Listen to Your Gut

One day, my mother-in-law decided to go to the bank.

Her gut told her, “No, don’t go today. Go tomorrow.”

She scoffed at her fears. What harm could come to a little old lady on a beautiful sunny day in a safe neighbourhood?

She donned her coat, put her purse over her arm, and set out at a brisk pace up the broad street. Strangers smiled at her. She stopped to say “Hello” to the neighbours and make friends with the newest kids on the block. My mom-in-law loved children. The friendly tellers paid her bills one-by-one and gave her cash in her specific denominations. You know how old people are about their money.

But still, her gut nagged at her.

Almost home, she got tired and walked a little slower.

Suddenly, a man ran up from behind her, brutally snatched her purse from her arm, and vanished.

She screamed and screamed.

Neighbours came running to help and comfort her. The police were called.

“How much money did they get, ma’am?” the nice young officer asked.

My mom-in-law stood stock still on the sidewalk. Then she laughed and laughed. The poor officer thought she’d been made hysterical by the violence done her.

Finally my mom-in-law pulled herself together.

“My gut warned me, so I put my money in my pocket. All the man got was an empty purse with a handkerchief in it!”

Has your gut talked to you? Did you listen?

© Joan Leacott 2012

I Confess

There are things out there.

They call to me from crowded spaces.

They take over my private places.

They multiply without care.

Oh no! They’re coming! Help me! Save me!

Um, yeah, well.

Okay. I confess.

I have a sort of thing for kitchen gadgets. The DH would call it an obsession. It’s not that bad. I swear!

I recently succumbed to the dark urgings and went to the most awesome gadget store on the planet. If you’re looking for a food prep tool and they don’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist. The aisles are narrow. You have to sidle sideways past the other customers and staff. But, the shelves are stuffed full of goodies. You’ll find gadget heaven at Placewares in the St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto.

My most recent purchases were on offset spatula and #20 scoop. I have more whisks than you can shake a spatula at, pie weights, a butter curler, a melon baller, even a Microplane. All right—I have two and I want more.

But you know what the most awesome gadget is?

My apple peeler/corer/slicer—it does all three things at once. It brings a tear to my eye.

I own all these gadgets and more. But beware, I’m not afraid to use them.

Are there things out there calling to you?

The Other Colours of Fall

We all know the brilliant reds and yellows of the fall season. Just as we all know flashy people.

But what about the less flamboyant sorts? The quiet people, like the colours in my slides, have a beauty all their own.

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© Joan Leacott 2012

Family Jam

“Are we ready?”

I look down at my young son.

“Ready.” His big green eyes sparkle with the hunt.

I look up to my dear husband.

“Ready.” He adjusts his cap against the light.

The humidity intensifies as the early summer sun rises higher. The scent of bruised grass rises from the path trodden by those who’ve gone before us.

“Where do we begin?”

“Black currants,” declares Son.

We hoist our baskets from the dirt and head into the rows of lush green bushes.

“Way out at the end, where no one has picked before,” says Husband from long experience.

An hour later, we gather our spoils; 11 quarts of big juicy black currants. We raid the strawberry patch. A minor detour bags us some pink gooseberries. Those babies are so sour your toes will curl. Snow peas finish the morning, sweet and crunchy.

Sore of back and sticky of face, we head to the concession stand and devour our second reward for all our hard work; frozen strawberry yoghurt with berries from the nearby field.

At home, the real work begins. Son, so cute in his custom-sized apron, stands beside me at the sinks for the triple pick and rinse cycle. The scent rising off the sun-warmed currants is seriously heady stuff, reminiscent of gin.

Black currant mojito? Hmm…

I digress.

Back to the pots—yes, that’s plural.

Measure the currants and into the pots they go. Measure half of the currants’ volume of sugar—one bowl for each pot.

Wait for the currants to juice up; then add the sugar.

Simmer 20 minutes or so until the jell starts to set.

Son’s weapon of choice? An enormous wooden spoon as long as his arm to stir occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Then set up the family production line. Son lifts a jar from the hot water and sets it on the counter. Mom (me) pours boiling jam into jar and seals it. Husband gloats over each new jar of black gold.

“Mine, all mine,” he jokes. Did I mention he’s a jam fiend?

“The whole family made it, so it’s Family Jam,” declares Son.

Our ultimate reward comes on a snowy Saturday morning. We pop a lid, releasing the scents of summer and the memories of a family outing.

This post was inspired by Pepper Phillips at Authors of Main Street. Thanks for the recall!

© Joan Leacott 2012, photo by Aconcagua

Serving up Firefighters

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A room full of women surround a catwalk. The fashion show is over. The women grow restless. Two Toronto firefighters strut out and flex their suspenders. Programs stir up a breeze. The auctioneer opens the bidding for the Food & Fire prize.  Beside me, Kate thrusts her hand into the air. Across the way, someone outbids her. Up goes Kate’s hand. Over to the side, another outbidding. Excitement hums in the air. Up goes Kate’s hand, again and again. She wins! A dinner for eight, served in her home, by firefighters.  Swoon!

Kate’s eight guests (Including me. Whee!) are all romance writers. Romance and firefighters. Is there a better match anywhere?

Why were we lucky women served a four-course dinner prepared by Chef Stefan and served by firefighters Aziz, Doug, Drew, and Dave?

Have another look at the t-shirts the firefighters are wearing. I know you want to. I’ll wait.

Dum dee dum dum, dum dee dum dum.

They say LOVE HER.

LOVE HER is a charity event: A fashionable evening for Ovarian Cancer Canada. From their website:

Ovarian Cancer Canada is a registered Canadian charitable organization whose mission is to overcome ovarian cancer, providing leadership by:

  • Supporting women living with the disease and their families
  • Raising awareness in the general public and with health care professionals
  • Funding research to develop early detection techniques, improved treatment and, ultimately, a cure

Please help build awareness and increase knowledge. Please click on the logo and donate to Ovarian Cancer Canada, or a similar organization in your own country.  

Because you LOVE HER.

Donate Now for your Special HER!

Everyone has a special HER in their lives: Grandma, mom, aunt, sister, cousin, daughter, niece, yourself. Mine  is a dear friend, a seventeen-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Who’s yours?

© Joan Leacott 2012

Networking Pays!

Congratulations, you have won…

Groan. One on those emails.

…the Grand Prize in the Grand Opening…

Hold on.

…on Authors of Main Street.

Don’t. Hit. Delete.

I had won $100 gift card PLUS a stack of books!

Could it be true?

I scurry around the web and check it out… All because I had posted a comment during April.

YES!!!

Huge thanks to Authors of Main Street from:

my TBR pile for the generous re-stocking,

my DH because I’ll stop whining that I’m out of books,

my  friends because I’ll stop begging for spare books

me, from my heart, for the best Mother’s Day Gift EVER!

© Joan Leacott 2012

Writing Lesson in Music Class

As mentioned in my last post, I’m taking piano lessons. With five kids, my immigrant parents couldn’t afford them. Now that I have lots of time on my hands, I’m treating myself to something I’ve always wanted to do.

In the last while, I’ve attended quite a few musical performances. Some of astonishing virtuosity. Others…not so much.

One virtuoso we were privileged to hear is Thomas Pandolfi. Totally blew me away. Between pieces, Thomas chatted about his work with Chopin’s études.

An etude is a study, or exercise, composed to develop a particular  technical skill like moving one hand over the other. Thomas also mentioned studies by Hanon. In 1873, Charles Louis Hanon wrote a book of finger exercises for beginners like me.

Recently, my piano teacher assigned me some studies written by  Carl Czerny (1791 – 1857). Beethoven was Czerny’s teacher. Czerny in turn taught Franz Liszt who went on the write some real finger-twisting studies.

The music I’m using now has been studied by countless students before me and will likely be played by countless more after me. Though Thomas is a genius, he likely played them, too. The continuity is awe-inspiring and comforting.

Everybody starts in the same place.

So what’s all this got to do with writing?

Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are familiar names to writers of romance, paranormal and mystery genres.

It doesn’t matter if a book is issued in vellum, parchment, paper, or bytes, all writers are part of the continuity of the story.

And whether that story is told in music or words, we all start in the same place–with a wish in our hearts to entertain.

© Joan Leacott 2012x-posted at Voices from the Heart

Nerves of Steel?

Why did I say I’d do this?

The Steinway looms at the front of the room. I know it’s waiting to devour my fumbling fingers whole. Why did I think I needed performance experience?

“Thank you, Christopher, nicely done,” says Ann, the lovely teacher. “Joan, your turn.”

Ack! Why did I say I’d do this?

I clench my books in my hand. They’re really more of a security blanket. I know the pieces cold.

Don’t I? Ack!

Did I really honest-to-god say I’d do THREE pieces?

What HAD I thinking been with? Surely not my brain.

Okay, chill, babe. You can do this. You’ve practiced and practiced and practiced some more. You own those pieces. I set myself on the stool, put the music book on the rack and open it to the appropriate page. I address my completely sympathetic audience of seven other adult students and their guests.

“Tonight I’m going to play three pieces. The first is Bouree in A minor by Christoph Graupner.”

The first two bars (eight notes) go smoothly-ish. Oh no, that was supposed to be a B flat, not a B natural. Keep going. GACK!

I grin sheepishly at the audience. “Let’s pretend that never happened.” I get a good chuckle out of them and begin again. Oh, yes, this is SO amusing.

This time it’s worse, so much worse. My fingers are trembling so badly, they won’t do a thing I tell them. Their memory has vanished. A few bits come out the way they’re supposed to–just a few. It’s the longest minute-and-a-half of my entire life.

I want to flee the room in ignominy. But I have two more pieces to go.

“My second piece is Minuet in C major by Johann Wilhelm Hassler.” Try saying that with the correct German accent when you can barely speak.

Okay, babe, pull yourself together. Take a deep breath and release to a count of 5-4-3-2-1. Go.

Slow and steady to start. Hit the G. Yes, that’s good. Pick up speed. F sharp. Oh yeah, baby. Slow it down again. Now the fun bit. Watch those tricky chords. YES! PERFECT! I OWNED THAT! The fastest minute of my life.

One more piece to go.

“My last piece is Celebration by Anne Crosby. I’d like to dedicate this piece to our teacher Ann because she helps us all to celebrate the music within.”

Take a deep breath and release to a count of 5-4-3-2-1. Go.

Easy peasy beginning. Danger, danger, finger twisting section ahead. Ack! Repeat the easy bit.  Ack! More chords, hand-over-hand this time. Do the last two bits over again. Easy repeat. Final staccato chord. YES! OH YES!

I give the audience a big honking grin. They clap and grin back.

I came, I played, I conquered myself.

“Thank you, Joan. Nicely done recovery. And now we have…”

The next victim of the Steinway–er, performer–rises from her seat.

© Joan Leacott 2012

Roller Coaster Writer

Get an idea for your next book from an everyday event that you really look at for the first time.

Read a craft book. Figure out why your last scene sucked.

Write 2k words on your Work-in-Progress in one day.

Plan out the next scene to write tomorrow.

Send out  five queries. Get one form rejection within the hour.

Read a blog and write a great comment. Get an appreciative response from the blogger.

Write another 2k words.

Go to a chapter meeting. Afterwards, go for drinks and chat with other writers.

Get a critique from your most trusted partner saying she hates your heroine.

Judge a dismal contest entry, then spend hours trying to be nice.

Get another form rejection.

Write 12k words in three days. Battle with a family member over time spent at the computer.

Get a request for partial. Reply promptly.  Wait, wait, wait, and wait some more. And give up.

Celebrate a friend’s sale. Hope her good luck will rub off.

Get a request for a full. Reply promptly. Get a form rejection within three days.

Write a blog and get more comments than ever before.

Get a phone call from your favorite agent. Cross fingers, toes, and bra straps for this dream to come true.

Who needs a roller coaster when you’re a writer?

© Joan Leacott 2012x-posted at Voices from the Heart

Somebody to Love

Deep in the bowels of a century-old stone building is a room few outsiders dare to enter.  Scales, spikes, fuzzy skins, and blue tongues adorn strange beasts living in the oddly-scented heat. Keepers take regular delivery of living creatures to be tossed into the beasts’ quarters for them to feed on.

Men and women draw back from contact with the creatures. Children, especially boys, challenge each other to reach out a trembling hand and touch them. Gasp! Run!

Where is this dreaded place?

It’s the Live Room in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Canada.

Who are the brave keepers?

One of them is Amy Lathrop, a technician in the Herpetology department. She introduced myself and a few friends to the residents of the Live Room.

Amy loves reptiles.

You can see it in how gently she handles them, in how much she knows about them. She’s been on expedition to Vietnam to study and co-author research papers on them.

And she’s very nice! Not weird at all! Honest.

See that snake headed her way? He really, really likes her. It can sense when she’s in the room. Huh!

Did you know that pythons and constrictors have vestigial hips and legs at the base of their long, long, long spines? You can see a tiny claw on either side of their last rib.

How’s that for an idea for your next paranormal story?

This dragon-guy’s spines are pliable when he’s not puffed up in self-defense. How could you not love that?

This soft little cutie drops off her tail to wiggle around as a decoy while she makes her escape to a safe zone.

And here’s that way wicked blue tongue. Look close. It really is blue. Trust me. I was there.

Oh, the live food? That would be the crickets kept on hand to feed some of the reptiles.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, where do you find somebody to love? Somebody that’s a little on the… shall we say non-standard… side?

© Joan Leacott 2012, photos by Andy McCraw

Goals-Biters or Boosters

While paging through the family album recently, I came across a photo of myself circa 1985 and wondered. What did I dream of, what were my goals?

All during my working life, my goals were set by my boss—complete this report now. My personal life was pretty much take what comes.

I left the workforce some time ago—the best bad thing that ever happened to me—and became an aspiring author a romance writer, student of the piano, and occasional artist.

I set goals for my writing after I drafted my first novel, but life bit hard with two family deaths in two consecutive summers. My muse went dormant during those years.

The next summer, I set a goal to write 1,000 words a day—and gave myself a dose of carpal tunnel syndrome. Boy, did that bite! Thanks to speech recognition software, I completed the book and healed my wrists.

In more recent goals, I’ve deliberately included free time when my fingers are not on any keys, laptop or piano. I’ve scheduled two days off per week for fun stuff with my dear husband and my good friends, and a full month after I’ve drafted my third novel.

Why? If I know an off-day is near, I’ll be more focused during my on-days. Hopefully, this will save my sanity and my wrists.

I’ve also re-allotted time for a special project that didn’t quite get off the ground last year. I’ll re-purpose my sewing-room into an office, starting with a thorough clear-out and ending with re-decorating. I view the process as a re-commitment to my writing. Stay tuned for before and after photos.

Instead of goals that wear me down and bite my butt, I’ve created goals to boost my creativity and still let me enjoy my beautiful life.

Do your goals bite you or boost you?

© Joan Leacott 2012

The H in my DH

In preparation for the Christmas rush of visitors to our humble home, I spent hours and hours in the kitchen; devising menus, finding recipes, doing advance prep when possible. More hours were spent cleaning said humble home. And still more in decking the halls inside and out.

You get the hair-frazzling frenzy.

Through it all, I had unflagging assistance with the scheming, cleaning, and decorating from my dear husband (DH).

That’s right, He of the Lost Recipe, knows how to help in more ways than creative filing.

Well, he’s not that handy around the stove. But everywhere else, he was elbow-deep in holiday preparations. The man can wield a vacuum cleaner with the best of them. Not to mention a snow shovel. Or, bliss, a body massager.

So now all the guests have come and gone; fed, watered, and gifted. I sit at the table with my book and my mid-morning coffee before me.  Blessed peace reigns over the sunny day.

The DH thanks me for all the hard work I’ve done to make another wonderful holiday. Just as he leans over to follow his lovely words with a kiss, the birds in the yard break into mad song.

“Listen to that,” says the DH, his brown eyes twinkling. “The birds want to kiss you, too.”

Sometimes, the H in DH stands for more than husband.

© Joan Leacott 2011x-posted at Voices from the Heart