Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Reading List

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events - The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  • Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver
  • For One More Day by Mitch Albom
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
  • Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
  • Just as Long as We're Together by Judy Blume
  • Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Le Petit Prince by St-Exupery
  • My Brother, My Sister, and I by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
  • My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
  • No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
  • Offshoots 9 - Writing from Geneva and Beyond by the Geneva Writers' Group
  • Oscar et la dame rose by Albin Michel
  • P.S. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger & Ann M. Martin
  • Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • Stories from the Vinyl Cafe - 10th Anniversary Edition by Stuart McLean
  • The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton
  • The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
  • The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  • The Triathlete's Training Bible by Joe Friel
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crafty Kids

My kids love their crafts. Here are a few specimens they created this past year that they are particularly proud of. These first two are by Mighty Mouse, created using a sand art kit. The kit included lots of different coloured sands and at least eight different adhesive coated pictures. My only criticism would be that the craft was a touch messy, but its kid appeal is hard to beat.

These last two are Emma the Brave's, made using an Aquarellum kit. One of the most interesting aspects of this craft was that she created her own shades of colours using five basic ink dyes, water, and a little plastic dropper. More templates would have been greatly appreciated, though. She finished the eight provided in under two hours.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Most Useful Links of 2007

Let me preface this by saying that I am not an avid surfer. Until I started blogging I spent almost no time online and then it was only to check email or my calendar. It's not that I am philosophically opposed to the joys of the internet. On the contrary, it is an incredibly useful treasure-trove of information. But, as I'm sure you'll agree, the junk out there far out-numbers the gems and time is mortally finite. That said, here are some of my most useful finds:

The Renaissance Learning Quiz Store
At what point does a short story cross over into novel-dom? Unwilling to type out J.K. Rowling's latest opus, I was determined to find a better way. This site provides the word count, reading level and interest level of countless titles for adults and children, search-able by author, title, or ISBN. And, yes, it's free.

The Association for Library Service to Children
It is extremely difficult to emulate a child's voice and perspective. For this reason alone I sometimes find myself wishing I was more inclined to write stories about 30-something stay-at-home moms. The American Library Association children's arm annually recognizes excellence in children's literature by bestowing such awards as the Newberry and Caldecott Medals. Announced in January, I use these titles as a starting point when planning my year's reading.

The Vinyl Cafe
After much anticipation, Stuart McLean's stories from The Vinyl Cafe are now available by podcast. Before we had to remember when to tune in online and pray the girls didn't talk, laugh or argue too much during the broadcast. The stories are funny and touching and undeniably Canadian. What more can a home-sick wannabe writer ask for? Just follow the links and enjoy.
I'm not much for using websites as a training tool, but Children's Book Insider, the newsletter produced by this website, provides both education and potential markets. I commend three of my four publication credits to this newsletter and its the only one I subscribe to.

So that's it--my best finds of 2007 that kept me educated, employed and, most importantly, entertained.

Now get back to work! No one will write it for you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Working Without a Net

You'd think I'd have it down by now. For four years in a row I've prepared Christmas dinner with no mom, mother-in-law, or, for that matter, grandmother-in-law to watch over me, no dad to sing endless carols, and no father-in-law to mash the potatoes. And, for the fourth year in a row it's gone off famously.

Why, then, does it feel like something was missing?

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's All in How You Accessorize

Emma the Brave and I are on the chair lift. Beneath us a snowboarder with relatively novice skill is descending the modest piste . He's riding goofy, his right foot forward. His turns are wide; his speed, reasonable. But he catches his front edge while facing down hill and slams face first into the hard-packed slope. He doesn't move.

A skier stops. She speaks to him. Nothing.

The skier flags down other skiers by waving her poles. Our boarder friend still hasn't moved.

He's wearing a lovely blue wool toque.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

One Step Too Far

I took Emma the Brave Christmas shopping today so she could choose a gift for Mighty Mouse. This is a deceptively difficult task when one is almost seven and one's younger, same-sex sibling is almost five. It needs to be something good, but not too good.

Leading up to today's excursion, Emma was a fountain of benign gift ideas--marbles or a stuffed polar bear--anything she thought Mouse might appreciate without evoking undue sibling rivalry. To put it simply, she was content to give Mouse anything that she (MM) already had and that she, herself, didn't particularly want.

We were walking past Fust, the Swiss answer to Best Buy, when I reached the end of my persuasive rope. "We could buy her a toaster," I said.

Emma's response was wordless roll of the eyes.

I earned that.

A block and half later we entered Franz Karl Weber. (Think Toys-R-Us only three times smaller and more expensive.) Stacked chest-high to the right of the entrance were dozens of Hello Kitty toasters. Just pop in your bread, depress the lever and minutes later you're rewarded with toast sporting an untoasted silhouette of the adorable Asian kitty.

Thank goodness, Emma thought they were pretty ridiculous, too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 6 ¾

I have come to accept that Draft 4 will be the slowest one yet. With the plot thread established, thus begins the polishing that will give relevance to the details and resonance to the tale being told.

Uh, no pressure.

I have two days left to write before the Christmas break and I'm about one third of the way through. I admit I am dreading the loss of what feeble momentum I've gained. That said, Blogging My Novel: The Series will resume January 11, 2008. Blogging on all other topics will continue with reckless abandon. (And you thought you were off the hook!)

Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season and a truly inspired New Year,

Mighty Mom

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Home Stretch

It's not easy parenting on one's own. For two weeks--less a measly 15 hours--I've been the sole counsellor, confidante, curator and cook to the two most singly-minded little girls I know.

"Only six sleeps until Daddy comes home," I tell them. I write a big '6' in the top right-hand corner of the chalk board in the kitchen. They think it's for them.

It's not that things run that much more smoothly when Kirk is around. In fact, it's quite the opposite: dinners run late, laundry baskets overflow, and the garbage mysteriously never makes it to the curb.

But in the palm of our imprecision lies the faith that together we will make it through.

Six more sleeps.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

When an Open Door Isn't

Honey was born in a barn. We missed the significance of this detail when we chose her. For the first three months of her domesticated life she mistook wall-to-wall carpeting for dirt, peeing repeatedly on the off-white plush of our Vancouver rental. At six months of age she established dominance over a full-grown Doberman by humping it in the dog park. When the puppy school instructor suggested we had an alpha-female, I took offense. Like a dewy-eyed new parent, I was blind to Honey's faults. She was mine and I was hers, world without end.

Honey's first home away from home was Kerrisdale Centennial Park, a green space a short walk away that boasted a pair of soccer fields, a playground, countless ash and red cedars, and, thanks to a plethora of neighbourhood dog lovers, an official off-leash area. While not fenced in, it was small enough that the average dog could be easily kept under voice control. Need I remind you, dear reader, we did not have the average dog.

On one of her earliest outings, Honey befriended a blond mutt I will call Elsa, whose real name, for reasons which will soon come apparent, my memory seems to have blocked out. Elsa was every dog-owners' nightmare, committing such atrocities as chewing through drywall when left to her own devices for more than an hour. The two dogs primarily liked to wrestle, but occasionally took to chasing each other at warp speed into the odd soccer match.

One evening in late November, while Elsa's owner was confessing her dog's latest offenses, our dynamic duo bolted out of sight into the thick border of trees and brush that lined the park's east side. We, being the concerned dog owners that we were, ran into the wood after them, calling their names.

The trees quickly gave way to a disturbingly quiet residential street. Elsa's owner went one way and I the other, barging into one cedar-hedged garden after another in search of our escapees.

A sinking sense of panic was closing in when I passed a beautifully restored one-and-half-story Cape Cod. It's front and back doors were wide open such that one could easily see straight through it. Drop sheets lined the entrance where a woman was standing, hands on her hips.

"They're here," she said.

I sensed she was not among the dog-lover contingency--at least not anymore.

The two dogs had chased each other around the house a few times before escaping into the woman's backyard. I commandeered my fugitive and marched her apologetically out of the house, grateful for the drop sheets, now mud-streaked, that covered the woman's off-white plush.

And so the saying goes: you can take the dog out of the barn, but you can't take the barn out of the dog, world without end.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 6

There is a lot to be said for the objectivity afforded by letting a manuscript sit. While dust mites procreate between our neglected pages, so burgeons our ability to discern the wheat from the chaff of our creative brilliance.

Unfortunately, time is not on my side. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is hosting a conference in Bologna, Italy this coming spring and I've signed on for a manuscript review: twenty minutes with an editor, writer, or agent who will give their opinion of my work and perhaps nudge it toward publication. Not only must I have a reasonably presentable draft, but a synopsis as well--a summary of the novel's key points boiled down to what can fit on a postcard. The deadline: January 31, 2008. Need I say, "Oi!"?

So Draft 4, begun only a week after it's predecessor was put to bed, will demand ample conscious objectivity on my part. I will have to impose a list of demands on every scene: mood, characterization, place and plot. The key will be to maintain a forward momentum. After all, Draft 5 awaits.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,
For Christmas I would like, please,

  1. a doll that talks and in her handbag her clothes. It needs to be a girl doll.
  2. a white horse and baby horse
  3. a toy kitty
  4. a polar bear backpack
  5. shoes for the baby doll
  6. a snow globe
  7. a toy kitchen
  8. a soft toy porcupine
  9. (oops)
  10. a fuzzy doggy
  11. a big polar bear
  12. a skipping rope
Thank you, Santa.
Mighty Mouse

Dear Santa,
For Christmas I would like:
  1. little white tiger
  2. little orange tiger
  3. dolphin with a cord that makes music with a baby attached
  4. toy girraf
  5. five medium cars in a bag
  6. (see #10 below)
  7. one baby doll with clothes and a bottle
  8. set of markers
  9. one bear blanket
  10. a giant dolphin that is blue please
Emma the Brave

Let's hope the big guy's been eating his Wheaties!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Course de l'Escalade

My so-called friend, Christine, challenged me to run the Course de l' Escalade shortly after convincing me to train for next summer's Geneva Triathlon. At the time I think I readily agreed. But as the date crept closer, my resolve began to wane.

"We'll see," I would say whenever the subject came up.

In the interim months since accepting my first physical goal since pregnancy, the realities of a fifteen year break in training had become abundantly clear. By mid-September I could only run one minute and walk for one minute seven times in a row. Any more and my knees would object with a painful debriefing that would linger for days. I had even suffered my first minor injury, a tendonitis reminiscent of one I had experienced during university when I was running 30 kilometers a week, not three.

Enter my personal physiotherapist--me.

My assessment:
Symptoms consistent with patello-femoral pain due to patella maltracking and concurrent ilio-tibial band (ITB) tendonitis.

Recommended treatment plan:
Ice: 10 minutes, three times a day
Twice Daily Stretching: quads, hams, gluts, piriformis, 20sec x 3
Strengthening 3 times a week: weights with focus on strengthening vastus medialis to correct patella maltracking

Enter the worst patient I've ever treated--again, me.

The truth is, I hate weight training. It has to be the most mind-numbing sport known to man. But for the sake of my personal goal I persisted for seven weeks--then quit. Four weeks later I re-injured.


The Escalade was only three weeks away. I'd paid my 30 franc. I'd passed on the cancellation insurance. Worse, I wanted to run it, injured or not. I was officially hooked.

This is why I never aspired to treating athletes--they just don't listen.

So, for the next three weeks, I behaved myself. I iced, I stretched, I cross-trained--even weight-trained-- and yesterday morning boarded the tram for the big event without so much as a hint of knee pain.

Over 27,000 people were registered to compete in this year's race, 1,685 of which would be running with us. Crowded in at the start line, my fingers were clammy and I needed to pee. The boom of the starter's pistol was a relief.

The course was a hilly double loop following the cobblestoned streets up through the vieille ville. Spectators lined the route and leaned out of windows, sipping vin chaud and nibbling roasted marron while cheering us on.

"Allez, allez!"

It was nothing short of fantastic. I ran the whole way, sprinted to the finish, and can walk without pain a day later. Now, if I can just keep to the advice of my physiotherapist, I'll be there next year, too.

We'll see...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 5

10 things to do while on a one-week break from 'novelling':

  1. Write down as many ideas for picture books as possible so as to be never tempted to 'novel' again.
  2. Call everyone who might have thought I've been trapped under something heavy for the past four weeks.
  3. Pick up a month's worth of dog poop in the yard.
  4. Christmas shop.
  5. Read by daylight.
  6. Cut my children's toenails.
  7. Cut my dog's toenails.
  8. Cut my toenails.
  9. Blog.
  10. Count the days to Draft 4.
Five more sleeps!

Zamboni Love

You know you're a kid when...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


When I told my Swiss friends that we'd been skating twice already, their response was, "Deja? Ah, les vraies Canadiennes."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Draft 3 - The Tally

Draft 3 Complete!
22Nov -16,510 Words
19 Nov - 11,433
15 Nov - 9590
13 Nov - 7891
12 Nov - 6788
07 Nov - 5796
03 Nov - 4471
01 Nov - 3348
31 Oct - 3292
30 Sept- 1949
1 Sept - 0

Blogging My Novel: Week 4

I made it--Draft 3 is done and a month ahead of schedule.

What got me there so fast? A jolt of NaNoWriMo enthusiasm combined with a healthy dose of resignation--there was no avoiding Draft 4.

Trying to write a perfect third draft was getting me nowhere. My average monthly word count for September and October was a whopping 1600 words and I assure you they were far from perfection. By permitting myself to write tripe, I actually got something salvageable on the page, which is a hell of a lot better than what I was working with on September 1.

1600 Words? Pah! That's a mornings' work at most.

So how does one celebrate a not-so-shitty third draft? This writer headed to her favourite sandwicherie for a B.L.T. --heavy on the B-- followed by a veritable chocolate chip cookie and cappuccino. (I concede some work is required on the reward system associated with this method, but it was the best I could do given the time available.)

So now it's on to the inevitable Draft 4. I suppose I'll have to resign myself to Draft 5 before I start...

That may take a week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Something Real

I am blow-drying Emma the Brave's hair when she turns to me and says, "Mommy, why can't you be a hairdresser?"

I jiggle the dryer with professional flourish. "I suppose I could be a hairdresser if I wanted to be."

Emma's lip protrudes ever so slightly. "Everybody else's mommy is something except mine."

I stop the dryer and kneel down. I consider naming off all the other stay-at-home parents I know, but don't. "You know Mommy writes stories. And before I had you and Mighty Mouse I was a physiotherapist."

"But something real," she says with an emphatic stomp.

I tickle her tummy until her pout gives way to giggles all the while assuring her that being a writer and therapist are something real. I don't argue the realities of motherhood--it's clear that option has been eliminated.

With hair dried, I brush two sets of teeth then herd my pint-sized pair upstairs to read a chapter from The Faraway Tree before bed.

Twenty minutes later, with lullabies sung and sips of water dispensed, I slip back down. Supper dishes still clutter the kitchen table, two report cards beg to be signed, and a load of pink laundry is calling my name. I neglect them all to spend forty minutes stranded on an uncharted tropical island in the South Pacific.

'Something real' can wait.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Home Stretch

It's not easy parenting on one's own. For two weeks--less a measly 15 hours--I've been the sole counsellor, confidante, curator and cook to the two most singly-minded little girls I know.

"Only six sleeps until Daddy comes home," I tell them. I write a big '6' in the top right-hand corner of the chalk board in the kitchen. They think it's for them.

It's not that things run that much more smoothly when the Captain's around. In fact, it's quite the opposite: dinners run late, laundry baskets overflow, and the garbage mysteriously never makes it to the curb.

But in the palm of our imprecision lies the faith that together we will make it through.

Six more sleeps.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 3

Just over two years ago I gave in to my closet 'arts major' tendencies and enrolled in an introductory English course through Athabasca University. Having spent most of my undergraduate career in envy of my English major roommate, I was ready to sink my teeth into the literary greats over endless cups of tea and the odd electronic correspondence. It would be great. I could read fiction by daylight and not feel guilty for I was a student!

Well, needless to say, the course was not the literary mecca I had envisioned. There was one helluva lot more work involved than sipping orange pekoe over Dickens, for one. In the end I came away with a great appreciation for the authors we studied and an equally large inferiority complex. Lucky for you, dear reader, it didn't last long.

So how do the masters do it? How do they suck us in page after page, keep us awake long after our intended bedtime, and breath life into completely fictional characters and places? The answer far exceeds what can be included in any one blog entry. All I know is that it is far easier to analyze brilliant prose than to write it and analysis is no walk in the park either.

So it's back to the page for me. Who knows? By Draft 6 I could be a master in the making.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 2

So, what was so wrong with Draft 2?

It lacked what I believe any story worth it's salt must contain: a cohesive story thread. A well told story is carefully woven. Every character, scene, and description carries the reader toward an inevitable--yet not predictable--conclusion. Free-written over 19 sessions, Draft 2 had detail, dialogue and drama, but the story's ending had very little to do with where it began. In fact, a truly relevant beginning had yet to be written.

Enter my dubious 'inner editor'--what if it can't be written? Is it possible to write a story backward and have it not come across as contrived? Do I even want to bother?

This is when I wished I was working with a one thousand word manuscript rather than one closer to twenty and shoved the offending masterpiece in a drawer for the summer.

With a few months perspective I can now appreciate the role of Draft 2: it helped me discover the character whose story I was trying to tell. How was I to know that her story would be somewhat different than the one I had planned?

Almost 6,000 words into Draft 3 even I can see that my story is more cohesive-- it's just not pretty. I guess 'pretty' will have to wait for Draft 4.

My best NaNoWriMo wishes to you all.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Blogging My Novel: Week 1

In honour of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, I am going to devote one blog a week to my middle grade novel. I figure there is nothing like the risk of public ridicule to keep my right pinkie in check.

My novel celebrated it's first birthday this past Monday. A year ago, during what was supposed to be a short story weekend workshop, I produced a sketchy first draft of what I was afraid to call novel. (Let's face it--I still roll my eyes when I say the word.) Granted, three days on the Mediterranean sans husband and kids was bound to be prolific, but 12 characters, 10 partially written scenes, and almost 3000 words was far more than I'd ever anticipated.

Determined to give 'novelling' a chance, I subjected myself to my own version of NaNoWriMo last February. I wrote 19 days that month, about an hour each day, with an average daily word count of just under 900. For moral support, I included my invaluable writers' group, the Birkenstocks, in my plan, promising them multiple quarts of imported Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream when I'd finished. 17,000 words later we gorged on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cherry Garcia, and Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream until our teeth ached. I'd done it--I'd written a novel.

Now what?

As advised by Chris Baty, author of No Plot, No Problem and founder of NaNoWriMo, I let it sit. A month later, I picked it up and read it.

No word of a lie--it was a disaster. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

So now I'm trying to make something from the wreckage and it's not going so well. Here's hoping an electronic line in the sand will get me to the finish line:

Draft 3 by January 1, 2008 or bust!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Je ne me souviens plus

Here is one of my favourite 'Kirk' stories taken from a letter I wrote a few months after our arrival in Switzerland.

A few weeks ago Kirk headed out to have his bike inspected and to return a movie. The bike shop took a little longer than planned, so it was late afternoon by the time he reached the video store. He parked his bike on the sidewalk in front of a shop window and headed in to do his errand.

A few minutes later he returned to find an elderly man draped over his bike. The man was sunny-side-up, his bottom on the seat with his face wedged between the store window and the bike. To complete this unlikely scenario, the man's pants were soaked in pee.

How extraordinary—and not at all Swiss!

Kirk carefully dislodged the man from his predicament, bike unscathed but decidedly damp. When asked how this had happened, the man responded, "Je ne me souviens plus,"—I don't remember. Kirk had his suspicions. The man's "plus" was at least 100 proof.

Kirk helped the man sit down against the side of the building to wait for the ambulance that snickering bystanders had called. With the man settled, Kirk headed for home. While he wasn’t the only person who came away with a story that afternoon, he was the only one who needed a shower and a change of clothes.

Simple Pleasures

Tonight nobody asked for ketchup.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Potato Week in Barcelona

The tradition of Potato Week or Vacances d'Automne dates back to when children required a week's holiday from school to help out with the harvest. While the demand for child labour has gone the way of the dodo, the week's holiday hasn't. Normally we pass the time in Geneva as the week habitually does not coordinate well with Kirk's work schedule. But this year, with my parents planning a trip to Spain, we decided to 'profitter' and join them.

I had never set foot on Continental Europe prior to moving to Switzerland. Arriving here with two toddlers did little to ignite my desire to travel. Maneuvering strollers over centuries-old cobblestone and tread-worn steps was exhausting. Add to that the innumerable unfenced-yet-oh-so-inviting deathly hazards endemic to European tourist attractions, I was agreeable to day trips, at most. But now that the girls are older I have little excuse. (Apparently being a self-professed homebody doesn't hold water.) So Friday last, Honey was off to the kennel and the following morning we were headed for Spain.

Barcelona is a fabulous city for families having enough to interest both adults and children, often simultaneously. It is the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain that boasts its own language and culture, much like Canada's Quebec. More than a few times I wished I had a Catalan-English dictionary instead of my inadequate Spanish phrase book. People were friendly and helpful, though, regardless of what language I was butchering.

We visited almost every place on my list of must-see attractions which included the zoo, the aquarium, Parc de Monjuic, La Rambla, Mercat de La Boqueria, and Gaudi's awe-inspiring La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia. We traveled mainly on foot, taking the public metro or the Barcelona Bus Turistic when we wanted to cover a lot of ground quickly. Unfortunately we missed the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Better planning on my part might have had us in the balcony for Mozart's Requiem performed on Tuesday night. Live and learn. But all these attractions aside, Barcelona was about the food.

While there are a few restaurants whose kitchens run non-stop, as a rule dinner is served from 8:30pm onwards. Our girls are normally fast asleep by then, so this required some adjustment on all our parts. The first night Mighty Mouse fell asleep with her head on the table before eating a bite, then almost fell off her chair. The next night she made it until dessert. By Friday we were all accustomed to her after-supper siestas from which she would awake refreshed and ready for the walk home.

As restaurants went, Sinatra,(C/ Heures, 4-10 , Tel. 93 412 52 79) was by far our best find. Tucked down an ignorable little side-street in the Barri Gotic,we would never have found this small Spanish treasure if not for the man handing out flyers at a nearby corner. After a somewhat damp ride atop a double decker bus, we went to Granja M Viader (4 Carrer Xuclà, El Raval. Tel. 93 318 3486) for the most amazing, spoon-coating hot chocolate I've ever had. A few nights later we went to Senyor Parellada (37 Argeneria. Tel. 93 310 50 94) where I savoured L'Arroz Senyor Parellada, their divine version of paella. And as for the sangria, fresh squeezed orange juice and tapas--don't get me started.

Finding food that we thought the girls would like was a bit more challenging. Of course, they were more than willing to live on doughnuts, ice cream and olives had we let them. Unlike Tuscany, menus in Barcelona did not offer kid-friendly pizza or pasta dishes, so we had to experiment, often with success. That said, their favourite restaurant was Trobador where they dined on mounds of pasta bolagnaise. Let's just say their week was a bit lacking in the vegetable department but no one went hungry.

All feasting and frolicking aside, when Saturday morning came I was ready to go home. I missed my book that I'd conveniently forgotten on my bedside table, my well-equipped kitchen and, of course, my dog. It was an incredible week that my taste buds won't soon forget.

Adios amigos!

Friday, October 19, 2007

In the beginning...

The bise arrived today stripping the trees of their leaves and sending chestnuts catapulting from the treetops, more than a few onto Honey's poor head. In its glacial breath there is no denying winter's impending sting. But in the field, the wheat is none the wiser, defiantly sprouting tender green slips in the face of the sun's ever-lengthening shadows. Here, there is an kindness: a beginning in the midst of all that must come to an end.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bon Apple-tite!

This is the recipe for our autumn family favourite: apple crisp. I like using a mix of different apples like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Gala. In summer I use a mix of nectarines, peaches, and fresh berries.

Preheat oven to 375F/200C. Grease a 8x11.5 inch / 2 quart baking dish with butter and set aside.

To make the fruit base, you will need:
7 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples
1/2 cup fresh or dried cranberries (blackberries work well, too)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For the crisp topping you will need:
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup butter, softened

  • Toss sliced apples and cranberries with lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add to fruit mixture.
  • Combine sugar, flour, oats and spices in a small bowl. With fingers, work in butter to form a coarse meal.
  • Arrange fruit mixture in prepared dish and sprinkle crumble topping evenly over top
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until top is golden and the fruit is soft and bubbling

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sex Education at 30,000 ft.

By popular demand, the following is my 4-year-old's version of in-flight entertainment performed live on a British Airways trans-Atlantic flight this past summer.
It is July 2007 and
MIGHTY MOUSE has befriended the obviously pregnant German WOMAN across the aisle.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Do you have a baby in your tummy?

WOMAN: Yes, I do.

MOUSE: Is it a boy or is it a girl?

WOMAN: We don't know yet.

MOUSE: My friend Daphnée, her mommy has a baby in her tummy. It's a boy. They saw his penis.


(WOMAN bites her bottom lip, attempting to contain her amusement.)

MOUSE: Girls have labia.

WOMAN: Yes, they do.

(WOMAN cannot hold back and begins to giggle. HUSBAND--hers not mine, who is conveniently absent--begins to blush.)

MOUSE: Me and my mommy and my sister, we have labia. You, too.

(My turn to blush. WOMAN is laughing so hard she can't speak.)

MOUSE: My daddy, he has a penis.

(At this, every row within earshot bursts out laughing. MOUSE is none the wiser. She thinks the word penis is pretty funny, too.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

La Fête de la Courge

By all rites, it should have been raining. It normally does the second weekend in October when Corsier hosts their annual Fête de la Courge. But this year the sun gained the upper hand, bringing the whole village out to eat great cauldrons of squash soup served with a liberal sprinkling of Gruyère and chunks of crusty bread.

With the family camera in hand, I wandered into the crowd, planning to take some candid blog-worthy pictures. At the fresh produce stand I met the family who kept the girls for lunch on the days I was in Toronto last month. At the paella stand I confirmed Evelyn's planned attendance at the cook's son's birthday party this coming Tuesday. In fact, every time I looked through the view finder there was yet another person to say hello to. It was a beautiful more ways than one.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Joy of Feasts

Living so far from the country I will always call home, I have come to love a feast: how the refrigerator must be reorganized to accommodate half-meter long celery and outrageously large cuts of meat; how the girls decorate the house, tying Christmas ribbon to banisters and arranging balloons like cushions on the couch; how my husband develops a compulsive need to vacuum and how the dog hovers as I begin to cook, hoping for scraps.

And when friends arrive in oven mitts clutching casseroles still warm from the oven and the house begins to smell like roast beast, my cheeks start to ache from smiling. And in the last minute havoc—as the gravy thickens when almost all hope is lost and the cork finally gives without breaking—I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Embracing l’Homme Vert

This is something I wrote shortly after our family moved to Geneva. While I love this place and get a suspicious facial tic at the thought of leaving, I didn't always feel this way...

“Mommy, I want to go now!”

Emma the Brave’s voice returns me to the corner of rue de la Terrassière and rue de Villereuse. I must have guided the monstrous tandem double stroller down the length of rue de Villereuse blind, deaf and numb to my surroundings. I cannot recall the journey any more than its pause among this throng of pedestrians waiting to cross the road and its busy tram tracks.

“Remember, we have to wait for l’homme vert. See?” I crouch down beside the stroller’s prized back seat to show Emma, age 3, the crosswalk sign for what feels like the hundredth time. I try to show it to Mighty Mouse, age 1, as well. Uninterested, she leans forward, blowing kisses to a passing poodle. Learning to speak French will be of no consequence to her. I am envious.

“L’homme vert,” I chime with strained enthusiasm as the crosswalk fills with pedestrians. I lean into the stroller and we enter the fray. I am so tired, so overwhelmed.

“I don’t like the grocery store, Mommy.”

I feel my jaw clench with Emma’s recurrent complaint. “I know, Sweetie, but we need food for supper.”

I have come to not like the grocery store either. We come every day, often twice, returning to the apartment with as much as I can carry over my arms and in the stroller’s small basket. For such a large stroller, its basket carries very little, a feature I had not considered seriously enough when we bought it one year ago. Of course, I could not have imagined this place even 2 months ago, let alone twelve.

A short list tacked under my thumb, we lumber into the grocery store. I pick up a small gray basket from the stacks in the entrance. Empty, its squared off handle hangs at an awkward angle over my forearm.

“Mommy, I want to walk.”

Emma is straining against the seat belt, one foot swung out of the stroller already.

“Mommy needs you to sit so we can go quick-quick.”

“But I want to walk,” she whines.

I say nothing and head for the dairy section. Emma collapses back into her seat.

Four litres of milk and the basket under the stroller is full. With a blend of curiosity and suspicion, I eye the stacks of milk labeled UHT sitting warm on the floor beside the dairy case. Sold in larger quantity, they might be my ticket to fewer grocery trips. Today I pass them by, afraid to add any more items to the list of foods that Evelyn refuses to eat. Maybe tomorrow, I think, and move on.

Yogurt, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, Bircher muesli, chicken breasts, and bread, each I grab in rapid succession. Soup, jam, juice, tea. I do my best to keep the stroller moving and at a safe distance from the shelves.

“Do we need to go upstairs today, Mommy?” The girls love to ride the moving sidewalk that takes us to the second level of the grocery store.

“Yep, we need toilet paper.”

“Yeah! Let’s go see the toys!”

“Yeah!” echoes Mouse. I had forgotten about the toy section.

After a record-breaking tour of the second floor, we make our descent toy-less, an eight-pack of bright turquoise toilet paper on Evelyn’s lap. Emma chose the colour, a novelty as they don’t sell coloured toilet paper back in Canada. The stroller is so laden that I cannot stop its descent. I lean backwards, praying I don’t slip as I ease it back toward the main floor. Thank God no one is in front of us.

“I want to go home now!” says Emma.

“We need some bananas and vegetables, then we can go pay.”

“But I want to go pay NOW!” She arches her back and stomps her feet in frustration, then settles down into a mercifully silent pout. Mighty Mouse, however, begins to cry.

“Come on, sweet pea, we’re almost done,” I want to sound cheery and not exasperated, but can’t.

I stuff bananas, broccoli and sweet red peppers into their respective plastic sheaths and head for the cash.

“We did it! Let’s pay!” Now there is no need for feigned enthusiasm. We’re done, at least until tomorrow. Mighty Mouse, however, will not be cajoled and cries louder.

The stiff black handle of my basket is now bowed over my forearm. I wend my way around large Easter displays that crowd the aisles with chocolate eggs and farm animals. I struggle to remember the date and can’t.

I pull into the cash with the shortest line, and unload my purchases onto the conveyor belt. Emma follows suit with her toilet paper.

“Madame, on doit les peser,” I look up to see the cashier holding up the bags of bananas and vegetables. I’ve forgotten to weigh my produce again.

At that moment, Mouse’s crying begins to upset Emma.

“That hurts my ears!” Emma, hands over the affronted organs, has yelled this louder than Mighty Mouse is crying which only incites her further. I think I might join them when the cashier stands up from her seat and deftly slips out of sight in the direction of the scales. I want to follow her but don't. Instead, I smile meekly at the line of customers forming behind me.

When she returns I apologize and thank her as profusely as my rudimentary, Quebecois French will allow.

“Cinquante sept franc quarante, s’il vous plait.”

I hand her a one hundred franc note, disregarding the ample change that is beginning to grossly misshape my wallet. I cannot distinguish the Swiss coins fast enough. I bag my groceries as quickly as possible and head back outside through the sliding glass doors.

With the first breath of fresh air, the girls’ crying stops.

“Can we go to the park now, Mommy?” Emma asks.

“No, sweetie, we need to get the groceries home and so Mommy can make dinner.”

“But I want to go to the park.”

Dear God, make the whining stop!

“You can walk now if you like.”

Her face brightens as I undo her seatbelt. She hops out and runs toward the round low fountain that sits outside the store entrance. A bird who had been bathing takes flight, startled. As I place the bags I had slung over my arms into her vacant seat, I feel a few drops of rain.

“Lets go,” I call. She runs back to the stroller and holds on to the side as we cross rue de la Terrassière. We turn to face the uphill portion of our journey home and Emma decides she doesn’t want to walk anymore.

“I’m too tired, Mommy.”

We’re all too tired. None of us have yet recovered from the trip from Toronto to Geneva. Mighty Mouse developed a terrible rash en route. Despite the efforts of two pediatricians and a pediatric dermatologist, she is undeniably miserable. She has not slept through the night since leaving Canada and, when awake, she will not be put down. The last half hour is the best she's behaved all day. Emma is surviving on milk and bananas, the only Swiss foods she claims to like. At least the Captain likes his new job.

I want to feel grateful for the furnished two-bedroom apartment which will be our temporary residence another 8 weeks. We could be in a hotel room. I could be doing our laundry in a laundromat instead of the basement buanderie. At least the stroller fits in the elevator. At least there is an elevator. Counting my blessings in the light of ‘it could be worse’ is not helping. I want to feel excited about the challenge that I’ve invited upon myself, but don’t. All I feel is naïve to have not seen this coming, ashamed that I want to run back home, and tired —bone tired.

I stop to let Emma climb back into the stroller, unloading the bags of groceries from her seat to sling them over my forearms again. As I release the brakes, the stroller rolls back toward me. I must take a step back before I can lean my weight forward to continue uphill.

Now I am grateful: l'homme vert is waiting.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Tri? Why Not!

I am training for the 2008 Geneva Triathlon.

No, really.

And why, you ask, am I adding yet another act of self-flagellation to my already full schedule? Isn't novel writing torture enough?

Well, it's not for the experience. I've actually already done one. Olympic distance, no less. Of course, that was 15 years and two kids ago. Did I mention that I nearly drowned? Let's just say I finished but it wasn't pretty.

It's not for the glory. I have no aspirations of winning, not even in my age group. If I work on my gray between now and then, I may lead the pack in the 'over 70's.' But then again, maybe I won't. There are some pretty scary seniors around these days.

And it's not even as simple as wanting to get into shape. In fact, I don't think all the training is going to be all that 'shape'-inducing. On the contrary, I fear 'the girls' may well disappear entirely.

But dangle a carrot before a donkey and it will bite. My good friend, Christine, dangled. I bit.

What intrigued me was the physical goal. I can't say I've had one since wanting to stop wearing maternity pants after Mighty Mouse was born. Given that she's four and a half, I think I'm due for a new one. But even more persuasive is my location. Never have I lived anywhere with such easy access to training space. As you can see by the photos I've posted, it's not too hard on the eyes either.

So now I've done it: an electronic line in the sand. Save injury, I'll be splashing like an injured seal in Lake Geneva next August. Sit near the emergency response vehicles and you'll be sure to see me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Honey the Flying Dog: Grounded Once More

It’s official: my dog won’t be running away again--at least not from home.

At 8½ years old, Honey is as excitable today as she was the day we got her. At the time, of course, she weighed slightly more than the Vancouver phone book and waddled with baby fat. Now, at just over 30 kilos, she is lean and can run like the wind. Add to that her intense sociability, her insatiable appetite, and an unfenced yard and you can appreciate our dilemma.

When we moved here three years ago, our good Swiss landlord frowned at the suggestion that the garden be fenced. We appreciated his reluctance. The property borders a farmer’s field that is alternately planted with wheat and canola; beyond, the Salève rises in the distance. But for the safety of our precious pooch, something had to be done. Unwilling to keep her tethered to the cherry tree for all eternity, we went the direction of the ‘fence-less’ yard.

The system was no small task to install. It took at least five hours for me, my husband, and my father-in-law to bury 50+meters of wire before connecting it to the control panel. The easiest part was to hook up the dog—in theory. Despite knowing full well that it was the only real alternative, I was reluctant. I didn’t want to hurt her. The only way to allay my fears was to try it myself.

I placed the two-pronged receiver collar in the center of my palm and, with baby steps, approached the embedded wire. The collar beeped. I stopped.

“Go on!” my husband prodded, grinning.

Three baby steps later, ZAP! Not pain, but certainly nothing I wished to repeat, a sentiment I hoped Honey would soon share.

It took two full weeks, but Honey finally got the hang of it. We pulled out the white training flags and, aside from the odd battery failure, the system was a success. Then the wire got cut.

We don’t know how. We don’t know where. Until Honey appeared in the farmer’s field chasing rabbits, we didn't know it had happened. But two years had improved little upon the memory of burying the wire the first time. We examined our options and came to a decision: Honey would go wireless.

The transmitter is the size of a small toaster. We plugged it in behind a chair in the living room, setting the range to include the garden and the front door, her prefered escape routes. We set the collar intensity to that recommended for high energy dogs. (Sorry, Honey!) I didn’t test it this time. Within an hour of going ‘live’ Honey had mastered her terrain, or rather, her terrain had mastered her. The beauty of the new system is that it’s portable. Now, if only she was…but that’s another story.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Growing Pains

I would surmise that the theme of the week has been jet lag. One cannot travel 8000 miles in the space of 3 days without expecting to pay the toll. Self-inflicted, I know. No pity required.

The primary sub-plot has been Mighty Mouse withdrawal. My 4-year-old has started the Swiss equivalent of junior kindergarten and loves it. Given that she has an older sister who attends grade 1 all day, when presented with the option of attending full or half days herself, guess what she chose... Well, it wasn't me.

What did I expect--that the same 4-year-old who gave a sex education class to the tail end of a Boeing 767 would want to hang out with her mum every afternoon and do groceries? Not likely. But, still, it has been a change. And me, I am left with the sinking weight of the question, 'What now?' I suppose I am due an adjustment period. I only thought it would feel better than this.

So, with no further ado, I shall write and mourn and write some more.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, Canada

It's hard to beat trans-Atlantic air travel for its ability to keep one seated before a blank page. Perhaps that is what my office at home is missing: a seatbelt and altitude.

Nestled in the heartland of economy class, I am highly aware that I share precious armrest space with Goliath, my row mate. At least I'm on the aisle, I think, until I discover that Goliath has a bladder more befitting of David. To be truthful, I can't complain. No one who's ever done this daytime flight with two preschoolers can really object to having to void one's seat periodically for the retention challenged. With no bottoms to wipe or meat to cut, I am plagued by the decisions of the independent traveler: comedy or thriller? Chicken or beef? Red or white? I'm relaxing already.

In six hours I will be landing in Canada, the country that still means home to me. My cousin is getting married, hence my foray into international travel. When we moved to Switzerland three years ago, my husband and I promised that we'd go back whenever we felt we should. Well, I've been 'feeling' a lot this year, as our credit card statements can attest. But family is family and some things cannot be missed. On my return I expect to be grounded for the balance of the year. Maybe... The chicken curry was delicious.

So, with that I bid you farewell. My in-flight entertainment awaits.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Here we go...

In a few short minutes I will click on Publish Post and officially enter the realm of blogger. I guess that is one way to get published.

Yes, I am a writer. I've even been published on paper, a feat I consider remarkable seeing as I've been at this part-time for just over three years. Where, you ask? Appleseeds and Offshoots 9. My qualifications? I'm literate. So is my 6-year-old.

So why blog? To get my sorry butt back in the chair. After a summer of virtually no writing, I am having one devil of a time getting back in the groove. I suppose part of the problem is that I'd like to revise my sorry excuse for a novel. It is a disaster. Really. And the little finger of my right hand has an annoying habit of deleting everything I write every 30 seconds or so. See, there it goes again!

So I suppose I am seeking some recognition, a gesture that certainly doesn't get sent my way too often as a writer and mother of two. Considering most blogs never get read, I assume this may be synonymous with patting my own back. That will have to do for now. Ahh! Feels good.