Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dreams need to be chased

Here's a pic of my son in Yellowknife earlier this week, a middle-of-the-night timed selfie as he captured a blast of aurora unfolding.

It was a trip he'd been planning and saving for for the better part of a year. Like others from all over the world, a photography group from our city was going because the aurora in NWT was projected to be the best its been in 25 years, an unprecedented opportunity. It was all set, then a few months ago my son learned that he had to be eighteen to go with the group. He was devastated.

Fast forward to last week and there he stood, taking that shot while his dad slept nearby in a tent. My husband had taken a few days off work (which was tough to do given his crazy fall schedule), they'd packed camping gear, got up at 4 a.m., drove to Edmonton, flew to Yellowknife, rented a car and a canoe, then paddled out to a remote island not far away from where all of the professional photographers were camped. They stayed three nights and when they got home my sixteen year old had over 400 pictures of aurora.

I liked this one best. I told him it looked fake, like someone had taken a glow stick, cracked it open, and lobbed it at the sky. He grinned and said, "I know what you mean. The whole trip kind of felt like that. It was all real, but it felt unreal."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Good-bye Sully

Twelve years ago, we packed our kids (then 3 and 5) into our SUV and drove across the country through a terrible storm to pick up a Newfoundland puppy we named Sullivan (aka Sully). He grew to become a huge suck who slept on our bed each night and was rarely without his favorite Eeyore stuffy. He was also my writing muse and he spent countless hours at my feet in my office. Yesterday, after a long, healthy life, we found ourselves in the position where we had to have Sully put to sleep. Today, our hearts are broken and will remain forever changed because he was in our lives... Rest in peace, baby boy.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The birth of a story

There are so many writers I admire, writers with the ability to tell incredible stories I wish I'd written, stories that grab you from the first page. Here's the thing I'm most grateful for, though. Reading a book like that always heats up my own creative process. Like last fall, after reading one that wouldn't let me go, I was driving somewhere and happened to spot a clawfoot bathtub sitting in the middle of a field. No one around. Nothing in sight but that old tub and the mountains in the distance.

Why would someone put a tub there? I wondered.

Days later, I attended a wedding. The church was full, everyone fidgeting. Then, just as the ceremony was about to begin, a young woman slipped inside and took a seat across the aisle from me. She looked sick, tired and harried, her hair limp, her dress rumpled -- and she was carrying a baby. After taking her seat, the baby began to fuss with that distinctive tinny 'newborn wail' many people easily recognize.

I was fascinated. Who brings a newborn to a wedding?

The young woman was far less rattled than everyone else. With a stony expression on her face, she locked her eyes on the groom and his groomsmen and rocked her baby to settle it down. And for the most part it worked, the child quit wailing. Seemingly oblivious, the bride came up the center aisle, took the groom's arm, and they said their vows. It was only when the minister pronounced them 'man and wife' that the strange young woman seemed to have seen enough.

As quietly as she came, I watched her leave, face burrowed against her baby, breathing him in.

Who are you? Why did you come? I wondered.

Weeks later, after I'd had time to fully 'imagine' what her story might be, I began writing the first draft of the novel I'm currently working on called The Iron Angel, a story about a woman who was abandoned at birth in an old bathtub in a meadow and spent much of her life searching for answers. Now twenty-eight and a mother herself, she's made the reckless decision to drive across the country with her newborn daughter to crash a wedding so she can tell the groom that he is the child's father. The situation is made worse by the fact that the woman is sick, but even though she's scared and uncertain about her own future, she's determined to make things right for her daughter.

Seemed like a story I could build on, the past and present colliding in a shocking climax, a story with some pull. At least, I hope so. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So...what are you reading?

This is a question I'm often asked by book clubs and although I'm never NOT reading (my nightstand hosts a teetering tower of books) I do read many different genres. For example, I enjoy short stories and typically read 3-4 collections a year. Most recently these include Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee, This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky and Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell.
Beyond that, I sometimes reread books that just won't leave me. I have a long list of these including The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Good Grief by Lolly Winston, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green... and on and on. 

Last month, I read Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You (a wonderful story/great book club pick), Liane Moriarty's The Hypnotist's Love Story (grabs you and will not let go), and Room by Emma Donoghue (a beautifully written, deeply upsetting and unputdownable novel).

Friday, February 8, 2013

February, month of the heart

This is Sullivan (aka Sully). He's a pure bred Newfoundland, 180 lbs, 11.5 years old, and very much an indoor dog. He sleeps on our bed, has a basket full of stuffies, and gets an ice cream cup each night after dinner. He's also been my constant writing companion for more than a decade.

Now and then I'll read him a few pages of something I've written and he'll listen, attentive, head cocked appreciatively to one side. He gave his heart to our family a long time ago and we gave him ours, and this month, aptly so, I'm giving him his own blog post for everything he's given us.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A brand new year

We were at the Delta in Kananaskis for a few days after Christmas. It's a family tradition. We go every year and when we do we like to take Grandpa Jim with us.

He usually flies in from Winnipeg and spends a week or so here, but it's the time we share at Kananaskis he loves best -- the mountains, the lodge we stay at, the time he gets to spend with our boys.
While everyone else skis, Jim and I go for walks or sit in front of the lodge fireplace and talk. He's 91 years old and still going strong, up for conversations about anything, still well read and (this is what I admire most) truly interested in the kids and what they're doing. The three of them talk a lot and they banter and joke -- it's the nicest way I can think to start each new year. 
Happy 2013 everyone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Feeling grateful

I recently found this old handwritten note from my then six-year-old son who'd been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by tics). He left it on my pillow one night before bed.

At the time, he was considered moderate-to-severe, four years later his neurologist said he was mild-to-moderate.
Today, at thirteen, he has *almost* outgrown it, a happy kid with lots of friends and great empathy for other kids facing their own problems. So grateful he is where he is today, but it still flattens me when I read his words.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Finding your passion

Though no one in our family has ever played basketball, my youngest inexplicably loves the game. He's been playing for 8 years and is happiest when he has a ball in his hand, shooting hoops, or when he's watching a game on TV (his recall of various NBA player stats stuns me). I believe basketball has also helped him deal with his Tourette's Syndrome, a way for him to be in a constant state of movement. His passion about every aspect of the game makes me smile.
I have another son, my oldest, who stumbled into photography three years ago and it was like watching a light bulb go off. He now works two part-time jobs to save for camera equipment and often begs his dad to take him out at 5 a.m. to shoot the sunrise (even in the winter). These days it's not uncommon to be driving somewhere and have him abruptly yell, "Mom, stop the car! There's an eagle/moose/coyote."
And, of course, I stop. 
Finding something you're passionate about is a gift I understand well. No one in my family ever had any desire to write novels and yet by twelve that was exactly what I wanted to do. Nothing felt better than jotting down a story or dreaming up a plot for a future novel. At twenty, living on my own in a tiny bachelor apartment, I used to walk past an independent publisher on my way to work (I was a long-distance operator at the time). I remember standing with my hands cupped against the window before it opened each day, peering in at all those books, hoping I'd one day be fortunate enough to publish a novel myself - and eventually I was.
I'm so glad/relieved my kids have each managed to find something that matters to them the way writing matters to me. There's nothing worse than a bored teenager with time on his hands, no sense of direction, and nothing to do.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Unique point of view

My sixteen-year-old son loves photography and recently won an award for this snapshot titled SNIFF. Can you guess what it is?

It's a picture of our dog, Sully, asleep under my desk, nose pressed against a purple exercise ball used to stimulate circulation. A very different point of view, but it sure catches your eye, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Doing the right thing

When I got up this morning, I found this bowl on my kitchen table covered with Saran wrap. The note sitting on top was from my teenage sons. If you can't make out the words, it reads, Live mouse, no idea what to do.

As I'm sure you can see from the second picture, they gave the little guy a bit of water and some graham wafer crumbs in case he was thirsty or hungry.
Of course, I went through a variety of emotions that shook me fully awake, first and foremost WHERE had they found this mouse?! But more important for me was the fact that they had done the right thing, instinctively showing care and kindness. Made my day.

P.S. We carried the mouse outside and released him far away from our home.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Last cat standing

When I first met my husband (long before we ever married), he admitted he wasn't a cat lover and I shrugged and said I could take them or leave them. Fast forward ten years and we were married, had four cats, a Newfoundland dog, and two kids under the age of five.

Each of our cats has its own unique story. Our dog found one in the bush, carried it home, and dropped it into my outstretched hand - a newborn kitten covered with blood. A lynx had killed the mother and four other kittens, but somehow this one survived. She looked like a coffee bean so we called her Java.

Another became ours 'by accident' after our daughter purchased it as a gift for someone who ultimately didn't want it. She was told the cat would be euthanized if it was returned it, tears were shed, she was leaving for Scotland to attend university, and so...we ended up with yet another cat. Our boys named her Roo.

The third one was a massive, silver-haired cat who looked perpetually stoned and probably should've been born in the 70s. My six-year-old son saw him in a cage in a mall with a sign announcing his imminent death within twenty-four hours if he wasn't adopted. We brought him home and called him Buzz.

This black one was our first cat. We got her when she was only days old. Someone had tried to drown a litter of kittens and then dumped them in a box at a landfill site, but she didn't die. We called her Brady.

The vet warned us she wouldn't live long (too tiny, hadn't had enough of her mother's milk, etc). Today, she's the last cat standing in our home. The rest are gone, passing away one by one over time. Yesterday, I took Brady to the vet to have them shave her flanks to remove hair lumps I couldn't get out with a brush. As you can see, she isn't impressed with her new *senior* look. We've had her 18 years, this cat we never planned for.

Life's funny like that sometimes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What 'skip day' means to me...

When I was in high school, I didn't go to school on my birthday...unless it was raining. If the weather was crap, I would wait for it to change and then I'd skip a full day of school later in lieu of my birthday. Same thing if my birthday fell on a weekend - I'd choose a convenient day later in the month to make up for it.

I called it my annual skip day and I was completely upfront with my mom about it, which I think she appreciated. I told her where I'd be (usually at the lake with friends) so she wasn't surprised when the school phoned to let her know I wasn't there. The trick was my marks were good, which removed any argument she may have had about my little self-indulgence. I also wasn't into drugs and didn't give my family much trouble. 

I've handed down the same policy to my kids. I've told them if you're marks are good (70% minimum or higher in all classes) then you have my blessing to choose one day where you don't go to school. Of course, they're too young to drive yet and their birthdays are in the fall so their annual skip days often get bumped into winter on one of those -20 below snow days where all they want to do is light up the fireplace and pop in a movie.

A friend recently told me she disagrees with this. She feels it sends a bad message, that teaching kids to conform to rules and regulations is essential to their development as responsible adults. I wasn't swayed. I like my friend, but I told her I think she needs to loosen up -- a little nonconformity never hurt anyone.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quick Wake-Up Call

My husband (who is, for the record, a good driver) drove our son to school earlier this week for a seven a.m. badminton practice. My kid was half asleep when hubby had a rare brain fade and almost missed the turn for the school. He braked at the last second, took the turn, and the car hit gravel and skidded sideways, almost putting them in the ditch. My son got out at school and said, "Thanks for the ride, Dad. Felt like I was in some kinda video game, but it's always nice spending time with you." 

Happy Friday - Drive safe!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

For readers everywhere...

I love this quote. As a kid, it was moments like these that made me want to write, moments where I had to put a book down for a few seconds to regroup because what I was reading had touched something deep within me. I wish you all multiple moments like these.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Starting 2012 with a cheesy moment

I was in Barbados with my family earlier this month and we came across this gorgeous (and somewhat aloof) peacock at a nature reserve. Like a group of other tourists who were there, I wanted him to perform and give us a show, but he wasn't interested. He appeared bored and uninterested as many of these camera wielding people (not me) jumped up and down, waved their arms and made a variety of increasingly odd mouth noises. Minutes ticked by and... nothing happened.
Finally, everyone gave up and walked away (if you look, you can see them in the background of this pic). But I stayed. Me, who hasn't an ounce of patience in her (anyone who knows me will confirm this).

Feeling a little stupid, I leaned over the rail and whispered, "I get it. I understand, you're intensely private. Fair enough. So am I." And then (I'm not kidding here) he promptly hopped off his perch and flashed me his feathers, turning this way and that while I took a bunch of pictures. Best. Cheesy. Moment. Ever.

Happy 2012 everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy holidays everyone

I know this isn't a Christmas tree or a seasonal wreath, but I love this picture. To me, it's the perfect representation of a year coming to a close, twelve months filled with quiet moments, personal triumphs and tragedies, chaos, lots of juggling and the constant need for prioritising. You plan to go left, but life pushes you right. You *think* you have it all under control and then suddenly you don't. And as you move through the days and weeks and months, each year takes shape into something uniquely different than what you originally imagined... I hope you had a good year and I wish you the best this holiday season.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An author's sanity depends on outside support and understanding

I feel sorry for my husband. There are days when he comes home from work (or a long trip away) and I'll say, "Can I talk to you about something? And, to his credit, even when he winces ever-so-slightly and I pretend not to notice (possibly because he knows what's coming?) he always says, "Sure."
And then I'm off, describing a scene in detail and asking his opinion on what he thinks motivated my fictional characters based on what they did or didn't do in said scene. For the most part, he gives me good answers, but there are other days when he takes in a deep breath, blows it out, and says, "What book are we talking about here again?"

Still, he humors me and I know that can't always be easy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Favorite summer chuckle

Here's one of my favorite laugh out loud moments from the summer of 2011... As we were leaving a family reunion, I hugged my niece good-bye and wished her good luck with her upcoming MCAT exams. My youngest son, standing behind me, heard this. Hours later, he was being unusually quiet so I asked what was wrong and he said, in a sad voice, that he was disappointed in her. "I just don't understand why she wants implants."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Juggling priorities

Ask any author with a family and I'll bet "huge swaths of uninterrupted writing time" will be at the top of his/her wish list. It's a luxury we dream of the way others dream of shopping until they drop. I know it won't be like this forever, but these days I have more stops and starts than I care to count. Here's a sample of this week's juggling act:

Front door slams and I hear someone howling in the distance. My oldest runs down to my desk, attempting to look casual. "Uh, Mom? How do you know if someone broke their arm or if it's just, like, sprained?"

My youngest phoning from school to say, "I found my field trip form in my locker but it's due today so if you don't come to the school and sign it the teacher says I can't go."

And let's not forget these:

"That wasn't a gunshot, it was Dad, backing over my basketball."
"Mom? Will grape juice leave a permanent stain if it's spilled on a rug?"
"There's a lady at the door who wants money for blind people."
"Can you help me study for my exams?"

Then, late last night when I was working on chapter 16, having success with a dialogue piece I'd previously had trouble with, my youngest came downstairs and curled up in the armchair across from my desk. He was having trouble sleeping, a by-product of Tourette Syndrome. "Mom, have you got a minute?" he asked.

We talked for an hour - about things he's been worried about, about dreams he's never shared with me before - and when he finally went to bed, I turned off my computer and called it a night, thinking, You will never pass this way again. The rest can wait.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Priceless keepsakes

My youngest, who is now twelve, went through a stage when he was seven or eight where he'd often leave notes on my pillow at night. I would tuck him in for the night and head downstairs to my office to write. Then, hours later when I finally climbed into bed, I'd find one tucked under my pillow, often with a stuffed animal perched on top. Today, they still flatten me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to LOVE a good book

When I read, I'm constantly analyzing and trying to learn from my betters. Armed with a pen, a highlighter and post-it notes, pages are unceremoniously folded and comments are often scribbled in the margins (about the story's arc, the narrative drive, character development). I slap post-it notes on pages I admire, noting a great piece of dialogue, a scene that moved me, a well-crafted subplot, the author's ability to set a certain tone or foreshadow, etc.

When I'm done, the pages are often dirty and the book looks like it's been through a bad storm. Some people would cringe if they saw my collection of books, but to me they looked 'loved to death' which is a compliment to the authors who wrote them, wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Break out the Kleenex...

Have you seen this article and watched this video? Take a few minutes and check it out. You’ll be humbled by what this father/son duo have managed to accomplish with their lives. If there wasn't a book already published about them, I'd be knocking on their door asking for the opportunity to write it.

Truly amazing...and a great way to adjust a person's priorities for the new year ahead.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dinner for four, table for three

Do your kids take forever to get to the table when dinner's ready? Do you call them 10x before they finally show up? And by the time everyone does arrive (including your hubby, who's probably glued to his Blackberry like mine often is) has your mood taken a nose dive? As a wife/mother/author, I know your pain and I'm happy to offer a solution.

Here's my kitchen table, a little bistro-style that seats three. The dilemna, of course, is that I have a family of four, which means when dinner is announced each night all hell breaks loose.

Since buying this table 3 yrs ago (much to my husband's chagrin) dinner starts immediately after I announce it's ready, because seats are at a premium. If you're the last one to arrive, then you'll be sitting on phone books stacked on the black desk chair hidden away at the back of this picture. And since no one wants the-phone-book-chair my family runs for a spot at the table each night.

It's become a family joke, Mom's crazy table for three, and I have no plans to replace it. I grew up in a big family where dinner was never a quiet affair. There were seven of us and meals were loud, in a good way (voices rose and fell, cancelling each other out, there was lots of laughter and just as much arguing), but we always ate together and I'm determined my family will, too.

P.S. For those who think I'm crazy I do have a dining room with a teak table and seating for eight, which is where we eat when we have guests. I'd be happy to serve our nightly dinner here too, but whenever I suggest it my kids say they'd rather eat at the bistro-table. Go figure, huh?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From upstanding citizen to delinquent parent

I might not be the best mother on earth (that I don't bake instantly comes to mind, as does my refusal to iron or sew) but I'm also certainly not the worst.

No matter how late it is, when my boys come home from school dances they kick their dad out of the room and take turns giving me whispered rundowns about their night, whether I want to hear it or not. If there's a problem or a secret, I usually know about it long before my husband does, and if one of them is sick I'm the parent they call. I don't mean to disparage my husband here. It's just that he's known as the 'fun guy' who takes them skating and swimming and snowboarding, whereas I'm more the 'workhorse parent' who gets the leftovers.

All that said, last Friday was not a stellar day for me.

My son, who's twelve, was sick with a cold/flu. It was Friday and we needed groceries but he didn't want to go with me only to get dragged from store to store because I won't leave him in a vehicle alone. So a compromise was reached. I would give him some Nyquil and he'd stay home in bed and watch TV. I'd have my cell phone on and he'd call if there was any kind of problem/emergency. I also alerted my neighbor, who lives 30 feet away and was at home, sick with her own kids.

Fast forward 30 minutes.

I'm in the dairy aisle when my cell phone rings, and when I answer my youngest is overly cheery in that way kids get when something has gone very very wrong. It doesn't last, though, because as soon as I say, "What happened?" he spews out the truth, and the false cheer and bravado disappear.

He fell asleep and when he woke up (slightly groggy) he tried to phone my cell, but instead of dialing 8+1+ the remaining numbers he dialed 9+1 and then hung up.

*Insert fun fact here* Did you know if you dial 9+1 and then hang up the aborted call is immediately routed to 911?

Back to my story... After hanging up, a 911 operator phones my child back and asks him a series of questions, including his name, age and where his mother is? While she does this my child is sniffling and coughing (from his cold) so the girl puts her supervisor on the phone who asks my son if he's being held against his will. (Which, by the way, I think is wonderful because that's exactly how these kind of calls need to be handled). My son assures the man that he's fine, hangs up, and then phones me.

Fast forward 20 minutes.

I park in the driveway and go inside to check on my son, who is hunkered down in bed with a snack and our 180 lb Newfoundland dog. As we're talking, the doorbell rings and (yes, you guessed it) the police have now arrived. Our dog gets to the door before I do and the officer is visibly taken aback by his size. He asks a few questions (keeping his eye on the dog, who is now circling him with an Eeyore doll in his mouth) then asks to speak to my son.

I call my son downstairs and when he finally arrives (taking his sweet time because he's somewhat overwhelmed/intimidated by the whole there's-a-police-officer-in-our-house concept) the officer asks him what happened earlier.

My son explains, then apologizes and says, "I think I probably got confused because I've been drinking too much Nyquil."

"You've been drinking Nyquil?" the officer says.

"No, he hasn't!" I say, and the officer tells me he'd like to talk directly to my son, not me.

Once the Nyquil problem is cleared up (my son confirms it was me who gave him the Nyquil and that it was the correct dose) the officer asks my son if he lives here alone with me.

My son coughs and says, "No, my brother live with us too. Oh, and my dad (insert sniffle here) but he's never here."

"That's not true," I say, embarassed. "It's just that he travels a lot!"

Once again, the officer politely reminds me that he wants to speak to my son, not me, and by then I'm ready to chug a little Nyquil myself.

Minutes later, after he runs out of questions, the officer finally leaves. I shut the door behind him and the phone rings. It's my husband, calling from some airport where he's had an hour-long wait at security, and he says, "You are not going to believe my day."

And I'm thinking...Try me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The tug of a perfect love affair

Like many of you, we've had company over the last week. Lots of food and conversation, stories and catching up. Christmas morning, I felt a pinch inside watching my boys unwrap gifts that reflect how much they've grown, how fast they've gone from believing in Santa and unwrapping Batman action figures to getting a weight bench or a laptop as their one big gift. It's been great, yet through all of the noise and activity (skating, walks to the river, some of them running 7 km into town and the rest of us meeting them at a coffee shop) a restlessness began to take hold. My mind started to wander and I'd catch myself drifting away from what everyone else was saying.

Yesterday, my husband whispered, "You want to go work on your book, don't you?"

"Is it that obvious?" I asked, and he smiled and said, "To me it is."

Today, a group went snowboarding and won't be home until tomorrow. The rest left to visit relatives and won't return until Thursday. Which leaves me alone, at my desk, writing. And as I do, I realize now more than ever that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, doing exactly what I was meant to do -- which is what I wish for each of you in the year ahead, the perfect love affair between what you most desire and what you were meant to do.

Happy New Year readers, writers and bloggers!