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Monday, July 6, 2015

Not Just Men in Uniform By Alison Bruce

Sgt Frank Nash, my grandfather
I grew up on stories about my family's experiences during World War II. Since politics and religion was banned at the dining room table, family history was one of the go-to topics.

My mother's stories tended to take a humorous turn -- like when her skirt flipped up when she was practice rescuing a downed fighter pilot. Why The Observer Corps felt that skirts were a good idea for the women who volunteered is beyond me. My mother, and many of her compatriots, made the matter worse by altering the knee-hiding A-line into a knee-showing pencil skirt.

Nana's stories were more about rationing and how she got around it (at least with butter). She did work as a telephone operator, but she didn't say much about that. She also skimmed over stories involving her sisters and their families staying with them. Those tales I heard from Mum and Aunty Yang.

Aunty Yang NOT in uniform.
When I was older, Aunty Yang also told me about her service in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). I suppose I heard about the rats in the barn they were billeted in as a child, but the experiences she had as an ambulance driver were not suitable for children.

Later, when I was in university, Aunty Yang helped me connect with some of her old ATS friends, so I could interview them for my undergraduate thesis. I also interviewed former member of CWAC (Canadian Women's Army), RCWNS (Royal Canadian Women's Naval Service) and RCAF Women's Division. I even did a mail in interview with an American WAC. No one's story was as visceral as my aunt's.

Seaman Nelson Bruce
My fathers stories of his life in the Navy were also on the light side. He talked about being seasick and misadventures on shore leave. He never spoke of the danger of serving on a minesweeper in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. That I learned through research. However, some day I will find a place for his story about drinking too much beer before going to see Macbeth.

He and his pals had front row seats for the play. All that was between them and the actors was the orchestra pit, which had been filled in with artificial plants. Not wanting to leave before the play was done, my father discretely (or so he says) relieved himself on a nearby faux philodendron... it being the closest pot to piss in.

Aside from the obvious attraction of a man in uniform, my real interest in military history and culture stems from those stories told at the dining room table.

RCMP on Parliament Hill
My interest in police uniformed men and women grew partly out of my interest in mysteries but also because I got to be a character reference for an RCMP candidate.

My mother was the designated reference. The candidate was one of her former Girl Guides. She was a few years older than I was, so I didn't know her well, but when you're the Guide Captain's daughter, you learn all the dirt... or lack thereof... on everyone.

Mum was out when the two plainclothes RCMP constables came to the door. They decided to interview me instead of coming back. This was pretty exciting even though I was more into science fiction than mysteries at the time. I suppose it was a foreshadowing of my future that I asked almost as many questions as they did.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015


by Christine Mazurk

I call her Meme. She's the only grandparent I knew. My mother's mother lived upstairs in a small apartment in my early years. And when my parents moved us from Montreal, Canada to Miami, Florida, Meme would come spend winters with us.

What made me want to write about her today? Yesterday was her birthday. Born 124 years ago, the woman witnessed many amazing things in the eighty-four years she spent on this earth. The year she was born, the zipper was invented - thank you Whitcomb L Judson for this novel item. What would we do today without it?

But that's just the beginning of what she saw.

The discovery of x-rays, the invention of the vacuum cleaner, the first powered airplane - and later in her life, she traveled on a 747. Colored photography, the Helicopter, and Henry Ford's Model T. In 1919, the year she married her only true love, who was six years younger BTW, the first electric typewriter was developed. (I remember starting my first manuscript at age ten on an electric typewriter <3.) Three years after her first baby, television, and two years after my mother was born, penicillin! The ballpoint pen, microwave oven, and Jet engine followed.

She saw computers, ATM's, and Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. She and my aunt went on a "flight to nowhere" on the Concord, where they were served breakfast before turning around and landing back at Montreal International Airport.

My grandmother was a hoot. She loved to play jokes on people. Three of the stories she told while I was growing up come to mind often and still make me laugh.

When she was a little girl - she never told me how old exactly, but - she had a Jewish friend. The first time Meme went to the girl's house, she was told that their Religious following did not allow them to use anything electric on Saturday. As she got the tour of the house, my grandmother (innocently - NOT) flicked on the light switches, leaving every room aglow. (Do you think she was invited back?)

Meme was married to my grandfather for only nineteen years. (He died of Pneumonia in 1938 at the young age of 41.) She never remarried and she lived the rest of her life wearing black. In their early years of marriage, my grandfather decided to grow a mustache. Meme never liked it, so one night she took matters into her own hands. While he was sleeping, she smeared chewing gum in half of his mustache, thinking now he'll have to shave. He did! When he came out of the bathroom that next morning, he had half of a mustache!

"You can't go to work like that," she said, hoping he'd go back in and finish the job. Instead, he kissed her good-bye and headed out the door. He had a wicked sense of humor, too.

The third story made it into one of my books. She and her husband threw a dinner party, my grandmother loved to cook. (One of the many things I learned from her.) For dessert, she made cookies, the kind with a maraschino cherry or other surprise inside. In one of the cookies, she had hidden a small ball of thread. When the platter was empty, she stood up and asked, "Okay, so which one of you idiots swallowed the tread?" The room erupted in laughter, and one gentleman turned pink and started coughing. More laughter ensued.

She taught me to cook, sew, crochet clothes for my dolls. We watched TV together. I didn't mention, but Meme only spoke French. When she wanted to watch TV, she'd ask for one of two favorite shows. The first; Les six enfants - The six children aka The Brady Bunch, or her second; L'homme avec les yeux bleu - The gentleman with the blue eyes aka The Wild West with Robert Conrad.

I still talk to her in my dreams, maybe it's my subconscious keeping my French alive, maybe she's visiting to see what else has happened down here on earth. I often wonder what she thinks of all the "devices" we are now hooked on? Does she look at us and shake her head, or does she mess with them while we're sleeping and they are on the chargers?

Do you still have conversations with the angels you have in Heaven?

Until next week, Happy 4th of July. Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!
~ Christine ~




Monday, June 29, 2015

I'm Late - I'm Late By Alison Bruce

John Tenniel Illustration
Or, What I Learned From Alice

It was an hour to tea time and I just realized that I hadn't written my Monday post.

"Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!"
- White Rabbit

How many times have I fallen down the rabbit hole because  I was running late. And here I am again, because honestly... and why would I lie to YOU... so much of what I've learned in life, I learned first between the pages of Lewis Carroll's classic book.

My father used to read me Alice in Wonderland at about the age most children are being read picture books. It's a wonder I understood any of it but, when the Disney animated movie came out, my first reaction was, "That's not how the story goes."

Arthur Rackham Illustration
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

Heraclitis said it much earlier: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” But I heard it from Alice first.

There's no point beating myself up about past mistakes because I'm not that person anymore. There should be a Statute of Limitations for personal (and non-criminal) blunders depending on the severity.

For instance, there are some decisions I'll have to live with, no matter how long ago they were made. Like murder, I can't go back and undo motherhood. Unlike murder, I have no desire to. On the other hand, me bribing my child to behave when I got too tired to do otherwise, shouldn't be held over my head forever... as long as I'm not a habitual offender.

Fan Art
“If you don't know where you are going any road can take you there”
- The Cheshire Cat

Much to my family's chagrin, I am a big fan of the scenic route. I blame the Cheshire Cat and my father... and possibly Robert Frost (notorious for taking the Road Less Traveled). After all, what better reason to be late than getting lost on the way?

If I hadn't got fed up with the traffic on the freeway, we might never have discovered the world's largest toonie in Campbellford, Ontario. If I hadn't transposed the numbers on a requisite course for my Classic minor, I wouldn't have taken Ethics and switched to a Philosophy double major (with History). As my Grade 13 history teacher once pointed out, I didn't really have the mindset for a historian. (Of course, I didn't really appreciate the comment at the time.

Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts
“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
The King of Hearts

I bet there are more than a few of my high school teachers who wish I had absorbed this lesson earlier in life. I didn't really get it until I was at university. It was the stopping part I had trouble with. I just went on and on and on...

This is a good lesson for any writer.

David Levine Illustration of Lewis Carroll
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”
Lewis Carroll

This last quote is a bit of a cheat because the author said it, not one of his characters. However, as an author I entirely sympathize with this sentiment.

Authors and comics have this in common: we both learn to deal with the slings and arrows of reality by coming at it from another direction. Whether we use comedy, fiction or all of the above, imagination is the key. We ask ourselves what if I took this further or escaped it completely? What if? Then we jump down the rabbit hole and the game is on.

MacMillan's early editions

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Vacations

Are You Planning a Summer Vacation? 
by Christine Mazurk

Some of my fondest memories are of the trips my husband and I took on bicycles. That's right, viewing the country-side from the saddle of a bike.

We rode across IRELAND!! It was the year the Tour de France started in Ireland, and we were fortunate enough to ride some of the course, including two very tough mountain climbs - The V and Wicklow Gap. We rode with SEAN KELLY - winner of 9 monument classics and 193 pro races in total. He was also a four time GREEN JERSEY winner in the Tour de France. We rode through his home town, Carrick-on-suir, and the entire town stood on the sidewalks, clapping and screaming out his name!

Not only is Sean an incredible cyclist, he's an amazing person with a great sense of humor. One day, he rode up behind the sag vehicle and opened the hatch, leaning over his bike, he stuck his head inside the car just to say HELLO to the sag team. And when I got a flat, guess who changed it? Yup, Sean Kelly!!!

On one of our rides, we stopped to watch the Tour teams practicing the climbs. I spoke to JAN ULRICH in French, wishing him luck for another win. He was the YELLOW JERSEY WINNER the prior year.

We watched the Prologue, Stage 1, and Stage 2, before the race moved on to France.

It was magical to see the beauty of Ireland from a bike. How green the land is, that sheep stop you as they cross the road. The mountains, the water, and how friendly the people are. The food was phenomenal, the sites were glorious, and the group we rode with hilarious. It's been over 15 years and we still laugh about some of the group's antics.

The trip was hosted by VELO ECHAPPE, which is French for Bicycle Escape. Check out the trips they offer at: www.veloechappe.com !!! If you book a trip, tell Brian Rounds, John and Christine sent you!

Several years after the Ireland trip, we took a TREK TRAVEL trip and rode across SOUTHERN UTAH. We rode through a blizzard as we left BRYCE CANYON, and did several steep climbs in ZION NATIONAL PARK. We even took a day off the bikes to hike THE NARROWS in Zion.

Red rocks surrounded us on each of the rides, the scenery spectacular. If you've never been to Southern Utah, you're missing some amazing land. Trek Travel offers a variety of trips, check them out at: www.trektravel.com - They offer rides for all levels of experience!

Writing about these memorable trips makes me want to take the bike out for a few loops in the park!!
It is time for a break - so I'm off. Until next week. Hugs <3




Monday, June 22, 2015

What I learned from Harry Potter by Alison Bruce

Harry Potter came into my life at an interesting juncture. My mother had died of aggressive small cell lung cancer a year and a half ago. My sister Joanne had just been released from hospital after almost dying. And I was coming to terms with the fact that my postpartum depression wasn’t going away any time soon.

In order to be allowed to come home, Joanne needed constant care. That meant I had to move in with my toddler son and preschooler daughter. My nieces also came home. They had been staying with their father while Joanne was in hospital.

The living room transformed with the addition of a hospital bed, oxygen machine, commode, and lift chair. There were a lot of changes and huge helpings of stress. The Harry Potter books eased the tension and helped us turn on the light.

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Finnish Edition
This was our “best of times and worst of times.” When my sister first came home, we weren’t sure whether she would get any better. In addition to twice daily visits from a nurse, she had Hospice Wellington volunteers helping out.

At the same time, my sister and I connected at a level deeper than I could imagine… and we were always close. She encouraged me to start writing again and, a bigger step, submitting my work for publication. My nieces became my other children, my daughter their little sister. My son forged an alliance with the dog… but that’s another story.

"We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on." (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

My niece Sophie had just discovered Harry Potter and Joanne wanted to find out what all the excitement was about. We worked our way through the series from The Philosopher’s Stone to The Goblet of Fire. Then we had to take a break to read The Lord of the Rings while we waited for The Order of the Phoenix to be released.

We didn’t get through all of that while living with Joanne. She got well enough to take care of things on her own and we moved out of her bedroom. We didn’t go far, though. Me, the kids and my dad moved into the same townhouse complex. When things got bad, as they did, on and off, I could take care of my sister and still go home to my own bed.

German Edition
“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

There came a time when I was carting a Harry Potter tome (the books were getting weighty now) between hospitals. I’d been taking books to read to all my sister’s treatments and post-op visits. When my dad had a major stroke, I was going back and forth between two hospitals to read to both of them. In our family, it was a series for all ages.

You can probably see where this is going. My sister never got to read… or hear the end of the series. My father read or heard all but the last book. We stopped reading the books aloud. Sophie preferred reading and her sister Claire wasn’t as interested in the magic world. She had twinkling vampires on the brain.

It doesn’t matter. Harry Potter was there for us. The books carried the kind of messages we needed to hear at the time, messages that still resonate.

Swedish Edition
“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)