Thursday, July 19, 2012

Past Deadline: Once Upon a Time

Did I ever tell you that when I grow up I want to write books?

When I left a full-time reporting job at The Perth Courier 12 (gasp!) years ago, the plan was to take a year and see whether I could make my novel-writing dream come true. I felt very brave. And quite poor.

Before long, though, all sorts of people started offering me writing and editing work – for money. Drawn by the appeal of not starving to death, I switched gears and grew a business (with some teaching and a column on the side) – and here I am still.

It’s a good gig and very diverse. Being self-employed has challenges (sometimes all deadlines come at once and the boss is a slave driver) and rewards (I can blare loud music in the home office and have constant kitchen access).

That said, every once in a while I get a hankering to write that Great Canadian Novel or whatever it may be. It’s a feeling I’ve had since elementary school; that I was meant to work with words and that I have stories in me to share.

Summer brings this out most intensely. Maybe it’s because my writing dream was strongest when I was a student and “figuring it all out” – I always felt particularly inspired in the summer.

Maybe it’s because summer offers opportunities to stare up into starry skies or float on water and gaze into an unending cloudless blue canvas or marvel at a symphony of fireflies in a field of lowing cattle.

Maybe it’s because the drama of friendships or summer boyfriends or being home-from-away was incredibly consuming or because summer holidays with family took us to new places where we had new experiences and made new friends.

Maybe it’s because in summer, as a kid, it seemed easier to live in the moment. The future seemed so vast and open. There was more free time to read for fun and be inspired by other authors or practise poetry or write endless Deep Thoughts in journals.

Whatever it was, I find it hard to ignore the rustle of leaves in a summer breeze without wanting to write about it. Did you know those same leaves sound different if that breeze is at night? How about a symphony of barred owls, bullfrogs, whip-poor-wills and night hawks?

I can’t swim in a lake without wanting to describe how the water cushions my body and lifts my spirits or how it conjures up the complicated rush of unpredictable emotions that went along with teenaged crushes and flirting on beaches.

Everything reminds me of something or inspires. The sound of transports on a distant highway. Trains rushing through the night. The lonely call of a loon on a quiet lake. The wind in pines and the warmth of a hammock in the sun. The smells of a new book in a canvas tent or cocoa butter sunscreen or campfires or rain on warm pavement. The feel of comfortable jean shorts and a clean white cotton T-shirt with a globe on it. The wind against my face on a swing.

These small things are all part of something bigger – stories I hope are yet to be told. See, there are snippets here and there, collections of words and parts of things written in stolen moments. I am finding that when there are only so many hours in a day, there just isn’t always enough time to write a book, too, but at least my jobs enable the writing in some form.

So I guess all this means is that I still haven’t grown up. Does anyone know when that might be? Do writers ever really grow up? Hopefully not.

Published in The Perth Courier, July 19/12

Past Deadline: The Trouble with Giant Teeth

When babies grow teeth, it’s a big deal in many ways. It opens the door to changes in diet, as in you can immediately introduce things like steak, hard candies and whole apples to your toddler. Don’t forget to provide steak knives on their high chair trays. (Sarcasm alert!)

Good mothers dutifully record the arrival of baby teeth in special books, and also make note of their departure. Mediocre mothers do so for the first child for a while, remember to do so occasionally for the second child, and casually wonder what the Tooth Fairy could possibly do with all those teeth she collects. Jewellery? Castles in the sky? Buttons? Does she...uh...keep them forever?

Anyway, this mediocre mother watched with interest (and occasionally recorded) as Boychild’s adult teeth started to emerge. It was a bit like looking in a mirror 30 years ago.

“Groom-boy,” I said one night as the children sweetly slumbered or read with flashlights or plotted their next bedtime-stalling tactic, “Boychild’s teeth are too big for his face. Mark my words, there will be trouble.” Or something like that.

Sure enough, the dentist confirmed my suspicion. Some baby teeth were hauled out to make room for adult ones and, before long, a referral to the orthodontist was made.

Long story short, Boychild will be getting braces, and soon. One of the most memorable comments by the orthodontist was about one particular adult tooth that is ready to bust through and line up with all the others. It’s 7 millimetres wide, and there is a 2-mm space for it.


One look at his X-ray demonstrates the calamity of teeth just waiting to jostle into line. Without braces our Guy Smiley would have teeth on top of teeth. This crowding could lead to cavities, not to mention bite problems and, possibly, a smile phobia.

When it was first suggested that Boychild might need braces or appliances, he was...shall we say...less than overjoyed. I explained how I had to wear appliances to expand my jaw when I was a kid to make room for my giant chompers and how it really wasn’t so bad. He is, of course, thrilled to inherit my teeth. I expect he will soon be thanking me for the wonky ankles, too.

Anyway, once we got to the orthodontist’s and she explained what would happen and he saw how happy the smiley children with braces were in the pictures, he was okay with the concept.

In a helpful turn of events, his six-year-old sister thinks it is the ultimate in coolness and awesomeness that big bro is getting braces. In fact (don’t tell the orthodontist) she has braces envy and hopes to someday have them, too. (Get a job, Girlchild, then we’ll talk.)

So I have been spending time in the orthodontist’s waiting room, where there is an interesting collection of vintage circus artifacts on display. There are giant antique-framed black and white photographs of circuses from pre-World War II, along with a variety of artifacts under glass or behind ropes.

Have you read the book or seen the movie Water for Elephants? The story is set during the Great Depression and centres around a travelling circus. In those days the circus moved from place to place by train, and part of the story involves something called “redlighting.”

See, the unsavoury circus owner would have certain workers thrown off the train in the middle of the night (redlight them) rather than pay them.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the vintage circus motif in that waiting room as I pondered our new braces expense – were they sending a subtle message about prompt payment?


Nah...I just have an overactive imagination, right?

Published in The Perth Courier, July 12/12

Past Deadline: The Week that Was

I have been wracking my brains trying to figure out what to write about this week. Finally, as the deadline loomed big and ominous and bossy-like, I sat around yawning and asking my 10-year-old for ideas.

He suggested Canada Day, but in the news world that would be old by the time the paper came out.

I suggested “change,” since there has been a lot of it lately. He said he could see me writing a dandy column (okay, he didn’t say “dandy”) about change and routines. I pondered it, but decided it might be too depressing. I’m Type A. I like my routines. We’ll see how the changes work out, first.

At that point I looked over at Boychild. “Have I mentioned how much I like your hair cut shorter?” I said, knowing full well that I say it over and over.

“You could write about haircuts!” he suggested.

We considered this. I figure there is only so much I could say about haircuts, although there was that time recently at the hairdresser’s when I bonded with another curly haired woman over the pitfalls and drama associated with natural curls and how those freaky straight-haired people out there just don’t understand.

Boychild started to compose the column for me: “I like short hair” and “blah blah blah.”

We decided that wouldn’t really do. I yawned again.

“I could write about how tired I am,” I said.

I had been counting on the long weekend as my opportunity to catch up on some sleep. The plan worked well on Friday night, but fell to pieces on Saturday night when various people and creatures decided to only allow me two or three hours of sleep at a time. (What is UP with that?!)

Not to mention I had a sweet, caffeine-laced chocolate treat (duh) before bed that made it tricky to fall asleep. I was doomed from the start.

As I write this, I am counting on Sunday night to salvage what is left of my frazzled self. Wish me luck.

See, last week was The Week That Never Seemed to End.

One of the joys of being self-employed is that you tend to have flexibility with your time, which is great when you have a young family. One of the not-joys is that you also run the risk of having a deadline slam, which is when, despite your best efforts, the planets align (or misalign or even collide, depending upon your interpretation), and everything needs to be done at once.

That was last week. (It was actually most of last month, really, but last week was the kicker.)

Last Monday I took a great deep breath and started the marathon. Perhaps this was my own version of the Kilt Run?

Mile markers involved a 24-page newsletter, media releases, council meetings, other meetings, the usual teaching, finishing a script, and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and with the kids off from school as of Wednesday, there was lots of Ground Rule Setting and Refereeing and threats to “Send You Away to Lost Harbour Military School and Summer Camp.”

One particularly late night was navigated by listening to my running playlist while I worked. Very versatile playlist, that one. It gets me through all sorts of stuff.

A week always seems longer when you spend a lot of it awake. The people around you, even if they are getting more sleep, tend to notice it, too. (My people were oh-so-lucky to be around me last week....)

In any event, I plodded – and sometimes sprinted – through it. Perhaps this week will be a tad more sedate, and maybe next week will feature a column that is not so sleepy!

Published in The Perth Courier, July 5/12

Past Deadline: Working on the Beach

“What are you doing with the kids this summer?” I have been asked numerous times.

“I have no idea,” I usually respond.

As I write this, there are only two days of school left. The good news is that’s only two more bagged lunches to make!

The bad news is that’s about 69 days of hanging out with Mama, who works from home.

There will be swimming lessons, play dates and possibly some day camps, but a lot of our summer is unstructured.

The cool beans this year is that Mama has wheels! This means if an unexpected pocket of time opens up, I may be able to be spontaneous!

“To the beach!”

Because I work from home, sometimes I can adjust my schedule a bit and just pull some all nighters while we go to said beach. (Haha funny joke about the all nighters. Ahem.)

Kids are always at a new stage of development – they are cute that way with this “growing” thing. I’m never really sure what summer is going to hold for me, so I often approach it with trepidation. Somehow, though, the freedom of wheels is making it a bit less daunting.

Often my work is portable. I can edit on the patio. I can write at the beach.

This year, because the kids are a bit older, I am optimistic they will be quite helpful at home so I can get some work in during the day – because we won’t always be going to the beach.

But – you never know. For instance, on those days that were really super disgustingly hot recently, tempers flared and tiffs predominated and I thought to myself, “This is going to be the longest summer ever. Omigod.”

On one of those days, Girlchild brought home a flyer from a box in front of a home that is for sale on the way to school. “Here, Mom,” she said. “This place has a backyard that is big enough for a pool.”

Seems the wading pool only has so much charm.

There always comes a point in the summer when my last nerve gets frayed and exposed. I’m not there yet – which is darned good considering vacation hasn’t even started as I write this.

I am reminded, though, that a few years ago Groom-boy and I invented a magical place called “Lost Harbour Summer School and Military Camp.”

Lost Harbour is a faraway place where kids stay for many weeks and where the program consists of four hours of school each day followed by lots of marching and building walls out of heavy rocks. Probably they have to do laundry and dishes and tidying there, too.

The kids are on to us now, I think. You can only threaten to send them to a place like that without actually making it happen so many times before they figure it out. I definitely dropped the ball on the classic parenting advice to not make empty threats and to follow through on whatever you utter.

Besides, I never did get the Lost Harbour flyer designed to leave casually on the kitchen table.

Instead, I think I may have made a deal with our neighbour down the street to send the kids over to help him with some renos on the outside of his house. There is scraping and painting and digging and fun stuff like that. Har har.

Actually, I think I have finally come up with a concept that will work. I told the kids just the other day that during the summer, the more they help around the house, the more time Mom will have to take them to the beach.

Could be good! Thank you, wheels!

Published in The Perth Courier, June 28/12

Past Deadline: A Comeback?

I know you have all been dying to know how my Stupid Foot™ is doing.

I mean, after all, aside from periodic nasty references to this disagreeable appendage of mine, I haven’t written about my collapsed foot in earnest since January.

I figured with the Perth Kilt Run coming up this Saturday, it was a suitable time to offer a progress report. I won’t be running this year, unfortunately, but I have made some strides, which I am now going to blow all to heck by mentioning it in this here newspaper.

For new readers and for those of you who had pleasantly forgotten, last August I developed a darling case of tendonitis (read: burning, gripping, horrible agony 24/7) in my right foot. When the searing pain did not subside, I ventured to the doctor who sent me to physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy became my happy place. They made the tendonitis go away. They also diagnosed what I had been calling “a wonky foot” as “severe biomechanical failure” with the “long arch collapsing onto the tendon” and something about “posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.”

They tell me I was born this way, and it caught up with me. (Three cheers for turning 40.)

I was fitted for orthotics. They were lovely for a while, but new symptoms began to appear. I went back to visit my orthotics guy.

The next set of orthotics arrived in early April, which coincided with the fact I had been walking less because our family got a second car. (I had some work in Smiths Falls – it’s a really long walk.)

The combination of less walking and altered orthotics seemed to be working. As I eased into more walking, the pain stayed under control.

I am more than two months into the new set and there are many days that I don’t even think about my foot.


Sometimes, as I strapped on my Rocket Shoes and blasted my iPod and increased my walking program, I would sneak in a jog for a block or so.

I didn’t die.

In fact, the foot felt good. The hip complained, but this has improved, too.

I have missed running. More than anything else it clears my head.

Last Tuesday evening I attended a particularly long (four hours) and stressful Perth council committee of the whole meeting about police costing. Maybe you’ve heard about it?

I won’t get into the details here as I am certain you can read about it in other parts of this newspaper.

Anyway, after sitting for so long and needing to digest the results of the meeting, I set out for a walk.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I knew I needed to go for a run (don’t tell my physiotherapist, please) to prevent my head from blasting into orbit.

It was a modest, slow run. It was less than four kilometers and interspersed with stretches of walking.

Oh. My. God. It felt good.

The foot was fine. The hip was quiet. Best of all my head is still on my shoulders.

In fact, the thing I had the most trouble with was my breathing – getting into that running rhythm again for the first time since last July.

Two days later my legs hurt, but it was from exercising dormant muscles. It felt good!

I am not going to push this. I am going to treat my foot with the utmost of patience and care. But it sure is nice to know that my favourite stress releaser may not be gone forever. I suspect I may need it again.

Good luck to all of our Kilt Runners this Saturday! Break that record! And maybe someday I’ll be able to help out again.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 21/12

Past Deadline: Sure is Quiet, Buster

On Saturday, we lost one of the furry members of our family.

The aptly named Filibuster, “Buster” for short, was possibly the chattiest creature to inhabit the house, next to Groom-boy, that is. He could go on and on. And on.

This black and white fluffy cat joined our ranks 15 years ago and was the underdog, for sure. Some people didn’t think we needed a second cat, but I campaigned for him, which is somewhat surprising considering I didn’t (and still don’t, really) consider myself to be a cat person.

At the time Groom-boy and I were both working full time as reporters at the Perth Courier. We were gone all day and a lot of nights, so when a friend was pushing kittens I thought it would be a brilliant way to keep the pre-existing MacGregor company while we were away.

So Buster came to an apartment where there was already an established cat (only by a year or so) and a rabbit with an attitude. Oreo, the bunny, was also black and white and was bigger than Buster at the start, so we had a fluffy kitty cowering in the bathroom for a while.

Maybe that’s why he felt he had to speak up. He was one noisy cat! He also had what we delicately call “clinker” issues due to his long hair, not to mention the typical hairball concerns (the Daily Clean-up) that make cat ownership so much fun.

All of these things amounted to some name calling – I mean terms of endearment – that varied in levels of profanity depending on whether children were around or whether it involved yowling in the middle of the night.

Buster hated to be brushed, but needed it more than our short-haired tabby, who loves it. Buster also didn’t take kindly to being petted anywhere below the shoulders, which took some getting used to for the toddler set, but which taught some good early messages about handling animals. He definitely let you know when he’d had enough of the touchy-feely thing.

That all said, however, Buster became my cat, possibly because I tend to root for the underdog or maybe because I fell in love with his brilliant green eyes or maybe because we had some grand conversations. Besides, of all the laps in the family it was mine that he chose.

He and MacGregor also became close and we have scads of pictures of them curled up and cosy together. Brothers.

This past fall, we took the cats to the vet for a checkup. At the time we decided to run a routine blood test on Buster to see whether his diabetes, which had been under control with diet for quite some time, was still in check. The test showed that was fine, but his white blood cell count was off. Turns out we had caught the early stages of leukemia – not the usual feline kind but a serious version that, if treated, would require chemotherapy at a vet’s in Ottawa.

Buster was 14 at the time. There were no guarantees he would live and there would be some quality-of-life issues. It was a tough decision, but we opted against treatment.

It was many months before the symptoms appeared. I snuck him tuna and other treats he wasn’t usually allowed to have. He stuck close by, often sleeping beside me while I worked at my desk. I spent great amounts of time scratching his chin and cheeks and ears just the way he liked it, and he gazed up at me with those big, green, loving, trusting eyes.

We miss you, little Buster. The kids are sad. And it sure is quiet around here.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 14/12