Sunday, 27 December 2015

Americanah Review
I thought I'd start with one of my favourite quotes in Americanah "It's a novel, right? What's it about?" Why did people ask "What's it about?" as if a novel had to be about only one thing. Ifemelu disliked the question; she would have disliked it even if she did not feel, in addition to her depressed uncertainty, the beginning of a headache. 

This is how I feel about my book reviews. I know I'm not good at them. I rarely write what the book was about, but instead focus on my thoughts and feelings about the book. Probably not the most fun thing to read, but it's what I like to write.

This is a story about a Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S. to complete her university degree, becomes a U.S. citizen and then returns to Nigeria after 13 years. It is also a love story about the boy she leaves behind, their estrangement and eventual reunion. I found the observations of life in Nigeria and a Nigerian's observations of American culture to be very eye-opening. Half-way through the book; however, I began to distrust the narrator's continually scorching judgement of people and culture. I'm not sure if it was because the main character became more hardened and bitter as well as depressed or if the book was just a tad too long.

A few chapters also focused on Ifemelu's boyfriend's experience in England and Nigeria. I felt this gave the book further scope and depth. I was glad for this perspective.

Despite the length of the book, it was a quick read with lots of dialogue and anecdotes. The tone was conversational and engaging. I feel like I learned a lot and, in spite of Ifemelu's faults, she was an endearing, intelligent and compelling main character. I'm curious now how much of this novel was based on the author's experiences. I know you're not supposed to wonder this, but it seemed very real.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas Review

Stephanie Barron's mystery book Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the perfect cozy mystery for Austen-lovers at this time of year.
Not only does it have a gorgeous cover, but it is filled with historical treats for Austen fans as well as a well-paced, "clew"-strewn puzzle.

In this, the twelfth "Being A Jane Austen Mystery" installation, Jane is on her way to visit her brother at Steventon Parsonage for the Christmas holidays.  Barron does an excellent job of describing his cold, stingy home and his lazy, dramatic wife.  After a dangerous accident along the way, the Austens are thankfully invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, an opulent historic house where they are in much better care.  Shortly after they arrive; however, an unexpected guest is murdered and the frivolity of the season comes to an end. 

Barron's depiction of Jane Austen as a witty and clever detective is both believable and delightful.  Her methodical and level-headed mind seems the perfect match for solving mysteries.  Whenever I read her series, I wish I had thought of the concept first!  Barron's extensive research and knowledge of Austen's work, life and letters is obvious throughout the book without becoming burdensome.  Her stitching of fiction and nonfiction is seamless.

One of my favourite mini-dramas in the book is the twelve gifts Cassandra and Jane give their 10-year-old niece, Caroline on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  What is a book about Christmas without gifts, after all?  The addition of Mr. West as a detective partner is also intriguing.  I highly recommend this holiday read.

Thursday, 3 December 2015


Juvenilia is the word used to describe Jane Austen's early works, specifically those written when she was a child.  I have a beautiful copy of some of them in a book I picked up at Indigo called Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury.

This is one of her more well-known pieces of Juvenilia titled The History of Enbland from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st By a partial, prejudiced & ignorant Historian.

The other night, my daughter was very excited about an idea she had for a book.  I encouraged to her to get right to work before she forgot anything.  Then I remembered that I had written my first "novel" when I was in grade 6, the very grade she is in now.  As soon as I told her, she begged me to find it, so I did.  Here is a photo of the cover page:

Naturally, the kids wanted me to read the book, so I've begun reading a little bit each day.  (By the way, the boy is pointing at the doll house, not trying to shoot it, as my kids first thought!  Also, the shirt was very fashionable in the 80's!!)

The kids are adamant in their praise of my early writing and perhaps this has coloured my view a little, but I have to admit, I'm enjoying the read.  It's full of cliches and the word "stupid" (which I censor as I read).  There are also large holes in the plot and it probably draws richly on what I was reading at the time, but it is fun and imaginative.  It's what made me want to become a writer.  In case you are intrigued, I'll give you a little excerpt.  I hope you'll forgive me for fixing the spelling and grammatical mistakes.  I can't help myself!

Chapter One: The Fall

"Tommy Manning, come downstairs or you supper will get cold!"

"Mom, I can't come downstairs.  I have to finish building Melissa's doll house."

"Don't keep giving me that ridiculous excuse.  Now either come downstairs or turn into a skinny pencil!"

I guess there's no use fighting with my mother, but the truth is, I'm really not working on this stupid doll house.  I'm actually planning an escape route for when my mom's idiotic 13-year-old cousin comes.  Her name is Sophia Keople and she's a real drip.  I don't exactly know her, but she's an A++ student.  Ugh!  Well, I better get down for supper, or else!

That night, after supper, I really do start to build the doll house.  It isn't really that bad, but it is kind of babyish.  I decide to make the doll house exactly like ours.  Have you tried building a doll house exactly like your own for your jerky sister at the age of 9?!  I tell you, it's no picnic!

That night, I wake up from brain pain.  My head isn't broken in half, don't worry.  It's that I suddenly remember I forgot my homework.  I decide to sneak down to the kitchen and do my math.

As I walk downstairs, I can hear my sister singing in her sleep.  She's no Whitney Houston, that's for sure!  I also hear other neat noises that you can never hear in the daytime; like the hum of the refrigerator, the rumble of the heater and the snoring of the cat.  What?  The cat snores?  Gee, this is really weird!

Then next morning, when I wake up, I can hear my dad singing in the shower, and he's no Kenny Rogers either!  I decide to put on my mini headphones and listen to some real music!  As I start up the stairs again, my sister Melissa comes running down, yelling and screaming.  I try to stop her, but all that does is put me into a nosedive and pull me down too.  The next minute, everything goes black.

I seriously used a semicolon in grade 6?  Even now, I am wary of them:)

So, thanks to my grade 6 teacher, Mr. G, who inspired us by reading his own novel, set in South Africa where he was from, and then told us to write our own.  I relished this project and haven't really stopped the assignment since.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

What to do when the power is out and you are unemployed

We were recently without power for a day and a half in our new home.  This is the longest power outage I remember, though I was assured this is quite normal in our new community.  We had no luck starting the fire in the morning and as my husband and kids headed off to school and work where there was power, I had a little pity party wondering how I would make it through the day.
Here's what kept the kids and I occupied on the first night of the power outage.  The Borrowers was a great choice to show the kids that people survived without electricity in the past.
Step one:  Get that fire started!  After two more tries, I got the fire going.  In my head, I heard my new friend Karla telling me "Well, if it doesn't work, we just have to try again."  She also passed on my friend Michelle's secret of "stuffing the box".  After taking this advice with a good dose of prayer, the fire started and things began to look up.

Step two:  Make coffee.  Michelle also told me she made coffee on her stove.  By 9 a.m. I was in serious need of caffeine, so I put the kettle on the stove and waited.  Thanks to Phil's new AeroPress Coffee maker, I had one of the best cups of coffee in my life, along with an excellent book to help me through the day.
Step three:  Start using your ingredients.  I was beginning to worry that all the food in my fridge would go bad.  I thought to myself - well, I made coffee, why not try biscuits?  That's what the pioneers did!  I dug out my trusty Westgate Alliance Church cookbook and found the biscuit recipe.  Nothing like a church cookbook to remind you of wonderful women from your past.  
Biscuits on the stove
Finished biscuits

Westgate Alliance Cookbook
Step four:  Keep cooking.  It was about an hour from lunch, but cooking on a wood burning stove takes time.  I decided to use up my bacon, eggs and spinach.  An hour later, not much had happened, so I fired up the barbeque and finished the job.  Mmm.  Eggs cooked in bacon grease.  Delicious!
I couldn't stop there.  I still had feta, eggs and spinach to use up, so I invented a recipe for spinach, feta muffins, using a church recipe for apple cheese muffins as my reference point.

Step five: Chop some wood.  A lot of our wood is too big for our stove, so I decided, while acting as a mountain woman, I should try my hand at chopping wood.  It was a fantastic workout and I was very warm, but shortly after this photo was taken, I quit.  The axe was firmly stuck in the wood and I couldn't get it out.  Something for Phil to do on his lunch break!

At this point, I thought I should reread my Grandpa's book on surviving in the North, but I never did get to that and will have to start another day in preparation for the next power outage.

Step six: Write some letters.  It was a bit lonely without a phone, twitter or facebook, so I took Julia Cameron's advice in her book The Right to Write and wrote to my sister and parents.  So glad I bought this sweet Jane Austen writing set from Scholastic book orders last year!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Surrey International Writer's Conference Review

A few years ago, my friends Katie and Richard and I had the opportunity to go to the pub with C.C. Humphreys, an historical fiction writer.  We had a great talk about all things writing and he highly recommended we attend the Surrey International Writer's Conference.  Living in Alberta, this seemed an impossible feat of money and travel, but in moving to the coast, it has been one of my goals.  I nearly put it off for another year, but my husband and mom urged me to take the plunge and I am grateful for their support.

Even though I am much closer, Surrey is still a bit of a trek, so for my first year, I decided to book only the Saturday at the conference.  So, this Saturday, I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and walked, in the dark, to the ferry.  I was very grateful for my phone's flashlight app!  After the 6:30 ferry, I took the city bus to Burrard Station in downtown Vancouver.  Here is the only photo I took, which is a lovely fountain across from the station.

Next was the skytrain, and finally a shuttle to the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.  I registered and then joined the opening session in the Guildford Ballroom.  Beverly Jenkins was the Keynote speaker who encouraged us to keep writing.

Next, I attended a session called Collecting Seeds: How to use Images and Occasions to Create Story with Danika Dinsmore.  After an entertaining introduction of her work and passions, she began to lead us through a writing exercise focused on remembering a place from our past and all of the objects in it.  Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the exercise as it was time for my Blue Pencil meeting with author, Gigi Pandian.

It was a rare treat to meet with Gigi.  She read the first three pages of my latest novel project and gave me some great suggestions about revisions I could make.  She was very warm and encouraging (she told me I was a great writer!) and directly after our meeting, I went to the conference trade show to buy her book Artifact.

The next session I chose was called Rewriting with Anne Perry.  She had dozens of great ideas for making "good even better."  She recommended writing one or two sentences about your theme, and especially what made you write the story in the first place.  She also shared some of the major themes in her novels and I am now looking forward to delving into her books as well. 

Again, I needed to leave the session early to attend the Pitch session I had scheduled with agent Nephele Tempest.  I prepared for this session by checking out some blogs on how to pitch to an agent at a writing conference.  This was my favourite.  I also began reading her blog and wrote up a query letter to focus what I wanted to say.  I emailed it to my brilliant writing friend Katie to make sure it was okay and she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I waited with some other nervous writers on padded chairs in a ballroom lined with tables and chairs.  When our turn came, we walked to our agent and had ten minutes to pitch our ideas.  I was so glad I had been reading Nephele's blog because I was able to talk to her about a few things before launching into my pitch.  After sharing my idea, she asked one excellent question.  "What made you want to tell this story?"  After sharing my answer, she passed me her card and invited me to send her the first fifty pages of my book.  She recommended I complete revising my book before sending it and she urged me that there was no hurry and that her offer did not expire.  Hurrah! Thanks to my research, I remembered to ask her a question before skipping away in euphoria.  I've always been a bit confused by the number or new genres in fiction and asked her to recommend into which genre my book fits.

Following this, we had a Mystery Lunch in the main ballroom where each table sat with one of the conference presenters.  Our table had Jasper Fforde who was very entertaining and personable.  I am interested in reading his novel The Eyre Affair where he has Jane Eyre kidnapped from the novel Jane Eyre.  

Finally, I attended a session with C.C. Humphreys and Robert Dugoni called The Terror of the Second Draft.  Humphreys and Dugomi bantered about the writing process, prefacing that all authors need to find what works for them.  I liked their suggestion that a writer create an outline after the first draft.  I can see how this would focus my work and help me see the big picture.

I wanted to attend a fourth session, but by 3:45, I was tired and my brain was full.  I headed back out toward public transport, looking forward to meeting my family for supper.  It was an amazing first experience, well worth the money.  In meeting some of the other writers, I can see how staying for the full three days would be beneficial in the future.  For now; however, I have a lot of new inspiration and a large to do list ahead of me.  I hope I can attend again with a friend next time.  Maybe I can talk Katie into coming out next year:)

Friday, 9 October 2015

Anemone, Barnacles, Muscles too . . .

My daughter Julia just returned from a four day trip to Bamfield Marine Science Centre.  I told her I would interview her for my blog when she got back, because I know a lot of our friends and family will want to hear all about it.  Here she is, answering my questions.  The photographs are hers as well.

1.  How did you get to Bamfield?
First, I went on the ferry to Horseshoe Bay.  It was 20 minutes long.  Then I went on the Nanaimo Ferry.  It took about one and a half hours.  Then I took a charter bus to Bamfield.  It took four hours.  For two hours, I got to watch a movie called The Spy Next Door.  On the way back, I watched Gulliver's Travels.
On the ferry to Nanaimo

2.  Where did you eat at Bamfield?
I ate in a cafeteria that looked small on the outside, but big on the inside.  It always took a long time if you were last in line, so you had to get their quickly.  When I first got there, I ate pork, glazed carrots and potatoes.  They had a lot of beverage choices like milk, and a lot of different kinds of juices.  There were two coloured juices that were blue and pink.  Someone found out how to make purple out of it by putting pink and blue together!  It was very popular, even some of the adults there did it!  The food was marvelous!
Main building at Bamfield

The cafeteria is in the back

3.  What did you do there?
The first time I went on the boat was when I first got there.  We tested the water to see the temperature higher up and lower down.  We also collected plankton to look at in microscopes.  A couple days later, after we collected the plankton, we looked in the microscopes.  It was creepy at first, but then I got used to it.  They looked like little aliens and bugs.  I showed a picture of them on the television.
Plankton on T.V.

Microscope we used

Plankton in a petri dish

At Brady's Beach:  We had to take a boat to get to the second part of Bamfield.  We had to take a one-kilometre hike.  We had to do an activity where you had to go to a tidal pool and look at all the creatures in it and make a little song or rap about it.  My group made a little rhyming song about what we had in our tidal pool.  It went like "Anemone, Barnacle, Muscles too.  If you don't like that, then Boo Hoo Hoo!"

The coolest part about the tidal pool was the Sea Anemones.  We touched them and they stuck to us a bit when we tried to pull away.  They were cute!
Where we crossed the water to Brady's Beach
Thank you Julia for your excellent pictures and answers.  I'm sure glad you got back safe and sound!!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Walking in Autumn

“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn--that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness--that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” 
― Jane AustenPersuasion

It has come to my attention that some of my readers are becoming haters:)  For those of you who die a little inside when they read my blog posts, wishing you lived where we live, you may not want to read any further.  However, if you are secure in your surroundings, feel free to peruse this random collection of photos from some of my walks in the past few weeks.  There's nothing like walking to bring on writing!

A misty morning yesterday

Instead of walking, we decided to go to the beach this past weekend.

This made me think of a walk from my friend Laurie's book

Our last summer swim took place here

Like a scene out of The Hobbit
Stay tuned for an interview with Julia after her four-day field trip to Bamfield.  We sure miss her and can't wait until her return tomorrow!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

If you love Mr. Darcy, you will like Armand Gamache

Book Review: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

This is the third Armand Gamache book I've read and they just keep getting better.  It struck me at the end of the book that Armand Gamache, the Chief Inspector of the Surete, with his heroic actions and gentlemanly qualities could be an older, modern Mr. Darcy.
Cover from
 Like Mr. Darcy, Gamache is a leader among his peers.  People around Quebec recognize him as a respectable, intelligent man.  He works hard and takes care of those beneath him.  However, unlike Darcy, he seems slow to judge others and has a genuine interest in meeting new people, no matter what their background or circumstances.  Like Darcy, he has a tender affection for his wife of many years and goes to her for advice and support.  It's the future relationship I think most Austen readers imagine for Elizabeth and Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice.

Darcy and Elizabeth by Hugh Thomson, 1894 on wikipedia
 Penny's writing continues to amaze me in Bury Your Dead.  Three mysteries are woven together in this novel.  My dissatisfaction with the ending of her previous book, The Brutal Telling, was not unwarranted.  In an unprecedented move, Penny continues the mystery from that book into this one.  My feelings of unease and sadness at the end of The Brutal Telling were somewhat appeased at the end of Bury your Dead.
I was somewhat disoriented at the beginning of Bury Your Dead in that there are some major events which happen between this book and the previous.  I thought I had missed one in between.  However, this back story is later revealed throughout the book.

This was also the first book I've read that wasn't set primarily in Three Pines.  Penny does a wonderful job of describing Quebec City in the dead of winter.  Like her descriptions of Three Pines, I almost feel I've been there.  She also did a stellar job of explaining the complicated history of Quebec and its tenuous relationship with the rest of Canada.

I can't recommend Louise Penny highly enough and I am grateful to my good friends Sally and Deanna for sharing her with me!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The New Normal: AKA What do you do all day?

If you can believe it, we are now one month into our new adventure and patterns are beginning to emerge.  At least on school days.  Phil is usually awake first and gets up to write a few emails or work on a sermon.  He also makes coffee.  At 7:20, my alarm goes off and I take a few minutes to get ready before I wake up the kids.  We eat breakfast together.  I go for toast, Phil and Julia usually have cereal and Levi likes pancakes.  Then we try to share the bathroom as best we can and by 8:15 we need to be out the door and walking to the bus.  The kids still love the bus ride.

Then Phil goes to work and I have the house to myself.  Hurrah!  I've been lucky to find some other women who like to walk or I will go for a walk myself.  There is a labyrinth of trails to discover and I am happy to note it will take quite some time to walk them all.  Yesterday, we volunteered for Levi's walking field trip.  Imagine walking down to the beach to collect rocks!

There is also writing.  Yesterday, I finished the first draft of my newest novel.  Now I am following Stephen King's advice to put it in a drawer for several weeks.  I can't remember how long he suggested.  It's not in a literal drawer, but I will try not to open my computer folder for at least three weeks.  I am hoping to pitch it in October at the Surrey International Writer's Conference.  I've been wanting to attend this event since my friend Katie and I met CC Humphreys at the Strathmore Library several years ago.  I'm finally close enough!  I'm a bit nervous about the pitch.  That will be my next project.

Phil usually joins me at home for lunch and I often read, bake or clean in the afternoons.  Then I meet the kids at the bus stop and they tell me about the joys and sorrows of their day while complaining about our steep driveway.
A blue heron in the pond across from the bus stop.

Julia has recently taken up helping me make supper or do some baking after school.  She's also excited about the Drama School she has joined.  They both love our new rope swing and continue finding new and annoying apps on our hand-me-down iPhones.

The days are speeding by and we do our best to soak up the sun while it's here.  We hear there's a long dark winter ahead of us.  We sure miss our friends, but are doing our best to make new ones.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


Three days ago, I began to work on my novel again.  My kids are at school now and I have the house to myself while I write.  It is only the second day of this phenomena and I must confess I feel a bit guilty.  I should be out doing pastor's wife things, visiting others or applying for jobs and getting involved in everything I can.  Can I really just sit here and write without minding children at the same time?  I'll get to these other things soon enough, but after three months of moving, I'm going to revel in this oddity for a few days.  Despite Stephen King's admonishment to turn your desk away from all windows and distractions, my desk is situated in a room full of windows.  It's like I'm in a treetop.  My friend Laurie thinks I'm living like The Hobbit.  Lucky me! 

It's been a tough adjustment to school for the kids.  "Everything is different," my daughter keeps saying.  After being a substitute teacher in about 30 different schools, I know that all schools are different, but even I have been surprised by just how different and Island school in B.C. can be.  To start with, they don't begin school until after Labour Day.  This is  a full week later than the kids would start school in Alberta.  I'm a big fan of the fact that the first day of school is only an hour and 20 minutes.  The first day of school is overwhelming for teachers and students, plus this encouraged the parents to stick around for a parent tea where we got to know other parents and were able to learn about volunteer opportunities.

However, our children are struggling with the fact that they still don't know who their homeroom teacher will be.  At this school, previous students begin with their teacher from the year before.  This allows the school to assess their numbers and accurately divide the students into grade groupings.  Students start on Tuesday, but aren't assigned to their teacher until Thursday or possibly Friday.  None of us have experienced this before and, being new students, I think our kids are longing to find security and comfort.  I'm hoping that today they will learn who their teachers will be and begin to find their place.

Another change for our kids is taking the school bus.  We've always lived close enough to walk or bike to school before.  You had to sign up to take the bus and I think there was often a fee to be a bus student.  Here, it is assumed the students will take the bus and just registering them in school gets them a place on the bus.  The kids and I were both worried about getting to school this way, but in fact, the bus ride was the highlight of yesterday for the kids. They love their bus driver and they are the first kids to get pick up on their morning route. 

Yesterday, we also got our first truckload of firewood.  While is not quite as exquisite as a recent This Is That video, we are all pretty enamoured with our fir-scented woodpile.

I felt Waldenesque as I stacked the wood next to our little cabin.  Even though the wood came fully cut, I feel like I am at one with the land.  We could survive a snowstorm now.  We are beginning to become true islanders. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

West Coast Shock

One of our new friends asked me what I find different about our new province and home.  There are so many things I could hardly name them.  After more consideration, here are a few:

1.  The roads: The roads on this island are insane.  I nearly had a full-blown panic attack when I first arrived and had to drive up our driveway.  Now that I've been up a few others I realize that ours is quite tame compared to what some people drive everyday.  I often wish I could remember how those physics problems worked.  Plane times load or something.  Will we actually make it up the hill and at what acceleration will will begin to go backward?

2.  The garbage/recycling situation.  I thought I was a pretty good recycler in Alberta.  We recycled cardboard, paper, tin, drinking containers and plastics.  Most weeks we only had one large garbage bin to put out for garbage collection.  Here, we can only put out one medium-sized garbage pail.  Every TWO weeks.  The recycling depot is open limited hours and run by volunteers.  It is a fantastic facility, but nothing gets by these dedicated folks.  We can't recycle garbage bags or hard plastic without a number on it.  With the move, especially, we have a lot of extra garbage.  I'm planning on sending a bag home with my parents when they visit.  So leave a little extra room in your trunk if you decide to come see us:)  Fortunately, they have an excellent organics program here, so there won't be any food in the garbage bags.

3.  Downsizing.  We knew we were coming to a much smaller home.  We planned ahead and sold off any extra furniture we thought we wouldn't need.  I went through a lot of my papers and the kids toys, but eventually, we just had to throw everything in boxes and get the boxes into storage.  Opening them here in our cozy home, we realized we still had far too much.  Thankfully, there is a a volunteer-run second-hand store that will take our extras.  Even so, sometimes it's hard to say goodbye to memory-laced toys, games and wedding presents.

4.  Septic System/ Water Filtration/ Electric Heat - I've never lived in a house without central heating.  Simply adjust the thermostat and your house is toasty warm.  We even had air-conditioning in our last two houses.  I've never had a septic system either.  When I first learned about it and our water filtration system, I admit, I freaked out.  It's laughable now, but when you're overwhelmed with moving, meeting new people and worrying if your kids will survive the transition, the idea of unsafe drinking water or a septic system overflow can really freak you out.

5.  The rain - I was prepared for rain.  I was prepared for trees.  But I wasn't really prepared for the loss of sun and sky.  Say what you will against the prairies, but the open spaces and bright skies becomes a part of a person when they live in the prairies for 16 years.  The only cure is to get out into the new surroundings, give thanks for the rain and hike a trail.  I'm determined to love this beautiful place.  It'll just take a little time.