Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.


I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Leaving London; Lessons Learned

Our last day in London...our plane leaves for home tomorrow morning. We went to church this morning (Central London SDA again) and then spent the afternoon and evening in a lengthy (and frequently interrupted) stroll through the parklands of Central London. We began at Kensington Gardens, quite near our hotel, and progressed through Hyde Park (familiar territory now!) down through Green Park, finally ending up at Buckingham Palace.

First, just for Sherry -- a picture of Kensington Gardens, as requested. It would look exactly like a postcard if I hadn't stuck my two silly children in front of the gate before snapping the picture.

Besides the beautiful gardens, Kensington Palace/Gardens boasts the most impressive playground of all the great playgrounds we've seen in London -- its central focus is a huge, almost life-sized pirate ship with rope ladders all over so kids can climb the rigging, walk the plank, etc. That's actually where we spent most of the afternoon.

When we finally tore the kids away from the playground, we had high tea in the Orangery, which was incredibly posh and civilized. I had a bowl of tomato and basil soup that made me think of my mother and what we call her "endless quest for the perfect bowl of soup." This would have come close, I think. Also had a scone with the obligatory jam and clotted cream. Delicious.

After tea we continued walking on through the parks. We walked down Kensington Gardens' lovely "Flower Walk," although for our purposes it might have more accurately been named the "Squirrel Walk." There were more squirrels scampering across the paths than I'd ever seen before, and the children were absolutely fascinated with them, running ahead whenever we shouted, "Look! Another squirrel!" This had the effect of keeping them racing along when they would normally have been dragging their feet and asking, "How much farther?" Yes, historical buildings, beautiful gardens, lofty monuments will tire with time, but we can never get enough of those cute, personable, disease-riddled vermin.

We did eventually make it to Buckingham Palace. By that time the kids had run out of squirrels and Christopher finally was complaining that he was tired and wanted a rest. I said we could rest on the steps of the monument outside the Palace. He whined for half a block and as soon as we got there, both kids filled me with pride and terror by joining the hordes of children climbing and scrambling all over the statuary. I said to Chris, "Weren't you just dying to sit down and rest a minute ago?" Quite honestly he replied, "But Mom, I'm not tired when there's anything interesting to do!!"

We were all out of room on our camera's memory stick before we got to the Palace, so instead I present a few pics of the kids climbing on totem poles at the playground earlier today:

I said earlier that travel is a learning experience, so I thought I'd finish the London portion of the blog with a few reflections on what I've learned in the past two weeks:

England is a hot, hot, hot country. Virtually tropical. I don't care what any English people out there have to say about what it's like "normally" ... you'll never convince me of anything differen.

England is a very expensive country. I don't know any place more expensive to travel. The prices for food and accommodation look perfectly reasonable till you realize they're in pounds not dollars. Once you multiply by two and discover what you're actually paying, you go a little crazy. The only cure is to put it out of your mind and not think about it till you return home and see what shape your bank balance is in.

Allow children to enjoy tourism on their own terms. So they spend their time at the Maritime Museum pretending to be spies examining the exhibits, and learn nothing about British naval history? All they remember of Kensington Gardens is that it's the place with the squirrels? No problem! Being the control freak I am (and married to another!) I sometimes have to remember to set aside my agenda and let the kids take things in their own stride, but I'm learning!

My children have literally inexhaustible energy. I'd always thought this was the case but it's finally been tested. It doesn't matter how many miles of walking, how many trains or subways you drag them through in hot weather; at the first opportunity they will immediately run, climb, yell or play -- regardless of how fatigued they should be, or appeared to be a moment ago. They will eventually sleep, but when this happens they drop as if shot -- they do not pass through any intermediate stage known as "tired" or even "relaxed."

My children are fantastic travellers. I've bragged about this before but I'm still amazed at how positive, cheerful and resilient they are, even when we encounter inconvenience and changes of plan. Lest anyone think I'm being idealistic, I'm not complaining they are perfectly behaved all the time. There's plenty of squibbling, backtalk, and LOUDNESS. I can't count how many times Jason or I have given the following speech: "Please lower your voice. There are many other people in this hotel/train/playground/city who have not paid to hear you sing/shreik/recite." (I will also say that we have gotten a few compliments in public places on our "well-behaved children," so it's not all bad.) In spite of it all there has never been a day or even a moment when I've been sorry we brought them or felt than any of us was not having a good time. I would gladly take them on the Grand Tour of Europe should time and money permit.

I would love to be even 10% as outgoing as my children are. At every playground they have made instant friends, learned other children's names, been instantly comfortable. I don't know where they got it but certainly not from Jason and me, as we've both quite shy around people we don't know. One of my favourite scenes was seeing Christopher and another boy his age climbing on top of a statue today, both enthusiastically making armpit music -- a skill Chris has taught to children from all over Europe by now.

Our entire family can spend two weeks together, 24/7, sleeping in a single room ... and still all be speaking to each other by the end of it! This amazes me. See above disclaimer about children's behavior -- it's not that we haven't had moments of tension and frustration, but in general we have all gotten along famously. At least, we haven't killed and eaten each other, not even on the houseboat.

My husband and I are the Best. Team. Ever. And now I know why. I've always known Jason and I were great partners but this trip has allowed me to analyze the strength of the partnership, and it is this: neither of us hesitates to take leadership in an area where we feel confident, and neither of us doubts or questions the other when the other is in the "leader" role. Jason would no more question my judgement about which subway to take or what time our train comes, then I would consider questioning a decision he made about how to steer the canalboat. Again, it's not that we travel without any tension whatsoever, but I do think we have ironed out a lot of the major wrinkles that cause trouble for travelling couples, and I think this simple agreement -- each one take charge when necessary, and don't argue with the person in charge -- has saved us a lot of hassle.

There's no place like home! There's no place like home! England is a great tourist destination; we've had a wonderful time here ... but tomorrow night we'll be sleeping our own beds and nothing beats that!!

Friday, July 28, 2006

If You Only See One Thing In England...

Well, of course, first up you'd have to be IN England, or going there. And I'm mainly speaking of people with children, although most everyone would enjoy this. Especially history buffs like me. (I hate the word "buffs" used in that context. I have no idea why I just used it). But if you go to England and you can hit only ONE major tourist attraction, I highly recommend Warwick Castle, the best tourist attraction I've ever seen in ANY country, hands down.

Warwick Castle is one of those ancient castles the English have lying all over the place, only this one has been maintained rather than crumbling into a picturesque ruin, and they have turned it into a tourist's, and a small child's, dream.

At Warwick Castle, besides stunningly impressive re-created rooms populated by astonishingly lifelike waxworks representing life in the castle at different eras, there are also brilliant live displays. These include a genuine, full-size trebuchet -- that's a medieval siege engine that flings gigantic rocks through the air. (Into a deserted wooded area, not into the spectator stands, although I was concerned to notice on the map that the area where the trebuchet rocks landed was designated for "Nature Walks." Nature Walks and Nasty Shocks, I should imagine, if you don't time your walk carefully.) You can also see hawks hawking, try your hand at the longbow, watch some very funny fighting knights put on full plate armour (including chain-mail underpants!) and indulge in some swordplay -- and best of all, you can see Real! Live! Jousting!! Complete with skillful knights and equally skillful horses decked out in surcoats -- it's amazing. All the presenters are not only knowledgeable but also funny and personable, and for my money it is the closest you will ever come to a time machine set for the middle ages.

We had a wonderful day at Warwick Castle on Wednesday, after cruising down the Grand Union Canal from Stockton through Leamington Spa to Warwick on Tuesday. On Thursday we did the trip up in reverse -- which I liked much better than the trip down, because by then I'd learned to steer the boat (more or less) and Jason was able to get our and open all the locks. No word on whether Jason liked the return journey better!!

We are back in hot sweaty London now, staying in a budget hotel that entirely confirms our earlier decision to spend the bulk of our time in a nice B&B in the suburbs -- you cannot get very comfy or cool accommodation on the average family budget in Central London. But it's OK for two days, which is all we've got left before heading home. We're anxious to get back to friends and family but in no hurry to leave England as we're all still having a great time!!

NOTE: I edited my last post to add some pics of the canal boat.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cruising Down the Canal...

We are enjoying our first full day of life on a canal boat in the Grand Union Canal. It's quite a contrast to the week in London (although the weather is still very hot!) Although having the kids with us made the week of sightseeing much more laid-back than it would have otherwise been (one main event per day, getting home early in the evenings, staying in the suburbs) it was still quite busy and hectic -- running on and off Underground trains, trying to keep to a schedule.

By comparison, much of our time on the boat is simply spent cruising along at a very slow pace, admiring the ducks and the scenery along the way. It's wonderfully relaxing and very beautiful. The only time it gets hectic is when we have to go through the locks. Opening the gates is moderately hard work, but I do most of it, not because I'm stronger than Jason but because the alternative is to be on the boat steering it through the locks, and my one attempt at that was disastrous! However, I am learning and expect to be quite an accomplished boatperson before it's all over.

The kids love the boat, which is small and cozy and well-designed. I wish I could show you pictures but I'm about to get booted off the internet here at the Leamington Spa public library (we've stopped here for a few hours before cruising on to Warwick for the night).

...[LATER]...I went back to edit this post and added in some pictures so you can see what our boat, and the canal, was like. The canal water is murky (I told the kids if they fell in I wouldn't fish them out, which offended Emma horribly) but the scenery is amazing! There's one cute pic of the two kids in the bow of the boat that simply WILL NOT upload to the blog for some reason, and other people are waiting to use the computer so I have to quit trying, but I hope what we have here will give you an idea of what it's like!

Monday, July 24, 2006

On the go...

No pics or amusing stories today (although I do have some ... but no time to add them!) We are leaving Beautiful Bexley, highly recommended to travellers who want to stay in the suburbs of London, and heading off to pick up our canal boat. I don't know when I'll be able to update again; depends on the availability of internet cafes in places where we stop along the way. Wish us luck on the canals, and I'll update when I can!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Visit to Peter Pan

It's Saturday night at the internet salon and I'm squeezing in a quick update on our day today. We went to church at the Central London SDA Church today. Despite the hassles of locating and getting to a church while travelling it's something we always try to do, for two reasons. First (and this is probably something only my fellow SDA readers will appreciate) it's hard to give Sabbath a "Sabbath" feel when you're travelling, what with staying in a hotel and buying food and everything, so going to church underlines for both us and the kids that it is still Sabbath. Second, attending church takes you away from tourist traps and into the places where real people live, and you get to meet some of those real people. So for both those reasons, we found a church to attend today.

It was an excellent choice. Central London SDA is a medium-sized, multicultural SDA church with a contemporary worship style and a friendly congregation. The speaker was a visiting speaker from Australia who was both learned and lively -- a rare and enjoyable combination (although unfortunately he was also the third L -- longwinded! But I actually enjoyed listening to him for 50 minutes!)

Our only complaint with the church was that their website advertised a hospitality meal after the service and that was actually not on, so we had to scramble a bit to forage for food as well as taking shelter from a rain shower -- for the first time since our arrival in London the weather today was under 30C. Only JUST under, but the rain made it feel cooler. Everything dried up nicely in time for us to spend the afternoon in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. We admired the ducks, dangled our feet in Princess Di's Memorial Fountain, where Chris took the above snap of Jason and me, and made another stop on our Playgrounds of Great Britain tour (I must say they have GREAT playgrounds in this country!)

The high point of this was my pilgrimage to the original Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. One of these statues (there are seven worldwide) stands in Bowring Park in St. John's and both I and my children grew up playing around it (and being photographed near it), so I really wanted to get a picture of them at the original one. Ironically, just as we approached the statue after a whole afternoon of walking, I dropped the digital camera and we couldn't get it working again. I was, of course, devastated about the loss both of our precious camera and of this particular photo op.

It was worth the price of admission to linger at the base of Peter Pan and listen to Chris and Emma trying to comfort me: "Don't be so sad, Mom, it's only a camera ... it can be fixed ... it's not like you lost a child! At least you still have your family!!" (The last two comments from Emma, more of a drama queen even than her mother).

Fortunately, at about that time Jason managed to get the camera working again and we got the long-awaited picture, so all's well that ends well.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Greenwich Shipmeet

After many years of amusing and educating myself through online discussion forums, I've very rarely actually met any of my "internet friends" (or "imaginary friends") as Jason sometimes likes to call them in real life. Thursday evening, after a day spent with Jason and the kids in Greenwich, was my evening for discovering that my "shipmates" from the wonderful Ship of Fools discussion forum are, in fact, real people. Not only real but witty, intelligent, and lots of fun. Well, I knew all that from their online posts, actually. But Yangtze's bra demonstration had to be seen in real life to be believed!! (That was before all the men showed up, when the conversation centred largely around shopping and wardrobe choices -- including undergarments!)

(Photo at left) Present on Thursday evening at the "Cutty Sark" in Greenwich were (L-R around the table, Ship usernames only): Moth, Tree Bee, Auntie Doris, friend of Auntie Doris, A Lurker, Curiosus, M., Gracious Rebel, and Yangtze.

And in the second photo ... Curiosus, M., Agent Smith, Gracious Rebel, Yangtze, trace elements of Shadok, Moth, and A Lurker.

Finally, I'm in this one ... L-R Yangtze, ken, me (Trudy!) A Lurker, and Shadok.

The wonderful Moth and Shadok have invited us to their home for supper and laundry tonight ... they are the nicest people in the world to take in grubby Canadian tourists for the evening! We're hot and sweaty because we went to the London Zoo today and so spent hours and hours traipsing around in the sun. We saw a wide variety of animals and had a great time! The kids are still in good spirits.

We took a few pics at the zoo and I was going to post some but uploading them from here seems to exceed the capacity of what I can technically do on a borrowed computer (I'm much more brazen about one I'm paying to use!) so I'm going to save those till tomorrow or the next day. I'll keep everyone posted on our adventures as we continue!!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Finding Yourself

Let's see, it's ... Day Five? I really am losing track.

Yesterday was my favourite day of the trip so far. It was a fairly laid-back day with one main objective (seeing The Lion King) and only one trip on transit -- the train from Bexley to Charing Cross. We didn't have to contend with the Tube yesterday, which was good because it was another day of record-breaking heat, up above 36C, so I'm told.

The Lion King was great. I love musicals, and have seen most of the big-name ones on big-city stages -- Phantom, Les Mis, Cats -- as well as excellent local productions of almost every musical you can think of at home in St. John's. So I am speaking as a well-informed consumer when I say that the London production of The Lion King is, hands down, the best musical I have ever seen.

Since I'm not a very visual peson, if I see a musical I'm more likely to go away raving about the music or the acting rather than the sets and costumes. But in The Lion King, the sets and costumes really are front and centre. The way in which the animal characters are created, using beautiful and innovative masks and puppetry, without trying to hide the puppetteers or actors behind the masks but rather incorporating them into the characters, is breathtaking, and the sets are simple but gorgeous. I love the story of the The Lion King anyway -- it's your classic coming-of-age story, retold a thousand times but never old if it's well-done. And the music is my favourite of any of the Disney musicals; in the stage version it's all there plus it's supplemented by a lot more beautiful African-inspired music and dancing. Wow. The kids were riveted throughout the whole thing and Jason and I loved it too.

We emerged from the relative cool of the theatre into the heat of the London afternoon and decided to walk the short distance to Trafalgar Square. The fountains were lined off with tourists and locals dangling their feet and sometimes wading around a bit in the water (the wading is officially discouraged, as we and several other tourists discovered when Chris and Emma started splashing around as the other children were doing!). It was a lovely cooling way to visit one of the Landmarks of London. Today's pictures are all fountain pictures.

It's hard not to draw comparisons between this trip and my other two visits to England -- one all by myself in 86, right after I graduated from college, and one with Jason in 96, a year after we were married. The trip in 86 was supposed to be my scaled-down version of the Grand Tour of Europe where I could wander around England finding myself. I went for three weeks and my father is fond of quoting my statement at the time, that I found myself in the first few days and then had another two weeks to kill.

Me being sarcastic as usual, of course, but there's some truth in it. There's a limit to how much self-discovery I can really do in solitude: after awhile, I start to bore myself. The other day I finished reading one of my trip books, Alison Pick's The Sweet Edge (yes I will be posting a review when I get home and can update the book reviews). At the core of this novel is the story of a young man who goes on a punishing and potentially fatal canoe trip alone in the Canadian North -- to "find himself," essentially, though he doesn't use that phrase. Lots of people buy into this idea of a long journey alone as a vehicle for self-discovery, and I've tried it myself on occasion, though nothing as ambitious as canoeing alone in the North!

But I think if you really want to go on a trip to "find yourself," you should take your spouse/partner and two small children to another country in the middle of a heat wave, on a limited budget. You won't have endless hours for contemplating the meaning of existence and writing about it in your journal, that's for sure. But you will find essential parts of yourself you might not have noticed before. You will find incredible resources of patience, energy, creativity, humour, and resilience. You will learn your capacity for self-denial as you walk past appealing ethnic restaurants in search of a Burger King at which your child will eat. You won't catch a lot of late-night theatre on a trip like this, but you'll learn more about your own limits and strengths than you'd ever imagined. (Conversely, I suppose, you could learn that you entirely lack these qualities, and could abandon your screaming children on an Underground platform while you make a break for freedom. But then, you'd have learned something about yourself in that case too, wouldn't you? Only you might not write about it in your blog).

Similarly, if you want to really get to know your partner, I can suggest something much better than a long camping trip or a romantic second honeymoon together. Put your partner on a train at the end of a long, hot day with a small boy who wants to assemble the Lego toy he's just bought, then arrange for several key pieces to be missing from the Lego toy. Watch as the Man of Your Dreams simultaneously calms the threatened storm of tears and frustration, and scavenges for appropriate replacement Legos in the backpack to cobble together an acceptable substitute. You will stare open-mouthed in awe and think, "He is more than human!" as the tears change to a smile of admiration on the face of the child (who somehow goes on believing that he assembled the Lego toy all by himself).

Travel is certainly a learning experience. Travel with the kids is a life-changing experience. So far, all the changes are for the better. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lego London Better than the Real Thing

Day Three of the England trip finds me once again at the Internet Salon in Bexley. In my dreams, Jason is quietly tucking two tired children into bed back at the B&B, but I have to say that the reality is probably much less idyllic, and louder.

England is still in the grip of a record-breaking heat wave. The temperature today was up to 33C, and I heard the hairdressing guy tell a customer just now that they estimated it was in the 50s on the buses. It certainly was close to that on the subway. The British do not DO air-conditioning. They do it so little that even I, coming from St. John's Newfoundland which is hardly the A/C capital of the known world, am noticing the lack. I think half our trip budget will be gone on bottled water alone.

Yesterday was the long-awaited (by Christopher especially) trip to Legoland UK. You will get some grasp of the amount of time we are spending on public transit when I tell you that we spent a total of 7 hours on the trains/subways in order to enjoy 5 hours at Legoland. The kids are still proving to be intrepid travellers and haven't complained about the amount of travel time, although I'm sure the novelty of riding on a train will have long worn off before we get home. Yesterday morning Emma was in the bathroom on the train when it left the station. She looked worried for a second, then her face lit up. "Oh Mommy, I've never been in a moving bathroom before!!"

That is typical of her approach to the rigours of travel -- even the most boring or inconvenient things are a new adventure. Christopher, as is his style, is a little more blase, but doesn't complain either.

They both had a great time at Legoland. We packed as much as we could into our five hours there. We rode some splashy water rides, which helped with the heat; the kids went to "Lego Driving School" and drove life-sized Lego cars around a track; we ate lunch at the castle in Knight's Kingdom. We even went on a roller coaster -- yes, I mean even me. After a bad experience many years ago on the Mindbender at West Edmonton Mall I swore off rollercoasters for life (no, there was no accident or injury: the bad experience was that I went on the Mindbender) but Emma wanted to try this one and we really need one adult with each child, so I screwed my courage to the sticking-place and went on. It was actually quite a tame roller-coaster, although I am only going by feel because I had my eyes closed the whole time. Emma, predictably, thought it was "cool!"

My favourite thing at Legoland was the miniature Lego cities, including a complete replica of Central London. The kids got to see all the sights we passed the day before on the double-decker bus tour, but much closer up with more time to look at them -- in fact, I highly recommend Lego London as being better than the real thing! The guards are always changing in front of Buckingham Palace and you always have a good view. The accompanying picture gives a good sense of how clean, orderly, and easy to view Lego London is. What's not to like about Lego?

Today, bearing in mind the heat in the forecast, we abandoned our previous plan to do the London Zoo and opted for the Science Museum instead, since it would be indoors. It was a good choice -- the downstairs was even cool, possibly air-conditioned! There was lots to see and do there including a 3D IMAX movie (the one thing Emma didn't think was "cool" ... she kept the 3D glasses off after the shark came out of the screen towards her! Christopher loved it, of course). Posing for a photo op in the 1961 Austin-Healey Sprite was another fun moment and I've included the pic of Emma and me there with hopes that my dad, former owner of a Sprite in the long ago, will appreciate it!

Now we are back at Bexley, which is a pretty little English village -- I mean it's an English village in the same sense St. Phillips is a Newfoundland outport -- it's basically a suburb of London, but way out on the fringes of the metropolis and it does have a bit of a "small town" feel. I've included here a picture of me and the kids up on the climbing structure at the Bexley playground, with the spire of the local church towering above us. Tomorrow we have tickets to the musical of The Lion King so that will be our big event -- we are finding that one main event/activity a day is definitely enough with the children!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Live from the Internet Salon in Bexley, England...

It's Trudy & Family's Excellent Adventure!

Yes, I was hoping to find an internet cafe but instead Bexley boasts an internet hair salon -- I have no idea why. The main point is that here I am telling you all about our trip so far.

The overnight flight on Saturday night was fine; everyone got some sleep, though not at the same time. Emma did the best job of tucking in and settling down. At about 3 a.m. Christopher was still assembling his Lego toys on the tray table and talking in a very animated voice to Jason about what he was doing, but he eventually settled down and got some sleep.

I love travel, but I'm not a huge fan of flying on airplanes as such. There are just a few little things that bother me. First, there's the fact that you're in a metal tube five miles above the ground with nothing but the ocean and a horrible death below. Second -- well, there is no second. In the light of "first," it seems petty to complain about the lack of leg room, the dehydrating recycled air, or airplane food. Actually I quite like airplane food, although it's hard to come by these days; we got a lovely breakfast before landing at 8:30 English time (still only about 5:00 a.m. our time!)

Our plan for the first day was to arrive at Heathrow in the morning, take a double-decker bus tour of London (which Jason and I remembered from our earlier visit as a quiet, undemanding way to spend the first few jet-lagged hours in England), then go on in the afternoon to our B&B in Bexley, a suburb of London.

We had failed to take into account how even the most quiet and undemanding tourist activities become more exhausting with (and for) small children, and how the inevitable hopping on and off subways which is an essential part of London travel can be wearing to the very young, or to those carrying many backpacks. The kids did enjoy the bus tour and the boat ride on the Thames which was included in the price (except when they were dozing off), but by the time we got well into the process of finding our way to Bexley it was later than we'd expected and we were all very tired.

Small disasters -- such as a train being taken out of service one stop from our destination, or a bag containing a milk bottle leaking milk all over our own luggage and that of some well-dressed bystanders on the Underground -- suddenly seemed like obstacles too great to surmount. But I have to give the kids 100% credit for being the world's greatest little travellers: they didn't whine or complain throughout the whole thing, and when we finally got on our last train, the one that would take us to Bexley, Emma settled back into her seat, sighed happily, and said, "Now THIS is what I call a vacation!!"

A couple of hours later we were settled in our cozy, clean and attrative B&B room. Showered and wearing clean clothes, we headed out to secure some supper for Jason and me (the kids had eaten take-out while we were on the subway; that's where the leaky bag of milk came from). One of my fantasies for the trip was to eat Indian take-out, since my vast knowledge of British culture (i.e. Coronation Street and Ship of Fools) suggests that English people are always popping out for "a curry." Sure enough, cheap and good Indian food was easy to obtain and soon Jason and I were sitting on a bench in a warm English twilight, eating chicken korma and watching the kids play in a lovely playground just a block from our B&B. At which point I sighed, stretched, and said, "Now, this is what I call a vacation!!"

We're off to Legoland today ... more later!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Absolutely My Last Post From Home...

OK, we're now in that "All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go," stage, and it's still 5 hours till our plane leaves. The intrepid little world travellers are geared up for their transatlantic flight, and Jason and I are praying they'll be able to sleep on the plane.

Oh, I put some new book reviews up on Compulsive Overreader. I've got a nice crop of books packed for reading in England so I'll have more reviews when I get back.

I promise, I'm really finished now. I won't bother you anymore until I actually have something interesting to report ... like that we're in England.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Halfway Gone

Another of my scenic early-morning shots here...this is what Quidi Vidi looked like at 5:30 this morning. The hue du jour was orange instead of pink this time. Amazing.

It's been quite an action-packed day, starting with walking the lake at dawn. The kids went to Vacation Bible School at a nearby church (not our own church, which means I don't have to run VBS, but just get to bring my kids and enjoy the well-staffed program!), where they've been having a blast all week. We've been going there for several years, but last year Christopher was very reluctant to go and flat-out refused to attend a couple of days. This year he's totally into it -- his best friend is going, plus he's made a bunch of new friends there. I usually think of Emma as being the more outgoing of the two kids, but this year at VBS it's Chris who's always in the middle of a crowd of friends. When I picked him up at the end of the program today he was exchanging phone numbers with a boy I'd never seen before. Of course, Chris being Chris (and exactly like me in this respect), goodness only knows where that phone number is now, but it was a nice gesture.

This afternoon the kids and I went up to the cabin with all the visiting cousins -- Jackie and Andy and their girls Rachel and Kat, as well as Aunt Bernice and Jennifer. We did some swimming and some boating. It was fun, but today was a little cooler than the weather we have been enjoying, so there wasn't as much basking in the sun as there might have been. It looks like our three-week stretch of perfect weather is ending and being replaced by cooler, wetter weather ... just as we are about to leave the country. Oh well, too bad about everyone who has to stay here!

As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, this evening we took the kids to the Wonderbolt Circus, a can't-miss summer event. This local circus troupe put on a fabulous show as always, with acrobatics, clowns, juggling, and FIRE. The kids always watch the whole show open-mouthed with wonder, and I can't tell you how much I love it (even though the Wonderbolt Circus is completely responsible for our children learning the word "buttocks" last summer -- a word which became a centrepiece of their vocabulary and caused huge gales of laughter whenever it was repeated).

On my worst parenting days, when I want to sell my children to the circus, I always hope the Wonderbolt Circus will take them. 'Cause then at least they'd be having FUN.

All this action is only the lead-up to our Big Excitement: departure for our two-week vacation in England on Saturday night. In my mind, I'm halfway gone -- the thought of London is becoming more real than the everyday reality of life here in St. John's, as these last few days tick away. This will probably be my last blog from home, but we're hoping to be able to hit the occasional internet cafe and update from the road, so watch this space for British developments!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Requiem for a Piraka (or, Mommy Killed Vezok)

Meet Vezok, "the Beast." He's a Piraka. If that doesn't give you enough background, Vezok is essentially a Lego monster. He bears a striking similarity to one of the beasts of Daniel and has the ability to shoot deadly zamor spheres. He is also capable of being assembled, disassembled, and re-assembled in a new configuration within minutes by the eight-year-old boy who adores him. He is my son's favourite toy, bought with his own hard-earned money (well, money that indulgent older relatives gave him for getting a good report card in school). And this weekend, I took him away forever. In essence, I killed Vezok.

While I fall down in a number of parenting areas, I hold this truth to be self-evident: You cannot make a threat you are not prepared to carry out. There's no more hardcore or basic rule of parenting than follow-through.

Taking toys away is a fairly common disciplinary strategy in this house, but it generally involves a temporary removal of a toy, with the possibility of getting it back after certain restrictions have been complied with. I have rarely threatened to remove a toy permanently, and never had to carry out such a threat.

Vezok proved the exception. He tested my motherly mettle, and I emerged triumphant. I think. With parenting, unlike with Piraka, it's not always easy to tell when you've won.

My son is a wonderful, brilliant, funny and charming boy, and if you read this blog you will be subjected to a number of mommy-brags about him. I will say, however, that he is capable of being rude, critical, and mouthy. Some of this I think he has picked up from school friends and from TV. Some of it might even be genetic, since his father and I have two of the smartest mouths you're ever likely to hear. We, however, have learned to exercise some restraint and discretion in the use of sarcasm, and we are trying to teach this skill to Christopher.

We've tried it all. We catch him in the act and correcting him. We talk about how other people have feelings -- especially his little sister, butt of most of the rude comments (hee hee, Mommy said "butt"!!) We try to model polite speech. We impose short-term penalties, like time-outs and loss of computer privileges. In the holy name of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, is there anything we haven't tried???!!

Last week I warmed up with a warning that if the rude talk continued, a Piraka might die. Things actually improved -- for a day or so. Then, last Friday, after several infractions, I impounded Vezok and put him on top of the armoire in the hall (catch-all area for things we don't want the kids to get at). I told Christopher that I'd taken Vezok for the weekend, and if there was ANY MORE RUDENESS AT ALL, Vezok would be gone for good.

After church on Sabbath, Jason caught Chrstiohper in the act of smacking his sister in the rear end and when Jason spoke to him about it, Christopher laughed at him. There was definitely some rudeness flying around, so when we returned home, I took Vezok and transferred him to a spot much more secure and permanent than the top of the armoire, and I told Christopher he had lost Vezok because of his rudeness.

The weeping! The wailing! The gnashing of the teeth!! Oh, the promises of better behavior, the begging for another chance.

"You had another chance. When I took Vezok yesterday, that was your chance. You chose to keep speaking and acting rudely, so Vezok is gone."

Do you think I got that sentence out in one complete statement? Absolutely not. I was interrupted a dozen times by tears and pleas. But I held the line. I stood firm. Vezok is gone.

I've suggested in the days since that Christopher turn his energies to figuring out how to act more kindly and politely so he won't lose another Piraka. But he seems to want to put his energies towards figuring out how to earn enough money to buy another Vezok.

Was I firm? Yes. Does he now know that Mommy Means What She Says? Yes. Has his behavior improved? Not noticeably.

They say to pick your battles, and I believe this is a battle worth fighting. I also believe my strategy was sound. But in the parenting-as-warfare analogy (which is not really my favourite way to look at it, but sometimes it seems apt), this battle most closely resembles the trench warfare of WWI -- dirty, dangerous and discouraging, with bloody conflicts waged over a few yards of mud and nothing gained at the end of the day except a paper "victory" after which both sides dig in for the next engagement in this endless war.

Did I do right? What's my next step? Will Vezok ever return? I have no idea about the answers to any of these questions. I just hope other parents share the same frustrations. It helps to know I'm not alone down here in the trenches!

The Waste Land

(If you think this blog entry seems a little more -- coherent, perhaps, a little more cosmic and thought-out than my usual ramblings, there's a reason. Today's blog is my entry in July's Blogging for Books contest, as hosted by the fabulous Joshilyn Jackson on her blog. If you're a blogger, check it out! Thanks to the guys for their permission to quote, and apologies to TSE for the title.)

Three of my students talk about tattoos. I am appalled by how much money they spend decorating their bodies in this particularly painful way. “I can think of a lot better things I could do with $250,” I say, looking at the flames and barbed wire on a young man’s arm.

“Do you know what I would have done with the $250 if I hadn’t gotten the tattoo?” he asks.

“I do, and in your case I’m glad for every tattoo you show up with,” I say. Nothing more needs to be said: we both know it would have been drug money. For two years he’s told me that he spends too much money on weed, that he really needs to quit. He reports triumphantly when money comes into his hands and he spends it on something other than drugs. He hasn’t quit yet, but the tattoo is a symbol of other possibilities.

Same room, another day, another young man with ocean-deep pain underneath the sparkling surface of his laughter. “The drinking’s really not a problem,” he assures me. “All of my friends drink as much as I do. All of them. One of my friends even died a few months ago, from alcohol poisoning. And another guy I know was killed in a motorcycle accident last year when he was drunk.”

“You’re telling me it’s not a problem and the best examples you can come up with are two guys who died from drinking?”

A pause; a nervous laugh. “Yeah. Those weren’t very good examples, were they?”

My students frustrate me because it’s not only I who can clearly see the trouble they are in. They see it themselves. They are caught in the gap between where they are and where they want to be, and that gap is a larger and more dangerous place than I’d realized.

I once thought that change was a knife-edge separating the life that makes you unhappy from the better life you want. I thought people teetered on that edge for a moment and then plunged – forward into hope, or back into failure. I know now it’s not a knife-edge. It’s the waste land, the place between, and people wander there sometimes for months or years, knowing they can’t stay back but afraid to move forward.

I know, too, that the inhabitants of the waste land are not just my “at risk youth” with their addictions and tattoos and their zero-riddled high school transcripts. My friends and family -- respectable and educated, middle-class and born-again -- all wander the waste land. I myself walk that space between. In one area of life or another – whether it’s food or drugs or alcohol, school or work or creativity, love or self-respect or God – we all linger in that place, wanting change but afraid or unable to grasp it.

I don’t know what alchemy propels a person out of the waste land, nudges them forward into the place on the other side, the place of change. I know I’m awed when I see someone do it. One of my best friends went to Weight Watchers in January, and this time it wasn’t just a New Year’s resolution. She’s lost over 50 pounds so far and no longer doubts she can lose the rest. A man I know quit smoking six weeks ago after years of failed attempts. Someone I care about finally told the truth about the lie that's consumed him for years. Another friend quit dreaming of being a novelist, drafted two manuscripts, started sending bulky parcels of hope off to agents.

As for my students, whose progress through the waste land I track each day – I forget sometimes that each one of them has taken a step out of the waste land labeled “high school dropout” and into a place where they can say, “I’m finishing school.” One step. It seems tiny, but one step crosses a border.

Which step will move me out of the waste land’s shadows, into the brilliant and sometimes harsh light of change? Will I take it?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Moments to Remember

There's an old old song my dad used to sing when I was growing up -- apparently it was originally performed by The Four Lads -- called "Moments to Remember." It's a great favourite with high-school reunions and such, since the lyrics reflect on a series of 1950's style happy-young-folks-hijinks which the singers can look back on happily "when other nights and other days / may find us gone our separate ways." Long before I had any high school or college memories to look back fondly on, the song used to bring a slight lump to my throat (this was in the days before childbearing rewired my hormones; songs that used to bring a slight lump to my throat now cause me to weep uncontrollably). I think it was just the sentimental nostalgia of the song, the idea that today's happy moments are tomorrow's "moments to remember."

Now that I'm living through the years which (IMHO) are far more enjoyable than high school or college -- i.e. the years of raising my kids -- I find that my ever-present digital camera and my blog are wonderful tools for capturing "moments to remember." I'm sure there's some deep thought out there about how relying on technology weakens our ability to cherish memories in the recesses of our brains, but frankly, I don't want to hear it right now. I want to capture two moments from this summer day that I hope will be "moments to remember" when the children are all grown up.

First, Emma helping Aunt Gertie take clothes in off the clothesline. This isn't the most flattering shot of either of them, but I had to capture it candidly: if they'd posed, the moment would have been ruined. If it weren't for Aunt Gertie, Emma would have no knowledge of clotheslines, since I rely completely on the dryer. But in an era where so many children are growing up disconnected from older family members and from everyday chores, I think a shot of my six-year-old helping my 91-year-old aunt take the clothes off the line, is worth preserving.

Second, the lemonade stand was in business again this evening for an hour or so. I was inside getting supper, hovering near the screen door and the front window to monitor the kids' interactions with their customers but allowing them to handle all their client contacts -- I figure as well as teaching enterprise, the lemonade stand also enhances their ability to interact with the public (though under a careful parental eye). I didn't realize it would also provide the opportunity for cross-cultural contacts until I noticed that the six adults who had stopped in a group to buy lemonade and cookies were sitting down in a circle on our front lawn to enjoy them -- and that they were Spanish tourists. After the kids had handled the initial sale I came out to say hi and snap a picture. Only one man in the group spoke English as a second language, and it was by no means a close second, but I gathered that they were from the Basque region, and that they were going (in the long term) to either Bonavista or Red Bay to participate in, or watch, what might have been either a musical or sporting event. In the short term they wanted directions to George Street. They were very friendly and gave the kids two Euro coins as well as enough Canadian money to pay for the lemonade and cookies, and they took some pictures and, I hope, came away with a good impression of Newfoundland children! Christopher and Emma thought serving six Spanish tourists was the apex of their lemonade-selling career, and I agree this moment will be difficult to top!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Morning Has Broken, Apparently

An odd thing has happened to me this summer. It's probably a sign of encroaching old age, but for the first time in my life I have become a morning person. I find myself waking very early -- around 5:00 a.m. -- and not being able to get back to sleep.

I've known a lot of morning people in my life, and they rave about the stillness of the early morning and the beauty of sunrise and how early morning is a lovely time to pray and reflect and excercise and centre yourself and begin the day in the right frame of mind. For me, early morning has always been a good time to roll over and get more sleep.

Since that doesn't seem to be an option at the moment, I decided to give this lark-in-the-morning thing a try, just to see if it was what it was cracked up to be. So a few weeks ago when I woke at 5:00, instead of fruitlessly trying to go back to sleep, I took our hyperactive dog Max in the van and drove down to Quidi Vidi Lake, site of one of the most popular walking trails in town.

Walking early in the morning turned out to be all those things morning people claim to like. It's great exercise, I do indeed see beautiful sunrises, and it gives me 45 minutes to start the day with prayer and gratitude and reflection. So I've made it a more-or-less-regular part of my summer morning routine.

The lake is usually busy, even at 5:00 a.m., because it's the site (in August) of the Royal St. John's Regatta, oldest continuous sporting even in North America, and most mornings the rowers are out practicing as soon as light touches the sky. This morning it was deserted, because the time trials for the Regatta start later today, and I guess the rowers don't want to beat themselves out before the time trials. The only rower at the lake this morning was the sculpture called (appropriately) "The Rower," silhouetted against water that reflected the sunrise pink of the sky.

This morning, for the first time, I tried to take a few pictures that might capture the stillness and beauty of my early-morning walk -- although I will say that having Max on the leash is not conducive to great photography, especially when photographing ducks. When I was about 2/3 of the way around the pond the sun finally appeared above the hill behind me, flooding everything with golden light and turning the glass-calm water to sky blue. What had been muted was suddenly illuminated, and I walked towards my own long shadow, delighting in this Sabbath morning.

I have a playlist on the iPod that I listen to as I walk -- basically all the songs I find inspiring and uplifting. Most are by Christian artists, a few by secular artists, but all songs that somehow focus on God or spirit, songs that put my prayers into words better than I ever could. I scrabble around in the junk drawer of my brain for the words that will express how blessed I feel to be there in the first light of dawn, alive and walking into another day -- but there are no words better than the words others have written and sung, and so I sing them along to the music in my headphones.

The first song on my playlist is Bruce Guthro's Walk this Road. When I put on my headphones and start around the pond listening to it, I think that a touch of early-morning insomnia may be the best thing that's happened to me this summer.

I'm gonna walk this road

I'm gonna ride this wind

Gonna open up my soul and let the sun shine in...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer Afternoons

You may have caught this already, but I totally, completely, and absolutely love summer. Newfoundland summer is short and unpredictable, so basically I endure 46 or more weeks of lousy weather for the sake of 6 or so weeks which will contain scattered days of pure delight. One thing I will say for our summers is that when they are good, they are very, very good. Those of you sweating it out in punishing heat in other climes will be envious to know that a "classic" Newfoundland summer day includes temps in the low 80s, clear blue skies, and a gentle southwest breeze that keeps us from ever getting too hot. OK, so those days are interspersed with days of cold, rain, drizzle and fog, but that's all the more incentive to get out and enjoy them when they do happen.

That's why I have an almost fanatical devotion to taking the kids swimming on summer afternoons. I suppose there is a better feeling somewhere than sitting by the pool, letting the sun dry you off after a swim, but I haven't found it yet. The kids are at the age where they need huge amounts of interaction while we're actually in the pool -- it's all "Watch me! See me, mom! I'm putting my head under water! Did you see that?! I can swim from here to there...watch me! watch me! Can I dive off your knees? Race me to the edge of the pool!!" When we get out, it's well worth the price of admission to watch Emma lay out her towel and arrange herself on it for maximum lying-in-the-sun pleasure -- the girl obviously has my hedonistic genes and knows how to enjoy herself (yes, we use 45 spf sunscreen if anyone's concerned. Also, we can't lay out for more than 5 minutes, because we can't do ANYTHING in one position for more than 5 minutes).

Yesterday was a classic -- as a change from the park pool I took the kids up to Manuels River, a favourite local wading/swimming/splashing area that we've only recently started going to. I wanted to have some stunning pics of the kids in the river but those moments, while fun and filled with screaming, were not photogenic, so I'm sharing instead these pics of the very short walk in the woods we took afterwards.

After the river and the woods we went to Berg's for ice cream -- going for ice cream is an occasional coda to our summer afternoons. As we sat on a picnic bench outside Berg's eating our cones I reflected on one of the deep and meaningful questions of life, and I'm going to share that question with you. It's going to mean nothing to some of you, but for those who know what I'm talking about, your reply will not only help settle this dilemma once and for all, it will also give me an idea how many other Newfoundlanders are reading this. I know I'm listed on the wonderful NL Blogroll so let's see if I can flush some compatriots out by posing this tricky question:

Which is better, Berg's or Moo-Moo's? Seriously now. As a hardcore townie I have always been a Moo-Moo's devotee, but sitting out there in CBS yesterday I had to admit that maybe the baypersons have the edge on this one. Berg's may, just possibly, be the better ice-cream purveyor. What do you think?

Today it's raining, so not a likely day for swimming and ice cream. Anyway, it's moving day at work so I have to go put in an appearance as we relocate to the new building. In other news, it's also my parents' wedding anniversary. They are celebrating 44 years together and I cannot tell you how blessed and happy I am to be the product of a long and enduring marriage. They gave me the best possible model of what marriage for a lifetime can be -- not always easy, not always romantic, but always sharing everything with your best friend. I couldn't wish for mor myself (and I've been married to my best friend for exactly 1/4 as long as my parents have been married). Congratulations and best wishes for many more years, Mom and Dad!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Oh My (Gosh), I Woke Up With a Snake Tattoo!!

First up, I should confess that the title of this blog is not only censored, it's completely inaccurate. As I neither drink, nor do drugs, nor suffer from multiple personality disorder (as far as we know), I am unlikely to ever wake up in the predicament of the young woman in the Amanda Marshall song. Any tattoos I get will be got with my full knowledge and understanding. Like, for example, this anklet that I got today.

OK, further confession time: I am not that tough, or cool, or confident in my ability to make lifelong aesthetic decisions to actually get a tattoo. What I got was a henna tattoo. All the pretty, none of the pain or permanence.

I've been working all year among people who are heavily tattooed (these would be my students, not my co-workers) and become somewhat intrigued with, and educated about, the whole concept of body art. The intrigue part made me think it was an interesting idea; the education part involved me learning how painful it could be, which killed any desire I might ever have had to get a tattoo (not that there was ever much desire there).

In the spirit of summer and women prettying up their feet for sandals-and-capris exposure, though, I decided to try a little low-risk body mod, and so far I'm quite impressed with the results. The above pic is just a few minutes after the henna was applied; I still have to wait several hours to wipe off the dried paste and then allow a few days for the design beneath to take on its full colour. Unfortunately it only lasts a couple of weeks. I wish you could get semi-permanent tattoos -- something that would last more than a few weeks but less than a lifetime. I'd like to have an anklet for the whole summer, but I have no confidence that any design I'd choose today would still make me happy when I'm 60. (I shudder to think what I'd have on me if I'd gotten a tattoo when I was 20 -- probably some rainbow with the word "LOVE" in big hippie balloon letters, similar to that pictured here. Fortunately, when I was 20, tattoos were just for sailors and bad boys).

I observed two things that intrigued me at the tattoo parlour. A man about my age came in with his teenage daughter. I thought he was accompanying her to get a tattoo, but in fact he was the one getting the tattoo and she was helping him choose the design. I thought that was kind of sweet.

Also, leafing through a tattoo magazine (which I have to say is a lot more interesting than leafing through a hairstyle magazine at the beauty parlour) I came across an article about Burning Man that included pictures of tattoos seen at Burning Man. I've been interested in Burning Man for years because my cousin Jeff goes there every year, and the article was very well-written. What made me laugh was a picture of a person with a full-back tattoo. Against an attractive, colourful background and border design, the tattoo was of a key paragraph from the CS Lewis novel Till We Have Faces. Since the author of the article had just been saying how the array of events at Burning Man would horrify America's right-wing Christians (which I'm sure is generally true, judging from the examples he gave) I thought it was interesting that someone there was sporting this passage from a very Christian novel on his back. Nice to know we don't all fit in neat little boxes.

I don't delude myself that with my discreet girly henna tattoo I'm in any way ready for Burning Man, but I sure do like looking at my ankles today!

Random ChildMoments

Most unusual question addressed to me so far today (while I was asleep):

"Mom, have you seen my robotic arm??" (You'd think I'd remember if he had a robotic arm, wouldn't you?)

In other random parenting observations, lately I've noticed the kids are paying far too much attention to song lyrics. Since we entered the world of (yes! legally!) downloading music, Jason has been rediscovering his 80s headbanger roots. The other day he was listening to Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine" when Emma came into the room. Your love is like...bad medicine! She stood there puzzled a moment, then repeated incredulously, "Bad medicine??"

In the same vein, we were driving the other day when the song "I Go Blind" came on the radio. Every time I look at you, I go blind. From the back seat, Christopher's voice pipes up. " But mom, wouldn't that be kind of a bad thing?"

Can't wait till they hear "Hurts So Good." Some things are difficult to explain, aren't they?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion, Part One

There are so many lovely summery things I could be talking about today. Like yesterday afternoon when I took the kids to the outdoor pool for the first time this year, or this morning when I walked around the lake to the accompaniment of a glorious pink-and-orange sunrise. (Sunrise...who knew? Do they put this on every day??) Or I could tell you less lovely summery things, like how I am being martyred alive with hay fever at the moment and thinking of breaking down and trying some allergy med or something.

But no.

I will lay all these things aside, the things that normally occupy me during the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, and speak instead of my current mission: Shameless Self Promotion.

Most anyone who reads this blog will know that I am a writer, and that in addition to a steady stream of Christian books I've had published by an inspirational publisher over the last 20 years, I released my first novel with a big-name, mainstream publisher, back in January of this year.

I think, like a lot of other writers who've published with smaller presses, I somehow had the illusion that once I had a book out with a major publisher, the heavens would open and press releases would float gently down upon my head. My publisher would hire a brass band to accompany me through the streets and my face and book cover would be on the sides of city buses. OK -- maybe not all that, but I think most writers assume that book promotion automatically becomes much easier once you have a big-name publishing house backing you.

This turns out to be somewhat less than true, at least in my experience.

In fact, it's less than true in the experience of nearly every writer I've heard of. I'm not here to slag off my publisher: they have done a great job and been terrific to work with. But it's true what other writers have told me: the publishing house has many, many books to promote. I have just one. My book is top priority for me; for them, it's one of a crowd. The only person who is going to make promoting my book their number one job is -- me.

And I will confess that I have not done much with that job since January. The few things I have done -- my launch, a couple of interviews, a reading -- have been arranged either by the publisher or someone else. For me, the year of my book release coincided with my first attempt at combining full-time teaching with full-time mothering, and I found myself left with no time for anything else -- either writing books or flogging them in the market.

I must add that in addition to a shortage of time, I have a certain quaint, maidenly shyness about the concept of going out yelling to the world: "I wrote a book!! Read my book!!! My book rocks!!!!" I know some writers (naming no names) who are brilliant at self-promotion. They were born to do it. I know some writers who are so brilliant at it they're positively annoying -- you can't turn around without tripping over them or their book. And I know that I am no more capable of self-promotion on that level than I am of going down on Water Street wearing fishnet stockings and six-inch heels trying to sell my matronly virtue.

But the time has come. Summer vacation is here, I have some time on my hands, and my book's shelf life is slipping away. Time to polish off those six-inch heels and learn a few tricks from the pros. From now till September I have determined that shameless self-promotion will be my object and my goal, even if it makes me look harsh, brash and arrogant and makes my soul wither within me like a gentle flower in the harsh North Atlantic breeze. (Note to self: reign in metaphors. But first, promote book!)

Yesterday I threw myself into the task with a will (OK, a few won'ts, but I finally got a will) and made contact with the local Chapters to see if I can do a reading/signing there. I also starting working on the possibility of getting to the Word on the Street festival in either Halifax or Toronto in September. Nothing definite on either of those possibilities yet, but the main thing is, I'm out there on the street corner, taking my chances.

What's that you say? Do I hear you saying, "Oh Trudy, can WE, your loving blog-readers, help with your campaign of Shameless Self Promotion???" Why yes, you can! There IS something you can do to help! If you have read The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson, and enjoyed it, then I beg you to go either to the amazon.ca , indigo.ca , or amazon.com pages for the book (the amazon.com page is not very useful, since the book is only distributed in Canada and can be ordered through amazon.ca, but people will still search amazon.com for it). Write a reader's review -- it doesn't need to be long or polished or brilliant, just any positive thing you can say that will catch the eye of someone browsing for books. A zillion thanks to Tracy Taylor, a person I don't even know, who wrote my one lovely indigo review, and a zillion more to Artsy Fartsy Music Fan, an anonymous reviewer who I'm pretty sure is probably related to me either by ties of blood or ancient affection, who wrote my one amazon.ca review. Thanks also to Katrina who gave my book a lovely and detailed review on her website, and to other friends who've mentioned it in their blogs.

Later in the summer I am planning to do some fairly aggressive online book promotion (I can be much more aggressive online!) so when that happens, it would be great to have a few positive reviews up on the major book sites. Thanks in advance to anyone who's able to do that!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled lazy summer days. Further updates on Shameless Self-Promotion to follow as they become available.

Notes to self: Buy allergy meds. Wash swim towels. But first: Promote Book!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Weekend at the Cabin

As I predicted in my last blog, we are back from the country with flybites, slight sunburns, and adventures to report. We are very fortunate to have unlimted use of my parents' cabin, about 45 minutes outside of town, what friends in more upscale places would call "lakefront property" (we call it "on a pond"), which my parents maintain and upkeep apparently for our sole benefit, since we use it a lot more than they do. It's a sweetheart deal and I'm not about to question it.

Weekends in the country consist of a lot of swimming -- the water in the pond is quite, quite cold but as long as it's sunny and the temperature is above 20, you can't keep the kids out of the water -- as well as cruising in our "flotilla" -- the canoe, the paddleboat, and the inflatable boat. My personal favourite way to enjoy the pond is lying in the inflatable boat while somebody tows me behind the paddleboat. There may be a better way to spend a summer afternoon but I haven't found it yet.

We had beautiful sunny days up there both Saturday and Sunday (though a little windy Sunday) but woke up this morning to gray skies and a steady rain, so we packed up and came home a little earlier than planned. Two days of fun in the sun is as much as most Newfoundlanders will ask for: we'd be greedy to expect more.

The kids love the cabin, and we can tell how they're growing by the new skills they master each year. They both still need lifejackets on to swim in the pond, but they can now paddle the paddleboat by themselves and on this trip Christopher began learning to paddle the canoe. It's also a great trip for our dog, Max, who can roam freely in the woods and swim in the lake (providing a minor hazard to shipping, as he likes to follow whatever boat we're in). As for me, I think I enjoy the cabin even more now that I'm an adult and bringing my own kids up, than I did when I was a kid myself.

It always amazes me that our 21st-century children are so happy to spend the weekend at the cabin, with no TV, DVDs or computer games to amuse them. And it takes so little to make them happy -- just a constant supply of hot sunny weather, a lake right in front of the door, and two parents available 24 hours a day to drop everything and play with them.

Come to think of it, there's nothing so wrong with DVDs and computer games, is there??

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's July 1 ...

Just a quick moment to write a hasty entry before we pull out of the driveway and head up to the country. I will be offline all weekend ... not even an internet cafe in sight! We're going to my parents' cabin for the Canada Day long weekend, so if you're Canadian, or even if you like Canadians, Happy Canada Day!

And slightly less happy, but the Newfoundlander and the history teacher in me can't forget that July 1 is also Memorial Day here in Newfoundland; today is the 90th anniversary* of the infamous "July Drive" when, on July 1, 1916, most of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was wiped out in a single misguided attack on German trenches. So, spare a moment amid the fireworks to think about the idiocy of war and (in the words of Eric Bogle) "a whole generation that was butchered and damned."

And with that thought, my friends, I head off for sunshine and swimming. Be back on Monday with adventures to report!!

* I feel compelled to point out that this is an edit. When my mom read this blog she called me to say that it was the 90th anniversary of the battle of Beaumont-Hamel, not the 70th as I had originally posted. She was worried about my street cred as a history teacher, but as I pointed out, my history-teacher credentials were flawless: I remembered the date. It was my math skilz, as usual, that let me down. ("2006 - 1916 ... yeah, that sounds like about 70!" I knew it had to be a decade anniversary because they both ended in 6.)