I am not a romantic, but even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose to pump blood. —Violet (Dowager Countess of Grantham)

I’m not much for television. I don’t even know the magical sequence of the myriad of controls that my husband uses to turn it on. During his absences, they lie dormant in a basket, and the house is filled with silence. Or music. Depends on my mood. But, as happens in everyone’s life, things change. This particular change has come in the form of Netflix. Oh my, what took us so long?

The absence of commercials is a terrific feature. Its intuitive design—tracking your viewing, knowing where you left off, analyzing your tastes and basing suggestions on them—well that’s crazy modern and downright convenient. The absolute best thing about it is that you can fall in love with a show and then just keep watching it. And watching it. And watching it. Which happened last month with Downton Abbey.

Now, I have always found the vast array of brainless gibber on television uninspiring and, often, downright irritating. I felt I gained nothing when I watched it, which led to years of avoidance. But apparently, I had simply been choosing the wrong programming. Not only was Downton Abbey vastly entertaining, it informed my writing.

It used every trope, some of them several times, and wrung every last drop of emotion from them: Edith’s rags to riches and Sybil’s riches to rags; Mary’s forbidden fruit…enemies to lovers, love triangle, friends to lovers, second chance at love (My, Mary was busy!); Violet’s strong character, a woman of steel with a heart of gold; The Grantham’s dabbling with the mid-life crisis in marriage. That’s a small sampling.

For me, there was no better story line than Anna and Mr. Bates. An unlikely pairing, they were perfectly suited but constantly challenged. Every time it looked as though they were going to enjoy their happy-ever-after, their worlds were torn apart. It is the stuff and business of romance novels. Seeing it play out on the screen, feeling the angst and rooting for their success, proved to me that it works. There is nothing entertaining about a smooth relationship. When all is well, put up a roadblock. Make them miserable. Give them hope. Then make it worse. The triumph in the end is so much sweeter for it.

There were so many small stories woven throughout, each one serving a purpose to the larger story. Poignant, philosophical, and at times, heart-wrenching, the tension is often broken by laugh-out-loud moments. It is an exemplary model of a writer’s craft enhanced by actors who are masters of show-don’t-tell and who have the courage to take the time needed with their lines. For it is often the spaces between the words that speak the loudest.

If I don’t post for a while, you’ll know what I’m up to—re-watching Downton Abbey. J

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Every once in a while, I catch a hint of fall on the mid-afternoon breeze. The evenings are cooling down quicker and the nights are getting a touch chillier. As autumn gently eases in, a sense of excitement grows within me. Renewal. Beginnings. Possibilities.

Maybe, it’s because for two thirds of my life I headed off to school each September. As a student, as a teacher, and as a principal, each new year was filled with anticipation. There was always so much to look forward to—new people, new learning, new experiences. The nerves days prior, the sleepless night before, and even the anxiety as I drew close to the school, were all part of the hype of a new year.

Conversely, it was also a return to the mundane and the predictable. Everything became scheduled. You knew when you’d be in motion and when you’d be sedentary. Even your body readjusted to timing the sating of simple physical needs like eating and using the washroom. And there was comfort in that, in knowing what comes next, in being back in routine. There was also satisfaction in it. I knew, without a doubt, I was going to accomplish something each and every day.

This week marks the fifth fall since my last return to a new school year, yet I still respond the same way. After a whirlwind summer of visitors, social outings, and many fabulous outdoor adventures, I am excited and ready to restructure my days and get back into the groove. My pencils are sharpened. My laptop is charged. Story lines are unrolling and I am anxious to get them down.

For me, autumn is not the beginning of the end of a year, but the first shiny season of a new one. May it be the same for you. Happy fall everyone!

Repetition doesn't create memories. New experiences do. —Brian Chesky

When was the last time you did something for the very first time?

This is a question posed by a friend of ours. She uses it to push herself into new adventures. Well, my husband and I took up the challenge and went sea kayaking for the very first time…and loved it! Our fantastic guide, Brian, from Wilderness Kayaking gave us the perfect first experience—a five-hour tour with a delicious picnic lunch on the shores of the stunning Sansum Narrows. We’ve already signed up for a moonlight kayaking outing during the next full moon. How awesome is that?

And, next week? We’re trying paddle boarding. I’m not sure the photos of that adventure will be as impressive. J Still, I’m totally pumped to give it a shot.

So, what say you? What’s your answer? When was the last time you did something for the very first time?

When you pay attention to boredom, it gets unbelievably interesting. —Jon Kabat-Zinn

There’s nothing like a bright shiny new idea. My heart flutters, my hands get a little clammy, and as excitement races through my veins, I head to the laptop to get the thought down. Inevitably, I stare at the essence of the concept and then become a blank slate. As in barren, empty, blindingly vacant. No grand plot, no intricate details, no sense of what I am supposed to do with this glossy image in my mind. It used to frustrate me, but now I know what to do.

I bore my brain into submission.

Others may need stimulus to spark creativity. I need bland mind-numbing tasks. In the winter, I get on the elliptical. I despise the elliptical, not simply because I am not a fan of exercise, but also because it feels like such a waste of time. As the minutes tick by, my mind becomes desperate to escape the monotony. It digs beyond the stagnant frontal lobe into the corners, unearths that idea, and starts to rub it to a polish again. A little plot insight here, a little character trait there, and suddenly my brain is running faster than my legs. I quite literally chase my story, huffing and puffing the plethora of particulars into my voice recorder.

At this time of year, I don’t use the elliptical to outsmart the stubborn creative cortex of my brain; I use gardening. More specifically, weeding. Now, there is no more boring outdoor task on a beautiful spring day than kneeling in your flower beds and pulling out quack grass, clover, and creeping vetch (Yes it’s a weed. I looked it up. J). And while some may claim it’s satisfying in the end, it doesn’t negate that it is also one of the most tedious gardening tasks. Which is great for me. With each weed I yank, my mind recedes from reality and returns to its own garden, taking those seeds and nurturing them into full-grown stories.

I have a bright shiny new idea. It’s for a series. There’s a lot of thinking that needs to be done. I may have the nicest gardens on the block this year. J

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. - Oprah Winfrey

Life on the island is unending indolent pleasure. We begin each day with coffee in bed with our fur babies. After a shared breakfast, we walk for an hour and enjoy the bucolic landscape that comforts us with its serenity. For the remainder of the morning, we are in proximity of one another, but for the most part, lost in our own activities. Keev journals, then plays piano or works on languages, and rehearses for his upcoming performance. I write.

We enjoy lunch together and then take a walk with the girls. Afterwards, at this time of year, the four of us curl up together ostensibly for a nap, but it’s usually just a snugglefest with quiet conversation and belly rubs…for the girls, not us. J Our afternoons are filled with shared house and garden chores, followed by quiet evenings of reading, or more often than not, socializing with the many wonderful people who share our lives.

It’s no wonder that we haven’t left our little corner of the world very much in the almost three years we’ve lived here. Celebrating a landmark anniversary, we decided it was time to venture further afield. Last week, we headed to the city. It was our first trip to Vancouver and we had a blast. We walked for hours each day, exploring the nooks and crannies of Stanley Park, Gastown, China Town, the Olympic Village seawall, and Granville Island. Our B & B was decadent and breakfasts were drool-worthy.

We had a fabulous time…and were entirely thrilled to come home. I enjoy travel. I enjoy new experiences. But I enjoy my life here more. Wrapped in the beauty of the island, surrounded by good friends, and warmed by a love that remains true and strong after all these years, there truly is no place like home. I am living the dream. 

Anniversary Giveaway!

It's the first year anniversary of the release of Cutting to the Chase. To celebrate, I'm giving away 3 e-book copies! On my Young Adult social media sites, I have been sharing glimpses into my writing life for #AuthorLifeMonth. Pop by one of them and leave a comment, or follow me there, for a chance to win. Contest ends February 28.


(Bobby, you need to set yourself up on Facebook so you can creep me there. I post about our lives daily. Seriously, do it. J)

Tears and laughter cleanse the heart. —Jonathan Lockwood Hule

On Tuesday night, we went to see the documentary Us & Them. Filmed in Victoria, British Columbia, it explores homelessness and addiction by following the lives of four homeless people over the course of ten years. It’s incredibly powerful, and their stories put a human face on folks we far too often pass with little more than a brief thought. While I highly recommend seeing it, it is not the film that I want to talk about, but the emotion that it stirred in all of us who attended.

As I watched, I stifled the urge to cry, sniffling as quietly as I possibly could. Beside me, a stranger’s shoulders shook as she wept, but she made no sound. When we left, my husband commented that he had a headache from fighting back tears. What is wrong with this picture? We were watching the pain of very real people. It was hard. We hurt along with them. We hurt for them. Why were we all so determined not to show that thing that we complain is lacking in our world—empathy?

Why do we suppress the public display of a very human reaction? Is crying not as natural as laughing? It’s not overtly taught, but somehow we have all gotten the message—it is embarrassing, shameful even, to cry openly. Stay strong. Chin up. Carry on. We hear these words of encouragement all of the time. Are they the wrong words? Is the subliminal message if you don’t do these things you are weak, you are cast down, you will stay down?

In reflecting on my own tears through the years, in my youth, I rarely cried. If I did, it was usually out of frustration or anger, and very much in private. I was perceived as a strong, competent young woman who was sure of herself and up to any challenge placed in front of her. I liked the image, so I fought any tears of pain, and certainly hid them if they fell.

As the years have passed, that has changed. Oddly, now that I truly am a strong competent human being, I cry more frequently. I think, in part, not because I feel more deeply but because I feel more widely. Years bring too much insight, too much knowledge, too much awareness of the larger hurt in our world. I rarely cry for me. I cry for others. What hasn’t changed is the fight against doing it in public. I don’t always win it, but I still struggle to contain tears when others are around.

Which brings me back to why? Our society, both subtly and explicitly, teaches boys that tears are weak. We’re working to change that, but it will be a long overhaul. As women trying to gain a level foothold in the world, are we also carrying the burden of that message? Do we think we are lesser if we show emotion? Does withholding our tears make us equal?

I don’t have the answer. However, I do know that I was more uncomfortable withholding my emotions the other night than I am when I let them loose. Like laughing, crying can be more than freeing; it can prove to be downright healing. And maybe tears, like laughter, need to be shared. Perhaps, that is how we create a kinder, more compassionate culture.