Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Early Morning Tails

One of these mice is a total jerk. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

As the elevator door opened, the man was waiting for us. Lin attacked first, a flurry of well-aimed kicks and punches, but the man was faster. And he had a gun.

The shot rang out, and she slumped to the ground.  I paused for only a second, then leapt over her to take my turn. He caught my ankle on the second kick, but I had a crowbar at the ready. Done. Shaken, I stumbled over his body and made my way to the sofa, on which I sank, trembling. The elevator was still open, Lin's motionless back to me, her dark hair spilled out in a pool onto the tile. My assailant wasn't moving either, but I wasn't going to trust that he was dead; not yet. 

A sudden movement outside the window revealed that help had arrived; a uniformed person on a rope ladder swung from a ladder and slid open the balcony door, and I--

What's that?

It sounds like chewing. 

It's not chewing. Go back to sleep. Get back to that cool dream. 

No, it's chewing, definitely. 

But we fought so hard! We were about to be rescued! 

A squeak. 

In the darkness, Chris's head pops up, too. 


Friday, 4 September 2020

Sending the Kids Back to an Active Lifestyle is More Important than Sending Them Back to School

A girl reclines on a couch with a book
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Get them moving. Now. 

Lockdown, isolation, social distancing...whatever you practiced between March and September, I'm willing to bet your kids aren't as fit as they were.

From a global perspective, “prolonged home stay may lead to increased sedentary behaviours, such as spending excessive amounts of time sitting, reclining, or lying down.” Of course it did. 

We got far less auxiliary exercise (the steps I didn't take to bring the dog to the dog park, or even meet the kids at the bus stop across the street; the stairs you didn't climb up onto the top deck of the bus, the steps you didn't take to transfer tube lines or grab a coffee from the shop at lunchtime). All of these added up during a normal, pre-lockdown day. And there we were without them, for almost six months.

Now, what about the kids? Kids move a lot, far more than the average adult. They're supposed to.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for shaming kids for their perfectly-understandable, lowered fitness levels, or for pushing kids so hard that they get injured; I understand that they can’t just jump back into the pre-pandemic levels of activity, especially those that didn’t have a (cruel yet creative) mom. Most parents, while juggling working from home and home schooling, didn’t have the luxury (or patience, knowhow and inherent evilness, all important attributes for personal trainers) to coach their kids to move and stretch so much.

Read the whole article at Medium.com:

Is "Easing Back In" the Best Way to Go?

My kids have had more screen time since March than they have ever had in their lives. Cumulatively. Like, the time they have spent on screens between March and last week outweighs allll of the screentime they have ever had in their 7, 10 and 11 years, respectively.

Oh, and read this one, too.

"I Don't Need Anyone Pressuring Me to Work Out Right Now"

Remember when that photo of Adele went viral? A beautiful, incredibly-talented, successful woman and mother lost a lot of weight, and it broke the internet. People that have praised her new look have been vilified, because they must be celebrating looks and the diet culture over talent, are completely invalidating the rest of her accomplishments, and "skinny doesn't necessarily mean healthy".

Saturday, 15 August 2020

I'm...Being... Published!


Let me start by simply saying, "Squeeeeee," in as high-pitched and long-held of a tone you can imagine. Does your brain hurt yet? 

Now imagine it going on for quite a while longer.

It's my first novel, which started as a NaNoWriMo challenge winner. Remember, winning NaNoWriMo just means that I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days, not that they were good words or in the right order. 

I then hid it away for the recommended six weeks, trying desperately not to think about it, then pulled it out and read it with shock, horror, and one teeny little voice inside that thought that maybe there was a good story in there somewhere. 

Weeks of editing ensued. I sent copies out to some beta readers who are to be pitied, not just for having to read the first drafts, but also for coming up with really nice things to say about it (and very constructive comments), even though it was terrible. 

THEN I sent a page to a friend who held a writing workshop, and she told me to "show, not tell" and explained what that actually looked like on a page.


With that, I sat down again and pretty much rewrote the whole thing (because "telling, not showing" is apparently my specialty). 

Over the next two months, I also researched soil pathogens and interviewed an expert on the subject, to make sure that my crisis was resolved in a plausible, realistic way (on a shuttle to Mars - kaff). 

I added on 20,000 more words, edited it over and over, and sent a query to an agent and a publisher. 

Both asked for the full manuscript, and the publisher contacted me quickly to say that they wanted to publish it. My story. 

My book.

There are more edits to come, of course. I've filled out a few sections that were a bit too sparse on details, and will be working with my editor to clean it up and make it better, but yep, it's coming. 


Monday, 20 July 2020

A Cup of Tea and a Change of Scenery

Mourning my second office

A cup of tea steeps on a countertop
Wait. If I don't drink coffee, does that mean that I'll never be a real writer?

Between pandemic fears and homeschooling horrors, only a very few things have remained constant. I had to give up my running group, and the bootcamps I teach, first due to physical distancing regulations, and then due to my-children-are-always-at-home.

I had to give up the luxury of my "second office," Starbucks. I didn't work there often, no more than once every three weeks, but I had to give up the idea of having another option besides sharing the dining room table with the three kids (distracting and bickering-y), or my beautiful old secretary desk (more than arm's-length away, no direct line of sight to children not doing schoolwork).

Way back before March, a trip to my "second office" always started with a nice long walk with Ziggy. First stop: the dog park, involving as much frolicking and racing around after balls and other dogs as possible. I didn't play; I was weighed down by my Writerly SatchelTM, that held his favourite (small) blanket to lie down on and a chewy stick and some treats to keep him occupied so I could work. I also brought along another relic of the time before COVID: my reusable cup. (I've had to chug down still-steaming hot latte too many times from giant Starbucks mugs when Ziggy's decided he's had enough and wants to be outside again.) Now, the environment is back to dealing with disposable cups.

My satchel is a gorgeous old leather Roots bag that I found online after a trip to Florence in which we ran out of time to find me a new purse (I don't buy expensive purses, but decided that, if I were to have a souvenir, it might as well be something that I'd use for years), but then I also refused to buy one in the airport, on principle. I got home, with my leather-purse-pocket money still burning a hole in my...well, my pocket, and decided I'd rather have one from Roots instead, a Canadian brand that I've always loved, but by whose prices I have always been horrified by. But, I had permission, pocket money, and while new ones are still far too much for my thrifty self, they last forever. Mine was from Ebay, at a really decent price - £50 pounds instead of £300. Yes, it's used, but in a someone-else-broke-it-in-so-it-looks-just-right way. Sold.

Right, then. It easily holds the dog blanket, dog snacks, dog balls, reusable cup...oh yes, and my notebook, pen and laptop.

Nonexhaustive representation of contents of the Writerly SatchelTM

I'd go in to the Starbucks close to the park, set up my mobile hotspot from my phone, and sip my chai latte or London Fog while Ziggy worked away at his chewy.

Did I get more done in Starbucks than at my desk? No, but I got things done. I blocked out distractions (that weren't Ziggy, at least), and got to feel like a writer in public. Satchel: check! Notebook: check! Laptop: check! Look at me, I'm writing!

Here at home, there is less of that pride. Hey, we're all sitting around the dining room table, the kids on their school iPads, me on my laptop, all trying to work, trying to stay focused, trying to drink my tea before it gets cold. (Ziggy, however, is much more relaxed.)


Green tea is for the morning. I start with a cup of flavoured green tea from my growing stash of tins and teas. Dragon Fruit, Berry Blend, Sencha Rose, Mint. Around ten, when the kids take a break, I choose another, boiling the water, then letting it sit while I fill up my little Nessie tea diffuser with loose tea, waiting for the temperature to drop to about 97, then steeping it for two, sometimes three minutes.

Camping tea is necessarily different. You pour boiling water into your mug,  pop in your teabag, and leave it there till noon, topping it up with hot water every half an hour or so.

After lunch, anytime up to 3 pm, I switch to black tea. Plain PG Tips, Assam, Ceylon or Earl Grey, each with a splash of milk. It's warming and heartening.

After 3, the caffeine will keep me awake at night. Herbal (no milk), any one of a giant selection from my tea box, keeps me company on the couch after the kids go to bed, and helps me not miss wine too much during the week. Late, late-night tea is always my Insomniac Blend.

On weekends, I splurge and make myself and the kids lattes.

It's fine, lovely, in fact. I love the tradition and ritual of tea, and I love that my kids love it too. We make a pot of Masala Chai or London Fog or Monster Mash, and serve it with biscuits. They add their own milk and sugar -- probably too much, but that's ok too.

The new normal

We joke about "savings from Starbucks" -- that, on top of saved transit fares and lunches on the go, and any other sundry amounts that get spent when you actually leave the house, we're also not spending £12 a week on coffee (him) or £9 a week on tea lattes (me). Plus the £20+ it costs to stop there "for snacks" for the kids on the way to the park or while running errands on a Saturday. 

I shudder. That's who we were, and who we never wanted to be.

I justify ordering from Hebden Tea (£20 of tea, free shipping) and buying him nice coffee beans, that he grinds up in his new manual burr grinder and brews every morning before joining us in the dining room too.

We miss leaving the house, and offices, whether caf├ęs or real. But here, we are safe, we are healthy, we have tea. That will have to do.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Sheeple vs Freeple: Isolating the Difference

Disclaimer: this is potentially a friendship-ending post. Read it if you want. Also, pardon my French.

Three kids, wearing masks over their eyes, grin like fools.
Oh, we've definitely been cooped up together for too long. (Image: author's own)

It used to be that people in masks were the bad guys. Now, masks seem to be a simple way to visually demonstrate whether you belong to the sheeple or the freeple, the educated or the ignorant. How you describe it and where you see yourself depends on so many things; religion, politics, education, and -- yes -- which network you get your news from. Or, in the simplest terms, whether you blindly follow rules or not.

For me, for my family, we are mask-wearers (unless I forget to bring one with me), but not for walks and runs and bike rides. If we go into a store, we put them on, and suffer the heat and discomfort and mumbling. I freely admit that I judge others for wearing (or not) a mask.

It's like when we moved here and saw the rules posted everywhere. Keep off the grass. No ball games. No cycling here

"We're Canadian," I told the kids over and over. "It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. We follow the rules." 

But the longer I live here, the more I am frustrated, not by the excess of rules, not by the people that don't follow them (per se), but by the lack of enforcement. Why make rules that so many people don't follow? What's the point of having them if nobody really cares, either way? Why should I feel guilty for doing what everyone else is doing?

If all your friends jumped off a bridge, my mother's voice still rings in my ears.

I don't want to let my kids play ball games in the park, the games that the other kids play, often with their parents, directly under the No ball games signs, because it's against the rules. My kids are the only ones that dismount at the park entrance and walk their bikes to the playground. I'm sure our friends can't help but feel that we're judging them, and I know that the kids wonder why all their friends get to play with balls and ride their bikes, and they don't -- I also know that I'm secretly planting seeds of judgement in their little minds. 

We were invited to a "socially distanced" picnic on the weekend at the park. First, the act of sending the invitation alone was literally a criminal offence. Second, it was not distanced. The eight or so kids played tag, and the eight or so parents stood in a clump. Police officers on horses walked by and didn't break us up, just like they didn't break up any of the other too-large, too-close gatherings at the park. 

"We haven't seen you in so long!" the other parents said. 

Of course they haven't. My kids have been stuck inside every day, all day, with just each other and me for companionship/interaction/bitter fighting/screaming/sobbing. Our school has stayed closed. My kids hadn't been on a playdate since early March, and then we went on two, outside, with our "bubble" family, who had been locked in like us the entire time. 

The other parents were happy to see us, were incredulous that we have really been isolating that much, because "the kids really needed to see their friends." 

"It's been hell," I said, truthfully. 

I didn't say, "How could you not? No matter how your kids feel, what you believe, what your networks say, or what is happening in other countries, the rule here -- the law (until Saturday, that is) -- is that you can't get together with a group of other people the way that apparently every one we know, people we like and respect, has for the last three months."

I didn't say, "The fact that we followed the rules, alone out of almost everyone we know, doesn't make us stupid, paranoid or gullible."

It makes everyone else assholes. 


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