We Have Flowers!

I’m on a mini-holiday with my family this week, so if I don’t respond to your comments right away, please forgive me. I might be on the net, but I’m not sure.

I want this week’s blog to be about something cheerful, so I’m sharing snapshots of the beautiful plants and flowers that flourished in our front yard this spring.

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpg

Until last summer, we had so many trees on our property that most of the yard was in shade, which wasn’t helping anything bloom. Our neighbors asked that we remove a couple of them bordering their property, and given that they could well be safety hazards in a storm, we did so (they shared the cost).

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019

The result will attract bees which are also in dire need of help. In 31 years, our yard has never been this colorful, and I’ve never appreciated flowers more than I do now.

Front Yard Flowers

The rose bush in my mom’s memory will also be planted here in a prominent place with plant of sunlight.

Rodos, front of house

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Coping With a Difficult June

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted, and sadly this one isn’t writing-related. Those who’ve been reading my blog know that my mother suffered from dementia and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer one year ago. By March the cancer had spread to her liver and our family doctor estimated that she had only two or three months left. My mom’s dementia made her oblivious to her dire situation. Even when told the truth, her emotional response seemed dim, and within minutes the diagnosis was forgotten.

My mother passed away in hospice care on June 23rd . Neither my sister nor I were there. I’d seen her the day before and had been out all day at an event that Sunday. My sister had planned to visit, but her significant other suffered a heart attack on June 12th and she was exhausted from the worry and daily commutes to the hospital. (It was touch-and-go for a while, but it looks like he’ll be okay. A medical procedure is required but rehab is underway).

It sounds strange to write this, but we were stunned by the call from the hospice nurse. We truly believed we’d have a little more time with her. We’d met with the doctor on Wed., the 19th, who thought she was doing well under the circumstances, and might have four to six weeks left. We understood that this was a guess, and our family doctor cautioned me that pancreatic cancer is wildly unpredictable. She was in hospice three weeks and two days before she passed.

I should have picked up on the signs that the end was near. When I took my son and daughter to visit her on the 16th, she’d been unusually alert and conversational She blew us kisses the last time my sister and I saw her—something she’s never done in her life. She apparently had the nurse help her call her sister in Toronto that Sunday afternoon. For weeks she’d not felt well enough to talk on the phone at all, let alone make a phone call.

Also on June 23rd, my daughter’s good friend, and matron of honor at her upcoming wedding, lost her grandmother that same day.

Flowers for MimoFive days earlier on the 18th, I had to have our twenty-year-old cat Mimo euthanized, as he became too ill to go on. The beautiful flowers in the photo were sent by our vet’s staff who’d been overseeing his care since we brought him in for his first shots back in August 1999. Also on the 18th , my future son-in-law’s family lost their beloved dog to cancer.

I took time off from the day job to reflect, to rest—or try to—but I’m now back at work, which is fine. I like the routine, to focus on other things for part of the day.

Memories swim through my head. I have a room full of her furniture and some belongings that I’d moved out her assisted living apartment two days before her death. There are things to sort through, legal things to take care of.

But there are also things to look forward to, such as my daughter’s September wedding, quickly followed by a move into their new home. My son also began an exciting new career the last week of June. I’m getting back to writing. My lovely coworkers are giving me a rose bush to plant in Mom’s memory. It’s perfect. She wouldn’t want any fuss and mourning or feeling sorry for ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about life and death, and many things. I’ve said goodbye far more than I wanted to last month, but I’ll cope and move one step and one day at a time. And I’ll remember.

 

Cleaning and Reorganizing My Writing Space

Hiedi_Cartoon_Housekeeper.jpeg_full[1]I rarely do a thorough cleaning of my home in springtime. The weather’s often too cold and rainy, plus there are simply too many other writing events and responsibilities to tend to. I prefer to clean in the summer, when I can leave doors and windows open. The carpets dry faster and I’m usually energized enough to take things to recycling and donation centers.

Unlike the upstairs, which gets regular vacuuming and dusting, I haven’t given my basement office a thorough cleaning for two years. I’ve managed to run a vacuum over the carpet and dust my workstation occasionally, but I’m talking about removing binders and knick-knacks from the shelves, wiping down every surface and tackling a couple of cobwebs high in the corners.

I’m inspired to do this right now, not only because the weather’s warming up, but because I’m currently reading a book about holistic wellness. The author says that a good cleansing of one’s home can improve emotional well-being and I agree.

Office cleaning is unique. No one else can do it for me because I also need to take a long look at the things in my office…the books, unfinished writing projects, the unframed pictures still perched behind my printer, and the numerous papers pinned to the bulletin board in front of my desk. Some of them have been there so long that they’re no longer relevant.

I need to rethink what needs to be filed away or removed altogether. Which pictures should go where? Which writing projects should I return now that weeks, if not months, have passed? I still need to sort through file folders and purge information I no longer want or need, but hey, like writing itself, organizing one’s writing life is an ongoing process.

Whatever happens, there should be improvements by the end of summer, I hope.

Staying on Top of the Writing Biz

Author CaptionWriters who are as serious about selling their books as they are about writing them know all too well that one’s writing life quickly becomes a business. Aside from arranging events, blog tours, social media shout-outs, and so on, there’s the actually selling of books and record keeping that accompanies it, or at least it should.

If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will track your sales, but if you’re self-published, well, that’s on you. Keeping track of income and expenses is an important part of the writing biz. Here in Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to know about every dollar you earn from writing and every dollar you declare as an expense.

Since I’m not an accountant and therefore unqualified to give technical advice, I’m offering only two general tips that come from twenty-five years of selling my books through gift shops, bookstores, craft fairs, and writers’ events.

The first is stay on top of your bookkeeping. If you’re self-publishing multiple titles and selling at numerous events, then it’s important to know which title sold where and for how much. Bookkeeping tasks can mount up fast, especially during the Christmas season, so I find it best to record my sales on a spreadsheet right after every event.

It’s also important to note any expenses you wish to declare for each event. There are a number of online accounting packages like QuickBooks to help you out, but if you only have a couple of titles and know how to use Excel then that will at least keep you from frantically rummaging through shoeboxes of mangled receipts every April.

Here’s where my second piece of advice comes in, and this is probably stating the obvious, but if you’re selling books through your own website and accepting different forms of payment from different countries with different taxation requirements, then consider hiring an accountant. The same advice applies even if you’re not, but are having trouble figuring out what is a legitimate expense and what isn’t.

I’m lucky to have three accountants in my family, but if I didn’t I’d definitely hire one. It might seem pricey, but a professional can help you set up an efficient recordkeeping system and possibly save you thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Even if you have only one book out, it’s still a good idea to keep track of how many copies you sold, when, where, and for how much. These stats alone will help you figure out which events are viable, and if your books are appealing to the right demographic. Trust me, demographics vary from community to community.

When it comes to the business of selling books, there’s a lot to think. Do you need a GST number? Should you form an incorporated business? If those questions make your head spin, I totally get it. If you’re procrastinating with overflowing shoeboxes on a shelf somewhere, you know who to call.

Serendipity: How a Dire Situation Became Something Better

Serendipity is what I’d describe as chance encounters with unexpected and excellent outcomes. They don’t happen often in my life, but our family experienced it twice this week, and we needed them both.

I won’t bore you with descriptions of the many phone calls, pharmacy trips, assessments and stress that happened in April and May to try and get my 84-year-old mother more frequent and professional care for her dementia and pancreatic cancer. My sister and I were her advocates, and our family doctor initially thought professional home support and medication would be enough. But as her condition rapidly deteriorated, we began lobbying the powers that be for either palliative care treatment or a hospice.

Everyone tried to be helpful, but there are rules and protocols before one qualifies for hospice or long-term care facilities in British Columbia. As it turned out, impromptu assessments by R.N.s without my knowledge or any feedback from them resulted in their underestimating the depth of my mom’s dementia and relying on inaccurate information from her.

When it became clear that she wasn’t eating solid food, but living on ginger ale and Boost for several days, my sister got on the phone. She wound up talking to a sympathetic woman who suggested that a palliative care doctor could come and assess Mom, and this time, they invited us to be there, so I went. Twenty-four hours later, the doctor’s office told me that she would be placed in a hospice, but at a facility that was still a fairly long drive away. We were hoping for one closer to home, however no beds were available,  but  at least she was going where she’d get the care she needed.

Twenty-four hours after that I received a call, I received another phone call saying that a bed had just become available at a hospice five minutes from my home, and asking if I could bring her there at 2:30 that day. It was both a welcome surprise and a huge relief. She’s currently in a wonderful, caring environment.

MojoThe next dilemma was what to do with her fifteen-year-old cat, Mojo. I’d placed a poster at the vet, boarded him there a few days, asked friends, associates, and work colleagues, and did a shout-out on Facebook. As our family and friends were already inundated with pets who would not welcome a newbie and the cat shelters were all maxed out (we checked), we reached the conclusion that he’d have to go to the SPCA. A phone called to the Vancouver branch assured us that they have a high adoption rate, and that a number of people would be interested in adopting a senior cat. Still, life in a cage seemed depressing.

As it happens, my sister has a part-time retirement job as a cat-sitter. Although she fractured her kneecap last September and doesn’t take on new clients, she has a small number of long-term clients. The day before we were planning to take Mojo to the SPCA, she was tending to a client’s cats when a vet technician she’d met months before showed up to give one of the cats an injection.

They began talking and as my sister updated her about our situation, the tech volunteered to find Mojo a home. She apparently volunteers with a couple of cat placement centers. She told my sister that she’d make a couple of calls and see if she could find him a foster home right away, then look for something more permanent.

We held our breath, hoping she’d come through, and sure enough, she called the next morning. We were to bring Mojo to her workplace, where a foster family would take him home. Given that Mojo’s a Himalayan (not purebred) with gorgeous blue eyes and a friendly personality, we have every confidence that he’ll be placed in a permanent loving home.

Sometimes it takes prayer, other times visualization, or staying positive to achieve the best possible outcome in a tough situation. I think I used all of the above, and I’m thankful for the people who appeared in our lives to help us through a difficult situation. When the opportunity arises, I plan to pay it forward.

Acquiring Mental Strength

o-MENTAL-STRENGTH-facebook[1]A few weeks ago, I came across and interesting article about things mentally strong people do that no one else does. It intrigued me because I’m immersed in a year that’s requiring a lot of mental and emotional strength. But as I was reading the article I was struck by how many of the 12 points listed also applied to my writing life, not just my family life.

For example, among the twelve points listed, the first one is practicing gratitude. I’ve been doing this as a writer from the day I sold my first piece back in 1983. I’ve enjoyed many moments of gratitude since then and have managed to acquire some of the other points on the Entrepreneur article list.

For example, mentally strong people create their own definition of success, delay gratification, don’t blame others, adopt practical optimism, acknowledge their limitations, and don’t compare themselves to others.

I can’t claim to have conquered all points listed. I still have trouble saying no, I still let my inner critic vocalize too much, and I still let fear get in the way of going all out in certain aspects of my career. But I’m working on it.

One of the things I’ve learned after nearly forty years of writing is that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I have something to share with newer writers just starting out. And that means a lot.

If you’re interested in reading all twelve points listed in the Entrepreneur article, you can find it HERE.

The Powerful Connection Between Nature and Writing

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpgWriting and gardening seem to go hand in hand. I’ve read wonderful blogs from authors whose photos and enthusiasm for their gardens is amazing. I’ve read biographies about deceased authors who were also passionate gardeners.

Although I haven’t done much gardening as an adult, I loved growing flowers as a kid. My favorite were gladioli. I still like big flowers, dahlias and sunflowers in particular. But after my husband started a vegetable garden in earnest last year (we enjoyed oodles of zucchini and kale) and we had some trees topped or removed (we still have plenty of trees, trust me), the sunlight has poured in, revitalizing flowering plants (which will hopefully attract bees) that have been there for years, but never really blossomed, until now, as you’ll see in the photos.

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019.jpgMany authors know that one of the best ways to sort through novel plotting problems is to take a walk, whether in the woods, by water, or in a park. There’s something about the tranquility, the sounds and smells of nature that ease our conscious minds while allowing our subconscious our brains to quietly knit ideas together. It’s no wonder that some writers prefer to write outside. Beaches, outdoor cafés, benches, campgrounds, can be inspirational.

At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who’ve been working hard to finish and/or edit a manuscript find the outdoors a way to re-energize and just breathe. There are certain outdoor places where I don’t think about writing at all. While in Mexico back in January, I spent a great deal of time outside walking and seeing the sights, with little thought to writing at all.

As most authors already know, writing about nature is an integral part of storytelling. Without a setting, we don’t have a fully developed novel, and while some stories might be set totally indoors, many are not. Writing about what we see, hear, smell, and touch adds depth to a story that relies too heavily on visual senses.

By the way, last week I wrote about weird and wacky days of the week. Tomorrow, May 23rd, is world turtle day, according to my WWF-Canada calendar. Not wacky or weird. Just poignant. Because I fear that we’re losing too much nature at a horrific rate and that one day we’ll be forced to step inside some sort of dome if we want to see it and inhale the many fragrances. It makes me want to do more to keep what we have before it’s all gone, and to enjoy the outdoors more often.