Sunday, 30 September 2012

Don't Panic

I am okay.

The computer is not.

Our beloved computer, cranky and mischevious to the end, has gone to the big recycling store in the sky ... or special hazard waste depot outside the city.  Choose the metaphor you find more comforting.

This means I am stuck with having to borrow time on other people's computers in order to post for the blog.  Which is doable, but not on a daily basis.  So I'm going to be sporadic for the next few weeks until our shiny new computer arrives.  I'll try and download posts in advance as much as possible but there will probably be gaps.

There's plenty to talk about and I hadn't appreciated how much I was relying on this blog to share my opinions.  Poor Dave has been subjected to many lectures varying from the awesomeness of Joss Whedon, the sadness of this season's new TV offerings (except Elementary, I'm loving that show), the vagarities of the Canadian Criminal Justice System, the peculiar decision of Nathan's elementary school to prevent parents from walking their children up to the kindergarten yard, my sadness about removing Alex from his last integrated program (Beavers).  I think this is why he's decided to fast-track the new computer's arrival in the vague hopes that I will shut up and lecture you all instead.

Professionally, I've been doing well in my new job and with my writing.  I managed to complete another two chapters after my awesome 2500+ word writing day.  I also went to an amazing workshop on plotting and writing a synopsis which has sent me back to the drawing board but promises to return a much better first draft.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Joining Goodreads

I'm being sucked into the world of social media.

I've joined Goodreads.com, a site for readers to share reviews of books.  I'm being cautious for now since I don't want to lose too much time on it but so far it seems like a good site.

That's all for today.  It's been a long one and I'm going to bed early.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Worst Mother In the World?

Not me.

And I don't think Alicia, the mom who was on Dr. Phil yesterday, qualifies either.

She won't be making Best Mom Ever anytime soon but there are worse candidates out there.  She made headlines as the World's Worst Mom after her four children (all under 10) were found home alone while she was at work.  She explained that she didn't get a chance to talk to the babysitter, only to wave as she rushed off so she wouldn't be late.  The babysitter never went into the house and someone called the police to let them know the children were unattended.  Child Services confiscated the children and she was arrested and jailed.

This was a bad judgement call, no question about it.  But I don't think she deserved to be criminalized for it.  I'm betting a lot of single moms have made that call to get to work rather than chat to the sitter but most of them have been lucky enough to not get caught out.

Good for whoever notified the authorities that the children were alone.  They didn't wait, they didn't say it was none of their business.  They acted.  It would have been nice had they called the mother to let her know first but in a crunch, something had to be done.

I didn't get to see the whole episode but I felt really sorry for the poor woman.  It's horrible to realize how vulnerable you are to the goodwill and reliability of others.  People entrust their children to virtual strangers all the time: teachers, day care workers, babysitters.  When the relationship is new, they are still strangers and most of the time, you don't know what's happening when you're not there.

It's a frightening concept for today's paranoid parents (which includes me).  No matter how much we're told it takes a village to raise a child, we're also told to never trust anyone because anyone can be a predator.  Someone interested in helping you with your child is on the warning list for predator behaviour. 

Sometimes I wonder if the generation raised on stranger-danger will ever be able to accept the village concept.  Accepting that you have neither exclusive control nor omniscient knowledge when the current standards demand you have both.  It's a horrible situation to have put parents into.

"Trust no one" may have worked as the X-files motto but it doesn't work as a parenting strategy.

Monday, 24 September 2012

My Own Paranormal Experience

I will be honest and admit this may have only been a vivid dream.  In the moment, I felt like I was awake but also as if something wasn't quite right with reality.

It actually happened while we were at Beaver camp.  We were in a cabin with bunk beds for a dozen people, but only me, my father and my boys were in it.  I was having a lot of trouble falling asleep and even more trouble staying asleep once I was out.

At one point, I opened my eyes and looked at the bunk across from me and saw a little boy sitting on it.  At first, my sleepy mind dismissed it as one of my boys but then I remembered they were in the beds behind me.  Also, as I looked closer, I could see this little boy had dark hair and was wearing grey pajamas. (Both my boys are blonde.)

Again, I sleepily assumed someone had arrived late and this was an extra Beaver who had been assigned to the cabin.  I smiled at him and he smiled back at me and then lay down on the bed.  I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

Sometime later, I woke up again and this time my brain was functioning on all cylinders.  No one would put a child into a room with strangers without his parent.  Even if they had, we had bells on the door (in case Alex went wandering) so I would have heard them come in.  And even assuming I slept through it, that bunk had all of our backpacks and gear on it.  I looked over at the bunk again and the gear was all there.  No child.  And nothing I could get to resolve to look like a child by squinting my eyes or moving my head.

I wasn't weirded out or frightened when I saw him.  It was no more remarkable than seeing any other person.

I could believe I half-awoke and saw a piece of gear which my mind translated into a figure.  Humans are very good at finding patterns and the ones we see the most are faces and human figures.  It's a common flaw with most apparition sightings.

However, I distinctly saw the child smile and lie down.  He seemed pleased I had noticed him and comfortable in the room.  Maybe it was a dream but I could have sworn I was awake.

It's not the first time I've seen or heard something which seemed real but couldn't have been.  Most of the time I can dismiss them as dreams or misperceptions.  But part of me wonders, could I have experienced something beyond the normal world?  It would be pretty cool if I had but also a little frightening.  This didn't frighten me and I'll probably eventually decide it was a dream, but for now, it's still an interesting experience.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Writers Who Hate Their Characters

I may have to stop reading biographies of writers whose work I enjoy.  I read Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Wheel of Things (a biography of L.M. Montgomery). 

Both contain excerpts of letters talking about how the authors came to hate their phenomenally successful characters and the public's demand for more stories.  Laura put her foot down and refused to do any Little House books detailing her life after marriage.  (There's a psychological curiousity in hating a fictional character based on yourself and your life.)  Montgomery gave in to lure of cash to write book after book about a character she apparently began to hate partway through revising the first book.

It's really sad for me to think of those stories coming from a place of mercenary skill rather than a genuine love of telling the tale.  But whatever the motivation, there is a connected truth in both series which rings deeper than the surface prose.  They became classics and phenomena because they spoke to people across time and cultures.  It's an accomplishment.

Knowing that the work became an uninspired chore brings up an old fancy I've seen used many times: that great works of art hover in some kind of limbo, waiting for the right voice to call them out.  In a sidebar of his comic Midnight Nation, JMS even has his characters visit that limbo.  They get to see Einstein's unified field theory and the really funny book which Dostoevsky was going to write once he got over being depressed. 

I compare Wilder and Montgomery's view to J.K. Rowling who also wrote a book which became a phenomenon and was pressured to expand it.  Rowling says she felt a need to tell the whole story right from the beginning.  Now maybe she's just playing to the press but I believe her. 

I can't think of anything more sad than having a work of heart become a resented obligation.  I've worried about that, having my writing change from something I love to something I hate.  I know people who would be quite gifted writers who don't want to pursue formal publishing because they're worried it would steal away the love. 

It would be cool if I had an answer but the truth is, I don't know.  I may never get a chance to discover if success will destroy my enjoyment.  But I'm willing to take the risk.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

When Quitting Is The Right Decision

I'm back early from Beaver camp.

In my previous post, I talked about how important it was to suck it up and bear it so that my boys could have a good time.  But what about when they're not having a good time.

Alex is loving it.  He likes the outdoors and we don't make him spend a lot of time on the Beaver schedule.  So he's still at camp with Avi.

Nathan hated it.  He was starting to get upset about the idea of being away from home on Friday.  He was wavering back and forth in the car on the way there.  And once we reached our cabin and began setting up, he was sure: he wanted to go home.

I did the best I could think of.  I hoped that having some sleep and a good breakfast might improve his mood.  I hoped being part of a group would help and inspire feelings of fun.  There were periods of lukewarm involvement but a lot more yelling, screaming and tantruming.

At 11 am, I gave in.  I packed the car with our things and drove him home.  As soon as we were headed in the right direction, he was good as gold.  I'll go back tomorrow to get Alex and Avi.

Looking back over my travel history with Nathan, I'm realizing he's never travelled particularly well.  We had to make regular trips to Toronto when he was young since we were part of a research study.  He wouldn't sleep well, regardless of whether we were staying at my sister's apartment or at a hotel.  And not sleeping well, he was cranky and irritable.  The only time he did well was when I day-tripped the visit, which did not go well for me.

He wasn't happy about being in Drumheller either.  Again, there were periods where he would enjoy himself but it didn't take much of a bump to bring on the tears and pleas to go home.

Maybe my boy is just a home-body.  Certainly his father prefers staying in his home to travelling anywhere, no matter how luxurious or interesting.  If that's the case, then I need to accept and work with that. 

Part of me is having a really hard time with this decision.  I feel like I gave in to the tantrums, setting a bad precedent.  I feel like I should have been able to figure out a way to make it fun for him, even though no suggestions are springing to mind.  I feel guilty and wonder if I subconsciously sabotaged him because I wasn't happy about the idea of camp.  I feel like I failed him and he lost an opportunity for a good childhood experience.

But I can't let ideals replace reality.  If he wasn't happy, then I needed to listen to him.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

An Excellent Writing Day

Yesterday I got two and a half hours to write and I managed to write a whole chapter.  Over 2500 words done.  I'm feeling pretty awesome about that.

Writing from a handwritten outline is working well for me.  I'm wondering if part of the trouble I had before was that I had to switch screens on my computer to go back and forth between the outline and the text I was writing.  Now I just have to glance off to the side.

I've also put together character sheets for my main characters with a photo and basic notes about description.  But I'm also using those sheets to inscribe notes such as behaviour tics (tapping fingers while nervous) or if I want to use a theme to describe a particular character (snake metaphors, cat metaphors, etc).  I'm hoping it will keep my writing consistent and save me some work in rewrites.

If I can keep going at this pace and keep committed to my writing days, I have a real chance at getting this manuscript done before my six month target.

Beaver Camp (Not as dirty as it sounds)

This weekend I'm strapping on my big girl shoes and joining my boys at Beaver camp.

Did I mention I hate bugs and outhouses?  That grass makes me sneeze?  That I generally prefer Nature as a channel rather than an in person experience?

No? 

Still going to happen.  This is something they're going to love and so I will summon up my Mommy strength and smile like I love it too.  Because it's important to them.

My husband thinks I shouldn't post this, that it might break the illusion of my voluntary participation.  But I disagree.  This is one of the ways I show my boys that I love them, by my willingness to go do something I don't like and do it with a smile on my face so that they don't feel bad about having a good time.  To me, that means more than going ahead to do something I already like.

I'm breaking out a Dr. Phil quote again.  Or at least, a paraphrase.  Wouldn't it suck if our children could only experience the things we already like?  Since they are bound to only like some of what we like, it would really narrow their experience of life.  Sharing your interests with your kids is important but it's also important to help them explore things they might show a passing interest in.

For my loyal readers, it means I'm going dark for two days.  I'll be back on Sunday with an update of how it went.  Assuming they haven't locked me in a mental hospital for going stark raving mad ... if they haven't come for me yet, they're probably not going to. 

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Do You Want To Believe?

Yesterday, Dr. Phil had John Edwards on his show.  For those in the studio audience, John Edwards is a medium who claims to get messages from the dead.  He does shows in these big theatres and gives people in the audience messages from their departed loved ones.

I've seen him on TV a few times and what he does is either uncanny or a very carefully orchestrated fraud.   He claims he does not get any information in advance about members of the audience.  Now, I'm usually skeptical about such claims from a professional psychic but I do trust Dr. Phil's integrity.

Edwards made a distinction I thought was pretty good.  He divided people into believers, skeptics and cynics.  Believers and cynics never question their assumptions.  I like to think of myself as a skeptic.  There's a lot out there which I believe are hoaxes and scams.  There's more which I believe are genuine misunderstandings or overly enthusiastic claims.  But there are some things which don't fit into those categories.  And those are the intriguing possibilities.

A cynic will always say it's a scam.  Even if they can't figure out how the scam works, they will insist information has been provided in advance, the audience members are plants or some other plausible explanation.  Assuming fraud doesn't work for me.  The possibility should be investigated but an open mind requires more.  A cynic of gravity would tell you that there is no gravity and everything that falls was pushed.  Even if they can't see the push or figure out how a push would have happened, because they cannot accept the possibility of a truth beyond their experience, they will insist the results are a lie.

If Edwards is not pulling a scam, what he does is otherwise unexplainable.  He does a lot of fishing (I'm getting a Joe, does anyone know a Joe here?  Joe or maybe Joseph or maybe John) but sometimes he comes right to the point with specific information.

Information from the other side seems to be patchy at best.  I recently read a book called Ghost Hunters about the paranormal investigation societies from the early 1900s.  One of their members died and one of the mediums they were investigating claimed to have contact with his spirit.  She gave detailed information to various friends and family members, information she could not have known in advance.  However she was unable to translate a sentence in Latin (which the deceased read and studied constantly) or solve a mathematical problem (he had a Masters). 

It leads to an interesting question.  Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that our spirits can communicate after death, does our technical knowledge vanish while our emotional connections live on?  Does leaving a physical body so disrupt and disorient a spirit that ordinary communication becomes a phenomenal burden?

It would be really cool to have the answers.  But for now, I'm caught between Mulder and Scully.  I want to believe but I haven't found the proof.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Taking Back The Night

I've generally been an advocate of the common advice given to women: don't go out by yourself at night, always carry a cell phone, learn self defence.

That's why I was a little surprised to hear someone complaining viciously about it. 

Toronto has been the stalking ground of a serial rapist and police have been issuing the usual warnings.  However, one woman is sick of being told to protect herself.  Deb Singh organized a Take Back the Night march in part to raise awareness.  She feels the onus still is on women to protect themselves from rape rather than teaching men not to rape.

I had to sit back and think about that one for a moment.  And I had to concede, she has a point.

A culture of fear isn't good for anyone.  Having to be constantly on guard from attack isn't fun and when danger is seen as preventable, an undertone of blaming the victim begins to emerge.  We probably could use more guy-oriented programs which talk honestly about sex and relationships and consent rather than featuring women on trampolines.

I think men get a lot of bad information, particularly from their peers when they're young.  Guys don't analyze relationships and encounters the way women do, which probably saves them a lot of heartache.  But it means they miss out on some of the lessons.  And sadly, macho posturing jerks are still the ones doing most of the talking when young men get together.  I've heard guys tell how they kept quiet because they assumed they were the only ones who felt differently and didn't want to get singled out as less of a man.

Education for men: good thing.  No question.  It doesn't have to be the flip side of the fear culture: blaming them for everything anyone with a Y chromosome has done since the beginning of recorded history.  An opportunity for young men to explore their uncertainty, figure out face-saving ways to gently discover if interest is mutual, I could see guys being interested in that. 

Now we flip back to the other side of this debate.  Education will not stop a serial rapist.  That's someone who is after power and domination and is chasing the thrill.  He knows its wrong.  That's why he's doing it.  Taking extra precautions in that case is the smart thing to do.  When the lions are in the grass, the antelope run.  And they don't waste time whining about it to the other antelope after the fact.  No antelope has ever felt like a moron for running when he or she was afraid.  Even if it turns out it wasn't a lion after all.

I hope the police catch this rapist soon.  I hope there is some intelligent debate and brainstorming of solutions sparked by Ms. Singh's comments.  I hope this doesn't fade back into the national unconsciousness until the next outrage.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me

My husband and I have long been on opposite sides of a very important war about flowers.  He dislikes having to buy bouquets only to watch them die a week later.  I like having flowers around the house as decoration, although I have a black thumb and even potted plants have a short lifespan around me.

For many years, this has made celebrating our anniversary difficult.  I tried to persuade him that quality jewelry was an acceptable substitute for flowers but apparently spending money on sparkly stuff wasn't any more acceptable.

A few years ago, I hit on a good idea.  I was in a Michael's craft store and noticed the high quality of the artificial flowers.  They felt nice to the touch and had a good colour to them (my usual complaints for artificial flowers). 

I suggested to my husband that he buy me an artificial flower every year for our anniversary and I would collect them all in a vase to display.  I get my colour, he doesn't have to watch flowers die .... he still has to spend money but it's mostly a win all around.

This year, I have a lovely giant yellow chrysanthemum and a giant orange rose.

Happy Anniversary to me.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Is Critical Thinking On The Decline?

I've managed to pick up a few books of late which complain about the inability of modern Western society to think critically.

While reality TV like Survivor and tabloids focusing on whether or not one of the Kardashians is eating make this accusation rather easy, I've been wondering if it's actually true.

One of the common bemoaning features is time spent with TV, computer and other electronic devices.  The complaint is: look at the time we're wasting!  And with manipulative media which suck us into spending more time than we wanted in doing nothing.

Okay, true.  Being able to plonk down at home and have the world at your fingertips is a new one for the human species (socially speaking).  But people have always looked to entertainment more than the more difficult self-improvement.  When newspapers were first coming out, conservatives were complaining that they were full of nonsense, trivia and advertising.  Newspapers distracted and prevented people from studying the Bible and the classics, which were acknowledged as the culture enrichment option.

Modern complainants forget that Shakespeare was pretty much the Steven Spielberg of his day.  He wrote plays to entertain, often in a very short amount of time and borrowing (cough, plagiarizing) from common stories and other playwrights.  His goal was not the improvement of the human race but having enough money to pay the bills and afford some luxuries.  That the stories he wrote still speak to us is wonderful and can't be underestimated, but he wasn't creating Art, he was producing pop culture.

The medium of education is changing and while we have the right to be concerned about some of the lessons modern video games, music and television are offering, a grumpy "things were better back then" is not a productive solution.  The reason people are turning more and more to these options is because they're easy.  But that's how we've always done it.  Laughs, love and a bit with a dog will triumph over dense imagery and clouded symbolism every time.  But sometimes, the bit with the dog can teach us.

Rather than dismissing the whole thing out of hand, I think we should be encouraging the truly excellent writers out there to become even more prolific.

That would be something.

Friday, 14 September 2012

To Tell Or Not To Tell

I may not have enjoyed the movie Sex and the City 2 but there was one interesting moral dilemma which caught my attention.

Carrie, married, meets an ex-boyfriend for dinner and ends up kissing him.  They break off the kiss immediately and retreat to separate hotels.  She then has to decide whether or not to tell her husband what happened.

This is an interesting situation and one I used to believe was cut and dry.  Of course Carrie has to tell her husband.  That's honesty which is good for relationships, right?

What changed my mind was an episode of Dharma and Greg.  (Again, proof I watch way too much TV.)  There had been an arc for a few episodes where Dharma realized she was having feelings for the tutor helping her get her GED (played by Kevin Sorbo, and who wouldn't have feelings in that case .... getting distracted, focusing back on issue.)

Surprisingly, the one person to pick this up was Greg's mother, Kitty.  And she handled it by taking aside Dharma and speaking to her privately.  (A nice bit of character growth for a woman who was often cast as the sitcom's villain.)  She forces Dharma to admit there is more between them than just a student-teacher relationship and when a tearful Dharma says that she's about to go and tell Greg, Kitty stops her.  Her words have stuck with me ever since:  You want to tell Greg to make yourself feel better but you're going to make him feel horrible.  Break it off and send this tutor far away and then keep it to yourself to avoid hurting him.  That's what love is about.

Since then, I've thought about the almost-affair differently.  When it comes to actual intercourse, then telling is a must.  But a kiss, a flirty email or dinner ... if the potential cheating relationship is nipped in the bud then the would-be cheater should consider it a wake-up call but telling does seem more like a way to make the cheater feel better at the expense of their spouse.

What do you think?  Is honesty always the best policy?  We've been having some technical difficulties with comments but email your answers to jennifermackintosh@pastthemirror.com.  I'd love to hear what you all think.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Adjusting to Life At Work

I started my new job on Tuesday and I'm having some challenges with adjusting back to working life.

To begin with, my new co-workers are great with compatible sense of humour (always a relief).  The job looks like it will be well within my skill level and we can certainly use the money and flexibility.

But it's been 8 years since I worked on a daily basis.  My previous post-child work was two evenings a week.  It's been a bit of a mental challenge to adjust to having to go to work every single day.  (Wait, I have to go again?  Didn't I do this yesterday?)

Nathan is having a real challenge with it.  Particularly since I can't pick him up at school during my training period.  He's been crying and tantruming more than usual and has been extra clingy.  I'm trying to give him reassurance that I'll still be there but the reality is that something new is going to be coming into his life to wrest my attention away from him.  So I won't dismiss his feelings as irrelevant.

Alex is mostly okay.  I'm home again by the time he's done school so it's less of an issue.

It's going to take me awhile to figure out my new schedule of work, school, writing, exercise and housework.  Finding the new balance will be tricky.  But I'll get there.  Right now, I think the biggest help for Nathan will be finding that time for him individually when my attention isn't scattered.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Sex and the City 2

I just watched the second Sex and the City movie and I was very disappointed.

I enjoyed the carefree fun, fashion and frolics of the foursome back when they were on HBO.  The first movie felt like a girlfriend reunion and I enjoyed it.

This one, not so much.

Maybe I've just grown up and moved on.  It's hard for me to feel sympathy and connection with characters who can drop over a grand on shoes. 

But I honestly think the writing just wasn't there.  They relied too heavily on making Samantha (my favourite character) into a predictable punchline.  Carrie reverted back to being the whiny, self-sabotaging girl I was never too fond of, rather than growing as a woman.  And moving the whole thing to the United Arab Emirates was ill-conceived.

The only part I really enjoyed was Charlotte and Miranda talking about the trials of motherhood.  Those two characters had actual growth through the movie and they got to keep their growth from the series.

Too bad.  Ah well.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Madonna ROCKS!

This is what I jotted down last night at 2 am when I got home:

Concert two hours late starting.
My feet hurt.
My knees are shot.
My hands are swollen and chafed.
I'm exhausted.
No voice left.
Slightly deaf.

LOVED IT! LOVED IT! LOVED IT!

It was an amazing concert, well worth the cost in both money and time.  I was on my feet dancing the whole time and since I was on an aisle, I think I may have accidentally groped about a dozen people in my enthusiastic movement.  (It was an accident, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Madonna still has amazing performance stamina and skills.  Her choreography was a little quieter than the Confessions or Sticky and Sweet tours but when it counted, she showed she could still bring it out.

I loved the entire opening act with its dark sexual violence.  Girls Gone Wild and Gang Bang, two of my favourite tracks from MDNA.  It probably says something very disturbing about me and my need for therapy but I enjoyed it.

I also liked the slow lyrical jazz version of Like A Virgin.  I hope it'll be on the concert album.

I'm not sure about showing the concert DVD to Alex (when it comes out).  Especially that first act.  I loved it but it's not appropriate for him.  Maybe I can figure out a way to start the concert on the second act.

Today was exhausting but happy.  I'm glad I did it.  Nicky Minaj has it right.

There's only one queen.  And that's Madonna.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Going to Madonna

Tonight is the night I've been waiting for for nine months.

Tonight, I see Madonna.  Third row, on the floor.

I am so excited about this I am practically vibrating through the walls.  I started trying to get tickets to Madonna's concerts over ten years ago.  Two years ago, I finally got in to her Sticky and Sweet tour.  It was an amazing experience.

I've been to a lot of concerts where I felt like I was listening to the CD with bad audio and inconsiderate neighbours.  I love Celine Dion, too, but I won't be going to any more of her shows for awhile.  Two different concerts promoting two different albums and virtually the same playlist.  Very little of which was from either of the albums.

But Madonna is a top-class performer.  One can argue about the merits of her voice or her song-writing ability but no one can deny that the woman can put on a show.

Alex is having a hard time understanding that he's not going.  He loves Madonna, too, and we often watch her Confessions tour or the Sticky and Sweet one on DVD.  I've seen it enough to recognize most of the back-up dancers.  But I'm pretty sure they would yank my parenting licence if I brought an eight year old to a Madonna concert.  When he hits fourteen or sixteen, then this can be an extremely bizarre mother and son bonding experience.

I can't wait.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Inner Cavewoman

I’ve been reading Christine Feehan’s Carpathian novels and while I enjoy them, there are certain parts which make me want to enter the story and start beating some sense into the characters.

Feehan has created an alternate world of Carpathians and vampires.  Carpathians are effectively Bram Stoker-like vampires without being evil.  Their species has been under attack for centuries, an insidious attack which kills their women and female babies.  Without women, the Carpathian males become dark and depressed and then turn into vicious vampires.  Nice setup, very interesting.

The problem arises with the Carpathians themselves.  Traditional alpha males, every single one so far has been high-handed and dominating with the human women they encounter.  They use magic and mental powers to compel them.  They restrict the women from seeking out human company, isolating them. 

I enjoy a take-charge guy as much as anyone else and I will admit to being a sucker for powerful male with a dark side.  But this goes way past what any woman should find acceptable, even with fantastic sex in the offering.

The Carpathians do realize they can’t squelch human women’s free will as the  novels progress but I find it really jarring to have the women accepting it in the beginning.  The characters are strong, independent women and it just doesn’t feel true to their characters to have them submit so readily.  I keep hoping for a Buffy-equivalent to come in and deliver a much needed ass-kicking to these men-of-the-castles.

The excuse the Carpathians use for their behaviour is that they are protecting their mates and their species.  Fertile women are far too rare a resource for their safety to be jeopardized.  This sounds nice and noble and I’ll admit to a certain sympathy but their actions still jar and grate against my enjoyment of the story.

I read a book recently about primate behaviour where the author cited a study that households with an accepted dominant partner were happier.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe people can be happy in a relationship where they are consistently submissive.  A completely dominant partner who is unwilling to allow his or her mate to make their own decisions is an abuser.  And that’s not a romantic fantasy I can get behind.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Catherine Results

I actually got the results right before heading off on our trip but decided not to open them right away so I wouldn't obsess through the vacation.

For those in the studio audience, the Catherine is a competition for unpublished authors held by the Toronto Romance Writers Association.  They ask for the first 30 pages of your manuscript and a synopsis and have 3 published authors/editors/contest winners review your work.  I sent off Lord of Underhill back in June and now have my results.

As much as I told myself I wasn't expecting to win, I was still a little disappointed at not being chosen for finals.  And my not-obsessing plan backfired somewhat.  I started feeling discouraged in my plan to become a professional writer (if I can't final in a contest and the manuscript was already rejected by Harlequin) and doubting my skills.  Then I became worried about what the reviews would be and didn't want to open them.  Proof that I am and will always be a champion brooder.

No matter how much I brood, eventually I had to pull out my big girl panties and open them up.  Two were reasonably encouraging, scoring me in the "good work but needs polish" range.  One was less so, in the "doesn't suck but isn't great" range.

Okay, good to know.  Even at the very worst, I don't suck.  Good for me.

The Ottawa Romance Writer's Association is hosting a workshop by Roxanne St-Clair, a New York Times bestseller, on how to revise your manuscript.  It's in October and I'm thinking I will hold off on revisions until after the workshop.

But professional writing does not include down time (or at least, not if you want to be profitable).  So I'm forging ahead with another story which has been breathing down my neck and wanting to be told.

Titles always come late to me, so right now it's under the working title Burlesque because my heroine is a burlesque dancer.  I'm going to give myself one month for research and outlining and then six months to write the manuscript.  We'll see if I can pull it off.  My style has always been more exploratory, but that is time-consuming both in original writing and in revising to make everything consistent.  Two books a year or three books in two years appears to be the minimum standard for self-supporting writerdom.

Time to sit down and get serious.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Surreal Moment

As I was in the car today, I heard Michael Jackson's Thriller.

It's the first week of September.  It is way too early to be breaking out the Hallowe'en holiday stuff.

I know Hallowe'en is becoming the new Christmas but this is still ridiculous.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Nathan's First Day of School

Today Nathan had his first day of senior kindergarten.  As it worked out, Alex had his first day then a day off because of a staggered start.  So Nathan went to school and Alex stayed home.

There were only four students in Nathan's class today.  Tomorrow the rest of the senior kindergarteners join and then the junior kindergarteners to make up the rest of the split class.

The small number of students taking English kindergarten instead of the French Immersion classes made me wonder if we were making the right decision all over again.  It was recommended that we not confuse Nathan's language issues any further by adding a new language, particularly one Dave and I aren't fluent in.  But there's a bias in our school system that the smart kids will take French Immersion.  Nothing official, but a lot of parents still push their kids into the french class.  As a result, I'm guessing most of the kids in the english program are there because their parents feel they can't make it in immersion.  I worry Nathan will end up bored and underachieving.

But worrying too far ahead is borrowing trouble and I have enough to deal with as is.

He had a good first day, liked his teacher and seemed confident and happy to be going to school. 

After Nathan came home at lunch, I decided today would be our last family summer day.  We went to get the photo taken for Alex's special bus pass (one that lets him have a companion ride free) and then we went to a local museum, one of Alex's favourites.  It's full of escalators and elevators that talk.  So we didn't get much of an educational experience but I think he still had a lot of fun.  Nathan discovered the theatre in the children's wing and spent a lot of time declaiming to Shelby and dashing in and out of the curtains.

On the way home, we stopped for a Tim Horton's drive-thru.  It's always funny to watch the attendant's face as we pull up.  I give the money to Alex and let him hand it through which means I pull forward until the rear passenger window is next to the service window.  The attendant always gets a little concerned and then a smile as he or she realizes the child will be paying and collecting the order.  It's a nice way to end the day.

Alex's First Day of School

We made it through the summer and now we're heading back to school.

Alex had his first day at his new school today.  We're very happy to have him so close, the school is less than a five minute drive away.  He no longer has to spend over two hours each day in transit, trucking across the city.

By all accounts, the day went well.  His teachers tell me he gave some initial protests and tried to avoid having to sit in circle but eventually complied.  There is one difficult factor.  His new school is multi-storied and has an elevator.  Alex loves elevators.  I was hoping they might use it as a reinforcer but they've decided to keep him off it.  This could set up a struggle, depending on how close his classroom is to the elevator and if he sees anyone else using it.

I'll admit to being somewhat nervous about this new school.  It's not surprising, I'm nervous about most new situations.  Last year I had a really hard time with the fact that I didn't know the school and wasn't spending time there.  With his first school, I was there quite a bit, volunteering, picking up Nathan, etc.  I will eventually get used to it.

I was struck by one of the ironies of having an autistic child versus a neurotypical one.  Alex gets picked up by a van to go to his school.  After packing him into the car, it occured to me I just put my son in a car with someone he didn't know.  Typical children are told to never get in a car with a stranger, but I've just done it for my child.

Sometimes I think that's part of my anxiety.  Everyone knows about the dangers out there for young children and there's a lot of suspicion that the danger is multiplied when your child has special needs.  My son can't tell me if he's upset or has been frightened, I have to look for more subtle behavioural clues.

However, he came home yesterday in a good mood and was happy and compliant until bedtime.  He even wanted to go outside and ride his bike for the first time in over a month.

So I think this is going to go well.

PS. This was originally supposed to be posted last night but we ran into some technical difficulties.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

SYTYCD - Top 10 and Top 8

Being away has really put a crimp in my TV watching but I've managed to soldier through my two saved episodes of So You Think You Can Dance.

My favourites from the Top 10 show were:

The disco number with Tiffany and Brandon.  It was fun, flirty and fast-paced, everything disco should be.  I thought Tiffany really committed to the role and it was good to see her not holding back as the sweet little girl.  I loved Cole and Anya in the cha-cha.  Always good to watch a man be able to move his hips and still be masculine.  The concept of the shadow dance for Lindsay and Jacob's Broadway routine was really neat.

But my hands-down favourites were Cyrus and Jamie's post-apolcalyptic dance and Eliana and Alex's contemporary piece.  Cyrus did an amazing job and it was great to finally see Eliana stretch herself.

On the down side, I did not like Chehon's hip hop routine.  Rather than precise and crisp, he struck me as being jerky and sloppy.  And I was very tired of the she's-so-sexy-she-makes-me-forget-everything theme to George and Alison's dance.  It's repetitive and I'd like to see some depth to the female characters besides just sexy.

The Top 8 was an amazing show with a lot of really great routines.  It was hard to choose a favourite.

Cole and Eliana were both stand-outs.  Cole's one handed lift was impressive and he really fit in with Sonja's choreography.  And Eliana conquered the dreaded quickstep.  Cole and Cyrus both had amazing solos.  I was glad to have the chance to watch them do their thing, since their styles won't come up in regular competition.

Everyone really stepped up their game.  Witney managed to keep up with Twitch.  Will put aside his adorable puppy personality to show off a dark and brooding side.  Chehon managed to connect with his partner for the first time and Tiffany threw herself into the Celine Dion routine.  I would not have wanted to be deciding who went home because I couldn't have done it with any kind of satisfaction.

I think the only jarring note was whoever decided to let Nigel pull a Don Cherry.  Every time the camera came to him, I had a blink-aback from that very, very red jacket.

Only two more episodes to see.  I'll be very interested to see how they go.  But I'm putting out my prediction now:  Eliana as America's Favourite Girl and Cole as America's Favourite Guy.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Flying Home

Leaving from a vacation is never quite as fun as leaving for it.

We did manage a stop for a comparison photo at Horseshoe Canyon.  We had a picture with Alex there the last time we were in Drumheller.


And here is the updated photo.  Nathan declined to get out of the car and we decided not to push it.


Having allowed for plenty of time for difficulties at the airport, we didn't run into a single one.  This left lots of time for waiting, which meant cranky children.  Nathan was more than ready to shake Alberta's dirt from his shoes and return home and kept asking if the plane had come to take us home.  He also didn't quite understand why we couldn't just go onto any plane around and it would take us home.

The flight home was a little more difficult, but the autism shirts helped again.  The novelty of flying, and the Treehouse programs available, had worn off.  But we made it back and managed to extract our car and get home.

I want to take a moment to thank Shelby publicly for her amazing help.  She handled a lot of the grunt work so that Dave and I could concentrate on the kids and the reunion.  It meant a lot.  I think she wore herself out and I hope she enjoys her week off.  She earned it.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Reunion Day 3: Redemption

Things went much better today but they got off to a rough start.  At 4 am, Alex started throwing up.  He was sick for about an hour and not happy about being moved to sleep in the couch in the living area.  But eventually he fell back asleep.

I had a hard time getting back to sleep and I was wondering if I'd just made the stupidest decision of my life to drag my family out to this reunion.  No question, I was pretty discouraged.

Sometimes I think the universe needs a reminder to go easy on us.  If so, it got one because things started to go much better.

When everyone woke up, Nathan was actually excited about going to the reunion brunch for pancakes with Avi.  We decided to let Alex rest at the hotel with Shelby.  If he could keep some food down and seemed recovered, we'd go ahead with plans for the rest of the day.

At the community center, Nathan spotted the World's Largest Dinosaur and insisted on going up into the mouth.  It was the first time he was actually excited about doing something in Drumheller.  We dropped our plans to head in to breakfast and went up the dinosaur instead.  When your children hand you a golden opportunity, take it!

 

We had a good breakfast (thank god there were actually pancakes) and a good visit.  We sat in the back, away from most of the gatherings.  People had to come visit us but Nathan was much more comfortable without a ton of chattering people surrounding him.  I don't think anyone minded too badly.

After breakfast, we checked in with Alex, who seemed to be doing much better.  We decided to forge ahead with our plan to drive into Calgary and visit Heritage Park, a 1930s recreation town, then have dinner at Grandma's before heading back to the hotel to pack for the flight home.

The boys really liked Heritage Park, especially the steam train which ferries people around the village.


We didn't see much of the village itself.  The boys got captured by the old-fashioned midway.  We had been worried the site would be a zoo with vacationing families but we were late enough in the day (and close enough to closing) that more people were headed home than coming in.  We didn't have to wait for any of the rides, so the boys got their fill.  Even Alex tried going on a few.


After that, it was off to Grandma's for dinner.  Her bungalow is exactly the same as I remember it from when I was Nathan's age.  As a military family, we rarely spent more than two years living in the same house.  Grandma's was a comforting touchstone of consistency, someplace that could be counted on to stay the same.  It gave me a real thrill to see my boys playing in the same basement I played in, with many of the same toys from her Humpty-Dumpty toychest.  Nathan also loved it, as you can see from the picture.


The day ended with a family photo of the immediate family and it was a great feeling to be surrounded by blood-bound affection.  I've joked that our family is a black hole.  We pull people in but no one ever manages to quite leave.


Maybe it's because I don't have the usual rooted connection to a family home but to me, my family is my home.  This is the network of people who care about us and who can be counted on for help when we need it, even if we don't realize it.  These are the people who sent the excited buzz of Alex eating pizza around the world.  They care and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Reunion Day 2: Disaster

As you can guess from the title, today did not go well.

Maybe it's just too little sleep over the last few days but my resiliency reserves were not as deep as they should be.

Our first stop for the day was the Rosedale suspension bridge. 


Generally I have a minor challenge with heights, not comfortable but dealable.  However, going across a swaying bridge where my eyes constantly move past the chainlink walls, giving me the illusion that nothing is stopping me from falling would not have been a smart decision to start with.  Add to that it was a windy day and I kept feeling like me or the camera would be blown away any second and it wasn't pleasant.  The boys both loved it though.

Once they were on the other side, they wanted to climb the hills.  I agreed quite happily.  I have a lot of fond memories about scrambling over the hills in Drumheller when I was their age. 


However, I had not reckoned on the rain from the day before making everything quite slippery and mucky.  The boys both climbed like little mountain goats with their Avi and Shelby scrambling behind.  I got left behind rather quickly and decided to turn back and wait at the bridge.  However, in negotiating through the steep hills, my footing suddenly slipped and I rode the clay down a few metres into a small gully.  Luckily I wasn't hurt, but I was covered in gray-brown clay from head to toe.  I tried to keep my sense of humour up by telling myself that people pay money to experience this at spas but my heart wasn't in it.

I went home to take a shower and have a good cry before the reunion event of the evening.  That day was the big group photo.  We misunderstood the instructions and arrived early, which meant the boys had to wait for an extended period, never a good plan.  It took awhile to herd everyone together but eventually we got the photo done.

After the photo, there was still almost an hour to wait until dinner.  Again, in retrospect, I should have taken them outside but I was feeling flustered still.  Dave had told Alex he couldn't ride the elevator any more and Shelby was upset because she was getting different instructions from both of us.  The upshot: both Alex and Nathan were in full meltdown mode by the time dinner started.  There was no choice but to send them back to the hotel with Dave and Shelby, which left me feeling very isolated and alone.

A big thanks to my aunt Susie and cousin Dom who both noticed I was upset and took me aside to give me time to breathe.  I was watching the other little children running around the convention center and getting more and more upset that my children couldn't tolerate being there.  There are times when I feel that autism has robbed me of a part of my children's lives and I try to accept that I feel that way and move on. 

I'm glad I stayed for the dinner and speeches.  I heard some stories I hadn't heard before about Opa Bill (my great-great-grandfather) who was the firechief of Drumheller.  When the fire-phone would ring in the night, his grandchildren would jump up to watch because Opa Bill would invariably knock over the carefully lined up milk bottles in his rush to get out of the house.  We heard about Opa Bill's passion for singing and how our family dominated the church choir for many years and had many spontaneous singalongs in harmony.  As someone who constantly sings in the car, that was nice to hear.

After dinner, I stayed to visit with my cousins.  I haven't seen most of them since the last reunion.  We talked about how strange it was to get together now.  Some of us had extended times when we lived in the same city and would see each other regularly but then the military would move us onward and we wouldn't see each other again for years on end.  It ends up freezing people at particular stages in their development.  And now we're all adults with jobs and spouses and such.  The age gap is no longer that important.

They asked me to come along to find a good bar to continue the conversation but I decided to return to the hotel.  I knew I needed rest to deal with what was coming tomorrow.  It may have started out a bad day but it ended on a fairly good note.