Sunday, November 28, 2010

White Christmas…Embrace It!

Well it seems that this year we will have a white Christmas whether we want it or not. As the old snow was getting packed down and dirty, someone up above decided it was time for a fresh layer. It’s not really heavy but it is steady…and it’s wet.

I’ve heard there are benefits to snow. I just can’t quite think of them right now. I remember when I was a kid and the snow would fall, it was just a burst of giddiness and excitement. (Is that the same thing? Giddiness and excitement?) If it was a school day, it could mean that I didn’t have to go, like the time when I was six and it snowed nearly three feet overnight. In retrospect it may not have actually been three feet but it was a lot for a small little girl. Came up to my chest. Funny how are perspectives change over time. A house that we lived in that seemed so big at the time, practically a mansion, was really nothing more than a shack.

Snow angels, snowmen, snowball fights. And the sports associated with snow…skating, skiing, snow shoeing, tobogganing and snowmobiling. All great and fun, and you need snow.

But the roads…the slippery miserable roads…the accidents that come in the hundreds as soon as the snow hits. How is that good for anyone? You find yourself in the bitter cold, no vehicle or broke now that you have to pay for repairs…or worse…the loss of someone you love so close to the holidays. Wow…I feel a lot of negativity coming on. Better get off this train before it derails.

The goodness. It has nothing to do with snow. Christmas…we don’t need snow to have Christmas. It comes whether the white stuff falls or not. But…there is something really special about watching the snow fall on Christmas Eve and Day and you’re snuggled up in front of the fire with the people you love.

As much as I dislike the snow for all the reasons associated with driving in it…and the bitter cold that seems to come along with it…I find myself getting a little depressed when it looks like we won’t have a white Christmas. But I don’t have to fear this year….it’s already snowed…and it’s snowing more. It’s unlikely it will disappear before the big day.

Thank goodness….how can Santa land his sleigh if there is no snow?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Making the Best of a Chilly Situation

I am not a penguin. I was not made for these temperatures. It’s cold and I hate it. Give me a nice sunny Hawaiian beach any day. Just not this. Not the wind chills of -40, not the daytime high temperatures of -30. Just give me a nice warm cave so I can sleep until spring.

I’ve heard people say, just imagine a beach somewhere, the soft sand scratching your back or oozing through your toes. The sun beating down, the waves lapping against the shoreline, children laughing as the water splashes against their legs. Sand castles, or sand sculptures decorating the beach.

Can you see it? The warmth of summer combining with the warmth of family to become one gentle heat wave. It washes over your body, like a delicate veil, and you are left feeling…feeling like a hand grazed over you, like you are locked in a forever embrace with the love of your life.

The children play at the water’s edge. They scream and laugh, splash water at each other. One mother shouts, “don’t get so close to the water.” The child ignores her and plunges in deeper, sits in the moist sand just inches below the surface and lets the water wash over his legs, tickle his torso.

The sky is a brilliant blue, blue like denim, and there is not a tear in the thick threads. Just nothing but blue for as far as you can see. Denim blue meets navy blue at the horizon and it’s like you can see forever. To the edge of the earth.

The only breeze comes off the water, barely even disturbs the trees nearby. But you can feel it. Just when you think it might get too hot, there is a cool breath on your face, over the rest of your body and it’s just enough. Just enough to satisfy you, to convince you to stay just a few more minutes.

Watch the boats on the water. They are little dots, bouncing up and down, like when you roll over on a water bed. You can only imagine the soft shush, shush as it bobs up and down, water that laps up the side of the hull. The water cradles the boat like a newborn baby. Hugs it close, with the steady rhythmic beat of the tide.

But then you peer down the beach. A rock bluff appears to emerge from the water and upon on the pointed crags of rock that jut out from its sides, snow. And a thin glistening sheen of ice. On top of the bluff, a snowman appears to be smiling. Dark eyes peer down at the water, an icicle hangs from his carrot nose and a scarf is wrapped around his wide neck, flapping violently in the cold winter wind. His outstretched stick thin arms are raised as if in prayer, red socks hang from the end of the branches and wave like wind socks. Each tube filled with winter air, and you just want to turn away from the cold. With the wind at your back.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Aren’t the Birds Supposed to Fly South for the Winter?

Much to my surprise, even in Canadian climates such as ours, there are birds that don’t make the flight to warmer climates. Instead the endure the painful temperatures that even most of us can’t stand.

Today it’s a balmy –15 and is supposed to be dropping further. I don’t know the wind chill but it has to be somewhere in the –20’s. There is continuous blowing snow that has smoothed out the drifts in our yard.

Only moments ago I stepped outside for a minute and noticed a blue jay up in the tree. He was perched neatly on a branch tucked as close the trunk as possible. While I stood there wondering why he was still here, he plumped up his feathers and made himself into this little white ball, with only a bit of his blue and black cap sticking out. He reminded me of Julianne during her first winter.

We had this cute white snowsuit that we received as a gift. On one of the less chilly days I had taken her outside to experience snow for the first time. As she sat in the snow, (she was barely crawling at that point), she looked like a little marshmallow in the snow, only her pudgy little cheeks exposed. It was one of the cutest images I had ever caught of her and in that moment, she just looked warm. Much like this little bird.

I am not a bird person. It’s rare for me to find anything cute or attractive about a bird unless he is some magnificent rainbow of colours. Face it. Canadian birds are just not that interesting. (Sorry to all the bird lovers out there.) But this bird was beautiful. Like so many others, he made the best of a miserable situation. There was no place for him to find real shelter, so he did what he was instinctively designed to do. My instincts on this kind of day are to stay in doors. Under the covers of a nice warm bed or, if little child does not allow me to do just that, huddled beside the fireplace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Want To Be A Bear...

Sub-arctic temperatures have now graced the Calgary region. Not that we should be all that surprised because after all, it is Calgary, but still, after the semblance of summer we received late in the season, this is not a welcome change. We have been spoiled and now like spoiled children we want to fight and kick away this dreadful weather.

I hate the cold.

I would really fare better if I had been a bear. These last few warm months I would have spent gathering and eating all the food I possibly could, then as soon as the good old weather channel announced the accumulative snow coming our way along with cold, cold, cold, I would have got up, stretched and said, "That's my cue..." And off I would go to my warm, fuzzy den not to be seen again until Balzac Billy said it was okay.

But I am not a bear. Nor will I ever be one. Unless I believed in reincarnation but then, that would open up a whole other can of worms.

Speaking of reincarnation. Does anyone REALLY know what happens to us after we die? I've been asking myself this question more and more since the onset of my new found gray hairs that are becoming too numerous to do a damn thing about. Colouring my hair would only hide the inevitable. Pulling them out would probably leave more bald patches than any woman should ever have to live with and face it, just too much darned work. So I have decided to leave them for now. But it does bring up questions of mortality.

I know, I know. I'm still young. Should have at least 40 good years left in me, if all goes well. But I can't get those thoughts of decrepitude out of my mind. Recently, I have watched my grandmother, now 85 years old, having trouble standing without assistance. And when she walks, oh good lord, a snail could outrun her. Is that what I have to look forward to? Because if it is, I don't want it. But my grandmother is okay with the idea of moving on. Says that my grandfather is waiting patiently for her, will be ready for her when she finally decides it's time to let go.

So what happens when the final breath finally leaves your body, all the organs that have kept you going for all these years, finally runs out of energy and decides it's time for them too, to rest.

Atheists believe nothing. That when you die you go into the earth and decompose with the worms. Other religions believe in the concept of heaven and hell, reincarnation, moon phases, earthly elements and so on. All these different beliefs designed to bring peace, faith, love, and happiness. It doesn't matter what you believe. Whatever faith helps get you through the day is great in my opinion. Whatever helps you to prepare for the next phase, thumbs up.

And now I don't know how this post has gotten away from me. From cold and snow to bears and the contemplation of aging and eventual death. It's one of those things that you just know is going to happen and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. I like to try and think of it as going to sleep and just not being aware of anything around you.

I don't think it's so much the thought of death, it's the thought of dying young. The thought of missing my children grow up and having children of their own. The thought of having to deal with the loss of my own husband. Because I am sure he will go before I will. And I saw the pain that my grandmother suffered when my grandfather passed away.

You know what? This is just too much and too deep for this miserably cold and snowy day. I think I will go grab another cup of coffee and watch Strawberry Shortcake with my daughter.

Friday, November 12, 2010

One of Many Milestones...

She began sleeping through the night at just over a month old. Soon thereafter she was holding her head up and learning to roll over. The combat crawl was her first choice of crawling then eventually crawled like normal babies. Then she stood holding on to the table for support until finally she took her first steps. This was all within the first year of life.

The second year brought such milestones as first words and climbing on anything and everything. Tantrums became a regular part of the day, stubborness, laughing, yelling, putting on her own clothes and of course taking them off.

This past week, she made the transition from crib to bed. This new found freedom has created a need for us to adjust our own schedules. No longer can my hubby go to bed early. He needs to make sure she is asleep before he can go there and I am forced to get up much earlier than I have become accustomed to over the past couple of years but we have made the adjustment because there is no other choice, although somewhat begrudgingly.

And today...

We put the crib away.

I thought I would be more emotional about the change. That it would cause me to sit back and reflect and be sad. And I have reflected. I guess that's what I'm doing now, in fact. But I was not emotional. I am not sad. I am proud. Proud of all the steps she has successfully taken over the past two years and excited (and somewhat terrified) at the thought of what is yet to come.

It doesn't have to be difficult. I've learned to take each day as they come and deal with all the little struggles that come my way.

Also, recently we have learned the value of the "timeout" and that they actually work. If only my parents had known about that method of discipline. I would have avoided many spankings with the leather belt, calloused hand or wooden spoon.

Media says we've become a more violent society but I think in many ways we have actually become a calmer society.

At least as far as parenting goes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Remembrance...

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and for the first time I did not take in any ceremony. Not in person, not televised. Not that I don't remember, because I do. I think about it all the time. Especially in the last year.
I don't know anyone that died in any war. No one in my family ever saw the frontlines. But I have married into a family that saw more of a war than anyone should. Was stuck right in the middle of a conflict, made to suffer like no one ever should. All the Dutch during the Second World War experienced more than they ever should have.

On our last trip to Holland I made it a point to visit a Canadian War Cemetary, and a deportation camp, to get a feel for the land and what it must have been like.

I learned of some experiences of my husband's grandfather during that time that gave me a better understanding of what it must have been like. And since I have been home I have been working diligently to complete a personal essay on just that experience for me. I want to be able to share it with my readers out there in bloggie land, but I can't do that for now due to the debate over it being considered previously published even if it's only posted online. So I must wait because there is another destination in mind for that particular piece.

So I have not forgotten. I have been busy remembering in my own way for the last few months. With each word I type, with all the research I do on that particular piece of writing, I have been faced with the truth ongoing. In many ways I think I will treat today as a day of rest. Although I know perfectly well, I will not forget about it. I will probably even work on that piece of writing today. But for now, I hope everyone else remembers. No matter where you live. No matter how close the truth is to you. Always remember that there have been and probably always will be soldiers that fight unselfishly for something much bigger than any of us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don’t Read? Don’t Write

Would you walk into an operating room without having taken any formal training? Or stand in a courtroom defending an innocent man, if you didn’t have any knowledge of law or proper courtroom etiquette? Just as in anything you want to do, you need training. You need to learn what works and what doesn’t work before you can step outside the box and stretch the rules.

A crucial component to becoming a successful writer is to read everything you can get your hands on. Read the types of stories you want to write. Examine the story and figure out what it is you like about it, what makes it work. Are the characters compelling? Does the plot sing? Is the end satisfying or leave you hanging? But there are people that believe they do not need to read, that the words that spill from their fingers or the end of their pen is perfect and publishable the way it is.

Several years ago I had a debate with a co-worker about the need to read in order to become a successful writer. He believed that a writer did not need to read to be able to write while I strongly believe a writer needs to possess a passion for the written word in order to have faith in his craft, a passion that usually stems from childhood. How can you claim to be a good writer if you don’t like to read or don’t have the time to read? If you never sat down and read a book in your life except for the prescribed reading list in that high school English class, how could you even develop a desire to write?

Granted, in theory, you don’t necessarily need to read to have that desire to write but what’s the point? Why would you spend long hours over a keyboard if you don’t appreciate the end result? Why do the research for an article on weapons of mass destruction if you wouldn’t read an article on the topic? Why become a lawyer if you hate lawyers and everything they stand for? Why become a doctor if you can’t stand the sight of blood or you’re germaphobic?

In order to become published and have your readers take you seriously, you need to establish your credibility as a writer. Take classes to perfect the craft. Learn new techniques on how to get your work from the hidden confines of your computer or notebook to a broader audience. There are no real rules on how to attract a publisher but when you’re attempting to break into a market as a new writer, you want to avoid common mistakes. Want to make your writing stand out from the rest. You can’t do this unless you already understand the basics of story arc, character and plot development, dialogue, tenses and especially point of view.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Since my father read to me as a child and I developed that love of words, I wanted to be able to string those words together and create stories of my own to entertain and instill emotion. And so I wrote. But I didn’t care if it was actually any good because no one was going to see it anyway.

About eight years ago I was on a roll. I wrote a 10,000 word short story and thought it was brilliant. The words that flowed from my fingers just couldn’t have come out any more perfect. I edited, I packaged it up and sent it off to a contest. I didn’t win. Meanwhile, I decided to bide my time and take some classes for the fun of it. If I learned something along the way, then great, if not, at least I had something to do.

A few years ago I went back to that story and was completely appalled at what I read. I was embarrassed to think that someone had actually read that piece of drivel. Every other paragraph I switched point of view. Tenses were all over the place and I really knew nothing about my characters. The plot was weak and the ending bordered on plain bizarre. Knowing what I know now, the only consolation is that the judges probably didn’t read past the first page so they didn’t see how bad it really was.

At some point a writer needs to trust in the knowledge of those that have been successful, those that know the business. Whether you write short stories, poems, creative non-fiction or have a desire to write a novel, read everything you can get your hands on to learn what works, take classes, join a critique group and then submit, submit and submit some more. You’re certain to be demoralized by rejection but keep going. To get published is as much about luck as it is about talent. Stick to what works until you’re comfortable with overstepping the boundaries.

Learn how to self edit. Use your spell check. Rewrite. Don’t be afraid of losing something in a rewrite. The words that spill onto the page the first time are not the words that the reader will see. The theme, the concept and the characters will be the same in most cases, but the words will become better. The story will become clearer. Stronger. More emotional. Re-read. Edit until that piece is the best that it can possibly be.

Few book publishers will take a second look at your work if you have not already established your credibility as a writer. (You wouldn’t hire a lawyer that didn’t have a good track record or go to a doctor with numerous malpractice suits against him.) And if you are fortunate enough to have written something that resonates with the editors, don’t be surprised when they ask you to rewrite some scenes, maybe even whole chapters. They may find a scene that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose and ask you to delete it.

I’ve heard writers express concerns about their stories not being their stories anymore if they have to rewrite it to please an editor. But you have to believe that the editor knows what they are talking about. And maybe you should re-evaluate why you write. Is it in the hopes of fame and fortune, or for the delight of seeing your name on the front of a book? If it’s the latter, self-publish. If the former, compromise, let go of your ego and do what the editor has asked of you. Believe that they have your best interests in mind, even if they don’t.

And through it all, read. Read everything. And if you don’t read, then don’t write.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Change is Good

We just spent a night in Invermere. My grandma had taken ill and was in the hospital so we made the 3 1/2 hour drive from Calgary to spend some time with her. We got a room with two queen beds and although we took the playpen for Julianne we decided to try and let her sleep in the big bed. And surprisingly enough, she actually fell asleep in it. With a little struggle mind you, but the struggle was less than when we tried to put her in the playpen. She was doing great until around 1am when she rolled out of bed onto the floor.

When we returned home we decided it was time to try and transition her from her crib to the big bed we have had set up for months. Though we gave her the choice of the crib or the big bed and she chose the big bed, the first night she got up again and again. She cried. She resisted. But we knew she could do it so we stayed strong. She ended up falling asleep on my lap and I placed her in the big bed and left her. And she slept all night.

Yesterday, I put her down for a nap in the big bed. She got up a few times but eventually did fall asleep.

Last night, we put her to bed in the big bed. No fuss. She only got up once. Slept straight through until 8 this morning.  I have to say it was much nicer having her in the crib where she couldn’t get out until I was ready to get her out. But I know we have to give her that freedom even if it means I don’t get to sleep like I’m used to.

Before I went to bed last night I checked on her. Stood over her bed watching her sleep and couldn’t believe what I saw. She is no longer a baby. She is growing and changing everyday and I’m really proud of the progress, but at the same time, the realization hit me that soon enough she is not going to need me anymore. First it’s sleeping independently, then  it’s potty training, then it’s pre-school, then kindergarten…

My child is so strong-willed.

But very open to change.

Both good traits that I am certain she got from me.

But a person has to be ready for the change in order to fully embrace the possibilities associated with it. And though she is adapting well, (as she should), I’m not so sure I’m ready for this change.