Portugal: Sintra Writers’ Retreat

After traveling to different regions of Portugal for 11 days, relief came at Sintra Boutique Hotel, where facilitator Allyson Latta conducted another successful 1-week writers’ retreat for fourteen enthusiastic participants. The scenic and historic town of Sintra was a perfect backdrop for finding the balance between workshops and sightseeing.

Workshops focused on Crafting Characters and Their Inner Worlds for Fiction and Memoir. After morning sessions, we practiced our writing on assignments for reading (and gentle critique) at late-day reading salons. Guest author and crime-writer, Robert Wilson, conducted a workshop on the last day. He shared his experiences as a successful British author and gave expert advice for getting into the heads of our characters.

Author, Robert Wilson, and Retreat Facilitator, Allyson Latta

Our days began with instructor Dale Synnett-Caron’s yoga classes followed by an abundant breakfast. After the workshops, we were free to write, go sightseeing, and eat lunch before 5:00 pm reading salons, followed by dinner. Dinners were much anticipated events–authentic Portuguese cuisine in friendly, traditional restaurants.

Yoga Instructor, Dale Synnett-Caron

We toured castles and forts, walked for untold kilometers on hilly, tiled roads, took a 10-hour coastal van tour with amusing guide, Pedro, which included a sunset photo op at Europe’s most westerly point of land.

Park and Palace of Pena
Cobo da Roca, Europe’s most westerly point, famous for sunsets
Palacio Nacional Sintra
Mary M, Mary W, Richard, Jayne, Nancy, Allyson, Jennifer, Dale, Karen, Mary C, Sandy (missing Greg and Shirley)

Allyson’s passion for planning (evident in retreats I’ve attended in Arizona and British Columbia) ensures valuable writing opportunities, seamless adventures, and delightful surprises.


Expressions in Photography

In 2017, for Canada’s Sesquicentennial, my photography club, ThePassingShow, published a photography book titled, Expressions in Photography. (Cover image, member Helene Zafiropoulos, Beijing, China)

The editorial team asked each member to submit 30 favourite photographs. We culled the submissions, eventually selecting 10 representative images for each of 12 members.

The committee elected to publish a soft-cover, luster-finish, 84-page, 10” x 12” book through Blurb Online Publishing. Never intending to sell the book, we created it as gifts for our families to put faces to names and appreciate the sense of craft and visual aesthetic of each member. 

Contributor Bios

Mary McIntyre’s Photographs

My Ducks in a Row

img_5203I retreated from social media to get my ducks in a row. The quackers were unwieldy blogs wandering aimlessly around the blogsphere.

I created a new blog, Sidebar. It features my writing journey to being published, as well as book reviews, information about writers’ retreats, writing groups, writing associations, and writing tips–and nonsense things that amuse me.

Washburn Island: Memoir of a Childhood, is my blog about Washburn Island, Lake Scugog. My extended family owned 5 cottages on the island from the mid-30s until my parents sold our family cottage in 1991. It’s a dose of nostalgia, Ontario cottaging history, and interviews from people associated with Washburn Island.

Camera Combo is my photography blog. All photos are mine. I’m curious beyond the image and write about what I learn. This often involves getting permissions from people I feature.

As a culture, we’re inundated with social media challenges. I don’t blog often, so if you follow me, you won’t be overwhelmed with Mary McIntyre.

I’d love to hear from you through comments, or offline: marye@bell.net.

Survival by Barbara Trendos – Book Review

Survival-new-picStalag Luft III was a WWII German POW camp for officers, made famous by the 1960s movie, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.

I met Canadian author, Barbara Trendos, in 2010 at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona. She has since written and published her book about her father’s war experience with the RCAF and incarceration as a POW in Stalag Luft III, titled, Survival: My Father’s War as an Air Force Gunner and POW, published by Stone’s Throw Publication.

Trendos’ book reminds us that newly trained fliers from Canada’s RCAF training schools were merely boys, some in their late teens, but most in their early 20s, eventually flying under Royal Air Force Command in Britain. Training was diverse, quick and intense. They were green, away from home and eager to do their bit for king and country. And at times, they were afraid.

Imagine your plane being strafed and going down over enemy territory. Never parachuting before, you are poised on the edge of an open, burning plane, mustering your nerve to throw yourself into darkness at 12,000 feet. Famously the Air Force lost many of their young fliers in that frightening situation.

Barb’s father, Albert Wallace, is soon to celebrate his 100th birthday. Like many of his luckier flying buddies who survived the drop, he was captured in Germany and held with thousands of other POWs for 2 years in Stalag Luft III. The men lived with daily shortages, overcrowding, boredom, cold, heat, deprivations, and punishments at the mercy of German command. (Wallace made a lifelong commitment to the Red Cross for their delivery of life-saving packages that helped him and others survive their ordeal.) For a while, Albert bunked in the room at the same time the planners of the great escape furiously dug the entry to the famous tunnel, a daring escape ending in the death of over 50 men.

After 2 years, as rumours of German capitulation circulated in the camp, the prisoners were force-marched long distances in bitter January weather to avoid Russian liberators, hundreds dying en route from exposure, illness, and starvation.

Barbara elected to tell the story in her father’s voice in Log Book form. It’s an effective technique to write in a young man’s voice of the era, the reader noticing how the boy’s maturation under difficult circumstances brought decisions that likely saved his life.

For WWII Air Force buffs the book is a valuable resource about the early days of training in Canada, the Air Force assemblage in Britain, and insights into the conditions of German POW camps that did not abide by the Geneva Convention for decent standards of treatment of prisoners.

Barbara Trendos traveled a great deal for her research. She tapped into other prisoners’ log books, contacted children of POWs and investigated military records. Her thorough investigation tells us a captivating story.

The Jesuit Letter by Dean Hamilton – Review

the-jesuit-letter-cover1The Jesuit Letter

Dean Hamilton

365 pages

Published by TyburnTree Publishing, 2014

ISBN 9780993917400

The Historical Novel Society recently selected The Jesuit Letter as Editor’s Choice for their winter issue and long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award. (Mary’s interview with the author appears below the following review.)

Author Dean Hamilton’s book, The Jesuit Letter, set in summer 1575, is the first book in a series about Englishman Christopher Tyburn. We learn from the back story that four years earlier as a young scholar, Tyburn left Cambridge University to join Queen Elizabeth’s army in support of Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. The rebels were in bloody religious warfare with their Catholic Spanish masters. Tyburn survived the cruel conflict by his wits and his sword, barely cheating death.

The story begins with Tyburn returned from war and working as a player with a troupe of entertainers traveling by caravan from London to Strafford, Warwickshire. Late at night, the rowdy thespians discover a fellow player’s murdered body on a dark road. Around the dead man’s shoulders is the handsome cloak he’d loaned to Tyburn earlier that day; and in his hand, a waxy Papist amulet. Thugs had spied Tyburn wearing his friend’s borrowed cloak while intercepting a coded letter between a Jesuit priest and an unknown correspondent. Tyburn realizes the hideous roadside death that killed his friend was meant for him. How can he right this injustice?

Tyburn is known by his fellows as a gripper, an Elizabethan term for someone who is curious and tenacious. While those around him don’t always understand his motives, Hamilton shows the reader a flawed protagonist with underlying decency and sense of fair play.

img_1492It helps to know a little background. Although avarice among wealthy landowners underscored the 1558 – 1603 reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Elizabethan period was one of England’s most glorious eras, an age of discovery and exploration. Central to Hamilton’s theme in The Jesuit Letter is Elizabeth’s establishment of the dominant Protestant Church of England.

In her sister’s earlier reign, Catholic Queen Mary established the Catholic Church’s supremacy, which led to the persecution and execution of resistant Protestants, considered heretics and disloyal to the Crown. When religious supremacy reversed with Elizabeth’s Protestant ascendancy, Elizabeth chose tolerance for practicing Catholics, insisting only on their loyalty to her, and discretion in their worship. That leniency would change over the years.

Hamilton’s prologue introduces us to the secretive behavior of wealthy Catholic landowner, Edward Arden. He hires and acts as protector to a Catholic priest, Hugh Hall. The priest conducts secret masses at Arden’s manor home. Prominent Protestant neighbours resent Arden. They, in turn, hire thugs to intercept his letters to a Jesuit priest, to prove to Queen Elizabeth that Arden’s clandestine actions are disloyal to his oath to the Crown, and therefore treasonous and punishable by death. Providing evidence of Catholicism (often obtained unlawfully) could lead to the Crown confiscating Arden’s family lands and removing his titles. A grateful Queen was known to award those same lands to conniving and snitching neighbours.

Thrown into this cauldron is a writ issued by Pope Pius sanctioning the right of Catholics in England to deprive Elizabeth of her throne. The Pope sends undercover Jesuit priests throughout England to expand Catholic influence. Finally, Elizabeth orders all Jesuits and Catholic priests are to be driven from the kingdom.

img_1494It’s at this point of history that the story in The Jesuit Letter begins, narrowing larger themes of religion and persecution to the affected lives of players, townspeople, minor officials and ruffians in Warwickshire. A whiff of suspicion about a Jesuit priest’s correspondence between wealthy Arden and the Pope’s emissaries unleashes an evil plot.

Hamilton cleverly includes characters that lived in that era: 11-year old William Shakespeare; prominent landowner, Edward Arden, and his hired priest, Hugh Hall, who is thinly disguised as a gardener; and despicable Richard Topcliffe, a sadistic aristocrat who relishes the hunt for Catholic sympathizers. The Earl of Leicester, known advisor of Queen Elizabeth (and lover) appears, too.

We wonder why this well-educated but impoverished returning soldier is a player with the Earl of Worcester’s Men traveling troupe. It isn’t until the last few pages that we discover the depth of the plot. Suffice to say that performing troupes had far-ranging mobility in Elizabethan times. Wealthy patrons arranged for troupes’ flags, liveries, letters and writs to protect them from Bailiffs and Puritans. The rich hired players to entertain in manor houses, and the poor clustered in local inn yards, enthralled by costume and song. Tyburn’s early education and steady demeanour allow him to pass comfortably between wealthy and poor alike. Although players are poorly regarded in a laboring society, they offer lively diversions with political songs, Morrish dances, and playacting at a time when very few can read or write.

Hamilton’s plotting is masterful. Through flashbacks and third-person perspectives, he leads the reader through intrigue and near impossible situations. Minor characters, often thugs and thieves play roles to advance the story. Wealthy aristocrats plot devious schemes, hiring unscrupulous back alley ruffians to carry out dirty deeds for a few sovereigns. We peek into the contrasts between arduous workaday merchants, tanners and farmers toiling for bread, severely limited by the whims of the prosperous and privileged. The poor are hopelessly poor, the merchants hold tightly to emerging powers, and Puritans add severity to morality.

img_1496Much of the action takes place in the market town of Stratford situated on the Avon River. Hamilton introduces a distinct Elizabethan atmosphere with colourful settings in cobbled inn yards and dingy public houses where patrons complain the ale tastes more like piss. The players’ caravan traverses moonlit, rutted roads through pastoral fields. Thugs populate filthy back alleys. Merchants and councilmen ensure successful markets by tightening their strict codes. Rich and powerful disdain all.

Eleven-year-old Will Shakespeare plays an important companion role in Tyburn’s path to discover the truth behind the plot of the greedy, grasping deBrage family and salacious Richard Topcliffe. Balancing many characters of varying backgrounds is a talent Hamilton writes convincingly. He feeds the reader just enough information in twenty-one chapters to make us eager to read on. Tension builds in each chapter, making readers fear there is no resolution to desperate escapes and maltreatment of innocent victims. There is a thread of romance for Tyburn in this story, which at times seems impossible to fulfill.

The climax of the story is well crafted. Hamilton keeps the reader on the edge in a final showdown between good and evil. I want to shout: Don’t go in there, for a nail-biting scene I feared would turn the tables on our hero.

Hamilton has a gift for capturing the language of the Elizabethan period. Only dedicated research could make believable old terms (with explanatory footnotes). Whether through curses, pleadings, teasing or descriptive passages, this even-handed sprinkling never gets in the way, only enhances.

img_1495Sir Thomas Lucy:

“The infernal machinations of the Papists and their anti-Christ Pius are legion. They would overthrow our Blessed Sovereign and place a reign of terror and devil-worship in her place. They would burn the righteous and lift high the traitors that lurk amongst us. They would,” he spat, “ place a Spaniard or that bitch-queen Mary on England’s throne.” Later … “Despite our exquisite queen’s expressions of tolerance for their heresies, or more like because of it, English Papists are growing in numbers. Clemency! Hah! It’s a fool’s policy. They breed treason like whores breed bastards. Show me a Papist and I will show you one with a liar’s visage, deformed of countenance and of evil manner. Vipers breed vipers, and we must ferret out this particular nest and expunge it”.

Tyburn is a likable character: taciturn, discreet, principled and loyal. He brings out these qualities in his accomplices. He drives himself to unravel mysteries and expose plotters implicating him in their dark schemes. We root for him. We want him to get the girl in the end. We want him to protect children and the wronged. The Jesuit Letter is a satisfying read.

A 5-page sneak preview of Hamilton’s 2016 book that continues Tyburn’s exploits, titled, Thieves Castle, and named for a fictional London gang, is at the end of the book. I’m curious about the troubles Hamilton imagines for Tyburn in the second of this series of historical fiction.

13995045Interview with Dean Hamilton

How did you publish your book?

TyburnTree Publishing is my own publishing name. I decided to create a self-publishing identity. The basic process you follow in any self-publishing endeavor is: Write. Edit. Rewrite. Edit again. Edit again. Edit again (and so on) until you reach the point where you think you have a viable book. Where that point lies is dependent on the author.

With self-publishing, you own the entirety of the process. The end results, along with the mistakes, are dependent on you. How much work a self-published author puts into ensuring the quality of the end result may vary considerably. In my case, I made the decision to self-publish after sending out about 35 – 40 agent queries on my finished work. I found the lack of response disheartening, so rather than continue to reduce my own morale and confidence in my writing, I decided to move forward and self-publish.

Why did you choose Kickstarter for your project?

Crowd-funding projects offer many different sites, but the two most prominent were Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The key difference between them is that Kickstarter forced me to set a specific fiscal goal. If I failed to meet the set budgeted goal, I would receive nothing. I felt the discipline of a set goal would force me to develop the project and focus on my work. With IndieGo-go you keep whatever funds you raise. Running a crowdsourcing campaign of any type is a tremendous amount of work in a very short time frame.

I used the raised funds for hiring a professional editor and a professional graphic designer to develop the cover. At the end of the day, I raised just over $3000 from about 45 backers, all of whom invested in the development of the book. It was important to me that the book should be of the highest possible quality, to ensure readers received the best possible reading experience for their money. At the end of the day, self-publishing is a huge amount of work but intensely gratifying when you can hold your book in your hand.

What about the Elizabethan period appeals to you as a writer?

The Elizabethan era sits at the cusp of what could be considered the rise of the modern era at the end of the medieval world. The New World was being discovered. There were new schools of thought in art, literature, and science. The Renaissance exploded across Europe, and in particular England, with the rise of the early theatre and Shakespeare. This environment spoke of tremendous cultural and societal flux.

As a writer, there is an endless fascination with the colour, ambiance and well-documented characters that sprang forth in the Elizabethan era. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my work is to reflect a world outside the court and the nobility. Most fiction embedded in the Elizabethan era tends to be bodice-ripping tales of Court intrigue, set amidst the silken splendor of palaces. Mine tends to hang about in ale-soaked taverns, muddy streets and fetid back-alleys where cold steel by lantern light offers redemption or grim death.

What is your method for plotting the story?

The seeds of the Jesuit Letter sprang out of reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, a biography of William Shakespeare. I ran across some of the questions related to how much exposure Shakespeare had as a child to the many traveling theatre troupes that rolled through Stratford; coupled with the notes about the sudden reversal of his father, John Shakespeare’s economic position after 1575 and linkages to his supposed Catholicism. That led me to pull various threads together including the timely arrival of a theatre troupe along with a heinous murder. The more intricate aspects of the plot were threaded together over a three-year period of intensive research about the era.

Your use Elizabethan language very effectively. How did you go about researching for The Jesuit Letter?

My research involved a great deal of reading of original source documents, plus the creation of a fairly extensive glossary, along with pulling from existing works. I ended up with an extensive library on my shelves at home and a large annotated vocabulary spreadsheet.

Dean Hamilton works as a marketing professional in Toronto, Ontario. He is married with a son. His novella Black Dog won second place in Inkitt’s “Reclaim Time” story competition. The Historical Novel Society recently chose The Jesuit Letter as their Editor’s Choice selection for their winter issue and currently long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award. He is currently working on the second in the Christopher Tyburn series, Thieves Castle due in 2016.

See his Elizabethan blog: www.tyburntree.blogspot.com

Twitter: Tyburn__Tree

The Jesuit Letter available:

Amazon.com (or Amazon.ca , UK etc.)

Print Version: http://amzn.to/1LTtQOe

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1PqYlNS

Chapters /Indigo /Kobo

Sanctuary Sundays with Author Sue Reynolds

My personal sanctuary on retreat
My private gazebo work station

Author, Sue Reynolds identifies with writers’ needs to regenerate their skills in a safe and quiet atmosphere. Sanctuary Sundays at her country home give new meaning to the word refuge.

From beginners to advanced level writers, a day with Sue at her country retreat is a peaceful environment for concentrating on new or existing projects. Sue, an experienced facilitator, and writing teacher, guides attendees on morning exercises in a large-windowed room overlooking woods and water.

Ontario delivers spectacular September days, and my day at the retreat was just that. I elected to spend 2 hours of private writing time in a zippered mesh gazebo on a grassy meadow beside the house.

Blue Jays squabbled at the bird feeder, adding to the hum of a late summer afternoon. Cloistered in a gazebo-tent, perfectly appointed with a single table and chair, I dedicated a focused effort that often eludes me at home. The time was a gift.

Other writers settled on the dock beside the pond, strolled the paths and trails, or nestled into cozy nooks with desks and plug-ins. There is only one rule for private time: silence. No one interrupts anyone else. Imagine that, my writer friends.

At a late-day gathering, participants shared their prose and poetry, uplifting on so many levels. A break-through on a difficult concept in my writing I’d avoided for a long time felt satisfying. This is an ongoing program with Sue Reynolds. I recommend it as a boost to further your writing experience.

Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney – Book Review

readherbookelement13Canadian Bestselling Memoir based on Restorative Justice 

Would I marry a man who had served 10 years in prison for murdering a woman in a crime of passion? I asked myself this question before meeting author, Shannon Moroney, at Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat at Sandy Lake, Ontario in July 2014.

Allyson Latta, Copy Editor for Shannon Moroney’s book Through the Glass (published by Doubleday), arranged for Ms. Moroney to speak to a group of writers about her decision to write a memoir about a three-year period when the trusted husband she’d married only a month before, betrayed her by kidnapping and sexually assaulting two women.

After the shocking tragedy of the kidnappings and rapes, the author’s experiences, and her ensuing battle within our Canadian justice system, which failed to support her as a physically uninjured victim–victim nonetheless–is a story of outreach, survival, and transformation. Ms. Moroney spoke to us for nearly 6 hours, not only about the sadness and concern she feels for the victims, but also about healing through the writing process, attaining an agent and acquiring a publishing contract.

She refused to allow her association with a perceived monster to dictate her humanity. We cannot forget that she lost a much beloved, but (unknown to her at the time) flawed husband. She lost her privacy. She lost her job as a high school Guidance Counsellor. She lost friends. She lost her sense of who she was as a person and the future she’d planned for her life.

At times the justice system dragged slowly through its complicated process, only to bluntly arrive at mind-boggling decisions that protect the rights of criminals, but left little room for protecting victims. Moroney’s determination to make sense of her husband’s role by staying in touch with him was controversial and challenged some to believe that she was naïve, foolish, or (her worst fear) complicit.

But her belief that criminals also have rights for timely psychiatric treatment turned her into an advocate for change. Waiting 5 years for treatment in a system where there is one psychiatrist for 600 inmates went against all of her beliefs and training.

But you’d have to understand the influential principles of her birth family, and the career she’d chosen to help homeless and challenged youth in the justice system – a convincing argument for the woman’s sincerity and intellect. Before dating her husband, she interviewed her husband’s parole officer and prison psychiatrist many times to feel comfortable with the knowledge that her husband-to-be had paid his debt to society for his teen crime. The professionals confirmed that he’d been a model prisoner and fulfilled the requirements of his parole for many years. After speaking to Shannon and reading her book I’m convinced of Moroney’s positive nature.

In the aftermath of the crime, after years of knock-downs, Moroney suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, weight loss, and sleeplessness. Her family’s and close friends’ love and support sustained her through the fears, doubts, impoverishment of life and spirit and constant travel for jobs, court dates, prison locations and temporary places to stay.

There is redemption in her journey. Due in part to her belief in restorative justice, she continues to fight for victim and prisoner rights. She returned to university and graduated with an MA, her dissertation based on a passionate interest in trauma recovery and restorative justice. Her life mission as an author and public speaker is to change treatments for prisoners, people who are often childhood victims themselves, and victims of criminal or traumatic crimes.

I was living in a landscape of broken dreams. As I tried to construct new ones, I found myself holding back with uncertainty. … I wanted to be able to trust and connect again. Shannon Moroney

Maeve Hughes, Botanical Artist – Review

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes Honourable Mention March 2014
Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

In April 2013, my sister, Maeve Hughes, and I crawled on hands and knees in local woodlands to photograph one of our favourite spring plants, the Trout Lily. We captured delicate stages of development as the plant sprouted from under dry winter leavesAs a Botanical Artist Maeve uses this photographic memory to create watercolour paintings, or coloured pencil drawings.

A year later, Toronto’s Todmorden Mills Papermill Gallery featured The Botanical Artists of Canada Juried Art Show titled The Four Seasons. Jurors, Pamela Stagg, Kathryn Chorney, and James Eckenwalder, selected 64 outstanding works for the exhibition. Artists submitted from Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Artworks are juried before acceptance in the show. My sister achieved placement for four of her submissions in the Watercolour category.

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes, Honourable Mention March 2014
Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes, Honourable Mention March 2014

See Maeve’s Coloured Pencil winning entry, Rosehips, from  November 2012 juried competition. This year Maeve earned two Honourable Mentions for Trout Lilies and Fiddleheads. Acclaim for her work makes crawling around damp woodlands in chilly spring weather worthwhile.

Months of preparation by the executive and membership of the Botanical Artists of Canada paid off with a well attended show. Heritage venue, Todmorden Mills, is an excellent locale for hosting an art show of this calibre. A record-breaking number of guests at the opening reception enjoyed a buzzing ambiance and delicious food and refreshments.

Congratulations to Best-in-Show winner, Quebec artist, Lilyane Coulombe, and to all selected artists who represented their categories.

I’m proud of my sister’s accomplishments. She is a serious student of Botanical Art, taking weekly watercolour classes at the Toronto Botanical Gardens with instructor Leslie Staples. And she meets monthly with a group of Coloured Pencil artists who appreciate the discipline of this art form. Botanical artists painstakingly study plants to reproduce incredible likenesses in various media. It’s delicate work, requiring a steady hand and dedication to perfection.

2014 Jurors:

Kathryn Chorney MScBMC is an avid nature journal-er, friend of fungi, and science/nature/medical illustrator. She is a full-time professor at Sheridan College where she teaches Scientific Illustration. An award-winning artist, Kathryn is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) as well as the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators (SONSI).

Pamela Stagg came across a hidden talent at a workshop at Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre in 1987, her first solo show came only a short time later in 1989, and in the same year three of her works were acquired by North America’s most important collection of botanical art. By 1991, she was awarded the world’s top prize for botanical illustration, the Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal. Recently  a commission by the Royal Canadian Mint to design the Trillium Coin for the prestigious Pure Gold Coin series. Pamela’s book Roses: A Celebration, published by Northpoint Press in the Fall of 2003, containing more than thirty of her original paintings. It is available in major bookstores in Canada, the US and UK.

Dr. James E. Eckenwalder, Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Eckenwalder’s area of interest is plant systematics.

Port Stanley, The First Hundred Years – Book Review

Port Stanly, The First Hundred Years, 1804 – 1904, co-authors Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole
Port Stanly, The First Hundred Years, 1804 – 1904, co-authors Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole

If you grew up near Ontario’s Great Lakes you likely know the famous port towns that dot the shorelines: Colborne, Dover, Stanley, Grand Bend, Saugeen, Tobermory … to name a few. In early Ontario settlements, port towns provided vital links for shipping produce and products to and from markets. Networks of sailing ships evolved to steamships. Rough planked roads connected goods overland until mid to late century railways linked ports to markets in larger centres.

Recently, I read Port Stanley, The First Hundred Years, 1804 – 1904, co-authored by Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole.

Situated on Lake Erie’s north shore, Port Stanley developed water and land supply lines for 19th century settlers. Over time, appreciation for the town’s picturesque location transitioned the site to a lakeside playground. From the bridge over Kettle Creek near the harbour, you see handsome stores, restaurants and art galleries. Old and new cottages rim deep sandy shores. New housing developments peer over the lake from the top of high bluffs.

Importance of being selected as a railway town cannot be exaggerated in Ontario’s settlement in the 1800s. Port Stanley’s rail links from the shores  at Kettle Creek developed into a staging harbour for moving stock and passengers through Southern Ontario and the USA.

There was a genteel, late 19th century passion to holiday away from more populated commercial cities like St. Thomas, London, Buffalo and Cleveland. Churches and organizations arranged massive excursions by steam ships and rail cars for fresh air picnics beside Erie’s breezy shores. Port Stanley, with it’s natural escarpment set back from the town, and having a wide creek and harbour, and road and rail links to the interior, was a desirable location for investing in resort hotels, cottages and popular amusements for entertaining large crowds.

The ambitious scale of constructing recreational facilities that came after the railways in the 1870s (to a town with a population of 600) is unimaginable today: hundreds of pleasure-seekers arrived by steamship and rail–on the same day! They headed to many of the famous resorts, such as Fraser’s parklands on a bluff overlooking the lake. Large hotels with 150-ft verandas and a 2-car incline railway between Fraser’s Heights and the beach, led visitors to boating excursions, bicycling, diving towers at the end of long piers, recreational fishing, and taverns enough to satisfy all … captured in photographs in the book.

As the publication indicates, the heyday of growth did not come without setbacks: fires destroyed early wooden buildings and shifting silt and sandbanks blocked the harbour. There were ongoing appeals for government assistance to develop a fishery, which became a successful enterprise after 1900. Maritime disasters lost steamships as they crossed the lake in all directions.

The authors, beginning with a Phase A report for a proposed Heritage Conservation District in Port Stanley, ended up publishing an entertaining account of a specific 100-year period of Port Stanley’s early development. They received much support from Heritage Port. Port Stanley’s Historical Society funded the publication, and all proceeds for sales of the book return to them to continue their good work.

If you are a history buff, and appreciate learning how our famous Great Lakes port towns developed and added much to the romantic remembrances of visitors who still flock to their sandy shores, I recommend this book.

The book is available locally in stores and venues in Port Stanley, or through the Port Stanley Historical Society.


How The Light Gets In by Pat Schnieder – Book Review

how-the-lightI’d heard about author, Pat Schneider, from friends who attended her workshops in Canada. Pat is American and known as a sensitive writing instructor.

I read her latest book How the Light Gets In. Unlike some books on writing, Pat’s approach, termed Writing as a Spiritual Practice, reveals much of her troubled early life, and how to write a memoir based on a long life of contemplation.

A few quotes:

I feel my own smallness, but I feel that I too belong. If I am open to the possibility, I sense that I am seen; I am known: I am held in the attention of the mystery.

I hold suffering and secrets as sources of what may be our deepest and greatest potential, both as writers and as human beings just trying to make sense of our lives.

Darkness and light are inextricably bound together.

Writing is often a struggle between the personal and the universal …

What we mean is usually a mix of memory, knowledge and imagination. Myth is woven of those three.

Secrets more than anything else, are the stones that make up writer’s block.

That first voice, the voice of home, is the one that writers must protect from the contempt, disdain or disregard of any critic.

Hurt hangs on and you can’t pry its fingers loose.

Story can be the clothing that makes the mystery visible. Story kept us alive when food failed, when water dried up, when the body itself began to fail.

To be here now near the end of life, here with love or the memory of love – along with the memory of stars and galaxies and the intimate roads of home – is to know how transient, how precious, the now is. And that knowing becomes more intense, more infused with joy every day.

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge hosted Schneider’s Canadian book launch in October 2013. See a review and what people say about this remarkable woman who has devoted her life work to helping writers.

92-year old Irvin Raxlin visits Stouffville

92-year old Irv Raxlin and wife Dorothy
92-year old Irvin Raxlin and wife Dorothy

Former Stouffville resident, 92-year old Irvin Raxlin shared his memories of growing up in Stouffville from the 1920s when Stouffville’s population was 700. The town now boasts about 44,000 residents and continues to grow.

Stouffville old-timers will remember Raxlin’s Furniture Store and Frigidaire dealership at 6276 Main Street, east of Mill Street. In 1944, Ben Raxlin purchased the red-bricked building, which housed Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sanders Photography Studio.

Before the 1920s, Irvin’s parents, Ben Raxlin, a Russian immigrant, and his wife, Annie (Rudnick), struggled for a foothold in Toronto. Ben’s sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Mr. Herman, were already established in Stouffville, operating a new and used farm implements business. They convinced the young couple to live in the town and learn the business with Mr. Herman’s guidance. In 1924 Ben placed ads in the Stouffville Tribune, to pay the highest market price for Live Poultry, Geese, Ducks and Feathers. In 1928 similar ads for farm implements sales included buying wool, hides, fat, and poultry for shipment to Toronto’s industrial market.

To prosper, Ben Raxlin worked long hours establishing his reputation and integrating his family into the community. When his brother-in-law’s health failed in the late 20s, Ben gradually took over the operations as proprietor of the farm implements business. This occurred as the world-wide Depression worsened.

With horse and wagon, Ben attended frequent farm auctions and advertised acquisitions weekly in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben’s fascination and love of auction sales led to little misadventures, which Irvin fondly recalls. His father once bought a beautiful-looking horse–which turned out to have no wind. Another time he bought a load of hay, then discovered there was no way to transport the load over a tiny makeshift bridge. Buying items outside of his business line were often irresistible to Ben.

Irvin (nicknamed Sonny) and his brother Lewis were born in the 1920s. For decades, the Stouffville Tribune posted achievement grades for Stouffville’s Continuation School students. Not only did Irvin and Lewis show above average standings, reports indicated the brothers won several field day foot races, standing jump competitions and soccer goals.

Lewis became well-known as a skilled baseball player, representing the Stouffville Junior and Intermediate Baseball Clubs and Stouffville Red Sox team between 1947 and 1952. In 1942, Lewis won Best Comic performance at the Winter Carnival. He was also a member of the local Air Cadets.

The Raxlin’s first family home was south of Main Street on the east side of 10th Line, now demolished. Irvin recalled a superstitious neighbour woman who treated warts by rubbing them with raw meat and burying the meat in the back yard. The Raxlin family later moved to central Stouffville on the north side of Main Street near St. James Presbyterian Church. Demolished in the 1970s, the house made way for a block of stores with apartment units above.

Raxlin's Furniture Store and Frigidaire Dealership, 2013. Building built by photographer J. Mertens in the late 1800s.
Raxlin’s Furniture Store and Frigidaire Dealership, 2013. Building built by photographer J. Mertens in the late 1800s.

In the post-war boom, Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sander’s Photography relocated to accommodate Ben Raxlin’s expanding furniture and appliance dealership. Ben and Annie worked here until selling the business and building to Herb Kring in 1965. As Ben often travelled to acquire new merchandise, Annie managed the store. She kept up with housework, baking, and gardening, and participated in her sons’ activities and community events. As is often the way of small-town reporting, public notices of thanks and travel plans appeared in the Stouffville Tribune.

For decades, Annie Raxlin won recognition for her garden flowers in the Stouffville Horticultural Society flower shows. Baking, especially her sponge cake, won prizes at the District Christmas Baking Exhibitions. Mr. and Mrs. Raxlin donated money and gifts to every local event and fund-raiser, and financially assisted the war effort and the Red Cross. As a member of the IOOF, and a keen euchre player, Ben (and Annie) joined in the social activities available in a small town.

In 1942, the Stouffville Tribune featured Irvin Raxlin for the following: Irvin Raxlin, second year Arts student at Toronto University, and son of Mr. and Mrs. B. Raxlin of this town, was among the 1,000 students who entrained at Toronto for the Western harvest fields recently. Ben went to the Union Station to see his son off, and says that when the students from the various universities assembled in groups the noise was deafening when the college yells were given. Some of the lads were dressed in straw hats, light shoes, and otherwise flimsy attire, while others were prepared for cold weather with their heavy boots, heavy coats and some good woolens. Irvin Raxlin appears to be Stouffville’s lone representative at University this year, and is having an experience no other student ever had from this village, since the student body is charged with helping to lift the Western grain crop.

In June of 1944, an announcement for Irvin’s graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree appeared in the local paper, with this addition: Irvin is in military camp at present undergoing training in connection with his University degree.

Within a few years, Irvin graduated as a pharmacist, eventually owning a drugstore in Toronto on Parliament Street. His next store was in Scarborough at the Wexford Heights Shopping Plaza. The last store he owned was Milliken Mills Pharmacy, which he sold in 1986. Irvin married Dorothy Lichtenstein, and they now live in North Toronto. (Since writing, Irvin passed away, January 12, 2015 at Toronto General Hospital). Their daughter and her husband and grandson live in Texas.

In 1954, Irvin’s brother Lewis Raxlin married Marilyn Logan of Canton Ohio. They resided in one of Stouffville’s new homes built on Rose Avenue, south of Main Street before moving to Scarborough. For a few years, Lewis worked in his father’s Main Street dealership. Eventually, his father-in-law invited Lewis to join him in the restaurant business in Canton. Ben and Annie felt sad when Lewis and Marilyn moved to Ohio with their three sons. The Raxlin families visited back and forth across the border for many years. Lewis passed away October 13, 2001.

From the early 1950s to mid-60s, Ben Raxlin travelled in the province to meetings and conferences with fellow IOOF lodge members. Due to health concerns and a few hospitalizations, Ben hired an assistant to help manage the store. After over forty years of conducting business in Stouffville, Ben Raxlin retired in 1965. He sold his Main Street home to Gino Testa. He and Annie moved to Downsview where his son Irvin lived. The couple continued to visit old friends in town and donated to local fundraisers, acknowledged by notes of thanks in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben Raxlin died on November 22, 1972. His wife Annie died on September 5, 1977.

Perhaps a quote by Ben in the Stouffville Tribune, Dec. 3, 1964, sums up over forty years in the community. We consider Stouffville our home,” Mr. Raxlin said. “The people here have always been fair. A newcomer to our town would never be lonely because people here are among the friendliest we have ever met. Stouffville has treated us well. We are sorry to leave.”

Irvin stood beside me, once again by the red brick building at the hub of Stouffville’s Main Street. He remembered friends of his and his brother Lewis: photographer Ted Cadieux, the Schell boys, the Hazzard family, the Wards, Billy and Wally Nicholson, Lloyd and Bea Jennings, and others. Memories flooded back, like the times the local boys hung out at a blacksmith’s shop south of Main Street on Market Street where the CIBC parking lot is now. He recalls a functioning grain mill and slaughterhouse, and skinny-dipping in the pond at the back of the park. The boys mischievously upended outhouses on Halloween night. He had his first glimpse of actress Mae West in a movie at the Stanley Theatre behind the clock tower.

Ben and Annie Raxlin’s family thrived in Stouffville. They worked through nearly five decades to become prominent business people on Main Street. They raised two sons and gave them opportunities to prosper. It is fitting that Raxlin Street, in a new subdivision in southeast Stouffville beside a park with tennis courts, splash pad, and basketball courts, commemorates the contributions of this family to the character of the town. Thank you, Irvin, for sharing your memories.

Update:  January 12, 1915, Irving Raxlin died at Toronto General Hospital.

St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply

St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply, Stouffville, Ontario, 2013
St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply, Stouffville, Ontario, 2013

Stouffville’s agricultural heritage diminishes with urban creep. With July crops lush in the fields, I investigated how whole grain bread gets from the golden wheat fields surrounding our town to store shelves. I didn’t have far to look to find a famous Stouffville resource.

St. Lawrence Grains & Farm Supply’s tall cement storage silos loom tall in the skyline southeast of Tenth Line and Bloomington Sideroad. With permission from General Manager, Richard McNamara, I photographed the 12 silos and environs, operating since 1979.

In mid-July, winter wheat is harvest ready. Fully loaded trucks rumble up the driveway to an office where farmers register the contents. Drivers proceed to the unloading dock beside the cement towers where a Canadian flag waves on high. The truck is weighed before depositing grain through a grate above a storage pit and weighed after the deposit. Good weather brings intense harvesting, and with two harvests for wheat, and fall harvests of soya beans and corn, the silo business is open for drop-offs for months, from early morning until late at night.

Farmer Jeff Taber watches Robert Baird take samples of grain deposited into a storage pit
Farmer Jeff Taber watches Robert Baird take samples of grain deposited into a storage pit

I watch Ballantrae area farmer, Jeff Taber, open the back gates of his truck. Slowly the truck’s hydraulics tilt the load, grain flowing like a golden river through the grate. The young man tells me his crop is hard red wheat. Harvesting means working from dawn to sometimes after dark, seven days a week. Like many local farmers, Jeff worries that long work hours have less appeal for young people today.

The first step for grading the quality of the product at St. Lawrence begins at this stage. Grader, Robert Baird, scoops grain samples from different times in the flow. When the truck’s bucket is empty, it’s weighed again to calculate the weight of the unloaded crop.

The skills of St. Lawrence’s two Graders, Brad Howsam and Robert Baird are essential to the success of the operation. In the office beside the silos, Brad and Robert explain to me the first step is to measure water content in the grain with specialized equipment. Then under magnification, the grain is assessed for disease or excess weeds that grow with the crop. This is a tense time for the farmer. A poor grade designates his wheat for cattle feed and brings the lowest price. But if like Jeff Taber’s crop the grain is dry, disease-free and with little evidence of weeds, the grain is rated as Grade 2, and pays the most.

Up to this point, the operation is visible to me. Graded grain deposited into the pit shifts by a conveyor belt system. Inside the housing, multiple buckets scoop grain from the pit and deposit it into a closed conveyor belt assigned to specific silos (a moveable hopper and spout). The components of the system must be durable enough to shift tons of grain as dust-free and energy-efficiently as possible. Grains can be safely stored in silos for months, and even years if the grains are re-circulated in the system.

Unloading into a storage pit
Unloading into a storage pit

When grain buyers are ready to move grain out of storage at the silos, grain releases from above into empty trucks positioned at a second loading dock. The process is gravity-driven from a valve and chute system. The grain is then covered and distributed by truck to processing facilities.

This is the nuts and bolts of the mechanical side of the grain silo business. But minute-by-minute price changes in the commodities market dictate how much farmers will be paid for their graded grain.

According to an August report from Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario wheat yields have been variable, as tricky harvest weather has challenged many producers. Off and on again rain showers have made it difficult for combines to roll.

Robert, at St. Lawrence, said too much rain causes a disease, Fusarium. He showed me a magnified sample, pinkish in colour. Fusarium downgrades a crop to cattle feed. Overly dry weather or drought causes poor crops too. There are worrisome considerations for corn and soybean crops affected over the spring to fall growing season.

When you butter your toast, consider the hard work, long hours, processes and weather variables that culminate in the ease of buying a loaf of bread at the store. Thank you to the tenacious Stouffville farmers who hang on to farming traditions as the line of urban creep presses northward from the Greater Toronto Area.

Suburban Warfare: Backyard Garden Update

If you read my spring post about being a reluctant gardener, here’s how our spring planting turned out in August. To read how hubby and I negotiated our way through suburban warfare, … see highlighted sections below.


As a tribute to my mother who fed our family from her gardens for years, I photographed Heirloom tomatoes in one of her glass dishes in August.


8 bulbs planted in the fall successfully produced curly and tasty “scapes” which I chopped into scrambled eggs. I picked the garlic bulbs out of the ground after the curly scapes straighten out. One bizarre bulb wasn’t divided into sections, but one large round hunk of garlic, easy to peel and chop. Now if I could just clone that one. I fine-chopped it into cold cucumber mint soup. The rest of the bulbs, although tasty were rather small, which might indicate soil quality.


I planted dill, parsley, and basil (which my sister gave me from seeds grown in May in her angry_15_tnsindoor greenhouse). They struggled up a few inches in June but disappeared when hubby thought they were weeds and chopped them out with a hoe. I don’t need to tell you how the conversation went about that incident. The neighbours had to shut their windows.


Just about ready to pick in late August, in fact, one might not live on the vine by the end of today.  I was sure I bought red peppers too, but I don’t see a sign of them, although given time, the green ones may turn red and perhaps I didn’t buy green ones at all. Lesson: write down exactly what you buy to avoid confusion later.


Only one of my nephew’s from-seed heirloom tomato plants made it, and they are my first harvest this week (photographed above). I planted cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and beefsteak tomatoes, too – and in hindsight, they were too close together.

Photo The Geek's Garden
Photo The Geek’s Garden

They quickly overwhelmed their wire cages and have since been tied to the fence for support. This would have been okay if my husband hadn’t decided we needed more tomatoes and planted 2 more varieties close by. When they are 3″ high, you can’t imagine your luck at having so many plants survive in a strangled mass, fighting for sunshine. I don’t need to tell you how the conversation went about the extra tomato plants. All sorts of sarcastic shots like, “When were you a farmer?”



Success. In May, I doled out the fragile seeds about 2 cm from the surface. I was sure the rainstorm the next day had scattered the seeds. But sweet nature delivered a lovely row of green onions that lasted for 2 weeks of August harvesting. I chopped them into just about everything but desserts.


My green-thumb sister gave me swiss chard seeds. I carefully laid the seeds in a row, worrying again about the deluge of rain that came the next day. For a few weeks, I watched a tipsy row of plants rise up, and finally bloom into orange flowers! To my sister’s credit, there were actually two swiss chard plants among the mix up of flowers seeds.  I culled them and chopped dark green leaves into the frying pan, or steam basket, as an extra vegetable. Hubby wanted to tear out the flowers — but I liked them. They’ve been blooming for weeks and make a simple table bouquet.


In May I purchased 9 slim bamboo poles, forming 3 triangle structures for the beans to Rabbit-grow up. It was thrilling when the beans I’d planted around the bottom of the poles sprouted about 3 – 4 inches. The next day, I found them nibbled down to zilch. I’ve never seen a rabbit in our neighbourhood, but there is at least one. The triangular stark bamboo structures look very nice beside the orange flowers. I don’t need to tell you how the conversation went when I defended the aesthetics to my hubby.

I can see we’re going to have peppers and tomatoes for weeks, which is satisfying enough for our first attempt with vegetables. We learned a few gardening principles by making mistakes.

More Suburban Warfare

The Lawn

The Barbecue

Language Barriers


Reluctant Gardener



The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Book Review

19063I’m late to the game for this 2005 book, The Book Thief, a New York Times #1 Bestseller written by Markus Zusak. It’s a fictional story of a 9-year old girl fostered in a home near Munich, Germany in the late 30s – 1943, a bleak time of food shortages, Nazism, basement bomb shelters, Hitler Youth and Jewish prisoners.  Zusak’s point of view and figurative writing style deserve an investigation.


Zusak chose Death, the collector of souls, as narrator of the story, which at first seemed peculiar to me. But the perspective grew on me. He explains in the notes at the end of the book.

Here’s a book set during war. Everyone says war and death are best friends.

Death is ever-present during war. Zusak portrayed Death as exhausted by its eternal existence and endless collection of souls. It was afraid of humans – because it has seen the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and it tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a 9-year old girl, to prove that humans are actually worth it.

Example of Death’s POV: an early encounter with Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster-father in the heat of battle in WW I

The first time we were in the vicinity of each other, Hans was twenty-two years old, fighting in France. The majority of young men in his platoon were eager to fight. Hans wasn’t so sure. I had taken a few of them along the way, but you could say I never even came close to touching Hans Hubermann. He was either too lucky, or he deserved to live, or there was a good reason for him to live. In the army, he didn’t stick out at either end. He ran in the middle, climbed in the middle, and he could shoot straight enough so as not to affront his superiors. Nor did he excel enough to be one of the first chosen to run straight to me.


I hope that readers of any age will seen another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives (at the risk of their own). I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else there’s another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later. Those were the pockets I was interested in.

Example of Perspective: Liesel’s foster-father, Hans Hubermann comforts a Jewish prisoner on a march through their town

It happened so quickly.

The hand that held firmly to Liesel’s let it drop to her side as the man came struggling by. … Papa reached into his paint cart and pulled something out. He made his way through the people, onto the road.

The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic.

When it changed hands, the Jew slid down. He fell to his knees and held Papa’s shins. He buried his face between them and thanked him. …

Wading through a soldier was soon on the scene of the crime. He studied the kneeling man and Papa, and looked at the crowd. … The Jew was whipped six times. On his back, his head, and his legs. “You filth! You swine!” …

Then is was Papa’s turn. … The sound sickened her and she expected cracks to appear on her papa’s body. He was struck four times before he, too, hit the ground. … Only as they walked away did they notice the bread sitting rejected on the street. 

Figurative Language

I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing – that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around.

Examples of Figurative Language:

Liesel’s Reaction to losing her mother’s client:

She was suddenly aware of how empty her feet felt inside her shoes. Something ridiculed her throat. She trembled. When finally she reached out and took possession of the letter, she noticed the sound of the clock in the library. Grimly, she realized that clocks don’t make a sound that even remotely resembles ticking, tocking. It was the sound of a hammer, upside down, hacking methodically at the earth. It was the sound of a grave. If only mine was ready now she thought – because Liesel Meminger, at that moment, wanted to die.

Papa playing the accordion:

Papa’s bread and jam would be half eaten on his plate, curled into the shape of bite marks, and the music would look Liesel in the face. I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it felt to her. Papa’s right hand strolled the tooth-coloured keys. His left hit the buttons. (She especially loved to see him hit the silver, sparkled button – the C major.) The accordion’s scratched yet shiny black exterior came back and forth as his arms squeezed the dusty bellows, making it suck in the air and throw it back out. In the kitchen on those mornings, Papa made the accordion live. I guess it makes sense, when you really think about it.

How do we tell if something’s alive?

You check for breathing.

Liesel recognizing her Jewish friend in a parade of prisoners:

From the inside, the stream of Jews was a murky disaster of arms and legs. Ragged uniforms. No soldier had seen her yet, and Max gave her a warning. “You have to let go of me, Liesel.” He even tried to push her away, but the girl was too strong. Max’s starving arms could not sway her, and she walked on, between the filth, the hunger and confusion.

After a long line of steps, the first soldier noticed.

“Hey!” he called in. He pointed with his whip. “Hey, girl, what are you doing? Get out of there.”

When she ignored him completely, the soldier used his arm to separate the stickiness of people. He shoved them aside and made his way through. He loomed above her as Liesel struggled on and noticed the strangled expression on Max Vandenburg’s face. She had seen him afraid, but never like this.

The soldier took her.

His hands manhandled her clothes. She could feel the bones in his fingers and the ball of each knuckle. They tore at her skin. “I said get out!” he ordered her, and now he dragged the girl to the side and flung her into the wall of on looking Germans. It was getting warmer. The sun burned her face. The girl had landed sprawling with pain, but now she stood again. She recovered and waited. She reentered.

This time Liesel made her way through from the back.

Ahead, she could just see the distinct twigs of hair and walked again toward them. This time she did not reach out – she stopped. … He stood absolutely still as the others swerved morosely around him, leaving him completely alone. His eyes staggered, and it was so simple. … Hot tears fought for room in her eyes as she would not let them out. Better to stand resolute and proud. … He did not drop to his knees. People and Jews and clouds all stopped. They watched.

As he stood, Max looked first at the girl and then stared directly into the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent. There were heavy beams – planks of sun – falling randomly, wonderfully to the road. Clouds arched their backs to look behind as they started again to move on. “It’s such a beautiful day,” he said, and his voice was in many pieces. A great day to die. A great day to die, like this. … Standing, he was whipped.

Author Flannery O’Conner Home in Georgia

With friends in Georgia, USA, I day-tripped to historic Milledgeville (Georgia’s state capital from 1804 – 1868).

I discovered the lovely summer-house of the American Southern Gothic author, Flannery O’Connor. Current residents living in the summer-house put up with gawking tourists, and photographers–capturing what? the place that fuelled Ms. O’Connor’s creativity?

The side gate to Flannery O'Connor's summer-house in Milledgeville, Georgia
The side gate to Flannery O’Connor’s summer-house in Milledgeville, Georgia

The front of author Flannery O'Connor's summer-house in Milledgeville, Georgia
The front of author Flannery O’Connor’s summer-house in Milledgeville, Georgia

Living Underground on Flannery's grave
Living Underground on Flannery’s grave

I had my friend Ruth Walker’s first novel, Living Underground, with me so I sneaked up the brick steps to lean it on a pillar, and took a picture. Can I be forgiven for further stepping up to the door and touching the doorknob for good luck, vaguely hoping Flannery’s inspired writing would rub off on me from the worn brass knob?

Ms. O’Connor lived from 1925 – 1964, dying in Milledgeville. When I drove to the 7,800-grave cemetery that shows early slave graves, Civil War burials and family plots squared off within ornamental iron fences, I located her grave. Strangely, the grave attracts penny-tossing well-wishers (for luck? like me touching the doorknob?), rosary beads, and in a bizarre twist, my friend’s book.

Maeve Hughes, Prize-winning Botanical Artist

58812_10152235552110570_1829198437_nThe Botanical Artists of Canada awarded Maeve Hughes (my sister) the Juror’s Choice for Proficiency in Colour Pencil on Nov 3, 2012 at The Papermill Gallery in historic Todmorden Mills, Toronto. Acceptable mediums included watercolour, graphite, colour pencil, oil, acrylic, mixed media, water-based media, scratchboard, ink and pastel. To Maeve’s delight, all three of her entries passed first round qualifications, allowing her into the juried exhibition. Of 80 finalists on display, her entry, Rosehip, won one of nine prizes.

Artistic all her life, Maeve’s interest in the unique disciplines of Botanical Art began only two years ago. Botanical illustration combines both science and aesthetics, portraying plants with precision and a level of detail recognized and distinguished from another species.

Todmorden Mills has a long history in East York, Toronto. Now a beautifully renovated gallery and theatre, the much beloved landmark is recognizable by its tall smokestack beside the Don Valley Parkway. In attendance, a large and enthusiastic patronage enjoyed well-defined, precise botanical images.

Maeve’s award is well deserved. Opportunities to compete with peers is a great motivator. Being singled out among your peers is a great accomplishment. Congratulations Maeve.

Funny, Funny Sonia Day

I’m taking baby steps for planting a little vegetable patch in the spring.

Years ago when I lived in the country for three years, every quirky thing about old houses and living in the country, author Sonia Day experienced, too (except she had trespassers growing marijuana in the woods). But somehow when Sonia writes about it, it’s funnier. I wasn’t as philosophical about finding mouse droppings in my cutlery drawer as Sonia was about tolerating squirrels in her walls.

Sonia Day's memoir Middle-Aged Spread - Moving to the Country at 50.
Sonia Day’s memoir Middle-Aged Spread – Moving to the Country at 50.

Sonia’s gardening column, The Real Dirt, appears every Saturday in the Living section of The Toronto Star Newspaper. I met her last week when she was a guest speaker at the Markham Gardening Club meeting.

Sonia is funny–in a self-deprecating I’ve-got-a-secret brand of humour. She admits that as a girl, she had aspirations of becoming an actress. For us, she hams up her reading from her book with minor costume changes. I knew I was going to enjoy her writing when she likens buying real estate to sex:

Get to the fifty mark and those two little words, real estate (and especially country real estate) take on an irresistible ring. They become the most seductive words on the planet. In fact, often as not when you’ve achieved a certain maturity, at least in years, the prospect of a fling with real estate is like sex. Only better. You get all the same ingredients–the same lustful glances, the same thrill of discovery, the same need to compete with others who have more to offer than you do, the same agonies of rejection, the same orgasmic bliss of fulfillment if you get lucky in the end–yet there’s no need to take your clothes off.

Underlying the humourous descriptions of the characters she meets in the country, and the events that thwart Sonia’s plans to plant whatever she wants in her garden, she soon learns that the locals are a wealth of common sense ideas about planting, that there is good reason for hunting, that dependable neighbours are a blessing, that nature is utterly mesmerizing when it’s not choking you with bindweeds, or eating the leaves off your baby plants, or scurrying in your house walls, or digging holes in the banks of your pond, or …

Sonia is a polar opposite to gardening snobs she calls hoity horts, or tree-huggers she calls eco-evangelists. The country has taught her lessons: plant  for the conditions, prepare for nature’s unpleasant invasions and give way in degrees, appreciate your neighbours and take their advice, get a cat (or four), enjoy the beauty and adventure of each season, look up at the stars, listen to the coyotes howl. Sonia admits that she and nature are an imperfect twosome at times. She has responded by planting beautiful floral and vegetable gardens that thrive. She won’t waste her time and resources on bending the rules.

It is Sonia who gives me a garlic bulb from her garden. It’s my singular act of gardening before winter. Split the buds off the bulb and plant them in the soil. I don’t know if this will be a success until spring. (Update Spring/Summer 2013 – success!)

Sonia’s Books:

The Untamed Garden. A revealing look at our love affair with plants.

Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City Praised as “a clever take on the vegetable gardening craze” by the Washington Post. Won Silver at the Canadian Cookbook Awards.

Highlights: lovely colour pictures by Barrie Murdock on every page. Easy to read advice about veggies, herbs, and fruit that you can grow in the city. Also exciting recipes. Everything from Mojito mint to container-friendly tomatoes. All personally tested by Sonia.

Middle-Aged Spread, Moving to the Country at 50, a humorous memoir. Sonia buys, on impulse, a ramshackle homestead in the country–and discovers a brand new life plus a host of quirky characters.

The Urban Gardener: How to grow things successfully on balconies, terraces, decks, and rooftops.

The Urban Gardener Indoors: How to grow things successfully in your house, apartment or condo.

The Complete Urban Gardener: How to grow things successfully indoors and out. Combines both the above books.

The Plant Doctor: A practical guide to having a healthy garden

Tulips: Facts and folklore about the world’s most planted flower

Suburban Warfare: Reluctant Gardener

garden-toolI  avoid my garden, doing the bare minimum so neighbours don’t call the garden police. I hang baskets, plant a few bulbs – but real gardening – where you peel back the grass, dig out the clay, order a mountain of sterilized top soil and create perfect floral beds – not so much.

In August I hired muscular men from Ashford Contracting Group to lay stonework at the front of the house. They stoned over the tawdry garden patch by the front porch, laid a curved stone walkway and bordered it with a privet hedge. No more half-baked annuals for me.

Our home builder had plunked a large rock on the front lawn. It was a great launch pad for the grandkids, but frankly looked like a festering attraction for all the dogs in the neighbourhood. The landscapers dug it down into the soil and carved a garden around it. From a neglected corner in the backyard I transplanted a Hosta my neighbour gave me, a Euonymus from a housewarming gift and a Calla Lily from the grandkids. I  encircled the rock. You can see I avoid nurseries, or planning, other than spur-of-moment-this-will-do-that-was-easy.

The landscapers peeled back the sod from a 5 ft x 20 ft area in the backyard. They removed the clay, mashed in some good stuff, bordered it with the bricks I’d saved from the wobbly surrounds of the tawdry front garden, and left. My plan is to grow vegetables next year.

household-15Yes. I will be a mini-farmer, down to rubber boots and cracked hands. And this time I have a plan. I joined the Markham Garden Club. I could have joined my hometown Stouffville Garden Club, but if I fail, I don’t want them peeking into my yard and sniffing at my defeat. (That’s not true. I joined Markham because my sister will go there with me and I need all the help I can get.) I also subscribed to a magazine called Urban Farm. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? A magazine for postage sized plots and a few veggies? What next? Chickens?

It baffles me that I suffer from garden-avoidance. I come from a gardening family. I ate out of garden plots at home and cottage for my entire youth, and when the raspberries ripened we ate off my grandparent’s garden too. My oldest sister inherited a heritage garden with her heritage house in southern Ontario. It would be a sacrilege if she neglected to appreciate centuries-old roses and goodness-knows-what-else the entire town feels needs preserving. My other sister is a botanical artist and an avid gardener. She has grow lights and hands me things that I quickly kill. My daughter (who grew up watching her mother avoid gardening) has the family green thumb. There’s always something interesting growing out of glass jars and pots on her window sills. The flowers in her outdoor gardens are a wonder to behold.

The universe is sending me a message, however. At last week’s gardening club meeting, I bought the guest speaker’s book. She gifted me a homegrown garlic bud, which I learned I can plant in my garden now for next year. Wow. I’m starting with garlic. And if that wasn’t enough, I won a honking great bag of tulip bulbs as a raffle prize. How can I ignore the signs? I’ll keep you posted.

angry_15_tnsUpdate Summer 2014 – Garlic a success in 2013. Tulips a success in 2013. Hubby raked out the tulip bulbs in the fall and no tulips for spring 2014

Alissa York and Terry Fallis

I attended Writers’ Community of Durham Region and Writers’ Community of York Region meetings and listened to two exceptional Canadian writers speak about their process.

Author Alissa York
Author Alissa York

ALISSA YORK published bestselling novels, Fauna (shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award), Effigy (shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize) and Mercy; stories from her short fiction collection Any Given Power have won both the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. She is 2013 (Feb – May) Writer in Residence for the Toronto Library.

“Receptivity” was her topic for the WCDR meeting. Many people ask Alissa where she gets her ideas for her novels. Beyond the obvious – newspapers, popular culture – she is open to and welcomes new ideas outside of her knowledge, figures out what she must do to expand on them, and finds the courage to go forward to learn what she needs to know from various sources. She keeps a detailed filing system for her notes (and warns to beware the rabbit hole of research), writes scenes and arranges them by character, writes them on index cards, writes from each character’s point of view, cuts them up and puts them on the floor to arrange into a story. By dissecting her current book, Fauna, Alissa invited us into characters’ attributes and what forces affect their lives before she writes her story.

Author Terry Fallis
Author Terry Fallis

TERRY FALLIS  guest speaker at WCYR and author of The Best Laid Plans and its sequel, The High Road, satirical novels of Canadian politics. His first novel, originally self-published 2007 won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. McClelland and Stewart published it in September 2008. The book won the Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Regional Fiction – Canada East category. In 2010, the Waterloo Region chose The Best Laid Plans as winner of the One Book-One Community. In February, 2011, The Best Laid Plans was winner of CBC Canada Reads as the essential Canadian Novel of the Decade. A six-part mini-series based on the book will appear on CBC-Television.

The High Road was a finalist for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, 2011. Up and Down, Terry’s third novel appears in September 2012.

Terry’s self-deprecating humour about his naivety as an emerging writer (after a political career and current Public Relations business) is always appreciated on author tours. We’ve all been where Terry was: emotionally uncertain, dashed and hopeful on the road to becoming a writer. But under the humour is a serious writer. He makes it clear that his process is methodical start to finish. He likes to make fun of his logical and boring engineer’s mind, not given to skipping around on the page. He plots carefully in a notebook before he works on a manuscript. From the time of writing his first novel to his current novel, Terry continues an unusual marketing tool, podcasting his stories in instalments from his website. He believes podcasting contributes to his success.

Both writers are funny, relaxed, knowledgeable and approachable. The meetings are a great way to connect with successful writers who are happy to share their process and encourage writers.

Memories of Earlier Days

After 2 or 3  hours meandering Costco’s busy aisles this morning, I relaxed on my back deck to read the literary magazine Geist: Fact and Fiction, Summer 2012.

A few sentences on page 22 from Claudia Cornwall’s essay titled, That Beautifully Unworldly, Reasonless Rampaging of My Old Self, resonated with me about my complex memories of summers at Washburn Island.

In Cornwall’s story, Curt Lang kept a diary of a one-year European adventure with three equally penniless friends in 1955. When in London on a slightly rainy and somber day in March 1956, he noted:

The past is always so alive. It encroaches like a green tide on every hour and day, breeding a sadness in everything. A summer sun reminds me of lost summer suns, the rain of misspent days.

And two days later he writes:

All the usual discontents and doubts banging around inside.

Curt Lang’s imagery elicits a strong emotional connection with me, something I could not have identified at the same age, but felt.

Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat, Kawartha Region, Ontario

Mary McIntyre

Let’s get IMAGERY out of the way first, the focus of instruction at Kawartha Region Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat, Sandy Lake.

goat_1_mthImagery is the use of one or more of your senses (hearing, taste, touch, smell, sight), a word or phrase to stimulate a positive or negative memory of those senses, which contributes to the mood of the piece you are writing. It’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Example: as cantankerous as an old goat

7584387042_4185839de11Eight writers  at Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat: (left) Mary M, Mary W, Allyson, Linda, Gina, Janet, Sylvia, Christine & Rick (photo by Christine Barbetta)

The attendees had participated in one or two of Allyson Latta’s former Chilean Writers’ RetreatCosta Rican Writers’ Retreat, and Arizona Writers’ Retreat

img_4488VIP Host: Janet Markham, arranged 8 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 12 meals, answered hundreds of questions, hauled out kayaks, canoes, paddle-boats & life jackets, removed the hot-tub cover (aah), lugged gallons of drinking water to the kitchen cooler, chauffeured us to two galleries and kept up with writing exercises, all with quiet grace.

Only Male: Former Costa Rican attendee and writer, Rick, attended for only one afternoon and evening. Brave guy and a great addition.

Now for the FUN (which started with Christine picking me up at my house on Monday morning and ended when she dropped me off again Friday afternoon).

7585147466_ccc7dff42e1You can’t bring together 8 women for 5 days without expecting silliness and irreverence. Fortunately, Ms. Latta called us to order now and again. We’d free-write based on her lessons about imagery and the exercises that followed, sincerely trying to complete the assignments before 5:00 pm, the designated cocktail hour. It was a tough job to write exercises when soft breezes swayed the lounge swing where I stretched out overlooking the beautiful lake view.

img_46641At night, after mosquitoes chased us inside, Allyson conducted a reading salon. Each person read aloud based on the day’s lesson. The group offered a gentle critique (with lots of laughter). By 11:00 pm, yawning started, probably from over-exposure to sun, swimming, paddle-boating, sightseeing and, of course, brain-baffling writing exercises before the wine bar opened.


Allyson invited author, Michelle Berry to speak for an afternoon session. Michelle’s bubbly, forthright manner when talking about her writing experiences offered the group an insider’s perspective on the craft of writing, attaining an agent and the current state of the publishing industry in Canada.

Michelle Berry Books: How to Get There  from HereMargaret Lives in the Basement, I Still Don’t Even Know You (which won the 2011 Mary Scorer Award for Best Book Published by a Manitoba Publisher and shortlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011), as well as four novels, What We All Want; Blur, Blind Crescent; This Book Will Not Save Your Life (which won the 2010 Colophon Award and longlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011).

  1. More Literary Accomplishments: Her writing has been optioned for film and published in the U.K. She is also co-editor with Natalee Caple of The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers, and has collaborated on an art book with Winnipeg artist, Andrew Valko, called, Postcard Fictions.
  2. Credentials: Taught creative writing at Ryerson University, Humber College and Trent University, was on the board of PEN Canada and the authors’ committee of the Writer’s Trust and served as Second Vice-Chair of The Writer’s Union. She presently teaches online for The University of Toronto/New York Times, and is a mentor at Humber College. She is a reviewer for The Globe and Mail.

img_4545Over five days I grew to admire each group member. They brought unique sets of life and writing skills to the table, as well as an infectious enthusiasm for books and the reading salon. Janet’s home away from the city was big enough for everyone to have a bedroom to herself. That personal freedom encouraged book sharing before lights-out, often triggering early morning book reviews over coffee on the deck.

The  Sandy Lake property had many nooks for solitude when writing: the dock, the lounge swing, the Muskoka chairs, the hammock, the beach zone, the covered veranda …

img_4651Wildlife floated to our waterway. Loons and varieties of ducks and birds visited regularly. Nightly sunsets climaxed with spectacular light shows we photographed in spite of the mosquitoes. Two mornings I arose early for a solitary yoga routine on the dock, the opposite shore mirrored in glassy waters.

Allyson offered private one-on-one consults for a piece of writing submitted before the retreat. The half-hour together, seated beside the garden, discussing the weaknesses and strengths of our writing was invaluable. I came away with a new slant for my memoir, which has faltered without this guidance.

img_4768Turquoise Waters is my third writers’ retreat with facilitator Allyson Latta. And Allyson was my first memoir writing teacher through Ryerson’s Seniors’ Online Course — I stayed for three more sessions. I’ve participated in two of her workshops as well. There’s a good reason for my loyalty. She not only knows her “stuff,” but she has a knack for bringing out the best in everyone she teaches. I’ve met many outstanding people through my relationship with her, and the members of my writers’ group, Life Writers Ink, are alumni of Allyson’s Ryerson Workshops.

I am richer for this shared experience. Allyson and Janet intend to conduct another workshop next summer. I can’t wait.

Update July 2019: Our group celebrates their eighth retreat at Sandy Lake with Allyson Latta and Janet Markham.


Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake Review


Published Review Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake in Stouffville Tribune Newspaper. (Sadly, no credit to the online link of version credited to me in the newspaper.)

Markham Little Theatre players (and all little theatre players) deserve accolades for their devotion to great productions for no personal monetary gain, simply the joy of performing.

Knocked out by the professionalism of local playwright Neil A. Marrs’ second play (his first play P. S. Uncle Angus won Best Production for a Drama in 2011), I wrote a review for Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake that appears in The Stouffville Sun Tribune.

Players memorize, rehearse and deliver lines and hold down day jobs, too. A small army of behind-the-scenes volunteers construct sets, promote and sell tickets, create costumes, decorate sets, manage box-office, and more.

Give yourself a treat. Visit Stouffville’s Lebovic Centre for Performing Arts and Entertainment, located in the heart of Stouffville on Main Street behind the clock tower.

Markham Little Theatre is a not-for-profit organization, a registered charity and all-volunteer community theatre group, active since 1966.



Finalist for Whispered Words Anthology

img_33461Whispered Words, third in a series of  Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s annual prose contests received 220 international entrants.

I entered two stories in the Whispered Words contest: one humourous titled, Whisper Road, one serious titled Kidnapped; both as finalists and Kidnapped appears in the anthology.

Launch: Each spring a 3-person organizing committee (WCDR members: Ruth E. Walker, Theresa Dekker, and Heather O’Connor) launch the short story contest. For a $20 fee, writers submit 1,000 words for the opportunity to win $1,000, or two lesser money prizes, or honourable mentions, feedback on their writing skills and inclusion in a published anthology.

Behind the Scenes: For months each submission advances through the scrutiny of first level judging, which selects twenty-five finalists for the top-tier judging professionals’ consideration. All entrants receive feedback on their stories. The top twenty-plus stories appear in an anthology published by Piquant Press. This year the esteemed judge assessing the winning and honourable mentions was author Antanas Sileika, director of the Humber School for Writers.

Author Deepam Wadds
Author Deepam Wadds

And the winner is … Deepam Wadds. Her winning entry titled, What’s Left, received comments from Judge Anatans Sileika. This heartbreaking story of loss is written with restraint and intelligence and contains within it a kind of mathematical puzzle that one is tempted to decipher, although that may not be possible. Utterly devoid of sentimentality, the story invited the reader to put herself in the position of the narrator and imagine the strangeness of loss and character transformation that a physical affliction might cause.

Deepam’s first novel, The Cost of Weather, is being considered by Penguin Books, and she is currently writing a memoir. 2nd PlaceBlair Bourassa (currently teaching writing classes at a medical college in Saudi Arabia) with his story titled, A Dream on Fire. 3rd Place: Janet Hinton (a playwright and former teacher in a West African girls’ boarding school) with her story titled, Vigil for Mrs. P. Honourable Mention: Lisa-Marie Brunnen (Calgary, Alberta) for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and  Barbara Baker (Alberta) for No Way.

Artist/Illustrator Carol Pike
Artist/Illustrator Carol Pike

The fun part … The organizing committee arranged the anthology launch at Ajax Ontario’s Azian Cuisine Restaurant. It was a celebration for writers, an opportunity to listen to the winning writers read their stories at the mic, and a chance to greet, and thank, hard-working organizers, publishers and other writers for their contributions. Among the guests was artist/illustrator Carol Pike who won the book cover design contest (and $150). Our band of authors felt pleased to have author W. F. Lantry attend. He and his wife and son drove from Maryland to join us. I hope the couple’s six-year-old boy enjoyed his visit to Niagara Falls the day after the launch.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.


Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Book Review

0887627412At the Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 5, 2012, each attendee received a tote bag and 4 current books, arranged by Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Books.

I received Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I’d recently read her first novel The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004). She waited a long time before bringing out her award-winning second novel, and it is worth the wait. She perfected her storytelling skills in the intervening years.

Berlin. Paris. Jazz. Race. Blues. Louis Armstrong. Nazis. Musicians. Booze. Women. Respect.

The book was on my To Read list since it won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Fiction, was finalist for Governor General’s Literary Awards, finalist for Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, finalist for Man Booker Prize, longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and finalist for Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

The industry buzz around this book is remarkable. If you’re looking for a unique reading experience, where voice is consistent from front to back, this is the book for you. Edugyan switches her story between the early 90s to pre-WWII Germany and the Paris occupation.

Ontario Writers’ Conference, 2012

1086260419Did you seem them? The red high heels? The pretty woman with the slim ankles? I did, although I went to the 2012 Ontario Writers’ Conference to absorb writerly things like meet writers, authors and publishers. I can’t forget the red shoes. I had red high heels about 25 years ago, tiny silver studs dotted 4″ stilts, and  pointy toes. Nice memory: but May 5, I wore solid black leather comfy shoes with air-cushioned rubber soles and raised instep. You see it all at the OWC.

Sherry Hinman opened the day-long writers’ conference at Pickering’s Deer Creek Golf Club at 9:00 am, acknowledging a team of dedicated volunteers you can find here. Kudos to everyone for running the conference like a well-oiled steampunk gadget.

  1. Barbara Hunt–  Co-chair & Programming
  2. Sherry Hinman–  Co-chair & Treasurer
  3. Kevin Craig–  Registration & Festival of Authors Coordinator
  4. Deborah Rankine–  Venue Coordinator
  5. Janet Boccone–  Printed Materials & Blog
  6. Sandra Clarke–  Logistics Coordinator
  7. Cynthia Englert–  Sponsorship & Volunteer Coordinator
  8. Cathy Minz –  Website Liaison & PR
  9. Anne MacLachlan –  Secretary

Author Caroline Wissing
Author Caroline Wissing

What better way to encourage emerging writers than to feature the accomplishments of author Caroline Wissing, who read from her debut novel Voiceless. It takes courage to read to a conference room filled with authors, writers, readers, agents, publishers and women wearing red high heeled shoes.

Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema
Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema

Popular teacher Gwynn Scheltema facilitated my morning workshop, The Art of Pacing. Gwynn hides powerful messages behind a relaxed teaching style that focuses without fanfare. She leads a logical progression to reveal techniques that editors look for in assessing manuscripts. Hands-on exercises helped to implant (imprint?) the concepts (and had me wondering if my manuscript has a saggy middle.)

Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good
Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good

Co-chair Barbara Hunt introduced Plenary Session speakers Cynthia Good, founder of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, and Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-publishing and Author Relations at Kobo Inc. The topic Storytelling 360: Storytelling in a Digital Age helped us wade through the complexities of modern publishing and the impact of technology. Publishers have been reacting to change for years, and in most cases, forging ahead to accommodate the media choices authors face today. Here are a few buzz words: post a chapter, partner publishing, trans-media, interactive websites, apps, games, digital storytelling, ebooks/ereaders, feed subscriptions, Twitter, GPS location-based, Kobo, gamification. Be prepared for mesmerizing software and technologies that will require refining for the groundswell of transitions in the future.

Guest speaker, publisher, and editor Douglas Gibson entertained with Stories of the Storytellers. In a long publishing industry career, Gibson hobnobbed and duked out editing decisions with some of Canada’s best-known authors. From a collage of author caricatures, audience members yelled out favourite names, triggering Gibson to tell amusing insider stories that reflected on the author as only an insider relationship and trust would allow. Gibson was the man in the room (and the fly on the wall).

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is Canada’s most distinguished literary prize, awarding $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. The award was established in 1994 by Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a former literary editor for the Toronto Star newspaper. OWC presented the Cornerstone Award to Jack Rabinovitch (accepted by his daughter in his stead).

Musician George Craig
Musician George Craig

This is the moment I first spotted the red high heels. I crouched to take a photo of guitarist George Craig, brother of author and poet Kevin Craig. George sang Block Buster, a song with music and lyrics written by author Adele Simmons. The girl in the red high heels turned her legs to reveal the flashy glitter and tiny painted toes peeking out. I refocused on George who next sang Word by Word, his musical composition with lyrics provided by Kevin Craig. The musical interlude was a thoughtful reminder of the crossover between exceptional musical talent and poetic writing.

I attended the afternoon workshop How Absurdity, Magical Realism and Steampunk Can Change Your Writing Life facilitated by author and actress Adrienne Kress. Did you know that absurdity is the conflict between meaning and life (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams); that magical realism is where the inexplicable isn’t explained (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez); and steampunk is techno fantasy where technology has no plausiblilty (The League of Extraordiary Gentlemen by Alan  Moore)? Me neither. But I think red high heeled shoes can be absurdist or magical realism, but not steampunk.

Facilitator Adrienne Kerr addressed Thriving in a Changing Market in my second-afternoon workshop. Proof of changing times:  typewriters are no longer manufactured and the Britannia Encyclopedia is now available only in digital form. There is a sea change in how readers source content, and in today’s market we behave by using all forms of genre and technology to meet our needs. We have to question if new trends make us lazy, or overstimulated, or set up too-high expectations. Will print on demand explode? Is it self-serving? Will publishers become obsolete? Are editors, fact-checkers and designers essential for quality?

Author, Teacher Wayson Choy
Author, Teacher Wayson Choy

As patron, and closing speaker of OWC, Wayson Choy challenged writers to bring clarity to their work, and to look for a place for their writing. Focus and commit this year. Buy and study The Writers’ Market. So enchanted were we with his gentle voice.

I watched the red high heels leave the room. I hope the shoes walked the girl to a higher literary purpose.

Ontario Writers’ Conference Festival of Authors

overviewFestival of Authors banquet room at Pickering’s Al Dente Restaurant buzzed with authors, writers, and readers at the kick-off event for the 5th Annual Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 4, 2012.

Authors’ read from their books after a mix-and-mingle with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Books made available from Shelley MacBeth, of Blue Heron Books.

Shelly MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers' Conference
Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers’ Conference






MC for the weekend event is Durham Region Improv Artist, lively  Stephanie Herrara from Durham Improv, which offers workshops, fund-raising and corporate events.


Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett
Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett was the first reader, introducing five poems from his book of poems, Civil and Civic. Two other books are Entitlement and After Battersea Park. How amusing to hear how Jonathan and a writer friend challenge each other to write about things that at first glance appear unpoetical, stretching their skills with the mischievous competition.


Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace
Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace

Eva Stachniak read from her book The Winter PalaceI recently read Eva’s book of Russia’s Catherine the Great and her court intrigues. It was a treat to listen to the author’s voice in the reading.

I had to leave the event before authors Marina Nemat and Brad Smith gave their readings. However, I did attend an author event with Marina Nemat after the success of her book Prisoner of Tehran. She has since followed up with After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed. Brad Smith’s success with his books All Hat, One-Eyed Jacks, Busted Flush, Big Man Coming Down Road & Red Means Run gives me a list of reads for my growing Must Read file.

Volunteer committee members for the Ontario Writer’s Conference spend a year pulling together endless details to present a professional event for writers. The more I attend writing events, the more my knowledge about the discipline of writing expands. Relationships with fellow writers grow stronger with each reunion. My appreciation of OWC volunteers deepens. I’ll follow-up this post with my day, May 5 at the Ontario Writers’ Conference at Deer Creek Golf Club in Pickering.

The Occupied Garden by Kristen den Hartog – Book Review

img_1793Twice in four years Kristen den Hartog turned up in my life with timely messages about writing memoir.

Our first meeting was 2008, Kristen as guest speaker for Allyson Latta’s Memoir Short Story Awards Night and Alzheimer’s Fundraiser in Unionville, Ontario. Although before that time Kristen considered herself a fiction writer, she and her sister, Tracy Kasaboski, collaborated to write and publish an acclaimed family memoir The Occupied Garden. The story chronicles the emotional events affecting their paternal family under Nazi occupation in Holland during WW II. Kristen’s message in 2008, as was her message April 15, 2012, as guest speaker for the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR), is that detailed research will take up a lot of your early time with writing a book.

Memoir writers have a sense of family myth gleaned from passed down tales, retold to either strengthen or dilute judgments. For Kristen and Tracy, with little concrete information other than a handful of memories from their father and his siblings, the research process revealed a depth they didn’t believe existed before their curious journey into truth. The two women committed to writing only events that actually happened, although within the telling, they used a perhapsing technique to help the reader sort through hazy details, or project the likely reactions of the people involved with the events. Knowing the myths helped pinpoint the likely behaviours within situations their parents and grandparents experienced.

The sisters currently collaborate to write a second family memoir, but this time the WW I era, to include their maternal grandparents in England. When first considering a collaboration on a book, Kristen doubted her ability to switch from fiction to memoir. But once embraced, she found the process challenging and rewarding at the same time. She and her sister research and write by email, as they live far apart. Sharing the burden of research and the joyous eureka moments of discovery is fulfilling for them.

From Kristen I learned that involving interested family members in the writing process might be helpful to me as well. I haven’t shared much of my writing with my family because I don’t want to influence their memories of our post WW II decade, the era for my story. But I’m the youngest daughter of three, and more and more I feel I need my older sisters’ collaboration for shared memories, story direction and separating lore from truth.

Kristen was born in Deep River, Ontario: a town small enough to know your neighbours, shop at businesses on Main Street, worship at one of the denominational churches, belong to the community library and go to the only movie house. Her observations mirror some of my own while growing up in the Cliffside area of Scarborough, which in the 1950s was one of many separate neighbourhoods springing up along Kingston Road east of Toronto. Settings for Kristen’s books often rely on recollections of small town living and the interactions of residents in isolated communities. Tied closely to that theme is the development of family relationships: how we see ourselves in a neighbourhood, how we treat our neighbours, how we hide things from each other within a family, where the disillusions take dangerous turns.

Memorable Moments:

  1. Speaking about memoir, Kristen emphasizes writers don’t always know the true story until they research the threads. Family myth and recollections are often clarified and expanded after digging deeper into the history of events.
  2. Conduct detailed research first, develop the story second, and continue to research as you write. Second drafts are fun if you’ve done your early research well.
  3. To find the most effective point of view to tell a story you sometimes need to break some rules.
  4. Collaboration for family memoir with can be a challenging experience that requires trust and respect for each other’s skills.

and_me_among_them_3Kristen is soft-spoken and diminutive, a stark contrast to the main character in her recent book And Me Among Them. It’s a story of Ruth,  a child born with a genetic disorder that leads to giantism. We follow a family and the disturbing dynamics within a neighbourhood: cruel classmates, a backward doctor and conflict between Ruth’s parents. The parents’ conflict is a strong secondary plot that parallels their inability to protect Ruth as she outgrows her clothes, her shoes, her room and her friendships. Kristen’s chosen point of view breaks the rules, but is so masterfully done, we’re believers.

the-girl-giantKristen is in the unique (and enviable) position of publishing her book, And Me Among Them published in Canada with Freehand Books, and the same book published in the US titled The Giant Girl by Simon & Schuster. When asked if different covers and titles will cause confusion for her readership. In gentle Kristen fashion, she smiles and says she believes it is a positive marketing decision and embraces the experience.

Finalist for Story, Life Lesson, CFUW Contest

img_1825Harmless, a short story I wrote about a fear of cows placed as finalist in the Canadian Federation of University Women’s York Region writing contest.

On April 17, 2012, the Aurora/Newmarket Chapter of the CFUW and The Era/The Banner Newspaper (Metroland) hosted a second successful sponsorship of a themed short story writing contest: Life Lessons. This year they expanded their invitation to a include a Youth Category.

President Karen Strype emphasized the CFUW’s commitment to education, social action and friendship through activities and social events. Founded in 1919, the organization is a bilingual, voluntary, non-profit, self-funded, non-governmental organization with 100 clubs across Canada. And membership is for women, and administered by women.

The association has a Canada-wide commitment to:

  • Improve the status of women and girls
  • Promote quality public education
  • Advance the status of women, human rights, justice and peace
  • Active participation in public affairs

Judge/Author Robert Hough, CFUW Pres. Karen Strype, CFUW Comm. Chair Judi Templin
Judge/Author Robert Hough, CFUW Pres. Karen Strype, CFUW Comm. Chair Judi Templin

Offering expertise to the judging process for the Adult Category was journalist and author Robert Hough. To unlock his early writing skills, and the doors to publishing, Robert followed an amusing and convoluted path (although he may not have viewed it as such as it was happening).

Judging for the Youth Category, Author/Illustrator Cheryl Uhrig

Much effort goes into planning and executing a successful writing contest. Kudos to The Era/The Banner Metroland Newspaper representative, Ted McFadden; CFUW members: President Karen Strype; Committee Chair, Judi Templin; Publicity, Catherine Brydon; Judges Coordinators, Jean Fraser and Susan Lennard; Contest Criteria & Rules, Charlotte Owen; Judges: Robert Hough, Cheryl Uhrig, Gail Birkett,  Jay Gutteridge, and 12 other volunteer readers

1st Prize Winner Corrie Adams
1st Prize Winner
Corrie Adams

2nd Prize Winner Christine Barbetta
2nd Prize Winner
Christine Barbetta









3rd Prize Winner David Cook
3rd Prize Winner
David Cook

Winners Youth Category: 1st – Shannon Hamilton, 2nd – Jimmy Zhao, 3rd – Matthew Cook

Finalists: Maggie Brims, Caileigh Glenn, Katherine Grandin, Kaitlin Dupuis, Caitlin Heggie, Rabab Rafique


As a member of the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR), I’m pleased to report that six WCYR members received winning and finalist placements: Christine Barbetta, Isobel Warren, Janis McCallen, Elaine Jackson, Sharon Brooks-Wallace & Mary E. McIntyre

Adult Finalists: (below - not in order): Sharon Brooks-Wallace, Sue Iaboni, Janis McCallen, Mary E. McIntyre, Donna Walton, Dean Gessie, Elaine Jackson, Patricia Montgomery, Wendy Nelson, Isobel Warren
Adult Finalists: (below – not in order): Sharon Brooks-Wallace, Sue Iaboni, Janis McCallen, Mary E. McIntyre, Donna Walton, Dean Gessie, Elaine Jackson, Patricia Montgomery, Wendy Nelson, Isobel Warren

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.





Short Story Success


Blowing my horn (twice).


The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) sponsors an annual short story contest, and this year the topic was Whispered Words. Some of the top 25 semi-finalists’ stories will appear in an anthology this spring. I entered two stories, and both were semi-finalists. One is selected  for the anthology Whispered Words, titled Kidnapped. There were twice as many entrants as the year before, and entries came in worldwide. First place winner (and awarded $1,000) was WCDR member Deepam Wadds.

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) representing Aurora and Newmarket held a short story contest with the topic Life Lessons. The short story I entered titled Harmless received an honourable mention. There will be a reception and awards evening for the winners on April 17, 2012.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.


Synesthesia, My Little Syndrome

k71628321I have synesthesia. Not something to keep me quivering in my house, or shrieking at the sight of spiders. You wouldn’t suspect I have this syndrome. Nothing obvious.

I learned I had it when I attended Toronto Teachers’ College. Mathematics Master, Mr Dick, (yes, we had to call them masters) conducted a quiz with our class to show how numbers relate to words.

images-3For instance, when he prompts with the word twelve, he asks what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most he points to say, “dozen.” He prompts with the number thirteen and some smarty pants says “baker’s dozen,” another says, “unlucky,” and so it went.

He prompted with the word two. Someone said, “couple.” Another said, “pair.” Then he points to me — and I say “yellow.” The gaming spirit in the room fizzles like stale champagne.

Mr. Dick’s eyebrows shoot up.

Why yellow as it relates to two?

I see numbers as colours, I say.

Sniggering ripples around me.

So what if I say five?

That’s red.

I didn’t explain it’s rusty-red, not fire engine red.

So if you add two plus five you get …?

Brown. Seven is brown.

Do the colours change over time?

No. I don’t think so.

images1But after that day, I kept my baffling synesthesia, a secret. I wasn’t sure I could trust it. Did the colours change? I still don’t think so, but I’m going to give it a few more decades.

Eventually I realized that I saw people’s names as colours, too. My sister Maeve is sun-ripened golden wheat, sister Barb is bubbling creek blue, brother Robert is reddish-brown, but his nickname, Bob, is light gold. My mother Vera’s name is an intense blue, but her nickname Viv is like Maeve.

Once, I told a woman named Judy her name appeared to me like the cover of a Moirs chocolate box (black with red details). I felt foolish after that because she and her husband, Jim, (pale blue) tested me a year later.

What brings me to this confession today is the article I read in the Globe and Mail newspaper: Smell a sound? Taste a sight?

Mark Fenske writes: [Synesthesia] … this notion may explain the link between synesthesia and creativity, and why artists and musicians are much more likely to have synesthesia than less creative types. It also runs in families, reflecting a potential genetic component.

I have a mild form of the syndrome. When living, my father’s variation allowed him to see music, which seemed ridiculous to me, a coloured-number-synesthesian. How can you SEE music? But then, how is it I see numbers and names as colours? Mostly I’m not conscious of it. If I take time to break it down, I see colour. This is a friendly syndrome that might be helpful to a writer.

Boomer Rant

Recent baby-boomer-bashings from a Gen-X source convinced me to enter a Word Weaver Newsletter Challenge: to write a 350-word letter to the editor. Chafed by criticism for my generation, I urge Generation X to improve the world many complain Boomers have ruined. To read my rant in the January Issue of Word Weaver, scroll to page 4. And while you’re there, read the entire newsletter. Editor Cathy Minz volunteers her services to make this publication a meaningful forum for writers. The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) sponsors the newsletter.

Screen shot 2016-05-18 at 1.41.21 PM

Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts – Book Review

Membership in two writers’ organizations, WCDR & WCYR has benefits–like learning from published authors. Enviable few make a living by writing. And there are closet writers whose scribbles will never see the light of day. But in the middle are writers who create publishing opportunities, while holding down day jobs.

Meet author Malcolm Watts, one of a handful of founding members that launched the successful Writers’ Community of York Region in September 2011.

Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts

Watts was the 5-minute reader (time designated at each meeting for a selected member to read his/her written work to the group) at the January 2012 WCYR meeting. Malcolm read from his published book, Reflections from Shadow, A Novel.

WCYR encourages published writers to show (and sell) their books at monthly meetings. I talked to Malcolm about his book, his decision in 2004 to self-publish with Trafford Publishing, his choice of cover art, the process of writing, his other books and how publishing has changed in the last decade. After listening to his 5-minute reading I knew I wanted to read Reflections from Shadow. Malcolm’s short reading introduced a likable protagonist, humour, and tension. If all of that happened in 5 minutes, I needed to find out what will happen over 310 pages. I was not disappointed.

img_9209What struck me is Watt’s even pacing and concise language. He’s a master of dialogue, never dragging the reader into tedious setting details, but offering enough to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about time and place.

He transports us through the 1960s and 70s, all in the head of Jared, a troubled and confused child, teen and young man. Showing the reader an orphaned boy’s poor self-image, due to a birth scar on his face and the bullying that comes from it, Watts cautiously introduces us to sexual abuse and a Christian parent’s skewed philosophy that is physical abuse.

These and similar incidents shape Jared and his shameful descent into behaviour that leads to being a runaway. Jared is a loner, confused by troubled recurring dreams Watts hints at. The dreams become meaningful at the climax of the story.

The reader never loses sight of the idea that Jared could be anyone’s son, reacting to a confusing world. What would it have taken to save him from his journey into mental illness and desperation? Read the book to find out.

Goodreads Interview with Malcolm Watts – an excellent revelation about why Malcolm wrote this book, and why it took him 6 years to write about concepts that are worrisome for society today.


Google Books


Published in The Anglican Journal

isThe Anglican Journal accepted my story A Light in the Dark for the December 2011 issue. The journal has inspired the faithful since 1875. It’s the faith I grew up knowing, and although I don’t attend church now, I’m pleased to be a small contributer to its tradition.

I miss my Anglican mother since her death, especially at Christmastime. For decades she subscribed to The Anglican Journal. If what she believed is true, she’ll be smiling down, pleased to see the story about the kids from my Anglican Young Peoples’ Association (AYPA) group in 1960. We were faced with the frightening spectre of unhappy aging at a 1960 Christmas Carol Sing in a derelict nursing home in Scarborough. The event transformed this self-centered teenager, strengthening awareness and compassion for the poor, old and infirmed. In many ways the story is a tribute to the group’s spirited leader, Dave. He was the light in the dark.

Click to read the story: A Light in the Dark

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

McIntyre Guest Reviewer on “Memories Into Story” Website


Read Mary E. McIntyre’s review on Allyson Latta’s website

Allyson LattaStory Editor for Ian Brown’s award-winning book The Boy in the Moon,  published my review of Brown’s appearance as Guest Speaker at the September WCDR meeting. A standing ovation for Brown’s message was a heartfelt endorsement of a ten-year dedication to his writing process, and a 15-year dedication to his disabled son.

Allyson Latta is a writing teacher and independent literary editor who has worked with many of Canada’s most respected authors on award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for adults and young adults.

Allyson Latta will be guest speaker at the November 13, 2011  luncheon meeting for the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR).

To learn more about WCYR

Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig (Review)

summer-on-fireAuthor Kevin Craig’s Young Adult novel Summer on Fire reminds me that fifteen-year old boys, like the three small-town boys Craig writes about in his book, have struggled with growing-up issues since time began. No longer children and not yet men, Craig’s three main characters, Zach, Jeff and Arnie face adult problems with adolescent reasoning skills. They aren’t always right, but they learn the repercussions of their actions born out of fear and panic, loyalty to friends, loyalty to family, respect for authority figures and disdain for bullying.

Craig tells the story from Zach’s point of view, a likeable boy with a stable family, although his older sister’s blatant sexuality is an issue for boys on the brink of discovering an interest in girls. It’s also the story of Zach’s handsome and cool best friend Jeff, whose father and brother are brutal bullies and troublemakers. Jeff’s mother shrinks into a shadow of her former self as the worrying mystery within the story unfolds. A third friend is overweight, whiny Arnie, who the two boys tolerate, and in truth, I never ascertained why. Arnie’s mother stuffs her son with junk food and fawns over his two friends, a situation which is a source of amusement between them. So why is Arnie a friend to them? Because they are nice guys and feel sorry for him? Because he lives nearby and they’ve known him all their lives? Because he advances the story?

Craig has studied the craft of storytelling. He hooks the reader’s interest immediately, building a strong foundation on which to follow the boys’ panicked actions after they mistakenly set a barn on fire. He confronts them with the news that a body is found in a house fire beside the barn, which they feel responsible for. Following is a series of events involving concerned parents, annoying siblings and curious neighbours – and just when the reader hopes the boys are in the clear, Craig throws us more plausible plot twists to ramp up the tension. In the end, there is heroism, redemption and punishment.

I’m unfamiliar with writing Young Adult stories, but since reading Summer On Fire I learned what I believe are essential basics for the genre.

  • A reader must relate to the characters and feel empathy for them (that goes for all writing)
  • Lots of action and plot twists that come out of action (youths love roller-coaster action)
  • Young adults won’t tolerate fussy descriptions of place or weather reports. They roll with believable, fast-paced dialogue.
  • Age appropriate language and action

Craig’s dialogue rings true. His ability to put his mind back to being an irreverent 15-year old boy, sharing the humour and sarcasm, frustration, fear and false bravado that young boys feel is believable. Through his characters we dread the bullies, laugh at the ridiculous, empathize with parents and root for the good guys.

I highly recommend Summer On Fire, published by MuseItUp Publishing to parents looking for a great book for a young teen. Available at Chapters.

Writers’ Community of York Region Inaugural Meeting


MC, Malcolm Watts
MC, Malcolm Watts

Congratulations to the committee that formed the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR). The organization launched its first meeting October 2, 2011. Volunteer, and author, Malcolm Watts, welcomed guests to the Red Gallery at the Aurora Cultural Centre, a lovely heritage building in downtown Aurora. Malcolm’s first order of business – to introduce Workshop Facilitator, Sue Lynn Reynolds.

Facilitator, Sue Lynn Reynolds
Workshop Facilitator Sue Lynn Reynolds

Award winning author Susan Lynn Reynolds, former President of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) and mentor to aspiring writers, has earned many awards and publishing credits. Among her talents of web design and the publishing business (Piquant Press), Susan teaches writing workshops. Her topic for this event:  Learn how to capture YOUR writer’s voice –  clear and vivid on the page. Banish writer’s block and unleash the writer within!

Forty-five workshoppers participated in valuable writing exercises designed to open minds to new ideas and drive pens across the page. Writers, Nancy and Robin, read their excellent 10-minute freefall writings. All workshoppers participated in a guided meditation led by Sue Lynn Reynolds. A calm mind slows down brain activity and opens writers to the flow of creativity. I know it works because I was one of the frantic scribblers unleashing my inner writer.





Shelley MacBeth, Blue Heron Books



Author Tobin Elliott
Author Tobin Elliott










Shelley Macbeth, the owner of Uxbridge independent bookstore, Blue Heron Books, brought a selection of popular new titles for readers to discuss and purchase.

During the break before lunch, published authors discussed their publishing experiences and sold books while networking in the lobby. My former Durham College Creative Writing teacher Tobin Elliott signed his new chapbook, Vanishing Hope.

Chef and Author Deb Rankine - "The Fridge Wisperer"
Chef and Author Deb Rankine – The Fridge Whisperer

We are fortunate to have national food writer, Deborah A. Rankine (a.k.a. The Fridge Whisperer), to be our luncheon caterer. Deborah published two cookbooks: Condiment Confidential and Lusciously Local. Guests enjoyed more lunchtime networking at tables decorated with seasonal flowers.

The Fridge Whisperer's Magic
The Fridge Whisperer’s Magic







WCYR Organizer Hyacinthe Miller
WCYR Organizer Hyacinthe Miller


Hyacinthe Miller spearheaded much of the organization for the day’s events. She welcomed 50 guests to the meeting and laid out plans for going forward. During lunch, members are invited to announce upcoming book launches, workshops, conferences – all things writerly. Every month there are raffle tickets sold for prizes and fundraising in support of WCYR activities. The purpose of the WCYR is to offer a dependable resource center and community support for writers of varying competency.

Christine Barbetta and Elaine Pierce - Raffle Organizers
Christine Barbetta and Elaine Pierce – Raffle Organizers


Published writers, Christine Barbetta, and Elaine Pierce, part of the organizing committee have fun conducting a Raffle Draw.





jamesPresident of the successful parent organization WCDR (Durham Region), poet, and editor/owner of Piquant Press, James Dewar offered a message of encouragement and appreciation for the volunteer committee of WCYR.

Heather O'Connor
Heather O’Connor





Heather O’Connor announcing upcoming event for Writescape, a writers’ resource for learning and improving writing skills.

Mary E. McIntyre: 5-Minute Reader (Photo: Christine Barbetta)
Mary E. McIntyre: 5-Minute Reader (Photo: Christine Barbetta)

The launch committee invited me to be the first 5-minute reader. I read my story Love Letters from Saying Goodbye anthology (Dream of Things Press).

Going forward, volunteer writers may enter their names in a draw for a selection of a five-minute reader in the following month. As an emerging writer, I took the opportunity to encourage closet writers to send their works to a variety of contests, anthologies, and magazines. By taking risks, you earn first publishing credits, which go a long way to help emerging writers gain confidence and credibility.

Story Editor and Writer, Allyson Latta
Freelance Editor and Writing Teacher, Allyson Latta

Freelance Editor and Creative Writing Teacher Allyson Latta introduced Guest Speaker Richard Scrimger, Author of Young Adult Books.

Guest Speaker and Teacher at Humber College, Richard Scrimger (Photo: Christine Barbetta)
Guest Speaker and Teacher at Humber College, Richard Scrimger (Photo: Christine Barbetta)





If Richard could be one card in a deck of 52, he would be the wild card. His delivery is casual, irreverent, interactive and hilarious. For an hour, Richard not only entertained participants but shared valuable wisdom about the storytelling process. WCYR organizers couldn’t have chosen a livelier speaker to kick off their inaugural event.

After Malcolm Watts thanked new members and participants for supporting the new WCYR organization, an upbeat group of writers left the building knowing they are part of a new organization designed to support writers.

It’s now the responsibility of the membership to create a Board of Directors and enlist dependable volunteer helpers to relieve any one person from the burden of keeping an organization of this quality functioning.

Update: 2014 – The new location for the WCYR monthly meeting is now:

Newmarket Community Centre and Lions Hall
200 Doug Duncan Dr.
Newmarket, ON L3Y 3Y9

Closet Writers Unite (WCDR, WCYR, WCSR)

Roses are red ...
Roses are red …

I know you’re out there … scribbling imaginary book titles, writing plays, hiding poetic musings, creating business philosophies, writing how to books, cookbooks, textbooks, travel books … writing a memoir. I know you’re there because I was there, too.

The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) contributed to the launch of two new writers’ organizations based on their successful model formed over 15 years ago. With 400 members, WCDR is one of the largest writing resource providers in Canada. Its members initiated the successful annual Ontario Writers’ Conference. Thanks to their generous volunteer support a new opportunity exists for writers to gather, share, promote, and support other regional writers beyond WCDR boundaries.

It was a dark and stormy night ...
It was a dark and stormy night …

Writers’ Community of Simcoe Region hosts its inaugural meeting, September 25, and Writers’ Community of York Region, October 2. Launch committees worked for months with WCDR members to organize and present meaningful programs for sharing writing information and encouragement. The missing ingredient at this stage is your support of the event and hopefully your membership.

images-22Please check out the new websites for WCYR and WCSC. Sign up for events online, or become a member online, receive email announcements, receive invitations to monthly meetings with informative speakers, explore opportunities to attend workshops and much more. Come out of the closet! Invest in yourself and your writing. If you’re an established, published writer, come and see the opportunities the organization can offer you. We strengthen with supportive inclusion.

Five Minute Reader
Five Minute Reader

WCYR invited me to read the WCYR’s first 5-minute reader session at their inaugural meeting, October 2. Going forward, all members may put their name into a draw for an opportunity to read one of their written pieces for 5 minutes at monthly meetings. Those shaky minutes at the microphone in front of your peers is a great confidence-builder.

If you value writing in any form, now is your chance to support an organization that recognizes and promotes writers. Please pass along this message to all the writers (closet or otherwise) you know who might benefit from becoming a member.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof – Book Review

coverMy friend and mentor, Allyson Latta, organized a September evening for her book club friends and their friends to meet author Ann Vanderhoof. Ann’s travel memoirs An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude and The Spice Necklace (Random House) celebrate sailing in Caribbean waters — not 2-week escapes, but 2-year explorations of Caribbean culture and cooking.

From Dream to Reality

Ann and husband Steve Manley worked for Cottage Life Magazine, Ann as Editor and Steve as Art Director. Weary from deadlines and work pressures, they put together a 5-year plan to save their money, pay off their mortgage, buy a 42-foot sloop, rent their house in Toronto and sail into the unknown. Who doesn’t have that dream?

cover-1Steve was an experienced sailor. Ann was not. She agonized over concerns for sailing at night alone at the helm, especially as Ann was known for seasickness. They overcame their concerns and learned they complemented each other on their voyage. Ann found a remedy for seasickness, and both gained physical strength and good health from the sailing lifestyle.

On their return from the first 2-year voyage they underwent the plan again so they could revisit and explore the islands for a second book, this time including more recipes.

The Lights Goes On

Once Ann had recounted the logistics of making their grand escape happen (humourous anecdotes of reducing their living space to a small boat, and wondering if the relationship could survive close quarters), her face lit up with enthusiasm for the overwhelming generosity of the native islanders who welcomed her and Steve into their homes. They taught them how to cook local foods and became their friends. The couple sailed over 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries and visited 47 islands. Because Ann kept an ever expanding journal and wrote down her experiments with new recipes, she was able to write about her experiences when she returned to Canada. She discovered “island time,” a view of life that helps to sort priorities into practical activities to sustain their journey, and calmer times for discovering cultural adventures awaiting each anchorage.

Author Ann Vanderhoof
Author Ann Vanderhoof

Blue ocean, island landscapes, bustling ports, lush countryside and the friendliness of generous islanders seduced the couple. They had their share of lightning storms and rough seas, but Ann explained that “island time” meant they could change their schedules to suit the conditions, an acquired benefit for Type-A personalities shedding fast-paced North American work lives.

Almost every day brought a learning experience about the variables of island life, each island with its own history, resources, economics, culture, personality, agriculture and beliefs. The oceans offered up a bounty that Ann transformed into delicious meals she cooked in her tiny galley kitchen onboard Receta.

The Plan

Ann’s life has taken a new direction due to her experiences on the sloop. She and Steve sail for 6 months every winter. Ann is busy with book tours, and is a freelance writer for magazines like Gourmet, Islands, and More. She has become an expert to other travellers faced with tiny kitchens on the open seas. Naturally friendly, the petite woman is an example to those who consider the risks and adventures of the sailing life in the Caribbean.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes was an Amazon Top Ten Book of the Year for Travel and a national bestseller in Canada.

I bought her book An Embarrassment of Mangoes. How could I resist after Ann brought an aromatic array of Caribbean spices for us to experience? The Caribbean seduces again.

Ann’s Vanderhoof’s Blog

To see a video of Ann reading from her new book The Spice Necklace.

To see a video of Ann’s interview for Bookbits

Standing Ovation for Canadian Author Ian Brown

Award -winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Dan Brown
Award-winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

WCDR hosted Canadian journalist and author Ian Brown at the September Breakfast Meeting in Ajax Ontario. My writing group Life Writers Ink attended.

Brown received a standing ovation for his talk about the 10-year process of writing his book The Boy In The Moon: A Father’s Search For His Disabled Son

To read my complete review as guest reviewer on Allyson Latta’s website.

Brown took us from irreverent laughter to heartbreaking sadness. There are only 150 children in the world with the genetic disorder that is his son’s severe disability. The initial care and understanding of their son’s disease occupied the parents in shifts for 24-hours-a-day. The story of coping with his son’s limitations and the pressures resulting from it, show the amazing lessons learned from a father’s compassion. The journey he and his family take every day to bring quality of life to their child is remarkable. The audience gave Brown a heartfelt standing ovation.

Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre
Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre


Tips from his talk about the writing process: 

  • Celebrate the individual in the face of doltish generalities
  • Confession is bad, candour is better


Ian Brown’s Bio:

  • Current  host of Human Edge and The View from Here on TVOntario
  • Hosted programming for CBC Radio One, including Later the Same DayTalking Books, and Sunday Morning
  • Business writer at Maclean’sand theFinancial Post, a feature reporter for The Globe and Mail, and a freelance journalist for other magazines including Saturday Night
  • Editor of What I Meant to Say: The Private Lives of Men, a 2006 collection of twenty-nine essays by prominent Canadian writers
  • Contributor to the American public radio program This American Life
  • Published books, Freewheeling and Man Overboard
  • The Boy in the Moon, a book-length version of Brown’s series of Globe andMail features dealing with his son Walker’s rare genetic disorder, Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome (CFC), (2009)
  • Won British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for his book The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son ($40,000)

Won the Charles Taylor Prize, a $25,000 prize which recognizes excellence in literary non-fiction

Writing Tips from a Caterpillar

img_6649A little caterpillar, unofficially named, Woolly Bear, inspired me last week. In September, nature is frantic: grasshoppers, bumblebees, wasps, Canada Geese–an army, air force and navy of wild things preparing for winter. I photographed this Woolly Bear before it crawled away.

What drove this tiny critter to expose itself on a wide crushed-stone pathway?

It wasn’t until I downloaded the photo that I saw the terrain from the Woolly Bear’s point of view. What to me were tiny pebbles, to it, were boulders. With purpose, Woolly Bear inched across the path at its peril.

What inspired me?

I’m alone, as many writers are in their craft. I’m risking, as many writers do when they enter contests, submit articles or stories. Woolly Bear doggedly skirted the boulders in its path, as writers do to overcome setbacks. If it crossed the perils of the path to its greater goal, its reward is transformation–the hope of all emerging writers.

CBC Canada Writes Challenge

isCBC’s Canada Writes Autobiography Challenge

A compelling title and back-cover blurb for a real memoir-in-progress by Mary E. McIntyre is featured as one of Today’s Picks in the entertaining CBC Canada Writes Autobiography Challenge.

Along with other entrants, she’s in the running for a prized iPad2.

Canada Writes Autobiography Challenge encourages you to send in a title (5 words maximum) and a cover blurb (50 words maximum) for your life story. Your entry must be received by September 2 at noon ET, and the winner will be announced on September 12.

Idaho Students React to “Love Letters”

Publisher/editor of Dream of Things Press, Mike O’Mary, shares feedback from students at the College of Idaho who reviewed stories from Saying Goodbye anthology as part of their curriculum on death and dying. My story Love Letters appears in 2010 anthology, Saying Goodbye.

Comment from Professor Jann Adams, Department of Psychology, College of Idaho

saying-goodbye-front-cover-194x3001This is a book that meets a need for teachers of death and dying classes.  Most of the books currently available are either directed at people who are going through a grief process due to the loss of someone important to them or are fairly dry academic type books that focus on the physiological (and some psychological) aspects of dying.  This book gets to the heart of what I have been focusing on in my course – that life is filled with loss of all kinds and we can learn from each one and ultimately experience life more fully.  The stories in this book do a wonderful job of showing that out of loss there are new beginnings. I recommend it for any teacher of death and dying classes.  I also recommend it for anyone who is struggling with a loss – no matter what kind.

Royal Canadian Navy Training, Halifax WWII
Royal Canadian Navy Training, Halifax WWII

Love Letters is a story about my wish to read my parents’ wartime correspondence: letters sent between Toronto and Halifax during WWII when Dad served with the Royal Canadian Navy. The sealed box of letters came to my attention when Dad and I cleared out his house the month after Mum died. He informed me of the pact he’d made with Mum to destroy the letters before anyone could read them.

I hoped to change his mind. I was curious to learn first-hand gossip surrounding my parents’ circumstances while renting a room at my grandparents’ home, at a time of food rationing and other shortages. I had two older sisters born in wartime and I wanted to know Mum’s views on motherhood.

Danforth Ave. & Pape Ave, East York, Toronto, 1940s
Danforth Ave. & Pape Ave, East York, Toronto, the 1940s








I suspected the letters would be informative about Dad’s plight as a navy officer. I believed I would learn how Mum and my aunts coped with their husbands being away overseas. Dad was stubbornly resistant to my appeals. Without telling me, he invited my brother to burn the letters in a barrel in Dad’s backyard. When I found out later, I felt a terrible loss. But so did Dad. I’d lost sight of the promise he’d made to my mother, but he’d lost a vital link to their past. Unfortunately, he had macular degeneration and was never able to read the letters himself. Everything I wanted to know went up in a puff of smoke.

Student Comments on QuestionIn “Love Letters” by Mary E. McIntyre, the author wants to read old letters her parents wrote to each other, but her father keeps his vow to destroy them after his wife’s death.  Did the father make the right decision?  Why or why not?

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.


Otter Lake Ontario Photo Contest and Barbecue

The Otter Lake Ratepayers’ Association (OLRA) sponsored their first Photo Contest for amateur photographers who live on or visit Otter Lake. As a friend of Cheryl Andrews, OLRA member with a cottage on Otter Lake, I qualified for entry because I attended Life Writers Ink retreats at Otter Lake – and I’m a photo nut with my Canon camera.

Sixty entries whittled down to 35 finalists for children and adult categories: Nature, Water Activities, Cottage Life and Pets, with $25.00 prizes for the top spot in four categories. I placed well as a finalist in the Nature category. The winner captured glowing reflections of the reddest sunset I’ve ever seen (we’re all suckers for sunsets). My photo Sunrise Blazetaken shortly after sunrise in September 2010, shows the sun streaming through a woodpile, as though the woodpile was on fire.

Mary E. McIntyre beside photo: Sunrise Blaze, Otter Lake 2011
Mary E. McIntyre beside photo: Sunrise Blaze, Otter Lake 2011

The association sponsored a barbecue at the Otter Lake Marina. Members voted the photo winners, cooked up hot dogs, hamburgers, corn and salads, and provided drinks for relief in the hot weather.

Even Steven Duo
Even Steven Duo

Two talented guys on guitar, Even Steven, entertained the crowd for hours with familiar standards by Neil Young and The Eagles and many more favourites. Families of all ages gathered together for a happy celebration of cottage-ing life on the lake.

OLRA publish an informative newsletter for which my friend Cheryl Andrews is Editor. Cottagers keep up-to-date with their responsibilities for good stewardship: eliminate fertilizing products, maintain septic systems, avoid phosphorus-related algae bloom by not washing in the lake with contaminated products, and maintaining healthy shorelines. The newsletter is the go-to place for pertinent phone numbers, email addresses, events, and local information.

Of concern to all residents, last year was a review in the newsletter by Bruce Gibbon and Seguin Fire Chief  Dave Thompson about the 16-car CN train derailment including a number of tank cars carrying liquid propane and fuel oil. With no fire or no injury in the early evacuation area, CN assumed the lead in the 4-week cleanup. The derailment is still under review.

Author, Cathy Morrison, a resident of Otter Lake, published a coffee table book with valuable photos and information from interviews, Otter Lake: Shorelines and Pastimes. As an active member of OLRA and a long family association with Otter Lake, Cathy is a popular folklorist and her book sells well in the region.

Otter Lake has a vibrant lakeside community of citizens concerned with maintaining the quality of their environment and ensuring a healthy future for the next generations.

Cheryl Andrews and Cathy Morrison, ORLA registration desk with photo finalist behind
Cheryl Andrews and Cathy Morrison, ORLA registration desk with photo finalist behind


OLRA Volunteer Cooks at Otter Lake Marina BBQ
OLRA Volunteer Cooks at Otter Lake Marina BBQ









Face-painted-kids at OLRA BBQ at Otter Lake Marina
Face-painted-kids at OLRA BBQ at Otter Lake Marina

84-year old Noreen, 1st Prize for category Cottage Life & 2nd for Nature Category
84-year old Noreen, 1st Prize for category Cottage Life & 2nd for Nature Category







Dreaming Kathmandu by Glenn Forbes Miller – Book Review

kathmandu200By good fortune I met Glenn Forbes Miller, poet and author, at Markham Ontario’s 16th Annual Art in the Park. While meandering the Markham Museum grounds in a heatwave I chatted with wilting artists, sculptors, artisans and jewellery crafters.

Markham resident, Glenn Forbes Miller, tended a remarkable collection of photographs taken by his son, Andrew, on a family vacation in Nepal. Glenn and his wife, Graz, had planned a 200-mile trekking adventure in Nepal in 2008. Their adult children, Andrew and Megan, who’d lived apart from them due to work and schooling, joined their parents for a once-in-a-lifetime trek through the rugged Himalayas at high altitude.

I admired the images of Nepal’s people, scenery and culture, and enjoyed talking to Miller about his writing process. As an emerging writer myself, with an interest in other writers’ first books, I bought Dreaming Kathmandu.

When least expected, a gem falls into your hands. Miller, a retired English teacher, tells an honest story of family conflict arising from familial confinement and generational differences. But when the wrangling ends, as it must for the trip to progress, Miller’s language flows as deeply and musically as the Marsyangdi River they follow for the first ten days of their journey from the gates of Kathmandu to the river’s glacial source, Manang.

Miller’s reflections on the elusive quality of memory resonates with all memoir-writers.

“Only the present moment has substance, ephemeral though it be. All the rest, the remembered stuff, is but a dream of what once was, a dream of our pasts that floats in mist-like oblivion, where time can blur and shift, and places can melt into one another; where memories become altered, overstated or understated, conflated, redacted, and massaged into a spin that we believe to be the story of our lives; and that story, like dreams, can be recalled only in the barest outline, if we can remember the story at all.”

Nepal shunned the world beyond her borders until the 1950s. Primitive (medieval) conditions were the norm in the remote country bounded by isolating mountains. Miller and his wife are at times disappointed but forgiving of the challenging rustic charms facing them: poor sanitation, limited food selections, lack of electricity, cramped sleeping arrangements on cots, and weariness from lack of sleep at high altitudes.

Conflicts arise when their worldly and healthy adult children complain about the food, the crudeness of the overnight facilities, and lack of modernity. In the end, they manage  to overcome pettiness and impatience to plod one foot ahead of the other to their shared goal. Celebrating their triumph, in the company of their Sherpa guides, is what they will remember for a lifetime.

As a photographer Andrew’s photos (which appear in the book) capture the family’s interactions with the Nepalese people, the snow-capped mountain scenery, the villages tucked into ledges, and the dependable Sherpa guides. And Miller, The Diarist, sets himself apart to journal the details that bring the story alive:  chance encounters with the native Nepalese and their costume and customs, overcrowded dining halls filled with exhausted trekkers, temples, prayer bells and pennants, belligerent tourists, and the bond between his family and the Sherpa guides, Dorjee, Thorang and Motee. Graz and Megan, alternating between athleticism and stoicism, altitude sickness, fear and flu, keep up with the men and at times supersede them.

Excerpt (first person):

Morning on the hotel terrace. I shield my eyes and watch the sun blaze over the opposite hill and into the valley. Its glare fans into a flaring aureole; light streaks into the hollows onto a family of four scrawk-ing crows winging across the canopy of deciduous trees. From early morning fires, woodsmoke drifts over the valley floor like wisps of fog. The forest floor thins up the slope onto the green grasses on the west hill, slopes dotted with stone homes and rice-green terraces. On the lip of the garden terrace below my feet, silhouetted in the sun, broadleaf banana leaves are suffused in a luminous green. At Bahundanda, on the lip of the Mountain View Hotel terrace, light etches and space blooms.

Altitude sickness is a genuine concern for trekkers over 8,000 feet, and the family planned to reach heights of 15,000 feet. Decreasing oxygen molecules in the bloodstream increase the breathing rate. Ill temper, headaches, nausea and dizziness can follow oxygen depletion, and differs by degrees for everyone. Andrew was most affected by the heights. Graz was most fearful of the rock slides. Megan had symptoms of flu, and Miller attempted to fulfill their dreams according to health, budget and schedule.

Excerpt (third person):

Crossing the frozen, rutted road, he hunches his shoulders against the cold, his journal clamped under his arm. The pleasant bite of the tenters’ camp smoke slurs into memory: his grandmother’s wood-burning stove and the thick-creamed porridge that she gave him for breakfast dotted with blueberries picked from the side of the farmhouse; the ripping whine of the bucksaw and the fresh-cut smell of the stacked winter wood; the heat from the grey stovepiping overhead running from the stove through to the parlour with its burnt reek of brass ashtray stands; then his Nana’s gentle voice calling him, “Son, go tell the old fella to quit rakin’ his leaves and c’min for his tea.” This olfactory olla podrida of memories has slowed his walking, and he stops, wanting more, but self-consciousness had dispelled the stew — the memories are gone … gone with their revenants.

Like me, you might need a dictionary handy. Miller is foremost a poet. He loves language and effectively melds beautiful English words into his prose.

Here’s a sampling:

erumpent, petard, lambent, candent, tintinnabulation, fulgent, ratiocination, figurant, cavil, intaglio and intagliated, provender, belletristic, cyanotic, carbuncular, wimples, solipsistic, glaucous, gibbous, similacrums, couloirs, laving, unnictitating, declivity, lutescent, swart, deliquescing, revenants, contrapuntally, clatterynge.

Together, the words look and sound archaic, but a gentle sprinkling in the right places is Miller’s talent. And perhaps when describing a culture such as the one experienced by his family in Nepal, one would be tempted to dig deeper into the word bag to anchor the images with the ancient, where much of Nepal continues to thrive.

Dreaming Kathmandu by Glenn Forbes Miller (2010)

Published by General Store Publishing

About the Author

Glenn Forbes Miller is a retired high school English teacher but keeps his hand in by supply teaching for the Toronto Board of Education. His wife, Graz, is a retired high school biology teacher. Trekking and travelling are high on their priority list. In addition to their trek in Nepal, they have walked the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain; they have visited Athens and a number of Greek Islands and, in the same trip, Turkey; they have been to Macchu Picchu in Peru and to the Amazon River; and they toured Morocco and surrounding areas in 2010.The author enjoys reading ancient history and writing poetry; and is into photography and outdoor sports.


Northwood Zoo & Animal Sanctuary

Northwood Lions
Northwood Lions

Sanctuary: place of refuge and safety. For birds, reptiles and animals Northwood Zoo & Animal Sanctuary in Seagrave Ontario is often a last hope for sanctuary. Although isolated and lonely, the animals are safe and cared for in basic enclosures and cages.

I took my young grandsons to the sanctuary to show them what happens to animals rescued from abuse, accident, old age and circumstances conflicting with human ideas of usefulness. It’s not pretty. The staff at Northwood keep the animals clean and well fed with limited funds.

Northwood Grizzlies: Snort, Shaky & Midget
Northwood Grizzlies: Snort, Shaky & Midget

Northwood is running a summer competition to name three grizzly bear cubs born February 2011. The scamps actively played in their enclosure, rolling in puddles, shaking sandy fur and climbing on logs. We submitted Snort, Shaky and Midget.

Northwood TigerA staffer told us the Siberian Tiger bred and raised on-site, is large enough for The Guinness Book of World Records rep to come to confirm the magnificent (and endangered) animal’s measure as the largest in captivity. He was being coy with us, hiding inside a large sealed enclosure, but at one time he raised his head and stared at us out of the window cut in the side. Let’s just say he is big and imposing. I was glad of the fence that separated us. A second tiger (pictured here) licked his chops when we approach.

There were two, white arctic wolves, and a few local varieties, that set to howling. Perhaps they objected to seeing people spending time with a friendly deer who loped across the grass for petting.

bearsBecause there have been recent news stories about fatal bear attacks in Yellowstone Park USA and British Columbia Canada, I asked the boys to skirt wide of the large Kodiak bear pacing his enclosure beside a pond. I’m sure I transmitted my fear to the boys, but I hope it was more like healthy respect. I didn’t see a point to riling a frustrated bear with the nearness of our tasty limbs. While passing well away from his cage to see smaller brown bears, the Kodiak tracked our route coming and going. Once again the fragile fencing is all that separated us.

I won’t pretend I had confidence in the electric shock wiring that ran around the tops of some enclosures. The large mammals have learned to shy away from it. I was doubly assured by staffers not to worry. Do animals know electrics shut down in power outages? Not my worry that day as the weather was hot and storm-free.

Northwood Primate

I was having trouble navigating past glass cases holding sizeable snakes. One snake moved around in ways to convince me it wasn’t made of plastic. We couldn’t get the huge colourful parrot to talk to us, even though he evidently has a broad vocabulary that kicks in only after everyone leaves at 4:00 pm. We fed bunnies and primates the food pellets you can buy by the handful for a quarter. There were two black jaguars, one with a limp, bobcats, linx and puma. The only time I warned my grandsons about putting their fingers in a cage was when they sat beside a black fox pup who acted just like any happy puppy.

Northwood Ruffled Lemur
Northwood Ruffled Lemur

It was difficult to see a Japanese macaque, a gibbon, families of lemurs, and other primates separated by enclosures and aroused only by anticipating food. There’s no question that the facilities are clean, but un-stimulating. Some of these animals are here temporarily, but others will live the rest of their lives in the restrictions of this environment. It’s sad to see Golden eagles and Bald eagles pinned to the earth.

If you’re looking for exotic animals in life-like settings, go to the Toronto Zoo. But to support the care of rescued animals, donate to Northwoods Zoo and Sanctuary. They need our support.

Update April 2019: Three years ago the Sanctuary closed after a bear escaped, and the public was not immediately alerted. No harm to the public, but the bear was shot. This created contentious issues, which changed the bylaws for sanctuaries in Ontario.


Navy Centennial – Naval Lady Rose

Father, Robert Burrows, Chief Petty Officer, WWII
Father, Robert Burrows, Chief Petty Officer, WWII

A notice in the Stouffville Sun-Tribune last week caught my eye. The Stouffville Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 459, planned a dedication at their brand new digs on Mostar Street to celebrate the Canadian Navy’s Centennial.

As a granddaughter and daughter of Navy men, I dug out my dad’s official Canadian Navy photo and took it to Branch 459 to see what goes on with today’s modern legions.

The  Canadian Wren Association (established for women in 1942 as a formed unit) selected the Navy Lady Rose, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and grown by J.C. Bakker Nurseries in St. Catharines, as a symbol for the centenary. In Stouffville, the capable Ladies Auxiliary hosted the event and reception.

Naval Lady Rose
Naval Lady Rose

The event showcased the Veterans’ functional and fashionable new building, attended by Wrens, naval Veterans, serving naval personnel and local officials, as well as people like me – curious and linked by family association to Canada’s navy.

I didn’t expect to well up when an elderly woman padre read the Naval Prayer, nor to bite my lip for a white uniformed bugler blowing Reveille, nor hold back tears for The Lament played on the bagpipes by a piper in full regalia. It’s a good thing they didn’t play the Navy Hymn, Eternal FatherFor Those In Peril On The Sea. I would have been a mess.

Accompanying the roses planted in a garden was a 140-lb welded iron anchor acquired from Dwor Metalworks salvage shipyards in Port Colbourne, representing a typical WWII ship’s anchor.

At the reception after the dedication, guests viewed displays of naval memorabilia belonging to Stouffville families, or on loan from naval associations. Photographs, insignia, seamen’s paraphernalia attracted my interest and gave me an opportunity to meet some wonderful experts and veterans in all things naval.

I enjoyed sandwiches, tea, and a most delicious piece of cake while seated with three Second World War vets, and two WRENS. These good-humoured guests live lives enthusiastically engaged with work, friends and leisure, blessed by health.

We laughed about their naval remembrances: funny stories of youthful hijinks among men who were wet behind the ears and quickly indoctrinated into serious responsibilities in a world crisis.

img_7815One of my tablemates, 85-year old Jack MacQuarrie, still plays several band instruments in bands that perform today. After the reception he was off to an art exhibition! He’d been a navy diver in WWII. And in 1964 he was one of a crew responsible for navigating The Haida, Canada’s famous destroyer from the St. Lawrence Seaway to her berthing in Toronto, the place she would float as a tourist attraction for decades.

And my thanks to photographer Ken Jarvis of Ken Jarvis Photography who took the photo of me holding Dad’s official navy photograph with the Navy’s Centennial poster beside the memorial anchor and newly planted Navy Lady Rose.

Storm Warnings at Stouffville’s Nineteen on the Park

Stouffville Main Street Clock Tower
Stouffville Main Street Clock Tower

Stouffville has a unique historic building tucked into Civic Square behind Main Street’s clock tower. Built in 1903 as a concert hall, it is one of the oldest and most culturally significant buildings in Stouffville’s downtown core. In the early years, an upstairs concert hall (with a small area for a temporary library) entertained performers above Stouffer’s garage downstairs. From 1923 – 33 it was Sidney Schmidt’s silent movie house until remodelled as The Stanley Theatre, which in 1949 became the National Theatre Services. The Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville bought the building, and it served as municipal offices for many years.

In the new millennium there was a move afoot to demolish the building to make way for a higher use. But with valuable support from the arts community, heritage experts and nostalgic residents, the town designated funds to revitalize the building, now their centrepiece, Lebovic Centre for Arts & Entertainment. Launched as a multifunctional cultural facility in May 2009, the venue is affectionately called Nineteen on the Park.

1287165022ninteenopntheparkOn June 3, I went to see the play Storm Warning by playwright Norm Foster and directed Kathryn DeLory. Read my review of this excellent production presented by Markham Little Theatre, posted on the Stouffville Sun Tribune website.
 Community theatre groups are made up of volunteers with a passion to entertain. Hard work goes into set design, rehearsals, ticket sales and promotion. Please consider supporting community theatre in your area.

Suburan Warfare – Baking



I baked a big cake yesterday: big enough to celebrate 4 family members’ birthdays at one time for an event next weekend.

I bake about every other decade, so this was a kitchen extravaganza. I haven’t baked from scratch much since I took a night school course to get out of the house when the kids were babies.

In the 70s I baked the kids’ birthday cakes and decorated them with marshmallows in bwbw0583the fine tradition of unimaginative bakers. No Siree – no more scratch for me. Duncan Hines and I made a pact at No Frills grocery store yesterday morning.

The old poop was at work in the office when I came home. I made a pot of coffee to take to his office so he wouldn’t meander to the kitchen and interfere with my bake-a-thon. I poured glops into a large round pan, the first of three layers (planning a Devil’s Food chocolate layer between two lemon layers). Mixing and baking required about 2 1/2 hours because I had to wash the pan to reuse it for each 38-minute-baking-stint.

old poop
old poop

At the first whiff of baked cake old poop followed his nose to the kitchen.

Smells good, he says on his way to the fork drawer.

I’m baking a cake for the weekend. (Code: Don’t expect to get any before then.)

You’re what? There’s that whiplash motion again.

You don’t have to act so surprised, I say, greasing and flouring the pan like an expert.

Poop picked up the cake boxes and commented on the flavours I chose. He fingered the squishy bag of icing sugar. He questioned the cooling rack raised on four overturned glasses on the counter. Then he gave me the third degree on who will be at the party, what time it starts … any more coffee? … what’s for lunch?

Just as I’m going to scream Go away, he says, I need your help in a few minutes loading wood and stuff to take back to Schell Lumber. While we’re there, you can look at the lattice and decide which one you want for the deck.

I gave him the pained, I’m in the middle of baking look, but he was already headed back to the office. I had layer #2 turned out on the cooling rack. There was no point starting #3 until we’re done at Schell Lumber.

Eye Candy
Eye Candy

You could have fried an egg on the sidewalk yesterday–30 degree C–a heat wave following a week of overcast and rain. Navigating the back lot of the lumber yard was like tramping across the Gobi Desert. The only good thing about the expedition was the mirage of strutting and tanned university boys wearing only shorts, ball caps and work boots.

An hour later we unloaded the lattice from the van. I switched from a labourer back to a baker, baking the last layer, covering the three layers in Saran Wrap and storing them in the freezer. I’ll tackle the tricky job of icing the cake on Saturday while old poop erects lattice on the back side of the gazebo. I hope for his sake the heat wave is gone. I’ve decided to forego marshmallows on the cake, but I bought Smarties which I’m dying to use for decoration.

Suburban Warfare – Language Barriers

img_4405Two weeks ago, on a walk in my neighbourhood, I met an elderly Sikh man. I approached the bench he sat on, which overlooked a pond, and thought, if he speaks English I’ll sit with him for a while.

Hello, I say, a big smile on my face, reflecting the joy of a gorgeous spring day: blue skies, noisy nesting birds flitting around us, bushes bursting with buds (sorry for that one).

Surprised by my greeting, the gentleman smiled and nodded, smiled and nodded.

English? I ask.

He shook his head in the negative and said something in possibly a Punjab language I didn’t understand.

Beautiful day, I say, waltzing my arms around to encompass the lovely setting we’re sharing together.

He nodded, but I wasn’t sure he understood me. I was ready to move on, but he motioned at my camera. Now I smiled and nodded. He straightened his blue turban and sat upright and pointed at the camera, then at himself. He wanted me to take his picture. So I did. I showed him the screen and he nodded and smiled. I nodded and smiled, extended my hand, shook his and moved on.

When I downloaded my photos I didn’t know what to do about the one of my Sikh acquaintance. Should I copy it and put it in a sealed baggy and somehow attach it to the bench hoping he’d find it before it got vandalized? Good-spirited Canadian outreach to a new immigrant.

Yesterday as I turned onto my street, trunk filled with plants for the garden, I saw the old man at the corner. I slowed down so he could see me too, and waved in a ridiculous  Remember me? I’m the one who took your picture kind of over-enthusiastic mania. He stopped, waved, and once satisfied he remembered me, I drove on.

Now was my chance to give him his picture. I ran to my office, brought up the photo, printed it off, jumped in the car and tailed him. At first I couldn’t find him and thought he’d gone into a house. Spying him on a side street I sped up, pulled close to the curb and jumped out. This was starting to feel like stalking–to him, too, I suspect.

Hello, I say. I have your picture. I opened the folder and showed him his photo, stretching it out to give to him.

He leaned his cane against his leg and put up his hands in the universal gesture, No thanks, lady, shaking his head.

It’s you, I say, gesticulating that it was for him to have and cherish because I wanted to welcome him to Canada and he could send it to his relatives back home and show them what nice people we are.

Still no.

I pointed to his blue turban, then pointed to the blue turban in the photo, gesturing again. Then I pointed to the beige jacket in the photo and gently touched the top of his same jacket on his shoulder. It’s you. It’s FOR you.

He shook his head, and said English, no, more hands up, head shaking.

I pointed to the park where I met him at the end of the street. I pointed to the bench in the picture and make gestures like I was sitting on a bench. If the neighbours cared to interpret what was going on they might have thought I was teaching him to dance the Macarena.

Still no. I felt deflated–and worried he might call the police if I didn’t leave him alone. I backed off, saying goodbye, drove home wondering what-the-hell just happened.

Language is so important. If I couldn’t make myself understood in this situation, I can only imagine the communications between our Canadian soldiers and residents in dangerous war zones. What might be an innocent, well-intentioned gesture on either side could so easily be misinterpreted as suspicious on the other side.

I allowed for a few reasons for his rejection of my photo:

  • Maybe his vision is poor and he can’t see the photo clearly enough to recognize it is him.
  • Maybe he doesn’t want to take it home and explain the strange gift, and stranger woman, to his family, fearing they’ll curtail his walks.
  • Maybe he thinks I’m a complete nutter and hopes never to see me again

What saddens me is that I’ll never know if he likes Canada, where he’s from, who is his family, what kind of life did he leave behind in exchange for six months of winter and a lovely spring day. And he’ll never know me either.