Keep telling your travel stories

As a professional writer, I love to tell stories, and usually I am telling other people’s stories. On this blog, I get to tell my own stories, and many of them have been about travel. I’ve been lucky to have some travel articles published, and I am still learning more about travel writing. I also want to hear travel stories from others, and help us all learn how to be better travel writers.

So, I have a workshop called “The Travelling Pen.” I first presented this in Napanee (Ontario, Canada) on Saturday, February 27, and it was well-received. I have been asked to repeat the workshop so here are the details for this presentation.

Saturday, March 19 

10 am to 3 pm

Airhart  Community Room

L & A Country General Hospital

8 Richmond Park Drive


$50 (includes all materials)*

This community room is accessible through the hospital or from the parking lot, and both the coffee shop and cafeteria will be open for lunch and snacks.

While we chat about travel writing for publication online and in print, we will spend most of the day talking about writing travel journals and blogs and look at some of the travel blogs that I follow.

Throughout the day, participants will make valuable contacts to help them with their writing, and I will hand out information that I hope will be useful for them as they write their travel stories.

I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled across Canada and to several countries in the world with my husband whose photos complement my stories brilliantly.

Here are some photos from our first trip to South Korea to visit our son Jeremy in September 2010.

Palace guards, Joseon era dress
Stirway to Incheon's Chinatown
Painted steps in Incheon’s Chinatown

We returned  to South Korea in August 2015  and then went on to Australia. We’re still editing photos and stories from that trip so stay tuned.

Whether you want to become a published writer or just learn how to capture your stories in a more meaningful way, joining me for “The Travelling Pen” will be an adventurous day–but the date is fast approaching,  so please register soon.

To register, please contact me:


*Payment must be cash, cheque, or direct deposit.


The Slow Cooking Muse

The Slow Cooking Muse
My slow cooker

My muse has finally been making a few appearances lately, usually in the wee hours of the morning. Given her choice of visiting hours, she doesn’t stick around long. So while I have had, or been given, some ideas for this blog, none of them are very fully developed, and I am not sure any of them warrant fleshing out. Maybe they just need more time, just as some meals are better if they’re slow cooked. So perhaps my muse has been a slow cooking one.

The idea about slow cooking came to me one of those nights after my muse had me wide awake. So there I was in the middle of the night, thinking about how my next story might be like a pot roast with the meat, potatoes and vegetables all still intact as separate entities but melded together as a fine meal. Or the story might be more like a chili where the ingredients–the meat, beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables have to soften together with the spices in order for the chili to be any good. Both of these meals are good, and better if cooked for a longer time, but with very different results. Both can leave you with a memory of a fine meal.

Memories, specifically Christmas memories, was another idea the muse left with me another night. Now that it’s almost New Year’s,  it’s time to take that idea out of the pot.

In one of her latest posts, my friend “Buttons”  wrote about the memories on her Christmas tree, which had me look at our tree more carefully and remember the significance of our decorations. Two that always touch me are the baby shoes and first school pictures of our two sons.

While we can’t add his [current] size 11-1/2 shoes to the tree, we did get our son Eric new shoes for Christmas, and his dad wrote on the tag, “For your new path, wherever it may take you.” Eric is returning to school as he follows his passion for design to learn techniques for video game and animation  design. Maybe we’ll have a new school photo to put on next year’s tree. We should get a new one of our other son Jeremy too.

Jeremy isn’t a student, but he is in school. His path has taken him to teach English in elementary schools in South Korea, and he’s now married to a young Korean woman, Jieun, who is a wonderful addition to our family. The small flowers given to us at their wedding this summer have now been added as decorations on this year’s Christmas  tree.

We also have house decorations that belonged to my mother, my sister, and two dear aunts who have died but whose memories live on in these decorations.

2015-12-21 16.22.36

Another tradition we carry on is baking. Cookies, loaves, muffins, and scones have lovingly been prepared, and eaten, and I’ve made an annual favourite: Peanut Butter-Marshmallow Squares. I got the recipe from my aunt years ago, and have added my own twists. Eric even made a batch this year. My husband made a Christmas cherry pie, just as his mother used to do. That’s inspired me to try pie baking again and see if I can come up with a better gluten-free crust than the nut-crumb crust I made for my post-Halloween pumpkin pie. I also want to get back to making yeast breads in addition to the quick scones and muffins.

*Sorry, no photos. Everything got eaten before I wrote this blog post. Time to do some more baking, I guess. 

Whether I am cooking, baking or writing, it seems like the slow muse needs to visit more often and hang around longer. Then I might come up with a more unified post rather than this hodge-podge. But then, sometimes things do meld together nicely, don’t they?

Do you like slow cooking or getting things done quickly? Both have their merits don’t they? What about your writing? Do you wait for “the big idea” or put together smaller ones?

Join the conversation and let me know.




Do we really need “trigger warnings”?

Danger, Will Rogers—Do we really need a warning? 

I think it was the television program “Lost in Space” where the young boy, Will Rogers, was warned of danger by the family’s robot. On many television or radio programs an announcement is made that the material may be “disturbing” to some, and guidance may be necessary. I guess these would be called “trigger warnings.”

There are certain songs that I can’t listen to on the radio; there are movies or television shows I can’t watch or at least I can’t watch certain scenes; and there are books, or parts of books I can’t read. I can’t do any of these things because they “trigger” an emotional response—usually anger—that I’d rather avoid. That anger is triggered because it reminds me of a time in my life that I’ve worked hard to forget and for which I don’t need any reminders. So when I know I’m already sensitive to being upset by this stuff, I avoid it. Yet it seems that some university students are not capable of this avoidance and need “trigger warnings” from their professors. Seriously, this is a thing—especially in U.S. universities and now apparently in Canada too.

So, what’s a “trigger warning”? I hadn’t heard the term until I listened to a documentary by Frank Faulk on the November 29 episode of the CBC radio program “Sunday Edition.” Faulk features professors and students discussing the need for such warnings, especially to avoid “triggering” an adverse reaction in a student who might be prone to anxiety, depression, or other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) Fairly, he covers the other side where it seems unreasonable for a professor—or anyone else—to know exactly what might trigger such adverse reactions, and therefore it’s up to the individual student to decide whether certain course material might be problematic.

According to the outline for this documentary, “trigger warnings” first started in the late 1990s, and have steadily become more widespread to the point where, by 2014, university guidelines for professors were advising them to avoid any material that might smack of any of the “isms”, including, but probably not limited to, ageism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. Yes, we need to be aware of these things, and be culturally and racially sensitive as much as possible, but presenting the subject material without a sufficient “trigger warning” surely cannot and should not be necessary.

It may be reasonable to expect that when a professor knows the material in the class to be controversial, she or he might state that in the course outline. It is not reasonable to expect professors to avoid all material that may be deemed controversial or “trigger” reactions from their students. University courses are supposed to make students think—and learn not what to think, but how to think; how to develop critical thinking skills for themselves. That’s how they will learn to be able to form opinions on a wide variety of subjects and back up those opinions with facts they glean from numerous sources, including their professors. [This isn’t just for university professors, but for all teachers and parents who are responsible for raising a generation of well-educated young people.]

Listening to the program I was left with the feeling that today’s university students must not be the young adults we think them to be; that they cannot possibly walk away from a class or other group discussion that is or might be upsetting to them; that they cannot expect to have to form any of their own opinions about subjects that may be uncomfortable to learn about—but subjects which are part of our collective history, and from which we must learn important lessons.

What must be missing in today’s university programs is context—the professors’ ability to put controversial material into that context, and the students’ ability to understand it.

I know what will trigger an uncomfortable feeling and whenever possible I avoid it. That’s not to say I will not watch, read, or listen to something that I know will be difficult, especially when I know I will learn something from it. I would hope others can do the same and not need “trigger warnings.”

Are we becoming too sensitive? Are we being too “politically correct?” Do we need “trigger warnings?” Join the conversation and let me know what you think.

On a totally different subject, I have another blog, “Local Business Matters” where I talk about the need to “shop locally” every day, not just at this time of year, but perhaps especially at this time of year. Hop on over to that blog and join that conversation too.

Reconnecting, Reinventing, Disconnecting

Reconnecting, Reinventing, Disconnecting

On October 3, I reconnected with a few women from my Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, now Ryerson University.

Together again after 40 years. Photo courtesy of Marian Williamson
Together again after 40 years. Photo courtesy of Marian Williamson

We had a terrific day, and the years fell away.  We’ve vowed to not wait another 40 years before getting together again, and I really hope that’s the case, since most of us would be centenarians by then!

One of my new/old friends said that she found it so interesting where our career paths have taken us from that starting point of the ECE classes. Some stayed in education, working in child care centres, elementary schools, and resource centres. Some got out of the field all together, working in technology or journalism, but still using some of those skills we learned all those years ago.

While we chatted a lot about where those paths have taken us, and how many of us have children, and grandchildren, we also spent some time looking ahead—to continued enjoyment of retirement, or new work. I’m looking forward to some new challenges.

I have been reviewing a lot of potential markets for my writing as I plan on doing a lot more freelancing in the coming year and less teaching. I have also been reviewing story contests and other writing opportunities including the famous NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month) coming up in November.

Encouragement and support have come from the folks in my Creative Writing group. as well as from friends and colleagues in the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC).  A former PWAC colleague, Paul Lima, has been an inspiration with his books, particularly (Re) Discover the Joy of Creative Writing, and The Business of Freelance Writing.

If I am going to get this writing done, I will have to spend more time with that work, and less time on the Internet, which means disconnecting from Facebook and other social media sites—or at least not being as connected.

I can hear the “D’uh” from here. That seems like a no-brainer, right? Just concentrate on the work. The problem is that I seem to need social media to fuel the work—to get the creative juices flowing. I also get story ideas, leads, work connections, and great ideas for my creative writing classes from Facebook, so it’s not a waste of time checking that out daily. I just have to spend a little less time checking all of the other stuff—the political articles (numerous because of the upcoming federal election), the recipes, and of course, the pet and baby videos, which are too cute to ignore!

Of course, there has to be time for my Creative Writing class, my Nordic Walking group, my Classic Strength Training class at the 55 Plus Activity Centre and spending time with my friends from those groups. Those personal connections are as important, if not more important than the online connections.

So, while I am disconnecting, rest assured, I will remain reconnected to friends old and new as the reinvention will be a work in progress—just like the writing.

Let me know whether you feel the need to reconnect, reinvent, or disconnect, and how you do that.

Back to the Future

Waiting for our 40-year pins
Waiting for our 40-year pins

Well, there’s a first time for everything. This Saturday, October 3, marks the first time I’ll attend an Alumni Event at Ryerson University. It’s been 40 years since I left those hallowed halls of what was then Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. Although I’ve been back to the “campus” a few times when I’ve been in Toronto, I’ve never really been back. So why now?

Partly because it’s been 40 years—that’s a milestone in itself—and because I’ve recently connected with other Ryerson grads in the Kingston area, where I now live. I’ve also connected with a couple of the women from my “Class of ’75” although that’s just been online and by phone. Meeting in person again will be fun. It’s not about reliving the past, or telling “boring stories of Glory Days” (thank you to The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, for that line.) It’s about connecting, or reconnecting, with people who understand a bit of your past and want to learn about your present, and maybe your future. It’s about getting to know each other again. I’m also curious to see our old “lab school” at the Early Learning Centre, see new buildings and maybe revisit some old ones on campus. It’s about learning from each other and maybe seeing how we might help each other in whatever careers we have now.

The career I have now is very different from the one I had after graduation. I’d spent four years earning my degree in Early Childhood Education (now called Early Childhood Studies) and I used that knowledge for many years working in child care centres as a teacher and supervisor. I also used that experience when I organized a conference on Early Learning Outcomes many years later, and wrote much of the report from that conference. That allowed me to combine my work at Captions Communications as a freelance writer, writing instructor, and event organizer with my experience as an Early Childhood Educator. A few years later I taught future Early Childhood Educators at the Akwesasne Adult Education Centre. It felt like my life was coming full circle.

Now it really will come full circle as I’ll reconnect with women who shared those four years of my life. It will be fun to learn what they’ve been doing for the last forty years—and I hope that we’ll stay in each other’s lives for the coming years. That will be even more fun. I’ve learned from friends and colleagues in PWAC—the Professional Writers Association of Canada how important networking is, and how fun and helpful your friends in that network can be. That will be a secondary benefit though. I just want to reconnect with those women and make some everything-old-is-new again friends.

I’ll be taking lots of photos on Saturday at our events, so come back next week and I’ll post some here.

Have you been to a reunion? How did it feel reconnecting after years spent apart?

“Sisters” who travel–and blog

I love being a part of “Sisterhoods.” There are women in my family I think of as sisters, and I often think of my own sister, Diane, who died in October 2014. I’ve developed a sisterhood with some of the women I’ve met through the 55 Plus Activity Centre,  where I lead some classes, and  I have “sisters” in the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC).  I’m especially grateful to one of my PWAC “sisters”, Doreen Pengracs, for nominating me to join the “Sisterhood of the World” bloggers. Doreen was nominated for this group by her friend and colleague, Donna Janke of  Destinations, Detours, and Dreams.

Accepting the nomination includes answering some questions about blogging and traveling. You can check out Doreen’s answers on this blog post on her new website, “Chocolatour”  and see who else has been nominated. You can also follow the links Doreen has provided to those other blogs. Here are my answers to the questions Doreen asked her nominees.

Is there a single moment in your travels that you feel has been your most transformative for you? 

I was sitting alone in the Montreal airport around midnight in May 1972. For this naive 20-year old, It was only the second time on planes or in airport lounges, and I had to wait to see if I could get home.  I was on a “Student Stand-by” ticket from Moncton to Toronto so my seat was not guaranteed and I’d been asked to get off when the plane stopped in Montreal to change crews and pick up more passengers. What would I do if I couldn’t continue this trip until the next day, which was a distinct possibility? I had to devise a plan B, which I did, but didn’t need to implement, as a seat was found and I was soon on my way home. I haven’t traveled alone often, which is nice, but I learned in that moment that regardless of where I was traveling, whether I was alone or not, I’d be okay, and I have been. 

What is your primary travel goal for the next year?

My goal is to not “backtrack.” Even if I’m  in a place I’ve been before, I want to experience it in a new way–do new things; see new places; meet new people. Keep moving forward. 

Do you have a favourite place that you just can’t seem to get enough of?

New York City. We first went there in 1974 and for many reasons didn’t get back until January 2011. The city had changed so much, and was so much nicer and safer for tourists since that first trip. I fell in love with NYC all over again. We went back in August 2012, and now I want to see “The Big Apple” in the spring and fall.

What is your favourite thing to do when you visit a new place?

Walk and/or take public transit. I love to explore the local neighbourhoods, and attractions close to where I’m staying. It’s the best way to really get to know a place.  It’s lovely when you can do it with someone who lives there, or is familiar with places to see and things to do. 

Do you have a favourite travel blog?

That’s too hard to answer. I follow several travel blogs. I love reading about the travel adventures of others; to feel that I’ve been on the journey with them, and to learn about new places. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to go to those places and will have their insights to guide me. Of course Chocolatour would have to rank as one of my favourites.

If you could go absolutely anywhere in the world in the next 6 months, where would it be?

 Since we’re traveling to South Korea and Australia this month, I think future travels will be very close to home.  If unlimited funds and time were to become available, I’d like to go to Canada’s Arctic as it’s the only part of Canada I haven’t seen. 

Who is the most memorable person you have encountered in your travels?

It was a woman in Seoul who got off the subway with us and took us to a place to buy some ginseng rather than just direct us to the market.  My only regret is that we didn’t get her name or photograph. Her going out of her way to help us has stayed with me more than the place we went to shop, and has inspired me to try and be more like her when asked for help from a stranger. 

What is one place you wish you’d never have gone, and why?

While there may be some places I wouldn’t want to revisit, I don’t regret any traveling I’ve done, or places I’ve seen. They’ve all been learning experiences, and there was something good that came from each visit, even if it wasn’t immediately memorable.

Has there been a singular action that you have taken that has taken your blog to the next level?

Adding more photographs. I don’t really have any photos that would go with this post, but adding photos to my blog posts has really helped me tell better stories.

I think it’s also brought in more readers, and some have commented on the new addition of more photos.

What has been the most effective tool that you have used to grow the readership of your blog?

I think that would be Facebook, because I have a lot of Facebook friends, family and colleagues who “like” and “share” the posts, but with each blog post I seem to pick up more readers and followers, and yet all of these people aren’t with me on Facebook. I guess it’s a combination of promoting the blog myself through social media and WordPress doing its promotion as well.


Thanks to Doreen for those questions.  Now it’s my turn. Here are my nominees to join this group, and my questions for them. Some of these women are travel bloggers; others don’t. All are an important part of a “sisterhood” of bloggers to me, which is why I chose them.  

Katrina Stovold: Tour Absurd Katrina is an ex-pat American living in Ireland who likes “travel with a light heart.” It has been my pleasure to have a guest post on this site.

Marie-Eve Vallieres: To Europe & Beyond Marie lives in Montreal, but says she’s “a traveler at heart who can’t decide where to go next.” She’s not quite satisfied her wanderlust and invites you to tag along on her adventures.

Judy Lawless: Mind Traveler: Taking Off and Sounding Off Judy writes about her travels in Canada and the US with her partner Jim Victor. Some of these are by motorcycle; others in their motor home.

Veronica Leonard: Veronica is passionate about wine touring and says she is not a connoisseur or critic, just a tourist who loves learning about wineries and vintners, and of course tasting the wines. Go touring with her.

Catherine Sweeney: Traveling with Sweeney Catherine focuses on culture, food, the arts, the lifestyles, and “under-the-radar” attractions in Canada, the US, Europe, and wherever else her wandering heart takes her.

Mariellen Ward: Mariellen shares her experiences in and about India and how travel to that country transformed her life.

Lillie Normile: Life in the Rearview Mirror Lillie shares her experiences since retiring a few years ago. Her posts include family life, travel, and whatever is on her mind at the time.

Andy Alexander: South America Living South America is a place that at the same time intrigues and scares me. I’ve read lots of adventure stories from different writers and enjoy reading Andy’s posts.

Krystyna Lagowski: Drive Like a Girl Krystyna’s opinions and reviews of some of the coolest cars on the road—a usual—and sometimes unusual—way of traveling.

Grace Vanderzande: Buttons Thoughts Grace writes about her love of farming, and occasionally, about her travels off the farm.


Why and when did you start blogging?

What have you learned about yourself since you started your blog?

How do you think your blog helps others?

Who has been most influential in your blogging?

What has been the biggest boost to your blog?

When you travel, what influences you in terms of future blog posts?

Are you trying to give advice in your blog posts, just share your experiences, or a bit of both?

What advice do you have for other bloggers about getting started? What advice do you have for those who want to write more about travel?

I look forward to answers from my nominees as they are bloggers I admire, and I’m curious about their travels, their writing, and their lives.

It may be a while before I am able to blog about my own travels, but I look forward to sharing stories from our son Jeremy’s wedding in Incheon, South Korea and our travels there, and more stories from Australia. So, stay tuned!

Customer Service: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

When it comes to customer service, we’ve all got our tales of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My friend Lillie Normile recently wrote an excellent account of some bad customer service she’d had on her blog, Notes from Napanee. 

This is a good news story. But there’s a bit of bad and ugly in here too.

The story starts with a search for gluten free bread, which is not always easy. A couple of months ago while on a camping trip we stopped at a couple of bakeries and one store, but no luck on the bread. I finally found some in a grocery store near Wellesley Island State Park in New York State, where we’d be staying. It was a brand I’d wanted to try: UDI’s.

Good news.

We got to the campground, got set up, and settled down at the picnic table with some tuna salad I’d made for lunch, and I was all set to make my sandwich. Then I opened the loaf of bread to find this:

2015-05-16 09.01.27 (1)

Bad news.

It got worse. It wasn’t just one or two slices–it was most of the loaf!

2015-05-16 09.01.44


Not only did the slices have holes, the edges were crumbly. I’d hardly be able to make a sandwich from this. I managed to spread some of the tuna salad around the holes and have some lunch.  There were a few more salvageable slices. The rest would be made into bread crumbs when we got home. I’d also be contacting UDI’s.

I searched the company website and easily found an email address where I could send my comments–and my photographic evidence.  UDI’s is based in Great Britain so I really didn’t hold out much hope for any resolution to this problem, but I felt better having sent my note.  As I said, I’d been looking forward to trying this bread, and it was nice that I’d paid less for the bread than I would have at home, but it was still expensive–almost $5.00 for a small loaf of bread.

Now here’s the good news: Within a week, I received an email from Chris Sherman, a representative of  the UDI’s Consumer Response Team.

Chris was very apologetic that I’d had a “negative experience.” Ms. (or Mr.–can’t be sure with the name Chris) Sherman was also appreciative that I’d provided the packaging coding so the Quality Control department could look into this further.  No excuses or platitudes were offered. Just a sincere apology and a request that I give their products another chance.

To make this easier, Chris said that I would be mailed a coupon for a free UDI’s product of my choice.  A  few weeks later I received a coupon for a free product AND I received another coupon for $1.50 discount for another product.

Good–no–excellent news!

With the discount coupon I bought another loaf of the same Whole Grain bread I tried earlier. With the coupon for the free product, I purchased a package of four chocolate muffins. This normally would have cost me almost $13, and I wound up spending less than $5. Good news.

My “negative experience” had already turned positive, and it got better. No holes in this bread.

2015-07-02 13.47.44

It was worth the wait for the coupons. Even better, the muffins were delicious; they tasted more like cake. I shared them with our son, but he was kind to only try one and leave the rest for me. He did agree that they were indeed *very* good (and this comes from someone who does not need gluten-free food.)

Sorry–no photos of the chocolate muffins. They got eaten too quickly.

I sent Chris a note expressing my gratitude for the coupons, and my delight with the products.

Lillie didn’t have a good customer experience in a local grocery store, and insult was added to injury by a lack of response when she wrote a letter expressing her concerns. Unfortunately, we hear of the bad–or even ugly–stories more than the good news stories. Companies need to recognize and appreciate that customers appreciate good service and will go elsewhere quickly when they don’t receive it–whether it’s from a store clerk, a manager, or a company representative. We have a lot of choices where to spend our hard-earned money, and we don’t always give second chances.

In this case, I’m glad I gave UDI’s another try. If you need a gluten-free diet, or know someone who does, I recommend this brand. If you’re not completely satisfied, contact Chris Sherman. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have a good, bad or ugly story about customer service? Let us know.