The Wild Life – Part 1

When we bought our house in downtown Toronto, the wild-life I envisioned had more to do with the early throes of romantic love and the total freedom of my life at the time than the creatures that live nearby. I certainly never thought about animals.

We were thrilled to have our house – excited to the point of being keen to do yard work. As soon as the weather was nice enough, we hit the nursery to buy pretty things for our garden.

Our yard is tiny (average living room size) so once we had flowers, making it beautiful did not take long. I had been warned by my mother, an avid gardener and something of a squirrel specialist, that squirrels can be a threat to plants and added a healthy dose of bone meal to the soil to deter them.

Within hours, my husband and I were relaxing in a flowery paradise, toasting each other with wine, extremely pleased with ourselves.

I now realize that the squirrels were most likely watching and licking their twitchy little lips because the next morning, we discovered that they had feasted like, well, animals, on our gorgeous display.

I called my mother.

She suggested that we try again but make our flowers less delicious. She told me to sprinkle cayenne pepper all over the new plants and that once the puffy-tailed rats got a fiery taste of what we were serving, word would spread and our garden would be safe.

We returned to the nursery, bought new plants for the yard, and added a couple of nice hanging baskets for the deck outside our bedroom.

Ever so slightly less cheerfully than the day before, we planted our plants and hung our baskets. Again, we celebrated with cocktails and enjoyed the evening in our yard.

I was brushing my teeth when I remembered about the cayenne.

I ran downstairs, grabbed the spice and went outside.

It was dark but I could see well enough as I liberally seasoned the flowers. It took the whole bag but it was worth it.

I went to bed confident that my garden was safe.

Other than an obnoxious squeal outside our window (that in hindsight sounded a lot like ‘WoooooHoooooo!’), that stirred us briefly, we slept like logs.

The next morning, we opened the drapes, ready to admire our pretty hanging baskets but found them scattered on the deck, crushed petals and dirt sprinkled all around like they had been attacked.

“How did that happen?” we asked each other.

We walked out – picking our way around the plant destruction – and looked over the railing of our balcony to check on our yard two storeys below. We were pleased to see that our plants were still there.

That was when we noticed the smell.

“Wow!” said my husband. “Someone is cooking up a feast and it’s making me hungry. Let’s go for brunch and deal with this mess later.”

As we went downstairs, the cooking odour got stronger.


A lot of curry.

Then curry overload.

I went to the spice drawer and opened it. A bag of Cayenne sat on top. Missing was the very similar looking bag of Curry Powder.

Chris Falt / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I had dumped the entire bag in our yard.

As it turned out, we could smell our house from three blocks away. But, as it also turned out: squirrels do not enjoy curry (at least not in massive quantities). Our garden was temporarily protected.

The smell lasted about four days and our plants survived a little longer than that.

I called it a draw.

I didn’t know that this was just the beginning – that nature was at our doorstep, in our garden, and on our deck and that it would drive us to near madness. I had no idea that we would soon find out what had destroyed our hanging baskets. Or that I would eventually know more than I could ever hope to forget about raccoons and their love lives, or that I would learn the difference between a Shanghai King Rat and a Possum.

All I knew then was that we were out of curry.

A love story

He sauntered, uninvited, through an open screen door, into my cheap student apartment. He walked right over to where I was sprawled on a too-small sofa, watching TV, and hopped on top of me.

“Aaaah!” I shrieked. “What are you? Get off of me!”

The intruder looked sort of, but not really, like a cat.

He was black and white with a long bony body and a huge head. His face was mostly black, with just a little white on the chin and forehead. He had enormous yellow eyes, a crooked nose that rattled when he breathed, and long white hairs that sprung from his eyebrows.

As I tried to get him off of me, he just seemed to hug (yes, hug) me tighter.

He looked hungry so I carried him to the kitchen and got him some food and water.

He watched me constantly and seemed pathetically grateful for the kindness. I petted him and he purred like a chainsaw.

“What IS that?” asked my roommate, all red-eyed and confused when he got home.

“I think it’s a cat,” I told him. “A really huge, weird-looking cat.”

After an hour or two, the cat-creature left through the same open screen door and disappeared for the night.

We saw each other again the next day when I went upstairs to have coffee with my neighbour. There he was. Curled up in the hall like a great big furry lump. He leapt to his feet and rushed to greet me, acting like a dog, and jumped into my arms, trusting I would catch him. I did.

I didn’t want a cat. I already had one (another stray) who was about as snuggly as a goldfish and was barely around except for food and vet visits which were killing me financially.

In that moment I understood how strange it must be for pets to be chosen and instantly loved by their people because I had just been chosen. I was his.

My neighbour, who was a photographer, had already decided he should be called Ilford, after the black and white film.

I held Ilford the whole visit and when I left, he followed me back to my apartment downstairs where I got him more food.

I took a walk in the neighbourhood, Ilford following alongside and behind, leaping through gardens, showing off his cat moves as he attacked plants and shrubs. I looked for ‘Lost Cat’ signs about Ilford. There were none. Given how thin and needy he seemed, I wasn’t surprised. We walked home and when we got there, I held the door open for him.

I had a new cat.

“What an unusually, uh, striking creature,” said the vet on our first visit as I beamed with pride much as I would almost twenty years later about my children. Ilford measured 3 feet from nose to tail. Really large. The vet estimated that he was about four years old.

Regular food and proper care put flesh on his extended frame and it wasn’t long before Ilford started to look more like a cat, and eventually, a chubby cat. People would sometimes still ask what he was but not often.

My life was already full of love (family and friends) and I’d had my share of infatuations, but Ilford was my first experience with being on the giving end of totally unconditional love. He changed me.

He wasn’t typically lovable. Not traditionally good-looking – you would never see him on a pack of toilet paper – and he was no great shakes at personal hygiene (I was probably making excuses but I blamed the jerk who had abandoned him). He rarely even bothered to cover his soiled kitty litter, just scratching his feet in a half-hearted way that reminded me of people who fake-wash their hands, and he snored like a grizzly bear but I adored him.

I would walk in the door and he would jump into my arms, or, if he was outside playing, would recognize my step and come running, his furry strange face filled with joy.

He would bring me revolting gifts of headless pigeons or live tiny mice that he would spit out at my feet. I was always flattered as well as horrified. I got him a bell for his neck to stop the gift-giving but couldn’t help feeling proud when he would catch something anyway.

I would be sick with worry if he took too long to come home at night, or worse, didn’t come home until morning.

We were together, and madly in love for more than ten years until he passed away. That was nine years ago and I now have three small human creatures of my own (that can also be incredibly gross and charming) who I love overwhelmingly and unconditionally.

But I still miss Ilford.

The road to hell…

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but  I can tell you that it is actually paved with asphalt and good intentions and the occasional unfortunate squirrel.

I know because I went there today.

Hell(lite) is the drive test centre in Etobicoke where I had to go to take my ‘G’ road test.

It is at the end of an ugly strip mall in an ugly, industrial corner of suburbia and, as predicted by AC/DC, I had to take a highway to get there.

I pulled into ‘hell’ a few minutes early and spent these extra minutes straightening my vehicle perfectly in its space (I had come in slightly diagonal and didn’t want to risk a poor first impression).

nathangibbs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Then I went inside where I handed over my paperwork to a surprisingly friendly lady and told her I was ready to be judged.

Daylight doesn’t make it all the way into the test centre office and the low t-bar ceiling and florescent lighting don’t do much to brighten the space up. The humiliation of those who have tried and failed to pass the many levels of driver certification floats in the dusty air. Tears have stained the threadbare greige carpet, and I could hear the faintest echo of anguished howls of teens who still require adult supervision on the road. The folks that work there seem quite pleasant, but the place is gray and tinged with despair.

But I may have been projecting…..

I’d been preparing for this day for weeks, years really.

It was time.

I was sent back to my car to wait.

As I waited I thought through what I had read about the ‘G’ test online:

  • According to some guy on the internet who sounds like he knows, I should PRAY not to get a yellow light – that is an automatic fail because apparently, there is nothing you can do that is right when that happens (while this seems like questionable internet advice, along the lines of when I became convinced that my last cold was actually malaria, I had taken it to heart and was really hoping not to get a yellow). I am not a religious woman so instead of praying, I tried to sort of spiritually wish for no yellow.
  • Remember to use the parking brake on the roadside stop. OR FAIL.
  • Make dramatic head movements to demonstrate mirror and shoulder checks – I have been practicing this all week and my children have noticed and commented. They think it is weird and that is saying a lot coming from a seven and four year old. Anyway, it is always better to look like a weirdo than to fail.
  • Stay in the right hand lane NO MATTER WHAT! OR FAIL.
  • Plus all the stuff that was actually in the handbook.

It seemed like forever but was about ten minutes before my test guy came to the car.

The test passed in a blur (within the speed limit of course) and I did get a yellow but, fortunately, contrary to the dire internet predictions, I was not ‘totally screwed’. I also curbed it on my parallel park (just a kiss really) but other than that, the test went well and I passed.

I passed!!

“See you when you’re eighty!” my favourite driving tester in the world said, congratulating me on becoming a fully legal driver.

I am dreading it already.

Snap and become a happier parent!

Almost everyone goes into parenthood with high hopes about how they will do things and the wonderful people they will raise.

The problem is that before most people ever become  parents, they’ve already judged all sorts of other parents for their ‘shortcomings’ (as they, or ‘In Touch’, ‘People’, assorted Twitterers or the rest of the internet perceive them) and in doing so, have set themselves up.

Perhaps you had all sorts of opinions about drug-free labour, even thinking less of someone who had an epidural (though it was never any of your business). In agony, at the hospital on Delivery-Day, you suddenly have to either live up to those expectations or take relief with a side order of guilt.

Or maybe before having a child you knew that you would never give a binky, or a pacie, or sucky – or allow such babyish words to be used in your perfect baby’s presence. Except you never know. You might need to change your mind.

In both of these scenarios, it would be easier if you weren’t up to your neck in potential failure to meet your own standards (as inflicted on others) when you decide.

The judgement epidemic is not isolated to so called ‘bad’ things. We also tend to get awfully tough on people who appear to be super-parents like the Gwyneths (seriously, why do we care that her children speak multiple languages and eat like jet-setting vegans? And how is it bad?) and Pinteresters of the world.

Either way, judging others is self defeating. It makes us less kind and more sensitive to the opinions of others which makes us even harsher judges of ourselves which makes us less confident and happy parents which makes us compare ourselves to others and do more judging. A vicious cycle!

There is a solution and it is simple if not easy: We need to stop judging each other’s parenting! 

Here is my idea: Slip a rubber band onto your wrist and give yourself a gentle snap each time you catch yourself thinking uncharitable or judge-y thoughts about someone’s parenting (or your own).

You’re in line at the grocery store, eyeballing the latest gossip rags, wanting to flip through and find out why everyone is so worked up about some Jolie-Pitt kid’s hair. Or did Suri really lose it in a park? Are the royals going to abandon their tiny prince for a holiday? Give yourself a snap! It is none of your business.

Instead of an inward (or worse, a snarky outward): ‘At least I am raising my own kids’ comment about the mom with the nanny, or the family with kids in extended daycare, ask yourself: do you really care or are you just being mean? If this doesn’t work, give yourself a snap and try again.

Snap as required before you judge the parents of the kid who:

Is disheveled;

Has a bad haircut;

Needs a haircut;

Is taking a long time toilet training;

Has tantrums;

Is hyper;

Sleeps in the parents’ bed;

Cries it out;

Eats sugary cereal;

Wears weird clothes;

Eats Lunchables;

Eats only ‘organic’;

Picks their nose;

Watches lots of television;

Goes to bed at 6PM;

Or goes to bed at 10:30PM.

SNAP as needed then ask yourself: Who cares?

Decide that you do not care and, if my theory is correct (and I think it is based on my completely unscientific experiment on myself) your life will be instantly improved because when you cut everyone else some slack, you can give some to yourself as well.

Does it matter how long someone else breastfeeds or doesn’t? If you said yes, take a snap!

Feeling the urge to side-eye a pregnant woman enjoying a coffee as she struts by in high heels? Snap!

There is advice everywhere but what matters is this: if you love your kids and meet their basic needs for affection, safety, shelter, food, healthcare and human interaction, that is good enough.

Obviously, we all have a responsibility to speak up if we see or suspect neglect or abuse, but there is a BIG range of normal and healthy and we need to embrace it.

As a parent who loves and cares for your kids, you don’t need to impress anyone except yourself. It is in your best interest to do what you can to make yourself easy to impress.

Going easier on other parents, will make it easier to give ourselves a break. And if we give ourselves a break, we can actually enjoy some of this parenting stuff.

Driving Ambition

Very high levels of caution generally don’t make for a full or interesting life, so I have fought my inner scaredy-cat for as long as I can remember.

I haven’t grown into some jaywalking, craps playing, skydiver but, with great effort, I have braved up over the years.

Over the past ten years I’ve married, been sliced open three times, started a new career, and taken on a whole new level of worrying by becoming a parent (technically related to the getting sliced up in an ongoing way). But the scariest thing I’ve done as an adult so far is learn to drive.

In a fit of birthday self-improvement in my early thirties (aka quite a while ago), I decided to finally learn how to drive. I was scared to drive, or more accurately, scared to crash, but I was tired of being afraid, and utterly fed up at not being able to do something that most of the adult population takes for granted.

I bought a package of lessons from Young Drivers of Canada (yes, the age jokes were never-ending but I persisted) and went and got my G1 (in Ontario, there is graduated licensing: G1, G2 and finally ‘G’ – the full you-know-your-stuff-and-are-permanently-licensed one – you must take a test to pass each level to get fully licensed).

For my first lesson, my teacher took me to a quiet street, got out of the car and motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat. She told me to put my foot on the brake. I needed more instruction. Which one was the brake?

The next lesson, the instructor picked me up at my building near a very busy intersection. Again, she told me to take the driver’s seat.

“Don’t panic.” She instructed. “Just signal and pull out.”

Like it was that easy!

I turned on the car, foot on the brake (progress!) and flicked the signal-thingy. My mouth was full of dry terror and I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck.

“Okay,” said the instructor after twenty minutes of signalling. “Maybe we need to ease in a bit more…”

We switched seats and went back to the quiet street.

“I’m PANICKING!” I shouted, a few lessons later as I hurtled down a main street at approximately 9 kilometers an hour and an elderly woman started to lurch her way across the road, dragging her shopping cart behind her. I thought I might throw up.

After the big freak out/near killing of the old lady, I decided to take a break from my lessons.

I had many excellent reasons:

  • Driving is bad for the environment.
  • I couldn’t actually afford a vehicle so what was the point?
  • I was staying fit by walking everywhere.

But the truth was, I was afraid and I excused myself from trying.

For a while.

Okay, for a few years.

Eventually, I decided to finish the lessons.

I restarted the lesson package I had abandoned midway through although I had to pay the difference in pricing due to inflation.

I was more motivated this time (I had a baby on the way and a car that I could drive once licensed) so I swallowed my nerves and quickly got to the point where I started to not completely hate driving.

As part of the program, I attended two full days of classroom lessons where I was the only non-teen.

Some of the questions posed by my fellow driving school students are permanently burned on my  brain:

‘If you are going along a windy one-lane cliff road and a truck is coming right at you is it better to hit the truck or go off the cliff?’

‘Is a deer a stationary object? I mean, like, if it’s standing still?’

Camera Slayer / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was scared again. My young class-mates would be sharing the road.

But I kept going. I passed my G2 and started driving more.

I practiced a lot and even invented a style I called ‘Elegant Driving’ (this driving style features smooth gliding stops, excellent etiquette to other drivers etc). I tried to share some pointers on this style with my husband but he wasn’t receptive.

I had a couple of not so elegant, minor scrapes against the wall of our garage but otherwise continued to improve.

Time passed, as it does (long days, short years), and now I cannot imagine not knowing how to drive. And though I still aim for smooth fluid stops and irreproachable etiquette, ‘Elegant Driving’ has morphed into something a little less fancy to meet the demands of the road in the big city.

“Spank the horn Mummy!” shouts my four-year old from the backseat when she hears me mutter a comment at ‘BUDDY!’ who has just done something annoying.

I don’t panic or freak out anymore and I sort of like driving (except for on the highway, the highway is still terrifying).

There is still one more test I have to pass to get my ‘FULL G’. The ‘FULL G’ involves driving on the highway so I am once again a little afraid. Without it, my license will expire and I will have to start over.

So I am nervous and would love to put it off but I am out of time. Apparently, ten years is a long time to work through three license levels.

I know I can do this and I can’t let fear get in the way.

The test is in three weeks.

I wore the same dress as a senior citizen to a wedding

Other than bridesmaids or on-duty uniformed employees, no one wants to show up to an event in the same dress as another woman.

I am not sure why this is ‘a thing’. Shouldn’t it just be confirmation of your excellent taste? But it is embarrassing.

I had a really great dress. It was a rare splurge that was totally worth it and I always felt like a million bucks in that dress. I wore it to work and parties and pretty much anywhere I could. I loved it.

The dress and I were attending our friends’ wedding. I was standing around with my future husband admiring the pretty outdoor setting of the ceremony, waiting for it to start, when I saw a familiar pattern across the garden.

“Hey!” I said to Michael. “A lady at another wedding is wearing my dress.”

I moved closer to get a better look (not sure why but it was like when you see your hometown in a movie or on TV and you get all excited).

“She’s at this wedding,” Michael corrected me when he saw the woman. “That’s the aunt.”

I was suddenly less excited to see the dress.

The Toad / Foter / CC BY-NC

For a second I considered running home to change, but the wedding was starting in minutes and there was no way I could make it.

The dress was not subtle. It had huge polka dots in pink, black, red and white. I know it sounds ugly but it was a really nice dress.

It looked great on the aunt too.

Our eyes met and we smiled and made a little joke about how we could step in if there was a bridesmaid emergency.

I don’t embarrass easily but I admit, I felt a little awkward. I was thirty-four years old and wearing the same dress as a senior.

That is when another woman showed up in the dress. Hers was a different colour combination (brown, beige, orange) but otherwise identical.

My older twin (aka The Aunt) looked shocked. “That’s my step daughter!”

“You should’ve had this one covered,” I told The Aunt who nodded.

The step daughter looked seriously annoyed. She came over to us and said, “Hello” but in a pouty way that put my feelings of embarrassment into perspective – I did not want to turn all snitty like Evil Step Daughter as I immediately named her in my mind.

The only dress anyone is interested is the one on the bride, I reminded myself. No one will notice! And besides, who cares? 

I was wrong about people not noticing – they did and there were lots of comments and little friendly jokes. But I was right that no one cared except for Evil Step Daughter who accessorized her brown polka dot dress with a pained expression for most of the celebration.

It was a beautiful wedding. The couple were clearly madly in love and the bride looked gorgeous.

The Aunt and I danced like fools together for much of the night and had a great time in our pretty polka dot dresses.


Random but possibly valuable advice for avoiding an embarrassing moment at work

Odds are, if you are going to walk around with red furry handcuffs and a vibrator in your purse, someone is going to find out.

mag3737 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

It will most likely be your boss.  I know because it happened to me.

It was a long time ago, thank goodness, but the memory is one of those ones that stay fresh like the day it happened.

It was the day of my summer work party. A group event away from the office that would start with a pep talk from a few executives (and some deadly boring Power Points as it turned out) followed by cocktails, snacks and a major league baseball game.

I hadn’t been to a lot of corporate ‘parties’ so even though attendance was mandatory (never a promising sign I’ve since learned), I was looking forward to a night out!

I was the property manager of a small shopping centre in one of the ritziest areas in town. I had one last meeting before it was time to head down to the stadium for the party. The meeting was with a restaurant tenant.

My tenant and I were discussing something surprisingly contentious, like why the restaurant can not use passenger elevators for transporting garbage (property management is a strange business and you need to worry about all sorts of things you normally wouldn’t think of like the total foulness and wear and tear of garbage on elevators etc). The owner’s son, who ran a catering and events off-shoot of the restaurant, came into the meeting room.

“Hey Christine,” said the son, totally not caring that he was interrupting. He handed me a buzzing envelope. “You’re invited to the Naughty Girl wine launch.”


I opened the envelope, and emptied it onto the table. It was a vibrator. It was shaking all over the table.  An invitation was attached to it with furry read handcuffs.
Father and son thought this was hilarious! They could barely contain themselves.

I had no idea how to react but tried for cool indifference, fumbling to turn the thing off. It was ricocheting off the table and making an unbelievable racket.

It was incredibly awkward!

“Seriously though,” said the son when he had stopped giggling. “What do you think? These are our invitations for Naughty Girl Wine. We’ve sent them to all the media.” He was quite proud.

“Wow.” I answered shaking my head, still wrestling the jittery sex toy to find the ‘off’ switch.

I finally succeeded and the buzzing stopped.

I could feel that my face was bright red but I was still aiming for ‘unruffled’ to show my tenants how cool and in control I was.

I looked at my phone and saw that it was time to end the meeting. I had to get to the summer party! Excellent timing. I needed to get out of there!

I threw the ‘invitation’ in my purse and headed back to my office to meet up with my team.

We made it to the Dome just in time and lined up to show our tickets so we could get to the private box that had been rented for the party.

Everyone was there, my boss and his boss were right behind me. The receptionist from my office was immediately beside me. I don’t remember who was ahead of me but as I watched them go through, I realized that my bag would be checked and remembered about the “invitation”.

I dangled the bag low, close to the ground and held the ticket out with my other hand, hoping to slip through unchecked.

“Miss.” the bag checking security lady called gently. Then, “MISS! I NEED TO CHECK YOUR BAG.” Her tone was a little menacing and it was clear that I was going to have to let her search my bag OR ELSE. Everyone sort of stirred and drew closer to find out what was causing the commotion.

And that was it. There it was for all to see. My boss. My receptionist. Everyone.

The one and only time that I have walked around with anything like the ‘invitation’ in my purse was also the one day that my bag would be publicly searched in front of my boss.

What are the odds?

I should have added a cowboy! My failed career as a romance author

A long time ago, shortly after finishing school, I decided to write a book.

My plan was simple:

    1. compose a steamy romance novel – one that everyone would love
    2. sell it
    3. get paid enough money to buy a laptop and move somewhere hot where I would crank out a novel every few months and enjoy life.

This ‘plan’ was not based on a love of romance literature but I was young and overly optimistic with a crappy job and no real career plan. Although I’d never written anything longer than a short story before, I thought: How hard can it be? 

My sister’s friend, an intern at Harlequin, gave me a pile of books for inspiration along with this piece of advice: “Cowboys and babies are very hot right now. Put them in your book if you can.”

Chircosta / Foter / Public domain

I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about cowboys and frankly, saddle-crushed testicles and rope play kind of turn me off. So, despite my enormous confidence about this project, I knew I could not write a cowboy with authenticity or enthusiasm. I just couldn’t add a cowboy.

Despite their apparent popularity in romance novels, anyone who has ever met a baby knows they are vicious passion killers. I didn’t have much experience with babies but I had been one and had looked after a few so I felt knowledgeable enough to add a baby to my story. I wrote ‘BABY’ on a piece of paper.

It was a start.

I read my way through my stack of romance books and noticed a few common elements that seemed to be mandatory:

1. The first time the man is truly attracted to the woman she is almost always either:

a: in disguise

b: in peril

c: unconscious or otherwise debilitated

As a feminist, almost everything about this romance ‘element’ offended me.

As a pragmatist who wanted a laptop and a sunny life, I let it go.

I tripped Lauren (my leading lady and recently divorced mother of a very cute baby who has just moved home to the family farm) over her dog. (I was certain that if readers like babies, they would love a cute Golden Retriever!) Drew, the handsome next door neighbour/vineyard owner (Lauren’s former childhood crush who’d barely even noticed she was alive when they were kids) caught her just in time in his strong, tanned arms (hero’s arms are always strong and tanned) so she was okay if a bit flustered by his manliness.

2. The man has an interesting, high-profile or heroic job.

My former-boy-next-door-turned-hot-beast-next-door converted his family farm to a vineyard and was committed to ‘making top notch wine at reasonable prices’. Interesting, useful AND heroic. Check, check and check!

3. The mother of the romantic protagonist is almost always dead.

Why does the mother have to die?  I don’t know but she does. With few exceptions, most romantic heroines are motherless women with fathers of varying degrees of uselessness.

Although I was fascinated by the mystery of the dead and missing mothers, I didn’t dwell on it.

I dispatched the mother, and the grandmother too (because, if killing the mother is good, I assumed that doubling down with a dead grandmother was even better).

One benefit of the carnage was that it provided a reason for Lauren (and her very cute baby!) to come back to the old farmhouse when she inherited it from her grandmother – rest her soul – who had been her refuge from her annoying step-mother and weak father after her mother’s untimely demise.

4. The love birds come dangerously close to being driven apart by mistrust and misunderstanding. Always. Usually because they don’t ask questions and just leap to conclusions.

I’d watched television my whole life and was very familiar with the concept.

Was Drew only interested in Lauren’s land? She assumed the worst when she learned of his plans to expand the vineyard. Of course she didn’t ask him – that would be crazy and would screw up the word count!

With those ‘must have’ components, I had my outline.

I’d planned to complete my first draft in a month but it was much tougher and slower than expected. I eventually finished a first draft after about four months and immediately went to work trying to get published.

I hadn’t worried that publishers might not want my book. But when I started sending out queries, I quickly learned that they didn’t even want to see it!

Turned down by five publishers, it became clear that life as a famous author on the beach might not happen (and that I should have added a cowboy!!!) but I was glad I wrote it because I had proved to myself that I could.

In the end, my romance novel was read only by me and a handful of friends (one of them cried which made me unbelievably happy) and eventually packed away, in a binder, on a shelf in a cupboard with old photo albums and games with missing pieces.

I came across it the other day while trying to find the pink Hungry Hippo face. I flipped through the pages and remembered my ‘plan’ and it made me smile.


Vomit roulette and other travel fun

Whoever said  ‘getting there is half the fun’ clearly never traveled with small children.

From the terrible cold-sweat feeling of trying to silence an irate toddler on a packed plane, to the panicked horror of hearing your retching child*, travel can be rough! (* The panicked horror of recognition is not a problem the first time it happens because the first time, you just think it’s a cough. You have no idea what is coming. That time, you just end up queasy and dazed, outside a Tim Hortons, trying to clean up with a golf towel and some bottled water, thinking about selling your car but knowing that no one in their right mind would ever buy it now.)

I’ve survived these and worse and I have learned to be prepared. Over-prepared and then even more prepared than that.

But no matter how prepared you are,when you’re going traveling with the family, something is going to take you by surprise and probably not in a good way. You have to go with it and try your best to make it fun. Here are a few of the ways we try to stay cheerful:

Vomit Roulette

For car trips, my husband and I lay odds with each other on where, when and from whom car sickness will erupt. This makes the whole ride a little more interesting and, if the worst happens, at least someone gets to be right. If it doesn’t, we are perfectly happy to be wrong. For example: on our last long car trip – Christmas trek from Toronto to Ottawa (normally a four and a half hour drive that took eight and a half!!) – I predicted that the puker would be Eloise, before Whitby. My husband called Hazel in Belleville. I ‘won’. So at least I had that.

I Spy

Great for cars, trains or airports, a little game of ‘I Spy’ can kill as much as fifteen minutes and can be played pretty much anywhere. If you decide to start a game of ‘I spy’, I strongly recommend setting the rules to exclude other people to avoid shouted clues like: “I spy with my little eye…..A WITCH-LADY WITH A SCARY MOUSTACHE” (hint: she is always sitting immediately beside or across from you ). ‘I Spy’ will distract them, but by round three, a tantrum may start to feel appealing.

Is that a statue or a real kid?

Good for rest stops or waiting at the airport, this game is all about making your kids stand still (and silent) while you try to figure out if they are a statue or a real kid. I learned about this one from my sister. The big plus with this one is the silence and it never fails to make them laugh. The drawback is that you have to participate like crazy (repeatedly asking, “HEY! Is that a STATUE? or is that a REAL KID?” and poking at them etc) or the game will fizzle.

Hop on the spot

This is a decent time killer but louder than ‘Is that a statue or a real kid?’. The trick here is to find a corner (anywhere off the main path as far from others as you can manage at whatever airport, train station or rest stop that has become your temporary hell) and throw down a challenge. Start by creating a boundary and make a contest. Who can hop on one foot longest? Can you do 20 jumping jacks? How about jumping straight up and down? etc. Do this until they are complaining about being tired then offer a prize and do it some more. They will be worn out which is what you want for the next portion or your trip. There is no downside to this one unless you have a sore loser. In which case, be sure to have everyone win a category.

The main thing is to remember that you will get to your destination eventually and hope that no one wins at Vomit Roulette.