Monday, March 09, 2020

Better than the Write Shoes

Wanted to share my First Monday March column with you. Maybe you can relate.

Have you ever had the week from hell and it’s only Monday? That’s how I felt. I needed something to ease my nerves. My usual approach to restoring my equilibrium wasn’t an option. I’d already had so many baths that my fingers were permanently pruney. The next best calming tactic was cooking. There’s something about chopping, dicing, and simmering. But my husband headed me off. Please, not another pot of soup, he said. That only leaves shoe shopping, I told him. He tossed my purse over to me. I was surprised he preferred another pair of shoes in the closet to another pot of soup on the stove, but who was I to question it.
Truthfully, I needed to get out of the house. On the nicer weather days, I’d been holed up in my office, more commonly referred to as my nest. My work was now finished but I was nursing a headache that refused to stay away. And I’d been in pyjamas for days.
I dressed and climbed behind the wheel for the hour’s drive. It would clear my head, give me some fresh air, and a brand new pair of shoes.
I was already in a better frame of mind when I pulled up to the curb in front of my favourite store. It didn’t have the outcome I’d expected. The shoes I liked didn’t fit, and the ones that fit I didn’t like. Determined to stay upbeat, I remembered the chocolate shop just up the street. It’s fact that chocolate is a mood lifter. Who’s to argue with science. I headed to the chocolate shop but slowed in front of a dress store. Something about their colourful window drew me inside. That was unusual since I detest clothes shopping.
When he heard I’d never been in his shop before he asked what brought me to town. I’m taking a mental health afternoon, I answered. Always one to tell it like it is I added that I needed a timeout. He responded with positive support that made me feel good.
He provided customer service that’s sadly lacking in retail today. Clearly, he was the owner. As he explained the various lines he carried, I mentioned that I had once owned a similar shop. My disclosure captured his interest.
Since he opened his store during the time I was retailing, we discovered many mutual acquaintances in the business and began reminiscing about the early days. It was like meeting up with an old school friend. We shared many of the same experiences from that time. I enjoyed our conversation and the laughs. It was the first time in many years that I’d spoken with someone from those trade days.
The timing was uncanny as my memoir about the retail boom of the 80s and 90s is soon to be released. When I paid for my purchase I wrote down my name and the title of my book. You’ll relate to so much of it, I told him.
When I left his store, I forgot all about the chocolates I’d looked forward to buying. I already had a smile on my face. During my drive home I realized how auspicious my afternoon had been. Social interaction is healing. My mental health had greatly improved and it didn’t take a pair of shoes, or chocolates.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Magical Phenomenon

I was lounging in an attitude adjustment bubble bath when I focused on the picture at the end of the tub. I love how it makes me feel. How it’s always made me feel. A shady verandah with tall plant stands, greenery, and a wooden swing bench. A blonde toddler, her chubby bare feet peeking beneath her nightdress, sits with her teddy bears.
This picture has hung in every room, nook, and cranny of my home for the past thirty years. It has adorned the family room, the landing of the stairs, a front entrance, and for a few years it graced the laundry room. Actually, it was hanging over the washer and dryer when I posed the question to my granddaughter. Who is that in the picture? She didn’t hesitate to name her younger sister. I smiled. That’s what I think, too, I told her.
I went on to explain that her daddy had bought me that picture for Mother’s Day. He was maybe thirteen at the time, I said. Aside from the fact that it was a gift from my kid, for some reason I never could part with it. It was twenty years later that the image in the picture made my eyes widen. How could that be, I wondered. I couldn’t stop staring at that sweet child. She was indeed the image of my son’s youngest daughter.
Hearing her older sister confirm the likeness gave me goosebumps. So it’s not just me, I thought.
At the end of my mood-altering, fingertip pruning soak, I smiled as I tapped my heel against the tub stopper to release the now tepid water. My cantankerous mood was gone. Sometimes when I’m feeling irritable or grumpy all I need are warm suds. Today, I’m not sure if I should credit the bath, or the picture. Of course, you realize the good vibes are from more than a pleasing toddler pic. It’s mostly the wonder of how my young son bought a picture the likeness of his future child.
Serendipity. Coincidence. Fluke. I prefer Magic. Yes, I believe in magical moments.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tis the Season

So the big holiday is almost here. I laid the xmas presents out on the table for wrapping. That’s where they are now. Not wrapped, but they are ready to be wrapped. I have paper somewhere. It’s leftover from last year. There should be a bin downstairs with gift bags and wrap. I’ll check tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll just wrap some tissue paper around them. I’m sure I have ribbon somewhere. 
We need to make a grocery list I told my husband. And we have to make a trip to the bank. It’s a bloody nuisance not having a bank within a thirty-minute drive. That’s just one-way. So considering the wait time in the bank, we’re looking at an hour and a half to pick up some cash. There’s a grocery store next door to the bank I reminded my husband. We’ll get it all done in one trip. He agreed and suggested I might like to take a drive over the next couple of days. We need a plan, I said, as I returned to my nest with a fresh coffee. He agreed and went back to his renovation job in the basement. 
We’re skipping the big xmas meal for a relaxing afternoon with appetizers. I jumped all over that idea. I’d be happy to bring some delectables. There are so many great recipes now, I crowed. Bacon wrapped brussel sprouts. Even the kids love brussel sprouts in this family. Everyone agreed that they sounded good. I poured over the online sites showcasing party hors d'oeuvres and spent a couple hours reading recipes from Turkish figs and walnuts to mini corn dogs with cranberry mustard…  

Worn out from the exertion, I decided to put some frozen meatballs into the slow cooker and mix up chili sauce and grape jelly. If it was good thirty years ago, it’ll be good now. Right? Let’s not experiment. And who doesn’t love meatballs? 
Hubby and I mentioned our recipe for chicken sliders. Really tasty and simple to make. We could assemble them at home and rather than take up a lot of room in their fridge, keep them in the car until we pop them into the oven. It would certainly be cold enough outside. They wouldn’t get soggy, right? Oh, maybe we’ll just stop on the way and pick up a cheese ball. A box of crackers. Who doesn’t love a cheese ball?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Get Away to Write

If I were to plan the perfect writing getaway, it would include rain. You can’t plan the rainy weather but I take advantage of it whenever possible. I’m more prolific listening to a downpour or even a steady drizzle. Not a pluviophile? Maybe warm breezes on a sunny day would work its magic for you.
 The next most important consideration when planning a retreat is nourishment. I like to eat. Especially when I’m writing. Not so much when my fingers are pounding the keyboard, but during that time when they’re suspended above the keyboard and I’m thinking through a plotline. Food really helps with that process. You too?
I’m not a junk food eater. No thanks to potato chips and dips, and those sour peach slice chewy things. Okay, but only one. I prefer to have readymade salads on hand. And ciabatta bread! If I forgot everything else and just had ciabatta bread, cheese, and wine, I would survive. Flourish, actually. Going over the contents of my fridge in my mind, I see fresh fruit and veggies washed and ready to eat as I research gunshot wounds, or cafes in Paris...oh, to see my browser history.
Coffee, too, is a priority. Water is another, and that’s usually my go to in the afternoon. But not late afternoon. No, in the late afternoon, I take a meaningful break. Time for a plate of crackers and hummus or cheese – extra old cheddar or goat cheese, heck even peanut butter in a pinch, and a glass of red wine. No wine for you? I’m sure you can come up with a substitute. 
Then I like to sit outside and listen to the rain – if it’s still raining – and you can lie on the grass and look up at the clear skies or better yet, rolling clouds – those fluffly white ones, not the dark rain clouds. Ruminate on the plots, character, and dialogue until you’re ready to get back to the keyboard.
For me, a retreat produces more words than I could accomplish at home. Think about it. No distractions. No rules. If you’re planning a getaway, remember to eat when you’re hungry, whatever food you want – don’t look at the clock. I had greek pasta salad one morning before ten and toast near midnight. Keep in mind, there are no calories when you’re writing. I know. At first, I found that hard to believe, too.
Sleep when you’re tired, and when you wake up, start writing. You’re still in the zone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve slept for two hours or six hours. Again, don’t look at the clock. And don’t worry about getting ready for bed. You’re writing in pj’s anyway.
You’re always ready. That’s the other great thing. You don’t worry about appearances on these solitary retreats. No one is going to ‘drop by’. And if you’re away, it doesn’t matter who sees you traipsing around in your flannels. They shouldn’t be looking in the windows anyway.
Think of what it would take to open the door of imagination for you and stir the creative juices. Three or four days are usually the max for me to be holed up writing and still come out fairly civilized in the end.
If you’re able to hide away from people and schedules for any period of time to focus on writing, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother's Day Suggestions from Mom

Every newspaper ad, radio commercial, and Facebook post is focused on Mother's Day. I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. Here's an abridged version of a column I wrote for First Monday a few years back. In case you're still floundering about what to do, these are some heart melting ideas for Mom.

If the gift you had in mind for Mother’s Day has to be watered or dusted, think again.  That might not be Mom’s preference.  When asked to think back on their most memorable Mother’s Day, the mom’s I surveyed insisted the day did not involve flowers, jewellery, or candy!  As Debbie so aptly phrased in her response, ‘material goods are just clutter that distracts us from what’s really important’.
If your last one-on-one dinner with Mom was The Dairy Queen in 1981, it is time to book a reservation for two.  Discuss current movies, your favourite books, new hobbies... 
As for a meaningful gift, a framed picture of you with your siblings would be a winner.  Trust me on this.  It’s in the survey.  Also, Barbara mentioned personal artwork.  Exert yourself.  It will leave a lasting impression.  
Remember when you were a kid?  A piece of paper with waxed crayon scribbles hung on the fridge for a month.  Hearts melted over a few dandelions clutched in a grubby little fist. 
What?  You’re not a kid anymore?  Well, your Mom is still your Mom.  A handwritten letter or card would mean more to her than a Hallmark.  Memory boxes around the world embrace handwritten poems and homemade cards.  Susan attests to that. 
Before you ask your secretary to call the florist, think about picking Mom up at lunchtime and heading to the fry truck under the bridge.  Time is our most precious commodity.  Go for a walk together along the river.  Tell her how much those outings meant to you as a kid.  Stop at the florist on the way back and present her with a fragrant bouquet.  She will love you for it.
If your mother has passed on, perhaps a spray of white carnations on your table or desk would be a lovely tribute in her memory. 
Another suggestion from my survey involved a tour of the old neighbourhood.  Recollections flood back with a stop at the corner store for a cold drink and ice cream.  A nice way to say thank you for a great childhood.
An idea that sounds great to me is hosting a dinner party or luncheon for Mom and her friends.  I don’t think she would mind if you hosted the meal at her house.  Be sure to set an attractive table–it’s all in the presentation−and do the cleanup.  Not a cook?  Order Chinese and break out the chopsticks.  Now, that is a memory maker.  It’s the thought, the time, and the sincerity that counts.  Be original.  Mothers like to feel special and coddled.
If it is impossible to be together to celebrate Mother’s Day, make time for an unhurried phone call or skyped visit. 
However you honour your mother on her special day, please do not hang up the phone, do not disconnect skype, and do not drive away from the house, without telling her what she already knows but never tires of hearing... I love you, Mom.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Happy News for this Writer

Is that a drum roll I hear??
Okay. Here it is…I would like to announce the upcoming release of…  Wait for it…Wait for it… my first published novel!!!
Yes, my friends, it’s finally happening. A publisher, who called my book ‘wonderful’ (just saying) is releasing my first novel for you and the entire world to read.
Boom! That’s what I’m talking about!!, as my granddaughter Sadie says. She does this cute little arm pump thing that I’ve never mastered. Anyway…
Sure, it was exciting to see my short stories published over the years. It was. But novel writing is what makes my heart beat a little faster. All those characters. All those lives intertwined. Unfolding their history and foreseeing their future. Sounds like a power trip when I say it like that. At the very least, controlling. Hmmm… I’ve completed two other books and have two more that are nearly finished. To have a novel go to press has encouraged me to continue doing what makes my heart smile.
And who is the publisher, you ask. Well, they’re in the States. Delaware, to be exact. Devil’s Party Press celebrates the mature author. Fortunately, I’m over forty. Ahem. Otherwise, I wouldn’t meet their criteria, as much as they like my work. And it appears they do. I feel good about my relationship with the folks at DPP. We’ve never personally met but they respond promptly to emails (that’s huge), and their professional demeanor while working with them on my accepted short story for the crime anthology ‘Suspicious Activity’ impressed me. Did I mention they won seven awards last year for their work? I’m fortunate to be an author on their roster.
February 2020 is the projected release date for ‘Old Broad Road’. To some, the release date seems a long way off but to me it’s frighteningly near. Anyone who’s had a book published knows the preparatory work involved. I took a break from writing my column for First Monday so I could focus. Also, I have a sequel to this book that I’m currently polishing.
With a deep breath and auditory sigh, I embark on the next leg of my writing journey.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Paranoia, Cabin Fever, or Reality Check

My every move is being watched and recorded. And it’s freaking me out! 
I research living room drapes on my computer and by the next day sponsored ads are EVERYWHERE. I’m inundated with furniture ads. Rugs and runners. Give it up. Leave me alone!
Doing research for my novel is stressful. Normally, I love the research – but not now. Checking out resorts and fly-in lodges for my story leaves me swamped with ads for inns, resorts, and lodges all across Canada. And sure, while Im at it, I check out spots for a Valentine’s getaway. Ads with heart-shaped bathtubs are plastered across my screen for a week. I peer to see if that is actually me in the tub. It isn’t. But it wouldn't surprise me.
It’s really getting to me. I have more ads on facebook than I do friends!! 

More research is required for my crime story. I can put it off no longer. Prisons – the how to and the what to of visiting a prisoner, where might a certain crime or sentence land a prisoner, medium or maximum security, and I even check videos showing the inner workings of a prison. I need to know.
The search engine used to be my biggest ally and now I cringe every time I key something in. I feel as if I should send a note to the RCMP telling them I’m a writer. Just a writer wanting to get the
details perfect. And by the way, the hitman I referred to is in my story. But don’t worry, he was caught, and so was the guy who hired him. I tell you, I’m just the writer.
Someone online told me to check my privacy settings. I did. But I don’t understand. Nothing seems foolproof. I can delete my browsing history but that sounds like closing the gate after the horses are out. I could search incognito and it doesn’t show up in my history, but isn’t that like sounding an alarm that I’m searching something illegal or harmful? I guess I am, sort of. But I’m just a writer I tell you.