Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ting Ting

It is the strangest thing. I have started writing this post at least six times, and each time I have ended up hitting the delete key. I just can't seem to find words big enough to fit what I have to say. I have put my heart and soul into something, something that has been a dream for as long as I can remember, and that dream has finally come true. 

I grew up a reader. I devoured books - books from the library, books purchased through our school's Arrow Book Club (I was allowed $5 an order, and back then that would buy quite a few books), along with the Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon books I would get as birthday and Christmas gifts. 

Then while homeschooling, my kids and I were immersed in a world of books. If you asked any one of them what their fondest memory of homeschooling is, I have no doubt they would tell you the hours we spent reading together. We laughed and cried our way through so many wonderful stories, stories that have left their mark on each of us. (Note: my children would be quick to point out I was the one doing most of the crying, but I will save that story for another post.) "Just one more chapter, please..." was heard on many an occasion.

For a very long time I have wanted to write a book. I wanted it to be the kind of book my kids and I liked to read on cold winter days when the snow was gently falling outside, and we were all cuddled up together on the couch, lost in the words of a good story. I wanted it to be the kind of book that would elicit that phrase that was the highest praise my kids could bestow on a story. "Just one more chapter, please..."

I'm both excited and terrified to announce I have actually done it. I have written a book, and it is going to be published. Soon. Very soon in fact. I spoke with the publisher yesterday and it should be available for purchase in early October.

 Introducing Ting Ting.

The book is being published by Sono Nis, and I have enjoyed every moment of working with the owner, Diane Morriss. She has been wonderful about walking this rookie author through the often confusing world of book publishing.

From the publisher's web page:

Ting Ting
Eight-year-old Ting misses her parents, but her comfortable life in China hasn’t changed too much since they both went away to Canada. She’s living with loving relatives who care for her like their own child (even though her cousin is so annoying!). She goes to the same school with the same classes, including boring history and loads of homework. She has the same friends and the same favourites: hawthorn-berry candy and sticky taffy, outings to the park, visits with her grandfather in the country. If only she could be with her parents, life would be perfect!
When Ting is reunited with her parents, it’s not what she hoped for. After the Tiananmen Square disaster, the Chinese government has become suspicious of all students. It isn’t safe for Ting’s parents to come home, so Ting must travel to Canada to be with them. In a matter of days, her whole life is turned upside down. She’s living in a strange country in a tiny, bare apartment, and she sleeps on an old sofa. She doesn’t understand a word at school. Everything is new and puzzling and just plain difficult. She’s even teased about the affectionate name her family calls her: Ting Ting.
But Ting is brave and hardworking and soon graduates from the English-learners’ class. She discovers new favourites: doughnuts, hockey and the red-haired Anne in the book her teacher is reading. She makes a friend and sees a glimmer of hope: to finally belong in this new country a world away from China. But how can she make her parents understand?
Kristie Hammond has crafted a heartwarming tale of a young Chinese immigrant’s step-by-step entry into a new country and new life. Her character’s plucky determination will inspire new and old Canadians alike!

JUVENILE FICTION • Ages 8+ • 208 pp • 5.25 x 7.75 ISBN 978-1-55039-210-4 • paper • $9.95

If you follow this link you will see a "Notify Me" button. If you are interested in ordering a copy you can submit your email and Sono Nis will let you know when the book has been released into the wild. If you order directly from the publisher shipping in Canada and the US is free. Details on ordering from overseas should be available shortly. The book will also be available from 

There's a whole "story behind the story" and I will talk about that in a future post. Also, if you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comment section. 

I would like to close by saying that although the book is classified as juvenile fiction, it truly is a story for all ages. I think that adults will find this story every bit as enjoyable as children, and perhaps even more so. I think C.S. Lewis is right.

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally - and often far more - worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

Now I am going to take a deep breath and hit the "Publish" button. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Few Duds

I am completely overwhelmed by the kind comments you left on my last post. I am struggling to know what to say that would convey how much it meant to me to see so many people leave comments, and how helpful and encouraging those comments were. Thank you all so much!

I thought in light of my worrying about blogging about all the great things about our new home, and how that might sound like I was bragging, I would do a post about some of the things here that aren't so spectacular.

Dud # 1

The first day I drove out to the blueberry farm I saw a sign for a local winery. I decided to stop by and see what they had to offer. I mean, how great was this - fresh blueberries and wine all within a few kilometres of my front door! As I walked into the small shop, which was really just a room in an old shed, I was overcome by a smell I hadn't encountered since being in Jay's aunt's basement a number of years ago. Trust me, this is not a smell I wanted to ever encounter again, especially since the source of it was a rat infestation.

It wasn't just the smell that was off-putting. The bottles of wine were all labelled "Grapes Wine." I was puzzled by the addition of the "s" at the end of grape until I heard the owner trying to help the other unfortunate customers. She had an Eastern European accent that was very hard to understand, and the customers she was helping were Chinese. It was fascinating to observe. I don't think a single word was understood by either party, but in the end the Chinese family managed to walk out with a couple bottles of Grapes Wine.

I wasn't in the market for Grapes Wine though. I was looking for a nice fruit wine, and the lady told me she would have some in a couple weeks. So two weeks later, and with an adjustment downward in my expectations, I returned. The minute I entered the room she was motioning me over for a sample. Not good. I am really, really picky about what I drink from, and here was this lady pulling out a rather sketchy looking glass and pouring some even sketchier looking wine into it, with the vague smell of rats lingering in the background. There was no gracious way to say no, and even if there was there was the small problem of the language barrier so I wouldn't have been understood anyway. I drank the sample. For a full two weeks I kept waiting to come down with some rare disease.

The wine itself is hard to accurately describe. Aged vinegar would cover some of its characteristics, but there was a hint of some other mysterious flavour there as well. Hopefully it had nothing to do with rats. In case you're wondering, yes I did buy a bottle. I felt sorry for her. It was, of course, undrinkable. For a few brief moments I considered mixing it with some olive oil to make an oil and vinegar salad dressing, but there was that little issue of the unidentified flavour...the contents went down the kitchen drain.

Dud # 2

Just outside a small community near us is an ice cream factory. I love finding local sources of food, so imagine how excited I was to discover I could contribute to the local food economy by eating ice cream! There is an ice cream stand in front of the factory, and I was impressed by all the flavours they offered. I asked the lady if it was possible to by a container of the ice cream rather than a cone and she told me it was only available in large pails. A large pail sounded perfect, so I asked what flavours she had. She told me chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I thought it a bit odd given all the flavours they were offering in cones, but I was determined to do my bit for the local food economy even if the choices were rather limited.

When she handed me the pail I was shocked. It wasn't the brand of ice cream they were selling at the stand. It was one of those budget, super junkie ice creams full of unpronounceable mystery ingredients. Reading the long list was like prepping for a chemistry exam. This is the part where you would expect me to tell you I walked away empty-handed, and I really should have. But I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn't want it. And here's the worst thing about the whole story. That ice cream is now gone, and it didn't go down the kitchen drain. Jay and I ate every spoonful of the junky stuff. I still feel a great sense of shame every time I think about it.

Dud # 3

The final dud would be me for writing a post titled Four Generations and completely forgetting to put a picture of the four generations in the post. I blame it on all those chemicals I ingested eating that ice cream. Or worse, it could be the early onset of the disease I have been waiting to be struck down with since I drank that wine sample. So here, better late than never, is a picture of four generations of Hammonds.

I have a big, BIG announcement to make on my blog, and I am hoping to have all the details by the time I write my next post. Any guesses?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Four Generations

My mom came up to visit last week. It sounds simple when I write it out like that, but it was actually quite an adventure. It involved a flight, a road trip and an hour and a half wait at the border. I'm sure part of the reason she came was to see our new home, but I doubt she would have endured all of that if there wasn't something way more enticing waiting for her North of 49. Another couple hours of driving and a ferry ride later she got to meet her first great grandchild, and I am sure she would tell you it was more than worth the effort.

My mom wasn't the only one who got to meet Lucy. Kellen and Anita and Alexandra were also there. There will be no shortage of aunts and uncles in Lucy's life. I'm pretty sure this means there will also be no shortage of loud, obnoxious birthday and Christmas presents. I hope all her aunts and uncles remember that what goes around comes back around.

I finished the Babies and Bears sweater for Lucy the day before we went to visit. I started it the day Lucy was born, but ran into a few problems along the way. Well, more like one problem. Stupidity. The day I cast on David phoned and I got distracted while talking to him and made a mistake. I was only about four rows into the sweater so ripped it out and started again. It seemed easier than fixing the error. The question here is why was I talking on the phone and knitting at the same time, especially since it isn't a hands-free phone?

Attempt number two was going along quite well, at least for the first bit. I was about three inches into the sleeve (and let's face it, three inches on a baby sweater is almost the whole sleeve), when I started to have this feeling every time I looked at it that it might be a tiny bit too big. Of course, I totally ignored that feeling for another inch. By this time I was starting to get a queasy feeling when I looked at it, a feeling all knitters will recognize. It's the one where you know something is very seriously wrong but you aren't ready to face it quite yet, so you knit a few more rows. Well, I knit a few more until this sudden, horrifying thought occurred to me. "I think my arm would fit in there!"

It took a lot of courage to actually put my arm into the sleeve of the baby sweater for my newborn granddaughter. Once I did I was faced with a choice. Rip it out and start again, or continue on and make myself a cardigan. (Yes, my arm really did fit into the sleeve.) I started for the third time on much smaller needles and this was the result.

I especially love the buttons!

There's one final thing I would like to say before I end this post. Over the past couple of weeks I have lost two followers of my blog. I have on occasion lost followers before, but not often, and not within such a short time. I very much appreciate all of my followers and readers. Some of you have been reading North of 49 since the start, and some of you have more recently found your way here. The thing about losing followers is you are never quite sure why they left. I have wondered if my posts about our move, and Lucy, and the new things in my life like my kayak have come across as bragging. That certainly hasn't been my intent.

The past two years have been extremely difficult, and I am trying to focus on the good things around me as I work on recovering. I have shared about some of the awfulness of the last two years here on the blog - the sudden death of my dad nine days before Rebekah's wedding, Rebekah getting sick at her wedding and having to leave, and the return of Alexandra's kidney disease after her being in remission for ten years. And there have been other very difficult things that have happened that I have chosen not to blog about. The cottage, the mountains, the lake, the forest trails, the kayak, the things I have been writing about since we moved- these are my prescription for healing.

Some day I might share our whole story here. I have been playing around with the idea of having Memoir Mondays on my blog, where I would tell our family's story in weekly instalments. I would love to hear your feedback on this idea. If it is something you would be interested in please let me know, and if it is not what you want to read when you come here I need to know that too. The last thing I want to do is lose more followers!

I read something Sarah at Down By The Sea wrote today that perfectly expresses how I feel.

"Money can't buy the things I appreciate most - family, friendship, blogging and appreciating the beautiful things around me. It's the simple things that make my heart sing."

Riding the ferry to and from Vancouver Island is definitely one of "the beautiful things around me."


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Kayaks

As you might have guessed from my blog header, I now have a kayak. In fact, I have two kayaks. I decided that it would be nice to have two for when the kids come to visit. It has already proven to be a great plan. David came for the weekend right after I bought the kayaks, so he came out with Jay and me to give them a test paddle.

In case you are wondering how someone without arms manages to paddle a kayak, have a close look at the picture on the bottom left. David has worked out a system where he holds the paddle in the crook of his arms and rotates the paddle from side to side from that position. It takes a lot more work to do it that way, but then that's how it is with most of the things David does. This probably explains why he consumes so much food!

Jay had never been in a kayak before, but David and I managed to get him launched. Jay is a fisheries biologist and has spent a lot of time on the water, but all of that time has been in boats where there was a little more distance between him and the lake. I don't think he will be a frequent paddler.

Then Rebekah came to visit. We managed to walk Teapot Hill and go kayaking all in the same day.

Next up were Jay's sister Maureen and her husband Robert. They came over from Vancouver Island to stay with us for a couple of days, and brought their kayaks with them so all four of us could go out together. It's okay to laugh. We look pretty ridiculous.

Kayaking is a lot of fun. Putting the kayaks on top of the vehicle, then taking them off at the lake, then doing that all over again when it's time to come home isn't. In knitterly terms the kayaking itself is like knitting a beautiful project. Loading and unloading them is like sewing up the seams once the knitting is done. Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating, a friend of mine just bought a couple of sea kayaks and she told me if she and her husband didn't come up with a better system for getting those things on and off their truck their marriage might not last.

My kayak - the mango coloured one in the blog header - is a Wilderness Systems Pongo 120. I needed a kayak that was light enough I could get it on and off my vehicle on my own if I wanted to go out on a regular basis. I didn't need something as long as a sea kayak, but also didn't want a short kayak like the kind used on rivers. I wanted something very stable. The Pongo 120 is what is classified as a recreational kayak, and was exactly what I was looking for.

It has been a dream of mine for a long time to have a kayak. There is something so incredibly peaceful and restorative about being out on the lake, paddling along, enjoying the scenery, the gentle sound of water splashing against the boat, and the smell of woodsmoke wafting across the water from the nearby campsites. Here is a glimpse of the view Rebekah and I enjoyed the day we went out. That's Mt. Cheam in the distance.

Can you tell how happy I am?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blueberries, Both Edible and Knitable

Within three days of arriving at Cultus Lake I had discovered my first local food source, and I have to say it has been quite the find! Just six kilometres south of us, along a narrow country road, is a U-Pick blueberry farm. This isn't just any old U-Pick. It is a no spray farm located in the most beautiful setting you could imagine, operated by incredibly friendly people.

The bushes are loaded with huge, juicy berries. It takes me about fifteen minutes to pick six or seven pounds, and I don't have to move more than a few feet as I pick.

Rebekah went out with me last week, and in no time at all we had picked twenty-three pounds!

As I sat on the porch one evening last week kitchener stitching the toe of a sock together, I suddenly realized something. The socks were the exact colours of the blueberry patch I had been frequenting. This is where it turns out it is a good thing the blueberry farmers are friendly. The next day when I went out to pick berries I took my socks with me. I asked if it would be okay for me to do a photo shoot in the blueberry field. I'm quite sure it was the strangest request they have had all summer. Or maybe in their entire lives.

The socks were knit using Rowan's new sock yarn, Fine Art. It is lovely yarn. Possibly too lovely for socks. By the time I finished this pair I had come to the conclusion that it would have been better suited for a scarf or shawl. It is soft and silky, and it seems a shame to waste all that goodness on smelly old feet.

Rowan Fine Art Colour 305 Kingfisher
The view from the backyard of the blueberry farmers' house shows you why I almost had to change the name of this blog from North of 49 after we moved here.

See that line cut through the trees on the mountain behind their yard? That's the Canada/US border.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lovable Lucy

Friday was a grey and rainy day - the first such in over a month. As Rebekah and I waited to board the ferry to Victoria you could see the disappointment on the faces of the tourists around us. For Rebekah and me the rain made absolutely no difference because the attraction we were going to see wasn't a beach, or killer whales or a fancy garden. We were headed to Vancouver Island to meet baby Lucy! Here is a glimpse of our weekend in pictures.

Diana already has this mothering thing down to a fine art. If I had tried to put that wrap on with Lucy in it we would have ended up looking like a pretzel.

Karsten has taken a couple weeks off work to spend some time getting to know his new daughter, and to help out Diana. Can't you almost feel the love oozing out of that picture? My son is smitten. And I must say, having four younger siblings has its benefits. He is very good at changing diapers.

Lucy's arrival gave Rebekah a new designation - that of aunt. She looks pretty pleased to hold both the title and the baby.

It was fun having Diana's mom Jin Ping over. The last time I saw her was in 2009 when we were traveling in China together. 

This was an awesome moment. Lucy had just spat up all down the front of Karsten's shirt.

Thanks to the cold weather Lucy was able to wear the Baby Surprise jacket I made for her.

Jin Ping had brought over some of the cutest outfits from China. We laughed over the fact the pants all had slits in the bottoms.

Here's Lucy in one of the outfits my mom got her. My mom had lots of fun in the months leading up to Lucy's birth shopping for baby things. 

I would show you more pictures, but for some reason Blogger won't let me upload any more onto this blog post. They must know that proud new grandmas can get a bit carried away and have some kind of limit. No worries though. I am headed back to Victoria in a week and a half with my mom, so there will be more Lucy pictures soon. And I know every grandparent probably says this about their grandchild, but she really is the cutest baby ever. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Teapot Hill

About five minutes from our cottage there is a trail in Cultus Lake Provincial Park called Teapot Hill. The name originated in the 1940s when a logger found a teapot there, and over the years since then hikers have been adding more teapots. There was a tempest in those teapots this year when the parks people decided they were a hazard, and cleared many of them out.

I have hiked the five kilometre trail multiple times already, and not just because of the name. There are a couple of fairly steep sections, and I am trying to get into better shape before Kath and I go walking in Wales this September.

Most of the trail is quite dark, winding through rather tall, mossy trees, with bits of light filtering through. I love being surrounded by so much green, and every time I hike the trail it looks a bit different. (I am hoping this is due to the changing light, and not me being lost and actually being on a different trail.)

When you get to the top you can catch a glimpse of the lake down below.

My favourite part of the hike however is spotting teapots. In defiance of the anti-tea brigade from the parks department, hikers have been repopulating the trail with teapots. Some are easy to find, and others are fairly well hidden. These are the ones I have spotted so far.

Now I want to tell you about my last walk on Teapot Hill, and my almost last walk there. On Monday I had to go return something at a store in a nearby city. The trail is very popular and gets quite busy later in the day, so I decided to leave early and walk before I went to the store. I got there at 8:00, and with the exception of one lone hiker had the whole mountain to myself. At least that is what I thought at the time.

Then Wednesday I had to go into Vancouver to IKEA. I decided to do a repeat of Monday morning and hike the trail in the very early morning, then go do my shopping. The thing is, when I got up Wednesday morning I realized it wasn't a good plan. I simply didn't have the energy to face driving an hour and a half into Vancouver, shopping, and hiking all in the same day. On my way home I was surprised to see the parking lot for the trail blocked, with signs saying the trail was closed hanging from the yellow caution tape.

When Jay got home later I asked him if he noticed the trail was closed, and he said yes. He had heard on the radio driving home that there was an aggressive cougar on the trail, and the RCMP and conservation officers were trapping it. This is the part where my spine went all weak and I thought I might pass out. Had I stuck with my original plan I could very easily have been the hiker the cougar went after! And maybe I wasn't as alone as I thought on Monday morning. That cougar could have been eyeing me as I walked along scanning the forest for more teapots.

I feel like I had a very close call. My walking stick is going to be my new best friend when I walk that trail, and all future early morning walks have been cancelled. And I must admit that as much as I love my tea, the whole thing has left me feeling in need of something a bit stronger in the way of drink. My spine is still tingling.