Much Ado About Something

Mikey, my best friend’s youngest son, came storming through the front door, dropping his school bag with an angry thud on the hallway floor and declared in a very loud voice, “I’m never going back to school again—school sucks!” And with that announcement, he ran upstairs to his bedroom and slammed the door.

“Oops,” Kathie said in the experienced voice of a mom with five sons. “I think there was another crisis at school today.” And she gave me a wry grin.

“Remember how we felt about math and physics?” Kathie sighed.

“How could I forget?” I grinned. “I always felt, what’s the point of calculating how long it would take a pool to empty if 50 gallons a minute was pumped in and 30 gallons a minute leaked out? I had no ambitions to work as a pool girl.”

“It’s liters in Canada now, not gallons,” Kathie automatically corrected me as we both laughed.

“Remember all that stuff we had to memorized and write about? I spent an eternity doing a project on Rhodesia, but now that country is called Zimbabwe.”

“My paper was on Ceylon, known for its tea plantations and colourful stamps. Now it’s called Sri Lanka.”

“I got some cute little tee-shirts for Deena the other day and noticed it was manufactured in Myanmar. Where the heck is that, I wondered?  Well, for goodness sakes, it use to be Burma. When did that change?” I asked.

“See, that’s the point I’m trying to make. We spend 12 years in school and half the stuff we will never use in  our lifetime. All that geography we memorized, well, it isn’t pertinent now with wars being fought and borders being changed and new names, for gosh sakes!”

Kathie and I automatically reached for another piece of Triple Fudge Brownie. Silently savouring the rich, dark chocolate flavour, we looked at each other and smiled.

“Well, I’ll take Mikey his glass of milk and a piece  of this brownie and see what the crisis is at school today.” Excusing herself, she went to check  on her 7 year old son.

As I was debating the merits of whether or not to have another teeny piece of brownie, if I worked longer on the elliptical, Kathie was back, looking dutifully serious. Then her face changed from “serious Mom mode” to her usual cheerful self.

“Will Mikey return to school tomorrow?” I  asked.

“It’s a girl,” Kathie said grinning. “Little Suzie, down the street, has a crush on my son. And I had to tell him that when he’s older, he will look at girls differently. However, right now he thinks reading is boring and girls are icky.”

We looked at each other, muffling our laughter. Countries and borders  can change,  but little boys still remain the same. And, so do little girls.

Old Things

It was a difficult decision to make–for both Hubby and I.

“What do you think?” he asked anxiously. I eyed his favourite cardigan.  I had been with him when he bought it. We weren’t married then.  The sweater was now worn and looked as if a family of field mice began nesting in the pockets. Small holes–which I had diligently mended in the past–had already reappeared, looking like some voracious alien had nibbled away at the pockets, the ribbing, the sleeves.

“It has to go,”  I said firmly. The more I examined the weary sweater, the more it seemed to disintegrate in front of my eyes.

Heaving a reluctant sigh, Hubby looked at me and said, “I’ll toss it out if you toss out something too.”

“What?” I asked, wondering what I had to contribute to the junk heap.

“How about your writing sweatshirt?  It’s barely hanging together and you do have others in better shape.”

“But it still got sleeves and perfectly good fleece in the critical spots!”

“I hate to burst your creative bubble, but it has to go,” Hubby said firmly.

And so we did. Truthfully, not even a homeless person would have benefitted from our beloved sweater and sweatshirt.  We had mentally counted up the years of wearing enjoyment between us and it tallied to a mind-boggling number of decades.

We watched the garbage collectors haul our bins over to their huge truck and emptied its contents.

Hubby lamented, “Clothes just aren’t made to last anymore!”  And as the truck drove away, I  fleetingly thought, “Isn’t that something our parents use to say? Good grief, are we that old?”

 

(Originally posted on Red Room, but with a few minor adjustments, am taking the liberty to post it again.)

Chocoholic Writers

I love chocolate. No surprise to those who know me.  I adore dark chocolate–at least 70% and Belgian, of course.  I have been known to venture into Swiss and German chocolates but my favorite is still Belgian. I like my dark chocolates plain and ready to break into pieces that don’t make your cheeks bulge when you pop it into your mouth. I even like it with a piece of apricot  or a slice of candied orange peel or fat, tart cherry or even a pecan or almond tucked inside. I’m not fond of creams, but I will sample and I do inhale dark chocolate truffles. Victoria’s landmark “Dutch Bakery” and “Terrible Truffles” makes the best.

So I was amazed when I dived into a mystery book where the heroine popped chocolates like a drug. She wasn’t that discerning a chocoholic but she ate chocolates as she went about solving her case. Nicola Furlong’s “Teed Off” has her amateur sleuth, Riley Quinn, also diving into chocolates–“Rogers,” one of Victoria’s best. It helps that Nicola is also a chocoholic connoisseur. My protagonist is a P.I. named Newton Figgby, who has to have a continuous chocolate fix in order to boot up his flavenoids to nourish his brain cells. Newton knows his sources of chocolate baked goods and of course, dark Belgian chocolates. Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s fun collaboration of FBI agent, Kate O’Hare and international thief/conman, Nicholas Fox, reveals Kate’s passion for Toblerone chocolates. JoAnna Carl’s character, Lee McKinney Woodyard, who is the owner of “TenHuis Chocolade,” uses her chocolate shop as the backdrop for her amateur sleuth.  Nancy Coco’s heroine, Allie McMurphy, who operates Mackinac Island’s “Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop includes some awesome fudge recipes in her books, “To Fudge or Not to Fudge” and “All Fudged Up.”

And hey, remember you write what you know so Charlaine Harris, Nancy J. Parra (aka Nancy Coco) and R.E. Hargrave are a few chocoholics, whom I visualize nibbling their chocolate treats at their computers while crafting their chocolate inspired protagonists.

There are even websites such as Janet Rudolph’s chocolate news, reviews and recipes found at http://www.dyingforchocolate. blogspot.ca and a fun site for interactive murder mysteries (for a price) at http://www.murderbychocolate.net.

However, in my search for chocoholic writers and their protagonists, I did find an exception, Daryl Wood Gerber, who also writes mystery cosies under her pen name, Avery Ames. In one of her series, her amateur sleuth, Charlotte Bessette owns “The Cheese Shop” in Providence, Ohio which did yield an awesome recipe for “Choco-Socko Cheesecake.” Another series written by this prolific writer is the “Cookbook Nook,” featuring Jenna Hart, who makes “Chocolate Cherry Bonbons” in “Fudging the Books.”

If you want more chocolate recipes, go to http://www.darylwoodgerber.com and click on recipes. There, you will find a treasure trove including “Expresso Chocolate Mascarpone,” “Triple Chocolate Pudding,” “Goat Cheese Brownies” and of course, “Choco-Socko Cheesecake.”

Now excuse me while I search for my stash of dark Belgian chocolates. I seem to have developed this powerful craving while delving into my research. . . .

 

 

 

 

 

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.