Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rainy Day Books

It's been a long hot summer here on the Rideau. Hot, humid, and with very little rain. Lots and lots of sun, and not many days like this. To be fair this shot was taken last spring when it's supposed to rain. But still. The odd rainy, unseasonably cool day over the past few weeks would have gone down a treat with me.

A rainy day on the Rideau... perfect for reading.
That's because I've been stuck into a great book a few times this summer... unwilling, and even unable, to come unstuck. And there's nothing better than a cool, rainy day to justify doing nothing but read... all day.

I was hooked on Ian McEwan's book The Children Act from the first few pages. I probably would have read straight through the first night, but I couldn't bear to rush it. McEwan's prose is made to savour, so lovely and lucid. He's one of those writers, in my view, who makes writing look easy. When, of course, it isn't. McEwan's main character is Fiona Maye a judge in the High Court of Justice, Family Division in London.  Fiona is fifty-nine, and married without children. Her life is elegant, well-ordered, inordinately civilized. But, she is about to experience major disruption in her marriage. As well as embark on a disturbing court case which will change her forever.

I love how McEwan's book is so well grounded in research. He drops the reader into Fiona Maye's world. Both at home, in the elegant apartments at Gray's Inn where she lives within walking distance from her office, and at work. We learn of difficult cases on which she has had to make judgments. One reviewer thought McEwan's inclusion of the detail of Fiona's decisions, the discussion of case law, points of argument, and rationale for final decisions made the plot too clunky and was "not worth the effort." But I found the legal detail compelling, and it was this element of the book that drew me into Fiona's world. How in court she must wade through the inner workings of messy, emotionally fraught lives, and then turn all this anger and fear into a coolly compassionate and fair decision. How, as Sam Leith in Literary Review puts it, "the messiness of life" plays out against the "austerity of law." 

High Court of Justice in London   source
For instance, Fiona must decide whether conjoined twin boys should be surgically separated to save the life of one, against the wishes of their parents. Or in another case, which estranged parent (the devoutly religious father or the recently turned secular mother) will get to choose the educational path for their children. Or whether a seventeen year old Jehovah's Witness, who suffers from leukemia, will receive life-saving blood transfusions against his will, and the will of his parents. The case of Adam, the young man who suffers from leukemia, forms the main plot of the novel. As readers, we watch Fiona grapple with her decision. She takes the unusual step to meet and talk with Adam in his hospital room where she is charmed by his earnest innocence. We are privy to what she decides, and why. And of course we experience the stunning aftermath which has such serious consequences for Adam and for herself. I truly loved this book. As Sam Sacks says in his review in Wall Street Journal, "literature is a better place when Ian McEwan is at his best." And he's definitely at his best in The Children Act. Make sure you clear your calendar before you start this one, though, folks. It's very hard to put down.

The other book that I would recommend you NOT take on vacation is Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins. Seriously this book could ruin your beach holiday, have you holed up in your hotel room, snapping at family, friends, hapless hotel staff... anyone who interrupts your reading. Save this one for a rainy November day, by the fire, with numerous cups of tea and nowhere to go but right where you are. I think that Kate Atkinson is one of the best writers working today. And this book is hands down the best book I've read this year. 

I actually read A God in Ruins a few months ago, but I delayed writing a blog post about it because I was, quite honestly, at a loss for words. I had so many things to say about his novel, and nothing that seemed to do it justice. I finally had to say "enough already, just write the dang post, paltry though it may be."

A God in Ruins is the 'companion' novel to Atkinson's earlier work Life After Life... which I haven't read, by the way. While Life After Life deals with the many births and deaths of Ursula Todd, playing with time and chronology, and the idea that small moments changed can utterly change the course of a life, A God in Ruins is the story of Ursula's younger brother Teddy. Teddy's World War II experiences as the pilot of a Halifax bomber provide the main thrust of the plot, but Atkinson takes us from his idyllic childhood in the 1920's through to his old age. She plays with chronology in this book too, flipping back and forth between Teddy's youth, his war years, and his old age, as well as the lives of his acerbic daughter Viola, and even his grandchildren. Sounds confusing, but it's not at all. Atkinson is a master plotter, and a brilliant writer. 

 Atkinson like McEwan researches her subject extensively, and she performs what one reviewer calls that "elusive alchemy that transforms statistics and memories into immediate drama." Her characters are engaging and flawed and absolutely compelling. Even prickly Viola. I particularly like what Anne Marie Scanlon said about the book in her review in the Independent.ie. That, like Teddy in A God in Ruins, "each of us experience multiple 'lives' during our lifetime as we age and change." Because that's what I was feeling when I was back home earlier in August and what I wrote about in my post Lost in the 'Hood. I love how books and discussions of books can help us reflect on our own lives. 

One of the reviews I read of A God in Ruins used a shot from the television series Home Fires. Have you seen it? Based on the book Jambusters by Julie Summers about the English Women's Institute during World War II, it chronicles the lives and war efforts of the women of a small village in Cheshire. I'd watch anything with Francesca Anis and Samantha Bond in it; they're marvelous. Hubby and I both loved this series, and we're excited that there is a second season. 

I've read a couple of other rainy day books this summer, most notably The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Described in this review as the antidote for those "mourning the loss of Downton Abbey," how could I resist? I'd read and loved Simonson's first book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and had this one on order at the library for months. Set in the days leading up to World War I, and in the early years of the war, Simonson's novel is not the masterpiece that Atkinson's book is... but I still loved it. I spent one whole weekend curled up in a chair on the deck, moving once or twice to find some shade, then eventually retreating to the air conditioned sun room. By the time I was finished late on Sunday afternoon, my legs were cramped, supper would have been only a dream if not for Hubby, and a half box of kleenex was history.

And speaking of history. It's time this post was history. I have to go to the garage and pick up my car. Yesterday, post shopping trip with my friend Erica, trying to get out of the parking garage at the Rideau Centre, and caught in a traffic jam which had me sitting for fifteen minutes halfway up the very steep ramp... I ... ah... may have done some damage to my clutch. That is, if smoke and a strong smell of burning is any indication. I sat there for ten minutes and wondered who the poor soul was whose car was producing that black cloud. Ha. That would be me, folks. 

To sum up. If you haven't read these three books... you must. You really must. But be warned people. Before starting any of these, just know they will make you very unsociable, maybe even unpopular in your family. And any one of them is a vacation killer. So don't take them to the beach. 

My best advice is to buy one or all of them, or check them out of your library, and pray for rain.

How about you? Read any rainy day books this summer that you'd like to recommend?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dipping My Toe in the Dress Over Pants Trend

Like most women who love clothes, I like to keep up with trends. I like to know what's in and what's out, and whether what's in or out will ultimately have any effect on my wardrobe. I like to look polished, pulled together, and current, but I don't usually like to go off the deep end when it comes to trends. Especially if it means spending money on something that might look dated next season. But shopping my closet for pieces I can recombine, or re-purpose to replicate a trend that I like. Dipping my toe in the water, so to speak. Maybe even wading in a little. Well, I'm all over that. 

The dress over pants (or trousers for you Brits) trend isn't new. It's been around off and on for ages. In one shape or another, one era or another, or one culture or another. I love this gold and red confection from the fifties. I can't say that I'd wear the skirt and pants... bit too dramatic for me. But those gold, kitten heel pumps would suit me just fine.

Skirt over pants in the fifties
In my research, I found articles from each of the last three years exhorting readers to dive into the dress over pants trend. I read articles that show us how to do it, why we should do it, and who else is doing it. And I found lots and lots of examples. Some of the outfits are...uh...okay. But not for me. The off the shoulder look is one trend that I haven't embraced. Not at all. That sleeveless tuxedo dress with leggings, from this blog, is more my style.   

 Image sources: here and here.

Yep, it seems this trend is everywhere, on the runways, and on the street. I love the look of that long tunic and slim pants from The Row, on the right. But since I don't own anything resembling that tunic, and I'm not going to buy one anytime soon, I'll settle for just admiring.    

Image Sources: herehere, and here

But I do own a dress that might work over slim pants. My Rag and Bone "Luna" dress, which I bought last spring, looks quite good with my Paige high-rise skinny jeans, and my flat sandals. I like this look for shopping or out for lunch, if and when the weather cools down a bit. Maybe next week? I'm meeting a young, former colleague for lunch and shopping. She's heading back to the classroom in a couple of weeks, after a year on maternity leave. A new work wardrobe is required. This is the best kind of shopping. Helping someone else spend their money. 

Rag and Bone dress over Paige high rise skinny jeans, with Michael Kors sandals, and Kate Spade bag

When I rummage in my closet, I see that my Rag and Bone dress is exactly the same shade of navy as my new Veronica Beard cropped pants. In fact these pants look like they were made to go with the dress. I love this outfit with my Munro sandals. I'd wear this out to dinner and feel fabulous. Covered, comfortable, pulled together, and a bit trendy all at the same time. 

Rag and Bone "Luna" dress over Veronica Beard "Scuba" pants with Munro sandals, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet and earrings

And maybe in September, when the weather is cooler still, I can swap the summer sandals for these wedge espadrilles that I've had for eons. Add my Marc Jacobs bag from last year. And maybe even, on a cool evening, this pretty scarf that I bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary sale in July. The burgundy accessories take this outfit from summer to fall, I think. 

 Rag and Bone "Luna" dress over Veronica Beard "Scuba" pants, with Marc Jacobs bag, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet and earrings, sandals vintage     Rag and Bone "Luna" dress over Veronica Beard "Scuba" pants, with Marc Jacobs bag, scarf from Nordstrom, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet and earrings, sandals vintage

Sigh. There's not much that gives me more satisfaction than being able to dip my toes in a new trend without dipping into my bank account. Especially when it allows me to haul out something that I've been hanging onto, but haven't worn in ages... like my old espadrilles. Despite the size of my closet, and the fact that it's now "curated" and "capsulized"... I'm always reluctant to consign or donate shoes. I'm such a hard fit. So when I find a pair that I like, which fit, I usually wear them to death and have to throw them out eventually. But if they become dated, and are still in good shape, I just pack them away until the day when they come back in style. Or until I need a pair of shoes in just that style, or colour, or with that heel height. But we live in a small house with limited storage so.... I know that one of these days I am going to have to weed out my shoes and boots. One of these days. Just not yet. 

So that's my trendy story. How I dipped my toe in the dress over pants trend. Even waded in a bit. Not going off the deep end. Not drowning in trendiness, or buying something new just to enable me to participate in the trend. But shopping my closet instead. I bought the dress in the spring because I was looking for... a dress. Similarly the cropped pants.... which I bought because I had cropped pants, not jeans, on my list for fall. The fact that they look good together is a bonus. 

Now... I have to go and weed out my fall and winter sweaters and jackets. And see if there is anything I want to take to my friend Fiona's consignment shop tomorrow. 

How about you my friends? Do you go off the deep end when it comes to trends? Somehow I doubt it. You're all way too sensible for that. I'm sure you're in the shallow end with me... wading, not drowning. 

Apologies to poet Stevie Smith for the very bad English teacher joke. You can find the original, not misquoted, version of her famous poem here.  

         Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, and Friday Finds at Forage Fashion, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, Casual Friday at Two Thirty Five Designs

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I Love Golf. Ha. And It's Not Why You Think.

This is a reprise of an old post from the summer of 2014. If you weren't reading my blog back then... I thought you might enjoy it. Hubby and I are fishing in northern New Brunswick for a few days this week. I'll be back to my regular post schedule next week. Maybe with fish stories...we'll see. 

I love golf. I started to play not long after I met my husband. He's an avid and excellent golfer and has been playing since he was a teenager. 

It all started with his teaching me to swing the club on the front lawn. Then we played our first game and I parred my first hole. Yep... I hit that darn little (one could even say minuscule) ball into the equally tiny hole in 4 strokes! Mirriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines "par" as "the number of strokes a good golfer is expected to take to finish a hole or course." Pffft, I thought dismissively... this game is easy... and fun. 

For a few moments I dreamed of playing at some of Prince Edward Island's fabled courses when we were at our rented cottage that summer.

And then later sipping afternoon tea on the veranda at Dalvay By The Sea... me in my fetching little golf skirt and sun visor.

Dalvay By the Sea
Then my husband cleared his throat and said, "Suz, you need to tee off." And with the second hole, the fun ended. For years. 

I took lessons from a good friend of my husband's who teaches golf. I learned a few tips. I had a couple of lessons from the golf pro at a local course. Then I took a series of weekly lessons offered at the RA Centre here in Ottawa. (The RA is a recreation facility and organization set up primarily for federal civil servants but open to the public. Hubby played in a hockey league there for decades. And I tried to learn to play squash there a few years ago. But that's another story.)

Anyway... every single golf coach or teacher with whom I worked said: "Great swing, Sue." Apparently I looked great; I had good form. I gripped the club properly, kept my head down, rotated all the parts that were supposed to be rotated, followed through with my swing. And couldn't hit the ball to save my life.

Oh, I had a few moments of improvement. Just enough to keep me hopeful. I could chip pretty well. That's the short shot you take to get the ball onto the green. But with the longer shots, I continually "topped" the ball. That means you don't hit it squarely, but kind of skiff the upper half and thus move it about three feet. My legs are too long, I'd cry. Then on hubby's advice, I'd adjust my hand position to try to correct this and I'd swing and dig up about six feet of turf. I could feel the vibration of that all the way down to my toes. "You don't practice enough," Hubby would say. Gawd, I'd think... you mean four hours on the golf course wasn't practice enough?

Then all of a sudden I got better. 

We had been to see the movie Bull Durham while we were on vacation in P.E.I. The next day when we were (trying) to play nine holes of golf... I said to my husband, "I'm going to take Susan Sarandon's advice. What she said in the movie to that pitcher who was psyched out about the game. She told him to stop thinking and 'breathe through [his] eyelids.'"

So I did. I just stepped up to the ball and swung and didn't think about stuff. Wowee... the ball flew through the air. Straight at the flag. I scored a 5 on that hole! And even better than that... I overheard a man and woman on the next fairway... and the man was saying to the woman..."Just do it like that lady over there." And amazingly, he gestured towards... me!

This is me during my "skillful golfer" period. Keeping my head down and putting out at Glen Afton Golf Course on P.E.I. Note that my pink visor matches my pink golf ball. 

Okay. Well that transformation lasted for about three games and then my skills disappeared as mysteriously as they had arrived. I breathed through my eyelids like there was no tomorrow... with no luck. Sigh. 

Then I started having major upper back issues. Naturally rounded shoulders, too many long hours hunched over my marking (English teacher = essays, essays, and more essays to mark) and poor positioning when I was cross-country skiing and paddling etc etc all added up to lots pain and months of physiotherapy. And golf became painful in a whole different way. 

The last morning I played we started early, the weather was quite cool, and my muscles were tight. On the first tee, I swung at the ball and felt a jab of pain through my shoulders and neck. Then I couldn't turn my head. Then I was done. I was totally done! "Maybe golf just isn't my game," I said tearfully to Hubby. 

I hate to admit I can't do something. I hate to admit defeat. But golf had defeated me. Hubby replied, "Maybe golf isn't a good game for a perfectionist with poor hand eye co-ordination." Ouch!

So I gave up on golf. That was a few years ago, now. Since then Hubby and I have both retired from teaching. Which means that we're both home... at the same time... a lot. 

Before I go on, it's important to understand one thing about my husband and me. He's a morning person: a get up and get moving, with enthusiasm, best part of the day, has fifteen things done before 7:00 A.M. kind of person. I'm not. I'm a roll out of bed, stagger around, make a cup of tea, sigh, drink another cup of tea, maybe sit and read my book for a bit, then have another cup of tea before I do anything person. Well, except when I had to get up for work; that was different. 

Which brings me to this morning. It's Friday. Hubby has a regular Friday golf game with a group of his hockey buddies. They tee off early, naturally. 

When I stagger out of bed and put the kettle on, the house is silent and still. The sun is shining. I make my tea and take my cup and my book out onto the deck and sit there in my pyjamas. I sip my tea and read my book for a half hour. Then I don my sneakers and shorts and plug my i-pod in; I'm listening to a great Peter James mystery this week. And I head out for my power walk. I feel justifiably pleased with myself, and my world. Back home I shower and wash my hair. Then I make a pot of tea and an omelet for breakfast which I eat on the deck, and read my book some more. For a few moments I just sip my tea and look at the sun glinting off the river. And breath.

I so love these mornings to myself. 

Don't get me wrong. My husband and I do all kinds of things together. We have learned to make allowances for our conflicting natural bio-rhythms. We cycle together at least twice a week, we fish and canoe, and camp, and hike, and travel together and talk politics and books and food and truly enjoy each other's company. 

But I do so love these mornings to myself. 

And that my friends is why I love golf. Not my futile efforts to swing a club and hit a tiny (yes, minuscule ball), not my fleeting moments of success at doing so, not even the cute pink sun visor. But those blissfully quiet and solitary mornings...when Hubby is out golfing... and I'm not. 

Friday morning...not golfing.

So dear readers... any surprising things that you love that we might not expect?

 ***Note: Thanks to Frances at Materfamilias Writes for the spelling of "Pfffft." She used the word in a post and I thought ... that's the perfect way to express that little expulsion of dismissive air we make when we're being...dismissive. You can read her original post here.