Author Archives: Brigitte Pellerin

Normal by death (a novel) – chapter nine

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Nathalie had never been so grateful to have found Marc than that particular week. What a rock he’d been. Even when he was still away up north on an exercise, he’d found time to text her many encouraging notes (he would have found time to skype, too, if only there had been half-decent internet where they were, but fat chance of that in the bush or tundra or whatever the hell it is they call the wilderness outside the “towns” of northern Quebec. Nothing up there works like it’s supposed to. Cellphones do, most of the time, if you don’t mind your call dropping six times during a conversation. Marc had tried phoning Nathalie a few times but disliked having to redial her every third minute. It felt to him like he was letting her down, somehow. Much better to text.

He was back home this week, and he called in sick to help his partner of nearly 10 years and the mother of his beautiful children get through the emotional rollercoaster of losing both parents in a week. He sometimes called Nathalie his wife but in point of fact, like most couples their age in Quebec, they’d never bothered getting married because they didn’t see the point of sealing their union with a bit of paper in a church neither belonged to. And truth be told, while plenty of common-law partnerships went south in that province, the relationship Marc and Nathalie had was as solid as any marriage. Probably more solid than a bunch of them, actually. They were extremely committed to each other, having both had bad break-ups before finding each other.

Marc had carved out a comfortable enough life for Nathalie and their kids. They weren’t rich, but he pulled in enough overtime to provide them with a reasonably decent living. Nathalie worked at a corner store part time, and they used her salary to pay for restaurants and movie outings once or twice a month. They weren’t putting money away, much. They wanted to, but they didn’t earn enough to cover that and their share of the cost of living at Résidence des Érables for Nathalie’s parents, which came up to $2,000 a month (Nathalie’s brother Jean-François covered the other $2,000, goodness only knew how). It was an arrangement that had been decided on mostly by their mother, and she’d sure laid on a fine guilt trip on them to make sure they accepted the expense.

“I’ve spent so much time and money raising you,” she’d said, over and over and over again in the two or three years before they finally settled on which retirement residence they would live in, “now I expect you children to help us live out the rest of our lives in as much comfort as I gave you.”

As I gave you, Nathalie remembered. Yeah, that was an interesting way to put it. It was her dad who’d earned the money, not her mom. And while they weren’t poor, they also never really lived in the kind of luxury their mother expected to get now. I mean, considering the government was subsidizing some of the costs by capping the amount the residence could charge the family at $4000 a month per couple ($2500 per single individual, provided the person was mostly autonomous; it got a lot more expensive as the level of care required went up), it was a big cost for Nathalie and Marc to absorb. It was also difficult for Jeff some months to come up with the money. Poets didn’t usually get a very reliable income, and there were months that were pretty dry. Nathalie had more than once had to help him cover his half of the costs, and had also gotten on his case a lot about the need to get a job, any kind of job, to help cover his expenses, but he always resisted that.

“Artists aren’t meant to sweat at menial jobs,” he’d sniffed, completely oblivious to how offensive that sounded to Nathalie, who had to be happy with her menial job at the corner store down the street, not because she couldn’t find work someplace else, but because at least at that store the owner was exceedingly understanding of her family’s needs and offered her the kind of flexibility in her hours that was hard to come by.

Nathalie’s parents had been living at the residence for nearly five years now, which meant Marc and Nathalie had had to come up with nearly $120,000, and that wasn’t money they’d been planning to spend for that purpose. In fact, they’d had to dip into their line of credit more than once to make the payments, and of course their own kids’ education funds were pretty dry. While he hated himself for thinking such thoughts so soon after their deaths, Marc couldn’t help thinking how much this freed-up money would help him retire sooner and spend more time helping with the kids and maybe take up a second career as a boat fixer. He’d always loved boats, and when he allowed himself to daydream he saw a nice little profitable business crafting beautiful custom houseboats. He’d even found his supplier of pontoons and had found a small lake not half an hour away where he could rend a slip and test his boats and everything. He could turn the garage into a shop and earn enough, on top of his pension, to keep them comfortable and help the kids get through college if that’s what they wanted.

Not that this was a good time to think about this, of course. His wife – I mean, partner – was in his arms, sobbing, and his was stroking her hair gently, not saying much of anything except to remind her that he was there for her and that they’d get through this together.

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You know what I’d really like?

I’d really like to see Western feminists up in arms about this:

A Pakistani group has drafted a women’s protection bill that says that a husband can “lightly beat” his wife if needed. In response, numerous gutsy women are protesting with a photo-based social media campaign under the hashtag  #TryBeatingMeLightly.

The campaign was started by Pakistani photographer Fanhad Rajper, in response to a proposal by the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body of clerics and scholars which advises the government.

The draft bill recommends that a husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she refused to dress properly, talks to strangers, speaks too loudly or gives money to people without his permission. It also asks for a ban on women in combat, receiving foreign dignitaries and working in advertisements. The draft has been widely criticised by activists and sections of the media.

#TryBeatingMeLightly is an initiative to empower women amongst us who work towards individual and collective betterment,” Rajper wrote on Facebook. “It’s an opportunity for those to voice their opinions who can’t or don’t.”

Rajper’s Facebook album on the campaign has received over 850 shares, with Pakistani women of all ages coming forward with their gutsy responses to the bill.

I don’t care one bit about arguments that say we shouldn’t criticize other cultures because we don’t understand what life over there really is like. I mean, up to a point it’s true; I’ve never been to Pakistan and I have very little clue what life over there is like. But I know this: It is wrong to beat people, especially people who are smaller and more frail than you. It’s wrong here, it’s wrong there, it’s wrong everywhere. Unless you are in a situation of legitimate self-defense, that is.

In which case, pound the clown with all the cultural sensitivity you can muster.

Clear enough?

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So, what does a “non-working” mother do all day?

This Aussie dad found out the hard way. He’s awfully cute, isn’t he.

And remember this, people: All mothers are working mothers, whether they stay home or not. Personally, I could not have gone the daycare route (can’t leave my babies with strangers, just can’t), but that doesn’t mean a career-less life. Instead of having to choose between the two, I arranged my life (pre-children) so that I could continue doing my writing and other work while caring for my kids and homeschooling them. Is it perfect? No. Nothing ever is. Has my career taken a hit? Yes, for sure. But I don’t mind.

Whatever domestic arrangements you prefer, know this: having kids is very different than not having kids. And never – ever – take anything for granted.

Also? Have fun. Kids are a blast, and those early years only last so long. Try to laugh off the barf. Like this:

081228_Got_mom_1 - Copy

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Why giving kids real (difficult) goals is worth it

Quiet day in MayhemVille today… Woke up at the lake, bright and early. Came *this close* to trying a morning swim. It’s not quite warm enough for a solo swim just yet, but soon, soon. Did some work, had breakfast, then packed, boated and drove home. Early lunch, one hour of karate, trip to library and Whole Foods (tried the organic blueberry/maple pork sausages – WOW, are they awesome), came back home for some work and homeschool supervision (today’s assignment: the two big girls had to teach the youngest all the karate stuff she needs to know to move towards her new belt; some days the kids catch a break), then back to the dojo for another good tournament team training session. Helped teach the little kids’ class with the two big girls (the youngest is still in the little kids’ class, but not for much longer, especially if her sisters teach her well), then home for some ice cream and tea before gently collapsing.

So far so humdrum. Typical Monday. But two things happened today that made me reflect on one of my parenting rules, and they both concern the Eldest. First one happened both yesterday and today during tournament team training, where she’s been hitting the gas pedal hard and showing some real intensity and willingness to pay attention to what we tell her and do her very best to put it in practice. She even got praised for working so hard today by our head coach, who is not easy to impress. I commented to him that it was as though she’d found a switch somewhere inside her and had decided to flip it on. I believe that making the national team and qualifying for the Worlds has given her a mighty kick in the patootie and she now seems to believe that she is indeed able to accomplish difficult things if she works hard enough at it.

The second one happened in the little kids’ class, where she was given one student to teach by herself. This was the second time she’d been given a student to herself. As I explained to her afterwards, this tells me she did it right the first time and is now considered trustworthy enough to be allowed to teach on her own. “It’s a wonderful opportunity you have there,” I told her, “to be considered trustworthy is very precious indeed. You’ve earned it, and you should do your best to keep it, because you’ll find it very rewarding to be trusted like this.”

She was beaming 60,000 watts of course. She loves being thought of as responsible (it’s a first-born thing). But to be honest although she’s only 9 and a half the road to this trustworthy status was not always very smooth for her. She’s been wanting to help teach for a long time, and she has been working as a junior helper for a good two years now, but it’s only recently that she’s really found the inner strength and discipline to take her role of helper and junior mentor seriously enough. I am immensely gratified that she now has a very real reward for all the hard work she’s put into it.

And this brings me to the parenting rule: Don’t ever hesitate to give your kids difficult, challenging and *real* goals to achieve. Ideally the kids themselves should have a great deal of input as to what the goals should be (e.g. qualifying for a particular sports team, or winning a piano contest, or getting published, whatever), but you the parent should guide them towards something real and meaningful. Make the kids reach. Don’t let them settle for mediocrity. Be honest with them about where they are on the progress scale towards their goal and never – ever – give them empty praise. Always assure them that you love them no matter what. Tell them you’re proud of them – always. Even if they don’t win or make it, you are darn proud of their efforts. Help them find their inner strength. Ideally you should lead by example, too. Show them how much work you put in to achieve your goals. Let them see you struggle, doubt, then let them see you defeat obstacles. Show them that being discouraged sometimes is a perfectly natural reaction. That it’s OK to doubt, but not OK to give up. And you’ll see, one day, your baby will accomplish something awesome and you’ll be so profoundly happy – not just for them, but with them.

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The morning after is never as bad as the morning after that – or why I can’t afford to stop training

So yes. I’d be lying if I said that yesterday’s fun didn’t make me a bit stiff this morning. Ahem. Yes. A bit. I went for a quick short jog first thing to loosen things up (didn’t work) and worked as hard as I could for about 85 of the first 90-minutes of the workout and then ran out of gas. So the good news is: I *almost* made it! The bad news? There is no bad news. It’s all good.

I trained harder these past few months than I’ve ever done in my life. I’m in better shape now that I’ve ever been. Heck, I’m in better shape than most people half my age. So I’m stiff and sore and couldn’t *quite* manage to last until the bitter end of training this morning? That’s fine. No problem there at all.

Now off to the lake we go (via Home Depot to buy and carry building materials; or why I am eating a hearty lunch), and back to the dojo tomorrow for more fun.

What, no day off? No, not really. Usually the morning after big training is sore, but not nearly as sore as the morning after that. So that’s why I try not to take days off. It’s when you stop that it really starts hurting. But I confess that tonight my workout will be of the aquatic kind. Variety is good for you.

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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter eight

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

“Hey, Rose!”

The woman he was talking to was Rose Lieberman, a perky 29-year-old cop who is, not to put too fine a point on it, the clever and lucky bitch who would unravel what passes for my life. The man who called her was her boss, Capitaine Raymond Bouthilier, of the mighty Laval constabulary.

“You bellowed, sir?”

“Yeah. I need you to do a search for me on the recent break and enters in Laval-des-Rapides. We got a tip suggesting one of the mid-level gang suspects Organized Crime is investigating might be running some kind of a recruiting thing in that area, identifying kids who might have a talent for slipping in and out of places without getting caught and a distaste for law, order and good government.”

The young constable could not hide her surprise. “Yes, sir, but wouldn’t it be a better idea if they had their own people run this search? Aren’t they more familiar with the details of the investigation?”

Bouthilier lifted his head and looked at her over his reading glasses. “Is there a problem, Lieberman?”

Rose never knew when to lie. That was one more infuriating thing about her. “Well, not actually a problem, sir, but rather a concern that I may not be equipped to do this job the way it deserves to be. I also have a few open vandalism cases I’m investigating.” Something about his face made her switch gears in a hurry. “But if you really need me to do that search for them, sir, I’ll do it of course.”

Bouthilier was tempted to glower and send her on her way trembling, but he was a better cop than that. Unfortunately for me. He knew very well that Rose wasn’t lazy; on the contrary she was about as keen as they come. She was so keen, in fact, as to be a touch annoying sometimes and not just to those of us she caught. She so desperately wanted to make it to the Major Crimes unit, there wasn’t a cop in the entire force who didn’t know about it. She wanted to catch rapists and murderers, that was clear. She’d been told she had to prove herself in the division looking after minor crimes and misdemeanors before being considered for the big leagues, and she’d jumped into that field with both feet. There was no need to make this constable tremble, her boss reckoned. She’d come to the police force self-motivated. Which the old-fashioned capitaine considered a rare and beautiful thing, especially nowadays when kids got out of school expecting the world on a platter.

He smiled. “Thanks. I know you’re busy but there’s a reason we want you to run that search, and it’s precisely that you’re not already buried in the details of the organized crime gangs they’re investigating. You will be able to look at the evidence with fresh eyes and maybe be able to see something the other guys can’t. Besides – and you keep that one to yourself – I hear they’re getting ready for a major raid with the SQ and the admin personnel is swamped.”

Rose beamed inside, and I of course panicked. If only I could tell Abdul so he could warn his fri– well, they weren’t his friends, really, but his associates. Raids with the SQ, the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force, always made the news, and for good reasons. They were spectacular, and they helped put some of the big criminal fish behind bars. But what was more important to Rose was that those raids disrupted the gangs’ operations, and she very much enjoyed the thought that for a while at least there was a possibility some of their victims might be rescued.

Organized crime had moved a long way from dealing drugs and selling illegal guns to whoever had five grand and no questions. Now they worked with some rotten elements from the native bands whose reserves straddled the border with the United States to smuggle people caught in the sex trade. And not just 20-somethings from the Ukraine either. The victims were increasingly younger… One thing I liked about Abdul is he didn’t touch that. He was a crook alright, but an honest one, if you catch my drift.

“Yes, sir,” Rose enthused. “Thank you for your confidence in me. I will make you proud.”

Capitaine Bouthilier mumbled a thank you and gave himself a mental high five for being such a terrific leader.

****

Amanda had died on Thursday and it was now Sunday. Her body had been transferred to the funeral home and prepared for cremation. The recently departed had never liked funerals, and detested visitation. So ghoulish, to come look at a corpse in a casket and say things like, “Wow, they did a good job, she looks like she’s peacefully sleeping…” She’d always been very clear about her wishes: No visitation, no big service, and don’t let my body get eaten by bugs. Burn it, put the ashes in a pretty urn and set it down somewhere nice.

Marcel was uneasy about this, and always had been, not that he’d dared defy his wife while she was alive. But now he faced a real ethical dilemma; did he follow her directions against his better judgment, or did he take over the decision-making now that she was dead? He didn’t know what to do. He assumed friends and family would want to come to some kind of visitation and say goodbye. He tried to get Nathalie to change her mother’s will post-mortem, especially as the ladies from the residence were asking when they could visit. As in, visit the corpse. No doubt to comment on how alive the makeup made her look, and to make notes on which kind of hairstyle worked best in death.

What a pickle the poor man was in, and how fortunate for him that his problems were more or less over.

****

Like his wife, Marcel Toussignant was found dead by the morning staff at Résidence des Érables, on the Tuesday before Amanda’s funeral. And like his wife, his demise was not entirely attributable to natural causes, not that there was anything in his circumstances that made anybody particularly suspicious. Did I mention I’m good at what I do?

Marcel had diabetes, he hadn’t been eating or sleeping much in almost a week, and since there were no signs of struggle or violence nor any reason to suspect foul play, people just assumed the old man had died of a broken heart. It happened a fair bit, at that age. His life was his wife, the ladies at the residence said. No wonder he went when she did. Couldn’t go on without her.

It made them shed a tear or two, even. Although when they thought about it more, they weren’t sure if they found the situation romantic or pathetic. Every woman wants a man who can’t live without her, but do they really mean it quite this literally? The ladies shook their heads at the tragedy of it all, and dabbed their eyes some more, but their sadness was tempered somewhat by the fact that Marcel had presumably died without undue pain. At least, there was that.

[next chapter]

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A true fitness test

The test to see how fit you are is not how fast you can run or how many pushups you can do or how fast you can do 30 burpees.

It’s how long it takes you to recover. The shorter the time it takes you to get back to abnormal after pushing yourself very hard, the more fit you are.

I’m about to test my fitness.

I just finished a difficult two-hour test for my third-degree black belt (I passed, yay me), two hours after doing a 45-minute cardio kickboxing class. Now I want to go do another difficult 90-minute black belt pretest with the brown belts going for black and the black belts going for second-degree.

I’m drinking water and downing some protein, doing a quick wash of the gi and (yet another) quick shower and back to the dojo I go. I’m reasonably sure I can get through another 90 minutes, but what I don’t know is how strong I can make this look. This will be my test. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve recovered… 👍

Post-two-litres-of-water-update: Well, then, I am indeed quite fit. And it is a tribute to the men who train me (remember #TrainedByASpartan? Yeah. Those guys). I’m not saying I wasn’t feeling my day when the last 90 minutes of pretest started. My legs were heavy and not particularly energetic. And I confess that I was starting to sag a little bit near the end. But I made it through no problem, and what’s more, I think I managed to look not much different than I normally do on those workouts – the ones I do without doing another two-hour grading just before, I mean. It just goes to show how much more work there is in you when you think you’re dead. That’s why I always encourage people to push themselves a little bit past their limits. To keep trying even when they don’t feel like it anymore. Because every time you do that – even if it’s just for another 2 or 3 minutes – you make yourself better. And if you keep pushing yourself more or less every time you train, before long you’ll be in great shape.

Now I must make sure to hydrate well and sleep a full night. I will let myself have a great dessert treat: homemade chocolate pudding (throw heavy cream in a bowl, add a little bit of maple syrup, then throw in cocoa powder and mix until you reach the consistency of ganache then just eat it with a spoon – it’s food from heaven, I tell ya) and tomorrow morning it’s another jog followed by intense two-hour training session. That, too, will be a test. In a good way (see “pushing yourself”, above).

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Wish me strength

Today is Grading Day for third-degree black belt. Preceded by a light jog earlier this morning, now Buddy Day at the dojo (plus cardio class) and followed, if I still have energy, by another 90 minutes of hard training for next week’s black belt test for those grading for first- and second-degree black belts (so many ways to get lost in all those grading days…), followed by another jog then hard training tomorrow morning, the first step towards the Worlds in November.

So yes. I ate my ice cream last night and a solid brekkie this morning. I have pain killers for my sore back, spare tea, some excellent food to snack on throughout the day, and my usual stubbornness that makes me push through things when I don’t feel like it anymore.

I should make it through, right?

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Life as a part-time novelist

Some of you may have noticed that I finally (finally!) started publishing my novel. It’s in serial form for several reasons, not the least of which is that I find it easier to focus on small bits of it at a time and of course the other big reason is that waiting for the whole thing to be just so would have meant publishing the story on the 12th of Never and that would not do.

I am done being a chicken about it.

When it’s done I will publish it in ebook format and maybe also in paper version, and those will be for sale. Because starving artists must eat a few crumbs now and then. But the money really isn’t everything. I like it enough, for sure, and like it or not we all need sufficient amounts of it to pay the bills, but that’s not why I write. Which is just as well given how un-rich most writers are. 😉

No, I write because now that I managed to get past the fear of actually publishing my story, I find the process of refining it and putting it out there tremendously fun and rewarding. Thrilling, too. I still get a few palpitations as my mouse hovers over the “publish” button every time I put a chapter out. But I love it very much.

Just this morning I was fussing a bit with chapter 19. I have now published the first 7 so yes, I’m ahead of you. The whole book is written, fear not, but not every part of it is ready for the world just yet. So I review later parts as I get earlier parts ready for publication, and eventually the whole thing will be out and it’ll be time to get started on my second one, about which I’ve been ruminating quietly for a while already.

So there. Do I miss working in TV news? No. To be thoroughly honest about it, while I enjoyed the relationship with viewers and most colleagues, the business of finding interesting things to say about the news was on the verge of giving me a nervous breakdown. I’m much happier outside that world than in. And the joy I get from writing my stories more than makes up for the lost salary.

I only hope reading my novel gives you half as much fun as writing it gives me. If it does, then we’re really in business.

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Hope you enjoyed your cheap meat. Here’s the bill…

People always pat me on the head when I mention how scared I am of routine use of antibiotics in livestock. They say I’m exaggerating. They say it’s not so bad. They say it would be cruel to deny antibiotics to sick animals. Which is not *at all* the point I’m making – I have nothing against treating sick animals with the necessary medicine, but I am very much against feeding antibiotics to livestock as a matter of routine to prevent them from getting sick because they are raised in conditions that would make them sick if it were not for the antibiotics.

Cows were not meant to eat grain, and they sure weren’t meant to stand around knee deep in their own poop in an overcrowded feedlot. When you stick animals in conditions like this, they obviously tend to get sick. Solution? Pump the feed full of antibiotics so animals don’t get sick. Give them more drugs so they grow plumper faster. Woohoo! Say hello to $0.99 double cheeseburger.

Except:

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotic of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could signal “the end of the road” for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers determined that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” In some instances, these superbugs kill up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.

Health officials said the case in Pennsylvania, by itself, is not cause for panic. The strain found in the woman is treatable with some other antibiotics. But researchers worry that the antibiotic-resistant gene found in the bacteria, known as mcr-1, could spread to other types of bacteria that can already evade other types of antibiotics.

It’s the first time this colistin-resistant strain has been found in a person in the United States. In November, public health officials worldwide reacted with alarm when Chinese and British researchers reported finding the colistin-resistant strain in pigs, raw pork meat and in a small number of people in China. The deadly strain was later discovered in Europe, Africa, South America and Canada.

“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview Thursday.

What can you do? Stop eating meat that’s produced with the use of drugs. How can you tell? It’s usually the cheapest one. Look for meat that’s produced without growth hormones or antibiotics. Ideally get grass-fed beef. Yes, it’s more expensive. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find. I’m not saying to switch 100% overnight. But whenever possible, use your money to promote clean agriculture, not factory farming. You’ll do your body, your environment, and your public health, some good.

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