And how does that make you feel?

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With December rapidly approaching, I am anticipating many social media posts about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. What seemingly started as an innocent way to get children to behave during the month of December has morphed into an epic competition to see which parent can get more creative with the benign holiday character.

Many blog posts and articles have been written with very strong emotion regarding this cherubic creature. Parents either love him or their contempt is so strong they hold ill feelings towards those parents who embrace his presence.  Some argue that he is the Elf on the Shelf, with a strong emphasis on the word shelf. He may stealthily maneuver his way around the house in the darkness to take refuge on another shelf, but that is his only purpose. Others, holding tightly to their innovative genes, have created a list of 101 ways the Elf can get into mischief during the night.  Spoiler alert – most of those creative ideas require extensive clean-up the following morning although I’m sure the children would be thrilled to see what mess the Elf made while they slept.

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Had my life been different and I had kids of my own, my children undoubtedly would have been in therapy either during or shortly after the Christmas holidays.  I blame my choice of reading material but my sense of entertainment tends to lean towards the macabre.  Picture Dean Koontz or Stephen King finding indecent ways of displaying the Elf and you have entered the world that my Elf would have had to endure.  There would have been crime scenes, possible Elf DNA and an abundant amount of Police tape. This is the stuff that my dreams are made of, the stuff that helps me write my books. But this is also the stuff that would have a child sitting in the waiting room of an analyst’s office at least once a week.

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For those of you able to remember to innocently and creatively display your Elf each evening after your children have fallen asleep, I applaud you. You are creating memories that your child will inevitably pass on to their children.

As for me….perhaps I will get out the Elf my brother gave me and track his bizarre habits in a journal.  CSI – Elf on the Shelf.  Hmmmm…..I may be on to something……stay tuned.

Just go where the road takes you

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Spontaneity does not run deep in my veins. I am a planner and I always have been. My brain is wired to know what to expect and is also programmed to be able to come up with a Plan B on very short notice. Up to now, it has served me well.

There are very few times in my life when I feel comfortable not having a plan in place. The days when I get into the car and just drive, with no destination in mind, are some of those times. There is freedom I feel being in a car that has no purposeful end in sight. If a dead-end sign is nowhere to be seen, any road is fair game. This blind journey is one of my greatest pleasures.

The arteries of paved streets could take me anywhere and I always take comfort in the fact that my car’s navigation system will be able to put me back on the road to home. But the most enjoyable part of this pilgrimage is seeing the sites I would never have planned to see if I let my brain plot the course. Landscapes paint themselves on a canvas as I drive and I am awed by places I never knew existed. The world becomes a vast collection of vignettes after I take the time to slow down and recognize the beauty that is in my peripheral vision.

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I need to allow the aspect of that freedom to take over more of my life. While structure is a welcome friend, improvisation could be that lonely kid on the playground who I tentatively get to know, but becomes the best friend I ever had.

If you can’t handle Amber, you’re not ready for RED!

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This post may be more of a rant than anything else and, for that, I apologize. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, my phone blasted with the warning sound of an Amber alert shortly after 3:00 a.m. I struggled to find my reading glasses to see where the story was coming from and read the details of the alert. The alleged abduction was not anywhere close to me so I settled in to drift back into sleep. The alert went off one more time and I wished for nothing more than the safe recovery for the two children who were reported missing.

Fast forward to the next morning on social media. Once again, a shameless number of people were complaining about having their sleep interrupted by the crass sound of the amber alert through their phones while they were snuggled comfortably in their beds. Countless other idiots actually called 9-11 to complain about their precious sleep being hindered by the obtrusive tone of the alert that two young children were missing.

I continue to struggle with the audacity of people when responding to Amber alerts. This siren, this loud cry in the middle of the night, is hoping to find one person in a sea of tens-of-thousands of people who may be able to bring these children back to a safe haven, one person who may have a clue as to what happened, one person who may be the key to finding the children who have been taken against their will. Why is this a difficult concept and why are people so obtuse?

I really don’t care if your sleep is interrupted. I abhor the fact that selfish and self-absorbed people feel it necessary to complain about Amber alerts on social media and I have already unfriended those who have done this. I cannot even fathom calling 9-11 to complain about my life being interrupted by an Amber alert and can only hope, one day, this type of asinine behavior is mitigated by a hefty fine for those who feel their sleep is more important than the life of a missing loved-one.

Holding my breath

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Without even realizing it,

I had been holding my breath for you,

wishing nothing but good things

and feeling like my heart would break if yours was burdened.

looking up

Bearing a weight that was not mine to bear,

I kept my chin up,

looking to the stars for a wish,

relying on the divine breaths of the many who watch over us

to watch over you as you slept.

 It was no surprise when my tears fell,

allowing a small fraction of the weight you must have felt

to lift from my shoulders.

 A burden not my own,

but a burden worth bearing, just the same.

 Your struggle is not mine,

but I keep the pace and walk with you,

there to listen when you need an ear,

and there to be an embrace

in the moments you need a hug.

I will continue to hold my breath

until you feel it is okay for you to exhale.

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On the other side of struggle is always something better

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It took me four long hours to write this post, but this is what I want to say. Life is not easy. Just when everything feels like it is finally going in the right direction, life is that hologram in your window, shaking its head, saying, “I don’t think so”. Life is ironic and unpredictable, but on the other side of every struggle there is always something better. And that something better is the thing we need to hold on to with every bit of strength we have.

I am no stranger to struggle. I have had my fair share of the boots of life kicking me in the face. But, for as many times as I thought the struggle had gotten the better of my resolve, things would always begin to look up. That something better always hung precariously in the distance but gradually inched its way closer to me every day. I let myself believe in the promise of it and I began to know in my heart it was there. And it always was.

Dealing with struggle is not always about pushing through, it’s about letting people in. It’s not about putting on a brave face, it’s about being strong enough to cry in front of people when you need to cry. And dealing with struggle is about knowing, and really believing in your heart, there is something better on the other side of that battle.

Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone or anything other than you win that battle. The world tries to break everyone but the ones who beat the struggle are the ones who take all of their pieces and rebuild a new world and a new happiness. Struggle is strong. You are stronger.

 

Adventures in Day Camp

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When my family moved out of the city, I was seven years old. We had previously spent every summer at our family cottage on Lake Rosseau and this cottage became our permanent residence until we purchased a four-season home in the same town. We still spent every summer at the cottage, a five-minute drive from our house, and life was great.

A few years after we had moved, leaving many of our family members behind, my parents thought it would be nice if I spent some of my summer holiday with my grandparents…..in the city! We lived in one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in Canada and they wanted me to spend part of the best time of the year in Muskoka in the concrete jungle! I was too young at the time to question the reason behind their decision and, with packed suitcase in hand, I climbed into the back seat of the station wagon to head back to my hometown.

The small silver lining of me spending some of my summer holiday in the city was the fact that I had been signed up to go to a day camp. When I was given the run-down of all the awesome activities I would be doing, I had pushed aside the memories of spending most of my summer days in the lake and was actually excited to go to camp.

On the first day of camp, my Nana made sure I had a good breakfast, helped me to organize my backpack and walked me to the bus stop for 8:00 am. Together we stood and waited and, as the bus came around the corner, I could feel my excitement building. We said goodbye and, from the bus, I waved to her as excitedly as Forrest Gump waved hello to Lieutenant Dan from his shrimp boat.

The day camp was a fifteen-minute drive from my grandparent’s apartment. Even at my young age and not wearing a watch, I knew the bus ride had exceeded fifteen minutes. The outlines of the city buildings had faded into the background and the landscape outside my bus window began to look much more like my scenic cottage-country home. When the bus finally arrived at its final destination about an hour later, we were in the middle of nowhere.

Unsure of what was happening, I was the last kid to exit the bus. The Camp Director was standing at the bottom of the steps with her clipboard in hand and when I gave her my name, she looked at the sheet in front of her and looked back at me. She lifted the page, looked at another sheet and looked back at me. My name was nowhere to be found in the list of children expected to be at this day camp. Unlike all the other kids who seemed enthusiastic about their surroundings, inwardly, I was starting to panic.

I was taken to the Camp Office and I fidgeted in my seat while the staff tried to find my grandparents contact information. Had the internet been invented in the 1970’s, this process would have been far more expedited than it was. I don’t recall all the details of the investigation, but I do know they eventually found my camp information in my backpack and discovered I had boarded the 8:00 am bus when I should have actually boarded the 9:00 am bus in the same location. I spent the day with a group of kids I would never see again and was actually thrilled to get back to the city.

The next day, I boarded the 9:00 am bus for my day camp and loved every minute of it. The added bonus at the camp I was meant to attend in the first place was the fact that we learned to sing all the songs from the musical Annie. Looking back at it now, I think the payback for my Nana putting me on the wrong bus was the fact that I sang Annie songs at the top of my lungs for the two-and-a-half hour drive from Oakville to Muskoka to return me to my parents. I’m sure there were many moments when my Grampa thought of throwing himself out of the moving vehicle onto the highway just for a moment of peace.

To this day, I can’t hear those songs without picturing myself with my arm hanging over the front seat and singing like I was Little Orphan Annie on Broadway.

 

The aptly named distraction called Netflix

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I can weakly defend the recent abandonment of my writing by calling Netflix ‘research’ but I don’t think that defense would hold up in a court of law. While I am gathering some very useful character traits and background ideas for my second book, I have yet to take those ideas and weave them into my characters.

My current book involves a serial killer but he is not fully a product of my imagination. He is loosely based on a child I met two years ago. This child did atrocious things to smaller living creatures and he stared at me with a look that turned my blood cold. He was only eight years old at the time. Perhaps my inability to focus on molding this character comes from my hope I am wrong about this little boy but everything about his mannerisms has been documented by behavior analysts and related to the psyche of a fledgling serial killer. I have had many discussions with professionals in related fields about this child’s actions and they have all expressed great concern about his tendencies toward violence and the path he is potentially going to follow.

This brings me back to my reason for this post. Netflix lives up to their name by casting a wide net of flicks and offering a profusion of shows and documentaries about many topics. If the authorities were to look at a list of the shows I have viewed recently, my name could potentially show up on their watch list. I spent the last couple of nights watching a series of shows about Ted Bundy and I am going to delve into a few more documentaries about real serial killers so my writing has an honesty to it and doesn’t come across as manufactured. I want this character to have deep emotion, to be real and to be frightening, and I want the reader to have an apprehension because they believe this character could be someone they have met before.

If you are looking for me, I will be caught in the net again, hoping these tortured human beings can help me understand how their minds work so the fiction of Lark will be as frightening as the reality of the heinous crimes they committed.