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.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Memories Evoked by Throwback Picture

A throwback picture on facebook this morning showed ‘the girls’ arm in arm like a trio of happy musketeers – smiling like they knew something no one else did. Knowing them, this was probably the case. Their eyes reveal mischief and fun. Especially the older two. The teasing and pranks they played on each other tug at my memory like a collection of disjointed snatches of laughter and a
Eileen (L) Marion (C) Doris (R)
flurry of activity. I was the baby and so don’t remember witnessing first hand some of the earlier shenanigans but I do recall the family reminiscing about a few calamities.
One that stands out in my mind was the time the older one, Marion took a love letter from Eileen’s dresser drawer. They were just better than a year apart in age and they hung out like best friends and carried on like sisters. Their love for each other never interfered with a chance to torment.
Apparently, Marion proceeded to read this letter to whatever family members happened to be in the kitchen at the time. Eileen fairly flew out of her chair and Marion ran from the house waving the letter in the air. Screaming could be heard up and down our street as the chase ensued. Mom would shake her head. ‘Those girls’, she’d say. I heard that story so often I can see it happening.
Seeing the picture of ‘the girls’ this morning sent me back to the time our mom passed away. I was still living at home. There are two vivid memories of what we found going through her belongings. One involved ‘the girls’ – Marion, Eileen, and Doris.
I’m not sure why this first one has stayed in my memory house all these years but when we were going through her belongings, we came upon dozens of nylon stockings – not pantyhose – single stockings that were held up by garters. Nearly a drawer full. I knew immediately why this collection of stockings with runs and snags had been saved. It was her stash. Much like the trunk of wool I now have in the downstairs storage room. Mom braided these stockings into rugs. Soft, warm, and durable, we had several throughout the house. Again, I’m unsure how this stash has stayed prominent in my mind. Maybe because I had the answer to what seemed a puzzle at the time.
The other significant discovery is more understandable.
It wasn’t so much the shiny gold clutch purse as what it contained. All purses were checked for content before discarding. Mostly they held change for the bus, tissues, perhaps a nearly finished tube of red lipstick. But inside the gold clutch was an envelope. The words ‘For the Girls’ scrawled across the front. Though there were five girls in the family, we all knew she’d always referred to the three oldest in the family as ‘the girls’.
It’s an interesting concept. So many years ago, an envelope tucked inside an evening bag was discovered and passed on. Today would we be so careful inspecting everything left behind? If I left a note tucked inside my favourite book, or the inside pocket of my best jacket, or forever loved sweater, would it be discovered and passed on. Of course not. These days, our possessions don’t hold the same value and we have so many ‘things’ for family to dispose of that there’s never enough time to go through everything. And, let’s face it, it’s a painful process.
I thank my niece for posting this throwback picture on facebook this morning and for my time travel excursion. Two of ‘the girls’, Marion and Eileen, have passed on but the memories remain.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year Reflections

For me, bringing in the New Year begins with a reflection on the past year. A life-changing year. For more than a couple of decades, in a labour of love, our rural property took on a park-like atmosphere with numerous species of trees. The perennial gardens ranged from flowering bushes and riotous colour to calming green gardens of fern and hosta. We decided to sell our home (gulp) and make a move. It was time. Life is about change and renewal.
Leaving our rural area awakened us to new experiences, introduced us to community living, congenial people, and a fresh outlook. We moved far enough away that the area is all new to us but we’re close enough to keep in contact with long-time friends. I am content – happy even.
Sometime during all that packing and moving and changing, I’d decided to limit my writing to personal pleasure. Over the past ten years, I’ve had moderate success with my short stories, but my writing threatened to become all-consuming. Not just the writing, but the writing life. Organizing workshops, retreats, meetings, dinners. Actually, I realized I had less and less time to write. My focus had shifted and I’d lost my momentum. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. I went so far as to tell my husband of my decision. Of course, I couldn’t NOT write, I’d perish. I simply wouldn’t send my work out. Not anymore. And I had decided years before that I wouldn’t publish my own work. No, I was going the traditional route – with the hundreds of rejections that come with it. In my mind, I was done.
Then I received an email with a tip about an acquisitions editor with a well-known publisher who might be interested in my work. How could I not follow up. And yes, he said two of my novels sounded ‘exciting’ and I should send the full mss. When I never heard back after several months, I tried contacting him. He’d left the publisher. The End. My last hurrah.
Another email arrived suggesting I collaborate on an anthology with two other Canadian authors and two from the States. Our Plan to Save the World features four of my short stories. My last hurrah.
Then another email arrived informing me of a contest in the U.S. I placed second and am proud to be included in the anthology Suspicious Activity. My last hurrah? Maybe not.
Aside from a health glitch, the year 2018 has been gratifying. I look to the positive, or at least try, and am thankful for the goodness in my life. 
In 2019, I will continue to enjoy our community neighbourhood and pursue promising friendships. I look forward to summer verandah lounging with our park friends just a little farther north. 
As for writing, I have set a goal (oh no, not a goal) to finish a novel. It will be a huge challenge to pick up the thread dropped so long ago. But I’m sure the love for my characters will see me through.
I look forward to 2019 with renewed vigour and hope. There’s a touch of determination peeking through, as well. I feel good. I feel strong. I feel like writing.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Suspicious Activity - Crime Anthology

JUST RELEASED! SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY – a crime anthology published by Devil’s Party Press, Delaware USA.
Devil’s Party Press – sounds badass, doesn’t it. They only publish authors age 40 and over. Yes, they are totally badass.
Local Sarnia writer, Sharon Berg, alerted me to their contest – a submission call for crime stories. My favourite genre! I gave it my best shot – get it? shot? crime stories?...groan – and was lucky enough to place second.
I liked the look of the proposed cover for Suspicious Activity and my communications with dpp gave me a positive feeling about the book. My instincts were right. This is one of the best crime anthologies I’ve read and I love reading crime stories. Storylines from the past, present, and future bleed onto every page. I had no idea there would be so many unique spins on crime.
This isn’t a review of the book. There’ll be plenty of those I’m sure. I have a few favourites I could point out, but I won’t. What I will say is that I enjoyed and appreciated every story in the book. When was the last time that happened? By the way, there are some killer poems in there too. And I have to mention the …. No, I don’t think I will. Just buy the book.
When you’re standing in line at your favourite book store with anthology in hand, take a closer look. The publisher incorporated our stories into the headlines and features of the ‘newspaper’ cover. Ingenious idea.
If you’re an online shopper, Canadians can purchase it here and all others can order from the dot com Amazon site or directly from the publisher.
Kudos to Devil’s Party Press for publishing a quality ‘can’t put it down’ anthology and hats off to these authors whose clever creativity will keep you reading well into the night.

Monte R. Anderson                                        Dianne Pearce
Tom Barlow                                                    Mark Alan Polo
Sharon Berg                                                    Patsy Pratt-Herzog
William F. Crandell                                       Bernard M. Resnick
David W. Dutton                                            Roberto Sabas
Kari Ann Ebert                                               Michael Sarabia
Lisa Fox                                                          Judith Speizer Crandell
Robert Lewis Heron                                       Carrie Sz Keane
Heidi J. Hewett                                               Paulene Turner
Phyllis Humby                                                Liliana Widocks
Bayne Northern                                              Wendel Young
Jonathon Ochoco                                            David Yurkovich

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Instant Coffee and Pre-dawn Inspiration

Wide awake. 4:30 AM. Ugh! Not to disturb hubby, I quietly left the bedroom. Wrapped in an oversized robe, I flipped on the kettle for an instant coffee – it was not a perked coffee kind of morning – and started browning ground beef. Yes, that’s right. What better opportunity to make a double batch of crock-pot chili. I’m doing everything in two’s lately. Like yesterday when I set out to make Banana Bread and realized it was a two-loaf recipe. At the last minute, I sprinkled (loaded) the top with pecans and brown sugar. Good decision.
Chopping onion and green pepper, it came to me how much I love the pre-dawn. The stillness and the quiet – aside from the sizzle in the pan, of course. I added extra chili powder to the cooker. At mealtime I usually comment that I added too much but that doesn’t stop me from doing it again. It’s all in the seasoning. Otherwise, it’s just a pot of goulash and not chili at all (I know the ingredients aren’t the same as goulash so you don’t have to try to set me straight, just sayin).
I took my coffee into the den to find a binder for a manuscript I’m working on and came across the zippered case from a Writer’s Retreat I organized in 2016.
Everyone received a zippered binder filled with…well, writer stuff. I’d also included a series of articles. Information I thought would be helpful to all writers. And now I’m leafing through the sheets and thinking, Hey, this is good! Fantastic tips to improve productivity and quality. Insightful notes on polishing and editing. Good job, Phyllis. I stopped patting myself on the back long enough to get another coffee.
I’d been needing something (obviously) to boost start me into this challenging writing project. Everything I included in the retreat package will prove immensely helpful to me right now. Reading the agenda reminded me of my words of encouragement to the participants. Now it’s encouragement for me.
Stumbling across the workshop binder this morning was no accident. No sirree. I’m a believer. Everything happens for a reason. Even waking at 4:30. Now, I have all the tools I need. Plus spicy chili and banana bread. Don’t you love it when that happens.