Category: Beyond Writing Page 1 of 3

Chapter 34

This morning I awoke to a city covered with a fine layer of glistening frost, like the clouds had dusted my surroundings with icing sugar. It was a beautiful way to open my 35th year, with everything looking sparkling and crisp.

I’m now, as a friend pointed out, halfway to 70.

Thirty-four was, for me, a year of extreme ups and downs. Maybe the most extreme year of my life.

When I was 34, I visited six countries on three continents over multiple trips. I traveled with friends, alone with my children, alone with my husband and with my husband and kids. Before 34, the thought of getting on a plane left me fraught with terror, often paralyzed and numb. Before 34, leaving my children behind so I could see the world with my beloved made me so sick and anxious I couldn’t enjoy the places I was visiting. When I was 34, I boarded a four-seater single-prop airplane without so much as a tremor. 34 was the year I conquered a fear that has dogged me since early adulthood.

When I was 34, depression kicked my ass. It left me lower than I’ve ever been, so low that I stopped caring about climbing my way out of the pit I’d sunk into. And then, while I was still 34, I kicked depression’s ass right back. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was force myself to slog through those days instead of just giving up. When I was 34, I battled my own brain for the will to live, to accept help. That help came in many forms – family, friends, love, support, pharmaceuticals and counselling. I’m grateful for every one of them.

When I was 34, I started my own business, something I had always sworn I was never interested in doing, until I found something I realized I couldn’t not do. It started out as a very part-time hobby, but the more I worked at it, the more it’s become something I want to grow and nurture. 34 saw me try on a new hat – that of entrepreneur. And I think that hat fits me pretty well.

When I was 34, I sent my youngest child off to school for the first time. He ran from me toward his classroom with unreserved joy – and then ran back to give me a hug, maybe understanding the way only kids can that it was harder for me than him. It will be at least another ten years before I have a child out of school again. I miss their company during the day.

When I was 34, I became truly comfortable with who I am, and stopped seeking approval from others for my life and my choices. I stopped feeling guilty for doing things that made me happy, and I stopped putting my own needs last, realizing that sometimes the best way to help others to be their best is to make sure I’m at my best first. I will never apologize for doing that. I wore bikinis. I got another tattoo. I built a shed/office/clubhouse that’s just for me to read in or write in or drink cheap coolers in or just stare up through the sunroof at the stars in.

When I was 34, I changed. The high points brought me joy. The low points taught me about my limits and about who’s got my back. I am grateful for every moment of 34, because it’s what’s made me into the person who’s ready to tackle 35 with a joie de vivre that I haven’t felt in a long time.

A Side Project/Shameless Plug

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that one of my other pastimes is canning and preserving.

My cold room.

My cold room.

I spend a great deal of my free time from May-October putting up anything and everything in season to feed us through the winter. This past week, for example, I canned 75lbs of tomatoes into pasta sauce, turned a case of apricots into jam (with amaretto and vanilla, yum!), went foraging in a couple parks in my city for saskatoons and sour cherries, which I made into a juice concentrate for smoothies, and bought a further 15lbs of Lapin cherries to make into preserves. In short, I’ve been busy. Oh, and I scored this lot at a small-town thrift store today:

That's around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

That’s around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

It only made sense then, for me and my canning partner-in-crime and longtime friend Lindsay to open our own store supplying canning products and accessories.

The Cannery - Now Open!

The Cannery – Now Open!

We supply the Canadian market with hard-to-fnd products like Tattler reusable lids and Pomona’s Pectin as well as your favourites from Bernardin and more. We also strive to make mason jars more useful by offering products that will turn your jar into a cup, a coffee- or teapot, a soap dispenser or even a martini shaker! And if it’s recipes you’re after, we carry a large selection of books on canning, pickling and dehydrating. But wait, there’s more! We’ve also just started up a blog, Pretty Little Jars, focusing on skills, tips, recipes, stories and more. We hope with these two sites to become one of Canada’s leading sources for canning supplies and information. And now back to our regularly scheduled content 🙂

The Art of Words

As a person who finds herself inspired by words, I surround myself with wordy things. Books by the hundreds, typewriters of all shapes and sizes, even a writing-inspired tattoo (and another to come soon).

And then there’s artwork. My favourite pieces I own (apart from this painting by Brandon Bird which is the first thing you see when you walk into my house) all have to do with books and writing. There’s the large-scale print of a couple embracing under a tree that’s actually made using the entire text of Wuthering Heights, and the vintage typewriter ads, including this one which is pretty much exactly what I look like when I get on a real tear.

This is what I hung in my dreamy little writer’s shed tonight:

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

It makes me chuckle every time I see it. The poor wolfman! No one will ever read his comedic space opera.

I love the Tragedy series, btw. We have a bunch of them and I’ve gifted several more, but this one has been stored away until my retreat was complete. You can see them all, and buy your own prints, from the Tragedy Series Tumblr, which I strongly encourage you to do.


Do you celebrate when you finish a novel? Treat yourself in some way? Maybe a bottle of champagne, some decadent chocolate or a fancy spa massage?

I haven’t up until this point, beyond a self-congratulatory blog or facebook post and the basking in the positive comments that follows. But I’m thinking that once I finish the last book in this series, The Unknowing – and I mean finished, edited, proofed and put to bed – I’m going to give myself something really special. Partly to commemorate what’s been a fantastic experience for me, and partly as a reward for a whole lot of hard work, learning and growth.

And I know just the thing. In the series, the main character, Callie, receives a very special bracelet which figures into the story arc several times. It’s a fine silver-coloured bracelet with eight stones – seven clear quartz and one rose quartz. And I’m going to have one made just like it.

Rose quartz crystal. Isn’t it pretty?

I like the idea of not only a reward, but one that’s directly related to the accomplishment. I’m probably a good year away from reaching my goal so this won’t be adorning my wrist anytime soon, but I’m on my way. And won’t it make for a great story when someone comments on it!?

My E-reader Dilemma

Well not mine, exactly.

Kid 1 doesn’t read this blog, so I feel safe posting about it here – I’m thinking about getting her an e-reader for Christmas. Probably a Kobo. And because I know Kid 1, a very sturdy case.

Before I go further I’ll say that I only read on my iPad now – I think I’ve only read one physical fiction book all year. And I read three times as much as I did before I got the iPad.

My hesitation comes from this: will that deprive her of the tactile experience of a paper book, and how will that alter her reading experience? There’s certainly something to be said for browsing the library, reading the backs of books you might have never considered, wondering if you’d like them, that’s lost with an e-reader. There just doesn’t seem to be a good way to browse at random with one – sure the sites will suggest books I might like, but I want to know about the ones I’ve never heard of or that are outside my usual preferences. Now I just go on recommendations from friends and books from authors I already like.

That said, I think Kid 1 could benefit from the breadth of books available online that even our fantastic library system can’t match. I also don’t see us stopping our regular library trips, and her school greatly encourages reading as well.

Anyone out there buy their grade-school-aged kid an e-reader and have feedback on the experience?


This is going to be a bit of a ramble.

Every year, starting in about June and ending in October, writing gets shoved to a back burner and I focus on putting by enough food to feed my family for the next year. From freezing fresh fruit by the caseload to canning, pickling and dehydrating, the goal is to make it through the lean months of winter with a wide variety of food. Some of it I grow myself, most of it I source from local farms and markets.

Canning season starts with asparagus, pickled in brine with my own blend of spices. It usually ends with apples and squash, both sauced. Once the last of the kale and chard has been picked and the herbs hung from the rafters in the basement to dry, the garden gets put to bed and I start making soups and stocks to warm us on chilly days.

I’m committed to keeping as much of our diet local as possible, but you can’t get fresh Alberta-grown apricots or pears in February, so I have to get enough for the year in summer, and find a way to preserve them. The amount of produce that moves through my kitchen during these months is astonishing, when you add it up. 210lbs of tomatoes. 100lbs of apples. 40lbs of corn. 80lbs of strawberries. 60lbs of blueberries. You get the idea.

This is what it gets turned into.

This is what it gets turned into.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog before, but due to food sensitivities I can’t have dairy, gluten, eggs or almonds. This means virtually all processed foods are out for me, and I make everything from scratch. Without having all this stuff put by in the summer when prices are cheapest, I think my dietary restrictions would bring our grocery bill up to an amount that rivals our mortgage. And as a working mom it simplifies my life a thousandfold. Getting home from work at 6pm means I only have a short time to get dinner on the the table, so having safe and tasty spaghetti sauce ready to heat means all I have to do is cook the rice pasta.

But this is a blog about writing, right? Why the hell am I talking about canning? Well, because I see a lot of parallels between my path as a writer and my path as a canner. With both, I started out small and kind of fiddled around for awhile, trying different things out, reading lots of books, making lots of mistakes. With each new project I got a little bit better, started trying out different techniques and now I feel I’m rather good at both.

My now-not-so-secret desire is to one day write my own canning cookbook, featuring my original recipes, which will cause canning and writing to intersect even more directly in my life. It’s a few years off, but I’m starting to think about it, compile all my recipes and work on the ones that still need improvement. In the meantime, publishing my fiction is where most of my efforts are going to lie.

At the end of it all, whether I’m gazing at the hundreds of jars I’ve filled over the past few months, or reading the final page of my many-times-edited novel, the feeling I get from both is the same – accomplishment and a quiet sort of satisfaction. It’s worth all the work, the late nights, the tears, the bitter disappointments. It’s something I can be proud of.

Purple Haze

It came today. It came today!

Giddy. I'm giddy.

Giddy. I’m giddy.

That. That, my friends, is a Remington Portable No. 3. IN TWO-TONE PURPLE.

You can’t see the purpleyness of it in that pic so here’s a better one.

This one is from 1930. The colour scheme is officially called Orchid.

This one is from 1930. The colour scheme is officially called Orchid.

And from the side, so you can see the lighter lavender:

Lovely and worn in exactly the right way. This machine has been used and loved.

Lovely and worn in exactly the right way. This machine has been used and loved.

The first time I ever saw the purple Remington Portable, I knew it would be on my must-have list. Purple is my very favourite colour. But they seem to be astonishingly hard to find – not surprising, since they’re 80+ years old, and not many were made with these colours. I thought I’d never find one for myself, to the point where I was considering powder coating another typewriter of mine purple instead. But it would never be a Remington. It’s very simply a thing of beauty.

Then this one came along. Like so many of my favourites, I found it by chance on eBay. I wasn’t even seriously looking at listings; we had just gotten home from a long weekend of camping and I was browsing, seeing which auctions were ending soonest. And this came up – 40 minutes to go, still priced at what I thought was a steal. I’d never seen one for sale before. My heart was actually pounding, but I had to act all casual and off-handedly mention to my very understanding, if possibly typewriter-weary husband that there was something I might bid on, if the price stayed reasonable. I think he was going to start to say maybe not, but when he saw the pic I clearly saw the resignation in his eyes. There was no question this one was going to be mine. And after an agonizing 40 minutes, when I placed my sneaky last-second bid with moments to go, I was the proud owner of this lovely machine.

The two weeks it took to arrive from Michigan felt like months. And then when I got home from work today, there was a large package propped up on my front step. “Is it the purple typewriter?” Kid 2 shouted. Both of them clamoured all over me while I opened the box, then the travel case. And seriously, we all gasped in unison. For the next 45 minutes, during which I was supposed to be making supper, we instead fiddled with it, got the carriage unlocked, moved the margin settings, and typed out a short note.

It works perfectly. It’s 83 years old and every single key strikes smoothly and without hesitation. It might be my best-working machine of them all (and this makes ten). I’m not sure if I’m ready to say I love it the very best – Pinkie Pie, my Royal Quiet De Luxe, my two cursives (Ivy the Olympia SM4, still a work in progress, and a Royal Aristocrat, which will get its own post soon) and another you-won’t-believe-it machine are all near and dear to my heart, but it’s a strong contender.

It’s the only one I’ve taken into my bed, though. I’m writing this blog post right before I turn in and it’s laying beside me in the spot where my husband should be. Not joking.

I feel like the only thing it’s missing is a purple ribbon to complete the colour scheme. So that’ll be my next eBay purchase, and then I really need to put my account to bed for awhile.

Unless an Olivetti Valentine comes up at a good price…

Want to learn more about my typewriters: Check them out here.


I’m kind of bored tonight. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that anagrams have much to do with writing, but they’re still fun. There aren’t too many interesting ones with just my first and last name, but when you throw in my middle name, you get gems like:

– redescribe moth loins (not being an entomologist, I think I’ll pass)
– herbicide rots melons (no shit?!?)
– lost herbicide sermon (maybe if they hadn’t lost it, they’d know it would rot their melons…)
– herbicide snot morsel (I don’t know how to respond to this)
– incredible mesh torso (This is quite possibly my superhero name)
– incredible shoe storm (The current condition of my closet)
– incredible moth sores (Possibly located on their loins?)
– recombined loser shit (Ouch.)
– smooth line describer (A career with endless potential!)
– describe hotel minors (“Well, officer, one of them had a skateboard…)
– describe mother’s loin (Umm, no thank you.)
– bisected rhino morsel (It’s what’s for dinner.)
– bicolored semen shirt (I really should do some laundry.)
– moldier obscene shirt (I really should do some laundry.)
– Hitler’s bodice sermon (One of his more famous speeches)
– more bristlecone dish! (It’s what’s for dessert.)
– broiled ostrich semen (a sauce for the bristlecone dish)
– retch inside bloomers (if any of the above don’t appeal to you)
– become hired nostrils (now that’s useful career advice)
– become doltish rinser (not so sound advice)
– biochemist nerd loser (awwww…)
– bitchier models snore (I however, don’t)
– embolic shit endorser (buy yours today!)
– chiseled tin sombrero (it hangs above my incredible shoe storm)
– horrible incest demos (tickets at your local Ticketmaster)
– stone crib demolisher (trust me, I’m doing you a favour)
– horns bleed eroticism (oh my.)
– coiled hermits’ boners (oh my.)
– mini roosters belched (not your usual wake-up on the farm)
– merino bedclothes, sir! (they sound so comfortable!)
– most credible heroins (if I ever become a drug dealer, this is how I’ll describe my product on my business cards)
– bile directs hormones (I’ve always wondered where they came from)
– their bosoms reclined (mine are still pretty perky though)
– coltish reindeer mobs (downright dangerous, frankly)
– shoot Berliner medics (but only if they overcharge)
– boil censored hermits (since we’re already maiming people)
– Berlin dooms heretics (officially not a nice place to live, what with all the shooting and boiling)
– morbid, chestier Olsen (I think that’s Mary-Kate)
– mindless robotic here (hey, it’s my day off)
– hire demonic lobsters (they’re good for dirty work)
– cheerio, blond misters! (and to everyone else reading)

courtesy of


I did something extraordinarily dorky in Portland a couple days ago.

Maybe you’ve heard of Powell’s City of Books – it’s certainly one of the largest bookstores in the United States, and in the opinion of many, the best. I love the idea of having the used and new books shelved together, and the fact that you need a map of the store to find your way around.

Anyway, we spent a couple hours in Powell’s, browsing, and bought a rather large bag full of books. With reverence we entered the Rare Book Room and I almost bought a first-edition, first-print-run Nancy Drew book (sadly, with the amount I’ve spent on typewriters in the last month, it wasn’t in the budget).

But that’s not the dorky part. Eventually I made my way into the fiction section, and I went and found the place on the shelf (two places actually, since I couldn’t decide if they’d put me in fantasy or paranormal romance) where my books will be someday. Even though it’s up to sheer alphabetical chance, the company of authors around that spot was pretty first-class. And I had this moment with the shelf and I told it that someday I’d come back and my book would be in Powell’s and that would mean that I’d accomplished what I’d wanted to.

And then I bought some shadow puppets for my kids and cried in a corner because I missed them.

I found my spot on the shelf. That spot is my spot. Maybe by the time I get back to Powell’s, it won’t be empty any more.

My Stargate Typewriter

I got a lovely new machine today, an  Olympia SG-1 (now you know why I’m calling it my Stargate typewriter!) It’s a real beast:

Olympia SG-1, 1959

Olympia SG-1, 1959

These were premier typewriters back in the day, and the woman who sold it to me said she brought it over from England decades ago and it’s been sitting at the bottom of a trunk, unused. Other than some cosmetic flaws, it’s in excellent condition, doesn’t even need oiling.

When I saw the pictures in the ad, I thought it was a steely blue colour and fell in love with it, but it’s actually a gunmetal grey, so I may consider refinishing it to something more interesting. You know, with all that free time I have. *eyeroll* Still, I like it quite a lot, especially given the fact that it’s in usable condition. It’ll make a nice addition to my collection!

I’m just putting this out to the universe now: for my next one, I’d really love to find a Royal portable, something bright and awesome. Do you hear that, typewriter Fates? A red one would be fantastic.

Olympia SG-1 logo closeup

Logo close-up. She’s a pretty one.

Want to learn more about my typewriters? Check them out here.

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