January Exuberance, Who Knew?

Not quite that exuberant, but close…

A funny thing happened on Sunday night. I felt wildly happy, exuberant, in fact. The reason was simple. For the first time in years, I was ending the Christmas season without worrying about heading back to a day job. Fretting about the return to work, or in earlier days, getting the kids ready for school, or even my own return to school, always meant that the first weekend of a new year was a downer. Not this time, my friends. I tried real hard not to smirk over the fact that my hubby and son were returning to work on Monday. Of course, I failed miserably, but they understood.

I have no intention of shuffling my way into laziness this month, despite the dark rainy days. I’ve a fairly long to-do list in my planner this week, but it’s my choice as to how much time I’ll spend on each of these tasks. This year, I’m going to give myself more free time on the weekends to try new recipes, read more books, or go for longer walks.

I have two major writing projects underway, and a third, which I’ve put on the backburner but really need to finish. It’s a Casey Holland novella, which was written quite some time ago and has been edited at least ten times. I put it away last spring, but 2021 might be the time to get it publication ready. The first six books in the series had a serious tone, but the novella is a tongue-and-cheek look at the lighter side of Casey’s work as a transit security officer. Once I pull it out of its folder, I’ll tell you more.

It will be a work-filled year. My choice. Productive. Creative. Fun. Stepping outside into the real world might be a little more challenging until most of the population is vaccinated, but I’ll do my best to stay safe. But once they are, that’ll be a happy day!

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!

Thank You

Photo by Raj Vaishnaw on Pexels

It’s been a remarkably busy pre-Christmas week, but not for the usual reasons. My shopping, wrapping, and charitable donations are all done (about two weeks earlier than usual), which is just as well. My daughter’s been suffering from back pain, which reached an excruciating level on Monday, so I’ve been looking after baby Ellie this week while she recovers. Physiotherapy seems to be helping, but we’ll see how she does over the coming days.

This week, I simply want to say thank you to followers of this blog for sticking with me these past couple of years, and give a special welcome to those who have joined this fall. I’m especially grateful for those who’ve taken the time to comment or respond to my questions. I love the interaction I’ve received since joining WordPress and hope it will continue to grow.

Meanwhile, are you on a countdown to 2021 yet? Something tells me that many of us aren’t waiting for December 31st to get the countdown started.

New and Old Traditions This December

Last Sunday, we went for a drive and didn’t head back home until it was starting to get dark. To my delight, many homes already had their Christmas lights up and some were displaying decorated trees in the windows. I totally get it. The need for Christmas cheer is more important than ever this year. Local news reports tell us that customers are buying Christmas paraphernalia, including cards, much earlier than normal.

As is my usual tradition, I decorated our tree this week, as I like to have it done by my son’s birthday in a couple of days. Three weeks ago, I started holiday shopping because I wasn’t sure if our area would have further lockdown restrictions by December. I’m not a fan of shopping online yet, although I’m getting there.

Sadly, many local outdoor lighting festivities have been canceled along with in-person fundraising activities, so I’ve been doing online donations. Christmas will look a bit different for many of us this year. Our gathering will be pared down, though we’re still planning a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And there will be gifts to wrap, cards to mail, and favorite Christmas movies to watch, so lots of our traditions will be intact.

The biggest and most welcome change to Christmas 2020 is the presence of our little Ellie, who is now fourth months old. It will be awesome to celebrate with a young child again, even though she’s too young to understand what’s going on.

So, new and old traditions merge this month into what I hope will be an optimistic end to 2020. What hasn’t changed is the gratitude I feel for what I do have and the opportunity to give back in a variety of ways. Now that preparations are underway, let’s hope this last month of the year will be the best one of 2020 yet!

Remembrance Day Thoughts

Poppies in a field after remembrance day ceremonies

I don’t have immediate family members who served in any war, although it’s highly possible that distant relatives served in at least one of the world wars. Regardless, Remembrance Day is one of the most important, and certainly most poignant, days of the year for me.

Over the years, I’ve kept every poppy I’ve purchased, except for the many that have fallen from my jacket. Seventeen of them are pinned to my bulletin board among business cards and notes. These poppies are a constant reminder that, thanks to those who served, I have freedoms here in Canada that citizens of some other countries do not. The freedom to choose my own path, though, came with a hefty price for those who fought for this privilege.

Serving in the armed forces must be one of the most difficult, and in many ways, thankless jobs a person can do. Yet, to me, it’s a noble and essential profession, and we need to honor these folks more than ever.

Heartfelt thanks and a big salute to the men and women who served and are serving today. This year, I’ll be watching the ceremonies on TV, with tears in my eyes and poppies nearby, as I always do. Lest we forget.

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.