musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

when the hand is dust...

On a table beside my bed there's a burled walnut box full of treasures. Not jewels or gold. These treasures are all about family. In fact, the box itself is a treasure. Made for my great-grandmother as a Christmas gift in 1867, it has been passed down from mothers to daughters and, over the years, lovingly filled with little pieces of our history.

Noble Dickenson was my great-grandfather and this is his "Sundries Book". Leather-bound, with a little brass clasp, the book measures just 2 by 3-1/2 inches. Noble carried it with him from 1868 to 1870 as he travelled, worked, and saved for his future.

The earliest entries in the little journal are almost completely illegible now – time has taken its toll on the "indelible" pencil lead. Most of the readable entries are Noble's accounting records, income, expenses, and lists. But there are also moments of observation that bring his world to life. 

On March 29th, 1870, he wrote: "Noticed the first bluebirds of the year today on our way to split up an elm tree we felled in James Will's wood. Joe and I. No robins as yet observed." It must have been a long, cold winter in Norwichville, Ontario.

A month later, another interesting entry: "Notes of our journey to the States, April 22nd, 1870. Left Norwichville on the morning of the 21st. Roads in a [...] state with snow. Got into Woodstock at 1 o'clock same day. Had dinner or supper of carrots and started for Detroit in the night at 1 o'clock. Got into Windsor at 8 in the morning and crossed the river right away on the boat. Staw (sic) in Detroit until evening. Got tics. on the 5 […] for [ ....]  Willy rather cross. I thought vegetation in general was farther advanced than in Canada. From Detroit to G. Haven, from G. Haven to Muskegon, from Muskegon per [...] to Frankfort."

I believe Willy was Noble's brother William … and I'd probably be rather cross, too, if dinner after a long day of travel turned out to be carrots. Just carrots! (That can't be right, but the word sure looks like carrots to me.)

By June 25th of 1870, the brothers had arrived in the thriving metropolis of Muscantine, Iowa.

Muscantine engraving, 1865, Barber and Howe, Public Domain

Noble wrote, "Bought pants at Silvermans, Muscantine" and went on to list his purchases. Apparently I come by my love of shopping honestly – this is quite a list. It's quite a hefty expenditure, too, at a time when his earnings averaged 75 cents a day.

After his five month, 2500 km (1600 mile) journey, Great grandpa Noble Dickenson returned to Norwichville (now known as Norwich), Ontario where he served the town as Post Master until October of 1886. He married great grandma Margaret Gainfort on March 5th, 1871 and together they raised a family of nine – three boys and six girls. According to family lore, Noble and Margaret first met via telegraph, making theirs one of the world's first "online" romances.

I'm smitten. The ancestry bug has bitten and I'm feeling the pull to discover more secrets from the past. There are plenty of clues and starting places hiding in the little treasure box beside my bed, so stay tuned for more. (And, yes, I am writing a story about Noble and Margaret's telegraph romance. How could I possibly resist?)

What have you discovered about your family history?

Wondering where you've heard that before? The title of this post is a quote from My Autograph by Susanna Moodie (1803-1885):

"What—write my name!
            How vain the feeble trust,
            To be remembered
      When the hand is dust—"

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Write Spot: Annelies Pool

Welcome to the fourteenth edition of The Write Spot, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write. 

My guest this week is Annelies Pool, a writer and editor in love with the stories, people and landscape of the Canadian North.

Born in The Netherlands, Annelies immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age and grew up in southern Ontario. She says she stumbled into a writing career when she arrived in Hay River, Northwest Territories, at the tail end of a cross-Canada hitchhiking journey.

With all her worldly possessions in a knapsack on her back, twenty-something Annelies was broke and in need of a job. This materialized as soon as the publisher of a community weekly newspaper, the Hay River Tapwe, found out she could type — all the qualifications necessary to be a reporter.

Annelies fell in love with writing about the North and never made it back to the road. She became well known as a northern journalist and freelance writer, serving as editor for a number of publications, including the Northern News Services newspaper chain in Yellowknife, and the inflight magazine, above&beyond, Canada’s Arctic Journal. She has published stories, columns and editorials in more than 30 periodicals and anthologies, and is a member of The Writer's Union of Canada.

A warm welcome, Annelies. Please tell us about your Write Spot.

I have an official study with a computer and all the other necessary accoutrements but I think of my writing space as free-floating. I like to work on my laptop all over the house but mostly in the living room with my feet up, looking out the window.

In the summer when the mosquitoes are not too bad, I may also write on the front porch or the back deck. This is all so I can pretend that I’m not really working but just goofing around on the computer. I have a strong inner critic and when it is particularly active, writing can be fraught with angst. If I can fool myself into thinking I’m not officially WRITING, the words flow better. Of course, this only works because I live in a quiet house with only one other person: my husband, Bill, with whom I like to spend many hours in companionable silence while I goof around on the computer.

Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

A window through which I can see at least one tree and a place nearby to walk in the woods. Let me explain:

Up until a few years ago, Bill and I lived in off-grid in a cabin in the woods at Prelude Lake, about 30 km outside of Yellowknife. Over the years, the wilderness that surrounded us became part of my writing life (many of the stories in my first book Iceberg Tea are about our life at Prelude). I only had to look out the window at the trees, rocks or passing wildlife to soothe my sensitive (over-sensitive?) writer's soul. After 22 years, we moved into Yellowknife because we no longer wanted to do the work required to live at Prelude (like drilling through four feet of ice at forty below to pump water). I have brought the spirit of the wilderness with me in my heart and whenever I look out and see a tree, I am reminded and inspired.  When I am stuck or writer's angst strikes me, I go for a walk in the woods and this is often where the right words find me. In fact, I think of the woods as part of my writing spot.

Annelies in the woods with her dog, Princess.

What are you working on now?

I have just completed my first novel, Free Love, the story of 30-year-old Marissa as she struggles to recover from alcoholism in Yellowknife. I have been working on this book on and off for ten years and I am thrilled to now be able to hold the finished product in my hand. But another novel beckons. I am about 60 pages into a book with the working title of All I Wanted was to Write a Love Story, which explores different versions of reality. I haven’t looked at it for a long time but I'm starting to hear it call . . .

Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Readers can visit me online at and connect on social media at:

Twitter:    @AnneliesPool

Free Love by Annelies Pool is available now in paperback and as an ebook.

In the dead cold of a northern Canadian winter, 30-year-old Marissa finds herself in a detox centre, every bone in her body yearning for a drink. The only thing worse than drinking would be to return to the lonely hell of alcoholism. Free Love takes us into the heart of the recovery community in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, as Marissa struggles to find hope in a town that loves to party, where temptation and the beauty and danger of the northern wilderness are never far away.

Download an excerpt and order direct from the author or purchase Free Love at:

About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

easy wind and downy flake...

Toronto hasn't seen much snow this winter – yet. But the monster blizzard that battered the east coast this past weekend has me reminiscing about past winters and life in simpler times.

Not that there was ever anything "simple" about enduring massive snowfalls, ice storms, and power outages. But I can't help wondering if our always-connected, always turned on twenty-first century life means we have a harder time coping when the inevitable happens. And then I wonder . . . what if the grid goes down and stays down? Zombie apocalypse, anyone?

Back in my hippy-back-to-the-land days of the 1970s and 80s, my husband and I and our three young sons lived in a rented farm house with several acres of land and a ramshackle barn. We moved to our farm on a snowy day at the end of December in 1975. I'll never forget arriving there with our overloaded camper van, and several carloads of city-folk friends to find the long gravel driveway completely drifted in. Hubby made a run at it with the van and, by some miracle, managed to stay on the track. After a few more runs, he'd cleared enough of a path for the rest of the convoy to follow. Our friends unloaded their vehicles in record fast time and beat a hasty retreat to the city, no doubt convinced we'd lost our minds. There were times, during that first challenging winter, when I wondered if they might be right.

A cranky old octopus of an oil furnace lurked in the cellar where it struggled to deliver heat to the first floor. Upstairs bedrooms were always cold but we piled on extra blankets and told ourselves the bracingly fresh air that gusted through our ancient sash windows made for healthy sleeping. (In fact, it probably saved our lives. I'm sure that furnace was pumping out clouds of carbon monoxide along with its meagre heat.)

We installed a massive cast-iron stove before our second winter on the farm, partly for the ambiance of a wood fire but mostly because we weren't sure the old furnace would see us through another season. We were right about that. For the next sixteen years, we relied on a Fisher stove like this one to keep us warm – hard work, sometimes, but worth it.

In late summer, a truck would deliver seven bush cords of wood, dumping it unceremoniously at the end of the driveway. We (and by "we" I mean mostly hubby) became skilled at splitting logs into manageable chunks, obsessive about hunting down kindling – fallen cedar branches from the neighbour's woodlot were best – and expert at stacking the split cords in neat, shoulder-high rows to dry. Our sons still grumble about the brutal Two Load Rule: each boy had to carry two big armloads of firewood into the house before settling down to their after school snacks. The rule applied equally to me and their Dad, of course, but the child labour angle makes for better stories, all of them starting, "Why, when I was a boy . . ." The care and feeding of that wood stove became the stuff of family legends.

First person up on a winter's morning (again, almost always hubby) would hustle down to poke the embers and get a fire going to warm things up for the rest of us. The kids would huddle around the stove while they waited for breakfast. Unfortunately, eldest son had a habit of presenting his backside to the stove. There were a few times he got a bit too close. We teased him that we didn't need marks on the wall to tell us how much he'd grown in a year, we could just check the red stripes on his behind.

One particularly cold morning, with the boys off to school and the main floor feeling toasty warm, I decided to treat myself to a hot, relaxing bath. We always kept the plug in the bathroom drain because the tap had an intermittent drip and the drain had a habit of freezing. Sure enough, that morning there was a shallow puddle trapped in the tub. When I reached for the plug to release the water, my fingers skated across a solid sheet of ice. I changed my mind about the bath.

The following summer, with our landlord's blessing, we knocked that old tub room off the back of the house and built a new, well-insulated bathroom and a lovely big sun room in its place. Not only was that sun room the best reading spot I've ever had, it was perfect for starting seedlings in the spring and made a glorious heat trap on sunny winter days.

It's possible I'm seeing those long ago winters through the rose coloured glasses of fond memory, but I'm positive snow was deeper – and fell more often – in those early days on the farm. Corn stubble in the surrounding fields disappeared under a blanket of white in November and wasn't seen again until April. We could step out the back door, strap on our cross country skis, and take off for a trek through the woods. The kids loved the adventure of it, learning how to start a fire in the snow and savouring a picnic lunch in the wild.

These days, we're all city dwellers, but a recently acquired plot of land has us dreaming and scheming. Far from the city lights and off the grid, the property has fertile fields, a scrap of forest, and a tiny cold water lake. We're in no rush to give full time back-to-the-landing another try; we like our internet and city comforts a bit too much. But I have to admit, there's also comfort in knowing we've done it before and, if we need to, we know how to do it again. Hopefully without zombies.

Wondering where you've heard that before? The title of this post is a quote from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost:

"The only other sound’s the sweep

of easy wind and downy flake."

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington


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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Write Spot: Rebecca K. O'Connor

The Write Spot is back with an exciting line-up of guests for 2016. This bi-weekly author series spotlights the many and varied places where writers write. Be sure to sign up (in the sidebar) to receive stillpoint direct to your inbox each week because you won't want to miss any of these terrific authors.

My guest this week is author and professional animal trainer, Rebecca K. O'Connor.

Rebecca is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Lift, which won Best Book in the 2010 Outdoor Writers Association of California craft awards. She has published essays in South Dakota Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Los Angeles Times Magazine, West, and divide. Her novel, Falcon’s Return was a Holt Medallion Finalist for best first novel and she has published numerous reference books on the natural world. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside.

As a professional animal trainer, Rebecca has worked with a variety of exotic animals in zoos and private facilities around the United States and abroad. She has been a falconer for fifteen years and is a nationally known parrot behaviorist. Her book A Parrot for Life: Raising and Training the Perfect Parrot Companion was published in 2007 by TFH and is required reading for those adopting parrots at several rescue facilities. She is a nationally sought after lecturer at parrot clubs and parrot festivals.

In all of Rebecca's work she strives to illuminate or foil the human condition through the animals that surround us. Whether it's giving a science-based lecture, writing a serious how-to book, or crafting deeply personal prose, the foundation of everything in her life is a love for animals. She hopes that her life's work will help people understand the animals (including other humans) that surround them and relish their relationships.

Welcome, Rebecca. Please tell us about your Write Spot.

I actually have two places where I write. The first is on my front porch where I like to do my morning pages, journal, doodle, and brainstorm. I love watching the pair of red-tailed hawks that live in my neighborhood while I daydream. Then when things get serious, I have an office in my home. My office doubles as an animal overflow room so if I’m raising a hawk, fostering a parrot, or have any other strays, they come join me in my office as a temporary muse. And of course, there are dog beds so that my Brittannys can stay close to the action.

Brainstorming on the porch with
young Elsa, a Cooper's hawk.

Elsa as muse (above) and Booth the Brittany
spaniel (below) hanging out in the office.

Rebecca shared a sad update about lovely Elsa, the Cooper's hawk in her weekly letter series: "I lost Elsa, my Cooper’s hawk on Wednesday. She was killed after eight months of a hard won relationship. I know that falconry is cruel, because nature is cruel. If you choose to be a falconer, you choose to eschew the laws of civilized life." (Read the rest.

You have my deepest sympathy, Rebecca. I'm sure readers will agree, Elsa was a magnificent bird.

Other than your computer, laptop, or notebook, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

I can’t imagine writing without an animal at my side, whether that’s a dog warming my feet, a parrot commentating in the background, or a hawk hanging out waiting for me to take a break from writing and go hunting with it.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a novel that is a scifi/murder mystery/memoir. Oh, and there’s falconry in it. I’m also writing a weekly letter series, Birds, Words, and Inspiration that I hope will be a jumping off place for a nonfiction book about self-love and art.

Reading your letters over Sunday breakfast has become a weekly ritual for me, Rebecca. They're always thoughtful and inspiring. Where can readers find out more about you, your letter series, and your books?

Readers can visit me online at Click on the 'blog' button there to subscribe to my weekly letter series, Birds, Words, and Inspiration. I'm also active on social media:

Twitter:     @rebeccakoconnor
Pinterest:   rebeccakoconnor
Instagram: rebeccakoconnor

Thanks for sharing a bit of your writing life with us, Rebecca.

Rebecca K. O'Connor's memoir, Lift, and her other published books are available from your favorite bookseller.

Captivated by a chance meeting with a falconer's peregrine as a child, the indelible memory leads the author to flying a peregrine falcon of her own and discovering that the journey is not as much about training the falcon as what it is the falcon has to teach her. Exploring themes of predator and prey, finding tribe, forgiveness and femininity, Lift asks universal questions through the unique perspective of a woman chasing her heart in the wake of a wayward falcon.

Permalink to this post: The WriteSpot: Rebecca K. O'Connor

About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

a collectable word…

My name is Cheryl and I'm a collector.

For all who know me as a writer and reader, it will come as no surprise that I collect books. This makes me a bibliophile. I also consider myself a logophile, or collector of words, some of my favourites being collective nouns. Who can resist a murder of crows, a plump of ducks, a murmur of nuns, or a ponder of philosophers?

Granted, most collections are more tangible.

In my youth, I amassed an impressive set of china horses. Oh, how I loved those horses. I probably should have known better than to leave them at the mercy of my mother when I left home. The hapless herd was rounded up and sold at a church bazaar before a fresh layer of dust had time to settle in my abandoned room. The horror! 

Thanks to Pinterest, I can once again run amok with horses, accumulating dozens of gorgeous specimens with no shelf space required. This is important, because I've moved on to new collections that now share my home, namely, blue glass poison bottles and badgers. Yes, badgers.

Why is it that a person who collects beer bottles has a fancy moniker like labeorphilist, while a collector of cobalt blue poison bottles is simply known as a 'cobalt blue poison bottle collector'? There should be a word! 

Toothpick collectors have a word: entredentolignumologists. Even collectors of cheese labels have a word: tyrosemiophilists.

And what of badger collectors?  An unusual obsession, perhaps, but surely I'm not the only badger collector out there. And, darn it, we are worthy of a word!

My personal badger collection includes several plush toys – even a coveted Steiff. This might, if we're very, very liberal with the definition, allow badger collecting to exist as a subset of genus arctophilia (teddy bear collecting). But my passion isn't limited to fabric toys. I have many painted and printed badgers, carved stone badgers, ceramic, glass, and even pewter badgers – art, mugs, plates, pins, earrings – not teddy bears by any stretch of the imagination. It would appear I'm going to have to create my own word.

Just a few of many gems from my badger collection: a snugly plush 'Jellycat' badger, a Wedgwood "I Spy" plate, two carved Zuni badger fetishes, and a sleeping badger painted rock.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term arctophilia or arctophilist is taken from the Greek words 'arcto' (bear) and 'philos' (loving). Makes perfect sense as a teddy bear collector's handle. Looking to my list of collective nouns, I believe I've found the ideal starting point for my new word. A group of badgers is called a 'cete', from the Middle English word for a badger's den (sett) with roots in the Latin 'cetus' or coming together. Combine 'cete' (group of badgers) with 'philos' (loving), and a badger collector becomes a cetephile or cetephilist. I like it! Cetephilist. A truly collectable word.

According to The Psychology of Collecting by Mark B. McKinley, "Everybody collects something." Sigmund Freud blamed our human propensity to collect on latent potty training issues. (Um... ew.) I choose to believe our human urge to collect comes from a combination of nostalgia and "ooh, pretty!" What do you think? Are you a collector?

My name is Cheryl and I'm a cetephilist.

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stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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