A Castle by the Sea

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In the wake of all that’s been happening in the world over the last week, the atrocities, the deluge of grief, anger and compassion, I was reminded yesterday of simpler times. I was reminded of the beauty that sits just down the road from me when my daughter asked us to go to Tjolöholms Julmarknad (Christmas market) at a nearby castle by Gothenburg’s archipelago.

As we strolled through the barns, I watched regular folk who had lovingly crafted their art; beautiful pendants made with glass, earrings and necklaces made from old silver cutlery, knitted garments, and baked goods made that morning. I watched little Swedish children scurry through the crowds, some crying because of this or that, some chasing their siblings, toddlers on their dad’s shoulders. Roasted almonds and cashews filled the air with sweetness outside where the frost was sparkling on the ground. IMG_8898

The old carriages that stood proud in another barn hooked me straight away. I imagined myself a hundred years ago stepping into one—stepping into history. For a writer, this is such a wonderful feeling. The seeds of a story get planted whether we want it or not.

Christmas lights festooned along the walkway toward the castle, and the cold breath puffing from our mouths as we weaved in and out of visitors, pulled us toward the grand castle that was once home to several distinguished families. A truly remarkable building.

Christmas music sounded in the air and people were happy. As I wandered the halls of Tjolöholm, I couldn’t help but imagine a child running through the corridor, playing hide and seek in days gone by. Petticoats and crinolines whooshed through my mind. I could almost touch them.

IMG_8932As we rounded the corner outside, heading toward the sea, the sunset met the arched bridge under which the carriages must have stopped all those years ago. It was magical.

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On our way out, we stopped in one of the barns for a little evening fika (snack), sipped on warm glögg (mulled wine), ate pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and Lussekatter (saffron bun) and always some julmust (Christmas pop), beloved by Swedes.

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Just three hours there, but it was enough to enchant me once again. It was enough to remind me that we need to enjoy simple moments. A grand castle perhaps, but what lay within its walls, was the ability to stir my mind into tiny stories that may one day make it into one of my books. It carried me into a time that I’ve always wanted to visit. It made me look at my family and appreciate a lovely Saturday outing with the people I love most in this world.

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Thoughts of a Hometown – London, Ontario

It was suggested to me recently that I write a post about my hometown of London, Ontario, Canada. My initial thought was how great a tie-in that would be to my book and how I could easily write about the city in which I grew up.

To my surprise, I found myself staring at a blank computer screen. How hard could it be to write about the place I learned how to ride a bicycle, tie my shoelaces, read and write, the place I started kindergarten and graduated from university, the place I made life-long friends, and the one whose waters welcomed me every morning for years as I rowed into the dawn and rowed out the sunset? How hard could it be?

Extraordinarily!

To combat my frustration, I decided to read some articles on the city that I knew as well as any native-Londoner. What I found surprised me. One blog that I thought was particularly charming was one about a mom raising her family in the city, appropriately called www.citymom.ca. I like this woman’s take on London. It’s positive, quirky and reminds me of all the things I like about my hometown. I’ll get to those a little later.

I browsed more sites, some that focused on the history of London, while others characterized it as a mini London, England with our Thames River and streets named Pall Mall, King, Talbot, not to mention a Stratford on Avon nearby – clearly in the hope of drawing some tourism to the city. To my delight, I came across an article that amused me with its honesty and straight-up view of London. London, Ontario: A Great Place to Live But I Wouldn’t Want to Visit. The feedback from readers was biting to say the least. Some accused the writer of not being proud of his hometown while others were simply defensive. A Dose of Buckley. 

Despite any criticism the article received, it made me think that we native Londoners, though proud of our heritage, have a tilted, not slanted by any means but a tilted view of our hometown. We see it from the inside out, whereas a visitor sees it from the outside in. We know what’s at the heart of our city. A London whose Thames River may not be as grand as the River Thames across the big pond, but it still has the ability to captivate. Its sprawling oaks, chatty mallards and ever-present Canada geese give life to the river. As Gillian points out in The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley,

I was wrong to imply the Canadian version of the Thames was anything but lovely. Imitation or not, it has its own charm, narrow and the color of jade with magnificent oak trees nearly clutching the opposite bank. The odd leaf has changed color, yellow, red. Soon there will be too many to count.”

It’s a green place that holds many enchanting memories for me, from our fun annual school picnics by the water, to the bellowing out of my megaphone as my crew crossed the finish line. Feeling our rowing shell glide through the mist in the early morning stole our breath for those few sacred moments, where nine people became like one.

As the article pointed out, London’s attractions may well be lacking, but to the people who live there, there is a sweetness that we find in familiar surroundings. Some may visit London and find it dull, but don’t we find joy and excitement in the people with whom we connect.

I have lived abroad for nearly as long as I lived in London. I remember what drove me to travel. Rowing played an important role in that self-discovery by taking me to new and exciting places. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave it was that I wanted to discover. Yet when I dissect every place I’ve been, at the heart, it is always the people that shape the experience into a positive one or not.

London, Ontario, fondly known as The Forest City, may not have much to set itself apart from most Canadian cities, but there are ties that will continue to pull me back — friends and family. It remains a very good city to raise children. Despite its nearly 400,000 people, it remains a small university town in the middle of corn country. It grows the tastiest peaches on the planet, and has just about more snow than the North Pole coupled with blistering hot summers. It is a town of star-makers, (Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Kate Nelligan, Victor Garber, Eric Lindros, among others) and dreamers, of hard workers and nurturers. It is a town where you learn to drive in blizzards and ice storms and deal with it. When you’ve cleared your driveway, you offer to help out a neighbour do theirs.

It is a town that sprawls into suburbia hosting numerous malls and plazas. The city skyline is pretty from the forks of the Thames, and it’s always a joy to see the sky sprinkled in hot-air balloons every August when London hosts an International Hot-Air Balloon Festival.

So why was I compelled to include this city in my novel? Isn’t it the goal of every writer to touch the hearts of their readers? If London, Ontario played an important role in my life, and I could see the beauty in the things that come only to a native of a town, then maybe just maybe it would touch the hearts of my readers.

What do you like about your hometown? Feel free to leave a comment.

Photo References: London’s SkylineMiddlesex College, University of Western Ontario, London’s Old Court House,

Where is Home?

For years, I’ve been trying to define what home is and where it is. The question, “where do you come from?” hit an all-time high when I was living in the US. As several of my posts have touched on the subject, I thought it warranted a TedTalks presentation – one that is so eloquently expressed, it took away any confusion I thought I had. Pico Iyer says it beautifully. “Where you come from is becoming much less important that where you’re going.”

Please click on this link for a lovely way to look at home when you live abroad.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m6dV7Xo3Vc