Tag Archives: friendship

Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

17 Mar

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)

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Non-Canadian Thanksgiving: Things I’m Thankful For

24 Nov

My social media feeds are making me hungry today. My Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter timeline are full of people in the United States talking about turkey, wild mushroom tartlets, various kinds of fresh-baked breads, pumpkin pie, sweet-potato-this-thing or roasted-carrot-that-thing. It all sounds delicious, and I am truly happy that everyone is having such a lovely feast. But you know, sitting up here in Canada, the ham and cheese sandwich that looked so nice while I was making it suddenly seems a little sad.

Yes, I know. We Canadians already had our turn last month. While I was Facebooking and tweeting about my own Thanksgiving dinner six weeks or so ago, I got a number of responses that said something along these lines: “Lucky cow!”

Anyway, even though it is not technically my Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a moment, while everyone is in the mood, to reflect on things that I am grateful for. Because sometimes we get so caught up the busy-ness and stress and noise of life that we forget about the things in our lives that make it all worthwhile.

Like these:

  • I have two gorgeous children who are in perfect health. Yes, my son has autism, and yes, this affects both of my kids, but I get to hug them and cuddle with them and kiss them goodnight. I get to read to them, play with them, and arm-wrestle them into eating their veggies. They are there to wake me up early on Saturday mornings while I’m trying to sleep, and they are there to dump toys all over the house and then refuse to clean up after themselves. There are some parents who have buried their children, who can only dream of all of this. My heart aches for them, and I appreciate every second with my kids – the good moments and the bad.
  • My husband and I have arguments. I mean, who doesn’t? Every couple has arguments. There are times when he drives me crazy, times when he makes me cry, times when I feel overworked and underappreciated. But then there are the good times. The times we laugh together at some joke that only the two of us can understand. The times we go to meetings at our kids’ schools and work together for the betterment of their future. He calls me during the day for no reason other than to tell me he loves me, and when I’m on my way home from work, he walks to the bus stop to meet me because he wants to see me that badly. He is the love of my life and I cannot imagine life without him. And I am truly thankful that I sat in a park that day ten years ago and fell for the stranger who approached me.
  • The economy has been up a certain creek without a paddle for some time now. I know of people who have lost their jobs, who cannot afford a simple visit to the doctor, who struggle to feed their families. I spend a lot of time griping about my commute, but at least I have a job to commute to. It’s a good job, too. Challenging work, reasonable pay, good benefits and for the most part, people I enjoy working with.
  • I have some phenomenal friends. Some I have known for a very long time, and some are relatively recent additions to the fabric of my life. Many people talk about their online friends versus their “in real life” friends. I make no such distinction. If you have hugged me (either in person or virtually), cried with me, advised me, been there for me, allowed me to be there for you – you are my friend, whether I have met you face-to-face or not. Knowing someone exclusively through online media does not make that person any less real. So, to my friends – whether we have physically met or not –  I love you and appreciate you. Truly.
  • Then there are the people who I don’t really know well enough to be able to be able to call my friends – not yet, anyway. I hesitate to use the word “acquaintances”, because that word implies that I merely know these people. It does not adequately convey the idea that they are important to me, and that I greatly value their presence in my life. Many of the people I interact with on Twitter fall into this category. I cannot say that I know them, but they brighten my day, or somehow make me feel that I’m not alone; that no matter what I’m going through, someone understands and more importantly, cares.

Sometimes, life gets overwhelming for me and all I want to do is run away and hide. But when I turn on my taps, I get hot and cold running water that’s clean enough to drink. I walk outside and all of the buildings are standing. There are no bombs flying around and I haven’t lost all of my loved ones and possessions to an earthquake. I live in a house, not on the street. Although I live halfway across the world from my mother, I don’t have to worry about whether she is sick or injured, because through the magic of technology that I can afford to have in my home, I am in daily contact with her.

No matter how bad things may get from time to time, there is always something to be thankful for.

(Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonecypress/3264410416. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Groundhog Day

27 Oct

Edie sipped her tea while she waited for The Beast to boot up. She hated The Beast. It kept making her download updates that she didn’t understand, and most of the emails that she got were rubbish. Damien had bought it for her when he’d been transferred to Utah, insisting that they would have to communicate daily by email. She supposed that she shouldn’t complain. Other people’s kids moved away and forgot all about them. At least her son wanted to stay in touch, and to her surprise, their daily email exchanges had become a patch of sunshine in her otherwise monotonous days.

Edie’s gaze drifted to the picture of herself and Sammy that had been taken when they were both seven. They had been best friends: when Edie and her family had been rounded up and taken to the concentration camp, they had been thrust into a small, cramped room already occupied by Sammy and his parents. Sammy had taken her under his wing. Somehow he had made her feel less afraid.

The two children had spent hours playing in the tiny room, or on the small square of dirt outside. Whenever he eluded her during tag games, or outwitted her as they played with their makeshift Checkers set, he would smile, tap the side of his head, and say, “You gotta think like a groundhog.” Edie didn’t know what this meant or what a groundhog was, but it made her laugh every time. Despite the life they were living, they were happy in their own way.

And then, one day, Edie had come back to the room with her mother to discover that Sammy and his parents were gone. Edie did not need to ask where they were or if she would ever see Sammy again. She had become used to the people around her disappearing. She knew that they went into the big building at the far end of the compound and never came out.

Now, as she looked at the picture, she shed a silent tear for her sweet, funny friend. She wondered if he had been afraid while he was walking to his death. She gently touched his image and whispered, “You gotta think like a groundhog.”

The Beast had finally booted up. Edie opened her email and sighed as her screen filled with messages from people trying to sell things, tell her fortune, or entice her to try online dating. Damien called these messages spam, which Edie didn’t really understand.

In her haste to delete the messages, Edie accidentally opened one of them: an advertisement for Go Get ‘Em Exterminators & Pest Control. As she moved her mouse to the X in the corner of the message, a line of text in the advertisement caught her attention.

To catch the critters… you gotta think like a groundhog.

Edie stared at the screen in shock, her mind starting to race. Could it be possible that two people would come up with the same phrase almost seventy years apart? Or – Edie barely dared to allow herself to think it – could it be possible that Sammy had somehow escaped?

Could Sammy be alive?

With shaking hands, she picked up the phone and dialed the number in the advertisement. Although seventy years had passed, Edie instantly recognized the inflections in the voice that answered.

“Sammy? It’s Edie.”

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Carrie, who gave me this prompt: A spam email that turns out to be more than expected.
I challenged  femmefauxpas with the prompt: Tell us a ghost story. The kind you would tell while sitting around a campfire eating roasted marshmallows.

Spotlight On Friendship: Jenny

8 Jul

Today I want to tell you about my oldest friend. Not “oldest” in the sense of being geriatric, but “oldest” in the sense of being the person who has put up with my nonsense for longer than anyone else.

I met Jenny at the start of fifth grade, when we were both new kids at our school. I remember us standing together at the front of the classroom on our first day, being introduced to our new classmates. Both of us felt as if we were different to the other kids in our class, but we felt an immediate kinship with each other. By recess that day, we had become best friends.

Over the next several years, as we saw friendships form and dissolve all around us, Jenny and I were inseparable. Her personality balanced perfectly with mine. She was the one who was good at art, I was the one who was good at math. She was bubbly and outgoing, I was more reserved. Our core values were the same, and we had enough common interests to be able to bond. But we also had enough diversity to retain our own individuality.

I was shy and socially awkward as a teenager. The only person I could really open up to and be completely myself with was Jenny.

When we were in high school we made a promise to each other, that we would be friends forever, and that when we were old ladies, we would sit together on a porch doing our knitting. When we discovered just how crap at knitting I am, we amended the promise. She would do the knitting, and I would keep the coffee flowing. We’re planning to be manic old ladies, permanently buzzing from caffeine.

In my late teens and early twenties, my life went a little weird. I went away to university, and when I came back, I had learned some very difficult lessons from the School of Hard Knocks. I’m not sure if Jenny realizes how much of a salvation she was for me at that time. I was feeling out of sorts, and she was my friend. I was feeling directionless, and she got me a job in the same office where she was working. I felt adrift, and she was my safe harbour. She helped keep me grounded.

And then, to my eternal shame and regret, I let her down. I did something that hurt her, and that cost me the only true friendship I had ever had.

Life went on, but I never stopped thinking of Jenny and kicking myself for my own stupidity.

A few years after my split with Jenny, I had installed myself in a solid career and bought my own apartment. One evening after I got home from work, my phone rang. I did not immediately recognize the voice on the other end, but then the realization dawned on me: “Holy crap, it’s JENNY!”

We went out for pizza and caught up. I told her I was sorry. She said she forgave me. I cried – tears of regret at having hurt her, and tears of joy that I had my best friend back.

And I really did have her back. Over the next several years, we stood by each other for all of life’s major events. I caught the bouquet at her wedding. When she had a baby she asked me to be the godmother. When I became a mom myself, she was the first person I called when I came home from the hospital. She comforted me at my dad’s funeral, and although she couldn’t be there for my wedding, I know she was thinking of me.

The strongest of friendships can survive any storm. Jenny and I had our storm, and it was a big one. But in the end, our friendship survived, and endures to this day, even though we live on opposite sides of the world.

At some point a few decades from now, a porch somewhere will be waiting for two old ladies, one doing her knitting, the other making coffee.

A Final Goodbye

9 May

One of the guests at our wedding gets a special mention today: our wonderful friend Ken, who was there with his equally wonderful wife, Jo-Anne.

I’m not sure exactly how Ken and Gerard met, but it was over thirty years ago. In years gone by, Gerard spent many Christmases with Ken and his family, and for the last several years, I myself have been on the receiving end of Ken and Jo-Anne’s kindness and hospitality. They have been great friends to us. We have shared meals and laughs with them.

Many, many laughs. I have always referred to Ken as the only guy in the world who is as weird as Gerard.

Ken and Jo-Anne’s presence at our wedding was truly a blessing. The day just wouldn’t have felt right without them. When I said goodbye to Ken that night, I had no idea that it would be for the last time.

Six days after the wedding, Ken died suddenly at his home, taken by an aneurysm.

The news has been a tremendous shock to both Gerard and myself. But among the shock is pure gratitude that Ken was there to share an amazing and special day with us. Our final memories of Ken are fine ones indeed.

May Ken rest in peace. May his wife Jo-Anne and his son Will find themselves surrounded by strength and love.

If there is such a place as heaven, it has become a very, very funny place.

Goodbye for now, Ken. Your friendship and laughter will be sorely missed.

Taking Flight

9 Mar

This is a continuation of the series I started last week

The six weeks prior to my departure passed in a whirlwind of frenetic activity. I had never traveled internationally by myself, and I had assumed that all I had to do was book the tickets, pack a bag, and show up at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.

I had not factored in things like getting my passport renewed, undergoing the requisite medical screening, obtaining foreign currency, getting travel insurance, and visiting with friends and family to say my goodbyes. I could barely find the time to pack.

Packing was an ordeal in and of itself. Cramming all of my essential belongings into checked baggage did not turn out to be easy. Of course, now that I am a seasoned traveler, my idea of what is actually “essential” has changed dramatically. But back then, the list of things that I just had to take was staggering (most of these items would end up getting jettisoned over the course of my travels).

My Mom tearfully helped me pack. Her sadness was, I think, twofold. There was the normal Mom’s angst about the prospect of saying goodbye to a daughter who was bound for a faraway land and didn’t know when she was returning. And there was the fact that the last time I had left home for any length of time, I had come back damaged and jaded. She implored me not to make any stupid decisions. If you get into trouble, she said, just get on a plane and come home.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. My parents got me to the airport four hours prior to departure time. I was flying El Al: the Israelis, being understandably nervous about who and what they were letting onto their planes, had a rigourous screening procedure years before 9/11. They made me light one of my cigarettes (I was a smoker in those days), take a picture with my camera (using the flash), and make my alarm clock go off. I got questioned at length as to why I was wearing my blue fedora-style hat and whether I had purchased the contents of my luggage myself.

Eventually, me and my luggage were deemed fit to board the plane. I had a final cup of coffee with my parents, and then, when it was time to go, they hugged me fiercely and tried to fight back tears. I waved at them until I could no longer see them, although I knew they would stay at the airport until after my plane had departed. As I found my way to the boarding gate, I pictured my Dad with his arm around my Mom’s shoulders, comforting and being comforted. I felt my chest constrict with anguish at what I had put my parents through, and for a moment I had the urge to turn back.

I resolutely continued. I needed to do this. I knew it in my gut, and I believe that my parents knew it too. I had lost myself over the last few years, and I needed to spread my wings and give myself the space to find my way back through the woods.

In the departure lounge, I found myself chatting with someone called Wayne, who like me, was traveling on the Kibbutz program. He asked me what had prompted me to go, and I told him that I needed to get away from some bad stuff that had happened. “Same here,” he told me.

At boarding time, we joined the line at the departure gate. Further screening ensued (really ahead of the curve on airline security, the Israelis), and we got through the chaos of boarding only to discover that our assigned seats were beside each other. Neither Wayne nor I could possibly know, at that point, that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would still be enduring almost two decades later.

At the moment of take-off, I pictured my parents standing at the big glass windows in the airport terminal, watching and waving, and wishing me Godspeed as the plane lifted into the air and disappeared into the night sky.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10037058@N08/2779012499)

The makings of a social runner

15 Nov

As of yesterday morning, I am an official paid-up member of the Rouge River Roadrunners.  Joining a running club is quite a big departure from my former way of thinking, simply because it means that my long Sunday runs will no longer be solo ventures.  I used to do all of my running alone, primarily by choice.  I liked the idea of mapping out my own routes, getting to run to the beat of music in my ears, and being beholden to no-one but myself on my runs.  After all, half the point of running was to get out and be by myself for a change.

So what happened?  How did I evolve into this being who actually craves company on runs?  I mean, I like my solitude, and I get so little of it.  I have a little bit of social awkwardness.  It is not easy for me to meet and get to know new people, and conversation does not come naturally to me – not unless I know the person I am conversing with very well.  It seems kind of weird that I, of all people, would turn into somebody who needed a group of people to run with.

The metamorphosis started maybe six months ago, when I was training for my 2010 Run for Autism.  Since I was on the organizing committee for the Geneva Centre for Autism, I befriended some of the people there and we created an informal running group.  We started meeting up for a run every Wednesday after work, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the company.  I felt that I had struck a nice balance between running alone and running with a group.

Shortly before the half-marathon, I found that my Sunday long runs were getting a little stale.   I was varying my routes a little bit, but I was sticking to the same general neighbourhoods, and I was getting bored.  I found myself hitting a plateau.  My fitness and endurance levels were definitely improving, but I wasn’t really making great gains on my average pace.  All runs longer than about twelve kilometres were starting to feel a bit tedious, and I started incorporating as many twists and turns in my routes as I could, just for the sake of variety.

About a month ago, I was wasting time on the Internet late at night when I couldn’t sleep, and purely by accident I came across a website for the Rouge River Roadrunners.  I had never heard of this group before, and the name suggested that they might be local.  I looked up their contact information, and sure enough, their meeting spot turned out to be a community centre less than five minutes’  drive from where I live.  Before I really knew what I was doing, I sent an email off to the primary contact, asking for more information.

Several emails and a couple of phonecalls later, I agreed to meet the group for one of their Sunday runs.  When I arrived and started talking to the other runners, I started getting very nervous.  All of them – bar none – are experienced marathoners who have been running for at least fifteen years (without a great big gaping seven-year gap in the middle like I had).  They are fitter than me, they are faster, they have run more races.  To me, a 10km run is a decent distance.  To them, it’s a walk in the park.

Was I going to keep up with these people?  I had my doubts, especially when we started out at a pace slightly faster than what I am used to.  Since I would rather set my face on fire than admit that these runners might be too fast for me, I kept pace with them from the beginning.  When we’d been going for about half a kilometre, the man running next to me (who is almost 70 and in the kind of shape I was in when I was 25) asked me about my last race.

Cripes.  Not only was I running faster than usual for a long run, now I had to talk while I was doing it?  Whoever said that it costs nothing to be polite was lying.  Being polite can cost you your breath if you’re doing it while running with a bunch of gazelles.  But I didn’t exactly have a choice.  I was raised in a nice home and taught to be courteous no matter what.  I briefly considered the “no matter what”  part of the equation, and then answered my fellow runner’s questions.  To my complete surprise, my answer came out sounding normal. I didn’t sound as if I was about to pass out.  I sounded like someone having a normal conversation.

We continued chatting, and about half an hour later I realized to my astonishment that not only was I keeping up with these people, I was actually feeling OK.   I was not fighting for breath. My legs did not feel as if they were about to fall off.  I did not feel like a walrus among gazelles.

We finished the run, and fuelled by a feeling of accomplishment, I joined the other runners for a post-run coffee and then promised to join them again the following week.  That happened to be yesterday – a somewhat grey, somewhat rainy, somewhat windy day.  We met in the designated spot, and as we hopped around trying to stay warm, we debated where and how far we would run.  One of the runners cheerfully said, “Let’s find a route with lots of hills!”  Imagine my relief when someone else said that she had done hills the previous day and needed a flat route.  She suggested a route along the waterfront trail.  The rest of us agreed, and we set off.

Three kilometres later, I was thinking to myself, “Yikes!  This is flat???”  We were going up and down hills as if we were a bunch of yo-yo’s on steroids.  I was keeping pace, but this time I was not talking, and my legs were starting to burn.  I did what I always do when the running gets tough: I started to count.  Not out loud, of course.  Silently, in my head.  It’s a little trick I have that seems to get me through those little running bumps.  I count in time to my steps.  Sure enough, after about three minutes of this I found myself settling into a rhythm and enjoying myself.

This run was definitely harder than last week’s, but I kept pace with the other runners and finished feeling good.  And I realized that I had made a discovery: on all of those solo long runs that I did before, I underestimated myself and held back.  I am actually a much better runner than I have been giving myself credit for.  I needed to start running with a group of experienced runners in order to push myself and see what I was capable of.  This journey of discovery is only just beginning.

So although I still run solo once or twice a week, I am not getting as much time alone as I used to.  I am, however, getting time with a new group of friends with a common interest, and that is almost as good.  Probably better, in fact.  I just know that this will turn me into a better runner.

Good enough to aim for sub-2 hours in my next half-marathon?  Time will tell.