Friday, May 28, 2010


We were coping until the bees. I started to say that we were doing okay, but we weren’t. We weren’t okay. When cancer invades your family, there is no okay. When cancer invades your mom/mother-in-law, there is definitely no okay. There is only coping. So we were coping.

We have known since the beginning of May about the cancer in my husband’s mother. Three days before what should have been her 5 year all clear from uterine cancer, this new cancer was located in her lungs. Sometimes the universe has a nasty sense of timing.

We had been waiting since then for the appointment that was going to tell us what kind, how bad, how long, what to do, how to treat it. That appointment was on Tuesday.

On Sunday night, we noticed the yellow jackets. My husband had been working like a fiend in the garden, his inherited-from-his-father way of coping. Work until you fall over, so that you’re too tired to think about “things.” Attacking weeds is therapeutic, cathartic and symbolic. He unfurled the patio umbrella to rest in the shade. A few minutes later, we noticed a few yellow jackets buzzing around. We thought that they had been building a hive inside the umbrella and didn’t take kindly to being evicted. We noticed a couple of them exploring a location on our deck where the wall of our house meets the exterior wall of the semi-detached house we’re attached to. It’s a lovely protected spot and the gap in the siding is big enough for bees. We had wasps make a similar foray under the siding a couple of years ago and they had to be professionally removed. My husband grabbed the can of Raid, but it was empty.

The next morning, we had a couple of dozen flying menaces buzzing around our deck. We tried calling some pest control people, but with the long weekend, no one called us back.

Tuesday morning, as my husband was on the phone receiving the news about his mother’s cancer, I heard a buzzing, and looked up to see a swarm of bees flying straight for the patio door. I yelled to look out the window, and ran to close the patio door. The swarm buzzed around the deck and then started to crawl under the siding in waves. A closer look revealed that our first identification had been incorrect. These weren’t yellow jackets: they were honey bees, and they were moving in.

Honey bees in Ontario are protected. Once we knew we were dealing with honey bees, I started phoning beekeepers. We didn’t want to kill them, but having a hive of bees on our deck was not a viable option. I like my honey in the jar, thank you. One beekeeper told us that we might be able to lure them out with a pan of sugar water and an upturned box. Another beekeeper told us that if we’d “only called before the swarm arrived with the queen in it” that we would have been able to send the bees on their way. The swarm arrived once the scout bees had found a new location. What we had mistaken for yellow jackets the previous day were actually the scout bees. He continued by informing us that once the queen was up inside the new quarters, there wasn’t much we could do. We could live with bees in our siding, or we could eradicate the bees.

We don’t kill living creatures lightly in this house. An animal behaviourist told me that our house has a “safe animal aura” and animals know that our backyard is a safe haven. We spent an entire summer with a groundhog living under our garden shed. We named him Chuck and resided quite peacefully with him. We’ve had a possum that we named Simon who visited from time to time, and any number of birds, butterflies, squirrels and other critters. But bees, even honey bees, are different. Leaving the hive intact would mean the end to sitting on our deck, or for that matter, going out in the backyard at all. It would mean taking the long way to walk to the park and to school. It would put an end to line drying my clothes. It would put my daughter in danger from bee stings, and send me over the edge from terror. I was stung by wasps badly when I was a child, and I am pathologically terrified of anything with a stinger that flies. I have sat in the kitchen while the rest of the family enjoyed a lovely evening on the deck. My mental state would not accommodate sharing the deck with a swarm of hundreds of bees. As much as we hated it, the bees had to go.

The bees quickly became a metaphor for what else was going on in our lives. Maybe we could have avoided killing the bees if we’d been able to react faster. Maybe the cancer in my mother in law wouldn’t be so advanced if we’d noticed little signs or if she’d sought medical attention earlier. Just as we are powerless to stop the cancer, we were equally powerless to stop the bees. My husband kept saying “but I tried to call, but I tried to call.” All I could do was reassure him that he had, indeed, tried to call and done everything he could do.

Our deck is littered with bee corpses, and our lives are littered with uncertainty about my mother in law. We play the hand we are dealt in life, and sometimes we need to bluff, sometimes we need to fold. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, life sucks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Megan's Writer Wednesday List

discipline, adversity, learning and happiness


This word is chock-a-block with double meanings. If you are disciplined, you are considered to be organized and effective. You do what you need to do to get the job done. Or, you follow a regimen and stick to it. Parents are expected to discipline their children, but the choice of means of discipline is like opening up a mine field. If children act out, strangers will immediately assume that the children aren’t “disciplined” enough, when they might be just hungry or tired.

To me, discipline is focusing on the task at hand, even when the task is unpleasant or difficult. I have sung solo at the funerals of friends or family. People are amazed how I’m able to do it. I do it because I’ve been asked to do it, and I would never refuse to sing at a funeral, no matter how tough it is on me personally. It’s an honour I am not going to refuse. As the funeral choir at our church will attest, I’ve been a blubbering mess before and after I’ve sung. I hold it together to get the job done. Why? Well, what else am I going to do?

“that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I’ve always believed that, and am living witness to the truth of the statement. I’ve dealt with a lot of crap in my life and I’ve survived. I’m the go-to in a crisis. I fall apart after. Just don’t hug me in the midst of things; I can cope with anything as long as no one breaches the armour with a hug.

I think the true nature of a person comes out when confronted with adversity, whether it’s a job loss, a life threatening illness, the end of a relationship or a threat to a loved one. You find out who your true friends are, and there are often sad surprises. People that you would have listed as chum or acquaintance stand by you like guards. People you thought were your friends vanish like smoke on a windy day. I don’t think there’s a middle ground-you are either drawn closer or forced apart. There is no room for molly-coddling. Lead, follow or get the hell out of my way.

My favorite thing in the world, learning. I love to learn new things, I love to discover new information. I’m learning all kinds of things through the eyes of my daughter, and through her questions. Learning is why I’m a bit of a generalist when it comes to my writing career. I love to write about people or stories that let me learn something while I’m at it. My best stories begin with my need to know something. One of my best interviews ever was with the composer of the African Sanctus, David Fanshawe. I had dutifully prepped for the interview and read about how he had schlepped all over Africa recording indigenous music in the early 1970s. Just as I was about to phone Mr. Fanshawe, it dawned on me that this was the 1970s, and electricity would have been a very scarce commodity. I’d already sent a prepared list of questions, but when we started the interview, I told him that I needed to know how he did the interviews. His delighted answer was “well, my dear, that’s the very essence of the thing, isn’t it. You’ve hit on it and so few do.” He then went on to explain how he’d carried battery operated equipment because he could get D-cell batteries in any larger city in Africa, and the children used the old ones for cars. His interview was far more warm and informal because my desire to learn had asked the right question.

My love of learning makes me a better writer, a better mother and a better wife because I take the time to learn about my husband’s interests.


Ah, there’s the rub. My free flow writing has ground to a halt with this one. What is happiness? Damned if I know.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wednesday is for writing.

Megan Venner, over at (Mis)Adventures of a Work at Home Mom has come up with a brilliant idea. She's going to post creativity sparkers on Wednesday and see where it leads.

I want to play, too. I'm going to take some of her sparkers and see where it leads me, and then link it to her blog in a comment.

Do you want to play, too? Add your link to my blog and let's all get creative!

Send me some ideas for starting sentences. Let's have some fun.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reasons why I'll Never be a Chef

I have a confession: I'm addicted to the Food Network. I like nothing better than to sit and watch one of the Ultimate Recipe Showdowns, or the cake, sugar or candy showdowns. It boggles my mind to make Shrek out of cake. I love to watch Cake Boss on TLC too. And I don't watch Ricardo and Friends just for the sexy Quebeçois accent: I love the innovative ways he makes simple food (and his cookbook is great.)  I'm a Chef wannabe.

I'll never be a chef, though.

  • I hate to cut onions. My eyes burn for a couple of hours every time I do. 
  • I almost amputated my finger cutting off the end of a cob of corn so that it would fit in the microwave. Knives are not my friend.
  • I hate the feel of raw ground meat. I hate handling it, I hate mixing it, and meatballs/meatloaf mixed in my standing mixer tends to be tough from over mixing. 
  • I hate mixing things with my hands, period. I would never mix a salad with my hands. Maybe it's why I can make pie crust so well-I handle it as little as possible.
  • I'm not adventurous with flavours. I'm a good cook, but not an innovative one. Adventurous is putting a bit of dry mustard in my meatloaf (and the family didn't like it.)
  • I hate cleaning up after baking. One of my claims to fame is scratch chocolate cream pie, but I don't make it often because it takes every freaking bowl and pot in the house to make.  
  • I'm not going to spend 8 hours and 57 steps to make a dish that has 243 ingredients, most of which require a trip to a bigger city and a bank loan to acquire.  Chances are, the family wouldn't eat it anyway.
  • I'm dangerously, life threateningly allergic to garlic. Vampires have nothing to fear from me.
  • I don't know how to light our barbeque, and have no interest to learn. If hubby wants to "cook meat on flame" why would I take that pleasure away from him? There is only one license to grill in our house. (I don't know how to work the snowblower either. If I knew how to operate it, I might be expected to do it...but I digress)
  • Sugar burns are not fun. I did it once-never again.
  • There is a limit to even ultimate, 25 year guaranteed non-stick cookware if you burn the sugar well enough...Brittle is an oxymoron if the brittle has cooled onto the pot.
I'm a busy, work from home mom to a 5 year old who loves shrimp and Vietnamese Pho (noodle) soup, but who won't eat tomatoes (although ketchup is fine.) My husband is a meat and potatoes guy who could eat pork chops every night, and eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. There's not much point in getting creative if no one will eat it and my daughter will be scrounging for a cheese string and hotdog instead.

I am a snob about one thing, though. I am a scratch baker. It might be a counterpoint to the Lemon Pie/Blueberry Muffins/Boston Creme Pie from a box  that I ate as a child. My daughter came home one day with the astonishing discovery that cake comes in a box. She was pretty excited about that. Not in my house, honey. I make pie crust, bread, muffins, and other baking from scratch. I even tried to make Apple Strudel once, and used to spend days every year making hand dipped chocolate truffles and dipped cherries. My baking is good, but not "wow, would you look at that". It's more Edna Staebler than Martha Stewart, but it's good.

And so I live vicariously. I marvel at the creations that Charmian Christie comes up with. I sit in jaw-dropping amazement at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon made out of cake, the chandelier made out of sugar, and the Sesame Street cake with characters made of modelling chocolate. I pick up tidbits along the way but I'll most likely never need to know how to make a four foot tall cake. I don't have that much counter space.

And now, I need to go. My daughter and I are going to make banana bread.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Best Mother's Day Gifts

I asked the moms and stepmoms what their ideal gift would be this Mother's Day. Here's what they said for my monthly column for

Best Mother's Day Gifts

American Eagle Latitudes Magazine

I spent a wonderful sunny day in March exploring Toronto's quirky toy stores and a wonderful children's book store. Here is the finished article in American Eagle Latitudes Magazine.
Imagination Havens in Toronto

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reality Check, Part 2.

The Universe wasn't finished with me. A couple of hours ago, we got the news that my mother in law has lung cancer in both lungs. We don't know what stage it is, or what the treatment options are.

My husband and his mother are very close. I need to be with my family now because we're in for rough times ahead.

And now I feel petty and small for even caring about something as insignificant as a part in a play to begin with. Turns out, it wasn't even worth a blip in the karmic scheme of things. I would have had to pull out anyway.

Cancer sucks. That isn't eloquent or original, but it's summing it up for me right now. My mother in law is a kind-hearted, wonderful person who doesn't deserve all the crap that's coming her way and neither does my father in law, my brother in law or my husband. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, life stinks. This is one of those times.