a week from today...

It's Christmas time in the city, also Hanukkah, and Kwanza starts as Christmas finishes. I've already mentioned that as I grow older and older I lose people, things, connections. I've lost furniture, friends, family, doctors, agents (!), and all kinds of thingies and tschotschkes (sp?), including Christmas decorations. When I moved from Stratford to Toronto, everything was still intact. My children were with me then and my mother came from Winnipeg for Christmas.  While we all went to church, Liz stayed home and put out every single decoration I ever had: old, new, hand-made, sentimental, ragged and loved.  We came home, not to a wonderland but to a jumble of Xmases Past and Present.  Liz greeted us: 

"Merry Kitchmas, everyone!"

After that, I started downsizing.  By the time I moved north to a lake in Muskoka, about 12 years later, my Christmas collection was reduced to a clutch of bells I hung on the front door. By that time no one was with me and I went away for Christmas, to one or another of my children, all grown with homes of their own. That's how it goes.

I suppose I should say something funny here, but I can't think of anything.  

Merry Kitchmas.


back to the drawing board

This wasn't my first effort this morning.  I began by heaving a sigh of relief as I seemed to have come to terms with Squarespace, but then I had to look something up, and  put my blog on Save and lost it. So here we go again, with caution. 

I was saying how tired I am after working so hard yesterday. I said I'd burned my brains out, but then thought better of my hyperbole because I remember Bertrand Russell's comment when he finished his Principia Mathematica, with Alfred North Whitehead. (3 volumes published in 1907, 12 and 13 - I think that's right, but I won't leave this blog again until it's finished). The two authors actually thought there was more to do (there always is) but they had reached a stage of intellectual exhaustion and could not continue with a fourth volume.  Russell, I remember reading, said that his brain was never the same again; he could feel it.  What? What could he feel? Not flying as high? Not leaping?  

Well, then, who am I to complain because I did a little juggling yesterday?  I did nothing to the point of burning, or flying. Slogging is more like it.

I'll tell you how banal and domestic and inept my thoughts are about Mathematica. I can make change.   I can't really handle my bank balance, though  I have instructed other people how, in my book Everywoman's Money Book,  written with Lynne Macfarlane. When I took a publicity tour with the book and did some public speaking, I warned people that I was part of a team, like one of my daughters when she was in Brownies.

I don't know what skills Brownies are encouraged to master now, in order to earn their badges, or how they go about it, but in Kate's day, they did their work in pairs. After Kate had been awarded her Housekeeping badge - or was it Homemaking? - I asked her one Sunday afternoon if she would be so kind as to bring me a cup of tea when I woke from my Sunday afternoon nap. 

No, she said. 

Why? I asked.

Because when she and her partner made tea and toast, she only made the toast.

See, I told my consumer audiences, I made the toast and my partner made the tea, so don't ask me.  But I used to balance my bank book, and not on my head.  Not any more.  The nicest thing about not having any money, I mean money, is that you don't have to fuss much. My line is that my best method of saving money was not spending it. It's true, too.

Anyway, my brain is more or less intact this morning, a little cooler than yesterday, and almost ready to cope. It's time to swim now.

so far so good

I'm still not sure what I'm doing with the new format Squarespace has dumped on me, but I have for the moment a blank sheet - no - screen - in front of me, ready for me to fill with deathless thoughts for the day, I woke this morning thinking gratefully "The day is mine!"  So I can charge into my work and see how much I can get done.  

The day is mine.  I remember when I was expecting my first child, my minister's wife, the first real live writer I ever knew, gave me a blessing I've never forgotten.  "Let me not lose its moments." Of course this wish applies to everything, not only pregnancy.  Every day is precious , even the ones that don't feel like it, and we must not lose its moments.  That's one of the reasons I enjoy the subway so much.  Fascinating people show up every day and I learn so much from watching them, especially the young women.  I like the way they twist their scarves, I love their eyebrows, I am in awe of their boots, and when I had my long hair, I watched carefully how they tied up, clipped or braided theirs, and tried to learn. It's important to learn something every day.  

My father, like his father before him, was a very demanding man.  At the dinner table every night, he wanted to know what we had learned, and just the good news, please. He was a doctor and he heard so many complaints during the day, listening to his patients, that he wanted something cheerful. So we (my brother and I) performed, though not as much as my father and his brother.  They had a little routine and egged each other on, so my uncle said. They could turn disaster into a laugh riot. My husband could, too. I guess that's why he fitted right in. No complaints, just the good news, preferably funny.

That's why I was sent home from school  at recess twice, once with chicken pox, once with mumps, because my father judged me well enough in the morning.  To this day, when a doctor asks me how I'm feeling, I say "Fine!" before I tell him what's wrong with me and why I made the appointment to see him. 

Well, have a good day. Just the good news, please.


are you there?

The question is, am I?

Ever since Squarespace changed and "improved" the service, I can't create a new post. I'm going to try to save and publish this now and see what happens....

Well, that took a while but it's up and legible.  Then I found a way to edit, that is, add on.  Not sure what I've done but I'm here now for a while maybe.

I was going to write something about imperial me.  My Pyrex one-cup measure is so old the numbers have disappeared from the side of the cup. My eye, however, is trained to fill it to 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/2 - whatever, without looking.  My eye, you see, is imperial.  I can't measure at a glance in metrics.

I've said before that I'm an alien on this planet.  For temperature, which is in Celsius, I know that 70 Fahrenheit is sweater weather outside. 10 Celsius is a scarf with a jacket; 0 C is Chilly.  And I have a few palindromic numbers to guide me: 16 Celsius is 61 Fahrenheit; 28 C is 82 F.    That's all I can do.

As for miles/kilometres, I go by time now. A place is an hour away or two hours, like that.  

I live in a Wonder World.

Is it any wonder I am dismayed that Squarespace has rattled my cobweb?  I'm not sure if I can get back tomorrow.How do I save it now?

oh my

It's a good thing I wrote my blog early yesterday because the rest of the day disappeared.  It was just too much.  It didn't help that I went the wrong direction on my first errand.  Well, I never begrudge extra walking - good for me.  But I've been thinking about my infallible inaccuracy.  I am directionally challenged, navigationally impaired, geographically stunted - in other words, I can't find my way out of a paper bag. It's not because I'm old and losing marbles. I've been like this all my life. I've probably told you before: I lost my map when I was born but I swallowed a clock (I have a good sense of time).

When I was eight years old I was in Grade Four and considered smart.  My teacher forgot something at home one day and chose me to go and get it for her.  I wasn't that smart. She gave me carfare and directions and I went to pick up the article, whatever it was, at her home. I got lost. I wandered around the neighbourhood where she lived and finally found a public pay phone (no cell phones in those days), and called to ask for more guidance. Anywhere I go, it helps to ask.  It helps even more if the person I ask speaks the same language, preferably English.  This is not guaranteed, even in Toronto.  And when they do speak English, they don't know where I'm going, either.  Usually, now, I just try to figure it out by myself and if it means more walking, well, as I say, that does me good.  (Pollyanna, remember?) 

So yesterday was no different, no worse because of my advanced age, perhaps better because my recovery time is faster and I can go to Plan B quite swiftly. I am annoyed, though, because I can make the same mistake several times before a path (rut) settles in my mind and I can find my way without a helpful nudge. 

I guess I'm good at some things.  But my ineptitude keeps me very  humble.

oh dear

I can tell it's getting closer to D (for Departure) Day because I've started fussing about clothes. It's simple, really, but I have to get it into my head.  The cruise company is offering to pick up and ship two extra pieces of luggage, over and above what the airline allows, and deposit them in my cabin - ahead of time, of course.  That's all very well but where are the two or more extra drawers I'll need in the cabin to store the stuff?  I do like the thought, though, because my carry-on bag will carry my papers and planning and diary and a toothbrush and a nightie, and clean underwear.  Oh, but  I'll need  something festive (a scarf?)  because there's a farewell party before embarkation and all my clothes will be in the cabin in the ahead-of-time bag. When I went to Saskatchewan last year for a month of writing at Stegner House I carried on all the plans and papers and notes for my book plus a nightie and toothbrush, etc., and shipped my clothes in cargo, picked up when I arrived. I must admit I forgot quite a number of clothes  but it didn't matter because no one saw me.  I'm  used to looking like Li'l Orphan Annie (that's an obscure reference that younger people will not get).  However, this time it's a luxury cruise so I have to look presentable if not elegant.  I'll have to think about that.

I know of two women who coped well with necessity. One was my cousin's Aunt Bara.  She was a nurse and loved to travel and spent all her money on that.  But she always had one good black dress and a string of pearls (and good shoes?). Apparently, to all reports,  I mean, she always looked elegant.  The other one was the actress, Judith Evelyn (1909-1967),  a former school friend of an aunt  (my father's brother's wife - I tell you this so you understand I am reporting a report). Anyway, Ms Evelyn had spent a season in London, playing the lead in "Gaslight" in the West End. She returned home by a ship which sank (this was during World War Two - not sure whether it was attacked or hit a mine).  She escaped with her life but not with any possessions or clothes, back to New York, to pick up her career where it left off and to  pick up a wardrobe where it had disappeared. She had to choose carefully and slowly and be reconciled to wearing the same things over and over again.

And that was the year she was on the Ten Best-Dressed Women of the Year List.  ( I wonder if that would be possible now with name designers rushing to dress the stars.)

So I'll have a little more than one black dress and I won't be Best Dressed, but I'll pass. After all,  I'm not going to be seen. 


lost expressions

One of you told me she hadn't heard of paying a penny in exchange for a sharp blade (as a gift) in order not to cut the friendship .  Okay, do you know the superstition, shoes on a table, hat on a bed? Both are feared to bring bad luck. The musical "Blood Brothers" by Willie Russell ("Educating Rita"), is based on the 19th century novel, "The Corsican Brothers" (1844) by Alexandre Dumas, père , (1802-1870).  I won't go into the story, only that a foreshadowing of the end occurs when shoes are put on a table. 

I'm talking about lost expressions, and words that no longer have any meaning or relevance today, like all the poor, missing pennies no longer spent on thoughts. This isn't a superstition but an expression I have discovered that few people are familiar with: drugstore wrap.  Do you know that one?  I used it in my cookbooks when I called for fish en papillote to be encased in a drugstore wrap. You bring the paper generously above the fish, fold it on itself a couple of times and tuck it in at the ends.  No leaks.  Do you know a butcher's wrap? The meat is rolled over and over in the  paper several times before being secured - with a string? Do they still have string? Again, no leaks.

All this is hard to write without illustrations or hands on.  I remember a writing assignment: describe an accordion and how it works.  And I added one: describe how to fold a contour sheet. When those sheets were first introduced, a little page of folding instructions came with each one. I remember reading of a wannabe writer who attended a creative writing class who got so good at describing and explaining how things worked that he got a permanent job doing that.  It's not easy. Read the instructions on a Jello package and see if you could do better. My mother told me of a friend who bought a rival, cheaper version of Jello and who found a little gumdrop in the package and ate it while she stirred and later wondered why the dessert was tasteless.  The instructions had failed to tell her how to use the flavour bud.

Well, now, this is a long way from our long-gone pennies, isn't it?  But the message is, you have to understand what you're doing, or at least, what I'm doing. 


Christmas starlets

They save them up every year. All the Christmas B-movies that have ever been made are piled onto TV screens (plus iPads, computers, smart phones, - anything that can be gazed at) for the entire month of December, that is, until December 24.  Mostly they are rom-coms and mostly you never heard of them unless you saw them all last year.  Tucked in amongst them are It's a Wonderful Life" (which I understand was  not an instant classic); "Miracle on 34th Street" (the first one); "Meet Me In St. Louis" ("Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas"); and "White Christmas" (but not the first, original "Holiday Inn").  So far, no vampire elves or blood-sucking Santas.

I think it must be in every starlet's contract that she must do one Xmas rom-com during her apprentice years, but then I have seen a few who are post-apprentice, so maybe it's punishment, too.  The plots are pretty predictable and I do feel sorry for the lesser starlets who have to play the mean sister or the nasty soon-to-be-ex fiancee and sometimes the nosy neighbour. The guys are sort of cute and inter-changeable but you can't tell, really, because they are given such horrible lines to say.  You look in vain for a Topher Grace or a Josh Duhamel. I fear these boys have ended up being studio carpenters or drivers. Spome of them have very bad hair, so you see.

And yet they are in demand.  So are the scripts.  I subscribe to InkTip, an online market tip sheet for screen writers.  All year round there are calls for Christmas stories, preferably family-based, no horror.  I myself have written one, which I can't sell, so it's not that easy, despite appearances.

Years ago I was visiting friends in Bermuda, sitting at dinner when one of the other guests had a call from Los Angeles.  He came back and reported to us that his ex-wife in LA was very ill and he was going to go and see her soon.  No terrific rush, though, because her other ex-husbands were also going to  go.  Say no more!  That' was the inspiration for my Christmas screenplay "Christmas with Gloria".  I mean, the kind of woman who could command that kind of devotion in ex-husbands has to be very special.  My heroine is not sick; she is just celebrating Christmas and her present and past loves show up to share it with her.  She has to be totally charming.  Her story takes place last Christmas and this one, or maybe this Christmas and next year. 

nyway, it's a mature rom-com and the heroine, necessarily, is not terribly young, not with a few exes in her past.  There's a hope for faded starlets yet, if anyone ever decides to produce it, and I live in hope, too.  We all do.

t o t

You know that expression?  Tip of my tongue.  I think it's still in common use because of Alzheimer's.  Early onset, anyway.  We all have elusive memories, one way and another.  Early days, when someone is trying to remember a name or a word, it's almost in reach, just hiding momentarily, or dangling out of sight, or - yes - on the tip of the tongue.  Spit it out!  If only one could.  For a while one can.  

I was fascinated with "Still Alice", the novel by Lisa Genova that has just been made into a movie starring Julianne Moore.  Alice is a very educated woman and the first warning sign she gets of her future problems comes with her brief inability to recall a word she wants to use in a lecture.  She recovers it but her confidence is shaken.  I won't go into it any more. You can read the book or see the movie soon.  I understand that the more learned one is, the easier it is to cover one's slips. Synonyms or paraphrases can mask the original blank.  I had a friend who called the Welland Canal "that manmade ditch" when he couldn't think of the name.  

It must be frightening, though. I can imagine two voices, one inside one's head  with the right words and one outside saying surprising or simplified expressions of one's actual thoughts. Several years ago I participated in LibLab, an intensive  workshop set up (annually) by Tapestry Opera in Toronto, bringing together 4 composers and 4 librettist-playwrights to create 5-minute operas.  I wrote a libretto for two voices, one tenor, one baritone, playing one man on the cusp of Alzheimer's.  The baritone voice sang his complete thoughts and the tenor sang what emerged, much simplified, a counterpoint to the original.  It was a challenge to the composer, to say the least. 

Alzheimer's is a challenge.

We go on, we go on.....


gnomon |ˈnōmän|nounthe projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.  I found this word in a poem, a poem, obviously, about a sundial. 

I never heard that word. I love it. I love words.

I know that the stiffened ends of shoe laces are called aglets.  And I know that the wire shape around a light bulb under a lamp shade is called a harp. And I know that lagniappe is an unexpected extra thrown in, like the extra doughnut in a baker's dozen. Oh, and what's that lovely word for an oyster treat that late-drinking husbands in  New Orleans used to bring their annoyed wives to soothe them?  I can't think of it right now and I've made it.  I know the recipe.; I think it's in one of my cookbooks.   It will come to me about three a.m. 

I can remember the medieval word for a toothbrush -  for what was  used as a toothbrush - a scurryfunge. I like that one.  Gwyneth Paltrow used one in "Shakespeare in Love."  

A few years ago I came across a page-a-day calendar in which every day offered an obsolete, forgotten word.  I began to write poetry riffing on a word. Here's one of my favourites, the first word I had to play with: swarble

 How did we lose this one so necesssary

  to small boys

 John used to swarble

  all the time

  up a tree

  straight and smooth as bark can be

     no impediments no limbs no

      awkward branches just up

       in triumph

 We have a home movie of John


     or so I had thought

     but I know now he was swarbling

       up a stone pillar at the edge

      of the garden

       toeholds to be sure

         not much for a four-year-old

         It took a while but in the end

           he triiumphed

           he swarbled


            Now he is grown he climbs

            hills mountains cliffs and crags

            bluffs overhangs crevasses and chimneys

            rocks and ice

            never people


            You can´t swarble a person


a what for your thoughts?

We all know that the Canadian penny is gone for good. I didn't give it that much thought. If anything, I was relieved because my son Matthew collected pennies, not intentionally, rather by default. He had jars and jars of them and I couldn't keep ahead of them with my efforts at wrapping.   When pennies left the retail scene they solved people's arithmetic problems.  We just go down to the nearest decimal if that's closest or up, if that is.  I watched a guy in a little dollar store scam his customers on the up-down reckoning.  He made a few pennies a day I guess.  The store's gone now, replaced by a coffee shop. So much for the disappearing penny.

But I thought of pennies today because I wrapped some sharp objects as gifts: a couple of paper clippers and a couple of really neat, small, sharp shears. Does anyone remember the superstition about knives? You were supposed to give the receiver a penny for every blade so as not to cut the friendship. I was given two sets of steak knives (with stag handles) and 12 cents, one for each cutting edge. 

Today I have no pennies to give my recipients. Do you have any thoughts about this ?

paper paper all around and not a drop of ink

I'm drowning. I am drown-- ning in a sea of paper.  So far I can't see the shore, but I guess I'm farther ahead than I was this morning.  The choices are killing me, and the walking.  Example: I save reviews of books I want to read and then after I've read them I put the reviews into the appropriate book. So I had a backlog of reviews to place (read: walk).  

Then there are articles, information, highlights and sidebars to file - that's where it gets hard.  I find ideas for blogs, pieces to save for people on my clippings list, insights about aging (that goes on and on and on), recipes that I think might work for me and movie and play reviews.  Well, and then there's actual mail that does come  in and, while mightily reduced, there is still mail, and more to come very soon, I'm happy to say, as people send their yearly Christmas report.  Have to answer them.

I don't want to talk about it any more.  

I have print-outs of my seasonal generic letter to mail to people, and I tuck in newsy items, maybe a little jolly (I'll explain), but no pictures. I don't take pictures.  The term jolly comes from my father, who invented it, as far as I know. A jolly is not a gift, it's just a little tchotchke to jolly life along. I collect jollies through the year and store them in my gift (jolly) drawers.  I don't have to label them; I know who they're for when I look at them again. 

As I said, though, I'm not anywhere near finished, and I still have to make a clean hard copy of my book. Every day one has to choose what is uppermost. Right now, several things are vying for upper.  


Happy December First

Whoa! (As oppsed to Wow!)

 Another first, the last of the year. I would hazard a guess that women are more likely to think about comparisons and numbers : this time last year; this is the fourth year in our new house; where will we be next year?  My mother was very good at watching other people work, and making comments. (I'm working on it.)  Latterly, after Bill had died, and my father, every year when I took down the Christmas tree, Mom would say brightly, "Well, I wonder who'll be gone this time next year?"

You can't help but remember.  Time and events are so inexorable and so irretrievable. A bright, callous question  like my mother's does, in fact, make one pause and cherish the present. Whatever is past, whatever the future holds, we have now. Cherish the moment.

Is that a way to start the month? (And end the year?)


Do you like boxes? I'm not taking about plain boxes although shoe boxes are nice, and very useful.  In the years before I had a career involving a lot of paper and also before I had a filing cabinet, I used shoe boxes. I wrote a guide for an insurance company to help clients keep  track of receipts, expenses, insurance, investments, income - all that stuff. I called it The Shoebox Guide and it was very popular because I'm not the only one who stores mementos and other essential files in a shoebox. I save useless boxes, too, until I find  a use for them. I have several pretty ones right now, empty but waiting. It bothers me to throw away a paper clip box because they are so cute. They would make lovely dollhouse furniture.

Years ago I made a darling 6-room dollhouse with 3 orange crates as the building, 2 rooms to a box. That was in the days when orange crates were made of wood.  It was in the summer and I was visiting my grandparents. I canvassed all my neighbours (mostly relatives) for bits and pieces to help me decorate the rooms: crystal beads for a chandelier, remnants of cloth for upholstery, curtains and carpets and - most useful of all - matchboxes (for wooden) matches, the kind with the sliding sleeve, large enough to make a sofa or a bed for tiny inhabitants.  That was long before Mary Norton wrote The Borrowers  (1952).  When I read that delightful book, and the series that followed , I really empathized with the small creatures and their borrowing habits, adapting odd, small objects to their uses. 

The point of my tangent was the box, the match box.  Did I mention  that I love boxes?

I feel pretty strongly about baskets, too.


I finished the extra chapter I realized I had to write. My timing is all wrong. I should be working on Christmas now instead of trying to squeeze it in.  We keep on making choices, don't we? I try to plan and budget each day, to get everything done, but the one thing I can't budget is my energy.  After a while I run dry.  Well, no one wants to hear all that.  The good news is that I've finished, sort of. I've already discussed sort of, so I won't go into that again.  Anyway, I have to read it now - that is, tomorrow - and see what I've said. Not just the chapter but the whole book.

I've always said it takes much longer not to write something than to write it. 

And then the marketing, oh, that's where the time comes in, trying to find the audience. I guess it will be easier with electronic publishing. I'm the one who has to learn.  Ah, well, tomorrow is another day.  And so is Monday.

This is a ridiculous blog, so I'll stop.


Yesterday morning I referred to P.D. James and at the end of the day I read her obituary; she was dead at 94. I met her a while back.  As you know, I have written a book about women's diaries ("Reading Between the Lines: The Diaries of Women"). I was still living up north (Muskoka) when her autobiography was published ("Time to be in Earnest"). She wrote it in the form of a diary, taking a calendar year, dating from her birth date, as I remember, and going through day by day, recalling what was memorable about each day: this day ten years ago, this day last year, and so on, thus filling in the important events in her life of historic or emotional significance.  Nice format.  I loved it and decided I would send her my book about diaries.  Then I received a pitch for a trip on the QE2, one -way: a flight to London, and a sail back across the Atlantic to New York.  P.D. James was the headliner, giving a talk, participating in a seminar, being available for autographs, etc. I had always wanted to go on the QE2 and this was opportune.  I signed on. Her trip (about her 11th gig)  was sponsored this time by Levenger's, an online catalogue for readers and writers that I had recently discovered.  (Since then it has gone into retail stores, first in Daytona, Fla. then elsewhere,  including one in Boston, where I finally visited once or twice when  I went to see my daughter.)  

Levenger's  was very generous with its customers. I got a good deal on the passage; they gave me several hundred dollars' worth of salon treatments and sent me about $500 worth of goodies from their inventory, including a wallet, a passport holder and a couple of travel journals.  Plus they had a cocktail party for the star, for the Levenger fans only, and, of course, sponsored her appearances.  She also appeared on the upper deck every morning to walk, as I did. So I spoke to her there, after I had written her a note explaining my mission: to have her sign my copy of her autobiography and to give her my book on women's diaries.  She did and I did, and I still have her book, of course.  

She was a gracious lady, a cool head, and an excellent writer.  And I'm a groupie.  And I honour her life and her career.