Monday, May 29, 2017

Out and About on a Bike. Speaking Canadian.

Once summer starts here in eastern Ontario, Hubby and I try to get out and about on our bikes as much as we can. There are numerous cycling trails and routes to be explored, and lots of local villages to poke around in, or to stop for lunch.

On this particular weekend, we weren't the only ones doing this. Our little village is a popular destination for cyclists who ride out in packs from the city. We're 25-30 km from Parliament Hill, depending on the route you choose, and if you're an avid cyclist, that's very doable. And I guess the view of Watson's Mill, or the reward of lunch at the pub, or a pint, or an ice cream cone makes it worthwhile. 

cyclists on a leafy street, with historic buildings
Cyclists set off from outside Dickinson House in Manotick
But Hubby and I prefer to ride on less busy roads, or on the cycling paths that abound in our region. Like this woodsy path near Kemptville. Which wends its way behind a few new subdivisions, and eventually takes us out onto River Road, one of our favourite summer cycling routes

cycling trail through a hardwood bush
One of our favourite cycling trails, near Kemptville
River Road runs along the Rideau River past farms, old stone houses, the canal locks at the village of Burritt's Rapids, to Merrickville. Merrickville is another popular local destination for day-trippers. It's lovely actually. You can watch the boats come through the locks on the historic Rideau Canal. Browse for antiques, or art, or handmade leather goods. Stop for lunch. Or a pint. Or an ice cream cone. Or if you're lucky, you might be there on the third weekend in August, and take in the best outdoor antique show in the area. An afternoon in Merrickville is time well spent for me.

But yesterday, we were simply cycling. And enjoying the sunshine. And the quiet.  

sunny day, trees, slow-moving river
Riding along the lazy Rideau River
And after our ride we drove into Kemptville for lunch. I love Kemptville. It's much more of a work-a-day village than pretty Merrickville. But it's just as historic. Apparently it was founded by Lyman Clothier in the early 1800's as a site for a saw mill and later a grist mill. And was originally called "The Branch" because it sits on the south branch of the Rideau River. Cool. Because we were having lunch at the South Branch Bistro. 

outside of a restaurant in a historic stone building
The South Branch Bistro, on Clothier Street in Kemptville
That's what I love about living in this part of Ontario. The history and how it's all tied into the Rideau Canal. And as we were pedalling, and later eating, Hubby and I got into a conversation about this part of the world. How it differs from places we've travelled, and from my native part of the country out east. In particular we were talking about how, even if we're all speaking English, we're sometimes speaking a whole other language.

Yep, we were talking about talking. About language usage and accents and how funny we always think other people speak when they don't speak like us. 

And we were laughing about the time we had visitors from England and our friend Abby ordered tuna in a restaurant, pronouncing the "t" and the "u" very precisely, but making it sound like "chew-na" to the poor waitress. Who thought she was ordering some kind of chicken. 

Or the time Hubby and I were in a restaurant in Melbourne, and I asked for a glass of water. The waitress looked quizzical. "Wa-ter," I emphasized. "Wi-ine?" she responded. "No. Waaa-t-er. You know H2O." "Oh, you mean.... waahd-ah," she said. "Yeah, wah-da." Or the B&B host in New Zealand who, in giving us directions, described their house as having "black steers alongside." And since I grew up on a farm, I just assumed she was talking about livestock. And not the black decorative iron stairs that ran up the side of the house to their front door. In my defense, their home was in the countryside. 

And we laughed about the fact that even Canadians from different parts of the country speak very differently. For instance, if Hubby and I are planning a trip, he will refer to our timelines as a "shed-u-ul," while I call it a "sked-u-ul." To me my mother's sister is my "awnt," but to him she'd be his "ant." See what I mean? Canadians from the east coast (at least those from New Brunswick) say "tore" instead of tour, and call the people who "come from away" to see our part of the world "tore-ists." Natives of some parts of New Brunswich speak with such a drawl, they almost sound like they're from the southern U.S. And don't get me started on the Newfoundlanders, who even I have a hard time understanding despite being related to some of them. 

But I've never, ever, been able to understand why non-Canadians always ask Canadians to say the phrase "out and about in a boat." And then laugh. Apparently most Americans think we're saying "aboot", instead of "about." But I can't see it. Or hear it, as the case may be. I might say "tore-ist," but I know I don't say "aboot." Or at least I didn't think I did. 

Until yesterday when I started doing a bit of research on Canadian dialect and pronunciation. Most of what I found is way too esoteric for me to even care about. At one point I became totally caught up in this conversation on the website Pain in the English, which is a site for proofreaders. I read all about something called "Canadian raising," and diphthongs, and voiceless consonants, to explain how Canadians say "about." And the fact that since we don't realize we are "raising" our "diphthongs," we can't hear that we're saying what sounds like "aboot" to others. I also read tons of examples of how Canadians speak differently from some Americans, and somewhat similar to other Americans, and altogether different from Canadians from other parts of the country. Phew. 

And then I came across this on You Tube. All you ever wanted to know about speaking Canadian. This young guy is pretty articulate, I thought, and his video is very interesting. Especially the examples. In fact, I think the Newfoundlander in the Nissan commercial might just be my cousin Bruce. Ha. Have a listen.

Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about speaking Canadian, raised diphthongs and all. And while I've been writing, it's rained and rained and rained. All day. Again. 

So when I have to venture out and about later, to go to the drugstore and the library... I guess won't be out and about on a bike. More likely out and about in my boots. And if it keeps raining this way... maybe even in a boat. 

Hmmm. So if I say "out and about in my boots in a boat"... I wonder what that sounds like to a non-Canadian, non-Canadian- raising speaker, who can actually hear my weirdly elevated diphthongs? 

Guess I'll never know, eh?  

How about you my friends? How do you say "out and about in a boat?" Any other weirdly unusual pronunciations happen where you live? 

Two Traveling Texans

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

In the Pink. Ish.

To be honest I'm not always a fan of pink. Of course, I love pink spring blossoms like the ones on our flowering crabapple tree below. I almost missed the blossoms this year because both this tree, and our other apple trees, bloomed while I was away down east. So, yeah, I love pink apple blossoms. And pink tulips; I love pink tulips. And hyacinths. And lilacs.

Pink spring blossoms on our flowering crabapple tree.
Our old flowering crabapple tree
But pink on me... as in true pink, pale pink, blush, or coral... blouses, scarves, or sweaters... not so much. It's because of my colouring. I have my grandmother's redhead complexion, without the red hair. I always thought I should look good in peaches, and soft pinks, but I just never did. Then I was told years ago by my hair stylist at the time that my colouring was that of a "cool redhead." Meaning that the undertones in my skin are cool, blue-y tones. As opposed to warm, peachy tones. Huh. That made perfect sense. And explained why the new lovely, peachy sweater I had bought looked dreadful on me when I got it home, while my old burgundy sweatshirt made me feel like a million bucks. So I guess I can say that I don't necessarily feel in the pink, when I'm in pink. But pink-ish. That I can do. As long as it's a pink-ish with a blue-y undertone. Like this summer sweater from Vince that I bought a few weeks ago. 

close-up woman in a lilac sweater
Love my new pink-ish sweater
I was looking for a sweater to go with my new black and white striped skirt. And I found this lilac (or is it violet?) cashmere crewneck pullover at Nordstrom. I love, love the colour. Especially with the black and white stripe. I can wear it over a short-sleeve black tee. Or just drape it around my shoulders, like this. 

woman in striped midi-skirt, black flats, and tee shirt with pink sweater over her shoulders

The colour is lovely. And the shape is... well... perfect. Perfect to wear with this skirt. Loose enough to cover upper body lumps and bumps, without being too slouchy. Boxy enough that it skims my hips, but narrow enough that it doesn't add bulk, or make me look bigger than I am. Sigh. The exact cut I was hoping to find when I began my journey to move on style-wise. Don't you love it when that happens? 

woman in striped midi-skirt, pink sweater, and black flats, holding arms up in the air        woman in striped midi-skirt, pink sweater, and black flats, looking over one shoulder

I should mention that I tried it with the black tee shirt initially, but after a few minutes the sweater began to feel too bulky with the shirt under it. And I find I prefer the sweater on its own. The cashmere is really light. And soft. And not at all itchy. I checked out the Vince sweaters on-line at Nordstrom, and this one is 40% off. So, if you're inclined to shop, here's the link. I was kind of appalled at the way Nordstrom has the sweater styled on its website. I'd never have bought it if I hadn't seen it in real life. Mine is a size small by the way. And I am most definitely NOT a size small, so beware. 

woman in striped mid-skirt, pink sweater, and black flats, with her hands in her pockets
Hands in my pockets, feeling soooo comfortable in this outfit.
After my mini-fashion show, yesterday, I was heading out to do some shopping. Not clothes shopping, I should add... I have spent my limit for spring. Just errand running. And since I would be in and out of the car a lot, I thought pants would be a better choice than my skirt. I like these black Rag and Bone cropped pants with my new pink-ish sweater. It's the high waist that clinches the deal, I think. And despite not liking the black tee under the sweater, I still wanted a touch of black around the neck. So I opted for my black racer-back sports bra. Now, I don't normally use my bra straps to accessorize. Ha. But... in this case... I thought the glimpse of black strap looked kind of good. Now, a word about these black, suede Paul Green flats. I can tell already that they are going to get out and about a lot this summer. If I can just figure out how to keep the black laces from dying my ankles black. Anyone have any ideas about that?

woman in black pants, pink sweater, black flats and grey tote bag.    woman in black pants, pink sweater, black flats and grey tote bag.

So, off I went yesterday. Most definitely feeling in the pink, as well as being in pink. Or pink-ish. Or lilac, if you prefer. I'd been looking everywhere for blooming lilac trees for days, whenever I was out driving around, to no avail. Then on my way home... I drove past this lovely lane of lilac trees. Just the perfect colour to match my new perfect sweater. Huh. A serendipitous day all around. 

Lane of lilac trees.
This lovely lane of lilacs is just up the road from us.
And speaking of serendipitous, Hubby just came into the den to tell me that it was a very good thing I got all my blossom shots when I did. Because they are long gone now. And sure enough when I looked out my window, I saw that the lashing rain and strong winds had made quick work of most of the remaining apple blossoms. But the pink tulips are hanging in there. 

I love tulips. Especially pink ones. So that's one good thing about a cool spring, folks. More time to look at the tulips. Even if we're not tiptoeing through them. Ha. Anyone else remember Tiny Tim? Gad. Now I'm going to have that song and his warbling voice in my head for the rest of the day. 

By  the way... that link to Nordstrom is simply information from me to you. Nordstrom is not part of the deal. I shop there because I find what I like there. And because my friend Liz works there. Not because they provide me with remuneration. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

So, how about you my friends? What are your views on pink. Or pink-ish? Does wearing it make you feel "in the pink?" Any colours that you can't abide? 


Monday, May 22, 2017

Sleep Deprived

I'm feeling a bit loopy today, my first day back home from New Brunswick. Probably because I slept for almost twelve hours last night. Combined with the two-hour nap I had when we first arrived home from the airport, that makes for a whole lot of sleep in the past 24 hours. All that shut-eye was the result of my body not being happy with a virtually sleepless night, followed by a second night with three hours sleep since I had to leave for the airport before dawn to catch my early morning flight home.

Yes, I know, compared to the sleep schedule of some of you, that's nothing. I know. Busy people are sleep deprived. I know. It's just accepted as a part of our modern 24/7 world. People have work, and worries, and sometimes physical pain, and way too many episodes of whatever on Netflix to keep them awake. Not to mention those of you who are parents of small children; you deserve a category of sleep deprivation all your own. 

I understand that many, many people have trouble getting enough sleep. Much more trouble than I have. It's just that I've never operated well on too little sleep. Even when I was young and supposedly invincible, and cramming for exams, or pulling an all-nighter to finish a university paper, or simply staying out on the town until all hours. Or later when worries about work, reliving a stressful day, or going over and over a confrontation with a student or a parent kept me awake to the wee hours, a sleep deprived night was almost always followed by an early-to-bed night and, when possible, a late-to-rise morning. I have always been unable to function on too little sleep. I'm not sure what kind of a disastrous mother I would have made, considering the impact of parenthood on parental sleep schedules. Or how I would have been able to manage a teaching career with small children at home. Probably not well. 

Man and cat napping together.
Hubby and Doc having a well-deserved afternoon nap. 1986
We all know the effects that sleep deprivation can have on us. Without sleep our immune system becomes depressed, and we are more susceptible to colds and flu. With too little sleep our body has less chance of fighting off disease, and is less able to help us get well again. When we are sleep deprived we are more at risk of developing any number of health issues like cardiovascular disease. Harvard Medical School says that "one night without adequate sleep can elevate one's blood pressure" for the entire next day. Sleep is the time when our body repairs damage caused by our daily activities, and our brain rests. And too little of it affects our motor skills, our emotions, memory, mood, decision making, and impulse control. 

Sleep and the lack of it has been linked to weight gain and obesity. This article on the Harvard Medical School website explains why. Apparently sleep deprivation causes elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. As well, it lowers the level of leptin, a hormone which tells our brain we've had enough to eat, and raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant. According to the article, this leaves us craving more food when we've actually had enough, and "feeling too tired to burn off extra calories with exercise." And on top of that, sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of insulin, promoting fat storage, and making us more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact the article on the Harvard website concludes that getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night can increase our "mortality risk from all causes by about 15%."

Gad. So why, oh why, when we know all this, or should know all this, do we still not get enough sleep?

man sleeping
Definitely not sleepless in Lima.
One thing that the Harvard Medical School article mentions is that despite all the studies, and all the information that is available about the importance of sufficient sleep, many people who have sleep difficulties never mention this fact to their doctors. And, even more worrying, many doctors never ask. 

Is this because so many of us just accept that lack of sleep is a normal part of adult life?  Aside from those of us who can't get enough sleep due to illness, anxiety, or crying babies, factors we often can't control... do the rest of us still see sleeplessness as something that proves we are busy, busy people. And that living the dream, getting ahead, climbing the corporate ladder necessarily involves being sleep deprived? Do we still connect too little sleep with success? Seriously? 

Media mogul Arianna Huffington seems to think so. I heard her interviewed a few months ago about her book The Sleep Revolution, and then yesterday I listened to this Ted Talk where she says that getting enough sleep is the way to get ahead. I'm not sure I agree with everything she espouses, especially when she seems to link the idea of "sleep deprivation one-upmanship" with gender, implying that it's mostly men who brag about how little they sleep. But since she is speaking at a women's conference I guess she felt she had to spin her idea that way. Still she has a good point about how society seems to value those who deprive themselves of sleep. And paint those of us who go to bed early, or rise later, as lacking initiative, drive, or ambition. We all know what happens to Macbeth when he lets ambition take over his life, right? He doesn't sleep, can't sleep, in fact. Shakespeare knew a thing or two about life when he wrote in Act II, Scene II of Macbeth that sleep "knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care." And poor Macbeth, with his fear, guilt, and lack of sleep, becomes unravelled that's for sure. 

I had plenty of ambition and initiative when I worked. I worked hard. Four nights a week I'd be at my desk marking for a couple of hours, and one day on the weekend would find me reading, researching and prepping for my classes. I was at school from 8:30 until 5:30 most days. Except those when I had 7:30 AM meetings, or after school parent-teacher interviews. I put in at least 50 hours a week during term time. But I never marked past 9:00 in the evening, making sure I had at least an hour to spend with Hubby before bed. And I had to be in bed by ten if I wanted to be up by 6:00 to make those 7:30 meetings. I usually slept late on Saturdays and Sundays. So... no 80 hour work weeks for me. No marking until midnight, except during exams when papers needed to be graded and final marks calculated in a very short turn around time. I worked hard, but I knew my limits. And then I retired. 

I vowed that when I retired I would wake when my body said I should. These days, six in the morning is my favourite time. The time when, out of habit, I wake up, glance at the clock, sigh, and roll over, until 8:30. I love it when I realize I don't have to get up. I'll never understand how society sees early risers as more virtuous than us non-early morning people. And I wonder if that attitude is not the same attitude that has people thinking that sleep deprivation is a competitive sport. 

Funnily enough part of Huffington's new ethos is that people who get enough sleep are more productive, and make better leaders because, being well rested and on their game, they make better decisions. And more importantly, to me anyway, getting enough sleep is the key to staying well. And being able to have the kind of retirement I want. Not a busy, busy, I'm so busy, kind of retirement. But one where I'm as busy as I want to be. Doing things I love like blogging, and reading. Staying active, making fitness a priority, and finding time, and being fit enough and well enough, for those things that improve our quality of life and for which we'd planned, like travel. 

But it's not all smooth sailing sleep-wise in retirement. As we age getting enough sleep can present new challenges. The National Sleep Foundation website says the idea that we need less sleep as we age is a misconception. We still need the same quantity of sleep as we did when we were younger. But aging means our circadian rhythms are changing, and we may find it harder to fall asleep and harder to stay asleep. As we age we may need to adopt new habits, or techniques, to enable us to get sufficient sleep. And that includes, in my opinion, not just shrugging off sleep deprivation as a necessary part of a modern, busy life.  

Woman sleeping on bus,oblivious to beautiful mountains and plain out the window
After four very early mornings even the beautiful Peruvian countryside could not keep me awake
Ah well... that's easy for me to say, eh? The odd night of worry or anxiety aside, as an adult, I've never really had many problems falling asleep. I can fall asleep most anywhere. In cars or canoes. On buses or planes... in pretty much any moving vehicle which I'm not driving... or paddling. When we head out for the long drive down east, Hubby says that sometimes he feels as if he's driving all by himself. I can usually stay awake long enough to help him navigate through Montreal, two hours from here... but after that... my head lolls, my eyelids droop, and I'm down for the count. And, on our recent trip to South America, even the beautiful scenery in Peru couldn't keep me awake after four very early mornings in a row. 

Sigh. I guess I'm just a girl who can't say no to sleep when I need it. 

Most of the time, anyway.

So, how about you folks? Do you have a fraught relationship with sleep? How has sleep deprivation affected your life?

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hair Management: Learning to Live With Wilful Locks

You know, sometimes when life gets very serious, it's good to stop and stress about something not so serious. Like hair. Wilful, mind of its own, totally misbehaving, unmanageable hair. Like mine. Because as you are no doubt aware, if you stop by here regularly, I do like to stress and obsess about my hair. I seem to write a hair story every few months, starting way back in the spring of 2014 when I first started writing the blog. 

In that post I mention how the writer Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, says that if you are casting about for daily writing topics, and nothing springs to mind, "write a hair story." And when I was still teaching, each semester I would suggest "a hair story" as a journal topic. I was always surprised by the clever, funny pieces the students produced. Especially the story written by Jenny (lovely, quiet Jenny, with the long red curls) who felt unable to live up to the fiery personality her hair seemed to promise. Perhaps Jenny thinks she should have been born a cool brunette. With a sleek pageboy cut. Like Donna Parker.

Donna Parker cover art picturing girl with pageboy style hair 
                        I'm sure my hair aspirations harken back to my sister's copy of this Donna Parker book

Sigh. I know just how you feel, Jenny. I so wanted to be Donna Parker. Or Honey Wheeler from the Trixie Belden books. I longed for shiny, frizz-free, sophisticated, manageable hair. I even did my darnedest to have that sleek pageboy for a while when I was fifteen. Now that was a labour intensive look. Especially in the era before good blow-dryers, or straightening irons, or "product" that wasn't Dippity-do. Anyone else remember that sticky, gooey gel that we used to smear on the ends of our hair? At times I resorted to using Mum's hair spray. And not with entirely successful results. See below. Ha. Poor me. What a mop of hair I had.

Curly page boy hair at age 16 
Age 15, Donna Parker wanna be

By the time I was in university, and the seventies were in full swing, I let my curls have their way. And, as you can see from my university I.D. photo below, sported a full on Afro. More or less. My curls were not entirely reliable. Some bits curled more than others, some bits just frizzed. Some bits decided to lay flat and needed major encouragement. This look required washing every day because sleeping on an Afro meant I looked like a free-form hair sculpture come morning. And then there was the fluffing, and the waiting, and more fluffing. Makes me smile to look at my hair in 1975. It's very... uh... round... isn't it? 

Afro hair at age 20 
Age 20, in my Afro phase

The shot below is what my hair looked like for most of the nineties. Short. Blonde-ish. Thick. And curling. Not actually curly, since I tried my hardest to make it go straight, wielding my round brush, and blow-dryer, and any number of hair products. But at some point in the day it would begin to curl and then slowly revert to its natural state. Makes me wonder why I just didn't give up and let it have its way. But although I had out grown my dreams of Donna Parker and Honey Wheeler pageboys, I now had visions of tousled, glossy, piece-y bangs, a la Linda Evangelista. This is my driver's licence photo from 1992. 

short curls in the 1990's 
Age 36, not looking like Linda Evangelista

Then, when I turned forty, I decided to make one last push for that sleek bob that had always eluded me. I grew my hair out, and suffered frustrating curls and whorls for months. Not to mention the comments from colleagues. 
Male Colleague (who shall remain nameless): "I see you are growing your hair, Susan." 
Me: "Yep." 
MC: "Do you want an honest opinion?" 
Me: "Nope." 
Then, when it was long enough, my hairdresser enacted a miracle, one that without myriad layers, "undercutting," "texturizing," and lots of product would not be possible. He gave me a smooth bob. And I was in raptures. Finally. This is my passport photo from 2000 below. I'd had my smooth bob for four years. And I had the arm muscles to prove it. One summer on vacation when Hubby was reading and I was getting ready for dinner, he commented on how many times I sighed and laid down my huge round brush and blowdryer. Then picked them up again and continued with the drying. It took forever; the top layers had to be pinned up so the bottom layers could be dried smooth, then the top bits often had to be dampened because they were dry by the time I got to them. Then everything had to be sprayed to keep the frizz down. Well, you get the idea. And on humid days, it still looked like it had when I was fifteen. That's when I began to resent my smooth bob. Big time. And then as I approached my mid-forties, I began to think the cut was aging. And that was that. 

smooth bob in 2000 
Age 44, and growing tired of this labour intensive bob

It's funny that I longed for a smooth bob for decades, but when, after four years, I cut it off and went back to short hair, I felt much more like me. As if maybe I'd been masquerading as a sleek-haired girl for all those years. Took me some time to settle into a cut I liked. And with a hairdresser I liked. Then I discovered flattening irons, and de-frizzing leave-in conditioners, and hair wax, and suddenly those tousled, piece-y bangs were achievable too. Maybe not Linda Evangelista worthy, but not bad. At least on low humidity days. 

And then last year I had an epiphany  And decided to try to let go of my hair management issues. I had my hair cut very short and eschewed the flattening iron, and the straightening conditioner, in favour letting my curls have a bit more freedom. Not full on, round headed, Afro-style curly. But wavy, letting my natural whoop-de-do flip in the front have more leeway. Some days. At least until it gets too long and I begin to develop Elvis hair. Then I step in with the round brush and the straightening iron. I'm trying to accept my curls, even if they are wilful and don't always behave. 

But this last week and a half at Mum's has been challenging. And I'm not talking about the family worries. I'm talking about my hair. You see, I had it cut very short again the day before I left to fly home. And what with the soft water at Mum's, which always makes my hair curly, and puffy, and the fact that I accidentally packed a bottle of my old Aveda smoothing/conditioning cream, which makes my hair really straight... my poor hair doesn't know whether it's coming or going. If I use the conditioner it goes too straight, and too soft and puffy. Sticking up on the crown like Rod Stewart's hair back in the day. If I don't use the conditioner it's puffy and frizzy. Sigh. Still, it's given me something else to worry about besides my brother. And my mum. 

Until today. Today was a good day, folks. My hair was looking pretty good. No embarrassing Rod Stewart tufts. Bit flyaway. But otherwise it behaved itself. And my mum and I spent the day shopping, something we haven't been able to do since I arrived. We crossed a ton of things off her list. We were able to do that because my sister arrived yesterday. And since she would be at the hospital, Mum felt good about taking a couple of days off.  And then this afternoon my sister texted me from the hospital with good news. They were going to get my brother up out of bed and into his wheelchair for the first time since his surgery in January. Woo hoo. So it's been a good hair day, a good news day. A good day all round. 

woman reading and waiting 
                                                                Ready for shopping, good hair and all

You know, I'm not sure I'll ever settle into a smooth, easy going relationship with my hair. It's too darned stubborn and wilful, and I'm too darned controlling and critical. I guess we need to learn to live with each other the way we are. 

Besides, my hair just wouldn't be my hair if it wasn't doing something it wasn't supposed to do. And I just wouldn't be me if I wasn't whining and obsessing about my hair. And it does give me something not so serious to worry about. 

Makes a change from the real serious stuff, don't you think? 

How about you, my friends? What's your hair management secret? Do you have a good relationship with your locks... wilful or otherwise? 

Linking up with Saturday Share Link-up over at  Not Dressed as Lamb

Friday, May 12, 2017

In Need of a Little Gentle Reading

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that I have an abiding love for gentle books. Stories which ultimately make me sigh and feel that, despite everything, all is right with the world. When I say "all is right with the world" I don't mean in the sense that the hero triumphs, wins the lottery, finds true love, conquers the enemy, whatever. Not in that kind of larger than life sense. I mean that the plot of the novel, the characters, the setting and, in particular, the style make me feel that, no matter what, life can be absorbing, interesting, engaging, beautiful. And often the books that make me feel this way are those that deal with life close-up. Books that deal with the small but fascinating minutiae of everyday life. And with characters who may be unassuming but, on closer inspection, are also intelligent, perceptive, funny, courageous, and endearing. I'm thinking of books written by Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner, who I've written about here  And of course the Nancy Mitford books. Or anything about the Mitfords, really. Not sure why I'm so fascinated by that family. 

Lately I've been in need of a little gentle reading. I'm at home with my mum in New Brunswick this week. And my brother, the apple of everyone's eye... at least in the eyes of his mother and three younger sisters... is not doing so well. My big brother has had too many health challenges for me to roll out a list here. And with each knock-down punch he always struggles to his feet, metaphorically speaking, since he's been in a wheel chair for many years. But of course each time the struggle is harder and longer. And we're just not sure he has enough fight left in him this time. So I'm feeling a bit beleaguered this week. Mum and I have been at the hospital quite a bit. And I've been phoning, and texting my two older sisters and my step-bother, who all live far away, twice a day with updates. And at times when the "situation is iffy" (as Mum says) trying to decide if I should say "Come, now" or not. 

So I've been taking my one sister's advice and falling back on the cure for all ills, emotional or spiritual: tea and a good book. I must tell you first that I finally tried reading books on my i-pad when Hubby and I were in South America. I love the convenience, especially when travelling, and I'm even getting used to not being able to hold a real book in my hands. And when scrolling through "recommended books" at the airport last week, I was excited to see that I can get titles from Persephone Books for my Kindle ap. I discovered Persephone Books a few years ago when I picked up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day at the bookstore. I adored that book. And immediately began to look for others like it. But I've been unable to get my hands on any more Persophone books in stores here in Canada or at the library. Until now. 

Persephone Books in London. 
            Persophone Books in London

If you're not familiar with Persophone Books, they republish "neglected works of fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers." Books which are, according to their website, "intelligent, thought-provoking, and beautifully written." And which have fallen out of favour for whatever reason, and out of print. And this week I've been immersed in two books by Dorothy Whipple. Someone at a Distance and The Priory

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple 

I'm not sure why these books make me feel immeasurably better, but they do. Both deal with family drama, told in a most undramatic way. The plots of both novels which involve happy marriages and unhappy marital breakdown, jealousies, selfish manipulations and unselfish sacrifices could so easily have become clich√© or soap-opera-ish, but they don't. Whipple's characters are beautifully drawn. And her prose is clean and elegant, filled with rich detail, crisp images, and small moments. The small moments, a solitary tea, the comfort of a cat curling up on a bed, conveying a character's state of mind so much more evocatively than the big ones. Or, as one reviewer put it, Whipple, by describing the "mundane details," conveys a character's "sense of aching loss" so much more effectively than "if she had focussed on screaming matches or sobbing fits." But you should really read that review for yourself. You can find it here on a lovely blog called "Furrowed Middlebrow." Love that title. And coincidentally the author of "Furrowed Middlebrow," writes about both Someone at a Distance and The Priory in his post. And like me he says he found them both "compulsive reading." 

Compulsive reading of a lovely, gentle book about characters who ultimately triumph in their struggles even if not in a triumphant way (especially if not in a triumphant way) is always life affirming, don't you think? Especially if that book is consumed with a nice cup of tea and maybe a ginger cookie. Or two. 

So that's it for me tonight, my friends. I haven't been very diligent with my posts this week. I hope you get a chance to check out that book blog I mention above, and have a look at the Persephone Books website. If you're a Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner fan like I am, I think you'll find something to your liking there. 

And... and... I almost forgot... Persophone Books has a London shop. And... my friend Elizabeth (you remember, my friend the retired editor with whom I visited New York last fall)... well... Elizabeth and I are planning a trip to England for this upcoming fall. Can't you just see us browsing the shelves at Persephone Books in Bloomsbury?  

Sigh. A book shop like that just had to be Bloomsbury, now didn't it? 

Linking up with Saturday Share Link-up over at Not Dressed as Lamb

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Needs Must ... Dressing for the Weather

You may (or may not) know that I can get a bit obsessive. I often over-organize. I stress too much about my hair. I get excited about something or other, and jump in over my head. Frequently. So, once we had that first taste of spring a few weeks ago, I was hell bent on spring shopping. All it took was a couple of warm-ish, sunny days, and temperatures above 10°C. The snow disappeared, and then the mud and puddles magically dried up. Dry enough to allow me to venture out in shoes, instead of boots. Warm enough to feel confident about packing the winter coats and hats away. Spring-y enough that I drew up my seasonal shopping list, and then shopped until I dropped.  

In the spring, I'm a bit like the young detective, Jasmine Sharp, in Christopher Brookmyre's book When the Devil Drives. I mentioned her in a post a while ago. Poor Jasmine has had a lot of trouble in her young life. And in the novel when her car gets torched, and the insurance company refuses to pay up, she is disappointed but resigned. Until the last line of the book. I swear this is the best epilogue I've read in years; I laughed out loud: "Five days later O'Hara shows up at the office and handed [Jasmine] an envelope containing ten thousand pounds in cash. Shoppiness ensued." 

Ha. That's me, folks. The sun shines. The puddles dry. And shoppiness ensues. 

On my first trip, I bought a new, black and white striped midi-skirt, a pair of Rag and Bone cropped pants, an Eileen Fisher tunic, and a Frame short-sleeved, striped tee shirt. Then I went in search of something to go with my new skirt. And I came home with a lovely linen tee from Nordstrom Collection, a Vince sweater, and my new suede Paul Green flats. That's quite a haul for me. When I still worked, I used to buy a couple of new outfits per season, and fill in around what I already owned with a few new tops here, or a new pair of jeans there. But my wallet has not weathered this much shoppiness at one time since 2013, when I stopped getting a pay cheque. 

stone grist mill and rushing river
Watson's Mill in Manotick with the gates of the dam open and the river in full flow.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not feeling guilty in the least about this small spending splurge. For the past few seasons, I've been working on my "curated closet." I inventory and edit, and otherwise have a good handle on what is in my closet, and what goes with what. And after a few seasons of consigning and donating, what's left has become my "signature look." Or to put it in a less pretentious way... I've found a formula that works for me, and which I wear a lot. This season I felt like branching out. And so I loosened the purse strings a bit. My new skirt in a style I haven't worn in years gave me the opening to go in a new direction. And I'm excited about wearing my new acquisitions. So, no, the problem isn't guilt, or buyer's remorse.

stairs leading down to the riverbank
Stairs down to the riverbank at A.Y. Jackson Park in Manotick
The problem is mother nature. Because as soon as it got warm, it got cold again. It seems as if spring came and went in a heartbeat. And except for one gloriously warm evening, when I donned my new Rag and Bone pants, my Eileen Fisher tunic and my new Paul Green flats to head off to book club... except for that one day... it's been too darned cold to wear any of my new gear. And that sucks.

Still, you know that old saying "needs must when the devil drives." I am determined that my fall and winter clothes and boots, which are packed away, will stay that way. But I still need to be warm, especially when it's rarely above 12°C, and often rainy, and windy. So I've been layering, over and under, and trying some new combinations. And finding that I'm surprised by how nicely some of these pieces go together. Pieces that I've never worn together because...well... there was no need. 

flood waters rising around trees
The rising Rideau River lapping the shore at A.Y. Jackson Park
I've worn this outfit several rainy, cool days in the past week. Out to a casual dinner or to run errands. My Paul Green boots from a couple of years ago keep my feet warm, and dry. These Current Elliott jeans look great with my boots, and I still feel fierce in them. Like I've still got it. Ha. You can read about that story here

I'm layering a loose, short-sleeved white tee from Vince under my Veronica Beard jacket with the zip out hoodie. I like the look of the loose tee shirt under the more structured jacket. And it keeps me warm. 

woman dressed in jeans, jacket and hoodie, holding a windbreaker and tote

woman dressed in jeans, jacket and hoodie, holding a windbreaker and tote

Then one day when I was all dressed and it started to rain again, I threw on this grey, white, and black camo windbreaker from Theory. I bought this years ago from Liz when she still worked at Holt Renfrew. It's feather light, cuts the wind nicely, and is reversible to all black on the other side. I still love it. And it exactly matches the grey hoodie on my VB jacket. And looks pretty darned good with my grey All Saints tote. Now that's serendipitous.

casually dressed in jeans, boots and a windbreaker  jeans, boots and a camo windbreaker 

 So, I felt comfortable, casual, and quite pulled together as I headed out yesterday for lunch with a friend. We were meeting at a local bistro in the village, five minutes from my house. And since I was a bit early, and there was a break in the rain, I stopped off at Watson's Mill to take pictures. The river is in full flow, the gates on the dam open wide, and the water roaring, frothy, glorious. And then it started to rain again. Sigh.

view from the dam of stone grist mill
High water at Watson's Mill on the Rideau
But you know, even though all my lovely new spring and summer pieces are tucked into my closet for at least another week or two, I'm content. I mean, it is Canada. And needs must. We have to expect to dress for the weather we have. Not necessarily the weather we'd like to have. At least it's not snowing. And I keep thinking how lovely it will feel when I can finally haul out my new stuff, the bounty from my spring shoppiness. 

woman sitting on a low beam on the dam at Watson's Mill

And speaking of serendipity. The two ideas I had when I started writing this post were that line from the Christopher Brookmyer book: "Shoppiness ensued." And the fact that I couldn't wear any of my new stuff because it was too darned cold... and "needs must"... I needed to dress for the weather. 

And I swear it just dawned on me about halfway through writing this that the title of the Christopher Brookmyre book When the Devil Drives.... actually completes that old saying. "Needs must when the devil drives." Now. I ask you. Is that not the coolest bit of serendipity ever?

How about you, my friends? Is it spring where you live? Lovely mild spring-y spring? Or are you like me, grumbling while you dress for the weather?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous Friday , Saturday Share Link-Up.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Armchair Travel: Two Wonderful Books About Faraway Lands

The weather today here is dreadful. Rainy, blowy, cold. Hubby is in the kitchen; the soup assembly-line is in full swing. He likes to "cook big," as he says. Time to settle down for a good old natter about books, I think. 

Last night I finally finished Amor Towles latest novel A Gentleman in Moscow. I do love books about far away lands, books which take me places when I'm just sitting in my armchair. And I certainly loved this book. 

cover art for A Gentleman in Moscow. Man in suit looking over a hotel balcony     man seated in white shirt, vest and tie
                                                      source                                                            source

Set in post revolutionary Russia, Towles' novel is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, found guilty by the Soviet "Committee of the People's Commissariat" for succumbing to "the corruptions of his class" and posing a threat to the people's revolution. Saved from the firing squad because his famous poem had made him a hero of the "pre-revolutionary cause," he is sentenced to life under house arrest, the "house" being the beautiful and historic Hotel Metropol in Moscow where he has lived for four years. Summarily exiled from his luxurious suite, and moved to a tiny room at the top of the hotel, furnished with the few possessions that will fit into a garret room, he puts his feet up, toasts his lucky escape with sympathetic members of the staff, and prepares to make the best of his confinement, to "reconcile" himself to his changed circumstances. And for the next thirty two years, he watches as his life and the lives of his friends, as well as the face of his country, and the world change beyond measure. 

Below are several shots of the famed Metropol Hotel. Across the street from the Bolshoi Theatre, and within sight of the Kremlin, it sits in the "historic heart" of Moscow. And you can even book a standard double room for a mere $288.00 CAD. I checked. 

evening view of historic Metropol Hotel
Evening view of Hotel Metropol in Moscow   source

beautiful polished staircase in a luxurious hotel Metropol
Main staircase in the lobby of Hotel Metropol source
I savoured this book, my friends. All 462 pages of it. I was not surprised since Towles' first novel The Rules of Civility was wonderful. Next to style, the most important thing for me in a book is character. I have to love at least some of the characters in a novel, otherwise it just doesn't work for me. And the characters in A Gentleman in Moscow do not disappoint. They are so well drawn, and endearing, readers come to love almost all of them. Count Alexander himself, wryly humourous, ever the epitome of old world courtesy; the staff of the Metropole (Andrey, Emile, and Marina) who become his good friends; the little girl Nina whom he befriends and who, it turns out, has much to teach him. Even (eventually) the bull-headed Georgian, former colonel in the Red Army, and now "officer of the Party," Osip Glebnokov, whose job it is to "keep track of certain men of interest." 

tables surround a central fountain in dining room of Metropol Hotel
Dining room at Hotel Metropol    source
Charlotte  Heathcote in her review in the London Express calls A Gentleman in Moscow a "gorgeous comic epic" with an "ingeniously ludicrous plot." And I agree. The plot is epic. The writing is gorgeous. And you will laugh in places. But the book is not without its pathos. After all, it is set during a violent and disturbing time in history, and characters like Misha, and Nina (as an adult) give the reader glimpses of the horrors visited on the Russian people outside of the walls of the Metropol. 

I also agree with Ron Charles in his review in the Washington Post where he says that despite the book's charm, and the fact that it is an "endearing reminder of the graciousness of real class," it does have a "potential for glibness." The plot is sometimes just a bit too ingenious. The Count's witty repartee, his ability to save any social situation seems at times a bit too slick, to me. And in one or two instances he becomes almost a caricature. But, like Charles, I think it's Towles' style and the "slightly ironic" narrator which save the book from slipping into shtick, or gimmickry. That and Towles' ability to weave a tight plot, to bring back earlier mentioned minor details of plot or description which later give us several "ah ha!" moments. Not to mention his brilliant use of allusion. Especially to the film Casablanca. Trust me if you want to really get the ending of the book, you must watch Casablanca. Sigh. I love that movie.

The other book about faraway lands which I've recently read is Edna O'Brien's wonderful novel The Little Red Chairs. Set in Ireland, and London, and in the Hague, O'Brien's novel tells the story of Fidelma. Unhappy in her marriage, having failed at business, and longing for a child, for something to give meaning to her life, she meets a mysterious healer who appears one night in her village. She becomes obsessed with this mystic medical man, Vlad, as he calls himself. And her life is devastated by her association with him. And with who (and what) she and the world discover him to be. 

The Little Red Chairs cover art          Edna O'Brien
                                                  source                                                                    source

In his review in The Independent Cole Moreton calls O'Brien's latest novel "a masterpiece." Part "adult fairy tale," part "report from a war zone," but throughout "a magical, deadly, wonderful, sickening, enchanting thing." Exactly so .... wish I'd said that.

The "war zone" Moreton refers to is the Serb siege of Sarajevo which began in April 1992 and lasted for over three years, even longer than the 900-day German siege of Leningrad in WWII. The "little red chairs" of the title refer to the 11,541 chairs, set up as an art installation in the middle of Sarajevo in 2012. Called the Sarajevo Red Line, the chairs commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Siege of Sarajevo and its 11,541 victims, 643 of whom were children. The character of Vlad in the novel, one time doctor and healer who turns out to be a war criminal, is modelled on the real life "Butcher of Bosnia" Radovan Karadzic. 

11,541 red chairs, one for each victim of the Siege of Sarajevo
Sarajevo Red Line source
The Little Red Chairs is a wonderfully Irish book. Lyrical in places. Bitter and violent in others. O'Brien's prose is uniquely her own. The syntax is at times a bit puzzling, but O'Brien's style is always clever... and... well, arresting, I guess you could say. According to an article I read, O'Brien was reviled in her homeland in the early days of her career, and her books banned. But these days she is feted and called the "finest writer" in Ireland. As Moreton says, in the "sixties her books were burned", but she has "risen from the ashes," so to speak. Not unlike Sarajevo itself. There's a really interesting interview with O'Brien here, if you're interested.

evening view of the city of Sarajevo
Modern day Sarajevo. Photo courtesy of Michal Huniewicz
Amor Towles' enchanting novel transports us out of our world. But O'Brien's is a realistic, and gritty novel, even with the often magical setting, and the mysterious stranger appearing out of the dark Irish night. It teaches us about our world. Here and now. About people scarred by tragedy, mute with suffering, lost in a new and unfamiliar place. It does not have an "ingenious plot" like Towles' book. It's much more ragged. Rugged. Raw edged. And for me much more affecting as a result of that raggedness. 

Ottoman Cemetery in Sarajevo
Old Ottoman Cemetery Photo courtesy of Michal Huniewicz
In  his review of The Little Red Chairs, Cole Moreton quotes a character from O'Brien's book: "'War is a lottery. Count your lucky stars that you are here.'" And Moreton responds: "I did, after reading The Little Red Chairs, a mesmerizing book from a writer at the height of her powers, giving voice to the voiceless." Me too. After reading O'Brien's book, I too counted my lucky stars that I am "here." 

 buildings damaged by bomb shells
Shell damaged buildings in Sarajevo   Photo courtesy of Michal Huniewicz
I had a hard time writing this post. Two big books about big ideas. Too many sources. Too many ideas. Too much contradictory historical information that had me deleting parts of what I'd already written. But in my research I came across a site with wonderful photographs, taken by London-based photographer Michal Huniewicz during a visit to Sarajevo in 2014. In an e-mail I inquired if I might use them in my post. He graciously consented. "Go for it, " he said, actually. And told me that in the shot below, the three girls are sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Sarajevo. The hill from which, during the siege, so many snipers took aim at the civilians below. In fact of the three girls pictured, two survived the siege. One "watched her childhood friend killed by a sniper in front of her eyes," Huniewicz says. 

You can have a look at the rest of Huniewicz's photography here

three girls on a  hill overlooking Sarajevo
View of the city.   Photo courtesy of Michal Huniewicz

So that's it for me, my friends. I think blogging about big books comprises the new "3 R's" ... reading, 'riting, and raging. At least this time. I've been writing, and it's been raining, for two solid days. Hubby has chopped, boiled, mixed, cooked, deboned, simmered, stirred, cooled, packaged, and frozen a mess of soup since I've been writing this. I had a yummy bowl of homemade chicken soup for lunch today. So it's not all bad. 

Hope you get a chance to read both of these books. They really do make you feel as if you've travelled to faraway places even while you're just sitting in your armchair. Or lolling on the sofa with a cup of tea. And when you do read them, let me know what you think. Let's have a good old natter about books. 

In the meantime have a look at this. The best ending for a movie ever. 

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