Monday, September 23, 2013

Wake-up call

At nine on Saturday morning, I felt weary again (being up for a full 15 minutes can do that to a girl of advanced years), so I made a simple request: that Kid and I postpone our Scrabble game for another 30 minutes. We agreed that he would come shake me at 9.30.

At 11.15, the phone rang, and I woke up. When I asked Kid why he had let me sleep so late, he crawled out of his beanbag chair and patted my head, smiling benevolently, lovingly, understandingly, and said:

"I decided I didn't want you interfering in my business."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Oh, right!

3.52am. Brain finally lurches into the thing I wanted to write about yesterday and wakes me up in the impact. I love my brain. It is a champ. But there is a reason I medicate it to within an inch of its life:

Stylish friend of sister, to me, TEN YEARS AGO: "You could be pretty if you tried. Maybe some makeup? The hair?"

Obligatory I-am-fine-with-myself-I-don't-need-to-conform-I-have-more-to-offer-than-a-smoky-cat's-eye-I-am-above-all-such-nonsense-AND-I-AM-STILL-BREASTFEEDING-WHICH-TAKES-A LOT-OUT-OF-A-GIRL-plus-also-many-other-things thoughts are on the mark. They are set. They go. They go FOR TEN YEARS. Monkey brain? On the job.

This weekend: gathering at sister's. Stylish friend of sister to be in attendance. Fine, I admit it: I blew out my hair, wore a little mascara, put on heels.

Stylish friend of sister, after chatting with me for an hour: "You look great. Like a model! Nice hair! So pretty. But, forgive me for saying this: You used to be funny. I'm kind of sad about how you're not funny any more. You need to work on yourself maybe."

The bonfire was only 2 feet away. I am still debating which of us I should have shoved in there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Well, this is awkward

After a three-month hiatus on the grounds that I'm not very interesting, I decided while at the library that I just had to post something today. Something specific, which made me snarkle in the stacks. Something that, when I sat down here I could remember, but, after having gone through the whole password recovery process and general info grab from the Google overlords, has completely and utterly escaped me. But I have to write SOMETHING or

Wait, what am I doing here?

Add caption Why? Who is this? Why does she look familiar?  Like me, but smarter?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Come on Sugar, Let Me Know

We had a horrible flood here in Calgary last week, and people are just starting to dig out and take a look at the devastation. JP and I went yesterday to help muck out the home of friends, on what Calgary firefighters have called "the worst street they've seen"-- which just confirms what my eyes told me. God, it was awful: six inches of sticky mud, everything ruined, gardens mauled, the indignity of having everyone gawking at the ruined contents of your home. Spent a few hours helping their team haul out sodden drywall, trying to find the right tone for comforting distressed people, wishing I could do something more. I returned home very tired, very sad, and very grateful that our own family had been spared this time. Rattled, shaken, lifted up, depressed, elated, and in need of a cold gin and tonic.

A million Big Questions occupied me all evening and well into the night. Unable to sleep, I got up and did what I always do: seek comfort in the Internets (specifically, friends in Europe). And I did! I did find that comfort--but not by spraching the Deutsch or trying not to gnash teeth in the Skype face of my friend in Rome.

Nope. I found it with Rod Stewart, thanks to a heroic Belgian radio station with, I trust, a proper sense of kitsch.

Specifically, I found it within the memory of 15-year-old me, hunched over in the cold, potato-scented basement of prim Jennie, my piano teacher, banging out in my be-pimpled, chubby and truculent way the melody of "Do You Think I'm Sexy?"

I haven't laffed that hard in about a decade.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Elves and Fairies

I volunteered my mom for everything. I assured teachers and coaches that her station wagon could comfortably fit 11--we had no need of seatbelts back that long ago, in the misty dawn of time. According to me, she was an expert papier mache artiste, a French chef (though her Lipton's French onion soup mix, in retrospect, didn't really qualify her for much more than "conscious, able to boil water"), a strong swimmer, a woman with hipbones sturdy enough to withstand 17 rounds of "Alice's Camel" at Brownie campfires, an accomplished pianist, and, above all else, a sensitive and elegant seamstress. Able to translate childy dreams of snowflake tiaras into a tinsely reality. To conjure from no more than flimsy gabardine and some pipe cleaners a witch costume that I'm certain still haunts the dreams of my former classmates.

To turn N. B. from affectionate neighbour and local dreamboat into elf with a vendetta, with no more than a pair of green leotards and some pinking shears. The Peter Pan knock off that kid was forced to wear one Christmas--to which he reacted tearfully thus: "just awful, horrible, the other boys will all tease me, how could you do this to me?"--was enough to forever dash all hopes of a dynastic marriage between our families. And N was a real catch: he knew about rockets, sure, BUT ALSO: the guy on 17th Avenue who blew himself up in his house? N's backyard had received the largest chunk of fiery detritus from that explosion, turning him via a blacked spatula into a schoolyard celebrity--until Phyllis's mom a few doors down found the man himself (or what was left of him) in their own attic, degrading N to second-place status. At least that's how I remember it.

I've been thinking about all this because I am currently making a costume for The Kid, who is to play Oberon in tomorrow's elementary-school version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."How do you deck out a fairy king, whilst respecting a boy's inner dignity, sense of masculinity, homo-social decorum, etc., etc. The last thing I want to do is repeat my mother's sad history--especially because the victim in my case is my own son, and Thanksgiving is weird enough around here without my only child refusing to sit at the same table with me for the rest of my life. I can still remember the sulky, narrow-eyed glares that N shot at my mother in church for at least a decade. Glue-gun in hand, I ponder, ponder, the most reserved possible use of magpie feathers for Oberon's crown. Which are the least lustrous plastic leaves? I'll need those for his manly belt. Oh sure, it's a "dream," and all, and Oberon is the King of the Fairies, but still: let's not get carried away here. There will be no tears in this maternal sewing scenario. I have learned from history.

I guess I must not have told The Kid this sobering tale from my own childhood, or perhaps childhood is just a lot better now than it was then (boys seem better, at any rate) (although maybe it's because I'm taller than they are) (and also in love with one of their grimy number)--because he just wandered into my office, held up a paste garnet brooch that once adorned my grandmother's tropical bird fantasy hat and placed it. . . just so. . . in the center of his feathered tiara, patted my head, and told me to use my imagination.

"He's a FAIRY King, Mom. Come on."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

International Relations Are a Gas

Remember: you heard it here first.

Kid: Coop says that, in America, when you get to be around nine, you really start to fart a lot. From my own research, I would estimate that, here in Canada, it's more like when you're ten.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Newtonian Midget Physics

"An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force."


That is all.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day for Middle (Grade) Management

Kid's Valentine's Day celebration at school is being turned into Validation Day because that's where we have ended up here in the twilight of history AND because the kids are out of school on the big day. So here we are, an hour past bedtime, making valentines, everyone covered in glue and fur and bits of foil and tape and sad sadness that once again we are the last-minute crew who will not make the final shuttle off the planet before the Apocalypse. In this case we will at least have enough caramel Kisses to last until the weekend, at which time I assume even the Four Horsemen will take a break and maybe party a little, share their chips with the damned.

I digress. At what point did Kid abandon his dream to be a cartoon-drawing astronaut and begin apprenticing as the personnel manager for a cardboard box factory?

In case you can't read it, it says "You are quite clever and do an effective job."

I can't wait for Thursday, when I am sure to receive a box of sharpened pencils or perhaps some paper clips, with an encouraging admonition to "persist."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Wordy Metalsmith

I've hit a dry spell in my book's progress. I try to pretend it's not happening, but in the last two weeks I've come to a standstill. I think the editor part of my brain is pissed off at the writer part.

WRITER: Wheeee! I am a genius! Look at what I thought up!
EDITOR: I don't like it..
WRITER: WAAAAAAAH. I think I will become a sheet-metal worker.

Cause THAT makes sense.

I checked out a bunch of Maker sites and to see how long it would take to learn how to work with sheetmetal. Then I decided I would probably be happier working with precious metals, so I checked out the BFA in Jewelry at the Alberta College of Art. Which led to Pinterest, as all things do. Two hours later, I was no farther along in my work, but I had amassed quite the archive of mushroom-focused movie art, found out where in London a particular Gucci velvet smoking jacket was marked down to just three kabillion dollars, AND began an appreciation of hammered copper as wall art that led to me sending a fan letter to a Finnish coppersmith.

Who wrote back. Like 11 pages wrote back. She's hit a dry spell in her progress as a beater of copper and all she can think of to do is become a writer.

We're meeting in Denmark this spring to discuss a partnership.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Last Chocolate in the Box

This afternoon, I reached absent-mindedly into my desk drawer while I was working (i.e., surfing Pinterest for ancient Greek jewelry) (fine, and also for "silver hair") (also badgers) and my fingers brushed a horror: the last of the Yuletide Mon Cherie. I get mine from Germany, where they are filled mit das booze, as they say. I used to beg for, and hence receive (Christmas is an oddly fraught holiday at our house), Bernard Callebaut's chocolate-covered cherries. Guaranteed to leave a mess on your chin, your decollete if you have such a thing, and innocent bystanders. Delicious but dangerous. Also: freakin' expensive. Seriously, for the price of 12 of those suckers, Santa purchased 88 of the German delicacies.  Which, if you're paying attention, means that in 29 days I have eaten 88 boozy chocolate cherries.

Some women would be ashamed of themselves.

I am not one of these women.

336 days, 3 hours, 27 minutes til Christmas.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monopoly is a Home Wrecker

Me: "Goodnight, angel. I love you."

Kid: "I'm not 100% certain how I feel about you right now."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jesus, Jackie

Getting my son into his winter clothes has always been like trying to stuff a spawning wild salmon into a pair of snow overalls. It was like that his first winter, it is like that his ninth winter. Some kids are just squirmy hellions, and there's no changing that. You mother a person long enough, you learn when to give up. You learn when to bring out The Big Guns.

Every weekend up at Mount Norquay, I see mothers in the ski lodge who have not learned this crucial lesson in sanity preservation. They are still very sure, the dears, that a firm set of the jaw, eyes filled with determination, and a calm tone of voice can recall to a child its alter-ego as once-angel, "trailing clouds of glory" (as Wordsworth would have it).  Whereas I know that only the fear of an angry Santa/God is likely to jam a stubborn little foot successfully into an inflexible ski boot created by the Devil to try the sweetest of tempers. (And at 10 on Sunday morning, after a 2-hour drive to the mountains from the city with a carload of bored and bitter children who all forgot to pee before leaving home, there are few sweet tempers to be found.) I know that putting a helmet on a pig-headed head depends on the owner of that head being convinced that to disobey Mother at this point is to risk the immediate immolation of the entire 24-tonne Lego Nightmare in the basement. I know that you leave the mitts off until the child goes out into the cold and realizes for itself that mitts would in fact be an excellent idea and isn't Mother wonderful for having them at hand, so to speak.

Which brings me to this morning. Having just run more or less successfully through the first 30 pages of the Military (I mean MOTHER'S) Guide to Kitting Out Young Skiers and watching with sweet bliss over a cup of cappuccino as my son's class sailed through the sky on the chair lift, I was feeling kind of smug. It had only been 3.25 hours since the day started and now it was about to. . . start.

At the table across the aisle was a family with three small girls, say 4, 6, and 7. Something like that. 7 waited impatiently and rolled her eyes as her parents struggled to get 6 and 4 ready to hit the slopes. Mom was in charge of 4, whose ski outfit resembled a ladybug. Even her boots were red and black and had spots. And they wouldn't go on. They. Would. Not. Go. On. Child had approximately 14 layers of clothes on, and her arms wouldn't go down to her sides, like little brother Randy in A Christmas Story. And like Randy, she was headed for a meltdown.

"Push, darling, just push. Sweetheart, you have to push. Darling, stop wiggling and push. Keep your toes pointed, dear. Push! Push!" Mom is on her knees, recalcitrant child's recalcitrant boot embedded in her pillowy chest area. "Angel, now stop fussing and push, please. Please. Mommy is saying please. PUSHPUSHPUSH!" What a hero of soft-spoken grace and dignity!

And it worked!

Sort of.

Child screamed "I AM PUSHING AT YOU, MOMMY!" The little ladybug boot caught her mother in the chin, really, really hard. So hard that the mother started to cry. I could hear the bone-crunching impact--so could everyone. And in the sudden shocked silence, the father's pissed-off voice stage left, where 6 was still in her long underwear, drinking a hot chocolate and playing with a muffin wrapper:

"JESUS, Jackie. It's not rocket science."

Whereupon Jackie stood up, wiped the tears from her eyes, and resolutely marched out the door. She did not reappear all day.

I hope she drove down the hill to Banff, booked something lovely at a spa, bought herself a muskox sweater (don't laugh, they're so soft) and a glass of sparkling, changed her name, met a good-looking and kind and wealthy Moravian count, and eloped with him via helicopter to a tropical island where children wear only flip-flops and sunscreen. Not that her children would ever find her.

Jackie, if you're reading this: let me know how it goes with you. Better luck with your next family.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012: A Year in Books

So one of the reasons I feel the need to be more Vital! and Useful! this year is because I spent most of 2012 on my butt, reading.

In my defence: I do happen to think that reading is what I was put on earth to do; much like Annie Dillard's principal of hallowing creation by marveling at everything--from microorganisms to cherry blossoms--I notice what writers make. As a writer-in-training, I'm filled with admiration for the people who can write books, even books that aren't to my taste, or books that I actively dislike. This writing business is harder than I thought it would be. It's also much deeper magic than I thought it would be; two years in to a daily writing practice, it's become part of the natural (dorky) rhythm of being me.

The books on this year's list don't include books I used in my own research, nor the page proofs I read for friends whose names will be on my list next year, nor the books that I just couldn't finish. Lots of YA this year, as I research what other writers are doing in the genre; my usual weird blend of crime fiction, poetry, British diversions, sci-fi, alternate history, aspirational textbooks (hello, "Front Yard Gardens") (honestly, I am such a nutter), and urban fantasy. I've put my faves in bold.

Most of these I've listed on goodreads, but my favorite virtual bookshelf is LibraryThing--because I ADORE the "tags" feature. (I'm LBV123 on LibraryThing, if you're interested):

1.    Nightwoods: A Novel--Charles Frazier
2.    Daughter of Smoke and Bone--Laini Taylor
3.    Uglies--Scott Westerfeld
4.    Pretties--Scott Westerfeld
5.    On the Spartacus Road: A Spectacular Journey Through Ancient Italy—Peter Stothard
6.    A Matter of Life and Death or Something--Ben Stephenson
7.    Behemoth: Illustrated by Keith Thompson--Scott Westerfeld
8.    Myths of Origin: Four Short Novels--Catherynne M. Valente
9.    Throne Of The Crescent Moon--Saladin Ahmed
10. Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangeness--Mike Allen
11. The Folded World--Catherynne M. Valente
12. Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass--Liz Primeau
13. The Cat’s Table--Michael Ondaatje
14. The Magician King: A Novel--Lev Grossman
15. Restless--William Boyd
16. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)--Jenny Lawson
17. One Million Tiny Plays About Britain--Craig Taylor
18. Specials--Scott Westerfeld
19. Queen Lucia--E. F. Benson
20. King Of The Badgers--Philip Hensher
21. A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters,  Absent Fathers--Michael Holroyd
22. A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement--Anthony Powell
23. The Song Of Achilles--Madeline Miller
24. The Cove: A Novel--Ron Rash
25. Graceling--Kristin Cashore
26. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk--Ben Fountain
27. Brazzaville Beach--William Boyd
28. Cosmic--Frank Cottrell Boyce
29. The Nearest Exit--Olen Steinhauer
30. An American Spy--Olen Steinhauer
31. The Tourist--Olen Steinhauer
32. Waiting For Sunrise--William Boyd
33. Edge of Dark Water--Joe R. Lansdale
34. The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year--Sue Townsend
35. This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship Of Victor Frankenstein--Kenneth Oppel
36. Glamour in Glass--Mary Robinette Kowal
37. Antigonick--Anne Carson
38. Broken Harbour--Tana French
39. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack--Mark Leyner
40. Monoceros--Suzette Mayr
41. Jamrach’s Menagerie--Carol Birch
42. Istanbul Passage--Joseph Kanon
43. The Stranger’s Child--Alan Hollinghurst
44. Swimming Home--Deborah Levy
45. The Coldest War--Ian Tregillis
46. Team Human--Justine Larbalestier
47. Divergent--Veronica Roth
48. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry--Jon Ronson
49. Witches on the Road Tonight--Sheri Holman
50. Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel-- Maria Semple
51. Shine Shine Shine--Lydia Netzer
52. Tell the Wolves I’m Home--Carol Rifka Brunt
53. Heart-shaped Bruise--Tanya Byrne
54. Some Kind of Fairy Tale--Graham Joyce
55. The Age of Miracles--Karen Thompson Walker
56. Tigers in Red Weather--Liza Klaussmann
57. Little Face--Sophie Hannah
58. A Lonely Death: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery--Charles Todd
59. Insurgent--Veronica Roth
60. Divergent--Veronica Roth
61. Embassytown--China Mieville
62. Fragile Things--Neil Gaiman
63. Railsea--China Mieville
64. Incarceron--Catherine Fisher
65. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen--Paul Torday
66. Alif the Unseen--G. Willow Wilson
67. Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars--Camille Paglia
68. The Roundabout Man--Clare Morrall
69. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry--Rachel Joyce
70. The Raven Boys--Maggie Stiefvater
71. The Scorpio Races--Maggie Stiefvater
72.The Last Policeman--Ben Winters
73. Life As We Knew It--Susan Beth Pfeffer
74. Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace—Shirin Ebadi
75. The Perks of Being a Wallflower—Stephen Chbosky
76. Crocodile on the Sandbank—Elizabeth Peters
77. Blackwood—Gwenda Bond
78. Days of Blood and Starlight—Laini Taylor
79. Ender’s Game—Orson Scott Card
80. Silently and Very Fast—Catherynne M. Valente
81. The Pledge—Kimberly Derting
82. Reamde—Neal Stephenson
83. Shadow and Bone--Leigh Bardugo

Sunday, January 6, 2013


So the whole Vitality! and Usefulness! kick was spurred by the sad/happy realization that has been dawning slowly upon me for the last 35 years that this March I shall be 50 years old. I have a fine collection of 1940s paste jewelry and a few--by which I mean more than a few--wrinkles around the old baby blues to show for it. Maybe a few other things (kid, spouse, house, Kindle, secret chocolate stash). But the point is that at mid-century I have been having a retrospective and have decided that the best way to kick middle age in the slats is to be very Alive and very Helpful. It's like that Brownie motto has finally sunk in. I have actually been singing "Vitality and Usefulness" to myself as I search around for things to do that will demonstrate either one of these principles, in defiance of my usual go-to plan for most days: go lie on the couch with a book and then fall asleep.

Today's demonstration of Vitality:

With my Canadian Tire toboggan at the top of the hill, surrounded by young families and pre-teens giddy with the rare experience of being allowed out of their parents' sight, I felt a little awkward: a grey-haired woman of a certain age in purple snow pants all alone in the middle of the day at the sled park. I swear one young mom twinkled her nose as if trying to catch the scent of crazy--or gin--about my person. I almost went home. But then I figured: what better way to cultivate Vitality than by showing the kids how it's done? So I turned the sled around, pushed off, and sailed down the hill--and over the little jump that the naughty boys had constructed at the bottom of the hill to derail toddlers--backwards, waving at the little kids as I went. My purple hat sailed off my head, I made a whooooof sound as I caught some air and then landed on the hard-packed snow on my ancient tailbone, and my nose started to run. And then I stood up, creakily, awkwardly, climbed the hill and did it again. Face-forward this time. The third time, two little red-haired boys came with me. Also the fourth time.

And I am thrilled to report that, for the first time in many many years, I have been invited on a date: tomorrow. Sled park. Noon. With Trevor and Taylor, age 4.

If we called it "babysitting" it might also qualify as Usefulness.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Be it Resolved Maybe A Little?

This year's resolution: Vitality and Usefulness.

Not as glamorous as last year's Get Rich and Move to Antibes, nor as practical as the year before that's Match All the Socks. Not in the same universe as 2010's No More Drooling in Church. 2009 was the year in which I stated I would Always Floss. Some of these resolutions I kept, some I didn't. Fine, I didn't keep any of them. But this year will be different. This year: I am keeping score!

Yesterday I was both full of vitality (dog walk!) and useful (laundry! child-rearing! charitable giving! petition signing!). So I gave myself this score:

Vitality 3/5
Usefulness 4/5

I should probably have another go at that. I gave myself those scores this afternoon at 2.15. WHEN I GOT OUT OF BED.

Today's score:

Vitality: -3/5
Usefulness: 1/5 (I didn't use much electricity, thereby contributing positively to the earth's health)