Thursday, August 31, 2006
I think it's really REALLY important to support people in their art. I don't always do it as much as I should, but now and then I do what I can. That is why, on this little blog, I am going to do my small part to support a friend who has excelled at her craft and deserves to be recognized for it.
I'm talking about Diane Poulin who has written a fascinating, well-crafted, keep-you-up-late-at-night book called No Safe House, and I'm proud to say I know her.
Several months ago, I went to the book launch for this book. Regretably, I didn't get around to reading it until my holidays this summer (the pile of unread books beside my bed was just getting too high). To tell you the truth, the cover of the book didn't really engage me. I'll be honest - that's probably the most disappointing thing about the book. And I'm sure Diane had little to do with it (writers rarely do). I find the cover of a book has A LOT to do with whether I'm attracted to it or not, but we all know that you can't always judge a book by its cover. Case in point.
This book is DEFINITELY worth picking up. It is full of interesting characters (lots of them - but you never really get a sense that there are too many) who are all unique and human and have a touch of darkness somewhere inside them. It's easy to be sympathetic to all of the characters, because each of them has a piece of you or someone familiar to you in their personality. There are no two dimensional characters or stereotypes. Each character is capable of surprising you.
Diane creates a really interesting backdrop - a fictitious neighbourhood in Winnipeg that could be almost any neighbourhood, yet has a unique and distinct character. There are secrets there, and people who aren't quite who they appear to be on the surface.
I always know a good book when I'm disappointed when it ends because I want to stay with the characters a little longer. This is one of those books. You should read it.
Don't just go to the library - BUY THIS BOOK! People like Diane should be able to quit their day jobs and write for a living. Save the money you would have spent on the latest book from Ms.-famous-writer-who-has-a-million-dollar-house-and-a-highly-paid-agent, and buy a book from someone who's working hard to put out good art without the entourage or the fat advance cheques.
(Oh, and by the way, if you look it up on Amazon, don't believe the review that's there. Reviewers can be WRONG!)
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
In this time of friendship abundance, however, I’ve been thinking back to a time when I felt like I was in a friendship desert. I was lonely – like I’d forgotten how to make new friends and was all alone in a barren, friendless desert. Oh, I still had the support of my family, and could still muster up a decent conversation with a friendly acquaintance, but I didn’t have the time, the energy, the opportunity, or even the confidence to make new and lasting friendships.
Have you ever been in that kind of desert? I suspect it’s more common than we might admit. I think there are probably lots of lonely people out there who pass through our lives looking like they’re content and connected with lots of supportive people, but who go home alone and maybe even cry themselves to sleep now and then. (In fact, a friend told me about a radio report she’d heard once that said that 50% of people surveyed said they didn’t have a close friend to confide in. Wow. That’s sad.)
The time in my life when I felt the most lonely was shortly after our second child was born. It happened for a number of reasons. We’d had 2 babies in quick succession, and besides a six month maternity leave for each of them, I continued to work full time. I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed. Many of the friends I’d had before had either moved away or drifted away because they were still childless and therefore living in a different world. I didn’t have many opportunities to bond with other moms because I was either working or trying to muster enough energy to love and care for my kids. Marcel and I were working different hours (to reduce the amount of time our children were in childcare) so I spent most evenings alone with 2 small and fully dependent children. We were going to a church that was essentially just a place to show up on Sunday mornings and didn’t offer us any real community. We’d moved into a new “neighbourhood” (and I use the term very loosely) which consisted of a short street jammed between 2 major thoroughfares, and there were no other young families on our short street (we’ve since moved). Plus I’d become a manager at work, and when you’re in management it’s tougher to make lasting friendships because people don’t feel comfortable getting too close to you. It didn’t help matters much that most of my fellow managers were men who were nice enough but were a fair bit older than me and didn’t have a whole lot in common with me.
So there you have it, a heap of reasons to be lonely. And I was wallowing in it. I remember nights I’d cry myself to sleep after the children were finally sleeping. I remember fighting tears at the playground when other mothers were there hanging out together and I was alone. I remember feeling always on the edge of the conversations in the lunch room because I was management and therefore had to be held at arms’ length. I remember the nights I could go out (when Marcel was home and able to watch the kids) but I couldn’t think of anyone to go out with. I remember wondering if I’d lost all capacity for making friendships – if perhaps motherhood had sapped that out of me and I would have to get used to this new lonely reality. I remember meeting interesting people and dreaming of building a relationship with them, but knowing I didn’t have the time or the energy to start anything.
I’m getting a lump in my throat as I type this. It makes me wish I could reach back into the past and comfort the woman I was then. I wish I could offer her some hope that it does and will get better. I wish I could send her the “ghost of Christmas future” to conjure up an image of what’s ahead and let her know that she’ll get through and she didn’t really lose the capacity for friendship. I wish blogs had been invented back then so that I could at least direct her to a virtual community where she’d get some validation and support.
Sometimes I see new mothers (or I stumble across their blogs), who look like they’re going through the same desert I did. One memory is particularly burned into my memory. When I was in the hospital six years ago, my friend and I saw a young woman leaving the hospital with her brand new baby, and she had no family or friends who’d come to the hospital to take her home. She climbed into a cab with the baby (and very little else – no one had brought her any baby gifts at the hospital), looking like a scared rabbit, completely overwhelmed with her new life and no-one there to support her. I can still get choked up when I conjure up that memory. I wonder whatever became of her.
Now that I’m at a more comfortable, relaxed period in my life, with kids who demand less of my energy, a job that I enjoy and that doesn’t overwhelm me, lots of friends and family who support me, I feel like I should start to reach out a little more to those overwhelmed mothers (or other lonely people) who don’t have any real friendships. I’m not sure what that looks like, since I still don’t have a lot of time on my hands, but I think I need to figure it out. Perhaps a mother-mentoring thing might be a good start. I remember asking a more mature mother (when I was a new mom) if she would consider mentoring me a little and at least offering me helpful advice/support when I felt lost and alone. She looked at me like I was nuts and said “by that you’re suggesting that I’ve actually figured this motherhood thing out along the way.” Now that I’ve been a mom for 10 years, I completely get what she was saying (‘cause I still don’t think I know what I’m doing), but at the same time I hate to watch people floundering alone like I was doing.
This is not a post to say I’ve reached any grand conclusions about how I can “give back” – I’m just thinking out loud. I do believe that in our consumer-driven, every-man/woman-for-him/herself culture, we often forget the value of support and friendship and therefore there are way too many lonely people among us. I also believe that we have a duty/calling to make a difference.
If you have any insight about how a person can contribute to changing this for at least one or two people, or if you have your own stories of loneliness, leave me a comment. Maybe we can start a conversation on the topic. Because as much as we often feel like we have to hide how lonely we are for fear of revealing some sign of weakness on our part, sometimes the best way to begin to get past it is to admit it and reach out.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Julie is itching to become a driver. She drives every chance she gets. She's learned to drive her Pépère's (that's French for grandfather) lawn tractor, and sat on my lap last week as she drove our car around Marcel's parents' yard. Yesterday we went to Thunder Rapids and she lived out a little part of her dream by driving a go-cart like a little speed-demon.
Nothing makes me realize how muck Nikki is growing up like watching her take responsibility for her little cousin. She dotes over her every chance she gets and handles her like an old pro. She's always been so responsible. I remember when Maddie was learning to crawl - she often kept a closer eye on her than I did. And now she's doing the same thing for little Abigail. Last night, she got to feed her carrots.
The pieces of my children's lives are passing before me like a fast-paced movie on the big screen. Sometimes I wish I could grab the remote control and hit re-wind so I can re-live some of the really good parts. If not re-wind, then I'd at least hold the pause button down now and then to keep them from passing into the next stage quite so quickly. The growing up and the growing away hurts sometimes.
At the same time, I get such a rush when I look at them and realize the incredible people they are growing up to be. Yesterday was one of those days as we mini-golfed and drove go-carts and bumper boats. As much as I loved their baby-hood, I'm also loving their budding independence when I can sit on the sidelines a little more and watch them grow and become.
How did I get so lucky?
Thursday, August 24, 2006
She describes herself as a married widow. Not only can her husband no longer cook her the kind of meals I've been treated to, he can't even keep her company in her lonely house. He can't go for walks with her, can't travel, can't curl up on the couch with his arm wrapped around her, can't go to movies, and can't please her the way he used to (and this is someone who used to brag about her sex life).
This friend is one of the most vivacious, fun-loving people I know. There is something incredibly unfair about the way her life turned out. Too unfair for words.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I didn’t know we would be friends when we first met. I didn’t even know it during those first few days after we’d landed in Africa. We were all feeling our way with a group of new people, trying to establish our relationships during those long hours on the bus. At the start, I didn’t really know who I’d bond with or if I’d bond with anyone. (I was pretty sure who it WOULDN’T be with though. Some things are just obvious.) I didn’t automatically think it would be you, since there were some on the bus with ostensibly more in common with me.
I remember the moment it happened though – the moment we passed the line between polite acquaintances and friends. We’d stopped for a pee break somewhere, and we’d all taken our turns squatting on the floor in the filthy, stinky squatty potty close to the gas station. I have no idea how it came up, but we started talking about bowel movements and how we weren’t sure HOW we could be regular on this trip when we were spending so many hours on a bus and our only options for relieving ourselves would be to squat over a dirty hole in the floor. (I think you were also with me when we were in Maasai-land, miles from even a squatty potty, and I had to bury my "feminine product" under a tree. Ah yes, those were the days.) We had a good laugh, and then we climbed onto the bus.
We sat close to the back, and after letting down our guards a bit over toilet talk, we started a real conversation. Not those polite conversations over family photos that had been the standard on the bus up until that point, but a genuine conversation about our lives, our fears and insecurities, and maybe even the impression we had of some of the other passengers on the bus (yes, we were a little catty now and then).
That was the start of a beautiful friendship. From there it only grew. We learned fairly quickly how to stake out our claim, sidle up to each other when it was time to claim luggage, and end up roommates in those places where we had to share rooms. We even suffered through a night in the same bed, pestered by the mosquitoes who could bite through the screen because we were both pressed up against our sides of it. And then there was the night when we had our own rooms, but I got sick during the night and decided I should find you just in case I passed out in the bathroom (as I’m inclined to do when I get sick) hit my head on the concrete floor, and not be found until morning. Thanks for letting me into your room in the middle of the night. No, you weren’t entirely coherent, but you were still very friendly. :-)
We had some incredible moments, didn’t we? Who can forget the Serengeti? Or the night in the tent when the goats kept us awake? (Thank God for duck tape!) What about the visit to the AIDS orphanage? Or the sexy dancer who had his eye on you? Could you believe our beautiful room at that resort in Tanzania? Or the church service in the bar the next morning (when we skipped communion together)? What about when we bartered for souvenirs in the downtown market?
One of the things I will always remember about Africa is you. You were one of my favourite things about that trip, and there were LOTS of great things. I’m so glad we had a couple of days at the end of the trip when everyone else had gone home. It was fun, wasn’t it?
Thanks for the memories.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
I love it when that happens. Today I had lunch with “one of US”. I don’t know her very well, but I think we both sensed that we could and should be friends. She’s a journalist with CBC and in my years of media relations I’ve come into contact with her on a number of occasions. Up until recently, however, the extent of our conversation consisted mainly of the story she was working on for the evening news. A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into her and her husband and little girl at the BDI (local ice cream joint). We struck up a conversation, hit it off fairly quickly, and I suggested we get together for lunch.
I knew I hadn’t been mistaken in my assessment of her when she sat down, looked at the menu and said “you know it’s usually polite to order something light like soup and a salad when you’re lunching with female friends you don’t know very well, but I’m hungry, so I’m going for a burger and fries”. And I said “well then, let’s just dispense with the formalities of politeness and order whatever the heck we want!” We both agreed to skip over the low-fat section of the menu - I indulged in coconut chicken fingers.
Turns out I was right when I suspected she was a kindred spirit. We have a lot of the same interests (I didn’t ask what she’s been reading lately, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be too far off my book list), we find the same parenting issues challenging, we both get tired of managing whiny sensitive people, we both wish sometimes that we had thicker skin and petty insults wouldn’t bother us so much, and we’re both wondering how much longer we want to be “career-driven” working moms. Feels a little like wrapping an old familiar blanket around your shoulders when you meet someone with whom you can relax like that. Thanks J!
I have another possibility of making new friends tonight. I’m really excited about the invitation I got from one of the editors of Cahoots. (They published an article of mine a little while ago. A GREAT magazine! For those budding writers who responded to my publishing post, you should send them stuff!) She’s going to be in town for a few days and has invited all of the women from Winnipeg who’ve written for the magazine to join her for coffee and dessert. There are at least three of us joining her for cheesecake. (There you go – another woman who suggested we meet over a decadent dessert rather than polite rabbit food – must be kizmet!) What fun! An evening with fun and interesting fellow writers. I feel so lucky. I’m a little bit nervous, because all I know of these women is what they’ve written. Will I like them? Will they like me? Will we bond over our common passion for writing? Will I embarrass myself by telling irrelevant stories while their eyes gloss over with boredom? Will they all be thin and pretty with well-put-together lives and I’ll feel fat, ordinary, and scatter-brained? Will I drop a big blob of cheesecake on my ample chest and have to sit there with a stain on my shirt for the rest of the evening?
Okay, so I’m not really THAT worried (or insecure). Mostly I’m excited. I can usually hold my own in a conversation, and I only occasionally tell boring irrelevant stories (mostly I reserve those for my blog and subject you poor souls to them – nyuck, nyuck!)
Sometimes I wish I could meet some of you, my blog friends. I just know we could bond over a good plate of fries or cheesecake! And if you dropped cheesecake on your shirt, I promise I’d drop some on mine too so we’d be on equal footing. (Which reminds me of a story I once heard of the Queen of England. Apparently she was dining with dignitaries from various countries, and when one of the people unknowingly drank from the finger bowl, she did the same thing. Sounds like a classy thing to do!)
Monday, August 21, 2006
- they don't know what a combine is (yes, Nikki called it a "turbine" on her blog)
- they are squeamish of bugs
- they whine about standing around in a field for an hour
- they make faces at the smell of pig manure
- only one of them has any interest in riding a combine (that would be Julie)
- they don't know that wheat makes flour which in turn makes our bread
- they forget that milk comes from cows
- the stubble was too scratchy for their legs, so they went to sit in the car
- they wanted to come home to watch TV
Sigh. I think we need to send them to a farm for a week. Too bad they can't go visit Grandpa's farm, where they used to gather eggs and feed the pigs.
D&L, wanna take them?
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Ah, childhood honesty and short-sightedness! :-)
Earlier in the day, she also asked me "Mom, does your mind sometimes tell you wierd things? Like if you're eating a bagel and your mind tells you that you're finished but then you look down into your plate and you still have a piece left? Mine does." And with that, she finished her bagel.
And in the bathtub this morning, she said "Mom, could you take me to a REAL wishing well, where wishes REALLY come true? I would make a wish that I was nine or ten. Would you take me Mom? Would you? Please?" And I answered "No, honey, I wouldn't want that wish to come true." "But why mom?" "Because I don't want you to grow up too fast - I like you just the way you are."
Friday, August 18, 2006
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Since then, I was reading Kvetch’s post about wanting to get published (she’s a great writer too – worth a visit – and I just ASSUMED she had a whole lot of confidence as a writer because she has such a great blog) and I threw my 2 cents worth into her already bulging comment box (she doesn’t think she’s got one o’ the “cool blogs” even though she can elicit 35 comments!)
These two interactions and a follow-up e-mail from Kvetch made me think that perhaps there are other people out there longing for that first publishing success who might like to hear about some of my experiences. At the risk of sounding horribly presumptuous and pretentious, I’m going to throw out a little unsolicited advice, even though I’m FAR from an expert. You see, a few years ago, when I facilitated an AMAZING, transformative eight week workshop on creativity (I say it was amazing not because it was mine, but because the people who participated made it so), I realized how rewarding and rich it felt to help unleash other people’s creativity. Giving eight women “permission” to set aside their busy lives for a little while each day and lose themselves in some creative venture felt like I was giving them the world. We all wowed each other with our creativity and inspiration, and we all walked away enriched from our interaction with each other. Because of that, I’ve learned the importance of sharing whatever wisdom and experience we have, even though it may feel like a mere pittance. And besides – it’s often easier to accept advice from an amateur with just a little more experience than ourselves (and hopefully still a reasonable amount of humility) than from a pro who’s left us in the dust long ago.
So here it is – my tips for getting published (in magazines, that is. I still haven’t figured out how to get a book published, although I’ve tried):
1. Start sending stuff out there. Sounds simple, I know. But you won’t get published if you don’t try. Polish up your best pieces, look for a few markets, and kiss those envelopes or e-mails good-bye. Also - it pays to have a back-up plan for a piece so that when/if it comes back rejected, you’re ready to send it to the next market before your bruised ego has a chance to stop you. And that leads me to my next point…
2. Get ready for rejection. Again, it sounds simple, but trust me, it can be painful. For every one of the 20 or so acceptance letters I’ve received, I’m sure I’ve gotten twice as many rejection letters. Sometimes my skin feels a little thin and I let the rejection letters dry up my attempts for awhile, but with some practice, I’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with the punches. The thing is, a rejection letter doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not well-written, it just means that it doesn’t work for their publication or their editor was having a crotchety day (we’re all human after all – even editors). I once had a piece rejected by a relatively small local publication, and then the very same piece (with absolutely no editing) was accepted by a much larger national publication. After several years of getting used to rejection, I’m happy to report that my acceptance letters now outnumber my rejection letters. It took a long time though!
3. Trust yourself. If you believe that you’re a good writer, and you’ve been told by lots of friends and maybe your high school teacher that you’re a good writer, believe it. Keep believing it after a string of rejection letters. Keep believing it after a bad case of writer’s block. Keep believing it even though some well-meaning relative suggests you’re wasting your time. Keep believing it until some editor finally catches on. Keep believing it when that well-meaning relative has to EAT CROW!
4. Say good-bye to perfection. Your piece will NEVER be perfect. You can keep polishing it until the cows come home, but you will still always find something that could be better – even after you see it in print. Give it up. Yes, it’s important to edit it a couple of times, and I usually set a piece aside for a day or two before doing a final read-through, but at some point you just have to trust that it is “good enough”.
5. Make sure you’re targeting the right market. Get to know the publication you’re sending to before you submit. Go to the library and browse through some old editions to get a feel for what kind of stuff they like to publish. You’ll never get a gardening piece published in a travel magazine (unless it’s about gardening in an exotic travel destination, I suppose). And you’ll never get a “George Bush rocks” piece published in a left-leaning political rag. If you like to write personal essays (my preference) rather than research articles, look for a publication with that personal touch.
6. Start small. You may dream of seeing your name appear in Time magazine or Reader’s Digest, but consider the fact that thousands (maybe millions) of other people want the same thing. Their editors are getting inundated with submissions, so their first inclination will be to look for what’s safe (since they have to sell millions of copies), and that tends to be the well-published writers. Instead, visit the library or local bookstore and look for some interesting independent magazines – the ones with a few less glossy advertisements. Whenever I’m in my favourite bookstore, I browse through the magazine racks to see if there are any new and interesting magazines I haven’t seen before. Chances are, they’ll be a little more willing to take a risk on an unknown writer with a unique idea. It may not get you notoriety or a guest spot on the Oprah show, but you’ll see your name in print and that, my friends, is a RUSH!
7. Read submission guidelines carefully. If it says they don’t want unsolicited material, don’t send an already completed piece. If it says they don’t want poetry, don’t try to change their minds, even if your poem is brilliant. If it says the maximum length should be 1500 words, don’t try to sneak in a 2000 word piece. You won’t be doing yourself (or them) any favours.
8. “No unsolicited material” does not necessarily mean you need to have an agent submit to that market for you. If the guidelines indicate that they don’t accept unsolicited material, it simply means they want to see a query letter first. Write a really compelling query letter about the piece you want to write (there are lots of sample query letters in writing books and probably on the internet), tell them why it would fit into their publication, and convince them you’re a good writer. Funny story - I once sent a query letter and attached a sample piece for them (something I’d written on my blog that was similar to what I was proposing I could write for the magazine) and they actually published the sample piece I sent without any edits!
9. Read lots of stuff similar to what you want to have published. I find that reading does a few things for me: a.) it inspires me and provides me with ideas for my own writing; b.) it reminds me that my life is just as interesting as the writers’ which gives me confidence to believe people will want to read what I write; and c) it gives me a good sense of what things people (and especially editors) are interested in reading. If you read something really good, make sure you send a note to the writer (if you can). I can hardly tell you how good it feels to get an e-mail from someone who’s been touched by something I wrote.
10. Look for newspapers and magazines that have a “your turn” section. Our local newspaper used to have a “View from Here” section that accepted submissions from anyone. I’ve had a few pieces published there and it’s a good way to get some practice and experience that good ol’ publishing rush. Even if you don’t get paid for it, it’s still good for the ego to have at least one publishing credit to your name.
11. Take risks. Yes, you’ve heard it before in lots of those “here’s how to change your life and become the person you dream of” inspirational talks and self-help books. Don’t bother with the books or tapes, just believe it and do it. You have to take a few risks now and then if you want to see your stuff in print. Send it out even if you’re not completely convinced it’s brilliant. Even though I said you should pay attention to submission guidelines and target carefully, sometimes it pays to be a little “on the edge”. Send stuff that stretches the boundaries a bit. Think about a new angle for an old story. Try something fresh. Dig down deep and be as honest as you can be, even if it means showing your weakness and vulnerability to the world. Someone will thank you for it.
12. Celebrate! Even if your first success seems minor compared to your writing idols’, celebrate your accomplishments. Tell all your friends, take yourself on an “artist’s date” (read The Artist’s Way for more inspiration), buy yourself a new book (or one of those independent magazines you’ve been leafing through) as a treat for your success, and then write some more. Since I haven’t gotten to a stage where I get paid hoards of money for what I write, I usually use the small cheques I get (or at least a portion of them) as a re-investment into my writing. I buy books, magazines, or cds that will further inspire my creativity. With the latest cheque I got, I bought a season ticket for the local theatre. I’d encourage you to do the same. (I’m still hoping for a cheque that will buy me a laptop computer, but I haven’t got there yet!)
There you go, folks, my “mere pittance”. I hope it inspires you in some small way to trust your creativity. When you get published, make sure you come back here and tell me about it. I’d love to celebrate with you!
(Oh, and by the way, I know all about the half-truths you tell yourself for not sending stuff out… “I don’t have to get published to feel good about my writing” and “oh, my stuff is meant for me, not for the public” and “I don’t need the attention or the gratification of getting published”. Fine. Be that way. But I’m pretty certain that everyone who likes to write would like to see their stuff in print in a real publication now and then even if they don’t admit it to themselves or anyone else. Go ahead and TRY!)
"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never." - Kierkegaard
"If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves." - Thomas Alva Edison
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I hope so Maddie. I sincerely hope so.
I don't know much about heaven. I don't even know if I always believe that it is actually another "place" where people have any resemblance to what we know as people here and now. But I do know this... I like the thought of my dad hanging out with my son somewhere. I like to imagine them curled up on a couch somewhere having a nap together. I like to think about them looking for dandelions and frogs together. If I close my eyes, I can almost see Dad taking Matthew out to the heavenly pastures, putting him on the back of a horse, and leading him over the hills and through forest pathways.
Just giving myself permission to believe in this image gives me a little of the peace I need.
Summer vacation is over and I’m back at the office. My brain is not fully engaged yet, though. I don’t want to be here. I want to go to the beach with my kids. I want to go for a bike ride. I want to have lunch with a friend. I want to take Maddie to the play structure. I want to read a book. I want to do all those things I meant to do on vacation but didn’t get around to doing. I DO NOT want to work.
During the night last night, Maddie moved from her bed to the couch. This morning, when I walked through the living room on my way out the door, I found her there sound asleep. A feeling of melancholy filled a familiar space in my heart as I prepared, once again, to leave my children behind and go back to work. I brushed the hair away from her forehead as a lump formed in my throat. I wanted to curl up on the couch beside her and lay there with her until she woke up and smiled at me.
It wasn’t the most memorable vacation. As I’ve said before, in fact, it was a tad disappointing. We didn’t get to go on a trip. We didn’t get to go camping because of Marcel’s dad’s heart attack. We didn’t even get to go on many daytrips like we’d planned. Yes, it was a let-down. It wasn’t the vacation we’d hoped for. That being said though, there are still so many good things that it WAS. It was…
- sleeping in late and getting up only after Maddie crawled into bed or Julie snuck into the room, jumped on me and said “boo”
- lazy afternoons at the beach with the girls and assorted friends or family
- long baths with Maddie and sometimes Julie (yes, sometimes all three of us are in there at the same time and it’s just an ordinary-sized tub)
- leisurely lunch with a friend
- late night movies with my siblings
- a picnic in the park with my family, followed by a soccer game and visit to the beach
- picking vegetables in Marcel’s dad’s garden with his family
- painting sunny yellow paint on the bathroom walls
- ice cream treats with friends at Bridge Drive-In
- hanging out at Linda’s pool
- fishing and canoeing with bbb, ap and family
- finishing a few projects I’ve been meaning to catch up on (like the wall-hanging/quilt I made with the fabric print I bought in Africa)
- dinner and the drive-in theatre with Marcel
- finding the time to read a book
- a lazy afternoon playing games at my Mom’s house
- lots of little moments with my girls
I want to make vacation last forever. I want to be available for spontaneous fun things that pass my way. I do not want to be a slave to my pay cheque. I want to sit on the lounge chair in my front yard and watch the world go by. I want to eat cherries in the park (without the wasps, of course). I want to be able to drop what I’m doing and go play in the backyard. I want to read another book. I want to sleep late. I do not want to be here, sitting at my computer, wishing I could be doing something else.
I want a life of leisure. Sigh.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Saturday, August 12, 2006
And now, because you have all been so patient and understanding during my recent whiny posts, I give you... Decorating on a Dime - How to re-do your bathroom for less than it costs to fill your tank with gas. Trust me, though, I didn't look like THESE renovation experts while I did it. What's with those high-heeled work boots? Nope, my decorating clothing of choice is a twenty-year-old t-shirt with about seventeen layers of paint, and a pair of shorts that used to fit me - back before I had children!
1. Paint - as I mentioned before, if you're not too fussy about the colour and don't need more than one gallon, you can often find really good deals in the mis-tints shelves at your local hardware store. I also frequent Habitat Re-Store, the local store that sells second-hand building supplies in support of Habitat for Humanity. I got a $35 bucket of paint for $15.
2. Curtains - First of all, do what I did and root around in your basement. If you're anything like me, you might have a cupboard full of fabric that you've bought over the years but never got around to using, and even a curtain rod left over from an old project. So the curtains cost us nothing. But even if I'd had to buy fabric, I would have checked the discount racks at the local fabric store. For a small window, it's pretty easy to make curtains for $10. The only thing I had to buy was the funky pull-backs I got for $7.99 at JYSK. (Sorry - I tried to up-load a picture, but apparently Blogger only wants me to put one of them on this post.)
3. Countertop and sink - once again, before you go and spend big bucks for a counter top and fixtures, check second-hand places or look in the seconds rack at the hardware store. Our countertop cost only $65 at Habitat Re-Store. The sink cost us nothing as it was also hanging out in our basement (the former owners of the house left it behind). We just bought a cheap set of taps for $25.
4. Vanity - Instead of buying a new vanity to replace the very tired-looking oak cabinet in the bathroom, I just painted over it with fresh white paint. Voila! Looks like brand new! Make sure you use a good base coat and durable top-coat because it can get a little banged up over time.
5. Faux tile backsplash - This is my favourite tip for a cheap but attractive addition to the room. Because there was a backsplash on the old countertop, and it was hard to patch up the wall where the glue had been, I couldn't just paint it. Instead, I did a faux tile thing like I've done in the kitchen in the past. It's pretty simple. First you put on a base coat, then you tape in the "grout" with thin painter's tape. Trowel on the plaster in a thin layer, and while the plaster is still wet, remove the tape. (It helps if you have a partner who can remove the tape while you plaster, because the plaster dries pretty quickly.) Once the plaster is dry, paint it with a sealing coat, and then you can sponge on top of that for a nice Tuscan villa look. It's hard to make the tiles look smooth, but if you don't mind the rough look (which I find quite appealing personally) it turns out quite nicely.
And there you have it. Heather's feeble attempt to redeem her vacation by at least finishing a home decorationg project.
Marcel's dad is still in the hospital. It's been a frustrating waiting game that feels less like a game and more like water torture. They do a few tests, they make you wait. They plan another test, cancel it at the last minute, and make you wait some more. They tell you the doctor will let you know the results of the test, and then they make you wait some more. In the meantime, all those fun family dynamics that are mildly challenging at the best of times, become accentuated under the stress and hours of waiting. Finally yesterday they found out that he needs surgery - probably a couple of bi-passes and valve replacement, though I don't know all the details. Whether that means he'll be discharged soon and sent home to wait for the surgery, or if they'll keep him in for awhile, none of us knows. More waiting.
In the meantime, I've tried to salvage at least a little of this vacation and have done a few fun things with the girls - like go to the beach, hang out at a friend's pool, go for ice cream with friends, and have friends over for a sleepover. I've also done at least one thing just for myself - I had lunch with a friend/mentor I haven't seen in almost a year. Marcel and I also had date night on our anniversary - dinner at a nice restaurant and then a couple of movies at the drive-in (both mediocre movies, but still worth the night out under the stars). And I finally finished the bathroom re-do project (pictures will probably come later). So it hasn't been a total bust.
Thanks to those who checked up on me. It's nice to know you noticed my absence. :-)
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
- a sick father-in-law
- a worried husband
- kids who are fighting (because of the stress in the air, quite frankly)
- the anniversary of my father's death
- a disappointing vacation and the looming return to work
- an uncertain future (still haven't lined up childcare/preschool for fall)
if I weren't pms-ing.
Where is the justice?
Monday, August 07, 2006
So this post will not be as lighthearted as I might have hoped. But here goes anyway...
Thirteen years ago, on one of the only sunny days in an otherwise rainy, dreary summer, we said "I do" in front of the people we loved most. Were we blissfully happy and in the middle of a great fairy-tale love? No, I wouldn't say so. Did we commit ourselves to each other believing we would always feel passionately in love and that we would never want to kick each other's butt? No, probably not. BUT... Did we believe that we loved each other enough to spend the rest of our lives together, that we were committed enough to each other that we would pour all the energy we could muster into making our marriage work, and that we would walk together through whatever raging rivers life put across our paths? Yes. Definitely.
I loved him then, and I love him ten times as much now. He makes me laugh, he challenges me, he makes me want to be smarter, he teaches me things, he knows how to be tender, and I wouldn't want to go through life without him. We have our challenges, we're not always kind to each other, and there are times when we can't seem to communicate properly, but we are committed to a lifetime together. Even in the darkest of times, I know I would rather be with him than without him. Our journey together has taken us through some rough spots, and each time we survive, we emerge a little stronger than before.
When we said our vows, we didn't promise each other a lifetime of bliss. We promised loyalty and love. We promised friendship and support. We promised the things we knew we could deliver, and then, when we can, we throw in the extras that make a marriage worth working at.
Today, I was reminded once again that when you marry someone, you also marry their family. I'm not only committed to Marcel, I'm committed to his family too. So how did we spend our anniversary? Well, in the morning, we spent it picking peas, beans, and corn in Marcel's dad's garden with most of the family. As he lay in his hospital bed, one of his first concerns was for his garden. To put his mind at ease, we took care of the garden before we visited him again. It's what family does. I wouldn't have it any other way. It turned out to be a great little moment of bonding and caring for him in the garden that is so dear to his heart.
And as I sat in the hospital room, I was reminded of why marriage is worth committing to. In a rare tender moment, Marcel's mom reached over and brushed her husband's cheek and then laid her hand on his arm. In the 16 years I've known them, I've almost never seen them show any sign of affection, and yet I know that their love runs deep. They have their problems, just like we all do, but when the road gets rough, they have each other.
In 32 years, I hope I can still reach up to brush the cheek of the man I love.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
And perhaps it would be easier to comfort Julie's tears with an "everything will be alright" platitude if she didn't already know the pain of losing a grandpa.
Perhaps everything will be alright and I'll write a cheery post tomorrow about our wedding anniversary. Perhaps it's just the universe's sick idea of a joke that our anniversary seems to be clouded with sadness, even though the marriage it commemorates is a mostly-happy one.
Perhaps I should listen to the wise words of Ray in church this morning and just "be still and wait for God."
Lest we forget,
your deeds as a younger man.
like how when you were nine,
you fell in love because she was the
first girl you'd seen throw a cricket ball.
You knew that you'd be together for the
rest of your lives.
Now you sit alone in the sun,
in the backyard, feeding the birds
reading the newspaper.
Thinking about the love
that you shouldnt have lost.
Love that you lost,
love that you shouldnt have lost.
When I was a child,
I didnt see her much.
She passed away before i was 5.
I was so young that it barely affected my life.
Then one day when i asked
you told me she was magnifacent.
all that i had was your word
and a photograph.
But that look in your eyes
told me all that I needed to know.
Love that you lost,
love that you shouldnt have lost.
- The Waifs
Saturday, August 05, 2006
I don’t know about you, but some days I want to put a big sign on my forehead: “This mom will NOT be the solver of your problems today. Go find someone else to fix the dvd player, wipe your bum, reach the glass in the cupboard, help you find clean underwear, and find the bike helmet that YOU lost in the garage.”
Also today, Nikki and Julie started fighting (over what, I’m not sure, but I think it was about something as stupid as who had to help dad peel bananas for the milkshakes). As usual, each turned to their defence mechanism of choice – Nikki started hitting, and Julie, always the martyr, shrieked that Nikki had hurt her and then ran into her room and slammed the door. Being the cruel and heartless mother that I am, I started laughing. Fortunately, I was alone in the bathroom at the time and they didn’t hear me. There was just something about the predictable sameness of the moment that struck my funny bone. Perhaps it was a sardonic laugh – picturing myself in the middle of a Groundhog Day time-warp where the SAME fight gets played back over and over and over again.
Some days I want to wear this sign on my forehead: “Mom does not care if you tear each other’s eyes out. Go ahead and fight, but don’t come crying to me when there’s blood on the carpet. I will NOT settle your argument or choose sides in the battle.”
The truth is, sometimes parenthood is excruciating, exasperating, unrewarding, and downright painful. Earlier this week I read this article about a mother whose kids bore her, and it gave me a small amount of pleasure to know that sometimes other mothers find it hard to bear too. Now, before you toss arrows my way for taking sides with a woman who bribed her nanny to read bedtime stories to her kids, you HAVE to admit that at least SOME of what she says is true. Don't you sometimes get bored with the endless needs, wants, and demands of your kids?
Reading the article reminded me of the mixture of pleasure and relief I got from reading the book “I’m Okay, You’re a Brat” that I found in the discount bin at my favourite bookstore. (I suspect it ended up there because most parents were ashamed to be seen buying a book that implied that their children weren’t perfect angels and they weren’t perfectly smitten parents ALL the time.) Just like the article, the book takes it a little over the top, but there’s some real truth to it, and, for a mother like me who often feels overwhelmed and somewhat guilty for the negative feelings she has about parenting, more than just a little comfort.
Yes, parenting is hard. And the thing is, we need to ADMIT that it sucks sometimes and that we don’t always feel completely in love with our children. We’re not doing each other (or our kids) any good if we act like the world revolves around our kids and there’s nothing we’d rather do than cater to their every whim. The writer of the article said she wrote it because she wanted to fight against the current trend of making the world a child-centred place (Something Gina has written eloquently about). The author probably took it a little further than she needed, but she’s not far off the mark about her reasons for doing it.
Sometimes, I’m a miserable failure as a mother. Sometimes parenting bores me to tears. Sometimes I want to lock them out of the house for the afternoon while I read a book. Sometimes I think I’d rather gouge my eyes out than play Candyland with my kids. Sometimes I’m glad I’m a working-away-from-home parent because I don't have to fill their every need all day every day. Sometimes I think that parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the one thing that has the capacity to make me feel like a complete and utter failure. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being more kind to my kids. Sometimes I think my kids will be totally screwed up because I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. There, I said it. That’s my truth and I’m willing to admit it.
The good thing is, that’s not my ONLY truth. There are other truths that balance those ones out. Like the fact that there are few things as breathtakingly beautiful as watching one of my children sleep. And the fact that the first time I heard the words “I love you” come out of my child’s mouth was one of the most perfect moments life has brought to this point. And the fact that watching one of my children try hard and then succeed is sometimes even more sweet than my own success. And the fact that dancing in the rain with three giggling girls is more fun than almost any adult party I’ve ever been to.
What am I trying to say? Well, there are a few things. First of all, I want to remember how important it is to tell the truth. For me, that’s one of the great things about blogging. I can throw my truth out there - even when it’s painful and makes me feel like crap - and someone will come by with words of comfort or wisdom or just plain acceptance and understanding. We have to do this for each other – to make each other feel less alone and more normal.
Secondly, I want to remember (and I want to remind all of you) that we do not have to be perfect parents, that our kids don’t have to be perfect angels, and that we don’t have to pretend either way. We can mess up and they can mess up, and the universe will not come to an end. Nobody will think less of you if you make a mistake now and then.
Thirdly, I’m writing this partly because all the talk of “mommy-bloggers” (with special clubs, special advertising targeted to them, etc.) on the internet has left me feeling a little confused. It’s not that I want to offend those who call themselves mommy-bloggers, or that I don’t understand the sense of community that has been formed by their common motherhood, but I just don’t think I could ever call myself a mommy-blogger. Oh, you’ll read lots of posts about my kids, and I’ll visit lots of other moms (and dads) who blog, but I just can’t define myself that way exclusively. Yes, I am a mom who blogs, but I am also a writer who blogs, a daughter who blogs, a wife who blogs, a cyclist who blogs, a Canadian who blogs, a thinker who blogs, a manager who blogs – and so many other things.
You see, I guess defining myself as “just a Mom” reminds me of the one thing that I most often fail at and that brings me my greatest sense of self-doubt and sometimes guilt. I need reminders that I am ALSO quite good at a lot of other things AND that my world doesn’t have to ONLY revolve around my kids.
And my fourth point is that as parents, we shouldn’t beat each other up quite so much. The woman who wrote about how her children bored her got thoroughly lambasted for it. (Here's the follow-up article about the controversy it has caused.) Why? She’s just trying to be honest and let other parents know that they’re not alone when they feel like parenting is sucking the life out of them.
So there you go – I'm just trying to tell my truth. It may not be your truth – you may find parenting to be a constant source of joy and fulfillment. I’m happy for you. Just please don’t beat me over the head if it’s not always joy for me.
1. It's starting to grow on me. Or at least I'm resigning myself to it.
2. Even Marcel agreed that it doesn't look that bad - he can live with it. (He only had a small grimace on his face when he said it.)
3. Once I paint the cupboards and the trim white, and sew some blue and white striped curtains, it will look downright cheery.
4. I'm too lazy to repaint.
5. I don't want to ruin the rest of my holidays with more painting. I like painting, but I can only take so much.
6. Harvest gold is all about bringing a little nature into the room. Who doesn't want a little nature in their bathroom?
7. It will definitely wake us up in the morning.
8. If you sit on the toilet, squint your eyes, and let your mind wander, you can almost convince yourself it's still the seventies, you're a teenager, and your biggest worry is whether or not a boy flirted with you at school.
9. My other bathroom is perfectly lovely, and THAT's the one you'd get to see if you visited my house anyway. Trust me, you'd like it, with its minty green walls and white fixtures. Maddie still goes in there, a year after it's been redone, and says "hmmmm...this is a pretty bathroom."
10. The toilet's not so lonely anymore.
11. Haven't you heard? Harvest gold is the new colour trend for 2007. As always, I'm one step ahead of fashion. Wanna know what shoes you should be wearing next season?
12. I could always cut a piece out of the orange and brown carpeting in the basement (the stuff that's so ugly it looks like the seventies puked all over it) and replace the flooring in the bathroom! Then you'd swear you'd hit a time warp! It might be a fun little party game, after people have had too much to drink.
13. As darien suggests, I can always tone it down with a little white someday if I get really tired of it.
And that, my friends, is my "trying to make lemonade out of lemons" decision. Perhaps, once it's done, I'll share a picture and you'll all wish you could hire me out as your personal decorator! Take a number. I'll get back to you when I'm finished painting my kitchen Avocado Green.
Friday, August 04, 2006
First I started with a small sewing project, and then I tackled a long overdue project - painting the ensuite washroom. Because I didn't have a specific colour in mind and because we're economically challenged right now, I rooted around in the mis-tints shelves at Habitate Re-Store and Home Depot. I emerged with a gallon of creamy, buttery yellow that I thought was just perfect for a sunshiny bathroom.
Unfortunately, once I got the paint on the walls, it looked less like sunshine and more like a sad, sad attempt to match the walls to the harvest gold toilet that's leftover from the seventies when this house was built. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn't as bad as I THOUGHT it was and that it would grow on me, but then Marcel walked in and I quickly recognized the all-too-familiar look of "what the heck has my wife done to the walls THIS time?" Yes, I've seen it before because I've done more than one painting surprise that had to grow on him (most of the time, he comes around). He tried to be gracious, because he knew I was discouraged, but his look said it all.
I think I'll just give up on trying to redeem this disappointing vacation and go back to moping. You can feel free to ignore me until we return to our regularly scheduled programming.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
I think it has something to do with the fact that romping in the rain felt a little like "breaking the rules". There's something about doing something a little goofy - especially with your MOTHER - that feels decadent and indulgent. I remember the same thing as a child. My mom was famous for starting water fights - especially at church picnics where all the other grown-ups would sit around being serious like grown-ups are fond of doing. Probably out of boredom with all the grown-up conversation, she'd grab some cups and star splashing people with water.
My mom still knows how to have fun. We went to the beach today with my mom, my sister and baby Abigail, and I was reminded why I like my mom so much. (It's good to have those reminders, because sometimes I forget.) She's always the first one romping in the water with the kids, clamouring on inner tubes - you name it. My kids adore her and it's no surprise, because she's such a fun grandma. She still knows how to "break the rules" of being a grown-up. She's proud to be one of the only grandmas around who still likes to climb trees with the kids.
I think it's because they're raised with a fairly healthy respect for "the rules" that our daughters (just like myself and my siblings) appreciate the little moments when "the rules" get tossed aside and fun is the number one priority. For that, I have a good role model in my mother.