Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reading. Sometimes It's Like Falling In Love

Many years ago when I was in my twenties, I quit a job I hated, left a life that wasn't making me happy, and moved home to New Brunswick to get myself back on track. I was determined to try to recapture all those things that had somehow fallen out of my life after years of living in the big city. And to focus on a career in teaching. Oh yeah... and I swore off men. Especially the kind of men I'd been meeting: good-looking, but unreliable, and overall too smooth by half. After a year down east, sufficiently refreshed, and retooled, so to speak, I moved back to the city. And in the first few weeks of teaching, I met Hubby. 


I didn't intend to meet anyone. I didn't, in fact, want anything to distract me from achieving my goals. But, after numerous lunches in the school staff room, and conversations over coffee, we had our first date in mid-December. Then a movie or two, a few dinners, several cross-country skiing dates and, by late January, the writing was on the wall. He was much more emphatic, more sure about things than me. I was more hesitant, less trusting. I guess I was a bit gun shy, slightly commitment phobic. We spent more and more time together. Talked on the phone for hours at night. I remember thinking that things were moving too swiftly. I wrote in my journal that the situation felt as if I was negotiating a steep set of stairs in high heels, one tentative step, then another, then catching my heel on something, and tumbling all the way to the bottom. I was tumbling all right. Unable to catch myself. And not sure anymore that I wanted to catch myself. Sometimes love is like falling downstairs... except less painful. Ha. 

And now, here is my point... sometimes reading is like falling in love. Really. Let me explain. 

You pick a book off the shelf on a casual visit to the library. You start reading, and suddenly you can't put it down. You don't intend to read until the wee hours, but you are so captivated by the characters, so desirous of finding out what happens next that you are... well... infatuated. The hours simply fly by; time has no meaning when you're reading a book like this. You can't spend enough time with your book. You think about it even when you're apart. 

See what I mean? Just like falling in love.

cover of Laura Lippman's book Butcher's Hill
Lippman's third Tess Monaghan novel
That's what it's been like for me lately. I've been caught up in a vortex of reading. Tumbling into one fictional world after another, unable to put my book down. Or turn out the light at night. Stuffing my book into my purse when I'm off to a doctor's appointment, pulling it out in the waiting room, annoyed when my name is finally called because my reading has been interrupted. Stopping for a coffee in between errands and pulling out my book for fifteen minutes or so. It seems as if I've spent most of the past few weeks with my nose happily stuck in a book.   

I've been catching up on a few older novels by writers I enjoy. Like Laura Lippman. I read my first Lippman book after her work was recommended by a former student, Sarah Weinman, who is now a book critic. Sarah is really smart, and a great writer herself. And she knows crime fiction. When we met for coffee a few years ago she told me that she has a masters degree in forensic science. Sarah's claim, in an article in 2013, that Lippman's stand-alone book And When She Was Good was the best crime novel of the year started me reading Lippman. 

I really enjoy Lippman's work. I think she's a great writer. Her characters are well drawn, and her plots are solid. I don't put her on the same level as Reginald Hill or Peter May.... but her books are a rollicking good read. And Butcher's Hill had me burning the midnight oil. If you want to read about some of the other writers in this genre whom Sarah recommends you can do so here and here.


man sitting behind a table stacked with books
Peter Robinson at a book signing in the UK   source
Then, when I returned the Lippman book to the library,  and was surfing the shelves, so to speak, I spied the new Peter Robinson on the "express" shelf. What a piece of luck. I love Robinson's Inspector Banks series. Except I guess he's Superintendent Banks now. And Sleeping in the Ground  is vintage Robinson, in my opinion. Apparently Robinson's been writing this series for thirty years now. 

Hubby and I also like the television series DCI Banks based on Robinson's books. And although I do have a hard time seeing actor Stephen Tomkinson without his Ballykissangel dog collar, we enjoy the show. Maybe as much for the Yorkshire scenery as anything. Critics seem to agree that although it's not anywhere near as good as other TV mystery series, like Poirot or Shetland , it's not bad. 

The books, however, are another matter. No damning them with faint praise. I hustled home from the library, put the kettle on, and Sleeping in the Ground had me tumbling down a reading rabbit hole within a few pages. Good thing Hubby was making dinner that night. 

cover of Peter Robinson's newest Banks novel Sleeping in the Ground
Robinson's newest Banks novel
And speaking of love. Let's talk about Christopher Brookmyre's newest Jack Parlabane novel, Want You Gone. I love Brookmyre's writing. I haven't always loved his books. I found some of the early ones to be a bit glib, and and at the same time too heavy-handed with the dark humour, as if he were trying too hard. But lately. Well, lately as Lizzy Bennet says of Darcy "that is all to be forgot." Now it's true love. Literary love, that is. 

photo of Chris Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre  source
I included Brookmyre in my best loved books of 2016 post last January. I rediscovered him when I started reading his Jasmine Sharp series. I love the Jasmine Sharp character; she seems almost a modern day re-imagining of P.D. James' Cordelia Gray. James' An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which features Cordelia Gray, has to be one of my all time favourite mystery novels, as I'm sure I've said here before. 

So last week, I was excited to see that the newest Brookmyre was waiting for me at the library. My name had been on the list for months. I rushed to pick it up, and like with the Robinson book, was thereafter glued to the couch, intent on my book. For days. Rising only to attend the Vintage Clothing Show last weekend. Then to spend a day shopping with my sister early in the week. And there was skating and coffee with the girls on another day. Then shopping for new flooring with Hubby on Friday. And while all of those things were fun, I have to admit, a small part of me really wanted to be home with my book. 

Brookmyre's latest Jack Parlbane adventure is so much fun to read. There's a lovely engaging young character, named Samantha, who is a hacker extraordinaire. And Parlabane, of course, who is still trying to regain control of his life and his career in journalism. The relationship between the two characters, puts me in mind of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsen's novels. Although Brookmyre's characters are much less damaged than Larsen's, and his plots are less violent. Parlabane and Sam also remind me a little of Kate Atkinson's character Jackson Brodie and his friendship with sixteen year old Reggie in When Will There Be Good News. Gosh, I loved that book too. 


cover of Chris Brookmyre's novel Want You Gone

There you have it. That's what I've been up to for the past while. Galloping through one book after another. Trying to NOT read all the time. Trying to NOT think about the current book I'm reading when I'm doing other things that need to be done. But that's love for you, folks. Keeps you awake at night. Occupies your every waking thought. Well, almost. You know, I may have to take a break from reading for a little while. Things have been getting way too serious between us. 

And speaking of serious relationships. When I told Hubby of the analogy I was making in my post, between reading and falling in love. And how I wrote in my journal when we were first dating that it felt like falling downstairs, he quipped: "I guess you could say I swept you off your feet." Ha. Good one. 

And then we laughed about the night he called me and sang an Elvis song. You have to know Hubby to understand how funny that was. He's quite reserved, and often serious. And I had no idea that he could sing like Elvis. So when I picked up the phone that night so many years ago, and heard this deep warbling voice sing, "Are you lonesome tonight. Do you miss me tonight?" I almost hung up. And then when I realized it was him, I fell over laughing. Even more so when he said that it was a good thing I recognized his voice after the first two lines because he didn't know the rest of the song. 

Have a listen to the real thing, if you want. 



I seem to be on a run of reading only mystery and crime novels lately. I do become infatuated with more serious books from time to time. But mystery novels were my first love. Ever since I was eight or nine and read my first Trixie Belden book. 

Now, that is definitely a serious long term relationship.






How about you folks? What books are you falling for these days?





This week I'm joining Thursday Favourite Things Link Party and Saturday Share Link-up

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Vintage Connections... Wearable and Otherwise

On Sunday an old friend and I attended the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show. This is what I wore. Yep, I finally, finally mustered my courage and wore one of my vintage hats... out in public. I love vintage hats. But, I buy them, plan an outfit around them, and then at the last minute chicken out before I make it out the door. Not this time.


woman in black jacket and pants, on a lawn with river behind
On my way to the Vintage Clothing Show, in black and vintage.
My old hat looked great with the colours in the new scarf that I bought recently at Chatsworth House in the UK. And the green in the scarf is the exact shade of a Prada wool sweater I bought in New York last year. So, I'd say the outfit was a match made in heaven. 

Besides, if you can't wear a vintage hat to a vintage clothing show...where can you wear it, eh?

woman in black jacket and pants, on a lawn with river behind
Hoping this hat stays on all day
The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is an annual event each November. And I hate to miss it. My friend and I had a wonderful time, this year. We chatted with the vendors, with each other, and with other shoppers, many of whom were decked out in their own vintage pieces. We each bought something, and then we decamped for a long and chatty lunch. Sigh. All in all a great day.

I love old things, jewellry, clothing, dishes, furniture. I think they tell us a story. And help us make a connection to the past. And that makes them special to me. That's why I'm writing this post. To talk about connections, and how some of the old things I own make me feel connected to the past, in particular to my family's past. I've been invited by my friend D.A. Wolf who writes the blog Daily Plate of Crazy, to join a group of bloggers who post monthly on a chosen theme. This month's theme is "connections." 

I'm pretty sure my love affair with old things, and the stories that go with them, began when I was a teenager, when my Mum married my stepfather and we moved to the farm. I remember rooting around for treasures in the cellar, behind the barn, or in the rafters above the old machine shed. Some of these things, like a fat crockery vase, and an old wooden chest, I've carted around with me ever since. From whatever apartment I lived in when I was single, to Hubby's and my home now. 

I particularly love old things that belonged to family. The ceramic cat that sits in my spare bedroom and which sat in my grandmother's house as far back as I can remember. The cup and saucer that my father bought for my mum when they were newly married. The black leather clutch which my aunt had specially made for my grandmother in the forties, which has my grandmother's initials on it, and which I still use for special evenings or occasions which call for dressing up. 

Years ago when I started shopping for antiques for Hubby's and my home, or for vintage jewellry, I learned a lot from my friend Mary as we browsed through country antique fairs. When an item interested her, she'd pick it up, carry it over to the merchant and say..."Tell me about this." I love that approach. It elicits all kinds of surprising detail and information about the item's value and provenance. And sometimes quirky stories about the object's history.

"Provenance" is a word usually reserved for rare and valuable antiques where the chain of ownership must be proven since it has an effect on the object's monetary value. To me it just means the story behind the object. 

Each and every item that my grandmother or my mother has passed on to me was accompanied by a story. Stories about dances my grandmother attended as a girl. Stories about my father and his and my mum's life together before I was born. None of my treasures is particularly rare or valuable, as far as I know... except to me. I know the "provenance" of them all. And knowing the story behind the object, gives it a greater value to me, and makes me feel connected to the original owner. 

My friend with whom I attended the Vintage Clothing Show on Sunday is currently down-sizing; she and her husband plan to sell the family home and move somewhere smaller. She has jewellry, and crystal, and china which she's had for years. Some of it belonged to her mother and grandmother. On Sunday she collected business cards from vendors who expressed an interest in buying some of her things. Because, she told me, her daughter and her daughter-in-law are not interested in owning any of her treasures. I'm told the same story by other friends. "Young people today don't want our old stuff," one friend said recently. 

Really? I don't understand that. Okay, maybe young couples don't want a complete silver tea service, or a set of china with twelve place-settings, but why not accept one piece of silver? A tea pot, maybe, to be lovingly polished and used on special occasions, knowing it belonged to someone who knew and loved you. I have a china sugar bowl which sits in my cupboard and which I use every day. It's chipped. But it belonged to my mother-in-law who died in 1991. It sat in her kitchen cupboard. And every day it reminds me of her. 

Maybe I'm just too sentimental. Maybe the children of my friends are simply not sentimental about family things. After all, they are just things. But I loved the fact that there were a lot of young people at the show on Sunday who seemed pretty excited about buying old things. It makes me happy to think that someone's grandma's fur stole will be loved again. 

And I'm equally happy that I have a couple of nieces who are sentimental, and who love old things as much as me. I know when the time comes some of my treasures with a story to tell will go to a good home. 

woman in black jacket and pants, sitting in front of a house
All ready to shop for vintage... in my vintage hat.

I was so pleased to be asked to be part of the monthly blog get-together "By Invitation Only." Thanks for asking me, D.A. 

Please check out the other posts on DA's blog here


Now... I should probably go and dream up some outfits to go with my other vintage hats. I don't know folks; some of my hats are pretty ... well... out there. To wear them in public, I'd probably have to "screw my courage to the sticking place" to quote Lady Macbeth. 

Then again, there's always next year's Vintage Clothing Show. 




Also linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlike, Style Me Wednesday,  Thursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridaySaturday Share Link-Up


Friday, November 10, 2017

Mired in the Mud ... Thoughts on Poetry and Fiction and War

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I usually write something about Remembrance Day in November. 

For many years, I taught at a school named for John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem "In Flanders Fields," so observing Remembrance Day was a big deal for us, teaching students about the meaning of Remembrance Day and at the same time showcasing student art, and music, and creative writing. Now that I'm retired, I'm no longer involved in helping my writing students to research and write about what this day means.Trying to help them scale down the melodrama, and the overt hero worship, to look at the reality of what the men and women who fought in wars, or were affected by war, endured. Helping them to uncover facts, and to write sensitively, and respectfully of our history in times of war.


Lest We Forget mural and monument
Photo of the monument at John McCrae Secondary School courtesy of Arlene Angel-Blair
But even though I'm no longer teaching, I've been thinking this past week of my abiding love for the poetry and fiction of the World War I era. That's partly because it's Remembrance Day, and partly because on a day-tour in England recently we visited the grave of one of my favourite World War I poets, Siegfried Sassoon. That was really special.


woman in churchyard beside a gravestone
Beside Siegfried Sassoon's grave in St Andrew's Churchyard, Mells, Somerset, England
I originally wrote this post back in June 2014, which was, of course, the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. I love the poetry and the fiction that depicts this era, and wanted to commemorate the anniversary by talking about some of my favourite writers and their work. So on a sunny June day when I might have been out on my bike, or relaxing on the deck with a book, I was glued to my computer, absorbed by my research, totally immersed, one might even say mired, in the stories and the poetry of the First World War. 

Reading about writers like Rupert Brooke, seen in the picture below. Brooke died in 1915. His poem "The Soldier" is his most famous work, and the lines "If I should die, think only this of me/ That there's some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England" became, in a way, his epitaph. They're lovely words, patriotic, inspiring. But though Brooke was lauded as a war hero, he died aboard ship on his way to battle, not in it. Of blood poisoning from an insect bite. He is buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. 

In the early years of the war Rupert Brooke was IT... the soldier poet, described by some as the "golden haired God of poetry." Apparently all of England mourned his death (source.)


I have a card I bought in London years ago that has a famous quote from Brooke's poem  "Old Vicarage, Grantchester," written before the war: "Stands the church clock at ten to three/ And is there honey still for tea?" I love those lines. Brooke is said to have captured in his work the mood of a pre-war world: peaceful, idealistic, confident in the old ways and the old values of heroism and honour. 

two men and two women sitting on the grass, pre WWI era
Noel Oliver, Maitland Radford, Virginia Woolf, Rupert Brooke. source
That's Brooke above on the far right. Gorgeous, eh? Virginia Woolf certainly thought so; that's her sitting beside him. This shot seems to capture the world that would soon be gone. That old romantic, idealistic one. 

As WWI progressed, Brooke's poetry...written by someone who was able to see death in battle as valiant and romantic because he had never actually been in battle, had never even seen the trenches... was criticized as "foolish and naive." Poor Rupert, forever captured on the page as the guy who got it wrong. Not his fault, really. If he had made it to Gallipoli (where he was headed when he died) and survived the battle, most assuredly he would have changed his tune. 


Siegfried Sassoon sang an entirely different tune from Rupert Brooke. Sassoon did see the trenches, in France. He was exceedingly brave in battle, becoming known as "Mad Jack" due to his apparent lack of fear under fire. Sassoon did not, however, remain  unscathed. He was invalided out of battle three times, once for dysentery, once when shot by a sniper, and a final time when he was shot in the head. Still he miraculously survived. 


officer in WWI uniform
Siegfried Sassoon  source
But each time Sassoon returned to England he was more and more disenchanted, and angry about the war. In 1917 he wrote his famous "Declaration Against the War" which vilifies the powers that continued to "prolong the sufferings of the troops" in a war he believed to be "evil and unjust." He accused the political powers at home of "callous complacency," "deception" and as having "not sufficient imagination to realize" the agonies that the soldiers endured. It's these callous, complacent leaders who are described in his poem "Base Details." He describes the "Majors at the Base" as "Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel" all the while sending "glum heroes up the line to death." You can read all about Sassoon and his poetry here.

Sassoon's anger and public denunciation of the war was, to say the least, embarrassing for the military. What to do about a decorated war hero who says such, well, unheroic things? 

So, Sassoon was committed for a time to the Craiglockhart War Hospital,  and treated for "neurasthenia," a controversial condition that involved a "collapse of the nervous system" (Wikipedia.) A symptom of which must have been the publishing of  inconvenient truths. 


Now here is the best part of this story. 

While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon befriended a young poet soldier named Wilfred Owen, pictured below, who was recovering from shell shock. Through their friendship and Sassoon's mentoring of Owen as a writer, Owen would go on to become the best known poet of his era. 


picture of smiling WWI soldier
Wilfred Owen
It's Owen who truly captures in his poetry the darkness, the foulness, of the soldier's existence in battle. His poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est," which means "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country", decries the hypocrisy of that sentiment, and those who used the "old lie" of honour and glory to deceive "children ardent for some desperate glory." Owen's imagery is vivid as he describes the soldiers who "marched asleep/... blood shod.../drunk with fatigue." And his tone is bitter, as he recalls a man choking and dying after a gas attack: "the white eyes writhing in his face/...the blood/...gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, /Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/ Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues." Phew. That's pretty powerful stuff.

But my favourite poem by Wilfred Owen has to be "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Its opening line "What passing bells for those who die as cattle" is, like "Dulce Et Decorum Est," both bitter and vivid. But seriously, if you want to really experience this poem, listen to Sean Bean read it...



Oh my. That's beautiful. 

And what's even more powerful, ironic, and sad ... is that, for a brief time at Craiglockhart, Owen wrote feverishly about his experiences in war and then, when he was deemed fit for duty, he went back to the front. And died on November 4, 1918, seven days before the war ended.

You can read Owen's biography and his work here. And one writer's journey to see where Owen died, and how, here

If poetry is not your thing there are some wonderful novels about WW I. My favourites include the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker.  I love that she writes about the real life friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and the older poet's mentoring of the younger. Much of Barker's first novel, Regeneration, deals with the two poets and their time at Craiglockhart. It's an amazing, beautifully written book. Really... you should read it. And then read the other two in the trilogy.  




     

I also love Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. This book moves back and forth between the life of a soldier before and during the war, and his granddaughter many years later. It's a book about love, passion, sorrow, longing and a desire to understand the past... alongside the mud and horror of trench warfare. 

cover of Sebastian Faulk's book Birdsong 

Or, if you like mystery novels, especially well written, clever, erudite mystery novels and you want to read about World War I, try this novel by Reginald Hill. Hill is perhaps my favourite mystery writer. His books are smart and funny and engrossing. This one in particular, I love. Because there's not only the present day mystery, but also a secondary plot where Peter Pascoe unravels the mystery of his grandfather's death during World War I.  

cover of Reginald Hill's book The Wood Beyond

I'm not sure why I'm so enamored of the poetry and fiction written during and about World War I. Part of it is that I love the stories of these men and women who died or were forever changed by their experiences in the mud and the hell that was the First World War. Part of it is the sheer beauty and power of the language used by good writers to describe something almost indescribable, something that those of us who have not experienced it can never really understand. And part of it is that I think it's important that we try to understand. 

I mean more than a hundred years on....what's really changed? 






It's funny that even though I wrote most of this post three years ago, today, in revising it and checking sources etc, I've found myself caught up again in the stories of these writers, and the stories they tell in their work. Once again, even though it's a freezing November day this time, with a wind chill of -15°C, I'm mired in the mud of WWI... all over again. 











Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thoughts of Boots

I once had a biology professor who could see the lighthearted side of just about anything. I remember one morning he strolled to the front of the lecture hall, stood for a moment stroking his chin pensively, and began,"Imagine this. It's a warm spring evening, and a young worm's fancy turns to thoughts of love." I don't remember much else about that course, but I never forgot that line. 

So, let us begin. Imagine this. It's a crisp autumn morning, and a young-ish (or old-ish if you prefer) blogger's fancy turns to thoughts of boots. Sigh. I love boots. And boot season is finally here. 

I don't have a large collection of boots. Three pairs of ankle boots: my black Stuart Weitzman lace-ups, my brown Paul Greens, and my chocolate-brown suede Prada boots with heels, not shown here. One pair of knee-high leather and suede boots by Stuart Weitzman.


three women in jeans and boots
Paul Green ankle boots, Stuart Weitzman laced ankle boots, suede and leather Stuart Weitzman knee-high boots
And my Hunter rubber boots. These boots make me feel like a kid again. Able to splash through muddy puddles with impunity. I have a long history as a boot lover. From my beloved Frye boots in university, to a beautiful pair of knee-high, dark brown leather "granny" boots which laced all the way to the top, and for which I saved and saved in high school. 


woman in black rubber boots, white sweater, Gortex jacket, and jeans
Ready for rain in my Hunter boots
But boots and me, we haven't always got along. 

As a tall gangling adolescent, with sticks for legs, I sighed and moaned about the fact that other girls could find knee-high boots that fit their legs snugly, and looked cool with mini-skirts. Me, I didn't even have to unzip mine to take them on and off. My long skinny foot and leg just slid right in and out. Sometimes even when I was trying to keep them on. Ha. I'll never forget writing in my journal in grade nine, that, after weeks of training for the basketball team, my legs were "getting fatter!" I could tell because they filled out more of my boot. Gad. I'm not sure how my mother endured all the drama. 

This is what Hubby and I talked and laughed about over our morning tea the other day. Boot nostalgia. 


vintage child's bootsvintage child's galoshes
Both pairs of boots were found on the Etsy site Vintage Vixen. 

If you are around my age you probably wore little white boots with fur around the top like those ones on the left, above. I had a white faux fur snowsuit to match. And when you were a bit older, you might have worn something like those galoshes on the right. I remember wearing a pair just like those in elementary school, with my shoes inside, and my snow pants tucked into the tops. How I hated those boots. Especially when they leaked. 

But, apparently, that's what empty bread bags were for. To rescue your good school shoes in an emergency, when your old boots leaked, and your mum didn't have the time (or the money) to get a new pair right away. With four kids in the family, new boots weren't always forthcoming in a hurry. Besides, you could slip your shod foot into the bag, and then slide the bagged foot into the boot easy peasy. Sounds funny, to think of now. But, hated or not, leaky boots with bread bags inside were no big deal back in the day. And not uncommon at my school.

And we never dared complain. Okay, okay, I'm sure we whined to Mum. But we never let Grampy Sullivan hear us. Or else we'd get the story of how lucky we were to have our own boots, when he and his brothers shared one pair of winter boots among them. His story goes that the first brother would start out for school in the boots, wear them a ways, then leave them for the next fellow and continue on to school barefoot. The next brother would start out barefoot, pick up the boots along the path, wear them a ways and so on, until the last fellow wore them all the way to school. Kind of like a relay race except with boots, instead of a baton. I love that story, actually. It was one of my grandfather's favourites. I remember I used to puzzle over which brother I'd rather be. Whether it was better to start off with warm feet, or end up with them. I certainly never wanted to be one of the brothers who wore them for only a portion of the way in the middle and then had to take them off again. Ha. It was only when I was older that I began to question whether the story might be a teensy bit exaggerated. 

And speaking of boot nostalgia. This is a shot of my mum below. Age sixteen, in 1943, outside my aunt Marion's beauty salon, in New Brunswick. Love those fur-trimmed boots, Mum. 

woman in the nineteen-forties in fur-lined boots

So boot nostalgia, it's a thing. At least in our house. Hubby and I sipped our tea the other morning, and laughed about boots. Boots that didn't fit. Boots that leaked. The smell of wet boots drying over the radiators at school, mixed with the smell of wet woollen mittens and hats. Boots that came off when they got stuck in snowdrifts on the sliding hill. Boots that were so slippery and dangerous on portages that it's lucky the hapless fisherman made it home safely. So many boots.

And somewhere over the years, despite ugly leaky galoshes, and wobbly knee-high boots that never fit properly, I developed a love for boots. I guess it must have begun with those brown, leather granny boots that I saved and saved to buy in grade ten. They fit me perfectly and were the epitome of cool. I was bereft when they finally wore out. 

Yep. I love boots, and yet I don't have a closet full of them. That's odd, isn't it? Why am I not out buying boots every week? 

Well, it's partly that I have a hard-to-fit foot. So I may love lots of boots, but not that many love me back. And when I do find a pair that I love and which fit me, I usually spend more than I should on them. And then, I can't bear to have boots which I love, and which I've probably spent more than I should to buy, just sit in my closet unworn. That just makes me feel guilty. 

After all, I'm lucky to have my own boots and not have to share. At least according to my grandfather Sullivan.







How about you, my friends? On a crisp autumn morning does your fancy turn to thoughts of boots? Do tell.





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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Back to the Eighties: My Perfect Sweats.

I've written often on the blog about the never-ending trials of finding the perfect jeans. I've even been known to compare the endless labour of shopping for jeans to the punishment meted out by the gods to poor Sisyphus. You know, the mythological king who so angered the gods he was sentenced to push a rock uphill, only to have it roll back down. Every time. For eternity. Just like jean shopping. Sigh.

Don't laugh. 

I seem to have solved my jeans problem, for now. By buying two pairs last summer. But I'm sure that solution will be temporary when Paige stops making the ones I like. Which, let's face it, is inevitable. But I'm sanguine about that. Mostly. 

What's really been nagging at me for a while now is the problem of finding the perfect sweatpants and sweatshirt. I've worn sweatpants and sweatshirts as leisure-wear for years and years. Long before the current "athleisure" trend. Since way back in the eighties when my friend managed a lovely little store here in Ottawa called "Cotton Ginny." Cotton Ginny made cotton sweatpants, sweatshirts, tee-shirts, and other causal wear. They made the old fashioned style of sweatshirt and sweatpants. At the time, I had a closet-full of matching sweat tops and bottoms, red, pink, black, grey, you name it. 

Perfect for wearing over one's bodysuit and leggings to dancercise class. Ah, remember dancercise?  My roommate, Debbie, and I signed up for classes. We bought the outfits, of course. We were determined to get fit. But then, we'd be so starving after every class, that we'd throw on our sweat pants and drive directly to MacDonald's. Every time. Ha. What an exercise in futility that was. Pun intended.

A couple of years later, when I finally became serious about exercising, and started running, my Cotton Ginny outfits came in handy. I also wore them for lounging around the house, doing my lesson plans, marking, reading a book, cooking dinner. Whatever. Then Cotton Ginny disappeared, at least here in Ottawa. And I started shopping at Au Coton for my sweatshirts and sweatpants. Then they disappeared as well. And I couldn't for the life of me find a store that sold sweatpants or sweatshirts which fit me. Or suited me. The pants were always too short, too baggy, and too sad looking on me. The sweatshirts too huge, with ginormous hoods, too many logos, or way too short in the sleeves and the body. So I made do with the sweatshirts and pants I already had in my closet. For years. 

Then with the rise in popularity of yoga, came the Canadian store Lulu Lemon. Which has beautiful things for exercising and for lounging, if a bit too expensive for my taste. Still, I caved and started wearing yoga pants or leggings, instead of sweatpants. Then Gap and other chain stores got in on the yoga thing, and I bought more yoga pants, much cheaper than at Lulu Lemon. But really, in my heart of hearts, I've never been a yoga pants person. Or a yoga person, for that matter. I missed my old sweat pants. If only I could find a pair that fit... and suited me. 

woman in sweatpants, grey hoodie, sneakers, and green suede jacket

And of course you know where this is going, or I wouldn't be writing this post. I clicked on an e-mail ad from Aritzia a couple of months ago, and there was an array of sweatpants, and sweatshirts that suited me down to the ground. I ordered on-line and, since Aritzia uses Canada Post to deliver, I had no issues with courier delivery, which, as I've written about before on the blog, can be problematic when you live in the country. And no issues with returns since you can take merchandise back to the nearest store, which is preferable to having to ship something back to the vendor. 

woman in white tee, white sneakers, and black sweatpants
My new Adidas sweatpants with a Vince tee and my Stan Smith sneakers
So. What did I get? This pair of black Adidas sweatpants, above. Which are long enough in the leg, and slim enough in the thigh to actually fit me. I also bought a lovely grey hoodie. It's very light-weight, long in the body, with a narrow cut. I took it to England with me and found it really versatile. On cooler days when I wanted to wear my Veronica Beard jacket, I zipped out the partial hoodie that goes with the jacket, and substituted this one. Then wound my grey and red scarf over top, and I was toasty warm, but not overwhelmed by layers. 

woman in jeans, blue jacket, sneakers and scarf in front of red phone box in London
Layered up in Covent Garden, London
Back home, I'll wear the hoodie with my new sweatpants, and my khaki suede jacket from Marks and Spencer that I won last year on Alyson Walsh's blog. 

woman in Adidas sweatpants, sneakers, grey hoodie and khaki suede jacket

This outfit might become my favourite running to the library, or to the grocery store, ensemble, if sweatpants and a hoodie can be said to be an "ensemble." That is until the weather turns too cool and I have to swap the sneakers for socks and boots. I doubt that I will join the trendsetters in wearing my sweatpants with heels and dressy tops, though.  

woman in Adidas sweatpants, sneakers, grey hoodie and khaki suede jacket

I bought one more item in my Aritzia athleisure haul, this lilac cotton sweatshirt. Oh, how long have I wanted to replenish the sweatshirt shelf in my closet with just this style of shirt? Since the demise of Au Coton, I'd switched to fleece tops, and zippered yoga jackets for lounging, and for exercising. But every now and then I'd try to find a classic sweatshirt. Like this one. Long enough to fall just below my hips, with a crew-neck, and the classic wide waist-band and cuffs. It's great for travelling, if a bit bulky for those carry-on only flights. I wore this on a couple of cool mornings in New Brunswick in September, over a tee-shirt, with my ankle jeans and sandals. In England I found it lovely and cosy to change into for a couple of hours of lounging in my hotel room after a day of sight-seeing.  

woman in sneakers, black sweatpants and lilac sweatshirt

But, really, I didn't buy these sweat pants and shirts for wearing anywhere but at home. For walking on the trail. Or lounging around the house. Working on my blog, reading, cooking dinner. Or more likely, sipping wine while watching Hubby cook dinner. Ha.

woman in sweatpants and sweatshirt sitting with legs folded and a book in her hands
Reading and relaxing while you know who is in the kitchen.
So wearing my new sweatpants and sweatshirts is like going back to the eighties for me. Kind of. Even though I no longer have a wardrobe of matching sweat pants and shirts in my closet. And I don't throw my sweatpants on over my Danskin bodysuit and leggings anymore. Ha. That Danskin bodysuit was one fashion investment that never paid off. I can't remember how many weeks of dancercise we lasted. Not many, I think. I know that I got fed up with the instructor who used to wipe her heavily made-up face off on a towel half-way through the class. Ickk. Or the one who wore sparkly headbands, and insisted on the class being more about fancy footwork than actually working up a sweat. I just wanted to move. I guess that's why running ended up being a better fit for me. More movement. Less pizzazz. And fewer trips to MacDonald's.  

But I am happy to have found sweatpants that fit, at last. And sweatshirts that suit me. It's kind of like going back to my athleisure roots. Back to the eighties before I started teaching. Before I met Hubby. When I was young and slim... and a bit of an air head. "Would I want to go back to those days again?" you might ask. 

Ha. Perfect sweat pants aside... not on your life. 



Here are the links to the items I bought on the Aritzia website: Lilac Sanoh sweatshirt, grey Ginsburg hoodie. They don't have the Adidas track pants on the website anymore, although they have lots of other track pants here.



What about you folks? Any items from your wardrobe's past that you've revisited lately? 



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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Our Healthy Eating Journey

I've been meaning to write this post for ages. Ever since Hubby suggested it. Because food is such an important part of our lives, and always has been. When Hubby and I first met, I used to laugh that we spent most of our dates deciding what to eat, preparing it, eating it, and then talking about it. When we weren't skiing or canoeing those first months together, we were eating. At least that's the way it seemed. 

man and woman leaning against a tree in a field in winter
Cross country skiing in Marlboro Forest, 1987, or so.
We've always eaten what we thought was a healthy diet, exercised regularly, didn't smoke. And despite all that Hubby was still diagnosed with heart disease in 2013. That was a huge shocker. And not just for us. Hubby's hockey buddies who knew how hard he worked on his fitness were flabbergasted. Even our doctor was blown away. But there it was. He had open-heart surgery in March 2013, and we set about trying to figure out how we could change our lifestyle to mitigate against his ever having to go through that again. 


I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but one thing we did during Hubby's months of recovery was attend a really helpful seminar on healthy eating at the Ottawa Heart Institute. The dietitian was excellent. Very knowledgeable. And sensible. She was up to date on all the latest research and even on the latest diet books, Wheat Belly being very big that year. She ably responded to questions regarding new developments in science, and debunked some of the pseudo-science too. She helped us enormously. She helped me to stress less, to research less, and to make some sensible decisions. At Hubby's suggestion, when we got home, we shared what we took away from the seminar, and made a list of ten things on which we would focus. 

tilapia with tomatoes, mushrooms and olives, baked potato, and carrots and peas
My favourite easy fish recipe: baked tilapia with pesto, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and olives
Most notably we focused on eating fruit or vegetables with every meal. We've always eaten a lot of vegetables. I grew up on a farm; meat, potatoes, and two veg was the norm for suppers at our house. But Hubby and I now focus on smaller portions of meat, we eat mainly white meat or fish, and we've tried to increase the portion of our plate taken up by vegetables. It's not hard to do. For a while we measured our vegetable servings to see if we had eaten 5-7 daily servings. A cup of raw vegetables or a half cup of cooked comprises a serving. Now, it's become intuitive. 


chili lime basa, stir-fried vegetables, carrots and rice
Basa in chili-lime sauce with Hubby's stir-fried fennel, pepper, zuchini, and kale, carrots from the garden, and mushroom rice.
We cut out processed foods. Not that we ate much processed food anyway, but Hubby did like his canned soup and the occasional lunch of Kraft Dinner. And no more luncheon meats for sandwiches. We tried harder to eat only "good fats." And we focused on salt. We try to use mostly frozen tomatoes from our garden, but they don't last all year, so now we purchase only "no salt added" tomatoes. And only "no salt added" chicken broth, or beef broth for cooking. Hubby measured out into a small bowl his recommended daily limit of 1500 mg. of salt for heart patients. Then he sprinkled salt from the bowl on his meal or in his cooking each day to see if he was under the limit. He always was, so we stopped worrying about that. 

plate with stuffed peppers, pork tenderloin and carrots and peas
Pork tenderloin (considered a white meat because it's so lean) with stuffed peppers from our garden.

 pork tenderloin recipe from Eat, Shrink and Be Merry cookbook
Our favourite pork tenderloin recipe. Sometimes we do the grilled veggies, sometimes not.
Sometimes we supplement our vegetable intake with what Hubby has foraged. Seriously, in a previous life, I'm sure he was a hunter-gatherer, mostly a gatherer. He loves to harvest wild edibles. Meadow mushrooms, wild garlic, fiddleheads in the spring (see below), and wild asparagus. He has several routes he travels on his way home from country golf courses in the spring which take him past his favourite asparagus spots. We eat a lot of asparagus in June. Good thing we both love it.

a big pot of fresh fiddleheads
Picking fiddleheads in the spring is a ritual for most New Brunswickers. And they grow in Ontario too. 
Changing our eating habits has been a journey, really. And lucky for us it's one we've both enjoyed. We've tried new dishes, searched the internet for different ideas, and adapted old favourites to cut down salt, use less meat, and increase vegetable content. Sometimes we've eaten dishes in restaurants or purchased things we've tried to replicate. I love the Asian Kale salad at Farm Boy, so we found a great recipe on the internet and now it's a summer staple for us. Same with tabbouleh. 


salmon, Asian kale salad, fresh asparagus, rice and tomatoes
Barbequed salmon steak with Asian kale salad and fresh wild asparagus, rice, and tomatoes.

man chopping carrots
Shhhh. The cook is concentrating
Hubby has always made homemade soup. But now he eats it exclusively, no more cans. And has tinkered to use almost no salt, more herbs, and just about every vegetable imaginable. Last winter he experimented with mulligatawny soup and vichyssoise. 


 a big pot of homemade chicken soup
Hubby's homemade chicken soup with everything but the kitchen sink
Thanks to a good friend who is a wonderful cook, I've discovered the joys of specialty oils and vinegars. My favourite salad dressing is one tablespoon of cranberry pear balsamic vinegar, combined with two of Persian lime olive oil. Yum. 

bowl of tomatoes, and a bottle of oil and vinegar
My secret weapon: Persian Lime olive oil and cranberry pear white balsamic vinegar
I've made my own pasta for many years, and lately we've tried to replicate some dishes we've eaten in our travels. When we were in Charleston in 2016 we had a fabulous pasta dish at a bistro near our accommodation in Mount Pleasant. 


making fresh pasta
Pasta in progress
The pasta was delicious and the menu one of those that conveniently lists all the ingredients in the dish: shrimp, grape tomatoes, arugula, onions, lemon zest. I asked the waitress if there was anything else I should know about how to make the dish, and the chef generously responded with comments about a splash of white wine, a dollop of butter, and the order in which to cook the tomatoes, shrimp and arugula. So now we make it for ourselves at home. We've even experimented with a heart healthier version of the shrimp and grits dinner Hubby had at the Old Post House Restaurant in Charleston. We have had this several times, minus the ham, and the butter, and cream. We're currently trying to find on-line some version of the wonderful vegetarian dishes I ate recently at the Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen in Bath. 


Shrimp, grape tomato, and arugula pasta
My shrimp, grape tomato, peppers, arugula, and lemon fettucini
I've included a couple of our favourite recipes below. Including Hubby's "Shiitake Basa Packets" to which he adds slivered carrots and celery. He never doesn't adapt a recipe.  Ha. I follow recipes; he sees them as guidelines.

Shiitake Basa Packets recipe
My fav of Hubby's fish dishes

Thai Green Curry Baramundi recipe
My fav poached fish recipe. I use any white fish for this.
We do our best to eat healthy most of the time. We are not experts by any means. And we found that we were turned off by so many books on how to eat a healthy diet, all making dire predictions, and then offering the one solution. The dietitian at the Ottawa Heart Institute helped us be more sensible about everything. She said, if we eat healthy meals 80% of the time, we can afford to treat ourselves sometimes. I think we actually eat very healthy meals more than 80% of the time, so when I'm out with friends I still indulge in steak and frites. And the occasional sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. Hubby is more cautious than me, but then he has more reason to be cautious. Making the right choices about food makes him feel confident that he's doing everything he can to mitigate the chances of having another heart blockage. And really, that's all we can do, eh? Just whatever we can. 

cartoon about reducing the wine

As I said, it's been a journey. And it's all about the journey, isn't it? Hubby's blood work over the past few years has been so good, that he's been able to decrease some of the medication he had to take post surgery. So that's great. And I've benefited too. Or at least my yearly check-up tells me that I have. And it's been fun. What we eat is a collaboration. Mostly.


Except... well... this time of year... when the weather outside is frightful, but what happens in our house is delightful. At least to me. When there's no golfing, or skiing... Hubby gets bored and takes over the cooking entirely. I just have to act as consultant. And of course, taste tester. 

Ha. It's a tough job. But I'm ready for the challenge.





By the way. I'm not a "food stylist" in any way. These shots are of my plate, just before we've tucked in... so to speak. 



Now, how about you, folks? Have you ever had to change your lifestyle, or your diet? Hubby and I like lists and rules that applied over many months become habits. But what works for you?


Joining Thursday Favourite Things Link Party  and  Saturday Share Link-up