Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Favourite 8 Books of 2008

My dear friend and author extraordinaire kc dyer has invited me to participate in the Best of the Best of 2008.

I had to think about what I was going to blog about.....food, photos, books, movies, food. I decided to talk about some of my favourite reads.

But if I were doing food, it would be:

1. Homemade crackers with Cyprus Flake sea salt and sesame seeds
2. Crab rollups with wasabi
3. Lasagna with hot Italian sausage and Secret Sauce
4. Potato and corn chowder
5. Laura's chocolate flourless cake
6. Italian almond macaroons
7. Nana's Irish Soda Bread
8. Poutine and steamies (I'm being honest here)

(I have recipes for all but the last entry. For #8 you'll have to come visit me here in Montreal and then I will FORCE myself to go out with you and order some from La Belle Province.)

Okay, favourite reads of 2008:

1. WHEN I AM ENGULFED IN FLAMES by David Sedaris

His latest collection of short stories doesn’t disappoint. Irreverent, sad, hysterically funny, poignant, rude, silly, he just nails it every time. I got to meet him this summer and he was sweet and gracious, though at the time, I looked like a drowned rat pulled out of the sewers feet first.

2. ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION by Temple Grandin

Grandin is an expert in animal behavior, and she is also autistic which she claims is what allows her to truly understand and translate what animals see and feel. She says animals, like autistic people, react to visual cues and tiny details that most people miss, like a shiny puddle of water or a dangling rope or the soft click of a gate in a holding pen. She has singlehandedly influenced an entire industry and is the driving force behind the news laws governing humane handling of livestock around the globe. This book offers a look at our world through an animal’s eyes. Fascinating stuff.

3. STILL MISSING: AMELIA EARHART AND THE SEARCH FOR MODERN FEMINISM by Susan Ware

Amelia Earhart is unfairly remembered mostly for the way she died, disappearing at age 39 during a 1937 round-the-world flight. Yet during her lifetime, she redefined women’s roles and worked hard - as a lecturer, author, promoter, social worker, aviator, clothing designer - to champion women’s rights and, closest to her heart, to encourage everyone to fly. She believed that if women followed her example and excelled at aviation, then prejudice would disappear and all barriers to their success would fall. For children, especially girls, she was like a flying Pied Piper. One very cool broad.

4. YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks

Wasn’t sure I’d be into a book about the bubonic plague, but once I started, I couldn’t stop - it was an all jammie day. It is exquisitely written, and Brooks has a real knack for language. In 1666, in the tiny village of Eyam, Derbyshire, an itinerant tailor inadvertantly introduces the plague, so the rector advises all inhabitants to isolate themselves for one year to prevent the spread of the disease. This novel is the story of that year, told from the perspective of Anna Frith, the rector’s young widowed servant, and it reveals all sides of the human condition – love, greed, bravery, prejudice, sacrifice, envy. The ending is a bit of misstep, but don’t let it deter you.

5. A WOMAN’S EUROPE edited by Marybeth Bond

This collection of essays explores traveling through Europe as seen through a woman’s eyes. From women of all ages and backgrounds, the stories move from the Greek Islands to a Tuscan villa to skydiving in Scotland and beyond. Great for the armchair traveler looking for a little escapism.

6. THE FLYING TROUTMANS by Miriam Toews

I loved this book. A “road novel” which is funny and tender and sad, it tells the story of a twenty-something woman who rushes in to help her nephew and niece when their mother is committed to a mental institution. In desperation, they embark on a road trip to find their father (and here I want to say "and hilarity ensues!") Which it does, but also tenderness and real empathy. The characters are brilliantly written, the dialogue believable and knee-slappingly funny at times (anyone who has teenagers will relate) and I am in awe of Toews’s talent as a writer. Or is it Toews' talent? Stupid grammar rules....

7. ONE MAN’S WILDERNESS: AN ALASKAN ODYSSEY by Sam Keith from the journals of Richard Proenneke

Admission - although not particularly well written, I have a soft spot for wilderness survival tales. This book dates from the 70s, and my copy is an updated 26th edition. It’s about a man who, at the age of fifty, decided to build an Alaskan log cabin by his own hands and where he lived (alone in the wilderness i.e. with no roads in or out, and the nearest settlement forty air miles away) for the next sixteen months. He continued to stay on for another thirty years, making occasional trips south to visit family. I watched a documentary and I was captivated by this guy. The cabin is still there (May 30th 2008 marks the 40th anniversary) at Twin Lakes. I might make the journey myself one of these days if it gets any noisier around here.

8. ELMORE LEONARD’S 10 RULES OF WRITING Illustrations by Joe Ciardiello

A light, tight little volume that will take you all of 5 minutes to read (literally) that uses the word ‘hooptedoodle’ more often than one would think possible, the illustrations alone are worth the price. Charming and fun. Who wouldn't want to read a book with hooptedoodles?

London Review of Books

My husband, bless his heart, knows that I'm an Anglophile from way back. Anything British, particularly the things I remember of my two nanas, tickles me like nothing else. He knows I would move to London in a heartbeat, but since that's not in the cards, he likes to load me up with All Things British every Christmas. This year, he got me a copy of the London Review of Books.

The book reviews themselves are fairly highbrow and eclectic.

However, the real highlights for me are the personal ads on the last page. After skimming through the other ads for book sellers with names like RIPPING YARNS and SKOOB BOOKS, auditions for a TV show called TRIBAL WIVES where they send middle-class women to live with a remote tribal community for a month (unfortunately only open to Brits) and holiday villas in France, I came across the personals. Worth the price of a subscription.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post Christmas Fug



Well, the leftover turkey is almost gone, the carcasses have been turned into soup along with some lovely fat egg noodles, the remaining baked goods are still going down well with breakfast coffee (seriously, is there anything better than chocolate for breakfast?) and the Christmas holiday is all over but the shouting. How did everyone do?

We had twenty-four for dinner, although two stayed home and had dinner delivered to them as they weren't feeling well enough to get out. There were a couple of glitches along the way. My car battery died, so we were down to one car. Then our water turned brown from a broken water pipe somewhere, but I ran over to my in-law's and filled up a couple of jugs even as half a dozen snow plows/trucks blocked my way and honked as I darted in and out. We didn't get our promised free-range, 30 pound "happy" turkey my two daughters on the cusp of veganism insisted on, which (despite my reservations to the contrary due to its size) I've roasted in the past to juicy, tender perfection. No. My husband came home with two, 15 pound Butterball turkeys the butcher handed him instead.



This meant stuffing and roasting one on Christmas Eve and racing home from my sister-in-law's shindig to carve it and make gravy and tuck it away in the fridge. No worries. It reheated beautifully while I made gravy from the second Christmas Day turkey and so there was plenty to go around along with the huge (I mean giant roasting pan filled to the top huge) pan of stuffing, mountains of mashed potatoes with sour cream and butter, mashed turnips with maple syrup and cinnamon, cranberry sauce and broccoli with olive oil, lemon and sea salt. We finished the meal with my mother-in-law's famous steamed carrot pudding with hard sauce, and I baked Italian macaroons (divine, chewy almond confections I tried for the first time and LOVED), a bowl of fresh fruit salad, shortbreads, truffles, buttertarts and all manner of other treats.



Doug insisted on a big cheese plate, which I thought would be too much, but it proved popular so we'll do that again. It went very well with the new whisky he gave me for Christmas, one fine bottle of Glenkinchie. Do other women ask for whisky for Christmas, or is that just me? It has proved to be my current favourite, just slightly above the Aberlour, Glenmorangie and the Macallan 12 year old we've sampled lately. For some reason, and I really don't know why, whisky does not affect me the way a glass of beer or wine does (that is, almost instant stupefaction accompanied by a flushed face and the sweats leaving me looking like a scullery maid after a big banquet.)

There were so many people in our tiny house that all the windows steamed up as did I, when I stepped outside to cool off. Literally, there was steam rising off my body in shimmery waves which cracked up my sister-in-law, who hasn't experienced a hot flash yet. (Just you wait, darling.) But we all ate and drank and chatted and opened gifts together and it was everything Christmas is meant to be.

Doug and I collapsed at the end of it, our legs finally giving out around midnight. We haven't moved from the house since, preferring to eschew the Boxing Day sales and instead, tucking in with our new books and mugs of tea and the odd DVD, like Terry Jone's MEDIEVAL LIVES. Happy New Year everyone!

The End.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat


And by goose, I mean me. And the weather outside is frightful, at least for anyone who has to venture out on the roads, but for those of us tucked safely in our homes, it is divine. It is going to be a Very White Christmas here in Montreal and, it would seem, the rest of Canada, too. Whoo hoo! This is the frost that was on the bathroom window this morning, at least until someone took a shower and - like the Wicked Witch of the West - Jack Frost melted, melted.



The house is semi-clean, the baking is semi-started (the ingredients - for shortbreads, truffles, buttertarts, Italian macaroons, Fat Alberts, Eccles cakes and peanut brittle - were purchased and await me in the kitchen) and the gifts are semi-purchased and semi-wrapped (I have leftover paper from last year) so it's not a bad position to be in. The tree is up and decorated. Our turkey is on order, a thirty pounder again. My babies will soon all be under one roof again for a few days, with friends and cousins dropping by at random hours and sleeping on couches and floors. I can hear Christmas carols playing, the snowblower is blowing....and while I'm exhausted by the end of it all, it's still my favourite time of year!

How are your preps going?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

From my good friend kc dyer comes this video called Advent Conspiracy, an organization started by five American pastors two years ago. We all talk about doing this, but we don't. Why? What do you think?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meet some of my family

It's snowing again, and I'm snug in my little stone cottage watching the world pass by. I'm sitting here, snuggled in with The Boris on one side and Kicia on the other, Buddy snoring at my feet. I'm sipping my coffee (in a mega-mug purchased in a Starbucks in London) and pondering how many, if any, Christmas cards I'll get around to sending this year. I always start with good intentions, then life gets in the way. Each year I tell myself I have loads of time to do them, and each year, without fail, I always find myself scrambling the weekend before Christmas. Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia is playing, and the snow is blowing past my big bay window in great billowing gusts. It is the perfect setting for writing my cards, and yet, and yet....

Oh, and in case you were wondering how my kids (and my nephew) enjoy a traditional Quebecois Christmas, just have a look. That's them, hanging out in the barn last year. (Yes, I got their permission to post these. They're such good sports, those elves.)

Send your own ElfYourself eCards


And many of you probably don't know I had quintuplets, all girls, all identical. They just love to dance.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Winter Wonderland


It's amazing how a new day can give one a new perspective. The ice remains, my car wouldn't start this morning, but it's okay. The sun is shining through the ice on the tree branches and it's magical. I'm reminded of the Great Ice Storm which happened here in Quebec ten years ago. Forgive me, those of you who have heard this story before.

January 5th, 1998 began with a steady, gentle drizzle which glazed everything it touched. We hunkered down in a post-holiday torpor, and curled up by the fire in our little stone house. Soon the wind came, the power went out, and we were plunged into darkness overnight. Pine trees drooped like collapsed umbrellas. Tree branches cracked like gunshots as they snapped, unable to sustain the weight of the ice. A maple crashed on our roof, ripping out cable, phone, and hydro lines.

We woke to suffocating silence; no hum of appliances, furnace or television. No cars, or birds. Our world was smothered in thick ice which muffled all sound. The streets in our suburb resembled a tintype photograph, its colours reduced to shades of grey. There was no sign of life, anywhere. And still it rained.



Hours stretched into days. My young children turned to board games and cards. In the evenings, my husband and I recounted stories by candlelight – how we met, our wedding, baby tales.

Fear was replaced by acceptance and surrender. Our phone line was down, the car was blocked by fallen hydro lines, so we had no choice but to hunker down and wait. We chopped wood for heat, hauled out our old camp stove, and raided the freezer.

By day nine, our road was open but we were still without power. I hammered several inches of ice off my car so I could treat the kids to a hot Mc’breakfast. Unable to bathe for over a week, we straggled in smelling of wood-smoke and worse. I began my order when the lanky teen behind the counter said we were too late. By one minute! I explained our situation, he consulted the manager, but he said, “Sorry. Company Policy.”

I stood, openmouthed. To be turned away - when I was so close I could smell the bacon - flipped me over the edge of sanity. Yes, I’m not proud - I had a total meltdown right there at the counter. Not a few gentle tears rolling down soot-stained cheeks, kind of crying. No, this was out of control, hands to the sides, head thrown back, howling like a lost child, bawling.

The server panicked. Clearly, this situation was not in his training manual. My two daughters maneuvered me outside, while my son urged me to get a grip, but I stood on the sidewalk and wept freely as people elbowed past our ragtag group.

A minute later, I wiped my nose, smoothed my greasy hair, and piled the kids in the car. Even though they reasoned we were too “gross and disgusting” for a local restaurant, I was adamant. An angel, disguised as a waitress, gently guided us to a table. Without a word, she appeared with a newspaper and coffee, then asked, “What else can I bring you?” It was as soothing and soul-satisfying as a mother’s hug. We each ate two breakfasts, and returned home to wait for a miracle in the form of a hydro crew.

But our ordeal continued. We managed a communal shower at the recreation centre, and then the weather turned bitterly cold. We wore coats and hats inside, even to bed. Several times each night, I rose and stoked the fire to keep the pipes from freezing.

Day Thirteen passed.

That evening, I answered the door and there stood my friend Lesley. She handed me a thermal bag, a bottle of wine and fresh flowers, then turned with a cheery “Bon Appetit.” I was hit by a waft of hot turkey. Along with an entire roast, there was carrot soup, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and warm apple pie – ready to eat, all prepared by my friend who has a full-time job, and a family of her own to look after. It was a boost to the morale and a salve to our flagging spirits. I arranged the flowers, and we sat down by candlelight with our feast.

Now, everyone has had a least one standout meal in his or her life. I’ve had my share, from simple lobster rolls on an east coast beach to filet mignon in Paris. But this hot turkey dinner on a raw January night shared with the people I love most in the world will always be special. It was prepared with love, and sustained us when we really needed it.

As we polished off the pie, just like movie magic, our home roared back to life as the power was suddenly restored. Though the lights blinded us, we cheered and hugged each other in relief. We had survived one of the worst storms in Canadian history. It gave me the confidence that I could face anything life could throw at me.

Except, maybe, missing the breakfast cutoff at Mc’You-Know-Where.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fire and Ice



The ice is outside. The fire is inside, or at least it soon will be, as I plan to hunker down by the fireplace with a single malt whisky and wait out yet another storm.

Permit me a small indulgence and let me whinge about the weather for a bit. I'm Canadian. It's what we do, and honestly, it's one of our coping mechanisms to get through winter. I could talk about childbirth, politics, music, dogs, parenting, cats, writing, reading, quilting, wool spinning, stained glass, travel, dentistry, advertising, ancient Rome, intercourse..... (ahem) I mean social discourse i.e. communication or dealings between individuals and groups. Whatever did you think I meant? (And no doubt, putting that word in my blog will contribute to a surfeit of emails not unlike the ones that arrived when I talked about the mushroom shaped like a certain manly bit. But I digress.)

Yesterday afternoon I decided I'd head into our little village to do some errands. We'd had some rain the day before, but it didn't seem that cold so I wasn't expecting the layer of thick ice under a foot of snow which completely enveloped my car. Not only that, but the car had been parked under the shade of a large spruce tree, the branches of which were also coated with ice and snow.

The branches were so heavy, they bent under all that weight and welded themselves to the top of the car.

Which I can't reach.

It's a tall vehicle and I am an undertall woman. (You see how that works? I'm not overweight, I'm undertall!)



Even though I had less than a quarter of a tank of gas and I never normally let my car idle, I threw environmental responsibility to the wind Just This Once (because there was no way to get INTO my car without softening the ice before I started scraping) and let it run with the heaters on high, as I had left it. Then I realized I'd left my scraper in the car.

No worries. I had a spare! Alas, as it turned out, the spare was also in the car.

I managed to find an old one in the garage (another post entirely) and began to scrap away at the car. Forget scraping, soon I was hammering away with brute force just trying to make a dent anywhere and whacking off the branches of the tree where I could reach. I was afraid I'd break one of the windows but the ice held everything together nicely. After a half hour, I managed to clear the windscreen and the first two windows. Oh, did I mention I was wearing a jaunty little beret and silk scarf? I looked terribly chic as those ice chips flew up and assaulted my (now red and sweaty) face. All this to do a little banking and pick up some things at the drugstore.

I finally made enough headway to be able to drive, and as I took off down the road, I heard the last branch I couldn't reach snap off the tree. At least this time of year people are used to seeing cars with Christmas trees on their cars. Of course, when I got to the gas station, I couldn't get the little door thingie to open, so I had to pound it with my boot, then use a loonie to pry it open. Smarter than the lady in the pet food store, who used her car key and bent it enough so that it no longer fit in her ignition.

That was yesterday. This is today:

Ain't nobody happy.
And that old black van on the left? That has to be scraped and cleared of snow, and the paint supplies cleaned out of it, because it's being towed away for scrap on Monday morning at 7 a.m. Seriously. Could my timing be any worse?

Off to find the whisky....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Locked Out and Snowbound = Cabin Fever


I am locked out of my Hotmail account, which is frustrating the heck of me. It's how I stay in touch with friends and family, so to be denied access is making me nuts, particularly on a day when I am snowbound. What's that, you ask, all my Aussie friends enjoying summer? What's that, you ask, my parents in sunny Florida, complaining because it's too windy to play tennis? What's that, you ask, all my friends in the desert in Arizona, or the rain forest of B.C.? Snowbound? What does that mean, exactly?

It means I can't get into my car because it's iced shut.

It means I have to shovel my driveway as far as the mound of hard-packed boulders the city plow left, effectively blocking me in, at which point I will wrap my shovel around a tree.

It means I can't walk Buddy, do any Christmas shopping, get groceries, mail cards.

Do I seem grumpier than usual? Around 5 a.m., after a fitful night from unsuccessfully blocking the sweet aural caress of deep canine snoring not unlike that of a geezer on a bender, I heard Buddy fall out of his bed (i.e. the armchair in the corner of our bedroom) and land with a loud grunt on the floor. After pitter-pattering in slow circles around the hardwood on his unclipped nails (note to self: clip Buddy's nails) I lay there and listened, willing him with my mental powers to climb back up and go to sleep. He tried and failed repeatedly to jump into the chair. He'd launch himself with everything he had, but he kept sliding off the mini-duvet I helpfully put out for him the night before, hitting the floor, again and again. I finally got up and heaved him back into bed, for which he seemed grateful as he resumed his snoring almost immediately. What does he care? He loves the snow. I was just drifting off (no pun intended) when Boris forced his way in and jumped on my chest. Normally Doug lets him out every morning, so when he sat on me and went deadweight, I knew he was saying, "Make the snow go away, woman." I wish, dear Boris. If only....


Old man winter mocks me. Even my barbeque is laughing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A horse tale

The magazine I write for regularly (WATERSHED) asked me if I had a horse story for a special edition they were putting together last summer. Everyone has a horse story, my editor said. So I sent them this one, albeit somewhat modified for their genteel readers. I think the readers of this blog can handle the expanded version. It was brought back to mind when my blog-buddy Bush Babe posted this lovely story about a cute little foal prancing about the paddock.

My story is the other side of the coin.

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine lived on one of those sprawling King City estates where horses were bred for the Olympics, and British royalty regularly dropped by for spirited games of polo and the find-a-wife-in-Canada game (latest winner, Autumn Kelly from Pointe Claire!) a sport that replaced the other kind of fox hunting. Alas, my friend's father was neither owner nor polo participant, but one of several grooms employed to clean tack, and muck out stalls. Still, when she asked me if I wanted to help out at a horse show, I had a teenage Harlequin-esque vision of what that might entail – handsome young English lords astride magnificent stallions, one of whom might recognize my potential, a jewel in the rough beneath a manure-encrusted exterior, and ride off with aforementioned jewel into the sunset, towards greener pastures.

My job, in its entirety, was to hold the foals on a rope before they were led into the show ring. That seemed simple enough. I hadn't had much experience with horses other than riding lessons at summer day camp. My job experience at the local A&W slinging burgers and at the local donut shop didn't count either, but that was okay. To use my favourite expression - one that has since spelled more trouble than I can possibly explain here - I thought, "How hard can it be?" What I didn’t know then was that these little beasts, unlike the ones I knew from Disney cartoons and books and movies, can be a tad testy. And if put in a situation where they feel discomfited in the least, they behave like bratty kids on a sugar high.

The second I turned my back, ostensibly to check the ring but in fact to seek out any eligible blue-bloods, each foal would jump and land well-placed kicks from my shoulders on down to my feet. They missed my head simply because I ended up hunched over in a fetal position. Twisting and writhing, they'd snap their heads back and pummel me anew with fresh blows every time I lost focus. Soothing murmurs did nothing to calm them, nor did pulling on the rope with authority. It only made them even crazier. They'd stop briefly, giving me hope that I'd finally gained the upper hand or exhausted them, until I turned my back to lead them in the ring, whereupon the wild kicks and tantrums would resume. I was convinced, it being the era of The Exorcist, that they were in fact possessed by the devil himself. I was no longer checking the stands for a prince. I needed an old priest and a young priest.

I was soon bruised and covered in muck, and worse, my illusions were shattered as there was nary an English lord to be found. Not that I would have joined him on that ride into the sunset....not unless the horsepower in question came in the form of a Jaguar convertible.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Harper like you've never seen him

This is courtesy of kc dyer who posted this today on her blog at leftwriter

Doug, this is for you. Call it an early Christmas present. kc said her favourite part came at 3:06 and I have to agree. I was on the floor at that point. Any non-Canadians can just keep moving, nothing to see here.... but for us Canucks, we need a bit of humour to get us through this unprecendented crisis brought on entirely by He Who Shall Not Be Named.

kc, you rock. Let's see if I can get Justin over here to leave a comment.

Proposition 8 and the Human Heart


I've never watched this show before but someone posted this clip on one of the writers' forums I frequent, and I was really moved by it. Unlike Olbemann, I do have people close to me who are gay, and I have seen them struggle with discrimination and shame that stems from ignorance. Some of them have even died because of it. To say those deaths were senseless is a gross understatement.

Why, why, why are straight people so threatened by gay marriage? One devout couple said to my husband recently that the Bible clearly states homosexuality is "an abomination." When challenged on it and asked where that particular passage is - my husband being fairly familiar with the book in question and having discussed this very topic with the Archbishop of the Anglican Church who said unequivocally there isn't any such passage - they backed down. Not that we believe it's a sin, they said, but the gays (as in "those people") will have to answer someday to God because He is the one who is apparently harboring the grudge.

I've said it for years and I'll say it again. Love is love. It doesn't matter if body part A fits into part B. Love is love. A heterosexual couple with children is no more or less a family than a grandmother raising her grandchildren or two committed men or women raising their biological or adopted children. Family is defined as "nearest and dearest" in the dictionary.

Nearest and dearest.

I can't say I'm against ignorance per se. Ignorance has value when it is recognized for what it is, and used as a step forward towards wonder and curiosity and ultimately, knowledge. Have a look at John Shelby Spong, a Christian theologian, Biblical scholar and former Bishop who wrote JESUS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS amongst many other worthy books. He says:

"All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination."

Yeah. What he said.


Have a good weekend. Love one another. Remember, 'tis the season of love and goodwill, and that should extend to every last one of us.

Oh, and a GIANT P.S. Have a look at this (thank you kc dyer and Susan A. for passing it on. I LOVE IT!) This is too good to be buried in the comments:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bow (wow) to the King Charles Spaniel


He ain't called a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for nothing. Here is Buddy, in all his glory, in some photos snapped by my sister-in-law's father Gerry in his basement studio.

I wasn't even going to bring the dog for a visit, let alone set him up for a portrait. This time of year, Buddy looks more like a dirty welcome mat at the local rugby team headquarters than a noble lap dog. But the next thing you know, Gerry was rigging up the camera while my niece was racing around the room like a professional, adjusting the lights, dressing the table with a piece of burgundy velvet, catching Buddy before he toppled to the floor (the platform was a tad wobbly, and Buddy soon learned that he had to stay in the centre of the tiny table and Not Move A Muscle.) My job was to keep the Bud focused and still, which turned out to be fairly easy. I just danced behind the camera, occasionally dipping into my pocket full of kibble and waving it just out of reach. The Bud can be motivated to do anything for kibble and will lock his eyes on my hand like a meat-seeking missile.



So bless his doggy heart, he sat and posed like a little royal. If you look closely into his eyes, you'll see what appears to be the studied concentration of an intellectual about to make a particularly salient point about the current political situation in Ottawa. What he's really thinking is, "drop the kibble, drop the kibble, drop the kibble."

Then he got tired, or perhaps he was trying hard not to slide off the table, or he was full of kibble.(As if.)


I've got to give the little guy credit. He posed with the professionalism of a super model. At least until the kibble got within striking distance.


Thanks, Gerry!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wintersong





Winter has arrived at the lake. It is not yet frozen, but it won't be long before everything is buried under a blanket of snow and ice. Unbelievably, the five loons are still together, swimming through the icy waters. I wonder when they'll head for warmer climes? I wish I could join them, but for now, I'll don my snowshoes and push through the cedars and birch and spruce, their branches heavy laden and sparkling in the low winter sun, and marvel at the beauty that is a Canadian winter.











Friday, November 28, 2008

Never Give Up

I am a subscriber to Darren Rowse's wonderful, online Digital Photography School. If you have an interest in learning how to use a digital camera, or simply want to learn how to take better shots, this is a great resource. There are lessons on every subject - lighting, portraiture, composition, exposure - and a forum to post photos for critique or ask your questions. Everything is explained in a simple, straightforward manner and beginners are encouraged to just jump right in.

Although the post linked below was written for budding photographers, it can also be applied to those writers out there who are struggling to stay positive and focused. Remember you're not alone, be free to make mistakes, accept criticism and reflect on it so that you can improve, find others who share your passion, embrace your successes big and small, and never, ever give up.

Go Here to read it.

Have a glorious weekend everyone. Remember, miracles can happen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Six things you may not know about me

I've been tagged by my friend Laura at The Grape Journal who has asked me to list six things you may not know about me. I don't usually do these sorts of tag things, but I love The Laura so I'll do it for her.

1. Well, Laura mentioned she doesn't watch ER because it freaks her out. I, on the other hand, love medical shows and would cheerfully sit down with a bowl of popcorn and watch an autopsy because I like knowing what the body is all about. I have watched every episode of ER since it first aired, and it paid off, as fate would have it. Years ago, when Doug's knee popped out of joint in the middle of the night and he was writhing in agony, I grabbed his ankle and calf with both hands, leaned back, and popped his knee back into place. He had instant relief, and asked how it was I knew what to do. I said I'd seen it on ER. Thanks, Dr. Mark Green.

2. I have met, and had a conversation with both Princess Diana and Michael Jackson, but not on the same day.

3. People think of me as very outgoing and social when in fact I'm anything but. Given my druthers, I prefer to be alone with a good book. Paradoxically, I also like to have people nearby as opposed to me living alone in a cabin, which is why I've enjoyed being in the heart of a bustling city like New York or London or Paris or even (whispering) Toronto. I think this misconception of me as gregarious stems from from the fact that I tend to babble when I'm in a crowd, which is more out of nervousness than anything else. To quote Mike Myers, I'm a "site specific extrovert" in other words, I rise to the occasion. I do, however, also have the reputation of getting people to open up and reveal their most intimate secrets, often within minutes of meeting me, to their surprise and mine. To quote Geoffrey Rush, "It's a mystery."

4. One of my favourite desserts is creme caramel. I had it every day for two weeks while on our honeymoon in Paris. I was also pregnant and didn't know it (which explained the cravings for Snickers Bars and olives eaten together.) I brought home our baby exactly nine months to the day we married, which the nurses thought was high-larious.

5. I've never been able to wear anything but natural fabrics - silk, cotton or wool. Putting me in anything synthetic produces a meltdown of epic proportions. I'm shuddering just thinking about it.

6. I've always wanted to fly. Not in a plane, but actually fly like a bird. I jumped off the roof of our house not once but twice when I was a kid. The first time was with a homemade parachute made of garbage bags, and the second time was with the patio umbrella. Neither attempt brought satisfactory results.

I now tag:

Bush Babe (because I'm curious) (okay, nosey)

kc dyer at leftwriter (because I know it annoys her)

Lottery Girl (because she's been offline lately and I miss her)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why I love Montreal Reason # 873

When the weather turns cold and gray and wet, we (and by "we" I mean "I") turn to comfort food. And what better place to find it than here in Quebec, home of poutine and steamies.

It's difficult to explain poutine (pronounced "pootzin") to someone who has never experienced it. It's like trying to explain an orgasm; once you've had one, you just know, but until then, it all sounds pretty sketchy.

Poutine doesn't sound or even look remotely appetizing, so it's hard to convince visitors to give it a try. Basically it consists of french fries, topped with cold cheese curds then smothered in hot barbeque chicken gravy. It's important that the curds are cold because the idea is to prevent them from melting completely under the hot gravy so that when you eat them, the cheese squeaks against your teeth. As you dig through the hot fries however, the curds do get gooey and the strands end up plastered all over your chin. Definitely not a First Date Food, although if my husband-to-be had taken me out for this, he could have skipped the whole flowers and movie and sweet-talking schtick and just fast-forwarded to third base. What can I say? I turn into Carb Gal every fall. (Not in the other three seasons, no sir. Just raw veggies and tofu for me in those seasons.)


Where you go to get your poutine is also clutch. You'll find roadside stands called casse-croutes or chains like Lafleur's or La Belle Province all over Quebec. The fries are best when fresh and cut by hand, and if you can get them cooked in lard, better still. Proper fries are always cooked twice, once to cook the inside, then again to brown the outside. Unlike McFries, they are fat and soft and greasy, real chest-clutchers. The gravy is also important, as it shouldn't be too salty and have a nice, robust, spicy flavour.

Then of course there are the steamies "all dressed" which are simply hotdogs stuffed in top-loading, steamed buns which are slightly soggy and chewy (the rest of Canada uses side loading buns apparently, and why does this NOT surprise me?) Then you smother it in onions, mustard and fresh coleslaw, most of which ends up down the front of your shirt. They always come in pairs.

Toasted buns are always offered on the menu. No one ever orders a toasted bun. Ever. It's like a chef's salad in the land of the Golden Arches. They offer it, but they don't really mean it.

Sure this meal is loaded with fat and sodium and pig parts you probably don't want to know about. It'll kill you if you eat enough of it, but you'll die with a big greasy smile on your face.

I guess I should go on a field trip and experience it firsthand. For my readers' sakes.

You'll have to come hither and try it for yourself.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My pond is frozen and so am I

Go, sit upon the lofty hill, and turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild, do hymn an autumn sound.The summer sun is faint on them — the summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone, except your musing heart.How there you sat in summer-time, may yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing, beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around, you would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees, doth cause a leaf to fall.
Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth, that flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings, when change is on the heart.
Hear not the wind — view not the woods; look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them — the sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold — come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound, can ne’er be desolate.

With thanks and apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but I have to respectfully disagree. I will count down the days until spring. Until then, I might be a tad crabby.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This is so NOT a snowflake

As some of you know, when he's not drilling, filling and billing teeth, my husband lives to play music. In fact, he's been known to sit at the keyboard singing his heart out for four or five hours at a time. He has actually reached the point where he's been forced to stop because his stomach muscles ache, and I have actually reached the point where I want to tear his stomach muscles out with my salad tongs if I hear one more verse of Elinor Rigby. But I don't, because he loves it, and I love him, and I love to hear his voice raised in song (just not in the concert equivalent of a full marathon.) He and his buddies sometimes play together at our cottage, setting themselves up in the basement where the acoustics are such that the whole house is filled with joyous noise, for hours and hours, which I enjoy whilst the other wives sip gin and tonics on their docks and listen to the loons of the avian variety.

Together, they call themselves The Olde Farts Band. They may need bifocals to read the music, but by gosh they know how to rock like it's 1974.

There's my husband "The Molar Man" providing vocals.

There's John "The Marathon Man" on keyboard. He favours Billy Joel and Elton John tunes. John is a defense attourney in his other life, and he runs marathons for fun. To me, that's like saying, "I gargle broken glass for fun!" He says he enjoys it, though his agonized Long Distance Runner face and sweat-soaked clothing seem to indicate otherwise. I always make an effort to join him, metaphorically speaking, by raising my coffee mug high above my Sunday newspaper to salute him in a show of solidarity as he slogs around the lake.

There's Ross "The Glass Man" (he owns a glass company) who is Doug's cousin and technically not a member of the band as he claims he has no musical talent, so he operates more as a roadie. He provides moral support and cold Laurentide beer and the occasional tree-felling service. He has a long-standing love affair with his chainsaw and refuses to upgrade, despite the choking haze of blue exhaust from its stuttering motor. When the music moves his soul i.e. early rock and roll, he dances with wild and unfettered abandon, hence his other nickname "The Rubber Man."

And then there's Claude "The Pad Man" on guitar, a gentle giant of a guy with a big heart. Now, you're probably asking yourself how Claude got his moniker. He designs and manufactures Feminine Hygiene Products, or more specifically, sanitary napkins. Now, like most men, in his early days of marriage he was never comfortable tripping the light fantastic down the Aisle That Shall Not Be Named. That is until he began a career in analyzing Aunt Flo's monthly visits, and it opened up the flood gates, as it were. Sitting at a dinner table, he will wax poetic about the quick release backing on one's panty liner faster than you can say "pass the salt." He will reach into the nearest handbag or bathroom cabinet to back up his assertions that there's more, so much more, to the humble pad than meets the eye. He even donated a jacket, which I won in a golf tournament, that reads "Be Nuts for Peanuts," peanuts being common parlance for the panty liners with the unique peanut shape. Though they've never met, here is a Brother In Arms, hard at work to change public perception.



You have to love the woman who asked "Are you a snowflake?" Seriously. I know we live in a cold climate and we get a lot of snow, but how many snowflakes have you seen that look like a giant sanitary pad?

Oh, and if anyone has any free time next summer, the bands needs a drummer. Any volunteers? We have cold Laurentides and an unlimited supply of pads with your name on them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lives I (not so secretly) Covet Part 23

My Canadian writer friend Laura lives in France with her handsome French husband and three adorable daughters with names that are as beautiful as they are. She is surrounded by the French countryside, is within driving distance of Paris (le sigh) and can get fresh baguettes and croissants and wine from the vineyards that are situated right there, in the surrounding villages. She and her husband offer vacation rentals in several homes they have restored over the years, and they arrange wine tasting tours. They even have a vaulted wine cellar in one of their homes for tastings, and you can search her blog to see photos of the restoration (look up Beaune Wine Cellar Project.) If she feels so inclined, Laura can hop over to a local chateau or two to just hang.

In my village, I can get my tires rotated and my clothes dry-cleaned. The only "chateau" around here is the one with the big neon sign advertising barbeque chicken and fries. We used to have an excellent local bakery, but that closed. A new pub/bakery opened up down the road, and while the beer is good, especially when served alongside a hockey game on the big screen, the fresh, flaky croissants au chocolat and chewy baguettes are a longer walk away. We don't have vineyards but we can buy wine in our local depanneurs (corner shops) and grocery stores.

And so I live vicariously through Laura's wonderful posts and photos on her blog THE GRAPE JOURNAL. If you have not done so, I urge you to head over and check it out HERE. She's a brilliantly funny writer and captures that je ne sais quoi we all love about France.

My ultimate fantasy is to go and rent one of her beautiful homes for two months to just write and eat and walk and think and eat and drink and eat. Okay, strictly speaking that's not my ultimate fantasy, but it is in the top ten. Buckingham Palace, Johnny Depp and a royal sceptre feature prominently in my ultimate fantasy, but it's pretty darn close.



Bisous from Canada!