February 24, 2016

Local boys self-publish science fiction adventure

As published in The Erin Advocate

When I was 12, I thought that I could write a novel. I’ve now been procrastinating for 47 years. Despite earning a degree in English literature and writing thousands of newspaper articles, there is still no novel in sight.

So I was a bit envious when I met Henri Clark from Hillsburgh, who just went ahead and did it. His 13th birthday party was also a book launching.

The Adventures of Zeppron features a hero in another universe whose space ship is shot down, far from his home planet. He makes alliances with mysterious characters and does high-tech battle with an even more mysterious enemy. 

Author Henri Clark and Illustrator George Wilson
“Zeppron is young and small, but with the knowledge of an adult,” said Henri. “He uses technology to his advantage, like MacGyver.” Angus MacGyver was a TV secret agent (1985-1992) known for solving complex problems by making devices out of ordinary objects.

Science fiction is a good way for a novelist to start out, since there is plenty of inspiration in popular movies and TV shows, and it permits a wide range of possibilities.

“I can invent technology for whatever I need,” said Henri, who wrote the book in about 4 months. It started out as a short story, but with so many ideas floating around, it expanding to a 169-page novel, and a plan to write five more as a series.

Adventures include the use of a glowing golden device called the Staff of Zepronas that can restore things that have been damaged. Then there is the amazing suit that enables Zeppron to fly and control weapon systems.

The story focuses on the friendship among the good guys, with many narrow escapes as they try to stop the evil Blackhat from succeeding.

“It’s not supposed to be happy or sad – it is a series of cliffhangers, getting the reader to the next section,” said Henri.

His partner in the publishing project is his friend George Wilson, who created the illustrations that appear on the title pages for each part. He is also working on promotion.

They have their own business card and postcard to advertise the book, and they’ve been interviewed by a columnist from Metroland Media.

The book looks cool with its glossy cover, and though it was done for fun, they are selling it for $9.59 US ($13+ CAN) on Amazon.com. Just Google the words Zeppron and Clark and you’ll find a number of websites from different countries selling the book.

It was done through the website blurb.com, which for a very low cost enabled them to set the book up, get a small number of copies and make it available to the public.

With the “print-on-demand” system, customers get the book in just a few days, and there is no need for an expensive inventory.

February 17, 2016

Spring is in the air at Erin Garden Club

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the middle of winter, when the great outdoors is looking a bit dreary, a meeting of the Erin Garden Club is just the thing to stir up hopes of springtime.

The group normally meets in the Wellington Room at Centre 2000, providing an opportunity each month for education and inspiration on all aspects of gardening.

“We are a service group and we need new volunteers to help in planting and maintaining gardens in the village of Erin,” said President Jenny Frankland, at the January meeting.

Birdhouse Building was the topic for speaker JoAnne Howes, but not the traditional style of construction. She took on the creative challenge of making birdhouses out of natural material such as gourds, or household objects just waiting to be re-used.

“We went to Wastewise and got all kinds of junk,” said Howes, showing off a series of unique creations. “We had fun making these, and I think we spent $10.”

Howes showed off several bird shelters made from unlikely items, such as a teapot, a jelly mould, an olive oil can and children’s rubber boots. You can even make a birdhouse out of a 2-litre plastic pop bottle, painted to suit your garden décor. Step-by-step instructions for various projects are readily available on-line.

Nest-friendly enclosures will normally have a hole of 1 to 1.5 inches, and an interior area of 4 to 5 inches square, depending on the type of bird you want to attract. An outside perch is needed, and some ventilation and drainage holes inside are a good idea.

Instead of creating complete birdhouses, some gardeners simply like to create sheltered nooks for birds that are willing to build more open nests. Just make sure that cats can’t get at them.

Birds will use a wide variety of materials for nests, including sticks, moss, grasses, leaves, feathers, dog hair, dryer lint, pine needles, bits of string and cedar chips. Providing a nearby supply could encourage a building project.

The Garden Club has a series of flower shows with different themes, where members can compete with entries that they have grown or designed.

There are various guest speakers throughout the year, with Garden Ergonomics featured at the February 24 meeting. Other topics include the growing of cacti and other succulents, plant spirit medicine and home landscape principles.

Some sessions provide hands-on workshops, such as Fairy Garden Planting, Garden Hedgehogs and Seasonal Decorations.

Other events are field trips to special gardens, and there’s the Garden House Tour on July 16, which is open to the public. On September 9-10, the club will have their Plant Sale at McMillan Park in Erin village. The Annual Meeting in October features a Photography Show.

Members are entitled to discounts at Country Crops, Country Garden Concrete, the Dufferin Garden Centre, Greenscape Nursery and Meadowville Garden Centre.

More information about the club, also known as the Erin Horticultural Society, is available at eringardenclub.ca.

February 10, 2016

County wants ideas for new Hillsburgh Library

As published in The Erin Advocate

Libraries have done a good job of moving beyond books in the services they offer, but with a new library complex opening in Hillsburgh next year, there is an opportunity to do even better.

Wellington County staff and +VG Architects are seeking input on what features people would like to see. Pick up a comment card at existing local branches or the Town office, send an email to HillsburghLibrarycomments@wellington.ca or visit the library section of the county website.

Libraries are all about sharing, learning, community engagement and culture. So what can we share in that physical space that is not readily available on the internet?

How about the work of local artists? Of course, the library foyer should be filled with a series of art exhibits. But what if you could borrow a piece of art for free, with the option to buy it?

How about face-to-face conversation? An enclosed veranda overlooking the pond, with a café and comfortable seating, would be an attractive social meeting space.

How about seeds? A seed library would allow patrons to take home a variety of seeds for their gardens and flowerpots, and later in the season, contribute seeds from their plants back to the community stock.

How about tools, and toys, and musical instruments? A co-op for sharing these would require some initial investment, and perhaps a membership fee, but it could start small and be built up with fundraising and item donations.

How about garden plots? We’re long overdue for a community garden, which would allow apartment dwellers or owners of small properties to work a borrowed patch of fertile soil. It could be a secure, supervised facility, one of many outdoor features on the spacious site.

How about a trails welcome centre? This is a unique, beautiful public space. We need to promote it and take advantage of the opportunity for nature education. The library could be a hub for use of an around-the-pond trail, the Elora Cataract Trailway (owned by Credit Valley Conservation) and the nearby Nestlé parklands.

How about a stage overlooking the grounds, for outdoor concerts? How about canoe and bicycle rentals? How about permanent chess board tables on a patio? Once the ideas start flowing, there’s no telling what could be considered.

The Library has made a good effort to use new technologies, with services such as its e-book system and 3D printers. It should remain vigilant for opportunities to add on to what people can already do at home.

Within the structure, dedicated spaces are needed for functions such as children’s programming, workstations that can be reserved by business people and older students, and perhaps a magazine lounge. There should be a small meeting room, and a larger room for lectures, small-scale performances or travelling exhibits.

Perhaps the treasures of the Museum and Archives could be displayed more throughout the county. How about a local history corner, instead of just a couple of shelves?

When I was a kid, our school did not have a proper library, but the public library arrived in the school parking lot once a week in the form of a Bookmobile. It was a converted bus filled with bookshelves.

Now that schools do have adequate libraries, county staff should think about what unique services they might be able to deliver to the public outside the library buildings, either at schools, special events or other community facilities.

And then of course there’s the book collection. DVDs may be following videotapes into oblivion, but books are not going away. So we’ll need a good selection of those too.

Warden George Bridge says the Hillsburgh Library will be “a showpiece of our library system, and indeed the envy of library systems throughout the Province.” The building needs to be attractive, complimenting the 1892 house that will be part of it, but its form must be driven primarily by the needs of its users.

February 03, 2016

Mayor’s Breakfast good for information and connections

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Mayor‘s bi-annual breakfast meetings can be useful not only to business people, but to anyone willing to get up early for an update on activities at the Town and County, and a chance to talk to other people who care about local affairs.

Al Alls hosted one at David’s Restaurant on January 19, including presentations by Economic Development Officer Robyn Mulder, her Wellington counterpart Jana Burns and County Warden George Bridge.

The mayor covered a few highlights of recent Town activities, such as digging out soft spots and old corduroy logs during reconstruction of 17 Sideroad, replacing rotted boards at Hull’s Dam and installing new boards at the Hillsburgh arena – which could become a sledge hockey centre.

He took the opportunity to publicly introduce two new members of Town staff, Michael Tapp (IT Systems Administration) and Carol House (Chief Building Official), and to remind people that the Town would like to hold a major celebration for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

He stressed the importance of getting the Wastewater Environmental Assessment done during this term of council, and of implementing the Momentum Economic Action Plan to build up the commercial and industrial tax base.

“We need to kickstart this community and get it going,” he said. “The Town is open for business.”

Warden Bridge said Wellington is actively promoting local benefits to potential new residents.

“We want make sure people understand that they can do everything they can do in the big city, and have a quality of life they will never have the big city.”

He said rural areas and small towns need access to reliable, high speed internet, especially for high-tech farms and home-based entrepreneurs. The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus is working on a $287 million project called SWIFT, to build a fibre optic cable backbone that would enable private firms to deliver the service more economically.

They’re hoping for $100 million from the federal government and $50 million from the province, plus major private sector investment to make the plan a reality. He points out there are 3.5 million people living to the west of the GTA-Hamilton area who don’t get enough support from senior governments. He said municipal property taxes cannot bear the cost of needed improvements, so major infrastructure funding is needed.

Robyn Mulder said that she would be producing a monthly Business Newsletter for Erin. There is a section of the Town website, erin.ca, dedicated to economic development, with links to various reports and initiatives.

For example, business respondents are needed for the EmployerOne Survey, by the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. It will analyze hiring trends and recruitment strategies, to provide guidance to schools, community partners and government on the local labour market.

Jana Burns highlighted some County initiatives, including Global Talent Attraction, which helps businesses access the people they need from the “talent pool”. That’s one part of the Business Retention and Expansion project, which this year will focus on the downtown retail sector.

Burns also highlighted the promotion of events, especially the 2016 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo, to be held September 20-24 in Harriston. It will bring in about 75,000 visitors, an opportunity to promote Wellington’s assets, including food and entertainment.

They continue to promote the Taste•Real initiative, with the Source It Here food networking event February 8 at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre near Guelph.

The County is also working on a visitors map, a signage strategy, live & work bus tours, an Agri-Food Forum on international trade, and has released a Welcome to Wellington video that features Erin.