Friday, July 12, 2024

Biking Through the Mountains

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Each spring my husband Will and I look forward to doing e-bike rides on mountain highways while they are closed to vehicle traffic. This year we managed three spectacular rides.

The first was on the Sheep River Road, which is about an hour and half drive south of our home in Calgary. On May 10th, our group of eight met at the winter gate that blocks off the last 18 kilometres of the unplowed highway from Dec 1 to May 14 every year. The snow gradually disappears from the road in April. 

May 10th turned out to be a beautiful blue-sky day. Our summer clothing contrasted the snow-covered mountains.  

Three members of our group met the challenge of the hills on regular bikes. Impressive! We took many stops along the way, including one for the highway's namesake bighorn sheep.  

And a picnic lunch at the Sheep River Falls. 

On our return trip, another biker snapped a shot of the whole group. 

Our second ride this spring was the Highwood Pass, the highest paved road in Canada. It closes to traffic from December 1 to June 14 due to high snowfall and to protect wildlife. The first two weeks of June the road is free from snow for biking. It's hard to find a parking spot on the popular weekends. Seven of us went Thursday, June 7, the weekday with the best weather forecast during that narrow biking window. 

Here I am (turquoise jacket) outside the winter gate before starting the ride.  

We enjoyed blue skies, but the brisk wind made the riding cool and the uphill sections more challenging, especially for intrepid Sam, on a regular bike. He also took our group selfie. 

The return ride was mostly downhill with the wind behind us, which made for lovely coasting through gorgeous mountain scenery. 


Our last mountain road ride of the season was June 14th on the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Johnston Canyon. This highway stays open in winter but closes to cars in June and September to protect wildlife and allow cyclists to enjoy the road. Tourists can rent e-bikes in Banff for the 50-kilometre return journey. The Parkway's hills are less steep than those of Sheep River and Highwood highways. This time regular bikers outnumbered e-bikers 4-3 in our seven person group. 

The weather forecast was 40 percent rain and we got pelted with with cold drops during a five-minute downhill section.  My cotton pants were drenched but dried quickly in the breeze when the sun reappeared. 

We heard reports of four bears sighted on the roadside. We missed them, but once more encountered bighorn sheep.   

These highways are so long that I've never felt crowded even when I've gone on popular weekends. This spring we did all three rides on weekdays and most of the time we had the roads entirely to ourselves. 


Thursday, July 11, 2024

My Prize Winning Essay, by Karla Stover


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Most people haven't a clue about what garden clubs do, but they're not just about working in the yard. In my District, clubs do projects with the children at a local daycare, have planted and now maintain a pollinator garden for a library, take care of the Eatonville, WA. city park, and many other things to benefit their communities. The Washington State District of Clubs also sponsors an essay contest and that's where I come in. If no one else from my club wants to write one to enter, I do it. This year, the essay below (short but there is a word limit) won first place in Washington State and second in the Pacific Region (Washington, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii.) And, yes, it pays.

 One more thing: In researching I learned that it's "Madrona" north of southern Oregon and northern California's Siskiyou Mountains and "Madrone" south of them.

                                            Winter Wonderland

 The roast is in the oven, the potatoes are peeled, and the dog and I are hiking in the woods. Winter-woods walking is different from summer hiking. The trail we’re on is covered with maple leaves, many still retaining their color. I used to iron fallen leaves between sheets of wax paper to keep them shinny. Four years ago, University of Washington scientists got a grant to check the possibility of tapping big leaf maples here for syrup. Two good reasons to love them. Watch out Vermont.

But speaking of leaves, the dog has uncovered a loan oak leaf. Oak trees are native to the other end of the county so this little fellow has traveled a long way.

After drying up in summer heat, moss has returned, thanks to recent rain, and once again woodsy debris on the forest floor is softened by the versatile plant. Moss has been used for everything from surgical dressings by World War 1 doctors, to diapers by Native Americans. It’s a lovely contrast to gray-green bits of fallen lichen. I’m worried, though, because where I walk, moss is losing a competition to a ground cover

I’ve been unable to identify. The dog chases a squirrel into a cluster of Oregon Grapes. Both the Indians and the pioneers used it for medicine, food, and dye. But where we’re walking, there’s more salal than Oregon grape.It has sticky berries which, as a child, I used to put on my earlobes. The Indians were more practical, turning the berries into cakes, or drying them to treat indigestion, colic and diarrhea, and respiratory diseases such as colds or tuberculosis. Not to ignore the Oregon grape, though. It also had its uses, mainly to fight parasites and viruses.

The woods have lots of green, my favorite color. Sword ferns snuggle against Douglas firs which the Salish Indians used to ward off ghosts. When we bought our house, there was a copse of all these natives but it lacked two types of trees: cedars, which I brought in, and madrona which are notoriously difficult to propagate. My family had a number of elderly Indian friends who told me their women used madrona’s orange berries to make necklaces and various decorations. I recently learned that once dried, the berries have hooked barbs which latch onto animals for migration. How cool is that? Along our forest trail, the madrona’s peely-ochre trunks stand out among the green.

Eventually, my dog and I break out of the trees and into a little clearing, where we pass a spread of the ground cover, kinnikinnick. Before tobacco became the go-to plant for Old World smokers, folks happily puffed away on cannabis, but here the Indians sought out the nearest patch of kinnikinnick, a word that actually means “smoking mixture. Some articles I’ve read claim it’s becoming endangered. Sadly, for me, the sight of it means our walk in the woods is over. So, back to the kitchen I go.


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

I Survived Book Release Day - Hello Summer / Barbara Baker


Jillian of Banff XO is out in the world. Thank you to everyone who bought copies and made this possible. For a few days it held its own as an Amazon Best Seller and a Hot New Release in Fiction About Being a Teen. That was a wonderful surprise. 

The worry and fretting about release day has subsided and it’s fun to get messages from readers expressing their reactions and thoughts. I even received a few WTH texts which made me smile. Perfect. The story is getting reactions. Music to a writer’s ears. Trust me, all interactions with readers is greatly appreciated regardless of their comments or method of delivery.

After I receive each note, I put on my big girl panties and ask the reader if they can leave a review. It’s what writers live for and yes, I will admit, I force myself not to have the Amazon or Goodreads review page on speed dial. I’ve made a deal with myself to only check the reviews twice a month. Yup, I already blew it. I have to wait until August 1st to check them again. 

As a result of the release day hoopla on social media, I now have tons of new friend requests. And so many promises that if I hire them to make a book trailer or market my book, I will attain super star status. It’s hard to sift through so many requests to determine their authenticity, so I delete them all. I did pause at a couple that said they found my profile picture stunning. I was never this popular in high school. Delete. Delete. 

With all of it in the rearview mirror, it’s time to drop off books at libraries and book stores. That, in itself, is a treat. And then to see them on display, well … stop my beating heart. 

And now it’s time to settle down and enjoy summer. 

The traffic heading west out of Calgary every morning is an indication there are lots of people enjoying staycations.

Day trips to Canmore and Banff keep both towns hopping and regardless of the weather, sidewalks are busy with tourists. Few of them seem to mind the ongoing construction or crowds, as selfie sticks wave out of car windows or above people’s heads, and everyone merges on queue while locals carry on with daily routines hardly grumbling at all. 

But you don’t have to get caught up in the hustle of the townsites. Within minutes of setting out on a hiking or biking trail, you can leave the busyness of it all behind and find a quieter spot.

You might even be lucky enough to come across some wildlife but be respectful - stay back and give them their space.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Frozen Pipes (the story behind the story) by J. S. Marlo


Undeniable Trait
is available now!
Click here



Many years ago, I lived in military housing on a northern Canadian Air Force Base. The house, which dated back to... to too many decades ago, was insulated so badly that the pipes running inside the outside wall in the kitchen froze every time the temperature dropped below -20C.

In order to solve my many complaints about frozen pipes before one of them crack and explode, the maintenance plumber made a hole at the back of one of the cupboards and installed a grill so the warm inside air could go into the wall and stop the water in the pipes from freezing. As long as I kept that cupboard door open, it worked, but it wasn't fool-proof below -30C. When it got really cold, I also had to let the water running all night, so the constant flow would prevent freezing. And in case you wonder... yes, there was lots of cold air coming out of that cupboard.

In my newest novel Undeniable Trait, Willow 'Mitch' Mitchell is a plumber, a good plumber who thinks outside the box, just like my military maintenance plumber from long ago. One day she's called to thaw the frozen pipes in the under-insulated trailer rented by the town's new doctor. Here's a preview of Willow and Dr. Zachary's second encounter:

Zachary took advantage of his lunch break to visit the patients’ wing where Susan and her fourth child rested in a double room. Her husband sat on the second bed cradling his infant daughter while his wife slept.

Unwilling to disturb them, Zachary backtracked and bumped into the female guard. “Sorry, Mandy.”

“I was looking for you, Doc.” She smiled a heartwarming smile framed by deep dimples. “The plumber will be at your house in ten minutes. I’m sorry I couldn’t get your pipes thawed any sooner, but there’s no queue jumping, not even for a doctor. Would you like me to go unlock the door?”

He’d never expected special treatment because of his profession. Besides, nobody was home. It didn’t matter when the plumber showed up to fix the pipes.

“Thank you, but the timing is perfect.” Zachary lived five minutes away and his next patient wasn’t scheduled to show up for another twenty-five minutes. “Going home gives me an excuse to enjoy a few breaths of fresh air.”

The breaths of frozen air he took between the entrance of the hospital and his SUV chilled his upper airway. He didn’t mind the cold, but from what he heard on the radio, the Arctic front that had settled over northern Ontario intended to overstay its welcome.

A white utility van was parked in front of his trailer and an individual bundled into a yellow hooded parka and carrying a toolbox knocked on Zachary’s front door.

He pulled into his driveway then rushed outside. “I’m coming.”

The individual spun around and the hood of his parka fell backward, unmasking the plumber’s identity. “Doc?”

The look of surprise on her pretty face matched Zachary’s.

“Willow?” He suddenly recalled their conversation from last night, and her occupation hit him. In retrospect, he should have clued in when she mentioned the toilet tank. How did I miss that? “Thank you for coming to my rescue.”

She raised a brow. “You’re my important client?”

Embarrassment threatened to redden his freezing cheeks. “Client, yes, but no more important than any of your other clients. I had a patient in labor, so Mandy offered to call. I apologize if she tried using my profession to get faster service.”

“I never gave her a chance to give me your name—or your profession. You ended up at the bottom of my list the moment she said nobody was home.” A mischievous smile blossomed on Willow’s lips, wrinkling her eyes. “Are you going to let me in? It’s your fair turn right now, but if it makes you feel better, I could push you further down my list.”

“I like fair.” Amused, he unlocked and invited her in. “How’s your hand?”

“It’s sore.” She took off her boots. “I only had time to change the bandage once since I thawed my first pipe. I’m guessing my crazy day resembles yours at the hospital.”

“Crazy sounds about right.” Yesterday she’d mentioned a hot water tank during her visit, which was another clue he’d missed. “Have you replaced that water tank yet?”

The dubious look she served him answered that question. “I have three more clients after you, then I’ll tackle the tank, assuming no other emergencies arise. So, which pipe froze? The one in the kitchen, in the bathroom, or both?”

“Kitchen only.” It never occurred to him, until now, that shaving and enjoying a hot shower had been a luxury he almost missed this morning. “I shut off the main valve and turned all the faucets on to release the pressure.”

“Good.” She disappeared down the hallway. Moments later, pipes rattled in the walls and water rushed into the bathroom but nothing in the kitchen. Then silence filled the air.

The frozen water hadn’t thawed, but it didn’t sound like any pipes had burst. All in all, Zachary supposed it could be worse.

Willow entered the kitchen where she opened the cupboards beneath the sink. “The insulation in the walls is minimal. If Chester wasn’t such a scrooge, he’d winterize his trailer properly, but since he’s not the one living in it, he doesn’t care.” She pointed a flashlight at the space underneath the sink. “If you bend down, you’ll see there’s a vent on the back panel.”

He knelt beside her. Her shoulder brushed his, prickling his skin. Confounded by the strange feelings she stirred up, Zachary forced his mind to focus on the cupboard. The light shone on a grill covering a large hole. Cold air escaped the opening.

“Who installed a vent there?” From his position, he couldn’t see any dial or knob to close it.

“I did.” She leaned the flashlight in a corner then retrieved a screwdriver from her toolbox and proceeded to unscrew the grill. “To stop the pipes from freezing you need to keep the cupboards open when the temperature drops below minus twenty.”

“Good to know.” The open doors allowed the ambient air to enter the vent and warm up the pipes, preventing them from freezing. That makes sense. “Why do I have a feeling my heating bill will cost me a bundle?”

“Because you’re smart?” A sassy smile played on her lips. “Actually, it’s not fool-proof. Below minus thirty, you also need to let the water run in the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and the tub. And don’t forget to open the cupboards in the bathroom as well.”

The continuous flow would stop the water from freezing in the pipes, which meant he needed to pay particular attention to the weather if he worked all night or if he went on vacation. “What about the washer?”

The grill tumbled in the cupboard.

“Those pipes run in an indoor wall.” She plugged in a heat gun, a tool he’d used in the past to remove paint, and she pointed it at the hole. “They’ve never caused any trouble, that I know of.”

“That’s not reassuring me.” No wonder Chester was so eager to sign the lease.

* * *

Undeniable Trait received a 4-star review from Amy's Bookshelf Reviews last week. Click here to read.

Undeniable Trait is available in ebook and paperback. Click here to purchase.

Have a great summer & Happy reading!

J. S. 

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Research on the Porch by Eileen O'Finlan


We've finally entered my favorite season. I wait all year for summer, so when it finally arrives I do all I can to soak it up. It just doesn't last long enough in New England. However, writing, for me anyway, tends to be an indoor pursuit. If I'm working on a novel, I'm at my laptop indoors. If I'm doing research for a future novel I'm usually in my home library, on the internet, or at a pertinent historial site - mostly indoors. This is not condusive to enjoying summer weather. Yet I can hardly take the summer off from researching and writing especially given that I work a full-time job - also indoors. And, frankly, I wouldn't want to.

I think I have hit upon a solution. Recently, on an absolutely gorgeous weekend day, I took the book I'm currently using for research for my next Irish novel out onto my front porch along with my notepaper. I have a little bistro set out there with just enough room to set up what I needed. It was perfect. 

The next book in this series, which will follow Kelegeen and Erin's Children, will be set in Worcester, Massachusetts. Since it takes place during the 1860s the American Civil War will figure prominently in the story which means a lot of in-depth research for me. Fortunately, I love this part of writing historical fiction.

Although I am in love with my new home library, I think the porch will be hosting me and my research books a lot this summer. After all, it's hard to resist this view...


...especially when it's combined with the company of my favorite muse:

Autumn Amelia

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