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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Snow Fun At All

The above picture was taken in our backyard at about 5:00 p.m. this evening. We've had a lot of snow lately, but it's not that bad. You can still see the top of the fence. If we get another week like this the kids will be able to go out and sit on the top bar of the swingset, not to mention walking straight to Aunt Gertie's yard over the top of the fence, which is another of the joys of winter.

I just looked out the window and noticed that it's snowing again. This lot wasn't even in the forecast. It's falling thick and fast, but without the 80km/h winds behind it, it doesn't qualify as a snowstorm. It's just picturesque.

Let's see ... I've already had my obligatory whining-about-weather post, so there will be no whining in this post ... just straight factual information to update those of you who are not lucky enough to live in St. John's, Newfoundland. Last Wednesday, as I mentioned, was a snow day -- meaning that schools were closed, as was Jason's work, so we all stayed home and huddled by the fire. The next snowstorm came on Friday night, dumping another 15-20 cm on top of what we'd already gotten. By Saturday morning, the snow had stopped, though driveways were full and many roads weren't clear. Like the good people we are, we went to church anyway, largely because I felt responsible for teaching Sabbath School and playing the piano for church. Then we came back home to huddle by the fire.

Emma also caught a cold, with a bad cough, so on Sunday she stayed home from a birthday party and a sliding party that Jason took Christopher too. We also decided to keep her home from school Monday -- although it was one of those tough calls where in retrospect she might have been well enough to go -- and I took the day off work to stay home with her. The snow started again Monday evening and continued throughout the night and into this morning. We woke up to find schools closed again today.

So, if anyone's counting, that means I have basically been in the house since lunchtime Saturday. I have made a few forays outside -- the kids and I have "helped" Jason with shovelling a few times, and I took Max for a walk in the snow last night. Other than that I haven't been out and haven't really wanted to be. The slight traces of cabin fever have been more than worth it for the extended long weekend, the writing and reading I've gotten done (including a big chunky book I just reviewed on Compulsive Overreader), and the Not Going Out In the Snow. The kids have probably watched too many videos (we rented How to Eat Fried Worms, which everyone but Emma loved), but I do attempt to set boundaries on that even on snow days, so we have also had lots of playtime with Emma and I playing board games (she whipped me in Snakes and Ladders, five games to three!) and Christopher building more of his endless line of Lego creations.

I've decided that I could live in a (heated) cabin in the woods, or an isolated outport, if it were in winter and I had good food supplies and an internet connection. Not that it's likely I'll ever have to live in either of those places, but I think it's interesting that people usually leave the city to go up in the country or around the bay in summertime, and come back to city living in winter. If I actually think about my preferences, it's in summer that I love the city, love being out and walking the streets, going places, enjoying the lively social and cultural life all around me. In winter I just like to hibernate, so I might as well be up in the woods! Maybe that's how I'll spend retirement ... in an isolated cottage in the country during January and February, returning to town for the warmer months. I'd better check that plan with Jason, though!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Teachable Moments (or, the first Pop-Tart's free)

One of my outstanding qualities as a parent -- I won't label it a strength or a weakness; I'll let my kids (or their future therapists) decide that -- is that I believe everything is a teachable moment. No life experience can be allowed to slip by without some Learning.

I'm sure this gets tiresome for them. Well, I know it does. I've known this ever since Chris was four and I was encouraging him to ride his tricycle up a small incline. I started explaining how if you stop, it gets harder to start again, then got diverted into a little riff on how Life Is Like That, and when things get hard, you shouldn't give up because it'll be harder to get going again. Chris sighed and said, "Mom, you can stop talking now."

Anyway, for your learning pleasure, here are a couple of my most recent Teachable Moments.

TM #1: Trudy and Christopher, on Swimming in the Deep End

Chris is quite a good little swimmer but is scared of going into the deep end, which is starting to hamper his progress now that he's moved up to a new level of swimming lessons. We discussed this one night while I was lying down on his bed with him.

Trudy: You know, you're a very good swimmer for your age, Chris. You're probably a better swimmer than I am. And once you can swim, even a little bit, you shouldn't be afraid of the deep end.

Chris: But I can't touch bottom!

Trudy: But you don't need to! If you can swim, you can keep afloat by treading water, or even just dog-paddling. It doesn't matter how much water is underneath you as long as you can swim.

Chris: The deep end is sixteen feet deep. People have drowned there.

Trudy: I'm pretty sure no-one has ever drowned in the deep end at the Aquarena. In fact, if you can swim, it's almost impossible to drown in a swimming pool unless you hit your head or something. A good swimmer might drown in the ocean, if you were far enough from shore, because you might just get tired and not be able to make it to the shore. But in a pool you're always close to the side or to a rope, so you can always swim that far. So a person who can swim might drown in the ocean, but it would be almost impossible for them to drown in a pool.

Chris: (pause). Great. Now you've made me afraid of the ocean!!

OK, so that didn't go as well as I'd expected. But maybe I'd have better luck with

TM #2: Trudy and Emma on The Evils of Advertising and the Need for Nutritious Breakfasts

Emma: There's this really good commercial for Pop-Tarts on YTV.

Trudy: (ever alert to mentions of advertising) Really? What is it?

Emma: (Describes Pop-Tarts commercial in great detail, which involves going to ytv.com to play a Pop-Tarts video game).

Trudy: Hmm. Does sound like a fun game. And what do you think they want you to buy?

Emma: Um ... I think they just want you to play the game.

Trudy: No honey, commercials always want you to buy something. That's why they make them.

Emma: Oh, maybe they want you to buy ... a Pop-Tart?

Trudy: Yes, I think they might. Do you know what Pop-Tarts are?

Emma: They're like ... bread, but with frosting and sprinkles on them.

Trudy: You know, they're really more like a cookie or a piece of cake. And some people eat them for (pause for dramatic effect) ... BREAKFAST!

Emma: (shocked gasp). No! Wow, that's not the way to get your vegetables.

(Note: I do realize that a bowl of Special K with a glass of juice is also not "getting your vegetables." But I got the gist of what she was saying, which is that -- bless her -- she knows the difference between a healthy breakfast and one that isn't).

Emma: You know, it's a bad idea to eat cake for breakfast, because then you might just go around eating cake all day, because you'd think, "Well, I ate it for breakfast so it must be OK."

Trudy: Right. And also, you wouldn't have the energy you'd need for the day. Well, you might get kind of a burst of energy at first, because sugary foods will do that, but then it would go away and you'd feel really tired and have no energy.

Emma: (obviously thinking back to previous Teachable Moments) Oh! You mean ... kind of like -- drugs?!

Well yes, I did, on another occasion, explain that drugs are things that people take that make them feel good for a short time but then feel really, really bad afterwards. So apparently I have succeeded in equating Pop-Tarts with narcotics in my daughter's mind. Which means I'm doing great for nutritional training, but not so good with the drug education. Hope she doesn't wind up in the gutter nibbling Pop-Tarts for a quick fix.

Parenting. You just never catch up, do you?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lunch = Love

Today was my annual "Congratulations, you survived the semester!" lunch for my student advisees. Yesterday one of the newer students, Chris, said behind my back that he felt bad about me treating them all to lunch. Unfortunately he said this to Ellie, so of course I heard about it immediately, because that's just how it goes. I told him, "You just have to accept that I'm an emotionally stunted human being and that buying people lunch is how I express love." Most of my students have gotten used to this particular quirk of mine -- lunch for the whole gang once a semester, and if anyone needs a little extra love and encouragement, they get taken to lunch once in awhile. Sadly Chris wasn't there today...he said he was sick, but maybe he was just rejecting my love! Fortunately, I'm not so emotionally stunted that I worry about stuff like that.

Anyway, I had the whole gang to the all-you-can eat buffet at Pizza Experts...picture of them all above, except for Vince who took so long in the washroom I got tired of waiting for him to come back and snapped the picture. Here's a picture of Vince saying, "Why didn't you wait for me to be in the group shot?" (Vince, who is a juggler and plans to go to circus school, wanted me to take pictures of him balancing ketchup and vinegar bottles on his forehead, but I said I wasn't going to encourage that kind of behavior by photographing it).

The best part of the day was seeing the three students who are no longer with us this semester -- Touria and Vanette, who graduated in January, and Paul, who beat the system by getting accepted to MUN as a mature student without finishing all his high school courses. The last pic, below is of Paul, me, and Ellie; if it had a title I would call it simply, "Irreplaceable." Before Paul left last semester he used to frequently ask who I was going to find to be his "replacement" but I assured him some people in our lives simply aren't replaceable.

This has been my busy week at work with new courses starting and new students coming in. I enjoy the challenge of getting to know new students and forming new relationships -- but it's true, the old ones really aren't replaceable; every one is unique and I love them all (even if I have to take them to lunch instead of actually saying it!)

In other news, we had a genuine snow day this week; school closed on Wednesday (so I guess it wasn't such a busy week!) with 10-15 cm of snow. There's another 20-30 predicted tonight (such a waste, for it to come on a weekend!) and I am enjoying lots of those classic evenings curled up by the fire that I like so much. Still not enjoying the going-outside part of winter that much!

I've updated my book reviews at Compulsive Overreader with a couple of new ones -- go check it out!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Party With the Dark Lord!

Final post of my Christopher's-birthday extravaganza -- just a couple of shots of his party on Sunday. He had only a small group of friends out because the weather was bad, but we did have Darth Vader, who showed up to light-sabre battle with the kids, play some games, pose for pictures and generally exercise the power of the Dark Side. Actually he was quite fun and laid-back and a good sport. For anyone in the St. John's area who has kids into Star Wars, I can recommend Vaderparty quite highly!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Birthday Alphabet for Christopher

Continuing with the Christopher's Birthday theme here on the blog, here's an alphabet poem I wrote for him the other day. (Remember I'm a much more devoted mom than I am a poet, so go easy on me from the literary-criticism standpoint!)

Amazing little (not-so-little!)
Creative and
Every day an adventure
Flung into the future, you
Gallop ahead of me, but
Hate to be pushed.
I marvel at your
Joy in the work of your hands.
Knights, monsters, robots, villains -- crafted of
Legos, of drawings, of words --
Multiply across the
Never-empty space of your room --
Of your mind.
Perhaps you're
Quiet for a moment,
Suddenly, you're a
Tempest of giggles, shouts, tears, silliness.
Unbelievable, unfathomable, unstoppable.
Violin, voice, piano, laughter -- so many
Ways you fill our lives with your
Xtraordinary music.
You, my son, are the
Zenith of my days.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Nine Years Ago Today...

January 19, 1998.

I woke up at about 8:00 a.m. and rolled over in bed, enjoying the leisure of a Monday-morning sleep-in. Up until Friday, I'd been teaching full time. My maternity leave began this very morning, January 19, and my baby was due on January 25. Since I knew first babies were usually late, I was looking forward to a leisurely week or two puttering around the house, feathering my nest for the little newcomer.

Jason was in the shower, getting ready to go to work. I sat up and immediately felt an unfamiliar but expected sensation. My water had broken.

A wave of excitement mixed with panic hit me as I called out to Jason to come quickly. "My water's broken! The baby's coming today!!"

I said a quick and silent good-bye to my plans for a relaxing week at home with my feet up...and to relaxing with my feet up, uninterrupted, for the next eighteen years.

I didn't feel any contractions or anything, so I hung around in bed until the doctor's office was open at nine and then called in. My doctor, who had a refreshingly laid-back approach to childbirth, said there was no point rushing off to the hospital until I was having contractions. He told me to stay home, walk around, get a little exercise, and once labour pains started in earnest I should go to the hospital.

And then ... nothing happened. Jason took the day off, poised for action at any moment, and we just waited. I read a book, picking an old comfortable favourite from the shelf: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The day progressed so slowly and uneventfully that I finished the whole book, crying at the end as I always do. The doctor suggested (in response to another of my phone calls) that I should take a walk to see if that would get labour going. The ground outside was covered with ice; Jason and I walked as far as Shoppers' Drug Mart and back, with me clinging desperately to his arm, afraid I'd slip and fall. Still no contractions; not a twinge to indicate I was in labour.

Back home, we went downstairs and played a couple of games of Ping Pong. I lost as spectacularly as I usually did -- 21-2, if I recall the score correctly. We went back upstairs -- this was about 5:00 p.m. -- and as Jason cooked supper I felt the first stirrings of pain.

"I think this is it! I think I'm in labour!!"

I called the doctor again. He was less excited than I was. He advised me to stay home and take it easy. I'd be in labour for a long, long time with a first baby and I'd just be bored and frustrated in the hospital; better to get through these early stages at home.

The pains didn't feel like any big deal. I wondered if I should eat supper. I was really hungry and I knew once I did get to the hospital I probably wouldn't be able to eat anything throughout this long, drawn-out process. So I ate a nice plate of supper -- a decision I was soon to regret.

My contractions started getting faster and harder, and I called the doctor again at about 9:00. Yes, he said, maybe I should go to the hospital; he'd meet us there in a little while. So we grabbed the hospital bag which had been packed and lying by the door for three weeks, and headed down to the Grace Hospital, five minutes away.

By the time we got there I could barely stand up. They got me into a room and onto a bed, where I immediately threw up. A nurse came in and examined me and seemed deeply impressed with how far my labour had progressed. I had agonized over whether or not I should have an epidural but it seemed nobody was even interested in raising the question. The four hours I'd spent at home seemed to have taken care of that long-drawn-out process of early labour and the consensus was that I was going to have a baby anytime now.

The nice nurses did, however, give me a shot of a lovely drug called Nubain. I have led a remarkably drug-free existance and I was quite amazed by the effects of the Nubain. It didn't stop the pain; it just made me stop caring about it. I was clearly aware that there was a woman in pain in the room. I just felt quite detached from her.

Sometime during this lovely though short-lived phase, my friend Sherry showed up with something -- a balloon, I think, and some kind of gift -- and then my parents and Jason's mom arrived. I got moved to another, much nice room, and the Nubain wore off. There was no sign of my doctor. I later discovered that on learning I had been admitted at 9:30, he went to bed planning to get several hours of sleep. He was still banking on that "first babies take forever" philosophy.

Forever ended at 11:00 p.m. when the nurses told me I was fully dilated and ready to push. They kicked all my friends and family except Jason out of the room and one of the nurses told someone to call the doctor or he was going to miss the birth. I anticipated that the actual delivery would occur with the same lightning-like speed as labour had, and that my baby would be born on January 19, with or without an attending physician.

Alas, this was not to be. As the Great Big Sea CD's I'd selected rotated in the CD player and the team of nurses around the bed chanted "Push! Push! Push!" time wore on and no baby arrived. The doctor, however, did arrive, but he had no magic tricks to make the baby come faster. Just push, push, push until I thought my entire body would explode.

It went on. And on. And on. Until 1:24 a.m., January 20, when Christopher was born. Even then it wasn't instant maternal bliss, because there was no immediately healthy cry and I could see that the baby was a very unhealthy, pale colour. Instead of giving him to me to cuddle they whisked him to a nearby table. I realized he wasn't breathing and began babbling, "Please make my baby breathe, please make my baby breathe!" This time period seemed to last for hours though Jason assures me that it was only about 30 seconds before we heard our son's first cry.

Christopher only got a 4 on his first Apgar test. This was the first and -- so far -- the last test he ever failed, but I'm happy to say that he studied hard for the make-up exam and scored a 9 on his five-minute Apgar. Within seconds he was in my arms, staring up at me with dark blue eyes that seemed far too curious and knowing for a newborn. I tried to introduce him to my breast but he was much more interested in my face ... and his dad's face, and the faces of all the people who eventually came into the room to meet brand-new Christopher Donald Cole.

And Life as We Know It began ....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Nose is Froze; My Toes is Froze (or, a Taste or Winter Whine)

It wouldn't be January if I didn't take a few minutes to whine about how I hate, loathe, despise and abhor the weather.

It's an annual rant and you'd think by now I would have either moved to a warmer climate or shut up about it, but neither of those things is forthcoming. I continue to suffer thorugh the horrors of winter in the place I love, and I reserve my right to complain.

I hate snow and cold anyway, but we're having an unusually cold snap (by Newfoundland standards, not by prairie standards) this week -- temps down to between -10 and -15 Celsius, with windchills down in the -20s.

I am not happy about this. I am particularly not happy that our lovely but drafty older home is letting in so much of the wind chill, so that even when I'm home I can't be as cozy as I'd like.

Being home is the key, though. Winter wouldn't be a problem -- at least not such a big one -- if I were just allowed to stay inside. Instead I have to brave that punishing walk from the house to the car, from the car to the office, from the car to the store, etc., several times a day, as if I were some kind of intrepid arctic explorer.

People who claim to "love winter" -- and I know several of them, although mostly I think they are lying -- mainly say they like it because of the winter sports. They claim to enjoy things like skiing, snowboarding, snoeshowing. I highly doubt that people actually enjoy these things. I believe they're putting a brave face on an impossible situation.

But let's say, just theoretically, that there are people who do enjoy being outdoors when it's cold, feeling the snow crunch underfoor (it's been so cold here lately that the snow actually does crunch, rather than making that slurrrsshh noise we usually get in St. John's). I need to make it absolutely clear that I am not one of those people.

I love the outdoors as much as the next person -- well, maybe the person next to him, the one wearing the extra sweater. I love the outdoors in summer, when I can go for quick dip in the water at Manuels River and then lie on the rocks drying myself off. Outdoor activities with the word "beach" in them are very attractive to me. Outdoors in winter? There's no need. Either cancel school and work from January till March, or build a network of underground tunnels connecting the entire city. They've got 'em at MUN; all they need to do is extend the system a little. Don't get me wrong, you know I love my job, but this leaving the house thing has got to (although at the moment my office is warmer than my house, so, you know ... underground tunnels are the way to go!)

While we wait for the digging to commence, I will submit a short list of my favourite winter sports:

1. Reading by the fire.
2. Watching House DVDs by the fire.
3. Hot bubble baths.
4. Play board games with the kids -- by the fire, of course.
5. Going to bed early.
6. Sleeping in late.
7. Did I mention the fire?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Note: If you already read this earlier today and clicked on the video, click it again! Now it has MUSIC! (Aw, come on, it's only 30 seconds! Do it!!)

Here's the project that has been absorbing Christopher and Jason for the last couple of days. On Sunday they set up a scene with Christopher's Lego battle machines (he is the nine-year-old master of stripping down the Lego sets he gets and re-creating them as new creatures and characters). Then they created a stop-motion animation. Jason did most of the tech work but Christopher had a great deal of creative control of the project! Here's the end result:

I should note that despite it being called "A Cole Family Production," Christopher flatly refused to credit me with "Catering" even though I was cooking Sunday brunch while they filmed the animation. I tried to convince him that all "real" movies give credit to the caterers but ... no dice. Oh well. Next movie I'll have to try to move up to being a dolly grip or a Best Girl, I guess.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Grace, Angels, and the CD Hymnal...

Thought for the day: Some days, all you can do is heave a rock at the window and hope grace shines through the cracks.

So, I had to preach the sermon at my church today.

OK, I didn't have to. I got asked to, by the pastor, on the way out of church last week. He was going away, and the person he had lined up to speak in his place had also been called away, so I was a second-string relief preacher.

I love preaching. I love public speaking in general, and I don't get all that many opportunities, so I rarely turn them down. I said, "Okay!" and then went home to think, "What on earth am I going to write a sermon about in a week?" (I realize the professionals get a week to prepare every time, but I am used to a little more lead time.)

Well, there's only one possible answer. If I have to come up with a sermon on short notice, it's going to be about grace, because that is literally all I know, theologically or life-wise.

So I wrote this nice little sermon called "Angels on George Street." It's a title I've been dying to use -- in fact, I wrote a song with this title once, but it was terrible because I can't write songs, so it's been buried in the rubble of my hard drive for some time now. The title comes from an image in my head, which, in its turn, comes from a bit of trivia that will only be understood by those who shared a Seventh-day Adventist childhood. SDA children are sometimes told that if you go to A Bad Place, like a theatre or a dance or (gasp) a bar, your guardian angel will have to stay outside because they can't follow you in there. To my adult mind this presents the ridiculous spectacle of going downtown on a Friday night (George Street is where all the nightlife is in St. John's, for those of you who don't know) and seeing the streets lined off with angels lounging outside the bars, waiting for their charges to come out.

Anyway, I had this sermon written about how God's grace is everywhere, when we're sinning, when we're in despair, even when we're in church utterly failing to love one another, God's grace never stops chasing us, never leaves us alone.

Last night, as I finished it off, I could not have felt less like writing a sermon. I was tired and I felt like I might be getting sick. And I was grumpy, for various reasons, and I just simply did not feel full of grace. But my key text was from 1 Corinthians 12: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness" ... so clearly I was in exactly the right mood to preach this sermon!

An additional complication, along with my having to teach Primary Sabbath School this morning (a burden my Trusty Husband Jason helped out with), was that this was my week to play the piano for church service. How could I do that and preach the sermon? (Read on, for the answer to that one!) Not being Superwoman and knowing my limitations, I called Phyllis, the Real Organist, and asked if she could play.

She said she was going out of town, so we'd have to use the Dreaded CD Hymnal. Well ... OK. The CD Hymnal is actually a brilliant invention, especially for smaller churches like ours where only a couple of people are willing to play the piano or organ (lots are able; few are willing) and you sometimes need a backup. The only thing is it's a bit stiff-sounding and unforgiving -- if you get half a line behind, the CD Hymnal will not wait for you -- so we try to avoid using it. However, Phyllis said I should just mention it to Sound Guy Brian when I got to church and all would be well.

So there I am in church with my sermon and my bad attitude, and who do I see but ... Sound Guy Larry. Larry is the back-up sound guy sorta like I am the back-up pianist, and when I told him I needed to use the CD Hymnal his face got this blank and horrified look and he confided that he'd never actually used it before. Cool.

You'd think it would be easy, using the CD Hymnal -- just punch up the number of the song and let it rip -- but in fact it's more complicated than you'd think, because in addition to the main hymns there are all these little incidental bits of music like the offertory, and the response after prayer, and some music for the children when they come up for their story. Also, our church service is broadcast on the radio, so dead air sounds really, really bad.

Anyway, I told Sound Guy Larry and Songleader Alice that I would play for the praise singing before the worship service, and then go up on the platform. And that got me halfways towards being in a good mood, because although I am a very mediocre pianist, playing for worship is one of the things that I really, really love doing, and it always makes me happy. We finished the singing, I went up onto the platform as the platform party arrived, the first hymn (Amazing Grace!) rang out of the speakers from the CD right on cue, and all was well.

Until Alice called for the offering. And there was silence. I looked up into the balcony, where the soundbooth is, to see Larry frantically staring at the machines and then shooting me a wild-eyed look of desperation with his hands in a "Play the Piano for Heaven's Sake" position.

I realized he had nothing lined up for offertory, so I scooted down off the platform and played for that. Then I stayed there through children's story and played the music for that, then got back up on the platform.

Next, the prayer was announced, and we always sing this song "Now Dear Lord As We Pray" right before prayer, and I knew Larry was prepared for that one, so I stayed where I was. Silence. The person announcing prayer said, "I guess we'll ... sing unaccompanied..." and I stood up and said, "No, I'll do it..." and started to cross the platform to the piano, at which point the CD kicked in, and I went back to my seat.

By this time everyone was pretty much laughing at me, I think, so when I got up to speak I explained what was going on (hopefully this also helped those listening on the radio who wondered where all the dead air was coming from). The great part was, first, I was finding it all so funny that it had totally relaxed me, and second, I couldn't think of a better opening to a sermon about God's grace in our weakest moments. Sometimes we are broken and human and fallible, and sometimes we can't even make a church service hang together. It was perfect. So I preached my sermon about grace, and I think most people got the point, and lots of them told me it was what they needed to hear. (Which I love. I'm not so crazy about hearing that I did a great job, although I know people mean it well, but that makes it about me, like it's a performance, and I don't think it should be).

The opening hymn played on cue, and I said the benediction. I had a package of Tic Tacs in my pocket because my mouth was dry after all the preaching and I wanted to be fresh and minty for the part at the back where you shake people's hands and say God-bless-you. I was planning how I would take my Tic Tacs as we stood reverently on the platform during the quiet postlude music, then walk down the aisle to the back of the church, only ... guess what? No quiet postlude music.

The silence grew. I shouldered my responsibility and, to the accompaniment of chuckles from throughout the church, went to the piano and played "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." The rest of the platform party went out to do the hand-shaking while I played the congregation out.

While I sat at the piano playing, my children appeared from nowhere to hug me and tell me I did a good job. While keeping track of the notes (remember I'm a mediocre pianist!) I said, "Emma, can you get the Tic Tac package out of my lap? Can you open it and take one out? Now can you put it in my mouth? Good!" Armed with Tic-Tacs, I eventually made it to the back of the church to shake hands, and I was in the best mood I'd been for days (I also had to apologize to Larry for surprising him with the whole CD-Hymnal thing at the last minute like that).

It was a total grace event, a living parable of what I was trying to say about God's power in our brokenness and weakness. Which is when I came up with my Thought for the Day about broken windows and letting grace shine through. (The broken-stained-glass-window picture, by the way, is by a guy called Frederic Poirot).

There are angels on George Street, angels on Aldershot Street (where my church is), angels all around. And grace everywhere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Good Writin' News!

Wow. Here I was thinking I was going to have to blog about what was going on in my life at the moment: AKA The Eternal Homework Hell. And I really didn't want to blog about how incredibly, unbelievably difficult it is to try to get Christopher through his homework ... what I wanted to do was to focus on something cheerful and pleasant.

Then, amazingly, something cheerful and pleasant happened!

My Biblical fiction about Deborah and Barak came out waaaayyy back last spring, but for some reason the publisher has been unable to get it listed on amazon.com ever since then. I have been bombarding them with requests, and every few days I check the amazon listings and it just makes me sad and frustrated, but I keep checking anyway ... and today I checked, and there it was!

So now there's no excuse ... people can buy Deborah and Barak on Amazon!

This is the second work of Biblical historical fiction I've written, the first being my book about Queen Esther. This one takes an older story about which far fewer details are given in the Bible -- the story of the prophetess Deborah and the warrior Barak and how they (along with mysterious hit-woman Jael) team up to defeat the eeeeevil Canaanite general, Sisera. It's one of the Bible's most dramatic stories, and also one that leaves lots of questions unanswered. Including the biggie: How did a woman ever come to hold such an exalted position -- prophetess and judge -- in such an overwhelmingly partriarchal society?

I divided the point of view between Deborah and Barak, which meant writing from a man's point of view -- not only a man, but a Bronze Age warrior who spends lots of time fighting, so that was a stretch for me. Anyway, it was a fun book to research and write, and I hope now that it's a little more readily available people will enjoy reading it!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Like to do the Meme Thing

Actually I don't ... do those blog-meme things that much, I mean. But occasionally I see one that looks cool, and they're good for days when you want to blog but haven't really got a lot to say. Here's one that Joshilyn Jackson did on her blog a little while ago (it comes from The Daily Meme). I like it because it's book-related.

Here's how it works (in case you want to try it, or want to have any clue what I'm doing here):

1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book #1 -- first sentence
3. Book #2 -- last sentence on page fifty
4. Book #3 -- second sentence on page one hundred
5. Book #4 -- next to the last sentence on page one hundred fifty
6. Book #5 -- final sentence of the book
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph, like this:

Home, my soul sighed. When Regal spoke, it sounded as if he had dry bread caught in his throat. I waved a gracious good-bye at the door. Hands it to her. Which is not to say that there aren't nights when I put on my coat and take a walk here in Evanston and go down to the lakefront near the university and walk along the rocks and get nostalgic and look up at Chicago, all golden and clean, reflecting down the shore to me, and think: that's nice, that's real nice, but I knew a place once where the lights were brighter, and the air was filled with dreams.

My books were:
1 -- Justice Hall, Laurie R. King
2 -- Assassin's Apprentice, Robin Hobb
3 -- The Boyfriend School, Sarah Bird
4 -- The Diviners, Margaret Laurence
5 -- Emma Who Saved My Life, Wilton Barnhardt (man, that book has a long last sentence!)

Aaaaannnd ... that's it from me today. Seriously, nothing more to say. Work has been quiet and slow this week as we're down to the last few days of the semester and most of the work is done (and most of the students are absent). I'll be glad to start a new semester and be busy again!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Love That Neo!

I'm sitting in my living room typing my blog entry on an AlphaSmart Neo. Tina's AlphaSmart Neo, to be exact. Today was "Coffee with the Strident Women" day at Starbucks, and wonderful Tina loaned me her Neo for a week so I could try it out and see if I like it.

So far I like it very much! It's incredibly light, portable and user-friendly. I can't wait to try hooking it up to the computer to see if downloading the files to Blogger or Word is as easy as Tina swears it is. (Note: it was!) I could definitely get into using this machine. It's exactly what I need -- a smart, portable machine that does NOTHING except write -- no internet, games, or anything else to distract me. Of course, my ancient laptop is also distraction-free, but it has other drawbacks: it has no battery so always needs to be plugged in (major drawback); it doesn't run Word, only WordPerfect, and although it is small for a laptop, it's still clunky compared to the ultra-light Neo. It's definitely time for an upgrade, but if I get a new laptop it will probably have wireless internet and everything I DON'T need ... because I so easily distracted. The beauty of going to Chapters/Starbucks (or anywhere else) to write is that I can get away from all the distractsion of my home AND my home computer. I am so easily distracted it's not even funny, and the internet is the huge "something shiny" that always beckons me away from work. So, getting a Neo might be a solution.

Strident Coffee was great today ... Christine, the original Ms. Strident, sadly couldn't make it due to this Christmas flu that seems to have almost everyone I know laid low, but other than that the whole gang was there. We discussed everything from bridesmaids' dresses and beauty pageants to the writing life and local literary gossip. Lori was celebrating sending her manuscript out to a publisher -- a book I hope I'll be reviewing and telling you to rush out and buy real soon!

I have had something resembling a social life this week and have really been feeling good about it -- Thursday night, Sherry and I finally were able to connect long enough to go to a movie (the formulaic and predictable, but quite fun, The Holiday), and last night Jason and I had Jennifer and David over for board games. We played Blockus and Scrabble, and I won one game of Blockus. I'm blown away that someone's managed to invent a game of strategy that I can play, much less win. It's amazing. (Jason wants me to tell you that he won Scrabble, which he did, by a crushing margin. But this is not really news as he nearly always wins at Scrabble).

One of the things I've been feeling in the last year is that I don't make enough time to spend with my friends -- having a family, teaching and writing fills my days so completely. Sometimes I feel I'm more in touch with long-distance friends who I chat with on msn than I am with my own good friends who live ten minutes' drive away. It's not exactly a New Year's Resolution, but I would like to get together more often with my friends in 2007, so this week has been a good one that way, and Strident Coffee was the perfect way to kick off the second week of 2007!

In Shameless Parent Brag news,
Jason's blog has a video of Christopher playing the violin in church last week ... check it out!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Everything, really, is spin. How you tell the story. What to leave in, what to leave out.

For example, I could tell the story of the first day of 2007 in a way that makes me sound like a homegrown Martha-Stewart-slash-Supermom. Like a person, in fact, who would never need to make a New Year's Resolution again.

Here's the media-approved version of New Year's Day, 2007.

We arrived home in the early hours of the morning after bringing the kids downtown to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. Everybody slept soundly and woke at a reasonable hour, and we got busy preparing New Year's dinner for my family, who were coming at 5:00. During the afternoon, while Jason cooked the turkey, we listened to the radio drama of Narnia on VOAR while the kids and I decorated a gingerbread house. I made a genuine old-fashioned steamed Christmas pudding in my vintage 1911 pudding bowl, given to me last year by Aunt Gertie. In the evening, my parents and Aunt Gertie came to enjoy a lovely turkey dinner and watch the children play with their Christmas toys while we showed videos of the children's Christmas concerts, which Aunt Gertie hadn't been able to attend. The guests went home early, the kids retired to bed, and Jason and I relaxed watching videos by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

Sounds pretty, doesn't it? And not a word of a lie. Everything I said is absolutely true. There are just a few tiny details left out.

We did decorate a gingerbread house -- from a kit -- while we listened to Narnia on the radio. Unfortunately, due to my usual hurry and my unwillingness to peruse the directions, I discovered after the house was built that I had thrown out what I thought was just the top of the package but was actually the "E-Z Build Tray" meant to hold the walls in place. Without this support the roof caved in, sending numerous Skittles crashing into the interior of the house. We rebuilt it twice and finally got it decorated with one wall partly collapsed. It looked like Gingerbread House meets Hurricane Katrina. Emma kept sticking candies on it long after Chris and I had lost interest, so she really gets credit for any festive element in the end result.

I did make a pudding in the old-fashioned pudding bowl. The problem with a steamed pudding is that there's no way to check and see if it's done. Last year's pudding came out of the mold looking pretty much like it's supposed to look. This year's had to be scooped out in spoonfuls to lie quivering on the plate. It had a gummy, sticky texture. Everyone politely said it was tasty anyway. It probably would have been if we'd been able to drown it in sauce, but I hadn't made enough sauce. The kids, of course, wouldn't touch it and ate the gingerbread house instead.

We did have my parents and Aunt Gertie for dinner, although Aunt Gertie, who at 92 is more and more reluctant to leave the house, had to be coaxed to come over (she lives next door). I lured her over by assuring her the kids really wanted her to come, which was true at the time. By the time supper was ready, I was wondering if she might not have been happier left at home.

As we got ready to sit down to dinner, both kids refused to come and eat with their relatives: Emma because she was sulking from an imagined slight earlier, and Christopher because he was hard at work doing a drawing on his computer. I went upstairs and began urging them down to the table with dire threats. ("If you don't come downstairs with a smile on your face right now, Pixel Chick Will Die!!!")

Emma stomped downstairs wearing Eeyore-like expression, while Christopher said he'd be down in "just a minute." I went into his room and rapped smartly on the top of his computer to get his attention. I swear I did not know that this would cause the computer to crash and reboot, thus losing the last hour of work he'd done on his incredibly complex drawing (he dislikes saving to back-up his work, although I think he may have learned a lesson about that last night). Did I mention that one of my New Year's Resolutions was to be more patient with my children? Hmm...how long did that one last?

Meanwhile, my longsuffering husband, who had pretty much cooked the entire meal, had suffered long enough and was calling out to me to leave Chris alone up there; he needed help in the kitchen and couldn't get the whole meal on the table by himself. We both became somewhat testy, in those harsh piercing whispers you use to convince yourselves that your guests are somehow unaware that you're arguing in the kitchen.

Miraculously, all the food got on the table and both children joined us around the marginally festive board. Gradually the mood lifted (not that it had anywhere to go but up, by that point). Emma read a story to Aunt Gertie and showed us all the wonders of her Polly Pocket Cruise Ship. Christopher was able to re-create his picture on the computer and joined us in a happier mood for the viewing of the Christmas concert videos. Peace and harmony didn't exactly reign supreme, but they were allowed equal representation and a vote.

By the end of the evening I was generally happy with everything except the 10,000 dirty dishes covering every available surface in the kitchen. The part about us collapsing on the couch watching movies by the Christmas lights was totally true. I neglected to mention the running feet and high-pitched giggles from upstairs that continued until 9:35 p.m. I blocked those out.

It's so easy to do that -- to block out the inconvenient facts that clutter up the pretty picture. I find I have a lot invested in spin, in making my life look good -- to others, but especially to myself.

Magazine covers remind me that this is New Year's. It's time for a New Me, a New Life, New Directions. Oprah wants me to Live My Best Life, as usual. She also assures me this is the year I can become the Woman I Want to Be.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure this is my best life. And I think I am the woman I want to be. The person I am now, the life I'm living, fulfills most of my dreams and goals. I feel I'm honouring the important commitments in my life. I truly cannot imagine wanting to be a different person or live a different life.

Or ... is that all spin? If I tilt the picture to a different angle, what do I discover? No, I don't uncover a longing to be a different woman or live a different life, no matter how many collapsed puddings or crashed computers or disaster-stricken gingerbread houses or grumpy kids I have to cope with. What I do see is that within this life I've chosen, there is so much room for improvement. So many areas where I can be, not A Different Woman, but a better version of the one I am now. I am not discontented, but I am ambitious -- I believe I can do better, be more patient, more attentive, more mindful in so many areas of my life.

Yes, I still believe in making New Year's Resolutions. No, I'm not going to tell you what they all are. Except that next time someone gives me a gingerbread house kit, I'm going to hang on to the E-Z Build Tray. There's no point making things harder for yourself.