Category Archives: Writers

October on Prince Edward Island…

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Lucy Maud Montgomery

 

As we tour Prince Edward Island this was indeed my prevailing thought, but they’re the words of the island’s most famous author, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Are they not precisely the sentiment that her beloved character, Anne, of Anne of Green Gables would exuberantly exclaim?

The island in October is simply stunning with hues in their autumnal glory, but it isn’t only the natural flora that wows. Whether in the cities, hamlets or countryside, the islanders truly delight in the season with elegant pumpkin-lined porches and flourishes of wreaths.

Prince Edward Island’s narrow roads wend through the forested and pastoral countryside – explosions of burnt reds, oranges, and golds line the way. Road signs suggest that you just might just be required to give way to a horse and carriage. The island does have that feeling of serenity, of simpler times, of history that lingers still.

My mom and I are first-time visitors this far east in Canada. It’s the ideal time to visit this ‘Garden of the Gulf’, yet be forewarned as many sites have already closed for the season. As the smallest province of Canada, PEI is a graceful canvas of quaint harbours, colourful bait shacks, tidy homesteads and lush agricultural land. It produces 25% of the nations potatoes, complimenting its fisheries, tourism, aerospace, bio-science and renewable energy endeavours.

It wasn’t too long after crossing the Confederation Bridge to the island that we chance upon Victoria by the Sea. With its squat lighthouse – traditional white, trimmed red – the small harbour town welcomes with a hearty bowl of seafood chowder, local crisp white wine, and glimpses into a fisherman’s daily life. Ropes, nets, buoys, and boats are at the ready for forays out to sea.

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In the summertime, the small harbour would be astir with visitors. Now we wander happily along the quiet streets and chance to meet Ben. Positioned just across from the lighthouse, this artisan moulds candle holders from the iron-red sandstone and clay of the island. The light glimmering from Ben’s tiny studio brightens up the gloomy October afternoon.

“This was once a healing house,” Ben tells us. “In the early years, diphtheria took many lives. Instead of going to the sanatorium, if a family had the means, they’d build a small cottage on the property for their loved one’s isolation… and hopefully recuperation.”

Ben’s perch has a view of the quaint wharf and the water, he finds it peaceful… just the way he likes it. Happily posing for a photograph with my mom, he gives us a few pointers for the island. “Don’t forget to say hi to Anne,” he says with a friendly laugh. “She keeps the tourists coming!”

After time in Nova Scotia, we’re touring for four days and chancing upon the unexpected, meeting locals, is very much part of the journey. Ben’s friendliness is matched time and time again in the days ahead.

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“The legend is that the island was formed by the Great Spirit placing on the Blue Waters some red crescent-shaped clay. We called it Epekwitk – cradled by the waves.” The Mi’kmaw, First Nations

The accent of many islanders hints at their roots, of the vast number of Scottish, English, Irish and Acadians who settled. Yet long before this time, the Mi’kmaw First Nations thrived on the island they called Epekwitk – the long pristine beaches, sand dunes and red sandstone cliffs inspiring their creation story.

IMG_0403I was fortunate to meet Bernie – not long after leaving the island –and I consider it an honour to have met this proud, compelling elder of the Mi ‘kmaw nation.

Gathered one evening around a blazing campfire, Bernie Francis greeted our writing group in the tradition of a powwow. With a healing drum and the gift of cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass and sage, Bernie’s soulful tunes wafted over us, spiritually connecting us to the land, to traditions, to storytelling.

The reverence for his nation’s people, who once moved with the rhythm of seasonal hunting and gathering, was palpable. We felt enveloped in a honeycomb of stories, heritage and soulful lyrics. As a Mi’kmaw elder, Bernie exemplifies the keeper of wisdom and traditions bestowed upon him.

As a linguist, he helped design the now official orthography, the writing of his people’s language. There had not been one and this achievement earned him honorary doctorates and grateful accolades. Leaving home, and the country, at 14, Bernie would eventually return in later life to work as a Director of the Court Worker Program, ensuring fair and just treatment of his people. His accomplishments are many, yet around the campfire that evening as Bernie serenaded us in Mi’kmaw, Spanish, and English, he taught us the gentle art of humility and generosity. For me, our evening with Bernie was the apogee of my trip.

Back in Charlottetown, I learn about the irrevocable change for the Mi’kmaw people. In 1763, The British, claiming dominion over the Maritimes, called the land St. John’s Island. Then a name change to Prince Edward Island, in honour of the fourth son of King George III, Prince Edward the Duke of Kent, Commander-in-chief of British troops, North America.

Hostilities grew as the island was soon divided into a mere 67 lots of properties – allocated to the King’s supporters by means of a lottery, most were absentee. Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria and in the course of her long reign, many more were encouraged to settle here, though the French were the first colonial settlers in Charlottetown.

In 1720, not far from the present-day city at Port La Joye, they staked their settlement bringing along Acadian settlers. Some forty years later, it was besieged by the British and renamed Charlottetown after the King’s consort. Then followed the tragic, wrongful expulsion of the Acadian settlers by the British –  an indelible stain in Canadian history.

Today, Charlottetown is widely remembered as the birthplace of confederation, where meetings and negotiations took place to discuss the forming of the nation – official on July 1, 1867. Paradoxically, Prince Edward Island declined to give up its status a colony of Britain, declining to join the fledgling union. Soon, it would be the railway that sealed the bargain.

 

“The railway moved mourners to funerals, brides to weddings, brass brands to picnics, hockey teams to tournaments. It got farmers’ produce to market, children to boarding schools… Islanders moved and mingled to the whistle of the train.” A signboard near Charlottetown’s first train station of 1907 

For many, before the railway came to Prince Edward Island, one could live ten miles from another village and barely know it existed. In 1871 this changed dramatically as railway branch lines slowly criss-crossed the island. Yet with too few passengers, too little freight, too many stops (every few miles) and unable to pay the debt, the colony faced bankruptcy. In 1873, Prince Edward Island reluctantly agreed to become Canada’s seventh province – the new nation would assume the island’s railway debts! Not only did this create jobs to compliment the long established fishing economy, railway coincided with the rise of shipbuilding and new wealth from shipping and timber.

The charming streets of Charlottetown attest to this. Perhaps a grand mansion such as Beaconsfield, its rooftop glass belvedere viewing out to the sea, its wealth of William Morris wallpaper speaking to its privileged past. Or wander the walkable streets and admire simpler homes, their facades in heavenly painted shades, their heritage and names proudly on display. I revel in the rich architectural past and their various styles – Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate, simple Island Ell and Four Square – each with their own unique elegance.

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“It’s delightful when your imagination comes true, isn’t it?” Lucy Maud Montgomery

Back into the countryside, it was time to make our way to the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ house in Cavendish. As a writer, I wanted to know more about the author who created the spunky, loveable Anne Shirley. What had inspired Montgomery? Was the setting for her inspiration as beautiful as portrayed in her books. If you haven’t watched the current CBC series, Anne with an E… I simply implore you to do so!

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The drive from Charlottetown to Cavendish provides another showcase for the island’s beauty, but the town itself disappoints. With not much more than the church where Montgomery once played the organ, the small post office (already closed for the season) and the local cemetary the attraction is the home of a relative where Montgomery spent much of her time. The setting does feel like a storybook and it’s clear why she felt such a deep connection to the landscape. Embraced in the Cavendish community, Lucy was raised with a love for natural beauty… for the woods, the fields, the shores. Her imagination transformed it into a vivid, fictional world.

From the age of fifteen, the author began submitting poems, essays and stories. She partly credited fireside storytelling for her gift, ‘the romance of them in my blood.’ Despite the constrained expectations of women in the Victorian era, Montgomery was independent and strong-minded. She went away to Dalhousie University, became a school teacher, habitually rising early to write before class. After years away from home, she returned to care of her ill grandmother who ran the Cavendish post office from the kitchen of her own home.

It once stood near the present Cavendish post office, and the often lonely and dispirited young author discreetly sent out submission after submission from the humble surroundings. The manuscript of Anne of Green Gables, once stored away in a hatbox and safe from further rejection, was finally accepted on the sixth try. Published in 1908 to wide acclaim, it was an instant success. Lucy never shied away from the issues – the emancipation of women, freedom of speech, the struggle of identity, even the colonial treatment of the Mi ‘kmaq.

Anne Shirley’s adventures continued in numerous books – even as Montgomery struggled with her own depression and that of her husbands, a preacher, who ministered near Toronto. The author was stricken with the Spanish flu and almost died in 1918, afterwards almost divorcing her husband for his uncaring treatment. Difficult to obtain in Canada until 1967, Lucy ultimately decided against a divorce believing it was her Christian duty to make her marriage work. She returned to her beloved island as often as she could.

Awarded an OBE, many other awards, she is one of the most prolific authors in Canadian history. Upon her death 1942, Lucy Maud Montgomery was buried in Cavendish, the place she had always loved and that had given her so much inspiration.

As I wander the grounds, a single bus load of tourists from Japan is soaking up the surroundings, reminding me that from the outset Lucy enjoyed an international following and this continues today. Indeed, I get a true sense of the writer and her muse… this evocative place that she called home.

 

“On a cold day a winter sleigh ride and a picnic to survey the land for the best placement of the island’s first lighthouse. 13 miles across the frozen bay… basket lunches of bread and cheese, and fortifying wine was consumed by all.” Historical notes, March 31st, 1840

 

I had this one last destination in mind, Prince Edward Island’s oldest lighthouse. After all, I had been ‘collecting lighthouses’ throughout this trip. With the wind whipping up the waves and cold air biting, I venture out into the Atlantic wind to savour the lighthouse up close. My mom wisely remains in the warmth of the vehicle, as I peer up, then out, and around, to fully appreciate this vital structure.

Once the location for Point Prim Lighthouse had been determined by the surveyors that freezing day in 1840, it ended five years of petitioning, planning and funding. Simply put, as Charlottetown grew and shipping traffic increased, shipwrecks were piling up along the rugged shores. Merchants and fishermen often faced ruin and loss of life. Between 1770 and 1845, up to 100 ships had foundered in the island’s waters. The traditional bonfires at a harbours entrance now no longer sufficed.

As I guard myself against the roar and the spray of the ocean, I spare a thought for the lighthouse keepers. Their job was often one of loneliness and danger, but also of meaningful industriousness. The keeping of logs to record weather patterns, the buffing of the lights copper reflectors and the gleaming of salt-sprayed windows. And the summer months of tending gardens, farms and fish traps. Their names are recorded for posterity at many of the lighthouses and here at Point Prim, their contribution to the community is poignantly mentioned… ‘those enduring contributions.’ It strikes me that here on Prince Edward Island, community is and has always been the bedrock of this intriguing, compelling land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Penang Island… a writer in residence, a canvas of storied heritage

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I write this from the island of Penang as a writer in residence. To use that cliche, if I may,  over the moon begins to describe it. I’m ensconced in a studio apartment on Lebuh China, the street of George Town’s earliest traders. In fact, the Chinese have called it Tua Kay, Main Street, since it was laid out in 1786 by Captain Francis Light. That same year, Light with the audacity of those colonial times, ‘claimed’ this island for the British East India Company.

The narrow street that I call home for the month of May, reminds me of so many places; of our travels through China and Thailand, of our two-year stay in Japan, and most recently of our home in Bangalore, India. Lebuh China fringes Little India, and for me, George Town encompasses all of those treasured places… melded into one storied milieu.

Not long after arriving, I set my workspace, found my friendly flower wallah, sourced my go-to corner shops and just a few steps away, found my favourite local cafe. The setting of Ren i Tang – an old Chinese medical hall now a Heritage Inn and Bistro – is simple yet evocative. Its tall ceilings, aged ceramic tiles and reminders of its days as the neighbourhood dispensary, are characteristic of George Town’s iconic shop houses. Many have a unique story to tell and at Ren i Tang, my favourite low table often seems to be waiting just for me at the bistro’s edge. With its open view to the street beyond, I can watch life pass by in a contented and unhurried flow. I might savour a bowl of spicy Laksa, then fresh watermelon juice to help combat the heat and humidity. I admit, I revel in this climate!

Shop houses like Ren i Tang, help give George Town its rich and eclectic character. Many have been refurbished, some are in need of saving, but they all very much contributed to the city being accorded a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008… as did the heritage buildings, narrow roads, colonial-era mansions, Chinese clan houses, ornate temples and Little India. And of course, we must mention the iconic street art, the fantastic street food and the traditional artisans – rattan weavers, garland makers, wooden sign-board carvers, lantern and joss stick makers. Even generations of tart makers are deemed part of George Town’s cultural heritage.

As I pass through the streets whether to research, to an event at Hikayat ‘my’ excellent local book shop, or to meet friends for dinner, all of my senses are invited to engage. The strains of Hindi love songs drift through the balmy, sandalwood-infused air. The tok-tok-tok of an enthusiastically wielded spatula against a wok, large as an upturned umbrella, pre-empts the aromas of Penang’s beloved street food. And as always, commerce abounds – gold jewellers and saree shops, refined displays of colourful Malay batiks,  profusions of collectable Chinese and Nonya porcelain.

Yet, the intrinsic backdrop of George Town is the layer upon layer of founding cultures – Malay, Indian, Chinese, Siamese, Armenian, British, German, and more – all of which appear to exist in respectful harmony. Languages, religions and cultures brush Penang’s canvas with rich and intricate tones, creating a hopeful picture of balance and acceptance.

How did the young Malay taxi driver put it on my arrival?

“Welcome, welcome. First time to Penang, Miss?”

I smiled just a little that, in Malaysia and Thailand, they still endearingly call me ‘miss.’

“No, I’ve been here quite a few times I admitted,” explaining that I have visited often since first working on a book project a number of years ago.

“So you know then. Here, we all live in harmony, many religions, many cultures. How the world should be.”

He could not have said it more poignantly and in truth, I believe this is one of the reasons why I so embrace this small island in the Malay Archipelago. As I discovered through researching its history for the book previously to this one, there are many facets to uncover, yet the building-blocks of this unique and multi-cultural island are steadfast and represented just a short walk from my apartment … the cornerstones of four religions on one harmonious street.

A few evenings ago, I strolled to Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling just before dusk. I wanted to embrace the uniqueness of this treasured street. Initially named Pitt Street after the once British Prime Minster, still today, it is proof that religions can live side by side.

At the Goddess of Mercy Temple, over-sized joss sticks burned in quiet reverence at the edge of the temple. A few last visitors cupped their much smaller pieces of sandalwood, circling them in devoted hands… a quiet Taoist prayer.

A few doors away, the gleaming white spires of St. George’s Church reached skyward, mirrored by the tips of tall palms and framed by the sprawling branches of a grand mahogany tree. It is the oldest Anglican Church in South east Asia. “Two hundred years old today,” a proud parishioner told me. “Please, you are very welcome.”

As sunset swept the sky with wisps of golds and luminous pinks, the melodic call to prayer drifted languidly from a little way down the street. As it has done since 1801, the Mosque seemed to entice rather than summon its believers for evening prayer. As Muslim Malays and Indians made their way, many took the time to nod a hello or bid a ‘good evening.’ In an instant, I drifted back to our seven years in Qatar and Oman where I recall going to Christmas church services. Perhaps, where I first experienced this diverse blend of coexistence. And here? It has been crafted from the outset, as Francis Light encouraged a multi-cultural settlement.

In my glow of bonhomie, a rainbow of pastel colours soon caught my eye from the opposite side of the street. It was the Indian gopuram of Sri Mahamariamman, the oldest Hindu temple in George Town. Since 1833 it has welcomed followers. Many were the original stevedores who loaded and unloaded ships dockside. The temple must have been a refuge and a comfort to some of these first hard working migrants.Then, as now, one enters into a cool, incense-clouded interior. Intricate garlands of roses, jasmine and marigolds also permeate the air. Once a year the devotees place their statue, the goddess Mariamman, on a wooden chariot and an evening procession parades her through the streets of Little India.

That evening however, things were much more serene. Tourists paused to marvel at the dance of colours in the sky and trishaw peddlers waited sanguinely for one last fare. As I continued my evening stroll, I pondered if there was any city in the world where four prominent religions occupy the same street in harmony?

I meditated a ‘gratitude’ for the friends and many acquaintances I have here… all of them representing one of these religions, others, or perhaps none at all. As the young Malay driver commented, “This harmony, is how the world should be…”

 

The Writing Workshop… on an ‘island’ of creativity

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IMG_3182Fear and procrastination have a way of dissuading… of whispering that perhaps you can put off doing what you know in your heart to be intuitive and true.

I had been promising to host a writing workshop here in Kimberley, since last autumn. Yet, still I hesitated.

I’ve hosted workshops in India and Kazakhstan, and have been part of many writer’s retreats and workshops in various countries. Yet despite knowing how they enrich and inspire, something held me back.

Perhaps it was the promise of spring that prompted me to finally plan the inaugural workshop on home soil. For the first time in many years, I’ve spent the entire winter here and I longed for the first signs of spring. With the first hint of melting snow and birds flitting in the pines, I sensed my own awakening. It was time to share what I know with others. Time to inspire others in their writing journey… call it the renewal of spring!

‘The Joy of Writing’ was full, twenty writers had made the commitment of discovery. And, by the time we set down our pens, flowing emotions had translated to profound words on paper and emerging stories. Friends had committed to the workshop together, but wonderfully, strangers had also become friends, united by their common desire to explore and enrich and expand their writing canvas.

Less a guide or an instructor, I felt more like a midwife to their nascent stories, helping the latent to become revealed. It was deeply fulfilling, connecting me emotionally to those earlier days when my desire to write and my fear were mixed in equal measure.

Yet there’s more here than meets the eye, more here than simply pen to paper. Why do we brave the act of pushing ourselves beyond our boundaries, away from our comfort zone? We humans have a deep-rooted urge to be emotional and in that emotion, to be authentic and, as a consequence, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We long to share, to be heard, to be storytellers… to be connected. Writing does this.

I’ve written often of that first transformational writing retreat for me. Yes it happened to be in Tuscany, an idyllic setting to be sure, but it struck me that our town’s beloved art centre and gallery was no less inspiring. Kimberley’s population of 7,000 or so, fully embraces the cultural hub that Centre 64 represents. How did some of us word it that day?

 

“Instantly, I feel accepted. This room that holds me is large and loving and living. The tremendous wooden beams absorb my Song. Who is the man who first saw this place in his mind? Who is the man who then created it with his hands? I sing to celebrate his authentic Masterpiece.”   Brenda


In this town renowned and beloved for its culture of the ‘great outdoors’ and where so much of the community bond and identity is somewhat related to planks on snow and wheels on dirt, the Centre feels like a foreign island. 

Here, true culture comes to life and pushes the outdoor where it belongs, outside, in a gentle: ‘Fuck you! There is more to life than how many turns you made last winter!’

True expression of ideas, talents, quirkiness and creativity… and vulnerability of the soul. Celebration of the landscape comes in a pure form on canvas, on stage, through strings, copper and words… a world of its own, that would not get to savour unfortunately, if you don’t dare visit the ‘Island’.”  Emile   https://rocksnowandicecream.com


“A space that embraces works of art and quiet contemplation, yet often sings with rhythm and theatre. On this day, it is a cocoon for inspired and creative writers. We share our words and stories like treasured jewels… we laugh, and cry, like kindred souls. We acknowledge the healing power of writing, then give gratitude for the welcoming haven we find ourselves in.”   Terry Anne


“From what I can see, aside from material objects in this mature art gallery, is a bunch of aspiring artists, all searching for a way to express their creative genius. A certain creativity lies dormant in all of us and hopefully today, we can combine forces as a mastermind group and awaken that sleeping genius. After all, each one of us is very unique and has a story worthy of hearing. In other words, a beautiful garden worthy of being shown to the world.”   Niall


 

So who comes to a workshop? IMG_3209

Mature people with a lifetime of stories from Afghanistan to Ireland, within the hippie culture of California and along the quiet backroads of rural Canada.

Young mothers who relish the blessed opportunity to write while their toddler naps.

And then there are teachers, hair stylists, gallery and city administrators. Indeed, the whole gamut, from firefighters to yoga aficionados.

All are people with dreams and talent – writers with the desire to share their personal journey, perhaps for the world or maybe simply for the ‘kids’.

Like me, they may one day see their book on bookshelves, yet that satisfaction can be fleeting. I have come to realise that it is the sharing of experience with others that truly matters most.

The morning after the workshop, I received a message from one of the participants. Shannon had been up early on her lakefront perch and already writing. The first time I met this lady – beautiful from inside and out – she was relocating a ‘wayward’ snake. We were unloading our kayaks close to her home when she appeared pushing her bike. Slithering in a plastic bag, the snake dangled precariously from her handlebars. At a cautious distance, I struck up a conversation and since then we have enjoyed encountering one another, the way that you do in our small town.

Shannon is a gentle, spiritual soul whose eyes perpetually sparkle – whether doing good for the animal kingdom, talking about her latest yoga retreat, or while writing that day at the Centre.

She, and the others, remind me of the joy of connecting. As I read Shannon’s poignant musing that morning, there was no doubting the power of inspiring others, of hearing kindred voices and of why we should always heed our inner voice. In writing and in life, I have learned to follow my instincts – it has become a source of great happiness and contentment.

 

An early morning penning, by Shannon

“We are given this lifetime to nourish our souls and to learn life lessons so that we, as beings of light and love, can evolve.

We know this as babies and children but then ‘life’ happens and we forget.
When we have events occur in our life that cause us frustration, anger, sorrow, disappointment, and fear, we need to step back from the situation and look at it from another view.

If we can open our hearts and souls to try to learn and understand why this is happening… If we can be open to where the Universe or God is trying to lead us….
If we can be open to try to hear with our hearts what we are being told…
If we can find a crumb of gratitude for what we do have… here and now…
If we can rise above all the downers and show humility and forgiveness and love from a deep level..
. then we can feel whole, complete, joy, love, and at peace wherever we are. ”
Mahadevi

 

 

A Canadian book launch… a prairie, farm-house setting

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Picture a long ranch-style bungalow, tucked behind pine trees, once small saplings, now towering tall to meet the wide-open prairie sky. Imagine a place where the deer and the antelope really do play, and where the stillness of the night might be broken by the hoot of an owl under a splendid moon. This is my parent’s home.

A place imbued with support, with love, with familiarity around its welcoming kitchen table and oft blazing fireplace. A home that has hosted a passel of occasions from weddings to dog memorials, from reunions to rambunctious all-night family game nights. Now, it can add a book launch to its long tapestry of life’s occasions.

Monday Morning Emails had already been launched in India and The Netherlands, yet now that I’m home, it was time for me to debut my first published book.

 

I cherished the enthusiasm when I heard that my mom and some friends had planned the event. A cake was commissioned, table clothes and napkins were procured in that MME turquoise, blue-green. Old storied suitcases were dusted off from storage, bringing to life the vintage image on the book’s cover.

It all set the tone. This was a celebration of not only a book, but also of story telling by a once small-town girl. No, perhaps it isn’t every day that a book launch is held at a prairie- farm-house setting, yet it felt very normal, quite natural, that the Campbell Farm would be the venue of choice.

As people arrived, I knew it had been the right decision to gather here rather than in a hired venue. I greeted aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom I had not seen in years. It was wonderful seeing them again, confirming that the bond of family transcends prolonged absences brought on by distance and busy lives.

Long-time friends also arrived, those who knew me long before I had ventured off to travel and live overseas. They remember me as that freckle-faced teenager whom they camped and played softball with, whose wedding they attended, then welcomed me home with each new child in tow. That history runs deep, forming family-like bonds.

Carol, my long-time friend and an early muse for my nomadic life, was also able to join the celebration. “Terry,” she reassured me, “this book isn’t only for expats, it really does resonate with us all.”

And Aundy, my sister-in-law, was profuse in her praise of the expert advice in the book, “I seem to turn to the page with just the right quote I need to inspire me,” she confided.

My niece Jess, a young mother raising a daughter on her own, seemed intrigued to listen to a few nuggets of inspiration from her Auntie Terry. And her daughter, my adorable great-niece was delighted to have her very own copy of the book. She’s only four and it will be tucked away in a cedar chest until she’s old enough to appreciate the essence and emotion of the correspondence between two friends living a global life.

To my surprise, Aundy also requested a second copy of the book. One to hide away for posterity, perhaps for family members to rediscover in later years. A moment like this impacts you as an author. You cherish such a gesture and you hope also that your words might have a lasting impact.

 

As I began my presentation, I gazed appreciatively over the crowd. I felt their warm embrace of support as I described my journey as a writer. The joys, the challenges, the meandering road of discovery and evolving as a person; the ‘climbing of a mountain’, each step bringing you a little closer to realising your dream. I also spoke to the cathartic nature of writing, to the soul searching, to the healing it can bring. I know that sharing through writing can offer solace and comfort.

I spoke at length and from the heart, taking time for book signing, eager to spend a few minutes chatting. As I wrote a personal message to each, their kind words and encouragement cast a warm glow on the already special day.

“What will you write next. Maybe historical fiction?” someone asked. As if they already knew that the idea has been roaming around my mind; characters waiting to come to life, to play their part in faraway tales.

“Will you put some of your blogs into a book?” Myrna, a long-time family friend asked. Her enthusiasm and commitment to my writing are like a treasured book – you know it’s there to call on for inspiration, to remind you of why you do what you do. I explained to Myrna and a few others that there are times when I question the relevance of my blog. No, it isn’t often, but when the news of this world seems overwhelming, one can question if your own stories are relevant, are they not merely trivial?

 

“No,” they assured me, “this is especially when we need your writing. To remind us of life and what is important, even of simpler things.”

Surely I’m not the only writer who questions the relevance of one’s stories, who suffers from occasional writer’s block, who ponders the significance of their humble words? But it is conversations like these that ignite and reinforce within me that storytelling is intrinsic to human societies. It has been thus, since the beginning, and in this age of short form news and seemingly limited attention spans, is it not ever-important to keep telling stories?

During these exchanges, I was mindful. Mindful that these people who I care about, have their own challenges, maybe sorrows, their own life-changing events that far supersede my often-supposed hardships. This leads to other questions.

“Will you come and speak at a home for the elderly? Perhaps a writing workshop?”

I answered with a resounding ‘yes’. I had explained in my presentation the satisfaction of having already hosted a workshop and the joy of knowing you might have inspired a new writer. That is now part of my mission, to ‘pay it forward’. My inspiration and mentor, my co-author Jo Parfitt, is proof of the power of helping others, willingly sharing what you know to help inspire others.

Six years ago, my journey began in Tuscany, and when I confided to the gathering that in fact, in just a few days I would be there once again, ensconced in that same retreat with Jo at the helm, they seemed genuinely pleased for me.

“Yes, it will be full circle,” I told them. “I know how lucky I am and I’m thankful. Let’s see what I’m inspired to do next.”

And then another thought from my nephew Todd.

“Why not a podcast, Auntie Terry Anne? I’m a podcast guy.” The thought of other mediums has long crossed my mind and I’m reminded of the necessity of a fixed schedule, of goals and of making sure those next dreams do indeed come true.

And if anyone can inspire me to do just that, it’s one of my dear, dear readers, the lovely Donna Lee. Even in her later years, she exudes beauty both inside and out. She is charming and full of life. When I told Donna Lee that I speak of her in one of my presentations, her eyes fill with tears.

IMG_9241“What do you say?” she asked, not suppressing her bemusement.

“I relate the power of sharing stories, Donna Lee. Remember, after my blog about the Taj Mahal, that you wrote to me. You told me how the post seemed to take you there, through words and photos. You mentioned how you remembered learning about the Taj in school and how wonderful it was that you knew someone who had been there.” As Donna Lee often does when we talk, she took my hand in hers.

“That’s why I write,” I continued, “to hope to transport you and others to those new places, to hear different tales. Thank you so much for coming along with me,” I told her. “I know you’re always reading and it means the world.” And as always, we hugged.

“And I don’t know what I’d do without your mom and dad,” she added, confirming what I already knew, but maybe what I needed to be reminded of again – that special feeling of sharing your successes with those who care about you.

At the end of the evening, as the cake had been cut, as flowers had been presented to my mom for her unwavering support, as my husband/editor/travel companion/long-time cheerleader had been thanked for his role in my small journey, as the stack of Monday Morning Emails dwindled, as each farewell hug was heartier than the previous, I thanked ‘my lucky stars’ for the day, for the joy of my ‘tribe’ here at home.

And I gave Donna Lee a final fond farewell. “I hope to see you soon Donna Lee. But first there’s Tuscany… you’ll be travelling with me again in spirit. Tuscany, here we come!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting it flow… snippets of writing the day away

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The wind and cloudy skies have dampened the mood of the city today, yet it’s been an inspiring Friday thus far. Sitting in a cozy cafe close to the elegant Denneweg, I muse on the creative day that has been.

My co-author of Monday Morning Emails Jo Parfitt is away, and so I stepped up to host her monthly Writer’s Circle. It is only next door after all, my solid hunter-green door just a few steps away from her lovely Den Haag home. I arrived first, greeting familiar faces and a few new arrivals– writers bond quickly, a shared love of words and stories connecting us as snugly as well-bound novel.

A writer’s circle or workshop often warms up with a ‘speed writing’ session, putting pen to paper for ten minutes… your free flowing thoughts, loves, despairs, perhaps challenges, and hopefully some joys, are prompted to flow forth. Today I decided to give the exercise a slight twist. In that curiously circular way, I was inspired by a friend’s blog that was in turn inspired by a virtual writer’s circle held by Jo. In her blog Up In the Air, Nikki Cornfield had reminded us of how enlightening it can be to write of the seemingly mundane,

“Easy, I thought, but being a writer where’s the fun in telling you “I fed the dog” or “I brewed some tea?” That’s when I paused and took a real hard look at what there was to love about the place I lived. It took some doing as it was a pretty dull weekend, but I like to paint a picture with words so here we go… look around you, smell the roses, as there is real beauty even in the humdrum. I will never look at hanging out the washing in quite the same way again…”

And so this morning we let it flow, breathing life into vignettes of everyday happenings – cleaning up after the dog and stopping to reflect the stages in life it had faithfully witnessed with the passing years or donning a tour guide ‘hat’ for visitors or maybe the abrupt, loving appreciation of a town when one’s relocation is imminent. And who would imagine that tidying one’s ample stash of  knitting wool could bring comfort and a reflection on how precious life is after the loss of loved ones. We also enjoyed an ode to yoga, how the wonder of a class can embrace vitality and soften smiles, even for the teacher. The snippets were beautiful in their simplicity, but infused with raw emotion.

So here goes. As the clouds roll lazily over the somber Dutch sky, it is the perfect afternoon to write a few of my own snippets from the simple pleasures of our week passed.

 

Kayaking the canals of Den Haag

 

Then we were kayaking. The sleek, slender boat gliding and rustling the fields of water lilies – delicate vivid white petals against murky, pea-soup canals. Boats lined the waterways, some rather grand, but most were old peeled-paint affairs, their worn timber evoking the toil of fishermen and weathering of stormy seas. We glided through tunnels, ducking my head in sudden alarm at pigeons, and poop, avoiding fluttering wings and the mild stench.

Then out again into the brilliant sun. Paddling past fine tall houses, spires of heaven-reaching church towers, shaded tree-lined boulevards, and bikes and bikes aplenty. We passed ‘invitations’ to snack; a bell to ring for an ice cream to be delivered to your boat or maybe you’re in the mood for patat, french-fries lowered to water level in a basket. The pulley system works well, I’m taken by the simple novelty of it. On a sunny day after all, the waterways are often a place for making merry. If the sun shines, it’s great to be on the water!

“This is nice,” I said understatedly, turning to my kayaking partner with a smile. We’ve paddled the pristine lakes of Canada, the chilly fjords of Norway, now the narrow canals of The Netherlands… joy indeed!

 

Strolling and soaking it up… and new herring with Mom

 

She has always loved herring, the Dutch way; chopped onions over raw, slinky fish. Despite my Dutch heritage, I can’t bear them. But to Mom, it’s a delectable delight that awaits her return to the country of her childhood, like a fond friend.

The setting was the harbour of Scheveningen on a festival day. A day of marching and trumpeting bands, bright flags fluttering from ship’s rigging, vendors offering pancakes and poffertjes, old trinkets, porcelain blue and white, and of course that herring that cause for a festival.

Mom and I were lingering over this and that, when some lovely ladies caught our eye. They wore their beguiling baby blue capes and delicate bejewelled headdresses with pride and aplomb, tradition on display. No, they are not worn much these days, more for weddings, funerals and days like today the friendly locals related proudly to us. A day where vestiges of the past are showcased for posterity, celebrating Scheveningen’s proud fishing heritage. In fact today’s Vlaggetjedag (Flag Day) heralds the first herring catch of the season, traditionally presented to the King or Queen.

From one distraction to another, a drai orgal, a colourful traveling organ, chimed its merry tunes. The sound evoked a child’s ferris wheel, its lyrical melodies exuberant and hopeful. I could see memories flooding across mom’s eyes playing out scenes from her childhood. I imagined her as a ten year-old, in the days before she immigrated to a new land, dark curls bobbing as she skipped alongside the wondrous contraption. “A dubbeletje for your music Meneer!”

 

Delft and its master, the esteemed Vermeer

 

 

We take the tram to Delft. So easy. Jump on the tram not five minutes from the apartment, and twenty minutes later we alight in one of the loveliest small cities in the country. Wend through a narrow lane, over a tiny bridge or two, and before you lies such a pretty picture. And so timeless, had we perhaps stepped back into the scene of a Dutch masterpiece?

Tall gabled homes squeeze cozily wall to wall, like fine aged town folk, framing the generous main square over which they preside – the ever-so-tall church spire at one end, the ornate city hall at the other.

Church bells peal and chime a lyrical melody. Silken, adorned horses wait patiently rigged at the head of a carriage for touring. Bright waxen, yellow wheels of cheese stack neatly in the shop windows of the square. And blue and white porcelain too – of every imaginable size and function, arrayed to entice and please passing tourists.

It is all typically, wonderfully Dutch, perhaps what a visitor might expect and I channel this scene to indulge in a little time-travel; back to a certain citizen who lived his creative life along these cobbled streets. The great painter, Vermeer, captured the light and the people of this charming town in exquisite reality, portraying them in their own seemingly mundane tasks. He was one of the great Dutch masters. Yes Rembrandt, Hals and Van Gogh are also revered, but for me, it is Vermeer who inspires me to write.

Sunlight strains through brooding clouds, a play of light on stone and cobbles. Baristas deliver coffee flitting from table to table, some patrons now partaking of a late afternoon glass of wine. And still I linger, the light inspiring me to write of my favourite Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. I reflect on his life and works, and a clear image of his widowed wife comes to me. And so, I write in her voice…

December 30th, in the year of Our Lord 1675

My Dearest Mother,

It has been just fifteen days since we buried our dear Johannes and I lament still that your fragility prevented you journeying here to Delft. We live day by day. Johannes has left us surrounded by paintings, most of which he tried in vain to sell. It is my firm conviction that our financial stresses led to his illness… and oh how we miss him.

Eleven children now mourn for their father as we persevere in our family home in Papenhoek, just off the town square. Rooms brimming over with pigments and palettes, with brushes and easels. How my dear Johannes adored this home and his beloved Delft with its bustling port and its skilled artisans  – the tapestry weavers, the earthenware potters and the beer brewers. There are many wealthy citizens but alas, not the Vermeers.

And I despair, for these distinguished burgers have not seen the genius of my husband. Yes Johannes Vermeer is recognised as a good painter, yet now his forlorn studio echoes with paintings bequeathed to me and some to you dear mother. But indeed, I wish they had been sold.

I see some beauty in them of course, yet I find the scenes almost frivolous. A milk maid pouring milk from a pretty jug. A lady penning a letter, receiving one or even reading one in earnest. I often asked what was the intention, so ordinary did these scenes appear. Our Johannes would explain, “Liefde, one must think of the symbolism. Notice the map in the foreground, the ship sailing, the letter in my subject’s hand. It is news of her loved one, this Golden Age has taken him to the East Indies to trade spices and even our fine Delft blue and white,” Johannes would explain patiently.

“And look at the objects I have staged so well,” he would elaborate, pointing with his painting stick. “The apples for temptation, the walnut cracked in two for wanton adultery. The feathery hat for frivolity, or the organ piano being caressed by a woman’s hand.” Goodness dear mother, all this talk would force me to blush. I who have given birth to more children than I can count!

But I do understand his use of light and of colours. Indeed was he not a master? Only the finest pigments were procured. The deepest of blues – indigos from India, Laapis Lazuli from Aghanistnan, or fine cobalt. He loved spanish green, earth green and that haunting umber – a green brown from Umbria in Italy itself. And of course there was always ochre- red to replicate the abundance of bricks in this fine city of Delft.

Yes, he played with these colours and created hues of lights that only he could conjure. Light that was bright, filtered, soft and shining. Or perhaps watery and smooth, gleaming, even falling. Yes the ways of light are cunning and Johannes knew them well.

Dear mother, you shall soon have your choice of a few of his works. Perhaps you would like a particular small pretty painting of young woman with pearl earrings. It bears a slight resemblance to our dear Rosa, she is mourning her father terribly. For myself, I am only interested in the Little Street painting. This is who our dear Vermeer truly was. A simple man who gazed out to that scene from his studio and often remarked, “life is captured in the seemingly mundane, the precious simple moments.”

And so I must sign off for now, the bells at noon have tolled and the children will soon be asking for their bread and cheese. I shall write often dear mother. Please know you are in our thoughts until we see you soon.

Your loving, Catharina Bolnes Vermeer

And with this, the inspiration of the morning has worked its magic. I have conjured and imagined, mused and written.

And I challenge. Poise a pen over a blank page and let it flow….

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Two book launches… an Indian chai cafe and a tall, Dutch gabled home

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I write from The Hague on a chilly March morning, just before I travel back to India. The Netherlands is one of the places in the world I most consider home. It is not surprising as I’m half Dutch – our first son was born here and I have visited often with my mother – keeping strong connections with our Dutch family.

And now, another of life’s milestones has unfolded amongst these cobbled streets and gabled homes that I so adore – my first book has been launched!

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The setting was my co-author’s lovely, gezellig home. That Dutch word for cozy, typified the evening of March 7th. With a crackling fire, candles lit and tulips artfully arranged, and gifted, Jo Parfitt and I welcomed our guests. Many were dear friends who we see but once a year at the Families in Global Transition Conference; many having just arrived from the US, from Switzerland, Hong Kong or perhaps Dubai. Others were local friends or some involved in Jo’s mentoring and publishing life. All of them were congratulatory and pleased for us that Monday Morning Emails was ‘hot off the press’… stacks of boxes tucked away in a corner to prove it!

With Jo and I seated before the warmth of the fireplace, I peered out to the crowd of thirty or so people and soaked in the moment. A book launch is the gilded prize, reward for many hours of silent endeavour – the culmination of a dream. For me, it is my first published book and needless to say, I was a little ‘over the moon’.

“Your first book is always the most poignant,” Jo had admitted the day before as she handed the book to me for the first time.” Its silky cover was more lovely than I had hoped. When I thumbed to the back, to my author’s page, I was euphoric.

The evening of the book launch progressed with readings and discussions. Also with my penning many heartfelt messages as I signed copies of the book. And curiously, after all of this, I found myself back at my hotel, sitting cozily and reading a little of our book. Through it all, I was enveloped in sheer contentment and joy. Yet Monday Morning Emails is not always an easy, calm read. It is thought-provoking and truthful, a vulnerable exchange between global mothers. Between the two of us, Jo and I have raised five sons around the world in twelve different countries. We have supported our husbands careers and found our passion in writing, mentoring and publishing. But with that has come myriad issues as the backdrop of our life has changed every three, four, six years, perhaps after only three months!

In May of last year, Jo and I decided to write to each other every Monday. We well knew the power of writing and initially thought our book would be about the empty nest stage and raising global children, especially as each of us had a son who was having a difficult time with depression and anxiety. As we wrote of this, our dialogue also turned towards the loss of identify of children, building homes for ourselves against an ever-changing backdrop, ageing parents, health and wellness, traumatic childhood experiences – the topics tumbled forth. We found that over the six months we migrated organically from subject to subject exploring not only trying times, but also of great joy. We have experienced so much that makes a global life worth living – unique cultural experiences and privileged insights that we forever treasure.

Our accounts are truthful and personal, and we thank our family for understanding our ‘mission’ – to enlighten, to offer solace, to let people know that they are not the only family going through issues. “Mom, I don’t mind if you write my story,” my youngest son said with support. “If it can help someone not go through what I did, or help parents, then I’m happy to do that.”

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That evening of the book launch not only did I think of my family, who happened as is often the case to be scattered to the four winds – in Canada, in India, in Nepal. But I thought of a group of wonderful people that had already helped launch Monday Morning Emails. A few days before I had travelled to The Hague, I had given a two-day writer’s workshop in Mysore, India. Two hours by train southwest of Bangalore, Mysore is a charming small city that I have visited often and it has always felt like home.

As always, I was welcomed with open arms, arms which extended to an invitation to speak at the launch of a ‘Chai Patthe’ book club event. I had mentioned to my husband that indeed it was an honour to be doing this, but thank goodness I hadn’t been asked to be the ‘chief guest’ as I noticed the title on the announcement. Yet as the book club launch unfolded, that is indeed what seemed to happen.

The setting was an older bungalow that had been transformed into a charming Chai cafe. Older repurposed doors dotted the long narrow room, by coincidence coloured in the same hues as our book theme. I felt immediately at home.

The room was full, prompting some guests to listen and peer through the old barred windows of the once cozy bungalow. Seated up front as one of the ‘dignitaries,’ I gave a short speech. I mentioned how book clubs had always played an important role in my overseas life and how I had journeyed from avid reader to now, a published author. Without an actual copy of Monday Morning Emails, I had wrapped a copy of the book cover around a random book – yes pretending it was really the published version! The crowd chuckled when I admitted the truth, that in fact the launch was going to be held the following week in The Hague.

“When is the launch in India?” one of the guests asked eagerly.

“There isn’t one planned,” I admitted, not anticipating what was to come.

“Well,” someone chimed in, “this can be your launch in India. Now, here in Mysore.”

“Yes, in India before anywhere else!” another attendee added proudly.

“Can we? How wonderful,” I think I exclaimed and then proceeded to read the back of the book blurb, just to make it ‘official.” A round of applause erupted. I was asked questions and a lively discussion followed. Yes, just like you might with a true author… it was starting to feel more and more real. It was a magical evening with people who have become friends and wonderfully, many with whom I’ve shared the joy of writing. And so that evening in The Hague was of course our official launch, but how fortunate am I to have had two such poignant events.

IMG_4512Monday Morning Emails is part memoir, part diary, part self-help. The latter part of the book gives way to advice from eight different experts – including counselling, psychology, retirement, career advice and wellness.

The support that we’ve received since the publication of Monday Morning Emails has been heartwarming. It appears to resonate with readers, offering an unvarnished glimpse of a life that often seems so glamorous, yet is played out in the same ordinary tones as life ‘at home’. For this reason, it is also a book for those who don’t live a peripatetic life but live in one place, yet also face many of the same issues.

It is also starting conversations between parents and children, even those who are older and lived an expat life before any dialogue about this unique life was the norm. Many have also shared that it would be a good read for book clubs to discuss, and with that in mind, we are formulating book club questions and a Monday Morning Emails website.

It turns out that writing of the present and reflections of the past, was not only therapeutic, it was a joy to claim our stories. For indeed, our collected stories are narrations of life’s journey, whether they be global or otherwise. And after all, mothers are mothers wherever we may call home.

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My first touch of Monday Morning Emails

 

 

 

 

 

‘I Am’… The Embrace Of A Writer’s Retreat

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My year has ended in the embrace of a cherished, almost spiritual experience. My husband often chides me and asks if he can switch places as I venture off to a writer’s retreat – this time it was to Penang, Malaysia. I don’t blame him, I know how fortunate I am and it is partly because of the retreat experience that I am, where I am.

At a retreat, it is the inspiration found, the treasured time with kindred spirits who share the love of words and story telling. It is the mutual appreciation of the indulgent cocoon a retreat offers – of putting aside your everyday life and following your creative soul.

‘Retreating’ is five or so days of immersion in something you love to do – or believe that you just might. And of course the long animated dinners, the inspiring ‘field trips’, and the new (and established) friendships are also part of the experience. On the second to last day in Penang, we writers ended an already creative day at the beach, soaking up the beauty and the tranquility. It was just before sunset and we thanked the universe for the fullness of the day. We breathed in the moment and appreciated what we were sharing – never to be repeated and now imprinted forever on our writer’s souls.

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My first retreat in Tuscany also comes to mind. A short train journey to Lucca found four of us venturing no further than the closest piazza where we wined and dined the afternoon away. After all, one of the writers was a famous London based screen writer – you can imagine the stories flowed as easily as the chianti! Oh we were so full of love – for the setting we found ourselves in, for the new-found friendships, for the sheer magic of a time and a place. I’ve written of that retreat in Tuscany and how it was a life- changing experience. Inspiring retreats in Phuket have also contributed to my growth as a writer and I encourage anyone not quite sure of the retreat experience, to go… if possible, make the commitment to this next phase of your writing, to yourself.

Each retreat seems to unfold like a richly, layered novel. As the days pass, writers reveal themselves in the slow flowering of creativity – in the comfort of a safe-zone with your fellow writers. Yes at times we ‘block’, we’re hesitant about the ‘task’, we worry that a piece of work doesn’t ‘measure up’. Yet it’s often these growing pains when we stretch ourselves that improves our writing, and together we produce a beloved body of work. Prose that you are the first to savour at those privileged late afternoon or evening readings. Writings where you are wonderfully transported, then pluck a favourite thought or line for yourself to cherish. Maybe a piece truly moves you and your fellow writer is lavished with encouragement… “This is what you must write, this is your voice, your story!” 

And as you find your own voice and dig a little deeper, your writing becomes more vulnerable and truthful. Perhaps humour comes to you, or even poetry – as it does with me, but only it seems when I’m ‘retreating’. In Penang, a clear inspiration for a new book revealed itself – an inspiration for historical fiction. Having co-authored a coffee table/history book about Penang last year, one of its historical characters gently ‘whispered’ to me as we spent time in the storied Suffolk House… ‘Tell my story, from a woman’s perspective,” she seemed to entreat. It was a sentiment echoed by my fellow writers and I hope to do so… to do justice to the story.

Inevitably a retreat draws to a close and you say your farewells, knowing that somehow this is where you were meant to have been. The words and ideas, the inspiration and the friendships get packed into your suitcase… as carefully as your brimming notebooks.

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Once back home in India, I was thrown immediately into work as I am nearing the completion of my latest book project. With my friend and mentor, Jo Parfitt, we are in the final phase of a book that will be published in March. Monday Morning Emails is the vulnerable and honest account of expat life… the tears, the joys and the tough stuff. Combined, we have created homes for our families in Japan, Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia, Scotland, Canada, Oman, England, Kazakhstan, the US, Norway and India. We have raised five sons globally and supported husbands in the oil/energy business for the past twenty-five years, ish! We’re confident that we have a compelling story to tell and along with Experts who will enlighten on some of the issues, we’re excited about introducing it at the next FIGT.

Yes, I believe none of this would have transpired if I had not ventured to retreats where I’ve found my passion, my confidence, and guidance through Jo Parfitt and Anne O’Connell – and from the writers who have become part of my ‘near and far writer’s circle’.

And of the writing from these retreats? Many pieces have found their way into a blog, an article, a presentation, or even into that upcoming book. Yet there are some pieces that wait quietly in my writing file, hoping to glimpse the light of day. And so why not? Today I thought I’d share a few of those ‘ forgotten darlings’ and one new from Penang… allowing a little sunlight to fall on those pages.

 

Paradise Writers’ Retreat, Phuket. Task: we were handed a piece of salt water taffy to sample and asked to write a short story in thirty minutes…

Salt Water Taffy

“Welcome to Pier 21,” the tour guide boomed. He was gentlemanly and older. Perhaps the same age as my mother who stood beside me on this ‘girl’s trip.’

“Folks before we begin, I’d like to welcome you with a salt water taffy, a treat from Nova Scotia. One for each of you,” the guide said cheerily, proffering them to the group.

The wrapping on the candy looked clean and childlike – the white and blue lighthouse signaling safety. Or was it the unexpected, even danger.

I hesitantly unwrapped the mass of sugar and soy, my lips already puckered in defiance.

“Gawwd, I can’t eat this mom,” I moaned, nibbling off a mouse-like bite under duress. “It’s ghastly!”

I looked at my mom whose jaw was already moving up and down; like a gum boot pulling out of mud, like honey dripping in slow motion.

“I love it,” she managed to mumble while masticating the sticky mass.

“Seriously, I can’t believe it,” I said incredulously. “You don’t like anything sweet, not even chocolate.”

“Annie, it was the first treat given to us when we reached this shore after sailing from Holland. The first bite I ever took on Canadian soil,” Mom said, managing a smile through the stringy taffy. She was already reaching for my wee-nibbled piece.

 

 

Writer’s Retreat at The Watermill Posara, Tuscany. Task: at the local village market, find one person to focus on, write…

Market at Fivizzano

They amble into Piazza Medicea, hands clasped behind hunched backs, they fold easily into the bustle. Bonjourno Signorie, they nod.
Stalls gathered geometrically inside walls of creme, ochre and terracotta,
shutters green, new and cracked, some open, most shut.

Reggiano, porchetto, parmignano like a marble block.
Sausage, salami, puffed like fingers reaching down.
A quick glance at the fish and its lifeless steely eyes, a chop of its head,
efficiently wrapped for lunchtime. Grazie Mille… Prego!

Beans, zolfini and piattellini also don’t entice.
Plump tomatoes, zucchini, and fennel, ignored.
Cheap sandles and belts – distractions.

The bells chime, strangled to some, but marking noon and
the piazza clears, the tourists depart.
Now, finally, at Piccola Cucina their chairs are free.
A Moretti, an espresso? No difference, the conversations begins…

 

 

Paradise Writers’ Retreat, Phuket. Task: trip to the beach, the shade of a palm tree our ‘office’. Write Misbehave and Suffocate, You’re a Beach Bum…

You’re a Beach Bum 

The crash of the waves imitated the rhythm of our love making. And when it happened, my mind crawled out of the suffocating hole this beach has buried me in.

I believe in one-hundred years time, I’ll be referred to as a beach bum. I’m certainly not here by choice.

The sinking of the steamship has marooned us somewhere in Asia, at least the Captain is quite certain of that. Coconuts clump together on tall palm trees, sand as fine as sugar creeps into every pore, and the sun beats down, relentless on our fair skin. At night, the air fills with haunting sounds from the nearby jungle; monkeys and birds and mosquitoes that pester endlessly. I loathe it all.

Seven of us Saloon passengers have survived. We were enroute to the majestic Rocky Mountains of Canada, a passage to mark the turn of the century. With suites booked at the glamorous new CPR Hotels in Banff and Lake Louise, oh how very excited we were!

We had sailed from Australia and the journey had been fine – morning strolls on the deck, afternoon high-tea at promptly 3 p.m, dinner at precisely 7. Oh and the invitation to the Captain’s table… it was beyond refinement and glorious. And all those eligible young bachelors, gone, to the depths of the oceans… and my hopes along with them.

Now we survivours wither in the blazing sun, including Marnie, my cruel and obtuse aunt. Tasked with chaperoning her eligible young niece, she now looks at me with disdain as I release my golden curls from my bejewelled hair pins. She glowers as I push up my bustier and straighten my under-slip. In this savage heat, I’ve long discarded my frilly, cumbersome frock.

Marnie has refused to unclothe herself. Her long flowing dress has frayed at the hem and she’s ever more prude-like as she continuously brushes sand from her tall, straight as a bamboo self. It’s as if the sand is the contagious disease that we’re all likely to succumb to any day now.

I no longer care. Last night’s moonlit rendezvous has changed everything, I want him again tonight. Oh joy indeed, the shackles of modesty and correctness have been truly broken.

 


Me-Treats, Penang. Task: who are you, tell us in verse or poem

I Am…

I am a daughter of a beautiful woman, IMG_1792one of her ‘pride and joys’. And I hold that dear, like a grandmother’s finest crystal. My treasured mother is my touchstone, my heart.

And I am a mother. One who loves and laughs, who cries and listens, who shares so much joy – yet longs for the soft caress of her babys’ touch. A mother of three sons; their love stamped on my unfailing maternal heart.

I am a wife who holds my travel companion’s secrets, his hopes and desires – his well lived yearbooks of life and our life’s treasured past. I turn to him often and whisper, “I never want this to be over.”

I am a true friend who holds friends dear – the laughter, the insights, the secrets… the stories of our lives.

And oh, how I am a traveler – one who has roamed and traversed, soaked in and marvelled at this compelling, glorious world. Its labels are firmly attached to my wanderlust soul – Florence and Oman, Singapore and old Siam, Osaka and Amsterdam, Kathmandu and even old Madras.

Most assuredly, I am a writer and a researcher. Give me the past to unravel, the characters of old to pluck out like fine golden nuggets – to relive their journeys and dreams. Or maybe it is the romance of the Renaissance, the storied sagas of the Vikings, the rich history and minareted sky of pretty Istanbul… all of it, I am.

Lastly, I am the calm and the bluest of oceans, the greenest of rainforests. The vibrant verve of a city – chiseled architecture and sparkling sights, or silk and saffron in packed, lively bazaars. Yet give me the beauty of a flourishing garden to find calm and solace in its gentlest pinks and softest whites – water lilies, fragrant frangipanis and velvety Dutch tulips.

Yes, I am the tapestry of my life – still richly weaving… thread, by thread, by precious thread.

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Post Script – I encourage you to take some time over this holiday season and write… I Am. Take the opportunity to appreciate you, your loves, your passions, the richness of what makes you, you. Once claimed on ‘paper’, it is there for you always.

For me, along with my next project, I am happily joining a few more retreats in 2018, yet I am now also hosting my own workshops. Let’s hope they too will inspire and evolve into retreats… I have a location or two in mind!  

And lastly, I offer many warm wishes, good health and peace for this holiday season and the New Year… fondly, Terry Anne xx

 

 Jo Parfitt’s Me-Treats are held in various locations, Tuscany for Write Your Life Story

 Anne O’Connell’s Paradise Writer’s Retreats are now held in Halifax, Nova Scotia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penang’s shades of green and hues of blue…a mansion and Jimmy Choo

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There are a few unsent ‘postcards’ from Penang this past year. Having co-authored a book about its pioneers, both past and present, there is much to write. I could relate the fascinating history of Francis Light, who claimed the island for the East India Company in 1786, or the myriad settlers from near and far, especially the resourceful Chinese and the stalwart Southern Indians. There are Penang’s iconic shophouses, godowns and clan temples. Its diverse culture and heritage trades, the legendary food and the engaging street art. That and more will be revealed when the book is published. But for now, a few snippets from the Penang I’ve come to know and love…

 

The Blue Mansion…img_5098-1

A photo of her hangs in the mansion’s dining room, her dress and hairstyle unusually simple for a person of her status. Tan Tay Po was 20 when she married the 70 year-old Cheong Fatt Tze. She would become his favourite wife – there were eight of them – and the Blue Mansion was Tan Tay’s splendid home.

Known as the ‘Rockefeller of the East’, Cheong Fatt Tze had homes (and wives) scattered throughout S.E. Asia, but the indigo-blue mansion in Penang was his preferred. Where he’d find his beloved wife number 7.

boutique-hotel-penang-island-blue-mansion-architecture-02-1-600x600-1I had been to the mansion earlier in the year, gathering information for the book project. Along with writers from the region, I had the good fortune to be invited to a candle-lit dinner in Indigo, the mansion’s elegant restaurant. Serendipity saw my place-card positioned across from Laurence Loh, the man who brought the mansion back to life; rescuing it from its dilapidated state and likely from demolition.

Laurence Loh is one of Malaysia’s esteemed architects and I followed many who have spoken to him over the years, BBC, CNN, Architectural publications and others. Laurence is understated yet passionate about his role as a conservation architect.

“Why take on such a daunting project?” I asked. “What motivated you to dedicate years to the restoration of a mansion? ” In fact a home now considered to be one of the finest restored mansions in the world.

Laurence admitted that he had not given the property much thought as he passed it daily as a youth on his way to school. Years later having returned home to Penang after time abroad, Laurence felt a strong pull towards the temple-like building. Along with partners, he and his wife Lin Lee would buy the property on Leith Street and transform the Chinese court-yard home to the enchanting splendour of its past – it would take 11 years of meticulous restoration.

That evening as we had dined, Laurence explained that developers had hovered in anticipation for the prized site when it came on the market. Conservation in 1989 was almost non-existent with no guidelines and little vision. The mansion lay in a state of decay and disregard with more than thirty tenant families inhabiting it. Motorbikes zoomed through the house and washing lines hung from gilded panels. Animal bones, droppings, feathers and rubbish littered the rooms.

Laurence told me modestly, “It just needed to be cleaned up and restored. There was an epiphany that this would take hold of our lives.” And he hinted that it was meant to be…that perhaps Cheong Fatt Tze had already chosen him as the rescuer.

I was curious if it was the love story of wife number 7, ‘the one he loved above all others,’ as Laurence had put it. Or perhaps it was the unique sense of scale, proportion and space with which the mansion had been designed. I sensed that it is a little of both. Laurence admitted that a keen sense of preserving the legacies of Penang’s forefathers, especially those of the Chinese settlers, had motivated him. “I’m very proud of my Chinese roots,” he explained, “it’s essential they’re preserved.”

The residence was originally completed in 1904 by Cheong Fatt Tze. Having arrived from China to Batavia in 1856 as a penniless 16 year-old, Cheong would come to epitomize South East Asia’s determined Chinese entrepreneurs – of which there were many. Cheong transcended from a carrier of river water to a one-man multinational conglomerate. Initially there was help from his merchant father-in-law, that of wife number 1, yet Cheong would go on to successfully deal in the commodities of the day: pepper, tin, rubber, tea and coffee, rice and opium. He would invest in banks, glassworks, textiles, cattle and a vineyard. He would start his own shipping line when refused first-class service on another. He was an extraordinary entrepreneur.

On a recent visit to Penang, I decide to spend an evening at the Mansion in one of its 18 restored guest rooms. I’d be untruthful if I didn’t confess that its history and spirt is felt within its storied walls. It’s not an uneasiness, but more of a tacit acknowledgement that you are just passing through…the home will always be Cheong Fatt Tze’s.

The next day, I’m invited to join a tour. The private rooms are roped off to the public and there’s a secret delight in having been in the inner sanctum of the mansion. Along with tourists from different countries, I learn that nothing was left to chance when the grand home was built. With its 5 inner courtyards, the centre wing was where business was conducted and were family was housed, perhaps one or all of the 3 wives and various concubines. This was often the norm for a man of Cheong’s social standing.

“Wives 3, 6 and 7 lived here. But if you were out of favour you could easily find yourself in the side wings or across the street in the servants quarters”, our guide reveals motioning to separate buildings across the street. Yet we’re told of Cheong’s great philanthropist tendencies, of his ease with both Asian traditions and of the Western World. We hear of his discerning sense of fashion from Mandarin outfits of fine silk, to top hats and tails.

Indeed the photos and other manifestations capture the essence of time, place and wealth. We see intricate Scottish ironworks (a must-have to affirm one’s wealth in the British empire), gilded decoration, priceless porcelain and Art Nouveau stained glass windows. But its the chien nien that intrigues me most.

Chien nien translates to cut-and-paste shard works, a laborious process whereby specially produced rice bowls are cut with pliers to provide shards of coloured porcelain. Lime putty is then used to form the shards into intricate patterns of men, women, animals and scenes depicting Chinese mythology and various Gods. Some 10,000 bowls, imported from China, were needed to restore the mansion’s chien nien – believed the most prolific on any private building outside of China.img_5060-1

As we gather in the central courtyard, we’re asked a question that I had heard previously from Laurence. “Do you feel the chi, the spirt?”

It is reference to the elaborate feng shui that Cheong Fatt Tze implemented in his home .

“This is the heart, here in the middle, where the greatest chi energy radiates,” our guide says motioning to a spot between two stone columns. “This precise point would have been selected by a feng shui master, the house grew from there.”

It seems very little was left to chance. Granite steps were added as ideally one must always step up when entering a Chinese home…it denotes promotion. The granite implies strength and stability. Golden coins were buried in auspicious corners to ensure continued wealth. The side wings of the home contain six rooms on each floor. The number six as it rhymes with ‘lok lok tai soon‘…smoothness for every dealing.

The Chinese believe that rain water brings wealth (farming, crops) and that nature’s wealth should be drawn inwards. Hence the mansion’s elaborate pipes and gutters to collect rainwater, emptying into the courtyards, backing up in loops, cooling both the floors and ceiling spaces. “The water can come in quickly but should flow out slowly, just like the Chinese ethos towards money.” This is conveyed to us with a chuckle, yet it is clearly to be taken seriously.

When we encounter a photo of the beloved wife number 7, we learn that Tan Tay was the daughter of a Penang goldsmith and the only wife mentioned in the tycoon’s will. When Cheong died in 1916, flags were lowered to half-mast throughout Asia by both British and Dutch authorities. His coffin was toured to Penang, Singapore and Hong Kong for farewells, before burial in his native China.

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And of the mansion? Cheong’s will stated that it was not to be sold until the death of he and Tan Tay’s son, only 2 at the time of his father’s death. When he died in 1989, the last daughter-in-law would fall short of money and resort to leasing the mansion’s once grand rooms, contributing to the dilapidated state Laurence Loh would find the mansion.

As the tour finishes, I recall something Laurence had shared that with me. “Cheong Fatt Tze had wanted nine generations to live in this home. He wanted it to be enjoyed by many.”

Thanks to the vision of a passionate architect, that is happily the case…

*The Blue Mansion is properly known as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

 

A connection with Jimmy Choo…

img_3173I find myself on ‘hallowed’ ground…that is, if one is both a lover of shoes and familiar with Jimmy Choo. His story began in Penang, a local boy who shared his roots with the very man I’m speaking with, Mr. Wong Heng Mun.

I’m at Hong Kong Shoes on Kimberley Street and have decided to have a pair of shoes made by Mr. Wong and his team of cobblers.

There are three skilled artisans busy today in the long, narrow shophouse. One shoemaker is stitching and another cutting strips of leather with scissors as large as a size- 13 shoe. Mr. Wong minds the front of the shop. He not only knows a thing or two about shoes, he apprenticed alongside Penang’s runaway success story…Jimmy Choo. Like Mr. Wong, Mr. Choo also came from a family of shoemakers.

“Jimmy was about 15 or so, a little older than me when we apprenticed. It was my father that taught us.” Mr. Wong’s father, Wong Sam Chai, was Penang’s esteemed master cobbler for some 60 years.

This is not the original location of the shop but still, it’s become a bit of a mecca for shoe lovers visiting Penang. The shop is certainly not as salubrious as a Jimmy Choo. This is more of an ‘organized chaos’ with shoe mouldings, scraps of leather and shoe samples crammed onto shelves and arrayed on the floor. Proudly displayed magazine and newspaper clippings of the Choo connection decorate the walls. The workshop is stuffed with tools of the trade: threads on bobbins, glue for soles of leather, hammers and heels, and a ‘museum piece’ Singer – timeless and trusty.

Mr. Wong is kind enough to lead me up the worn treads of narrow stairs to the second floor. Shoe moulds as far as the eye can see. Wooden and plastic – shades of greens, hues of blues and wood polished smooth by expert hands, sizes and shapes for all.

Mr. Wong tells me that more than 200 pairs of shoes are handcrafted every month for clients. “Some locals but many foreigners.”

img_5285Back in the workshop, I notice the nonya shoe that is in the works. Its delicate glass beads have been painstakingly stitched into a pattern onto fabric, and is now being crafted into a sandal or perhaps a slipper.

Traditionally this was a pastime expertised by Malay ladies. Beaded slippers complimented their colourful sarongs and lavish kebayas, their tight fitting embroidered blouses.

I’m told that the craft of stitching the coloured glass beads was even a skill coveted for marriage. It seems that presenting a pair of hand-stitched men’s slippers was effective for impressing a future husband. Wonderful examples of nonya slippers and all else pertaining to their refined and opulent culture can be enjoyed at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.

Today, pieces of the beaded designs are still created and sold to Hong Kong Shoes, both for personal orders or otherwise. “Many foreigners also like these,” Mr. Wong assures me as we admire the intricate samples. In somewhat of a paradox he shows off a massive shoe mould, though I don’t catch the name of who it was a match for – surely it was an extremely tall basketball player.

I’m just a normal size 6.5 and I tell Mr. Wong that I’d like my sandals copied please, “though just a little more tight fitting.” I dig my worn footwear from my bag. They’ve traipsed over the cobblestones of Rome, through the narrow lanes of Cintra and the back streets of Miri…and many others in between. I surprise myself by choosing roughly the same colours of leather…actually I think I’m just a little overwhelmed with the vast array of samples.

Mr. Wong opens a notebook, asks me to take off my shoes and instructs me to stand on the blank paper. He traces my feet, jots down some notes and confirms my order on a small notebook…order 8565. I pay, then he bundles up the note paper, my beloved sandals and plunks them in a plastic bag. Gosh, I hope I see those again, I can’t help but fret.

“How long Sir, until they’re ready?

“About two, three months,” he tells me with a confident smile.

“Lovely, my friend will pick them up for me,” I say, giving a knowing glance to a good friend who spends much of her time here. I already envision my next visit, my shiny pair of sandals awaiting me.

“No worry,” Mr Wong assures me,” we make many, many shoes.”

I can’t resist asking, “Who is the most famous client you’ve had?”

“Oh, Hollywood famous,”he says matter-of-factly. He’s most definitely not revealing any secrets.

 

And may I share a few of my ‘preferred’ in Penang…

Hotel…Campbell House on Lebuh Campbell

Restaurants…Seven Terraces, Il Bacaro, China House

Museums…Pinang Peranakan Mansion, the house of Sun Yat Sen (father of modern    China), Penang State Museum, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Things to do…Enjoy street food, especially Char Kuey Teow. Trishaw to discover the many Street Art installations. Take in the view at the peak of Penang Hill and visit The Habitat, Penang Hill. Wander along Beach Street, Armenian Street, Love Street and all in between. Venture out to the Spice Gardens. Have tea at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. Take in live music at China House. Visit the many temples and mosques. Stroll the clan jetties. Don’t miss Occupy Beach Street early Sunday mornings. Arrange your visit to coincide with the brilliant George Town Festival…

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Postcards from Malaysia…a writer’s journey

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The past few months have found me researching, interviewing and penning. I’m involved in a book project which is endlessly engaging and challenging.

With a team of writers, photographers, a brilliant designer and project manager, we collaborate from various countries –yet happily rendezvous for some eventful on-location forays. It’s an interesting journey as I delve into the history and culture of a place that I am now very familiar with… Penang, Malaysia.

With trips of discovery and a recent getaway to Borneo, experiences gained and people befriended continue to make this the most rewarding of times.

Thankfully our home in Bangalore, India, is now ‘settled’ with the arrival of our shipment which most definitely took the ‘long way around.’ We have an eclectic mix of old and new, from here and there; Omani, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern and Thai…and some wooden skis propped in the study to remind us of home.

The guest-rooms await a visit from our sons in the not too-distant future and our adopted family has grown by one. Preya joins us three times a week – her spicy South Indian food is scrumptious and help in the house is much appreciated as another month of work ensues. All is well in the neighbourhood; the monsoon rains are expected imminently, Munglora has procured a charming ancient scale for my new kitchen and without a doubt, the roof top yoga kept me sane.

A good friend commented that I was fortunate to have this ‘mountain to climb.’ Indeed it does feel like a wonderful, steep journey, one that I could not have imagined two years ago when I set out with my blog…it feels quite surreal yet natural at the same time.

So for the moment, just a few of my favourite images from the adventure thus far…many kind thoughts, Terry Anne

 

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A Snowy Winter Collection…an antique fur & the new year that awaits

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‘Doll-like’ buildings in Lubeck, Germany

My winter collection isn’t one of lavish coats and fur-lined boots that protect from the frozen air; it’s more a collection of memories. ‘Doll-like’ European buildings dusted with powder-fine snow, simple wreaths bidding welcome to candle-lit homes, snowshoeing through fairy-tale pines.

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Wreaths bidding welcome

It’s usual for me to be home this time of year, in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m mindful that many of my favourite places, my most cherished memories, are of cold countries where a chilled climate quickens the pulse and deepens the senses. Even as the dream-like scenery fills me with wonderment and exhilaration, I yield to the serenity of wintery landscapes.

In a month or so we depart for warmer climes, to our next overseas posting. With endearing memories of the holiday season, these first weeks in January find me calm and peaceful as I’m surrounded by feathery snow, bluebird skies and stately stands of larch and pines.

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Old Stavanger, resplendent after a snowfall

At the turning of the year, WordPress has reminded me of the year passed, of the one-hundred and some countries where my blog was read and of those places that I wandered to in 2015; Kazakhstan, Spain, Malta, Thailand, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Malaysia. Most of those destinations are in fact warmer climates, yet Kazakhstan and Canada indulged my penchant for snow.

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An antique fur to warm

In Kazakhstan my recycled fur coat from the ’50’s was donned once or twice, melding with the local fashion to combat deep-freeze temperatures. The coat embraced me as we lingered alongside frozen inlets of the Caspian and trudged through snow-hushed Soviet-style streets. Ironically, that coat is packed in a shipment awaiting the next posting, one in which fur will be as useless as cozy mittens and hefty snow shovels.

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Powder-fine snow in Stavanger, Norway

I find a photo of myself snug in the antique fur in another country that I associate with glorious winter days…Norway.

Old Stavanger was resplendent after a snowfall, its wooden buildings a serene backdrop for shades of ethereal whites, contrasted with sprigs of heather and fresh pine on door stoops.

And of that old Winnipeg fur, ideally it should be here in Canada as I enjoy these last winter days before we transition yet again. Instead, I’m gathering my wardrobe of summery clothes to be shipped along with the things we need to build a new nest; collectibles, furniture and books. All that is important…except for our three sons. At this stage in our lives we live in different countries for much of the year; we’re proud of them and supportive, we’ll miss them dearly.

Our family has been happily ensconced under one roof over the holiday season, the first occasion since this time last year. We’ve seen each other throughout the year at various times and places, but to all gather around our table to dine and linger over conversation that we’ve waited a year to enjoy…well, it’s very cherished.

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Tranquility in British Columbia

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Fairy-tale pines

The season has seen us skiing and snowshoeing, playing games, making merry…being a family. We’ve regaled each other with stories and shared plans for the upcoming year. For me the next four months will be busy and challenging; a mentoring role in Amsterdam at the FIGT Conference and shortly thereafter, a trip to Malaysia to collaborate on a book project.

And not forgetting, the move in February to the ninth country that we will call ‘home’. So it seems my new year is to be filled with inspiring ventures and challenges, and most certainly some interesting travels. I wish my readers near and far, a fulfilling year in all the ways you wish yours to be.

But for now, for a few more precious weeks, amidst the planning and preparations, visas and packing, I’ll embrace the treasure that is winter. My crackling fire will warm me and these comforting walls that have welcomed us safely home, will give strength to embrace the endeavours ahead.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the destination of the impending move…it’s Bangalore. It’s India!

 

I’ll most certainly keep you posted,

Warm regards and a very fulfilling New Year, Terry Anne