Ode to Joy–Holding My New Book

Me and the new book - back cover

I suppose the picture says it all Smile 

The proof copy of No Compass to Right arrived and, on first blush, it seems everything I hoped for. Of course, with proof copies, the devil is in the details. I discovered that uncomfortable truth the hard way with a previous release. I’ll be pouring over this one for a couple of days before placing my bulk order.

If you read e-books, you can pre-order a copy of No Compass to Right for release on June 1st. The big day is coming, folks!

Large NCR release banner (2)

And if all of that is not enough cause for celebration, I received another wonderful surprise in the mail yesterday. Delayed Mother’s Day gift – Bear Paw oven mitts. Many thanks to Kristen, Matt, Emma and Britney. Can you imagine a greater gift for out here at the lake? Now I can lift hot pans with my bear hands while watching bears stroll by – LOL. Wow – two goofy, happy pictures of me in one post. What is this world coming to?

Me and my mother's day gift

Who Has Seen the Wind

W.O. Mitchell - High River, Alberta

And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing trough, a great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town, warm and living against his face and in his hair. (W. O. Mitchell – Who Has Seen The Wind)

I remember being profoundly affected by reading W.O. Mitchell’s novel, Who Has Seen the Wind. I was in my thirties and I had a deep curiosity about the various landscapes mapped out across this huge country I call home … Canada. The way in which Mitchell so artfully described the prairie stayed with me. I had never experienced such a landscape and Mitchell’s words sparked my imagination and engendered a desire to hear the wind hum and twang in the telephone wires, to walk to the edge of a town and feel the prairie all around me. Because the book is set in Saskatchewan, I just carelessly assumed that W.O. Mitchell lived his life in Saskatchewan.

Museum of the High Wood - High River, Alberta

Imagine my surprise when Bruce and I visited the Museum of the Highwood in High River, Alberta and discovered their wonderfully constructed W.O. Mitchell exhibit. I learned that Mitchell had lived for years in High River. That he raised his family in the community and that, in fact, he and his wife were buried in the High River Cemetery.

High River Cemetery

For some background, I’ll turn this over to an article by Kevin Rushworth that appeared in the High River Times in 2014 to celebrate the opening of the exhibit.

By Kevin Rushworth ( http://www.highrivertimes.com/2014/03/10/museum-exhibit-to-celebrate-high-rivers-wo-mitchell ) High River Times, March 9th, 2014

MULTIMEDIA EDITOR

Who Has Seen the Wind, written by late Canadian author and broadcaster W.O. Mitchell in 1947, and his other literary works might have made him a national icon, but a new exhibit at the Museum of the Highwood will shed light on one of High River’s most prominent citizens 100 years after his birth.

William Ormond Mitchell—more commonly known as W.0. Mitchell or Bill to his friends—was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan on March 13, 1914.

Canada would come to welcome this literary figure with open arms, ultimately providing him with the Order of Canada and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, but Mitchell’s 20 years spent in High River started simply—he arrived in the community by bus in 1943.

By 1945, he fell in love with the community, brought his wife Merna to High River and his first and arguably most famous book, Who Has Seen the Wind was published in 1947.

W.O. Mitchell exhibit at the Museum of the High Wood

Irene Kerr, curator and director of the Museum of the Highwood, has found herself laughing out loud during research for the exhibit. The exhibit focuses on the years Mitchell spent in High River. “It’s so Canadian, so prairie and it’s so small town,” she said. “His humour was brilliant. He tells all these stories that we often tell at the museum, but he tells them in a little skewed, more humorous way.”

Mitchell drew inspiration for many of his characters from real people he met living in High River. His three children were born and raised in the community. While going about his daily routine, Mitchell would jot down notes about the people he met. Many of them became the so called ‘salty characters’ in his novels.

While being interviewed, Mitchell himself once said much of the inspiration for the town of Crocus—as seen in his Jake and the Kid novel and the CBC radio show—came from High River.

Mitchell wrote that High River was always a special place, “She’s a town with a conservative personality which makes you love her and lose patience with her, but she’s still a cowtown that takes her rhythms with the seasons,”

Rocky Mountains as seen from outskirts of High River, Alberta, Jan. 4, 2017 - bruce witzel photo

We thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring the Museum of the Highwood. The curator – I didn’t get her name and sure wish I had – responded to our questions about the flood in 2013 by sitting us down at a table and bringing out several books with graphic photos. She regaled us with stories that made the whole event come to life and that, I must say, was a scary experience!

Have you ever discovered something previously unknown about a favourite author? Was there ever an author or book that made you want to experience a certain landscape?

Britney, Grandma & Emma at W.O.Mitchell's headstone in High River cemetary, Jan. 4, 2017 - bruce witzl photo

When I visit High River in the summer, I want to walk to the end of a street and have a W.O. Mitchell experience of prairie:

I would walk to the end of the street and over the prairie with the clickety grasshoppers bunging in arcs ahead of me, and I could hear the hum and twang of wind in the great prairie harp of telephone wires. Standing there with the total thrust of prairie sun on my vulnerable head, I guess I learned — at a very young age — that I was mortal.

Outside of High River - Guenette photo

Holiday Reflections

Saint Benidict's Anglican Church (2), High River Alberta, Jan. 04, 2017 - bruce wtizel photo

Reasons to spend holiday time staying with family in another province:

Grandkids change so fast. The opportunity to reconnect with where they are in their lives is a precious one. We took Emma and Brit on a snowy outing to the High River Cemetery. More about why in a later blog. Emma was so excited to run between the gravestones and brush off the powdery snow so she could read the inscriptions. She is at that wonderful stage when the ability to read has clicked and she can’t wait to decipher the written word anywhere she finds it. The day was quite cold and when Brit headed back to the car, Emma looked disappointed. She told me, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her we would come back in the summer and spend as much time as she liked. She said, “Can I wear a dress?” I felt that would be perfectly fine.

High River Cemetery

A couple of snow angels visited the High River Cemetery.

A couple of snow angels

Kristen - Bruce Witzel photo

 

 

 

Grown kids still need their moms. Well, they do! Especially when mom can bite her tongue now and then. Listening matters more than always heaving the proverbial two-bits into every conversation.

 

 

 

The opportunity to do things one wouldn’t do at home. For example, watch ten episodes of The Crown on Netflix – I loved it!

The Crown - Goggle Image

Experience a white Christmas. For someone who grew up on the coast of British Columbia and hasn’t strayed far from coastal waves, this was new. As was watching Emma and Brit skate on an outdoor lake and multiple sledding trips down what passes for a hill in High River.

White Christmas - High River. Albe

Emma sledding - Bruce Witzel photo     Brit sledding - Bruce Witzel photo

Brit - winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Understand what -30 with wind-chill feels like. Britney told us that her school doesn’t let students play outside at recess if it is colder than -20 with a windshield. I guess announcements over the PA system are hard to decipher whether it be at a school or in an airport.

Tsunami warning - Goggle ImagesBe terrified over one’s first experience at a wave-pool. When the waves hit me, I was standing in the worst place possible – near a wall and in the outflow from one of the water slides. Add to my terror the fact that Kristen told me to stay close to Britney. I seriously felt as though I was on the beach as a tsunami rolled in with no hope of keeping my head above the water let alone staying close to anything. Suffice to say, as Brit bounced towards me with a grin and helped me get my footing, I realized I was to stay close to a five-year-old for my safety not hers.

Baking with grandkids. Making and decorating sugar cookies is my Grandma baking specialty.

Emma & Fran decorating  Christmas cookies

Playing cards and games. We discovered Phase Ten this year and enjoyed it. Pass the Ace continues to be a favourite. As usual, I stayed on the receiving end of loss after loss at crib. Good to know all is as it should be with me and the gaming universe. One day, Emma, observing yet another of my losses, patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry Grandma. I’m on your side because you’re the thunder-dog.” And so I was.

Candy purchases at the Bulk Barn. Hot Tamales by the pound, anyone? This is the sort of good time you had to be there to enjoy!

Getting familiar with a new, family-oriented community. I am helped to put the day-to-day events of kids and grandkids in context with such information. And we did such a good job at this that we ended up in the local High River paper. Can’t complain about that.

New Year's Eve in High River Times

Reasons why it is wonderful to come home:

No matter how comfy the bed I land in, nothing can replace the tried and true of my own bed and pillows.

The opportunity to eat in tune with personal preferences – fresh baked bread, homemade soups and a spicy black bean dip made with balsamic vinegar that is to die for. Unfortunately, Bruce is not a fan of three things – balsamic vinegar, cilantro and lentils. All of which, I love. But I had read in my Bean Cookbook that balsamic vinegar is a bean’s BFF, so I had to throw caution to the wind. The consequence I am willing to live with is that I must consume all the spicy black bean dip on my own.

The off-chance that I may finally return full-time to writing the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series – yippee!

Significant blocks of quiet that allow me the time to enjoy the memories of a great family holiday. Life is good!

Kristen & Matt - Bruce Witzel photo

Eight Years Old Today

Emma's Birthday

My granddaughter. Emma, turns eight today. How the time flies. There are days when I can’t remember where I put my coffee but I remember the day she was born like it was yesterday.

November 21st, 2008 – I got the call from my daughter, Kristen, at about two in the morning. Screaming down the phone lines, at least two weeks early, she told me she was thinking of going to the hospital. “The baby is coming, Mom.” 

I was living in Victoria at the time, at the university, teaching. I had a class to teach later that afternoon. I flew out of bed and into action. Emails went out to a substitute instructor and I was in a cab on the way to the bus depot before 5:00 am with many calls back and forth in the those ensuing three hours.

I learned that they had sent Kristen home on that first trip to the hospital. I remember holding the phone away from my ear as her outraged voice rose. She was livid.

I was finished the two-hour ferry trip and back onboard my bus headed for the downtown Vancouver Bus Depot when I got another call. With gasping and groaning amidst the words, Kristen said, “We are on the way back to the hospital. Where are you?” That call ended before I could answer because she had to barf out the window of the car.

I arrived at the depot and managed to find a cab driver who was willing to drive me out to The Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. He took one look at my face when the words – My daughter’s having a baby. I have to get to the Royal Columbine” – poured out of my mouth and he smiled. Get in, he told me. I was in the labouring room soon after Kristen got processed and sent there herself.

Okay, flashback to my own labouring experiences. With my first, labour was a three-day ordeal that ended in an operating room with me having a caesarean delivery. Not the most pleasant of memories to draw upon. My next delivery was a scheduled caesarean. Through Kristen’s entire pregnancy, I worried about a long, difficult labour ending with any number of complications.

I am happy to report that Emma’s birth was nothing like anything I imagined. My daughter is a rock star! I arrived in the room at 10:00 am – Emma was born by 2:00 pm. The last hour and a half was such intense work that the time flew by.

But there was those few terrifying moments, right at the end, that seemed an eternity. Emma’s head had crowned, I was watching her being born. The doctor suddenly asked me to move aside. A flurry of orders poured out of her mouth. The room filled with people. Newborn Emma was in the doctor’s arms and moving quickly to a table nearby surrounded by other masked doctors and nurses. The cord had been around Emma’s neck and she wasn’t breathing. I stood very still and saw this brand-new life surrounded by busy, capable hands. I saw Kristen sit up on the delivery table and I heard the anguish in her voice as she said, “Mom, Mom … what’s wrong? Tell me what’s wrong.”

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That moment stretched out forever and then Emma cried and she was in Kristen’s arms. The world tilted back to a proper axis and all was so wonderfully, wonderfully well.

The next few hours were incredibly joyous. Emma moved from the arms of her exhausted but overwhelmingly relieved parents to those of her ridiculously proud grandparents. I remember thinking that I had never in my life been present for such an amazing event. I was so completely overwhelmed with the thought that my baby was now a mother.

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I am so grateful that when that phone call came at 2:00 in the morning on November, 21st, 2008, I acted decisively. I got to see my granddaughter’s birth. And I am so thankful for the relationship I have with my adult daughter – a relationship that made being by her side as she gave birth to our beautiful Emma so right and perfect. Though, in the picture below, Emma looks less than thrilled with the entire process.

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And today, that tiny baby is eight-years-old. Little did we know that being grandparents would turn our lives and our priorities so totally upside down. I regret nothing! Every moment spent with this special little girl who is Emma has been worth it.

00471HSAS146 Emma Keeley008

Report Card Time

 

Brit - Guenette photo

I’ve been thinking a lot about report cards and the whole assessment dimension of sending our kids and grandkids off to school. I came across these great quotes.

Friendship … it’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you haven’t learning anything. (Muhammad Ali)

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learned in school. (Albert Einstein)

What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning. (Chuck Grassley)

00773HSAS458 Britney Keeley005

Our beautiful granddaughter, Britney – just look at that Mona Lisa smile! – got her first kindergarten report card yesterday. Five-years-old and already in the assessment mill of school. Heavy sigh! All her kindergarten academics are strong but on the scale of C = consistent, O = occasionally and S = seldom, she is C for talking out in circle time and rushing through her fine motor skill work so she can get busy with the next activity.

As someone who has never taken educational assessment all that seriously, I was tempted to laugh. I remember my son’s surprised face when one year he came home from school and told me, in dramatic teen fashion, how his dad was going to kill him because of a failing grade in math. I shrugged and said, “Hardly. Your dad and I know how smart you are. It’s just a grade.”

To know Britney, is to know she is a force to contend with. Even as a baby, she was a hard child to move and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. She has a low centre of gravity. She would make a great protester. When the police drag her to the paddy wagon, she won’t make it easy. It’s who she is. She has all those second child characteristics – one of which is the constant feeling that she is missing out on something and must hurry along. No wonder she rushes through fine motor skill activities!

Brit doing math - Guenette photo

But I didn’t laugh. A child’s first kindergarten report card is a big deal – to the parents and the child. I listened to my daughter’s concern and the disappointment in her voice tugged at my heart. We all want our kids to be top of the class with all their C’s, O’s and S’s in the right spots.

The best thing a parent can do is put things in perspective and this continues between grown children and their parents. I listened, then said, “Reminds me of someone else’s report cards.” My daughter paused and then laughed. Yes, I meant her. We looked at her kindergarten report card a few years ago and one comment stood out. “Less chatter and more paying attention would certainly help her progress.”

Brit and Kristen

This parenting thing – never easy, for sure.

Honouring Our Lost Sisters

Red Dress Project

This week the government of Canada launches a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Many wait with mixed feelings – we are good at inquires in Canada. Less proficient at implementation when it comes to complex issues that challenge systemic racism and misogyny. I read a tweet that said – let’s not let the good be obscured by our desire for the perfect. Maybe we are on the right track, maybe this time we’ll get it right.

Listening to CBC’s The Current, this morning, the podcast ended with a snippet of Amanda Rheaume’s song, Red Dress. I had to hear more. I write this post with her haunting words in my ears and tears in my eyes.

The song Red Dress is meant to honour the over 1180 Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada and raise awareness for this tragic and ongoing issue.

After hearing the song in it’s early stages, award-winning artist Chantal Kreviazuk was compelled to lend her voice to the song and the cause.

The title “Red Dress” and the concept for video were derived from artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project where 600 red dresses were donated and installed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg and across Canada as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us. The hope for the installation was to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.

red-drss-image - google images

You Tube link to Amanda Rheaume singing Red Dress. Please pop over and watch this video and then review the lyrics.

Red Dress

I see the line of all the broken hearts

Lining up to tell their side to an already one-sided story

Years of cycles in my mind

Seems to be the ones we love

Somewhere, I learned to say I’m sorry

Chorus: Take me down to the river

City lights are in my eyes

I have got my red dress on tonight

(Repeat)

I never wanted to be a drifter

I am a woman with no worth

Somewhere I learned to say I was sorry

Every day I learn to say I’m sorry. I hope with all my heart this is the moment for the long-awaited justice that Indigenous women and girls cry out for – the justice that so many of us demand of ourselves, our policing community and our government. I want to believe this is the time to redress the wrongs.

I long to see all the beautiful sisters – free of all fear –  dancing in their red dresses.

Maranda - Dancing with Butterflies in Spirit

Any Fool Can Know–Wednesday Wisdom

Smoke Bush - Bruce Witzel photo

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

A few days ago, my granddaughter and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood. I pointed out a particularly lovely Smoke Bush that was in full bloom. I told Britney how much I love the dusky colour and the way the feathery purple spikes really look like smoke coming from the bush. She nodded wisely, taking it all in the way she does.

Brit's new sweater - Guenette photo

When we were out yesterday, I saw her point out a Smoke Bush and tell her mom, “Grandma loves smoking bush.” Hmmm … I suppose that could be taken a few different ways. Then again, the point is to understand.

Smoke Bush 2 - Bruce Witzel photo