View From The Glen

Thursday, October 29, 2009

History Mystery

Children love him, songs have been written about him, even his enemies reportedly admired and respected him. He is renowned for bravery, and stands for all that is chivalrous.

He was an English King who spent little time in England, spoke but little English, and (according to a renowned British historian) was, "a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king."

He revolted against his own father, was betrayed by his brother, and was adored by his mother. He survived mighty battles and a lengthy capture, yet died of a gangrenous arrow wound fired inside his own castle walls at the age of 42.

Who is he?

Answer: Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Incredibly Drunk On Whiskey

Then you looked at me
Pointed out that I was drunk on whiskey
You looked at me
Said, “let's get incredibly drunk on whiskey"...

This is the catchy chorus of a great song I've heard a couple of times on CBC radio 2 by (Canadian) band Memphis. Can't make head or tails of what the rest of the song means, but it's the kind of tune that sticks in your head.

I don't drink scotch. I leave that to Andrew who enjoys a glass or two of single malt, and who has been known, particularly in the company of my brother-in-law Stephen, to indulge in more than just a glass or two while my sister and I responsibly sip quaff wine.

I don't drink it, I said. But I love scotch. At least I love the smell of it. I don't say this lightly - in all honesty, I would rather sniff a good quality single malt scotch  (such as The Macallan 15 year, pictured here) all evening than drink a glass of cheap wine. It makes me feel light headed, and pleasantly disposed towards the universe.

So I'm wondering what it would be like to have the chance to sniff a glass of the 55 year old Macallan I was reading about? At a (mere) $14,000 a bottle, I don't think I'm ever going to find out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

School Segregation

I'm not sure what I think about a recent proposal by a top Toronto educator to establish "boys only" schools.

Actually, I am sure what I think. I'm not sure how to say it diplomatically.

"Segregation" is the word that springs to mind, and with it, some not-so-nice connotations. It's not exactly new to Toronto - in January 2008, the Toronto Board voted for the creation of a "black-focused" public school, which although open to all ethnic backgrounds would focus on black culture and history.

At the time, I thought this was a big step backwards. It's the same problem I have with the various religious school boards. We all live in this world together, and we need to learn to get along. Segregating children for any reason - race, gender, religion - means they are deprived of valuable opportunities to interact with and understand kids from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and I don't see how this can be beneficial in the long run.

Of course school board officials may not be considering the long run. They want to ensure all kids do well in school today, and this is a laudable goal. I know that there are concerns about boys falling behind in schools, that there are studies to show that boys learn differently, are motivated differently, behave differently.

No surprises here - I have a boy and two girls, and guess what? All three of them learn differently, are motivated differently and behave differently. That isn't enough of a reason for me to think they should all be in their own unique school that caters exactly to their needs. They need to understand that everyone has their own challenges to overcome and they need to learn what their relative strengths and weaknesses are in the context of the greater community.

In my observation, teachers in general go out of their way to figure out what makes individual children tick so that they can teach effectively. But we can't leave it all up to them. Schools need to have resources they can tap into to help individual children who are having difficulty.  Parents (who know their children best) need to follow up to make sure kids who are struggling for any reason have access to the resources they need for success, whether that be peer-tutoring at recess, extra help with homework on the weekends, or simply the occasional shout of encouragement.

If we all work together, perhaps we can leave the idea of segregated schools where it belongs: in the past.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I've been lost in this book by Anya Seton for the past week or so, reading snatches when I can. But I finished it in peace early this morning, in between raindrops, sitting on the low stone wall under the yellowing maple tree. And when I finished it, I was left with a sense of desperation.

This was not just because of the book, which I shall talk about in a moment, but because (warning: run-on sentence to follow - it nicely captures the sense of panic I feel when I think about this) this book was so good and so well written, and it was written half a century ago yet the first time I'd heard of it was the day I ordered it from the library, and so my desperation stems from the realization that if this book exists, others like it do as well, and I'm left wondering how many great historical novels are still out there that I haven't read and how I'm going to find them all and read them while keeping up with all the great new historical novels that keep getting written.

(This is the point at which my youngest daughter, karate girl Grace, will call out Mokuso and remind me to breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth.)

Calmed now by breathing exercises, I have to say that this true tale of 14th century romance between John of Gaunt (third son of King Edward III) and young Katherine Swynford nee de Roet was one of the best books and most beautiful love stories I've read. For a complete and cohesive review, you can do no better than read the online one posted by Kit Thomas: Why I love Katherine, who ends her review saying that, "he (John of Gaunt) has dragged me kicking and screaming into the fourteenth century never wholly to return. I hope he and his good Lady Katherine will do the same for you as their story leaves a little warm glow in the heart which never really goes away and the conviction that somewhere, sometimes fairy tales really can come true..."

For my own part, suffice it to say that I too have been unrequitably fixated by John of Gaunt since first reading this book. Anya Seton's meticulous research and well crafted story brings him to life against a backdrop of plague, betrayal, and war, and though traditional romantic hero he is not, there is something about his unswerving passion for Katherine that touches the heart and makes this a love story never to forget.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


It finally happened.

Up until now, when it comes to the kids, I've been the one leading the charge. I'm out in front, showing the way, extending a helping hand, shouting encouragement, letting them get ahead just enough to boost their confidence.

So I was unprepared the other day, when Anna invited me to join them on a hike up the "mountain" (really just the steep granite and moss of the Canadian Shield, but a good climb nonetheless).

Unprepared to find myself lagging behind as the kids leaped and jumped ahead of me, their feet surer than mine on the gorse and slate, their energy seemingly boundless, and their legs uncomplaining as they scrabbled over tree roots, under branches, through the mire and, impossibly, up the sheer rock face with only a tenuous hold on the twisted grasses that grew from the bare rock.

Unprepared to have Anna show me where to put my feet and how to hold onto the gnarled old tree branches to pull myself up and over.

Unprepared to have had them discover a place before me and lead me to it in excitement and wonder, spinning tales the way I always do, and stepping back to allow me to appreciate the moment of achievement when we stood at the top and looked out over the gold and crimson tree tops.

It's time to accept that I don't have little children anymore. They are strong and capable and confident youngsters who can make dinner, paddle a canoe, fix a fence, drive a tractor, and yes, lead the way up to the top of the mountain.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Cottage

Usually, we play host at Thanksgiving and enjoy having the family over for a day at the farm. But this year we went to the cottage for Thanksgiving and spent the long weekend walking through the woods, canoing on the lake, and sitting cosily by the fire with Andrew's parents, grandmother and brother & family.

Anna wrote a play, and the kids had a great time making costumes for us all as we acted out the story of how Thanksgiving came to Sherwood Forest. Erik was Robin Hood.

And my three got to play with their cousin, running through the golden trees on this last, long, perfect weekend before the cold weather really sets in.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year. There's something so simple and wholesome about it. It's about family and friends, and serves as a reminder of what is truly important.

Friday, October 9, 2009

History Mystery: Name This Man

He lived 1340-1399

Kenilworth Castle was his home.

And Shakespeare immortalized him with these words:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

Who is he?

(Monday Answer: John of Gaunt, House of Lancaster, uncle to Richard II, ancestor of Henry VIII)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


To make a long story short, my three children go to a different school this year, a school that is further away, and for which they are not on a bus route. I've been driving them which means instead of a 12 minute commute to work, I drive 20 minutes south to drop them off and another 30 minutes north again to get to the office.

I do this uncomplainingly and cheerfully.

Most of the time.

Because I believe it's the right school, and because education is a high priority in our house.

But also because I just read Three Cups Of Tea by Greg Mortensen. He's the mountaineer-turned-humanitarian who dedicated his life to building schools for rural children in poverty-stricken Afghanistan. In his book, he tells of seeing children walking miles each way, barefooted and often hungry, to gather together and teach themselves rudimentary skills using sticks to write in the dirt because their communities can't afford $1 a day for a teacher.

It's humbling to see what others go through to get what we take for granted. And so instead of grumbling about our morning commute, I found myself putting it in perspective. All we have to do, after all, is get in a car and drive. It's not exactly hardship. We have excellent schools, caring and compassionate teachers, and we have never EVER known what it is like to not have enough to eat.

And if the morning drive is a bit out of the way, there are perks. For example we can brainstorm ideas for journal entries. Or we can talk over puzzling math problems. Or (like this morning) we can discuss proper grammar and good use of sentence structure. Oh the fun we have, and how the kids will miss it now that they've been approved for bussing starting tomorrow.

Or not.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Medicine Chest of the Soul

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need ~ Cicero

For years I've told the kids that one day we'll build a stone turretted library in the back that is connected to the house by means of dark dusty subterranean passages.

Our current library is where the dining room used to be before I decided that books were more important than formal meals. Wall-to-wall shelves in the 10 by 12 room are not really enough and my library has a tendency to encroach on the rest of the house.

Books spill out onto every horizontal surface, and I suppose the fact that both Anna and I tend to have many books on the go at once doesn't help (last time I checked she was reading Harry Potter and James Herriot and something she picked up from the book fair and a book about Guinevere and Horrid Henry; and I am embarrassed to confess how many different books I am reading have scattered about waiting to be picked up and finished).

So we either need to get rid of some books (but let's be realistic: that's not likely to happen), or we need a bigger library.

I found the one I want.

So it's the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa. But I was thinking a slightly smaller scaled down version might be just the thing.

Either that or a replica of the Beast's library in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I don't mind admitting that I coveted that library from the moment I first saw the movie.

The medicine chest of the soul. ~ Library at Thebes, inscription over the door

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chocolate Book Club

As I've mentioned before, our book club is a bit unorthodox. we don't always, for example, talk about books, though we always have a book or two we are all supposed to have read and for which we are, ostensibly, meeting.

And this month was no exception. However, in our defense, we were distracted by a good cause.

This. (Cake 3)                                     

And this. (Cake 2)

And oh yum, this. (Cake 1)

It was Melissa's birthday so she got to do the blind taste test, fork-fed by Yasmin.

Cake 1 was "light, fluffy, a bit Duncan Hines-y." Definitely looked the best though with a smooth glaze and sweet peas cascading down the side.

Cake 2 was "dark, dense, chocolately - and I can taste the sparkles on the top."

Cake 3 had "the best combination of cake and filling and icing."

The verdict: Cake 2 (by Yasmine) was the winner, followed very closely by Cake 3 (by yours truly).

Cake 1 (Becky, in the midst of moving house, purchased this one from a quality baker) didn't fare so well.

Having said that, chocolate is always good, and we were happy to enjoy a piece of each, and take the rest home to grateful families.

Happy birthday, Melissa.

(Sorry, what book did we discuss again?)