When Words Collide

I spent a great few days last weekend at the When Words Collide conference here in Calgary. Now in its fourth year, it just keeps getting better and better.

Special guests this years included writers, Jack Whyte (check out his website just to listen to his amazing voice!) Brandon Sanderson, Robert J. Sawyer, Jacqueline Guest, Mark Leslie and Shirlee Smith Matheson and editor Adrienne Kerr.

I belong to a wonderful writing group The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, whose members generously share their knowledge and expertise on both the craft and business of writing, but sometimes you need to get out there and hear from other experts in their field. So much has changed in the publishing world that it’s hard – and sometimes a little intimidating – to keep up, but the focus remains on bringing the best book to the reader whether it is traditionally published or self-published.

The dates and location have already been set up for next year’s WWC – August 14-16th at the Delta Calgary South – and registration is open. At the bargain basement price of $40 it’s a wonderful deal.

See you there!

Prince’s Island Park – Calgary

There are two kinds of emigrants/immigrants; those who are pulled to their new country and those who are pushed from their old. I definitely belonged in the latter category. I was perfectly happy living in Scotland, but then my husband got offered a great job opportunity in Canada so we packed up and moved across the Pond.

It took me a long time to settle here. Getting used to the long – long – winters was a challenge. But over the years Canada, and this city of Calgary where we’ve made our home, have burrowed deep into my heart and now I truly love them both. We are fortunate to live here. When we arrived in Calgary, the population of the city sat at just under half a million. Now it is well over one million, and we’ve seen tremendous changes over those years.

For the next few Wednesdays, I’d like to show you some of my favourite places in this city. Some are well-known while others, like the Reader’s Garden Cafe I spotlighted last week, are unfamiliar to most Calgarians. backendFirst up is Prince’s Island Park. Named after Peter Prince who owned a lumber company nearby, the park is located immediately north of the downtown core on an island donated by the Prince family (according to Wikipedia) to the city in 1947. His original office building remains close by. Now known as the 1886 Cafe, it is a popular restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. Peter Prince’s home can been visited in Heritage Park.

Completely surrounded by the Bow River, Prince’s Island Park boasts all the facilities – and more – you could wish for in an urban park. Each year, it hosts the Calgary Folk Festival, Shakespeare in the Park and the Canada Day Celebrations every July 1st. Or enjoy a meal at the trendy River Cafe with its great food and wonderful location. You’ll find plenty of well laid out trails lined with beautiful hanging baskets for bikers, walkers and runners, but there are also off the beaten tracks where you can get up close to the fast-flowing river.

river2 If you love flowers, there are plenty of displays to enjoy. If you fancy a picnic you can bring your own blanket and spread it out on the grass or use one of the many picnic benches dotted around the park. downtownWhen our kids were young, we used to like to come down on a Sunday morning for a picnic breakfast. After we’d eaten, they’d play for ages at the extensive children’s play park.

Although there are spots in the park where the city can feel a million miles away, there are others where you can see the beautiful glass buildings rising above you, sparkling in the sunlight. It’s a lovely place to visit, whether for a quiet stroll or an ad hoc soccer match or game of frisbee. And if you fancy a coffee, nip in to Eau Claire market on the south side of the park, or stroll across the Peace Bridge and walk along Memorial Drive to Kensington.


One of the hanging baskets you can find on the lamp posts around the park.



River cafe

The River Cafe


The Peace Bridge linking Prince’s Island Park to Kensington on the north side.


When Words Collide – The Heroine’s Journey

My second workshop of the When Words Collide Conference this Sunday morning is a discussion on The Heroine’s Journey. Is the Hero’s Journey the same as the Heroine’s?  Do you need to be male to be a hero and female to be a heroine?

My own new personal heroine on this topic is Kim Hudson with her book The Virgin’s Promise.  Please check her out.

If you would like more information on the difference between the male and feminine journeys – and a link to a YouTube interview with Kim Hudson – please click on this LINK.

Happy writing.

Calgary Stampede

cowboy hatThe annual Calgary Stampede – The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth – kicked off last Friday morning with a three-hour parade through downtown. This year’s parade marshall was Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, but in the past it’s been led by actors such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Christopher Reeve and Jack Palance, politicians, sports stars and other dignitaries such as Chris Hadfield, Prince Charles, Ken Taylor, Rick Hansen and Walt Disney.

The first stampede – although not called that – was organised in 1912 by Guy Weadick, an American cowboy and veteran of travelling Wild West Shows. Back then, Calgary was a relatively young city; the North West Mounted Police had arrived in 1875 and founded a fort by the Bow and Elbow rivers. In 1884, Calgary, with a population of only 500 people, was incorporated as town.


Photo: girltrieslife.com

In 1912, with financial backing provided by four very successful cattlemen – Pat Burns, George Lane, AE Cross and AJ MacLean – Guy Weadick produced what was called the Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship. It was supposed to be a one-off and while there was a suggestion it should be repeated in 1913, money wasn’t forthcoming. After World War One, the idea was resurrected and in 1919 The Victory Stampede was held.  Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength.


Photo: girltrieslife.com

Beginning on the 1st Friday in July and continuing for ten days until the following Sunday, it’s a time when the city comes alive with the spirit of the Old West.  Down at the Stampede grounds you’ll find an afternoon rodeo, evening chuck wagon races and show, a midway, agricultural and craft exhibition, market, native village and nighttime firework display.

Western ShirtsDuring the ten days of Stampede, the city itself is festooned with banners,  rodeo scenes are painted onto the windows of shops and office buildings, and you can find plenty of pancake breakfasts and stampede parties to suit everyone’s taste. Banks are transformed into Wild West corrals, and young and old deck themselves out in jeans, cowboy shirt, hat and boots.

Come visit us!

How Yaktrax Changed My Life

mountainI’m not sure anything can prepare a new immigrant for their first Canadian winter.


Mid-October, our first year here, some friends came round for Sunday brunch. As they were leaving, one of them sniffed the air and said, “I can smell snow.”

I laughed.

Two weeks later my wee boy had to wear a snow suit to go out trick or treating.

iceBut the snow couldn’t last forever, could it? So we bought our son a tricycle for Christmas. The first time he got to ride it outside? Easter Sunday, at a park downtown where all the paths had been cleared.

Come our second winter, I thought I was prepared.


On my way to a job interview, I slipped, fell, and broke my wrist. Bye-bye job. Hello phobia of snowy sidewalks.

I’d still go out walking in winter, but the fear that my bones wouldn’t make it through till spring intact lurked constantly in the back of my head. And at least once every winter, I’d do a serious nose plant. It got to the point where I couldn’t see the beauty of Calgary’s clear blue skies, bright sunshine and magnificent vista of the Rockies and would gladly have swapped it for rain, damp and drizzle.

yaktraxThen, after almost thirty years here, I discovered Yaktrax. It’s no exaggeration to say they have changed my life. Yaktrax (and similar brands) cost about $30 from Mountain Equipment Co-op, slip over your shoes, and grip the ground like nothing on earth.

Now, as long it’s not colder than -10C (with no wind) you’ll find me out walking the dog, taking in that glorious blue sky, sunshine and scenery.

Winter? I love it!

Welcome to Canada!

Wartime Rations – Day Twenty-Seven

SausagemenatIt’s been a bit of a weird few days, so the menu I’d hoped to follow this week hasn’t quite worked out as planned. But I stuck to my rations and made sausage meatballs with mashed potatoes for dinner. I made them with breadcrumbs, onions and carrots, in the slow cooker, but next time I will add a few more spices and maybe some minced onion to the meat.

This is the second to last day of my month of wartime rations. I’m going to leave the last word to Anne tomorrow, but here are a few of my thoughts on the experience.

I’m very aware I’ve just been ‘playing’ at this. I haven’t had to worry about not being able to buy groceries or having to start a fire before I can boil the kettle for a cup of tea.

Here in Calgary we’re experiencing a cold snap, but all I have to do is turn up the thermostat. I can’t imagine what it must have been like during wartime, particularly with fuel shortages, getting up on a cold morning and having to light a fire before doing anything else.

My grand-daughter, who is still in nappies, is coming round tomorrow. Changing them is a breeze because they’re disposable. Pity my poor mother who lived in an attic flat with no running water and had to haul cold water all the way up the stairs to wash her baby’s clothes.

Apart from the first couple of days, as my body adjusted from the extravagance of Christmas to wartime rations, I haven’t felt hungry on this eating plan at all.  (And I’ve lost 7 lbs to boot.)  The food has been good and nutritious and I’ve rediscovered a few veggies I’d turned my back on after leaving home as a teenager.

And some of the things my Mum – and other women of her generation – used to do now make sense. She didn’t waste a thing. If bread went stale, it was toasted. And it wasn’t just bread. String tied around parcels was unpicked, rolled up and saved for a later time. The same with jam jars which she used for her homemade jam and lemon curd in the summer.

One of my friends could never understand why her mother, even after she emigrated to Canada, kept a cupboard filled with dried and tinned foods – just in case. For the women who lived through the war and had to provide nutritious foods to keep their families fed and healthy on limited rations, it must have been a constant worry. No wonder they always made sure they wouldn’t be caught short again.

So the big lessons I’ve taken away from this experience? That we waste so much food nowadays. That we spend so much money on processed foods while ignoring the simple fresh foods that are so much better for us than anything that contains a chemical on its list ingredients. How cheap the weekly shopping bill becomes when you purchase fruit and vegetables in season.

That I’m very lucky to live where I live, when I live.

That the women of war were true, unsung heroines.

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenges 9,10 and 11.

Our ‘staycation’ is over and I was surprised by how many experiences/challenges we were able to closely replicate here in Calgary. For a city a fraction of the size of London, Calgary has a lot going for it. Still, there were two things in particular that I wasn’t able to replace, so they will have to wait until we manage the ‘real thing’.

Challenge 9 – A visit to the Herge Museum (Tintin) in Brussels. I searched around for some collectible shops which might specialise in Tintin ephermera but was unsuccessful. An option was to buy my husband some Tintin books (which I did) and watch the Tintin movie again (which we didn’t), but hopefully we’ll manage to get to Brussels next year.

Challenge 10 – We’d also hoped to visit The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. As it turns out, there is a visiting Harry Potter Exhibition in Edmonton at the moment which would have fulfilled that particular challenge perfectly. Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of snow and bad weather here over the past few weeks and I didn’t fancy driving on the highway just for that. However, the exhibition is running until March 9th, so we might still manage to get up there.

Challenge 11 – It’s hard to visit Belgium or Northern France without taking in war museums or military graveyards. I discovered there is a cemetery here – Burnsland – which has many veterans graves from both World Wars. I had hoped to visit it this morning, but weather and events conspired again me, so it will have to wait for another day.  But I did wonder why we have so many veterans graves in a country that never experienced war on its soil?  The WW1 veterans were, I think, those who died back home in Canada of their injuries or from the Spanish flu. As for the WW2 veterans?  Sadly many of them were pilots and air crew, killed while training in the British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme.

In general, I would say our stay-cation was a great success. We saw many things which we didn’t know existed in the city and have a long list of things still to see and do. But the biggest lesson? No matter where one lives in the world, it’s easy to forget just how much your home town has to offer. No, we didn’t get to see the canals in Bruges this year, but when I’m out driving on Calgary’s roads, I just have to look to the west and an amazing vista of the Rockies – that thousands of tourists, some probably from Bruges and London, flock to see –  fills the horizon.

bow fallsmountins

As for Calgary’s downtown… walking along the river, watching it steam as it ices up has to be a truly beautiful sight.

river picturecity halldowntown