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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Father's Day is bittersweet for me. My dad died on November 22, 1989. We had always had an adversarial relationship to that point, and dad died before we could become friends instead of sparring partners. Many of the things that my dad would have been most proud of in my life have happened since his passing. I fervently believe that our loved ones continue to watch over and guide us from heaven, but it's not quite the same.

My dad, Jack Cheeseman, didn't have it easy. He was the oldest of 4 children, and born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario by Peter and Kathleen Cheeseman. I never knew my grandfather; he was killed in a railway accident (crushed between 2 railcars) when my father was a teenager. I barely remember my Nana Cheeseman. We were living in BC when she died, and we never saw her often when I was a child. My mother said that my dad never spoke about his childhood, except to say that he and his younger brothers used to sneak to the market and steal food from the back of the vendors' carts during the depression. My father was a devout Catholic, and had a firm moral compass. That couldn't have been easy for him.

His brother Peter died of a brain tumour in the early 1970s. I always remembered uncle Peter for his ability to entertain. He would play piano and sing, and I will forever associate creamsicles with Uncle Peter, because near the end of his life, that was all he could eat. My mom tells me that, after a visit with Uncle Peter when I was a child, I came home singing a song that was less than appropriate for a grade school child to sing...something about a stripper that a teacher heard me singing. I was a mimic with a strong ear for music...

Dad's brother Norman became a doctor. My mom worked with Madeleine Cameron at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa, and she met my dad at Norm and Maddie's wedding. My dad was very proud of his doctor brother, but was quite offended when he was mistaken for Uncle Norm's FATHER instead of brother in the hospital one time after Uncle Norm's heart attack. He was very indignant for weeks after. Uncle Norm outlived dad by only a year or so.

Dad's sister, Kathleen, or Kay as she was known to the rest of the world was dad's only sister, and the one that I think he was closest to. She is the only person that I know of who called him "John" instead of Jack. She was also one of the few whose opinion he cared about, and whose advice he would listen to. We lost her to cancer almost 2 years ago and she left a big hole in the family. Losing her was like losing dad all over again, because she was my last link to my dad. I found a big box of pictures from dad's childhood after she died, and now I have no way of knowing who the people in the pictures were.

The Cheesemans play cards. However, to say the Cheesemans play cards is a bit like saying the Clintons like politics. The Cheesemans play no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners cards. It's a wonder that there is a dining room or kitchen table left in the family because the Cheesemans play Euchre in a way that Australia plays football. You could hear the slam of the knuckles on wood from 2 floors up, followed by my dad's trademark chuckle, or my uncle Jack Donovan's "shit house rat" when Dad would out play him. I don't play cards; I'm the enigma of the family. Patience is not a strong suit when the Cheesemans are teaching cards...My father tried to teach me to play cribbage when I was a kid. I double skunked him the first time out and the Cheeseman card competitiveness came to the fore. Lesson be damned, the kid beat him. I never did learn how to play crib because dad became so intent on winning that he forgot about the lesson.

Cards were part of dad's DNA. The Allison cousins on my mom's side and I remember our respective fathers sitting at the kitchen table with the crib board and a bottle a scotch. Crib, Cutty Sark and the deck of cards passed many a family get together. We all remember a particular day when Uncle Ken and Dad, well lubricated on Cutty Sark, went out to light the charcoal barbeque for dinner. The briquets were not lighting fast enough for their liking, and the problem was soon solved by the application of gasoline to the the kids watched in fascination, the two men soon turned it into a game, trying to see how far UP the stream of gasoline they could make the flame reach without blowing themselves and the backyard into next Tuesday. The arrival of my aunt Helen and my mom put an end to impending disaster, and the boys, er men were sent back to their cards with their tails between their legs, after a tongue lashing about setting a poor example with flammable liquids. In retrospect, their breath was probably the biggest danger.

He and Uncle Ken were inseparable, as were our families in those days. My Aunt Betty Harvey, my mom's sister in law, passed away last week from cancer, and I was talking with my cousin Doug about a Christmas at the family farm. Dad and Uncle Ken both snored...and both denied it. The Harvey family tradition was to eat ourselves sick, and then all the men would bolt for the nearest couch or bed for a nap while the "womenfolk" cleared up the chaos. This particular day, Dad and Uncle Ken ended up in Doug and Russ' room above the kitchen. The beds were on either side of the stovepipe from the kitchen. Uncle Ken was using a cane by then, and the 2 of them lay down...and then it started, amplified by the stove pipe for all of us to hear in the kitchen.
"Jack, you're snoring" Sound of bed squeaking...

"I don't snore and stop poking me with your cane" Bed squeaking.

"Don't throw a pillow at were snoring."

"Stop poking...I don't snore-you do"

And so it went with cane poking and pillow lobbing back and forth until they both fell asleep. And for the record...they BOTH snored.

My father served as a navigator in World War II, but was never posted overseas. He was stationed in Vancouver, and I still have his orders, his discharge and his railpass. I also have his letter that allowed him to go to university afterwards. He never talked about the war, and mom knows very little. Among the photos in his box, there are pictures of his squadron, and a couple of pictures of friends. I wish I knew more about them. The one thing that dad would talk about was the time that Yvonne DeCarlo (Lily Munster in the tv show) came to visit the base. My father was good looking and was selected to squire her around. There are great photos of dad with her and it's the only wartime thing he would talk about.

My father became a professional fund raiser in the days before it was handled in-house. He would be hired by a hospital or university to raise the funds, he would create and run the campaign to successful conclusion and then move on to the next one. My dad is responsible for Simon Fraser University, Memorial University, University of Prince Edward Island, Dalhousie University and a bunch more that I don't know about. Dad needed to be where the campaign was going on. That meant that he was gone for weeks at a time when I was a child. My job when I was a kid was to spot him at the airport. He would call once he landed, and mom and I would head off to the airport while he got his bag. My job was to watch for him as mom drove slowly by. The one benefit for me growing up was that we would travel to wherever he was for summer vacation. I spent a summer in Halifax and a summer in PEI that way. It also meant that Dad was simply not around when I was a kid.

My dad's life ended in his 50s when the company that he worked for, was vice president of and had dedicated his life to went under. He never worked steadily after that and he never got over it. He went from being sought after to having to look for work in an era when people had not yet figured out the value of mature employees. He may have lived to be 66, but he died when his job did. He just forgot to tell his body that.

My dad had a lot of demons. With adult perspective, I don't think he ever got over the loss of his father, and I think he always felt guilty for not making it overseas during the war, whether it was in his control or not. He certainly never got over losing his job and never finding another long-term one. Whatever the source of his demons, he dealt with them by drinking. It's taken me a lot of years to be able to differentiate between my dad drinking and my dad sober. My dad sober was a loving father. My dad drinking was a bitter man who used words as weapons and is probably a source of many of my self esteem issues. I brought home A+ papers and he found the typos. I brought home 90s and he'd ask where the other 10% went. I learned not to show him if I didn't want to get shot down.

The funny thing was, I knew at some deep level that he believed in me. My dad was anti-feminist, yet believed that I could do anything. My father was staunch Catholic and very traditional, but he would have been the more accepting parent if I'd ever ended up pregnant and scared as a teenager. At dad's funeral and afterwards, I found out that he had been proud of me and my accomplishments; he'd never found the words to tell me.

After I moved out, when I came home for the weekend, it was his light that would be shining over the driveway when I came home after midnight. It became a game. The light was on when I got home; off when I reached the top of the stairs. I would poke my nose in and say "good night dad" and there would be a guilty silence as he realized he'd been caught waiting for his 20 something daughter and then "good night..." I missed that more than anything after dad died. The last thing he would say to me before I headed back to Toronto was "watch the other fools on the road" and he would phone occasionally if I was sick, with the excuse that "my mother was worried about how I was" never knowing that I had already talked to my mom that day. He could never bring himself to admit that he was phoning because he wanted to know.

I graduated with my Masters after dad died. I married after dad died and my daughter arrived after dad died. I married a card player; dad would have been thrilled, especially since my husband plays crib. My daughter and dad would have been great friends. My dad tried very hard to be a curmudgeon in the Archie Bunker tradition, but kids and animals figured him out in minutes. My tortie cat, Tisha, who loved me and tolerated the rest of the world barely, would let my dad brush him. She waited for him for days after he died. My dad had lost a finger at the Stelco steelmill when he was young-his index finger was amputated at the first knuckle. It was a kid magnet that charmed a couple of generations. A couple of months after my daughter arrived, I woke from an exhausted nap to hear her quietly babbling in her room, and I could barely hear murmurred voices. I got up to check, and couldn't see anyone, but she was looking intently at someone, and then she laughed out loud. I'm pretty sure her grandpa was there in ghost-form, visiting with his granddaughter and waggling the irresistible finger at her. I have often felt his presence since he passed on. We have doves that hang around that I associate with my dad. The morning after my aunt Kay died, at the end of December, 2 doves sat for a long time on the railing outside our kitchen door, watching my daughter as she played in her high chair. I'm sure dad's sister brought him to see his granddaughter-she's the only one of the siblings to have met her, after all.

So here's to you, dad. You taught me the importance of education, faith and charity. No matter how little money there was, mom and dad found money to give to people who had less. You taught me the importance of faith and belief in God. I still have your daily missal that is so well-thumbed. You always believed the best in people-it was your greatest strength and your greatest downfall. You loved a good laugh, a good card game, a good comedy and a good jigsaw puzzle. You loved to debate and argue about politics and you loved me. I wish I realized it sooner. I miss you dad. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

RIP Tim Russert

The host of "Meet the Press", Tim Russert, died suddenly yesterday of a massive heart attack while preparing for Sunday's show. My mother called to tell me, saying that it was "like losing another member of the family". I immediately turned on CNN to follow the story, and tracked down the memorial that had already been started on the Web. Sunday mornings are not going to be the same.

So why would I care about a journalist, an AMERICAN journalist, someone that I had never met? I've been pondering that myself, and here's what I've come up with.

  • I am a 3rd generation political junkie. When I was a child, if I wanted to have anything to say at the dinner table, I had to follow and understand politics. Interest turned into passion in high school, thanks to my Grade 12 History teacher, Mr. Delafrenier, who was willing to listen to other opinions (I had lots of opinions, most of them based on nothing at all) and encouraged critical thought. I have since completed an undergrad and graduate degree in Political Science, but my passion remained Canadian Politics.
  • The United States has a huge impact on Canadian policy, as much as I hate to acknowledge that, and never more so than with a seriously right wing Canadian government, and a seriously whacked out, er I mean right wing Republican president. Who the next president of the US will be will have a far-reaching impact on Canada and our lives, economy and social policies. v
  • The Democratic race for the nomination was more interesting than we've seen in years. My mother had been singing from Barrack Obama's score since she heard him speak at the LAST Democratic convention. I started out a Hillary Clinton supporter; it was hard to deny that estrogen bond, after all. However, the more I heard of Obama, the more I became a fan. To be honest, letting Bill Clinton loose in the White House with not enough to do made me nervous...we already know what happens when he's loose in the White House WITH things to do. I got sucked into the excitement of the primaries, and watched week after week as the results rolled in. My name is Lisa and I am a geek.
  • "Meet the Press" became my personal oasis in an often busy and noisy life with my 3 year old, 2 cats, husband and work-from-home-mom life. For an hour every Sunday, I (often) disappear to the basement and get my political junkie fix with thought-provoking, tough and honest interviews. Then I would phone my mother when the show was over, and we'd hash it some more before my life intervened and I went back to being mom/wife instead of Lisa MacColl, political junkie. That hour every week kept my brain functioning on other things that Disney movies and what to write about, and kept me in touch with events past the end of my nose. Some weeks, it was all that kept me going. Dramatic, perhaps, but accurate nonetheless.
I started watching "Meet the Press" sporadically last year, mainly so that I would be able to follow the conversation that I would have with my mom on Sunday mornings. She was a steadfast watcher, and I became one, to the point where we never talk to each other on Sundays until 10am, AFTER the show had finished. I quickly came to respect and admire Tim Russert's interview style. He was well prepared, and I quickly recognized the gleam in his eye as he was about to hoist stuffy politicians or aids on their own petard by quoting back words that they had said on a previous occasion. He was never afraid to ask the tough questions, but he had the gift of asking without skewering or being mean. Because he always maintained the high road, he was able to coax responses that otherwise might not have been forthcoming. I admired his style and his ability to be tough and professional at the same time. From a casual observer standpoint, his basic admiration and respect for the people in the political realm, whether frontline, backroom or journalist was always in evidence. He loved Washington, and politics and it was obvious that his job was the best in the world as far as he was concerned.

I will tune in tomorrow morning to join the millions who will be mourning his passing. The US general election is not going to be nearly as much fun without Tim Russert's observations. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and colleagues. Rest in Peace, Mr. Russert. Thank you for educating me, entertaining me, and leaving me with things to ponder and discuss.

Friday, June 13, 2008

welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. You'll have to bear with me as I learn the ins and outs of blogging.

So who am I anyway and why am I blogging? I'm Lisa MacColl, I'm a freelance writer and editor, a work-from-home mom, a singer, a crafter, a baker and an animal lover. For the past 3 years, I've been a freelance writer and editor, and before that, I have been a Customs Officer, a supervisor of a call centre, a compliance and legislation analyst in the insurance industry. I was born in Montreal, and I've lived in Vancouver, Dollard des Ormeaux/Pointe Claire, Toronto and Kitchener. I've travelled everywhere in Canada except Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and the far North. I haven't travelled anywhere else but Florida and New York of these years.

I have written about animals, choosing wedding music, politics, stupid criminal activity, blowing bubbles with my daughter, helping your spouse through job loss and finding my first gray hair...down there. I've also written legislation analysis, corporate communications and I edit academic documents, performing arts materials and articles.

I believe that everyone has a right to be happy, peaceful, loved, accepted and inspired. I have always had an innate, strong sense of justice and fairness, but I'm not always that good at picking the mountains I die on...which is why I don't work in a corporate environment anymore. As my father used to tell me "I don't suffer fools lightly" and I wasn't the best at keeping my mouth shut.

I love to sing, and I am a soprano in the Grand Philharmonic Choir. I also love musical theatre, reading, crafts, baking, making cards, sewing and spending time with my friends and family. I've been married 10 years this year, and I am owned by 2 cats, Rocky, a brown tabby who is 17 and Max who was a black panther in another life before he found us. I have one daughter, whose nickname is "Vampira, Mistress of the Dark" because she never goes to bed, and she is a constant source of wonder and amusement for me. She teaches me about myself every day.

I love the Montreal Canadiens. I like all kinds of music, mystery novels, books that inspire my soul, poetry and children's books. One of these days I'm going to write my own book for children.

Professionally, I am a proud member of the Guelph Chapter of the Professional Writers' Association of Canada,(PWAC) the Editors' Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Cat Writers' Association, the Canadian Society of Childrens' Illustrators, Authors and Performers (CANSCAIP) and the Society of Childrens' Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I guess I'm quite the joiner for an introvert...

As my friends and my husband will confirm, I have strong opinions about things...and if you don't want the answer; don't ask me the question. I don't intentionally hurt people's feelings, though, and never understood people who do. I never did understand mean...

Please stop by from time to time and visit. This will be a work in progress as I figure out things.

Thanks for reading!

(why Divawrites, you ask? Because I've often been assumed to be a Diva when I join a choir until people get to know me, I love to sing, and I write...'nough said!)