A Black Christmas in London

With recent snowfall painting the Saskatchewan prairie landscape in a blanket of white, I’m reminded of a “black” Christmas spent long ago as a young woman travelling solo for the first time to London England.

This snowfall also seems to have energized scores of Canadian shoppers who have begun their quest for that perfect Christmas gift. The endeavour albeit exciting, can also be quite stressful. Therefore, I’m sharing a humorous anecdote from my first black Christmas to brighten their day.


Following are excerpts from my recently-published book, A Squatter in London:

“This will be my first ‘black’ Christmas. It’s a few days prior to the holiday and I’m nostalgic for the magical, snow-filled Canadian winter wonderland. I’m homesick, cold, lonely and depressed…

Lainey and Bryce’s parents, the Collinses, have invited me over for Christmas dinner today. Because of the holiday, though, trains and buses aren’t running. So, as instructed by the Collins children, I ring a car hire service…

‘Your place smells very Christmas-y,’ I quip as I enter the Collins home, instantly offending my hosts. There’s an almost overpowering pine-like scent in the air and I assume that it’s coming from the newly-decorated live tree. It’s not.

‘What a thing to say,’ replies Mrs. Collins in a hushed voice. ‘Our cat just wet the rug.’”


To read how I managed to entangle myself from this situation, and more about my adventures in Britain, A Squatter in London is available in e-book and paperback from Amazon in Canada, and internationally in the US, UK and other countries. It also makes a great Christmas gift! See, I just made your Christmas buying less stressful!

My First Miniskirt

I guess you could say I was a bit of a fashionista back in the day. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, we teenage girls didn’t have much of an opportunity to shop for the latest fashions. Well, there were the Sears and Eaton’s catalogues, but those fashions were for “old” people like our parents. If we truly wanted to be in style, we had to sew our own clothes. For this reason, I and several of my friends joined the local 4-H club to take sewing lessons.

My first sewing projects didn’t impress me that much: we were taught to sew a simple apron, an A-line skirt and a sleeveless, collarless blouse known as a “pop top”. But it was enough basic knowledge to get creative using my mom’s foot-pedal operated Singer sewing machine. And the catalogues came in handy for choosing fabric and pattern-shopping if the local general store didn’t have anything to my liking. Sewing patterns from Butterick, McCall’s and even Vogue garnered my undivided attention but most of the patterns I purchased were from Simplicity.

One of the most challenging things I made and one of my favourites was a pair of hot pants; they also got the most compliments, which helped! The hot pants were cotton knit material, which meant that I had to buy special thread and be very careful not to pull the material too vigorously or it would stretch at the seams. They were a bib-style, gold in colour, had pockets and sported gold metallic Pooh-bear buttons. Another favourite was a lime-green Fortrel pantsuit trimmed on the arms and legs with white fringes. I can hear a collective cyber-shudder at the mention of this masterpiece. I understand.

But the story of how I got my first miniskirt required almost no effort on my part. It was so innocent, really. One of our neighbours was having a house-warming party to which my family was invited. As my mother and I entered the neighbour’s yard, the neighbour’s dog decided that he didn’t particularly like me and ran towards me, teeth bared. Snarling, he dove straight for my knee before the hosts or my mother could stop him. Fortunately for me, his teeth bumped my knee – hard, but the bite did not draw blood. Instead, he had a mouthful of my wool skirt tightly clasped in his jaws.

Now, the wool skirt was not cheap, and my parents weren’t exactly loaded. “It would be a shame to throw this skirt away,” I say to my mother. “I could just hem it up a little, and it will be just fine.” Suffice it to say, my mother’s skirt-too-short-version and mine differed slightly. Back home, my mother asks me to slip on the torn garment while she extracts the measuring tape from the sewing basket. She carefully measures the distance from mid-knee to top of dog-ripped-hole. As I await the verdict with bated breath, she announces that I can go ahead and hem the skirt provided I use hemming tape as close as possible to the damaged area. Voila – my first miniskirt!

“Nice blouse”, quips my dad as I head out the door to join my friends, wearing my new miniskirt. “You going to wear anything with it?”miniskirt

The Bee Whisperer

My father was a beekeeper. Well, more of a “bee whisperer”. Unlike most beekeepers, he did not wear gloves or a net. This lack of protective gear never seemed to result in the bees stinging him. There just appeared to be a curious bond of trust between man and insect. I, on the other hand, was less fortunate.

Bees are not aggressive; they do not attack humans. They will only sting when they feel there is imminent danger. But it seems that every year their danger radar sounded off when they got entangled in my long, curly, unruly golden locks. I would swat madly at the bee with my bare hands as it buzzed around my head and run screaming into the house. Of course, by this time, the bee’s danger radar mechanism had already been activated with the bee offering the final sacrifice. All that was left to do for my mom was to calm me down enough to extract the bee without leaving the stinger still stuck in my head.

Every spring the shipment of bees arrived – from California, I think – on our small, 160-acre mixed farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. My dad would busy himself relocating the bees to their new home. Most years, he would get more bees than he paid for. No, there were no mistakes in the shipment itself. But oftentimes a swarm of bees would arrive at our place from a beekeeper who was not as diligent as was my father. You see, there can only be one queen bee in a hive. When there are two, one queen bee leaves, taking a group of followers (worker bees – all female) with her to search for a new home. At times, these swarms would temporarily rest on tree branches near the apiary and my dad would coax them into a hive. I have also observed my parents, buckets of water in hand, madly sprinkling a swarm of bees that looked like they were just doing a fly past. If they were successful in getting water on the queen, she would drop to a branch and the rest of the bees would follow.

My brother and I were most excited when honey harvest season rolled around. Dad would select and bring the honeycombs into the honey-processing shed. Mom would cut the tops off with a sharp knife, insert four wooden-framed honeycombs at a time into a large, cylindrical extraction drum, and crank the handle. Through centrifugal force, the honey would spatter on the walls and drip down to the bottom of the container. Meanwhile, my brother and I picked up gobs of wax mixed with the honey that my mom removed and chew the sticky sweet goodness like gum.

When enough honey was collected in the extraction container, my parents would open the tap and fill smaller cans to take them to market. Uncle John would arrive with his one-ton truck, the honey cans would get loaded unto the back and off we’d go to the honey co-op in Tisdale, known as the “Land of Rape and Honey”. No, this is not as ominous as it sounds. In those days, canola was known as “rapeseed” or “rape” for short.

There was only room for three people in the truck cab – uncle John, my dad and either my brother or myself. My mom never went; she was happy to have a day all to herself, no doubt. But how exciting it was for me when it was my turn to go! First, the drop off at the Tisdale honey co-op where my dad would always get a premium price for number one white, clover honey. Then, cash in hand, we would go shopping in nearby Melfort for new, first day-of-school clothes.

At day’s end, dad would buy a loaf of bread, a ring of kovbasa (garlic sausage) and a case of Orange Crush soft drink. With the sun painting the western sky in the warm colours of a prairie sunset, we would pull over on some country gravel road overlooking the prairie landscape to commence with our supper. My dad would break off a piece of kovbasa, wrap it in a slice of white bread and pass it along to the hungry occupants who would ravenously devour our sandwich and sip the soda.

I’ve eaten many a glorious meal in many fine dining establishments both in Canada and abroad. But this meal in the open Saskatchewan prairie has them all beat by a country mile.

The Dog Days of Summer and Grand-kids

When the thermometer shot up above 30 degrees Celsius, I decided to take my 3-1/2 year old grandson to the local spray park.

“Take his water bottle and snacks”, says my wise daughter-in-law. I don’t have his favourite snack, a type of trail mix on hand, so I cut up some cucumbers and red peppers into bite-size portions and stick them in a baggie.

And…off we go. He on his glider bike and I trying my best to keep up with him on foot. Things are going swimmingly at the spray park. My little munchkin gleefully runs through spray jets, stops the flow of water at various fountains with his tiny feet and mimics the big kids by pressing buttons which activate various sources of refreshing cool water.

As expected, he soon joins me on the park bench and asks for his water and a snack. I pull out the baggie with the veggies. With those baby blues staring directly in my face and in the most indignant voice he can muster, he asks, “that’s IT?!

I quickly reach for my back-up snack, crackers. Those he readily gobbles up.



E-book or “real” book?

Did you know that paperback books can be purchased on demand from Amazon and shipped right to your door? They are the same product as books which are found in a bookstore but you don’t have to drive anywhere! Not only that, but Amazon has a “look inside” feature which allows you to read an excerpt from the book before you decide if you want to make the purchase.

Click on the link at the bottom to read the Forbes article about the benefits of each type of book. If you buy my book A Squatter in London from Amazon the choice is yours! Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon Mexico

e-book or paperback?

A Squatter in London is on Amazon!

‘Ah, my room. My tiny, tiny room. It is approximately six feet by eight feet. It’s sparsely furnished with a small dresser against one wall and a foam-covered wooden bench for a bed. I lean my backpack against the only free space along the wall and plop down on the bed. I’m here!”

You can now purchase my book, A Squatter in London directly from Amazon in paperback or as an e-book. Available internationally including US, Canada, Mexico, UK and other countries.

Mad Hatters Tea & Book Launch

A British-styled creamed tea event to kick off the launch of my book, A Squatter in London: freshly baked scones, served with real butter, strawberry jam and clotted cream was enjoyed by all. Tunes by British musicians of the seventies helped to set the tone  for a reading from my book. It was fun to celebrate with family and friends in not-quite-spring Saskatchewan!