The House is on Fire – What do I Grab?


The daily post challenge – The house is on fire – all the people and animals are safe – I have a chance to grab five items before I run for it – what would I grab?

First and foremost, my laptop – a no-brainer. I never adequately back-up my work – not even to devices in this house, which wouldn’t help in the event of a fire. I know lots of people who consistently save their work up to internet platforms (i.e. send it to yourself at g-mail and things like that.) I do not take this wise advice – so, I need to grab that laptop!

My two passport drives (but I’m going to count this as one choice.) They’re close to the laptop and if I get them, I’ll have all my documents and all the photos.

My Nike of Samothrace statue – it’s also in the writing area (handy all this stuff is right in the kitchen and close to a door.) She’s only about a foot tall so I can tuck her under my arm.

My wallet (which is in my purse, so I might as well take the whole thing and then at least I’ll have the car keys if I need to drive away in a rush.)  It would be good to have my ID since I’m in the process of losing my home and everything in it. Maybe I should have thought of this item before a small statue or a couple of passport drives.

I suppose it would also be good to grab our actual passports – you know those things that let Canadians get across the border to the USA or for the more adventuresome, travel the world.

Well – that’s five things (with a bit of cheating on the two passport drives and a whole purse full of mostly useless items.) I’m now thinking it would have been good to take one of the walkie-talkies – I could have called out for some help. (For people who live in less isolated spots, this would translate to their cell phone. There is no point in grabbing the cell phone here since there isn’t any service for miles.)

I’ll miss some of the little bits of inexpensive jewellery I’ve collected over time. And all the books, it will be hard to lose all the books. I hope I’m wearing a few layers of clothes, because I didn’t think of grabbing any extras.  I didn’t look for a single thing that Bruce might have wanted. In the event of a fire – is one allowed to be selfish?

In my life I have had a connection with two building fires. One was at a place where I worked and I was required to assist the insurance people in determining what had been lost, what could be salvaged, and what would need to be replaced. It was a huge job and I often felt overwhelmed with the volume of things that were stuffed into a small space. At that time, I mourned the loss of some of the personal objects I had kept in my office.

The second fire burnt our generator shed to the ground. I wasn’t here for this fire and I’m glad. (Remember my post on freezing in crisis situations – I suspect I would have been more trouble than help.) The generator shed sat in close proximity to one edge of the cabin and Bruce had a terrifying time ensuring the whole place didn’t go up in flames. That event happened over three years ago, but there are times that he still bemoans the loss of  something from that shed – a tool, a nut, a bolt, or a plumbing part – the type of things the building was stuffed with. For my part, I miss the beautiful, blue hydrangea that grew right by the door and bloomed in wild disarray every summer. And I miss the actual building – it was such a cute little thing.

garden 3

Contemplating a house fire is scary – especially for those who have been through such a trauma. It can be a good exercise, though. Anything that makes us examine our priorities is good.


Talking to Strangers – A Travel Must


Like most couples, my husband Bruce and I have somewhat differing agendas when we travel. On the plus side, we both love road trips – extended times of travel where your car is your home base. We like to see interesting sights and explore out-of-the-way places. One of us likes to engage random strangers in conversation. I’ll leave you to guess which one of us that might be.

IMG_0819Now and then I am persuaded to enter a conversation Bruce is having with a stranger. Like the time at Sunset Crater National Monument, north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Bruce was deep in a discussion with a couple of old guys (they turned out to be brothers) who looked like they were auditioning for a spot in a ZZ Top look-a-like band. These two guys had the same wind generator we have – don’t even ask me how Bruce found that out, but such is the nature of conversations that drag on. My intervention was to the point – a brief smile and a look that said – let’s pick up the pace, here, OK?

There was a time when I tried to emulate Bruce’s ease in talking to strangers. We had been in Bismarck, North Dakota where we had a great tour of the State Legislature building – The Skyscraper of the Prairies, it’s called. We wanted to go out on the upper balcony for the view but the security guard said it wasn’t permitted. Too many people had threatened to jump. This was the fall of 2009 – might have been hard times in the Dakotas. Next to the legislature building they had a great free museum that was featuring an interactive exhibit on the cold war. When visitors had seen the entire display, they were invited to write their own memories of the cold war era on post-it notes and display them on a large white board.

Cold War Exhibit, Bismark, North Dakota

But, I digress. Over the complimentary breakfast at a motel the next morning, I tried to engage a woman in a bit of conversation as opposed to my standard smile and brief, “Good morning.” I asked her where she was heading. She narrowed her eyes and looked at me with a cold stare before shaking her head and saying, “Sister, you just don’t want to know.” Later when I was crossing the parking lot to the car I saw her standing by a sheriff’s van beside a younger man in handcuffs. OK, then. Sorry I asked. There are a million stories to be told over the complimentary breakfast at a motel and not all of them are pleasant.

Bruce seems to have better luck picking random strangers for breakfast conversation. There was the time in Ennis, Montana, near Yellowstone IMG_2038Park. Bruce struck up a friendly chat with an older man from Cody, Wyoming. I decided to join in. Now, lest you get the wrong idea about me, my entrance into conversations isn’t always to wrap things up. While Bruce went to get more coffee, I mentioned that the wind had sure blown up the day before. The man launched into a story about how he and his wife had come to Ennis for a family reunion. Right in the middle of the outdoor picnic dinner the wind hit. First it was just the ladies clutching at their dresses to keep them in place. Soon it was paper plates of food flying out of people’s hands. Next, the umbrellas for the tables took off. Eventually the whole buffet table was picked up and dumped over on the lawn. He ended his story by saying, “But that was nothing. You should have seen the square dancing. Now that was a real mess.” One can only imagine!

DSC_0264Then of course there was the mystery man from Australia we met in Pasadena on our most recent trip. He had flown in from the east coast for the Santa Anita Breeder’s Cup, just ahead of Hurricane Sandy. A friendly and interesting character to be sure. We were all staying at the Saga Motor Inn – a great retro 60’s type place. Our first encounter was when he stopped by our poolside table and began to talk. Over the next three days we had several long chats. I picked his brain about horse racing, because you never know when little bits of information like that might come in handy. We never quite figured out what it was he did – something to do with politics and finance and maybe human resources negotiations of some type. It was all deliberately vague, but he was an extraordinarily good name dropper. At one point he bemoaned the fact that he had missed a business lunch in New York (he had made the decision to fly out a day early – good choice for sure, considering what was about to hit.) He told us how he and the man he was to meet would have gone to De Niro’s little place. He smiled at me and said, “You know it, right?” Ya, sure, like I would – but I nodded anyway. Connie would probably have dropped by – Condoleezza Rice that is. I know, I know. But it happened. I wouldn’t lie to you. I couldn’t make stuff like this up – believe me, as a writer, I try.

As Randall Munroe, the American web-comic author and former NASA roboticist and programmer, says, “Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they are doing. Do things without always knowing how they’ll turn out . . .” Considering the diversity of this man’s accomplishments, I’d say he might be onto something.

Like a Bird on a Wire (or a wooden bench)

Bird on Wooden Bench - Stanford Campus, CA

My unquenchable desire to spread my social media platform beyond the confines of the known universe had me turning to Twitter this week. I have always thought that Twitter was the exclusive purview of people with fancy little cell phones who had mastered the art of typing on tiny keyboards. I put this comment up somewhere on a discussion and a few people told me that they Tweet from a laptop or home computer. I decided to give it a try. Like most things out in the social media world – getting signed up was no problem.

Things happen fast, fast, fast in the Twitter world. I managed to follow a few news sites almost immediately. Found a great Indie authors site that offered this bloggers connect up thing. That meant I had to add a Twitter follow to my blog. I managed that. I started connecting with people in the World Literary Café. I’m not sure what I did there, but people started following me back to my blog. Good, so far!

For the most part I was just watching the Tweets mount up on the screen without having much of a clue what they meant. They looked like strings of gibbeley-goop. But then it all started to make sense. Like when you watch the loading bay at a large factory – everything seems like random activity. Trucks are coming and going, forklifts all over the place and people buzzing around. Then all of a sudden, a pattern emerges. It all falls into place – fascinating!

I started following George Stroumboulopoulos around – I’ve been a fan for a while. Bruce and I had a chance to see a live taping of his previous show – The Hour – at George’s studio in the CBC building in Toronto. That was back in 2008. George was amazing – full of energy, humour and generosity. He stayed for at least an hour after the show was wrapped up – just interacting with the audience and answering questions. There is something a bit incredible about seeing George tweet that he is in the Ottawa airport and being able to reply within a few seconds – I feel sorry for all the time you spend in airports, George. Pseudo-intimacy for sure – George and I are not buddies. But he is fun to follow around.

Last night I actually figured out what a hashtag is and from there I tapped into a trend. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages – tears were streaming down my face as I read through tweets that were arriving in groups of 40 or 50 at a time – #ImSoSickOf – I had no idea that Twitter could be so much fun. This was my favorite – I’m so sick of how ten years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash – now we have no jobs, no hope, and no cash. I jumped on that one right away and was the 76th person to re-tweet it.

I think I’m starting to get a handle on the social media world. What I’ve learned so far leads me to think the following:

  • Facebook – for interaction with friends (real friends – the kind of friends you would want to show pictures of your grandkids to or share your home renovation projects with – OK, let’s just leave aside for a moment the issue of whether friends are ever interested in your home renos.)
  • Facebook Fan Page – people can like me or follow what I’m up to without me having to accept them as a friend who can see pictures of my grandkids and home renovation projects – sounds good – fans, not friends.
  • My Blog – the place I get to share who I am with whoever wants to read (and hopefully someday be able to say – here’s my book, guys!)
  • Pinterest – a place to see and share beautiful images, mostly with strangers (also a place to link up blog posts – especially if they contain great pictures.)
  • LinkedIn – the place for professional networking, establishing credibility in terms of education and past work experience (also a great place to link up blog posts and connect with people from times in my life gone by.)
  • Twitter – fast connections with total strangers about anything and everything (a lot of people are using Twitter for crass and in-your-face promotion – I figured that out quickly. Glad to say, that’s not my style and most of it is easily ignored.)

I guess in closing, I would say – don’t be afraid of social media platforms. Don’t write off opportunities to connect with others before you even give them a whirl or a tweet for that matter. I am not a techie or a computer whiz woman. I’m just a regular computer user and I am able to maneuver my way around. Maybe I’m like the person who buys a pricey microwave oven with all the bells and whistles and only ever uses it to heat up coffee – but still, I am using it! You can, too. Give it a try. Then we can tweet together, like a couple of birds on a wire (or even a wooden bench, but you can be the drunk in the midnight choir. I’ve never been a great singer.) Sounds like fun – right?


Have Your Reading Interests Changed Over the Years?

DSC_0601(The front of the Los Angeles Public Library)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about reading and writing and the juxtaposition of those two activities. Let me say for the record, I’ve always been an avid reader.

I can still recall the day my mom dropped me off at the public library. I could hardly contain my excitement at the sight of rows and rows of books, all neatly shelved and waiting for me. At least that’s how it felt to my ten-year-old self. Realizing I could take out several books every single week was a thrill that is hard to get in touch with now. I live in a house that is bulging with books and anything new I want is at my fingertips via Amazon and through to my Kindle in under thirty seconds.

My mom read to us all the time when we were little and she quickly wormed in her own favorites – reading aloud the entire Edgar Rice  imagesCA0KULCEBurroughs Tarzan series as well as the John Carter Mars books for good measure. My mom was always a big fan of sci-fi. I grew up in a house that had books – but everything was so much more moderate in those days – a medium bookcase filled with an odd mixture of hardcover and paperbacks. My mom had taken a correspondence course in creative writing and she had lots of literary type novels mixed in with the Tarzan paperbacks. I delved into those books early – definitely too early for some of the books I read. Dairy of a Mad Housewife is not a book that a kid of twelve is going to understand or appreciate.

Then came the years I could actually purchase books of my own. I remember being a fifteen-year old babysitter whose weekend work had but one goal – spending Sunday afternoon shopping for books at the local corner store. This store contained an amazing rack of paperbacks – remember those spinning racks of books? I couldn’t wait to spend all the money I had made. My main criterion for choosing, in those days, was the thickness of the book. I wanted my money’s worth.

Angelique in Revolt.unknown year 4[1]When I could get to town, I would scour my way through the 2nd hand bookstore. My efforts at digging were generally rewarded. I was able to get my hands on the entire set of Ian Fleming’s, James Bond books and all of the Angelique books by a husband and wife team of historical romance writers named Serge and Anne Golan. One of my big regrets, through a couple of moves, is that I lost track of those two sets of paperback novels.

I’ve re-read a few books over the years – books I loved when I was younger. For the most part my older self was not quite so enamoured of what used to pass for the best books of all time. (Case in point – I downloaded the entire Tarzan series for free on my Kindle when I first got it – maybe my mom skipped all the overtly racist stuff in those books when she read them to us.) This was not the case with Angelique. These books were just as great to me at the age of twenty-five and thirty-five as they were when I was fifteen. Recently my son was able to find a few Angelique paperbacks in a 2nd hand book store in Ottawa. He sent them to me and I am happy to report that they were as enjoyable at fifty-five as they were every other time I read them.


Education changed my book reading tastes. I took a lot of literature courses – English, Canadian and American, Modern and Victorian, First Nations and Latin American. They all came with long and expensive reading lists. I admit to becoming a literary snob – only purchasing and reading books that had won awards – most generally by Canadian authors but I could be tempted by the whole short list for the Booker Prize. If you are going to put out $35.00 for a hardcover book, you usually can’t go wrong with award winners. And of course, it was in those years that I developed a passion for hardcover novels to line my book shelves.

A few years ago I had a health crisis that saw me laid up in the  hospital for weeks. For most of that time, when I would have been thrilled to spend the hours reading great books, my attention span was reduced to ten minute blocks. Someone kindly brought me a huge stack of MacLean’s magazines and I filled the time reading little snippets. This was all I could manage to wrap my mind around before the euphoria of a shot took over or the onset of pain, which required constant watching for when the next shot would come, distracted me.


Reading choices can change for any number of reasons. I spent some time with my dad when he was dying. It was obviously stressful and my reading reflected my state of mind. I made my way voraciously through J.D. Robb’s (aka Norah Roberts) entire In Death series – genre novels about a NY detective named Eve Dallas. Formulaic – yes, filled with violence – completely, pages of sex scenes between Eve and her hot, Irish, millionaire husband Rourke – now come on; you have to love a character that goes by a single name. It was just what the doctor ordered – distracting to the max!

I joined a book club for a time. I remember feeling amazed at how critical people were of the books we read. It was almost as if the idea of talking about a book was to tear it apart in some way. Of course it wasn’t all about complaints and many people were thoughtful and had great insights. But I do remember coming away from the experience thinking that I was not as discerning as some – to this day it is almost impossible for me not to finish a book I have started – regardless of the quality or whether I am enjoying it. I just get too curious – good, bad, or indifferent – I have to know how it will end.

Now my days are taking up with writing – the hours I used to spend entering into the world my favorite authors created are filled with characters of my own creation. The pile of novels I want to read grows higher and higher on the table beside my chair in the living room. I have an ironclad rule – a book that is not yet read, cannot be put away on a shelf. Stephen King says you have to read to be a writer and I know this is true. I also know that since I starting writing fiction, I’m resting on my reading laurels of old.

I’m curious though – how and why have your reading tastes changed over time? And even more important – how do you manage reading and writing at that same time?

Springsteen Hits the Mark with “Land of Hopes and Dreams”

untitledBefore our holiday in the fall of 2012, we managed to download the new Bruce Springsteen album – Wrecking Ball from Freegal Music, on our local library’s website. The songs on this album will always remind me of our time in Southern California.

For Christmas, I got my husband, the latest biography of Bruce Springsteen, aptly entitled – Bruce. He’s reading it now and going through his massive collection of music to play various Springsteen albums as he reads about how they came to be. We’ve listened to Springsteen on vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and mp3 on our iPod. Between these various mediums he has quite an impressive Springsteen collection. He’s been a Springsteen fan since the beginning.

I only became aware of Bruce Springsteen’s music when he released the Born in the USA album. My first exposure to the energy and raw sex appeal of Springsteen was in the Dancing in the Dark music video. Who can forget the electricity of the moment when he pulled that young girl up on the stage to dance with him? I still get a bit quivery thinking about it!

I admire the way Springsteen ages right on through his songs. Bruce’s lyrics just keep getting closer and closer to the bone. Sure, it’s cool to see Mick Jagger perform songs the Stones have done forever and of course he’s still got it. Seeing something like that makes me feel young all over again myself. If Mick still has it, maybe I do, too. But when I see a musician pull out new stuff that reflects his age and experience – well, that is like enjoying a very fine wine. It gives me an appreciation for my own place in life.

I wanted to try to upload a song from Springsteen’s, Wrecking Ball album – Land of Hope and Dreams, but upon further investigation I realized I would need a space upgrade to upload audio. Then I started to worry about copyright infringement. Would I need permission from Springsteen to share his song? It all got too complicated. Instead, I’ll just reflect a bit on the lyrics to this song and give you a link to a great You Tube video of the Boss belting it out.         YOU TUBE VIDEO

If you listen to the words of the song, Land of Hope and Dreams, it will break your heart and inspire you. I would choose this song to be played at my funeral because of these lyrics.

Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rolling down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re going now, but you know you won’t be back
Well, darling, if you’re weary, lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry, yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Well, big wheels roll through the fields where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now for this part of the ride
Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

The sunlight is streaming through that field. The darkness will pass, all sorrow will end. Here we have the train journey as an analogy for redemption, solace, going home. Everyone is welcome to come on board. Check your past at the door, people and just get on board.

Yes, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train, thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings thrown
This train, all aboard

I said, now this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, the steel wheels singing
This train, bells of freedom ringing

Whatever you are at this moment is enough. Whatever you need will be provided – your dreams won’t be thwarted. There’s no one here to stomp you down. You’re finally home free.

Through years of a long and successful career, the Boss continues to entertain with music and lyrics that take the breath away.

Writers are a Cruel and Sometimes Heartless Breed


Writing can make us cruel, almost heartless at times, in the service of the story. We go about wrecking ruin on the characters we have created, bringing them to the limit of their endurance. We have the noblest intent. We seek their enlightenment. We mean for them to end the story as so much more than they began – they fight the good fight and find the treasure we have hidden for them. To treat that which you have brought into being with such intent is not for the faint of heart.

The other day I took a character I really like and brought him to the very brink – I put him in a situation that had the potential to ruin everything he had worked for. And I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. As Gustave Flaubert says, “One does not choose one’s subject matter; one submits to it.” I repeat, this is not for the faint of heart.

At other times, a writer’s work is more surprising than cruel. I have one character that went from having short, straight, black hair in her character sketch to being written with curly, blonde hair. Suffice to say, with blonde hair she will have to morph out of the ethnic background I had originally given her. Out of nowhere, a minor character got a name change. Pete didn’t sound like the name of a guy who would do what I was suggesting this guy would do. One character, whom I thought would make a big stink about something, decided to be completely supportive, while shifting the role of the heavy to another character entirely. To say nothing of the fact that I have left a young person in the hospital suffering for days now and can’t seem to return to that part of the story and write the poor kid out the other side. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a story in progress.

The day is brilliant with winter sunshine and the lake looks like a glittering mass of silver diamonds. I have been trying to pump out my 3000 words on The Light Never Lies but the last couple of days have been a real struggle. I produced about 1200 words yesterday and when I read them over this morning, I found only one line that seemed worth keeping. The rest read like crap. Things aren’t going much better today.

On another front, my work on the second round revisions for Disappearing in Plain Sight is done and the e-proofs are back in the hands of Friesen Press. I am glad that I only paid for two rounds of revision. I think I could probably tinker with the manuscript forever – changing a word here, re-thinking the use of a comma there. Enough, already, I am ready for this novel to be launched out into the world – warts and all.

As it has been at every stage of the process, I have no idea what will come after I approve the second round of revisions. But we must be coming close to publication. (If I’m being completely naïve here, please don’t tell me. Thanks in advance.)

Maybe my hard slogging over the keyboard the last two days has to do with reading Disappearing in Plain Sight for the 500th time. The writing is as smooth as my current state of ability could make it. When I go back and look at my first draft of The Light Never Lies, it’s bound to suffer by comparison. Or maybe it is just crap. Time will tell.

(The above photo was taken back in 2008 on the campus of the University of Toronto)

The Versatile Blogger Award

blogger-award I have finally been nominated for one of those chain letter type blogger awards. Like many of you who boast these cute badges on the home page of your blog, I was thrilled. (thanks Blue88 )  I need to tell you seven interesting things about myself and nominate ten bloggers of my own choosing to receive this award. Then, I too can display that cute little badge.

Hmmmm . . . I don’t see myself as particularly interesting, so I’ll have to give this some thought. Here goes, in random order, seven (semi?) interesting things about me.

I was privileged to be in the delivery room for the birth of both my granddaughters (Emma and Britney) and these two experiences were absolutely phenomenal. My daughter was like some kind of force of nature giving birth to those kids – she did all the work and I had all the fun! What comes around goes around. It was my turn to enjoy myself.


On one of my annual week-long visits to Ottawa to see my son and his lovely wife, he and I watched the entire DVD boxed set of The Shield – all seven seasons. I The Shielddon’t think we had more than a few moments of fresh air the entire week – but it was January in Ottawa so no big loss on that front. During the first couple of seasons, I tried valiantly to defend MacKay’s behaviour (the dirty-cop-main-character), but my son just kept shaking his head and telling me, “Stop drinking the MacKay Kool-Aid, Mom.” And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get another one of the character’s name right – Aceaveda. I kept calling him Mesa Verde – Bruce and I had been down to Colorado and visited the ruins at Mesa Verde and the name really stuck in my mind.

chickenAll of my life I have had a fear of chickens. Not the Kentucky fried kind – the live running around and clucking kind. When I was two, my dad took my mom to the hospital to have my little brother and my older brother and I were dropped off at the house of a woman who had chickens. I remember both my brother and I had new yo-yos. That memory does cause me to wonder why on earth my mom would have given yo-yos to two children whose combined ages hardly reached five. It was a different era. Anyway, this woman told us to stay outside and play or she would take away our yo-yos. While outside her chickens chased me all over the yard and pecked at my hands and legs. Not the nicest childhood memory, but this is the dark and twisted stuff that we writers are made of.

The first time I ever became inebriated, I was fifteen years old. Two girlfriends and I crouched in the bushes behind the high school and polishedLemon gin off a mickey of lemon gin before going into a school dance. Someone had the brilliant idea that lemon gin would be a good choice because it didn’t need any mixer. After all, hiding out in the bushes we knew we didn’t have access to all the accruements of a well-stocked bar. Suffice to say that the dance was a disaster. I spent most of the night in the washroom throwing up and I cannot stomach the smell of any type of gin to this day.

0709mt_10_z+mazda_truck+passenger_side_front_view[1]One day, many years ago, when we had far less money than we do today and a new truck was something from a fantasy dreamland – Bruce and I had to drive 60 kilometers in the pouring rain with the windows down and a rope tied to the non-working windshield wipers of our old Mazda pickup. I would lean out the passenger window and pull the rope from my side of the truck and then Bruce would reach out and pull from his side. Thank goodness we were on our way there to get the bloody wipers fixed. (That isn’t a picture of our truck – but you get the idea – right?)

Billy goatEven though I have lived for years in an area where bears wander freely and cougar sightings are not unusual, the only scary animal encounter I’ve ever had occurred between myself and a Billy goat. Our neighbours kept goats and when they moved they had to make two trips to take them away. They didn’t have a trail like ours, so they walked the first batch over to our place and up to the waiting trailer. They said they would come back for the Billy goat. I guess he got sort of pissed off being left on his own, because he broke out of his pen and followed the smell of his female friends over to our place. At that time we had a sliding glass door that opened out to our deck. I happened to glance out that glass door and saw this goat with his front legs up in the apple tree and his mouth going a mile a minute. From my vantage point inside the cabin, he looked more a nuisance than anything else. I grabbed my broom and rushed out on the deck to chase him away – big mistake. He took one look at me, slammed down onto all four of his goat hooves and charged. I barely made it back inside the cabin, frantically pulling the heavy glass door shut behind me. That goat charged those glass doors at least four times with his horns down, blowing steam out of his nostrils. It felt like the whole cabin was shaking by the time he gave it up. I guess the moral of that story is that hell hath no fury like a Billy goat who has lost his harem.

I’m on my second marriage which I’m pretty sure will be my last marriage as two husbands in any woman’s life is more than enough. Don’t get caketopper[1]me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying . . . reminds me of a sign I saw when we were travelling down in California recently. It was in the little beach town of Avila at a bakery that sold the best fudge ever. “A woman looking for a husband has never had one.” So, there you have it.

And now for the list of my ten nominees. I’ve followed some of these blogs for a while now and some are new discoveries. All are worth checking out.  (These are in no particular order and I apologize in advance if I have been so remiss as to nominate anyone who has already won this particular award or if my nomination strikes you as a big pain in the butt):

Top of the Slush Pile

The Lonely Daffodil

Dinosaurs, Science, and Design

Giving up the Ghost

Writer in Training

Adrian Charles Horan

I Like Strawberry Tea

Mystic Cooking

Words and Whisks

The Jilted Genius

Cougars and Dogs

san josef wagon road @ ronnings garden

A while ago I posted a short piece of flash fiction entitled Helplessness. This story was about a woman who takes her dog for a walk and they encounter a cougar. I received an email from a friend not long afterwards telling me that my story had her opening up a file on her computer to retrieve a little piece she had written years ago – a story that runs along a similar vein. It didn’t surprise me that we would have both created stories on the theme of cougars and dogs. We’ve both lived for years in an area where cougar sightings are common and my friend has loved dogs and walking dogs for as long as I’ve known her.

She sent me the story. I offered to do a bit of editing before giving her story a guest feature spot on my blog. (Just for the record, was it ever fun to edit someone else’s work for a change!)

So – I give you Becky – My Hero, a short story by my friend, Cheryl.

Becky – My Hero

It was my son Jeff who found me that morning, while memories of a gentle friend flooded my thoughts. becky 1I had tears running down my cheeks as I held Becky in my arms, her long, blond fur caked in blood. Beautiful, mischievous, dark-brown eyes were now closed by the trembling sweep of my fingertips. She had given her life for me.

I looked up at Jeff, and shook my head – as if to say, it’s too late. Time seemed to have no meaning. I wondered how long I had been sitting there on the dyke path. I hadn’t been able to carry Becky’s body away and I wouldn’t leave my dear old friend there, not like that.

Becky was a golden retriever born in the village of Port Alice on Vancouver Island. When she was just eight-weeks old, Becky joined our pack of friends and dogs for morning walks. She was a fluffy, mischievous little ball, but even as a pup she was a thinker and oh so curious.

Our group consisted of my dear friend Cathy, Sis my Chocolate Lab, Bootsie – a dog who was a mighty mouse mixture of sorts, and me. We would pick Becky up every morning as we started out on our walk. Often I would cart her along in my arms when her puppy legs tired out.

Our favourite walking spot was the dyke, a meandering path behind the Village. Puddles and streams often crossed our way. At the right times of the year, bears, deer, and sometimes even cougars could be seen. Cathy always packed the whistle and the bear spray. In the late summer and early fall the bears would be attracted to the plentiful berries. Becky and Sis made a game of chasing them away from their favorite treats. Bootsie, too old to join in such antics, watched from the sidelines.

When Becky was two-years old, my son Jeff adopted her and she became part of our family. Over the years our little dog-walking group lost both Bootsie and Sis. Cathy moved away and the pack dwindled to me and Becky.

On this fated morning, Becky was running free along the dyke. I had left her leash at home and was kicking myself for my forgetfulness. A Village Bylaw states that dogs must be on leash and in a small community, people can be picky about things like that.

I had been avoiding the dyke for a couple of days because reports of a cougar sighting in the area had been making the rounds. On this morning, the moon had fallen behind the mountains early and the sun had risen in a clear blue sky, warming the ground as steam rose all around us – it was too beautiful to resist the dyke. The smell of the forest, after the rain of the day before, filled my nostrils. Becky sniffed at every bush as was her usual practice.

image._p1442206A strange silence suddenly surrounded us. I saw Becky lift her nose, then her tail, and finally her hackles rose in a golden ruff down her neck and back. She stared up and past me toward the tree tops. I turned, with my heart beating wildly, to see what had drawn her attention. Becky’s gaze was riveted on a rock formation in front of us and before I could move, I saw the cougar leap at me.

Did I know what to do? Yes – I’ve lived in the North Island forever. Did I remember what to do? No, I did not. As the cougar bore down on me, I dropped to the ground and felt a tremendous weight skid across my back. Everything seemed to freeze. Becky lunged at the cougar and immediately the huge cat leapt from my back, accepting the dog’s heroic challenge. Lifting my head, I saw the cougar grab Becky by the back of her neck. I stumbled to my feet, clutching at the few rocks that came to hand, throwing these wildly at the cougar. My brain refusing to accept the sight of Becky held tight within the cat’s grip. I finally picked up a large tree branch. I took a deep breath and got myself within striking distance. With all my strength, I whacked the cougar on the side of the head. I managed to stun the animal enough that it released its hold on Becky and silently padded away into the trees at the side of the path, its tail making a menacing swish back and forth as it disappeared.

Becky’s brown eyes were calm but distant. Blood was flowing without check from her neck, soaking down her golden coat. I hastily pulled my sweat shirt over my head and tried to stop the bleeding. I applied pressure to the gaping wound, but it was no use.

I held her tight. I could feel her life force slipping away. She looked up at me and I saw her take her last laboured breath. As I cradled the body of this courageous animal in my arms, I felt that I had never known a greater love or felt a greater loss.

Crisis Situations – Are You Happy With the Way You Respond?


Today’s DP Challenge – Honestly evaluate the way you respond to a crisis situation. Are you happy with the way you react?  This challenge really got me thinking!

The answer, in a word is – no!

Let me tell you a little story – because that’s what I do.

A few years ago my husband Bruce and I were visiting my dad and stepmom at their lovely home in Osoyoos, BC. It was the Canada Day long weekend.

Canada Day dawned as warm and beautiful as you would expect a July day in Osoyoos to be. We decided to walk down to the community park by the lake to enjoy the festivities – open stalls of people selling this and that, live music, brave souls being tugged up into the air clutching to the ropes of large, colourful, kite-like sails to paraglide over the lake – the motor boats used to get them airborne zooming loudly away from the shore, local colour in the form of a huge, yellow, floating banana, loaded down with screaming swimmers as it whipped around out in the waves of Osoyoos Lake, and of course – the massive Canada Day cake to be shared out amongst the crowd.

Chairs were set up in front of the band shell and the cake was clearly visible on a table nearby. Bruce and I had been milling around enjoying ourselves – we sat down for a couple of minutes to listen to the opening number from a local band. As the song was winding down, I could see the mayor and an assortment of local dignitaries getting ready to start cutting the cake. I stood up and gestured for Bruce to follow me – I wanted to position us a bit closer to the front for when they started handing out slices.

We had just left our chairs and were moving forward when pandemonium broke out. A very large motor home came down the small hill from the parking lot above, out of control, pushing a motorcycle and car in front of it. This mad train of vehicles whammed through the stalls and the crowd, passing right by us and crashing over the chairs we had just moments before been sitting in.

I froze where I was standing. It was only later when I replayed the scene that had unfolded before my eyes that I realized other people reacted quite differently. Bruce moved so quickly that he was able to catch a woman who had been sent flying – blood pouring down her face from where her shattered glasses had embedded themselves in her skin – before she even hit the ground. I stood completely frozen while the motor home continued its path of destruction, knocking several more people over like match sticks and pulling down a few stalls. It ground to a halt quite suddenly against a tree at the edge of the slope of grass that led down to the lake. I was still frozen in place when Bruce returned to my side – other more qualified first aiders had rushed to assist the woman he had caught.

I wonder to this day – would I have stood that frozen in place if the motor home had been bearing right down on me?

We never found out what caused the motor home to crash through the crowd. Several people were injured, a couple of people seriously so – but no one died.

So – there you have it – in the event of a crisis people have a few choices – fight, flight or freeze. Given the nature of the crisis, any one of these three options could have their own merits. The problem is being locked into one response regardless of circumstances.

The whole experience certainly left me wondering about my value (or lack of) in a crisis situation. This daily post has given me an opportunity to revisit these wonderings and I am no closer to any answers. But I certainly enjoyed perusing the photos we have of Osoyoos and remembering the fun visits we had there with my dad and stepmom, Ann.

(The photo above is a beautiful sculptured fountain that sits on the waterfront of Osoyoos Lake.)

Is it Too Late for 2013 Resolutions?


OK – so it may be January 16th already – a bit late for resolutions about structuring my time in 2013, but better late than never, as the saying goes. Things are getting a wee bit out of hand in my little corner of the writing and blogging world.

What I need is discipline – you know what I mean, right? A big note posted right in front of my face in a large font, with bold-face words saying things like:

  • You will only check out your blog stats, read other people’s posts, and do comments for one hour per day
  • You will regularly post to your blog on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and once on the weekend (no less and certainly no more – there is a limit to the amount of your stuff that people want to read!)
  • You will write a minimum of 3000 words per day on The Light Never Lies (the fascinating sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight – cue the band for a shameless plug)
  • You will get up from your chair in front of the computer at least once every hour for at least ten minutes
  • You will stop drinking so much coffee
  • You will  . . . . . blah, blah, blah

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and when I get into laying the law down in this way, I am sure as tooting on that road. The minute some voice in my head (let’s call this voice Ms. Crack the Whip) even starts thinking about the word discipline, another voice (Little Miss Never Grew Up, aka Spoilt Brat) rears up and says – ya, right – you want to screw with my fun – think again – not going to happen. Then the internal battle of the wills gets going and you can guess which of the two voices wins the fight.

So – let us re-examine that you will list from the perspective of another voice (we’ll call her Ms. Compromise). Every part of me is pumped about getting through this first draft on of The Light Never Lies – so no problem there. On the issue of the blog – I’m enjoying doing whatever I want, whenever I want – so I’m not going to get too much traction on trying to rein that in – not right now, anyway. It seems that there might be room for consensus on the issue of not posting more than four times a week as a maximum. Everyone agrees that Spoilt Brat was getting in there a bit too often with her need for instant gratification – pushing the publish button when everyone else had agreed to leave things in draft form for at least one more day. There also seems to be some hope on the issue of getting out of the chair more often. On the down side, there’s no use even thinking of asking the Brat to cut down on the coffee. Let’s be realistic here, you’ve got to pick your battles.

Well, there you have it – baby steps for sure but it’s better than nothing – right? As Cesar Chavez says – it’s like digging  a ditch, you’ve got to do it one shovelful at a time.

(The inevitable disclaimer – don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to compare my petty time structuring issues to the very real and heroic struggles of the United Farm Workers to organize and work for justice under the leadership of Cesar Chavez – the quote in the picture above is more an inspiration than a comparison.)