Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Love in the Mountains - Lily Mulholland

I Do Countdown: 59 days
You think you have a great "how we met story?"
You ought to hear Lily Muholland's.
Lily is a regular and important fixture on the #fridayflash circuit, with a way with words that matches her striking beauty. The grand prize winner of Laurita Miller's recent Seaside Fiction Contest, Lily is also a contributor to Chinese Whisperings, a luxe anthology of some of the finest fiction writers on the planet. And if you need more Lily (who doesn't, really), be sure to check out her website.
But we're not here to talk about Lily's writing today.
We're here to talk about her love life. 
It's an amazing love life, by the way.
Who else can say their romance developed while climbing Mount Everest?
Lily penned this story herself back in 2006 and I am positively thrilled to reprint it here.
For background music, listen to the first song Lily and Carl danced to at their wedding:

Love in the Mountains
by Lily Muholland

I first laid eyes on my future husband in very early 2001. It was a pleasant day in Australia's capital city of Canberra, where I had travelled to attend a pre-expedition meeting for Exercise Everest 2001. I was the newly appointed expedition public relations officer of the Army Alpine Association's second Mt Everest expedition. We had been called together to go through the details required to finalise planning.

I was a little nervous, as I had met only one of the other 20 expedition members before this meeting and I didn't really know what to expect from a bunch of hardened army mountaineers. Well, of course, my fears evaporated once I met my fellow expeditioners. They were a lovely group and very interested in me and what I'd bring to the expedition. They'd never had an army PR officer along on a trip before, but they'd all done their fair share of public relations, so were pleased I'd be there to do it all for them. It'd make life on the mountain a lot less stressful, knowing their promotional engagements would be managed by someone else – namely me.
Half way through the meeting, an angry looking man strode in, sat down, and, when it was his turn to speak, issued a series of statements that sounded more like orders than requests. There went the convivial nature of the meeting - this guy was serious! I soon worked out he was the major in charge of communications. He was so annoyed as no one had put in their orders for batteries. Big deal, I thought. How big a deal could that possibly be? Having given everyone an ultimatum (put in your orders by next week or else), he left as abruptly as he'd arrived. I planned to give him a wide berth on the expedition!!

Fast forward a couple of months and we all gathered at Sydney Airport. We had oodles of gear - hundreds of items that all had to be accounted for when we arrived into Kathmandu in Nepal, via Bangkok. On the plane I was warned about the mayhem that is Kathmandu international airport - everyone was prepared to sit on our luggage to prevent it being pilfered by the many crooks waiting at the other end to 'assist' us with our gear. I was ready to poke someone's eye out if necessary! Of course it wasn't as bad as I was led to expect and I actually thought our disembarkation and departure from the airport went quite smoothly...

All this time I had managed to avoid speaking to the angry ant major. The others were all very convivial and I enjoyed getting to know them. We spent a few days in Kathmandu getting acquainted and finalising last-minute logistics for our pre-expedition trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary. I teed up some media interviews and started preparing background information on my fellow travellers. All was going according to plan.

We headed off on the long bus trip through Pokhara to the head of the track that takes you into the sanctuary. Our large group included several of the sherpas who would accompany us into Tibet in a month's time to start the expedition proper, as well as a couple of trekkers and family members of several of the climbers. I was surprised to see one of the guys had brought his eight-year-old step-daughter along, but she was bright as a button and turned out to be more adventurous at eight than I had been my entire life.

The aim of the pre-expedition trek was to take the group into high altitudes so that we'd begin the process of acclimatising to an environment that provides much less oxygen in the air than you find at sea level. The Annapurna Sanctuary trek takes you through some spectacularly beautiful mountainous country up to an altitude of just over 4000 metres (over 13,000 feet). We set off up the path, which started with a heart-pumping staircase, for our first night's destination. I had never worked so physically hard as I did on this trek. It was exhausting and my leg muscles did not stop hurting for the entire 11 days.

Our first night was spent in a luxury 'teahouse' in Dhampus. It even had baths with hot water in the rooms - this was a much higher standard than I'd anticipated and was so glad to sink into a hot tub after a very hard day's trekking. We all had dinner together that night and then it was time to send the first of many internet updates back to our webmaster in Australia. This was my job and I felt a little bummed out that everyone else just had to walk and then rest, while I had other work to do! But I knew that once we were on Everest they'd all be doing the hard yards.

In order to send my reports back to Australia, I needed to use one of our ruggedised laptops and the satellite phone. Well, who do think was in charge of this communications equipment? The angry major I told you about earlier. So, hesitatingly, I asked him if he could show me how to set it all up. He was happy to do so and, with military precision, set it all up for me and told me he was happy for me to set it up by myself from now on. Sheesh, I couldn't even remember how to turn the laptop on, let alone set up a sat phone! But I didn't want to tell him that, so I tried very hard to commit the procedure to memory.

I shouldn't have worried, as Carl set the whole lot up for me every night. Thank goodness! I was so buggered from walking eight hours each day that my brain was in shutdown mode by nighttime.

We continued our ascent into the sanctuary through some of the most jaw-dropping scenery anywhere on the planet. One night it even started to snow lightly on us just as we were coming into the chosen village for a night's rest. In the morning, everything looked like a picture straight out of a fairytale - a light dusting of snow had transformed the landscape. I was so happy. So glad I'd made the decision to come on the expedition. A once-in-a-lifetime-trip kind of happy.

We eventually made it up into the sanctuary proper. It's called the Annapurna Sanctuary, as it's a natural amphitheatre, surrounded by a circle of mountains, with just a narrow gully that permits trekkers and climbers to enter. I could not believe how beautiful the snow-filled bowl and sky-high mountains were. I suddenly appreciated why mountaineers climb dangerous mountains.

And we were soon to find out just how dangerous they can be. The family of three (the one with the eight year old girl) decided to head out of the sanctuary one day ahead of the rest of the party. They wanted to take it slow and make sure their daughter wasn't too tired by the faster 'downhill' trek. We all thought this was a good idea and bade our farewells as we headed off for the day and they packed up, making ready to leave. Carl and one of the other expeditioners decided not come further up into the sanctuary, but to stay at the teahouse and try to recharge the sat phone batteries.

The rest of us headed up the track to its finish to bask in the sun and enjoy a coke and a bowl of something hot at 4000 metres. It was like being at a chalet in the European alps, only better, as there were only about 50 people in the whole area that day. We had a magnificent day in the cool, crisp air, trudging through virgin snow and taking in our surrounds. All that joy evaporated immediately when we returned to the teahouse and heard there'd been an avalanche down the track.

Some of the group immediately began worrying about our companions, but I thought they were over-reacting, as the avalanche had occurred around midday and the threesome should have been well clear of the avalanche site, as they were leaving quite early that morning. To my horror, Carl advised that the family group had been delayed in their departure because their daughter's boots had frozen up overnight.

Our expedition leader despatched our head sherpa down the trail to see if he could find out anything. By this time it was getting dark. What seemed like an eternity later, he returned. Ashen-faced. He had Peter's pack. With a ripped shoulder strap. I could not bring myself to think the worst. I hoped that Peter had dumped his pack and run safely out of the path of the avalanche and that he, Michelle and KC had continued down the track. They would be safe and well, I convinced myself.

Our team sprang into action. We made plans and lists of equipment we'd need to take with us to search the debris at sun-up the next day. We worked quickly and calmly before hitting the sack for the night. I don't think any of us got much sleep. We headed off down the track at daybreak and before long happened across the most god-awful, huge avalanche detritus. I'd seen avalanches on TV - you know the kind that start off with a snowball and cascade into a slippage of an entire snowfield. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. This was a different kind of avalanche - it was all ice, boulders and hard-packed snow. The locals on the scene believed it was the result of an ice-cliff (serac) falling away off the side of one of the 7000m mountains that lined the trail.

It would have hit them like a freight train. I felt sick to the stomach as I walked past the avalanche debris. I knew that if they had been in the path of it they were dead for sure. We still held out faint hope that they'd made it out the other side. Our fastest trekker rushed down the trail to the next village, and the next in search of anyone who might have sighted the family. He came back empty-handed.

The group split into two - most of the team stayed at the site and started to dig. I went down the track with our deputy expedition leader, another trekker who was in shock and unable to function mentally or physically, and with Carl, our comms guy. We had to get far enough down the track to plug our phone and laptop into mains power to report the incident back to our headquarters in Australia. I went into hyperdrive at this point, helping our 2IC to prepare a situation report and media talking points. It's all now a bit of a blur.

Many hours later the rescue team arrived, looking very glum and mostly unable to speak. They had found nothing except Peter's very distinctive camera. They had had to leave the site as the sun hit it, making it dangerously unstable. They were worried that if they continued to dig they'd risk their own lives. They performed a brief ceremony at the site of the avalanche, with the help of our Buddhist sherpas, before they said their goodbyes to our companions.

We were contacted by the Australian Ambassador to Nepal and advised that he would be arriving on location the next day. We had a very quiet, sombre night before we headed back to Pokhara and into a media frenzy.

I was very upset and shaken up by the deaths of Peter, Michelle and 8-year-old KC. They were a very loving, adventurous and happy family. They'd shared many a caving, canoeing and bushwalking adventure together and were just in the primes of their lives. The avalanche and their loss threw me (and the whole team) into a spin. We all were asked to make an individual decision as to whether to continue on or to return to Australia. I very seriously considered pulling out of the expedition, but was convinced by one of the climbers that they needed me and that I would regret it forever if I didn't continue. I decided to go to Tibet.

Eventually our decision was unanimous. We would go on and we would summit Everest in the memory of the fallen. Our expedition took on a new meaning and the climbers were all motivated to achieve their goal in memory of our friends.

After a week or so of media commitments and logistical preparations, we boarded the minibus that would take us across Nepal and into Tibet. I climbed onto the bus only to find that the only spare seat was next to Carl. Bugger, I thought. Oh well, hopefully he'll listen to his headphones the whole way there and I won't have to talk to him.

He turned out to be surprisingly chatty! We talked about this and that and discovered that we shared in common a love for the same kind of books and the same kind of music. Well, well, I thought. Maybe he's not so bad after all. Of course, I wasn't thinking romance at all. I'd had a series of failed relationships over the preceding decade and I had sworn off men - particularly army men! I just assumed (to be on the safe side) that they were all married and of no interest to me.

So I said to Carl, what does your wife think about all this gallivanting around the world? What wife, says he. Okay, your girlfriend. Nope. Boyfriend? He laughed. Oh, says me.

But I had sworn off men.
After a couple of days making our way slowly up through Tibet, we arrived at Everest Base Camp (5100 metres; 16,700ft). Our acclimatisation was just about complete, but I certainly felt the lack of oxygen at such a high altitude. There's about half the normal oxygen level than at sea level, so you get puffed even bending over to tie up your boots!

At Base Camp we had one large main messing tent and two-man tents for sleeping in. There were three women on the expedition - me, our cook and one of the army's top female climbers. Merran and Tanya were friends from way back, so they shared a tent. I had no tent buddy and when I mentioned it, Carl immediately jumped in and said, you can share with me!


We had some laughs in our tent, snuggled deep into our respective down-filled sleeping bags. He turned out to be a very charming, funny guy. Boy was my first impression wrong. Put that down to experience, I told myself.

After a week of preparations and final acclimatisation, it was time to head 22kms (14 miles) up to Advance Base Camp (ABC), with an altitude of 6400m (21,000ft). This was where I was to spend the next six weeks of my life.

The climbers came into their own at this point on the expedition. They began the arduous task of ferrying equipment and food up the mountain. The aim was to establish four camps up the north-west ridge of Mt Everest and, after a small break, begin the summit push in three teams of four climbers.

During this time, however, the dreaded base camp lurgy hit our team (and others) hard. Just about everyone came down with a dreadful bronchial infection. Everyone except yours truly (for some bizarre reason). The sickies headed back down to base camp to try to get better and to have a rest at lower altitudes before their summit attempt.

Carl and his climbing partner had to head down the mountain very suddenly, as Peter had suffered a mini-stroke while we were having lunch one day. He suddenly couldn't feel his cheek or right arm and began speaking in tongues. We rang our doctor (who had become sick himself and returned to Australia) who said Peter had to get off the mountain right now and back down to as low an altitude as possible immediately. His climbing days were over. Carl rushed Peter down the mountain as fast as he could, with Peter suffering yet more attacks on the way down. It was scary. (Peter made a full recovery and waited out the rest of the expedition in Kathmandu.)

Carl eventually came back up to ABC, and, after one more attempted 'load carry' to Camp I, conceded defeat. The chest infection had knocked him hard and he declared himself incapable of climbing further up the mountain. It was not to be his expedition. (He wasn't overly worried by this, having just completed in the previous six months successful climbs on Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya in Africa, Mt Shishapangma in Tibet and various peaks in the French Alps!)

This meant that Carl spent a lot of time alone with me in ABC. We shared books, he lent me his spare walkman and homemade music tapes, and we talked and talked. We even went to a party at another team's tent one night. It was most surreal! You should see the stars up there. I've never seen anything like it - stars down to the horizon with a 360-degree view of the mountains. The moon over the summit of Mt Everest away in the distance. It was just amazing. And would have been quite romantic I suppose - if any of us had had a shower in the past six weeks!!

We worked hard supporting the climbers in their endeavours to reach the top of the world's highest mountain. In the end, only one of our climbers and two sherpas summitted. Two other climbers came tantalisingly close, but turned around when they realised they'd run out of oxygen, time and energy.
It was exhilarating when one of our climbers radioed down to us from the top of the world - we were ecstatic!

However, this ecstasy was tempered by the death a few days earlier of an Australian climber in our camp. He wasn't part of our expedition, but we'd grown close to him through social engagements in the tent city that was ABC. He was a lovely, lovely man who'd gotten himself lost on Everest after a failed summit attempt. It was dark, he was out of oxygen and at death's door when he staggered into our top camp - our climbers took him in, gave him fluids, food and some of their precious oxygen and slept with him crammed into their tent for the night. In the morning he seemed right as rain, but when he stood up to get his boots to put on he just keeled over and was dead when he hit the ground. Our boys tried to revive him, but he was dead.

The worst thing about dying on Everest is that it is actually impossible for the body to be recovered. Unless you can walk, you cannot get off that mountain. It is all anyone can do to get themselves down. It would be suicide to try to bring down another man. This is one of the sad realities of mountaineering. That's why you have to maintain rationality and realise when it's time to get off the mountain - whether you reached the summit or not.

Again, I had to deal with all of the department of foreign affairs and media enquiries over this fellow Australian's death. All through this ordeal Carl was by my side, making sure all the comms gear worked when it needed to.

Once our summit attempts concluded, it was time to pack up ABC and head back down to the base camp. I was pleased to be leaving - it is very hard going existing where no living thing can manage to survive (there are no plants or animals at that altitude - there are a couple of scavenger birds, but they don't live there - they fly up, raid the camps, and then return to their nests. Clever mother nature), but I was also sad, as I knew I'd never be anywhere like that again, and we were leaving a lovely man behind, alone on the mountain.

The trek back down to base camp was awful. After six weeks of not walking very far, I found the going very tough and it took 12 hours to walk the 22kms. I was stuffed!! We overnighted at base camp and then in the morning that too was packed up. The land rovers arrived and we all piled in. Well, all of us except Carl and I. I realised that I was waiting to see which vehicle he got into as I wanted to go in that car too.

Uh-oh! Trouble!!

I finally threw my pack into the back of one of the cars, as Carl didn't seem to making any moves in that direction. As soon as I picked a vehicle, he chucked his pack into the same car! Double trouble!!

We were literally thrown together in the front seat of the 4WD. It was really only 1 1/2 seats, so we were shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. It was tight!

It was a much quicker trip back to the border between Tibet and Nepal, as we didn't need to stop to acclimatise. On our overnight stop I had to confess to the two other girls on the trip that I thought I liked Carl as more than a friend. They were so excited! They promised to spy on him the next day, as I was so unsure of myself and my ability to read boy signals that I needed help!!

We crossed into Nepal the next day, only to find that the Nepalese royal family had been massacred by one of the sons, who had subsequently been shot down by palace guards. The place was in uproar and official mourning, which meant no one could travel into the capital. There was also a curfew in place to prevent rioting - the Nepalese take their monarchy very seriously indeed.

We were forced to stay outside the capital for the night.

Fortunately for us, this meant staying in a gorgeous hilltop resort with the Himalaya as a backdrop. The sunset views were just gorgeous. We wound down with a couple of beers each and a lovely steak dinner. Our first 'proper' meal in months. It was delicious - made even more so by the fact that Carl sat opposite me - after I'd already sat down. That night the girls confirmed my suspicions - oh he's DEFINITELY interested, they said. Big trouble!!

The next day we finally made it back to Kathmandu. We propped at a hotel in town for a few days rest and recuperation, as well as to clean and pack our several tonnes of gear for the return journey to Australia. That night, we were treated to a slap-up dinner at the hotel. Once again, Carl sat opposite me. We talked for hours until we were kicked out of the restaurant. A group of us retired to the bar.

Several drinks and several hours later, one by one people started to go back to their rooms to get some sleep. I didn't. Carl didn't. Eventually we were the only ones left in the bar. We were sitting together on a couch and neither of us wanted to move. Although we had to move our feet to let the guy finish vacuuming around us!

We sunk lower and lower on the couch and closer and closer together until finally I thought, I am going to kiss this beautiful man. So I did. At the very same moment he decided to kiss me.

Well how many cliches do you want to hear? The earth moved, my heart skipped a beat, my eyelids fluttered. It was the kiss. The Kiss. The most amazing kiss. A kiss of love. A kiss of promise. A kiss of relief!!

All this from one kiss. Boy, was I in big trouble!
After a couple more days in Kathmandu, it was time to leave Nepal, Tibet and Everest behind. Bittersweet memories for all of us, sweetened for Carl and I by the knowledge that we'd started something amazing.

We were married two and half years later, now are parents to a delightful 10-month-old and remain very happy with each other. I have found someone to love, and more important, someone who loves me just for me. Doesn't want me to change. Loves all my quirks. Loves me.

Anybody got any tissue? Pass it here, will ya?
Gawd, Lily, there's probably not a dry eye in the joint.
Thank you for letting me share your story. Tragic, romantic, adventurous – everything, all rolled into one. I wish you nothing but the best as you two take on the world. I mean, when you start at the very top, the eagles truly are your travelling companions.
And your dress? To die for gorgeous! 
(Carl isn't bad, either!)
With my September 25 wedding to Dave coming up fast, I invite you to share your own wedding tales. Send me your wedding photos. Send me your stories. If you're not married, send me a tacky bridesmaid photo. Or tell me about some disastrous wedding you've been to!
Share some love!
You can start by sending it to me here at Love Central.
May all your dreams be romantic ones.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How To Find A Man

I Do Countdown: 60 Days

Ladies, this is how you find the man of your dreams.

1. You wait until your husband cheats on you and you break up.

2. When Renzo Rosati, the ad salesman at the Minden Times, wants to show you something on the computer, you should look. Yes, it's kind of weird because he's a co-worker but he's only concerned that you're middle-aged in a small town, all alone, with no prospects except a long, lonely life with a couple of cats. Renzo, dear, sweet Renzo, showed me the wonders of lavalife. It is what led me directly to FUN, FUN, FUN and, ultimately, to the man of my dreams.
There are all kinds of internet dating sites. I tried a few. Didn't like plentyoffish at all. It confused me. Seemed kind of lame and goofy. And I never talked to anybody that turned my crank. I didn't think much of yahoo personals, either, and only went on one date and it was terrible. The conversations are, frankly, lame, but I do give them credit for perserverance. Five years later and they're still e-mailing my matches for the week. Ooooh, if you're THAT kind of girl (or guy) there are a few risqué sites on the web but I'm not going to talk to you about them because my mother visits here. Although, Mom, if you want to know more, I can e-mail you some links. There's even a website for married people who are looking to cheat. But that's not my style and hopefully not yours, either.
Lavalife was perfect. For the better part of a year, it provided me with more entertainment, more dates, more excitement and more fun than I had ever experienced. When my marriage ended, I felt like nobody would ever want me again. I felt fat and ugly and worthless.
Little did I know, there's a whole world of good men out there who don't see that about me at all.
In short order I discovered that I was a worthwhile human being; a funny, sociable person; a sexy woman (sorry, Mom); someone who was suddenly unbelievably popular.
I could have a date on almost every night of the week if I wanted.
And I did. Sometimes. Not always... a girl does need some sleep once in a while.
I was never looking for someone special. I kept my eyes and my heart open to new experiences.
One of the complaints I hear from other women who have tried online dating is that they can't meet Mr. Right. They have specific ideas on who they want to date.
Well, you know, with that kind of attitude, they are going to be pretty darn lonely.
If you have an open mind, you will meet some pretty cool people.
There was this one guy who was really smart and really interesting. I was dying to meet him. When it came time to setting up the meet, however, he said this: "You don't want to meet me."
I said, yeah, I do.
"No, you don't. I'm poor. I have no job. And I have no teeth."
Allrightey, then. I always pride myself on not judging people by their appearance and even though I was a little put off by the teeth announcement I said to myself, "Self, you sure would be a hypocrite if you judged this guy on the basis of his pocketbook and his teeth." Since I wasn't searching for anyone particularly special (as in a new husband), I went to meet him.
He was great! A seriously great guy. So interesting. We got together several times and always had a good time.
Yes, I met a few creeps. But on the whole, I just met people like myself. Lonely people looking for some companionship.

3. Have an excellent photo taken of yourself for this venture. This one guy I dated had the worst photo (even worse than my Dave's, but I'll get to that). He complained that the wasn't getting much action from his lava profile. I explained that his picture sucked. Big time. Being a photographer and all, I volunteered to take a decent photo of him. I gave him some good lighting, made sure the camera was in focus and his eyes weren't crossed. He posted it and the next thing I knew, I was history because he was off meeting a whole new round of lovely ladies.

4. Never take a photo to improve someone's lava profile.

5. Don't post a photo of yourself when you were 16 or 20. Make it current. Smile. But don't go for glamour. Yes, a glamourous photo of a super model will bring men in droves to your profile, but when they actually meet you in person and see you're a middle-aged frumpy housewife with wrinkles and age spots they might be, I don't know, just a tad disappointed. Also, be brave and exciting in your profile. You're selling yourself - be your own best agent! You only live once!

6. When the man of your dreams comes knocking, you won't know right away that he's the man of your dreams.
I was just having a good time that summer, not looking for anyone or anything other than a date on Saturday nights. And then, out of a clear blue sky, came a message on lava from a guy who was interested in me.
He sent his picture. It was a really horrible picture. He was standing about a mile away, at dusk, silhouetted by an open field. I had to squint to make sure there actually was a guy in the photo.
We passed a few messages back and forth on lava, then exchanged e-mails and starting chatting on messenger. The first thing we did was tell our first names and he started laughing when he found out my name was Cathy.
"That's my ex's name," he wrote. "LOL."
Dave had many nice qualities but he was a slooooooooow typist. While he was composing a sentence, I was able to go make coffee, check my mail, go to the bathroom, wash my hair, learn a new language... well, you get the idea.
I thought he sounded nice. In fact, his slogan on lava was "Nice guys finish last." I thought, awwww, what a sad thing to say.
We talked for quite a while about our sad stories. His separation. My separation. Our hard times. But we also talked about good times. I learned that we both like our ice cream smushed in bowl. I learned that he loves to dance. I learned that he has an honest soul.
We talked on the phone after that (and was pleasantly surprised that he talks much faster than he types), and then decided to meet.
He drove a long way to see me; almost two hours. This was a shy guy, by the way. Someone who rarely travelled away from the small town he grew up in.
He was so nervous about the trip, that he packed a sleeping bag in the trunk of his car, just in case I threw him out.
Like that would happen.
He got in the door and we made small talk for a moment. (By the way, you shouldn't meet strangers at your home. This is not a good idea. Do as I say and not as I do, OK?) I invited him in and offered him a drink. He said he had some vodka coolers in the car and offered to go get them. "OK," I said.
A few minutes he arrived back on my doorstep, coolers in hand.
"That was your big opportunity to leave," I said.
He laughed. "Nah," he said. "Why would I do that?"
It's been almost five years since we met in November 2005. And he hasn't left yet. We've been together practically every weekend since that one. We bought a house together. We share everything together. And since he proposed this past Valentine's Day, we have every intention of spending the rest of our lives together.
If that's not a happy story, I don't know what is.

Help me count down to my wedding day! Send me anecdotes from your wedding day! Or how you met the person of your dreams. Or how you hated being a bridesmaid... whatever! And send me a photo, too. Either a wedding photo or an anniversary photo or that darned bridesmaid dress. What I want to do is share your happiness, spread it around.
If you want to send a special message of love to someone anywhere in the world, do it here!
If you want to post a happy anniversary message, do it here!
If you want to propose to someone on line, well by all means, do it here!
Send your stuff to me at Love Central.
Love, Cathy

Monday, July 26, 2010

Countdown Craziness

I Do Countdown: 61 Days

WAIT! Come back, fellas, it's OK!
It's still me, Cathy O, writer of flash fiction, user of F-bombs, your compadre, your pal - don't let all this nasty pink & blue bride stuff fool ya, it's me!
Sit down, ok? Pull up a chair. Pour yourself some joe, or grab a beer. Whatever turns your crank.
Comfy? Need some bug spray or something? Good. I was afraid that my new bridezilla look might turn off a few of my regular blogging buds. Pink isn't necessarily their style. But, for the next two months, it's totally my style!
That's right. Only TWO MONTHS until my wedding day!
Man, I never thought I'd be doing this at my age.
A couple weeks shy of my 50th birthday - yes, I'm that freakin' old - I will be tying yet another knot. Apparently the first knot wasn't tied properly. Something about a hardware cutie that had a knack for knots. I was devastated for a while. After nearly 19 years of marriage I figured I was in it for the long haul. But he had other plans. C'est la vie.
Turns out he did me the biggest favour in the history of favours. If it wasn't for him dumping my sweet ass I never would have met David Cory Webster, who truly is a knight in shining armour. Really, he is. Everyone loves him. My mom loves him - I suspect more than me. My boys love him - even though they call him Bootcamp. The girls at work love him - he fixes their cars and brings complimentary coffee and Ice Caps in for them. Even our favourite lesbian friends are reconsidering their life choices.
He's that good.
But enough about Dave the Conqueror for now. Trust me, I'll be waxing plenty about him in the days to come.
First thing's first, though. Let me assure you this is not becoming a wedding blog. Well, not completely. I want to write all the things I always write about. A bit of fiction, a bit of whining; ok, a lot of whining. The regular stuff. But I also want to make a big deal out of my Big Day.
Funny, you know, getting married a second time. I definitely don't want anywhere near as big a 'do' as the first one was. Everything will be pared down; simpler. At the same time, it's still a very big deal for me and Dave and, most of the time, time passes with very little mention of our plans. Sure, me and Dave talk about it. But it's not like we're young kids anymore. There's no showers, or stags, or family meetings, or ... anything, really. It's all very quiet and simple. And that's the way I want it.
It's just ... well... every once in a while I see a big deal made out of other people's weddings and I get that little glitch in my chest, the one that says, "Hey! I'm getting married, too!"
Dave says he doesn't care about anything. "Just as long as there's you and me and the minister, that's all I care."
Sigh. Told you he was adorable.
So, if there isn't a big deal being made in my real life, I at least want to make a big deal in blogland. Cause if I'm not gonna crow about it, who the heck is?
You, dear, sweet reader, are personally invited to share in my happiness. Why? Because I really like you. I want you involved some way ... y'know, other than wearing a pink, frothy dress.
This is how I want you to help.
I want you to share with me your happiest or funniest wedding moments. And send me a picture! Preferably a happy or funny picture!
This isn't a contest. There's no prize. I just want to spread some love around this old planet. I want to share your bliss.
I don't care if you've been married for 40 years or six months.
I don't care if you're divorced or your spouse has passed away. (Well, I do care... and I'm honestly sorry about your loss.)
I don't even care if you've never been married - surely you have a great pix of you wearing a tacky ugly bridesmaid dress, or getting drunk at your sister's wedding, or something!
If you've got wedding advice, send it!
If you've got ideas or recommendations, send it!
I want this to be a big bridal palooza, a festival of wedding-ness, a celebration of happiness and love, love, love.
For those who have taken the plunge, make sure you tell me what your "first song" was and I'll try to post a clip from youtube.
Oh, this is so exciting, isn't it?
Join me, please, in what surely is one of the happiest times of my life.
Share a smile, share a story, share some love!

Questions? Submissions? Send it here to Love Central.

I can hardly wait to hear from you! In the meantime, big kisses and hugs!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tiny Sparrow

'Sparrow Project by Ukraine artist Sasha Shagi  - link
I held the tiny sparrow in my hand.
Its heart beat so fast my hand trembled.
Its black beak was open. It panted, like the smallest of dogs.
"Shhh," I cooed, and placed it in a box lined with a clean tea towel.
Its wing splayed sideways, wrong. 
I watched it for a moment, trying to recover. Breathing hard. Tiny body respirating. Eyes shut with exertion. 
I had been outside, reading, watching the birds as they came to our feeder, diving, singing, exuberant. They chased each other in great swooping sweeps of careless wonder. Cicadas buzzed in summer heat. Geese swam in the river. The dog napped at my feet.
The sparrow was playing tag with a yellow finch when it struck the side of our garage. My heart leapt. I ran to see how it was. It lay in the grass, shuddering, wings stretched inelegantly. I picked it up, marvelled at the wonder of its fragile beauty in my hand, put it in a box, gave it darkness and safety to recoup.
Then I went inside for breakfast.
When Saturday's bacon and poached eggs were done, I asked Dave to please check on the sparrow.
"I'm afraid," I said.
I watched him through the window. He lifted the top of the box. His mouth twisted. He looked up at me and shook his head.
Tiny sparrow.
I am sorry.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

His Left Foot - #fridayflash

“Hey everybody my name’s Crustopher the Scab. I’m that best friend you just love to pick on. I come complete with a blood-stained bandage. “It’s my blanket!” Hold me, tickle me, nibble my crispy edges, just don’t forget I’m a part of you. Do you have a place in your heart for a Scab?” 
From, apparently this is the actual description of this "toy." Weird.

Sammy's foot itched.
He looked at the band-aid on top of his left foot with something akin to desire.
And then looked away.
Then looked.
Then looked away.
"What are you doing?" Sammy's mother asked.
Her voice rang from down the hallway. She was probably in the kitchen. She wouldn't even know if Sammy lifted the band-aid, just a corner of it, and peeked.
"Nothin'," he said.
He was, in fact, doing nothin'. Just sitting on his twin bed, with its hand-me-down frayed-around-the-edges Buzz Lightyear comforter. Sharing breathing space with his fat ginger cat. Trying not to think about how itchy his scab was under the band-aid.
He petted the cat.
He sure wished there was something to do. Something. Anything.
He petted the cat. And looked at his band-aid.
"Sammy?" his mother called.
"Yesssssss?" Sammy yelled. "What?"
"Could you come here and do up the dishes for me?"
Sammy panicked.
It was the old "you're bored, here's a chore" mother routine. Mothers everywhere knew this trick. It was something the storks taught them when babies were delivered. They were also taught how to work the hidden eyeballs in the back of their heads.
"I'm busy," he said. With conviction. "Really, really busy."
He petted the cat harder. 
The cat threw him a dirty look, snarled and jumped off the bed.
"Are you bothering the cat?"
Sammy was positive his mother had hidden cameras in his room somewhere. He eyed his stuffed animals suspiciously.
"Rat finks," he whispered.
Man, his foot itched.
He looked up, to make sure his mother hadn't snuck in. Then he reached over the bed and smacked his traitor dinosaur upside the head. The dinosaur tumbled on the floor.
"I'll be there in a minute," he yelled to his mom.
And checked once more to make sure the coast was clear.
He lifted a corner of the band-aid. It stuck a little. He pulled it, and it came away like scotch tape on hidden Christmas presents. He lifted it all the way and admired the perfect scab replica on the band-aid pad.
It was a mirror image of the scab.
Two scabs. Two scabs in one.
Like the inkblot cards he had to look at sometimes in the doctor's office.

Note to my son Sammy, who is nothing like this Sammy. Not at all! I just wanted to use your name, babes! Because I loves ya like crazy. And I was thinking about you, wondering what you're doing. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Novel Marathon - What a Novel Idea!

Paula Boon, co-convenor of the Muskoka Novel Marathon, novelist and former marathon winner, works away at her current work in progress, a wonderful young adult tale with a spunky female lead. Paula heads up my writing group and it was she, along with Tracy Nita Pender, who convinced me I should give it a whirl. This photo was in today's Huntsville Forester.

by Cathy Olliffe

Chapter One
Jimmy Clarke: Even the most trustworthy husbands 
can become lowdown rotten cheating bastards.
Balding, middle-aged and slack around his hairy middle, hardware store manager Jimmy Clarke wasn’t anybody’s idea of raging male beauty. Anybody, that is, but cashier Cheryl Thompson, whose tongue was presently buried in Jimmy’s cheek like a Halls mentholyptus cough drop.

And so it began. My "novel."
I joined 30 writers from all over the place, including Toronto and Alberta, at the Learning Centre in Huntsville, ON for the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon. My friend Paula Boon, the head of my small writing group, was co-convenor for the event which not only encourages writers to write an entire novel in one weekend (or at least as much as they possibly can) but also to raise money for the Muskoka Literacy Council. A worthy cause. It continues to amaze me that, in this day and age, in a country like Canada where education is "free," that people are illiterate. Sad, isn't it.
What's even sadder is the idea that I could actually write a novel in one weekend.
Or even a novel, period.
What was I thinking?
Vic Burton hard at work on her play.
The idea is to write as much of a novel as you can between Friday night and Monday night. Some writers, like me, only participate until Sunday night. All writing must be done at the centre. No writing can be done ahead of time - the only things you can take in with you are ideas and a one-page outline. Some people bring sleeping bags and pillows and sleep on the floor, writing all day and practically all night. Some people, like me, go home and sleep. 
When time is up, writers submit their work to judges in three categories: adult, young adult and children's fiction. The judges select one piece in each category - those winners get the amazing opportunity to have their work considered by real, true publishing companies. Nothing is promised but, as writers know, even having work read by publishing companies is a coup.
Paula - up all night and still smiling.
She's an amazing writer, a euchre card shark,
a great Mom and a super gal.
I brought my friend Vic Burton along me and she did really well, using her time to put down almost an entire play. More than 50 pages worth. It's really funny - I can hardly wait to see the finished product.
Paula also did well. In spite of constant interruptions caused by her job as organizer, Paula also got a lot of work done. 
Some people were writing machines, staying up all night, writing all day, punch drunk with tiredness. Last I heard on Sunday, one fellow had written nearly 200 pages. He probably beat that handily by the time the weekend was over. We wondered, how could anyone possibly write that much, that fast, that tired - and have the writing be any good? People who knew his work knew that his stuff was good - he was a veteran marathon participant and he always did extremely well.
Erin Thomas signs one of her books,
Boarder Patrol, for my kids.
She has published two young
adult novels. Hooray, Erin!
And how did I do?
Not so well, honestly. I did manage to churn out more than 8,400 words, which is more than I'd ever written before, story-wise, in such a short time. So that's good. 
But a lot of it is self-indulgent crap. I'm not being hard on myself, I'm just telling the truth.
Dawn Huddlestone is also
a member of my writer's group.
I think I can write really well for about three hours. After that, I'm no good. The ideas desert me. I'm just filling space. 
That's a very good thing to learn about oneself. And there's nothing sucky about being able to sit down for three hours and write something worth reading.
So that's good.
Another thing I learned about myself is I can't stand having to be quiet! While I do require some semblance of peace in order to write, I can't stand absolute quiet. Because other people were working, everyone was as quiet as could be. I actually had to concentrate to make sure I wasn't tapping my feet or humming or laughing or even hitting the keyboard too hard. My friend Vic felt the same way.
Saturday night at Soul Sistas. Yum.
The thing about writing at home is, you can make as much noise as you want. You can write with music, or the TV blaring, or the kids yelling, or whatever. I have a pretty busy, noisy work environment and I've learned to shut it out, for the most part. I like it that way. I laugh loud, I talk loud, I am loud. When I have to be quiet for three days running I get pretty antsy.
Don't get me wrong – people definitely laughed and talked, especially during breaks in the kitchen, or at the wine and cheese Saturday night at Soul Sistas, an awesome health food restaurant in Huntsville. (Try their bean dip ... mmmmm) One of the best parts of the marathon was meeting other writers, hearing their struggles and their triumphs; getting to know other people. 
Another great thing for me: I have an idea for a novel. I have the bones of a novel. I have an 8,500 word head start. And from the bones, I would have to say this is going to be a very juicy at-the-beach potboiler with some important lessons for all middle-aged women facing cheating husbands and messy divorces.
The best thing of all: I know now I am capable of writing this. I can spend an hour a day, or three hours at a stretch, and get it done.
I have now joined the cool kids: I have a W.I.P.

Thanks to Paula, Karen Wehrstein, Nico and everyone who helped make the weekend so memorable. I'll never forget it, that's for sure!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Award Insanity Strikes Flashers: news at 11

OK, seriously? What is going on around here? Jon Strother you have created a monster. There are more awards flying around than there are stories on the Flash Report and weren't there, like, about 900 stories this week?
Ah, you're probably laughing your arse off. Isn't this how you wanted your evil plan to go? You nominate just four for your new award and those four nominate four and so on and so on, just like those old Fabergé shampoo commercials. The next thing you know the entire Flash community is all giddy and happy despite the summer doldrums we all seem to be experiencing. Smart move, Jon, no wonder you're da Godfather of da Flash.

(Why is that woman's face so yellow? I mean, I know it's the '80s and all but that was only the other day, right? And I do still have that haircut.)
Well, it's obviously working. Awards are flying faster than bullshit at a cattleprod convention. 
Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm not bitching. I think it's a good thing – especially since I am the recipient of about 100,000 of these puppies. OK, so maybe not quite that many. It just feels like it. I'm going to have to write a novel just to thank everyone and – oh, god, let's not say the 'n' word anymore tonight. It makes me feel faint-ish.
(I'm writing this in the gazebo, watching my fiance plant lilac bushes. It's about 400 degrees of humidity and the flies are swarming and he's perservering while I sit on my wide lily-white arse pecking away at this.
So, to start things off, let me first thank Dave, my Dave, who almost-hardly-ever gets ticked off because I spend more time on my computer than I do with him. He is handsome and handy; he fixes my car and he fixes my supper; he never gets mad; he's the best kisser ever, and I mean EVER; and he's a wicked euchre partner. Plus he plants lilacs, oh, and he is my story proofer. Every time I write a flash I read it to him and he always says nice things. A big round of applause for my Dave!
Gracie Motley is the next person on my list. A week or so ago, while I was in the throes of god knows what but it must have been important because I forget what it was, Gracie over at Crone's Cauldron Publications gave me a Lovely Blogger Award. You've no doubt seen it around. The Bukmeister, handsome Anthony Venutolo described the pink roses in a teacup badge as something Holly Hobbie might have designed. Speaking of Anthony, he also bestowed the lovely blogger award on me. Here's the award: 
 And here's how I picture Gracie, because I don't have a picture of her anywhere:
And here's a picture of Anthony, just because it's a great picture: 

He's pretty much the coolest guy in Flashworld, loving the seedy underbelly and glam-sparkled world of Vegas and Atlantic City and New Jersey. The only uncool thing about him is he comes to the Muskoka River sometimes and hangs at the riverbank, reading the Bracebridge paper and saying nice things about it even though it pales to the Ledger. It was kinda embarrassing the last time he put Dave's favourite lure in the birch tree but he was so cute that even Dave couldn't hold a grudge.
Gracie, on the other hand, is an L.A. kind of girl. She buys all her clothes on Rodeo Drive and is regularly seen giving fashion advice to Paris Hilton and Cher. Gracie is also Flash's biggest and most enthusiastic cheerleader. She reads EVERYBODY and she always has nice things to say. I love it when Gracie jet sets over to Bracebridge and pops by for some frothy blender drinks and a peek at George Strombolopolous on CBC. 
So what are the rules about Lovely Blogger? Oh yes: post pink roses, link back to the person who nominated you (Gracie and Ant) and then award 15 (!) newly discovered blogs. Ack! Okay - geez, this is a bit like work, but here goes.
1. Xanox Marcelles over at Crooked Fang scares the shit outta me because he's a vampire and a rock god. But he's buds with Carrie Clevenger so what's good with Carrie is good with me.
2. Elizabeth Griffin at Horsepatch is my little sister. She's crazy about horses, like just whacked, really, but she's a pretty fine writer and a good woman.
3. While I'm on family, I want you to know about Kelly Gough, who is one of my favourite cousins living out in British Columbia. She is a fabulous artist who has just sent her work all the way to China (is that right Kel? God, I hope it's not Japan.. then I'm a complete idjit). Kelly and I used to write comic books when we were, like, ten years old. We did it all summer long. You can see her blog at PTSD is NOT My Fault but make sure you visit her art website here. She's awesome.
4. Speaking of relatives, Wendy Bolt is someone else I admire. Wendy is not only Kelly's sister, she is the amazing women at the top of this page with a shorn head. She did it to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society. Pay her a visit here.
5. I did recently discover this blog and know nothing about Mavis other than it's fun to visit.
6. Deb over at My Great White North is a favourite haunt of mine. She lives a few miles away; she's funny and she has a cute dog.
7. Ed Boutilier at Stumbling Around Muskoka takes the MOST incredible photographs. Check his work out - he has a special technique that makes everything crazy beautiful.
8. I would certainly be remiss if I didn't name my mother here. Dot is the occasional writer of Dot and Molly. She is awesome in every sense of the word, and not just because she hatched me.
9, The Red Dress Club is a cool blog hang-out for ladies only. Sorry, boys.
10. Jenn Jilks truly is the Queen of Muskoka blogs. If you need to know Muskoka, you need to visit Jenn.
Fifteen? Are you kidding? Did I read that wrong? It's getting dark out here! Ok..
11. An Airstream Adventure is Tomara Armstrong's mom. Tomara is a really funky, funny #fridayflasher I am getting to know a bit, especially through facebook. Thanks for cheering me on, Tomara!
12. Bill & Pat's Excellent Adventure is Tomara Armstrong's dad! These two each have their own views on the unpredictable world of camping and I love to laugh at their exploits - especially their septic exploits! 
13. John McConnell - I don't know if John is new to flash but he's new to me and his stories make me laugh, really, laugh out loud. 
Holy crap, am I done yet?
14. I just started following the work of Taliansaurus (did I spell that correctly? Can't anybody have easy names anymore?). Love her stuff even though she has some creepy doll pictures posted.
15. Really? Am I here already? Gee that wasn't bad, was it? I very recently started paying attention to She Blogged By Night, mostly because of the cool vintage picture posted on top, but this blog is a lot of fun. Anthony, you oughta love this one.
WHEW! As you noticed, I tried to stick by the rules and post only recently discovered blogs. I gotta tell you, though, that was a tall order. I have so many old regulars that I love that it's hard to find time for new discoveries.
Pee break. BRB.
Still with me? Hokey noodles. I feel like I'm in another marathon here. 
This is the award Jon Strother started this week. The Fabergé one? That's it. Jon nominated four people, including Shannon Esposito at Murder in Paradise. Talk about well-deserved. Everything Shannon writes is absolutely top-notch. It's not written so much as it's crafted. Beautifully crafted. 
Her's was one of the first flash stories I set eyes on and I greedily come back all the time looking for more. I just purchased one of Shannon's e-books and, I hate to admit this, I haven't had time to crack it open yet. When I do, I'll be sure to tell you all about it. 
Thanks Shannon. You passing this on to me makes me a very happy camper. 
So it wasn't enough that I got this award from Shannon. Oh no.
You don't think I got this pudgy from not being piggy, did ja?
(Oh. Only I am allowed to say that about myself, by the way. Cathy's Rules.)
Nope, I got the same award, a day or so later, from Peggy McFarland, who dazzles me regularly over at Eldritch Way. Peg is a tough gal, a barkeep cutie who's about my age (27) and who writes with a satisfying edge. She wrote a sci fi piece about a woman with extraordinary powers that had me just glued. That she wrote such nice things about me makes me all googly inside.
(Yes, that's really her in the picture. And, yes, they're real.)
The deal with the Fabulous Flash Award is you have to pass it on to four other bloggers who write amazing flash fiction. This is hard, really hard, by the way. When you get your own award, you'll see. I decided to go a little further afield, to talk about some writers you may not (or may, if you're lucky) be familiar with. Do pay them a call. Tell 'em I said hi. 
Without further adieu, my choices for Fabulous Flash:

1. Alan W. Davidson, Conversations From Land's Edge.
Alan is known as an affable blogger, easy to get along with, makes you laugh, makes you think. But he is more than all that. He writes incredibly good flash fiction. The first story I ever saw involved a little barking dog, a wonderfully romantic and round woman, Wal-mart and an unfortunate Valentine's incident. His most recent flash was a tear-jerking story from his childhood, when kids were kids and kids were trouble. I admire this fellow Canadian like crazy. He truly deserves this award. And he has become, I think, a very good friend.

2. Tomara Armstrong, This, That ... The Other Thing
Tomara is young and hip and writes with SUCH enthusiasm. Her flash this week, called Pink is the Colour of Shame, is a tender, honest story that pulls at my heart strings. I am fast becoming a big fan of Tomara. Not to mention her cool parents who blog about their trailer-ing life. If you haven't visited with Tomara yet, what the heck are you waiting for? And doesn't she remind you of Bridget Jones? Only skinny? She does me. And I'm a big fan of the Bridget.

3. Gracie Motley, Crone's Cauldron Publications
I've already mentioned Grace, above, but can you possibly mention Grace often enough? No! Never enough! I've enjoyed a number of Gracie's stories but none touched me as much as this one did this week. The Car Trip made me smile, made me laugh, made me cry. And I loved the video she added to it. Congratulations, Gracie, you write wonderful flash.
And nice painted butt, too.

4. Donald Conrad, Flashtold
Donald describes himself as a lurker. Not sure where he wrote that - facebook, I guess. To me Donald sort of skulks about the outer perimeter of Flash, not making a huge name for himself, but consistently writing interesting, well told stories. He has a way with words that I admire. And he's a fun presence on facebook -  I love it when his family gets on his back!
And I kinda like his couch.

Still with me? Really? Is there nothing on TV tonight? 
Wow, you must really be desperate.
Funny thing is, I am truly saving the best for last.
With all these awards floating around, Mark Kerstetter of The Bricoleur decided to create one of his own. This is what he posted on his blog yesterday: "In the spirit of showing appreciation I've created my own badge. It's based on my drawing of a rose-kind of fantasy flower straight from my noodle. Sui generis: one of a kind. This is a token of appreciation for someone who's irreplaceable, someone unmistakable, someone who practices great and totally unique artistry. It goes to someone I really like, my buddy Cathy Olliffe. It's for her because her writing kicks ass and also because her spirit throws mighty waves into cyberspace. She may do with it whatever she likes. It only comes with one rule: should the recipient wish to pass it on, it only goes to one person. "
As you can imagine, I was completely blown away.
I don't want to go on and on about this. Suffice it to say I don't know Mark, of course. He lives in Florida with his lovely wife V and goes about life fixing his house, saving the planet, writing cool flash and rendering amazing art. Quite a fellow, Mark is.
But I feel like I know him. 
We call each other "pal" and I like that. A lot.
I just want to say thanks. From the bottom of my heart, thanks.
I can't even begin to describe what it means to me.
You know what, pal? I'm going to hang on to it for a little bit.
Really think about who I want to pass it onto. Because honestly? Right now I am so thrilled about it I don't want to pass it on to anybody. I want to snug it close and enjoy it for a wee bit longer.
Do you blame me?