EVERY NOW AND THEN

Every now and then, something happens that tweaks an inspirational thought or an “eureka” moment. You know, something you saw or read and you think it could be used in a story. At some future point, you do or maybe not. It could be a chance comment or fragment of overheard conversation or some news bit that caught your eye or ear.  It needn’t be anything major—usually, it’s something easily missed in the moment, yet it sneaked into your subconscious and screams to be let out—creatively, that is.

I was catching up on my stack of newspapers and assorted clippings before the Recycling Truck made its weekly rounds. The item that caught my attention was a brief report about a thief caught breaking and entering a home. He had grabbed a laptop and had an iPad under his arm, when the homeowner came home and caught him in the act. Panicking, the thief dropped his loot and escaped out the bedroom window. But in his haste to escape, he also dropped his bus-pass with picture I.D.  Of course he got caught.

One of my favourite news bit was about the enterprising person who grew his marijuana crop tucked among his rosemary plants. Unfortunately, his next door neighbour, a retired policeman, had his kitchen window facing the thriving garden. Gazing out his window, while enjoying his early morning coffee. the retired policeman recognized the distinctly un-rosemary leaves that towered over the real rosemary plants.

I read with great interest the article on whether  your dog is left paw or right paw. The veterinarian determines this by putting a dab of gel on the dog’s nose and watching to see which paw tries to wipe it off.  I’ve never thought about whether my dog was a “leftie” or not. Or, how about the cut-throat business of international orchid smuggling? Some orchid fanciers argue that smuggling some rare, unknown orchid is saving the species from destruction when farmers and road builders cut their swath indiscriminately through the South American rain forests. It wasn’t mentioned that the prestige of claiming it, naming it and cultivating it is worth millions of dollars—especially when selling to other orchid fanciers. Or, how about the fashion designer from Hanover, Germany, who actually developed a fabric  called QMilch, made mostly from casein, a milk protein. The fabric is silk-like, washable, chemical-free and wears for a long time.  And buried in a stack of clippings, I discovered there is a Spam—the meat product and not the junk-mail—Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

Now that I’ve worked my way through my “paper-work,” I think I’m motivated and re-energized to tackle more writing. Life is certainly fascinating, just read your newspapers!

 

 

 

HAZARDOUS UNDERTAKING

Doing “projects” with your partner/spouse can be a hazardous undertaking fraught with emotion. I remember my very first major project with Hubby, before were seriously considered a permanent relationship. I suppose it was one way to find out how compatible we were and whether we could work together as a team.

The project seemed simple enough.  Hubby’s house came with bilious green carpets that were so 60ish. We discovered the most gorgeous oak floors beneath the ugly carpet. To uncover this  treasure, we had to remove the olive green shag, which seemed easy enough to roll up and take away. However, the challenge was the black underlay, which had melded to the hardwood floor over the many decades with the previous homeowner. Through sheer determination, sweat and desperate scraping with various tools, the oak floors were slowly uncovered, inch by laborious inch. During the days, we worked at our respective jobs and in the evenings, scraped our way across the living room/dining room. We both had strong ideas at how best to tackle the project and who was really the Boss. Later, looking at the fruits of our hard labour erased all the angry, frustrated words we had hurled at each other over the past two weeks.  The beautifully preserved oak floors were worth every moment. Best of all, we had survived our first major project.

Our second project involved planting small cedar trees along the perimeter of the house separating the neighbour’s yard from ours. Coming  home one evening, we discovered that the fenceless property was an invitation for the thoughtless people to do “wheelies” with their cars, leaving deep, ugly tire tracks on our immaculate lawn. Hubby and I were still in the euphoric stage of our honeymoon when we returned home and decided to do the tree-planting to commemorate our permanent relationship. It had been a few years since the carpet/hardwood project and we felt we knew each other’s quirks and foibles to work together planting 10 small cedar trees.  After all, we were now a permanent “team.”

As any long-time couple will tell you–-nothing is ever simple and most spousal projects never run smoothly. This fact is engraved in fine print in the marriage manual.

First of all, the day was hot and we had started in the afternoon when the sun was hottest. The ground was extremely dry and hard, filled with rocks ranging in size from good-sized boulders to small pebbles. All we had was a shovel. It took us over an hour to dig a hole, deep enough and wide enough to plant one small 3-feet high cedar tree. By night-fall, we had planted 4 trees with 6 more to go. We were hot, hungry and tire—our honeymoon euphoria had disappeared and any optimistic thoughts of a cedar shrub separating the two properties had gone the way of the do-do bird!  Somehow, we did survive our second major project. Later we moved away for a few years, eventually returning to the neighbourhood. Hubby and I strolled down our old street and were amazed at the 10-feet high wall of cedar trees, densely packed together to form a solid fence of privacy—our 3-feet trees had grown together and spread upwards. Like our spousal project, the trees had survived.

Pundits have always claimed “opposites attract”, but it wasn’t our differences that attracted us when we were learning about each other–it was initially our similarities. Yet I always marvel that we survived—6 years of friendship/courtship and marking our 21st  anniversary this year— because we accepted the fact that we are very different in our thinking. In spite of this, we have learned to focus on each other’s strengths when doing a joint project. It’s not been easy for we are still learning and adjusting and perhaps, that’s what marriage and growth is all about. . .

HAND WRITING IN THE DARK

Okay—here’s the thing. I’m a writer who gets these creative and often inspirational urges between midnight and dawn. I’m talking writing stuff, of course. I like to use pen and pad that’s kept close by–and often in the dark.  Why in the dark? Because if I took those few seconds to turn the light on and let my eyes get adjusted, I lose those elusive moments of creative inspiration. Let me give you some examples.

I had been stuck on a “grab-ya” opening for an article I was writing before I went to bed. The sub-conscience works in mysterious ways because at 2:37 a.m. ( I peeked)–the perfect opening sentence jumped into my mind. I groped for my pad and pen, scribbled down my sentence without opening my eyes or the bedside light and went back to sleep. Feeling quite pleased with myself in the morning, I checked my notepad to see what I had jotted down. One’s memory of that perfect grab-ya sentence can be less than perfect in the daylight hours. Sure enough, the scribbled squiggles took a lot of squinting and deciphering. The opening sentence was definitely creative, but I didn’t use it because I’m positive I didn’t intend to describe the colourful folk art as “colossal cabbages of bathroom art.”

Another time, I went to bed worrying over the ending to a short story. What I had seemed too contrived and my alternative ending seemed too farfetched. Sure enough, at 3:42 a.m., I found myself groping for pen and pad. Madly scribbling in the dark and with my eyes tightly closed, I wrote that perfectly ingenious ending. The next morning I read what I had written. It probably was a perfect ending, but I couldn’t read the overlapping curlicues that ran off the pages of my notepad and continued on my pillow.

The solution to my problem couldn’t be as simple as turning on my bedside lamp. Instead,  I decided my notepad was too small.  If I had a larger pad, my hand writing would have more room to spread, making it easier to read by morning light. My other thought was to jot down only the key words which would supposedly jog my memory into remembering the solution. So far, these changes have helped half the time in recovering whatever thoughts I had in the wee hours of the morning. The other half of the time, it’s been a challenge.

Most times I do carry a pen and notepad. I like to write down tantalizing bits of overheard conversations, random descriptions of people I’ve encountered in my day or in my ramblings through art galleries, coffee bars. shops, farmers’ markets, etc. It’s immensely helpful to have pen and paper in hand to jot down stuff that could be fodder for future stories. The other day, one of my colleagues suggested a pocket recorder. I didn’t want to tell him that I had tried this. Instead of “playing” what I had recorded, I had accidently pressed “delete” and erased everything.

Browsing through a number of newspapers in the Public Library can also produce some memorable bits and pieces that I can record in my notepad. I just know that the person who wrote this classified ad must have a heck of a story to tell:  SWAP unused size 4, white wedding gown and two size 6, pastel blue bridesmaid dresses for a 12-gauge shotgun. Contact J.P. Lange, Box 4645, c/o This Newspaper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

Looking back, I can truly say my siblings and I were influenced at an early age by our parents and home life. Because Dad worked hard all day, it was Mom, who taught by example; who made sure we would become “good people.” It is this core that helped form us; school and our careers would hone our characters, but we were already the person we would become.

Mom taught her children valuable lessons about life through her day-to-day examples. We were taught to be honest and to respect our elders, family and friends. No one was “better” than another because of race, money or jobs. An Aboriginal window-washer or an African-American garbage collector were human beings doing honest work. Racial discrimination was present in my home-town as this was the end of WW2 and in the early 50s, fair wages were unheard of,  especially for people from different cultures and/or skin colour..

Dad worked hard to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on the table. We kids all needed school supplies, dental care and occasional visits to the family doctor when needed. Times were tough and money was tight, but with Mom managing the household with three energetic youngsters, life ran fairly smoothly due to her good management and exceptional book-keeping.

My parents were unofficial translators for many of the Chinese men who needed help in dealing with the immigration paperwork involved in bringing their wives and families to Canada. Dad helped to fill out numerous forms supported by numerous official documents. When the wives were successfully united with their husbands, Mom took them in hand and helped them settle.  Payment was a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from their working farms and on special occasions, generous platters of freshly prepared dim-sum dumplings and Chinese pastries.

Through all of this, we kids observed and learned to be compassionate and caring, by watching our parents helping others.

Our formal schooling was at an elementary school that was like a mini-United Nations. Kids from different  cultures and races were all taught at this one school, from Kindergarten to Grade 6. We learned diplomacy and acceptance. This cemented what Mom had taught us at home–people were the same all over; kids were the same too.

I like to think all Moms were like mine.  Moms who care about their families, unabashedly love them and show by their day-to-day behaviour, how to treat others  such as coffee baristas, grocery clerks, servers, bus drivers who cross our paths daily.

Mom was in her 80s and still very much a “people-person”, when she moved into her apartment in a seniors’ complex. She made friends of both Staff and Residents. She remembered everyone’s name. Her cheerful greetings and genuine words of “How are you today?” would elicit an honest answer and a sincere smile in return. She remembered their aches and pain or whatever was troubling them.  Mom always left them with a smile on their faces. No one stayed grumpy for long in Mom’s presence.

Today is Mother’s Day in Canada, the United States and anywhere else that salutes the hardest working,  unpaid career of being a Mom. This will be my first “Mother’s Day” without my Mom. I know she was proud of all her children and their accomplishments, but most of all, she saw us as “good people” who are passing along the lessons we learned at home to our children and grandchildren.  We miss you Mom. Thank you for everything.

 

Mega Everything

I detest most things mega-size and that includes mega supermarkets, stores  and malls. I’m not convinced mega-stores and mega-malls are the answers to ensuring we all get that multitude of choices and overwhelmed feelings. It’s rather embarrassing. Truly. In this age of online shopping, shopping is no longer a fun excursion. I like browsing through items I can actually contemplate, touch and/or “try on.” It’s no fun sitting in front of a monitor and scrolling through choices. I want to touch and feel and if it’s furniture, sit on it. I don’t want to contemplate on-screen to decide if the item may be what I want and upon delivery, find that it’s not at all what I imagined. Do you realize how traumatic and eventful returning an item can be—especially something bought online?

It doesn’t help when mega-stores are organized exactly the same way as their other mega-stores. They are still too big with too many choices. I like my familiar brands. I like quality workmanship in my furniture and clothing;  goods made by craftsmen who take pride and care in their finished product. I like my smaller stores and boutiques whose brands reflect this. I don’t like mega-stores that brings in goods produced by “cookie-cutter” machines, robots and/or overseas cheap labour. Clothing produced in quality rarely survive a year of rough wear and numerous washes.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and dislike. Mega-sized cups of coffee are good–at least there is a choice with small, medium, large and extra-extra-large. Savouries and desserts are always fun to “super-size.”  Warm from the oven, with the savoury filling tucked inside the flaky pastry, mega-size sausage rolls are wonderful to share or not. Jumbo-size dark chocolate fudge brownies are perfect to share with a good buddy. Dinner-plate size, “Good morning, Muffins” are healthy mega-size muffins made with grated carrots, flaky coconut, walnuts, plump raisins, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, orange essence and whatever else the bakery had available—are perfect to share with that special someone over a decadent mega-size cup of caffeine.  So far, I haven’t encountered any super-size doughnuts but am diligently on the look-out for them.

However, even when its food-related, big is not necessarily better. Small bakeries with dedicated bakers who make their pastries, savouries and breads from scratch and in small batches–never from any commercial mix–are the absolute best.  Fortunately, I live in an area where small coffee-bars proliferate and small bakeries are tucked along my walking route. Life is tough, but I am tougher–I can survive the mega-crisis, especially when it’s food related. . . .

 

Older and Better

I want everyone to know that under this short, slightly plump, senior body is a 39 year old waiting for her cue to limbo low and break-dance. It comes as a definite shock that others do not see me as I feel. The bag-guy at the supermarket keeps asking me if I need a helping hand to take the groceries to the car.  I always want to ask him if he would help me with the bags when I get home. No one ever asks that. You know what else? This growing older business has been going  on my entire life, but it seems to me that all of a sudden, simple things done effortlessly before are a major undertaking now. Well, alright–maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration but some tasks definitely need a game plan.

And if one more helpful person asks if they can help me find whatever-it-is I’m looking for, when I know darn well what I’m looking for but somehow got turned around searching for my item that use to be right there. . .sigh. Please, just stop moving things around and/or rearranging them. Don’t you just love it when the cashier asks if you found everything okay? Well, actually I didn’t find what I came into the store to buy but I did find some stuff that screamed my name and fell into my cart.

I love browsing—whether it’s for clothes, furniture, books and/or art. Browsing has a lot of benefits—it’s free unless you buy; walking hither and thither is exercise.  It stimulates the brain for mental exercise and can inspire scenarios for future stories. It’s also research.  I kid you not.  This is not just a frivolous browsing/shopping excursion, but a chance to dress your characters and give them some background such as art galleries or bookstores—even a liking for pastries and chocolates. This is considered research.  I wonder if this can also be considered a tax-deductible benefit for writers. . . .

At this time of my Freedom 65+ life, I find myself doing Nuline dancing for co-ordination, Burlesque-fit for fun and Taoist Tai-chi for balance.  The other day my neighbour asked me if it helped. I had to laugh as my co-ordination had always been zilch and my balance barely okay. But you know what? I’m having a great time learning. I figured that getting older is not a bad thing–it’s adapting and adjusting to what you can or can’t do. No matter what, just get on with life and quit worrying about getting older. We can’t turn back Time but we can have a damn good time slowing it down!

 

Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Chocolate Chip Cookie

Megan, Kellie, Kaity and James didn’t believe I  wrote about my “famous” cookies–so, here it is, Gang. Enjoy this with your coffee, lattes and expresso!

Hubby and I had a serious discussion the other day. It was about the benefits of chocolate chip cookies. We’re not talking ordinary chocolate chip cookies but the ones I whip up in the kitchen–the ones I call my “Everything-but-the-Kitchen- Sink-Chocolate-Chip Cookies.” And did I mention it has lots of robust dark chocolate chips–not just a sprinkle and not the wimpy milk chocolate ones? It’s also loaded with roasted pecans, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds as well as rolled oats, ground flax, fine coconut, fat raisins or dried sour cherries, grated orange peel, cinnamon and wheat germ–all tossed into the butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla mixture with just enough flour to hold everything together.  The baking smell of roasted nuts and dark chocolate permeates throughout the house. And, when you take that first bite–while the cookie is still warm with that gooey chocolate–all your worries seem to disappear. I think I can ask for the Moon and probably get it.

The reason Hubby and I were even having this cookie discussion was because of this television show I happened to catch called “Recipes to Riches,”–a reality show with this particular episode focusing on cookies and squares. The baking competition narrowed 150 contestants down to 2 women–each with a favourite family recipe. To eliminate one of the two contestants for the final level, the women had to show that the family recipe could be converted to a commercial level by baking 1000 cookies and/or squares. Each lady had a team of consultants and helpers plus enormous supplies as well as access to commercial ovens. The prize was $25,000 to the winner and the winning cookie or square would be made available to consumers in all the Superstores across Canada.

This was quite an eye-opener because the initial small batches were perfect and won over the judges but multiplying the quantity 100 times really jeopardized the quality.

It got me thinking. The same principle could also apply to stories. Writers who create short stories learn the art of using their words sparingly. I don’t mean being stingy with words–I mean using the perfect words to immediately set the scene or using snappy dialogue to explain the action. Novelists have the advantage of being wordier in painting the mood, setting a dramatic scene or diving into the action. But, like the cookies baked in small batches, short stories can be difficult to expand into books.

I’m sure some of the essence must get lost–like in translations when the exact or subtle meaning in one language is lost in another. A specific character from the short story can be used in future books but in expanding the original short story itself, the tale loses something in the transition. I really admire writers who convert their short stories to a novel or even a screen play–the transition appears seamless and smooth. Sometimes, the movie credits would mention the story has been adapted from an original short story. We would never know this tidbit because short or long—if the writer was successful expanding his story, it will still grab your attention and hold it.

I think of short stories as my appetizer or even a tasty dessert while books or novels are the main course or entree. While some appetizers can be used as a main course when you’re not as hungry, short stories can be just as satisfying because while cookies are baking or dinner is simmering, there is time enough to savour the complete story and enjoy every morsel until it’s finished.