apropos of nothing

Well, not entirely accurate. Not entirely nothing.

There was a conversation recently wherein reference was made to the job of waiting tables as low-end work. The implication filled with judgement and pity for the poor saps who have to shlep bowls of soup for money.

I disagree with the idea that waiting tables is a low end job.

Hard work for low pay, yes, but not low end.

If ensuring the comfort and happiness of someone’s breakfast, lunch or dinner is seen as menial work then we really do have our values twisted.

There are real stars out there, servers who bring a sliver of joy to strangers in a true and authentic way. One of them works at a diner in town, has been there for decades, calls everyone hon, or love, in a way that you don’t mind.  She is one of the reasons the place is full of regulars (when places were full) (also the toast is excellent). And you can tell that she’s not putting it on for tips, that the people are a big reason she loves her job. When you ask for peanut butter she brings it over like it’s the most important thing in the world. She’s constantly moving, talking, being asked, answering, carrying, ordering, changing orders, shlepping.

Is it hard work? Sure looks like it.

Is it rewarding? As with everything, depends how you do it.

There are certain establishments, towns, cities, certainly countries other than ours where waiting tables is held in higher regard, a profession not merely a job that, when done well, is a respectable, and well respected, way to make a living for an entire lifetime.

Along the same lines, someone was saying how food delivery people are also looked down upon, barely spoken to, if at all, especially now that so much take-out is pre-paid. Which reminded me of the pizza guy a couple years ago who came to the door and we casually said how ya doing, and without missing a beat, and with tongue perfectly in his cheek, he said… I’m livin’ the dream.

We cracked up.

He smiled, said have a good one.

That’s star quality.

 

this is not a review: ‘a woman’s walks’, by lady colin campbell

The first thing I don’t like about this book is that she (Gertrude Elizabeth Blood), calls herself Lady Colin Campbell, which reminds me of the personalized stationery, little note cards on excellent stock, my mother-in-law (an otherwise intelligent and lovely woman) gave me, designed, I suppose, to obliterate any thought of whoever I used to be pre-marriage, being embossed as they were with “Mrs. (Son’s First Name)(Son’s Last Name)”. She explained that should I happen to send a card to a friend (who else would I send them to??) I was meant to strike a single line through “Mrs. (Son’s First Name)(Son’s Last Name)” and write in “Carin”. As if to say that “you (because we are friends) may call me Carin”. I still have the little copper plate that came with the box of stationery in case I ever need to replenish my supply. (hahaha) The fact that I don’t use anyone else’s name, neither first nor last (having been blessed with my own), is apparently beside the point. She, dear woman, came from an era of The Mrs.

The ‘Lady Colin Campbell’ syndrome is ridiculous. (And very different from adopting a family name, which makes a certain kind of sense in certain cases and to certain people. I do get why people do that.) But what sense can be made from using your husband’s FIRST name to identify you?

Especially, in Lady CC’s case, whose husband turns out to be an ass and they split up. Which is when she begins her worldwide wandering and writing.

But why keep the ‘Colin’???

So that was my first problem with A Woman’s Walks, by Lady Colin Campbell. Despite the rather promising cover.

The other problems relate to the privilege Lady Colin Campbell enjoys throughout her privileged life and incessantly complains about. It is a problem when a writer bores me as Lady CC does and I find it hard to plough through but I continue because I’m looking for a good walk. Unfortunately her idea of walking and mine are quite different. Hers involving much first class train travel and staff helping her get from one luxury hotel to another.

Two exceptions.

One was a stroll she took through a Venetian marketplace where she bought a captive bird, not to eat but to release. She felt very chuffed with herself about that. Her good deed for the day, which again says a lot about her and the era of that kind of privilege. Not to mention attitude towards ‘the little people’ who shop and work at markets for reasons other than amusement and who rudely eat the captive birds because they need protein and aren’t able to take a train to the next luxury hotel dining room to order their pheasant under glass.

I enjoyed seeing her hypocrisy on such magnificent display.

And of course markets always please me.

The other was a walk around Milan that ended, to her surprise, at a crematorium where she lingered, feeling comfort and solace in a way, she says, she never does in cemeteries.

Not a terrible read but not something that personally appealed overall.

The book is one of several from a London Library series: ‘Found on the Shelves’… collected essays on various subjects from “the modern cycling craze” with the invention of the bike, to dieting in the 1800’s, to trout fishing instructions for women. Etc. All of them from a time long gone and full of quirks by modern standards.

Though, really, who are we to talk of quirks…

Fun Trivia:

Turns out there’s another Lady Colin Campbell whose Colin also turned out to be a schmuck and who is not a Victorian essayist, but a contemporary writer of contemporary Royal doings.

Not only that but the modern Lady CC was originally named George William Ziadie (she had unclear genitalia at birth and her parents were advised to err on the side of male, which turned out to be wrong so at age 21 she had corrective surgery and became Georgia Arianna Ziadie). So then she marries Lord Colin Campbell who decides to sell her out to the tabloids who run untrue stories on how Lady CC was born a boy and had a sex change. So they divorce right quick. And yet… she keeps not only the whole Lady Campbell schtick, but the Colin part.

I just don’t get it.

miss rumphius

 

Remember her? The story by Barbara Cooney about a woman who sprinkles lupine seeds as she goes about her days – her contribution to making the world a more beautiful place.

The story is based on a real person, Hilda Hamlin, who immigrated to the U.S. from England in the early 1900’sSome lovely info on her (and lupines) here.

The idea of sharing joy.

How is it possible not to relate?

Every time I blow the fluff off a dandelion I think of grateful bees. And the stones that have been painted with messages and left everywhere during the pandemic or the domino effect of a kind word to a cranky cashier or leaving money in a parking meter as a happy surprise for someone you’ll never see

– all variations of lupines.

**

I’ve been (again) paring down my bookshelves. This is a regular thing but I’m being more ruthless than usual and finding treasures to both read (why haven’t I read this??? I keep asking) and to part with. Some are donates, some are for a library I manage in a women’s shelter, others shout out the name of someone I know and demand to be taken or sent to them. This last part feels slightly lupiney if lupine work is meant to be something that feels good in the process of spreading smidgens of happy surprise.

I’m also going through old photos and finding things I no longer want to keep but that might mean something to someone else. The picture a friend sent decades ago of herself and strangers (to me) at an outback pub in Australia where a handwritten sign on the porch informs that a bush band will be playing that night. The band isn’t named. People sit outside at picnic tables and a young tanned girl, long blonde pony tail and red shorts, is running bare-chested, while another, older girl, twelve maybe, stands primly, shyly, in a below the knee length calico dress and ankle socks next to a man in a cork hat. Both look warm and not recently bathed. The pub is made of roughly hewn wood, thrown together in the middle of what looks like scrub land, a mirage you’re thrilled to come by for a cool one, and maybe a snake sighting while you sip. I’ve sent that photo back to my friend and can’t wait to hear the stories attached to it. Maybe I’ve heard them before… but it’s been a while.

To a nephew, now grown with his own family, I’ve sent a series of pictures I took when he was ten or so and skipping stones at the beach, complete with a final shot of him, both arms up in the hooray! position. His son plays baseball, thought maybe he’d like to show him where he gets his throwing chops from.

And the blank postcards I’m finding in albums. Sunsets and trolley cars, adobe houses. No point in keeping them, so they too are being sprinkled like lupines, with messages scrawled on the backs that sometimes relate to the images on the front and sometimes don’t.

And so on.

It’s brilliantly fun this finding and sending, apropos of nothing, attached to notes that open conversations that would never have been had otherwise.

**

So… Dear Miss Rumphius:  thank you.

 

 

once upon a time, the series (in no particular order & with random garden pics): part one

 

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be a telephone operator. This was in the days when telephone operators actually had some form of conversation with people, when they would be allowed to take the time to look things up and ask questions and solve mysteries based on being given info such as I’m not sure what street so and so lives on or if the first name is Robin or Roberta but for some reason I’m thinking butterflies has a part in things. And the operator would say hmmm, well, let’s see… But the telephone company didn’t hire the girl even though she filled out an application and wore a very nice dress when she dropped it off. And so the girl had to continue to have conversations only with her friends and remain unpaid. This was in the days when # was a number sign. Also a pound sign.

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday with words (aka: let us talk about trees… )

I’ve written about trees before.  Trees I’ve loved. And my love of trees.

Trees that replace old (tree) friends.

And I’ve occasionally ‘not reviewed’ books about trees… a couple of my favourites are mentioned here. Also here.

Of course I adore the Tree of the Week feature in The Toronto Star and the way trees are these subtle but enormous parts of our lives that we hardly even think about until someone asks.

So I’m asking.

What’s your tree history?

For instance, was there a beloved tree in your childhood? Was it a pear tree and did you read Nancy Drew and eat potato salad in it? Did your father knock down the apricot tree at the end of your driveway because he stepped on the gas instead of the brake, after which your mother no longer made apricot jam because she never found apricots that were as good as her own? Did you read James Michener in a quiet leafy park while eating stolen peaches from a nearby orchard? Do you have any tree stories at all that don’t involve fruit?

Feel free to share even the tiniest wee memory.

Also… I would love to know what I’m missing in the way of literature where trees feature prominently, including kid lit, poetry, and essays.

if you were a tree, what tree would you be?

 

 

 

occasionally locally social

 

I’m not a social person. Let’s just get that straight, because what follows may lead some to believe I am. But… I am not. Blips in scheduling sometimes occur, blips that have me gadding about in ways completely alien to my true nature. Happy blips in this case.

Thursday: Writing workshop at the shelter and there is talk of a spaghetti dinner on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of a one year old. I am invited.

Thursday Night: Eve of International Women’s Day and I am at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery eating scrumptious Berry Hill Food kabobs and food in various other forms and quaffing free red wine. (Also being one of thirty five women honoured for commitment and support of the Denise House shelter. Still feeling a little emotional about that one.)

Friday: International Women’s Day and I am at Soebys buying bunches of tulips for a couple of gals who inspire me with their passion in all matters of art and life and kindness. We sit down to lunch over bowls of seafood bisque, crusty bread, and endless, truly endless, chat.

Saturday: I am at the Visual Arts Centre in Bowmanville, listening to Jane Eccles tell the stories of women from all walks of life, women whose dresses she’s painted over the past fifteen or so years. There’s something about a disembodied dress that begs story, that reminds us of the difference yet sameness we all share. I have a soft spot for textile (including upholstory), the way fabric holds things, the essence of memory it conveys.

Saturday night: I drop by the shelter for a spaghetti dinner that is nowhere near ready and I can’t stay until it is but I chat for an hour anyway with a couple of residents and so begins a series of spaghetti sauce secrets that takes me to something called passata which is so apparently ubiquitous that I’m not sure I know how I’ve managed all these many decades without it.

Sunday: I have been invited to a UAW hall in Oshawa where I listen to women speakers, women affected by the loss of the GM plant, who with brave voices encourage both women and men to find ways ahead, to remain positive but to challenge governments, to question when necessary and, (my favourite bit) to be not only trail blazers, but path wideners for each other. Path wideners.

Monday night: I am at the shelter again where I bump into a few of the women from last week’s writing workshop. There are hugs and stories about birthday cake (and spaghetti dinners that may or may not have materialized) and visits to Ripley’s Aquarium and I have to bite my tongue because I have strong feelings about how I’d like Ripley’s to better use their power to more accurately portray the oceans, i.e. how there are areas of plastic twice the size of Texas, and how wildlife is dying from ingesting it all, not to mention the lingering effects of oil spills, but there is a child who’s recently had to leave its home under the worst kind of circumstances and whose future is up in the air and who lovingly embraces a stuffed blue shark as I speak to his mother and so I smile and simply say nice shark and then I have a brief chat about fish, generally, with a couple of kids. No mention of plastic. Not yet.

 

my bit of sky

 

There is a framed series of photos on my kitchen wall. Clouds scudding across a Florida sky. Each photo shows the exact same square of sky above a couple of palm trees, as seen from a poolside chair so many years ago I was still using 35 mm film and my trusty Pentax.

There are only four shots. But they represent the whole morning and my idle joy in having nothing to do but read… no idea what I was reading, but possibly The Portable Dorothy Parker  (I remember her from around that time) or River of Grass,  by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, about the almost decimation of the Everglades. In other words not a novel. Am guessing my mood couldn’t have been focused enough for a novel if I was able to take notice of the sky changing every so often and carefully positioning the camera to take precise shots (film was expensive) between and above those precise palm fronds.

Those aren’t the actions of someone engrossed in a novel.

The first photo in the frame shows a clear sky with only a wisp of cloud. The second, a larger, but still small, cloud moves in from the left. By the third shot, the sky is mottled with cloud cover, though wispy still, and by the fourth, heavier clouds have moved in and I probably decided it was time to gather my pool toys and go have lunch.

I love these pictures, the memory of a holiday, yes, but also a reminder of how this follows that, how time is passed and passes, and continues…

Someone once told me they rarely look up. I was astonished — how can anyone take the whole sky for granted? But it occurs to me that maybe it comes from our habit of looking *for* something… something useful, or unusual, something to compare ourselves with, as in looking at people, or something beautiful, as in a sunrise or sunset or rainbow.

Each morning I stand outside in approximately the same place to greet the day and every day I look at the same slice of sky above a cedar hedge in the space between two very tall spruce. And every day the sky is never the same. Sometimes the colour of Laurentien pencil crayon Peacock Blue, sometimes another shade. Sometimes speckled or fluffed or water-colour-streaked with cloud. Now and then picture-worthy… most often not. Over the years I’ve seen flashes of lightning in that space, the occasional plane on its way to Toronto, and one year the Snowbirds performed for a local school named after a fallen comrade and I stood in my backyard and watched, in awe, as they swooped and ducked and dived in that very bit of sky.

It is also, apparently, part of the Trans Canada Flight Path for geese.

There’s nothing magical about that slice of blue, it’s just the one I happen to most often look at. Not from a lounge chair and never for an entire morning as you do on holiday, but just as habit. Sometimes I go outside and look up, without realizing it even, with maybe a question on my mind…

And a cardinal flies by in answer.

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from what’s left of holiday cottages, a dance pavilion, and refreshment booths that once graced the traditional lands of the people of Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, land that’s part of the Williams Treaties, aka, the Whitby shoreline of Lake Ontario!

The holiday resort existed from about 1900 to the 1960s, with steamboats bringing travellers from Toronto for weeks-long holidays, and locals coming by horse and buggy.

I interviewed an elderly man many years ago, who told me he lived near the lake (the old wooden houses of ‘Port Whitby’ are still there) and how as a boy he would be sent to the pier when the fishing boats came in. He’d bring a bucket and a few coins and the fishermen would toss in a couple fish, enough for supper. He said the horses and buggies from town would be lined up and down the street to do the same.

I would love to hear stories also of when the Mississaugas lived on the land, and how it was they (were) ‘moved along’. No dance pavilion for them…

**

A friend of mine has lived here much longer than I have and remembers things being quite wild and woody. Much building since I arrived, but I also remember fields and woodlands running either side of main streets. Many of those fields are gone, but loads are still intact. For now. We’re lucky in that the countryside is still just a spit away, that the town is built around parks and ravines and has a river called Lynde Creek that runs through it, complete with salmon. I feel lucky to be surrounded by farms and (honest to goodness) farmers’ markets and that the lake shore remains mostly unsullied and the downtown, all leafy streets of Victorian era homes and shops, is walkable from where I live and takes me backwards through a century of neighbourhoods, from the 1970s to the 1870s. If you pay attention you can see how the town was layered, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

It’s funny that we complain about the layering that continues. It’s nothing new, it’s been going on since we built towns and cities. It happens in cities too. It’s called condos. Still, it feels annoying, and whether here or there, the problem is the same, when there’s an imbalance of ‘building’, when too many houses/condos are built without thought to building neighbourhoods.

I have a thing about neighbourhoods.

I’m fascinated by how people live in them, how they make them home, how they adapt, how they’re different, and the same.

I have a thing about small and middle-sized towns, factory towns a lot of them, and those that appear, on the surface ‘to be not much’. Nothing against cities. I had to be dragged away from one. But even in cities, it’s always the less travelled side of the tracks, not the shabby chic side, but the authentically, downright seemingly dull side, the places where crowds don’t go, that I always discover the sweetest surprises.

I’m rambling.

But isn’t that what lazy summer days and postcards… and the sight of old concrete stairs at the beach… are for…

It’s too hot to overthink a postcard. Mostly just writing to say hello.

And happy summer.  (happy rambling too!)

#LoveWhereYouLive

#AndRememberWhoLivedThereFirst

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

 

 

 

mrs. moes cookies

 
Ten thousand years ago when summers were long and the sun shone every day, when you could play outside up and down the street after supper until the streetlights came on and the lawns had that almost-evening coolness that felt so good on bare legs and made a soft place to lie down and wonder how many leaves or blades of grass or grains of sand or snowflakes there were in the world and if numbers big enough had even been invented, when afternoons were lived on bicycles, beside the lake, or in trees, and long before your parents grew old, long before you even knew such a thing was possible, in the days when people were still called Mrs. whether they liked it or not     —  Mrs. Moes made some cookies and brought them over on a blue plate.

You had at least three at the picnic table with a glass of Koolaid (flavour forgotten) and your parents had coffee and your mother may have been a little miffed at how well those cookies were going down… it’s possible she said something like too buttery if you ask me… and when the plate was empty and washed and you were sent next door to return it to Mrs. Moes and to remember to say thank you…. you could hardly believe it when she smiled and said You’re very welcome  and did not refill the plate.

Years and years later, in your twenties, you asked Mrs. Moes for the recipe for “those cookies that day” and she knew exactly what you meant and she recited the recipe to you right there as you scribbled down what she said.

Maybe you got something wrong because they didn’t turn out anything like you remembered. Or maybe the magic was in the blue plate or the surprise of the gift or the happy unlimited picnic table munching.

Did she ever ask you how they turned out?

Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t remember.

Did you ever make them again?

No.

But you still have the recipe you scribbled that day.

Its purpose no longer to magic up a plate of possibly too buttery cookies, but as a portal to a time of cool nighttime lawns and numbers too big to imagine.


 
 

how to: birthday lunch (thirteenth year), in four parts

 

Part one, the appetizer:

Begin at the fish and chips place you hear is all the rage though oddly it’s entirely empty at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday. (That’s fish day, no?)

Consider leaving until the oh-so-lovely server tells you that Fridays are funny, sometimes busy, sometimes not, that dinner is when things really get hopping and that, “believe me”,  she should know because she has worked there for “twenty five long years”…

Order a plate of fries and enjoy the art.

Get lost in the beauty of entire walls covered in scenes of nautical joy.

Dig into the fries as you draw up plans for the invention of an electric toothbrush you call The Squiggly  (instead of vibrating it squiggles, obvs) (possibly cat shaped) and discuss A Wrinkle in Time, which the thirteen year old tells you is the first book written in third person that she has liked.

Be a little stunned that she knows about third person.

Part two, the main course:

Head to the Mexican place for tacos.

Try all the hot sauces offered.

Notice the table behind you is is talking about Vancouver at precisely the same time you are talking about Vancouver. Talk about Calgary instead.

Part three,  le dessert:

Hint…. DQ is right next door.

Discuss what sports you are bad at and how you don’t care.

Discuss your dislike of certain kinds of shellfish. And liver.

Discuss how you are both practically vegetarian but not quite.

Discuss how one of you is considering becoming an actual vegetarian.

Discuss how only just this xmas one of you gave an actual vegetarian
a lucky fish.

Discuss the word serendipity.

Part four, the libation:

Decide that The L’il Organic Kitchen is possibly your new book club meeting space (except in summer when you will meet at the beach and eat fries from Jenny’s chip truck.).

And that the first book will be Maud, by Melanie Fishbane.

For the thirteen year old… orange, lime, pineapple and strawberry power juice.

For you, warm coconut milk with turmeric, cinnamon and ginger.

Chat includes things you regret having done.

You— among other things, stealing wax lips when you were nine.*

Thirteen year old— accidentally eating her birthday candle.**

The end.

  *   Lips remained stolen for exactly nine seconds. Turns out you weren’t made for a life of crime… (you left them on top of the mailbox outside the store and ran all the way home).

**  The candle remains eaten.