for mary

It's July 26th and today I'm remembering the death of a dear friend. Mary and I first met when we were both struggling with the pros and cons of continuing with a Bachelor of Education degree. We had a lot in common. We were both older, committed to raising our kids, and we were both working part time as mail sorting clerks at the good old Canada Post office. In fact, that's where we met - at a job with the kind of hours (6 am until 10 am) that I thought would propel me forward to become the writer I always wanted to be. I liked working at the letter carrier depot which was right in my neighborhood with the good natured bunch of letter carriers. Trouble was, I needed a full time job (that's a whole other story) - so my writing dreams would have to wait. And so even though I was working on my education degree - so I could have a 'real' job - I had such misgivings about the whole thing.

Mary did, too. We talked a lot about our studies, our families and about ourselves. And we struggled together to get our darn education degree. We did quite well at the academics and we supported each other all the way. Mary's humor was contagious. She went on to do years of soul sucking work as a substitute teacher. What a mixed bag of fun that was. Eventually she came back to the good old post office and joined me on the streets as a letter carrier - a job that I personally continue to simply love doing.

But Mary faded. She lost weight (which is supposed to be a good thing, right?). And she got more and more tired. Still she smiled - even as she faded - always she smiled. And then the pneumonia one cold January turned into a February diagnosis of multiple mylenoma and a sudden July funeral.

She was a true friend and I miss her. Today I'll take a walk in the fields - where I can see lots of sky and feel the warm wind. And when I see a butterfly, I'll think of Mary.

What I've been reading ...

My pile of 'books to read' grows ever bigger. I want to make special mention of a few of the ones I have read.

First of all Judy Mammay's book, Knowing Joseph, was one I long anticipated. She's a fellow Blooming Tree author and her book is based on her experiences with a family member's autism. I enjoyed this gentle book and felt that it really did help me understand autism better.

Another eagerly anticipated book was Rae Bridgman's Fish and Sphinx. This is the third in her mid grade fantasy series about Middlegate - a place sort of like my home city of Winnipeg - but sort of not. I love these books. I love how she takes the everyday and finds the magic in it. Her imagination is amazing. I met Rae at a workshop, when she was still searching for a publisher. She's full of energy, determination and cheer. Her book launches are dynamic events and I've got nothing but admiration for Rae and her work. Go, Rae, go!

A third book I want to quickly mention was launched on June 30th and I got to participate! Yes! It's called Meet Manitoba Children's Authors by Dorene Meyer. This book has generous two page spreads on almost forty Manitoba children's authors. It includes me! I was thrilled to contribute. The book should be a great resource for teachers. And I hope that it does empower kids to believe that authors don't only live in New York or other faraway places. Real authors live in Manitoba, too.

My Town of Winnipeg is ...

Winnipeg is ... (this is for Barrie!)

1. the capital of Manitoba which has the made-in-America slogan (a little of controversy there)
which is "Spirited Energy." Yes. We used to be Friendly Manitoba but that got boring. I mean
being friendly is good but ... I guess having spirited energy is better.
2. windy and cold and full of mosquitoes and sometimes the murder capital of Canada.
3. a city of contrasts. Big donut. Empty, corroding in the centre and full of suburbs where families live and work and play.
4. close to a lot of beautiful lakes and many people have cottages (but lots of people don't)
5. at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers
6. struggling to become a better place
7. alive and real and a great place to be a writer!

Rushing River - a gentle place

Spent some days recharging in the great outdoors at one of our favorite camping spots - Rushing River. We cooked over a fire, canoed amongst the islands of Dogtooth Lake and slept in a tent that managed to keep us dry during a downpour. Thunder storms sound more ferocious at night when there's only nylon between you and all that electricity.

I also swung gently on a hammock as I entered the dark, disturbing world of Elizabeth C. Bunce's novel, "A Curse Dark as Gold." It's a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story. I loved everything about this book. I loved the cover, the pacing, the way I had to just keep reading. I also loved the names of characters and places. It was simply a totally awesome book. The author is a member of the Class of 2k8 - a class where I was once (sniff, sniff) a student. The whole class is doing extremely well.

As their year unfolds, their energy seems to be gaining momentum with all the positive feedback each debut novel is receiving. And there's more to come - the year's only just half over. The Class of 2k8 - New Books, New Voices! I feel honored just to have once hung out with those talented and passionate debut novelists.

On to another book, another hour in the arms of some strong, leafy trees, another chance to swing gently on a hammock. This is work. After all, every writer must be a reader.

Too hot to cook

Totally hilarious midgrade author, class of 2k8 student, and fellow Canadian Barrie Summy is collecting summer recipes. So this one's for her down in sunny California. (Where she lives in a bowl of split pea soup .)
Summer's on and I've got no air conditioning. :( That's okay - we enjoy shade trees instead. Still, we must eat and cooking involves more heat. When I was in Ukraine, I noted that 'summer kitchens' were popular. That way the cooking wouldn't warm up the rest of the house. Well, I have no summer kitchen - but we've got an outdoor fire pit to cook meat and we have a fridge - a necessary place to store this make-ahead side dish.

Here's what I remember about my mom's Kartoffel Salat - aka potato salad. Make it in the evening or very early in the morning.

Two potatoes per person. (Mom always used red potatoes.)
Two big dill pickles per person.
One or two onions. (NOT per person)
Two apples.
A bunch of radishes.
One egg per person.
Enough mayonnaise to stick everything together. (Be generous.)
Some sour cream.
Pickle juice - maybe a quarter cup
Salt and pepper

1. Boil the potatoes with their skins on. (Don't overcook.)
2. While the potatoes are boiling chop up the pickles, onions, half of the radishes and the peeled apples. (Save a few pickles for the garnish.)
3. In a large, wide surfaced bowl mix the pickles, onions, pickle juice, spices and mayonnaise and sour cream together. (More mayonnaise than sour cream.) Add salt and pepper.
4. Drain the potatoes. Let them cool until they are touchable. Then peel and chop while them they're still warm.
5. Carefully add potatoes to the pickle, mayonnaise mixture. You don't want the potatoes to get too mushy.
6. Taste and adjust the spices of #3 accordingly.
7. Cover and let sit in fridge overnight.
8. Serving day: garnish with pickles, sliced radishes and hard boiled eggs.
(Pickle slices make good eyebrows and impish grin, radish slices make great rosy cheeks; while the eggs make good eyeballs plus Goldilocks-style curls to frame the face - with more pickle slices sticking out for devilish embellishment.) Garnish designs are endless.

Serve with European wieners, horseradish-powered mustard, and fresh buns. My beverage of choice would be a German beer - dark and strong.

Now I must go outside and kill a few more mosquitoes so that we can enjoy the great outdoors.

We're having saskatoon pie for dessert - only in Canada!

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