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. 

March of the Prairie crocus

Northern flicker on our chimney.

It’s not that difficult to stay indoors these days when we look out the window at a crisp,new mantle of snow. Check the thermometer at wakeup and it’s minus 17 degs. At coffee time we have minus 9 degs. But no worries, spring is coming. I look to the northern flicker a-drumming on my chimney and at daybreak today, despite the temperature, his possible bride-to-be is feeding on dropped seed under the bird feeder.

Our prairie crocus March 30, 2020.

Our prairie crocus March 30, 2015

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. 

A virus and Vegemite

Breakfast at our house toasted homemade bread and Vegemite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untying knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pegasus adorns the Mobil corporate tie.

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

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

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

“The Chinese did it!!

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

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

“They all wear neck cloths!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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 . . .

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!”

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

Flower hunting

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

Take a look at this picture.

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

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

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

Pale coralroot

 

 

A bookends week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And Into His Arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mind Over Matter

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

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

The question stays. Where is the Mind?

Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.

Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Adventurers — Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

It’s Fun Being A Dad.

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

* * *

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

 

Adventurers — Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

A little bit of sunshine. . .

Tundra Haskap Berry

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

Springtime in the Rockies!

Spring surprises

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

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

 

Soon, a host of golden daffodils

Soon, a host of golden daffodils

Tulips

Tulips

Tulip

Tulip

Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Japanese peony

Japanese peony

Our blooming crocus

Our blooming crocus

Sedum

Sedum

 

Gateway to Antarctica 2

One of the final “Antarctic” places to visit before we left Christchurch, the New Zealand gateway to the south, was the city’s Botanic Gardens. And on a beautiful, very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon we picnicked on the lawn with family and friends before heading into an adjoining gallery of the Canterbury Museum to view a remarkable touring exhibition of  pioneer photographs from what is known simply as the Royal Collection.

First off though, the gardens housed a Magnetic Observatory  established in 1901 to assist Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. It was used by other early explorers and operated at the Gardens until 1969 when it was moved further outside the city. Since the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year this observatory as well as observatories at Scott Base and Apia, Samoa, (now operated by the Samoan government) provide real-time magnetic data to International Data Centres.

The Royal Exhibition, known as the Heart of the Great Alone, was magnificent.Lois and I toured around the photographic displays of works by Herbert Ponting from the Scott’s British Antarctic  Expedition of 1910-1913 and the Frank Hurley  photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition.  There was also lots of memorabilia on display too. It was an interesting piece of time travel for me, having walked in a few of their footsteps around McMurdo Sound. At first I thought it was a bit ho-hum and I was a little disappointed until I realized I have been close to these pictures, stories and records for a number of years and had seen or read pretty well all of it. For Lois though, and others, it was a very focussed look at the trials and tribulations of early Antarctic explorers and the legacy they left for those that followed in the latter part of last century to today.

We missed the adjoining Antarctic Museum within the Canterbury Museum this visit having made a thorough tour just two years ago. The city has deep relationships with all disciplines in Antarctica and this had added to the cultural and economic  wealth.

Before leaving New Zealand we visited with Old Antarctic Explorers and families in Auckland including Robin Foubister (pictured) leader of my 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Program.

To cap the whole New Zealand trip off Robin took us out to a gannet colony at Muriwai. Like the gannets, we too are migratory– they go to Australia after the breeding season while we headed back to our home in winter Canada.

Peace, quiet, focus

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

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

Highwood River Valley, Alberta, Canada

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

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