View From The Glen

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Day In The Life

Busy much. I mean we all are. So when a student who knows I edit books as well as teach asked me when I had time to mark essays (56 of them - for one class) I just laughed. I just randomly assign marks I told her. (That was a joke).

Back in August, way back, I read a blog post called A Day In The Life and thought at the time, what a great idea one of these days. Today is that day and so, inspired by Sara who was inspired by Kathy  here is my version.

6 am is usually when I wake up. Just before actually is when the alarm goes off, but I wait until the dog snuffs her wet nose into my  arm before actually getting out of bed. Depending on how sleepy the dog was, I either do yoga or run (less running these days) and then shower, or just shower. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I wake up the kids. Sometimes Erik is downstairs already eating. This is something that never happens with the girls.

8 am Bus drop off is just after 8, so when I am not teaching I drop the kids off and return home to tidy the kitchen, drink a second mug of coffee, check emails and twitter and facebook, and listen to CBC. If I have an early class, I leave the house at 7 and the kids have a list of chores to do before Andrew comes home at 8:30 to drive them to school. Chores include feeding the dogs, cats, chickens, rabbit and fish, making lunches, packing their bags and brushing their teeth and hair. On those days when I am not here, I am not convinced they brush their hair or teeth. But the outdoor dog and the chickens do get fed. Priorities.

10 am- 4 pm I'm either at home editing books (typically Tuesdays and Fridays) or at the college teaching and marking (typically Monday and Thursday this term, but it will change again in January. If I'm at home I break to walk the dog and stretch around mid day. If I'm feeling ahead of schedule - or even on schedule - I might wash a floor or clean a bathroom. I always have dinner planned the day before (or the week before) and get any prep for that done too. When I'm teaching I rely more on the slow cooker. And Andrew, my emergency last-minute-pull-it-together chef. At 4pm, I pick the kids up off the bus, unless I have a late faculty meeting, at which point they go to an after school program and Andrew gets them on his way home. On Wednesday's in the afternoon I grocery shop and clean. Usually the other way round since I like to bring groceries home to a clean house and have somewhere to put them.

4-6 pm Hell Hours. I mean of course the usual craziness of after school. Homework, music practice, school notes and forms and letters and agendas. Sign tests, Review tests. Afternoon chores. Ask questions. Listen. Double check homework. All while making delicious nutritious dinner. Why yes, moms do make good jugglers, baby!

6-8 pm Dinner, clean up, activities, . Mondays are swimming and karate; Tuesdays are Beavers (the girls are junior leaders) and sometimes committee meetings for me, Andrew or both. Wednesdays are off (catch breath) unless there is book club (which I love); Thursdays is SCUBS (Scouts and Cubs depending on age). I usually take them to one activity on either Mon or Tue. The rest Andrew does the running around for which gives me much needed time to relax with a book or a bath. Hah. Just kidding. I usually read manuscripts to see if there is anything I love that I can recommend. Sometimes I mark essays or tests instead. I do aim for a long soak in a hot tub every Thursday. Sometimes it even works.

8-10 pm Reading, baths, bed. For all of us. Kids go up around 8:30. I'm done by 10. Sometimes instead of reading or working we watch the Big Bang Theory on DVD. Ah, the hedonism.

Friday nights Movie night and Pizza Hut. Every Friday night for 15 plus years this has been our tradition. Too wiped for anything else.

Weekends - All our activities take place Mon-Thu so weekends are free. That was planned. And it works. Sometimes there is scout camp or a visit or a day out. Sometimes there is farm work or gardening or cleaning. Sometimes I have to do prep for class or look over assignments. I nearly always check email on weekends, and sometimes will do a spot of editing. But I try to arrange it so that there is nothing pressing and we can just do whatever we please. We often have friends over for dinner and drinks.

What does your typical day look like? As atypical as mine, I am sure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Yesterday I mentioned that I had been taken to task for leaving the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon off my book lists. And promised to explain what it is about the series that I love.
They're not for everyone. I've heard criticism of their length, their historical detail, their portrayal of Jamie as a wife beater, and - in a forum that left me rather shaking my head - some very vehemently opposed readers who were shocked and appalled because Claire was an adultress (which seemed an odd thing to stab at given that 1. she is lost in time 200 years before she married her modern day husband - do the rules still apply? Really? And 2. the book actually does a pretty good job of debating the moral ambiguity of this issue, amongst other (more relevant) issues such as how our actions can affect the future and what our responsibilities are).

As an editor I am impressed how this book completely flouts so many genre conventions. 1) the hero and heroine are married (pretty early on) so the book is not about that; 2) the heroine is a strong woman in her own right (pretty common now, but never used to be); 3) the author has bad things happen to her hero - including torture and sadistic bondage (NOT something you see in many romances); 4) the HEA is not something you can take for granted; 5) sometimes it is up to the heroine to save the hero's butt because he is too sick or stupid to do it for himself.

I love long books steeped in history, but the first time I read these (the first three, at the recommendation of my Beaujolais friend who looked at me over the rim of her wine glass and said YOU will LOVE Jamie. He's exactly your type.) I found them a slow read. But by the end of the second book I was hooked and there was no turning back.  I find them well researched and well written, and I am awed how Gabaldon brings the period to life so vividly. Her words pulled me in and she layers the characters so beautifully, giving us bits and pieces of them so that they are only fully revealed sometimes over the course of many books.

I thought her characters believable and realistic.

Also there is Jamie.

Okay, as Andrew points out,

Jamie is way too perfect to be real...he speaks 11 languages, fights like a warrior, looks like a god, says things women love but which no man would ever actually say, can survive certain death, build a house with his two bare hands, fight bears, make his own scotch, and his only "weakness" is a bit of sea-sickness. Puh-lease!
(Andrew's snarkiness aside, he did wear a kilt to my sister's wedding. Guess if you can't beat em, join 'em heh heh!)

But all that said, the characters, even the minor ones seem real. More to the point, Outlander was the first book I read that made me realize there was more to reading than the classics and literary fiction. It took me off my high horse that genre fiction was to be avoided, and that a well done romance had every bit as much a place on my shelf as so many other novels.

Okay, I'm booked out. A different topic tomorrow, I think.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Och, aye.

Last week, I wrote about books, books, books. And I've been agonizing every day since about all the books that didn't make it on to one of the lists. Books like The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Books by Mauve Binchy. Books by James Herriot. Books such as All Quiet On the Western Front by Erick Maria Remarque; A Room With A View by EM Forster; Watership Down by Richard Adams; Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson; Possession by AS Byatt (How could I have forgotten Possession?). And so many many more that missed the lsit because they didn't quite fit, or because the author was represented by another book, or...oh, I don't know, because I didn't think about it until later.

I like so many different genres, I could probably gone on for ages, but boring my blog readers is not my intent. However, as one friend adroitly pointed out in an email, there was one glaring omission from my lists.

You forgot Outlander, she wrote. You read that series annually, you get rather predatory over Jamie, and you refuse to listen to criticism of the book - which is totally unlike you because usually you're all set for a heated discussion about a book. Therefore I humbly posit that Outlander HAS to be on one of your top 10 lists.
Well, yes.

It's no secret that history is one of my one of my loves, but I also take a rather furtive pleasure in historical  romance. And Diana Gabaldon's massive Outlander series feeds my addiction. I used to joke that I was always part of the way through one of the books because they are big and when I'd get to the end of the series I'd often start again. To be fair, after the first couple of times reading the series, I stopped my insatiable devouring of the books and rather enjoyed a more languorous pace - a chapter here, a page there - so it took much longer to read. Now, they are more of a familiar friend that I turn to when in need of indulgence. But they are still among my favourites, and just writing this makes me think about picking one of them up again.

(Read why tomorrow)

Sunday, November 27, 2011


...can be hell.

I am Group Commissioner for the scout group my kids and husband belong to. I did it because they needed someone and because my family is all involved, and because really how hard can it be?

Add in all the meetings they expect me to attend an hour away...okay. The training they want me to do - including next weekend, traditionally my Christmas planning weekend with the family...I guess so. And a bunch of regulations that should be simple, but somehow never are when they involve getting information from ten different people, all of whom are also volunteers...well, it's all part of the job.

It's not unexpected, and these things are none of them deal breakers.

But...but...but...there are days - today being one of them - where I wonder what I could have been thinking.

Managing hurt feelings and "he said, she said" types of circular arguments are bad enough when you get paid to do it in a job. I really don't feel like dealing with any of it right now. I have classes to plan, final essays to mark, marks to calculate, books to read and edit, and Christmas to organize.

So I did what any sane person would do. I closed my email, put on Christmas music and the girls and I made Part II of our Gingerbread Sleigh project, cutting out the sleigh and reindeer and Santa. (Stay tuned for pictures once we finish.)

And then I blogged about my frustration. Amazing how calming that is! (What you wouldn't know if I didn't tell you is that I wrote and then erased the first draft of this blog and then wrote this much more moderate, much less irate version. A sure sign of maturity (and also why I am kind of glad Facebook and blogging weren't around when I was in my early 20's when I would have burned bridges without thinking twice, lol).

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Andrew and I went out for dinner the other week. Though I whine and complain about the kids getting older and bigger and oh-my-goodness they used to be so cute, one of the definite advantages of having older children is not having to rustle up a babysitter every time an opportunity to go out comes up. So when friends invited us to a local steak house on a Wednesday night, we just said yes.

Not having a babysitter doesn't however mean everything is always perfect. But we have a system. Erik is always is charge. He is responsible and both a problem solver and decision maker like me.

(ROFL - if you didn't catch that sarcasm, you probably just don't know me well enough.)

Anna is in charge of the phone if they need to call us. Grace gets to be in charge of snacks. This policy has been in place since we first left them on their own for the evening a year ago.

They get along really well. Honestly. But I'm aware that Grace likes to push Erik's buttons (we all do - he makes it so easy), and Anna is our peacemaker who keeps them from getting into too much trouble. Also, they're well aware that if we have to come home for anything other than a bona fide emergency, there will be consequences. (heh heh, because I'm mean like that).

It doesn't mean they don't keep track though, and on this particular Wednesday night, we got home to find a series of notes in three different styles of handwriting:

  • Erik was squishing Grace
  • They are being nincompoops
  • Erik is annoying Grace
  • Grace and Erik are tackling each other
  • Anna is writing Erik and I notes. Oh no!
  • Anna is being naughty
  • Anna is lying about the notes
I laughed and laughed. Ah yes, the joys of children.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Carpe Diem

We interrupt this Book Meme to bring you...

Beaujolais Nouveau

These fruity french wines with the oh-so-captivating labels grace the stores for only a few short weeks, and should be drunk while young - within a few months! They are light, easy swilling wines, the kind to share on a casual Saturday evening.

I went out and bought some the other day. A couple are for a friend whose newly renovated house is just about ready for her to move in and I wanted to buy her the first wines for her shiny new kitchen wine rack. I bought extra so we could share a bottle while I'm there. Because more than anything, these wines are for friendship.

It could be that this is a construct of my own, this friendship thing, stemming from my days in Halifax where I was first introduced to Beaujolais Nouveau by an amazing woman who insisted on buying them every November. I went along with her because 1) they were bottles of wine; 2) that's what friends do; and 3) they were bottles of wine. But to her, they were more than wine, they were representative of her "seize the day" philosophy. We have to drink them while they are available, she would say. She also used to say, We should eat now, because you never know when the chance will come again.

Used to being the sad part. As it turned out, she was right. She died at 38 of cancer. And ever since then, I continue to buy the Beaujolais Nouveau. I don't love them that much, but they are metaphorical now, a symbol of friendship and of carpe diem. A reminder to me that we should eat, drink and be merry while we have the chance.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Books I'd Like To Read Again For The First Time

You know the kind of book that kept you up all night, or that made you think in a whole new way. Maybe you still love it, but it's lost that first read feeling, or maybe you have read it again years later and wonder sadly why it no longer resonates. But here's my list of books that I wish I could read for the very first time all over again:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Read this huge huge book in one night, unable to go to bed with it unfinished. I recall watching the sun come up through the windows and realizing I would have to go to my university classes soon, but being so mesmerized by the way she brought the Arthurian legend to life, that I really didn;t care.

Howard's End by EM Forster - This introduced me to the intellectual world of the Shlegel sisters and the way their world danced in and out of reality before colliding with it struck me qith some force. Also, I love the old house, Howard's End itself, and wonder if that is part of the reason I live where I do?

Flambards by KM PEyton - Horse mad at 8, I devoured these books feeling so grown up and sophisticated reading about what seemed to me to be the glamourous life of Christina and the decaying mansion she called home as the Great War approached.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding - Started this maybe for a grade 8 class and finished it in one go, sitting so long my hands were cold and stiff and when I looked up I was surprised to find darkness had fallen. I went downstairs seeking family, warmth and familiarity...anything to get rid of the strange feeling that lingered after the book was done.

Anne of Green Gables/Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery - I went on an Anne/Emily kick in the summer of 1982, when my best friend for the UK came for a visit and we went to PEI for two weeks. I was 12, Anne was new to me, and the two trilogies were an easy way to while away the evenings in a tent.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. You can never recapture the first time you read this languidly deceptive book. Sent chills down my spine.

To Serve Them All My Days by RF Delderfield - One of my first "grown up" books that started my love affair with the whole Edwardian period of rural Britain

The Princess Bride by William Goldman - Witty and clever, it was the movie and more (a rarity too in that I saw the movie first, and love both equally).

The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman - Richard III, need I say more.

Honourable Mentions: The Wine of Angels (Merrily Watkins detective series), The Road (except I won't read it again - too much for me, but brilliant), The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter. Also some books that were among my early reads and got right into my soul so I can't recall a time without them ie: King Arthur legends, Robin Hood.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Classics

Ever since I first read Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, as a matter of fact), I've been in love with the classics. Like Canadian fiction, I went though a phase where these were all I read, and as a result, went off them for a number of years. Oh, I still pick up Dickens and Austen regularly, but there are so many other great classics out there. Our society today favours fast-paced action and characters who we get to know immediately, so sometimes the cadence and pace of these older writers is difficult to get past, and their descriptions seem to go on for pages and pages (largely because they do in fact go on for pages and pages), but they are well worth the attempt. Here are some of my favourites:

Dickens - I love A Tale of Two Cities. It's by far by favourite Dickens, but not the one I most recommend. For that I go to Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, both of which are very readable and which really capture Dickens' social conscience.

Austen - Sadly, these books have enjoyed a revitaliaztion which I think has stopped people from taking them seriously. Jane Austen is perhaps the greatest writer in terms of style I have ever read. Reading her books (Sense and Sensibility is my favourite) is like listening to Julie Andrews talk - the perfect dicton and tone leaps out at every turn.

George Eliot - Adam Bede
Thomas Hardy - The Return of the Native
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre (classic Gothic masterpiece)
Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina
Boris Pasternek - Doctor Zhivaco
DH Lawrence - Lady Chatterley's Lover
EM Forster - Howards End and A Room With a View
Mathew Lewis - The Monk
Wilkie Collins - The Woman in White

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Canadian Literature

Today I am reviewing some of the Canadian Literature I have read and that I recommend. This list is not complete...even as I write books, new ones spring to mind. But this will do for a start.

Must Reads:
As For Me and My House - Sinclair Ross
The Stone Angel - Margaret Laurence
Short Stories (any collection) - Alice Munro
Two Solitudes - Hugh Maclennan
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood
The Wars - Timothy Findley
The Rebel Angels - Robertson Davies
Roughing It In The Bush - Susanna Moodie

Modern Classics
The Best Laid Plans - Terry Fallis
Fall On Your Knees -Ann Marie MacDonald
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams - Wayne Johnston
Away - Jane Urquhart
The Law of Dreams - Peter Behrens
The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill

My Current To Be Read/Re-read Pile
Half-Blood Blues - Esi Edugan
The Virgin Cure - Ami Mackay
Garbo Laughs - Elizabeth Hay

Not to Be Left Out
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
Burden of Desire - Robert MacNeil

What have I missed that you have loved?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apologia: CanLit

The other day at a luncheon, I made a careless sweeping statement.

I used to love Canadian Literature, I said. But now I find it boring.

What a generalizing, broad, unfair thing to say. And it's not true, not really.  Here then is my apologia - in defence of my words and with an explanation of perhaps what I really meant.

I studied Canadian Literature in university. In particular, I was fascinated by the role landscape plays so often, how it is (understandably) a major force that drives our literary heritage. From Susannah Moodie, to Margaret Atwood, from WO Mitchell to Jane Urquhart, from EJ Pratt to Anne Compton (ahem, my 18th century lit prof, I might add, though that is not why I include her here), the geography and vastness of this land is part and parcel of how we define ourselves and our artistic expression has always included these elements (Group of Seven, anyone?).

Landscape is character, I have argued countless times, often to anyone who even looks like they might be interested. Landscape engulfed some early writers (Roughing it in the Bush is Moodie's attempt to keep the frightening, unfamiliar landscape at bay), was co-opted by others (Mitchell, one of  our great Prairie writers, used it to underscore the turmoil of the inner landscape of human beings), and has been intimately embraced by writers such as Urquhart and Elizabeth Hay.

But somewhere along my reading journey, these great landscapes, mirrors of the internal struggles humanity faces, and beautifully, poetically crafted in so much Canadian literature, began to muddle together. I had this growing sense of homogeneity that sifted through the novels I was reading so that I was no longer able to recognize and differentiate the stories. At the same time, I began to crave character-driven narratives, to move away from subtlety into action and a more direct style of writing. I felt Canadian literature no longer gave me what I needed and instead I jumped with both feet headlong into historical fiction, an old love, and into genre fiction which fit into my busy lifestyle . These booksgave me what I wanted in small, compact, neatly packaged doses of mystery, romance, suspense, history...all with a happy ending, which so much Canadian fiction, ever true to the realities of life, did not provide.

After my bold proclamation at lunch, I felt cheap, like I had said something for effect, rather than because it was true. The tide is ever shifting, and what I said made me realize that it's time to revisit Canada's literary landcape once again. Not from my mired in the muck perspective, not from my nonchalent dismissive perspective, but from a balanced one that appreciates the nuances of Canadian fiction and what it offers.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I launch my literature review: Books I recommend and Books I plan on reading. I'm starting with Canadian Fiction. What are YOU reading?

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Weekends go so fast!

This weekend included editing, a book signing downtown, chinese dinner with friends and kid sleepovers, a tartan extravaganza this morning with pipes, fiddles, and dancing, and an afternoon of crafts at a friends.

Now it's Sunday night, and I'm getting ready for another week.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Frisky Zebra

Don't you find there is something a little odd....

About a wine that refers to itself in third person?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Truths and a Lie: The Great Reveal

Such great guesses. But here is the honest to goodness truth.

#1: Nun On The Run.
I really did go to ROme to spend time with my aunt, a nun. We really did have a pickpocket try to swipe my purse, and she really did swipe him making me think perhaps nuns weren't quite as meek as I believed. We didn't actually run to St Peter's to escape, but we were going there anyway, and the Swiss Guard really did refuse me entry because of the length of my skirt. And yes, my aunt tried to sneak me in the back way making me think perhaps nuns weren't quite as virtuous as I believed, either. All in all, this story is TRUE.

#2 Dog Gone Mad
I never took my blanket up on the roof to stargaze with my dog. Other than that, this story is also TRUE.

#3 FLower Pot
I do have some viking blood, mostly stemming from my isle of man ancestors, but Svori Sveny was entirely fabricated. No glass eye, no family of marauders, no flower pots. This story is a LIE.

Thanks for the guesses. They were fun to read! Almost as fun as this stuff was to write!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Truths and a Lie: Flower Pot

In this mini-series, I am offering up three short stories, two of them based on true stories (ie: true in spirit, not necessarily to the letter), the other a total fabrication. You decide.

3. Flower Pot
My great great great grandfather was a Viking. He was a huge man with a red beard and a glass eye, and his name was Svori Svenvy. He came with a party of merchants from Norway to the tiny isle of Man where married a local girl, and settled down to farm and raise a brood of red haired children. Everyone wondered what had prompted him to do this – the Isle of Man was not known for its wealth or resources, and he seemed to have no inclination to return to his homeland. The mystery was solved a few years later. By then, Svori was a man of some renown, known for his smile, and his kindness, and most of all for his love of his garden. For at a time when the land was merely a living, Svori tended his garden meticulously so that even in the poor climate he was living, there were clusters of colourful flowers in bowls around the front door. No-one thought much of it – if Svori wanted flowers, what harm in that. But a few years after his arrival, another party of Norwegian merchants arrived, and they turned out to be from Svori’s village.

They slapped Svori on the back, drank tankards of ale with him, and made merry for three days. And when they left, they promised Svori they would tell no one where he lived. And finally Svori’s secret came out. He came from a fierce family of raiders – the youngest of six sons. Growing up, he had hated raiding and killing, and preferred to spend his time in the fields and messing about with flowers – activities unsuited to a warrior - until his brothers mockingly began to call him Flower Pot. He grew more and more miserable, and finally in desperation, signed up with a crew of merchants and so came to the Isle of Man. His brothers were all dead – killed in raids and battles and presumably bourn to the halls of Valhalla. As for Svori, he lived to a ripe old age surrounded by his family and friends and gentle to the end, and when he died, he was buried at the edge of a green space that has been known ever since as Svoridale Park.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Truths and a Lie: Dog Gone Mad

In this mini-series, I am offering up three short stories, two of them based on true stories (ie: true in spirit, not necessarily to the letter), the other a total fabrication. You decide.

2. Dog Gone Mad

“Did you know your dog is on the roof,” asked a well meaning passer by. “She is running around up there and barking at the birds.”

Not again!

Alaska was a medium sized samoyed dog. Bright. Smart. But ever so slightly mad. Alaska thought she could fly. We lived in a large, stone house, with a back deck off the 2nd floor living area. The deck had a drainpipe that slanted down from the roof to the deck and then over the edge and safely to the ground. Alaska used to climb this drainpipe up to the roof, where she would stand on the pinnacle and survey her landscape. From here, she could see the entire street. She could bark at cats below, frighten the birds, who thought they were nesting safely in the chimney, or just curl up and gaze at the stars on a clear night. When it came time to come in or to eat, she could presumably have slid down the drainpipe, but she chose instead to scuttle down the slant of the roof and leap into the air landing shaken but not particularly stirred in the flower bed.

The first time she climbed the roof nobody saw her go up or down. It was just after Christmas, and all we knew was that one morning there were some excited children outside in the fresh snow pointing out the evidence of Santa’s visit – tiny reindeer prints all over the white roof. Outwardly was agreed – inwardly we scratched our heads. The mystery was solved one day coming home with groceries when we heard her barking up over our heads. I cordoned the drainpipe off after that, but to no avail. Alaska liked the roof, and I wasn’t going to stop her. Eventually I gave up and brought in hay so she had a soft landing. And on clear starry nights…well, it was just as nice to take my blanket up there and join her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Truths and a Lie: Nun on the Run

In this mini-series, I am offering up three short stories, two of them based on true stories (ie: true in spirit, not necessarily to the letter), the other a total fabrication. You decide.

1. Nun On The Run
A pickpocket tried to steal my purse in Rome. He might have succeeded had it not been for the nun I was traveling with. She hit him over the head with a large brown leather satchel, and before he could get back on his feet we were off at a run. He chased us. Down Piazza Navona to the Bridge of Angels. We ran faster. Up a sidestreet and into the throng of people milling about Vatican City, the nun’s billowing brown robes whipping me in the face, so that I didn’t see where we were until she stopped suddenly, and I found myself lined up to get into St. Peter’s Basilica

Just when I thought we were safe, the swiss guard at the entrance glanced at my bare legs and barred the gate. “Don’t be ridiculous,” my aunt told him, as she tried to push past him. But he was not intimidated by a nun, and shook his head. We backed away, and sidled out to the square, where the thief stood idly. Until he saw us, that is.. And once again, we were off. This time, the nun led me around the side. We snuck across the path, and were pleased to see a guard stop our thief. We were less pleased when he turned his attention on us. Don’t look, warned Val. Pretend you don’t see him. Again, we started to run, the swiss guard following us this time, and what a comic trio we must have made: Squat brown nun, me, and the colourful guard. Valerie led me through a half hidden gate and shut it. Alone, we caught our breath and then navigated our way through to the Sistene Chapel and out into Borgia Courtyard where we came face to face with the pope, who held up his hand in blessing and then walked away. Then, casually as you please, we left Vatican City, pausing at the post office to buy stamps, and made our way back to the convent.

Truth or Lie?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Soundtrack for Life

You know when you watch a great movie and the perfect song always is there at the perfect time to support whatever the character is doing? I always said I wanted my own soundtrack, and it got us talking once about what songs you would put on there. What 10 or 12 songs would go to the soundtrack of your life?

It's harder than it sounds. Hard to narrow it down, knowing too that I've only lived half my life (I hope) and so there are more yet to be added. And hard to not want to keep changing it because a new cool song grabs your attention. But this isn't about liking songs, it's about songs that have meaning or that in some way fit your life.

Now of course, with IPods, you can do this, and carry your own personal soundtrack around. I did this a few years after we first talked about it, and have my playlist on my IPod. It goes something like this.
  • Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra (I also like Astrud Gilberto's version)
  • Cello Suite #1 - Bach
  • Lockkeeper - Stan Rogers
  • Lonely Sky - Chris de Burgh
  • Home I'll Be- Rita MacNeil
  • Harvest Moon - Neil Young
  • Kiss Me Quick - Elvis Presley
  • Theme fron All Creatures Great and Small
  • The Wedding Song- Rawlins Cross
  • Streets of London - Ralph McTell
So what songs would be a must-have on your Life soundtrack?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This and That (aka Gotta Getta Blog Post Done for NaBlo)

Have tons of ideas for blog posts in my head, but sometimes it's hard to find the time. Like today. Came home from a fabulous weekend in Ottawa where I got to talk books and writing, shop at Chapters, take the kids to see Puss In Boots with my mother-in-law, and spend today making dragon nests out of leaves. I mean, who wouldn't want to do that on a Sunday morning?

Drove home on a mild November afternoon to find Andrew had tossed a chicken in a roasting pan and walked through the door to me met by the wafting aroma. All I had to do was potatoes, cauliflower and cheese, and an apple pie, and voila, Dinner! The down side of using extra old cheddar for the cheese sauce is that the plates seemed a touch monochromatic. Most days that wouldn't bother me, but Sunday dinner...oh well, can't have it all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Days to Remember

There was a time when I would stay up until dawn just to see the sun rise. When I would run in the snow without shoes on just to feel it between my toes. When I would swim at midnight, take leisurely baths at noon, spend eight hours browsing a book store on a rainy day.

It was the days of cocktail parties. Little black dresses, red wine, witty conversation (at least we thought it was witty). The nights of cheesecake, more wine, deep philosophical discussion in a grotto lit only by dripping candle sticks stuck in old bottles. Four hour dinners because time was our friend and we couldn't get enough of it. Sleep, we decided, was for the weak. Or for weekends when we could sleep until mid afternoon and then get up and do it all again if we wished.

It's good to be able to reach into the past and grasp those things. To have done them.

Priorities change. Needs change (like I need sleep these days. And I don't think daily slices of cheescake would be especially good for me either anymore). We* used to go out at 9 pm. Having drunk a bottle (large) of wine and eaten bread and cream cheese, we'd be sitting on the ferry from Dartmouth to Halifax reading our horoscopes as we set off to the local Irish pub.

I'd like to say it's still there, that Irish pub. But it isn't. Even if it hadn't changed, we have.

Not regretting anything here, you understand. I'm not sitting in a pool of sorrow wishing I could turn back time.

But it was good. And I remember. And sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could do it all again.

*We being the women I dedicate this post to. The ones who saw me through my early 20's. Always there. Always laughing with me. The men we hung out with changed - sometimes Navy friends, sometimes boyfriends, sometimes univeristy pals. But the women were the constant.

**Although Bob, Mark, Darren, Nick, Shawn, if you are reading this, for the many, many hours of conversation and smart-ass commentary, you rock too!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

When I see a veteran laying a wreath, when I watch them stand back and salute the cenotaph, I wonder...what do they think about?

It's an emotional day, a day to reflect on war and on peace, on the difference between fighting for the sake of it and fighting for your country, and for contemplating the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong.

 During my years in the Canadian Navy, I paraded every Remembrance Day and think it's important for all Canadians to remember. The first year I took my now-strapping 11 year old son to a parade he was six months old and he cried the entire the bitter wind that blew that day, at the sound of the bagpipes, at being cooped up for what to him must have seemed a very long time. A few years later as a first year Beaver Scout, he came with me to the Legion and handed out thank you letters to Veterans.

All three of my children are in Scouts and have not missed a Remembrance parade in years. Full uniform, bright and shiny, carry the flag into the church for the service and then parade with the firefighters, cadets, airforce, pipeband and armed forces in our small town ceremony. This year, Anna got to read In Flanders Fields at the service, and did a fabulous job with such a difficult poem. She and another Cub were also the two chosen to lay the wreath at the Cenotaph this year.

And as I watched her stand back and salute alongside a veteran, I wondered...what did she think about?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bouncing Around the Internet

I hate finding new, awesome, informative, fascinating web sites.

No really.

Hate it because it makes me think there is not enough time in the day. Because I don't have enough memory to store all the fantastic snippets of knowledge I find. The internet is bad enough with all those great blogs (which I struggle to read regularly and comment on, but I love you, I really do!) and I have stacks of books piled up that I want to get to, and so having a constant feed of new material is dizzying.

I want to have an eidetic memory. I want to slow down time to savour articles instead of rushing through them. I thirst for new knowledge, but don't know what the heck to do with it once I have it. Even the fashionable cocktail party where such remarks would seem pithy and intelligent is, sadly, a thing largely of my past (more of that in another post).

But I have to, I must, introduce you to some of my favourite web sites. They shadow me on Facebook (or rather I shadow them) so just when I think it's safe, I get a sniff of a great story and bam, I'm gone. I'm like a kitten chasing a beam of light, bouncing from one idea to the next. - Facebook page and web site. This site might be off beat for some of you but, fixated as I am on medieval history, it's just my cuppa tea. Of course the tea always goes cold while I'm reading...

Arts and Letters Daily Oh my, so many cool stories to link from. This site scours the internet for noteworthy news, book reviews, critiques and columns to pique your interest: What happened to irony? askes one; Bram Stoker's notebook, declares another; Know your Wine, a third beckons. Marx and Prostitutes, Feminism on the Internet, PG Wodehouse, Questioning moral progress...all matters philosophical, literary,scientific, aesthethical, cultural...a modern modern major general, in fact.

Book Riot How do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Reading Pathways (or how to read Dickens, Austen, Atwood...ongoing series); Critical Linking, Reading for the Apocalypse (I mean, who can resist, really?) and loads of great questions on Facebook that make me think.

There's so much more I could say about these sites, but--oh look, is that a light? (Kitten bounces off to look at cool new thing glimmering on the horizon).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Music, Animals and Attitude: Grace

In this short 3-part series, I looked at some of the characteristics of my children through the lenses of Music (Erik) and Animals (Anna).

Part 3 today is about my absolutely adorable Grace. The 8-year old who, when touring the RCMP facility with the Cubs was pegged by the older officer, obviously well versed in character profiling. He took one look at her and said. "You're trouble, aren't you? But you're cute, and you get away with it, don't you?"

Now I'm not one for labelling the kids. They are what they are and have infinite opportunity for growth and maturity, for development and change.

But my dad snapped this picture last weekend on a walk through our fields. And I have to say, it's a pretty accurate representation of the spirited, bright, independent being that is my youngest.

Let's take a closer look...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Music, Animals and Attitude: Anna

Our farm animals are, well, a bit on the wild side. When Andrew needs to round them up, he uses a combination of stealth and trickery, with a healthy dose of sheer luck. We deliberately picked hardy stock, the kind that fend largely for themselves.

Enter Anna. Who has an infinite amount of patience, not heard of among anyone else in the family.

Anna the sheep whisperer

She can spend hours hanging out with the animals. Waiting for them not to fear her, waiting for them to get close, waiting to become friends with them.

Anna and Freedom the Llama

Monday, November 7, 2011

Music, Animals and Attitude: Erik

The school our children go to has a band. Starting in grade 4, the students get to pick an instrument...clarinet, flute, drum.

Anna, as soon as she hit Grade 4, knew she wanted to play the saxophone. Grace, only now in grade 3, already has a trumpet. But Erik...well, he can be obstinate, and he didn't want to just play any instrument that the school taught. Erik wanted to play a trombone. Never mind that their music teacher was only teaching treble clef instruments. Never mind that he has never before showed any musical inclination. Never mind that no-one in our family plays a trombone.

True to form, he's figuring it all by himself. One note at a time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November the Fifth

Yesterday was November the Fifth, which in Canada doesn't mean much but in England is a day for fireworks, potatoes cooked in embers so that they are burnt on the outside and inedible inside, and of course the extrememly medieval practice of committing the effigy of a man to the flames of a bonfire. Burning Guy Fawkes-who was really just the fall guy for the mastermind of the gun powder plot, Robert Catesby - may have fallen out of favour in our more politically correct times (when I tried explaining what to me was a fun childhood tradition to my children, I found myself reeling from my own explanations), but Guy himself, largely due to the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta, has made something of a comeback as the face of protest.

As interesting as this all is (and in the wake of the current Occupy protests, there are some interesting parallels) it's not what this blog is about today.

This weekend, my parents visited, and since it was such a glorious day on Saturday I had the bright idea to have a November 5th bonfire. Dad bought some fireworks, the kids and Andrew dragged wood, and I sat around sipping wine. The usual division of labour on the farm. It was a cold enough night once the sun went down, we had a brief interlude of rounding up sheep (never a dull moment), and then we settled in around the fire and managed to make it through to dark when the fireworks lit up the night.

We did not burn a guy. But we did cook potatoes in the embers to go with dinner. And they were excellent.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


One visit from Grandparents
One late night, and one night playing board games
One full day
One long walk
One bonfire
One fireworks night
One great weekend

Friday, November 4, 2011

History Mystery: Hero or Pirate?

Depends who you talk to. Like most historical figures, this man was a hero to some, and a feared enemy to others. The Spanish called him the dragon, and had a bounty on his head. He lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and she awarded him a knighthood in 1581. He is remembered for his cavalier attitude towards danger (anecdotal), one great sea victory, his capturing of gold treasure, and his exploites in sailing expeditions around the world. He died as he lived - on the high seas - and dressed in full armour, his body was laid to rest in a lead casket and consigned to the ocean's depths where it has never (yet) been found.

Check back Monday for the answer

It's not Monday - I am behind. But it is Sir. Francis Drake, known to the Spaniards as El Draque.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Poetry Files

One of my little pet projects recently has been poetry. Reading poetry. Creating poetry. Noticing poetry in unusual places. Writing poetry down. It's one of those little lights I was talking about.

I can't remember a time when I didn't write poetry, but like so many things, it seems to be something that I did in waves. When I am particularly moved by something, a poem is likely the way I express it.  It's what I did when my parents divorced the 80's, what I did to give voice to a romantic dream in my late teens, what I did when I was frustrated with a job that sent me spiralling downward, what I did to capture the small, perfect everyday moments of having babies and young children.

Not all poetry makes it to paper - often giving it expression in my head is enough. But some does. For a long time, haiku was my friend because it is short and time is scarce, and I still love the way haiku freezes an instant and lets me hold on to it.

I don't sit down specifically to write poems. They can't be caught that way, but rather materialize out of nowhere...a random line here, or a complete thought there. But when I do let the poetic muse overtake me, it doesn't take long. Poetry, when it hits, is easy. Oh the time spent on getting the right word choice, perfecting an image, the craft of moulding a poem...that all takes time. But getting in down, writing it out, is usually a pretty fast process for me.

I had a few floating around. So when I saw a local contest hosted by the library, I entered. When I won in October, it sparked something in me. It's what I wanted. To write poetry. More of it. Every day. Poetry should not be an occasional whim, but a way of life.

I decided to write poetry every day. Small, big, good, or bad. I was going to find something to write about - whether on paper or in my  head - on a daily basis.

And so the poetry files began.

* You can read my winning poem here. It's actually just the first two sections of a longer poem, but I cut it down and combined them into one to make the line count maximum.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: New Family Members

Meet Galadriel and Constace! Abandoned kittens that have now fallen ino the lap of luxury.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tiny Lights

Stars shone brightly in the sky tonight as I drove Grace home from the Beaver meeting where she is honing her leadership skills as Colony Keo. I drove, listened to Grace chatter, and listened to the CBC -- an anecdote about York Dungeon where the actors are so tired of the smell that results from scared, sweaty visitors that the tourist attraction is handing out deodorant along with tickets.

Twenty minutes driving along a solitary country road is good for the soul.In my reflective mood, each of those stars represented an idea, a goal, a thought. They twinkled down at me, teasing me, hinting that I should follow them, catch them, harness their power. But so many of them...which one (or ones) should I follow?

It's an ongoing debate in my life as there seem to be so many things which I could do. It's good, having choices. Except sometimes, when I feel like it would be easier not to have them.

November is here. And though it's late and I am about to eat dip with my dearest husband while watching the last half of the movie we started last week, I set to blogging because, well, because I have decided to do NaBloPoMo again. An odd decision, particularly given that only a few days ago I had decided to stop blogging and focus on some of those other "stars" in my sky. But Finola talked me into it...and I think I'm glad she did (though I'm pretty sure she isn't even aware of having done so - surprise!).

Perhaps I'll use the month to blog about some of those other stars. Perhaps this is the start of the path of illumination.