New West Author Releases Awesome Children’s Book!

Updated to add: the contest (see below!) will remain open until December 6th at 5pm!

I’m a huge fan of giving books for all gift giving occasions, and I am super thrilled that a local writer, Grayson Smith, is releasing a children’s book right here in New West, called There’s a Norseman in the Classroom! 

Smith, a Delta Police Department constable, has lived in New Westminster for five years with his growing family. He enjoys New West’s small town feel, walkability, and sense of community connectedness and said his favourite thing to do here is to sit by the big tin soldier outside the River Market and look out on the Fraser with a sandwich and snacks from Donald’s Market, while letting his two active boys run on the boardwalk and through the old ship.

His book features a noisy Norseman appearing unexpectedly in a grade two classroom and follows an unusual and unruly student’s introduction to school life. It explores how classroom cultures can be shaped towards acceptance and inclusion. Even better, author and police officer Grayson Smith, is supporting athletes with intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics British Columbia, with $2 donated for every copy sold.

“Teaching inclusion to kids is important and simple: inclusion looks exactly like kindness,” Smith said. “Being generous, friendly, and considerate is something that everyone can do, and can have a big impact on the people who receive it.”

Smith pointed out, It seems that, depending on people’s attitudes, a classroom can develop into a place of either inclusion or exclusion of people who come across differently.” He hopes those who read the book will begin to recognize “Norsemen” in their own lives, and learn to accept those who may be perceived as different.


Smith has been a police officer since 2008, and starting writing children’s books as a creative outlet. While putting on a uniform, enforcing laws, and standing in the dark corners, Smith found that writing, especially about the light-hearted, was valuable in maintaining perspective. He started an independent small press, Peppermint Toast Publishing, which focuses on the production of children’s picture books by new and emerging authors, and profit-sharing partnerships with local charities. His colleagues at the detachment are very supportive of his book, as well as in police departments across the lower mainland. A lot of members have kids who have enjoyed the book. “Interestingly, a few officers have chatted with me about their children’s book ideas, so it wouldn’t surprise me if more police officers turn into authors someday,” says Smith.

Why a Norseman?

I have to admit a bit of bias that the book features a Norseman (Arbo is a common Norwegian name). Smith said he put a lot of thought into why a Norseman. “I am married to a teacher who, when we talked about our days, would tell me about the classroom culture and the offences that happened at a grade two level. I initially thought about having a scary creature join as a student, but later shifted to emphasize that any offences would be inadvertent. I chose a character who would, at first glance, cause people to think a certain way about him, which leaves room for people to uncover nuances about the reasons and results of his behaviour. In that way, I chose ‘Norseman’ over ‘Viking’ so that the character wasn’t on a rampage, but rather haplessly being himself.”

There’s a Norseman in the Classroom! is beautifully illustrated by Timothy Banks, who lives and works in his studio in Charleston, South Carolina. Along with his wife, three daughters, and one crazy pug, he enjoys playing in the backyard, and watching alligators swim by his house.

“The truth is, due to my lack of visually artistic skill, I had no idea what the book would look like, ” said Smith.

He found Banks on a Hire an Illustrator. “He carried the weight of the visual content for the story, and his insight for what Norm would look like and the way he designed the rest of the illustration to be background for the main action was integral to the book. He was fantastic to work with,” said Smith.


DIY Publishing

Smith’s publishing company, Peppermint Toast, is his own. “In January, 2010, I was on vacation and decided to write a short story for my niece. The story took shape in an evening, and the result was a rhyming adventure about a tiny mite with a wild imagination who travels to the nearest star, or maybe to the light of the nearest lamppost. I approached my wife’s cousin, Alana Kyle, who brought the story to life with her masterful illustrations. Peppermint Toast Publishing emerged to publish this first book, Flight of the Mite, which was released in December, 2013.”

Peppermint Toast Publishing is an independent small press based here in New West. They focus on children’s literature to showcase the talent of authors and illustrators from all walks of life. Beyond the exciting venture of turning scratchings and sketches into published works, they eagerly direct proceeds from each of our books to local charities and non-profit organizations. “These valuable partnerships root Peppermint Toast in an unconventional business approach based on generosity, mutual flourishing, and imagination,” says Smith.

The publishing company has, as part of its mandate, a goal to donate proceeds from every book sold to a partner charity. Peppermint Toast gives proceeds on an ongoing basis to BC Children’s Hospital, Canuck Place, JDRF, Victoria Native Friendship Centre, and now Special Olympics BC, depending on the book. These partnerships are established either by matching the content of the book to the charity, or through the author’s relationship with the organization.

Smith chose the Special Olympics for Norseman because of his involvement with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the past several years. The run is a fundraising initiative for the Special Olympics. Smith is lucky enough to have gotten to know a few athletes, and says he is impressed with their drive and athletic abilities. “It was an easy fit to direct proceeds from a book that highlights inclusion despite differences to the Special Olympics,” he said.

Smith is a bit mysterious when it comes to what’s next on the horizon. “Because writing is a hobby for me, I need to work on recovering the cost of producing the books before I can start on another project. That said, I’ve passed another story on to Timothy Banks, which may or may not include Norm the Norseman facing a trio of bullying brothers in a grade three classroom. Not sure if or when that project may come to life, but for now, my focus is on getting the books into the hands of young readers.”

Launch Event & Contest!

To officially launch There’s a Norseman in the Classroom!, Peppermint Toast Publishing is hosting a free, family-friendly event with children’s creative programming, an author reading, raffle prizes, and book signings. Books are also available for sale online.

All welcome at the event, no registration required. It is Saturday, December 10 from 10:30am to 11:30am at River Market.

Peppermint Toast has also offered one lucky Tenth reader a signed copy of this book! To enter to win, simply comment on this post with a favourite book from your childhood. Local winners only – you must be available to pick this book up in New West.

Smith says his favourite childhood book was Henry’s Awful Mistake by Robert Quackenbush. Mine was easily Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume though when I read it now, I don’t have the same reaction. How about you? Comment and be entered to win. 

20th St. to 7/11: Please don’t you be my neighbour

Sometimes I wish New Westminster would block new pizza joints, sports bars and dollar stores from setting up shop in the city. It’s frustrating to see shiny new retail space taken over by these kinds of businesses. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with pizza, beer or Made-In-China junk (ok, maybe that last one), but I think there are already too many of the same. I want New West to have a more varied, and well, ambitious, mix of retailers and restaurants. I want our city to stop being such an economic underachiever and create shopping districts for real shoppers (not just ramen-eating Douglas College students and blue-haired seniors).

[Ed. note – a few commenters have said they were offended at that last comment. I didn’t write it to make fun of seniors and students. I’m well aware that most students eat more than ramen, and that most seniors aren’t afflicted with blue hair! What I tried (and apparently failed) to convey was that too many local businesses, in my opinion, are catering to these stereotypes instead of occupying a distinct niche that appeals to the variety of shoppers I observe here in New West. I don’t just mean that I’d like to see more shops targeting younger and more affluent shoppers (though that would be nice to see too).]

7/11 logo

While my somewhat elitist prejudice is aesthetic and (admittedly) rather passive, Connaught Heights homeowners are actively trying to block a specific business from setting up shop in the sleepy commercial strip on 20th St. just uphill from the SkyTrain The target of their opposition: 7/11.

“This will be a gathering place for street people, prostitutes and drug dealers,” area resident Peter Saran explained to me via email. “It will bring the wrong kind of people into our quiet family orientated community. Not to mention hurt the other local businesses already there and will make the 20th Street traffic situation even worse – if that is possible. There are already numerous 7/11s in New Westminster, but this one will be in a residential neighbourhood.

“We do not oppose business at all but if the city is trying to enhance the area is this the right choice? Not at all! Put in a Starbucks etc… We are not happy and no one cares about the safety of our children.”

Saran says he has talked to various folks at the city, including planners and councillors, but to no avail. I can see why. I mean, should the city really be telling commercial property owners who they can and cannot lease or sell to? There’s sure a slippery slope to fear there. But at the same time, I can see why neighbours would wish to have veto power over what is built in their neighbourhood – especially if they believe a particular business would make the area less safe.

What do you think?

Update: Peter Saran emailed me some comments he wanted me to share with you. Here’s what he has to say upon reading your comments:

Hi Everyone, this is the person that asked Briana to post my concerns on her blog & I thank everyone for their feedback, most of which I agree with. Yes I am the direct neighbor to this project & yes Briana I have spoken to many of my neighbors who do share the same sentiment, as they have approached me. I do have a personal interest, of course I do! I live right beside the project, as would all of you. I am pro business & would welcome one into this space, just not this particular one. I think 7/11 is a fine business in the day, it’s at late night that raises my concerns. My pub shares back streets & alleys with 7/11 & I have seen first hand the affects this business has on its community. We’ve had to call the city to get them to install flood lights around the 7/11 to clean up the drug dealers, street people etc…as our staff were afraid to leave. The city then had to ramp up police enforcement around it to try & take care of the problem, because they wouldn’t deal with it. That is why I had to speak up, not because of being afraid of change, property value or Ozzy- although I thought that was funny:) – Peter

I work closely with the police dept, fire dept & city hall, ask them what happens at 7/11 late night-the stats don’t lie! I have 2 young children & want to protect them, as well as our community. Those of you who know me or my pub-The Rivers Reach- know we are anything but envious non-achievers, we raise thousands of dollars every year for this community & the people & businesses of New Westminster. Last year alone we supported over 200 local causes incl. The Salvation Army, United Way, Justice Institute, Police Dept, Fire Dept, City Hall, Monarch Place, Cops 4 Cancer, the Purpose Society etc… because we care about our community! And Robert if you think these people whom we’ve supported & our customers are bad people then you’re right we invite questionable characters- I think your wrong though, these people are the backbone of this city & the Reach is the exact opposite of a bad influence. I bring these same community first ideals to the West End & will do what is best for my family & the people who live here. My personal opinion is that 7/11 doesn’t do enough to ensure the best interest of the community. Thank-you all for your time & thank-you Briana!! – Peter

I wasn’t expecting quite so many opinions on the matter, but it’s been interesting to see how y’all have responded!

Metro Vancouver Seeks to Amend Solid Waste Management Plan

In my mailbox today, I got a little piece of paper that appears to be junk mail. Upon further inspection, it was a blurb from the Metro Vancouver letting me know they are seeking to amend their solid waste plan, by exporting our garbage to the United States. The Cache Creek landfill, long one of the Lower Mainland’s dumping grounds, is closing down in 2010 and the powers that be apparently went, “Huh. Well. What are we going to do wih all that garbage?”

So they have two proposals they want the public’s input on:  

One proposal will see part of our garbage delivered via truck to a Surrey facility, where it will be transferred to rail, and will then go through Surrey, Delta, and White Rock, and eventually make its way to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Washington State. Another part of our garbage in loaded containers will be transported along Highway 1 via truck and will head south to the US along Highway 11 in Abbotsford, and then to Sumas, Washington, where it will be transferred to rail.

The other proposal will see part of the garbage delivered to an Annacis Island facility, where it will be transferred to rail, and it will go via train through New Westminster, Surrey, Delta, White Rock, and then cross the border. The other part will be delivered via truck along Highway 1 to Chilliwack, and then transferred to rail, where it will head south through Abbotsford and finally into the United States, eventually ending at either a landfill in Oregon or a landfill in Washington. 

Here’s a wee map of the proposals, courtesy of the Metro Vancouver, although I find it slightly alarming that once the proposed garbage routes hit the United States they apparently disappear into the ether and cease to exist:

Here’s where I get all ranty. I have two beefs with these “plans”.

One: why aren’t they teaching people how to reduce waste instead of just trucking it off to somewhere unseen? Recycling compliance is, to be blunt, terrible. People still throw away items that are perfectly recyclable or reusable (and I am guilty too) and worse, there are many recyclable items that you can’t even put into the municipal curbside collection bins. Here at Chez Arbo, we’ve made a point of hanging onto all of our packaging from items we buy at London Drugs, since they claim they will take back all packaging from items purchased at their store but it’s a cosmic pain in the butt to have to find a place to store bulky items like styrofoam until our next trip to the store. We also make the effort and take  certain items, like code 6 or 7 plastics, to the municipal recycle centre at Canada Games Pool because we can’t put it into our recycling bins in the waste room.  But we can’t compost in our multi-family housing complex and so all those green scraps go straight into the landfill. The Vancouver Sun reported in late 2008 that recycling in multi-family housing is pathetic, at best. Citizens aren’t able to put a lot of items into any of the recycling depots – curbside or not – because facilties don’t exist. You know those Tim Horton’s and Starbucks’ cups? NOT RECYCLABLE. Seriously. The corrugated paper jackets are. The cups and lids are not. 

While I can understand that an immediate solution needs to be found, where are the educational initiatives? There is a Zero Waste Challenge initiative at a regional level, and that’s great, but why isn’t there some sort of Green Action Team all over the local media, conducting educational seminars, talking to children at schools and teaching new residents and homeowners what they can do? Why aren’t they approaching groups like The BC Apartment Owners and Managers Association to try and get more people on board with recycling? Where are the municipalities standing up and being leaders in green initiatives and lowering waste? Why is the town of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba (no offense, Leaf Rapidians) beating us to the punch banning plastic bags? Aren’t we known in BC as the Greenie Weenies? Aren’t we supposed to be granola-eating, fleece-wearing, Birkenstock-sporting, hippies in disguise? I mean, come on, Greenpeace was born here. Why is some town in Manitoba taking a more proactive stance that we are? I realize a lot of these are rhetorical questions but I doubt I am the only person asking them. 

Beef Number Two: The old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” really applies here. If people don’t know where their garbage goes, why on earth will they care? Have you been to a transfer station lately? Holy cow! The amount of items being thrown away that can be reused, given to charity, or given away on sites like Freecycle  and Craigslist is ridiculous. Surrey has a great, well-used site called Surrey Reuses – I’d love to see New Westminster come up with a similar site. I’ve got about ten things I’d happily give away for free right now if such a site existed because I’d love to pass on my things to someone who isn’t planning on reselling them – which is what I find happens with most stuff I give away for free on Craigslist and that drives me crazy and is a whole other rant. 

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is looking for the public’s input to the two proposals to deal with solid waste, and with the possibility of garbage being transported through our city (albeit in sealed containers) I would think many New Westminster residents would be interested in attending the public sessions. There are four planned and for all four, registration is from 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. and the meeting is scheduled for 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Make sure your opinions are counted! 

March 25, 2009
Evergreen Hall
9291 Corbould St

March 26, 2009
Abbotsford Banquet Centre
33738 Laurel St.

March 31, 2009
Surrey/Delta/New Westminster
Compass Point Inn
9850 King George Hwy.

April 1, 2009
Surrey/White Rock
Pacific Inn and Conference Centre
1160 King George Hwy.



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Towards a Wireless City *UPDATED WITH MAP*


I am one of those people who works better when I have a din of white noise behind me, when I’m in a place with a good feel, surrounded by people but not in demand. For me, coffee and good work go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have spent the majority of my university years (both undergrad and post-grad) doing my studying and schoolwork in coffee shops.

When I lived at SFU, I was able to give my business to the locally owned SFU institution Renaissance Coffee and the new organic sustainably-minded joint, Nature’s Garden Organic Deli run by SFU alumni Bill and Doris. What I loved about these places is that they had free wireless internet for patrons, good seating for using a computer, and a friendly atmosphere. Though the food at Renaissance wasn’t my favourite, and their “organic-ness” is in dispute, they were open the latest of the on-campus coffee places and their internet was provided through the SFU wireless system. Nature’s Garden had great organic food, cheap coffee and nice people. In a pinch, I’d frequent the Starbucks at Kensington and Hastings which featured a long study table with several outlets, strong fast internet access (at a steep price), and great white noise.

Now that I live off campus and am a working professional, I still enjoy a good wireless cafe for those times that I’m blogging at T2F or Disadventure, or for when I’m finishing up my thesis work. However, when I’m in New West visiting Will and Briana (also T2F creators), there are no good wireless cafes to go to if you want to support local business.

Now some of you would argue this, citing Blenz at 6th and 6th (a Canadian franchise) which provides free wireless to customers but has no outlets available, and the six Starbucks locations all over the city, which provide wireless internet free for two hours with a valid starbucks card code. However – given this city’s many students, the popular coffee culture, and the increasing popularity and dependence on wireless internet devices, if a New West native like me is unable to identify a good, locally owned wireless internet cafe, I think there aren’t enough to meet the demand. Even the amazing former Yaletownish eatery in New West’s Uptown, The Orange Room, had no internet access for patrons.

Two wireless cafe-finding resources, notably (a user-generated index of wireless cafes in Greater Vancouver that has sadly fallen far out of date) and show no updated listings of New West wireless cafes. If a student, person traveling on business, or any of the growing throng of Blackberry and iPhone users travelled through New West, they’d find no convenient, social place to connect – either to the internet or to other people. For those who are unfamiliar, let me let you in on the culture of wireless internet that seems to have changed our society: I believe that this lack of connection makes a lasting statement about our community to visitors and residents alike that we are stuck, isolated and unconnected. Sure, that might be dramatic, but New West is perpetually on the precipice of transformation from one-trick ‘historic town’ pony to a multi-dimensional, multi-generational dynamic city. So you say New Westminster is a historic little town which isn’t trying to be the next Silicon Valley – I say check out touristy and historic litle LaConner (with less than 1000 municipal citizens) where my parents live, provides wireless internet to downtown visitors and residents free of charge. The signal in the streets is strong enough to check your e-mail, but step into your favourite bookstore/cafe where they provide broadband wireless and power outlets so you can stop for a bite, a book, and a browse on the internet if you need it.

I greatly appreciate the cafes without plugs or wireless internet, so I can sit and chat with my friends and enjoy the time spent in a nice social environment. But I assure you, it’s not those cafes I keep an index of in my head – it’s the cafes with a strong wireless signal, at least one accessible power outlet, and a reasonable coffee environment that I remember. Since wireless internet became widely available (and as cheap as a one-time $90 wireless router and broadband access at $40/month), many have remarked how wireless internet has improved business for coffee shops and bookstores, even giving them an edge over the big-chain franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds, who charge for internet usage.

“For me, it’s about creating a coffeehouse experience that’s relevant to my customers,” says Jody Hall, who opened Verité Coffee in Madrona six month ago with free Wi-Fi in mind. She estimates that an average of 25 to 30 customers use the service daily. “In today’s culture, wireless is part of our daily lives. I want our coffeehouse to be a place people meet and gather, and if that’s something they need for their meeting, then I want to have that.”


“What it did for us initially was get the word out about us quickly,” says Michael Prins, owner of Herkimer Coffee, which opened with Wi-Fi available a year ago.

“I think it is a big draw,” says Anya Webb, owner of Fremont Coffee. She suspects she’s stealing at least a little bit of business from the Caffe Ladro across the street (where the Wi-Fi is not free). “It brings people in.”

(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wi-fi’s on the (coffee) house, 01/07/04)

There is one main reason that many cafes provide only a signal and not appropriate seating or power outlets – they need or want to limit the number of people like me, who occupy seating for paying customers while using up the internet. However, I encourage the locally-owned coffee shops in New West to reconsider providing free internet access to patrons as part of their business model – both to present a connected, dynamic face to the customer, and also to give them a leg up on the big-chain opposition, making local business ultimately more successful. It’s completely fair game to restrict the signal to paying customers (as Blenz does) to ensure your signal brings the return it is supposed to. Another approach for small cafes is to post signage reserving some seating for non-computer customers during peak hours to ensure seating is available for the non-career internet users in the cafe.

Here’s my standard for a “good” wireless cafe:

– appropriate seating, including chairs and tables or bar-height chairs and counters

– a strong, uncomplicated wireless signal (password or not)

– 1-2 accessible power outlets.

Wireless Internet Cafes in New West:

Blenz Coffee: 6th and 6th (Uptown): Wireless signal; password protected for customers only; plenty of seating but no power outlets

Starbucks Coffee (Multiple Locations: Westminster Centre on 6th Street; E. Columbia & Sherbrooke; Columbia & 6th Ave*; McBride Blvd & 8th Ave. See also Burnaby Crossing, at 10th Ave & 6th Street) Limited/Pay Usage only. Westminster Centre, Royal Square have no power outlets; E.Columbia & Sherbrooke, 6th & Columbia have one or more outlets available. Columbia and 6th Ave’s internet has not been working for the last month. December 2008.

Sounds Promising (listings unverified):

– The Hide Out Cafe: 716 Carnarvon Street (Downtown). Cafe, deli, organic & internet access.

Other free wireless internet sources in New West:

The New Westminster Public Library (6th Avenue at 7th Street) Wireless Internet access is governed by the library’s Internet Access Policy, and is available throughout the building. A table is reserved for laptop users requiring cable internet access, with 4 ethernet cables and power outlets. Ten study carrels are also equipped with power outlets.

What do you think? Share with us your favourite places to chill out and plug in. What do you think about wi-fi users in public cafes? Help T2F assemble an up-to-date list of wireless cafes in New Westminster.

Here’s a map of wireless internet locations so far:

View Larger Map