Cittaslow, Naramata-style

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, joyful lilts of music, cadences of children playing and neighbours chatting, and aromas of home cooking floated from the grounds of the Naramata Centre as the second annual NaramataSlow Harvest Supper unfolded 3 to 6 pm, October 15, 2017.Children IMG_2199(2)

A few years earlier, community leaders of the Canadian village called Naramata – which is placed like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow on the southeastern shores of British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake, got together to pursue the “Cittaslow” designation. To revitalize their Cittaslow commitment, they envisioned a harvest meal.Naramata IMG_5833

When you’re talking about a village like Naramata, BC, where citizens have the determination to adopt the “Cittaslow” ideology, “Once upon a time” is a valid opener. Cittaslow is an inspiration of the Slow Food Movement founded in Italy and at its core, endeavours to improve the quality of life by encouraging a slower pace of life that holds dear community traditions. The vetting process to be one of the 100+ towns and villages worldwide is vigorous so declaring such values without truly embracing them is avoided.

In the end, the decision is community-driven and demonstrates a genuine attitude of caring about a balanced life where heritage, culture, the arts, environment, plus health and welfare of its citizens matter. For skeptics, it might all sound like a bit of a fairy tale – hence, in launching into my story, I start with “once upon a time” to give naysayers leave to look away.

Naramata’s history is a tale of Okanagan First Nations, then fur traders, miners, beef ranchers, orchardists, railway personnel, and settlers, then artists, writers, recluses, vacationers, innkeepers, and retailers, and more recently, winemakers, and filmmakers. Even how Naramata was named evokes colourful debate whether it was in a séance that founder John Moore Robinson witnessed medium Mrs. Gillespie speaking with the spirit of an Indian Chief who spoke fondly of his wife “Narramattah” translated as “the smile of Manitou”. For more on the history, go to Discover Naramata’s website history section.

Whether it was Manitou or some other spiritual force that smiled upon this region, the area is truly blessed with bucolic lifestyles and backdrops. Little wonder the twisting stretch of road extending from Penticton through Naramata is punctuated by some of the finest vineyards and orchards in North America. It’s also no surprise that spring through fall, locals are forced to slow down as visitors dipsy doodle along the route. Who wouldn’t want to zigzag to check out wineries, distilleries, breweries, cheeseries, fruit stands, bistros, beaches, parks, the repurposed Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR Trail) and other hiking trails? To learn more about this wine region and wine touring tips, check out Naramata Bench Wineries Association.

While the population swells in peak season, the village is home to about 2,000. Along with the tranquil setting, the pace is more thoughtful and less frenzied. The daily agenda is dictated more by Mother Nature’s ebb and flow and less by man-made formulations. Naramatians, as locals call themselves, tend to embrace this reality and are more likely to weigh decisions that bring change through the filter of how they’ll impact the community rather than expediency.

If you’re looking for night clubs and urban distractions, there are more suitable destinations. On the other hand, Naramatians are a friendly bunch and are delighted to welcome likeminded people into their fold even if you just visit seasonally. Plus, the #naramatalove (The Twitter hash tag that celebrates the region), extends well beyond the village’s boundaries.

Accordingly, Naramata Cittaslow committee created the NaramataSlow Harvest Dinner, in 2016, as a celebration of harvest and community with all ages welcome. The goal was to raise awareness and create conversations around what it means to Naramata to be designated as Cittaslow. It sold out quickly and response was so positive, the first year’s event barely began before it was conceived as an annual event.

In 2016, I was lucky to be hosted as a guest media with my husband, and in 2017 when the tickets went on sale, I quickly snapped up two. Tickets were $15 for adults and $5 for children with sales intended to help cover the basic costs of set up and service.

2016 NaramataSlow Harvest Supper

It’s a potluck-style community meal so each family is asked to contribute a dish. The menu highlight is savoury slow-roasted pork contributed by Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose of Bella Homestead Farm, that they raised and prepared.Pork by Bella IMG_5871

Guests were “asked to use as much Naramata grown, raised or sourced ingredients” and it was inspiring to see how fully that request was respected. Naramata Cittaslow hopes to build a library of the recipes from those dishes.

A popular feature for those willing to participate was a Preserve Exchange to highlight the local harvest. Participants brought a jar of their favourite preserve and traded it for a neighbour’s jar.
Preserve Table IMG_2219 (Edited)

What would a feast be in wine country without wine? Appropriately, a select group of Naramata wineries offered wines for purchase.

Wines for sale IMG_2252(1)

A tasting area showcased “the unique terroir of the Naramata Bench with wines made from grapes from vineyards located within the Naramata Cittaslow designated area”.
Open Air Wine Lab IMG_2158(2)Terroir IMG_5853

Children played in the park and plotted out their approach to the dessert tables inside even before dinner.
Dessert Table IMG_2217 (Edited)Music overflowed from the Naramata Centre’s Columbia Hall melding with the aromas from the outdoor buffet and arrival of the succulent pig to stimulate conversations and cravings.
Music IMG_2223 (Edited)

The formal portion wasn’t formal at all with blessings given and some commentary on “NaramataSlow: Recognizing and celebrating traditions, events, organizations and people that are fundamental to a Naramata way of life”.

The Naramata Community Church Women’s Group offered the sale of 50/50 tickets to support the local fire hall, bursaries for Naramata students, the Penticton Soupateria and other local causes. Guests were invited to write down their perception of the benefits of Naramata Cittaslow.

2017 NaramataSlow Harvest Supper

Volunteers cleared tables and did dishes so by the end of the evening few crumbs of evidence were left, save the scraps of coloured paper posted on the bulletin board singing the praises of the momentous occasion and Naramata life. For information on Naramata and upcoming events, My Naramata is a great resource.

Bulletin NaramataSlow IMG_5863Thanks, NaramataSlow and the many groups who came together to make it possible. May you live long and stay slow!
Committee IMG_2254(2))

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Grandma Fengstad’s Prism Lamps


Latent memories work in strange ways and sometimes I find myself nostalgic for no apparent reason. Other times I can sniff out the breadcrumbs that took me here. Today is one such occasion.

I read a fascinating article by John Butterworth titled “How the rainbow illuminates the enduring mystery of physics” and before I knew it, I was sitting back on my Grandma Fengstad’s bed learning all about prisms. You can read Butterworth’s article here:

I recall fondly the couple of weeks each summer vacation spent in my early years at Crooked River, Saskatchewan at Grandma and Grandpa Fengstad’s home. Mom and Dad insisted that our mornings were spent in the Evangelical Lutheran Summer Bible School – both to instill a sense of moral values and to please Grandpa, also known as Reverend Fengstad, the founding pastor. Generally, it was good fun with lots of arts and crafts. Still, as the prairie heat baked the church and the aroma of baked wheat grew toastier as the sun scorched the fields, we were relieved when the sessions ended. We’d race home, gulp down fresh well water before shedding our Bible School best for summer wear. Lunch was a fast affair of sandwiches, soup and sometimes Dad’s Oatmeal cookies. Then we were off to the outdoors, mostly to play in the shade of the caraganas with that season’s litter of kittens. Sometimes it was so hot, we went down to the reservoir for a refreshing dip with a prayer we’d be quick enough to avoid the resident leeches.

More of an introvert than shy, I cherished opportunities when I could recover from the bustle of Bible school and the din of other children. In those last years while Grandma Fengstad was still alive, the house was a dark sanctuary. We were all warned to be quiet because Grandma wasn’t well and needed her rest. On those occasions, I’d slip into a cool corner of the house and read books in the dim light.

Despite my efforts to tiptoe past her partially closed door, on days when she was feeling slightly stronger she would smile and beckon me into the bedroom. Tears well up even now as I think of her sweet smile and the joy I felt in being invited to climb up beside her. Sick as she was, she spied my fascination with the prisms hanging off the lamps by her bedside. She reached over and released two of the hooks, handing me one of the prisms while dangling one herself. Grandma taught me how you could make the light dance on the walls and ceiling. She showed me depending on the angle and whether you just used the lamp’s lights or drew the curtains back to enlist sunlight, how the colours could change.

For me, it was my first encounter with magic. Grandma told me rainbows were Mother Nature’s prisms. While she gently explained the physics of prisms and rainbows, her words only made the mystery more compelling and magical.


If Mom noticed me there, she’d always ask Grandma if I was too tiring. Whatever the truth, Grandma’s answer was always no. She’d assure Mom we were having fun and she’d let me know when it was time to go. It was our time. I have no sense of how many minutes or hours we played this game together rather that time stood still. Grandma Fengstad died when I was 4 ½ years old.

We got the news at home in Ottawa and I remember Dad cradling Mom as she sobbed. I recall finding privacy for my tears by climbing on to the top shelf of the linen closet in our small basement apartment. I didn’t quite comprehend the finality of it until the next summer. There was barely budget for Mom to travel alone to Crooked River for Grandma’s funeral.

Our annual visits to Crooked River continued long after and were always filled with joy. Still Grandpa’s house seemed much emptier and I longed to see Grandma’s smile again.

Grandpa was often busy those afternoons when Grandma Fengstad and I played so he never really knew about our special game of light. One visit when I was a teenager, Grandpa saw me in her old room admiring the crystal lamps. He said to me, “Oh, how Ma loved those lamps.”

I said, “Yes, Grandpa, I remember. We used to play with those prisms together.” When he questioned how I could remember such a thing because I was so young when she died, I described in detail our magical moments. He just smiled and nodded his head.

That year when we were saying our goodbyes, Grandpa gathered some old newspapers and a couple of brown paper bags and lovingly wrapped those lamps and handed them to me. I said, “Oh, Grandpa, I couldn’t.” He just gave me a big hug and said, “You must. In them, you keep Ma alive.”

I never tire of rainbows or prisms. In those refractions of light, in every hue of colour, my Grandma’s smile lives on and comforts me.


This double rainbow captured in Canada’s Okanagan at Local Lounge, Summerland, BC


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Birthday belle to wedding bells

img_3994For Mark and me, our day was already yin and yang, as we headed from the Celebration of Life for our friend Ed Festel held at the Penticton Flying Club to join in the 50th birthday festivities for Leanne Pawluk.

We’d already committed to attending the birthday bash, which another dear friend, Jennifer Cockrall-King (JCK) had offered to host in Leanne’s honour, when we received notice about the event, September 4, 2016, to bid our final respects to Ed. It may seem cold on our part to switch gears to go from one to the other. On the other hand, if ever there was a testament to living life to the fullest no matter what, it was Ed’s story.

And who could resist such a fun invitation?
“Well darlings, it has been a decade since my last milestone birthday (as evidenced by the picture above) so I figured it was high time to celebrate once again! And I can think of no better way than to gather together high atop the Naramata Bench to sip champagne, nibble on chilled lobster, savour prime rib, indulge in chocolate cake, groove to the funky sounds of DJ Mike and, perhaps, chirp a song or two on the Karaoke machine. Are you with me?
Expect white linens, white flowers and pure celebration.
White attire (in some form or fashion) is enthusiastically encouraged 🙂
I humbly ask a few volunteers to bring an appetizer or salad to the fete. 4 salads and 4 appies should do it. Enough for 8 people if you …please. Send me a message to let me know.
Along with the feast, we will be serving super boozy fruit punch along with bubbles galore. If you wish to drink something else, please feel free to BYOB.
We will also be carpooling from Summerland so if you are interested in having a designated driver for the evening, please message me as well.
This is going to be the best one yet… made extra special by having all of you there.

The evening was beautiful and as we drove along Naramata Road enjoying views of Okanagan Lake, orchards, vineyards, wineries and idyllic home sites, it wasn’t difficult to shift from sadness to joy. With the driveway and steps to JCK’s home decked in 50th birthday balloons and the happy chatter echoing from the outdoor patio, the signal was clear we were in for some fun.

The setting was straight out of a magazine spread such as Sunset Magazine. Guests were dolled up as requested and the décor was exquisite. In addition to the lavender gardens and other greenery that bedeck this home, beautiful bouquets of flowers adorned the tables. There was a fine selection of libations such as BC wine and a farm-to-table buffet including fresh lobster.

Our birthday belle Leanne glowed radiantly and her fiancé John Schmidt looked dashing. Who could blame them for deciding why wait to exchange their wedding vows? There’s a line in When Harry Met Sally that goes, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I’m not sure if Leanne and John are familiar with that line, however, suddenly there was a lot of whispering and soon a request if anyone happened to know a justice of peace or person qualified to perform wedding ceremonies.

As Barbara De Angelis is quoted, “The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.” Before long, against the Naramata backdrop with the Okanagan Lake glistening behind, we witnessed vows exchanged between two folks deeply in love. Truly romantic.

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It reminds me, too, of Zig Ziglar’s line, “Many people spend more time in planning the wedding than they do in planning the marriage.” On a summery Okanagan evening, Leanne and John exempted themselves from such criticism. Before the end of a 50th birthday celebration, they were officially signing documents as husband and wife. I tried to capture some of it on video, and while the quality isn’t what I’d like, click here for a bit of Leanne and John’s wedding.

While I feel a bit guilty it took so long for me to share the joy of the 50th birthday-gone-wedding, I’m writing this on what would’ve been my parents’ wedding anniversary. If ever there was love that endured it was Mom’s and Dad’s.

Leanne’s sister Carolynn had prepared a beautiful Black Forest birthday cake. For me it was the first 50th turned wedding cake.

Congratulations Leanne and John!

JCK, you throw a hell of a party!


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Et tu Ed, taking flight

We said goodbye to our dear neighbor and friend Claire Festel on June 9, 2014 when she died from the complications of her multiple myeloma. See my post  “Autumn’s Claire-ity“. Only a couple of years later on August 25, 2016, her husband Eduard died and friends gathered at the Penticton Airport to bid adieu.

Ed was also diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which their medical practitioners deemed to be an anomaly for the two of them to suffer from the same cancer. Like Claire, Ed packed as much life as possible into each day. While he had some lows, he had many highlights after Claire died and just as she had hoped for him, he developed another strong relationship with a lovely lady named Leslie.

His joy of life is a lesson for us all and even as he struggled with his cancer, he continued his adventures and even succeeded in accomplishing a few new ones. For example, he finally made it to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the flagship annual airshow widely considered as the world’s finest celebration of aviation.

Given his commitment to the Penticton Flying Club and CASARA how fitting is was that his Celebration of Life was held there at the airport. I can see the smile on his face now as I recall him telling us all about COPA for Kids — a free program to provide “motivational aviation experience, initiating young people to the science of flight”. Ed was also instrumental in acquiring a club plane (1971 Cessna 172L) for eligible members to rent. Testament to his impact on the aviation scene was the fly-by to salute Ed. (See the slideshow below at Penticton (CYYF) Airport.

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Here’s the link to Eduard Festel’s obituary.

Ed loved a good gathering and so folks gathered for a barbeque feast with the requisite desserts before tributes were made. We attended the Celebration of Life with another neighbour Stefan Ermair, also a friend of Ed’s and shares Ed’s love of flying — although Stefan’s preference leans to helicopters. People lovingly shared their stories about Ed and his impact. The photos below attempt to capture the love and admiration shown.

Not captured in the photos, was a loving message from his longtime friend Christoph Altherr. Their friendship went back to Switzerland and then to the Yukon. He brought greetings from all of their many Northern and Swiss friends as well as from Claire’s family. I also managed to say a few words of what Ed and Claire meant to us as neighbours; how Claire and I connected so deeply as writers and kindred spirits; and how happy she would be that he found a great companion in Leslie.

We had the opportunity to meet her once before in April when we celebrated Ed’s birthday with her and his longtime friend Marianna Keller. We were delighted to see him packing in all the flying, travel and joy that he could. It was not until I received a phone call from Claire’s family in August that we learned Ed was slipping away. Thanks to them, we had a chance to visit Ed one more time in the Penticton Hospital to pay our respects and say a personal goodbye.

When the tributes ended, we had to leave quickly because it was truly a yin and yang day. We headed off to celebrate another friend’s 50th birthday, which broke out into a wedding between her and her fiancé.



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One Big Long Table by Poppadoms Now in Pop-Up style


When the Dosanj family of Poppadoms: Taste India (Kelowna) announced that they had sold the business and were moving on, I was heartbroken at first. After all, how many restaurants do you know bring an honest farm-to-table approach to Indian cooking?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good Vindaloo or Butter Chicken, samosas, pakoras or other fare you find at traditional East Indian restaurants. However, if I have a choice to go to one that elevates that cuisine to a higher benchmark by using ingredients that I know I can trust, that’s where you’ll find me. Couple that with their innovation in taking fresh local ingredients and preparing dishes with an Indian-inspired twist, I’m all in.


Old Delhi Style Chicken served when Poppadoms hosted the Okanagan Chefs Association

So, you can imagine my relief to learn that I’ll be able to get my hands on some of that cuisine periodically through a variety of initiatives. For example, coming up this weekend Aman Dosanj has organized two pop-up dinners along with Jas Dosanj (Mom):

If I could, I’d attend both. You just don’t know when this cuisine is going to come along again. And I have a confession, for me there’s a bit of a vested interest in the Penticton Pop-Up. After all, when Aman called on me for ideas on where to hold one in Penticton, Cannery Brewing was my first choice. You see I’m a big fan of what Cannery Brewing does as well and I knew Patt Dyck and the ownership team are always open to discussing great collaborations. Cannery Brewing and another of my favourite restaurants Brodo Kitchen have been doing beer-paired dinners hosted back and forth between their locations. It just made sense to bring Poppadoms to Cannery Brewing in Penticton. So I put Aman in touch with Kim Lawton of DogLeg Marketing who works closely with the team at Cannery Brewing and Kim presented the idea to them. I love it when a plan comes together so you’ll find me happily taking in those festivities on Sunday.

I was privileged to join Aman for a tasting flight of beer at Cannery Brewing as she planned out the menu. It’s going to be fantastic. If there are still tickets available, check it out.





Aman Dosanj of Poppadoms at Cannery Brewing with Kim Lawton

Poppadoms had just celebrated its sixth anniversary December 2015, quite an accomplishment given the family had not been in the restaurant business prior to moving to Canada. I’ve been a big fan since the first day I walked in, and my admiration only grew as I witnessed the thirst for knowledge in all of the Dosanj family. They pursued their quest in so many ways such as joining and supporting the Okanagan Chefs Association, contracting expert advice from such culinary giants as Chef Bernard Casavant, collaborating whenever possible with brilliant chefs and culinary industry folks from throughout the Okanagan, and participating in local events.


Poppadoms hosted the Okanagan Burger Tour, October 2014


The “Goulati Kebab” Burger designed by Poppadoms

Aman has big plans to travel the world, explore her own culinary roots and write about it. Jasmin (sister) has already landed a position in Vancouver to expand her wine and industry knowledge. Harry will continue to explore the cocktail movement. Serge (Dad) has been busy with his own restaurant Kettle Valley Plates in Kelowna. Jas will periodically lend Serge a hand and has already scheduled her Poppadoms cooking classes there. The travel agency for whom Jas led a successful culinary tour to India is clamoring for more. And we’re all hoping she’ll take her amazing  and samosas to Okanagan farmers markets. I’m excited for the family and wish each and everyone of them the best.

I’ve written about Poppadoms in Wine Trails and in my posts in such sites as and I hope to continue to keep in touch and track the next great steps they’ll take.

Here’s some links to some of my articles where Poppadoms is mentioned:

Photos from the “Last Dinner” held at Poppadoms, January 2016


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From my Soapbox on a Pet Peeve: Fallacious Arguments

Double rainbow from Local Lounge Grille in Summerland looking toward Naramata Bench. RBuchanan photo

Double rainbow from Local Lounge Grille in Summerland looking toward Naramata Bench. RBuchanan photo

When a group attempts to railroad in an initiative instead of building consensus about the idea, it drives me crazy when members of that group resort to fallacious arguments. I try to be a good listener and prefer not to go on too many rants so please humour me if I sound a bit preachy.

The fallacious argument I hear the most often is the comment when some folks oppose an initiative forced upon them, that those people are “afraid of change” or “can’t accept change”. It’s an attack on the person rather than addressing that person’s argument.

Right now, for example, in Penticton the City Council has pushed through a number of proposals that have considerable public opposition. I live in the Regional District of Okanagan South so I really don’t get a vote in city politics despite the fact many of Council’s decisions impact me. I don’t profess to have all the pertinent background details required to make an informed decision. Nonetheless I resent that Council seems to withhold pertinent information and then suggests that it knows better than the average citizen because it has all the facts. Such a comment is as condescending as a parent answering a child’s “why” inquiry with the response “because”. If the proposal is so compelling, why can’t leadership involve the community and get them excited about it?

Looking toward Penticton through a gorgeous summer sunset. RBuchanan photo

Looking toward Penticton through a gorgeous summer sunset. RBuchanan photo

One of these current initiatives involved rezoning a park now used as a sports field so a new hotel could be built close to the convention centre. Quite frankly, a liveable community requires parkland dispersed throughout it – yes, even next to a convention centre. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give existing hotels some sort of incentives to improve? Right across from the convention centre is the aging and frayed El Rancho Motel. For as long as I can remember that land has had  such usage. To me, it would make sense to tear that down and build a multi-storied hotel there – maybe even with a plus fifteen walkway across Westminster to the convention centre. Without a valid argument to convince me otherwise that seems logical. I’d rather beautiful the existing ball park even more and make it a jewel within the convention centre complex. Imagine how different New York City would be if city council there kept trading off pieces of central parkland? Yes, I know it’s a different scale: Just the same, green space interspersed throughout a city is desirable on many levels.

The Skaha Marina project is yet another one where those in power claim to know best. Again, I would say if the reasoning is fair and rational, why not engage citizens and get them on board rather than demeaning those who oppose the idea?

And for the record, I am tired of some of the younger and middle-aged folks criticizing the seniors in Penticton for being unwilling to accept change. Excuse me, those individuals over 80 years old have seen more radical changes during their lifetime than the rest of us can even imagine.

Of course, there are some people in every age category that are suspicious of change. You will find different approaches to accepting change in all age groups. There’s no need to resort to ageism. To me it makes much more sense to inspire others with the brilliance of your fine ideas rather than to belittle them for taking a critical approach.

When the eminent leadership scholar Warren Bennis once said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” I believe he meant that in a collaborative rather than prescriptive or dictatorial way.

There, it’s out of my system now. I’ll step down from my soapbox and get back to enjoying summer in the Okanagan.

Enjoying the sunset over Summerland. RBuchanan photo

Enjoying the sunset over Summerland. RBuchanan photo

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Autumn’s Claire-ity [sic]

View south over Okanagan Lake toward Summerland, Naramata and Peachland as autumn arrives.

RBuchanan photo: View south over Okanagan Lake toward Summerland, Naramata and Peachland as autumn arrives.

Lately when it comes to my personal blog, I’ve been following the first half of Ernest Hemingway’s advice well. However, I’ve not been delivering so much on the second part of his advice to “Live it up so you can write it down.” In autumn though, along with the brisker mornings and cooler nights comes a clarity of thought. Just as the harvest comes in and the golden and red leaves tinge to brown and fall to the ground, your thoughts mature and the old baggage fades to black.

Grapes ready for harvest in Canada's Okanagan Wine Country.

RBuchanan photo: Grapes ready for harvest in Canada’s Okanagan Wine Country at La Frenz Winery .

Where I live in Okanagan wine country for many that means the real work begins. I’ll see less of my winemaker friends for a while as they divine those precious grapes into that magic elixir of BC wine we love. I use the word “divine” consciously. It’s not that I think the process just happens rather I appreciate that it takes much more than science to make exceptional wine. The best winemakers are a mix of agrarian, chemist and artist and wear the eccentricities of each in an amusing and delicious symphony. Occasionally I have had the privilege of joining some of the winemakers I know best in the harvest, the crush or some other part of the process when my schedule meshes with theirs. So, I know there’s sweat equity, long hours, sacrifice, a mess on the floor and sometimes heartache that goes into it.

It’s much the same for me as a writer. My grapes are experiences, ideas or people’s stories that I want to share. There is a process of growth which varies grape to grape before I can harvest them. Even then as I try to make something special – my wines are words – hard as I strive, some are better than others. Oh, and if you ever saw my office, you’d know there’s a mess on the floor in this labour, too! In my case, that mess is paper, books and research and it’s on the floor, desk and shelves as well. Let me explain there’s a saying that “a tidy office is a sign of a frightened mind” and clearly there’s no fear in my thinking!

Thank heavens I live where there are seasons. I feel the change within. It has been a busy season of frolicking on winery tours, reaping the knowledge of others in the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop, savouring amazing cuisine, golfing an array of courses, hiking new trails, biking pleasant pathways, swimming and scuba diving unspoiled waters and the list goes on and on. Amid all that joy has been deep sadness such as the death of some family and friends. Now it is autumn and I am ready to deal with the best and worst of it all.

Claire Festel and her dog Yukon

RBuchanan photo: Claire Festel and her dog Yukon

Tears come easily as I slip back into my routine of neighbourhood walks. My dear friend and neighbour, Claire Festel, only accompanies me in spirit now. From our first meeting, our discussions revolved around our writing. Knowing her made me a better writer. Along with the talented local author Michelle Barker, she had the idea to form our own writing practice in the style of Natalie Goldberg and I jumped at the opportunity. We often smiled that it became a “group of seven” and we were so fortunate that each and every member brought a special talent and approach that strengthened all of us. My dear and long-time friends Aggie Stevens and Sonni Bone embraced the concept and I also got to know two more remarkable writers, Norma Hill and Louise Devaux.

Photo by Michelle Barker: right to left, Claire Festel, Sonni Bone, Norma Hill, Roslyne Buchanan, Aggie Stevens, Louise Devaux

Photo by Michelle Barker: right to left, Claire Festel, Sonni Bone, Norma Hill, Roslyne Buchanan, Aggie Stevens, Louise Devaux

As a Canadian, being part of a “group of seven” holds special meaning. Quoting as a reference: “The Group of Seven was founded in 1920 as an organization of self-proclaimed modern artists. With their bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms, the Group of Seven transfigured the Canadian Shield, the dense, northern boreal forest, and endless lakes, into a transcendent, spiritual force.” It was our goal to take that sensibility to improve our writing. Through our practice, I know I found inspiration and a deeper friendship of kindred spirits.

In the end, as Claire’s breast cancer revealed her multiple myeloma and it then gave rise to colon cancer and further complications, our writing practice went into hiatus. Still we walked regularly as our routine morphed into a protocol of Claire phoning me to say she was up for a walk and was I available? I was available as much as possible. Although I knew her condition was terminal, I did not think for a minute that she’d be gone so soon. I didn’t wait for her call as much to be a support to her as to selfishly want as much time together as possible. Yes, I served as listener as she processed the enormity of what she was going through, however, to the last day, we discussed our writing. In this post, I won’t go into the dignity and optimism of her approach to her cancer. Instead I’ll refer you to read Claire’s blog at to let her telling of it enlighten you of her inner fortitude.

She died June 9, 2014 and while my husband and I attended her celebration of life and I said a few words that day, it’s only now that I am truly mourning her. Her husband Ed joined Mark and me for Thanksgiving dinner and we had a great evening. Ed had just returned from another memorial for her held up in Whitehorse, Yukon where they had lived for many years. In advance of Ed’s arrival, I have to admit I worried a little that I would be too emotional because we hadn’t seen too much of him lately. Then I realized either way it would be okay. It is the season to give thanks and to accept that summer is over.

RBuchanan photo: In happier days when Ed took us flying, Mark (left) and Ed in front of Ed's Cessna at our stop at Princeton Airport.

RBuchanan photo: In happier days when Ed took us flying, Mark (left) and Ed in front of Ed’s Cessna at our stop at Princeton Airport.

RBuchanan photo: Ready for Thanksgiving Dinner

RBuchanan photo: Ready for Thanksgiving Dinner

RBuchanan photo: My Tony's Meats organic turkey is browning nicely

RBuchanan photo: My Tony’s Meats & Deli (Penticton) organic turkey is browning nicely

In another post, I’ll talk more of our walks. How we both loved nature and how their dog Yukon was such an important part of the routine. I’ll share how much she loved Ed, her whole family and all of her friends. How we’d laugh at goofy moments and occasionally take snacks for the neighbours’ horses. I’ll talk of what a privilege it was to get to know some of her sisters, brother and extended family. I might even share some of the darker moments when she was terrified by new and aggressive dogs in our hood, when she scolded me now and again, and the melancholy day Mark drove Ed to Kelowna to send Yukon back north. For now, it’s just stage one in my “grape” crush. I’ll shed another tear or two, and embrace my autumn (Claire-ity) clarity.

RBuchanan photo: Claire Festel and Yukon on one of our neighbourhood walks.

RBuchanan photo: Claire Festel and Yukon on one of our neighbourhood walks.

RBuchanan photo: Walking with Claire and Yukon was an all-season routine.

RBuchanan photo: Walking with Claire and Yukon was an all-season routine.


RBuchanan Photo: Claire and Yukon pause for a photo.


RBuchanan photo: Claire and Yukon visit with our neighbour’s horse.


RBuchanan photo: Claire and Yukon play along when I was taking Flat Abby along on my adventures for my great niece’s school project on Flat Stanley


RBuchanan photo: Some of the neighbours we would encounter on our walks.


RBuchanan photo: The pure joy of Claire’s in visiting our neighbour’s horses.

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RBuchanan photo: Grapes at Hester Creek just about ready to harvest.

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