Free Stuff That Makes Me Smile

I’ve been making a conscious effort to be thankful these days, maybe because Thanksgiving’s coming (and both kids and partners will be home!); here are some of the free things that have brightened my days lately:

*Walking through the woods, really paying attention, marvelling that the ingredients to grow such massive trees are all contained within tiny acorns, pinecones and prickly horse chestnuts.summer-2010-005

*The excited little love whimpers Charlie makes when we pick her up from the kennel.

2015-01-07-19-22-20 charles-finding-us-in-the-car








*Sun lace on the ground tatted by sunlight dappling through the trees.

*Surfing Kijiji, an endless 24/7 online yard sale.

*Weekly visits to the library and walking out with hours and hours of reading enjoyment in my bag.

The Wolfville Library

The Wolfville Library

*Browsing the racks/shelves at used clothing/junk stores like Guy’s Frenchy’s, Value Village (said with a French accent) and Goodwill. This is not usually free as I often find some bit of treasure to take home.

*The Canadian health care system. Okay, I realize we pay for it through our taxes, but it is nice to seek medical attention without worrying about how you’re going to pay for it.

*Hiking and biking trails, especially the parks, TransCanada Trail system and Rails to Trails here in Nova Scotia.


*The salty smell of the sea and the shushing of the surf, beachglass, sunsets, shells and beach art, like this:


*Google with all its blogs, YouTube videos and how-to sites – the answer is always on there somewhere if you spend enough time looking… Here’s one of creative illustrator Sydney Smith (transplanted Nova Scotian) doing an illustration for GRANT AND TILLIE GO WALKING (by Monica Kulling) – fascinating!  Again, this isn’t exactly free, but almost…

What’s been brightening your days lately? Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Turkey Day!p1010677img_3579

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Harry Chapin – Thanks for the Stories

I know all the lyrics to several Harry Chapin songs, mainly because they were an important part of my growing-up years, I suppose, that angsty trying-to-figure-yourself-out time. I got to see him in concert in Halifax shortly before he died. Most often I can’t even remember song titles, let alone lyrics – you know what I mean? But his, I remember.

Part of the reason his songs are memorable is because they tell lyrical stories; they have a beginning, middle and end, something all writers value, and he created very real characters, made us care about their lives. I sometimes wish I was musical; it must be so fulfilling to put words to music and be able to sing your stories. I read somewhere that Cat’s in the Cradle, Harry’s 1974 hit, made more fathers feel guilty than any other song – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but like so many,  I love the song, for its tune and its message.

One of Harry’s brothers, Steve, owns a campground on Nova Scotia’s south shore, and each year for the past 30 he has hosted the Chapin Family Concert. Brother Tom (who does excellent music for kids and their adults – I know a lot of his lyrics from playing his tapes for my kids back in the day) and his now-grown daughters, The Chapin Sisters, various local musicians, and Jen Chapin, Harry’s daughter and New York jazz singer, sing, jam and entertain. I can’t remember when I’ve spent such a pleasant afternoon, singing along with a couple of hundred other people in the middle of a grassy field near the ocean in the sunshine. That’s Jen with one of Harry’s grandsons on the right – I wonder if he has, or ever will have, any idea of the far-reaching effects of his grandfather’s music? And I wonder how many more amazing songs Harry could have given us if he hadn’t died at 39…







It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when;
But I have this funny feeling
That we’ll all be together again.

No straight lines make up my life,
And all my roads have bends;
There’s no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.  Harry Chapin, Circle (my favorite lines of his)

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Anne signing

Like a lot of girls growing up in 1960s Nova Scotia, I idolized Anne Murray and admired her effortless, pure singing voice. The idea that a young woman who grew up just down the highway from me could become an international singing sensation boggled my mind. I’ve always liked to sing and I could sing along to a lot of Anne’s songs, but I was crazy-shy and had no aspirations about following in her footsteps. But when I set out to write The Power of Harmony, about a girl who does want to be a famous singer, I had to include Anne. And I did, including setting the story in her coal-mining hometown of Springhill, NS.

After the book came out in 2013, I mailed Anne a copy, and she responded by email, thanking me. She also tweeted about the book during Canadian Children’s Book Week in 2015, reaffirming my belief in her being a down-home, thoughtful, genuine person, despite her fame.Anne July 30, 2016

Finally this weekend, I got to meet Anne, at her annual meet-and-greet at the Anne Murray Centre in Springhill. By the time Shannon and I arrived, she’d been smiling for over five straight hours, but she seemed genuinely happy that I’d stopped by, and she remembered the book (she didn’t, however, say she’d read it (yet), but that’s okay:) She’s 71 now, and she looks fantastic, as you can see! I got her to sign a copy of my novel for me – possibly it’s the only one-of-a-kind autographed item I’ll ever own.8ee011c0-6e82-4308-bbf7-ef4ee3e106af

How about you? Ever met anybody famous? Were they as nice and personable as Anne?

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I don’t often read “adult” books these days; in fact, I sometimes get impatient with adult novels and their detailed descriptions when maybe fewer words might have sufficed. (ie. tighter editing)

But I just finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin, 2014), and it’s one of those perfect books – just the right length, just the right emotional heft, it’s set in an independent bookstore, it’s full of insightful lines (the ones you stop to re-read several times) and I even love the cover. Each chapter begins with a synopsis of a favorite short story of A.J. Fikry’s, recommendations to his teenage daughter, a foundling left in Island Books one day. Now I want to read those stories, too!


Some of my favorite lines:

“Remember that a fine education can be found in places other than the usual.” (p. 27)

“There ain’t nobody in the world like book people.” (p. 254)

“We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.” p. 251

“I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too.”(p. 255)

For sure I’ll be looking for other titles by Gabrielle Zevin. Have you read anything lately that swept you away?

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Family love – and Ollie takes flight!

Generally, I get a little nervous for book launches – you never know who will be able to make it, if anybody! This time around, I had my entire family to help out, and it was wonderful! Don, Liam and Shannon cooked up a Mothers’ Day/Book Launch surprise for me, and the kids flew in from Toronto for a gloriously perfect three-day weekend. There’s no better gift – if your kids live away, you know what I mean!


Bachman’s Beach, Lunenburg County, NS -having both Liam and Shannon show up on a surprise visit from Toronto – best Mothers’ Day gift ever! Thanks, Don!


Dock in – check! Liam and Charlie.

And, thanks to The Box of Delights Bookshop, friends and family, SKY PIG is officially launched, and Ollie has taken flight. It’s really fun to read this book aloud, but I need to work on my piggy snorting…


Door prize, courtesy of daughter Shannon, who was also photographer.


Friend, neighbour, and on book launch days – craft lady and publicity manager, Karen – she’s the best!


Piggy cookies – it got easier after I’d decorated the first few dozen – they were a hit!


I don’t know too many people with small children these days, but I’m grateful to the keen parents who bring their kids to book launches.


Here’s Ollie (and Jack)!

Thank you to everybody who supports me, as both a writer and a human being – after having a new book out for four consecutive years, I’m starting to feel a little guilty asking people to come out and help me celebrate – but it truly means a lot to me when you do, both in person or in spirit through sending along your good wishes. I hope you have a good friend, like Ollie’s boy, Jack, to help make ALL your dreams come true!

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Welcome Ollie and Jack!

SkyPig_BookLaunchPoster_Web_LRWe’d love to see you on Saturday, May 7th, 11:00 am, The Box of Delights Bookshop, Wolfville, NS!

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St. Simon’s Island, Georgia – on my mind…

Well, it’s the end of the month, and I’ve been busy relaxing and procrasti-writing on St. Simon’s, not thinking about my blog, so here’s a little photo essay – truly, this is the most relaxing place I’ve ever been. Love it!

channeling my inner monkey

channeling my inner monkey

tree spirit

tree spirit

lawn art

lawn art

Pelican Pete on the Pier

Pelican Pete on the Pier


Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island

uncommon friends

uncommon friends

Easter goodies, Georgia style (no problem filling the pews in the churches here, unlike in NS)

Easter goodies, Georgia style (no problem filling the pews in the churches here, unlike in NS)


ready-made business for Don, in case we decide to stay…


Most people here have a dog; some (lucky) people have a pig.

Most people here have a dog; some (lucky) people have a pig.



and sunset.

and sunset.

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