Thursday, 29 October 2009

How I'm Spending My Fall Staycation

I scheduled a week's holiday but in spite of my shiny new passport, I have nowhere to go. I'm itching to go to NYC (as is my daughter) but I'll have to wait for a great excuse (an agent, perhaps?) and the means (lottery, anyone?).

Whaddaya know, the kids have their Reading Week break on the same week. Oh, well... not much writing time but we're having fun anyway!

We rented Beatles Rock Band and my arms are sore from being Ringo. My son forgot the microphone at college so I can't sing. Darn.

I installed a security strap on our green recycling bin. So far, it's working. The critters haven't managed to open it and spread coffee grounds and eggshells all over the driveway. Suck it, raccoons!

Tuesday night we had the opportunity to attend Standup For Kids at Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. It featured a great lineup of comics - some you know and some were new to me: Mike Wilmot, Lewis Black, Seth Meyers, Irwin Barker, Kate Davis, Nikki Payne & Rob Pue.

I was pissing-my-pants laughing throughout the whole thing. They ran the gamut of motherhood to geriatric sex. Definitely for adult ears, but I sure got a great sense of what is funny these days.

I think Lewis Black is currently the Sage of stand-up comedy. He's developed a professional routine that presses every button. Out of the lineup, I enjoyed Irwin Barker's diffident delivery that reminded me of Bob Newhart.

Seth seemed to have a sore throat, but he was a trooper. My kids knew his whole routine by heart, bless them.

The Wintergarden Theatre was beautiful. It's on the upper level, above the Elgin. Seating is intimate with a capacity of around 1000 and the ceiling is covered with golden grape leaves and little lights. There isn't a bad seat in the house except perhaps for the one behind the tree trunk.

Yesterday we went to the mall so I can spend no money. Okay, I bought Halloween candy and the kids have already reduced it by one-third. We'll pick up a couple of pumpkins so my artist daughter can do her handiwork. I don't expect anyone will actually see them, since last year we had a total of zero-point-zero-zero trick or treaters. Thus, we can eat the other two-thirds of the candy.

I plan to convince my hubby to fire up the reciprocating saw he bought last week. No, not to film our own Halloween horror but to tear out and replace the horrible faucet in the basement powder room. If he gets carried away and takes out the whole bathroom, I won't mind in the least.

Last but far from least, I reached THE END on my WIP of The Yearbook. Now all I have to do is dive back in and add some spit & polish.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

And The Winners Are...

First of all I want to thank the participants for their lovely stories about friendship and generosity. It's amazing how much we would do for our friends.

A few hightlights:

Liane said, "
We are programmed to be gentle, understanding and supportive of our friends no matter what, but sometimes the unvarnished truth is what they need to hear." This is so true. Although we want to make things easier for our friends, sometimes the tough approach will help set them on a better path.

Pat said,
"I would wait for her till my last day then I would wait at the gates for her to arrive when ever that would be." True devotion through a lifetime, and beyond.

McKoala said,
"And whether it's the right decision or the wrong decision, if it's what she wants, I help her to stand by it." Sometimes our friends just need us to be there for them, even if they make mistakes.

Dondi said,
"It is a bond to be unbroken and words that never have to be spoken." Funny how our friends sometimes know when something's wrong, even if we don't call out for help.

Donna said,
"I would do all that I could if I could." Sometimes simplicity is best. Just be there for your best friend.

Dhympna said,
"I would do just about anything...even clean up puke and be puked upon." Yup, aside from puking toddlers, I've had to hold a friend's hair back more than once. That reminds me, my daughter puked rainbows once. She'd had a bowl of Froot Loops.

And finally, my mom Frances said,
"She spent her last days at home, many nights I would listen just to her breathing for hours. Sometimes she would say 'Frannie,are you still there?'

I would say, 'I'm still here.'"

My mother's friendship with Nolie was extra special. Back in her healthy days, Nolie would talk for hours without taking a breath. My mom could make a cup of tea and start supper, then go back to the phone. Nolie didn't know the difference, happily prattling on.

Okay, I entered seven names in the draw, folded them up really tight and drew in the order of 3rd to 1st Prize.

3rd Place goes to... McKoala! Koala Bear, please email me your address and I'll put your copy of The Toast Bitches on the next boat to Down Under Land. Let me know how you'd like me to personalize your copy.

2nd Place is Dhympna! Please let me know where to send your copies of The Toast Bitches and Bad Ice, and how you'd like them inscribed.

And 1st Prize goes to Donna! I already know your address, so look for a package in the mail soon. Shoot me a Facebook message if you want me to write something special in your copy of The Toast Bitches (or you can just let me surprise you). Congratulations, and remember to share the wine when you take it to a party in its cozy blanket.

I hope all of you enjoy the books, and thank you so much for participating. You are all great friends.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

What Would You Do for your Best Friend?

Sometimes a writer works through adversity and crafts the best novel they can in spite of the odds. When I wrote The Toast Bitches a year ago, I drew upon the lifelong loyalty and friendship that can get a girl through her darkest days. Although The Toast Bitches is purely fiction, I borrowed from the personalities (with their permission) of three wonderful women I've known for over twenty years.

I strove to show how best friends can support each other through bad boyfriends, bad hair days and bad sex. Even when people lack judgement, their BFFs guide them out of the jungle of big mistakes.

I'd like to celebrate the trade paperback release of The Toast Bitches by having a giveaway contest!

Just tell me (in the comment section) what you would do for your Best Friend Forever in a given situation. Use your imagination. This will also work for Wing Men (guys, you could learn a thing or two from this book) and Sisters, too.

The Toast Bitches is on the super spicy side when it comes to sex, so be warned. Also, in spite of the explicit content of this novel, please keep your comments on the tame side. After all, this is a PG (Pretty Good) blog. But try to amuse the other posters, too! Oh, what a delicate balance between naughty and nice.

I'll randomly draw for three prizes:

First Prize: An autographed copy of
The Toast Bitches plus a beautiful "Wine Cozy" (hand-knitted to replicate the famous Hudson's Bay blankets) created by my good friend Debbie Hannigan. Perfect to keep your bottle warm or cold when going for a BNO (Bitches Night Out).

Second Prize: One autographed copy each of The Toast Bitches and
Bad Ice. If you already own Bad Ice, you can give it as a gift - just let me know the name of the recipient so I can personalize it accordingly.

Third Prize: One autographed copy of The Toast Bitches.

The contest is open now, and will close at midnight, Wednesday October 21, Eastern Whatever Time. I'll announce the winner Thursday evening.

A quick recap of The Toast Bitches, as written by the lovely Fern at LASR:

"You have the youthful Hana, a woman that’s got a yen for the gorgeous but elusive Adam who isn’t what he seems. The saucy Pepper, a woman that has left behind domestic bliss for her unrealized version of happiness. The soft spoken Corinne, whose overly possessive husband is having an affair that ends their marriage. And the nurturer Paige, whose portrayed happy marriage isn’t as blissful at it seems.

...Each Toast Bitch represents an issue women face at some point in their lives–blind attraction, a bad marriage, a skeleton in the closet, the need to branch out even when what you want is directly in front of you–providing something everyone can relate to."

Twits, please re-Tweet. Facebookies, please re-Face. I'll deliver the packages anywhere, just expect a slow boat if it's going to Australia.

Edited to Add: Anonymous participants, You don't have to sign into Blogger to comment, but please provide some kind of a name at the end of your post so I can identify you for the draw.

Let the BFF Marathon begin!

Monday, 12 October 2009

So Bitter Yet Still Sweet

I'm in a reflective mood today.

Sitcoms and movies generally depict the Thanksgiving Holiday as a time when emotions rise to the top. Sometimes the characters air old grievances, only to discover the true meaning of family arising from the ashes of a burnt meal.

Sometimes family secrets slip out by accident, sparking loud debates. Sometimes the rigid patriarch fails to keep traditions intact, and slouches off to pout in a corner. The movie or show always seems to end with a group hug no matter how disfunctional the family.

In the past, our own Thanksgiving holidays have been, well, thankfully uneventful. We had small gatherings, saving the real party for Christmas. Our Thanksgiving is much earlier than the American holiday, so it sits apart from the Christmas launch.

As most of you remember, last Thanksgiving was the beginning of a month-long nightmare. A dear family member had a fight with his parents and ran away in a fit of temper. He didn't know that was his last day on Earth, and we didn't know for weeks afterward.

I wrote about the funeral while it was fresh in my mind, but didn't release the words to the public. I felt almost guilty for still having my children when my sister and brother in law lost one of theirs. I hope they don't mind if I tell you now.

The visitation on Thursday started an hour early for us, before the public. We arrived at the funeral home, running the gauntlet of a few photographers and news cameras.

When we joined the family in the reception room, they started a Power Point video with music, using photographs of Brandon from his birth to his teen years. We had contributed some of them, from countless birthday parties and family outings.
When the music started (John Lennon's Beautiful Boy) and the pictures flashed on the screen, my breath caught in my throat. His smile was brilliant in each photo and his spirit shone out at us. Everyone was sobbing. I'm glad we were able to see the whole presentation in its glory before anyone else got to see it.

Later, we sat and watched hundreds file past us to offer their condolences to Brandon's family. Some offered us their hands and hearts as they passed us. An hour passed and the people kept coming.

Eventually, we felt it was time to go since it was going to be a very long day for the family. We joined the line to say our goodbyes, and my niece handed us Sharpie markers and invited us to inscribe a message to Brandon on the casket.

I wrote, "Binky (that was his nickname), keep your stick on the ice. Love, Aunty Sandy."

We left through the lobby and saw the line of well-wishers stretch through the room, continuing out the front door.

Thursday night I had a fitful sleep, my dreams scattered. Whenever I woke up, one of the songs from the memorial video played in my mind. The last dream was disturbing – a mudslide in which people attempted to avoid being swept away by jumping into caskets. Weird.

We got up early Friday morning and arrived on time at the Crisp home. Already the kitchen was full to the gills. Gordon, a family friend, was scheduled to read letters from the family to Brandon. He was apparently nervous, drinking Stella Artois for breakfast.

We sorted ourselves out and piled into three limos for the procession to the funeral home. The limo driver was nice. When every light turned green, I asked him if the limo was programmed to do that or was it just a coincidence. He laughed and said he had a magic button.

We arrived at the funeral home and gathered again. We met Sgt. Dave Goodbrand, the detective in charge of the search for Brandon. The pain was clear in his eyes, and he looked exhausted. He'd been under some scrutiny in the media and I really felt sorry for him. We each shook his hand and thanked him for all his help.

After about a half hour, the Director gave instructions to the pallbearers (my husband included) and we got back into the cars to go to the church.
That was a difficult part. Everyone else was already inside waiting, and the press was assembled right beside the entrance. We waited for the casket and proceeded through yet another gauntlet.

It felt strange, having fifty-odd cameras trained at my face. I didn't look at the cameras, just kept my gaze trained at the doors.

We were right behind the family, and Brandon's twin sister finally unleashed her grief, sobbing uncontrollably as we walked into the church. My own kids clung to my arms as if they would never let go.

We waited in the alcove before proceeding into the main part of the church. Brandon's grandmother was right in front of me and I could see her head shaking as if she had an immense chill. I wrapped one arm around her. My other sister in law almost collapsed behind us. A family friend said, "A little help here?" and a church official quickly brought a chair.

Since we had joined the line right behind the Crisps, we were instructed to sit in the front row. During the service, Gordon read letters from the family to Brandon.
The first was from his twin. She talked about his sense of humour and that she lost her other half. His older sister (my son's age), said that when they got into fights, they wouldn't last long because he always made her laugh in the end. She said he was guaranteed a space in the VIP section in Heaven.

His mom said there was a hole in everyone's hearts now that he was gone, and his dad thanked him for everything – being a kid, being funny, being loved, and for being a beautiful boy.

Father Frank's homily was emotional and comforting. He talked about the importance of community, and how these events could only bring families closer together. His voice broke a few times. It must be so hard for clergy to deliver such heartbreaking sermons.

One of the things he said stuck in my mind. "Be cautious around those who tell you they know why Brandon died. Seek out those who tell you why Brandon lived."

After Communion, we left with the lovely choir singing above us. Again, a gauntlet of photographers. When the limos filed out of the driveway, we noticed a lone policeman in the shade of a pine tree, saluting. His search dog sat beside him.

Along the way, police cars blocked off intersections
to allow the procession through. Each officer stood beside his or her car, saluting us. Construction workers stood in a parking lot, their bright yellow hardhats held against their vests. A woman stood at a corner with her dog, and made the sign of the cross as we passed her.

The interment was equally emotional. Many mourners followed us to the cemetery and gathered around a canopy under which my husband and his fellow bearers put Brandon. We also added an urn containing the ashes of Brandon's grandfather, who had given him the nickname "Schmidt" because he was a strong little toddler.

After the interment, the limos dropped us off at an eatery close to the family's home. The owners laid out a great spread, and the place was stuffed with friends and family. We stayed for an hour or so, then figured it was a good time to go. It was really busy and we were soooo emotionally drained.

A year later, dear Binky is always in our hearts and dreams. He was and is a Beautiful Boy.

When I think of my family, my kids, my husband, I am truly thankful that we live and laugh together. I'm thankful that my kids talk out their grievances and hug them out afterward.

I'm truly thankful that we have such a beautiful planet, and each day on it is a joy for me. Fuzzy kittens, flowers and all that stuff.


Friday, 2 October 2009

Busy September in Chumplet Land

Let's see... We filled a dumpster with useless junk so the Danger Room isn't so dangerous any more.

We packed up our kids and shipped them off to college. They actually stayed put for two weeks at a stretch, so Chumpletland is quiet and reasonably tidy. They're here now because... well, because.

We had the eavestroughs and gutters replaced, with two extra downspouts at the front of the house. When the rain rain rain comes down down down, it no longer pours from the fireplace and it doesn't crawl across the basement floor. I no longer dread downpours. Let it rain, baby!

Three days ago, the furnace quit. I huddled in my bed with three layers of fuzzies and a magic bag warmed in the microwave. It almost lasted through the night. Almost. My little nose got cold. Hubby scheduled the furnace guy to visit the next day so I quickly swept up the furnace-slash-laundry-slash-ugly room so the repairman wouldn't be too grossed out.

I also gathered up the newspapers from the floor of the downstairs bathroom, just in case. Would a repair guy ask to use the bathroom? Nah, he wouldn't -- that would be inappropriate, right? Still, the downstairs bathroom is a bit of a shithole. Excuse me, I mean an ugly room lined with that paneling you see in construction site office trailers.

We've known the furnace guy for a while. He replaced our old oil furnace with a gas unit fifteen years ago and returned for a few inspections along the way. He moves a little slower these days, and I empathized as he plodded down the stairs and groaned while he crouched to look into the furnace's guts. He poked and prodded the innards of the furnace, then concluded that it had been shooting out almost twice the gas required to do the job. This caused the furnace to overheat and shut down in self-defense.

I was wondering why the gas bills had been slowly rising the last couple of years. I thought it was the rising price of natural gas.

Furnace guy headed out the front door to get a replacement part, but promptly returned asking if he could... OMG... use the bathroom. He looked a little anxious, so I instinctively said, "Okay." I mean, what heartless person could possibly say no?

My mind's eye flashed, seeing the crappy basement bathroom and the slightly less crappy main floor bathroom. I pointed him to the main floor loo and he thankfully retreated, tugging at his stained coveralls.

He was in there for what seemed like forever, but it was only about five minutes. Obviously the guy was suffering from some kind of gastric distress. I tried to ignore the sounds coming from the bathroom but living in a bungalow, you can't get far away from ANY sounds.

After profuse thanks, he went to get the part and returned with a couple of extra filters. $378 dollars later, I waved him out the front door. I ventured into the bathroom to give it a quick squirt of Airwick, and noticed the dust bunnies, toothpaste encrusted sink and the pile of towels on the floor. Boy, he must think we're total slobs. Oh, I forgot... we are.

I don't know who was more embarrassed, him or me. To lessen my pain, the least he could have done was throw in the $5 filters. I don't know what I could have done to lessen his pain.

The next day, my coveted box of books arrived: twenty shiny copies of The Toast Bitches. Hmm... maybe I should give one away? How about a contest?