Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Eirinn go Brach : On Irish Books and Ireland

I'm a binge reader. If I  find an author I like or become interested in an era or a place, I will read everything I can get my hands on written by or about my new interest...fiction, memoir, biography...anything. One might even call it obsessive.

I'm heavily into reading Irish mysteries these days. Just finished reading my second Adrian McKinty book. (I Hear the Sirens in the Street set in Belfast in the 80's, during the "troubles") and I've been listening to the Tana French novel Broken Harbour (set in modern day Dublin) on my i-pod. So it's been like all Irish, all the time!

I think I became interested in Irish literature a few years ago after I finished reading the Canadian novel Away by Jane Urquhart, about an Irish immigrant to Canada. If you haven't read it, you must. It's probably my favourite Jane Urquhart novel. And after Away I began to look for books set in Ireland. I read Roddy Doyle starting in the 90's. (The Commitments and The Snapper: love, love.) I read Frank McCourt. (didn't we all?) ( Remember the part in Angela's Ashes where the kitchen of their house floods in the winter rains and the parents move all the furniture upstairs where it's warm and dry, with a big fire in the grate?  And the dad says it will be just like they've gone on vacation to somewhere foreign, where it's warm, like Italy? I love the scene where little Frank tells "the men" who ask where his parents are that "they're in Italy.")  I read Elizabeth Bowen (The Last September.) I read all of Molly Keene and particularly loved Good Behaviour. Her novels are described as portraying "the ramshackle Anglo-Irish way of life" of the early and mid 20th century. I read them because I am obsessed not only with Irish books, but also with the 20's and 30's. I mean, I think I bought my copy of her novel Loving Without Tears simply for the cover. Seriously...that hat is divine!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cold Couture or The Polar Vortex Made me Do It

Friday morning I made my first cup of tea of the day, powered up my computer, and settled in to read the latest posts from my favourite blogs. Everyone, but everyone, it seems is sick of winter! Two of the blogs featured the idea of wearing white

 The blogs  That's Not My Age and Une Femme d'un Certain Age featured beautiful, white pants worn elegantly and looking so enticing. Oh the wave of jealousy that washed over me. I want  to wear MY white pants...I wanna, I wanna! But I can't even imagine how I would get through the rest of a Canadian winter if I started dreaming about white pants now.

I have two pairs of white jeans that I love. One pair is from 2 or 3 seasons ago, boot cut Hudson jeans with pocket flaps in the back. I know pocket flaps are supposed to be a no-no for women of a certain age...but they're great for those of us who have flat derrieres. Thanks to that post Friday on TNMA ...I'll be hauling them out again this year. I love boot cut pants especially with heels or with flat, strappy sandals.

My older boot cut Hudson jeans.

The other pair is a looser fit, cropped, white jean also from Hudson. Love them too. I bought them last year and wore them all the time last summer. I like them with flat sandals or with my Tod's driving shoes. These I "invested in" with my retirement gift certificate. A group of friends threw a surprise retirement dinner for me last year. I was extremely touched. And they know me sooo well....that they chipped in and gave me a gift certificate to Holt Renfrew ... with which I bought those Tod's loafers. Definitely an investment piece! But I digress. (My former students would laugh if they saw me doing in writing exactly what I always did in the classroom. Always digressing to tell a story. I still laugh when I think of the day a student said to me..."Oh Ms're so random!" )

Yes... the only white around here right now is the snow piled up around our back door, covering the deck and barbecue and causing havoc on the highways. Believe me, if you've never driven in a white're lucky! We're stuck "rugging up," as they say down under.

"Rugging up" with J-brand jeans and a Vince sweater that I bought in the fall ...and have worn ALL the time!

Last Years Cole Haan boots. Boy, they need a good polish!
In fact it's been so cold this winter (thank-you polar vortex) that I even went out and bought a down coat. I have two lovely Max Mara short winter coats that I adore. But they lose their slim lines when you pile heavy sweaters and scarves under them. So thanks to Zara I am sporting my first down coat since 1989. I bought one that year because I was coaching volleyball at my school and it was freeeeeeezing getting into the car at 6:30 A.M. to drive to those 7:15 A.M. practices.

 The new down coats are so much nicer than they used to be. Slimmer and more chic. I love mine. And I even found one that is not black...but  a beautiful, plummy brown. And it works really well with several nice scarves that I already own. Can't beat that!

Further "rugging". My Zara coat looks purple here.

But, you know.... when I look at my pictures... wearing white now just seems so wrong for me. Brrrrr. I'll stick to my cosy plums and grays for a while yet.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Growing Pains...Or Start-Up Stressors

So... on Wednesday January 15, 2014 I published my first ever post to my first ever blog. Yep..I just pressed "Publish" and miraculously my words and pictures were transported into cyber land. This is a whole lot different than posting a status or a photo album to Facebook or sending long, chatty e-mails home from our travels to a select list of family and friends. I was alternately excited and anxious...but mostly excited.

After 29 years of teaching English, and more specifically Creative Writing, to high school students I was about to put my money where my mouth is (or was as the case may be.) I always encouraged students to "put their ideas and words out there." And talked about how hard it would be for them to let others see and read their work, especially creative pieces, the non-essay stuff. In my classes students worked in small "editorial" groups to improve their drafts and, when the final revising and polishing was complete and the print button had been pushed, we would have "Publishing Days" where students placed their finished work on a table at the front to be read and commented on by others in the class. They could submit their work anonymously if they were shy. And almost without exception this activity was met initially with trepidation and then with excitement. Like I felt on Wednesday.

So why was I feeling such trepidation? I mean, it's not as if I am shy about speaking in public. I loved being at the front of the class, or speaking at meetings, or presenting at conferences or at English Professional Development Days. And it's not as if I am afraid of making a fool of myself. I love to tell stories and really bad jokes and wave my arms around in an animated way.

Me "being animated" during my speech at my retirement party.

  Was it because after 29 years of teaching, this blogging thing was a symbol of this new phase in my life? Seriously, I had been going to school every day of my life (except during holidays and for a few years during which I took that disastrous career detour I mentioned in my last post) since 1962. That's a looong time!

My grade 1 picture. Circa 1962. Still remember and love that red plaid dress.

And this new phase was And something different for me. Teaching was something at which I knew I had been successful. And do you even define success at being retired? And I had been planning to write a blog for sometime but life got in the way for a while. And then there were no more excuses. Time to put my money where my mouth was. And that brings me back to Wednesday January 15. And pressing that "Publish" button.

When we had "Publishing Days" in  my writing classes, they were without doubt the quietest and most intent I ever saw my students. For 75 minutes they read and wrote quietly. At the end of the class the kids always rushed to the front of the room to take back their work and then scurried to their seats to read the comments from their peers. And you know what? Those comments were almost universally supportive. Other kids commented that they had had similar experiences to the writer or that they thought a particular part of the story was cool. What a pleasure it was to see those young writers smiling with flushed faces over the comments. How awesome they felt that they had communicated their ideas to others and those others had understood and responded to their work!

That's kind of how I felt on Wednesday...all flushed and I metaphorically scuttled back to my seat to read the comments on my first post. And the comments were, well, like applause. And just like the kids in my class... how awesome I felt!


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Thirty years On ... 1984 to 2014 ... and Onwards

1984 was a big year for me. I quit a very stressful job that I loathed. I packed up all my furniture and belongings and put them in storage while I scuttled back to the family farm in Eastern Canada to lick my wounds. 

view of a river and its  islands from a hilltop pasture, Douglas New Brunswick in the seventies.
View of the Saint John River from the top of the hill on the farm at home in New Brunswick
I started to eat healthy; I quit smoking; I read books; I took up knitting; I spent time with my family and took stock of myself. I needed to decide what I was going to do with my life. And then I picked up the threads of a career I had abandoned a few years before. Teaching.

Eventually I returned to the city and started my adult life all over again with renewed vigor and purpose. It was then, as a newbie English and Science supply teacher (that's what we call a substitute teacher in Canada) I met my future husband. I was a reformed party girl, bookworm, fledgling runner, lover of shopping (when I could afford it ... supply teachers didn't make much money) and full of enthusiasm and idealism for my new profession. He was an experienced Phys. Ed. teacher, hockey player, fisherman, canoeist, skier and political pragmatist. How did we ever get together?

But we did. And that began a 30 year adventure for us both. My friends couldn't believe that I was going wilderness camping (what no blow dryer?!) Colleagues scoffed when I said that we had back country hiked in the Yukon (Weren't you afraid that your mascara might run?) In the past 30 years, I have learned to ski (both cross country and down-hill), canoe, and golf (although I suck at this!)

Female skier sitting down for a drink, on the cross-country ski trail, Marlborough Forest near North Gower, Ontario
Cross country skiing in the eighties.
I have fished in Algonquin Park, in the Yukon, and in New Zealand. I've hiked in Newfoundland, the Gaspe in Quebec, Scotland, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. 
He's patiently toured the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire, the home of Katherine Mansfield in Wellington, New Zealand, and Robert Service's cabin in Dawson City, Yukon. 

woman carrying a fishing  rod and walking along a Beaver Dam, Opeongo, Ontario in the eighties.

He's cooled his heels at the aquarium in Melbourne while I sampled the shopping delights of the city or had my hair done. We love to travel together, even though he's a get up and get moving morning person and I'm a dreamer and a dawdler. You see where I'm going with this, right? We don't seem like a natural fit...but somehow we are.

This year marks thirty years since I decided to change my life completely and thirty years since my hockey player and I got together. I have recently retired from teaching. And so we begin a new phase of our lives. 

This blog will be about what we do with our new phase. It will also be about how fashion and fishing can fit into the same life quite nicely. I mean I don't really plan to wear high heels in the wilderness. But I will admit to planning my next pedicure while I'm paddling down a river in Algonquin Park.