Just to note that while the blog has been more silent while I address laptop malfunctions, our equipment is back up and running and I do have a few ideas in the queue that I will be writing up soon.

(Yes, I know that I can blog on phone apps, but the functionality is so limited it's more pain than pleasure.)


birthdays and butterflies

So this happened:

Happy Birthday!

Sophia turned five years old last week.  She had a fairly quiet day as far as it goes, as we were only back from her checkup in Saskatoon the night before.  We spent the early part of the day baking her birthday cake: zebra cake with vanilla icing, by request.  Michael came home early from work, we had lunch, and then it was time to open presents  

This is easier to make than it looks
The Spirograph has been fun...I'll use it to make her party invitations


She was excited about all her gifts, but the standouts were a My Little Pony playset from some friends in Calgary, and Dad's special gift: a new bike.  A two-wheeler!  She tried it out right away and has ridden it pretty much every day since.  "I've been practicing!!" she says with a big smile.  

That's better than the outgrown tricycle!

We will have her birthday party on the May long weekend, when her friends are available.  

The other new thing this week is that Sophia started soccer.  She's played in the South Regina Community Soccer League for the past two years, and enjoyed it, but this year she's been particularly excited.  This league is a non-competitive/no-cut league; I was so unhappy in Phys. Ed. classes and team sports in general that my goals are just for her to have fun and not be intimidated by sports like I was.  So far it seems to be working, because despite not always being the team star she seems to have fun.  

The teams are split into all-girl and all-boy at her age level; Sophia was ecstatic to find that her team is called the Butterflies!  She plays twice a week.  So far she has been more successful at kicking the ball on the field (as opposed to just running back and forth chasing the other players), and she told me that tonight she scored a goal--her first!

Ballerina bun and butterfly tshirt

Ready to play!

It's funny how she seems to have suddenly grown up so much...



I've posted on this topic here and there on social media, but here's the full story for those who are interested.  Warning: this is a long post.

When Sophia was three years old, her pediatrician detected a heart murmur during a routine checkup.  He wasn't unduly concerned, but he did send her for an echocardiogram at the General Hospital.  The images went to Saskatoon for evaluation, so we had to wait a little while for the results.  The upshot was that Sophia was diagnosed with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD).

Picture from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

An ASD is a hole between the right and left atria (upper heart chambers).  It means that oxygenated blood flows back to the right atrium, where it's not supposed to be; a larger than normal amount of the mixed blood is directed from the heart to the lungs; and the right atrium and ventricle enlarge under the extra workload.  Many cases are diagnosed earlier in life than Sophia's, but because the murmur had not been detected before and she had not displayed any symptoms (shortness of breath, low energy, cyanosis, limb swelling, etc.) it had gone unnoticed.  Untreated ASDs, however, can lead to stroke, pulmonary hypertension, and other serious problems later in life, so it needed to be addressed.

After the diagnosis, her doctor referred her to a pediatric cardiologist in Saskatoon.  And we waited for her appointment.  For a year.  When they talk about wait times in Saskatchewan...they are not kidding.

The surgeons looked at her heart again via another ECG and confirmed that yes, the hole was still there, and no, it wasn't going to close itself, and we were advised on what would come next.  The good thing, they said, is that fixing a defect like Sophia's no longer requires open heart surgery.  Not having known that procedure was a possibility, I had to retrieve my heart from the pit of my stomach and my jaw from the floor before we could continue.  Then we learned that for the past decade or so the standard ASD repair protocol has been to insert a patch via cardiac catheterization, a 2-3 hour procedure requiring only one night in hospital.  We were to expect her procedure to be scheduled in approximately 6-8 weeks.

I doubt it will be a surprise to anyone when I note that in the Land of Aging, Overstressed Hospitals we waited another 5 months.

So Sophia finally had her procedure on Friday March 13.  It was scheduled for the morning, but was delayed until mid-afternoon.  So after changing into striped hospital pajamas and consulting with one of the surgeons, we spent a lot of time in the waiting room.  Which was probably good, all things considered, as by the time we were called Sophia had got over her initial fear and was running around pretending she was Cinderella and the hospital was her castle.   She was even comfortable enough to be chatty and playful with the nurses as we walked to the Catheterization Lab.

We went into the lab together and Sophia was put under general anaesthetic.  She didn't like the mask nor the gas, but she went to sleep fairly quickly (they said she wouldn't remember it, but she does, and still talks about it).  Then Michael and I were ushered out.

Observing and measuring the defect is actually what takes up most of the procedure time; inserting the patch is fairly quick.  They do a more detailed ECG via a camera that goes down the trachea, and measure the hole precisely with a balloon.  They then take a slender catheter containing a transcatheter device up through a vein in the groin into the heart and insert the device so that it closes the hole.

...And I took this one from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

The surgeons brought us back to the lab after they'd wheeled her into recovery and showed us video of the procedure.  It was very strange to look at images of the inside of my daughter's body.  They said her defect had measured at 14mm, but had been stretched by the balloon instrument to 18mm (some stretching during measurement is common).  18mm doesn't sound that big until you look at the size of your little girl and realize how small her heart is!  And yet they described the size as "moderate".

When we got to the recovery room Sophia was just waking up and letting the nurses help her eat a popsicle--the first thing she'd had to eat for almost 24 hours.  She'd been excited about it ever since she'd been told it would be there for her when she woke up.  It's the little things that can make the difference, I guess.

A photo posted by Darcy Sharman Shires (@darcyspics) on

She and I spent a rather sleepless night in the children's ward.  The fold-out bed they gave me was so uncomfortable I was happy to crawl into the hospital bed when Sophia asked me to, and while I can't fault our roommates for the noise they made through the night it made rest difficult.

The next morning, after discovering the delights of Rice Krispies for breakfast, she had a chest x-ray (done, to my surprise, with a portable machine wheeled right into her room) and got to ride in the smallest wheelchair ever to the surgeon's examining room for another ECG.  All was good so we were cleared to go.

A photo posted by Darcy Sharman Shires (@darcyspics) on

Sophia ran out of the ward, played with her cousin all afternoon, and generally bounced back in a very short period of time.  Leaving her parents very grateful for the miracles of modern medicine.

We went back to Saskatoon for her first post-op checkup this week.  The device has not shifted and there is no residual leakage between the atria.  The chambers of her heart that had enlarged due to the defect have already shrunk significantly, and will continue to do so until they are normal.  By September her heart tissue should have grown completely over and around the device, making it virtually undetectable except by ECG.  

She does seem a little changed.  She has more energy (which the surgeons told we could expect), and it took a little while for her to adjust to that and figure out what to do with it other than throw more temper tantrums.  Her appetite seems better, though that hasn't translated into any noticeable weight gain, and she seems to fall asleep easier at night as well.

Other than another check five months from now and every few years thereafter, there are no restrictions or contraindications going forward...it should be as if the defect was never there at all.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite our provincial system in general and Royal University Hospital specifically being completely overtaxed, we were overall very happy with Sophia's care.  Delays notwithstanding, we were never made to feel rushed, and none of the stress the nurses and the staff must have been feeling due to the pressures of overcrowding was ever passed on to us.  Everyone we interacted with was kind, and patient, and gave us their full attention despite the huge amount of work they had on their plates.  So we are grateful not only for the procedure, but for the care and concern of the people who performed it.


kindergarten meet-and-greet

Sophia will be starting school in September, and the school had its first "Kindergarten Meet-and-Greet" Tuesday afternoon so the parents and prospective students could get to know each other.

School sign with bonus little girl head.  I didn't even see the stain/mark on the sign until after I got home and reviewed the photo.

The school is quite close to us so it will be an easy walk.  Well, except for the fact that winter walking conditions are often quite hazardous due to lack of walk clearing and the water settling in the inevitable troughs and valleys in our street.  Even now some of the sidewalks are under water.  I have the feeling that the strap-on boot spikes that my father-in-law bought me a while back will be getting a good workout next year.

The front door of the school
Grant Road School has been open since 1959; apparently at one point it was one of three neighbourhood schools.  The others have since closed.  Unlike Alberta, Elementary School in Saskatchewan runs from K-8, so every age from preschool to teenager attends class here).  Everyone I know on our street who has an opinion on the school, from a family who moved her last year to a couple whose now-grown children went there decades ago, has had nothing but good things to say about it.  So we are optimistic about Sophia attending.

The "big kids'" playground and transition to the field/park beside the school.
We have been inside the school once before, when we dropped off our application.  The principal was busy but she still took the time to give us a short tour of the school library, gymnasium and Kindergarten room.  Sophia was excited to finally see inside after coming to play at the playgrounds and adjoining park for the past couple years.  So excited that it was hard to get her to leave the building!  She has been talking ever since about going to school and learning new things.  

For the Meet-and-Greet session, the kids actually spent the hour on their own in the Kindergarten classroom while the adults had coffee in the staff room.  Sophia can often be shy with adults and get upset when they pay attention to her or talk to her, but she ran right into the room and interacted with the teacher without as much as a glance back at us as we said goodbye.  It was kind of a happy-cry moment for me...after so many years where she clung to me and was hesitant about many new experiences I always feel so proud when I see her be brave and independent.  

In lieu of a photo of Sophia running inside the room, please accept this photo of her playing on the playground equipment with other school children.
We ran into quite a few parents in the staff room who live quite near to us: the people we never see because they are at work and their kids are always in daycare, etc. while Sophia and I are at home.  Hopefully now they are actually going to school together they will have the chance to make friends and run in between each others' houses and do all those things that were normal to us as children but seem to be out of the norm now (yes, it's a little surreal to be talking to a mom about her arranging "playdates" with kids that live around the corner).  Most of the children at the event today were actually girls, so her class may end up pretty girl-dominated.  We'll have to see.

Heading back home 
As for what they did in the classroom for that hour...we've been informed by our daughter that it's a secret so we don't know.   The teacher did make a comment about everyone being ready and eager to learn, though, so it sounds like it went well for them in there.

Five more months...



So with that last post, I may be back to blogging.


Because let's face it, the last time I rebooted I wrote a few posts and went silent for a two years...


Shay Moore's post on workshop etiquette came across my newsfeed today.  Most of what she prescribes was not new to me, but the section she included on handling correction really clarified the thoughts I've been having on the issue of corrections in dance class in general.  

Here's the passage (bolded emphasis mine): 

Correction = Thank You 
If the instructor offers you correction, do not take offense or make excuses. When a teacher offers corrections it is for your benefit, and is often a compliment that she feels you are capable of applying that correction (hint: in any style you study, the most hapless dancers in a classroom often get less correction/attention, I assure you). ... Whatever you do, as with any gift you are given, always ALWAYS reply with a "thank you". 
I've had quite a few discussions on this subject with fellow dancers and teachers in the past year, and in those discussions it soon became apparent that my attitude toward being corrected is...not necessarily the norm.   I've expressed my feelings in the past by saying "correction is what I'm paying a teacher for; if I could figure it all out by myself I'd be off in my living room being the World's Best Bellydancer.  So bring it on!" But the way Shay explains her point helps me understand more clearly what I've been feeling but failing to communicate.

My attitude towards correction is quite simply this: if you as a teacher (or even a fellow dancer) correct me, it shows you care about me.

Correction is an aspect of dance teaching that, in my experience, is often absent in bellydance classes.  Possibly because many women come to bellydance at an older starting age, with no prior dance experience, and for reasons other than just practicing and perfecting a dance style.  Bellydance is often marketed, particularly to beginners, as having large spiritual, healing, and sisterhood aspects--which means egos and self-confidence are perhaps more fragile than in some other dance forms.  When the movement becomes as much about self-discovery and empowerment than it is about perfectly executed steps, correction can feel much more personal than may be intended.

But when correction is absent, and students want to advance and/or perform, other problems present themselves.  My own personal dance journey is an example.  I came to bellydance with a long history of dance class experience and a general ability to pick up the basics of any new skill fairly easily.  I quickly advanced from beginner to intermediate, where I spent a long time frustrated, sitting on a plateau, feeling like I was not improving but not knowing how to make the changes necessary to improve on my own.  Many times I got little more than a quick scan and a nod before the teacher would move on to another student who was having more difficulty.  It wasn't that I wasn't learning anything, but without help I couldn't bridge the gap between where I currently was and where I wanted to be.

Consequently (and particularly as I concentrate more on Tribal style, which has exacting standards in aesthetics and movement vocabulary), the more correction I get, the happier I am.  And getting back to the core of the issue, the more correction I get, the more I feel like the people I am dancing with care about me and my dancing.  Some dancers seem to prefer cheerleading and positive reinforcement, but the difference between us, I guess, is that I see the correction as positive reinforcement.  Someone believing in me and trusting me to do better.  Someone wanting me to do better because they care about me and my desire to dance well.

So there it is.  Correction as love.

Because, honestly, I NEVER EVER EVER want to see a photo of myself like this one again:


teacher appreciation

Those of you who are my friends on facebook know the "share this graphic" thingy that inspired this post :)

The students are back to school, and as they go, why not pause to reflect on the teachers that have made a difference in our lives? My father and my paternal uncle were both teachers, and my mother a was library technician, so I grew up surrounded by educators. Little wonder, then, that when I stopped to evaluate what I was really going to do with my work life, I chose to become a librarian. Teaching is often a thankless and draining task, and most of the time we are in school we rarely appreciate the work or the emotional investment our teachers bring to us. I mentioned on facebook the sheer amount of after-hours work I saw my dad do, and the evenings and summers he devoted to teaching extra classes (like many teachers, my dad couldn't afford to have all the "time off" some people like to snark about). I remember the care he took with the ESL student's papers; the endless reams of tests in which students wrote of "Michael Angelo"; the Henry VIII poster that traveled from classroom to classroom and exhorted one and all to "Keep the Faith, Baby!" But one of the strongest memories I have is of the day I actually saw him in the classroom.

I was 15 or 16. had come to meet him at his school so he could take me to a dental appointment, and I was early. I sat near the back. He was teaching WWII (oh, the movies and books and articles and documentaries in our home about WWII). A map was up on one section of the wall, a film going on the other. Notes filled the blackboard. He was in constant motion. He would run a section of film, hit pause, and dash to the map, tracing borders and routes and clarifying exactly where this bit was happening. Back to the film. Pause again as he elaborated on an important point, enthusiasm filling his voice as he scribbled more notes on the board. Back to the map again, giving more context; back to the film. And beside me, his chair tipped back so he could lean against the wall, a boy in a denim jacket and a mullet, sleeping.

Sleeping? What?? YOU ARE SLEEPING THROUGH THIS??? Here was my dad, totally engaged in his subject, doing everything possible to make it immediate and dynamic and interesting, and this boy had the temerity to fall ASLEEP???? I couldn't believe it. Had I been older I might have given in to the urge to push his chair down, wake him up, and say "that's my dad talking up there, so wake up and listen, a**hole!" But all things considered, probably better I didn't.

There are always those few teachers who leave an impression when your school days are over. Besides my dad, here are some of mine:

  • Grade 6: Mr. Bullen: A somewhat mercurial, truly dedicated man who cared about each and every one of us. He was the kind of teacher who, every time he blew his top and sent someone to the principal's office, would sit down and tell us why. "I am angry because I care about what happens to you," he would say. "Acting like that and thinking it's okay is the kind of behaviour that leads to you flunking out of school and cleaning someone else's toilet all day. I don't want that for you, and I know you are all better than that." I went back several times to visit him after I left elementary school, and he always had time for a hug and a chat. I think the last time I saw him was right before I started University.
  • Grade 11: Mr Marion: I quaked in my boots when my math teacher left the school and we got rolled into Mr. Marion's AP class. Nothing I had heard about him was good. I failed the first few tests he gave--really failed, for the first time in my life--and then started getting honours marks in math for the first time since elementary. He didn't spoonfeed: he taught his classes like we were university students, expecting us to listen, engage, and (gasp!) take our own notes ("Why is there nothing on the blackboard for us to copy?", we wonder...). He challenged students to rise to the material and the results were amazing.
  • Citadel Theatre School/High School: David McNally: a great drama teacher and acting coach who had the knack of being able to relate to teens on their level while at the same time avoid becoming That Person Who Decided To Teach High School Because He Never Emotionally Matured Out Of High School (*cough* Andrea Truman *cough*). He is an amazing actor himself, and we all were inspired by him (oh. And we all had crushes on him. Shhhh....).
  • Grade 12: Mr. Olthius: not so much for how he taught me, but because he was insightful enough to recognize my brother's intelligence during a difficult period.

What teachers inspired you as a student? Who do you remember now? Let me know in the comments!


why your stylist hates henna

Having finally "refreshed" my hair yesterday, I feel predisposed to write a post on henna for hair. I've been henna-ing my hair for the past...5 years, maybe more. When I visit a new stylist, the reaction to my hair is invariably the same: an initial enthusiastic comment on the "incredible" colour followed by an uneasy and/or negative response to my explanation on how that colour is achieved. Yes, it's likely your stylist hates henna, and while it's annoying for those of us who use it, upon reflection it's really understandable why they might. So the topic for today is:

Top 7 Reasons Your Hairstylist May Hate Henna

They Were Not Taught About it in School

...Because really, growers from Rajasthan are hardly going to be sponsoring classes at the local beauty college. Most hairstylists have no reason to learn anything about henna. The vast majority of their clients won't use it. They themselves almost certainly never will. Outside of ethnic communities, henna is still somewhat of a "fringe" product.

When They Are Taught, They Get Misinformation

I had a stylist tell me that product buildup was due to the henna I used months prior, because henna "coats" the hair. Henna does not "coat" hair to dye it any more than it "coats" your skin in mehndi applications. Stories about henna being bad for hair, turning hair green, and causing hair to "melt" after subsequent chemical treatments abound. While it is true that it is difficult to impossible to remove the red from hennaed hair, for the most part high-grade, Body-Art-Quality (BAQ) henna will not damage your hair and will not preclude many other chemical treatments. Which caveat leads into my next point:

Poor Henna Products Lead to Henna Horror Stories

The "henna" you see at the Natural Food Store, promising a wide array of colour results, is not anything remotely resembling BAQ henna. Neither is the grey, dusty stuff in the bulk bin at Whole Foods, or the box on the "ethnic" shelf of your supermarket. If you're lucky, it's just henna that is old and has lost its staining power. And if you're not, you don't just have inferior henna powder. You've got a host of additives as well, including the dreaded mineral salts that cause many of the problems referenced above. When people have problems with adulterated products, or try chemical treatments on top of them, it's the stylist who gets to attempt to salvage the resultant disaster. No wonder they shy away from henna: they never know what you may really have in your hair.

Even when you have good henna, though, it's not really a very salon-friendly product:

Henna Gives Transparent Colour Coverage

With chemical colour, what you see is essentially what you get. With henna, what you get is a red/auburn overlay on top of your natural colour. Black and dark brown hair will never get more dramatic than red highlights. Light blonde, grey, or white hair, on the other hand, will go a bright neon orange (take a look at this Google image search to see good examples of the effect of henna on white or grey hair). Not being suitable for all hair types, and often requiring experimentation, henna is therefore of limited use in a salon setting.

The Initial Result is Not the Final Result

As it does on skin, henna on hair starts out bright and brash and mellows over the next few days. Pictures from my first henna application are a good demonstration of this effect. The first photo was taken the evening I rinsed out the henna paste; the second, 2-3 nights later:

Safe to say, that anyone without prior experience would not be happy with a change this drastic. Especially if they had to leave the salon not knowing what the final result would be. Henna-ed hair results also change after multiple applications--after years of use, my hair colour is now much different.

Even with Good Products, Results Can Vary

Again, personal experience can illustrate: when I repatriated to Canada from the UAE, I had to find a new place to get my hair supplies. I ordered the same, well-known brand I use successfully for body art. Due to my familiarity with the product and my personal relationship with the seller, I know I got quality powder. Yet no matter what I did, this henna never started out with better than an anemic gold tone and didn't develop into the colour I knew and loved. My next order, I went with a different brand and got back to the bright-orange-mellowing-to-red that I was used to. Why did the first brand not give me the results I wanted? Who knows? It simply seems to have not liked my hair. And again, salons cannot deal with that kind of uncertainty.

Finally, Henna is Time Consuming

Once applied, henna has to sit on your hair for up to 4-6 hours. Which is fine if you are spending a day at the hammam, or hanging out at home, but not ideal for a business that needs to consider space and turnover.

Justified or not, I doubt that salon stylists will be changing their opinions on henna very soon. However, if you understand why they are leery of it, it's easier to start a conversation about it--and to come to agreement on the best care and treatment of your hair. Any questions about henna for hair? Let me know in the comments!