Hats and Books, Oh My

Writing books and making hats have something in common. Who knew? I certainly didn’t when I commissioned Lynda Marie http://www.lyndamariemillinery.com/to make a fascinator for me to wear to our daughter’s wedding. She knew the color of my dress (royal blue), the basic style (simple) and that I was wearing fun, in-your-face pink shoes. I wanted something elegant, I told her. Wedding guest classy, maybe with a little touch of sass.

I was excited when she showed me some of the elements she planned to incorporate. It was going to be beautiful; I had no doubt about it.

A few weeks later she called to say it was ready. Full of anticipation, I went to her studio. The fascinator was gorgeous, I absolutely loved it, but it wasn’t what I expected. In fact, Lynda Marie ended up using almost none of the original elements she’d planned to use. “I tried,” she told me. “I really did. I kept fiddling and rearranging and trying to incorporate some of the pink polka dots and a little of the other material too, but the result just didn’t feel right.”

I know that feeling. There have been times, particularly in the early stages of a novel, where I’ll fiddle and rearrange and fiddle again. Something just doesn’t feel right. If I can’t stop fiddling, I know I need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Is the premise weak? The character’s motive flawed? Is the tone off? Am I worrying too much about whether the story will sell rather than the story I have to tell? If my gut tells me something is off, then something usually is off. Gut feelings rarely steer you wrong.

The same can be said for bespoke hats. “I was trying so hard to make it work but that first creation didn’t feel elegant,” Lynda Marie says. “I was fighting with the pink polka dots and trying to force it because we’d talked about using them, but the result was nothing remotely close to what we’d envisioned.” She pauses. “Some hats come together easily and others don’t, but as my boyfriend reminded me, if I didn’t like the result then chances are you wouldn’t either.” As soon as Lynda Marie let go of what she thought she needed to do and went with what the fascinator was trying to tell her, the piece came together quickly and easily.

Sometimes we have to get out of our own way, leave our expectations at the door, and let the hat or the book or the painting or the quilt (or whatever else we’re trying to create) tell us what it wants to be. Sometimes we have to let the muse have her way.

The results, inevitably, will always be far more beautiful than we could have imagined.

And now . . .

. . .  please excuse me if I get a little emotional. In a couple of weeks, our daughter, our first born, will be marrying her beau, her beloved, her partner in bulldog parenthood. It is my fervent wish that she be as happy with him as I’ve been with her father. Of all the successes in the world, I believe a happy home (however you define it: marriage with or without kids (dogs, cats, guppies, lizards), or a happy home you make on your own) is the only measure of success that matters. Having grown up without that solid foundation, it was really important for me to be able to give that to my kids.

It occurs to me as I write this just how quickly the time has gone. I started my writing journey soon after my daughter’s birth. Her growing up has, in many ways, mimicked the changes in my writing career: from picture books when she was very young to middle grade readers as she got older and then young adult fiction as she moved into her teen years. Now she’s entering another phase of her life, and while I’m still writing I suspect there will be future changes coming for me too.

Right now, however, I’m not thinking about me or my writing career or anything remotely concerned with business. I’m thinking of her . . . of this important milestone in her life . . . of the new family she is on the brink of creating . . . and how our family will come together to celebrate and honor it.

So with that in mind, this blog will be on hiatus for the next two or three weeks as I focus on family . . . and on love. And really, is there any better way to spend the last few weeks of summer?

See you in September!


My August Reads

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. With the exception of the word lazy, the phrase is particularly apt this year. The skies are hazy from nearby forest fires, and the tempo of my life is edging to the crazy side. That means reading time is at a premium, and whatever book I pick up must be compelling enough to hold my attention and keep me away from my out-of-control ‘to do’ list. Lucky for me there’s no shortage of great material. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Before bed: Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

At the gym: A Version of the Truth by Jennifer Kaufman

Beside the pond: The One and Only by Emily Giffin

Books read to date in 2018: 54

Revamp, Revise, Redo

If you follow astrology (and I don’t mean the daily horoscope stuff), you’ll know that there are six – count ‘em six – planets retrograde in the heavens right now. It may or may not be affecting you but it’s forcing some unexpected revamping, revising and redoing around here.

Last week, during a home inspection, we discovered a whole lot of galvanized pipe running from the street into our house. We thought we had copper . . . we mostly do have copper . . . but there was a long length of galvanized piping and it had to come out. The good news is one of the companies that came to give us an estimate had a cancellation; they could do the work Friday morning, providing we dug up and moved the plants.

So Thursday afternoon, rather than writing, I was digging out perennials and moving them into the shade. At the same time, Mr. Petrol Head was hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of landscape pebbles out of the way. Friday morning, the guys showed up just after 7:30. By 1 pm, they’d dug down 24 inches, replaced the galvanized pipe in the ground, drilled through our foundation to replace the length in the house, and put the soil back in place.

It was our turn to replace the pebbles and the plants, basically to turn that scorched earth back into something pretty. For one, the plants we’d dug up wouldn’t tolerate sitting in their temporary homes, even if they were shady, for long. And for another, we pitied the poor neighbors having to look at the disaster that was our front yard. So this weekend we dug and placed and planted and watered. It was hot, tiring work but in the end we have a much tidier rockery and entrance to the house.

I had planned to revamp the area this summer. The rockery was overplanted and without a sense of cohesiveness. In fact, the rockery redo was quickly reaching the top of my ‘to do’ list; good thing I hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Ironically, and as is often the case, my garden project mimicked what is currently happening in my writing life. My current WIP is overwritten, meandering and without a sense of cohesiveness. I need a better handle on the through line. As I ripped out plant after plant, it occurred to me that sometimes manuscripts need a little tough love too. This one does; it needs some ruthless gutting and reshaping. Gutting and reshaping, like digging and replanting, is hard, hard work. But it’s often the only way to end up with a book – or a garden bed – you’re satisfied with.

My Favorite New Thing

The key word of this summer is noise. Noise from the neighbor’s chain saw as he removed the old pear trees bordering our properties (sob!); noise from the gut and rebuild taking place around the corner from us (the jackhammers are back for the second week); noise from a neighbor on the other side bulldozing part of his lawn and hauling in loads of gravel so he can park more cars.

And noise from Team Sheltie as they protest the auditory assault that has been relentless for weeks. We could shut our windows, but it’s been a hot summer and we don’t have air conditioning; we rely on air flow to keep things cool. I’m fine with that. Noise doesn’t normally bother me, at least not like it has lately. This summer the noise seems extreme . . . or maybe I’m more sensitive to it. Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Either way, after several weeks of listening to me moan and gripe, Mr. Petrol Head surprised me with a pair of wireless Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones. They’ve quickly become my new favorite thing. I put them on, pull up some soft background music (orchestral, no lyrics, but not quite meditative or I’d get sleepy), and I start writing.

It’s only been a few days but my focus is sharper and my word count is up considerably. With any luck, the key word of the rest of my summer will be productivity.

Hat (soon to be) In Hand

In six short weeks, Ms. Uptown Girl will be married. She’ll need a name change for my blog at that point since she’ll no longer be a Ms. or living uptown, but I digress.

In order for the wedding to proceed with any kind of class, I need a fascinator. Ms. Uptown is marrying into a British family (not that British family obviously) and the wearing of hats and fascinators for weddings, even a relatively simple 70 guest affair taking place outside beside the ocean, is something one does. The groom’s mother is wearing one, a number of her friends are wearing them too, and while I haven’t been told I must, it does seem a little, well, lacking in enthusiasm (if not taste) for the bride’s mother to turn up hatless.

And so I began to shop. Selection was thin to non-existent; I even struck out in the big city across the pond. There was nothing remotely suitable. I was either looking at hats big enough to power a small helicopter or pieces of lacy frippery designed more for a baby’s head than mine. Ordering on line was out of the question. I wanted to try it on for size and comfort, and it needed to work with whatever I ended up wearing. I was about to be hatless in Victoria.

Enter Lynda Marie: http://www.lyndamariemillinery.com/

The idea of having a fascinator made hadn’t occurred to me until I ordered my dress. When I mentioned then that I was looking for a fascinator and having some trouble finding one I liked, they pointed me in Lynda Marie’s direction.

She works out of her studio in Victoria where many of her creations are on display.


I quickly fell in love . . . with her style and with her enthusiasm. Shopping had never been so much fun.







She told me about her training in England where she studied under a milliner to the Queen Mother . . . and then how she’d trained in New York where she honed an edgier, more contemporary style. I learned that hats are made from hat block forms or moulds . . . that fascinators are light, decorative headpieces usually made with feathers or flowers or beads  . . . and that those larger fascinators we saw on display at Harry and Meghan’s wedding are referred to in the trade as hatinators.








I learned that the sky is the proverbial limit in terms of color and style and all the fun, frippery bits that go along with it. As I write this, Lynda Marie is working her magic and creating something just for me. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

Check back because when she’s done and after the wedding, I’ll post a picture. I’m sure whatever she creates will be gorgeous! 

My July Reads

We’re staying close to home this summer, which isn’t exactly a hardship when you live in a city as beautiful as Victoria. Since we’re planning a move in the not-too-distant future, we’re savoring what my hometown has to offer while we can. We’re also keeping on top of garden chores and tackling a few inside renovations as well. It doesn’t leave much time for reading but when the opportunity presents itself (and when Mr. Petrol Head isn’t looking), I seize the moment. Here’s what I’m diving into this month:

Beside the Pond: The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

On the Kindle: The Past Life Perspective by Ann C. Barham

Before Bed: The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman

Books read to date in 2018: 46

Summer Time . . . Book Time . . .

It’s that time of year when friends are packing up and heading out on holiday. Books inevitably find their way into carry-ons and suitcases, and I’m sometimes asked to recommend titles. It’s easy if I know their taste (and especially if I share it) but that’s not always the case. When I’m at a loss I always recommend they talk to their favorite book seller or check out some of the lists that pop up at this time of year.

Time Magazine has compiled a list of 22 new books to read this summer:  http://time.com/5285980/best-books-summer-2018/

Since Canada Day is less than a week away, my attention was drawn to the CBC’s 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian list. Check out their recommendations here:  http://www.cbc.ca/books/100-novels-that-make-you-proud-to-be-canadian-1.4194710

If you’re buying for children and teens, Scripps National Spelling Bee has released its 2018-2019 Great Works (and Great Words) book list. I especially like that they break their recommendations into very specific age ranges (they use grades but you can easily extrapolate to determine suitability for the children in your life). I also like the fact that they mix classics with contemporary reads. http://spellingbee.com/book-list

Finally, if you’re looking for an easy summer beach read you can’t go wrong with one of these romances: https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2018/05/22/summer-romance-books-preview-2018

Happy reading and happy travels!

Right Now

Though I tend to stick to topics related to writing or the writing life on this blog, watching children being ripped from their families in the United States was enough to change my mind. With the horror, however, came a feeling of helplessness: it wasn’t my country or my government so what impact could I possibly have on events unfolding south of me? I was already boycotting the country in more ways than one, and my actions certainly weren’t helping those children.

Then I learned of a petition Canadians can sign that will be forwarded to the American ambassador to Canada, Kelly Knight Craft. I was in the middle of writing a blog post about it when Trump announced he was about to sign an executive order putting an end to the practise. Whether or not that materializes, and whether it does, in fact, lead to the reuniting of children with their parents remains to be seen. So here is the link to the petition: https://act.leadnow.ca/stop-trumps-policy/

There’s another injustice unfolding right now and this one is much closer to home. Vancouver children’s author Lee Edward Fodi and his partner, Marcie, have adopted an infant from Japan. But they and four other families have not been able to bring their babies home because the Canadian government is deferring to US immigration policy. That government decision has had devastating consequences for all of them, and they’re now caught up in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. Lee explains this much better than I ever could so I urge you to visit his blog, read his story, and write in support to Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.   https://kendrakandlestar.wordpress.com/

Overheard This Week

 You don’t realize how hard you bite until you bite your own tongue.

I overheard this comment in the produce section of my grocery store recently. Two women were talking in front of the daily free sample: glistening red strawberries proffered in little white cups. Given that they were laughing, I assumed the comment was reflective rather than indicative of recently inflicted pain.

Biting my tongue made me think of biting back words, and that led me to contemplate the power we yield with our words, both those spoken and those written. I’m familiar with that power as a writer and as a reader too. It’s clear when the words in a particular passage lift me up or bring me down. The simple prose of a story or a poem can, and has, moved me to tears.

But we rarely contemplate the power of our spoken words. Since I overheard this comment right when Anthony Bourdain died of suicide, I was struck anew by that potential power and how blind we can be to it. We all know the pain of being on the receiving end of someone’s anger, but even a thoughtless brush off or a snarky put-down could, quite literally, mean the end of the world to someone. Conversely, a loving comment or a few words of praise might be enough to raise someone up from a very dark place.

It just so happened that a few days after I overheard those words, I was finishing up a rather arduous clean up and pruning job on the front garden. I wasn’t in a particularly dark place, unless you counted the dirt on my hands and knees. As I stood surveying the results of my work, the neighbor wandered over. She stood there for a few minutes chatting and then she said, “You know, this looks just amazing. You did an absolutely fabulous job.” I smiled and thanked her. As I went inside to wash my hands and pour a glass of water I realized I was glowing. Sweat from the hours of labor? A hot flash? Relief at having tackled that particular chore? No. The glow came from the power of what she said to me.

You don’t realize the sweetness of a few simple words until you’re the unexpected recipient of them.

Words . . . they have far more power than we give them credit for.