Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Ongoing Battle With My Authentic Hair

So here's the story. For months now I've been battling with my hair. Or to be more precise battling with myself, over my hair. Trying to back off, be a little less controlling, a little less of an annoyingly anal perfectionist. Trying to let my curl go its own way. At least some of the time. And it ain't easy. 

It ain't easy when my cut and colour are fresh. Let alone when it's been weeks and weeks since my last cut and still two more weeks to go. So that my hair is too long and heavy on top making it smush down no matter how much I fluff and scrunch. Not to mention the frizz enhancing humidity we've been experiencing. Humidity that kinks and fuzzes my bangs. And makes colossal whoop-de-dos exactly where I don't want them. 

So despite my best efforts to look like one of these ladies...

various short curly cuts that I love.
I aspire to make my hair look like any one of these cuts from my Pinterest board.

I end up looking a little like Schroeder, from the Peanuts comic strip...

Shroeder has hair just like mine

... with a quiff on top that looks very much like Tin Tin. Seriously. I'm not joking. 

My hair sometimes resembles Tin Tin's.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Dreaming of the Cool

Our summer heat continues apace, folks. At least here in Ottawa. So tank tops and white jeans, sandals and light dresses are still de rigueur. I don't think I've worn a light jacket, even in the evenings, for weeks and weeks. And while I'm struggling to survive the heat, I'm dreaming of the cool. Sigh. Conjuring images of autumn in my head. Partly because I'm not much of a hot weather person. But also because I've been doing my fall shopping research in time for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

On the days when it's too darned hot to cycle, or too humid and buggy to walk the trail, I'm on my exercise bike, trolling the web on my i-pad for fall clothes. Here are a few of the images that inspire me this season... well, actually, to be precise, they're inspiring me to plan for next season.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Capitulation: How I Cured My Summer Wardrobe Fatigue

I'm weak. I admit it. I caved. 

I was so bored with my hot weather wardrobe that I shopped. I couldn't help it. Well, okay... I actually could. Help it, I mean. I chose to capitulate to my need... or my desire... to alleviate my boredom with my current wardrobe. By shopping. But... I did it only as a last resort. Let me explain. 

I wrote a post last week about how sick I was of my hot weather wear. What there is of it. I had shopped so hard for a perfect not very pricey tank top, found it, and now was desperately sick to death of it. Hoisted on my own petard, so to speak. A victim of my own success in finding the perfect tank that went with everything. But as I concluded in my post, I didn't really need to shop for any more summer clothes. Instead, I really should stop whining and wait for the weather to cool so I could wear some of the other summer things hanging in my curated closet. 

Then I read a comment about my post on Goggle Plus... apparently the reader had never heard of anyone getting bored with their summer clothes. Really? And she said it was time for me "to go shopping or get creative." Okay. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Remember Me When This You See... Thoughts on Alzheimer's

I think the first time I ever really contemplated the effects of Alzheimer's, I mean really thought about the effects beyond the superficial understanding that it's a disease that affects your memory and your mind, was when a girl named Melanie, a student in my creative writing class, decided to base her final project on her grandmother. Who had advanced Alzheimer's. This was back in the nineties. What a lovely girl Melanie was... and how she laboured... how we both laboured... over her project. Making sure it was a fitting tribute to her grandmother, and to her grandmother's life. I still remember reading her rough draft. Wiping my tears as I read, and raising my head to notice Melanie wiping her own tears as she watched me read.  

I recently thought about Melanie and her writing project which taught me that Alzheimer's is about so much more than memory loss. I was reading Emma Healey's wonderful debut novel Elizabeth Is Missing. Healey's main character, Maud, is over eighty, and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, we assume. Whether Maud has Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia is never spelled out for the reader. But it doesn't matter, really. We learn quickly that Maud, wry humoured and obviously intelligent, has trouble remembering. The shelf in the hallway is lined with half finished cups of tea that she has made, put down, and forgotten. Her pockets are stuffed with notes she writes to herself. Reminders to not buy any more canned peaches. To wait until noon to eat the lunch prepared for her by the visiting "carer" Carla. And a note that wonders if her friend Elizabeth is missing. 

Emma Healey's Elizabeth Is Missing

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Midsummer Wardrobe Fatigue

The middle of July in Ottawa is the heart of the summer. Midsummer, you might say. And everything in our garden is blooming like nobody's business. We've had really hot weather, and then finally a lovely soaking rain over the weekend. I'm sure the tomato plants in Hubby's vegetable garden have grown a foot in the last few days. And we've been feasting on the fruits of his labours: fresh lettuce, kale, chard, beets, and peas. 

Our garden... hydrangea and lily beds.
Our hydrangea and lily beds are burgeoning.
But while the garden is profusely fruiting and flowering, my enthusiasm for my summer wardrobe is waning somewhat. You might even say it's wilting in the heat and humidity. Kind of like my hair. I am so tired of everything I own. And so very sick of wearing black tank tops. I'm a victim of my own culling and curating, kind of. 

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Finding My Fitness Groove. Without Yoga

Let's get something straight right off the bat. I hate yoga. When I retired and had more free time, I decided I would get back in the fitness groove. I'd always been active, and worked out regularly, but now was my chance to really ramp things up. And I intended my new regimen to include yoga. 

Everyone, but everyone, told me I would love it. That as an active person who has always had issues with flexibility, it would be perfect for me. Just what I needed. That's what I thought too. Everyone loves yoga... and so would I. It would add to my fitness routine, be fun, and help me become more flexible. 

Cycling near the Rideau River, Ontario
Cycling along the Rideau.
Well... as it turned out... not so much. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Fashion Math... Summer School

Fractions. Do they still teach fractions in math, I wonder? Fractions, proportion, percentages. I remember, when I was in school, kids rolling their eyes, or blurting out in frustration... "When am I ever going to use this?" 

Ah... like... all the time, kid. It's amazing how many times I use the skill of manipulating fractions or playing with percentages in real life. And I don't mean manipulating fractions like when Hubby decides that he's going to double or triple a recipe for chili, and he needs to know how many 1/2 tablespoons of whatever. I'm talking fashion. 

Fashion Math. And it's been a long time since math class for most of us, so we need a summer school refresher course. On fractions and proportion. Don't you think?

Now, I don't mean proportion in the sense of choosing a short, slim jacket over wide leg pants, or a long, loose top over skinny jeans. Although I would probably wear those combinations. In fact, do wear those combinations. I'm not talking about the changing proportions in fashion either, all those huge pooling pants, or hilariously long sleeves. Let's not go down that road again. Been there, wrote the post. I mean proportion in the sense of achieving balance between the feminine elements of an outfit and the masculine, between the edgy and the classic. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Back Road Books

Hubby and I love back roads. Ditto dirt roads, paths, trails, chemins when we're in Quebec. Twisting secondary roads with crumbling pavement, or narrow gravel roads make us feel right at home, no matter where we are. Like the one in northern British Columbia on which we drove 180 km into the tiny village of Telegraph Creek on the Stikine River. Lots of white knuckles on that drive. I wrote about Telegraph Creek a couple of years ago, in this post about our favourite tiny travel destinations. 

the road into Telegraph Creek, British Columbia

Telegraph Creek, British Columbia
Telegraph Creek, British Columbia
I guess it's not surprising, then, that I love books which capture the essence of life in out of the way places. Books about people who live on farms and in small communities at the end of dusty, dirt roads. So when one reader asked in a comment on my last post why I didn't write more about Canadian books, I started thinking. And since Hubby and I have just returned from our annual July camping trip during which we escaped the crowds by going mid-week in June, and as a result, pretty much had the campsite, the beach, and the back roads to ourselves... I thought I'd write about a few of my best-loved Canadian "back road books." 

farm road near Osgoode Ontario
Farm track on our walking route near Osgoode 
Mary Lawson is one of my favourite Canadian writers. Her first book Crow Lake, set mostly outside a small town in northern Ontario, is exactly the kind of book I'm talking about. Lawson tells the story of the Morrison family, of four siblings whose lives are forever changed by tragedy. I adored this book. Mostly because of the characters, the four Morrison kids, and the struggle of the older ones to take care of the younger two. But I also loved it for Lawson's wonderful depiction of the setting "as beautiful and desolate and remote as the moon." For perfect scenes like the one in which Bo (the baby of the family) plays with the kitchen pots by taking every single one out of the cupboard, banging it on the floor, murmuring, "Dis one. And dis one. And dis one." And because I can so empathize with Kate's inability to express to her older brother Matt just how much she loves him. Oh my... I can surely identify with that. Here's a review written by Margaret Gunning in January Magazine that says a lot more about Crow Lake a lot better than I can. 

Since Crow LakeMary Lawson has written two more books. The Other Side of the Bridge, and her latest, Road Ends. Each of them is deeply evocative of life at the end of a dusty, dirt road. And they all deal with the inevitable question facing those who have grown up in such places: should I go, or should I stay? As Marion Botsford Fraser says in her beautifully written review of Road Ends, if you "grow up in northern Ontario, you have only two roads to choose from-- the one out, or the one home." I'd say that this is true for many of us who grew up in small communities across Canada.

This question of leaving home is especially poignant for Canadians who have grown up in Newfoundland where the demise of the fishing industry has for decades caused the death of remote communities where the road in and out was not a road at all. Have a look at this article Newfoundland's Lost Outports which describes the resettlement of fishing communities beginning in the 1950s. 

shot from "Newfoundland's Lost Outports"
Children watching a house being towed from the Newfoundland outport of Fox Island
My favourite Newfoundland writer is Donna Morrissey. And my favourite of her books is Sylvanus Now. Morrissey has been described by the Globe and Mail as a "Newfoundland Thomas Hardy" so don't expect a light read. But her work is compelling, and her picture of a disappearing life in Newfoundland's fishing outports is deeply moving. If you've never read a book set in Newfoundland, read it just for an understanding of the people and the culture. And for Morrissey's superb rendering of the landscape. And the dialect. I laughed when I reread bits of the book this morning, remembering when we were in Ireland and a young waitress in a pub said to me,"I hear there's a place in Canada where they talk just like us." "Yep," I answered, "it's called Newfoundland." And how when my cousin from St. John's visited us in Ottawa back in the eighties, Hubby struggled at times to understand her when she spoke. 

Donna Morrissey herself is a stereotypical Newfoundlander: straight-talking, warm, lovely, and very funny. I met her once at a Writer's Festival event. When she signed my book I mentioned that we had the same hairdresser. My hairdresser Carmen moved to Ottawa from Halifax where Morrissey lives, and she used to cut the writer's hair. At my comment, Morrissey chortled, raised both hands, patted her hair, rolled her eyes, and said that her hair looked "just awful." Then looking over my shoulder, she asked if maybe I had by chance brought Carmen with me. 

As I said, she's lovely. And a bit wacky. In the video below Morrissey talks about the book What They Wanted which continues the story started in Sylvanus Now and follows several young Newfoundlanders down the long road from "the rock" to the oil patch out west in Alberta. A road many generations of Maritimers, including my own brother, have followed. The video is quite long, but have a listen to a bit of it. 

I want to tell you about one more book. It's not about back roads, but rather about small towns. But still deals with the idea of those who leave and those who stay. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright is a beautiful book. Carol Birch in her review in The Guardian calls it a "quietly profound" novel which depicts the "turbulence beneath the surface calm of small lives in small towns." The story of two sisters, Clara a spinster school teacher who stays in the stuffy Ontario town where they grew up, and Nora who leaves for the States to become a successful actress, is told through letters and through Clara's journal. 

Hubby bought me this book for Christmas one year. And I remember that Boxing Day was very cold, too cold for me to ski, so Hubby bundled up and went on his own. And I was relieved. Because I could read all day. And when he came back in the late afternoon, I was still ensconced on the sofa next to the Christmas tree, face puffy from weeping, a bit dippy from having been totally immersed in Clara Callan's world for so many hours. Clara, and her "quiet yet turbulent life," reminds me of those gently heroic characters in the best Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner novels. I seem to have a thing for fictional spinsters, don't I?

So that's it then. Three books I love. Maybe not all about back roads, but certainly about small places. Quintessentially Canadian places, I think. Books which depict the lives of those who chose to stay on the farms, or in the small communities, at the end of dusty back roads. I disagree with the reviewers who say that these novels are merely nostalgia for a "bleak" way of life that is disappearing. I think you can celebrate the courage and strength of those who struggle to survive in remote places without romanticising that life. And isn't survival in a harsh landscape what much of Canadian fiction is about? Just ask Margaret Atwood. 

I grew up in a small place. And I feel at home on back roads and in small towns. As a young adult I couldn't wait to take the road out, to get away to the city, to embrace the freedom of anonymity, the freedom to become whoever I wanted to be. And I don't regret making the decision to leave. But I still love home. The fields, and hills, and back roads of New Brunswick where I grew up. 

And okay, so maybe I do romanticise it... sometimes... just a little. Sigh. I can't help it. Must have been all that L.M. Montgomery I read as a child.  

field of wildflowers in the Ottawa Valley
Field of wildflowers on a back road in the Ottawa Valley 

Your turn. What are you reading these days? Any back road books?

Linking with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner