Breathing Life Into Reading

A few weeks ago, I received an email through my website. It was from a school librarian in Fort Saskatchewan. She and a couple coworkers were planning a photo tour around Alberta as part of a literacy project. They would visit several communities during their school’s spring break in my area of the province, capturing images of “large” attractions and meeting authors along the way. Staff members of the French-immersion school, École Parc Élémentaire, made this incredible journey to spark a love of reading in their students through local sites and local stories.

École Parc Élémentaire staff members reading my books in front of Hughenden’s large brown-eyed Susan created by Ed Larson from a really big Bridgestone tire.

On Thursday, April 1st, the three of them – two teachers and the librarian – pulled into town in their white van and up to where I waited to greet them by the brown-eyed Susan situated on the edge of town. They presented me with a thank-you card and a water bottle featuring their school’s logo. I gave them some books and a coveted Village of Hughenden pin to attach to the literacy display that they would set up in École Parc.

When they left Hughenden, they were headed to the Drumheller area and had made reservations to stay overnight at the historic Rose Deer Hotel in the nearby village of Wayne where they would visit the Last Chance Saloon downstairs for supper and in hopes of spotting a ghost. They have updated me since and, while they enjoyed their stay and their supper, they reported their disappointment at not seeing an apparition there or anywhere during their trek.

They may not have seen a ghost, but these engaging École Parc Élémentaire staff members breathed life into the spirit of reading and, along the way, they made this east-central Alberta author’s day!

Prairie Sunsets with Pablo Neruda

For years, I believed Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) to be the soft, starry-eyed poet of the love struck. Of course he was, but this Nobel Prize in Literature (1971) recipient was so much more.

“He who becomes the slave of habit, who follows the same routes every day, who never changes pace, who does not risk and change the color of his clothes, who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.”

― Pablo Neruda

“Give me, for my life, all lives, give me all the pain of everyone, I’m going to turn it into hope.”

― Pablo Neruda

“Let’s try and avoid death in small doses, reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.”

— Pablo Neruda

“In one kiss, you’ll know all I haven’t said.”

— Pablo Neruda

“He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music, who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself, dies slowly.”

― Pablo Neruda

“With which stars do they go on speaking, the rivers that never reach the sea?”

— Pablo Neruda

“He who has nothing — it has been said many times — has nothing to lose but his chains.”

— Pablo Neruda

“If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life”

— Pablo Neruda

“And that’s why I have to go back to so many places there to find myself and constantly examine myself with no witness but the moon and then whistle with joy, ambling over rocks and clods of earth, with no task but to live, with no family but the road.”

— Pablo Neruda

“It is not so much light that falls over the world extended by your body its suffocating snow, as brightness, pouring itself out of you, as if you were burning inside. Under your skin the moon is alive.”

— Pablo Neruda

“My soul is an empty carousel at sunset.”

— Pablo Neruda

“Do you not see that the apple tree flowers only to die in the apple?”

— Pablo Neruda

“Give me your hand out of the depths sown by your sorrows.”

— Pablo Neruda

“So I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.”

— Pablo Neruda

In Praise of Small Towns

In our small town, a local business owner and resident dolled-up the old Ford garage for us to enjoy.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in an affordable home with a huge backyard and with sweeping views of a pristine valley in which deer graze at sunset? When you’re exhausted at the end of the day from work, doesn’t it sound ideal to avoid the traffic of your lengthy commute and instead walk up the hill to your cozy home? Do you dream of falling asleep to the coyote’s call and waking to bird song? Especially now that remote work is more acceptable and logistically easier to do, moving to a small town makes sense.

Listen to this post:

I love small towns. When on a road trip, I really enjoy pulling off the highway and exploring prairie towns. I search for churches, cemeteries, local museums, and history. I am rarely disappointed by what I find.  As I drive the quiet streets beneath spreading tree branches and admire the spacious residential lots, I can’t understand why people want to live in increasingly populated areas. Especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we think differently about the perils of being crammed together and we consider the perks of fresh air, a big backyard, and a vegetable garden.

Along the railway tracks. Lots of large green spaces in a small town.

I do understand that it’s more convenient for financial institutions, large retailers, and government to have the residents of our vast land centralized and clustered together. This way, all three can streamline (cut) the services they provide and still have us clients, customers, and taxpayers nicely within reach. Density benefits those who provide goods and services because it’s less convenient and more expensive to provide services to a scattered population. Services are often retracted to discourage people from living in rural areas and conducting business there. Our Credit Union has cut its five-day-a-week service down to two days in the hopes it can Servus better by fading away.

A Common Criticism of Small Towns

Small towns are criticized because of their intimacy. “Everyone knows what everyone else is doing.” In these days of increasing isolation, that can still be true but it’s not always a negative. It’s reassuring to know that if you get sick, your neighbours will help you out. People shovel each other’s walks in a small town and keep an eye on one another’s property while one household is away. So, yes, when someone drives by on a skidoo or with a wagon pulled by a matching team of horses, I’ll look and wave and maybe even take a picture. That’s small towns for you.

Other criticisms, valid ones, include the difficulties between people, the gossip, and the resistance to change found in small communities. But isn’t this the nature of human relationships no matter where we live and no matter the size of our community? Aren’t all interactions subject to misunderstandings and pettiness, and can’t they all (ideally) be repaired by patience and forgiveness? Change is hard and gossip is toxic. These facts remain the same whether you live in a city or in a village. The only way to avoid cruel deeds and words, our own and others’, is by living high up in the mountains in a cave alone. Some days, that does seem like an appealing option but it’s no way to build community.

Like photography? Bring your camera and capture some stunning rural views.

In small towns, we’re more familiar with one another and so the stories are closer to us and our families, and sometimes they directly involve us. Human relationships unfold and unravel everywhere in the world, but in a small town we have a front row seat to this constant evolution. It isn’t always pleasant but it’s not often dull.

The Best Stories Come Out of Small Towns

It’s that close up, in-your-face human drama that makes many writers set their stories in small towns. Big events happen in large cities and everyone watches, but in a small town everyone is a part of most events because we know the people involved or we are the people involved. Authors weave stories about the people in small towns and create characters from the relationships formed within the context of smaller places.

I think of the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humour Award Winner, Ian Ferguson’s semi-autobiographical book Village of the Small Houses, set in the remote northern Alberta community of Fort Vermilion. Only this place and the set of circumstances it provided could give rise to these stories. Luckily, this gifted and funny storyteller was born and raised there to write the tales down.

Another great storyteller uses the small Minnesota town setting of fictional Lake Wobegon and its characters around which he has woven several novels. You see, it’s the soil of those close personal interactions within a small group of people who know each other well and know their surroundings into which writers plant their story seeds. The stories are dependent on a small town back drop and small town characters to come to life. These tales depend on closeness and relationships, and on Garrison Keillor to present as hysterical that which small town residents find, at best, annoying.

As a writer – and here I do not compare my skills to those of Mr. Ferguson or Mr. Keillor – I write stories set in small towns and about small town history. Little places on the prairies are stuffed to bursting with stories. There’s murder, suicide, betrayal, sorrow, and lust. Think of that next time you’re gliding down the highway. Depress that brake pedal and swing into that small town. Who knows? You might decide to never leave.

This is a photo of a sharp shinned hawk in my front yard. There are lots of chances to view wildlife in a small town.

Book Review: Remember Me As You Pass By

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Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards

Written by Nancy Millar

Remembering that we all die has the power to put our small discomforts and minor disputes automatically into perspective. The fact of death is the truest thing I know. And nothing drives the truth of mortality home like a stroll through a peaceful cemetery on a sunny summer day. Each of the folks represented by those bronze plates, concrete markers, and granite headstones experienced their own small discomforts and minor disputes. This was called “life.”

One day a couple years back, I noticed through the large glass window in our front door that something was hanging from the exterior door handle. There was a note with the book, Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards. It read: “I was doing some house cleaning, found this and thought of you.”

Remember Me Image

I was very touched by the gift but apparently not touched enough to read it until recently when provided the quiet by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m so glad I took the time to open up this paper copy and to savour its contents. This is an extraordinarily well-written and well-researched book. Besides knowing how to write and how to unearth some great stories, Nancy Millar is also pretty funny!

She writes about the “real” Sam McGee, a customer at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the fledgling poet, Robert Service, worked as a teller, and how Sam brought a bag of his own ashes home during a return trip to the North.

“When he visited Whitehorse at the end of the prospecting trip, he discovered that his old cabin there had been spruced-up as a tourist attraction and one of the items being offered for sale in the gift shop was “Genuine Sam McGee ashes.” Not only had he died, according to the tourist bureau of Whitehorse, but he had been such a massive man that his ashes would apparently supply tourist demand for some time.”

I also enjoyed how Nancy Millar describes Canmore, Alberta:

“Canmore is a pleasant mountain town on the edge of Banff National Park. Part of it wants to be big and rich like Switzerland; part of it wants to be small and modest like Canmore.”

There are a few really good chuckles in this read and they are placed alongside heartbreaking tales of tragedy that brought tears to my eyes for people long dead who I never knew. In the introduction, the author tells of a young couple who homesteaded in the early 1920s in the Innisfail, Alberta area. To earn money to help get them established, the husband went to work in Innisfail for a few months, leaving his newly-pregnant bride at home. He never did return. When his work at the brick plant in town was done, he started out on the twenty-mile journey on foot. He was robbed and killed along the way, his body left in a ditch.

“When the police found him in the spring, after the snow had melted and revealed his body, they rode out to tell his wife. But she had died too, in childbirth. Her twin babies were dead beside her.”

This book isn’t only about death and cemeteries. Instead, the graveyards and grave markers serve as jumping off places for Nancy Millar’s explorations of Canadian prairie history. It’s also a book that makes me want to explore prairie cemeteries even more than I have prior to reading Remember Me as You Pass By. At the end of the book, Nancy Millar includes a practical section called “How to Explore a Graveyard.” Handy! She reminds us to visit respectfully and to close gates. Then she goes into more detail for those readers interested in doing further exploration and maybe conducting some research.

If you love Canadian prairie history, old places, and colourful stories, then you will thoroughly enjoy this 1994 publication.

 Then think as soft and slow we tread

Among the solitary dead

Time was, like us, they life possessed

And time shall be when we shall rest.

~ from the Calgary grave marker of George Park

 

Misplaced Identity

Wallace Stegner House
The Wallace Stegner House where I got to stay for two weeks one summer long ago.

I love rereading my own posts sometimes to see what has changed in my life and what has stayed the same. I wrote this post last April, so not that long ago. I feel much more like writing now than I did then, but I am still label-less. Sometimes friends or family members introduce me, casually mentioning that I’m a writer. They have the best intentions, of course, and likely think it’s interesting. It has been interesting at times. Mostly though, being described as a writer or author or any one thing makes me just a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that’s something that will never change.

I hope you have a very happy Friday and a lovely weekend! ~ Lori

Different things matter to me now. I realized this when I opened up this old scrapbook full of articles about me and emails congratulating me for winning awards, and for almost winning awards. The article was great, so I cut it out carefully and scanned it so I could share it with you, dear reader.

Listen to me read this here:

Back in 2005, the summer after I bought Grandma’s house but wasn’t yet living here, I was awarded a two-week stay in the Wallace Stegner House in breathtakingly-beautiful Eastend, Saskatchewan. (Arguably it’s the east end of nowhere but, as I mentioned, it’s an astonishingly lovely bit of nowhere.) The Wallace Stegner House is a retreat for artists of all genres. Poets, sculptors, novelists, painters, and playwrights apply to stay in this house and some lucky ones are granted the opportunity.

stegner_150-53fd9cc7e0c2817e5842c16de494867cdca6c7f3-s6-c30
Wallace Stegner, from quotesgram.com

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 and died in 1993 at the age of 84. He won several awards for his writing including the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the National Book Award in 1977. In his autobiography, Wolf Willow, Mr. Stegner tells about the childhood years he spent in Eastend, Saskatchewan. While growing up, he also lived in Great Falls, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The best thing about this article is that it’s an interview with me conducted by me! I’d forgotten I’d done this. The folks who support and manage the artist retreat, and keep it full of interesting residents, wanted to somehow promote my stay. Being a newspaper columnist at the time, I offered to do a write-up about myself. I thought it was more engaging to write it interview style than as a bio piece. I laughed out loud when I found this old article this morning that was full of me talking to myself. Not so different than many of the days I spend hanging around the house by myself lately…

As I flipped through that old scrapbook, I remembered how important becoming a writer had been to me. The scribbles and comments, the letters and emails that filled those 40X30 cm. pages told of a young woman who was striving to establish her dream identity. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. More than anything, I craved a solid, successful identity.

LoriWallaceStegnerHouse

 

This morning, this obvious desire that I used have to become a certain “someone” surprised me a little. I mean, I recall wanting it, that badge for myself, that title. What I can’t quite pin down is when I lost track of that identity. When did I un-label myself? When did I lose my writer identity? Somewhere along the line, I simply stopped caring about being a writer.

People change. Sometimes change happens overnight and sometimes it happens over years. For me, the need to establish and maintain my writerly identity faded gradually, so gradually, in fact, that I never really noticed it happening. I don’t miss it, that leaky little life raft that my ego clung to, that fragile identity which now I seem to have misplaced. I think I’ll be just fine without it.

If you liked what you read here, please feel free to share it to your own social media networks. That would be great. Please also consider following me right here on WordPress or through your email account. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next time. ~ Lori

“Yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

The Joy of Publishing

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Me flogging the books I’ve published.

Wow. I’ve just had a most-rewarding experience.

I’ve been fortunate to publish three of my own books. I worked with book designers, e-book producers, editors, and printers. I learned how to get ISBNs and how to get catalogue in publication information.  By the time I published three books, I’d learned a lot.

When I was finished with my own publishing, I helped individuals to write and record their own family stories. These were published less formally for the family and friends of my clients to enjoy.

Listen to me read this post:

And now I’ve just completed editing and publishing a book for a client. While doing this project, I realized how much I love this work! In my various roles as a teacher and community volunteer, I always knew I enjoyed pulling projects together and overseeing the details to make everything run as smoothly as possible. This publishing project allowed me use to all my organizing skills and all that I’d learned in publishing my own works.

 

The most satisfying end came to me this morning in the form of a thank you letter from my client Wendy. Here it is below.

I hope you all have a good weekend, as peaceful and/or productive as you want it to be!

Cheers,

~ Lori

Wendy's Books CoverDear Lori,

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for making my long-held dream come true.

When I first came to you, I had a vision in my mind.  I wanted to create a little book.  I knew what I wanted it to say, how I wanted the pages to feel and how I wanted to images to look.  I knew how I wanted people to be able to hold it and open it and use it.  I knew what I wanted but I had no idea how to make it happen.

The first gift you gave me on this project was acceptance.  You supported me emotionally as I took the leap to present my idea to the world.  You gave me confidence and encouraged me.  Thank you.

The second gift you gave me was peace of mind.  I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge.  I didn’t even know where to start.  You took over and handled all the details.  You managed the editing, the formatting and the printing.  You even helped steer me in the right direction about the binding.   You worked out details of things that I wouldn’t have even known to ask about.  You completely took the stress away for me.  Thank you.

The third gift was the book itself.  When I held the copy in my hands for the first time, I cried.  It was everything I imagined.  You have no idea what you have done for me.  Without you, this book would still just be a dream.  Thank you.

I look forward to your guidance in the future as we make electronic and audio versions available.

With deepest appreciation,            

Wendy Olson-Lepchuk

Wendy Headshot
Wendy Olson-Lepchuk, Author and Clinical Hypnotherapist

If you want to know more about Wendy and her work, please visit her website.

Misplaced Identity

Wallace Stegner House
The Wallace Stegner House where I got to stay for two weeks one summer long ago.

I love rereading my own posts sometimes to see what has changed in my life and what has stayed the same. I wrote this post last April, so not that long ago. I feel much more like writing now than I did then, but I am still label-less. Sometimes friends or family members introduce me, casually mentioning that I’m a writer. They have the best intentions, of course, and likely think it’s interesting. It has been interesting at times. Mostly though, being described as a writer or author or any one thing makes me just a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that’s something that will never change.

I hope you have a very happy Friday and a lovely weekend! ~ Lori

Different things matter to me now. I realized this when I opened up this old scrapbook full of articles about me and emails congratulating me for winning awards, and for almost winning awards. The article was great, so I cut it out carefully and scanned it so I could share it with you, dear reader.

Listen to me read this here:

Back in 2005, the summer after I bought Grandma’s house but wasn’t yet living here, I was awarded a two-week stay in the Wallace Stegner House in breathtakingly-beautiful Eastend, Saskatchewan. (Arguably it’s the east end of nowhere but, as I mentioned, it’s an astonishingly lovely bit of nowhere.) The Wallace Stegner House is a retreat for artists of all genres. Poets, sculptors, novelists, painters, and playwrights apply to stay in this house and some lucky ones are granted the opportunity.

stegner_150-53fd9cc7e0c2817e5842c16de494867cdca6c7f3-s6-c30
Wallace Stegner, from quotesgram.com

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 and died in 1993 at the age of 84. He won several awards for his writing including the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the National Book Award in 1977. In his autobiography, Wolf Willow, Mr. Stegner tells about the childhood years he spent in Eastend, Saskatchewan. While growing up, he also lived in Great Falls, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The best thing about this article is that it’s an interview with me conducted by me! I’d forgotten I’d done this. The folks who support and manage the artist retreat, and keep it full of interesting residents, wanted to somehow promote my stay. Being a newspaper columnist at the time, I offered to do a write-up about myself. I thought it was more engaging to write it interview style than as a bio piece. I laughed out loud when I found this old article this morning that was full of me talking to myself. Not so different than many of the days I spend hanging around the house by myself lately…

As I flipped through that old scrapbook, I remembered how important becoming a writer had been to me. The scribbles and comments, the letters and emails that filled those 40X30 cm. pages told of a young woman who was striving to establish her dream identity. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. More than anything, I craved a solid, successful identity.

LoriWallaceStegnerHouse

 

This morning, this obvious desire that I used have to become a certain “someone” surprised me a little. I mean, I recall wanting it, that badge for myself, that title. What I can’t quite pin down is when I lost track of that identity. When did I un-label myself? When did I lose my writer identity? Somewhere along the line, I simply stopped caring about being a writer.

People change. Sometimes change happens overnight and sometimes it happens over years. For me, the need to establish and maintain my writerly identity faded gradually, so gradually, in fact, that I never really noticed it happening. I don’t miss it, that leaky little life raft that my ego clung to, that fragile identity which now I seem to have misplaced. I think I’ll be just fine without it.

If you liked what you read here, please feel free to share it to your own social media networks. That would be great. Please also consider following me right here on WordPress or through your email account. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next time. ~ Lori

“Yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long.” – Jimmy Buffett