Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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





Saturday, August 26, 2017

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

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

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

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


Three deer on the trail.

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

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

a Victorian brick post office building

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

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

long gallery of a historic hotel

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

a veranda of a hotel with several rocking chairs

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

two women smiling for the camera

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

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

Colourful shop interior
Colourful shelves in the Crocker Hill Store

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

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

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

Shingled cottage with open windows

Or this one decorated with a plethora of flowerpots.

Beautiful colonial house decorated with many flower pots

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

Rustic cottage on a bluff

Or one of these cottages leading down to the wharf?

row of cottages with harbour in the background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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





Two Traveling Texans



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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Aging Gracefully...Or Disgracefully. Reprise.

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

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

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

 Mum's birthday cards and flowers

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

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

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

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


My grandmother Sullivan in 1917

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


Three ladies at a wedding.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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






Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lost in the 'Hood Reprise

Hubby and I are back in the 'hood again. But there'll be no time for posting this year. So I hope you'll enjoy the post I wrote about our trip home last summer. See you in a week or so.

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Hubby and I are back in the old 'hood this week. Downeast. Staying with my mum for a few days. Fishing and reading and visiting. Drinking too much tea and talking, talking, talking.

On Thursday we were up before dawn to set off for the long drive. Truck loaded with bikes, fishing gear, suitcases. Big cooler packed with fresh veggies from our garden to take to Mum. Thermos mugs of strong tea. Breakfast would be a few hours down the road. Our picnic lunch tucked into our trusty travel cooler that's been everywhere with us from New Zealand to the Yukon to France, was behind my seat. By 5:00 A.M. we were packed, loaded, belted in, and ready for the ten hour drive.

Then we took a wrong turn... or didn't take the right one. Didn't get off the new highway that takes us around Montreal in time to avoid going an hour out of our way. Sigh. How the heck did we do that? Ah well. We'd never actually seen this part of Quebec. What's one more hour? But we added another hour when we stopped for supper in Woodstock and then took the old road down along the Saint John River from there. That drive was like taking a step back in time. We drove past the old farms that I remember visiting with my step father. Past the place where my best friend Debbie and I used to go horseback riding. I tried to pick out the place where we went to the Saturday night dances in the back of someone's truck, reckless teenagers that we were. The old road was bumpy and crumbling and tree lined. And lovely. Well worth that extra hour, even at the end of a long day of sitting.

Dawn on highway 417
On the road before dawn

The next day Mum and I did what we always do first when I get home; we made our usual foray to visit Gus at the best little book shop in the world. To us anyway. Gus and Mum are buddies although you couldn't immediately tell that if you listened to them bicker. Only the fondness in their tone reveals that Mum thinks he's the cat's meow and I believe he feels the same. Last year I popped in to his shop by myself to get a gift certificate for Mum's birthday. He told me that when he saw me through the window on my own, he thought, "Oh no, this is not a conversation I want to have." And considered locking the door. He'd assumed that arriving without Mum, I was the bearer of bad news. He and Mum reluctantly posed for the shot below. Then Mum said, "Enough of that. Back to the books."

Book shopping at Gus Books
Mum and I shopping at our favourite book store

I love to talk books with Gus. He is an avid reader, no surprise there. And he knows a ton of wonderful author trivia. I have yet to stump him with an author he hasn't read or doesn't at least know about. We discussed mystery writer Stuart McBride the other day. How his books are too graphic for me. But wonderfully written. I quoted a line from one of McBride's books that I've never forgotten. Describing his unkempt co-worker, the main character says: "Her hair looks like it was styled by seagulls." I love that line. Then Gus quoted another thriller author who said that a character's hair looked as if it was styled "by grenade." Then Mum said that my grandfather Sullivan used to say my uncle Dick, who had very thick curly hair, always "looked like he combed his hair with the egg beater." Good one Grampy. You get the prize for best line. Love that.

That's my grandfather Sullivan below. He was a big man. With very long legs... which we all inherited. I love looking at Mum's old photos when I'm here. I get buried in her boxes of pictures and come out feeling as if I'm in a time warp. An identity warp, more like. Catapulted from retired teacher, wife, blogger back to youngest child, little sister, tomboy, budding artist (ha), frizzy haired drama queen bookworm.

My grandfather Sullivan


The picture below is one I found from the late fifties. My brother Terry, sisters Carolyn and Connie, and me. I'm the one in pale green with the big head. Brother Terry is looking suitably serious and big brother-ish. When we were growing up, he could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. I was, to his chagrin I imagine, his ninth birthday present, since we were born on the same day. He was (and still is) the best of big brothers. Generous to a fault. With a wry sense of humour and his Grandfather Sullivan's (and our mum's) gift of delivering a great line. My favourite being one night at supper when I was around eight, which would make him seventeen. My mum decided that we should have the "talk" about sex. And Terry quipped," Okay, Mum. What do you want to know?" That still makes me laugh. I'm pretty sure I never got "the talk" that night.

My brother has had many, many health challenges in his life. He's a paraplegic due to an operation to remove a spinal tumour twenty years ago, a double amputee now due to circulation problems. And he's battled other issues too numerous to mention here. My last two visits home he's either been in hospital, waiting for surgery or recovering from surgery, or confined to bed at home. The van he had newly fitted for his wheelchair sitting idle in the driveway. And only in the past few weeks has he been given the go ahead to get out of bed. For the first time in almost a year. The first night after Hubby and I arrived, we heard Mum's doorbell and there he was on the deck. Grinning. In his motorized wheelchair, with a bag of fresh corn in his lap. He'd stopped at the nearby vegetable stand. He's back on the road again, in that new van, all on his own, just him and his dog. What a feeling of freedom he must feel. Of life regained. Makes me tear up as I write this.

My brother and sisters and me, 1959
In our Sunday best, 1959

Yesterday Mum and I drove up to Terry's in the little blue car we'd rented so Hubby could be free to use our truck to go stream fishing or golfing... and we could be free to "run the roads" as Mum says. On the way we unexpectedly pulled in at Freddy's Family Farm vegetable stand. Freddy has known Mum and me since we moved to the farm over forty years ago. He grows potatoes and corn, and used to keep a large herd of milk cows. Back when he farmed full time and cut hay on his island lots, he took his machinery over to the big island in the Saint John River on the farmers' ferry that my stepfather ran in the summer. As a teenager in the 70s, I used to take over running the ferry to allow my stepfather to go up to the house for lunch or supper. The first few times I manned the controls, the farmers laughed, and teased me, tickled at the novelty of being shuttled across the river with their big machines by a skinny, frizzy haired girl. So on Sunday when Mum, gesturing at the vegetable stand, said, "That's Freddy standing there in the green jacket," we pulled a u-turn and went to say hi. Freddy leaned in Mum's car window, smiled at me and said in his slow quiet voice," Well... it's Susie. You come to run the ferry boat for the summer?" I chortled. Delighted that he remembered that small piece of my history. As I said to my mum later, there are not many people left who remember that particular part of my past. See? That's why it's like being in a time warp coming home... or identity warp... as I said.

That's me on the ferry below... in the hat and rubber boots, with my mum, a neighbour, and my step-father in the wheelhouse. It was May 1983. I was home for a week from Ottawa and we were heading over to the island to pick fiddle heads. A spring rite of passage here in New Brunswick. I don't have any pictures of me actually running the ferry. But you can take Freddy's word for it that I did.

On the farmer's ferry, Douglas New Brunswick
On the farmers' ferry in 1983

So as you can see, while Hubby and I are here, back in the 'hood, I've been a little lost. Who the heck am I when I'm here anyway? Little sister, youngest child, frizzy haired dreamer, ferry-operator (part-time)? All of those? Or none? Grown up and gone for more years than I lived here, it still feels disconcerting to return. Disconcerting in a good way. I think the layers of identity we accumulate over our lives, especially when we don't live all of our life in one place, can be kind of like when we delete something on the computer. The bits are all still there on the hard drive... just scattered. Or in the case of identity, buried under the subsequent layers of grown up selves. And it can be good, I think, to try to gather those scattered bits. Unbury those buried selves. If only to remember who we were. And recognize how far we've travelled to become who we are.

Gad. I am waxing profound tonight. Time to wrap up this post. It's way past my bedtime. And Mum is just down the hall. I might get in trouble.


How about you, folks? What's going "back home" like for you?



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Seeking Fall Inspiration

Fall will be upon us before we know it, folks. And when it comes time to look critically at my fall and winter closet, to do my inventory, and make my list of what I might need, or want, I plan to be ready. And ready for me means having a sense of the looks that have walked down the runway, and featured in fall ad campaigns, and an idea of the trends that are being espoused. Whether I buy into the trends (or buy them literally) is another matter, of course. In other words, I'm currently seeking fall inspiration. So when fall comes I can make good decisions about what I will, and will not, buy. 

I did a quick run-through of three of the big fashion prognosticators: Vogue, Bazaar, and Elle. According to them, red will be everywhere. Along with plaid, checks, and florals. Lingerie as daywear, men's-wear inspired jackets and suits, and western inspired whatever. Puffa coats, track suits, and polka dots. Futuristic patterns and retro hats. Crazy fur and/or feathers, and shiny silver and glitter. Phew. That just about covers everything I would want to wear, and most of what I wouldn't be caught dead in. The wouldn't-be-caught-dead-in stuff is easy. Anything shiny or with glitter, lingerie as a dress, cowboy boots (at least not anymore; they kill my feet), florals that look like drapery, and feathers of any kind. 

For what I might covet come September, I usually look to the designers I admire, and not at the runway reports. Designers like Brunello Cucinelli. For louche and luxurious looks, you can't beat Cucinelli. The epitome of retirement chic, don't you think? See all the Brunello Cucinelli looks here

coat and track pants from Brunello Cucinelli
From  Brunello Cucinelli 

 blouse and pants from Brunello Cucinelli
Brunello Cicinelli

Brunello Cucilelli pants, sleeveless jacket and sweater
Brunello Cucinelli

I also love Fabiana Fillippi. Like the looks below from her website. More Fabiana Fillippi looks here and hereNot that I can afford either Brunello Cucinelli or Fabiana Fillippi. This is just for inspiration, you understand.

three fall looks from Fabiana Filippi
Looks from the Fabiana Filippi website here and here.
And because readers of this blog who live in the UK have mentioned Margaret Howell to me a few times, and since I will be in the UK in the fall, I checked out her fall and winter offerings. This shot is from the Autumn-Winter 2017 campaign on her website. I love the narrow, plaid, mid-calf skirt with the sneakers. 

Margaret Howell jacket and skirt
Margaret Howell Autumn-Winter 2017
So while I love these looks, I'm not really any closer to being ready for fall shopping. But I'm just getting started. I'll be seeking inspiration for a few weeks yet. And I may be up for a bit of a profile change. I didn't have any luck with wide-leg trousers for spring, but this fall, I might reconsider. Maybe with a chunky sweater, and a blazer, and boots?  And maybe a long skirt to wear with boots, and my short tweed coat? Hmmm. We'll see. Until then, I'll be dressing for summer, but falling asleep each night with visions of chunky-knit sweaters in my head. Chunky-knit sweaters and long skirts, caramel coloured corduroys and tweed jackets, and boots, lots and lots of boots.

And to get us in the mood for fall fashion and all the nonsense of those HUGE September Issues, here's a weird little video that I found on Vogue.com. All about how Vogue shot their September issue with Jennifer Lawrence. Shooting a magazine cover is complicated, I guess. All those creative types. And farm stylists...even. Ha. Still, Jennifer Lawrence is adorable. And she certainly seems to be having a "moment," as they say. 



But seriously, I know you don't take all this trends stuff to heart. All the furor of fashion. Neither do I. But I just love all the textures and colours of fall. All the gold, and burgundy, and green, and chocolate brown. All the tweed, and leather, and the cozy knits. I don't pay too much attention to what I'm supposed to be longing for this season. I just want to wear clothes that suit me and make me feel fabulous. Or good, at least. I'll settle for good. 

Hubby and I are heading down east tomorrow. In fact, when you read this we'll probably already be there. We'll be at my mum's for a week or so, and we'll be spending a few days in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. Saint Andrews is Canada's answer to Cape Cod. Except smaller, and with fewer tourists. I haven't been there for years. I'm really looking forward to it. I won't be blogging when we're away, but I've scheduled a couple of relevant posts from previous years. If you haven't read them already, I hope you enjoy them. See you in two weeks. 




And in the meantime. Back to fall fashion. What is inspiring you for fall this year?





Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Being a Teacher

My fondest memory of teaching high school is not what you might expect. It's not of the many commencement ceremonies I watched or took part in, nor of reading the often brilliant work produced by some of my students, or even of the moving Remembrance Day ceremonies that my writing classes scripted. Those moments made me proud. But the memory that always makes me smile is of the 1999 end-of-year assembly when three of my teacher-buddies and I made total fools of ourselves on stage. Wearing black mini-skirts (not too short, of course), high black boots, and sporting backcombed, bouffant hair, we pranced around on stage in front of the whole school doing our best lip-syncing routine to Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking." The kids went nuts. I'll never forget looking down at several of my grade nine students in the front row of the audience, screaming, "Ms. Bur-paaaaay!" Ha. I'm smiling as I write this. 

I started thinking of that day on stage at Nepean High School after I watched a video posted on Facebook by Emily, a former student. Funnily enough, a former student who is now a teacher herself. In the video, comedian Christian Hull role-plays being a teacher. I winced in a few places, and laughed out loud in others. Have a look.



Watching the video made me groan, and roll my eyes, and think of all the embarrassing, cringe-worthy moments I've had in the classroom. Like the time I was teaching science. Yep, I taught science. I was qualified to teach Biology and General Science, but it was not my forté. Not by a long shot. Science classrooms have an elevated lab bench (for demonstrations) at the front instead of a teacher's desk. Elevated being the operative word here. So, I was talking to the class, writing notes on the board, turning and talking some more, and writing, writing, writing on the board, slowly working my way across the front of the class. Until I stepped off the end of the platform into mid-air. And disappeared. Well, I disappeared from the view of most of the kids, except the shocked ones in the front row looking down at me on the floor. Ha.

Then there was the time I was rushing to class, from an early morning meeting that had run late. The ten minute warning bell rang, and those of us who had a first period class had to run out while the principal was still speaking. I ran up four flights of stairs, and down a hall that stretched the entire length of the school to my classroom at the end. In high heels. The kids milling around outside my still-locked classroom door were a bit surprised when my heel caught on something, and I flew horizontally into an open locker. Ouch. That one hurt. It seems there's a lot of physical comedy involved in teaching, folks, even if it is unintentional.  


Nepean High School English department yearbook picture 1995
Nepean High School English department in costume for our yearbook photo, 1995
Or. My favourite cringe-worthy moment was early in my career. I was struggling with discipline in one of my classes, a very large grade ten English class. Thirty-four students, most of whom were boys. Trust me, the gender balance in a class really makes a difference. I actually loved this class, most of the time. But five or six boys who were all best buddies, who were really smart, and very witty, and who could pretty much ruin a class with their antics were driving me crazy. I was too scared to ask for help from the vice-principal. Like most young teachers, I thought that meant I looked a failure in the eyes of my superiors. So I soldiered on. On a long road-trip over the March Break, Hubby and I brainstormed an entire new approach to a unit I was working on that would involve a modular approach, more fun activities, and a clever strategy to "divide and conquer" ... so to speak. 

As it transpired, the rest of the kids had lots of fun with the new unit. But it made no difference to my problems with the "five or six." At my wits end one day, I called them all out into the hall. "You know, boys, as individuals, I really like each of you," I began. "But when you're together. You're. You're," I could feel myself getting emotional. I prayed hard that I wouldn't start crying in front of them. "When you're in a group," I continued, "You're, you're ... assholes!" I finally blurted. They looked stunned. I was stunned. "Oh, crap," I thought, "I am going to be in so much trouble." 

I have no memory whether they behaved any better after that. I doubt it. I was too busy worrying that their parents would find out, and tell the principal, and I would get fired. But a few years later, when my friend Elizabeth and I were at the movies and the theatre was packed, I saw four of the boys in the row right in front of us. "Oh god," I murmured, as I shrank down in my seat. Then one of them spied me. "Ms. B!" he hooted. "Guys, it's Ms. Burpee." He grinned, "Hey, remember the time in grade ten when you called us assholes? That was the best!" Ha. I still smile when I think of that.... probably the only thing they remembered from grade ten English. 

student good-byes in my 2011 yearbook
Student "good-byes" in my JMSS yearbook, 2011. 
As a classroom teacher I learned early not to take myself too seriously. I took my job seriously, but I stopped worrying if I looked silly when I was doing it. I'd get very animated when I told stories, and wave my hands around. I used to imitate "my mother's look," as I called it, putting my glasses on the end of my nose and looking at the class over the top of them, waving my finger and saying, "Never, never make fun of my name in front of me." They loved that. Especially, when one male teacher who always called me Burps, stuck his head into my class one day and said, "Burps, you going to the meeting after school?" Ha. I remember I looked at him over my glasses and said, "You are in so much trouble, Mister." But no one ever called me Burps in my class. After class, all bets were off. I love how the one student, above, addressed her good-bye message in my yearbook. And I love that the other student says I was the reason she wanted to be a teacher. Gad. That's makes me tear up. I particularly love that during my last year teaching she came to work with me in my classroom as a student teacher. That was lovely. 


note from a student in my 1999 yearbook.
One student's...uh... honest message in my 1999 yearbook. 
But, you know, it's madness to think that as teachers we can inspire every kid. Many students just want to get their credit and move on. The note above was written the year our school was so crowded we had to timetable an extra class that started at 8:00 a.m. If I had a hard time being energetic at that hour, the kids were worse. I brought a thermos of tea from home for myself, and encouraged my students to do the same, sometimes we had doughnuts. Whatever it took to make the new schedule more "civilized" for kids who had to come to school an hour earlier than usual. I love that the girl who wrote in my yearbook, above, also found my canoeing stories and my outfits worthy of staying awake for. As I said, whatever it takes. 

So, yeah, that Christian Hull video started me thinking about all kinds of things. Not just about my less-than-stellar teaching moments. But about what I learned during those cringe-worthy moments. I think the most valuable lesson I learned as a young teacher was not to take myself too seriously. 

And I've come to believe over the years that it's probably an important lesson for many of us. Not just for teachers. But for lawyers, and doctors, and scientists, and parents, and politicians too. We should take our job very seriously, but not be too impressed with ourselves. Not get too caught up in the old ego thing. 

That, my friends,  can be dangerous. 





So. Do you have any cringe-y moments in your career that you'd like to share with the rest of us?  Go on, we're listening. 



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


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why I'm Not Bored With My Summer Wardrobe

It seems everyone in the blogosphere is talking about how bored they are with their hot weather wardrobe. Shopping for that special piece to spice up their summer closet, devising new ways to combine tanks and skirts they're sick to death of, yearning for variety, and digging for something, anything, different to wear. Sigh. And what about me, you ask? Am I bored with my summer wardrobe? Ha. I wish. 

We've had so much rain. And so few lovely, sunny, hot days, that I've hardly scratched the surface of my summer closet. And I do not have a big closet, people. 

We thankfully had a beautiful, sunny day for a very special outdoor family wedding a few weeks ago. I wore my Lida Baday sleeveless party dress with the vintage brooch I bought at the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen in Paris, in 2015, and the vintage cuff I bought at the Merrickville Antique Show last summer. And my Paul Green black suede flats. The bride's mother warned all the female guests to wear flats, the wet summer having made high heels a definite liability in the grass. Worked for me. My new flats updated my black dress, and were much, much better for dancing the night away. 

woman in black dress kneeling in front of hydrangea bed
Posing for a pre-wedding shot. 
So while my old Lida Baday dress has had an outing, I've hardly worn my new Rag and Bone striped skirt at all. I bought it specially for hot summer days strolling downtown, or going for lunch or dinner. And last week, I thought I might finally get a chance to wear it again. We were attending the annual summer hockey-gang party around our friends' pool. The day before, when I was trying to decide what to wear, was hot, 30° C with high humidity, making it feel like 38°. Maybe I'd wear my Rag and Bone skirt, with my R&B black silk tank with the longer under-layer tucked in, and my flat sandals. This outfit would be cool and comfortable. 

Woman in a black and white striped skirt, black tank, and black sandals
Possible party outfit #1
This skirt was made for easy summer days, sitting in the shade with my legs tucked under me, sipping wine, and chatting with old friends. 
   
Woman in a black and white striped skirt, black tank, and black sandals sitting in a red deck chair

Or if I worried I might spill something on my very best black tank, I could pull out my second best black tank instead. I bought this top last summer during our heat wave to save my favourite silk tank from getting ruined. And since this tank doesn't look good with the skirt, I could wear it with these lightweight, crepe walking shorts and my black flats. This outfit would still be cool, still comfy, still easy to wear sitting around on someone's deck, or beside the pool. 

woman in black tank, shorts, and flats sitting on a bench beside a red deck chair
Possible party outfit #2
So I was happy with whichever outfit I might choose to wear. And now, I'm sure you know where this is going. That night, the wind blew our lovely high pressure system away. And the day of the party was rainy, windy, and cool. So cool that I wore neither outfit, but donned jeans and a cardigan with my tank instead. So windy and showery that we made three separate attempts to move the party from inside to outside. The first attempt ended with everyone grabbing a plate of hors d'oeuvres and then making a dash for the house. The second attempt saw a few brave souls jump in the pool. And after the third try, we gave up and found a spot inside to eat our dinner. I love that our friends weathered (pun intended) all this chaos with aplomb. Saying that with old friends like us, who cared that things did not go as planned. Who indeed? We all had a wonderful time. 

So that pretty much sums up my summer, folks. Weather and wardrobe-wise. I've worn long pants and a long-sleeved top every week to go walking with three girlfriends. Each walking day rain threatened, or the bugs after the rain the day before were downright vicious. Hubby and I went for our Sunday morning bike ride today, in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Although I should say that last Sunday we had a spectacular day for riding, and took a picnic down to the locks at Burritt's Rapids. Most days when I've been going for lunch, or shopping, or to meet a friend for coffee, I've worn jeans, white jeans, or my Veronica Beard cropped pants. The theme here being long pants. And if I have ventured out in a skirt, I've worn it with a sweater and my Stan Smith sneakers. I mean, it's been so rainy that it took us almost a month to finish painting our deck tables and chairs. And we've had hail. And more bugs in the garden than you'd see in the middle of Algonquin Park in June. I'm tempted to put on insect repellent to venture into the parsley patch. 

In fact the hot sunny day when I took the photos of my possible party outfits, I thought I felt a drop of rain. Nope. It was something worse, much worse. Ewwww. The perils of outdoor photography. 

Woman in a black and white striped skirt, black tank sitting in a red deck chair, looking up at the sky
The perils of shooting outdoors. Darned birds.
Still, all is not lost. Remember Orsino's situation at the end of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night? When it seems that all his hopes are going disastrously wrong, when he finds out that the woman he loves is married to someone else, and he thinks his best companion has betrayed him? And then the worst thing turns out to be the best. Isn't that just like Shakespeare, to string us along so callously, and then make everything right? 

So, just like with Orsino, some good may come of "this happy wrack." The purchases I made in the spring, planning for a hot summer, will still feel like new next year. And if it does turn hot in the next few weeks, think how happy I'll be. Instead of groaning, and wishing for fall because I'm so darned bored with my summer wardrobe, I'll be thrilled to wear the outfits that have been languishing in my closet. 

And in the meantime, while it's so cool and feels like fall, like October, actually, I can dream of what I'll actually be doing in October. 


Hmm. London. Now... what should I wear?





How about you, folks? Are you bored with your summer wardrobe yet? Or have you even had summer this year?