Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gone writing


DSC_1677.jpg

Picture me here, if you'd like. This is my cozy office. "Carrie's folly," reads the pretty embroidered sign on the wall. The universe understands irony, right?

Anyway, here is where I am, and where I'll be pretty much indefinitely, hammering together the structure of a new book. Unless the teachers go on strike. Now, if the teachers go on strike, which may happen as early as Monday, you'll likely hear far more from me here on the blog since I won't be tied up with writing a book. There will be no writing of books while I'm chasing children and wondering why I have no back-up plan. 

Why do I have no back-up plan?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Multi-layered weekend

DSC_1819.jpg
four-layer cake for a birthday party with friends

DSC_1827.jpg
DSC_1830.jpg

DSC_1839.jpg
whip-cream-covered poke cake for birthday party with family (same day; that's a lot of cake!)

DSC_1849.jpg
early morning indoor soccer game in Mississaugua, all-family-expedition

Remember when I said if I was quiet on the blog, it might indicate good writing going on? Well, that's only half-true. It might also indicate extreme busyness going on, with no time for writing of any sort, even on the blog. This weekend was so non-stop, I was really looking forward to Monday morning.

Not pictured:

* a 12-km Friday evening speed run in an arctic wind that blew in quite suddenly; I wouldn't have gone except that I go to great lengths to fit this Friday run into the schedule every week -- once I'm there, in my running gear, I can't not go, no matter the weather
* followed up the run with a surprise birthday party for a dear friend
* discovered The Juliet Stories had made the Globe & Mail's top-100 books of the year
* late-night TV with Kevin, dogs, and a pot of tea (Inspector Lewis)
* my soccer game, which was wicked fun and tons of exercise, and made me swear I'd keep playing soccer as long as my joints could stand it; my mom came to babysit the little kids so that Kevin could come along: a soccer date. I appreciated having a fan in the stands.
* a visit to a book club who thanked me with a gift certificate to my favourite restaurant in town (Nick & Nat's Uptown 21)!

And here it is, Monday morning.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Driving versus dishes

DSC_1591.jpg

A funny thing. I've started to enjoy the trips in the car to deliver and collect children from their various activities. If I'm alone, I turn on the radio and cruise between CBC Radio One (talk) and CBC Radio Two (music). If I've got a kid or two in behind, it's a chance to talk. We drive through the dark that comes so early at this time of year, watching carefully for pedestrians and cyclists. (Side note: we didn't spot one cyclist wearing a helmet, let alone reflective clothing or lights, on the university campus yesterday; we even saw a young man skateboarding in the bike lane of a busy street, going the wrong way! Needless to say, he wasn't wearing a helmet either, because really, if you're skateboarding in the bike lane going the wrong way after dark, you're clearly not concerned about head injury. This sparked a conversation about safety and being young and feeling invincible. "Why is it that the things people think are cool are risky or dangerous?" my daughter asked. Well. Why indeed?).

But anyway. The conversations range. It's always interesting.

And as long as we're not late, I have a feeling of contentment, of easily-fulfilled purpose. It's emotionally uncomplicated. It's relaxing, even. Maybe that's because it's so much simpler to drive from swimming to soccer, to tie a shoelace, to greet other parents, to drop off a carpooling extra, than to be at home with the remaining children over the same time, supervising piano practice and homework and doing dishes and laundry. Four out of five weeknights, that's where I am. Last night, I asked Kevin to trade places, since he happened not to be coaching anyone. When I returned home from my drive, I noticed he had a harrassed impatience about him that is often mine as snacktime gets dragged out and children begin lying on the floor and complaining about tooth brushing.

Situations do that to a person. And I could walk through the door, all fresh and relaxed after completing my pleasant errands, and be the voice of reason. Which is really irritating to the person who's been stuck at home with the homework and the dishes. Which makes me think that the more we share jobs, the happier we all will be; or at least the more sympathetic.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy face, sad face

DSC_1707.jpg
DSC_1717.jpg
What we have here are the two smallest soccer players in our family, each mugging for the camera in his or her own unique way. CJ has recently started a "soccer fun" program with Kevin coaching his team (but of course), and Fooey has decided to join as assistant coach. She even managed to get into the team photo.

I'm distracted, but in a good way. After four frustrating days of not meeting my writing targets, oh so carefully scheduled out, and oh so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of family life, I've now enjoyed two days back to back of good hard work. I appreciate when the playing field is level and the only opponent I've got is my own discipline.

So if you notice an absence here, a pause now and again, you'll know what I'm up to. I'm living in another time, getting to know some other people. Maybe you'll meet them someday too.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The best-laid birthday plans

DSC_1752.jpg
Saturday evening, basement "studio", still nine years old
DSC_1754.jpg
yup, that's Shakespeare

Alright. This birthday did not turn out as planned. Honestly, it's been a tough week, and we've tried to roll with the punches, but we really didn't anticipate this particular change in plans. There they were, Kevin and the little kids all snacked up and ready to go, swim kid freshly out of the pool, dressed in soccer gear, hitting the highway for today's game. Here we were, Albus getting to skip out on the soccer trip, and me getting in a few exciting and much-needed hours of writing work, when the phone rang.

"It's Dad! The truck broke down!"

Luckily they'd made it off the highway and into a parking lot, much safer than sitting by the side of the road. Luckily we are members of our local carshare, so I booked a car immediately and off we set on a mission to pick them up. Unluckily for us, there was a problem with the car. Luckily for us, the woman at the carshare hotline picked up quickly and directed us to a different car just a few blocks away. Unluckily for us, it only seated five. Luckily for us, Kevin got a ride with the tow truck driver.

But there was the afternoon. No writing. No soccer girl at soccer game. No cupcakes to teammates.

AppleApple was upset at first, and then sanguine. She'll take the cupcakes to her teammates at the Thursday practice instead. Back home, she put on her PJs, got cozy, and everyone watched a movie. I went to my soccer game. With help from Grandma, we were able to get out to celebrate at our favourite restaurant for birthday dinners. In short, it all worked out just fine.

Just not as planned.

DSC_1804.jpg
Sunday evening, basement "studio," barefoot in purple coat, now ten years old

If I don't get a day to write, soon, I may, however, go crazy. My equilibrium is off. I didn't run enough this weekend. I need to remember how to stay strong, no matter the weather; mostly I need to remember not to be so hard on myself. (I made one misstep at soccer that cost our team the win; we tied instead; I was so down on myself afterward that I contemplated quitting. Tonight, Albus walked home with me from the carshare drop-off spot, and I told him how I'd felt, and he was quite shocked. Sounded silly to him. One mistake and you want to quit? I know, I said, it's just how I felt in the moment. He understood. But, he said, I'm pretty sure your team wouldn't want you to quit for one mistake.) I need to let those moments of discouragement, or failure, or just plain wishing it were otherwise to wash over me. It's okay to feel that way, just so long as it doesn't actually cause me to quit or give up or storm off. Know what I mean?

DSC_1795.jpg
DSC_1810.jpg

We all went around the table tonight and said something we like about AppleApple. Fooey likes that AppleApple is teaching her how to sew. I like that AppleApple is inspiring with all she tries and all she does. Albus said AppleApple is good to chat with. Kevin likes AppleApple's crazy smile she gets when she's very excited about something. CJ was grumpy and refused to participate, but that's because the ice cream was late coming to the table. Or because he's four and a half, who knows.

AppleApple had one too: She said, I like being me!

She is an inspiring kid. I'm inspired by all my kids. Each of them try and do all kinds of new things. They're brave. They're willing to learn, happy to learn. They take practicing for granted -- of course you have to do it in order to get better! And they're willing to fall down and get up and try again. Which is, come to think of it, something they get to see me do, too, from time to time.

Happy birthday, ten-year-old daughter. You are inspiring, for real.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cupcake factory

DSC_1724.jpg

Tomorrow (Sunday) my biggest girl turns 10. She's got swimming practice and a soccer game, back to back, and no desire to skip either. What she wants, instead, is to bring treats for her teammates.

I thought we'd accomodate by picking something up at the grocery store on our way. That's a lot of kids!

DSC_1729.jpg

But she was thinking homemade. She'd even looked up recipes.

Well, it is her birthday. And her birthday list is so humble and dear it includes requests for kiwi, mango, and pomegranate. (Done!) She'd also like books: a thesaurus, horse books, soccer books, fantasy books, and Shakespeare plays.

So we spent the afternoon, with a friend, making a quadruple batch of cupcakes from scratch. Quite the cupcake factory. Recipes posted below.

DSC_1738.jpg

Boston Cupcakes (adapted from Fannie Farmer)
makes 50+ large cupcakes

Cream 20 tbsp of butter. Slowly add and beat in 4 cups of white sugar. When it's nice and fluffy, add in 8 eggs, one at a time, and beat. Add and mix in 3 tsp vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together 5 cups of flour, 8 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt.
Add dry mixture by cups to wet, mixing all the while (we used a standing-mixer).
Add and mix in 2 cups of milk.
Line cupcake trays with papers and fill each cup about two-thirds with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.

Chocolate Frosting

In a double boiler, melt 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate with 4 tbsp butter and 2/3 of a cup of milk. Cool to lukewarm and add 4 cups of icing sugar (at least) and 2 tsp vanilla. Add icing sugar slowly, beating all the while, until you reach the desired consistency. Makes more than enough.

Friday, November 16, 2012

One good thing about not having a dishwasher

DSC_1681.jpg
this morning, convalescing kid with companions

Recently I sat down and wrote out a schedule. My goal was to identify any spare pockets of time into which I could slot one of the following activities: exercise, writing, social time, Kevin time, and cleaning. (My standards are low, but even basic maintenance for a family of six without a dishwasher requires a little effort every day.) I discovered a few extra spots for running or yoga, plus worked out my strategy for maximizing my writing hours (hint: it involves scheduling separate time for email). Social time seems to be the hardest to come by.

But I did find an extra fifteen minutes here and there to throw at vacuuming and cleaning out cupboards and filing the stacks of paper that fly into the house and somehow multiply and spread to every available surface. To which I say, Whoo-hoo, without much enthusiasm.

But now I've got a kid home sick, and the schedule's gone out the window. This is temporary, right? Right??

DSC_1673.jpg

Last night, I visited another book club, my fifth this fall. I'll admit that I was exhausted and drained after spending the previous night at the hospital, but I had a feeling that I needed not to cancel last-minute. I needed to go. And didn't I! I was hosted by a group of mothers and daughters whose comforting warmth and welcome restored my energies. You just never know when these unexpected gifts are going to arrive. I returned home feeling repaired and strengthened by the evening.

I also got to show the book club the reprinted version of The Juliet Stories, which arrived yesterday. Oh my goodness! It looks quite different: GG finalist sticker embedded in the cover design, and new quotes from reviews on the back and front.

Kevin has made me a little gift: he put together a video with photos from this past month's GG adventure, set over top of the clip on The Juliet Stories that was played on Monday evening on CBC radio's As It Happens. Small story about that clip: I got to listen to it twice. First, I heard it live. I was washing the dishes, and I always listen to the CBC while washing the dishes (perhaps this is reason enough to remain dishwasher-free). Kevin was at a soccer game with AppleApple and the other kids were playing soccer in the rainy dark backyard, and suddenly there was my name and then my voice. I didn't call the kids in. I listened alone, appreciating the quiet. What a sweet life moment. An hour later, the whole family got to hear it together: we streamed it from the Winnipeg station online. AppleApple was beaming from ear to ear: her Halloween costume is mentioned in the intro. (Several of her siblings were slightly jealous.) When my reading came on, CJ said, "Who is that?!" "Who do you think?" And he was suddenly too shy to say, but he knew.

Click here to see the video. Thanks, Kevin. It's quite the keepsake.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Instant perspective

CJ hospital.jpg
taken on my phone around 4am this morning

Thursday. Just after midnight. Child wakes with sudden breathing problems -- croup, but not a croup that seems to be touched by steam or cold air or anything we can think of in our half-awake state, and we throw on clothes and rush out of the sleeping house and drive to the hospital, me urging Kevin to run red lights if he needs to (which he doesn't choose to do). Running through the doors at emergency and saying, please help, he's having trouble breathing. Emergency room is crowded, and I know people are thinking, great, I've been waiting for hours and that kid is now ahead of me, and then, when they hear him struggling and panicking, I feel a sense of pity from the room. People are glad they're not us.

We are being taken care of. We are hurried in to the back room and given a bed where he's stripped down and his vitals are monitored. We have to wait for a mask to be prepared and meantime he's transformed into a melodramatic child actor, howling, "Doctor, save me! I'm going to die! I'm never going to get out of here alive!" At least he's talking and that means he's breathing. Kevin and I are both embarrassed ... it's like the kid is reading lines off a soap opera script. But the nurse soothes us. She says people of all ages come into emergency in an utter panic when struggling to breathe. She says people say all kinds of panicked things. They're used to it here.

We are able to laugh about it. We are able to laugh about the fact that he chose tonight to wear his favourite pink Ruby pajamas (passed down from his older sisters), and with his long blonde hair, no one can remember that he's not a girl.

He's got a mask. Then medicine. Then another mask. His stomach doesn't have to work so hard to push the air in and out. And his oxygen levels remain good. As his breathing becomes more comfortable, I wonder, was he really in danger? Parenthood: filled with second-guessing. When I should just be grateful that he's clearly improving, that the medicine is working.

I think of Anne of Green Gables saving Diana's little sister from the croup, with ipecac. I think of how suddenly this situation arrived, with no warning. Kevin goes home to the still-quiet house. I stay in the narrow hospital bed with the kid who is now wired from the medicine and who talks non-stop in his loud, gruff, unique voice until five o'clock in the morning, when finally he's able to relax and rest. I dream we are in a hospital. Maybe it would be impossible not to, with the sounds of beeping machines all around us.

At one point, during a discussion on dinosaurs, I say that maybe he'd like to be an archeologist when he grows up. "Not an archeologist, Mom. A paleontologist!"

Oh, right.

This isn't the post I'd planned to write today. I thought I would write about how blessedly fleeting disappointment is, how quickly it's left me, and how already I am embracing a strong sense of onward, ho!, excitement for what's ahead, and appreciation for the crazy and wonderful journey I've been on this fall. Did I need a lesson in perspective, if that's what this is, if life is about lessons at all, which I'm not sure that it is? I'm not sure what this means, other than I'm tired and grateful for our health care system. I'm grateful for health and for life and for breath. I'm grateful, all around.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cosmic activity in the friendship area ...

I just had to share with you the horoscope I read yesterday at supper. Yeah, I read those things. (Oh, and yeah, sometimes I read the newspaper at supper.) The horoscopes aren't always quite so spot on, but this one really was:

"Cosmic activity in the friendship area of your chart means you will be offered at least one helping hand over the next 14 hours. Wherever you go and whatever you do, people will go out of their way to assist you."

Skip over that 14-hour thing (too much precision for the stars, in my humble opinion), substitute "one" helping hand for "many," and it's just ridiculously accurate. In fact, I'm quite certain that given a little distance I will look back on yesterday as a good day in my life. A really good day. Ultimately, some very fine things have come from writing this book, and from writing this blog, and from writing, period. So it's back to the writing. It's been a whirlwind.

Thanks, friends, for all of the helping hands.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Here's what it feels like, right now

DSC_1645.jpg
squirrel on our back fence, yesterday, sheltering itself from the rain

I've been quiet.

There's a time to be quiet and a time to make noise, and it's time to be quiet. I've made a lot of noise this fall, that's what it feels like. I've done my best. And because I chose to write about every stage of this journey, it seems only fair to close up the chapter begun on October 2nd, when my book was named a finalist for one of Canada's biggest literary prizes.

A quirk about the GGs is that there is no instant reveal ceremony. Instead, all the finalists are informed of the results in advance, and then asked to keep their knowledge secret until the day of the announcement. I've tried to play by the rules, but you can read me like a book. I carry my happiness and my sadness in my body. I've been through a massive range of emotions since Oct. 2nd, and I've tried to accept every shift, every climb, every jitter, every fall. I've tried not to resent what I'm feeling. Just feel it. Just be there with it.

I've known for over a week, now, that The Juliet Stories was not chosen by the jury as the last book standing.

I've felt quite alone in that knowledge. It's a lonely place to be, accepting good wishes for a result that you already know will disappoint. I suppose that's been my rawest emotion: the sense that I am disappointing friends and family with this result.

I told my two big kids on Sunday, after I'd had a difficult day, struggling with how I would get through one more day until the announcement. I was so weary, so distracted, so short-tempered, it wasn't fair to them. So I told them, to give them context; I make a habit of naming my emotions (and encouraging them to name theirs) so we all know what we're working with. This was late on Sunday evening. They were sad to hear the news, yes, but mostly they were purely compassionate, empathetic. They forgave me my snapping.

I said, "I'm really sorry to be disappointing you."

And my daughter came across the room like a heat-seeking missile to hug me, hard. She said, "You're not disappointing me, Mom. I'm just disappointed in the jury's choice."

I needed to hear it, and I'm blessed to have heard it from my own thoughtful child.

It's not like I ever felt that my book deserved to win over anyone else's. I still believe it was luck that landed me on the list. But if luck got me that far, it meant I might get luckier still. And I got pretty close to that light. I've lived a simple life, propelling myself toward this possibility from a young age. Writing books was the one thing I consistently wanted to do and so I figured out how to write books with a singular focus: reading, studying, practicing, and working toward this goal -- which is an amorphous goal, and I'm not sure one that should rely so heavily, in my own judgement, on prizes or sales, but I'm also not sure how else to measure my success in meeting it. Essentially, it's been the goal of signing my name amidst the names I've read and studied and admired.

It's been the goal of writing a beautiful book. Or two. Or more.

I'm not sure, now that I'm here, what I imagined it would be like. What if this is as good as it gets? The festivals, the readings, meeting other writers -- all things I've truly enjoyed this fall, but also things that are new and strange and exciting because they are out of the ordinary. Would I enjoy them so much if they became ordinary? The prize part has surprised me most of all. It's left me drained. I'd say humbled, but it's more a sense of helplessness, a lack of control. I ask: wouldn't I do this all over again? And yes, I would. Without question. Crazy, huh.

I'm still feeling quiet. November is a good time for quiet, and I'm craving winter's hibernation. But I'm going to try not to hide out completely, not to avoid people. Now you know how I'm feeling. Now we know where we are. Right?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Entertaining at home

DSC_1625.jpg

If you happened to call this morning, you might have thought I was running a small daycare on the side. But it's just temporary; today's a PD day, so I've got a few extra. I'm also missing a few. All in all, it worked out to five kids total for the morning, and now we're down to four, plus dogs.

DSC_1615.jpg

So far, we've baked and eaten a cake (very popular activity).

DSC_1622.jpg

The girls found a chunk of ice in the backyard, the melting of which has provided at least an hour of excitement, believe it or not. They requested I take photos, after I refused to let yet another icicle get stuck in our freezer where it will only be instantly forgotten and found years later.

DSC_1639.jpg

The boys, meanwhile, got busy crashing cars down the stairs.

Next up: lunch. And, no, we're not having cake. I'll think of something.

The two oldest kids are at a babysitting course all day. Albus sees dollar signs in his future. He and AppleApple plan to work as a team, if anyone in the neighbourhood is looking to hire a responsible pair, who will now be trained in first aid and diaper changing (and who have lots of experience looking after their younger siblings, too).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On the balanced life (aka "balanced")

DSC_1608.jpg

File this post under balance. Sort of. I'm not convinced I'm actually someone who cares to live a "balanced" life. In fact, I'm fairly certain I'm someone who wants to live at full throttle, whether I'm sleeping, socializing, parenting, cooking, writing, or whatevering. I'm all in. That doesn't mean I want to live at a manic breakneck pace, just that I want to be present wherever I am, fully appreciating that speck of time, that particular activity. That's my version of balance.

Anyway, I want to reflect on how our crazy schedule is working this fall -- because against all odds it does seem to be working.

Most of the kids' extra-curricular activities occur after school. Piano is a constant, with the three eldest taking weekly lessons and practicing quite regularly (sticker charts work for two of them, and one doesn't need the encouragement). We've skipped swim lessons for the fall. But AppleApple swims three times a week with a competitive swim team. I was remembering how she used to be kind of rotten when she was bored, and how rarely we see that behavior from her anymore. Maybe she's matured. Or maybe she just doesn't have time to be bored.

Kevin organizes a weekly neighbourhood hockey/skate hour at the rink, which all the kids do.

DSC_1600.jpg

And the rest of our lives revolve around soccer. Every single family member now plays soccer. We've got soccer every day of the week except for Wednesdays (and even Wednesday is looking to go to soccer very soon). Further, Kevin coaches all of the kids, except for Fooey who chose to do soccer skills rather than play on an indoor team (her time slot would have been 8am on Saturday mornings, so we did not object to her choice). You wouldn't think of soccer as a year-round sport in Canada, but with indoor fields all over the place, it's just as year-round as hockey can be. AppleApple plays four times a week (once on an indoor house league team that her dad coaches; he doesn't coach her rep team for which I am truly grateful). Albus plays twice, but will soon be adding an extra evening. The rest of us only play once a week. But with six people in the family, even once a week would add up.

We are using the carshare car all the time. Still, it's more economical than purchasing a second vehicle, at this point.

Most of my exercise occurs early in the morning, and occasionally overlaps with a soccer practice or swim. It's very regimented, actually. I don't mention it because I just keep doing it: running, spinning, weights. In fact, the whole schedule is very regimented, and I think that's why it works. We all know what to expect, day by day.

What I hadn't anticipated, with all this soccering, was that I would have many evenings alone with the kids -- the three that aren't playing on any given night. Kevin is getting more one-on-one time with them, but I'm getting the calm and really very lovely bedtime routine. (All except for the toothbrushing, which is never calm and lovely, and which I loathe, having a bit of a tooth complex.) I have the after supper cleanup, piano practice, homework, playtime, sometimes dog walking, snacktime, pajamas, and then reading before bed.

With CJ now old enough to enjoy chapter books, we've been revisiting the classics: Charlotte's Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. I'm thinking of suggesting the Little House on the Prairie series next. I'll never get tired of re-reading these books! It's the perfect end to the day.

DSC_1605.jpg

So that's been our fall. Without the chalkboard wall, I couldn't possibly keep it all together. Every Sunday I write down each day's special activities. This week I have a section just for teacher interviews. Kids scrawl phone messages on there. I write down ingredients in the fridge to remind myself what to cook for supper. We've got a monthly soccer chart with all the dates and times of practices for each family member. It keeps us all together.

It takes a lot of energy to keep us all together. But I'm all in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Falling into a powerful book

I finished reading a beautiful and powerful book last night. It's called Out of Grief, Singing, and was written by Charlene Diehl, who is a poet and also a friend and mentor. It is a difficult book to read, in some ways, because it is about a mother experiencing something no parent wants to imagine: the death of her child. But it is not as difficult to read as you might imagine before opening its pages. You only need to be prepared to be moved profoundly and deeply as you follow this mother on her journey out of grief, singing. I started reading the book in an airport, which I cannot recommend unless you are comfortable sobbing in public. I finished it in the privacy of my own bedroom, and I let the tears flow freely.

In a sense, the book is about the grieving we do in public and in private -- the ways in which we are permitted to welcome grief (or not) into our daily interactions, and the discomfort (or fear) that many of us feel when we hear about someone else's experience with death and loss. I've been thinking about the book all morning. I've been thinking how I've felt awkward and anxious about approaching someone who has suffered a profound loss. I've felt at a loss myself. At a loss for words, or actions. The people who help Charlene on her journey show love, compassion, patience. They don't tell her what she's feeling or what she's supposed to be feeling, but honour where she is. They don't pretend nothing has happened. They are open to her story. They are open to her daughter's existence, and to the fact that her daughter lived and died.

That may sound really obvious, but I think it is not.

The greatest hurt seems to come from strangers who make assumptions, and so many assumptions are made about women of childbearing age; I know I've made thoughtless assumptions myself. Is this your first baby? is maybe not the best question to ask the pregnant woman standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Or, be aware that you may be expounding on the wonders of natural childbirth to a woman who has delivered prematurely, her baby kept alive by machines: and in your ignorance that you are suggesting that this woman has done something wrong, as if she had choice in the matter. Know that your childless neighbours may or may not have chosen to be childless; or that they may have suffered losses, that they may be parents without living children. Know that not everyone gets to choose their story. Know that people's experiences are not all the same.

This is profoundly hopeful book, full of grace.

Charlene's two living children, born after the death of their sister, hold her in their lives in ways that are completely natural. The older sister they never knew is present in their family. In the book, Charlene relates how her son says that his older sister is there whenever he has a feeling that surprises him, or that he can't know -- much like he can't know this sister, yet she is mysterious and present.

IMG_2847.jpg
me and Charlene in Winnipeg earlier this fall

Charlene was my professor that November many years ago when she went into early labour. I remember the shock of hearing the news, and hearing, less than a week later, that the baby girl had died. I was twenty, and I hadn't the slightest idea how to respond. I signed a card that someone more thoughtful than me bought and sent on behalf of our class. I never thought to visit. I think I would have imagined it an imposition. I think, also, that it's okay to be where we're at, and I wasn't in a place where I could have been helpful. We aren't, always, are we.

I hope I'm somewhere else now. I hope, if called upon, that I could be like the friend who listens to Charlene's story over and over again, and because she is present and listening, is able to reflect back to Charlene that her story is not repetitive, nor is it a trap, but it is ever-changing, changing with Charlene as she moves through that long first winter after the death of her daughter.

I don't know why the book has come into my life now, but it came and I am glad for it. Thank you, Charlene.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A wild writer's weekend

DSC_1449.jpg

On Saturday, the Wild Writers Festival launched here in Waterloo. I've now been to a few festivals across this country, and each has its own unique personality and flavour. The Wild Writers ran as smoothly as if it had been chugging along for years. It was the most academic, I think, with master class sessions for writers and those interested in becoming writers, as well as panels and readings, but it was not stuffy. It was comfortable. The Balsillie Institute is full of light. It's a beautiful building, and I'm lucky enough to live about three minutes away, which really cut down on travel expenses.

I didn't take my camera, however. And this post will suffer for that lack. I've got these striking scenes in my head that I can't show you at a glance. Instead, I offer you random nature photos from my backyard.

DSC_1430.jpg

I started the morning being interviewed along with Alison Pick (Far to Go) and Miranda Hill (Sleeping Funny), right there in the light-filled lobby, by Dan Evans who has a show called Books for Breakfast on a local radion station called CFRU. I can't find the Saturday show archived on the website, but it was live to air, although it didn't feel like that. It felt like we were having a chat with Dan, who hosts an effortless-feeling interview. I know he's a bookseller (The Bookshelf in Guelph), but someone should poach him for the CBC. Seriously.

After that, I sat in on Kerry Clare's blogging workshop (she blogged about it too!). I took notes. Put me at a desk in a room with a lectern and I just can't help myself. I flash back to the happy student days; plus jotting notes helps me think through what's being said. I don't listen well unless I'm busy with something else.

Sometimes people write and ask me for advice about starting a blog, but I've never analyzed why my blog works (and by "works," I simply mean why I keep doing it, and regularly). The only piece of advice I generally offer is: know your boundaries -- how comfortable are you with scrutiny, and do you know where your own personal line is between private and public? No one else can tell you that, and it's different for everyone. But I connected with many of Kerry's very practical points, number one being: Blog like nobody's reading. I blog for the pure joy of writing. I blog to make sense of my life, and to record its passing moments. And although I didn't set out with this purpose, I've found community and real life connections through my blog.

DSC_1434.jpg

I jotted down notes later in the day, too, at the men's "wild writers panel." Alexander MacLeod said that reading a short story is harder work than reading a novel because the reader can't be passive. The story has to resonate. It begins doing its work when it's done. It has to create resonances within the reader, so that the end of the story becomes its beginning.

I did rather want to stand up and shout YES!, but it wasn't quite the atmosphere for gospel-style responses.

That essentially sums up why I wrote The Juliet Stories as stories rather than chapters. Although I do apologize to my agent and to everyone trying to sell the foreign rights to the damn thing, because the plain truth is that stories don't sell (it would be nice if we could prove that truism wrong). Next book I'll write chapters as stories, but I won't tell anyone, and maybe everyone will just assume it's a novel. Sneaky. Don't tell, okay. This is just between you and me.

I haven't said a word, yet, about my panel, all women, all deemed wild writers; but maybe that's because I wasn't taking notes and don't feel qualified to comment. All I'll say is that I expected it to be fun and engaging, and it really was. Thank you, Kerry-Lee Powell, Miranda Hill, Alison Pick, and our very fine moderator Amanda Jernigan.

DSC_1433.jpg

In other news ...

I baked bread this weekend.

I managed a frantic speed clean of our neglected chaotic house on Friday after school.

And I stunk it up on the indoor soccer field yesterday afternoon, where my team was schooled (or owned, as Albus put it -- he was the only unfortunate family member who came along to watch) by a team of very young women with superior foot skills, who usually play a few divisions above us. Thankfully we won't meet them again this season. With all the sprinting and turning and stopping and starting, I didn't even feel fit! (The scotch I had imbibed the previous night was not helping.)

Meanwhile, on another indoor field in Mississaugua, my eldest girl was having quite the opposite experience, for which I'm truly grateful. Someone in the family needed to be earning the soccer honour, and it wasn't going to be me.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Catching a glimpse of the wild writer

DSC_1458.jpg
how the dogs spend their days

Tomorrow I'll be at Waterloo's brand-new Wild Writers Literary Festival. Click here to see the program. Appropriately, I've buried myself in writing today, although I regret to report that glimpsing the wild writer in her natural habitat would make for very dull viewing indeed. I'm fully dressed, have not imbibed anything stronger than coffee, and have no apparent signs of insanity, mania, or spontaneous outpourings of poetry. More wilderness may be just what this writer needs.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Our Halloween: the good, the heartwarming, the parenting fail

DSC_1522.jpg
ring wraith (he and his dad are currently into the second book of The Lord of the Rings)

DSC_1534.jpg
DSC_1536.jpg
seriously, when she said she wanted to go as a book, I had no idea which book she had in mind

DSC_1537.jpg
DSC_1541.jpg
butterfly in flight

DSC_1547.jpg
and the knight is the last to emerge

This was the actual order in which they exited the house.

The ring wraith left early to meet a friend. They'd already plotted their route to maximize candy gathering.

The book also trick-or-treated with friends, and stayed out latest of all. She arrived home saying her favourite house was the one where she heard adults on the porch saying, "Hey, it's The Juliet Stories! Isn't it up for a prize or something? I heard the writer lives in our neighbourhood!" And then she was proud to tell them: "My mom wrote this book." She was hampered, however, by the costume design, which went down a little long in the legs, making step-climbing tricky. (And I worried that neighbours might suspect I'd sent my kid out as a walking billboard ...)

The butterfly and the knight came with me and some friends.

There is a great article on the joy of Halloween in the Globe and Mail this morning (which I'm still reading despite resident-books-writer John Barber's seemingly bottomless dislike for contemporary Canadian book publishing). I felt the Halloween magic yesterday evening. The decorated houses, the efforts to entertain and welcome. Children knocking on strangers' doors and receiving compliments and candy.

The butterfly and I outlasted the knight, and made an effort to visit our nearest neighbours, who don't get many trick-or-treaters. Our street is busy with traffic, and it is populated by more of a mixed crowd than the family-oriented streets that surround us: students, the elderly, people who have lived here for decades and haven't renovated their kitchens and never will. We knocked on some doors I wasn't sure about, even with the porch lights shining. And at every one we were greeted with welcome and kind words -- and treats. The students who had dressed up their cat as Superman. The man whose wife came quickly to tell him what to do with Fooey's treat bag, which he'd taken into his own hands, and stared into as if trying to decipher its purpose. The neighbour who recognized me from the article in the Chronicle and said, "You wrote a book?" as if he were saying, "You've been to the moon?"

DSC_1552.jpg

Back at home the candy-eating and sorting was well underway. Our littlest ate candy like I've never seen a child eat candy. He just didn't stop. I was entranced by his enormous appetite for chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets and I stood by his stool watching him with amazement and, I'll admit it, admiration. When apparently, as evidence would show, I really should have stopped him.

Parenting fail. Yes, parents of four can make rookie mistakes on the last kid. How were we to know? Our other kids have all shown restraint, over the years. Not one of them has ever eaten themselves sick. Which is exactly what happened to CJ last night: he ate himself sick. Even when we declared it cut-off time for candy-eating, he would have gone on; but then he rolled off his stool and collapsed to the floor, holding his tummy. "It hurts!"

Uh oh.

I tucked him into bed, hoping he'd wake up feeling better. But instead he woke up feeling worse. It was one o'clock in the morning. I won't paint the scene for you, but suffice it to say, his stomach didn't even bother trying to digest those masses of chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets. The cleanup took a long time. And then I got up early for spin class. Ouch. This is not an error we intend to make more than once.

At least he felt instantly better.

DSC_1572.jpg
my favourite photo of the evening, which sums up the agony and ecstasy of excess: view on Flickr for full scene