What’s in a fence?

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

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

Back to the fence. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Queen in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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)

 

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 . . .

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.

 

Dakota days

We have a dog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, Dakota. I get it. Walk time!”

Bookshelves that surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

Strawberry (Re)Treat

LodgeGotta love a place like this. Faraway and outta sight. No television, no internet, no distractions. Bliss.

I’m coming back to earth from a terrific and enervating Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA) writers’ retreat. During the four nights and five days I was lost in the utter fascination of adding words and creating word pictures for the new novel under construction. The working title for the new book is Wildflowers. There were only seven of us at the Strawberry Creek Lodge, southwest of Edmonton,  Alberta. This was self-directed so each of us selected our favourite places for writing and getting on with our individual projects. We kept to our rooms and emerged for contemplative walks through the trees or meals at  8 am, Noon and 6pm. At the outset we declared quiet. There’s something to be said for this monastic time out: the focus was our work, our sustenance came at the clang of the cowbell, and our surprise came at the glorious spread Brenda put before us.

This was a first time for me at such an event. It was my deliberate, desperate attempt to get words on the page. I loved it. I love this writing game. The creation of a story. I achieved more in those four days than I have all summer.

Our final evening together, Saturday, we grouped around the big red brick fireplace in the centre of the magnificent log lodge and listened as each of us read from what we were creating, a play, poetry, novels. Feedback for each of us was positive and encouraging. I felt privileged and humbled to be in such company.

The lodge is owned by the Rudy Wiebe family and has been used by the WGA for retreats since the mid-1980s. The only sounds in this setting above Strawberry Creek are the occasional yipping of coyotes,  the chickadees, nuthatches, and jays at the feeder and the wind whispering through the yellowing aspens. Could there be a finer setting.

Rudy and his wife Tena visited on Saturday. We saw Tena in the kitchen with Brenda, new cookies were manufactured. Rudy was outside in the cool air fixing this and that. He came to me and asked for a copy of my Finding Dermot. “Let’s swap,” he said.”One of mine for yours.” It was done. He also took a copy of Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and I came home with two of his previous books. Lois had kept the clipping from the Saturday Calgary Herald which profiled Rudy’s new novel Come Back.

InukshukMy task now is to keep focus and concentration and to move Wildflowers to its climax. The lessons of Strawberry Creek live on.

 

 

New residents

I was supposed to have coffee with Calgary publisher Kim Staflund (www.polishedpublishinggroup.com) this Wrenmorning but a violent flu bug prompted me to bail. Instead I sat in the sun nursing my misery and watched a variety of birdlife wrestle for time at the feeder. Over by the lane fence I saw a couple of house wrens scratching around near the woodpile and amongst the daffodils for brunch of any insect they fancied. Instead of the coffee I entertained myself with my camera and 300mm lens to capture a couple making a new home for themselves in the most colourful of birdhouses, a recent addition to our garden. We first noticed the wrens on Thursday checking for possible new digs and today’s efforts and constant presence seems to indicate they might be part our enjoyment this summer. We hope so. The birdhouse is the creation and brainchild of my sister Fiona who enjoys life near Sooke on Vancouver Island. Check out her creations at llennoc Studio (www.fionaconnell.info).

 

A couple of hours later…definitely setting up housewrenstick