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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blog Jam from Quebec


or from "La Belle Province" as les Quebecois call it. Not seeing much of the belle as floods have taken over fields and roads. Quite the sight to see cars driving on raised sideroads surrounded by trees and hydro poles several feet deep in water. My camera ran out of juice, much to my dismay, but tomorrow I hope to record some New Brunswick sights.
I went down to Grosse Ile, however (picture above) and stood at the shore looking out at the island. There wasn't another human in sight, much less a ferry to take me out to the island in the middle of the St. Lawrence so I could walk around the hallowed (and now declared a Heritage Site in 1984) land of the Irish who arrived and died there in the dreadful Famine Years of the 1840's.
Surely one of these years a magical boat will emerge out of the mist to ferry me over. I walked through an entire hotel nearby, every door was open to the wind and the river, but ne'er a body to be found. Much trust though, I could have taken the keys to their van, their entire bar stock and some lovely desserts in a glass case.

On a sadder note, I learned that my last surviving aunt on my father's side died this morning. She was just shy of her 99th birthday. The loss has hit me more deeply than I ever would have suspected. I tend to freeze and process for quite some length of time when I hear bad news. It simply takes a while to percolate through. It hit me later in the afternoon and now I have a blinding headache from my grief.
Auntie Francie was a woman who was refused admission as a postulant to the local convent when she was a teenager because an older sister had the audacity to marry the protestant minister of the town and had been denounced by the parish priest from the pulpit for doing so.
Rather than making her bitter, it propelled her into a life, not of her choosing, but of necessity - a life of service to a Great House in the town in which she lived.
The Lord and Lady were very kind to her and I never heard her speak a bad word about them. She cooked and occasionally filled in as a sort of nanny in waiting to the regular nanny. She was full of stories of the lives of these people when she visited. A real-life "Upstairs, Downstairs" if you will, told with charm and enthusiasm. She never ran out of stories and I am glad that my daughter and granddaughter had the fortune to visit with her on a few occasions.
She retired at fifty five and the convent that had rejected her now asked her to take care of their accounting books and banking which she did until she was ninety. Tragically, while she was at Mass one morning a couple of punks/louts broke into her small cottage and damaged it and took her pension money. This scared her so badly she refused to live there anymore so wound up in a rather awful old folks' home in the town where there were no private rooms, just large wards with everything shared. That is where I had seen her last and she was, heart-breakingly, most unhappy but she always cheered up when rellies arrived.
I had looked forward to seeing her again this September, now sadly, not to be.
Sleep with the angels, beloved aunt.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Topsy Turvy Time


And yes, in case you're asking, I am so a huge fan of "Topsy Turvy" the movie.
Life's like this at the moment:
Calls from friends in Newfoundland telling me they can hardly wait till I get home.
Friends and family here telling me they are so sad I'm leaving home.
I finally decided that home is where the heart is, like the song says. so wherever my gypsy heart lands is my home.

And I get a few very sad emails from my dear friend R as his girlfriend had broken up with him, for the final time in the space of a few short months. She had tried to break up with him a few times, but he had been persistent in trying to make it work. I've met her and wondered privately at their partnership. Not a flicker of a spark that I could determine. And this is what she told him when she dearjohnned him, the spark was never there for her. I feel so sad for him, he had great hopes of this working out and had confided in me last week that the relationship had relieved his chronic loneliness. We can never run from ourselves though, can we?

And two of my brothers, both grandfathers, have been expecting babies - their partners are, I should add. One of the babies was born yesterday, emergency, but doing well now, praise be. The other is due in a week or so. This baby will be uncle to a fifteen year old. Rather them than me. I can't even imagine such a situation.

My mantra of late has been: I'm too old for this shite. Pays off handsomely in difficult situations. And a new baby in your sixties is a challenge, n'est pas?

And I'm all in upheaval here, thinking to myself I had thought my life simplified but when parking yourself elsewhere for four months, it is amazing the detritus that has to go with you when you pry up the tent pegs once more. I am leaving on Tuesday for Newfoundland with a tightly packed car but with a bonus of my dog riding shotgun (she adores road trips).

And yeah, I should be working and not blogging, but every good woman deserves a break.

I'm a little bit at sixes and sevens at the moment. Can't you tell?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Because



Because I want to think positively.
Because She won Pennsylvania with 1/3 of the campaign funds of her opposition.
Because it really doesn't matter if She wins the nomination, She showed us She tried with everything She had.
Because She fought and fought. For women everywhere. And for showing my granddaughter she can too.
Because She is breaking all the barriers.
Because this reminds me of every time I've cheered my mother, my grandmother, my daughters and my granddaughter and how they've cheered me.
Because it made me cry.

I've had it up to here with misogyny.



Keith Olbermann, a journalist (hah!) I used to respect, calls for "a man to take Hillary Clinton into a room and only he comes out" on MSNBC.

This main stream talking head is calling for the murder of Hillary Clinton?

I simply do not understand the senseless rage and fury generated by this woman. The demand for her submission to the patriarchy, the humiliation of the T-shirts - "Why didn't OJ Simpson marry Hillary Clinton instead?" - being an example.

This is what evil looks like. And I am not silent. Silence condones such words of horrific intent.

Where is the outcry?

So it would be OK to suggest lynching Obama?

Or suggest, oh, tipping McCain's wheelchair over a steep cliff?

I am beyond disillusioned with the main stream media.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blog Jam



Picture is of a spot in Costa Rica in 2006 where the clattery bus broke down and disgorged us into a concrete bunker and I found this around the corner.

Up to my neck in real work, the work that pays the bills as it is tax season in Canada and even though I've substantially cut back on my client base to create room for more creative endeavours, there are still quite a few clients kicking around -keeping me stoked up on coffee and four hours sleep a night and absolutely no blog readings, dying to get at you, my favourite bloggers and catch the latest.

Though I have to admit, sometimes, it is just grand to get a full four course dinner of my favourites when I catch up after being backed up like this.

I'm a little stressed too as I committed to 30 pages a week of the Great Newfoundland Novel (this is a different project than the Newfoundland Short Story Collection) so all in all far too busy. But grateful too as I watch the man across the road do his dash and run details ten times a day and just about iron his driveway.

I'm moving on soon, leaving here for Newfoundland on April 29th. Catching the ferry on May 3rd from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland.

Lots to get done before then, friends to see, taxes to complete, novel to review, and most of all family to be with.



Here are four random blogger awards, a tiny sampling from my lovely list:

Nick
Orla
Twilight
Verna

You all never fail to enlighten, inform and delight me!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Serendipity & Subtraction


Photo of a confluence on the beach by my home in Newfoundland, November 2007.


And the confluence of serendipity and subtraction is irresistible.

Subtraction, I was told by a wise old man once upon a time, is the secret to true happiness, never addition.

So on this principle, we were sorting through my Toronto lockers today in an effort to purge more "stuff" and I opened a box of books and sitting right on top was Nuala O'Faolain's "Chicago May".

I had goosebumps just looking at it. I am not meant to keep it. That is oh, so clear. It needs to be subtracted from my stash and added to someone else's.

So would any of you out there like this book? I thoroughly enjoyed it - it is a true story, well written by Nuala and it has some great old photos.

Let me know and I will mail it to you - on me, of course.

PS:
This is the poem that goes with the above photo for the photo-poem-card series I've developed:

Glove story

Grasped, then
Clasped.
Flower from the graveyard
Hay from the harvest
Leaf from the alder
Told to the stones
And
The stones
Weep.
And drying off
Say
No more now for
Tomorrow at dawn
The fish will return.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nuala O'Faolain



She's one of those writers that causes extreme divides among people. You either hate her or love her. I'm the latter. I've devoured everything she's ever written in books and read as many of her columns in the Irish Times as I could get my hands on. I love her style, her intelligence and her heart-breaking honesty.
This was the first book I read of hers:



I loved her honest and heart-wrenching recounting of her sad family history, her well known father who always maintained a mistress, the abandoned alcoholic mother besieged by far too many children

Then I read:


This continued her life into the present times, the dismayed reaction of her family to the truth of her book, the death of two of her brothers from alcoholism and her own discovery of love through a successful online romance with a New Yorker.

Next was this, her first novel:



This followed a favourite theme of my own, a back story and a front story, well written and unputdownable.

Then she tried an experimental book:



This traced the true story of an Irish girl who emigrated to Chicago, intercut and interpersed with her own reflections on what she was writing and the research she had to do. Not to everyone's taste but I really liked it.

And then I hear Marion Finucane of RTE interview her on her Saturday Flesh and Blood series. And it turns out that Nuala has very little time to live, her newly diagnosed cancer has mestastisized from her lungs to her brain and liver. She speaks openly and freely of her cancer, her anger, her sense of being ripped off, her non-belief in an afterlife, her loss of music, reading, and most of all the loss of her joy in nature. She speaks of how utterly alone the process of dying is, no matter who is around you. She spares nothing and cries openly along with Marian.

It is profound, it is shattering, it touched the deepest part of my soul. I wept. For all of us frail humans. For the death that waits around the corner with our ticket out of here clutched in its skeletal fingers. For this incredible, exquisite life with all its joy and pain. For how truly and magnificently precious every moment of it all is.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

ROAD RAGE



Okay, I admit it. I sometimes get snotty behind the wheel of my car. I use words, not totally bad words, but words.

This was brought to my attention very forcibly when the grandgirl was around two and safe in her babyseat in the back of my car. A car had cut me off, suddenly and unexpectedly, and before I could open my mouth, the word "Jerk!" in a toddler lisp soared up and over and into my ears from behind me. Good for lots of later laughs but a stark reminder of how often I must have used the word for the grandgirl to spout it out so casually.

But I would never think of endangering anyone else or even showing the finger as the photo above has it. I often joke when I'm driving with passengers and some idiot on the road has nearly sideswiped me, "Any volunteers in the car to show him the finger?" and we laugh and bury the incident and forget how very close to death we have all come.

Like tonight. I'm driving north on a ramp to the 404, trailing a very slow moving white SUV. So I move to the right of him and all the cars behind me do the same. He's doing at least 40kms under the limit. Briefly I wonder what's wrong with him and then I put the pedal to the metal as they say and accelerate to the speed limit to pass him. I don't like passing on the right but here there is no choice. I'd like to be safe and at the right speed before hitting the highway just ahead.

Without warning, the SUV swings into my lane and I catch one look at the driver's face before swerving my small car on to the shoulder on my right, barely missing this behemoth of a vehicle and the concrete barrier. Thank goodness for the slight shoulder. Thank goodness for my quick reaction.

The driver of the SUV had been laughing at me. A great big horse laugh. He sped away at double his former speed, pounding on his steering wheel in glee.

I will never forget his face.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Irony



With a hat-tip to BartCop for the cartoon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A New Friend


The Historic Distillery District, Toronto

I met a woman in a writing group. We found it so very odd here in Toronto, Canada, that growing up we had lived a couple of miles from each other in Cork City, Ireland. And never crossed paths. We knew people in common, small cities will do that to you. One degree of separation.

And we like each other’s writing.

I invited her to my annual Ladies’ Brunch but we really didn’t get to know each other there, too many people. And now she invited me to dinner in her place. A lovely place down by the old Distillery District in Toronto. She lit a log fire and had made pasta and salad and apple crumble. My dog was invited too. And her dog and my dog had dinner together out of the same big bowl. My dog has never done that before. It was like something out of The Lady and the Tramp as my dog is rather glam in appearance and her dog is a wheaten terrier.

We talked ourselves silly for seven hours. Life stories: relationships, our adult children, our failed marriages, our evolution as women of independent thinking, as writers, as mothers, as entrepreneurs.

Somehow, when you hear your own life in your ears and can touch and smell and see it for someone new and you in turn embrace theirs, it becomes like a meditation. You think: holy crow, I did all of that? You think: I survived that? I, a woman raised to be a mother and a wife before all else accomplished so much more? On my own I forged a different path? Where on earth did I get the gumption? What a hell of a nerve I had. To think I would succeed. To think I could have it all.

And we sit back and look at each other at the end of the night. And we recite Padraic Colum's “The Old Woman of the Road” * to each other and say: “Now let’s take the dogs for a walk at midnight”. And we do.


*
O, To have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house—a house of my own—
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tales from the Tax Trenches Part Two



Interesting how specialties happen. You’d think tax accountant is descriptive unto itself; that there would be no specialties as a sub-header. But I have a speciality. And the speciality is back taxes. As in people who haven’t filed taxes in years and years.

I thought I’d seen the worst when someone came to me with twenty-five years of unfiled taxes but there was even a tardier one to follow.

How do they get away with it? You ask.

Living under the radar is how. Taking jobs that don’t require an SIN (nixers, we called them back home). Living a life that does not entail having a mortgage, for to have a mortgage you have to produce your tax returns. Part of the black economy. Living a life of fear, wondering when Revenue Canada is going to catch up with you. Not telling a partner of your exiled from civilization status.

The situation starts with a couple of years of unfiled returns. Another year or so and the whole backlog become too overwhelming, too almighty a task to deal with. You find a large old trunk, or label a hefty garbage bag and throw all the bits of paper in there. Something at the back of your mind tells you it would be totally criminal to throw all the paperwork away. So you tote around this millstone, this growing pile of papers on every house-move you make. Until finally a partner says something like, isn’t it time we got married or bought a house together? And slowly but surely the house of cards, represented by the trunk of papers, the enormous garbage bag of unresolved issues, tumble out on to the floor. So the partner shops around for someone who can handle this frightening and mountainous mess. They call me.

And I can negotiate with Revenue Canada, in the case of the twenty five year unfiled back taxes, as Revenue Canada had not been chasing him, I was able to settle on filing his last fifteen years and the other ten were ‘forgiven’ as part of voluntary disclosure.

Last year I had a thirty-year case the biggest so far. As Revenue Canada had been unsuccessfully trying to find her, they wanted every year filed. There was no forgiveness. So I complete the task as I always do anyway, a year’s return at a time.

Inevitably, and this always comes as a shock, my clients have overpaid their taxes or not claimed any credits or GST rebates and are owed tax refunds plus accrued interest at the end of all the paperwork.

But more than that, the look of relief and freedom on their faces as I have them sign all the completed returns makes my job so worthwhile. Out of the darkness and living in the sunshine. Finally. After so many years of hiding. From themselves.
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P.S. 150 POSTS! YAY ME!
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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Joy of Food



It is the rare book that has a profound effect on me. I wonder how many books I’ve read in my life, I suppose I could average at 2/3 books per week, there have been sometimes more, sometimes less. Perhaps I’ve read 7,500 in my life to date. Maybe 10% were memorable, most are now forgotten best sellers and some are re-read classics - for instance I never tire of Jane Austen.

In the last few weeks I’ve had far too many books on the go, five at last count but two, by the same author, are still with me.

The first was the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This opened up my eyes to the way we have let Agri-business baffle and confound us with food. It has removed our choices, often lied to us and taken away the simple joy of eating. All with the complicity of government who don’t protect its citizens as it should with correct labelling and proper oversight. A compelling read and I will never forget the chapter on mushrooms.

The second was also by Michael Pollan and called “In Defense of Food” where he encourages us to step back and refuse all the packaged food on offer today and get back to simple meals, the simple preparation of same and the old fashioned protocols of table society. Shared meals, mainly plants, and conversation.

If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise this food, don’t buy it, he advises. It is mainly corn and derivatives anyway and the long term effects are still unknown.




I was struck the other day by a photo of a woman stretching her meagre food dollars at Walmart, she could only afford to shop on her paydays. There was not one visible vegetable or fruit in her cart, it was stacked to the top with boxes and packages. This is how much we are all removed from real food. A captive audience for these behemoth frankenfood industries to tell us what to eat as they keep adding and subtracting suspicious additives to packages (now with Omega 3!) to keep grabbing our attention, (think of the years of trans-fats being pumped into foods with the nod from government).And of course the huge diabetes and heart medical industry is completely inter-reliant with said agri-business.

As Michael Pollan advises, just shop the outside wall of the supermarket, never venture into the middle, it is a dangerous place with killers lurking everywhere. One can’t go too far wrong on the outside wall and it sure speeds up the shopping process!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hill-arious

This is a priceless SNL takeoff on the whole Clinton income disclosure tempest in a teapot media furore.





And with a hat-tip to Orla I just had to post this absolutely hysterical version of "Sweet Home Alabama" as done by the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

RIP



And I suppose he will, RIP that is, once they pry the rifle from his cold, dead hands.

Sorry to offend anyone, but the death of this mediocre actor, anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, pro Dubya, NRA president - this abomination of a man who was insensitive enough to held a pro-gun rally after the massacre at Columbine gets nary a whit of regret from me.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Something to Pass the Time on a Weekend



If you've got a bit of time and are a firm believer in truth being stranger than fiction, I recommend you read the following. It is an extraordinary story and features one of my favourite writers, Harlan Ellison.

It really floodlights that which we want to believe often overcomes the reality of a situation.


The Extraordinary Tale of Jesse James

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Friday, April 04, 2008

TALES FROM THE TAX TRENCHES, PART ONE


I’m glad I’m anonymous here. It lets me write a lot more truth than if I was public. And that’s a good thing for me as one of my hats is tax accountant and sometimes I need to vent or enlighten or tell secrets. Secrets cannot be withheld from your tax accountant. She knows everything, some of it amusing, some of it very sad, some of it heart warming and some of it downright bad. Trust me. And what I write here is in no way a judgement, it is merely about the foibles of human nature which are of endless fascination to me.

Like, did you know?

· The poorest of my clients give the most to charity.
· Some of my really, really wealthy clients don’t give a dime or consider themselves heroes for throwing a C-bill at the Breast Cancer Campaign (and don’t get me started on that particular ‘charity’!).
· The most intelligent fall for the get rich quick schemes, i.e. The Donald and his come hithers to get you rich quick on real estate schemes, or buying Costa Rica rentals. None of them work. Trust me. Only The Donald and his ilk get rich off you, you poor sucker.
· One client, a financial planner, spends $15,000 a year on underwear. She is not a looker even by a huge stretch of the imagination. Every year, she asks me to write the expense off. I say to her, she’d have to be a model, hooker, lap-dancer or stage artist and declaring her earnings as such to get to write it off. She thinks I’m being too conservative.
· Some go through a fortune of inheritances from hard-scrimping, depression-defying parents in their dreams of doubling the money by being newborn businessmen or women. The first purchase from the estate funds is inevitably a hugely expensive, enormous leather briefcase. I say wealth does not have a magic wand to make you what you were never before, a successful business person. Put a safety net around the money and let it happily click over at a conservative 4% in guaranteed investment certificates. They never listen as they walk off hefting the shiny dream-filled briefcase.
· Some lose all their earnings on the stock market. I tell them devote 5 hours minimum a day to monitoring your investments if you are going to follow that route. None are willing to spend that kind of time but are willing to throw away a fortune on a ‘hot tip.’
· Some are professional gamblers, though the new term now is ‘gaming’ and ‘arbitrage’. Professions for some. Though all lose, lose and lose. Trust me. I get tired of crunching the losses.
· Many elderly parents keep throwing money at their foolish adult children who are trying to make silk purses out of sows’ ears in real estate and fancy shops. Lose, lose and lose.
· One client had a huge windfall and spent it all on a Lamborghini and the following year couldn’t afford the insurance and then lost his business through neglect.
· Very few would-be entrepreneurs have the foresight to put together a business plan even with my suggestions and assistance. They inevitably fail in their new venture.
· The ones who do put together a plan are nearly always successful. These are the people who sign all their own cheques and track their expenses carefully against the business plan on a weekly basis and adjust and tack as the economic wind shifts direction.
· Old men who marry young women - and old women who marry young men - pay and pay and pay again. Each and every one says, “Ah, but you don’t know. This time it’s different”. No, it’s not. You will lose half your hard earned property and half your hard earned cash. And pre-nups never kill true romance. And if they do, walk and consider yourself lucky!
· I often have to chase the wealthy to settle my account.
· The poorest of my clients pay me the fastest.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Stick to the Knitting



I've posted before about the book of short stories at the publisher. Today, the really, really good editor lets me know in no uncertain terms that I need to perform some massive re-writes and tightening and fact checking on some key scenes.

As I'm in the middle of tax season, I laid my head on my keyboard for a while and tried to knock myself unconscious.

I raised my head to find an email from my daughter with the above cartoon which seems to speak to me.

There is no room for multi-tasking if you want to be a writer.

Or knitter.

Or tax accountant.




PS (added later).
I was saving this award from Jenny at South Belfast Diary for a down day, so here it is. Boy, do I need cheering up today! Thanks, Jenny.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What kind of shoe are you?



My old granny used to always say, "sure there's an old stocking for every old shoe".

And I'm sure she was right.

But what kind of shoe are you, is the question over at Grannymar's today.

So I took the test

And here I am, much to my surprise:

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You Are Bare Feet


You are a true free spirit, and you can't be tied down.
Even wearing shoes can be a little too constraining for you at times!

You are very comfortable in your own skin.
You are one of the most real people around. You don't have anything to hide.

Open and accepting, you are willing to discuss or entertain almost any topic.
You are a very tolerant person. You are accepting and not judgmental.

You should live: Somewhere warm

You should work: At your own business, where you can set the rules
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So that, like totally, explains why I'm having so much trouble finding me an old stocking...
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