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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

mystery in my history...

I keep an antique chest beside my bed. It's small – only eight by twelve inches and five inches deep – and it's showing its age with bumps and scars. Even so, it's a real beauty, hand crafted from dark burled wood with mother-of-pearl inlay on the top and around the key hole. 

A hand lettered card glued inside the lid reads:

M. S. Gainfort
from I. Sawyer

I'll probably never know who I. Sawyer was. That detail is lost to the mists of time. But M. S. Gainfort was Margaret Susan, my maternal great-grandmother. I imagine she thought the beautifully polished box was a very fine gift. For me, though, the real treasures are the bits and pieces of history that dwell inside. Some of those bits and bobs have been puzzling me for a very long time. These, for instance... 

Puzzling bits and bobs. (Quarter included for scale.)

I remember how thrilling it was as a child to be allowed a peek inside that box. I loved the tiny boot with its secret compartment. What, I wondered, had the owner been able to hide in such a small space? A banded wood cylinder revealed another small hiding spot. Very odd. And what about the chunk of quartz? It looked like a stone I might find on the beach but... was that real, honest-to-goodness gold glistening on its surface? Most intriguing of all was the weird glass ball with numbers all around. Was there a Victorian era version of Dungeons and Dragons? Somehow I couldn't imagine great-grandma in the role of dungeon master.

Last week I peeked inside the box again and decided to do a bit of sleuthing. It's true what they say. You really can find everything on the Internet. Here's what I discovered...

My cute little boot with its secret compartment is probably a Georgian era snuff box. Snuff box collectors have pinned thousands of images at Pinterest, some of them incredibly ornate. Shoes were a popular shape and I spotted quite a few similar to this one. Mystery solved. (I'm left to wonder... who was the snuff user?)

I'd long suspected this little container may have held pencil leads. Research suggests I'm right. Some similar containers were large enough to hold a small mechanical pencil as well as spare leads.

Did I strike it rich or not? Alas, everything I found makes me think this is iron pyrite or fool's gold, not the real deal. Of course, the only way to be absolutely sure is to have it tested. I think I'll put it back in the box and let the dream live on.

Turns out this little Czechoslovakian crystal ball with its thirty-two numbered faces does exactly what you'd expect a crystal ball to do. It's a fortune teller. This was definitely a surprise and the best discovery of all, but I sure wish great-grandma had saved the instructions.

I managed to find a few photos of partial instruction sheets online and decided to give it a try. I chose "surprise" and rolled a nine. My fortune said:

"An old bag or trunk holds a hidden fortune for you."

Excuse me while I retrieve that hunk of quartz with the solid gold veins. I think I'd better take it to the bank.

Subscribe to stillpoint – You'll receive email notification when a new blog is posted, no more than once a week and absolutely no spam, I promise!

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Guest Post: a day in Venice...

One of the Big Things on my ever-growing retirement wish list is travel. Faraway places beckon: Cornwall, Paris, Maui... So many choices! No doubt I'll eventually drag myself out of the wishful/dreaming stage and take off. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my 'staycation' while feeding my wanderlust with the photos and journals of traveling friends. Here's Ian McCallum's tale of a day spent walking through Venice. Enjoy!

* * *

It is morning, a bright, sunny, cloudless morning. I take the bus from my hotel in Mestre to the bus terminal in Venice. Venice, ancient city of wood, brick and stone, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Byzantine styles, and there before me, a bridge, a bridge to the train station, a bridge by... Calatrava. Santiago Calatrava. A modern master! A clean curving arch of bronze, marble, glass and steel, its structure like a spine, metal intertwined, almost organic.

I cross.

I walk along the Grand Canal, its ancient stone borders wearing away from the waves produced by the constant traffic. 

The Grand Canal, loud, crowded, a mass of Gondolas, water taxis, boats of all descriptions, horns, bells, birds, a cacophony of sound reflecting off the centuries old structures. The path ends. I walk through the side streets. Stone paving, sometimes modern interlock, sometimes granite, worn, no longer even. The Doges walked these streets for over a thousand years. I have yet to see a street that runs straight for more than a few hundred feet. They twist, they turn, there is a maze of side passages, thoroughfares that may be twenty feet wide and lined with shops, to passages that are barely wide enough for two to pass. Sometimes they end, at a wall, at a canal, I must retrace my steps. 

I turn a corner, a piazza, at the end, a church, crumbling, the limestone and marble details blurred, sometimes indiscernible, I enter, there are carved marble columns in every style imaginable, in every colour, in every variety. The walls, the ceilings covered in frescoes, icons, statuary, relics everywhere. I go on. 

I walk along a narrow passage, at the end stairs, rising to the left, at an angle, straight ahead, a wall. I climb the stairs, over a canal, and down the other side to another alley, they do not line up, the stairs connect the ancient passageways. 

Another corner, the Rialto Bridge. The oldest bridge over the canal. First built of wood in 1181 it was reconstructed over the years. The present bridge, stone, built in 1591 has a central pediment at the peak of the arch, two lines of shops with a central passageway, and passageways on either side. I pause for the obligatory pictures.

Continuing on, more twists, more turns. Churches, monuments, homes, shops, never knowing what is around the next corner, the next bend. Sometimes a vista across the Grand Canal bathed in sunlight, the temperature in the 30s (90s), sometimes in a narrow passageway, cool, damp, encased by decaying brick, the only light from the clear blue sky glimpsed above the walls 3, 4, 5 stories tall.

Church bells.

Close by.

In the distance.

It is Sunday.

Everywhere, church bells.

Another turn, a tree filled park, birds chirping, once again alongside the Grand Canal. It is bordered by a large building and beyond, rising over the rooftops, the Campanile, icon of Piazza San Marco. At the entrance to the Square, two columns, in honour of St Mark and St Theodoro, patrons of the city. To the right The Doges Palace, beyond, St Mark's Basilica, straight ahead The Clock Tower. the square is a seething mass of humanity... and pigeons! I walk beyond the clock tower. A somewhat narrow street, lined with shops, rays of sunlight descend from above. In the distance, singing, chanting. A religious group walking through the streets. I move on.

I walk. I walk through more narrow corridors. Past more churches. Through many squares. I walk along a sun drenched street. It is interrupted by a canal. A narrow canal. Sunlit. Gondolas. Gondoliers singing, accompanied by accordions.

I am walking alongside a canal. Three, four story buildings line the street. In one, a passageway. Outstretched arms can almost touch the walls. Raised hand can almost touch the ceiling. The walls dark, damp brick. Embedded in one wall two columns, a beam. Wood. Rough. Lightly dusted with the white hairs of fungi. On the wall a sign… The Gheto.

The Ghetto?

I discover that 'gheto' is a Venetian word adopted into English.

I walk in.

Narrow passageway.

Long, narrow passageway.

It opens to a small square.

On one side, a Synagogue. On the opposite side another. The other sides are residential buildings. Tall buildings. Many floors. The ceiling heights are lower than most. A lot of humanity in little space. There is a memorial on one Synagogue wall. I continue on. A larger square. Sunlit. Open. A tree in the centre. On the far side wall I see bronze plaques. The wall is brick, old brick, there are doors, they are steel, old steel, heavy steel. On top of the wall, wire, rows of wire, barbed wire. 

The plaques? A memorial. To the holocaust, to the memory of those who were sent out from The Ghetto. In the square, near the memorial, a large booth, a manned booth, by the police, 24/7, because... in this day and age... they are needed... to protect those who live, those who live in The Ghetto.

I leave.

I walk to the Calatrava bridge.

The sun sets.

Ian A McCallum is a Canadian horticulturalist, educator, and enthusiastic world traveler. Find him on Facebook

All photos ©Ian A McCallum, used with permission.

Subscribe to stillpointYou'll receive email notification when a new blog is posted, no more than once a week and absolutely no spam, I promise!

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

animals of The Write Spot 3

This edition of The Write Spot is all about cats, dogs, raptors, chickens, and the memory of a very good horse.

"But wait," I hear you asking. "What's with all the critters? Isn't The Write Spot about the many and varied places where writers write?" 

Why, yes. Yes, it is. And I hope you've enjoyed meeting the twenty-four authors who've visited so far as much as I have. It's been great fun getting to know the talented women behind the books and I have more exciting guests lined up for the coming months. (Why not subscribe to stillpoint by email to be sure you'll never miss a post.)

Meanwhile, the cats, dogs, raptors, chickens, and horses are part of a celebration marking the first anniversary of The Write Spot. You see, beyond a mutual love of reading and writing, it soon became obvious that my author guests share with me a deep love and respect for animals. Some of us keep companion pets, others bring animals to life as story characters, while still others take inspiration from animal encounters in the wild. I invited everyone back to celebrate this common thread in our lives with a three-part series called Animals of The Write Spot. So far, we've met a Santa-loving Maine Coon cat, a Husky with one blue eye and one brown, a window-peeking mama duck, and many more! I've included links at the end of this post in case you missed them but first, please enjoy Animals of The Write Spot, Part Three:

This winsome lad with the gentle brown eyes is Nico, the nephew-dog of Canadian author Joanne Guidoccio.
Here's Nico's story as told by his Auntie Joanne:

"We’re getting a Rottweiler, part Shepherd." My heart sank at those words, but I couldn't say anything. It wasn't my house, and I wouldn't be taking care of the dog. Having spent most of my adult life in condos, I have lived the life of a pet owner vicariously through my brother Tony, who has owned dogs of different breeds. I especially liked Fanny, the beautiful poodle, who is no longer with us. As for the larger dogs, I tend to take distance.

I assumed that would be the case with Nico, who has grown to his full height and weight of 120 pounds. Definitely a force to be reckoned with and the best of guard dogs. I was pleasantly surprised...

Playtime with Zora, his Boston Terrier sister, can be loud and sometimes alarming to watch, but they are the best of friends and have lived amicably for almost ten years.

Nico has a gentle, respectful side. Often, I will find him at my side, watching and waiting to be acknowledged. When my mother was alive, he would position himself at the side of her wheelchair, quietly standing guard and appreciative of the food gifts she often bestowed. I marvel at his ability to plop himself down and rest, amid the bustling noise of a holiday get-together. A Zen dog? Visit Joanne Guidoccio's Write Spot.

Meet handsome Phil the palomino, out for a ride with a young Susan Fox – who hasn't changed a bit!

"I don't currently have a pet because our living and travel situation isn't appropriate for it. As a kid, I had a cat and then two great dogs, but the animals that have always held a special place in my heart are horses. Yes, I was the cliche horse-crazy girl. I took English riding lessons and also rode Western with my dad when we took family holidays. Here's one of the horses from back in those days – a gorgeous palomino gelding named Phil. I've been thrilled to use my love of horses in my Caribou Crossing Romances series from Kensington. It's amazing how childhood passions can linger into adulthood and have a significant impact." Visit Susan Fox's travelling Write Spot.

photo by Priscilla Iezzi
Author, falconer, and professional animal trainer Rebecca K. O'Connor says her office doubles as an animal overflow room. "If I'm raising a hawk, fostering a parrot, or have any other strays, they come join me in my office as my temporary muse. And of course, there are dog beds so that my Brittanny spaniels can stay close to the action." Check out Rebecca K. O'Connor's Write Spot.  

Meet Tiger Henry, the cat who adopted author Karen McCullough and her family. (This photo shows him snuggled up with Karen's youngest daughter.) Karen shared this touching story:

"A few years back (okay, quite a few), I noticed a cat hanging around our back yard. He was a rather average looking orange tabby except that he had a strange snaggle tooth that stuck out of the jaw. He was a quiet, gentle, sweet animal who loved cuddling up to people, and didn't seem to want to be anywhere else. My kids were already sneaking him dishes of milk behind my back, so I bowed to the inevitable. His timing was good. Our beloved dog had died a few months earlier at a venerable old age. We couldn't bear the thought of another dog so soon, but we were ripe for adoption by a sweet-natured cat.

"We learned a little later that Tiger Henry had belonged to a young man with serious disabilities. He'd gone into a home that didn't permit pets, so a neighbor several houses up the street had agreed to take him. They already had several cats, though, who didn't take kindly to the newcomer and ran him off. The neighbor was relieved and thrilled that we were willing to take care of Tiger Henry and had no problem with his previous owner coming to visit him occasionally." Lucky Tiger Henry! Visit Karen McCullough's Write Spot.

Banjo, Sydell Voeller's little boy tuxedo cat on the left and Nutmeg, the sleek female kitty on the right, are as different from each other as they can be – even though they came from the same cat shelter in Oregon. Banjo is a sweet little gentleman who likes to explore, but in a laid back way. Nutmeg loves to play and is as quick as a bolt of lightning.

While totally bonded to each other, they still have an occasional misunderstanding, especially over who gets to spend the most time with their human mom. While Sydell tries to keep things fair, the cats often have different ideas.  "This is almost like raising my two human kids all over again," Sydell says with a chuckle. Visit Sydell Voeller's Write Spot.

Author Tracey J. Lyons adores her chickens. "Now I know they are not the usual pet," she says, "but I take great comfort in listening to my hens clucking away in their coop. There's nothing more satisfying to me than collecting eggs from the hen house every day. What better pet can there be than one who actually gives you something in return for your love and affection?" (Very true, Tracey. I'm a chicken lover, too.) Visit Tracey J. Lyons' Write Spot.

Meet Gabby and Poppy, two appropriately named Labs who make their home with mystery author Cathy Ace. "Gabby has been with us for twelve and a half years, Poppy for ten and a half. When we got Gabby, we already had a yellow Lab named Howie and a black Lab named Winnie. Howie was a bit of a howler and Winnie a bit of a whiner. I should have known when I named Gabby that she'd turn out to be a very "talkative" dog who has many unique sounds (all of which I understand) and Poppy? Let's just say she's hardly ever still, never walks but runs or bounds... popping about the place like a bullet from a gun! It seems names matter whether for dogs, or characters in books." Visit Cathy Ace's Write Spot.

"Keesha and Mojo allow me to share a house with them, feed them, and cater to their every whim," says cozy mystery author Linda Wiken, aka Erika Chase. "If you live with a cat, you know what I mean. These two are the inspiration for Brie and Edam in A Killer Read; they have their own methods of 'editing' my work at the keyboard; and they offer unconditional approval." 

Linda also shared a photo of herself with her grand-dog, Khloe, taken at the ocean in Victoria, British Columbia – a spot Linda thinks is one of the most inspiring places in the world. (I agree!) Visit Linda Wiken's Write Spot.

Here with the last word (as usual), is my own mostly sweet but sometimes sarcastic Sam the Cat. He's been my faithful companion for fifteen years and, as you can see, he takes his job as my writing assistant very seriously. Did you know he named himself? Here's Sam's story.

Want more animals? Check out these lovelies!

Subscribe to stillpoint – You'll receive email notification when a new blog is posted, no more than once a week and absolutely no spam, I promise!

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Samcat takes over...

Cheryl here. I'm taking some vacation time this week  off to see a play at the Stratford Festival, visit some galleries, eat some lovely meals (washed down with some very good wine), and just generally catch up on my rest and relaxation. I've asked Sam, my faithful sidekick and bookshelf cat, to keep an eye on things here at stillpoint and maybe tell you a tale or two. Take it away, Sam, the blog is all yours. Be good!

Really? Isn't that just like a human? She not only leaves me home alone but expects me to do her entertaining, too. Hmph. Like that's ever going to happen. But I guess you can hang around if you want. As long as you're quiet. Just sit over there in the corner and try not to be annoying while I find something to do. 

Ahh, look at all these beautiful books. I like the way they smell, especially when I ... oops!

What? You know I did that on purpose, right? I mean, how else would a cat choose a book to read? But... yawn! This story is making me sleepy. And I don't like the way you've been reading over my shoulder. Get back to your corner!

Hmm... Herself seems to have left the iPad on my footstool. Maybe I'll look at some pictures...

My, what a handsome cat. Haven't I seen you in the movies? Was it Catsablanca? The Great Catsby? The Clawedfather? Yes, I'm sure that was it. 

Care to join me for a snifter of catnip?

Oh. Are you still here? Then I'm afraid we have a problem. You've seen too much. Before I can let you leave, I need you to make me a promise. Place your right paw over your heart and repeat after me: "Everything that happened when the cat was home alone will remain our little secret. Forever." Right? Right. 

And now I think it's time for you to go. 

Now I lay me down to sleep...

Shhh. (Close the door on your way out.)

Permalink: Sam takes over...

stillpoint is (usually) the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington, but this edition has been brought to you by Sam "the boss cat" Harrington. Meow.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

animals of The Write Spot 2

The Write Spot began in July of 2015 with a simple question: Where do writers write? Since then, I've had the pleasure of meeting two dozen talented authors who've generously invited us into their personal writing spaces and shared their stories. It's been great fun getting to know the women behind the books.

Beyond our mutual love of reading and writing, I've discovered we also share a deep love and respect for animals. Some of us share our homes with companion pets, others bring animals to life as story characters, while still others take inspiration from animal encounters in the wild. I've invited all twenty-four authors back to celebrate this common thread in our lives with a three-part anniversary series called Animals of The Write Spot. Part one featured a splendid batch of dogs, cats, and even a few pelicans! Click through if you missed it. But first, please enjoy Animals of The Write Spot, Part Two:

Meet Trooper and George, handsome grand-dogs of Canadian mystery author Brenda Chapman. (If there's an award for cutest ears ever, my vote goes to Trooper!)

Brenda says, "While I do not have a dog myself, I’m lucky to have two daughters who do. I’ve become the puppy-sitter, happily helping out now and then in my daughters’ busy lives. Lisa’s pup Trooper is a four-month old Corgi and I currently mind him two days a week. Julia’s dog George is mainly Maltese but I don’t see him as often since they both moved to Toronto last year. The two dogs have not had a chance to meet yet and I’m looking forward to the day!" Check out Brenda's lovely Write Spot.

Mystery author Sandra Carey Cody gets a bit misty-eyed when remembering the many pets her family has loved over the years. "They’re all special in their own way," she says, "and they’ve all added something special to our lives." Now that Sandy and her husband are empty nesters, this fierce beauty is the love of their lives. Missy is a rescued road-drop cat, who obviously considers herself a mighty hunter. (She's really a sweetie, not fierce at all!) Visit Sandra's Write Spot.

This gorgeous boy with the heart-melting eyes is Monty, who makes his home with author Louisa Treger. She says, "Monty lies on the floor of my study while I write, or under my desk; he is the sweetest and most undemanding of companions. Through his constant presence, he has become almost part of my creative process." See Monty in glorious colour and check out the awesome South African view from Louisa's Write Spot.

Meet Nixon, a sweet girl who's very lucky indeed to have mystery author Anne Cleeland as her grandma. Just look at that doggy birthday treat! Anne tells me Nixon was a very small puppy in a Mexican pet shop when her daughter Aidan rescued her, many years ago. Since Aidan was living in a dorm at the time, the doggie-grandma had to step up and take her in, and now that Aidan has her own family, they share custody. "Nixon is named after the surf wear company, not the former president," says Anne. "It’s a generational thing." Apparently Nixon never takes a good picture, because she always views the camera with extreme misgiving. (I know how you feel, Nixon.) Visit Anne's Write Spot.

Romance author Sheila Seabrook shares her spacious backyard in Alberta, Canada with an assortment of ducks, bunnies, moose, deer, and a cute wee chipmunk that races around the yard. Moose have been known to wander right up to her veranda and several deer show up (mostly at night) to munch on the cedars. This mama duck came to visit in the spring and stayed to build her nest. She seemed to enjoy peeking through the family room window – keeping an eye on her humans, I guess… or maybe wondering where writers write! Once mama's eight ducklings hatched, the little family paddled around Sheila's pond for a few days before moving on. "We have another duck that we think is sitting on a batch of eggs," says Sheila, "so hopefully we'll see more ducklings soon." Sheila was my first guest at The Write Spot.

Mystery author Vicki Delany travels a lot and doesn't have a pet right now – her beloved dog, Shenzi, passed away a few years ago. But Vicki's love for animals shines through in her writing. Whether it's Charles the opinionated library cat in the Lighthouse Library series (written as Eva Gates); Norman the hard-working RCMP tracker dog in the Constable Molly Smith mysteries; or Matty, the loveable St. Bernard puppy in the new Year-Round Christmas cozy series, Vicki writes about dogs with humor and compassion – and readers fall in love. That's Mattie, up to his puppy-style mischief under the Christmas tree on the cover of We Wish You a Murderous Christmas. Visit Vicki's Write Spot.

Kathye Quick sent me this photo of a handsome trio, named Webster, Duffy, and Peggy. The only trouble? Kathye is not an animal person. Don't worry, though, Webster is on the job.

"I certainly don't wish any ill will," says Kathye. "I'm just not willing to take care of any animals. Selfish, I know, but you have to give me points for honesty. As the gods would have it, all of my sons love animals and have several. I would politely pat each one on the head and go into another room when visiting. Then came Webster. He's the biggest dog in the picture. He followed me everywhere and slobbered on everything I owned, but for some reason I didn't mind. For some reason l could not resist his tongue-hanging-out greeting, folded ear, and doofy walk. Don't know why, but I like him. Maybe there is hope for me yet. Now, as the sign on my car proudly proclaims – I Love My Grand Dogs!  Visit Kathye's Write Spot.

Meet Sugar the Bichon Frise and her sidekick Vanilla the Cockapoo. Heidi Ashworth tells me these two sweeties are an integral part of her family. "Sugar keeps all of us on schedule, waking us up each morning with a shake of her collar. She comes to me when I am writing at my computer and nudges me in the thigh when it is time to pick up kids from school. She seems to know how everyone is feeling and is always on hand to lick tears from your face or to crawl into your lap. Vanilla's human is Sugar, which irritates Sugar to no end. Vanilla's job is to sleep by the side of my disabled son each night and to accompany me when I bring him his medicine each morning. She is a drama queen with big, floppy ears which she comically flings from side to side when she is nervous or excited. The two of them are much more fun than the sum of their parts and we are so lucky to be their humans."

Readers, did you spot the violin in that photo of Sugar? Talk about a talented dog! True, it only has one string, but Heidi says we ought to cut Sugar some slack because she's just a beginner. ;-) Visit Heidi's Regency-romantic Write Spot.

Oh, and my own dear Sam the Cat says you should be sure to come back for Animals of The Write Spot, Part Three… Watch for it here on August 17th.

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,