And Aw-aaay we go!

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The first time I published a book, it was a 140-pager titled Tailgate Church. My brother-in-law had given me a truck, and I decided to take the truck and the guitar, and drop the tailgate and “have church” — and see what random things might occur. Then I wrote the book.

The second time I published a book, it was called “The Little Green Beetle” and it was a children’s book I illustrated myself. What happened was, I was at a low point in my personal life and feeling completely burnt out, and I went on a family vacation. Lying on the pool deck at our campsite, this little green beetle tried to pass me. No matter where I moved my arm, he just kept going, just kept cruising. At the time, this tiny little creature inspired me to hang in there. After our trip, I wrote and recorded this bouncy little song about that beetle, then realized that I’d really written a poem. I laid it out in children’s book format, drew some really amateur (but seriously cute) pictures, and self-published.

The third time I wrote a book, it was a whole lot harder to do. “Quiet Me” is the story of a mother trying to parent a suicidally depressed son. Told with my son’s permission, this book describes my journey through that incredibly bad patch in his life. It was gut-wrenching to write — and people have said powerful to read — and when I published it, I really just wanted to get copies into my hand before the band I was leading at the time went on tour so I could sell them on the road. Although he hadn’t asked, I decided recently that this book had served its purpose. I didn’t want this to become my now adult son’s identity, nor to have him feel that I saw him that way, and so I have removed it from bookshelves for now. Of course, if you are going through similar struggles and feel the book could help, I would get a copy into your hands.

The last time I published a book, I had no intention of putting it up for public sale. A friend suggested I turn songs I had written into a book of poetry, and I decided this would make a great Christmas gift, so I did some formatting work, and “Song Poetry” was born. People seemed to like it, so it is now for sale on Amazon — and let me tell you, formatting a poetry eBook is not for the faint of heart!

This time, it’s different.

This time, I am being strategic. Continue reading “And Aw-aaay we go!”

Smoke – a novella by Leigh Macfarlane

smoke

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve chatted with everyone on here, and there are two reasons for that. First, the Okanagan has been living through the winter that never ends, and this tends to make writing a local travel blog a bit more difficult! Second, I’ve been busy with the completion of my novella Smoke!

Set in Vancouver, BC, and in Kelowna, BC, in Smoke the art world collides with the Canadian pipeline debate. Love and murder both ensue. Smoke is set to be released as an eBook in April of 2019.

Check out the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6frgHlJzyg.

Here is a free excerpt:

Bastard.
Jen could hear him. He was still there. The crashing in the brush behind her was even louder than the sounds made by her own mad flight through the woods. She was two minutes away from civilization. This just couldn’t be happening, not here.
Stanley Park was one of the biggest city parks in Canada, but it sure sounded like the psycho chasing her was getting nearer. Any minute now, he was going to have her.
No chance.
She was moving again, sprinting down a path buried somewhere in the centre of the park. Jen had known precisely where she was when she’d first spotted him, but she’d lost track of her exact location a long time ago. Now, the wind that had been blowing against her while she was jogging the seawall was picking up, and the sky had made a couple of moves beyond dusk. At this point, Jen had no choice but to keep dashing through the darkening forest, hurdling the deadfall and hoping to recognize one of the landmarks soon.
On any ordinary day she would have been safer if she’d stayed on the seawall and out of the forest. With the storm warning, though, the park was deserted. No one was around to help her. And she couldn’t outrun him on the flat. Jen had dashed into the woods, knowing exactly where she was and how she was planning to elude him.
And then Tony had made that single shattering scream, and had dropped, a literal dead weight at the end of his nylon leash. There had been no sound of a shot, but the evidence lay at her feet. Tony lay prone, blood draining from his inert form. Someone had just shot and killed her three-year old Rottweiler.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
There was no time for tears. If the guy was good enough to get a clear shot of her dog, he could easily get a clear shot of her. With limited options, Jen veered off the trail and into the relative cover of the bush.
She ran until she couldn’t hear him anymore. But then, she couldn’t hear anything — not even the sounds of her own lungs sucking air past the razor blades in her throat. Sound had ceased to exist other than the screaming wind that was whipping the tops of trees like toothpicks in a cyclone. Even inside the relative shelter of the forest, Jen had to bend almost double to brace against the force of the wind. She really couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her. The forest had become a dense, disorienting, undulating mass of darkness, and she was staggering around like a drunk inside the bowels of night, trying not to let the freaky wind blow her off her feet.
Her dog – damn it! – was dead. She was seriously out of her element, and some lunatic hired gun was chasing her, and was, she was pretty sure, fully intent on killing her.
Not good. So not good.

Watch for smoke in April of 2019!

 

 

Breaking Bread: Kelowna’s Taste of Home

 

Breaking Bread.

According to the Urban Dictionary, “To break bread is to affirm trust, confidence, and comfort with an individual or group of people. Breaking bread has a notation of friendliness and informality, derived from the original meaning regarding sharing the loaf.”

Another, simpler definition of the term is, “To share a meal with someone.” This comes from Writing Explained, an online site for writing instruction. They go on to state:

This expression means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of brotherhood with someone or some group of people. It is a significant event that fosters some meaningful connection and cooperation.
Perhaps you are enemies; breaking bread with someone indicates a sense of forgiveness and moving forward to the affair.

Writing Explained (https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/break-bread-with-someone) states that the term breaking bread has Biblical origins, originating with the story of Jesus blessing, then breaking 5 loaves of bread — and feeding 5000 people. Then, according to Mathew 14:20, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Considering Jesus had twelve disciples, there seems to be a moral in this number. First they fed others, then there was a basket full left over for each. Later on in his life, Jesus would refer to broken bread as his own body. Famously known as the last supper, the instruction given that day was to “eat in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Food is about so much more than simply fueling the body. That’s why, every year at Christmas, I make the same cookie recipes — they remind me of the continuity of family celebrations.

Some of my recipes were taught to me by people no longer alive. I think of them every time I cook them. My English grandmother passed on roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, my Irish grandfather passed on potato pancakes, and my German Aunt (still with us – hi Auntie Marion!) passed on borscht and plotz — a white cake topped with fruit and butter and sugar crumbles. I still have Anne’s chicken wings and Lois’ chocolate chip cookies and Grandpa’s pastry written down in the little red notebook that I started in my early twenties, when I first moved away from my parent’s home.

I remember fondly the church potlucks of my youth, and Nellie Romeyn’s (my first boyfriend’s mom) Flying Saucer Cookies. I also remember the casseroles the church ladies brought our family when my grandmother died. I was thirteen at the time. And I remember Rie Beugelink, who had a tablecloth cross-stitched with all the names of her dinner guests on it. This inspired me, and when I bought my first home, I painted a patio bench and had it signed by all my house guests that first year.

Food reminds us of who we are, of our histories, our traditions, of relatives and homes which have gone before us. It bonds us. The smells and flavours of shared culinary creations take us back, and when shared, they build our united futures. All of which is why I was thrilled to receive the invitation to attend Kelowna’s Taste of Home event, and to stop in on my way home after work on Saturday night.

The event was held in the New Life church building on Harvey, which is an interesting choice considering the building’s original purpose after construction was as a farmer’s market. The main room of the building has two levels, and flags from around the world now hang from the top floor.

The Global Citizen’s event, which is in its fourteenth year, was packed. I had to park a block away, and almost let the blustering cold wind and my post-work lag change my mind about attending. Once inside, I was so glad to be there. It cost a dollar at the door to get inside, and then I handed over five dollars for food tickets ($1 each) and wove my way in through the crowd.

Vendors representing different countries were arrayed around the edges of the room, while the centre was set up with chairs where it was possible to sit and watch entertainers in traditional costume perform dances from their corners of the globe. It had been advertised that food items would cost between one and three tickets per item, and so my first goal was to do a full pass of all the vendors and decide which foods I would sample. I stopped halfway through, though, to film the Chinese dragon dance.

On my second pass, I purchased my first item. For one ticket, I received a dinner roll sized plate heaped high with pumpkin lentil stew (on a bed of rice) from Columbia. I’d never tried this dish before, and found it to be a delicious mild curry-flavoured meal. For a dollar, it was also quite filling.

Although I wanted to try the Venezuelan pastries and the Caribbean jerked chicken, I wandered past Thailand and Venezuela and Mexico, Japan and Taiwan and the Caribbean, mostly because the lineups were long, and there was easier places to wait.

I found myself standing in Israel’s line waiting to be served a cheese Knish with berries, which also cost me $1, and tasted great — not tart, but not too sweet, either. Because Syria was located next door to Israel, I next purchased a skewer of Falafel for $2. I passed on the hummus, though, as that would have taken my last ticket. The food was delicious — far tastier than the falafel I’d purchased this summer at the Kelowna Fruit Market, although, I have to admit, my motivations for that purchase were entirely political sentimentality. Israel was next to Syria. That, to me, simply had to be honoured.

With one ticket remaining, my options were a bit limited. I could have purchased tea from Taiwan, or an energy ball from Venezuela or gone back for seconds in Columbia. Instead, I decided to support the home team, and bought two somewhat gooey maple tarts from the ladies who were looking a little bit lonely at the Canadian booth.

I’d filled my stomach – and I was, indeed, full — with an interesting assortment of cultures. I didn’t get to try the bannock from the First Nations Booth, and I’m not sure what was being sold from Greece, although I did see some Kalamata olives on one lady’s plate. I didn’t get any gelato from Italy, but I did see that the servings they were giving out were quite ample. You couldn’t get as large a dish for as small a price in an actual ice cream shop, I can vouch for that.

On one of my passes around the food booths, I ran into my boss and her husband. Ady is from France, her husband, a local chef, is from Australia. They are expecting their first child, and at work this week, she was mentioning that since their baby will be born in Canada, the child will be legally entitled to three different passport options. I am second generation Canadian — my English grandmother was one of the first war brides to arrive after World War 2. And yet, here we all were, sampling meals from other people’s homelands.

With my stomach full, I found a spot to watch and photograph the entertainment. Peru had taken the stage, followed by Ukraine, and then Japan. I heard that Mexico was dancing at 7:30, but I knew I wouldn’t be staying that long. I didn’t expect it to be tears which sent me running for the door, though.

The Ukrainian dancers were part of a local dance club, and as a result, they had sets of dancers of various ages performing. This extended their time on stage a bit, and at some point as I watched, my eyes strayed from the performers to the crowd. At New Life church, the stage is accessible by a set of carpeted stairs which run across the front of the podium, and my attention was suddenly captured by the scene there. Children with various skin and hair colours, with various ethnic backgrounds and in various different traditional costumes had stationed themselves in an undulating line along the staircase. Sitting together, seemingly oblivious to exterior differences, or historical animosities, or cultural variation, they watched the performers. This, I thought, as I felt myself choking up, is the world as it is meant to be. This is a picture of my country, of my global community.

And I am very proud to call myself Canadian, eh.

 

Kindness

At the start of 2019, I find myself in the position of needing to increase my income level. In October, the company I work for reduced the hours of everyone with my job description, and that same month my daughter, who had been paying rent, moved out. So, as of this week, I have begun the process of revamping my resume and shopping it out. Job hunting, as most would agree, is not the gentlest experience in life. Perhaps that is why I have had the concept of kindness so much on my mind this week.

kind·ness
[ˈkīn(d)nəs]

NOUN
the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
synonyms:
kindliness · kind-heartedness · warm-heartedness · tender-heartedness · goodwill · affectionateness · affection · warmth · gentleness · tenderness · concern · care · [more]
a kind act.
“it is a kindness I shall never forget”
synonyms:
kind act · good deed · act of kindness · good turn · favor · act of assistance · service · help · aid

When I was dating my now ex-husband, we once had a conversation where he suggested I might be ‘too nice’ to parent children. (Ha! I raised four of ’em). Although I never asked for clarification (something I’ve since learned is important to do), I understood him to mean I would not be able to discipline well, nor would I be able to stand up to protect them. Whether that was his actual message or not, I can’t say — and I no longer have any need to know — but I did carry his words with me for a long time. Although I have proven him wrong, I never forgot this conversation, and I pondered it at times as I went through life being ‘nice.’

For a long time, I despised the idea that I was ‘nice’ — it seems such a lukewarm, lame quality, the ultimate in blasé descriptors. At some point, though, I embraced the idea, because, quite frankly, I’m not actually always that nice (our little secret), and also I have observed that being nice, being kind, can so uplift a person. Living a life of demonstrated kindness, I have decided, is a beautiful way to live.

In 2010, I graduated from UBCO with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. I’d been in a car accident which had extended my post-secondary education by a year, and over the span of that extra year, my city entered a recession. For six weeks I handed out resumes without so much as a call back, while watching my savings dwindle. Finally, I was hired at Perkins Family Restaurant, where I would work for the next seven years of my life.

I still remember that first shift, standing in the kitchen pass through rolling napkins around cutlery and feeling both deja vu and a shell-shocked, disbelief-ridden kind of despair. How was it possible that after seven years of post-secondary education, I found myself back in the restaurant industry?

And not even back in the industry, but in a family restaurant. My pre-childbirth resume had waitressing experience, but the company names I’d worked for in my twenties were significantly more upscale.

I hated where I’d landed, and I blamed my ex (because, you know, it’s not kosher to blame the kids and not fun blaming your own lack of foresight), and those feelings showed up in the service I gave. Well, okay, maybe not to the customer’s face — I have been gifted with my parent’s dimples and I learned early in life that my smile can hide a multitude of sins — but back in the kitchen with the other servers? I bitched. That’s the truth of it.

I didn’t approach my work as anything more than a way to pay the bills. What I did, I did for the tips. I learned quickly to flirt with the children and the older men, to admire tattoos and hair styles and manicures, even if I was lying through my teeth on all accounts. Waitressing (allow me to enlighten any of you who have never done it) can be the highest form of insincerity; waitressing makes insincerity an art form.

While working at the restaurant, three things happened which changed me. One day while I was not at work, I engaged in a conversation with a woman for whom I have great respect. I was describing for her all the ways in which I hated my job. To my surprise, she told me she had also waitressed, and it had been one of her favourite jobs because she made it a personal challenge to make the crankiest of customers smile. Huh.

I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. What if, instead of ranting in the dish pit whenever someone rubbed me the wrong way, I reframed the interaction, turned defeating unhappiness into my own personal mission? What if, instead of checking what each table tipped, I refused to let myself check my tip tally until day’s end, eliminating payment from my immediate motivations when offering thoughtful care to my guests?

One afternoon, I served lunch to a group of ten businessmen. The check came to roughly $150, and when it was time to deliver it, the man with the Visa card asked me what he should tip.

“I can’t answer that for you,” I replied. “Most people tip around fifteen percent.”

“Is that all you think you are worth?” He asked, laughing, so I jived off his mood.

“Oh! What I’m worth? I’m worth one hundred percent!”

The table laughed, and I left then returned later to retrieve his signed credit slip. When I looked at my tip, I was floored to see he had matched the bill — he had left me a one hundred percent tip. I took the paper to my manager.

“Um,” I said, “Maybe you should go double check that this isn’t a mistake?” Instead, she instructed me to go clarify. I went back to the table. Continue reading “Kindness”

Buzzing Ellis Street

It’s Wednesday, and it’s my day off, and Christmas is around the bend, and life is hectic, and tonight is book club night!

We are reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which, I feel, can be succinctly summed up as, religion is foolish, and science is lethal. Also which, I tell the man who picked the book, may have us all going to hell for reading it — with its Bible-bashing meta-references  and allusions — over the Christmas season. When I say this, I think I am being funny. He looks mildly concerned.

Anyway, I started reading the book on Tuesday night, knowing I had the day off and intending to finish while I baked things. Except, it was like Grand Central Station at my house today, with people dropping in left and right. I love it when they do this, but on this particular occasion, these impromptu visits mean I didn’t quite get the book finished.

Well, okay, to be honest, I likely could have, except, every day when I drive into downtown Kelowna for work I think, “Today I am going to stay late and explore all the businesses down here!” And every day, I go directly to my car, and I drive away home. So, I thought to myself, I could stay here and read the last quarter of this tale, or, I could skip ahead to the last few pages to ensure my perspective of Vonnegut’s message isn’t changed and then traipse into town early in order to window shop my afternoon away.

I went with option B. Continue reading “Buzzing Ellis Street”

Christmas in Kelowna

 

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I spent my evening last night at a Christmas party with some writer friends. Since we are all people who tell stories, we gathered around and told the stories of our personal Christmas traditions.

My traditions paled in comparison to the stories of shoe-shining in Hungary and pinatas in Mexico and buckets — yes, you read that right — of wine in Romania, so I didn’t regale everyone with the fact that my December 3rd birthday is historically the day we decorate our tree and my mother’s December 24th birthday sees the entire family — believers and non — at church. Christmas day itself is a free-for-all of sanctioned gluttony and gift-giving and playing with new toys / reading new books / watching new videos.

My fondest memories of Christmas, however, happen in the weeks leading up to the main event, when as a child my grandfather taught me to bake. This is a tradition which continues on, as annually I re-create his recipes for the hordes to devour between breakfast and turkey.

Beyond the gatherings of family and friends, the maxing out of plastic at malls, the gorging on feasts, and the celebration of faith traditions, Christmas is a season full of many fun events. Here are some I recommend: Continue reading “Christmas in Kelowna”

Peter Pan Journeys

 

 

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It started to hit home last night, when she told me of her plans to move her bed into my living room. She continued speaking, wondering aloud about types of screwdrivers, and worrying in a minor way about the potential for losing components of her bed frame. I’d stopped actively listening, though. Unable any longer to ignore the fact of my eldest daughter’s imminent departure, my brain had stuttered to a halt.

Time waits for no man, someone said. At least, I think that’s the quote. Possibly, though, it’s death waits for no man. Both, I’ve noticed, are true.

I’d had an early miscarriage the month prior to Alison’s conception. That baby would have been due near my own birthday, and of course, from the moment you know there’s a baby in your future, your imagination fires. So, the loss is real. The doctor told us we could start trying to conceive again immediately, and that is how Alison became the only one of my four children who was planned.

When, at approximately the same stage of pregnancy that the miscarriage had happened I once again started to spot, I was terrified. I hit my knees. As I was down there, anyway, I told God that since we were talking, not only did I want a healthy child, I also wanted that child to be a red head baby girl. Which is exactly what we got.

See, there is a God. IMG_8210 (1)

 

 

Quite frankly, the entire pregnancy with Alison sucked. First, there was the spotting and doctor ordered lying on my left-hand side — difficult since at that time I was also raising a one year-old son. Next came the intensely itchy rash which covered my torso and extremities and lasted until I ran out of maternal vitamins two weeks before giving birth. (Apparently, I’d been having an allergic reaction.) Finally, during my last trimester, came the undiagnosed gall bladder attacks. Pain would grip me, so intense I’d throw up, and I’d end up in bed in a cold sweat, thrashing until the worst of the pain dulled enough for me to pass out and sleep the rest away.

And yet, out of a pregnancy which was an ordeal came this human being who is an absolute delight. A human being who, tomorrow, is moving out of my home for the first time.

A mother carries a thousand memories, moments snapped like photographs which spool on a loop, inside the recesses of her mind. There was the way, as a toddler, she’d put her hand to my lips and tell me, “Mommy, don’t sing.” The year she was a tiger, a cat, a ghost at Halloween. That time — and I think she’d proud of this one — when she bit the family dentist. The way she laced up her first pair of ice skates then hit the rink as if she’d been born wearing blades. Continue reading “Peter Pan Journeys”

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