A few books by Prairie authors.

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If you’re a birder in the Prairie provinces and want to check a few prime locations off of your bucket list, this book is indispensable!  Best Places to Bird in the Prairies is written by experts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and it is filled with detailed tips on how to get to each destination, a description of the type of conditions and facilities to expect when you get there, and – most importantly! – a snapshot of which species to anticipate (depending on the time of year).  Make sure this compact guidebook by John Acorn, Alan Smith, and Nicola Koper has a permanent place in your bag with your camera and binoculars  – you’ll find yourself eagerly consulting it to plan your next outing.

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Landscape architect, university professor, world traveler, artist, and self-proclaimed “Prairie girl,” Calgarian Beverly A. Sandalack has created an utterly delightful cookbook/travelogue/sketchbook in Recipes & Ramblings (2019).  The recipes are derived from international cuisine and seem perfectly accessible to any cook, regardless of experience. Her anecdotes about her travels are fascinating and candid, and, combined with her beautiful photography and illustrations, Sandalack’s “ramblings” are thoroughly engaging. The book is available in Calgary at select stores – click here to see where you can buy it if you’re in the city.  (Some of these stores may be closed or available for delivery or curbside pickup only as I write this post in early April).

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Calgary author Ramona Heikel has written a couple of important children’s nonfiction books for Beech Street Books: Black History in Canada: Famous Black Canadians (2019) and Immigration to Canada – Then and Now: Chinese Immigrants in Canada (2018). Click on the titles to check out descriptions of the books and her experiences writing them on her blog, Happily Writing.  A huge congratulations, Ramona!

What are you reading right now?

 

 

Snapshots: Monday miscellany.

Or maybe “Mundane miscellany,” but I’ll leave that distinction up to you, LOL….

Tomato plants are happening under lights in the kitchen.  Since I took this pic, one set of true leaves has emerged on each plant.  I planted ‘Black Krim’ heirlooms (my first time trying them; my niece gave me seeds last year and I forgot about them until it was too late for me to do anything so I’m rectifying that situation this year) and ‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes.  This will be my third year planting the currant tomatoes, but I’ve never started them indoors.  Frost reduced potential yields previously so we’ll try it this way instead.

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Smudge is super happy that I am at home to dispense chicken treats and deliver a cushiony lap whenever required.  I am trying to teach her how to read but so far she’s only demonstrated exemplary skills as a bookmark.

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I’ve used the last shallot in the house…it’s an indicator to plant more this year and it’s also a nod to the fact that properly curing Allium crops can really extend their storage and diminish the risk of rot. Shameless plug alert: Janet Melrose and I write about how to properly cure onions and garlic in our upcoming book, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables.  (Which you can preorder from Chapters-Indigo and Amazon via this link on our publisher’s website.  I may as well go whole hog on the plug, right?  Why do things halfway?).

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Oh, and I’ve been eating pancakes for lunch.  Pretty much every day.  I don’t have a photo of this (neither the eating, nor the pancakes.  You’re probably grateful for the former, at least).  I use my Mum’s pretty much perfect pancake recipe (say that three times really quickly) but if you want to share yours in the comments, I would love to try it, as well! Tell me about your favourite pancake toppings, too!

Sheryl’s Mum’s Pretty Much Perfect Pancake Recipe (Mum, is it okay that I share this?) 😉 

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt*

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the liquid ones and combine.  Fry on a hot griddle. Yield: 8 sizeable pancakes, or several much smaller ones. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not eating 8 sizeable pancakes at lunch – these guys keep over really nicely in the fridge for a few days and you can just reheat.  As well, the batch may be successfully halved, if that works better for you).

*Salt is optional.

 

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!  ♥

Calgary snapshot: Central Library.

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In November of last year, the doors opened to an absolutely gorgeous new library in Calgary.  Central Library’s Snøhetta-designed new home is a striking, light-filled mix of glass, wood, concrete, and steel.  The graceful curves and oh! that skylight! captivated me when my hubby and I visited on opening weekend.

Check out 100 Reasons to Love the New Central Library, a compendium of fun facts about this spectacular space!

P.S. If you look down into the lower part of the photo, you’ll see a life-sized statue of a bison.  Created by Cree artist Lionel Peyachew, it is made out of pieces of stamped metal representing words in various Indigenous languages.

Floral notes: December 2018.

An itty-bitty Tuesday tidbits this week!  (Say that three times fast.  On second thought, don’t…just don’t).

  • On Christmas Day of last year, I heard an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on CBC Radio and after some hunting on the ‘net to find out more about the artist, it turned out he was from Didsbury, a small town here in southern Alberta. I promptly ordered Jake Peters’ CD “First Christmas: A Musical Journey,” and the musician himself sent it straightaway to me.  It is not only a musical journey, but a magical one! Peters’ website features the album in its entirety so you can enjoy it as well…and perhaps order a copy if you love it as much as I do.
  • Although I pumped out more non-fiction work than I ever have before, 2018 wasn’t the best year for me as far as my fiction-writing goals were concerned: I had exactly one story published (and only two new ones were written and are currently sitting in reading queues somewhere).  I am delighted that Canadian speculative fiction publisher Polar Borealis took on my SF work “The Heir” for their 8th issue.  If you’re interested, you can read the entire publication online here.

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A gratuitous photo of Smudge and her BFF, the printer.  
  • Waaaaaay back in March of last year, I claimed I was going to amalgamate my blogs The Door is Ajar and Flowery Prose and I did just as I said I would…well, insofar as my recent pretty much nonexistent posting schedule has allowed.  But now I’m going to separate them again! It probably seems a bit arbitrary but it comes down to content and I likely shouldn’t have made the change in the first place.  So…if you want to read my book reviews (aside from the select few I will still write here on FP), please head over to The Door is Ajar and subscribe…I’d love to see you there as well!  Thanks so much!
  • Finally, from the files of WHAT I OVERHEARD AT THE LIBRARY, PART 358:  It’s mid-afternoon; I’m working in the picture book aisles. A young boy of about five years old is announcing with bold authority to anyone who will listen, “I am Batman!” He captures the attention of another boy his age, and jumps up on the nearest chair so he towers over his new friend.  He squints down at him and points gleefully. “Sucks to be you!” he shouts.  Someone’s clearly filled with holiday spirit….  😉

Tell me something fun (or funny) or exciting or wonderful that’s going on in your life!  

 

Home sweet home: funny things overheard at the library.

Closing time at the library. A girl of about four years old and her father have just finished using the self-checkouts and are heading towards the door. The girl looks up at her Dad and asks, “Why are they closing the library?”

He responds, “Because the people who work here have to go home.”

She frowns. “But why can’t they live HERE?”

Why not, indeed? Massive square footage, open concept, tons of natural light, a fireplace, comfy chairs, and thousands of books.  I can see where she’s coming from…..  😉

Book review: Success with Succulents by John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller.

I have a feeling it’s rather hard to stick to just one when you’re considering growing cacti and succulents indoors…you might start off that way but then two years in, you stand in your living room and realize you have 300 of them (and 26 cuttings in various stages sitting on the kitchen counter) and you. want. more.  They’re just so easily collectible…all those beautiful and curious textures and shapes and exotic blooms, how can you possibly resist?  (Note to my hubby: this is my way of easing you into the grand concept of our future decor).  Unfortunately, if you’re me, you’ve already killed two cacti in unfortunate watering mishaps, and you’re not sure if you should brave dipping that toe in again.  The answer is yes, yes, I should.

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John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller’s new book Success with Succulents: Choosing, Growing, and Caring for Cactuses and other Succulents (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group) is comprehensive, yet easily accessible – the ideal title for both novice and experienced growers of these marvelous plants.  Not just restricted to houseplants, the book covers outdoor varieties as well, and offers tips for winterizing tender plants indoors if your climate isn’t favourable.  The first part of the book focuses on practical advice for selecting, planting, care, and propagation, including troubleshooting for pests and diseases. The rest of this fantastic resource is devoted to over 100 profiles of cacti and succulents, with gorgeous photographs and detailed descriptions that will help you identify mystery plants or serve you well as you wander the nurseries hunting for that special one.

Or six or twenty or….  😉

Do you grow cacti or succulents?  Which ones are your favourites?  (If you have  links to any of your blog posts about them or photos, please feel free to share!).   

 

*The Quarto Group generously provided me with a review copy of Success with Succulents. As always, my opinions and thoughts are my own.

Book review: Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves.

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Laurie Graves – Maya and the Book of Everything (2016, Hinterlands Press) 

A mysterious library, magical books, and unexpected journeys to new lands and times?  A resourceful, intelligent, and thoughtful teenaged protagonist that we can relate to and love and root for?  A clever, fresh (and extremely relevant) take on the classic battle between good and evil?  Creative plotting, beautifully realized characterization, precisely detailed world building, and perfect pacing?  I’m all in.  Laurie’s book really is everything!

As it is the season of gift giving, if you’re having a difficult time buying for the young teenagers in your life, well, have I got a suggestion for you.  And while you’re at it, click an extra copy into your cart for yourself.  Because we could all use a Book of Everything in our lives.  🙂

(I’m sure glad she’s already working on the sequel because I’m not certain how long I can wait, given that juicy wallop set up at the end…).

 

Floral notes – November 2017.

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It has been quite a few months since I’ve done one of these posts – let’s launch into it right away, shall we?

Have difficulty pronouncing plant names?  Me, too.  I even mangle them when I’m very consciously thinking about how not to – actually, that’s when the tongue-tangling gets truly terrific. This pronounciation guide may help.  At the very least, it’s interesting reading.

You may not live in New England (I don’t!) but your region may include some of the same plant species.  Or, you might just want to have fun with a fully interactive dichotomous key.  I’m here to help – I found this great link from GoBotany that will helpfully ID all 3,500 taxa in New England. I played with it a bit and, as expected, found that we share some of the same plant species here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Here is another ID tool – this one for bird feathers.  It is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so it won’t likely be conclusive in other locations.  As we share many of the same bird species in Canada, it may work in a limited fashion for us.

It’s Canada’s sesquicentennial this year and Mercury Filmworks has created an animated short to illustrate Canada, coast-to-coast.  The artwork is vibrant and fun, and there are some delightful references to some of our most famous pop culture icons.

Here’s another post that celebrates Canada’s history – this time of the Rocky Mountains.  Take a look at this small collection of photos of people working, playing, and living in the mountains – it’s an eye-opening trip!

If you enjoy reading science fiction and you’re particularly interested in the work of writers during the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s, you may wish to check out this gem: the complete run of IF Magazine from 1952 to 1974 is available to read for free, here.  Some big names wrote for and edited this magazine and if you’re a fan of the genre, you will recognize some of them.  I love that these stories won’t be forgotten.

Writers and film buffs might have fun with this incredibly comprehensive list of narrative devices and tropes.  How many of these do you recognize in your favourite movie or book?  How many of these have you used in your own writing?

Finally, libraries and museums such as the Met, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian have made a ton of images from their collections available for everyone to download and…well…colour.  I believe the whole sharing to Twitter part is over with for the year, but you can still access the images for your own use. #ColorOurCollections will likely return in 2018, so watch for it.  Many of these are botanical prints, so that’s rather lovely for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing (me, me!).

Clipart credit.