Summer Heat Wave

Heat does weird things to people. Let’s face it–all of a sudden, the temperature and climate is Summer and we literally have a heat wave. Since last October, we’ve been looking forward to warmer weather. Our conversation was always peppered wistfully with “Remember when the temperature hit the 80s and it felt so good?”  Of course, this was back in December when we ventured out in blustery freezing winds with icy raindrops and dressed in sixteen layers of clothing.

Now, here we are in July, wearing the thinnest of tees and shorts AND still feeling like we are overdressed!

Don’t get me wrong–I love Summer. Where else do we get fresh, local blueberries and cherries earlier than usual? We’ve been feasting on juicy nectarines and fuzzless peaches and plump juicy Rainier cherries and gorgeous mangoes. The mangoes are from Mexico but oh-so-good! Local blackberries, raspberries and yes, even more strawberries are all out there. I love our baby nugget potatoes and fresh baby carrots and all the varieties of local lettuce plucked off the farm trucks. Summer is the absolute best for eating healthy.

But now, I want a little less heat, a bit more of a breeze and a hunky Magic Chef to cook for me. Is that too much to ask?

A Writer Writes

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.  This can be paraphrased to apply to writers:  A writer does not write to seek an answer; a writer writes because he/she has a story to tell.

Writing a story is very much like cooking creatively. Anyone can cook chicken, fish or a roast, but to present a tasty meal, well, that takes creative talent.  I’m talking the kind of meal where the aromas not only tantalize the senses, but stirs up the taste buds and sets your tummy to humming in anticipation. By the time the veggies are plated artistically alongside the main entrée and placed in front of the hungry diners, the cook instinctively knows that he/she doesn’t need that special prayer to the Kitchen God because the cook knows the meal will taste as good as it looks.

It’s the same with a good story. Reading the cover blurp may entice readers to sample a few beginning pages. And, if those first two pages doesn’t grab you by the throat, then the writer has lost that initial momentum; that initial advantage of luring readers into his story early.

Canadian crime writer, Grant McKenzie, created a throat-grabber with one of his early books, “Angel With a Bullet.”  Writing under the pen name of M.C. Grant, the story is told in the first-person voice of a female journalist named Dixie. Judging from the excerpts, I immediately liked this ambitious, feisty and funny reporter who counted ex-boyfriends in lieu of sheep on those hard-to-fall-asleep nights and would, no doubt, end up working on her ex-lover’s messy murder staged like an apparent suicide. All this from the opening chapter. Doesn’t that make you want to rush out and find a copy of “Angel With a Bullet?”

James Rollins “Blood Line” is another thriller that captured my attention from the first sentence: They once called her a witch and a whore.  Of course I had to read more but since it’s frowned upon to read the entire book in my favourite bookstore, I bought it.

James Patterson and Howard Roughan’s “Don’t Blink” hooked me with a delicious description of Manhattan’s  Upper Eastside “Lombardo Steakhouse” and reeled me in after page one because I just knew something terrible was about to happen. And my killer instincts were right.

Writers not only have to reel in their readers, but once the readers are hooked, keep them anxiously turning the pages. That’s what the great writers do—give readers that unexpected. I like the unexpected, that special twist.  Like a creative cook who can toss together crimini mushrooms, sautéed beef chunks, fresh oysters, herbs, seasoning and chopped veggies–all simmered together with a bottle of dark ale to make this hearty stew for those cold nights by a cosy fire. I didn’t know combining the unexpected could taste so good!

Books that hold you enthralled, captivates you with words, feeds your imagination are often the product of creative writers who wield a magic pen. I salute all creative writers, artists and cooks—you all deserve that celebratory glass of bubbly for producing your masterpiece.

As I said at the very beginning: A writer does not write to seek an answer; a writer writes because he/she has a story to tell–a story that needs to be told as only you can.

Natasha Elena

Recently my little god-daughter and her parents moved  to Toronto where she celebrated her 4th birthday. From phone-calls, she is happily making new friends, discovering new places and enjoying different activities. This is a post I wrote in 2014, introducing Tasha.

Natasha Elena is my 3-year old god-daughter. Since babyhood, she has always called me “Nana” because her only other grandmother lives in Austria.  Having Tasha for the day is always a treat—both for her and for myself.  My god-daughter thinks she is making me stop saying “bad words” and I like to think, she’s being gently educated.

I’m normally a very calm and happy person but there are certain times when I find enough is enough. I don’t often swear—at least, not in English.  And, even if it is in Cantonese, it’s more an insult than a cuss word. Tasha hadn’t spoken any words yet at 9 months, but when she finally did, her first words were “scum-bag.”  It didn’t sit well with her parents who had been patiently priming her with “Mama” and “Papa.”  My defense was I thought she had been asleep when I was watching my Clint Eastwood, “Dirty Harry” video.

I should have known better than to leave Tasha alone for 2 minutes, even if she was busy with her colouring book and big crayons. My newly painted blank wall was too tempting for a budding artist. She had carefully crayoned her best art on my new blush peach wall.

“Je***,” I tried to say, while scrambling to remember if those were the washable crayons or not.

“Cheezies, Nana—you can say cheezies,” Tasha cheerfully offered.

“Remember what Nana said about drawing on walls, Tasha?”

“Uh-huh,”

“And what did Nana say not to do?”

“Um-mm, Nana said ‘Nebber gotcha Danny ebber do it again.”  Even my brain blinked as I tried to decipher what I had actually said to her.  Oh right—“Never, god-damn ever, do it again!” lost its huge punch when you had to sub out the swear words for socially acceptable ones meant for little ears. Tasha was two and a bit  at that time.

Another time, I had made a grocery stop at the Super-Store and parked the car in the huge lot. Tasha was riding in the cart, along with the groceries, when we both spotted the new ugly scrape on the side of my car.

“Holy sh**!” I hollered, managing to stop myself midway.

“Holy sheep, Nana—it’s Holy sheep!” my god-daughter corrected with a giggle.

Tasha had been with me when I had to go to the local department store to settle an accounting mistake. Someone else’s purchases had ended on my monthly statement.  No matter how it was explained, the accounting person refused to acknowledge it was their mistake and suggested I contact Management if I wasn’t happy.  It had been a very frustrating hour and forgetting Tasha was holding my hand, I was muttering insults to that ass**** who refused to listen.  Tugging my hand to get my attention, my little god-daughter announced in her loud voice, “Sassy-mole, Nana. You can say sassy-mole.” Somehow “sassy-mole” didn’t conjure up the same image of the aggravating accounts person.

I do enjoy my god-daughter. She really is very special and lovable. Whenever we spend time together, it’s filled with laughter and sometimes, for me, new words.  It’s amazing how quickly I can scramble to substitute for any cuss words and if I’m not quick enough, Tasha would giggle and change the word for me. I use to dread her going home and tossing all the real words back to her parents, but so far, I still have access to my god-daughter.

The other day, I discovered Tasha has learned a Cantonese phrase and she delivered it perfectly. With her tiny hands fisted on her hips, she frowned at Loki, her Maltese terrier. The tiny dog had chewed one ear off her stuffed bear. “Aii ya, su-ya! Kwai, kwai!” which roughly translated means, “You stupid—bad, bad!”

Yes indeed—I treasure these moments and definitely don’t want Tasha growing up too quickly. Sometimes I think Tasha will be a wonderful peace-maker, an ambassador for her country.  Other times, I think she  may be a linguist as she already speaks fluent Austrian and English.  She has a wonderful imagination and grasp of words so she may become a famous writer.  For her young age, she has a sense of adventure and isn’t afraid to try foods that are new to her.  I want to be there when she discovers what the world has to offer and all the things she can do to make the world a better place. I want her to gotcha Danny do it well and  holy sheep make us proud.  Nana loves you, Natasha Elena.

A Monday Hissy-Fit

Excuse me while I have my hissy-fit.  I’m definitely going to have my hissy-fit and feel a whole lot better for it. I’ve just come back from getting groceries and doing my month-end banking with watering eyes, sneezing fits and a nose that never stops running. Sound familiar? Two things made me want to stop and scream, “Beam me up Scotty and get me outta here!”

Back in March, just as our weather was warming up, all these gorgeous pink ornamental cherry blossoms and deep-pink plum blossoms burst into colourful blooms along every boulevard in Victoria including a 5-mile radius of my neighbourhood. Beautiful, but annoying and maddening for those of us suffering from allergies. I was much relieved by the time April finished and moved into May because my allergies stopped–the blossoms had finished their cycles.

But maybe not—something is triggering off an enormous spate of sneezing, watering eyes and running nose all over again. I had to buy 3-boxes of those mammoth size tissues as anyone with allergies can tell you–those regular tissues are useless. Okay, having allergies is not like getting the Big C or something equally as serious; nevertheless, allergies can be a huge pain-in-the-butt when you’re the sufferer!

Hissy-fit #1:  Allergy sufferers should only have to suffer once in the great cycle of things–not twice!

This week my hometown is encouraging its annual “Bike-to-Work” week. Do you have it in your hometown? I am all for a healthy lifestyle and safe environment; however, we are not Europe, where biking is a normal way of life and their streets are adapted for both bikes and cars. In my city, bike lanes are the new buzz-words for politicians and environmentalists who advocate biking for your health and well-being. This is also a sure-fire way of getting elected. But often the need for bike lanes are not carefully thought out. A bike lane may start at Point A but it will peter out for a few miles and then suddenly pick up somewhere else.

I am as environmentally conscious as anyone else, but right now our streets are not safe for inexperienced bikers who ride their bikes for a short time on  weekends only. It is the fiercely experienced bikers who can safely navigate their bikes effortlessly through traffic. And, did I mention all the summer road-work that has closed  single lanes forcing drivers to steer themselves through a maze of  orange cones marking their temporary route?  AND the bike lane has disappeared?

If bike lanes are going to be the norm, then for Pete’s sake, (who the heck is Pete?). let’s put them in everywhere and make them continuous. The newest bike lane has been the talk of the town because this section of road is only 8 blocks long and has been closed for 10 months to install new underground pipes and sidewalks. Opened to traffic last week, it is a treacherous piece of road to navigate because the two lanes, incoming and outgoing, have been made narrower due to constructed bike lanes with a curb that made the bike lane elevated. Other bike riders have commented that they have never seen a bike lane that has been raised. The road is definitely thinner with its new sidewalks and fancy bike lanes. but to make absolutely sure, traffic slows to a crawl, the municipality has further installed their beautification project of garden centres, right on the centre median. What in the world were the engineers and architects thinking?  Was all this designed on paper, decided it looked great and the okay given to go ahead and build it? Did the road architect/engineer ever do a test drive on the completed route and felt any pangs of regret as he steered around the centre islands and the curved bike lane? And most of all–being “Bike-to-Work” week, did any week-end bikers fall off the raised bike lane doing their healthy trip to work?

My Hissy-fit#2 are on bike lanes that end abruptly causing the biker to ride in front or behind you plus those “garden-centres” that sits in the centre of the road–beautiful but waiting for an accident to happen, especially on such a narrow street.

One more note–I recently heard that the municipality had proposed a new city bus route down this short section of street. The mind boggles at bureaucrats actually suggesting this with the centre islands and bike lanes already slowing traffic to a whimper at rush hour.Thank goodness, someone with brains vetoed that idea!

And yes, I do feel better now that my frustrated rant is winding down. Thanks for listening. . . .

Books On My Table

I’m a lover of books and my choices are eclectic, depending upon my mood. I like a well-written story with action and thrills as well as those lighter stories with laughter and food–yes, even chocolate. Every now and then, I put together my list of entertaining books that I thoroughly enjoyed—some authors I sampled for the first time while others are like old friends.

If Dark Chocolate Demise, by Jenn McKinlay, doesn’t have you reaching for a delicious cupcake, then your snack-o-meter must be on the fritz!  Scottsdale, Arizona is doing its first “Annual Zombia Walk” and the Fairy-Tale Cupcakes crew, including baker, Melanie Cooper and  business partner/best friend, Angie DeLaura  are enthusiastically joining in the fun, providing the fancy cupcakes and a real coffin. But the fun becomes a nightmare when a real body, looking like one of their own, is discovered in the coffin. With the love-of-her-life, Joe DeLaura, staying away while prosecuting a high-profile Mafia boss, the realities of a Mafia boss’s revenge could be the real-deal. While Joe orders his numerous brothers to keep Mel safe, she charges ahead by baking her fairy Tale Cupcakes for her shop. With so much happening, Mel strives to ignore her numerous cupcake-eating-body-guards, does her best to de-stress and attempts to untangle her mixed-up love-life. Helped along by goodies like Dark Chocolate Demise, Marshmallow Mummies and Vanilla Eyeballs, Mel, Angie and her loyal crew eventually find the killer Zombie and their happy ending. This is my first Jenna McKinlay mystery but definitely not my last. Besides enjoying every cupcake crumb and calories, this cosy has a solid story, surprise twist and very likeable characters. Dark Chocolate Demise has the added bonus of some mouth-watering recipes to bake and nibble while enjoying this light-hearted read.

Nicola Furlong’s book Heartsong, is the first of the Sisterhood of Shepherds series chronicling the friendships, lives. loves and struggles of sisters Faith, Hope and Charly Shepherd.  Heartsong is Charly’s story of rebuilding the family nursery after a devastating storm wreaked its havoc on all the young stock. Fiercely independent, Charly must learn to accept help, even if it’s from her well-meaning, brown-thumbed brother-in-law who has yet to find his niche in early retirement. In the midst of the ups and downs of running a family nursery, the Shepherd patriarch reveals he has a secret—a promise made decades ago that he wants to fulfill before he dies. Nicola has written an inspirational tale that shows family is everything; love, loyalty and honour are unbreakable bonds. It is also a story of heartache, redemption, faith and new discoveries including the destiny of the Shepherd sisters on “Project Heartsong.” Besides being a well-known Canadian writer who loves chocolate, Nicola is also an avid gardener who knows her plants. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, especially if it contains another fabulous recipe like “Charly Shepherd’s Chunky Chocolate Cookies.”

Top Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich, has bounty hiunter, Stephanie Plum not only bringing back felons who skipped their court dates but is acting as mysterious Ranger’s assistant in hunting down an elusive and deadly Russian assassin. Both cases overlaps with Steph’s other assignments  and her boyfriend, Joe Morelli’s latest homicides. Somehow stuck with annoying Randy Briggs, the Trenton Hospital’s midget security guard, our fave bounty hunter dodges bullets, bombs and a pack of homeless Chihuahuas. While coping with all this, Stephanie muddles through Grandma Mazur’s bucket list which includes Joe’s scary Grandma Bella and a specific part of Ranger’s anatomy. Managing to escape the clutches of a killer. our fearless bounty hunter brings her felon to justice. But best of all, she gets to experience Morelli’s secret bucket list involving an egg-timer, a spoon and marshmallow fluff. Grab your copy of Top Secret Twenty One, a great any-time, light-hearted tale with plenty of laughter.

If you want something more with action, thrills and guaranteed to keep you reading through the night, then these stories will keep you turning the pages.

The Kill Switch by James Rollins, co-authored with Grant Blackwood, is the long awaited novel featuring Tucker Wayne and his loyal canine partner, Kane. Captain Wayne and his military dog, Kane, have been involved in Sigma Force assignments before but this is their first solo adventure showcasing the intelligence, abilities and stalwart teamwork of a military dog and his human partner. Completing one assignment of successfully protecting a Russian industrialist’s life,Tucker and Kane are assigned another task of bringing an arrogant Russian scientist, Abram Bukulov, back to America as quickly as possible. But no matter where they go, someone is betraying their whereabouts and they are relentlessly hunted by a team of deadly assassins, controlled by a mysterious Russian general bent on revenge and power. The Kill Switch is a heart-pounding thriller as on lyJames Rollins and Grant Blackwood can create—writing with real-time knowledge, up-to-date research plus a deep understanding of world politics and power. If you start this book, be sure you have no appointments or social engagements to interfere with a darn good story about a man, his almost human dog, a travelogue of lesser-known places they traverse and the evil people lurking behind public faces.

Don Easton is a former RCMP undercover operative who knows the criminal world extremely well. The Benefactor begins with the apparent accidental traffic death of a 75-year old woman until a closer look at the car links it to an organized Asian crime syndicate.. Undercover operative, Jack Taggart and his partner Laura Secord, once again dives into the gritty Vancouver criminal underworld—only this time, they uncover how extensive Chinese spies have set their tentacles uncovering both industrial secrets as well as the complex world of computer hacking of highly classified government files. Easton’s books have always been realistically entertaining as his characters are believable and the scenarios are right out of today’s headlines. He definitely knows his topics and has clearly lived through some of the hair-raising episodes. For exciting escapism and a darn good read, grab your copy of The Benefactor today.

Rick Molina is another writer who can take today’s headlines and build a credible story—Full Tilt is such a story. A young woman, burned beyond recognition and desperate to escape from whoever confined her, manages to gasp, “There are others” before she dies.  A search of the area where the fire began leads to the discovery of another body and a pendant, battered and charred but recognizable as a guardian angel.  Years ago, Kate Page and her little sister were each given a guardian angel pendant by their Mom. A devastating car accident plunges the car they were in into the river where 7-year old Kate desperately tried to hold onto her 4-year old sister’s hand, but the pull of the currents was too strong for young Kate and Vanessa was swept away..  Years later, a police enquiry about the angel pendant renews hope that somehow Vanessa survived. Now a leading journalist and single Mom to a young daughter, Kate begins an investigation of her own, wanting to believe that her sister is still alive. Readers are shown two sides of the story—the pain-staking and often heart-breaking police investigation as well as the traumatic ordeal of a sister, searching for her missing sib. It is an unbelievably sick psychotic who can patiently stalk and capture young women for his collection and enjoyment. It takes a certain calibre of writing to make this story believable and scary without sensationalizing it.  This is my first Rick Molina and it won’t be my last, but you will definitely want to keep a close eye on your daughters. . . .

Jayne Ann Krenz’s, story Trust No One is an entertaining, fast-read on a genre Krenz does best—mystery suspense with a big dollop of romance.  When Grace Elland finds her dream niche of creative marketing and blogging on social medias for her boss, motivational guru. Sprague Witherspoon, she puts her past behind her. But it all comes roaring back when she finds her boss’s dead body and a vodka bottle near him. Her recurring nightmare returns with a vengeance and being on the suspect list has Grace fleeing back to her lakeside childhood home for some peace and tranquillity.  Instead she begins receiving email from her dead boss.  Being an optimistic person by nature, she endures an uncomfortable blind date with her neighbour, a rich, pessimistic venture capitalist, Julius Arkwright, whop begins to realize something is troubling Grace. Threatened and stalked by someone, Grace turns to Julius for help. Now united as a team after a botched mugging, the pair make a list of potential suspects. With Julius’s mantras”Trust no one” and “Everyone has a personal agenda,” Grace stumbles onto the truth the same time Julius realizes who is behind everything.  Jayne Ann Krenz doesn’t disappoint. Trust No One is a suspenseful read with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end.

Okay—that’s my list of entertaining books by writers who know how to grab your attention and hold it captive.  Let me know how you like these.

Happy Mother’s Day

I got in this “Mom” thing late in life. By the time I met my Hubby, his son was almost 18 and at a sort of rebellious age. T knew his own mind, had definite ideas about his Dad’s love-life, was finding his own independence and buried himself by working on his numerous cars–one at a time, of course–while hanging-out with his friends and girlfriend.

I wasn’t into being anyone’s “step-mom” and figured I simply had a nice friendship with someone I liked; who had decidedly different ideas on leisure activities; who trusted me to navigate the unfamiliar streets of Vancouver to visit his family and who was brave enough to continue ballroom dancing with a partner who had 2 left feet to begin with and still had 2-left feet when we finished our classes. When J finally popped the question, there was no hesitation in accepting as we had known each other for a few years. By then, the thought of having a 21 year old step-son was not as daunting as I had first thought. T had evolved into a responsible and kind adult. While J and I enjoyed our engagement period which became a lengthy one, T married his high-school sweetheart and started a family.

The day I married T’s Dad, I officially became wife, step-mom and grandma to a 2-1/2 year old grandson and an 8-month old granddaughter.

Today, my two older grandchildren are hard-working, responsible young adults who have definite goals in life. My two younger grandchildren are active little girls who love everything in their world including their big brother and big sister.

Moms have a tough job. They deal with not only all the good positive stuff of motherhood but also the negative stuff like colds, flu and stuff kids get into as well as the day-to-day running of an active household. And for many others, there’s juggling in a full-time job as well. When Mom-job and day job collide, she manages to deal with both while keeping calm and relatively sane.

I feel very blessed to be a step-mom and grandma on Mother’s Day. I got here the easy route and appreciate what Moms go through. To all the Moms out there, know you are doing a great job. To all the Grandmas out there, you know you have done a terrific job when you look at the happy faces of your grandchildren. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you–give yourself a well-deserved pat-on-the-back!

The Luck of the Scoop

When we were kids, I remember how we would scrupulously check our cookies to see if a sib had a bigger cookie or one with more raisins, nuts or chocolate chips. There would inevitably be a noisy outburst of “He/She has more raisins, nuts or chocolate chips in his/her cookie than I do.”  Mom would just sigh and say, “It’s the luck of the scoop—no one has more stuff in their cookie. And, all the cookies are the same size. It’s the scoopful of dough and you just have to live with it or forget about having a cookie.”

As we grew older and hopefully wiser, Mom’s words, the “luck of the scoop” stayed with me.  After all, that’s what Life is all about. It’s not just choosing that right fork in the road but the luck of the scoop that includes the good things and not-so-good things tucked in there. And, those scoops of Life includes any choices we make along the way—supported by our knowledge, bolstered by our experiences and pushed along by our impulses and Lady Fortune’s smiles.