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.


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. ( 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



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.

A Taste of Local Authors

One of my private rants, mostly in the shower, is where and how to find and read the excellent books being produced locally in Calgary and in Alberta and really where to find Canadian authors and their terrific stories.  Well, here’s one Calgary event that will satisfy all like-minded readers.  Nine authors in one place at Owls Nest Books in Britannia on Elbow Drive  and 50th Ave SW. This bookstore hosts local authors throughout the year and is a should be store for all book buyers in the city.

Check this event out. It promises to be a delightful evening.

7:00 Music (social interlude)poster
7:10 Michael Hare & Randy McCharles: Welcome
7:15 (set 1) Jodi McIsaac
(set 1) Al Onia
(set 1) Mahrie G. Reid
7:30 Music (social interlude)
7:45 (set 2) Nola Sarina
(set 2) Randy McCharles
(set 2) Eileen Bell
8:00 Music: (social interlude)
8:15 (set 3) Gary Renshaw
(set 3) Sherile Reilly
(set 3) Graeme Connell
8:30 Music: (social interlude)
8:45 Randy McCharles & Michael Hare : Thank you
8:50 Music (social interlude)
9:00 End

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 ( 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.

Grrrr day

This is a grrrr day for me in Calgary. The sun is shining and I’ve not hit the keyboard in three days to work on the new book. After such a euphoric  four-five days at Strawberry Creek Lodge near Edmonton last weekend my word count slumped badly in the face of all the stuff that piled up during my writer’s escape. On top of that we’re busy preparing for the Midtown Mosaic art and book exhibition this weekend.

Lois draw


Lois has now finalized her artwork and has a great selection available at modest prices. My two books Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and Finding Dermot are boxed and we’ve designed a new stand to go with the changed decor in the church venue.


Mosaic 2014


We’re looking forward to it this year. All the pews have been removed to create a really nice open space. We haven’t seen it yet but by all accounts it will make for a grand exhibit this year.

Maybe we’ll see you there. Lots of great exhibits from Calgary’s many artists.

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.



Book signing and art

I’ll be signing my books Finding Dermot and Tide Cracks and Sastrugi at the Midtown Mosaic art and book show. This is a diverse exhibition of local talented artisans in a neat venue we’ve participated in the past few years. Renovations to remove the pews and update the lighting will make this a very pleasant place. Lois will have some new work to exhibit, including small framed colour pencil originals in her Beach Studies series.  It’s a very interesting collection.

Mosaic 2014


Pathway advice

Showy asters brighten the pathway

Showy asters brighten the pathway.

I was out walking in the rain along my favourite pathway yesterday beside the reservoir and quietly figured I’d make a radical change to the novel-in-progress. How about  I go with the first person voice? Sure, it would mean changing the chapters already laid down in draft. Back at the keyboard I tried it out with the chapter I’m working on. It was a delight.

Later, in the wee dark hours of the morning, I had time to reflect a little deeper on several other factors in what I wanted to achieve with Wildflowers (working title). Today I checked on a few references relating to the first person voice versus the third person narrative and now believe I should stick to how the story has evolved to date. After all, it is coming together, my characters are talking to me and such a change might take me away from my outline. In other words I see this sudden leap as a distraction.

That said, I’m will continue to nurture the idea as having experimented, albeit briefly, I sense merit. I’ll see how the story progresses, how the tension rises and falls and above all how the reader will be engaged.

Maybe when I head out on my walk along the path today, something else will ambush my brain. I did not have these flights of fancy with either Blossom or Dermot in Finding Dermot as they were firmly in control of the story. I have to allow my new characters the same freedom!


A foster robin

We have a new resident at our place — a baby robin!

Lois first found him on Friday safely semi submerged under the portulaca plant in a pot near the front door. She heard a peeping noise and he looked out at her. Lois captured that on her camera and we thought little more of him.

In the flower pot under a portulaca

In the flower pot under a portulaca

Saturday we found him under the onions in the back garden.

Shelter in the onion patch

Shelter in the onion patch

But now we wonder how he got there as the back garden is surrounded by a six foot high white vinyl fence. Well, we’re glad he’s in the back yard as he’s quite safe there as no cats are present or visiting.  For a bit he sheltered under the raspberries but the noisy sparrows must have been too much for him and he hopped/fluttered to the wood pile.

The poor little guy...where is his underside covering?

The poor little guy…where is his underside covering?

He’s been there ever since with Mom and or Dad dropping in every now and then to give him a feed.

Roosting on the trellis at the wood pile.

Roosting on the trellis at the wood pile.

He certainly does not seem to be under any sort of stress but we keep our distance.

My pictures were captured with a 500mm telephone lens.

A parent watches from the overhead aspen, a beak full of grubs.

A parent watches from the overhead aspen, a beak full of grubs.

Going postal!

I sent a copy of Finding Dermot to Toronto earlier this week and continue in my amazement as to how Canada Post seems to have shot itself in the foot.

Slow post (within six business days) cost me  a princely $15.86 , made up of  $12.37 for the book, 0.93 for fuel surcharge ??, and $1.80 G/S (claims to be an oversized charge, but from what?). Ok so that’s $15.10 but tucked further down the 15-inch long receipt  I see  GST at 0.76 .

The way my mind works if the book sells for $25 it is not very economic for an author to use Canada Post to distribute books.  For who in their right mind will meet the mailing cost as the cost of the book immediately balloons to $40 or so (The standard bookstore margin for a book is 40%. Dice out cost to print, editors, designers etc and yep, you are so right, the author writes and creates a story just for the love of it. And that’s why I write!)

From Calgary, a few weeks back sending the book in exactly the same packaging and weight to Vancouver and  US destinations  at the same postal outlet cost $10 and change. Sending to the UK the price was $18.75 and to Olds,  Alberta, (just 95 km and one hour north of Calgary) $11.87.

And while I’m on to Mr Post I thought I read somewhere a while back that to improve Canada Post profitability, mail carriers would be equipped with small vans to deliver both mail and small parcels in a more efficient manner. Sounded good. Though in my small suburban enclave I’ve counted three or four different little postal vans. Doesn’t sound efficient to me.

What worries me more than anything is that postal services will continue to erode and an essential service in the grip of a total monopoly will fade into history.


Aha, a new path!

Pathways are an attraction. We hit one the other day Wasa pathwhile camping at the Wasa Lake Provincial campground in British Columbia. To us it was definitely in the never-seen-before-I-wonder-where-it-goes type of trail. No map to guide us, only the safety of knowing we were in a provincial park and confident that in these places pathways usually travel around a forested perimeter. Besides we’d already seen good keen walkers survive the trail and return unscathed. And we’d watched the youngsters on their bicycles zoom by.
Five minutes on to the path this is what we found. Well, that’s just what I need. A good walk and bit of an upper as well plus a view at the top. The trail wound its way round and up the hill. Lots of climbing in the shelter of the pine trees, lots of quiet thoughts about the new novel I’m writing and what my main characters might think of a place like this. Around every turn there was something new, whether IMG_6109a flower in its final stages of summer bloom, the way pine cones IMG_6112had cascaded into piles around the unidentified and thoroughly dried plants. Perhaps I’d think in terms of a large lily leaf. HoneysuckleHoneysuckle berries have turned their yellow and red alongside the dry and dusty pathway. New growth pines are flourishing  in the tinder dry clutter. A gentle breeze keeps our temperatures moderate and benches here and there provided a thankful rest at strategic viewpoints of the lake. We meet others doing the up and over  three kilometre path. Our ears pick up on Canada’s diversity, Spanish, French, Asian, European languages but the universal smile and “hi, great day” is acknowledged by all.  At the top we can look down on the lake and the colour of all who enjoy the hot sunny day. Boats, water skiers, tubers, wake boarders, swimmers young and old playing at the shore.  Denny, one of the characters in my novel Finding Dermot, finds beauty and peace in the pathways he’s created in his own private kiwi conservation project in a remote part of New Zealand.

IMG_6111A pathway, always leading somewhere and showing something, like this tree clearer’s artistic stumps at a fallen pines. Neat eh!




Trumpeting the Trumpeter

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

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

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

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

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

















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

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

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

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

Testing Eggs:

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

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



Fresh Front

August 1 and we have a nice new entry to our house.  The gaillardias are showing signs of Front doorwear out in the fields and gardens but they are now alive, well  and permanent at our place.

Sunshine and rain, ice and snow, heat and cold took their toll on the painted panels we had gracing the  front door for the past few years. We were faced with the challenge of sanding to bare wood with Lois creating new art in situ or we could just get some new plywood and build on. So that’s the course we took and Lois had the flexibility of painting whenever and wherever over New Panelthe past couple of weeks. The weather has been just great so much of her effort was spent outside in the garden surroundings. Rather appropriate for what she was creating, brushstroke by brushstroke.

Each panel is approx 18 inch by 83 inches. And of course with the new artwork we just had to have a new mailbox  so I put one together from the pieces left over from the sheet of plywood. It is very simple, great artwork but there is a nice surprise on the inside lid for our mail person, newspaper delivery and anyone else who drops something off.Mailbox

Along the path

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

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

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

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

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



photo-2I’ve decided I have a fascination of pathways, trails and tracks especially through forested areas, through parks, besides streams, up hills wherever.

It’s not so much the open air, exercise thing. You see a pathway leads to somewhere and I’m curious enough to want to know what’s at the end, or even if there is an end. It doesn’t matter how often I walk the same pathway for every trip is different. It might be the flowers, the breezes, the birds or no birds, maybe a duck, the colour of the leaves, a caterpillar crossing, or the peaceful interrupt of other walkers, young moms with strollers, seniors with a cane, joggers or even cyclists. Some folk smile, some folk greet and others look the other way.  There are days when I don’t see a soul and others when the pathway seems extra busy.

Today I figured a pathway is like reading a book, open the cover and head on in and see where the writer takes you, an adventure in itself.

Then again, a pathway is akin to life itself. Who knows what is round the next bend, where the trail goes or who you’ll meet in the next kilometre or two? Explore the urban landscape and delight in where the trail leads.



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.
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 ( 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 in which she outlines those stages from the sudden and unexpected death of her husband Larry to her peripatetic lifestyle of the past seven years or so covering more than 51 countries over five continents. It’s the RV life under sail.

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

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

Adventurers — Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the extremely full and informative website at

New residents

I was supposed to have coffee with Calgary publisher Kim Staflund ( 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 (


A couple of hours later…definitely setting up housewrenstick


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.




Soon, a host of golden daffodils

Soon, a host of golden daffodils





Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)

Japanese peony

Japanese peony

Our blooming crocus

Our blooming crocus




Easter Sunday gifts!

This year I’ve been particularly keen to scratch around in the detritus of last year’s garden to check progress of the prairie crocus, the flower that heralds the arrival of spring. Here it is, April 20, 2014, showing through in the front and sunny garden of our southwest Calgary, Canada, home. Saturday it was covered in snow. Cheers, a very welcome sight.
And just a rock away, this pansy shows its face to the blue sky.

As it was and now is

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

Writer’s what?

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

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

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

A further further display right inside the street entry.

A further further display right inside the street entry.

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

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

About that picture

We’re told that a picture is worth a thousand words. Last week I watched as Lois, with a mighty flourish, added the one-thousandth piece into her 2014 version of her start-the-year-with-a-jigsaw project.

Polar BearOn and off, some days with sustained effort, Polar Bear and her cub slowly took shape. It was not easy. Each piece seemed to have a random shape the colour differences were challenging. It definitely took her artist’s eye and patience to complete. I did get to add a couple of pieces though, but that was two days before the run to the finish line.

I’ll stick to my words. The artist in the family can keep the picture. Her dogged determination to complete the puzzle was very valuable to me as I begin the march into a new novel. While she’s been sifting through the pieces of her puzzle, I’ve been contacting people and sifting through what I need to get started on my new project. It’s one thing to have an idea but to me it has to find some sort of shape before I hit the keyboard. Slowly the characters come to mind and the word picture I start with begins to take on form and colour. I have most of it together now but I’m still musing on the finish. What will the last line be? I like to have that written down somewhere. To me it’s like setting out on a journey. We know the starting point but where on the map will the story end up. I like to have that settled and then if change is needed as the characters dictate I can at least come up with a good reason to let them have their own way.


When a writer crumbles. . .

When a writer crumbles, eat ice cream. That’s what happened at our place this morning. I got up early at 6 am just to get some gems (a New Zealand style muffin) into the oven for a great, heart-warming breakfast with coffee before heading off to church. All went well, the research was done, the mixture made and, to add a variation to the mixture poured the mix into a muffin tray instead of the gem tray; looking good, and into the oven. I watched, my wife watched. They rose, they bubbled. . . and sank!

No nice fluffy muffins this day. What a sad looking tray I pulled from the oven. Perhaps my little loaf like gems didn’t like being put in a muffin tray. The mixture had slopped over the sides of the tray. It had glued up and stunk up the bottom of the oven. Nasty.

Was this the last time I’d attempt such a feat, to cook a fancy and fresh breakfast? The artistic one came and looked. Few words were exchanged. She scooped the cooked mess from the parchment baking cups while I produced the cafe lattes. By the time I got to the table she had a dish of warm blueberries and a bowl of ice-cream alongside the brown crumbled mess. Once again, I ate like a king.

I wondered where I’d gone wrong and reread the recipe. Oh-oh. My early morning eyes, glasses notwithstanding, I’d mixed a couple of lines and added a cup of brown sugar instead of half a cup.

It reminds me of writing, of what happens when we overstate and how easy it is to mess up a paragraph. It also showed, that with a few warm blueberries and ice cream we can make the changes and allow the reader to find merit in the gems.

Bohemian skies



Just look at these beauties! Bohemian waxwings. For a couple of days now we’ve seen huge flocks of these vagrants in the trees round about our place and yesterday they came close enough in the sunny warm skies to hear their trills and the zip of their wings as they whirled around sitting on every available branch. Then some mysterious fellow in the midst of their group decides to move on and up and around they go again, active and full of fun.

Spruce birds

Let’s Read

I love books.

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

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

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

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

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






Ice formDay one. And we’re off and running. Christmas has been celebrated, birthdays done and we sail  headlong and fast into a brand new year. Well, where did the last one go? Where will this one take us?

The grandchildren were over yesterday and one of them read The Serenity Prayer which I keep on my desk.

“Why don’t we say or know the rest of that prayer?” she asked. “It’s pretty good.

Many, many people know and have found new direction in the first four lines.

“God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.”

The next lines gave my grand daughter new thought:

“Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.”

And so it goes. With that in mind it is all we can do, one day at a time. I wrote, completed and published a novel in 2013. I plan to produce another this year. Finding Dermot (see Books) is off and running. I wonder how that will sell. I’m impressed and humbled by the comments I’m receiving. The question now is can I do it again. Check me out on 31-12-2014.

All the best for this neat new year. It started at our place with fresh snow overnight and bright blue skies.

(The full version and the original version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer can be found at