Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Ch-ch-ch-changes: Year in Review 2013 (Part Two)

The mountains? What's so big about the mountains? They're just big piles of dirt, right? You know, you really can't appreciate the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, or any mountains for that matter, until you're staring them in the face. Not in photos. Not on the TV. For realzies. Even Sam, who wasn't even sure he wanted to do a road trip to one of Canada's most stunning parks, as it would drag him away from his computer for longer than it takes to go to the bathroom, was impressed. So was I. So was Dave. And just LOOK at the colour of that water! It's not Photoshopped – that's the real colour! And boysohboys, it's cold. Colder than that beer you've got chilling in the fridge.
We took a boatload of photos during our weekend trip to Jasper, but some of our best pictures were taken on the way home. Dave snapped this one at the side of the road, southeast of Jasper on the way to Rocky Mountain House. I'm going to have this one blown up, framed and hung in our living room. 

Growing up in northern Ontario, we Websters have seen plenty of black bears but we'd never seen a mighty grizzly until our trip to Jasper. This one was munching berries at the side of a curvy mountain road. And yes, I took the picture with a long lens from the safety of the Jeep. 

Sam officially became a teenager on September 5 but we celebrated his birthday early because he headed back to Ontario August 20. *sigh* Because it was a special occasion I ordered him an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. Everybody raves about those things but I think I like real cake best. You?

Sam's first ride on an airplane! Don't worry, he didn't go alone. I flew back "home" with him and spent a few days visiting folks. I also attended a "renewal of vows" ceremony for a couple of dear friends. I wish I could share their photo, but they're shy. It was, however, a wonderful occasion. As for Sam, he handled the flight like an old pro. Hardly nervous a bit!

Cold Lake is aptly named. The ice doesn't go out until the end of May and the water stays too cold for swimming until it's almost time for freeze-up. I stuck my toe in it earlier in the summer and the darn thing froze and fell off. I did finally go for a swim on Labour Day weekend (after I dumped a Diet Coke all over my dumb self and had to rinse off before I attracted bees). Our neighbours, Michelle and Gerald, took us out to a "secret" beach which was quiet and sandy and gorgeous. One of the best things about moving here was meeting our neighbours. They're good people and, bonus, they play euchre!

Two weeks after we went swimming we were bundled up in winter coats! Despite the cooler temperatures the weather was sunny and fantastic for the last bit of camping we did, at a campground right here in Cold Lake. We joined Michelle, Gerald and our other new friends Rob and Krista (and Krista's mom) for a memorable weekend soaking up the very last bit of summer.

I love this photo of Dave snuggling with Misty in our trailer. Just had to share it with you.

It was like giving birth after three years of labour. 

I spent many happy hours in this chair on my front porch, reading mostly, sometimes blogging, sometimes just catching a snooze. I finally had to give it up when it started snowing, but come spring you can find me there, ass in seat, smile on my happily unemployed face. I gotta say, if you can find yourself a sugar daddy, I highly recommend you hang onto him tight.

I am mostly thankful for making new friends in a brand new place. It honestly feels like we've been here for years. Our house was packed with people on Thanksgiving, including Dave's nephew and his family from Edmonton, Matt and Shauna and their kids (where Dave rented when he first arrived) and Michelle and Gerald next door. In the photo above is Michelle, Gerald and Matt hanging out at our dining room table. Of course we missed our friends and family back home, but having new friends makes it hurt less.

Believe it or not I got my shite together in the fall of 2013, finally publishing Weezie as well as a collection of my Friday Flash stories. Above is the high-tech drawing I photographed and sent to graphic artist Steven Novak, who did both covers for me. I always thought, as a graphic artist myself, that I would do my own covers. But I am presently without InDesign or Photoshop on my computer and, believe me, it's a lot cheaper to hire someone to do the work than it is to buy the programs. Anyway, Steven does great work. Somehow he manages to translate my scribblings into the covers you see above and below.

You can tell your life is kinda boring when the big news of the month is Dave building a fenced dog run for Misty to poop in.

Now that I'm an unemployed bum we don't need two vehicles so we sold the trusty Dodge that I drove all the way across the country in. Me and it bonded, I think, and I wasn't entirely pleased to see it go. Thankfully the fresh green in our bank account helped ease the pain. 
I worked hard and fast getting Friday Girls together, hoping a free release would draw attention and readers to Green Eggs & Weezie. In all honesty, it didn't do as well as I hoped. Maybe, just maybe, some wind will find its sails in the new year. 

And never freakin' goes away. It started snowing November 2 and it hasn't stopped or melted. There were a lot of -26 C days in November. A lot. A lot a lot a lot. That's a lot, in case you were wondering. A lot.

Cold Lake is Canada's largest air force base so there are a lot of people running around in uniform, including our neighbour, Gerald. (That's him grinning at the camera.) On Remembrance Day we travelled to Lac La Biche to watch Gerald march in the memorial service. It. Was. Awesome. I am so proud of our neighbour, and of all the women and men in uniform who protect our beautiful country. If you've never been to a Remembrance Day service, please take the time to go. Your heart will swell like the Grinch's, I swear.
If your better half asks you that, do not, I repeat, do not answer "yes" without first seeing what he or she wants. Dave said, "yes," and the next thing he knew he was painting our family room. 

I woke everybody up at the crack of six, just like when I was 10, and we all went downstairs to our freshly painted family room for presents! My mom came out to visit December 15 and she's spending a few weeks with us. It's great to have her here, it really is, and Ben-Ben has glommed onto her like fuzz on a humbug. I got an ice machine for Christmas. AN ICE MACHINE. As the person who has made ice for her entire life, I must say this is one of the best presents I've ever gotten. Better than diamonds. Better than world peace, even. If I was Miss America I would give everyone an ice maker. And a visit from my mother, because both are good.
I'm finally getting my money's worth out of Netflix. My poor mother, she's been subjected to two-three hours, every night, night after night, of Lost. I never watched the TV show when it was actually on TV but I remember people raving about it. One day, for some reason, we started watching it on Netflix and now we're in some kind of Lost Hell. Last Sunday we watched Lost for 10 hours. My eyes and my ass are cramping. I don't think my mother can get out of her chair. And Dave is starting to look a lot like a cross between Sawyer and the Doc. I think we've only got 52 more episodes to watch... ermagherd. Whatever you do, don't tell me what happens. DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Year in Review 2013 (Part One)

This is a long post, people. I understand if you've got other, more important stuff to do beside read my drivel. So much has happened in the past year that I wanted to take the time to explore all the changes in my newly minted life, like a diary entry one would make at this time of year. Cause this blog has always been, and will always be, my diary and you guys will always be the sneaky farts who steal my key and see what I've been up to ...

(heh heh)

Did I mention we're the outdoorsy types? At the end of 2012 we made a resolution to camp every month in 2013. We started out on course, spending a snowy night in our backyard, but our resolution soon crashed when our lives changed in a huge way.

Everybody's a daredevil in Niagara Falls but Dave and I became real life daredevils early in the year. After several happy and profitable years working at a family-run car dealership in our area, the dealership was sold, leading Dave to question whether or not he wanted to stay with the new owner. He decided he didn't, so he began looking for work at other dealerships in the general area. Nobody was hiring, even someone with Dave's experience and training. He looked further afield, even into towns up to two hours away, but Ontario's struggling economy meant no jobs. I also had a nagging feeling that my job wouldn't be lasting forever at the newspaper I worked for in Bracebridge. Our brother-in-law, also a Chrysler mechanic, knew a guy who went to Alberta and made a mitt full of money. Apparently they were desperate for guys like Dave in "Oilburdah." Out of curiosity we Googled Chrysler jobs in Alberta and immediately found a listing in some place in northern Alberta called Cold Lake. Dave called. The boss wanted to meet him and suddenly we agreed to flying out west for an interview. The week before we had spent in Niagara Falls. I hadn't been there since a field trip in Grade 8 so we hopped in the car, put our worries in our old kit bag, and smiled through all the tacky tourist stops Niagara has to offer. One of the other daring things I did in 2012/2013 was cutting off all my hair. I had decided I was sick and tired of colouring it so, with inspiration from Lisa (who blogs at Diary of a Square Toothed Girl), I cut off my long brown locks and began life grey. Boy it was short. Almost a year later and it's touching my shoulders again. Thank gawd. It looked hideous in this photo.

It was the first time Dave had ever been on a commercial airline. I hadn't been on one for decades. Neither of us had ever been west of the Manitoba border. So it was a pretty big deal when our local yokal selves boarded a West Jet flight for Edmonton, Alberta. When we arrived in Edmonton there was a rental car waiting for us, paid for by Cold Lake Chrysler. We stopped at Denny's for the lumberjack breakfast, which steeled us for the three and a half hour drive north. The first part of Dave's interview was at Bonnyville Chrysler. When that went well, we drove another 40 minutes north to Cold Lake, to meet the general manager and to see where Dave would be working – IF he took the job. At first we thought he'd take it. But when we went to talk to the local mortgage manager at the Royal Bank, we were told that we wouldn't qualify for a mortgage – this despite the fact that Dave had an excellent credit rating and had been an RBC customer all his life. Her negativity was the main reason Dave decided not to take the Cold Lake job. The guys at the dealership were disappointed but nice – they told Dave if he ever changed his mind to let them know. About a week later, Dave had a word with the RBC mortgage manager, Darlene, in Huntsville. He told her how awful the Cold Lake experience was and Darlene was appalled. She apologized profusely on the other woman's behalf and, after crunching a few numbers, said it wouldn't be any problem at all to get us a mortgage in Cold Lake. We thought about it some more, then decided WHAT THE HECK! Dave called the dealership in Cold Lake and took the job. We thought THAT whole process had its ups and downs ... the real rollercoaster was yet to begin!

We had always promised to take the kids to Niagara Falls. After we decided to move, we realized we wouldn't have a lot more chances. So, two weeks after we had been on our own, we got back in the car with Sam, Angus and Jess (Gus's girlfriend) to do some more sightseeing. We had a great time and I'm so thankful we went. Times moves quickly – kids don't stay kids long. You have to make the most out of every moment together. I love those kids ... to infinity and beyond.

I can't describe how sad it was, watching Dave pull out of our driveway early in the morning, a U-Haul full of his mechanic's tools, a suitcase full of clothes and the GPS. We had decided I would stay in Bracebridge and sell the house while he started work in Cold Lake. We didn't know how long we'd be apart and both of us were bawling as Dave started on a marathon drive halfway across the country. We're not kids, you know. We're middle-aged old farts who should be settling in for the final haul of our lives, not picking up stakes and moving a zillion miles away. Daredevils, that's us. Crazy daredevils in a U-Haul.

I asked Dave to take pictures of his trip so I could see what he was seeing. He was so cute about it, taking "selfies" at various points along the way, using the Jeep as a tripod for the camera. He made the trip in four days, driving 10 hours and more every day. It's a long drive across Canada. You need lots of motivation and even more coffee. On much of his trip across northern Ontario he was without cell service, driving on icy snow-covered roads. I worried about him, needlessly as it turned out. I think he probably had the trip of a lifetime.

Selling a home is tough even when everything goes according to plan but nothing, it seemed, was going right for us. Our little log cabin across from the Muskoka River was as dry as a bone. It had never flooded, ever, as far as we knew. But after someone put an offer on our house, the river flooded its banks. It wasn't just our place – it was everywhere in the Muskoka and Haliburton area, everywhere that was anywhere near water. That wasn't the worst of it, though. During a home inspection, asbestos was found in our attic. The people who were buying our house contacted a lawyer and said they didn't want it anymore – which left us high and dry because we had already purchased a house in Cold Lake. Suddenly we faced the reality of TWO MORTGAGES and were panic-stricken. Luckily there was another family interested in buying our place, even with its flooded front yard and assorted warts. I just about had a heart attack with all the stress. The only good thing was Dave flew home to help sandbag the yard and save our house trailer and other belongings. The house, thank goodness, stayed high and dry. On a positive note, we enjoyed watching Canada geese float around in our yard and we had no grass to cut.

It was really, really hard being away from Dave for so long. Not only did I miss HIM, I also missed all the things he did. Suddenly I had to figure out how to use the snowblower and later, the lawnmower. I took out garbage and scraped dog turds off the lawn. I packed almost the entire house all by myself. Everything I did, I did by myself. Life wasn't fun without him, that was for sure. We spent a couple hours every night on the telephone, like teenagers, with about a million tears and I-love-yous and I-miss-yous blubbered into our phones. Meanwhile, Dave seemed to be settling into his new job and the community. He was already making friends and had moved in with a work colleague, Matt and his lovely wife Shauna and their two kids. We were beginning to feel that we had made the right decision. Dave took this photo of a rainbow over Cold Lake and it really did seem to be our pot of gold. Right at about the same time he took this picture, I got a buy-out package from work and suddenly was unemployed. It was a good thing, as it turned out. I mean, I was going to leave anyway and the lump sum payment helped pay the moving costs. But still, it was a sad moment. I had worked in newspapers all my life and knew they were on the way out but my actual lay-off came as a shock. I haven't worked since. What saddens me the most is the rather abrupt way I "retired" from the newspaper business. No party. No farewell. Just take the money, pack up your stuff and go. There should have been cake, you know? *sulks*

I hate moving. I swear I'm never moving again. (Of course I have said that before.) When we were making final moving preparations (i.e. heavy lifting), Ontario was sweltering under a heatwave and packing became a sweating, gruelling nightmare. Thank goodness for friends and family who helped us. The hardest part was winnowing our "stuff" down to fit into one U-Haul, one truck and one house trailer. We got rid of so much! Still, we felt like the Beverley Hillbillies as we finally hit the open road. We had planned a slow journey across the country, camping as we went. Our first stop was Chutes Provincial Park outside of Sudbury. After that we stayed at Pancake Bay (beautiful swimming, beautiful view of Lake Superior), Neys (nice park but it stormed and we stayed in our trailer) and Sleeping Giant (fabulous wildlife but mosquitoes the size of helicopters). We had wanted to stay at Blue Lake Provincial Park but we stayed in a hotel that night instead, after the park staff were ignorant to us. Everyone else at every park was wonderful about all our gear, helping us get situated and finding parking for our ginormous U-Haul. But the folks at Blue Lake were anything BUT helpful so we left. The hotel room in Kenora was way more comfortable anyway! After that we stayed in hotels in Winnipeg (Manitoba), Yorkton (Saskatchewan) and Lloydminister (Alberta). We arrived in Cold Lake eight days after we left Muskoka, but because our house closing wasn't until July 8, we camped at Cold Lake Provincial Park for a week.

I wouldn't recommend travelling across the country with two cats but it wasn't as hard as I thought it might be. Ben-Ben (above) turned out to be an excellent traveller, sitting in the front seat checking out the scenery. Our other cat, Dodge, acted like he was being killed. Every day, being killed. It was pathetic. Sam came along for the trip and spent the summer with us. It was wonderful, having him here in Cold Lake. I can't even tell you how much I miss not seeing Angus and Sam all the time. I can't think about it without crying, so I'm definitely not going to go on about it here. *gets kleenex*

JULY 8: MOVING DAYThe months leading up to this point were so busy and emotional and just plain crazy that I almost thought moving day would never happen. But it did. We moved in and we've been here ever since. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Wish For You

Sam and Ben-Ben on Christmas morning a few years ago.

I've been on the blogger naughty list these past weeks but I didn't want the holiday season to go by without touching base with you, my dear friend.

I know this year has been a challenging one for you, but through all of it, you have remained solid and strong. Oh sure, you've collapsed on your bed many a time, sobbing your heart out – I mean, haven't we all? But there you stand, regardless, facing yet another Christmas and another whole year, with optimism, excitement, grace and enough cookies to feed a small nation.

My sincere hope is that you find peace in your generous heart, and happiness, and at least a bit of the love you have shown me. Oh, and a big honking present under the Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas, my friend. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A post with Pat!

Patricia Flewwelling, sans hat.

Honestly, I feel like I just got interviewed by Oprah. Except author Patricia Flewwelling is neither African-American, nor is she American, nor does she have her own TV show  ... come to think of it, Patricia is nothing at all like Oprah, other than she asks some insightful questions and sparks honest long-winded answers during her interviews.

I know Patricia from the Muskoka Novel Marathon, the annual July write-fest in Huntsville, Ontario, that thrusts writers in a room for three days and tells them to write novels. It's also a fundraiser for adult literacy programs. People come from all over Canada and elsewhere for this event. Patricia comes from Montreal, and it's a wonderful thing that she does.

Patricia is one of the fastest writers at the marathon, she has the best hat collection, and she's one of the most popular and generous. Not only does she regularly raise a ton of money for the event, but last year she also mentored a graduate from the local literacy program and helped her participate in the novel marathon for the first time. Isn't that fabulous?

Patricia is always generous with people around her, including me. She spent hours on the phone with me one night helping me through a rough writerly spot and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Lately she has been using her blog, Nine Day Wonder, to actively promote struggling authors like myself. If you would like to be interviewed, you should get in touch with her. Knowing Pat, she'll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In the meantime, drop by and say hello! I'd love to show Pat a little bloggerly love and support!

P.S. Sorry, I haven't been around all that much lately. As you know I was pretty sick in November but I did get my Remicade treatment a few days ago and am starting to feel better. Thank you all for your good wishes and kind words. You all mean the world to me, you really do. oxoxo

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Guess what? People get old!

Antonio Sabato Jr., Dawn Wells, Anthony Anderson and Teri Hatcher.

I just saw actress Teri Hatcher on a cooking show called Chopped and she looked awesome. Natural, you know, not all carved like a Christmas turkey, or so many other Hollywood stars.

Me and Dave started talking about good she looks, because we're such style icons, and we wondered how old she was. So I googled her and what did I see? Her name amongst a list of other Stars Who Haven't Aged Well.

We were, like, What The Fudge? LEAVE THE TERI ALONE! She's elegant, gorgeous! Not a plastic Barbie doll – just a beautiful, intelligent looking 49-year-old.

Geez,  I am so sick and tired of this world's obsession with eternal youth.

Note to world: if they're lucky, people get old. Old is good. Old is beautiful. 

Plastic surgery is not. Just look at Robert Redford or Meg Ryan or anyone else that has butchered their face trying to be something they're not.