Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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Hey, there’s some sap on your back.

Okay, let’s get sappy for a moment. It’s Olympic season—let’s put a little sap into all that muscle. For two weeks most people around me are glued to whatever device they have access to, holding their breaths, and hoping their favorites take gold. Stories are being told of how these Olympians do it—how they defeat the limits of the body to perform in this unreached way. And to me these stories are the most important take-away. They tell us what it takes to succeed, to overcome.

olympic rings 2012 (8)

When I was a kid I was an avid skier. In my mid-teens I discovered ballet, and threw myself into it, giving up just about every other physical activity. After a couple of years I joined a troupe and did what we here call sports-etudes, which meant the major part of my day was spent in the studio and I was exempt from most school classes. I danced for 8-10 hours a day. I’d be in the studio when no one else was, I’d be in my dorm practicing, I would even practice in my dreams. As my studies came to an end and opportunities began opening up, my knees gave out. All that skiing, they said, followed by intense dance training. I was given a choice: give up dancing, or undergo a surgery that may leave me worse, possible with difficulties even walking. I gave up dancing.

That was my choice. I didn’t have it in me to take the risk. To these Olympians a choice like that would be a no-brainer: they’d choose surgery. If there was any chance they could continue doing what they like best they’d take it, risks be damned. Insane, some of us would think.

Now, too many years later to name, I’m a writer. I’ve been working on the same novel for too many years to name as well. I’m coming to an end of this novel, a true end. What I’ve learnt in all this process of countless years of writing is that I need the insane. I need the OCD. I need the brutality of perfectionism. I need to push and push, and loose hair and teeth. I need to cry in the dark. And more than that I need the will to keep at it.

The thing all these Olympians have in common is a belief in self. They know they can do it. They don’t care how long it will take, how much practice it will require, how much they have to give up. They can do it. A when they fall, when they injure themselves repeatedly, it’s fine, because they will heal and they will continue until they get there.

And they have one more thing. They have support. They don’t do it alone. They have family, friends, coaches, teams, who believe it them. And eventually they have a country backing them up.

At my kids’ elementary school, they’ve been going nuts with Sochi. Watching the events on Smartboards in classes. All their schoolwork has been Olympic geared for the last two months. They’ve done many written and oral projects. And the phys-ed department posted a YouTube video supporting the Canadian team.

After I watched it with my kids I told them to re-watch it, and imagine that all this was done for them—that they had all this support behind them. That they could do whatever they wanted in life, if only they have the right attitude.

I tell you the same thing: watch the video and imagine that all this is to support you and what you want to do. At the end of the video, all that screaming is to cheer you on. All the banners have your name on it. And when you’re done watching, then go, and do it, whatever it is. Because you can.


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Dead Things

For most of the summer, every time we opened our front door to make our way down the treacherous path, we held our breath, crossed our fingers, and did rock paper scissors to see who would be first.

We live on a hill, with a steep sloppy cobbled path, and although many visitors complain and wonder how on earth we go and up and down multiple times a day, especially when bags are involved, that wasn’t the issue. We love that part of it. The problem was the Dead Things. Legs, heads, gutted torsos. Wings, beaks, a carpet of feathers. And depending on how long they’d been there (hours or overnight) all the crawlies that accompany dismembered bodies.

You see, we had a pair of falcons (although one neighbour is not convinced that’s what they are–if you look at the photo and recognize the bird, please, leave a comment and let me know!) move in, and nest. Three hatchlings added to that pair, meant five predatory birds hunting in my ancient oak tree on my front lawn.

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My husband took this photo in early spring when they first arrived. The birds screech so loudly, all of the neighbours in the vicinity were opening the doors and scanning the skies to find out what was going on. At first it was fantastical, we’d all stand around dumbfounded with our cameras and binoculars, watching these soaring birds. But then bodies started piling up, two, three a day, and all the wildlife disappeared. Our noisy, busy, neighbourhood was abandoned. And yet, still the bodies piled up. Passer-byers I could only suppose. And once the hatchlings were out and learning to hunt, but were still ever so clumsy in their kills, it was horrifying. I had to go out ahead of the kids, armed with bags and a scooper and Lysol. And I, I admit without shame, and oh so squeamish, I have even a hard time cooking chicken (no red meat in my house). Let’s just say we ate our fair share of fruit and veggies and beans this summer, appreciating the vegans.

And then, just like that, I opened my door and did not find any Dead Things (as my family came to call this debris). And the next day, neither. And then we opened the window and heard the chattering of birds. Not the shrill of the hunters. And we all ran to look outside and cried, “Look! It’s birds!!” After a week, the red cardinals came back. And then the ravens. And the squirrels are back in full force. (have you ever seen a predatory bird go after a squirrel??!!!). Still no finches, or blue jays, or grackles, or robins, or or or. But things are flying around, and calling out to each other. And it feels like summer is here. Too bad it’s actually just ending.


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Always buy batteries!

How many times have you been told to make sure your fire alarms are working and have batteries in them? Countless, I’m sure. But, if you’re anything like me, you take this warning half to heart. Yah, yah, I know, but I just keep forgetting to stop for batteries. It’s OK. I’ll get to it. Plus, when the batteries die the smoke detectors make that awful noise, inevitably in the middle of the night. So maybe it’s a subconscious thing that I keep putting off.

smokealarmcartoon

 

As it happens, yesterday I went to bed with the toaster oven on. I didn’t know this of course. My husband, who has been traveling, came home a few days early around midnight. He happened to be in the kitchen looking at some mail and hearing a ticking sound. He finally investigated and found the toaster oven at 400 degrees. The toaster oven is in a nook, separate from our kitchen.

We live in 1914 Arts and Crafts house. It’s a very typical house from that period, which means unusual, and given the layout, my bedroom is on the second floor, and the three kids happened to all be having a sleep over in Older Brother’s room on the first floor. There’s also an original oak butler’s pantry. Which is where we keep our toaster oven. Some papers had fallen behind the toaster oven and they had turned brown and began curling from the heat. The old wood was too hot to touch. Had my husband not come–as was planned–there would have been a fire. And I didn’t have any fire alarms with working batteries.

Luck, fate, who knows. But I can tell you this, I’m going to buy batteries today!


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Coffee Shop Perils

 

SL2056

“You never loved me, Victoria. I’m a good-looking man, not too old yet. I make a decent living. Enough to eat, pay my mortgage, and drive my car. I’m kind. Generous. Women adore me. Why should I go back to you?”

“Who is she? Tell me who she is! It’s her, isn’t it? I saw you with her and I knew it!”

“No!” Slams hand down on table. “You misread the situation. There is no one. But you don’t want me.”

“I’m trying to lose the weight! Please. It’s so hard!”

“You’ve been saying this for years!”

“Please!”

“Tell my why I should be with you?”

“Because I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else. Is it someone you work with? Tell me!”

And this went on and on and on and on and on at the table right behind me, which unfortunately was so close my chair was actually touching hers. They yelled, she cried, he cried, they yelled some more–as though they were alone in their living room–until I felt the table shift and heard him say, “Let’s get out of here.”

Relief. Finally. I. Could. Get. Some. Work. Done.

I love working out of the house. The coffee shop generally provides me just the right amount of background noise and activity to keep me focused and centered. But not that day!

Too much time wasted, this had to be prevented from happening again!

What was I to do?

Low and behold: magic! apple-headphones

How come I hadn’t figured this out long ago? I was a kid / teen in the eighties–when no one would be caught dead without ear buds, we even strung them through our uniform and looped them over top of the ear instead of under, so our teachers wouldn’t see–how had I forgotten about these? About how they block out the world?

I’m all set now.

 

Any coffee shop stories to share? 


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The sign says, “Quiet! Writer at work!”

I don’t have an office. I don’t have a room that I call my own, that I can go in and be in left in peace while I work.

at work

For a few months now I’ve been trying to decide if I want to put two of my kids together and turn one of their rooms into an office. For me–and me alone!!!

At the moment I’m working on my second floor landing where we have a desk set-up. It’s situated right at the top of the stairs so I hear the vacuum going, my daughter practicing her violin, and my two boys chasing each and screaming “Aaaaghhhhhhh” with swords playing pirates. All at the same time.

My focus?

Non-existent.

I’m tempted to go down and say, “That’s it–today we’re switching the house around, and giving mommy an office!”

But, I’ve gotta ask–would it make a difference? Would a closed door help?

I used to be able to tune the family out. I could literally sit at a full kitchen table, and if my laptop was in front of me, I was gone. Lately, this just isn’t happening. Even when I’m alone I have trouble concentrating for extended periods of time. Partly due to the fact that I’m working on final edits and my brain is being used in an intense way, but also partly just because. Because it’s that time of year when we get antsy for spring (even though it was SNOWING YESTERDAY and today we are BELOW ZERO temperatures), and because sometimes it’s just hard to sit and concentrate.

For today, I’ve turned the radio up full blast and try to ignore all the activity underfoot. And I long for an office. But then I think, if I close the door, will it stay closed, or will those little feet barrel straight through? Most likely, but it sure does seem like paradise.

How about you: Do you have  a working space?


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Spring Resolution

 

Champagne

 

New Year’s eve is supposed to be the day we declare a life changing resolution. We’re supposed to raise our glass of creamy bubbly champagne, smile, and reveal a promise to do something–something momentous, something we need to do that will change us for the better–that we’ve been waiting for just the right moment to endure. And in return, those who we share New Year’s Eve with us will reveal their own resolutions.

Or catastrophes.

Who decided that January 1 was the best date to begin that resolution? Who??? Well, whoever it was certainly doesn’t live in the northern hemisphere, where it’s windy and cold and for many of us snowy. Where the day light hours are reduced to a bare minimum. And all we want to do is hibernate and eat carbs. And it certainly wasn’t someone in the southern hemisphere who is perspiring from the peak of heat, and who just wants to sit indoors and be cool eating watermelon and drinking lemon water. Whoever it was certainly didn’t take any of this into consideration!

Now spring–the time of rebirth, regeneration–wouldn’t that be perfect time for a resolution? We’re coming out of our cubby, stretching, yawning, looking around, and seeing things fresh, including ourselves.

Outside are bikers, joggers, skaters, even though they have to wear a coat and hat, they’re out there. And loving it. People are walking around eating apples, talking to each other, laughing–and yes, this is city life I’m talking about, not commune.

Everyone wants to do something new, something fresh–not because they have to, but because they want to feel good.

Including me: I became a member of a gym and a yoga studio because I’m becoming too inactive and I want to get moving before it catches up to me. I’ve been buying more fresh produce, especially greens, and me and my family are devouring them. And I’ve been experimenting more with super foods, remembering what it means to eat for energy.

I’ve also been more positive towards my work–sitting down to write and giving myself a little inner speech, about what I want to accomplish and that I will accomplish it. And do you know what? It’s working! :)

Am I sounding a little hokey? I think I am–but I’ll allow it.

It’s spring!

So, come on, raise a glass of green smoothie, and declare your resolution!

green smoothie

 PS. My in-laws are preparing for winter in South Africa, as are some of you way down there–happy hibernating. That feeling of slowing down, getting out the thick sweaters, it’s one of my favourites :)

 


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Did I write that? Well, I certainly can’t read it!

Not so long ago, someone asked me an unusual question: Since I spent so many hours a week writing on the computer, did I not miss seeing my own handwriting?

“I write by hand all the time,” I replied. “The trick is being able to read back what I wrote.”

I do write by hand all the time. Every day. Some days pass that I do more writing by hand than on the computer. Every note, every thought, every nuance–big and small, every detail, and every time I need to figure something out (which, trust me, is on a continuous basis) I handle by writing on paper. The only thing I do on the computer is the actual writing of the novel, which for me, is a small fraction of the whole process.

I have notebooks, spiral bound books, loose leaf papers, index cards, multi-colored index cards, sticky notes of almost every colour found in the rainbow, and a giant roll of plain paper that I use to map out time frames that I stick to my wall as needed. To top that off, I have a variety of coloured pens, highlighters, and pencils.

Unfortunately for my family, I tend to work in the dining room. It has great lighting, good acoustics (for my blaring music), is kinda on its own so the through-traffic is not that bad, and looks onto the backyard (with a window bench were I can sit and ruminate–yes, I do a lot of that too). This just means that I’m the only one who gets to enjoy this room, as most of the time it’s taken up with all the said paperwork, plus much more, including reference books, cups of water, a multitude of mugs holding tea and coffee at various stages, a tissue box, and the occasional remnant of a snack.

Before anyone asks, no, I won’t take a picture. Maybe one day when it’s cleaned out.

I don’t miss seeing my handwriting. In fact, sometimes the sight of it drives me mad! Especially when I have no inkling as to what in the world my scribbling means.

How about you: Do you every write by hand? Or do you do all your thinking in your head or on the computer? And most importantly, if you do write by hand–can you read your own writing? 


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when you’re sick and bored and

you’re beginning to go a little nuts–no, a lot nuts–what do you do?

 

We’ve had the stomach flu in our house for two solid weeks now. Three young ones with it and myself to tend to (husband has been staving it off), I feel like a bird in cage who has plucked off all their feathers and is now bald. My energy is rising, since I’m here writing a post, and I’m turning my head towards the sun streaming in the window and leaning into it like a cat, instead of hiding away under the covers in the dark–so maybe, just maybe, we’re healing.

I’ve been playing a game on the iPad called Lost Winds 2 (when I can stand looking down and my stomach can tolerate the motion) but have almost completed it. Any suggestions?

The kids have hijacked the TV and it’s permanently on tree house tv. If you don’t know what that is, just think preschooler and lots of singing and animation and you’ve nailed it.

My brain is deteriorating into nothing.

So, do share, how do you pass the time when you’re sick?


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E-book giveaway on Kindle Select

Get the thriller Dead Bishops Don’t Lie, by André K. Baby FREE on Amazon Kindle Select Giveaway TODAY October 9th, tomorrow Oct 10th, and October 23 & 24.

Based on historical events, “Dead Bishops Don’t Lie” draws the reader to the dark side of Vatican politics, where unbridled ambition leads to treachery, revenge and murder.
In early May 2005, the gruesome murders of two archbishops , one in Switzerland, the other in Italy, trigger a worldwide shockwave of indignation and outrage .
Baffled by these ostensibly related crimes and fearing more assassinations, the Swiss and Italian police call Interpol for help. Thierry Dulac, a caustic investigator with an enviable track record, gets the nod.
Dulac’s search for the killers takes him from the hushed corridors of the Vatican and the quiet luxury of a British Marchioness’s château, to the dank prison cells of Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison. Struggling through personal trauma and finally piercing the Vatican Curia’s notorious Code of Silence, Dulac uncovers an astounding, unlikely conspiracy of dirty money, blackmail and state-backed terrorism. He’s just realized the enormity of what he’s discovered when a hit-man strafes the windshield of his Renault…
The reviews: “… A lightning-paced thriller. I can’t wait to read the sequel…” Norbert Spehner.
“. The book’s pages will burn your fingers…” Richard Migneault.

Lawyer and author André K. Baby has mined the wealth of his rich legal experience as a Crown prosecutor and international business lawyer, to forge the plot and characters of his religious thriller, “Dead Bishops Don’t Lie”.
Its stand-alone sequel, “The Jewish Pope”, will be launched in early 2013.

 

 


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From city to suburbia

I grew up in the city, where wildlife was pretty much restricted to pigeons and crows and squirrels. And these creatures kept a distance, and certainly never ventured near or in our home.

It’s been four and a half years since we’ve moved to the suburbs, and to date we’ve had a raccoon make a home in our back porch, a squirrel nibbled a hole in our kitchen screen and help himself repeatedly to snacks in our pantry, a skunk decided to make nightly visits to our back porch as well for one whole summer, a bat cuddled up with my daughter on the couch to watch The Wizard of Oz with her when she was four, the trees and shrubs in our yard has been filled with birds nests, and on one occasion we pulled into our driveway to find a grey fox sitting by the garage door. Infiltration!

It’s been quite amazing, although I admit I would prefer if the animals stay outside.

The summer before last a duck got lazy and didn’t make it to the lakeshore–she had to travel all of about five more blocks to get there–and made a nest under our holly bush at the base of our front steps.

Every morning we left the house, and there she was sitting on her nest. Once in a while she would leave, and we would get all stressed, but she always came back. When she was gone we counted fourteen eggs!

After many days–we don’t remember how many, but those ducklings were about ready to hatch–she must have wandered too long. We stepped out in the morning and found a haze of bugs swirling in the air. There was debris all over the place, shells, blood, feathers. My husband is certain the raccoons got to them. The mommy duck was nowhere to be found.

After I dropped the littles ones of at preschool and elementary school, I returned home. Not long after the mommy duck returned. She waddled around our front lawn (which is quite high up on a hill) for what felt like hours, squawking and calling–I just stood in the window and watched her.

So far there have been more ground nests–thankfully!

A few days ago we found a nest in a dead potted plant on a table on our front porch–we were about to toss it in the garbage. It’s a chickadee nest, and hopefully this time the eggs will hatch. It will be fun to have baby birds calling right outside our front door.

How about you: Any backyard tales to share?

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