December 2017

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I’m ‘old school’.

None of these ‘new-fangled’ technologically-savvy agendas for this gal. I keep one of those cheap (free give-away) calendars on my desk for twelve months of the year. On it, I write down (chicken scratch) my day-to-day activities, and I confess that when it comes time to write this annual Christmas Letter I’ve reached the age when I must flip back through the pages to see what we (the six of us) were ‘up to’ in this life (frenzied daily mad-dash).

In January of 2017 I had two unmarked days on my calendar, in February three, and in March one. That’s it. That’s the actual ‘jist’ of our lives: most days are filled to the brim with menial and not-so-menial things done or left to do, with a few ‘free’ days hanging in limbo and staring blankly back at me with that look of ‘what’s next?’

Onofre’s techno-savvy agenda is far worse. He has a lengthy list of ‘important’ things on his paperless programme and spends about fourteen hours a day fulfilling those duties. In between the important things he travels to far-away places (Holland, Germany, Italy, Israel) for medical conferences/seminars (Cryobiopsy training, Respirology talks), and manages to get away twice a year to visit his ‘other home’ in San Luis Potosi, Mexico (eat tacos with brothers, visit with aging parents, and drink with friends). He also, somehow, managed to plan and execute a surprise 50th birthday party for his unsuspecting wife two weeks ago. That was cool!

Adan, back from his internship year in Ottawa, where he was working in Robotics at Neptec Industries, settled nicely into his final year of Applied Math, Engineering at Queen’s University, and is currently seeking Master Degree programs for next September (Germany, Switzerland, England, Canada). His happy life is filled with school, friends, and girlfriend Mallory (who just finished her final courses at Queen’s and has accepted a real job at Statistics Canada in Ottawa). Both will convocate in May 2018, and we are very happy for them in their achievements and forthcoming adventures. Adan will soon be twenty-four years old but his mom is in some serious denial that her kids are growing into adults.

Willie worked at the Wolfe Island Boat House (coaching rowing) last summer, did not attend PEI for the same reason (giving his parents another excuse to go back asap), and is currently finishing his fourth year in Film and Media, Stage and Screen Special Concentration, at Queen’s University. He’s now seeking post-graduate training either in film production at Vancouver Film School or post-production in Toronto for next September. Recently, Willie submitted two of his pieces to local film fest contests and we’re waiting, with bated breath, to see what transpires. Certainly, the piece that his mother wrote an original screenplay for him to film has to get some kind of mention, doesn’t it? (Insert winking face here)

Andres grew about three inches this past year, or so it seems. He got his driver’s license (yikes), played rugby, went to San Francisco on the school band trip, went to PEI with us last summer; visited Mexico ‘solo’ (actually he went with Adan and they stayed/travelled around with Tio Paco for an unforgettable journey), was the captain of his Grade 12 Ultimate team (Frisbee golf), got a part-time job on campus (Pita Pit); and has been volunteering in Kingston General Hospital’s Emergency Room. Most recently, he played The Wizard of Oz  in the school play and wow’ed us with his performance, and is currently directing an A Capella Group for the Juvenis Youth Theatre Festival in Kingston. Andres has applied to further his education at McGill, McMaster, Queen’s (yay), or Western (blah) in Life Sciences. We are waiting, with more ‘bated breath’ and fingers/toes/eyes crossed, for offers to arrive in Spring. Gerry won’t hit rock-bottom of that empty nest until the same time next year when Hannah starts her university application process.

Hannah also grew and left her mother behind, in the shadows, in terms of who is now the shortest of the family. She, too, went to PEI and San Francisco (see above), continued to groom and ride horses every week, rowed a quad and a double for her school’s rowing team, won the Art Battle and Junior Art Award, showed and sold some of her art work in Kingston, and created art cards of her drawings and sold those too (with help from her first biggest fan, Gerry, and her second biggest fan, Poppa). This young artist/entrepreneur has received much praise for her drawings/paintings, and has a list of people now commissioning pieces. She worked on backdrop/set for the school play and is now gearing up for another season of rowing, which (unfortunately for Gerry) starts with indoor training at an ungodly morning hour in the new year.

And, in the past year, among the highlights in the chicken-scratched day-to-day activities, Gerry, otherwise known as The Overseer, released a young adult novel (I.R.I.S.), published a few (5) short fiction and creative nonfiction pieces in Canadian and British/US literary magazines (Carte Blanche, Blank Spaces, Forage Poetry), helped plan and accomplish a successful 30th High School Reunion in Port Perry, Ontario; re-visited PEI (ahh, heaven) and saw family in Nova Scotia (so nice); saved our student rental houses from floods at least 4 times, wrote an original screenplay for her son’s first solo short film (first time/see above), toured 3 universities; attended 26 different doctor/dentist/optometrist appointments, went to the barn 47 times, saw about 14 community theatre/school/local plays; attended the annual running of The Queen’s Plate, saw Elton John live in concert (bucket list), attended the Royal Winter Fair in excellent company; planned and brought-about a Tax Town Hall in Kingston to contest the proposed tax reforms, wrote a 50,000 word novel in thirty days (yes, it’s true so stay tuned in 2018), and turned 50.

Not bad! Not bad at all!

So the way I see it, the way this ‘Overseer’ sees it as she places another free give-away calendar on her very messy desk next week and flips the front cover to reveal an empty ‘January 2018’ staring blankly back at her… It’s time, once again, to fill those blanks with all the ‘what’s next’ things to do and ‘what can we do next’ things left to be done.

May your New Year be as fulfilling, as exciting, and as productive as our current year has been but with a little less mad-dash and a lot more delight written between the lines in your own chicken scratch, so that you too can come to the conclusion that I have come to…

I’d never have it any other way!

Best wishes of love, health, and happiness, from our bunch to yours, now and throughout 2018.

 

Gerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s a Little Cheating in the Grand Scheme of Things?

I confess. I’m a total cheat.

Like when I drink half of the cup of coffee and then top it up, twice, I don’t count that as three cups of coffee per day. No. It’s clearly only two cups, Doctor, I’d never lie to you about my daily caffeine intake.

Or when we’re budgeting and then I’m literally forced (kicking and screaming) to divulge the amount of money I aim to spend on holiday gifts, key word ‘aim’, but somehow forget about the stocking stuffers since that doesn’t count, right?

Surely this kind of cheating happens because I aim to please.

Right!

So when I signed up for the global National Novel Writing Month Competition (NaNoWriMo 2017) way back in the dog days of summer, I clearly knew ahead of time that I would have to cheat; like have to, or else I’d never be able to write the required fifty thousand words in the time frame of thirty, laughable, honestly absurd, given days.

Hah!

Who can do that? Not me, I said to myself, that’s who!

So I cheated. But just a wee little itsy bitsy bit.

Okay fine, maybe it was an eight-thousand-word-I-started-in-September-to-get-a-head-start style of cheat. But what’s a little cheating in the grand scheme of things?

I still managed to write the remaining [42,045] words in a mere, laughable, totally absurd, twenty-eight days. Whoot whoot!

And what did this challenge teach me besides the obvious? I have a first draft ready and waiting to be formed and shaped into an actual novel, wow, and I am fully aware that I can get something done if I really, like really, put my mind to it (and forget about housework).

It taught me that free-falling into fiction is incredibly liberating, that I’m not the only nutso person out there in the world (you’d be surprised at the number of participants in the NaNoWriMo challenge each year), and that I might just have the ability to slay that nasty beast called Doubt.

But I might have to cheat a little in order to get the job done!

Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Coffee: Not Necessarily in That Order

It is 8:20am and I am IN the groove. Or not!

I’m working on my third cup of lukewarm coffee, the spouse and kids have vacated the premises, the dog is sleeping; and the dishwasher is making that crunchy grinding noise again. I can’t look over my shoulder, not once, because IF I do…chaos will ensue. I must block it from my mind. I pretend there aren’t four cereal boxes open on the counter, kitchen recycling spilling over the transom of blue bins, and a pile of laundry sitting on the floor of the mudroom.

In order to be a writer one must never sweat the small stuff.

I once read a quote about writing that has stuck with me like a tiny splinter: you think it’s gone but then the tiniest brush against the finger reveals that sharp stab of pain.

The writer who spoke such inflicting words won a Pulitzer and a Nobel prize for his work, so he was, in other words, no slouch.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway

But he also said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I’m afraid I’ll never accomplish anything if I crack open the tequila at this hour of the day. Salud!

I’ll play it safe and stick to coffee.

Which inspires me to imagine what might happen if I followed his advice when writing for my real job (Translating scientific and medical research from Spanish to English for publication in high-impact medical journals). There are many kinds of writing, each requiring its own set of unspoken guidelines.

Drunken inspirations are better left to fiction!

And that’s not to say that good scientific writing doesn’t require some form of inspiration, but the imagination-free-for-all that happens in a blissful moment of creation when writing fiction is the essence we imaginative writers strive to achieve.

How do you know when you’ve reached that idyllic place? Is there something in the reading of the actual writing, or is it more of an out-of-body transcendence you experience while in the throes of writers’ passion?

You’ve seen it in musicians, haven’t you? When they’re so in tune, pardon the pun, with the expression of their art that it shows on their faces, and you hear it in their voices: when they reach another plane, another dimension of feeling, an otherworldly place all of their own; lifted beyond the limits to another level that sends shivers of emotion down the spines of their earth-bound audience.

It’s what we all want to do: touch our audiences so profoundly that they feel it in their bones, in the tight grip of their throats, in the sensation that stings like pain from the gentlest of brushes against their own imaginations while reading your words…

What better compliment can a writer receive than, “I might have cried a little, okay a lot, when I read your book. I was sobbing, but I couldn’t put it down.”

For now, all science nerdiness aside, I’ll ignore the small stuff and seek my own ethereal plane in the hopes that I can once again affect my audience with a mere hint of that otherworldly delight.

Blood, sweat, tears, and coffee; but not necessarily in that order.

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The Craziest Thing You’ve Ever Done

By the time you reach a ‘certain’ age you’ve probably done some wild and wacky things (and if not, why not?). For the purposes of safety, we’re not talking about the kinds of things that TV producers caution, ‘NEVER TRY THIS TRICK AT HOME’. Rather, we’re thinking about that time you bungee cord jumped over a raging Australian ravine, or the time you drove out West (alone, before they invented GPS devices or cell phones) through Roger’s Pass, one grey December day, in a slight blizzard (I said slight, didn’t I?).

And then there are the not-so-mentionables, like Wreck Beach, Friday afternoons at Clarke’s Pub, the farm in White Rock, or one -very interesting- first date with some Mexican guy (even IF you married him two years later). About those things that make us all say shhhh behind our gentle yet reminiscent smiles (and we hope your lives are as filled with those kinds of smiles as ours are).

But I have this friend, and muse, who has done the impossible! She has set the ‘crazy things’ bar higher than I ever thought I’d strive to reach; and now, she has convinced me that I, too, can be utterly NUTS!

It feels so good to belong.

Na-no-wri-mo is the compressed name for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place each November, and is completely bonkers.

So I’m doing it. Of course.

Be warned: Nanowrimo is not for the faint of heart. It involves gluing your butt to that cold leather chair in the basement and writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve heard rumours that it invokes the Gods of cold pizza, stale coffee, bloodshot eyes and maniacal laughter. And I’ve heard that buckets of teardrops have been collected for use in areas of drought.

And so I warn, “DO NOT TRY THIS TRICK AT HOME!”

Just wish me luck as I fall deep into that pit of despair at midnight on Nov. 1st, 2017. May the Gods be ever in my favour.

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Titles: Do They Matter?

Can you imagine a world where, rather than asking what do you ‘do’ for a living strangers would ask what you ‘are’?

It’s a fine line already, isn’t it? And finer still now that it’s a criminal offence to use the wrong pronoun when addressing someone as he or she, but I don’t want to get all gender-politics here…

It’s just, when someone asks me what I ‘do’ and I reply “I’m a full-time stay-at-home-mom,” (I am a housewife but it’s not entirely something that I do) their eyes usually glaze over. Really! It’s true.

And upon hearing my response the person asking typically turns around and saunters off (runs) the other way (another room, another house, another building), or quietly backs away from the buffet table in search of ‘salt’ wink-wink (or a more interesting conversation elsewhere).

I can admit there are times when I want to scream in their dazed-over faces or yell at their backs, “What? Not interesting enough? Are you freaking kidding me? I have four kids. Count ‘em! FOUR! I can tell you stories that will make your hair curl, or re-grow, or revert back to its original colour.”

Ahem.

But I’m one of those do-gooders in the old-fashioned sense so I’d never try to be rude. I might want to be rude, but I can’t. Really! I’ve tried and it just doesn’t suit me. So I make jokes and tell funny stories and get all cliché with things like, ‘oh I’m a professional kept woman,’ or ‘my hubby brings home the bacon and I eat it,’ or ‘I have a PhD in Domestic Engineering;’ while inside I’m furious that our society doesn’t appreciate someone like me: someone who, regardless of her background, career goals, education, skills or experience, gives it all up to become an unpaid, under-appreciated, and sometimes even disrespected, mother and housewife.

In the past I’ve been teased that I must have gone to university to get my M.R.S. Degree, or that when I met my husband (who actually has his M.D., MSc, and PhD) I was looking for a free ticket –gasp– (which couldn’t be further from the truth: I’ve paid for my ticket in blood, sweat, and tears, ten times over).

So while I might be too polite to get into’er at the party buffet table, I am not too bashful to get into’er here, safely, in my own private little blog-world (that nobody ever reads) where I can have all the imaginary conversations about what I am and what I do, without any judgement what-so-ever.

“Hi. So, what are you?”

“I’m a female human.”

(Because depending on what I am wearing or how my hair is cut it might actually be questionable)

“I can clearly see that, but what else are you?”

“ Oh. Uh. Thanks for asking. I have a BScN and I was a full-time R.N. until I became (transformed/metamorphosed into) a M.O.M. and one of those M.R.S. things; and now, I’m all of those things but I’m also a TRANSLATOR and a WRITER and a BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR and a MEDICAL CORPORATION ASSISTANT, and a bunch of other things.”

(It’s a long list)

“That sounds fascinating. Which one of those roles is your favourite?”

(Obviously this being is other-worldly)

“Hmmm, depends on how well-behaved they are or if they help me put out the recycling, hah, just kidding. Hands down it’s the M.O.M. role that I prefer.”

(I shrug)

“Then why not tell me about the four incredible human beings you’ve created.”

(You see what I mean? The one asking is clearly not from earth)

“Sure, let’s grab a plate and some of that plastic cutlery so we can eat and chat at the same time, over dinner. But first, tell me, what are you?”

“Oh, I’m just a shmale* astrophysicist from Planet Grogon in the Extirpian Galaxy, but that’s not very exciting. I’d much rather hear about you.”

And later, after we fill our bellies and laugh until we cry, this other-worldly being and I will come to the common realization that it doesn’t matter what we do but it does matter who we are, deep down inside: the kind of person we are and the kind of person we are willing to share with others is what really counts whether or not we come from The Milky Way.

What we do with that is up to each of us.

*Shmale: the combined pronoun used for a being who identifies as both female and male, and can biologically reproduce asexually, on their own (Yes, I made that up just now).

Extirp: to uproot (vegetation); extirpate (to wipe out or destroy completely) (It’s a real word: look it up).

My Strange Addiction and Other Confessions

I had to quit. It was beginning to take over my life.

The signs were there, long ago: that sense of urgency, and the hoarding of one last hit to tide me over until the next day when I could rush out to buy more. I’d been stock-piling extras, to a greater extent, just in case the need ever arose, and to always have some on hand. I’d take them with me on long car rides. I’d hide a few inside a Ziploc baggie in my purse for those moments when I’d have to wait longer than expected while picking the kids up from school.

People were beginning to notice, and comment. My husband had an inkling. My kids were well aware! But, what no one knew was that I’d been waking up in the wee hours and the first thing that entered my mind was no longer the pungent aroma of my morning coffee (my other addiction) but the sweet, delicious crunch of the orange baby.

What’s in a name? Street drugs always have a nickname, or a moniker less damaging than the real deal: sugar, peanuts, ecstasy, smack, China girl, pink robots,….

So I, slowly, over the course of many years and four craving-inducing pregnancies, had become addicted to the orange baby: the baby carrot, that is! Those glorious, pre-packaged, peeled, cut and washed; crispy, healthy, treats that you people so carelessly take for granted. Just writing about it makes me anxious to partake. Like smokers always say, I’m hanging for one now.

But with that addiction comes a harsh reality: a Donald Trump tan.

You see? It was never an issue before Trump came into power. It wasn’t my reality until The New Yorker (among other notable journals and newspapers) started publishing comics, and memes, and photo-shopped, re-touched photos of the Trump in his shiny, orange skin. And it certainly didn’t affect me until I saw a head shot of myself looking exactly like I was picked fresh from a Florida grove; quite sure that if someone scratched the surface of my dimpled skin I’d smell like citrus (which really wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?).

This was the pivotal moment when I knew. Like, I just knew. I had to give it up or forever fear resemblance (whether personally or politically) to the most-hated man on the planet.

My daughter, the budding artist, said I needed to find something on the opposite side of the colour wheel to replace my orange hue. “Try celery,” she said, “or blueberries and cucumbers.”

My son, the film student, said ” Use make-up. Lots of it!” One of my other sons, the rugby player, said, ” Take up a new sport or hobby.” My husband, the doctor, said, “No one’s ever died from hyper beta-carotenosis.”

But lucky for me my lifelong best friend is an addictions counselor, and her imagined- and real- voice speaks to me even when we live too many kilometres apart: What coping methods have worked for you in the past? How can you replace the need for carrots with an action to better your health (or in this case, appearance)? Who can you turn to for support when the burning desire strikes?

Cold turkey!

There would be no other way to rid my body of the jaundice I’d acquired over the years.

There would be no other way for me to stop obsessing over my hidden, albeit ‘healthy’, addiction.

It’s been seven days now. I’m still running on a day-by-day, sometimes even hourly, basis. My addiction is real, and perhaps lifelong. I could start a club, if there were any others like me out there…Orange Babies Anonymous.

So how do I do it, you ask? How do I manage in this ‘half-your-plate, hyper-conscious, vegetable-driven’ society that pushes good food choices on us every single time we enter a grocery store? How do I ignore the racks upon stacks of bagged and ready-to-eat veggies that lure us in from first swoosh of the front door?

Chocolate.

My life is in perfect balance as long as I have chocolate.

 

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The Compass Rose

I love small towns.

I love knowing that each and every street is paved in criss-crossed paths and intertwined connections, more in the metaphorical sense than the literal. I love that people from small towns actually know their neighbours’ names, remember the day the stop lights were put in, and can rhyme off quick, detailed explanations- without even looking- when leaning into the passenger-side window to give directions to passers-by who just-so-happen to have taken the scenic route: ‘pass the house with the blue painted porch, hang a right at the one with white aluminum siding, the green shutters not the black ones, then go straight until you get to the brown brick…’ 

So it should never have been a surprise that I would meet someone, one of those artistic, worldly, ample-minded souls with whom you become instantly besotted, and find out that this huge person comes from a town so small you can see the whole of it in the span of one vista from any direction on the compass rose. Like, I mean small enough that you can stand atop the North Street hill looking down towards ‘town’, where your mind sub-consciously registers a pharmacy, a bank, a gas station, a pub, two coffee shops, the hardware, and the one grocery store that sells food but dishes gossip out for free, and let your eyes scan the horizon all the way to the end: to the end of town; to that place right there where population ends and everywhere else begins.

Three thousand souls. Do they even make towns that small anymore?

But she’s so smart, so chic, so limitless…how could she be from such a miniature place? My cynical urban self thinks.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? When you come from a small town your mind has two choices: it either languishes or broadens. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose thoughts instinctually reach beyond the last fence post, jump over the train tracks, and run down the dusty side roads, you’re blessed with the fortune of traveling much further intellectually and creatively than those limited by any physical or mental borders.

What else is there to do, when growing up in said Tiny Township, but cultivate a ripe imagination? When you’re hemmed in by nothing more than farmers growing crops of the corn variety, it’s only expected that your inner harvest would become the product of your own creativity.

 

“Reason clears and plants the wilderness of the imagination to harvest the wheat of art.”  

-Austin O’Malley

 

And that’s how she is, I reflect, as my tarnished urban armour is peeled away and set aside. This huge person from such a small town is like a prairie flower transplanted to the rooftop gardens of my mind, and left to blossom into wild roses that grow in all directions, as far as my eye can see.

 

“The compass rose is nothing but a star with an infinite number of rays pointing in all directions. It is the one true and perfect symbol of the universe. And it is the one most accurate symbol of you. Spread your arms in an embrace, throw your head back, and prepare to receive and send coordinates of being. For, at last you know—you are the navigator, the captain, and the ship.”

-Vera Nazarian

 

I love small towns and the big people that live in them.

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