Thursday, December 15, 2016

Family Time

As is true for many others, Christmas is an important family time for us. This will be the fifth Christmas since we moved to the prairies, far away from friends and family. Our kids and other family are spread around, but none of them live near us. So every year we have travelled a long way to spend Christmas with some of the family, or they have travelled to our city to spend Christmas with us. Last year we spent Christmas with Rob's daughter and family in the north, and had a wonderful time seeing our two young grandchildren there experience Christmas. We also managed to fit in a visit with my extended family in the north and saw some dear friends.

This year, my daughter invited us to spend Christmas with her family on the southwest coast of BC. I was thrilled! My two grandsons are four years old and one and a half years old -- perfect ages to experience the magic of Christmas. We rented a little house in a resort community not far from my daughter's place and spent two days driving here though nasty snowstorms. 

 Horrible blizzards on the way.

We brought both pets along, a dog (Kate) and a cat (Oliver). We have travelled with the dog before, mostly in the truck and camper, but bringing Oliver has been a bit of an experiment. So far it has worked out really well. They are both happy to have come along on the trip, and have settled in well and behaved themselves. I guess they know that the alternative would have been to stay in a kennel, not their favourite place.

 Oliver making himself at home.

I am really looking forward to Christmas, as not only will I get to spend time with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons, but also my son is living here and attending university at present, and my middle daughter who lives in a nearby city will come stay with us for a few days at Christmas. It will be the first time in a few years that I will spend Christmas with all three of my (now adult) children, AND the first time ever to spend Christmas with both of my grandsons.

 Younger grandson.

 Older grandson.

Rob's two kids and my three all have been adults for quite some time. They have busy lives and we are so proud of all of them. Of course, those busy lives and my career have meant that we have all ended up living in different places, for the most part far away from each other. We don't have the chance to see each other on a week-to-week basis, but usually just for short, intense visits. I love seeing my kids and sometimes feel sorry for myself that I don't have much time with them. One never really stops being a parent.

I remember when my first a child, my oldest daughter was born. Those wise eyes, rosebud lips, chubby cheeks, and black hair -- it was love at first sight! Although I had little experience with babies and had never played with dolls, suddenly I was the proudest, most possessive parent on earth. When my second daughter was born, it was love all over again. She was the most cuddly, happy baby ever, with thick blond hair that stood up straight and an old soul's blue eyes. And then my dear son was born, calm, long, and skinny (in contrast to my first two chubby babes). He was very observant and content. He was a boy who bum-scooted around the kitchen, and figured out how to open the cupboard and help himself to cheerios (breakfast cereal). He was a kindhearted boy and now is a fair minded, kindhearted man.

When I look at my adult children today, I see their day-to-day lives and dilemmas superimposed over my memories of them at each developmental stage of their early lives. That is an annoying thing about parents -- they persist in thinking about the past. I know that when I was a young adult, and even a middle-aged adult, my attention was focused on the present and the future. It is only now as I am on the threshold of my senior years that I have become more nostalgic and interested in the past.

Becoming a grandma is reminiscent of that first experience of becoming a mom. Those tiny little humans are born into the world with their whole futures ahead of them. I love them with the same intense passion that I loved my own babies. I am very lucky, because I get to be grandma to my children's children, and also to Rob's children's children.

Yet being a grandma is different than being a mom. I am not the parent, and it is not up to me to make parenting decisions. I am only around from time to time, not every day, and each visit is a chance to build my relationship with my grandchildren a little more. At the same time I try to offer whatever help I can to their parents who are busy and enmeshed in complicated lives. Sometimes it is not an easy balance to be present, to spend time with the grandchildren, to help out, and to also spend some one-to-one time with my adult kids, without being intrusive, neglectful of my spouse's needs, or ignoring my own needs and boundaries. I sure have noticed that I no longer have the same energy level that I used to -- being with small children can be exhausting.

A walk on the beach with Kate.

So, we feel very fortunate to be staying for a whole month and to have a rented house during this Christmas visit. We will be able to experience some great family time, and stretch it out over a period of weeks, rather than trying to cram it all into one short intense period. It also gives Rob and me some quiet time to spend just with each other, walking on the beach, sitting in front of the fire, or going out for a romantic dinner. It gives my daughter's family some breathing space, without feeling the pressure of having guests in their home for an extended period. And, as it is a vacation for us, we would like to make a few little excursions while we are here, visit some friends, and possibly go skiing. But, the highlight will be spending Christmas with my kids and grand-kids!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Novel in Progress

 In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy writing a novel. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. The objective of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

Sadly, I must report that I was not successful at completing 50,000 words of my novel. However, I did mange to write 35,493 words. That adds up to 134 pages, double-spaced, or ten and a half chapters. I have started on Part Two of the three-part novel. I think that the first draft was about one third complete by the end of November.

I had great fun starting a new novel, and am continuing to chip away at it now that November is over. The novel is titled "The Age of Grandchildren" (working title). At the request of readers, I am posting a brief synopsis, as well as an excerpt from one of the early chapters.



Becca and Honor live with a collective of women in an underground shelter in the wreckage of a former university. They were born in the shelter and know no other life. Their mothers and grandmothers formed the collective as a survival strategy when North American society disintegrated in the early 21st century. Becca and Honor are just reaching womanhood, and their collective is facing a crisis as the group has nearly used up the supplies stored two decades ago. Systems in the shelter are beginning to fail, and memories of life on the outside are being lost as the older members of the group become elderly and die. The lives of the women are about to change, and both Becca and Honor have important roles to play in trying to ensure the survival of the members of their little community.


Excerpt from novel:

Watch Station One

Becca stood at Watch Station 1 looking west over a jumble of tangled bushes and concrete rubble. She felt a puff of wind touch the hair on her forehead and the sensation lifted her heart. Then guiltily, she pulled her hood further down, low over her eyebrows, as in her mind she heard Mother Mary intone, “When outside, you must guard vigilantly against contamination.”

The intense red of the sunset had faded and the sky was darkening into night. Her anxiety growing, Becca peered out into the distance toward Outpost 1.4. Where was Honor? It was becoming too dark, and Pattern 1.4 through the ruins of the shattered buildings was one of the most difficult to run. Was that her? Yes, Honor was coming, bobbing and weaving as she ran the pattern through the rubble. Becca tracked her approach. Hop, hop, hop, zigzag to the left, right, two feet, hop, hop, leap, and she’s safe on the platform!

“We welcome you in,” Becca nodded as she gave the formal greeting. “We worried this time. Look how dark it is!”

“Yes, we felt the fear too.” Honor caught her breath. The whites of her eyes showed bright against her brown eyes and skin in the last of the light. “This runner turned an ankle and almost misstepped a third of the way through the pattern. But this one is here now. We must go inside quickly.”

Honor shrugged her knapsack off. The two young women turned to descend into the shelter, but not before Becca noticed her friend cast a surreptitious last look out over the desolation.

Once inside, Becca sealed the door electronically and set the mechanical deadbolt. Honor pushed the package she carried through a slot for the Mothers. The two women stripped off their contaminated sweat suits, put them into a covered bucket, and stepped into the anteroom shower.


For one glorious minute the lukewarm water fell, and Becca concentrated on rinsing those parts that had been exposed – her hands, her face, and today, the front of her hair. When the trickle of water stopped, they completed their bathing the usual way, with soap, a cloth, and a basin of water. Becca mused about her good fortune in having been chosen as a watcher two months ago. She had discovered that she loved the experience of being on the outside at twilight each duty day, despite the risks. Although her first shower had been the best, she continued to look forward to that minute as a highlight of each duty day.

“Hey, Honor!” Honor was staring fixedly at her towel, and she startled when Becca spoke. “Honor, tell us, what do you feel out there without us, solitary?

“We concentrate on running the pattern, and running it perfectly.”

“Yes, understood, but how does it feel?”

“We don’t understand your meaning.” Honor gave Becca a dismissive look and frowned in the direction of the Mothers’ slot. “Come, let us go and report.”

They walked naked through the inner door, sealed it, and donned robes. Becca trailed behind Honor barefoot on the cold polished tiles, fastening the ties of her robe. What was wrong with asking Honor how she felt out there? That seemed like an important question for a novice watcher to ask a runner. Becca had been trained that all members of the collective must be attuned to emotional states, and to be transparent in sharing the inner consciousness.

Becca reflected that although Honor had been generous in guiding Becca on the correct performance of the watching duty, her friend often seemed reticent about expressing internal states, especially at group sharings. Many would consider that a mark against her, but Honor had proven herself extremely capable at learning the patterns. She was able to run all eight of the main patterns consistently and flawlessly, and she was studying the difficult second level patterns now. Honor had been awarded her position as a runner very young; in fact, she was only two years older than Becca but already had been running for more than a year.

Ah, the Mothers were ready to see them now. It was Mother Beulah and, oh no, Mother Mary. Becca groaned inwardly.

“Honor, Becca.” The Mothers came forward and embraced them.

Mother Beulah was thin as a wisp with a cap of steel grey hair, white at the temples. She wore a silver and emerald nose stud, and multiple earrings on each ear. Mother Mary, in contrast, was a large, square-jawed woman, who pushed back the sleeves of her robe impatiently and strode forward, glowering. Her hug felt like a wrestling hold.

“You are late tonight,” said Mother Beulah. Her tone was mild, but as she gazed into Becca’s eyes before turning to Honor, Becca felt Mother Beulah’s bright blue eyes send a shock down her spine. She imagined that Honor must feel something similar, although Honor’s facial expression remained unchanged.

“Yes, the transfer was not prompt,” Honor explained.

“You know the rule. Never wait by the fence on the outside rim. If the transfer is not ready . . . ?” Mother Beulah said, raising her eyebrows at Honor.

“. . . Turn back and run the return pattern,” Honor finished off the rule. “But the transfer was not made the two previous days either, so we thought . . .”

Mother Mary moved forward making chopping motions with her hands. “Thinking out there could get you into trouble young woman.”

Her high-pitched nasal voice grated on Becca’s ears.

“But the transfer was concluded successfully,” Honor mumbled, looking at Mother Mary’s feet.

“Yes,” Mother Beulah smiled, and her gold tooth glinted.

“Listen, Honor. You nearly had to run that pattern in the dark,” Mother Mary pointed out. She sniffed, and Becca watched as the nostrils of her broad nose distended forming perfect black circles, and then pinched in again. “The life of every member of the collective is precious. The two most basic runner’s rules are?”

“Concentrate on the pattern, and follow the rules. Understood, Mother Mary. This one begs pardon.” Honor’s face was as smooth as a plaster mask. She said nothing about turning her ankle while running the pattern.

Becca opened her mouth to report the misstep in the run. According to regulations such discrepancies must be recorded, and it was her responsibility as a watcher to report it to the Mothers. Mother Mary swiveled to face her, her little eyes invisible behind the glare of her eyeglasses, her jaw jutting up. The words died in Becca’s throat. She closed her mouth and swallowed.

“Peace -- peace for the collective,” she stammered.

The Mothers nodded, Beulah closing her heavy eyelids, and Mary with a jerk of the chin. Both Mothers stepped forward and embraced them again.

“Peace for the collective,” the two Mothers intoned.

“And peace for the Mothers and Grandmothers,” Becca and Honor said in unison as they took their leave.


Anyways, it is greatly enjoyable inventing a world and setting some characters loose in it. I have been amazed that as long as I can get myself seated in front of the keyboard, the story just spools out onto the screen. I guess that is the whole point of National Novel Writing Month -- to give ourselves an excuse to sit down and write.