Monday, December 24, 2012

Here is where I leave you.

It's Christmas Eve, and I think we are ready, as far as such a thing is possible.

I had a nice post planned for today, but I decided to write about something else that's on my mind. After this, I think it's time for me to retire from the internet for the remainder of the year.

Yesterday I went to see some neighbours of mine, from when I was a little kid. They lived next door and were sort of in between my parents' ages and my grandparents' ages. We have very fond memories of Mrs. Mullen, in particular, who used to invite my little sister, a preschooler alone at home, to come in and have a tea party with her while she sewed in her basement. She also gave us a key to her house while she was away on vacation so that we could come in and "feed the cat" -- translation: "watch cartoons" -- while she was away. She knew we didn't have a television and longed to see what all the fuss was about.

I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Mullen in the grocery store in November, right after my Dad's 75th birthday party. I hadn't seen them in decades and it was such a meaningful coincidence...I promised that I would come and visit them before Christmas.

The weeks went by and I was very busy getting ready for Christmas. I had half an eye on the calendar, thinking "I really must phone the Mullens. I really should. I'll do that this coming week." On December 21, I thought to myself, "I must phone them. I'll do it today when I get back from the grocery store." And again, in the same grocery store, wandering the same produce department, there they were.

If that's not writing on the wall, what is? I asked myself.

"I was just going to call you today!" I said as I hugged them. "How's Sunday for you? I'll bring cookies."

It was a lovely visit. It was happy and sad and a little bewildering to reflect on the time that has gone by. I was six weeks old when our family bought the house next door to them, and I was 14 when they moved away from the road. In April 1981, the day I fell and broke my knee cap, it was Mrs. Mullen who, hanging her laundry on the line, ran over with a flannel sheet to wrap the terrible cut that went halfway through my leg at the knee. I lay in the back seat of the car with my head on her lap while my mother drove to the hospital. Mr. Mullen arrived in time to carry me into Emergency.

I am now 39, and Mrs. Mullen is turning 88 this year. They remember that day, laughing about it all, and I laughed too and told them "That knee is better than the other one, now!" but inside I was marvelling at the way people wander into your life and out of it and, whether you ever see them again or not, they share some of your most formative memories.

Go out and see those people. Track them down and send them a Christmas card. Or a New Year's letter. They remember you, and they want to know that you remember them, too. They want to know that you remember the name of their cat, who died when Trudeau was finishing up his first term in office.

His name was Henry. He really liked barbecued salmon.

Someday I will be 88 years old. And I will probably wonder where it all went. I will probably think about the little girl who, right now in 2012, lives next door to me and can be a bit of a pleasant nuisance with her noisy singing. I will wonder whatever happened to her, and whether she had a good life, and is she married now and how old would she be?

I hope someday she looks me up in the phone book, and comes to see me. Maybe she'll tell me that she used to listen to me talking to my sister on the phone, out in the yard. Maybe she'll say "I remember that you used to come outside and hand us pizza, out of the blue." Or "I remember how nice it was in your living room at Christmas that time you invited me in to ice gingerbread cookies."

And I'll be so surprised and touched and I'll say "Fancy you remembering that!"

One day, we'll all look up from our screens and we'll realise that, while we were checking Facebook, the really important things about life have wandered away.

It's Christmas. I'll be spending it with my family and my friends. I wish you the very best, the very sweetest, the very most loving Christmas you've ever had. May it be a rest for you in these darkest days of the year - a time of peace and restoration.

Good Yule to you!

Mr and Mrs Mullen, December 2012
-Names changed.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Theme: What I Did This Week

Another vost for you!

This one is just a few pictures and video snips of what we did this week - we got our tree, we set it up, I moved the carpet (and moved it, and moved it), we did some baking, some cleaning, and had the church pageant. (My kids were angels, naturally.) I knitted two hats, and my daughter modelled one for me before I gave it away.


Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Ella Fitzgerald)
Glow Worm (Mel Torme)

Friday, December 21, 2012

I live in infamy.

Apparently a few people have found my blog by searching for the phrase "messy laundry rooms".

Hi there! Nice to have you join us! I'm glad you came by for validation/comfort. Happy to be of service.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nutcracker Day

Google's header for today, December 18, to mark the 120th anniversary of the Nutcracker Ballet. Pretty!

Exercise a high degree of caution

I wasn't going to even comment on the Sandy Hooks thing. It's all a bit much for a nice peaceful, artsy, family-oriented Canadian blog.

But I've gotten a bit upset about it.

And something has just occurred to me.

I think the Canadian government should post a travel advisory about visiting the US, similar to the ones they use for countries like Mexico, Bahrain, and Lebanon. It should read something like this:

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for the United States. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the threat of unpredictable terrorist attacks in public spaces. Be aware that there is anti-Canadian sentiment in places, especially northern regions close to the Canada/US border. Be aware that there are 90 guns for every 100 people in the US.

Or maybe this -- just to keep it simple:

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to the United States due to heightened tensions and crime.

Then again, it's probably not necessary - aside from the occasional shooting of a Canadian customs officer, gun-toting Americans seem to stick to murdering their own people rather than ours. If you're a Canadian, just don't go to any movie theatres. Or malls. Or elementary schools. You know - the usual spots where bullets fly.


1) We (the US) should remove all gun regulations so everybody can have them, not just criminals. [Adam Lanza wasn't a criminal. He was an Everybody. So was James Eagan Holmes. Bet you any money, the next psycho who opens fire at a group of moviegoers or innocent little kids will be, too.]
2) One well-placed firearm at Sandy Hook could have prevented the entire slaughter. [Unless, y'know, the well-placed-firearm carrier was down the hall at the time. But hey - more guns in schools is a great idea! Then the kids can be caught in cross-fire as well as just regular fire. That's what they need - MORE bullets to dodge. A bunch of kindergartners at the O.K. fucking Corral.]
3) Guns don't kill people, people kill people. [Yup, they do. With guns.] You can kill somebody with a ball-point pen, too - why not make THOSE illegal? [You're right. You might find it hard to kill 26 women and children in 10 minutes with a ball-point pen, though. Maybe you could get them to stand really still?]

American culture is violent and it glorifies violence*. The weird thing is how shocked we still are when violence happens.
*CAUTION: link to disturbing, mainstream images

So in six months' time, when some Everybody, regular Joe, I-don't-understand-it-he-always-seemed-so-normal American gets tired of the Canadians taking over the CostCo parking lot in Bellingham and brings his Bushmaster assault rifle, or his Gluck handgun, or whatever, and opens fire on Punjabi Canadians who are trying to buy milk (THOSE BASTARDS HOW DARE THEY), I for one won't be surprised.

Maybe we should all rethink our Nexus card renewals, and use our purchasing dollars to boost the economy in our own, gentle, country.

O Canada. Thank you for everything.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Displayable Knitting

I have knit quite a few things this fall, but can show hardly any of them. THESE, though, are a present for ME, so you get to see!

I even put them under the tree.

Last spring my friend came to visit for the weekend, and brought me three balls of yarn from her recent trip to Iceland. "Direct from the factory!" she said.

With three balls of sock yarn, the possibilities are nearly endless, but I opted for a simple toe-up knee sock, with a little teeny yarn-over rib. They're knee socks, but I like wearing them scrunched up.

80% Icelandic wool, 20% nylon
About 10 sts per inch on 2.25mm needles. (I used 120 cm long Addi Turbos)
Using a long circular and magic-looping, cast on 12 stitches using figure-8 cast-on. Do half your increases each end of both needles EVERY ROUND, then the other half of your increases every OTHER round until you get to 72. Knit until it's just at the start of your heel, then do a short-row heel. As soon as that's done, start your pattern stitch for the leg. Which is:
Row 1: k4, p1, yo, k2tog, p1, repeat to end.
Row 2, 3 and 4: knit all knits and purl all purls.
Row 5: k4, p1, ssk, yo, p1, repeat to end.
Row 6, 7, and 8: knit all knits and purl all purls.
Repeat rows 1 to 8 until it's long enough to reach nearly to the widest part of your calf.
Switch to 2:1 rib. (k2, p1)
Knit til ball runs out (save a couple of meters for a cast-off), and bind off loosely in pattern.

I ended up with 25 yarn-overs in total, in each column.

These socks aren't warm - they are HOT. Icelandic sheep are not kidding around.

Thanks so much, Beth Anne! Love you. (And I still have a whole ball left to make mittens!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Christmas Tree Forest

Once you've got your pajamas on, and you've had your milk and brushed your teeth, I'll read you a story.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stairway to Heaven

Once when I was a child, quite young -- maybe five or six -- we went to Victoria to visit my Uncle Bill, who is my Dad's youngest brother. He lived at the very top -- the servants' quarters, I suppose -- of one of Victoria's prized buildings. It was a single family house at one time, but had long since been converted to apartments, and Uncle Bill had what you'd call the attic flat. There was a discreet, narrow door off a hallway in the upper storey, and when you opened it you were standing on the bottom tread of a narrow staircase, more like a ladder, which took a sharp switchback at a tiny landing about ten steps up. Then you went up another five or six steps to another, narrower door. When you opened it, you stepped directly into Uncle Bill's living room. And you had to watch your head on the lintel.

Victoria was loaded with such places at the, of course, rich people have bought up all these desirable properties in picturesque Fairfield (or Oak Bay, or James Bay, or Esquimalt), converted them back into single family homes, spent millions restoring them, and work all the hours God sends to pay for it. And, the world being what it is, they probably don't like it too much when passersby stop to take a photo of the beautiful architecture they now own.

Whereas my uncle, and many like him, paid pittance for his three low-ceilinged rooms, and loved to sit in the middle of them on worn futons, drinking strong coffee, and enjoying the atmosphere of the place. Soaking up the history.

On this occasion, it was near Christmas, and we had spent the afternoon at Uncle Bill's. He and my parents were talking, and we kids were amusing ourselves looking out the windows, playing a game I don't remember, and generally thrilling in the difference of the place.

I asked if I could go back down the staircase to the floors below. Could I explore the building a little? I wanted to go all the way to the bottom, back to the brass fronted mailboxes, the funny iron buttons for calling up, back to the plush carpets and potted ferns of the lobby. Then, the gleeful finding of my way, all the way back up to the top. There's a joy about this project...I see it in my own children. The fascination of one house that holds many houses - the mystery of the closed doors, each with a different number, and a different life going on behind it.

Having assured my family that I could perfectly remember how to get back, and would not, no never would I get lost, I was allowed to go back down the staircase. As I closed the white-painted, bevelled wooden door behind me, I remember my Uncle Bill's voice, remarking to my parents that I wasn't likely to come to any harm, since I was staying inside the building.

What fun it was to sneak and sidle along the hallways, looking at the way the thick, dark red carpets ran down the middle of the hallway, bound along their edges by dark, shining floorboards of the kind you never see in houses now. Unchaperoned by any parent, who would surely have stopped me, hurried me, I could touch the funny little brass grates leading I didn't know where, and the little handles on things that, nowadays, we don't think need handles. Small paned windows, little doors, deep baseboards thickly painted with the highest of glosses, layer on layer. The walls weren't flat - they were funny nubbly cream-coloured things. In our house there wasn't any textured plaster. And here, if you let your eyes go all the way up to the top of the wall, you'd see there wasn't a hard line where the ceiling came down; there was a lovely rounded cove, with a pretty line lower down on the wall, and another one inwards on the ceiling. There were ceiling lights, but they were nice ones, quite dim, with cut glass.

It was so quiet in the hallways, and the central staircase was so grand, and I was so deliciously alone, that it began to feel like quite a long time had passed. After I had swept up and down a few times, being queen of course, I started to think I had better get back.

Upwards is simple, but remember that little door leading off the upper storey?

It was not the only little door.

Arrived in that hallway, I stopped and looked, a little doubtfully. Is it left? Is it right? It's not straight ahead, is it? Back and forth I stepped, examining all the doors in turn.

I don't know what made me choose that door, but I finally stopped in front of one and, fearful, I knocked. Maybe it was that I could hear people talking behind it: behind all the other white-glossed doors I had passed, on all the other floors in the house, was only a cushioned and clock-ticking velvet silence.

A few footsteps, and the door opened to reveal not a staircase, but a room. I had a confused impression of voices raised in laughter, a strain of sophisticated music, and a woman calling "Who is it?" Standing in front of me, no doubt just as surprised as I, was a man in a blue shirt and black trousers, holding a glass of red wine in his left hand.

It was the wine that really threw me. My family at that time did not partake of alcohol, and I had somehow got the impression that people who did, were loose cannons. It may have had to do with a different uncle, this one a figure of fear, who was widely known in the family as a drunkard, and widely suspected of being violent.

"I think you have the wrong door."
Or maybe it was I who said "I think I have the wrong door."

"Are you looking for someone?"

"I thought this was Uncle Bill's house."

I was rooted to the spot, terrified that he would invite me in. The child I was couldn't have said no, if he had.

I think he gestured down the hall to my left, and he may have said "Bill lives in number 7," or "That's Bill's door there." But in fact I don't remember how I found the right door. I remember the upper flight of narrow stairs, and I remember coming through the second door back into the little, cramped living room, and being weak with relief at finding my family again. And I was amazed and a bit afraid at how, while I was gone, my family, and everything about them, just went on without me behind those little doors, and how everything in all the rest of the houses, just carried on happening behind their little doors.

But I didn't say any of that to my family. I just leaned against my mother and listened to their talk.

Today, a surprise came to me in the mail from my Uncle Bill. He had found some photos from visits of long ago, and decided to send them to me just in case, someday, him being a bachelor, they go astray and are thrown out.

I sat down on the couch with my daughter and, smiling and eager, opened the envelope. I only flipped through a few of them before I was overcome with tears. I couldn't understand, much less explain to her, why it was that I sat and sobbed, my glasses off, my face in my hands, over a few pictures from thirty or so years ago.

It wasn't the losing of the little door, and the finding of it again. It wasn't the glass of wine in a stranger's hand, or the vulnerable fear of a little child.

It's just that all these things have passed. The beautiful houses kept so lovely and quiet for the quiet tenants, their iron door keys and their crystal doorknobs and the layers of glossy white paint. The red carpets and the brass grates, and the way milk used to be delivered through the little doors near the front doors, and the way people used to care enough to put nice-looking, twisty iron knobs on light switches and blind cords.

The way my stocking feet sank into the deep red of the carpets and slipped lightly over the heavy floors, sometimes for a few seconds leaving sweaty small footprints. The way, when alone, I was utterly and terrifyingly alone. Thrillingly, enticingly alone.

The marvellous way that, when I found my family again, they didn't know how lost they had really been.

It has all passed.

It's not my turn anymore. Now, I'm the woman's voice calling "Who is it?" I'm the man who answers the door, his own door, holding a glass of wine. I'm the mother who talks to her brother-in-law while the children explore and, when they get back, I smile vaguely at them, and raise my elbow so they can crawl under my arm, but I don't stop my conversation.

I'm the mother. I can neither lose myself nor find myself. The ability to do it, the freedom to do it and the joy I once found in it, is another thing fallen away with the years.

And when my children come back through my front door damp with rain and shining with the adventure of having walked home in the half light of dusk, I'm the one who, thinking only of what's for dinner and whether I remembered to pay the phone bill, doesn't know how lost I've been.

Uncle Bill's apartment, Victoria - around 1979

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm a muse!

Cleaning out a closet last week, I came across this note, which my 11 year old daughter gave me when she was 7 or so. I'm going to keep it forever.

Can you read it?

Monday, December 10, 2012

14 Days

Woke up with a headache this morning. I'm currently administering a careful treatment of coffee and internet.

 The headache better go away, because I have lots of plans for this week. This coming Saturday is tree-day, so I've just GOT to get some cleaning and some baking done.

 The highlight of my week is going to be Tuesday evening: a few laughs at the pub with some friends from my daughter's barn. I'm going to have a big-ass cheesy burger, salty fries, and at least two pints...even if payday is not until Friday. Buuurp!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Holiday Lineup

Well, you know it's Christmas around here when I start peering at the calendar and saying things like "I'd better get started if I want to get all my watching done" or "I need a schedule: last year I didn't get to the Carol until Boxing Day - that CANNOT happen again."

There are certain things that need to be read, watched, heard or sung during Advent. Some during Christmas, as well (by this I mean after the 25th), but mostly I like to start early. During the Twelve Days I can take in multiple viewings of A Child's Christmas in Wales, A Christmas Carol, and Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey. And The Nutcracker.

But Advent needs to be stocked with The Grinch, It's a Wonderful Life, Jack Frost, The Snow Queen, Charlie Brown Christmas, Love Actually, A Christmas Story, and the Muppet Christmas Carol.

I've managed three so far -- The Snow Queen, Love Actually, and The Birth of Christ. The last one is new to me - Dave and Joe shared it with me and I've waited since the spring to watch it at the right time. It's a marvellous cantata of original choral and orchestral pieces, narrated by Liam Neeson. Loved it.

One special which I never see anymore and I wish so much was available on DVD, is "Quartet Plus Four at Christmas". It's a little Canadian production featuring the very talented, Halifax-based Blue Engine String Quartet, and it used to air on Vision TV every year. I haven't seen it for a few years now, though, and I'm afraid my grainy, poor-quality recording (complete with commercials) from nearly a decade ago will not last forever.

So, what's on your Christmas viewing list?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Hanukkah begins today.

I'm not Jewish, but I can totally get into it.

Gonna eat some doughnuts tonight and light a candle to mark the beginning of Hanukkah -- just for fun. Check out these awesome music videos, with thanks to CBC Radio for turning me on to them.

Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Then I can REALLY knock it.

You know the expression "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it"? Well, I'm trying an e-reader.

My local library loans them out, and though I rant and rave against those things, people who own them keep saying "Oh you should try it." So, I borrowed one.

The one I have is the Kobo, and I'm assuming it's bottom-of-the-line. It sure doesn't perform too well. Slow page turns, even slower book loads, difficult to read (maybe the contrast is too low? No option to change it.).

I have so far found two unexpected pros. First, the Kobo comes preloaded with 100 classics. This feature wouldn't appeal to a lot of people, I know, but when I scrolled through them I saw that the titles included a great deal of the books I have on my shelves. I collect literature because those books are timeless - why buy James Patterson? No reason. No reason at all.

Second, a super heavy, thick book can be annoying to pack around with you. Just for example, the Kobo already includes Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and Vanity Fair. AND, you have the option of viewing them in large print. Imagine reading a large print version of War and Peace on the bus? You'd need a collapsible lectern.

An unexpected con, though, came my way last night. I was 3/4 of the way done my annual pilgrimage through "A Christmas Carol", and was using the e-reader. I got to the famous "the colour hurts my eyes'" scene, wherein Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come are standing in the Cratchits' cottage watching Mrs Cratchit stitch on Tiny Tim's funeral linens. Bob Cratchit is about to come through the door having been to the place where Tim's grave will be. He is about to say this line:
"But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim -- shall we -- or this first parting that there was among us?"

No matter how many times I've read it, every time I get to that line I bawl like a little tiny baby.

Not this time, though.

On the e-reader, I was COMPLETELY unable to connect emotionally to the story.

How weird is that?!

More on the e-reader later. I'm about to go get my mouth fixed (praise God).

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Shame how these things work out.

Today was going to be my most dazzling post ever. I had a whole Thing plotted, and it was going to stun and stupefy you, leave you breathless with amazement.

But, Fate had other plans -- namely a dental abscess that has finally reached "overwhelming pain" level and right now I am only talking to you because of codeine.

Tomorrow a glorious root canal is scheduled and after that I should be more myself again.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Nearly forgot.

I almost forgot about posting today -- imagine!

I'm starving, so I'm going to keep this short so I can go fry up some ham and eggs, pop some bread in the toaster and drink some coffee.

Christmas baking is about to begin! I think today is List day, with maybe some shopping thrown in. Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day, the official start of Christmas for me, and my daughters always have a "Welcome Christmas" party on the 6th too. We'll make pulla dough tomorrow morning, then when their friends come over in the afternoon they can braid their own take-home pulla and then watch Charlie Brown's Christmas.

I've done the orange-and-almond Christmas cakes already (and took a picture of the fruit mixture for you - see below) - they have been drenched in Grand Marnier and are mellowing on the sideboard, wrapped in parchment, tinfoil, and plastic. Yummers!

(Maybe I should rethink my breakfast plans...)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Messy Tuesday with a vengeance.

Remember when I used to do Messy Tuesday posts? Well, what you're about to witness is the Messy Tuesday to end all Messy Tuesdays.

A few background notes for this vost:
1) the room in question doesn't usually look quite this bad - I had pulled out all the toy bins for organising;
2) the kids promised me "Mum, if you clean our room, we will DEFINITELY keep it that way until Christmas." [insert hollow laugh]; and
3) this is something I hear all the time: "Mum, we need more socks. All our socks are lost. We can't find any socks. Buy us more socks."


Monday, December 03, 2012

Hang spring cleaning!

The love I have for The Wind in the Willows cannot be overstated. I can't begin to guess how many times I've read it, and it still makes me laugh right out loud, and then makes me tear up and sniffle like a little boy.

My children love this book too, especially the younger, who can't get enough of little animals in velvet waistcoats acting like humans in all seriousness: she is completely dedicated to the entire Beatrix Potter oeuvre, as well.

Several times people have tried to adapt Wind In The Willows to film, with varying degrees of success. And normally I don't really hold with adaptations, only because people feel that, once they've seen It, they know all about It and don't need to read It. But this one is really, really good - so funny - and you should try it sometime this winter (it's a perfect winter movie - also it's a perfect summer movie). But you do have to give it a chance - the makeup can be a little startling at first, but once you enter into the spirit of the thing it's universally charming. The intervention scene, when Toad repents of his motorcar behaviour, is hilarious.

A little preview!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

By hook or by crook.

I live far away from my sister, but the magical internet has brought us closer. We've been Skypeing lately - I put her on my kitchen counter, and she puts me on her kitchen counter, and we clean our kitchens or make an egg and toast fry-up or unload our dishwashers together. It's lovely. I even got to meet her new kitten the other day.

The only problem is that you mustn't venture far from your laptop or the other person can't hear what you're saying.

But, so fun. And, though nowhere near as good as being together, it does feel companionable.

I didn't stage this photo...if I had thought of it ahead of time, I'd have moved the port. And cleaned the fingerprints off my laptop screen. Ew!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

I'm a Card-carrying Bibliophile

All year I've meant to tell you about a great present I got from Dave and Joe: the 2012 Forgotten English Calendar. They sent me a lovely box of things last December and this calendar was tucked into a corner, next to a bunch of gigantic Lindt bars and some books. Every day I peel off a new sheet, and find a funny, interesting bit of trivia regarding an old word or phrase, many of which I have read in old books.

Today's is "bibliomaniac", which is actually quite a current term in some circles. James Donald's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 1877 says "One affected by bibliomania, book-madness, or the rage for possession." I realise guiltily that I have been infected with bibliomania in the past. I sometimes - only sometimes, mind you; I am a dedicated reader from way back - feel a restless need to acquire books utterly without regard to their actual reading value.

Here is today's entry from my Forgotten English calendar:

On December 1, 1834, a public auction was begun at Sotheby's in London to sell off about a half-million books from the estate of English bibliomaniac and Member of Parliament Richard Heber (1774-1833). It required more than 200 working days over two years. After stockpiling enormous numbers of English books, his family fortune enabled him to buy up many books in French, Italian, and even Portuguese -- languages he was quite unable to understand -- as well as in Greek and Latin, languages he had learned in childhood.

Surprisingly, Heber's last will never mentioned his collection, although most of his waking hours were devoted not to reading but to the passionate acquisition of private libraries, which were first housed in London and Oxford, then in Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, and Ghent. Henry Peacham's Complete Gentleman (1622) included the counsel, "To desire to have many books, and never to use them, is like a child that will have a candle burning by him all the while he is sleeping."
Still - I can understand Crazy Rick's obsession with book ownership. Imagine being able to afford to not only buy up private libraries, but house them in four European cities? What a marvellous thing.

And hey - there are worse things he could have been collecting!

(I have just spent twenty minutes Googling "weird collections" for examples, but now I'm too depressed to link you to any of them.)

A demain!

Friday, November 30, 2012

In which I watch a little television.

I've been watching this show since the beginning, but every single episode I wonder "Why the hell am I still watching this crap?" It's TERRIBLE.

Let's list all the things wrong with Glee:

-Rachel Berry gets more annoying every year. EVERY year. I always think "At least there's nowhere to go but up," but they prove me wrong.
-They take a stand on every single social issue imaginable, except for teen promiscuity which according to Glee is fanTAStic.
-There is not enough Principal Figgins.
-There are way too many montages.
-Almost every single main female character has lost a lot of weight since the beginning, showing up looking even less like teenagers than they used to, but the show wants us to believe it is fat-inclusive due to an obese sympathetic character or two. They've even introduced an eating-disorder sideline that is so pious and socially-conscious it makes me want to join the girl kneeling by the toilet with her fingers down her throat. Want to prove you're not the same as every other show out there? Encourage your cast members to eat normal amounts of food, rather than rewarding thinness with better costumes and sexy solos. Which brings me to...
-Sarah Jessica Parker. Whaaaa??? Leathery face, tiny eyes, weirdly wiggish hair, skeletal that the best casting they could arrange for Kurt's glamorous fashion mentor?

And lastly, the thing that will make me finally go into my PVR recording setup and select "Do not record future episodes"?

The school-bell fade into and out of EVERY SCENE. I feel like I'm watching an after-school special starring a bunch of 13 year olds.

And that's what you missed


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is it too soon? -- No way!

Guess what I'm doing this morning?

Screen shot:

Syncing my iPod with all my Christmas music!

It's kind of a big deal, because my iPod is 16GB and therefore a little small for my music collection (34G-ish on iTunes right now, not including those last 150 or so CDs I haven't got around to importing), so I can never just put everything on there at once. There's a certain amount of jockeying for position.

But, 25 days before Christmas, every last jingle goes on there. Every Celtic harp's softly rippling Ave, every jazz trio's swingin' Winter Wonderland, every choir's a capella Stille Nacht. Even the Chieftains and their fiddle-thumping, boot-stamping, spoon-clacking Boar's Head.

I'm so happy right now!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A dream is a WIIIISH your heart makes!

Sort, dust, scrub, vacuum, scrub, wipe, shake, scrub...I'm Cinderella these days. My sister-in-law emailed me on Monday and asked me how the Christmas preparations were getting on, and with a guilty start I realised that all I had done was buy a package of dominosteine (my all-time favourite bought Christmas treat) and read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to my daughter twice.

So, yesterday I dug out the family room, and today I spent the ENTIRE day on my hands and knees cleaning the kids' room. We made an arrangement - I would get it completely clean, and they would be in charge of maintenance...keep it that way until Christmas.

After two long days, though, I might be at the end of my zeal for housekeeping.

Here's what I need: I need two GOOD friends - not just "friends" - to help me out. What we'd do is, we'd start in one house on, say, Monday, and clean the living tar out of it, get it all ready for Christmas. Then we'd all three move on to the next one on Wednesday, and then the final one on Friday. In one week, all of our houses would be done for Christmas.

Here are the reasons it doesn't work when I do it myself:
a) it's boring;
b) it's too easy to sit down and check Facebook "just for ten minutes"; and
c) because all the junk is mine, I'm too invested in it and get discouraged trying to make decisions about it.

My friends would do all the stuff nobody needs to TELL them how to do, like dusting, vacuuming behind furniture, scrubbing kitchen counters, and I could just get on with putting things where they belong. I'd have somebody to talk to, AND I'd be embarrassed to stop.

Too bad I don't have any good friends.

Pity party! RSVP.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Going on at length

Okay, then, another vost!

I recorded this video in June (I mistakenly say "April" in the voiceover) and though I have meant to put it on the blog this entire time, I never got around to it. But I had huge fun with that eggnog latte vost, so thought I'd put another one together. I'm weirdly fascinated with hearing myself talk.

This one's about hand-carding Shetland fleece in preparation for spinning. Eventually I'll record the spinning itself, to sort of round things out.

I'm aware this might be sort of boring, but the whole point of vosts is to have a little glimpse into someone's life, and this is definitely a glimpse into mine.

Monday, November 26, 2012

And oh, I'm ashamed.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 12 Number 2

by Robert Louis Stevenson

I can't believe it's true, but I've never read any Robert Louis Stevenson. Well..."never read any" is a little exaggerated: I mean, I've read A Child's Garden of Verses, of course, and some of Dr. Jekyll, and I read Treasure Island as a child, but it was abridged and paraphrased and condensed and so on. You couldn't hear RLS's voice at all.

Maybe what I mean is, I've never read anything that made me appreciate Robert Louis Stevenson as he deserves to be appreciated.

I picked up "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes" in the death throes of my bookstore, and started reading it in the bath last night. By page 20, I had to get out: I was laughing so hard I thought I might displace 40 gallons of Epsom salt solution onto the floor.

There's no point whatsoever in quoting lines from this book in the hopes of interesting you and persuading you to look it up in your library. You just wouldn't get the spirit of it from mere lines. So I'm going to not quote, but excerpt; and hope that it makes you laugh as much as it did me. And I should tell you - he goes on for 20 pages like this, and every page is funnier than the last.

The bell of Monastier was just striking nine as I got quit of these preliminary troubles and descended the hill through the common. As long as I was within sight of the windows, a secret shame and the fear of some laughable defeat withheld me from tampering with Modestine. She tripped along upon her four small hoofs with a sober daintiness of gait; from time to time she shook her ears or her tail; and she looked so small under the bundle that my mind misgave me. We got across the ford without difficulty -- there was no doubt about the matter, she was docility itself -- and once on the other bank, where the road begins to mount through pine-woods, I took in my right hand the unhallowed staff, and with a quaking spirit applied it to the donkey. Modestine brisked up her pace for perhaps three steps, and then relapsed into her former minuet. Another application had the same effect, and so with the third. I am worthy the name of an Englishman, and it goes against my conscience to lay my hand rudely on a female. I desisted, and looked her all over from head to foot; the poor brute's knees were trembling and her breathing was distressed; it was plain that she could go no faster on a hill. God forbid, thought I, that I should brutalize this innocent creature; let her go at her own pace, and let me patiently follow.
What that pace was, there is no word mean enough to describe; it was something as much slower than a walk as a walk is slower than a run; it kept me hanging on each foot for an incredible length of time; in five minutes it exhausted the spirit and set up a fever in all the muscles of the leg. And yet I had to keep close at hand and measure my advance exactly upon hers; for if I dropped a few yards into the rear, or went on a few yards ahead, Modestine came instantly to a halt and began to browse. The thought that this was to last from here to Alais nearly broke my heart. Of all conceivable journeys, this promised to be the most tedious. I tried to tell myself it was a lovely day; I tried to charm my foreboding spirit with tobacco; but I had a vision ever present to me of the long, long roads, up hill and down dale, and a pair of figures ever infinitesimally moving, foot by foot, a yard to the minute, and, like things enchanted in a nightmare, approaching no nearer to the goal.
In the meantime there came up behind us a tall peasant, perhaps forty years of age, of an ironical snuffy countenance, and arrayed in the green tail-coat of the country. He overtook us hand over hand, and stopped to consider our pitiful advance.
'Your donkey,' says he, 'is very old?"
I told him, I believed not.
Then, he supposed, we had come far.
I told him, we had but newly left Monastier.
'Et vouz marches comme ça !' cried he; and, throwing back his head, he laughed long and heartily. I watched him, half prepared to feel offended, until he had satisfied his mirth; and then, 'You must have no pity on these animals,' said he; and, plucking a switch out of a thicket, he began to lace Modestine about the stern-works, uttering a cry. The rogue pricked up her ears and broke into a good round pace, which she kept up without flagging, and without exhibiting the least symptom of distress, as long as the peasant kept beside us. Her former panting and shaking had been, I regret to say, a piece of comedy.
My deus ex machina, before he left me, supplied some excellent, if inhumane, advice; presented me with the switch, which he declared she would feel more tenderly than my cane; and finally taught me the true cry or masonic word of donkey-drivers, 'Proot!' All the time, he regarded me with a comical, incredulous air, which was embarrassing to confront; and smiled over my donkey-driving, as I might have smiled over his orthography, or his green tail-coat. But it was not my turn for the moment.
I was proud of my new lore, and thought I had learned the art to perfection. And certainly Modestine did wonders for the rest of the fore-noon, and I had a breathing space to look about me...In this pleasant humour I came down the hill to where Goudet stands...I hurried over my mid-day meal, and was early forth again. But, alas, as we climbed the interminable hill upon the other side, 'Proot!' seemed to have lost its virtue. I prooted like a lion, I prooted mellifluously like a sucking-dove; but Modestine would be neither softened nor intimidated. She held doggedly to her pace; nothing but a blow would move her, and that only for a second. I must follow at her heels, incessantly belabouring. A moment's pause in this ignoble toil, and she relapsed into her own private gait. I think I never heard of anyone in as mean a situation. I must reach the lake of Bouchet, where I meant to camp, before sundown, and, to have even a hope of this, I must instantly maltreat this uncomplaining animal. The sound of my own blows sickened me. Once, when I looked at her, she had a faint resemblance to a lady of my acquaintance who formerly loaded me with kindness; and this increased my horror of my cruelty. 
To make matters worse, we encountered another donkey, ranging at will upon the roadside; and this other donkey chanced to be a gentleman. He and Modestine met nickering for joy, and I had to separate the pair and beat down their young romance with a renewed and feverish bastinado. If the other donkey had had the heart of a male under his hide, he would have fallen upon me tooth and hoof; and this was a kind of consolation -- he was plainly unworthy of Modestine's affection. But the incident saddened me, as did everything that spoke of my donkey's sex.
It was blazing hot up the valley, windless, with vehement sun upon my shoulders; and I had to labour so consistently with my stick that the sweat ran into my eyes...A priest, with six or seven others, was examining a church in need of repair, and he and his acolytes laughed loudly as they saw my plight. I remembered having laughed myself when I had seen good men struggling with adversity in the person of a jackass, and the recollection filled me with penitence. That was in my old light days, before this trouble came upon me. God knows at least that I shall never laugh again, thought I.
-from Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes,
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Century Publishing, 1985

Not all the books I review on Erudite Mondays, and tag with "Erudition", actually constitute good reading. I use the term "Erudite", which means well-read, to cover all my reading and reviewing. This book, I'm pleased and satisfied to say, DOES qualify as good reading. It's not "good and difficult", as Dickens can sometimes be; it's not "good and pedantic", as Anne Brontë; it's just a well-written and well-paced book by a person who had a sometimes-underappreciated knack for words.

If you have read it, or if you decide to track it down after this review, let me know what you think. I'd love somebody to join in!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A major prize!!

On this first day of our last month before Yule, I offer this: a photo of a window from downtown Courtenay, BC, where an enterprising shopkeeper found a great use for one of the spare mannequin parts he had in his back storage room.

It's not for sale, he says, but on the first day he put it up he had 14 requests for disembodied mannequin legs and he no longer has a storage problem downstairs.

Here's to ingenuity and the Christmas Spirit!

Everybody now: "FraJEEElay!"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Does this even count as a vlog?

Quite a long time ago, my sister urged me to put up a "vlog" - a video blog. Which is another one of those annoying misnomers in our world: really, it should be "vost", because it's a POST, not a BLOG. That's like saying 'book' when you mean 'chapter'.

Anyhow. I know I posted yesterday about my eggnog latte, but in fact I took some video of that process, and thought it would be funny to post it.

In case you have ever wondered what my voice sounds like and whether I have a Canadian accent (which Lizbon maintains that I do), here's a sample.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ho Ho HOLY CRAP that is strong.

First let me tell you I have a special relationship with Starbucks' Eggnog Lattes. I know other places make them, and make them well, but for me there's nothing like the 'buckies.

They're not cheap, though, (budget $5 each) and when you love them as much as I do you can spend upwards of $75 in November and December just on Eggnog Lattes. (!!!)

Enter the Bialetti, the Illy, and the Lucerne. Yowza!

Helpful YouTube Italian dude says mound the grounds: I obey. (Regretted that last tablespoon though.)

Steamin' hot eggnog/milk (2:1) and a frother.

Huge, "Friends"-style 500ml mug, nutmeg grater, and a camera reflection.

Overfilled for that luscious 'nog-foam experience.

Starbucks ornament snowman says "Way to save yourself $5! You cheap bastard."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Playing catch-up

This week I've been working on a few things. I made myself a wool houndstooth skirt (this is an in-progress shot):

...I fed my Christmas ornament collection:

...I made cinnamon buns:

...and I did some slightly secret salvaging, cutting, and punching, all to stock the Etsy shop. I'm hoping to launch it by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

3 guesses?

Let me give you sample phrases from a conversation I had today, and you can guess where I was and how broke I am going to be for the next five years:

a) peg-shaped laterals
b) palate eruption
c) canine impaction

Huh? Huh? Whaddya think?


I've been knitting to cheer myself up. Dave and Joe have ordered Christmas sweaters for Ruby and Sadie, and I'm nearly finished. All the knitting is done - they are just waiting for buttons (the pink) and blocking (both). I was just too lazy to take new photos...these ones are a couple of months old.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It really happened

I'm sad our little family reunion is over. I wish we had taken more photos - specifically, a whole-family shot - but Dad's birthday weekend was so busy I forgot about my camera.

I love these people so much...I'm glad I have these pictures at least.

L-R it's Me, Dad, and Gwen, as taken by my daughter.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots 
Volume 12 Number 1 

Joanne Harris

I picked this book up, in large part, because of the title. Isn't that weird? It just goes to show you that when you're writing your dissertation, you should consider "Rum and the Crunching of Cannons" rather than "Antisocial Tendencies of Seventeenth-Century Trade Ships".

This book is by the same author as "Chocolat", which all of you no doubt remember because of Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. (Johnny Depp. Sweeeet.) Personally, I love that movie, which is what made me take the book out of the library a few years ago. When I saw that Harris had written another book about the same characters, I jumped at it.

Imagine my surprise when I found that it's the THIRD book, not the second! I somehow missed "The Lollipop Shoes".

At any rate, I liked "Peaches". It had that same spicy luxury of "Chocolat", but with the important addition of a handful of Muslim culture - Lansquenet, that same village where we saw Vianne Rocher open her chocolaterie in the middle of Lent, has seen an influx of North African immigrants, who have "taken over" a neighbourhood on the other side of the river, bringing the niqab, and the muezzin, and a minaret with them.

In this book Lansquenet, the village that hates change, comes face to face with a very visible, very alien culture. The theme, of course, boils down to "we're all the same underneath", and after all the violence and mystery and sudden crises, the author does get there with some compelling arguments.

The weakest parts of the book are the somewhat contrived conflicts and the slightly heavy-handed suspense. "Who is the veiled woman?" is a question that can only interest a reader for so long, and I admit I started to get a little impatient with it. The one other thing that didn't sit terribly well was the implication that the French Catholic residents, who don't like the black veils everywhere and the five-times-daily calls to prayer, are simply lacking in human sympathy - they are unable to understand that "they are just like us". This part of the story felt a little too pat for me. It felt naive, as if any given community should be quite happy to have its cultural traditions overset by newcomers of a diametrically-opposed faith. (I'm envisioning the seismic aftermath of a Catholic church opening in one of Saudi Arabia's villages.)

But then, the whole premise of Vianne Rocher's character is that she barges in, guns blazing, to overset  tradition and free people from the tyranny of the establishment. And the author is not crazy about the Catholic church, either as an institution or as it's represented at the individual level - the flyleaf lists "priest-baiting" as one of Joanne Harris' hobbies. So it really doesn't come as a surprise that the tone of this book is, culturally speaking, fairly pro-Muslim; a sort of disapproving headshake to Western religious and cultural intolerance.

There are a few hard-line Muslims in this book, as well as hard-line Catholics, but once those are tidied out of the way, everybody gets together over a cracking party - the end of Ramadan. Lots of food, party lanterns, and brightly-coloured clothes - always a great idea for promoting interfaith understanding. (Again, having fun picturing those Muslim Saudis, swapping coconut macaroons and Turkish Delight with a bunch of Christians under patio lanterns on the 12th day of Christmas. As if.)

Overall, I liked this book a lot. The central conflict might have been a little predictable, and the Muslim/Christian issues overly ambitious, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment of it. It was a fun read (and short - not even a full weekend) and full of pretty images, smells, and tastes. Give it a try, especially if you liked "Chocolat".

Half Soled Boots Highly-Specialised Book Rating System
Reread? Not impossible, eventually
Given to Others? Maybe, but likely not
Bookplate? No

1/3 - pure entertainment.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ev'y dang thang.


Posting every day is going to take some getting used to. Even short, meaningless posts need to be actually written, which takes actual time spent online.

Yesterday I mentioned Christmas. I was feeling a bit smug up until this afternoon, thinking about all the presents I've already made or bought. I opened up my planning document (Yes, I have a Christmas present planning Word doc...every year since 2005) and realised with a shock that I still have my sister, my brother, my Mum and my Dad to take care of.

Whaaaa?!? Since when did finishing ONLY MY KIDS' PRESENTS constitute "I'm nearly done"? I've collected some things together for Mr HSB as well, but I still have some work to do there.

Speaking of Mr HalfSoledBoots, this year, for the first time, I've given him a job. "I need your help," I said - something I never NEVER say - "I am giving your brother, your Dad, and your brother-in-law over to are in charge of deciding what to get them, budgeting it, shopping for it, and getting them to me by December 1 so they can be mailed."

He grunted, so I'm not sure whether the challenge was accepted or not. It could be that, come December first, I might say "So where are these presents?" and he will reply, without looking up from the TV, "I never agreed to that."

The most depressing part is, I would probably come through anyway and, amidst tears and recriminations, go do the shopping myself.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Somebody chalk a line.

I don't know what it means, if anything, but lately I've noticed that I am way happier during the evenings when I have a glass of wine or two.

I'm not worried about this, although I'm sure some people might see it as a sign of incipient alcoholism...I'm inclined to regard it more as a symptom of being stressed and overtired.

Speaking of stressed and overtired, have I shared lately how many days there are until Christmas? 36 tomorrow. Woot!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Out for coffee with Karen last night, she asked me what I had made for dinner. "I sliced up some chicken breast, Shaked and Baked that sucker. Chucked some frozen McCain redskin fries into the oven and stuck a bottle of ketchup on the table, called it done."

"Yum! But I'd be enjoying cinematography all night."


Turns out, Shake and Bake gives her super-intense action-adventure dreams. "I wake up completely exhausted."

I nearly fell over laughing.

Last weekend my Dad turned 75, and we threw a big, fancy party for him. After all the guests had gone, Oscar Peterson still tickling the ivories on the hi-fi (how's that for history?), my daughter took a turn around the parquet with Dad. It was maybe my favourite moment of the whole party.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day One

I'm trying something new for a while. I've decided to post to the blog every day.

I've become quite aware, lately, of the accumulation of moments and days - the way they stack up awfully quickly into years and decades. I've never been good at pen-and-paper journaling, but this format might be a bit more achievable for me. I'm looking forward to reading back at the end of the process and rediscovering events I might have forgotten.

Yesterday I dropped my daughter off at the stable, where she was going to have a practice ride. An hour later the phone rang - her coach's cell phone. My daughter fell off the horse, could I meet them at the hospital?

It's just a broken collar bone, thank God, but I'm wondering why on earth she couldn't have taken up a different sport? Why did she have to pick one that kills people all the time? What's wrong with a nice game of croquet?

Monday, November 12, 2012

I LOVE leftovers.

Erudite Mondays
Volume 11 Number 4
by Tom Perrotta

This book was a weird little number. I LOVED it.

The premise is, the Rapture has happened. You know the one I mean - it's out of fashion in Christian circles nowadays, but it has enjoyed very sensational press in the past. The twist about this Rapture tale, though, is that not all the people taken were Christians. Or even "good people", if such a thing exists -- the Rapture was random. Some of the missing were atheists, some Muslim, and so on. (Gasp!) Interestingly, because of this seeming impartiality, Christian groups in the book deny that it even WAS the Rapture.

The novel deals with the lives of the people who have been left behind. The Rapture has happened, their wives, children, families, friends have been taken, and they have not. How do they react, how do they cope, how can they live their lives?

The author does a wonderful job of portraying human emotions in all their messy glory - the range of feelings the characters experience during the novel. It was a totally gripping book, because the human story was so profound. It was deeply sad and troubling, with a good dose of suspense and foreboding.

I spent three quarters of the novel waiting for the other shoe to drop. I half expected the author to pull back the curtain and show us exactly what happened. Or, I thought (as did many of the characters) there might be a second "Disappearance".

This book is really about people. It's about humans and the way they love, grieve, and live on afterwards. It's marvellous and you should read it.

Go! Read it!

HSB Highly-Specialised Book Rating System

Reread: Yes
Give to Others: Yes! Already have.
Bookplate: Yes.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

7 Thingies In All

Remember when I used to talk about knitting? It seems such ages ago. Well, I have been knitting like a fiend for months. I have about 7 projects to do for Christmas, and can't talk about any of them on the blog.

Thing 1 is done. It's blocking right now, and taking up a good section of my living room carpet.

Things 2 and 3 are done, and they are blocked. Looking mighty pretty.

Thing 4 is done and needs to be blocked. Thing 4a is nice, but Thing 4b and 4c are AWESOME.

Thing 5 is in progress - I estimate I'm about 35% done.

Thing 6 and 7 are not cast on yet.

But the good news is, I have (unintentionally) arranged them in order of the amount of time they'll need, so Thing 1 took two months, Thing 2 and 3 about a month, Thing 4 two weeks, and so on. Things 6 and 7 will be quickish.

It's a good thing, too, because we are only 56 days away.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bought meself a new coat.

Deal of the century - $48 at Costco. It's not quite 100% wool, but it's durn close. (I think there's 20% nylon in there.) Also made Elsewhere (i.e., not China) so I'm happy X 2.

Plus, lest we forget - RED! And red is good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

International Day of Shan - XXXIX

Holy smokes, what a great year it's been. And there are 76 days left of it! Marvellous.

I'm spending today with Julia again - it could become a tradition. Today I'm making the roast chicken with port and cream (again - because last year it was so great), sauteed potatoes, and Reine de Saba: the famous soft-centred chocolate cake. Still undecided on soup.

Go! Have something delicious! Open a bottle and raise a glass for International Day of Shan!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Quoth she:

"Tonight I ate two dinners: one for me and one for my legs."

And that, in a nutshell, is why I am going to meet Lizbon today. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Seven Hundred Thirty (and One)

Two years ago tonight I was writing.
And this is what I said
The night my best friend died.
And here is what I learned
In all the jumbled weeks and nights of afterwards:
The strength of each day is measured out
And it will be enough,
But only for one day, then
You must ask again.

And some day, surprised, you'll say
'I am happy again,'
Maybe even after just
Two eternal
And momentary years.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

yonks ago

Haven't posted in ages.

1-got a job. Handful of hours a week, used bookstore, small wage, HUGE fun. Owner was an old acquaintance of mine (now a friend) who understood I was homeschooling and said "Bring your kids when you need to."
2-had a great two months doing something new, loving the literary environment.
3-the kids even got to come and help out.
4-my boss emailed me last night to say she's packing it in....going out of business. Sudden? yep. Totally unexpected given this economic climate? nope. Crushing disappointment and sudden loss of purpose? yep.

5-The bit of money needs to be made despite the loss of this job.
6-I am going to open an Etsy shop.
7-Will keep you posted!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Knocked down and trampled all about.

Well, I think this may be a record.

I started "Great Expectations" on Sunday night, and I have just finished it an hour ago. Three days! Dear me.

It was my first introduction to the famous Pip, who I will never, never forget. As far as winsome and compelling narrators go, he is right up there with Cassandra Mortmain and Holden Caulfield.

Reading this book, and writing this review, I feel such a sense of frustration that there's nobody to TALK to about it! Even if you've read it, it was probably a while ago. (Finally - the reason for Lit classes - so SOMEBODY is reading the same good book that you are reading.)

It makes me really, really, really miss Sandy. Did I ever tell you she was my grade 12 English teacher? I was 15, she was 25.

I bought a copy of "Villette" from a local used-bookstore a few years ago, and after Sandy died I finally got around to reading it. I opened up to the first page, and guess whose handwriting I saw, noting: "space and time harmonious"?

Yep, it had been Sandy's copy, from one of her university Lit classes, taken to the store after a fit of purging, as part of a misplaced effort to "help my family not have to deal with so much, later".

All this is to say, I wish she was still alive JUST to talk about "Great Expectations" with me. I can see it now: I would call her up and say "Can I come over tonight?" and she would say "YES! Yesyesyes, I was JUST going to call you!" We'd hang up and then fifteen minutes later I'd be at her door, Pip in hand, saying "WHAT ABOUT THIS HAVISHAM NONSENSE!!!" and she'd throw herself back on the couch, hands held in front of her, palms up, fingers clawed towards the heavens, scream out "AAUUUGGHHH!!! HAVISHAM, I CAN'T STAND IT!!!" And then we'd move on to the pathos of the whole thing, and I'd say "Joe!! Joe!! That's the worst part!!" and she'd say "'Wot Larks!'" and then we'd both dissolve into tears.

Then we'd have an extremely strong coffee and she'd dig out some chocolate.

A few other notes:

* Dickens had an amazing ability to change up his voice and his style. Great Expectations is completely different from A Christmas Carol is completely different from Barnaby Rudge is completely different from Tale of Two Cities.

* I laughed so hard at this book, I shouted out loud several times.

* I cried so hard at this book, I alerted several startled passersby to the fact that no, that car is NOT empty. There is a sobbing woman sitting behind the wheel, poor soul.

* I loved this book and loved the way it ended, and loved the.........[trying not to give it away] surprising negative aspects of the plot.


Mrs. Dalloway awaits. Onward.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Purpose-Driven Reader

Trademark lawyers, do your worst.

You might not remember, but I was once working my way through a list of books given by Library Thing as the 106 books most often listed as not read by users. (Which I don't know to be true, but in any case.) I had originally read 41, and then when I posted a second time two and a half years later, I had read 46.

Now, I've read 50. I have added

Tale of Two Cities
Love in the Time of Cholera
Cloud Atlas
Once and Future King

I am behind my self-imposed schedule, but that's okay. Life has to be lived - you can't just read all the damn time.

I asked you guys for recommendations and followed up on Confederacy of Dunces which several of you seemed to love - HATED IT. Didn't even finish.

Cloud Atlas, recommended by Dave, was an utter wonder. A completely original, completely riveting work that built me up to a crescendo and then brought me crashing down to complete silence. If you can read it without first reading ABOUT it, you should. I didn't know what to expect and was confused at first, until suddenly I turned a page, looked at the next page and said "HOLY CRAP." I flicked back a page, flicked forward again, and said to my mother who was sitting next to me on the beach, "This guy has some serious writing chops. He is not kidding around."

Once and Future King. Well......I felt like I'd read this book before. And I hadn't - but it's very much of its genre. I think there are two types of people in the world: people who are captivated (for a time) by the Arthurian legends, and people who couldn't care less about the Arthurian legends. If, like me, you belong to the first group, then you've probably read all the usual suspects and "Once and Future King" will hold no surprises at all.

Tale of Two Cities - I raved about this amazing masterpiece in an earlier review. I loved it so much that this entire silly list, in many ways, justifies its existence simply by virtue of getting me to read Tale of Two Cities.

Lastly, I've added Love in the Time of Cholera. This is a strange book, in some ways. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an odd narrator. I loved Of Love and Other Demons (I reviewed it four years ago -- sheesh! does the time pass.), which is by the same celebrated author. "Cholera" has some of the same bizarre qualities of "Demons", but is maybe a little more realistic in style. Marquez has an unparalleled ability to fascinate - his sense of language is complex and extremely - persuasively - unexpected. I like his depictions of sexuality and love: he portrays them in their impossible complexity and in their devastating simplicity.

I wish I knew Spanish so I could read it in the language he used originally, and see how similar or how different it might be. 

Something odd happened to me on page 337. I read this line:
"Most of the passengers, above all the Europeans, abandoned the pestilential stench of their cabins and spent the night walking the decks, brushing away all sorts of predatory creatures with the same towels they used to dry their incessant perspiration, and at dawn they were exhausted and swollen with bites."

Hm, I said to myself. I'm sure I've read something very like that before. And after a few minutes' search, I found this on page 141:
"Most of the passengers, above all the Europeans, abandoned the pestilential stench of their cabins and spent the night walking the decks, brushing away all sorts of predatory creatures with the same towels they used to dry their incessant perspiration, and at dawn they were exhausted and swollen with bites."

My gut says it was not a deliberate device - more a mistake - but I could be wrong.

Odd, though.

So, here we are. I have read 50 of 106. Not even halfway done!

Someone remarked, two years ago (!) when I last mentioned this project, that if I insist on reading all the books on this list, more power to me - otherwise, she felt, I should go on to something else and save myself the trouble. Well, she has a point - I certainly won't read anything I don't like or care about - but I still feel it's a useful exercise. I have been hugely entertained, moved, challenged, and educated by the books I've read from this list. And many of them probably would never have made it to my hand were it not for the list.

Here are my next choices, in order:

Great Expectations (I bought this, so no library request necessary)
Reading Lolita in Tehran (en route from another branch of my library), maybe Middlesex? Maybe Mrs. Dalloway? Maybe Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

I did try To the Lighthouse but lost interest quickly. I think my enjoyment of the book was handicapped by its being sandwiched in the middle of several excellent novels of very different styles, so my ear was tuned to a different sort of voice, as it were. I will try it again someday.

Read on!

PS: Something interesting has been happening in the backyard lately, and I will tell you about it next time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What the Camera Saw

...on Thursday:
In Vancouver International Airport, I met my girl totally by accident. Her plane to Calgary was hours late and I arrived at the same boarding lounge for my 10.30 flight to Toronto. We chewed the fat for 20 minutes and then both flights got called at the same time. Awesome!

...on Friday:

After a sleepless night on a plane, suffering from climate shock (37 degrees?? whaaa--?) and lightly jet-lagged, I had breakfast with Mr. HSB's brother and sister, and nephew. A good time was had by all, and Lesley left the restaurant with several crispy slices of bacon in her purse. (You know it's been a good day when you have bacon in your purse.)

Mine........all mine.

...on Saturday:
I was devastated when I missed this exhibit at the SAM last year, and on the weekend in Toronto, I walked past the AGO completely by accident - and saw a poster. "We're going!" I said to my uncles. 

My favourite painting in the whole exhibit. This woman completely riveted me and I stared at her for a solid ten minutes, while other people watched me tentatively. I could practically hear them thinking "What on earth do you SEE in her?!" 

Night view from my hotel room window, with extreme zoom. This photo reflects my utter delight with my proximity to the heart of downtown Toronto. "Look, Ma! Yonge Street!"

...on Sunday:
 With my wonderful Joe and Dave, celebrating their award with them.

I felt like I was sitting next to a pair of celebrities: Ruby and Sadie! A surreal feeling of meeting children I already knew...and I was hard pressed not to just scoop them up in my arms and shower them with kisses. (And I met Belinda and Susan, too! But didn't want to shower them with kisses. That would have been weird.)

...and on Monday:
Every time I come back to YVR, I try to get a photo of Mt Baker...this is the first one that worked.

Joe and Dave, thank you THANK YOU THANK YOU for inviting me to share your wonderful day, and thank you for all the great times we had together over the weekend. I am already planning my next visit to downtown Toronto -- next time, I want to go to the St Lawrence Market!

Kiss kiss!