Saturday, 30 August 2014

Margaret Halsey

I am rereading a delightful old book my sister once sent me, called With Malice Toward Some by Margaret Halsey. It is a delicious and witty account of an American moving to pre-WW II England for a year, and her observations of the differences between the English and Americans.

I love her descriptions of the countryside, the people, the buildings, the weather. Her metaphors and similes are fresh and original. My favourite is when she is watching a cricket player wind up and throw the ball in that strange overhanded manner they use. She says it puts the startled foreigner in mind of a ten-year-old girl quitting the neighborhood baseball team in a towering huff.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Counting my Blessings

For some weird reason, I woke up this morning humming an old tune my great-grandmother used to sing. I don't know all the words, but it's about a girl named Belle, and I only remember snatches of it... "it blew Belle...We know that she's in heaven. She was too green to burn." Anyway, whatever the strange little song is, I've had Grandma's voice in my head all day. It has had a calming effect, has flooded me with nostalgia, and somehow has eased everything back into perspective for me. After the last two days of moping, I now find myself counting my blessings instead of feeling sorry for myself. I have kind friends who have sent me encouraging words. I spent a breezy hour playing ball with Brio at the park, where we met two darling little boys who joined right into our game with seamless confidence. Zucchini bread is in the oven and tomatoes are steaming on the stove...both tomatoes and zucchini being from my garden. I'm watching the Property Brothers on TV with my husband, whose paycheque did not bounce as feared. All in all, life is good.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Coping with Disappointment

What do you do when something you have counted on fails to materialize? What do you do when your original incentive for doing something has fallen flat and you can't get up the enthusiasm to do it anymore? How do you cope when your ego has taken a kick in the teeth?

These aren't idle questions; I'd really like to hear from my readers. My sales statement from the publisher arrived yesterday, and I am sorry to report that Desperate Measures has only sold just under 2,000 copies, which is pitiful. With the returns from the bookstores, the publisher actually lost money on it. Which means they took that out of the money from my other sales and so I didn't earn a penny with my writing in the last six months. Now I know writers tend to be overly dramatic people, and we weep and wail and gnash our teeth a lot on a regular basis, but this was a particularly nasty blow. I have always earned at least something. I had gone so far as to formulate fond plans for the money (stupid me). Secretly I think Desperate Measures was my best work, and it was certainly the most fun to write. My confidence is shaken. Maybe I'm not as good at it as I smirkingly thought. That's humiliating.

I write because it's a part of me, and I can sooner think of stopping breathing than stopping writing. Writing will always be in my life, but maybe the time has come to alter its role. I started promoting my work to publishers because it was fun. But the initial zing of seeing my name in print has gone long ago, and now I find myself caught in the race of deadlines and promotions, and the fun has lessened. I am writing what they want me to write, not what I feel I want to write. I have come to expect money for it, however pathetic the amount. And I feel I need to justify, somehow, the amount of time I'm spending at it to the neglect of other important things (like, um, housecleaning and sleeping and interacting with humans). I look back at the hectic past months, the writing sessions crammed in at 3:30 in the morning, the angst, and wonder if I've lost focus. So now I have to sit back and ask myself some questions about my motivations, my expectations, and my ability to sustain this. My desire to sustain this.

I'd welcome your thoughts. Which I'll read just as soon as I get back from Baskin Robbins. It's really the only answer at times like this. I might have to make it a double scoop.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Last night Jan came to help me bottle peaches. Her intent was to learn the process, but she was immensely helpful and we were done by 10:30. Usually peaches are a slog, involving an aching back, a sticky floor, and a bitter heart by the time all is done, but with someone new to chat with, the time zipped by. I am rewarded this morning by a counterful of gleaming golden jars, the contentment of the prospect of cobblers and pies for the coming year, and the knowledge that I have a new friend.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

I think not...

Well, I should have known Brio wouldn't tolerate not being walked today. I managed to finish the tomatoes and salsa by 3:30, after hours of standing at the kitchen sink, and all I could think of was sitting down with a good book and vegging out for an hour...but no. Who can sit and relax with those laser beam eyes boring into yours and that big tongue lolling out in a doggy grin? You could see what he was thinking. It's time to go! Of course we're going! Are you ready? Ready to go? Why are you sitting? Out out out! Whee!

So we went, and the air was lovely and cool, and the sky was pearly blue and the grass was so green it hurt to look at it, and there went my amber and white dog, sailing over that expanse of green with his ears flapping and exquisite joy radiating from every hair. It's funny to hear him try to bark when his mouth is filled with a large fuzzy orange ball. He sounds like someone sneezing into a jar.

I have learned a trick to tire him out more quickly; I stand on a hill at one end of the park and throw the ball as high and far as I can. He races to get it like syrup pouring down the hill...but he has to run uphill to return the ball to me. So it wears him out faster. He collapses at last on his side, panting hard, the ball still in his mouth, and he rolls his eyes at me as if to say Just give me a minute. I'm not done yet! We sit and watch the clouds bump into each other for a moment. And then he's dropped the soggy ball at my feet and raced off again.

All in all a lovely and productive day. And there was still time to get home to that book and a bowl of cinnamon popcorn. Not chips and salsa. I've seen enough salsa for today.

                                                                       Lisandro Rota

Teeth and Tomatoes

Not much time to write this weekend, I'm sorry. Son Number Three got all four wisdom teeth out yesterday, and today I'm bottling tomatoes and making salsa. A bushel of peaches waits in the basement. The writing is on hold. The dogs will not get walked today. And I highly doubt much of anything else will happen anytime soon! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Real Joy

A roller coaster this week! A good friend and member of our pipe band got his mission call for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week. He took a video of him opening the envelope and brought it for us to watch at band practice. When he read out that he was called to serve in Costa Rica, you could see a surge of delight run through his body, and he started jumping up and down. And when he got to the part about having to teach in Spanish, he danced right out of the camera frame.

It's a real treat to see honest joy, excitement, and goodness in an 18-year-old kid. The grin on his face will stay with me a long time. He's about to face the two most difficult years of his life, far from home, cut off from frequent contact with family and friends. He's putting school and career path on hold. He'll have to fend for himself, struggle with a new language, and learn a new culture. He'll have to be responsible for laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and getting along with his assigned companion while keeping tough hours and working with the people he's teaching. He'll grow and learn and discover a lot about himself over the next two years, and he will come home an adult, not a kid. He's footing the bill for all of this with thousands of dollars he has diligently worked for and saved throughout his life.

And in the face of all this, he is overjoyed. And so am I! I couldn't be prouder that he is eager and worthy to serve, and I can't wait to go through the same experience with my own son in just a couple of years.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


Yesterday I learned that a dear friend has Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. They can't start chemotherapy yet because she also has something else they're still trying to identify, and further tests will take ten days. She called me from the Imaging Department of the hospital with the news, not to weep or seek sympathy but to ask if I could pick her son up from the bus for her.

My friend is the type who won't tell anyone when she's in the hospital. She's the one who quietly serves, who takes food to new mothers and gives rides to the elderly. She isn't used to being on the receiving end and won't like it a bit. This trial ahead of her is going to test her ability to acknowledge when she needs help and seek the support of other women. I can't fathom the challenges ahead of her in facing this cancer, but I do understand her reluctance to admit to needing help, because I'm the same way. Knowing this, I won't wait for her to ask, but I'll watch for small things I can do to try to ease her burden. Starting with being at the bus stop.

As we spoke it became very clear to me that her main concern is for her teenage son, not for herself. She wants to make sure he's watched over and cared for and guided in his life, and she wants to be the one to do it. I pray that she will be granted that wish. If she isn't, the rest of us will need to be there for him. Really, we should be anyway, for all children.

News like this always snaps things back into perspective for me. How can I whine about my job when my friend would give anything to be able to just wake up to a normal day and go to work? How can I complain about my small aches and pains when they pale in comparison to cancer? How can I focus on the clothes on the floor or the dirty dishes in the bedroom when I am being granted the amazing opportunity to watch my son grow into a young man?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Typing as Fast as I Can

Got the news -- the manuscript I submitted right before going to Italy has been accepted. And they want another one asap. That will be three submissions in, like, three months. Gotta be a record! We'll see if I can pull it off.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Photos from Italy

Just a few photos to give you a taste of where we pun intended!


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bagpipers, Unite!

Apparently the U.S. Government has confiscated the bagpipes of two 17-year-olds who came to compete at the Maxville Highland Games, even though they had all the required documentation to transport their antique ivory-embellished pipes back into the U.S. afterward. These were sentimentally valuable pipes that had been handed down in their families and are irreplaceable. I think all the pipers in Ontario should gather around the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue in Toronto and play until the pipes are returned to their owners. There are thousands of us...we could spell each other off a few hundred at a time.

And a few minutes looks like the boys are getting their pipes back eventually, just in time -- hopefully -- for the world championship. Lots of protest from the piping community, 3,000 names on a petition, and offers from other musicians to lend them their pipes in case they didn't get them back in time for the competition.

Man, you don't fiddle with a fellow's bagpipes!

Clearing the Clutter

Weeks ago I gave son number three the charge to go through his closet and throw out all but ten t-shirts. He had so many t-shirts from places he'd been and clubs he'd belonged to, or that had been handed down from his brothers, that they no longer fit on the hangers. He had more clothes than the rest of us combined. So last night he did that, and he piled the "rejects" on his bed to sort into "throw-away" or "donate-able." That last sorting part of the job was left to me.

As I folded and sorted and bagged, I found myself undergoing some weird emotions. Folding up my older son's shirts (now handed down to son number three) felt like folding up my son himself and bagging him away. I suddenly missed him intensely. He's been away from home for about three years now, and it felt like I'd just said goodbye all over again. The t-shirts from past activities and acknowledging past adventures brought back great memories. The shirts from far-off exotic places felt hard to part with, even though my kids have outgrown them all. I felt as if the kids were outgrowing their childhoods. And I wasn't ready for them to do that yet. Funny what a scrap of printed cloth will do to you, isn't it?

But if he could let go of these things, so could I.

I admit I kept four of the rejects -- two family reunion t-shirts that I want to use the fabric from to make a project (I don't know what yet) -- and an old BYU t-shirt that maybe a cousin will want. And one piping college shirt that's practically new and could go to another kid in the pipe band. The rest are bagged and waiting to be donated.

The first step in downsizing...and it's not even my stuff. If it's this hard to let go of my children's things, what will it feel like to let go of my own stuff?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Oh, and the Gelato!

How could I have forgotten to mention the gelato? Every day, sometimes twice a day...such amazing, rich flavours! Fior di latte (however you spell it), hazelnut, coconut, strawberry, lemon...everything seems to have a more intense taste in Italy. Or maybe it was because I was in slow-motion-vacation mode and actually took time to taste what I was eating, instead of bolting down my toast while running for the bus at five in the morning... Anyway, the food was amazing in general -- carbonara, pecorino, plump grapes, Bucaneve almond cookies, Nutella, Magnum bars, chewy bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salty crunchy grissini, crispy pizza with eggplant on it, gnocchi to die for -- but the gelato was the most amazing. I admit I fell off the vegetarian bandwagon a few times (hard not to when you're someone's guest) but there's no excuse for the unabashed sheer enjoyment I felt with a mouthful of pancetta and fresh parmesan...

And the Milka chocolate bars, and Galak white chocolate bars, and Tic Tacs in bizarre flavours like blood orange and pineapple and coconut, and did I mention the Nutella? And the variety of Kinder chocolates (all kinds of which we don't get in Canada). And chinotto in black pop cans. And fresh olives and feta cheese and raw spinach on focaccia and deep red tomatoes drizzled in olive oil topped with slabs of soft mozzarella...

Pardon me while I wipe off the computer monitor. I think a little drool got on it.

I knew we were in for a great thing when we were on the plane on our way there. We flew Alitalia. Need I say more? There's no way to describe the delight on a teenage boy's face when he realizes it's half past midnight and the airline attendant has just served him hot roasted chicken and potatoes, ham and potato salad, a delicious bread roll with butter, and a cup of fruit. There were even packets of salt and pepper and a moist towelette to wash with. I had the pasta al forno with eggplant. They offered wine to everyone, not just First Class. At one point in the meal, my husband leaned over and said, "Air Canada gives you a bag of pretzels."

That kinda says it all.

The Best of Times and The Worst of Times

We are home from Italy. Returned to a spotless house and happy puppies (thanks to our great housesitter who even washed the sheets!). Spent the first half of the night tossing and turning while Italian sped through my head and Brio pressed himself against the small of my back like a blast furnace. Finally got up at 2:30 and lay on the couch, with Brio stretched full length against my legs. He can't get enough of me. Even sedate, unemotional Maple bounced around with a grin on his face when we came home, and when I picked him up he went so far as to lick my face, something he's only done maybe twice in nine years. I think they missed us. As I write this, Brio is a hot, heavy weight on my feet under the desk.

I feel I've been gone a lot longer than I have. Somehow I'm astonished that things at home haven't changed much. The grass hardly looks longer. I guess this is because we packed so much sensory input into our time away. I won't bore you with a travelogue, but here are some highlights and points of note:

  • Rome is a toilet. It is unfortunate, because I didn't find it that way when I was there 8 years ago, but things have gone downhill. Many homeless, the stench of urine in the streets, filth and litter and graffiti everywhere. I felt I was walking through a crack den every time I went from the hotel to the Termini. The proud Romans have lost all dignity, and the city authorities need to think about their appeal to tourists or they will find they won't have any, Colosseum or no. I won't be back. Also this is where I got eaten by mosquitoes that were more like black flies, which left bruises and welts all over me until I looked like a Dalmatian. I had a few funny moments in pharmacies where I got the word for mosquitoes mixed up with the word for gypsies... Italian is like that. Many words differ from other words by only a letter, resulting in some humorous mix-ups, which I jotted down in a notebook for future use in a book.
  • Turin was much, much better, much cleaner, and our hotel was great. We got to visit friends and attend church (lovely ward full of friendly people, though when one speaker dragged on and on, Angela - in her late 80s - leaned over and whispered in Italian to me, "Only 25 more minutes of torture!"). I am pleased to report that over the 4-hour stretch of a dinner at Angela's home, I understood probably 95% of the conversation. And I even dared speak a little myself, and was able to convey such concepts as "The car Eva drove us home in yesterday is sufficiently large to carry our luggage to the train station" and "These rocks are made of compressed sand." (We took her some rocks from Utah to put on her daughter's grave -- an old tradition). Felt great to understand and be understood. Angela and her family are kindness itself. The museum of modern art was bizarre, and the basilica where the shroud is kept is being - noisily - restored after a fire some years ago. The shroud has now survived two major fires, and I wonder if the Catholic Church has to up their insurance premiums...
  • Siena was the best and everyone's favourite. The train ride alone was worth it, going through classic Tuscan landscapes and stopping at tiny, beautiful hilltop towns that make you want to hop out and explore. Another idea for another trip. Our lovely hotel - with kitchen - was just outside the gate of the old city, and we were able to see everything on foot. Even full of tourists, it was a walkable and beautiful and CLEAN place. And the city fathers were brilliant in installing a series of escalators and moving walkways to transport you down to the lower part of the town where the train station and major grocery store were. We spent a lot of time eating cheese and chocolate -- more about that later. Bought several books. In fact, I read 5 1/2 books during the trip, and the only souvenirs my son wanted were books...
In short, a great trip but next time I would cut out Rome, and I'd probably start in Switzerland so I could see more of the Alps, which we saw only distantly. It rained at least part of almost every day, but that didn't hinder us at all, and it kept the temperature down a bit. And gave us a fair bit of reading time while we rested between walks.

I will pursue some themes I thought about while travelling in later posts. That mass of writing should do you for now! And now I need to switch my head back into English/French mode.