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How to choose books for your unique avatar

What would  you choose if you wanted to take a picture of  a few of your favorite books, not more than seven inches wide when stood together? The names of two websites I like,  ‘Books ‘R Us’ and ‘Books Tell Us Why’, gave me the seeds of this idea for a new avatar. It would be right for the task, less random and superficial than a mug shot.

My books are shelved up- and down-stairs all over the house so it was a good exercise. Digital,  thumbed-over, dog-eared, faded, curled, moldy, soiled, frayed, ripped, incomplete, taped, sagging, spineless specimens wouldn’t do. I needed color and titles that would be attractive. What photogenic line-up could be readily assembled ?

After I’d made my choices and taken the shot, there seemed to be some categories and sense to it all. If you want to show who you are  by presenting a few books, for an avatar or any other reason, here are my tips. You have to love them because they are all of these things:

  • Useful: An indispensable reference book for your favorite passion or hobby
  • Fun: An entertaining, exciting novel or fantasy book that carries you away to another world
  • Shocking: A nonfiction exposé that stimulates your curiosity and thirst to get at the truth about what really happened
  • For the mind and soul: A book that is a mentor and idol to give you an intellectual boost and spiritual understanding
  • For social identity: A biographical history of a person or group  who align with your  own career path, background and type of  companions
  • From your family: A history or autobiography written by you or a relative

My books in the photo above are, from left to right:

  1. A collection of recipes which reflect my childhood and perpetual delight in good food, especially when cooked by loving people and served at communal events like harvest suppers, strawberry socials and silver teas. Someone suggested to me that ‘Who Cooked the Last Supper?’ might have been a better title than ‘Eating at Church.’
  2. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas. Hundreds of others would have done but only this one had a red cover, gold lettering and the sentimental value of having been a gift from my son when he was a boy.
  3. The Pagan Christ. As a willful (but good) minister’s daughter, I was always interested in the pagan customs and natural images unsuccessfully squelched but peculiarly integrated into Christianity.
  4.  Northrop Frye Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays 1974-88. My class notes of his lectures are included in those now appearing online for public access at, Robert D. Denham library collection.
  5. Sweet Sixteen, the story of the 16 irrepressible woman journalists who formed the first Canadian Women’s Press Club while on a privileged train trip to the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. I  belong to their renamed club.
  6. A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void (, the 20th century family memoir I wrote about my parents and me.

Are you books? What favorites would win your book contest? We love to get comments and browsers so please make yourself at home!



Happy Easter!

The simple joy of paper-napkin pop culture brightened kids of all ages. Here’s my nostalgic ‘Thank-you’ to trees and graphic artists.

Howdy. the show's about to begin

Howdy. the show’s about to begin

Good Morning, Mr. Neighbor, I presume those flowers are for me?

Good Morning, Mr. Neighbor, I presume those flowers are for me?

Now children -- one, two, three... Come, there is plenty of work to do.

Now children — one, two, three… Come, there is plenty of work to do.

Just zooming in. Come find all the eggs I'm burying.

Just zooming in. Come find all the eggs I’m burying.


What are you doing? Get down before you fall!


Hi! Tweet! Tweet!


The Spring Supper fills the church hall to overflowing for two sittings. Roast turkey with all the trimmings is the main dish, with members bringing them already cooked from home.

Roast Turkey

“It is all in the preparation.

“The turkey is washed clean and dried. The giblets are
removed and cooked in water, eaten at leisure, and as a base
for the gravy.

“The bird is stuffed at both ends with the dressing (see below),
sealed up with metal pins and placed on a rack in the roasting
pan. The turkey is covered in a thin layer of olive oil-based
margarine, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

“Place it in the oven with water in the roasting pan and no
cover for the first 30-45 minutes; then cover and cook for the
desired length of time (until the legs are very loose). Remove
cover again for the last 15 minutes until golden brown.”

Turkey Dressing

“Fresh and/or stale bread is left out for a couple of hours
before tearing and crumbling by hand. A mix of brown and
white bread is always good. Always make more than you think
you will need.

“Chop two or three good-sized onions, as well as two or three
garlic buds. Add to bread.

“Mix together the usual blending of spices which is never the
same but always the same – marjoram, sage, poultry
seasoning, celery salt, sea salt and pepper. How much? you
ask. Until it smells good and looks right and darkens the
bread. Then add a small quantity of olive oil and some
margarine until all the bread is slightly moist. That’s as good
as it gets for describing quantities for any of the ingredients.

“As stated above, stuff the bird fairly tightly and let the
cooking begin!”

Rev. Steve Lawson

Turkey Gravy

“Have Steve remove the turkey from the roasting pan. Place
roasting pan on stove on medium-high heat.

“In Tupperware Quick Shake container (or glass jar with tight
lid) vigorously mix together 1 cup flour with 2 cups cold water.

“Slowly pour into pan with drippings and mix with a wire
whisk until it begins to thicken. As it thickens, slowly add
water. Alternately stir and add liquid, maintaining the desired
consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.” Kell Virany

“The Past, the Present and the Future went into a bar…” An Irish joke and a new mystery thriller, High Crimes, come  from Dublin author David Lawlor just in time for St. Patrick’s day.

All about historical fiction

David Lawlor authors the very intriguing blog, History with a Twist. It’s full of stories about unexpected events and people, what David calls ‘celebrating the bit players of history’. When I discovered that David’s latest novel has a contemporary setting, I asked him to provide his perspective on the differences he experienced in the writing historical fiction versus contemporary. Here he is to tell us about it.


I heard a joke the other day, which seems quite apt right now – The Past, The Present and The Future walk into a bar … it was tense. Okay, it may not be the best joke ever but as someone who has been writing about the past for quite a while now and who has just dipped his toe into the modern world with my latest novel, I liked that joke.

Tan by David LawlorUp to now, my books have been set in the…

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Harmonizing and singing along with a barber shop quartet in Yuma.

Harmonize and sing along with a barber shop quartet in Yuma.

Walking with the stars in Hollywood.

Walk with the stars in Hollywood.

Cozying up in Pebble Beach on a drive along the Pacific Highway from San Francisco to San Diego.

Cozy up in Pebble Beach along the Pacific Highway between San Francisco and San Diego.

Visiting the ranch of friends in the Sierras. Now you know where Windows got its desktop picture.

Visit a ranch in the Sierras. Now you know where Windows got its desktop picture.

Skiing in Sante Fe. It's free if you've still got legs and can breathe at a high altitude after age 72.

Ski in Sante Fe. It’s free if you’ve still got legs and can breathe at a high altitude after age 72.

Stop to talk to Terry Fox in Thunder Bay as you head west towards the US on the Trans Canada Highway. A relapse stopped his cross-continent run on his artificial leg to raise money for cancer.

Stop at Terry Fox’s statue in Thunder Bay on the Trans Canada Highway. The teen-ager’s cross-continent run on an artificial leg to raise funds for cancer was aborted when it returned.

#Yuma #ThunderBay #Sierras #Hollywood #PebbleBeach #SantaFe #TransCanadaHighway #MargaretKellVirany #seniorsroadtrip #seethecontinent #roadtour #barbershopquartet #skiing

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

Margaret Langstaff

Writers, if you are struggling, you are not alone. It’s the typical state of mind for a serious writer! I stumbled on this and thought it worth sharing here. No endorsements intended or implied. Just food for thought and a few reasons to smile.

From Thought Catalog

1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway

2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy

3. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

4. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at…

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“We are living in a dying culture where the reading of classics is not being encouraged by modern-day parents.”

This book is a sequel to the previous volume in this series, the award-winning Classics: Why We Should Encourage Children to Read Them. In this installment, Pathan explores various techniques that can encourage children to read classic works of literature, and she makes it a fun task for the student instead of being a chore.

Pathan describes a multitude of techniques and methods that she developed in the course of her teaching career in her native India that could be used to interest young children in reading classics. One of the many techniques discussed in detail is the Compare Old with the New Method, where the students…

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Making a living wage selling books on the sidewalk outside a book store for four hours on a hot, busy Saturday is not easy but can be done with the right tools and approach.

Brittons Book Store    pPoto by Amanda D,

Brittons Book Store, 846 Bank Street, Ottawa. Photo by Amanda D.,

Here’s what worked for me:

  • 1. A sandwich board with my name and title on it put outside early in the morning so people knew I was coming and slowed down when they saw I was there.
    2. Being conspicuous by wearing a red dress, and my wide-brimmed, wacky, khaki hat to keep the sun off.
    3. A table and cloth with a dozen of my books neatly displayed (one turned over to show the back cover blurb), bookmarks, business cards and my best pen — to show I was a professional signer!
    4. A stool. This was the key. Store owner Ted Britton had provided it for me to sit on.If you look at the outdated picture above, I was in the shady alcove to your left. All my prospects were scurrying by, picking up provisions so they could get on with their real day. I soon realized I should stand and leave the stool at the side for a customer to sit on while we chatted. A seat in the shade was a good come-on. If I wanted to sit in order to put the customer at ease, I could use the window ledge behind me.
    5. An ‘elevator pitch’ (what you would tell a stranger about your book if you went up in an elevator together.) I was ready to blurt it out in a concrete, interesting, enthusiastic, friendly way. I found that dropping clue words like ‘war’, ‘college’, ‘up north’, ‘my parents’, ‘letters left to me’ resonated and started a conversation.
    6. Eye-ing the circumference. On my left I could stop people going in and out of the bookstore. It was better to get them going in and at least have them promise to stop on the way out. To my left and my right I watched who was coming and going and tried to catch the eye of anyone who looked at all relaxed and sympathetic. I saw two women who I thought were likely prospects and I was right. One of them was the wife of a member of my writers’ group and had already read my book!
    7. Saying “Hello” to everyone. This usually was not enough but one young woman who was in tears quickly collapsed onto the stool and told me she was having a bad day. She did not buy a book but when her boyfriend came by with her dog (that must have been the problem!) he said he was interested and picked up a bookmark before they rushed off happily.
    8. Framing a good invitation question. Making a gesture towards the stool and saying, “Won’t you take a moment to find out about my book?” worked best for me. At first I started by saying, “If you have a minute …” but it was too easy for someone to answer, “No I don’t.” The pace of life is really fast these days; some people were honestly in a rush to catch a bus or get the food home to the fridge. Others were impenetrable because they buried their heads  in their iPods or smartphones.
    9. Being ready to talk about anything. The dilemma of loving to read from hard cover books but not having room to buy any more is on many people’s minds. Several told me they are not on the internet and don’t plan to learn to use a computer, although they are tempted to get a cell phone because it is cheaper than a land phone.
    10. Closing sales with customers who felt something in common with my family history book:
  • a woman my age who remembers both world wars
  • a middle-aged poet and Methodist minister’s daughter who planned to read the book before giving it to her Aunt Muriel
  • a retired man who told me his stories about his checkered college career and successful children
  • a young woman who simply knew she would like the book as soon as she saw the cover and listened to  my ‘elevator pitch’
  • a friend who knew about the signing and came to buy a book

11. Friends and contacts. Thank you friends from the Ottawa Independent Writers Club, particularly Dr. John Last, for supporting me and buying my book. My take home pay for five books was $80, with $20 having been deducted for the privilege of selling in the store and using their services. Copies of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void remain for sale on the shelves, in case some of the 100 or so people I talked to come back to buy a copy.

12. A supportive bookstore owner. Ted Britton goes all out to make his book store a wonderful haven for book buyers and authors. He played a CD of dance music from the world war two era while I was there and started to interview me over the heads of his browsers so people would be aware of what I was doing there.

It was my second book-signing at his store. In fact, the first two men I spoke to turned me down with the best of all possible excuses. They had bought my book the last time I was there, four years ago! That ‘s what I call a steady clientele. Book stores are a wonderful institution and they don’t come any better than Ted Britton’s.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

The girl in this picture could have been Fiza Pathan, now a 25-year-old teacher and writer from Mumbai. Instead, today she is publishing  her novella Nirmala, The Mud Blossom on Kindle.

The cover of Fiza Pathan's new Kindle book

The cover of Fiza Pathan’s new Kindle book

Pathan just celebrated the first anniversary of Classics: Why We Should Encourage Our Children to Read Them.

Due largely to hard promotional work in the social media, it has been a great success during the year, selling hundreds of copies worldwide and engaging parents and children in choosing the classics that are just right for them. This can empower them individually and help save the world.

Nirmala, The Mud Blossom cries out on behalf of thousands of slum children who are abandoned to filth and poverty in the big cities of India. The scourges of prejudice against girls, communicable diseases, domestic brutality, hunger, infestations, street crimes and hatred scream for kindness, attention and reform.

Pathan’s own life story began with her mother being ordered by her father-in-law to remove herself and her baby girl from his house because she had not produced a male grandchild. Consolation for the little girl came from books in the school library where her mother left her while busy teaching. Today, when Pathan writes about books, she is talking about the living friends of her childhood, the dreams, the ambitions and the view of the world she formed when so young and sensitive.

From books, she discovered herself, particularly in the horror-filled, bloody Dracula. When Pathan shows a precocious mastery of many genres — fable, poetry, short story, novel, non fiction, essay — it is because she is at home with the best writers in all those genres. When she delves right into deep passions and bloody scenarios it is because that is where she is coming from. Her writing has a special quality; her works on Amazon are ‘must- reads.’

Like others before her (even the Angel Gabriel exhorted Muhammed to “Read!”), Pathan seeks to define the essence of reading and why the world must have it. She wants to engage other twenty-somethings and younger readers in saving the world through books and writing “a brave new story for mankind.”

I highly recommend Nirmala, The Mud Blossom as a compelling read. No one with a heart can come away from it without being changed. You will feel the pain and the love behind every word and image, Pathan identifies herself so strongly with her creations. You will have to give of yourself and no doubt end up being a more empathetic person, more likely to help save the world, for it.

As for my anniversary gift, it is a big bundle of love, congratulations and wishes for continued success in your writing, teaching and life, Fiza!

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!


MargBookSurgeA woman (me) whose life World War One created, not destroyed will chat with customers and sign copies of her family/social history books at Britton’s Glebe in Ottawa on Aug. 9. Bookstore owner Ted Britton, an avid supporter of veterans, Canadian history, local authors and events for his customers, is in sync with the start of the WWI Centennial Anniversary. 

Canada, as part of the Commonwealth, was ‘in’ when Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 2014.The United States stayed neutral until three years later.The book signing at 846 Bank Street will go from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., when the vibrant neighborhood is alive with shoppers.

My father enlisted in the Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve and was invited to tea at my grandfather’s house in Portsmouth, England.Nine years later my mother started to write to him — but I wouldn’t want to spoil the story by telling you what happened next. They courted like a romantic hero and heroine and lived their life together like a book, as if what they did was for others. All I had to do was put the pieces together after I got into the letters, journals and photos they left behind.
Only 19 copies are left of the original edition of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void which went with me to the Frankfurt Book Fair and was exhibited as one of the earliest BookSurge POD books in 2003. I will also take orders for Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, the abridged e-book version of the story, with 12 authentic pictures and no subtitle.
Please come if you can. It will be nice to chat with you and the worst thing that could happen is that you might inadvertently buy a book — or maybe that would be the best in the long run!

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void,  Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon,  Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!