What’s in a fence?

Hardly a week goes by without a comment from a passerby about the colourful front to house, here on a tranquil neighbourhood street in southwest Calgary. I tell the story of the fence and Lois’ artistry. 

Walking and pedalling traffic has increased so dramatically during Covid-19. Our house faces on to a park, recreation grounds, two schools, and a dry pond, the key feature of which is a 750 meter paved pathway ringed by wonderful sloping banks which provide giddy enjoyment for the young at heart, summer and winter. These days we young and not so young walking the neighbourhood. So many dogs, too that I wonder where they all live. Bicycles galore, from sliders to electric, sstrollers large and small. It is

Back to the fence. 

The western side of our property was enclosed by a typical six-foot wooden fence when we moved in during the mid-90s. It was a reddish-brown structure showing the ravages of time. Many times I went out and shored by perilously leaning posts, keeping it whole for one more year. We repainted it a couple of times in the hope the fresh stain would keep it stable.

Lois painted brilliant gaillardia flowers on the section fronting the driveway. It looked good, and the occasional passerby would comment on how much they enjoyed it.

We put on a brave face about a decade ago and after lots humming and hawing, replaced the fence with a lovely white vinyl job, no maintenance.

What we didn’t expect were the comments about making sure we put the flowers back. We even got comments from teachers at the nearby junior high school to add flowers. People stop their cars and lean out the window to say how much they like our frontage. One woman said that she used to flower fence to tell people where she lived. “I tell them to turn right at the house with the flowers on the fence,” she said.

Repainting presented a challenge for Lois. Would her acrylic artist paints adhere to the vinyl surface? Her tests showed that it needed a gesso base coat.

And so, new bright golden and red gaillardias bloom again. Then we added gaillardias to the front door panels, and again to the sill of the studio deck, supporting the wrought-iron railings and their silhouetted native New Zealand bird, the pukeko.

We hear often how people enjoy seeing the “sunflowers”  each time they pass. Ok, no worries, the plant is a member of the sunflower family, and is also known as a blanket flower. We enjoy seeing it in the wild in our provincial parks and foothills’ roadsides. 

A Queen in time

The Queen’s special broadcast today brought back a vivid memory of my youth, a 67-year-old memory, the year of my 13th birthday. 

Today, we set aside a few minutes to see and hear the Queen’s Covid-19 address streamed on our iPad. 

This was a far, far different scene to the day I sat with my family, huddled round the household’s one radio, to hear her Christmas broadcast from Auckland, New Zealand. 

That broadcast had a sombre conclusion as not 24 hours earlier the country experienced its worst-ever rail disaster at Tangiwai, in the lower part of the North Island.

Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, a locomotive and carriages dived headlong into the river when a lahar flood knocked out the bridge piers. And 151 people perished. 

It was a tragic introduction to the country’s first visit by a reigning monarch. 

We received the appalling news on Christmas Day via the radio, that news link to the whole country as newspapers did not publish on Christmas Day. (Television did not arrive in the main centres until 1960.)  

The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in New Zealand by the chartered Royal Yacht SS Gothic. They stayed in the country until January 31, travelling the length and breadth by car, train, and plane before reuniting with their ship at the southernmost part of the country. All told, more than three-quarters of the population must have turned out to see them. 

Prince Philip amended his itinerary to take part in a state funeral for many of the rail disaster victims.

1953 was a landmark year in other ways for me as an adventurous 12-year-old living in the shadow of wonderful Mt Taranaki. I’d followed the conquest of Mt Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tensing. And yes, I still have my scrapbook documenting the world shattering news of that achievement on May 29 just a few days before Queen Elizabeth 11’s coronation on June 2, the actual day the epic news hit London.

Untying knots

Bad move. I suggested that Lois might reduce her wardrobe by a couple of closets. I reminded her of that old saw  “buy one, discard two”. Her tight-lipped response: “Do your own.”

This came on top of a blog I’d read by a long time pal Sukumar Nayar who talked about that elegant item of maledom in his Subtext website. Sukumar and I first met back in the 70s in the small Peace Country’s City of Grande Prairie. He at the Regional College and me city editor of the Daily Herald-Tribune. Apart from the fun of writing, and daily newspapers, we hung out on the backstage side at vibrant Little Theatre productions, ideal pursuits during a prairie winter.

But, back to Sukumar’s downsize initiative by opening his closet to discard whatever was not in regular use. The rack of ties attracted his attention.

That got me thinking and this week I ventured into the back of my closet and retrieved two racks of ties: 26 versions of everyday ties including a few whimsicals, eight corporates and four bow ties. This represents about half of my 55-year working life. 

As Sukumar said, it should be easy to get rid of them because I hate ties. I presume that like most fellows we wore ties because we had to. It was part of office life in the shadow of the British connection. I was 17 when I reported for my first job as a young newspaper reporter in my home town of New Plymouth, New Zealand. I’d spent my earnings from milking cows and baling hay on a pair of dress trousers, a sports jacket, two white shirts and a tie recommended to me by a high school classmate.

For me, ties were the lot of a daily newspaper journalist and as publisher of the Fort McMurray TODAY newspaper. Then came life in Mobil and my Pegasus ties that took me to many parts of the world in my career with that company in New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Pegasus adorns the Mobil corporate tie.

All that came to a good conclusion in 2000 when I discarded ties forever and bought a commercial print shop to round out my daily working life. I rewarded my neck in the clothing sense though not in the banking sense. My neck and I made it through though and with today’s rummage I wonder if I can still tie a Windsor knot or hand tie a bow tie. There’s always Youtube.

Sukumar writes: “I hate ties.  I am convinced that it is a brutal infliction on the body, and I suspect that Eve invented this to punish Adam.  One day, during a tiff, possibly because the apple pie that Adam baked was not up to par, Eve stripped the bark off a tree (a fig tree, perhaps) and strung it around his neck and dragged him around.  He being the weaker of the two (remember he was one rib short) succumbed to the punishment.

“Suddenly I was hit with a desire to find out more about this aberration and having shelved the idea of downsizing I went to the bottomless source of information, the Google. And what I found out is fascinating.

“The Chinese did it!!

“The earliest known version of the necktie has been found in the massive mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who was buried in 210 B.C. Desperately afraid of death, the emperor wanted to slaughter an entire army to accompany him into the next world.  His advisers ultimately persuaded him to take life-size replicas of the soldiers instead.  The result is one of the marvels of the ancient world.  Unearthed in 1974 near the ancient capital city of Xian, the tomb contained an astonishing 7500 terracotta statues. Legions of officers, soldiers, archers and horsemen, all carved in meticulous detail, guard the emperor’s sarcophagus.

081817_bb_terracotta-army_main_free.jpg“The armour, uniforms, hair, and facial expressions of the soldiers are
reproduced in exquisite detail.  Each figure is different—except in one aspect.

“They all wear neck cloths!!!

“The next probable appearance of the neckcloth was in 113 A.D.  Trajan, one of Rome’s greatest emperors, erected a marble column to commemorate the triumphant victory over the Dacians, who lived in what is now Romania.  The 2500 realistic figures on the column sported no less than three different styles of neckwear. These include the shorter versions of the modern necktie: cloth wound around the neck and tucked into the armour and knotted kerchiefs reminiscent of cowboy bandanas.”

And so the story goes. Sukumar closes his tie discourse by mentioning that Louis XIV—the Sun King—of France was intrigued and delighted by the colourful silk kerchiefs worn around the necks of Croatian mercenaries. The French word for a tie, cravat, is a corruption of ‘Croat’. 

My friend’s rescue came in the person of  the British actor David Niven who in one of his earlier movies, sported an ascot or cravat, “giving the word ‘debonair’ a new meaning. In no time flat, I acquired several of those life savers. Ah, the joy of open collars!”

Thanks, pal. I’ve removed my collection from the closet and tucked them neatly into a box. Their fate is unknown. What does a person do with outgrown ties? I very much doubt they are a garage sale item. The lady Lois says they can be repurposed.

Oh well, at least they are out of the closet.

(My grateful thanks to Sukumar Nayar https://sukumarnayar.wordpress.com)

 

Signs of spring!

Today has been pretty special for two reasons:

Sunshine, almost blue skies, above zero temperatures, and I’m back in my garden writing studio.

Our friendly neighbourhood northern flicker was at his drumming best this morning with each rat-a-tat-tat on the steel chimney cap being followed with long hearty laughter. Yep, this guy or gal wants everyone to recognise his/her territory and that a mate could be welcome. This bird is a sure sign of spring to us.

I’m out in the studio to apply myself to The Empty Envelope, my novel in progress.

Motivation to get cracking has been low, so after my comment in the previous blog I’ve had a strong reminder from Theo Tuckmitt that he is the protagonist. This means that Felix Willoughby is off the page for now.

My first day this year in the garden studio has been very fruitful in that I’ve had a big cleanup of various notes relating to structure and idle thoughts as I’ve doodled through wintry days. I haven’t had a lot of drive to build the new story mainly because I look at the pile of previous novels looking for readers (ie buyers).

I love creating the stories and completing a full-length book and sharing my drafts with excellent family mentors (ex-senior high school teachers) before submitting to my capable editor Nancy Mackenzie, maybe a couple of beta readers and then the line-by-line edits of my publisher.

It’s a long process and I’m promising myself that The Empty Envelope will be published in time to celebrate the start of a new decade in my little life.

So here we go, folks. Exactly two weeks to the spring equinox on March 19. That’s right, the earliest it has been in 124 years.

I wonder . . .

I love this picture of our great granddaughter Eleanor Lois Fukuda, down on the farm at Patricia, Alberta, north of Brooks. It says so much.

The wonderment of a one-year-old’s perspective, a wee tot who has discovered her ability to stand on two legs. Tiny steps on tiny feet. Maybe the thrill of grabbing the sill and hoisting herself up for a new view of her world.

I wonder what she sees? Is it just a frosty morning, fresh snow on the trees? Are there birds finding sanctuary in the branches? Is there a deer, a bush bunny, hare, or even a dog?

I wonder how we might view our world, near and far, with open eyes?

I wonder what this week will bring for our family, at Patricia, in Calgary, AB, in Sooke BC, in New Plymouth, New Zealand?

I wonder what our friends and neighbours are up to as we countdown to the shortest (or maybe longest) day of the year, Christmas and New Year.

I wonder what our politicians are up to, civic, provincial and federal?

I wonder about the poor folks involved in New Zealand’s tragic White Island eruption?

I wonder at the effect of the Trump impeachment process on Canada?

I wonder at the impact of UK politics?

I wonder about marketing and sales of my new novel Beginnings at the End of the Road? I wonder who might read and enjoy the story?

I wonder how I might write and finance the new book gradually taking early shape in this computer?

Yes, I wonder what the 2020 will bring, that hope and faith we have, a new respect and tolerance for each other.

Thanks, Eleanor, that I might look out my window. What do I see: the missteps of days gone or the new steps as I pace into this day that I’ve been given by the grace of God.

I wonder . . .

Ta Da

Big, bright and beautiful. A nice new banner to herald my new novel. Terrific artwork by Lois to fit the story. I’ll have an excerpt up as soon as I can figure out how to add it to this website. This banner was created by the designers at my publisher Westbow Press.

I’ve checked a few online stores and Beginnings (hardcover and paperback) is available online at Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Fishpond, Abebooks and MightyApe. Varying pricing. Not sure where the ebook is yet, but it will be available soon.

Dashing to the bookstore

I love calm sunny days. I love the warmth and the smell of the garden. This is how my new week should start out but instead I feel like the leaves on the lawn, tossed to and fro, up and down by the gusting winds. And today, buried under piles of fresh snow.

Silly isn’t it.

Front cover that includes artwork by my favourite person, Lois.

Woohoo! Beginnings at the End of the Road, my third novel  is now available in all online bookstores around the world (such as Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Fishpond and Barnes and Noble). I’m excited, nervous, pleased, tense and all that emotional stuff that goes with getting a new novel out on the street.

Whew! Been a long ride. I think of the family and friends who have helped with solid advice and encouragement. I mentioned to a good pal the other day that the writing is easy (ahem), the marketing tough, and paying the bills really, really rough. Within days the novel will be available in every online bookstore around the world. Amazing and scary that almost three years spent creating, drafting, editing, worry, stress, rewriting and enjoying the intricate and close fellowship of my characters will bloom in readers hands.

Ya-a-ay, I say. T’is done. And my publisher Westbow Press has it out in time for Black Friday, Christmas shopping, winter reading, and summer beach time.

Here’s a peek at the back cover blurb, that place we flip to for insight into what is contained in the 370 pages.

 Brandon Silverberry was an eleven-year-old stricken with polio when he rescued a man from drowning. Although it has been thirty years since the event, Brandon still remembers it like it was yesterday. When he receives an unexpected gift from the man, Brandon’s ordinary life as a master baker is turned upside down. Now he must undock from his stable, sheltered existence and discover the call this endowment has placed on his life.

Overwhelmed with a beautiful home, large property, and hefty bank account, Brandon does his best to adjust to a new life. Buoyed by God’s love and the indomitable spirit he gained during his years battling polio, Brandon vacillates between unexpected reality and memories of bullies, loss, and physical limitations. Now, as his journey leads him to meet a disparate group of characters all seeking to belong, Brandon’s life comes full circle as he realizes the inspirational symbolism behind a vintage bicycle.

More about all this when life comes back to normal.

 

Dakota days

We have a dog!

Dakota’s arrival on our doorstep is the latest development around our place of a most exciting week. We’re into the fourth day with our four-legged friend and she seems to be settling into her new, and very temporary, digs. We do have to be careful where we step as she follows us everywhere, bathroom included. 

This hitherto outdoorsy dog in now a very indoorsy pal. The walled garden is not to her liking. She likes to let everyone know where she is, hidden in a gated landscape. When not snuffling round the lawns she sits on the back deck and woofs at pretty well anything that moves: cyclists, vehicles, pedestrians, school kids, dog walkers, and yes even leaves hustling along the roadway. 

I’m sure we’ll get used to her. She’s quite lovely to have around and has decided the best place for the night is on her cushion bed in a corner of our bedroom. 

Two birthdays — my 79th and granddaughter Veronica’s 30th — meshed with Thanksgiving festivities at the weekend. 

That exciting, companionable time followed Friday’s news that my new novel Beginnings at the End of the Road, is now in design phase. I expect more news from my publisher as soon as the end of this week.

And if all that is not enough excitement for this household, we see today the results of  our neighbour’s adventure into a total revamp of their street frontage. 

“OK, Dakota. I get it. Walk time!”

Bookshelves that surprise

The best surprises come at the oddest of times and in unexpected places, like the washroom I spoke of in my previous blog. I gravitate towards the used book racks in out of the way places on the off chance I’ll find a gem. That happened in Kaeo, New Zealand. It’s a fascinating little town, so full of history and for the traveller a good place to snag a ubiquitous kiwi meat pie.  

My soon-to-be-published novel Beginnings at the End of the Road is the story of Brandon Silverberry, a baker turned gardener who listens to God and develops his estate lands to help others.  The heart of the story grows from Brandon’s teenage days as a polio sufferer.

Imagine the size of my smile when I spotted Over My Dead Body by June Opie at the back of a very colourful local knickknack store. It was an instant buy ($3.00 I recall) of this 1957 long out of print book with its mellowed pages by a young woman widely known because of her illness.

Ms. Opie spent her early life just an hour’s drive north of where I grew up. Her story chronicles her arrival in London from a sea voyage from New Zealand in the late 1950s only to end up in a London hospital paralyzed except for one eyelid. It’s a sobering, yet inspiring read.

We spent a lot of time up at the beach at Mokau earlier this year. It is a wonderful getaway place, miles of sandy beaches and rolling surf. The village features a small museum that houses a feature on Ms. Opie and her family. The family graves are prominent in the cemetery high on the cliff overlooking the sea.

The editing phase of Brandon was well underway by the time I got to read Over My Dead Body so it thrilled me to learn that my new book conveys the flavour of a polio sufferer’s fight. In January, while I waiting in the hospital for a blood test, I came across another booklet about the polio sufferers of my home province of Taranaki, We Can Do Anything, the work of Shirley Hazelwood, herself a polio sufferer. All good background.

Westbow Press will publish Beginnings at the End of The Road. I’m expecting the final editorial work back any week now. My author review will take a couple of weeks and then it goes into the design and production cycle. My hope and prayer are that we’ll see a brand new book for Christmas buying.

Wayside washroom

On my recent sojourn in New Zealand, the land of my birth, I came across the neatest and most fascinating public washroom ever. It was located on the main street in the tiny east coast settlement of Kaeo in the Far North District, 270 km north of Auckland. It is only 165 km from this town to the very tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.

Kaeo has been around a long time, first settled by the Maori in the 1770s or thereabouts. Its had its share of ups and downs, floods and fortunes and is now home to about 450 people. And from the brief time we spent there, I can agree with the town motto: Small town; big spirit.

Back to the unisex washroom, bilingual with very definite views on washroom etiquette that leave little doubt as to what is expected. Users are first met by the country’s ubiquitous pukeko, a swamp bird that rivals the kiwi in popular appearances.

Further use and instructions are obvious for all users.

 

 

 

 

Garden Gymnastics

The fascination of a treed private garden as we have here in our Calgary, Alberta, home is what comes to visit through the various seasons. We have what might be called a walled garden in that there’s a six-foot-high fence all the way around. This sorts out the large from the small as in deer cannot get in, but birds, squirrels, and even bobcats can. It is possible also that a skunk might intrude as well yet I dare not even entertain that idea.

Pine siskin readies for a drink

Birds and squirrels keep me intrigued at present as I work away here in my garden studio. I try and keep my focus on the keyboard and the ceiling (looking for stray ideas) avoiding the gymnastics at the bird feeder, the plays under and around the feeder and the gaiety at the birdbath.

The weather has a definite autumnal feel. Do I dare this thought? Good grief, schools do not return until Tuesday!

Back to gymnastics. Last week the sparrow population increased rapidly, and I think the rain has caused the pine siskin population to explode making it difficult for the more resident chickadees and nuthatches to get their nourishment at the sunflower seed-filled

Pine siskin crowd the feeder

feeder. We get the special chickadee and nuthatch mix from the Wild Bird Store. It works for these other fellows as well like today’s visit by a large flicker who hung by his boots and tried to peck his way into the portholes. Trouble is he was too heavy at the ports locked down. Last week a downy woodpecker got his fill and we’ve also been visited by a great cloud of grosbeaks. You can see, it’s a fun time.

It is the antics of the pine siskin

Waiting his turn

though that keep us amused, whether at the feeder or their splash pool. They duck and dive, challenge each other, perch on any available wire, twig or garden ornament to get what they want.

Underneath all this are the squirrels. I do not have a strong liking for the black and grey squirrels yet as I look out the window right now there are three blacks and three greys vying for the spillage from the feeder. Harrison, our resident red squirrel (at half their size) has all but given up chasing these interlopers from the yard. For several days he has chased them up the oak or cherry trees and across the house roof. They return five minutes later via the spruce trees and wooden section of fence. Acorns a ready for eating on the oak and we hear the blue jays raucous calls throughout the day. They have tried their luck at the feeder but hanging on and accessing the portholes is a bit of a challenge.

Harrison, guardian of the garden.

 

 

The last laugh

Two days ago I took the bold step of discouraging our resident red squirrel from his single-track connection between his house under the writing studio to the fallout area beneath the bird feeder.

Lois and I had tried several different combinations to divert young Harrison and encourage alternate routes to prevent the highway in the lawn. He was not persuaded and remained laser-like in his quest to stock the winter larder with maybe a hundred or more trips a day.

Yesterday I staked his pathway with bright yellow caution tape. He kept an eye on the whole operation from the nearby oak. Once I’d completed the rudimentary barrier, he bounced across the grass and inspected the new barrier to food. I sighed that smile of victory when I saw him take the long route, across a couple of gardens, patio stones and back again. He sure is busy. And all day long.

Digressing a second here, the blocked highway was the same one Henrietta (his mother, I presume) used over the past five years. Henrietta is not with us this year. I assume Harrison is male simply because there is no visible sign of motherhood — yet. I must say that our experience with these critters is for the most part positive. They aggressively banish the twice-the-size black and grey squirrels who dare to stop by for a free feed.

Back to my story. Imagine our surprise this afternoon as we note the faint beginnings of a parallel track forming one foot south from the caution tape.

Oh well.

Must be the heat

With Calgary into the mid-30s temperatures today the grand daughters (aided and abetted by their mother) decided this was a day for the septuagenarians to try out the Skyline Luge at the city’s Winsport Olympic Park.

Originating in New Zealand in 1985, the summer luge track runs alongside the Olympic track (1988). It twists and turns for 1.8 kilometres down the hill. It drops over 100 metres and is billed as the world longest luge track.

I gotta say it’s a blast. Go as fast or as slow as you like on the single seater wheeled sled. Speed is controlled by the steering arm.  What amazed us  was the very young age of some of the lugers. One little guy had to have a spell just to rest his arms. Others zipped past so fast I wondered how they could make the turns on the gravity track.

Chairlift to the top under sunny blue skies.

Chairlift to the top under sunny blue skies.

Instruction before the run down. How to steer and how to go and stop.

Instruction before the run down. How to steer and how to go and stop.

Whew! Gramma in the chutes at the end of her second ride!

Whee! Gramma in the chutes at the end of her second ride!