Musings to Stir My Muse

This is a three-sentence story based upon the theme, “Desire” that I posted on theprose.com. Read it and eat your heart out.

Don’t Leave Me

Desire

Desire

You purred past with your red swagger, blinking at me without shame. My heart stumbled, and I drew in a sharp breath. You stopped, waited for me, teased me with a growl, and then roared away into the setting sun’s flames.

The End

And this is a short poem centred around “Guilt.”

Tempt Me Not

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Temptress so fair

Creamy, fluffy, and soft

Melts in my mouth.

Dark chocolate rivers

Dripping, sweet, and seductive

Swirl in my mouth.

Cherry on top

Juicy, luscious and sinful

Pops in my mouth.

Cold hug, no more

Self-loathing, stop

Rue the moment.

Book Review of Only by Blood

Author: Renate Krakauer

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Only by Blood is not just another Holocaust survival story. The author has crafted a clever mystery. She writes parallel stories about the two main characters, setting up for their inevitable meeting. The reader can glean that the two protagonists are related—the truth playing hide-and-seek between the lines. Only towards the end does the author reveal the specifics of this relationship.

Marnia, the modern-day doctor living in Poland, is bent on learning about her roots because of her mother’s dying wish urging her to “find them…make it right.” Her mother’s plea, uttered with her dying breath cannot be ignored. Her own curiosity regarding the secrecy that shrouds her childhood, leads her to embark on a journey of discovery that will take her from Poland to Canada.

Roza is a young mother who endures and survives the Nazi regime in Poland during World War II. Her journey to save her infant daughter is one that no mother should have to make. Forced into hiding during the war, Roza encounters and overcomes seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. Miraculously she survives, as does her daughter, Hanka. Together with her husband, the three migrate to Toronto, Canada.

As layer upon layer of both women’s stories are peeled back, it becomes clear that they are somehow connected, and that the relationship dates back to the war years. But the connection seems elusive, at least for this reader, and the exposition when it comes is satisfying. Of course, when I finished reading the book, I wanted to go back and find the bread crumbs that the author had left throughout the book.

The novel is beautifully written. One can’t help but feel sad for the torturous experiences of the Holocaust survivors. The appalling cruelty that one human being can inflict upon another while under the influence of corrupt power is beyond comprehension. One would think that that we would have learned from history to be more compassionate and to never subject another person to those types of brutal behaviour. But the sad reality is that although the world has changed since the Holocaust, war is still a way of life in many regions and people continue to perpetrate hateful acts.

Accountant With A Novel Twist

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Turn-cloak Accountant

How often do you come across an accountant who is also a writer? Apparently we are not quite as rare as I thought, but also not as prolific as say, lawyers wearing the writer’s hat.

So you may have guessed by now that I am an accountant. Yes, a bespectacled and boring CPA CGA with an MBA. And let me just say it before you do, “I am a bean counter.” But now I’m also a writer, a novelist, to be more precise.

How Can I Help?

Here’s the thing, many writers, like most artists, can’t find a single left-sided brain cell to perform tasks that are remotely accounting or business related.  I know that many writers would find my knowledge useful, so I’ve decided to share some of that in this post and in future ones.

This is my first post on accounting and writing. I’d like to start by sharing some tips on getting organized as an author and entrepreneur.

Some Common Q&A

Here are some of the most common questions I get from self-employed individuals and small business owners.

QUESTION: Do I have to set up a separate bank account for my business activities?

ANSWER: When you’re just starting out as a writer, you don’t need to incorporate (that’s a separate topic that I will delve into another time) or even register your writing as a business. Consider yourself as a self-employed professional, and therefore you don’t need to set up a separate bank. You do, however, need to track your author income and expenses.

QUESTION: How then do I keep my author income and expenses separate from my employment income and personal expenses?

ANSWER: Keep a record of your author income and expenses. If you know how to use Excel, set up a spreadsheet. It can be a simple three-column worksheet consisting of these three titles: DESCRIPTION, REVENUES, and EXPENSES. List in the respective columns, your revenues as you receive them and your expenses as you incur them. Obviously you can do the same thing with a notepad if Excel is not your forte. Tally up the REVENUES and EXPENSES columns at the end of each year and include them in your tax returns. You may need to hire a tax accountant.

QUESTION: How do I know which expenditure is a qualified expense for tax purposes?

ANSWER: Generally, any expense you incur to learn your writing craft (e.g. courses, conferences), to write (e.g. software), and then to promote it (e.g. book launch costs), may be considered a qualified expense. If in doubt, add the item into your record anyway, and then when you have to file your tax return, check with your accountant or verify with your taxation agency. This guideline is applicable for Canadians and likely for residents in other countries too, but always consults with a professional tax expert when in doubt.

QUESTION: How do I organize my receipts?

ANSWER: Here’s something that I do that takes a minute to keep organized. At the end of every year, I start a folder for the following year for all my receipts. You can subdivide the folder if you wish or set up two or even three folders instead of one—one for your regular employment related documents, one for writing revenues, and one for writing expenses. How many you set up is a matter of preference and also depends on how many receipts you expect to accumulate. As you receive a receipt, drop it into your folder. Then at tax filing season, take your folder(s) and the aforementioned log of your revenues and expenses to your accountant. You will save a lot of money in book-keeping fees!

Next time I’ll discuss how to create a budget and why you need one. In the meantime, check out how I’ve used my accounting background to create this really useful Excel workbook for tracking your novel’s characters and events. I use it all the time while I’m writing my novel. You won’t believe how it’s kept me sane whenever I’ve tried to remember an event I wrote about several months ago, or how old my characters are supposed to be in the context of a scene. I’ve built in automated formulas to calculate time lapses between events and each character’s age. Try it…it’s free.

So what pressing question do you have about your writing business?

DISCLAIMER: This post is meant to provide general tips to assist individuals in understanding and organizing their business records and is not to be considered as paid professional advice.

 

Picture credit: pixabay

Why I Love Mondays

Happy Monday!

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” Coleman Cox

345_Why I Love Mondays

The above quote popped up in one of my emails as I started to write this blog. How appropriate and timely for this post about a day that most of us dread. Do you love Mondays? I do. I’m betting that you’re looking at me funny and thinking, “Is she out of her mind?”

Trade in a Corporate Work Day

No, my grey matter is still intact where it belongs, but I did drop something…something out of my weekly routine, that is. More than a year ago, I traded in a corporate work day for a writing day. Best decision ever! Now I look forward to my Mondays when my only obligation is to myself. My calendar is cleared so that all I have to do is write and do all things related to advancing my writing career. When I wake up on Tuesday mornings to write in my gratitude journal, I gratefully state what I accomplished on my date with my creative side. It leaves me wishing for more…but all in good time.

A Fair Swap?

Do you get how liberating and wonderful it feels to shut out the corporate world for twenty-four blissful hours every week? To anticipate only four workdays instead of five? To be able to set my own agenda for what I want to achieve without having my time hijacked by another employee or another crisis? And to find a happy balance between my left brain and my right brain?

Monday Fantasies

On Mondays I create fantasy worlds where I play god, breathing life into my characters or killing them at will. I’ve almost completed my second novel now. No, it’s not a sequel to “Picture Bride” as many of my readers have asked for. Rather it’s a story (working title, “Wait for Me“) about a young woman’s journey to immigrate to Canada after her husband takes a “fake” wife to expedite the process.

Following the publication of “Picture Bride” in November 2014, I started writing its sequel. About a quarter of the way in, I just couldn’t connect with my characters the way I did when I wrote the first book. That’s when I decided to park it for a future date. Better to keep my readers waiting than to turn out work I have a hard time breathing life into at this time.

A Ship-Load of Editing Awaits

Now “Wait for Me” is going through the first round of editing…and it’s a ship-load of work, but I’m loving it. Although I knew that writing a novel wasn’t easy, I didn’t expect it to consume so much of my life. You really have to love this journey to be able to keep up the rigorous schedule you need to maintain to finish writing a book. Now at the editing stage, it’s a major re-write where I just about scrutinize every word and every event. If it weren’t for the novel-tracking workbook that I’ve developed, I don’t know how I’d be able to keep tabs on all my characters and events. If you’d like to try out my Excel workbook with automated time lapse calculations, I’ll be happy to share it with you for free, of course.

So is There a Happy Monday in Your Near Future?

Would you give up a part of your income in exchange for an extra day or two to write or do something you love?

 

Picture by Jeremy Hsiung

Musings of a Staunch Hakka

The inimitable Fei Chen, bitten by the writing bug has contributed a number of articles for my blog. Here she is again, unabashedly enthusiastic about her “Hakka-ness.”

A jewel in the Chen family

We are born social creatures. From the moment we arrive on this earth, we blink with tears of joy and turn on high octave voices to attract love and affection. Emma Lily Chen, my first grandniece, arrived into the Chen family on March 17th, 2015, which is also St Patrick’s Day. Baby Emma is our symbol of love, hope and joy. She is like a pearl engaging us with her beauty. She stirs our thoughts and brings the family together with joy, conversation and laughter.

If I were…

Imagine being in my shoes for a moment—I was excited to attend a reading by C Fong Hsiung, so I arrived at the reading an hour before the scheduled time. I toured my surroundings with curiosity, wonder and fascination. Two love birds sat on an aluminum bench in the empty University of Toronto stadium, shoulder to shoulder, sharing secrets in that open space, showing off their youth and their carefree spirits. They reminded me of my younger self decades ago.

Fifteen minutes before the scheduled reading time I hurried to the second floor of the OISE building feeling like an obedient goody-goody student. As I was about to enter the room, an orator with curly hair and bewildered eyes greeted me. She said “You must be Fong.” I replied: “How I wish I were Fong!”

If I were Fong, I would bury my head under the sand like an ostrich and simply write and write and write. I have earned my experiences and knowledge through life’s journey, be they good, okay, or yet to be discovered. Perhaps I will let my stories fan out like the beautiful feathers of a fanciful peacock.

Fanciful musings aside

We now have history in the making right in the midst of our Hakka family. We are an opinionated culture, critical among ourselves, and often indulge in gossip that gets us into trouble and emotional turmoil. At the same time, I realize that these very same spoken words, emotions, culture, traditions and our language help us to connect with one another and blossom. During this past Mother’s Day celebration, the Lee twin sisters and many other sponsors put together a special luncheon for the Hakka community. During that meeting, Shaun Chen identified himself as a Liberal Party candidate for the upcoming federal election. We wish Shaun great success in our great Canadian democracy.

Go Shaun Go!!!

Why Do You Want to Write?

What Motivates You to Write?

Not everyone who writes is a writer. Something urges you to pour your heart and soul into a notebook or your computer. You’re not thinking about publishing your pieces at this point. Perhaps it’s the cathartic feeling you get after you unburden your soul. The paper doesn’t talk back; the computer doesn’t judge you.

Write often enough, and the itch to publish will get to you. You see your words on a blog. Your writing is out on the Internet for anyone who wants to read it. It’s a heady feeling.

If you’re already writing or thinking of starting, ask yourself why you want to do it. Better still, just write and then discover your reasons as you go along. It’s a wonderful journey.

A Presentation to Remember

This short story uses the prompt: She walked up to the manager, heart hammering and knees trembling.

She walked up to the manager, heart hammering and knees trembling. Surely he could hear the pounding inside her rib-cage. Michelle held her breath and said, “Jack, did you like my presentation?”

Jack looked up, his hands gathering the paper on his desk into a pile. She quailed at the steely eyes raking her face. “You made a fool of me with that piece of junk.” He spat the words out with a hiss.

She gasped. Nothing prepared her for this response. “Uh, what didn’t you like about it?” She pressed on against her better judgment.

“Everything,” his lips curled into a venomous sneer.

“Oh,” She breathed out like a slowly deflating ball. If she had a tail, she would have tucked it between her legs.

As she slunk out of Jack’s office, his administrative assistant waved at her. “Sheryl wants to see you right now.”

What did the vice president of her department want with her? Coming on the heels of the dressing-down that she just received, Michelle felt sick to her stomach. She hunched her shoulders and quickened her pace towards the VP’s office.

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“Well, if it isn’t my star presenter in the flesh,” Sheryl’s eyes crinkled when Michelle knocked on the open door.

Words tumbled out of Michelle’s mouth. “I’m sorry that the presentation went so badly. I’ll resign if you want me to.”

“Resign? Have you gone mad? Did you not hear what I just said? Our biggest client wants you to lead their campaign. If anyone is leaving, it’s Jack. I just fired his sorry ass.”

Mighty Sun and Its Reflection

Mighty Sun

Fei Chen is the guest blogger for this post.

Beauty from my backyard:

Sunrise is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 24 hours.  I watch its ascend over the water from the best seat on Earth,—the beach behind my house—a visual feast for the naked eye. It pleases my senses to see the red hot ball of fire spiral out of a huge body of shimmering water that is Lake Ontario. Gently and gracefully it lifts itself out of the water leaving me just enough time to glimpse its reflection, before going on to share its solar powers with the world.

I was lucky enough to capture that precise moment with my iPad and it is my pleasure to share that picture with you.

Life is a journey:

Each sunrise marks a new day in our journey through life. When we reach the end of this trip, Buddhist conventions bring our family members, relatives and friends together. We congregate to support each other for the loss of our loved one and to pray for the departing soul’s smooth crossover.

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down in the memoriam hall of our Buddhist temple to pray for 姑丈 (Uncle), my 愛容姑’s husband who passed away.  The monks led us in solemn prayer service. The gong bell dinged at intervals accompanied by the occasional drum-beat during the monks’ rhythmic chanting. We burned incense to help the departing soul accelerate into the path of eternal peace.

During my meditation, I glimpsed my departed grandparents’ and my father’s plaques, which hung on the memoriam wall. I could not help but contemplate my own mortality. Memories of our unconditional family bonds crept into my mind to remind me of how lucky and privileged we were. These reflections of my extended family also left me with many bittersweet stories of days gone by. In that brief waking moment, I realized that life is simply a journey and we are the passengers.

Power of Yoga:

Just as my visit to the Buddhist temple to pray and meditate for departed loved ones can feed my spiritual soul, so does practicing Yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning discipline in mind, body and spirit. There are many forms of Yoga practice, and the beauty of it is that you can do it on your own with your own purpose in mind. I love Yoga as it allows me to detach myself from everything and work with nothingness. I can sink into my inner self, to find my own solace, embrace my surroundings and connect with my cheerful side.

Namaste!!!

Why You Should Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Why You Should Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

Why should you make yourself uncomfortable? Isn’t that counter-intuitive?

My answer: If you never step out of your comfort zone, you become complacent. Complacency kills creativity and the desire to accomplish.

Learning to swim: an exercise in futility

A few years ago I decided to learn how to swim. So I bought a bathing suit (with a skirt for modesty), a swimming cap (did I mention that it was made of cloth?), and a pair of goggles (yes, it was mostly waterproof). For the next few months, I thrashed, heaved, panted, and gasped in the pool, never venturing beyond the red line marking the steep drop-off to the deep side.

A kindly gym member took pity on me and gave me some lessons. I remained stubbornly uncoordinated and dreaded my once-a-week foray into the pool. After a few months I gave up and went back to all the activities that I knew I could do. I even took up outdoor cycling and became quite good at it. It wasn’t a huge leap since I was already teaching cycle fit indoors.

Learning to swim: the gauntlet is thrown

Last year a seventy-three-year old gym buddy began boasting to me about how many laps he was able to swim after just a few months in the puddle. He kept taunting me to join him. If he could do it, then why couldn’t I? I’m younger than him and in pretty good shape.

So I bought a rubber cap, wore my old bathing suit and goggles, and then jumped into the water with dread. My previous mentor was nowhere to be found. I thrashed, heaved, panted, and gasped again.

Someone asked me at the pool, “How many times do you swim every week?”

“Once a week.”

He laughed. “That’s like me going to the golf course once a year and hoping I can improve my swing.”

Okay, I’ll try for twice a week. Alas, this was still not the turning point.

One day I bumped into my friend, a more-than-competent swimmer whose schedule never coincided with mine in the pool until that day. She took one look at me and said, “Lose that bathing suit. It’s like the lady who wore flip flops to your spinning class.”

So I skulked into a shop she recommended and picked up two new “swimming-appropriate” bathing suits. When the sales lady asked which league I belonged to, I gave her a vague response, but I proudly wore one of my new outfits when I knew my friend would be in the pool.

Success

Without going into the details of my near-drowning and panic attacks, I can report that in less than a year after my second start, I can now swim at least twenty laps (that’s a kilometer) in about thirty minutes. Maybe that’s not much for some of you. For me, this caps a year of taking on uncomfortable projects.

You see, last year I also got a publisher to publish my debut novel—a feat that I didn’t believe I could accomplish until I challenged myself to take that leap.

You just never know what you can accomplish or create when you step out of your comfort zone:

Seth Godin said in one of his blogs that you should make it a habit to get out of your comfort zone. I learned to swim when I dreaded going into the pool. Today I feel exhilarated every time I jump in. I banged on my computer coaxing out one word after another. Now I have a published novel, Picture Bride, to show for it.

Do you have a story about how stepping out of your comfort zone made you feel good in the end? Please share it in the comments.

The Agenda

A Short Story by Guest Writer, Diane Cormier

Writing Prompt: “Despite my three-inch heels I ran as fast as I could.”

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Why is it that just when you think everything is going your way something goes wrong?

I got up at 5 AM, went to the gym, caught the 7:30 AM GO train later, and then headed for the subway. Crowds thronged the platform. “What’s wrong now?” I sighed impatiently.

“Attention, all subway customers on Line One. The northbound train on Yonge is turning back at Wellesley due to a fire alarm at Bloor Station. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Just great, I’d have to take the train to Wellesley and then walk the rest of the way to the office. This was one meeting I couldn’t be late for. Beyond the crowd I heard a sound. “Good, a train is arriving. I hope I can get on it. I have never seen so many people.”

Barely breathing I squeezed my way inside where I could hold on to a pole instead of falling on top of people every time the train jerked. When we reached Wellesley Station, everybody pushed to get off the train. I clamoured my way out to the platform, glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 8:45 AM. Fifteen minutes left to reach the office. I made my way outside. Ten minutes left to get in on time for the meeting that I had convened.

With my route mapped out in my head, and despite my three-inch heels I ran as fast as I could. I saw the office in front of me, but I resisted the urge to stop and look at my watch. Breathlessly I rushed into the elevator. When the door opened on my floor, I noticed the closed boardroom door and the unnatural silence as I stepped on the carpet. The receptionist looked up and motioned me to let me know that the meeting had started without me.

I handed her my coat, adjusted my jacket, and squared my shoulders as I took a deep breath and entered the boardroom. The room suddenly went quiet. I looked at the faces around the table—some uncomfortable and a few with silly smirks. I said, “It’s unfortunate that I was late for this meeting, but it was unavoidable and could have happened to anyone.”

I glanced at the agenda. Listed on top was, “Tardiness & Attendance.” Pin-drop silence…and then someone giggled. I looked up at the offender and noticed everyone joining in. I tried to suppress my smile. No one missed the irony.

“The point I’m making is that we can’t use this as an excuse to abuse the system. Let’s move on to the next item,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster.

Ten Signs to Recognize It’s Time to Retire or Retool

SignsForRetiringWhether you’re thinking about retiring or retooling, when do you know you’re ready to make the transition? It’s scary to pull that trigger, isn’t it? The safety net of a steady income entices us to keep working even when our souls yearn for freedom from corporate bondage. It’s hard to imagine life without a pay-cheque.

I don’t have any clear-cut answers either, but I’ve noticed a definite pattern when I observe people on the threshold of retirement. I’ve listed them as ten signs—in no particular order—to help you recognize that you’ve outgrown your regular job and that it’s time to retire or retool. Here they are:

1. You talk non-stop about retiring with your friends and colleagues. At every opportunity, you opine about the things you could do, the places you could see, if only you had the time.

2. Not only are your friends making plans to retire, but your colleagues and acquaintances are telling you that their retirement is imminent.

3. More and more often when you wake up in the morning, you wonder why you’re still grinding the nine-to-five millstone.

4. You start looking for hobbies in strange places. Archery may suddenly become a favorite pass-time. That book simmering inside your head may now seem imminently possible. You remember how your grade three teacher said your painting had potential…hmm.

5. Conversely, you already have many projects clamoring for your attention. You assure yourself that you’ll get to them all when you retire, or that they’re in your retooling plans.

6. Your house suddenly seems too big and downsizing becomes a major topic of conversation in your family.

7. The travel section of your newspaper can’t hold enough deals for you. The rest of the newspaper only holds your cursory attention. Your suitcase is now easily accessible, and you have toiletry kits ready to throw into your bag at a moment’s notice.

8. You’re nodding off in front of the TV, but you insist that you’re awake all the time. You claim that 10 p.m. is too early for bed, so you sleep on the couch until midnight before you turn in.

9. Many old friends you haven’t heard from in a long time suddenly reappear in your life and want to meet with you for lunch or coffee. These friends didn’t have time to see you before.

10. If you’re a fitness buff, you’re now starting to build a network of friends at the gym. It’s no longer just a place to work out, but also a place to hang out.

So what do you think? Clear signs calling out to you…maybe. Weigh in with your words of wisdom.

Suddenly Alone – A Short “Shorts”

Suddenly Alone

Contributed by Guest Writer: Diane Cormier

Writing Prompt:  I walk past this hole in the wall, every instinct telling me to keep going.

man-415634_640Tommy’s gone.

I hate when people say, “He may be gone but he’s in a better place.” How can being dead be better? We were so happy planning our life and getting our new house ready for the big family we planned to have. The police said I can now go back into our house as they have finished their investigations. I hesitate. My chest tightens—my breath squeezes out in tight spurts.

“Okay, calm down,” I think. “Nothing can hurt you.”

Something tugs my hand. I look down and see Digby, my beautiful German Shepherd, gazing up and pulling me towards the door. The poor dog probably thinks Tommy is waiting on the other side with doggie treats hidden behind his back. They enjoyed playing this game. They never got tired of it.

Tears come to my eyes. Oh, why did I go visit my sister? The trip achieved nothing–we are not any closer for it. Now the only person who I need and want in my life is gone. That fateful call has changed everything. Once again I am alone.

“Digby, settle down. Let me find the key.”

Wait, why is the door unlocked? Maybe the police forgot to lock up when they finished their investigation. I bend down to remove Digby’s leash, and he covers me with doggie kisses. As I wipe my face Digby takes off. I want to run after him but realize that he’s just looking for his best friend.

I stand up and reluctantly move towards the living room. It is too quiet, but nothing is out of place. The sun shines upon the usual spots, yet my heart beats a bit too fast as my eyes adjust to the brightness. Something doesn’t feel quite right. I walk past this hole in the wall, every instinct telling me to keep going. I hesitate—that hole wasn’t there before. Goose bumps travel up and down my arms. I have a really bad feeling about this, but I need to take a closer look.

Suddenly Digby blocks my way. He jumps up and nearly knocks me down. “It’s okay, boy. I just need to take a closer look.”

Why can I not move? Some unseen force holds me back. I shake off the feeling and move closer to the hole. Should I get a flashlight?

All of a sudden I feel someone behind me. I hold my breath and turn slowly. “Tommy! My story is about to get to an important part.”

Tommy grabs my waist and kisses me. “Did you kill me off in your story?”

“Well, you did make me mad this morning, so yes, I killed your character.”

He laughs and says, “I gotta get back to work.”

“Tommy, don’t forget to fix that hole in the wall”

 

Forgetful

A Short Story by

Diane Cormier

Writing Prompt: She fumbled in her purse but came up short.

brandy-402572_640A red heart drawn into the calendar on Saturday…what did it mean? “What did I forget now? Hmm…oh no, today is Saturday. It’s our 40th wedding anniversary.” She cannot believe that once again she forgot to book the reservation that Jason had asked her to make.

She could picture Jason ranting about how she only had one thing to do, and yet she couldn’t even get that right. Most women make a big deal reminding their husbands about this major event; this one was amazed that hers still loved her after all these years of forgetting.

Now she racked her brain, but she just couldn’t remember where she had placed the note that Jason wrote the restaurant’s name on. She tapped her chin. Where was the one place she put everything in besides the kitchen sink?

She ran up to her room and reached for the closet shelf. Eagerly she fumbled in her purse but came up short. Impossible! She always placed all of Jason’s notes—and there were many—inside the little case, but even that was missing. She could hear Jason in her head, “Honey, how could you lose the one thing I had specially made to attach to that suitcase you call a purse?”

Jason’s home.

She rushed to the mirror and looked at herself—nothing that some make-up and a sexy outfit couldn’t fix while she poured him his favorite drink. With the finishing touches to her face done, she headed downstairs. It was too quiet. She wondered what her husband was up to.

“Jason.” No reply. Funny…she was sure she heard the front door open and close. Maybe he was in the shed tinkering with his new tools. That should give her more time to fix a snack, have his drink ready, and search again for the missing case.

BOOM…noise from the backyard.

Heart pounding she raced to the back door. “Jason,” she called and opened the door, oblivious to possible dangers on the other side. She stopped suddenly as many faces smiled at her and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

With a hand on her heart she looked through the crowd and spotted Jason. He held the missing case up high. Furious, she marched over to him and stuck out her hand. He gently put the case in her palm, leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Honey, I had a feeling you would forget.”

He then grabbed her around the waist. As she leaned into his embrace she whispered, “I can’t promise I won’t forget again, but oh, you are going to pay for this one.”

Jason laughed. She tried to keep a stern face, but he hugged her even tighter. “After 40 years I kinda know what my punishment might be.”

She grinned. “Honey, I feel a headache coming on.”

The End

Retiring, Retooling and My Three-day Weekend

Retirement

A Soul Sister

Jan Moore came on my radar screen a few months ago when I did a “Blog Hop” at the end of a 30-day on-line book-marketing challenge run by D’vorah Lansky. We connected on our websites because Jan’s message resonates with me. In fact, I’d already written some articles about retirement/retooling that have similar elements in her book, Work on Your Own Terms. While I’m only preaching retooling to retire, Jan’s actually teaching you how to do it. Check it out on her website.

My Four-Day Work Week

As some of you know, I now work four days a week. This is part of my exit strategy from the corporate world. Two and half years later, the job shackles will come off. Right now, just having this one day to devote to my writing and all things related to writing keeps me motivated and my creative juices flowing.

If you have been thinking about pursuing your hobby or passion, but can’t find enough time for it with your two-day weekend, consider taking this leap to a four-day work week. Of course, it’s not for everyone: your work place may not allow it, you’re not ready financially, or there may be other reasons.

Go Own Your Three-day Weekend Now

If you’re in a position to do so, then go after your three-day weekend now. Do it on a trial basis if you’re uncertain. Work something out with your employer. Just start. And try reading Jan’s book, Work on Your Terms. Maybe get in touch with her even. You’ll never know what you can do unless you start somewhere. Why not start now?

 

The Homecoming

The Homecoming

by

Sanjula Sharma

First published in a collection of stories, The Cameo Sheaves, by the same author.
Publisher: Ambience Publishing, New Delhi, India

What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
If not, what resolution from despair.

— Milton

Evening Scene(blog)I

It was one of those rare summer evenings that generously lent a soft breeze to cool the nerves and check the oppressive heat. Nothing was depressingly still, yet there was a calm quiet that was soothing. Mother Nature was at her kindest best, delving deep into her generous bounty to placate sweaty brows and frayed nerves. And wipe off the brows of slumberous languor. In short, this was an atypical July evening with no heat.

Ved stood at the window, quiet as the falling dusk itself, an earnest expression on his aging but striking face. He had turned forty-five that day. Not that it mattered, for what was a birthday but just another milestone in man’s humdrum life? At least, that’s what Ved Mehta thought. Or rather, would have liked to believe.

Sober, unassuming and suave, Ved was content with reasonable wealth that had always been ubiquitous in his pampered life. He craved little for a slice of the material consumerism that had become an integral part of urban India in the nineties. Fortunately, his faithful and lovely wife shared his altruistic vision of a slow-paced, comfortable life. Happy with a beautiful house in the quiet town of Dehradun, an exceptionally well-planned front garden and a close circle of like-minded friends, Nina let life drift by, quite indifferent to its uneventfulness. But today, as she sat in the large living room, chatting quietly with their new neighbor, she glanced towards her husband with an uneasy expression on her face. She sensed a familiar restlessness in him and instinctively understood why…

II

She will be here soon, he thought, eyes fixed on the gravelled path lined with the season’s late gerberas. They were changing colour now as the sun dipped lower into the horizon, gracefully and splendidly retiring for the night. Evening time was always beautiful in this Valley town at the foothills of the majestic Himalayas—slow-paced, sombre and soft. But strangely Nature’s charisma failed to rejuvenate Ved as he stood still at the window. Insensitive to the natural panorama unfolding before him, Ved had eyes only for the front gate, knowing it would open soon…

He could feel a familiar excitement rise up within him, pervade his senses with fervent longing. He could barely contain the mounting happiness that was flooding his being, could barely stand still with the impatience of feeling so alive….He had waited so long for this special moment. Dreamt of it since months! The homecoming of his beloved daughter.

“Papa!” Her clear, sweet voice floated across the manicured stretch of lush green lawn. Untidy hair blowing in the balmy breeze, light-footed as a hare, she raced towards the house, uncaring for her disheveled appearance, or her bag flung carelessly near the front gate. She rushed into the drawing room with a characteristic clatter, bringing in with her all the excitement and natural liveliness of a seventeen-year old.

“Papa! Mummy! I’m home!” Anamika announced, breathless and flushed. She kissed her mother lovingly and then ran towards Ved, “Papa! Happy birthday, my dearest Papa!” She hugged him tight with the natural spontaneity of youth and produced a bouquet of red roses from behind her back—the stems broken, leaves crushed and soft petals torn asunder—but to Ved’s partial eyes, simply perfect!

“Gosh! It’s so good to be home! Did you miss me as much as I did?” Anamika demanded, prancing around the room in high excitement, peering out at the falling darkness. Soon, tired and restless, she almost tumbled onto the newly upholstered sofa, launching into an incessant chatter. Of course, she had plenty to say, coming home after almost eight months from her university hostel in Delhi. Her mother sat smiling, indulging in her child’s vivacious chatter and admiring her husband’s equanimity in the face of this verbal onslaught.

“It’s such a lovely evening! Let’s have the birthday dinner on the lawn, please Mummy!” Anamika pleaded, as she rushed upstairs to her room for a quick wash. By the time an elaborate dinner was laid out under the gently swaying jacaranda trees Anamika had met everybody in the house, including Frisky, the newest addition to the family kennel.

“He’s so sweet!” she declared, hugging the little ball of Pomeranian fur. She had changed into her favourite pair of old jeans and a comfortable blue shirt. Plain, ordinary clothes that still made her look extraordinary…for they could not take away the brightness of her large, expressive eyes or the endearing sweetness of her youthful face. Nor the unsullied purity of her loving heart.

“Papa, that chair is not comfortable enough. Sit on this one,” she insisted, willingly vacating the lounge chair for him. Her mother laughed, knowing this gesture was setting the note for the entire summer break. Adoring daughter would pamper her devoted father with unceasing attention and undisputed zest. Anamika served Ved his food now, just the way he liked it—a little of one dish, a dash of that. No heaped plateful for him. Tonight he could hardly eat, so full was he with the presence of his beloved daughter. His wife chided him gently for just pecking at the Kheer, the special milk and rice dessert that was an eternal favourite of the Mehta family.

“Papa! You’re looking much too thin, you know!” Anamika pronounced suddenly, her beautiful eyes filled with anxious concern. “Hasn’t he lost weight, Mummy?”

“I haven’t lost even a kilo!” Ved protested indignantly, yet secretly revelling in the sweet ministrations of his only child. Of course, she was not satisfied till Babu, their old helper, brought out the ancient weighing machine and Ved reluctantly agreed to perch precariously on it.

“There!” Anamika shouted triumphantly. “Two whole kilos and you don’t even know! I can never be wrong about you, dearest Papa.” She got up suddenly to give him an affectionate hug. He hugged her back, bleary-eyed and smiling at his wife.

It was past midnight when they decided to go into the house. They rose slowly, reluctant to leave the sylvan darkness, the warm dregs of shared tea and their sweet intimacy behind…Theirs was a magical family bond that always came alive with Anamika’s sweet presence. Her coming home was the highlight of the Mehtas’ existence. She filled the house with so much laughter and bubbling spirits, it was impossible not to feel animated when she was around. She was life’s greatest blessing to them and like always, Ved realised this more than ever on his birthday.

Like an angel treading softly on earthly ground, Anamika tiptoed into her parents’ bedroom that night and customarily left their gifts quietly on the side-table. She did this always; had done so ever since she was a child and went away, even if for a day.

In keeping with the ritual, Ved pretended to be asleep, not wanting to spoil her childish pleasure at the planned surprise. She had a right on all their feelings, even one of pretended delight!

Anamika had barely left the room, having done her angel act when Ved switched on the lamp and quietly unwrapped his birthday gift, not wanting to disturb his sleeping wife. Elegantly framed in nonreflecting glass and beautifully painted was a striking imitation of Monet’s celebrated work—the Water Lilies. His darling child had painted this herself, knowing this was his favourite piece of art; he could never afford the original or be satisfied with its reprint. The soft lamp-light fell on the pristine white flowers enhanced by the background of blue water and splendid verdure…Ved’s aesthetic eye could see much beyond the bold strokes, and their amateurism and he realised at once how much toil and sweet labour had gone into creating this beautiful painting. Only for him.

Eyes moist, he turned the painting over, instinctively knowing she would explain her loving act. “Dear Papa, I took almost three months to complete this! Each stroke is a reflection not of art or beauty, but something beyond that—my unfailing regard for you.” She had done it again. Performed her coup de love. Expressed her affection for him in a manner that could only be unique, for it came straight from her generous, unspoilt heart. He held the painting aloft, against the light, and it was as if the inanimate lilies came alive and spoke to him. Not of their own beauty or the supreme inspiration of their original artist, but the unmatchable quintessence of his beloved child.

Holding the painting lovingly in his hands, he went downstairs and made his way to his favourite nook in the living room. There, near the armchair, hung an English landscape on the wall—pretty but now worthless in comparison to what he was holding in his hands. “This is mere art, not life,” he muttered, as he quickly removed the reprint of Turner to replace with his precious gift. Then, sighing deeply with contentment, he stood back to admire it. This priceless masterpiece from her loving hands…

III

He couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see the Water Lilies at all. Startled, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief and looked again. Moments passed, as he stood there, unmoving, just gazing helplessly at the blank wall. Its harsh emptiness mocked him; its silent, characterless whitewash shook him out of his stunned stupor. Slowly a look of sad understanding dawned on his wan face. The excited glow left his eyes and in its stead remained two dark pools of unfathomable pain.

From her sofa, Nina anxiously watched her husband and saw his sudden change of expression. Tears filled her eyes and she explained sadly to her companion, “It has always been this way with him. He’s never stopped pining for the daughter we never had.”

She excused herself and the guest left, knowing the couple needed their privacy. Nina walked up to her silent husband, gently took his limp hand in hers and whispered softly, “She’ll never come, you know. There’s to be no homecoming.”

She was familiar with her husband’s recurring birthday dream, understood it and even felt it. Long into the quiet evening, they stood together at the window, watching the sun go down on their hopes, knowing no light-hearted step would ever resound on their gravelled path. No sweet voice ever fill the emptiness of their large house or the silent corners of their sad hearts…like always, she was the first to move but not away. Self-consciously but fervently, she hugged him tight and for the first time said what she had always wanted, all those long, barren years, “Anamika can never be. But let’s find a rainbow…just you and me.”

Ved gave her a long, thoughtful look and then smilingly, pointed silently towards the cloudless sky. There, shining like a king among the eternal beacons of the night, was the full moon. Nina gazed at it and then at Ved in amazement. Never on all his previous birthdays had he looked at anything but his own heavy heart, always comforting himself in the solitude of their room and the darkness of his gloomy thoughts. Letting a total eclipse shroud the intimacy they otherwise shared…

But now, he led her gently towards his favourite corner, pointed to the blank wall and said, “I think I could paint the Water Lilies sometime…maybe tomorrow.”

Nina heard the quiet resolve in his strong voice and for the first time in many years, felt a flicker of hope. His dream of a homecoming had finally ended.

 

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Short Shorts: Dreaming

Dreaming

DREAMING

Guest writer: DIANE CORMIER

Writing Prompt: He glances at his leg when something warm and moist trickles down from his knee.

Sitting here, day dreaming.

Nikki is in the kitchen making dinner. Maybe she’ll make something better than mac and cheese tonight. “I know, I know, I shouldn’t complain.” It’s just that sometimes he wishes for more.

He can see himself lying on a beach, drinking margaritas with all his friends around him. All those women in their bikinis, parading around him and vying for his attention. Oh this is the life. No responsibilities, no family, no worries.

“Waahhh!” What is Jake crying about now? Not now, not when it’s getting good. Can’t he get some alone-time without all this noise? Jake stops crying.

“Good, now where was I?” Oh yes the beach, the fine women, the bachelor‘s carefree life. Sigh…how he misses that life when everyone gathered at his beach house, and they all talked about nothing. All they were interested in was which girl they wanted to spend the night with.

Who is that blonde one over there who keeps looking his way or that sexy brunette who won’t look his way? Interesting… “I wonder why she’s avoiding me. Who is this mysterious woman?” She looks familiar but he can’t quite place her. All legs and a body he’d love to hold onto. Wait…she’s turning around. He can almost see her face. “Honey, honey, where are you?”

She turns…a gorgeous goddess!

He reaches out to touch her hand, but there’s an object in the way. He glances at his leg when something warm and moist trickles down from his knee. He glances up, and there’s Nikki holding their grandson, Jake and a cup half filled with warm milk.

With a start he realizes that the dream is over. He groans. Honey, where did you go this time?

Then he looks up at his beautiful Nikki, “Honey I was thinking about the first time we met. Back then you spilled something on me too.”

Nikki just smiles, hands Jake to him and says, “Dinner’s almost ready, and it’s Jake’s favorite, mac and cheese.”

As she walks away he sees a distant look in her eyes. Oh yes, she remembers. He has a feeling tonight is going to be special just like it was when he first met her. But first things first, let’s cuddle with Jake, and yes, eat mac and cheese.

The End

Short Shorts: Writing Prompt 2

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“Run,” I screamed as the cow charged towards us. My brain told me to run, but my voice died in my throat. My feet felt like lead as I stood in the path of the massive animal, its curved, menacing horns pointed at me.

Someone pushed me just as the dirty brown body barreled past. Adele, my seven-year-old cousin, fell on top of me. She saved my butt yet again. Our little limbs flailed as we struggled to get up.

“Get off me, you’re hurting me,” I said and shoved her to the side.

She stood up, tossed her head back and released a loud cackle. She rocked back and forth, eyes sparkling with glee. Her full-bellied laugh implied, “I know how to take care of you better than you can.”

“What’s so funny?” I asked churlishly while I hauled myself up. I patted down my dark blue, mud-stained skirt. Mom’s not going to be happy about my dirty uniform.

Adele pointed at the cow running away from us. The sight made me burst into tears, and I sat down on the unpaved road. Dangling around the cow’s neck like an over-sized necklace was my colorful, single-strap, cotton schoolbag that held my grade two school supplies. The square-shaped floral satchel hung like a pendant swaying side to side.

From the corner of my eyes I saw a figure dash past me. Dhoti hitched above his knees, one dark-skinned hand waved as if the motions could stop the running cow in its track. He caught up with the cow, patted its back, whispered in its ear, and deftly removed my schoolbag.

I recognized the local electrician and handy-man as he approached me. When he held out my bag, he said, “Next time stop clowning around when you’re walking on the street.”

I gulped, nodded, and wiped my tears on my shirt-sleeved arm.

Adele reached for my hand and pulled me up. “Let’s go home,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said in a small voice. I’ll learn to take better care of myself in the future.

 

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Lessons I Learned from Jeff Walker’s Book, Launch

Launch: An Internet Millionaire's Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love, and Live the Life of Your DreamsLaunch: An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love, and Live the Life of Your Dreams by Jeff Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hype or Real?

If you’re hoping to become an instant millionaire, you’re in for a rude awakening. You’re not going to become rich just by reading this book.

Why I Read Launch

As an accountant and a business process management professional in the corporate world, I’ve never had the urge to dabble in marketing. There are others whose job it is to sell the company’s products and services. And I’ve never felt like I needed to market myself; people associate with me or become my friends for who I am.

Then I became a writer. My novel, Picture Bride is scheduled to be released by TSAR Publications on October 15, 2014. Suddenly, I find myself in the position of a marketer. True, I have the option to let the publisher deal with the book promotion and only do what they ask me to do. But I’ve never been a good backseat driver. I realized that if I want my years of hard work to be recognized, I have to promote my book. So I started to read books on marketing.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Okay, the book title tantalized and teased…so I bought Launch a few days before its release. Jeff Walker had already turned on his Internet marketing machinery long before the book was on the shelf. It started to drive sales using the methods he teaches. The fact that it climbed to the #1 spot in The NY Times Bestselling List within the first couple of weeks did not surprise me.

What did I learn?

For starters, there’s no shortcut to success. You have to work smart and work hard to succeed. Jeff Walker shows you how to promote your product, but you still have to get down in the trenches. And speaking of product, you need one to sell one—he’ll even give you ideas for that. I have to admit that I found it incredible what some people sell…and the same goes for what some people buy.

The book entertains while you learn—success stories that keep you turning the pages. Jeff Walker’s methods are credible and doable if you are serious about starting an Internet business. After reading the book and watching him speak a few times on video, I believe him. He’s not the sleazy salesman or marketer who turns you off with his pitch.

Conclusion

Does the book give you the license to print money? NO. Go do the work and learn some marketing tricks along the way to promote your product or service. There’s no reason why you can’t have fun doing it. Read Launch, and get some actionable ideas.

Lean In for Those Who Want to Move Ahead

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book made a lot of sense to me. I read some negative reviews where some readers wrote that not all women want to lean in and that Ms. Sandberg can advocate this because of where she is today in the business world. The truth is she states clearly in her book that it is not for every woman or man for that matter. She says that one should lean in if you are in ambitious pursuit of a career.

I believe that her lessons can be applied not just in the corporate world, but in any endeavor that we undertake. I like how she draws parallels to one’s career these days with the jungle gym as opposed to the corporate ladder. Many people don’t move up in a linear manner these days.

The book and its message resonate with me. Two thumbs up here.

View all my reviews

Short Shorts Number 1

Writing Prompt: “She knocked down a glass spilling the contents over his cellphone.”

SOUL MATES

by C.Fong Hsiung

Soul Mates

Soul Mates

He tapped restless fingers on the glass table. He wondered why, earlier that day, Tracy had said, “I don’t want to talk about this over the phone. Let’s meet tonight.”

With a sense of foreboding he watched Chelsea eat her dinner. Her golden mane gleamed as the evening sun kissed the soft waves. His heart twisted at the thought of giving her up. He had a feeling Tracy would demand that from him when they met that night.

He sighed. Chelsea continued eating oblivious to the turmoil raging in his head. Mentally he braced himself for the meeting with Tracy. He rehearsed what he’d say to her. “Chelsea and I have a special bond that cannot be broken, but I promise it won’t come between you and me.”

That sounded lame. He tried again. “You and I are soul mates. Nothing can come between us, not even Chelsea.”

The phone rang. Something swished past him. With a crash, she knocked down a glass spilling the contents over his cellphone. Quick as lightning, his hand shot across the table and lifted it from the puddle. “Chelsea, look what you’ve done.”

The ringing ceased. As he strode across the kitchen floor for the paper towel, he said, “You need to watch where you’re going. My phone’s probably ruined.”

He wiped the face plate until it shone, and then he tapped an icon. The phone dinged. He released a low whistle. “Whew, close call.” He flipped through the missed calls’ list and groaned. That was Tracy.

Chelsea whimpered. He looked into the soulful eyes that followed him. “I’m sorry for yelling at you. Come here, give me a hug.”

Tail wagging, she bounded towards him. “The hell with Tracy,” he thought as Chelsea licked his face. “If she thinks I’m giving up my dog for her, she’s in for a shock.”