Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Does Christmas Mean to Me?

My family came from the Netherlands before any of us children, other than my oldest brother, were born, and he was just a baby.  When they came here, they adopted Canadian customs and traditions for holidays, including Christmas.  As a result, we grew up enjoying Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Reindeer and more, much like any other child growing up in Burnaby would have done.

We did a few things that were unique to us:  We never hung up stockings. And we usually opened presents on Christmas eve.  Other than that, I think we were a pretty normal family in terms of Canadian Christmas celebrations.

Christmas 1965 - I was 6 years old
I don't recall ever thinking Santa was real.  I somehow understood that he was a fun game that parents played with their children, and that the stores were trying to use him to sell their goods. I also don't remember ever sitting on his knee, and I knew who my presents came from.

Me opening presents when I was 5
I do remember really loving the Christmas story. Someone would read all the key verses every year before we opened presents, and I loved our manger set.

Me at age 5 playing with the manger set - I liked to add my toy animals

I also loved it when my family would sing Christmas Carols.  We were all very musical, and we'd pull out the instruments and have a little mini-concert.

Family Christmas Music in Mission - Pretty sure I'm 12 here
Dad took the pictures

Antoon and I on recorders, Merina on Guitar (Big Bertha), Sylvia on Flute,
Mom on round-back mandolin

Better view of my mom on the round-back Mandolin - I have it now
Here is Away in a Manger, recorded by me (recently) on multiple instruments that we would have played when we were young, from my SoundCloud account. Click the play button to hear it:

When I was just seven years old, and was becoming an avid reader, I started reading stories in Reader's Digest books and in newspapers and other places. These stories told of the meaning of Christmas, or illustrated the spirit of Christmas.  I was too little to understand that the latter was God's Holy Spirit working in people's lives, but I do remember it clicked.  Somehow Santa really fell into the background, and it was much more about what God did in sending us Jesus.

I fell in love with the true meaning of Christmas that year, and I realized that St. Nicholas was a bit of a distraction from the real point.

In many European countries, there is a special day for Saint Nicholas, usually on Dec 6th.  This has the effect of clearly separating him from the day to celebrate Christ's first coming.  Unfortunately, in both the UK and in North America, we've combined the two.

I recently talked to my cubs about who St. Nicholas really was, and what Christmas really was about. There are things we know about him and things we can't validate, that are part of the legend and myth surrounding him.

Here are the historical facts we have about Bishop Nicholas of Myra:

Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and
ships.  In many lands, St. Nicholas day is celebrated on December 6th, the date of his death.

So Nicholas was a devout Christian who followed the example and teaching of Christ. His example is a good one to follow in that respect and he's worthy of note, and maybe even a feast day, if that's your thing!

Some stories that circulate about him include a very consistent one in which he attempted to help a man whose wife had passed away (or was very sick) and several daughters. The result was gold coins in the stockings that the girls had hung to dry in their chimney (chimney's used to be big enough you could stand in the fireplace and you'd use it to cook or dry clothes.)  This drove the tradition of stockings for St. Nicholas day.  It has nothing to do with the Nativity story.

There are other stories about St. Nicholas that are a bit harder to verify. After his death, he is credited with rescuing a 12-year-old boy who was taken as a slave by Arab pirates from Crete, on the feast day of St. Nicholas. A year later, in answer to his mother's prayers, St. Nicholas miraculously rescued the boy and whisked him back to his home and his parents.  He's also credited with praying to God who miraculously raised 3 murdered children back to life in answer to his prayers (while he was still alive.)  While there are numerous sources of these stories that corroborate fairly well, there is no evidence supporting them.

He was an interesting character, as you can see, with lots of interesting facts and unverifiable legends, but even the historical facts clearly identify him as a person of faith and personal character, with a heart of giving and helping others.  While this is a good fit for the Christmas season, I still think it's a bit of a distraction.

The real point of Christmas, and the true gift of Christmas, is summarized in John 3:16.  God gave us his son, Jesus, born in a manger, announced to lowly shepherds, worshiped by foreign magicians and soothsayers. His son was not sent to drive our foreigners (Romans) from Israel, nor to be recognized by a sinful world as a key world figure, but to give his life to redeem us from sin. To free us from the tyranny of sin, made the tyranny of the Romans, or anyone or anything else, for that matter, immaterial! One day He will free us from all the rest, too, but for now, he has left us in this broken world to proclaim the message of the Gospel to broken people. The same message that the Angel of the Lord announced and a choir of angels sang many years ago, on the first Christmas day:

"For unto you is born, this day, in the City of David, a Saviour, who is Christ, The Lord!"

That's the true meaning of Christmas!


The Little Interpreter

Experience the joy and magic of the first Christmas story as experienced by two boys.  David is a young Jewish boy, living in Persia, learning to be a scribe, when the star first appears.  Adopted by one of the wise men when his father passed away, David goes as an interpreter for the wise men.  Thomas, a young shepherd boy, is there when the angel announces the Christ child. Almost two years later, he meets David and leads him and the wise men to the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem.  Along the way, David learns lessons about faith, and about accepting differences in all people who would worship the Christ child!

An excerpt from the story can be read on my author blog site:

The Kindle eBook or paperback can be bought at these English-language Amazon sites:
US Kindle and paperback
Canadian Kindle
Australian Kindle
UK Kindle and paperback

Sunday, November 26, 2017

John Denver's Music and My Love of the Outdoors

I grew up in a Scouting family, hearing stories from my brothers and my dad about camping and great hiking experiences, so it's no surprise that I got bit with the bug when just a little boy.

At first, I did my own adventures with my friends, riding bikes to ravines and patches of bush, where we'd play.  I joined the Wolf Cubs program of Boy Scouts of Canada when I was 10, and almost right away went on a camp in a cabin up on Mount Seymour.  Following this I did a camp at a park called Garibaldi Provincial Park. The southern part of it was separated and renamed Golden Ears Provincial Park soon after.

I"m climbing the flag pole at Camp Garibaldi - this became Golden Ears Park

At 11 years old, I did a linking camp, where older cubs like me got to join a Scout camp (with the big boys).  I went with a couple of my older friends from my pack, 1st Burnaby Southview (we met in Maywood School.)  I remember sitting on the beach on a log, and looking at those gorgeous mountains on the other side of the lake and dreaming of living up there in the trees.

Then, my family moved to Mission, BC when I was 12, late in the year. The following year, as I turned 13, I discovered that if I rode my bike up the hill, I was in those same mountains. There was a small lake that had a raft with a pole you could push it around with.  There were trails and rivers galore! I was in heaven!

About that time, an artist whose music I knew and liked, came out with an album that blew my mind.  It was a live recording of a concert, and it was called an evening with John Denver.  The songs he sang positively screamed what I felt about the mountains, and wildlife, and I fell in love with that music.  I promptly learned a bunch of songs on that album and can still play and sing them.
Me, behind Antoon and Mom in Mission - 13 years old - probably playing John Denver!
When I first went out with her, I used to serenade Loretta with some of his songs! Annie's Song, This Old Guitar, and Hey It's Good To Be Back Home Again" and many others, so these songs have another nostalgic angle for me!  I still sometimes play those songs for her, but haven't for a while...

I was saddened when I heard that he crashed his plane and died back in 1997, but I continue to enjoy his music, thankful for the joy of knowing his music, and growing up to it.


Check out my Christmas Story - an excerpt and links are available here:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amazon Ads for My Book

Having tried out Facebook, I started reading up on Amazon.  You get a significant number of "impressions" which means your ad shows up on someones page on, but don't have to pay until they click on your link. What you pay for that suggests that you need to get a sale for every 5 clicks, based on my current price, but that's not happening for most authors.

Targeting is key, but those who do the targeting indicate it takes a long time to make it work, and it works better for a series.

So Amazon marketing is off the list for me. 

About my Story

Experience the joy and magic of the first Christmas story as experienced by two boys.  David, a young Jewish boy is living in Persia, learning to be a scribe, when the star first appears.  David had been adopted by one of the wise men, Gaspar, when his father had passed away, and goes as an interpreter for the wise men.  Thomas, a young shepherd boy, is there when the angel announces the Christ child. Almost two years later, he meets David and leads him and the wise men to the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem.  Along the way, David learns lessons about faith, and about accepting differences in all people who would worship the Christ child!

Major English-language Amazon sites:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Using Facebook Promotions to advertise an Amazon book

Well, I paid a mere $7.00 to Facebook to promote my book, to see what would happen.

I had a pretty good idea that Facebook would not do that well, especially after looking at my options:

I was not able to constrain my age range below 13 as that's the youngest that Facebook will let you manage a page or open an account.  So right there, they are wrong for my demographic.  I could only do Canada, as broadening the geographic range would make it more expensive than the experimental nature warranted, especially given the incorrect demographic, but the paperback is only printed in the US and UK so there's no free shipping, regardless how many your buy, so only the eBook is even a rough candidate.

In the end, they reached 329 people (actually pretty good reach for $7.00), of which only 8 clicked on the link (about $1.00/click) and only one shared the post.  Clicking on the link meant they clicked on the Facebook post that had further links out.

Unfortunately, I know who some of the clickers are, so they would have done so from other sources, too, so a couple of those 8 clicks can be scratched, as they are meaningless.

All in all, if I ever want to sell something compelling to the general public, 13 and older, in Canada, Facebook is a great option! For my children's Christmas story, not so much...

So, my next step is to start digging into Amazon Advertising to see what the options look like.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Experience the first Christmas through the eyes of two boys, in my new story, available on Amazon in eBook or paperback

Christmas music playlist on my SoundCloud

Major English-language Amazon sites:

Monday, October 30, 2017

I've Self-Published a Story

All my life I've loved to tell stories.

Some of my earliest memories were of playing with my little sister, Margaret, with some puppets that an older sister Sylvia made for us.  Mine was a cloth and felt mouse with a super-hero costume and cape. I called him Mouseface.  My little sister's was a bisque cat head with a very light cloth body, which she named Pussycat.  I loved to make up silly stories and make her laugh!

When I was older, I had a scoutmaster who invited me to bring my guitar along from time to time and I would lead my fellow scouts in a collection of campfire songs and songs we'd hear on the radio. Kumbaya would be followed by Sloop John B (Beach Boys version).  We'd tell stories at campfire time, and do skits and sing songs.  I loved the stories, skits, music and performing.

I continued leading campfires and telling stories at cub and scout camps as I progressed through being a teenage leader-in-training through to a full adult leader.  Most of these stories were canned stories, and I continue to tell stories like "The vinder-viper" and "The purple ape".  I've embellished these so that they are great favourites. My cubs continue ask for them after hearing them several times over!

In both elementary and high school, I remember thinking up whole, elaborate stories in my head, when I was supposed to be focusing on school-work.  Somehow, this didn't prevent me from passing school, but it was clearly more fun than learning at the glacial pace that school expected of me.

Then I had my own son, and various nieces and nephews, and I found that I loved to make up stories to tell to them. I'd make up running stories while driving my son and nephews to school. Sometimes, I'd go around the block before dropping them off so I could get the story to a good point. Then, the next time I took them somewhere, they'd beg me to continue it.

I've loved telling stories, especially to children, I think because of a combination of things.  First, I love the creative aspect behind it. Second, I love the performance aspect of getting up in front of a bunch of children and telling the story from memory.  And lastly, I love the joy and delight I see on the faces of the children when I'm telling them the stories.

So, a couple years ago, I started taking some of the stories that were rolling around in my head, and writing them down.  When I had a couple at a pretty good place, I started to do research.  My wife is an aspiring author, who writes for the local Collingwood newspaper, and she was a member (and webmaster for a time) for the local Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) western chapter.  I attended a few events and sessions with her, and I recommend this as a good way to get critique and input on your book.  Unfortunately, my schedule made it very hard for me to make any of the meetings for the last year.

How should I publish my book?

As I researched what it would take to publish a book, it turned out that there were several options:

You could hunt down an agent and start hitting up publishers. If one of them thought your book was any good, they would engage you and would try to change the book to suit their picture of success.  This was a problem for me.  I grew up in an age when a handful of rich people in offices somewhere took the top 40 songs that *they thought* the general public would like, fed it to us in every radio station and told us that this was what we liked.  We didnt... There were about a dozen songs I liked, and another dozen I could tolerate, but the rest basically sucked, and I put up with them waiting for one of the good ones. Meanwhile, there were a bunch of songs I had heard before and really liked, that were no longer in that top 40, so you basically didn't get them unless they ran a request line.

I couldn't bear the thought of that same mentality trying to coerce my book into their idea of "good" (which would probably suck for me) so I decided that this was a definite no-go for me.  I also figured that I was too impatient to wait for years while someone messed around with my story.  Traditional publishing typically takes a couple of years to get a book to market.  I don't move that slow, why should they!?  I guess I'm too impatient and independent for that.

Traditional publishing generally returned a fair bit more money than self-publishing, but only if some publisher liked your story, and the average still wasn't that high, and you had to do a lot of marketing yourself.  It didn't sound too promising.   Ultimately, I want my story to be read. I decided if about a dozen people bought my book and liked it, I'd consider it a success. If it didn't sell well, I'd put it on my blog site for free and see if it got read that way. In the end, I'd like it to be read.  I'm a story-teller, and want my story told! Nothing wrong with friends and family!

Another thing to note about me is that I've long been an entrepreneur, and I'm not afraid to take chances, and do things myself. I've published iOS and Android apps, written (back in the day) 100% pure Java programs, and generally done things that others said were impossible.  I'm somewhat intentionally too ignorant to know that I can't do something, so I go ahead and do it.  The impossible sometimes dissolves when you do that. Once in a blue moon it doesn't.  As a tech entrepreneur, you cannot be afraid of failure, or you'll never succeed, because generally, anything you do is risky.

My previous colleagues would come up with something that we wanted to do, and they'd laugh, because I'd start out saying "That's not going to work because..." and I'd list a bunch of obstacles.  Somewhere in the next 48 hours I'd come back and say "I've figured out how to do it..." and often I'd have a working prototype!

So, in short, I figured that self publishing was for me.

Self publishing is a spectrum. At one end are companies like Friesen Press, who for a fee will help you create your book.  They want about $2,500.00 to do a serious engagement. They'll engage for small bits but will push you for that moderate package.  I suspect it's the one that they've had the most success at, so I'm not faulting them, but my research told me that the average self-published book made $500.00, so the math didn't work.

At the other end is do-it-all-yourself.  Sounds scary, but I'm a bit of a nut, so I decided to go for broke.  I love to try new things, and this sounded like a great opportunity to learn something new.

I made it a project!

I decided last year that I wanted to take a Christmas story that I was working on, and get it out by the next Christmas (this Christmas, 2017).

So I began working the story hard.  I took my early draft and condensed it. And then I condensed it again. And then I looked at everything in it critically and asked myself, "Does that really belong in my story?" And so I condensed it more.  I worked on using dialog to tell the story, instead of narration, wherever possible. And then I condensed it more.

Then I started proofing it. For reasons too numerous to get into, I was unable to find a proofreader so I did my own proofreading. You're not supposed to, but I did. My English skills are quite good and once you tell Word that you are a Canadian, spell checker liked my Canadian spelling and supported it quite nicely.  I took awkward sections and reworked them until they didn't feel awkward.  I looked at dialog and reworked it.  It kept feeling better.

Now, I'm a perfectionist, but somewhere you have to draw the line and say "That's good enough!"

I had a deadline for myself. By mid-October I needed to start working with Amazon to get the eBook formatted, so that by the beginning of November, the book would be available in time for the Christmas season.  I will admit that I kept proofing it as I went along. I read it about 10 times in the Kindle Previewer, and kept finding little things I wanted to fix, so I'd make changes, upload them to Amazon, download the .mobi version and load it back into the previewer.

I signed up as a Canadian publisher with the Canadian government and got a range of ISBN numbers, for free.  I used one for my eBook and one for my paperback.

I discovered some beta programs that Amazon was running and signed up for a KDP account.

I gave in and spent some money on getting iStockPhoto credits so I could buy royalty-free art for my cover page from them.  So I'm out about $30.00 but I can buy a few more pictures with the credits.

In the middle of my cub scout volunteering and planning, my Bible Study group starting up for the fall, a health problem that had Loretta call 911 for me, and intense efforts at work, I managed to do all of this, and plan out a marketing campaign that includes a bunch of social media.  I also created my Amazon KDP account, formatted and uploaded both an eBook and paperback version, setup payment mechanisms, configured an author blog and set up my AuthorCentral site.  Pretty crazy stuff, but I've done all this and more for software, in the past, so I don't find it that daunting.  Try publishing an iOS app someday! This was easy, by comparison!

And I've actually had fun doing it!

It's done!

Well, on Saturday October 28, 2017, I posted both my eBook and my paperback.  They told me it could take up to 72 hours to be live, but the next morning the paperback was available, and the eBook was ready for pre-order for the Nov 4, 2017 release date!

The eBook can be pre-ordered here until Nov 4, at which time you can download it immediately.  

The paperback version can be ordered here.  If you order the paperback, you can download the eBook for free.

Free Christmas music!

I also created a playlist of my Christmas songs on my SoundCloud account that fit the story and named it after the book.  To hear these songs, click the play button below and adjust your volume:

These songs were all done on my Mac Mini using GarageBand. I had a blast recording them! All instruments and vocals are me! No

So, there, in a nutshell, is my latest mad venture!  Go big or go home!

More to come!

I'll be posting a few excerpts from the book that stand alone on my writers blog site located here:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Summers in Mission

When I was 12 my family moved from Burnaby to the town of Mission, BC. It was about an hours drive up the Fraser valley across the River from Abbotsford.

When we first moved there, it was a bit of a culture shock for me.  I came from Burnaby, which was essentially a part of the greater Vancouver area.  Mission was so small that when we came from the Abbotsford side at night, from the other side of the river you'd only see a handful of lights on the hills of Mission.  You'd walk along the downtown stretch (all 4 or 5 blocks of it) on a Saturday morning and almost always see people you recognized from school. That almost never happened in Burnaby!

The day we moved there it had hailed and the hailstones, way bigger than what I'd ever seen in the lower mainland, looked like snow piled up on the ground and about a quarter inch in diameter! It was late fall and we had moved to a street that was essentially the hill up the side of the valley into the mountains.  I thought I'd never ride my bike again, but I soon got my legs for the hills.

I turned 13 before my first summer in Mission.  Being inland, when it warmed up, it was usually warmer there than in Vancouver, so it would start getting nice and warm about April or May.

Antoon, Mom and I on the porch of the house in Mission - I'm 13 here and wearing my swimsuit

Then, as it began to warm up that first Summer in Mission, I began to make discoveries.

I discovered was that if you were willing to ride your bike for about 20 minutes up the hills, you would arrive at a lake on the side of Dewdney Trunk road. I never knew what the park was called when I was a boy, but looking it up now, it's called Bear Mountain park.

Bear Mountain Park North of Mission on Dewdney Trunk Road
The little lake had a raft and a pole you could use to push it around. The next sunny day, I put my swimsuit on under my shorts, rode my bike up to the lake, pulled it into the bushes, pulled off everything except my swimsuit and took the raft for a spin.  I only jumped into the lake once. the reeds at the bottom made it hard to get back to the surface, which was a bit scary, not to mention yucky!

I would spend an afternoon there, poling the raft around the lake, then climb up the hill behind it and go exploring on trails, or slosh through the swamp where the water ran out of the lake, all in nothing but my swimsuit and my bare feet. I was absolutely delighted!

It didn't take long to discover other places to play. There were creeks, that usually had muddy spots where you'd pretend it was quicksand. Or you'd swim in a pool in the creek, or go fishing there.  I missed my friends in Burnaby, but there were so many fun things for a boy to do with all that forest, and lakes and creeks and mountains all around.

One of my favourite places was Mount Mary Ann.  The first time I discovered it was with a friend, who showed me a mining tunnel that ran horizontally into the mountain at the bottom of the crag. Nowadays they have it boarded up for safety reasons, but back then it was a kid's paradise to play in. It had a moss-covered rocky crag that you could climb, with a pit in it.

Aerial View of Mount Mary Ann with the rock crags that I used to climb on. The mining tunnel was at the bottom among the trees on the lower right.
I loved to climb on those crags in the summer time. I'd wear just my shorts and ride my bike there.  I'd hide my bike in the bushes and go climbing up the rocks. Then I'd sit on the rocks and feel the sun baking my skin, cooled a bit by the breeze that blew down the valley.

I remember being stopped on my bike there one day, catching my breath after climbing the Stave Lake Road hill, and a little yellow finch flew onto my handle-bars.  I froze and didn't move, just watching him so close and so cute, not wanting him to fly away!

I had always loved the outdoors, but Mission was were I developed that love into a lifelong enjoyment of camping, hiking and adventuring!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summers in Burnaby

Summer was my favourite time of year.  As soon as it started to get warm I had a desire to take my shoes and socks off and lose my shirt.  It was fun to run around the yard in just shorts and feel the grass under my bare feet, but there were lots of other things a little boy could enjoy in a Burnaby summer back then.

When I was 9 and 10, my older brother Tony became a Playground Supervisor for the Burnaby Parks Board at Lobley Park in Burnaby.  I would walk there with him, and as soon as I got there my shirt and shoes would all come off and I'd spend the entire day in my bathing suit.  Tony and other teens would lead fun arts and crafts, and we'd go splash in the wading pool and play on the playground.

The park had lots of trees (still does) so you could always find shade to play in, and back then it had a full playground with monkey bars, swings, teeter totters and a merry go round.  Many of the trees are still there, though the playground is gone and the wading pool has been replaced by an expanded firehall.

Lobley Park today

I'd also go with my friends to the local swimming pools. There was MacPherson, which cost 15 cents, or once I was a bit older (9 years old), I was allowed to go to Central Park pool which was only 10 cents.  We'd ride our bikes there in just our bathing suits (no helmets, and bare feet) with our towels over our shoulders.  Going to MacPherson there was a hill with a dirt jump we'd go over.  If it was Central Park, we'd go as fast as we could down the main trail, then jam on the back-pedal brakes to see who could make the longest skid mark. Both pools are still there are largely unchanged.
MacPherson Pool today

Image result for Central Park outdoor pool in burnaby
Central Park Pool today

We also often went to Stanley Park. Our favourite place was Second Beach because it had a playground. I often had a friend tag along. We'd load the station wagon up with a bunch of us in the back (no seat belts back then).  We wouldn't even bother with a change of clothes or shoes. We'd go in our bathing suits and bring a towel. Nothing else required. Some pictures below of one of our Second Beach excursions:

Me and my friend Shawn at 2nd beach, play fighting. Note the sand on our bare feet.

Posing with my mom. Very sandy bare feet!

And with my dad - I'm doing bunny ears on him!