if i ever write a mystery thriller it will be set in an art gallery and called ‘The Hidden Plywood’ and here’s why:

 

Installing the couch photos I learned four things.

1–   I’m no Meg Ruffman with a power drill.

2–  It’s an exhibit  in a museum, an exhibition  in a gallery.

3–  I thought you only needed a bag of nails and a hammer to properly hang photos. Apparently, a magic formula is also handy, which has something to do with math and therefore will constantly be just out of my reach.

4–  Gallery walls only look like ordinary walls. They’re actually lined floor to ceiling, side to side, with plywood, which means you can hang anything you want anywhere you want anytime you want and as often as you want without the whole thing falling down.

**

Which brings me to the idea of a possible mystery thriller, which I may as well write since I’ve been making notes about the comings and goings of people that visit the upholSTORIES show… and I have all those spare minutes between people (i.e. future characters) wandering in.

So here’s the outline, the who, what, when, where, why and how of my soft furnishings potboiler in progress… (SFPIP)

**

Who—  The guy on a downtown heritage walk who takes a wrong turn and accidentally finds himself in a gallery surrounded by couch photos and couch memories and when asked if he has a couch memory of his own he chuckles like Errol Flynn and says oh, yes, he has, but it’s not something he can tell me. Har har. He does tell me he’s 86 and that his wife has Alzheimers and it’s hard for him, he doesn’t know how long he can continue taking care of her. I sit on the edge of a coffee table as he talks. He sits back comfortably against the cushions on a striped couch.

—The two women who hold glasses of white wine as they tour the exhibition and say what a great place it would be to have a dinner party.

—Three grey-haired women with walkers who, by the time I get there, have been sitting on the couches a while. They eventually totter off, having established it’s already 3 o’clock.  They leave the cushions alarmingly askew.

—A man who tells me that after he left the chaos of the former Yugoslavia and moved here, the first thing he did was buy a couch from Leon’s.

—And the woman with the long white blonde hair, visiting from Manchester, who doesn’t say or do anything particularly memorable… she’s just so lovely.

What— A dinner party during which it’s suspected that the soup course has been tampered with. There is what looks suspiciously like a trace of gesso, a dollop of resin and a practically-impossible-to-see splash of Castilian brown in the otherwise scrumptious vichyssoise. The party is held on the eve of an 86 year old heritage walker’s birthday, in his honour. But will he make it to midnight? (Therein lies the mystery.) And I don’t mean will he stay awake that long… (therein lies the thriller).

When— The dinner party takes place in June. The weather is unseasonably warm, torrid even. The night is young. There is a full moon. Love is in the air. Or not. There is soup. There is definitely soup.

Where— A swanky gallery in a swanky town.

Why— Why a mystery thriller? (Because the world can never have enough mystery thrillers. Obviously.) Or why did someone tamper with the vichyssoise… in which case I’m hardly likely to tell you now am I…

How— Who knows. But based on the title you can guess it will have something to do with those genius gallery walls.

Look for it at better book stores everywhere.

 

my life in laura smith songs

 

I love this post over at Commatology so I’m stealing the idea and I hope you do too.

It took me about seven seconds to decide on the music for this game because whether I realize it or not, Laura Smith’s words travel with me. And if not always the words, then the sentiments of land and sea and nature and our responsibility to the world and to each other and the idea of dreams and following them and having the courage to know you are all you need to be.

Also, there are references in her songs to things like goat skin drums and pennywhistles. Who would NOT want that living in their head??

In a nutshell, I like her music.

So the game is this: to answer the questions with the title of a song.

The titles can be from any albums belonging to one musician.

My Life in Laura Smith Songs—
  1.  Are you male or female? I’m a Beauty.
  2.  Describe yourself: My Gate’s Wide Open
  3.  How do you feel about yourself?: I Built a Boat
  4.  Describe your ex: Faceless Wonder
  5.  Describe your current romantic situation: Shade of your Love
  6.  Describe your current location: Safe Home Sweet Light
  7.  Describe where you want to be: Horses and Plough
  8.  Your best friend is: Tell the Truth
  9.  Your favourite colour is: Gypsy Dream
  10.  You know that: It’s a Personal Thing
  11.  What’s the weather: Elemental
  12.  If your life was a TV show what would it be called?: Shore Lines
  13.  What is life to you?: Inspiration
  14.  What is the best advice you have to give?: Clean Up Your Own Backyard
  15.  If you could change your name what would you change it to? Jordy

 

the (anti) shopping list

 

Here is my not-quite-but-almost annual list for them wot don’t especially like ‘stuff’… Also, coincidentally, it’s a list of my favourite things to both give and receive… (note for those intent on giving:  the asterisked books? got ’em.
But I’m wide open for all the food items… leave baskets on the porch).

1.   Food. Any form. You can’t go wrong with cheese. If you live in the vicinity of Country Cheese… fill my stocking with the goat brie (coated in ash). It’s absolutely heaven sent, this stuff. Appropriate for the time of year, no?

2.   A book about  food. I’m mad for anything Laurie Colwin, also *The CanLit Foodbook  and most recently, *a Taste of Haida Gwaii,  by Susan Musgrave. And… Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus.  I can’t believe I don’t own this.

3.   Music by Laura Smith.

4.   Gift certificate to a garden centre. My choice would be Richter’s Herbs for the following reasons: the staff know things and are pleasant (this is no longer the case at all garden centres). The selection is amazing and mostly edible. They play classical music to the seedlings. (Also, and not insignificant, the route home goes right by my favourite place for pizza.)

5.   Gift certificate to my favourite place for pizza. (This is an excellent gift and comes with a good chance of being invited to share a slice.)

6.   If you have made anything pickled, I would welcome a jar. (FYI, I’m not much for jam.)

7.  Honey. Unpasteurized of course. Local please. Or a kombucha mother. And who would say no to a bag of Atlantic dulse???

8.  And because we can’t ever have enough… books, books and more books from across this literary land. One from each province/territory — mostly published this year:

YUKON — Ivan Coyote’s *Gender Failure (Arsenal Pulp Press) actually came out in 2014. So sue me.

NWT — Ramshackle: a Yellowknife Story,  by Alison McCreesh (Conundrum Press)  (this review by John Mutford sold me)

NUNAVUT — Made in Nunavut,  by Jack Hicks and Graham White (UBCPress) Because we could stand to know more about this part of the country.

BC — Please don’t think Amber Dawn’s *Where the Words End and My Body Begins  (Arsenal Pulp Press) is only for those in love with poetry. It’s for anyone who loves words. Trust me.

ALBERTA — Rumi and the Red Handbag  (Palimset Press), by Shawna Lemay.

SASKATCHEWAN — *The Education of Augie Merasty  (University of Regina Press), by Augie Merasty and David Carpenter.

MANITOBA — A writer new to me, Katherena Vermette. I want very much to read her North End Love SongsAlso the more recent The Seven Teachings  (Portage & Main Press, 2014/15).

ONTARIO — A Rewording Life,  a fabulous project by Sheryl Gordon to raise funds for the Alzheimers Society of Canada. 1,000 writers from across the country were each given a ‘word’, which they then returned in a sentence. Essentially, it’s an anthology of a thousand sentences. I’m proud to have been invited to join the fun. My word was ‘nettles’.

QUEBEC — Okay. This came out in 2013, not 2105, but I haven’t read it and have always meant to and now it’s long listed for Canada Reads. So it’s time. Bread and Bone  (House of Anansi), by Saleema Nawaz.

NEW BRUNSWICK — *Beatitudes  (Goose Lane Editions),  by Hermenegilde Chiasson. This was published years ago (2007) but I include it because it’s truly one of my favourite books ever and I don’t get to talk about it enough.

NOVA SCOTIA — *These Good Hands  (Cormorant), by Carol Bruneau.

PEI — *Our Lady of Steerage  (Nimbus Publishing), by Steven Mayoff.

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — Ditto the Canada Reads argument for Michael Crummey’s 2014 *Sweetland   from Doubleday.

9.  Donations to any number of good causes. And a few more ideas (some repetition, but also not). And this, recently discovered: The Native Women’s Association of Canada.

10.  The gift of art.

11.  The gift of lunch, or a walk, a phone call, an hour to really listen to someone who needs to be heard. A visit to a nursing home. A poem tucked into a card. An invitation, a freshly baked pie for the neighbour who could do with some cheering. The gift of letting someone give to us too. Margaret Visser wrote a wonderful book on that… The Gift of Thanks.

12. The gift of a promise kept.

13.  And never to be overlooked or forgotten: the gift of massage.

You’re welcome.

And thank you.

bikeless in ontario

I’ve been thinking about bikes more than usual lately. I haven’t had one in over a year and everywhere I look it seems there are places to cycle or things to gather and bring home in a basket between handlebars. I love my old car and where it takes me that I would never go by pedal power alone but there are just so many places between walkable and driveable that perfectly suit two wheels.

And maybe because I’ve been thinking about them, I happen to see more of them, and not just the usual sort either. The other day I saw a tricycle built for two; this large three-wheeler with two seats and two sets of handle-bars, one behind the other. The couple driving were seniors and it was just the most wonderful thing.

I saw a teen-aged lad on a unicycle a few weeks ago. I wanted so much to stop (my car) and take a picture but I felt it might unsettle him and I didn’t like how that possibility played out in my mind. (How does one even stop a unicycle?)

And there’s a guy, maybe in his fifties, maybe older, who rides/pedals/powers a bike that has steps rather than pedals. Like a step machine in a gym. It’s a standing bike that the rider/pedlar powers by stepping one foot at a time, so that one’s whole body moves up and down. I love this thing. The idea of standing instead of sitting seems vastly more comfortable and, given how much sitting we already do, maybe better for the hip joints.

I think about hip joints more and more every year.

The bikes I’ve had in the past are not the bike I want now. For instance, I do not want the red and white tricycle I loved at age six or seven or eight, which I drove at top speeds, fancying myself the envy of both peers and adults. I’m no longer interested in speed or style.

The one after that was green and huge and originally belonged to my much older and much, much taller sister. I don’t remember ever being able to sit on the seat and pedal at the same time.

Then there was the gift of a brand new golden three speed during my teen years. I rode it but never loved it. I didn’t like the colour and instead of a funky banana seat it had the standard issue kind, seriously uncomfortable. And only three speeds? It served me well though. Spent lots of time riding along country roads looking for places to steal fruit and trees under which to read. It had a utilitarian pack above the rear wheel which I could stuff with peaches and paperbacks.

When I moved to Toronto I bought a rust-coloured bike at Canadian Tire, called it Rusty. When I moved to Edmonton, I took Rusty with me. We had some good times and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there without her. But then I moved to England and left Rusty behind. Sold her, gave her away, I can’t remember and if you don’t mind I’d rather not talk about it… [sniff]

In England I had a big black Oxford bike that I rode through a field to get to Waitrose, and down a cobbled hill to get to the corner shop.

Back in Toronto I had a bike that I can barely remember and when I first moved to the town where I now live I had a ten-speed that was entirely wrong. Ergonomically wrong. For me anyway. For one thing it required me to sit hunched forward, grasping those twisted-under handlebars, which I don’t like. I like normal handlebars and to sit upright like old schoolmarms.

The last bike I had,  a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law, was sky blue and had the right kind of handlebars. I got a wicker basket for it and quite liked it, but the dear old thing was ancient and eventually toast.

All of this to say: I’m in the market for an addition to my list.

Suggestions, anyone?

Makes, models, testimonials welcome…
Cyclists_In_Thames_New_Zealand_Ca_1895

WikiCommons knows bikes.

 

 

fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth gifts of the season

5.  Discovering that dinner at my nephew’s would not be a turducken as he’d threatened, but free-standing birds along with perogies, couscous and snuffing [stuffing to the rest of the world]. Preceded and followed by impromptu salsa dancing.

6.  The way Elizabeth Simcoe led me to the origins of the word spinster. 
A noble word!

7.  Learning that unicorns are real. [Seems they’ve been heard by certain people of short stature who know about these things. They sound like reindeer.]
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8.  Preparing the annual package of food and clothing that’s then left on a dark and deserted and slightly rundown street with a note reading Merry xmas to whoever finds this. The two best parts: picking out the stuff that goes into it, and wondering about the moment it’s found.

9.  The doves. They’d been gone from the backyard for several seasons but earlier this year, after our little tortoiseshell girl died, they returned the very next day and have stayed. And in the most wonderful way this doesn’t feel insignificant.

10. Lunch with a friend. Fries, calamari, kale salad, a glass of chilled Canadian riesling… but mostly the part that had nothing to do with food or wine.
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11. Home. Breath. Arms. Legs. The sound of a furball purring. You know, the good stuff.
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12. A walk to buy lemons and seeing that the hockey net from last year has returned. I don’t know who sets this up but, like a weird Inukshuk, it tells me whoever it is, is still about. I’m glad they’re well.
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***
The first four gifts are here.

the first, second, third and fourth gifts of the season

 

The first gift was finding my old lumber jacket in the trunk of my car, in my Survival Box, which also included a flashlight that didn’t work and inedible chocolate.

IMG_4864The second was doing the debit machine at the grocery store without my glasses and when it said did I want cash back I pressed ‘Yes’ by mistake. I swore and the cashier said “Everything alright?” I said it was and happily received $20. I felt rich.

#3 was receiving a xmas card from a friend I worked with almost 40 years ago and haven’t seen since. It occurred to me that it’s a small miracle we’ve managed to keep in touch through all our moves. We’ve never talked on the phone, or exchanged email addresses. The only time we’re in touch is December, with whatever words can fit on the inside of a card… no white space.

The fourth was a passage recently stumbled over in Douglas Coupland’s 2004 Souvenir of Canada 2. The original is also a joy. As is City of Glass.
My favourite kind of reading: words about the ordinary laid down in such a way that makes you realize nothing is ordinary…

This is from a piece called ‘Zzzzzzzzzz…. The Sleepy Little Dominion’, essentially a love letter to Canada. It begins with the memory of hatching Canada goose eggs in a Johnny Walker box with his brother.

“When [they] hop out of their eggs, they’re turbocharged little bundles of fluff-packed fun… goslings are alert, affectionate, trusting, curious, loyal and entertaining—the exact characteristics we also treasure in our human friends. It was pure delight to watch them tumble and peep daily across our lawn, pond, patio and (J-Cloths in hand) kitchen floor. Because of their innocence, everything was permitted.”

They become part of the family, snuggling for naps with humans and family dog alike.

“By August, though, there was no denying that [they] were now geese, and the time had come for them to fledge… As we had no rules to follow, we simply corralled them … at the top of the cul-de-sac and ran down the hill flapping our arms—and they followed us.”

He goes on to describe watching the first moment of their flight and even though they immediately return to the yard, “you could sense the wildness leaking into their souls.”

Eventually the birds do leave and settle, temporarily, at a nearby lake and when Coupland and his brother call them, they still respond, and even return to the house a few times.

“But then came the next year, early spring. The geese would come home just once. They would land on the roof, always in the morning, and they would honk as if the world depended on it. In robes and T-shirts, we’d run out onto the lawn to look at them there on the roof’s apex. Once they’d seen us, there was a brief moment when it wasn’t humans and geese, but simply a group of friends happy to be together and alive.

“Then off they flew. Just like that. They’d done their duty, and now they vanished into the wild. I’ve spent my life trying to articulate just what that specific wild was they returned to, for that wild is Canada, and when I think of this country, I think of where the geese go when they leave home.”

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***
Gifts five to twelve are here.

a frivolous five minutes over pizza with ‘k’ — age 58

 

I met K in the 70’s. We used to work together for what now seems like a fraction of a second. Then I moved away and for a brief time we stayed in touch. Then I moved even further away, and further still, and eventually she moved too and married and remarried. Along the way there have been an assortment of cats and dogs, long ago mutual friends and at least one hamster, as well as a gap of years and years and years when all we did was send birthday and xmas cards. We rarely spoke and we never saw each other. Yet we remained connected in that peculiar way of old friends… where when the phone rings one day and you hear their voice for the first time in a decade and you start talking like no time at all has passed.

Recently, we’ve been meeting for lunch once or twice a year at a place about an hour’s drive for each of us. We rarely do phone calls and emails are few, yet when we see each other it’s like someone spliced out all the gaps and this lovely film just continues on from the last scene…

K always begins every lunch by explaining to the server that we’ll be there a while.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen her place an order. And exactly what size are the peppers when they come out?”

She still has the most contagious laugh I know.

How long could you go without talking?  However long I’m asleep.

Do you prefer silence or noise?  Noise, as in background… a fan at night, TV on while reading…

How many pairs of shoes do you own?  Fewer than 10.

If you won $25 million?  I’d fix the garage and the driveway, give some to family and Humane Society.

One law you’d make?  Install a device in cars that prevents driving drunk.

Unusual talent?  Am a ‘Name that Tune’ master.

What do you like to cook? One pot meals.

Have you or would you ever bungee jump?  No.

What’s the most daredevilish thing you’ve done?  Roller coaster at CNE. Hated it.

Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes?  Yes.

Favourite time of day?  Early morning.

What tree would you be?  Birch.

Best present ever received?  An opal ring I’d had my eye on. My dad gave it to me to me the year my mum died just before xmas.

What do you like on your toast?  Peanut butter.

The last thing you drew a picture of?  A map with directions.

Last thing written in ink.  Birthday card.

Favourite childhood meal?  My dad’s meatloaf.

Best invention?  Car.

Describe your childhood bedroom.  Pink with rosy wallpaper. Maybe. We rented and moved around a lot.

Afraid of spiders?  Not spiders, snakes.

Phobias?  Heights. [see bungee jumping and devilish thing; also declined hot air balloon idea]

Least favourite teacher?  Mr. Something—made me put gum on my nose for chewing in class.

Favourite children’s story?  Anything Winnie the Pooh.

Ideal picnic ingredients?  Potato salad, devilled eggs, fresh buns and butter, pickles, cold cuts, strawberries, ice tea, no bugs.

Is Barbie a negative role model?  No.

No?  No.

Best thing about Canada?  Landscape.

Best thing about people in general?  Their differences.

What flavour would you be? Chocolate.

What colour? Pink.

What would you come back as? Medium sized border collie.

Favourite saying: “She offered her honour; he honoured her offer; and all night long he was honour and offer.”
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—the frivolous five, a series of frivolity