Late winter / early spring skiing: animal tracks and animated moods

The snow was sticky today.

It was a balmy -1C when my son and I finally got back out to the ski hill, with a wind chill of -5. Perfect blue sky with the half-moon faintly hanging above. Glorious. There were only four other kids skiing and snowboarding, so we essentially had the slopes to ourselves. I think I would have enjoyed myself more with colder temperatures, though, as crazy as that sounds after our long and bitter winter.

You see, sticky snow is a hazard. It catches up the skis, snagging them in unexpected places and tripping me up when I least expected it. I nearly wiped out (peed myself a little in the process, too) a couple of times, just managing to save myself from what would have been violent tumbles. I’ve never yet broken an arm or a leg but I’m pretty certain that today would have been the day — glad to have dodged that bullet! Although I should have remembered to wear the bladder protection padding . . .

But it was still gorgeous up on that hill, perfect views all around and the added delight of more animal tracks! I saw squirrel, rabbit, and I later learned, fox and lynx.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

And of course, shortly after getting home, I had a lovely nap. Bridget went to a birthday party later on, her dad taking her so I could sleep, and had some fun bowling, and then Jack went out again to the local Twoonie Skate so he could practice his hard-stops, cross-overs, and spins.

The other day, one of my colleagues commented to me, approvingly and with some surprise, how active I’ve become with my kids. I said, I’ve been trying, for sure. It’s not only good for them (and I do feel like I’ve been playing a bit of catch-up to compensate for the years where we didn’t do much of anything — that refrain “The years before five last the rest of their lives” repeating through my head), but it’s good for me, too. I’m still twenty pounds over the limit of my dress pants’ waistband, and we’re not active every day, but it’s been on a steady increase. And I think we’re seeing benefits in both my son’s and my mental health as well — he’s experienced far less incidents of anxiety, or been better able to cope. I still take my pills, of course (mental note: replenish stock this week), but it’s absolutely true that getting out into the fresh air and sunshine fires bullets at my depression when it rises.

So why was it that I kept yawning on the way up the ski lift?

Spin, spin, spin, and breathe, you silly woman!

I’m actually catching up on some marking tonight (it’s a miracle!) but the price is I haven’t gotten to work on the snowmobiling story. Yet.

I really need to figure out a title for that WIP.

Been having that hamster-wheel feeling again. The world turning without a break, no time to stop and catch breath. I do anyway and end up wrestling with guilt over what I haven’t accomplished. I’ve made some lists and few items get checked off before more gets put on. The pile of stuff to get done grows like the layers of clean laundry thrown on top of the dog’s cage, waiting to be dealt with and staring me in the face.

And there’s a divide between work stuff and home stuff. Some of it blends — I can make phone calls for appointments on my lunch break or prep period, and I can bring marking home or plan lessons on my computer. I know of some professionals who leave work at work, and concentrate on home at home. I don’t seem to be able to do that a whole lot. I’ve been marking my Writer’s Craft students’ flash fiction horror stories since they were submitted on Feb 9, and I’m still not done. It takes me an average of an hour to an hour and a half per story, going through it for constructive feedback on how well the story communicates the genre and theme, how effectively the writing process and collaboration were used, and the degree to which the individual reflected on his/her process. After one or two of those, I just can’t do any more for the day, or even the next day. Editing fatigue, perhaps. Right now, I’m taking a break on multiple-choice quizzes from my grade 9s, on conflict in literature and points of view, making sure they understood the concepts before we move on. And all three classes have progress reports due on Monday, with summative tasks being submitted on Friday. Plus Friday is my daughter’s skating show in the afternoon and evening, which means I have to run to her school on my lunch to pick her up and deliver her to the skating rink, make sure she’s in the right place (I’ll be asking some friends I’ve made, other parents whose children are in the skating lessons, to supervise her for the duration), and then dash back to the school for my afternoon class.

Even though the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is done, and video posted, nothing has really slowed down. The next projects were lining up even before that was finished. (Breathe) I started looking into accommodations for the Ottawa ComicCon trip, only to find out that the ideal location — Carleton U — doesn’t take school groups until after the date of the convention. There’s also Sears Drama Festival, which I’ve committed to helping with (I said I’d organize the maps and goody bags for each participating school, and assist / supervise training the stage manager and the technical needs of the play being done), and I was asked last night if I wanted to run a drama program for a summer day camp in the area, in July. (Breathe) On top of that, I still have to sign off on my students’ IEPs, submit my emergency lessons, assess my students’ blogs, and run off the progress reports.

And Bridget still needs me to help her finish her sewing project.

And Jack needs a shelf for his room.

And the house is steadily declining in the clean we had achieved for my mother-in-law’s visit.

There is good news in all of this, though. After many weeks of waiting, our snowblower was finally returned to us, fixed, and Hubby used it today to smooth and enlarge our parking area. I’m enjoying my new purses — the Bag of Holding Con Edition, and the white bowling-type bag — plus my new Book Bag came in today, along with a Book Pillow for my desk at school. And it hit me the other day just how much I’ve done so far in this school year.

And there’s still my third novel to come out. I’m just waiting for the edits to come back to me, and the final copy of the cover, so I can delve into publicity once more. (Breathe)

And that’s why I’m a bit frustrated at myself for not getting back to the Snowmobiling Story tonight. Writing is one of my escapes. This one is particularly important, as I’m using it to reach those struggling grade 11 readers. (Breathe) I’d really like to know, one of these days, why I keep putting these things on myself. I am a glutton for punishment. An auteur of overachievement and guilt when I want to back away from being an overachiever. Maybe I’m trying to assuage some guilt by doing things, or maybe it’s just that doing things gives me an excuse to avoid housework.

One thing I do know: the things I put together with my students make a lot of people, including myself, feel pretty damned good.

Slow on the uptake but still organized

I’m not good at keeping up with the latest fashions / trends. I notice what people are wearing but it takes me a while to figure out what it is that is popular about the style, or to try it myself. The same with TV shows. I tend to catch onto popular shows after they’ve been playing for three years or more, mainly because I don’t watch primetime, I suppose. I’m into specialized channels like Space and Discovery and Comedy Now, where programs are played which are either syndicated or produced specifically for that channel.

The benefit to discovering a show a few years into its run, or even afterward, is binge-watching episodes that I would normally have had to wait for. I’ve been doing that recently with Parks and Recreation. Not sure why that one has suddenly grabbed me, but it’s fantastic and I cannot get enough. I did the same with Chuck a few years ago, and Castle and HIMYM last year, and Doctor Who, to name a few.

The disadvantage to being a late-comer to the party is that I miss out on a lot of the fan jokes. Like the Ron Swanson memes — I totally get them now. I enjoyed them before, but now I’m on the “in” and they’re that much funnier. And where I enjoyed Amy Poehler’s previous roles, now I completely understand her genius, or at least I see it on a whole new level. (Reminder to self: I still have to watch the final two seasons of The Office.)

It used to be that I would look forward to watching an upcoming episode of this or that, and now I’ve become utterly spoiled by being able to binge-watch, making the shows fit my own schedule. I know I’m not alone in this. But it also frees me up a little from the boob tube: if I know I can watch what I’m looking for at pretty much any time, I’m now less likely to sit there and watch. I’m not killing time waiting for my program to start, or rushing to put the kids to bed so I can catch Lost Girl at its early time (or staying up late to see its second showing when the kids aren’t in bed on time). And therefore the urge to watch is lessened because I know it’s there for when I want it.

Hubby noticed the other day that in our collection of DVDs and Blu Ray discs, we have several that haven’t been watched yet, and a number that we haven’t even unwrapped. I said, “It’s the anticipation of the experience, and it’s just as enjoyable as the watching itself.” I feel that way about books, too. I love seeing them and either knowing I’ll get to them, or remembering what it was like to read them the first, or second, or seventh time.

I used to read all the time, before marriage and university and children and job. I used to read while watching TV, while eating, while sitting outside. I’m trying to get back into that habit — been trying for a while — but I get frustrated when I can only do small bites of fiction, and I end up skimming non-fiction articles instead. It’s nice to learn things and know what’s happening in the world, but I need that escape into the imagination as well, and I get very grumpy when someone has to pull me out to attend to this or clean that. When the final Harry Potter book came out, I remember my hubby taking the kids out to the mall and the park so I could have the quiet space in which to read. It was glorious . . .

My own next book is coming out soon, so I have to start planning promotions and get back into pumping the trilogy as a whole. Try to turn my novels into a trend — me, who catches on slowly even when trends are staring me in the face. I sternly tell myself that it’s the effort that counts as much as the results, and if I don’t show that I love my books, no-one will know it. So prepare yourselves, dear readers — the wind is shifting and I’m going to start posting more about my novels and stories. I need to build in time for more writing as well.

If I didn’t need to sleep, all would be well.

Update on the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge: (I keep calling it Theatre Challenge or Theatre Competition, but it’s not) — I set up the registration forms using an online form and posters are nearly done. The next step is to run off copies and distribute them around town. The last time I tried to get students to help me out, I’m fairly certain most of the copies of posters ended up recycled or trashed because I didn’t see them in any of the stores I went into . . . (grrr), so I may just keep a folder with me and ask to post them as I do my errands and whatnot. I also need to print up and cut tickets for the actual performance night, arrange an interview with the radio station, and find rehearsal space.

And then there’s the Ottawa ComicCon — I have students asking about that. Must get on it. I’m wondering whether it would be easier to hire a touring company to take care of the details, but I’ve done this before, and it’s just energy and time and patience.

And sleep. I’m no good to anyone if I’m wiped out.

The Hunt for a New Purse

(Seeing as I’ve pulled a very late night, I shall post EARLY today in case I crash completely after work and haven’t the energy to post later . . . well, you get the idea.)

Last year, I was dragging around a rolling backpack for the sake of my lower lumbar and knees and hips. I’m a tall person — gravity is playing havoc with me now. But it wasn’t terribly convenient during field trips or Cons or even runs to the store. I was using handbags for my wallet, but ever since the kids came along, most of the time my purse needs to be roughly the size of a diaper bag to accommodate all the detritus that comes along with being a mom. I’d played with having a messenger bag that would fit both my laptop and my wallet, but when that bag bit the dust, and the backpack got old and squeaky, I picked up a cheap tote while on a field trip and used it through summer and fall. Now it’s halfway through winter, and it’s given up, too.

I’m bag-hunting once again.

I ought to repurpose one of my old purses, or finally make that piece of coat cut from the bottom of my son’s Attack on Titan jacket into a bag — I have the materials, the piece of coat has pockets already on it, and I’ve gotten my sewing machine fixed. But consumerism . . . oh, the lure of finding The Prize, the perfect bag (for now) that will express my personality and fit my stuff.

Oh, my stuff . . .

As I was going through my purse the other day to see if I had any hand cream, I found Off Skintastic lotion from the summer. That’s how often I clean out my purse, folks.

Bags I am considering, from ThinkGeek:

1a1d_bag_of_holding_con-survival_ed_updated hrnq_st_retro_tech_purse 14b2_handbag_of_holding 2062_magical_unicorn_ladies_bag 1df0_geeky_fashion_ladies_bag

I am torn between getting something with lots of pockets and organizational features, in an effort to sort myself out, and just a big empty space for the jumble of items that I know will inevitably happen. Plus, cleaning melted chocolate, gummed up candies, and spilled juice is much easier when the interior is spacious rather than narrow.

I’ve done the mini-backpack, large backpack, messenger, tote, wallet-on-a-strap, and once in high school, I picked up a nifty novelty purse that had a large, working clock on one side. I do like the novelty items. They suit my temperament and cheer me up on harder days. But sometimes I think — I’m a mom, i’m a professional, I should stick to the mature, sensible bags, should I not?

And then there’s the whole reuse-vintage thing. I’m not only a fangirl of pop culture and sci-fi/fantasy, I’m also into historical fiction, particularly Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery and their ilk. So the carpet bag style appeals to me lately as well. What if I found a way to combine the two? Could I find a carpet patterned with images of my favourite fandoms? Should I shove aside time in my day to make something workable that reflects my love for all things awesome, past and present?

black-velvet-purse-floral-carpet-bag Carpet-Bag-Gucci 7-169 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 6-192

Ugh, this is so painful. It’s almost as bad as choosing a new pair of shoes. Worse, even, because shoes tend to half-hide themselves under the hems of pants (assuming one can find pants long enough).

A few years ago, the trend at my school among adults and students alike was to invest in a pricey, stylish Coach bag. Way out of my price range. But I could see how they attracted consumers — made of leather, pretty hardy, nice to look at. I need something like that, a bag that is preferably water-proof, self-standing so it doesn’t droop if I have to set it down, with a thick strap that won’t slip annoyingly off my shoulder and is long enough to loop over my neck so I have both hands free.

I’m probably over-thinking this, but really, purses aren’t cheap. They can be, but you get what you pay for. I want something that will last, match my personality but also be tasteful, have space, and not break my budget. I feel like anything less than $20 or $30 is going to start falling apart over a matter of months, but I don’t want to pay more than $40 or $50, either.

Anyone out there want to send me a purse?

It’s a flurry of finals! or, A Teacher’s Survival Guide to Final Exams

The first semester is winding to a close: we had our first round of examinations this morning, and it was (for me) uneventful and really rather pleasant. Even though I prefer not answering any questions at all during an exam, I found that my students were earnest and making effective observations, so I ended up having a few brief, but effective (and quiet) discussions with some of them as they analyzed short films as site passages.

I’ve invigilated exams which weren’t nearly as pleasant in the past. One year I had to send a student to the office for blatantly taking out a cellphone and texting during the final. Another time, a young person left the room in tears and I had to ask a colleague to take over while I went out and coaxed the individual back in to keep going (and ended up passing!). But exams don’t always cause dramatic moments.

Sometimes they’re downright amusing, though.

Some students will write lovely notes to me about their experience in the course, and others will leave me deliberate attempts at flattery or hopeful (and overblown) assessments of their own work. I’ve had some panic as they realized that they were not double-spacing through most of their work and attempt to start over — I did the same, during an English exam in grade 9, and ended up getting a lower percentage because I wasn’t able to finish, having taken the time to write everything. Consequently, I just tell my students to keep going from that point instead of redoing their work. It’s not funny-funny, but I enjoy those moments because they’re so familiar and repeat themselves with surprising frequency.

But the best experience I ever had was with a male senior who was wrapping up his final English credit, in my class. He’d finished his work with 15 or 20 minutes left of the time allotted, and so he decided to clean out his binder while he waited. I make it a general rule to leave the exams with the students until the time is up, so I hadn’t yet collected his package. When the clock’s hands finally rolled around to the prescribed time, he stood up with a grin and straight shoulders, ceremoniously tore his old notes in half, marched over to the recycling box, and dropped the papers in. He was about to leave the room when I asked him, “May I have your exam now?”

The look on his face when he realized that it had gone into the recycling bin along with all of his course notes . . . torn in two . . .

It took him a half an hour to tape the pages back together once he’d fished them out from among the remains of his course work. The good news, too, was that he had a sense of humour about it. We both couldn’t help but keep laughing at the ridiculousness of it. I’d never seen something like that happen before, and I’ve not yet seen it since.

Aside from the tension, insight, funnies, and relief that is palpable in the exam room, over 13 years of teaching I’ve developed a system for surviving the fast-turn-around flurry of marking before Semester 2 begins. It has to be fast, because marks are needed at this time of year for students applying to colleges and universities, and I have to leave time to prep for my new courses. So here’s what I do to get through it as painlessly as possible:

1) Keep Up on Other Marking. There is nothing worse than having a great pile of overdue marking to complete as well as the course culminating activities AND final exams. What is intended as a wrap-up week becomes a massive effort with lost sleep, carpal tunnel, hair torn out trying to keep track of all of the numbers, and a last-minute rush to throw together the report cards while second semester students file into the first class. Yeah, I’ve been there, multiple times. But a few years ago I actually got it together enough that I had everything else done before the exams started, and the freedom was . . . glorious. I’ve tried to keep it that way ever since.

2) Hydrate. I keep a beverage handy while I’m working, because sometime after the first hour, the eyes start to feel a bit dry and tired. At work, I tend to consume vast quantities of tea interspersed with pop — tea when I’m cold, pop when I’m hot — which also ensures that I’ll get up and moving every so often to go pee. Gets the blood moving! This year, I’ve introduced coffee to my system as well, to really stimulate the senses. At home, it’s also tea, or pop, or coffee, but if I’m feeling especially je-ne-sais-quois, I’ll pour a small glass of wine. Quelle sophistication! When I’m marking with the wine and a bit of music on, I feel like I’m a teacher in a movie. I can imagine that I’m marking with my feet up by a fireplace, or perhaps sitting in a study with rows of polished books, instead of cross-legged on my sofa with papers balanced precariously on my mounds of blankets. (In the summer, I get to take the exams out to the back yard and lounge in the sunlight while bugs alight in my drinks and the wind attempts to carry the work out from under my paperweights.)

3) Take Frequent BreaksSee above need to hydrate and its logical consequence. Plus, after a while, there’s a knot which forms in between the shoulder blades. A break which includes more than just a run to the bathroom — a walk around the school or my block, a shower if I’m at home, chatting with a friend or a colleague, or doing some other needed chore like reorganizing my desk — these things help to refresh a mind that has gone a bit numb with reading. But I have to be cautious because what starts as a break can quickly turn into the demon Procrastination.

Confession: my breaks also include gaming sessions on Facebook. CandyCrush, PetRescue, Words of Wonder, Farm Hero . . . plus a few more on my phone, only. I rationalize that the strategizing helps me to wake up. Or I’ll knit for a little while, because it’s mindless and tactile and gets my wrists moving in different directions. Again, reeeaaallly easy to turn into PROCRASTINATION. And that is bad.

4) Motivational Music & Movies. I can work in silence, and sometimes I prefer it. But I like to mix it up with upbeat, energizing tunes as white noise. Sometimes it’s just a matter of throwing on a movie or tv show that I’ve already watched, just for the soundtrack. But I find I can’t do audio books or podcasts or even the radio for long — if it’s the spoken word, my attention quickly drifts away from what I’m trying to get done and into the dialogue or what-have-you. Best preference is closing my classroom door so I can sing along with the lyrics, which requires little concentration and actually helps to keep me focused, at least until I get tired of it. And then it’s quiet for a bit. And so on.

5) Noms. I need snacks. Knowing this, today I asked hubby (and he obliged) for a large baggie filled with veggie slices: red and green bell peppers, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and grapes. Otherwise, I’m bound to head to Timmie’s to stock up on doughnuts. Or to the grocery store for chocolate. If you’re going to be stuck behind a desk for a while marking papers, it’s obviously better to eat healthier, but honestly, sometimes I just want the comfort foods: lardy, sugary, with tasty fillings and savoury toppings, deep-fried and finger-licking good . . .

6) Warm Feet. It’s difficult to concentrate with cold feet. I have my shoes at school, and slippers at home, and when even those fail to keep my tootsies happy (as they sometimes do when it’s 40 below outside), a stool or low table or whatever to put my feet up. I’ve attempted to mark papers with my feet in warm water but that leads back to having to pee, plus the added risk of dropping the papers in the water . . . And using my foot massager just ends up with messy marking.

In the summer, I get to just kick my shoes off and soak my lower limbs in beautiful hot sunshine. Yeah. It’s that good.

7) Frequent Self-Talk. “The sooner I get through this, the sooner I can do the report cards and be done with the semester.” It’s easy to get pulled into the lure of second semester planning, but I have learned through bitter experience not to fall for that trap. Also works if there isn’t also a massive pile of other marking to complete (see #1).

8) Master Copy. Preparing an answer sheet for the exam is an essential time-saver, as well as good practice. It’s easy enough to know what you’re looking for in short-answer or essay questions when you make the exam up, but the rationale can slip away in the time between photocopying it and collecting the students’ work at the end. And it really sucks when you, the teacher, can’t make your brain remember which multiple choice option was the right one. But it’s particularly necessary to have an answer sheet in case the worst case happens and you’re not able to mark your own exams or independent projects. It’s happened to me: one year, I was sick in bed with influenza for five days in a row and I couldn’t finish my own exam marking or my culminating activities. My amazing department colleagues stepped in and saved me, pooling my students’ work so I wouldn’t miss the report card deadline, but I remember slogging through phone calls and emails with them because I stupidly hadn’t made up an answer sheet. Lesson learned on that, too.

Pro tip: Make your answer sheet up at the same time that you make up the actual exam. Great time saver. (shifty eyes) Please don’t ask me if I actually did that this year, though . . . (scuffs foot against floor)

9) Stay Healthy. Get enough sleep, take your vitamins, dress for the weather, wash your hands, and remember to hydrate. That year I was sick in bed, even though my colleagues were fine with helping me, I felt just awful that they’d had to step in because I’d failed to keep myself healthy. We have to remember, fellow educators, that we are human and we can’t just keep going until all hours of the morning like we did when we were young. Rest must be had to think and write coherently and competently. Even multiple choice questions, true-and-false, and matching answers can be marked wrongly by mistake when you’re tired.

10) Mark In Pencil. I once had a student chortle when she saw that I’d marked with pencil, because as she said aloud in front of me, “Great, now I can change my marks before my mom sees them!” I switch it up a lot, using whatever writing utensils my daughter hasn’t yet sneaked out of my purse or school bag. When I’m marking a test that students will see, I like to use green for “go” instead of red for “bad” — red looks like blood, and in some countries, it’s considered unlucky or offensive — and lately, I’ve been on a highlighter kick because I can more quickly highlight errors than circling them. But there’s no worse feeling than marking something wrongly and having to make that “x” into a checkmark, or making an error in addition and having to switch the numbers up, or writing a comment and then the tired brain realizing that the words you wrote were the lyrics to a song and not the thought that was in your head to put down . . . much easier, in the end to eliminate these problems altogether by using a pencil. I prefer the standard No. 2 to mechanicals. I tend to press down a little harder than the average bear (in fact, I distinctly recall being told over and over in grade 1 to stop pressing so hard with my thick red pencil because I was ripping the pages of my notebook), and mechanicals constantly break on me. The other trouble that I find with pencils is keeping a sharpener handy. Again, I look to my second child for that . . .

So that’s it — that’s my survival guide, my little mental list written down for your enjoyment and edification. Now I’m off to Bedfordshire, as they say across the pond, hopefully not to dream about the damned exams AGAIN. Last night it was superheroes on a vacation tour that started in France, then went to Britain, and then into an underground mall in China. So weird . . .

New Game: Furniture Tetris!

My family and I don’t live in a tiny house (although I think they’re super-cute and I’d love to do that), but the space in our little three bedroom, one-and-a-half storey is at a premium. Part of that has to do with the eccentric layout — I think the original dwelling has been added onto and altered at least three times since the original construction in some time in the 1920s — and with the fact that we have too much stuff. Decluttering is still a losing battle. But this post is not going to focus on the little things that cover surfaces and fill boxes and baskets — I’m able to deal with those. Sort of. No, this is about the big things that we need to arrange to make optimum use of the space available to us.

My friends, I give you Furniture Tetris.

The rules are simple:

1) You can’t get rid of any piece of furniture that you cannot replace. the_floor_is_lava__by_finnishfox-d4psdnt

2) You have to be able to move easily from one area of the house to the next, particularly the living space, without starting a side-game of Lava Floor.

3) You have to be able to move the furniture alone, without assistance from children or partner, who will just occupy the precious space needed to adjust the hulking pieces on the board: couch, love-seat, coffee table, bench, cupboard, side table, TV stand . . .

4) The game can only be played at night or on a weekend, and must be completed within a 24 hour period, or you run the risk of the pieces freezing like the screen on an overburdened computer, and possibly NEVER MOVING AGAIN.

5) The new configuration of furniture must be significantly different from what you had before — just moving ONE piece of furniture doesn’t count. The default number of moving pieces is three. Maximum points are awarded for moving everything.

6) Washing the floors and vacuuming at any time before, during, or after Furniture Tetris constitutes levelling up, with the reward being the ability to invite friends over for coffee in the brief 24-48 hour period during which the new arrangement feels workable and the house is still acceptably clean.

I like playing this game at least twice a year, but I don’t always get my fix. It all depends on my personal energy levels, the degree to which clutter is covering the working surfaces, whether visitors from out of town have been scheduled, a holiday requiring space for a large fake tree and the requisite spread of gift-wrapped boxes underneath it, or the approach of a child’s birthday. It’s tricky, too, trying to make sure that the rest of the family is amenable to the proposed changes. After all, what works in winter (put a couch right next to or just over a heating vent and we will fight over who gets the “warm seat”) doesn’t necessarily work in summer (couch + window = HOT seat). And heaven forbid the new arrangement of furniture make it difficult for the watching of TV . . .

For example: I would love to move my dining area, making it adjacent to the front window to encourage us to actually eat at the table instead of the couch. Then I could make that nice cosy corner into a separate office space, move the couches by flipping them in the opposite directions they currently face, and putting the television in the spot where the filing cabinets are. Trust me, it all makes sense. But certain family members are resistant to my Master Plan. They might have a point about the location of the internet connection cords, but still . . .

I’ve also envisioned moving the dining area to where the computer desk and filing cabinets are — I know, I know, same problem. Damned plugs!

Honestly, I think that computer desk has been in every other corner of the room than that dining area!

I find myself envious of those who can afford or obtain those awesome pieces of fold-away furnishings. Like this stuff:

And this stuff . . .

And these things!

But something interesting to note: we’re looking at magazine-photo-op-ready spaces. I do know of people who are able to live and function in spaces like that, but I’m not one of them. My world is not built that way, as much as I’d like it to be. I just think that if I had some fold-away pieces, maybe my Furniture Tetris skills would improve exponentially. I’ve often fantasized about doing away with the couch and love-seat altogether, going to big fluffy floor pillows and hammocks instead, but when you live in this climate, floor-oriented furnishings simply aren’t practical. (Unless you have heated floors — heated floors are Da Bomb. I covet heated flooring.) And I doubt my lower back would appreciate the journey up and down, although I am the first to admit that I get more done before I am comfortably ensconced in my couch groove.

I am hoping to complete a successful round of my game soon, although I haven’t yet worked out all of the details. Tonight would be perfect as it’s garbage day tomorrow, making it a perfect time to declutter as well as shifting large objects. It’s also necessary, as we are looking at adopting a bearded dragon in a few days and we’ll need room for the tank. But it requires following the rules as laid out above, so at the moment, it’s a waiting game. I must wait for the room to be cleared of children and spouse. I must be able to find my steam-mop to attack a certain sticky spot left by the dog and her find of a chewy candy or drink box or whatever it was. I have to find new homes for a massive pile of random books that I’ve moved out of a cupboard I shifted in order to store my record collection under my record player (I could probably put the books into the trunk currently housing the record collection but then they’d sit unused and unseen and that’s not the point of having books!), and I’m thinking of putting a row or two of books on the top of the TV cabinet but that will require moving the framed photos and lamp and assorted thingies on display up there and where on earth will they go?

Sometimes, just sitting with things as they are seems like the simpler option.

But then I would not have the victory that awaits me — winner of another round of Furniture Tetris . . .


January Survival Guide: Or, how I kick Winter’s butt without letting it kick me!

Our little house is holding its ground against the Arctic cold, its outdated and thin insulation keeping the worst of the freezing temperatures at bay. And when I say outdated, I’m talking layers of foil and shingles applied to the walls under siding that is likely at least seventy years old. At times like these, I’m envious of those with wood stoves and fireplaces. It would be lovely to have a source of direct heat in addition to the forced air, something to really take the chill out and toast the tootsies. I know they can be fire hazards as well, very aware of that, but I also see them as a backup plan for power outages. Eventually, it would be wonderful to have something for heat in our house that doesn’t rely on electricity or gas. I remember an incident in Hamilton, Ontario, years ago, when our children were very small and we were staying at a hotel for a visit. There was a terrible cold snap and the hotel room was so chilly that all of us had piled into the one bed. We heard in the morning that one guest had gotten so cold that he’d taken the hair dryer into bed with him and it had shorted out some of the wiring, explaining why the electrical radiators weren’t doing their job! A hair dryer is an illusion of heat, and you only feel colder once it’s turned off. Hot showers, on the other hand, are almost as good as hot baths for sinking heat into your muscles and bones.

We’re only in the beginning of the deep cold, too. The long freeze and coldest days are still coming, usually around the first week of February. It’s so biting that the car needs a good forty minutes to warm up properly, and the dog refuses to pee or poop outside until she’s absolutely desperate. My glasses feel uncomfortable against my face after five minutes in -35 C, less if there’s a wind that makes it feel colder, the snow squeaks like styrofoam under boots and tires, and my nose crinkles up immediately. So I have a few rules I like to follow to make the cold less uncomfortable, easing my transition from hibernation to activity in the depths of Northeastern Ontario winter.

1) Layers. Many layers of clothing, up to and including the head and hands. My typical comfort zone in clothing includes:

-a tunic-length tank (nothing worse than when your coat rides up in a windstorm or getting into a vehicle and a freezing cold breeze hits your lower back! Or, if your pants are falling down because they got stretched by your muffin top or the elastic needs replacing and the top of your crack gets exposed for a moment — yikes! That long tank top is your friend in winter. Trust me.)

a long-sleeve jersey top or turtleneck. I used to wear a lot of turtlenecks but sometimes I feel like they’re choking me, so I’ve been switching to cowl-necks and throwing on scarves. On my longer torso, the jersey top or turtleneck or what-have-you will ride up on the waist, therefore I like that tunic-length tank as a back-up plan.

a warm sweater — cowl-neck, hooded, whatever. This is your main layer, your bulwark against the cold, your second skin. Well, okay, maybe your long-sleeve is your second skin and this is more like your outer coating. Or maybe the long-sleeve is like your layer of blubber and your sweater is like your thick skin. You have to act like a polar bear or a seal, people, bundling those layers to hold in your body heat. Fleece works, and wool if you aren’t allergic or annoyed by the itchiness. (Again, that long-sleeve . . .) The only thing I dislike about fleece is that if it’s too soft in texture it picks up dog and cat hair like a magnet. Hey — extra insulation!

a scarf — long, short, thick, thin, cowl, infinity, eternity (was informed by a student today that the longest, thickest infinity scarves are now called eternity scarves, so that’s good to know), or what-have-you. Guys, you should wear them too. They’re incredibly versatile, dashing and sexy, and they keep the cold off your neck and away from your ears. Heck, I’ve even pulled mine up and under (or over) my winter hat in times of need.

leggings or sweatpants — the layer under your jeans so that when you go outside and the cold makes the denim freeze up, you don’t get that burning feeling on your thighs. With dressier pants, though, you may have to swipe a bit of lotion down the fabric of the inner layer so static cling doesn’t get you. Nobody needs The Cling.

a thick fleecy bathrobe — as soon as I get home, I’m throwing my bathrobe on over my clothes until the house warms up. I am also prepared in case I need to hitchhike across the galaxy!

warm fuzzy slippers — see above.

a thick fleecy / woolen blanket — when that cold air starts creeping up your legs, it’s time to curl into the corner of the couch under the blanket. Eventually, all that is peeking out under the layers will be your eyes and hands. That brings me to the final accessory:

wristlets — you know, those funky fingerless gloves that leave your digits free for texting, dialling, eating, using the remote control, etc. I have a pair that I can plug into my computer for an extra dose of heat, though I find the material a bit scratchy. The good news is that with my mad knitting skillz, I can eventually create my own wristlets from the softest yarn I can find and transfer the heating system over. Ahh, sweet, sweet heat . . .

2) Comfort FoodsThere is a reason that animals fatten themselves up for winter. I know that overindulging in doughnuts, pastries, creamy coffees and hot chocolates is less than desirable, but caloric intake is necessary for survival! Plus, they’re good for the soul on those bone-cracking mornings. Hot soups and tea are also effective tools for enduring the winter.

3) Hot Movies. No, not porn. I’m talking tropical-island, sandy-beach, burning-sunshine, piratey movies. My winter favourites include Captain Ron, each of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Sahara (the one with Matthew McConahotty), Fool’s GoldForgetting Sarah Marshall50 First Dates — anything that will offer just a hint of escape from the white, frozen wasteland outside my windows. CAUTION: Watching a winter-themed movie in the middle of the winter is NOT recommended. Have you ever sat through a showing of The Day After Tomorrow during temperatures of -20 or below and started critiquing the warming techniques of the survivors in the library? Use psychology on yourself. Watch a HOT movie, particularly if you’re like me and you can’t afford a real get-away to the sunny south. Oh, Florida . . .

4) Winter SportsI’d like to say that these are helpful during the Deep Freeze, but really, when exposed skin gets frostbitten in ten minutes or less, just stay inside. I know some snowmobilers live for it, and some ice hut enthusiasts crave those ultra-cold days, but no. Just no.

5) Furry-friend Cuddles. My dog Skittles is such a comfort on these bitter nights. Her fur is warming, her body heats up the couch (and the bed), and yet when she runs outside with me while I warm up the car or put the garbage out, she hits the snow with such joie de vivre, it almost makes me forget that my body is rebelling against my climate.

6) Light. As much as it pains me to pull back the curtains (one extra layer against the cold air), I need to let the light in, as do most of us. Sometimes I like to light some tea candles, too, for the illusion of heat and a warmer light than that cast by the weak January sunlight.

7) SleepIt’s so tempting to hibernate; I tend to stay up very late and sleep a lot in the day when I can get away with it (read: on vacation / weekend) because then I don’t have to see the ice and snow outside. I can cocoon myself and ignore the bitter cold beyond my walls. But then it gets addictive. So get enough sleep but balance it with the light. I have a small SAD light that helps me to wake up on time, feeding me the essential light I need to make sure I wake up after dreaming.

8) Do Projects. Some people like to tinker away at engines. Many of my friends do their best writing in the dead of winter. Others bake their stress away, or sew, or build models. Pick your favourite and go to it! When it’s too cold to enjoy outdoor activities, make the most of the indoor time by mastering a skill. Be crazy like me and commit to a massive project, or sample a few things you’ve never tried before.

9) Clean. Sorry, no, I can’t bring myself to include that as a survival tool for the dead of winter. Cleaning (shudder) is a necessary evil, something that we have to do anyway, but I can’t feel like the house is properly clean if I can’t open the windows and air it out or use my clothesline.

So that’s it — those are my main go-tos for handling the deep winter freeze. What works for you?

Childfree vs Parenting: the endless debate

What do you do when someone makes you feel vulnerable, judged, and that you have made the wrong choices in life?

If you’re like me and are prone to anxiety and depression, you take it pretty damn personally.

It’s all you can think about for days.

I am working on this, learning to stand up for myself in a more articulate way and consider other people’s comments from a logical standpoint rather than purely emotionally.

As my dear friend Tara has told me, “You made your decisions in life, and you bear the consequences, good and bad…Don’t feel bad or make apologies or even feel you have to. You have nothing to apologize for. Everyone has days the burden gets heavy, and they need to vent. That doesn’t mean they want the burden to disappear, or that they are sorry they assumed it in the first place. It just means they have stress and need to release some.”

What has brought all of this on?

I had an interesting conversation — more a friendly debate, in a way — on the merits of having children earlier in life or later. One of my colleagues is enjoying her childfree life, unattached and able to travel as she pleases. I had my children during my 20s, and I am quite glad that I did, for various reasons.

I have my moments, though, where I need to vent — when the burden gets heavy.

It was a struggle to have our children when we were broke students, instead of waiting.
It wasn’t just the lack of money; I also had terrible postpartum, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I totally understand and support women like her who are choosing to put off having children, or not have any at all. In another lifetime, maybe I would not have children either, for various reasons. But I would not choose this life without my children, not at all. They are my heart. I admire my colleague and various friends for having the guts to go against conventional expectations, to live their own lives as they wish, and sure, I’m a little jealous of the freedom to travel and go by a schedule unencumbered by the needs of small people.

But what I do not understand is how someone who is child-free looks at me and judges me because I chose a more traditional life path. Not completely conventional, mind you — I have done things in reverse order to most professional women today — but I deliberately (and with some innocence and ignorance combined) picked the harder road to travel. It has brought me both gifts and challenges.

My early marriage and decision to have babies in my twenties has made me a stronger person.

I’m not good with confrontation, preferring to avoid conflict whenever possible. When I felt like I was being told that my choices (to get married young and have babies before I became a professional) were the wrong ones, I couldn’t let it go. It bothers me too much.

My first blog on this, yesterday, showed just how vulnerable I feel about this topic. I get incredibly defensive, when I’m trying to be logical. So I’ve edited my earlier post, hoping to find my way through the murk of this debate.

The risks of waiting to have children later in adult life are equal to but different from the risks of having children early.

Having a baby in your twenties or early thirties, before you have proper job security (or what passes for job security today), means for many parents a constant concern about money. So more and more couples are choosing to put off having children until they have that security (which, in all honesty, may never happen).

Having a baby in your late thirties, forties, or even into your fifties means a greater risk to your body, higher risk of problems for the infant, and perhaps less concern about money if the family has a decent income / job security.

Attempting to conceive when you’re younger means there’s more time to get help if you have trouble with fertility. But a woman’s body tends to bounce back from the demands of pregnancy and labour much more quickly when she is younger and/or highly fit.

We all know the metaphor of the biological clock ticking for older mothers. New medical procedures added to the freezing of ovum, like uterine transplants and surrogacy, help to extend that fertile period — wonderful!

Finally, there’s that question of when to enjoy the child-free years the most: while you’re young and energetic, so you can have your own toys and enjoy them, or while you’re matured and wrinkly, after your children have grown and started their own lives.

Let’s face it: our society puts a premium on people enjoying their own lives while they are young, hot, single, independent, and able to travel. We know that the older population gets less respect because aging makes the skin sag (among other body parts), so many of the toys and experiences our consumer society wants us to enjoy are marketed to the 20- and 30-something set.

Thus, my husband and I might have chosen to put off having our kids until after we had gone on adventures, bought the material possessions we wanted, and found the perfect home. I might have been able to wear that hot Princess Leia bikini while on vacation in Vegas, or backpacked around Europe with him, with just our backpacks.

We made a trade, choosing the less popular / more traditional option of waiting until our mature years to enjoy the travel and the toys.

I probably won’t get into the bikini unless I have a tummy-tuck (which my husband reassures me is not necessary), and he has no desire to backpack around Europe anyway.

What I would like to do is take our children with us on a tour of the world. Spend a year on a working vacation, watching the expressions on our son and daughter’s faces as they view Stonehenge, the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China… We’ve been waiting until they were both school-aged, though I know of some fantastic parents who have been able to do such an awakening journey with babies in tow.

I wanted to wait so that they would be able to remember.

Whether we’ll have the money (and the passports) in the next few years is the question. It’s been a while since I picked up this particular dream and dusted it off. It requires my husband to have a secure job, like mine, to be able to save at the same time as doing all of the other things we need in life (like fix our ailing home). It would also be nice if he could qualify to do some work on an international level, like teaching or cooking. (Again, working on it.) And our specific plan probably needs to be more specific, like helping to build a school in Kenya or going on a research tour in Asia.

But whatever I do in the next few years, I could not dream of doing without my children and my husband beside me. They are my cheering squad, and I am theirs. We enjoyed five child-free years before the first came along, and occasionally we miss the easy intimacy of that time. It’s coming back, though, slowly. We look forward to our older years as being a time to return to ourselves as a couple, particularly considering my husband’s health is not going to last much longer than 10 years from now.

Also, I am happier having the baby-making stage of my life over with. I no longer have to worry from month to month about whether I’m sharing my body with another being. My body is my own, to share with my spouse as I want to. Nourishing a human both within the womb and through nursing, let alone daily mothering of an infant, is exhausting no matter what. ) Not having to worry about getting pregnant is, in itself, incredibly liberating. Even on the pill, there is always that slim chance that it won’t work, but I don’t have that stress anymore. I don’t have to dread it or look forward to it — it’s done. We have our children, and we are done.

Having our children younger has also been a blessing for my parents. My mother has been able to enjoy being a grandmother through her fifties, whereas some of her friends and in-laws have not had the pleasure until they hit their early or mid-sixties, with a corresponding shift in energy for different activities. My parents were concerned, of course, with our timing, but at the same time, we had our youth going for us. They had their children under similar circumstances. The apple probably doesn’t fall that far from the tree. And since I had my children at approximately the same ages that my mother had myself and my brother, I now understand her even more than I did before. I remember times when my mother was grumpy, or short, or not really listening, and being that age myself now, I understand the reasons behind it.

I’m not a perfect parent, and I put way too much pressure on myself to live up to an impossible vision. Maybe that’s why I take my colleague’s comments so personally, when really I don’t need to.

Trivia Time — About Me!

Published Works:
“Mist and Midnight” in Midnight Thirsts (Melange Books, 2011)
“Telltale Signs” in Spellbound 2011 (Melange Books, 2011)
“A Living Specimen” in Midnight Thirsts II (Melange Books, 2012)
“Brain Games” and “Bio-Zombie”, in A Quick Bite of Flesh (Hazardous Press, 2012)
“Thy Will Be Done” in Dark Eclipse Digest #16 (Dark Moon Books, 2012)

Now Available!
Wind and Shadow: Book One of the Talbot Trilogy, April 2013

Wife, mother, teacher, writer: I am a mother of two children and have been married for over fifteen years. A full-time teacher of dramatic arts, history, and English in Northeastern Ontario, Canada, I enjoy reading a wide variety of classic and contemporary literature, including romances, ghost stories, horror fiction, and fairy tales. I began writing short stories and plays in my childhood to entertain, frighten, and gross out my friends. Today, I relish creating imaginary worlds with vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and witches.  I love listening to an eclectic mix of music, taking my dog on long walks, mowing my lawn, and curling up with a hot cup of tea, a good book, and a tasty doughnut during a thunderstorm or a blizzard. In addition to writing, my creative past times include needlework (quilting, cross-stitching, and embroidery), making and collecting miniature furniture, traveling, and watching movies. I’m a history buff, a Trekkie, and a practicing Wiccan.

Shadows in the darkness…

It seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it? The title of this blog. How can shadows — which are themselves, dark — exist where there is no light?

They simply do.

My life is filled with them. They haunt me when I am trying to fall asleep. I see them on these grey and dreary days of fall, as the yearly cycle comes to a close. I feel them in my heart, as the dwindling light begins to sap the energy reserves I built all summer.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. I love Hallowe’en and Samhain, but as an adult, I haven’t expressed that feeling as I did when I was younger. My husband is also an eager devotee to Hallowe’en, and given a free rein, would turn our home into the creepiest on the block. So what stops me from fulfilling my every spooky desire at this time of year?

The shadows, in the form of depression. I feel them gathering in the corners and moving slowly toward me, as inexorable as the winter dark. I’m better armed against them this year, and I’m not spiralling as I have done in the past. But nevertheless, I feel them. It is the lack of motivation to get off the couch…the increasing desire to sleep…the lack of motivation to do anything, really, but those low-energy activities that help me feel less lonely. Like going on Facebook, looking at lolsnaps, fails, etc. The more I indulge in these time-suckers, the more connected I do feel but the less I get done in the things that matter in a physical sense. The shadows are gaining ground.

I attended a series of workshops in the spring, learning methods for dealing with my anxiety and chronic depression. To some extent, those techniques are working. I’ve been treated for anemia since May, also, which is helping. The techniques are going to become even more vital, now.

Part of that is learning to accept my own limitations and not comparing myself to others. I need to stop saying “I should” and be satisfied with what I do accomplish. For example, this weekend I aimed to finish my Hallowe’en decorating. Didn’t even start. I constantly visualize one of the best moms I know and berate myself for not being more like her, but at the same time, the logical part of my brain is fighting back to tell me what I am doing well and why I should not be ashamed or feel inferior. That particular mom doesn’t have a mental illness. That particular mom hasn’t gone through the money troubles we have experienced. That particular mom has gone through her own battles, faced her own demons, and for her own personal reasons, has gained victory. Maybe I’m just jealous of that and I want my own battles to be over. Could be a form of battle fatigue — maybe I could call it “life fatigue”.

I remember my mother giving me full control over decorating for Hallowe’en, and not understanding why she didn’t want to do it. Now I know…it’s just not on my to-do list of things that must be done. What I am supposed to be doing — housework, marking, shopping — those things aren’t be done either. And the whole avoidance makes me feel ashamed all over again, so I shrink further into my shell and keep avoiding until every dish is dirty, the clean laundry threatens to topple over in its mountain, and/or people are coming to the house so clean is a must.

I miss decorating for Hallowe’en.

I miss setting up for Samhain.

I miss my enthusiasm. It’s there, just dampened.

I once had a conversation with two of my colleagues and friends (one of whom was the above super-mom), about the point of Hallowe’en. The points of view were a) it’s all about spending money on candy and costumes, which is a waste, and b) it’s the Devil’s holiday, so if anything, the candy and costumes are the main focal point to take power away from the skulls and gore. My perspective is Pagan, Wiccan, witchy, and anthropological: we need a day in the fall to blow off some steam. It was once the Devil’s night, yes — after months of hard work, harvesting, preparing for winter, young people would perform acts of mischief like tipping outhouses and soaping windows. Kids needed that release, and some adults did as well. It still happens in places, when eggs are thrown or trees toilet papered.

Pagans and Wiccans of all stripes recognize Samhain as the night when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, and it’s important to remember those who have passed on. The traditions in this sense cross many cultural boundaries, and the food that is shared represents honouring the dead, feeding hungry spirits that come to the door, appeasing evil spirits wishing to do mischief, and I think, sharing the bounty of one’s harvest.

Today, the costumes and decorations and candy are mainly symbolic of cultures long dead. How many of us really believe that children in masks will frighten away spirits on the streets, or that the jack’o’lantern will protect the home? Why do we buy sugary junk to fill their sacks? I think it’s a remnant of the community spirit of making sure that all have enough before winter. We have our Thanksgivings, an official harvest festival of light and warmth and nourishing food — Hallowe’en / Samhain is another, celebrating the coming darkness with noise, colour, sweets, and candlelight. As the trees bare their skeletal arms to the sky, the rain and snow chill the air, the plants wither and die, those of us with depression (and even those who are not) are brought to thoughts of death, loss, and loneliness. Death is a solitary thing, after all. So at Hallowe’en, we push back our fears of death by poking fun at it, admonishing it by taking control of it with decorative skulls, gravestones, ghost stories, and gifts to those who represent the dead. If we laugh at what we fear, it has less control over us (or so we would like to believe). Hallowe’en is a powerful psychological device in helping us to deal with our fears. It’s a necessary device, I think.

Which brings me back to my shadows.

One of them is always money, because there is never enough. We live constantly in debt, which is a long story; my wish to indulge in Hallowe’en is necessarily curtailed by budget. I am perfectly capable of whipping up papier-mâché bats and spiders, sewing costumes from clothing remnants, etc., but I find it difficult as an adult with two children to raise. Much easier when I was single and a dependent. When I was a teenager and a young married wife, I envisioned my house changing with the seasons — throw pillows, blankets, tableware, towels, even the pictures on the walls changed to reflect each turn of the wheel of the year. We’re not even close to that goal. But I take out that dream, every October, and December with the approach of Yule, and I polish it. Maybe I should print it and post it on my fridge.

My dreams keep the shadows away.