Monthly Archives: June 2013

WANA Friday: If You Could Have One Magical Item…

Welcome to another installment of WANA Friday, where a bunch of bloggers all post on the same topic and share links so you can see everyone’s answers.

This week’s question:

If you could have one magical item, what would it be and why?

My answer:

I would love to have a portal. You know, a thing you conjure up and step through to get somewhere far away, sometimes even another world.

It would save me more than an hour on my daily commute, and long airplane flights would be a thing of the past. Plus maybe I could get to some of those fictional worlds I mentioned last week….

(In science fictional terms, I’d take a transporter, the Guardian of Forever, or the TARDIS if a portal wasn’t available!)

Other participants this week:

Cora Ramos

Ellen Gregory

Kim Griffin

Tami Clayton

Your turn! What magical item would you want?



5 Tips for Prospective and New Home-Owners

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of moving into my first house. To celebrate, here are some lessons from my first year of home-ownership — things I wish I knew going in.

1. When you’re looking for a house, be flexible.

We had specific criteria when we were house-hunting. We wanted a nice family home that was:

  • newly renovated
  • on the subway line and close to our jobs
  • fully finished in the basement (because we were moving my in-laws in…but that’s a whole ‘nother post)
  • …and, of course, within budget.

The house we ended up with, after viewing quite a few and rejecting many more listings, was:

  • unrenovated — some parts were done in the ’80s, others not at all
  • not on the subway line and no closer to our jobs than our previous place was
  • not fully finished in the basement
  • within budget (whew!).

But it was also:

  • unmarred by cheap renovations that ignored the age and character of the house (we saw lots of these)
  • on a dedicated streetcar line — not quite the subway, but close
  • big enough so my in-laws could live on the main floor, my significant other and I could live upstairs, and we could co-habitate without stepping on each other’s toes too much.

And…the truth is, logical or not, we kind of fell in love.

Our poor real-estate agent was flabbergasted when we bought the place.

So…what about all our initial criteria? Do we regret going off our list and buying the house we did?

Not even a little bit.

As you can see by the bullet points above, we dug deeper, identified the reason for each of our criteria, and found another way to meet them.

2. Renovate before you move in.

This was something we did right — and we were so glad we did. The renovations weren’t extensive, but they would have taken a lot longer if we’d been living there. It was painful to hand over the keys the day after closing, but a lot less painful than dealing with dust and paint.

We’ll do more renos in the future, but I’m glad we did what we could up front.

A tip for renovating — hire a general contractor who can oversee and coordinate specific workers like electricians and flooring companies. That way, the headaches are mostly his (or hers), not yours.

Another tip — if at all possible, even if you don’t do anything else, redo surfaces and a few cosmetic things. Get the floors refinished, the walls painted, or new light fixtures put in. The place will feel a lot more like yours.

3. Having an outside is more work than you think.

Sure, you’re mentally prepared for the recurring chores of mowing in summer and shovelling in winter. But there are bound to be other things that pop up, from a collapsing fence to rampant weeds. Those take a lot more thought and time and effort, especially if (like us) you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

4. Remember to have fun anyway.

While you’re busy weeding and mowing, plant a few vegetables or flowers so you’ll have a reward later. Even if you’re not the decorating type (and we are so not), if you have to buy a welcome mat to scrape dirty shoes off, buy a funky one instead of a basic, utilitarian one. Paint one room a strong colour just because you can.

5. Think long-term and short-term.

Assuming that you’re planning to be in the house for more than a few years, remember that you have time. You don’t have to get it all perfect in the first month or even the first year. Things will happen little by little, and that’s okay.

Sometimes short-term solutions are okay too — for example, don’t live without a patio set just because you’re dreaming of an expensive one. Get a cheap one now so you can enjoy your patio while you’re saving up.

Your turn! If you have a house, what did you learn as a new home-owner? What do you wish someone had told you?

Top 5 Imaginary Worlds

Girl Genius Color Omnibus Vol. 1

The cover of one of the Girl Genius books. The thumbnail doesn’t do it justice — click through to see it bigger.

Following on last Friday’s post about your favourite place on Earth, here’s a related question for you all:

If you could live in any made-up story world, from books or movies or TV, which would you choose?

Here are my top 5…

(On a writerly note, you’ll notice all of these are series. Of course, this gives an author the room to really explore a new world and make it rich with details and layers – it’s hard to do the same in a standalone book or movie. But it didn’t take more than one book, and often much less, for me to fall in love…)

5. The world of Girl Genius

This series by Kaja and Phil Foglio is a webcomic and a graphic novel series (aimed at both adults and teens), so it’s not surprising that their world is chock-full of visual delights – enormous airships, quirky circuses, mad scientists, and lots and lots of clockwork machinery. Every place our heroine goes is more fantastic than the last. If I had my own airship, I’d be happily occupied for years.

4. Middle Earth

I admit to being influenced by the art that’s been made about Tolkien’s world, from paintings to the Peter Jackson films (famously shot in New Zealand). They all make the landscape look so gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for the beauty of nature. Plus there are elves and dwarves and hobbits. As long as I stay away from Mordor, it’s all good. (If Middle Earth isn’t available, Terry Pratchett’s satirical version, Discworld, would also do.)

3. Hogwarts

A school full of magic-users appeals to my fantasy-loving side and my old-fashioned-English-literature-loving side, not to mention the part of me that felt pretty lonely at school in my early teens. Sure, Voldemort is lurking around and there’s something wrong with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, but still, getting to learn spells, wield a magic wand, and fly, all while living in the niftiest boarding school ever? Yes, please!

2. Pern

Aside from the danger of Thread, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is a pretty sweet world – cozy stone halls, tall ships, and dragons – and for a (sort-of) pre-industrial planet, the larger centres are pretty modern-thinking. The only tough part would be deciding whether to Impress a dragon or go into training at Harper Hall (and maybe adopt some fire lizards).

1. The universe of Star Trek

I discovered Star Trek when I was 12, fell in love, and never really fell out of love. It offered a hopeful and essentially optimistic vision of the future, one that was missing from dystopian stories (yep, the ’80s had a round of dystopian novels too). Sure, there are wars and dissension, but the Federation is a pretty good entity overall. The chance to live on a spaceship, work with aliens, explore new planets with every mission, do science, and fly among the stars? Well, let’s just say that if I were given that choice, even today, I’d be gone faster than Jean-Luc Picard can say “Engage”. (Barring that, the TARDIS or the Firefly ‘verse would do in a pinch…)

Honourable Mention: Earth’s own history, at least as filtered through historical fiction. When I was growing up, some of my favourite books were historicals. I devoured any and every time period, from Ancient Egypt to the pioneer days to WWII. My favourite time periods were the medieval era, with its castles and romance, and the Victorian era, with its quaint manners and beautiful dresses. Of course, there are plenty of reasons I’m glad I don’t live in the past (women’s rights and modern medicine being just two!), but a girl can dream.

Your turn! Which fictional world or story-verse would you choose to live in if you could?

WANA Friday: Your Favourite Place

Welcome to another edition of WANA Friday, where bloggers respond to a common topic — briefly, so you can go blog-hopping and read everyone’s answers.

In this installment, the question for the participating bloggers is:

What’s your favourite place in the whole world? Why?

Full disclosure — I was the one who came up with this question. And to be honest, I didn’t think answering it would be so hard. I’ve been struggling with it all week.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair bit. But the more places I travel, the more places I find to love. And trying to rate them against each other is like comparing spaceships to tall ships. How do I compare an entire mountain range or two (the Canadian Rockies, the Himalayas) to a city (London, Copenhagen, Vancouver) or even a building, no matter how breathtaking (the Taj Mahal; any of the forts in Rajasthan, India; the great cathedral in Trondheim, Norway)?

Some places felt like home (the Norwegian fjords, western Ireland, the Canadian prairies where I really did grow up); others felt very foreign but no less wondrous (the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal). People make a difference too — I have fond memories of road-tripping with friends in the Canadian Maritimes, writing at cottages on Ontario lakes with my writers’ group, getting lost in the English Cotswolds with my significant other, hiking the Rockies with my family.

For now, here’s my answer:

Picture a fjord in Norway — not Geiranger, but that will do for an image. At the end of the fjord is a little steep-sided valley surrounded by mountains so close that in the depths of winter, the sun does not rise far enough to cast its light down into the valley. The valley is home to a little village on the fjord, and farms raising dairy cattle and sheep. In summer the livestock is taken up to a higher valley to graze in the meadows, a centuries-old tradition.

Many of the inhabitants are my kin, great-aunts and their descendents. Though they are related to me through my mother’s side, they remind me strongly of my father’s family running a farm on the Canadian prairie. They are gentle and reserved, but quick to laugh at themselves, and with a quiet pride, self-sufficiency and resilience.

The moment I saw the valley, I knew, and meeting my relatives only confirmed: I had come home.

That’s just one story of many. I look forward to sharing some of those other stories and places with you….

Other WANA Friday participants this week (check back later for more!):

  • Julie Farrar shares 5 reasons why she chose her home-away-from-home
  • Ellen Gregory struggles with the answer, as I did, and comes up with a unique response
  • Kim Griffin channels Dorothy and remembers the place where she grew up
  • Cora Ramos found her chosen place so inspiring, she wrote a novel about it, Dance the Dream Awake (out now — congratulations, Cora!)

Your turn! What’s your favourite place in the whole world?

Long-Term Travel: Planning

I’m taking some time off from my Adventures in Asia narration. Instead, I want to share some tips and information about our three-month trip. Hope it’s helpful to those of you interested in long-term travel

Where we went:

  • Malaysia – 2 weeks
  • Thailand – 2 weeks
  • India – 6 weeks
  • Nepal – 1.5 weeks
  • TOTAL: almost 12 weeks

Why we went there:

India formed the core of our trip, because my travelling partner’s extended family is from there and we wanted to visit them. We picked Malaysia because I have a friend there, Thailand because everyone goes to Thailand, and Nepal because I’ve long been fascinated by the Himalayan kingdoms.

Of course, those reasons shifted and expanded as we went!

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Watching Movies With My Dad

Yesterday was Father’s Day, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad, who passed away just over ten years ago.

For Mother’s Day, I told you about how my mom passed on her love of books to me. My dad wasn’t much of a reader (at least not of fiction — being first a Lutheran minister and then a pastoral counsellor and trainer, he read a lot of work-related non-fiction). But what he did love was movies.

When we were little, he used to take us to the Princess Theatre, a venerable, old-fashioned place with a balcony and a red curtain over the screen that was raised and lowered for every show. They showed children’s classics on Saturdays — Disney animated films, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island. We saw the newer Disney movies, too. I remember all three of us kids being completely obsessed with The Lion King.

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Creative Cross-Training

Two of the ways I live a creative life.

Two of the ways I live a creative life.

I’ve been thinking lately about creativity, cross-pollination or cross-training, and living the creative life (or creativity as a lifestyle).

Renaissance Women and Men

The mother of one of my childhood friends is a weaver. But she has also been known to make puppets and design knitted dolls and many other things. Her husband is a musician. My friend grew up to be a fiber artist. Stepping inside their house, at age 12, was wonderful — entering a world of playful creativity.

One man I know is a music director, an opera singer, an actor, a writer, and a teacher — and he does all of them well.

A lot of the creative people I know don’t have just one outlet, although they may have a specialty. They’re Renaissance men and women.

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6 Favourite Sea Stories for Children

BeachThe sea is mesmerizing, at least to me.

I can sit on a beach for hours and watch the waves coming in, each slightly different than the one before, or the way the light on the water shifts as the sun goes down. In a port city there are tugboats and barges, fishing boats and tankers, yachts and paddleboarders, gulls and giddy dogs to watch. And that’s before we get to what’s on the beach.

So it’s no surprise that I love stories about the ocean. Here are a few of my childhood favourites…

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Of course you know the Disney movie, but have you read the fairy tale it’s based on? It’s darker and sadder and features 100% fewer singing lobsters, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. This 1897 classic follows the adventures of a spoiled rich boy who gets swept off a ship and rescued by the crew of a fishing boat. They’re too busy to take him back to shore right away, so he must learn to adapt and grow up.

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The Beautiful Temples of Bangkok and Ayutthaya

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace in Bangkok

Today we’re back to travel tales from Thailand. If you liked my earlier post about the temples of Chiang Mai, you’re going to love this one.

But first, a quick note: I’m over at Turtleduck Press this week, talking about a fabulous shop I discovered on another recent trip: Fossils and Rocks and Gems, Oh My!

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Celebrating Independent Bookstores in Western Canada

A good independent bookstore is still worth more than any online store or chain bookstore. The selection is far better than in a chain, knowledgeable staff still beat algorithms, and much as I enjoy online browsing, there’s nothing like standing in a room (or rooms!) full of books.

So this week I’m putting the spotlight on several indies I’ve recently had the privilege of visiting.

I’ve just finished a road trip through Western Canada. One of the best parts of the trip was looking out for independent bookstores everywhere I went, and buying a little something at each, in the hope they’ll still be there next time I come through.

Here’s what I found, from west to east…

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