Sunday, July 17, 2011

The triteness of "counting our blessings"

Yours truly was given a gift today and she wants the universe to know she's greatly appreciative.

The gift was brunch with four close friends from high school.

Two of these friends are struggling and it hurts her heart. (I can't write the rest of this in third person so it's about to get personal.)

One friend has been nursing family members for quite some time and jokes that she has VIP parking at two local hospitals.

The other friend is in a battle for her life, awaiting news that a vital organ has become available to her for transplant.

We had a few laughs today because amazingly, both of these women still have their senses of humour.

My other two friends have their own challenges. Aging parents who are becoming more needy as they get older. Caring for friends who need a drive, need a hand, just need a friend.

On the drive home I struggled to remain positive and rather than end up in a pool of misery, feeling sorry for my friends, I decided to start counting my blessings, which ended up being an exercise in remembering all sorts of lame adjectives. Here's what I came up with:

I'm blessed with good health. A great partner. Talented children. Amazing grandchildren. Wonderful job. Fabulous co-workers. Safe and gorgeous home. Money in the bank. Good friends. Supportive and loving siblings.

At this point in my one-sided, car ride home conversation, I stopped myself because my list of blessings was sounding trite. Meaningless in the whole scheme of things really. Why? Because in a nano-second, at the drop of a hat, in the blink of an eye, all of that could go away if one of my children was suffering from a life-threatening disease, or if one of my major organs decided it really didn't like being housed in this body any more.

And so there I was, still driving and once again, headed down the hill to that pool of misery. Until I found that one positive blessing that was there all along: my four friends from high school!

Thank you ladies for a wonderful afternoon!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Weekend Word...for Sunday, June 26th

Last Sunday on Father's Day I wrote about my dad on my blog. Feelings of inspiration hit me late in the day, around suppertime, so I sat down in front of my laptop (which had spent the day on the patio table), logged on to my blog and typed up my little story. It didn't take me long, maybe ten minutes. Bada-boom, bada-bing. Easy as pie. Writing down what's already in my head is easy.

My paying job requires me to write minutes of meetings. Not so hard. (And yes, a little boring!) Although admittedly some of the more technical aspects of the meetings are harder to write about, I still consider it easy because what I have to write has happened, I've witnessed it, so I write about it. Just like a story about my father.

Writing NEW stuff though is hard. And frustrating.

My first book OPTIONS wasn't as difficult to write as the second one because so much of what came out of the ends of my fingers onto the pages of the book was loosely based on people I knew and actual things I had experienced. The second book ARTIFICIAL INTENTIONS was harder because I didn't have as much past experience with the story so I had to invent characters, do more research into the story-line and explore (in person) the locale.

My third book, still untitled, has been languishing because I'm having some trouble with the right side of my brain. I just can't seem to get the creative juices running when it's time to write ... I know the basic premise of the story, I've written about 27,000 words (which is about one-fifth of a book) but every sentence has been a struggle. I wonder where I could find a boot-camp style of kick-ass creativity jump start? Sigh....

Until next Sunday.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What I learned from my father

Anyone who knew my dad would agree that he was "larger than life" in more ways than one. One of my first memories of my dad was sitting on the porch of our house on Trafalgar Street in London, Ontario. It was a summer evening. Dad was watering the lawn with the hose and doing his trademark swoop with the stream of water to spray anyone walking by on the city sidewalk. (He was still pulling that stunt 40 years later.) He was whistling a ballad, the name of which I didn't know but I was entranced, watching him. He made whistling look effortless - so I gave it a try. I think the only thing that came out of my mouth was a little bit of spit, but I kept at it. I can still whistle.

Anyone I meet today who knew my dad always remembers his whistling. When we lived on the military base in Baden, Germany, you could hear him whistling several blocks away. If we got separated or lost in a store we only had to stop and listen for the whistling. It was entrancing and magical until the day he died.

It was on that same step that I first used my "low" voice - some people say it reminds them of Linda Blair in The Exorcist - but you heard it here first - I started using that voice when I was five. Dad taught me something silly to say to the people walking by in that silly voice - I think it was "Bob's your uncle!". I still have my "low" voice and use it occasionally to startle my grandchildren!

He had a sense of humour. I'm smiling right now thinking about his laugh which came from deep inside him. He always had something funny to say and he appreciated other people's sense of humour. He was forever asking me to tell and re-tell his favourite jokes.

He was kind. Oh so kind. Just thinking about some of things he did, without be asked, is making me smile. My sister dubbed him the "Food Fairy". When he and mom moved to Ottawa after they retired, my dad would often make dinner, and then deliver it to our house and my sister's place. We'd come home to find dinner with all the fixin's and a loaf of fresh bread laid out on the counter. Need a ride? He would drop everything and be there to pick you up and deliver you to your destination of choice. All of his grandchildren knew that they could always call Poppa Buck to pick them up. Need a dollar? Need a friend? Need a volunteer? Need some advice? Need a big lap to sit on? Need a hug? He gave it all freely with no strings attached.

He loved his family. His brothers and his sisters made him proud. His nieces and nephews were the apple of his eye. But he reserved his special attention for his kids and grandchildren.

His great-grandchildren and some additions to our family (sons-in-laws) never knew him but I see his traits every day in my kids and it makes my heart swell.

If he was alive today, I'd be having him over for dinner and we'd be making a big spaghetti dinner or my husband would be BBQ'ing a huge steak for him. He'd be sitting by the pool, whistling, singing, with a grandchild or two on his lap, holding court, with a Diet Coke close by his side.

He taught me a lot. I learned how to whistle and enjoy Nat King Cole and Eddie Arnold. I learned how to appreciate a good joke. I learned that family is everything. I learned that even if someone passes away their memories are always with you.

Happy Father's Day Dad. We all miss you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wedding Diary

From the mother of the bride's perspective - a Wedding Diary

Day 1 - Wednesday, April 27th

The day started early - I was up before the alarm went off at 3 am. There will be a few bleary-eyed but happy people this morning! Easy check in at the airport in Ottawa and so happy to see everyone. Finally. This day has been a long time coming - months and months of planning and yours truly desperate to put her toes in the hot sand!

Met up with Catalina's mom (Elizabeth) at the Toronto airport as we all dashed to the gate - our flight from Ottawa was almost an hour late because of heavy fog at Pearson airport. Chris managed the first leg of the trip fine - he said he sweated about one pint of beer; so we will keep track of how much he "sweats" (read: nervous) and let him make up his nervousness with several Coronas. Avery is flying for the first time so it'll be interesting to get his take on travelling. Hopefully he's not as jaded as me; although I am in a very Zen place today. My internal chant: what will be will be! This mother of the bride refuses to get rattled!

Arrival in Cancun and transport to the hotel was a breeze. The Barcelo Maya Palace is a beautiful hotel; the artwork and sculptures are breathtaking. Beach, pools and buffets are more than adequate - they are spectacular. I think everyone had a great first day!

Day 2 - Thursday, April 28th

Mother of the bride was up at 530 local time, which is 630 at home. It remained dark until about 7ish. With my dear departed dad's wisdom ringing in my ears ("Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted"), I headed out for a long reconnoitre and got to know the resort. Best kept secret: the adult pool. Spent the afternoon there with MaryAnn! We met with the wedding coordinator (Gabriela) today and finalized the wedding arrangements. Adrian, the bride's make-up artist is practicing his magic on Kate's already beautiful visage and mother of the bride is enjoying the late afternoon sun, on her patio, with a new book. Heard through the grapevine that there are storms in Ottawa - aw.....

Kelvin, Staci & Jordan arrived today. Our guests are almost all here!

Day 3 - Friday, April 29th

Simply a beautiful day. Everyone who wasn't suffering from a sunburn, got one. Yours truly included. I guess that's what you get when you buy inexpensive, no name sunscreen. We discovered today that the Solarcane purchased in Mexico contains Lidacain, which is a topical anaesethetic, and therefore not to be used by pregnant women. Heather was able to use some of our aloe Solarcane instead. Linda and Phil arrived at midday and eventually found us at the adult pool, where we spent the entire day fighting off cheating, lounge and palapa-reserving tourists. Colin and Roxanne witnessed two women almost come to fist-a-cuffs over a lounge chair. I don't understand what part of "no reserving chairs" people don't understand!

Prince William and his new bride, Duchess Catherine of Cambridge were wed in London and word is the paparrazi are on their way to the Mayan Riviera to watch the other Princess Kate wed her Prince Mathew!

Our guests are all here, and tomorrow promises to be a special day.

Day 4 - Saturday, April 30th

There aren't enough adjectives to describe the wedding day so I'll just state the facts. The weather was hot, the sun was beating down but there was a breeze off the ocean. The wedding was held on the beach, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Guests were seated under the palm trees. The saxophonist played some Latin tunes (Besame Mucho), the officiant was well spoken and the ceremony was solemn but touching and funny. The bride wore a designer gown by Essence of Australia and wore ruby shoes. The groom was outfitted in linen pants and a linen tunic shirt from Island Outfitters. The bride's attendants wore Caribbean colours (sky blue, hot pink and butter yellow) and the groom's attendants were dressed in khaki shorts and sky blue shirts from Old Navy. After the ceremony and lots of pictures, the guests had Mexican hors d'oeuvres and cocktails on the rooftop of the hotel overlooking the ocean. A reception dinner, held in the Tule 3 ballroom, consisted of goat cheese and tomato salad, minestrone soup, beef tenderloin and chocolate cake. Dancing ensued after the dinner to a play-list created by the guests and compiled by the bride's attendant Jordan D'Amico.

Now for some adjectives: beautiful, to describe the bride, her attendants, the guests, and the location. Humble and handsome to describe Mathew and his attendants, Brandon, Shaemus and Aaron (his brothers). Spectacular, to describe the view, the food, the drinks, the music, the guests, the ambiance. Relaxed, to describe the attitude of the bride and groom, and how the whole day rolled out!!

Thanks to Derek for letting us have the wedding on his birthday!

Day 5 - Sunday, May 1st

Breakfast, beach, floating in the ocean, adult pool, floating in the pool, lunch, siesta, shopping at the "plaza" at the next hotel, dinner, bar. What a day!

Day 6 - Monday, May 2nd

Canadian election will be held today - here's hoping for a Conservative majority. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Americans are rejoicing. Yours truly is wondering why the Americans couldn't have killed him and kept their mouths shut about it. The next months will see us on high alert because of potential retaliation.

Roxanne and Colin go home today - sad to see them go but so happy that they were able to come to the wedding and have a holiday.

Linda and Phil also leave today. They were able to pack in the activities - including a trip to Tulum to see the Mayan ruins, windsurfing and sailing a catamaran! Sure was nice to have them here!

Darryl and I swam with the turtles today and saw a small barracuda in the shallow water near shore. Darryl said, "You only have to be faster than the slowest guy in the water," as we all scrambled back to shore.

Most of the wedding guests traipsed into Playa Del Carmen for dinner at Senor Frog's. Balloon hats not suitable for G audiences, conga lines with tequila shots, and souvenir shopping were highlights of the evening!

Day 7 - Tuesday, May 3rd

Conservatives have a majority government and the NDP kicked Liberal and Bloc ass! The bride's father treated her to two designer bags as a wedding gift on our shopping trip into Playa Del Carmen. Sad to be leaving in the morning!

Day 8 - Wednesday, May 4th

Homeward bound! So many new friendships made among the wedding guests; everyone is looking forward to getting together at the official wedding reception on May 21st. Uneventful (thankfully) trip home.

Destination Wedding by the numbers:

Guests: 30

Total shots of tequila imbibed by our guests: 637

Total glasses of Corona enjoyed by our guests: 1,216

Number of guests with sunburns: 26

Photos taken on the wedding day by Catalina: 2,000

Photos taken by everyone else on the wedding day: 4,312 (haha)

Number of guests who want to return to the Barcelo: 30

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life is like a box of chocolates

Everyone's life includes "first's". Like the first time we walked. Or the first time we went to a movie, or the first time we had a "drink". Things like that. Some of these first's we remember as remarkable and we remember them for the impact they've had on our lives.

In no order of importance, some of the amazing first's in my life include giving birth, getting my first "real" pay-cheque, my first mortgage payment, my first grandchild. Here's a funny one: I remember the first time I went to a meeting that was job-related. That was a big deal. Secretaries didn't "do" meetings back then. My first car. My first date. My first plane ride. You get the idea. And there are the many first's that I won't write about here because they make me blush to think about them (including the first time a boss yelled at me and I deserved it).

Today I had another first. I got my first ever royalty cheque. YAY!

Granted, it's not alot but hey, who cares? You've heard me say that I'm not writing for the money (which is a good thing because I'd be a pauper right now), but it sure felt good to open that envelope from iUniverse.

A famous philosopher once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates" and I truly believe that. Forrest Gump's mama was right: You never know what you're going to get.

Receiving that royalty payment today was a first, and an unexpected one at that.

Thank you to all my readers who have purchased my books!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet John Owens - Self-Published Author

Yeah, that's him on the left. John Owens.

I call him Bubba.

Bubba and I first met in 1985 - holy crap that's more than two lifetimes ago! He and I were both employed at the same company here in Ottawa, working for Rod Bryden back in Rod's high tech days. John was in charge of "communications" and "public relations". I believe he came to the organization from the United Way, and before that he worked as a high school teacher in the Bahamas, where legend says he got that shirt he's wearing in the picture. After working in high tech (when high tech was COOL in Ottawa), he went to work for Rod Bryden at the Ottawa Senators (back when hockey was COOL in Ottawa and the Senators used to win a game or two).

It's all a blur after that because there's a rumour around that Bubba moved to la Belle Province and I lost contact with him for a couple of years. Fast forward to a couple of months ago when a mutual acquaintance asked me if I knew that John was back in town and that he'd written a book. I was on THAT like white on rice.

I thought if John Owens had written a book, that means HE would have a traditional publisher (did I mention he's a fabulous writer) because his writing is amazing. Ah, taberWHIT, and zut alors, it turned out that Bubba was in the same situation as traditional publisher and he was going the self-publishing route. I was on THAT like Joan Rivers and a free facelift!

John's road to publishing had been similar to mine - frustrating to say the least. But I was glad to find out that having a published author as a friend who is also a famous journalist didn't help either (read about it on John's blog - LOL! Turns out John decided to try a company I had been looking at as well (iUniverse) and his experience with them had been okay. So, I signed up with them too (read all about it on my blog.....).

Fast forward to last Friday. I arrived home to find Bubba's book ON THE RAILS had arrived from Amazon and on Sunday and Monday I read through all 600 and some odd pages. I found it mesmerizing, I loved the characters, I was fascinated by the time period, and couldn't put it down.

John had agreed with me a while ago that after I read his book, he would do a blog interview with me about ON THE RAILS. So, here it on:

Question: Your adult working career has included teaching English to high school students, corporate communications/PR work for large public companies and a professional hockey team franchise, and writer. Which of these has given you the most personal satisfaction?

Answer: I don’t want to sound like a friggin’ politician here, but most of the jobs I’ve held have given me a lot of pleasure – but for different reasons. Teaching poor kids in the Bahamas and working for the United Way both made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. Being with the Ottawa Senators for the team’s first five years was a blast – fairly shitty hockey but a great bunch of people who busted their collective ass to make the franchise work. But, after writing for months in a row – even if I had a terrible day when nothing worked – I would always say to myself: “This is what I should be doing.”

Question: Where did the idea for On The Rails germinate?

Answer: My father was (and still is) a great storyteller. He’s almost 90 now and he lived through much of what Michael experiences – from riding the rails to logging camps, to short order cooking to Northern service with the RCMP. He told those stories with such humour and liveliness that they struck me in a way I hadn’t heard before. I figured there had to be a book in that.

Question: The old adage "write what you know" always comes to my mind when reading an author's first novel. How much of On The Rails is based on your own experiences and your own views/knowledge of Canadian locales? (And yeah, we know you're old but we also know you weren't alive during the Depression and the start of WWII.)

Answer: There are particular events or scenes which I experienced (skating, “borrowing” my father’s truck, the sideshow, working in a catalogue department among many others) and then adapted them to Depression-era Canada. Geographically, I have to confess that I’ve never been to central BC, northern New Brunswick, the Arctic, or Regina. Bless the Internet for images and info.

Question: As a writer, I've found it hard not to imbue my main characters with at least a tiny bit of me. I also get a secret thrill having my characters do or say things that I've always wanted to do or say, but didn't have the guts. Which character in On The Rails is most like you?

Answer: A small part of me is Michael but as a kindred character I’d have to say Dick Williams, the apple farmer in BC. He leads the kind of graceful, self-contained life which I much admire. But there are probably 20 characters who say or do stuff which I somehow believe.

Question: From the time you typed "George Shymchuk's axes were always sharp" to the point where you took your fingers off the keyboard and said, "DONE", how long did it take you to write the book (excluding the yucky parts of editing and proofreading)?

Answer: It’s actually hard to give an accurate answer because, throughout the novel writing period, I also had to make money in my business. There was a pretty intense stretch between 2003 and 2005 where I mainly worked on the book and I did a major revision in 2008 that took about six months.

Question: There is so much in this book that resonated with me (but most of that's fodder for another blog interview). Here's an example: "He felt the guilt of one human who knows he feels less than another about the same thing. He felt the powerlessness to change it within him, the rigid inability to force himself to lift up his caring to the apparent level around him." I actually had a WOW moment when I read those lines, and realized that finally, someone had put into words something I've known for a long time but was unable to articulate. Did you have a WOW moment when you wrote those lines?

Answer: Like you, I’ve guiltily felt that for a long time but I made myself write it to capture Michael’s isolation in everything from severing his family ties to his reaction to war in Europe.

Question: Inarguably, the main plot of On The Rails is male-dominated, and not a lot of women rode the rails during the Depression, but we couldn't ignore the fact that the women's characters in your book are peripheral. This is not a feminist dig in the least, we're just curious if this was a conscious decision on your part or is that just the way the "cookie crumbled", so to speak?

Answer: You’re right: mainly, it was historical circumstance, both on the rails and in the RCMP which is about 80% of the book. For some reason or other, though, I’ve always had a problem with male writers attempting to write from a female perspective (and vice versa!). It always strikes me like a parlour trick. It’s clever and all, but it’s still a trick. Idiotically perhaps, I don’t know why they try it.

Question: You strike me as a beach bum type of guy who likes the warm weather and cold beers. Did you ever experience sledding or wilderness living like Michael and his other RCMP co-horts?

Answer: Again, I think my old man’s story telling abilities made those times and places seem real to me. Personally, I do everything I can to avoid the cold and spend my winters in hibernation, dreaming of Mexico. Coincidentally, however, I did spend a winter in an uninsulated cabin in 2003 when I first really ploughed into On the Rails. It was chilly and remote but absolutely nothing even close to the realities of the Canadian Arctic!

Question: When will be reading The Sixth String? Are you trying to find a traditional publisher for it or are you going the self-publish route again?

Answer: We’ll see. I’m revising some musical things in The Sixth String right now which I had dead wrong so I’m not quite done. I do first want to see if On the Rails will attract some attention and a publisher. But that’s like: I do intend to keep buying lottery tickets.

Question: What's next? Are you writing your next novel?

Answer: Sort of. I’m about 50,000 words into a Central American thing but I haven’t visited it for quite some time. It’s an odd book that might become a real one.

John's book On the Rails is available at or

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm thissssss close

The e-proofs for both books have been reviewed by me and sent back to iUniverse. There were very few errors in either books, with the majority being mine, all mine. And yes, you guessed right - I found a whole bunch more of those pesky problems like missing words, spelling mistakes, etc. HUGE SIGH. Hopefully there aren't that many left.

I sent everything back to iUniverse last Friday and Saturday and yesterday I received the cover proofs for Artificial Intentions, with all changes made. By the way, the covers for both books are fantastic. The graphics people at iUniverse took Jordan's artwork and used his lay-out, photos and ideas to the max! So, the credit goes to number one son (again) for the covers!

Tonight I received the revised text for Artificial Intentions, which I checked and sent back with one last minor correction to be made. Now they do the printer's layout and get the book to market. Can't wait, but I guess I'll have to (not sure how much longer it will be).

Still waiting for the proofs for OPTIONS which is being handled by another design team. I'm not as anxious for it because I can't wait to hold my new book in my hands!

iUniverse is doing a great job!