The Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas mug

On the first day of Christmas, we were so sick with a cold and cough that all we could manage was opening our gifts and sitting by the fire. Got this nifty mug – someone knows me well!

Turkey dinner

On the second day of Christmas we recovered enough to cook our turkey. Yummy.

3rd day of Christmas - special breakfast

Third day of Christmas was greeted by a holiday breakfast – sausages and French toast with icing sugar and whipped cream. We’re getting into the swing of holiday food.

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On the fourth day of Christmas, I used my brand new gloves to load the stove. Gotta keep those home fires burning and as you can see from the first glove photo, I was due for a new pair. 

Garden Gargoyle

Making the coffee on the morning of the fifth day of Christmas, I stare out the kitchen window and wonder what this garden gargoyle is planning.

Five Generations (2)

Got busy on the sixth day of Christmas clearing out and shredding a bunch of paperwork from the settling of my dad’s estate. He died seven years ago, so it was time. Came across this photo. Five generations – me at barely twenty-one with my son Doug, my dad, his mom and her mom. Wow! The time really does fly.

Cinnamon Sugar Diffuser

The seventh day of Christmas saw me setting up my new Cinnamon-Sugar diffusor. My desk now smells like cookies all the time. Talk about inspiration.

Cabin on Christmas morning 2017 (sharpened version) - bruce witzel photo

The eighth day of Christmas and the first day of 2018. Happy New Year from our home to yours.

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Nativity set  (2)

On the ninth day of Christmas our little Wise Men approach closer to the stable. My mom made this dough-art nativity set for me way back when my kids were little. My mother was a very crafty type of person and she was constantly creating things and giving them away. Some I received with politeness and others with great joy. The nativity set was and continues to be the latter. Over the years, baby Jesus’ hands have been broken off and the donkey lost an ear but none of that seems to matter. I am inspired by my mother’s giving, creative, go-for-it spirit. Who else would have created a nativity set from dough-art?

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The tenth day of Christmas sees us enjoying green tomato mincemeat tarts. I made and froze this mincemeat in September with thoughts of New Year treats.

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On the eleventh day of Christmas I am taking some time to reacquaint myself with an ongoing project of knitting up all my scraps of yarn. What I’ll do with all the squares when I’ve emptied the craft bin, I have yet to decide.

Santa Ornament, Dec. 23-2017 - bruce witel photo

Well, the twelfth day of Christmas is upon us. We’re saying goodbye to the season. Sorry to see the end of decorations, lights, cards, gifts and yummy food. But it’s time to move on with 2018. Here’s hoping that all of you have had a joy-filled holiday. Best of everything for the new year.

Bring on the Light

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“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for a home.” Edith Sitwell

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                Holiday shortbread

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IMG_1361 (2)    Nativity set  (2)From our home to yours, we wish you a blessed holiday. Welcome the light in anyway you celebrate, enjoy quiet time on your own and the hustle and bustle of family and friends.

Glass Christmas Ornament with backlit, Dec. 23-2017 - bruce witzel photo

Barb Wire Bronco

Barbed Wire Bronc - Glenbow Museum - Guenette photo

Here is a highlight from our visit to the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary yesterday. A sculpture by Jeff de Boer (2006). The Barbed Wire Bronco rears up in a dynamic explosion of power, seething with tension and vitality.

de Boer used more than two miles of barbed wire to create this evocative work of art. He was inspired by a horse named Cyclone – the bucking bronco who threw 129 men before Tom Three Persons rode him to a standstill at the 1912 Calgary Stampede.

The horse is Alberta’s most beloved animal because it personifies the character of this land – freedom, movement and fluid beauty. The statue captures the animal’s sheer muscular sinew and its unquenchable spirit. And, ironically, it is made of the same material that served to fence in the wide-open grasslands of the prairie.

John Ware stamp

Some of you who follow my blog may recognize the face of John Ware behind the Barbed Wire Bronco. This fascinating fellow was mentioned in a post I did two months ago about the Bar-U Ranch. To learn more feel free to tap the link. I’m thrilled to have time to discover the often edge-of-your-seat history particular to Southern Alberta. Quite the place – now and then.

Northern Lights sculpture - Glenbow Museum

Northern Lights sculpture that reaches up the central stairway of the Glenbow Museum – stunning!

Autumn Flowers–Pure Magic

Fall flowers 3 - Snapdragons

Bright splashes of colour peeking through the browns of fall – pure magic indeed. I’m not referring to flowers that are meant to bloom specifically for autumn. Things like Chrysanthemums, colourful Michaelmas Daisies and Autumn Crocuses. I’m talking about the hardy summer blooming flowers that just won’t give up on the chance to flash showy colours as the cold nights of fall descend.

Fall flowers 2 - Begonias and Nasturtiums

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. (Lucy Maude Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables)

Fall flowers 4 - Mini dalias

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face. (John Donne)

Fall flowers 9 - Tri-colour Hypericum

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  (Albert Camus)

Fall flowers 11 - Pinks

Autumn – the year’s last loveliest smile. (William Cullen Bryant)

Fall flowers 17 - Marigolds

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Fall flowers 13 - Hydrangea

Catching Up

Marigold magic

In bygone days when money was tight, we used to talk about getting ahead. No sooner would we feel like extra cash was on hand than an unexpected expense would loom on the horizon. We came to believe that anticipating the moment we would get ahead was a harbinger of disaster. Lately, the idea of catching up begins to feel somewhat the same.

I’ve been home for almost three weeks from a month of travel right after the regular busy summer schedule of visitors and gardening. And the summer did seem busy! With an ever-expanding garden, bears in the fruit trees, replacing our wood-burning stove, contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle and planning to reroof a section of the cabin – we were hopping.

Moving in the new stove

New roof

September is not usually a month I would choose for travelling. But with the garden produce at a steady trickle rather than a tidal wave due to cool weather and rain early in the season, I risked it. Of course, the garden took off the minute I was out the door. Bruce was kept busy with freezing blackberries and green beans and eating ten plus tomatoes a day.

Since my return, canning has been priority number one. Jars of dilly beans, stewed tomatoes, salsa, green tomato chutney, blackberry jam and relish have made their way to the pantry. And we have been enjoying the harvest with multiple veggie selections at every meal – green beans, squash, carrots, potatoes, the last of the cucumbers and zucchini as well as fresh parsley and basil.

Green cherry tomato pickles                    Salsa

Blackberry jam

We did manage a wonderful Thanksgiving turkey dinner here with guests from around the lake. A squash custard, green beans, carrots, fresh salad greens dotted with cherry tomatoes, newly dug potatoes, parsley in the dressing – all from the garden – competed for attention on a turkey laden table. And we got in a trip down Island to have our generator serviced. It was a gorgeous day and we took a lovely walk down at the spit in Campbell River.

Campbell River spit

A very dry September and the early part of October has meant a slow start to our micro-hydro system but what a bonus for the last of the garden produce. To say nothing of our local foraging for chanterelle mushrooms. They are coming in so crisp and bright!

Chanterelle bounty

So, lately I am not feeling like Francis Guenette, author of the Crater Lake Series. I’ve hardly had a moment to consider writing! That brings me to something I’ve learned over the course of the last five years of writing, self-publishing, marketing and just plain living. The living part matters. I can’t bring all that I am to the writing if all that I am is a writer.

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This morning I woke up with an idea for how book five will end. That’s progress. Soon all the garden will be laid to rest with late fall storms, all that can be consumed will have made its way through the door, the lights will be bright with excess power and I will be writing again. The ebb and flow of life continues. I won’t be caught up but I begin to think that catching up is not an ideal I need to pursue.

Squirrel on the deck

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing

Where do you get your ideas?

Glass half full - Guenette photo

Recently, I was asked this question – How do you come up with the ideas for your books? The person asking was sincere in a desire to understand the inner workings of a novelist’s process. My first thought was that ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere, free for the taking. As Amy Tan wrote, “It’s a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life.”

Neil Gaimon talks of how every profession has its pitfalls. Doctors are asked for medical advice, lawyers are asked for legal information, morticians are told how interesting their profession must be before the subject is quickly changed. Writers must bear the burden of being asked where we get our ideas from.

I scrambled to pull my thoughts together and make an adequate reply. I considered answering as Hemingway would. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” From there all will flow. I rejected that idea. By quoting Hemingway I ran the risk of sounding like a literary snob and such an answer would have been unsatisfying to a sincere questioner.

Instead, I talked of how I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. They are the ones who have all the ideas. I’m with Stephen King when he says that the best stories always end up being about the people, not the events. The only problem with this answer is that it begged the next question. Where do the characters come from?

Where indeed? Even after five forays into creating characters and stories that fill whole books, the process is as much a mystery to me as it might be to someone who has never done it. Fair to say, as Chuck Palahniuk notes, “My writing process isn’t a very organized thing.”

The more I think about how the books came to be, the more the indefinable nature of the work strikes me. It’s almost as if I have fallen victim to a strange reflective amnesia. Where on earth did those first characters in Disappearing in Plain Sight come from? I just don’t know. E.L Doctorow tells us, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” He might have been wise to add that when looking in the rear-view mirror, one can see nothing at all.

The writing process is a hard thing to discuss. Virginia Wolfe had it right when she reflected that, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of … life, every quality of … mind is written large in his [or her] words.”

All I know for sure is that all my life I’ve wondered about people. I’ve always been curious and I’ve always been prone to wild bouts of speculation. Questions of ‘what if’ have often driven my thoughts.

Maybe George Orwell has the answer. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one weren’t driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Orwell could have also noted that having to talk about such a process is worse than going through it!

A new bird in town - Guenette photo