Floral notes: Mid-November.

Vodka irrigation, dapper plants with stripes, peppery baked goods, and an inspiring, marvellous book – it’s all here in this post!

Stuff about plants:

I somehow came home with paperwhite bulbs after my last trip to the garden centre.  (Don’t worry – I paid for them…I just didn’t originally intend to buy them. The bulbs just looked so lovely sitting their in the bins, and they were such a good price, and I had some other stuff to buy, anyway…and well, that’s how it all starts).  Then they sat in the den for a few weeks until I remembered that they existed and maybe I ought to do something about them.  I haven’t forced paperwhites in years and I previously always did so in soil, but this year, I’m trying them in water, as it appears to be the more popular method. And I’m going to water them with a dribble of vodka to keep them from getting way too tall and flopping over (see here for more information).  What is your preferred media for forcing paperwhites: soil or water? Or do you simply not bother with them, because you don’t like their (admittedly a tad cloying) fragrance? 

I believe I’ve mentioned that the library where I work has amazing natural light due to the huge bay windows set into the east wall as well as skylights that extend up the full length of the north and east sides.  One of my co-workers overwinters her geraniums in the windows, and she cultivates a variety of houseplants there all year ’round: jade plants, miniature Dieffenbachias, various cultivars of cacti, and aloe vera.  A few days ago, we added to the jungle, taking in a massive collection of very large, very mature houseplants of a friend of my co-worker.  The plants needed somewhere to stay for a few weeks while the owners move house, and the prospect of all that great light and good nurturing were welcomed.  I am enamoured with these additions to our workspace and I suspect I will be sad to see them go when they head off to their new home.  I particularly love this beautiful Dracaena fragrans (‘Warneckii’, I believe, but I welcome any corrections on that one – there are so many types of Dracaena!).

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Worthy read:

Cynthia Reyes’ Twigs in My Hair.  I was absolutely thrilled to have the honour of being one of the first readers of Cynthia’s new book, a beautifully-written garden memoir. (And if you already own a copy of the book, you’ll notice a bit of what I’ve written here printed on the back cover). Twigs in My Hair is infused with the wonder and connectivity of gardens and their gardeners, of the natural world and our place within it. Cynthia gifts us with the crunch of brilliantly-coloured autumn leaves, the ethereal silence of a fresh snowfall, and the exquisite splendour of the first spring ephemerals. She invites us into her warm kitchen, with the burnished wooden table laden with canning jars filled with the harvest. We are welcomed into many beautiful gardens – some hers, some belonging to friends and family and mentors – and we delight in the rewards of labour and love, treasure the time spent with loved ones, and share the intense pain of struggle and heartache.  Cynthia writes about gardening (and living!) with the wisdom and experience gained over time – and she doesn’t forget to share a few laughs along the way.  Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a complete novice, you’ll see yourself somewhere in these pages, and I guarantee you’ll garner some inspiration for your own gardening life.  Think about picking up this one as a holiday gift for the gardener in your life! Check out Cynthia’s website here.

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Enabling cookies: 

Finally, I’m thinking about Christmas cookies (I won’t make them for a few weeks but the THINKING is happening).  Does anyone have a tried and true recipe for Pfeffernusse?  I love them but have never made them before.  I found a zillion recipes online but the ingredients (and the measurements of said ingredients) vary significantly.  What other cookies are your holiday favourites?  Tell me about them! 

Floral notes: Late summer and into autumn.

When they say time is flying by, what is its mode of transport, actually? Eagle wings? Lear jet? Rocket?

Trips and treks:

My hubby, my brother, a friend, and I wandered around Powderface Ridge in Kananaskis Country in mid-August…my hubby and I didn’t go to the summit, choosing instead to enjoy the scenery  and the sunshine at a spectacular outcropping.  Next year we’ll make another attempt, this time from the south!

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The garden:

As of two weeks ago, I’ve wrapped up things in the community garden, finally getting the garlic sown and a handful of parsnip seed chucked into my raised bed before mulching and heading home for the winter.  Before the snow fell at the end of September and the first week of October, I made nearly daily trips to the garden to collect seed and came out with large stashes of calendula, nasturtium, and dill seeds; as well as enough lovage seeds to share with several gardeners in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group.  Aside from truly pathetic performances from my zucchini, pumpkin, and pattypan squash plants, I am pleased with my veggie yields this year – I had pleasantly decent harvests of shallots, potatoes, turnips, bush beans, kohlrabi, dill, and parsley.  As for flowers, the wet weather proved more than suitable for them, and I had a lovely turnout by the sunflowers (tiny, cuddly ‘Teddy Bear’ seen below), several cultivars of sweet peas and nasturtiums, and calendula. Since then, it has snowed several more times, and more of the white stuff is on its way this weekend.  My winter coat is getting an autumn workout!

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Worthy reads:

The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt.  This gripping, gritty mystery series featuring police detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme is set in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay, Ontario (modeled after the author’s hometown of North Bay). The Delicate Storm follows the first novel Forty Words for Sorrow, with a thoroughly engrossing story that draws connections to the events during a particularly troubling time in the history of the province of Quebec. In this second novel, the writing is polished and the characters are more fully realized than in the first book. Call me officially hooked!

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Kathyrn Scanlan’s Aug 9 – Fog.  This remarkable title may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was absolutely captivated by it.  Over a period of a decade or so, Scanlan excerpted the contents of a stranger’s diary – a battered, everyday object she picked up for free at an estate sale – and then put the pieces back together again in different ways, creating an entirely new work that encapsulates Scanlan’s intentions, as well as the words of the original writer (one Cora E. Lacy, from rural Illinois, who began writing the diary in 1968, when she was eighty-six years old).  The result is a snapshot into the life of a woman who did the laundry, washed her hair, watched the garden grow, put up preserves, went to church, socialized with friends, had the aches and pains associated with old age, and who mourned the deaths of loved ones.  Her life was not extraordinary, but Scanlan has painstakingly taken the woman’s daily ruminations and lent them a gravity and majesty that is simply breathtaking to read.  “Terrible windy   everything loose is travelling.”

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The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson.  This story – of an obsessed fly tier who steals several rare and massively valuable bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring, in the United Kingdom – has so many crazy twists and turns that it’s REALLY difficult to remember that it’s not fiction.  Johnson’s meticulous research, polished writing, and (dare I say it?) perfectly breathtaking pacing elevate this true crime account to special heights.  And the conservation angle doesn’t hurt, either – the statistics about human influence on species diversity are devastating.  I came away furiously angry and heartbroken…for more than one reason.

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Me blathering about me: 

I’ve had a slow year, as far as publishing fiction goes…once again, I’ve been focused primarily on writing non-fiction and my fictional work has fallen by the wayside.  I will, however, have a very short story called “Opening Night” published on selected cardboard coffee sleeves that will be used in several independent coffee shops in Edmonton, Alberta. The sleeves will be printed near the end of this year or early 2020 so I’ll have to ask my Edmonton friends to go drink a bunch of coffee (hot chocolate?  rum in a coffee cup?) and track down my tale.  😉  And…my micro-fiction horror story “Seams” was also just published in the Scary Snippets Hallowe’en anthology, currently out as an e-book and available very soon in print format.

Cook (and bake) this: 

This pumpkin bread is gluten free, but you can sub regular flour if you don’t need to eat GF. And it looks like it’s fairly easy to make this vegan as well.  If you have to adhere to a gluten free diet, this bread may make you tear up with joy – it doesn’t have the consistency of typical GF baked goods (which are either powdery or rubbery or somehow, illogically, both at once).

This is the best slow-cooker whole chicken recipe I’ve ever found. When time flies, a slow cooker is a necessity; it balances the space-time continuum or something.  Yes, that’s it, I’m sure….

Really, it’s just chicken, but it’s seriously delicious chicken.

 

As always, thanks so much for reading!  If you want to, please share some fun projects you’re working on, recipes you’ve recently tried and loved, your plans for the next couple of months leading into the holiday season.  (Feel free to put up a link to your blog, if you like – I’ve been trying to keep up with the WordPress Reader but it’s impossible, and my email inbox is a nightmare befitting the recent ghoulish holiday.  Plus, this way, others can head over to your site and see your posts as well).  Have an amazing weekend!  ♥

Two new publications! Disasters in Canada: Prepare and Be Safe – Wildfires and Floods.

I’m delighted to announce that Beech Street Books has published two more of my non-fiction books for children! Floods and Wildfires are part of the Disasters in Canada: Prepare and Be Safe series.  They help children understand the causes of these disasters and what to do if their communities are threatened.  I really enjoyed researching and writing these titles and hope they will be educational for young readers!

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The series Disasters in Canada: Prepare and Be Safe is available for order from the publisher here.  And, if you’re interested, please check out my other titles from Beech Street Books: Canadian Science – Technology and Sustainability: Natural Resources; Canadian Science – Technology and Sustainability: Biodiversityand To Be Canadian – Fairness for All: Equity.

Floral notes: July (belated).

If you’ve ever spent any time in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, you have probably visited the town of Banff, located in the National Park that bears its name.  My hubby and I don’t travel to the townsite often even though it’s not very far away, but we decided to make the trip a few weeks ago so we could summit Tunnel Mountain, which overlooks the town.  Instead of driving and worrying about where we would park in the busy tourist-filled town, we took a commuter bus operated by On-It Regional Transit.  For ten dollars each way, we were able to board the bus near our home and relax enjoy the incredible scenery nap all the way to our destination and back. The On-It buses operate between Calgary, Canmore, and Banff and have a regular weekend schedule with several routes running during the summer.  It’s definitely a great option if you don’t want to drive from Calgary and back.

As for Tunnel Mountain…we had fun doing this quick trek under cloudy conditions.  It’s a short peak, relatively speaking, topping out at 1,692 metres. (It’s a 4.3 kilometre trip return, with a 300 metre elevation gain). Despite the name, the mountain doesn’t actually have a tunnel.  When the Canadian Pacific Railway was working to push tracks through the area in 1882, they wanted to blast right through the mountain.  While it was a shorter route than what was eventually constructed, it would have been far more costly, in dollars and labour, to build the tunnel.  So the mountain doesn’t have a big hole in it…but the name has stuck. (The mountain’s Indigenous names include Sleeping Buffalo, Iinii Istako, and Eyarhey Tatanga Woweyahgey Wakân).

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(I wasn’t asked or compensated to provide a review of the On-It service – we just loved it so much I wanted to talk about it!).   🙂

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There is a brand new story up at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction, the online flash fiction magazine I publish six times a year.  Check out Ed Ahern’s bittersweet “The Spring” here.  

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We have a very cool art exhibit going on at the library branch where I work, a sample of multi-media work by children participating in art classes at the Wildflower Arts Centre.  These kids are aged 5 through 14 and it is amazing to see such talent!  Paint, charcoal, fibre, paper (collage and mâché)…the creativity is fantastic!

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Reading highlights for the month: the hilarious and action-packed YA novel The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Lee.  Think Chinese mythology meets California high school – it has Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes but it’s way loonier and, quite frankly, a bit more juvenile.  But it’s silly good fun and I can’t wait for the next book…hopefully it is published soon.

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Another YA offering: M.T. Anderson’s Landscape with Invisible Hand. I laughed, I cried, I despaired. I think I was supposed to eventually feel hopeful, but that’s actually the point where the tears appeared.  This is a satirical (and just plain devastating) story of an alien invasion of Earth that has some startling, wayyyyyy too-close-to-home consequences.

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Soundtrack for the month: The 1990 grunge album “Uncle Anesthesia” by Screaming Trees; the newly-released single “Half-Light” by Madrugada.

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Early in the month, my hubby and I took a tour of the Coutts Centre for Western Heritage, near the town of Nanton, Alberta.  This amazing place is the family homestead of Dr. Jim Coutts (1938 – 2013), a prominent southern Alberta lawyer, businessman, and art collector – and in addition to all the artifacts and buildings onsite, it boasts the most incredible gardens filled with predominantly native prairie plants.  Truthfully, I hope no one noticed me while I was wandering around the grounds, because I believe my lower jaw was firmly positioned somewhere around my ankles and I may have been drooling a little.  If you happen to find yourself in that part of the province during the growing season and plants are your thing, make it a must-do pit stop – it really shouldn’t be missed.  And, if the gardens aren’t enough (what!?), the place boasts what is likely the only example in Canada of a camera obscura built from a 1920’s-era grain bin.

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These. Poppies. Seriously. 

Re: my vegetable garden.  Things are just sort of making an appearance, finally, after thousands of days of rain. I have golf ball-sized kohlrabi!  I have really diminutive turnips!  I have the smallest, most perfectly round pumpkins you’ll ever see…the kohlrabi are actually larger and at this rate, it will be about a year before I can harvest them, LOL.  The zucchini fruit might be more than five centimetres long next week…we’ll see.  I’m heartened by this new grand emergence of things but…um…cautious.  The weather has been WEIRD…it’s mid-August already and we occasionally get frost(!) at the end of the month, so you can see where I’m coming from.  I am harvesting dill and parsley and potatoes right now, which is delightful (especially as those three things go really well together at suppertime).  And these supremely pretty bush beans, ‘Dragon Tongue’, are just coming on now.  I simply want to gawk at them – they’re almost too gorgeous to eat!

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I was very rushed before the growing season began this year and I failed to get a handle on them as the months flew by. Next year, I am planning to do more winter sowing – it truly provides the jump start often needed in this climate.  If my personal assistant, Smudge, deigns to allow me to do so, I’ll start some seeds indoors as well…but she has an annoying habit of constantly snacking while at work.  😉

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Smudge’s Sage Advice: It’s important to actively track your prey in case it goes somewhere.  Even if it can’t, really.  ♥

 

 

Slip, sliding away….

As a first reader for the online speculative fiction publisher Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, I am privileged to read many amazing stories that writers have submitted. We were working through a reading period this past month and one story in particular really resonated with me. (Unfortunately, I cannot talk more about the work – if it is published in a future issue, I’ll update this post and let you know how you can find it).  The story was slotted by the writer into the “slipstream” genre and I got to thinking that I wasn’t aware of the origin of this term.  A quick jaunt on Google revealed that Bruce Sterling, a prolific American SF author and a creator of cyberpunk, coined the word a couple of decades ago. (A personal recommendation for anyone who hasn’t read Sterling’s work: scour around for a copy of The Difference Engine, a steampunk novel that he co-authored with William Gibson and published in 1990). Basically, slipstream stories blur the lines between mainstream (literary) fiction and science fiction, bringing elements of SF into genres of writing that are usually determinedly and decidedly un-SF. (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is oft-touted as one of the more famous and commonly read examples). I uncovered a document Sterling wrote in 1998, discussing the not-yet-fully-accepted term and its meaning, but the real gem of the missive is the end, where he lists a fairly significant number of what he considered “slipstream” works to that time. Take a look at a copy of the list here.

These are books which SF readers recommend to friends: “This isn’t SF, but it sure ain’t mainstream and I think you might like it, okay?”

~Bruce Sterling, Slipstream (essay)

Do you have any more to add, over two decades later? Goodreads has put up a list of what it considers Popular Slipstream, found here.  One of my favourites on this list is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane…and I’d argue that more novels by Douglas Coupland belong here, in addition to Girlfriend in a Coma. Have you read any of these slipstream works?

Book review: Library Lost by Laurie Graves.

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I know for a fact that Laurie is currently hard at work on the third book in The Great Library series and after finishing Library Lost, I’m excited and eager for her to get it out into the world so I can find out what happens to Maya Hammond and her companions!

The fate of the Great Library – the source of all of the knowledge and information in the universe – remains at stake in Library Lost.  As Time and Chaos battle for such a powerful and valuable prize, other players have their own agendas.  It’s up to our smart, strong teenage heroine, Maya, and her allies to stay out of danger and initiate a plan to save the Library.  Unfortunately, the best-laid plans don’t always pan out the way they should, and the result is an engaging, action-packed (and magical!) adventure with brilliant pacing and and an exquisitely detailed and realized setting.  This is truly the kind of book that you take to bed and read by flashlight under the covers until the wee hours of dawn. ♥

(If you want to order a copy of Library Lost and the first book in the series, Maya and the Book of Everything, click here to go to Laurie’s website).

Calgary snapshot: Little Free Library.

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If you follow me on Instagram (or if you don’t, you can find me here) or my new Facebook page (here), you may have seen me share this photo, but just in case you missed it, I’ll put it up here as well. The Little Free Library set up near the community garden I belong to is so adorable – I love the colour scheme that was chosen for it.  From what I can tell whenever I stop by and open it up, it’s a popular fixture, with a varied and well-circulated selection of reading materials – everything from James Patterson to Robert Munsch, novels in multiple languages, cookbooks, hobby magazines, and religious tracts.  Are there any Little Free Libraries in your community?  Do you use them?