Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review 2012

Ever since I started blogging in 2009 I have done a Year in Review post. It's always a big, time-consuming pain in the ass and it's so incredibly boring to everyone but me that other bloggers turn away in droves. (Ha! There they go!)

The thing is, I've worked for newspapers my whole life and any newspaper worth its salt publishes a Year in Review between Christmas and New Year's. Why? Mostly because the editors are either drinking or hung over and haven't got the wherewithal to find new news. 

Seriously, life goes by in a blitzing fecking hurry and looking back over the past year slows things down, makes you remember all the things you've accomplished and may have already forgotten about.

For me, 2012 was a fantastic camping year. Dave and I really got "out there," hitting the great outdoors almost every month of the year. I'm really happy about that. Being outside, connecting with nature, spending time with the people I love, feeling sun and wind on my face, it makes me a happy human. Last summer I pledged to go camping every single month of the year in 2013. The thought of it scares me, as I say it. Especially since winter cold is settling in around these parts and the fire in the woodstove sure is cozy. Seems a bit foolhardy to think about winter camping, but then most goals seem foolhardy as we say them out loud. It's one thing to fantasize about finishing a novel, starting a new one, losing weight or camping in bug season. It's quite another to say it out loud and make it come true.

At this time I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to all my bloggy friends. You've stood by me through thick and thin (mostly thick) and I hope you know what you mean to me. You truly are the best friends anyone could hope for and I love and cherish you all. I hope you have a wonderful New Year's celebration and a completely fabulous 2013. May all your hopes and dreams come true. I believe if you say them out loud, they will happen. 

So say them – go ahead – and be happy.

January - Dave and I tried camping in a yurt in Killarney Provincial Park.
 Loved everything about it except the frozen mountain of turds in the outhouse. 
February - I had cataracts removed in both eyes.
The fast-growing type, they got really bad really fast and finally had to step away from work
 for a few weeks because I couldn't see to work or to drive.
The operations were easy-peasy and now I can see! 
March - For me and Dave, early spring is all about splitting wood for the coming winter. It is a huge job, taking about a month to cut, split and pile a truckload of logs. While I don't relish all that work, I do appreciate our efforts at this time of year, when the house is so hot that we have to open the windows. It's also an inexpensive way to heat – a load of logs costs $900 but it heats our house for three years. People we know who heat with oil will pay twice or three times that amount for one winter and their homes are never really warm. The good news is, we won't have to split wood this spring because we have so much piled up and ready to go.
April - Awww, our baby painted turtles. This picture makes me smile so much!
They hatched beside our mailbox, which is next to the road, so we gathered them up
(it was like finding Easter eggs!) and released them in a safe spot along the riverbank.
Every time I pass that spot I smile and think about the baby turtles and hope
they're doing OK.
April - At the end of the month we went up to Kiosk for our spring fishing trip.
Nothing beats that first trip. Nothing! We had an absolutely fabulous time hanging
out with my sister Liz and her husband Don, and Dave's brother Tom and his wife Sue.
May - Every May 24 weekend for the last several years we have gone camping
at Balsam Lake Provincial Park. Why? It's just far south enough so there are
no black flies!!!! The last few years we have been fortunate to go camping with
our good friends the Raneys. We've had some great laughs, sitting around those campfires,
and I will always treasure the memories.
June - Dave bought a motorcycle! So excited! We spent many happy hours
tooling around on his bike. Maybe this year I'll get my license and get one
of my own! A little scooter - wouldn't that be fun?
June - Sam drove the boat for the first time! A big moment in a kid's life and he
did a fine job navigating up the Muskoka River. This was a banner day, a perfect summer
day. One of the best things about living beside the river is just setting off from your very own dock
with fishing poles, books and sunscreen. Summer perfection.
June - My Mom turned 75 on her birthday so we had a party for her at Algonquin Park.
I love her t-shirt! Kawartha Dairy is legendary in these parts for its amazing ice cream and
it just so happened the dairy is exactly the same age as Mom!
July - The Muskoka Novel Marathon was AMAZING for me this year! First off,
I finished the first draft of my novel, a process that took more than two long years. But most
important, I had a fabulous time, making many new writerly friends. If you've ever
thought about taking part, I couldn't recommend the experience more.
July - Had a terrific time at Algonquin Park for a luxuriously long week.
Took the canoes out for a day trip (that's Angus in front of me) that turned
out to be quite an adventure. I still don't think my muscles have recovered!
August - I love this photo of Dave and our little nieces and nephews shucking
corn. Looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, don't you think? We had a family party
to celebrate Dave's Mom's 80th birthday. We swam in the pool, we swam in the river, we ate too
much, we laughed like crazy. It was a fabulous day. 
August - Another photo from Alice's birthday party. That's the birthday girl
holding our dog, Misty, in her lap. To her right, sitting in front of me, is her
sister, Edna. They weren't just sisters, they were best friends and it
was really hard on Alice when Edna died a few weeks ago from cancer.
I'm so glad we had this party. I think she had a good time.
September - That's my sister, Liz, absolutely beaming over the big lunker she
caught during our fall trip to Kiosk. It wasn't the only one she caught, either! Her hubby Don
barely had any time for his own fishing as he helped Liz get so many huge fish off her line!

September - Northwords Literary Festival is becoming a real highlight of a writer's
year in Muskoka. This year I had the fortune of meeting several terrific Canadian
authors including Alissa York and Joseph Boyden (pictured in front, looking "writerly"
along with my writing buddies Dawn Huddlestone and Paula Boon). Also met Elizabeth Hay,
David Layton, Carmen Aguirre, agent Carolyn Forde and my good buddy, author Terry Fallis.

October - WOO HOO! My name in an actual BOOK! I was so excited when The Best of Friday Flash 2 was published. It was a stellar moment for me, to say the least.

October - Sam gives new meaning to the term tree-hugging during a Thanksgiving
hike in Alqonquin Park. He was clinging to the tree because he was on the
edge of a steep cliff. I love having Thanksgiving dinner outside on picnic
tables with family and friends. It's the best.

October - As you can tell from my photos I'm pretty much a country
bumpkin but occasionally I do make it down to the city. In October the girls
in my writers group spent a glorious weekend in Toronto bunking out
at singer/songwriter/author/amazing woman Linda McLean's apartment. We visited St. Lawrence Market,
 browsed in bookstores and did a whole lot of laughing and talking. What a fab group!
From left is Sasha Pringle, Linda, Paula Boon and Dawn Huddlestone.

November - One of the most amazing nights of my life and that's saying something,
because there have been many! Work buddies Gail Knaus (left) and Leah Burton nominated me
for a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award. The event was topped off by an amazing evening gala, where nominees were truly treated like royalty. With me and Gail in the photo is another work buddy, Pamela Steel, who is on the board of directors of the local YWCA.  Pamela, by the way, is
a bestselling Canadian cookbook author.

December - On Dec. 1 Dave shaved off his Movember moustache. If you're not
familiar with Movember, it's when men grow moustaches to raise money and attention
to men's cancer. It was the first time Dave has had a stache since I met him back in 2005. It seems appropriate to close with a photo of him, stached or not, because he is my rock, supporting me through all the bad things, and making good things even better. Everyone should have their own Dave. He's truly the best.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

PJs and Crocs! Hooray!

Look at me! Look at my new pink flannel pyjamas! See the cutie-cute owls on them? Owls with toques and scarves and snowflakes? Look at my new shoes! They're Crocs! I've always wanted "real" Crocs, not the plastic ones they sell at the dollar store that make your feet smell. And look at all the charms I bought for my new Crocs! Which, in case you hadn't notice, are PINK!

Oh I'm happy, I am. Happy, happy, happy! We went to the city looking for Boxing Week bargains. First we hit the Crocs outlet store, where they sold you a second pair at half price, so I bought Dave a pair, too, only his are black, not pink (no accounting for taste). At the check-out I threw in a "mystery box" of charms, only $9.99 for 20! Everyone knows you can't have Crocs without charms, right? When I got home I picked out the manly charms and gave them to Dave. Wait, I'll go take a picture of his feet.

"Dave! I need to take a picture of your Crocs!"

He hands me his shoes.

"No, with your feet in them!"

He makes a cranky face, like I'm torturing him, but puts them on.

"Now put your feet closer together. Closer. No, closer. OK, smile!"

Here's his feet:

As you can clearly see, they are not anywhere near as cute as mine. There were two Canadian flags and two Brainy Smurfs in the grab bag so I shared. But I kept all the really cute girly ones, because they look so girly on my girly Crocs. I'll be all set for camping this year, with my girly waterproof Crocs, perfect for stomping around in forests and paddling the canoe. Or going to work. Or wearing to the mall. In fact, I may never take them off again.

After the Croc store we went to The Fat Ladies Store, my favourite store on the planet, because everything fits and skinny women aren't allowed. They check your weight at the door and if you're under 200 pounds they throw your bony ass to the curb. Ha! I just made that up but it cracks me up, the idea of officers from Big Bertha Security frisking skinny chicks who are wearing lead weights in their shoes in order to buy all the cool Omar-the-tentmaker clothes.

So EVERYTHING was on sale at The Fat Ladies Store, including and especially these pink pajamas, which I love to death because they are as soft and warm and cuddly as a new puppy, but a house-trained puppy, of course, because who wants pyjamas that pee on the rug? And they were 50% off the already discounted price, so they were, like, basically FREE.

I also got a bag full of other stuff... wait, it wasn't a bag, it was a BAG! It was *that* big and it was full of new shirts and underwear and even a pair of jeans! All 50% off already reduced prices! So again, it was practically FREE!

I should have gone back and gotten a bigger BAG!

Hey Dave! Wanna go shopping again tomorrow?


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas letdown

Thank gawd that's over!

WHEW! I mean, I love Christmas just as much as the next gingerbread-craving, present-squealing, tryptophan-induced comatose plum-pudding eater, but, man, I'm actually glad to be going back to work this morning.

Yesterday I felt awful. Down in the dumps, feeling sorry for myself awful. Why on earth, after having such a wonderful Christmas, would I feel this way?

According to Google, Christmas letdown is perfectly normal. Part of the "what goes up, must come down" theory. The build-up to the big day is overwhelming. Not just the massive amount of work, but the expectation that Christmas is going to be peaceful and loving and absolutely perfect. No day can possibly live up to that kind of PR and, as much as you try to quell any expectations of perfection, there's a built-in perfecto-meter in our societal-manipulated brains that tells us otherwise.

Besides, I had been running myself ragged. The last two weeks were a blur of shopping, cleaning, baking and wrapping. On top of that, Dave's Aunt Edna died after a long battle with cancer. Dave and I both got nasty colds. And we had to work. So by the time Christmas Day came around, we were both running on empty.

When everyone left Christmas night, I couldn't help but get into the bawling.

"What's wrong?" Dave asked.

"Nothing," I replied, blubbering.

"Didn't you have a great Christmas? I know I did," he said.

"Yes, Christmas was great," I agreed. And started bawling again in earnest.

I napped on the couch for a couple of hours, then went to bed early. I slept in until 10 a.m. (unheard of for me), then went back to bed after lunch and slept until 4 p.m. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to go to sleep at bedtime, but at 9 p.m. I went to bed and slept the whole night through.

This morning I feel almost human.

It's snowing outside, beautiful fat fluffy flakes. My coffee is fresh and delicious. I've got leftover sugar cookies for breakfast and a hot bath waiting for me as soon as I turn off the computer. Now that I'm not exhausted, I can look back at Christmas and see it for what it truly was – a wonderful day to treasure and remember, long after the gingerbread is gone.

I hope yours was just as sweet as mine.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm afraid of my cats

I may have to call for back-up.

They've got me square in their beady carnivorous sights and I can see the word FOOD flashing neon in the reflection of their killer-cold eyeballs and if I don't do something soon I'm going to wind up like those dead cat ladies with their tender vittles supped up with a side dish of catnip and a fine chianti.

It's the day before pay day and all through the house, every creature is meowing, except for the mouse – which, I might add, wouldn't be alive at all if the cats were truly starving to death, which they're not.

But The Bowl.

The Bowl is almost empty. It's got about (excuse me while I count) 23 cat crunchies moldering in the bottom of it. Sacré bleu! That is what constitutes Original Sin in this house. According to our cats, the bottom of The Bowl can not, under any circumstances, be visible. It must, at all times, be covered with Whiskas Hairball Control Cat Crunchies.

Ben-Ben is the Guardian of The Bowl. He lets us know immediately when there is any sign of the bottom, meowing in a tone so mournful that one might think his left nut (which has been missing for 13 years) was twisted in the lid of the kitty litter box. He doesn't shut up, either. Not even while he's walking in front of us, at a snail's pace, weaving around our legs like the waffle-chip maker at a tositoes factory. Weaving and meowing, meowing and weaving.

I knew last night that this morning would dawn with a case of the uglies. But we couldn't go buy any Whiskas Hairball Control Cat Crunchies last night because tomorrow is pay-day and we were broker than Ben's unfortunate nuts.

"Ben-Ben is not gonna like this," I said to Dave. "He's gonna drive us bonkers."

"Let him," said Dave, who threw this brave missive over his shoulder as he headed out the front door on his way to work, leaving me alone with two hungry cats and The Bowl.

I think I've faked them out. For now. I filled up the dog's dish and I filled up the water dish, and then I pretended to fill their dish, picking it up and shaking it around, spreading the cat crunchies around to make them look, um, different.

The cats may be cute, and loud, but they're dumb as a bag of rocks.

They sniffed The Bowl, ate a cat crunchie or two, and retired to the chesterfield where they will snore and stretch and groom their embarrassing parts, and wait until I return home with a new bag of Whiskas Hairball Control Cat Crunchies.

I will have to come home with one. If I don't, my life will be over. If it means stealing some blind old man's white cane and setting up in front of the pet store with a tin can, I guess I'll have to do it. Or maybe I'll sell some blood. It doesn't matter how I get it, as long as I get it.

Maybe I'll hold the pet store up at bowl-point. They'll understand my need, they will. They know what cats are capable of. Furry killers, kitties are. Deviant masters of The Bowl.

I will leave now, while they are sleeping, and some how, some way, the cat crunchies shall be mine...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tea with Mistress Snark

Today I'm having tea with a voluptuous half-nekkid weird woman named Mistress Snark. Y'all are invited to drop by, have a sip of Earl Grey and a suspiciously fuzzy cuke sammich. 

My advice? Stay away from the bloody punch.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Happy December 6th!

Book me a room at the home, Mabel, I'm coming in.

I have no brain left. I've said that before, but I was lying then because obviously I had a little bitty bit of brain left. Now? No brain.

The sixth anniversary of my father's death was approaching. Now, as any of you who have lost a parent knows, this is a tricky bit of business. You want to call the living parent and offer moral support and comfort on a yucky day. But what do you say? "Happy anniversary of Dad's Death?" There's no Hallmark card for that.

The other thing is, I can never remember the actual date of Dad's death. After much brain prodding and memorizing, I can now remember he died in December 2006. But did he die on the 6th? Or the 9th?

"When did my dad die?" I ask my husband – every single year.

"You ask me this every single year," he replies, every single year.

"I know, I'm an idiot. But please tell me. I'll remember this time."

Dave sighs ... every single year he sighs just like that ... and tells me he died December 6th.

Yay! Thanks Dave! I burn Dec. 6 into my beleaguered brain and swear to the great gods of merciful memory that I WILL REMEMBER next year.

When Dec. 6 rolled around I phoned my Mom, who sounded perky.

"How are you doing?" I asked in a sombre, I-am-worried-about-you tone.

"Pretty good," she said. "My leg is really bothering me but other than that I'm fine. How are you?"

"Oh good," I said, brushing off her question. "But really, Mom, how ARE you?"

There was a pause, then she said, "I'm fine, Cathy. Why? What's up?"

I got all awkward and didn't know what to say so I mumbled, "Well, it's, um, Dec. 6 and I thought I should see how you are."

There was an even longer pause, then Mom started laughing. "He died Dec. 9! Not Dec. 6. You do this EVERY SINGLE YEAR!"

Then it was OK. We laughed like looney tunes. The awkwardness of not knowing how to mark a terrible anniversary dissipated.

"I'll phone you on Dec. 9," I said, just before I hung up.

"Oh, you don't have to do that," Mom said. "It's fine."

But I did. I called her last night and, as soon as she answered the phone I said, "It's Dec. 9," and she laughed, real unabashed laughter, all over again.

I think I might have to do this again next year – in fact, every single year from now on. Because if it can make my mother laugh on one of the saddest days on the calendar, well, there's no need for a card from Hallmark, is there?


Speaking of brain-dead, I had forgotten that today was a special day for everyone's favourite Ninja blogger, Alex Cavanaugh. If you'd like to drop by his blog and wish him well and thank him for being such a bright spot in the universe, do so here.

Alex is one of the most popular and generous bloggers I've ever come across and it's absolutely no wonder that everyone loves him so much.

On this special day I would love to say that the world is a better place because of you, dear, sweet Alex. I wish you nothing but all the very best, on this day and all the ones to come.

(Is there a Hallmark card for Alex's Special Day?)

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to write a query letter

You know, there's so much crap out there being written about query letters – what to write, what not to write, how far do you bend over to get the proper angle for ass kissing – that, really? All I want to say is, "I wrote a damned book. Ya wanna see it, or not?"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spike needed

When I got my first rejection, I was THRILLED.

Suddenly, I felt like a real writer! I printed out the rejection and gleefully showed it to everyone around the office and squealed, "I'm-a-gonna get me a great big spike and I'm-a-gonna stick ALL my rejections on the spike, just like Stephen King!"

I also felt like J.K. Rowling, who couldn't get Harry Potter published if the broomstick under his bony butt depended on it, or Kathryn Stockett, whose blockbuster success The Help was rejected by 60 agents before Agent 61 swooped it up.

This, I thought, is the process. This is what happens. I was pumped.

I was still pumped when rejection #2 came along. And #3.

But by the time #4 showed up late Friday night on the heels of a crappy day, I wasn't as thrilled.

I can tell you right now, I will not be doing what Kathryn Stockett did. I will not be flogging my book out to agents for the next three years hoping someone will eventually take pity on me and throw me a bone. Gawd, I could be dead in three years. I'm old as dirt. If I want to see my book published I do believe I will have to do it myself.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, I had originally planned on self-publishing. The way the publishing economy is shaking out, the chances of being published the traditional way is slim to none, unless you're a rock star and I'm no rock star. To carry on with the music metaphor, I can sing OK in the shower but I wouldn't make it past the first round on American Idol.

I dunno, I just thought I'd give 'er a go... see what happened. Ya gotta try, you know?

You have to try.

Besides, some of the most successful books on the market right now started out self-published. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Still Alice by Lisa Genova and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis were all originally self-published before the authors were offered contracts.

Bonus: I just did a search for the bestselling women's fiction on Amazon and guess what: the number one bestseller is self-published (The Edge of Never by J. A. Redmerski).

Even better? This summer FOUR self-published titles made it to the New York Times e-books bestseller list.

I highly recommend you read this post by David Meerman Scott about Lisa Genova's rags-to-riches success story with Still Alice.

And ya gotta love Terry Fallis' determination. He shopped his book around for a year, getting nothing but rejections, before he self-published and began recording chapters and sharing them on iTunes. Having more balls than most, Terry submitted The Best Laid Plans to the prestigious Stephen Leacock Award for Humour – and won. After that, the publishing industry was knocking on his door and he finally got the recognition he deserved.

What I get from all this is you have to do-it-yourself first and, if your book is good enough and liked by enough people, you will get noticed by the publishing industry and the next thing you know you'll have a New York Times Bestseller on your hands.

I think that's the strategy I need to pursue.

What do you think?