In Memory of a Neighbor

FeiHsia

Guest Post by Fei Chen

The neighbors from my childhood home have great bonds with my mother and love for her. We lived in communal surroundings in Calcutta, India where we cared, joked, and had fun together after long and sweaty work days. We respected the elders, loved the children, looked out for one another and often shared our food together. I have come to the conclusion that it is that sharing of food that glues our human feelings, bonds our emotions, and feeds our spiritual needs. In retrospect, in the old days we did not have a typical social structure; instead each family was like a cloister, compelled to cobweb ourselves in a tight and close-knit environment, and ultimately that kinship and social behavior became the cradle for our norm.

Last summer 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 came from the United States to visit their friends and families in Toronto. My sister was with us at that time and I had the privilege of sitting down with them for lunch. 緆芳哥 wittily said to me with a mischievous smile, “Munchu said hello to you!” At that moment his tone of voice and his facial expression resonated with my childhood memories of Munchu. He was a street vendor who sold me numerous helpings of junk food in our old neighborhood of Tangra, also called Dhappa. This was a place where all Hakka people knew each other’s affairs and family histories. In that place we created our live comedies, laughing at other’s visible disabilities and immaturities without malice. We laughed out loud and then instantly shook off the scene and moved on to the next stage of life. We carried no menace, threats or physical harm to others.

Our ancestors like many others, left China and settled in Calcutta, India around the time when communism was in its incubation. Also we Hakka are adventurous and free-spirited people. I have witnessed my parents overcome ups and downs in different venture capital businesses. Yet they came out of their hardships, cheerful and triumphant, and always learned from their mistakes while they moved on.

緆芳哥 and his family were our family friends, and they were living in our compound long before I was born. To this day they still communicate with my mother. A short time ago while I was at my mom’s place for lunch, the phone rang, and it was 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 saying hello. Then a few weeks later we were notified that 緆芳哥 had passed away. We are sad to lose one of our true friends from our inner circle.

Life is fragile. Everybody measures, values and loves life differently. I like to quote from our spiritual leader Dalai Lama and how he sees life: “Love and Compassion.”

Short “Shorts” – No Longer Here

This week we have a brand new writer. Her debut short story will touch you and evoke raw emotions that you can’t help, but feel. The writing prompt used was: She saw two people in the picture where there should have been three.

No Longer Here

by

Marina Albert

Beach_No Longer Here

“What’s happened to Mike?” Edel asked as her husband George hung up the phone.

”Mike’s missing. He went out on a boat with his friends and he may have drowned,” George said, his expression dark and gloomy.

The caller was a friend. Mike was George’s nephew, a smart, handsome and intelligent young man who just married a year ago. So Edel and George rushed to the cottage near the lake where Mike and his wife had spent the long weekend together with their friends.

A tragic scene greeted them. Many friends and relatives including Mike’s parents gathered at the cottage, praying for Mike to come back. Where was he? Surely a strong swimmer and a healthy young man like him wouldn’t drown?

Two long days of searching, and then the police found Mike. Drowned…lifeless.

Edel and George missed Mike. They missed his jokes and sense of humor at the family gatherings. A few weeks later, Edel visited Mike’s mother, Maria, who looked lonely and bereft at the loss of her only son at the age of thirty-three. She cried as she spoke about Mike.

Maria said that she knew something was wrong that Sunday morning when she stood at the bottom of the steps and her eyes rested on the family portrait hung above the clock. She saw two people in the picture where there should have been three. For a moment she was sure Mike was missing.

Then the phone rang…the call that told her Mike was gone. Was that God’s way of letting her know what was about to happen?

Maria remembered that on the day before the trip he came to borrow the cooler. His usually bright face was somber as he gave her advice about her diet. He had asked, “Where is Dad?” She told him that he was at the gym.

Mike went to the gym—somewhat unusual—just to see his dad, and then brought him home, after which he took off. That last glance and his goodbye still lingered in her mind. Did Mike have any inkling that it would be the final time he saw his parents?

The other day while driving to work Maria heard Mike’s voice. ‘MUMMY!” he called out. That was when she saw the car in front of her. She hit the brake just in time. She had dozed off briefly; the stress of losing Mike had taken a toll on her sleep.  If not for that voice she would have got into an accident.

When Edel walked out of her cousin’s house she felt sad, but she took comfort in her cousin’s stories. You see, although Mike was gone from this world, he still watched over them from heaven.

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.”

Sharing is Good

ShareYourStoryDo you think you have some latent desire to be a writer? Would you like to explore your inner author? Let me help you stoke the embers.

Here’s the deal:

I will provide you with a writing-prompt—one sentence—every week to get you started. You embed the sentence anywhere in your 300 to 500 word narrative. If you feel like sharing your work, I’ll publish it on the “Short Stories” section of my website. Pretty cool, huh? I reserve the right to edit your work before I post it. You keep the rights to your story always.

Writing Tips:

When you write your “shorts”, you should have a character, conflict and resolution. Use dialogues as much as possible to drive your fiction.

Ready to Share?

Send me your story via the “Contact Me” tab on my website. Enter the writing prompt in the subject line. Then paste your story in the message box.

This Week’s Prompt:

She knocked down a glass spilling the contents over his cellphone.

And Finally:

Have some fun and release your creative juices. Go ahead and share this with anyone who has a hidden writer inside them.

That’s it!

 

Picture attribution:

sw_PenOnManuscript_ncp9648.jpgBy jpp
Image URI: http://mrg.bz/IqvX3o
JPEG URI: http://mrg.bz/g4ANNA

Why I Should Own My Identity

Blank page


Reflections on a Sunny June Day

As I sit in my kitchen on this beautiful afternoon in June, I let the sights and sounds outside take over my senses.

Whrrrm…whrrrm…whine…whine…screech! You got it; I’m not painting an idyllic scene. You see, the developer behind my backyard has started serious construction work. The green space has been razed down and the oversize digger is scooping up everything that grows there.

Earlier when I let my son’s dog, Lennon, out to do his thing, I listened for the birds. Their chirps were still audible despite the heavy equipment’s whirring. In fact, as I listen to them now, they sound like they’re competing with the whrrrm whrrrm…our spunky feathered friends doth protest in sympathy with their neighbours.

What’s that about an ebook?

No, this is not a griping session about the big bad developers. The truth is I barely pay attention to the noise now. They’ve turned into sounds of summer as I write my e-book, How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly, which I plan to give away to all my email subscribers for free. I’ve almost completed the first draft.

Yippee…I said it out aloud. That must mean I’m committed to finishing the book.

Not so fast…

The trouble is that the first draft is really bad. I mean it. I will have to work hard to polish it until it shines. At this point, my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. I’m experiencing a mental cramp that refuses to unlock and let me see how to make my book worth reading. So I’ve decided to give myself a break from over-thinking it.

My right brain gave me permission to read writing-marketing-writing blog after blog until the gray matter in my head has turned into floating black clouds of meaningless alphabets. I realize that my protracted research is actually retarding my progress. I don’t draw any comfort from this knowledge. OMG…where is the panic button?

I am a Writer

I bought Jeff Goins’s message about owning my writing identity a long time ago. Read his blog here. Just as when I’m at my day job, I own that identity too.

Yet sometimes doubts still plague me when I find myself in a slump…this is not where I want to be right now. It’s not possible to produce quality work if I only dip one foot in the water in either places.

I need to write what I know. That’s simple, isn’t it? I know myself well and I’m the only one who knows how I went through my journey to becoming a novelist.

Hmm…maybe I should change the book’s title to How I Stirred the Writing Fire in My Belly…and You Can Too. What do you think?

Picture downloaded from www.Morguefile.com

30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: What an Experience

A Free Course, Reblog-hop-150x150ally

Is anything really free these days? The only thing I can think of is the air that we breathe. But wait, let me tell you about D’vorah Lansky’s 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge. Not only was it free, it DELIVERED…day after day during the thirty days. And the best part of it all…you don’t need to spend a cent if you don’t want to and still get the full benefit of the course. Did I get your attention yet?

Converting a Skeptic

I started out as a skeptic. How much can I really learn from a free course? You heard the saying before: “You get what you pay for.” Well, not this time. D’vorah packed so much content into the 30-Day Challenge that I could barely keep up. I stayed up late at night listening to the webinars and constantly reading the great variety of materials provided. The posts teased and pushed my brain to its limit. How do I get the best out of all these marketing tips? So many to choose from, and I still have a day job to do.

My Ah-ha Moment

On Day 18 of the Challenge, I listened to Kristen Eckstein speak about serializing books on Kindle. I knew right there and then that I’d found a strategy that would suit me perfectly. My fiction, Picture Bride, will be published by a traditional publisher during fall 2014. I don’t have a book out yet, but I have many short stories that I’m still editing. Why not release some of these stories as a series on Kindle? And for my free giveaway for anyone signing up on my website, I started to write an ebook called How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly.

I was on fire. I signed up for Kristen’s Kindle in 30 Challenge for the discounted rate of $97. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you don’t have to pay for anything if you don’t want to. I’ve just started this course and hoping to self-publish my first ebook soon.

About My Novel

Picture Bride is about a young Hakka Chinese girl from India who marries a cold and aloof stranger in Canada. Bound by tradition and culture, she stays in the marriage despite his uncaring ways and even after she discovers his secret. Then when she is forced to flee, she is spurned by her father who cares only about his honor and reputation.

If you enjoyed this post please share the love and tell someone.

 

Make Minor Adjustments in Your Life to Create a Major Impact

Waterfall

 

Start with a Vacation

Every time I return home from a vacation, I have an urge to make some adjustments—something small to change things up in my life. The down-time away from home allows me to think about what’s happening to me and around me.

A Change in My Routine

In 2010, my mother checked into the hospital for a surgery. What was supposed to be a one-week stay turned into a five-month nightmare. While I had been driving to work for many years, commuting 35 kilometres each way every day, I found myself driving even more. I detoured to the hospital almost daily and also drove there on the weekends. Then when I took my first trip to China around the time my mother finally went home, I spent two weeks almost worry-free. After lots of naval-gazing, I decided that when I returned home, I would stop driving to work. I began to ride the train instead, and I used the commute time to read, write or chat. I’ll bet these rides now provide more therapeutic relief than any psycho-analytic couch.

A Significant Step

During the past few years, I had been toying with the idea of winding down from the corporate world to spend more time doing what I love. After much soul searching and number crunching, and after another vacation late last year, I decided to drop one day from my full-time job in March. I’m now writing another book…make that two. I started writing the sequel to Picture Bride a few months ago, and I’m one quarter of the way into an e-book that I will give away on my website. I might even write a series of Kindle books…maybe I need another vacation to give me the impetus to take that on.

A Word of Advice if I May

Use your vacation time to relax and let your mind take you in any and every direction. When you let yourself go, you just never know where you’ll end up. I highly recommend bringing home one little tweak to your routine to spice things up a bit. You don’t need to shift gears as much as I did in my examples above. I’ve tried to adopt a minor change each time I came home from a holiday. Some lasted and some got lost in the sea of tasks that greeted me as soon as I stepped inside the office. Just add or subtract something that makes you feel good.

And Finally…

The key is to aim for those little adjustments; they might accumulate into a big and rewarding lifestyle shift.

Only as Good as Your Word – Susan Shapiro

Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary GurusOnly as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best thing about Susan Shapiro’s memoir is that she’s brutally honest. She hooked me at the Introduction and then she kept reeling me in.

Shapiro recounts her relationships with seven mentors who helped her in her quest to a becoming a professional writer. I believe she gave as much, or more than she received from them. She adored and celebrated them.

Jack Zucker, Shapiro’s high school English teacher, stoked her love for poetry. Then Howard Fast, her best-selling author cousin challenged her to “Write a whole book already!” As a self-confessed psychoanalytical fiend, she was more interested in writing poetries and personal essays during her early career. Now she has eight books to her credit.

The other mentors, both men and women, are from her various literary circles. She regards them as friends even while she acknowledges their roles in helping shape her professionally. Her candid accounts of her relationships with these people are witty and humorous.

Ms. Shapiro’s generosity and kindness shine through her book. I, a total stranger, had the pleasure of being on the receiving end when I met her at a conference. She is genuine and sincere; her memoir reflects that too.

This book is a keeper.

View all my reviews

Three Things I Learned From How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

Why do we buy self-help books?

I don’t know about you, but I buy them when I’m itching to learn something new or to fill a void, perceived or otherwise, that I’m feeling. Then when I read a book that teaches me a useful tool or two, I can’t shut up. My friends and colleagues will hear about it and my family too. So why not write about it too?

Joanna Penn, the author of How to Market a Book has a prolific web presence. Find her on http://www.thecreativepenn.com/. She’s a credible teacher in the niche she’s chosen: helping writers publish and market their books.

What I learned from the book:

  1. When you’re marketing yourself, you can’t be self- conscious.

Joanna Penn says that we write because we either want to help people and make them think or to entertain them. Thus the end product is for the customer. If marketing is about the customer, then feeling self-conscious means I’m focusing on myself. So I’m learning to get over this troublesome and inhibiting naval-gazing.

  1. What is social karma?

Social karma is all about giving and sharing on the internet. Don’t hold back your compliments if you like something you saw or read. Be a giver, not a taker—that’s also my life philosophy. Good karma goes around when you generate positive vibes. Joanna Penn’s generosity comes across as genuine; it permeates her book. She provides many useful links and resources that I’ve clicked. I’ve even bookmarked some of them for future reference.

  1. The Importance of public speaking as an author.

Authors need to learn to be good public speakers. I get that. But, “Being a professional speaker makes you stand out in the crowded marketplace of authors.” This caught my attention. Yikes! I worry about bringing attention to myself. Do I have what it takes to stand in front of an audience and keep them engaged? I’ve chaired many meetings at work—that’s different because I know those people. I’ve even presented at a conference once, but my knees wouldn’t stop shaking. If I want to be a speaking author, then I’d have to tame the trembling inside pretty quick. Luckily, the internet provides lots of resources to help you learn any skill. Joanna Penn shared this link about introverts.

http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

In closing, the book is well-written, readable, and the tips provided can be easily implemented if you wish to do so. Two thumbs up for How to Market a Book.

 

Get Serious About Retooling

Somewhere in Barbados

Harping on Retoolment

A few weeks ago, I thought I had created a new word, retoolment. Imagine my chagrin, when I googled it and found it already used, albeit sparingly. Lesson learned: google first before claiming something for your own.

Still, retoolment is a good word to describe that phase in your life when you’ve decided to leave the corporate world to pursue your own interests, for profit or for pleasure. For some this may mean turning into entrepreneurs. For others, money may not be the motivator; you focus on what you love to do.

Reorganize or rearrange your life.

What brings a sparkle to your eyes? What’s holding you back? Stop talking and start doing. Make room in your day now for your passion. Wouldn’t it tickle you to turn your passion into a money-making scheme?

I met a woman who retired recently, but finds herself with too much time and not enough to do. She doesn’t have a hobby or anything to fill the void that her job did. You see, we all need to retool. Whether we learn new skills or sharpen existing ones, it doesn’t matter. Take up a hobby. We want to wake up each morning looking forward to the day. You need to know that you have to accomplish certain tasks. Each new day is a gift; it must have a purpose. Without a purpose, you drift.

We humans don’t do well when we go through life without a purpose. When we are busy working at a job, raising our children, or looking after a loved one, we feel useful. We wake up each day with a purpose.

Find something…anything that fires you up.

Do you enjoy teaching or coaching? Did you ever dream of playing the harp? Do you love to sing? Dance? How about ballroom dancing? No partner or your spouse won’t dance? Try line dancing. The point is this: just do it. Join a class or learn on your own. The internet offers unlimited opportunities. Today you may be a novice, tomorrow you could turn into an expert…okay, maybe not quite the expert, but skilled enough to teach.

I took a creative writing course a few years ago; my first step toward retoolment. Last year I bought a couple of bikes to ride outdoors; more new tools. I plan to write for as long as I can and ride for as long as my body will allow me. Writing may or may not bring a new stream of income—it doesn’t matter—and riding fits nicely into my stay-fit routine.

So what would you like to do for your retoolment?

Is Retirement Over-rated?

Retoolment

Retoolment: A Real Word?

We work towards retirement like it’s a state of utopia. All our lives we save so we can retire and live happily ever after. What if I say that instead of chasing the retirement dream, we look forward to RETOOLMENT. Don’t bother looking up the dictionary for the word—I made it up.

Why Retire If You Can Retool

The word RETOOL is defined as “to reorganize or rearrange, usually for the purpose of updating.” If you retire without any new purpose, what’s going to happen? You’ll travel, you say. Right, for how long and have you saved enough to travel endlessly? And if you did, don’t you think you’ll be tired of the gypsy life after a while? What else are you going to do when you retire? Look after the grandkids, play bridge with your buddies, go to the gym…where’s the purpose?

So I’ve decided that the best way to look at retirement is not take the word literally. You retool. You learn to do things you’ve always wanted to do but denied yourself because life got in the way. You need a whole new bag of tools because your career may have ended, but a new life-calling is about to begin. You need to know how to go about living that new life.

I’m Doing It, You Can Too

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but the average writer doesn’t make enough to live on. So I climbed—perhaps clambered sometimes—up the corporate ladder to clothe, feed and educate our boys, and to save for the ultimate retirement. A few years ago, the light bulb flickered first, and then shone bright after lots of kicking around in my head and soul searching. I came to the realization that retirement is the wrong word. I’m not ready to retire and drift with whatever tide comes my way. During my RETOOLMENT years, I will have a new bag of tools. I want a new purpose and continue to wake up every morning ready to tackle my day using my new toolkit.

DON’T RETIRE…RETOOL.