Sunday, October 28, 2012

Exercise for the Soul

I am up and out the door at 4:15am; rain, shine, sleet or snow. I get out and power walk, then I head home to write for a bit before heading to work. I love that time because no one is around; it’s pitch black and the world is my own. Many think I’m crazy, but it’s my only time of peace, calm and serenity – or so I think it is. Those mornings when everyone is tucked away in bed are when my adventures often happen – and my imagination gears up for writing when I return home.

First there are the deer I scare as I hustle past. Um, half the time I am more scared of them. Some have really big antlers, and some have been known to charge in trying to protect their young. And let’s not talk about the hissing raccoons. Between the riotous deer and the rambunctious raccoons, I am more scared of them than the bogeyman.

I stick to sidewalks where the lighting is enough to prevent me from tripping - most of the time. But sometimes when a streetlight is out and a portion of the sidewalk is completely black, there are problems. Peace and serenity are destroyed when twisting your ankle on a pinecone, getting tangled in an obstinate tree branch, or breaking your arm tripping on a piece of plywood (long story, but it happened). The ice and snow I can handle trip-free, no problem. But things on the road? Forget it.

The streetlights that DO work guide my way, but sometimes they, too, can be scary.

Too many times when I have walked under a streetlight, I jump in fear. As something passes under its beams, the shadow of it on the ground is huge. The first few times this happened, I was sure a bat was about to swoop down on me, his shadowy silhouette on the pavement the only warning of his attack. It took me a while (ahem), but I finally figured out the shadows were not bats or flying rabid racoons, but moths. You know - moths attracted to light, and all that?

I listen to my iPod as I go, keeping beat to outdated music. But sometimes halfway through my walk I realize it wasn’t charged enough, and not only do I end up with no music, but I also lose my favorite feature – the stopwatch. I make a game of my work-out and try to beat my previous Olympic-worthy time. But sometimes I lag a bit, and visions of the Gold Medal are dashed until next time. ‘Oh well,’ I console myself, ‘at least I got out.’

But when the iPod fades to nothing, I realize how much I miss around me while listening to music. Owls hoot overhead, and although most birds are still asleep at that time, the ones I have yet to identify warn their cousins of the predatory owls - and likely me. Strange sounding birds compete with strange baying and yelping (wolves?). Needless to say, I pick up the pace.

My overactive imagination gets the better of me. It’s a wonder I even get out there, so treacherous it can be. But heck, many times it’s during those outings that inspiration comes for a story.

Then there is the problem of making a ‘pit stop.’ You know the kind; the kind that if it weren’t for the stampeding deer, ferocious raccoons, circling wolves, and swooping bats and moths, I would jump in the bushes and ‘go.’ If I am lucky, I can make it home. Fortunately for me, however, there is a recreation center nearby open early enough for me to run in and ‘do my thing.’ But sometimes I am too early and they are closed, so the back-up is the 24-hour grocery store situated perfectly on my route. It’s all in the planning, you see.

So by the time I get back home to clean-up and settle down to write, there is sweat in places we won’t mention, and I am a little unnerved by my wild animal taming. But at least I can make it through the front door without dribbling on the doorstep.

I am peaceful yet invigorated, inspired and de-stressed. And I keep going back for more.

It’s great out there! You should try it!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Lazy Rainy Sunday Afternoon

We had a drought. Yes, there are places in the world dealing with severe droughts much more worthy of concern than ours, true. But on the West Coast we are notorious for our rain accumulations, so when nothing happens for over three months, it makes the news.

Salmon had to be transported to rivers and lakes with higher water levels so they could spawn properly, and in some areas, outside plant-watering was banned. Although thankful for a reprieve from sleeping with our umbrellas like we usually do starting beginning of September, we were getting kinda worried. Where records are usually made for the most amount of rain fallen, this time records were made for the least amount of rain. It was the talk of the town.

I love the rain, and was beginning to miss it. Autumn is not autumn without rain, and my favorite season was becoming a bit of a downer. I dusted off my dancing shoes to gear up for a rain dance; I needed a bit of water to set the ambiance for the season. I shouldn’t complain as we were blessed with nice weather longer than usual, and more rain than we need would come eventually.

So when weather reports warned us to expect rain, it showed up right on time one mid-October weekend. And rain, it did. Drains couldn’t keep up, our dry, cracked lawns couldn’t soak it up fast enough, and we couldn’t dust off our umbrellas quick enough. There were mini-floods and puddles everywhere. Local ponds filled, luring the ducks back for a swim. But that didn’t stop folks heading out for a walk – everyone was thankful for water.

It was no surprise that after two days of rain, I noticed our usually dry front walk leading up to our house was a bit flooded, despite being covered by the eaves. Okay, so it wasn’t normal, but hey, it was raining, the first in almost three months. Maybe our gutters couldn’t keep up somewhere, I thought. Fine, I shrugged. It’s just water.

So off I dragged my lazy self to get the never-ending laundry done.

Clothes were sorted, and detergent was administered, and I was just reaching for the start button when I heard it.

The hypnotic, yet torturous, drip, drip, drip. It only took me a minute to realize it was coming from the faucets and drainage pipes leading from the wall to my washing machine. Then I noticed all the water on the floor behind the washing machine. And THEN I noticed water bubbling under the paint around the faucets on the wall.

OH my GOD.

Okay, Lisa, calm down. Show the husband later, then call landlord. For now, the right thing to do is to leave the laundry alone (yay!), and go eat some cake.

By the time I showed him, more paint had bubbled on the walls in the laundry area as well as on the walls in the neighbouring bathroom. I called the landlord in a panic, and he later discovered a leaky pipe in the walls in the garage right above the laundry room (hence the water outside, as well), with the water making its way down inside the walls. This time I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to do laundry, never mind that we might not be able to have showers. In the end we determined our ability to clean everything and every body wouldn’t be affected; it was a different pipe altogether. Thank God.

After cutting a few lovely holes in the ceiling of our bathroom, as well as in our laundry room to help dry out the affected drywall, the landlord left with the instructions that the walls would have to dry for a week before the plumber could work his magic. Aside from the holes being an eyesore and an inconvenience (my washing machine is in the middle of the floor), it could have been a lot worse.

I always try to find something good out of something bad. At least I caught it in time so we didn’t wake at 3 in the morning to collapsing water-logged drywall and plaster from the bathroom ceiling, AND we still got to have laundry and showers. And aside from the fact that the landlord saw how disgusting it was behind my washer and dryer, an area I was determined all summer to get around to cleaning but never did, at least I could now I could do it.

Through it all, I learned to be careful what I wish for – that wasn’t the kind of water I was hoping for. Guess my rain dance got a little misinterpreted.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What I Learned From My Bundt Pan

They say everything good doesn’t come easy and that the finest quality of anything comes with hard work, passion and precision. For me, I push a tiny bit harder to do just a bit better than what I think I can do. I am willing to work from the ground up. A bit of an independent person by nature, I often opt for doing everything myself. But time has taught me to ask for help, despite me trying to channel Wonder Woman. I know I sometimes just can’t do it all, even though I still sometimes try.

And these days, despite being ever-busy and often taking on more than I can handle, I try to make things easier for myself without jeopardizing mine or my family’s health or welfare. And I learned how to do it with a Bundt pan.

For too many years to count, I wanted a Bundt pan. I think I originally figured my cakes would taste better if they looked nicely formed in that ‘Bundt pan’ way. It’s all in the presentation, they say. But the need festered inside me and I couldn’t take it anymore – I wanted one no matter what the reason.

So, fed-up with my lack of Bundt pan-ownership, I finally marched over to Canadian Tire (a place I have penned many stories about) and bought a Bundt pan. With a ‘if it’s the last thing I ever do’ determination, I went straight to the check-out, proudly handed over my hard-earned cash (those things are expensive), and with my Bundt pan in one hand and my Canadian Tire money in another, I marched home. “SEE!?” I wanted to shake the pan at the world, “See this? I FINALLY have one! I am whole! I am WOMAN!”

Once home, I washed it then put it on the counter to admire it for the rest of the day. I was finally the proud owner of a Bundt pan. Then suddenly, it hit me.

I had no Bundt pan recipes!

I didn’t know anything about special Bundt cakes. You would think after all the time waiting for one, I would have stacks upon reams upon heaps of recipes waiting for the day I would finally grace my kitchen with a Bundt pan.

So the hunt was on. Through my cookbooks and all over the internet I started searching. And in my searching, I found a few tricks of the trade, so to speak.

I discovered the world of baking with cake mixes. Not JUST the baking of the actual cake mix by following the instructions on the box, but the ‘re-purposing’ of cake mixes to create something more than it was originally intended. Cake mix, sometimes along with a box of instant pudding mix, a few more eggs than usual, maybe some fruit or nuts, and voila! You have a fancy cake that might have otherwise taken eons to make, but all done in a blink of an eye!

During my important research, I discovered this ‘cake mix repurposing’ concept has been around for the last 50 years or so. Okay, so I’m a bit slow in just discovering the concept now.
Baking from scratch is still the cheapest, and of course, the healthiest way to bake. But when cake mixes go on sale, and I have no time or not enough ‘from scratch’ ingredients at home, and making something different the easy way might be the fastest – why not?

I sometimes feel guilty for entertaining such a blasphemous concept. When folks compliment my fine baking (after picking a bit of eggshell out of their cake slice), my guilt over my infidelity towards the baking world rears its head; I have to confess it all. No one has dumped cake over my head, yet, and they are pleasantly surprised by the taste.

The journey my Bundt pan took me on was much needed. Without it I would have never have learned the lesson of just letting go and making things easier for myself.

I learned that not only did I put myself back into the kitchen I am always so eager to get out of, but that it’s okay to skimp and cheat a bit here, to be able to give a bit more there. No one has died from me not being Martha Stewart, just like no one has died from having cake from a cake mix. Many might say ‘Why bake at all? It’s easier to just buy a cake!’ But why do that when it’s still cheaper to make one – and heck, I have this fabulous Bundt pan to use!

So needless to say a whole new world has opened for me. My Bundt pan usage is in overdrive. Every cake, even if not using a Bundt cake recipe, is baked in my prized pan, and the first place I visit in the grocery store is the baking aisle – for sales on cake mixes.

If I want more time for family, and my writing, something’s gotta give. Taking the easy way out to progress further in other things is sometimes okay, and a silly little cake mix might just do it for me – with a Bundt pan for added flair.

Be sure to visit the recipe section to see a few recipes you can use for your Bundt pan - if you are lucky as me to own one, that is!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Release Day!

Not Your Mother’s Book...On Being a Woman (Publishing Syndicate, October 9, 2012)

One of my stories is in the new anthology, Not Your Mother's Book...On Being a Woman, one of a series published by Publishing Syndicate! Publishing Syndicate has over 30 other titles being worked on, making them a fabulous opportunity for writers. Here's what founders Dahlynn and Ken McKowen have to say about the book...

Funny! Daring! DIFFERENT!

Not Your Mother’s Book (NYMB) is a new anthology for a new century. Women of all ages and with very different life experiences have shared their personal stories for "Not Your Mother’s Book . . . On Being a Woman." Some are seasoned writers, others simply have great stories to tell, but all are stories that women can relate to--and laugh about.

The authors write candidly and most with great humor, about life as a woman, be it learning about sex as a teen, dealing with husbands, handling the dreaded menopause, dieting, clothing mishaps, managing goofy relatives or any of the dozens of other women-focused life experiences. Chapter titles include: Just Saying; They’re Called Boobs!; Keeping Up Appearances; Worth Our Weight in Gold; Hear Me Roar; Stand Up!; Never Again!; and Sense and Sensibility. NYMB stories are hip, fun, daring and DIFFERENT!

Series founders Dahlynn McKowen and Ken McKowen spent 10 years as Chicken Soup for the Soul coauthors/editors before launching NYMB. "Not Your Mother’s Book . . . On Being a Woman" is the first in the new series, with another 30 titles under production. "Not Your Mother's Book . . . On Being a Stupid Kid" will be released in late October and features stories about all those stupid things we did in our youth. "Not Your Mother's Book . . . On Dogs" will follow in November, as well as "Not Your Mother's Book . . . On Travel." For more information, including submitting a story for consideration, visit

Stay tuned....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thankful for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for. Now, before you start rolling your eyes and thinking, 'Oh gawd, here she goes - another sappy rant about gratitude for family, friends and a roof over her head,' just hang on. Thanksgiving will forever hold a special place in my heart, not just about family, friends and having a roof over my head, but about being thankful for my writing accomplishments. Sure, this time of year is about turkey; turkey soup a favorite for many. But this year I think I need to make a bit of chicken soup - just to be extra thankful.

The last two years have been a whirlwind of life’s up and downs – such is life. But the 'ups' have very much been about writing experiences and publications.

It was Thanksgiving 2009, and with our own turkey doing its ‘thing’ in the oven, my boys and I packed a lunch and through the mist and fog we trekked out to Goldstream Provincial Park, 20 minutes out of downtown Victoria, BC. There we witnessed a large family having their own Thanksgiving in the woods, complete with turkey, candles and wine. The fact that they were surrounded by hundreds of years old fir trees was not lost on me. What a perfect place to celebrate a timeless tradition.

So, of course, I wrote about it.

Months later I then stumbled upon a ‘call for submissions’ for the series Chicken Soup for the Soul, notably their (then) upcoming book ‘O Canada.’ On a whim I sent in the Thanksgiving story, and promptly forgot about it.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was a market I had never really pursued, because I didn’t think I was good enough. I had submitted work to them years ago, but never got anywhere.

So a few months went by, and I was frantically living life, writing towards publication in other genres and markets, and dreaming big dreams.

One day an email popped up from the editors at Chicken Soup for the Soul saying that my Thanksgiving story had made it through their first round of judging. To say I was excited was an understatement. To say this was ‘big’ was an understatement. To say I was....oh never mind – you get it.

I couldn’t believe this could be a possibility for me. That I had what it took to maybe catch the eye of the Chicken Soup editors was surreal. It was just the inspiration, motivation and confidence-lift I needed. So I got busy, and started writing for their other upcoming publications. It became kind of an obsession for me, my walls covered in deadlines for future books, articles I found online about writing for them piled up, and many editions of their past books for me to read and learn from threatened to topple. I studied the series and their brand, obsessed about them, and wrote like a madwoman.

Something I should have, and could have, been doing all along if only I had the confidence.

That was in 2010, and here we are Thanksgiving 2012. That first Thanksgiving story never made it to print – such is the life of a writer and the business of writing. But in October 2011 and May 2012 I had two stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find your Happiness, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress, respectively. I have had a few ‘close calls’ like I had originally – a story making it as a ‘finalist’ but not quite making the final cut. Coupled with highs and lows, I have had such fantastic experiences come out of it all – one of which being interviewed about the books for television.

Through it all I have learned to have a little more confidence in myself, how to roll with the punches and handle (writer’s) rejection, and how to keep focused on bigger and better things.

So this Thanksgiving while the bird self-bastes in the oven, I will be making a pilgrimage to Goldstream Park where it all began, and have a little chicken soup in thanks.

And yes, I will be thankful for my family, my friends, and having a roof over my head.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble Gobble Gobble!