Blended edited by Samantha Waltz

cover_blendedIt took until 2011 for Statistics Canada to formally include stepfamilies in the population census. At that time, almost 500,000 Canadian families – over 12 per cent – were step. It’s telling that stepfamilies had been left out. We tend to believe they are not so different from others; stories unique to blended families often go unheard.

A new book brings the stepfamily experience to light. Blended will be published by Seal Press this May. Edited by Samantha Waltz, Blended offers thirty personal essays by upcoming and established writers. Tone and circumstance vary across these stories, as we would expect from thirty diverse families, yet all contributors focus on the challenges of re-mixing relationships into something whole and profoundly new. Continue reading

A Day in My Life: Andrea Lundrigan

Summer, 2014.

Wake up at 7:45am, pull up yesterday’s jeans, braid hair to hide the bedhead. Find Bea already up and dressed.

Make breakfast and lunch at the same time – savour the Valley strawberry jam on my English muffin. Wonder if perhaps I’m packing too much food – she’s 9 and leaving home for eight hours, not a trucker traveling for eight days.

Out the door by 8:25—five minutes late. Am silently thankful it isn’t hot yet; my face won’t get sweaty and make yesterday’s grease extra shiny. (Remember too late that I forgot to wash my face.) Walk fast to make up lost time.

Arrive at the theater slightly out of breath. Shake hands with the director, turn to say farewell, discover that she has already joined the game, and hasn’t looked back.

Take the stairs and realise Bea can be spied on from the pedway. Glimpse just long enough to emit a silent prayer that she will have fun, and make a new friend. Hop on the bus to get home faster, hoping to find a few minutes alone with Henry, before Letty wakes.

Find a newspaper on the bus, read first the horoscopes and then skim an article on an upcoming preliminary hearing. Feel heavy hearted for a women I’ve never met, and all those that loved her.

Transfer buses. Wish I felt less frumpy when an attractive man steps aside to let me board first. Remember that because of opposing work schedules I have spent 26 minutes with my husband in the last four days. Arrive home with the sick realization that walking would have been faster.

Spend a few minutes with Henry before he heads to bed. Interrupted by Letty seeking breakfast. Fix her a plate of sliced banana bread and orange wedges while she rattles on about Minecraft.

Return to bed for a snuggle and a story. Re-read “Who has What?” and “What’s in There?” Wonder if anyone has ever been as proud and excited to have a uterus as she.

Convince Letty to get dressed. She chooses her polka dot tights, polka dot skirt, striped shirt, polka dot jacket and mermaid rubber boots. Try not to be outwardly shocked that the mix of dots and stripes looks good together. Instantly remember I know nothing about fashion having grown up in the Grunge era. Briefly miss the big brown wool sweater that hung to my knees and paired well with long johns worn as pants.

Arrive at the hairdresser, happy to find the round, chatty lady isn’t working yet. Watch Letty have her hair chopped off, all the way up to her chin.

Splash in puddles all the way back home. Hop in the shower, wonder where the day went. Scramble eggs and make smoothies for lunch. Console the cat, crying for the big girl. Ms. Kitty, much like myself, is happiest when all her babies are home. Wake Henry. Grab a quick hug. Rush to the bus stop.

Arrive at work. Feel tired. Crave a Kit-Kat bar, but the vending machine is out. Chit-chat with co-workers. Send some emails. Work on a report. Forgo break in lieu of a phone chat with the best gal pal. Put out some small fires. Pack up to head home.

Discover that my Mother, with my children in tow, has come to pick me up. Bombarded with details of theatre camp. “Lunch was great! Bella is my new best friend! Tomorrow I need to bring a costume, but I don’t know what to bring!” (Suggest the Mary Queen of Scots dress leftover from Halloween, or the harried mother-bathrobe look. Get denied.) “Someone is allergic to dairy and nuts so I didn’t eat my lunch because I was sure there are milk products in my cookies, and I didn’t want to accidentally kill my new friends. What should I take for lunch tomorrow?”

Stop for lunch supplies. Everyone tumbles out of the car. Five minute trip takes 25. Buy bagels, pizza sticks, yogurt, avocados, cherries and chocolate croissants. Encourage Letty to climb into the bottom basket to aid in speed and efficiency. Pretend not to see the women shaking her head at my parenting skills.

Arrive home to dark house. Offer reward to child who is first to apply pajamas and brush their teeth. Tuck in Bea, and shut the light. No reading the night way, when morning is scheduled to come too early.

Agree to re-read Letty’s morning books in exchange for an easy bedtime. Try to think of the proper response when she asks “if everyone comes from a uterus, where did the first uterus come from?” Think of Adam’s rib, and monkeys. Use the old standby, “I’m not sure, ask Daddy tomorrow.” Melt a little when she asks me to kiss her “Poor Head” (forehead) goodnight. Rejoice at the glimpse of my baby in this fast growing child.

Mentally write tomorrow’s “To Do List” until her eyes shut and breathe evens out. Carry her into her own bed.

Brush teeth. Feed the cats. Prepare tomorrow’s lunch box. Double check locks. Text love to the husband, relieved he will be home for four days in a mere 7 hours. Stumble to bed. Remember too late that I still haven’t washed my face.

Three Quick Reviews: The Women of the East Coast Literary Awards

Last week, the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia announced the winners of their annual East Coast Literary Awards for published works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

As always, a batch of fine contenders were shortlisted. As almost always in the publishing world, most of the shortlisted books and all of the winning titles were written by men.

Now, I’m sure the WFNS judged on merit alone. I’m not questioning their process or the literary skills of the winning authors. I would like to draw attention to still-prevalent trends in publishing, however: men publish more, are reviewed more, and win more awards.

Among the suggested reasons for this state of literary affairs:

  • Fewer women are published in literary magazines, which function as gateways to publishing contracts.
  • Women are less aggressive than men in resubmitting rejected work.
  • More women than men juggle careers, caregiving and housekeeping; writing remains a hobby, not a profession.
  • The publishing world is still male-dominated and inherently sexist.

While there is no pat explanation or quick antidote, we can—and must!—continue to read, encourage, mentor, support and celebrate women writers. More publishing deals and accolades for women will follow. This is part of our mission at Understorey Magazine.

And so, without further griping or ado, we celebrate the three fabulous women-authored books that were shortlisted for a 2014 East Coast Literary Award.

shapeFiction: The Family Took Shape by Shashi Bhat (Cormorant Books). Six-year-old Mira Acharya lives in Richmond Hill, Toronto, with her mother, older brother, Ravi, and a loose-knit community of “aunties” and “uncles.” We know Mira’s father is dead, that Ravi is in special ed, and that her mother is quietly unraveling. Throughout her childhood, and into her teens and early adulthood, Mira must reconcile chance and will, parts of life she can control and those she has been dealt. In doing so, Mira grapples with death, ethnic and immigrant identity, mental illness, sex, self image, and the bonds of family.

hookingPoetry: Hooking by Mary Dalton (Véhicule Press/Signal Editions). Hooking is a book of centos, a poetic form in which lines from other poems are woven—or hooked—into new literary works. In Hooking, her fifth collection, award-winning poet Mary Dalton honours both the traditional craft of rug hooking and the many writers whose poems form the strands of her own. Themes of handiwork and creativity run through the book: “Cloth,” “Brush-Stroke,” “Braid,” “Cross-Stitch.” And like a rug hooked from scraps of saved cloth, there is overall pattern and texture in Hooking—as well as sprigs of unexpected colour and curiosity.

SueGoyetteOcean[1]Poetry: Ocean by Sue Goyette (Gaspereau Press). Sue Goyette has won many literary prizes, including an East Coast Literary Award for poetry in 2012. Her latest collection, Ocean, is beautiful inside and out. The cover feels like handmade paper and a simple wave-like pattern carries readers into the book, and into the ocean. This is no ode to the sea but described instead as a biography. The fifty-six poems rock us back before ancestors salted the waters with tears, then thrust us forward to 3D ocean films and scratch-and-sniff coastal cards. As readers, as maritimers, we abide the ocean, alternately observing, acquiescing, sinking in.

A Day in My Life: Courtney Gerber

Greeted my toddler at 7:15am.

Nursed said toddler.

Nuzzled said toddler until 7:45am.

Ate breakfast.

Played, played, and played toddler-style.

Cleaned a poopy diaper.

Started to clean the shower (one tile down, quite a few damn many to go).

Rushed to the gym for a 45-minute workout. (Thank you partner for staying home with the kiddo.)

Made lunch for myself and my daughter.

Spent ten minutes trying to convince my daughter to eat.

Changed clothes.

Rode a trolley with the family.

Talked the little one off a cliff when we had to exit the trolley.

Disassembled the car seat. Washed the car seat. Vacuumed the car. Reassembled the car seat.

Registered for the neighborhood garage sale.

Wrote a gallery learning activity for a museum educator clinic I’m leading tomorrow.

Composed notes for a consulting gig I’ve got on Wednesday.

Reviewed blog pitches I submitted to a company that I’ll be speaking to on Wednesday.

Cleaned out the silverware drawer.

Finished cleaning the shower. (I’m really happy about this one!)

Went to the park with my family.

Gave my daughter hugs and kisses while her Dad readied her for dinner and bed.

Went to the grocery store.

Got my daughter’s daycare supplies together for the week.

Glanced at job openings.

Stressed about going to my current job.


Kissed my husband.

Read a few pages in a book.


Understorey Magazine at Word on the Street!

wots_halifax_logo_colourJoin Understorey Magazine on Saturday, September 21, 11-5, on the Halifax Waterfront for Word on the Street. We’ll have a table with copies of the magazine and exclusive (you won’t find them anywhere else) Understorey bookmarks and coasters to give away.

We are also hosting a panel of fantastic authors who will read from their new mother-centric books:

  • Elaine Lui, Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort Of).
  • Natalie Meisner, Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family.
  • Vicky Murphy: MotherFumbler.
  • Natalie Corbett Sampson, Game Plan.

Hope to see you there!