About Me

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If who we are is what we do, then like most people, I am a mixed bag of personas. Writer, bookworm, friend, are what first come to mind. Equally apt would be potty mouth, dog walker, Guinness drinker, swimmer, storyteller, political animal, baker and proud Canadian. Mostly though, I consider myself simply insanely lucky to have a small posse of near and dear ones who put up with me and my curvy, creative, curly haired, opinionated self. I started this blog several years ago with the idea to challenge myself in a myriad of ways. Years in, despite the sporadic entries, I still like to muse about the absurdity of life, what inspires surprises and angers me, books and other entertainments, my menagerie, my travels and any other notion buzzing round in my head.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas

Weirdly enough I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot more recently than actually doing it. Life has been so very busy. So much so that with a reprieve from the hectic pace, I have kind of gone into a bit of hibernation recently. When I hibernate I think and when I think I usually end up writing it down. Here’s a little bit of what’s been buzzing around in my head.

I’ll admit that this is not my favourite time of year. I’m a borderline Scrooge. It irks me to think that people place way too much emphasis on the wrong things at Christmas time. It’s a holiday that seems to manifest the best and the worst of human nature as far as I can see. Lining up in the worst category, is all the pressure and obligation, all the mandatory gift giving and consumerism. Each year I listen to friends and colleagues stress about the gifts. What to buy for everyone; the cost, the line-ups. Others bitch about the pressures of spending time with relatives or family that one would rather not see. Obligatory gatherings. Awkwardness and bad feeling. I really don’t understand any of this. Buying a gift for someone or turning up to their gathering out of obligation doesn’t foster good will, especially if done under the cloud of resentment.

I know, from the work that my mother does with her programs helping the working poor and those marginalized in our society that many find this time of year particularly difficult. Feeling alone and scared; or with little food or money; perhaps unable to make ends meet or provide for your family; I can only imagine how distressing all the commercialism of Christmas must seem to them. How much would these people give to have the worries that many of the “haves” in society do. When just keeping food on your table is a primary concern, self indulgent whining seems trivial.

Christmas to me is about sharing – time with those we love and who love us, generosity to those who need us – stranger and friend, food and drink and frivolity, knowledge and stories and traditions passed along. But these are not things that in and of themselves need be limited to just Christmas time. While I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my family and friends over a nice meal, we do that a lot all year long. I like giving and receiving gifts, but I think birthdays are better suited for that. I think it’s important to think of your neighbours and those less fortunate, but not just once a year. I enjoy baking cookies, snow covered streets and the smell of pine, but view these as winter pleasures not limited to just one day. I appreciate the importance of marking the birth of Jesus but know that this gets lost in amongst all the shopping and holiday madness. As unpopular a notion as it may be, Christmas to me is not so special a time of year.

I wondered earlier, before writing this blog if perhaps I am just tired. November was a crazy month. I had two of my projects go live at work, successfully but not without their challenges. I spent every waking moment of the month trying to find time to write. I did so in my PJs late at night with laptop balanced on my knees and Murphy snoring away, at work on the few lunch breaks I took, at my local Starbucks for big blitzes and even on a go train ride to Mississauga. If that was not enough, I know I said “sit” more frequently than I can ever recall and have certainly spent a ton of time cleaning up pee and collecting dog toys from around the house. I ate more take out food and drank more coffee than I ever have; and after all that was incredibly proud and very relieved when I hit my 50,000 word mark and the month was over.

I immediately turned the writing energies over to wrapping up work and preparing for our annual Caring & Sharing program, an outreach event to families in need in the Mississauga area. This year we put together gifts, basic household needs, stockings and food baskets for over 115 families. With well over 100 volunteers, the program was a big success again this year and many people are better off through this winter season for the help they received. Here, is some of the best of human nature at work. Each year I am awed by the generosity of those who give and the dignity of those who receive.

With the Christmas charity event wrapped up for the year, my hibernation kicked into high gear yesterday. Off work now til the New Year, I have every intention of reading, sleeping and writing my way into 2010. I’ll visit with friends and neighbours as I do each year and share Christmas dinner with my family. I’ll see movies and hanging out with my puppies going for walks in the snow. I’ll think about the year that has passed and take stock, maybe even gather together a few notions for the coming year – Italy is sounding like a good idea when I say it out loud. As I think of the month of December what has been and what is left, I doubt I will find any Christmas spirit. I’m ok with that. I would prefer a continued feeling of good will towards man, woman, animal and the earth abound in me. I’ll leave Christmas to the elves.

Peace,
MB

Monday, November 30, 2009

And the winner is......


ME!!!


Wholly shit. I am actually a novelist. For the past 30 days I have spent hours upon hours writing my novel Lillian Munsch is Dead.


I sweat over this thing. I spent mornings walking the dogs figuring out snippets of dialogue and how to move the story in various directions. I researched ideas as I went along and wrote my way through at least three really frustrating bouts of writer's block. I worked harder at this than I have any other writing project before. I enjoyed it immensely; and this month I have had some incredibly prolific, creative and challenging moments bringing Lillian, Nicki and Alejandro to life.


I learned a lot about what I do well as a writer and what needs work. As I have written about before, I think I actually figured out how to get out of my own way and just let it rip. After these 30 days, having spent years of writing and picking away at stories, today for the first time I actually feel like a real god damned writer.


It's a good good day.


And now.... I need my bed.




Saturday, November 7, 2009

To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose, the next best.

I spent an incredibly productive and enjoyable several hours this morning at my local Starbucks, headphones in, laptop humming as I worked away on Lillian's story. She is becoming a wonderfully rich, thoroughly flawed and entertaining character to write. Getting into the nitty gritty of her love life now, I am having a blast with this NaNoWriMo project.

I had a busy week. Back to work after my bout with the flu and trying to settle into a routine with Murph and Mattie has been hectic. Just getting out the door each morning this week was a challenge:

Monday - up at 6:15 am with every intention of leaving by 8. Three messes to clean up, keys misplaced once and I was walking up the street to the bus just before 9am.

Tuesday - one playful bite on the lip around 6:30 am, only two messes to clean up and out the door by 8:45am.

Wednesday - only one mess to clean up and easily made it out the door in under two hours but skipped breakfast to make it to my meeting on time.

Thursday - no messes but a tussle over a toy put me back about 15 minutes meaning I did not leave til 9:10am

Friday - got things sorted with no messes, treat and walks routine down and was out the door in a respectable 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Sigh. I am tired just thinking of it.

This morning, taking advantage of the fact that Mattie is up around 6ish anyway, I got breakfasted and took the beasts for a long walk before heading off to write. I had hit a snag with a spot of writer's block one night this week, so had a some catching up to do. Having ploughed through it, I found that in taking a look back as Lillian reminisced over a past relationship, I actually came up with a few ideas that will bear fruit later in the story.... Yahooie.

Best of all, I was able to incorporate a traditional NaNoWriMo play on words into my work. Being lost for a name for a character, I did a google search looking for a name that felt right. With nothing grabbing me, I surfed over to the NaNo site to check out the message boards. On the front page, I found a link to a thread entitled Meet Mr. Ian Woon. For a bit of fun, Mr Ian Woon is an anagram of NaNoWriMo. The idea is to introduce a character called Ian Woon into your story to help boost your word count. Mulling it over for a second, I realized that Ian is a perfectly suitable name for the character I was writing. Voila and Lillian meets Mr Ian Woon. It's fun to think that Ian Woon (or his female cousin Naomi Worn) is popping up in stories all around the world, each version of Ian or Naomi different. My Ian is a redheaded Aussie rogue who breaks Lillian's heart. But, not to worry about her though, Lillian is strong. Although I still don't know how it will all work out for her, I know she will leave an indelible mark.

I am once again struck looking at this week's work, as I head towards 11,000 words written, at how productive I have been with this fixed deadline in mind. I know I should have done something like this a long time ago. And while I don't see much point in beating myself up over what should or could have been, I am so pleased to understand this now and feel grateful to have found a groove that fits my style and temperament.

There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.
~William Makepeace Thackeray

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Going with the flow

Entering Day 3 of NaNoWriMo, I am finding this surge in creativity wonderful. I have had two very successful days and note that the more I write, the more I want to. Ideas keep streaming out and I am so glad that I didn’t over plan this. With 3,722 words written in two days, I am ahead of schedule. I was a little bit worried about having to do my weekday writing in the evening, but so far so good. Once I get the beasts settled and my own dinner taken care of, I was able to relax into a nice rhythm for several hours before I went to bed.

My muse seems to be encouraging me along the right path and it makes me realize just how important writing is to me. Regardless of how well turned out the first draft is, the process of getting it down, imagining what my characters will do next and going off in different tangents when I think of some new idea is incredibly exhilarating.

I’ve been good about editing as I go and stayed away from it as much as I can. I realize now just how in my own way I was. I think I was actually hindering my process by over analyzing ever word. This is a much freer process and far more enjoyable.

Right now, I have no idea where Lillian and Nicki, Alejandro and Eric or even nasty Brad will end up. Well, actually, that is a small white lie. I do have a very good idea about Brad. Overall, this is way more fun than I anticipated it would be. How cool is that?!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

In the words of the poet James Brown...


I feel good!


With the flu (oh yes that H1N1 is a nasty bugger) behind me, I feel wonderful. Still I've been careful to hunker down and take er easy this weekend. Saw a movie (An Education - really really good) yesterday and went to bed reasonably early. Morning comes early in this household with wee Mattie needing to get up and go out on schedule. But, I can't complain. The early morning routine which I began when Murphy arrived four years ago has turned out to be my most productive creative time. I am most certainly a morning writer. So once the dogs were fed and walked I was easily able to sit down to my laptop and write. And it does feel good.

Lillian Munsch has been brought to life and her journey begun.

Off to make oatmeal cookies to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Swine Flu



Piglet is still my favourite from the Hundred Acre Woods.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Plotting

I finally got around to posting a novel summary on my NaNoWriMo profile. I am getting very excited about my story. If you are interested in reading it, you can find it here .


Spent the weekend nursing myself to good health. Looks like I have no choice but to hunker down and stay in bed for a few days now. This cold or flu has finally taken a hold of me. Besides, I want to be over this by November 1st, so I can devote my full attention to my novel.




Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love thy neighbour isn't just a piece of advice, it's a command!

I was just sent a link to this video of Bono's acceptance speech for the NAACP award. The man absolutely rocks. He is an inspiration.

Listen to this call to action.


Lillian Munsch is Dead

Very excited about my NaNoWriMo project. I have basically outlined as much as I am going to. I'll take another glance through my notes sometime late next week and it all starts in just 9 days. Have working title and mocked up a book cover for the project. Here it is:





This is all taking shape quite nicely. Have work mostly in hand for the coming week. Man it is going to be a busy 5 weeks. But, hey! I like busy.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

200 Songs

So Sunday I was all concerned over getting the flu. I still feel a little bit as though something is coming on, but for now I feel a ton better. I was surfing around yesterday on Facebook and reminded of something that put my whining into perspective. Flu is one thing, but battling cancer is a whole other thing. I recently lost my uncle to cancer and know how tough a go some people have of it.

I should say upfront that mostly, Facebook is not my favourite place. I go there from time to time to post and look at pictures of friends and family near and far away. I read updates on people. I don't play games or chat much. I recognize that there is lots of information on the site. But frankly, I think most people use Facebook as a time waster. With that said, it's pretty cool when you can find someone using this tool to promote a positive and unique opportunity to do good.

My friend Brian and his buds are doing the 200k ride to conquer cancer. Working for hospitals, I think I have become immune to the fundraising drives that go on in support of research and to combat various diseases. It seems that every condition these days has some drive going on to raise money. By far, in my opinion, the cancer hospitals do the best job at awareness and fund raising. Bike rides and daffodil drives are common enough and worthy of our support. But what Brian has done is put a new twist on cancer awareness.

As a unique and interactive way to support the team on their ride and to memorialize a loved one who may have been lost to or is fighting cancer, Brian began the 200 Songs for 200 Klicks project. The idea is simple. Request a tribute song for someone you love and Brian will post a video of him playing the song. To reach his goal, Brian is hoping to have 200 song dedications before his bike ride in June 2010. As a talented musician, you'll enjoy hearing your very own version of the song you choose. It's simple and very personal in a special way.

So, check out the site here.

It doesn't cost a thing.
It'll make a difference in someones life
Check out the songs already requested (mine is #20)
Request a song.
Share a little music.
Support the ride to conquer cancer.
Make a difference.
Today!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Positively Positive

The power of positive thinking is what I am relying on today. With every fibre of my being I am putting good health vibes out into the cosmos to prevent myself from getting sick.

I am staying positive.
Positive that because I cannot afford to be ill, I will not.
Positive that despite the fact that both my sisters are now down with some bug, I have a fighting chance at a salubriously relaxed and productive week.
Positive that the achy feeling behind my eyes is lack of sleep, that the sanguine look in my cheeks is from the brisk walks outdoors rather than fever and that scratchy throat I noticed this afternoon will clear up.

Yep.
I'm praying to the gods of all things hale and healthy.
I'm channelling wellness.
I'm imagining myself positively fit and flourishing and flu free.

Because anything less than that, and I'll be positively pissed off!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Betwixt and Between

I'm in preparation mode these days. Nesting it feels like. Between one thing and another. A veritable Advent season (albeit a bit early) around here. With Mattie's arrival, we are settling nicely into our routine. I have planned to work from home during the coming week to cement our schedule and get her acclimatized to life with me and Murphy. She's gonna fit in just fine.




Beyond puppy though, I have a real sense of being in a holding pattern. I am for the first time in recent memory, between books. I am also, in between writing projects as I prep for NaNoWriMo in November. And, having finished up and closed off a few projects at work, I am getting ready for the next implementation at the end of October. I hate that feeling of destination envy. I would much prefer and try to live in the moment. But this moment, today, seems to be about setting up for the next one.

So there I was, happily devouring the last Stieg Larsson book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, when my Mom reminded me that I promised to lend her a few books. Being only a quarter of the way through the Larsoon, knowing it was number one on her list and that I'd be busy for the next few days with Mattie, I lent it to her. Now that Mattie is napping quietly here beside me, I find I'm missing that story. Won't be but a few days as Mom is a reading ninja, but I am eager to see how it all turns out! It's not that I haven't found other stuff to read (hello Pillars of the Earth!), I just want to know what happens to Lisbeth Salander.


I started to storyboard my thoughts for the November writing project. I am really stoked for this and want to make the most of the opportunity. I have a working title (Lillian Munsch is Dead) and an idea of the plot, plus a sense of the main characters. I am reminded of that notion that over-preparation is the enemy of inspiration. So while, I want to be prepped enough to write a good story and make my 50,000 word goal, I don't want to get too organized and thought out, otherwise the fun of not knowing what will come next is gone. So my prep, once the basic idea is mapped out, will be more along the lines of carving out a writing schedule that will support my ability to write 1,674 words a day.

While I am at home this week, in between making big pots of soup and veggie chili to freeze for November's project and smoothing Mattie's transition, I am also preparing for another system implementation at work. In fact, the day I return from my week away, our computer system goes up in a new clinic. It is a really weird feeling to not be physically around in the days leading up to our "go live", as we call them. A bit overprotective of my new implementations, I fret that everything will go smoothly and like to double check every aspect myself. Doing this from a distance is a challenge and a good exercise in organization, trust, delegation and allowing others room to spread their wings. I'm as ready for this implementation as I always am, the prep process is just a wee bit different. And different can be good, right???

For now, I'll prep and organize in the coming weeks and try, as much as I can, to live in the present. I will enjoy the little mewing sounds that Mattie makes, the ability to work in my pj's this week, some cuddle time with Murphy and creatively hatch and plot for NaNo, until it is time to begin anew.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sheeeeee's here!



Quick post as past day and a half have been incredibly busy. Will have more time for a more complete update tomorrow.

Matilda arrived safe and sound - incredibly wee and full of beans. She's absolutely gorgeous and quite spunky. Murphy is being his usual gentle and patient self, We only had two incidents - one where he quite purposefully stomped on her after she bit his tale, and the other when he accidentally (I think) peed on her while we were out trying the leashes earlier today.

All's well here. Am over the moon in love with them both!!



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Countdown

Someone asked me, because I hadn't mentioned her today, if I was still excited about the arrival of Matilda.

ARE YOU CRAZY??? I thought. I'm beyond excited. I'm psyched!!

The house is all ready, with her toys and bed all set up. Murphy has been gently pawing at the crate wondering what is going on. I put a big stuffed sheep in the crate to get him used to things. He's such a good sweet boy.

According to my watch, it's less than 48 hours til she arrives. Having been asked for more pictures, and just because she is SOOOO cute, here are a few more.









Did you catch the kissable white belly on them.... Am I excited??? You bet!






Monday, October 12, 2009

NaNoing


I am more than likely going to kick myself come mid November, but what the hell! Inspired by a few others I know I have decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge for the month of November. For those who don't know about NaNo, the National November Writing Month is an international contest where writers young and old are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel (work, story, saga, tale or whatever) in a big blitz during the period of midnight November 1st to November 30th. A 3o day writing blitzkrieg of caffeine infused creativity.

The idea is to challenge yourself. Each day, you post on the site the word count you have achieved. Forcing the writer to plod on, writing something and moving their story forward, there are very few rules. You must begin and end an original piece of work during the November period. You may not write in teams (although support and advice from friends, colleagues, family and message boards is very much encouraged). To join the ranks of winners, you must simply hit the 50,000 mark. This, for those who care to know, works out to approximately 1,674 words per day. To put this in perspective for me, my average blog is approximately 350-500 words. (insert panicked looking emoticon here!!!)


My reasons for doing this are many. But the big ones are:



  • I am the ultimate Mistress of Procrastination. Having a deadline and an audience seems to improve my productivity.

  • I have only two personal commitments in November and so as a month goes, its reasonably light. If work can stay reasonably organized, there should not be any external impediment to my goal.

  • Being housebound while training Matilda, it is a perfect time to capitalize on the sleep deprived nights and new puppy required hibernation.

  • My idea book is brimming and it's a perfect opportunity to dip in and flush out a story from some of the notes I've been nursing and nurturing over the years.

  • I tend to get bogged down in the editing process. A month of letting it rip, knowing the editing will come later sounds like a good way to shake things up.

And most importantly,



  • I have tremendous doubts about whether I can do this... which means I must try it!!

For any of you who wish to follow my progress, you can find a link to my NaNo page here .

Wish me luck (or send me thermoses of coffee).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pope Joan


Beyond a good story of interesting subject matter, the novel Pope Joan, reminded me just how much I enjoy reading historical fiction. This story is a fictionalized version of the much disputed myth of Pope Joan, or La Papessa, who was rumored to have sat as Pope of Rome in the 850s. Well and vividly described, this tale plunges the reader into a time long ago when life was harsh, most average people were illiterate and men, particularly the religious and wealthy, ruled every aspect of life. To be a woman in the 800s meant essentially being owned by your husband or father; subject to their whims, servant to their desire and second class in every respect. To be a curious and intelligent girl was a difficult lot for there existed neither legitimate outlet for creativity nor any real opportunity to pursue one’s desire to learn. Superstition of anything new or different, territorial and religious stakes for power, extreme poverty and disease was the setting in which Joanna (Joan) of Ingelheim, later Brother John Angelicus was raised.

Born into a meager existence, the only daughter of a mean spirited English Canon and his beautiful Norse born pagan wife, Joan was the youngest of three children. Her oldest brother Matthew, expected to follow his father into religious life, had a passion for learning and books. Recognizing the same in Joan, he secretly encouraged her, teaching her on the sly. After Matthew’s death, she is mentored by Aesculapius, a tutor brought in to work with her brother John, who struggled with his lessons, seeing no sense in anything that did not have to do with his desire to be a soldier. Under the tutelage of Aesculapius, Joan thrives. For the first time she envisions a path for herself different than the traditional lot of most women. When John is killed in a Viking raid, Joan takes up his cloak and his identity and becomes John Angelicus. Entering the monastery at Fulda, as a Benedictine monk, she quickly climbs the ranks in the Order, becoming a learned healer, theologian and linguist. When the need to leave the Order arises, Joan ventures towards Rome, where her skills and learning become useful to the Pope of the day, Sergius.

Historical accuracy aside, I liked this book. Politics and plots for power, love and sex and betrayal (in spades), injustice and intrigue all layer together well in this very enjoyable read by Donna Woolfolk Cross. I understand that this novel is being made into a movie. I can see this plot lending itself well to film in a “Name of the Rose” kind of period piece.

In the back of the book Cross includes an essay entitled “Was There a Pope Joan?” Her conclusion is what struck me the most. In discussing the difficult times that existed for women of Joan’s day, Cross commented: “The light of hope kindled by such women shone only flickeringly in a great darkness, but it was never entirely to go out. Opportunities were available for women strong enough to dream. Pope Joan is the story of one of those dreamers.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Bev Factor

Today is my Mom’s birthday. It’s also Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and in our household, we always celebrate the two things together (along with the birthday of my youngest brother, Chris). It seems very appropriate the twofold purpose of this weekend’s festivities. For a day when we are meant to remember all we have to be thankful for in our lives is well marked by acknowledging the most significant person in my life and the thing I am most thankful for: my family.

In her 70s, Bev or “The Bev” as we affectionately call her is a dichotomous mix of strength and gentleness. Busy and very involved in her community helping those in need, to them she is a source of encouragement and a leg up. To her family she is so much more: our teacher, nurse, problem solver, costume maker, compass, chauffeur, soft place to land, muse, travel companion, sounding board, conspirator, task master, cheerleader, sentinel, she is our heart.

I have frequently remarked here of the importance of family and the wonderful gang I have in my life. All the confidence I have and the gifts I have developed are directly attributable to the influence and inspiration of my Mom, Bev. For her, today and always, I am incredibly thankful.

Much love and happy birthday, Mom!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hero Worship

I just finished the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Like the first in the series, writing about this one can be tricky because you cannot discuss the plot in any way without fear of spoilers. Nonetheless, if I had to sum up this book into one word, it would be addictive. Larsson’s books do not possess particularly literary prose or evocative language. You won’t see them topping any “best of” lists, nor are they particularly good book club fodder. But what they lack in beauty and symbolism, they make up for in compelling story telling, interesting and complex characters and heart pounding drama. The story draws you in. Like millions others, I have lost hours sitting glued to the couch, racing through the pages, eager to find out what happens next.

It got me wondering about story telling in general and what constitutes a good tale. I am always inspired by an author who has the ability to completely transport the reader to another place. Good stories do that. But how? I’ve read all sorts of books. I have genres I like and those I don’t particularly gravitate towards. There are settings and themes I prefer over others. As a writer, naturally, I want my stuff to be good and appeal to someone else other than myself. I struggle, as many do, thinking my characters are flat or forgettable. Being unoriginal is what bothers me most. So what is it then that makes for good stories? I understand how to construct a sentence; how characters need an arc. I’m pretty good at writing dialogue. But on a broader sense, I am interested in understanding the chemistry of a good story; its components, interactions, characteristics. I doubt there’s a magic combination, but some common properties exist for sure - love, conflict, memorable characters, loss, humour, adversity.

I recently blogged about Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. I flat out loved that book. I was drawn to the unhurried poetic words. Reading it inspired and left me feeling like I had experienced something beautiful. But I thoroughly enjoyed Larsson’s books too. Two drastically different and yet so very satisfying reading experiences that I immediately set to roaming around the internet to find a place where I can order Larsson’s third installment of Millennium Trilogy (arriving from the UK in October) and expect Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty to be delivered any day now. I like that my taste in books is eclectic. Despite my efforts this year to take one thing at a time, I still frequently find myself with a few books on the go simultaneously. A writing professor friend of mine may have pointed me in the right direction when he recommended that I should read, Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I’m still savoring it, but have read enough to summarize the gist here. Campbell was a renowned American author, mythologist and specialist in comparative religion. The point of his book is that there is really only one story; a basic structure to every story that Campbell calls the monomyth. Essentially it goes something like this: the hero of the story leaves his every day life, to venture out into the big wide world in search of something. Along the way, he is hindered and helped by various forces and/or individuals. Ultimately the hero succeeds and returns home to share what he has found with those he left behind. The world is a better place for it. I’m paraphrasing of course. Campbell itemizes various stages in the hero’s journey, but ultimately, this is what stories, what myths are all about. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Simple, but for one who frets over originality this was initially depressing. I mean, if it is true that there are really no new stories, then what is the point? I will likely always write, at least for myself. I cannot see that changing. But my rather large ego would prefer that my work not be a retread of something that’s come before. Frankly, I was rather pissed at Campbell for a while. There’s no question in my mind, that his idea is sound. Applied to every kind of story I can think of, his structure holds. Brilliant. But, fuck! Who wants to think that their work ultimately is predictable?

I googled Joseph Campbell. On the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, is a link to references relating to his personal philosophy “follow your bliss”. Now this I can relate to!! Campbell’s idea wasn’t just about doing things you like, but in identifying that which you are truly passionate about and giving yourself to it fully. And then I got it. It is in following this passion, doing what makes you tremble with joy, following it however it comes about and wherever it takes you, that you (or your characters) live their story. It is the journey that is the unique part. While the structure maybe archetypal, each journey is unique, as unique as the person (or hero) taking it. Whew! I am sooo bloody relieved. I have no idea whether my stories will entertain as I have been entertained. But formula or no, I continue my journey and if it needed a title, my story could be "The Girl who Gave it a Shot... or Two, or Twenty." Hey, at least my aim's improving.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Munchkin Alert

At 5 weeks old today, and with just a few more til she comes to live with me and Murph, I received these pics of Matilda and her litter mates. Too cute not to share.































Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happiness is a warm puppy!

It's just over three weeks until wee Matilda joins the family. In prepping for her arrival, I've found myself thinking of the past years with Murphy and remembering the day I brought him home. What a cute little bundle of white fur he was. I've said this before, but it bears repeating, he was by far, one of the best decisions I have ever made. My life has been remarkably changed since his arrival. He makes me smile daily and centres me in ways I would never have imagined.



From the pictures which I've received of Mattie and her litter mates, I suspect she'll be every bit as adorable as Murphy was as a pup. Charles Schultz had it right. Happiness is indeed a warm puppy.



In browsing around blogland earlier today, I stumbled on a list of simple life lessons gleaned from a dog's life. When I think of Murphy and look forward to the joy which Matilda will bring to my life, I am reminded of how true much of this is:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.
Take naps.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you're not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY!

I have no doubt that I am in store for many licks, romps and marvelous moments with the arrival of Matilda. As I sit here writing, Murph's backside keeping my feet warm as he snores away on the end of the couch, I know what a good thing it is to have a dog in your life. I feel excited in the same way we anticipated Christmas morning as kids. More good things are coming, that I know for sure.

The Secret Scripture


I love it when a something within the first paragraph or two of a story takes hold of me right from the start. I am caught up immediately wanting to dive in.

"Roseanne’s Testimony of Herself
(Patient Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, 1957- )

The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say. He forgot to say, with every death it ends. Or did not think he needed to. Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard."

Sebastian Barry’s novel, The Secret Scripture is the story of Roseanne McNulty, a 100year old patient in a decaying Irish mental hospital which is slated to be torn down. Realizing her advanced age and the possibility she will not live much longer, she sets out to write a record of her life as clearly as she can recall it. While Roseanne remembers and secretly documents her history stashing pages in the floorboards of her room, Dr. William Grene is charged with the task of assessing each of the patients under his care to determine if they are fit for reintegration to society. Gently probing Roseanne for any detail which might help him understand why she was committed to Sligo Mental Hospital some 40 years previously, Dr. Grene gets nowhere. With an edict from the Department of Health looming, determined to do right by Roseanne, he tries to figure out who this seemingly frail aged beauty is and what happened to her.

This story unfolds in the form of journal entries from them both; Dr. Grene’s notebook where he frets over Roseanne, castigates and psychoanalyzes himself as much for his lack psychiatric prowess as his own dysfunctional personal life; and Roseanne’s spidery hand of blue biro written sheets of secret testimony - her life beginning as a young girl in County Sligo during a time of political upheaval and turmoil in Ireland’s history.

"Sligo made me and Sligo undid me, but then I should have given up much sooner than I did being made or undone by human towns, and looked to myself alone. The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves."

To be the author of oneself. There is something strong and resilient in that and so I dove in.

Barry has written a lovely and stirring tale. His language is poetic and expressive. I found myself rereading sentences just to enjoy the beauty of the way he has phrased things. He’s a wonderfully gifted author. There’s no shortage of awards and accolades which have been bestowed on Barry for this book too. But for the reader, our reward is a moving poetically masterful narrative of love and betrayal and the power that religion and the politics of the day played in the lives of some in rural Ireland.

I was going to end my blog entry there. But one more thing is still needling at me.

I was struck at one point in reading The Secret Scripture that Dr. Grene appeared to be attributing too charitable an attitude to those who had a hand in Roseanne’s history, ascribing the perspective that they did what they believed their faith dictated them to do at the time. As a modern woman living in 2009, these actions seemed atrocious to me.

As a preface to this book, the author includes a reference to a quote from the preface of Maria Edgeworth’s book Castle Rackrent. I haven’t read this work, but am intrigued by what I have read about it. If what I understand is true, it was written in 1800, and is considered one of the first good examples of narration from a point of view contrary to the actual players in the story. In this case, a slave to a wealthy landowner and family.

“Of the numbers who study, or at least read history, how few derive any advantage from their labours!... Besides, there is much uncertainty even in the best authenticated ancient and modern histories; and that love of truth, which in some minds is innate and immutable, necessarily leads to a love of secret memoirs and private anecdotes.”

I wonder now, having just considered this preface, that perhaps perspective and point of view do factor in here in a more significant manner than I originally considered. My natural, albeit arrogant, inclination is to believe that some things are simply right and some wrong. Taking Barry’s careful prefaced selection here and Dr. Grene’s attitude into consideration, I see compassion and understanding - that each of us is often caught up in things bigger than ourselves. History is written and rewritten over time again and again from various points of view. I take away here that the best we can do in any given moment is to own our own stories and live as truly as we know how.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Change is gonna come!

Change is eddying around me everywhere. Weirdly, I feel equally excited and daunted. September seems to bring about this kind of flux for me. This year, the changes have more impact to my day to day. On the horizon I can see some interesting things.

A joyful adjustment to the household as our new girl joins the fold ~ Puppies are wonderful, but tons of work. Sleep deprivation and some potential for damage from chewing are a given. The first six to eight months are the hardest. But looking at her picture (below), I know it will all be worth it in the end.

The resumption of writing classes ~ It is essential for me to keep the creative pump primed while I try hard to finalize my first draft by a February 1st deadline. It is not lost on me that having to be reasonably house bound while Little Miss is in training, is good for my writing routine. Having twisted the story’s plot and focus around, I find my writing is coming along well and elements are clicking into place. As anyone who has written anything knows, ideas can come tumbling out quickly. Sentences these days seem to be splashing out onto the page, like raindrops hitting the ground running all together. It’s a good feeling and one that I am relishing.

I am going to be moving in the coming year ~ it is all but officially decided. The time has come to buy my own place. Little ripples began occurring last year. (This is how things always come to me). A nibble of an idea. More rumbling. Some discussion with my gang for moral support. More mulling. And then usually a strangely coincidental sign or two to shove me along a path. I’ve been struggling with the notion that to buy, I was going to have to sacrifice lifestyle. I love my current neighbourhood and have lived here for many years. I could never afford to own a home here. That said, my flat needs some repair and our landlord is dragging her feet these days. Having spent weeks crunching numbers, I know what I can afford. Browsing MLS listings, I was beginning to think it was a condo (which smacks annoyingly of fishbowl to me) or a wee house on the outskirts or even suburbs of the city. I don’t mind Mississauga or Oakville. I enjoyed living there when I did, but I am essentially a city girl. I love the feel of the city, the options available to me for entertainment, transit, shopping and such. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, clean safe and livable. This is important to me. Feeling mired down by the give and take of what I have now versus what I can afford, I was beginning to wonder if I should rethink this decision. And then there they were… on my daily scrounge through real estate listings online, I found three really cute little houses just right for me. Homes in the city, near a park, close to all that I want. It is possible… and I am psyched.

September is a good take stock kind of month. For me, as the leaves begin to change, so is life as I have lived it these past few years. Quiet and familiar routines are about to be replaced by a different more hectic schedule of work, writing classes, daily training for the puppy and a stricter regime than the one Murphy and I follow. My pennies will get careful attention in the coming months as most extras go by the wayside as I continue to save for my new house. For a girl with a large latte factor, this is an adjustment. Trust me.

In taking a look at the coming year, there is a comforting symmetry to it all. My new puppy means sticking close to home for a while. My writing and saving for a house only benefit from this need. It’s cool how it all falls so neatly together. There is a harmony here. Just another sign to me that I’m on the right track. I have never been one to baulk at change. However difficult it can be, I have learned that there is usually some good to come out of it. If my gut is accurate, the changes of the coming year, although at times a challenge, will shepherd in a new season in my life. That is something to be excited about.



Monday, September 7, 2009

The Joy of Chocolate


I am excited beyond belief!!!


I don't usually post twice in one day, but this deserved it's own space.


The countdown is officially on. 38 DAYS. Just over one month.


On October 15th, our wee family will grow, with the addition of a beautiful girl, a chocolate lab puppy. Having spent the day yesterday up in Arthur, Ontario at the breeders it is all arranged. She was born August 20th and only just opened her eyes 2 days ago. Although we couldn't touch her yet or take any pictures, she was as beautiful as can be with a little scrunched up face and little mewing sounds coming from her.


I am thrilled to bits and eagerly anticipating her arrival. I have lots to do to puppy proof the house again. Murphy, of course, has no clue what is up, but very shortly our lives will get a lot busier. He's about to become a big brother and in my view there's no boy better to teach our girl the ropes.


Am still mulling over names, which is the fun part. Looking for something meaningful to me. A unique name, beautiful and gentle. Trying out names from favourite books, authors, activists, saints, Irish poets and mythological women, German (we do have an iota of German in our background too don't forget) writers and thinkers. It's a big deal to get the right name. But I still have a few weeks.


No matter what we call her, she'll be a joy. Joy? Hmmm.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


It’s a tough thing to write about a book when you cannot discuss the plot without fear of spoilers. Such is my dilemma in reviewing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Crime novels and thrillers, in the Robert Ludlum or Jeffrey Archer vein are not my usual reads. But I found this book more engaging than the lighter fare of other books in this genre. These characters are flawed and memorable and for this Canadian chick, a story set in both Stockholm and the fictitious town of Hedestad on the Swedish archipelago, was a refreshingly new environment to explore. Not much more can be said about this plot than that it involves an unfairly disgraced financial journalist who is hired freelance to write about the disappearance of the young niece of a prominent industrialist.

Not wanting to give anything away, you will just have to read it for yourself. But one thing is for sure, while enjoying this thoroughly engaging, and at times twisted thriller you will be in good company. People all over the world seem to be on the same page. While in Europe this summer, I saw several people, nose down lost in this book. As Spanish translations occupied commuters in Barcelona, a week or so later I noted stacks of this book in the Irish bookshops I visited in Clare. Upon returning home, during a usual book exchange with my Mom, both my youngest sister and Mom were raving about Larsson’s books. While I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week, two of my work colleagues were also lapping it up, one of whom had bought the book on her recent trip home to Norway (she is reading the Norwegian translation).

As an aspiring author, Larsson’s is a phenomenal accomplishment. As I understand it, he wrote The Millennium Trilogy, which includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, mostly for his own pleasure at night after work (which in and of itself is incredibly cool). He worked primarily as a journalist and political activist. When he died suddenly in 2004, he left the three finished manuscripts unpublished. They went on to be printed posthumously. While the surprising circumstances of his death and the subsequent squabbling over his estate are interesting, Larsson’s legacy is, from having read just one book, the excitement of a story told that keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you wanting more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito!

It is time to face it.

Avoidance is not going to make it go away.

Having blatantly snubbed the topic for a while, its time to get back to the weightier focus of this blog. Anyone remotely perceptive would have noted the "ugh" entry in the Pounds section, which I made after my trip . I have had nothing short of a complete and utter setback in my efforts to lose weight. A trip to Europe for sure, but to be more accurate, any remotely enjoyable summer activity, does not appear to be conducive to my weight loss program. In fact, I had recently come to the depressing conclusion that I am not going to be able to sustain any real weight loss, unless I give up drinking, going to movies and out to dinner all together. As a social gal, with a standing date for pints every week with one set of friends or another, this bites. But after several weeks of yo-yoing up and down the scale, losing weight through the week, only to blow it on the weekend, I just gave up trying. I was even well on my way to convincing myself that living my life happily (which means socially too) is more important than anything else. I am so incredibly frustrated with myself. I hate that I have not been able to master this. I am successful and accomplished in so many parts of my life, why do I fail in this one area? Its irksome. Worse yet, my feelings flip flop back and forth on this issue incredibly.

One one hand, there is what I know intellectually. I am not defined by what I look like. I am wonderful just as I am. Although an emotionally healthy outlook, I don't think this helps encourage me to a physically healthier MB. I also believe that there is nothing I cannot do if I really try. And I know that it is simply not smart to carry excess weight. The long term negative affects on my quality of life will certainly be felt as I age. I hope, like most people, to live to a ripe old age: active, alert and reasonably self sufficient. Being heavy decreases my chances of doing so. I have been known to be a bit of a whirlwind at times, and consider myself a veritable force of nature in terms of accomplishing something I really want. With all this knowledge floating around in my head, does this mean, on some level, that I don't really want to lose this weight?

On the other hand, there is what I feel emotionally about myself. My body image, my ego and how I cope with having failed myself in this regard. Breaking it down more specifically, the body image thing is a tough one. There are many things I love about the way I look. Being buxom and curvy is cool. Having plenty of wobbly bits, not so much. A more sensitive subject for me is how I feel when I realize that someone is responding to me purely based on how I look. It's unlikely that anyone who is an average size would really understand this, but being big does affect how people respond to you. I have been called fat. I have felt rejection because I'm chubby. I have felt people look right through me on their way to more classically beautiful women. This smarts. I can rationalize it and remind myself of how fabulous I am and how small these people are, but it doesn't help the fact that at the time, I feel a little bit bruised. When I realize that I have control over this situation; that I can change how I look, my frustration shifts from the insensitive person who may have hurt me to myself, knowing that I am hurting myself by not doing something proactive about my weight.

In the end, this is all up to me. Like every other success and each failure in my life, I own this. I still refuse to give up. Perhaps, all I need is a kick in the pants. Maybe I need to get some assistance (she says wincing at the notion of some trainer barking orders for one more set... sigh). Possibly, (shudder) I should consider light beer.

I'll figure it out. I'll give it another go, if for no other reason than that giving up on trying to lose weight, feels a lot like giving up on me. And that, is simply not an option!



Yield not to misfortunes, but advance all the more boldly against them!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale



While browsing any bookstore it would be rare for me not to buy something. More usual is the sight of me wandering around, arms laden with books or stopping to sit down and browse through the volumes I have gathered, trying to decide which ones to buy and which ones to leave for another day. I have only one rule. If I have picked up and carried a book around more than twice and left it behind, the next time I pick it up it goes home with me, regardless of what else I have with me. The Thirteenth Tale came to me this way.

What originally grabbed me each time I saw this book was a review on the back cover from an Edmonton journal which said this is “a book for people who both love books and know the importance of stories.” But Diane Setterfield wrote more than just that. She penned an eerie ghost story, a spooky tale about sisters and governesses and old houses, a twisting and mysterious story that keeps you on the edge wondering what will happen next. And she did this remarkably as a first time author. She blew me away.

This is a book I could not stop talking about having read it. I have leant my copy to several friends, all of whom raved about it. It is not the kind of story you can talk very much about without giving anything away. But I can say this, the feeling you are left with having read The Thirteenth Tale is like you have just spent time somewhere on the moors of England, in a dark old Victorian mansion, curled up by a fireplace with a cup of cocoa, while a very old lady told you a wonderfully creepy tale.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Middlemarch


One of the things I set out to do at the beginning of the year was to read more and cut a wider swath through some of the classic books which I missed out on and have been meaning to read for many years. While I am delighted to have found modern gems like Annie Dillard and David Sedaris, the wonderful characters of George Eliot’s Middlemarch have, in one 800 plus paged volume wildly surpassed my expectations for the year.

Dorothea Brookes stands out amongst the many heroines of the books I’ve read over the years as a perfectly complex and endearing character. Middlemarch centers around three main characters: Dorothea Brookes - an idealistic wealthy young woman who marries a boring and elderly scholar for all the wrong reasons, Dr. Tertius Lydgate - a newcomer to Middlemarch with innovative modern ideas about medicine and an earnest desire to do good but who makes an unfortunate marriage which is nearly the ruin of him, and Nicholas Bulstrode a successful landowner and pompously pious town banker with a dark secret.

Virginia Woolf is supposed to have said of Middlemarch that it is one of the few English novels written for grown up people. With love, politics, evil doing and scandal, class struggles, characters whom you root for and those you loathe filling the pages of Middlemarch, I can see her point. As study in character development, George Eliot has given every aspiring writer a master class. More importantly though, for all readers, she has left us with a classic to be treasured.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I am a woman!

There is a Buddhist notion that says if we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep going. This thought has been buzzing round my head this past week. Perseverance and pacing have been the new mantra I’ve tried to embrace as I’ve been setting about ordering my writing and take stock of the work I’ve done in the past year. I’ve been plagued by the gnawing feeling that I’m not on the right track creatively, that my work is too trite and obvious and this has been splitting my focus.

I’ve commented before that I struggle with procrastination. I tend to work at all things in life through big blitzy spurts of energy, rather than a more steady dogged approach to tasks. This applies to my professional work, my little projects around home, my health regime, my writing and even, to a degree the way I read and clean house and bake and spend time with friends. It’s a feast or famine kind of thing, with little balance. I’m all wrapped up in work or taking solitary non-contact breaks from the world to write. I am staying up late into the wee hours to read a book or series of books for a few days. Each of these blitzes is followed in varying degrees by gaps away from these projects while my energy is focused elsewhere.

While I have taken great pride in the fact that when the pressure is on, I am the girl who can churn it out, I have come to realize that day to day life is not like that. More is achieved with a steadier pace. A little bit each day. A page or a paragraph well written each morning. A pound or two each month and so on. One thing at a time.

My friend Allison gave me a book a few years ago by Annie Dillard called A Writing Life. I return to this much loved and now weathered volume frequently for inspiration and encouragement. Dillard’s mastery alone being enough of a credential that any advice she may have for this would be writer is golden to me.

She says:

"The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years' attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.

Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff that the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over… You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?)"


I am a woman, I roar!!

And so I started again. Dillard comments, “why are people reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” Inspired by the experiences of love around me, of minor disappointments and reminded recently of the support and encouragement I have for me to write something good and very “me”, I salvaged my outline and with a different perspective, point my story in a new direction. It is a scary thing to work hard at something for a while and realize that you need to dissemble it. But, like a bandaid that needs to be torn off, once gone you forget about it soon enough. It didn't really hurt as much as you thought it would. And the same applies to my story, with new ideas plumping up plot lines like fresh air billowing curtains on a breezy day, I think I am pointed in the right direction, all I have to do is keep going.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bernie

It’s been a hell of a few weeks, both personally and professionally. Getting here to blog, or even to make the time to write more creatively has been quite a challenge. One thought was to comment on how all consuming and busy work has been lately. And this is irksome. Post holiday my attitude had successfully been adjusted with a renewed sense that the important things in life do not include fussing about work. Yet, a month or more after my return, back to my usual pace, I find myself focusing an inordinate amount of attention on my projects and implementations. Sure I’ve carved out a little me time and seen a few friends, but just last week I realized my trip and that relaxed vibe I brought home from Europe had all but fizzled. A more frazzled MB has been popping up from time to time.

I tried, a week or so ago, in a moment of frustration to tap back into some of the laid back, contented, priorities-in-the-right-place feeling I returned home with from Ireland. I recall that lasting less than a day and until yesterday, it seemed as far off as Spain to me. It is curious though how easy it is to shift one’s perspective, when the right chord is struck or something happens to snap your attention round.

Sadly, after a wonderful life and prolonged illness, my uncle and godfather, Bernie passed away a few days ago. He was my Dad’s brother; one of the youngest of his ten siblings. My Uncle Bernie was a good man. He was a kind and gentle man, with a big heart, a strong sense of family, community and giving back… and he is missed.

I know these things are tough. Coming from such a big family, yesterday’s was not the first, nor second, nor even the tenth funeral I’ve experienced. Still it is never easy and as I sat in the pew at church, amongst my family and the large group of friends gathered to pay their respects, I did feel sad. But despite the tears and loss felt by many there, I was moved by the palpable feeling of love in the room. Later at the wake, laughing with my cousins and reminiscing with old friends of the family I hadn’t seen in years, I felt it again. Stronger with each memory shared. Love. And I felt grateful.

The effect of the past few days seems to have shifted my perspective back on track. I realize it is common to take stock and recognize how short life is after losing someone. But why does it take these sorts of events? One thing is for sure, like my Dad gone before him, Bernie had rich and full life. Without question, he worked hard establishing and building up his successful business too. But in the end, it is the laughter, love and joy he shared with those in his life that really sticks out, for these are truly the marks of a life well lived.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Life itself is the proper binge

I’m borrowing this quote from Julia Child, inspired by her on many fronts this week.

Monday night I saw a screening of the movie Julie and Julia, based on the book by Julie Powell about a young woman who sets herself the challenge to cook her way through all 524 recipes of Julia Child's classic cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. I giggled my way through this book a few years ago when it came out, so I was curious to see how the movie would compare. Happily, they expanded the book’s premise for the movie to include a secondary story based on Julia’s book "My Life in France". In the movie, Meryl Streep is her usual brilliant self capturing the essence of Julia, neatly bedecked in 1950s and 60s style. Amy Adams plays doe eyed, young woman searching for herself nicely, and the movie works on many levels.

Coincidentally, I have had my own reasons to channel my inner Julia this week, as I’ve been prepping for a mini dinner party given for a few new friends. I don’t entertain as much as I used to, so my stress level increased slightly as the date drew closer. Things went off without a hitch and everyone enjoyed themselves. Murphy was his usual adorable self and, sitting back at one point last night surveying the room, I felt quite happy and content. With much laughter and a little philosophizing, wine flowing, a tasty veggie meal in tummies, and the beautifully decorated carrot cake (thank you George Brown’s Culinary School baking and cake decorating classes for the know-how), it was a very relaxed and delightful evening.

I like the notion of binging on life. Julia certainly seemed to have figured that out. With each “Bon Appetit” salute was an encouragement to enjoy, soak it up, to savour. What better way to live life than with an “all in” approach. For me, with an extra long holiday weekend opening up before me and relatively few obligations, I have every intention of going on a life bender, doing just what makes me most content. With my dishes already done from last night’s party (shocking eh?) and the sunshine trying hard to come out and play, there’s a big city out there to explore, movies to get to, friends to connect with and some wonderfully blissful quality time to be spent with the hammock in the backyard, glass of red wine to hand and book to get lost in!


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ideal Details

I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does. (Jorge Luis Borges)

This Borges quote seems to sum up how I feel now when I am asked about my seemingly long ago trip to Europe. How is it that three glorious weeks of sun, sightseeing, sangria, reading, roaming, revelry and Guinness could seem so very long ago? Travel always has its few annoyances. A long wait for trains or sunburned shoulders, sleep deprivation or kinks in my neck and any other such idle details all dim from memory as what I recall are the wonderfully colourful mosaics, the hospitality of the Catalan folks we met, the tapas, the sangria, the Roman frescos and modern art of Miro, the smell of the ocean, and the beauty of Gaudi’s masterpieces.







I’ve been organizing my pictures from Spain and post a few of my favourites images here. Barcelona and Sitges were magnificent. Both places I’d happily visit again. I especially enjoyed Sitges. Quiet, quaint, cobbled stoned with pristine beaches and genteel folks. I was in heaven there.

Nowhere near the quiet and "new to me" feeling, but every bit as enjoyable was my week in Ireland. There is a reason why they call Clare "the Banner County". It has everything one could want: the beach at Lahinch, the jaw dropping Cliffs of Moher, castles and cows and lush green hills broken only by ancient stone walls carving roads into the countryside. Better than the spectacular scenery was of course the delight it was to spend so much time with my friends. When not at a wedding or pub sharing pints over a session, it was gabs at the kitchen table well into the early morning hours, catching up, philosophizing, reminiscing and planning our next big adventure. Is there truly any better way to share time?



Since arriving home in July, I’ve dove straight into a feverishly paced work schedule and what with one thing or another, blogging has been fairly far down the list. Happily, writing has not been. My time in Spain inspired me wonderfully and I’ve been penning a Catalan inspired tale. So surprised was I today to realize just how fast July is scooting by! As this is has been the first day in a while where I have had absolutely nothing to do, here I am catching up in blogdom.

The idleness of the day has given me time to think about my recent travels. I can close my eyes and smell the rain of Ireland easily enough. I can even imagine the heat of the sand on the beach in Sitges. I returned home enriched from my adventure having celebrated with those dear to me a big day in their lives, having shared giggles with my sisters and wandered on my own a few days, quite content to read and make the most of some creative time. I tend to come away reborn a bit after a good break. So on this my first real day off since my trip some weeks ago, I can revel in the memories of Spain and Ireland that my pictures evoke. Idle details and all, to me the entire experience was ideal.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

All in the Family

This past week I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Kelly’s debut novel – Apologize, Apologize! Immediately I was struck with the thought that this is exactly the kind of book I am trying to write myself. This is a romping, funny, complex family saga, peopled with a cast of unique and addictive characters.

The Flannigans are a Dostoyevsky like family whose story is told by Collie, the only sane member of the family and eldest son of an anti-establishment mother (“Ma collected Marxists like others collected Tupperware”), Charlie, his charming bacchanalian leaning father, his irresponsible rogue young brother Bingo, and his Uncle Tom Flannigan, the pigeon racing chef of the family who, when he wasn’t on his monthly weeklong drinking binge with his buddy Swayze, peppered his nephews with spelling questions and his own brand of Irish philosophy. Atop the maelstrom of the Fantastic Flannigans, was Collie’s maternal grandfather, media mogul, Peregrine Lowell, otherwise known as the Falcon. Collie, the spitting image of his grandfather, sane and careful, recounts his early memories of the antics of his wildly outrageous family. “Sometimes," he says, "I think my real life's purpose is to refute the clich├ęd notion that you can't actually die of embarrassment." When disaster strikes, as all things Flannigan, it’s momentous. Reeling from the life altering events he has experienced, Collie struggles and falters as he attempts to find himself in the wake of all that has occurred.

This is a book about family, about siblings. The cover says the Flannigans are a family who puts the personality in disorder. Big characters that inveigle their way into your heart, you are charmed by them, soften to them, chuckle with them and if you are like me, find yourself rooting for them. Setting the book down to write about it, I found myself remembering my father’s monstrous clan of 10 siblings. The loud, the proud, the lost, the nosey, the kind, the successful, the baby, the boss. We all take on roles in our family lives. I have always felt I lucked out big time being born into the mammoth clan that I was. This has certainly defined me and, in one way or another, all of us. These relationships make us who we are and when we are ready, set us on our way. My family is no where near as dramatically shenanigan prone as the Fantastic Flannigans. But, like Collie, wherever I go, I am one of them. For me, that is warm comfort on a cool day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saints and Sweet Blonds


There’s no question that my life is markedly different since the arrival of Murphy. From the very moment I carried him home, last of the litter and the cutest wiggliest bundle of white fur you can imagine, Murphy began to reshape my existence, reset my priorities and re-jig my day to day schedule. Besides taking a nibble out of my pocket book in the first year with training, vet bills and dog walking services, he also ate his way through various couches and shoes, cell phones and reading glasses, fancy desserts made for dinner party guests, dining room chair legs and baseboards. More importantly than permanently taking over my house though, Murphy has forever stolen my heart. Sweet and very affectionate, goofy, utterly devoted, quiet with a big head made of concrete and a heart of gold, Murphy is a quite literally, one of the best decisions I ever made and a constant source of joy. He’s quite a dog. One who I realize now, had fairly big paws to fill.

As a young girl growing up, we had a giant dog named Sir Galahad. Taddy, as we kids called him, was the stuff of legends. A St. Bernard, weighing in at over 110 lb, when Galahad wasn’t jumping the fence in our backyard to tree nervous construction workers in the new subdivision where we lived, or leaning my young and precocious twin brother and sister against the wall to hold them in place til my Mom arrived, he spent his time as our pillow, playmate, punching bag and partner in crime. A true saint, he put up with five wild munchkins who showed their love by tugging on his tail, riding him, pulling his leash and hugging him way too tightly around this monstrous jowly neck. He returned our love with wet slobbery licks as he quietly endured all the affection. A month’s worth of blog entries would not be enough space to tell the tales of Sir Galahad of Hollowtree Crescent, but few childhood reminiscences are had in my family without some reference to our big boy.

I think of Galahad more often now than I did before I got Murphy. Although different breeds, sometimes I’d swear Murph is channeling Taddy. This is especially so when I see him around young kids or seniors. Not four yet, Murphy is still mostly puppy. He’s excited to be out and about and tugs on the leash when he’s up for a romp. But however pumped he is to be out walking, he sits like a good boy and endures pats on the head and the odd poke from kids who want to say hi. No matter how much he wants to walk, he obediently waits while my retired neighbours fill me in on their latest news and happily flops down at my feet as we settle into our usual Saturday morning coffee ritual. Most weekends in the good weather, we sit outside Starbucks reading the paper and enjoying some people watching. Dog central, there is plenty to distract, but Murphy unphased sighs patiently as I finish my coffee, taking in the view of those who saunter by. Even this morning, as a woman with two yappy pugs and a toy terrier tied up her dogs beside us, Murphy just looked up at me. When one of the dogs jumped up on the top of the table to see where his owner had gone, Murphy turned his head to look at the dog then looked at me, with a “will you check him out” look on his face.

Smiling, I patted Murphy and gave him a scratch in his favourite spot behind his ears. That’s what I like about big dogs, like Murph and Taddy. No need to bark and howl to get your attention. No nipping or growling. Comfortable enough in their 90 plus pounds of slobbery fur to know you love them, head in your lap or snoozing at your feet, they are dignified and quiet patience personified…. until at least, you pull out the treats!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Frost free May day

It’s Victoria Day in Canada. A holiday here for me and I spent the day, after a rather busy social weekend, cleaning up. Long long overdue for a spring time air out and spruce up, I tackled the kitchen today. I live in a real cute main floor unit in a two story walk up. While my place oozes with charm and character, it lacks some of the more mainstream conveniences like a dishwasher and frost free fridge. I’m not complaining. But given my abhorrence of all things domestic (except baking – yummm pie) this means some household tasks take longer chez MB than they would for another. It takes a Herculean effort to get me to do dishes and I need to get good and fed up with chipping away the icy buildup in my freezer just to stow a pint of Haagen Dasz before I even contemplate the defrost. Today was the day. My toes still smarting from an ugly incident with an iceberg flying out the freezer at an unfortunately rapid speed, I figured I’d best roll up my pj bottoms (why do I always end up with large puddles of cold water all over the kitchen tiles?) and get to it.

I started with a general clean out. An old hard orange or two in the crisper and some carrots sprouting roots into the bin and a few long forgotten fuzzy containers of curry or stew or maybe it was leek and potato soup at the back of the fridge discarded, I turned the dial to off last night and hoped for a slow melt. 12 hours later, retrieval of no less than 8 given up for lost Tupperware containers, several therapeutic whacks at a monstrous ice wall inside my freezer and I’m done. Fridge is sparkling clean and there’s loads of room for leftovers and ice cubes and made ahead meals.

As I sit here, sipping a nice cup of Earl Grey, wearing wooly socks to warm up my still freezing toes, I wonder why I generally leave these things to the last possible moment. I am a card carrying procrastinator. At work, in school, with my writing and most certainly relating to all manner of mundane household chores, as much as I can get away with it, I put off, stall, avoid, defer and drag my feet. To my credit, I deliver the goods professionally. I get stuff done at work and I’ve learned how to time it right to allow me enough wiggle room to ensure I do a really good job. My assignments for class get done the night before and I’m so used to writing in big blitzy chunks of time as opposed to a slow and steady pace that I have convinced myself I do my best work under pressure.

In reality, I know a frosty freezer is no big deal. I am as happy as ever to eat up the last of the Ben & Jerry’s rather than carve out a spot in the frost for a few scoops of Cherry Garcia. A workaround, it might be called at the office. But it occurs to me, there are people in this world who make grocery shopping lists ahead of time, who vacuum and dust every weekend, who don’t have to sniff the milk in their fridge or who never run out of toilet paper. It’s here that I usually chime in with my life before chores mantra. Superiorly I’d rant about how time spent with those we love, doing that we love is far more important than ensuring we have a dust bunny free home. But what if, just a thought now, it’s possible to change. I’m an open minded person. I’d like to think I’m capable of growth. Maybe as a start I’ll lay my clothes out tonight before I go to work. Of course that will mean I’d have to wade through a pile of unfolded laundry on the chair in my bedroom. And if I’m going to go wading, I might as well fold. And if I’m going to fold, I might as well iron the shirts. Jeesh. I think I’ll take Murph for a walk instead. And while I’m out, there’s a Baskin Robbins up the street. All this talk has got me craving some ice cream. After all, I’ve got room now for a quart now.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Zombies, Gargoyles and Certain Girls

Nineteen weeks into my year I’m finding that the lofty goals I set for myself in January have shifted somewhat. To anyone who knows me well, this is no surprise. Without question, I am still committed to losing weight and at present am holding fast at 12 lbs. Not quite where I want to be, but I am nonetheless pleased by that. I know it is not the ideal way to go, but with four weeks today until I leave for Spain, I’ve put myself on a relatively strict regimen to see if I can’t nudge that number up a bit more before I depart. I need very much to live my life fully and while good health is important to me, I don’t ever do well with a lot of restrictions and rules. I’m back to the basics which have always worked well in moderation. Fruit veggies water and walking increased, booze chocolate and bread decreased. God it sounds horrid even as I write it here. Sigh. Well we’ll give it a go. Four weeks will go by in a heartbeat.

What continues to frustrate me is the lack of time I carve out to read as much as I want to. Writing and reading seem to go hand in hand for me. So when I am reading a lot, I tend to be prolific creatively too. Until very recently, I was dragging myself to the laptop struggling through a dry spell in my writing. My trip up north to the cabin last week knocked something loose and I’m back in the groove, images and words pouring out of me. My projects are taking shape nicely and I’m writing up a storm. In sync, I’ve polished off two books this week, after having stretched my reading of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies out for two weeks (which is a ridiculous thing considering how light it is), I’ve also reread Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson and Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner.

Briefly, I found the zombie take on P&P a bit dull at times. Without question it is a great idea for a book. Elizabeth Bennett as a Buffy the Vampire Slayeresque killer of zombies overtaking the countryside got boring fairly fast as the book wore on. True to the plot of Pride & Prejudice, Bingley, Wickham Darcy and the Bennetts all maneuver their lives and loves amidst a scourge of “unmentionables” that must be put down for the safety of all. I suspect I would have liked the story more if there was more blatant blood, guts and drama, but the attempt to remain consistent with a Victorian style of writing while describing zombie mayhem fell flat for me. This book is getting good reviews. I suspect that mine are not the norm when it comes to impressions of this book. I may take a stab at it (har har har) at a later date, but for now, I am happy to see it finished.



Gargoyle is a captivating novel by first time Canadian author, Andrew Davidson. Basically this is a love story. Lying in a burn ward after having driven his car off a cliff, while coked up and drunk, a now hideously scarred and suicidal pornographer is visited by a schizophrenic sculptor who claims to have been his lover in a former life dating back to medieval Germany. Skeptical at first, he slowly becomes involved with this woman and agrees to let her take care of him as he recovers. Intoxicating and addictive is my best description for this book. I loved it from the first very powerful scene of the car crash, all the way to the end.



I just finished happily gobbling up Jennifer Weiner’s latest book, Certain Girls. I like this author. I feel I can relate to her. I’ve read a few of her other books, the first one being Good in Bed. Her latest book picks up the same characters and story from where Good in Bed left off. Good in Bed is the story of a plump gal named Cannie Shapiro, who is mortified when her ex boyfriend, a freelance writer, pens a story in a major magazine about how fat girls are good in bed, using their relationship as the basis for the story. Embarrassed and still not quite over him, with the stress of a dysfunctional family of her own to contend with, Cannie blunders into a regrettable last fling with her ex which results in an unplanned pregnancy. Overwhelmed, hurt and at the end of her rope, Cannie quits her job and focuses on herself, her blossoming weight and baby to be. Written with warmth and humour, Jennifer Weiner created a character flawed and human and incredibly relatable. Her first book ends with the birth of her daughter. Certain Girls picks up Cannie and her daughter Joy, 13 years later, as Joy finds out about her father and the circumstances of her birth. It’s a mother and daughter story. I have been known to be a book snob from time to time. I read widely and cut a good wide swath through various genres. Chick lit, has been something I have read from time to time when I want something light. What I like about these stories from Weiner is that her characters aren’t perfect and don’t in any way figure everything out by the end of the book. She rings true and, for me, that is when reading is most enjoyable.