Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The invincible iPod

In late June of 2011 I make a deal with my youngest daughter. If she helps me with the garden and a number of other extra chores around the house for the entire summer, her parents will help her to buy her own iPod Touch complete with a neon green protective case. And so, every day, she is found out in the yard watering the strawberries and cucumbers, pulling weeds and completing and checking off a list of indoor chores so that she can get a little machine like her sisters'. It seems like a win-win deal, especially on some of our longer travel days during our vacation to the coast. She plays a little frog game for hours without complaint, amusing herself and her sisters, too.

Early on said trip, we go up to the top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in Montana and have a marvelous time climbing around on a gorgeous glacier. As we run back toward the eco-friendly transit buses, I just happen to see a neon green flash in the sunlit snow. Julia's iPod has flipped from her pocket after she has been its proud owner for all of a week. I scoop it up with the definite feeling that the invincible iPod will have many similar adventures.

A week later, we climb Mount Tzouhalem on Vancouver Island with my friend, Cathy. As we come back down, Julia discovers that the invincible iPod is not in her pocket where she last put it. So we scour the trails, but there is no sign of the thing. Cathy phones home when we're back in cellphone range... and her husband tells us that there is a neon green iPod on the kitchen table. Whew.

Flash forward to a sunny October day. I'm doing the laundry because the weather is perfect for hanging sheets out on the line one more time. My husband calls from work as I realize that the washing machine is shouting a loud, rhythmic KLUNK, KLUNK, KLUNK! As we talk, I comment that there's a loud noise coming up from the basement, and Lee jokes that maybe Julia's iPod is in the washer. My heart sinks... and I hang up and run down to find a soapy, wet, but invincible iPod with a neon green case. I feel terrible, but I had spoken to Julia only a few days earlier about keeping her portable electronic device in a safe place. I guess her idea of a safe place was the last one I would have considered. I take the thing and set it on a heat register for a couple of days, but its microphone is no longer invincible. Oh well.

Two weeks after that, the doorbell rings. When I go to the door, there are three neighbourhood boys trying to find the rightful owner of an iPod in a neon green case... I tell Julia that she can have it back when she comes up with a good way to thank those boys. Two weeks later, she delivers cupcakes to their doorsteps, and the invincible iPod is hers once more.

The iPod is more invincible than I ever expected... but even so, it is prone to being misplaced frequently, usually turning up within a few hours, after Mom has been coerced into helping to look for it (Moms are just better at finding things, ask any kid). It disappears for a week in December when Mom is on strike from looking for things. Eventually, it is rediscovered between the cushions of the rec room couch.

Unfortunately, last week, the invincible iPod with the neon green case went missing for the last time. Julia took it with her to her school's Iron Cops for Cancer Bike-A-Thon, to while away the time when there wasn't a police dog demonstration, the Cash Cab for Cancer wasn't doing its thing, and she wasn't riding for her team to raise the rumoured school total of $44,000 (I haven't heard officially). Our girl was suffering from a headcold that day and didn't realize anything was missing until we got home at 7 p.m. She was too sick to want to go back and look. When my husband returned to school to collect our older daughters at 9 p.m., he talked to the teachers and visited the lost and found cupboard with the principal, but Julia's little device wasn't there. Julia was too sick to go to school the following day, so her sisters checked around for her, but the thing had vanished.

Julia wasn't too worried because she figured her invincible iPod was trackable. It supposedly had a program in it that reports back to the Mother Ship when the thing is turned on. Julia asked her sister to track it... but there was no sign of it out in the cyber universe, so we suggested she get used to life without it.

Oh we of little faith...

Back at school yesterday morning, Julia tells a friend that she lost her iPod, and the boy says, "you mean the neon green one on Madame's desk?"

You see, it's no longer called "the invincible iPod." The iPod with nine lives has returned to its home...

tucked under her pillow in its usual place!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Snowy Sunday thoughts...

It's a gorgeous, snowy weekend, the kind where the flakes seem like they'll fall forever, and our house feels cozy and comforting when we step in from shovelling or just playing in the white stuff. We've done both, several times, in our delight with winter's actual arrival. Up until now, it was just toying with us, it seems, and honestly, I was probably one rare Edmontonian who was feeling cheated. I love snow. Even if it takes until April for it to melt away.

On weekends like this, as I watch snowdrifts form, my mind moodles about many things, but in particular, I've been thinking a lot about an excellent article from a Buddhist magazine that arrived in my mailbox on Friday courtesy of my friend Darcy. It's called Good Failure, and it's about how we tend to see failure as a negative all the time, forgetting that it can have some positive aspects. The thing the article underlined for me is that many of us grew up in a world that promoted positivity and self-esteem to the point that we naively began to believe in our invincibility, that everything would come up roses all the time, that we could fulfill all our dreams, save the planet, and live happily ever after just by being positive people who try hard.

Of course, life doesn't work like that. So when failure filters through, we feel annoyed, betrayed, cheated, depressed... and on down the alphabet all the way to zapped. But the thing is, no one is ever a total failure in the absolute sense of the word. Sure, maybe we didn't get things right all the time, or even half of the time... but there is some redemption to be found in most human activities if they are done with good intentions. There are many disappointments in our lives, but our efforts aren't necessarily wasted, even if they fail. I'm thinking of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul as I type. Volunteers spend many hours a week working to assist people in need, only to find the need is always more than they can handle. Sometimes it's downright disheartening that we can't actually fix things. But we are doing what we can, contributing our energies and abilities to make the world a little kinder or more beautiful one person at a time, and that's worth something, even if it's not resounding success!

I've had my own struggle with self-esteem and the specter of failure this week in relation to my writing. Basically, for a few minutes I was feeling like a failure when I realized that I will never be sophisticated enough to belong to the Writer's Guild of Alberta. A failure on my part... or is it? Not if I can find a way to share my writing with people who might enjoy it. Not if I can bring a little cheer to someone through a moodling posted here. Not if my words remind people, one person at a time, of the simplicity and beauty and goodness in their own lives.

I'd like to introduce you to the young woman who inspired today's moodling. When I looked her up after reading her Good Failure article, I found that she's also done an eleven minute TED talk that carries a lot of value -- don't let the length or title of this Sunday video scare you off. Her name is Courtney Martin, and I think she's got some really important things to say. Enjoy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Simple Suggestion #113... Eat mindfully

One of the things I love about living in Voluntary Simplicity is that, as I live a simpler life, being mindful of all the goodness in my life just comes with the territory... mostly.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that I'm terribly successful at mindful eating. There are too many times that I rush through a meal without thinking, without enjoying, without being aware of all my senses and how they are engaged as I eat. It's too easy to go through the motions, to fill the belly and forget about full body satisfaction or appreciation of that which gives me life and energy. I often forget to savour the flavour.

Our friend from Winnipeg, Mark Burch, the man who brought Voluntary Simplicity to our attention, taught a course on VS at the university level. For one of his classes, he would bring in a box of oranges, one for each of his students, and teach them how to eat an orange mindfully, taking a full hour to do so. They were to be aware of every detail... how the moisture and fragrance from the orange spurted into the air as they began to peel it, how it felt in their hands, its texture and colour, the way it divided into sections, how the first bite tasted as compared to the second... you get the idea. All done very slowly, and with deep awareness.

I'm not saying that we need to be that aware of our food all the time. But as the video below explains, eating mindfully is a much healthier and happier way to go when it comes to nourishing ourselves, body and soul. For me, it's about a lot more than maintaining a healthy weight -- it's about living simply and appreciatively.

On Wednesday, our Christian calendar turned the page to the season of Lent, which traditionally is a time of  fasting, giving alms, and making peace with God and each other in preparation for the great feast of Easter. But this year, rather than "giving up" sweets or coffee or chocolate as I usually do, I am opting for being more mindful of my food... where it comes from, how it engages my senses, and how blessed I am to have enough when so many simply don't. I'm trying to employ the Seven Practices of Mindful Eating, and I will also make a donation toward helping those who don't have enough. My daughters are organizing a "THINKfast" at their school to fundraise for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (see www.devp.org/sharelent). Monies raised will go to help with food security for our brothers and sisters in places like Africa, Brazil and Cambodia, to name just a few.

So not only can we be mindful of our own involvement with food, but we can also be mindful of the food of others. Maybe that's the eighth practice of mindful eating. All in all, a pretty good project for this Lent, if you ask me.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We all need to be appreciated

At work at L'Arche yesterday, the office was empty except for Glen and me. Everyone else was attending various meetings, but I was typing minutes, and Glen, one of our Core Members, was shredding documents -- a task that our people with disabilities enjoy because they often like to help. Glen, who is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, fed papers into the shredder with infinite patience, I kept on at my keyboard, and every few minutes, we would exchange a few words about the weather or our activities on the long weekend or what we were doing in our respective spots.

At one point, I was deep in my typing, and I suspect I missed something Glen said to me. It took a few minutes before I noticed that he had stopped shredding papers. I looked up, and saw his eyes stealth-slide from me back to his work. I said, "Gee, Glen, you're working so hard, you're going to wear that poor shredder right out."

He smiled his great big Glen smile for the briefest moment, and then his face became very serious as he went back to his task with more concentration and vigor than ever. I realized that he had just been waiting to be appreciated and acknowledged. And sure enough, about ten minutes later, the shredder shut itself down because it was overheating!

I think we're all a bit like Glen. I know I am! I love to be appreciated for the little things I do. And there are times when I'm tempted to stop doing some of those little things until someone notices and gives me that little extra pat on the back to energize me again. I especially appreciate it from my kids! And sometimes I'm smart enough to appreciate aloud the people in my life who work hard behind the scenes -- or in front of them. The words thank you rarely go astray...

So, your secret mission for today is to notice someone who is doing a thankless task, or someone who doesn't expect to be thanked for doing their job, and thank them for it. I'll bet they'll smile a big smile like Glen's.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eating together on Family Day

Today fast-food services and TV dinners have made common meals less and less central. But what will there be to remember when we no longer come together around the table to share a meal? Maybe we will have fewer painful memories, but will we have any joyful ones? Can we make the table a hospitable place, inviting us to kindness, gentleness, joy, and peace and creating beautiful memories? 
--Henri Nouwen
Yesterday we celebrated "Family Day," our annual February winter long weekend in Alberta. We're still pretty good about doing things as a family most weekends... but it was nice to see other families out and about together. Lee and I got quite a charge out of the folks gathered at the petting zoo at Bonnie Doon Mall. One poor little tot put her fingers through the wire fence, and a Shetland pony must have thought they were little carrots... nibble nibble, followed by toddler scream. Skin wasn't broken, thank heavens! But the child will think twice about approaching large furry creatures fingers-first in the future.

Our usual Family Day activity up until now has been skating at the Victoria Oval. Unfortunately, with my dizzy head, skating is not doable as a complete family unit. After all the excitement of the Canadian Improv Games on Sunday, my girls needed the day to get homework done anyway. So my hubby decided that this Family Day, we would have a reverse supper instead... you know, dessert before the main course, etc.

So at five o'clock, we headed to Whyte Avenue's Marble Slab Creamery, and spent an outrageous amount of money on some delicious icecream. Then we went home and had supper at seven o'clock... roast beef, mashed potatoes, and tossed garden salad. Our table was a hospitable place, in two places. And it's a Family Day memory that I don't think we'll soon forget. I suspect our youngest will want reverse Family Day dinner every year from here on! It may well become a tradition, and much tastier than a sack of salt...
Aristotle says that to become a friend of someone, you should eat a sack of salt together. Food and love are linked closely.
--Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World, p. 35 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Unity on a Sunday

Today, there's some excitement at our house as my daughter's High School improv team is performing at the Northern Alberta finals of the Canadian Improv Games. The last few weeks there's been a lot of improv talk around here, and Christina has met a lot of kids from different teams through workshops she's attended. I think it's probably fair to say that she has fallen in love with the improv community.

And what's not to love? It's a big group of enthusiastic, fun-loving, quick-minded teenagers who get together to practice thinking on their feet in order to tell amazing, completely off-the-cuff stories from a single suggestion made by the audience. The team that wins today's final goes to Ottawa to compete in the Nationals, but in my mind, all the kids who have participated are already winners. Just having the guts to stand up there and turn wild ideas into full blown life, story, character or theme portrayals with their friends means the kids create a kind of magical unity of purpose, of which our world could use more.

If you haven't noticed by now, I usually like to post a video on Sunday for your viewing pleasure... and this past week, I came across one that touched me deeply the first time I saw it a couple of years back. If improv creates unity through acting, Playing for Change creates unity through music. The fellow who created this video over the course of ten years is now building schools in places that need them with the proceeds from his work. If you haven't seen it before, you're in for a treat... all these musicians singing and playing from the depths of their souls, in places all over the word. Enjoy! And good luck, improv-ers all!

5:30 p.m. -- Congratulations to all the improvisers at today's finals! You were amazing! There's even more excitement around here -- our school's teams got silver and gold! Now, to find money to send our girl to Ottawa...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Simple Suggestion #112... Try winter composting

I really should have moodled about this back in October, but didn't think of it until a few weeks ago, in conversation with my neighbour. He was cutting my hair, and he mentioned that he had saved a few bags of autumn leaves for me and my composting efforts. We got into a discussion about how I planned to add them to my compost pile because composting actually requires five times more "browns" (carbon material) than "greens" (higher nitrogen kitchen peelings, etc.), and he said, "but you won't be composting until spring, will you?"

He was very surprised when I started talking about winter composting, because he didn't realize it could be done. I explained that in our cold climate it's just fine to toss our kitchen scraps out on the compost pile because they usually just freeze solid until spring.

If the pile starts to get a bit smelly as it melts, I just add leaves on top as a bit of a "fragrance filter," but it's not usually an issue before it really warms up and I have a chance to get out and start stirring more leaves into the mess.

I also told my neighbour about folks I know who keep a plastic-lined garbage can near their back doors for fruit and veggie scraps.

They just keep piling the scraps in there through the winter, and in the spring they have a soupy mess to pour into their compost bin with leaves and other fall yard waste. The freezing and thawing actually makes the kitchen waste break down more quickly, and they get compost a lot sooner. My neighbour sounded interested in trying his own winter composting, so I might not get my bags of leaves from him in the spring. But that's okay. I'm a leaf thief, and I have lots stored up already...

For unsqueamish people, there's also another way to winter compost, involving a few friends imported from the Carolinas. In our basement, we have a condominium for red wiggler worms, all very neat and well contained.

Most of the time, we forget they're there, but every couple of weeks, they're happy to receive our kitchen waste, and they turn it into the best compost you can imagine. They don't require a lot of effort, and they're not even that gross!

I spent a little time with them this afternoon, giving them carrot peel and kiwi skin snacks to keep them happy. I line the bins up in a row, make a little space for the kitchen scraps, and cover them over with compost again. Voila, waste taken care of in a couple of weeks by hungry red wigglers.

Before I put the lids back on the worm bins, I always tuck them in with a sheet of newspaper. That way, if there are any fruit flies among my banana peels, their life cycle is cut short because they can't get past the newspaper. Works like magic! The far bin is already tucked in, as you can see.

So those are my two ways to compost during the winter. In the spring, my garden benefits from all the work my composter and red wigglers have done over the winter... and during the winter, my houseplants are happy when I put a bit of vermicompost into their drinking water. It's like a vitamin booster for plants.

Soil gives us so much fantastic food... and composting, winter and summer, is my way to give something back so good things can keep growing.

Any questions? Just ask.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A new and ancient adventure

It's St. Valentine's Day, and I should be writing something about that, but I don't really have much to say on the subject (other than that we shouldn't need a commercial holiday to remind us to tell our loved ones that we love them!) so I'll just say Happy Valentine's Day to all my Valentines--including you--and direct you to the blog of L'Arche Canada's Executive Director. I love what Nathan has to say about "the Loving Day".

Western medicine is taking its sweet time about helping me with my dizziness (I have to wait until March 21 for an appointment at the U of A Balance Clinic!), so I've taken matters into my own hands. My friend Viet practices Eastern medicine, and after witnessing what he did with acupressure for another friend with an extremely sore back, I always thought that if I ever ran into a situation where I could call on him for help, I would.

So for the past two weeks or so, I've had a few appointments with Viet, who has asked me more questions than any doctor thus far in his effort to figure out how to treat me. Eastern medicine is very old, going back five millennia, and it's very different in that it works through different matrices and meridians for treating different issues. Where the meridians intersect, many different things can be treated all at once. So, while Viet hasn't found the key to treating my dizziness just yet, he's done wonders for my carpal tunnel, and I've been sleeping really well!

Being a diabetic who takes five shots a day, I wasn't at all worried about the acupuncture needles. For those who are needle phobic, let me just say that the needles are so fine, I don't often feel anything except a small pinch as they go through my skin when Viet taps them into place. Occasionally, I feel a dull ache in my arm or leg, but for the most part, I don't even notice them at all. If you look at the picture below, there are three in my left arm and two in my right. Viet and I got into an interesting conversation and I forgot all about them and the fifteen others in my legs. And they rarely bleed when they come out! He's also done some acupressure/massage that has felt terrific!

Viet tells me that he has good success with treating many different issues, from chronic pain to insomnia to migraine headaches to twisted ankles, and I can believe it. Acupuncture has been very relaxing... and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will unlock my dizziness and chase it away soon.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A song of encouragement for a Sunday

Time for another tune from my favourite folk singer's repertoire, a song of encouragement. It's a wonderful song if you listen to the words... everyone has some sort of gift to offer, and even listening is a gift. I would argue that it's one of the most valuable gifts in our hustle bustle world, and definitely undervalued. Listening is good for us, body and soul, and is essential to our relationships. If you listen, you'll hear Pebbles the budgie, singing and whistling along in the background. He whistles better than I do!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Simple Suggestion #111... Become a Master Composter/Recycler

Unfortunately, this suggestion applies only to people who live in my area. I've never heard of any other place that offers a course like this, though there are Master Gardener and Master of Permaculture courses out there. If you know of any in your area and want to share information, I'd be happy to post it!

Anyway, I've been planning to promote a wonderful program for a while... and today I got an email reminding me to do so because the application deadline is coming up. So, here goes...

This spring will mark my fifth anniversary as a City of Edmonton Master Composter/Recycler, and I can honestly say that the 35 hours I spent at the course were some of the best I've spent in class ever. I learned a lot, met some amazing people, and brought home all sorts of great ideas for my home, yard and garden, ideas that have improved my life, and the health of the planet, too! I feel confident in my composting efforts, my garden has thrived because of that, and I've had a lot of fun helping others to learn about composting and recycling in my own back yard and as a volunteer at city events. There's so much more to being an MC/R than what they've listed below, because what you learn can take you so many interesting places! I've also met a lot of great people during my hundred plus hours of volunteering.

If this sounds appealing to you, check out the information below, and consider taking the course. Tell them Maria K. sent you! And if you live too far away, there's lots of composting and recycling ideas on the internet, or at your local library...

Set a positive environmental example in your neighbourhood.

Would you like to help reduce the waste produced in Edmonton? Join other green-minded citizens for a 40 hour course in residential composting, recycling, and hazardous waste management. In return, take what you learn back to your community where you'll be a Master Composter/Recycler Volunteer.

A few examples of volunteer activities:
  • Teach composting to kids and adults.
  • Represent Waste Management Services at tradeshows and community events.
  • Write articles for community newsletters.
For more information and to apply online at www.edmonton.ca/mcrp

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trying to bake like Grandma, Part II

Yesterday, I finally did it. I baked real, delicious jam jams. Just like Grandma. If you don't know why I am so proud of this accomplishment, you might want to read Part I of Trying to bake like Grandma by clicking here. It took me three hours (keep in mind that I'm still dizzy) to do a double batch.

If you want the recipe, here's a reprint:

1 cup lard
1cup brown sugar
2 eggs
6 tbsp Roger's Golden Syrup
2 small teaspoons soda (slightly heaping tsp? dissolved in a bit of water)
1 pinch salt
5 cups flour (small china tea cup -- somewhere between 3 and four regular cups of flour!)
2 tsp vanilla

Roll dough out (use a bit of flour to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin) and cut circles. Put on greased pans and bake at 350F until done (10-12 minutes). Put together with jam or date filling.

This time, they turned out just right, moist and not too thick. The lard made all the difference to their texture. I wonder how I could make a vegetarian version that's as good? If you have any ideas, let me know.

Grandma had nine kids, and the thought of keeping nine kids in jam jam cookies is quite something, because they're a lot more work than basic chocolate chips or ginger cookies, no question. 

Anyway, I don't think I can make jam jams any better than these. So... this evening, Lee and I walked some over to my Dad. I'm sure they still aren't quite as good as Dad's Mom's jam jams, but my girls don't know the difference - they love them! I may not be able to bake like Grandma, but I can bake like me, and that's good enough in the end.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Simple Suggestion #110 ... Avoid lo-fat, dietetic, or calorie-wise foods

Don't talk to me about diets. I've been on a diet since the day it was discovered that I have Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes. That's almost exactly 29 years ago today. Since then, I've had to watch what I eat (sometimes carefully, sometimes not so much), and I've had varying weights (definitely too heavy for a while, down to an okay body size now).

When was diagnosed with diabetes, luckily (or unluckily) for me, aspartame had just arrived as a sweetener, so I could drink diet coke until the cows came home (which didn't happen all that often, as there aren't many cows here in the city -- and because I discovered that too much NutraSweet gave me headaches). I got diabetes just as the diet food industry was ramping up its activity, and soon you could buy "diet" or "lo-fat" or "calorie-wise" versions of almost everything (these days, even for pets!) After listening to a friend who was diagnosed with diabetes when diet foods didn't exist, I was ecstatic that I could eat more snacks than just a cinnamon stick now and then, so you could say I bought into low-cal foods big time... and gained a lot of weight. What the???

Fortunately, my crazy Jewish lady dietitian, Nina, whom I absolutely loved (more when she wasn't cranking at me for being overweight and under-active), got a hold of me and informed me of a few details that a lot of people don't consider when it comes to so-called diet foods: namely, that lo-fat usually means a lot more sugar and chemicals to smooth over the flavour of whatever has been removed from a product. And low sugar? Right, more fat. And when it comes to eating the ordinary amount of any given food, said food is much less satisfying if the fat or sugar is removed and replaced with other stuff (which usually builds sugar swings that scream to be satisfied with more food than you would normally eat if you had the nice ordinary food you made yourself instead of the calorie-wise stuff that comes ready-made on the grocery store shelf).

In other words, according to Nina, a lot of the diet-food industry replaces real food value with empty calories that just make dieters want to eat more. Diet foods are a myth, more or less. Pretty slimy if you ask me!

So since that chat with Nina all those years ago, I've pretty much avoided diet foods. If I'm buying sour cream, it's real sour cream with no apologies. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing our shopping much since this dizziness hit in October, and recently my hubby didn't notice that he'd accidentally picked up some calorie-wise peppercorn ranch dressing. And guess what? No one wants to eat it! Too bloomin' sweet!

Give me real food, or give me... this character. 
(I'd like to give the designer credit for putting him/her together, 
but how do I find out who made him/her?)

So when it comes to this Simple Suggestion, the bottom line is that everything tastes better made from scratch, with real ingredients instead of sugar or chemicals to cover what's missing. Real food will always be more satisfying than any highly processed dietetic replica (read: food-like substance, in Michael Pollan's wise words), which means I'll probably eat less of it, and that's just smarter all around. Voluntary Simplicity is about moderation in all things, including the simple, real, non-messed-with-foods that make for satisfaction, happier bodies and healthier human beings.

So go ahead. Enjoy your unadulterated calories -- in moderation, of course.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Aurora Borealis for a Sunday

In Canada, we're blessed with beautiful, big skies in a lot of places. I'll never forget how, in August of 1980, I laid on the grass in my grandma's back yard and watched the light show of my life. Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern Lights, entertained my cousins and sisters and me for over an hour, blazing through the starry sky.

There have been lots of news stories of late about the havoc that recent solar storms are causing for satellites and cyberspace... but those same solar storms create beautiful skies like the ones in the short  "Visit Finland" video below. We don't need to visit Finland up here... just need a clear night. We even have a website where you can determine your likelihood of being entertained by Northern Lights. It will even send you an email on a "red alert" night. Check "Aurora Watch" out here, and if the lights aren't playing in a sky near you, enjoy this time-lapse video! Ours are never this spectacular because we're too far south...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Coming into my own as a writer

Today is a writing day for me. It's also laundry day, and housecleaning day, and order-from-the-seed-catalogue day. So will I get any writing done at all, you ask? Well, chances are, all those other things will fall by the wayside once I get going on my present writing project. So I'll moodle a little here, order those seeds, hang out some sheets, and throw another load into the washing machine before I dare to open my novel's file.

I've been working on my manuscript for almost ten years (busier being a mom most days), and in the last few weeks, have realized that if I'm going to get a finished book out there where other people can read it, I might need the help of other writers. And if I'm going to talk to other writers, I need to get my head around the fact that I'm really a writer, too. I mean, up till now, the only people who have read my stuff are family and friends, mostly, and they tell me my work is good... but being a writer outside of my family and friends' minds is something else altogether.

So last Sunday, I took an important step in the process of seeing myself as a writer... I attended a "Writers' Corner" event at the main branch of our public library. And I met Marina Endicott, a local author who has written 5 novels, one of which, called Good to a Fault, won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, Canada/Caribbean region. I'll admit I was feeling a little shy about meeting a successful writer and gathering with a group of strangers to "talk about your writing in a friendly and supportive atmosphere," but there wasn't a lot of time for that anyway in the hour we were together.

What was really useful was what Marina had to say during her presentation. She was speaking about some tips and tricks she uses for developing character in her novels. The longer she spoke, the more I thought, I understand this woman, and if she knew me, she would understand me because we are both grappling with the same issues as we craft our stories. So when it came time to talk with her after the session ended, I was over my shyness, and our conversation was most helpful. After speaking with Marina, I also met Jocelyn Brown, Edmonton Public Library's Writer in Residence, a warm and friendly person who seems most eager to help. So she and I have set up an appointment to talk about my present project... and for the past week or so, I have been moodling in my mind about what I need to do to finish my novel once and for all.

It's sort of funny... all along I've been telling myself and others that my manuscript has too many words. Friends have made several suggestions about what I might do to cut it down to size... but it took Marina's comments to push me to action. I approached her about how a writer knows when a character is superfluous to a story, and she told me, "I overwrite all the time. Cutting is hard, but it has to be done. Why not save your extra characters for your next book?"

And that was all it took. If a successful novelist like Marina had to cut out characters, then I guess I can, too. It's painful to say goodbye to some of them, whom I've known and loved like real people since they came out of my keyboard, but Marina was right. It has to be done. I'm not sure I will ever write a "next book," but I may share my extra characters in other ways somewhere down the road.

I've been shy about connecting with other writers, and now I think that's probably been a mistake on my part. So if you're like me, and you're hesitant, take yourself to a Writer's Corner or whatever kind of literary meeting you can find. It can't hurt. It's helped me to start coming into my own.

Okay, enough moodling. Laundry out on the line? Check. Load in the washer? Check. House cleaned a little? Check. Seed catalogue order done? I think that can wait a few more days can't it? Today is a writing day for me, after all.