Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, Christmas Time is here...

Christmas is a tough time of year for a lot of people. When everyone is supposed to be "merry and bright" the cheery Christmas carols, happy people and bright lights can be a knife in the heart to people already struggling.

I hated Christmas for years. It was a tough time of year at our home, because Cutty Sark played a prominent role in my dad's Christmas celebrations...and mom and I spent many a Christmas in a state of suspended animation...waiting for SOMETHING to happen, and it usually did. I dreaded Christmas. In later years, I HATED Christmas. Christmas was also my father's favorite time of year so the irony was strong.

It wasn't until I became a parent that I forced myself to change my perspective, and to see it through the eyes of my child. I'm still stressed and rushed, but I'm taking the time to marvel at the beauty of the decorated Christmas tree, to appreciate the simple beauty of the Christmas lights, and to laugh in shared delight as my daughter discovers my favorite Christmas shows: the original Grinch, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph and Charlie Brown. We have watched them together over and over...because I already owned them. She hasn't developed an appreciation for Mr Bean yet...but she may later. My daughter was dancing with excitement yesterday when she came down in the morning and found parcels under the tree. She was getting concerned that it was barren. She called my mom to tell her, and it was the first thing that she told her daddy when he came home. There were parcels for everyone...but mainly for her!

I set myself up to be stressed. It's Christmas Eve, and I still have a ridiculous amount to do. Some of it is simply not going to get done. We have the food for the feast, we have family, we have presents. We have a job, we have a home, we have our health and we have our amazing child. Everything else is a bonus, and if the shortbreads don't get made this year, so be it. I still have to clean the house, but it won't be perfect. It will be okay. I've been hobbling on crutches for a week with a funky hip/pelvis that has locked and left me unable to stand. It gets better, and then it gets worse. It is what it is and I can only do what I can do. In the grand scheme of things, it really isn't that important if there is dust in the crevices. It certainly isn't important enough to cause me to spend Christmas Day in debilitating pain. If the family doesn't understand, the problem is theirs.

My best friend has just separated from her husband, and she is at the other end of the world from her family. She's working Christmas Day and then going to a friend's house. My cousins lost their mom earlier this year, and so did another of my friends. I sang at more than a dozen funerals this year for people facing their first Christmas without their loved one...or their second...or the 19th...there are moments that will always kick you in the heart and Christmas is one of them. Many people are facing job loss, uncertainty, serious illness, financial problems, cancer, sick parents, sick siblings, sick kids...Christmas will be anything but merry.

I learned the hard way that it is okay to feel fragile. It is okay to give yourself permission to be less than perfect. It's okay to be sad, it's okay to feel less than merry and bright. It's okay to cry, to acknowledge the loss and the sadness. It's when we don't do those things that we end up depressed or anxious.

I wish you all peace. I wish you good health, prosperity, quiet moments of happiness, simple things to bring you comfort and solace. I send you all a hug and tidings of comfort and joy. I wish you love.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Skidding into Christmas

I don't know how this happens every year. It's December 11, there are basically 2 weeks until Christmas, but you'd never know it by the look of my house.

I still need to:
  • Help daughter write letter to Ho Ho (AKA Santa)
  • Badger husband to dig Christmas tree out from under the stairs so that it can be unfolded, while keeping small child somewhere else so that she doesn't see the big honking parcel that is on TOP of the Christmas tree box under the stairs until Christmas morning.
  • Determine where the usual assortment of stuff in the living room is going to go so that the tree can be unfolded.
  • Deck the halls
  • Write and mail the Christmas cards
  • Bake the cookies. Apparently, Christmas will not come if the Melting Moments are not baked. Not sure I want that kind of responsibility although Christmas DID come the year I stopped making 3-freaking-days-to-make-handmade chocolate truffles and dipped cherries
  • Figure out the rest of Christmas dinner, other than the Turkey
  • Buy the freaking turkey and various and assorted food to go with it while justifying cost to husband. yes, we DO need the shrimp ring...
  • Bake rice bread to stuff the turkey with since my father in law is severe celiac
  • Take my mother shopping so that she can buy MY Christmas present
  • Spend most nights next week singing my heart out with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, praying to anyone who will listen that it won't be the last time.
  • Deck myself out in subdued, classic finery, and go with my husband on the one night I'm home next week to a dinner at the home of one of the senior executives of his company...and have dinner with senior executives...praying to God that I don't spill something, or say something that will kill his chances for permanency at the company. We are judged by our spouses...and I don't get out much. (Note to self-dig out Joy of Cooking and review cutlery placements...)
  • Clean the house
  • Make it to Christmas Day without dissolving into a sodden, sobbing mess of nerves...or drunk as a lord on wine because I have simply given up
I wonder what's involved in becoming an Orthodox Christian...that would give me a couple more weeks...and there's always Kwanzaa...

Ho Ho Ho

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thank you for the Music

We all have things that keep us grounded and centred, that cheer us, console us, comfort us, celebrate with us and mark the signposts of our lives. My mother in law, for example, can give you a geographic tour of all of the wonderful meals she has enjoyed throughout her life. She marks her travels by wonderful pieces of pie, succulent roast beef, tender chicken, cake and wonderful Yorkshire puddings. She can tell you what she ate and where she was. Her sister traveled extensively, and picked up little chotzkes along the way that reminded her of places that she had been. My father in law remembers the people he spoke to, and the photos he took. The signposts of my life are marked by music. I remember the songs that were playing during certain times of my life. Music is my solace, my centre; the tapestry of my life is woven with treble clefs and music staffs, melodies, lyrics and stanzas.

For the past 12 years, I have been singing with the Grand Philharmonic Choir in Kitchener, Ontario Canada. We are an "amateur" choir in the sense that we are not paid to be members; quite the opposite. It costs me more to be a part of the choir than it costs me to be a member of the Professional Writers' Association. We are not amateur in our repertoire, our performances or our concerts, however, and some of the brightest lights on the classical stage right now, Ben Heppner, Richard Margison, Measha Brueggergosman, Suzie Leblanc, Daniel Taylor, Michael Schade, and a slate of others, got their start singing with the Philharmonic. We sing in the Centre in the Square in Kitchener, which is considered one of the best accoustic halls in North America. And unless something happens, and quickly, our voices may be silenced, victims of the economic downturn, poor ticket sales and difficult times.

I did not know any classical music when I auditioned for the Phil. I knew the "Ave Maria"; every Catholic wedding singer worth her salt has that in her repertoire. I also knew the "Ave Verum" because our church choir sang it at the 75th anniversary of our church in Toronto. In fact, I sang the "Ave Verum" as my audition piece for the Phil, blithely unaware that it was a choral piece and not really appropriate for an audition. I made it in anyway. I don't read music well...and never did learn to read bass clef. I am a soprano; why would I need bass clef? I sing, and have always sung, by ear. If I hear it, I can sing it. I don't have formal training, but I can read enough piano to plunk out the notes...and I work hard to learn my part.

Singing with the Phil for the past 12 years has opened up new horizons for me. I had never heard any of the choral works that we perform on a regular basis. I have grown to love the Verdi "Requiem", the Dzorak "Stabat Mater", Handel's "Messiah", the Willan "Requiem" Bach's "St John Passion" and a host of others that I had never heard until I joined the choir. I don't love all the repertoire, of course, (and I'm convinced that Beethoven's mother in law must have been a soprano, and he didn't like her very well, as indicated by the Soprano line in the 9th Symphony, which becomes a schreifest of high A), but I marvel in the ability of someone to compose all the parts and the orchestration. I may not care for the product, but I respect and stand in awe of the ability that produced it. I didn't know how to sing properly until I joined the Phil. The leaders of my previous choirs would drop their jaws in wonder at the power and range of my voice now.

In the most challenging times of my life, music has been my solace, my blanket, and music would break the wall and open the floodgates when nothing else was able to break through the protective wall. It is the music that touches my heart, that is my gift when I sing at funerals and weddings, that is my grounding and my strength. Music can lift my mood, give me comfort and keep me going when all seems bleak. I can arrive at choir practice depressed, stressed and worried. I will leave lighter of heart and spirit after singing wonderful music for a couple of hours. Such is the magic that music works on me.

Producing choral music is quite different than singing solo. Anyone who has been a part of a choir knows that the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts. It is much harder to sing chorally, when all voices must blend, levels must be equal, individual voices should not stand out and the sound should be even, uniform and true. When I sing solo, I have only myself to rely on, and if I mess up, no one but me and the accompanist will know, especially if I sing it wrong with conviction. When you sing chorally, if you miss an entry you throw off the dynamic of the whole piece, and the people who are also singing your part.

The Phil has been facing tough economic times, declining ticket sales and empty seats for a few years now, but the last couple of seasons have been dire. The choir, like so many other arts organizations, is now in danger of folding. A combination of high ticket prices, repertoire that has been a tough sell and a tough economic climate has taken its toll on the audience. In times of doom and gloom, people want to be entertained and as wonderful as some choral music is, it requires thought and concentration. People want to escape; they have enough to think about. People want to be transported to a happier place, to tap their toes and smile. As transforming as it is, the Verdi Requiem is not exactly a feel good piece.

Arts organizations have to embrace the new realities if they want to survive. The same old, same old is not going to work in the new reality. A lighter program of show tunes, Gilbert and Sullivan, light opera or something similar-"you've heard the tunes on Bugs come and hear them live"-would fill the hall and help bolster the choir. It would introduce a new audience to the music the choir produces, and make them more likely to come back for a more traditional concert. It might offend the sensibilities of the purists in the choir, but better offended than silent.

If the choir is to survive, then egos and sensibilities need to be set aside. If it is pandering to the masses to sing light, dare I say it, popular repertoire to a full house, then pander we should do. We don't need to do it every concert, or every year for that matter. Rogers and Hammerstein is not Mozart or Bach, clearly. But people seek out the familiar and the uplifting in troubled times, and show tunes and music from movies or broadway is more familar to more people. I was terrified when I went to my first live opera...until the opening strains were familiar from years of watching Bugs Bunny. I was not alone in my observation; a couple of my fellow balcony dwellers that night made the same observation. Breaking down the perception that classical music is stuffy takes work; it is work worth doing if the classical arts are to survive. Not even our current Prime Minister gets that.

I need music in my life. I need to make challenging, uplifting, wonderful choral music that feeds my soul, comforts my heart and transfixes and transforms me. Church music, while comforting, is not enough for me. I need to be a part of the grander choral scheme of things. I need Bach, Mozart, Estacio and yes, even Beethoven in my life.

It has been a challenging couple of years for me on a number of levels. We've had job loss, job uncertainty, health issues, financial worries and lost many loved ones. Music and the Philharmonic Choir have been my one constant, my one safe place in the midst of uncertainty, the one expense that I was unwilling to cut, even though it costs me dearly to be a part of the choir. It is the one thing that I do strictly for me to keep me going, to keep me grounded, to keep me sane, and to remind me of the person I am, rather than working mom, wife and mother. I need the Phil to survive.

Monday, December 1, 2008

When Realities Collide

It's always interesting when the past and the present collide. This has happened to me a few times recently, with interesting results.

A friend of mine just posted some pictures from high school on Facebook. We were quite good chums back in the day, and then drifted apart, only to reconnect last year through a mutual friend at a serendipitous moment in both of our lives. We picked up the strands of our previous friendship and have began to weave a new tapestry, very different from our adolescent one. The photo is telling for a number of reasons. First of all, The Kelly Garrett hair is a dead giveaway to the date-1979. I'm standing off to the side, smiling at the antics of something off camera, standing with arms crossed, with a group of people. Immediately to my right is a person who, at that point in high school, I had counted as a friend...a friend who not long after became my chief tormentor, whose emotional bullying caused me no end of grief, cost me friendships, and whose name, even today can send me to a very bleak time in my life when I ended up suicidal. Interestingly, she is the only one looking at the camera in the picture. Just seeing her picture again is enough to make my heart race...such is the legacy a bully can leave.

Recently, an old chum from university tracked me down on Facebook. He was a good friend all the way through school, and we would go to the pub or movies together. He is one of the good guys...kind, old fashioned and courteous. I remember sitting in his truck after a movie one night, telling him that "he was one of the good guys who renewed my faith in men." We'd lost touch after university when he moved to the Maritimes. I was thick as a post, clearly, because I always thought we were just chums, pals, buddies...and he would have liked something more than that but was too shy to act on it and I never realized it. I remember attending his Christmas party the year after he'd move to the East Coast, and one of the women asked when we were getting married. Before he could reply, I had said "oh, we're just friends..." and I now understand the profound silence that ensued. In retrospect, it was not the first time I missed the signals. According to him, the guys in the class, including him, thought I was "gorgeous". I have never, ever, not for a nanosecond, ever considered myself "gorgeous" or even pretty for that matter. My nose is too big, I'm too curved and dimply and I'm short. It boggles my mind when people tell me that, because I don't see what they do... This re-acquaintance has no reason to flatter me, and he was never the type to do that anyway. We're both old married folk now. I would concede "cute" in those days...I was told I looked like Lady Diana quite often back in the day (the hair helped) but gorgeous...nope. And these days? Fat, frumpy, gone to seed and tired-absolutely. Gorgeous? Not even with my new haircut and a good makeup day. The best I hope for these days is "good." as in...I clean up good...

Finally, awkward was the word of the day on the weekend. We attended the Christening of my friend's baby. This friend is my little sister I never had, and her parents and I sang in church choir when I was in high school, and I used to hold her older brother while her parents went to communion when he was an infant. Our lives have been intertwined for years, and my husband and I have been included in many of their family's celebrations, because her mother is a good friend as well. Which is where the awkward part comes in, because her cousin is a former boyfriend...who broke my heart into a million pieces.

Steve and I started out as friends. I had just ended a very emotionally draining relationship and wasn't interested in any kind of romance, date or anything else with the male species. Crazy cat lady was my goal at that point, because it had to be better than the emotional hell I'd just escaped. We would chat after church and gradually, friendship developed into something more. Our first date was on Canada Day, and we both laughed about having eyes only for each other that day, oblivious to the festivities. We shared the day with his cousins and aunt and uncle, who had been quietly encouraging the romance.

It was a rocky romance, and doomed from the start. We shared the same beliefs...but were worlds apart on interests and activities. I loved to dance, and at that point, I was a competitive ballroom dancer. I still danced with my ex-boyfriend at that point. Steve swore up, down and sideways that he was fine with me dancing with the ex. Of course, he swore up, down and sideways about many things that he was fine with...because it's what he thought I wanted to hear. I was his first girlfriend...and he was in his early 30s.

We had picked the ring, tentatively picked a wedding date, immediate families knew "unofficially", and we had planned to announce the news on Christmas Eve...and then he walked away a couple of weeks before Christmas. He said he wasn't ready for a relationship, he wasn't okay with my dancing with the ex, he didn't want kids...and a myriad of other things that he finally came clean about....things that he thought I'd wanted to hear. I remember vividly going out for New Years' Eve with him after he'd come clean and I was still reeling. He tried to put his arm around me and I pulled back. It was the beginning of the end, and after another couple of months of trying to patch things up, only to discover layer upon layer of deceit, falsehood and misinformation I finally pulled the plug on the shambles of the relationship...on Valentines Day. People believe that I broke off the relationship, and that's true to a point...but he walked away first. I pulled the plug on the salvage effort; he pulled the plug on the relationship by revealing that it had been built on lies. He continued to come to church after, and I can remember forcing myself to sit in my seat as rage consumed me when he strolled in a few months later wearing the sweater that I had knit him for Christmas the previous year...the year we were supposed to be announcing our engagement. It was all I could do to not run down the aisle and rip it off his body. How DARE he wear it now...the hurt was overwhelming.

I stayed friends with his aunt, and his cousins, and so we bump up against each other once in awhile. It's been 12 years...and it is still awkward. I've skipped family celebrations that I knew he would be in attendance at. At others, we have remained on different floors, and out of each other's way. His mother is still a bit formal with me, even after all this time. His brother and father are friendly, and always have been.

On Saturday, after the Christening, he was watching the door and holding the dog, and my daughter made a beeline for the dog as soon as she spotted him. Before I had time to react, my daughter plunked down beside my ex-boyfriend and started her non-stop chatter with him and the dog. My husband joined the conversation, and I tried my best to melt into the floor, as I watched an interesting display of emotion play across my ex's mother's face as she also watched the ironic little scene playing itself out...More than any other relationship, that one crystallized the qualities I needed, and found later, in a partner.

The universe is pushing me to learn, clearly, with all these juxtapositions of present and past. I never resolved the bullying from high school...and the pattern thus repeated itself in my professional life, where I've been bullied on a professional level. My perceptions were challenged by the old college chum and the "hindsight is always 20/20" rule applied in the irony of my husband and my greatest heartbreak chatting together with my daughter. As my friend who posted the high school picture is wont to's time to thank the past for the experiences and cut the karmic chord and release the grip of the negative energy. Now if I can just find those darn scissors...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 1989

I was running late that morning, so I took a cab to work instead of the streetcar. That's how I missed the phone call from my mother. At 10am, I had just finished my break and logged back onto the phone line in the information unit at Customs in Toronto. I worked the phones before voice boxes and automated messages, in the days when we averaged 250 calls per day...per officer. As soon as I heard my mom's voice on the phone, I knew something was wrong. First of all, it was 10am, and she should have been at work. Second, she never called during peak phone hours. Third, mom never called me at work.

"Lisa, it's your mother."

"What's wrong, mom..."

"It's your father."

"What's wrong?"

"Well...he's dead."
I have no idea what else she told that day, except that my cousin was on her way to get me and I had to come home. My poor cousin Pat, we were not friends then. We were still working our way through a bunch of leftover teenage crap. She had been hijacked halfway to Toronto for a business meeting by her older brother, and charged with the duty of telling her not-very-close cousin that her father had just died. She didn't know what to say; my mom had already said it. Thankfully, she made sure that I packed correctly for the days to come. I had grabbed sweats and pyjamas, my cat and my makeup and I was good to go. She made sure I had a slip, an extra blouse, pantyhose, underwear...everything I needed for the funeral ahead. I had to make a trip back for my jeans and my car later; the family wouldn't let me drive myself, which was probably a good thing.

Mom had found dad that morning when she went to wake him to drive her to work. She always felt guilty that she was sitting in the kitchen eating her breakfast, letting dad sleep, glad he was having a good sleep for a change, never realizing that sleep would no longer be an issue for him. It must have been awful. I took comfort in the fact that I had talked to dad the night before he died, and the last words I ever said to him were "I love you daddy, I'll talk to you later." There are many years when that would not have been the last words we'd said to each other, indeed if we'd said anything at all. I tend to end my conversations with people I love by telling them. I learned that you never know what you might never again get the chance to say.

The days that followed are surreal. My aunt Gerry and aunt Linda arrived by nightfall, armed to the teeth with food. Harveys eat when we're stressed, and other Harveys feed. It's what we do. I came down the next morning, and there was a ham in the oven, two pots of soup on the stove, chili in the crockpot, and Auntie Gerry was standing on a chair in the hallway washing walls in her nightgown...and I thought it was fine and normal. Mom and I were in a fog. The Aunts told us to eat; we ate. I handled the phone calls that started as news spread, shaking uncontrollably while calmly giving the details of the funeral. No, there would be no visitation. The funeral would be Saturday morning, to give the rest of our family time to get there. The Donovans were travelling in the US; Auntie Kay needed time to get home for her brother's funeral. No, there's nothing you can do. Of course you should still go on your trip to Jamaica. It's okay. We understand. And we did.

My dad and mom had a burial plot in St. Eugene, Ontario, in between Ottawa and Montreal, beside my mom's father and mother. They had bought it for $75, including perpetual care, after my grandfather Harvey died. This is rural Ontario; they dig the graves by hand down home. It was November; the ground was frozen. Internment would have to wait for the spring thaw. My dad's family tried very hard to convince mom to buy a plot in Waterloo. I had to leave the room while the family discussed the location for plunking my father in the ground like he was a pet or a tree...I wanted to scream "you're talking about my daddy..." but I didn't. I left. Dad's brother Norman got his way on one thing, though. The casket was open. I wanted it closed; the Cheesemans wanted it open. I caused a minor guffufle by refusing to go past the middle of the room, and I never went near the casket. The corpse did not look like my dad, and even though I'd ironed the shirt personally that he was dressed in, I wasn't going near it. I wanted to remember my dad as he was, not as a waxen, made up stranger.

I wondered why so many people felt that we needed to know that dad died the same day as John that somehow made dad's death better because he shared the day with such an important and sad day in history. It didn't. I didn't need history to remember the day my dad died.

We got through it all, somehow. My aunt Betty came up, and stayed with us for a week after. I called the various places about the various bits of dad's life. I picked up the things from the funeral home, read the cards without comprehension, wrote my thank you notes, did what I was expected to do to support my mother in this horrible time...and marvelled in my occasional clear and lucid moments that no one was asking about me and how I was doing. I was always the "strong and capable one"; of course I was fine. Little did they know...I read the notes from people in my dad's life who seemed to know a different person than I did. My mom got rid of all the cards awhile ago in one of her "get rid of the junk" sweeps. I wished she'd asked me first, because I would have liked to keep them.

You find out who your real friends are in times of crisis. People I would have counted as friends were not. People I called chums or acquaintances drove from Toronto for the funeral, and held me up in the days to come. My close friends were there for me when it mattered. Wendy hunted me down in the basement of the church, and Janie fielded a hysterical phone call from me 2 weeks later when I was back in Toronto, and my mom was sick with pneumonia in Kitchener. The 20 something adult knew she was fine; the 10 year old child was terrified to lose her mom too. Janie talked me off the emotional ledge. They are still my close friends.

People can be callous. Someone I worked with, a seeming adult, commented that she didn't know why I was upset because it was not like I'd lost my "real" father since I was adopted. I came very close to throwing her out a window. Another clerk in a store demanded to see the death notification when I returned my father's already-purchased Christmas gifts. I pulled it out and slammed it on the counter and he processed the refund while a stranger, who I have since come to realize was probably an angel, held me tight in her arms as I shook. She disappeared before I got her name, but not before reporting the clerk's behaviour to the manager of the store. The clerk was fired on the spot, which made me feel worse rather than better.

Many of the things in my life that dad would have been most proud of have happened in the 19 years since he died. I completed my Masters in Political Science, I married, and I have an amazing little girl who would have run circles around her grandfather. She would have been charmed by the stub of his index finger; generations of kids were. My husband and my dad would have gotten along well; I married a card player.

I feel my dad's presence constantly. He hangs around to check up on us and watch his granddaughter. The morning after his sister, Kay died, two doves arrived on my deck in the middle of winter, and sat, watching Laura as she played in the kitchen. I've always associated doves with my father, since I started to notice them around after he died. I'm sure his sister brought her brother to see his granddaughter. Auntie Kay is the only one of his siblings who had seen her, after all.

So time passes. My mother and I still go to church together on November 22 to acknowledge dad's passing, and today will be no different. The tears are less frequent now, and sharp pain has faded to a dull ache. I found a box of pictures that had belonged to my father after my aunt died. My mom had forgotten they were there. I mourned dad all over through the loss of his sister, because she was my last link to the childhood he never spoke of, to the identity of the people in the pictures in the box that he never spoke of, to the haunted look in his eyes on Remembrance Day. The tears still come; just not as often or as acute. The love remains, and the misunderstandings and hurts of my youth have been balmed by maturity and adult insight. I love you daddy. I miss you...and I get it now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I've been keeping company with ghosts this week. Saturday will mark the 19th anniversary of my father's death, and he's been hanging around quite a bit this week. We were never really close when he was alive but I feel his presence often now. He died before I ever got the chance to get to know the man, rather than the father. I blogged about it on Fathers' Day.

Three other ghosts kept me company this week. A few days ago, I attended the Christmas show of the Waterloo Potters' Guild. I love handmade things, and the potters in our area are a talented bunch. I was on a mission to pick up some Christmas gifts, and replace a couple of the pottery mugs that had been broken over the course of the year. As I wandered the aisles, my eyes grew teary because of the presence of a few people that I had lost to cancer...or their spiritual presence anyway.

I saw a dragonfly in pottery and immediately thought of my friend Andrea, who fought hard to the end. I have a similar dragonfly hanging in my home, purchased the year Andrea died. It's a constant reminder of my feisty and courageous friend.

This time last year, I ran into my friend Julianne's mom Edelgard at the show. She loved pottery, and their home was filled with it. She was looking healthy and was laughing with friends over a shared joke. She had had a hard battle with breast cancer, and seemed to be on the other side of it...or so we thought. She was keeping a secret at the time; she'd already received the news that the cancer had returned and it was terminal. She didn't want to burden her family with that news at Christmas. We lost her in June this year. A warm, no nonsense person, a passionate reader, a teacher and a loving woman, I felt her presence acutely. I miss our chats on the phone when I phone to talk to Julianne. I would often stand visiting with her in the hall as I was leaving after visiting Julianne. I half expected to see her amongst the pots and platters, laughing and chatting with her friends. I miss her.

And finally, the presence of one person brought the tears to my eyes. Marguerite Szozda was a master potter, a true craftsperson, a generous spirit and someone I was glad to call my friend. Last year, she was in the final stages of cancer, but still had a booth at the show. She had mentored many of the younger potters, and they had promised her that they would tend her booth for her. They were as good as their word; her booth was immaculate, well displayed and never left unattended. The other potters told people about the remarkable woman whose hands had formed the bowls, pots and snowman tealight holders. I couldn't afford to buy one of her snowmen the previous year; last year, I couldn't afford not to. When I took the snowman to the cash, the person ringing through the order told me to "take special care of the snowman, because it was made by a very special person who was much loved." I confirmed her assessment, advising that I know Marguerite well. We lost her a couple of weeks before Christmas last year.

This year, Marguerite's husband, John, was working alone behind the scenes. He was putting boxes together, tidying displays, and helping out where he was needed...just like always. He and Marguerite were a team and it broke my heart to see him there alone. Marguerite would have approved. The other potters were joking and laughing with him, and I'm sure he took comfort being where he and Marguerite had spent so much time together. It gave him comfort; it broke my heart. He spotted me at the cash and came to say hello, and it was all I could do to keep the tears at bay. The ache in my heart was nothing to what his must have been.

And so I walk with my ghosts. I believe that the people who matter most to us don't leave us when they die, and we can feel their presence around us, and they continue to love, support and guide us. It might not jive with traditional Christian teachings, but I simply cannot believe that love dies when the body does. So I walk with my ghosts, I welcome their presence and although I miss their earthly presence, I continue to feel their love. The body will die; the love will live forever.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A kid's eye view

Sometimes, a child can put everything in perspective for you. My husband always takes my daughter out for Halloween, and I stay home and hand out the candy. Last night, when they stopped in midway through the scavenge, my daughter seemed upset, which she confirmed by wrapping herself around me and holding on tight. Seems there was a particularly scary house that my husband thought would be fine to take our 3 year old to, and it scared her witless.

I picked her up and hugged her for a few minutes, and when I put her back down, she asked me to take her out for the rest of the night "because mommy isn't afraid of anything."

To say I was gobsmacked is an gross understatement. You see, mommy is afraid of many things. In fact, mommy is afraid of almost everything. Spiders, bees, wasps, thunderstorms, being without work, (these days) the number on the scale, snowstorms, scary movies, what's living in the back of the fridge, singing the wrong note, acceptance of my writing, cellulite, grey hair, idiots who drive while talking on cell phones, cancer stealing someone ELSE I love...mommy is afraid of many things. I guess I've just become better at hiding my fear than I thought.

My mother is afraid of many things too. My earliest memories were of being dragged to the basement in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. I grew up terrified of thunderstorms (and being caught in the woods during a particularly gnarly one didn't help things.) My husband LOVES thunderstorms, so I told him from the beginning that if Vampira woke up in the middle of the night in a storm, that he would have to go to her, because I didn't want to make her afraid just because I was. So far, she's never wakened in a thunderstorm and doesn't seem to mind them. So far, so good.

I grew up being taught to worry about what people think-that people's opinions, especially the family's, matter. It took me until 40 to realize that while it is true that how you are perceived in the world matters to a certain extent, going against what you believe matters more. I'm a bit of an enigma in my family, but that's okay. I decided that I was not going to live the second part of my life the way I lived the first half, and I'm trying to be more true to myself and my beliefs now. I'm happier. Some of the family don't get it, but it doesn't matter anyway. I get it, and I can live with myself. I'm trying to live without fear. Some days go better than others.

For my daughter to think that mommy is fearless was a boost for me. My daughter and I headed out hand in hand to complete the trick or treat circuit. We had to go by the scary house. I told her that we were going to sing "la la la la, you can't scare me." while we walked past. We did. It worked. When we passed the scary house on the way back, my daughter roared at it. She's learning not to be scared. She still clung to my hand, but she walked a little taller.

There are many things in life that will be scary for her. The trick is knowing how to roar at the fear. My daughter taught me some things last night. I have some roaring of my own to do-at building my website-ROAR. At going back to finish the YA novel I started and then let the opinions of others scare me off-ROAR. At making a real effort to market myself to find new business-ROAR. And to all the of the petty insecurities that have plagued me my whole life I say "La, La LA LA. YOU CAN'T SCARE ME." If it worked for scary houses, it should work for taking advantage of new opportunities. so ROAR ROAR ROAR...and I should trust my daughter. She's a smart kid.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I've been pondering the meaning of the word "real" the last few days, after a conversation with my cousin Sandi. What does a "real" family mean?

I'm adopted, and I've been confronted with the "real" family question since I was a child. I have always known I was adopted. It's just part of who I am. My parents always told me I was "chosen". I had a wonderful image when I was younger that my parents went to a supermarket to get me. Instead of shopping carts, they used baby buggies. Instead of freezer compartments, there were bassinets and they rolled their buggy down the aisle until they found me, put me in the baby buggy and wheeled through the checkout. I didn't really know what happened at checkout, but I was their "choice" and I went home with them.

I've lost count of the number of times that people over the years have asked if I wanted to find my "real" parents. My "real" parents were at home, or sitting by my side when I was sick, or sitting up in a gas station at 9pm reading a book because I was 15 and my mom didn't want me sitting in a gas station by myself at that hour. My "real" father would sit up waiting for me, even after I had moved out and was home for the weekend. His light was a beacon in the night over the driveway...and his room was always dark when I reached the top of the stairs. He would fake snore, and I would pop my head in his room and call good night to him. There would be silence, and then he would respond, embarrassed that he'd been caught waiting for his 2o something daughter. My real father would phone me in Toronto when I was sick "because my mother was worried about me", oblivious to the fact that I had talked to my mom earlier in the day. My real father is lying in the graveyard in St. Eugene, Ontario. My "real" parents are my mom and dad. I may not have their DNA, but I knew who my parents are.

I have never been curious about my biological parents, although I'd like to know the health information that is swimming in my gene pool. I was adopted at a time when the records in Quebec were sealed, and although there have been a number of legal challenges, to date they remain sealed. I know when and where I was born, and that's it. I have nothing to search with, and no real inclination to do so. It makes for a bunch of medical tests when I go to a new doctor because I have no medical history, but other than that, I know who I am.

I have a massive extended family, and I am closer to my mother's side of the family, the Harveys. It's not that there's anything wrong with the Cheeseman side, far from it. My cousin Pat is my daughter's Godmother, and one of my closest friends. I didn't really get to know the Cheeseman family until I was in my teens and we moved to Kitchener. I grew UP with the Harvey clan, especially the Allison family. The four Allison boys are the closest I have to brothers, and our families were inseparable when I was a child. They lost their mother and father a few years apart, and my mom and dad acted as surrogate parents. It was a conversation that I had with Glenn and Sandi Allison (and Sandi is like a sister because she lived with the Allisons when she was a teenager, and I thought she was the coolest ever with her go-go boots...I still think she's pretty cool, and now I could her as a close friend) at my kitchen table that has me mulling and a bit hurt.

I'm an adopted child and an adoptive parent. My family is my family, my cousins are my cousins, my aunts and uncles are my aunts and uncles, and my child is unequivocally, absolutely my daughter. I've never cared a fig about DNA. Apparently, not everyone in my family shares that belief, because one of my other cousins had made a comment that someone was not a "real" cousin because they were adopted.

I don't know the source of the opinion, although I have my suspicions. I have to admit the comment caught me off guard, because if adopted members are not "real" family...then neither am I nor is my daughter. I'm hurt and puzzled by that. It's beyond my realm of comprehension.

So what makes a "real" family? Is it only DNA? I am certainly closer to some members of my family than others, but I don't think DNA has anything to do with that. I know lots of blood siblings who don't speak, or seem to have come from different universes. I know siblings who are close in age and as different as chalk and cheese.

To me, "real" family is made from love, shared tradition and shared experiences. I have 21 cousins on my mom's side of the family, and when my aunt and uncle celebrated their 50th anniversary, every single one of us was together for the first time since we were kids. We all gathered at the Lefaivre farm, where many family gatherings, and any number of massive cousin hide and go seek games took place in the old barn. My husband listened with fascination at some of the stories of my childhood...and DNA played no part in the childhood raids to get fresh peas from the garden, or the hours of cross country skiing we did out the back fields. DNA played no part in the family chocolate chip cookies, or Auntie Beryl's oatmeal cookies...or the family ghosts. Our shared experience made the family, not the blood in our veins.

Nature or nurture; any adoptive parent is familiar with the debate. What shapes a child? Is it environment or DNA. Is an adopted child not a "real" member of the family? I don't think so, and it makes me sad that others disagree. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree; family does that.

So what do you think? What makes a "real" family member?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Confessions of a Political Junkie

My name is Lisa...and I am a political junkie. Actually, I'm a third generation political junkie...and with imminent elections in Canada and the United States, I am a happy political junkie.

From the time I was a child, I followed politics. I am an only child, and if I wanted to have anything to say over dinner, I had to. Our family talked politics, local, provincial, federal and international, over dinner. I once won a trivia contest at Wilder Penfield Elementary School in Dollard des Ormeaux because I was the only one in the school who could successfully identify a picture of Mayor Jean Drapeau... (and I was probably only in grade 3 at the time...) once a geek...

My parents followed politics closely, although they were not active in a party. My father was a Liberal. His family was Liberal. His family continues to vote Liberal. It didn't matter who was the leader of the party, or who the local representative was. The Cheeseman family vote Liberal.

My mother tended to vote Liberal as well, but was more concerned with who was leading the party and who the local candidate was. Her father always advised her to "vote for the man rather than the party" and she tended to follow that. My mother is passionate about caring for the poor, the homeless and the hungry. No matter how little she had, she always found some money to give to others. As she's aged, she's become far more concerned with which party will best take care of the least in society. She is on a fixed income and has little, and is still passionate about people who have even less than she has. It's a lesson I learned at home and one that I practice and continue to teach my daughter.

I'm an enigma. As my family will gleefully remind me from time to time, I was a card carrying member of the Conservative party for years, and there are pictures of me, dressed head to toe in Larry Grossman garb at a leadership convention circa 1984. One of my most treasured possessions is an autograph from Joe Clark. I joined the Conservative party because of Joe Clark-I was always to the left of centre in my thinking and Joe appealed to my teenaged idealism. I was in tears the night his government was defeated, and wrote a very impassioned, full of idealism letter of support to him. I was 17 and really upset that I couldn't vote. I still have the letter I received in response. My grade 12 history teacher, Tom DelaFreniere, fanned the spark of interest into a flame by engaging in a spirited debate about issues during the election that followed and demanded that we debate intelligently, and not just "I like the party". He expected us to defend our position...and was not smug the morning after the election returned the Liberals to power. I went on to complete 2 degrees in Political Science. My specialty and passion has always been Canadian politics, and since I grew up in Quebec during the 1970s, I spent a great deal of time trying to understand why the Quebecois feel as they do. I don't think I completely understand, but at least I've made the effort to see another point of view.

I actively worked in both Larry Grossman leadership campaigns, canvassed for candidates until my feet fell off...and then received a hard lesson in political party reality. It was 1985, and I had passed up an opportunity to be a delegate from the Kitchener riding to the second Ontario Conservative leadership convention (which Grossman eventually won) because I had been promised a delegate position because I'd worked on staff for the Grossman campaign (sometimes going 24 hours at the headquarters-Larry Grossman's father was an insomniac, and it was not uncommon for him to arrive in the wee small hours of the morning with food for those of us silly enough to be there over night. Computer technology was in its infancy...we did a lot of things manually...and I became very good at running the autopen and signing Larry's name to the letters...) On the night of the speeches, I was eager to hear them in person, and my section head kept stalling, saying we'd all go together...I finally got fed up and headed down there alone, and walked up to delegate registration, only to find out that they had nothing for me...I had moved to Toronto by then, and I was three-quarters of the way out the door, heading for home when I was stopped by one of the senior team, who explained that there had been some "confusion" about me...and there was no delegate for me, but they hadn't wanted to "upset" me by telling me ahead of time. Yeah, cause it was much less upsetting to be turned away at the door...I cut my ties with the party not long after...literally. I cut up my membership cards, I cut up my PC Canada Fund card...and I haven't voted Conservative since.

I share my mother's passion about the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the hungry and the less fortunate. I have added a concern for the environment, and our family does our best to mitigate our impact on the environment. I believe that we all have a personal responsibility to take care of each other, and that the people we elect as representatives and lawmakers have a higher responsibility. I will never be an economist. People matter to me far more than the bottom line or the boardroom profit margins. I was always the one who asked how a policy decision would impact the employees...I don't do "mean". I understand that tough decisions need to be made in business, and in politics, but I have never been able to make those decisions without agonizing about the impact on the people behind the decision. I will vote for the party that I think can balance the concerns of the bottom line with the concerns for the people impacted BY the bottom line.

I confess that I have been far more interested in the politics south of the border than our current federal election. With the exception of the Green Party, the differences among the mainstream parties are not that significant. In the United States, however, the McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden tickets are worlds apart. The president of the United States has a worldwide impact and with the current economic crisis needs a firm and prudent steward. How I feel about US politics is a blog in itself...but suffice to say that McCain, and especially Palin scare me witless. It's unfortunate that Ms. Palin will become the anti-poster child for women in politics. There are so many better choices for VP than the gun-toting, g-dropping Governor from Alaska. If I were voting...I'd vote Democrat.

I will be glued to the television on Tuesday night...and I will be talking back and forth with my mother all evening. We will similarly be glued to the television on November 4. After 10 years of marriage, my husband has come over ot the dark side (we have cookies...) and has joined the political junkie side of the family. If he's stuck watching the debates and the returns, he might as well join in the conversation as well! Meet the Press is our Sunday morning with coffee ritual, although we miss Tim Russert. I'd love to see what he would do with Sarah Palin...

It's an important time in our history and that of our neighbours to the south. I will always exercise my right to vote because I don't believe you have a right to bitch if you haven't been part of the process! Whatever your opinion, whatever your inclination...exercise your right to a part of the decision-making.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Channelling Helen Reddy

"If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman." From the song, "I am Woman" lyrics by Helen Reddy, released in 1972.

This song was released when I was 9 years old. I always liked the song, but I don't think I had a real appreciation of the meaning of the lyrics until recently. The last couple of weeks, I've been singing the song out loud to motivate myself. You see, for the last few weeks, I've been in home reno hell in preparation for a visit from my cousins on October 7th.

My husband is a procrastinator. He has big plans...lots of them...they are still plans. Any home reno project we've undertaken has happened because I start them. I changed our master bedroom by reaching about his head one morning and starting to peel the wallpaper off the walls. We painted the living room when I started pulling the furniture into the middle of the floor, spreading newspaper and then carrying the all-ready purchased paint from the basement. When I get the project in motion, he pitches in full force.

We had been talking about replacing the wallpaper in the hallways and stairwells for 10 years. It was old. It was formal. It was falling off the wall on the landing. We had a couple of challenges. The landing is 1.5 stories, and I'm afraid of heights. We also didn't have a ladder tall enough to reach the ceiling. More daunting, the people who had the house before us were wallpaper morons. They didn't prep the walls properly, they lapped the wallpaper from one room UNDER the wallpaper to another and since we'd already stripped a number of the rooms ,we knew what we were in for. We were cowards...but now we were cowards with a deadline because I wanted it fixed before my cousins come. There's nothing like out of town guests to motivate home reno projects.

Our daughter had already pulled bits off the wall. On a rainy day when I was at a loss about how to entertain our fractious and bored 3 year old, I decided it was time. I got my wall patch thingie, told Vampira we were going to make a big mess...and started to pull the wallpaper off the walls. I pulled the wallpaper off as far as I could, and then let Vampira do the bottom part. She had a ball and we got quite a bit done. We were taking a break mid-afternoon when I heard the front door open and my husband calling "hello" and then there was dead silence...I had forgotten it was his split shift. Vampira and I stripped all of the wallpaper that we could reach, and then we let my husband and father in law do the top bits. A couple of days later, I armed Vampira with a spray bottle full of fabric softener and water and we attacked the backing. (it really works! We've tried everything in this house to get the wallpaper off without destroying the walls and this concoction does the best job.) She sprayed the low bits and I worked on the high bits and we stripped the walls and then turned it over to the men for the unreachable places.

That same weekend, I headed upstairs with a prybar, a garbage bag and my wall patch thingie. My husband followed me, a nervous and quizzical expression on his face. When I started attacking the floor in the bathroom, all his questions were answered. We had butt ugly peel and stick tile that was not sticking anymore. We'd bought a replacement; I was replacing it. When I discovered that my husband and father in law had peeled and stuck over an existing floor, the job doubled in size, and the first chorus of Helen Reddy sprang to my lips. As I pulled at the floor, I kept singing "I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman." My husband pitched in and we got the old floors up in record time. Later, my daughter sat on my lap peeling the backing off the new floor as my father in law measured and laid it. After all, floor tile are much bigger than stickers and easier to pull off.

When my husband went back to work, I was left with the task of continuing to patch the walls. The men had done quite a bit, but there was a great deal more to do. I couldn't get to the good stuff until the patching and sanding was done...and time was ticking. I swallowed my fear and climbed the newly purchased ladder, patcher thingie and bucket of patch in hand. I did all but the last foot nearest the ceiling because I simply could not climb another rung up the ladder, and, as some people had pointed out, climbing a ladder that high with only Vampira in the house was not the safest thing I've done in my life. I also sprained my foot 15 feet up in the air and had to gingerly ease my way back down. The patching got done around Vampira, but it got done.

I'm now into priming the walls, and I've been humming Helen again. My daughter now goes to pre-school two mornings a week, and I paint like a madwoman while she's there. My foot still hurts, so I've been staying lower down the ladder, but the ceilings haven't lowered. I was a fan of McGyver, and the edging at the ceiling had to be done. I taped a paintbrush to a stick, climbed a little way up the ladder, put the roller on a long pole and primed the wall from Hades.

I can't do the paint colour with a paint brush on a stick, so my husband will have to run the paint gauntlet at the ceiling. I can do the rest.

Moms find out fast that our job doesn't end if we're sick or tired. I've taken Vampira to the park when I had bronchitis so severe I could barely walk. I've been stripping wallpaper and priming walls around my daughter. I know how to work with her. I've got some medical things going on right now that might mean a hysterectomy down the road. Right now, I'm anemic. I'm tired...really tired but I keep going. (a healthy dose of stubborn doesn't hurt!) I have to keep going or things don't get done.

So I finally understand all the words to Helen Reddy's song. "I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman." I will make it happen. It's what women do.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I remember...

September 11th will be my generation's John F. Kennedy assassination, or V-day or John Lennon's Assassination or Elvis dying. We all remember where we were when the planes hit the twin towers.

I was on the phone with my mother while I was at work. She is a senior citizen and lives alone and I had made it a habit to check in with her every morning. She is the one that told me about the first plane...and was on the phone with me when the second plane hit. I have no idea what the rest of the conversation that day was.

I worked in an insurance company that had recently installed large televisions that ran Report on Business Television...except that day, when every eye of the world was turned to New York City. A large gathering of employees stood in shock in front of the television, some of us standing, some of us sitting. We joined the worldwide vigil, joined the worldwide grief as the towers collapsed, and joined the worldwide vigil for survivors. I would watch for awhile, then walk back to my desk, only to be drawn back to the television again. I was a compliance consultant, and somehow, legislation just didn't matter that day. Unfortunately, one of the senior managers happened to walk by both times I was transfixed in horror, in almost exactly the same spot. She didn't know that I had only recently returned and assumed that I was "wasting my day" in front of the television. As far as she was concerned, it should be business as usual. My husband, who worked in the same company, worked his whole day. There was nothing "usual" about that day, and I was incapable of usual work. It became one of the last nails in my professional coffin...

I have always been very empathetic, and I've never understood mean. I was overwhelmed by the feelings of fear and terror that must have covered the innocents on the planes. I was dumbfounded by a hatred so powerful that the lives of other human beings became meaningless. And I was paralyzed with the "mean" that it would take to kill thousands of innocent people. I couldn't understand how anyone could do something so horrible. I was numb, I was devastated and I was emotionally incapacitated.

I remember the frantic attempts of one of my coworkers to reach her son, who was in New York on business. Cell phone reception was nil. She finally reached her daughter in law, who had just received word that her son was safe. My relief was as great as hers, but it magnified what was going on in thousands of homes all over the world.

Over the next few days, I kept vigil with the world as the search for survivors continued. I felt guilty when I finally turned off the television and watched an animal show with horses and agility dogs competing at the same time. I had to smile at the dogs, and then felt like I was turning my back on the victims because I had turned the channel. I had chosen to watch something else and I felt like a traitor to the vigil.I have a picture of the World Trade Centre from a trip to New York City in 1984. The first thing I did when I got home the night of the tragedy was go looking for the picture...I needed to ground myself in reality in a surreal day.

Years pass. The memorials are less, although I suspect the 10th anniversary will be different. The site has changed from Ground Zero to a construction zone as the towers are rebuilt. I don't agree with re-building on the site of so many deaths, but I've always believed in ghosts and I have always been very sensitive to the spatial energy around us. I don't want to visit the place of so much fear, sadness and pain.

I still don't understand the motivation. I don't judge it, because I don't know enough about the underlying fundamentalist thought to fairly assess it. Fundamentalist anyone make me nervous, whether it is political, religious, sexual or even food. I tend to be fairly accepting and moderate, but I also think that "agree to disagree" is a good philosophy. I don't think that anyone has the right to force his/her opinions down anyone else's throat. I don't think that all followers of Islam were responsible for September 11 anymore than I, as a Roman Catholic am responsible for the Crusades, or I, with Irish in my blood, am responsible for the Troubles. Individuals chose to act and the whole should not be held accountable for the actions of the few.

So on this September 11, I pause to remember and to offer a prayer for anyone touched by the day the Towers came down. I remember...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biting my tongue. In honour of Andrea Blasman

Andrea Blasman

Sometimes it's all I can do to bite my tongue. A couple of nights ago, we were at the Dairy Queen and I noticed a beautiful young girl waiting in line. She was blonde and leggy and strikingly beautiful. Many heads turned as she left with her friends.

I happened to glance outside in time to see her pull a package of cigarettes out of her purse and light up. My opinion of her changed in a heartbeat. It was all I could do to stop myself from running outside and pulling the cigarette out of her mouth. I am passionately anti-smoking. Why? Let me tell you about my friend Andrea.

Andrea was a funny, feisty, talented woman. She had a smile that would light up a room, she was a loyal friend, an amazing mother, a beautiful singer, a talented actor and a dedicated worker. Andrea collected friends like some people collect shoes. She gravitated to the talented and her mix of friends made for lively get-togethers. She was the first one to cheer anyone on, and I don't think she realized how talented she was, she was so busy applauding everyone else's accomplishments.

Andrea was the mother of 4 kids and loved to share their accomplishments with anyone who would listen. She was their biggest fan, their staunchest supporter and their loudest cheerleader in whatever they chose to do.

Three years ago, Andrea was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had started smoking at age 12, but had stopped 12 years prior to her diagnosis. Her husband continued to smoke, even when she was on palliative care and oxygen. Her family and her sister continued to smoke as well.

Andrea fought cancer her way. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, her "theatre friends" rallied around her to have a party that would send her off to treatment with positive love and energy encircling her. Although she was not supposed to, Andrea was quaffing wine at the party, and she quipped that she planned to "drown the tumour", making her body an inhospitable place for it to remain.

She lost ground very quickly. Feisty and determined to the end, she planned her own funeral, and included instructions to her friends to wear bright colours in her honour. She chose her own music and asked some of our friends to sing for her. Included in the funeral was a video from a dream vacation to Hawaii that the family had taken after she had finished Chemo, before they found out that the cancer had spread and was now terminal. Most of it was Andrea's kids, but the last line of it reduced all of us to tears. Andrea always ended phone calls, and often, e-mails with "I love you." The last words of the video were "I love you. bye." in Andrea's voice. In typical Andrea fashion, she had found a way to say goodbye to all of us.

We lost Andrea in 2006. I miss her everyday. I keep tabs on her kids through Facebook, but from a distance. I didn't know them that well, and didn't want to intrude.

When I see young people (or anyone for that matter) smoking, I want to run up and tell them about my friend Andrea. I want to tell them about her smile, her spirit, her courage. I want to tell them about her pride in her kids, her love of dragonflies, music and cats, and I want to tell them about how she looked when I saw her last, bald, jaundiced and shrunken--so changed that I didn't recognize her at first... until she smiled.

Is a cigarette worth your life? Is a cigarette worth your mother's life, your friend's life, your child's life? Is a cigarette worth everything that you could lose?

Let me tell you about my friend.

Me, Akasha and Michele serenading Andrea before she started Chemo, Sept. 2005. She died in May 2006.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Confessions of an Olympics Junkie

My name is Lisa, and I am an Olympics junkie...For the next 2 weeks, I will waste an inordinate amount of time watching all sorts of sports I couldn't care less about the rest of the time. Although I prefer the wild and wacky winter Olympic sports (I mean seriously, what kind of alcohol was involved when the person who invented Luge or Skeleton thought it would be a good idea to put an oversized ice skate on their butt?) I will dutifully watch the summer Olympics just because, well, it's the Olympics...

Maybe it stems from living in Montreal when the 1976 Olympics were held. Nadia Comaneci became my hero. I've actually been to an Olympic event-our friend of the family got tickets to one of the track and field events and we sat in La Stade Olympique (which, from certain angles looks like an upright vaccuum cleaner...) in the chilly morning and watched people run around the track. I also vaguely remember being at an Olympic pre-qualifying event for men's gymnastics with the Allison cousins. I thought I was seeing the women, so I was disappointed and bored...but it was the Olympics.

I certainly don't watch the Olympics because I have any sort of Olympic athleticism...just the opposite. I suck at sports. All sports. I was good at soccer baseball when I was a kid because I could run like the wind until puberty hit. I danced competition level ballroom dancing for several years (and yeah, it IS a sport-try dancing 3 hours of quickstep and jive and then tell me it isn't) and that's probably the closest I've come. In the olden days, when there was still a Canada Fitness Award, I would get Gold every year. I couldn't do the flexed arm hang to save my life, but I was really good at speed situps, the 50 yard dash, and whatever that thing was called where you ran between lines and put blocks down. I'm so NOT an athlete. Don't believe me...let's do a run down-winter and summer.

Baseball: I could hit and I could run. The one season I was on a ball team, I was put in "deep roving right field" and the short stop and 2nd base players covered right field because I couldn't catch...and if I did manage to get the ball in the glove, I couldn't throw it where it needed to be. Alas, my baseball career (Or I should say, softball) ended when I lost a pop fly in the sun...and found it when it bounced off my face at warm-up before a game. I had to play the game anyway or we would have forfeited. So broken nose and all, I played. It was actually the best game I ever played; I hit something like 5 home runs because I was terrified of getting hit in the face again.

Swimming: I took swimming lessons, and was on the swim team at the community pool. I've never learned how to do the butterfly, because I couldn't do a dolphin kick to save my life. I looked more like a hippo in a death roll. It wasn't pretty. The one swim meet I entered, I was on the 2nd team of our squad's relay, and I was supposed to swim the first leg. We were kids, and the coach forget to "coach" us, and the 4 of us didn't make it onto the blocks in time for the start...we were still warming up when the gun sounded. So much for swimming. A guy that I went to Wilder Penfield Elementary School with, David Churchill, made it to the Canadian Olympic Team in 1984. That's as close as I'll get.

Figure Skating: Like every Canadian little girl, I took figure skating lessons. I managed to master the bunny hop and shoot the duck. My favorite part of skating lessons was the hotdog and hot chocolate that my mom bought me after. I hated being cold, and I've never learned how to skate backwards properly or non-ankle skate. Scratch that one.

Cross Country Skiing: I grew up in Quebec...of COURSE I cross country skied. My aunt and uncle had a farm with acres and acres of fields. My mom and aunt could watch us from the warmth of the kitchen window and keep an eye on us for miles. I like it, but never excelled at it...perhaps because the skis we used at the farm were actually downhill skis with cross country bindings. Still, it's the one sport I always enjoyed and plan to introduce to my husband and daughter this year. Even a klutz can cross country ski. I'm living proof.

Track and Field: Before puberty hit I could run like a deer. I held the school record in the 50 yard dash. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted because my grade 7 class at Queen of Angels Academy voted ME the sports rep for our class, because I held THAT school's record first year. I also clearly remember trying to resign from the position because the class sports events were held at lunch hour...and so was choir practice, and I was watching out the window at my class play basketball...while I sang. Alas, between grade 7 and grade 8 hormones kicked in, I gained huge boobs and 20 pounds over the course of a summer...and never ran fast again. I never had stamina, but I was good at sprints.

Hockey: Well, okay, for me it was ringette. Girls didn't play hockey. Girls played ringette, a really stupid game with a rubber ring and broom sticks. Let me tell you, boys and girls, that ring hurt when it hit you because the stupid thing was frozen. Now, I've already mentioned that I ankle skate and I can't skate I'm playing ringette? I couldn't make heads or tails of the rules, so I was never sure which set of blue lines I wasn't supposed to cross so I mainly skated in between them...when I skated a shift...which wasn't very often. I did manage to get my stick on the ring once...I couldn't do anything with it but I did manage to touch the ring once...that was a good minute.

Tennis: I learned to play tennis on the road. I was pretty good at street tennis...and then some dumbass went and put a net in the middle of the court. Tennis is my husband's passion, and he's very good. I try to play tennis with him once in awhile, but he just stands at centre court whacking the ball back at me as I run all over the court. If I manage to actually get the ball back over the net (and stay in our court...I don't normally like to be confined by one court...and heaven help the people on other courts if we have to share...because I really suck) he doesn't have to work too hard. I can't serve overhand...I still do the bounce the ball on the ground and whack. I'm not much of an opponent. I've got no backhand so I try to run past and use the forehand. Maybe our daughter will be better.

Gymnastics: I took gymnastics. I'm afraid of heights, so the balance beam wasn't good for me even though I had good balance. I bruise easily and I have crappy tendons and have sprained or otherwise done damage to every joint in my body. I have no upper body strength, and never ever managed to do a kip unto the low bar, forget the high bar (did I mention I'm afraid of heights...) I could run, so I might have been pretty good at vault...except I had plantars warts all over the bottom of my right foot (and I mean ALL OVER-they had to be surgically removed) so running barefoot was excruciating. I have absolutely no flexibility so that ruled out floor. Okay, let's be honest. I sucked.

Cycling: I haven't ridden a bike since we left Montreal in 1977. Now, if the bike is not positioned in front of a television at the gym, I'm not putting my butt on it. 'nuff said about that.

Downhill skiing: I grew up in Quebec and went on the obligatory school ski trip. I'm afraid of heights and wouldn't set butt on the chair lift. It took me all week to master the t-bar...and never did learn the snowplow. I gave up downhill skiing for the sake of my fellow human beings.

Diving: I was afraid of heights, and I wore a nose plug. They wouldn't let me wear the nose I couldn't figure out how to do the right form with arms overhead...and still plug my nose because I never learned how to breath properly. I had to be dropped off the higher springboard by the diving coach because I got to the top, got to the end of the board, looked down and was paralyzed with fear. I couldn't jump and I couldn't walk back off the board and down the ladder because I was terrified. It wasn't pretty.

Synchronized swimming: I could wear my noseplug...I could skull. I have no flexibility...wounded hippo in death roll.

Volleyball: I'm short and klutzy. End of story. Ditto for basketball.

I could keep going, but I think I've had enough fun revisiting my childhood angst and failures. I appreciate the courage and tenacity that elite athletes must have. For the next two weeks I will cheer any and all Canadian athletes on. My eyes will well along with them when the flag is raised and the anthem plays. When the games come to Vancouver for 2010, I'll burst with pride and we're still trying to figure out a way to go out to see some of it in person. Until then, I'll watch all of the amazing athletes. Whether they medal or not, they are all heros in my books. And for the Olympians like Ian Millar who has been to every games since the 1970s, for Kyle Shewfelt who broke both his legs 1o months ago and still turned in a kickass performance today at the Olympics, and to every athlete from whatever country who is or has been an Olympic athlete, I stand and give you all a standing ovation.

But I still gotta say...GO CANADA GO!

Oh Canada, our home and native land...

And if you want to read a really inspiring story, check out Kyle Shewfelt's blog.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Guest Blogging

Hi all
I'm guest blogging today at, a website by and for stay at home moms.

Check out my rumination on whether or not I'm a bad mom for mourning the end of summer playgroup!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Middle Age Crazy

It's funny how life creeps up on you. My friend Anne and I tried to see "Mamma Mia" (the movie) last night and it was sold out for the early show. We could have seen "Hellboy II" or "The Dark Knight"...but Mamma Mia was sold out. Things that make you go hmmm..

Anyway, we were walking back to the car, and saw a couple of other women our age walking TOWARDS the movie line. We told them that "Mamma Mia" was sold out and they turned around and headed for their car as well. Sometimes, you just know what movie people are going to see. Anne commented that with the selections available when you "see another pair of middle aged women, you know what movie they're going to see."

Her comment caught me off guard, because I don't think of myself as middle aged. Of course, logically and chronologically, I AM middle aged; 45 certainly qualifies for that. However, I have a 3 year old daughter running around so I often talk with other moms (who are young enough to be MY daughter had life turned out differently)who are much younger than I am, but we're on the same level because our kids are the same age. I can relate to them because we're all going through the princesses/Dora/toilet training phase, regardless of our age on our birth certificate.

Hormonally, I'm certainly middle aged. I was warned 5 years ago by an Ob-Gyn when we were going through fertility stuff before we found out it wasn't medically possible for me to conceive and carry a child to term that I would be in full blown menopause in 3-5 years. I just finished a period that lasted into 4 weeks. I suspect the Ob-Gyn was right. My other friends who are "of that certain age" are variously starting to notice weird things with their cycles as well. My friend Wendy, who has a son going off to university in the fall, was 2.5 weeks late a couple of months ago and was terrified that she was pregnant...turned out, she's just going into "the change". She was both relieved and saddened by the news. She watches me chase my 3 year old, and she's raising 3 boys in their teens-she doesn't want to go back to diapers, but she was sad that she's losing the choice.

I guess, in the end, age is an attitude. My maternal grandmother lived to be 86, and she was the coolest person I knew. She knew the latest movies, the latest songs, and she danced a mean hustle. She made it her business to keep up on things, and was a verocious reader. She wanted to relate to her grandchildren, so she immersed herself in their world and their interests. She was the epitomy of "young at heart." My father, in contrast, decided that he was "old" at 60 and started walking with this slow, shuffling gait. It wasn't until he was mistaken for his younger brother's FATHER instead of brother that he snapped out of it and started walking upright again. I know children that are "old souls" as my mother would say-far more worldly in their outlook than they should be for their chronological age.

It's taken me this long to be comfortable with who I am and what I believe in. I wouldn't go backwards for anything. I'd like to right some wrongs, or make better choices about love and romance, but then, I wouldn't have the life I have now if I did. Hindsight is always 20/20. I don't think I'm in danger of a Mid-life crisis, because I'm finally comfortable (most days, anyway unless there's a bathing suit in public involved) in my own skin, in my own person and with my own values and life choices. If that's what being "middle aged" means, then bring it, baby. I can own that. But I still want to learn how to tap dance, belly dance and do that hip hop booty shake...I've still got almost half my life left, after all!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Definition of Multitasking...

Here is a definition of Multitasking:
This morning I was simultaneously
  • highlighting my hair in the bathroom
  • reading material for a course I just started to take
  • cleaning the bathroom while the highlights "highlighted"
  • making beds
  • chatting with my daughter about which teddy bear she was taking to playgroup this afternoon
  • listening to the weather report on the radio
  • drinking my naturopath-prescribed drops in my water

And that, boys and girls, is multitasking...

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I'm always fascinated by how others see us as opposed to how we see ourselves. I had an interesting conversation (okay...facebook IM conversation) with my friend Thea a few days ago about perception and it's stuck with me.
According to Thea, I was the envy of the "cool kids" in high school because I could sing. You could have knocked me over with a feather. First of all, I didn't really sing all that well in high school-not compared to now anyway after I've had some training. Second, I find it hard to believe that I was the envy of anyone in high school, except perhaps for the girls who were less endowed than I was. (and believe me, if I could have traded boobs with them I would have). I was a geek-I'm still a geek; I just dress better. Third, I don't even know who the "cool kids" were; they operated on a different plain of existence. They hung out with my cousins.
High school was tough for me on a number of levels. I grew up in Quebec (Dollard-des-Ormeaux to be exact) and went to elementary school there, and 2 years of high school. In QC, high school was considered grades 7-11, and then you did 2 years of CEGEP before university. When we moved to Kitchener in 1977, I had spent grade 7-8 in a private girls' school that only accepted 50 students a year and required an entrance exam prior to acceptance. Academics were paramount; a 75% was a failure, and if you were not in the top 5 in the class, you were worthless. I was in the top tier in class in everything but math, and I still maintained a math average in the 80s. We were also taught almost exclusively by nuns-Sisters of St Joseph-with the exception of the Spanish teacher and the gym teacher. We were allowed to fraternize with the boys' school 3 times a year for school dances and other than that the company was estrogen-driven. I had asked to go to that school because I was terrified of the high school I would have attended in DDO. It was safe, it was protective, and it in no way prepared me for high school in Kitchener.
Because of my academics, when I arrived in Kitchener, I was placed in Grade 10 instead of the Grade 9 I should have been in. My cousin Pat has never quite forgiven me for that one, even though I had no control over it because we were supposed to start Grade 9 together, and instead I ended up a year ahead of her.
To say I was overwhelmed is not even close to the feelings I encountered. I was in a strange city, in a new school with the only similarity to my previous one being uniforms and girls only. It was easily 3 times the size, and the emphasis was more on sports and student council-at least it seemed like that to me. I don't make friends easily and the culture switched from French to German. Kitchener can also be very insular and I had trouble understanding how to fit in. I still do; I just don't care anymore.
Music and theatre were my salvation. I loved to sing, and I loved music and choir became my solace. Theatre was perfect because I could be whoever you wanted me to be. If you didn't like me; wait one minute-try this persona instead. It took me years to shed the chameleon tendency and just be me. The theatrical productions took place in the all-boys school across the road from the all-girls school because the boys school had a stage. The theatre crew were all a bit eccentric-we were smart (we read Thoreau for fun, listened to Springsteen and stopped parties on Saturday nights to watch Saturday Night Live-it was still funny then. Of our group, 3 are now university professors, others own their own businesses, at least one is a professional musician, and most of us completed at least college or university) we were loyal and we were not into sports or school politics. I loved it and I felt like I fit in. It was okay to be smart in our group.
I was the kid who sat in the back of the class and said nothing. I was debilitatingly shy and hadn't learned yet how to live as an introvert in an extrovert-dominant world. Every once in awhile I would be compelled to say something and usually caused jaws to drop all over the classroom. I was bullied in high school; the wings of the theatre became by safe place. I also had no social skills and struggled to make friends.
I look back on that teen who almost committed suicide in high school and wrote a poem called "The nobody poem" and am truly amazed that anyone would envy me then. Of course, I have a hard time imagining why anyone would envy me at all.
I'm a 3rd generation, half-empty glass-raised girl. I've been actively trying to change my thinking, but it's tough to change 45 years of thinking overnight.
People who don't know me (and some that do...) have called my profile picture gorgeous. I don't see that, because it looks like me. All I see is fat face and big nose. Now granted, it's a good picture-my friend Dave took it in our backyard. My father used to call me a stupid, ugly, lazy slut and it stuck. Now I know I'm not stupid(except in math and that's why accountants and calculators were born) and I'm not, nor have I ever been, a slut (and I really don't think he knew what that meant when he called me that in high school but in any hear it enough...) I can be lazy but I can also work like a mad woman-I work from home around a 3 year old after all. That leaves ugly and it's how I've always felt.
I'm average height and I was born in the wrong era. I would have been a poster girl in the Rubenesque period. I'm short waisted, big busted, wide hipped (my friend Clare's mom once said I had good child bearing hips-you could turn a bus in them. The irony of that is I never managed to carry a baby in my uterus long enough to find out) and have fat thighs and cellulite that won't go away. I have short stumpy little legs and short stumpy little fingers on a short stumpy little body. Yeah...that's gorgeous alright. I've always felt like the Pillsbury doughgirl with PMS, regardless of what the number on the scale said. Shopping for clothes has always been a nightmare because if it fit the bust it didn't fit anywhere else. Unfortunately, Mother Nature and Father Time have now balanced the scale so that clothes fit sizes I never dreamed existed.
I don't think I've ever felt pretty. I've certainly rarely felt sexy and gorgeous-never. These days, mainly I feel fat and frumpy. Some days I know I look better than others, and thanks to no smoking and carefully staying out of the sun, I'm aging pretty well. I know I need to start working out again, and I always liked to swim, but there's that whole "bathing suit in public" thing. I'm afraid to go to the beach lest Greenpeace spray me with yellow paint and throw me back in the water...and I've felt that way since high school. I have worn a bikini exactly ONCE in my life (I was probably 13-14 and it was my cousin Kim's castoff) and I wore it for about an hour and never again-not even on my honeymoon.
I have a picture of myself at 18, standing beside my life-long friend Laureen (we've been friends since were were 3) on her deck in Vancouver. We were both in bathing suits. Now, Laureen is 6 ft tall and was a twig then. I was 5'5" on a good day standing straight and tall. She's tall, leggy, long waisted...and makes column dresses look amazing. I'm...none of the above. I was certainly not fat then but compared to my willowy friend, I always felt fat. All I can see when I look at that picture is how fat my legs look and how wide I looked compared to her.
I recently read Valerie Bertinelli's autobiography and found myself nodding in agreement many times in the book. I think we were sisters in another life. (except for the drugs part...)
I can sing pretty well, and I've been a member of the Grand Philharmonic Choir for 12 seasons. However, I don't have formal training, and when the conductor, Howard Dyck starts talking about singing a minor third scale or "to start at the E flat major bar" I panic. I sing by ear and always have. I still can't read bass clef-I'm a soprano...why would I need bass clef? :-) There are lots of people who sing much better than I do in the choir, and who have much more training than I do. I panic when we have to re-audition every year because I always feel like I'm 1 sour note await from expulsion. I don't think I'm anything to envy. I'm okay, better than some not as good as others.
I know I need to change my self-talk so that I don't pass ideas to my daughter. She is going to be tall and leggy. She's going to be really tall. Luckily, I have cousins who are raising tall girls because heaven knows I don't know what it's like to be tall. She's going to learn to be accepting and happy in her own skin...if it kills me.
And for the record:
I am not stuck up; I am shy. I have always used humour as armour and as protection. I see the world in a warped way...and it gets me through.
I am not a diva; I sing in church choir because it's how I pray. I am not there to take over or drown you out. I have a big voice. I'll do my best to blend but I suggest you sing louder and I'll stand at the far end away from the microphones.
I am not, nor have I ever been an extrovert. I have learned to deal in an extrovert world but I am very happy working from home.
I am not a hardass judgemental bitch (as an ex boyfriend once referred to me). If I come across as hardass it's because I'm protecting myself because I hurt easily and feel other people's pain acutely. I am honest. But I am also loyal and will fight fiercely for my friends, or for people who need to be fought for...if that makes me judgemental, I can own that.
I am not unapproachable. I am focussed and shy. I was always willing to help anyone who asked. If you thought I was unapproachable, you didn't try and I'm sorry you thought so. I lost alot of sleep over that particular label.
I can be intense. I'll give you that one. I can also be downright goofy. Just ask the kids who were in Annie with me...

So that's me. How do you perceive me?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

All about Pee

I bet I caught your attention with that headline, didn't I! I've been swimming in urine the last few days, both human and animal. My cat and my kid have been peeing on the floor; my husband has been known to miss the mark, so to speak, from time to time. I'm seriously considering abandoning the toilet in favour of peeing on the floor. If you can't beat them, join them.

So what am I talking about? Well, Vampira, Mistress of the Dark started a playgroup this week, and she needed to be toilet trained. Last September, we were within days of having her fully trained, and then she broke her leg in two places, and by the time the cast came off and she was mobile again, she'd lost the urge. (Pardon the pun) and we've been struggling ever since. She knows what to do; it's more fun to push mommy's buttons and do her bodily functions in her pants instead.

We've tried stickers, treats, rewards. I practically stand on my head and dance the merengue (which I actually know how to do and dance rather well, being a former ballroom dancer) when she actually manages to complete the deed in the toilet. I've been keeping her in training pants or "big girl underwear" in the house and not switching back and forth (that is, until I'm too tired and have run OUT of training pants and big girl underwear and the laundry isn't finished yet). I've been effusive in praise and neutral about accidents. I've read just about every article and talked to reams of people.

I should mention that Vampira has more than her normal dose of stubborn. She is managing quite well at playgroup to stay dry. As soon as she gets home, it's peefest on the floor again (or worse, bowel movement in the pants-yuck.) I have given up this weekend and I'm leaving her in a diaper. I made her clean up her own pants in the toilet the other day after the bowel movement...I know we'll get there. Eventually.

And then there's Max. Max is a black panther who has had anxiety issues since we adopted him from the animal shelter 6 years ago. At first, we thought he was morally opposed to plastic-an eco-warrior cat who peed on plastic bags to tell us to get rid of them. The solution was not to leave plastic bags on the floor. Then he started peeing on shoes, papers, briefcases, gym bags...We've tried Feliway, Bach Rescue Remedy, Herbal infusions...and still he pees. We were really worried when our daughter arrived because we weren't sure how he would react. Turns out, he loves her. When she was a baby in the crib, he would hop up in the rocking chair in her room and hang out with her while she napped. He's been remarkably tolerant of her pulling and prodding him (and we taught her from day 1 to be gentle with him) and still likes to hang out with her.

So is Max sympathy peeing on the floor? Dunno. Is Max reacting to my stress about VAMPIRA peeing on the floor? Dunno. Max peed on Vampira's bed last night. Not good. I know from talking with animal behaviorists that Max is likely to pee for comfort on things that he is bonded to, so he usually pees on my stuff or Vampira's stuff. Shoes are one thing; beds are another. I went out this morning and spent a ridiculous amount of money I didn't really have on special litter, a special litter box and 2 cat pheremone diffusers that are supposed to make Max feel better. I also at some point in the next couple of days have to trap Max in a room with a litter box to get a urine sample to take the the vet. They have to rule out some medical stuff.

Husband was out of patience with Max a year ago. I called in an animal communicator and things got better for awhile. Things have been a bit wild the last little while here with health stuff, so no doubt he's picking up on all of the stress in the house. He's the uber-sensitive cat and he's really intuitively tied to me.

The next step is Prozac...for the cat not the kid. Might slip some to the husband to see if it helps too. (only kidding...I only slip him Rescue Remedy) Me-white wine and dark chocolate should do it. Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi (or St Francis...whoever is available) you're my only hope...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Working from home

I am a work-from-home mom. That is how I describe myself, anyway. What is the difference between a work-from-home mom and a stay-at-home mom? The word "work".

Before fingers start flying across keyboards and links to this get posted everywhere, let me clarify. By "work-from-home" I mean that in addition to the duties associated with being a full-time, in the house mom, I also run a business that generates income. I write and edit from the comfort of my home and my office, for the time being anyway, is usually my kitchen table. In no way am I inferring that stay-at-home moms do not work, although this is the on-going debate amongst the estrogen set. I've already mused about that topic and you can read it right here on page 7

There are certain challenges associated with being a work-from-home mom with a pre-schooler. I have to balance deadlines, interviews, writing, editing, querying and all the rest of the business side of my life with the demands of my high-energy, high-intelligence and easily bored 3 year old. It's amazing how many words you can write when you know the Winnie the Pooh DVD is exactly 47 minutes. I often work at the kitchen table with Vampira occupying the other side occupied with Playdoh or crayons or stickers. We're currently potty training, and the best spurt of creativity can be sidelined in a heartbeat by "mommy, I have to go pee" (or more commonly lately...the sound of liquid hitting the floor and a guilty look on my daughter's face) It doesn't matter when the deadline is; a three year old's bodily functions don't care that the article is due.

I've had to impose some strict rules around the telephone. Vampira loves to talk on the phone. The grandparents think it's cute; a potential client, not so much. She is forbidden to answer the phone, and if I'm expecting a business call, I hide all the handsets except the one that I keep nearby. Nothing kills a potential contact faster than a shrill "hello" on the telephone as terms are being negotiated.

If I have to conduct an interview and my husband isn't available to remove Vampira from the premises (or at least distract her long enough for me to complete the task at hand) I warn my interview subjects up front that I work from home around a three year old. So far, I've only had one person take exception to the untimely interruption. Of course, it's a good thing there are no videophones because the person on the other end of the phone would get a much different picture of my life as I maintain my professional tone of voice while frantically gesturing and making threatening faces to send Vampira back to her books or her DVD. More times than I can count, I've continued an interview, phone tucked under my chin as I pour a glass of milk or take the back off a sticker or solve some other "important" emergency that can't wait until mommy is off the phone.

It's a constant struggle to balance the two full-time jobs in my life. If I'm writing and editing, I'm not cleaning, doing laundry or dealing with the weeds. My husband often wondered why the house looked like a bomb went off in it when he came home, since I was "home" all day. After losing his job in the winter and being home for four months, he knows why. He also has a better appreciation of what being a "writer and editor" means and what is involved for me to work full time at it, while taking care of Vampira. He's gotten used to the glazed look of panic on my face when he walks in the door at the end of the day to find me sitting in front of my laptop, oblivious to the time and dinner still in a yet-to-be-determined, frozen state in the freezer. After being home all winter, he also knows first hand what it's like to try to clean around Vampira. Our house still looks like a bomb went off in it; now he knows why.

Working from home has its advantages though. I find nothing busts writers' block better than a load of laundry, and for a family of 3 we sure generate enough of it. Now that the warm weather has arrived, most of my laundry goes outside to the clothes line. I start the load, work a bit, and then spend the time outside pegging out the clothes. More times than I can count, the bit that I couldn't figure out, or the phrase that was playing hide and seek in my brain will come to the fore while I'm pinning out the clothes. Working from home has positives and negatives. On the positive side, I can take tea and stretch breaks; on the negative side, I can take tea and stretch breaks, which seem to multiply in direct proportion to how boring the project is that I'm working on.

Some days, I just have to close the laptop and take my kid outside. My time with her is finite before she goes off to school and I waited a long time to be a mom. I can always work after Vampira has gone to bed (oh wait, her nickname is Vampira because she DOESN'T go to bed, but that's a story for another post) but I can't always take her to the park, or to make snow angels outside. I am a work at home mom because of my daughter (and the overriding terror at the thought of returning to the corporate workplace...) and Vampira will always come first.

And so, I juggle. I juggle dust bunnies with deadlines, articles with potty training and queries with quality time. I don't always do everything perfectly and I've learned to be okay with myself about that. I'm doing the best that I can do, and that's okay. I wrote about that before, too.