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. 

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.

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. 

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

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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.

Back In Boots

My feet are back in boots. Once again I tread the ice, snow and slush with sealed up feet. Its what happens when winter is all around. Yet, just two weeks ago my bare tootsies felt the wonderful (ouch) heat of ironsands beaches and the delightful rush of seawater smoothing over them as the waves rippled up the shore. I could gently wiggles my toes and feel my feet sink into the sand. Ahhh, that has to be something close to bliss.
Lois and I have just returned to our Canada home after 16 glorious days in New Zealand, the land of our birth and early life. For me, most of the journey was about business, to catch up with Antarctic contacts and friends to get this book of mine completed. In between and along the way we delighted in the company of family and friends. The bonus in all this was ample sunshine, sunburn, the beach, little clothing, semi-shod feet and a neato tan which is slowly slipping down the drain now. In the time we were there we only struck one bad day of very high winds and rain which caused a bit of destruction in some parts of the country known to us as Aotearoa –the land of the long white cloud.
Before we headed to Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre we explored our old hometown of New Plymouth, a deep sea port on the west coast of the North Island. What a delightful place this old colonial settlement has become. We have been back many times over the years but this is the first time in more than a decade that we have ventured south in their mid-summer. Great ingenuity, foresight, creativity and initiative have transformed our town into one of the nicest places you could hope to visit. Trees and color have replaced tramlines and powerlines. Walkways, open green space, gardens and bridges have replaced the railway yards in the centre downtown. The changes over the past 40 odd years are dramatic. I wanted to spend a lot more time there but airline scheduling around aeropoints at this time of the year meant they were in charge of the dates. Still, in coming months we will amass another round for another summertime visit.
The first thing we did was to shed travelling clothing from minus 30 here to the plus 25 or so there. In shorts, a tee and runners we headed to the coastal walkway which stretches a magnificent 14 kilometres or so from the port through suburbs and the centre of town to beaches on the northern side of the district. The city has truly capitalized on this mostly rocky seaside frontage. The nice thing is the concrete walkway follows the terrain up down and around. It is open to the sea for the full enjoyment of being close to the waves. It is truly a walkers, joggers, cyclists, paradise. And it is accessible from almost anywhere along its length.

Now this is what I call a bridge. The Te Rewa Rewa bridge along the coastal walkway. Reminiscent of a breaking wave or even a whale skeleton, this fantastic structure was, designed, built and funded by local contractors and fabricators in conjunction with the District Council. Like the walkway, it is an award winner. And in the background, Mt Taranaki, at 8260 ft it crowns and majestically rules the province.

(Next: back to Antarctica)

Peace, quiet, focus

This was one of those get-clear-of-the-fray, get-a-little-adventurous times. I left the city and headed south and west to one of my favorite places in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful drive south with clear blue skies and sunshine. Temperature around zero  getting to as high as 9c as I headed west to the Highwood Pass. Here, in our little A-frame camper, I’m getting the fix I need and renewed oomph to get on with The Book. I’ve been at the keyboard for a couple of hours and the temperature is dropping, the skies are clouding and by the time I get to go home I suspect I’ll see a snow flurry or two. I wanted peace and quiet and a fresh outlook and I have it here, about 120km out of the city surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the silent spruce forests and naked aspen along the river. There’s a bit of snow on the ground, a sign that winter is slowly closing in. The stream is still chuckling over the rocks and ice crystals lace the banks, slowly broadening towards the middle. The wind has dropped but there is still enough breeze to chill the fingers and nose.  I am snug and warm in my den on wheels. It has a small propane furnace to chase the cold. Coffee on the stove, baked beans and toast for lunch.

This afternoon I cleared my head of accumulated junk and found renewed interest in piecing a story together of my mid-1900s life in Antarctica, the opposite end of the globe from my home here in Canada.

Highwood River Valley, Alberta, Canada

I’m armed with the notes and suggestions from my mentor and friend and professional editor Sheila Bender (www.writingitreal.com) who lives in Port Townsend, WA. Her first edit calls me to reach deeper into the memory tank to keep reader interest. This is the tough part of writing and at the same time the most satisfying. I see Sheila’s recommendations adding vitality and life to my rambling prose. I am excited at what I’m doing. The tough part if keeping focus and staying with. In the past few weeks Lois has been encouraging me to get on with it and get with the program. My response has been well, I am thinking about it…trying to recall stuff in my personal life that will add the interest Sheila suggests.

Today has been great and given me the kick I needed. Now I want to get back to the city before dark.  I may get another couple of trips out here before the real snow flies. Thankfully, the signs I had earlier in the day have blown away. The skies have cleared and I’ll have a great drive home. It is beautiful country. When this valley does get the full winter snow, it will be closed to human traffic till the Spring, leaving the meadows and the solitude to the resident population of bear, moose, deer, cougar, mountain sheep and the like. They will get to enjoy a winter of peace and quiet.