores. I think the lessons in perseverance will transfer. I’m also not convinced learning and school should ever feel like a chore, like it did for SO much of my education; wouldn’t it be great if it could always be a labour of love? Like you were always hungry for the work it took to learn deeply about something interesting to you? I don’t think that’s such a fantasy…I think it might be possible, if you weren’t forced to learn things you didn’t care about and regurgitate them mindlessly for tests…if subjects like math, science, and literature were always connected somehow to improving your understanding of something you were deeply passionate about. I feel like I could learn everything in the whole world if it were within the context of something that was meaningful for me…and I also had, ooooh, 65 extra hours in my day. Y’know, give or take.

Now: naked truth. If you ask her, she’ll actually tell you that she doesn’t like homeschool. For one, she misses her friends; that part has been tough living out on the acreage. We hang out with family friends often, I think, but not often enough according to her. She also just loves organizing people. I don’t know how else to put it. So she loves making new friends and managing her old ones. She is good at bringing people together. She misses flexing those muscles.

But the real reason she’ll say she doesn’t like homeschool is mostly because she equates homeschool work with those times when “Mom made me sit down and do stuff I didn’t want to do, with threats of withholding the things I love until it was finished.” It’s understandable, really (sheepish mom face).  It’s also what makes discussing whether she wants to homeschool next year verrrry difficult because we’re interpreting the word “homeschool” differently.

She likes that we don’t do “too much homeschool anymore” (haha…) and that she gets to do lots of interesting things that she enjoys. What she doesn’t quite get yet, even though I’ve tried to explain, is that we totally are doing homeschool, just even better than before and learning even more than before. She just raises an eyebrow and pretends she gets it while skipping off to play “addition war” with her brother. It’s because of allll this that we aren’t really taking summer “off.” We’ll still have short little one-on-one learning times with Mom (with each of the kids) most days…even if it’s just a little reading practice, fun science experiment or math games together. We’ll just continue what we’re currently doing because it doesn’t feel burdensome or like we need a break from it yet; it’s low-key, fulfilling, and rejuvenating. And if it wasn’t, we would take the breaks where needed anyways, soooo…summer, here we come. Ha.

I think we will, in fact, wind up homeschooling again next year, if simply because I don’t want to lose our momentum now that we’ve finally found what works. We’ll be moving into a town in the Fall, a town with a vibrant and active homeschool community…which means more friends, and an easier time hanging out with them! (Renae cheers). My son would be joining us as well, and having them both learning together at home would be so fun I think. I also hear it’s easier with two because they get to do more things together. It will also facilitate a feeling of consistency when we move instead of taking them out of a classroom they’ve adjusted to in order to throw them into another one.

So we shall see. We’re taking this homeschooling thing one year at a time, and I firmly believe you can still go to public school and NOT be a drone about education with the right tools, so both home and public schooling avenues still have their appeal for different reasons.

If you finished this post, you deserve something rad. If you're feeling chatty, tell me how awesome your summer has been below! I love summer so much. Hearing about all the fun summer activities you all are up to is the BEST. 

I Used to Be Scared of Living in a Small Town.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I think I'm a city girl, but I'm not sure anymore.

It's quiet here, on the acreage. I love it more than I ever imagined. I wish it was mine to keep, but even so; I revel, still, in the space around me that is mine-for-now. It's peaceful here, un-rushed and spread out. We can be loud and wild, or secluded and soft without irritating, or worrying, the neighbours. Our indoors and outdoors are homey and uninspected by anyone except the wildlife.

Yet there is home in the anonymity of the city, too. People need people and I see that in the crowds and the space-sharing, though everyone rushes about and pretends it isn't so. I like watching other humans being, imagining what their lives are like as I watch them walk down the sidewalks, hurry to their vehicles, mow their lawns. Even if they catch me being curious about them before I glance away, chances are pretty good they don't know who I am anyway; I won't earn a reputation. I even like that people don't care about the details of my life too much. I like that everyone has too many of their own details in this busy place to concern themselves with mine.

I used to be scared of small towns. Everyone knew each other, but didn't actually really know each other, too. I heard my relatives and their friends in small towns talk about fellow town members and their business, knowing things I only knew about my very closest friends, maybe. These people knew each other through their shared history, but not well enough to hug them in the pain of their divorce, of which everyone seemed to know every gruesome detail. It was startling to realize it was hypothetically possible for someone to know all my quiet, painful secrets like that...but not love me and know me well enough to hold me through them. I could not see how that could feel comfortable and safe at all.

I imagined myself in a small town. But in my daydreams, I couldn't keep my mystery and I didn't like it. In the big city, I could be a kind stranger in those few minutes in a grocery store line, disappearing into the parking lot with no other expectations. In a town where everyone remembers the time you lost your temper in public...could they be sure of your kindness? Or would they count it as feigned because, throughout the time they've known you, they have seen your unkindness, too? It scared me that I wouldn't be able to try on different personalities for size, just for fun, or that I couldn't wear my pyjamas and smeared makeup to Wal-Mart and not worry about seeing people I knew.

I was scared of the Big Fish in the Small Pond, the people who everyone admired because they did admirable things, worthy of fanfare, of congratulations. It seemed like it gave them an uncanny power over the community. It worried me that this influence never seemed tempered by the reality of many people around you being able to do similar admirable things, with no one fussing over it, no one feeling submissive to their awe of you. It felt like the definitions of someone worth admiring were too narrow.

It scared me how new people could move in and feel like shiny new toys held at a distance. How they could try and attach themselves to neighbours who weren't sure how to start fresh, who were nervous about making room for people who didn't share their history and who smelled like change?

I saw these things clearly, I was sure of it, and they scared me. I never wanted to live in a small town, ever. Too close, too much knowing, too familiar with each other without being careful and tender with all the information. No, thanks.

But in my youth I missed things.

I mean, I saw the way things sometimes played out like people had never outgrown their high school drama, still juvenile in their grown-up wrinkles, beer guts, and mom bodies. But I missed the ones who had outgrown it and were brave enough to stay anyways. I also missed the ones who had left and seen the world, and come back. Both were the ones who knew the limitations of their small town, but endured the small things with grace and forgiveness, the way a wise grandma finally understands and appreciates the childishness of her grandchildren and loves them deeply...albeit sometimes with rolled eyes. These people lived bigger and deeper, lives full of meaning, happy with exactly who they were, unshackled from the expectations they had once endured, bit by bit. I can see them now.

I initially saw the ones who were afraid to leave and afraid of change and afraid of being someone different than who everyone expected them to be, but I only felt afraid and sorry for them. I didn't have the maturity to feel compassion and hope for them yet. Didn't I feel afraid of things, too, sometimes? Don't we all? Sure, I saw the ones who hated the smallness and felt trapped, but I didn't see the ones who had hated it and had the courage to change their story, either through getting up and leaving or simply changing their perspective. I didn't see the ones who were able to appreciate and experience the depth of history, of love, of human relationships that grow and change, the ones who knew the secret: that we all build our own small towns, no matter where we live.

Because that is what I have learned, finally: even when we live in a city with millions of people, even if we live in the middle of nowhere, we still build our own small towns. We build it with the friends we choose, the teachers and classmates and coworkers we don't, the family we belong to, the other communities of people we gather to us that may have nothing to do with proximity or city limits. The internet lets us build our small town with increasingly distant pieces of people, all added to our own small towns. We are not immune to the petty; we are not shut out from the ability to be known and loved completely.

We eventually see that in order to live a deeply fulfilling life, we cannot help but endure human relationships that change. We still must face our own history eventually so that we can take charge of our future; we will need to stand up to the people that don't seem to let us change. We still must learn to endure and resist the influence of the "Big Fish" and find our ability to go our own way despite what others think, even those who think they know us best and know what is best for us. We still must learn to have patience, grace, forgiveness, and even love for the people we cannot escape. We will need to recognize our own fears and challenge them in our own ways and in our own time. We may need to completely change everything around us and walk down strange streets and smell air foreign to our lungs for a fresh perspective, a new tenderness for where we came from. And we all must learn to appreciate what we have in our own hand-made village collage simply for what it is, with all its quirks and limitations, because it's ours: strangely, endearingly, our own.

I'm still a city girl, I think. I still like the mystery, the anonymity, people not paying attention to me. A childhood of moving frequently and lots of change has made that familiar and reassuring to me. But I'm also not afraid of living in a small town anymore. I am practicing being okay with all the things that scared me about living in a small town in the first place: being seen, being widely misunderstood, feeling limited and controlled, allowing myself to be held back by my own fears, being angry with people I also love dearly, feeling powerless, and being wise and compassionate when faced with small minds and loud opinions...even when it's my own, on occasion.

Because now I know that all of those things aren't limited to the boundaries of a small town at all. They're just easier to hide from, to run from, to ignore in a big city or in the middle of nowhere. And what's startled me most is that my fears about ending up in a small town were, perhaps, simply me fearing my own humanity all along. I feared being real and vulnerable for everyone to see and remember, being known by imperfect people and while we all struggle to love each other through our mistakes.

When I was young, I saw all the characters in a small town, the parts they played. But I missed all the humans, the humanity, all magnified and caricatured on their small patch of earth. I know now that no matter where we live, we are all a familiar character in a small town to someone.