Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I don't want an eReader for Christmas

Every year, my husband asks me for my Christmas list. The last couple of years, I have considered whether or not I want one of those newfangled eReaders. Perhaps I'm getting curmudgeonly, but I'm going to pass.

I have heard plenty about the merits of eReaders - purchasing eBooks is cheaper and they're easier to cart around than a hardcover. Meanwhile, libraries have taken a hit in the news, with many cutting their limited funds for new books in favour of eBooks. And, yes, I did read about bedbugs being found in library books.

Let me count the ways I love books
I'm still not sold. I love books. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them, both new, and old and musty. I love sharing the books that I have enjoyed with friends. I love browsing the shelves of a bookstore and hemming and hawing over what I want (see my latest selection in the photo). I love getting second-hand books and finding the previous reader's old shopping list which was used as a bookmark.

Generational or hereditary?
Indeed, it could simply have to do with my generation. I grew up reading books, listening to records, and hearing my dad hammer out stories on his old-school typewriter.

It could also be hereditary. My dad clung to that old typewriter until his employer forced him, the last employee not on the network, to start using a computer.

Then again, maybe not. After all, I'm not afraid of technology (no offence, Dad). I work as a web writer, so wouldn't do all that well in my profession otherwise. I own a smartphone. I tweet, I Facebook, I Skype. But until further notice, I don't eRead.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mum's the word

Right now, I'm still a mommy. But I have a feeling that will be changing soon.

Yes, technically I'll still be a mother. But my son is trying on "mom" from time to time. And I'm sad.

Last weekend, one of his best friends slept over. Though her birthday is only one month ahead of his, hers is in December, meaning she is in kindergarten. She refers to me and my husband as our son's mom and dad. Being in kindergarten means letting go of things that are considered babyish. I'm not sure when my mom ceased to be mommy, but I think it was some time between kindergarten and grade 1. And I'm pretty sure my son hears other kids use "mom" and "dad" so it's natural he'd consider calling us that.

It's that conflict of wanting my son to grow yet keep him a little boy at the same time. It's funny, I've heard other women say they hate the word "mommy" but I'm having a hard time letting go of it. I have become attached to it.

I like it when my son sees me at the end of the day and yells, "Mommy!" as he sprints across the room to hug me. And "mom" is so much easier to drag into that whiny, multi-syllabic, "Mo-om," which is usually accompanied by an eye roll.

At the same time, I don't want to be that weird, overprotective mother who forces her kid to act like a baby, becomes the overbearing mother of a teen who hides from her, and finally, becomes the monster-in-law to his significant other.

So I'll enjoy being mommy while I can and hopefully, mom will grow on me when the time comes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tell your story

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook. Thought it was worth sharing here.

We all have our own truth. If someone doesn't agree with the way you represent yours, it really doesn't matter. Tell your story in your words and in your way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering on Remembrance Day

This is Frank and Isabella Dill, my grandparents. Grandpa was in the Navy during WWII. He never talked about it to me. Even my mom says he didn't say much about his experience in the war, other than to say that it was a waste of life. He didn't get dressed up every Remembrance Day to take part in a parade. He didn't head to the Legion to raise a glass to friends long gone. I'm pretty sure the war had a huge impact on him nonetheless.

During the war, Grandma worked in Halifax, giving paycheques to sailors. She too has said little about her experience. I do know she made friends there and I remember visiting one friend with her when I was a child and lived in Halifax. She didn't do parades either.

Everyone remembers differently. And even though my grandparents weren't about remembering in a public way, I'm certain their experiences during the war helped form the people they became. So today, I think of my grandparents, in addition to my friends who have served, and those who never returned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does letter-writing make a difference?

If we're friends on Facebook or you follow me on Twitter, you know how angry I was to hear that BC is significantly cutting nurse visits to new moms and their babies.

My interest in this cause is a personal one. The nurse who visited me and my son our first full day home from the hospital came just in the nick of time. We'd had a terrible night of him screaming at me because I had no milk. She helped me immensely in figuring out the whole breastfeeding thing when I was a sleep-deprived, emotional mess.

Not only that, but Cara followed up with me and told me she would come back and visit any time I needed her to. A lucky coincidence was she ended up being one of the nurses who came to the mom and baby drop-in session at the local community centre. Eventually, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Though it wasn't caught in that home visit (I was good at hiding it), being able to talk to Cara was critical to my feeling I was able to open up to my family doctor about the challenges I was having.

Cara was a huge support to us and I don't think I could ever thank her enough. I'm worried that these cuts will mean women give up on breastfeeding and wait longer than they need to to get the help they need for PPD.

Time to act

So with all this in mind, I looked to find out what I could do. I tweeted a CBC radio show that asked for people's reactions. I found out a Facebook group had been created. Supporters of the nurse visit program were encouraged to write to the premier and their MLA, so I wrote a letter telling them my story. I added Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil and NDP critic Claire McNeil to the list for good measure.

So far? Only one form response from the premier's office.

The premier's office response

"Thank you for your email regarding the Healthy Start program. We appreciate the time you have taken to express your views on the subject. As you are aware, government is reviewing the perinatal and child public health services offered by public health nurses, and other care providers, across the province as a component of the Healthy Start pillar of the Healthy Families BC strategy. Our focus is to support all mothers and babies in having a healthy pregnancy, giving all children a good start in life and supporting a healthy future.

As part of the overall Healthy Start program, which is available to all mothers, government is introducing the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). This program will offer more intensive care, time and resources to low income, young, first time mothers from second trimester through to when their baby is two years of age. Evidence clearly shows that it is the only nurse home visiting program with a wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children. (emphasis mine - Lori)

Government has a responsibility to make sure public health resources are used effectively to support all families with ongoing or episodic care needs- including those who would benefit the most from intensive follow up. We want to assure you the Minister of Health and his staff are working closely with health authorities, physicians and public health nurses to help ensure the program has no unintended impacts.

Thank you again for being in touch. We are always looking for ways to improve programs and policies and your feedback helps us in that process."

My response
In other words, they likely read the subject line of my letter and nothing else. They told me nothing new and they didn't respond to my concerns, namely, how will they ensure that more women don't give up on breastfeeding, or let their PPD go undiagnosed and untreated.

The writer emphasized the "wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children" in the home visit program. So if there are such positive results, how can this be the right place to make cuts? They didn't say.

So I basically feel like writing my letter and actually giving a shit was a giant waste of my time.

Where do I go from here?

What are my options now?

1. Give up.
2. Respond to their letter and call them on not answering my questions.
3. Find other means of making my voice heard - no idea what these are.

Do mothers need to occupy something, perhaps the premier's office? I'm tired and I'm running out of ideas. I want someone to tell me what to do.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney: "Writers don't retire. And I'll always be a writer."

Hearing that Andy Rooney died was like hearing that a great uncle who I didn't see much anymore but still adored was gone.

My dad was a longtime journalist and he'll be a news junkie for life. When I was a kid, I remember sighing every time he turned the TV to the news. Hey, I later ended up becoming a journalist, but I was still a kid at the time. With 60 Minutes, it was a little different. Though it was, well 60 minutes long, Andy Rooney was the reward we got at the end. Perhaps I simply recognized good story-telling.

Rooney's blunt, crusty manner reminded me of other men of his generation who were in my life, particularly my grandfather. And his articulate rants reminded me of one important man not of his generation, my old man. I could be staring off into space, or playing quietly for most of the show, but when Rooney appeared on the screen, my eyes and ears were on him. Riveted.

And the same as when that great uncle dies, I feel regret. Regret that I hadn't watched Rooney recently and regret that I hadn't seen his final sign-off. Watching it online tonight, I was intrigued that he considered himself a writer first and foremost. Not a commentator, and certainly not a TV personality, but a writer.

"A writer's job is to tell the truth. I believe that if all the truth were known about everything in the world, it would be a better place to live," said Rooney.

Well said, Mr. Rooney. Farewell and thank you for the stories.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Heartwarming memories

My friend Mandy from Running with Glitter Glue shared this on Facebook a while back and it reminded me of a story that I wrote several years ago. I'm feeling under the weather and will be under the influence of NeoCitran soon, so thought this was a good opportunity to post it.

This is about one of those childhood experiences that seemed rather devastating at the time, but writing about it made me laugh. Looking at it now as a mother makes me laugh even harder. Enjoy!

The Jell-O Incident

It was another lazy day at the farm for us kids. Morning was inching closer to noon and the temperature already inching closer to 30 degrees when Terri and I changed out of our pajamas. We were ready to take on the world – right after lunch of course. At Grandma’s, lunch was always the same, almost ritualistic: Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup served in melmac turquoise and brown bowls; an assortment of ham and cheese, tuna and roast beef sandwiches; and today for dessert Jell-O! It was the lunch of champions – or at the very least, the lunch of peckish farmers and their grandchildren.

Michelle was up and about already, watching Grandpa sweat away in the barns. Inside, our cousin Terri and I moved as little as possible in preparation for our big expedition of the day – a trip to the bridge. It was already near sweltering so we thought it best to do as little as possible. All we needed to do was fill our energy reserves and we’d be all set to go. Dad was reading the paper as Mom, Aunt Jean and Grandma battled the heat and those sandwiches. Terri and I sat at the table, oblivious to their efforts and impatient for lunch so we could get on with our day.

Grandma leaned into the fridge, no doubt enjoying a brief respite from the sauna of the kitchen. Then disaster struck at 11:30. In an attempt to nudge past the Jell-O to get a jar of pickles she tipped over the unset dessert. Sweet fruit flavoured water splashed down and coated the bottom of the fridge. In a prime example of poor timing, Michelle bounded through the door at that very moment. “When’s lunch Grandma?” she grinned, showing off the gaps where her adult teeth had yet to grow in. Time froze for a few awkward moments. Grandma, crouching in front of the fridge, slowly turned her head towards the door.

“Get your own goddamn lunch,” she said. Terri and I looked at each other, stunned. We turned to Michelle, whose fine blonde hair was nearly standing on end, blue eyes as big as saucers, her bottom lip trembling. The three of us bolted out the door and huddled on the lawn next to the house.

Terri and I were forever making Michelle ask Grandma for stuff – sheets to make forts outside, the badminton rackets, a ride to Tender Tootsies in town. When Michelle complained we were always forcing her to ask Grandma for stuff we chimed, “You’re the youngest, everybody likes you better.” I was 10, chubby and shy and Terri, at 9 years old, was the lanky opposite of me but outgrowing her cuteness.

Michelle, at the tender age of seven, still had wispy hair that turned nearly white in the summer. She was missing her front teeth. She was funny and coy and knew how to use her cherubic cuteness to her advantage. Of course, Terri and I were onto her act, but Grandma? Was it the heat? To make matters worse, nobody – not Dad, Mom or Aunt Jean – had bothered to come out and see if we were okay.

We needed a plan. To the bridge it was, lunch or no goddamn lunch. And we wouldn’t even tell anyone we were leaving. So off we went, looking back at the house now and then, just to see if anyone would come running out with a bag of sandwiches to sustain our trip. But no one did.

The Bridge
The bridge was as much a tradition as our soup and sandwich lunches back in those days. In reality, it was about a one-kilometre walk. For us, it was an afternoon expedition. Once we got to the end of Grandma and Grandpa’s laneway, we’d turn left and hike down the gravel road past Robbie and Myrah Simpson’s farm. Robbie and Myrah’s place was to the right. On the left, the land was still Grandma and Grandpa’s property and at that point in the trip, we’d pass the beehives. More often than not, I’d end up running past them since I was (and still am) dreadfully afraid of bees. Anyway, after the beehives we’d turn right and keep walking until we hit the bridge, unless something else – a massive mud puddle or maybe a furry caterpillar caught our fancy.

The bridge was a simple concrete structure, crossing the Thames River. It was built when Mom was in high school in the 1960s, to replace the old red metal structure that criss-crossed overhead. Grandma had old black and white photos of the old bridge in the big trunk in the spare bedroom Mom and Dad slept in. My first memories of the place are going to the bridge on a fishing expedition with Dad and Michelle when I was six. Michelle was just a toddler and started crying when she realized we weren’t fishing off the bridge, rather we had to walk through the long grass to the water. Finally, Dad got us both back in the car and brought Michelle back to the farm. Dad and I returned for fishing and about five minutes into it, the old rod he’d found in one of the barns snapped.

Now the bridge was different. We kids rarely went there with our parents now. It was our place, where we’d confide in one another and plan our lives. Eventually, it was under the bridge that baby sister of mine would teach me how to properly inhale a cigarette.

Our Great Escape
When we got there that afternoon we were relieved to be away from the farm. We stayed on top for a while, leaning our chins on the railing and just staring at the current below. We could never tell how deep it really was. All I know is it looked pretty black. We never tried swimming in it, nor did we see anyone else attempt to. The most contact we had that day and any time we went to the bridge was throwing rocks into the river. Better than just tossing the rocks overhand was dropping them through the grates meant to let the rain run through. We didn’t quite know where the rocks would drop so we’d stare at the water, watching for tiny rings.

“I’m going under,” Terri announced. She went back to the start of the bridge and walked down the grassy slope, then turned and disappeared underneath. Michelle, who’d outgrown her fear of the long yellow grass, darted after her. I sighed then followed my sister.

Under the bridge, the grass gave way to rocks. Terri stood, hands on hips, surveying our new surroundings. Michelle wandered closer to the water and found a stick. She poked at the rocks. “Don’t go too close to the edge,” I said, not wanting her to fall, which would inevitably lead to my getting in trouble.

My stomach growled, but I didn’t say anything. I knew going back to the farm wasn’t an option. We hadn’t been gone nearly long enough and going back for something to eat would be like admitting defeat. I sat down on the rocks. “I wish there was more wood under here. Then we could build a fort,” I said.

“Yeah, then we’d never have to go back,” Terri agreed. Despite my hunger, I didn’t even think of the fact that we wouldn’t have food. Michelle worked on turning rocks over with her stick. She was frowning, the same way Dad did when he was reading the paper. I wasn’t sure whether it meant she was concentrating on the rocks or what we were saying.

“We could always go back and steal some sheets,” I said. “Yeah, Michelle couldn’t ask for them,” Terri replied. She looked at me and we started laughing. Michelle just kept quietly poking at the rocks.

I stood up and brushed off the backside of my jeans. “Let’s go back up,” I said and started up. Terri sprinted past me, then Michelle. I muttered under my breath, annoyed that my chunky legs didn’t move as fast as theirs and embarrassed that I was out of breath by the time I got back to the edge of the bridge.

We stood back in the same spot we had earlier, tossing rocks into the water. A dirty white car came from the opposite direction of Grandma and Grandpa’s and started over the bridge. The driver, a man about the same age as Grandpa, waved and honked. We had no clue who he was, but people were always waving and honking around here, so we waved back.

Our Return
Then we heard a car coming from the other way, and slowing down to a stop. We looked over and it was my Dad in his aqua Mustang with the bucket seats. “What are you guys doing out here?” he asked. He didn’t sound worried or angry, just curious. “Nothing,” we replied in unison. “Well, get in the car. Supper’s almost ready,” he said. We piled in, feeling defeated. They didn’t even miss us.

The Jell-O incident wasn’t discussed for years. In my teens I asked Mom if she remembered it. She confessed that after we’d fled the kitchen, every adult in the room burst out laughing. Finally, at that moment all those years later, so did I.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to be a good client

Ever have one of those days when you wished you could fire a client?

Many years ago, when I was working retail at a one hour photo lab (I'm really dating myself now, aren't I?), I had my first instance of wanting to kick a customer where it counts. I can't remember what the issue was, but suffice to say I was close to tears by the time he had finished loudly berating me in front of everyone else in the store, coworkers and other customers alike. My manager calmly walked up to the counter and said, "We won't charge you for your order. Now please leave and don't come back again. I won't have you speaking to my staff like that."

I was in awe. "Can my manager really do that?" I wondered to myself. He did. And the business thrived under his management. He cared about his staff and it showed in our performance.

Sorry, tangent. My point is, do you want to be that client? Because a good business person, whether a retail manager, a freelance creative, or an agency president will fire a bad client if they need to. Yes, the economy stinks. But a good business person knows that their sanity and that of their staff (and perhaps their family, in the case of the freelancer) isn't worth it.

Isn't being tough a good thing?
While you may think being difficult is the best way to get what you want, often it stalls and outright derails projects. I'm not talking about being a strong, colourful character who brings ideas to the table. I'm talking about the know-it-alls, the argumentative, the time wasters, and the "Let's yell at the administrator because I'm having a shitty day," kind of client.

In short, good clients enable the experts they have contracted to get things done. Here's how you can be a good client.

1. Commit your time to the project.
You would think that if an individual or a company is ready to pay a professional the big bucks, they would be equally willing to commit their time. Yes, delegating time to your staff is fine, that's what they get paid for, right? But in the end, if you're the business owner, it's your baby. You need to be there for the important meetings. You need to look at every item you approve. Otherwise, you run the risk of discovering something is missing, or worse yet, wrong, when it's too late.

2. Be prepared for our first meeting.
You know your business best. I need to know what your pains are, what your objectives are, and what your clients want. This way, we can all work together to eliminate those nasty pains, and see where your objectives and your client's objectives overlap. That gives us an excellent starting point. Being unprepared simply wastes time. And the adage that time is money is true for both of us.

3. Answer my questions.
I swear, I am not calling you or emailing you questions after our meeting to make your life difficult or because I'm exceedingly lonely. I want to get the job done, and get it done right. And if I keep asking you the same question in different ways? It's because you didn't answer it when I first asked it! When you refuse to answer my questions because you're busy, or because you assume I should know the answer already, it does nothing to move the project forward. And it puts me in a negative frame of mind. Remember, you're paying me to do a job!

4. Remember that sometimes, mistakes happen.
As much as I wish it wasn't the case, shit happens sometimes. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my work, so believe me when I say it probably hurts me more than it hurts you when I make a mistake. Yes, I'll take my lumps, but there's no need to berate me, much less take it out on someone who isn't to blame, like the office manager, or my colleague if I'm away on the particular day you call. Let me know you're disappointed, but let me know how I can fix the problem and I guarantee you, I will go above and beyond to make you happy. You may even forget about the mistake that made you so angry to begin with.

5. Admit when you are wrong.
Yeah, I know, this is hard for many of us in our personal lives, much less our professional lives. A creative friend actually inspired today's post with a Facebook status about a client, a real estate agent who wanted an open house ad, and forgot to give the team an address. Kind of critical to having an open house, no? Anyway, instead of apologizing when called by the agency, the client screamed, yelled, bitched, moaned, and, get this, said the address wasn't necessary. Yes, you read that correctly. Admit you're wrong and move on.

Creatives and clients alike: any suggestions on other qualities that make for a good client?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hello contentpalooza

Alright, I haven't written in a while. Well, rather, I haven't blogged. Yeah, yeah, don't write about not blogging and maybe people won't notice.

Anyway, I've been trying to get back into it. But starting a new job in August, the insanity that comes with having a pre-schooler and my partner in crime's fall schedule doing school photography has meant blogging has been firmly placed on the back burner.

I'm just not one of those people who can wake up at 3am, work out, write, then serve a nutritious hot breakfast to my family. Leisurely walk to daycare while encouraging my son to stop at every leaf, flower and tree. Drop him off and get to work with half an hour to spare, enjoy coffee and the paper as my colleagues trickle in.

I'm more like press snooze, wake up in a panic realizing I actually turned off the alarm, say goodbye to the husband who is on his way out the door, inspire my child to wake up and get ready by barking orders like a drill sergeant, trying to make the kid pick one of two healthy cereals rather than the weekend sugar bombs, then dashing for the bus, doing daycare drop-off and heading for work. Work my ass off and try not to panic at looming deadlines. Come home, drop dead. Wake up next day and repeat.

Sorry, I got sidetracked there.

Then I saw it: #contentpalooza in a tweet from @violetzombie.

It's about content (duh). It's an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, when writers write a novel in one month. I've seen a 50,000 word count mentioned here and there. Anyway, contentpalooza seems to mean different thing to different writers. But the key is producing content for 30 days. In a row, not over a year.

Someone I'll no doubt draw inspiration from is my friend, artiste Bret Taylor, who is has been painting every day for just under 700 days. He had his first solo art show last month, which is a huge deal, right? And who has an art show because they paint every now and then?

Any successful writer will tell you to write every day (Stephen King does just that in On Writing). And any successful creator will tell you to create every day.

No concrete goals, just write
So I'll be honest. Right now, I don't have a goal in mind other than blogging every day. I'm hoping that by doing this, I'll get some ideas for projects I can work on. I'm happy that I make a living writing and I'm certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds. However, I always promised myself that whether I was writing full-time for money or not, I would always work on my own creative projects.

Maybe by putting some ideas down in writing here, it will give me the motivation I need to start exploring some of them.

My ideas
1. Write more about my grandparents' farm. I've toyed with using those memories as inspiration for creative non-fiction but I've been a chicken about it.
2. Write more about the causes I support. Yeah, I know, I don't want to become a one-issue writer. But I'm finding my passion for local issues is becoming stronger. Maybe I need to do something about it.
3. Interview and write about my friends who seem to have become content creation machines. Pro: it will give me a kick in the ass. Con: it may be the easy way out, since it would be easy to take the lazy way out and let them tell the story.
4. Hash out creative issues I'm having in my 9-5 job and see if I can resolve them myself or perhaps solicit advice from readers.
5. Explore the unexplored? Not really sure what I mean by that...

I'm not going to put a word count on this because I'm really starting from nothing. Well, nothing since July. Anyway, I think I'm done for tonight. See you all again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Weekend to End Women's Cancers Fundraiser

Hi everyone. I'm stoked and extremely grateful to announce that Wendy D Photography and Juggernauts team captain Chrissy Watson are hosting a fundraiser for the Weekend to End Women's Cancers. Yep, that's my team (well, Chrissy's team, really) and it promises to be a great time.

For a minimum donation of $20 come and get a fun, fabulous photo by Wendy D. Find out more at the Get Your Pink on! Facebook page.

If you can't make it but want to give to the cause, visit or click on the fancy pink badge below.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Walking for Sue

Okay, so it's getting to crunch time with the Weekend to End Women's Cancers. I'm just over half-way to raising the minimum $2,000 and the cut-off for mailing in cheque donations is July 22. (Online donations made by day one of the walk [August 13] will count towards my minimum.)

When I started out, I shared some stories about the people I'm walking for - my cousin Pam who shared her story on my blog, and Joyce, a family friend who passed away last winter.

There is one story I have been hesitant to share. My mother-in-law, Sue, died six months before my husband and I got married. That's her with my husband, he's the wee guy in front, my sister-in-law Connie on the right and cousin John on the left. John's wife, Chrissy, is the captain of the Juggernauts, the team I'm doing the walk with.

Sue had lung cancer, which technically isn't one of the women's cancers I'm walking for. However, lung cancer accounts for more than 1/4 of cancer deaths every year. There was a point when I recall studies indicated that lung cancer rates were climbing for women, though according to the Canadian Cancer Society, those rates are now leveling off.

My point is, whatever the type of cancer she had, the sense of loss I felt when she died was beyond anything I could have imagined. She is the most significant woman in my life who I have lost to cancer.

We didn't know each other for that long. We had only met each other a handful of times before George and I got engaged one spring. I do clearly remember him calling his parents that night. I also remember her excitedly shouting, "Connie, you have a sister!" when I was on the phone with her.

From Tom Jones to Loss, Sadness & Anger
I remember staying up late with her, George and Joyce (who I've mentioned) drinking way too much wine. Sue and I bonded over our mutual fondness of Tom Jones and George Carlin. I remember her laughing at my hungover state the next day. It wasn't long after this that she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

She stayed positive for much of her treatment, which included removing a good chunk of one lung (may have been the entire lung, my husband and I can't remember which it was), chemo and radiation. She cut out a picture from a magazine of the dress she wanted to get for her son's and my destination wedding booked the following spring. And she talked about how much she wanted to see the Mayan Ruins on our trip. Before Christmas that year, she died. December 6, 1997.

I won't go into details. I think most of us have lost someone close to us to cancer. In the end, it looks the same. And in the end, that sense of loss, sadness and anger is similar for many of us, though the reasons behind those emotions may vary. I selfishly felt ripped off. Here was this amazing person who became a part of my life and poof, gone. I was devastated watching my significant other, my father-in-law and sister-in-law work through grief in their own ways.

The Ways I Miss Her
I still miss her in many ways. I miss Sue when:

1) Our son asks about "my other Grandma."

2) Our son does something quirky and I can't ask her whether her kids did the same thing. (Let's face it, moms have a memory bank like no other.).

3) I look at a picture of her and my husband.

4) I look at a picture of her and my father-in-law, her usually laughing and him usually looking mischievous.

5) I hear someone refer to having one too many as being in their cups.

6) I hear Tom Jones' Delilah.

7) I go through my jewelry and see one of her rings.

8) Mother's Day.

9) My husband tells a funny childhood story - I want to hear her version of it!

10) I see the colour peach (it was the colour of the dress she wanted to wear at our wedding - must have been a favourite, judging by the above photo of her with George, who gets a huge thanks for allowing me to share his family photos).

So my point of all this is, regardless of the type of cancer she died of, I miss my mother-in-law. A lot. And if by taking part in the Weekend to End Women's Cancers I help prevent someone else from feeling that mixture of loss, sadness and anger, I'll feel like I accomplished something truly significant.

If you wish to donate, simply click on the pink badge at the top of this story or click here. If you prefer to mail a cheque, there's a form you need to print out on the website which ensures your donation goes towards my fundraising efforts. Or you can do it online with a credit card. If you're feeling particularly brave, you could also join our team. Let 'em know I sent you when you fill out your info online and that will raise another $100 on my behalf!

Thanks again and much love to all who have donated. It really means a lot to me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Words Matter - The Vancouver Riot Aftermath

Words matter.

I think most Vancouver Canucks fans who weren't downtown cringed when they heard and saw the first reports of the riots. Supposed fans in team jerseys - if they weren't burning them, that is - setting fire to police cars, fighting, throwing bricks and bottles at police and eventually trashing our city core, looting businesses.

Eventually, they turned on reporters they were at first so eager to show off for, realizing the news cameras were capturing evidence. (Never mind the fact that they used their own phones to take pictures they proudly posted on Facebook later. Talk about evidence).

Then came the comments on various social media, implying that if this was the way Canucks fans reacted, the team didn't deserve to win. That these "fans" proved Vancouver had no class and that we all, Vancouverites and our city as a whole, were crap.

The fans hit back. They argued that no, these rioters weren't true fans. They were rent-a-rioters, the same people who show up at any large public event or any protest, bent on creating violence and mayhem. The critics dug in. They said it was semantics. Wearing the Canucks logo? You're a fan, regardless of your motivation to head downtown yesterday, regardless of whether or not you packed your handy scarf to hide your face and molotov cocktails.

And yes, I was offended.

I complain about this city a lot. I complain about the cost of living, the dearth of affordable childcare, the growth of the gap between the rich and poor. Yet, I love it. I don't think I realized how much I love Vancouver until I kept waking up early this morning, shaken by the images I had seen on TV last night.

I didn't watch hockey until I moved here 12 years ago. I'm not the hardest of hardcore fans, I'm pretty middle-of-the-road. Many of my friends are Canucks fans. Not a single one was rioting last night.

Chief Constable Jim Chu noted in his statement this morning: "...our city was still vulnerable to a number of young men and women disguised as Canuck fans who were actually criminals and anarchists (emphasis mine).

These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles, gasoline and even fire extinguishers that they would use as weapons.

We recognized some of the same criminals among them who took part in the vandalism during the Olympics.

This criminal element within the crowd was responsible for the burning of 15 cars, including two police cars."

Some say the arrested include folks from Seattle and Portland, the same ones who let loose in Toronto during the G20. And there was certainly the bridge and tunnel contingent, the same drunken losers who like coming to the West End to beat up anyone they perceive to be gay and cause fights during the yearly Celebration of Light fireworks displays.

Not fans, in other words.

No, the fans were out early this morning, cleaning the city up. Putting it back together.

Meanwhile, the real fans would like an apology from the critics. Eat your words.

*You will notice I haven't posted any riot photos. I was at home so I didn't take any. I think we've seen enough of them anyway. Instead, I posted shots of people who helped clean up our city.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Freelance, I've Missed You

Let me get this straight right off. There are plenty of things that are great about my job in particular and about having a regular, 9-5 gig in general. But freelance reporting? Man, I've missed you.

When I first started freelancing many moons ago, it was tough. All that work to be told "no thanks" many times over seemed masochistic but I persisted.

And then I got it. I figured out how to turn writing about things I liked doing into assignments - at the time, I was spending a lot of spare time in a dragon boat so I started pitching articles about it. I rewrote and sold the same story 3 or 4 times. And I was hooked. Yeah, there was still rejection involved and the work of constantly networking, researching, pitching. But I had figured out how to rock it.

I balanced freelance with a part-time job for several years. Before having my son, I assumed I would file stories as my angelic baby would peacefully nap, play or contemplate life. Yeah, right.

Reality Bites
Reality hit a couple months into my maternity leave. I would still need daycare if I actually wanted to get work done, at home or otherwise. And without full-time work? It would be impossible to afford. Oh, and the PPD that turned me from a sometimes-neurotic artiste into a sobbing mess? Yeah, staying at home was not going to be my cup of tea if I wanted to save a sliver of sanity and actually be a half-decent parent.

So I found full-time work as a writer. I'm now at a different job, but still plugging away at a career as a writer in communications and marketing. But you know what? I still miss freelance reporting because:

1) It gives me the freedom to write about something I enjoy and/or feel passionate about.
2) I work with editors I like.
3) I get to meet and learn more about cool people.

A Little Inspiration
During a yoga class a few months ago, the teacher who was leading it struck a nerve with me - and I mean in a good way. Something he said made me think, "He has a story to tell. And I will not stop until it's told." I did a few more of his classes and kept thinking the same thing. I contacted my editor at Xtra West, who I had kept in touch with, and she agreed.

You can see the result, my interview with the fabulous yogi and singer Will Blunderfield at on the Xtra West website, with photos by my deliriously-talented husband, George Smeltzer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Poem for Pam

The internet can be a beautiful thing. Shortly after I posted my cousin Pam's breast cancer story, her niece Emily (my second cousin? first cousin once removed?) contacted me on Facebook. We have never met in person but chatted online about Pam.

Emily shared this poem with me that she wrote in honor of Pam. I wanted to share it with you. Thank you, Emily, for letting me post this.


Pink is the ribbon pinned to your sweater, filling your fears with peace as you gently touch it’s smooth and silky material - for you know it’s meaning.
It’s the colour you favored as a young girl, silently dreaming of princesses, wishing you would someday fill their perfectly polished heels.
It’s the colour of these walls that slowly box you in,
It’s your favourite bear whose soft body comforts you when the pain kicks in, who sleeps on the bedside table, silently watching over you like an angel.
It’s your favourite shade of lipstick, the colour of your socks hidden by the long paper gown that loudly crinkles with every breath you take.
Pink are the roses, lifeless like you, so dull yet vibrant, sad yet full of hope -
Pink is your outlet - soft, sweet, and melodic.
Pink is the colour of change, you discover, looking in the cracked mirror as you’re taught how to wear a headscarf, weeping in your husbands arms at the amount of change everything has brought.
Pink has become who you are and what you stand for -
through surgeries and treatments, through salty tears and restless nights, and through the robbery of who you once were;
pink is the colour of unity between women worldwide
race, religion, politics - they are all discarded
for we are all one in pink, the symbol of life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Someone to Walk for - Part 2

One of the people I am waking for in the Weekend to End Women's Cancers is my cousin Pam. Here is Part 2 of Pam's story in her own words, which details her treatment and support network.

The Mammogram Experience
I finally got my appointment for my first of many mammograms, and it truly was not as bad as what I was told. Here in my hometown we have a breast cancer screening clinic with digital mammography machines and they are amazing. To quote Erma Bombeck (sort of), it was NOT a case of open door, insert boob and slam shut! I will admit it was not comfortable but I didn't find it painful.

TIP: Don't look down! Do you really need to see how flat your boob will go? and what you don't see, won't hurt as bad. But regardless, it was a necessary 'evil' in my journey. After the initial mammogram, I was scheduled for an ultrasound, and then a core biopsy of the actual lump (not pleasant).

My Advocate
While all this was going on, my poor mother was dragged into almost every appointment with me to act as my eyes, ears, and brain at times, to listen and question the medical professionals. Being a retired registered nurse made her invaluable to me both as a professional herself, and my mom. I don't care how old one gets....I still needed my mommy through this! I knew myself that I had what I call "trigger words' that would just set my brain off spinning, and by the time I got myself pulled together mentally, I'd missed the next three sentences out of the doctors mouth, so my mom took over for me at those points.

I also had my medical vocabulary vastly expanded which is a must if you are to understand what is happening and going to happen to your own body. Cancer has a language all its own and my mom lovingly translated it for me even though I know she was truly worried from her core for me. But being a professional, she kept the facts clinical, straightforward and to the point for both of us.

I finally got into see the surgeon/cancer specialist and yes there was an anomaly in a couple of cells. I was told that I had DCIS - ductal carcinoma in situ (cancer in the milk duct) and that although what they found was very small (less then 1 cm) it should be removed. I had to make the decision: how much was to go? At 43, I had to decide if I wanted just the lump removed or to have the whole breast taken.

I opted for just the lump and a small section of tissue in the surrounding area removed. Later they would find that there was a microscopic hole in the tumor, indicating that even one single cell could have traveled beyond the breast, so I was scheduled to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy done. Luckily the results came back that all the nodes they had removed were clear of any cancer. Oh Happy Birthday to me. Yes, I managed to have another birthday during all this.

By the time my second surgery was done with the lymph nodes, over six months had gone by. I still had to have 20 radiation treatments just as a precaution to make sure they got all the cancer cells. I was scheduled for my treatments over 5 weeks. Every day I went to the regional cancer centre here in Kitchener, ON, and every day I met with my team of radiation specialists. Somehow with their help and compassion, I managed to keep my sense of humour and my ‘fight’. After my last treatment, I think I ran out of the hospital to the car with a "Get me the hell out of here!" Right after that, I went home and collapsed from emotional exhaustion.

Sweet Freedom
My last appointment with my oncologist was the news that anyone in my position wants to hear. "We got it all! You are cancer-free." And then I was told that because the lymph biopsy was clear, they felt confident that my 'cancer-free' date was May 2009.

During all this, I had tremendous support from my family and my co-workers and a magnificent group of girlfriends. The "Wine Club" girls were my lifeline and they kept me laughing, even during the tough surgical recovery times. My partner at the time was also one of my biggest supporters right up there with my mom.

My Advice
My advice to all women is to be diligent in your own health. Get to know your own body, as early detection is key to your health. The earlier you find anything the better your chances are of a full recovery. And if you do find something, do not procrastinate. Get your butt into your doctor and get it taken care of. Fear could kill you!

I was also loaned a book from the wife of the pastor of my church, Denise Elliott and she herself is a breast cancer survivor. In this book was a single sentence that changed how I was to view myself and my new body image.

"I love my scars. They saved my life."

I do not view them as disfigurement. They are my badge of honour/survival. Without them, I very well might be dead.

In honour of my own journey, I had a tattoo done for myself that is of a wonderful childhood memory: a monarch butterfly. In place of a regular black body is a pink ribbon. On my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, I am going to have the word "survivor" written alongside my butterfly.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of Pam's story if you missed it. Thanks again for donations to this worthy cause.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Someone to Walk For - Part 1

I am honored to be walking for my cousin Pam (the lady to the left) in the Weekend to End Women's Cancers. She was treated for breast cancer at age 43. Today, she is doing well.

I asked her if she would mind sharing her story. I anticipated doing this in typical journalistic style. But she wrote it so well, that I'm going to simply post Pam's story in her words.

Here is Part 1 of Pam's story.

Due Diligence

First I have to go back to a little earlier in my life to have anyone reading this understand why it is so important to be diligent in one's own health. Over 20 years ago I switched family doctors and my new doc took into consideration the fact that I was an adoptee, in making recommendations to me with regards to what I needed to do yearly. One of her recommendations was that I have a complete physical at the very least, every other year. I did one better by having it done yearly, and I did so from the age of about 23, up to and including now.

During one of my first physicals, I had my doctor show me how to properly do a self breast exam, and I've been doing them ever since every month. So when I did finally find something, I knew with absolute certainty that it had NOT been there the month before or was too small for me to detect at that time.

In January of 2009 at the age of 43, my life changed forever. During one of my, by now routine, self exams, I found what no woman ever wants to find. A LUMP. That word took on a life of its own. The very next day I called my doctor and was told that I could not get in that day but the next day they had an opening. That was not going to do me any good as I was leaving that day for my vacation in Cuba for a week. So, I booked an appointment for the day after I returned. Cuba was wonderful but I constantly had my future playing in the back of my mind.

The Diagnosis
Upon my return, I went to my appointment the next day, and I got to hear the words, "this warrants further investigation" and see a look of concern on my doctor's face. Sitting there in my gown on the table in the examining room, I could feel my brain goes into self-talk mode with the mantra, "Don’t panic, don't panic, and don’t panic!!! BREATHE dammit!!!!!!!!!!"

So, I calmly got dressed, made my way out to the reception desk, was told that they would call me when my referral appointments were booked, said thank you and left.

I got in my car and proceeded to drive home and on the way, in my medical information haze, I drove through a red light with a police cruiser RIGHT BEHIND ME!!! About two whole blocks later I finally saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror and realized they were not chasing some deviant criminal. They were chasing me! The officer came to the window and I still had no idea why I was pulled over. I'm not sure why but the officer gave me a stern warning that I needed to concentrate on the road and let me go at that. I took his advice long enough to get home in one piece.

I walked around in a daze for the rest of the weekend, and by Saturday evening, I had my first of many short-lived private pity parties. The pity party would start with just that....self pity (the why me's), which would set off a whole series of emotions, tears included, that always ended with the self talk inside my head, yelling to just knock it off, do what you have to do and get over this.

One thing I do know, is that anyone that has been told they may have or do have cancer, all of us have had that fleeting moment where one has to entertain the thought of dying. I know I did and I hate to admit this, but it was NOT a fleeting moment. I even went so far as to make sure I had a will which until all this happened, was always one of those things I would get done, someday.

Part 2 of Pam's story will be published next week. In the meantime, any donations to the Weekend to End Women's Cancers are greatly appreciated.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tell Cancer to Take a Hike

I'm sick of losing people to cancer. This past year, cancer has been a particularly giant asshole. Three friends lost significant women in their lives to cancer. They were moms, grandmas, good people.

We lost a dear family friend, Joyce Schwartz, to breast cancer which had metastasized to her brain. The sad irony is she was a pillar of strength when my mother-in-law, Sue Smeltzer, died after a brief but brutal battle with lung cancer. At the time, she lived next door to my father-in-law and checked in on him often to make sure he was doing okay.

A couple years after Sue died, my husband and I moved to the West Coast. We kept in touch, sent Christmas cards along with photos my husband had taken, usually a scenic shot of Vancouver. Joyce had once lived out here and was happy that we had decided to try our hand at life out here.

As it often goes when you move far away from friends, we didn't talk to her nearly enough. Last summer I went home for a visit with our son. My father-in-law picked up his grandson and took his home in the Ottawa Valley for the day. He told me he'd taken him to see Joyce as he thought it would cheer her up. It was only then that I learned that her cancer had come back. She died last winter.

So in August, I'll be taking part in the 60 km, two-day Weekend to End Women's Cancers walk with my friend Chrissy as part of her team, The Juggernauts, to do our part to give cancer the old heave ho. Join us and tell cancer to take a hike. Make a donation, join us for a walk ('cause yeah, I really have to start training) or come and cheer us on. Any support you can give us is greatly appreciated.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Explaining Rainbows & Dodging the Bullet

My son is 4 years old. That means we're really in to words now. We're into rhyming, sounding things out and even trying a bit of spelling now and then. And he wants to know what every single one means. Sometimes, it is surprisingly easy.

Walking with daddy a while back they passed someone with a rainbow patch on his jacket. "Why does he have a rainbow?" our son asked. "Well, because he's gay," said daddy. "What's gay?" Perhaps because he was honestly curious about what I would say and I'm the one who writes on and off for Xtra West, daddy told him to ask me when he saw me later that day.

"Well, you know how mommy and daddy are a couple, we're together, right? Well, if two men are a couple or if two women are a couple, they are 'gay'," I said. (I wasn't going to get into explaining the the entire LGBTQ alphabet soup just yet). "Oh, okay," said M and that was that. See, easy, right? I was feeling cocky.

Well, life knows how to keep cockiness in line. You may recall recently one of our cats, Bella, had to be euthanized. Friends volunteered to take our son out that morning. He knew the cat was very sick. I told him she was dying and that he needed to say goodbye before he left; that she wouldn't be there when he came back. I was crying, so maybe he didn't ask questions because of that.

The next morning he sprinted into our room, climbed on top of my husband and asked, "When's Bella coming back?" This time it was his turn and frankly, I was relieved that he got this one. "Buddy, she's dead. She's not coming back." The other day, my son said, "Bella's with Grandma Sue." He knows his Grandma Sue died before mommy and daddy got married, so daddy must have had to elaborate on his answer at some point.

Then last weekend, the vet dropped of the urn - yeah, we're those people - and before he got to our place, I panicked. "What if M asks what's inside?" I asked my husband. I'm not a fan of sugarcoating things. Give me rainbow flags over that damned Rainbow Bridge poem any day please, because we all know how I am about death. Love is easy for me. Death? Not so much.

Don't get me wrong: I don't set out to scare or scar my kid. But at the same time, I don't want him to be misinformed. I tell him as much as I think he needs to know in basic terms and sometimes (like last weekend) I also cross my fingers that he doesn't ask for more. How do you explain cremation to a 4-year-old? Yikes.

Luckily, we dodged the bullet on that one. He didn't ask. But I'm sure one day he will notice the two urns, one Bella's, the other Bob's (another feline) on the shelf. Hopefully I'll be equipped to answer that one without giving my kid nightmares.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Fog is Lifting

For the past while, I've been trying to figure out what the hell my problem is. Yeah, there have been deaths - most recently one of our furry felines - and stresses of other sorts, but I knew deep down that wasn't it.

Recently, I landed a freelance piece with an editor I used to write for on a regular basis. I haven't written for her in about three years, not since I returned to working full-time after my maternity leave. Anyway, there was a story idea that had been nagging at me that would be just perfect for her publication. (I'm not giving more away until the story has actually gone to print. Call me superstitious.)

I finally pitched it. She said yes. I did an interview with my story's subject. It went well, we flowed well together, interviewer and interviewee, which makes writing a profile on said interviewee that much easier. Afterwards he noted how easy it had been talking to me. And I remembered a former colleague having said I was good at putting people at ease. "Yes, I'm back!" I thought to myself. I was pumped!

And then I waited. My editor is away on vacation and told me to have my completed story in her in-box in three weeks, in time for her return. Then life happened. Specifically, I had a terrible couple of weeks. I had to make some stressful grown-up decisions that just about sucked the life out of me. Forward to one week shy of my editor's return and I figured I was actually going to have to write this thing. After procrastinating further by going for coffee with a friend when I was supposed to be writing, it was time.

It was slow going at first. I flipped through my notes and cued up my digital voice recorder. I reheated my coffee. And then it came. I actually remembered what it was like to write a journalistic feature story. I didn't have to start at the beginning, I just had to start writing and I could reorganize everything - descriptions, anecdotes and quotes - however I see fit. Hearing my interviewee speak I had that, "Holy shit, THIS is what my story is really about," moment and damn, did it feel amazing. I realize that when I write this way, I have the control I have been seriously lacking in other areas of my life lately.

Yes, folks, I'm going to have to do this more often. It's been way too long.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finding the Words

Lately, it seems I've been signing an awful lot of sympathy cards. Deaths in families (my own and those of friends), a devastating miscarriage. And death brings with it plenty of opportunities for awkwardness. The awkward in-person, "I'm sorry."

And then there's the sympathy card or letter if you're trying to communicate the appropriate expression of grief to a friend or family member who is far away or if you're simply someone who is the card-giving type. The problem starts right from the moment you select the card, as noted in the above video by Lynn Harrison. Then comes writing in it.

I likely put more pressure on myself because I write for a living. But to be honest, in most cases, I have to keep emotions out of my professional writing.

If I'm writing a story for a publication, I'm being paid for an impartial, "just the facts, ma'am" account of events. As noted before in this blog, it's part of the reason I never had an interest in being a reporter on the daily city news sort of beat - sometimes keeping emotions in check, particularly when writing about death, can be a challenge. Passion can certainly drive a story, but emotion is supposed to remain locked out. Unless you're a columnist.

These days, my day job has me writing about software. No worries there about having to pour my heart out and feeling all weird and exposed.

But acknowledging someone's grief in a way that may help them for a moment feel some sort of peace? That's hard. And maybe it's not even the purpose of sending a sympathy card or note. Write too much and you're in danger of making it all about you. I distinctly remember the intense sorrow I felt when my mother-in-law died, the feeling of being cheated of getting to know her better, etc. And now you see? Yeah, that's all about me.

Write too little and how does it come off? "So sorry. Please let me know if I can do anything." Empty. Because any of us who have lost a loved one know that those who truly will drop their lives to "do anything" will simply do it, not say, "Tell me when." But what's the happy medium?

I googled "bad sympathy cards" and got a few links to sites that essentially give you fill-in-the-blanks suggestions for what to write. It seems wrong, but maybe this is one case where what you say doesn't really matter. Damned if I know.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mystery of the Biaxin Sumo Baby

So I was getting my son's antibiotics the other day and noticed a picture of a sumo baby on the box. "Weird," I thought. I took a photo of it and posted it on facebook. My friends agreed.

One speculated that the meds taste like dirty sumo thongs. It only took a simple wikipedia search to find out that Clarithromycin (of which Biaxin is one of several brand names) was invented by a Japanese drug company.

I have to admit I was hoping for something a little more intriguing that actually involved, well, sumo wrestlers. Why not Mount Fuji? Or a Geisha? Sashimi? But there you have it.

Now I'm on a search for other odd logos and the stories behind them. Any suggestions?