Saturday, 30 November 2013

Kinky boots on parade

Technically I should be editing my novel Leaving Hope and working on my query letter for Second Chances. Instead I'm writing here. Hey, at least I'm writing.

I was on Facebook earlier (yes, I know, such a huge shock... everyone who knows me can stop laughing hysterically now) and a friend of mine had posted a video from the US Thanksgiving Parade. I'm including a link here...

I'm giving everyone a chance to watch it.
*taps foot and looks impatiently at computer clock*
... okay, that should be long enough.

Comments are posted in the article about how horrible it was for this song to be played at the parade. One even claimed to make the poster have a little less hope for humanity. Because, you know, people singing about love and being there for each other is such a message of despair. But my favourite comment (which was echoed in the resulting comments on Facebook) was the one that said "Let parents decide when to discuss certain topics with their kids instead of springing it on them in Macy's Parade."

What parent really believes life waits for them to decide when to have these conversations? Really? C'mon, you'd think that ship would have sailed when your toddler wanted to know why Daddy has a penis. At the dinner table. With guests over.

Or am I the only lucky one to have conversations like this?

Let me tell you about how the topic of drag queens came up in my family.

It all started on a lovely summer's trip to the park. I got the kids dressed, slathered them in sunscreen, collected a handful of toys, and set out for the local park. We were almost there when a man approached us. He was tall, at least 6ft, and he looked even taller in his stilettos. Despite it being barely after lunch, he was all dressed up for a night on the town. Make up, styled hair, evening gown... he was ready to go. And, just to make the experience even more interesting, he wanted directions to the local jail so he could visit his boyfriend. I've found that when life hands us an experience, it goes all out.

I assured him that he was on the right road to get to the local jail and it probably wouldn't take him more than ten minutes to get there, then agreed that it must stink to have his boyfriend behind bars. Then we said goodbye and he headed off. The whole time both kids stared up at him wide eyed.

The kids watched him walk away (a lot more gracefully than I would in heels) then daughter turned to me and said, "Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?" And I looked at her and said, "Because he wants to." Then we went to the park.

That was it. No huge explanation. No confusion. It's honestly not that hard a question.

My son came home this evening right after I watched the video so I dragged him to the computer and made him watch it too, just to get his reaction (he's what's known as a captive audience).

His first reaction was sheer bafflement that the song would be played at a parade. Because floats move a lot faster than that and no one would get the whole message, they'd just hear little bits and pieces. Obviously the Macy parade isn't a tradition in our house. I promptly explained this song was performed at the beginning and had been stationary. Everyone there heard the whole thing.

Oh... well in that case he figured they should play it twice. Once at the beginning and again at the end, because that was something everyone should hear.

Then, just to round out the conversation, I googled drag queens and we looked at faces of men with half their head made up. What else do you do on a Saturday evening? I guess we could play cards (if I knew where the deck was and remembered any games) but the pictures were more interesting.

Now I'm going back to editing Leaving Hope. I'm not going to bother posting the first chapter of Second Chances (like I did with my other novels). All it does is end in a badly formatted wall of text. But I like the first chapter and hopefully some agent out there will too.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Words from my son

I love this kid. Every once in a while we'll have a conversation and he'll say something that gets me thinking. We just had an out of the blue conversation and it went like this...

Mom, there are people out there that think being gay is unnatural. Running around naked is natural, *looks over at the cats* I don't see our cats wearing clothes, and being gay is natural too.

I'd have a little bit of respect for those people, not much but a little, if they actually tried to live a natural life. You know, if they ran around naked in the woods, eating what they found and building a tent with their bare hands. Fending off bears with sticks. And if a tree fell on them, they just lay there because going to the hospital's unnatural.

If they want to claim they're for what's natural, they shouldn't be online or driving cars or wearing glasses or watching TV. *looks at me seriously* You know what's unnatural? It's unnatural to hate gays.

Obligatory kid photo...

 And he's right. How can someone sit in a climate controlled house that's wired with electricity, wearing clothes made with man-made fibers, heating their food in a microwave, while whining about what's "natural"? There are a lot of unnatural things in our lives, who someone loves isn't one of them.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

FYI (if you're a human being) | Needing CPR

Suddenly all my friends are posting and loving this blog entry titled FYI (if you're a teenage girl), from the blog Given Breath. I clicked on the link and hated it so much that I had to share it with my teenage son. We sat and howled with laughter while I read it aloud to him, then together we came up with several reasons why we both hated it.

What first set my hackles up was her sanctimonious attitude. I've got teenage children (a boy and a girl). I don't think any of their friends give a rat's ass that I've got a blog, or reads it for that matter. They certainly aren't waiting with bated breath for this post and their hopes and dreams aren't pinned on being friended or liked by my kids on any social media platforms. When it comes to her sons, Kim seems to feel otherwise.

She gushes at the beginning of the post about how lovely her sons' female friends are and how cute their rooms are. Then she babbles about how lovely (again), interesting, smart, unique, insightful, and wise they are... but "-big bummer- we have to block your posts". You see, her precious boys lack the capacity to see their female friends as anything other than sex objects after seeing them posing in pyjamas or a towel. Which is apparently the girls' problem and not any parenting deficiency on her end. Then she assures them it's not too late and to RUN to their accounts to take down their "selfies"... ending with an assurance that she's glad they're friends.

I don't get it. Does she really think there are hordes of girls racing to their computers to delete their photos? Thinking "phew, I got that one gone just in time... good thing considering Mrs. Hall has a zero tolerance policy". Personally, if I was a teenager and I read that blog post, I'd be deleting them off my friends lists anyway, simply because I wouldn't want Mrs. Hall and her smarmy attitude browsing through my photos.

The second thing that caught my eye were the pictures. You see, she's scattered a couple of shots of her sons throughout the blog post and, despite the fact the post has nothing to do with swimming, she chose shots of them posing in their bathing suits. Yes, in the middle of telling her sons' female friends that if they pose in their pyjamas in their bedrooms, even once, she's blocking them... she posted a shot of her three boys (and her young daughter) flexing their muscles on the beach. This makes her chastising the girls even more ironic, telling them that "none of these positions is one (sic) I naturally assume before sleep, this I know". Well none of the positions that her boys were in are ones that I naturally assume while swimming. You know the saying "what's good for the goose is good for the gander". Is she going through all her sons' pictures to make sure they aren't posing in skimpy clothing? Obviously not.

My son was disgusted by her attitude. First he admitted it really didn't matter what clothes a girl was wearing, he could readily picture her in a sexual way regardless. Second, just because he could, it didn't mean that was all he saw in the girls around him and he really resented the implication that boys just couldn't control themselves. And third, he strongly feels you can be a man of integrity AND look at pictures of scantily clad women. So far he's doing well so I'm willing to believe him on this one.

I think by making clothing and a pose the important part of her decision, Mrs. Hall is neglecting to teach her sons the true value of friendship. I want my kids to accept their friends for who they are and not judge them by the clothes they wear or their hair styles. Or, for that matter, by any unfortunate shots that make them look far more like Donald, Daffy, or Daisy than a teenage girl.

In the end, I find her entire post to be shallow and vapid. She has a whole raft of positive descriptions of her sons' friends but chooses to ignore them and, instead, bases her values solely on appearance. I find it terribly sad that so many people are willing to back her on this.

And, if there are any teens reading my post, I hope you wear the clothes that you like and feel comfortable in. I don't care about your clothes, I care about what sort of person you are. Treat the people around you with respect. Be kind. Be fair. Help others. Be accepting. If you're all of those things, you're welcome in my home no matter what you're wearing.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

The sun was barely peeking over the nearby buildings when I got downtown to wait for my connecting bus. There were four of us at the stop. Myself, as usual, clutching a pen and jotting ideas and dialogue in a notebook; a man staring disinterestedly at the road; and two older woman leaning against a brick wall, smoking and chatting with each other.

A young couple in their early twenties walked up to them. The  man asked if they had a lighter he could borrow and the one of the ladies, wearing a uniform from a national doughnut store chain, reached into her purse and handed it to him. She commented on how glad she was he hadn't asked for a cigarette, she was getting asked all the time and couldn't afford to give them to everyone, she could barely afford them for herself.

The four of them commiserated briefly about the price of smokes and how frequently people asked for them these days then the young couple turned to walk away. They took one step then the man turned back and asked, "Do you play the lottery?"

The woman looked confused, then nodded and agreed that she played when she could. He smiled, told her today was her lucky day, and handed her a crisp new twenty dollar bill, before walking away. She stared after him in astonishment, barely managing to stammer thanks.

I think, when random acts of kindness are mentioned, we end up thinking we can't do much. The little we can offer is just a pittance. After all, when you get right down to it, what could twenty dollars do?

I got on the bus with that lady, who was quite overcome by the money. She was in the last week of her job, going on sick leave in a few days. She's suffering from severe pain caused by bone growths in her knee and just can't handle working eight hours on her feet anymore. All that helps is expensive pain medication. She'd just run out and didn't have enough money to buy her new prescription. That $20 covered the gap.

I don't know how that young man felt when he handed her the money. Hopefully pride that he was able to help but he'll never know how much it meant to her. All he heard was her startled "thanks" before he walked away. It was the people on the bus who discovered how much this meant to her, not him.

That's the thing about random acts of kindness. You don't know. You have no idea what it means to the person you reach out to. It might mean nothing but then again, it might mean the world. It's random. I think the most important part is to reach out and do the best you can with what you have. We're all a candle in the darkness and it's up to us to share our flame.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leaving Hope

Two blog posts in two days! Umm... that probably won't happen again in a while. I'm almost done the outline for Second Chances, the next book I'm working on, and I'll be busy writing again. But I did promise an update on the book I just wrote. It's now been submitted to an agent, by snail mail, so I won't have any sort of answer for another month at least. The last book I mentioned here was Piece of Mind and I've put that one on the back burner. Maybe I'll go back and work on it again sometime, maybe not.
I started Second Chances and Leaving Hope at the same time, figuring I could switch between the two if I got stuck on a part. I wrote the first chapter in each book then wrote the outline for Leaving Hope and never went back to Second Chances. The books are completely different; Leaving Hope is a young adult fantasy while Second Chances is contemporary fiction. I don't have a synopsis for Second Chances, I haven't quite finished the outline yet, but it's about a middle aged woman named Karen who has her oldest grandson Owen dropped off at her home for "a little while". Karen's daughter disappears, with her other two grandchildren, two days later only to resurface after a decade. The novel is about family ties and forgiveness.
As for Leaving Hope, it's easier to share the synopsis and the first chapter... 

Seventeen year old Aren has a secret that's about to shatter her world. Aren and her friends are half-elven; ostracized by a society that sees them as less than human. Now the mayor of her province has just declared himself king, despite having no royal blood. His goal is to take over the country and claim Avenna's abandoned throne.
His first proclamation declares it treasonous to lie with one of the fae. Any resulting baby is proof of this treason and both the mother and child will die. The fae man Aren slept with hasn't returned in moon turns and her Papa is dying, neither one can help her now.
She turns to her friend Toby, who has his own secret to hide, and begs him to claim her unborn baby as his, setting into motion a chain of events foreseen and manipulated by the fae.
While the king places increasingly stronger restrictions on the half-elven, a new church appears, painting anyone with fae blood as vermin to exterminate.
Now Aren and her friends are tangled in the webs the fae have woven, and trapped by the king's laws and the church. They hope to survive, but can they make it out of Hope alive?
LEAVING HOPE is a 65,000-word young adult fantasy. This is my first novel.

Chapter One

“Papa? What's treason?” I asked as soon as I closed our door. That was the one word I didn't understand on the notice in the town square and without it, nothing else made sense.

“Treason? It's when you go against the king,” he replied then coughed. “Of course you need to have a king for that.”

He chuckled when I flinched. “It's okay Aren, I know what Bobby's calling himself. Smallest province in Avenna and he claims he's king. I could call myself king of this bed just as easily and it would mean as much.”

“Papa,” I said warningly, glancing back at the door. Robert had brought people in for less and with nearly as few witnesses.

“Sorry,” he replied unapologetically then continued, “When King Nicholas was alive, treason was one of the few crimes with a death penalty. I assume that much hasn't changed.”

It felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. I stared at him in horror.

“It's that bad Aren? What is he calling treason?”

“Half-elven babies,” I whispered.

“ All of us or just the babies?” Papa asked worriedly, shifting a bit against his pillow.

“So far just the babies,” I replied, struggling not to touch my stomach. Not that it would make much difference, Papa's gift was seeing the truth. “Any woman who lies with one of the fae is considered to have committed treason. The baby is the proof.”

“Then any woman who finds herself in that situation better find a father for her baby quickly,” he noted.

I nodded then changed the subject. “How are you feeling today?”

He shrugged slightly. “About the same as yesterday,” he lied.

I looked at him critically. He used to glow bright yellow but the glow had dimmed over the last few months to a greyish mustard colour. Now that colour was disappearing too, leaving him fading to white. Mama's colours had faded similarly before she died. I didn't think he'd see midwinter; he certainly wouldn't see spring.

“Why don't you go out for a walk?” he suggested. “I could use a bit of quiet.”

I was about to protest that he wouldn't even hear me then realized he wanted me to do something about my predicament. I kissed him gently on the forehead and slipped outside.

It was autumn now. The air held a mellow warmth but the golden leaves said chill winds weren't too far behind. It had been spring the last time I'd seen Ferrin.

I'd felt odd that day, like I was ready for the whole world to change and take me with it. As if everything was waiting, paused on the edge of anticipation. Ferrin had his wagon parked in a field just outside the village. I'd shown him my carvings, he'd looked at them and promised he had rich buyers who would love them. Once again he'd paid me almost as much as Papa had made doing cabinetry when he was still strong. Then he took my hand and told me he had something else for me, a gift, and led me into the back of his wagon. There was nothing there except a bed, but that was all we needed.

I knew what would come from that afternoon; I didn't know of any woman who'd laid down with one of the fae and hadn't come up expecting. At that point I hadn't cared.

I looked around in surprise and realized I was almost to Toby's house. He was Papa's former apprentice and one of my few friends. He was half-elven like Papa and I but he had a harder gift than both of us combined. He could hear thoughts, which made other people almost as uncomfortable around him as he was around them.

Toby's home was in a patch of woods, just far enough away that he could sleep without hearing everyone's dreams. His house was small but in good repair, although that wasn't a surprise considering his skills at woodworking. I knocked on the door and hoped he'd answer, he wasn't always in the mood for company. Thankfully today he was.

He opened the door and smiled slightly when he saw me. His wheat blond hair was pulled away from his face and the glow around him was almost the same bright blue as his eyes. I eyed the glow critically, it was cleaner and brighter than the last time I'd seen him.

“Nate was over, wasn't he,” I commented. It wasn't a question.

Toby nodded but didn't open the door further or offer to invite me in.

“I'm in trouble, Toby,” I whispered. “I need help.”

He looked down at my stomach then opened the door and gestured inside. Without waiting he turned and stalked to the kitchen, I followed.

“I pumped some water earlier,” he said as he picked up a jug and poured himself a glass. Then he poured me one too.

“Who's the father?” he asked abruptly then blanched. “Ferrin?”

I nodded then took the glass. “I hadn't been worried before. There's never been any danger in raising a half-elven baby.” I sighed, “At least not until now.”

“Aren. There's no way that baby's going to be half-elven,” Toby pointed out gently. “I'm half-elven and Nate's half-elven. You're about as close to fae as any human could manage.” He gestured to my stomach then added, “And that baby will be even closer still.”

I watched him hopefully, knowing he'd pick up my thoughts despite the fact I couldn't articulate them.

“Your Papa stood up for you and I'll stand up for your baby,” he said finally then added, “but I won't marry you and I want you to promise I will be your baby's father no matter what.”

“I promise,” I said firmly, looking into his eyes.

He stared at me for a moment then nodded. “ Then I swear,” he began and everything seemed to pause. Even the birds stopped singing. “I am the true father of your baby. I will not be your husband but I will help raise this baby and will love and care for him.”


Toby's smile was almost wistful. He touched my stomach gently then quickly pulled his hand back. “I can hear his thoughts.”

“You should go,” he added. “It's getting late and your Papa's going to need you soon.”

“Thanks Toby,” I said then headed out.

I was halfway through the woods when the sound of pipes led me off the trail. I followed the music to a small clearing surrounded by scarlet bushes. Nate perched on a fallen tree, a rabbit curled up against one foot. The breeze tousled his curly brown hair and, as he glanced at me over his pipes, the sunlight danced in his green eyes. Toby was right when he said I looked fae but between the two of us I felt Nate looked wilder, like some sort of tree spirit.

“What brings you out here?” he asked curiously.

“Toby,” I replied as I leaned against him. The rabbit looked up at me then proceeded to groom itself. “We're going to have a baby.”

“A baby will be nice,” he replied. “So who's the baby's real father?” I hadn't expected him to think the baby was Toby's.

“Ferrin,” I whispered. He winced and gave me a quick hug.

“Your story might work and some might even believe it,” he mused. “But I don't think Robert will and he's the one who matters the most.”

I shifted to look at him. “Toby was the only one I could ask,” I explained earnestly.

“You could have asked me,” he pointed out.

“Not with Robert as a brother,” I retorted. “He ignores you now but I don't think he would if you had a successor; then he'd see you as a rival. Who else would I ask?”

He shrugged. “What about Dirk? He's quiet and single.”

“Dirk?” I blurted. “There's no way I'd ask him.” The colours around him were less a glow and more a stain. They brought to mind vomit in a mud puddle. Plus he'd know the baby wasn't his. He'd be more likely to turn me in to Robert than stand up for me.

“Does Mari still visit you?” I asked worriedly.

He nodded. “She's been with me for a moon turn now.”

I didn't bother to ask if her mother knew. Chances were she hadn't noticed Mari was gone in the first place.

“Make sure she stays away from Dirk,” I warned. “I know he spends a lot of time with Mari's mother.” Along with most of the males in the village, I thought to myself. “And I've seen the way he looks at her.”

“Where is she now?” I asked, looking around. I couldn't see her anywhere and considering her hair was the same wheat colour as mine and Toby's, it should stand out.

“She's over there,” he gestured vaguely, “Taking a bit of a nap. We were up late last night with a sick foal.”

He stared into the distance, his eyes unfocused. His expression was thoughtful and a bit melancholic.

“How's the foal?” I asked curiously.

He shrugged. “She was doing a bit better this morning, up and nursing from her mother. All I can do is wait and see. I think she ate something she shouldn't have but Robert refused to call in the animal healer.” He picked up a pine cone and threw it at a tree trunk. It hit with a thunk and fell to the ground.

I stared at him in confusion. Robert's horses were the best in the area and worth a fair bit of gold. It didn't make sense for him to ignore her.

“Why won't he call the healer?” I asked curiously.

“He claims that if she's stupid enough to eat something she shouldn't then she probably won't be trainable anyway,” he said then added quietly. “I think he's trying to hurt me.”

A squirrel jumped from a nearby bush to his shoulder. He reached up and petted it absentmindedly. “He doesn't really ignore me,” Nate continued sadly. “He's willing to hurt anyone I care about. But I can't stop caring.”

The squirrel chattered for a second then jumped onto another branch and ran off.

“Is it safe to have Mari stay with you?” I asked worriedly. Robert placed a lot more value on his horses than he would the half-elven daughter of the town whore. “Maybe she could stay with Evelyn?”

“I tried that,” he admitted. “Evelyn feels children belong with their parents and promptly brought her home. Mari almost beat me back to the barn.”

He smiled slightly. “I'm keeping her as hidden as I can,” he assured me.

I looked back to where he'd gestured and still saw nothing. Apparently he was doing a good job. Then I remembered something I'd overheard earlier.

“Did you know there's a bear with cubs in the area?” I asked.

Nate grinned mischievously. “Who do you think is watching her?”

I stared at him and he grinned even wider.

“You have to admit no one could keep her more safe than a bear. She's sleeping with the cubs,” he explained. “They stuffed themselves with blackberries earlier.”

A blue jay swooped by screaming and Nate stood up. “She's awake now,” he said then walked into the woods. I followed.

We walked for several minutes then Nate touched my hand. “Wait here,” he cautioned then stepped into the meadow on his own. A brown bear sat up and watched him.

I looked at the bear and froze. She was huge, at least compared to me. Nate stood in front of her then reached forward and scratched her behind the ear like I'd scratch a dog; she leaned into his hand with evident enjoyment and chuffed.

“Come on Mari,” he said cheerfully and her head popped up from the middle of the pile of sleeping cubs. She scampered across them then climbed Nate like a tree until she was on his back. Her hair was a tangle of knots and her face streaked with blackberry juice, but she was smiling which was a step up from when she'd been at home. Besides, it wasn't like her mother brushed her hair either.

“Did you have a good nap?” he asked her. She nodded then looked over at me and waved.

“She's still not speaking yet?” It was more of an observation than a question. I couldn't remember how old she was, three, maybe four years old; definitely old enough to be speaking though.

Mari tilted her head and watched me curiously. “I've never heard her speak but she talks to Toby,” Nate replied. He pushed back a branch then held it so I could pass too.

“She hears thoughts like him?” I asked. I hoped otherwise, that was a hard gift.

Nate shook his head. His curls brushed against Mari's cheeks and she giggled. “He said her gift is close enough for him to talk to her but it's not the same,” he explained.

We stepped onto the road. The sun was already behind the trees and shadows gathered. It was later than I thought.

“Do you want to come over for dinner?” I asked. “It's going to be very simple, just eggs and toast. Papa's not eating much these days.”

“Thanks for offering but I can't,” Nate said then smiled. “You have no idea how much birds gossip. If one saw me eating eggs it would be spread across the province within the hour. I'd horrify them all.”

He stepped off the road and into a nearby field. “I've got beans soaking at home and I need to get back to milk one of the goats. Nala insists Mari has her milk. I get the impression she feels Mari isn't growing fast enough, which she probably isn't compared to a kid.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I'll see you soon.”

They headed across the field and I hurried home.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Failing at humanity

I read an article yesterday that made me cry. Not a dainty, dab my eyes with a kleenex cry, instead I sobbed on my son's shoulder while he looked down at me in confusion.

It was an article a friend of mine shared on Facebook. I clicked the link and was horrified by the juxtaposition -- a group of friends, all in their late teens, posing for the camera; one with a huge grin. The picture could have been taken anywhere. At the beach, playing soccer, just plain hanging out. Instead they were in a well lit room, surrounding a fellow teenage boy. They're grinning, mugging for the camera. He's crouched on the ground in his underwear, splattered with paint, and clutching a sex toy. Soon they're going to torture him to death, simply because he's gay.

How does this happen? How could they look into the eyes of a fellow human being and see nothing but an object to vent their frustrations? He'd done nothing to them, nothing except merely exist. They're the ones who hunted him down, searched him out on a social network site, and coaxed him into meeting them. I look into their eyes and see no sign of shame or remorse; nothing that says they feel they're doing anything wrong.

Since this happened in Russia, they aren't going to learn what they did is wrong. Putin has ruled that anything positive said about gays is against family values, so even someone saying this teen had done nothing to them, that it was okay for him to simply be himself, could get that person arrested. I'm not nearly naive enough to think this is a random occurrence, or even just in Russia. I know it happens world wide. And this is where we've failed as human kind.

People talk about defending family values. Family? It's been said often enough before, it's us straight people having the majority of kids. These are our children, our siblings, our cousins. This is our family. If people truly want to protect families, they should include all the members. I've got two teenagers. When I gave birth, I vowed to them that I'd always love and protect them. There wasn't a clause in there that said "as long as you grow up to marry someone of the opposite sex and give me grandbabies". That was my choice to marry their father and have kids; they will make their own choices. And the gender(s) you're attracted to isn't a choice at all.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone was brought up with love, kindness, and compassion. I wish we lived in a world with true family values, the ones where you love every member of your family, not just the people who are the same as you. I wish we lived in a world where those teenagers never even bothered to search that boy up on social media because, hey, who cares if he's gay. And I really wish I had some answers, because I'm heartsick of reading about atrocities.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Safety is an illusion

I know I haven't been writing here. I have been writing though, copious amounts of writing. I've written a whole novel since I last posted here and have started on a sequel while writing the query letter and synopsis. At some point I'll update, book wise, but that's not why I'm writing here today.

I saw this link on Facebook today: Hurting people hurt people and it made me think. Not only do we need to teach our children empathy, we need to teach them how to trust. They can't learn empathy if they don't know how to trust the people around them. And trust is a hard lesson to learn.

When my children were young, I sent them off to join Brownies and Beavers. I had all sorts of worries. My daughter was extremely shy and had only just started talking to people outside of family. My son, who was later diagnosed with autism, was still very hard to understand and didn't interact well with others. But I trusted the adults in the group to care for them in my absence. A friend of mine was shocked I could send my children off like that. What if one of the leaders was a sexual predator? What if they were abused?

I can't live my life that way. I can't live my life looking at everyone around me with suspicion, assuming they're out to harm my children. And I refused to raise my children that way. I refused to teach them that everyone was a potential threat.

Instead I taught them to trust themselves and to trust their instincts. I taught them the proper names for all the parts of their bodies and that their bodies are their own. I taught them about good secrets and bad secrets. Good secrets are surprises, like a birthday present. The person you're keeping the secret from will find out about it soon and will be happy about the secret. Those are the secrets you keep. Bad secrets are sad and can make you uncomfortable. No matter what anyone tells you, you have to share those secrets right away.

The thing is, safety is an illusion. Setting rules and boundaries help, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying to let your three year old roam around at midnight because, hey, safety is an illusion. I understand the need to try and keep our children safe; I feel it every time my children step outside and they're teenagers now. I simply disagree with the idea of wrapping children into such a tight cocoon they can barely breathe, while claiming it's for their safety. They can't grow in a cocoon and they can't trust if they're taught everyone around them is untrustworthy.

I've joked before about my lackadaisical parenting. To be honest, it's more of a tightrope walk than laziness, and I'm always aware of who's at risk if I wobble in either direction. Overprotective...'s my kids who suffer in the end. And most days I feel like I'm walking that tightrope blindfolded.

I used to belong to a community group in my former apartment building. There were not many people in the group, especially for the size of the community. Two men joined shortly after I did. Both had names that started with J and both used scooters, although I seem to recall one only part time. I believe they said one was the uncle of the other, although maybe they were cousins. Obviously I didn't know them well.

It was late summer and the local exhibition was due to arrive. One of the J's ran into me outside the neighbouring plaza and commented they were going to the exhibition the next day and would love to take son with them, they'd pay for his tickets and his train fare. I still don't know if I made the right decision. Chances were it was an innocent request. Chances were my son would have loved the trip. But the offer ran all sorts of alarm bells in the back of my mind and I refused politely, claiming that I didn't think son would be able to handle the crowds. I never told my son about that offer.

I got a call from a friend of mine that same week, offering to take son out for the afternoon. Maybe this would have raised alarm bells for some; the friend in question is male, childless, and not straight. But I'd known him for over a decade and trusted him. My alarm bells didn't ring. Son had a great afternoon and talked about it for months afterwards.

Of course, life isn't easy. Sometimes you trust the wrong person. I sent my daughter off for sleepovers at a friend's apartment after stopping by and meeting the child's mother. Several visits later I discovered the mother was on probation for fighting AND was dealing drugs. The sleepovers stopped then and thankfully they moved across the province a short while later.

I think the most important thing we need to remember is we're raising our children to let them go. That's our ultimate goal, to raise them to be good, kind, and decent adults. Like the video in the link I posted, it's up to us to show them and teach them. They look up to us. They model us. We need to teach them how to take care of themselves, we need to teach them to be trustworthy, and we need to teach them how to trust.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

I want to be a writer

I want to be a writer. I am determined to be a writer. I sit at my computer and edit and tweak my latest novel, Piece of Mind, every single day. I revise conversations, tweak descriptions, and edit transitions. I carry a notebook in my purse so I can jot down ideas when I'm out. I have a two hour commute every work day (an hour each way) so have lots of time to think. My cellphone is handy too, I was walking on the treadmill yesterday, writing conversations into my notes.

I want to be a writer. These days I don't just read novels for pure enjoyment, I look at how sentences are formed. I notice how the author sets a scene. How the author explains who's speaking. How often they have characters speak versus describing what the character's experiencing.

I want to be a writer. I think regularly about my novel and try to sort out what to write in my current chapter. I talk to my children about my novel and use them as guinea pigs.

Writing is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I love to write. I love when I get a sentence phrased exactly right. I love when I read aloud to my kids and they laugh themselves silly at a part that's supposed to be funny. I love that point when my kids start talking about my characters like they're real people who just stepped out of the room for a minute. I hate when I'm sitting at the computer and my latest attempt at conversation sounds like bored actors reading a weak script. I hate when I have a thought in my mind and the words just won't go down the way I want them to. And, conversely, I love when I move to another paragraph then come back and tweak and, suddenly, changing a word opens up new ideas and the thought just pours onto the page.

I imagine writing is like building a house. I start with the foundation and throw it up. There's a basic shape but not much else. Then I go back and add the essentials. Soon I can see what the house will look like but it's rough, unfinished. Then I go back a third time and add all the little details. The descriptions, more conversations, little things that I was thinking that somehow missed getting written down. After that I drag someone else through so they can see if there's anything I missed. And that's as far as I've gotten.

Right now I'm about three quarters of the way through Piece of Mind and have a couple of chapters to tweak in Small Dreams and then I'm onto my next writing adventure, writing query letters.

I wrote the first chapter of my novel Small Dreams into my blog back in 2011. Now I'll share the first chapter of Piece of Mind. I hope you like it:

“And I woke myself up by screaming.” A rivulet of sweat trickled down my back as I described my latest nightmare.
Nicole looked up from chopping veggies for our morning omelette and grinned. “Maybe Santa will bring you a boyfriend for Christmas,” she remarked. She brushed her straight brown hair behind her ears and turned up the radio.
“This is my favourite carol,” she added as Eartha Kitt brazenly asked Santa for a fur coat and a car.
I stared at her blankly, unable to grasp the connection between my nightmares and needing a boyfriend. Then again, talking with Nicole always left me feeling like I was following half a conversation. “Why a boyfriend?” I asked nervously, the thought filled me with dread. When I was a bit younger and my parents were still alive, the thought of having a boyfriend was interesting but after a month of rape dreams, that interest had waned. I figured I was only a nightmare or two away from showing up at a mental hospital and asking to be admitted.
“Maybe you’re lonely,” she replied. “The dreams could be your mind’s way of telling you that you want some male attention.”
Chills ran icy fingers down my spine. “Seriously, I’d rather be single for the rest of my life than be with someone like that!”
She shrugged and went back to her vegetables. I carefully measured out the coffee then added it to the machine; coffee was the only thing Nicole would allow me to make. She took pleasure in her assumed role of big sister, cooking breakfast every morning before she went to bed and dinner every night before she left for work. She tried packing lunches but stopped when I insisted I could manage that; I'd made my own sandwiches when I was still small enough to need a footstool to reach the counter.
“It could be worse,” she said, obviously trying to cheer me up. “Your nightmares are here in private, unlike mine.” She sighed then added, “I'll never be able to see a movie again.”
I had to chuckle. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend at the premiere of the latest chick-flick. From what I heard, he thought they were going to be watching a movie with lots of guns and cars, not one where the male lead cried tenderly. Apparently the fireworks were so spectacular people were buying popcorn then heading back outside for the show.
Nicole munched a piece of pepper then said thoughtfully, “I wonder if you're having nightmares because you know you’re home alone. If you’d get a job where I work, then we’d be on the same shift and you wouldn’t have to worry about being home alone at night.”
“I’m not old enough to work where you do,” I reminded her yet again. I’d met Nicole at hair dressing school but she’d dropped out and got a job at the local casino instead. She was just barely old enough to work there, which made me five years too young; something she managed to forget at least once a week. Nicole’s thoughts centred completely around her. It wasn’t that she was mean or totally selfish, she simply forgot anything that didn’t directly have to do with her and assumed that everyone wanted to be just like her.
She swirled the eggs around the pan then poured the veggies on top. “Is the coffee almost done yet?”
“It's pretty much done,” I replied, glancing at the pot.
“Good,” she said while reaching into the cupboard. “I'll just get the sugar and... oh...” She grabbed something and pulled it out.
“Tamara?” she asked curiously. “Why are you keeping pregnancy tests in the cupboard?”
I looked at the box in shock while Ella Fitzgerald crooned about how she wanted to go on a sleigh ride.
“I didn't put that there,” I stammered.
The top of the box was open and Nicole tipped the contents into her hand.
“Eww,” she said as she dropped the tests on the counter then wiped her hands on her jeans. “One of these has been used.”
I picked up the used one and looked at it.
“Nicole,” I said, confused. “This test is positive.”
“That is seriously creepy,” she said. She didn’t sound creeped out at all though. She sounded excited, like it was some mystery to solve and Scooby and the gang were going to show up to help her explore for clues. I, however, wasn’t nearly as thrilled.
I started to shake. “How could this get in there?”
“Maybe...” she started to say then stopped. “Could you have left the door unlocked?” she asked hesitantly.
I shook my head. “I never leave it unlocked, ever. You know that!” I replied. “You’re the one who nicknamed me little Miss Paranoid. I always use the door lock, the dead bolt and a chain. And we’re on the frigging sixth floor so it's not like someone just climbed in a window.”
“Those were locked too by the way.” I added. “And I had to unlock the door so you could come in this morning.”
Last night I’d checked and triple checked the locks before heading to bed. I’d looked every conceivable place someone could hide and even some inconceivable ones. When I caught myself peeking behind the toilet I knew I’d moved from cautious into the realm of paranoia. That still didn’t stop me from checking in the bathtub and the overstuffed cabinets under the sink.
I pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down with a thud. “One of the weird things about the dream last night is I heard a voice,” I said, struggling to remember. “I opened my eyes and saw these green eyes and heard a voice.”
I fell silent. I could see those cold green eyes in my mind. Felt the weight of his body above me. During the dreams I could feel the heat from his body but looking back, all I felt was ice.
“What did the voice say?” Nicole prompted, staring at me intently.
The coffee finished dripping but we ignored it.
“Nothing that made any sense at the time. He talked about farming and how he’d planted the field but still wanted to plough it.” I replied. My mind flashed to early childhood and my Mom explaining how Daddy makes a baby by planting a seed in Mommy. Seeds… fertile ground. An image of an old-fashioned plough digging into the ground the way he pushed himself into me. I picked up the unopened test. “I think I'm going to take this,” I said while heading to the bathroom.
Less than a minute later I had a second positive test. I leaned against the counter, my legs too unsteady to hold me, and stared at myself in the mirror above the sink. My reflection gazed back in shock. I always looked a bit young for my age but terror made me look about twelve. I wondered about the man who apparently thought that was enticing. My stomach twisted and I spent the next minute trying desperately not to vomit.
Nicole knocked on the bathroom door. “Tamara? Open up.”
Shaking, I opened the door. We stood there in silence staring at the plus sign on the second test. I felt as calm as the eye of a hurricane, eerily still and quiet with devastation looming in all directions. I was single. Completely, utterly, single. There was no way I could be pregnant… except if the dreams were real.
“What are you going to do?” Nicole asked looking about as shocked as I felt.
“I’m getting out of here,” I said grimly, trying my hardest not to cry. “I have no idea how he got in here and there's nothing stopping him from coming back.”

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The most embarrassing story

Kids can say and do the most embarrassing things. Luckily for me, my most embarrassing kid story happened to my ex-husband. It all started with my daughter, her overactive imagination, and a bullying neighbour.

Back when daughter was preschool aged we had a neighbour with a daughter who was a year older. The girl didn't treat daughter well, she teased her and was often sent back home. But it was a small building and the two ended up playing together regularly. When the girl finally moved T* and I were ready to throw a party to celebrate. We celebrated too soon. Suddenly daughter had an imaginary friend named "Bad Katie".

Lots of kids have imaginary friends who are "bad" and get blamed for mischief. This friend was different. Instead she bullied and picked on daughter, pretty much the same way her previous friend teased her. This left T and I at a loss, trying to convince daughter to stand up for herself to an imaginary playmate.

Weeks went on and nothing seemed to work until one bitterly cold winter's night when T finally snapped. Nothing we said made a difference. Daughter couldn't ignore Bad Katie and telling her to stop and go away made the teasing worse. I sent Bad Katie upstairs for a timeout but she snuck back down. T stomped to the door and opened it. A blast of cold air rushed in.

"Outside now!" he snapped then looked at daughter and asked, "Is she out there?"
Daughter nodded and he slammed the door shut then locked it.
"There," he said with some satisfaction. "She's having a timeout on the patio."
"In the snow?" whispered daughter.
"In the snow," he agreed. "And she's not allowed back in ever again."

Weeks went by without a single mention of Bad Katie and we slowly relaxed. Then T headed out on the bus one afternoon with daughter and came home looking rather pale.

"I'm lucky I wasn't lynched," he said once daughter had headed upstairs. "The bus was packed to the point where we had to stand. There wasn't a single seat available. Then daughter started talking in a rather loud voice..."

"Remember that time Bad Katie was sooo bad that you made her have a timeout on our patio in the dark all alone. And it was really cold and you made her stand outside in bare feet in the snow and told her she wasn't allowed to come back inside ever again."

Complete and utter silence. T looked around and everyone was staring at him. No one looked happy.

I'll grant her good timing at least, she finished the story right before our stop so he was able to make a quick getaway.

*not my ex's real initial, just a letter I picked at random in September

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Disposable pets

We have three cats, all adopted. One was surrendered, one abandoned, and the last was disposed.

Angel was surrendered to a no-kill animal rescue agency, along with her brother, when their owner fell on hard times and couldn't afford to take care of them. It stinks but I understand that. And if anyone surrendered their black and white kitten Angelica to a shelter just east of Toronto, one that services Paws and Claws, she's a happy, healthy almost seven year old cat now (we picked Valentine's Day for her birthday) and is currently curled up snoozing on the couch.

I feel anger when I think of Blackie. Her previous owners left her behind in a shed when they moved. She was just a kitten when we adopted her at eleven months old and she'd obviously been malnourished. Her leg bones are bowed and she's got the oddest walk (which is not helped by her current pot belly). I can't understand and don't want to understand the mentality of someone who would lock a kitten up and abandon her to possibly starve to death.

It's Oreo that has me baffled. We had neighbours who lived across the hallway from us when my children were smaller. They moved in with two older cats and, shortly after we adopted Blackie, they picked Oreo out of a box of "free kittens".

A few months later they decided to move in with a family member who did not want three cats in his home. The Mom was deciding which cat to take to the shelter when I volunteered to take one. This came at the perfect time for us because my children's father (and his girlfriend) had promised the kids a kitten from the litter their cat was going to have. That litter never arrived and the kids were heartbroken they weren't going to get their kitten. Oreo, still a kitten at the time, was just what they were looking for.

A few weeks later the neighbours had a dog, given to them through the family grapevine. Someone's grandmother died, leaving behind an elderly dog. Daughter was disappointed, positive that if we'd waited a few weeks, we would have been given the dog instead of Oreo. I reminded her repeatedly that a) we'd never been offered the dog and b) we had Oreo and why would she trade him for any animal. Daughter was ticked to discover they gave the dog away to someone else shortly after moving due to bathroom issues.

A few years went by then there was a flurry of excitement on Facebook because they were getting a puppy. They'd been looking for ages and found the perfect puppy for their family. Then came the adorable puppy and child pictures. I asked how the cats were getting along with the puppy and got the response of "we got rid of the cats several months ago". Got rid of the cats who were around eight years old at the time.

A short while later she was posting saying she was going to look for a new home for her puppy soon if he didn't stop barking at the vacuum cleaner then wetting in terror. I suggested puppy training classes and provided links to local ones. She responded saying that despite months of looking for the "perfect puppy", she had not once looked into the breed. Apparently anxiety and wetting issues were common. She also refused to look into puppy training classes because hopefully the puppy would outgrow these issues.

I got blocked when I replied the shelters are already full of dogs who didn't outgrow anxiety issues and poor bathroom habits then reposted the training class links. This was at least half a year ago so I'm sure little Coco has been passed along to another family and they've moved on to yet another "perfect pet". We adopted Oreo five years ago this April. In those five years they have gotten rid of three cats and two dogs that I know of. I haven't spoken to them since last summer so who knows if they've gone through another perfect pet since then.

I woke up this morning to find Oreo snuggled against me again, his head nestled on my arm, his legs sprawled, his eyes watching mine... eager for me to wake and rub his tummy. He rolled around on the bed when he realized I was awake, licking my nose and wriggling so I could reach every part of his tummy. Son came into my room before bed last night so I could read him part of my novel. When he left to brush his teeth, he patted his leg and said "Come Oreo, it's tooth brushing time" and Oreo jumped off the bed and trotted along behind. My daughter insists he's a dog disguised as a cat.

I don't think of that family often but every once in a while Oreo will do something completely adorable and completely him and I wonder if they know what they're missing. How do you pick out a pet, promise to care for it, then give it away? How can you love and care for an animal for months or years and then pass it along and forget about it? One child used to ask my daughter and I about Oreo. "He's my Oreo" she'd insist to my daughter. Her mother never asked. Do her other children ever wonder about the pets they no longer own? Will they grow up to care for their own pets or will they grow up to see pets as nothing more than toys? Something to enjoy for a time and pass on once they're "boring".

Sure, I'm the one who gets to deal with the not fun stuff. Oreo very likely has FIV. I know it's not as easily transmitted as I was told when we first adopted him but I can't help but wonder if my other two cats have it as well. And Oreo has allergies, which means they get expensive cat food. We're eating lentils, rice, and pasta while the cats dine on smoked salmon and trout.

But then he walks up beside me, demanding attention, and closes his eyes in ecstasy as I scratch his forehead right above the eyes. His purr deepens, he grabs my hand with both paws and maneuvers it for a chest rub. He stares at me and my heart melts and I wonder once again if they ever know what they threw away.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sleepy ramblings

I have been looking forward to today. A weekday off work with no one in the apartment except for me and my pets. A day to devote to my novel.

My alarm went off at 7am, just over two hours later than my alarm went off yesterday. You'd think it was two hours earlier by the way I felt. I crawled out of bed and finally managed to get son off to school. He left grumbling that he wished he had a day to sleep in. Meanwhile he slept til the crack of noon on Sunday. My heart bleeds for you kid.

My cat Oreo started yowling almost immediately. You see, he's starving to death; literally wasting away to a mere shadow of his former self. I didn't empty his bowl of the leftovers from last night and replenish it from the tin of goodness, so he was left with stale food. He cried and wailed, circling the bowls like a vulture and likely dreaming of growing opposable thumbs. Then he flopped on the floor beside me, all four paws in the air, dead of starvation, belly flab drooping to the floor. I still didn't feed him so he huffed away to take a nap.

I cracked open chapter two and began revising. I realized last night that I was missing some crucial information. This morning, as I began losing track of sentences and couldn't figure out where to place apostrophes, I realized I was missing some crucial sleep. Evidently a nap was in order for me too.

Every time I decide to take a nap, I forget one important fact. A futon will not comfortably hold three cats and a human. Something has to give and I'm the weak link. I set my timer for an hour, which would leave me with four hours of writing time, pulled my softest pillow off the wicker chair, and settled myself into a comfy position. Seconds later I had a cat butt in my face and a paw under my cheek. Angel decided the pillow was hers too.

Eventually I ended up with a cat back in my face, complete with fur up my nose, and my head positioned in a way rarely seen outside of "whiplash during a car accident" photos. Plus one cat draped over my feet, putting one to sleep a lot faster than I was going, and my 'dying of starvation' kitty sprawled across my hip. All twenty-two pounds of him.

I gave up barely a quarter into the nap. Now I'm hoping peppermint tea will work just as well. And, as I switch back to my novel, I'll leave you with my daughter's current favourite line from the book (one that won't give away any plot):

"I felt like I was in one of those horror movies, the ones where everything seemed perfectly normal until a monster popped up and ate someone's face."

Edited to add: This is what cat sarcasm looks like...

Thursday, 10 January 2013

On friend-zoning, nice guys, and the rape culture

 "Friendzoning" is bullshit because "Girls are not machines that you put Kindness Coins into until sex falls out." - Aeryn Walker

My son made a comment using the term "friend-zoned" today and I told him it doesn't exist; there is no such thing. Friend zoning assumes that the person (usually female) would have been romantically interested in another person (usually male) except somehow she got sidelined into thinking of him as just a friend and can't pull him out of that category anymore. He could have had a chance if it wasn't for her silliness.

I told my son that people who think that they've been "friend-zoned" need to grow up and face reality. There is no law that says just because you love someone romantically, they have to like you back. Even if they like you enough enough to be friends, they don't have to love you. That's called a crush, it happens and that's okay. No one dies from a crush.

Friend zoning often seems to happen to the self-proclaimed "nice guys". The ones who insist they treat women well but never get what they deserve. That makes them creeps, not nice guys. If you're treating a woman well just so you can have sex, you're not treating her well at all. You're seeing her as nothing more than an object, a means to your own personal gratification.

Which leads to the whole rape culture. We live in a society where women are taught how to protect themselves from rape. Don't wear overly tight clothes, or clothes that are too low cut or too short. Don't go outside at night, especially on your own. Don't go places alone like trails or laundry rooms or parking garages. And if a woman's assaulted, the first reaction is to wonder what she did wrong. Did she follow the rules?

What we need to do is teach the boys. We need to teach them they are better than this. We need to teach them to respect themselves and others. We need to teach them they are responsible for themselves. We need to teach them that no means no all the time. It doesn't matter if he's two seconds away from penetration. The words "no, stop" mean exactly that. We need to teach them that no one is "asking for it". No one. It doesn't matter if she's walking around naked, she's not asking to be raped. As soon as someone's drunk, the ability to consent is gone. I don't care if she's saying "I want you, lets have sex now". If she really means it, she'll mean it tomorrow and it'll be that much more special if she remembers it or doesn't throw up on you. And if she's so passed out she's non-responsive, you take her to the hospital, not your bed.

And we need to teach the girls they are worth more. They can say "no" without being frigid. They can say "yes" without being a slut. Their worth as a human should not be defined by who's been between their legs and they should give that same worth and respect to others. And we need to teach them that boys can say "no" too. No means no, no matter what gender is speaking and if he's drunk he can't consent either.

We need to treat our children equally when it comes to where they go and how late they stay out. We need to treat them equally when it comes to teaching them about sex and sexuality.

I am leaving a link with a video here. It's worth reading and it's definitely worth sitting down and viewing with your teens. The video shocked me, there are boys my son's age joking about raping a drunk and unconscious teenage girl while laughingly wondering if she's dead. But the video covers, in plain language, exactly why this is wrong and how boys should act instead.

A Horrifying Thing Happened In Ohio. Not Being Creepy Could Prevent It From Happening Again.

Monday, 7 January 2013

(Attempts at) exercise...

I've got the day off today and my son went back to school, leaving me seven whole hours to myself. Talk about bliss! Or it would have been if I didn't immediately tackle his room in search of dishes and laundry. Now I know why he has nothing to wear the day after I do the laundry and where on earth all my bowls and spoons went. I'm *this* close to slapping a condemned sign on his door and writing it off.

After I carried a few loads of dishes into the kitchen and heaped my laundry basket with all the clothes son didn't see, I decided to head downstairs to the gym. I bought a new exercise bra this weekend and an arm band for my MP3 player and wanted to try them out.

Also, I'd dearly love to know if I'm the only one who's ever accidentally hog-tied themselves with an exercise bra and if it gets easier to put on. I'm a bit scared of that thing now.

I walked into the gym and there was a lady on the treadmill. Kiss of death, she had the TV on; that's when I know someone's there for the long haul. The treadmill's the best piece of equipment in the room, especially now that the elliptical died. The elliptical's usable but there's no resistance option now that the battery's dead.

And, of course, she turned the TV up shortly after I arrived. Maybe she was concerned I wouldn't hear the TV through my headphones. I already keep the music low enough I can hold conversations with my headphones on, when the TV's turned up, I can't hear the music at all. Thanks lady but I'm not interested in the beautiful doctors or Jamie Lee Curtis.

I exercised for fifteen minutes (missing my 20 minutes on the treadmill) then headed over to the pool area and discovered it's closed for a pump issue. Thankfully it should be open by this evening. When I left the room, the lady was still on the treadmill.

I walked into the elevator in gym clothes and runners, a towel draped over one arm, water bottle in the other hand, headphones over my ears, and an MP3 player strapped onto my upper arm. There's a woman in the elevator. She looks over and asks, "Are you doing laundry?" I wonder if she'll ask if I'm going to the gym when I drag my waist high laundry basket downstairs.

And now, while it's quiet, I'm going back to edit Small Dreams a bit more.

--------> off to sharpen my hatchet