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. 

Covid days

Nanking cherry blossom

This afternoon I’m imagining myself on safari. I’m sitting out on the breezes at a bench behind a now isolated junior high school. I look for the wonders of my neighbourhood during this pandemic stuff, solitary, but not alone. Lois is excited about her garden and I watch her daily rounds, talking to plants, and share her delight at the fresh shoots of magical growth that follows a few days of heavy rain.

I maintain my two kilometre walk around the perimeter of the park across the road and around the paved track in the $17 million dry pond we have. Naturally there’s no water in it yet, seven after a four-day rainfall that produced as much for this city as we get in the merry month of May.

My imagination is a bit too exotic I think so maybe this day is a “botari” where all I can see is green, green grass and a host of golden dandelions. Beautiful really, though I wonder how Wordsworth would have seen it. 

Today is like this, Will: I wandered lonely as a bee/flitting beneath a cloud-filled sky/when round a corner I saw a field/a crowd of golden dandelions.

Something like that. The little golden heads are everywhere. ‘Tis spring on the prairies for sure.

From this you learn how I get my jollies. In the past two months Lois and I have contributed much to the cause of climate change, rarely venturing out in our auto.

Peas power out of the soil

A mere two hundred kilometres, well, since January at least. That certainly boosted the 2000 kilometres of the past 18 months or so. Even our trusty Jeep dealer came and collected the vehicle, took it back to the shop, changed the tires to summer, gave it a lube, and returned to my driveway, face-masked, gloved and wiping down the steering wheel, gearshift and door handles. 

We are so fortunate to have a couple of daughters living within blocks of us. They see to our weekly grocery shopping, ensure the delivery of fresh garden supplies from curbside pickup, and collect and deliver our water cooler refills.

Waiting for the coral bells (heuchera)

We’re so glad that technology allows us regular face time with rellies in New Zealand, and that we can keep up with events at our church, including the weekly Sunday service, like this week, relaxing in the sun with fresh coffee while the pastor gave his message. Brilliant.

I tell Lois about my discoveries today’s meander such as the snowshoe hares in the parking lot still showing their winter coat under the merging summer fluff. Then there are the little guys speeding their bicycles around the paved path in the dry pond. This pathway is a boon to parents who, under watchful eyes, allow their kidlets the freedom to enjoy the safety it offers. It makes me wonder where else they would cycle with such abandon in this neighbourhood.

Double cherry blossom.

Russian almond

Busy day in the neighbourhood

Bit of a dull day, really. You know cloudy, windy. No sun. Snow in the forecast. Not a lot of activity around the bird feeder. Most of the afternoon, it was absent the sunny day show of avian gymnastics when chickadees and nuthatches vie for a position in any of the six portholes. Then again, mostly it just a case of one fellow not wanting to share. The nuthatch hangs upside down on the oak tree, neck outstretched, waiting for a straight-line zap to the roost.

Over the fence though, Covid-19 prompted a far different story in these unreal times of lockdowns and social distancing. I have never, in the almost 25 years we have lived here, seen so many people out walking the streets. The pavement on two sides of the house has seen a steady stream of ones and twos, of families, couples and singles, all ages, bicycles from tot pedals to fat tyre, strollers from big three wheelers to sedate covered four wheels. From puffer coats and toques to shorts and ball caps; masks, backpacks and snugglies; polers and joggers; sidewalkers and random street walkers.

Yep, a busy day in the little neighbourhood. We’ve seen more people than dogs, which is a change. Cars have had to stop at the crosswalk, even. 

On Friday and Saturday I put a table out in the drive and displayed a few of my books on it. I thought that with bookstores and libraries closed folk feeling isolated might like something fresh to read. I offered the books free for the taking. Before placing the books, I took care to clean the table top with bleach cloths and scrubbed my hands in soapy water before picking up and placing the books.

The result of my gift to the neighbourhood was 31 books found new owners. The novel Uncharted was the most popular at 12, the novel Finding Dermot went to 10 new owners, and the memoir Tide Cracks and Sastrugi went to nine. You can read about these books on my website at www.graemeconnell.com 

Of course, there was a subtle promotion tucked inside each book in the form of a bookmark for Beginnings at the End of the Road, the novel published by Westbow Press in October last year.

I beat Lois in the wordgame Upwords yesterday and quietly declined a rematch today. Son-in-law Greg delivered a grocery request at more than two arms’ length at the front door, much to the delight of a couple of passers-by.

Distancing has its fun moments. 

Farm life says yes!

True sign of spring when life down on the farm makes the announcement. Granddaughter Veronica sent me this picture today of the first arrival at the Fukuda family farm down at Patricia, Alberta, north of Brooks.

This little guy is the first of about 300. Life will be busy for sure, whatever the weather, whatever the social distractions we face here in the city during the vital health cautions we have day to day.

Great grandson George, almost four, was out with his da Ray checking the herd this morning while I shovelled snow off the driveway here in Calgary.

A virus and Vegemite

Breakfast at our house toasted homemade bread and Vegemite.

I heard the comment this morning among the very depleted supermarket shelves that “we’ve never seen it like this.” It brought a smile and a swift recollection of the post WW11 polio epidemic in New Zealand.

While that was not the worst polio epidemic in that country it affected us little guys in that schools were closed and we did our schoolwork around the dining room table as we ate our morning toast and Vegemite and listened to a correspondence school over the radio. That’s about as much detail as I can recall. Polio was very close to us in that our next-door neighbour’s son-in-law died as a result.

Those times are part of the enthusiasm I had in writing my latest novel Beginnings at the End of the Road.

And the way my mind works this memory of a bygone era came to a head this morning when I read about quarantined US actor Tom Hanks who, it appears, enjoys that popular Down Under spread Vegemite. The story was all about his fervent use of the salty, tasty delight on toast being laid on too thick for the average Aussie.

As a believer in the Vegemite spread since before those polio days, I am amused and thankful that I always have a jar of the stuff on my breakfast table each morning, seven days a week.

It is a staple of my home. Trouble is, it is not available in Canadian grocery stores. It was banned a year or so ago for some strange reason which I have not been able to get to the bottom of. The federal regulators apparently figure there is something weird in it.

Simply speaking it’s extracted from yeast grown on barley and wheat. It has been around Australia and New Zealand since 1923 or so. We either have visitors bring us a jar or we can obtain from an online store. It is allowed in the country, just not at the supermarket. Go figure.

An advertising jingle came out in the 50s for the “Happy little Vegemiters…it puts a rose in every cheek.”

So go for it Tom, I know you will survive the Vegemite storm as you and Rita recover from the Covid-19 virus there on the Gold Coast. Eat as much as you like, spread as thick as you like.

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.

Today


Leonid Pasternak’s portrait of The Writer’s Block  says it all. Where do I go today with Felix Willoughby in my new novel in progress The Empty Envelope. Will Felix survive the day? Will Theo Tuckmitt exert his authority in the story? Right now, I dunno. 

Beginnings is an ebook

Chapter One Page one as it appears on my Kindle.

I tell, ya this resident northern flicker of ours sure has something to say. There he was drumming his brains out on our chimney yesterday letting all who could hear that  a) he/she is looking for a mate, and b) this is my territory.

I interpret the drumming as a sign of Spring.

The other thing is he serves as a neighbourhood crier for me announcing to all to take note that Beginnings at the End of the Road is available as an ebook. Exciting.

This novel is my fourth book (third novel) and to me the thrill of this writing life is seeing the results of months and months of work finally in all its popular forms, hardcover, softcover and ebook.

I learned yesterday too that a very good friend now enjoying life in the Algarve region of Portugal already has her ebook copy. 

Beginnings at the End of the Road is a tender tale all about how a surprise gift propels a polio survivor down a bumpy road of astonishing outcomes.

The book itself is now available any online bookstore in the world.

Best buy for the ebook though might be direct from my publisher at www.westbowpress.com/bookstore.

Bread, a bird and a razor

Regardless of what some gopher/groundhog/ground squirrel might tell us, I can truly attest that Spring is round the corner. How do I know this? Information came first hand from a Northern Flicker just yesterday morning.

A friendly flicker in the garden last year.

Drumming on our chimney is the definite true report. He or she is up there a-drumming like crazy advertising for a mate and defining territory, the true signs of Spring.

That is really good news after the wee disaster that occurred at our place just 24 hours earlier. I bake our no-knead bread every two days and Thursday was the day we tried something just a little bit different. I arose about 5am or so to begin the second proof.

This style of amazing bread baking calls for the dough to be resident in a cupboard some 16-18 hours. I’ve changed the morning of sequence just slightly after gaining some new knowledge from a magazine I picked up at the Avenida Market. Bridget, our youngest daughter gave me a couple of Banneton proofing baskets at Christmas. The trick is how to use these. After prepping my dough from its overnight bowl, I lodged it into the floured basket, covered it with a tea towel and pushed it to the back of the kitchen counter.

Lois suggested it might do better if I put it in the oven with the light on. Nice, warm constant temperature vs the chill on the kitchen counter.

Burned Banneton Basket

Good idea. I already had the Dutch oven on the rack. I set the timer for two hours, figuring on preheating the oven after 1 ½ hours to 425 degrees.

Again, good idea, but I forgot to remove the Banneton basket. When I checked progress, smoke funnelled volcano style out the stovetop vent, an acrid smell filled the kitchen, and flames were a breath away inside the oven. The result: one tea towel destroyed, a willow basket sadly-burned, and a semi-baked loaf of bread damaged beyond recovery.

Lesson learned. I did get the basket cleaned though and the day’s bread comprised bagels Lois made in the air fryer. Cool, eh!

Two pens and a razor crafted in Calgary

With a new loaf created yesterday, and a drumming Flicker, I celebrated and went out and bought myself a new safety razor — an early Valentine’s gift from Lois.

The razor is a beaut red, handcrafted by Ralph Sears at www.justwriteink.ca. The razor ranks right up there with my fountain pen and roller ball pen.

Today I’m clean shaven. This awesome little razor did what I expected it to do and I only suffered one small nick.

Poles apart

Zyon in his playground, The warm black sands of Fitzroy Beach, New Plymouth, New Zealand

I sit  in my little Calgary, Alberta,

George and Eleanor in their playground at Patricia, Alberta. (Not today)

room with vivid memories of six months in Antarctica some 50 years ago.

 Not a lot of difference today when I woke to -38 degrees and expected daytime highs close to the -30 mark.

 Move north to New Zealand from the polar memory and I find my great grandson Zyon (4) on a sandy surf beach in the mid to high teens. (It’s tomorrow there). 

Travel a couple of hours east from where I am now and we find our great grandkids George (3) and Eleanor (1) bundled in their world on a recent day.

Poles apart maybe, yet totally connected in a flash through the magic of internet: we can see, hear, or read about each other in second. Gotta love it.  

Day of Wonder

Today is one second longer than yesterday.

Fresh snow to celebrate the lengthening of days.

The winter solstice yesterday means we are on the way to longer days, minute by a minute or so until the buds, the blooms, and the greens burst exuberantly into summer decoration.

To us, it is all part of the magic of living in this climate of four seasons: white, brown, green and yellow/red.

Four days before Christmas and we have fresh snow. We are all white again and I see the forecast promising a wee bit more. Warmish too.

This is all so different to what Lois and I experienced just one year ago when a New Zealand visit gave us sunshine, big heat, refreshing surf on sandy beaches, and picnics in the parks.

Calgary City Council in its infinite wisdom has declared this day as the final day in the transit route that saw buses 16 and 84 end their run along 98 Avenue SW.

The (almost) final Route 16 bus to visit our stop on 98 Ave SW.

The sign says these routes have been rerouted. My interpretation is canceled, discontinued.

We will miss the chattering school kids though, crowding our driveway, sitting on the steps as they wait for their ride home. We’ve had up to 18 junior highs gather here.

Passengers from this section now walk across to Southland Drive, where they can hop aboard Max Yellow, or catch a bus to the Southland LRT. Alternatively, we can hike a block to Palliser Drive and join the bus to the LRT.

Life is always changing and always interesting especially so when green Future Bus Zone signs have replaced the blue Transit Stop signs.

This means the council is keeping its options open in case this route is restored sometime down the road.

The good part it is now legal for cars to park there.

With the bus route extinct, I wonder if we have seen the last of  plow and sand trucks around these parts. The funny thing about this comment is that I cannot recall our little corner of this big city ever being so popular with the grader crews as it has been so far this winter.

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 . . .

Who’s a happy camper?

Call out the band! Roll out the red carpet! Dance and sing!

It is here. A few copies of Beginnings at the End of the Road are in my hot little hands. Woot, woot, as my grandson says. Congratulations say my granddaughters. Roar, say a couple of dinosaur-stricken great grandchildren.

Best price I have seen in Canada is through Chapters/Indigo and in New Zealand/Australia through Fishpond. In the US Westbow Press is best.


I am deeply grateful and appreciate all the goodwill and encouragement I’ve received on this novel, especially in this past year.

Anticipation

My word for today (and the preceding week) is anticipation. The days seem to get longer yet the calendar tells us otherwise.

The little flutters of expectation stem from expecting a shipment of Beginnings at the End of the Road to arrive on my doorstep via Purolator. I might have been less anxious if I’d not received a week’s notice from the shipper. I know the books will be here in my hot little hands anytime within the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile, I liken this to waiting for a letter, not the window kind but the handwritten “how-are-you-doing” kind. No emojis, no text, no email, just a good old-fashioned letter, postcard or snappy greeting card from near or far.

To pass some time, I visited the www.ritewhileucan.com letter writing social down at the Good Earth coffee shop at Glenmore Landing, Calgary, Wednesday night. I was so keen to see this social in action I turned up on Tuesday evening, much to the barista’s amusement.

Typewriters sit on the empty tables waiting for the expected eight letter writers to show. It was a bitter night at -15C, plenty of new snow, and a modest wind. Chilly, as we say here, yet in they stamped, shaking off their boots, shedding coats, scarves and hats and taking up their station at the keyboard of choice, all supplied by Barb Marshall, the entrepreneur behind this endeavor.

To top it all off, I got lots of oohs and aahs when I showed off my fountain pen, crafted locally by Ralph Sears at http://www.justwriteink.ca. It’s a beautiful instrument and probably the only writing tool I use for notes and writing. It’s amazing to write with and so soft and comfortable in my hand. I have a matching roller ball version as well for field work.

Now I sit and wait and watch out the window for the big white van.
It’s like sitting round the Christmas tree seeing the eager faces of the little guys waiting for the next round of wrapping paper and color ribbons.

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.

 

Novel thrills

I thought about writing this entry a couple of days ago. It did not happen. Too much stuff in this wobbly brain of mine, like all this strange election babble, having a dog around the house for the first time in about two decades, and biggest of all, the surge of excitement and anxiety in having my new novel Beginnings at the End of the Road reaching a new milestone in the pathway to production. Oh, and one other, a visit to the dentist for a simple thing like a cleanup. Major anxiety!

Top excitement though is reserved for the book. I’ll hear in a couple of days about the cover blurb and I’ll post that heads up as to what the novel is all about. The actual design is then about three weeks away. I’ve submitted a painting Lois has created. We are keen to see what a book designer might do with that.

Man’s best friend

We’re having a good time with Dakota around the house. She is a bit needy and as we enter the second of her three-week stay, she shows all the signs of settling in to her temporary home. I’m accustomed to the new term of a doggy bag as we move around the yard or go for a walk. She follows me around everywhere, does what Lois tells her to do, and lets us know when she has to go outside. Dog people are familiar with all this stuff.

Golden gal and golden leaves.

This autumn weather is enjoyable, being out walking in the wind amongst the rustling leaves or raking up the yard. The air has a special claim on the senses and quietly prepares us for the months ahead. We move from deciding which tee shirt to wear to which coat or jacket is appropriate.

Laptop dog

As for the jolly old election, I just have to shake my head. I took the time to write to a dominant candidate in our riding expressing my dismay that as far as the media was concerned there only appeared to be half a dozen heads involved, ie nothing local. “Would I just hold my nose and let the pencil drop where it might on voting day?” I asked. My note did not solicit a candidate response. I asked about party vision for this amazing and diverse country. If there is one anywhere it has been lost in the barrage of point scoring. Enough about all that though. We’ll head over to the polling station, make our mark and see where all the rhetoric leads us.

A major highlight of the week came when our neighbour dropped over with a box of tomatoes from his garden. Man, were they ever delicious and so flavourful we will keep some seed and grow next season. I swapped him with a fresh as fresh loaf of my busy bread.

 

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.

 

 

Uncharted press release

Set in Western Canada, Award-Winning Novel Shows
How a Widower Seeking a Fresh Purpose
Nudges His Way from Darkness into the Light;
Story also Reveals the Challenges Faced by the Profoundly Deaf

Graeme Connell’s latest novel offers a fresh and poignant take on life after grief. In Uncharted, Connell introduces a widower who, with help from God, concerned friends, and beautiful blue asters, finds fresh purpose and love.

Set largely in Calgary’s Fish Creek Provincial Park and the Rocky Mountains, this novel of hope, patience, and faith reveals how, by engaging in the lives of neighbors, friends, and chance encounters, life can change for the better.

The protagonist of Uncharted is Brewster McWhirtle, whose life has been spiraling downward ever since his wife, Melanie, was killed a year earlier. Without a reason to get out of bed each day, Brewster wonders if he can find meaning in the botanical project he and Melanie once pursued together. With help from a selfless park ranger, Brewster finally begins taking excruciatingly difficult baby steps toward a new life.

After gifting Melanie’s flower shop to a loyal longtime employee, Brewster tentatively moves into uncharted territory. Unexpectedly, he meets Clotilde, an extraordinary botanical artist who is also profoundly deaf.

Brewster continues to take solace in nature even as he becomes intertwined with a family dealing with devastating personal challenges. As he slowly learns to lean on his reawakened faith, he discovers that even within an uncharted life, Jesus is always there, just like the wildflowers his wife adored.

Connell comments, “Life is pretty complex, and we only have the moment we are in to step forward. Uncharted encourages people to engage with others.”

For Connell’s efforts, Uncharted received the Bronze Medal for fiction at the Independent Publisher 2017 Illumination Awards.

“Connell’s book does not pretend there is a quick and easy prescription for grief. He does not prematurely bring a new romance into Brewster’s life to fix his problem. Rather he works through the struggle sensitively and realistically. Only as Brewster returns to wholeness is he able to move on to the next exciting chapter of his life. The author’s knowledge of human nature, his unusual familiarity with the wild foliage of his beloved western Canada, and his great ability to develop a story has produced an enjoyable and unique book unlike the usual romance novel.” ~ Reader Review by Margee Dyck

Author: Graeme Connell is a former journalist and public relations writer whose career has taken him from his native New Zealand to Antarctica, Fiji Islands, Canada, and the United States. Uncharted is his second novel. His first novel, Finding Dermot, was published in 2014, three years after his memoir Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Adventure of 1968–69 was published.

Publisher: Westbow Press; Category: Fiction; Hard Cover: 978-1512751444, $US35.95; Soft Cover: 978-1512751437, $US19.95; eBook: 978-1512751420, $US2.95.  Availability:  Chapters.indigo.ca, amazon.com, amazon.ca, BN.com, abebooks.com, fishpond.com and Online Stores Worldwide

Itinerant Uncharted goes Mediterranean

Uncharted travels and one of the first readers was Barb Radu Sprenger, mostly of Calgary, who, with husband Con, spends much of the year sailing (www.sailbigsky.com) in Mediterranean and Europeans waters. Space is limited on a boat so Barb chose a Kindle version.

Uncharted travels and one of the first readers was Barb Radu Sprenger, mostly of Calgary, who, with husband Con, spends much of the year sailing (www.sailbigsky.com) in Mediterranean and Europeans waters. Space is limited on a boat so Barb chose a Kindle version. Her review appears on amazon.ca.

Hello Fellow Travellers:

This week I was asked what prompted me to write Uncharted. Funnily enough I did not have a ready answer.

I had the notion to write a new novel and I came up with the idea that I could create a story around Alberta wildflowers and somehow work into the manuscript the challenges a deaf person finds in everyday life.  The inspiration and motivation developed from there.

I spent a lot of time walking the pathways of Fish Creek Provincial Park and decided that Calgary and that very present urban park could make an interesting setting.

Lois and I have enjoyed many hours wandering around Kananaskis and Waterton parks looking for wildflowers, an enjoyable pursuit that kinda had its roots in Lois taking part in an annual wildflower count in Fort McMurray back in the late 70s and early 80s. Lois’ twin brother, an ardent amateur botanist, fostered our interest and we became hooked with hunting down the colourful and fascinating inhabitants of the forest floor.

So why the deaf woman, I was asked. I had the very real and distinct pleasure of employing a profoundly deaf press operator in my decade of print shop ownership. His view of life in a silent world enabled me to see life from a different angle and I felt compelled to have a character show the challenges faced by those who can see but cannot hear, who can speak but cannot hear.

Cornerstone Marketplace at the First Alliance Church in Calgary carries Uncharted and my earlier novel Finding Dermot. (Check www.facecalgary.com for store hours)

Cornerstone Marketplace at the First Alliance Church in Calgary carries Uncharted and my earlier novel Finding Dermot. (Check www.faccalgary.com for store hours)

Just to get you going, this is the synopsis of my novel:

“A grieving widower is found barely alive in a snowstorm, but wants to be left alone to die. After being saved, he struggles to go on with his life but becomes involved in a wildflower book project with the parks department in honour of his late wife. He works closely on the project with a botanic artist who’s deaf and finds himself attracted to her. A disagreement regarding the book sees the artist refuse to work with the widower, but slowly they repair their friendship. The book is published and the widower finds the strength to move on with his life, with the possibility of a new relationship with the artist.”

Email me (graemekc@telus.net) for a copy of Uncharted (softcover or ebook). The book is available in all the online bookstores around the world. More about the book can be found at www.graemeconnellbooks.com.

 

Uncharted in 2017



img_8055img_8058Here’s the start of a new adventure. My new novel Uncharted has been off on some fascinating excursions since it’s Fall publication.  I’ll share these over the next few weeks as we head towards spring. I reckon it’ll break any midwinter blahs and put me into getting Brandon’s Bicycle ready for publication.

The story always begins at the computer. Wrong. It begins with the right coffee and I’m truly fortunate to have access to ROAST Coffee and Tea Co at Bragg Creek, near Calgary. Best beans, best roast and Nez truly makes sure I have a ready supply. With coffee at hand the computer keys accept my imagination and blunt finger tips. Roll on 2017 and the stories we find. Email me (graemekc@telus.net) for a copy of Uncharted (softcover or ebook). The book is available in all the online bookstores around the world.

 

Flower hunting

This is the time of the year we are out and about searching for wildflowers. This season we have stayed close to home focussed on updating photographs of  Calgary’s Fish Creek Provincial Park treasures. My new novel Uncharted is with publisher WestBow Press and I predict it will be on the market in August. A key part of the story hinges on the wildflowers that can be found in this amazing urban park. I’m assembling a pictorial companion for the novel featuring the flowers mentioned in the story. There’s a trick to finding some of the flowers. Simple? You need someone along who can see them and Lois is an expert. I’m not sure how she does it. Must be something to do with the eye of an artist and colour. “Just look for a change in colour and you’ll see them.” Ok, but sorry does not work for me. Undergrowth

Take a look at this picture.

In here is a pale coralroot, just off the pathway between Shannon Terrace at the west end of the park and Bebo Grove (24th Street SW). Can you see it?

There’s a dark patch in the centre of the picture. Then to left of this there’s a slight yellow change of colour. It’s tiny at about 7 o’clock.

And here’s what it looks like. A beauty!

Pale coralroot

 

 

A bookends week

Ya gotta love these bookend weeks especially like the one we’ve just experienced. It’s been a week that we had no idea how it was going to turn out.

The week began last Sunday when we got the call around noon that our eldest granddaughter was on her way to the hospital to deliver her first child. Around 6pm our daughter Rachel called to say that Veronica and Ray were the proud parents of a healthy boy. For us, wee George is great grandson number two, just six months after our first. We got to visit him a few hours after he got home on Tuesday.

Great gramma Lois with George Philip Fukuda, the latest addition to our ever expanding family.

Great gramma Lois with George Philip Fukuda, the latest addition to our ever expanding family.

The next event for me was the delivery by Artist Lois of a reference map for a new novel I’ve created. Brandon’s Bicycle is now in its second draft and I was very fortunate to have Lois work with my squiggles and create a map of the Hamlet of Outside (you’ll have to stay tuned on that story till at least late summer).

The next highlight came Thursday when my editor returned  the manuscript for Uncharted, my second novel now just weeks away from being in the publisher’s hands.

Friday was the climax of the week when Lois and I celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary. We reckon that’s pretty darn cool.

The right hand bookend is Sunday to celebrate the 19th birthday of grand daughter Beth.

 

And Into His Arms

Kaye Donovan in her role as Eliza Doolittle in the Grande Prairie Little Theatre production of My Fair Lady in 1975.

Kaye Donovan in her role as Eliza Doolittle in the Grande Prairie Little Theatre production of My Fair Lady in 1975.

Forty-five years ago I arrived in Grande Prairie, Alberta, with my wife Lois and three young daughters, newly minted immigrants in an amazing new land of different customs and patterns of speech. We’d left our job in the Fiji Islands with money in the bank, enough to get us started. Our nest egg dwindled as Canada devalued its dollar in mid flight, the newspaper I was to work at as a journalist in Prince George BC folded the day after we arrived. Lois fell very ill and our resources were spent on a motel bill until we were rescued and given a place to live till I found work.

That job was with the Daily Herald Tribune in Grande Prairie. We arrived and within a day or so met an amazing family. They loaned us money, they shared their food, they bought us groceries, they embraced us. We weathered many storms together, we enjoyed many highs. We became like one big family, always welcome at their house to feast on toast and cheese. Simple and loving. They were Aunty Kaye and Uncle Grahame to our daughters. We were Aunty Lois and Unkie Graeme to theirs. It’s always been that way.

We went camping together, fishing, built bonfires, cross country skied, enjoyed the thrills of amateur theatre and epic stage productions. Money was always short in both our families but we found wonder living in a small Peace Country city.

Today though Aunty Kaye passed into the arms of Jesus, the place she always wanted to be and to meet up again with her son Harry, tragically killed many years ago in a highway accident.

Kaye has given us her infectious laughter, amazing optimism and love of Jesus Christ and her family. So we grieve and yet rejoice.

 

 

Mind Over Matter

Where is the Mind? This question was posed by Wendy Mesley on the CBC National the other night to Toronto psychologist Dr Norman Doidge during a discussion on whether the brain can be rewired.

Their brain interview was supported by pictures of a confusing array of pathways and cells, and all brain type stuff that would make a telephone technician cry. I didn’t quite catch the good specialist’s reply so my take is that there is no definitive answer.

The question stays. Where is the Mind?

Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.

Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.

Maybe it’s not really in the body. Are we as humans matched like computers to a cloud accessible from anywhere? Did Apple and Microsoft et al borrow that singular independent (even vertical) technology to push us to share Minds (horizontal). That leads me to say that I’m of two Minds about that.

If we declare that a person is out of his/her Mind maybe it’s a case of a lost hands-free remote device.

The Mind boggles at the suggestion of where it might be. I’ve looked at all the charts, examined my body, looked in the mirror and so on but cannot locate anything marked Mind.

We say he/she, has changed his/her Mind. But I do not find Minds listed in any Canadian Tire catalogue. If the Mind is located in the brain then surely we’d see bandaged heads in the halls of power, like parliament and the legislatures of this country. I hear all the time of how these elected folk change their Mind. Leads me to believe there must a secret vault of Minds somewhere accessible only by a few.

Put your Mind at rest, I’m told. But where? To put the Mind somewhere demands that I know where the Mind is to begin with so I can put it. I recall my mother often saying she’d give me a piece of her Mind but to the best of my knowledge I never received it unless it was disguised as that whack on my ear.

My wife tells me she can read my Mind. Ha. If I can’t read it how can she?

I’ve heard a daughter tell me how single-minded her child is which leads me to think maybe some lucky people do have two Minds and that you can change from one to the other like changing gears in the car.

When I say I’ve a Mind to do this or that do I assume I have more than one?

I overheard a parent in the mall the other day saying she had a good Mind to ground her son. Good Mind didn’t sound good to me. Bad Mind perhaps?

The squeaker comes when I reach that day of being dead and buried. What happens to the Mind? Does it flee with the soul? Where to? I’ve yet to find that one out.

A plane goes down tragically somewhere and the search is on for the black box. When I go down, hmmm well there is no black box. It’s gone, a case of matter without Mind.

Oh, and one last thing, I’ve been told I have to Mind my Ps and Qs. Now I have to find them.

Ted Harrison — an artist remembered

ted

Ted Harrison, the artist behind the brush of those very distinctive, vibrant paintings of Canada’s Yukon Territory died last week in Victoria BC. To me, Ted was as colourful as his paintings. I met him in 1971 in Whitehorse soon after my move there to take up as editor of the tri weekly Whitehorse Star. We had a good friendship and I encouraged him to produce cartoons for the newspaper, a task he shared with some of his secondary school students. I’m not sure if this cartoon was a shot at me ( a New Zealander) but it was part of the fun as the amazing and entrepreneurial Star owners Bob and Rusty Erlam owned a dog team which I ran for them in the 1972 Sourdough Rendezvous (15 miles each day for three days). Ted was one man who helped me through a tough time  when booze and ego clashed, almost destroying my marriage. So when I see a Harrison painting, I recall his quiet advice, and heady laughter, and how he tried to get that English voice of his around Te Kauwhata, the name of a school he taught at in New Zealand prior to settling in the Yukon. He was a bright spark in my life. Thanks Ted.

(As for the sled dog race? I finished in the middle of the pack somewhere on aggregate times. The first day out eventual winner Wilfred Charlie from Old Crow suffered a broken sled. We loaned him our Erlam-designed racing sled and I used our training sled. You’d think I was totally bonkers if I told you what the temperature was!)

 

 

Finding Dermot

It’s that time of year every two years when the tiny town of Whangamomona, New Zealand, hosts its annual bust out — Republic Day for lots of genuine Kiwi fun. Whangamomona is central to my novel Finding Dermot. And the key part of the historic town is the Whangamomona Hotel (whangamomonahotel.co.nz) now 103 years old. Wonderful place in a magic part of this world. I love it there, midway along the Forgotten World Highway. Beautiful rugged country and spectacular native bush. Put it on your to do list and while you’re at it buy a copy of Finding Dermot, worldwide at any online book store or at the BookStop Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, or Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary, AB, Canada.

Have fun! It’s midsummer somewhere!

Whanga

 

 

Making 2015 a writing year

At first I thought it was a bit pretentious announcing myself as an author on my new business cards. At first I figured Writer would do but then I’ve been a writer for some 56 years. With the release of my novel Finding Dermot just a year after Tide Cracks and Sastrugi, an account of my tales of adventure in Antarctica, author seemed appropriate.

So that’s how I describe myself. Author. A second novel is in the works and now that we’ve turned the corner on a new year I have to quit procrastinating and get the jolly thing written. I’ve really spent too much time these past few months messing around on research. It’s now time to let it go and let the words come.

To get a start I headed up to the Lodge at Kananaskis  this past weekend to get a bit of a recharge and focus on what has to be done. It worked. The first night over dinner I had a really good free-wheeling discussion with my favourite pal Lois and came up with several scenes which will propel me through the missing middle section of the book. That night I spent a lot of awake time staring at the ceiling, talking with my characters. Saturday I drafted the new scenes into notes and began writing.

I tell you I came home charged and energized. Amazing what a change of scenery can do, even though it was too cold to do anything else but write and read and chatter. There’s a bit of tension attached to this part of the book. A sort of tipping point incorporating an argument between the two main characters.  And all over a photograph of a fascinating, hard-to-find, wild orchid we know as a striped coralroot. My protagonist is adamant that the plant must be photographed in Fish Creek Provincial Park here in Calgary. It can’t be just a stock photo he’s shot in another location. This results in a big hissy fit and the two collaborators part company until….but maybe I should’t say much more just yet.

While I’m working on this novel why not make sure your friends know about Finding Dermot and Tide Cracks. You’ll find them in the online stores and here in Calgary Owls Nest Books carries them on the shelf.

 

Merry Christmas

Couple of hours ago I took part in an incredible time of Christmas celebration at our Westside Kings Church here in Calgary, Alberta. It was the first of four services at our church building, an old curling rink, quonset hut style. Maybe 800 attended from the very small to the, ahem, a little older. Three more services were to follow. A busy time.  It was simply an opportunity for the generations to gather, and we sang popular classics as well as the traditional hymns. We reflected on Jesus Christ as the light of there world, of hope and new beginnings.

For me the clincher came with the end of service singing of Silent Night, candles and all. It’s the song that always gets me and has done so for the past 46 years.  It is a vivid memory of hundreds of men standing in a quonset hut at the US McMurdo Sound base in Antarctica. The song ended an all faiths service and although not immediate it took root and the Christian life became my life some six years later.

Christ does give us a new beginning, a hope in the future and the faith to overcome. I know it is tough for some and I think especially of a former colleague who, with his teenage children, face their first Christmas without their wife and mother. She died just a few weeks back after a harrowing eight month hospitalization.

May the very spirit of Christmas invade your home and life today.

Peace.

Blown Away

What a tremendous evening!

Calgary’s Owl’s Nest Books was standing room only last night for the third bi-annual Taste of Local Authors evening, Organized by author Randy McCharles and Owl’s co-owners Michael and Susan Hare.

Nine authors presented and read from their recently published books. For two hours people listened (three sets of three five minute reads), and mingled to the music of Calgary singer songwriter Vanessa Cardui.

For me, it was an evening to treasure, being among new-found like-minded friends. Guests came to me and chatted about my Antarctic experience and the two books I’ve written since — a memoir (Tide Cracks and Sastrugi) and a novel (Finding Dermot).

My fellow authors were Jodi McIsaac, Al Onia, Mahrie  G Reid, Nola Sarina, Randy McCharles, Eileen Bell, Gary Renshaw and Sherile Reilly.

Owl’s Nest is a place where readers can connect with books. And I have the distinct feeling that Michael has sampled every book the store carries. Earlier this week he moderated a book clubs evening at the Jewish Community Centre book week and highlighted 11 books (including Finding Dermot). The bookstore is located in the Britannia Shopping Plaza at 815a 49 Avenue SW Calgary. (www.owlsnestbooks.com). The store also features Owlets, an amazing children’s bookstore.

Mingling time

Mingling time

My turn at the mic.

My turn at the mic.

Vanessa Cardui entertains

Vanessa Cardui entertains

 

Along the path

Well, there I was out on the pathway today and saw Paddlewheelersomething that wasn’t new but really where I spotted it was new to me. The sight of Heritage Park’s paddle wheeler S.S. Moyie near the southern shore of the Glenmore reservoir lake caught my attention. Usually the vessel cruises over closer to Heritage Park.

I mentioned yesterday pathways reveal things and I thought back to our adventures in the Yukon Territory some 42 years ago. (golly, that long ago!) when we marvelled over the S.S.Tutshi paddle-wheeler in dry dock at Carcross. That vessel  was built in 1917 and restored about the time we were there. Sadly this queen of romantic Yukon history  was lost to fire in 1990. Remnants remain today.  The steamboat had such a big impact on us that we named our dog Tutshi. Sadly, he died too. Other examples of the steamboat era remain at Whitehorse (S.S. Klondike), Dawson City (S.S. Keno) and original and real S.S. Moyie at Kaslo in BC.

With that memory of today’s pathway I thought about the treasures we find in books. Take my novel Finding Dermot for instance. That story takes the reader from Canada to a magnificent city in New Zealand (New Plymouth) with its surf beaches, mountain and great bush walks, to one of the remotest villages in the country (Whangamomona) as well as a frozen winter in Antarctica’s truly wonderful and remote Wright Dry Valley and Lake Vanda. I weaved the story of Dermot and his strange adventure around those places.

The novel is available in all the online bookstores around the world in hard cover, paperback and ebook versions.

Pick up a copy, travel and enjoy the stroll along the reader’s “pathway.”

 

Adventurers — Part 3

“Whether it be a movie about a rat who pursues his dream to become a chef (Ratatouille), or a quixotic idea to change my relationship with food, or just a desire at the age of 60 to inject some passion into my life, I was ready for an adventure.”

So writes Bob Foulkes of Vancouver in his book Adventures with Knives. Surviving 1000 hours in Culinary School (French Apple Press).  Also available through Chapters.

I recently reconnected with Bob, a  former colleague and true pal, only to discover that he’s fully embraced an adventurous life and published a couple of books about what he’s been up to since our paths last crossed some 13 years ago.  This month we exchanged books. My Tide Cracks and Sastrugi for his first book Adventures with Knives  and my Finding Dermot for his Off The Couch and Out The Door.  Bob has become the consummate adventurer and he talks about his journey in a very easy and thoroughly engaging style. He’s a pro writer from a similar career to myself.Foulkes

Knives is difficult to lay aside for such mundane things as shaving or eating lunch. It goes really well though with coffee and leads the reader into the inner world of chefdom, the training, the discipline and the amazing advantages of cooking from scratch.  I learned about French cooking, presentation and style. All the while there’s the ever present dangers of contamination and yes, what about those knives. “We are five-thumbed, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing incompetents when we try to duplication his (chef’s) demonstration. I am paying sizeable chunks of money to be told how to cut a carrot  to look like a little football… but I’m determined. The knife isn’t the problem.”

For several evenings after supper Lois and I would have Bob readings and laughed aloud as we worked through his 1000 hours of culinary school.

Knives is an fun read of a man’s adventure into the world of a student in a place we all know — the kitchen.

 

 

It’s Fun Being A Dad.

I wrote this in my weekly column in June 1981 while Publisher of Alberta’s Fort McMurray TODAY daily newspaper. It just came to light this week as we were ratting through a box of old papers. It brought a big smile as I recalled these heady days and compared with today, 33 years later. Our daughters are now older than I was when I wrote it! They are true treasures and valued friends.

* * *

 It’s great fun being a dad. But man, can you get yourself into a lot of hot water as the kids put you through their paces. There are hearty laughs, hearty aches and peaceful moments of joy with lots of good memories.
I think that, if in five years time I find myself on the open job market one qualification, on my resume might be: we raised three daughters.
How many potential employers would recognize that as a talent? Very few probably, because they don’t know the individual players of our team in this sparkling prime time life series.
Back in the early days of our marriage I remember my wife and I, as a very young couple, deciding that children would be a good addition to our lives; that we should enter the realm of parenthood young and “grow up with our kids.”
Great idea. Trouble is somewhere along the way there was a switch.
They are now growing up with us.
Now and again the girls in my life get a little ahead of the greying, balding dude who sits at the end of the dinner table providing off-the-cuff lectures at will on just about any subject dealing with tumultuous teenage times.
The Redhead is now far from home but she left her mark on the family nest.
Quaint phrases like: “Oh, Father…” (very disgustedly); “Yes, father…(very tiredly); “We know, Father…” (very condescendingly); “Uh huh, father…” (let’s-avoid-a-lecture tone); “You’re impossible, Father…” (very matter of factly); “Ohhh, Dads…” (very loving I want something tone); “Okey dokey Dads…” (very agreeable, something’s up tone); and just plain “Father…” (bossingly); “Father…” (questioningly) and “Father…” (dumbly).
It was her who passed on to her younger sisters techniques for avoiding what she herself titled “Dad’s Lectures.” These include hair washing, showering, convenient telephone calls, (are these prearranged?) flapping eyelids, a sudden desire to help their mother or clean their room, and just plain stomping off.
The Redhead also passed down the areas in which she considered her father to be famous in. In offbeat moods of teenage authority she would decide that her father possessed qualities that might outfit him for every profession and trade imaginable. Very flattering, possibly but unfortunately the dear child has inherited a touch of cynicism from somewhere that her dad is really just a gentle old windbag.
And so, after helping her through the period of life where child departs and adult emerges you would think this dad would be an “expert” on teenage daughters.
Not on your Nellie.
It compounds.
New ground has to be broken. The playing field is different. The same authoritative gestures no longer apply. This time we have a very strong willed and determined lass who is a master (sorry, mistress) of the faceoff.
She also has a streak not so apparent in the first edition: her father is not the only man in her life.
Rats!
How do you deal with dating daughters? Avoid hassles? Keep the lines of communication open? Avoid the generation gap? No matter how much you understand you just don’t understand.
And when it comes down to the wire very often it is dad who has to change and the child (sorry, daughter) who has to understand. Let go dad, I often remind myself.
A new vocabulary and phrase book is being written. It includes words like curfew and party and phrases like time out and time in. How are you travelling? Who are you going with? Why don’t you stay in tonight? Is it necessary to study together? Is your rnakeup on properly?
I find that it is almost necessary to make appointments to keep in touch (best done when she is wandering around the house in a cowboy hat). A parent has to change here. No longer can a dad assume that his daughter will be ready, willing and able to go wherever the family goes. You have to datebook these events well in advance.
A teenage girl’s calendar can be very full. There is school and its extracurricular activities; a part-time job, socializing with the guys and the gals; time flies for them. It is a whirl and you get exhausted just watching them. Whew! How do they keep up?
The week becomes a hi, bye, nice to see ya time. Dad looks forward to the weekend to have some time with the teenagers, like a gentle bit of cross-country skiing. But for the daughter there is much to do. . . busy, busy, busy.
How often does she chirrup, with a big smile “sorry Dads, have to run, maybe later or tomorrow. . . I have to go now.”
And she is gone. You smile. Inwardly you admire. Eyes glaze to watch a spirited young life on the move. You know the heart inside that child …you know the work that has gone into that young plant and you know it will bloom.
Which brings me to the third girl. First year as a teenager and a bundle of fun who is showing all the signs of a good education from the earlier editions plus, funnily enough, the production of her own copy of “How to Handle Dad”.
This particular book is not to be found in any bookstore. Otherwise I might have been tempted to buy it in the hope that I might be just one step ahead of the third and final edition.
The young miss has a list of telephone callers that would boggle even the tycooniest of business tycoons. She can receive more calls in an evening than all the rest of the family put together, plus the neighbors probably. And some of the perishers just don’t know when to quit calling.
And who had the bright idea of buying her a cassette recorder for Christmas, forgetting in that moment of weakness that teenyboppers like their music at a decibel rating that would freak any audiologist. They also like it on all the time and they cannot fathom why the oldies turn purple every time they turn up their favorite ditty.
And at this age there is the room. Good for a laugh (better not let your mother get into your room), good for a cry (when mother gets into the room), and good for asserting the responsibilities of parenthood (you can go when your room is done).
Teenagers lead us through all sorts of things. I remember the women’s editor of the newspaper I worked for in the Fiji Islands a few years back saying: “The time you spend and what you teach your child in the first seven is the most important part of their lives. You’ll reap rewards for these efforts later in life.
I have to go along with that, as far as girls are concerned anyway. Once a child reaches teenagedom it becomes a matter of guidance, love and friendship.
And I thank God for entrusting three girls to my care. You laugh with them, cry with them, get frustrated with them and love ’em in spite of everything.
It is fun being a dad.

 

Adventurers — Part 2

And now, in the words of Wendy Mesley (CBC National, Sunday) for story number two.  Barb Radu Sprenger is a person I had the pleasure of working with in my Mobil Canada days back in the early 90s. Her energy helped stimulate public affairs activities to keep our various communities informed. Radu

Now her real life adventure is sailing with her husband Con on their  15 metre cutter-rigged sloop Big Sky (www.sailbigsky.com). As of today they’re sailing up the Spanish coast and could be in Valencia as I write.

Barb details all of this adventure in her memoir Sailing Through Life (it’s on amazon.ca) in which she outlines those stages from the sudden and unexpected death of her husband Larry to her peripatetic lifestyle of the past seven years or so covering more than 51 countries over five continents. It’s the RV life under sail.

It is a very engaging and honest story of what Barb terms the unshakeable bond between human spirits. For many of us life on the ocean is something of dreams. Barb and Con bring it to life, not only the lifestyle, but also how they maintain their strong family links back in Calgary, Alberta.

Stay tuned for Adventurers — Part 3 in a couple of days.

A little bit of sunshine. . .

Tundra Haskap Berry

In between all the rain and snow we’ve been having lately here in Calgary it’s wonderful to take a hike round the garden and see all the spring surprises. We had a great sunny day yesterday and what is the result?
Green leaves on some trees, and even flowers such as this Tundra Haskap Berry. What’s more interesting to watch is Lois walking around her gardens minutely examining the dirt for any new sign of a plant or bulb.  Lots and lots of “look at this”, “did you see this one?” Ohh, look at the flowers this is going to have…”

Springtime in the Rockies!

Spring surprises

This is a good time over at our place, re-exploring the hidden delights of a garden emerging from the ravages of a long winter, clearing last Fall’s leaves and the remains of last year’s plants. Lois gets a real surprise when she finds the bulbs poking their green tips out through the dirt and then we get a thrill checking for new growth on the bushes and trees. After a happy and satisfying couple of days messing around before the next lot of precipitation, here’s a sampling of what we have found.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

 

Soon, a host of golden daffodils

Soon, a host of golden daffodils

Tulips

Tulips

Tulip

Tulip

Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Japanese peony

Japanese peony

Our blooming crocus

Our blooming crocus

Sedum

Sedum

 

As it was and now is

Today is a major one around our place, a biggie, a milestone we’re quite proud of. Our wedding anniversary and this is number 53. It’s a number that might be hard to get your head around and one I never envisaged at vows time way back in 1961. But, by the grace of God, here we are still laughing, still enjoying each other’s company and always looking for that next adventure. Lois and I have rolled through the ups and downs, defeats and disappointments and come through to what is really a remarkable time of life. For a giggle today I show this picture of us as newlyweds ready to fly off on our honeymoon to a beach at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Note the grass runway, ability to pose with our baggage right under the nose of our plane, a New Zealand Airways DC3. Fun, eh. That was in New Plymouth, at what we know as the old airport with a terminal building a mere corrugated iron lean to attached to a wartime hangar. There’s more of the story in my book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and how Lois fared on her first flight, dressed in her lovely red skirt and hat!
Honeymoon

Writer’s what?

Writer’s block comes easy when you’re immersed in sunshine, sand and the surf of many beaches. I’ve just returned back to my snowy Calgary, Canada, home after a wonderful month in that amazing place of former years, New Zealand. Yep, it was terrific. With Lois’ sister and brother we had a wee road trip up and around the Coromandel Peninsula sampling beaches and meat pies. Then a great three weeks around “our” Taranaki province coastline and hinterland.
A major part of the trip was business: to publicize and launch my novel Finding Dermot. The book is now available in two bookstores there, The BookStop Gallery (www.bookstop.co.nz)in New Plymouth, a central setting of the novel, and Adventure Books (www.adventurebooks.co.nz) in Oamaru in the South Island.
We also drove the Forgotten World Highway once more, revisiting Whangamomona, another key location for the story.

The BookStop Gallery owner, Les Marshall, did a great job with a window display of both my books.

The BookStop owner Les Marshall did a great job with a window display of both my books.

A further further display right inside the street entry.

A further further display right inside the street entry.

The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.

The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.

Christmas market

BoothWe’re into the final three days of hectic activity at Calgary’s Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace.  For the third year running Lois and I have a booth selling my books and Lois’ artistic creations — penguin calendars, framed penguin art prints, and yes, penguin book bags.

My two books have sold well the first two weekends of this fabulous marketplace which boasts more than 275 exhibitors spread throughout a variety of halls and kiosks. My first book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer in 1968-1969 continues to sell remarkably well and the new book, my novel Finding Dermot attracts attention for both personal reading and gift-giving. I’m thrilled at the attention our little booth gets and the large number of happy buyers who continue into the market with a book in their bag.

A New Vocation


It was – 24 degrees with a very chilling wind blowing. Light snow was falling. Yep, just the right sort of day to sit in a well decorated stable selling a book about Antarctic adventures. That was last weekend. Today, just a week later, Lois and I are back here again at the wonderful Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace to sell Tide Cracks and Sastrugi from our 144 sq ft booth (ummm, horse stall).

It’s a very interesting space to hibernate for a few days.  We’ve been doing our Christmas shopping here for several years but this is our first venture into having our very own sales booth. It is an amazing experience and a whole new community, most of whom are selling their own creations — images, child videos, coolers, jewellery, knitted goods and so on.

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The presses are rolling

Ya-a-a-a-y. T’is done and the presses are rolling. I might be feeling just a wee bit excited right now. There were  many times this summer when I thought Tide Cracks and Sastrugi would never make it. I got distraught and frustrated. Thanks to the encouragement of good friends and family , an inspiring editor and an on target publisher, books are being being printed and bound. I picked up the test batch today and all looks good. Nice thing too, is that I already have orders.

My publisher has set up a couple of  launch signings: Cafe Books at Canmore, Alberta on November 12, 1-3 pm and Chapters Chinnok store on Macleod Trail SW, Calgary, on November 20, 1-3pm.

I have captured a booth as Old Antarctic Explorer in Reindeer Alley at The famous Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace over two weekends, November 18-20 and November 25-27.

I’m trying to get to grips with social media and got a redial surprise the other day when I added LinkedIn to my iPhone. I found this recommendation from the book’s indexer Tia Leschke: “I indexed Graeme’s book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer of 1968-69. I think this was the most interesting book I’ve indexed so far. I went right along with him as I worked (from the comfort of my desk). I had to stop myself from getting lost in the story and forgetting to index.”

Coupla tech specs:  the book is 7 inches by 10 inches, contains 290 pages, something like 130 pictures including about 100 colour pages.