Monday, August 15, 2016

Letting them go

This morning my sweetie and I had to euthanize her elderly cat, LC (Little Cat). She was as close to 20 yrs old as you can get, without paperwork. She wasn't doing very well at the end, but even so, it was the first time she had refused her breakfast, and barely drank her water, she could barely walk, and the litter box, when she could get to it, was more miss than hit, so I think it was okay.

Euthanasia is not an easy decision to make. I've done it a few times, and it has never been easy. It's heart-wrenching. I've never slept well the night before, or even a few days before coming to the realization that it is, perhaps, time. 

LC was not the most lovable cat. I came into her life late, just over five years ago. I was warned she had bitten and scratched, that there was a red flag on her vet file, and not to handle her too much. She was beautiful, a Smoke Tabby, dark and striped on top, lighter beneath, with huge, luminous eyes. Small, but feisty, or maybe fierce is a better word. But she had her moments of need, when she would come to you for attention (affection?) and even then, you wanted to be careful, she could change her mind. And the dogs were wary around her, if only due to our cautioning...Except Samantha, as a wee puppy, had ventured too close and when we discovered her eye full of blood, realized LC had sliced neatly through her third eyelid with a claw. The eyelid had to be surgically snipped. Hank never liked LC, but never suffered any injuries. Lucas has only ever wanted (desperately) to herd her. Duncan, (the best dog ever), suffered a smart smack on the nose as a puppy that drew blood. LC pretty much ruled the house.

Still, I cared for her during my few years with her, fed her, picked her up once in awhile for cuddles and pets, took her to her vet appointments. I like cats. Even ornery cats. But I was very wary, right to the end. And when it came her time, she was not going to go without a final snarl and flexing of her claws. But as she was going, I kissed her head and said, Good girl, LC. Good girl. And my sweetie and I both cried, and said Good-bye.

(I have reprinted the below even though it is about resonates.)

(Donald McCaig ~ A Useful Dog)

It is hard to kill a dog. We put it off and we delay and when we finally do it we ask ourselves afterwards if there wasn’t something more we might have done. And of course there was. Whenever you have to kill an animal, there is always something more you might have done to keep him alive. But after years with livestock and dogs, there comes a signal, faint but unmistakable that says: it is time. Ignoring that signal is cowardly: you are less willing to face your loss than the dog is to face his death.
   Moose and I never quite got together. He was a nervous sheepdog and I wasn’t a good enough trainer to soothe him. Oh, he could do routine chores alright and had a good life here on the farm. In the hot summer months he spent hours swimming in the river.
   Last fall Moose started limping and the vet found a lump under his front leg and maybe we could catch the cancer if we amputated. Three days after his amputation he hopped out to the corral to help with chores. Moose got around pretty good & even learned to lift his leg again but no, we hadn’t got it all, and a couple months later his right eye went blind and he started to smell bad. So now he’s in a place where the sheep don’t spook him; he’s much calmer and his new trainer knows better than I did how to handle a dog.
   The evening before I killed him, the three-legged, one-eyed sheepdog went out to help me feed. He kept the ewes off the feeders. All through the night he vomited and in the morning vomited his butter-enclosed aspirin tab.
   Moose died here, where twelve years ago he was born and he’s buried in the graveyard on the hill where I hope to be buried someday. Moose’s mother and father were already on the hill.
   We carried him to his grave on his sheepskin bed and set his letter underneath. My wife, Anne, writes a letter for every one of our dogs and I have never asked her what she writes. She says it’s a passport and I like to think of Moose coming to the last river he will ever cross and offering the boatman his letter. Oh, yes, I was a very good dog.

   But it may be, it just may be—all our dogs waiting on the far side of the river that Anne and I must one day cross—those letters may not be dogs’ passports. They may be ours.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Judging a book by its cover

Let's talk cover art. 

I'm speaking of book cover art, obviously. Many readers take it for granted that authors have a huge say in the cover art of their novels. Surprise, surprise, this is not true, and is, in fact, not the norm at all.  Most authors have no say at all. Even John Scalzi has admitted he has little to no say in the cover art of his books, but he always has kick-ass cover art anyway, so that's a moot point, really. And even I, as a reader, had often thought that the cover art of many of the books I had read did not reflect the story or characters very well at all.

A reviewer once commented on the cover art of my second novel, Falling (2015), stating:  "The cover is fine. But this book deserves a brilliant cover, not one that is just fine." I cannot even begin to tell you how much I agree with this statement. And the cover of Falling was a point of contention for a few weeks, while we went back and forth and back and forth. I am grateful I was allowed input at all, trust me...because this is what was first put forth:

It's not terrible, though a bit ambiguous...but it didn't have anything to do with the story. So I said, Um, nope...can we try again?

This was the next offering:

I nixed that one immediately. The title font, the butt shot (I am completely against butt shots, yet, ironically enough, many lesbian novels fall victim to them, sadly), even the colour of the font, was all wrong. I liked the headlights in the distance, the concept art of the female I asked my sweetie, who is a graphic artist, and a very successful business owner, to see what she could come up with. She tried a couple of things, and I sent them in, and again asked, "Can we try again, please?"

This is what I was offered, a combination of something my sweetie found, and something already in play, which is the cover we finally decided on:

However, my sweetie went one step further, and also constructed this:

This is my favourite. I like the clear, no-nonsense attitude of the young woman, I like the foreboding, storm-approaching sky, the highway stretching out before her (it's only missing the headlights)...THIS is the cover the aforementioned reviewer was thinking of. This cover IS brilliant. Unfortunately, when I sent this in, it was nixed immediately, precisely due to those things we liked about was too dark, it wasn't inviting enough, there was no "romance" to it--but if you've read the book, you know it IS dark, it's NOT very inviting (though it is captivating), and while there is some romance, it's NOT a romance novel. 

I am still incredibly grateful to have been allowed a say at all, don't get me wrong. And the cover art of both of my novels is fine, let me be clear on that. But when readers think that authors have any control over the cover art of their books, they must be made aware that this is rarely the case...and sometimes, when it is the case, the author may be an even worse judge than the artists themselves, who likely have only read the blurb, and have no clue what the book is actually about, and so are completely objective. Objectivity is not a bad thing, in such cases. It is, in fact, essential. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Birds I've come to know and love.

I haven't posted a blog in almost a year. January 30th of last year was the last one. I've been writing them, I just haven't been posting them. My blog is sometimes just a vehicle to vent, things I need to get out, that perhaps I don't wish to burden my sweetie with (I don't have (m)any friends that I can chat with much anymore, vent to, discuss ideas with -- for some reason or another many have failed me. It's very sad). So I use my blog for that. Even though I don't get any feedback, it still serves its purpose, and I need that.

For my first blog of 2015 (hopefully there will be more, hahaha!), I'm posting about a topic that I've had in mind for some time, and that I care a lot about: Birds. That sounds like a pretty broad topic, but I'm going to limit it to birds I've come to know since moving to North Carolina, specifically the ones which visit our feeding stations, and even that is a fairly extensive list. And THERE WILL BE PICTURES! (I have taken some photos, but for this purpose I am going to use images scavenged from Google.)

The bird I want to start off with is the bird that instantly caught my eye during my first visit to Hillsborough, North Carolina. The Northern Cardinal:

I had never seen one in my life, though they are present in parts of Canada, just not the part I come from. Males and females are very striking. They have gorgeous, liquid songs.They are very prolific at the feeders, cracking open sunflower seeds with their beaks. Their very strong beaks: a much younger Lucas managed to get hold of a male once, and I heard a huge amount of squawking, went outside to see what was up, and had to rescue the bird. For my efforts, that bird bit me HARD, amazingly hard, three times. It was incredibly painful and completely unexpected. My sweetie had to shout at me to let it go, and I tried, but it was hanging on! Finally, I managed to toss it out of our yard, and my sweetie laughed and laughed at me, and said if a bird doesn't need to be saved, it's going to let you know. 

Then there is the Tufted Titmouse:

They are much smaller than a Cardinal, and more skittish. They swoop in to the feeder, grab a seed or peanut, and then scram to the nearest branch to crack the seed open. 

The Carolina Wren is one of my favourites:

A feisty little bird with a HUGE voice. The first time I heard one of these, I had no idea what was making that sound. When I saw it was this tiny little feather puff, I was astonished. They hop and flit about, and go absolutely everywhere in search of food, seeming curious and courageous at the same time.

Then there's the Carolina Chickadee:

Similar to the Black-capped Chickadee, but with a slight variation in colouring, difficult to distinguish without looking close. Many people are not even aware of Carolina Chickadees, even here in North Carolina, calling all Chickadees, Black-capped. Here you can see the differences, Black-capped on the left, Carolina on the right:

Another of my favourites, again one I'd never seen until coming here, is the Eastern Bluebird (female top, male bottom):

It's been very startling at times to see such vibrantly coloured birds, even now, when I've been here for three years. I constantly marvel at them, and these birds are very common here, they are everywhere. They only visit the feeders for suet, since they are insect eaters. In the spring they show up more often, since they have young to feed, and will bring them by once they have fledged.

I've also seen a Mountain Bluebird once:

He hung around the feeders one spring for a couple of days early each morning. Then he was gone. I've never forgotten how shockingly blue he was.

Other birds, which come and go throughout the seasons:

Pine Siskin:

White-headed Sparrow:

Purple Finch:

House Finch:

People sometimes get those last two confused, but the Purple Finch is often described as "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice." 

There is also the Goldfinch, another of my favourites:

They are very common in the spring and summer, not so often in the fall and winter. They have the prettiest little song, and they will congregate in groups at feeders. It is quite the sight.

What else? Oh, these guys, White-breasted Nuthatches:

Very conspicuous little birds, who usually scoot down a tree trunk, as opposed to up. They also often feed upside down.

There are Dark-eyed Juncos, more common in the winter:

Eastern Towhee. When I first saw one of these, I actually said out loud, though no one was around, "Whoa! What the hell is that?": 

Blue Jays, Crows, and Mourning Doves come to the feeders:

Also, Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, who come to the suet, bark butter, and peanut feeders. 

The Red-bellied woodpeckers often bring their youngsters once they've fledged to the peanut and suet feeders, and then those youngsters will continue to visit as they mature. It's pretty cool.

I saw an Eastern Whip-poor-will once, in one of the raised planters:

They really do blend in that well. I didn't see the one in the planter until I was practically on top of it, and then it burst out and flew off.

And Baltimore Orioles, males and females (it may be the same pair I see), come by several times a year, no matter the season, always for suet and bark butter:

And finally, one of the coolest birds: the Northern Mockingbird:

Mockingbirds only show up at the feeders during the winter months, and then only for suet and bark butter. I've had one occasionally pop into the platform feeder and grab a few shelled sunflowers seeds, but it's rare. They have gorgeous, varied songs, and are very attractive, athletic, and sometimes aggressive birds. 

And that's pretty much it for unique birds that I've come to know since arriving in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal to some, but to me, birds are amazing, beautiful, and fantastic creatures, and I, for one, love them, and do not take them for granted. Perhaps some day I will post about some of the other birds I've seen around the area and the state. For now, I think this is enough.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The wedding poem

I was married September 7, 2013. 

I, who have always wanted to be married, but never really thought I would be. 

I am married to someone I always knew I should be married to, but not someone I always knew, or thought I ever would know. 

I was, or we were, married by someone who understood how rare, how special, how...perfect this marriage, this meeting, was. Is. Someone who took the time to find a poem that was as touching as it was unexpected. 

A poem that was as much a surprise as the woman I married. And perfect. As she is perfect.

Perfection is never expected, and thus, is always a surprise. 

(Here is the poem Jill Malone chose for us.)

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

~Jane Hirshfield "A Blessing for Wedding"

"With this ring, I thee wed; with this body, I thee worship."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Women and Words

I was chatting with Andi Marguette ( over the holiday season, and she invited me to write a guest blog for Women and Words. I thought it was a great idea, and a great opportunity to promote my work.

It's not always easy to come up with a topic for a blog, which is why I'm not very regular in posting them. It's even more difficult to come up with a topic when you've been invited to be a guest on another site and are given a deadline. It was a great experience though, and I enjoyed it. Click on the link below to head on over to the Women and Words site to read my blog on research. And then check out the rest of the site to see what else goes on. There's never a dull moment with the ladies over there!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Marriage, puppies, and other things

It has been months since I last blogged. Months! I'm a little shocked by how much time has actually passed since I last wrote something here. But now, here I am, to tell about all the wonderful things that have happened in the interim.

My sweetie and I were apart for three months, during the spring and early summer, and that wasn't much fun at all. But I was still adhering to the rules, and the rules were that I couldn't be in the U.S. for more than six months out of a year. It was tough, but we weren't going to mess with things and thus mess up my chances of getting into the country and staying in the country. So we persevered, and sometimes we suffered, but many times we laughed as we talked about our days, and the things that went on. When two people have to be apart, for whatever reason, for a length of time, how you handle that time apart, and how you are during phone conversations (we didn't Skype, but we did FaceTime a couple of times) says a lot about how strong your relationship is. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

So anyway, the end of June rolled around, and finally, FINALLY, we could be together again. In Dallas! I was attending the Golden Crown Literary Society's Conference, for their 9th annual awards conference and ceremony. My debut novel, Everything Pales in Comparison, was a finalist in two categories, Debut Novel, and Intrigue/Romance. My sweetie joined me in Dallas, and we had a very sweet reunion. Many, many women said wonderful things about my novel, and I signed many books. Sadly, my novel did not win any awards that weekend, but many other deserving books did, and it was an enjoyable time.

(Here I am signing books.)

(My novel cover was poster-sized for display.)

(Selfies: my sweetie and I, awards night.)

Flying back to North Carolina (home to me, by this point) via Dallas, we had an interesting little episode going through security. Or rather, I did. As my luggage was going through the x-ray machine, everything paused, while the guards looked fixedly at their screen. Finally, they pulled my suitcase, and me, off to the side, and asked me, while pointing at the object on the screen they were scrutinizing, whether I could explain what it was. For a moment, I went completely blank. And then I laughed, albeit a bit nervously.

"Oh my god, that's a dog toy. A Kong." 

I had been unable to find one previously in NC, so I managed to find one in Winnipeg, and packed it to bring with me.

This is what it looked like when I bought it.

However, on the x-ray machine, neither the packaging nor the rope shows up. Only the weird shape of the Kong itself. I can see why it would raise...concern. Or eyebrows. When they opened my suitcase to actually view the object, it was clearly just a dog toy (they took it out and studied it though, just to be sure). Once it was safely stowed away again, and my sweetie and I were getting our stuff together once more, I gave a laugh and a shake of my head, saying, "Wow, I never even thought of that thing. It looked so strange on their machine, I couldn't think for a moment what it even was. It looked like a damn butt plug!" 

Behind us we heard muffled laughter, and we turned to see more guards behind us, on a raised platform behind a low shield of plexiglass, observing. The laughter had come from a (attractive) female guard, who had obviously overheard me. I really blushed at that point, my sweetie gently grabbed my arm, and we headed off to find our gate, still laughing, and laughing for quite some time afterwards.

Once back in NC, and with the relevant section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) now struck down, my sweetie and I headed to my immigration lawyer to find out what we needed to do to further our (my) application to immigrate to the U.S. Well first, hahaha, we had to get married. And so we did. It took a couple of months, and lots of planning, but we did it. In Spokane, WA. With Jill Malone officiating.

(Here we are getting married. Look how handsome we all are!)

(And here we all are afterwards.)

When I asked Jill to marry us, I did so because she is a writer and a poet, an author whose work I hugely enjoy, admire and respect, and who, as a person, I admire and respect. When she married us, she read a poem, a beautiful poem, which I will share some other time (it's a bit long). And that map in my sweetie's hand? She wrote her vows on that. Beautiful, touching words, written on a map of Spokane. Which she memorized (the words, not the map). I had to read my vows from the paper they were written on. Hers were better than mine. This is one of the reasons why I love her.

Back to NC, where we contacted the lawyer, and also planned our after-wedding party with friends in Hillsborough and the surrounding area. And then, and THEN! along came this little guy:

We first met Lucas when he was 5 weeks old. That's the picture above. He wasn't named Lucas then. He was just one of a litter of eight Border collie pups my sweetie was photographing for a local breeder. He was the runt, and he was small and adorable, and we fell in love with him instantly. But he was already spoken for. And we had no plans to add another puppy for at least another year. A couple of weeks later though, the breeder announced on her Facebook page that he had become available; the couple had had a health emergency (the man suffered a heart attack), and so they couldn't take him. I contacted the breeder immediately, expressing our interest, spoke to my sweetie, who said yes, and out of thirty some odd people who also expressed interest, the breeder chose us to be his new guardians. My sweetie named him Lucas. And the rest is history. 

Our after-wedding party was a huge success, and a lot of fun. The weather, which had threatened rain, was perfect. We had about 50 people show up. We received hugs, and well-wishes, and gifts, and gift cards. We had music, and beer, and great food, and everyone seemed to have a really good time. No one from Winnipeg came; in the only negative part of it all, some people I had known for a very long time did not even congratulate us, or send a card or gift. Sometimes I'm not really sure what to think of people. Other than that, though, I can't say which I enjoyed more, getting married, or the party afterward!

And now it's November. We've just filed our paperwork with Immigration and Homeland Security, and soon we will know whether I will be welcomed into the U.S. I have continued writing, working with the dogs, and occasionally pissing people off with my brand of truth and honesty. My sweetie is working three times as hard, and every once in awhile pisses people off herself. I love her dearly. And this life, with her, in North Carolina, with our puppies, and our friends, I love it. 

All of it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My little brother no more

I called my baby brother tonight.

Considering I just turned 50, and he's now 44, he's not really my baby brother anymore. But, of course, he is. Even though his life experiences, I am sure, far surpass my own. After all, he has married, raised children, bought a house or two, become a business owner. 

I have done none of these things. 

I haven't spoken to him in over two years. Not since our dad died. And not because he did anything wrong. He didn't do anything wrong. But I think, because I treasured him for so long, I expected...something. I don't think he knew, though, that I did treasure him. But I did. I adored my baby brother. I can only remember ever adoring him, from the time he was a tiny baby. And after, as an adult, for a very long time, he was one of the only reasons I stayed close with that family. My dad, of course, being the other reason, and the main reason.

When I was nine, and my little brother was three, we ended up in the Children's Hospital together, he to get his tonsils out, me to get my tonsils and adenoids out. I recall, vividly, our dad staying with us for some time once we had checked in. He played games with us, read us books, sat while we ate our dinner...and then he had to leave. I don't recall him stressing this, but I do remember that I felt very responsible for my baby brother. 

The next morning we went for surgery. All I remember of that day is 1) someone asking me to count to ten, and 2) waking up in our room very groggy, with our dad at my side, and vomiting blood in one of those weird, small, oddly shaped basins. And that was in the late afternoon. I was pretty much unaware of much else for some few hours. But when night came along, and it was lights out on the ward, and my dad had obviously left at some point, my baby brother, who was in a crib next to my bed, started crying. Now keep in mind, I was nine years old, and I was a skinny little girl. But my little brother was crying, this little boy that I adored and (I suppose on some level) had promised to take care of, and so I went to his crib, pulled him out, and took him to bed with me, where he soon fell asleep. Some time later, a nurse came and took him from me. I don't know how she knew, unless she'd come by on rounds. But she took him from me, put him back in his crib, and told me very harshly that he had to sleep in his own bed. I remember that specifically. And what I also remember specifically of that moment is that he SCREAMED.

Now keep in mind he'd just had his tonsils out. I don't think screaming was a good thing at that point. But the nurse just turned and walked out. And I remember feeling very angry. I was nine years old, and my baby brother was doing his best to scream his lungs out in the crib next to my bed, and I just couldn't handle it. I got out of my bed, went to his crib, and he immediately wrapped his arms around my neck as I pulled him out once again. I took him to my bed, and we curled up for awhile. And then he said he had to go to the bathroom. And so I climbed out of the bed, and I took him in my arms, and I carried him out of our room, past the nurse's station, to the bathroom. 

I remember two things from that specific time: When I carried my baby brother to and from the bathroom, the nurses on duty commented, "Oh, that's so cute" or something to that effect. In other words, they saw me, and didn't stop me. The other thing I remember is that there was some sort of stand set up, and it provided Freshie (which was a kind of Kool-Aid, back then), and I asked my little brother if he wanted some, and he said Yes, so I poured two paper cups, and took them to our room. I remember this vividly. And the nurses never stopped us. I took him to bed with me, and that's how we stayed until the morning. 

And that is all I recall of that time.

I have never been close to any other members of that family, other than my dad. I had always sought out my youngest brother, specifically because I had always felt so close to him. Well, as it turns out, that closeness is not something that stands the test of time. He grew up, and so did I. But he grew up in ways I never did, at least in terms of responsibility. He married, raised a family. Something I never did. And so a distance was introduced. And that kind of distance is not something you can ever close, and maybe that is how it should be. 

Childhood is priceless and irretrievable. You cannot hang on to something that is bound to change in ways you can never conceive of. For many years I wished to have again the relationship I had always had with my little brother. But it's entirely possible that I misunderstood that relationship, and it had changed long before I became aware of that change. It would not have been the first time that I had been misled into believing that some relationships are unchangeable. That I had misled myself. And I have been very guilty of that in the past.

So, after two years, I contacted my baby brother again. Out of the blue. And I told him, because I hadn't, "I had to walk away." And he said, "Well, that was your choice. I didn't understand it, but that was your choice."

And he's right. It was my choice. And I would not do it differently. But, after a few more minutes of conversation, he also said, "You know where I am. You can call me, if you want to. I would like you to." And I said I probably would. And I probably will. 

I cried after I talked to him. I have missed him, and I feel bad for the decision I made, even though it was the right decision. I feel I should have told him why, even though at the time it was instinctive, and I didn't know why. That I had to come to terms with a lot of things. And one of those things was, even though he is my baby brother, he is not my baby brother. Not anymore. And that is an important distinction. 

To me, anyway.