Dear Friends: I’m enjoying life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and feeling nothing but sympathy for my fellow Canadians, who are suffering under an icy white blanket. The sunsets here aren’t as lovely as those on the prairies, but since we never see the sun set at our home in the mountains, the evening sky looks darned good to us! This is our granddaughter Juliet, aged two, who visited us with her family.
Last month I posted my first Letter From Windermere. I can’t tell you how nervous I felt. After years of hiding behind my historical research, I decided to share more of my personal life with my readers. When I confessed my fears to my friend Emily Tucker in Saskatchewan, she said: “Just imagine them in their underwear!”
So I hope you don’t mind, dear readers, as I visualize you sitting in front of your screens in your skivvies!
My Best Buy in Mexico
Shopping is a foreign country is always fun, and there are many different types of handicrafts here, including colourful pottery and blankets – most of which look completely out of place once you get them home, as I have learned from bitter experience!
But these little stuffed woollen animals, sewn and embroidered by Tzotzil indigenous women from the state of Chiapas, are delightful. They cost about $10-$15 each, and they wear like iron
My Writing Life
I’m trying to do less rather than more, but I did speak to the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group, which has a surprising number of talented authors from around Canada and the United States. I addressed the group along with my fellow B.C. writer Darrel McLeod, whose memoir Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, about growing up in the tiny community of Smith, Alberta, just won the Governor-General’s medal!
My Vintage Corner
Speaking of novels, in my book Wildwood (launched exactly one year ago), my heroine Molly inherits an old foursquare farmhouse in northern Alberta. I adore old houses, and I had a great time describing the house and everything Molly finds inside.
(To read the first few pages of Wildwood, click here: Read an Excerpt of Wildwood.
This house style, once very common throughout North America, is termed foursquare, because it has four equal walls and four equal roof panels, making it easy to put together.
The old photo below shows the REAL inspiration for the house in Wildwood. It came as a kit, ordered from the T. Eaton Company in Winnipeg, Model Number 666, and was assembled by carpenters on a farm near Oyen in eastern Alberta.
This is a more recent photo of the old house. At some point it was moved into the town of Oyen. It has new siding, but otherwise very little has changed.
Foursquare houses were often sold by mail order, and hence called “Catalogue Houses.” The house would arrive in pieces, down to the last nail, and carpenters would follow the blueprints and put all the pieces together. There are still Catalogue Houses standing all over North America — they were quality homes and built to last. This drawing shows a similar example of a foursquare house.
A few years ago, the Oyen house was being operated as Prairie Bells Bed & Breakfast (the owners have since retired). While I was writing Wildwood, my mother and I stayed there, and I had a great time snooping around and photographing every nook and cranny.
The house had never been updated, and the owners were avid collectors, so it was difficult to get a clear photograph of the wonderful period details. This is the handsome staircase leading from the front entrance to the second storey.
One attractive feature of this old house was the sliding pocket doors between the dining room and the living room, to open or close off the two rooms from each other. Note all the beautiful hardwood floors, doors, and trim!
The kitchen cabinets in Oyen still had the original glass doors on them, as described in Wildwood, and the cabinets were double-sided, so you could access the contents from either the kitchen or the dining room.
The last time I checked, the house in Oyen was for sale. Sadly, I can’t convince my husband that buying and restoring this house would be a fun retirement project!
Wartime Wednesdays Throwback
Because February is the month of love, I want to share three fabulous wedding photos featured on my Wartime Wednesdays blog. (Read their stories by clicking on each name.)
I especially love the fact that women wore suits or dresses with elaborate wedding hats rather than veils!
Maxine Watson and Ed Kluczny of Alberta were married in 1943, just before Ed went overseas to fly bombers.
Both these lovely people were Royal Canadian Air Force veterans who met after the war, while selling poppies on Remembrance Day: Dorothy Chapman and Don Garen were married in Windsor, Ontario, on October 25, 1948. Her hat was pink!
Marion Keeler and Russ Thompson were married on January 24, 1946, just seven days after the Canadian Army veteran returned from overseas. Russell still lives in Seeley’s Bay, Ontario, and he will celebrate his 100th birthday on September 22, 2019!
Happy Birthday, Georgie!
Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Georgina Irving of Coquitlam, B.C., turned 100 years old on February 16, 2019! The former Georgina Harvey, born and raised in Kelowna, B.C., kept a wonderful photo album during the war, and I posted many of her candid shots taken at the air training base where she served in Vulcan, Alberta. See them here: Georgina Harvey.
Rest in Peace, Fred Sutherland
Canada’s last surviving Dambuster, a Royal Canadian Air Force gunner who took part in one of the most daring bombing raids in history, died on January 21, 2019 at the age of 95. This modest hero remained in his own home in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, until his death. Read his story here: Fred Sutherland.
© Photo by Elinor Florence
Rest in Peace, Bud Abbott
Bud Abbott, a well-known and beloved citizen in Cranbrook, B.C., passed away on January 30, 2019, four days after his ninety-eighth birthday. As a young naval pilot, Bud bombed the famous German battleship, the Tirpitz. Read Bud’s story here: Bud Abbott.
© Photo by Elinor Florence
What I Am Reading Now
After running out of paperbacks here at my Mexican condo, I’ve resorted to reading books on my iPad. We lost power in our building for about an hour one night, but I was able to keep right on reading in the dark with my battery-powered device!
I’m enjoying the second mystery novel in a series by my friend and fellow writer Iona Whishaw of Vancouver. Her protagonist Lane Winslow uses the skills she learned as a spy during the Second World War to solve murders in her tiny mountain community of Nelson, B.C.
Iona has written six books in the series, so I’d better catch up! Order the first one by clicking here: A Killer in King’s Cove, or ask for it at your favourite bookstore.
Favourite Childhood Novel
People often ask me what was the first book that made me fall in love with reading. Without question it was Jane of Lantern Hill, which I found in my mother’s bookcase at our farmhouse outside North Battleford, Saskatchewan, when I was eleven years old. And I still own the book, shown below.
I hadn’t heard of her more famous Anne of Green Gables then, but I adored this novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery and read her books over and over throughout my teen and adult years.
A Movie Worth Watching
Speaking of green books, my husband and I saw the movie titled Green Book in one of the luxurious movie theatres here in Puerto Vallarta, where a server brings food and drink to your huge, reclining seat.
My husband was reluctant to attend, because he hates “Why-Am-I-Here” movies, an expression he coined himself to describe any movie that explores the human psyche — but he loved this one! Although it highlights the sad history of race relations in the United States, it was also very humorous, and both the principal actors have been nominated for Oscars.
Meeting “Our” Student
We call her our student, because for the past three years we have been sponsoring this Mexican girl to stay in school. And this week we finally had the opportunity to meet Berenice, aged fifteen, for the very first time.
Here in Puerto Vallarta, public school is free for the first seven years and then the student must pay for books and school uniforms. For most poor families, the cost is too high and the kids drop out.
Through the Rotary Club of Saskatoon, we pay about $350 Canadian each year for Berenice’s expenses. This small commitment isn’t changing our lives, but it is certainly changing hers. If you would like to contribute to this worthwhile program, click here: Helping Kids in Need.
Berenice expressed her gratitude by giving us this gift — a model ship that she made herself!
What I Will Miss
We’ll be back home in a couple of weeks, and I look forward to sleeping in my own bed once again. What I will miss most is the vivid colours of Mexico. I met a talented Saskatoon artist named Cheryl Tuck Tallon here, and she said she has difficulty painting the landscape in Mexico because she simply doesn’t have the range of colours in her painting palette!
The next time you hear from me, I’ll be back in the land of snow and ice. Vaya Con Dios, and Happy Trails!