View From The Glen

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Why Christmas?

I don't want to get into a debate about Christianity, but I do wonder what it is about the season that makes even non-religious people participate with such enthusiasm.

It could be that the Coca-cola version of the holiday - buy presents, get together, eat, drink and be merry - has taken over. But I don't think so.

Personally, I think it's because the message at Christmas is essentially one that is universal. Christmas is about Peace on Earth. Love and Goodwill to Man. Comfort and Joy. And yes many people find that in religion. But many people find it without religion as well.

In the messages of hope that abound this time of year;, as we light up our homes to ward off the dark days of winter (or metaphorically, if you prefer); and as we open our homes and hearths to friends and neighbours, there is something special about the season that brings happiness to those who embrace it.

One of my favourite Christmas songs is actually a poem written by American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1836. In it he talks about hearing the bells, and their song of hope and joy. He questions that, despairing: And in despair I bowed my head/there is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, goodwill to man.

He was thinking of the civil war when he wrote about that hate. We can just as easily apply it to any one of a hundred situations around the world today. Despair, under these circumstances, is easy.

But the bells continue, refusing to give in to that. And in the end, Longfellow could not resist: Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/God is not dead nor does he sleep/the wrong shall fail, the right prevail/In peace on earth, goodwill to man.

For a short time, at Christmas, it is easy to believe that the world is in harmony. That there can indeed be peace on earth.

It's a promise of hope that we can all relate to.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Medieval Christmas

Maybe it's because I studied Medieval History, but some of the traditions I like best from that period spill over into my celebration of Christmas, bracketing more modern traditions.

Like the Winter Solstice, which happens this week, and which we celebrated this weekend with a day out of doors gathering greenery and sledding on the hills behind the house. Then, as afternoon's shadows lengthened we came back in the wagon, the kids singing Jingle Bells and the sound of it ringing off  through the glen. We lit up the house with twinkling lights and candles and lanterns, warding off the darkness and decking the halls. And feasting. Always feasting.

We get caught up with Christmas and New Years, which have their own excitement, but I like to do something warm and cosy for Twelfth Night as well. We sing aboutTwelfth Night - a very overlooked tradition - it all the time (The 12 Days of Christmas) but not everyone realizes that the song refers to the days between Christmas (Dec 25) and Epiphany (Jan 6). Traditionally a day of feasting and merriment, we tend to be somewhat bloated from gingerbread men and turkey and trifle, and are more likely to celebrate it with a steaming tureen of soup and a family game of scrabble.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


They lounge on the serenity couch...

They lounge on the floor of Erik's room...

They lounge under the Christmas tree...

And by the kitchen fire...


Monday, December 13, 2010

More Than Just A Nativity Scene

I love my nativity scene.
My grandmother knitted this - yes all those figures and the manger and even the sheep. And she sent it over packaged in a box containing a bar of ivory soap, which I gather is supposed to keep the figures fresh all year. I don't know if it's true, but every December when I did out the box and open it, the first thing I notice is that fresh soapy smell.

The second thing I notice is the smell of the wool, and it's a smell that takes me back to childhood, and many, many Christmases of Grandma's knitted sweaters (the white one with a horse and rider, and matching hat) and all the teeny woolen clothes - dresses and onesies and hats and underwear and leggings and coats - that she used to make for my dolls.

There is a Nativity scene just like it somewhere at the Vatican. At least there used to be. My grandmother made a few of them, one of which went to my Aunt Valerie (who is also Sister Valerie) who was living in Rome at the time.

My kids love to set it up, and spend time deciding where in the creche to place them all, and who of the wise men or shepherds gets to be inside and who outside. Depending on where they are placed, it tells a different story.

It's usually the first thing to come out at Christmas, and I love to watch them ever so serious in their task of setting it up just so. I'm neither Catholic nor particularly religious, but I love what this scene represents - the miracle and hope of birth, the promise and mystery of life.

But I love my Nativity Scene most for a different reason altogether.

I love it for the textures and the smells and the picture it conjurs up of my grandmother sitting by the electric fire in her Liverpool flat, beside the great brass candlesticks and horse brasses I used to polish when I stayed there long ago. The silver Christmas tree and the budgies, and the big old scullery/pantry where all the scones and cakes where piled high. Electric blankets on the bed and a woven stool my brother and I used to turn upside down and pretend was a boat. The box of cars, and a small shelf with dusty hardcover school books belonging to my dad and his brothers and sister when they were kids themselves.

So much more than just a Nativity Scene.

Friday, December 10, 2010

We interrupt this Christmas spirit.... talk about Festivus.

Actually, to find out more about Festivus, check out my friend Laura's blog. It sounds really fun. One of the things I particularly liked was the idea of airing grievances, so I thought I'd take advantage of the Festivus tradition to air a few grievances of my own.
  1. Folksy Softeners: I saw a sign in the mall by Santa's workshop that read Folks, no private cameras and it got me wondering about that word Folks, and how it gets used when you want to soften the message you are about to impart. As if prefacing with Folks makes it acceptable to get away with saying something people won't like. As if saying it makes you avuncular, hearty, one of them. You're the jovial uncle saying put those cameras away for now - we don't need them here instead of the hard nosed business wanting to scrape every nickel it can out of Christmas shoppers and children eager to sit with Santa for a moment.
  2. Nothing for Christmas: When I ask you what you'd like for Christmas and you say nothing, that just having your friends and family around is enough, I smile. I get that. We all do. But assume for a moment that if I am asking you, it is because I am going to buy you a Christmas present and have no clue what you would like. If you absolutely refuse to help me out, you are going to get something you don't want which doesn't make sense for either of us. What I really want to hear is Having my family and friends around is enough, but I'd really like the new Tom Clancy book out in paperback or a chocolate orange. Thank you.
  3. Holiday Trees: No, no, no, no, no. It's a Christmas tree. Always has been. Don't try to change it. And while we're on the subject, why does political correctness always take the fun out of everything. It takes the sublime (whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan or Kwanzaa) and reduces it to a bland mass of homogeneity with no heart or soul. We shouldn't live in a world where we're afraid to say Merry Christmas for fear of offense. Crazy.
  4. Advertising: I know this is the biggest season for stores. And they need to make money. But honestly, does Christmas advertising have to be so abrasive and in-your-face. You want. You need. You should have. You must buy. Buy $100 now and we'll give you a free coupon for $5 off your next purchase of $100 or more. Wow. Thank you so much. Now I love Christmas shopping - buying the right gifts for people. But the ads drive me crazy. They start early, ramp up to a pre-Christmas frenzy, and then - in case that's not enough - start in on Boxing Week (and when did Boxing Day expand to 7!). My least favourite ads - the ones that really make smoke come out of my ears - are the ones that air right after Christmas. Didn't get what you want? Auntie Ida send you another boring scarf again? You deserve more. Come in and buy ....etc. Um, isn't Christmas about other people, not yourself? And Aunt Ida probably put thought into that scarf (or you told her you wanted nothing, see point 2 above), so making fun of my relatives who tried to do something nice for me is just going to tick me off.
  5. Gift Cards: This kind of ties in. And I know they have a purpose, especially for those far away. I often tuck an I-tunes or Subway gift card in for those who will use them. And I have one child who loves gift cards because they can put them in a wallet and carry them around (like Mommy's credit card). But really, gift cards are a cop out. If you don't have the time or inclination to sit down and really think of something someone will love, maybe that person should not be on your Christmas list at all. I know gift cards are convenient, but they suck the soul out of the joy of Christmas giving. Why not just give cash? Or - easier yet - we all keep our own money, and go out on Boxing Week and buy ourselves the things we really want.
Wow. I feel better already. This Festivus thing really has something going for it. Kind of a release of the inner Grinch.

Now. Back to that Christmas Spirit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Cookies

The cookies won't bake any faster...
...because you are watching them!

Not even if you give me that slow Grinch smile...

...that always makes me laugh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees

It's Monday night, and everyone is out at karate. The dog and I are curled up in the warmth of the living room - a warmth that seeps out from the fireplace and enfolds us even in this big old drafty house. We decorated the tree yesterday, so there is colour and light and cheer taking up the west wall of the living room.

Because I am here by myself, I am able to give in to my penchant for cheesy Christmas music and so am lounging on the serenity couch with a mug of hot sweetened tea, writing out Christmas cards and listening to Elvis Presley sing Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees.

Holly Leaves (I planted this one last year)

And Christmas Trees 

Ocular Migraine

Last week, sitting at my computer in the office, jagged shards of light started to flicker across my line of sight.

It has happened once before, about 18 months ago, at which time I rushed myself to emerg, sure I was having a stroke, only to be told I was having a migraine. A migraine with an aura (someone once told me I had an auro. I dissed them, but it turns out I do after all). The hospital did sent me for cat scans to be sure, but the lights went away, there was no pain, and life returned to normal.

Until last Friday. Of course, I was less worried this time. Oh, I thought. It's one of those migraines. And it's not like I can complain - I get no pain with them, like so many migraine sufferers. And two in 18 months hardly constitutes something to worry about, even to a hypochondriac like myself.

Naturally, I googled it. I found out that it can also be called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, the thought being that Lewis Carroll suffered the same thing and that the flashing lights inspired Alice. I'm cool with that.

I also read up on what causes them, and discovered that possible triggers include caffeine, chocolate, aged cheese, rich meat and red wine.

But if I cut them out of my diet, what will I eat?

Think I'll take the migraine.

Friday, December 3, 2010

This One Is For...

...All my british relatives.

Snow! It's snow. It's real snow!

Especially my cousin Amy who, 4 years ago, first showed me the comedy sketch this comes from. She had me laughing so hard.

That was also the day I first used an ipod (also Amy's) and Andrew came downstairs to see me standing helplessly in the kitchen doing that silent-laughter-interrupted-by-snorting routine....but since I wore ear buds and the ipod screen was only an inch wide, he couldn't figure out what I was doing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ticket to Adventure

As a child I wished my parents had a big musty library. Perhaps I read too many gothic novels, but I had the idea that such a library would contain secrets and mysteries and adventures. Maybe even treasure maps falling from the pages of a long forgotten book.

I had my own library - a wooden wardrobe, long out of use, that I stuffed with my own books and locked with an old fashioned key. Sadly, when we moved to Canada, the books came, but not the solid, stolid wardrobe.

I can't tell you - but some of you will be nodding in recognition - the number of times I have lugged heavy boxes of books to a new dorm, new flat, new house because if I had to spend any time there, I needed my books around me. Put it this way - my friends never wanted to help me move.

A few years back I turned my little used dining room into a libary. Yes, my desk is there too, but it's mainly for all our books. Wall to wall bookcases, and shelves of novels and non-fiction and text books and picture books all jammed merrily together.

And yesterday, while I was at my desk marking papers, my son, 10, was browsing around beind me. His fingers trailed without purpose across the spines of books from shiny Harry Potter books to my ancient Dickens collection. Then without preamble, he pulled out a tattered paperback from where it was sitting between a Tom Clancy novel of my husband's and My Darling Dead Ones: it was one of the Redwall novels, one he had not read before.

His eyes lit up and the excitement was palpable. Not just because of the book, which he will enjoy, but at the unexpected discovery. At finding just the right book at just the right time.

It's exactly what I wanted when I was a child, and I realized that I was right all along. A library does contain secrets and mysteries and adventure.

Between every page.

End Note: This is the last day of NaBloPoMo, and I'd like to thank all those of you who visited, commented, motivated, and encouraged whether here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. It's been a great experience.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Lining

Why can't a writer edit their own work?

That's the question I was asked the other day after my editing post came out.

Well, you can, Of course you can. And you should. Absolutely. 

But an editor will take it that one step further. Because when you have written it, you stop seeing what you wrote and see instead what you meant. And they are two different things.

Another reason you can't edit your own work is that you become too attached to your words. Words you carefully chose. Words you don't want to, can't, let go of.

An editor does not have the same emotional attachment. It's like decluttering. If you do it yourself, you keep things you don't need. If a good friend helps they say things like: grade 11 history essay - from 20 years ago...Do you need this? No, you do not. TOSS! while you cringe in pain in the corner, your cries of protest unheeded. An editor is like that very good friend.

Last week I wrote this post at midnight. I'm not in the habit of closely editing blog posts, but when I looked at this particular one the next morning, the editor in me went Hmmm.

The last paragraph read:

Wrapped in my plaid, I made my way out of the stove-warmed kitchen, adjusting to the cold of the unheated mud-room, slamming the window down hard. Telling myself I need to replace the naked light bulb that lights the room in an eerie yellow glow. Turning it off and opening the back door to stand on the steps and whistle for the dog. My eyes adjusting to the darkness, the moon casting a grey sheen over the world, and clouds scurrying past, just like I imagine they must have for Merrily Watkins. In the book.

If I were to red line my own work from that night it would look something like this:
  1. Passive voice intentional? (wrapped, made, adjusting, slamming, telling..) Would it be more effective in an active voice?
  2. Plaid - meaning??? does the reader understand this?
  3. mud-room should be two words, not hyphenated
  4. "the naked light bulb that lights.." - repetition of word light; also obvious - a light bulb lights - suggest revision to make image stronger
  5. lights - is this the tense you want? lit?
  6. Fragmented sentences - intentional for pace?
  7. "clouds scurrying past" - cliche - can we find a better description, something more original that sets the scene
  8. ref. to Merrily - is there enough background for the reader to get this ref? Should we expand on it in previous paragraphs?
So eight comments on a five and a half line paragraph. And that's just round one - the things I see right off the bat.

To return to that attachment issue writers have, even after doing this exercise and deliberately being harsh with myself, I still have a voice in my head saying that I don't need to change the words. Saying No, that's exactly what I want to say and how I want that to look. Saying 'Stet' (polite editing language for leave my stuff the f*&% alone).

Well, maybe it is exactly right. But you need a hard-headed editor to challenge you on some of the things you might not ordinarily see for yourself. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dinner Party

Andrew and I don't go out by ourselves all that often unless the kids are away with their grandparents. Usually we go out with the kids to pot luck dinners, movies and parties with other families, or out for a dinner together, and that's how we like it. In the past, we have had a series of wonderful babysitters so if we needed the odd night out, we took it. But those sitters - all sisters - have all gone off to college now, and we haven't yet put any effort into finding replacements.

But last night we went out to a friend's house for a dinner party.

We left the kids by themselves.

Big step.

They have been by themselves before, just not for very long and always in daylight. Granted, the dinner party was just up the street and not at all far away so we could get home quickly if need be. And Erik is almost old enough to take the babysitting course and definitely mature and responsible enough to look after his sisters. Anna is not far behind him, in addition to being cautious and rule-abiding, and quite prepared to call me if she even thinks something might go wrong.  Grace promised not to push her brother's buttons - she has a real talent for that. And all three kids are well behaved and trustworthy.

But still a big step.

We left them with a big bag of doritos, a chocolate bar, and (ooh the thrill) a can of coke each. Sweetening the pot, so to speak. (Some might say bribe, but I think that takes it too far.) And movies. Locked the doors, left cell phones and phone numbers. And went out - somewhat trepidatiously - for dinner.

A couple of hours later, around 10 pm, I came back to check on them. This is what I found:

Erik in bed in his pj's snoring his head off.

Anna wrapped in blankets on the serenity couch listening drowsily to Toby Keith.

Grace. Ah Grace. She's the youngest of course. And what was she doing?

Dressed in tights and a long t-shirt and a Santa hat, she was prancing around the house pretending to be an elf.

Of course.

And they were all really proud of themselves this  morning, and wondering just when we are going out again.

All I need is a few more friends who live close by.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Cards

I like the ritual of writing Christmas cards for close friends and family and sending them off. Once or twice I have handmade them - painstakingly painting winter scenes one year, photos of the kids the next, and one year having  a pile of fun making witty photoshopped cards of our farm animals wearing Santa hats with captions (such as the sheep saying "he knows if you've been baaa-d or good"). Yes juvenile, But fun.

But this year, short on time, I was just planning to buy cards. Then my daughters got involved. And they have their own ideas.

So don't be surprised this year if you get some of the following paper versions of cards (these are incomplete at the moment):
Well, these aren't too bad are they? Fairly traditional. The prototypes won me over.

 But then, here, flanked by a recognizable snowman and a candy cane is some sort of, um, demonic elf.

And Anna's latent catholicism is obviously feuding with her cute-puppy-dog-with-huge-eyes phase.

As for what goes inside the card...

Most people are content with Merry Christmas, Happy holidays, May your days be merry and bright, that sort of thing.

Grace takes it one step further:

(ho ho ho, Santa Clause is comeing to the city and the countryside. isn't it AWSOME!!!)

Well, yeah, actually it is awesome. And inclusive too.

Though I am still looking for stickers that proudly proclaim Hand Made by Anna and Grace.

Just in case there is any confusion.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Ice Friday

Someone smart on Twitter this morning said that today was Black Ice Friday - our version of Black Friday in the US.

School buses are cancelled, the roads are treacherous, and I am staying home with the kids for the day.

It doesn't look all that dreadful outside. That's the danger with black ice - you don't see it.

But as I watched the dog slide down the steps and claw her way back up again, I realised that if I want to go out to the car to get the work I have to do (which I left in the trunk, silly me), I might need these:
It wouldn't be the first time I have skated across the driveway.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Do You Do?

Oh, you're an editor!

I get that a lot. Usually followed, after a polite moment or two, by So, what do you do, exactly?

Good question.

I know there are people who think I have a cushy job reading novels and finding spelling errors. By the fire. With chocolate.

Some of the time, that is even true.

But what does a typical day look like in the world of a freelance editor? In any given week I might do some or all of the following:
  • Read manuscripts from a slush pile - I do this in batches of ten, reading as much as I need to decide whether to read more or reject, or recommend to another editor (sometimes I see something that is good, just not my taste).
  • Do full reads on any manuscripts (ms) I am interested in- yes, that means reading the entire ms, determining if it is something I would like to work with, and doing a full book report/marketing analysis on it.
  • Substantive editing: this is the part writers sometimes fear. It's where I go through and make comments and ask questions, and recommend things based on my reading of the ms. Does this makes sense? Is the heroine/hero strong enough? Is there enough motive provided? Are the character arcs developed? Does the author create a pull? Do the setting/characters/plot points work together? How is the pacing? Is the dialogue realistic? Is there enough? Is there too much? Are there weak areas? Is there action and is it in the right place? Can we strenthen the ms by moving things around? By adding something? By taking something away? Does the author give too much away too quickly? Or do we need more than we have? What makes these characters tick? Etcetera, etcetera. But all of these things really add up to one overriding question that the editor is trying to answer - with the help of the author: How can we make this better?
  • I should note that substantive editing takes a long time. And we do it more than once, looking at changes to see if they need tweaking. Sometimes deciding that the original was better, and reverting. Often changing the changes again. And again. Until it's right. Until it's the best book it can be. By which time we have read it so often, we know the story by heart. Which is why I only recommend books I think I will want to read more than once.
  • I should also note that no matter how good a writer you are, editing your own work only ever gets you so far. Not that you shouldn't polish a ms as much as possible, but you will never see your own work in as clear a light as an unbiased third party. Having said that, working with an editor is not the torture some people think. We are not out to get authors. Just here to help.
  • Line Editing. I usually do this in conjunction with substantive editing, but at the end, I still go through one final time before sending it off to the copy editor.
  • Work with writers to fine-tune their work.
  • Look at technical documents and make sure the formatting is correct, the writing is clear and concise, and that when a Figure refers to Para, that it really does refer to Para
  • Turn a government document into plain English.
  • Take a draft document and check grammar, syntax, spelling.
There are other things too. I read (for fun) the Chicago Manual of Style, other editing blogs and books. I use twitter to communicate with other editors, with writers. And I have just started a Facebook fan page for editing, so I try to update that. I have toyed with the idea of an editing blog, but for now, it just has to share space with this one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The house is quiet. Too quiet. Big old farmhouse, the furnace creaking away in the basement next to the root cellar. The kids and I made chocolate chip cookies and read books all evening while Andrew went out to a cub planning meeting. Did I mention it's at a pub? Figured he'd be out for the night. And once they went to bed, the quietness became more noticable.

Didn't help that I was reading this.

Atmospheric, a bit chilling. Medieval and gothic and mysterious and pagan - even if the protagonist is a Church of England minister.

I finished a chapter. Realized I was cold. The rumble of a train and a dog barking in the distance brought me back and I was suddenly aware that I was alone. With unsettled thoughts and a rather vivid imagination. And the wind rattling a back window that doesn't quite shut in the mud room.

Wrapped in my plaid, I made my way out of the stove-warmed kitchen, adjusting to the cold of the unheated mud-room, slamming the window down hard. Telling myself I need to replace the naked light bulb that lights the room in an eerie yellow glow. Turning it off and opening the back door to stand on the steps and whistle for the dog. My eyes adjusting to the darkness, the moon casting a grey sheen over the world, and clouds scurrying past, just like I imagine they must have for Merrily Watkins. In the book.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book Nerd

I am shamelessly stealing this from Finola. In the past week, it's been making the rounds on Facebook and apparently all of my friends think I am a Book Nerd because I have been tagged a half dozen times or more already. According to the BBC, most people will only have read 6 of the 100 books listed here. I find that hard to believe because my kids have read 6: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Winnie the Pooh, A Christmas Carol, Charlotte's Web, The Faraway Tree, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Make that 11 - my kids have read 11.

You are supposed to bold the ones you have read and italicize ones you never finished. So on the one hand I feel smug because I have read 75 of these (76 if you count the sneaky one I added for one that was missing at # 26). On the other hand I am scratching my head a bit:
  • Why are Hamlet and the Complete Works of Shakespeare both listed? Ditto for The Lion, the Wich and the Wardrobe and the Narnia chronicles.
  • How did the slightly obscure Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton make the list when there are so many great books for children that are more relevant. (I personally own and like this book, but am puzzled at its inclusion on the top 100).
  • What's with Bridget Jones? Top 1oo? Seriously? And ahead of Oliver Twist?
  • How come Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare, Harry Potter etc only count as one book?
  • What happened to number 26? I added a book - a perennial favourite of mine, Howard's End by EM Forster. There were others I could have added instead, but I Forster was unrepresentated and he is British (and it's a British list)
One of my earliest posts was on book lists, so if you read that you know I am not a huge fan of them. But I did enjoy reading down this list, and reliving the memories some of the books conjured up.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (always a good one)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (kids love this, I didn't - preferred movie and I don't say that often)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (coming out this sprint as a movie. I own 5 copies of this book)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (Love this - my kids don't. Weirdly)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (1st book I downloaded to my Ipod - because it was cheap)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (Andrew's Favourite book - right up there with The Road)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (rushed out and bought these when the church kicked up a fuss. OTherwise probably would not have bothered. They're ok.)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (I'm a huge Dickens fan)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (Ug. I can't re-read this now. The March girls drive me crazy!)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Especially the histories and MacBeth)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (I read Du Maurier when I want chilling atmosphere)
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (a boyfriend bought me this for Christmas when I wanted jewellry. Sigh. I was young and shallow then)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (Read this so I could get my husband's jokes and obscure references. Same reason I saw Star Wars)
26. Howard's End - E.M. Forster  
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (I just remember Stu-Bob's philosophy class)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (I was on a Russian kick for a while. Read everything - in translation)
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (I prefer Return of the Native. Must re-read)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (this kept me up all night when I was about 13)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (I am Elinor, according to this. And then there's Brandon!)
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, November 22, 2010


Do you ever start the week more tired than you were on Friday?

That's me today. Despite the fact that I said No to going to Toronto for a family Christmas get-together on Saturday because I wanted needed to have some down time (and didn't think an 8 hour round trip drive would count: as an aside, this was one of the only times in my life I have actually said "No" to something that I am expected to attend, and I have mixed feelings of guilt and relief); despite the fact that I turned off my computer and did zero work on the weekend - not even reading; despite the fact that I spend Saturday idly cutting back my gardens; despite the fact that I stayed Saturday night at my in-laws in Ottawa and slept in until 10am on Sunday (the difference dark blinds make to a room: my bedroom at home has no curtains at all - which is how I manage to get up at 6 every morning); despite ALL THIS, I am still tired today.

I was talking to my sister the other week about being tired. It's kind of an occupational hazard, being a parent. We do run all week - from karate on Mondays to Cubs on Thrusdays and swimming lessons on Friday, it's pretty hectic. I have an amazing husband who does most of the running round right now because I am busy with work, with editing and with teaching, but he also works a 60 hour week, so is it any wonder we get to the end of it and feel exhausted?

To be fair, we are usually better at the balance. We pack a lot into five days and then spend the weekend lollygagging around, reading, cooking, relaxing. But the past two months for one reason and another have been even more full than usual.

Time to step back. We have no going away plans between now and Christmas. No travel with kids. Oh sure we have plans over the next few weeks- a dinner party next weekend with friends, taking the kids to see Tangled some time, and I am looking forward to meeting some blogging friends in December. But these things rejuvenate and restore. 

As for being tired today, I have a plan to fix that too. After grocery shopping and karate tonight, I am going to have a long sudsy bath, a hot cup of tea, and an early night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Theatrical Delights

Today I am taking my girls to see Annie at the theatre in Ottawa.  Their grandmother, great-grandmother, auntie, and cousin are coming too, so it's going to be a fun afternoon. I wrote about the allure of the theatre in this post, and it's something that never goes away.

When I was a child, every Christmas Eve, my parents would take my brother and I to see a pantomime in Liverpool. Kids stories - Peter Pan, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White - and I think that is where my love of the theatre began. I have very vivid memories of the glamour, the wide red-carpeted stairs, the rustle of malteser chocolates being opened, and the magic and singing and laughing and clapping that was all part of the experience.

As a teenager, I was fortunate that although we lived in a small town, our high school put on some excellent musicals - it's where I first saw Guys and Dolls, Camelot, Joseph, Fiddler on the Roof, and countless others.

And later, living in Halifax, I went to see plays like The Dresser, The Importance of Being Ernest, Shakespeare.

Once I lived in Ontario, with Toronto just a few hours south, the world opened wider. Phantom, Miss Saigon, and other musicals. We spent a fabulous time at the opera seeing Beethoven's Fidelio, and changed our honeymoon plans to catch Colm Wilkensen in Les Miserables - possibly my favourite play ever.

Now we live on the doorstep of Montreal and can go to the opera or theatre more often. We haven't taken advantage of it the way we should. I met my girlfriends last weekend in Toronto to see Wicked, and Leanne and I plan to betake ourselves to the Stratford Festival next summer.

But with young children, it is more difficult. I took the girls last New Years to see Mamma Mia, because I want to foster in them the same love of the theatre I have. And the Lion King comes back to Toronto next year and I would love to take all three kids there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lessons from Lord Of The Rings

We are re-watching Lord of the Rings with the kids on Friday nights. They are long movies so it takes us about six weeks of Friday nights to watch the whole thing. I've seen them many times - they are among my favourite movies.

But there are a few things I am really enjoying.

The wisdom of Gandalf, for example. When Frodo says he wishes the ring had never come to him, that he wishes this had never happened, Gandalf replies:

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not ours to decide. All you can do is decide what to do with the time that is given you.

I had a shiver run through me. Because it gets straight to the heart of the matter. Life is not always fair. Ask anyone who was in their early 20's during the World Wars. Ask the people of Pakistan. Ask the men and women and children who have spouses serving in Afghanistan. Ask those who don't have enough to eat.  Other people will always have more, be luckier, have less worries. And conversely, there will always be those who look enviously at you. But if you wait for life to be fair to really live it, then you run the risk of missing it altogether.

The friendship of Sam. He didn't want to go on a quest. He'd have been happy sitting by his fire in the shire with a pint and a bacon sandwich (actually, that sounds pretty good) but he made a promise to stick by Frodo, and he kept by it. Never wavering, never faltering, strong in the face of adversity, optimistic when Frodo was not. Sam was cheerful even when he was cold and tired and hungry, and was true to that friendship even when it seemed hopeless. And in the end, that friendship saved the world.

We could all do with a friend like Sam.

And on life in general. At one point Sam tells Frodo that he knows know why the great stories were so great. Full of danger and darkness, but in the end good triumphed because the people in the stories held to the notion that goodness was worth holding onto. They persevered and didn't turn back when they had the chance.

A reminder that we all need sometimes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

History Mystery: Steaming Along

I made what is widely considered my first true movie debut this week in 1928. The movie also featured the gal who would become my main squeeze - although we actually met in a short piece about six months earlier. My most famous role came in a classical piece made about 11 years later, and which is still popular to this day. I received my star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on Nov. 18th, 1978 - on the 50th anniversary of my movie career.

I have been in movies, books, and video games. I have been translated into countless languages, and used politically. The British navy unofficiallly bestowed my name on some of their WWII era minesweepers as a friendly nickname. Sometimes, my name is used pejoratively, which hurts my feelings, but at least in Australia they use my name to mean excellent. I like that.

Who Am I?

That's right, Leanne!

I am Mickey Mouse!!!  M-I-C K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where I Write

I write at my desk - a huge solid structure that takes up a good third of my office/library. It faces the window so I can look out through the fading leaves and across the field. In the summer, the play structure is just out of sight but I can hear the laughter and shouts of the children. I love the natural light that filters through in the late afternoon as the sun starts to sink.

I write in the living room, laptop on my knee. Sometimes I curl up at one end of the big leather coach, with children beside me, but my preference is the recliner chair where it is more comfortable. This is the place I write when I have something that needs to be done but want to spend some time with the family as well. Often on a Sunday afternoon. They watch a movie or read a book, and I write, the words coloured by the warm familiarity of togetherness.

I write at the kitchen island. Because it's by the stone fireplace and that is comforting in Winter. Because it faces east so is bright in the morning. Because I want a change of location. Sometimes because I'm trying to write something at the same time as I am cooking dinner.

I write in a tiny notebook that I carry in my purse. I jot down ideas and concepts, scribbling at stop lights, or by the light of a lamppost while I am waiting. I write lists and notes, sketches and poems, key words and outlines. I write in waiting rooms, or during breaks at meetings.

I am a writer.

I write.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Literary Crushes

Oh, come on. You've had them too. A huge crush on a fictional character, whether he (or she) be in a book or a movie.

Mine tend to be literary in nature. So here are my top 5:

#5: Colonel Brandon from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I know Mr D'Arcy always seems to get top billing, but I always kind of liked Brandon better. He's a bit more subtle than D'Arcy, the silent but decisive hero who worships from afar and always comes through in a crunch. The kind of guy you can count on, and who has a depth of personality only hinted at on the surface.

(Photo from movie Sense & Sensibility starring Alan Rickman)

#4: Lancelot. Arthur's favourite Knight and mine too. I've had crush on Lancelot longer than anyone, longer even than I have known what a crush was! His bravery, chivalry, heroism, and splendour all fuse together, and really, who can resist the knight in shining armour on his valiant steed?

#3: Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. Siegfried is generous, witty, amusing, unpredictable, charming (oh so charming) and strings together words effortlessly (ie: "We're up against boneheaded bureaucracy. Complete ossification").  A literate literary character.

(Photo from TV Drama of All Creatures starring Robert Hardy)

#2: King Richard III. Yes technically he is historic, not a literary character, but it is only through literature that I fell for him. First in Josephine Tey's The Daughter of TIme which I read when I was about 13, and then later in Sharon Kaye Penmen's fabulous The Sunne In Splendour. And yes, I think he probably killed his nephews,but I like him anyway. They were complicated times for this last English monarch to die in battle.

(Statue of King Richard III)

#1: Jamie. Or more properly James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Yeah, I know, me and every other hot-blooded woman on the planet. If you like stubborn, heroic, fierce, passionate, intelligent, posessive, manly warrior-poets, get thee to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I've written about Jamie before here and here.

(Sketch one of the many many sketches,composites, computer generated pictures of Jamie made and disseminated by countless adoring fans)

So who are YOUR literary crushes?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's coming...

For the record, I love Christmas. True, I don't get giddy about decorating right after Hallowe'en, and in fact get downright stubborn about not shopping in stores that insist on trying to woo me with Christmas baubles too early. And we don't go and get a tree until December is well underway, preferring to draw out the anticipation.

But when I heard Elvis' White Christmas while shopping in The Bay last weekend, it bought a smile to my face, and I have started thinking about gifts.

That was about as far as I got until today when two things happened to remind me that the season is almost upon us.

First a friend who has three daughters sent an email to see if we would be up for a Christmas craft afternoon with the kids. Sounds great, I thought, and checking my calendar, was a bit shocked (as always it creeps up)  that there are only five weekend left before December 25th.


Secondly, Andrea from A Peek Inside The Fishbowl twittered about her 25 days of Christmas tradition, which involves taking the commercializaion and rush and crazyness out of the season (well, as much as possible, anyway) with some fun, gentle, family time activities. I don't do it exactly as she does, but one of the first things I do every early December is make a list of things we can do together that maybe, just maybe, take the rush and hustle out of the weeks leading up to the big day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lessons From My Weekend

I spent a fabulous weekend in Toronto with some friends I've known for, oh, twenty odd years or longer, ever since university. We don't see each other very often, though I mentioned them here last year, and I came away from my weekend having learned some very important lessons.
  1. I have no (as in zip, zero, zilch) sense of style - though after catching some show about how not to dress on TV late Friday night, I do know that feathers in your hair are taboo, and so are skintight catsuits. Not that I ever wore feathers or skintight catsuits.
  2. I drink way more wine than either Leanne or Julie.
  3. I like eating at gourmet restaurants such as Far Niente.
  4. Having seen how much people buy and what the prices are at some shops, I realize I am in the wrong tax bracket.
  5. Shopping in the right company can be fun although I find it hard to buy (see #1 and #4).
  6. Books are still more important to me than clothes, which probably explains #1. Also I don't find it hard to buy books. Quite the opposite in fact.
  7. I have willpower. Despite desperately wanting a Kobo, I know it is on Andrew's Christmas list for me, so I resisted. I did not however resist picking up The Exile. So limited willpower might describe it better.
  8. I would like someone to turn down the covers and leave chocolates on my pillow every night.
  9. I should probably at some point consider having my hair styled and/or wearing makeup so I can look as polished and sophisticated as my friends.
  10. Despite my fear of city driving, I was able to navigate my way into the heart of downtown Toronto and back out again with ease, with aplomb, with - dare I say - grace. And without a GPS. And I am remarkably smug about that small feat (though was very happy to see country roads again).

Sunday, November 14, 2010


It's almost six o'clock in the evening. I am sitting at my desk in my office, looking out the window towards the west.

Bare branches from my majestic ash sweep across my view, a few tenacious leaves still clinging to the spindly twigs at the ends. Other thin branches - the ones I ought to have pruned earlier in the year - scrape across the glass, their scratchy greeting seeming friendly and companionable at this hour, not frightening like it does in the middle of the night when the wind moans and I wake up with a strt imagining Heathcliff at my window sash.

It's not such a stretch. Beyond the ash branches, a line of pines stand guard, and beyond them there is nothing but fields and meadows stretching out to the western edge of the property.

And above that, tonight, at dusk, a thin golden streak of light sits on the horizon: a single line of light providing illumination between the greying clouds that hold the promise of snow and the dark forest below.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Short and sweet... I am writing this at 11pm on Saturday at the Business Centre of the downtown Toronto hotel where I am staying with two university friends for the weekend. We just got in from seeing this play:

And it was wonderful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

War Stories....Part II

In honour of Remembrance Day I am writing a series of war stories that I have been told about mine and Andrew's grandparents and family who lived, fought, and sometimes died in World War II. War is not just about battle. It's also about living - the everyday survival of those left behind.

Today: Andrew's Grandparents

In World War II, young Betty Hamer left her rural English home to join the army. When she walked into the mess hall the first day - one of the first wave of British women to do so - she was met by a chorus of boos from her countrymen: men who would now be off to war, their jobs on the muitions line taken by these women. Amongst the soldiers there that day was a group of Canadians. One of them - a young handsome Newfoundlander named Tom, made his way over to the women. "You're welcome to sit with us," he said.  They did and the rest was history. Betty married Tom and at the end of the war, baby-in-tow, Betty came to Canada as a war bride. 

Note: A few years ago, Betty and my mother-in-law, Liz were able to travel back to Halifax for the War Bride Reunion.

And a Special Shout Out:
Soldiers are not the only ones who are heroes. I think of all the women and children who lived through the world wars, waiting and hoping, and making do when food was short, and worrying. Sometimes it's easier to be doing something - even if it's dangerous - than it is to be sitting at home knowing your loved ones are in danger. I have always been amazed at the courage and resilience of those who lived through the world wars whether on the fighting fields, or keeping the home fires burning. I am no less in awe today. While I am one of those who appreciates all our soldiers do for us overseas and am proud of them, this shout out is for the spouses, parents, sons and daughters of those who serve their country. I'm proud of them too.

Andrew's Uncle Eldon, WWII
Torpedoed on the Shawinigan and lost at sea

Thursday, November 11, 2010

War Stories ...Part I

In honour of Remembrance Day I am writing a series of war stories that I have been told about mine and Andrew's grandparents and family who lived, fought, and sometimes died in World War II. War is not just about battle. It's also about living - the everyday survival of those left behind. My grandparents lived in Liverpool, England, a city devastated by the Blitz. Andrew's grandmother joined the army, met and married a Canadian, and came to Canada as a war bride.

Today: Snippets of my grandparents.

One night during World War II, Eric Callister walked Daisy Lewis home through the streets of Liverpool when the night was disturbed by the sound of the air raid sirens. The nearest shelter was minutes away, but Eric and Daisy were young and the night to that point had been so beautiful. They took their chances, and Eric walked her home. The bomb fell, as so many did, one of them directly on the air raid shelter they turned their back on, decimating the air raid shelter and everyone in it. Eric and Daisy lived to see another day, marry and raise four children, one of them my father. An example of hope and optimism during wartime.

Walter Thomas Deane crawled across the dessert during the war, was captured, and spent years in a POW camp. He had two daughters, the younger of whom - my mother - was born just after the war ended and who grew up on the rubble and grime of post-war Liverpool. He survived many losses, but greatest of all perhaps to him, was the day in the 1980's when someone broke into his home and seeing nothing of real value, made off with all his war medals. An example of loss and desperation during peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Philosophy Dinner Party

I like dinner parties. I'm not taking about the spontaneous, casual get together dinners with friends and their kids that happen on a fairly regular basis (although they are fabulous and fun), but rather the planned, organized-in-advance, coordinated, sophisticated, formal dinner party.

Except we live in Glengarry, so nix the formal. We don't do formal round here.

And nix the sophisticated - I don't do sophistication very well either.

I like polishing glassware, setting the table, planning food, greeting guests. Eating, drinking, talking,. Catching up with friends we don't often see. Meeting new people.

Andrew and I hosted one of these on Saturday past. A party that got its start at another event years ago when I got talking to Abel about philosophy and we decided we should start having a regular themed dinner party. We've got together about four times a year since then, a small group of philosophers who have grown into a larger group. Sometimes we meet here, sometimes at Abel's under-construction log home on the river; sometimes at Catherine and Roger's beautiful brick art and antique filled home, or Louise's place north of here on the Ottawa river.

We always have a theme. This time, as Abel contemplates a trip to Egypt, it was whether or not we would or should go on vacation to a potentially dangerous spot.

But it's not really about philosophy. That's just an excuse.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


One of the first "real" books I remember reading when I was about 7 or 8 was Flambards by K.M. Peyton. The book is the first of a trilogy, and I read it because 1) it was about horses and I was horse-mad; and 2) it had been made into a UK mini series and my parents had let me watch it. Thirteen half-hour episodes of absolute delight. As for the books, I love them still, though my copies are stained, dog earred and falling apart. I adore them all: Christina, her cousins WIll and Mark, her crusty uncle and sweet Dick (who actually rather annoys me a bit now). I love the horses and Will's flying machines, and Dorothy and Sandy. And while everyone I knew cried buckets over Black Beauty, my tears were all for Sweetbriar. I still skip that chapter sometimes.

Somehow, and I can't explain it other than to say in that weird way connections are somehow forged, I forever associate the books with a certain smell, and the smell with a certain feeling. On cool fall or spring mornings when the ground is wet and the air is still, the country gets that aroma. If you've experienced it you'll know what I mean. It's wet leaves and rich earth, new life and decaying vegetation, mellowed aromas and sharp pungency all mixed together in an intoxicating brew. It reminds me of stables and sawdust and barns and gorse bushes. Of horse sweat, and horse hair, and the damp tendrils of hair that tumble down your back when you take off your bowler. It's oak and meadows and the silence in between hoof beats, and the dew on the grass and the glistening cobwebs along the fencerows. It's sodden leaves sticking to your boots, and the smell of leather reins and saddle polish, and lamb roasting in the kitchen.

Yes, somehow mine and Christina's Flambards life got all mixed up and to this day I can go outside, get a whiff of that smell and think to myself, It's a Flambards Day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NaBlo Week 1 Round Up

The first week of November closes and I have met some new and wonderful bloggers. This is of course in addition to the  wonderful bloggers I already knew. Some of my favourite blogs to read this week have been the following.

Mary Lynn's posts on Haiku and music:

Poetry and motherhood in Ottawa:

The beautiful chaos of

Paul's post on living the dash:

Andrea's Go Alice series at

A couple of writers:
and the young, talented, on-her-way up writer and my former fellow writers group member, Lindsay at

And then there are my faves:
The Mindful Merchant (who has a bunch more for me to check out!)

There's many more. So many blogs, so little time!

Sunday, November 7, 2010