Saturday, 31 January 2009

Procrastination Produces Non-Recipes

Every time I think I should deal with the spacing problem of Explosion on the Writing Blog, I find a way to avoid the drudgery. One of my ploys has been to organize all my loose recipes from every possible source into some semblance of order in binders.

I made a discovery as I worked assiduously on avoiding the spacing chore ... that I could create a really simple cookbook that would replace all those recipes; all those cookbooks for which I bought a shelving unit. Of course I won't get rid of them because I love savouring recipes in much the same way I drool lasciviously over wool.

However; it will make life easier when I have only a dozen non-recipes to work with especially when there is a power outage. Here is what I produced this morning instead of fixing the spacing.


CHICKEN BASICS

WHOLE CHICKEN OR PARTS
browned in

OIL/BUTTER
with
ONIONS, LEEKS OR SHALLOTS
+
GARLIC
+
VEGGIES

seasoned with

HERBS OR SPICES
+
simmered either on stove top or in oven at 350 degrees in

FLUID

served with

POTATOES, RICE, BARLEY OR PASTA
cooked separately or added ½ hour before the end of the cooking time



SOME CHOICES
USED ALONE OR IN COMBINATION

VEGGIES: CARROTS, OTHER ROOT VEGETABLES, CELERY, MUSHROOMS

SEASONINGS: THYME, ROSEMARY, HERBES DE PROVENCE, PARSLEY, BAY LEAVES, VANILLA + ROSEMARY, LEMON JUICE, ITALIAN HERBS, MAPLE SYRUP , COMBO OF CINNAMON, CUMIN, CORIANDER, PAPRIKA

RUBS OF GINGER + DRY MUSTARD OR ..... APPLIED BEFORE BROWNING

FLUIDS: CHICKEN BROTH, WHITE WINE, CANNED TOMATOES, CREAM SOUPS, APPLE CIDER

LEFTOVERS? MAKE SOUP OR A KIND OF SHEPHERD'S PIE COVERED IN MASHED POTATOES


I will do the others over time and will share them too.


Friday, 30 January 2009

Endangered Species

A Swedish reader wrote that she is reveling in the bookstores of San Francisco (People Reading Blog) because bookstores have disappeared in her country. Everyone buys their books on-line. A good reason for us to protect our endangered species while we still have them.

I, however, am as guilty as everyone else. Here we have one book store. I would love to give them all my business but every time I have tried, the books have to be ordered and they invariably take much longer (and are far more expensive) than Amazon.

I would love to go to San Francisco and spend a week in book stores, wouldn't you? I would also look for the parrots and climb the hills and take photos of idiosyncratic windows and doorways populated by cats.

As you can see by the last photo, I am neither knitting nor reading. Instead we are all cooking, cuddling babies and enjoying the joy of our dogs' reunion.

Zeke the Nova Scotia Toller comes this morning so Kenya will have company for a whole week.

I will start reading and knitting again this weekend.

Lusty Little Lucas



My house guest extraordinaire!
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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Scrumptious Wool

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Concerns and Appetites

My day began at 5, but there is little of interest happening ... except that I am concerned because the Alcoholic Poet has not posted since the 27th (Tuesday morning just after midnight) and she is usually very regular with her nightly posts. Her last poem ended with these lines:

The window yawns. Heavy with lives we'll never live.
The scab returns to where it has never been.
Patterns on the flesh say otherwise.
While blood quietly solves the algebra.
No remainders. This is not division.
Just when. As stubborn as ever.

I hope she is all right and that my prickly sensitivities are not warranted.

A friend many years ago ... my best friend in fact ... committed suicide in his mid twenties. He had been talking about it ... living his life punctuated by desperate moments ... for a very long time before he did it. Back then (in the sixties) the word was that suicidal people don't talk about it; they do it. Today we know otherwise.

On a very different note, I have been lusting after my wool. It draws every sense to it. It smells wonderful. Its colours blend and marry within the skeins. The darker one particularly intrigues me and I am anxious to see how it will knit up. I feel almost a hunger for this wool ... a gluttonous desire to dive in and make it part of me. In my experience, that is something that happens more often with art than wool.

I feel the same sensations when I read poetry and other literature, when I am in the presence of sculpture or pottery that makes me want to touch and fondle it, and when I look at paintings, photographs, and skies that draw me right into them. I will post a photo of it, but you won't understand if you haven't touched and smelled it, I am afraid.

Scrumptious Wool

Marta and the Dogs

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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Hodge Podges

A Nova Scotian hodge podge is a wonderful dish filled with the earliest sweetest veggies ... cooked with milk or cream ...

A blog hodge podge is not as easily defined. They often end up as simply messy. This one is really simply a stream-of-consciousness attempt to make up for yesterday's awkward offering.

Yesterday was a busy day, but since I am on this crazy prednisone regimen, I can fit far more into a day. Nothing is as conscious. Nothing is done very well because I am spaced out at the same time as I am revved up.

What did I do?

In Ottawa: I picked up the keyboards, bought gas at Ottawa prices, visited Wabi Sabi where I bought hand-dyed variegated wool and needles to make heavy socks, and was given a pattern as well, stopped at the SAQ warehouse for wine and had a quick visit with Tamarack.

In Wakefield, I stopped at the post office to pick up a parcel ... three new books and three DVDs.

When I got home and offloaded the sled, I discovered a phone message asking if I would like to go with a friend to a free movie at the Black Sheep after supper. We went and, although at times, I disliked the self indulgent whining of the main character and at others as if I were watching paint dry, it turned out to have been worth the patience required to see it. I can't remember the title but it was about a young man who discarded the life and family he had no use for to wander in Alaska with nothing but a back pack, a small kayak and a rifle. Before he died he realized that happiness has value only if it is shared. Sad that he came to terms with his life too late to make anything of the wisdom acquired. Great nature photography throughout.

By the end of the film my throat was closing up and I was glad to head back and make my way the last half kilometre on foot by flashlight.

I have been dealing with a new side effect of the prednisone ... a mouth and throat problem ... I think it is thrush. The advice is to gargle often with salt water, but one of the precautions for prednisone is to avoid salt, so I am gargling with antiseptic mouthwash instead. If it is not better soon I will have to see someone, I guess.

I got into the snuggly warm red pyjamas my friend had tucked into a bag of sweaters and things for me to try out. These were from Frenchies. She and her sister who still lives in Nova Scotia are Frenchies addicts too.

I put another log on the fire, thought about how I was going to replenish my wood supply which is diminishing rapidly in this ultra cold winter. Rona in Quebec has seniors' discount days the first Tuesday of the month, so I will buy my extra large logs then.

This morning at 5:30 I checked out other discounts for seniors ... did you know that there are lots of them ... the Bay ... Sears ... Herb and Spice ... all insurers ... Brown's Cleaners ... Herongate Mall ... the Natural Food Pantry ... the Bulk Barn ... the Sally Ann at Altabank Plaza. Algonquin College even has some courses available to seniors for $20!

I made plans for today ...

* I decided to check the web for solutions to two other problems I have ... a need for extra potassium and an infestation of tiny black ants that couldn't care less about the ant traps I have set out. Anyone have an answer to the ant problem?

* I would fix the paragraph spacing on the novel posted on the website ... ugh ... what a chore!

* And I would start a pair of socks on my new needles with my new wool. Every time I have started socks so far I have ripped them out as not living up to the wool I am using. If these ones ever get to be a completed pair I will photograph them and give them away as a gift!

* and I will do the last of the stitching on Tamarack's tea cozy.

* I will also try to go for a ski on the lake and bring the snowshoes and skiis back up to the house before it snows.

Right now the idea of curling up with the novel I am reading ... Origin of Species ... is very appealing!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Death by Tea

I murdered my keyboard yesterday morning while posting the whole novel to the writing blog ... I wasted a few hours trying clean up the mess and resuscitate the poor thing but have not been successful. The a and @ keys have gone into silly mode. Have you any idea how often you use those keys???

So ... I am hunting and pecking on my laptop while standing up downstairs

A friend is getting rid of an old keyboard and a back-up hard drive and offered them to me. If I can start my car I will be picking them up today.

Little news ...

...a good birthday weekend with Marta and Henry ...

...the roofer has shoveled the snow off the roof and is stymied by the problem which should have been solved by the ice shield, the raised ventilation and the extra ten inches of insulation all done last last summer. he thinks it is a design fault ... back ionce again to the original builders and their incompetence. The builder changed the architectural plan of the roof ... but the architect made the first error ... and neither of them dealt with it before it was too late.

... the whole manuscript of Explosion is now posted on the Oma-writes blog.

I hope I will be back to my familiar computer tomorrow.

Cheers all.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Chapter 5

Need your input ... should I simply post the whole novel on the writing blog? ... do you like having it arrive here? ... would you like alerts to tell you when the next chapter is posted? ... should I simply forget about trying to share a novel on a blog?

Please let me know.

In the meantime, as before, here is Chapter 5 and it will also be posted on the writing blog.


CHAPTER 5 -- DINNER AT THE JUBILEE RESTAURANT

Kate let herself into the apartment at 7:00, and turned on the light. She hung her jacket in the hall closet, and went down to her bedroom where her kilt was flung on the floor in a heap with her sweater set and her underwear. A gold chain, on which hung a finely wrought young foal with gangly legs, was curled around small gold earrings on the limed oak bureau. She picked up the binder from the bed and stepped over another, considerably ranker smelling, pile of clothes in the middle of the floor, and walked into the livingroom to a large chair. After setting her open binder and an ash tray and cigarettes on the oversized arm rests, and covering herself with a light mohair throw, she climbed into the nest she had created, took one of the Craven A's from its pack, lit it with a silver plated Ronson table lighter and puffed on it, tapping a non-existent ash into the silver plated ashtray.

She glanced at the book she had borrowed from Mr. Stevens, but turned from it to the science section of her binder. Mr. Killawee had given homework this morning, but it wasn't due till Wednesday. She looked at the assignment, and seeing that it consisted mainly of simple math problems connected with speed and distance, she set it aside. Taking a few drags from the cigarette, and using Mr. Stevens' book as a table, she proceeded to write in her best handwriting "I will not be late to class again. I will remember to bring my cooking apron to all my cooking classes from now on" . By the time she had written the two sentences twenty-five times her hand was stiff, and her cigarette had burned away to a long grey ash. She extricated herself from the tangle of papers and blanket and walked into the bathroom, and then into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door, and, in the half light, noted that it was only half past seven. She took a coke from the top shelf of the refrigerator and closed the door casting the kitchen once more into darkness.

She wished she could call Rick, but she always felt funny if anyone else answered, and tonight was one of his biology tutoring nights anyway. She hoped he'd call when he was finished, but he might not be able to. He was in his last year of high school with tons of homework every night, and his parents expected him to get the marks he needed for medical school.

I'll call Mim, she decided. She turned on the overhead light and dialed Miriam's number. It was answered on the third ring by Reverend Stockwell. "Yes, I'll get her for you, Kate, but just a short conversation. Miriam has homework to finish before bedtime."

"God, why does he always have to say that, Mim?"

"Say what?"

"Get off the phone in two minutes. How can you have a conversation with a stopwatch going?"

"He isn't timing me. But he's been helping me with my math homework and he wants us to get it finished soon. He has to prepare a speech or something for the Church Women's meeting tomorrow. What's up? How did things go with Miss Johnson after school?"

"I don't even want to think about it. I walked out when she wanted me to wash the floor on my knees."

"But, Kate, everyone washes the floor that way. You've been over here on a Saturday when we're all doing our chores. You've seen Donna scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom floors."

"But not everyone is wearing an expensive kilt from Scotland. I said I didn't want to talk about it and I don't. The last thing I need is you taking Miss Johnson's side in everything."

There was a sigh on the other end of the line and then Miriam's voice resumed, "What did you do after school?"

"The usual. Came home and changed into my jodphurs, rode for an hour or so, came home and took a bath and changed into jeans and went to the Jubilee for supper, and then came home and started my homework."

"What did you have for supper?"

"A hot hamburger sandwich, a coke and a hot fudge sundae."

"Yum. We had liver and onions. Yucck! Oops, gotta go. Dad's holding up one finger. See you tomorrow morning?"

"Yeah." Kate hung up slowly coiling the cord around her hand. She bit her lip, and then went back into the livingroom where she took up from where she had left off. "I will not be late to class again ..." She wondered what Miss Johnson would do about this afternoon. She felt a sick sense of dread when she remembered her words ... you may be a charwoman but I'm not ... the hell I will ... And had she heard what she'd said to the grade sevens?

Just as she finished the last of the lines, she heard a key in the lock. Her father came in shaking himself like a damp dog. Walter Hennigan was a slim man with thinning blond hair and hazel eyes. He was wearing a navy pinstriped business suit and a lustrous silk tie with a crisp white dress shirt. His shoes gleamed. The only resemblance between him and Kate was their short stature. "It's started to snow. Probably won't last. Too early for that, but it's been a grey November day. Any calls for me while I was out? How was your day?"

Kate threw herself on him and gave him a hug. "No calls. I'm glad you're home. I've had a rotten day. We started cooking this term and we have this absolute witch for a teacher. She's ancient and has these awful lumps all over her face. They turn red when she gets mad. She's ugly enough to be in a house of horrors. She probably glows in the dark. And her eyes are lopsided. One hangs halfway down her cheek.

Her father laughed and said, "Well maybe you'll finally learn how to cook, anyway."

"I doubt it," Kate retorted. "She's doing things like boiled eggs and porridge, and after what happened today I may not have to go back to her class anyway."

Mr. Hennigan's face clouded. "What did you do today?"

"I refused to wash her filthy old floor on my hands and knees in the good kilt you brought back from Scotland last trip."

Walter Hennigan laughed and tousled her hair. "You're quite a Tartar, aren't you? How was supper?"

"Okay. Are you going to play a game of crib with me before I go to bed?"

"Not tonight, honey. I'm beat. Maybe tomorrow night. Sleep tight," and he disappeared into his bedroom, not even stopping to brush his teeth.

"Not any night, you mean," Kate muttered to the closed door. "When was the last time we did anything together? I might as well still be living with Mom and Dad Hall, or be back at Edgehill for all I ever see of you."

Kate went into her own room and closed the door behind her. She turned on a bedside table lamp, slipped out of her jeans and shirt and put on a flannel nightgown hanging on the cupboard door. She looked around the room and brightened up. She loved this room and could remain oblivious to the three piles of clothing on the floor and unaware of the unmade bed and concentrate on the treasures on shelves and walls. Standing in the headboard of the bookcase bed were a small blue radio and several porcelain horses her dad had brought back from London, The walls were hung with mementoes of other European cities: a cuckoo clock from Geneva; silk paintings of children in Alpine dress from some other Swiss town; dolls in a variety of national costumes; and two framed blue silk scenes from Lyons where for centuries tapestries had been made. Her curtains and matching bedspread were made of a bright yellow printed cotton from Provence. One of his girlfriends who could sew had made them. Kate thought that one had been called Mary. Joanie was his current girlfriend, and Kate liked her. She was younger than some of the others had been but wasn't one of those glamour pusses who had her picture taken with him in some club. Kippy was a bleached blonde from New York who fit into that category. She'd liked the woman who'd given her the blue Evangeline figure too Adele, a dietician who worked at the Camp Hill veteran's hospital and made wonderful pumpkin pies. Sometimes Kate dropped in to see Adele on her way home from riding. Dad had said he'd broken off with her because they didn't have much in common, but Kate thought it was because she was middle aged and heavy and looked comfortable instead of young or glamorous. Joanie was coming to stay with her next week when her dad went to New York for a few days. Kate was looking forward to it.

She pushed some stuffed animals onto the floor and stretched luxuriantly. Then she retrieved the ancient Rudolph and planted a kiss on it red plastic nose. Her dad had given the stuffed reindeer to her the Christmas she'd arrived in Halifax. That flight had been a rollercoaster ride. The plane had taken off and landed at every city between Toronto and Halifax, and all the landings had been rough, especially the final one. Her father had been standing on the tarmac, the stuffed Rudolf in his hands, when the plane taxied in, and Kate, still feeling ill, had hugged him, grateful to feel solid ground under her feet.

The emotional ride had been just as turbulent. Fear of the unknown battled with the excitement of an adventure. One moment she delighted in the notion that her father would be only forty miles away; the next she remembered Mom Hall and her throat tightened. She'd read Edgehill's rules. Would she ever again be free to wander off alone for hours, just being a kid, she'd wondered.

And weaving its insidious way through all of these thoughts was the knowledge that she had instigated the whole affair by telling Mom Hall about the woman who'd given her the blue Bakelite radio. If she hadn't told anyone about meeting her real mother, nothing might have happened.

Kate fell asleep, cuddling Rudolf, the what if's tumbling around in her head.

Words Do Matter or The Silver Tongues of Black People

We were talking last evening about Obama, the orator. Orators stand out in our world because they are so rare. How many can you count in your life time? Martin Luther King? Bishop Desmond Tutu? Pierre Elliot Trudeau? Winston Churchill? I am hard pressed to think of others offhand.

But when I was in Africa, I attended many many formal opening and closing ceremonies, all marked by speech after speech after speech. Some of those very long speeches were soporific, but not as many as you would imagine.

When I travel I also attend more church services than I usually do, and the pastors I listened to in the African countries, Kenya and Uganda, and on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera were all orators who could grab their listeners by the throat and hold their attention.

The best speaker I have ever heard was an old man who was Secretary General of the All Africa Teachers' Organization. His name was Tom Bediako. He was well-loved and the teachers called him Uncle Tom ... in a complimentary way.

Tom would listen to all the speakers who spoke before he did and then he would extemporaneously create his own speech by weaving together the most important points of all the speeches that had gone before. It was magical to listen to him. Everyone in the room was reminded of what had been said that day. And every speaker knew that his words had made an impression, not once, but twice.

Africans have deep roots in an oral tradition and there are still many uneducated Africans who rely on the spoken word, on story, to learn what is going on. Even if they can read, the printed word is often not available or very expensive. As a result, oratory flourishes there, just as it did in the American South among the slaves who were forbidden to read.

Barack Obama comes from a rich tradition of oratory and he uses it skilfully to express the ideas gleaned from his personal education, erudition and principles.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Happy Birthday Weekend

I need more sleep. I need more energy. My usually high but controlled blood pressure is way low. My asthma is acting up. I need for my mouth to start tasting sweet instead of salty ... or at least neutral. I need to return to a sane appetite. I need to get off these damn pills!

Denis, the roofer, is coming this morning to take snow off the roof. He thinks the ridge cap is the problem, something about short pieces of tin up there ... don't ask ... I just pray that the tradesmen are honest and know what they are doing these days. He was truly concerned ... can't fixthe leak till spring, but can remove the snow and allay my fears that he might not give a damn. I think he is one of the good ones.

I also need to stop endlessly sweeping and washing floors and tidying because I am too exhausted and scattered by lack of sleep to do anything truly physical or creative.

Today I will start my real day, the one away from the computer, by planning the weekend meals. It is a birthday weekend. I will be celebrating it with one of the people born on January 25, and thinking about the others who are not here with me ... Mud Mama ... Robbie Burns ... Virginia Woolf.

Robbie ... we will try to attend your party at the Black Sheep tonight ... and sing a rousing cheer to a poet who understood the nature of wee sleekit cowerin' timorous beasties whose lives are upended by an uncaring larger world.

Virginia ... thank you for the courage you've given me ever since I was a young woman, for helping me find the strength to rise at times above being a cowerin' timorous beastie.

Mud Mama ... who was raised in the light of Virginia, and who radiates strength in adversity, may your prayers be answered ... I love you.

I am thinking of grilling fillet steaks dressed with Boursin cheese and serving them with tiny potatoes, beets done with either orange juice or caraway, and sugar snap peas ... plus a special birthday dessert ... have to hunt something up. Not sure whether to do this tonight or wait till the 25th ... Maybe the 25th would be better since we can just hunker in after dinner with wine rather than heading off to the Sheep. And this would be a good meal to have after skiing in the cold.

So ... off to my cookbooks ... and maybe later to the latest tea cozy ... one based on parachutes ... it is down to its last stitching ... all those safety lines. One of my second hand shop purchases has five pages ... five! ... on different embroidery stitches. What a deal! The whole book cost $1!

And here is Chapter 4 of Explosion for those reading it.


CHAPTER 4 -- FOUL MOODS, FISH AND RISENGRYNSGRØT

Art class had been fun. Mrs. Maxwell had brought in twigs and dead leaves and all kinds of other things from her cottage near Lunenburg, and they had created pictures from them. When Kate had to draw, she produced rigid figures with no life or movement, but when she was allowed to play with materials and move them around on the page, she could set free her imagination and her natural sense of order and beauty. She had created a haunted wood peopled with fantastic creatures. The trees and undergrowth gave hints of their presence, but there were no actual representations of them. She particularly liked the bark of one tree in which she could see a Puckish face. She thought it might provide the inspiration for a poem. Maybe she'd do something with it in Friday's creative writing class.

There were a few grade seven students lingering by their lockers when she arrived at Miss Johnson's door. This better not take long; she wanted to get to the riding club in time for her group riding lesson with Dick Zwicker. She nudged open the door with her shoulder, and set her binder down on the counter top. "I'm here to wash the floor, Miss Johnson," she said to the teacher's back.

"Have you written out your lines, Hennigar?"

Kate gritted her teeth. Mr. Zwicker called all of them by their last names, and he sometimes got her name wrong too, but she knew he liked her. When she'd recited "Abou Ben Adem" and won an elocution competition in grade six, he'd been the only adult to make a fuss. Her father had been too busy to come, but the next day Mr. Zwicker had called her over to the box stall where he was trimming Fairy's hooves, and had said, "Congratulations, Hennigar, I heard you won the speaking contest. I'm always proud when one of my kids does well, " and then he'd planted a big sloppy kiss on her cheek. She'd thought 'yuck' but had hugged that memory to her ever since.

"No, Miss Johnson. I thought that was homework. I've been in class all day. I'll give it to you Friday during class."

"All right, but see that you don't forget. It might be a good idea to do it tonight so that you don't."

"I don't forget things," Kate said coolly. When Alice reminded her of the forgotten apron, Kate flushed, and, in a more subdued tone, asked how she should wash the floor.

"The broom, bucket, cloths, brushes, and soap are all in the tall cupboard. Sweep it well first and then fill the bucket with warm water, add soap, and scrub it well."

"On my knees?" Kate asked incredulously. "I'm wearing my good kilt and stockings. They'll be ruined."

"You can use the small mat to kneel on. It's the one I use, and I never get runs in my stockings," Miss Johnson countered quietly. She had made up her mind to deal with this girl calmly. She'd taught five classes today and she didn't need any more stress. Her head ached and she just wanted to get home to her apartment where she could lie down for an hour before dinner.

"Haven't you got a mop I can use?" Kate asked.

"No, I don't, and even if I had, you can't get into the corners properly with a mop."

"Well I'm not going to crawl all over a wet floor on my hands and knees in my good clothes. You may be a charwoman, but I'm not. And besides, I've got riding and I'll be late if I take forever washing this floor. I thought this would be a fifteen minute detention not an hour's drudgery. "

Alice Johnson felt the scar tissue on her face grow fiery red, and she knew that Kate must be as aware of it as she was. She willed her fury to subside, closed her eyes and said quietly, "You will wash the floor, Miss, and you will do it properly."

"The hell I will," Kate said, and flounced out of the room. As soon as she was out in the hall she knew she'd gone too far, but she tossed her head and marched defiantly past the staring grade seven kids. "That ugly old fart has no right to expect me to do her job," she spat out as she headed down the stairs, past the gym, and out the front door.

Alice's response to Kate's outburst was to draw a deep breath and to let it out slowly. I don't want that girl in my class. She's one of those kids who can destroy a class. She sat down and wrote a report on the confrontation and tucked it into the corner of her desk pad to deal with the next day. Then she took the broom and dust pan from the cupboard and swept the floor. As she filled the bucket, she thought how soothing the warmth of the water was, and felt her headache receding to that place just outside her skull; the place where she still knew she had a headache, but where it didn't pound with each heart beat.

She dropped the rubber-backed mat to the floor and with some difficulty let herself down to a kneeling position. It had certainly been easier when she was a girl and her mother had overseen her floor washing. Then she could move with the agility of a young animal, and never felt discomfort from being on her knees. However; despite the nuisance of aching knee joints, she got a certain satisfaction from seeing the clear black and wine tile emerge from the greyed surface, just as she always did. When she rose after forty minutes on her knees, it was with the grace of a fifty-three year old elephant, and she thought wryly of her mother's words,"Of course you must wash the floor, Miss, I'm past the age when I can do everything in this household. I'm forty-four and you're fourteen. If you don't learn now, you'll be useless when you get married." Oh, Mama, if you had only known then what the future held.
At five o'clock, Alice glanced with satisfaction around the clean room, tucked her scarf in at the neck of her coat, picked up her handbag, and locked the door behind her. The corridors were quiet, and except for the odd teacher still marking at a classroom desk, and some students playing volleyball in the gym, the school was deserted. She walked out onto Preston Street and strode north until she reached Quinpool Road where she turned left. She lived above Bligh's Radio and Record Store and a florist shop beside the Royal Bank building at the corner of Oxford and Quinpool. It was an easy walk to school and handy to the stores and buses. The Oxford Theatre was on the opposite corner, and one bus ride took her out to Armdale where she could shop at Simpson's.

Once she climbed the dark staircase and let herself into her apartment, she felt a sense of relief she never felt at school, or indeed anywhere else. She carried her coat into the bedroom to hang in the closet, took off her shoes and considered lying down for a half hour before starting dinner, but decided against it. Her headache had subsided on its own, and she'd rest after dinner.
As she passed through the small livingroom on her way to the kitchen she thought about what she would do after supper. She'd read all the books in the shelves, all Victorian novels, and she hadn't been to the library for a couple of weeks. The show at the Oxford was Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn. Maybe she'd go to that, or maybe she'd just listen to music and write in the diary she'd kept since she was a girl. Yes, she thought, a quiet evening would be nice.

She walked back into her bedroom, changed into a faded house dress and slipped her bare feet into a pair of comfortable shaggy slippers with rundown heels. It was cool so she took out an ancient grey cardigan whose elbows had been darned with a wool that didn't quite match and put it on over the dress which in its youth had been Kelly green but was now a shade almost indistinguishable from the cardigan.

She was having fish tonight, a piece of cod she'd bought on Saturday that needed eating up. She peeled two potatoes and put them in a small pot. A quick glance in the fridge revealed no fresh vegetables, not even carrots, so she took a can of peas from the cupboard, and dumped them unceremoniously into a second pot. Using a wooden kitchen match, she lit the gas stove and set the two pots on the burners. Then she washed, floured and seasoned the fish fillets. She melted a small piece of butter and checked the potatoes. Yes, just turning tender, time to put the fish on. The butter sizzled when she placed the fillet in the pan, and she turned the heat a notch lower. She was reminded of the only time she had taught a class to cook fish. Never again. Most of them said they hated fish and the smell made them sick. She'd remonstrated with them saying they were Nova Scotians, that the mainstay of Nova Scotia's economy was the fishing industry. They were unmoved and most refused to touch the fish to wash it, and, when she had expected them to eat it, had become absolutely mutinous. She'd finally had to call in an administrator because she had lost control of the class.

Being a young teacher had been difficult. That first class and their looks of disgust when they looked at her face. She'd almost given up, but an older teacher had said to her, "Alice, give it a little more time. You'll get better at classroom management. The secret is to be tough at first so that they know who's boss. I know teachers who never smile till Christmas, my dear. And the other thing is that your scars are still quite new. They'll fade in time, you'll see. Soon the girls won't even notice them." Well, she'd been right. Alice's classroom discipline was now excellent, and the girls no longer looked at her in horror, but she couldn't remember when she'd last smiled in a classroom, and she felt stressed all the time.

She'd begun to dream of being a home economics teacher when she was about fifteen. Her mom had been very strict about teaching her to keep her room clean as a small child, and, once she was eleven, had expected her to help with the running of the household. Until she met Kjell, she'd resented any household responsibility that had interfered with her social life. If the girls thought she was tough, they should have lived with her mother!

She'd been a pretty little thing back then. In fact she'd looked a lot like that Stockwell girl, Miriam that is, not the older one, Donna; the same electric black curls, brown eyes and full lips. But she'd been more wilful than Miriam appeared to be. As a matter of fact, she'd been more like that uppity Kate Hennigar. A wry grin creased her face as she thought about her younger self.

Then she remembered when her mother was so ill after her brother was born. She'd been eleven, and they'd had Mrs. Cormier from Spryfield come in to help keep house for about a month. Alice had resented her obtrusive presence in the kitchen. She was a poor, raw boned woman with reddened hands attempting to support her twelve children. Alice was angry about the extra burdens her mother's illness forced her to carry, and missed being able to rely upon her mother, so she was unable to feel much sympathy for Mrs. Cormier. One day, after a particularly unappetizing meal, Mrs. Cormier had asked Alice to take out the garbage and she'd yelled, "Take it out yourself. It's your job. That's what you're being paid for, and if you can't do your job then you'd better clear out."

Mrs. Cormier had gone directly to her father who had taken her down to the coal cellar, his belt in his hand. As he strapped her, he spat out the words that hurt as much as the licking. "You had better learn to have some feeling for other people, young lady. Mrs. Cormier has a hard enough life and does not deserve your scorn. What she does deserve is respect for her hard work. You could be helping out a lot more than you are. She won't be coming back, and you'll soon realize just how much you should have appreciated her, because you'll be doing her job from now on."

How right he had been. She'd learned to cook and clean and do laundry, and she'd looked down at her hands one day, and gone crying to her mother's bedside, "Look at my hands. They're as ugly as Mrs. Cormier's. When are you going to get better?"

Her mother had put her arms around her and said, "As soon as I can, Alice. Perhaps my illness has helped you to understand something about people. We all have to chip in when there's work to be done. Can't any of us just leave things for the rest, can we?" And within another month, Mama had been up and about and Alice's life had returned to normal ... well as normal as possible in a house with a demanding new baby.

By the time Jock was a red-cheeked four year old, loved and spoiled by everyone, they were in the middle of a war, and she'd met Kjell. She'd been singing for the patients at Camp Hill one weekend. He'd been working on one of the British merchant ships when his appendix ruptured and they'd moved him to Camp Hill for emergency surgery before leaving port. The two months that elapsed before his ship returned to Halifax had given them the time to fall in love.

Kjell was just eighteen when she'd brought him home the first time. He loved to play with Jock, tossing him in the air, and in his lilting accent, would spend hours telling the little boy folk tales. Even her dad liked Kjell although he had some misgivings when she'd first started seeing him. "He's too old for you, Alice. Three years are a lot at your age, and those Scandinavian boys are too fast for a fifteen year old Canadian girl."

Little did he know that she was the one who would move faster if Kjell would only let her. It was Kjell who always drew back when their breath quickened and her temperature rose. He'd say, "You're too young, Alice. Wait, Love, till you're sixteen; then we'll get engaged."

Her mother had a suspicion that Alice's sudden interest in home-making was directly connected to her interest in Kjell. The girl who'd had to be coerced into every domestic activity just a few short weeks before suddenly began asking for recipes for pies and cakes. One Saturday night she subjected all of them to something called risengrynsgrøt: a rice porridge that Kjell said all Norwegians ate for their Saturday evening meal. Jock was delighted, particularly by the melted butter and the sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, an almost unknown luxury in the war years with rationing. Kate's father had refused the toppings and gone looking for ketchup. "Anything to turn a breakfast into a decent supper," he'd growled. "I hope you're not intending to feed us this every Saturday night from now on."

Alice had laughed and said, "Don't be silly Daddy. Kjell's away more often than he's here, so you'd hardly need to worry about eating risengrynsgrøt every Saturday night," and her mother had reminded him of the scarcity of butter and sugar needed for the dish.

Alice sighed. All so long ago now ... Mrs. Cormier, Saturday evenings at Camp Hill, life with her parents and Jock, those years as a young teacher coming to terms with the scraps of a life without Kjell.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Midnight Madness

I am up checking everywhere for the source of a dripping sound and wide awake, so I have written an email to a friend about the nature of relationships that start late in life ... more fragile, despite better choices, I think, than those that are made during our youth when sexual desire and the building of a life created firmer foundations.

I think part of the problem may be that it becomes harder to make a complete commitment to one person as we get older because we have established ties with other people who remain part of our lives, and we realize that the good people with whom we have allied ourselves in the past are no better or worse than the newest love. And they always remain possibilities, at least in our minds, and at least until they make a real commitment to someone else ... or we do.

Back to Kate and Alice.

Here is Chapter 3.


CHAPTER 3 -- EXPLOSIONS AND CAVE-INS

Miriam and Kate checked the timetables taped to the inside of their lockers, gathered their books for the first two afternoon classes, and went their separate ways, Miriam to math and Kate to Miss Cole's class for English. Kate was looking forward to her afternoon. Her favourite teachers were Miss Cole and Mr. Stevens, the history teacher, and she always enjoyed Mrs. Maxwell's art classes even though she had no artistic talent.

Miss Cole was not alone today; Mr. Stevens was up at the front talking to her as the class filed in through the open door. They were both smiling and consulting the handouts on the desk.

"I wonder why Mr. Stevens is in here," Shona Morgan asked quietly. "They make such a cute couple, don't you think?"

Kate looked at the two young teachers. Mr. Stevens' dark head was bent to catch something Miss Cole had said, and then he said something that made her smile. Kate didn't know whether they were a couple or not. Miss Cole's smiles surfaced easily for students too.

The bell rang and conversation ceased. Miss Cole said, "Mr. Stevens and I have designed a special project for you this term. It will combine a history research assignment with several writing challenges. Sometimes you will be doing assignments that are quite strictly history and other times you will be doing more English-oriented tasks. This means that you may sometimes be doing history in English class or English in history class ... but you won't get into trouble for it this term." The students smiled and looked at Shona who was notorious for finishing her history assignments in English and regularly got caught by Miss Cole.

Mr. Stevens took up where Miss Cole had left off. "The very first thing we want you to do is to take this period to look over the term unit, discuss it with your partners or group members, and consider the event that you will be researching. Miss Cole and I will simply be here to help you with any questions you may have." By the time he had finished, Miss Cole had already started to hand out the small booklets that still smelled of spirit duplicating fluid.

"Gads, there's an awful lot to do," Shona said, glancing at the assignments in dismay.

"Yeah, but we've got all this term to do it, Shona," countered Kate. "And after the research part, the assignments look like fun -- imaginary dialogues, letters, journal entries."

"But an essay at the end," moaned Shona.

"Only if you want to write an essay. It could be a short story or a play or a series of poems. You can even choose songs. You're good in music. Maybe that's what you should do."

Robert put up his hand to get the attention of one of the teachers circulating among the students. "What topics can we choose from, Sir?" he asked when Mr. Stevens came over to him. The teacher signaled for silence by raising his hand. When all the students were quiet, he repeated Robert's question and said, "We want you to choose a topic you find interesting so we have an open list. Some of the topics are very definitely regional; others are more Canadian in scope. If you don't see a topic listed that you would like to see included, you may discuss it with us. If we think you can find the necessary research materials, and if the topic is both relevant to Canadian history and manageable, we will allow you to work on a topic of your choice. The initial list is on the side board."

As soon as he stopped talking, the classroom buzzed again. "Some interesting topics," murmured Kate. "Maybe I'll do something on the wild ponies. But how much can there be on wild ponies that would be fun to do for the English assignments. I can't quite see a conversation between someone who started the first herd and a Junior Bengal Lancer who is now riding one of the descendants of that herd. I don't think they'd let a wild pony into the stable!"

"My Dad's told me a lot about the Cape Breton coal miners," said Shona, "and they have some really interesting folk poetry. I could write folk songs for it. Maybe I'll choose the Springhill mine disasters."

"That sounds really great. And look, there's the Halifax Explosion. Now that would be a good one. Imagine talking to a survivor and writing three journal entries for that person; one right after the event, one six months afterwards, and one ten years later. Do you know anything about the Explosion, Shona? I just know about the anchor that's still stuck in the earth."

"Nope. But there must be all kinds of people who were alive then that you could interview. That might make it even more interesting, and you wouldn't have to do as much reading."

By the end of the period, most students had tentatively chosen their topics and, when they moved into the history classroom, were anxious to begin delving into the books and magazines that their teachers had accumulated. Kate picked up Heart Throbs of the Halifax Horror by Stanley K. Smith, and, with her usual single mindedness, buried herself in the book and was transported to Halifax in 1917. The bell rang, and with a start she re-entered the 1954 world of the grade nine classroom, alive with pre-recess chatter. "Can I keep this book, Sir?" she asked.

"Yes, Kate. Just sign it out here so I know where the different copies are."

As she headed off to her locker to find Miriam, her mind was alive with the drama of the events leading up to the collision of the Imo with the Mont Blanc. Miriam's afternoon had been dreary, beginning with Mr. Adams' math class. Mr. Adams' whole life seemed to be composed of rules and details. He liked teaching the basic math classes because he felt they needed much more structure than average or superior students, and he was an expert on structure. "What he doesn't seem to realize," Miriam lamented, "is that we may find math difficult but that doesn't mean we are idiots. I hate being treated as if I'm dumb just because I don't like algebra, and if I hear once more that we must always use an HB pencil so that we can correct the errors we are bound to make, I will scream."

Kate laughed, "You know you'll bring the HB pencil and smile sweetly and say 'Yes Sir, No Sir, Three Bags Full Sir,' like you always do, Mim."

Miriam's brown eyes crinkled up when she laughed and she pretended to throw the apple she'd brought for recess at Kate. Kate thought, for perhaps the hundredth time, that she wished she had Mim's long eyelashes and curly black hair instead of her own ordinary brown hair and nonexistent lashes. Mim didn't need the makeup she was forbidden to wear. A little Vaseline on her lashes and lips and she looked great. Mim's hair was like that of Kate's boyfriend, Rick. It wasn't fair for a boy to have curly hair and a double set of dark lashes. She sighed, and wished the week would fly. She almost never saw him except on weekends, and it was only Monday. Kate refreshed her lipstick and they headed off for the washroom before their last period class.

"We're doing a neat project in English and History, Mim. I'm going to research the Halifax Explosion, and then do all kinds of creative writing exercises based on the research. Miss Cole and Mr. Stevens worked together on it. Shona thinks they're dating. What do you think?"

"I don't know, but you're sure lucky to have them as teachers. Mrs. Simpson's nice but she never does anything new. Every week it's read a story, answer the questions, do spelling, vocabulary, and grammar exercises, and write a composition on Friday. She gets excited if she has us read a Bliss Carman poem! And Mr. Sullivan's geography classes are deadly. Just wait till you have him. You'll hate it. He makes you memorize every word in his notes and then spout them all back to him on the tests. If you change a single word he marks the question wrong. You'll have your share of fights with him! By the way, don't forget you have a detention with Miss Johnson after school. She'll eat you alive if you forget."

"We'd better hurry. Mrs. Maxwell's class is at the other end of the school," Kate said as they washed their hands and checked their reflections in the mirror. They dashed off, binders held tight to their chests, and joined the milling crowds of students in the halls.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

One of those busy days ...

Today has been one chore after another ... a medical appointment in which I learned little but the doctor is speeding up the weaning process for this ugly drug ... a Costco shopping trip (ugh) ... a trip to Ritchie Feed and Seed where I bought potting soil and big pots for two plants that need to be moved and a very expensive chewy thing for Kenya ... then Giant Tiger to pick up the last of the nifty craft corner stuff ... then two sledloads of stuff to haul in ... including a huge bag of sunflower seeds for the birds and two big bags of soil ... then the assembly process ... and the putting away of things ... and the disposal of the recyclables ... and finally at 3 p.m. a lunch of soup and a sandwich and an exhausted sprawl on the couch with Kenya watching West Side Story.

Then in the front hall a leak started ... damn ... damn ... damn.

So ... at almost 5 p.m. ... not much accomplished except the necessities of life ... but isn't it interesting that I found the class DVD version of West Side Story on Obama's inauguration day?

And isn't my craft supply corner cute ... did you notice the little blackboard ends on the fabric baskets? As a former teacher it is always fun to find a blackboard and to use coloured chalk on it ... especially when I can label things and change the location and the labels so easily. I like fluidity, I am discovering ... I like to use spaces for more than one purpose ... to allow furniture to move according to need ... to have portable rocking chairs as part of the living arrangement.

But at the same time I cannot abide chaos. I really do find some measure of peace in organizing my life.

My buddy Tamarack is so very different from me. She can operate at a high level of efficiency when all hell is breaking loose around her. I need to get my life under control ... to know that everything has a place ... to create order from chaos ... or I cannot possibly be creative. Funny that both of us are blogging about this right now.

Nifty Craft Supply Corner

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No Magical Mid-night Moments, but Life is Good

I am getting so little sleep these nights (and days) that I can't seem to be fully awake at any time, let alone truly receptive to magic.

I managed to have fun yesterday afternoon despite exhaustion. Shopping therapy of the best kind. I went to a secondhand store in a local community centre basement and spent $6.50. I got a sweater (possibly for felting), a great cotton shirt to wear with jeans, two books on crafts, and several interesting tins for keeping my craft materials organized. Then I went to Giant Tiger and (for $25) bought a very cheap bookcase with heavy fabric bins in cheerful colours to put into the bookcase with the tins. I am creating a craft corner in my den where I can keep all these bits and pieces organized and cheerful. Today I will pick up two more bookcases so that I can stack one on top of the other horizontally and place one beside those vertically.

I also did the "legwork" acting as a go-between for Layla's Sound the Alarm fund raising and an old friend in Kenya who is putting a neighbour's son through high school. It is never as easy as you hope, but I have established a good network now that makes it possible. I have also learned to navigate the murky waters of self interest and politics so that the money can flow without rancour or malicious gossip.

Layla will be going to Kenya this summer to do her own research into finding where to put the money she raises. She will have to establish all those lines of communication and make her own way through the tangled growth of lies and malice that mark the world of good will in Western Kenya. I hope that my experience can help her as she makes her way.

I would love to go with her to make this first trip easier but I can't figure out a way to raise the airfare and other expenses. And I would love to see my old friends one last time as well. The last time I was there I felt as if I had come home.

Today I will also go to see the ophthalmologist again and hope that he has something to suggest for the side effects of the prednisone.

Here is Chapter 2 of Explosion for anyone interested.


CHAPTER 2 -- TUNA FISH SANDWICHES AND TEA

Alice Johnson looked around the home economics lab after the last grade nine student had hurried through the door. She often thought that it was a pleasant room when it wasn't overrun by clumsy adolescent girls who would rather be anywhere but in a classroom. Even on a grey November day like this one, the cheerful red-checkered cloths on the institutional arborite tables, and the cafe curtains, with their checkered tie-backs that Doreen Hilton had sewn last year, created a cheerful atmosphere. She remembered her mother's kitchen with its startling fire engine red ceiling, the only touch of colour in a scoured white kitchen. It had always pleased her that her mother had, one day, in a whimsical moment, brightened her life in this way.

A shadow crossed Alice's face as she turned to take a crumpled brown paper lunch bag from the refrigerator. She filled the enamel kettle with water for her tea. It was exhausting having to face a new group every term; having to re-establish the rules and teach them things they should have learned at home. What were parents doing with their children these days? Some of these new girls had never boiled an egg, and were quite disinterested in learning the correct procedure. And they never seemed to listen. Even after they had copied a note stating clearly that gentle cooking was necessary to prevent toughening, there were two stations where the heat was turned to high for the entire fifteen minutes. Her mother had made sure she understood the necessity of keeping a decent house long before she'd ever taken a home economics course.

She poured boiling water over the tea bag in the small metal pot and returned the kettle to the stove, giving its already spotless white surface a swipe with a tea towel. Then she removed two wax-paper-wrapped sandwiches from the refrigerator, one tuna, the other cheese, carefully re-folding the bag and putting it into her purse. She seldom varied her lunch menu; it was easier to stay in a routine than to think of something new to eat each day. She'd heard that in Norway, all the teachers in the country opened their lunch bags at 11:00 a.m. and ate bread and brown cheese as they drank coffee in their staff rooms. She seldom ate with the staff, preferring the solitude of her classroom to the discussions about students and the idle chatter she associated with the teachers' lunch room.

For the first few years, Alice had attended staff functions, thinking it politic to do so. She recalled vividly the Christmas party five years ago which had ended her reluctant participation.

They'd all gathered in the staffroom at four. The room, decorated by Elsie Maxwell's art class looked a little gaudy, but no matter; it was the thought that counted. Elsie had collected her accolades with a great beaming smile and the words,"It was all the children's doing, really."

Stuff and nonsense, of course. The students would never have thought of the idea on their own, let alone executed it. It was a good way to get out of the last class before the Christmas holiday, that's what it was. But Alice had said nothing.

The food was all laid out near the kitchenette area ... cookies, cakes, dainty sandwiches, and Alice's Christmas mints. A punch bowl with little cups hanging on the rim sat at one end of the table. Doreen Hilton said cheerfully, "There are only eight punch cups, I'm afraid, so after that we'll have to use paper." Grace Hanson had asked, her thin scarlet lips pursed, whether there was alcohol in the punch, and Doreen had laughed and said, "No fear, Grace. Mr. Harris warned me that the school board would look askance if I added the usual rum."

Grace had sniffed and whispered later to Alice, "I've no doubt she'd have put it in if she thought she could get away with it. In our day, Alice, young women wouldn't have thought of drinking alcohol."

She'd looked at Grace thinking that their day had been a hundred years ago, and wondered if the librarian had ever been young, but she'd said merely, "Times change, Grace," and had walked over to the food table.

Doug Adams and Helen Brown were filling their plates."What in God's name are these things?" Doug had asked pointing to the pastel mints.

"They're Alice Johnson's mints, Doug," Helen had replied. "I'm sure they're very good."

"Probably as sour as she is," he responded, and passed them by.

"Don't be cruel," Helen had said softly, and then had looked up and seen Alice. She had reddened, dropped her paper plate, and attempted to cover her confusion with a
mishmash of French and English apologies for her clumsiness. Doug had simply walked away from the scene.

When Helen had asked Alice to join her and some of the other women, Alice had been unable to think of an excuse and had joined them on the sofa. Margaret Cole, a first year teacher, and terribly keen, was expounding on how wonderful her students were. To hear her talk, one would think that she was teaching saints, not teenagers. Helen Brown asked how she managed to control them so well, and admitted to having problems with discipline. Margaret said that the students' natural interest in stories and writing was half the battle, and Helen said she wished there were even a smidgen of natural interest in learning French. "There are tricks to discipline just as there are to anything else," a bombastic health teacher had said. "You have to look at the problem in a clear headed detached way and figure out the solution. It doesn't work to try and solve it in the middle of a classroom riot." The animated conversation had continued long after Alice had excused herself.

She found herself stuck in between Jim Sullivan and Bill Stevens, both social studies teachers, but as far apart in age, experience and attitude as two men could be. Jim had come back into teaching after the war. His ideas had been rigid when he left, but were absolutely calcified by the time he came home. Now he expected students to behave like little soldiers who never questioned their commanding officer, and who spat back his own words verbatim on every test. Bill, a first year teacher, was trying to explain the importance of getting students to think for themselves, to work with facts to reach conclusions. "Ridiculous to expect a fourteen year old to come up with anything intelligent, man," Bill had stated unequivocally. Jim had said something about how discussion among students kindled good ideas, and been given a tongue lashing that ended with the words, "Garbage in, garbage out. Keep on with that kind of sloppy thinking, young man, and we might as well kiss standards goodbye."

By five thirty, Alice had said perhaps ten words, and had heard thousands more than she wanted to hear. It seemed as if there were two camps: those who were completely out of touch with students and those who were completely out of touch with reality. She knew her students would place her in the first category, but in truth she belonged nowhere.

She was about to leave when Mr. Harris arrived dressed as Santa, and asked that June Wallace, the music teacher, go ahead with her surprise. Several teachers got up, left the staffroom and returned dressed in green tunics wearing jaunty elves' caps on the heads. June blew into her pitch pipe, and the group burst into song, performing a Christmas medley. When they asked the remaining staff members to join them in some carols at the end, Alice had not opened her mouth. Why hadn't they asked her if she wanted to be part of the choir? Because she wouldn't have looked good in the outfit? Or because no one even stopped to think that she might have something to offer? She'd left before the applause and hadn't gone into the staffroom voluntarily since.

Just as she was pouring her tea, there was a knock at the door. Who's forgotten something, this time? she wondered, as she made her way to respond. "Oh, hello, Sir. What can I do for you?" she asked, and wondered what in heaven's name Mr. Harris was doing here. "I've just seen Kate Hennigan, and wanted to let you know how I handled the situation."

"Insolent little piece of baggage, isn't she? The first day of class and already in trouble. Late, unprepared, talking to her partner, and then rude, to boot."

Mr. Harris' eyebrows lifted ever so slightly, but he said calmly, "I've told her to apologize and to behave herself from now on. She'll be in after school to serve her detention with you. She's a good student and I'm sure things will be fine from now on." Before she had a chance to say anything, she found herself looking at Mr. Harris' broad back as he hurried down the hall in the direction of the teachers' lunch room. He never knew how his words affected Alice.

As she closed the door, Alice's reddened face crumpled and angry tears began to flow down her pocked cheeks. She blew noisily into a clean white handkerchief, a pink monogram, AMJ, embroidered in one corner. You get no support in this school at all. They're always taking sides with the students, and not just the office; the other teachers too. They're all going soft. I can imagine the time I'm going to have with that one now. She'll think she can get away with murder. Well, I'm certainly not going to put up with any nonsense from her. What was it my father always used to say? Spare the rod and spoil the child.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

That Other World

There is a whole other world that lives and breathes while the rest of us sleep. It is a dark world inhabited by the night creatures: insomniacs, night shift workers, thieves who prefer darkness ... and ... I have discovered ... the odd alcoholic poet who emerges from her haze to post wonderful poetry after midnight.

Her poetry (if you read it in the middle of the night) has the odd juxtaposition of letters caused by fumbly fingers, but the thoughts are incisive and clear headed. I think she must do the final surface editing in the cold light of day, perhaps after she has slept and before the first drink because I don't find such typos in the poems I read at other times.

I sometimes wish I were a night person. On the few occasions when I have inhabited the night I have discovered a world in which all my senses are heightened. It has been an exciting place to be alive and aware.

Since taking prednisone my insomnia is far worse than it was.

I think I shall try using my night time more profitably from now on. Oh I will still check the floor heating and scold the element in the water tank if it crankily shuts itself off. I will continue to force it back to work by throwing the breaker. I will sink down before the wood stove and watch as the new logs flare up. I will make myself a cup of herbal tea and read for a while.

But I think I will start choosing a refreshing tea like Many Mints, perhaps take a bracing shower, and then throw myself into work on a piece of writing. Who knows? Maybe my senses will be heightened on a regular basis. Maybe I will produce something that can stand unashamedly beside the work of the alcoholic poet.

Going Back to an Old Piece of Writing

I've decided to start working on a novel I wrote a few years ago and will be posting it chapter by chapter. On this blog these chapters will be interspersed with other blog entries, but all the chapters will appear together on my writing blog.

The novel is autobiographical (as most first novels are) and is set in Halifax in 1954. The main characters are a fourteen year old girl and a woman in her fifties who survived the Halifax Explosion. It is the tension between the two characters that is the first conflict to appear, but it is the deeper unhappiness of both characters that is the real story.

I hope you enjoy reading Explosion of Fire and Ice.

And maybe some of you will have advice for making it better or suggestions about getting it published.


CHAPTER 1 -- BOILED EGGS AND TROUBLE BREWING

Kate's blue eyes widened when she saw Miss Johnson's face. Swallowing a gasp and closing her mouth, she looked down at the floor as she mumbled an apology for being late.

"Well, don't just stand there gawking, Miss. You've already wasted too much time. Sit down and get busy copying the note from the front board," was Miss Johnson's response.

Kate edged onto the stool next to Miriam's, and noticed with dismay her best friend’s white cooking bag. She glanced around the room at all the white cloth bags by the three ring binders, some neatly placed, others splayed out like beanbags that had landed on the counter tops. Cripes! I'm the only one who forgot the damned thing. What else can go wrong?

She turned to say something to Miriam who shook her head almost imperceptibly and continued copying from the blackboard. Kate looked at the first two rules, smiled ruefully, and quickly opened her binder. Miriam whispered, "Don't forget the date," and Kate wrote down November 1, 1954, before scratching down the list.

1. Do not arrive late to class.

2. Bring your apron and cooking bag to every class.

3. After each class, wash and iron your apron and bag.

4. Do not forget to bring your notebook and writing implements to class.

5. Wash your hands before handling any food.

6. Do not leave your work station dirty.

7. Do not speak unnecessarily to your cooking partner.

"Gads, how many are there?" Kate muttered to Miriam. "I've already broken the first two."

"You, there at Station 3. What is your name? Can't you read the rules? Not only have you arrived late to class; now you are talking unnecessarily. And where is your white cooking bag? I don't see it anywhere?"

"I forgot it, Miss Johnson," Kate faltered. "It completely slipped my mind till I saw everyone else's. I'm really sorry. I won't forget it next time. My name is Kate, Kate Hennigan."

"I should send you to the office, Hennigar, but I won't since it’s the first class. Instead, you will stay after school and wash the cooking room floor. And, without an apron, you will be excluded from today's class. While the others are cooking you will write out the lines: 'I will not be late to class again' and 'I will remember to bring my apron to all my cooking classes from now on'. One hundred times." Miss Johnson had moved across the floor as she spoke and now stood beside Kate and Miriam. She looked down at Kate's scribbled notes and concluded, "And you will write the lines in considerably neater fashion that the notes you have copied."

Kate looked gloomily at Miriam and made a face at Miss Johnson's retreating back. Miriam grinned for an instant and then turned a solemn face toward the front of the room.

Miss Johnson read aloud her list of rules, elaborating on the reasons for each, then turned to a side blackboard where she had charted the term's work. Today they were making boiled eggs. Next class was porridge, and the one after that, grilled cheese sandwiches. Kate looked ahead to December and saw that Christmas mints were listed. What a useless class. Even she knew how to boil eggs and make grilled cheese sandwiches, and besides, she never ate porridge.

Breakfast was usually instant coffee, lunch, canned soup and toast, and dinner whatever the restaurant had on special or a hot chicken sandwich with its yellow gravy congealing on the white bread and its neat little piles of peas and chips on the side. She liked pouring the ketchup on the side of the plate, cutting the sandwich into bite- sized pieces, and then eating everything in a strict order: first the peas, one by one, then the sandwich, and finally the chips dipped into the ketchup. Afterwards she usually ordered a Devil's Delight or some other extravagant sundae.

Kate knew that Miriam envied her daily restaurant meals with no limit to what she could spend. Mim's father was the minister of the West End Baptist Church, and she lived in the cramped house next door to the church with her parents, three sisters and a brother. At Christmas Miriam gave gifts that her dad got free, little bookmarks with Bible verses on them, and most of Mim's clothes were carefully pressed and mended hand-me-downs. Kate could think of only two things she had been unable to talk her father into buying for her: a red pedal car when she was eight, and, more recently, a horse of her own.

Kate considered Miriam's life unduly regulated. Her own home had no set rules. Unlike the Stockwell's, whose lives were inextricably bound together, Kate and her father co-existed in their small apartment without a great deal of contact with one another. She liked their arrangement, but she also liked spending time at the Stockwell's. She liked the Saturday smell of baking bread and the solid healthy breakfasts Mrs. Stockwell insisted the kids eat each day. She often arrived early to pick Miriam up for school just so she could watch as Mrs. Stockwell, her grey hair caught up in an untidy bun, forced either Diane or Miriam back to the table to finish their eggs scrambled in milk, or checked to see that Wayne's fingernails were clean. Sometimes when Kate's dad was on a business trip he asked Mrs. Stockwell to keep Kate for a few days. Life always felt more orderly during those times.

Miss Johnson's harsh voice brought Kate out of her reverie. "You haven't written a thing, Miss. What have you been doing all this time? Are you being deliberately obstreperous or are you just plain stupid?"

Kate's head reared back and she responded without thinking, "I'm not stupid and that is not something a teacher should say to a student. Check with my other teachers, why don't you?" When she tossed her head, her nutmeg brown ponytail grazed Miriam’s cheek. She heard Miriam’s quick intake of breath and then Miss Johnson’s voice.

"Insolence will not be tolerated in this classroom, Hennigar, and you had better get that straight right now. Go down to Mr. Harris and explain why you have been sent from my classroom. I don't expect to see you again until you have a note from Mr. Harris and you are ready to apologize."

"But I didn't do anything, and my name's not Hennigar, you old cow," Kate muttered under her breath as she pulled her zippered binder to her chest and stormed out of the classroom without even a glance at Miriam as she brushed past her. Hideous old bitch. No wonder she's MISS Johnson. No man could stand her. She looks like she's been dumped in a vat of lye -- all those lumpy things on her face. And one eye droops so she seems to be looking in two directions at once. Creepy old biddy.

Mr. Harris was not in his office so Kate reported her presence to the secretary who pulled her student file and filled in the complaint form. Under 'Reason for Referral' she wrote "Sent by Miss Johnson" and rolled her eyes. She said, "Haven't seen you before. Don't you like cooking?"

"I haven't had a chance to find out," Kate said. "She kicked me out before I could do anything, right or wrong."

The secretary smiled sympathetically.

A few minutes later the burly form of Mr. Harris could be seen striding toward the office. He took the file and form from the secretary's outstretched hand and gestured toward his office door. "In you go, Miss. What's the problem?"

"Miss Johnson said I was insolent, Sir. It was the first day of her class and I was late and I forgot to bring my cooking bag to class. In Miss Hilton's sewing class last term we left our things in the classroom cubbyholes. But I wasn't insolent, Sir. She called me stupid and I objected."

He looked up from the file he had been perusing. "What exactly did you say?"

"I said I wasn't stupid and she had no right to say that."

"Well, you may be right but you probably said it in some way that was offensive. Try to mind your manners," Mr. Harris paused significantly, " and your tongue, in Miss Johnson's class from now on. You don't want to lose your honour roll standing for the sake of your pride now, do you?"

"No Sir, but she wasn't being fair."

"Life often isn't, but you will find it's simpler if you refrain from telling teachers what rights they have or do not have, Kate. Go back and apologize and make a fresh start with Miss Johnson. You'll see. It will be worth the damage you might do to your pride."

"Yes, Sir. Do I still have to wash the floor after school?"

"You do. Now run along. It's almost lunch time."

Kate left the office just as the bell began to ring. She had just snapped her combination lock shut when Miriam arrived, her black curly hair glinting a dozen shades of red gold in the sunshine. "Hurry up, Mim. Wait till you hear what Old Harris and his secretary think of Miss Johnson." Miriam’s brown eyes widened and the two girls set off for home.

Monday, 19 January 2009

On Balance in 2009

"1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed since the Israeli offensive began on December 27."

Is that what one might call a vile imbalance?


The Israelis have ignored world pressure to stop the offensive in Gaza for over three weeks.

I have been wondering why Barack Obama has been silent on the issue.

Now BBC says that the Israeli withdrawal of troops is linked to the inauguration of the new president; that they want to begin their relationship with the Obama administration positively.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mr. Obama could effect world peace just by being a beacon of hope, by standing for right?

Of course no one could live up to the world's expectations of the man, but I hope he will not be crushed by the realities and disappointments that will follow when he proves himself humanly frail. I hope the American people and the world will allow him to be a decent human being, and not ask him to be Superman.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

I Have Invented an Oven

I am so excited. Hydro Quebec has been warning about brown-outs during this extended winter freeze period and advising us to use as little power as possible between 4 and 8 p.m.

I wanted to bake fish with a veggie and rice in parchment in my oven, but since it is a recipe that calls for 400 degrees I decided to figure out a way to do it on the wood stove which has been running steadily since Wednesday.

After one false start I used my medium sized iron pot as the oven, popped in the packet, put on the lid and voila! a complete fish dinner in less than 20 minutes.

This may not seem revolutionary to anyone who is "mechanically ept" or to someone who learned over campfires how to bake without an oven, but for me, the least competent person I know when it comes to anything to do with the sciences, it was a source of great pride.

And it was a really important thing to have learned because now, if the power fails again, I will be able to do far more cooking on the wood stove. I could even bake bread or a cake

And this method is much cleaner than any other so I could avoid having to wash the most difficult of the prep items at a time when I have to ration water.

Yesterday I worked on a tea cozy all day, and organized my escape. I have been a prisoner of the cold since Tuesday night with a car that won't start blocking a road that cannot be plowed. Tomorrow I will call CAA to start the car and while I am running errands, charging up my battery and filling my gas tank to avoid any empty spaces for condensation, Leonard will find another tractor and plow my road. His has a slow leak and is frozen solid like my car.

One of the places I will be going is to the pharmacy to find a remedy for the ulcer-like symptoms I am experiencing as side effects of the Prednisone. The pain is almost constant and every two hours I put something into my stomach to sop up the acid. (And of course I am likely stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid by so doing.)

By the time I am off this drug I will be enormous and will have have a pickled and perforated digestive system. A glass of wine or two would allow me to forget my misery but unfortunately wine is one of the the things that causes pain.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Emptiness

It posted not at all ... and then twice ... spooky!

In the Darkness of a Cold Clear Night

Did you know that at 3 a.m. on a night as cold as this one is you can turn on your radio and bring in hundreds of tiny stations that merge, mingle and blurr one another? If there were a radio tower on the moon I could have brought it in tonight. There is an emptiness out there that is unnerving. Anything can happen. I cannot maintain an internet connection for more than a minute. It is as if it sucks everything into itself like a vaccuum.

I have been up every two hours all night feeding the fire to keep the downstairs warm, the upstairs comfortably cool ... and so that I can maintain my sense of comfort around my hearth; so that I can push back that vast alienating emptiness.

At 4:30 we got up for good and had breakfast. I ate mine sitting in the big rocker by the fire, reading Through Black Spruce. Coincidentally, one of the narrators was alone in the low Arctic bush in the middle of the night listening to a nearby wolf pack that made him afraid. He was not afraid of the wolves but of the loneliness that threatened to engulf him, and what undid him was the fact that the wolves had a pack whereas he was utterly alone.

I seldom feel as naked as I felt tonight. It is not fear of living here alone, not a fear of being in danger. Rather it was the reminder that there is that vast emptiness out there. A void that can suck in a myriad of strangers' voices and spit them out at me; a limitless nothingness that could swallow me whole.

I seldom feel that disconnected, likely because I live in a country that values community and kinship even though I choose to live on its outskirts. But tonight I felt the bleakness.

I think we all seek to allay isolation in one way or another ... with friends ... by making love ... having babies ... adopting pets.

Kenya and I will return to the comfort of the fire where the loneliness can remain outside our circle of light. I will try to post this later when the internet connection will allow it.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Collision of Lives

I have been re-reading the journals I wrote when I entered my forties. My career was just moving into high gear and I was balancing family, teaching career and a very stressful union position. I read the words now and am amazed by my ability to juggle huge amounts of information, by the number of early morning and evening meetings I attended, by my enthusiasm for a job that had to be sandwiched all the time. Only great strength, youth and will made it possible, I suspect.

There is a constant thread running through that two year period, one that is woven so tightly it is painful. I was under too much pressure to be happy. I had to gear up for confrontations almost daily. Over and over I wrote that I would like to just teach, to be able to leave that life behind when I left school. Anyone who has taught high school English will realize that "just teaching" is not stress-free, but I could have coped with its stresses better than I did with the ones I faced daily.

I have been corresponding with a fifty year old friend in Mongolia I have known since 1999. She calls me her Canadian mum. She is a fine teacher and one of the most sensitive and adept "people persons" I know. She often comes across as weak because she avoids conflict, but I have seen her handle more than one potentially dangerous situation in Ulaan Baatar, a city where I saw much violence. One day in the black market we were accosted by a man who was mentally deranged. She protected all of us by talking him down and getting us out of there safely.

Right now she is working full time in a very important union job. It is a job that calls only minimally on her strengths and flaunts all her insecurities and weaknesses.

She is going through many of the things I went through during those stressful years in my early forties.

It has been helpful as I write to support her during this period to be re-reading my own journals from a time when so many things in my life went against my own non-confrontational nature.

I hope that she will opt for happiness over prestige; for peaceful balance over a driven life. I wish I had.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

An Imperfectly Lovely Day!

Today was a bitterly cold day but I had a wonderful time despite facing problems.

I was up VERY early because I was expecting Remi's dad to pick him up at 6:30. He came much later than that and while he was here I received a call from Denis (the man who fixed my muffler). He called to make sure I had not ended up in the ditch somewhere last night Now that is kindliness and concern.

After Remi and his dad left, Kenya and I skiied down to the mailboxes and I received an unexpected cheque from the income tax people.

I t was a cold bit of skiing but much more fun than skiing on the lake.

That morning I had made a big pot of beef stew on the wood stove, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. It was lovely to dip out a big bowl when I came back in with cold rosy cheeks and hungry.

After lunch I decided to dig out my car and drive to the village to pick up my prescription. When I got there the car refused to start so I trudged back and called the pharmacy and asked them for their free delivery to my mail box.

The next trip out netted me the package I was waiting for.

So ... lots of fresh air, exercise, fun, good financial news, and a reminder that living in the country has benefits that people who shop box stores likely cannot even dream of.

And I watched Anne of Green Gables yet again.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Adventure of Living Up Here

Everything is an adventure when you live here. Today the sky is grey with thick flakes floating down. Tonight the wind will pick up and the temperatures plummet. I hope that we don't end up with hydro wires down again.

I spent the first part of the morning taking my car to Chelsea to have the muffler re-installed or slung and the underside of the car oiled. Denis said when he drove me home, "My God, you really are out of the way. You have stepped back in time," and wondered how I managed.

Yesterday when I was going through the adventure of bottling the wine, I wondered how many more batches I would be able to do before the effort outweighed the advantages. Oh, when you go to DeFalco's all you see are old couples puttering about with their bottles and corks, so it is not that old folks can't make wine. The man bottling next to me had made special wooden cases with handles for his. I was envious, and I worried about the state of my cardboard cartons once they had endured the whole adventure.

This adventure began in early December when I started the two batches.

A week before I was to bottle I spent a morning washing and soaking the labels off six cases of bottles. I needed at least 60 but took an extra dozen just in case some were unsuitable.

The morning of the bottling I loaded three cases of empties on the sled and hauled them up the hill and then up the road for 1/4 kilometre to the car. After arranging them on the back seat, the dogs and I headed back down with the empty sled and repeated the process with the second set of three cases. Then I brought the dogs in and got ready to go to town.

The hour long drive to town was sane and simple and I arrived early. After getting a cart I loaded up the six cases and took them in to start the bottling process. First the sterilization, then the actual bottling and corking. Then the boxes were re-loaded onto the cart and taken out to the car, and I drove home with one abortive stop for wool at Wabi Sabi (they are closed on Mondays) and a fruitful one at the IGA at Farm Point for produce.

Then began the boxes' last trip through snow. I hoped they would all hold up. It is easier to bring full bottles back from the car to the house than empty bottles up to the car. It is all down hill, and even if you have to be a bit more careful to avoid upending the sled on the speedways, their weight acts as a steadying ballast. I made the first trip alone and the second with dogs.

Remi was so excited to see me that he made a leap at me when I was climbing the first steep hill with the sled. He landed heavily on my breast, almost pushing me all the way back down. As I scrambled to keep my footing on the slippery path I decided to teach him not to do that again because his owner will have very tender breasts when he is most excited about seeing her again. Later, on the second hill, he jumped up to give me a kiss and managed to bruise my lips with his skull. One more sharp reprimand and he settled down.

We got the second sled load of groceries and wine down without incident and I trucked them into the kitchen. I was too tired and hungry to do more than brush off snow before getting some lunch.

Then began the labeling. These labels were self adhesive peel-offs ... much easier than the old type I was used to, so that went well, except that there are six bottles of indeterminate type because I got some Shiraz mixed up with Amarone ... oh well, mystery red.

Shrink wrap next. Every time I do this I wonder whether to use a hair dryer, a kettle or a pot of boiling water. After trying all three (in the wrong order) I discovered that the pot of boiling water works best. One bottle made an alarming fizzing sound (likely over-filled) but the others were fine.

Last step, all the bottles went upstairs to the cool closet in my den. In the spring when the heat is turned off, they will make the return trip to the main floor where they will rest for the summer months before heading back upstairs for the last part of their year long sojourn.

I hope the boxes survive intact. I would sure like to make some of those wooden carrying cases.

I will likely make more wine in another couple of months. Maybe I can design and build the cases before those are ready for bottling. It might be an investment that would make the adventure a little more pleasant and secure.

Post Script:

Denis was supposed to come and get me at 4:30. The car was not ready and he couldn't get away and it was 7:30 when he drove through the blizzard on almost impassable roads to get me. He was really worried about my driving home ... but I managed ... almost all the way. I had to park at the junction of my road and the municipal road as my road was not plowed. I called Leonard to tell him that the key was in the car so he could move it to plow. He informed me that he had a slow leak in his tire and probably would not be plowing tonight.

Tomorrow is garbage day and they won't come up without a cleared road.

Dan is coming for Remi at 6:30 a.m. and will have to walk in through knee deep snow as I did.

I HAVE to get to the pharmacy because my prescription has run out. That will be relatively easy. I just have to dig out behind me where the municipal plow has gone by and back out.

Oh well ... what would I do without the problems that create the adventures I live with?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

My New Challenge

I have kept a journal most of my life and when I have finished writing have simply tossed the notebooks into a bin ... except for those that I wrote in 1976 which were so filled with self pity I burned them.

At this stage there are several Rubbermaid bins filled with these scraps of life.

I began to mine the journals for scraps of poetic lines that might inspire some writing ... for tea cozy poems and images ... don't ask.

Then yesterday I received a message from My Dear, a friend on the cusp of her 41st birthday who asked me for three stories of when I was her age. I dove back into the boxes and found A DOZEN, yes, a dozen journals from that year. I honestly wonder how I had the energy to be that prolific, hold down a teaching job, be a mother and be a spouse. Maybe I will discover the secret as I look for those three stories.

I hope the excursion into the past will be revelatory and inspiring ... or at least fun. I will let you know.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

No fair. You jumped me. And besides you're older.

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This may require strategy.

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Maybe there's an opening here ...

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Aha!

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Gotcha!

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Gone to the Dogs Rationale

I started looking after dogs because it made Kenya happy. I continue because it makes me happy. Most of the time.

I have few rules or guidelines.

I have to like the dog and so does Kenya.

I won't take a dog that runs.

I prefer to sit one dog at a time, two at most.

Over Christmas it was completely hectic and, although I liked all the dogs, it wasn't fun.

Partly because I broke almost all my rules

Partly because my house was filled with other excitement and people

Partly because we had a power outage for two days

Partly because I was in and out of medical facilities; on and off medications

Partly because a strange dog entered the mix

I found myself scrambling the whole time. When I fed them, I felt like a zoo keeper; and when I did it in the dark, like a blind one. They were always leaving the property following the husky, the husky-shepherd stranger, or their own curious noses. It was too icy to walk that many animals safely, and there were too many to do it one at a time. And one of the dogs was a puppy ... still chewing and a food thief, and I lost an expensive throw rug to her penchant for eating everything. Two were weak-tummied animals who had me up for two nights attending to diarrhea, vomiting and an earache.

The joy of the whole experience was that all four dogs loved one another and were good gentle souls. It certainly helped but it did not mean I enjoyed Christmas.

Right now I have one dog that Kenya and I have known and loved since he was 6 weeks old. Kenya cut her mommying teeth on him and he used her as a chew toy while he was growing up. He is now 18 months old and a lovely calm dog. This is when I know I have the best " job " in the world!

Here they are at midnight last night.

Well no they aren't.

I am having trouble with my dial-up connection this morning. I will try putting them up through Picasa as a series.