Those Summer Renos

Summer is often a time for fixing up the house and yard. For me, such projects temporarily change the landscape of my life, while people fix and hammer and do those jobs that I can never manage on my own.
But renovating your home can cause stress, arguments, and endless conflict. Just check out this piece in the business Insider.
Here’s a piece I wrote after I had the main floor of my house repainted. It wasn’t a major renovation, but it left me feeling displaced and took away the main floor of my house for two weeks. Enjoy!

The Painters

They come every day, clanking through my front door and up the stairs. I retreat from room to room, from upstairs to down, staying just ahead of them as they sand and scrape, fill cracks and holes with glutinous muck, then sand again.
Carpets and floors are skinned in plastic; doorways are draped. A persistence of dust fills the air. It finds its way into corners. It powders flat surfaces, coating the few nick-knacks I cling to fiercely and sentimentally, and it exhales from the blankets rumpling my bed. It coats my tongue as I try to swallow.
If I could become something else, something small, something furtive, I could crawl into the space where the baseboard once met the floor, hiding from the dust and the noise and the endless tramping upon plastic spread over carpet; escaping the painters, who look with narrowed eyes at surfaces, at corners, at doorways, and without mercy on anything not a wall.

Summer Travels

This summer, I had the good fortune to visit some fascinating places. I’m prairie born and bread—used to open spaces, long summer evenings, and cold winters. But I love the ocean and had the chance to visit more than one.
In May, I travelled with a friend to Newfoundland, where we drove from the ferry landing at Port Aux Basque to Cape Spear, the eastern-most point of North America.
I returned to the east coast in June, visiting Prince Edward Island for a conference, where I took the Hippo, an amphibious vehicle that tours historical Charlottetown, then drives straight out into the Charlottetown Harbour.
Finally, in July, I met one of my daughters in New Zealand, where we spend a week touring the North Island before flying to Melbourne. We had the chance one day to drive part of the Great Ocean Road, built by Australian war vets after the first World War. We also visited the Moonlit Sanctuary, where we had the chance to meet some local wildlife. All in all, a summer I will remember.

The One Thousand Kilometre Walking Challenge

Summer is a time for many things—working in the garden, lying in the sun, going on road-trips. This summer I decided to set myself a walking challenge. I walk every day, but I thought a challenge would help me walk more consistently.
Back in May, I came across my cousin’s Facebook post about the walking challenge he set for himself. I thought, what a great idea. My IPhone counts my steps, so I’ve been using the Health app to keep track of all my walking—whether it’s to the mall, to the train, on the treadmill, or just Out there walking.
My goal is one thousand kilometres by September 22. Thus far, since May 23, I’ve clocked six hundred eighty-one kilometres.
I’ve thought for years that Edmonton is too much of a car-town. As a pedestrian, parts of this city—depending on where you need to go—are practically inaccessible. Edmonton has a decent transit system, but the bus or train can’t get you everywhere—at least not in a hurry. And some places, not at all.
When my daughters are home, I have the luxury of a car. Much of the time, I rely on foot and transit. Edmonton is reasonably accessible, more than most cities in other parts of the world. I can’t speak for people using wheelchairs or walkers, but as someone married to a white cane, Edmonton isn’t bad. The endless construction, of course, is an obstacle for everyone.
If you want to set yourself a challenge this summer, make it a walking challenge, or even a pedestrian challenge. Walk and take transit for a week, and see how fast your life gets reorganized. Even if you just make an effort to walk more, you will be better off.
And as you fight the rush-hour traffic and the road-rage, watch out for pedestrians. According to a City of Edmonton website, on average, three hundred people in Edmonton are hit by motorists each year, and most of them in crosswalks.
I’ve had many close calls with vehicles, some of which ended in my cane getting mangled by a car. I’ve always thought my cane makes me more visible to drivers—but not always. Enjoy the remaining days of summer, and embrace the slow life by walking whenever you can.

September: A New Year, A New Look

September, for me, as it is for many, has always been the beginning of the year. Resolutions that come with September have more weight than those made in January. And they make more sense, too. Better to change your life in the fall, rather than in January when it’s thirty below.
I took a break from blogging over the summer. I needed the time to read, to write, and to be with family. I visited my daughter in Scotland, went to Lethbridge for a family funeral, visited family on Vancouver Island, and spent time with my eldest daughter who was home for a month from Australia. But the school year has begun, and my days are much more constrained: teaching, preparing classes, and marking will be the major features on my landscape for the next eight months.
I’ll eventually share some of what I encountered over the summer, but in the meantime, enjoy the new website, It will be a work in progress for a while. I needed the break from blogging over the summer, but building the new site kept me busy—among other things. Such projects have, for me, a steep learning curve, and I swore often and vociferously as I figured it out.
But summer is always the best time for trying and learning new things. Apart from learning something about website design, I learned some painful lessons about writing and submitting short fiction; I sat on Hadrian’s Wall; I tried haggis in Edinburgh and deep-fried pickles at Taste of Edmonton.
I read and read, not as much as I wanted, and not as much as you’d think. One of my favourite summer reads was The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I’m sure this series isn’t for everyone, but I was hooked before finishing the first book.
I hope you’ve had a summer that goes on feeding you as the days shorten into winter. For now, enjoy the fall. If you live in Edmonton, remember to get a look at the river valley, preferably from high up. The wash of muted colour with the river at its heart will remind you that that autumn, as brief as it can be in Edmonton, is a beautiful time of year.

Summer Reading

Have you picked your summer reads? The summers in Edmonton are brief enough, so it’s always best to plan. Whether you are travelling or staying at home, as long as you have something to read, then the world is a better place.
Here are a few of my summer reads. While my summers are always in part taken up with planning courses for the following year, I always manage to work in other reading. This fall, I’m teaching a course in nineteenth-century fantasy, which means I’ll be reading such authors as Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, Edith Nesbit, and Rudyard Kipling. I’m also planning a speculative fiction course for the winter—thinking about a course on books about mars. With that out of the way, here’s my list.
I like to take on authors during the summer. A few years ago, I read the Dune books by Frank Herbert. This summer, it’s the Mars trilogy by Robinson. I’ve already read Red Mars, and now I’m onto Green Mars. These books chronicle the terraforming of Mars. They get frustratingly political, but I’m determined to read the series.
Over the past few years, I’ve read something by Guy Gavriel Kay every other summer.  Kay is a Canadian fantasist, who helped Christopher Tolkien edit The Silmarillion. This year, it’s Children of Earth and Sky. Kay’s books are always sweeping, and I would call them historical fantasy—not to everyone’s taste. However, he’s worth checking out.
I finally got my hands on The Empty Throne, the eighth book in the Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. If you like British history and blood and guts, then these books are for you. Cornwell is perhaps better known for his Sharp Series, which was made into a TV show, starring Sean Bean—you might also know him as Boromir.
And what would the summer be without a good YA series. Williams Heir Chronicles begins with The Warrior Heir. I came across this series about a month ago. I know nothing about it, but I’m going to dive in.
Those are a few of my pics for this summer. I’ll also be reading short stories, rereading favourites, and generally loving the long days of summer. Enjoy your summer, where ever it may take you.

The Books of Summer

Summertime is about many things, but for me it’s always about finding new books. Such books often become landmarks in my reading life.
In July of 1999, my children and I moved into a new house. It was a major change for us, especially after five years of University housing. The house felt big, and in some ways we missed the slightly cramped, and badly designed rowhouse where we had lived for five years.
We spent a couple of weeks unpacking and settling in. At that time, I still read books on cassette tape. Books for blind readers hadn’t yet advanced into the digital age. I had a small library of books on tape that I read and reread, and I got what I could from the CNIB Library in Toronto, and Recordings for the Blind in the states. But before we left our old house, a neighbour, a lovely mother of three named Rachel, gave me a book on tape—six cassettes bound together with an elastic band. I remember shoving the book in with my things and forgetting about it.
Once things settled down, I found the book and decided to read it. It was a rainy July that year—wet and cold. It wasn’t the hot July thunderstorm weather that you usually get here in Edmonton; it was a drizzly, cold rain that never seemed to end. Worse yet, my house was freezing. I hadn’t figured out how to work the electronic thermostat, so we all had to put on sweaters and slippers to keep warm.
My kids were out with their mom one afternoon, and I remembered the book Rachel had given me. I found the book, found the first tape, and started reading. The book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a pirated copy of a Random House recording read by Jim Dale.
I had heard of the book, but I knew nothing about it. My kids knew about it from school, but their mom didn’t want either daughter reading it until one of us had read it first.
It took me a while to sort out Rowling’s world, and I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. It seemed to be breaking all of the rules of good fantasy I’d learned from reading Tolkien and Lewis. There was too much overlap between the regular and wizarding worlds, and how could anyone read Dumbledore and not think of Gandalf, or even Merlin from T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone? But I kept going, and soon I was hooked.
Reading in my room another afternoon, my youngest walked in to ask me a question. She heard Jim Dale read:
“Urgh – troll boogers.”
This of course is the scene in chapter 10, in which Harry and Ron rescue Hermione from the mountain troll in the girl’s bathroom.
 “What are you reading?” asked my youngest, a little incredulously.
That summer began my love for the Harry Potter books. My children were soon reading them as well, and in not very long we were all caught up to The Prisoner of Azkaban. Then began the wait for the next book.
Within a couple of years I was reading books in a digital format. I was stunned at being able to go to the CNIB Library cite and download a book, which I could then read. I discovered Audible, and began buying and downloading books from there as well. It was a shift in the way I thought about books. I could browse online for a book and then get it—new books as well. My life to that point had been characterized by waiting and waiting for books—waiting  for them to come in the mail, waiting for books to be recorded by volunteers, or waiting for books to just become available in a format I could read.
The Harry Potter books weren’t available digitally, but I started buying them on CD. Both my daughters had their own CD players, and some days you could hear the voice of Jim Dale coming from three separate rooms in the house. We talked about the books, argued about characters, and my youngest even invented Harry Potter Jeopardy, which I can tell you led to some lively evenings.
My kids and I have read and talked about many books over the years. I sat with both of them as they first learned to read picture books, and later as they moved onto chapter books. Their tastes have diverged over the years, but we always had the Harry Potter books in common. Regardless of what you might think of the series, its power for us was as much the way it brought us together as a family of readers as it was the story.