A Home Without Books

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about volunteering as an English tutor for Syrian refugees here in Ottawa. I didn’t mention it at the time, but something has been bothering me ever since my first visit with the family: they have no books.


Not a one.

There are three boys, ages 7, 13, and 14, who go to school and are learning English there; and there’s a mom and dad 1who are taking English second language classes. The boys have homework, of course, and Mom and dad have photocopied workbook pages for their homework, but apart from that, not a single printed word in the house. Oh, and mom is functionally illiterate, too.

My friends, this simply will not do. Photocopied worksheets are not how anyone should learn to read and write, and books…books are as essential to a home as tables and chairs and beds. And so I’ve made it my mission to fill up this home and others in their community with words and colourful pictures. Lots of them. Picture dictionaries, early readers, colourful workbooks…whatever I can lay my hands on that will help this family learn the language of their new country–and hopefully learn to love that language.

And the best part? You can help me. 🙂

I’ve created a Go Fund Me page where you can make a donation (every dollar helps!) to help me bring books into this home and others like it. Check it out, give what you can, and share it widely…for the love of words, the love of reading, the love of helping others, and my undying gratitude.

Thank you so much!




Breaking Barriers: Getting out of the Comfort Zone

So last night, I did something new to me: I met with a family of Syrian refugees that I’m going to be tutoring in English. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, and I have to admit that I was hesitant about the idea. Meeting new people is awkward for me to begin with—meeting people new to the country, new to the language, AND new to me? That seemed like a recipe for a whole new level of discomfort.Breaking Barriers: Getting out of the Comfort Zone

But I’m determined to find ways to give back to the world in 2017, and I’m pleased to say that it went well. Brilliantly, in fact. Not only were all my fears assuaged, but the experience far exceeded any hopeful expectations I’d allowed myself (me being of the generally optimistic sort 😉 ). The family was warm, welcoming, served lovely tea, and kept trying to feed me the entire hour I was there. I can’t wait to go again next week.

I also came away with much food for thought…starting with my own privilege.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but cringe at my hesitation to take on this opportunity in the first place. Here I was, worrying about my level of discomfort at spending an hour or two each week helping a family settle into my country…compare that to the trauma that family faced in losing everything they knew. Everything that was familiar and dear. Everything they owned.  Compare it to the incredible courage it took for them to move to a country where they knew no one, had nothing, and couldn’t even speak the language.

Let’s look at that again, shall we?

Me, in my comfortable middle-class life, giving up a couple of hours a week to teach my own language to someone.

Them, in a new country with nothing familiar and no way to communicate.

Yeah. 🙁

I consider myself to be pretty aware, generally speaking.  I watch the news, I follow current events, I support causes I believe in, and I share those causes on social media. In short, I do all the ‘right’ things for someone of my privilege level. All the things within my comfort zone.

But you know what? That’s not enough anymore. Not for me, not for you, not for any of us.

The world is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket right now, my friends. Comfort zones are a thing of extraordinary privilege—and now, they need to become a thing of the past, because we all need to step up. Every single one of us. Because no matter how uncomfortable we might be? I guarantee there’s someone even more uncomfortable.

So I challenge you to take a look around you. Really look. At your country, your city, your community, your neighbours.  Imagine if you were the one displaced or in need. Imagine how it must feel to be invisible. To not belong anywhere. And then imagine what a difference you can make to just one of those lives out there.

Have a car? Volunteer to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment. Need to declutter? Donate household goods to newcomers. Don’t like how things are shaping up politically? Call your local politician. Don’t know where to start? Heck, bake some cookies and take them to that new family down the street. Just do something, because your first step outside your comfort zone doesn’t need to be much, but it does need to be. And it needs to be now.

Plus, you might get invited in for some awesome tea and hilarious communication via hand signals. And trust me, that’s way more fun than you’ve had in a while. 😉


How My Writing Partner Broke My Brain (and helped me rediscover my mojo)

Last year was a difficult one for me, I won’t lie. My youngest daughter’s move away from home was fraught with
trauma, and so mine inevitably was, too. I spent the first five months of the year on 24-7 text alert as I tried to keep her glued together, the next month helping her transition home again, and the remaining six months trying to help her heal. Needless to say, it didn’t leave a lot of time or energy—or will!—for writing.

In fact, of the approximately three books I set out to write at the beginning of the year, I accomplished exactly…none. The most I could handle was the editing of a previously written book, Shadow of Doubt, that I released as a serialized novel on Radish Fiction and Wattpad…and there were times when even that task seemed insurmountable. With the arrival of the new year, however, home life was beginning to look more settled, which meant it was time to step back and take a look at my writing career…

It wasn’t pretty.

In fact, if I was objective about it, it was in shambles. It was bad enough that I hadn’t released anything new since 2015 (Forever Grace in April, and Sins of the Warrior in September), but even worse, I’d lost my confidence. My I-can-do-this-iveness” (yes, that’s totally a word 😛 ). My motivation.

Enter my writing partner, Marie Bilodeau, a prolific writer, savvy business person, and—it turns out—quite the ass-kicker. And boy-howdy, did she kick my ass. Which was a Good Thing, because said ass needed kicking. We started off the new year by setting writing goals—tough but manageable ones. We both had deadlines to meet, and I’d run out of excuses on mine (full confession: I’d had a full year to write the novel, but I hadn’t started until December).

I got off to a good start, meeting all my targets and sticking with my schedule for a whole week. Then I got sick. Then I injured my knee. Then I got sick again…and I lost two weeks that I absolutely could not afford. Then Marie and I went on a 5-day writers’ retreat to a cottage. My intention was to complete the novel while we were there, but I needed almost 20,000 words, and I had roughly zero faith in my ability to pull that off.

I hadn’t counted on Marie.

Once we got past the fire incident, she turned into a workhorse. For every 600 words I wrote, she did 3,000. I stopped for frequent breaks. She wrote through most of those, too. Two days slid past. It was painfully obvious to me that I wasn’t going to make it anywhere near my goal. Who was I kidding? I was ready to give up on the book altogether.

Marie kept writing.

Because I didn’t want to disturb her with television (and I’d forgotten to bring books with me for reading), I wrote, too. Slowly. Painfully. Grudgingly. When we did take breaks together, Marie encouraged (bullied? 😛 ) me to keep trying. “Push harder,” she’d say. “Push until your brain stops resisting. Just keep at it. You can do this.”

Frankly, she annoyed the hell out of me. (I love you, Marie! 😀 )

But damned if it didn’t work. On Wednesday afternoon, I settled into my chair, plugged into my music, and set to work. And whether it was out of determination or self-preservation (no more encouragement, Marie, please! 😉 ), I kept at it. For the first time ever, I didn’t let myself be distracted by finding the perfect word or figuring out how to transition to the next scene. If I didn’t have a word, I left a blank. If I didn’t know how to describe something, I left myself a note:

write in stuff: anger. dismay. guilt.

In other words, I didn’t let myself get caught up in details…and chapter by chapter, partial scene by terse note, the story unfolded. At ten p.m. that night, after writing a monumental (for me) 4,444 words in one day, I finished the first draft of the book. I was exhausted, euphoric, stunned, and giddy all at the same time. The last few chapters were a mess. I could no longer string two coherent words together verbally. And something in my brain definitely felt as if had not just given up resistance, but had broken completely…

But. I. Was. Done.#Resist

I’d written another book—and I’d done it in two months flat. That in itself was mind-boggling. But the real takeaway for me? Remembering that I could write. Rediscovering that elusive self-discipline. Reacquainting myself with that critical motivation. I am writer. Hear my fingers fly across the keyboard! 😉

Will I always feel this strong? Ha! Absolutely not. Life will inevitably interfere and knock me off course, leaving me wallowing in self-doubt, or self-pity, or both. But I’ll always remember that I can feel this strong. That it really is about ‘mind over matter’. That my excuses are just that—excuses—because I am capable, and I can do this. (And that if I ever need my ass kicked again, Marie’s my go-to.)

There’s a takeaway in this for you, too: If you’re not working with an ass-kicker of your own, you need to find one, because nothing exposes the weakness of your excuses quite like having to explain them to someone else. That whole accountability thing? It works.

Puppy Love: it’s a Real Thing, folks

When Giant Dog was just a little bit of a guy (yes, I know, hard to imagine!), the very first dog we encountered on one of our many, many, many walks, was a chocolate lab named Mocha. At the time, Giant Dog was about 3 months old, which meant he was still highly energetic, not terribly bright, and had zero manners when it came to greeting others of his kind. Or any kind, come to think of it. 😛

Mocha, on the other hand, was 18 months old and a perfect lady. Like most labs we’ve encountered, she was calm and intelligent, and already well trained. And oh, so patient with too big, too enthusiastic, too too Giant Dog as she rolled around in the snow with him, let him chew on her, and played chase. 1.02

Giant Dog fell hard that day. With every fibre of his puppy heart, he adored her…and he continues to do so to this day, seven years later.

Mocha is more sedate now. She’s had surgery on her hips, there’s a bit of arthritis, and she just moves slower (all except for her tail, of course). Giant Dog, on the other hand, is just a more giant version of the puppy he was when they first met. (I’ve actually given up on the idea he might mature one day. 😛 ) Yet they still greet one another with total abandon. Well, okay…Giant Dog comes down on the side of total abandon; Mocha just uncomplainingly endures his enthusiasm.

We don’t meet up very often–in fact, I can probably count on two hands the number of times we’ve encountered one another over the years, yet every morning when we go past Mocha’s house, we have to stop and stare at the door and window in case we catch a glimpse of her. Say her name at our house, and he runs to the window to look for her. Hope springs eternal, it seems.

And puppy love? Oh, yeah. It’s a real thing, all right.




The Elephant on Social Media: Deciding what to post about in 2017

So here’s the thing. I’ve spent the past few weeks struggling to wrap my head around what’s happening in the world #Resistright now. I’ve been remembering how I learned about all those wars during my school years. I’ve been thinking about how many times I’ve heard the phrase “Never again.” I’ve been wondering how in freaking hell history seems to repeat itself over and over and over again. And I’ve never felt so helpless or paralyzed in all my life.

For the most part, I haven’t shared any of this on social media. In part because I’m not sure I know how to express the heartache, shock, and yes, terror that reside in my core like a churning black pit filled with horrors I’m not sure I’m strong enough to face. In part because I don’t think my voice is strong enough to make much of an impact. And in great part because I’ve struggled with what my responsibility is to the social media community I’ve worked so hard to build.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time here, on Twitter, or on Facebook, you may have noticed that things are generally pretty positive. There’s a goodly dose of humour, a sprinkle of what I hope others find as inspiring as I do, some pet-inspired posts, and a great deal of sharing of the lighter moments in life. Oh, and an occasional self-promo thing, too…but I keep forgetting to post those! 😉

So here’s my dilemma:  stuff is happening. A lot of stuff. Every time I go online, it seems there’s something new. Something more. Something that people need to know about and fight against. So…do I post about it? Share it on my Facebook page? Help get the message out? Or do I maintain a lower profile on the social media activist front? Keep the tone light? Pretend I don’t see the elephant in the room?

It seems to me that both choices hold equal importance. Yes, I want to be a part of the resistance and to signal-boost to get the messages out there to as many people as possible, but I also want to be a bit of an oasis for those who need respite from the constant barrage. I want to fight the ugliness that appears ready to swallow humanity, but I also want to notice that there is still beauty in the world. I want to acknowledge the darkness, but I want to be a light in that darkness, because heaven knows the world can use more of that right now.


So after much angsting (much, much angsting 😛 ), here’s what I’ve decided. For the most part, my social media community is going to remain a safe place.  On Twitter, where the nature of the beast is such that it makes for great signal-boosting, I’ll post and repost all that I can on behalf of the resistance. But here on the blog, you’ll still get mostly random posts that mirror my equally random thought-process (because frankly, others are much more articulate than I am when it comes to expressing outrage anyway), and my Facebook page will remain mostly light and fun, because if your newsfeed is anything like mine these days, you need something to make you smile once in a while. And there are still so many things to smile about.

In short, I want you to know that I know the elephant is in the social media room with me. I can feel it sitting on my chest every minute of every day. But I refuse to let it squash the life out of me, or to throw such a shadow that I can no longer see or be a light. I can’t fix the world, but I will do what I can to help (such as donate to the ACLU), and I will continue to spread kindness every chance I get, and I will put boots on the ground to make a difference in my community…and I will continue to entertain and distract you as best I can.

Sound good? I’d like to know what you think, so please do leave me a comment below (or on Twitter or Facebook, if you’d prefer).

And on that note, I’m going to get back to work, because I have a novel to edit for you!

Much love,


Two Writers and a Cottage: Adult Supervision Required

So this week, I’m on a writer’s retreat with Marie Bilodeau. We both have novels to finish and deadlines to meet, and 1.05so we’ve holed up in a rented cottage, pumped and raring to go. Marie and I being who we are, however, things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as expected. Here’s a snapshot–and remember, this was only our first day! 😛

Sunday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.

We arrive at our cottage rental, unload the vehicle, and put away the groceries. At 4:45, a frozen shepherd’s pie goes into the oven for dinner. We explore the cottage, read the welcome instructions, and settle in.

Sunday, 5:15 p.m.

We decide we should have a fire in the beautiful stone fireplace. There is no kindling supplied, but there’s lots of paper, and the wood is nice and dry. I manage to get a decent blaze going. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten to open the fireplace damper.

Smoke billows into the room. After a quick but frantic search, I find what I believe is the damper handle. I pull. The handle falls off in my hand. More smoke billows out. Two smoke alarms begin shrieking at a skull-piercing decibel. A 1.03laughing Marie begins opening windows and doors while I try to replace the broken handle and get the damper open. Marie shouts over the alarms to ask if she should get water to put out the fire. I shout back yes.

By now she is doubled over with laughter, and half the pot of water she brings is spilled along the way. She douses the flames, more smoke pours out, she fetches (and spills) more water, and I swear mightily at both the damper and the unbearably freaking-loud alarms. With the fire out, I take the charred and still-smoking log out of the fireplace and stick it into the snowbank outside the sliding glass doors. The alarms shriek on.

Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

We set about trying to silence the shrieks before one of the neighbours hears and we end up with the fire department on our doorstep. The alarms are on the cathedral ceiling, far out of reach, so I find some tea towels to wave at them, and Marie climbs on a chair. After much flapping (and wild giggling), she manages to silence first one and then the other. (I’m laid up with a knee injury, so I handle the swearing while she does the climbing.)

Sunday, 5:40 p.m.

I finally locate the damper control (at the back of the chimney where it had nothing to do with the handle I’d yarded on). The residual smoke drifts up the chimney. One of the alarms keeps up an intermittent chirping, like the signal 1.01for a weak battery. Marie thinks it might be a continued warning, because there is still significant smoke at ceiling height. She does an internet search and reads that it may need to be reset. We find a broom. She climbs back onto the chair and pokes the only visible button, but to no effect.

Sunday, 5:50 p.m.

The alarm chirps on. We conclude that it really must be a weak battery (probably because we wore it out). I call the cottage owner. No answer. I leave a voicemail message. Not knowing how long it will be before we heard back and unable to tolerate the irritating sound, we decide to try to get at it ourselves. Brave (and hysterically laughing) Marie climbs up on the arm of a taller chair. No go.

Sunday, 6:00 p.m.

Plan B. Still laughing, we traipse out to the shed in the dark. The flashlight Marie carries is entirely inadequate. I step off the path into soft snow that fills my boots and begins to melt over my sockless feet. We find a ladder, but it is buried behind too much stuff for Marie to get at, and I can’t climb into the shed to help because of my knee. Back to the cottage.

Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

I mop up the puddles spilled by Marie. She closes doors and windows and turns the heat back on. We’re chilled to the bone. I mention how nice a fire would be. We both laugh some more.

The chirping alarm chirps on.

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

1.04One last attempt. The only piece of furniture tall enough for Marie to reach the ceiling is the dining room table. We move the coffee table and a chair out of the way, then carefully (oh, so carefully, because our track record isn’t so good at this point) remove the very large glass cover from the table and set it aside. Then, just as we grasp the massive table itself, I realize the chirping has stopped.

After waiting several minutes to be absolutely certain the silence will last, we replace the glass table top and the other furniture.

Sunday, 7:00 p.m.

Pyjamas and dinner (the shepherd’s pie is now crispy around the edges and much drier than it should be)…and another attempt to start a fire.

Four attempts, actually, much to Marie’s ongoing amusement. She has begun texting the saga to her roommate and telling me how entertaining I am and how much fun she’s having.

Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

I give up on the fire at last, and we settle down to do what we’d come for: write.

Of course, that’s when the cottage owner calls.

Despite our assurances that the alarm has gone silent and everything is fine, he insists on driving over (it’s only 15 1minutes, he says) to change the battery so it won’t disturb us in the middle of the night. I am mortified, but short of admitting I tried to set fire to his cottage, I can’t really say no. Marie thinks this is funny, too. We make sure all evidence of our unfortunate incident is cleared away. I close the blinds on the patio doors to hide the charred snow.

Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

The owner arrives, apologizing for having taken so long to get back to us—he’d been at his daughter’s dance recital. If there was a carpet in the cottage, I would happily crawl under it.

He digs the ladder out of the shed, moves a chair out of the way, and climbs up to take down the still-silent smoke alarm—offering, as he works, to light a fire for us before he leaves again. It seems we didn’t manage to erase all the evidence of my failed attempts after all. Oops. On the bright side, however, he doesn’t mention smelling smoke, so our airing-out has been a success. Woo?

As he replaces the battery with one he finds in a kitchen drawer, I clear away the charred log and unburned paper from the fireplace grate…only to realize that the reason my attempts had failed was because it was wetter in there from Marie’s dousing efforts than I’d realized. A lot wetter.

Sunday, 7:50  p.m.

The owner chats away with Marie as he climbs the ladder a second time to put the alarm back in place. I hide handfuls of wet paper under the fireplace grate and sweep aside the ash that has turned to black, dripping goo. It’s worse in here than I thought. As the owner descends again, I know I can’t let him near the fireplace without my arson attempt being discovered.

1.02I stand up too quickly and nearly cold-cock myself on the solid wood mantle above. As nonchalantly as I can, I go to the kitchen to wash the black muck from my hands so that I can rub the enormous lump growing on my skull and, in frantic whispers, tell Marie (who has seen the entire display and is trying—but failing to dissolve into hysterics) that we absolutely cannot have a fire after all.

Somewhat mystified but ever willing to play along, Marie graciously declines the owner’s offer—and then the smoke alarm begins chirping.

Apparently, the battery the owner used to replace the perfectly good battery is weak. As he climbs the ladder yet again, Marie and I pretty much both break down in hysterics.

Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

The owner has gone, taking the two batteries with him. The ladder leans against a wall in the kitchen. The dismantled smoke alarm rests on the counter. The fireplace remains cold, dark, and very, very wet. Marie and I retreat to chairs in the living room with tea in hand and laugh until our faces hurt. Writers’ retreats, we conclude, are great fun.

But in future, adult supervision for the two of us is definitely recommended. 😛