Thursday, June 25, 2009

Graduation Day, End of School, Summer Book Reading Time is Here!

One week left of June and I am so ready for vacation. I find this month to be almost as hectic as December with all of the extra, beyond the already crazy regular routine that is our daily lives throughout the school year.

But this month I found June especially nuts. Maybe it was because Daughter Two graduated from Grade 8. So much effort and planning for a couple of hours in a sweltering hot gym. But she looked beautiful, delivered her valedictorian speech with style and panache and received other awards and kudos as well. So proud of her!

But June also is busy just because you're running around at work trying to finish off things before you go on vacation (two more days!!) and you have to get end of year presents for teachers, bus drivers, as well as kids (for making it through another year)… gah! It's Christmas without the snow.

But the good thing is I can look forward to a week at the cottage with a whole pile of books. They were ostensibly bought for my daughters but I'm looking forward to reading: Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride; Cory Doctorow's Little Brother; Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games, Lisa McMann's Wake, Julie Kraut Slept Away; and about five more YA summer beach reads that have romance, summer camp and other light, fun topics that will be a pleasure to dive into. Bliss!

See you in July!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Up. Go See it Now!

Not to be all in your face about it or anything but if you've been delaying going to see this movie, if you've had no interest in this movie, if you don't normally watch animated movies, I'm here to tell you: What?? Are you nuts??? Go. See. This. Movie. Now.

I went on Father's Day with my family. I was emotionally wrung out by the end of the showing. Daughter One was in worse shape than I was. All in a good way, of course. I so wish I'd invested in Pixar Animation when their first movie came out. It's not about how many bazillion dollars they've made (tho that wouldn't hurt). It's that they have not made a wrong mov(ie) yet (ha! Pun). At least as far as I'm concerned anyway. I've loved almost everything they've created. Up is no exception. In fact, it might even edge out Toy Story and The Incredibles or even (gasp!) Finding Nemo for me for most favourite Pixar movie. I'll have to reserve judgement on it when I've seen it a few more times when it comes out on DVD. That's always a sure sign for me - if you can watch a movie as many times as your kids (I only have one under age 10 now so it may not be as often) and not want to hurl after the twentieth viewing you know it’s a classic.

Up is the story of an old man who seems to have lost everything he ever cared about or is about to lose it before he has the adventure of his lifetime. I won't go into plot details because I will inevitably spoil the movie and I want everyone to go see it for themselves. What I do want to say is that what I love about Pixar movies is they're not afraid to incorporate moments of great sadness with great humour. They create such real, true, sympathetic characters out of computer animation. Their scripts are so heartbreakingly sad and funny. I love that. Daughter One and I were sobbing through so many of the scenes you'd have thought it was a funeral. The sadness that the director evoked through one particular sequence that had no dialogue was brilliant. He conveyed the power of human connection and human loss within the span of a minute. Brilliant visual writing. And, in the next moment, you find yourself laughing at what a silly dog is doing. The fine line between crying and laughter is never so evident as in this movie.

So yay to Pixar for creating a movie that is smart, heartfelt, sometimes scary (one little three year old girl was a little overwhelmed by a scary chase sequence that she began sobbing) but ultimately it's a story that is filled with hope and optimism and shows how, even when you think you have nothing or no one to live for, if you open your eyes and heart you'll be surprised at what comes into your life.

Like I said. Go see it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why I Will Probably Never Buy an E-Reader

Okay, let's set the record straight. I'm not a techie by any means but neither am I a luddite when it comes to dealing in an electronic world. I'm inordinately fond of my emails, internet message boards and ordering things online - any of which I'm away from too long makes me twitchy.

However …

The idea of reading books on an electronic device (whatever its form) just so does not appeal to me. I don't think it’s the form of the e-reader so much - hard metal/plastic, screen instead of page, etc. Although, I do love the tactile feel of paper much better. Books just seem, I don't know, warmer to me. More intimate. Now I have no problem reading technical papers or academic works on screen. In fact, I think every high school student should have an e-reader so they don't have to carry 50 lbs of textbooks on their backs every day and develop spinal problems and horrible posture! But when I'm reading for personal pleasure, there is just something about the old form that appeals to me more and I think I might have just figured out what it is.

It's not about looking at a cover. You can get beautiful graphics on screen. It's not about the tactile feel or the smell of a printed book although, like I said, it does lend itself more to the cozy, curl up on a couch or bed type of reading I like to do. I think what it is, is that I like to see the totality of a book.

I like to feel the weight of it in my hand, see its bulk on my bedside table reminding me to finish reading it already! I like to see that bound, solid 200 - 400 pages or more because, when I've finished reading it, it feels like I've accomplished something significant. If it's a keeper book then seeing it on my shelf reminds me of characters, or pearls of wisdom gained from the reading, or the feeling I had when I entered that world. I guess I will always have too many books lying around my house. But that's okay too. I think seeing the books people read tells us a lot about a person. If I saw an e-reader on a table I'd never know what the heck my friends were reading!

To me, a book is a keepsake, a memory that I can always revisit. For me, out of sight usually means out of mind. In the case of an e-reader, books imbedded into a metal box will disappear altogether for me. Seeing I've read the whole book, having the whole book in my hand, makes me appreciate even more the work it took to get there. It's existence in solid form makes it akin to seeing a painting up front and personal rather than seeing a print of it on a computer screen. It's like when I print out my WIP's and I see that pile of papers beside me I think, 'Holy Cow. Did I really write all of that?' Seeing one page at a time on a screen makes less of an impact for me, I guess.

This is not to diss e-books or e-readers, at all. I just find this weird -almost personal- connection to the physical presence of a book. It is impressive and wonderful to me. I know it is all about the words and not the form the words travel in, I know it is more environmentally friendly to use an e-format. But physical books to me are beautiful things. And so much harder for me to get rid of than if I had a click of a button to make them disappear.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mid-month Check List

So, sixteen days into June and, despite a rocky start, quite a lot has been accomplished.

Revisions to Illegally Blonde are done and sent to fabulous editor. Now I wait and see if I hit the nail on the head or if I smashed my thumb. If it's the latter, I can handle it. I've gone through enough physical pain in the last month to be able to take anything thrown at me. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make the book the best it can be. I'm not afraid of pain! Well, only if it's a toothache. After a visit to the dentist today indications are that I may see more tooth pain coming my way later - oi! I think I'm having sympathy pains on behalf of my future self right now. But revision pain? That kind I can and will endure. Without drugs even.

Daughter Two has been sent off on her Quebec trip with her grad class for three days. End of year festivities, including backyard party accomplished as well as planting flowers and making sure the place doesn't look like a squatter's camp for the summer. Warning: gushing mom pride about to come: Two's been chosen as class valedictorian based on her written speech! Way to go Two! Love it when my kids are recognized for their written work ;) But grad is next week so it's the last big family thing to do before a week's vacation. I've booked the entire day off to take care of hair, nails and clothing so Two looks fabulous. Of course she just got a serious sunburn yesterday and now has a farmers tan and her dress is strapless. Sigh. Fake tanning lotion, here we come.

Daughter One has just finished her last exam and she's no longer feeling stressed, acting miserable and unpleasant (well, no more so than usual! :) She's looking forward to seeing No Doubt tonight in concert and finally have fun with her life! She plans on reading at least seven books when we're at the cottage so she'll be lovely to hang around with then. One and I are both fighting over reading the next Sarah Dessen book. I'll be nice and let her read it first. Grumble, grumble ...

The Boy made it to the West Conference Track and Field Finals but only finished 8th out of 16 so didn't get to go to City's. But the disappointment was tempered when his Harry Potter League team came in first (for the fourth time) and he won the Harry Potter wand for being most loyal, trustworthy, etc. etc. in the league. Go, Boy, go!

I finally made it to my TRW meeting on Saturday (it's been months since I was able to attend!) and it was a great session on the psychology of characters. But I really used the workshop to analyze my own family. That Birth Order thing really hit home. Daughter Two is a middle child. Can we say "issues"? "Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!"

Hubby has whittled down the possible design plans for the renovation to at least four or five he likes. Hopefully, the tinkering with the plans can end soon and the destruction of the toxic house can begin.

Hudson The Dog finally got shaved for the summer and looks silly but cute. He'll enjoy swimming at the Lake in his sleeker, shorter coat. But now we have to worry about him getting sunburn! Him and daughter Two can bond.

There's still a lot to do. I'm a chapter away from finishing the wip. I need to schedule me a pedicure before I head off to the cottage (hey, that is a major priority, okay? My feet are uh-glie right now). I have to judge five entries in my TRW contest (aiming to do that during the week I'm at the cottage). I need to take the van in for a much needed check-up - air conditioning not working. Sweaty, cranky kids on a two hour van drive is a definite driver hazard.

But soon, very soon, all this busyness will fade away and we can go on VACATION!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Moments that Change Your Life

Susan Miller's horoscope always has interesting tidbits each month that make me think. This bit really resonated with me:

Change is an essential element of life, for the planets continually are on the move. Think back to times you were forced to make changes and worried, only to see that change brought you into an exciting new sphere, and that it was all for good. You probably ended up thankful that you were asked to make them.

Truer words never spoken and all that. I really believe we are always going through a process of change even if we don't realize it. Change can happen instantaneously - you meet the love of your life, a car accident takes someone from you, you get The Call. Whatever the situation, those moments sear into your psyche and forever change your life. Or the change happens slowly, over a number of years, water wearing away stone to new and, hopefully, interesting shapes.

But what I find most interesting are the moments of change that happen in childhood or adolescence. Duh. Why I write YA fiction I guess. We get 18 years of that precious, hopefully magical and not horrendous, time yet we (or at least I) only remember snapshots and snippets of the day to day life. But it's those moments that you might be quite happy completely forgetting about (ie. Most embarrassing, Most disappointing, Most traumatic) that I find most interesting. Because it's those more distressing moments that will be the one(s) that end up being the most potent. The moment(s) that you can look back on later (maybe much later) and eventually say, "I'm glad that happened. I learned and grew from that. Even if it almost killed me."

I have such a moment and every time I think I'm too afraid to do something, or want to avoid a challenge because I'm going to stress over it too much I think about it. So what was the big moment? I tried out for - and won - the female lead in my high school musical, Man of La Mancha.

What's traumatic about that, you say? Sounds like a happy ever after story, right? Um, not so much. For one thing, I was a very anxious, worry-prone kid. To the point that I would literally get sick to my stomach before performances or speeches. I loved theatre arts though. Dreamed of being an actress one day. But how was I supposed to follow my dream if I got so worried about it that I couldn't go out on stage? I don't know what made me try out - maybe I thought I wouldn't get it. Maybe because all my friends were trying out too. Who knows? But when I got the news that I was the lead (and, let's not forget it was a musical and I wasn't the world's best singer by a long shot) I was, to say the least, floored.

I seriously considered dropping out. But when my Mom found out she said that wouldn't be the right thing to do. I'd tried out and had made a commitment from that point on - I had to live up to it. But I don't think she knew how absolutely terrified I was about performing - gah, and singing! - in front of 300 people a night for 3 nights. I was seriously hoping to get a semi-life threatening disease so I could back out. Unfortunately, I wasn't struck down with pneumonia and the play had to go on.

The week before opening night I barely ate. Only then did my mother start to re-think her earlier advice to me (Portuguese mother's don't like it when their children do not eat) but it was way too late to make excuses by then. Opening night loomed large and monstrous in front of me. I spent the hour before the curtains rose in the girls washroom wondering how I could lock myself in and still be able to face my friends the next day. I spent the final few minutes while the orchestra finished its opening overture pacing backstage, muttering to people "Don't talk to me" (I had this awful belief that if someone spoke to me I would be sick on site). Somehow, someway I made it through the performance. I don't remember much of it. And for each of the 3 performances I went through the same process: washroom, pacing, muttering, performing. And somehow I got rave reviews.

But it's not the praise I received for the performance that I think about now. What I think about most is my final thought as I took my final bow on the final night of the musical. As I stared out at the audience, exhausted, emotionally spent, feeling utter relief that the horror was over, seeing my mother standing and cheering me on, having come every night to support me, I thought:

"If I can make it through this, I can make it through anything."

And from that moment on, my anxiety and worry lessened. Not overnight, but over time. I still worry about things but that moment when I'd faced one of my greatest fears - and faced it head on every night for three nights - became a defining moment in my life. A moment of change. There are others, of course, but that was a biggie for me. Maybe the first big moment of change that led to a lot of things I never thought I would do in my life. And I thought, at the time, that it was a horrible experience.

So when my kids face pressures, challenges, dilemmas, or outright defeats, I always think: "Is this their moment of change?" "Will they learn and grow from it?" "Will it make them better people?" I think back to my first big moment of change and wonder where I would be if I hadn't faced my fear. And I'm always - always - thankful I did.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Honour of Portugal Day in Toronto

In honour of Portugal Day in Toronto a picture of my favourite Portuguese pastry - Pasteis de nata! The famous custard tart. If you haven't tried them you are missing out on one of life's simple pleasures. Go. Buy. One. Now.

I plan to buy a dozen on the way home. They will be devoured by midnight by my family. I'll be lucky to get one. My kids may not know how to speak Portuguese but, darn it, they know how to appreciate good Portuguese food.

Monday, June 8, 2009

When Life Kicks You in the Teeth. Literally.

So June descended with all the obligations I mentioned in my previous blog post. I'm tearing into revisions. I'm running around to various sports and other school-related events, I'm helping Daughter 2 with an end of school year party to be held in our back yard, day work is revving up, plans for home renovations are firming up, etc. etc. Everything's going along tickety-boo, when I get blindsided by a mind-numbing tooth infection that lays me up for two days.

Really, people? No, seriously. Really?

After the kidney stone attack that seemed to go on forever in May now June has to start off like this? So, like who did I offend in this universe to have this much physical pain within a span of four weeks?

Four days, a handful of anti-biotics and advice from Mom that boils down to 'be careful - a tooth infection could lead to a brain infection, you know' later I'm back on track and a few of the things on the to-do-list have been checked off while others are still to be accomplished. The most important check off for me is that I'm still on track for finishing the revisions to Illegally Blonde, thank God.

But it just goes to show you that even when you think you have control over your life you really don't. And for a control-freak like me, it's a not-so-subtle reminder to learn to go with the flow. Even when the flow seems to be doing its best to push you away from the shoreline you so desperately want to reach. But, no matter what, you can't let a little setback screw up all your plans. Like that great philospher Dorrie said on Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…"

Sooner or later, you'll get somewhere.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June??? Already???

I can't believe we're halfway into 2009 already. I think I'm so surprised because it's been a busy first half of the year and if June is anything to go by the second half will be just as busy.
For this month alone I've got a gazillion day job meetings already scheduled, my revisions to IB due, Daughter 2 is graduating from Grade 8 (much preparatory time spent in getting ready for end of year parties, shopping, hair, make-up etc.), various skating tests and track meets that are not part of the regularly scheduled sports events that already take up way too much time, music concerts, special meetings at school, judging for the TRW contest, TRW meeting, cleaning up of house (that is getting rid of clothes and sundry other items that are taking up too much space), and I'm sure a slew of other things I can't remember right now. Yikes. I didn't even think about finishing the WIP. And I'm sooo close to finishing the first draft. Only a couple of chapters to go. Good thing I've got a week's vacation coming up at the end of June. I'll need it.

But after a May that felt like it dragged quite a bit (Mercury retrograde is now over!) I'm not surprised to suddenly feel as if everything is going into overdrive. Now if the weather would turn just a tiny bit warmer I'd be a little less harried and a bit more inclined to stop and smell the flowers. If I could find the time to get them planted!