Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmakah, Happy Hannumas!

When I started writing this blog this morning I was tired and grouchy and had allowed my Christmas spirit to be sucked out of me by a snoring, sleep talking husband and an early morning recorder/chanter duet. I was all Grinch and every word I had written was dripping with Bah-Humbug. I didn't post that entry because seriously the last thing anyone needs in the middle of the chaos of Christmas Eve Eve (as the kids call it) is another miserable cynical loud mouth spreading their negativity far and wide. So I didn't post it.

I went to Walmart instead.

I know it seems like a crazy decision for someone already on the brink of Holiday cheerocide (official definition is one who kills the holiday cheer of others), but I went and I took the kids with me. Even for a small town Walmart the place was a zoo. There were carts and strollers everywhere, kids were whining in multiple languages and parents were looking tired and haggard...just like me.

We survived the Walmart experience and as we were heading home Dude put on his favourite Christmas CD, Barenaked for the Holidays. The Barenaked Ladies bring their usual quirk and wit to some standard holiday favourites as well as a few offerings of their own creation. As we zipped down the highway listening to the plight of disgruntled elves my grinchiness began to dissipate and by the time we made it back to our town I was humming along to a tune about three ships but it was the next song that sharply reminded me about what this season truly means. Funny enough for this Christian gal, its a Hanukkah song.

One verse talks about how easy it is to forget the blessings we have at this time of year because we get caught up in the noise of the season. I'm not sure what the blessing they sing means but in my heart, as I navigated through the snowy streets of our little town, I sang of the blessings we have this year. The new home, community and school we have become a part of. The health and success are children have found here, the friends and family who have loved and supported us through this hectic year and the gift of Jesus Christ and the love and hope He brings to us daily.

This is the season to celebrate the light, love and blessings we have.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

PS - I know Hanukkah was earlier this month...but its still the season of light and hope to me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All Wrapped Up

Admittedly, I am a bit of a Christmas junkie. I start decorating the house and playing the Christmas carols before the first snowflake hits the ground. I can hardly wait to say the first 'Merry Christmas' of the season. I love holiday parties with eggnog, shortbread and all the tasty mini-foods. I look forward to Christmas shopping and evenings of wrapping gifts while watching holiday movies. I actually LOVE wrapping gifts. All the colourful paper, shiny ribbons and festive tags puts me in the merriest of moods.

I realize that not all people feel this way about gift wrapping, that's why department stores and malls offer a gift wrapping service. Recently, my uncle visited one of those counters to have my aunt's gift wrapped. Now I don't know all the details of the incident but I know that black wrapping paper, a holiday melt down and an invitation for my uncle to NOT visit the wrapping counter again were key elements. Sorry you had a rough time, uncle...this one's for you!

Love Actually - Shopping at the Jewelry Counter

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Lunch-time Africa Summit

The other day we had a pretty deep conversation during lunch.

I had been watching the news and a popular musician was talking about debt forgiveness and AIDS treatment in Africa. Dude asked what that was all about and soon I found myself talking about broken infrastructure, warring tribes, child soldiers, disease and corrupt government. The kids listened intently and asked some very good questions. We discussed long term solutions for the problems in Africa as well as practical things that the average person can do to help.

The kids began painting a mental image of what they would like to see for children in Africa. Dude and Crafty were coming up with ideas like clean drinking water, good clothes, school with proper supplies and loving homes for the kids who have no (or very sick) parents. Mischief sat, listening but not contributing much. I thought that perhaps the topic was a little beyond his six-year-old  scope when the conversation took a turn,

Crafty - Mom, do you think that if all the richer countries co-operate that one day kids in Africa will be able to go to school and be healthy and not be alone?

Me - I think that it is very possible.

Dude - And the kids will have soccer balls and skateboards and things like that rather than having to be soldiers?

Me - I certainly hope so.

Mischief - (in a very serious and compassionate tone) I hope that one day those Africa kids will have soft toilet paper, not like the scratchy stuff they have at my school.

Conversation derailed - the rest of the lunch hour was spent discussing scratchy toilet paper and stinky hand soap.

Oh well...maybe this kind of stuff happens at the UN, too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

About 10 Years Early

Mischief is a lot like his dad. He is funny, charming and quite witty. He is a very good natured kid and very accepting of others. He is supremely confident and a lot of fun to hang out with.

But like I said, he is a lot like his dad.

Knowing and accepting this I have prepared myself for broken bones, stitches, calls from the principal’s office and all types of teenage shenanigans. He is adventurous and fearless and a little irreverent. Everything seems like a good idea and is worth a try. He is friendly, social and is up for a party any time of the day or night.

All this past week Mischief was under the weather. He had a hacking cough and a raging fever and as he came in and out of consciousness the only question he had was, “Mama, will I be all better in time for the party on Saturday?”

The kids had been looking forward to the holiday party we were hosting for our neighbors and Mischief’s greatest fear was being too sick to participate in the festivities. Finally on Thursday night Mischief’s fever broke and by the time our friends arrived the little guy was back to his old self.
He ate treats, played, ran around and enjoyed himself immensely. It was after midnight when I finally caught up with him and got him into bed. Sunday was a lazy day of couch cuddles, clean-up and crafts. Although he was exhausted he was still sporting his ‘post-party’ glow.

That night, as I was tucking him in bed, he tried pulling the ‘sick’ card on me. He said he was too sick to go to school today and he needed a few more days to stay at home with me. He still had a cough but I could tell he was trying to milk the situation. We talked back and forth about the validity of his request for a few minutes, with him trying to his very six-year-old best to charm me into seeing things his way.

Finally, in an effort to put an end to the conversation I found myself saying a sentence that, although I had expected to have to say one day to this kid, had not planned to have to say for at least ten more years,

“Listen, if you are well enough to stay up until midnight partying with your pals on Saturday night, you are well enough to get your butt out of bed and go to school on Monday morning!”

Please tell me this is not a sign of things to come!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sweetest Sound

Nothing like the flu to ring in the Christmas season.

Inevitably, at about this time every year one or all of our kids come down with some kind of Monster Cold or Flu and this week it was Mischief's turn. He had been coughing for a week or so but on Wednesday morning we awoke to find him curled up on the bathroom floor, asleep. He spent the day sleeping and watching snippets of movies but not really eating or talking - two of his favourite things. Thursday was more of the same.

For two days our Little Buddy had a fever and coughed until he threw up, but he was a trooper. Unlike Dude (who shakes his head as he vomits) or Crafty (who becomes like Velcro to us when she is sick) Mischief is a fairly low maintenance patient. He still sleeps in his own bed, can handle the 'barf bucket' and prefers to be left alone for the most part. And when he does have to throw up he does it calmly and usually chats between heaves. Its kind of remarkable...and kind of gross.

Last night Mr. Awesome and I were on the brink of taking Mischief to the hospital because his fever was quite high and the little guy just wasn't doing well but in the wee hours of the morning the fever broke. Mischief finally fell into a peaceful sleep and I woke up this morning to find him chatting away to his siblings at the breakfast table. The usual chatter and goofiness that typically irritates me at that time of the morning was the sweetest sound in the world today. It was the sound of my Little Buddy returning to normal.

After the hustle and bustle of getting the older kids off to school and saying good-bye to the visiting grandparents I sat down with Mischief to watch a little TV. After a couple of minutes he said,

"Mom, I've been thinking. First I'll have some cheesy noodles, then some soup with fishy crackers, then a fruit cup then maybe some toast and eggs. I'll also have some orange juice and maybe some eggnog. Then can I have some Christmas cookies and some jello. I'd also like a bagel and maybe some Timbits. After that I'll have a snack, too."

"When are you having all this?"

"As soon as you make it for me. And you know in this movie, those guys there, they work for the bad guy and they..." talk, talk, talk.

The boy is on the mend!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Lesson in Descriptive Sentences

As much as Dude really does love Christmas he finds the disruption to his routine, especially at school, hard to handle. About this time every year he becomes a little grouchier, a little more resistant to change and tends to lash out more.

One of our goals with Dude is for him to use appropriate, descriptive words to communicate how he is feeling rather than yelling and becoming physical. On our part we try to read his signals and intervene before he becomes agitated, that is why I volunteer at the school so much at this time of year. I make myself as available as possible because, frankly, his teachers have enough on their plate without having to deal with Random Festive Flip-Outs.

So I should have seen it coming.

Dude has spent the majority of this week at home with me. He has gone to school for rehearsals but other than that he has been at home laying low.This has helped for the most part but I knew something was brewing yesterday morning when he emerged from his room wearing his Grinch t-shirt. He grumbled his way through breakfast and complained that we had to rush to the concert hall early.

Once we got there he perked up and was quite helpful setting the stage but things took a turn when the rehearsal started. With the exception of the song his class dances to, Dude hardly sang and definitely did not crack a smile. When we returned home after the rehearsal he went straight to his room. I didn't see him for a couple of hours.

When he joined us for supper he was still surly and by bedtime he was downright unpleasant to be around. His attitude crossed the line when I told him to get ready for bed and we 'had words'. In his grouching fit he kept saying that he felt bad.

Me - Bad? What do you mean 'bad'? That is not enough information.

Dude - Ugh! Woman, I feel bad. B-A-D! Bad!

Me - Don't call me 'Woman' and bad is not descriptive enough. Do you feel sick, unhappy or grouchy? Explain.

Dude - (deep breath and sigh) Okay, sorry, I don't want to practice for the Christmas concert anymore.

Me - Why?

Dude - Ugh! I am tired of singing Christmas songs. I'd rather have someone throw up in my mouth than ever sing another Christmas song again! Is that enough information?

Yep...more than enough information...and disgustingly descriptive. Good use of your words, Dude...I think.


I am pleased to report that after a good night's sleep The Grinch is gone and Dude is very much looking forward to his concert this evening. Phew!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hello, I'm...

Moving to a new community is a strange experience in many ways. Aside from having to navigate a new landscape and find a new hairdresser and locate the best burger in town you have to make friends - some days that burger may feel like your best friend but you need people too.

What I have discovered is that you can be whoever you want to be when you are settling into a new community. You have no past, no one knew you as a kid or a teenager. To these new people you never were a dorky 14 year old, you arrived in their world a fully functional adult...its a beautiful thing.

This week I have been particularly busy at Dude's school. I am helping with props and set design for their winter concert. I have met all sorts of teachers and EAs. As we have been chatting this week the customary questions about who I am, what I do for a living and what my interests are have been asked. Maybe its just me and my occasional bizarre sense of humour but more than once in the past week or so I have fought the urge to make up stuff about myself.

"You want to know about me? Oh well, I'm a professional juggler, a former private investigator and before the octopus attack I was a marine biologist. I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro eight times, train circus sharks in my spare time and my father is Barry Gibb."

Now before you freak out, Mom, I didn't say any of that...I could have, but I didn't.

The point is I have found that moving to a new town, meeting a whole new group of people oddly liberating. I have let go of some of my baggage and insecurities and am trying to be the person I have always wanted to be. Its a fresh start, a clean slate and in some ways, a do-over. And as free as I feel now this experience has also reminded me that it shouldn't take a total life upheaval to change, to become something different, something more. We should allow ourselves, and others, to continue to grow and change.

Don't stay the same if you are unhappy. Be the person who you have always dreamed of being...and be gracious enough to accept the changes in the people around you, too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Awed, Amazed and Inspired

I just spent the morning at Dude's Winter Concert rehearsal and I am awed, amazed and inspired by the teachers at his school. By all teachers, really.

As I sat there, praying the props I made didn't fall apart during the performance, I watched the hive of activity in the auditorium in absolute wonder. One teacher was walking through the risers making kids spit their gum into a Styrofoam cup while another teacher tried to sort out the order that the kids were to stand in. Another teacher was on the stage reviewing lines with the actors while yet another was adjusting mics and props. A few EAs were straightening chairs and mopping up the quickly melting snow from the aisle while a few more helped a group of students finish up their homework from the previous night. Still more teachers and EAs were putting up decorations, hanging up coats, picking up stray mitts and hats, handing out kleenex and a myriad of other tasks. And in the center of it all was the music teacher who was calmly giving directions and answering dozens of questions at once.

As I watched the teachers and students pull together their performance I thought about the general chaos and busyness of this season. We all have a million things on our plates, a never ending list of places to be, things to buy and treats to bake. We rush around in a flurry of activity trying our best to hold onto our holiday spirit as we scurry about making last minute preparations. We are all busy but teachers, I think, have twice the pressure.

Not only do they have their own families and children to care for but they also have the added responsibility to balance the needs and expectations of their students (and their families). I have volunteered in my kids' schools enough to know that teachers rarely leave their work at 'the office' especially at this time of year. Most teachers spend countless added hours making holiday treats, planning crafts, finding appropriate 'fresh' ideas for poems, songs and activities to add to our children's holiday season. The work is seemingly endless yet they do it, and they do it willingly and with a joyful heart.

These teachers, EAs and school support staff are extraordinary people. Remember that and bless them this holiday season with your appreciation and kind words.......and very nice gifts ;-)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Worst of the Human Race

When you watch the news and see report after report about crime sprees, car chases and general lack of respect for law and order do you ever wonder what happened to these people to cause them to turn into criminals and social misfits? Weren't we all innocent children once?

Yes we were....then we turned three years old.

I sincerely believe that all the criminals, dictators, warlords and bullies of the world are the way they are because they never socially progressed past being three years old. Three year olds are the worst of the human race.

Really, look at the behavior of most three year olds then compare it to the average career criminal. The similarities are startling. They take what they want without care or concern for who it belongs to, they don't respect authority, they push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, they go on raging rampages when things don't go as they planned, they rarely respond well to punishment and they enjoy a good chase. The only real difference is that three year olds have dimples and baby cuteness working in their favour.

Its the three-year-old's moments of angelic sweetness and random cutness that generally save them from parental abandonment. God designed it that way. He knew that the beast known as The Toddler would spend its days trying the patience of even the most sainted adult therefore God created the little creature to look like an angel when it sleeps and to spontaneously give hugs and say "I love you, Mommy" at key moments. Its like a survival instinct they have. The three-year-old knows just how far to push their adult before reigning in their behaviour and playing the 'Cute Card.'

I did not enjoy any of my children very much when they were three and frankly it is a miracle that we all survived this phase - though it was touch and go some days! When Dude was three I also became three. I often found myself engaging in arguments with him at his level...and I never won. With Crafty her Post Naps Cries and basic emotional instability nearly did me in and Mischief's blatant disregard for authority had me on the brink. More than once during those years I thought about how it was acceptable in the Old Testament to give your child to the church and wondered if it would work nowadays.

I did learn a few things along the way though. I learned that if you lock yourself in the bathroom with the fan on and the water running it almost drowns out the sound of your kid pitching a fit in his room. I learned that if you take a step back from your wailing child in a store and say loudly, "Where are this kid's parents? They should really do something about this!" people won't realise you are responsible for the little terror.

Seriously, folks the best and only advice I can give parents of three year olds is this:

Do not engage...and this too shall pass.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fiction Friday - SENSE AND SENSIBILTY by Jane Austen

Do you ever have those times when all you want to do is sit back with an old friend and have a good chat? Times when you'd give anything for just a few minutes of peace and quiet to catch up with your pal except your pal died 193 years ago so you have to settle for reading one of the spectacular books she wrote? Yeah, me too.

I firmly believe that had I had the chance to know Jane Austen we would have been great friends. She was spunky and witty and completely divine and the work she left behind is an unmatched commentary of life and the role and expectations of women in society in the late 1700s. Of her six completed novels Sense and Sensibility is my favourite except for Pride and Prejudice, oh and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion...anyway, it is one of my top six favourite Jane Austen novels.

Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters who are polar opposites. Elinor, the elder sister, is practical, levelheaded and responsible whereas Marianne, the younger sister, is emotional, sentimental and impulsive. Although both sisters find themselves disappointed in love, it is how they each deal with the disappointment and what they learn about themselves and each other that propels the story.

Austen created a cast of characters that bring humor and light and charm to this novel in a way that is truly timeless. From the selfish sister in law to the nosey neighbors to the empathetic and unlikely rescuer of the Dashwoods, the characters give the landscape of country cottages, rolling hillsides and opulent galas colour and life. The joys and heartaches experienced by the Dashwoods are so universal that contemporary readers will easily find themselves identifying with these characters and the journey they are on.

I love classic literature so much that it never occurred to me that some readers find Austen, Dickens and Bronte too daunting and therefore stick with contemporary fiction. How sad! So today my hope is to inspire just one person who has never spent an afternoon with Jane to pick up Sense and Sensibility (the book first, then you may watch the movie) get lost in her world of wit and charm and recovered love.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

They Belong to Me

Three years ago today our wee Alex William slipped away from us.

Even though it has been three years since we lost him (and nine months earlier our girl, Jessie Joy) I still hesitate before I answer the question, how many kids do you have? We have three here with us but in my heart I am a mother of five.

I'd wager that nearly every woman who has experienced the loss of a pregnancy or the trauma of a still birth has the same hesitation when answering that question. For us, its not a miscarriage, its the death of a child and all the hopes and dreams that go with it.

From the moment most women even suspect they are pregnant the dreaming begins. Will it be a girl with downy soft curls and a sweet smile or a rambunctious little guy with his dad's killer smile? Will this one be the quiet one who is born potty trained, likes to clean and prefers a good book to a noisy toy or will this one be like the other ones, crazy, busy, loud and hilarious? We daydream about staring into their squinty little face for the first time and recognizing them because they belong to us.

And when something goes wrong, when we never get the chance to feel their baby breath on our necks as we cuddle them in the night, they still belong to us. They are still with us at holidays, birthday parties and in family pictures. They are a shadow and a light that dance through our lives and live in our hearts. They are a part of us.

This kind of loss is never easy to talk about. Sometimes there's a stigma attached to it and often it makes people feel uncomfortable. But its okay. Its okay to remember and honour all your children. Its okay to talk about them and its okay to miss them. Its okay to say their name and dream of the person they might have been.

After we lost Jessie I had a dream. I was standing at an open window overlooking a summer meadow. The wind was dancing through the trees and causing the wild flowers to sway and bob. Everything was green and lush and light. As I looked more closely I could see that the meadow was full of children. They were laughing and running and playing together and in the midst of them one little girl caught my eye. She had shoulder length golden brown hair that glistened in the sun as she twirled among the tall grass and flowers. I didn't see her face but I recognized her. She belonged to me.

That's the place I think of when I remember Jessie and Alex. That's the place I know they are safe and happy and waiting to meet me one day when I am old and gray. Anyway, today I just wanted you to know that I have five kids. Dude, Crafty, Mischief, Jessie and Alex.

 I'm Jessie and Alex's mom too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Our last house was a 90 year old character home complete with creaky stairs, drafty hallway and a creepy basement. I loved the house from the moment I saw it and Mr. Awesome loathed it until the moment we moved out.

A house like that can get your imagination going if you let it...and sometimes your imagination can get carried away. As you've read, our kids have pretty active imaginations and I love that about them. I love that they can turn any household object into a treasure, a campfire or a component to a spaceship. As much as I love their imaginations sometimes I worry for them because I was a kid (and now an adult) with a well developed imagination and I know how easy it is to freak yourself out. That's why we are careful about what they watch and read.

One morning last spring Mr. Awesome and I were enjoying, or trying to enjoy, a bit of a sleep in when we heard rustling and banging outside our bedroom door. We could surmise that it was the boys and from the sounds of it they were playing some kind of hunting game with their NERF guns.

Crafty - What are you doing?

Dude - We're ghost hunting.

I cringed when I heard this because more than anything else the idea of ghosts really gets to Crafty.

Crafty - There's no such thing as ghosts.

Mischief - Yes there is.

Crafty -  No there isn't!

Dude - Yes there is, I saw it on a commercial!

I prepared myself to get out of bed to break up the inevitable yelling match that was sure to follow this exchange but instead of yelling there was silence...and that worried me just as much!

Crafty - Can I see your gun?

One of the boys gave their gun to her and we heard the sound of the trigger being pulled twice and the soft 'thwap' of the foam dart hitting its target.

Dude - Ouch, what was that for?

Crafty - I'm hunting dufuses and I got two. (she started walking down the stairs) there's no such thing as ghosts!

I smiled and snuggled back into my pillow...Thata girl, Crafty!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Breakfast Before Dying

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day but it also may rob me of my sanity.

I am not a morning person, never have been, and the kids know it. Its best for all concerned if everyone just sticks to the routine and we get to school (and Tim Horton's) as soon as possible. I'm not a major grouch in the morning, I just don't like to talk and I don't respond well to loud noises and general mayhem and chaos. Other than that I am a pleasure and a joy to be with in the morning.

This morning, like every morning, I stumbled out of bed and down the hall to call the kids upstairs for breakfast. I vaguely remember setting out the cereal and milk and telling the kids that they had 20 minutes to eat before they had to get dressed. I then stumbled back to my room to shower and dress.

Twenty minutes later I returned to the kitchen to make sure the kids were nearly done eating. They hadn't even started. When I questioned them as to why they were just starting to eat here's what I was told,

Crafty: Mischief choked on some cereal. He was coughing like crazy.

Dude: I thought he was going to die or something, like maybe he'd have to go to the hospital.

Crafty: So we took him to the hospital.

Mischief: The ambulance came and everything. I really was dying.

Crafty: At the hospital the doctors tried to help him

Dude: But he died.

Crafty: So we had to have a funeral for him.

Dude: We just finished putting him in the ground.

Mischief: You should have been here, it was really sad. I'm really going to miss you.

Crafty: You're not really dead, we were just pretending.

Mischief: (sniff, sniff) right, I forgot. Pass the milk please.

I just shook my head and went back to the morning routine knowing that one day all too soon I will miss mornings like this one.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cruel and Inhumane

Ever listen to kids Christmas music? If not, don't...and if you have, I'm sorry and I feel your pain.

This past weekend our kids participated in their Christmas concert for church. The mumrmerings and stammerings of the song they had been practicing for weeks suddenly came into sharp and cruel focus during the dress rehearsal. It had already been a long, busy yet good day. I had all but finished my Christmas shopping, attended a birthday party, spent some time with my sister and I was finishing up the day with the dress rehearsal. I was tired but a good kind of tired.

Knowing my aversion to kids music and loving me deeply, Mr. Awesome stopped by Starbucks on our way to the rehearsal and procured for me the most delicious and soothing latte I had ever tasted. I entered the auditorium, found a seat and hunkered down. I tried to brace myself for what was to come. I had learned from past years that if I chatted with other parents, read a book or wandered the halls during the rehearsal I can buffer myself against the worst it. But the music started without warning and caught me off guard. I had not had a chance to form my defence strategy and I knew I was in trouble.

Even the power of the latte was not strong enough to protect me from The Song. After listening to about a hundred kids sing (yell) the same song over and over again for an hour, I left the rehearsal rattled and irritated. It seemed that everything I said for the rest of the evening rhymed and had the same four count beat to it. I honestly felt like I had entered another dimension and was now residing in Suessland. The worst of it was knowing that it wasn't over. We still had to survive the performance.

Now two days later, the performance long over, I still have the chorus from that annoying song incessantly running through my head. I have listened to other music, watched a movie, had many conversations and even tried to clear my mind through meditation (sort of) and still that blessed song is there. Its so irritatingly catchy that I am fighting the urge to poke my eardrums out. The only thing stopping me from that level of self harm is that I know the song is not in my is in my brain. It has invaded and infested my inner being and I will never be rid of it!

Seriously, this is the stuff cruel and inhumane torture is made of.

Where's my coffee....happy Monday, folks ;-)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fiction Friday - For Sadie by Nichole M. Forbes

Since many of you have been asking I thought I would give you a little sample of the fiction I write. This short story was written for a contest with my writers group. Although I didn't win I did get some very good feedback so after brushing it up a little I'm offering it to you. Enjoy!

The house was still except for the soft creaking of Violet Dane’s chair as she rocked back and forth, back and forth. She had spent many years in the same rocking chair at the same window. She watched as the world wandered in and out of her view from the front room of her colonial style home.

Her grandfather had built this house, his dream house, when he was a young man. Three stories, five bedrooms, two formal sitting rooms, a den and a library; it was a thing of beauty. New to North America and naive to the harsh winters that the prairies could bring, his neighbors mocked the young Irishman and his ‘monstrosity,’ and wondered how he would ever heat it. But Colum Dane had a creative mind and perseverance. It took him nearly ten years to complete but the ten inch stone walls, six fireplaces and large wood stove in the kitchen kept the family warm in the winter for nearly a hundred years.

Violet loved to walk through the spacious rooms of her family home and remember happier, busier times. First, when she was a young girl and later when the house was filled with her own children. The sounds of laughter and chaos would echo through the halls. Now the only sounds in the house were the slow shuffle of her footsteps on the pristine hardwood floors and the conversations she had with Sadie, her younger sister.

Violet reached for her china cup and saucer that sat on the side table to her left. The grandfather clock in the dining room chimed, and right on cue the sound of children’s voices floated into the sitting room through the open window.

“Sadie, it’s the children. They are walking to school; hurry or you’ll miss them!” Violet called into the kitchen and she leaned forward in her chair so she could see the all the way down the street. She loved this time of the day, the children all freshly washed and excited for a day of play and learning. As always every child who passed her house smiled and waved as they balanced on the short stone wall that marked Violet’s front garden.

Often mothers would admonish their children for walking so near to Ms. Danes’ flowers but Violet never minded. She always said it kept her young to have children around her.

“It keeps me young,” Violet said aloud. She looked over her shoulder to see if Sadie was coming. “You’re going to miss the children.”

Sadie emerged from the kitchen and ambled over to the window. Just then two little girls came skipping down the street holding hands. Sadie watched them intently for a moment.

“Remind you of anyone?” Violet laughed. Sadie smiled back at Violet then returned to the kitchen. Violet sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. She could see two other little girls very clearly in her mind’s eye. The older one walked straight and tall, carrying her books close to her chest. Everything from the crisply pressed skirt to the simple braid that hung down her back said responsibility and order. The attention to detail that was so visible in the older girl was in stark contrast to the younger girl’s free spirit.

The younger girl had wild blonde curls that framed her face like a lion’s mane. Her clothes hung from her willowy body haphazardly and she bounced rather than walked down the sidewalk. It was almost as though the younger girl moved through time to music that only she could hear. She was as impulsive and daring as her sister was responsible. A more unlikely pair you wouldn’t find but they were inseparable.

“And still are,” Violet said to no one in particular as she eased from her rocking chair. She stood for a moment, allowing all of her aching joints to adjust to the new position and watched the last of the children cross the street into the schoolyard. She turned away from the window and scanned the room with a critical eye.

“Something is amiss-” Violet whispered as she looked from table to mantle to sofa. “Ha! There it is! I know you thought you’d get me this time, Sadie!” Violet picked up her cane and limped over to the sofa where she plucked one silver hair from the pillow and put it in her pocket. She then picked up the sateen pillow, shook it exactly four times, set it down and with the side of her hand pushed a dimple into the middle of the pillow.

“Humph, you’re not funny, Missy,” Violet made her way into the kitchen where Sadie was standing next to an open recipe book. “So what kind shall it be today?”

Sadie stepped away from the counter allowing Violet to have a closer look.

“Ah, I should have known. Oatmeal Raisin, all right then. Have a seat and I’ll get to work.”

The sisters spent the next twenty minutes in comfortable silence as Violet measured, mixed and stirred. As she spooned the lumpy mixture onto the baking sheet she was reminded, as always, of another day years ago.

The sisters returned from school to find a note from their mother waiting for them beside a plate of cookies. The note said mother was out running errands but she would return before supper and that Violet was to pour the milk for their snack.

“But I don’t like ginger snaps, Vi. I’d rather have oatmeal raisin cookies,” Sadie whined.

“Sadie Rose, you’ll eat what’s in front of you,” Violet used her best imitation of their mother. “I have a test tomorrow so I am going upstairs to study. Do not bother me!” Violet took a ginger snap off the plate, turned on her heel and stalked importantly from the room.

The beeping of the timer brought Violet back to the present. She opened the oven and the room was instantly filled with the smells of warm oatmeal and sweet cinnamon. Violet carefully lifted the warm cookies off the baking sheet and laid them on the cooling rack.

“Let them cool for a couple of minutes before you take one, I’m feeling tired, I am going to rest for a bit.” Violet said and smiled at Sadie before leaving the room.

She shuffled over to the sofa and slowly lowered herself onto the worn velvet surface. She lifted one leg then the other onto the sofa and then reclined, allowing the warmth of the morning sunshine to wash over her. She exhaled deeply and closed her eyes.

Violet was sitting in the middles of her bedroom floor, books strewn around her as she took notes from one and cross referenced another.

“Vi? Vi, are you in there?” Sadie whispered. Violet could see her sister’s clear blue eye peering through the keyhole.

“Sadie! Go away, I’m studying!” Violet shouted and threw her shoe at the door.

“Ouch! Vi, you don’t have to get so angry! I was just going to ask you to help me make oatmeal raisin cookies!” Sadie said. Violet could hear the hurt in her sister’s voice, and it made her feel a little bad, but she had an important test the next day.

“Sadie, I’ll help you later. Promise,” Violet sighed.

“Fine,” Sadie said and Violet could hear her stomping all the way back down the stairs.

“You should have waited, I would have come,” Violet mumbled. “But I made you cookies today, do you forgive me?” Violet exhaled slowly and then she was gone.
Thursday morning the police arrived at Violet’s house to check on her. Neighbors had become concerned when they didn’t see her in her front window waving at the children as they passed so they called the local precinct. The police found her laid out peacefully on her ornate sofa in her pristine living room. When they entered the kitchen, looking for a the name or phone number of a family member they were stunned to see thousands upon thousands of cookies in sealed plastic bags covering ever possible surface. When they opened cupboards more cookies fell out.

The younger of the two officers picked up one of the bags and turned it over in his hand. There was a label that read ‘For Sadie’ on it. He glanced around the room, noticing that each bag bore a similar label. When he turned to ask his partner what her take was he notice a single newspaper clipping taped to the ancient refrigerator. It read;

On Tuesday last, the Dane family of 543 Elm Row, suffered a tragedy when their youngest daughter, Sadie Rose, age 10, perished in a house fire that was believed to be a result of overstocking the wood stove. She leaves her parents Edward and Clarisse Dane and older sister Violet, age 14, who was home alone with her at the time of the incident.

The newspaper bore a date from 75 years earlier.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ye Shall Swing from the Gallows!

As a parent when I think of pirates my mind still goes to Captain Feathersword, Captain Jack and depending on the day I've had, occasionally to Captain Morgan.  ;-) But when I watch the news or go online I see that pirates are still a very real threat...and they live in our communities, frequent our grocery stores and even sit next to us in our churches.

From a young age most of us are taught that stealing is wrong. We would never dream of entering some one's home and taking their property, stealing their car or emptying their bank account. Stealing is wrong, plain and simple but somehow when we change the name of the act we are suddenly fine with it.

We all know people, or maybe you are the person, who downloads movies or shares music files. Downloading and sharing don't sound wrong, in fact, aren't we supposed to share? Yes, sharing is good if you, for example, bought a dozen cookies sharing one with a friend is the polite thing to do. But if you stole the cookies and gave one to a friend, that's 'accessory after the fact' - not so nice.

Pirating, or illegal downloading, is not a problem that only exists in the music and film industries but one that is affecting the publishing industry as well. I had no idea how widespread this issue is until yesterday. Maybe its because I'm naive or maybe its because I think people who are avid readers are better than this but I never would have imagined that thousands upon thousands of books are illegally downloaded everyday.

I am a member of an amazing writer's group. These people have taught me volumes about writing, editing, finding my voice and navigating the choppy waters of the publishing world. Many of them are successful published authors but none of them are rich. They have all worked long, hard, lonely and frustrating hours to get where they are and now they are being robbed.

People are buying books and scanning them or uploading eBooks to third party sites and either selling them, and keeping the profits for themselves, or giving the links away for free. The author who has spent months and sometimes years writing, editing and marketing their work is not being paid for their efforts. One friend went to one link on one site yesterday and discovered that her book had been stolen 40,000 times...just from that one link. Those are the kinds of numbers that turn you from a professional writer into a volunteer.

So before you steal another song, movie or book ask yourself (or your pirate friend), would I want to work for free? Intellectual property is still property...don't steal!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Of Babies and Monkeys and Old Folks

Babies...I don't really see the draw. These tiny humans are as cute as hairless, drooling, incontinent beings can be I guess but really, I don't get it.

I've never been a baby person, in the general sense. I'm not the person aching to hold every new baby I see and I often struggle to find something complimentary to say to new mothers about their squishy, wrinkly infant. All babies are precious and gifts from God but seriously, most of them look like monkeys or old folks for the first month or longer. Mine did.

Dude looked like Red Buttons for the first six weeks then he transformed into George Dzundza. Crafty was a monkey for almost two months before she became Jessica Tandy and Mischief started as Ben Kingsley and stayed that way until he finally grew some hair around the six month mark. Happily this phase doesn't last forever. Just about the time they begin to look human and cute they also begin to develop some skills.

This is when I like them! Maybe it was the sleep deprivation and the day to day chaos of being a new mom but I don't have a lot of clear memories of my own kids at this age but as an aunt, I am having a blast with my niece.

She's almost three now (that's a whole different ball game!) but for the past two years or so she has been a riot! Bizzy (a reference to her bizarre sense of humour and her dizzy dance skills) is a quirky little kid with a great sense of humour and she has quickly learned the art of teasing. She is random and hilarious and she says I'm her favourite.

I love watching her as she experiences everything for the first time, develops her own sense of self and forms opinions on the world she sees. She is fiercely independent, sassy and clever. And to top it all off, she has a New York accent, go figure!

So, Baby-lovers, you can keep your drooling, floppy, old monkey-babies...give me the beast known as The Toddler!