Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

A train ticket and a (kid-friendly) poem in your pocket

April 25, 2022

April 29 is Poem in Your Pocket Day (2022). If you’re a parent or teacher looking for poems to share with kids, haiku is the perfect pocket poem –tiny, quick to read, and easy to jot down on a small scrap piece of paper.  Last Train Home is a collection of train-inspired haiku from around the world (edited by me and available through Amazon). The book is aimed at adults, but includes many examples of poems that will inspire kids and teens. A sampling:

bullet train for Tokyo
too fast to finish
my box lunch
– Emiko Miyashita, Japan
thinning crowds
the station mouse obeys
the Keep Left sign
– David Jacobs, United Kingdom
on the Jacobite
twenty-one arches near Glenfinnan
crossing worlds
– susan spooner, Canada
[Note: in the Harry Potter movies, the train to Hogwarts crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct in north-west Scotland]
evening star
a child echoes every call
of the train vendors
– Ramesh Anand, India
night train
an open boxcar
filled with stars
Ron C. Moss, Australia

Choo choo ku is on the way

March 15, 2021

Sorry, I couldn’t resist! Last Train Home, the anthology of train haiku, tanka, and rengay, which I’ve been working on for close to three years (as editor) is almost ready! Will be launching the book with a virtual train tour starting here next week.

(waiting for a late train at the Brockville Station in Ontario, shortly before I boarded VIA Rail’s Canadian to travel from Toronto to Vancouver back in Sept 2015)

Inspired by fall leaves and history

November 23, 2012

I thought I’d share a glimpse into the wonderful writing retreat I experienced last month at Spark Box Studio near Picton Ontario (with funding gratefully received from the Canada Council!). A whole week without distractions, focusing on the craft of writing historical picture books! I was particularly interested in exploring the question, “How do I take a huge topic such as the War of 1812 and hone in on a small story suitable for children?”

To help me get on the right footing for my retreat, I stopped in Toronto beforehand to meet with children’s book author Monica Kulling, for a thoughtful and inspiring discussion about writing historical stories for children. Her latest book, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, about a little dog who touched the life of Pablo Picasso, was hot off the press, and provided a great example (I love the dog, illustrated by Dean Griffiths).

Next, I took a side trip to soak up some War of 1812 history and watch the reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara Falls. The boom of cannons, smell of smoke, calls of the soldiers, costumes of the military and civilian reenactors, and the cool, damp fall day helped to cast a spell that opened a window into the past.

At Spark Box Studio, I started each day with a solitary walk between farmers’ fields. The empty fields, subdued colours, and the whispers and rustles of leaves and grasses that followed me as I walked, made it easy to imagine a young girl two hundred years in the past, standing on the edge of a field, hearing the distant boom of cannon and cracks of musket fire. I felt like I was walking with one foot in the present and one in the past as I wrote these haiku:


autumn wind

on the lonely path

many voices



whispering grasses

the words always

out of reach


While it was great to have so much time to myself to think and write,  talking with the creative hosts and other guests at Spark Box Studio was also enriching. And, despite that last haiku, the words weren’t out of reach. I finished the first draft of a picture book story and concluded the retreat feeling buoyed in spirit, recharged and reinspired to continue writing…

Summer holiday brings new ideas (and new Lucky Cat photos)

August 1, 2011

Story ideas come from many places and experiences, and there was plenty to inspire on a recent family holiday, which took me to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Old Quebec, and New York City, with train travel in between. You can read about my search for Lucky Cats in New York City on the Lucky Cat – Maneki Neko blog. To give you a taste, here are a couple photos I like, which didn’t make it into the Lucky Cat post:

If you’re interested in some glimpses of the rest of my trip, here’s the link to the photos I posted on my Facebook page.

Mini Movie-making debut!

April 7, 2010

Yesterday I had fun experimenting with to create my first book trailer. What do you think?

You can read more about the novel, Manga Touch, here. Thinking of trying yourself? I found it easy and fun to use. You can upload photos of your own or select from photos animoto provides. The same goes for music. Creating a short 30 second movie is free. You can try out a longer one for $3, or make as many longer ones as you like for $30/year. I wanted to include quite a few images, so I went for the $3 test run.

It took fellow author, Lois Peterson, about 1/2 an hour to create her first book trailer with animoto (check out Lois’ book trailer for The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw here). She recommends collecting all the photos you want to use in a separate file and preparing your script ahead of time to speed this up. I did all this, but it still took me several hours to finalize my video (okay, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I kept redoing it).

One draw-back to using is you don’t have any control over the effects. You basically insert your photos and music and press “finalize.” Once the movie has been processed, you can edit it, but if you like the way the movie turned out and just want to change one photo or a few words of text, you can’t do this without the whole thing being reprocessed (the special effects and timing of images with the music will be slightly different each time you redo it). I also had trouble uploading the video directly to my blog (but this may have been a problem with WordPress, not animoto). It uploaded to Youtube easily, and I routed it here from there. I haven’t tried any other movie-making programs or sites, so I can’t compare animoto to them, but animoto was easy enough to get me started, and creating a “mini movie” was a fun new (for me) way to summarize a book. Who knows? I may just have to make a book trailer for every one of my books…

Travel stories

May 27, 2009

At my last book club meeting the conversation went from discussing A Year in Provence to sharing humorous travel stories (book club tangents are often more interesting than the actual book discussions). After hearing about several hilarious mishaps, inadvertent cultural faux pas, and near-disasters (most, funny only from the safety of hindsight and home), it occurred to me that problem-free trips do not make for very interesting travel anecdotes.

Both my trips to Japan were so well choreographed and shepherded by friends, that there was little opportunity for me to get lost, botch anything up, or encounter any risks or pitfalls. The funniest things to happen on my latest trip was having to ask a male friend to help me decipher the Japanese on feminine hygiene products (he was unable to offer any enlightenment as to the reason for the pictures of rabbits and flying pigs). The only other funny thing was, apparently, my pronunciation of Japanese words, which baffled some people and highly entertained others. Also, running out of money 2/3 the way through the trip did lead to some unexpected challenges and suspense.

So, if no problems means no stories, than I’m relieved to say I have no real stories to tell about my trip. However, that doesn’t mean I have no stories to tell. They just wont be about me.

Some of my favourite places and things experienced on my recent trip:

– stopping to eat a box lunch overlooking the Oi River and the lush green mountainside of Arashiyama (storm mountain), Kyoto

– hearing uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, call in the bamboo forest beside an old inari shrine

– shopping for kimono fabric and antiques at Kitano Tenmangu market, Kyoto (and escaping from the rain in a tiny tofu hot pot restaurant)

– eating a delicious lunch of fresh vegetables, rice and grilled tofu braised with miso sauce (if you scoff at the idea of tofu tasting good, then you’ve never eaten in Japan!), followed by exploring a school for samurai, a castle, and a ninja house

– enjoying the view from Kiyumizu Temple in Kyoto and Roppongi Tower in Tokyo

– following the beckoning cats signs to Gotokuji temple, the home of the first maneki-neko (lucky cat)

– experiencing Kabuki

– soaking in a natural hotspring beside a river in Wakayama

– walking down ancient stones stairs to the base of Nachi Falls

– following a crow through the huge tori gate at Kumano Taisha, the shrine of the three-legged crow

– walking on the old Tokaido hwy through the historic town of Seki-cho and sitting in a 370 year old shop interviewing the 13th and 14th generation wagashi-makers (who may or may not be related to ninjas)

– meeting highschool and university students, and chatting with people at my talks

– basking in the hospitality and kindness of friends and acquaintances (old and new)

I came away with two notebooks full of notes and ideas, as well as over 2000 photos (mostly for research and to help jog my memory), so look for a future story — possibly involving a 17th century girl, a wagashi shop, ninjas, a fire, and a trip on the old Tokaido hwy.… (that is, after the maneki-neko story).


Highlights of my trip to Japan

May 20, 2009

Want a glimpse into my working holiday in Japan? Here is a link to the album I posted on Facebook (you’re supposed to be able to look at it even if you’re not signed up to Facebook):


(I hope it works)

Journey to Japan

May 16, 2009

I couldn’t manage to connect to WordPress from internet cafes while I was in Japan, so now that I’m back home, I’ll post some thoughts and images from the trip. I didn’t expect to have time to write any haiku while I was there, but I actually found that in the middle of seeing and doing so many things, composing a haiku could sometimes be a good way of focusing in on a single experience (at least for a few minutes).

My first night in Japan I fell asleep to the creaking of frogs from a nearby rice paddy and woke up to the chattering of birds. I went for a morning walk and watched rice being planted, then composed my first haiku of the trip as I sat in the back seat of a friend’s car on my way to lunch (at a French restaurant, of all places, where my first meal in Japan was vegetarian quiche). We drove past recently flooded rice fields where rows of new plants bent and twitched in the wind, while white egrets stood erect and motionless.

newly planted rice
green fingers tap in the wind
three patient egrets

(I don’t know if this comes across, but the contrast between the two, reminded me of the impatient eagerness of youth vs the knowing resignation of old age…??)


In Kyoto a couple days later, I walked through a bamboo forest and stopped by a basho (bannana leaf) plant (the plant for which the poet Basho took his name) near an old house once frequented by Basho (in the 17th c.). It seemed an appropriate spot to stop for a rest and a haiku moment.

in the bamboo grove
stripes of light and shadow
a nightingale sings


I heard the uguisu (Japanese nightingale) near a spooky old inari (fox messanger) shrine in the middle of the bamboo forest in an area called Sagano, near the Togetsukyo Bridge over the River Oi, which is the last stage on the old Tokaido Highway, a place that has been visited by pilgrims and other travellers for perhaps a thousand years (being used to Canada’s west coast, where recorded history is very recent, this thought blew me away).


On our last day in Kyoto, my friend and I walked down Pontocho Road (one of the traditional geisha areas). The street was so narrow, two people barely had room to pass.

rain drips from roof tops
along Pontocho Road
two umbrellas touch


Further along the road, we discovered a tiny temple and garden honouring thirty-something women and children killed and buried near the spot in the 16th c. after the male leader of their household fell out of favour with his uncle (Hideyoshi, the samurai lord who controlled power at the time) and was forced to commit seppuko. Kyoto is full of magnificant temples, shrines, castles, etc., but to me, history never felt as poignantly close as at this modest, easy-to-miss spot. My friend and I stopped to ring the temple bell and make an offering in memory of the murdered women and children, and I tried to put the experience into words as we sat on the train that night, returning to Suzuka.

beside the canal
in a small temple garden
the names of children


What’s that tweeting sound you hear?

April 20, 2009

This may be a mistake, given that the Internet already eats up too much of my writing time/stamina, but I’ve just joined Twitter.

If I can find a computer and figure out how to switch it to English characters, I’ll try to post some updates (here and on twitter) during my trip to Japan. Will probably have to wait until I get home to attempt to add photos, though.

I’m experiencing my usual pre-flight anxiety today, but should be okay once I’m on the plane tomorrow… I’ll be landing in Japan on Earth Day and feeling guilty about my contribution to global warming. Will need to plant some trees once I’m home again… In the meantime, here’s the link to the “Earth Day Novels”  list I posted on the Chapters/Indigo site last year (with some new suggestions added in the comments).


Skateboard haiku challenge

April 17, 2009

In honour of poetry month, I’ve been asked to start off the skateboard haiku challenge over at the blog of Darby Speaks.

I haven’t had a lot of time for writing anything this month, as I’m busy preparing for a trip to Japan. I leave in a few days. Once there, I’ll be talking about my books and Canada to five different groups, plus touring around and doing research for a possible future book. I hope I wont be too distracted and full of new ideas to start back in on finishing off my current novel when I get home again.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to post photos while I’m away, but I’ll try to at least post a few updates.

In the mean time, the cherry blossoms are finally out here (about a month behind)! I’ve got to enjoy them while I can, as they’ll already be finished in Japan.