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. 

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. 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

Excited

Okay, so right now I’m a little excited as Thursday approaches when I give  a five minute presentation at Calgary’s Owl’s Nest Books. I’m just one of nine local authors taking part in an evening for readers to hear what local authors are writing about. It promises to be a fun evening and Randy McCharles has arranged musical interludes between sets.

Starts at 7 pm and you’ll find this wonderful bookstore at Britannia, close to 50th Avenue and Elbow Drive SW.

I started this week Sunday listening to city author Daniel Goodwin’s talk about his first novel Sons and Daughters. The event  kicked off  the Jewish Community Centre’s (JCC) book week. This soft-spoken man read  from his book and spoke of its background. I bought a copy and look forward to reading it.

Last night I participated in the JCC’s book club evening  moderated by Michael Hare, co-owner  of Owls Nest. He reviewed several books and invited me to share  a bit about  my novel Finding Dermot. 

The JCC book week is a fabulous event and showcases great writing and the variety of happenings found at the busy centre located opposite Glenmore Landing on 90th Avenue SW.

Dermot’s Domain

I was blown away this morning when I opened my iPhone to see a Facebook reference

Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.

Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.

from my nephew in New Plymouth, New  Zealand.  Antony Thorpe simply said “Our backyard … anyone want to come for a visit!”

What followed was an inspiring  You Tube (experienceoz.com.au/nz-top-10) piece on the top 10 New Zealand destinations.

It’s No 1 that got my attention — Taranaki is not only the province I grew up in but also the centerpoint of much of the Finding Dermot story, my recent novel.

“Both wild and rugged, spectacular and historically influential, the Taranaki region checks all the boxes as far as nature and variety of landscape are concerned — with the mountain the cherry on the top of the sightseeing sundae.”

Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.

Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.

A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.

A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.

Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.

Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.

Very encouraging. A key character in Dermot is Blossom O’Sage who spends much of her New Zealand time in the main city of New Plymouth on her quest to find the out of sight Dermot Strongman. Her journey takes her to Whangamomona in the rugged hill country on the eastern rim of this adventurous region.

Trumpeting the Trumpeter

Swan2The recent news that the Trumpeter swan is off the endangered list came as bright spot on our horizon. Let’s not forget though that this largest swan in the world remains on Canada’s take-care-of-me list. This magnificent bird has rebounded from near extinction in the early 1900s. It has been a long slow recovery but all good news.

The Trumpeter is kinda special to Lois and I. We’d never heard of it until we immigrated in 1970 and settled in the Alberta Peace Country City of Grande Prairie. The County of Grande Prairie has many lakes and sloughs which attract the Trumpeter for the nesting season. The county has spent a great deal of effort over the years to protect the bird and preserve these breeding lakes. The community unofficially adopted the bird in the 1930s and when the town gained city status (1958) the trumpeter was soon chosen as the city crest in 1960 and remains in use today.

Swan3So when we arrived in the Swan City we were fascinated and my work has a photo-journalist at the Daily Herald Tribune (DHT) spurred my interest. I befriended Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) conservation staff and as a newspaper we did what we could to keep awareness of the swan at the forefront. Our family interest was well beyond occupation. It was personal. Grande Prairie’s focus.

My old boss and former DHT editor, Bill Scott, recently wrote in his newspaper column Pot Pourri  that the swan sculpture that became the city emblem celebrated its 50th anniversary this past June.  The iconic bird continues to reside happily in Jubilee Park, 10ft high, a model of a young bird stretching its wings. The swan was everywhere in the city and I recall interviewing aspiring Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed at the White Swan Motel. The statue graced collector teaspoons and other souvenirs and the city was in the habit of giving out statuettes to visiting dignitaries.

TrumpetLois created this beautiful painting of Trumpeter cygnets which I captured on a lake out in the county. The CWS confided their location to me and a friend loaned me a Folboat (a collapsible kayak) to float  through the reeds into the lake and get the following pictures which appeared in the DHT.

Swan6

Swan5

 

 

 

 

 

Swan4

 

 

Swan1

 

 

 

 

 

These black and white shots were taken during a banding trip with the CWS in the mid 70s. Using an airboat, the CWS guys would come up alongside a cygnet scoop it up and head to the shore to weigh, measure and band. The day I was out with them was cool and raining.  This was in the pre computer and digital picture age. I processed and printed my film at the DHT darkroom.

Lois worked as an artist at the Department of Education regional office and used  her drawing for the cover of a reading manual.booster2

The Chamber of Commerce developed a trade coin promotion: local artist Robert Guest created the front side Trumpeter and Lois’ historical drawing was among those by Robert to grace the reverse.

Brian Wilson and Bob McFarlane hired me on as editor of their weekly newspaper Grande Prairie Booster while I recovered from a nervous breakdown and we had Lois design the masthead. I wrote a column in that paper Roamin’ Round and a paragraph of the June 30, 1976 edition read:

Testing Eggs:

“Called in at the Canadian Wildlife Service office in Edmonton during a visit last week and found biologist Bryan Kemper and his team cutting up Trumpeter swan eggs collected during a survey week in Grande Prairie this summer. About eight eggs had been collected and were taken from nests last month, well after the hatching period. Kemper said eggs had never been taken or examined so the abandoned, unhatched eggs provided a good opportunity for analysis. The CWS will have the contents of the eggs and shells examined for several points including mercury levels and such things as pesticides. The researchers also want to try and find out why the eggs did not mature for of the eight collected only one produced a fully developed embryo.”

Habitat protection, reintroduction programs, sanctuaries, greater awareness and a ban on hunting have helped bring the Trumpeter back from near extinction to a healthier population of around 16,000. An adult bird can be around 25lb, five feet or so long and with a wingspan of six to eight feet.

Booster

 

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.

Adventurers — Part 1

I fully intended to start this three part piece a few days back but I’ve been totally absorbed in a new book which I’ll profile in Adventurers Part 3.

I love adventure and it doesn’t have to be the physical go-to-far-places variety either. Adventures can be close at hand and one person who is moving her adventure into the brighter atmosphere year by year is Kim Staflund of Calgary who just a few short years ago wrote three books and launched her own fully supported self publishing company — Polished Publishing Group . I first met Kim when she called at my print shop to order some business cards for her fledgling enterprise. We’ve remained good friends and I used her company to publish my first book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi. And what an adventure that was for me into the  heady and complex world of publishing. Kim, thoroughly experienced in the business, led the way as project manager and I ended up with a very satisfactory book (yes, of adventure) that contained 130 pictures (some colour), and a wonderful index. It has sold around the world. Kim’s expertise takes a book through all the regular processes one would encounter with any traditional publisher.a5393464d79f728d35f0bced4601ed39_56wf_gq4k

Now she has produced How to Publish A Book In Canada. It takes a new author through all the steps and outlines the meanings publish speak: from editing, designing, indexing and marketing. It is an easy and friendly read, thoroughly informative and above all encouraging.

Coming in August is How To Publish A Best Selling Book  the”international” version with international copyright information written by an entertainment/intellectual property attorney out of Orange County. It also has much more detailed content regarding online selling, the various types of review copies, and the different types of editing.

So that’s story of a real life adventurer. Kim now has 13 titles in her online bookstore, including Tide Cracks and Sastrugi.

Check out the extremely full and informative website at www.polishedpublishinggroup.com.

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

 

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.

Let’s Read

I love books.

Books take me to places I’ve never dreamed of. Books expose me to new ideas. Books entertain and excite me. Books give me knowledge and understanding. Books, well books are let’s face it treasures in a hard (or soft) cover. They glow in the subconscious. Find a comfy chair, open a book and enjoy a chemical-free tonic for the knock-downs of life.

Yep, I love books and the people who write them.

I met a lot of folk at our sales booth at a Christmas Marketplace last November that was visited by more than 60,000 over three three-day weekends. Sadly, in discussion over my novel Finding Dermot I made the comment in a post at the time “…interesting to chat with the number of people who said they did not read, those who preferred ebooks, and the number who said they did not read fiction.” I can now add to that the people who have told me they do not have time to read.

So you can see I was totally blown away in the spend-up to Christmas when I visited (several times) my favourite bookstore here in Calgary to find extra long lineups at the checkouts. Books were literally flying off the shelves at a rate I’ve not noticed in the past.

As an author, this was so very encouraging. It means I keep going, start that new book, bring a fresh story to print, paint the pictures with words, allow the characters to speak for themselves and in doing so allow life to breathe a new perspective.