Tag: Butchart Gardens

Good Will – Take Three

Christmas is almost here. Have you done your baking, shopping, wrapping, cleaning? All those Christmas chores threaten to rob the holiday of its true meaning. I hope this little collection of “good will” stories helps you to remember “the reason for the season.” 

Story One:  While hustling out of the rain the other day I went to enter a narrow doorway, with a triangular step. Not the easiest of entries but no a problem for me. I’m quite able. However, an elderly gentleman stood in the rain to hold the door for me. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have put him to the trouble, I mumbled thank you. “My pleasure,” he said, with such genuine warmth that I believed he enjoyed performing that small service. I went on my way with a Christmas glow in my heart.

Story Two:  While standing in the check-out line of my local grocery the clerk and I were exchanging stories of political correctness run amok. Every year it seems, Christmas is the victim of some outrageous slander — like declaring “White Christmas” racist.  The white is about snow, people.   Anyway, I shifted the conversation by explaining about this blog and my collection of good will stories. Three people cheered and one asked for the URL of my blog. So, lady in Fairway checkout, if you’re here, Merry Christmas, and thanks for making my day.

Story Three:  this incident was perhaps more an accident than an act of good will, but it made me happy, so I’ll include it anyway. My husband and I were touring the Butchart Gardens to look at the lights. They are absolutely stunning! In one window was an installation of a toy train, with mountains and tunnels and a curling rink and a carousel. I was trying to take a picture when a young lad, so overcome with excitement jumped in front of my camera. Another little girl was fascinated by the toy merry-go-round so I asked if she’d ridden the real one in another part of the Gardens. Her eyes grew round as saucers. “Can I?” She vibrated with excitement. We all shared a moment of Christmas cheer. Thank you, generous parents, who allowed strangers to share in their children’s wonder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of good will stories. I’ve been delighted to read the ones you contributed in the comments section. Please keep them coming.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas. May you know peace and good will throughout the season and in the new year.

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Where Do Ideas Come From?

At some point in her career, every writer is asked “where do you get your ideas?” There are many answers, but I found a source for new story ideas at a concert at the Butchart Gardens last week.  One of the blessings of living in my part of the world is the live music hosted at the Gardens every night in the summer, or as one entertainer put it, “the best smelling concert venue in all of Canada.”  On this particular night, I heard Tiller’s Folly.  They are a B.C trio that now bills itself as “acoustic roots music.”

I went to hear them because I like Celtic music and that is part of their repertoire, but I heard much more than that. I got a lesson on Canadian and, more specifically, British Columbian history.  Tales of rum runners, and ghosts and explorers, and whales and miners and lumberjacks.

This group has done its research and brought history alive through story and song. I’m pleased to report they visit schools in our province so children are learning the history behind the names on streets, and mountain tops and waterways.

As a writer of historical romance, I was inspired. They told no tales of women on the pirate ships, but what if there were?  What if a woman joined a river exploration?  What if a woman tended a lighthouse?

If you are a writer, stuck for an idea, I’d suggest you listen to, or read the lyrics, of folk singers, or country and western singers, or opera singers. The music is full of tales of derring-do, of battles won and lost, of mighty men and inspiring women.  Sometimes they tell of small things, of a man and a woman and how they find love, of a family that loses its way, of a dream lost and found.

So, next time I’m stuck for a story idea, I’ll look up some songs by Tiller’s Folly. I’m sure I’ll be inspired.

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Point of View

As mentioned last week, my blog has been the victim of a hacker.  The site is now rebuilt and is clean.   Google still flags it as hacked, but it is now safe.  We’re in the process of getting Google to verify and take down their warning.

 

I went for a walk through the Butchart Gardens with a young relative recently.  It was a lesson in point of view.  Things I thought were significant, like the totem poles, received a ho-hum from the four year old, but a very sleepy bee warranted five minutes study.  We met another very short person and engaged in an exchange of teddy-bear touching.  There was a BIG dog, very friendly, and on a leash, but my little charge kept her fingers tightly curled into her palms when invited to meet it.  When the dog is at knee-level it’s beautiful and well-behaved.  When you’re face to face, it’s another perspective altogether.

There was a stroller in our company, so we took paths that avoided steps. Another point of view for me.  I’m apt to take the wide path that includes a long staircase into the sunken garden.  Taking the graduated route brought me to a knot garden I’d never seen before.  There were little pockets of crocus and snowdrops hiding in concealed corners of the road less travelled.  Every trip to the gardens requires that someone sit on the brass pony.  I can pretty much step over it, but the four-year old needed a boost and then her feet didn’t reach the stirrups.  Sitting on the pony became a big deal.  Even mounting a giraffe on the carousel required a lot of lifting and clambering before she was safely in the saddle.  It’s been years since I’ve ridden the carousel and I’d forgotten how fast it turns.  If I had to hang on tight, the little one needed to cling with fingers and toes and knees.  When we got off, I felt dizzy.  She had no problem and declared her intention to race me to the next tree.  I declined but congratulated her on her fleetness of foot.

We looked at maps every now and again and my companion sussed out the ice cream bar on the first perusal. The previous week it had been closed so I cheerfully promised an ice cream cone if the stand was open.  It was!  I paid up and had one for myself as well.

We went through the greenhouse because I thought she’d like the flowers. Wrong.  She did however, enjoy the gold fish.

We talk a lot in writing circles about point-of-view, getting inside your character’s head, writing only what the character can experience. It’s good advice.  My adventure with a chattering four year old was a perfect example.

I’ve just finished a book by a well-known contemporary author that was written entirely in the omniscient view point, surprising, since that style is now considered old-fashioned and remote. The writer is skilled at her craft, so I was engaged with the characters and their story, but all the while I kept thinking I was reading a set-up and that the real story would begin after the characters were introduced.  Didn’t happen.

Another lesson in point-of-view. The technique has the advantage of letting the author tell the reader about things the character’s cannot know but which are important to the story, but it distances the reader from the characters.  Instead of being inside the story, I felt like a hovering presence looking down on a stage. I was an observer rather than a participant in the drama.

I love going to workshops and learning about the craft of writing, but nothing takes the place of real-life experiences. I’ll never again walk in the Butchart Gardens without being aware that my point-of-view is not universal.  I might try getting down on my knees to see what the world looks like from there.

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Christmas Short Story

I’m getting into the Christmas mood with some of my favourite things.  I’ve put up my nativity set and my Christmas village.  Last night we visited the Butchart Gardens to view the Christmas lights.  They do a wonderful job.  It’s like walking through fairyland.  Pictures can’t do it justice, but here’s one as a sample.

One of my other favourite things is Christmas stories.  I love to read them and I love to write them.  I was delighted to note that my collection of stories The Man Who Loved Christmas reached #3 on Amazon US, best seller list for Kindle short reads, Literature and Fiction.  How exciting is that?  The book is available in many formats.  To download your copy go to my book page and chose the one that’s best for you.

And speaking of Christmas stories, I have a new one.  Below is a sample.  To read the full story, please subscribe to my newsletter here

 

 

 

Joy Comes in the Morning

By

Alice Valdal

 

Go away, go away, go away.

Children’s voices, piping Christmas carols grew louder as the parade of choristers came nearer. Peggy O’Dell flattened herself against the wall of the darkened parlour not trusting the lace curtain to conceal her presence. Lace! What was wrong with good, sturdy cotton, like the ones she’d had in her own prairie home? Red and yellow roses, they were, against a creamy background. Real cotton too, that she’d ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue. No rough flour sacks for the O’Dell family.

Joy to the World!

She flinched. Her heart cramped at the sound of children’s voices any day. On Christmas Eve the pain was unbearable.

And Heaven and nature sing.

She left the window to huddle behind the sofa, alone in the dark, sick with sorrow.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but was more likely minutes, she heard the carollers scamper down the snow packed board walk. Their music and laughter faded into the night. She crept to the window and chanced a peek outside. Falling snow capped the horse trough and hitching posts with pointed hats of white, and turned everyday objects into mysterious, soft shapes. Peggy pressed her hands to her heart. Bessie and Tommy had loved the fresh snow, dashing outside to make snow angels then coming in to drip snow puddles from their boots and woollen scarves. She’d scolded them for marring her fresh-waxed floors.

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Common Senses

It is spring in my part of the world.  What better time to fill the well with a visit to Butchart Gardens?

The stars of the garden, tulips, blossoming trees, daffodils, are so brilliant it would be easy to just stand and stare at them and then go home.

But I was on a mission.  I wanted to note details, I wanted to find the hidden gem.  Like this camellia leaning over a stream, or the white mayflower at right or this pink dog tooth violet hiding under a rhododendron.

I wanted to use all my senses.  Sight is a no brainer and the scent of hyacinth was  heavy as honey in the air.

Other perfumes were more subtle.  This heather, for example, has a faint peppery smell, and the star magnolia was reminiscent of vanilla.

I used my sense of hearing too.  This natural waterfall,  mostly hidden, played sweet music over the whole of the sunken garden.

In this secret pond a bullfrog croaked loud and long and in the Japanese garden a cultivated stream provided a soft sh..sh..sh to the shady bowers

I heard a bird chirp and found this little fellow preening himself.

Children’s  delighted squeals punctuated the silence.  They were hunting Easter rabbits.

I used touch, too.  Not on the flowers, thousands of fingers would soon crush the blossoms, but I stroked the soft, fibrous bark of this giant cedar and rubbed the smooth, polished snout of the garden boar.  Rubbing his nose is said to bring good luck.

I couldn’t taste the flowers “Please don’t eat the daisies” and all that, but taste and smell are so closely linked, you’ll note I described the scents in terms of taste — pepper, vanilla, honey.

My senses sated, my well filled to overflowing, I finished off my afternoon with one of my favourite tastes, café mocha in the coffee shop.  There I overheard this lovely snippet of conversation.

She:  When do the roses bloom?

He:  When love is in the air.

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