View From The Glen

Sunday, February 28, 2010


It's always great to see Stephen & Michelle, and the kids love to see their cousins.

It was (as usual) a weekend punctuated with all the important things:

Food (pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and feta, served with wild rice pilaf, red cabbage, and followed by ooey, gooey chocolate brownies hot from the oven; also a late night snack of mussels steamed in white wine and garlic and dipped in parmesan butter);

Wine (Michelle bought me a bottle of Wolf Blass Grey Label for my birthday; Stephen came armed with a bottle of Scotch for him and Andrew);

Outdoor Fun (Anna and Naomi went snowshoeing and had a great adventure when the hail started; Rhys was fascinated by the animals in the barnyard and by Lady to whom he fed pounds of dog biscuits - I let him just to see his smile);

Indoor Fun (a rousing air hockey tournament that Rhys won, Grace & Naomi made crafts, they all enjoyed playing with Grace's new punching bag, and Erik shared lego with Rhys); and

Baby Snuggles (okay - this was mostly me playing with the most adorable baby in the world - yes, Isabella, I mean you!).

Once the kids went to bed on Saturday night, we discovered that we actually do have one channel on the TV, and it happens to be the one showing the Olympics, so we settled in to watch the Canadian Men's Curling team win the Gold medal. Too bad we discovered this at the end of the Olympics but c'est la vie.

Now I'm enjoying a quiet couple of hours getting some reading and writing in before we go snowboarding. The girls are supposed to be tidying their room but I hear them playing songs on their recorders so obviously that's not happening.

It's the tail end of another awesome weekend.

Six Cousins On The Farm.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dark Horse

I've long been fascinated by this painting:

It's by renowned Canadian painter Alex Colville who was inspired by these words from South African poet and satirist, Roy Campbell:

Against a regiment I oppose a brain
And a dark horse against an armored train.

(I love it when poetry and art come together.)

Carla introduced me to the work of Colville in the early 90's when we were living in Halifax. We didn't have the internet then, but she had a book of Colville's art and we'd spend hours in her flat on Creighton Street listening to Ella Fitzgerald, drinking pinot noir and pouring over the pictures.

We returned to this one (Horse and Train) time after time. It is so dark, so powerful, evoking the freedom of the horse at full gallop, and the inevitability of what was going to happen if he keeps on his current course. For the viewer, suspended forever in that one anxious moment, it causes unease and tension.

Note: Bruce Cockburn used this painting as the cover for his 1973 album Night Vision. He said later that the picture gave him a sense of impending doom; Horse and Train is part of the Art Gallery of Hamilton's permanent collection.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Mermaid's Chair

Once in a while, life and literature collide.

At our Red Tent bookclub meetings the first thing we do is check in - give a brief (or not) update on what is going on in our lives. Moving, babies, family, careers....anything and everything. And in January, when it was my turn I said I felt nothing really ever happens in my life. Not that I'm unhappy - it isn't that I want any of the "D-minor drama" of life - but by the time it's my turn to check in, I can barely say what it is that I do week to week.

So I made vague, inarticulate references to how I feel, and how I have decided it's just the phase of life I am in - everything is stable, we have no big issues, no major life events happening: it's all good. Let's be honest, I told the girls in my book club, they just don't make books or movies about people like me. You need conflict for that. And who needs conflict? Heads nodded.

Not two days I picked up The Mermaid's Chair. I was ho-hum about starting the book, but picked it up anyway, and there it was, smack-dab on page 8 - how I felt, only eloquent.

"With winter the feeling had deepened. I would see a neighbor running along the sidewalk in front of the house, training, I imagined, for a climb up Kilimanjaro. Or a friend at my book club giving a blow-by-blow of her bungee jump from a bridge in Australia. Or - and this was the worst of all - a TV show about some intrepid woman traveling alone in the blueness of Greece, and I'd be overcome by the little sparks that seemed to run beneath all that, the blood/sap/wine, aliveness, whatever it was. It had made me feel bereft over the immensity of the world, the extraordinary things people did with their lives - though, really, I didn't want to do any of those particular things. I didn't know then what I wanted, but the ache for it was palpable."
~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid's Chair

The ache for it was palpable. I read this and immediately wanted to dance on the beach, wade into the ocean at night, run in the rain, gallop a horse across a moorland...all things I've done, but not for so, so long.

At first I wondered, why not? Why and when did I stop doing all the things that made me feel alive? But reflecting a bit, I realized that it isn't that I've stopped, but rather that the things that fulfill me have changed. I think when you're young and learning who you are, you tend to live life more adventurously, more haphazardly, constantly defining and re-defining yourself. We danced spontaneously through the streets at midnight because we could and because it was fun. Then we have a tendency to look back at our crazy halcyon youth and remember it with nostalgia, and we think, Those were the days.

But they weren't. Not really. The truth is that THESE are the days.

I don't jump into a freezing lake with my best friend in April like I used to every year because I no longer need to. The things that make me feel alive today are different, quieter. But no less important.

They just don't make for very good stories.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Midwinter Blah

Apparently I am not the only member of the family to experience a desire for colour during the often grey days of February.

My midwinter blah moment comes without fail in the colour of yellow.

Grace's mindwinter blah comes in shades of coral and blue - the colour of exotic locales and tropical oceans.

I don't know where this is, but I'm keen to go and find out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Book-wise, January was a wash out. No particular reason. I had new books to read in my library. I had time. I wanted to read. But somehow, I never quite managed it. Then fate stepped in. Or rather the library called and said a book I had ordered months ago (Galore, by Michael Crummey) was in, so off I trotted and of course while I was there....

Picking a novel is a bit like alchemy for me. I run a finger along dusty spines and sometimes the finger pauses, zen-like, on a title, hovers there, maybe even pulls the book out a little and flutters over it. Some universal instinct then takes over and I either push it back in and keep going or pull it off the shelf and read it. Either way I am incapable of explaining why. And so books I have long wanted to read sometimes sit unopened, waiting for that great cosmic moment. Other times, books I have never thought of all but leap out at me, buzzing under my fingertips while I stand puzzled, wondering why.
The Mermaid's Chair by Sue Monk Kidd was one such book. I've passed over it a hundred times, but that day in the library I didn't. The same thing happened with Ian McEwan's Saturday. (I loved Atonement but didn't think I could handle another book by McEwan just yet ,so had ignored review about this one. Still the universe had other ideas.) I bought them home, and started to read.

Galore was first. I'd been waiting. I was excited. I was hopeful. Ultimately I was disappointed. To be fair I don't think it was all the book. It was poetry and magic and myth. I used to love this stuff, the stuff I felt that made Canadian literature so great. I studied this at university. Right up my alley. Except that my alley has changed, and now I am left going, where's the plot? where's the action? and after spending so many years promoting and defending Canlit, the fact that I no longer like so much of it deflates me.

I was still deflated when I picked up The Mermaid's Chair, and rather reluctantly began to read. I have more to say about this book: suffice for now to say it restored my faith in literature (which I know is a pretty big claim and probably merits some thought all by itself) and gave me the courage I needed to tackle McEwan.

Anyone else read Atonement? I read it before the movie came out and loved it despite it being narrative and not action-driven. McEwan's voice frightened me though to the point where I was not sure I could read another of his novels. I'm glad I made the exception for Saturday. Like Atonement it was compelling and beautifully crafted, and you leave it with the sense that the world may not be perfect but that the fragility of human life is always a thing of wonder.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"I wanna talk about me..."

That's the title of a country song (I think by Toby Keith) in which the singer says he loves to talk about "you you you you usually, but occasionally, I wanna talk about me..." Switch his girlfriend for the kids, the pets, the farm and all the animals and, well, I talk about you you you you a lot. But yesterday was my 40th birthday so today I'm going to talk about me, and some of the things I'm doing.
  1. I work in a corporate office and my job includes business innovations, marketing, and the environment.
  2. I probably should get an MBA but I don't want to, so I muddle along with my MA and wonder how studying Canadian Literature got me here.
  3. I am a writer and editor as well. Editing is freelance and very part time though I have a regular gig which I love. Writing is daily and is very diverse from poetry to short stories to full-length novels.
  4. I belong to a book club that sometimes even discusses books; a philosophy dinner club that solves universal problems over gourmet food; and a writer's group that tells me all the things I need to do to improve a manuscript before sending it to an agent. All great people.
  5. I read. A lot.
  6. I haven't watched television in over 20 years. I've never seen Seinfeld, Survivor, Lost, or Sex and the City. The only time I miss having TV is when the World Cup soccer is on.
  7. I'm an amateur historian (medieval Europe is my specialty).
  8. I live in an ancient farmhouse and despite the inconveniences, I love it: it's the way the sunlight plays on the pine floors in the late afternoon, and the way the breeze blows the smell of linden blossoms across the porch in summer.
  9. I am a free-range mom and think society coddles kids too much.
  10. I love cooking and hate cleaning.
  11. I do Yoga every morning. I run. I do weight training. My motto is that exercise has to fit into 15 minute time slots or I won't do it. I could do better, but lack motivation.
  12. Actually, lists bore me. I don't think a litany of activities tell the true story of a person. If you want to get to know me better, invite me over. I drink shiraz. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mouth Watering

My mouth is watering. Partly because I forgot to eat lunch (so busy and excited was I about completing the final stages of the marketing project I am doing) but partly because there has been a shift to the season.

It's still winter, and I've lived here long enough to know we can still expect more snow yet. But the mornings brighten earlier, dusk falls later, and there is a definite springiness to the world.

I'm a compulsive menu planner, always planning two weeks ahead and fitting in new recipes among the tried and true we all love. And menu plans, like the seasons, have a natural flow to them. Summer grills yield gracefully to the soups and harvest fare of fall, which in turn gives way to the hearty casseroles and slow-cooked meals of winter.

This spring-like shift in season speaks to me of a new food palatte. Lighter, greener, more delicate, like the spring snowdrops which will be popping up in the next month or so. And I've started to think about lightening the menu a little, switching it up. I've been tossing around some ideas, such as:
  • Taking out Chicken Pot Pie and replacing it with Chicken Crepes in Chardonnay Sauce;
  • Switching Cream of Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup with Cream of Asparagus with Parmesan or (heaven) Fiddlehead Soup drizzled with creme fraiche and pepper;
  • Taking the Salmon en croute out of its pastry crust and serving it sauteed and herbed on a bed of minted peas;
  • Swapping decadent chocolate brownies for a light cream cheesecake topped with lemon and blueberries (a recipe stolen shamelessly from Chez Piggy in Kingston).
I have to go now before I drool over the computer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Little Lambs

Andrew bought day old still wet twin lambs into the house a week ago after their mother decided to walk away from them. We dried them, put them beside the fire, and hand fed them lamb replacement formula through a tube at first, and later from beer bottles (which just happen to be the right size to fit the lamb bottle nipples we keep in stock).

Most sheep are wonderful mothers, but it happens every year that there are some who just can't figure it out. Sometimes it's because Mom knows best, and the lamb is ill - that happened the first year with Oliver Twist who died after a week. Last year we had no abandoned lambs, but the year before we had the memorable duo of Portia and Jessica who would leap out of their box at night and tap dance on the tiles in the kitchen. They are having babies of their own this year.

So while the other lambs frolic and skip outside, these two were in here. Frolicing and skipping. Bleating and wagging their little tails when they see us. And for all the annoyance of having babies in the house theat need to be bottlefed every few hours, they are really really cute. Totally adorable.

Every morning after feeding, the girls take them outside to play while I clean out their crate and put fresh sawdust down. Back in they come, feed again, and fall into a heap together to sleep.

There is nothing so sweet as a baby lamb, and they quickly become favourites - even the dog and cats like them. But what in the end do you do with baby lambs?

After a couple of weeks, they can stay outside in the pen, but we still have to feed them formula until the snow goes and the young green grass is ready. And then there is the reintroduction to the flock which takes time. Sheep are so darn cliquey.

But last year we had a woman contact us looking to buy a baby lamb for a pet. She has a small property with a goat, some chickens and a small pony or two. We dug out her email and asked if she'd be interested in two lambs. And she said yes.

One of the things we do here is sell breeding stock. Increase the rare Jacob herd where possible. These two are not purebreds, but they are perfect for pets.

Andrew took them to work this morning, and the lady is going to pick up these two beautiful creatures. I'm happy for them, but it was difficult to say goodbye. The kids cried last night when we told them. And I am dreading the moment they come down and realise the lambs are not here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Engineer in Training?

When Erik was in Junior Kindergarten, his teacher was concerned about his fine motor skills because he had difficulty writing and colouring.

I wasn't all that concerned because he was so good at building lego, mastering with ease kits meant for older children.

Six years on and his writing and colouring are still far from perfect. Not because of fine motor skills, but because he has zero interest in writing and colouring.

His interests lie elsewhere.

Have you ever tried building these things? I give up in the first five minutes, overwhelmed by the sheer number of tiny blocks, gears and mechanical parts required to make these intricate working vehicles and spaceships.

But not Erik. The only time I've ever seen him stuck was when the part they sent was flawed and Andrew had to engineer it to fit.

He's just joined a Robotics club at school marrying the building of lego with computer controlled robots, and as I watch him take his hobby to the next level, I am just amazed.

He doesn't get that gene from me!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


There was a PD day for the school yesterday, so I took the afternoon off and we went skiing/boarding. It's the first time the kids have gone with us and without an instructor, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured an hour would be good, and if we got two hours we'd be doing really well.

Four hours later, on our last run down the hill under the night lights, we called it a day. Grace - the youngest boarder on the mountain by a fair margin - had been jelly-legged for an hour; Erik had just done a spectacular face plant; Anna was still raring to go with the persistence only she can muster; Andrew is very competant on the slopes and I expect his biggest problem was slowing down enough to ski with us; and I had done so well until a moment of hubris on our last ride up when I mentioned out loud to Erik how impressed I was that I had managed to avoid falling once, and immediately afterwards fell getting off the ski lift. Guess I was getting jelly-legged too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kids Get It

Grace made this for me:

Do you know what Kwanzaa is, I asked her, curious.

Oh yes. It's like Christmas. It's to tell people how much you love them. Not everyone, she went on confidentially, believes in Santa.

In Grace's eyes, all celebrations - regardless of their cultural or spiritual ties - have this one thing in common: they bring us together with friends and family and give us an opportunity to enjoy each other's company in a spirit of love and goodwill.

I was going to say it was a bit late for celebrating Kwanzaa, but I couldn't look into her shining eyes and tell her that it was the wrong time to celebrate love.

Happy Kwanzaa then.