Tuesday, January 29, 2008


"It's a girl," the doctor said.

"It is?" It took a minute for it to sink in. For almost 9 months I had thought you were a boy. That's what everyone kept telling me. The people I worked with, my patients, even the muffin lady at the mall, they all looked at my big basketball-like belly and nodded knowingly like they could see right inside. "Yes, a boy," they said. Silly Mommy believed them. Daddy, too.

So, while they cleaned you and weighed you, the reality of you sank in. A girl. My girl. Mine.

It suddenly occurred to me to introduce you. I interrupted the doctor who was carefully stitching my tummy closed.

"Her name is Emma."

"What?" he said, looking up.

"Her name is Emma. Emma the Brave."

"That's a nice name," he said, smiling. He was right.

They gave you to your daddy to hold while you slept your first sleep without me. (I'm still jealous, can you tell?) Ever since that very first moment, you've never ceased to amaze me. You make me laugh; you make me proud; you make me want to be the best mom I can be.

Happy Birthday, my darling! Mommy loves you

Monday, January 28, 2008

Trapped Under Something Heavy

You'd think I would have seen him coming--him wearing a one-piece purple and pink ski suit with a jester-style, leopard-print hat. The thing was, I didn't. Instead, all 200 pounds of him hit me from behind, slamming me down-hill onto my right hip. We slid at least 10 meters, me his Gortex-clad sledge. My head bounced and I heard my neck crack as his skis popped off along with one of mine. When we finally came to a stop, all I could manage to say was @#$%!

The thing was, he wasn't one of the testosterone crazed youth who pepper a hill like Les Gets every Sunday. He was just an ordinary 50-something man on a pitch a tad too steep for his abilities. And as for me--a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a nasty accident my butt won't soon forget and, by the look on the man's face, nor will he.

But here's the upside: he didn't hit one of the girls who were 10 and 20 meters behind me; I was wearing a helmet; and we both skied away.

Play safe, everyone!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blogging My Novel: Week 12

They're gone and there's nothing I can do about it: my first chapter and synopsis are in Bologna awaiting the critical eye of an children's book industry professional. It's back to the work of Draft 4, only this time with the benefit of a synopsis to focus my efforts.

If a synopsis is so useful, why didn't I do it sooner? My excuse is this: I was trying to find both a compelling story and the voice of my main character. For this I needed the freedom to let the story flow.

So how does one write a proper synopsis? "Start out by trying to tell your story in 50 words," a good writing mentor told me.

Uh...yeah... I'll get right on that.

My first draft, at just under 400 words, was a kind of myopic summary. It touched on all the salient points of the story but it lacked the cohesive thread that would give them their relevance. Then I took my mentor's advice and tried again. Wouldn't you know, it worked! The synopsis I sent off last night has more of a birds-eye feel--at least I think it does.

If I hadn't had Bologna to prepare for, I doubt I would have had the tenacity to persist in the uncomfortable task of boiling 20,000 words to a page. But I did it and now it's back to the novel itself.

What a relief.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mommy Rant

The girls are sick--again! This makes the third virus since Christmas. Our last viral venture drained my stash of Canadian children's ibuprofen so all I have left is the horrid Swiss stuff--so horrid that Emma the Brave flatly refuses to take it. Should her temperature rise any more I'll be forced to break out the suppository version which I'm sure will be a hoot for all within earshot. And then there is the lovely sibling symptom rivalry, each child trying to prove that they are indeed the most ill. Fever trumps a tummy ache, so Mighty Mouse is in the out. To make up for it, she's careful to whimper every so often, just to ensure she has my sympathy and her sister's rage. And I still need to pack and finish my synopsis and get the dog to the kennel and get groceries and do laundry and proof read my first chapter and rant.

There...at least one thing's done.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Laptop by Emma the Brave

Any time Emma finds a thick piece of cardboard in the house, she makes it into a laptop computer. Here is her latest model, complete with all the essentials: the alphabet, a space bar, power buttons, and a link to mommy's (old) blog. I like the way she thinks!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tuesday's with Monsieur Poulet

He rolls into the Corsier marché every Tuesday morning just as the last children trickle into school. His name is François Cleusix, but he goes by Monsieur Poulet in this neighbourhood and, I hazard to say, anywhere else he goes driving this contraption. The truck may be tacky, but the chicken's divine.
Merci, Monsieur Poulet!

Soup au Monsieur Poulet
(serves 8 - 10)

5 cups julienned vegetables
(celery, carrots, fennel, leek, green beans, and peas all work well)
3 liters chicken stock
3 cups egg noodles
1 rotisserie chicken au Monsieur Poulet

  • Sauté vegetables slowly until soft and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add peas or green beans later on with the chicken.
  • Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
  • Add egg noodles and cook until tender.
  • Add chicken and any remaining vegetables. Heat through.
  • Tuck in with a lovely baguette for dipping.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Swiss Gouter

gouter (goo-TAY)
1. an afternoon snack 2. to try something 3. to savour
Anne-Valerie is holding Augustine who won't be put down, so it's me who carries out the galette des rois this year.

Eglantine calls everyone to eat. "A la table."

Romain, Achille, Emma the Brave and Mighty Mouse charge out of the bedroom where they were playing chateau. Marine lets go of Marie-Claude's pant leg long enough to climb into a chair. We're a big group, the ten of us, a body more than when we met three years ago.

Anne-Valerie settles Augustine into her seat so she can slice the galette. The golden pastry cuts easily into generous wedges. Achille crawls under the table and begins to call out names.

"Eglantine." He's chosen his little sister to get the first slice. She smiles and takes the plate from her mother.

"Anne-Valerie." Achille's mother serves herself with an embarrassed smirk.

Next is Emma, followed by Mouse, Marine, Marie-Claude, me and Romain. At last, his best friend is served.

The kids tuck into their slices as we moms pass out cups of 'syrop,' a drink made from water mixed with grenadine. Emma opts for water by itself. She's never developed a taste for the stuff. I don't blame her.

"C'est moi, le roi!" Romain has found la fève, the little figurine baked into the galette. This one is Dora L'Exploratrice. Romain dons the gold paper crown that comes with the cake, making him king for a day. His first royal act is to bestow Dora to Marine.

The kids finish eating and go back to playing chateau while the mommies move to the couch to sip tea and talk of things that women who share motherhood talk about, no matter what language they are speaking or where they're from.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blogging My Novel: Week 11

I sat down at my desk Monday morning with the pretty blue notebook I bought in Barcelona, my favourite pen and Draft 3 of my novel open on the computer. I began to write, allowing myself one sentence per scene. An hour and a half later I hopped on my bike feeling pretty proud of myself: the first draft of my synopsis was done.

Tuesday morning, I read it. Oh, dear God, it was awful. Stilted, confusing, boring--my thesaurus overfloweth. It would have sent any potential publisher running for cover, regardless of how stellar my opening chapter was. And, the worst part: I had no idea how to fix it.

Panic set in. I fired off desperate emails to my backup. I called my husband, my parents. I'd withdraw from the Bologna manuscript review. I wasn't ready. If I didn't know what my novel was about, how the hell would anyone else.

Then, amidst the supportive replies from my incredible writing buddies, the words of my fabulous family still ringing in my ears, I sat down and wrote draft 2, then draft 3, draft 4, and finally draft 5.

It's not done, but it's close. Thanks everyone! You talked me down.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Baring My Bookshelves

In honour of my new bookshelf--assembled by your's truly, I might add--I thought I'd share this little window into my psyche.

Books on Writing
While I love to buy them, I have a devil of a time getting around to reading them. My latest acquisition, One Year to a Writing Life , is the latest from Susan Tiberghien, the primary workshop leader of the Geneva Writers' Group. Her book is as fabulous as she is, only smaller.

Books on Parenting
They've saved my life and, I hazard to say, my children's as well. The books by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish have been particularly useful. As you can see, I've paired them with my Calvin and Hobbes collection to remind me that raising kids requires a healthy sense of humour. After all, I could be raising Calvin.

Books on Cooking
My all-time favourite cookbooks are Looneyspoons, Crazy Plates, and Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry by the Podleski Sisters. Not only are the recipes family friendly, but they also adhere to the Canada Food Guide. They're also self-published! I've recently been gifted the two latest Jamie Oliver books. Now that I've adjusted to his 'knob-of-this and glug-of-that' measurement system, I quite like it. If only my kids did...

Books from a Former Life
It's hard to believe I used to know all this stuff.

So there you have it. Now what does it all mean?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Keeping Up

As per my new year's resolution, here's my first fictional post of the year. Enjoy!

For the third year in a row, on the second Saturday in July, Deirdre Wallace was in her front garden, on her hands and knees, tearing out fistfuls of failed calla lilies. They hadn’t bloomed. In fact, the dozen, ginger-like rhizomes she’d bought on eBay had sprouted only a feeble spray of fractured greens before dying. Sure, there were still the peonies, phlox, and a handful of other annuals she’d painstakingly nursed from seeds, but the callas were to be the focal point and their absence stood out like the missing piece in a puzzle.

On the edge of the porch sat Plan B: a trio of gaudy grocery store hydrangeas. The judging for the annual “Communities in Bloom” competition would begin at noon. Grace Henshaw would likely win again, but not without a fight.

Deirdre had just finished composting the failed callas when her son, Marcus, burst out the back door, his older-but-no-longer-big sister, Tracy a stride-length behind. By the sly expression on her face, Deirdre guessed she was in full harassment mode.

“You know, I don’t think she’s seeing anybody,” said Tracy, slinging her purse over one shoulder, “You should ask her out.”

“Shut up, Tracy,” said Marcus. His voice already bore his father’s forbidding tone, yet his cheeks and ears glowed red.

Tracy trailed after Marcus who disappeared into the garage. “No, really. Mr. Henshaw’s been dead for, what, a year now? Go for it.”

Deirdre couldn’t resist. “What’s going on?”

“Marcus was checking out Mrs. Henshaw’s butt.”

“I was not!” Marcus reappeared on his bike, already pedalling away. “I’m going to Dan’s.”

Tracy rolled her eyes. “Mom, he was practically drooling. Can I use the car?”

Deirdre fumbled for her handbag inside the back door and handed over the car keys without so much as a warning. Thoughts of the still-potted hydrangeas were suddenly light-years away. Grace Henshaw had lived across the street since the beginning of time. She shopped at Canadian Tire on Seniors Day. There had to be some mistake.

Deirdre wandered into the living room and looked out her front window. Sure as day, there was Grace, thigh deep in callas, of all things, her remarkably well shaped backside thrust skyward as she weeded. How had she never noticed? It was like a pair of linen covered muskmelons. Deirdre ran a hand over her own rear end. Were those dimples?

As if Grace had received some secret transmission, she straightened up, looked back over one shoulder and waved. Deirdre stopped her impromptu self-inspection to wave back. Something had to be done.

She headed straight to her bottom dresser drawer where she kept her old workout clothes. Slipping off her new chinos with the ‘comfort waistband,’ Deirdre plunged her feet into a pair of faded black nylon jogging shorts. She yanked them waist-ward. They stopped mid-thigh.

Not an issue, she thought, everyone needs a goal.

Back on went the chinos, along with a jog bra, t-shirt and socks. A quick search of the furnace room produced her old running shoes—them and a race entry form from 1983 that she’d never mailed. Deirdre checked the time. It was ten o’clock. The hydrangeas could wait.

She had gone two blocks when an unmistakable voice called her name.


In the reflection off the back window of a parked hatchback, Deirdre saw a woman in a pink rhinestone jogging suit about a block behind. Grace. Deirdre picked up the pace. Once that woman got talking there was no stopping her.

Grace called out again. Since when did that woman exercise more than her jaw?

There was only one reasonable thing to be done: lose her.

To this day Deirdre is a bit sketchy about what happened next. She remembers turning down a side street and that Grace had, too. Her legs had been moving with the grace of two stone pillars and her ribs had felt like they were being pried apart with every breath. But after that, things went black.

When Deirdre came-to she was half way down the heavily wooded path that led into the St. Clair ravine. Kneeling beside her was Grace who had already called for an ambulance on her cell phone. Deirdre insisted that she could walk, that she could make it home. That she had to, the hydrangeas and all. And didn’t Grace need to finish weeding?

“You’re not going anywhere and neither am I.” Grace gave her hand a short squeeze. “Things don’t always go the way we’d like them, do they?”

She let Grace drape her sweat shirt over her shoulders while they waited for the ambulance. The rhinestones twinkled and the dappled light.

Eight hours later the hospital allowed Deirdre to go home. As Tracy steered the car into their driveway, she said, “What I don’t get, Mom, is why you ran down into the ravine.”

Deirdre stared at the potted hydrangeas still sitting on the front stoop. “To hide.”

Tracy guided Deirdre into the house where Marcus propped her newly casted foot up on pillows and brought her a glass of water to take her pain killer. But as Marcus left the room, he stopped to look out the front window. Deirdre raised herself up on one elbow to see what he was looking at.

Grace was back weeding again.

“Is it really that good?” asked Deirdre.

“For the last time, I am not looking at her butt. I just can’t get over how much time she spends out there. It’s like she doesn’t have anything else to do.”

Deirdre had never really thought about it. She supposed Grace had taken a rather unhealthy interest in her garden since Hank had passed.

“You know, Mom, she seems to know how to grow those lily things. You should ask her for some pointers.”

Deirdre sank back into the couch. “You know, I think I will.”

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trouble with a Capital "H"

I'm tucking Emma the Brave into bed when she says, "Daddy said, in the summer, Mighty Mouse and me can get a hamster."

"He did, did he?"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blogging My Novel: Week 10

We were driving home from the mountains last Sunday evening, the kids doing the head bob in the back seat, when I told Kirk I would kick off the week by writing my synopsis. "It'll be a good exercise to get back into it."


Nothing makes novel revision look better than the task of writing its synopsis. Truth be told, I chickened out. At least I can say Draft 4 is 1700 words further along than it was when I stopped in December. Still, my January 31 deadline awaits, so that means forfeiting at least one day of word count to this torturous exercise and yet another to revise it.

Remind me, why do I do this?

Why I Don't Do Windows


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Long Walk Home

"I don't want to walk!"

Mighty Mouse is sitting in the middle of the school yard having just discovered I didn't bring the car. To say, 'she's not amused,' would be an understatement. A month ago I could have plead the plight of the polar bears and had her back on her feet in seconds. But today she's a rock, her steely glare screaming, "Let 'em swim."

Emma the Brave heads out the school gates and I follow. Mighty Mouse leaps up and runs after us wailing, "Wait for me."

But it doesn't end there. She howls, gasps, hiccups, and coughs for the next half kilometer, periodically crying out "I can't breathe," at the top of her lungs. Thankfully, this fit hasn't effected her feet.

In a split second of lucidity, as we turn up our road, Mouse discovers a puddle. She detours to wade through it and falls behind. As for me, I'm enjoying the ensuing silence--that is, until she screams, "You're walking too fast!"

Can four-year-olds have PMS? I stop and wait for her to catch up.

"Listen, short stuff, I normally like to walk with you but there is something you are doing that is making me not want to. Do you know what that is?"

Mighty Mouse looks at me for a second, blinks, then starts to walk again. This time she gives me her hand. For the next ten feet, she doesn't make a sound.

"Now, this is better," I say, gently squeezing her fingers,"I like our walks."

She looks up at me and smiles. "Me, too."

A minute later, we're home. Pity. It was just getting good.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ready, Set, Go!

This is something I made last year after having caught my kids in shocking stages of unreadiness one too many times. It was posted on the back of the front door. At the time, neither girl could read, hence the colour code and accompanying hieroglyphics. I attribute the basic premise to my favourite parenting book of all time, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They recommend writing notes to kids to engage cooperation. The design, however, is all my own--and it worked!

Here's a bit of translation, in case you are curious (we franglais a lot):

Franglais - when you mix French and English in the same sentence. It sounds a bit pretentious but we can't help it. You try living somewhere that speaks another language and see what happens to your mother tongue.
Gouter (goo-TAY) - a snack
Tresor (tre-ZOR)- literally, a treasure, but here it means an item for show-and-tell
Four (foor) - this is probably spelled wrong but it's a plasticized folder the school uses to send information home to the parents. Very useful.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Only in Canada, you say?

"Inuksuk (ee-NOOK-sook) have stood for centuries in the far Canadian North as sentinels to travelers, guiding them through safe passageways. Each one is unique, every piece of it representing perfect balance, and the concept that each part of the whole is crucial to its existence."
The two small figures above were made by Madelaine and Evelyn using a kit they received from their Canadian cousins. Brilliant... and as Canadian as they come.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Simple Pleasures

The girls are wearing their ski socks, sliding and spinning across the tile floor between the bottom of the steps and the dining room table. They're figure skating--Mighty Mouse is in the eight-year-old class; Emma the Brave's with the teenagers. They work on their axels, lutzes, and spins, falling on purpose only to stomp the 'ice' in faux exasperation.

There isn't a toy in sight.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I had a diet cola around noon today and nearly eleven hours later I'm still wired. What is that? I had a cappuccino last night that I'd bet my life was not the decaf I'd ordered and I still fell asleep watching The Golden Compass. Maybe it was the movie. As I'm unwilling to pay another 17 Swiss franc to get some shut-eye, I'll take it out on you.

It being the season of resolutions, I thought I'd share a few of my own:

  1. To complete one triathlon in 2008. (I'd like to promise more but my physiotherapist has advised me against it.)
  2. To complete Draft 4 of 'the novel' plus a synopsis and then let the poor thing rest for a few months.
  3. To volunteer three months at a nearby school to determine if teaching is really my calling. Writing is great, but it's awfully isolating.
  4. To publish one fictional short story to my blog on the 15th of every month. (I am not above writing stories about talking animals, so take this as both an invitation and a warning.)
  5. To write a review of all the books that make it onto my 2008 Reading List. I've just started The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards. If this caffeine high keeps up, I may have my first one for you tomorrow.
That will have to do for now. I think I need to do some yoga or something. Jeez!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's What We Do

"Mommy, I want to go sledging," Madelaine says.

I study her carefully. She's still in her pajamas, bangs pasted to her forehead, but her eyes have lost their feverish glaze. I kiss the top of her head. It's cool. "Alright," I say, "Let's go."

An hour later we are a short drive outside of St. Cergues. We've ridden our red saucer five times down a snowy knoll when that sickly look in her eye returns.

"Mommy, I'm cold."

We head back to the van.

"I want Pink Bear," she says, laying back in her seat. Pink Bear is back in Geneva.

I pull out the travel-size Doodle we keep in the car and draw a picture of her precious toy. Tears spill on to her cheeks as her finger traces it's back. Her favourite thumb finds its way to her mouth.

I erase the bear then draw a dog, a Christmas tree, a snowman, and a chalet, each in rapid succession. Finally, I draw a cat. (I'm a dog person, so this last one takes a while.) I look up. She's asleep. We've been in the mountains all of twenty minutes.

A half hour later her sister, daddy, and dog reemerge from the woods, flushed from the cold and exertion. As they tumble back into the van, Madelaine's eyes flutter open.

"Mommy, I'm so glad we went sledging," she says.

"Me, too, Sweetie."