All posts by sammee44

Dollars and Surprises

Next to coffee, dark chocolate and doughnuts, I like dollar stores.  Do you have them? Victoria seems to have a plethora of them and these stores proliferate like a—well a     dollar epidemic.

My hometown has different versions of dollar stores and their names would denote how organized they would be:  Dollar Store, Dollarama, Amazing $$$ and Dollar Bin to name a few.

I grew up with Woolworth and Kresge. That’s what dollar stores remind me of.

I prefer the small dollar stores. These are stores where the aisles, if any, have a certain method in their maddening, maze-like meandering. That’s when a person, with no purpose in mind and lots of time, may find a treasure or two. The super huge dollar stores are extremely organized. There are signs at each aisle, clearly stating what can be found down its long, neat-n-tidy lanes–no surprises along those pathways.  I like surprises.

Few people ever admit that they found any bargains or treasures or bought stuff in a dollar store, but heck, who doesn’t love a bargain?  I have bought mailing envelopes, file folders and notepads at a fraction of prices found in stationary stores–same brands too.  When I was doing my beading workshops, I found some fabulous beads and leather cords for a pittance, compared to the prices for the exact same thing at a bead and accessory store. Paper crafts are an on-going project and I often found unique stickers, paints and colourful stick-ons–again, for a fraction of the costs at a regular craft store. Party decorations, all-occasion cards, gift bags and wraps are all worthy of buying at you-know-where.

You can’t be anonymous when you venture into a dollar store because you’re bound to meet up with someone who knows you. Having an attitude helps. You know the one—the “yes-I-shop-here-and-I’m-so-happy-you-discover-this-too” works every time.

Hmm-mm, it looks like there’s another new place opening. With a name like “Dazzling Dave’s Dollars,” I bet it may be a larger and more organized store. But then again, it may be one of those smaller ones with treasures packed in every nook and cranny. I think Dazzling Dave should be checked out and maybe, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s All Attitude

I think wild animals, as well as the domesticated ones, have me figured out as soon as they see me. Take for instance, this young deer that crossed my path this morning. Well, he didn’t exactly crossed my path, the deer was actually in someone’s garden, happily nibbling his way across the buffet of blooms.  I was passing by, on the other side of a low rock wall. At seeing wildlife so close, I whipped out my senior phone and fumbled for the camera setting.  The deer didn’t even lose a beat chewing and munching—he just stared at me as if to say, “Well for Pete’s sakes–hurry up and take the darn picture so I can move over there where there’s even tastier stuff.”  Hubby always told me it’s not what a person say, but the attitude delivering it. He was right. These darn deer have the attitude thing nailed.  When Hubby and I were returning from the Village, across the street from our condo building, two young deer crossed at the pedestrian cross walk with the walk sign flashing.  They then leaped over the rock wall of my building and proceeded to munch their way around the garden–probably their version of a delectable lunch date.

Last week, I encountered a deer, ambling across the road to get to a corner lot where there had been some clearing of brush and trees. I swear this deer knew I was trying to get a decent photo with my senior cellphone. It actually posed–first, turning his head this way and then turning his head that way. I assumed this deer didn’t play poker as his expression plainly showed his disgust at how slow this human was in aiming for a good photograph. While I was still adjusting my camera, the deer turned completely around, showing me his butt-end, which came out perfectly framed and focused on my cellphone’s camera.

When Hubby and I had our little house some years ago, the deer were beginning to invade civilization, but not to the extent the deer invasion has taken place now. I remember coming home and turning onto our street. A young deer had wandered over to the house across the street from us, peeked into the living room window and satisfying itself that no one was home, proceeded to eat our neighbour’s prized roses.  See, it’s all in the attitude.

My area also has lots of dogs. And trust me, dogs have attitudes too. Some dogs are scrappers and barkers. Usually these are the tiny ones. The smaller the dogs, the more feisty and confrontational they seem. And, the bigger the dog, these frisky scrappers are in their element, tossing down their challenge. I love the attitudes of the huge dogs like the St. Bernard or the Newfoundland Bouvier. One swipe of their front paw would be enough to knock a yapper into the next county. But you have to admire their restraint because the look they give is absolutely priceless. It’s as if they say, “Tone it down, Junior and give some respect or I’ll knock you silly.”  The look, just like the parental looks we got as kids, worked too. The noisy “fuzz-ball” instantly quieted until the ginormous dog ambled past and almost out of sight before the gleeful yapper began again.

Cats are notorious for attitude. A cat can out-stare its human and show a range of expressions that its owner know does not bode well, especially if the human left the cat alone for most of the day. The cat’s posture manifests a territorial boldness that reminds their owners exactly who the real Boss of their domain is. Owners develop a deep sense of guilt when they get that look from their feline room-mate.

Again, it’s all attitude and in the animal kingdom, attitude is alive and well.



On My Bedside Table

From time to time, I like to share what books and/or magazines I have on my bedside table. As most of my friends know, I do have very eclectic tastes—and it usually depends on my mood. Am I looking for an exciting blood and guts thriller or a gentle cosy or a hot romance or an exhilarating sci-fi? How about a good ol’ western or the intrigues of a historical drama? At some point or other, I have had all of these and more—AND yes, I have slept like a babe after reading them.

I have always been a fan of Robert B. Parker and mourned when he suddenly passed away in 2010. But the Robert B. Parker Estate had other ideas and passed the continuity and creativity of his private investigator, Spenser, to Ace Atkins, a famous writer himself. To be able to take over someone else’s character is not as easy as it sounds. The writer has to make Spenser sound the same with that distinctive speech pattern and off-beat humour, his comfort style, his beautiful Susan, his loyal friend and “weapon”, Hawke, as well as all the other characters he calls upon for information or support.  Ace Atkins has succeeded. I would know as Atkins has written 6 Spenser books and I have read all of them.  Ace Atkins is Robert B. Parker. I thoroughly enjoyed “Old Black Magic,” by Ace Atkins as it had all the ingredients that loyal readers like.  Best of all, “Old Black Magic” is Spenser, older but as tenacious and likeable as always.

James Rollins has never disappointed. His previous book, “Kill Switch,” co-authored with Grant Blackwood, introduced the close working and non-working relationship between Captain Tucker Wayne and his Belgian Malinois army dogs, Kane and Abel. In this second book, “War Hawk,” Wayne and Kane have retired from the army, trying to settle into a peaceful civilian life and dealing with the loss of Abel. When a former army colleague asks for his help, he and Kane face the newest threat in the 21st century—information.  And the biggest threat will be the utilization of new technology that sifts through all the collected useless information and extracts the mother-lode of useful bits. James Rollins and Grant Blackwood have written another exciting thriller that is believable in the 21st century: wars are changing; control of power is understanding and using the intricacies of technology. The scary enemies will be relentless drones, built for death and destruction.  “War Hawk” was another page turner that was difficult to put down.

I have long been a “Jack Reacher” fan, the solitary modern vagabond created by Lee Child. As all fans know, Reacher is a large 6 feet plus, muscle-bound male who has seen a lot of what humans can do to each other, in his journey criss-crossing the United States. A recent Lee Child book, “No Middle Name,” is a complete collection of Jack Reacher short stories–the earliest written in 1999 titled “James Penney’s New Identity.” The others were written over the years with the newest short story, “Too Much Time,” written in 2017.  Each story finds Reacher at different phases of his life, as a young man, Army career and eventually retired army officer, hitch-hiking his way around the country. Perhaps his years working in the Military Police has honed his observations and sense of justice, but one thing is certain, Reacher can hear the lies before they are uttered.

James Patterson is a prolific writer and in recent years have paired with other writers. “Haunted” is no exception.  Written by Patterson and James O. Born, “Haunted” delves into Michael Bennett’s worst nightmare for any parent. Escaping to the quiet idyllic life in a small town in Maine, he hopes to give his family and himself a holiday. But at the request of a colleague, he finds himself involved in the disappearance of several young teens, the discovery of a number of grave sites and a drug problem that is as devastating in this small Maine town as it is in New York. Wondering where he has failed as a parent, “Haunted” shows that being a cop doesn’t exempt you from having a kid caught with drugs and sent to jail.  The old saying of “do the crime; pay the time” has never proved truer or more painful for the Bennett family.

After reading a number of exciting crime thrillers, I switched to something much lighter. Bailey Cates is one of my go-to authors for fun cosies. And cosies that deals with murder and food are perfect. I had read Bailey Cates “Magic and Macaroons,” before but decided to reread this entertaining story again. Katie Lightfoot, one of the co-owners of Savannah’s “Honeybee Bakery, serves up her delicious baked goods, made with some added magical charms.  When a stranger collapses on the floor of the Honeybee Bakery and mumbles something about a voodoo talisman, what can a fledgling witch do but investigate with the help of her elders, a group of experienced “charms and spells” witches.

I had recently attended a panel discussion at Victoria’s Bolen Books. It was moderated by a Canadian mystery writer, S.(Sandra)G.Wong and her fellow Sisters-in-Crime, Canada West writers, Laurie King, Marcelle Dube, Liz Freeland and Janice MacDonald. It was a very fast-paced and entertaining panel discussion as all the ladies discussed how they managed to research their respective periods and historical backgrounds for their mysteries. I bought one of S.G. Wong’s books, “Die on Your Feet,” as I was not familiar with her books. This book was set in the 1930s, in Crescent City, somewhere near L.A. Lola Starke is a private investigator hired for one job and reluctantly pressed into service for another. Crescent City is also a town with ghosts and Lola has one of her very own, a helpful ghost named Aubrey, whom she doesn’t want.  “Die on Your Feet” launched the first of the Lola Starke mysteries.  I liked the 1930s setting and the book grabbed me from the first page to the last.  It wasn’t the blood and guts reads that I gravitate to prior to bedtime, but “Die on Your Feet,” will keep you entertained.

Ending on a lighter note, a good friend gave me my latest acquisition, a foodie book that is fabulous to dip into—not only for the terrific photography and great recipes, but also for the comments and little stories behind the food. I highly recommend Joanna Gaines “Magnolia Table.” I find this a delicious treasure to add to my collection of recipe books. Recipes such as JoJo’s Biscuits, Syrian Donuts, Dulce de Leche Apple Pie and Bevie’s Chocolate Roll as well as more serious sides and mains like Cream Corn Spoonbread, Almond Chicken Tenderloins, Fried Chicken with Sticky Poppy Seed jam and Grilled Raspberry-Chipotle Pork Tenderloin are all easy to prepare.  I am looking forward to trying many of the dishes and desserts that Joanna Gaines shares. All the recipes in “Magnolia Table” seem to be the Gaines family favourites.

I hope you will enjoy these books too. Happy Reading, Everyone!


I enjoy my walks in the early mornings because it is so quiet in those early hours with so much to see.

This Summer, with its exceptional hot weather,  has given me morning walks throughout my neighbourhood and beyond. Walking seems to slow a person down so that little things are suddenly visible; delightful surprises that  pass unnoticed when you’re driving past.  Walking takes a person down roads that promises new adventures if you’re willing to travel a new path.


On the route I chose this morning, I recorded a few of the eye-catching things that captured my attention.

One was the unexpected “Fairy Door” built into the base of an enormous oak tree that stood on the corner of a family-oriented neighbourhood. It was a nice strong door, painted red with a sturdy handle and a tiny lock.

Fairy Door

Another surprise were the unexpected “Free Lending Libraries”–cute mini-houses built to hold books for trading. For a book-lover, these were an entertaining treasure.


I passed some beautiful creamy Day lilies, raising their faces to the morning sun.


Then I rounded the bend of the road and saw one of my favourite spots, the scenic and fragrant “Scented Gardens.”


There is a welcoming braille and printed sign that explains the Gardens are meant for a “sit and enjoy” using your 5 senses. It is created for those who have low-vision, no vision or  full-vision. It is a place to enjoy the tranquillity, scents, colours and touch of the flowers.

I decided to follow the road leading to the Marina. I knew if I followed the curve of the sea, I would find the wonderful sculpture created by Fred Dobbs called  “Ocean in Motion.” Mr. Dobbs is an internationally known sculpture who works in different medias and creates very likeable pieces.


The playful otters gracefully moved among the vegetation of the sea. In a close-up of one of the otters, Fred Dobbs captured his inquisitive nature.

Did I mention that Victoria is a city of gardens? Well, it’s true, but along with spectacular gardens, there are also a number of eye-catching garden ornaments. This one  is awesome and among my favourites as I head  home. 


I do love my early morning walks. Not a chocolate, doughnut or coffee in sight—just Mother Nature and wonderful people who share their imagination  and creative spirits with those of us who pass by.

Have You Ever. . . .?

Have you ever read a book that mentions a specific place or had a conversation and this place or word or name would pop up and a day or two later, that same place or word or name would pop up again and again?  Well, it happens to me. . .a lot.

The other day I was half listening to the radio and the morning DJ mentioned the word obsequious in describing something. Words are wonderful and this one didn’t sound complimentary.  Since I wasn’t familiar with obsequious, I looked it up in my heavy Webster’s.  To simplify, it meant grovelling, smarmy and toadying. Boy, I knew a few people like that in my working days, but that’s another story for another time. “Obsequious” popped up several times over the next few days and trust me, this is not a common word. It was used to describe an unsavory character in a short story I was reading. It was used in a food review to describe an annoying waitperson in a trendy eatery. It was used to describe a poofy chair but I’m not sure if the writer used the right adjective. Who would have thought “obsequious” was so popular?

The name “Hermione” conjures up the “Harry Potter” stories. This is not a name a person in my hometown encounters very often, if at all.  But I remember that after reading the first two books of the series, “Hermione” began popping up. The lady in charge of the local garden tours had the first name “Hermione.” My regular insurance agent was on holidays but the temporary replacement was named “Hermione.”  My neighbour had always wanted a Mini-Cooper and finally got her little car. She promptly named it,—yep, you guessed it–“Hermione.”

During the summer months—beginning with June—the main street by my home is blocked off for cars. For the next 3-4 blocks, the street becomes a “Summer Market” once a month.  Vendors come from all over Vancouver Island to set up their tents or tables for their produce, baked goods and crafted products. This Summer Market is accessible  to foot-traffic only and open to both locals and visitors.  One of my favourite vendors are the chocolatiers with their hand-crafted chocolates. One of the chocolatiers working his table,  shaded by an awning,  was a tall tan male named Julian. The local gin, whisky and crafted cottage beers were offering free samples at their tables, but seeing that I had refused, Julian enticed me over with a free sample of his chocolate. It was delicious and made from cacao beans grown in Ghana. Ghana? What happened to Belgium?  Apparently, Ghana is considered the #2 country for growing and exporting the cacao beans to other places like Belgium,  that converts the cacao beans to giant slabs of chocolate and sold to chocolatiers all over the world. Julian did his magic  and crafted a rich, dark chocolate with a creamy fudgy filling. He had many others, but by this time, I had earned my freebie chocolate as a few visitors wandered over to peruse his fabulous chocolate display. I wandered off to check out Julian’s competitors. For $2, I bought a piece of apricot, dipped in dark chocolate and named the “Julien.” Spelled slightly different but pronounced the same. And, you know what else? Further down the street, there was a local farmer displaying his bunches of radishes, baby carrots, green onions and parsley. Bags of new nugget potatoes, baskets of local blueberries, strawberries and raspberries were also on his table. As I paid for the bunch of new baby carrots, I was told it was their newest produce, the “Julienne.” Again. it’s spelled differently but pronounced the same. How many times would you have encountered this name?

I can hardly wait to see what new treasures and/or trivia I will find at the next Summer Market. Now I’ll ask you again, have you ever. . . ?




Back in the days when I was single, my group of friends and I were just starting into our chosen careers and professions. A number of us had ventured into independent living, which back then meant we were on our own and not living at home with our parents. Besides earning a living, paying rent and slaving at our new careers, we were also finding ourselves boss of our tiny domain and mastering the art of feeding ourselves.

At first, it was easy stopping at the deli or fast-food or take-out and grabbing something for dinner. I’m sure we all had a collection of favourite take-out menus near our phones.  There was also the backup option of stopping in to connect with family and taking home Mom’s version of a “doggie bag.” Eventually we all tried our hand at real cooking. A few of us knew a couple of stand-byes, thanks to our Moms.  These were the recipes that never fail. Ohers in our group learned by trial-and-error, eventually testing the “perfected” meal on eager friends, who would eat anything they didn’t have to prepare or cook.

Mike was an University of Victoria student completing his Bachelor of Science degree. He had often boasted that he had two go-to recipes that had never failed him yet and had dazzled each girlfriend-of-the-day. Impulsively, he invited the group to dinner at his place on the following Saturday, where he promised to amaze us with his culinary skills. Since we were all building our own collection of go-to failproof recipes, we enthusiastically accepted.

Mike’s place smelled heavenly. Something tomato-ey was simmering in a cauldron on his stove top. Something chocolate was baking in his oven. Wearing his oversize apron that stated in huge letters, “HUG ME, I’M THE COOK,” he ushered us into his tiny apartment.

“Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes. Help yourselves to a glass of wine and I’ll go put the finishing touches to the meal,” and grinning, he disappeared into his tiny kitchen.

Carrying an enormous bowl of pasta drenched with meat sauce to the table, Mike’s shout of “Dinner’s ready!” had us carrying our glasses of wine and nabbing a chair at his round table. Chunky pieces of hot garlic butter French bread were in the massive wicker basket. A huge container of crispy mixed greens and a platter of oven baked ribs completed the dinner. This was definitely a feast for kings or six very hungry friends. Dessert was generous squares of a  still-warm, rich, dark chocolate  brownie served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. In those days, none of us worried about calories or waist-lines—we just enjoyed eating our way through the entire experience.

As we relaxed after dinner on Mike’s sofa, easy chairs and carpeted floor, I remember Ellie asking him if he ever not had his go-to meals and had to improvise with the ingredients.  “What?” Mike exclaimed. “When would I not have tomato ketchup or dark chocolate in my cupboard? These are basics for any serious bachelor.”

I thought of Mike the other day. After obtaining his degree, Mike got serious, took a break and traveled to Paris. There he enrolled at the prestigious cooking institute, “Le Cordon Bleu.”  After a number of years honing his culinary skills at various well-known restaurants in Europe and Canada, Mike came back to the West Coast.

We had all kept in touch and whenever all of us were in the same place at the same time, we would get together for one of our “go-to-never-fail” group dinners. When it was Mike’s turn, our international chef never failed to produce a memorable meal:  mixed greens, lightly tossed with a lemon juice/olive oil dressing, platters of oven-baked ribs made with home-made tomato ketchup, handmade linguine with the special meat sauce, crusty chunks of  hot garlic butter French bread.  Despite his cooking for royalty, world leaders and 5-star restaurants, this was our requested meal whenever Mike cooked. It was still his “go-to-never-fail” entre and  one that drew our group together with laughter and memories of “remember when?”  Others would bring the wine and I was the designated dessert person bringing in my version of rich, still-warm, dark chocolate brownies accompanied by a tub of vanilla ice-cream.

No matter how many years passed, the strong bonds of friendship held, now including spouses and partners. I think that’s probably why, comfort food combined with family and friends, are so much a part of my life.

The Talent Club

I admire and appreciate talent.  I have been fortunate meeting and chatting with writers who can mesmerize with their words and totally hook you into their stories. I enjoy musicians who are creative in weaving their notes on a whole new level–one that the composers never thought of doing. I appreciate artists who can dip their brushes into paint and show you an imaginary scene or object that looks so totally real.

Oak Bay Village is mere steps away from my home. For the past 3 years, the Municipality supported the arts and displayed visible, tactile art along the Avenue. There have been several that has caught the eye and piqued the curiosity. This year is no exception.

One whimsical piece is called “Busking in Town Square.” Created by a Canadian artist, Douglas Walker, it utilizes recycled musical instruments such as trombone, trumpet and sax plus teapots, urns and kettles, juggled by amusing and eccentric characters. I have to smile each time I pass by. The photo shows only a portion of the sculpture depicting Douglas’s fun with his collection of recycled objects, collected from thrift shops and scrap yards.                                         IMG0266A

Another beautifully sculpted piece is called “M’akhotso” meaning “Mother of Peace.”   I like it because the artist, Linda Lindsey has captured the serenity, dignity and beauty of a native woman, wearing a sarong. With her hands clasped beneath her chin, the woman balances the World on her head. Linda’s 40 years passion for sculpting is reflected in M’akhotso and her commissioned pieces found in collections across Canada and the USA. This international artist also finds time to teach and share her knowledge with students in Italy and Canada.                   .IMG0246A

Writers have always attracted my attention. Writers who can capture a child’s imagination are special. Little kids are particularly difficult to “hook” their minds long enough to grab their imagination. It’s like the famous “elevator chat” when a writer is trying to hook an editor or publisher before he gets off–that’s a maximum of 2 minutes. For a small child, it needs to be within 30 seconds to a minute. This book, “Why Dragons cannot Go Shopping,” written in playful, humorous rhyme by Jacqueline Rioux and illustrated with amusing, colorful pictures created by my cousin, Sandra Mar, is a book that should be on the home book-shelves  for young children. It is available on Amazon and can be ordered through your favorite bookstore. Best of all, this entertaining book can be read and re-read aloud without ever feeling jaded and weary, especially after reading it for the 999th time!


Nicola Furlong is a fantastic writer as well as a patient teacher for her craft. She has encouraged numerous new writers to persevere in her writing classes. Nicola has also taught classes in the mysteries of self-publishing. Relaxing with hockey in the winter and creating her colorful garden with its palettes of on-going, seasonal blooms the rest of the year, it seemed natural for this chocoholic writer and gardener to evolve into another field–that of artist. Below are her newest pieces—the intricate workings of her Steam Punk Art and her colorful Steam Engine. Check out Nicola’s website for more art and also find her art on Redbubble,

Nicola's Steam Punk Art

Nicola's Steam Engine image1[6647]