Thursday, 30 July 2015

Five Fabulous Free Ways to have Fun in Banff

After taking my daughter on a tour of some of my favourite childhood haunts in Banff, she sighed and said "Mom, you had a great childhood."  Well said!  Banff is a much busier place than it was when I was a kid.  Many of the paths I thought were made purely for my friends and me are now constantly filled with people and much wider than they once were.  Still, Banff is a magical place to visit with children.  Here are some of the things I enjoyed then and now.  They are simple places, mostly close to my childhood home.

1.  The Top of the World - I believe our neighbours named this favourite place.  It's really not that high, especially when you can see much higher peaks from this little lookout, but it's a great title and my children have continued the tradition.  The little trail close to the Bow Falls is rarely busy and boasts a great view of the Banff Springs Hotel and has been used for games, sketching and plant identification.  In my days of Irish-obsession, I imagined it looked a bit like Ireland.

2.  The woods - Across the street from my family home is a small meadow surrounded by pine trees.  There is a tree filled with weird bumps that we called "The Booby Trap" (!), a swamp known for swallowing shoes, a dilapidated tree house, and tall ferns perfect for making "beds" and hiding places.  It's also a great place to snowshoe in the winter.  It amazes me how small it has become as I've grown older.
The old treehouse.  It looks like someone has made a new ladder.

3.  Bow River Trail along Central Park - I used this particular pathway as the meeting place between Catherine (Cate) Morland and Henry Tilney in my novel Banff Springs Abbey.  It's a beautiful path peppered with benches and other places to watch the river and mountain sky.  Further up the path, one can rent a canoe allowing further exploration.

4.  Cascade Gardens - This historic garden is often featured in photographs of Banff.  The Parks Canada administration building was constructed in 1935 and is sometimes available to the public for tours.  The garden is filled with gazebos and bridges perfect for children to climb and explore.  The little ponds were once filled with water but lately have been dry as Parks Canada restores the crumbling pools.  I had a personal lesson on greed one day on the way to piano lessons when I tried to fish out a quarter from one of these little ponds.  This lead to me falling into the pond in a brand new outfit!

5.  The Banff Springs Skating Pond - This magical little place is only available in the winter when it has been cold long enough to create ice.  The hotel makes and maintains the ice throughout the winter and lays out a wood fire to keep guests warm.  It is an idyllic setting beside the Spray River and can be seen from The Waldhaus Restaurant.  While natural ice is a more difficult way to start children skating, I think the incredible sights of the Rundle Mountain Range and nearby Bow Falls make this the perfect place to teach your child to love the ice.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Remembering Dororthy

They say a village raises a child.  If this is so, then Dorothy was certainly part of my tribe.  She passed away unexpectedly on July 20, leaving her family and friends far before we were ready.
Dorothy was one of my Mom's best friends.  I grew up sharing meals, playing games and going to church with Dorothy and her family.  As a child, she was part of the "Mom Pack".  My mom's friends would get together for coffee and sanity while we kids played make believe, put on skits, traipsed through the forest and got skinned knees.  On one of these adventures, my sister fell out of a tree.  Dorothy was the one who taught me not to let a person with a head injury go to sleep.

As I grew older, Dorothy's daughter and I would occasionally pause in our preteen and teenaged-angst to have a snack and chat with Dorothy.  I remember writing down a particularly important thing she said to me - that it is okay to question God as long as you keep looking for the answer.
Dorothy exuded incredible love for people.  Her face lit up when friends and family came to visit.  I was always grateful for the box of toys she had on hand whenever we visited with our babies and toddlers.  She seemed to thrive on the ribbing she received from her husband and their four children.  When you were in their home, you became family too.

Another vivid memory I have of Dorothy is one I share with those who ask what I think of being a pastor's wife.  I was worried about this myself before I married Phil.  When Dorothy found out about my fear of the position she said "Oh Sam, it's just like being a lawyer's wife or an electrician's wife.  When someone calls, just be polite and take a message."  Excellent advice!

Thank you Dorothy for loving me and my family.  Thanks for all the advice, recipes and laughter-filled memories.  We miss you.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


About four months ago, our family decided to move from our home in Southern Alberta to an island in British Columbia.  It's been a whirlwind of selling our home, packing moving out, saying goodbye and emotional ups and downs since then.  Not to mention, I've had to pack up my computer and sell my oversized desk.  It's a small thing in the scope of everything, but moving certainly has its affects on the ability to write.
This is a weird picture.  I don't know how it happened, but it's our sold sign in front of the old house.
We will be downsizing on the island and so we tried to sell off as much as we could.  My husband gave me my desk as a Christmas present the first year we were married.  The plan was that I would make a living of my writing and so I used the last of my savings to buy a brand new computer before we married.  I had already started my first novel and I had hopes that I would sell it within the first year of marriage.  Eighteen years later, I've acquired a teaching degree and self-published my novels -- not that first one, mind you.  It was rubbish!  

So, I posted my big desk on a local Facebook page and sold it to a lovely family for $40.  Here's a picture of the desk in our old house -- my office space for the past six years.  It was certainly a productive time.  I published eight books in those six years, thanks to createspace.

Packing up my computer was difficult.  Our house sold quickly, which was a blessing, but it means our household items will be in storage for about two months.  I left my computer until the last moment and now I am sharing a laptop with my husband.  I wondered how it would go and honestly, I was way too tired the first week after we moved out of our house to even attempt writing more than an email.  We are house-sitting for friends while we wait to move out and early on, my hubby said "I wonder where you will write in this house?"

I tried the kitchen table and a desk in their basement, but found they were a bit too high to type without hurting my wrists.  Then I tried their daughters smaller desk and found it was just right.  (This is starting to sound like Goldilocks.)  

Goldilocks by Carol Lawson

It's an older, smaller desk than the one I've been using, but  it's the right height.  I'm actually wishing I could steal it because it has three drawers.  My old desk had no drawers and I always missed these handy hiding places.  

We are leaving this great house tomorrow to live with my parents in the Rocky Mountains before we head out to B.C.  I look forward to seeing how writing will work out in the next phase of our transition.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Survivor: Writer's Edition

I had this incredible idea at the beginning of Summer Vacation.  It seemed so awesome.  I wished it would come true.  Then I sketched out the idea and shared it with my sister and it suddenly seemed really lame.  Lame or not, in case there is some merit in the idea, I have decided to write my first blog entry in 10 months about my idea for a Writer's Reality Show.

I'm a dedicated fan of Survivor, Amazing Race and Masterchef, but especially Survivor.  So I was thinking, why not have a reality show about writers?  Sure, we aren't as flashy and outlandish as musicians and actors, but you could dress us up and add some drama to spice up the long hours at the keyboard. So, here's my plan.  I give full rights to whoever wants to produce this show.  As long as you let me audition.

Episode 1:  The Pitch.  In my dream world, writers have have 1 minute to pitch their story.  Agents and publishers choose the top 12.  We promise to cry if you don't pick us.  There may also be some storming off and paper-ripping.

Episode 2:  Writers are given five days to write the first five chapters of their novel.  The stress!  The drinking!  They excessive napping.  Actors are brought in to act out these chapters.  Probably need some screenwriters too . . .  The agents and publishers eliminate two of the writers.
Episode 3:  The ten remaining writers are assigned to different writing rooms.  The two top writers get a writing suite complete with top of the line computer, posters of their favourite writers and inspirational quotations.  The next top writers get a smaller room with a view.  The next four share an office with cubicles and the bottom two have to write in some kind of prison-like cell.  There may also be some food rewards and meetings with published authors.  Will the prisons inspire better writing or does a writer do best in a beautiful suite?

Episode 4:  After five more days, actors act out the next five chapters of each author's writing and two more writers are eliminated.

Other Features:
Writers Group:  Writer's meet together to share their work.  They criticize or encourage one another depending on their mood.
Extra assignments:  At any moment, concentration may be broken by a required assignment in another genre, a blog or a writing prompt.  Prizes for the winners!
Cover Design:  Whose book looks the best?
Book Launch:  Does the rest of the world think these books are interesting.
Book Signings:  Who gets the most visitors?

The show continues until there are only two writers left.  Then audience participation helps to seal the top vote and ultimate prize: $1 000 000 and a writing contract!!
I would watch this for sure!  Hopefully my dream will someday become a reality.