Monday, December 28, 2009

How I performed a Christmas Miracle (and what it did to me)

Short version: Facebook. Kijiji. Empathy. And perseverance.

The long version goes like this:

As regular readers of this blog (ha! there aren't any...but I digress) already know, my cat, Oliver-Henry, has been missing since July, 2009. Despite the naysayers who tell me to "give it up," I continue to search for him. He disappeared in Kitchener, but in August I had a dream that he was in Hamilton. So sometimes, I check the classified ads in Hamilton for "found cats" just to reassure myself that he's not there, waiting for me to track him down.

One day, at the beginning of December, I saw the following ad (names are changed to protect privacy):

We had a cat- male/neutered brown tabby brought into our clinic. He was found on Queen Victoria Avenue in Hamilton. He has a microchip which is registered to a "Mary" and "Bob" Smith who live here in Hamilton, but we cannot locate them as she did not update their information through the microchip company. We learned through the microchip company that his name is "Sam"If you have any information or know a person named "Mary" with a cat named Sam, please contact us at Pet Vet Eastside"

Okay - I didn't TOTALLY change the names - the last name WAS Smith. And there are a lot of Smiths in Hamilton.

And clearly, the cat isn't mine. But I thought about how sad it was that this cat had been found, and his family didn't know. And then it occurred to me that maybe his family were Facebook users. So I searched, and came up with several possible "Mary" and "Bob" Smiths in Hamilton. Then I started sending them messages, asking if they'd lost a cat named Sam.

It took until December 23rd, but then, finally, in my inbox, was this reply from "Mary":

"Hi , I have only been on Facebook once before and just happened to go on this a.m. and saw this message about Sam. I truly thought I would never hear of or see him again. "

By the time I saw the message, she'd already contacted the vet's office, and was awaiting the return phone call with Sam's whereabouts.

The good news of their reunion got me all mixed up inside, and by the time my poor husband got home from the grocery store I was sobbing over the sink. I was crying because I was so happy to be a part of "Mary" and Sam's reunion. And because I was jealous.

I'm still jealous. But I'm proud, too. And I have renewed faith in the mysterious workings of the universe.

Monday, December 21, 2009

50 ways life has changed in the last 10 years

Love this article from The Toronto Star!

50 ways life has changed in the last 10 years -

Some of my fave changes:
- digital photos (once upon a time, you crossed your fingers and hoped you had the shot. Now, you can get a second chance to capture that perfect moment)
- GPS (how cool to have your very own map reader, even when you're traveling alone)
- IPods (okay - mine is a no-name MP3 player, but still. I am old enough to remember painstakingly making mixed cassette tapes out of vinyl LPs, and then endlessly fast forwarding/rewinding to find the song you wanted...)

My "not-so-faves"
- reality television (I know it dates me, but I just don't get the appeal...)
- crocs (I am NOT so old that I will wear plastic shoes...)

And, my least fave of all:
- HELICOPTER PARENTING (described in the article as parents who hover, like helicoptors). I know, I know: I don't have kids, a dog isn't the same thing, I can't possibly understand. But here's what I do know: many of my friends have spent the past decade in hover mode. I know people who wouldn't let their child's grandparents, aunts or uncles babysit, even for an hour or so. People who homeschooled because they were afraid to let their children out of their sight. Stay at home mothers with nannies because they can't handle the IVF brood they've bred (no, it's not Kate Gosselin). People who don't want their teenagers to have weekend jobs because it ties them down. And you know what? I miss those friends, and I feel sorry for their children. Remember the feeling of independence you had the first time you took your bike down the street without your parents? Or the way you looked forward to your favorite babysitter, because it was almost like having a friend over, and it was cool that the "big kids" were hanging out with you? My part time jobs taught me not just about finances (eg. were those cute earrings really worth two hours over a deep fryer?) but also about time management (still had to get those essays in!), cooperation, tolerance, responsibility, disappointment and perseverance. Helicoptor children don't get these moments of independence, nor the pride that comes from knowing they did something on their own.

At school this last decade, I have seen a real increase in kids who are afraid to try anything they won't succeed in, who give up the minute that something becomes difficult, and who label all challenges as "boring". I am all for doing things well, and thoroughly, and to the best of your ability. But surely, part of being a good parent is raising confident, competent children? Larry Wingett agrees. He's got a new book, called Your Kids are Your Own Fault: A Guide for Raising Responsible, Productive Adults. I think, after a decade of indulgence, that his timing is perfect. I wish him much success.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If Santa wrote YA

Santa Claus is a busy guy. Every December, he makes mounds of toys and delivers them on a tight schedule to children all over the world. It’s a multi-tasking feat that only the most dedicated (read: craziest) of people could pull off. And for a YA author, it's a required skill.

As writers, we, like Santa, are often trying to finish projects on deadline even as we are marketing previous work and thinking about the next book. Some of us still have “day jobs,” as well. So why do we do it? Because we love it. Writing is part of who we are, just as generosity is the essence of Santa Claus.

Which leads me into the issue of family and friends. Santa couldn’t pull off his amazing feats of festivity without an amazing “inner circle”. Mrs. Claus, surely, knows that sometimes Santa’s going to be too busy to hang out with her, and other times, he’s going to be so weary that he needs nothing more than a shoulder to lean on. But she’s okay with that, because she loves him, and she honors his work. Lucky Santa already has the sympathetic support system an author needs.

Santa’s got the perfect space for writing, too. He’s way up North, where door-to-door salespeople don’t bother to stop, and he can’t sneak off to the local coffee shop “for a couple of minutes”. He’s got breathtaking scenery for inspirational walks, but it never gets so warm outside that he ends up lazing the day away in the backyard by the pool. Instead, he can set himself up by a cozy fire, with a mug of homemade hot chocolate (‘cuz we all need a little sugar and caffeine to keep us going).

And it won’t be a problem if that mug of hot chocolate needs a cookie – or twelve – to dunk in it. As an author, working from home, stress-eating happens (in my case, at a rate of about .1 pounds per page). Especially if an editor is seeking many, many new chapters, ASAP. But Santa’s comfortable with his body image. He’ll be okay if his inspiration shows up on a plate (and around his middle) in the form of Peppermint Cocoa Marshmallow Perfection.

Santa’s not really one to seek the limelight anyway. Sure, he gets invited to a lot of parades and holiday parties, and he’s happy to go, but only because it makes his fans happy. He doesn’t do it for the personal accolades. Just as an author sends her work out into the world, hoping it speaks to someone, and stands on its own, so does Santa toil quietly, often in isolation, hoping his work makes people happy.

And boy – does he know how to make people happy! Santa makes the kind of happy that people remember for the rest of their lives. (A feat every author dreams of). How hard could it actually be for him, if he took up writing, to please his editor, publisher, audience and critics alike? He’s already been giving the perfect gifts to the pickiest of people for centuries. Santa knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good – so surely, he knows what adolescents would like to read.

Which, when it comes right down to it, is the ultimate reason Santa why should write YA. Nobody understands children the way Santa does. And as children become young adults, and begin to question everything around them – including the future, their own self worth and (gasp!) the very existence of the magic that is Santa Claus, they need quality literature. Santa makes us want to believe, even as we question. Great YA authors do it, too.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advantages of being a woman???

Twenty years ago today, Marc Lepine entered the École Polytechnique in Montreal and shot and killed the following women:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

I didn't attend École Polytechnique, and I wasn't an engineering student. But at the time of the shooting, I was a university student, I was a woman, I was a feminist, and for me, that day was as horrifically memorable and life-altering as the events of September 11, 2001.

The "Montreal Massacre" was the first school shooting in Canada, and most of us just didn't believe that that kind of thing happened here. But it was also very different from so many of the mass shootings we hear about even today. For one thing, Marc Lepine did not personally know any of his victims. He did not attend the school with them. It wasn't a simple case of someone being bullied to the point where it was intolerable, or having a personal issue with someone and innocent bystanders getting in the way - it was a deliberate, premeditated attack on an entire gender. Women.

Marc Lepine separated male students from female, and targeted women exclusively during his rampage. His suicide note said he hated feminists,

"for seeking social changes that "retain the advantages of being women [...]
while trying to grab those of the men."

Because he targeted women, December 6th has become (in Canada), a national day of mourning for all female victims of all violent men.

But when we talk about Marc Lepine as a symbol of violence against women, we usually do so because he targeted women. I think it might be more important to remember that Lepine himself witnessed - and was a victim of -- domestic violence while growing up. Statistics clearly prove that "75% of boys who witness domestic violence have been found to have demonstrable behavioral problems". So maybe it's more fitting to see Marc Lepine as a symbol of violence against women because he was also a victim of it, and the violence he witnessed and experienced in his own home as a child (probably) contributed to the deaths of fourteen others.

Domestic and dating violence are so much more than "private" problems. They are big issues, with far-reaching implications.

I would never presume to lump an entire gender together the way Lepine did, by declaring that all men are evil. But twenty years after the massacre, most cases of domestic and dating violence continue to be perpetrated by men (the ones who do have problems) against women.

So much for the "advantages" of being a woman.

More information on the Montreal Massacre:

More information on Domestic Violence

For more information on feminism:,,694923,00.html.