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November Muse

November 2022

November Writers Muse

Published by the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood that we lived as fully, as the days we think we left behind without living at all: the days we spent with a favourite book.”

Proust: on contemplating why we read.

Editor's Note:

The Strathcona Writers Muse is a forum for members of the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County to publish their works. Anything published in our letter is eligible to receive a publishing credit. We accept all manner of submissions from short stories, poetry and book reviews. We prefer short stories of 1000 words or less but longer pieces can be accommodated if they can be published in parts. We are always in need of new items, so don't hesitate if you have something we can put into our publication.

Send submissions to care of Henry Martell, editor.

Important Dates

Writers Circle Virtual Sharing Meeting online

Next date Nov 1, 2022

RSVP on the website and the link will be emailed to you prior to the meeting.

Next Board Meeting: Nov 8, 2022

Poets in the Park

Poets in the park meets the third Wednesday of every month online.

Reply to the link on the WFSC website

Next scheduled meeting Nov 16, 2022

Children's Creative Writing Workshop

Second Monday of each month

Next Meeting Nov 26, 2022

Reply to the link on our Website

This Month's Submissions

A Cereal Conundrum

by Karen Probert

The small paper list said, 'cereal'. No following clarification.

Arthur stood in the aisle at Safeway that had a header at the end saying 'Cereal'. Boxes lined three-quarters of the shelves top to bottom in this aisle. He stood still. He scowled. 'I can do this.' is all that was in his mind.

As Arthur read labels he rejected uncooked oatmeal, anything that said 'Gluten Free' or 'European'. Francie couldn't cook right now. That's why he was in the grocery store. He knew she wasn't celiac and she'd never been to Europe. She did eat foreign foods but mostly Mexican or South Asian not French or German. Sometimes Italian though.

Arthur pulled his mind back to the task at hand. He stepped a bit to his right and started at the top shelf so he could work his way down. He rejected anything with chocolate or nuts. Neither of these seemed to be breakfast things. He read the label on one whose picture showed strawberries. They were sweetened and dried so he returned that box to the shelf. He decided if the labels had cartoon characters and the bowl in the picture contained multi-coloured pieces of stuff it was probably only for kids. When he saw a cereal made with rice he stopped. He'd eaten 'Rice Crispy Squares' last fall at a picnic for new students. Was this the same stuff but without marshmallows? It had to be. It looked like it. He put that box in his cart but kept moving slowly to the right as he tried to imagine Francie eating each one.

Arthur hovered. He'd never eaten cereal as a child. As a home-schooled boy growing up on a remote farm he'd eaten eggs every morning with toast made from his grandmother's home made bread. Living in the university residence he chose from the long buffet in the cafeteria each morning. Francie had taught him about 'eating out' as she called it in restaurants and bars. But never for breakfast. Francie lived off campus in an apartment. He'd been there, of course, but not yet ever spent a whole night so didn't know what she ate for breakfast. Food had nothing to do with why they were at her place. Arthur smiled for the first time that day.

Just as Arthur got to the end of the aisle and older woman stood beside him. She said, "It's hard to choose, isn't it?"

Arthur looked at her. She smiled. Arthur blurted, "My girlfriend broke her leg. She wants cereal but I don't know what kind."

"I like your choice," the lady said as she glanced at his cart. "But I like Mini Wheats better. Especially the ones with a little brown sugar icing on each piece. Would she like that?"

'Francie likes brown sugar' swam into Arthur's head. He took the box the lady handed him. He said, "Thank you very much" as he added it to his cart.

She smiled again, "I hope she likes them both. It's kind of you to shop for her. Can I help with anything else on your list?"

Arthur smiled for the second time since coming to the grocery store. He looked at the list before answering. "I think I'm okay. I just need bananas and strawberries and I'll be done. Thanks again."

As Arthur unpacked the bags at Francie's she sat on a stool at her kitchen island with her broken leg up on the second stool. "If you'd bought marshmallows", she said, "we could make Rice Crispy Squares. I love those. Oh, and Brown Sugar Mini Wheats are my favourite. I want some right now, with a banana sliced up and milk."

Arthur watched as she made it all up in a bowl and spooned it into her mouth.

"Want some?" Francie asked. "You did great!"

Arthur made himself a bowl of the same things. As he tentatively crunched into his first ever bowl of cereal he was thinking about all the other things he wanted to learn about living in the city. He smiled at Francie. And maybe about living with Francie so they could eat breakfast together each morning.

Prairie Grassland

Kathie Sutherland

This summer, along the highway between Morinville and Athabasca, I decided to write about old buildings. I jotted notes about grey weathered wood and rusty hinges on broken doors. swayback barns, and moss yellowed shingles on collapsed roofs of dilapidated cabins. I noted how tight-fitting tongue and groove planks fall and return to the earth. I speculated about the folks who once lived and spent their lives fighting bitter winter cold, or reveling in the perfume of wet soil in the spring. I wondered how their lives passed and if their precious photographs, china teapots and handmade quilts were appreciated when bequeathed to their sons and daughters.

I imagined living on the outskirts of Colinton or Rochester, or in the villages of Vimy or Nestow. As a child, I yearned to know how it felt to come from a small Alberta place. My childhood was not rooted in prairie farming history, but in military tradition and the myths of a family I didn’t know.

Along the highway west of Athabasca is the Field of Dreams Antique Store. As we passed on our way to the lake, I insisted we stop to wander among the old combines and rusty tractors. In the golden light of the sunset, I daydreamed about bronze-tanned farmers with wrinkled eyes drifting in from hay fields, hot and dusty, calling out for a wife to bring a cold drink of water and bacon sandwich on homemade bread. I could see them coming home to a two storey hand-built house with dormer windows or a widow’s walk looking out on a sea of grain. Surely one of them trudged into a single room shack, mud chinked to keep out the cold winter wind, and onto a dirt floor in the lean-to kitchen. A good wife could keep the mice out of the flour sacks in her pantry and the swallows out of the chimney.

Along that same highway, I saw granaries and carriage sheds defying gravity, leaning on each other for support as if a single puff of wind would collapse the wood into a pile of rough boards. Surprisingly, they survive year after year, despite fallen roofs, doors that hang askew, and the empty window casings. They are, however, apt housing for coyotes and bats. The abandoned water pumps and broken outhouses that decorate the landscape, along with chicken coops and pigpens, are now overgrown with raspberry canes, and the garden spaces gone wild with weeds.

I could almost see a lonely pioneer lady with her skirts tucked into the waistband of her knickers planting daffodil bulbs and geranium roots mail-ordered from back east. She may have tried to imitate an English garden in an attempt to bring to mind her mother’s grey head bent over the dahlias and roses she used to grow beside the step. I like to think it was there in a little patch of black dirt that she found solace from the moan of the dry wind. For a few minutes she might have found respite from her hollering youngsters, the hot stove for baking bread, the smokehouse for drying rabbit meat, and the unending washing and mending of threadbare shirts and patched woolen pants. And if she had become sick at heart, she might have given up and walked blindly toward the half-full dugout holding her youngest baby in her arms meaning to drown her loneliness. She might have been accompanied only by the wind and her feelings of insignificance in the wide sky and the wider land. She might have been expected to maintain her cheerful outlook despite the disaster of a grass fire that took a hard won crop of wheat and found she could not bear another year or another disappointment.

As I was growing up as a military child, my family was nomadic. I remember uniform housing, not character homes that became part of the land. I remember summer holidays on the road from New Brunswick to Manitoba, not hot days catching grasshoppers by the dry creek bed. I remember flags snapping on parade grounds, not the billowing of laundry drying in the prairie wind. I remember fathers who wore identical pressed uniforms and shiny boots, and not sweat stained Levis and working men’s shoes.

When I was a child, I loved maps. They placed me geographically. Grounded me in each place. I could point to Parson’s Pond and Kouchibouguac, to Madawaska and Rainy River, to Wawanesa and Ravenscrag, to Cereal and Consort, and to Blue River and Clayquot Sound. On the map of my life, I traced my fingers along atlas lines snaking like the blue veins beneath skin. I kept coming back to the west.

In middle age, I am exploring the dusty backroads of Alberta. I found a Field of Dreams. It seems quite natural to be drifting in at dusk to visit the prairie land where my mother’s family began and where I, quite naturally find myself returning to this landscape to find roots in the prairie grassland.

Choices by Mandy Eve-Barnett

Gravel crunching under foot

Branches tugging at my clothes

Ahead the unknown

A fork in the road

My travels begun with promises

Of the end of the rainbow dreams

Anticipation dissolving gradually

Thoughts of home abound

Determined to be solo

Dismissing my parents advice

Are two heads better than one

Now choices paralyze

Direction decided and taken

My choice is favored

And courage is gained

Every cloud has a silver lining

The Crone's Secret

Thin clouds drifted across the twilight sky, obscuring, then revealing the full moon’s light on the small hut and earthen track leading up to it. A lone wolf’s howl echoed in the forest, startling large black crows into flight from their roost, their noisy cawing disturbing the earlier still night air. A rickety cart crunched the dry earth as its inhabitant and the old horse pulling it, neared the hut. Wrapped in threadbare cloth and barefooted, the rider pulled at the reins and let out a sigh. To any observer the rider was an old crone, bent almost double, a large hump on her back, only her face, feet and hands uncovered, which were veined and wrinkled. She picked up a wicker basket covered by a velvet cloth and descended from the cart. Patting the horse as she passed, it changed shape, diminished in size and became a fox before scurrying away.

With shuffling steps, the crone opened the wooden door and entered the ramshackled hut. Candles flickered into life at the passing of her hand, and a fire blazed into being. After placing the basket on a wooden table worn to a shine and scarred with use, she discarded the old cloth to reveal an ebony velvet cloak. Slippers of the same colour appeared on her feet and her hair tumbled down her back in dark locks. Anyone seeing her now, as a young woman, would never think she was the old crone peddling in the walled city streets. She guarded her secret well.

One again, she had accumulated the ingredients for her secret potion. The first step was to soak the gathered fungi, and night lily root in lamb’s blood overnight. This was the basis of the elixir; one she had perfected over the last century or more. Her age was a mystery even to her now. So many renewals, so many moves to walled cities across the land, once again she would move to avoid any inquisitive questioning. She pulled a brass covered wooden box from a shelf and unlocked it. The vial inside shone with iridescence, there was just enough for the next potion. Her renewal would give her time to travel to the cavern deep within a cliff beside the ocean on the western most edge of the kingdom of Udizan. There she would refill the vial from the source, her most guarded secret. A pool of shining liquid, it’s origin unknown, but it’s effects powerful, when combined with the other ingredients. She placed the vial back in the box, turned the key and returned the treasured possession back on its shelf. As she turned, she cast a spell to protect the hut from any intruder and went to bed. In the morning, she would begin the ritual, adding all the items of the recipe, then drinking the elixir before leaving this hovel to find another place, another city, another ‘life’ among mortal beings.

She lay down as images of her multiple past existences came to mind – cities blended into one, faces merged and became indistinct, memories too many to define. She let out a sigh of despair - did she really want to live yet another life? The secret would die with her unless she could find someone worthy. Was that so impossible? How would she begin? Her troubled thoughts plagued her once again. Was it really such a great thing to live forever?

Mandy Eve-Barnett

The wind

The wind carries memories I stood at your graveside I felt it on my shoulders In my hair When I stood there Sorrow washed over me Sadness sunk in my throat The warm prairie wind on my neck as I gaze at the ground There was not one sound Too early you left Thought you had more time Wish I would have said more Wish I would have held your hand more So I stand here and pour I pour my heart to you in my thoughts that no one will ever hear I feel you near The wind carries memories Pamela Winter-Beattie

'If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write' - Stephen King

What Are You Reading?

The Muse wants to know what other writers are reading! Are you doing research for a story? Are you reading a great book that you want to tell others about? E-mail the editor and let us know about your book.

THE SCHOOL OF MIRRORS (2022) by Eva Stachniak Review by Lana O’Neill King Louis XV and his 18 th century court play second fiddle to courtesans, midwives and the impoverished in this latest historical fiction novel by Polish-Canadian author Eva Stachniak. Versailles and the stirrings of the French Revolution create a heady background in a rags-to-riches-to-rags account of the beautiful innocent, Veronique Roux. Stachniak’s trademark first person POV inserts the reader into the mind of 13-year-old Veronique as she is plucked from an under-privileged life in the streets of Paris and thrust into the indulgences of Versailles and eventually the King’s favor. The dream played out only disguises the reality of a woman’s life during this time period where indulgences belong only to those, or the one in power. The reader will enjoy a well-researched journey into pre-revolutionary France but come away, perhaps, a bit unsettled from the immersive power of this author’s telling of the emotional story within. STILL LIFE (2021) by Sarah Winman Review by Lana O’Neill Sarah Winman would be happy to know that her romance, Still Life, elicited a strong response in me. At first, disorientation, from wading through a mire of snappy dialogue denuded of quotation marks. A slower reading pace resulted leading to concern about finishing 452 pages before the one-week library deadline. Frustration surfaced when thoughts of purple prose threatened to slower the process even further. Descriptions decorated every page like blushing rosettes on butter cream icing dappled with chocolate button candies. By then I was entranced. Winman uses personification to great effect and often times, to my surprise. I fell for the slower pace and experienced poetry on every page, the mining of my senses, the wit in the words of each character and the resulting steady flow of narrative. World War II in Italy sets the stage for older Evelyn and younger Ulysses. From there, serendipity takes a chance on a cast of companions from east London back to Italy, to Florence where art features prominently and prods hearts into a response. Preferably about the value in life and love and unrushed moments in between.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax Reviewed by Mandy Eve-Barnett Not only are the characters delightful but the plot well paced. Unlikely friendships, an exclusive apartment building and unexpected twists and turns, all make this a superb read. The interactions between the characters and the gradual revealing of their lives was well written. Of course, being English, I not only watched Downton, but also lived very near Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and visited any times, so the references transported me 'home'. I highly recommend this novel.

Publications available from our foundation. Anyone can purchase these works through our website at


We are excited to announce new publications through the Foundation.

The winner's of the children's creative writing contest in 2020 and 2021 have been compiled into a book. It will be at a special price until September 30th. Link:

“Creative Writing Workshop Facilitators Kelsey Hoople and Mike Deregowski challenge you to participate in national poetry month.” As part of Poetry Month for April 2020, the challenge was to write to the overall theme - The Great Escape. A different title posted each day provided inspiration for writing a poem a day for thirty days. It was a challenge worth taking up as many of the participants could no longer meet in person due to COVID-19 measures, but they could support one another online! This collection of poetry includes submissions from qualifying WFSC members for 2020. Challenge yourself! Enjoy!

“Creative Writing Workshop Facilitators Kelsey Hoople and Mike Deregowski challenge you to participate in national poetry month.” As part of Poetry Month for April 2021, the challenge was to write to the overall theme - When Life Changes. A different title posted each day provided inspiration for writing a poem a day for thirty days. Amidst the COVID-19 challenge, getting creative was an outlet for our writing group, which enjoyed connecting online and being inspired. This collection of poetry includes submissions from qualifying WFSC members for 2021. Challenge yourself! Enjoy!

Available for purchase:

DWP WFSC's publication prior to the Writing Prompts book shares stories of Canadian writers.

We write from the heart about people who are important and things dear to us.

We write with a spirit that leads us to explore and explain.

We write. We are passionate.

We are Canadian.

Postcards from Canada proudly features the words of members from the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County in celebration of being Canadian – during this 150th year of Confederation. Share with us as we take you on a journey across Canada with our words, our images, our verse, our prose… Postcards from Canada - Wish you were here! Get your copy for $14.95 through the following:

Amazon POD:

Available for purchase:

Writers Foundation of Strathcona County 2021 - 2022 Board Members and contact information:

Joe McKnight President Bethany Horne Vice President Never Been Better - Editor Linda Pedley Treasurer Web Site Administration 780-445-0991 Mandy Barnett Secretary Writing Circle Host/ Writing Prompts/ Newsletter Editor Karen Probert Past President 780-464-6632 Beth Rowe Director Your Lifetime of Stories Coordinator 780-718-7253 Henry Martell Director Newsletter Coordinator Amanda O'Driscoll Director

Children's Writing Workshop Instagram Coordinator Library Liaison

Copyright © *2022

Writers Foundation of Strathcona County All rights reserved.


Our mailing address is:

PO Box 57083 | Sherwood Park, Alberta | T8A 5L7

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