Category Archives: Banshee Life

Writing on the Run

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I sincerely hope that I never have to go on the lam because if I do, it will surely spell the end of my writing career.  I’ve only been gone two weeks and despite all good intentions, I managed to post ONE blog entry.

[Insert picture of Banshee hanging her head in shame HERE]

Perhaps it is the nature of our vacations.  Perhaps I am not organized enough.  Perhaps I am too:

  • old
  • cranky
  • tired
  • all of the above

What the hell happened?

We brought a computer – mostly for my benefit.  Hubby doesn’t need his laptop to stay connected – he can do everything on his iPhone and he was determined to check emails as little as possible.  I vaguely remember flipping open the laptop early in our stay in Atlanta and then…darkness.

In my defense, we were SO busy in Atlanta.  Tired after the long drive from Toronto (via Cincinnati), we found we had no respite from driving while in our former Southern home.  We literally spent the entire four days there behind the wheel.  With one exception, all of our friends live waaaaaaaaay outside the city.

And, if I’m honest, I partied in Atlanta.  I hadn’t seen some of these people in nearly ten years.  I woke late and went to bed later.

Burnt out, exhausted, and with a cumulative hangover, I set out for Virginia Beach thinking a few days on the shore would restore me, get me back on track.  I thought my biggest worry would be spilling sand or margarita on the laptop.  It was not to be.

The rain poured down – inside and outside our hotel.  Our feet stuck to the room carpet.  I begged the children NOT to expose any bare skin to the bed covers.  We fled the next day.  In our haste to leave, we apparently left behind the power cord for the computer.  Ooops.

Rattled, we fled to a luxurious beachside hotel in Kitty Hawk, NC.  I felt behind in my scheduled relaxation.  It was still drizzling but I was ON THE BEACH.  Determined to get as much time with my old friend, the Atlantic Ocean, I put all thoughts of blogging far from my mind.

Washington DC afforded me no extra time either – being bitchy takes time and energy.  We were all experiencing severe travel burn-out at this point.  The best thing to do was split up – I went for lunch with a dear friend and hubby went on a museum/gallery trek with the kids.  Although we had Wi-Fi in the room, our computer had no battery power left.

We looked northward with dread, I have to admit.  Another long drive with less-than-inspiring scenery (New Jersey Turnpike) and the exhausting prospect of sightseeing in Manhattan.  The good news:  we wouldn’t have to drive.  The bad news:  we were just plain pooped and tired of being cooped up together 24/7.

No power left in the computer, no energy left in me.  I got on the Staten Island ferry hoping that some fresh air (ok, I know its New York Harbour) would perk me up.  I walked to the hotel business center and sat down in front of one of the computers.

The sign read:  Insert Credit Card here.

Free Wi-Fi in the room but not there.  Fuuuhhgetaboutit.

Oh well, I’m more of a yarn spinner than a diarist.  Maybe this is the way it has to be for me.

The piles of dirty laundry in my living room are rivaling the Empire State Building in height.  As soon as we hit the house, we each fled to our separate spaces.   This morning, cup of coffee from my neighbourhood cafe by my side, the laptop was opened.  So simple.

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Under My Wheels: Toronto to Atlanta

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I’ll tell you why I avoided looking at too many maps before getting behind the wheel on Monday morning:  it’s a long freaking way from Toronto to Atlanta.  There are no shortcuts, no scenic routes.  Just miles and miles of asphalt in varying degrees of decay.  After (nervously) getting over the border – why am I always nervous? – I got down to the business of SERIOUS DRIVING – something I haven’t done since I drove from Calgary to Toronto three years ago with a 9 year old and a dog.

Observations:

  • It would be helpful if my 2012 Jetta (bought in Canada but made in Mexico) had MPH on the speedo.  It would save me from constantly having to do math and practicing my excuse speech for the state troopers.
  • Basic rule of SERIOUS DRIVING: keep the driver FED.  We had a lapse of feeding as we entered Cincinnati last night.  Heads rolled.  I’ve been apologizing for my behaviour most of today
  • Cincinnati seems nice and easy to navigate (assuming you haven’t been on the road for 8 hours and you are exhausted and hungry.
  • The Cincinnatian Hotel is very nice except I don’t know why there was a hole in our bathroom wall.  Not a bashed in hole but a hole on purpose – like a partial wall between the bathroom and the rest of the room.  On top of that, the doors to the bathroom were louvred.  Can you say “NO PRIVACY?”  I love my family but I do NOT need to hear their very personal bodily functions at full volume
  • The colourful and whimsical flying pigs are awesome.  I don’t know why Cinci has them but they’re awesome.  Kind of like the colourful, whimsical cows in Chicago.
  • It’s hard to give a city its due when you’re tired and anxious to get somewhere else.
  • Hubby snores like an asthmatic hippopotamus.  Ear plugs must be purchased and soon.
  • Americans LOVE the left lane of a highway.  For hundreds of miles, I sat boxed in by semis and the odd Floridian and dozens of others who steadfastly refused to move over.
  • Atlantans still love to drive fast.
  • Atlanta’s inner suburbs are lovely.  I remember when I first moved here I couldn’t believe how lush the place was – flowering trees everywhere.
  • Room service is always a rip-off no matter how hard you justify it.
  • Children need a hotel with a pool to burn off energy stored up from sitting in a car for two days straight.  Failing that, they need to run laps around the parking lot until they are calm.

So, there we are.  I am going to be in bed the minute the sun falls.  Tomorrow:  pool time and a day of relaxation.  The rest of the week is chock full of catching up with old friends – dinners, lunches, brunches, drive-by air kisses – whatever we can squeeze in.  There’s never enough time.

What Looms

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We all have things that loom in front of us:  bills that need to be paid, projects that need completing, deadlines to meet. Like everyone else, my to-do lists seem to get longer instead of shorter.

Tonight I sit at my desk and see several things on my desk that prevent my horizon from looking smooth and placid.

A pile of bills  really should be paid before we leave on our road trip so that we don’t return to angry voicemails from creditors.  I make a mental note to run out to the money tree tomorrow morning and pull off a few hundred leaves.

The road trip looms and with it a long list of things that need to be taken care of before we put our Jetta in gear.  I start to get little pains in my chest just thinking about what needs to be done starting with double-checking with the neigbhours to see if they are actually going to look after Mad Alyss – or did I just dream that?

Traveling presents its very own brand of looming chores and worries.  Everything from making sure we have adequate cell phone coverage in the States (we don’t so we’ll have to pay extra) to making sure we’ve copied passports, hotel confirmation sheets, and pre-written letters to the Canadian Embassy – just in case.

Dear Sir:  We are absolutely, positively sincerely sorry about the maple syrup incident at the border…

What looms especially large for me is the prospect of being away from my snug little corner where I can retreat/write uninterrupted.  The lack of a definitive ending on The Novel looms alongside the worry that while I’m away, my creative juices will shut down due to car fatigue, distraction, and general vacation malaise.

Item to add to “To Do List”:  notebook/journal for stray thoughts, ideas that may come in handy later.

I ask myself:  should I worry about what looms or should I just plough ahead towards the horizon and take everything as it comes?

 

 

The Art of Staying Upright

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Sometimes staying upright is harder than it ought to be.

Today, in my never-ending search for a comfortable desk chair that doesn’t cause me pain in my back, hips, arms, and assorted other areas, I am writing while seated precariously on an exercise ball.

I’m not sure I’ll make it.

You see, I am a Banshee of very little core – as in, core muscles.  Everyone I meet helpfully and cheerfully tells me that sitting on an exercise ball for hours on end will strengthen my core.  I ask you, do you think they sit on exercise balls while working at their jobs? Hmmm?  I think not.

Not only must I master the art of staying upright, sucking in my middle, keeping my back straight yet somehow effortlessly relaxed, I must be creative at the same time.  Truth be told, I’m not much of a multi-tasker so this should be interesting.  Some of my characters might develop fitness issues.

My middle already hurts.  Muscles that have not been engaged in…well, a long time, are now being rudely awakened.  They are not happy.

So, in the next few lines if apeijs’phk’p … that happens, dear readers, you’ll know I’ve slid sideways onto the floor.  If I had a spacious office, this would not necessarily be a problem but in my corner, there are lots of hazards.  There is a sharp-edged nightstand to my left and a metal floor vent at my feet.  If I have the misfortune of rolling backwards off this thing, I’ll be knocked unconscious by my gargantuan IKEA dresser.

So.  Now, I must focus my attention on writing instead of falling.  I’m sure I’ll master the art of staying upright eventually.

 

A Dream of Europe – So Far Away

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In my previous post, I waxed nostalgic about our BEV (Big European Vacation).  This year, we’re going old school:  overloading the Family Car, filling it to the brim with cranky teens, unhealthy snacks, a cooler full of caffeinated drinks and whatever map apps our phones provide.

Remember the good old days when maps were paper? The person sitting in the passenger seat would be in charge of the pile of folded paper maps.  This co-pilot would squint at them, fold them and unfold them, rip them and turn them every which way but the right way while the driver of the overloaded Family Car tapped the wheel impatiently waiting to be told whether to turn left or right.

Trips like these were the reason cheap, ugly motels were invented.  We’re cashing in our Visa points to pay for the hotels en route.  We are even able to stay in some pretty swanky looking places.  But, as you all know, photographs lie.

The trip has been designed to visit friends and to show the kids places where their mom grew up.  Yes, Banshee is attempting to go home again – always a tricky business.

What if these places that meant the world to me are so changed as to be literally unrecognizable?  This is a fear not without basis. Landscapes change, villages change, sand dunes get bulldozed, what if there is a Wal-Mart right down the street from the White House?

I must be very careful not to set my expectations too high.  The places where I frolicked in my youth will be different.  The Atlantic beaches might seem less like paradise now that I’ve grown up.  The salt water taffy shop that I begged my mother to take me to every summer might seem downright tacky and overpriced now.

So, as usual, this trip will become an educational trip for me- with a big lesson on managing my own expectations and not imposing mine on everyone else. And another thing: I’m American; I feel very strongly that my kids should get a taste of where I grew up, the places that mattered to me, the things that I took for granted in my own backyard. At the end of the day, though, I have to let them have their own opinions about these places.

My kids are pretty thoroughly Canadian now even though they were born in the States.  They have acquired very Canadian attitudes towards Americans – an attitude which is difficult to describe.  Consider it a sibling rivalry type of relationship.  I can only pray we do not cause some kind of international incident.

I will be blogging along the way just as I did last year.  Me being me, I’ve already catalogued a list of things to worry about:

American medical care should we become sick, injured, or otherwise impaired.  Hurricane season – late August is prime time.  Faulty memories about my hometown (where the hell is Foggy Bottom?)  My new phobia about  big city” traffic – Perhaps I should send Mayor Bloomberg a quick note of warning/apology…

I’m toast.  Stay tuned…

A Dream of Europe – A Holiday Remembered

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Yesterday, in a hung over state, my husband and I lounged in the living room watching photographs from last year’s BEV (Big European Vacation) flash across our flat screen.

“Gosh, that was a good trip.  Look how happy we were at the Acropolis.” I groaned, holding my aching head.

“Look at that sun-drenched Mediterranean coastline,” my husband murmured from the depths of his big leather chair.

“La Sagrada Familia is just weird,” I commented.  (Ok, that piece of dialogue was real; the others, not so much).

It was a very good trip.  We’ve talked about re-visiting Europe.  The conversation was pre-hangover because in the cold, harsh light of sobriety we know it will be years before we can afford to go again.

Yeah, I know all of Europe is deep in the throes of recession, depression, austerity, and in a month London will be enjoying a whopper of a post-Olympic hangover but I still want to go back.  The Banshee is getting increasingly restless.  We’ve stayed put now for three years…we ain’t gettin’ any younger and neither is Europe.  Venice is sinking, you know.

When do we say, screw it and just do it?  Take the leap we’ve been longing to take for nearly twenty years, trade the North American sizes of homes, appliances, roads, and land mass for the smaller, more economy-sized Europe?

London would be the first choice for a couple of reasons:  language and job.  I have nightmares about making a complete ass of myself in a foreign language whereas I do so daily in my native tongue with no qualms.  Also, Hubby can work in the UK on an “ancestry visa” because his grandmother was born there; London also provides the most opportunity in his line of work.

However, if money were no object: Buon giorno, Roma!  For pure romance, people watching, and authentico street-level lunacy, nothing beats Rome.   I already have my apartment picked out (it will have to be a BIG lottery win).

A photo popped up of me and the kidlets sitting on the Spanish Steps.  We looked footsore but happy. I remember how rushed we were and how many landmarks we simply couldn’t visit because we were  I was paranoid about missing the boat.  I regret not taking Hubby’s suggestion that we miss the boat on purpose and spend the night in Rome.  We easily could have caught up with the boat in Salerno.  Ah, the 20-20 rear view…

My son made an interesting comment.  The wise twelve-year-old said we should not live anywhere that felt magical because as residents, the magic would fade.  Rome would become like anywhere else – like Toronto.  I would bitch about the taxes, the hydro bills, the line ups at the market…I would likely die under the wheels of a Vespa…

So, ok maybe we don’t live in Rome.  Maybe we just have a nice, long visit.  We would immerse ourselves in the landmarks and enjoy leisurely meals off the piazza of our choice.  Then, we would return to our rented villa in the hills outside of the city. The air would be scented with citrus and the only nighttime noise – the sound of a breeze rustling through olive trees…

This is part of the “Lotto 649” fantasy loop…

The beauty of Europe lies not only in its history but also its compact size. Those of us corn-fed and raised on the wide open vistas of North America cannot conceive of driving through three different countries in a day. The sheer network of trains throughout Europe means you can go anywhere by train.  Lots of anywheres.

I long to experience that life before I get much older.  Mobility scooters don’t work very well on medieval cobblestone streets.  Nor do walkers.  Let’s do this, already.  I can hear my husband’s voice in my head:  Patience, patience.  We have to get the youngest through high school.

Ah, he’s smart.  He can skip a few grades, si?

 

 

Toronto the Good

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As I consider the online options for bullet-proof windows in my home, I wonder about Toronto’s nickname, “Toronto the Good.”  Lately, my adopted city has been anything but good as the gun violence escalates into an all-out war with innocent Torontonians caught, quite literally, in the cross-fire.

I have always gravitated towards big cities.  I was born in DC (which by today’s standards is not very big at all), have spent oodles of time in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs, lived in Chicago and Atlanta.  A big city and its attendant woes is not new to me.

My hometown once held the dubious honour of “Murder Capital of the U.S.  In my early twenties, I was adept at discerning a car’s backfire from semi-automatic gun fire.  I drove through even the best neighbourhoods with the car doors locked, always vigilant for a bump n jack as some carjackings were called then.  On more than one occasion, I woke with an acrid burning in my throat caused by tear gas.

Once, when driving to Westchester County  New York, I was forced to detour via the Cross-Bronx Expressway only to be detoured again because there was a sniper on the loose.  I pulled the fastest U-turn ever that day.  I drove back into the city  under the dashboard of my mother’s Oldsmobile.  I once surprised a thief inside my car in an underground parking garage.  Not fun.

In spite of all the violence and risk, I’ve never wanted to be a suburbanite. I would choose an absolutely rural location before I would ever again live in the ‘burbs – my husband and I have always lived in the inner city by choice. This  decision divided us from quite a few of our friends early in our marriage.  To this day, only a handful of our friends live inside city limits and some have barricaded themselves inside gated communities – the modern version of a fortified city with walls and a moat full of piranhas.  That is their choice.

Our commutes are shorter and our kids are getting exposure to all walks of life – good and bad – which they will have to know how to deal with when they grow up anyway (unless they move to Australia’s outback or somewhere else equally remote).  My kids can navigate any big city, they can read any subway map (except the ones in Athens).  They have adeptly navigated Barcelona, Rome, and London.

My kids love the city.  They love the vibe, the crowds, the restaurants.  Recently, Toronto’s deputy mayor slammed all parents who want to raise their kids in the city as opposed to the suburbs.  He cited a particular intersection:  King & John Streets.  Ironically, we had the kids down there on Friday night to meet up with their cousin.  We had the BEST time!  The streets were filled with cars, the sidewalks and restaurant patios were jammed, the theatre district is right around the corner – the city was alive.  At 10 pm when we left the restaurant, our nephew’s girlfriend commented on the masses of people on the sidewalks – yes, that’s downtown life.  That’s how it should be.  Full of people, full of life and noise and streetcars rumbling by.

Of course I am freaked out concerned about Toronto’s recent violence.  It also concerns me that our Mayor’s only solution is an antiquated “run the gangs out-of-town” stance.  Seriously?  Where are they going to go?  Violence, especially gang violence, has deep causes requiring innovative thought  – something our current city government is not capable of.  That scares me more than anything.

In the meantime, my kids will still go out and play in the streets (ok, not literally).  We will take as many reasonable precautions as we can  But, we’re not going to hide in our bunkers or help the mayor build an island in the middle of Lake Ontario for all the gangs.  We will not be fleeing to the suburbs – where, ironically, the worst of the violence occurred.

By the way, “Toronto the Good” was just one Victorian mayor’s wishful thinking.  He had high hopes of changing  Toronto’s reputation as a pit of drunken squalor by giving it a “moral” nickname.  Today, when it is used, the tongue must be firmly planted against one’s cheek.

Toronto, I love you.  You just need a mayor with a brain and a posse of innovative thinkers, not gunslingers.