Friday, May 25, 2012

Keep calm and carry on

Right now, about 30 kilometers from the centre of Timmins, the biggest forest fire in the country is burning. And people are starting to panic.

The fire started on Sunday and has grown to a monstrous size. Firefighters and water bombers from British Columbia, Manitoba, and the East coast have been called in to help put it out. It is scary - I won't lie, but this event has really brought home how quickly rumours can spread and things can get out of control. 

Yesterday, because of strong winds, smoke from the forest fire started to roll into the city. By mid-afternoon, a thick layer of yellowish grey smoke coated the sky and blocked the sunlight. I was at work, and at first I didn't really think anything of the smoke (except, "It's just smoke from the forest fire.") 

Then, the fear-mongering started. Patrons started coming in in a panic. "The fire is 15 kilometers away from the city!" one said. "They're going to be evacuating us soon," said another. That's when the pit in my stomach started to grow. I looked at the sky, and the smoke looked completely different than it had a minute earlier. It somehow appeared more ominous, oppressing, and was that just a hint of flame I saw up over the horizon oh my god EVERYBODY OUT NOW WE'RE BURNING UP!

You see how quickly it can happen? Especially to basketcases like me? We feed off of each other's fear, and suddenly the whole city is convinced we're going down. I pictured myself running through the streets haphazardly shouting "TELL MY DAD I LOVE HIM AND MAKE SURE MY SISTER GETS THAT LASAGNA RECIPE DOWN GOD ALMIGHTY THAT WAS GOOD LASAGNA!!!"

Yesterday afternoon, the City of Timmins did declare a state of emergency. But they also made it clear that this did not mean we were in danger from the fire. Yes, the smoke was thick and officials were advising people to close their windows and try not to breathe it in. But the State of Emergency status is a way to get extra resources from the government. The mayor stated it was a precautionary measure so that everything was in place if the worst was to happen. EMPHASIS ON THE 'IF'. 

I called my dad, who I knew would put things into perspective for me. This is what I hope to do for all of you. Here is what he said: 

1. When travelling in a car, 30 kms does not seem like a far distance. But for a fire, this is far away. While people are saying this fire is fast-moving, it's not fast like you're picturing it. It would take a long time to reach the city.  
2. Fire needs fuel. Right now, it has oodles of it (I added the 'oodles,' my dad would never say 'oodles',) with all of the timber in the forest. But once that fire reaches areas with not so much timber, it will slow very quickly. It will most definitely not sweep through the city during the night while we lie unsuspecting in our beds dreaming of Leo topless and rubbing suntan lotion on our backs.
3. There are lots of people fighting this fire right now. Professional people. This is what they do, and they know what they're doing. "It's like us plowing snow," he said. "They are professionals and they are good at what they do, and they are doing everything they can to tackle that beast."
4. If worse comes to worse, officials will tell us to leave. If no one's told us to leave, we're ok. They won't let us burn.

All evening, we checked reliable news sources. The local media has been doing a wonderful job updating everyone with (for the most part) accurate information. Social media sites, not so much. I've decided to stay off them for the next couple of days - to avoid the panic and drama of it all. A medium where people can post whatever they feel like is ok when it's all "Hey, did you hear about Esther's cat that can play the piano while baking a cake and crocheting an afghan," but not so cool when it's all "WE'RE ON FIRE AND WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" People like drama, and it's easy to get caught up in it. But really, it doesn't do us any good.

So let's not add fuel to the fire, people. Today, it is raining, which we're all so thankful for. That rain is supposed to continue all weekend. Let's just keep calm and carry on. We'll be ok.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It's Wednesday morning, and I'm still recovering from the weekend. To my credit, it wasn't just any weekend - it was the annual May Run crazy wild chick-a-palooza at Nellie Lake. This is the weekend we ladies look forward to all year round. The countdown starts about 6 months prior to the Victoria Day weekend. When it finally arrives, between 10 and 20 women make their way to a nearby lake. We eat pretty much continually. We bathe in the sun (or shiver in our bush jackets, depending on the weather.) We drink copious amounts of tequila. We laugh. 

We've been meeting for about 6 years now. There have been additions to the group and there have been subtractions. The location has changed. One thing that has always stayed the same, though, is the way we feel when the weekend is over. Recharged, rejuvenated, empowered. And I know right now you're all, ok, go eat some more granola and talk to the leaves, but it's totally true. Last year, in a moment of pure exhileration, we all burned our bras. Although some of us woke the next morning and realized we'd burned our ONLY bras, it didn't matter, because there were NO men to see the puppies we were smuggling under our tank tops. 

Over the years, the annual rendez-vous has been a chance to catch up and let each other know what the happs are in each other's lives. Through the rest of the year, a quick visit here, a wedding there, a few emails and texts don't really do us justice. The weekend is like an intense, all-in, concentrated regrouping - and it feels amazing. The weekend makes you want to break up with crappy boyfriends, quit dead-end jobs - basically anything that makes you feel as great as you did over the (booze infused) weekend.

This year, Franny made an observation that made me take a step back and think (it might have been the 7 shots I had prior, but I'm pretty sure it was Franny's observation.) She said "Wow. So much has happened in the past year. So much has changed. We've all grown a lot. PASS THE DUTCHIE, MON." 

It's so true. This year, my sister and Franny uprooted their domestic life in a small city and moved to Toronto. They are having the time of their lives. Two of the girls got engaged. One was pregnant. Then she wasn't anymore. I fell in love and moved in with a boy. There have been break-ups, accomplishments, career changes, and heartbreaks. People have come and gone. The sun has shone, the rain has come and snow has covered the ground. And through it all, over the years, we've always gathered to celebrate, to support, to cry, and then laugh until we can't breathe.

It's so comforting for all of us to know that no matter what happens throughout the year, we still have this weekend. Our May Run sisters stretch across the province, and no matter what time of year it is, we can feel each other's love and hear each other's giggles across the miles.

Here's to another wonderful weekend, ladies. Until next year, keep it real chitkas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to make me fall in love

It’s a Wednesday morning. I don’t have to work until noon and the roommate is off today. We plan to grab breakfast and pick up a few enthralling goods including a bath mat, coffee, and toilet paper. The roommate comes out of the bathroom, a cloud of steam whooshing out behind him. His hair is wet and curly and he smells like soap. He walks by and yells “WOOOOOO!”, a loud whoop, right from his belly. 

“What are you so excited about?” I ask, giggling. 

“LIFE!” he answers.

I glance in his direction. He’s totally serious.

His happiness about everyday things like breakfast and errands is contagious. It’s spring, and the sun is out. The smell of coffee brewing wafts through the air. We are cozy in our little apartment. Right now, in this moment, I am completely happy and carefree. 

I take this moment, fold it up, and tuck it away. My little savings bank of bright, shiny moments, so that I never forget how it feels - to fall in love.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mama's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of you amazing mamas out there.

Happy Mother's Day to you young mamas, who are stuggling, who aren't sure how things are going to turn out, but who love your babies so much it hurts.

Happy Mother's Day to you new mamas, who are just beginning to experience the wonder.

Happy Mother's Day to you pseudo mamas, who take over when the real ones can't be there. Friends, aunties, neighbors, who have taken your turns making supper, giving advice, shopping for prom dresses. Who make sure our teeth are brushed, our dance costumes fit just right, we've practiced our piano. Who promise us you'll talk to our dads and explain just why we need our curfews extended by an hour. We love you more than you know, and you will always be our family.

Happy Mother's Day to you aging mamas, who not only have to worry about your health, but now also the health of your children, as they themselves begin to age. To you I say congratulations. You've done it. Your babies and grandbabies have grown up happy, successful, and you should be eternally proud. Your wisdom and strength continues to inspire us. You created your families from the ground up. You are the reason we are here to celebrate this bright, sunny Spring day.

Happy Mother's Day to you expectant mamas, who love the heart and soul growing inside of you now just as much as you will love the two year old tantrum throwing toddler, the 10 year old explorer, the 25 year old dreamer, and the 40 year old who is now a mama herself.

Happy Mother's Day to you hopeful mamas, who may not be mamas yet, but who are so close. Every day that you wish to be a mama, your heart grows more complete with the raw, uninhibited love only mamas hearts can hold. Your passion is not being ignored - it will come. The universe will answer your heart's firey calls in some way, if you just hold on a little longer.

Happy Mother's Day to you papas who, against some pretty tough odds, have been mamas too. Although you surely doubted your abilities, you never showed it. You made our lunches, did our laundry, cooked us dinner. You traveled on busses full of dance moms and cheered as we won medals, gratuated university, and started our own lives. You taught us how to bait our fishing hooks and split wood. You have been the perfect mix of mama's love and papa's tough, no-nonsense discipline. Most of the decisions we make are based on what we think you would do. You have shaped our lives more than you know,  and we have no idea where we would be today without you.

Most of all, Happy Mother's Day to the mama who I miss every single day. Even though I haven't seen you for 14 years, I still feel your mama's love washing over me through the wind that whispers across the lake, through the trees, and gently tickles my face. Although this day could be mournful, it doesn't have to be. We only have one, true mama, but we are surrounded by dozens of amazing ones, whose mama's love doesn't discriminate by race, gender, religion or biology.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you amazing mamas out there.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Hockey Mom

Recently, one of my friends asked me to write a poem for her. Her son's hockey team had suffered a tragedy when one of the team moms passed away from cancer. She asked me to write a poem to be published in the program for a tournament that weekend. Here is what I came up with. 

The Hockey Mom
by Kate McLaren 

It's 6 a.m., most still in bed, 
Once again to the arena they've all been led. 

The morning's early, dark and cold,
Emotions run high as they go for the gold. 

In the stands she sits, with a steaming cup,
On the edge of her seat, she's not giving up. 

Her son grabs the puck, and skates down the rink,
Her smile grows wide, her cheeks rosy and pink. 

"Go Pierre!" she yells, "Shoot for the net!" 
The puck flies past the goalie, a tiny black jet.

They've captured the title, the fans all rejoice,
He skates to his mom with tears in his voice. 

"I'm glad you came mom, it sure means a lot,
I know this past week you weren't feeling too hot."

His mom hugs him tight, and bends to his ear,
In the crowded arena she wants him to hear. 

"There's no other thing I'd rather do today, 
I'm so proud of you, in every single way."

His team pulls him away, a mountain of cheers,
Her little player's passion eases her fears. 

She knows the future holds some not so nice days,
But with his team by his side, he'll make it ok.

Proud, strong, encouraging and fair,
She'll watch from wherever her journey takes her. 

A true hockey fan, from beginning to end,
Mom, teacher, wife, teammate and friend.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I just got off the phone with my Dad. The conversation went like this: 

Him: Hi. 
Me: Hi, how are you?
Him: Listen, have you been writing about me? 
Me: What? What are you talking-- who is this? 
Him: Don't bullshit me. 
Me: Who told you? 
Him: The lady at the library. She reads your blog. Something about poetry. 
Me: How did she get a hold of my blog? 
Him: I don't know, she saw it on the TV or something.
Me: HAHAHA! Dad! It's not on TV! It's on the Intern---
Him: I DON'T CARE! I told you not to talk about me!! AT ALL!
Me: Ok, it was just about how you used to read us poetry as kids and how that's why we like poetry now. (I did not mention the fact that I referred to his farts as "majestic.") 
Him: I don't want you writing about me! 
Me: Dad. Seriously. This is the price you pay for having your daughter be a writer! What do you want me to say? That my father abandoned me when I was four years old and I have no recollection of my childhood? That my parents were gypsies, or that I was chained to the furnace in the root cellar as a child and don't know who my parents are?! 
Him: Any of those scenarios would do just fine. 

Again, I remind you: If you see my father out and about, DO NOT mention you read about him on the Internet (or the TV, as he likes to call it.) Some appropriate topics of conversation are:
1. Gardening  
2. World Wars I or II (or both, but be prepared to be there for a while.) 
3. The Toronto Maple Leafs (but unless you yourself are a fan as well, I would stay away from this one.)
4. Toronto (and how much you hate it) 
5. The weather (this will buy you about 3 seconds as his general response is "no use complaining about something you can't change.")

Why do I keep writing about him, you ask, if he dislikes it so much? First, I'm a terrible daughter, but also? He's the most hilarious person I know - and that really needs to be shared. He'll thank me one day when he's sitting pretty on his brand new John Deere tractor acquired through funding from my first book deal.

A poem for Aunt Jean

I promised I would share one of my own poems every day this week, and don't worry, loyal fan friend, I won't let you down. Joke's on you though, it's Thursday! Only three more days to go! Exactly the number of poems I have written in my life. You can't rush genius, people.

Here is the first. I wrote it a couple of years ago for my Great Aunt Jean on her 80th birthday. 

I hope you enjoy it.

Aunt Jean 
by Kate McLaren

Walking in the sun, a warm day in July,
I saw a woman, face turned to the sky. 
I could tell she was not new on the scene,
For her face, it was lined with the places she'd been. 

A long flowing skirt, and hair of snow white,
I tried to imagine her rich, fulfilled life.
Independant, strong, healthy and kind,
Well-read and well-traveled, indeed a sharp mind.

No doubt she'd seen wonders, beginnings and ends, 
Held newborn babies, said goodbye to old friends. 
Never complaining, 'things could always be worse,'
Cared for and taught many, this teacher and nurse.

The important things in life she did not overlook,
Dinners with family, a good wine, a great book.
Volunteer, activist, aunt, sister, friend,
Many a life she had helped shape and mend.

As she walks toward me, and breaks out in a smile,
I hug her and tell her it's been quite a while. 
I suddenly notice, looking into her face, 
I've seen her eyes in some other place. 

In a moment of pride, it all becomes clear, 
These eyes I see daily when I look in the mirror.
Today, Aunt Jean, what I'm trying to say,
Is I love you, and wish you a wonderful 80th birthday.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A lost art

As I sit here now, at 8:12 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there are probably thousands of babies being born around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people are getting ready for work, or stuck in traffic as they anxiously anticipate the thrilling workday that lies before them. Just as many are probably crunching down on a spoonful of Cheerios, watching last night's hockey highlights on TSN, or listening to the newest Nicki Minaj album. Far, far less are reading poetry. I would venture a guess at maybe 4. And I'm being generous because I know my sister is probably on the subway on her way to work, and my Dad is likely walking in the woods somewhere having already been awake for 3 hours. 

What I'm trying to say is there are VERY FEW people these days that enjoy a good bit of poetry. Growing up, I didn't know us poetry-lovers were so few and far between. My dad used to gather us together to listen to him read some of his favourites - which quickly became our favourites. I still remember his voice as he rifled through books in his library in the basement. "KATE!" he'd yell. "Come down here! I want to show you something!" Which usually meant he wanted to read me one of his favourite passages from The Lark in the Clear Air or read me a poem. That, or he'd just let a really majestic fart and couldn't stand the thought of being the only one to experience it. He got me every time. 

As I got older, I remember complaining about a boyfriend who wouldn't listen to me read poetry. I would get to the second stanza, and he would cut me off, claiming he didn't "understand it." That's when my dad broke the news. 

"Hon, not everyone is into poetry. In fact, very few people are. You guys are because I am, and I've been reading you poetry since you were little. But it's really not an easy thing to like." 

I thought about the last Thanksgiving dinner we had as a family. As we sat around the table afterward unbuckling our belts, we played a little game called "let's recite our favourite poems and the first one who can't think of one LOSES." NERDY MUSICAL CHAIRS, ya'll! Does this explain a little about why I am the way I am today? I blame my family completely. 

Of course, my Dad started first:

Those last two lines get me EVERY TIME. Magical, right? 

Then it was my sister's turn. She pulled out a little Shel Silverstein.

One of my uncles got cute and went for some classic Joplin, proving that although unconventional, anything can be poetry.

"Oh lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends;
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
Oh lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz."

My Uncle John (UJ) has always been known to be a little longwinded. After my mom died, he would drive 14 hours on a Friday night to "help us with our homework" (read: make sure my Dad was ok). We'd sit at the kitchen table with our books open while he talked for hours about politics, geography, and what trees do to the environment. When it was his turn to recite, we all took a deep breath. And he didn't disappoint. He BROUGHT IT. 

Of course this isn't the entire poem. The entire poem is about 15 stanzas, and he knew the whole thing by heart. When he finished, there was about 10 seconds of silence, followed by a resounding cheer. We dumped a cooler full of  Gatorade on his head and declared him the winner. 

I don't remember which poem I shared that night. But I know which one I'd share now. My favourite poem - one that will always remind me of my sister.

For the rest of the week, I will share my own poetry. Not because I want to show off, but because I want you all to appreciate the beauty of it.

Spreading the love, ya'll. I do what I can.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The web is what you make of it

For an artist, inspiration can come from a whole lot of different places. Sometimes, when I feel the need to write or create, I will try to make ideas come to me by looking at different websites, old pictures, reading old journals. I have been reading Dooce for about as long as she has been writing it. At first, I found her posts to be really funny, as she chronicled life in Los Angeles rubbing elbows with Angelina and being a hilarious single girl. It started out as a distraction. Her site was 1. visually appealing, and 2. incredibly well-written. Her style made me wish I was right there with her, eating Doritos and watching the Grammys and laughing at Kanye together. As the years have gone by, she's established herself as one of the most successful bloggers ever, and we've all invested in her life and rejoiced along with her when she got married, had two gorgeous daughters, moved, renovated, redecorated, and precariously perched a multitude of items on her dog Chuck's head. I visit her website almost daily, and it's one of the places that really helps bring out creative ideas. Her writing is beautiful, her stories are real, and her youngest daughter has cheeks out of which you just wanna take a big ol' bite.

If you're lucky, inspiration will come when you're willing it to come - but most of the time, it comes out of the blue, when you're drinking coffee on a Sunday morning surfing the channels for Will and Grace reruns. This morning, I happened to be so lucky. Even though I've only worked briefly in advertising (I'll admit I'm no Don Draper,) I notice commercials and print ads a lot more now than I did before. The following tv spot for Google Chrome did everything right. It told a story, reeling me in and making me believe this story was 100% real. Then, it got to the point. "The web is what you make of it." Although the Internet is great for looking up enchilada recipes, finding music, and emailing your cousin to say Happy Birthday, there's SO MUCH MORE you can do with it. This commercial made me want to pick up the computer and immediately start editing a video (using Google Chrome of course.) It inspired me to be creative. Well done, Google.

If you don't want to a) make your own video, b) try and win back your ex-lover using said video, or c) ride a roller coaster, you should probably call 911 because you are DEAD INSIDE.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Low Down

Hiya! Remember me? Well, this is embarassing. We met at that party a while back. We were both lingering next to the spinach dip and laughing at the extremely drunk girl who was clumsily performing a mock strip tease while standing on the wobbly coffee table. We've seen each other around since then but have both avoided eye contact. Now it's awkward. 

All of this to say I know I've been missing in action for, oh, a few months now. I apologize to all (seven) of my loyal readers, but let me explain. Shit's been going DOWN here. Because I have nothing particularily inspiring to say this morning (the sky is the colour of concrete today,) I'll just provide a short recap of what I've been up to these past few (awkward) months.

1. Got a new job. Although I was challenged, excited, and had made lots of new friends at my advertising job, it was also causing multiple grey hairs to sprout from my scalp at an alarming rate. I took everything personally, breaking the first rule of sales. I took every "no" as a tiny little dig. "WHY DON'T YOU LIKE ME?!" I would shout in my head as I trudged out of the stores. And while I made some absolutely amazing (lifelong!) friends over the course of my position, I decided to move on. I accepted a job at the local library as a Reference Assistant - and after over two years of daily deadlines, quotas, targets, and pressure, this job is freakin' amazing. It's quiet, it's stress-free, it's wonderful. I'm surrounded by books and inspired by all of the great stories that have shaped our world. Although my cackle bounces off those high wooden ceilings like nobody's biznatch and I'm the furthest thing from a typical librarian (my hair is too short to fit in a bun,) it's exactly where I want to be right now. 

2. Tried a new lipstick. My sister was raving about RED. I've seen a few photos of her where she is dressed up, with a splash of bright red swooped across her lips. She always looks elegant, sophisticated, beautiful. "You've gotta try it," she raved. "Red lipstick will CHANGE your LIFE." So, I bought some. Rich Ruby by Avon (this is not a paid endorsement, but that doesn't mean I'm not up for it. LULU LEMON. IKEA. MAC. MAC. MAC. IKEA!) I smoothed it over my lips and looked in the mirror. I was five years old again, playing with my mother's lipstick. It looked unnatural and phony. I smiled. Lipstick coated all four of my front teeth. I don't think red is for me. (You can now sleep soundly with this important piece of information - and the image of my lipstick-stained teeth - embedded in your brains. YOU'RE WELCOME!)

3. Got a new roommate. I now live with a BOY. And it's NOTHING like I imagined. I've considered myself a feminist in the past, don't get me wrong, but I had a real domestic scene in my head about my adventure in cohabitation. I pictured the roommate coming home from work, and me in my apron taking some sort of casserole out of the oven and mixing my man a pre-dinner scotch. Complaining that wet towels and gym socks do not belong on the floor. TOILET SEAT GOES DOWN, and HONEY, DO I HAVE TO DEMONSTRATE HOW TO REPLACE THE TOILET PAPER ROLL? I practiced this line in my head more than once. I should have known that the roommate I picked would be a weirdo. After all, weird attracts weird. He's totally not a typical man. Clutter makes him break out in hives. Dishes in the sink makes the panic set in, and OH MY GOD please tell me that book on the bookshelf is not out of place IT SHOULD BE PLACED AT A NINETY DEGREE ANGLE OHH THE INSANITY!! Also, would you like me to make my signature asperagus and bacon penne tonight for dinner? I'll also pick you up a bottle of wine and some flowers on my way home from work to make the evening perfect. People. I am not exaggerating here. THIS SCENE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. To me! I make fun, but I think you'll agree with me when I say this? This thing I've got going on right here? It's fucking awesome.

4. Shaved my legs. Just kidding. We all know that doesn't happen until June (at the absolute earliest, depending on the weather.) 

So I guess that's it. Now you know. Don't you feel better now? (Don't answer that.)