Ten true things about writing my novel

The dots are easy. Connecting them is hard.

Writing a great sentence feels better than anything else, even if you have to delete it later.

There’s a reason they call deleting the great stuff, “killing your darlings.”

It is so, so easy to find other things to do when you know you should be writing.

I am scared to finish because what if it actually sucks?

I write with only three people in mind, and one of those people is me.

The things I’m writing about scare the shit out of me.

I already feel like a failure.

I absolutely want acclaim, but it is more important for my soul that the acclaim be critical and not commercial, which is in direct opposition of how the writing business (and my bank account) works.

I think that social media is the worst thing that has ever happened to writers, writing, and publishing, but that is a post for another day.

Bonus thing: I'm almost done. This gives me serious anxiety.



Staying involved and informed about your child’s education thanks to the Ontario College of Teachers

One of the reasons we left Toronto for The Cornfield was so that I could work less and be more involved in my children’s daily life, including within their school community. Four years later, both of my children are in school and thriving, and I have made good on my promise to be involved. I have been School Council Chair for three years, and am about to wrap up my two-year term as the Co-Chair of the Parent Involvement Committee for our board. I have had the opportunity to get to know our students and teachers in a lovely, organic, small-town way – in the halls of the school and on the streets around town.But in my dual roles as parent and parent-liaison, I remain keenly aware of the fact that most of us release our children into the hands of the unknown, and so I do my best to not only reassure other parents, but to encourage them to be as involved as possible in their children’s school community. For some, that could mean attending meetings or volunteering their time, but all of us can empower ourselves and our children by gaining knowledge about our children’s teachers, and the standards that guide their daily practice.

The Ontario College of Teachers exists to regulate the profession of teaching in Ontario, and to set the very highest professional and ethical standards for public school teachers. The College also approves teacher training programs at faculties of education and accredits professional development courses. This means our teachers possess a distinct set of knowledge and skills that equip them for the classroom, have opportunities for continued training, and adhere to clear principles of conduct and practice.

Knowing that our public school teachers are qualified professionals, certified by the College, should offer parents peace of mind that the right people are teaching our children. But if broad strokes only go so far to allay anxieties, and your child only gives you single-syllable answers to questions about their classroom, there are ways to learn more:

Sign up for the free College newsletter, The Standard and get up-to-date information on changes in education legislation, reports on trends in education, and more, or for a closer look at a specific teacher, utilize the College’s Find a Teacher database. Search the public register for certification years, education, any disciplinary history, and status within the College.  

Our kids are in school for many hours a day, for many years of their early life.
We can’t all volunteer for lunch duty or be at the doors when they swing open every day at three o’clock. But we can be involved and empowered by understanding the regulations our teachers must adhere to and, indeed, uphold every day as they help our kids grow, develop and succeed.

We do everything we can to prepare our kids for their day – isn’t it good to know that The Ontario College of Teachers does everything they can to prepare the people we hand our children off to?

The views in this post are my own, and I have received fair compensation for them. 


The Middle Distance

We always flew to see my dad. Flights were reasonable; we only had one child. Every six months, emerging from the monorail tunnel of the terminal into bright Florida light, an immediate sense of anticipation. The swampy grounds, always looking for an alligator, never seeing one. The palm trees, so perfect they seemed false, transplanted, eyes and mind still adjusting, leaving Carolinian sensibilities of what a forest is behind, accepting tropical before believing that you are actually there. The airport, a direct link to my father. We made the journey so many times we no longer had to search signs for the exit, the car rental, the turnpike. We’re here, we said to the bags and each other; You’re here, the airport answered.


Grief is like motherhood. After a while, it just becomes a part of who you are. After a while nobody wants to talk about it; its tinny, all-encompassing vibration dulls. The middle distance of both grief and motherhood is un-noteworthy. It is no longer a thing to be explored, looked at in detail, talked about endlessly. It no longer defines every mood, experience, or relationship you find yourself in, yet you haven’t been immersed in it long enough to regard, or be regarded as, one with wisdom to offer beyond the most accessible horizon. Tell me what motherhood is when your babies have grown. Tell me what grief is when you have.


Do you believe that your father is still with you, a friend recently asked. I believe his love for me is imprinted on my very cells, I answered, but he is in Florida, which is why I still go to him.


We drive to Florida now. Like motherhood, like grief, the transition from where you began to where you will be is slower. I need the ground to pass beneath me, the temperature to creep up slowly by degrees. I need to see the landscape change, to mark my journey in hours and miles. I need to feel my breathing deepen, to step out of the car in northern Georgia and lift my head to the sky, eyes closed, ready to shed jackets and worry. I need to pass the halfway mark and feel gratitude for the sun and my life. Before I can get all the way there, I need to bask in the middle distance.



Karen and the Quest for Wild Asparagus

30lbs of not wild asparagus
Living out here in the cornfield for nigh about four years has made me believe I am something of a pioneer, and as a pioneer, I like to do pioneer-y, nature-y things. Mostly these pioneer-y, nature-y things consist of sitting in my comfy sunroom with a cup of coffee, looking out at the yard and the garden my husband has planted. Such a homesteader! But sometimes I flex my homesteading muscles in other ways: I sit on the stump stools my husband has honed out of fallen logs; I take my children horseback riding at nearby stables that are thankfully so nearby that I can go home and get away from the stink while they ride; and I have in fact gone ice skating on a frozen pond. Pioneer! And sometimes, me and my friend Andrea decide that we want to pickle asparagus, but the asparagus must be wild and must be foraged by hand, by us.

So sometimes (one time), I go ditching.

What do you mean you don’t know what ditching is? Pfffft. City dwellers.

Ditching is where you go foraging for wild asparagus in the ditches beside country roads, obvi. Yes, I just heard of it. Yes, I decided I had to do it. Just call me Ma Ingalls. So me and Andrea lit out bright and early Monday morning to go ditching.

Andrea showed up at my house in grubby sweats and sneakers. “Let’s go, sunshine!” Her usual call to action for me. I was ready. Well, as soon as I got dressed, ate a banana, talked to my sister on the phone for a bit and found my keys/sunglasses/wallet/kitchen scissors/gum.

“Wait,” I said as I slipped on my Hunters, “you have boots in the car, right?”
“No, I have these,” said Andrea. She lifted a leg and displayed her sneaks. “Um, no. We’re going ditching. In ditches. It’s rained for three days. Hang on – “ I went downstairs and returned with Chris’s size 10 Wellingtons. “Ok,” I said, “let’s go!”
Andrea put on Chris’s gigantic boots and tried not to fall down my front steps. “Better wear the sneakers to drive," I suggest.

We get to the end of my driveway when I warn Andrea that I will need a coffee. “Ok, no problem,” she says. We turn off my street and head out of town. Tim Hortons is approaching on the left. “Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!” I yell. “What, now?” Andrea asks. “Yes, now!” Hard left and we swerve into the drive-through. Phew. Close one.

I have my coffee in hand and now we are really ready to go. “Ok, where are we going?” asks Andrea. “Highway 3,” I reply. “Ok, where’s highway 3?” I look at Andrea. “Um, haven’t you lived here your whole entire life?”
“Then why don’t you know where highway 3 is?”
“Do you know where highway 3 is?”
“No clue.”
“Ok, let’s just go this way. There are ditches everywhere.”

And off we go, trying to hit paved country roads that are otherwise deserted, lest farm ladies get suspicious watching us wade through ditches with our coffee in one hand and a pair of kitchen scissors in the other.

Questions you should try to answer before you go ditching:
  • What kind of ditches does wild asparagus grow in – natural indentations at the side of the road, or man-made drainage ditches?
  • What does wild asparagus look like?
  • Does wild asparagus propagate among less innocuous ditch-growing species, like stinging nettles or giant hogweed? 
  • Why does every farm lady decide she must retrieve her mail as soon as you pull your minivan over to look in the ditch for wild asparagus?
  • How exactly does one plan on cutting and retrieving wild asparagus while holding a coffee
  • Where is highway 3? 

“What’s this,” I ask, peering into the ditch. “Is this wild asparagus?”
“I don’t know. Could be.”
“Or it could be something I am highly allergic to and/or is deadly poisonous.” I pick it up anyway, sure it’s not something deadly poisonous.
“Could be.”
I put it down.

Then we remember that we have one thing the pioneers never had, and I google wild asparagus. Oh! It looks just like tame asparagus. I stop touching plants that could be highly allergenic and/or deadly poisonous. The good news is, we have definitely not found and dismissed any wild asparagus plants. The bad news is, we have definitely not found any wild asparagus plants. What is wrong with these ditches?

Andrea starts laughing. “What is it,” I ask.
“It’s you,” she says.
I look at me. Hunter boots, gap jeans, windbreaker, designer sunglasses, Tim Hortons coffee and cell phone. Wading through a ditch, looking for asparagus. “I don’t see what’s so funny,” I say, and jump back in her minivan. “Next ditch.”

We drive around for about half an hour more, encouraged by our one discovery of a patch of something that Google tells us is wild asparagus that had been left for so long it had gone to seed. Wild asparagus! We found it!
“Remember where we are,” says Andrea, “for next year.”
“Ok,” I say. “Where the fuck are we?” (Thank you once again, Google. Jesus, the pioneers had a tough life.)
Turns out we are nowhere even close to where I thought we were, but that was ok. “Oh,” says Andrea, “we’re not too far from Parks Blueberries. Maybe they have asparagus.”
“Let’s do it. It’s almost lunch time anyway, and I’m starving.” So we head to Parks, a farm/country store/cafĂ©, and I spend $30 on lunch, some baked goods and a new scarf.

“Well, we got our asparagus,” Andrea says, enjoying another spoonful of the delicious cream of asparagus soup.
“Yes, we are awesome pioneers.”
Andrea nods in agreement.  



Don't Tell Me I'm Beautiful

Average Karen
Dove released a new video campaign commercial. After the initial emotional punch of the video, which shows women choosing between doors marked “Average” or “Beautiful,” began to fade, the justifiably critical responses began. Where is the door marked strong, or smart, asked some viewers. Has Dove jumped the shark, asked some marketing pundits. Others agreed that while the ad has its flaws, it was able to act as some sort of important conversation starter.

What conversation is that, exactly? The conversation where we discuss how (once again) we are manipulated by a very powerful multi-national company made up of beauty and household brands into thinking that our self-worth is tied into our looks?

Because Average or Beautiful, Dove wants us to think about how we look, period. And Dove thinks that if we do not think we are beautiful, by now, after all of their other campaigns assuring us we are beautiful, buyourproductsplease, there must be something very goddamn wrong and sad about us.

Know which door I would have walked through? Not the beautiful one.

Do I think I’m beautiful? Not at all.
Am I bothered by that? Not at all.

Because you, or Dove, or my husband can say, fuck our unrealistic and rigid standards of beauty, birthed by a corporate machine and perpetuated by a society invested in preying on our insecurities, all you want.

I know what I am, and I’m not beautiful, by just about anybody’s standards.

I know what I am. I’m lots and lots of things, both good and bad. I am a woman. I am lots of things, and if beautiful is not one of those things, if I am average, that’s not a sad, terrible fate to have to bravely face.

Last I checked, average was not synonymous with insecure, failure, unloveable, or ugly, nor did beauty, inner or outer, solve any problems other than selling soap.

Inner beauty has nothing to do with how I look, and outer beauty is a trick of genetics and luck. Beauty is not in my lexicon. It doesn’t have to be.

I can own average proudly. As a matter of fact, I think I probably only hit average on a really, really good day. And I don’t give a shit. I am happy with my life, I like who I am, I got the hot guy without ever considering that I was punching above my weight. And on my worst day it has never occurred to me that things would be better if only I thought I was beautiful.

So Dove – I will happily and proudly walk through the door that says Average, and do not tell me or any other woman that there is something wrong with us for doing so.

And hey, Dove – there’s one other door I’d like to show you to; it’s the one that’s marked, EXIT.



How Old Is Your Favourite Children's Book Protagonist?

Have you ever wondered how old the characters are in your favourite childrens' books?

Books have always been a very important part of my children’s lives, and I have always loved the excitement elicited from one of my girls when the age of a character in a story I was reading matched their own. “I’m four, too!” somebody might shriek when first introduced to Harold and his purple crayon, and this bond has only grown as our children and their favourite protagonists have as well.

Watching my children’s connection to books evolve has been very gratifying. But now, beyond the joy of simple mirrored reflection or age recognition in a story’s characters, my girls and I look not only for books with protagonists that might match their age (keeping in mind that many books for early readers feature main characters older than their intended readers), but also fall on the spectrum of their current and future reading level, maturity level, and of course, interest in subject matter.

But how old are the protagonists in the books my kids might be interested in? Is my seven-year-old ready to enjoy classics like James and the Giant Peach? Is my nine-year-old going to relate to any of the characters in the Narnia series? Knowing that I could encourage my kids to try new books by saying, “I think you’ll like it; she’s nine, like you,” I looked around and found the ages of 50 popular characters in children’s literature. The age printed almost always reflects the character at the time of the first book they starred in, even if the book turned into an exhaustive series, so keep that in mind. And some ages may be approximate, as writers can be coy.