8/06/2018

Jacqui Nelson's North of the Border


North of the Border with Jacqui Nelson

What’s up in Canada, eh? How Canada inspires storytelling.

When asked to join Get Lost in a Story as part of their regular crew, I asked my myself: what should I do?

Then I had an ah-ha moment. I'd ask guests to share something Canadian that inspired or influenced them, their writing, or the stories they love. I'd call the guest blog series... North of the Border.

So here's my first North of the Border guest... me!

ALBERTA INSPIRATION

This August I’m taking a trip home to Alberta. From where I live in Victoria (on Canada's southwest coast) Alberta is a 14 hour and 1,177 km (730 mile) drive across British Columbia, over the Rocky Mountains to the prairies—to the farm where I grew up (just a few miles from Mayerthorpe, a town with a population of 1,500).

ALBERTA MEMORIES

For my first 18 years, I lived in one place. During the following decade, I lived in many places in Alberta, but I always returned to visit the farm regularly. Then I move farther away and visits became fewer. At one point, I hadn’t been back in 13 years.

But Alberta will always hold a special place in my heart. The land shaped me. I’m a mix of curious kid and nostalgic adult. My writing is a mix of imagination and memories.

WHAT DO I MISS & DON'T MISS ABOUT ALBERTA? 
  • I don’t miss epic swarms of mosquitoes and caterpillars. I remember running through the fields just to keep the mosquitoes off me. I remember a year where the caterpillars came in waves. Literally. A black swath of them flowed like a river over a road, looking for food. The trees held no leaves, so they crawled back across—minus many squished by the vehicles.  
  • I miss walking through the trees surrounding our house to visit "the hilltop." From there you could see the faint lights of nearby towns and often the northern lights. Alberta is a big province, but a lot of it is relatively flat land. Our farm was on a small hill. For a kid, that hill (and the world and sky over it) seemed huge and magical. 
  • I don’t miss the snowy winters that made driving treacherous. I remember going down our hill in a vehicle that went into a spin. We turned 360-degrees, came straight, and continued driving. We did it all while saying nothing, but I talked about it a lot afterward. 
  • I miss tobogganing down that snowy hill. Our dog ran alongside, trying to herd us. We were too fast to get nipped very hard, but sometimes our steering was wonky and we’d veer into the ditch. Once we hit the post of the barbed-wire fence. Fortunately, we never hit the wire. 
  • I don’t miss coming home from a warm destination vacation, leaving 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) for Alberta’s -25 C (-13 F). 
  • I miss the sights, sounds, and smells of the seasons: my footsteps crunching the snow; the first bud of green peeking through the white; the wind bending the tall summer grass like the swipe of a giant hand; the smell of summer berries and autumn leaves. 

I adored my familiar home on the farm, but I also loved finding oddities in the world beyond.  

One of my first vacations outside of Canada was a family trip to visit friends who raised cattle and Arabian horses in Alberta in the summer but lived in Arizona in the winter. That year instead of spending Christmas in a snowsuit, I swam in an outdoor pool and hiked in shorts. Santa wore shorts as well. I remember seeing a life-size cardboard Santa standing in a cactus garden. He wore colorful Bermuda shorts but also his traditional red hat. What a memory!

Thinking about Santa's red hat made me think of the too-tight, too-scratchy, too-bright-orange toque (Canadian word or universal?) I had as a kid. I don’t miss that knitted hat, but it made me ask...

What kind of a hat could I give the heroine in my story-in-progress: Robyn, a Christmas Bride (a follow-up to my Twelve Days of Christmas Mail-Order Brides novella, The Calling Birds)?

Just before Christmas 1877, Robyn Llewellyn (my red-haired, tomboy, wagon driver heroine) leaves her home in big city Denver in search of a makeover in the smaller mountain-high mining town of Noelle. She’s used to wearing trousers, but she gets a dress from Birdie Bell (my seamstress heroine from The Calling Birds) and then goes a step further—seeking advice from all of the Brides of Noelle concerning how to win the attention of the man she loves—Birdie’s brother-in-law, Max Peregrine.

I thought...maybe Robyn needs a more ladylike hat to go with her new dress. Then I thought, what hat does Robyn currently wear? A toque? No, that was too Canadian, and Robyn is Welsh American.

THE QUEST FOR A WELSH HAT

My research led me to the Monmouth Cap! A working person's round woolen hat, widely duplicated but originally associated with the town of Monmouth in south east Wales. Different places and memories (things we miss and don’t miss) are full of details. Odd or familiar they can be interesting to explore.

So if I don’t miss my childhood toque because it was too tight, too scratchy, and too bright orange, why would Robyn miss her Monmouth Cap if she had to give it up? Maybe it’s not about the feel or the color of the hat but about how long she’s had it? Or who gave the hat to her?

I'm looking forward to answering these questions as I continue figuring out Robyn’s story—one detail at a time. I'm also eager to see Canada through the eyes and words of my future North of the Border guests in the days to come 🇨🇦

Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of The Calling Birds!

What's your favorite (or least favorite) hat? 

36 comments:

  1. I'm not a big fan of hats. They make my head hot. I do have a cloth sun bonnet that I wear at the beach. It was my mother's. I'd fit right into the old west with my bonnet.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  2. What a treasure to have your mother's hat, Mary! Thinking about you at the beach wearing your bonnet makes me think, bonnets should make a comeback. I'd love to see that :)

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  3. I love hats they look terrible on me but oh well i somehow got this pink odd shaped hat and wore it one day to the hosp to visit someone and all they did was stare at the hat. I came home and tossed it in the bag to go to somewhere else but not in my house. Before my grandma passed the last 10 yrs of her life starting at about 90 or so she got into hats and i think it was because she thought of the days that she went to the hair dresser every Friday after work and she really liked getting it done. Then as life went on she seemed fine but some of the hats were not so as her husband was picking them out. When she passed not long ago my granddaughter took a few of the hats and my daughter took the rest I thought that was a nice memory for them. peggy clayton ptclayton2@aol.com

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    1. That is indeed a wonderful memory, Peggy, for your granddaughter and daughter to have your grandma's hats! I'm hit or miss with hats. Love 'em or hate 'em. Well hate might be a bit strong of a word ;) Took me what felt like forever to finally find a cowboy hat I liked this summer.

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  4. I love hats and wish We still wore those beautiful hats of the old west. Hope you are having a fabulous day Jacqui!!!

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    1. I wish we wore them as well, Glenda! Just got home from a busy day working at the bookstore. Who needs the gym when there are books to lift and shelve? :)

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  5. Jacqui What a lovely post. Love the fond memories of Alberta. Wherever we grow up leaves an indelible mark and helps shape us. I had different adventures growing up in a large city and I loved it. Still do.

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    1. Missed your hat question...I have a couple of sun hats, but my favourite is the one I bought in Hawaii when I visited the first time. I went with my mother and it was her last big trip before she passed away. We had a blast and I'll keep that hat forever.

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    2. Your Hawaii sun hat sounds like it's definitely a keeper, Bonnie.

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  6. I like my Tilley hat in summer, or when we are in the Caribbean on a diving holiday. I hate my scuba hood, period. I love my Saskatchewan Roughriders caps. Yes, caps. Diehard fans of the CFL football team, like me own more than one and like to change it up for game day!

    I love where you've taken us in your post!

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    1. A Tilley hat is a classic! Love that you have a CFL hat, Yvonne. I'm picturing you wearing it at a game. Fun!

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  7. I like hats, pretty, dressy ones -- not practical wool ones. I'd rather freeze my ears off than wear a toque. :-) I rarely have a chance to wear a hat these days, but for my wedding I made a find reduced by 70%. I bought the hat, then made the dress to match.

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    1. Cool that you got your wedding hat before your dress, Alice! The hat led the way. I think you'd look great in a toque. I'm imagining you in a snowy Hallmark movie :)

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  8. I love hats, and my collection is always pouring out of cupboards in the hallway and in my bedroom. Call me silly, but I believe tTey have a personality of their own and when I wear one I can feel it. My favorite winter one is loose, silk beret.
    Your story sounds fascinating and I can't wait to read it.
    all the best,
    Jo-Ann

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    1. I love your idea that hats have personalities, Jo-Ann. Never thought of that but now...it seems so right!

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  9. I can see the car spinning around and continue on driving. That have been in many of those car rides when living in Jasper heading to Hinton.
    Great memories of Alberta. I miss a few of the same things but definitely don’t miss those mosquitoes and snow storms.

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    1. We've been the same roads, Marion Ann :) And soon I'll be back there cruising through Jasper and Hinton. Can't wait to see the Rocky Mountains again. They're always breathtaking.

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  10. I miss my family and funny enough, Main Street in my hometown of Edson, Alberta. I lived there for fifty (cough) years and thought I'd be there forever, lol.
    I DON'T miss 6-8 months of shoveling snow and wearing heavy winter coats!
    No hats for me, too hot on the head :)

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    1. Those winter coats were definitely heavy, Jacquie! Instead of just passing through Edson, this trip home to Alberta I might be spending a day in Edson. I'm excited to explore your hometown!

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  12. I normally don't wear hats, unless a hood on my jacket in the winter counts. :) When I think of a hat, it brings back memories of a hat my dad always wore. It was considered a fisherman's style and he always had that hat on when he would go outside. Mainly to protect his head from the sun, but we always thought it was for fun. Sometime it had a fishing lure on it and other times it had a sports theme. Whenever our family starts talking about memories of him, his hat always comes up.

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    1. Great description of your dad's hat, Barb! Very fun to add the lure and have a theme hat.

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    2. Thanks Jacqui. I'm looking forward to reading Robyn's story and I know you will find the perfect hat for her. :)

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  13. don't really wear them

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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    1. Maybe you just haven't found the right hat. We have a great hat shop here called "Roberta's Hats" but even with their selection I find it hard to find something I love. And if I don't love it, I'm not buying it :)

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  14. My favorite hat, would be my Bailey Resistal. I wore it to many barn and square dances, to the movies, restaurants and all places where a "dress" Cowboy Hat should be worn. For all other things cowboy, I wore my straw hat. It still looked good, but the cost was much less than the Bailey and did not upset me when it was removed in one way or another, landing in the coral, atop a mound of manure, or in a puddle of who knows what.
    I wore that Bailey to Calgary too. It just seemed like the right thing to do, for the Stampede. It even managed to stay put during the Chuck Wagon races too. :)

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    1. Your Bailey Resistal sounds like an awesome hat! Also sounds like it and your straw hat got a lot of use. I could totally picture you at the Calgary Stampede!

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  15. I love hats. I own lots of bizarre gardening hats that most of my friends haven't seen. One is from Australia and it was very expensive and is supposed to keep the harmful rays off your head. Maybe yes. Maybe no.
    I think your heroine might wear a fancy straw hat of some kind. Perhaps with some funky flowers attached. She sounds like a character.

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    1. Would love to see you gardening hats, Jodie! A fancy straw hat with flowers attached sounds interesting but very impractical for December in the Colorado mountains (when and where my story-in-progress is set). But my heroine starts doing a lot of impractical and out-of-character things once she arrives to Noelle, so this could work nicely.

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  16. Great stuff, Jacqui. "...sights, sounds, and smells of the seasons." How they inspire the writer. How they color the Canadian story. Trees cracking with the desperate cold of winter; springtime tree frogs joyously singing in the swamp; trillions of blood-thirsty summer mosquitoes buzzing at dusk; and finally - golden leaves swirling down, down, down in gusty autumn winds.

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    1. Great descriptions, Glenn! Can't wait to read your North of the Border guest blog with me later this year.

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  17. Thanks for all of your awesome comments! I loved hearing about your hats. And the WINNER of the paperback copy of my novella "The Calling Birds" is... Peggy Clayton! Peggy, I've emailed you to arrange the delivery (let me know if you don't get my email). Hope you all are having a sunny but not-too-hot day.

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  18. I have to say I am a hat girl
    still in the farm and I live my ball caps as well as my straw cowboy hat.
    in the winter I have many hats I like to wear. just not a huge touque fan but defiantly sport one when it's like -30 and doing chores.or playing in the snow.
    hoping to see you on the 18th jacqui.

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    1. It's hard not to given in to wearing a toque or a hood in the -30 but we probably did it as tough teenagers :) Hope to see you on the 18th as well.

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