Sunday, September 17, 2017

Family Ties

I've been absent from the blogosphere for over a week now, spending time with family, and old friends, back home. And I've been thinking a lot about family. About my family. About my brother Terry, of course, who died recently. About his wife and daughters. About my mum. And my sisters and step-brother, as we all gathered back in Fredericton for Terry's funeral. 

And I've been thinking what an odd phenomenon the whole concept of family is. And about what it means to me. What it literally means... as in how I would even begin to define that word.  

You see, I come from the original blended family. Back in the day, there were no other kids I knew whose mother had a different surname, who had a step-brother, and a grandmother who wasn't really their grandmother, or cousins who weren't actually cousins. I just knew who I knew, and loved who I loved. So what did blood or surname really matter, anyway?

I was reminded of this idea, of the meaning of family, at the reception following my brother's funeral. I came up behind two cousins, tall, handsome men in their fifties, sons of my mother's brothers. I squeezed between them, put my arms around their waists, and said, "How did I ever get two such handsome cousins?" And one looked at the other and chuckled, "We're adopted." And so they were. Both of them, by two of Mum's brothers, making them Sullivan cousins to me, and to each other. One of them, my cousin Mark, gave Terry's eulogy, pointing out that Terry was effectively his older brother, this eldest male cousin whom he'd always admired. So, cousin, brother... does the title really matter?

man and woman
My cousin Mark and me
You know, it makes me feel a little guilty to think of how much I enjoyed that reception. Seeing so many people from Terry's and my shared past. Family and old friends who hadn't seen him regularly for years and years were there. Men who were friends with him when they were boys together getting into mischief. One in particular, who I hadn't seen since I was a kid of nine or ten, introduced himself to me, and I yelped and hugged him, and said he must be sure to talk to Mum before he left. "Will she still be mad at me, do you think?" he asked with a grin, referring to a long-ago scrape which was legendary at our house. "Probably," I said. And one woman, my sister's friend, whose brother was Terry's best man at his wedding, and who I remember coming to our house with her boyfriend when I was about eleven. They'd heard that my cat had run away, and they brought me a kitten. I wish I'd thought to share that memory with her, but I didn't remember it until later. And another old friend of my sister, who dated Terry when I was little, and whom I always loved. I was so happy to see them all. These people who felt like family to me growing up, like extensions of my big brother and sisters. And really, who's to say they're not family? 

Three sisters
The Burpee girls together again.
As we gathered at my Mum's house later that day to eat sandwiches, we laughed and shared memories of the day. Of the three men who had stood in a row, grinning at my sister, asking if she remembered babysitting them. She laughed, and said that she looked at them and thought, "You're old. How could I babysit you?" I guess three or four years makes a big difference when you're fifteen... and no difference at all in your sixties. It was wonderful to be together with both of my sisters again. We haven't been home at the same time for many years. And my step-brother too, who flew in from Calgary. Because even though he only met Terry when he was twelve, when his father married our mother, they've been brothers ever since. 

Hubby and I laughed on the way home to Ottawa a few days later as I tried to explain to him who was who at the funeral. He said he'd tried to keep up with me for a while at the reception, but I leapt from one conversation to another, and he finally gave up and decamped to the porch to sit in a comfortable rocking chair and wait for me to wind down. When I said I wanted to write a blog post about family, he said I should tell you the story of my "cousin, but not really." 

You see, my mother was widowed very young when my brother Terry and my two sisters were small. Years later she married my father and they had me. But we always remained close to her first husband's family. And so I grew up with an extra grandmother, which didn't dawn on me until I was about eight or nine, and I asked my mum how come I was so lucky as to have three grandmothers. And all those extra cousins, who, it transpired, weren't actually my cousins by blood. One summer when I was in university, Mum and I went to stay for the weekend with Nana, and I went out for the evening with my "cousin" Robert who is the same age as me. He stopped to pick up a friend of his, and introduced me as his "cousin, but not really." We laughed as I explained. Then when I asked this other boy what his last name was, and he said Sullivan, well, the penny dropped. "Who's your father, and grandfather?" I asked. He told me, and then chortled, "I suppose you're going to tell me that I'm your cousin, but not really." "No-oo," I said, amazed, "I think you really are my cousin." Ha. And so he was. His father was my mother's first cousin, and growing up many miles apart we'd never met. I love that story. 

But that's probably way too many cousins for you. A cousin too far, you might say. So I'll stop. 

I'm not sure what I wanted to say in this post. I'm certainly not going to try to define what the word family means. But I do know that, to me, it doesn't have much of anything to do with birth certificates, and blood, and who was married to whom. Don't get me wrong, I love to research my family background, and see where my ancestors came from and when. I love family stories, which you'll already know if you've been reading my blog for a while. 

But how to explain family ties? Well, we know who we know, and we love who we love. I guess. I do know that seeing all these people I know, and knew, and love, and loved way back when has helped me deal with the loss of my brother. 

That's for sure. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

This Was My Brother

Terrence Malcolm Burpee  1953,  Age 6

This Was My Brother
        by Mona Gould

This was my brother
At Dieppe
Quietly a hero
Who gave his life
Like a gift,
Withholding nothing,
His youth...his love...
His enjoyment of being alive...
His future, like a book
With half the pages still uncut-

This was my brother
At Dieppe
The one who built me a doll house–
When I was seven,
Complete to the last small picture frame,
Nothing forgotten.

He was awfully good at fixing things,
At stepping into the breach when he was needed.
That's what he did at Dieppe;
He was needed.
And even Death must have been a little shamed
At his eagerness.

This poem first appeared in Tasting the Earth, Mona Gould, the MacMillan Company of Canada Ltd, 1943

I first read Mona Gould's lovely poem "This Was My Brother" when I was a young teacher. I came across it in an anthology, and discussed it with my class on Remembrance Day that year. I was teaching adults, and there were a couple of women in the group who were old enough to remember World War II. Seems funny now to think of my twenty-something self in my navy skirt suit and heels, standing in front of a class, teaching women some of whom were old enough to be my mother. We talked of the people the students knew who had been affected by the war. Family who had died in concentration camps, fathers and uncles killed in battle. One student explained how she had quit school to volunteer when the war started. I remember we discussed how moments of very personal loss seem to resonate more than pictures of devastation and horrifying statistics.

And so today, when the news is filled with pictures of the devastation wrought by hurricanes in the Caribbean, I can only focus on my own very personal loss. My big brother who fought his many illnesses and health challenges so bravely for so many years passed away this morning. His death was not unexpected. Not at all. We knew it was coming. In fact I've been waiting for the word for a couple of days now. Texting constantly to my nieces, and my sister Carolyn who drove down to New Brunswick on Tuesday. Talking on the phone to my Mum, and my step-brother. Alternately yearning for news, needing to know every detail of what was happening back home, and yet at the same time trying to distract myself from what was happening back home. 

So. My brother. He was not a war hero. He didn't give his life in battle. He wasn't even born when World War II started. But he certainly had battles of his own to fight. And that poem of Mona Gould's always, always makes me think of him.

This was my brother. Oldest child of four. Only boy. Manifestly adored by his mother and younger sisters. Smart aleck high school drop-out who never forgot the high school principal who told him he'd not amount to much. He says he remembered that every day as he built up his successful business. 

My brother. He loved fast cars, and motors of every kind. When he was a kid he took things apart. Mum says she stopped buying him watches because he always took them apart to see how they worked, and usually had a couple of extra parts left over when he put them back together. He loved fixing things. My niece says her son who as a child knew he wanted to fix cars when he grew up, learned that from my brother, his grandfather. 

My brother. Oldest child syndrome on steroids. Always looking after Mum and "the girls." Mum has letters he wrote home when he left Fredericton at age 18 to seek his fortune in the big city of Toronto. I read some of them last year, and laughed because a couple were half a page long with a big "Page One" written at the top. But they were filled with concern for what was going on at home. Was Mum okay? Did she need anything? Would she tell "the girls" that he'd send them money for their birthdays when he'd saved a little? He was always looking out for us.  

My brother. Husband, proud father, proud grandfather, successful businessman. Joker. King of the one-liners when we were kids. He loved drill-rigs, big steaks, and cold beer. He loved to fish although he hasn't been able to do it in years. He bought me my first fishing rod. 

This was my brother. Unfailingly kind and generous. He inherited his grandfather Sullivan's long skinny legs, and his mother's sarcastic humour. He was a heart-throb in his youth with his upturned collar and slicked-back hair. I remember in grade two being swarmed by junior high-school girls. "Oooh you're Terry Burpee's little sister aren't you?" Yep. That's me, proud to be known as Terry Burpee's little sister. As we all were. I remember when my sister Carolyn was in high school, a girl made friends with her, and inveigled herself an invitation to spend the weekend at our house, for the sole purpose, she later confessed, of a chance to see my brother Terry sleeping. 

And so dear brother, I hope you're sleeping well now. The long battle is done. We're all bereft. We will miss you every day. But as Mum said yesterday, there'll always be the memories. 

I debated about writing this post. Was it self-indulgent? Wallowing? Was speaking publicly of my brother's death somehow in poor taste? Maybe. But writing it has been calming. Helpful. Cathartic, even. I wrote it this morning and let it sit it all day to see if I changed my mind about posting it. Since you're reading this, I guess I didn't. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Shifting Into Fall

It's September and here in Ottawa we are shifting into fall. Big time. With dropping temperatures, cool nights, and rainy, windy days. And I have been shifting gears as well. Not like in the old days of lesson prepping and shopping for back to school outfits. More like shopping for not going back to school outfits. And that, my friends, is way more fun. 

I've always loved the shift into fall. The feeling of getting back to work, or back to school, or just back to real life. And back into boots and sweaters and jackets. These are some of the images that are inspiring me this fall. I didn't use them to help plan my shopping, but to help me rethink what I already own. Well, except for that Armani outfit in the middle. It's lovely isn't it? But would require purchasing three pieces and starting a whole new colour palate, so I'll restrain myself, and just admire and covet.

From my Fall Inspiration Pinterest board
Yep, today I have tweed coats and jackets, and mohair sweaters, and loafers and brogues on my mind. And lovely browns, and greens, and burgundies. I know that red is big this year. I love the Max Mara ad from Vogue, below. But the colour red is not kind to me; it plays up the ruddy patches in my complexion. Now, a cool burgundy, that's a whole other story. Burgundy I can do. And a burgundy sweater will perfectly fill a niche in my fall wardrobe.

woman posing in red coat, gloves and bag
From Vogue September 2017 issue
I must say that I've been looking for the perfect burgundy sweater ever since I borrowed my friend's hand-knit, burgundy mohair sweater back in the eighties. I wore it with jeans and low-heeled burgundy boots... and felt wonderful. And... man oh man, I hated to give that sweater back. But I did, and I've been looking for one like it ever since. I even toyed with the idea of knitting one last year, but could not find a pattern I liked. Besides, it takes me forever to finish a knitting project. And when I announced to Hubby that I was off to find a pattern and yarn to knit myself a new sweater, he suggested I might prefer a shawl, or something suitable to wear in "the home." Because that's where I'd be by the time I finished it. Har-dy-har-har. He thinks he's funny.

So off I went last week on the hunt for a burgundy turtleneck, or a loose burgundy sweater that I could wear under my Max Mara coat. With jeans and loafers, or with black pants and my Stuart Weitzman ankle boots. A sweater that would flatter my colouring, and which when I pulled it on would make me feel great. And sigh with fashion satisfaction. 

I tried three or four stores before I found this sweater at Nordstrom. It's by Akris and thus cost more than I had intended to pay. But when I slipped it on, I sighed. It was exactly what I was looking for. 

woman in burgundy sweater and jeans sitting on bench, river in background

The sweater is perfect with jeans and loafers. Slim cut, simple in style, it has a mock turtleneck, and cable stitch down the arms. And looks great with my Max Mara tweed coat, and my Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet.

woman in sweater, and jeans, holding tweed coat

burgundy sweater, bracelet and tweed coat, close-up

I like the sweater with my black Vince leggings, as well as my jeans. And with my black Stuart Weitzman ankle boots, as well as loafers. Later in the season, I'm sure that this sweater and coat combination will be on constant repeat. 

woman in tweed coat and slacks standing in front of water

I know that a tweed coat and a simple sweater, with jeans or leggings, and loafers or boots is not an adventurously fashion forward look. But it's a classic look that I have always loved for fall. So I'm well pleased with myself for snapping up this sweater when I found it.  

woman in tweed coat smiling
Don't I look pleased with myself?
As I said, this sweater fills an empty niche in my wardrobe. Most of my winter sweaters are camel, or grey, and none of them go with my Max Mara tweed coat. I love the coat with a crisp white shirt, and a scarf, but by November that combination will be too chilly. My new turtleneck will allow me to wear the coat in colder weather without adding layers. 

This shopping for one piece at a time is a change for me. In fact, being retired has gradually changed my wardrobe planning process over the years. Back when I still worked, I assiduously did my closet inventory, and made a list of what I owned and would still wear this season, and what I might consign or pack away for a few seasons. Then I looked at fashion mags and on-line for trends, and made a list of what I wanted to add to my wardrobe. Then I did a big shop. I'd often buy two whole outfits: pants with a matching jacket and top, maybe a suit, or a sweater and skirt outfit, possibly new boots or shoes. And a couple of filler pieces to pull the new stuff together with the old. If I were looking for a new winter coat and boots, the rest of the list would be pared down. I always called time-out during the shopping to sit and mull over my costs. When I shopped with Liz at Holt Renfrew she'd leave me alone with my choices to do what I called my "subtotal." I'd add up how much everything cost, and which pieces I should take out of the mix because I'd gone over my budget. My "budget" was never a hard and fast number, just a feel for how much was too much. I often left items behind in the dressing room when I went home. Sometimes reluctantly. 

Now I still do my inventory, although my closet is much more pared down and it's easier to remember what I own. I don't need to worry about five days a week of business wear, plus casual clothes. And I am increasingly finding myself niche shopping. Looking for one or two pieces that will work with something specific. Adding one, or sometimes two, major investment pieces a season. Last year my biggest investment piece for fall was my Veronica Beard suit. Although I bought it in July, and it is supposed to be a spring suit, I wore it long into the autumn. And then a couple of months later, in New York, I bought my Max Mara tweed coat. I bought a few other items but those two were the biggies. 

moody skies and fall colours.
Moody skies and fall colours last autumn
In a recent post a reader asked me how I could be so restrained about shopping. But I don't think of myself as restrained. Just careful. Maybe that comes from growing up in a single parent family with four kids and a tight budget. Mum always managed to buy us what we wanted... but we had to make choices. We couldn't have everything we wanted, and had to choose only one, or at most two, new back-to-school outfits when we went cross-border shopping while visiting my grandmother. Ha. Now that was a back-to-school tradition. Smuggling. To understand that, I think you had to have grown up near an international border where kids clothes "across the lines" (as we called it) were so very much cheaper. I always chuckle when I think of my grandmother smiling sweetly and calling the border guard by name... "How are things, Harold?"... and us kids sitting on our new clothes in the backseat. Looking like butter wouldn't melt in our mouths. 

Then there was the careful shopping in high school for that special sweater or pair of jeans. Once chosen, we'd put $5.00 down to "lay it away." Then pay $5.00 a week out of our part-time job money until we had paid off the bill and could take our precious item home. Did local stores have plans like that where you grew up? Better than charge cards, because we really, really wanted that sweater by the time we actually owned it. And took special care of it... since it was paid for by weeks of flipping burgers, or in my case, selling hot-dogs in the canteen at a local arena during international professional wrestling matches. Now, that job was an education. I'll tell you all about it one day.

So based on these early shopping experiences, I guess I am restrained when it comes to impulse buying. Or buying what I don't need. But I'm not terribly restrained when it comes to price. Especially since I feel that if I'm going to buy only one item, it should be good. And I don't mind paying for quality. And when something is a quality piece, I will take good care of it to protect my investment. Especially if, like my burgundy turtleneck, it's something I've been searching for. 

Like for decades. Ha. 

So what about you, folks? Are you ready for shifting into fall? How restrained are you when it comes to fall shopping? Do you make a list before you make your assault on the stores? Or maybe you find it easier to be restrained when shopping on-line? Do tell. 

P.S. Thinking of everyone affected by the climate (hurricanes, floods, or fires up here in Canada) and wishing them well. And hoping they can get back to worrying about less serious issues (like fall fashion) soon. 

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlike, Style Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous FridaySaturday Share Link-Up

Friday, September 1, 2017

For Serious Book Aversion Sufferers

This post is for serious book aversion sufferers. Like me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suffering from a serious aversion to books. But from an aversion to serious books, if you follow me. I simply can't settle into reading anything that mires me in apparently insoluble problems. Or awakens feelings and fears that I thought long buried. 

Take, for instance, this latest book we read for my book club. 

cover art for Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver's 2012 book, Flight Behavior is by all accounts a wonderful book. A serious book. And beautifully written. Everyone at our book club agreed. And the reviews I read concurred. 

It's a book about climate change, about monarch butterflies, about scientific catastrophe reimagined as some sort of godly miracle, and about poverty. Not just financial poverty, but also about poverty of the mind, and of the imagination. 

Liz Jensen in The Guardian says it is a book for our time. For a world that seems to be "stumbling wilfully blind towards the abyss" brought on by catastrophic climate change. In her review Jensen talks about the themes which Kingsolver explores, not only in this book but in previous ones like Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible, themes of the struggle between faith and science, between "belief-versus-evidence," and the tragedy of willfully "deaf ears and blind eyes." Referring to a scene in the novel in which Dellarobia, the main character, saves a new born lamb in a violent and disturbing, but ultimately necessary, manner, Jensen extrapolates: "...only a shocking, harrowing solution - a paradigm shift of radical proportions -  will offer any solution," not just to the newborn lamb but also to our planet. You can read Liz Jensen's entire review here.

endangered monarch butterflies in Mexico
Endangered Monarch butterflies in Mexico   photo by Edgard Garrido- Reuters 
So given the devastating floods we witnessed when we were in Peru this past winter. Given the equally catastrophic flooding in South Asia happening right now. And the chaos wrought by Harvey in the United States. Given all this, it seems that Kingsolver's book has an even more urgent message than it did in 2012. But I could not get past chapter four. No matter that it was beautifully written. Despite Kingsolver's gritty, lean prose that evokes so clearly the time and place, I just couldn't force myself to read it. And maybe, now that I think of it, that's because Kingsolver's gritty lean prose evokes so clearly the main character's life at the beginning of the novel. Because, when I was young, Dellarobia's life is what I feared most might happen to me. 

Dellarobia is a young intelligent woman who has thrown her life away. Or so it seemed to me when I started reading. Pregnant, married young in a "shot-gun wedding," stuck in a loveless marriage, with two small children and no job, on a struggling family farm with unsympathetic in-laws, gossipy neighbours, and no hope of escape. And no conception of how to make her life better. Or richer. And I don't mean just financially. That, my friends, is the very stuff of my teenage nightmares. Being stuck. In a life circumscribed by obligation and poverty. Almost makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. 

I was a bit surprised by my visceral reaction to this novel. I thought all that was dead and buried. And maybe it was, just not that deeply. I was pleased and relieved when my friends at book club told me the book was ultimately hopeful. That Dellarobia does escape. That she has her own metamorphosis. Phew. Thank goodness. And yet even knowing that, I doubt I will go back and finish the book, although I probably should. Because, as I've said here on the blog before, when I turned sixty, I vowed to stop feeling guilty about so many "shoulds." Especially when it comes to finishing books that I don't want to finish. 

So, then what is the cure for my serious book aversion? Why, trot that serious book that I don't want to read right back to the library, my friends. And come home with a new book that I've been waiting to read for months. And a DVD of a quirky little mystery series filmed in New Zealand. 

Elly Griffiths novel The Chalk Pit, and The Brokenwood Mysteries DVD

My name has been on the "holds" list for Elly Griffiths' new Ruth Galloway novel for months. I'm looking forward to starting it. And Hubby and I have been enjoying binge watching The Brokenwood Mysteries. Set in small town New Zealand, the humor is wry, the plots not too gruesome or violent, and the country music soundtrack eminently satisfying. Especially since most of  the music in Season 1 is provided by Canadian ex-pat Tami Neilson, who, to me, is a cross between Patsy Cline and Roseanne Cash. Can't go wrong with that according to this New Brunswick girl. Have a listen.

And while you're doing that, I'm going to go and finish my closet inventory. I've some jeans and a couple of blouses that are not going to survive this season's cull. I'll be wrapping them up to take over to my friend Fiona's consignment store. And I need to finish my "needs/wants" list. I have one item on my to-buy list so far. An item that, if I can find it, will pull a number of disparate pieces in my wardrobe together. And give me that perfect, easy, pull on and feel fiercely fabulous every time outfit. Hopefully.  

Sigh. There's nothing like a little closet-culling and list-making to pull one out of serious book aversion syndrome. You know, where you understand that a book has merit, that the issues and themes are important. But which you just don't want to think about. At least not right now. You're not putting your head in the sand. Or willfully blinding yourself to the facts and the consequences. You're just saying, "Not today." 

And trying not to feel guilty about your ability to be able to say that. 

So, what about you, my friends? Any serious books that you've given up on lately? Or are you more persistent than me? Maybe you don't cull your closet as therapy. Or maybe you do. If so, what's on your list for fall? 

Linking up with: Saturday Share and Thursday Favourite Things.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


So as you've guessed already, if you've been here before, I've been messing with my blog. Changing things up a bit. Playing with formats and colour and backgrounds. Trying to make it more reader friendly. But still have it reflect what I want. 

I've been thinking of doing this for some time now. Several readers have mentioned that they found the white text on the dark background too hard to read. Last year, I lightened the background from black to dark grey, and made the text less bright. That helped, I think. But I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't have even noticed. Someone else mentioned that the "lines of text were too long," so I changed the widths to make the post itself narrower, and the sidebar wider. I follow several on-line publications that help bloggers, and as a result I cleaned up my sidebar, and did some other stuff. Most of this was just tinkering. Albeit tinkering that took time, but which I enjoyed. I like to tackle a problem, research how to fix it, and then see if I can do it. Most times it works out. 

But changing my template scared the pants off me. I was afraid I would mess everything up and not be able to get it back the way it was. I really liked the look of the dark background, especially how it made pictures seem more dramatic. I liked how all the colours worked together, text links, titles, sidebar, post background etc etc. I'd spent a long time getting everything just right, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to change what I had. And I was determined to do everything by myself. This is my blog after all. And taking credit for how it looks when someone else has done the work just wouldn't be as satisfying to me. 

So. Yesterday, I jumped in the deep end. I tried about five different looks and hated them all. I was going for something clean. Something uncluttered. And for a lighter post background to please those readers who were having trouble with the old template. I didn't want a template that was too dynamic, where pictures move and change of their own accord. Or something where it's difficult to tell where the most current post is located. When I read a blog myself, I like to be able to see the latest post right away. I'm also limited in what I can do because I don't know how to design a website from the ground up, so I use the Blogger templates, choose one, and then play with proportion, font style, and colours to achieve a look that I like. 

If you read the blog in the mobile format, below, you won't notice any difference at all. But if you read it on an i-pad, tablet, or desktop computer the look is now completely different. 

screen shot of the mobile version of my blog
This is the mobile format of my blog. 

As you can see I tried to match the web version to the mobile version. It's funny, but that's not as easy as it sounds. Ask Hubby. There was a whole lotta swearing going on in the den for a while yesterday afternoon. For the record, he doesn't like the new look. And to be honest, I'm not sure I do either. I wanted the post background to be pale grey and not baby blue. But... sigh... like choosing paint colours... sometimes the reality is way different than you hoped. 

And the blog format is not all that I'm hoping to improve. I'm trying to up my game when it comes to my outfit photos. I bought a tripod and a blue-tooth shutter control for my i-phone. So now I don't have to set the timer and then run around in front of the camera to "pose." I'm hoping to take more shots in different locations. So far I haven't strayed beyond my deck and front yard. I cringe at the thought of taking photos of myself anywhere where there are people. Actually, sometimes I cringe at the thought of even taking outfits photos of myself. 

And, you know, some weeks, I question whether doing outfit posts is worthwhile at all. I don't mean "worthwhile" in the sense that I think fashion is not "worthy" of discussion. Ha. Not at all. Just that with my small closet, and my pared down wardrobe... there are only so many outfit posts I can do. And shopping for the sake of a blog post is, well, silly. And I've come to believe that most of you who read this blog think shopping for the sake of posting is silly, too. So, we agree. You'll find in future that I won't be trying so hard to do one outfit post a week. Because there are just so many other interesting things to talk about. I will probably only do a fashion post when there's fashion news. Like if I've been shopping or deciding what to shop for when a new season is upon us. Or when something in the fashion media world really gets my goat, and I feel a rant is timely. And necessary. 

So that's it really. All the ch-ch-ch-changes that I have in mind for my little corner of the world-wide-web. Some content tweaks. Hopefully some improvement in the photo quality. Or at least more variety there. And a major format change. I'm not finished fiddling with everything yet. The social media buttons, for instance. They took me ages to get right, so I won't be changing them until I'm sure I have everything else the way I want. 

Now, dear readers, I'd love to hear what you think. Please feel free to weigh in on content. And style, in particular tell me what you think about the format, the new version versus the old version. And could you please let me know what device you use to read the blog? Do you read on your phone, on an i-pad or tablet, or on a desktop computer? Funnily enough, I've discovered that the background looks quite different on my i-pad than it does on my desktop PC. 

And then I'll do my best to please everyone. But honestly, ultimately, I have to please myself too. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hi-i-i-way Drivin' ... It'll Get You Home

I don't know what it's like where you live, but in my experience, most Canadians seem to think nothing of rising at the crack of dawn, or even earlier, hopping in the car, and driving enormous distances in a day. We're quite sanguine about watching the road roll under our wheels for hours and hours. Maybe it's because we live in such a big country. And for those of us from the east coast, making the long trek back home most summers is, well, part of summer. It's a Maritimer thing. The Maritimes has historically been less industrial and less wealthy than "Upper Canada," has offered fewer job opportunities than "out west," especially during the oil boom, and this has often resulted in the young seeking their livelihood elsewhere, and families being scattered far and wide. My Mum and my older brother live in New Brunswick, I have a sister in Ontario, and a sister and a brother in Alberta. And Hubby and I have been making the thousand kilometre drive home at least once every year since we've been together. That's a lot of highway driving, folks. And as the song goes, "highway driving, it'll get you down, but it'll get you home." 

highway before dawn.
Up and on the road before dawn.
This year was no exception. We left in the dark with mugs of tea to sustain us until we stopped for breakfast the other side of Montreal. All the way through Quebec and into New Brunswick, the sun shone in a blue sky. We ate our packed lunch, stopped occasionally for coffee, and what the Tour de France commentators euphemistically call a "nature break," and thought what a great day for driving. We were pleased to see once more the rolling potato fields in Victoria County where my grandparents were both born. And where my grandmother Sullivan persuaded my grandfather that his future lay with her... and not with potato farming. Ha. She could be very persuasive, my grandmother. 

highway, blue sky, and farmers fields
The highway through the part of  New Brunswick we call "up country."
Once home in Fredericton, Hubby golfed and fished for brook trout, I walked the trail along the Saint John River most days, and spent time with my mum. Hubby and I managed a couple of early morning bike rides together. In the shot below, we paused so as not to startle the mother deer and two fawns who had bounded onto the trail in front of us. 

Three deer on the trail.

One morning after my walk I strolled down to the farmers' ferry, which has long transported farmers over to Sugar Island to cut hay or harvest crops. It seems that Sugar Island has a long history. In my research this afternoon, I was surprised to find quite a few historical references to Sugar Island on the net, including records relating to some legal confusion over its ownership in 1797, whether or not the island had been part of an earlier land grant from the crown, and whether the later grant to a United Empire Loyalist family was legal or constituted theft. Ha. Not surprisingly there is no mention of how the original grant blithely ceded land belonging to the Maliseet First Nations. You can see a map of Sugar Island here and maybe even locate the ferry and my Mum's house across the road, if your eyes are sharp. That morning after my walk, I sat in the unlocked wheelhouse for a bit and remembered my (very) brief early career as part-time ferry operator, when during the busy summer months, either my step-brother or I would spell my stepfather off, so he could go up to the house for lunch or supper. 

a cable ferry grounded on shore
The farmers' ferry with Sugar Island in the distance
In the middle of our stay down east, Hubby and I made a side-trip to Saint Andrews By-the-Sea, on Passamaquoddy Bay. Saint Andrews was founded in 1783 by United Empire Loyalists, and it's still very much a colonial town. Apparently thirteen of its streets are named after the children of King George III and his wife Charlotte. 

a Victorian brick post office building

Up to the 1930s, Saint Andrews was a popular and exclusive destination for rich tourists who arrived on the overnight trains from Boston and Montreal, hoping to escape the summer heat. If they didn't own one of the large shingled summer homes in town, they stayed at the Algonquin Resort which was built in 1889. 

historic, half-timbered Algonquin Resort
The Algonquin Resort, built in 1889.
And while we're not as well-heeled as those early visitors, we stayed there too. The recently refurbished hotel is beautiful, and no longer the bastion of wealthy and snobby come-from-aways as was its reputation when I was a kid. This is a shot, below, of the "gallery" off the lobby area. We loved that each night when we returned from dinner it was lively with families playing board games, and one night a very young guest playing the piano. 

long gallery of a historic hotel

This is the veranda where I took tea one afternoon when Hubby went for a swim and a whirlpool. 

a veranda of a hotel with several rocking chairs

While in Saint Andrews we were able to spend some time with my niece, Rebecca, and her husband who moved to Saint Andrews a few years ago. Beki works at the Algonquin as an event planner, and it was lovely to see her looking professional and all grown up. 

two women smiling for the camera

We weren't in town for long, but we did a lot of walking while we were there, and managed to squeeze in a bike ride along the shore. We strolled the downtown, poking about in small shops. I even tracked down an old friend with whom I worked in the 1980s here in Ottawa. I'd mentioned over dinner our first night that I used to work with a girl from Saint Andrews who had moved back home, and John, Beki's husband, said that my friend ran a shop on Water Street. I love how in small towns everybody knows everybody.

sidewalk cafe with three ladies drinking coffee
The Lumberjack Cafe on Water Street

Colourful shop interior
Colourful shelves in the Crocker Hill Store

canon and view of harbour in Saint Andrews
View of the harbour and downtown from the old Blockhouse, built during the war of 1812

view of shore with the tide out
The view from our bikes, up along the shore

I adore Saint Andrews. It's sleepy and charming and utterly satisfying. And what I love best about it are the houses. Like this one below which we passed on our amble downtown from the hotel.

Shingled cottage with open windows

Or this one decorated with a plethora of flowerpots.

Beautiful colonial house decorated with many flower pots

As we walked, I commenced a game I always play when I visit small places I love. Which house would be my house if I moved here tomorrow? Maybe this one on a bluff overlooking the blockhouse?

Rustic cottage on a bluff

Or one of these cottages leading down to the wharf?

row of cottages with harbour in the background

Yes, those are all lovely. But my favourite is definitely this colourful cottage below. You can see the harbour from the back garden. I imagine a bedroom under the eaves, a wood stove in the small kitchen, and sitting with Hubby on that wooden bench, sipping wine, watching the sunset, and waiting for the water to boil for the lobster. 

yellow cottage with green tri.
My house, if I moved there tomorrow.
But we could not linger for long in lovely Saint Andrews. We had to get back to Fredericton. We'd a special birthday to celebrate. My mum turned 90. She had forbidden us to throw a party. But there would be cake, and lots of family and neighbours dropping in to chat and wish her well. We bought her a new computer and a TV for her birthday. But I think the best gift she received was from her favourite used book seller, a gift card for a lifetime of free reading, from Gus. Mum was tickled. 

And then it was time to go. Because as much as Hubby and I love to go home, we were anxious to get home. Back to our own home, if you follow me. And I think that as much as Mum loved to see us come, she would be happy to be the master of her own home again. 

We had another beautiful day for the long road back to Ottawa. That's a view, below, of the St Lawrence River in Quebec, Isle d'Orleans, and the hills of the south shore in the distance. 

Isle d'Orleans from the highway on the north shore of the St Lawrence River

The small towns and villages of this part of Quebec are lovely, maybe another time we'd stop there to break up our trip. But for today, we pressed on. Because while hi-i-i-way driving can get us down sometimes, it always gets us home. And as I said, we were anxious to get home. 

Funnily enough, as I write this post, my sister and her husband who live in Calgary, are packing up a very large truck, hitching their car to the back of it, and hitting the open road. Heading back east, to Ontario. Calgary to Toronto, with a stop in Thunder Bay to visit old friends. Over 3400 km, 35 hours of driving according to Google maps. That's a lot of highway driving. I hope they don't let it get them down, before it gets them to their new home. 

How about you, my friends, do you do a lot of highway driving? 

Two Traveling Texans

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.   

Monday, August 21, 2017

Aging Gracefully...Or Disgracefully. Reprise.

Hubby and I are still down east at Mum's. And there's still no time for posting. So hope you enjoy this one from 2015. It's pretty timely... sort of. Because it's Mum's 90th tomorrow. And we'll be busy eating cake and talking to all and sundry. And whoever else drops by. 


There's lots of stuff on the net these days about aging, isn't there? How to, how not to, or how to and look like you're not... or whatever. And as my Mum had her eighty-eighth birthday this week, I've been thinking about aging. And how one copes. And what the heck "aging gracefully" even means.

This is a shot of Mum's haul of birthday cards and flowers. I couldn't fit everything into one shot. I didn't have room for the plant from my cousin. Or the bag of creams and lotions from one sister's drugstore and the cozy shawl from the other sister. The cake from the across the road neighbour also didn't get in the shot. Or the bags of fresh farmer's market beans, carrots, tomatoes, and new potatoes from Mum's cleaning lady/friend/neighbour and my niece. Mum misses her vegetable garden a lot. Because, really, nothing tastes as good as tomatoes, or beans, or cucumbers picked fresh from your own garden. Or new potatoes. New Brunswickers are great potato lovers. That's the Irish in us, I guess.

 Mum's birthday cards and flowers

It may seem funny to be getting vegetables for one's birthday. But really, at 88, as Mum says, what does she need? Except nourishing hand cream, a new cozy shawl, flowers, cake, and lovely fresh vegetables. And a good book. Or five. That was my contribution. A gift certificate to her favourite used book store, which she frequents as much for the banter with Gus, the owner, as for the books. He sighs and says, "Here's trouble," when we arrive, then mum threatens him with her cane. And the thought of Mum and Gus sparring, albeit in jest, always reminds me of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Josephs.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
                                                             With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
                                                         And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

That's not all of the poem, but you get the jist. We're not that big on aging gracefully in my family. Disgracefully is more our speed. Like the woman in Jenny Joseph's poem.... we don't care to act our age.

My grandmother Sullivan did not age gracefully. This is a shot of Grammy when she was eighteen, in 1917.

My grandmother Sullivan in 1917

This is a shot taken at my sister's wedding. That's my mum on the left. My sister's new grandmother-in-law in the middle; her Swedish husband's grandmother, or Mormor, was ninety-two. And that's Grammy Sullivan on the right, holding Mormor's hand. One didn't speak English and the other had no Swedish, but they hit it off somehow.

Three ladies at a wedding.

This is Grammy at the reception. Not sure how many glasses of that red wine she'd had, but when someone wanted to take her picture, she donned my discarded bridesmaid hat (I hated that damn thing) and folded her hands like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. I love this picture.

On older woman in a floppy hat
Grammy Sullivan in my bridesmaid hat at my sister's wedding.
And just like her mum, my mum is aging disgracefully. Not acting her age at 88. Mum does not drive. But in her seventies she learned to drive the tractor and she and my stepfather got the hay in together for years after that.

Man on a wagon of hay with woman in hat standing beside it.
Mum and my step-dad getting in the hay. Probably 1990's
Mum first learned to use the computer at 84. She reads my blog, (and she's no doubt going to kill me when she sees that shot above) and she 'Googles' regularly. Every morning she does her leg exercises, then puts her Eddy Arnold CD on very loud and gets on the treadmill. Go Mum. 

Don't get me wrong. Aging has its challenges. Painful arthritis. Loneliness at times. Watching friends and family go. Mum lost two brothers in one week, this spring. But she keeps on keeping on, as best she can. She swears in public when she can't get her feet to go where she wants them or when her cane gets caught in the grocery cart. Gives herself a shake when she's feeling down. And then maybe puts on her old sunhat and does a bit of weeding in her flower beds.

So aging gracefully... what does that mean, anyway? I certainly don't know. But I do know this, that contrary to media hype, aging gracefully isn't really about keeping that smooth, wrinkle-free complexion into your seventh decade. Or worrying about "age appropriate dressing" and whether or not one is too old to wear mini-skirts... or pink pants.

I just know that as per family tradition, when I'm in my eighties, I'll probably start wearing floppy 70's bridesmaid hats and listening to Eddy Arnold. And hopefully I'll have inherited some of the aging disgracefully gene. I mean, I already swear in public, so there's a good chance.

If you get a minute check out this lovely  video from the creators of the CBC radio show "Wire Tap." Advice from nine year olds to ninety-five year olds on aging gracefully. It will definitely make you smile.