Surrey International Writers Conference

Those of you who enjoy writing, or at least appreciate reading works of others, may enjoy learning about one excellent opportunity to be immersed in both endeavours.

I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference. I stayed at the Sheraton Vancouver Guilford that has been our host hotel for all but the first two years of this thirty-year-old event. Because of COVID the planners have recently had to go partly to Zoom-style recordings. They are available to registered attendees for 30 days following the in-person sessions.

In their report to attendees yesterday the committee organizers wrote that there had been presenters and attendees from nine provinces. Additionally, there were attendees from 28 of the United States. This year people attended from at least 14 countries: Canada, Australia, China, England, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Switzerland, Trinidad and the United States. “It all made for a superb lineup of 63 presenters, 46 in person and 17 online.”

This 30th anniversary of the Surrey Writers Conference concluded Sunday afternoon after a four-day blended in-person and virtual conference. In closing the organizers stated, “It was a pleasure to constantly hear about connections forged, inspirations generated, and eschewing, ‘see you in Surrey next year.’”

A well respected and favourite presenter, Robert Dugoni, bequeathed us with the SIWC tag line in his keynote speech about 10 years ago, “This day we Write!

There are many examples of how the conference is a labour of love for the co-chairs, Ursula Maxwell Lewis and the conference coordinator, Kathy Chung. I look forward to attending again next October. Perhaps you will save time to do so also.

Collecting and Refining the Recipes for My Book

Last week, I wrote about how Float House Family Favourites came to be published. It began as a small Christmas gift version and I knew there were a lot more recipes I could include. Recipes I’d used my whole life.

When Alberta school children were sent home for the last two months of the school year in 2020 to learn remotely, my three grandchildren responded well. They sat at their home computers for school which lasted from 9 am to noon. Once school was completed they were free to do other things around their farm. They regularly participated in preparing part of the family meals. For at least four months they were guided by their parents as they learned to cook. Many times they would use my biscuit mix recipe as a base for other recipes or for making pancakes.

When COVID-19 hit us all, it eliminated many of my social responsibilities and community events. When I completed work on my friend Margaret’s Finding Freedom book, I started assembling my other every-day recipes. It was fun sorting through a lifetime collection and those of others in our family.

Early on I came to realize the book should use both imperial and metric measures. I had created a completely metric foods text when I was teaching that won recognition as the first Canadian metric text book. What I didn’t know, was which type of measurement should be listed first. I needed to find the best format.

That’s when I appealed to a team of professional cooks and recipe book writers I’d met at a writer’s conference in Ontario. These professionals called, The Cooking Ladies, offered advice from their experience, which put me on the right path. We decided putting metric first, followed by imperial measurements, was best. A writer friend in Vancouver contributed valuable recipe testing.

Once the format was decided it was easier to choose which recipes and photographs to include. Finally, the big day came when I had the manuscript ready to present to my book designer. It was a very busy time for her and it felt like a very long wait for the first proof to be ready.

Eventually the big day arrived; I reviewed the proof, made a few changes and once completed, ordered 52 copies from Island Blue. For the next two weeks I supplied friends who really wanted copies and others whom I wanted to have them.

I could see how quickly my stock was disappearing so I ordered up another print run. However, I ordered too soon. My professional reviewer alerted me to some mistakes in ingredient measures. The only thing I could do at that stage was prepare a page of corrections to insert at the beginning of the book. So, I have made the corrections this way and also sent corrections to my designer. The next print run will be correct.

Should you like to obtain a copy of Float House Family Favourites, you can find it at Melinda’s Biscotti & Coffee House in North Saanich. You can also purchase it from my website for $22.00 (delivered locally) Copies are also available from my daughter in Langley, my son in Nanaimo and a friend in Campbell River. Contact me for more information.

The Story of a Little Recipe Book

In 2018 I flew to Calgary to visit my grandchildren for Thanksgiving weekend. My daughter was busy with customers and their horses in the barn, leaving me to enjoy the children. They wanted to bake, so we did. They made my recipe for biscuit mix and then used it to make Impossible Pumpkin Pie. The youngest, who seems always to be hungry asked if she could make her snack.

“What would your Mom say if you asked her?” I asked. “She lets me have it anytime,” she replied.

That’s when I recorded the first recipe for this book. She shook a covering of Kashi cereal on a microwave plate. Then she poured cream into a cup measure and filled it to the top with chocolate chips. Into the microwave it went. While it heated, she dug into the freezer for some favourite frozen berries and sprinkled them generously over the Kashi. Lastly, she poured the melted chocolate mixture over the plate and its contents. Each of the three of the children took up a spoon and enjoyed the snack.

The following June, I returned to be a guest at the year end celebration of their 4H club. In a telephone conversation their mother had explained that her children had announced to the club business meeting that they would look after the desserts for the meal. Grandma would be there to consult. And with my supervision they did prepare all those desserts on the cover of this book, enough, and plenty left over, for 100 guests!

Float House Family Favourites

Which brings me to the following December. Other than long sox for riding, books all around and maybe movie passes I was stuck for what to give them for Christmas. I approached my book designer and my printer and I asked if it would be possible to create and print copies of a small volume of the recipes they had used and the picture illustrations I had taken. We had only 3 weeks, until Christmas but they told me it was possible as most of the business rush had been completed. So, on the day before I left to join my family for Christmas on Maui I left the print shop with 4 ‘proof’ copies of the first edition of Float House Family Favourites.

This first edition had their faces on the cover, enjoying the snack, and pictures of the children doing the baking inside. You will note that this second edition does not identify the makers but their creations, and some of mine are shown throughout the book.

Current Writing Projects

While calmly reviewing what I have been doing during the past few months since COVID 19 descended upon us I have tried not to be angry about the losses. I’ve attempted to remain, calmly busy and be philosophical as each new health requirement was laid on, by a remarkably calm Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Early in the new year I tackled the assorted pages of a manuscript written by an elderly friend (93) who, when she was allowed to leave the hospital had needed regular nursing care in a senior’s centre. I visited her in that new home and promised to put it together for her in a form that could eventually be printed.

At about the same time I undertook to create a book of recipes from those I have used during my life. I was able to include some that had been shared from other sources. Assembly of the chosen recipes was relatively easy until I reached the place where I needed to decide layout and whether or not to use both Imperial and Metric measures. (I had earned an award for the first all Metric textbook in Canada)

Some years ago, at an annual meeting in Ontario of Canadian Authors Association, I had met two women who called themselves the Cooking Ladies. They made a business of preparing and serving food to conventions like ours, from their trailer. When not doing that they created and sold recipe books. Perhaps I could ask these professional cooks I had actually met for the needed advice.

Thankfully they were more than willing to help and I followed their advice: Imperial measures for the first row, followed by appropriate equivalent Metric measures in the second row, and then the name of the measured ingredient.  It appeared that way through two edited book proofs, before the actual printing stage. Apparently, I do not qualify as a careful editor – there are errors in a few of the measurements, currently being corrected in the second print run.

The cover in colour is beautifully appealing, coil binding permits the book to lie flat and be easily read in the kitchen, and my designer and printer are proud of what we have created. But any mistakes are discouraging. An experience last Wednesday in Mark’s Workwear World, brightened my day. The young female clerk was a girl I knew, being very helpful trying to find knee-high sox for my grandchildren who wear riding boots. From the other side of a row of sox she turned around and exclaimed, “I love your new recipe book!” It made my day.

Volcanoes and Airplanes

This week we were treated to multiple media presentations about the forty-year anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helen. It’s located in Washington near our southern BC border. As all the announcements about that event were occurring, I was reminded of trip I made so long ago with my husband.

Mount St. Helen Volcano

We were returning home to Nanaimo after a weekend convention, in Seattle, settled in a five-passenger jet with the company pilot in the cockpit. As the plane moved slightly inland Stan’s comment was, “See over there, the mountain is beginning to steam.” We had the good fortune to witness the very first indications of that eruption of Mount St. Helen. Witnessing was the easy part, the cleanup after was something else.

While many people were listening and reading about the eruption, I was remembering the awful volcanic dust that covered absolutely everything for days, weeks, as a result of the eruption. And we lived a long way from that mountain. The stuff settled everywhere, was especially hard on automobile paint, and even after we had forgotten why, we were finding spots of it where we hadn’t yet cleaned.

Fertilizer Dust

In addition to the lives lost that day, a whole mountainside of timber disappeared in the fire. Our business was based on trees and forestry. The good news was not discovered until months and years later. The volcano left every bit of open land, burned or not, covered with a substance that acted like fertilizer. When tree-planters went out two years later and dug seedlings into the ground in the usual way, we were all delighted to discover the trees growing better than any other area that had been planted.


My title included airplanes. I’ve told you of one trip that was important to me. What I am not able to understand is the excitement this week of watching beautifully painted airplanes going through their gymnastic routines as an entertainment. I have never been impacted by war and I avoid war-focused stories and films. These air displays seem to me to be on the edges of war and costly in dollars and lives besides.

I am Becoming my Mother

My growing up years on a floathouse and later in a truck-logging camp were nothing like those my mother experienced. Except for a few short years in Vancouver, she grew up on a farm, first in Alberta, and later on a piece of very wild farmland in remote Jackson Bay. When she married my father that transition from the farm to the floathouse must have been a terrible shock.

Making Soil

Having no soil in which to plant anything, she made adjustments. Dad built her long narrow boxes he set on the float. She filled them with a mixture of needles and bark bits scratched from the roots of the undergrowth along the beach and mixed that with the seaweed that had blown up on the beach after a storm. In it she planted dahlias and gladiolas. No vegetables grown there, she was determined to make her outdoor surroundings as beautiful as possible. When our house was hauled on to the camp land she brought those boxes along too. 

Later in her life when they moved to Campbell River – I was at university then – I witnessed the result of her labours with the land on which our house stood. Her garden was undeniably beautiful and she made no effort to grow vegetables there either. Save-on-Foods was only a few miles away then.

Mom had grown up the youngest of three brothers and their life was outdoors. She learned to shoot along with them, and became a better shot than they were. I was less enthusiastic about being outdoors and at no time was I involved with sports as she and my younger sister were.

I Have Found Similarities

I can now acknowledge that there was at least one way she and I were similar, when I had always noted how dissimilar the two of us were. I love my garden and go to great lengths to create beauty around me.

But back to Mom, whose skin tanned easily, as mine does, who loved the sun too, but with added years I’m discovering those same facial wrinkles she had are appearing almost overnight. Something else I’ve discovered: long hairs on my chin telegraph to the world I am her daughter and that I have reached a certain age. I began by tweezing them, with little success.

When Mom’s chin whiskers – she called them that – appeared, she quietly made an appointment with an esthetician in downtown Nanaimo for electrolysis, and then enjoyed a bonus of visiting with our children on the way out of town before she returned to Campbell River. Over several years of regular appointments most of the offending hairs were no longer evident. Guess what? I am following her lead on this.

Proud to be A Logger’s Daughter

In this large yard there are 3 beautiful sequoia trees. When we moved here nearly 30 years ago the smallest one was just the right size to be adorned with lights during the Christmas season. We used an extension ladder to arrange several strings of bright lights and plugged them into an electrical outlet we had installed during the wiring of the yard. Today the tree is absolutely enormous. It’s impossible for a person to even get near enough to the bottom branches for decoration. With rich soil and plentiful rain, trees grow quickly in the Pacific Northwest.

A second tree is a different variety of s sequoia and in its unobtrusive location grows at will. The third, and largest tree, has spread wide over the lawn and driveway so that from time to time the gardener and other tall workers have complained about the branches hanging low down. As they ride the lawn mower the branches get in the way and also of large delivery trucks. My worker’s answer has been to clip off any errant branch just so it’s out of the way. The tree has grown quickly beyond his cuts and a strangely shaped, misshaped tree had resulted.

Natural Shaped Trees

I like my shrubs and trees to have a natural shape and over time have taken responsibility for trimming everything that needed it, except for the hedges. I bought myself a little work horse, a De Walt XRP with an 18 volt rechargeable battery pack. It was my choice of implement because at 10 pounds I could lift it above my head.

I don’t climb a ladder any more to cut and instead, stand at the bottom directing others. There are lots of uses for my trusty saw working on branches and bushes while still on solid ground, but not on that tree. On this occasion I was simply correcting the shape of the tree by having the errant branches cut closer to the trunk, the way they should have been cut in the first place. But this time I was directing work of my gardener to do what I used to do, in the way I wanted to have it done. When you drive into our yard now you will see the view beneath the lowest branches, which incidentally will not drag after a heavy snowfall, and my family and workers are happy with the result.

After all, I am a logger’s daughter and a granddaughter of a hand logger.

Saving and Good Luck

During these restricted times that all of us are being subjected to I make it my practice to call one long-term friend each day. Remembering that she had become a widow a year ago this month, I called a friend from university days. Yes, that is a long time ago.

Our husbands had been friends in their rural high school. After working for a few years to earn money they both chose to enroll in the same faculty at UBC. They became roommates. During that first year my friend met her husband-to-be and I met her at their class parties.

She was pleased to hear from me – we had not spoken since her husband’s memorial – and we talked easily about our lives. University education is always expensive and their situation was no different than most. My friend had had a good job and they married while he was still in school.

Five years later we married and our income as a married couple was similar to theirs. Our conversation fell into reminiscing how we made the dollars stretch. She spoke of making curtains from dyed sheets, I remembered making ours from patterned fabric found in the discontinued, discounted fabric piles.

We laughed together about our furniture, all parental gifts or hand-me downs. We had received our frig from my parents, his folks had given us our bedroom set. Both were wedding presents. Anything else was purchased second hand. A classic structure in the home of any new couple of the time was the board and brick bookcases. We agreed we had them for many years in any home we rented.

Board and Brick Bookshelves

Part of my story for her was telling of the sofa and large stuffed chair cleared from the fellow’s class common room that my husband had hauled home. It was a good opportunity for me to incorporate furniture refinishing into my senior home management class. We had that same reupholstered set in our home for at least ten years.

My friend’s similar story was of having a sofa with broken springs that would not welcome a body sitting in the center, only one person on each end was allowed.

Our conversation continued with laughter over how we made the dollars stretch. The guys had learned to make sake, a rice wine, while they were in university. During the first year of our marriage we made a very acceptable dandelion wine. Our rented house had a large yard where we grew tomatoes and other vegetables.

Financial Planning

She and I agreed that before entering into this arrangement called marriage each couple had made a plan. In our case, most important was our policies around money, which certainly seems a long way from that of most couples today. As far as possible, once we paid minimal school loans, we avoided owing money, and when credit card use became unavoidable our practice, and it still is, to pay off the balance monthly.

As both of our parents had taught, we were determined to go without until we could afford something we wanted. Our agreement was that while I worked for at least the first five years, we would live on his salary only, and mine would become our “nest egg.” That meant we could make a solid down payment on our first property.

There is one more feature to the ritual practice of saving for potential opportunities. It is luck, and I have a good deal of it to be thankful for.

Lessons From my Father

My father was of the old school philosophy, “save money for what you want, never go into debt.” He lived his life the way his Norwegian-born parents had. Personal trust and a shake of the hand represented a promise – a deal.

Even later in life he was suspicious of credit cards and when we first introduced him to a cash card to supply his needs while in the care home, he practiced using it. Went to the bank across the street, lined up to the teller’s booth and took out $5 or $10 at a time. And did that daily to be reassured the magical card still worked!

             The only time that I remember Dad and I having a serious difference of opinion was when I asked him to sign for a loan for me to travel to Europe that summer. Following my university graduation, I would return in the fall for teacher training to get my teacher certification. After that I would be employed and not free for extended travel. He understood my reasons, but they did not sway him. In desperation, I turned to his brother for a loan signature where I held an account at the local Credit Union. Uncle Ingolf had traveled a bit in Europe and knew its benefits. He complied.

Mortgage and Credit Cards

So it was that with the exception of a home mortgage and two credit cards, paid in full monthly, I’ve tried to live by my father’s rule. The happiest day of our married life was when we ceremoniously ‘burned the mortgage’ in our back yard. The economists and professional financial advisers that up to early January, I had followed, suggested that we could be entering an uncertain period of decline, not unlike 2008. The world has since turned upside down and will be that way for more months than we want to anticipate. Presently none of us knows what we are facing health-wise, never mind financially.

Borrowing and Bankruptcy

People are being laid off, some are going bankrupt, businesses are closing, homeless people in tents appear wherever there’s a grassy spot. We have rules to follow to keep healthy. Thankfully our governments have stepped in to help, but I do wish those same governments had spent less of the surplus during the good times.

The benefits that are being given away, with borrowed funds from taxes, will mean we have debt that’s impossible to repay. It will be a drain on this country for many years, especially if interest rates rise, which they eventually will.

By now Dad would have been apoplectic!  

Today I am Very Thankful

When my eyes glanced away from a television ad last evening they were met with a glorious sunset. I took a photograph to share with you, and challenged myself to explain the reasons why I am so thankful for this life I enjoy.

            My story begins with finding this beautiful location. It is 1.8 acres of waterfront with views of Patricia Bay, Mill Bay and farther out to Satellite Channel. After a full year of looking at properties in the Victoria area, with one realtor, and in the Richmond area, with another realtor, we fell in love with this, on one September evening, during our first sunset viewing. Yes, I am indeed fortunate to live where I do.

The View

I live alone here now, in the home we built together, but I am not lonely. Because of the 45 years in love and partnership we spent together, nearly 30 years of them here, evidence of him is all around me. There are memories in pictures to enjoy, a home built to suit our specifications and a garden created together in cooperation. The shrubs and hedges are mature, their nests produce baby birds. I can watch a bald eagle perched on a waterfront tree, as he looks for his dinner. Occasionally I see a peregrine falcon, often I hear the call of a sassy blue jay or raven, and always crows and sea gulls who seem to enjoy my new roof.

            The ocean before me is filled with activity every day. Occasionally porpoises frolic through the bay, always there are seals and river otter to watch. On calm days there are paddle boarders, some with a dog or babe in life jacket along for the ride. Frequently I watch kayakers who appear to appreciate the water as I do. On warm summer days I can, and I do, swim on the incoming tide.


I have so much more to be thankful for. It includes three adult children, each established in their own satisfying career. In these difficult times of staying at home, they are each living on a sizable piece of land they own. There is plenty of worthwhile work to be done without having to leave the property.

            I am most grateful for having three delightfully different grandchildren, whose parents teach and encourage each of them in fields of endeavour and interests they seek. School is at home for now, and that means in addition to the usual daily farm chores at 7:30 AM, each one takes some responsibility for part of the household jobs in order to be ready by 9:00 AM for school to start in their rooms. With a short recess break and a snack and some physical activity, lesson time is usually finished by noon.

            I have every reason to be grateful, with only one current exception. At this time in our ‘unhinged’ world – that’s how it sometimes feels – I cannot travel to be able to hug these young ones. But I do now have their email address and have begun to use it.