Thanksgiving Gratitude

Our Canadian Thanksgiving took place this past weekend. It’s one of my favorite celebrations and the perfect time, especially this year, to reflect on all that I’m grateful for.

Me and Ellie at 7 weeks.

The birth of my granddaughter Ellie is a true blessing. She’s just over ten weeks old now and I marvel at how she grows and changes every week. Maybe these photos will brighten your day a little.

Ellie at 2 months

Ellie’s birth is a clear reminder that life goes on and can even flourish, despite whatever else is happening in the world.

I’ve also been reflecting on the fact that all of my grandparents lived through two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, and a ten-year-long depression. Once again, I’m thankful for a relatively easy life compared to the things they endured.

I’m also grateful for my health and that since retirement I’ve had more time to balance extra sleep and exercise with writing time. I’m still working on a healthier diet, but hey, it’s a work in progress.

I’m grateful for our warm house, for food on our table, and that I can donate to share with others. I’m grateful for my wonderful family, friends, and a supportive writing community.

I’m grateful that I was born in, and live in Canada, and that my family moved from Ontario to British Columbia when I was seven years old. I’m lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This year I learned just how competent and caring our public health leaders are.

For Thanksgiving dinner, the six adults in our family bubble still practiced social distancing and spread chairs out around the room rather than eating shoulder to shoulder at the table. It worked just fine and we’ll do this as long as it takes to keep everyone safe.

By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around, maybe more things will have changed. Maybe they won’t. Either way, I wish that you all have something to be grateful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?

Planning the Rest of the Year

My biggest 2020 events have now passed…The publication of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, retirement from the day job, and the birth of my first grandchild. As far as I know, nothing major’s coming along over the next four and a half months, which means this is a good time to start making plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The problem with this idea is that our COVID world is only a few months old and not likely to disappear soon. Uncertainties are everywhere and planning is trickier than usual. Under normal circumstances, my fall craft fairs would be booked and paid for by now. These days, such events are up in the air. One of the fairs is planning to host their event online and it will be interesting to see how that goes. One was cancelled and I’m still waiting to hear on another.

As far as my casual job goes, which is to facilitate Port Moody Recreation’s creative writing workshops, the rec center is still trying to figure out how to make it work. Registration normally starts in July, so I and my three co-facilitators usually know what our schedules will be by now but we don’t.

So, I’m going to focus on what I can arrange, which mainly involves more writing and promotion work. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I have idea for a new series that requires a great deal of thought and note making before I write the first word. And there are always household projects waiting for attention.

At some point, the cold rainy weather will set in and the yardwork will stop and I’ll switch to indoor sorting. I have bins filled with the kids’ old schoolwork that needs to be sorted and some of it recycled. I’ve also started collecting new recipes which will be fun to try.

On some levels, I’m also preparing for a COVID relapse in case things go south in our area. In late May, we bought a freezer for the first time in my life. It’s not huge but should I or the people I live with get sick, we want to be able to feed ourselves or provide food and meals for family members, should they became ill. I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, which are plentiful in the stores these days.

I’m thinking about starting Christmas shopping early. My mother used to have her shopping done by the end of August and wrapped by the end of September, but that was before the dementia took hold. I used to think she was nuts to do everything so early, but retirement and COVID is changing my perspective.

I’d prefer not to shop online, so maybe I’ll start while the weather’s good and everyone else is outside. Needless to say, there’s lots to plan for. Who knows what the next four and half months will bring, but I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

What are you all doing to plan for the fall, personally or professionally? Do you find it difficult to make plans right now, or are you looking ahead as well? Meanwhile, here’s the latest baby Ellie photo. I’m blown away by the changes in just a few days.

Baby Ellie, 8 days old.

Transformations and New Roles

People are works in progress. We learn, experience new things, change jobs, homes, or relationships. Sometimes, as with COVID-19, change is dumped on us.

Retirement has given me a wonderful lifestyle change. But even before it began on June 1st, I felt a transformation coming that went beyond not driving up to the university five days a week. I knew I would become a grandparent, and that I would probably volunteer, and yes, both those things have now happened.

Ellie, shortly after her birth

I’m thrilled to announce that my granddaughter, Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Debra MacNeil was born this past weekend, and that I’m now officially part of the exceedingly special grandparent club. After my daughter’s maternity leave ends next July, I’ll be doing a lot of babysitting so she can resume her career. As a writer, all I need is a laptop, and I can work anywhere, so it’s all good.

Which brings me to my second transformation. As some of you know, I’ve been working on a lengthy urban fantasy novel for some time. Retirement has allowed me to work on it for longer periods each day which has helped me figure out continuity glitches and so forth.

But a new idea for a mystery series has also sprung up and won’t let go, at least yet. I’m making notes and thinking about it, often while doing household chores and yard work. I’m also wondering if it’s time to say goodbye to the Casey Holland series, or perhaps put it on hiatus.

I do have a Casey novella planned for release next year, but after that it might be time to move on. This new series idea, plus the fantasy novel will keep me busy enough, and I do love the idea of exploring something new, so we’ll see. Like most transformations, it will require much more thought and reflection.

Meanwhile, after many years of coloring my hair, I’ve decided to let that go too. I like the silver that started coming in during the first few weeks of  COVID. When I finally got to the hairdresser in June, I decided I want to keep it, so I’m in another transition there :).

Other transformations are coming down the road, but they are too far away to dwell on right now. Personally, I’m not afraid of change, as I believe it’s a crucial part of learning and growing. This grandma’s a lifelong learner, and in some ways I’m just getting started.

Reflecting On The End Of An Era

As some of you know, I’ve now reached the last week of my day job and will retire on Friday. In many ways it’s the end of an era. Although I was a stay-at-home mom in the 90’s, I returned to the work force when my youngest was seven and have worked different types of jobs over the years.

SFU_burnaby_campus,_1_sept_2007,_8[1]This last stint was at Simon Fraser University. Oddly, it was also one of my first jobs. When I was just twenty years old in the mid-70’s, I landed a job in SFU’s Registrar’s Department. I didn’t like my supervisor, so I eagerly took a job in the Computing Science Department, working as a secretary for the department chair. The man had a formidable reputation as being difficult to work with and the position had been vacant for some time. He turned out to be one of the best and most interesting bosses I’ve ever worked for. He was one of those conducting research to establish a definite correlation between cancer rates and asbestos workers, and all we know how that turned out.

My husband graduated from SFU. Although we were both on campus at the same time, we never met until years later where we both wound up employed for the same company. My son and daughter have also graduated from the university, and it was my great pleasure to see them receive their diplomas.

I returned to SFU in the fall of 2013, where my sister also worked. In fact, I got her started in the Registrar’s office way back then, but she stayed and I left to return to school full time. For a year, we were both up there again until she retired in the fall of 2014.

My first job back on campus was a year-long- temporary assignment in the Biology department. When that ended I was offered another year-long position in the same department, and from there I moved to continuous, part-time employment in Linguistics. Continuous employment meant that the university would subsidize my son’s university education. I worked 60% of a full-time week, and the university paid for 60% of his education. It was a great deal.

My son graduated two years ago with a degree in chemical/physics (minoring in computing science),  and I stayed on, partly because he wasn’t sure what, if any, job he’d find and I had visions of him going to grad school. But that didn’t happen. He wound up with a great job.

I have to admit that working 40-50 hour weeks at my writing and day job for the past seven years has worn me out. Compounding things was my mom’s dementia and cancer in 2018 and 2019. It’s been almost a year since she passed away.

Work-2My daughter’s in the last trimester of her pregnancy, and I feel that now is the right time to leave. An important new chapter in my life is about to begin and this grandma doesn’t want to miss a thing. Of course, I’ll still keep writing and publishing, though I might slow down a bit. Or not. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, thank you Linguistics. I’ll miss you.

 

The World’s Growing Impatience

Social[1]Long before the pandemic began, I habitually browsed through a variety of news sources to find out what was happening in the world. As I do so these days, one question keeps replaying in my head…how long can people reasonably be expected to social isolate before they chuck it in order to visit cherished family and friends, or to salvage what’s left of their business? As you all know, millions of folks are missing out on paychecks, medical procedures, visits with ailing family members, and educational prospects.

Here in British Columbia, talk has started about a slow and careful reopening, although we’re still two weeks away from lifting the state of emergency. Our provincial health officer isn’t ready to provide specific dates about starting elective surgeries or re-opening classrooms. It’s worth noting that B.C.’s lockdown hasn’t been as strict as it is in other provinces, and that many of BC’s closures are self-imposed. Still, I sense that people are starting to become really frustrated and even angry about the lack of work and accessibility to services. Here in the Lower Mainland, we are seeing more vehicles on the road than there was two weeks ago, although what this actually means isn’t clear. Maybe people just want to go for a drive. After all, gas is really cheap right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-isolation is easier for some than others, depending on circumstances, but is there a line that some will cross before health experts give the all clear?

The day that line is crossed will be different for everyone. Mother’s Day is coming up, as is the Victoria Day long weekend in about three weeks. If the weather is hot and sunny, what will happen then?

Governments aren’t bottomless pits of financial aid. They will run out of money and things will have to re-open—hopefully in a smart, safe way—long before a vaccine is developed. Will the majority of people be back at work this summer? Will the beaches and parks and malls re-open? If so, will the numbers of people allowed in be restricted, and if so, who will regulate those wide open spaces? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I don’t know what my own personal line is, but my daughter will give birth sometime in late July. I haven’t seen her in person since March 8th, and although I would never do anything to jeopardize her health, the urge to go see her will become overwhelming as time passes.

Yes, we’re all in this together, but as I’ve seen on the news this week, there are different interpretations of togetherness. Many of us are still doing our best to stay home, remain patient, and see what unfolds. May should prove to be an interesting month.

Writing About The Pandemic, Or Not

We’re all so immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic that it seems nearly impossible to get through an entire day without hearing something from TV, radio, and social media. And maybe that’s as it should be. I’ve always felt that staying informed is crucial, despite the contradictory statements and misinformation.

0304_n13_covid_19_coronavirus_graphic_generic_file[1]I’ve been reading blogs from people around the world about their personal experiences. It adds a poignancy and depth to the medical stats and political statements we’re bombarded with. I appreciate the candidness of bloggers expressing their hopes and fears, or even when they simply discuss their altered routines.

But, here’s a question I came across from an author this weekend, and it’s made me stop and think. If you’re working on a novel set in 2020,  will you be making reference to the pandemic and, if so, how much reference? Will it become a major part of your plot or will you avoid it altogether? After all, there are certainly people out there who seem happy to pretend that the whole thing’s an overblown hoax, which opens up interesting psychological components in fictional characters.

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgShould you build a plot around the pandemic, or should you mention it in passing? If one of my Casey Holland transit mysteries was set in the spring of 2020, my characters would be working in quite a different way than normal. Bus drivers are not charging fares these days. Passengers must enter from the back and sit within social distancing guidelines. In other words, no full buses allowed. This kind of reality couldn’t be ignored in my work, as social distancing would have to play a role in everything my characters do, whether sharing information on Zoom or writing reports from home. Unless someone was breaking the rules, face-to-face confrontations wouldn’t be happening, yet they are a crucial aspect of mystery/thrillers.

Here’s another issue. If you want to set your book in the spring of 2020, how much detail is too much? How do you keep from slowing your story’s pace with too many unnecessary details? And do you risk losing readers who’ll be sick of hearing about the pandemic and don’t want to read one word about it?

Movies made about OJ Simpson’s murder trial and other real-life murders have never held any appeal for me, if I’ve already lived through those periods of time. I remember wishing the OJ trial would just end so we could all get on with our lives. The same is true for Richard Nixon’s impeachment in the early 70’s.

I’m curious to know if those of you who write contemporary fiction( mainstream or genre) plan to incorporate the pandemic in your work. What about those of you who are children’s authors? Is this a topic you’ll want to address down the road? What do you, as readers and writers, think is the best way to handle the pandemic in fiction?

Keeping The Routine Alive

skd190324sdcWhen I’m on vacation, one of my favorite activities is to drink my morning coffee outside in the warm sunshine and think about nothing. It’s pure bliss. I have a sundeck at the front of my house, and a patio in back but, even in summer, I don’t use either of them when not on vacation. I’m either editing at the computer, then heading out to the day job, or running errands on the weekend before the traffic gets bad and the stores fill up. And then, of course, there’s the housework.

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to what, if any, routine I’ll have as retirement day approaches. All I’ve really thought about is living a less structured life, where I can do more of the things I want when I want.

Patio, Summer 2019I love the idea of sitting outside weekday mornings this coming summer, coffee mug in hand, and enjoying downtime and taking life easier. As it happens, my current stay-at-home life is giving me a glimpse—probably a somewhat skewed one—as to what retirement could look like.

Aside from being an introvert, one of the other main reasons I’m doing fine with self-isolation is because I’m keeping a routine. I still get up at the same time and after breakfast, head downstairs to my basement office to work on editing before starting the day job. I’m keeping the same hours at the day job and even taking the same break time. All other activities are pretty much carried out along my regular timeline as well.

Without all of the outdoor errands and other excursions, I’ve had time to organize my bookshelves and clear my bulletin boards of outdated papers. This is a project I hadn’t planned to tackle until retirement. It feels great. I’m going through my clothes closet next.

I’ve come to realize that when retirement starts, it’s probably not a good idea to throw my entire routine away. I like being productive and making to-do lists. I just don’t want to fill up every day the way I’ve done these past few years. My retired friends and colleagues assure me that this can happen before I’m even aware of it, so I’ll be mindful of this in the coming weeks.

wine_PNG9456[1]In some ways, retirement won’t feel that different than it does now. On another level, there is a psychological component, a sense of freedom in regaining a large chunk of my day just for me. I picture myself having that coffee on the sundeck, or a glass of wine in the afternoon. Pure bliss.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

My Mother’s Favorite Quote

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Everything happens for a reason”. If she was still with us today, she’d be saying exactly that right about now. I can actually hear her words in my head. I never could argue with Mom on this point, but sometimes I had a hard time figuring out what the reason was whenever a strange or disastrous event happened to friends or family, or when I heard of immense tragedies in other parts of the world.

With the rising number of deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, plus the social isolation, struggling global economy, fear, and uncertainty, I can’t help asking why. It’s in my nature. I do this all the time in real life about many things. The question’s also a crucial component in plotting mystery novels.

tropical-habitat-natural-environment-for-manatee-mammals[1]Scientific theories for the virus’s spread are circulating, along with tons of unscientific ones. Rather than focus on bats and conspiracy theories, I’ve been approaching the question in a more philosophical way (thanks to Mom’s quote) or perhaps an environmental one.

I started realizing that with fewer cruise ships on the water, fewer cars on the road, and fewer aircraft in the sky, maybe we’re giving the environment a wee bit of a much needed break. The Monday night evening news showed images of Venice canals that were actually blue and so clear compared to their usual murky brown state that people could see the bottom. Imagine that!

78[1]About a month ago, I read that emissions in China had decreased by about 25%. Whether this percentage is true or not isn’t as important as the often destructive ways human beings have interacted with animals, oceans, rivers, trees, jungles, and so forth. Did you seen photos of all the garbage left on Mount Everest earlier this year?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mother Nature has just walloped our bottoms with a warning to behave, or else. We’ve even been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Lord knows we’d been given plenty of warnings through frequent and severe storms and fires, among other things, and too many of us still weren’t paying attention. Now, the ante has been raised and if we don’t pay attention this time, we’ll receive another beat down that’s going to kill a lot more people than the 7,500+ plus souls so far.

It’s up to each of us to step up game and help heal the planet, or face something much worse. At least, that’s how I interpret Mom’s quote.

Underwater_turtle[1]