On Your Father's Side  

Marshmallows and skeeters

Within 18 minutes of our arrival, the children had shed most of their clothes, disappeared into the forest around Blanket Creek Provincial Park and elected a new leader to negotiate for marshmallows and bug
spray from the adults.

They reappeared four days later nothing short of exhausted, but much richer for the experience.
Seriously, they found, like, three bucks in change.

Such is the camping vacation in Canada, something you no doubt have experienced yourselves.

Camping in Canada goes like this:

  • cram all your belongings into a car — camp stove, tents, blankets,  pillows, 19 changes of clothing, beach toys, all our cutlery, cookware, and all food from the refrigerator.
  • Have the kids crawl over it all into their seats.

We forgot matches, not that you need them in B.C. The province is in a perpetual fire ban or it’s actually on fire, making matches redundant.

I wedged myself into the driver’s seat and didn’t move for 2 1/2 hours before arriving at our destination, just south of Revelstoke.

If you’ve never camped in B.C., remember there’s a system:

  • six months before you leave, you jump out of bed to get online at 6 a.m. and frantically click “RESERVE!” before Albertans and their diesel generators book the province’s entire stock of campsites.

We camped mid-week, meaning we still had choices only two months ahead of time.

Blanket Creek is worth it. It has 105 campsites spread over 318 hectares, each generously divided by towering white pine, cedar and hemlock trees.

Compare that to Shuswap Lake’s 149 ha divided into 275 sites. Sure, it’s probably colder and seemingly has more bugs — plus it rained on our arrival date and our departure date — but that’s what camping is all about, dagnabbit!

Blanket Creek’s lagoon must be unique to this part of the province. It’s fed by the Arrow Lake Reservoir at the Columbia River, and while BC Parks suggests it’s “warm, man-made swimming lagoon,” none of us
could actually swim.

Spending more than 30 seconds in the water numbed your ankles enough that someone could’ve performed minor surgery on them.

A new shower building was set to open — two days after we returned home. Alas. There’s no power hookups, and there were also no noisy generators. Maybe we got lucky there, the rain scaring away some of the buzzing pests.

All of this was inconsequential to our kids. We camped with four other families throughout the week — 10 kids for nine adults.

I didn’t camp much as a kid, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect my girls — from ages three to six — to react the way they did.

They absorbed every second of our time there hiking, biking, running and swimming. (Are you impervious to polar ice cap-fed lagoons at that age?)

They didn’t stop. They barely whined at all. They asked when we could come back. It was a joy to watch.

Coincidentally, we camped with friends who are teachers in different outdoor schools across Canada. Yes, outdoor schools. In Canada.

My dear friend, Natasha Robertson, runs Roots and Branches Forest School in Thunder Bay, Ont., a private, extra-curricular school.

We also spent our last day with Emily and Geoff Styles, teachers instrumental in the formation of the Shuswap Outdoor Learning Foundation in Salmon Arm.

This September, they’re both teaching at South Canoe school which is being converted into a full-time outdoor learning centre.

Within days of School District 83’s parent information night earlier this year, South Canoe had reached its capacity and will begin with 111 students this fall.

It’s attracted parents with children who are languishing in traditional classrooms. Many have behaviour challenges, and their parents are searching for something new.

But kids with autism or ADHD aren’t the only ones who can benefit from spending more time outside.

The growing body of research proves we all benefit from spending more time between trees rather than between cubicle walls.

Kids at South Canoe will still use classrooms, but will spend as much or more time outdoors. Some rooms won’t have desks at all, but communal tables to collaborate around.

It sounds like something you read about happening in those far-off, progressive Scandinavian countries.

I’m so impressed Salmon Arm is leading the charge locally.

Heck, now that my kids are seasoned outdoor adventurers, we’d likely consider it for our kids should Kelowna somehow follow the trend.

Maybe I’d even volunteer more often, now that I’m filled with the confidence of our week at Blanket Creek.

We left early last Tuesday with three children and returned home late Saturday night with three children, their skin covered in red welts, but their bellies full of marshmallows.

Not only that, but they appeared to be our children. By all accounts, we fulfilled our primary duty as parents.

Now, all we need is a holiday.


Kids' author scores an idea

This is how you watch World Cup soccer with your family.

First, find a comfy place on the couch. Adjust the TV volume accordingly.

If you have kids, “Jet Engine” is an appropriate level.

Then, assemble your children around you: toddler on the back of the couch and around your neck like a shawl, preschooler on the arm leaning on your shoulder, and first grader in your lap.

Next, answer 832 questions about soccer that often come out sounding like Confucian riddles.

“Dad, which one is Canada?”

“Canada doesn’t play World Cup soccer, dear.”

“Dad, who is the green guy?”

“That’s the goalie.”

“Why him use his hands?”

“Dad, what team is the yellow guy on?”

“That’s the referee; he’s like a policeman.”

“Does him arrest people?”

“No, but he has the power to take away your life and your career with one wave of his arm.”

That’s when you remember subtlety, sarcasm, and nuance are not friends of your children.

It’s about 14 minutes into the game when your wife suddenly develops the energy of a small wind turbine.

She decides it’s now she wants to wax the hardwood floors and proceeds to start the buffer.

You’ll be needed soon to move that new corner bookshelf into the basement bedroom before dragging the old play structure into the front yard because someone is coming around to buy it soon.

You know, in eight hours or maybe tomorrow.

Return to your chair. Find three little girls in your seat and re-adjust them into their starting positions.

You’re back for the last two minutes of stoppage time in the first half, right when the right back from Nigeria fouls Argentina’s winger, setting off a global diplomatic crisis that requires United Nations Security Council declaration to settle.

It’s riveting political drama.

Finally, the winger kicks the ball of bounds, high over the Nigerian goal.

“Dad, does them take breaks?”

“Yes, at halftime.”

“When’s that?”

The referee blows his whistle, and it’s halftime.

Your wife — who must have received a text alert on her phone -— reappears from the roof, needing your help cleaning the gutters.

Thankfully, with games in Russia being played nine to 13 hours ahead of us this year, it’s only 9 a.m. 

On a Tuesday.

And she has to go to work.

Return to your chair. Re-adjust your children for the second half.

Revel in the glory that is being a stay-at-home dad/writer/contract worker with only night shifts scheduled during the World Cup.

Realize, then, you should probably be working. Or, you know, raising your children.

That’s when it hits you.

You have the next great young adult, post-apocalyptic bestselling literary series on your hands. 
Inspiration has struck.

You grab a notebook and start world building and character sketching.

This is the other wonderful thing about being a stay-at-home dad/writer/contractor: scribbling notes while you watch the World Cup with kids surrounding you is “working!”

With kids, you have to get your work in whenever you can.

Probably the most common question I’ve been asked by friends is that. “How did you write three books with kids?”

I give my fingernails a little “huh-huh” and polish them on my lapel with a jaunty smile, then, tell them, “I have no freakin’ idea.”

It’s all a blur.

I admit that when I wrote my first book, I only had one child and another on the way, so it was slightly easier.
We couldn’t leave the house, either, so it was a good excuse to squirrel away into the basement and write.

The first two books were also written in the fall, right around Halloween.

Tiny little Snickers bars are great writing fuel. I write at about 96 Snickers for every draft of a story.

My “books” are also shorter than you would guess. They’re roughly 23,500 words (plus or minus 10 per cent), and that makes life more manageable.

I also wrote them for “reluctant readers,” meaning kids who struggle to read or who lack motivation to pry themselves from a screen.

Are they Dick and Jane? No, but they’re not The Hunger Games, either.

That’s today’s lesson: if you want to write, don’t wait.

You’re not going to suddenly “find” them time as life marches ahead.

Not with a World Cup to watch, three children to parent, and the next YA bestseller to write.

Incidentally, it’s about a boy who helps his post-apocalyptic government settle a political dispute by volunteering as tribute in a winner-take-all bloodsport.

It’s called The Soccer Games.

Recipe for getting published

I don’t have one of those “stories” about getting published for the first time.

I didn’t slave away at the keyboard until my eyes turned bloodshot and my head collapsed onto the corner of my desk.

Nope. I saw a “help wanted” ad.

It was a chance encounter in early 2012. I was looking for work, and my now publisher had posted an open call for manuscripts.

Lormier Kids and Teens wanted four, full chapters, an outline, a table of contents with descriptions of each subsequent chapter, and a short biography of the author.

They wanted books for their Sports Stories series, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

It was fortune, I know that, because the job board was for work in Eastern Canada (mostly) and it would’ve taken a forklift to get my wife out of Kelowna then (now, you’d need a bulldozer… or a well-appointed limo).

It was also for jobs that focused on sports. Really, there wasn’t much chance of me stumbling upon something in Kelowna through that website.

Well, I suppose that’s not entirely accurate since I did find something incredibly useful.

Chapter 2 of my “story” about publishing is slightly more interesting in that I did nothing about it for a year.

Yes, for the better part of 12 months that opportunity went unanswered.

I wrote the outline, the table of contents, my biography, and two of the four sample chapters. Then, I did nothing.

I know, right?

Thankfully, my brain is much smarter than I am and it wouldn’t let me forget about it.

The Good Ole Brain finally threatened to cut off the part of my body that made it possible to watch nine hours of NFL on Sundays.

That was enough to get me moving again.

The good fortune continued when, after I contacted the publisher, they were still interested in reading my manuscript (that’s publishing talk for “book.”).

After nearly 20 years as a journalist, I expected writing my first book for teens would be a breeze.

I was wrong.

Writing fiction seemed like trying to learn a new language. It was only through the good graces of my editors -- Christie Harkin and Lorimer and my colleague here in Kelowna, Ross Freake.

I hired (bribed?) Ross because it because painfully obvious right away that I desperately needed help.

Some days they were like medics on either side of me, helping me off the battlefield.

A year after that, I produced my first hi-lo book for reluctant readers, Ice Time.

Therein lies the advice I can give anyone striving to get their own fiction published.

First, read everything you can.

I’ve often told young journalism students (or hopeful students) the same thing: everything you need to know about writing is easy to find. You just need to open a book and read it.

Second, finish the damn thing.

It was another colleague, David Wylie, who provided me with that anecdote. 

He attributes it to Stephen King, but most good writers would agree: you don’t get paid to write, you get paid to finish.

That’s why I feel as lucky as I do. I didn’t have a completed book to sell.

That it ever reached print is still amazing to me. That I’ve written two more is even more astounding.

I will never be so naive again.

Third, and finally, write from the heart.

This is a better way to phrase “write what you know.”

It’d be a mistake to shoot for what’s popular now.

The publishing process takes at least a year, and usually much longer, so by the time you’ve written your vampire romance, the world will have moved on to zombie comedies.

As a bonus piece of advice, you should know most writers and editors love to talk about writing and editing.

If you have questions about the craft, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Even if it’s a year from now.


Soothing the wild child

Our middle baby “Betty” was the first to ride her two-wheeler.

She’s often the first to make her bed, and regularly clears her plate from the table as well as those of her sisters.
Betty is also the first to transform into a screaming banshee.

She’s only five, so we can’t be too hard on her.

Have any of you had similar experiences?  (With your kids, not your ex-boyfriends. That’s a different column.) 

We need your advice on how to deal with a preschooler with a hair-trigger temper who can go from sweetness and light to the dark side in the blink of an eye.

Here’s how it works: The girls wake at 6:45 a.m.

Emmy tiptoes into her big sisters’ room and begins poking someone in the eye or soft underbelly with an icy finger.

“Are you awake?” she says in the world’s loudest whisper.

Her sisters begin to rouse themselves begrudgingly.

That sets off a mad dash for our bedroom. They have to be the first to climb into our bed and stake out choice real estate next to mommy.

Betty, because she often volunteers to sleep in the top bunk, needs time to adjust and get down the ladder.

That puts her at a tremendous disadvantage, like if she was running the 100-metre dash, she’d start 15 seconds after the gun.

Trigger the wailing.

“Noooo! Emmy, it’s all your fault!”

We call to her. We sooth her. We assure her there’s room for her to cuddle with mommy before getting dressed for the day ahead.

It does little to temper her tantrum.

Now, it’s not an every-day experience.

Sometimes, she wakes up and bounds into our room with woodland creatures escorting her, a bluebird on her shoulder and bunnies at her feet as she sings “Zippity-do-da.”

Other days, if we don’t feed her dinner by 4 p.m. she’s wearing a rabbit-fur coat dragging on a long cigarette holder ordering henchmen to “find those puppies!”

We’ve tried hugging her. We’ve sent her to her room. We’ve coddled her and cajoled her.

But once the switch flips, we’re all in trouble.

Always the reasonable one, my wife has struck upon a new strategy: we’ll each spend one-on-one time with our girls.

It seems jealousy and competition — just as much as exercise, sleep and a good diet — have a role in the moods of our three girls.

My wife will carve out time, alone, with each of them as individuals, and I’ll do the same.

First up for me is Betty, whom I’ll take to “Dads and Braids” this Sunday.

The fundraising event is being hosted by Loyal Hair at the Prestige Hotel’s Beach House in Kelowna. 

It begins at 10 a.m., plenty of time for an early breakfast in bed.

For $55, you get 90 minutes of hair-care training with your daughter, a styling kit, and the confidence to get your girl ready each morning should your wife’s hands suddenly fall off her arms.

Money goes to JoeAnna’s House.

The Kelowna General Hospital Foundation is attempting to raise $8 million to build and maintain JoeAnna’s House, a home-away-from-home for families undergoing advanced medical treatment in hospital.

“We wanted to stay close to what JoeAnna’s House is all about, and that’s keeping families together,” said Loyal Wooldridge, owner of Loyal Hair.

“This event is such a great way for Dads and their little girls to spend some quality time together one-on-one, have a good laugh, and hopefully it’s not too painful for either party.”

I took our oldest daughter to the Dads and Braids three years ago; it’s training I rely on to this day.

Now, when La-La sees me holding the hairbrush she doesn’t run, screaming, from the room.

Let’s just hope that after Sunday, her little sister is so overwhelmed by love, joy and gratitude, that she’ll do a whole lot less shouting, too.

To learn more about Dads and Braids, visit Eventbrite.

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About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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