Category Archives: Memoir

Focus is Everything by C.C. Bye

iceburgOne summer, when I was working at the top of  the Arctic Archipelago in an eight-person settlement known as Eureka, an iceberg ran aground in the strait between Ellesmere and Axel-Heiberg Islands. I enjoyed the novelty of having a mountain of ice parked outside my window, but I must admit it soon became just another part of the scenery. The same thing happened with the wolves who hunted us every time we left the confines of our buildings, and with the rabbits who achieved such tremendous speeds when racing our enclosed snow cruiser that they were able to bound along upright, front legs never touching the ground. Such strange and beautiful sights become mundane when they occur too often.

Then came a cold January day when our cook, an axe in one hand and a cardboard box in the other, asked me to go out to the berg and get him some ice. I already thought he was an eccentric, so I bit my tongue and went for a stroll.

“Make sure you get  ice from the centre of the face,” he hollered to me as I trudged out  into  the  – 40°C air.

I did what he asked. Even though the face of the berg was in shadow, and the air that pooled there seemed to be inordinately cold, and I was convinced the 30-foot wall of ice was poised to fall on my head.

When I got back, Cookie thanked me, indicated that I should put the box in the walk-in freezer, then  went on preparing dinner. No big deal. No explanations given.

Later that evening, a few of us gathered in the common room to watch a canned hockey game which had been flown in from Winnipeg. This was before the advent of satellite TV, so it was something of an event for us. Cookie came in and surprised me with one of my favourite drinks—good Canadian rye, a small amount of ginger ale and lots of ice. In fact, the tumbler was filled with so much chipped ice that rivulets of condensation had begun to run down its sides. The odd little fellow chuckled, winked at me and said, “There’s something about million-year-old ice that just makes a drink taste better.” He was right.

Many years have passed since that memorable day. Cookie’s most likely in his grave. I’ve begun to feel the sear of age myself. But every now and then, when I have a spare moment, I think about ancient ice in my drink, and the company of wolves, and I smile.

Life has helped me to understand that whether it’s a certain piece of art catching the morning light in a way that  delights, or  a walk along a leaf-strewn country road, or icebergs that run aground outside your bedroom window, the trick to having an interesting life that’s filled with beauty, is to make these things your centre of activity or interest. You must make them your focus. Because of this, I do my utter best to spend my days purposely drinking the juice of life. Yet the iceberg story is proof that beauty can also be found in memories and that it’s important to make time for revisiting them.

You can take this idea a step further by accepting those ugly, disheartening events that life seems to present with unnerving regularity. Accept them, but don’t let them affect you. Understand that they’ll eventually pass, and that you’ve the choice to refocus on better things. There’s also no rule that says you ever have to think about them again. You choose what you remember and how you remember.

A death can become a reason to celebrate someone’s life. A lost job is an opportunity to try the career you’ve always dreamt of. A failed romance has the potential to teach you about man’s incredible capacity for love. And a struggle with disease can renew your zest for life. You have the power to recall and reshape your experiences so that they work for you.

This is a simple concept with the power to transform our lives, but it’s worthless unless applied. I challenge you to spend today on the conscious enjoyment of beauty, allowing all else to be diminished or ignored. Choose to build beautiful memories while forgetting everything else. The exercise represents an important step in creating a truly enjoyable life. It can also help you to understand that focus is everything.

If you enjoyed this essay, then you’ll enjoy the countless other stories in The Contrary Canadian, available on Amazon or at my own store at

REFLECTIONS By Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

RE-EDITED-Reflections_for_The_Write_Room_11-13_(1) copy
Reflecting back on the turmoil of more troubled times reminds me that we do indeed have the resilience to survive sadness and despair. As we emerge from our sorrows to enjoy a bountiful lifestyle, we are mesmerized by the effect of having come full circle. Similarly, the misfortunes of others causes us to be thankful for what we have and to count our many blessings.

Denver skyline in fury-2013

This brings to mind a traumatic experience from back in the 70’s. I’d like to share that with you. My husband and I traveled on business to Columbia, South America where crime was rampant and border police were as corrupt as the underground criminal element.

Our first shock came at the airport upon our arrival. Passing through customs was not smooth at all and taught me a lesson that I’ve never been able to erase from my mind. The customs official took our passports and proceeded to open and close them repeatedly as he mysteriously rubbed his fingers together while pretending to stroke his hair. Well, this didn’t make any sense to me at all and I had no idea what he was trying to tell us. I nervously glanced toward the glass where the party awaiting our arrival kept making strange hand signals to help us out. Oh my gosh! I finally got it! That nasty official was signaling that we were to place money in our passports before he would grant us customs clearance. My first reaction was shock that such an offense could happen…at least not in my world anyway.

Oh yes, I’ve been known to react first and regret it later and this was one of those times. True to form, I blurted out words that would come back to haunt me, “You must be kidding!” Immediately, he greeted my remark with a vicious scowl that assured me he most certainly was not kidding as I was about to find out. He wasted no time in letting me know just who was controlling this game and it surely was not me. He grabbed my suitcase, ripped it apart and strewed my belongings everywhere for all to see. As further punishment for my miscalculation, he made a special point of displaying my personal items most flamboyantly for others to make fun of. I’m quite certain that those next in line quickly reached for their wallets out of fear that the same or worse might happen to them. My privacy was shattered as I made a mental note to be more discreet on my return trip home. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would dare to bribe a US Customs Official that way but then, one never knows.

What happened next is surely the stuff that movies are made of. As I was scurrying about to collect my belongings and get this unfortunate event behind me, I realized that I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I had just retrieved the last piece of personal clothing—okay, if you must know, it was a lacy black negligee and maybe a bit unfitting for my surroundings! As I arose, I came face to face with a man who was sporting a black suit, black turtle neck sweater and a black hat that seemed highly inappropriate attire for the scorching heat of this tropical summer. For a brief second, he seemed to believe that I was his contact and I could feel the panic rising in my throat while my life passed in front of me. Standing right behind him was another man in similar garb who was carrying a bag and holding one hand over his chest. Now even I had seen that movie before! Was it Men in Black? Sorry, that was a comedy and this was surely nothing to laugh about. My husband got my drift when my eyes screamed the words, “Get me out of here now!” I was witnessing a drug deal going down right before my eyes and there was little doubt that these guys were packing items far more threatening than toy pistols!

I was thankful for the party on the other side of the glass who had witnessed our ordeal. He was the contact we planned on doing business with; hence, the purpose of the trip. In an attempt to calm our nerves, he explained what these events were about, that they were a way of life resulting from a devastated economy and an extremely impoverished population. I nearly knelt to kiss the ground as we emerged from that airport and begged off business until another day, to which he agreed. I needed to unwind and collect myself before I was ready to venture out into this unfamiliar world that I found myself in.

We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel in Bogota as our home base. En-route to the hotel, we were stunned by the natural beauty of the landscape yet bewildered by the contrasting decay of the buildings and the potholes that seemed to be designed into the roads. Little did we know that we were in for the culture shock of our lives. Extreme poverty and squalor were everywhere we looked and we quickly realized that we were experiencing the real Bogota, not the sights that were intended for tourists such as ourselves.

Before long, we checked in and were escorted to our rooms, the personification of luxury and a much needed respite from our terrifying events at the airport and the sad reality of the streets outside. We decided to order room service for our dinner and found it to be second to none. We’d been told to try their fresh Columbian coffee with our dessert and it came to us served in a silver service accompanied by an equal sized pitcher of hot milk. The perfect Columbian recipe for Café au Lait is half a cup of strong Columbian extra strength coffee syrup with half a cup of hot milk. Oh my…a treat we were not about to forget and one that I made a point of serving once we were home again.

That night, sleep did not come easy. We could hear the sorrowful cries of small children from the side street below who had nothing to eat or a place to lay their heads to sleep. Here we were, wrapped in luxury while these poor homeless babies were starving in the street. This was a scenario that reminded me of my daughter’s origins. We had recently adopted our darling baby daughter from Vietnam, out of the war torn ruins of a society that rejected GI babies and there were many. The prospect of adopting one or more needy children from Bogota was tempting but when we learned of the pitfalls of doing so, we quickly changed our minds. Yes, we could attend a hospital or an orphanage and choose the children we wanted to adopt but at a hefty price…a bribe if you will. Proper papers would not be provided to us which meant that we would never be able to legalize these babies back in America. We had no way of knowing if this was fact or not but it made perfect sense to give up the notion and play safe.

The next day, we emerged fresh from a delightful breakfast and determined to explore the city. All the while, we were praying for our safety yet anxious at the same time to learn more about this part of the world. As we exited the hotel, the manager cautioned us to hire a guide and directed us to where it could be arranged. It should have been that simple but trouble seemed to be following us wherever we went. I had one foot inside our taxi when I was abruptly knocked to the ground by a mugger and commenced a wrestling match that would have put the professionals to shame. I fought the good fight on that dirty pitted pavement while the mugger struggled to remove my jewelry. The taxi driver was yelling, “Cover your ears!” Just then, the police emerged and chased him away. I was later to learn that he would have cut off my ears for my gold earrings had I allowed him to get away with it. Where was my husband you might ask? To be fair, he was on the other side of the car and it was all over before he even realized what was going down.

After this sordid ordeal, I was hysterical and wanted only to hide out in my hotel room all day but it was not in my nature to give up so easily. I wasn’t about to let some dirt bag ruin my day so we returned to our room to clean up but you can bet that I left my jewelry behind.

Anxious to move on, we decided to seek out merchandise to market through our business back in the USA. Foremost in my mind were cultural products but especially dolls. At the very least, I would seek out a doll in native dress to bring home to my little girl. Once again, our driver instructed us to shop with caution and always be aware of our surroundings. I could only wonder if there was anywhere in this dangerous city where we could feel safe and at least enjoy a shopping expedition. So, armed with his sage advice, we headed downtown to walk and shop the area where he dropped us off.

What happened next gave new meaning to the concept of sightseeing. By no means was this a pleasurable downtown stroll for window shopping. Simply navigating the numerous potholes kept us looking down so as not to risk a broken leg or ankle. Once I looked up only to find myself confronted by a policeman holding a bazooka carefully aimed at criminals close by. Eeks!

Now it all made sense. Those hundreds of potholes were not the result of traffic overuse at all but caused by overactive weapons in the hands of the so-called police. Just a few feet away from where we stood was another police officer with a machine gun and that was when sheer panic set in.

machine gun

Feeling threatened didn’t even begin to describe the spine-chilling fear that propelled us to run for our lives. By no means was this a shopping mecca fit for tourists and our only objective was to make it back to our hotel quickly and safely with our heads still sitting squarely on our shoulders. Never again would we feel safe enough to stroll freely anywhere in this city and all future excursions would be in the company of a guide with our taxi driver parked within feet of our destination. Suddenly a return trip to the airport didn’t seem so threatening after all and the certain knowledge that we would soon be departing South America was somewhat reassuring.

The next morning we dressed and went about our way to conduct the business that we had come for which was importing leather hides from Bogota and Cali for our business at home. Everything went as planned though we couldn’t shake the prospect of danger everywhere we went. The highlight of our day was that our business did come together in Cali where we also found the best treasure of all. Yes, we were able to purchase a large supply of that spectacular Columbian coffee to take back to America.

Now that I’ve shared this reflection with you, I can only express my heartfelt thankfulness for my lot in life. Would I appreciate what I have so intensely had I not seen how the other half lives? Likely not but that doesn’t ease the sadness I feel whenever I recall how those poor people lived. Poverty most assuredly leads to crime and the police state that we visited so long ago.

Giving thanks and reflecting on my good fortune includes my marriage of twenty-five years to a man who has protected me in the worst of times. And so I ask you, “Do your reflections spell turmoil or grandeur?”

Before I leave, may I share a touching meditation about reflections. It comes from the National Park Service in Jackson, Wyoming where we traveled this summer.


A feather floats on Phelps Lake
a cradle of light
rocking with the breeze.

Wind speaks through pines.
Light animates granite.
An Eagle soars – its shadow crosses over us.

All life is intertwined.

We see the Great Peaks
mirrored in water-


Reflection leads us to restoration.

Nature quiets the mind
by engaging with an intelligence
larger than our own .

Mindful of different ways of being,
Our awareness as a species shifts-

We recognize the soul of the land as our own.
The path of wisdom invites us
to walk with a humble heart

recognizing the dance
between diversity and unity,
action and restraint.

The Scales of Nature
will always seek equilibrium.
A feather can tip the balance.
-Terry Tempest Williams

Thank you for visiting The Write Room. You can find my reflections elsewhere but
recently told in my new book title: Reflections of Mamie: A Story of Survival     


It’s a story of abuse and hope–with the sale of each book,donations are made to Dreamcatchers for Abused Children and Kitsap Humane Society for abused and abandoned animals.

Help us stop abuse! Please send your additional comments or share one of your own reflections with me at:

Many outlets are listed for where to purchase my book.

– Mamie

A time of war and a time of faith: a true story by Jon Magee

Jon MageeIt was early morning as the airman set off on the sixteen mile journey to his place of duty. It was a routine that both he and his young wife, Joan, had come to know. As he left there was also the certainty that his return would be at the same time each day, regular as clockwork, unless a message reached Joan to say that maybe an exercise had been called, which required him to stay on base till it was completed. This was their life. But today was going to be different. Today, the unexpected was going to happen as events were to transpire that would bring about new and radical change to their lives. The tranquility of their idealistic life was about to explode because of decisions made on the international scene.

Cyprus, where they lived, was considered to be an ideal place for a young couple to begin married life. Cyprus has often been called the island of love. It was on the island of Cyprus that Greek mythology refers to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, being born of the foam of Paphos. Aphrodite, who the Romans would have referred to as Venus, was known as the Greek Goddess of love, desire, beauty, fertility, the sea, and vegetation.  This was their island home, a natural romantic extension of the honeymoon of married life.

Unaware of all that lay ahead, Joan began her routine of chores. For a young girl raised in the Scottish highlands, living on a Mediterranean island really was romantic. But there were still things that must be done. It was always best to ensure the housework was carried out early in the day, before the heat became too intense. And even though they were still expecting their first child, they were living in a reasonably sized, three bedroom bungalow with a large living room and a budgie that sat in a corner in a cage. Yes, there was much to do.

The building had a flat roof, as was the case with so many houses in the east and certainly in this locality, where the washing could be hung out to dry or where one could sunbathe when desired. Down stairs, towards the front of the bungalow, was a large, shaded balcony on which to relax in the welcoming cool breeze. In the evening during the summer months it was not unusual to see the local people using such areas as if they were their living rooms. They would sit together with their families, perhaps drinking coffee or watching television or just socializing. The family was traditionally the most important institution in the island society. Especially in village life, where people thought of themselves primarily as members of families and rarely spoke of themselves as individuals in the existential sense. They traditionally identified themselves first as members of families, then according to their places of origin, and lastly as citizens of a nation.  Jon and Joan had also come to know that the pace of island life was leisurely, that the people were kind and helpful and always ready with a smile. The people were hard workers too, resilient people who had withstood and accommodated a succession of invaders throughout their long history.

As the day progressed, Joan began to prepare for the return of her love. She looked through the window, but he was not there. She stepped through the door, but he was not there. She looked into the horizon, but there was no vision to brighten her life. There was a certain eeriness about that day which she could not completely comprehend. This was July, nineteen seventy-four on the island of Cyprus. There was no telephone in the house to communicate with the wider world. There was no one living nearby who would understand her anxious concerns being expressed in English. She was alone, upset, and anxious, not understanding why it should be that her love was acting so much out of routine. Was he alright? Had there been an accident? She did not know. There were so many questions, yet so few answers to match them.

Nightfall came down very quickly in Cyprus. The eastern countries did not have the long periods of dusk known in Scotland, and as Joan continued to wait in her Cypriot home there was still no sign of her love. All she knew was the terrifying sound of gunfire that was surrounding her home. Could it have been fireworks, she thought? Was there some local tradition or celebrations she was not aware of? No, the sounds she was hearing were clearly different from any fireworks she had ever heard before this day, there had to be another reason for what was happening. And as she sought to secure the premises, Joan was beginning to understand the full meaning of fear.

The windows and shutters were closed as she went from one room to another. The external doors were locked. Every means of access to the home were checked and then double checked, nothing could be left to chance. The house lights were all turned off, just in case any undesirable person should be attracted to the home lit up. Even her radio was switched off–though along with that action came the fact that any news from the outside world was switched off too. Her desire for protection ironically also became the means of her isolation. Add to that her increased discomfort, because, at the hottest time of the year in the Mediterranean, she had switched off the fans designed to keep her cool, just in case their noise compromised her security.

As she sat down in the safest part of the house, still not knowing the cause of the day’s events, she thought of the one whom she had married. Was she widowed already? Would she also be following him into death? Just one day can change ones perspective so dramatically. Life had appeared to be hopeful as the day began, now it seemed to be so hopeless. Her heart began the day with leaps of joy as she considered the wondrous moments that they shared; now, however, her heart was thudding with such an awesome dread. Life was now appearing to be so out of control. What could she do? The reality was clear: there was nothing she could do except to pray that someone, or something, could intervene and bring back her heart’s desire. It was at that moment, though the explosions and the gunfire continued on, that an inner battle of her own began, as she sought to discover a spiritual trust in the midst of the unknown.

Joan began to read a book related to the underground Christian church in Eastern Europe called “I Found God in Soviet Russia” by John Noble. As she did, the words “I prayed” sprang out of the pages from the second chapter.  She knew that was her only answer as she poured her heart out to the only one who was there to listen… God. Her circumstances were not changed. The fearful happenings outside, whatever they may be, were not changed. The terrifying noise of gunfire had not ceased, and the absence of human company continued to be. The concerns at the absence of Jon were still there, but she knew she did not need to face those fears alone. She was already a woman of faith, but it is in the midst of trials and adversity that a full understanding of what that means in practical terms can be grasped.

The words I have written are just one part of a true story. My wife, Joan, and I were the young couple starting married life in Cyprus 40 years ago as a military coup and Turkish invasion transformed the lives of so many irrespective of their national background. Not everyone survived. For some, the questions in their minds and hearts may never have had an answer.  Yet for so many came a realization that when the world appears to be out of control, human answers are often insufficient.

To learn more about Jon Magee visit:

Life’s Lessons by Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

Life’s Lessons Reveal Who We Become

Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

What is the purpose of life if not for the love of our children and how we prepare them to become strong, positive role models for the next generations to come? Isn’t it our inherent responsibility to shape the hearts and minds of our little ones to ensure that the mark we leave on them will pass solid values onto their own children? Thankfully, most families achieve this nurturing lifestyle on a variety of acceptable levels, most in close healthy and loving relationships.

Regretfully, not all children get to wake up each morning to a cheerful family atmosphere. These are the hidden children whose suffering is endured in secret while, for all intents and purposes, the truth is lurking just behind the eyes and closed doors of their hearts. Though such families appear to the outside world to lead a normal existence, these are the children who lose their innocence through suffering neglect and abuse. They never learn to share their pain safely with the very people who might be in a position to help, and they are too afraid to reach out to strangers. Imagine the tiny child who has every right to expect love and affection from her parents but is deprived of it from early childhood. Such a child may never learn to smile naturally or trust the very people who are responsible for her welfare and who gave her life. Such a child wears the heartbreak in every fibre of her body, locked in so tightly that she fears she will never find the key to safety or happiness. We may all know such a child but rarely do we comprehend the depth of heartbreak and nature of the influence that such a child may bring to bear on her own future and her descendants. It is entirely the responsibility of such a child to find the right turns in life, if only by adopting role models to hold dear. Her dreams may be her only reality where she pulls those she loves into her own world. Sadly, many such children are not so fortunate and without intervention will never see the light of a healthy and wholesome existence.

Now, imagine the little girl who never experienced affection or any love whatsoever from her Mommy, yet witnessed it given to a younger sibling in full measure. This is a little girl who bore the daily physical and emotional welts inflicted by a sadistic Mother and patently ignored by a Daddy who loved her but lacked the backbone to intervene. This child would pray nightly, “Please God, why does my Mommy hate me so much? Please make her love me!” “Please God, let me come live with you.” She cries out in fear and pain each day as she tends to her wounds that resulted from yet another beating. These and so many more tragic examples are true accounts of one such child’s memoir that persisted from four to fifty-four.

Do you know a child suffering from such abuse?

Next I ask you: Is it possible for such a deprived individual to overcome the trauma of childhood abuse and move on to raise her children in a loving and responsible way? My answer is yes; however, the damaged life experience will never leave the forefront of the victim’s memory while specific events will remain buried until they are triggered to rear their ugly heads when least expected. As a victim of such a traumatic lifestyle, I am testimony that the ravages of abuse can be largely overcome. I emerged a strong and determined survivor with an iron will to help and teach others how I did it in the hope that it will assist them as well. Are there hangovers from the past? You bet! Have I overcome all of them? No way, but I consider it my life’s work to continue to learn and contribute to the welfare of abused children and adults in the best way that I can. Can parents give what they have never experienced themselves? In other words, can they teach what they don’t know? I believe that some can and some will, while acknowledging that others yet will never have the chance to find out. My prayers are with these perfect little ones, both here and in Heaven.

And so we come to the purpose of my message, and it is hope. Hope comes in many shapes and forms and often of a magnitude that can educate en masse. I now introduce you to a significant organization which has dedicated itself to educate and protect innocent children from every nature of abuse you can possibly conjure up. Dreamcatchers for Abused Children is that agency, and they will help no matter the nature of the abuse or the location. They are a non-profit agency and depend on private funding to reach out. Naturally, I support this agency financially and in spirit.

It wasn’t until I got involved with their program in a very small way, that I discovered the many facts surrounding this, what I call epidemic behavior, worldwide. Some of these facts will absolutely astonish you and perhaps rip at your emotions, because you may know someone who fits the description but for whatever personal reason have been reluctant or unable to intervene. We just don’t know enough about that secret life behind closed doors to spur us into action, but I urge you to reach out if you suspect a child is in trouble. If you would close your eyes for just a moment and imagine being beaten with whatever weapon is handy and having the flesh torn from your body while screaming the words “I promise I will be better,” then a picture emerges of how it is for so many victims. Most such criminals, and that is what abusers are, will never be prosecuted, but by helping the victims at the root of their tragedy, we inspire hope and immense potential for carrying a positive message forward to the next generations to come.

Dreamcatchers for Abused Children may be contacted at:

A few thoughts to ponder as given to me from

• 1 in every 3 girls will be sexually molested before the age of 18
• 1 in every 6 boys will be sexually molested before the age of 18
• Every 10 seconds, a child is raped or killed in the U.S.
• Today, up to 5 children will die from abuse or neglect
• 85% of the 1.2 – 1.5 million runaways are fleeing abuse at home
• In 13 seconds, another child will be abused in the U.S.
• ONLY 28% of the children identified as harmed by abuse are investigated
• Today 6 children will commit suicide
• Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death (ages 15-24)
• The typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children– most of whom do not report the offense

Imagine the outcry if these statistics represented a disease, which was wiping out 5 children per day, victimizing millions, and whose by-products were disabilities and expanding violence. The good news is that many can find their way to a peaceful resolution if they NEVER GIVE UP, but if more people reach out to help, these new hands will be welcomed by Dreamcatchers and by the victims themselves.

Take my hand so that we can fight this thing called abuse together. It cycles in families, and if victims cannot find their way out, it can and most often does, keep on going.

Through life’s lessons, I have learned who I am. Through these lessons, I hope to share the roads I have walked so others won’t have to walk them alone.

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Reflections of Mamie-A Story of Survival
Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

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