A Curling Poem

Curling is for rocks
Sliding to the end
Yelling “hurry hard”
A title to defend

Jacobs has it in the bag
But Gushue’s right behind
Who will bring the title home
A new champion we’ll find

Don’t count us out, Saskatchewan yells
We’re in the running too
Maybe we will be the champs
Over Jacobs or Gushue

Ah hem, says Morris, from the back
We’re quiet but we’re here
Our record is the same as green
Our skills you all should fear

Today we’ll watch from end to end
And see who’ll go for gold
We’ll yell and cheer for all the teams
On this great sport we’re sold.

the story of a young mother

I thought I would tell you the story of a young mother that used to yell at her kids so loudly that she wouldn’t be able to talk for hours afterwards. Her throat would burn and her head would throb like a beating drum. She would put her children in their rooms and sit in the hallway sobbing as she forced herself to not go in and throw them against the wall, over and over again. She would shiver and shake and cry until her clothes were soaked through, all the while visioning the violence. When she went to classes to get help, either no one believed her or they told her it was all her fault and she should just stop. Everywhere she went people said that anyone who hurts a child was a monster and should be locked up forever. But she didn’t feel like a monster all the time, just some of the time. The rest of the time she was a fun and caring mother that would take her kids to the park and make Thomas the Tank Engine characters out of construction paper. She didn’t know if she was really a monster inside or if she was really good inside; which was her true self?

If I was telling you this story I would tell you that one Tuesday afternoon this young mother put her kids down for a nap and turned on CityLine. There was a therapist on, Joe Rich, talking to Marilyn Denis about perfectionism and what it looks like and how harmful it is. It looked like drawings of her were coming out of his mouth, swirling around the stage, the TV, and then around her. She called her husband and her parents and asked if it was true.

“Of course you are.”

“You’ve always been that way.”

“It’s just the way you are.”

The young mother sat on the cold tile floor in the kitchen and cried. It was a different cry than her usual sobbing. Finally she understood why she was so awful. Finally she had hope that maybe the monster wasn’t her true self. She wanted to change forever right then but change is much harder than that. But day by day she worked on it. And day by day she got a little bit better. And one day she went to bed and realized that she hadn’t been angry at all that day. Another day she was able to be compassionate instead of angry when something spilled on the floor. And slowly she shrunk the monster. It will always be there, but thanks to that one Tuesday afternoon, the monster only comes out once in a while. At least that’s the way it would end if I was telling you the story.

Shakespeare on the brain

I’ve read articles claiming that reading Shakespeare excites your brain more than reading a novel, but I’m not so sure. I read three Shakespeare plays in high school and I hated all of them. Okay, maybe I didn’t despise Othello, but I read as little of it as possible. Instead of reading Macbeth, I stole my brother’s exam from the year before and studied that. Got an A! I avoided Shakespeare in university, choosing instead to meet my English requirement with poetry because it involved ‘less reading’.

Many years later I went back to school to start an English degree. I only declared my major after combing through the course list along with my credit requirements and figuring out with certainty that I could finish my degree without Shakespeare. As I finished my second and final first year English course, I emailed my tutor to ask him what I should take next. He replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. I said no. Again he replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. He told me Shakespeare was necessary to read, and he was a brilliant man, and no one else compares, and so on. Blah, blah, blah. So, kicking and screaming, I signed up for the course last summer.

It was an online course, and my books came in the mail: A big stack of seven (seven!) Shakespeare plays for me to read and understand in four months. I had a panic attack. And then I had another one. I didn’t even cut the plastic wrap around them for days. It couldn’t be done, there was no way I could read that much Shakespeare and live to tell about it. But by not wanting to waste $100 by dropping the course, I decided to start. The course began with Richard II, a play I had never heard of until I saw it in my stack. And it was good! Richard was so pathetic but he was also hilarious. Why didn’t we get to read histories in high school? This was not the Shakespeare I remember. I could look up real events! These were actual people!

Next was Henry IV, Part One. Loved it! Again I could look up the people and the history but it was less necessary to my understanding than it had been with Richard II. I fell in love with Hal and Percy and Falstaff’s nonsense. How did I graduate from high school and university without knowing these people? While searching online for help with particular passages, I came across The Hollow Crown and of course had to write a paper about Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal. It was glorious. I’d never enjoyed writing a paper more. After that came five tragedies, without Romeo and Juliet, and I enjoyed them all.

Our local Shakespeare Company put on a brilliant production of Othello a few weeks after I finished. The best part of it all was having my sixteen year old enjoy Shakespeare too (he still talks about that production of Othello), and that was a big deal considering how much he hated reading Romeo and Juliet for school just a few months earlier. He has fallen in love with Hamlet, which he gets to study for school starting next week. We will watch David Tennant’s portrayal of the tragic hero for the third time and maybe I’ll grab a copy of Kenneth Branaugh’s version as well. I am now reading Shakespeare for fun – finishing the King Henry plays and then onto the next histories because The Hollow Crown is doing a second series. I emailed my tutor to say thanks, and to say that I loved the course that I never would have taken without his push. Of course he knew that would happen. As for my brain, it is enjoying reading Shakespeare almost as much as it enjoys watching Tom Hiddleston play one of his characters.

Learning to Program

Yesterday I started my first Coursera course – Programming for Everybody (Python) with Dr. Chuck. My first impression is that I can’t believe it’s free! I took a MOOC a couple years ago in Python but it was difficult to follow because it used a variety of free online tools that required me to jump around from website to website, reading a bit here and doing a bit of programming there. I quickly got lost. What a difference it makes to have videos and a syllabus and people there to answer questions. It is awesome how different computer programming is from writing. I feel like I’m using a completely different part of my brain.

Today in a writing Facebook group I’m in, someone is asking a question about what metaphor works for birds, while in the programming one someone is asking about running the command line in Windows 10, which I didn’t know existed yet. When someone says something stupid in the writing group, they tend to be ignored but when someone says something stupid in the computer group, at least three people tell them they’re stupid and to stop posting. Not that writers are better people, they tend to ‘like’ sad and tragic posts like “having a bad day dealing with devastating news”. The programmers are also far better at ‘liking’ and giving positive comments to those that are just looking for validation. The writers tend to ignore those posts. What’s really funny is that the programmers correct grammar and spelling far more than the writers do! I figure if writers and programmers can get along and be allowed to marry, why do we have so many wars between religions that all started in the same place?

My advice to anyone starting to program in Python is to not type “Python” into YouTube. You will get a lot of large snakes eating things from chairs to people. My finger couldn’t scroll through them for fear of being bitten so I changed my search criteria to “learn python”.

Dr. Chuck’s book, “Python for Informatics” is available free online.

Super Bowl Sunday

It’s Super Bowl day

So stop loading hay

 

Hurry up and get here

And bring us some beer

 

Come in and sit down

Don’t drive around town

 

The game is gonna start

Hold onto your heart

 

The coin’s in the air

Referees keep it fair

 

Make your bet on the winner

At half time there’s dinner

 

Nachos and chicken wings

Hot dogs and onion rings

 

I’m making whoopie pies

A feast for the eyes

 

Look out for the ads

For new doodads

 

It’s all in good fun

A few hours and it’s done

 

Save a spot for me

To watch the Seahawks victory!

The Book of Life

If you came to my house, you would see stuffed Marvel characters and a number of super hero posters. Open my Netflix account, and you’ll see romantic comedies and my new favourite show, White Collar. Look at my Pinterest boards and you’ll see a board for Thor, one for Tom Hiddleston, and one for Chris Evans. But without a doubt the best movie of 2014 was The Book of Life, and it comes out on DVD tomorrow.

The Book of Life isn’t just about the power of enduring friendship. It’s not just about the love between parents and children. It’s not just about life and death. And it’s not just about a childhood crush that turns to love. And it’s not just about the pig, Chuy, as cute as he may be! It’s all of those things, put together into a beautiful animated movie.

In The Book of Life, there is the story of two friends that both love the same girl. There is the story of a boy wanting to make his father proud but hating the path chosen for him. There is the love of music. There is the sacrifice of a parent wanting to see their child but letting them go to be with the one they love. There is the pig, who is brilliantly animated to show it getting older. And there is the love story between enemies.

My son begged me to take him to see the movie when it came out in October. I reluctantly agreed, just to hear what Channing Tatum sounded like as an animated character. We both came out beaming, and we agreed we had to see it again. There is so much to enjoy in the animation alone. We saw it again, twice.

The Book of Life isn’t just a kids movie and it’s not a Halloween movie. It happens to take place on November 2nd but it’s an amazing movie for every age. Go get it – rent it, buy it, whatever. You will be glad you did.

A Poem for Tom

A flash of lightning

An inch of snow

A new boat for floating

Down the Bow

 

Her son and his wife

From Vegas they came

To come see his Mum

A fine Danish dame

 

His Dad passed away

Just two months past

Now his Mum is alone

Alone, to the last

 

Tom used to ride

His bicycle for hours

He would come see his love

Past the houses and towers

 

Her parents disagreed

With his love for her

So they sent her to school

Away from his lure

 

But that didn’t stop them

There was nothing that could

They were young and in love

Together for good

 

They came here from Denmark

The young lovers two

Left their families behind

To start their own family new

 

Together they were married

For almost 50 years

They shared in each other’s

Joy, sorrow and tears

 

Two boys they had

But one walked away

From his mother and brother

Leaving the youngest to stay

 

And so he has come

The third time in a row

To honour his Father

Fishing on the Bow

 

the twinges of having teens

I wasn’t expecting to be emotional when my oldest got a job. He already had a driver’s license and he’d been away several times without us (I was emotional then too). He had looked for a job for a couple of months, sending out more than a dozen resumes, and then when he got the job I was quite excited for him. It’s such a big life moment! It was when he got the call from his boss with the starting date that I suddenly wanted to cry. I don’t even know why! I don’t know if it was just an emotional week or the clutter in the house from the renovations but I wanted to cry for his first two days. It was probably good that he worked five days straight for his training.

There was this ridiculous part of me that felt like he was leaving. Like he’d chosen the job over me. It’s so stupid, and I knew that it was stupid of me to feel that way, so I worked to get over it and not express that nonsense to him. It’s not like I really feel that way, it’s just some bizarre perversion of feelings that I had on his first two days. It’s so much fun to hear about his day and get to hear all his stories and I am so thrilled that he is enjoying it. He’s now on his fourth day and I’m not emotional about it anymore, although it does feel like the clock is ticking to the day when they’ll both be gone. And that’s okay too. [Insert deep breath here]

The whole point of parenting is to raise your kids to be successful, independent adults. Keeping them dependent is not the goal at all, yet sometimes my emotions make me want to keep him here forever. Maybe my emotions were pride too, I’m so very proud of him and how cool he is. I was not like that at all when I was a teenager. He’s so mature and awesome.

I think the emotional upheaval will be the norm for a while. Everything they do without me gives me that little twinge and I remember the days when I got to carry them on my hip and help them with everything. It’s so great for them though, to be out on their own without me, doing things that they want to do. I listen to parents of little ones and they are so busy with all the little things that come up every day that they can’t wait for their babies to be independent. I want to tell them it will come far too fast and they will long for these baby days but I don’t say anything. I remember hearing that when I had little ones and I hated it because it seemed so hard at the time. And I didn’t believe it until it happened to me. So now I enjoy the old memories and create new, different ones. There are great and wonderful things about each stage of growing up, including our growing as parents.

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Quilting and Writing

I have just finished the top of my second quilt and it is the first one that I designed myself. The first quilt I made was an easy one from a kit and consisted of rectangles sewn together in rows. I picked out the fabric and cut it how I was told and I sewed it together how I was told. There was no creativity involved. The only design challenge was putting the rectangles together so that identical fabric pieces didn’t wind up next to each other, and I had my fourteen year old do that part.

I hate ripping out stitches. I really hate it. I generally hate making mistakes but ripping out stitches makes me particularly irritated. It’s not just that I have to undo something that I took the time to do, but I also have to spend time ripping out tiny stitches that have often been stitched on top of each other. The fabric frays, I poke my finger with the seam ripper, and I get a headache from staring at little grey lines on top of grey fabric. Sure I could increase the stitch length and not back up the stitches, but that would require me changing my mindset to knowing I would fail and knowing I would have to redo the edges, and I refuse to see myself as a failure. So I do it the hard way. Every time I have to rip out stitches I growl and grunt and whine and moan and walk up and down the stairs and turn up “Shake It Off,” and eventually it gets done properly. Yah I measure twice and cut once but things don’t always work out, especially if the number you thought you were supposed to measure to was wrong in the first place.

I don’t have a problem deleting any of my writing. I deleted 3,000 words this morning in two seconds and it didn’t bother me at all. They weren’t good words when put together. Spending ten minutes ripping out a seam makes me crazy but hitting delete makes me think that I’m improving on what I had, not wasting what I did wrong. Ripping out seams involves finding a mistake, admitting that mistake (this gets harder the more often I make mistakes), gathering supplies to remove the mistake, and finally redoing it the right way. Rewriting involves thinking and rewriting, that’s it. No supplies needed. Maybe making sewing mistakes will ultimately improve my sewing ability, but making mistakes in a sewing project actually makes the item worse; you’re weakening the fabric every time you rip out a seam. But rewriting makes the final product so much better.

So as I ripped out three seams this morning, I thought about how much I like to delete words and rewrite scenes. They don’t feel like mistakes. They’re not always better but they are another step on the road to better.

Fiction: The End of Snow

Jos rested her back against the cold wall and looked outside at the grey concrete surrounding her new home. Spirals of wire sat atop the outer walls like evil candy canes, reminding her where she was. She realized she felt too comfortable here after only two days. When she arrived, she was told that it took most women weeks or even months to adjust, and some never did, but she had not had any problems adjusting. Maybe it was because she had been born here nineteen and a half years ago. Maybe it was because she felt freer inside than she ever had on the outside. There were rules here, and a schedule, and no one else’s baby to look after. There were rules at home too, sure, but they were always changing and she could never keep track of what was right and what was wrong so she would do something really wrong because at least then she knew where she stood.

The knot in her shoulder was smaller and the pain in her jaw from years of grinding and clenching was less than she was accustomed. She stood against the window in her dull sandpaper pajamas and rolled her shoulders back over and over again while dropping her ear to her shoulder back and forth like she was warming up for a boxing match. She resisted the temptation to jump up and down. The tension was gone. She let her mouth hang open as she stretched her jaw without pain. And then she remembered.

“No!” Jos’s mother yelled. She was yelling at her so hard Jos knew her mother would have a migraine later that she’d treat with whatever alcohol was available. All Jos had done was ask to go to a movie with her friend Anne that lived down the street and had two parents and a little brother and a little white dog that always ran up to her and cuddled at her feet.

“He’s not my baby! I never asked for him!” Jos yelled back, slamming the door to her room so hard her bulletin board flew down to the floor and her favourite photo of Chris the awesome Evans got creased. “Arrrrrrgh!” she yelled, and buried her face in her futon. It’s not her problem that it’s the pest’s birthday. Her nose and cheeks felt hot and angry as tears dripped down into the foam. She lifted her head and snorted back her tears. “I hate you!” she yelled towards the door, then climbed out her bedroom window, onto the fire escape, and jumped down the last few feet to the concrete below.

Breakfast at 0750 was the same for everyone every day. If you missed it, you didn’t eat and then you’d be in trouble for not eating and you’d have to go see the counselor and convince them that you’re not suicidal or going on a hunger strike to protest something pointless like the lack of vegetarian options. Jos stood in line on the morning of day three behind an older petite woman. “Hi,” she muttered, not wanting to start a conversation but not wanting to appear rude. The woman ignored her. Jos put the sickly yellow plastic tray down and pulled her long red hair back into a ponytail, wrapping an elastic around it. All she could get here were regular elastics; the kind office people liked to buy in fancy colours stretched into a ball that sat on their fancy wooden desk. The kind that hurt when pulled out of thick, curly hair. “Fine by me,” she whispered to herself. She knew enough people already.

On Halloween Jos had to take her five year old brother trick-or-treating and miss the school dance that Brian had asked her to go to with him. He had stood at the door of her math class and pulled her aside when she walked out.

“Hey, Jos, so, I was wondering, if, maybe, um, you would go to the dance with me?”

“Sure, why not?”

She shrugged as if it meant nothing but Jos had felt her cheeks get warm and rosy and her stomach got bumpy and she knew she was excited. She straightened out her sweater, pulling it down over her zebra print leggings in an effort to look smaller. She would have to find something to wear to the dance that didn’t make her look homeless.

“Great,” he smiled at her, “so, I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Yah, okay, see ya.”

When her Mom got home that night she told her about the dance the following Friday.

“No, Friday’s Halloween. You have to take Ben trick-or-treating. You already told him you would.”

“No, I’m going to the dance.”

“No, you’re taking your brother trick-or-treating.”

“Half-brother, and no, I’m not.”

“I’m not having this discussion with you.”

“Fine, you take him.”

“I have plans.”

“Change them. I’m going to the dance.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not taking my stupid brother out for candy. You can buy him some yourself. He’s such a baby anyway.”

Ben had been watching the whole conversation from the doorway where he stood in his Olaf snowman costume holding sunglasses in his little hand. He ran away crying up to his room. Jos walked out the door, down the hall, and out the door that locked behind her. She sat on the cold concrete steps and felt her leggings get wet beneath her from the earlier rain. The next day at school she had to tell Brian that she couldn’t go. Black lines of mascara ran down her face as she told him. She knew how ugly she was.

“Oh that’s fine,” he said, oblivious to her crying, “I’d rather go with Andie anyway.”

He walked off and Jos saw him walk down to Andie’s locker, speak with her, and then embrace her as if they were already dating. Andie and her stupid locker covered in pictures of Adam Levine half-naked. As if perfect Andie would ever get a tattoo. She wiped off her cheeks and rubbed her hands on the sides of her skirt, pulling it down with the hope that it would somehow make her look less chubby.

Jos stabbed the half grapefruit on her plastic tray with the plastic knife she’d been given to eat it with. It bent and broke as it tried to push through the hard yellow rind. Half of the knife stuck in the grapefruit while the other half stayed in her hand, sharp and jagged. Another girl about her age, with short brown hair and glasses, sat down across the table. Jos looked up at her face. She reminded Jos of the smart girls at school that wear preppy clothes and had rich parents and got to drive their little Smurf cars but would whine about how they weren’t good enough to get into some crap school Jos had never heard of. She flipped her tray over onto the other girl’s breakfast and walked out.

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of Jos’s bedroom. She knew that normal people had theirs in a pretty stand, with a pretty blanket wrapped around the bottom. They would have ornaments and tinsel and presents too. But this tree was hers, pulled through the alley in four inches of snow three days after Christmas. It looked too alive to be left to die in the alley so Jos made it her own, dragging it up the steps and through the hallway, through the apartment and into her room. She propped it against the corner then heard knocking at the door. She opened it, leaving the chain on.

“What in the hell d’you think you’re doing missy?”

Jos looked back at the lady from down the hall.

“Get yurself out here and clean up the mess you made or I be telling your mudder.”

Jos stifled a laugh. Mrs. Greenback was not from the west and the way she talked always made Jos laugh. She and Anne made fun of her all the time, sitting on Anne’s deck with their legs dangling over the side.

“Whaz so funny?”

“Nothing, Mrs. Greenback, I’ll come out right away.”

Jos spent over an hour sweeping the needles out of the thin blue carpet in the hallway. Not that it helped. The carpet was so old and worn and covered in stains of dirt, food, puke, and God knows what else. She had just started sweeping the linoleum in the apartment when her mother came home. The opening of the door startled Jos and she turned quickly, swinging the broom handle and knocking over three of her mother’s Precious Moments figurines. She didn’t even look up at her mother, she just swept them up into the dustpan and went to her room.

“Doubt, Smithers, Anderson! Report to the kitchen at once!”

Jos got up, wondering who would have the name “Smithers,” and went to the kitchen. At least it was better than “Doubt.” Time for work duty. She stood at the metal sink. It was large enough to bathe an adult in and it reminded her of having to bathe stupid Ben every night. The water was hot enough to scald, Jos knew that, but here she was, forced to wash every dish with her bare hands. The burning was soothing in the pain it caused and she pretended to be outside lying on the beach, getting a sun burn.

It was Anne’s idea although no one believed it, especially Anne’s parents and Jos’s mother. Why would they? Anne lived in a nice house and had never done anything bad whereas Jos had already done two batches of community service for vandalism and shoplifting. She should have said no, she could have said no, but Anne really was her only friend and was leaving for college in the fall and it was their last chance to make memories. And it was New Year’s Eve. They plotted and planned for days, staying up late at Anne’s house pretending to be talking about college boys. Anne’s mother made them late-night snacks and when Jos stayed over, she got a full plate of breakfast cooked and cleaned up by someone else.

On the night of the deed, Jos wore her favourite black leggings and took a pair of her mother’s black boots from the closet. Anne was ready when she got there, sitting on her front porch like an old woman watching the neighbours.

“Ready?”

“Yes. Let’s do it. I have the jitters or something. Jos could see her hands fretting inside her mittens.”

“Are you sure you want to do it? If we get caught you won’t be going to college.”

“My Dad will get me out of anything. I just need to do something really bad to feel what it’s like. I need to feel what you feel.”

“The getting caught part is not fun.”

“We won’t get caught.”

The pair made their way down the street to the golf course parking lot where dozens of fancy, shiny cars lay waiting for them.

“Which one do you want?” Jos asked. Anne was only going to do this once so Jos figured she could chose. Plus, Anne was shaking standing there and the silver in her leggings was flicking light all over the parking lot. They needed to be quick.

“Uhhh, that one,” she replied, pointing with her red mitten at a two-seater rich car that matched her outfit.

The car was shiny silver and it twinkled like a rich person’s Christmas tree. She pulled the handle and was surprised that it opened.

“Rich people just assume no one will steal from them,” she said with disgust, although she was glad to not have to break in.

She rummaged around the car and the glove compartment and found a spare key in the owner’s manual. Another stupid mistake.

“It’s like they want us to take it,” she said and started the car. “Put your seatbelt on!” The plan was to have Anne drive just for the excitement but she was too nervous. Not that she had asked Jos to stop or anything.

They peeled out of the parking lot, Jos pretending that she was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Anne pretending she was too cool to be excited. Jos sped down the street, changing gears like a race car driver with total confidence. She was the most excited she had ever been. They turned into the mall parking lot and did trick maneuvers spinning around and flipping from forward to reverse and back again. After several minutes, Jos drove Anne home. She watched Anne open the door and go inside but didn’t see her little dog run out the door and into the street. As Jos sped away she felt a bump under the wheel and reluctantly stopped the car. Anne ran out of her house screaming. “Snow! Snow!” And as she looked out into the street her bright rich face turned pale, the little dog barely visible against the snow covered street. Jos drove away. She had destroyed the only living thing to ever truly love her.

The prompt for this story came from Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind, the most awesome writing course online.