Azia’s Art Collection

By Cathalynn Cindy Labonte-Smith

Copyright October 28, 2021

“There you go, your first piece of art.” I turn my head and see a brunette and her daughter with enviably long tresses crossing the room chock full of paintings of all sizes to reach the lively Charmaine Bayntun (www.facebook.com/CharmaineBayntunArt). Azia beams as she delicately carries a Lilliputian artwork in her palm and pays for it with her own hard-earned cash. 

Charmain Bayntun’s Mini Masterpieces.

What is Charmaine Bayntun’s secret (Sunshine Coast Art Crawl Venue #8) in creating these miniature marvels?  Does she shrink herself down to a teensy-weensy artist to paint these postage-stamp-sized marvels? What kind of brushes does she use, ones made of eyelashes, or mouse whiskers made by fairies and pixies? 

Charmaine says she uses toothpicks sometimes to get those fine lines on her landscapes, as well as paintbrushes in sizes 00 to 02. She started making the minis as ornaments that are painted on both sides as gifts for family and friends.

Ornaments are painted on both sides.

“They are so accessible. Not everyone has a large wall to put art, but everyone has room for miniatures,” Bayntun says. The mini masterpieces take several hours to complete as she takes all the same steps as she would on a normal-sized painting. 

Azia’s mom, Andrea Bothma, says that her ten-year-old saved all year by collecting cans and bottles to purchase the artwork after seeing the paintings last year with the goal of putting the painting in one of her two Barbie dollhouses. Her dollhouses expanded to the point where they needed a room of their own, so they now occupy what was once her father’s office. 

Bayntun’s mini canvas is installed in Azia’s Barbie dollhouse for twin Barbies to admire.

“We spent all day going to the Art Crawl venues and Azia really wanted to go back to Charmaine’s. Unbeknownst to me, she had all this money saved up for a painting,” Andrea says proudly. When the Grade 5 student is not busy riding horses or dancing, the burgeoning art collector loves to put paint to canvas. Azia also has a flair for the stage and wants to be an actor. 

Azia’s mom is involved in a somewhat larger-scale building; the 6000 sq. ft. Coho Commissary that’s under construction in the former Trading Post building on Gower Point Road. They will also have a community-to-table restaurant, Brassica, at the front. So what is the Coho (www.cohocommissary.com)? Andrea explains that it’s a “ghost kitchen” for production, if you need a commercial kitchen you can go to the Coho Commissary to produce it. They will offer Class 1 kitchens with 24-Hour Access, air-conditioning, ​walk-in coolers and freezers, and communal equipment. ​There are already three such places open in Vancouver, including Powell Street, North Vancouver, and Strathcona . 

The Brassica restaurant will have 80% of its food served from local producers, like Grounded Acres Organic Farm (www.groundedacresfarm.ca), on dishware made by Beth Hawthorne of Roberts Creek (bethhawthorn.com/ceramics). They will also offer local beers and ciders from 16 taps. This ambitious venture opens on February 1st, 2022. Until then Andrea, who moved to Grantham’s Landing five years ago from Horseshoe Bay, says they will have Brassica meals to take home available from Gibsons Public Market at pop-up sales.


Tea on a Ferris Wheel

Overall – 🍮🍮🍮🍮 Food – 🍮🍮🍮 Tea – 🍮🍮  Fun Factor – 🍮🍮🍮🍮🍮 Price – $55 each

H Tasting Lounge, Westin Bayshore Inn, 1601 Bayshore Dr., Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4

www.marriott.com, Phone: (604) 682-3377

By Cathalynn Labonté-Smith © March 2021

Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.

– Catherine Douzel

The H Tasting Lounge at the Westin Bayshore Inn in Vancouver, BC offers an afternoon high tea on weekends from 12-3. I made a reservation for myself and my niece, Katrina, to celebrate her birthday. I got on the waitlist a month prior for one of the five coveted bubbles on their patio, dubbed The Secret Garden, but when I got there was only a bubble available at 4:00 pm. Too late for us—a pity as the sun was out and being on the waterfront would’ve been a treat. I peeked out the window at the geodesic domes with sultan interiors strewn with pillows and blankets and they looked so inviting; however, the restaurant interior was equally pleasant.  

Ever dream of trees made of cotton candy?

We waded through rafts of pastel balloons of other birthday celebrants on the way to our table. Pink-tinged cotton candy trees sprouted from pewter trunks on tables beside brass miniature Ferris wheels. It was a carnival of spinning and spun food and the air was filled with oohs and ahhs of the birthday ladies receiving gifts. Our table was immaculately set with white linen, gold cutlery and gold teacups. We were surrounded on each side by beautiful glass and wood COVID barriers, and felt as snug sliding into our seats as we would climbing into the cradle of a Ferris wheel car. 

The Westin Inn Bayshore is tucked at the end of a cozy cul-de-sac in Coal Harbour in bustling downtown Vancouver, BC. There’s free parking while you dine or stay as a guest, that’s right FREE parking in a parkade or on the street in downtown Vancouver. Even on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hard to tell that you are just a block away from the main thoroughfare of West Georgia Street that rolls into the downtown core, via bridges from all directions, 

The hotel hosted Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire and aviator, for six months whilst he was in the grip of agoraphobia and xenophobia. He had an entire floor of the hotel booked for himself. The restaurant capitalizes on Hughes’ fame from the wait staff’s gold airplane pins to the airplane-like decor. 

Tasty but too small vanilla pear scones.

I ordered my standard Earl Grey variation, in this case, Imperial Grey. Katrina was intrigued by the Keemun—a black tea with wine undertones. Our server brought some tea for her sniff before she ordered it. Our tea arrived promptly and scalding hot; however, we both found our teas lacking in flavour. Compared to other tea specialty shops, like Secret Garden Tea Company, Adonia Tea House, and Neverland Tea Salon they were under par.

The bonsai cotton candy tree arrived at the same time as the vanilla pear scones with fresh cream and jam. The scones were more-ish but woefully undersized. The jam was one tiny jar to share between us and ditto for the cream. I’d think during the pandemic they’d offer one jar/cream per diner, but we were just careful about our utensils.

The mini Ferris wheel was a showstopper. We were so delighted that it moves when you take something from a plate.They handled our order for one vegetarian (Katrina), and one vegetarian but seafood and fish okay, but no nuts or soy (me), extremely well. However, the server said that their baked goods were made out of house, so that the pastries may have been in contact with nuts or soy products. My sensitivities are mild so that didn’t bother me, but it was disappointing as places like Patisserie Fur Elise and Butter Baked Goods make everything in house. 

Katrina Archibald ready to spin the wheel.

We started with button-sized mushroom quiches. The pastry was pure butter and the filling savoury and pleasing. I could’ve eaten a dozen. The lobster eclair was divine—I was sad when it was gone. The smoked salmon finger sammy with crème fraiche, caperberries, salmon roe and rye bread, a staple of West Coasters, was rich and packed with ocean flavours. Kat had a tomato and avocado finger sammy that rolled her eyes back in her head, and a pudding of hummus topped with veggies that she pronounced delicious.

Truffle egg salad pinwheel.

Onto everyone’s favourite, the egg salad sammy. The H Tasting Lounge’s version of this classic is a pinwheel truffle egg salad with shallots and chives. One bite and a lethal combination of raw chives and shallots overpowered my palate. The wholewheat bread was stale from being made ahead. I didn’t taste any of the delicate truffle because of the fiery oniony bits.

Katrina had the matcha dacquoise with matcha crèmeux, yuzu mousse and almonds. A Lilliputian work of emerald art. She said it was not to her taste, although she does enjoy matcha. We thrilled each time we the Ferris wheel moved on to the next course. This time it spun to the butter tarts with pert strawberry basil mousse tops and lemon curd filling. A few bites were all I could manage, somehow I found it too tart, sour and sweet at the same time—reminiscent of a Sweet Tart candy.

Strawberry mousse and lemon butter tart
Chocolate cake with ganache and salted caramel and New York cheesecake with raspberry gelee.

The wheel rolled to ta da the New York cheesecake with raspberry gelee, smooth rich but I left most of the thick cakey crust on my plate. Sadly, the wheel was down to its last offering, but we were full to capacity but it was chocolate. The last morsel was a gluten-free chocolate cake square stacked with dark chocolate ganache and garnished with salted caramel. It was the star of the sweets, just like the lobster roll took best actor for the savouries for me with the mushroom quiche taking the best supporting actor.

When I booked online I checked the box that this was a birthday celebration. I noticed that the other birthday “girls” received a dish of fruit with a sparkler at the end of their tea, but we didn’t. Not that we’d have room for more food, but it was a bit of a let down.

Would I go there again for high tea? There are a few more places I’d like to try and some old favs to revisit before returning to the H Tasting Lounge. If you crave fresh baked goods and are a tea snob, then this isn’t where you want to go. Their strengths are service, decor, the fun factor and creativity. If you’re planning a special occasion for tweens, teens, and the young at heart this is the place. The domes are open until March 13th, but likely you won’t be able to reserve them due to their popularity. 

Tea House Review

Spend a Halfday on Broadway

Overall – 5/5 Tea – 5/5  Food – Didn’t try it as it didn’t look appetizing Place – 5/5 

Halfday Tea House and Florist, 895 W. Broadway, Vancouver, BC
Phone: 6043369162
Hours: Weekdays : 10:30-5:30 pm Saturday: 11:00-3:00 pm Sunday: closed

By Cathalynn Labonté-Smith © January 22, 2021

Flowers with my tea? Yes, please. The Halfday Tea House and Florist on the corner of West Broadway and Laurel offers an escape for all the senses. A wall of shiny copper tins filled with loose tea flavours, the light floral scent of fresh flowers, a riot of orchids, soft velvet chairs to sink into, hot deeply flavoured tea, and the quiet echos of sound in the light bright open space.

This shop has changed hands a couple of times, but I like what the new owners have done with the interior. They took out a display shelf that darkened the space and made it feel smaller, and changed the palette to lighter and brighter colours. Plus, they added the flower shop at the back. There are fresh flowers in vintage creamers on the tables and needlepoint and other antique inspired art on the walls, for a feminine and fresh atmosphere.

Too many flavours to choose from.

My tea partner, Hiroshi Takahashi, goes for something fruity, a mango tea. I go for my usual an Earl Grey variant called, Royal Earl Grey. The tea leaves are spooned lovingly into bags then steeped into your cup.

The baked goods were mostly bars baked in cardboard boxes, so I passed on the pastries.

The two of us sunk into the overstuffed velvet furniture, with me on the couch and Hiroshi on a chair socially distanced away from me. My view was a jungle of healthy orchids. A lovely garden escape in the winter.

The staff is sweet and patient. The florist was celebrating her birthday and made herself a charming crown of baby’s breath.

Happy birthday to you.

It was a little bit of greenhouse luxury within the bustle of the city, where you can pick up fresh teas and flowers. At Halfday you can spend an hour or more amongst the scent of roses and the play of ribbons working on your novel, or just sitting back and relaxing with your creative thoughts, as you enjoy exotic tea and flowers from all over the globe.

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My Nemesis

Overall – ☕️☕️☕️☕️ out of 5 Coffee – ☕️☕️☕️☕️ Food -☕️☕️☕️ ☕️☕️ Place – ☕️☕️☕️ ☕️

101 Carrie Cates Ct #110, North Vancouver, BC V7M 3J4 Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 4 pm Orderdoordash.comubereats.com

By Cathalynn Labonté-Smith © January 15, 2021

Nemesis, in this case, is actually my Friendesis. The Nemesis I mean is a chic cafe at Lonsdale Quay that I’ve been reluctant to write about because it’s already too busy. The pour over coffee and Americanos are choice but the pastries are divine. Crispy crusts plump with fresh creamy flavourful fillings. 

Behold, the Rum and Raisin Cruffin.

I went several times before the holiday season with three different companions and everyone was well pleased with the selections. I do feel like I’m perceived as doddering to the pert young staff. They can be somewhat curt behind their plexiglass fortress, but I’ll put up with anything to get my lips around those patisseries. I adore their cruffins. If you haven’t had one, a cruffin is when a muffin and a croissant have an angel baby filled with clouds.  

The seats are comfortably padded. The in-house bakery is bustling with mixers and bakers producing such cruffins and black forest croissants big enough for two to share. The meals that come out look impressive, including the iconic avocado toast. 

There are no outlets for the laptops and the wifi is borrowed from the shop next door, but there are washrooms down the hall. A rare find during the pandemic. Their social distancing protocols are strict, so you’ll need patience to wait outside. They only allow one customer in at a time to order, but it’s worth the wait. Warning, the place is extremely busy on the weekends. They aren’t graced with being on the water view side, but there’s plenty of people watching to enjoy on the Nemesis side. 


Creating a Writer’s Logbook

By Cathalynn Labonte-Smith & Jeff Hortobagyi

When a pilot completes a flight, they enter it into their Pilot’s Logbook. This is a valuable record of the hours they spend as the Pilot-in-Command or Co-Pilot of an aircraft. There’s a thrill each time a pilot enters another flight into their logbook. 

Logbooks and Logging Time - AOPA
Inspiration for Writer’s Logbook

This is what inspired the creation of this Writer’s Logbook. Each time you sit down to write, you are in command of the words that land on the page, so why not record your journey every time you takeoff into that world of creative skies. It feels fantastic to make an entry in your logbook and see how the word count starts to add up. Filling up the log sheets is motivation in and of itself to write your way towards your goals. 

You can track progress. Are you writing for longer each session? Are you writing more words? Does one coffee shop over another more conducive to your work? Do you write better in the morning or the afternoon? Do you write better with a timed writing group, or solo? It’s only if you log your work you can see patterns emerge.

What Gets Measured Gets Done 

Every writer’s process is their own. Now let’s put that aside and consider ways to get writing.

Looking through time | Antiques | Artistic Objects | Pixoto
Manual measuring tools.

What gets measured, gets done. A business rule that has become a cliché and that everyone can find something disparaging to say about it. But we also know intuitively that there is something right about this flawed advice.

  1. Wake up at 1 am and write until 9 am
  2. Break
  3. Write until 6 pm
  4. Eat dinner
  5. Bed at 7 pm
  6. Sleep until 1 am
  7. Repeat
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s schedule while writing The Gulag Archipelago fitting two writing days into one.

Solzhenitsyn aside, productivity is probably the lament of most writers but probably new writers mostly, who have not established regular writing processes or just aren’t confident in their abilities. The Writer’s Logbook is a tool to focus on productivity and to identify writing processes that enable your productivity.

How it works

The log should take no more than 2-3 minutes to complete. Anything more than that means you are spending time that would be better used for writing. For each writing session, log the following:

  1. Date. The Date column gives you self feedback on how often you are writing. Is it every day? A couple times a week? Less? See if you can manage to write daily.
  2. Location. At home, at your desk, sitting on your bed or in the bath? At a coffee shop, alone or with others? At the library or on a park bench? Somewhere special like a plane or train?
  3. How long you wrote for. The Time column can be used as a goal to slowly increase the amount of time you spend per writing session. For example, if you wrote for 10 minutes on Monday to Friday, by the following week make it your goal to write for 15 minutes per session. Keep building your time by five minutes per week, or more if you can. This is one way you can get to a point where you can write for as long as you want to.
  4. how many words you wrote. Sometimes this isn’t possible as you may be moving text around, cutting text out, or working collaboratively.
  5. Rate the quality of your writing experience, how you feel about it. Was it highly productive, moderately productive, a waste of time?
  6. Why was it productive or not? If it was productive, identify no more than 1-2 success factors. These may be things you may continue to do. If you weren’t satisfied with your productivity, identify 1-2 factors that contributed to that and one thing that you could do differently next time. 

Over time, you will have a log of your productivity to let yourself know if you are meeting your goals as a writer. It will also give you a list of processes that enable or limit your productivity. However, the writing process can be slippery and what is successful one time may not be another time. The logbook provides a list of tools to use.

. . .Nothing had prepared me for the liberation and absorption of this extended literary labor, the joy of allowing fantasy to play on stored experience, the joy of the comedy that so naturally offered itself, the joy of language.

VS Naipaul on writing his first book, A House for Mr Biswas.

But what about quality, you may ask. A well-crafted haiku is better than a thousand words of gibberish. Productivity isn’t the only goal, but it is an important one for a writer. The Writer’s Logbook is focused on productivity, but you have to keep quality in your back pocket. Here’s an example of a completed Logbook sheet.

Writer’s Logbook (Cathalynn’s Example)

2020LocationName(s)RemarksRating P, G, ETime Words 
Month/DayHome, OtherSolo, Dual, GroupExercises, Stories, OtherWhy was it successful or not? Approx.Start/Finish
5/09HomeLibrary ZoomCover Art, Writer’s LogbookE Quiet Goals1.5 hours0/911 image
5/11HomeN. Van Zoom Writer’s Weekly PlannerE Goals2 hours91/1579
5/13HomeSoloWriter’s PassportE Goals2 hours1579/2737c
5/15HomeGib ZoomEdit Flying bookImport 1 blogE – AM is good time to write2 hoursN/A
5/16HomeLibrary ZoomBook promo Grey
Writer’s Wheel
Writer’s Gantt Chart
E – Had a lot to write6 hours2737/4889
5/17HomeSoloRevise Grey
Chris’s Book
E – 2:30 – 7:30 AM is very quiet 10 hoursN/A
5/18HomeNV ZoomRevise GreyG – Interruptions 2 hoursN/A
5/20CondoSoloRevise GreyE – 4:00 AM – 1:00 PM 9 hours
5/21CondoSolo“              “E6 hoursN/A
5/23CondoSoloLib Zoom“              ““              “E 6:30-8:30 AM 9:30 – 7:30 AM2 hours9 hoursN/A

Grand total =  55 hours 5500 Page totals 55 hours (Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count
Observations: Totals Fwd 0 0
When I write with a group that’s all the writing I do for the day vs. writing solo. Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date 0 0
Hours/Minutes Word Count

Writer’s Logbook

Page _______

20____LocationName(s)RemarksRating (P, G, E)TimeWords 
Month/DayHome, OtherSolo, Dual, GroupExercises, Story Ideas, OtherWhy was it successful or not? Approx.Start/Finish

Grand total =  ____________ __________ Page totals ___________ ___________

(Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals Fwd ___________ ___________

Observations: Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date ___________ ____________

Hours/Minutes Word Count

Achieving quality is a complex process and it is a process just as productivity is.  

When I looked at the hours on the logbook sheet, I noticed a trend that when I met with the virtual groups I only wrote for the two hour session. However, when I wrote on my own I wrote for the entire day. Although, for one session I started writing early in the morning then joined a virtual group, wrote with them for a while and continued to write on my own. I wrote this trend in the Observation area. 

Now that I’m aware of the fact that I’ve been cutting writing sessions short on group days, I can adjust expectations of myself and continue to write once the meeting closes, if not immediately after a short break. The other option is to attend fewer group meetings

An alternative Writer’s Logbook worksheet follows. Choose the worksheet that works for you best. You can try them both out, if you wish. Make copies of worksheets as needed.

Writer’s Logbook 

Page _______

20__LocationTimeWord CountProductivity RatingWhy productive or not / Sustain or Change 
Month / DayHome / Online / CafeApproxHigh / Moderate / Waste of Time1-2 reasons
1 thing to sustain/change

Grand total =  ____________ __________ Page totals ___________ ___________

(Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count

Observations: Totals Fwd ___________ ___________ Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date ___________ ____________

Hours/Minutes Word Count


Plan to Write Every Week to Get Sh*t Done

By Cathalynn Labonte-Smith & Jeff Hortobagyi

Jeff and Cathalynn sit in Rocanini Coffee Roasters having a socially distant writing session on a damp Vancouver morning. They’ve kept each other motivated to write throughout the pandemic, even when meeting in favourite venues hasn’t always been easy.

Jeff reviewed Rocanini pre-pandemic. This is Cathalynn’s first visit here and she finds the coffee delicious. Coffee shops have changed and trade-offs can be great, like they’re quieter. However, seating is limited because of the required distancing between tables, but the pair got a table for two this morning. With the subdued atmosphere, there’s not the buzz and people watching there once was, but you can certainly focus more on your tasks without distractions.

Writers Need Deadlines

Date Management – CAT FooD
Without the pressure of a due date, you won’t get sh*t done.

Writers need deadlines, whether they’re ones your editor or publisher sets, or ones you set yourself. Put those deliverables on a calendar. The more specific the writing goals are the more likely you are to get them done during a session. Dinesen puts it in terms that are manageable.

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.

— Isaak Dinesen

You may have to move those drop-dead dates, but in trying to achieve those goals you will be much closer to finishing than if you’d never put them down in ink.

A Page a Day

The simplicity of a page a day works. Just one double-spaced page, day after day and at the end of the year guess what? You will have 365 pages—the first draft of a book. 

There can be much more complexity to it, of course. For example, here’s Cathalynn’s writing plan for a week from May 2020. Because it was during the first wave of the COVID pandemic, it focussed around virtual writing group meetings, writing at home, and one small group meeting. Otherwise it would’ve been face-to-face meetups in coffee shops. She filled in her writing appointments, what she planned to accomplish in each session, and kept it in my Writer’s Logbook (I’ll blog about the Logbook in future).

Manuscript - Wikipedia
It doesn’t have to be this fancy, just write a page a day.

Writer’s Weekly Planner (Cathalynn’s Example)

Week of May 19

Date/Time Description Goal(s)


9:30 – 11-30 North Van Zoom Meeting Create Writer’s Weekly Planner


10-Noon Jeff – UBC Rose Garden Brainstorm modules Q & C

1-2 Yuma Writer’s Group Zoom Meeting Discussion Group


9-11 Anyone Zoom Meeting Complete Editing on Flying book


9-11 Solo at home. Bring in content for Q&C from Basted Baker: Ode to a Biscuit

10-Noon Gibsons Writer’s Zoom Bring in content for Q&C from The Most Beautiful Café in the World

9:30-11:30 Vancouver Writer’s Zoom Bring in content for Q&C from
The Facts About Coffee Shop Wifi


If she has more than one writing session per day, she adds those into her Writer’s Logbook to give herself credit for the extra hours and words. She often continue to write after Zoom meetings are over, entering the extra time in her logbook as well. She feels there’s always writing time lost in the group meetings for checking in with the other writers at the beginning and a bit of socializing at the end or sometimes during, so writing a bit afterwards is needed to fill out the session.  

Where Writers Write | AnOther
Writing in the tub can be hazardous to paper and ink.

She hopes to increase her writing time every week, but this schedule is a base to establish what she wants to achieve and a measure of what a successful writing week looks like for her with some room to surpass goals. Her goals tend to be broad and shift if she moves more quickly, a little slower, or discovers new elements in her projects.

She tries not to add new projects for the current week, instead she jots them down, possibly with notes, and reviews them later. The schedule is flexible and regularly changes but the goals are the driver and remain the same.

Every writer’s planner will look different and be used uniquely to their process. For example, Jeff’s planner looks entirely different than hers.

Want to be more productive and creative? It's easy, write in bed - Anna  Breslin
Writing in bed is a common place for writers to do their best work at odd hours.

Writer’s Weekly Planner (Jeff’s Example)

Week of May 11

7-8:30 am

1-230 pm


Home (sitting on my bed)

Current project. Review editor’s comments on last draft. Revise the 3rd scene. New project. Create project book or folder for new project. Free writing on topic (30 minutes)

Draft a possible first scene to discover a dynamic, key themes, elements
10 am-
12 pm

2-3 pm

Writer’s Zoom 


Complete draft of blog entry. New project. Make notes on characters and possible episodes.

Draft a rough outline, key episodes, story arc.
7-9 am

1-2 pm
Coffee shop

Current project. Revise final scene. Review the entire draft, make any corrections, change the draft number, and send to editors for feedback.
Complete final draft of blog entry for publication.
7-10 am

HomeNew project. Create a dialog between two key characters to delve into relationship (not to be included as part of the story but for discovery). Create rough drafts of 1-2 scenes
7-10 am
HomeCurrent project. Review feedback from editors, if available. Read thru the entire story identifying areas to work on.
– Revise at least two of the sections.
– Complete draft #3 of current writing project.
– Develop ideas for a new writing project.
– Complete one entry for the coffee shop blog.

Feel free to copy this blank worksheet to plan out each week to schedule your writing time and goals for each session. Make your goals as precise as possible and you will be more likely to achieve them.

Writer’s Weekly Planner

20_____ Month_______ Goals (Weekly) : ______________________________________

Date/TimeDescriptionGoal(s) Daily
Monday _____

Tuesday _____

Wednesday ____

Thursday _____

Friday ____

Saturday ____

Sunday ____

Finding an accountability partner really helps with setting your major writing goals on the calendar, as well as checking in with your weekly writing planners. All ways to assist you in getting sh*t done.

At the end of our writing session, Jeff committed to completing the first draft of his novella by the end of the year. Cathalynn ran a novel idea past Jeff; one that’s in its infancy. Happy writing.


Dear, Author: Please Use this Checklist Before I Hurt Your Feelings

By Cathalynn Cindy Labonté-Smith

ᐈ Old typewriter stock pictures, Royalty Free vintage typewriter images |  download on Depositphotos®
May all your pages be filled.

I’m often asked to give feedback on books, whether they’re drafts or already published. Sometimes, I am so interested in a work-in-progress, or a self-published book, that I offer to read and make comments. I love to work with earnest writers willing to bring their writing up to professional standards and see them achieve their goals. Whether their goals are to leave a legacy to their family in a memoir, or to publish through traditional or independent presses. I’m their cheerleader and want to see each book achieve its full potential, but that comes at a price for both of us. 

50+ Cheerleaders vintage ideas in 2020 | cheerleading, vintage, cheerleading  pictures
Give me a P. U. B. L. I. S. H.

I’m not the kind of reader that you give a book to and expect to hear, “That was absolutely wonderful. There’s nothing that needs improvement.” There’s always an area that could use improvement in any piece of writing. But it’s a fine balance between preserving what makes a voice special, and getting rid of clutter without damaging the whole. 

A Filthy History: When New Yorkers Lived Knee-Deep in Trash | Collectors  Weekly
Get rid of trash words, scrappy punctuation and other garbage. Do a clean sweep before handing it over to a first reader or editor.

I will cheer for a manuscript’s strengths, but also point out what needs to be reworked. I will likely tell you the same advice I’ve told hundreds of writers from 8 to 80. You may take it personally and be seething quietly. You may make some of the changes suggested, or you may entirely ignore them. Whatever the case, it’s your choice what to do with suggestions.   

It’s rare that a writer doesn’t appreciate the many hours it takes to do a thoughtful and thorough edit, but there have been a few times that I’ve been attacked post-edit.

Most writers know how hard it is to get people to read their sh*t, even though it’s good sh*t. There’s a book about that by Stephen Prescott, Nobody Wants to Ready Your Sh*t: Why that is and What to Do About it. Even our spouses skim over our precious words dutifully, as if it were one more sh*tty obligatory task they have to do. So if someone is willing to read, think over, redline, write an email and schedule a meeting with you, or even buy your book, please don’t diss them. Suck it up and thank them between gritted teeth, even if you don’t agree with them and hate their greasy stinking guts. 

80+ Best old outhouses images | outhouse, outhouse bathroom, old barns
No one wants to read our sh*t

The reasons why to shelve your authorial fury go beyond manners. For example, they may have an in with the perfect publisher for you, an outlet to sell your book, an illustrator for your children’s book, a paid writing gig coming up to offer you, a reading venue for your book launch, or any number of opportunities. Did I share this kind of valuable information with writers after they unloaded their misdirected angst upon me? I’ll let you decide if their behaviour was career self-limiting or not.

I’ve put together a checklist for authors to go through next time, before they hand me their darlings of areas that require attention in most manuscripts I’ve received over the years. I don’t want to hurt another writer’s feelings, or get another nasty email.


Show don’t tell. Set up scenes and walk the reader through them. Don’t just tell tales.
Be anything but boring.
Writing usually gets better as books go along. Revisit your first chapters. They need to be as exciting as your middle and end chapters, so readers won’t put it down. 
Avoid one sentence paragraphs. Start a new paragraph when there’s a change, for example:
– A new topic
– Change in time or location
– A new speaker
– To break up a lengthy internal or external speech
– An emphasis or dramatic effect by making a sentence stand on its own, but use this sparingly.
Have a clear organizational strategy, whether it’s chronological, seasonal, backwards in time, loop, or whatever just have one. I like books that start as near to the end as possible, then go back to the beginning like a movie. 
Be consistent with spellings throughout your book and check that they’re correct
Don’t start sentences with conjunctions, like “And”, “Or”.
Use an em dash (—) no spaces before or after it, NOT a hyphen (-) to express a thought, or where a colon, semi-colon, or commas aren’t appropriate, for example, “. . .a dog—extremely underweight. . .”
Hyphenate correctly, for example,
– high-school NOT high school
– six year-old NOT six-year-old or six year old
Don’t use the word “very” as it’s a lazy word. Use creative adjectives, as there are so many to choose from.
Pick a tense and stick with. Don’t mix past, present and future tense. I prefer present tense but most writers use past tense.
Use active tense to get rid of all the passive tense have hads, will have had beens, etc. Most of the time you can replace them with was or were.
Get rid of garbage words, like “well, like, um, uh oh, sure, so.” You’ll usually find these at the beginning of sentences.
Cut out repetitive and redundant sentences. This tightens up the stories. 
A 50/50 ratio of dialogue and prose is a good one to keep the story moving along.
Beware of cliches. Cut them or find a fresh way to rephrase what you mean.
Italics are for foreign words, interior thoughts and quotations only.
Why are you using bold? Get rid of it.
Use exclamation marks sparingly, if ever.
Keep your characters’ words in character and appropriate for their age, dialect, education and status.
Check for words that you’ve overused and use a thesaurus to find synonyms for them. 
Ellipsis are used to show partial usage of a quote . . . not pauses or trailing thoughts. 
Know thy characters. Build thy characters.
Dialogue is punctuated this way, “Hey, Darren, where is your wife?” she asked.Quoting within dialogue is punctuated this way, “Then she said, ‘I don’t know, where’s your husband?’.”
Give your story a clear sense of place, otherwise it could be happening anywhere.
Incorporate different senses throughout the story, not just seeing and hearing, but taste, smell and touch are powerful tools.
Spell and grammar check. Seriously, I still set books that aren’t run through the spell- and grammar-checkers.
Avoid one word sentences.
Use numerals consistently. For example, either spell them all out, or spell out all numbers under 10 and then use numerals for all numbers above 10, or use numbers for all numerals, but DON’T mix them up throughout your story. 

Use this checklist as a springboard for your own checklist, whether you’re an author or an editor. It’s much easier to focus on the story itself without having your reader spend their time correcting distracting mechanics. 


Turning Point – DIY Pens

By Cathalynn Labonté-Smith

This is the first in a series of holiday gift guides for writers, bloggers and coffee lovers for 2020. Instead of defaulting to the gift card from a coffee shop for the writers, that bloggers and coffee lovers may or may not frequent, especially while we’re still shy of public places, here’s some ideas to make 2020 gift giving a little more creative this year. 

Did you know that some writers still use pens to write, or we just like surrounding ourselves with beautiful writing instruments on our desks? You can buy a lovely pen and even have it personalized for someone, and I will cover that in a future blog, but with some creativity you can make unique writing instruments, or give a kit to make them to your recipient. The range of materials to create and embellish pens is limitless, including wood, acrylic, plastic via a 3D printer, resin, corn cobs, polymer clay, feathers, ribbon, washi tape, alcohol ink, crystals, beads, or whatever you have in your craft stash.

Pen Turning

If you’re a maker, or the person you’re giving to is a maker, you may be interested in learning about pen turning. Lee Valley carries miniature lathes, pen blanks in wood and acrylic, how-to books, and other tools for making pens and mechanical pencils. I have a new appreciation when I see these on Etsy, or for the set my sister gave me for the craftsmanship that goes into the making of these.

Cherished wood-turned pen set from my dear sister with wood case.

Our friend, Christopher Haywood of Atlanta, Georgia, happens to make stunning pens. I asked him how he started making them.

Got a pen, Chris?

Actually a friend of mine who is a musician asked me to make him a pizza cutter. I asked him if he wanted wood or acrylic, and he replied wood which was a bit of a surprise. So I made him a pizza cutter out of olive wood with two small mahogany buttons from a tree grown outside of Rome. When I gave it to him he just about burst into tears when I told him about the wood, because it turns out his mother comes from an area just outside of Rome. And that was the first time I learned the power of art on the human spirit.

– Christopher Haywood
One of Chris’s hand-turned pizza cutters looks too pretty to use, but she is sharp.

However, It’s quite a leap from pizza cutters to pens. 

“Someone asked me to make a pen and I had to buy a bunch of tools. After that I never stopped,” he said. Chris dedicates his hand-turned pens to the memory of his son, Liam Haywood, who passed away in a motorcycle accident on May 20th, 2018. Chris shares that his passion for this hobby went much deeper than the pleasure of working with hands.

“I realized I wasn’t in the garage making pens, bottle stoppers or whatever.  I was in the garage waiting to hear Liam come home on the motorcycle. That is why I started. And why I still do it.”   

Who did you help today? Liam’s daily reminder found on his phone after he passed. Chris’s hybrid wood and acrylic pens.

Steps for Turning a Pen

This is a brief overview of the steps for creating a pen or other small turned item. There are many books and YouTube tutorials on the details. For example, the local Vancouver store Lee Valley carries how-to books starting at $21.50.

What an inspiring cover.
  1. Gathering the parts needed for the pen, both the interior and exterior. This includes the square blank in wood, metal, acrylic, resin, deer antler, corn cob, or other materials. The pen can be a twist or click ballpoint, rollerball, or fountain pen, or a pencil.
Chris lays out the bushings, barrel, other pen parts and pen blank prior to starting the project.

Pen parts are generally cylindrical. That means they like to roll away and hide. Small work surface made from some old fluted moulding and scrap material to keep the parts where you put them. Trouble now is remembering where you put them. – Christopher Haywood

Etsy has unique pen blanks, like this hybrid set of five for $13. The inside of the pen is more expensive starting just under the $30 price point and up. 

Pre-made hybrid resin and maple blanks will make luxurious pens.
  1. Putting the blank on the lathe.
Chris’s miniature lathe with acrylic blank ready for turning. What will it be? A bottle stopper? Seam ripper?

Lee Valley has two mini lathes available: outrageously expensive, the Rikon at $624, and super expensive, the Taig at $395. 

Entry level Taig mini lathe from Lee Valley.
Lee Valley’s Rikon mini lathe seems pricey but you can always spend more on lathes online.

Well-rated on Amazon.ca the Wen pen turning mini lathe.

DIY Mini Lathe

If you’re really clever, you can make your own lathe out of a drill and shape it with a hand plane. This You Tube tutorial makes the art look old school and tough to master. You skewer the blank as if it were the head of your enemy on the end of a drill and shape it with a hand plane. Um, that takes brute strength, coordination and skill. 

The appeal of pen turning for me is all the miniature tools. For example, I used to love making dollhouses with Lilliputian furniture and details when my nieces were small with a Dremel. Large power tools are frightening, finger mutilating, flesh-eating monsters to me. Miniature tools are delightfully petite versions of flesh-mangling monsters. If you build a steady stand for a drill you can at least use the delicate tools made for shaping a pen. 

If you already have a drill press, you can Magyver that into a vertical lathe, as shown 6 min 12 secs into the video.

  1. Applying small shaping tools to the blank as it spins in the lathe. 
Miniature turning set from Lee Valley.

Chris begins the transformation of a pen blank on a lathe.

Soooo satisfying.

Chris shapes a pizza cutter handle from a square blank to its final pen shape. Lathes are magical transformation machines.
  1. Sanding and polishing.
Sanded, buffed, Chris’s piece is ready for hardware. 
  1. Using a drill press to drill a hole for the ink-filled chamber and other pen hardware to fit. If you’re using a pre-drilled pen blank, then you skip this step. 
  2. Assemble all the parts. A pen press makes this easier. You’re done. 
Fancy seam rippers Chris made caught this sewer’s eye.

Chris making a pen blank out of pencil crayons. See above for the finished piece.

Chris’s final masterpiece out of pencil crayons.
Part of Chris’s impressive growing collection.

Polymer Clay Pens

Being more crafty than handy, I wondered how can I make custom pens without needing to order special tools, or invest in yet another hobby that would cost about $1200-1500 to set up before making my first pen? After all, I can buy a lifetime supply of pens for that kind of money. The chances of success of coming away with a pen that I could write with are about zero, let alone one that would be pretty like Chris’s works of art. Given that I have no basic carpentry skills or inclinations. However, I came upon a method of using polymer clay to create custom pens.

I’m super proud of replacing a broken teapot handle with a blob of white clay baked in situ in the oven. I’ve also made buttons with polymer clay that turned out nicely, so I think I can manage this. After all, this is supposed to be a project a child can do.  

According to tutorials on Pinterest, all I need is squares of polymer clay, Bic pens were recommended as the least likely to melt in the oven, and a pasta maker (optional). I have a pasta maker attachment for the KitchenAid mixer, so check. I know where to get the pens at the drugstore in this village and we have an artist shop—double-check. 

Those of you who have messed around with polymer clay know that you can build it into amazing patterns, like millefiori glass, flowers, or anything you can imagine. However, I have a container under the sink filled with alcohol inks from dyeing textiles and ceramic mugs that would make lovely surface designs on these pens. I don’t even need to master layering sheets of colours for this experiment. I even found a tutorial on using alcohol inks with polymer clay pens on Pinterest.

After going through all the painstaking steps, this was the result:

Pinterest lied–you can’t make a polymer clay pen out of a plastic pen.

The plastic pen shrivelled and cracked the clay in the oven. The crochet hook and seam ripper were nice though. I tried several thicknesses of clay to to get it to work, but it just didn’t.

For my next try I got some metal pens at Opus next time I was in Vancouver, hoping that the metal would lead me to pen making success. This was the result.

Pleased how these metal pens turned out and fit together after baking.
No joy. The metal changed size in the oven and the ink cartridge no longer fit, despite lowering the oven temperature and length of time.

Penn State Industries has a starter kit that seems to take the frustration out of this process with a barrel and mandrel. The mandrel can even be mounted on a drill to sand and polish the pen afterwards. They have an informative video that makes it look like a lot of fun; it’s so tempting. If I do make a successful pen or mechanical pencil, I’ll update this section.

Washi Tape & Nail Polish Pens

I saw a Pinterest about how to decorate pens with washi tape and nail polish. Having a lot of pens around that I didn’t want to sacrifice to the oven gods after my various clay fails, I knew I could make at least that work. I have a collection of washi tape I use for various paper crafts. I also have a basket of nail polish, because I’m a chick, so I had no need to purchase anything.

There’s no fancy instructions, here. Just wrap the pens in washi tape in colours you love as tidily as you can. Use nail polish to accent the tip, clicker and clip as you wish. Let the nail polish dry. I used a recycled tin can to let the nail polish set up. Apply a second coat of polish if you wish.

After the polish is dry, I sprayed the taped areas with a high gloss craft spray, that I got for the polymer clay pens that never happened. Although, you can probably use a sparkly and/or clear nail polish.

I’m quite pleased with the final results, although they’re not as fancy as a turned pen, or a clay pen, they will likely make your pen unique enough to thwart any pen swapping. With COVID you don’t want to risk anyone using your pen, so this is a good way to distinguish your pen from the generic pens of colleagues or riff raff.

Pens with marbled washi tape make sweet Christmas gifts.
Made all of these in a couple of hours in the evening.
A bouquet of flower pens.

Quill Pens for Writing the Next Bestseller

Quill pens were typically something you saw only standing on guard beside a wedding guest book; a white fluffy ostrich plume with gold trim affair. That was until the Harry Potter craze took over, and now there are all manner of quill pens available to order online. If you have yourself a Potter fan, by all means go ahead and order one for that House of Hufflepuff, Slithers, Dior, Chanel, or whatever. But if you have one or more found feathers, or can source them, like I did at a dollar store, you can create a gift-able pen.

There are two types of quill pens you can make. The first kind involves cutting the tip of a medium to large feather to dip it in ink and use it as a pen, as was done before the invention of fountain pens. The second version involves dressing up an existing pen with a quill. I’m in favour of the latter as a DIY project, as it’s less messy for your giftee and more fun for you.

Elizabeth Rains jaunty feather and washi tape pencil. Such an easy project with materials you can find at the dollar store.

I threaded a gel ink cartridge from the failed polymer clay project with vintage hollow chandelier beads and topped it with a peacock feather from a dollar store, with each object glued with fast setting Tacky glue for this result.

An easy project to make a faux quill pill.
Final result; a delicate pretty pen.

The most difficult part is finding beads with holes large enough to fit the ink cartridge through. I used a bead reamer to widen the holes in the beads. Bead reamers are small metal tools usually coated with diamond dust. You use a sawing motion in the bead hole to wide the bead hole, but it can only widen the hole so much before the bead breaks.

3D Printed Pens

If you have a 3D printer, you can make pens that way as well. My husband’s nephew, Ian Smith, has kits to do so as he’s an avid maker. You can see his incredible objects d’art on his blog at https://www.iansmith.is/blog. Ian made turned pens on a lathe in high-school shop class, so he’s familiar with the process of making pens.

Ian Smith’s impressive turned pens in acrylic and wood.

There are open file plans for 3D printers, so you don’t have to create your own. I found one for a fountain pen at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2026499. Another one at is available at instructables.com for ballpoints.

Handsome pen made with a 3D printer.

One of the key reasons for making unique pens, aside from the artistry is to encourage people to replace the ink cartridge versus throwing out pens, therefore, reducing the amount of wastage. When was the last time you remember replacing the ink in a pen, after all? However, if someone makes you a special pen, you’re going to go to the effort of refilling the ink cartridge.

Coronavirus · Coronavirus Precautions · COVID19 · Laser Treatment for Prostate Cancer · Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer in the Time of COVID

By Cathalynn Labonte-Smith

At 1:25 pm on September 2nd, I think of my daddy, pale against a surgical table, a blue hospital cap hiding his nearly transparent white hair, a mask gently placed on his face while he inhales the sleep-inducing vapours and counts back from 10. The surgical team waits for him to go under with their arms folded.

I imagine him in a private room later that evening after his nearly four hour surgery, because it’s the year 2020. Due to the COVID pandemic hospitals are closed to visitors, even family.

My mother calls around 7 pm to let me know that he’s fine and that his surgery went well. A nurse contacted her from the hospital. Relief washes over me. After two years of waiting for this moment, countless scans and re-scans and other tests and delays due to COVID, at last my dad has this tumour removed.

Attention Men and those Who Love Them

Men do you know what your PSA is? If you’re male and over 45, a simple blood test will give you a base line Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test is used with a digital rectal exam to screen for indications of prostate cancer. (Only men have a prostate gland; a doughnut-shaped gland between the bladder and penis, surrounding the ureter.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian men (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). It is the third leading cause of death from cancer in men in Canada.

– Canadian Cancer Society

Of all the times over the years that he’s been told by his proctologist that his prostate is abnormal, why did this walnut-sized organ harbour an aggressive cancer during COVID?

It is estimated that in 2020:
– 23,300 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
– 4,200 men will die from prostate cancer.
– 64 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer every
– 11 Canadian men will die from prostate cancer every day.

– Canadian Cancer Society

The pandemic meant that his treatment would be delayed, as the hospitals weren’t working at full capacity to reserve space for the potential epidemic. Also, it meant that my mother wouldn’t be able to accompany her nearly 80 year-old husband when he received treatment. In the immediate future, it meant that the diagnostic scan appointments he required would take longer to procure.

Dad lives in Powell River, BC, so this meant that travel to every appointment to his specialist, every scan and treatment by ferry and car. The 85-minute ferry trip from Powell River to Comox isn’t the most reliable of routes. Partially because of the open water crossing is prone to cancellations due to storms. Also, the brand new ferry to Texada Island has broken down, so the Comox ferry has to fill in, shearing off two sailings per day indefinitely.

It is estimated that about 1 in 9 Canadian men will develop prostate cancer during their lifetime and 1 in 29 will die from it.

– Canadian Cancer Society

Fortunately, the BC provincial government subsidizes travel to medical appointments by ferry, plane or other means, so Dad doesn’t have to pay for the ferry and when a companion needs to accompany him. Although, he does have to pay for gas, meals, hotel (if necessary), and other related travel costs.

Nada Laser Treatment for Canadians

Dad asked his doctor if laser treatment was an option. Laser focal ablation clinics claim to destroy tumours with heat generated by lasers, offering less invasive therapy with no longterm negative side effects, like impotence and urinary incontinence as evidenced in a University of Texas study.

His doctor said, “No.”

Dad says, “It was the Canadian ‘No’. It’s not available in Canada.”

Instead, Dad was offered hormone therapy to shrink the tumour before treatment, chemotherapy or radiation; the latter two would be administered at the Victoria Cancer Clinic. Brutal rounds of chemotherapy in another city didn’t appeal to him. The chemotherapy he may not be able to withstand until the end of the treatment, because of an underlying condition and his age. Radiation would involve implanting thousands of radioactive seeds in the affected area and could cause painful inflammation that could cause urinary and other problems. The cure seemed worse than the disease in both cases. Dad also declined the hormone therapy that suppresses the male hormone of testosterone that stimulates the growth of prostate cancer due to it’s unpleasant side effects not unlike menopause (source https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hormone-therapy-for-prostate-cancer/about/pac-20384737) , including:

  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Increased body fat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Bone thinning, which can lead to broken bones
  • Hot flashes
  • Decreased body hair, smaller genitalia and growth of breast tissue
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in behaviour (moodiness)
  • Problems with metabolism

I contacted the Canadian Cancer Society on chat regarding laser treatment of prostate cancer for Canadians. “Cathy” said,

The treatments that are available in the USA may not be available here in Canada. Due to the difference in our health care system, people may have to pay for certain procedures which may make them more available there. . . In Canada, the treatment plan is set out the oncologist who reviews all the medical data that he or she or the team has sent the cancer patient for and they will base their decision on many factors.

She gave me a link to the latest research being done in Canada, an article about lasers used in conjunction with light-sensitive drugs derived from seabed bacteria. This treatment is just in the research stage. There’s nothing online about using lasers guided by MRIs in Canada, as is being done in the US to treat patients now.

After talking to other men who had gone through treatment of the same condition, it seemed to Dad that surgery was the better option. However, because of his age he had to undergo additional tests to see if he was fit to withstand the anesthesia. The tests showed that his physical age was 10 years less than his chronological age. The specialist approved his surgery.

I feel sad for those over 23,000 men a year who can’t access a treatment for their prostate cancer, that has a higher chance of leaving their bladder and sexual functions intact, if these laser treatment clinic claims are true. So the question is, how do we get laser treatment for prostate cancer patients in Canada?

There are fundraisers, of course, like prostate cancer run/walks, that are virtual right now because of the pandemic. Several are coming up on October 4th in Ontario, for example. There is one in Vancouver on Father’s Day, that’s still accepting donations for 2020 at: https://www.prostatecentre.com/node/320. Donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society at: https://www.cancer.ca/en/donate/?region=bc&s_srx=cancer.ca-navbar-en

Other strategies could be prostate cancer patients asking their doctors about the laser treatment, and asking their provincial and federal governments for it to be made available as a treatment option either in Canada or to be sent to the US for the treatment.

Hospitals with No Visitors

Dad was dropped off by a family member at the door of the North Island Comox Hospital on the morning of the long-awaited surgery. It was about a year from his diagnosis to the day of his operation. No one was allowed to go in with him to check him in. It has to be one of the worst feelings of the world to have to see an elderly parent walk into a hospital for major surgery by themselves.

None of us could be there to hold his hand when he was in pain, bring him ice or a blanket from the warmer, adjust pillows, call the nurse when his IV bags were close to empty, break up his day with chit chat, organize a TV in time for America’s Got Talent, or to just sit quietly in the corner watching over him until needed.

He doesn’t use a cell phone, iPad or laptop to communicate. We hoped there’d be a phone in his room, but would he remember the number to call to organize the ride home? He called Mom when he was up to it. There was some confusion about the cell phone to call to arrange the ride when he got discharged and which day he was to go home. There was a mix up with ordering the TV, perhaps he missed his shows. But Dad was stoic, as usual. He didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses, so it worries me that he went without some comforts during his stay, or at least waited too long for help.

I asked him how it was being there without Mom. He said, “It’s nicer to have a relative in the hospital. But it would’ve been an inconvenience to Mom to be there. She would’ve had to find someone to take care of the animals,” he said.

“We could’ve taken care of the dogs, and fish, and birds. We offered so that she could at least be close by,” I protested.

“I don’t like to inconvenience people,” he said. For a short stay, it was tolerable, but for an extended stay I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the patient and their family without visits. Those with loved ones in long-term care facilities, or who have to stay in hospital for long stays have my deepest sympathy at this impossible trying time.

I’ve had many major surgeries and hospital stays. I don’t know what I would’ve done without having visitors to break-up the boredom and lift my spirits. Having your partner being able to visit at any time is such a comfort when you’re in hospital, but that’s my experience.

Dad overheard the nurses commenting that they like the hospital without visitors around bumping into them and asking for directions. He said it made for a quiet stay without the comings and goings of visitors.

I wonder if after COVID there will be more visitation restrictions. It is true that visitors can be nuisance to the smooth running of a hospital. Some patients have a never-ending cast of loud visitors, who steal all the chairs scraping them along the floor, use the patient’s bathroom, much to the annoyance of the other patients sharing the room trying to rest, are in pain, or need some privacy.

But visitors also lift the spirits of patients and can form a sense of community in a shared room. Especially if they bring gifts, like home-baked cookies, chocolates, or a get well card, for both their loved ones and the roomies. Or if they bring in a calm adorable pet to visit the patients, that the nurses have cleared prior to the visit.

Visitors also increase the risk of the spread of contagious diseases to patients and vice versa. Will this pandemic make hospitals and care homes rethink visitors and put limits on visitors like they haven’t before?

Having spent time in isolation rooms myself, where everyone has to put on PPE before entering, perhaps that will become the norm when visiting patients? Rather than completely banning visitors post pandemic? Or a combination of limiting visitors to one immediate family member with PPE precautions? It’s hard to imagine hospitals going back to the open visiting policies they had on most wards in the past.

Dad arrived home four days after his op after a draining trip home in his camper van. Luckily, he could sleep on the bunk in van in the ferry parking lot for a few hours while waiting for the ferry to arrive, as well as on the ferry. Most patients just released from hospital after surgeries or illnesses have to wait uncomfortably in their cars.

I was at his home a couple days prior to his release helping prepare for his arrival. We assembled a new 75″ TV in his TV area on the main floor, and got in the supplies and prescriptions ordered by his doctor.

Dad couldn’t say enough nice things about how he was treated at the hospital from the nurses and his doctor, to the food services and janitorial staff.

“It’s a sweet little hospital,” he said.

Dad was pale and weak after this trip and had lost weight after not eating for days. He went straight up to bed to start the healing process. The worst part for him was the pain caused by the catheter.

A few days later when it looked like he was settled in and Mom had everything she needed to care for him, we returned home to Gibsons–a 40-minute drive, 45-minute ferry ride, and another 75-minute drive away from Powell River.

I’ve checked in with them by chat or phone most days. After about a week, Dad turned the corner and his pain eased off. After 10 days he was finally able to come downstairs to enjoy his gigantic TV complete with headphones.

Tomorrow, 12 days post-surgery, Dad will once again make the journey to Comox to his doctor’s office for his post-surgical follow up and more importantly to have the tortuous tubing removed.

If laser therapy was available in our country, he could’ve been spared this whole ordeal. He still has months of healing ahead of him. It’s unknown as to what extent he will regain full function and what complications he may have due to the surgery. However, his prognosis is extremely good.

Clip-on Coffee Tray · Coffee Lovers · COVID19 · Makeup Mirror with LED Lights · Mechanical Keyboards · Mobile Writer · Portable LED Light with Cell Phone Holder · Wired Writer · Writing Professional

Tools for Coffee Lovers and Bloggers

By Cathalynn Labonté-Smith © September 2020

I’ve done way too much online shopping in the past year, especially since the pandemic ensued and shopping at home is the safest option. I had no idea there were so many cool things that I didn’t know I needed. After months of patiently tracking my deliveries on various apps, they eventually arrive at my home. Most of the items I order are awesome and just as advertised, then there are the ones that have fallen short. Luckily, there are more of the former and few of the latter. This blog includes those goodies and baddies that the posties have brought since last Christmas that coffee lovers and bloggers will find of interest, including:

  • Mechanical Keyboards
  • Portable LED Light with Cell Phone Holder
  • Makeup Mirror with LED Lights 
  • Clip-on Coffee Tray

Mechanical Keyboards

The Big One

⌨ ⌨ ⌨ ⌨ out of 5

Hubs (Steve) emailed me his Christmas list last year, including thoughtful links to where to order the items online. I was thrilled because as many of you can relate, it can be hard to shop for a partner who wants items for hobbies that you have no idea what they are. He appreciates the socks, hats and scarves I knit for him, but I really wanted to give him things he really loved. But when it comes to HAM radio and computer parts beyond a mike, groovy mouse and mousepad, I’m a little lost. Just as he would be trying to find something in a yarn shop, fabric store, clothing boutique, or cosmetics counter. Although, he’s done well with some nudges gifting jewellery over the years.  

One of the things on the list was a Logitech G413 Carbon keyboard. Almost 10 months later, I’m finally trying it out myself, although he’s urged me to do so. The keyboard is curved gently. There are two feet underneath that you can click to make it angle towards you, just like the old IBM PC computer keyboard. The metal edges of the keys and keyboard are so sharp you could almost cut yourself. The red demon glow of the lights give a steampunk look to the design. 

The beast

Steve comments, “I’ve used it for the Raspberry Pi and Jetson Nano, because we only had a cr*ppy keyboard we used with our Smart TV, that was compatible with our TV but as a keyboard it was too compact and the keystrokes weren’t tactile enough. But this new one is good for gaming, like with Flight Sim. It has the numeric keypad needed for games. I’ve also written my books on it.” 

“Why didn’t you want a wireless keyboard?” I ask as I heft its thick cable and plug it into a USB port on the ancient MacBook Air I have on loan from him. 

“Wireless keyboards aren’t as responsive and you have to plug it in to charge anyway or you need a battery.” 

He doesn’t consider the keyboard to be portable and lug this solid metal beast that weighs several pounds. Bringing it to Wheatberries this morning is the first time it has seen the inside of a coffee shop. 

This behemoth keyboard feels like the one on the classic all metal IBM Selectric typewriter that I learned on in high-school Typing class, before the class was called Keyboarding and taught with computers and plastic keyboards. I didn’t even see a computer until my third year in uni; Steve’s humble Apple II+ that lived in his basement apartment.

I love the clickety-clack of the Logitech that’s modelled after the IBM Selectric typewriter; however, using it on a cafe table would give me carpal tunnel issues if I were to use it for more than a couple of hours. Steve doesn’t have ergonomic problems with it, but I’d struggle with the width of it on my lap. I don’t have a desk with a keyboard drawer at home either, so as nice and durable as it is it’s just not for me. If it were wireless and a couple pounds lighter, it would be okay.

Home Flight Simulators and keyboards

Hubs has ordered a yoke for Flight Sim, so when that comes eventually as they are sold out everywhere it will replace the numeric keypad. I urge him to order the pedals, as you can’t really fly a plane without rudder pedals. You can fly without a yoke in a real airplane if it malfunctions, you need a rudder. Obviously, Microsoft Flight Sim’s software compensates for that. I will try Flight Sim when we have both. I’m a bit spoiled having used a full motion RedBird Flight Simulator during my private pilot training. The kind that costs as much as a good used Cessna 172 from the 70s. 

Home flight simulators are incredibly good at training pilots for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight. IFR means flying without reference to the ground, that’s the kind of flying airline pilots do at high elevations, night-flying, or flying in bad weather. Visual Flight Rules (VFR) means flying with reference to the ground, that private pilots do at elevations that keep them within visual range of the ground at all times (below 12,500 feet without oxygen). (If you want to know more about IFR vs. VFR regulations refer to Transport Canada, the FAA, or the aviation regulations of your country, or a Certified Flight Instructor.) The great thing about home flight simulators for pilots is that when you can’t fly due to unavailability of aircraft or instructors, bad weather, smoke (like today), borders being closed (my current problem), illness, or to get in extra practice you just have to fire up your computer.    

While I write this blog, Stephen sits across from me and my clutter of USB devices and writes a review of MS FlightSim. To read his interesting review follow this link: https://smist08.wordpress.com/2020/09/11/learning-to-fly/.

Wish I’d found this clever tool years ago. Steve in the background blogging.

To summarize, the Logitech is durable, classic, reliable, stylish, but heavy, too gothic, and not wireless.  

The Mini One

⌨ out of 5

I saw an ad on social media for a mechanical keyboard so gorgeous that it took my breath away. A mechanical keyboard with a place to put my tablet or iPhone with rainbow lit keys and even a return lever, knob and mechanical keys at the top.  

What I ordered.

I waited months for it to arrive and made several enquiries to onestuff.com. Finally, it arrived but my excitement soon turned to feeling burnt when I opened a tiny envelope and found a flat white keyboard with unlit keys that bore no resemblance to what I’d ordered and paid $50 USD for plus shipping and taxes. Instead of a deal, I overpaid for a piece of junk that the envelop declared was worth €5 or $7.80 CDN. 

What I actually got.

The company suggested I give it away to a friend, family member or sell it to someone, rather than pay the $20 US to return it. Um, no one would want this cheapy thing that I can’t even fit both hands on at the same time to touch type. Although, the touch of it is quite tactile and mechanical. They eventually offered to refund me 10% of the value of the item. I agreed because it was better than nothing, although I’m still pleading with them to send me the item I ordered because it’s pretty and practical. Perhaps, there was a mix up with the order? Still waiting to hear back.

Still have to use the mouse pad on the laptop with the external keyboards, so it’s a bit of a reach. Notice the iPad charging in the upper left to be tested with the mini keyboard.

My friend, Elizabeth, dropped by my table and saw it and says she loves her mini keyboard. She says she got used to the tininess of the keys, but she does have petite hands. Her keyboard does have props on the back for devices, like the keyboard I thought I’d ordered was supposed to, making it perfect for her travels. She took it to Portugal and found it a lightweight option to carrying a laptop. She paid around $30 CDN and found it at our local drugstore. 

The mini keyboard/huge disappointment is easy to use. You plug it in to a USB port with a short delicate cord to charge it, then:

  1. Press the Connect button on the top right of the keyboard
  2. Got to Settings Bluetooth.
  3. Under My Devices select Bluetooth 3.0 Keyboard, then it works wirelessly with your device or laptop. 

The old Mac had trouble identifying the keyboard, so there’s additional windows to touch keys by the Shift Key and to select the kind of keyboard it is (ANSI). Adapting to the micro keyboard is difficult, but it is faster than one finger typing on your phone or iPad. It’s light as a powder puff, so I guess I’ll hang onto it for the rare times I don’t have my laptop with me. Perhaps, I’ll be able to adapt, but I’m really hoping onestuff.com comes through with the actual product I ordered—sausage fingers crossed. 

Light-weight, wireless connectivity, simplicity good. False advertising, overpricing, keys too small for average sized adults to use bad.

Portable LED Light with Cell Phone Holder

📹 📹 📹 📹 📹 out of 5

For bloggers who want to jump into doing vlogs (video blogs), live-streaming and to do your makeup using your phone, I highly recommend this simple inexpensive selfie stick with a ring light. 

Granted it looks a bit unwieldy, but it’s just two flexible goose-necks that twist 360°. One end has a cell phone holder and one has a mini ring light. This tool makes it possible for you to video yourself and others with your phone hands-free, lights up faces, as well as lets you do your makeup under the light you’ll be using. The light has different settings: natural, warm and cool settings. 

Warm light.
Cool light.
Natural light.

I’ve recorded several vlogs with this small setup and have been so impressed how with this tool powered by a USB port, you become your own videographer, lighting person, makeup artist, and producer. 

I got this product on wishfornow.com, but there’s more to choose from on Amazon.ca starting around $23 and up. Some are mounted on tripods, although I like the clip option because it doesn’t take up any room on small cafe tables. Some have two lights, or two holders for phones, so you can get two angles. You can spend more and get an 18” ring light to really light up the area you’re recording, but I find the mini ring light plenty of light for my purposes. Plus, I like the portability of the tool that’s become a staple of my blogger bag. Indispensable for conducting interviews or doing reviews.

As far as using it as a makeup mirror is concerned it does in a pinch, but being extremely near-sighted without my glasses on I find my iPhone X gets blurry as I get closer to it making it harder to put on eyeliner and mascara. For at home, I’d prefer a mirror with lights and magnification to squinting into a cell phone, but for an all-in-one tool it’s hard to beat these two extra hands as a solo vlogger. 

Makeup Mirror with LED Lights

💡💡 out of 5

My mom has a lovely round makeup mirror on a stand that I borrow from her vanity when I visit her. The light has three different brightnesses, but the cord does get in the way when I spread out my makeup on the nook table in the kitchen. It’s weighty so it’s not exactly portable. I like how I can bring this mirror as close to my weak eyes as possible. I have a beautiful antique vanity in my bedroom, but I have to lean over it to get to the mirror so I tend to curl up in an armchair in the living-room with a mirror and put something on Netflix on the infrequent occasion I put my face on. 

The last time I got back from visiting Mom and Dad, I searched for a portable mirror with lights and found the Conair True Glow tri-fold makeup mirror with LED lights works with either four AAA batteries or can be plugged into the USB port of your computer or into the wall with an adapter from London Drugs ($39). It has an integrated mirror button to adjust the light brightness that is like an iPhone or iPad button. 

Iced Americano has three bright views, but as you can see when set on a table it’s too low to actually see your face.

I like how light the mirror is and it folds up neatly so I can pack it in my rolling overnight suitcase. But it’s too low to be usable when I sit to put makeup on. I don’t use paint and powder every day, because most days I’m inside the house self-isolating. I’m so over Zooming now as well. The rare times I do leave the quarantine unit, I want to look on fleek. However, I have to prop the mirror up on books to get it to the right height. I return it to see if I can find a better product, that has a stand and swivels up so I can see my face would be nice.

Clip-on Coffee Tray 

☕️ ☕️ ☕️ out of 5

What do you do when you’re in your car waiting to pay your fare at the ferry terminal and don’t want to put your Experience card, TAP form, and/or credit card in your mouth? Or, all your cup holders are occupied and you need somewhere to perch your tall cappuccino or a bag of apple chips? Or, you’re traveling and need somewhere to put your change for the toll booth? I use this clip-on tray with a goose-neck arm in my car, that I got on Wish.com for $26 US. Admittedly, because of the swivel connection on the base it’s not going to hold up a grande frappucinno. You have to gingerly place your items, but if you want an extra horizontal surface, this is the gadget for you. 

This tray is reminiscent of the days when we ate in cars and had our meals brought to us in trays that hung on the windows, or stretched across our laps. Perhaps, during the pandemic the drive-in restaurants will make a resurrection? For now, I have my tray to enjoy my oatmeal on the ferry in my car as the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route still allows us to stay in our cars for now.

Clip on tray at your service.

You can use it in the coffee shop too. Some of those tables are just too small. Having that  extension can be handy for your extra bits, like your calligraphy pens, wipes, mask while you’re eating, trash or what have you.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the high tech as well as the no tech gadget reviews. Drop me a comment if you have other gadgets to share with us to make the coffee loving, blogging, on-the-go life easier.