Category Archives: News

My Christmas in Toronto Airport

Nine days before Christmas, my husband Will and I flew to Toronto to visit relatives in nearby Kitchener and enjoy a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake with our son, his wife, and our granddaughter. Everything went perfectly until a storm blew into eastern Canada on December 23rd, our day to fly home to Calgary. We woke to an email from Westjet, our airline carrier, advising that our flight was cancelled and they’d rescheduled us to a flight three days later to Regina, where we’d spend the night in the airport and connect to Calgary in the morning. Our choices were to accept this change or get a full refund. We were stunned, but our first challenge was to drive to Toronto airport before the rain turned to snow and the wind picked up. Our rental car rocked the whole two hours on the highway, but we made it safely.

At the airport, we learned Westjet had cancelled all their Canadian flights from Toronto that day. An agent told us our flight in three days was the best we’d get, due to the rush of holiday travel and flight cancellations following a snowstorm in Vancouver the previous weekend. 

“If it’s any consolation,” she said. “Some people have spent six days in this airport.” 

In our present mood, this wasn’t much consolation.   

Fortunately, Will’s sister Bernice and her husband Bill live in the suburbs of Toronto. We phoned them to ask if they’d mind unexpected visitors over Christmas. They had no plans until their Boxing Day gathering with Bill’s family. We lugged our suitcases on the airport train to downtown Union Station, had lunch in the food court, and caught the commuter GO train to the station near their home in Scarborough. 

Will tried calling Westjet to get a flight that left earlier and/or avoided a Regina overnighter. A recorded voice replied cheerily, “We’re happy to serve you, but aren’t taking calls now.” The website’s callback feature could only give us an appointment on December 30th, three days after we’d get home. The website blocked off new plane reservations through December 28th. Other airlines were either sold out for the Christmas period or charging exorbitant prices.     

The next morning, Christmas Eve, Will tried phoning the airline again. To his surprise, the phone rang. He set it on speaker while we had breakfast, chatted, and played cards with Bernice and Bill. Five hours later, an agent came on the line. She checked reservations and found flights popping up, probably due to people cancelling their holiday travel when they learned they couldn’t get to their destinations by Christmas. 

The agent rebooked us on a direct flight to Calgary at 10:15 that night. After a fun Skype ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas reading with our excited granddaughter, Bernice and Bill drove us to Toronto airport. We breezed through check-in and security. Our gate agents began boarding procedures and then announced our flight would be delayed because the pilot had to get here from Edmonton. Our new departure time would be one a.m. Everyone let out a collective groan. 

The agents left, their shifts over. Passengers went to wait in a bar; a few milled around the gate desk. They noticed a sign flash that our flight was cancelled. We all quickly got emails telling us this. Someone said that a guest relations desk was down the corridor. We all trooped down and joined the lineup of passengers from a cancelled Vancouver flight. Will and I got emails with our new booking — four days from now. More emails arrived with food vouchers valid at the airport until the next day.      

A guest relations agent grabbed a mic and spoke to the whole lineup. He told Toronto residents to go home and return for their rescheduled flights. The rest of us were entitled to hotel accommodation, although the airline had no rooms left in their supply. If we could find a hotel room, they’d later compensate us up to $150, plus expenses for transportation. Will and I remained in line with others who had specific questions. One man had a meltdown at the desk and shouted at the agents that he’d been stuck here since yesterday waiting for a flight. After he stormed off, the clock struck midnight. An agent wished us all, “Merry Christmas.” 

After discussing our situation with an agent, Will and I decided to spend the rest of the night in the airport, rather than hunt for a hotel, and collect our unloaded luggage in the early morning, when the lineup in the baggage area would be shorter. We’d wait to phone Bernice after she got up in the morning to ask is she’d take us in again.  

In a relatively unpopulated departure gate, we lay on connected chairs to catch some sleep. The chairs were hard. I brooded on our faulty choice to grab this flight rather than accept the one the airline had assigned. The airport was chilly and we’d packed our coats in our luggage, another bad decision.  

At four a.m., we gave up trying to sleep and went to the baggage area, which was a sea of suitcases. The agent told us there were ten times more cases stored elsewhere and he wouldn’t spend two or three hours searching for our individual luggage. Instead, the airport would scan all the bags and eventually send them to their destinations. But what would we do for the next three days in Toronto winter with no overcoats? This was our problem. 

We spent our airport food vouchers on breakfast and snacks, and caught the train to downtown. Travel was all indoors, and easy with only carry-on bags and few passengers on Christmas morning. At Union Station, we phoned Bernice and wished her Merry Christmas. 

“You’re home already?” she said. 

“Ah, no.”

On our commuter train ride, the sun came out. We passed pretty views of neighbourhoods waking up and waves whipping in Lake Ontario. Bernice and Bill picked us up at the station for the second time and reminded us they save everything and stock up on supplies. They loaned us jackets and shirts that they didn’t wear anymore, toothbrushes, and (for Will) pajamas and a razer. Bernice asked if I’d prefer pajamas or a nightgown. 

“A nightgown would be good.” 

“What length?” she said. “And do you like short sleeves or long?” 

It was like living in Walmart. 

Despite the fatigue from our sleepless night, we enjoyed Christmas Skype and Zoom calls with relatives, sharing our granddaughter’s thrill with her presents, and had tasty hamburgers and fries for Christmas dinner. On Boxing Day, Will and I went to the real Walmart to buy underwear and socks. After lunch, we strolled through the Toronto Zoo, where Bernice volunteers. The zoo wraps Christmas presents for all the animals to claw open when they smell the food inside. Will wanted to call Westjet again in hopes of getting a better flight, but I noticed they’d upgraded us to Premium seats and the connecting flights left and arrived at convenient times. He agreed to wait another day to fly home in comfort. 

We used that extra day to shop for winter coats at Costco. I’d been thinking I needed a new one anyway and bought a down coat, in red, a coat colour I had never considered wearing.  

On December 28th, we once more rode the trains to Toronto airport. With no luggage to check, we got to the gate quickly, and learned our flight would be delayed while waiting for crew members. 

Uh, oh, we thought. That’s how it begins. 

Before long the desk agent announced the flight was cancelled due to lack of crew. She advised everyone to stay in place while they rebooked our seats. Will and I got a phone call from Westjet, offering a flight in two hours to Calgary via Vancouver. This plane was also delayed, waiting for ground crew, but the crew actually arrived. We boarded the plane, but had to wait another hour because the flight attendants counted more passengers on the plane than the number that had checked-in at the gate. They kept counting us, consulting their tablet seating charts, and discussing the problem with the pilots and management. Eventually we took off, either because they got the numbers to balance or figured ‘what’s an extra passenger or two?’

We assumed this delay meant we’d miss our connection in Vancouver, until a flight attendant checked our boarding passes and said this plane was our connecting flight. In Vancouver, it would turn around and fly to Calgary, where the pilot lived. We couldn’t believe we’d get home that night, but we did, and walked into our house at 1:20 a.m.   

On New Year’s Day, Westjet delivered one of our suitcases. The other one arrived the next day. All of our possessions were intact. Our journey was over. 

What’s my take-away from this experience? 

In hindsight, when weather and the airline threw a wrench in our plans, rather than gripe about an airline that couldn’t handle snow in Canadian winter and demand the near impossible — getting home for Christmas — we should have accepted the situation and made the most of the unwanted change of plans. When we got past the griping, we enjoyed our Christmas spent with generous relatives. It was a more interesting and memorable Christmas than the quiet, alone time we’d planned; arguably a better holiday time. Bernice and Bill agreed (I think they meant it). Will and I also enjoyed sharing stories with our fellow stranded travellers and jokingly called them our new friends. I wonder how their journeys ended.  

Next time I fly, I’ll bring some essentials in my carry-on luggage, including warm clothing. Although, there are always stores where I travel and I really like my souvenir red coat. 

Happy New Year!

My Novel is an Audiobook

I view audiobooks as a wave of the present. Many of my friends like them for multi-tasking. They listen to books while driving, exercising, or cleaning the house. Book-lovers who develop eye problems with age find audiobooks a godsend. So I was thrilled when BWL was awarded funding to produce a group of Accessible Audiobooks and chose my novel, Ten Days in Summer, to be part of the group.

BWL’s next step was to find a suitable narrator for Ten Days in Summer. They selected Janice McNally, an Ontario narrator and producer. Janice has visited Calgary and attended the Stampede, which forms the backdrop for my novel. She produced a fifteen minute sample for us to approve. BWL and I agreed she sounded great and spoke clearly. Then Janice got down to work. 

Partway through the process, she contacted BWL with a question about how to pronounce the surname of one of my characters, Cynthia Hawryluk. Janice had looked this up on the internet and found several examples, each with a slightly different pronunciation. I’d taken the name from a doctor I had in Montreal and pronounced it like this: Haw (rhymes with cat’s paw, accent on this syllable) ry (short sound) luk (luck).

Now I did an internet search and discovered that most websites pronounce Hawryluk similar to this. I don’t know if my doctor anglicized his name or if I pronounced it wrong all these years. I gave Cynthia this surname because Alberta, the novel setting, has many Ukrainian residents and I assumed the name was Ukrainian. The internet advised me that Hawryluk is equally or more often Polish. 

The bottom line for me was Cynthia Hawryluk is a secondary character in the novel and her surname is only mentioned a few times. Since I’m not invested in the pronunciation, I advised Janice to go with the common one for readers familiar with the name. 

I was impressed with Janice’s and BWL’s attention to this detail. When Janice finished her work, BWL asked me to listen to the whole audiobook to check for errors. I’ve never read any of my novels after they were published and relate to actors who never watch their movies. Ten Days in Summer was released in 2017. Since then, I’ve moved on to three more novels. I cringed at the prospect at looking back at my writing.              

At first it felt strange and uncomfortable listening to someone else’s voice telling my story. But less than a chapter in, I got used to it and felt Janice’s voice nailed my Paula narrator. I enjoyed revisiting the story, chuckled at my old jokes, and found minimal errors. Three were different pronunciations for friends’ names in the acknowledgments. 

Janice posted her view of the experience from her end.

Listening to my novel five years after its publications gave me a broader view of the story. Themes popped out. I realized Ten Days in Summer might appeal to readers interested in the following:

Whodunnit stories

Psychology and effects of hoarding

The Calgary Stampede – Yahoo!

Social class 

Ordinary people who murder

Family relationships

Mothers and daughters


How human connection eases the pain

Baby boomers

Grown children and aging parents

Finding love and romance in middle age

I’m currently working on the fourth novel in my Paula Savard Mystery series and was thinking it would be the last. But, to my surprise, listening to this earlier series book, Ten Days in Summer, gave me an idea for a new direction for Paula, should she and I choose to take it. 

If you’re looking for a Christmas present, here’s a bonus offer from audible. 

Happy Holidays and my best wishes for a happy and healthy 2023. 

I enjoyed a pre-Christmas holiday in Mexico


It’s exciting to hear my novel as an audiobook

Today, on the BWL website, I blog about my experience of having my novel, Ten Days in Summer, produced as an audiobook. Here’s narrator Janice McNally’s view of her side of the experience. For some reason, I wasn’t able to open my blog post on the BWL website. You might have more luck.

The Novel I Wish I’d Written

My book club chose the classic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for our October meeting. This was the third time I’d read the book. I’ve loved it each time for slightly different reasons. 

I was in my twenties when I first read this story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man she meets on a holiday in Monte Carlo. His late wife, Rebecca, looms larger-than-life and haunts the tale from beginning to end. Gradually the story builds to a series of plot twists. I didn’t see any of them coming, yet I instantly recalled clues the author had planted along the way to make the surprises completely believable. The only author I’ve read who did this almost as well was Agatha Christie. Literary writers often dismiss such twists as mere plot. In Rebecca, every twist is embedded in character. If the story narrator, her husband Maxim, Rebecca, and all of the secondary characters had been different people, the story and twists wouldn’t have happened exactly as they did.  

About twenty years later, I started writing mystery novels. Whenever the subject of favourite books came up, I’d say that I couldn’t choose my favourite as a reader, but Rebecca was the novel I wished I’d written, mainly for the author’s handling of surprise. Perhaps this prompted me to read Rebecca a second time. By then, I’d seen several movie versions and remembered all the twists, but I still found myself gripped by the suspense of what was to come. Fans will recall a scene where the narrator breaks a valuable figurine. As the narrator struggles to cover her action up, I was on the edge of my seat, worried for this sympathetic character.

This third time reading Rebecca, I was mainly drawn in by du Maurier’s writing. The novel struck me as a cross between two other classics written by women, Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, with mystery and suspense thrown into the mix. Rebecca features the grand passion and gothic qualities of Bronte’s story, with subtle Austen-like touches of social observation and humour. All three books are about women who fall in love with men who are far superior to them in wealth and social status. I interpret each of the stories as showing how the woman becomes the man’s equal. Perhaps this partly explains why these novels resonate with modern readers. 

In addition, on third reading, I realized that Rebecca contains a number of life lessons, about such things as not making assumptions about other people, assuming you know what they are thinking, and speaking out for yourself. In middle age, I read a popular book on cognitive therapy, which is commonly viewed as the most effective psychotherapy method. Everything in the book was already there in Rebecca. I wonder if this is why I easily grasped the therapy concepts and if, subconsciously, I applied them to my life after reading Rebecca when I was young. 

Our book club discussion leader also brought up some modern interpretations of Rebecca that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe I’ll grasp them if I read the novel a fourth time. You can dive into Rebecca forever it seems and surface with something new.   

When I reached the end of the novel last month, for the third time, I decided to go out on a limb say, Rebecca isn’t only the book I wish I’d written, it’s my favourite novel ever. Admittedly, I’m the only member of my book club who rated it this high. A couple of people didn’t like it. Others had mixed feelings. A surprising number hadn’t read the book before. Nobody predicted the twists on their first time. Rebecca is worth reading for that reason alone, and for so many more

Christmas Shopping for Readers of Crime Fiction

Cold Canadian Crime

[From gritty noir to dark humour, 21 short stories from Canadian Crime writers perfect for curling up with on a chilly winter night.

“Crime Writers of Canada members have produced a winner…professional story tellers all of whom got it right. “

Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews

Available from :

Ageism in Writing

Some years ago, I read an award-winning novel about intergenerational family relationships. Every character in the story over age fifty was physically or mentally decrepit, and often both. The author was in her thirties. This was a comic novel and I realized she was exaggerating the characters for laughs. As an official senior citizen, I didn’t find it funny.

Physical and mental problems do tend to creep in with age. Aching joints, dementia, type two diabetes, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and a host of cancers strike seniors in large numbers. I know several seventy-year-olds who have broken bones from a simple fall. In their youths, they’d have escaped with a scratch, which healed quickly. I find recovery from injuries and medical procedures takes longer now and my body parts don’t always return to their former normal. “You’re only as old as you feel” would be nice, but it isn’t quite true. Portraying seniors as no different from fit twenty-somethings only works in science fiction and fantasy — my fantasy, in particular.

But I also have many friends over age seventy-five who regularly spend full days hiking up steep hills, over rocky and rooted terrain. And don’t try to put something over on my ninety-year-old uncle. He’s as sharp as most people decades younger, although he needs a wheelchair.

I think one trick for writing realistic older people is balance. For each character brought down by the trials of advanced age, show another senior in peak form. I wouldn’t have minded that award-winning humour novel as much if one character over fifty, and preferably over seventy or eighty or ninety, climbed a mountain, clobbered a skilled opponent in chess, or published a successful humour book.

It’s not easy to avoid ageism in writing. A friend, who is a few years older than I am, once admonished me for having a character in her mid-fifties struggle to rise from sitting on the floor. I’d thought this was realistic, since most people in my seniors’ gym class hoist themselves up awkwardly from the mats. Kudos to my friend for being able to leap to her feet.      

Look closely at the photo at the top of this post to see a group of seniors hiking. They’re specs on the landscape.