Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to School à la Suisse

It's been quite a week here in the Mighty household. The girls have gone back to school and done so with a vengeance. They woke at 5a.m. Monday morning, were dressed by 5:30, and were eating their second breakfast at seven. Quarter to eight saw them alternately skipping and running to school. After an offhand peck on the cheek, both ran into line behind their classes without so much as a backward glance. What a difference three years makes.

On August 29, 2oo5, Emma the Brave, age four, began première enfantine, the equivalent of Canadian junior kindergarten. All of her friends from preschool were to start at the International School the following week, but Emma's mean mommy was making her attend the local French school in Corsier. Mighty Mouse started preschool the same day at the crèche next door called La Pomme. Believe it or not, that late summer morning started almost the same. They woke early, posed for an obligatory first-day-of-school photo, then ran out the door. Where things differed was in the school yard. Emma the Brave froze.

"I don't want to go," she said, digging her fingers into my palm.

"I do!" said Mouse, running off toward La Pomme.

So off to La Pomme we went, tying Honey to fence out front.

The La Pomme teachers greeted Mighty Mouse with gentle enthusiasm. They showed us where to hang her sweater and put her snack, then asked if she had 'pantoufles,' the required footwear for students inside all Swiss public schools. Proudly, I produced a pair of pink slippers from Mouse's backpack and put them on her feet. Ha. Can't trick me! ( Emma had needed a pair for preschool the previous year.) Now properly attired, Mighty Mouse took the teacher's hand and walked off toward a table with modeling clay, waving good-bye over one shoulder.

That was it. One down, one to go!

Seconds later, Emma the Brave and I were skipping off toward her school next door. Our skipping slowed to a stop as we neared the steps. Honey yipped at being left behind

"I don't want to go," Emma repeated.

Somehow I cajoled her inside and ultimately to her class. Her teacher met her at the door and shook her left hand as Emma's right was occupied draining the blood from my fingers. I lingered as long as I could, until the teacher called the group to sit at a circle of benches at the front of the class. When I rose to leave, Emma burst into tears and ran after me. Her teacher led her back inside and sat Emma on her lap in the circle. It took everything in me to walk back out the door.

Honey jumped to her feet the moment I reappeared as if to say, 'Finally!' As I reached to untie her, I heard a familiar sound, or rather, a familiar wail.


I took the steps into La Pomme two at a time as Honey barked in exasperation. When I entered the class Mouse was standing in the middle of the room, sobbing.

"We tried to call you, but there was no one home," a teacher said as Mouse tried to bury her head under my shirt.

At that moment I wished I could manage a sarcastic 'No kidding?' in French. Lord, help me!

So I stayed at La Pomme with Mouse for the rest of the morning. She refused to look at the teachers, let alone the other kids. "Me no like boys," she muttered past her thumb, which she was sucking with Hoover-esque vigor. There were quite a few boys--more than half the class-- but Mouse's antipathy had everything to do with me leaving, testosterone producing entities notwithstanding.

We reemerged from La Pomme at 11:30 to a very confused (and relieved) Honey. Poor pooch. When the school bell rang, we collected Emma the Brave and the four of us headed for home. It would be a solid five weeks before the girls would truly settle in, but settle they did.

Three years later they have more friends than they know what to do with, both English-speaking and French. Last year they were invited to a grand total of 23 birthday parties--a mixed blessing if there ever was one. I wouldn't wish us back to that day three years ago, but I have no regrets. Well... Maybe just one. If I had to do it again, I would leave Honey at home.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's not easy being green...

It's a cruel, cruel world for apple seedlings--between mold and root rot, they barely stand a chance. I'm not sure what's changed. They were doing so well. The photo above is what I believe to be our last viable specimen. Four others remain, but are rapidly wasting away. We transplanted this one today only to discover its roots, which are normally white, were turning brown. I fear it's only a matter of time. I suppose what would we have done with 24 apple trees anyway? One thing's for certain: it's a lot easier to pawn off apple trees than hamsters.

Live and learn, as they say--and learn we did!

Book It!

"Go on. Just book it!"

I was lying spread eagle on a floating trampoline when I heard this expression for the first time. The bizarre floating entity upon which I was sprawled was attached to a nearly identical instrument of torture by a five-meter, green inflated tube. A small group of teenagers, both male and female, were taking turns trying to make it across without falling into the lake. Upon careful observation, it appeared the key to success was a combination of agility and speed, neither of which I possess. I can barely bounce on one spot without falling, hence my moment of repose. 'Book it,' apparently meant 'go fast.' Ha. There is absolutely nothing fast about a book.

The girls started school on Monday which has allowed my novel to come out of hibernation. On my return from Canada, a large white envelope awaited me: the feedback from my SCBWI writing partner. Her leading comment read as follows:
I really think you've done it with this draft! Time to start sending it out.
Great! Of course, she included constructive criticism as well, but her intro made it much easier to swallow and incorporate.

So now I'm sending out queries--yet another learning experience. In case you are as novice to the whole process as I am, I suggest you check out agent Nathan Bransford's blog. I'm in the process of reading his back-posts on how to compose a query. His blogging style is relaxed and funny, but his recommendations are highly professional.

As for my queries, I've had some responses already, not all good, but so far my emotional armour is intact. I've sent out one partial manuscript and one full, so I'm well on my way. To be honest, I'd like to start writing something else. The real question is, 'What?'

Hmm... Where's a giant floating trampoline when you need one?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dear Tooth Fairy...

Dear Tooth Fairy,

Today I lost my tooth in the neighbour's pool. Mommy dived to the bottom almost a million times but still couldn't find it. Sorry! I hope you like to swim.


Emma the Brave

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Book Review: Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life was waiting for me when I got to Canada. Mighty Mum the First, a Louise Penny fan like no other, had saved it for me. "Don't feel you have to," she said, but I could tell that she really wanted me to give it a try. Needing something a tad lighter than Engaging Autism to get into the summer holiday spirit, I complied.

For three nights I couldn't get past the first chapter--jet lag made Penny's omniscient point of view incomprehensible. My sleep-deprived brain was simply unable to keep up with point of view changes from one paragraph to the next. Thankfully, a few nights' good sleep and persistance prevailed and I was sucked into the first mystery I've read in years.

Still Life takes the reader to Three Pines, a small village in the Quebec Eastern Townships, where Jane Neal, a well-loved member of the community, is found dead. No word of a lie, if this book were not fiction, I'd be looking to spend a long weekend in this town, resident murderer be damned. Ms. Penny creates not only a fabulous sense of place--there's no missing that the book takes place in Quebec--but also a bus load of intriguing and endearing characters. I'm especially fond of the gay bistro and B&B owners--they're a hoot. Yes, dinner at the bistro with the author followed by a reading by the feisty poet-in-residence, Ruth Zardo, would be perfect. Make that a table for three, please--something tells me Mighty Mum the First would want to come.

So, will I be reading any more Louise Penny mysteries? You better believe it! Better save them for me, Mighty Mum. I'm hooked.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All Good Things...

The Mighty Family is sorry to bid a fond farewell to Peanut, the hamster, who recently passed away. She is survived by nine offspring (or more if my hunch is correct) and a family who loved her dearly. I never thought I could hold any affection for a hamster; I was wrong. In lieu of flowers the family requests that you go give your pet a cuddle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Do you know this lady?

The woman at U.S. Immigration was quite serious, though she sported a friendly smile that confused Emma the Brave. Emma gave me a look as if to say, 'Is this a joke?'

The immigration woman dropped her smile and asked Emma again, "Do you know this lady? Who is she?"

Emma giggled but didn't answer. She looked at me. I patted her on the shoulder. "You need to tell her who I am, Sweetie, it's important"

Emma finally confessed that I was her mommy and the woman moved on to Mighty Mouse. During the previous exchange, Mouse had been so focussed on blowing the perfect bubble that she'd hadn't heard a thing.

"Who's this lady?" the woman asked.

Mighty Mouse burst out laughing. (Obviously, I should have prepared the girls a little better for this portion of the trip.) The woman let her calm down before asking again.

"She's mommy," said Mighty Mouse, still grinning.

"Do you want to go to Switzerland?" the woman asked.

Mouse's smile disappeared and she went suddenly quiet. My heart sank. She was coming off three weeks packed with every fun thing her extended family could think of and more sugar that she's ever eaten in her life. I swear I could see her recounting each and every event as we all waited for her response. After what seemed like forever she nodded, still staring at her Crocs.

The immigration lady was not convinced. Neither was I. "Why do you want to go to Switzerland?" the woman probed.

Mighty Mouse looked up at the lady and her smile returned. "To see my hamster," she said.

The immigration lady handed me our passports. "Have a nice trip."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Big Steps, Little Steps

A few days ago I went to the McGill University bookstore, venturing down into the bowels where the textbooks are stacked in unimaginative towers by course number and professor. Slowly, I perused the labyrinth in search of the Faculty of Education. While I'm still a few years away from being able to do my Masters in Education I thought I'd buy a little pre-reading. When I finally got to the appropriate stacks I was promptly overwhelmed. Where to begin? It's a feeling I've come to know all too well. I had it back at age 18 when I started physiotherapy school, and again a decade or so later when Emma the Brave came on to the scene. It's amazing--despite all I've been able to accomplish in my life I can still experience a feeling akin to jumping into an Ontario lake in January at the mere thought of personal challenge. It's nearly paralytic. I left the stacks empty handed and somewhat defeated. Was I up to this?

It's been a few days now and I'm feeling better. I'm considering going back and buying a book on classroom management. Maybe. Part of me feels it's too soon, that I should keep my focus on writing and not dilute my efforts. Finding a publisher for the novel will be a monumental task in itself. And when else will I have time to market Gone and write something new like I will this coming year? Certainly not during graduate school. Ah, the petty stresses of an otherwise peaceful and blessed life. The things we do to ourselves...

As we're coming to the end of our 'home leave' in Canada, the draw of our real home is getting perceptibly stronger. I miss my dog, my friends,my stuff--even the bloody hamster. I love Canada, but Switzerland is where we belong right now. A few more Montreal-style bagels and I'll be good for another year of pain de campagne. It's a sacrifice, I know, but one I'll make gladly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Mighty Mouse sat in the tall, armed stool with a poise not normally attributable to a five-year-old.

"Stand right there, Mommy."

I stepped forward into position. She grabbed both my hands and together we waited while the teenage salesperson and the store manager loaded their weapons. The toes of Mouse's black Mary Jane Crocs grazed the hem of my skirt. We could still make a break for it, but I knew she wouldn't let me.

I always said the girls could pierce their ears when they were ready. After all, my ears were pierced, twice even, and for a brief period of time I'd even sported a belly button ring. But it had never occurred to me the feelings I was going experience once the decision was made. Was I insane? How could I let perfect strangers punch holes into my precious child?

The younger salesperson had drawn two small purple dots on her perfect little lobes. After careful inspection, Emma had her move the one on the left a little closer to Mouse's head. She'd settled on a pair of cubic zirconium studs so she could look like me and for a brief moment I wished I'd never worn earrings.

The jewelry shop ladies moved into position. They would work in synchrony. They counted out loud, "One, two, " and it was done.

Mighty Mouse looked up at me smiling with the faintest hint of tears in her eyes. She looked beautiful. I told her so.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oh, Deer!

I can't tell you how glad I was that we came across this doe and her fawn, already well hidden, on our way into town. It's too easy to forget with whom we share this place.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Above is a folk art version of the bird which inspired the nickname of the Canadian dollar coin. The first official loonies, created to replace the paper Canadian dollar, had a loon on one side with a picture of the Queen of England on the other. As the beloved nickname was believed to not inspire confidence in the then floundering currency, the powers-at-be changed the emblem to include more awe inspiring images. Unfortunately, the damage was done: the term 'loonie' had stuck and, worse, had given rise to the name of the newly created Canadian two dollar coin, the 'toonie.'

Saturday, August 2, 2008


We spent a few hours today at Kempenfest on the shores of Lake Simcoe in Barrie, Ontario. Rows of white tents lined the waterfront where artisans from Ottawa to Niagra-on-theLake displayed their wares in every imaginable medium. There were loons and bullrushes laser cut from steel; Canada geese in oil on canvas; wooden moose, soap moose, candy moose, stuffed moose; and images of woodlands in every seasonal and diurnal mood. When I was permitted I took pictures of some of my favourites, but I couldn't help wishing I could bring some of it home. It's too bad my tastes run so heavy and/or breakable.

By the way, the girls found a drinking fountain while at the festival. They didn't know what it was. When I showed them how it worked, Emma asked, "Is it eau potable?"