this is not a review: (summer edition, wherein even blue skies and gentle breezes demand quality reading or crankiness quickly sets in)


Under no circumstances will I name this book so don’t bother sending bribes in the form of fresh baked anything or even exquisite cheese.

However, I will say this.

It was published in the last ten years. The author is a man. Or possibly a woman. Canadian. Lives east of Alberta. The book is a collection of stories. Some of which are pleasant enough reading. Too many are carbon copies of one another with teensy alterations of character or place or circumstance, which hardly disguises the sameness. Because we’ll never notice, right?


The women are ALL flakey.


Too many people are having affairs.


Most of the couplings have big age gaps, which is always highlighted as if it means something to the story but it never does.

Characters DO things but no one knows why. (In every story I have to ask this question: who are these people? In every story I have no idea.)

I swear that if you changed the main character in (any) story midway with the main character in (any other) story I wouldn’t notice this sleight of hand.

Nor would I care.

Have I mentioned voice?

EXACTLY the same. Every time. And worse than ‘just same’, it’s quirky-same. Different stories, different characters, different ages. Yet everyone speaks as one, adding to the sense of interchangeability. (If this were a theme or important to the overall vibe of the collection that would be great, but it isn’t.) A common trait many characters have is that way of speaking where the sentence is left dangling, meant as emphasis but when over-used is just plumb annoying. So awful you can’t. So awful you almost.

(And no, this isn’t some clever intentional use of sameness to make a commentary of ANY kind.)

Are you kidding? Oh… if only!

All of which to say this is a writer whose work I have admired in the past, a writer who knows how to write exceedingly well and who has received much attention for their work, and (and this is the unfortunate bit) is lauded for all of it as if all of it is equally laudable.

And, yes, of course, publishers need to survive and writers such as this one are integral to the industry and fans are loyal and will buy much and forgive even more while waiting for The Next Great Thing…


What’s sad is that there are so many others writing really good stuff, being innovative, taking chances, saying things that matter, that go unread, even when published. Sadder still, that a writer of this caliber can (easily I suspect) publish a book that would be rejected coming from an unknown.

And rejected for good reason.

I know very little about the economics of publishing but am heartened to know there still exist houses who respect the work of creativity and literature itself, enough to take chances more often than merely selling out with main stream names and less than fine work. 

On that note… 

…rant over.

& my lips remain sealed.



summer postcards: how to write me a letter

seals2 - Copy


Don’t tell me about the weather.

Tell me about rain and sun and wind and the full moon or the new moon and what you are doing with it, the sound of your howling, the colour of lichen at sunrise, the view from where you sit and what your most recent conversation with the cat was about.

Here it was seals.

But it’s often about seals with us.


summer postcards: name that tree


I’m more in love with trees every day now that I live with a forest. Am learning how they’re a community and speak to one another and how sometimes what we might call ‘crowding’ they call protection and comfort. Left to its own devices a forest pretty much knows how to be.

My interest is in understanding that being.

And these new neighbours of mine, the tamarack, beech, alder and spruce, fir, pine, aspen, among others, have introduced themselves and now that we see each other every day it’s impossible to see them as the same or even similar, impossible not to notice all kinds of differences in the edges of their leaves, their bark, how they each dance to their own drummer in the wind.

I’ve named some of them. Which of course is always a bad thing if you plan on eating a thing. Which, fortunately, I won’t. At least not entire trees. Although many parts are tasty and full of goodness. Spruce tips make excellent jams and pickles. Tea can be made from certain leaves. Most catkins are edible, and so much more.

In early spring I considered tapping a few birch for the water that’s said to be delicious and nutritious (syrup is too fussy for me) but now that we chat regularly, now that the birches have names… I just can’t do it. That water’s in there for a reason. I figure they need it more than I do.

And anyway, they’re already giving me plenty.

how to plant nine onions


Start with 10,000 or so.

Red onions.

Buy one of those little cell packs at the garden centre where they grow crowded together like blades of grass with a hint of white pin-prick bulb at the end. There are at least 10,000 in there.

Plant bulb-side down.

8″ apart.

Run out of space in your onion bed when you have nine left.

Consider squashing a few together because they are SO small, how can it hurt and you’re sure you’ve read something where it’s actually a good idea to squash them together.

Have a moment of doubt.

Consult your trusty gardening guide. (Don’t judge its falling apart condition. It is one of your best friends. Do consider creative use of duct or other tape at some point.)

Discover that onions love tomatoes.

Instead of squashing, decide to plant them companionably in the (as yet unplanted) tomato bed.

Dig over tomato bed and amend with manure from the cow named Rose down the road, which has lived under the tarp since last summer. (Manure, not Rose.)

Figure you may as well amend all the beds while you’re at it.

Dig dig dig. Manure from pile. Manure into garden beds. Finish with rake.

Whew. (wipe brow)

Decide to keep the last bit of manure for pots. Decide to keep it in the wheelbarrow not on the tarp. Enlist someone to help you lift the tarp and tip into wheelbarrow. Move now full wheelbarrow back to shed.

Clean tarp.

Decide to seed white clover over the bare spot left by manure on tarp since last summer.

Cover seed lightly with earth from earth pile (dig dig dig), which you will now have to carry in a bucket because the wheelbarrow is in the shed, full of manure.

Decide to seed a few other bare spots with white clover.

Dig more earth.

Water clover’d areas. (Unravel hose and drag around to clover’d areas.)

Go back to tomato bed and make a row with trowel.

Plant nine onions.

8″ apart.


this is not a (book) review — ‘the truffle hunters’


Recently watched ‘The Truffle Hunters’ which someone told me was about nothing and that nothing happens but that I would probably love it.

The someone was right. I loved it.

Wrong about the nothing though.

Far more everything than nothing in the ordinary daily lives of Italian white truffle hunters and their dogs. The dogs being essential to the finding of truffles and the finding of truffles being essential to the livelihoods of these people and how everything is symbiotic.

One long perfect scene is shot from the dog’s perspective in the moments while waiting to be let out of the car, then running through the woods. Another has a man and woman washing tomatoes in deep silence, just the splash of water, tomatoes being picked up, rinsed, put down, picked up, dried, no other sound until the man eventually says: I love fresh tomatoes so much. In another: a man wears shorts in the bathtub while washing his dog. In another: a 90 year old man feeds his dog treats while telling it not to be alarmed but there may come a day when he won’t be around anymore.

The side story is the enormity of the truffle industry with clients around the world, the ugly, ruthless chain of Big Business. But this part is only briefly touched on, more implied, this polar opposite view of a ‘commodity’. Thankfully the focus of the film remains on the simple origins of the commodity, the integrity of the truffle hunters themselves and the love, pride, and passion for their work.

And the dogs.


There is of course another element, something the film left out — the fact that any mushroom, even truffles, indicates the presence of fairies.

But I suppose that’s another movie altogether.

And I would probably love that one too.


one year


A year ago today we woke up in an RV after spending the night with our cats parked in front of a motel on the border of Quebec and New Brunswick.

We’d paid for a room but only to get the parking space. Covid protocols were wild and up until a few days earlier we hadn’t been sure we’d get the green light to travel at all, still didn’t know what would happen at the New Brunswick and PEI borders.

Anyway, we woke up in this rinky dink gravel parking lot where all night beside us was a small red car, motor running, and a group of (based on their clothing) young Amish or Mennonite folk with a parrot in a cage and a dog with a rope tied to its collar, both of which critters they kept taking in and out of their room for what seemed to be ‘walks’ or feeds from plates of scrap food. They were a highly excited group of kids, laughing, running about (maybe sixteen, eighteen years old, tops), not offensively loud just… overly happy for the time of day. It started to rain at one point and yet they still larked about, in and out of their room, the car still idling, until about 3 a.m. when we heard what sounded like car doors opening and closing and then (after much loading of wotnots)… they drove away. Bliss.

At the time it felt like sleep was important but now looking back, I’m grateful they were there. Grateful also for the night before, also spent in a parking lot (another room paid for but not used) and waking to watch a man in an electric company uniform doing tai chi beside an electric company van. I remember looking out the window of the RV as I ate my breakfast, thinking how little we know about people, how if I’d seen this guy doing his electric company work I would never have guessed that this is how he starts his day.

It’s no cliche, the journey is everything and we didn’t rush, not especially. Three days of driving and two nights in the RV, many picnic stops along the way. Lovely to have our own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom with us, felt like being a snail, travelling light yet impossible to forget anything. One of us drove the RV with the cats (who were fabulous) and I drove a pick-up filled with garden plants. My travelling companion in the passenger seat was an avocado tree given to me by my niece.

The plants have all survived, including the Ontario trilliums… that I only just discovered the other day, not yet blooming, but they survived the winter, and it was a thrill to stumble upon them; I’d forgotten I’d brought them and I’m just so glad they approve of their feet being in red soil.

A year ago today, after one last long day of driving, we pulled up in front of a house we’d never seen in person and it immediately felt like home.

There’s a good chance those young people were also heading to PEI; I’ve since learned there are sizeable Amish and Mennonite communities here. They were smart, we realized later, to cross borders at 3 a.m. — no line ups — and I often wonder about their drive, that small car crammed with feathers and fur and excitement, and sometimes wonder where they are now, how this year has been for them, if they, too, were in the process of moving from another province when our paths crossed, and I hope they, too, are happy to have their feet planted on this magnificent red soil.

And the parrot of course.

I hope the parrot is enjoying all the many pleasures of salted air.


promises, remembered


I wrote this post several years ago on the first day of Ramadan. I now live a thousand plus kilometres away but hearing that Ramadan has started I immediately think of my lady in the dry cleaner in the town where I used to live. Can picture her hunched over a sewing machine, a tiny television set tuned to an Arabic language station, the always-exhaustion in her voice and in her eyes and the day those eyes smiled and how it left me feeling that our connections might sometimes feel strange or tenuous but they’re always there, that regardless of everything else, we are all connected, in moments, in milliseconds sometimes, and in the most surprising memories.

This following first appeared as “Promises”, on July 10, 2013.

A couple months ago in a post that began as one thing but ended up being about my dry cleaner, I wrote about how my dry cleaner’s husband kept telling her that he wanted her to have nice hands and how this frustrated her because she worked too hard to have nice hands. She would love to wear polish, she said, but who has the time.

It reminded me of a dance that went on for years between my mum and dad, who’d also come here as immigrants.

I promised myself I’d buy my dry cleaner some really good nail polish and give it to her, and today I did. When I entered the shop she was sitting at a sewing machine, head covered in a shawl. I’d never seen her in a head scarf before and wondered at the reason for it but didn’t ask.

I gave her the polish. Hot pink. I explained why, reminded her of our conversation and she laughed, said she loved the colour, asked how much she owed me and I said, no, that it was a gift. She was surprised and delighted and then told me it was the first day of Ramadan. She said it’s especially hard when it falls at this time of year because of all that daylight stretching late into the evening. The month-long fast, which includes no food OR water or anything, ends each day when the sun goes down and begins again when it rises. Much better in November, she said. Even March is good.

She normally walks an hour to work but for the next month she’ll be getting a ride. I was happy to hear it given the humidity and heat.

I said I hadn’t realized Ramadan began today, that it was just a fluke I came in, but that I was thrilled to be able to offer some small thing to mark the day and happy to have learned something so wonderful and I thanked her for that. She smiled, said she’d pray for me.

I said I’d do the same for her.


not a rhetorical question


What if the compassion that caused our banging of pots led to our demanding that the needs of front line workers be met. What if we had banged pots until they were.

What if we spent two years putting our money where our mouth is so that small businesses came out ahead and the behemoths felt the pinch. And what if we continued that way forever and ignored how deprived we feel at the very idea.

What if we wanted better than to go back to normal.

What if we had stopped throwing garbage on the planet so that when our lives filled with masks we wouldn’t cover the earth with them.

What if we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves.

What if, after two years, we had taught our children (by our own example) to become people who care more about those who have less, and less about what we are missing out on.

What if kindness was the most enviable thing.

What if we had learned to talk to each other.

What if, after two years, we actually understood each other better instead of being convinced that only one of us is right.