Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Wild and Wonderful Consequences of Reading

I can't imagine what my life would be like if I didn't read ... and I mean read for pleasure, not for work or for school or for the purpose of navigating everyday life. In a wonderful Penelope Lively book called Consequences, she says that books "take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return."

I've been traveling in my head through reading even since I can remember. It's taken me places I have never been. And taught me things I could not have learned elsewhere. Just the other day my husband asked me to define a word he'd encountered in a book he was reading. The word had to do with horses and horseback riding. I gave a detailed explanation and he looked up at me..."Where in the world did you learn that? he asked." And, crazy as it sounds, I remembered it from a Trixie Belden book I had read as a kid. I mean, Trixie and Honey rode all the time, how could I not know stuff about horses? 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Beset By Spring ... or... Be Careful What You Wish For

I have been wishing and waiting for (as well as whining about) the arrival of spring for months.

I've written about it here and here and even here.

And now, finally, I think we can safely say that spring has arrived. But I don't mean that it's lovely and warm outside or that I've been able to wear spring fashions, at least not without warm layers underneath  (I really, REALLY want to wear my white jeans) ... I mean that we are now beset by hordes of  birds... birds of all shapes, sounds and sizes!  And I DO mean beset! As in troubled, plagued, harangued, harried...I could go on.

For instance...

This little guy, below, is a flicker. He's perched on the metal cap of our chimney. He demonstrates his potential relationship prowess and his desirability as a mate to the lady-flickers of Manotick by "drumming," which means banging his beak very quickly on that metal cap.

See? ... in the picture he's looking around to see how many girls he's impressed. The sound reverberates around the neighborhood. From outside it sounds charming. "Oh, those birds, they are cute aren't they?"

But from inside the house... well,  the noise reverberates down the chimney, echoes off the brass trim on our fireplace insert and thence vibrates its way clear down to the furnace pipes in the basement. No potential mates there. Only me doing the laundry and jumping every time I hear the bbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....and upstairs my husband turning up the sound on the hockey game he's watching. (It's playoff season...Stanley Cup time...aka hockey 24/7 in our house.)

Now it's not as if I don't like spring. I love spring. Or birds. I love.....well, I cannot tell a lie... I have had a rather fraught relationship with birds ever since I was little.

I don't hate birds ... exactly. I'm just kind of terrified of them...sometimes. Like these two behemoths we met when we were in Australia a few years ago.

My husband wanted a picture of me in front of them. So I inched ever so cautiously closer and closer to the fence... "More to the left, Suz. Hurry up before they move away. Come ON...they're not going to hurt you." ... and he snapped the picture. And here I am, captured in what he calls my get-away stance.

This guy below has caused me many uncomfortable moments over the years.  He's a grackle. They can be very territorial especially when nesting. Especially when the nest is in the huge cedar that's a foot from where I park my car in the driveway. He/she used to dive bomb me every morning when I was on  my way to work. So I resorted to carrying my squash racket. Yep. I'd carry my purse, briefcase, and lunch in one hand and the squash racket in the other, flailing about with it and trying to look formidable. Thank goodness we live at the end of the street, on the no neighbours to witness my performance. I mean, I didn't want to hit him....just warn him off. Look at him....don't tell me that those beady eyes aren't fierce looking.
And for annoying and scary you can't beat the venerable Canada goose. Long a harbinger of approaching spring or fall, the great V-shaped masses of them in the sky are kind of iconic and breathtaking.

They've begun to migrate through our area this spring. Remember, we live on the river. Not far from large corn fields. With lots of stubble for hordes of Canada geese to feed on. After, they like to spend the night on the river  And that means more geese than you can shake a stick at. Right in front of our house. Sigh.

At dusk they fly in, wave after wave of them. It's beautiful to watch them circle and land, skidding into the water. But some evenings, the noise is deafening.

And then they nest somewhere on the bank ...and soon you see this. So cute..... for awhile.

Because if they decide they like your front lawn and you can't discourage them...after a year or two you'll see this.
And be careful. They are short tempered. Try to scare them off and you might see this. Oh yeah...geese..not on my list of favourite things.
But not all birds are annoying or scary. I love robins. We have a ton of them in our back yard. I love their chirpy song in the morning. Hubby is not too enamored of the one that sings loudly every morning at precisely 5:16 AM. Hubby's a light sleeper. Me... I hear it, smile and am snoring again in seconds. Which is probably just as annoying to him.
There are lots of other birds around this time of year as well. Cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, chickadees etc etc. Most of them are doing this ...
Hopefully leading to this

And this.  Baby robins are soooo cute. This guy looks a little like Winston Churchill, don't you think?
But all that attracting, mating, and nest building makes for a lot of air traffic. Our clothes line seems to be right in the middle of a major flight path. And just when I've hung a load of washing out on the line for the first time this year... expecting that later I will reel in towels that smell of the fresh outdoors... a flock of birds fly over. The phrase "bombs away" comes to mind. Well, you get the idea. I mean, seriously, even the birds I like seem to be out to get me.

So....I don't hate birds...well, not all birds. It's just that they have been the vehicle of more embarrassing moments for me than I can count. I've hit the deck (so to speak) all over the world when I have imagined that a bird flying by is somehow going to lose its bearings and hit me. Cobblestones, sidewalks, piers...I've examined them all in minute detail as I try to decide how I can get back to my feet with at least a shred of dignity. It's just instinctive for me. And before you ask... no, I have never seen the Alfred Hitchcock film.

Yes, spring has sprung. I wished and wished for it to come. Longed for it. Pined for it, even. As have most of us this year. It's been a long, cold and snowy winter.

But some small part of me wishes it didn't have to come with quite so many birds!

I guess I should be careful what I wish for. So I'm just going to wish for ...tulips...and daffodils. And hope that I can haul the white jeans out soon. I just need to remember to NOT hang them on the clothesline!

Does spring have any downsides for you? Any bird phobics in your house?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Why would you not? Shopping Wisely and Free Stuff

To me shopping wisely is not just about price. It's also about the quality of the merchandise, and getting great service. Everyone knows that. 

But it's also about taking advantage of free services and other "stuff" offered by retailers. And not everyone seems to know that, or take advantage of that.  And seriously.... if it's free....why would you not? Take shopping for cosmetics as an example. There are so many freebies out there, it's crazy to not take advantage of them. 

There are the twice yearly gift with purchase offers, of course. It's easy to get your name on the mailing list at the cosmetic counter of your choice, and then time your purchases to coincide with their specials. The small size products you get are not always what your heart desires. But companies are getting much better at allowing some choice. It's not like the old days when the free lipstick was always a jarring orange. And the products you do like are a handy size for travel or purse. Last spring during the Bobbi Brown promotion I received a tiny compact of eye shadows that I am currently using. I love the colours and the size of the compact makes it great for travel. 

And.....the other great thing about gift with purchase promotions is that the gift products usually come in great bags. Clinique and Estee Lauder often put their gifts with purchase in lovely and very useful bags. I haven't bought a cosmetic bag in years. I have several of varying sizes. And when I get a new one, I often pass the old ones on to my husband. No joke! He uses them for small tools, and as travel shaving kits, one of which he keeps permanently in our travel trailer. The trick to making these specials work for you, though, is to buy only what you need or what you planned to buy anyway.

Above are two bags from a recent promotion at the Bobbi Brown counter at Holt Renfrew. They are fabulous. Roomy and lined with a waterproof fabric, spills wipe off easily. I have been using the black one for my travel cosmetic bag. I used it for our three week trip to Florida and Georgia last month. It holds pretty much everything I need: shampoo, conditioner, creams, etc etc. etc. I haven't used the tan bag yet. The faux leather is so soft and lovely....I'm almost tempted to use it as a clutch.

You've probably already figured out that Bobbi Brown is my cosmetic counter of choice and has been for quite a few years. I do shop occasionally at other cosmetic counters, but I always come back to Bobbi. I love their products and the whole B B idea that makeup should be subtle and not the first thing people see on one's face. I've become even more convinced of that ethic as I "mature." (I use quotes here... because, I mean, I know I'm aging, I'm just not sure about the maturing thing)

Just as important as the products on offer at Bobbi Brown are the women who work on the counter. I worked in cosmetics for a couple of years in my younger days... in between stints at university. I know when I'm being conned by a sales person who really doesn't know their stuff. And the women at Bobbi Brown know their stuff, trust me. 

This is Mona. She works the Bobbi Brown counter at Holt Renfrew in Ottawa. Mona is awesome. I went to see her a month or so ago looking for ideas for spring. (I do this twice a year... spring and fall.)

This time I took with me some of the eye shadow products and two blushes that I already owned and asked Mona to help me use them in a way that would freshen up my look for spring. Mona used my own eye shadow colours, showed me how to combine them in a way that was softer and better for spring, and advised me on blush and lipstick that would work best with them. I purchased one new eye shadow and a new lipstick that day. But I went home with an entirely new look.

You see, that's the thing about the Bobbi Brown counter...they will always apply the product, and show you how to use it before you buy. That's worth a lot to me. No buyer remorse...ever. Because you know exactly how the product looks on you and how to use it!

And that doesn't just apply to make-up. 

In February Mona called me (I'm on their client list, natch!) and told me about their skin care promotion. Buy two skin care products and get a free facial! A facial at a department store? Yep. They have a small back room for just that purpose and a trained esthetician on staff. Wow, a free facial...that's a $75.00 -$100.00 value, at least around here. And I had intended to book one at the spa where I try to go twice a year. And I did need a couple of things ...or I would soon. 

My facial was divine. I thought when I booked that it might be some sort of mini-facial. Nope. A full hour of pampering and my skin looked wonderful after. And I purchased creams I would buy anyway, and got the free bag besides. Bonus!

When I shop and spend my hard earned dollars....I expect quality merchandise and great service in return. With a red head's colouring, aging skin, and super sensitivity to many ingredients in creams and make-up, finding products that suit me is not easy. I never buy anything that I haven't tried; I always ask for a substantial sample of a product, and use it for a few days before buying. (It's amazing to me the stores that miss out on my business because they don't provide samples.) And the products cost the same... whether it's Clinique, or Estee Lauder, or Bobbi Brown... whether you buy them in a drug store or at  high end department store like Holts.

I'm not saying there aren't cheaper products...there are. I'm just saying that when you find a product that you like, learn to take advantage of the freebies on offer. Like free sample, free promotional  products, great bags or extra services.

Why would you not?

And when you have a spare minute and you're out shopping in Ottawa, stop in to see Mona and the girls on the Bobbi Brown counter at Holts. They are unfailingly pleasant and very talented. I may not know everything (don't tell Hubby I said that), but this I do know. They definitely know their stuff!

P.S. I know, I know... I shouldn't call them "girls"....very politically incorrect of me. But seriously people.... as I "mature" they all seem like girls to me these days! 

What free services do you use to help stretch your fashion dollar?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Springtime in the Maritimes .... or The River Runs Through It

I'm still at my mum's in New Brunswick. I haven't been home at this time of year for a long time. And I'm feeling very nostalgic. The snow is melting... there was a ton of it when I arrived. I tried to walk up the hill along the brook on the farm and sank into snow up to my thighs.

Springtime in the Maritimes

Springtime in the Maritimes

But then we had two days of rain and all of a sudden spring arrived. And the water, the water everywhere is rising. The normally trickling brook is gushing. I have been sleeping every night with my windows open wide. I love falling asleep to the sound of the brook. It makes me feel like I'm home, since my bedroom as a kid looked out over the brook.

Springtime in the Maritimes

The river too which was frozen over when I arrived home last running high and fast. Our neighbours across the road said they watched the ice go out a couple of nights ago. Grinding past their waterfront, huge sheets bent trees and moved rocks and soil. A magnificent sight, apparently. Wish I had seen it.

Springtime in the Maritimes

There's something bitter sweet about being on the farm this spring. The cattle and most of the barns are gone. So no stamping of hooves or clanking of stanchos as the cows wait impatiently to be let out into the barnyard, no new calves milling around on the barn floor and butting into my stepfather as he tries to fork hay down from the hay loft, no pungent  smell of melting manure pile. No sap buckets attached to the maple trees that line the hill above the brook. No more smells and sounds of a working farm. Pity.

Springtime in the Maritimes

But there is a collection of five deer that visit my mum's backyard each morning. She sits in her rocking chair with her morning tea and watches for them. The new grass pushes up through the melting snow on the hillside. The brook still gurgles white with froth over the rocks and down the hill to the river.

And the river....the huge lumbering Saint John River is doing what it does every spring. Rising and rising and moving with a swiftness that happens only this time of year. And becoming the main item of conversation on everyone's lips for the next few weeks.

Springtime in the Maritimes

Mum and I drove up to my brother's place the other day and stopped to see where the water was over the road. The low fields on the "flats" are completely covered. The large islands in the river used for growing hay and corn and potatoes are pretty much under water. It's situation normal for spring on the Saint John.

Springtime in the Maritimes

I've lived on a river pretty much my whole life. First as a young child, on the Nashwaak River, then we moved to the farm on the Saint John River. Now I live on the Rideau River in Ontario.  One spring a few years ago, I realized as I watched the water in the Rideau rise from my sun room window, that all the women in my family lived on a river. One sister lived on the Upper Saint John River a few hours from Fredericton, the other on the St Lawrence River....and my mum was on the farm on the banks of the lower Saint John. We were all at different places in our lives, all facing different challenges, and I imagined that we all stood at our windows in that moment and watched the ice break up and the water begin to flow freely. And that the rivers we watched somehow connected us. And I a cool idea for the "great Canadian novel." Because the change of seasons, the slow ebb of winter and the coming of spring is such a part of our psyche in Canada. And rivers are such a great metaphor for the passage of time, for growing up, or growing old.

Ah well....I never did anything about writing that novel. Although every spring when I look at the ice moving out I think about it. A flood story for the new millennium? Well...maybe next spring.

What about you? Any spring flood stories out your way?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Passion for Vintage Fashion ... A Love That Never Grows Old

I'm at home in New Brunswick this week, visiting my mum. This means drinking lots of tea, watching all of Downton Abbey Season 4, and maybe squeezing in a couple of days of power shopping. My mum is 86 and still lives on the farm although she moved into a much smaller house two years ago, the old farmhouse having become too much to manage. The little house is still on the farm property, so it's close to her neighbours and friends who have become so much more important in her life since my step father died a few years ago. Mum has no interest in moving to Ontario to be close to my sister and me, or to Alberta where my other sister lives. She has her own life, she says. Sometimes it's lonely, understandably, but on those days she puts on her Jim Reeves CD, cranks up the volume and does a few minutes on her treadmill. I'm smiling as I write that last bit. And hoping I've inherited some of those 'never quit' genes!

I love the old farm. I love old stuff in general: antiques, vintage hats and jewellery, and especially old photographs. Old photos make me want to crawl inside them and walk around...soaking up the past. I've been looking at some old photos of my mum's this week. I have a passion for vintage fashion. And as I look at these old photos I marvel at the fashions my mum and her sisters wore in the 40's and how current they look. Especially this season.

This is a picture of my aunt Marion and a friend. It's outside my grandparents' house in Fredericton in the 1940's. That's my Aunt Marion on the right. Mum says that Marion was "always a lady." Sweet tempered and gracious. She died very young, a few days short of her 21st birthday. She died of an infection, penicillin not being available then. Sad, isn't it? My grandmother always, always called me Marion by mistake. She said with my curly hair and round face, I reminded her of Marion.

I love the coat she's wearing in this picture.

Marion is wearing the same coat in the shot below. Love, love that oversize clutch too. That's my mother's other sister, Gwyneth, on the right, in the trench coat and the head scarf. Don't they look the very picture of glamorous insouciance? I love how Gwyneth is looking straight at the camera, as if to say "Go ahead; take my picture... that lens does not intimidate me!" 

This is a picture of Marion and a friend. It's taken on the steps of the schoolhouse across the street from my grandparents' house. If I could somehow magic that skirt out of the picture, I'd pair it with a white shirt and my jean jacket. And look great. She had great legs, Marion did. All the Sullivan women had great legs. Even when she was in her 80's my grandmother Sullivan had pretty ankles.

And speaking of great legs. This is my mum below; I think she's about 15. Kate Moss eat your heart out! Mum is standing outside her sister Marion's beauty parlour. Marion had just qualified as a hairdresser and opened her own shop when she became ill. Look at Mum sporting those ankle boots! And that blouson jacket.

This is my mum and her younger brother, my uncle Allie. It's a couple of years later than the one above. I have always loved this picture. My mum looking so grown up, but not too grown up to put a head lock on her favourite little brother. I love how he's grinning and sticking out his tongue. 

 Here's mum, below, in the same outfit, looking pensive and gorgeous. She could walk right out of that shot and onto the catwalk. I love the dark lipstick and nail polish. And that loose, open trench coat with the blouse buttoned up to the top and the full pants... very, well... Katharine Hepburn, if you ask me.

See what I mean? This is a shot of Katharine Hepburn, on a movie set in the late 30's, waiting for her scene, knitting. And the look...the look is the same.
I know my mum misses the days when she could "be stylish," as she puts it. Although she doesn't wear high heels anymore...or skirts...she does have a lovely little jacket that she wore to my niece's wedding last Christmas. She looked pretty fine, I must say. Still stylin' in her own way.

Because, you know, whatever age we are...over 50 like me, or over 80 like my mum...we never lose the love for that perfect outfit that makes us feel like a million bucks. It's a love that never grows old.

 This week Mum and I will be indulging our shared love of clothes and all things vintage with our Downton Marathon. Edith looks particularly lovely in Season 4, don't you think?

Thank goodness it's on CD. That way we can 'pause' to admire a particular hat, or dress. Or to put the kettle on for tea.

Are you a lover of vintage fashion?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Troubled by the Troubles: On Adrian McKinty, Northern Ireland and Spring ... Maybe

It's early April and spring is trying very hard to make an appearance, not altogether successfully. There's a cold rain falling today; the snow outside my window is dirty and receding to show wet, brown grass and muck. I'm off for my power walk and quite appropriately I'll be listening to the latest Adrian McKinty novel on my i-pod.

I'm a big fan of audio books and I have a membership to which has a great selection. When you purchase a book, you can even pre-listen to see if you like the narrator. Trust me, the narrator is important. The book I'm listening to is narrated by Gerard Doyle. This guy is talented. His voice takes on the sound of numerous characters flawlessly. He even sings a credible rendition of a few lines from a Tom Waits song in one chapter.

I say that it's appropriate to be listening to a McKinty novel today because it's raining and it rains a lot in Ireland. Literally and metaphorically. McKinty's book In the Morning I'll be Gone is the third book in his "troubles trilogy." They are all set in 1980's Northern Ireland. I'm kind of on an Irish binge these days. I have been for a while. I was reading the first book in this trilogy when I wrote an earlier post about Ireland and Irish literature in January. (You can read it here.)

Friday, 4 April 2014

Six Trends for Spring 2014 That Make me Say.....No Way, Jose!

This image was in my in-box the other day, from I have a few pieces from Vince, a tee shirt and a couple of wonderful turtlenecks which drape in all the right places and are just the right length for skinny jeans. But I am definitely going to take a pass on the siren call of the jumpsuit. "Shop now" ... no way Jose!  Maybe then, but not now ... and not ever again!

This beautiful brown silk jumpsuit looks lovely on the model. And maybe if I had a waist, and could actually wear that neckline I might, just might, try it.

But then I think again. Nah. I remember too well my acquaintance with jumpsuits in the 70's. I had one in 1976. It was kind of vermilion in colour and it snapped all the way from crotch to collar and had a bit of elastic in the back and a self belt. I remember that I bought it when I received an advance from the Canadian Armed Forces; I had been accepted into their Regular Officer Training Program for students in civilian universities. Oh yes, moi...carrying a rifle and wearing green every day. The horror! Not to cast aspersions on the good ladies and gentlemen in the Forces, but it just wasn't for me. If you knew me then and you're reading this now, I can hear you laughing and agreeing! 

But back to the jumpsuit. It looked lovely and I wore it with a pretty, striped turtleneck underneath. Very 70's cool. 

The problem came when I was out for the evening. And had stood in a line up for 20 minutes to get into the washroom and 30 other women were waiting impatiently while I occupied one of three stalls. They crossed their legs and muttered and I ... well, I was inside fumbling with snaps and belts and trying not to let the entire thing slide onto the not too clean floor and hold the broken door shut at the same time. Premises which students frequented being notoriously short on bathrooms and long on needed repairs! Oh yes, jumpsuits looked good...but they were a major pain to get off...and on, I might add.

So, no thank you Vince. I'll pass on this trend. This time.

And there are a few other trendy items that I will steer clear of this spring. 

Namely Trend #2  The full legged pant with drawstring waist. They are great on someone who has a narrow waist and womanly hips. But for someone with skinny legs, narrow hips and no waist to speak of...they do not accentuate the positive! Plus they are always too baggy in the rear. I admit, I had a pair in the 90's and they weren't very flattering then. I can't imagine how they would look on me now. Well, actually, I can imagine...which is why I WON"T be trying them on this year. Too bathing suit shopping.

Trend #3. Drawstring shorts. Not going there either; for reasons, see above. Actually I used to have a pair like this when I was running. Nope... never again.

And Trend #4. The long dress. This look is great for many. But in my opinion you need a narrow waist and no discernible bulging for it to look good. Even in my 20's and 30's I couldn't pull off this look. I remember in the 90's when long narrow skirts and dresses were popular, a friend said ..."Oh those would look great on you. You're so tall and slim." And I thought ... well, maybe. But even back then when I was slimmer and 125 lbs, I always had a midsection that was the same size as my hips. And the tubular look just made me look...well... like I was expecting a tiny bundle. 

And if I couldn't do it then.... I sure will NOT be able to manage it now!

Trend #5 The dreaded crop top!

Oh yeah,  here's a look that I think most women should give a miss. Strike that comment... and make it all females ... over the age of 10. Actually I had a crop top once, and it looked really cute. It was pink with white, eyelet lace trim and had a matching pair of shorts...and I was 8 years old!

And it's not the top per se that is the problem. It's the gap between top and bottom. Seriously, where are Stacey and Clinton when we need them?  They used to refer to the gap phenomenon as a "flesh belt." Yuk! Gee, I miss What Not To Wear.

And a crop top with eyes in two strategic spots? Words escape me. I truly wish you could have seen the look on my face when I first eye-balled this picture. Pun intended.

Photo by Peter Jensen

And last. Trend #6. Sigh. I can't believe these are making a come back. Culottes.

Nicole Culottes from

I remember a season or two ago when I first saw these in stores. I was browsing at Holt Renfrew with my friend Liz who is the personal shopper there. 

As we rounded a corner in the store, I gasped and pointed... "Gaucho pants?!" I choked out. "I know, I know," Liz said. And we both almost fell over laughing. 

Gaucho pants are what we called culottes in the 70's....back when both Liz and I were in our late teens and early 20's and we were slaves to fashion trends. Wasn't everyone? 

Oh, my... we had such a time that afternoon remembering those gaucho pants and peasant blouses and  Fry boots. Now there was a look. And then we looked at each other and murmured...."NEVER AGAIN!"

This is not to say that there aren't lots of great spring 2014 looks out there that are elegant, flattering, and easy to wear.  And good for women like me who want to be a bit edgy, but also not look like they are trying too hard.

And for those of us who definitely do not want to return to the fashion faux pas of their youth!

Do you have any fashion no go areas this spring?  Any looks to which YOU say..."No way, Jose!"