Saturday, 31 May 2014

Enchanted By Coming of Age Novels ... Whatever the Age

I love coming of age novels. Especially ones which make me feel that life is worth living. That we will struggle through difficult times, but afterward find ourselves remade better, stronger, smarter, more self aware, less self destructive... happier, maybe. 

And I love that these books can provide a lens through which to view, and better understand, others... and hopefully ourselves. 

I just finished reading The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. It's a wonderful book... about a young man who leaves his job and his girlfriend (his old life, really) in the U.S. to study for a year at Oxford University. It's a coming of age novel primarily; the main character Will Baker takes an emotional journey and matures as a result of his experiences. But he's 25 years old, so that's no surprise. 

But the novel is also a critique of English life, specifically the life of the privileged few who attend Oxford University. And that's the part of the book that I found enchanting. Finch portrays life at Oxford through the eyes of an American, and thus an outsider, who takes neither its beauty, nor its traditions, for granted. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

A Tale of Two Sweaters

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." 
                        Charles Dickens,  A Tale of Two Cities. 

I have two new sweaters hanging in my closet. Two. Sigh. I love them both. 

Definitely "the best of times," when one has TWO new things from which to choose.

I bought them at the Brooks Brother's outlet store in Naples Florida when we were there visiting friends in March. I was looking specifically for a striped blue and white tee shirt, saw the sweater and bought it instead. But that yellow one was calling my name too. I love the colour and the stripes on the sleeves keep it from being boring.

Look at them. From the picture, you'd think that they work together to round out my style choices for spring, complimenting each other, each filling a different niche in my wardrobe: one is cool, one warm; one goes with gold accessories, one with silver. 

But there you would be wrong, my friend. No... these two are in mortal conflict all the time. For my affections. Pick me, pick me. Making my morning fraught with indecision. Which one should I wear??!!

I do love the yellow one. I didn't think that I could wear yellow. Usually it makes me look ill. But this sunny colour I really liked on me.

It will look great with my white, cropped Hudson jeans and my Paige jean jacket, my Tod's loafers, and my huge Michael Kors bag. 

Yep. Casual, comfortable, very #retired but not giving up on fashion yet.

I could even switch out the jeans and instead wear my tan pencil skirt which was such a staple in my wardrobe when I was working. 

But I really feel like I need to take my new Kate Spade bag out for a spin. I also bought this outlet shopping in Naples. 60% off the outlet could I not? 

So it must be the blue striped sweater, then. I can still wear my white jeans and Paige jacket. I rummaged in my closet and found these Stuart Wiseman flats from 2007. 

A pointy-toed flat is very "on trend" this season. How clever of me NOT to get rid of them 5 years ago. I regularly cull my closet; we have a small house and not much storage space. But if something does not show wear, I still love it and it still fits...I stash it until it comes back in style.

Okay. This is just as casual, just as comfortable, just as #I'm stylin' the trend in a grown-up/ retired person way. 

And now that I think about it,  this look is a bit more dressed-up than the other. The shoes and the purse are a bit more "downtown" or is it "uptown"???? Whatever.

I'm all set; decision made. 

But from my closet I can hear the faint but still distinct whining of my abandoned yellow sweater. Pick me. Pick me. Ohhhhhh you must pick me! 

I still hear it ever so faintly as I pick up my car keys and close the door. Voices in my closet? Jeeze.. I'd better be careful. I'm getting as bad as that kid in "The Rockinghorse Winner." 

So..."It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...?"

Mornings fraught with indecision, hearing voices...uh, so not good. Maybe not exactly the "worst of times" but ... still... not good.

And thus endeth my "Tale of Two Sweaters." 
"I'll pick you tomorrow, I promise,"  I murmur to myself, as I start the car.

Any wardrobe conflicts in your closet, this spring?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Years of Living Dangerously... 10 Death Defying Feats We Performed in Our Youth.

I know it's not intuitive that I (a retired English teacher) might have lived dangerously in my youth...but it's true. Because we ALL did. 

I grew up in the late 50's and 60's ... I was a teenager in the 70's. Those were dangerous times people! 

1. We rode in cars without seat belts.
Everyone did. I mean there were seat belts IN the car, somewhere, but no one wore them. And no child seats. Remember climbing into the back window of your parent's car and lying there on long car rides? Well, I didn't do this, but I know kids who did.

2. We smoked. EVERYONE smoked. I think the only person who did not smoke when I was a child was my grandmother. My grandfather, all my uncles and aunts, and both my parents smoked. And us kids... we all smoked when we grew old enough to sneak around. I remember starting to smoke in grade ten. Learning to inhale. "Bumming smokes" off friends. I quit many years ago (we all did in my family) and find it hard to imagine now that I ever smoked. 

But back then...oh it was cool. So cool! My girlfriend and I even smoked Kool about a clever marketing ploy!

3. We rode our bikes without helmets. And as kids we were on our bikes 24/7 in the summertime. To us, a bike meant freedom. I feel that sense of freedom even now when I get my bike out in the spring.
And in the winter...well, we skated, tobogganed and skied without helmets too. 

4. We rode our bikes (without helmets) to the corner store to buy little brown bags of  penny candy ... filled with sugar. 
Like... Pixie Sticks ... coloured sugar in a straw

 Or... Candy Cigarettes ... little white sticks of sugar with a red dot to look like flame on the end. These were great because we could practice how to properly hold a cigarette so we would look cool when we were old enough to sneak around and try smoking for real. (Please tell me you caught the ironic tone here!)

5. We were bad in school. Well... not me, exactly...but certain friends of mine....who shall remain nameless. Bad enough to get the "strap."
But the real danger was when we arrived home. We were a lot more afraid of getting in trouble with our parents, than any punishment at school.  And we were not allowed to whine about the nasty teachers who were sooo mean. This was the baby boom era...with 30-40 kids in a class... I distinctly remember my mum saying, after one of us complained about a teacher... "If I had to deal with 40 of you little so and so's ... I'd be a lot worse!"

6. We played outside after dark. Kick the can, snowball wars, mudball wars, sharpened stick sword fights name it.. if it was dangerous, we did it.

7. We ate peanuts and peanut butter. In sandwiches...with jam, with marshmallow fluff, with banana. And took them in our Barbie lunch box to SCHOOL.

8. We rode in the back of pick up trucks. On Sundays, before my mum remarried and we moved to the farm... we went to my grandparent's for dinner... my grandfather would pick us up in his truck. Mum rode in the front with Grampy and us kids rode in the back. Whoo hoo! Okay..maybe my teenage sisters did NOT find this as fun as I did. I distinctly remember one of my sisters wangling her way up front with Mum and Grampy using the excuse that she had just "done her hair."
Later, when I was a teenager, we used to hitch a drive to the Saturday night dances in Nackawic (a town a few miles away) with a boy who drove a truck. He charged for passengers; a dollar to ride in the back and two dollars to ride up front. Once there... a half hour in front of the bathroom mirror was required to repair any damage to the hair-do. Especially for me! Thick, curly hair tends to hold onto the wind-blown look. 

Imagine trying to get a comb through that mop after a half hour in the wind! What I would have given for beautifully sleek, straight hair like my best friend. 

note: I just looked up on Google Maps to see how far that ride might  have been. 50 kilometres!!! Were we nuts??!!

9. Once we had a driver's licence... we drove to the dances. Or wherever. Without seat belts ... the better to be able to pack as many kids as we could into the front and back seats of my stepfather's car. We drove with the windows down and the radio far as it would go. All smoking cigarettes. 

And one night we had to pull over and all pile out of the car quickly. The back seat was on fire.....well, there was smoke, anyway. A lit cigarette flicked out of the front window... had flown into the back window. And landed in someone's lap. Who was sitting on someone else's lap. Well, you get the picture.  We found the cigarette, and put it out. And luckily there was no damage. Phew! I mean we might have been grounded... or worse...not been able to borrow the car! 

When we couldn't get the car we hitchhiked. Alone or with girlfriends. When we did have the car we picked up hitchhikers. Nothing could happen to US! We were invincible.

10. We defied our parents.... and crossed the old cement dam at "Mill Brook." We walked on foot wide cement, then had to carefully lower ourselves down a few feet onto the sluice way where the water actually ran and then walk through the water as it gushed  and cascaded down to the rocks below. And it was a looong way down. Or we walked the log boom on the Nashwaak River in the spring. I personally did not do this... I was too chicken. Or we swam in the deep water under the Penniac Bridge. And swung out on a rope before dropping into the water. My sister and brother did this. I was too young when we lived there. 

In later years, we stayed out too late... and, because we were too young to drink legally, we visited the bootlegger (well, once, anyway... sorry Mum)... or had mysterious fender-benders after which my stepfather pounded out the dent and didn't tell Mum (sorry, Mum, and anyway, that one wasn't me)... or skipped school (sorry Mum, but it was only once and I WAS in grade 12.) Or. Or. Or... I could go on... but I won't.

You know, I started writing this thinking how it was a miracle we ever survived our youth, our years of living dangerously. Now I think it was even MORE of a miracle that our parents survived them.

Anyway... I gotta go call my mum, now. 

And apologize.

What "feats" did you get up to when you were young? 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Desperately Seeking Sandals

Whoopie... it's truly spring! As in the weather is finally warm enough to wear spring clothes without extra layering underneath. And it's finally warm AND dry enough to wear sandals! 

We live in the country. So in early spring when townies are able to wear summer footwear, I risk messing up my nice shoes in our muddy driveway. Plus, I hate having cold feet. So up to now, I have been wearing my light ankle boots. 

But now I am ready to break out my Tod's loafers and my summer pumps ... book an appointment for a pedicure ... and then hit the shopping trail... desperately seeking a new pair of sandals. 

And finding new sandals is not an easy task for me. 

These are my old black sandals. I've had them for at least four years; they're falling apart, and I cannot find anything to replace them.

And believe me, I've tried. 

I pretty much shop for sandals year round... or at the very least every time I am in a store from March to August. That's because I have a really hard foot to fit... long and VERY narrow. When I find sandals that fit, I always buy them. It's just that I rarely DO find.

But I am nothing if not perennially optimistic. So as Shakespeare said in Henry V ... "once more onto the breach, my friends, once more"... who says that Shakespeare can't teach us anything about shopping, eh? 

One problem is that many of the styles this spring are not made for narrow feet like mine. See the Birkenstocks below? I saw these on Cute eh?
They're even cuter in nude. But alas, not for me. With my skinny ankles ... they'd make me look like a duck.
And the Marc Jacob's slides below. I'd definitely be sliding if I wore these. I'd never be able to keep them on for one thing. And for another...walking downhill... my toes would sail right on through and drag on the pavement. Ouch!

The Chloe sandals below are gorgeous. I love the ankle strap. And they ARE more narrow than the Birkenstocks.
Ditto on these Givenchy ones. If I could find a pair like either of these... I'd snatch them up and go home a happy woman.
If I could find a pair that fit... that's a big "if." For I not only have long feet and narrow feet... but also, my toes are kind of spread apart. So if I don't have a sandal that fits very tightly or one with a strap that comes up between my feet look kind of look like those on my little feathered friend here. I might be exaggerating just a little. But not much, trust me!

The Tod's patent sandals below would certainly fill the bill. And I love the nude colour. I mean I don't have to get black, right?
I saw this lovely Pedro Garcia pair on Netaporter. They'd look great on me. But wow...$525.00 is too steep, even for me. And there is something veerrry familiar about them. Hmmm.
Oh, yeah. Now I remember; they're really similar to a pair I bought at 2003! See?

So.... to come back to Shakespeare and Henry V... I must "stiffen the sinews" and "summon up the blood"..."the game's afoot." Off I go. 

But with weather today like this...

And this...

I will be taking full advantage of the trend this spring to dress like this...

And wear my new sneakers with my jeans. If it's good enough for Phoebe Philo...well, who am I to argue?

May Issue of Vogue

I mean, a girl can't be expected to seek desperately for sandals...with  cold wet toes!

What are you seeking this spring? 

And check out Visible Mondays at

Monday, 12 May 2014

Treasure Hunting

I've been thinking a lot lately about family, about my grandmother and my mother and my stepfather. I'm not entirely sure why. It's partly that spring always makes me nostalgic. And it's partly because we are undergoing some home "improvements" and I am cleaning and decluttering in the wake of the workmen. And, it seems, I am incapable of doing this without stopping to admire each of my favourite things and think about how I came to own them.

I have always loved "old stuff" whether it's vintage fashion or old beat up bits of furniture. When my mother married my stepfather in the 70's and we moved from our apartment to the old farm, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. 

View of the Saint John River and Sugar Island from the top of the hill behind our house.
I had my own room up under the eaves of the green and white farmhouse. My window was in the gable and the house was green and white... I was undoubtedly Anne reincarnated! And the house and barns were old, really old. There were, literally, hundreds of acres to explore outside and in. I wandered up the hill behind the house with my sketch pad. (I fancied myself a budding artist in those days.) I poked into deep closets, maneuvered myself on elbows and knees into a fascinating, dirt-floored crawl space under the old part of the kitchen, shifted piles of old wood and assorted castoffs in the barnyard.....and always emerged with some sort of treasure. 

I'd track down my stepfather where he bent over the motor of an old tractor or sat on a saw horse patiently filing the blade of the mowing machine and I'd ask about my found object and if I could have it. He'd always stop what he was doing, straighten up, remove and replace his cap and say, "Well now, Snooze, I can't think why not." Snooze was his nick name for me. It actually originated with my elder brother, and funnily enough, only those two ever called me that. 

My husband and I always laugh nostalgically about my stepfather's penchant for speaking in double negatives. The year my husband and I decided to live together, I flew home to tell my parents... my stepfather's response was "Well Snooze, I'm not sure that that's not the right thing to do." Only his pleasant tone told me he approved.... I certainly couldn't tell by his words! That story always makes me smile.

This is the little earthenware jug I found half buried under the kitchen the first year we lived on the farm. I love it. When I was fourteen, it sat on the shelf in my bedroom and held my paintbrushes.  

This is an old chest I found behind the cow barn, under a pile of boards and partly covered in cow manure. It took me all one summer to clean it, scrubbing it out repeatedly and then letting it dry in the sun. Cleaned and repainted, it sat at the foot of my bed in grade nine, and has traveled with me ever since.  

When I was in high school and finally had my driver's licence, I spent a lot more time with my grandmother Sullivan. I'd go to her house to scrounge for books; my grandmother was a great reader, and I'd often leave with a box of books as well as a treasure of some sort. 

I remember one day my grandmother said I should have a look in some boxes in her shed. They had been there for years, left over from when my grandparents bought an old house in the neighbourhood known to all as the Gregory house. The house had been owned by a maiden school teacher and her bachelor brother. When they both died my grandparents bought the house with all its contents. That day I rummaged through all of Grammy's boxes, and finally emerged covered with cobwebs and holding a small box filled with the most amazing blue and white china, pieces from an old tea set. Six plates, and six cups and saucers. Years later I found out that the pattern is called "Flow Blue" and is quite collectible. That didn't matter to me then...or now, actually. I just loved it because...well, I loved it. 

The cat chasing the red ball, below, sat on the floor in my grandparent's living room all my life. My mum says that she can't remember it not being there, either. One day my grandmother said if I liked it I should take it home with me. So I did.

The fumed oak secretary behind the cat also came from my grandmother's house. She gave it to me when I moved into my first apartment when I was in university. I must have admired it and she decided I should have it. I didn't realize it at the time, but Grammy was beginning to divest herself of her possessions. She was well up in her eighties then. I can't claim to know what was in her mind, but I like to think that she was placing all these treasures in good homes. But that is probably overly romanticized and sentimental because... although my grandmother was a good woman, who had worked hard all her life, who loved a laugh and was smart as a whip... sentimental, she was not.

Now my mum is in her eighties too, and has been doing the same thing as my grandmother. Divesting herself of treasures accumulated over a lifetime. Many of the things are items she wants me or my sisters to have. Like the china cup and saucer, below, which my father bought for my mum when they were newly married.

Or the beautiful old tea set that originally came from my grandmother's house, to my mum's, and now sits in my dining room. The cups are so thin you can see your hand through them. Right now I don't have room to display the whole set, so the plates, cups and saucers I keep packed away. When I get my new dining room set and china cabinet, I'll bring them out. 

Two summers ago when my mum moved from the old farmhouse into her new little house... she had to decide what to do with a lot of furniture and dishes and pictures and other stuff. Mum packed up everything that she wanted to take with her to the new house and my husband and I sorted through everything else. Well... I sorted, my mum made the final decisions and hubby carried and stacked and eventually transported three or four loads in our truck to the newly opened Salvation Army store in Fredericton. We laughed that Mum had single-handedly stocked the store.

Below is an old wooden tool box and a lovely little butter churn that I brought home that summer. The box had sat in the old horse barn for years. And the churn, well, I think it was stashed in the rafters of the woodshed. My mum had set it aside for me, knowing that I would love it. 

Everything in the house, several generations worth of possessions in fact, was looked at, discussed and decided upon. Dishes that had belonged to my step father's first wife or a hand painted maple bedroom set that had belonged to his grandmother and thus should go to my step brother, were carefully set aside. 

Books, books and more old books were sorted. Some belonged to my father when he was a boy, others to us kids... our names carefully inscribed in each. I knew that I couldn't keep them all. My husband was starting to roll his eyes and sigh. 

My mum had moved to her new house the big, old cedar chest that my father had found and refinished in the 1950's. I unboxed its contents and, with my niece's ten year old daughter Carlie, unfolded and inspected each item. Carlie has her great-aunt's passion for fashion, so she tried on almost every item of clothing we found and modeled them, old bridesmaid dresses, my mum's hats, eventually wearing home a lovely old kilt that had belonged to my sister. It looked smashing with her tee shirt and black leggings.

Some stuff from the cedar chest was not worth saving. Some went to the Salvation Army store (bet there were lots of 60's bridesmaid costumes that Halloween.) Some I couldn't bear to throw out. A hand-knitted sweater and hat that I wore as a baby. My aunt Marion's hand embroidered tea towels that would have been part of her hope chest if she had lived. And the curling tongs that she used in her hair salon. My mum has kept them all these years. I couldn't NOT bring them home.

Some of my own childhood treasures that were still stored in the big closet in my old bedroom were passed on, finally, that day. Carlie loaded up the back seat of their car with several cases of 60's era Barbies, Barbie clothes, Barbie's car and her "House of Dreams" ... and her mother, my niece, rolled her eyes and said..."Gee, thanks Aunt Susie!" Except that she was one to talk... having previously packed her trunk with old green painted kitchen utensils, stoneware crocks, and a large picture that had hung in my grandmother's (her great-grandmother's) bedroom. I guess loving old things runs in the family.

I'm not sure why I love old things, I just do, and always have done. My friend Mary is a great shopper of antiques. I've learned a lot from her about browsing through country antique fairs. When an item interests her, she always picks it up, carries it over to the merchant and says..."Tell me about this." I love that approach. It elicits all kinds of surprising detail and information about the item's value and provenance. And sometimes quirky stories about the object's history.

"Provenance" is a word usually reserved for rare and valuable antiques where the chain of ownership must be proven since it has an effect on the object's monetary value. To me it just means the story behind the object. 

Each and every item that my grandmother or my mother passed on to me was accompanied by its story, or a related story. Stories about dances my grandmother attended as a girl or about the maiden school teacher who lived in my grandmother's neighbourhood. Stories about my father and his and my mum's life together before I was born, or about my Mum's sister who died young. None of my treasures is particularly rare or valuable, as far as I know... except to me. I know the "provenance" of them all. And knowing that infinitely increases their "value" for me.

Are you a lover of old things? What objects do you treasure? 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Ch-ch-ch changes

Yes, it's spring on the Rideau alright. The geese have returned (oh joy!) The daffodils are blooming...

and we are having spring renovations done. 

Why is it that after home renovations are complete you totally forget what a pain and a disruption they are...until you go down that road again?! 

This time (word choice here implies past experience with other renovations aka we should have remembered what we were getting into), this time we are having installed much needed new windows in several rooms and new siding on the entire house. This follows a surprise roof problem, three weeks ago, which required a whole new roof.  

So ch-ch-ch changes, indeed!

Our roofing work was completed when I was in New Brunswick with my mum. Thank goodness! Because when the roofing men were finished, they left the ventilation area under the eaves open... the siding guys were coming in two weeks anyway. Except that... spring is NOT a good time to leave lots of narrow openings into a nice, warm, safe, VERY attractive potential nesting area... in your attic! Birds of all kinds arrived, beaks full of straw and twigs and began to move in. My husband had to stuff all the holes with whatever was handy. And then unstuff at intervals to let out the birds who were trapped. Have I said that I am not good around birds? 

Below is a shot of the back of the house complete with aging siding, ugly windows and one bright red golf towel used to temporarily discourage avian home builders. 

The roofers also removed most of our eavestroughing which will be replaced by the siding guys. But not before several nights of torrential rain (I may be exaggerating slightly here) flowed directly off the new roof and into our basement windows. So hubby had to deploy buckets, barrels, whatever he could find to catch the water and then wake up every two hours to dump them. Note: I'm still in New Brunswick when this happens, feeling a bit guilty at this point, that he is doing battle with nature all on his own.

Improvised eavestroughing on our deck. 
We really needed to replace our ancient aluminum siding. And our old falling-apart aluminum storm windows along with the old wooden interior ones. 


Work started on the new windows earlier this week. 

On Day 1, I ensconced myself in our sun room (where we were NOT having work done)... curled up on the wicker chaise with an afghan over my knees (the windows in several rooms had been taken out and it was still pretty cold outside)... with my cup of tea, my book and my i-pad mini. Forgetting of course that my reading glasses and freshly made pot of tea were still in the kitchen (where we WERE having work done.) Sigh. Surviving renovations takes SO much planning.

This is Trevor below finishing our new kitchen window. 

Later Trevor moved outside and turned this...


... into this. Magic eh?

By Day 2 they had started work on the siding.

This is what the front of the house looked like once they started removing the old siding. 

I guess renovations are like having plastic surgery; you have to look really bad before you can look better. Or maybe they're like a day at the hairdresser... when you have to sit there with goop smeared all over your hair, and those little foil papers hanging in your eyes...and two hours later you leave looking gorgeous. Or at least your hair looks gorgeous... well... it does if you go to my hairdresser. She's amazing. But as usual...I digress.

It's Day 4 now. The workmen seem to be everywhere. Every time I sit down with a cup of tea I find myself staring out a window at someone on a ladder looking back.

 I need a break. We need a break.

So while Trevor and Terry finish the ripping and removing of old siding and tack on insulation and measure and fit the trim and the new siding itself... Hubby and I escape. On our bikes.

We take the new trail near our home, built on the old railway bed. 

It's a beautiful day. We pedal past farms, over small streams and marshes, through hardwood bush... 

Manure spreading ... the smell of spring to a country girl!


And everywhere we look, we see that nature is undergoing some ch-ch-ch changes of her own.

Not just the new leaves on the trees. Or the grass in the pastures. 

But flowers ... flowers are everywhere. 

Under the trees in the bush. On the sunny banks by the side of the trail. Poking up through standing water. Along the remains of an old cedar-rail fence. 

Thick carpets of Dogtooth Violets.

Small clusters of what I thought were Mayflowers. But are actually something called Bloodroot. 

Delicate white Trilliums.

And while not a flower... still, a sight that is dear to every Maritimer's heart (and stomach), those harbingers of spring ... Fiddleheads. 

We have a wonderful two hours in the sunshine surrounded by birdsong.

And we arrive back home to find that things have progressed nicely. 

Maybe they might be finished in two or three days? If we get good weather.

Meanwhile...the sky has clouded over. We're supposed to get quite a lot of rain tonight and tomorrow. 

And the eavestroughing is the last thing they will install. 

I can hear hubby dragging out the buckets and barrels... I must go help.

Sigh. I guess that during the hockey game tonight, we'll be ... 

ch-ch-ch changing the buckets!

Any ch-ch-ch changes out your way this spring?