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Spring is here! It’s official! In fact, it might have whizzed past over a few days, and now summer is hot on its heels. How do I know? I have my special signs. Gardeners get excited because they can start their flowerbeds. Mountain bikers rejoice in the open trails. Sporty types start donning their shorts and jogging shoes. Me, I’m grateful for the more arcane signs of spring.

My car radio has refused, absolutely refused to remember any of my pre-set stations since October, giving me static and requiring much fiddling for the first few minutes in the car. Yesterday, I turned on the radio and Espace Musique started playing! Yes, Spring is here! I have music again! Since October, the remote for the garage door opener has demanded at least ten tries before the door finally starts to creak shut. Maddening. Yesterday, a miracle! It closed on the first try. Yes, Spring is here! YAY. My neighbour’s boat has suddenly parked itself next to our fence, another sign of the change in seasons.

People are smiling at each other, despite the economy. Cashiers are more polite. Neighbours say hello. Even the construction workers next door seem in a cheery mood.

Here’s to spring!

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the house next door

Today, the house next door was demolished. It was a lovely, dark little house, built sometime around 1920, surrounded by tall fir trees. Now the trees, the boards, the walls, the floors are lying in a huge pile of rubble which I can see from my bedroom window.

I knew the story of the house well. One owner, a lawyer, started a basement renovation but ran out of steam. The next owners, who loved the house, produced too many children and had to find bigger digs. The next inhabitant loved the house, with its stained glass window, arts and crafts fireplace and hardwood floors. But then there was a break-in, and she no longer felt safe in the beautiful, beleaguered house. Darned drug addicts. I lost a wonderful neighbour.

It was sold, and sat empty and sad for months. Finally, some tenants moved in. Bad luck for the house (and for us) as it became a grow-op. The lovely house now had boarded windows, closed blinds, a pack of guard dogs, and a strong skunk odor. I liked the dogs. They had personality. But the poor house looked as if it had been in a bar fight. The interior was probably irreparably damaged by the moisture, but, then, the house was headed for demolition, anyway.

The grow-op group moved out, and the house sat sad and empty again, except for scavengers and squatters. Somebody took away the fireplaces, the beautiful windows, the glass doorknobs. One could say that it is better these things found a use, whether being flogged at a flea market or in a home renovation, than end up in a dump.

Today, as the cracking and roaring and thumping went on, under the jaws of the yellow monster used for such massive chores, I was sure I heard whimpering. I turned off the stereo and listened. Under the noise next door, I definitely heard sad moans.

Was it the house? Was it whimpering at its sad end? Or perhaps, I decided, it was whimpering with relief that its suffering, after a life of beauty and elegance, was over.

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goodbye downton abbey

Adieu, Downton Abbey. Your characters will inhabit my dreams just as they inhabited the upstairs/downstairs world of Downton Abbey.
I loved the final episode, so Shakespearean in nature, with everything tied up so neatly, and all characters looking at a glowing future (okay, maybe not the vile Larry, son of Dickie, but who am I to hold a grudge on behalf of a bewildered aristocrat). I half expected the major characters to break into dance with a lute player in the background, it so closely resembled the end of a a lovely Shakespeare romp.

Unlike other viewers (I sometimes check out comments on various recaps) I didn’t see this as all about love (although there was certainly enough of it to sugar your coffee and tea for the next decade or so) as about redemption. Almost every character worked their way through a difficulty or a guilt and found a way to get to the other side, most notably dear old Barrow, who has always been one of my favourites. I have always loved that his sly and cunning and malicious nature would suddenly take the background, as he shows genuine kindness or hurt. And Rob Collier-Smith (do I have the name right?) certainly knows how to turn on the waterworks, so that I have sobbed along with Thomas in his various disappointments. How fitting that he (with a suddenly sunny and serene nature) offers Baxter evolved advice about getting on with her life, and putting jail and humiliation and all that jazz behind her. Okay, way sugary, but I loved it.

Then, dear Edith redeems herself, after years of hiding the semi-comatose Marigold (that child has the energy of a wombat) in the nursery as a boarder, and suddenly comes clean. Then, even the crisp virago, Bertie’s mother, redeems herself at dinner. Hey, all these people are having major revelations.

Of course, the nasty Mary offers the most surprises. Now that she has snagged a man she can actually stand, she paves the way for Edith’s happiness by arranging a dinner with the estranged Bertie, and offers even more surprises. Gasp! When Anna goes into labour in her bedroom, Lady Mary (double gasp!) gets down on her knees to take off Anna’s shoes and help her into her noble bed! Yow. I actually believed her when she told Carson, “You are so dear to me.” What has come over this icy, brittle woman? Oh yes, right: Series Finale. We have to end up loving everybody.

Violet the Dowager, Isobel the loyal caregiver, Daisy the ditherer, Mrs. Patimore the dispenser of witty words (gotta love the Becky Sharp line!) all had their moments. I especially loved Maggie Smith cracking up over Spratt’s advice. I think Spratt should have a spin-off series. Just my opinion. Maybe Barrow should have his own series, too, in his new life as the butler at Downton Abbey. But then, of course, all the actors would have to come back, and they probably already have contracts for new roles as gunrunners, addicts, strippers, MI6 agents and undercover cops. I wish them all well, and am grateful for their wonderful work as they let me live in the glow of Downton Abbey.
Now, back to life in inner city Calgary, as I work on my next book.

All in all, very satisfying, if unrealistic at times. Thank you, Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes for a great time.

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I have a problem with our driveway. Because we live in the inner city (Home of Construction Everywhere, No Matter the Economy) our driveway is frequently blocked by obnoxious white pickup trucks. I leave plaintive (and sometimes threatening) notes on their windshield, and sometimes (sometimes) they move. Hey, we paid big bucks to have that driveway installed, and I do not appreciate having to haul groceries half a block when I have a driveway. Or, more exactly, I would have a driveway if white pickup truck drivers who are either myopic, stupid or just plain inconsiderate, didn’t block it.
So, this evening, when I saw Yet Another Vehicle blocking our driveway, I was moved to foray out and have a little chat. I immediately ascertained that it was a young boy and his mother moving in next door (a situation I greet with glee, gratitude, relief, you name it, as nobody likes to have an empty house next door which would be an invitation to drug dealers, thugs, ghosts, ghouls, rodents and more).
So I greeted this young boy cheerily, reminding him that they were parked across our driveway, but it was PERFECTLY OKAY, and I was glad to see them moving in.
His reaction was similar to that you might see in a low budget tv movie where the villain is a teenage boy with a blank face who ends up being a serial killer.
Oh, dear, I thought. I have alienated the poor boy. So a little later, I went out again, and asked to speak to his mother. His reaction, again, was closer to that of a thug than a well brought up teenage boy.
My initial reaction was that somehow I had failed to make these people feel welcome in the neighbourhood, despite my expressions of gladness that they had moved in.
Then, WHOA, I thought! My cousin Michael has brought up two extremely decent teenagers with SOCIAL SKILLS (yes, a few of us have heard of these and sometimes practice them!) and I can’t imagine his two lovely children ever being so obnoxiously obtuse as this young guy, who was reluctant to call his mother so I could speak to her and welcome her to the neighbourhood.
Then, again, I did an about face and wondered if these people were coming from difficult circumstances. Maybe this obtuse young kid had been abused and was doing the best he could. Maybe moving into this old house in Killarney was a big step forward for them. Maybe he was so troubled he didn’t know how to respond to kindness and courtesy.
And then, next step in this perambulation of manners and annoyance, I thought, well, maybe this kid is just a future THUG or worse, serial killer!
GREAT! I have a future serial killer living next door!

I guess you can tell that I should really not overthink these things.

Bottom line: Why on earth can’t parents teach their kids basic manners (as my cousin has done)????

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a chance encounter with a valentine

Sometimes, like many of us, I am so discouraged by the dark news we hear. I am saddened by the meanness, the lack of soul, even the lack of basic courtesy that we encounter in our everyday travels.
So, how lovely it was, on Valentine’s Day, to exit the Glamorgan Safeway in south west Calgary, and see an elderly man fighting his way to his car against the bitter wind. He was at least 80, maybe more. He was tall and slim. His suit was old, close to threadbare, and loose on him. His head was balding on top. He resolutely worked his way to his car, and I saw that he was carrying (and protecting against the wind) a bouquet of tulips, and a beautiful floral potted plant. Who was the intended recipient? His wife? His partner? His housekeeper? His daughter? No matter. Love triumphs.

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If any people in southeast Calgary, specifically a suburb known as Copperfield, or Coppertown, or something like that, which in my mind is more like Copperhead Snake, saw a redheaded woman of a certain age, weeping, and driving her little Yaris up and down streets in a nonsensical and desperate manner today, you should know it was ME and not some alien visitor.

My beloved Doctor Laura has moved her practice from a perfectly respectable location in the southwest of the city, to an address that I could barely find on the map. I didn’t even know that area was settled!

After all, I am a person who still visits the drugstore at the strip mall where my mother taught me to drive decades ago, when it was nothing but an expanse of concrete. I drive past the high school I attended years ago, almost every day, and don’t even notice it.

So it was a Big Shock to me to discover that if I wanted medical care from a doctor with charm and sensibility, I was going to have to brave the wilderness.

My little Yaris almost went into shock itself, as we drove past fields of golden construction vehicles, only to end up, after a circuitous route through mounds of dirt, in a development which consists of identical matchbox townhouses on identical streets, with absolutely nothing to distinguish one road from another. Think Stepford Lanes. I had been given faulty instructions, by humans, and also by the Google map system, which cleverly obliterated part of the address and and sent me in circles in this godforsaken development. I drove around and around, up and down the same streets, trying to find the stupid 7-11 and Shell Station which Marked The Spot, and finally became a demented woman blubbering behind the wheel. A delightful sight, which no doubt frightened small dogs, children and even horses, if any had been around. (Not such a farfetched idea, as I am sure this spot of hell was prairie just a few years ago.)

Who would want to live here? I pondered between cascades of tears. Such anonymity. And so far from civilization.

Of course, I was almost an hour late for my appointment, but luckily, my doctor finds me amusing (plus she is very kind) and saw me anyway. And then, of course! I got lost on the way home, and after nearly getting killed by road rage drivers on Deerfoot Trail (a freeway notorious for its ill mannered drivers) accidentally landed on the dreaded Blackfoot Trail, where only by a wild flash of fortune did I manage to exit on a road that might lead to civilization as I know it.

I sound like a big kvetcher, and I am. Just saying there is no point in going to the doctor if you nearly pass out from a panic attack on the way.

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You can tell you are getting old when you start lamenting the loss of manners in society. Of course, I was kvetching about this in my twenties, so maybe I should revise that statement.

Today, after a brief foray to Dollarama, I departed the store, holding the door open for a young guy with a baby carriage. He didn’t thank me, but what the hey, I figure that if I were wrestling a brute of a baby carriage (with dear cargo inside) I wouldn’t have time for the niceties either.

I was still holding the door when a young Middle Eastern woman with heavy makeup (think Elizabeth Taylor in her Cleopatra days) zoomed through it.

“You are welcome!” I called after her, cheerily.

Then, as I was still stupidly holding the door, perhaps still wondering why nobody had acknowledged that I was acting as ad hoc doorman/person, three young kids brushed past.

“You are very welcome!” I called after them, an a pathetic attempt to get some manners out of somebody, anybody, anywhere.

Just as I was about to give up hope, a white-haired man with a genial, round face (maybe Santa Claus on a break) walked through the door, and, obviously having seen the previous exchanges, made a slight bow, made eye contact and said, very gracefully, “Thank you very much.”

“You are very welcome,” I smiled back.

See. There is always hope.

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I was so happy to be invited to participate at When Words Collide, a fabulous writing and reading festival for lovers of words held at the Carriage House in Calgary Aug. 9 -11.

My first day, I was part of a Humourous Readings panel, and Eve of Destruction, a panel on writing strong female characters. (See cute photos on Facebook.)

My last panel was on Sunday morning. When I saw the title, Getting Past the Middle Doldrums in Novel Writing, I thought, “Yes! I should sign up for this. It might be helpful with the middle sections of my next Lulu Malone mystery.”

I imagined a small koffee klatch of maybe five or six authors sitting around, moaning and kvetching about the middle sections of novels. Should be fun. I would be in good company.

Instead, just before I left for the Carriage House on Sunday morning, I thought I should maybe check out the other authors on the panel. (I have no idea why I didn’t think to do this before. I will come up with some great excuse, like evacuating seniors from the neighbourhood care centre, or rescuing puppies from bad people, or maybe catering a huge crowd at a last moment as a favour to a friend. Instead, I have nothing. Just didn’t think.)

I was somewhat horrified to see that I was on a panel with Patricia Briggs, D.B. Jackson, and Dave Duncan. The Big Names at the Festival. A big panel in a big room. And then there was me. Moi. Although one of my books (Rebel Women: Achievements Beyond the Ordinary) is a Canadian bestseller, and my first Lulu Malone mystery, Deadly Dues, has been well received, I was way out of my league here.

I imagined them going to the organizers and saying, “We have sold millions of books. Who is this little ms nobody on the panel with us? Dump her, or we walk.”

Luckily, my years in improv have given me a lot of creative courage and wild ideas. I asked to go first in the introductions, and basically presented myself as an impostor, having accidentally landed on this panel (true) and that, being stuck in the muddle in the middle (as the subtitle to the panel labeled it) I was looking forward to great guidance from my fellow panelists. For some reason, the audience of about 100 people found this quite hilarious. The stars must have been aligned.

The star panelists were very kind. They did not scorn me or mock me. (Well, maybe one did, but I am sure he didn’t mean it.) Instead, we all seemed to work together well, and I was just grateful to get out of there alive without having disgraced myself.

Later, in the authors’ market room, as I sat chatting with a gorgeous self-published fantasy author, at least six people approached me, saying (and I swear every single person used this exact phrase …. could my mother have paid them to do this?) “You were HILARIOUS on that panel!”

Big sigh of relief. I survived. And I also have some great notes for getting out of the muddle in the middle.


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WHEN WORDS COLLIDE, August 9, 2013

i don’t remember what I expected from this conference (or maybe it is convention) for book lovers, word lovers, readers and writers, but WOW, it far surpassed any expectations.

What struck me about the environment was the easygoing informality, the warmth, the welcoming vibes from all and sundry. Just people loving words and willing to talk in an easy way. Absolutely lovely.

My first event was a Humourous Readings panel, held in a small room on the 10th Floor of the Carriage House Inn, one of my favourite hotels in Calgary. Getting to the room was a challenge, as the elevators were possessed by demon spirits (or playful elves) and insisted on soaring up and dropping down, without letting anybody out, especially if they were a writer. Maybe the Carriage House just LOVES writers and wants to keep them close.

I met two women who I think will become lifelong friends, both brilliant, funny and warm. Melodie Campbell is the author of The Goddaughter and many more books, as well as helming the office of Crime Writers of Canada, and she is magnificent, generous, funny, talented and way more competent than I could ever hope to be. Janice MacDonald is the Edmonton based author of the Randy Craig mystery series, and she is so literate, warm, generous and fun. She even bought two copies of my book, Deadly Dues, which made me want to fall at her feet and sing her praises. But I didn’t. I have some dignity. She also has a terrific husband, Randy Williams, a gifted editor and writer in his own right, so all around, there was a mutual fan session going on between us.

We each read from our respective works, and the small group in attendance laughed at all the right moments. What more can a comedy writer hope for? Randy took photos which are somewhere on Facebook, and if I ever figure out how to add photos to my blog, they will be available for viewing here. I can only tell you I wish I looked as cute in real life as I do in these photos. Thank you, Randy!

Later in the day, Janice, Melodie and I met up once again, with three other writers, S. G. Wong, Kay Stewart and Susan Calder, for the Eve of Destruction panel, devoted to the discussion of writing strong female characters.

The discussion went far beyond what we had expected, and the general comments over the weekend were that we had touched on profound and intriguing topics which were unexpected and entertaining. (Hey, we are all entertaining! We had a great time!)

All in all, a great start off to the weekend. I am so impressed with this conference. Hats off to Randy McCharles for organizing.

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