Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Table With a View

Like many mom-writers, I write at the kitchen table hoping to weave words into something resembling writing. My bathroom serves as my office, and although I have yet to figure out a way to fit a tiny desk in there, the kitchen table is where I write – for now.

Every night I pull out my laptop and set it up for my writing session early the next morning. Even though I sometimes wallow in self-pity and mumble ‘I’m sure other writers don’t have to do this,’ I’m also sure many other writers don’t have the freedom to write at all, so I keep my self-pitying wallow to a minimum. So I don’t have a real desk – at least I can write when, what, and how I want to.

Then every morning, because I have to do silly things like go to my day job, I pack away the laptop, transforming the table back to what it is intended for; breakfast, dinner and homework. It’s the same thing every night and every morning, but I do it religiously; my writing routine is sacred.

But I have come to love writing at the kitchen table. There are no desktop distractions like pens to organize or paperclips to straighten. My only distraction is the view from my kitchen window. Sure I don’t have an opulent million dollar view of beaches, forests or manicured estate grounds, but it’s mine.

When I am lost in thought for the next word, sentence, thought or idea to surface, I watch the seasons change; longer days, shorter nights, and then six months later, shorter days, longer nights.

I write at the same time every day, around 5 a.m. I prefer the dark mornings of winter when I am shrouded in pitch-black, pre-sunrise peace. The screen of my laptop and the streetlight outside are my only light. The glow from the streetlight serves as my weather guide illuminating the rain or snow. In better weather, spiders spin their webs hoping for moths.

The barbeque waits for summer, and before too long my mornings are brighter with the sun rising earlier. The hummingbird feeder sways in the breeze, and chickadees flit through the shrubs surrounding our yard. Leaves sprout in the spring, only to fall again in autumn. Our little garden that was stagnant dirt in the winter comes to life with shoots emerging from their winter hibernation.

Summer rolls around, and the kitchen window is flung open. Even in the early mornings, sweat from the summer heat hinders my concentration, my hot house unable to cool down overnight from the day before. The chirping birds are nice, but those hot, too-bright mornings are not my favourite.

And then it all starts again, and I am back to writing in the dark, my focus directed back to the screen.

Day after day, month after month, I am up before the rest of the world - no matter the weather or season – and I write.

I am thankful for a laptop with which to write, a kitchen table to sit at, a roof over my head, freedom to write, and my own million dollar view.

It beats a bathroom/office, any day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Release!

May 22, 2012 was the release date for four books in a news series by Chicken Soup for the Soul in collaboration with Harvard Medical School. Focusing on a single topic of health, each book has related stories by folks like you and me who overcame various health challenges, as well as medical advice from esteemed Harvard Medical School professionals.

• Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power! by top neurologist Dr. Marie Pasinski, with Liz Neporent (ISBN 978-1-935096-86-3)
• Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain! by leading physical medicine expert Dr. Julie Silver, who is also Harvard Health Publications Chief Editor of Books (ISBN 978-1-935096-87-0)
• Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress! by noted psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown, with Liz Neporent (ISBN 978-1-935096-88-7)
• Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body! by respected internist Dr. Suzanne Koven (ISBN 978-1-935096-89-4)

In ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress!’ my story ‘Power Walk,’ shows how I let stress resulting from a very difficult time in my life rob me of sleep, my positive mood, and time for myself, thereby giving it power. I learned to religiously get out there and walk off the stress, no matter what was happening or how I felt, and walk off all my worries with every step.

Be sure to check out these fabulous inspirational books, and curl up with a bowl of soup – and feel better!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lessons From a Dinosaur

It all started back in September 2011 with the first dinosaur sighting…..

I often spend my lunch break at the Royal BC Museum building in Victoria, but because of time restraints, I don’t pay the admission and go into the actual museum (call me cheap). If you’re not there to learn the history of British Columbia or to see the great woolly mammoth, you can visit the mouth-watering deli, buy popcorn at the IMAX concession, browse in the gift shops for Christmas and birthday gifts, use the washroom – or simply hide out from the rain.

But what has been most exciting about the museum has been watching the promotional hype leading up to the Dinosaur exhibit which opened on May 17th, 2012.

Back in September while hiding out in the museum on a rainy afternoon, I came around the corner to find these crates. Of course my curiosity forced me to keep checking back to see what was inside (I swear I heard growling from inside one of them).

And my efforts were rewarded with this – my first dinosaur sighting – with more yet to come in May!

While I find dinosaurs fascinating, I wouldn’t call myself a dino-fan. Thanks to my boys, however, I know more about them than I ever thought I would. I don’t nod off from boredom during another scientific documentary like I used to, but I don’t go out of my way to engage in deep research about them, either. I have bigger things to worry about, present day, than what lead to their demise gazillions of years ago.

The first sighting grabbed my attention, however, and I was caught up in the hype.

But as winter dragged on, the sightings became fewer. I hadn’t forgotten about them, but like I said, I had bigger things to worry about.

Until one day, just outside the main doors of the museum in March, another crate appeared. This time a man huddled inside feverishly building something (I know because I peeked through the few holes of the crate). When I asked museum staff what was going on, they denied knowing anything (ya right, whatever).

I was rewarded a few days later with this….

And so my impatient waiting and keen fascination was rekindled. I told everyone I knew about the dinosaur outside the museum, urging them to go see it.

A few weeks later – then this.

A moving truck – with STUFF! Of course I boldly asked some of the folks guarding the precious truck what was inside, and they confirmed it - Dino STUFF! Artifacts, bones, replicated statues - you name it!

Fearing incarceration given the intense security, I figured I better split – but of course I managed to get at least one picture.

As weeks passed and I continued minding my own business as I always do, I began to notice more and more advertisements around town, notably at the bus-stops. All the waiting, wondering and minding my own business was exhausting, and I began to wonder if it was all worth it.

A week before opening day of the exhibit, I was racing through the Bay Center Shopping mall downtown Victoria, when I saw this:

And I knew then that dinosaurs and I truly had something in common (aside from my ever-climbing age).

It was one thing to learn about the power of promotion and building hype, handy to have for when I have my bestseller on bookshelves one day, but it was another to learn a bit more about dinosaurs.

I know that when my family and I do eventually visit the exhibit, I will arrive already knowing one valuable thing about dinosaurs…

They like Starbucks coffee, too.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Caterpillar Compassion

As it seemed to a kid growing up the 70’s, the way to rid of tent caterpillar nests in trees was to torch the gnarled, silky tents. True, it wasn’t the most humane way of ridding of those pesky little leaf devouring pests. I remember dads up and down the street happily setting fire to branches, cackling maniacally; how the whole neighbourhood didn’t go up in flames, I’ll never know. My dad was king of his yard, and if that was the way to get them gone, then that was how it was done.

Nowadays, in the spirit of environmentalism, humane pest control, and saving our forests (never mind our neighbourhoods) there are other ways of nest-destruction. Although some folks apparently still take to using fire, the use of pesticides is the norm. The pesticide-spraying planes zooming overhead send folks into an uproar over the true safety of those chemicals falling on our heads and pets. I don’t blame them, ‘cause you just never know (says me with my daily half-can of hairspray addiction).

So when a few caterpillar nests appeared in the trees in our yard, the king of our own yard followed in his father’s and forefather’s footsteps and plans were made to create fire.

When it came time to torch the little creatures, my youngest lad couldn’t bear the thought of the caterpillars perishing. Hats off to him for speaking his mind, making his voice heard, and for acting in the best interest of creatures great and small, no matter how ‘bad’ they are. The king of our yard complied – hats off to him, as well.

He reluctantly agreed that SOME of them had to meet their fateful end. They can destroy whole orchards of fruit trees, and he understands this. But one small nest of the resident furry friends was set-up in an aquarium in his room. Plexiglas aside, replicating their habitat was foremost and dirt, rocks, branches and a daily entrée of fresh leaves was started. A new silky tent appeared within a day as they settled in, and so began his obsession of checking on them every five minutes.

They are fed daily, and a light mist is sprayed with a water bottle to replicate rain, creating perfect environmental conditions. We researched and found they need sun to aid in digestion of their food so their aquarium faces the window. Their caregiver is proud he not only saved them from the human wielding a flame, but from winged predators. His pride, care and concern for beings typically thought of as disgusting and unsightly - both with their nest and the decimated trees in their wake - is not only charming, but should be commended. In this day in age where humans think they rule the earth constantly pulling out all the stops in the never-ending battle against Mother Nature, it’s refreshing.

True, the only thing separating them and my comfy bed is a thin wall of Plexiglas, but I am proud of the lad for taking the time and energy to take Mother Nature’s side. As little boys would be typically thought of as caterpillar squishing tyrants, he has taught us to think twice before turning up our noses at anything crawly.

They will eventually grow to full size (in less than 7 weeks!), and at the rate the darlings are growing, it will be sooner than later; we will then have to decide what to do. They will become a moth after spending two weeks in their own cocoon, and the circle of life will continue. Those moths living for barely 24 hours will lay their eggs somewhere secret and their struggle against pesticide, birds, running shoes and fire will continue

What will happen with our aquarium full of moths, I don’t know.

But I do know I received the best Mother’s Day gift ever. This wasn’t about me ‘doing something right’ in raising such a lad. He unknowingly gave me one of those life lessons - to love all things big and small, no matter how bad, and that everything needs a second chance.

And without my compassionate son, I would have never gained the knowledge of the life cycle of a tent caterpillar. Just what I always wanted.

(One week later, almost to the day the little guys were saved, we received notice from our maintenance folks - they will be spraying trees for 'chewing and sucking insects'. Go figure)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Laundry Daydreams

The only joy I get out of doing laundry – and it’s not of the trying of new cleaning products (a secret passion) – is watching my children’s life progress through the array of hole-riddled socks and debris left in the bottom of the washer.

Where I used to find rocks, a tiny stick used as a pistol, a bolt and washer (one of the boys is a like a crow), or a Lego-man’s head, the treasures have now matured. Gum wrappers, candy wrappers (when and where did they buy those?), guitar picks and little notes (from a girl?) are found faded and worn from the rinse cycle and the double-dose of stain remover. A house key, a withered electronics store receipt, and leftover change from the 7-Eleven convenience store add to the mix; Slurpees® are where it’s at.

I am fortunate not to be finding lighters, rolling papers (triple rinse-cycle on those), or shell-casings.

In the past, mothers have used the washing machine to their advantage. I think of a story I once heard of someone’s draft card sent through the spin cycle a few times. Oops…these things happen.

And as this is my 16th year of doing laundry for my children, I know I will one day strangely miss these stain-remover moments. Long gone are the days of burp cloths, countless tiny sleepers and undershirts too tiny to fold and too cumbersome to sort through. Maybe one day I will be blessed to have the grandkid’s wash mixed with mine.

Nowadays, cleanliness is at its peak for the highly groomed teenager. A shirt worn for only two hours ends up in the wash, again. At least he is clean - for a boy.

And that brand new shirt? “Can you throw it in the wash and dryer, Mom? I like it tight to show off my ‘physique’.”

Oh Lord.

As for the younger one on the brink of hitting those ever-preening years, I find comfort in the leaves and grass mingled in with the guitar picks at the bottom of the washer. Lucky to have a boy who still plays outside, I cherish the soggy leaves from the apple tree out back, and the pine needles in my delicates - I pick them off first.

I try to remember to empty pockets, but I rant that I don’t have time for that one extra step in my day. Their orders are to do it themselves. Bad be the day when I find a cell phone or computer flash-drive in the over-used washer drum, never mind the dryer. Of course it would be my fault, and I would be exommunicated from the household forever. As long as I made dinner before I left.

So I continue to scrub, fluff and fold, and really, I am not the one doing all the work. The machines do that for me. I only just recently replaced our washing machine after years of toil and trouble, so that in itself tells me my life isn’t so bad. My arms haven’t broken from all that laundry. The bags under my eyes from late night or early morning of sort and fold are testament to my involvement in the process.

I sort through jammies, undies, too-expensive T-shirts and the odd Teddy bear (don’t tell anyone). The reward points card from the electronics store hasn’t made it to the dryer, so it should be still good.

As I throw out another sock beyond help, and again fold the shirt that was only just worn for two hours, I find a Nerf dart and Slurpee straw (I have NO idea how THAT got there). Above my washer is a shelf holding every kind of laundry cleaning solution possible, and a tray holding odds and ends. I count up the change collected, and realize…

I think I deserve to treat myself to a Slurpee®, and maybe bring the boys along with me. I might not be doing that for very much longer, either.