View From The Glen

Monday, November 30, 2009

Soundless Golden Bells Alone In The Storm


by Al Purdy

The ruined stone house

has an elderly apple tree

left there by the farmer

whatever else he took with him

It bears fruit every year

gone wild and wormy

with small bitter apples

nobody eats

even children know better

I passed that way on the road

to Trenton twice a month

all winter long

noticing how the apples clung

in spite of hurricane winds

sometimes with caps of snow

little golden bells

And perhaps none of the other

travelers looked that way

but I make no parable of them

they were there and that’s all

for some reason I must remember

and think of the leafless tree

and its fermented fruit

one week in late January

when wind blew down the sun

and earth shook like a cold room

no one could live in

with zero weather

soundless golden bells

alone in the storm

Saturday, November 28, 2009

All For One and One For All

Let's just say that we like Musketeers around our house. It started years ago when Erik was 4 and we rented the Mickey Mouse version (which was better than I expected and makes great use of well known pieces of classical music). The Musketeer's Battle Cry All For One and One For All became our mantra, and to this day we say it as the school bus rolls into view, the kids and I holding out our imaginary swords and no doubt giving the neighbours a giggle into the bargain.

It's one of our favourite movies and favourite books, and tonight the kids are graduating to The Man In The Iron Mask which features the musketeers, older and wiser but still ready for action.

It got me thinking about the Musketeers, and how distinct each of them are. Erik's favourite is Athos, of course. The leader. The intelligent one. The aristocrat. The one who looks most like young Obi Wan Kenobi. Anna likes Aramis - poet, dreamer, idealist. Grace likes Porthos because he's always laughing (her words). And of course all three like D'Artagnan: Erik because he's heroic, the girls because (in the 1993 movie at least) he's young and cute.

It made me wonder if perhaps knowing which of the Musketeers you like best gives some insight into your personality, kind of like one of those Facebook quizes that claims to  understand you based on what colour you like, or what car you drive (Red, and a mini van, if you want to know).

Which of the Musketeers do I like best? Is it fun-loving, life-embracing Porthos?Perhaps the intelligent but brooding and melancholic Athos? Maybe Aramis with his poetic character, inner strength and private nature? Or is it brave and impetuous young D'Artagnan?

I'll leave you guessing while I try to figure it out. Meanwhile, which musketeer do you prefer? And Why?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Homework Debate

Lots of people arguing right now over whether homework is good or bad for kids, whether it’s useful or just a waste of time that gets in the way of other fun activities.

Here’s what I think:

1. Homework can be tough on families, especially these days when both parents work and the kids go to after-school programs. When the family gets home at 6pm and has to fit in homework between supper and running out to Cubs, the kitchen can quickly become a battlefield where nobody wins.

2. Some of the homework kids get is, let’s face it, silly. I completely identify with the lawyer parents who started this debate when, after questioning the value of the crossword puzzle homework and being told it was for fun, they sent in a note to the teacher that said, thanks, but we’ll make our own fun.

3. Days are short for much of the school year, and kids aren’t getting outside enough. Having hours of homework doesn’t help that.

Having said all that, I agree with homework. I believe it is valuable and an important part of school life, and here’s why:

1. Homework is the bridge between school and home. It allows me (as a parent) to get involved in what my kids are learning, to reinforce lessons learned in class, to see how they are handling new material, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. (Without homework, for example, I would never have known that my 9 year old, in a composition, described the older cat as being pissed off, and would not have had the opportunity to brainstorm more suitable descriptors and remind him that not everything Daddy says should be repeated.)

2. Teachers do a great job, but sometimes kids who are having difficulty in a specific subject benefit from a little one-on-one time with Mom where we can go over trouble areas and figure out how to solve problems in a way that makes sense for that child. And when Grade 4 Math seems just a little elusive, we can send them to Dad. (And what’s with Grade 4 Math anyway – the answers are easy, but the way they want to solve them are so convoluted and unclearly worded that it drives me crazy).

3. Doing homework regularly at a younger age makes the transition into high school much easier, and establishes solid study/work habits that will help them later in life.

Homework should never be about new work. It should not take up too much of a child’s time (I think the 10 minute per grade rule is good). I like the younger grade (K-3) approach our school uses where they send homework for the week, and allow parents to figure out when and where it gets done, allowing us to schedule around Cubs, Karate, and days when we just want to go outside and play.

For the most part though, at least at our house, homework is a priority. I know it, the kids know it, and their teachers know it. Sure, we’ve had days when I’ve written a note to my son’s teacher saying I told him to leave his homework, and I don’t apologize if I decide to bury the kids in fallen leaves one glorious afternoon instead of making them sit at a table practicing spelling. And some nights there just isn’t time for one reason or another.

But I get tired of the debate that it has to be all or nothing. Like so much in life, it’s all about finding a balance that works so that work and fun happen side by side.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend Highlights

On Friday night, after Christmas shopping for the myriad of nieces and nephews I would see Saturday, I took my three into Chapters where we bought books (of course) and waited for Andrew who had driven deeper into Montreal to pick up a motor. The absolute highlight of my weekend (with a few exceptions that I'll get to in a minute) was sitting in the Chapters Starbucks overlooking the hum and bustle of the bookstore, drinking the Mezzo Latte that I bought (along with some overpriced but apparently delicious Orange juice for the kids), the four of us reading at a small table in companionable silence.

Heaven! Bliss! Peace and quiet and books.

The weekend went rapidly downhill after that - though I'm calling it an adventure, rather than a disaster in order to make it seem more fun than it was.

But we did finally get to Toronto. We did finally get to see the rest of the family, albeit briefly.

Which brings me to those other highlights of the weekend I was talking about:

Isabella - all baby smiles and roly poly dimples
Rhys - 2 years old with all the attitude and adorable grins that go with it
Naomi - all grown up at almost 6
Michael - another 2 year old who warmed up to me enough to let me read him books. I taught him to growl like a polar bear
Emma - lovely 10 year old with a quiet nature
Ethan - well, all newborns are perfect

And of course, my own three kids, who despite a long and trying weekend, were amazing. I had better say that now because in 20 minutes I'm going to have to rouse them out of bed for school, and odds on that after their long and trying weekend, they're just a little cranky.

Friday, November 20, 2009

History Mystery: Queen of Castile


Married to the King of Aragon, but Queen in her own right, she and her husband unified Spain. She spent much of their reign purifying the Catholic Faith, and is renowned for her institution of the Spanish Inquisition in 1480,  and the slow expulsion of the Spanish Moors (Muslims).

She sponsored Christopher Columbus' voyages to the New World and was sympathetic to the North American Natives who were brought back as slaves.

Widely read and well educated herself, she insisted on the same for her sons and her daughter.

Although she died without an heir, she was grandmother to one of the great tragic Queens of England.

Who Is She?

Monday Answer: Queen Isabella I, also known as Isabella the Catholic, also known as the mother of Katherine of Aragon (1st wife to Henry VIII) and grandmother to Queen Mary I (later known as Bloody Mary).

Leanne, I thought you said you didn't know your history... nice guess then.

I picked this one in honour of my beautiful 3 month old niece, Isabella, who I went to visit in Toronto this weekend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Money, Money, Money

So here I am feeling sorry for myself because one of the cars blew up the other day and it’s going to cost four times more than I first anticipated because of damage to the motor.

Yeah, that’s a bite. And yeah, it’s going to hurt a bit.

We could buy a new one, I suppose, but one of Andrew’s endearingly eccentric traits is that he prefers old cars, and in fact in the 15 years I have known him has never had a new car. An ancient Jeep, a practically classic Bronco, a series of old VW Rabbits, a collection of vintage trucks, and now the 12 year old Golf he currently drives.

We live in the country and we need two vehicles, and either way, we pay: Either payments on a new vehicle or repairs on an old. In the end, we come out more or less at the same place. The difference is that with a new car the payments are more or less scheduled, whereas with the old car they hit you with unpredictable vigour.

I admit, the news was enough to make me a bit glum. I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to money. Not in terms of everyday expenses - no holds barred when it comes to food and wine, or kids’ activities for example. But in terms of saving….different matter! The first thing I do every paycheck is divert money into the savings account, and once it’s there, I hoard it. Theoretically we do have a short term savings account especially for emergencies like car breakdowns, but I don’t actually plan to spend it. This drives Andrew crazy. We are diametrically opposed in our approach to savings. I want to keep it, keep it all, and he feels if it is there, it is there to spend.

Of course, when it comes to the car, there’s little choice. So when faced with having to pay out money I’m not anticipating, I have a bit of an anxiety attack, then I take out my excel budget and retool it so see how to replace the money I have to spend and how quickly I can do this.

Then I start to throw crazy ideas around. Like We’ll stop having Pizza Hut on Friday nights, and We’ll cancel the cleaning lady, and (craziest of all) We’ll stop drinking wine. And Andrew ignores me because he knows I’m all talk – none of those things are actually going to happen.

Finally I realize (as any sane person would have right from the start) that it’s not in fact the end of the world. So we have to spend money on the car….at least we have a car. So we have to take some money out of the savings account…but we do actually have a savings account. In a period of economic uncertainty we have rewarding jobs and good incomes. When 800,000 families are forced to use foodbanks, we eat like kings every day and have two freezers stocked with every kind of food imaginable.

I started off feeling sorry for myself. That has evaporated now. We may not be rich, but we're doing okay. I am off to the grocery store tonight to pick up a week’s worth of groceries in canned and dry goods, and I’m going to take them to the local foodbank. I’m sorting out a bunch of kids’ snowsuits and boots for the Salvation Army. We’re going to put together some Christmas Boxes. And perhaps best of all, I’m going to take the opportunity to count my blessings.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

You Know You've Lived In The Country Long Enough When... smile when the snow arrives because it will fill in all the pot holes on the roads and make your drive to work smoother;'ve stopped cleaning the back windshield every time you get in the car because it will just be covered in mud and dust again by the time you get to your destination; take the dog for a 20 minute walk and don't bother telling the kids because you're just outside on the property; don't even blink at the $400 worth of gravel it takes to grade your driveway every spring;'ve traded in your gym membership for a half hour daily chopping wood because it's a more practical way to exercise;'ve learned about substitutes for every food imaginable just so you don't have to run the 20km into town every time you're missing an ingredient; think it makes perfect sense to stockpile six months worth of food in the cellar; think wellies are an important part of your wardrobe; keep extra wellies (rubber boots) around for when guests come to visit and want to see the sheep; recognize your neighbours by the tractor they drive; give directions using compass bearings and local landmarks (as in turn North at the rock shaped like a rooster;'ve been known to weed the garden or shovel the steps in your pyjamas in the morning because no-one can see you anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It was good on Sunday to see the turnout at the local Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day ceremonies. The Canadian Air Force was there, the local Air Reserve, and the Air Cadets, the highland regiment, the Glengarry Pipes and Drums,representatives of the police and fire departments, legion members, and bringing up the rear, our Scout troop - a few rows of scouts, cubs and beavers with their sashes and caps and flags. They did well, these kids, starting with the church service at 11am, and followed by the parade at 2pm. Then, I dragged them off to the legion for our annual drink and sandwich, and Grace managed to avoid spilling coke on someone's bagpipes like she did two years ago, and it was nice enough to sit outside with some of the legion members and have a drink in the sunshine.

It's good to remember. And I think it's important. And hanging out with the kids and explaining it all to them felt right. But when Erik asked why, if war is so terrible, there still is war, I had no answer for him. I don't know if there is an answer to that.

from the song Willie McBride by Eric Bogle

Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
For the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying it was all done in vain
For Willie McBride it's all happened again
And again and again and again and again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

History Mystery: The Plot Thickens!

Erik had no trouble guessing the last History Mystery so if a 9 year old can do it, I obviously need to make it more difficult.

This man was born in 1570, and at the age of 35, was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered for conspiracy against the King. He avoided being drawn and quartered by throwing himself off the scaffold, breaking his own neck.

He and his deeds served as inspiration for the poet, John Milton, who modelled Satan in Book 6 of Paradise Lost on this character. Although he has been vilified since his treason, he is also known as, "the last man to enter (UK) Parliament with honourable intentions," and his reputation has been somewhat modified in recent years.

Who is he?

(Wed Answer: Guy Fawkes. Congratulations Julie Queen, NB for getting the right answer. You satisfaction of knowing the right answer.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thoughts On A Clear November Morning

I awoke three times in the night.

The first time I woke up, it was more sort of a roll over as Andrew left my small thermos of coffee next to the bed before he left for the dairy at 4:30am. The second time was to hear a small dog barking by the river and groggily realise it was actually a coyote yipping, a warm up for the group coyote howl which followed. I was awake then, momentarily. until reassured by the deep barking that followed that Tundra the sheepdog had the situation in hand,  I fell back into sleep. It was around 5:30am. The third time was at 6:30am when Grace punched her way into the room (in her usual delicate fashion) to tell me the dog had thrown up three times in their room. It reminded me of Mother's Day last May, and I lay back on my pillow, sipping my coffee, reflecting that I'd seen the dog in the back fields yesterday and wondering just what disgusting things she'd been into.

I felt a bit like Scrooge - like I'd been visited three times in the night - and like Scrooge, by the time I was finally awake, the sun was shining, the sky was bright and clear, and I felt full of joy and optimism.

November, on the cusp of both fall and winter, can be a bit of a bleak month, but I've always found it beautiful in its austerity. If October is like a king (think Henry VII), resplendently robed in gold and crimson, November is like a nun, (think Mother Superior from The Sound of Music), simple and pure and wise.

And as I sit here this morning, gazing out the window, past the pine trees and over the field towards the river and the forest behind, I am thinking only good thoughts.

Except of the dog. She is still disgusting.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Erik has a school project due tomorrow. A poster to advertise a book they just read in class. The assignment due date has been written in his agenda for two weeks, and being the overbearing, over-achieving interested mom I am I've been asking him every day for two weeks if he needed help with it at all ("No"), if he's working on it with ("two other boys") and if he needed to bring it home ("No, we're doing it all in school"). Cool. I'm cool with that.

Then tonight, Thursday, Cubs, he brings home a poster board that has three lines written on it in pencil in his handwriting in the top left corner, leaving a huge white space to fill.

I thought you didn't need help, I said.  (He shrugged.)

I thought there were two other boys working on it with you, I said. (Both out with H1N1 for the past week or more)

I thought it was all getting done in school, I said. (But apparently they are allowed to bring it home if they want to. He just chose not to until the very last minute.)

I always said I'd never do my kids' homework for them. I always said they could learn the lesson the hard way. So how come I ended up sitting down with him and brainstorming ways to make his poster more interesting? How come we ended up creating callouts and pictures and text boxes on the computer to add colour and visual variety to his poster? How come I found myself at seven o'clock on a Thursday evening with a pair of scissors and a glue stick instead of a glass of red wine and a book?

Perhaps it was because he got left on his own while his project mates were out sick. Maybe it's because it's his first project of the year. Maybe it's because he was telling me how he had to write the three lines he did write upside down because he couldn't reach across the desk to the top of the poster board.

However, the sad truth is that when it came down to brass tacks, I couldn't let him pass it in without some input. He got it done, hopefully learned something in the process (even if it is only to bring it home sooner next time), and got off to Cubs on time.

But next time, next time, he's on his own.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Allure of the Theatre

I was sitting having lunch at the delectable 2Bean Cafe when I overheard them: Two women, older than me, maybe in their late 50's or early 60's, talking about the theatre. Not as theatre-goers, but as part of the theatrical troupe, which to my (admittedly eavesdropping) ears seemed infinitely more interesting. One of the ladies was telling the other about the role she was doing and the role she was going to try for next, and as they sat there, conversing in low rich voices, I felt a thrill go through me.

I love live theatre. I love the anticipation, the deep seats, the rustle of shawls and coats as people shift around waiting for things to start, the orchestra warming up, the gilded lights and elaborate carvings that are de rigeur at so many older establishments, and the deep crimson curtains, velvety and plush, that fall in graceful folds to the floor, and that pull back with a swoosh of golden tassles as the lights dim, the crowds hush, and the show begins.

I have often thought about becoming part of a local theatre group. Not acting, neccessarily - my acting career never went much further than one performance of Acastos in university. And not props - I still recoil with horror at the memory of being involved in props in high school and being asked to create a larger than life pencil for our version of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (which was a success despite my complete inability to do this one little job). And definitely not stage director - one of my favourite little hobbies is reading Shakespeare's plays just to have a giggle at the scanty stage directions he provides. (ie:Exit left, carrying a head, accompanied by various wispy ghosts)

But I did enjoy screenwriting a play once as a project for a philosophy class. Doctor Faustus never made it to stage, but I still have a dogearred copy of the screenplay somewhere. And although I've never written a play (with the exception of doing so with the children for Christmas) it's on my list of things to try.

Mostly, I just enjoy being a theatre-goer. Everything from local productions of War Brides or The Dresser (both excellent) to the latest and greatest musicals (just got tickets for myself and the girls to see Mamma Mia at the NAC in January), to the ones you see over and over because they're popular (The Importance of Being Ernest springs to mind). Heck, we even cut short our honeymoon to get back to Toronto in time to see Colm Wilkinson perform the lead role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

But there is no denying that part of me, the part that was thrilled by the coversation I overheard at lunch, would like to be part of the production, and not just watching it. So far, I've shied away, mostly because of the time commitment. But one day, I will have the time. And if the allure of the theatre still holds sway, I look forward to being part of it all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Every Day

Every day, you should do something that makes you happy.

Every. Single. Day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


If it weren't for the kids, who love Hallowe'en, I'd probably be one of those grumps who hide in my basement with the lights off so that no-one comes to my door. Not that anyone, in the six years we've lived here, has ever ventured down the quarter mile long laneway even when all the lights have been on and the kids' jack o'lanterns are glowing in the windows. Most kids are more savvy than to bother with the country when they can go to the nearby villages and towns. Which is what we did last night after a leisurely get together dinner with friends.

We started off at the firehall where the volunteer firefighters and Sparky the fire dog served hot chocolate and snacks to anyone who ventured by (about 700 kids most years), and then went trick or treating through small town Ontario. And I discovered that despite it all, there are benefits to Hallowe'en.

1. Walking the leaf-strewn streets of a small town past the library and the senior's centre and the community hall and the century brick and gingerbread homes is a wonderful experience, and on a night like last night, where it was cool but not cold, and a full moon scurried in between clouds, was downright beautiful.

2. We got to socialize and catch up with all the people we know but don't always get a chance to see. While the kids ran up to doors, we stood in the streets chatting and exchanging news with old friends, as well as meeting parents of friends the children have made in their new school. I had the urge all night to say things such as "Well met again by moonlight" but resisted because Andrew would have disowned me if I started quoting Shakespeare at random.

3. While there are always some teenagers who think regular clothes and a mask do a Hallowe'en costume make, some of the other costumes were clever and intricate and really very well done.

4. As for the kids, they were all just adorable. Nothing is more cute than a wobbly 18 month old in a Tigger costume or a Bat Man suit.

5. On the way home we stopped at the rural homes of some of our older neighbours because they don't get out as much and because they love to see the kids, and though it took roughly 10 minutes at each house, it was worth it just for the smiles.