Month: March 2016

Common Senses

It is spring in my part of the world.  What better time to fill the well with a visit to Butchart Gardens?

P1020405The stars of the garden, tulips, blossoming trees, daffodils, are so brilliant it would be easy to just stand and stare at them and then go home.

 

 

 

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magnolia tree

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But I was on a mission.  I wanted to note details, I wanted to find the hidden gem.  Like this camellia leaning over a stream, or the white mayflower at right or this pink dog tooth violet hiding under a rhododendron.

I wanted to use all my senses.  Sight is a no brainer and the scent of hyacinth was  heavy as honey in the air.      P1020401

 

 

Other perfumes were more subtle.  This heather, for example, has a faint peppery smell, P1020417and the star magnolia was reminiscent of vanilla.P1020414

 

 

 

I used my sense of hearing too.  This natural waterfall,  mostly hidden, played sweet music over the whole of the sunken garden.P1020421

 

 

P1020402 In this secret pond a bullfrog croaked loud and long and in the Japanese garden a cultivated stream provided a soft sh..sh..sh to the shady bowersP1020426

I heard a bird chirp and found this little fellow preening himself.

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Children’s  delighted squeals punctuated the silence.  They were hunting Easter rabbits.  P1020406

I used touch, too.  Not on the flowers, thousands of fingers would soon crush the blossoms, but I stroked the soft, fibrous bark of this giant cedar P1020424 - Copyand rubbed the smooth, polished snout of the garden boar.  Rubbing his nose is said to bring good luck.P1020432

I couldn’t taste the flowers “Please don’t eat the daisies” and all that, but taste and smell are so closely linked, you’ll note I described the scents in terms of taste — pepper, vanilla, honey.

My senses sated, my well filled to overflowing, I finished off my afternoon with one of my favourite tastes, café mocha in the coffee shop.  There I overheard this lovely snippet of conversation.

P1020436 She:  When do the roses bloom?

He:  When love is in the air.


 

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The Joy of Taxes

5000-s1-15e[1]-page-001It’s income tax season.  My usual approach to the task is to delay as long as legally possible, then scowl, fret and sweat my way through the incomprehensible labyrinth of Canada Revenue’s T1 form.

This year, I’m subscribing to the spoonful-of-sugar doctrine and tackling the job early and with a positive mind set.   So, here goes.

  • We have income — that’s good.
  • We have taxable income — even better.
  • We have enough to share — those charitable donations not only reduce tax, but apparently make you feel just as good as eating chocolate.
  • I bought a programme that does all the arithmetic so I don’t get hung up with wrong numbers.
  • Having the year summed up in tidy columns of plus and minus is rather satisfying in a control freak kind of way.

But doing my taxes reminds me there is so much more to life than the getting and spending of money.  In 2015 I wrote a contemporary romance (it’s in the rewrite stages now).  I outlined an historical romance.  I wrote 89 blog posts, some here, others at my church blog and still others for International Christian Fiction Writers.  I wrote a Christmas short story and a Christmas play.

I planted a garden, tended it, harvested it and filled my freezer with homegrown goodness.  I won ribbons at the Fall Fair. I read books, sang in choirs, nurtured my friendships and enjoyed my cats.  I went fishing with my husband.  I had a birthday.  I made Christmas ornaments for my great nieces and nephews.  We celebrated 27 years of marriage.  I set up this website . . .   2015 was filled with beautiful days, amazing adventures, quiet moments and a few rain storms.

If I use the Canada Revenue model, my 2015 came in high on the benefits side and low on the pains side.    I have to pay taxes.  Thank goodness!    So, there you are, my new approach to the joy of taxes.

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Why Not Love?

At a recent writer’s workshop, we spent a lot of time discussing the topic of what drives a story?  What makes the reader turn the page?  Answer: the character’s goal.  Cinderella wants to go to the ball.   Scarlet O’Hara wants to save Tara.  Lady Mary wants to secure the inheritance of Downton Abbey.  And so the story begins.  Will Cinderella get to the ball?  Can Scarlet save her home?  Will Lady Mary secure the family inheritance, even if it means marrying a solicitor?

Catch the crook, send the murderer to jail, win the war, build the skyscraper.  These are all big, concrete goals on which to build a story.  A  character may fall in love along the way, but the story does not start with that goal.  Even Mrs. Bennet who makes no bones about her desire to find husbands for her daughters, preferably husbands of standing and wealth, never suggests her daughters might fall in love.

In Western Historicals, like I write, the heroine is usually too busy building a home, making a living and keeping herself safe to have much time for looking for love.  Since these are romance novels, the reader knows the heroine will fall in love, but it’s not the driver of the story.  Our heroine might want to win a spelling bee, or sew a quilt or build a house.  Small, concrete, measurable goals.  There may be layers to these goals.  She may want to win the spelling bee in order to get a scholarship, so that she can attend law school, so that she can prosecute slum landlords, because her mother died when a railing  went unrepaired.  In this case, a small personal goal carries  a large, public benefit.  Great story premise.  It could be written as women’s fiction, literary fiction or mystery.  If it is written as a romance,  our heroine better find true love along the way, but we don’t start the story by saying the heroine wants to find love, so she’ll go to law school and, by the way, she has to win the spelling bee first.

The closest I’ve seen is  Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining.  The heroine is asked what she wants and she answers, “a baby.”  Not a husband, not to fall in love, but a baby.

So, why is the greatest of human emotions,  considered too frivolous to be the driver of a story? Perhaps because that’s the way it is in real life too.  We teach our children to be achievers, to build careers, to be good people, but does a mother ever say to her daughter,  “Never mind all that stuff.  You can fail at school.  You can never have a job.  I don’t care.  Just find your true love.”  No, we train for, practice for and strive for career, money, power, and a nice car.  Love, the most important factor in life, is supposed to be a by-product.

For all that romances are denigrated as formulaic, I believe they are harder to write than other genres.  The writer of a mystery novel can fulfil the premise of the genre by solving the crime.  She may choose to develop sub-plots around a love interest, or a family feud, or saving the environment, but these are subplots, not necessary to the genre expectation.

In a romance, we must find true love for the hero and heroine, but we have to do it as an aside.   The writer of romance needs at least two plots in every book, the external goal and the love story.  The writer of inspirational romance needs three — the initial goal, the love story, and the God story.  Not an easy assignment.

So, what do you think, dear readers?  Have you ever read a book where the heroine’s stated goal is to find true love?  Would you be interested in a heroine who devoted her life to finding a soul-mate?

Please share your thoughts in  the comments below.

Sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win a free copy of  Her One and Only.  Contest closes March 31,2016.

 

 

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Women as Persons

imagesFollowing last week’s light hearted look at marriage proposals, I found myself exploring the whole question of property, wages, suffrage and marriage in Canada.  I got mad!  Then, this morning the CBC news announced that women’s income compared to their male counterparts is, in fact, going backward.  In 2015 women earned 72¢ for every $1.00 earned by men.  In 2009 the number was 75¢.

Why?  Because “women’s work” is paid on a lower scale than “men’s work” and because women provide the majority of unpaid labour in our society.   For centuries women have petitioned, marched, struck, gone to jail and appealed to the courts to redress the unequal treatment of the sexes.  A few months ago Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet because, he famously announced, “it’s 2015.”

Yet, here we are in 2016 and the problem of  disparity persists.  Hardly surprising since,  for centuries the subservient position of women was legislated in the law of the land.

For example, a married woman in  pre-Confederation Canada in 1859 could own property, but she could not sell it without her husband’s consent.  In 1871 Manitoba passed a law “allowing” a woman to keep her property, but her wages belonged to her husband.

Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this type of thinking was the question of whether women were “persons under the law.”

In 1876 a British common law ruling stated that “women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges.”  Nice eh?  Women can go to jail but they can’t go to parliament.  Since Canada’s law is founded on English law, the ruling applied here too.

1883 Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald introduced a bill into parliament to grant the right to vote to unmarried women and widows provided they owned property.  The bill failed.

In 1885 The Dominion Franchise Act defined an eligible voter as a male person.  It also included the proviso that ,  “a man can vote if he or his wife own property; she is responsible for the property tax.”  Here we go again.  She pays the penalties (taxes) he gets the privileges.

During the decade 1890-1900, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Quebec all introduced bills giving women the vote in provincial elections.  The bills were all defeated.

The situation came to a head in 1917 when Emily Murphy, a qualified lawyer, was denied a position on the bench because her opposition claimed she was not a “legally defined person.”  It is this moment that galvanizes Murphy and her supporters into ultimately forming  the “famous five.”

In August, 1927 Emily Murphy, invited four women, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney, to her house to consider petitioning the Supreme Court for a decision on the question of whether women are persons according to the British North America Act of (1867).

When they brought their case, the government petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, “Does the word ‘persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?”  The case was argued on March 14, 1928, Emily Murphy’s 60th birthday.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a woman is not a “qualified person.”

In 1929 , Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney , took their case to The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England (Canada’s final Court of Appeal at the time).  The Privy Council overturned the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court and recognized Canadian women as “persons” under the law.

Finally, we got the “rights and privileges” of a citizen, not just the “pains and penalties!”

But women must keep vigilant.  As one court rules in our favour, another may rule against.  Given that we have centuries of a patriarchal system as our heritage, women’s rights is “new” in our culture.  It is fragile and must be nourished.  Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  It is telling that we still need a “day.”

Let us honour our foremothers by keeping vigilant, by shining a light on inequality, and by performing our civic duties with diligence and gratitude.

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Leap Year

81532_womannet_lgMonday was leap day, that special time that comes around every four years when the usual rules for marriage proposals — men do the asking — don’t apply.

No one knows for sure where the idea came from but it is sometimes attributed to St. Bridget, who lived in C5th Ireland. The story is that she complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait and wait and wait for their suitors to propose.  In response, St. Patrick designated leap day as the day women could seize the initiative.

Another story holds that Queen Margaret of Scotland imposed fines on recalcitrant beaux.  There are various versions of the penalties.    One said the unresponsive suitor had to buy his lady twelve pairs of gloves, one for each month of the year.  The gloves would cover her shame of having no wedding ring.  Other penalties included a silk dress, enough fabric to make a skirt, or a red rose.

The tradition may have arisen from the fact that February 29 was not recognised by English law. Since the day had no legal status, it was acceptable to break with convention.   Also, February 29 corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year and the actual time taken for the Earth to orbit the sun.  What better time for women to correct a tradition of marriage proposals that was one-sided and unjust?    

The problem of foot-dragging suitors did not exist in early Canada.  Women were in short supply and much sought after for marriage.  During the 1650’s, New France desperately needed settlers to increase the population of the colony.  Most particularly they needed women.  Enter Les Filles du Roi, an early version of government sponsored immigration.  Females were selected from the poor and orphaned women of Paris and the provinces of France.  They received training in the household arts from the nuns  of the Hôpital-Général, in Paris.  In the countryside, peasant daughters who were  of “robust health and accustomed to farmwork,” were selected by the parish priest for inclusion among the nearly 800 women who were shipped off to the colony.  Women of noble rank, destined to be wives for military officers, also travelled under the king’s protection.   Each woman received 30 livres worth of clothes  before leaving France.  When she signed the marriage contract, in Canada (New France)she was given the remainder of her dowry, including money and provisions.  Life in the New World was hard, but compared to life on the streets of Paris, many chose it as the better option.

When these women and girls arrived in New France, they were cared for by the nuns or by officials in the towns.  There were plenty of men to choose from and it was the females who did the choosing.  If a woman changed her mind before the marriage, she could opt out and choose another groom, or, in some cases, avoid marriage altogether and go out as a servant.  Most of the women married, however and raised large families.  After all, the main purpose of the program was to increase the European settlement in New France.

The government encouraged large families by offering a pension of 300 livres a year to those with ten living childrenIf the number of children rose to twelve, the pension rose to 400 livres.  That was the carrot.  The other part of the equation was the stick.  If a young Canadien had not married by the age of twenty the family was fined 150 livres.  The penalty applied to daughters who didn’t marry by their 16th birthday.  Even more onerous was the revocation of hunting and fishing licences for single men! Much more punitive than a dozen pairs of gloves.

As romance writers, our stories are about the heart.  Couples fall in love, they overcome obstacles, they marry and live happily ever after.  In real life, for centuries, marriage was  more about the head, society’s needs rather than the individual’s wishes.  Yet, I hope that among those girls of New France, there were some who found a compatible husband, that they fell in love and grew to a ripe old age together, and were happy.

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