Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blog Jam

Today Yesterday is was a monochromatic day in the outport between the snow and matching sky and water. Even the trees can't assert themselves with their white cloaks.

Everyone is hunkered down, in front of the fires or the big screens or their i-phones.

Ah, the i-phones, bleeding what's left of outport cellular internet connection to leave me with sporadic or worse - the message “searching for network”. All day.

I took the opportunity in the last few days of ploughing and pruning through all last year's cards and my shamefully overflowing in-box of 1,100 emails. Between the cards and the emails there is some pre-dump hesitation. Always. I feel so callous rubbishing some – the thank-yous for the sympathy, the notes I get from good people who take care of the elderly and homeless, love-notes from friends and family, photos that really don't mean much to me as they involve other unknowns, like a friend who was re-united with the child she gave up for adoption 65 years ago. Yes, you read that right. A most happy and wonderful re-union. Unlike most. I've had other friends who attempted the same and were firmly rebuffed. It must be like playing Russian roulette. It takes huge courage. And it does not end well in 80% of cases.

And on the same theme, I hear other stories of long ago, whispered in the night, of young girls giving birth in secrecy and their parents “taking care” of the child. A sad little pile of dirt behind the barn. All because of Christian censure by the clergy, neighbours and family. A secret murder being more honourable than the birth of a bastard and a daughter being “spoiled”.

And of young sons being whacked across the back of the head with a shovel before puberty and rendered simple. Simple enough to take orders without question for the running of the farm sans the desire to leave it for big city lights. And who was to notice or judge back then, when others were doing the exact same thing. Indentured slavery.

Ah, the stuff I hear, don't be talkin'.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I started this memoir a few years back. A chap book (strictly for family) about my mother. Two of my family members have read it so far and are enthusiastic about it. I feel if I don't write all of it down and quickly, my memories will start to fade. Letters (she was a prodigious writer to me being an emigrant) have survived which I will include. And some photos, particularly of her outside of her maternal experience as mother to us, her children.

She had first hand experience as a young child of the horror of the Black and Tan era in Ireland and the blowing up (by the IRA in Rebel Cork) of the local barracks in her village.

She was put out to service at the age of twelve to the local merchant even though she had skipped a class at her village school as she was so bright. No opportunities then. For anyone.

Through this process of writing down her life I feel I am getting to know her all over again and with the distance of her passing, see her struggles and evolution more clearly.

There is never a day goes by when I don't think of her. She died far too young and I surmise she would only have gotten more interesting with age.

Friday, January 27, 2012


My mother mollyfodged along with her sisters and her mother and before her, her grandmother. I remember a book I read when I was eight or nine. It was a book that I'd won and I can't remember for the life of me for what. But several chapters were taken up with mollyfodging. With cabbage. Which made rainbow colours when you mollyfodged properly.

Maybe I won it for an essay or verse speaking. Verse speaking was popular in my time. As soon as you could learn something and speak phrases by heart your parents would ask you to stand up at a family event and show off. I remember running through verses like they were a race to be run and be completely breathless at the end of the recitation and flop down, mopping my brow dramatically. Still too young to be embarrassed, that was to follow around ten or eleven when my pleas of “Do I have to?” and “I don't want to” were quickly trampled on with the reprimand that it was common courtesy to perform when asked to at a function. Manners. One's party piece was to be kept polished and willingly presented to others when asked and in return their party pieces were performed: by old, young and in between, at a family gathering. Isn't it a shame that those ways are gone now? In spite of the mortifying embarrassment of it all. It got us ready to be more at ease in public, perhaps. More confident.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, mollyfodging. I did a bit of it myself, not much. At one point I thought I could make a business out of it. For it is an art that should be revived. And maybe some of you out there have. I might try it again in the summer coming up.

Oh lawdee, some of you are now wittering on as to what in fodge I'm talking about?

“Lichen on rocks and trees used to make a dye – mollyfodge is picked off trees and used by women of Summerville to dye materials.”

And further posts on the Dictionary of Newfoundland English can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Murphy's Laws

"The more you want to hide and be on your way, the more people will insist on grabbing you by the arm and engaging you in a long discourse."

I have this appalling habit on this righteous planet. I love nightwear as daywear. There, I said it. Particularly my pyjamas which come in many colours and combinations. If I were the owner of this world I would make jammies mandatory wear. For everything. I envy the young of today who have taken this rule to heart and venture just about everywhere in their jammies and often with a teddy bear in tow too. My kind of people.

I have this long designer coat given to me by my generous benefactor. It is a lovely coat. Elegant. Deep turquoise, gold buttons. You know where I'm going with this, right?

I've discovered if I can jam my jammies (lol) into my boots, throw on the coat, glove and hat myself to keep out the chill and hide the bird's nest of hair, I can make you lot believe I am conforming to Senior Wear Canada.

So thus disguised I go to the local store today. And meet half the neighbourhood who are in the shop. This is the bigger shop on the peninsula, about 7km from my house and it has vegetables and fruit and meats and fish. I had to peel off the Aran hat to show the pattern to two interested knitters, and one of my card buddies had to tell me about the time he worked in Toronto and loved it, then an injured fellow from one village over gave me an update on the physiotherapy on his arm, taking far too long, and the shop owner himself was upset that I hadn't been around in a while even though I assured him I had, but it was his wife and daughter who were running the show at the shop while he had a day off and yes, they showed me their 250 pictures from their Irish trip. Mistake. He asked me what were my favourites and did I think he'd enjoy it if he tagged along next time? What should he see?

Meanwhile, I keep a tight grip on Da Coat which is covering a brilliant emerald green and orange jammie set. I have enough comments on my bright pink Uggs without causing the complete collapse of what passes for Outport Society with a surprise display of my unmentionables.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I love reading and have since I was four, for I was a bit of a long time "only" for the Catholic Irish family of that era, so my father had both the time and inclination to teach me and insure an everlasting addiction by marching me to the library and getting me my very own library card.

But this post is not about books. This post is about people. Reading people. Especially strangers who subsequently reveal more about themselves and confirm my very first take on them.

Some have it that I have the second sight, like my granny before me. I believe I do. I can read handwriting. And tea-leaves. But I truly believe that such readings are in the realm of psychology, reading the eyes, the face, the body language, the walk. Most are awestruck at my ability. I've predicted a few nasty events, to the point where I stopped handwriting analysis, too much is revealed in the flourishes, the upsweeps, the downturns, of someome's psychic condition. I don't want to know if an inherent carelessness results in a bad accident. Or too vulnerable a core results in a suicide. (Yes, these and more actually happened).

Someone I met recently had such pain in her eyes I speculated privately about the depth of it. Today, at a book club meeting, she briefly referred to a horrific marriage years ago that left her and her four, now adult, children scarred and damaged. I nodded internally.

After the meeting she came over to me and said: "I've known you in some other life, I knew your name before you even spoke it for the first time, do you think that's freaky?"

"No," I said, "For I've known all about you too."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Post Office Conversation

We have an odd arrangement for postal services in my wee outport. Some families receive delivery to their homes, other, 'newer' (from fifty years ago and sooner) families have to go to their designated PO Box inside the post office and use a key to retrieve theirs.

All well and good, one might say. Except the sole post office master also runs the hardware, grocery and gas divisions of the store and has to go across the street to his house for housekeeping reasons and shut up shop many times during the day, without notice.

His hours are mysterious and unposted on his door. He is often spotted behind the counter cutting up vegetables for his dinner on top of outgoing post. And slicing cheese for sale in the shop with no protective gloves, hairnet or sanitized surface.

I could write a comedy about the post office. But I have to live here after all. But to gutsplitting laughter I have performed a skit for a few close friends on how it all operates. I won't even start in on telling you now how the post office became computerized. That is an entire post by itself.

Yesterday I go to pick up my mail and as usual the flyers are jammed into my box and the legitimate mail has barely enough room to fit. On top of this there is the baffling card ("parcel behind the counter for you!") which I hand to Peter (not his real name). His tongue finds his cheek as he puzzles the card and he looks under the counter, over the counter, into a box full of how many unfortunates', and possibly long dead addressees', mail.

"Don't see it", he says to me.

"Well I did receive one parcel in the mailbox" I say to him helpfully.

"Let me see that," he says.

I hand it over.

"Ah that's it!" he says, fussing with his computer.

"How do you know there aren't two parcels?" I say. I have long since developed an enormous tolerance for the weird happenings in my post office. I no longer wear my Big City Girl Pants. And notice how I haven't even gotten into outgoing mail challenges have I?

"A good guess." he says, leaving me wondering when I will get the call that he found the carded parcel.

"Look Peter," I say as I leave, "You must be forgetting. I don't want the flyers, they cram my mailbox, I don't read them and the paper is too shiny to burn in the woodstove so they end up in the trash. I just hate the waste and...."

"You keep asking about that," he says, "For years now."

"And you keep saying you will take care of it. I know you're busy...is there anyone else I can call about this, like head office?"

"Ah, no, no, don't do that. I'll take care of it."

"If you don't mind me asking, what do you have to do to stop it going into my mailbox?"

"It's simple really," Peter leans over the counter confidentially.

"I'm all ears!" I smile.

"I put a red sticker on the backside of your mailbox for the postal guy to see and he knows not to deliver the flyers."

"Could I help you then? Could I go into the room and put the red sticker on for you?"

"I wish it were that simple, girl. I really do."

"You mean I can't go back there, like rules are rules?"

"No, I ran out of red stickers a while back."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Concessions - Part Two

See Concessions - Part One here.

I love the little vanities observed in others. Particularly in women who are old enough to be my mother. I have one friend, not a shred of make-up visible on her face, hair au naturel, and her nails are always long and exquisitely polished in pearly pink.

I think I had my nails 'done' about five times in my life. A complete waste of time and money. They are chipped and sorry looking within about ten minutes of having them professionally manicured. I don't know how that happens and I'm at the stage where I don't care. Sweet concession. But I've always begged to ask: why does anyone bother?

I think one of the big concessions for me is driving. I can drive. I can drive at night. But oh boy, rain or fog or snow at night has me in panic attack mode. Reflections piercing the eyeballs. Those new blinding halogen headlights on cars. Speeding trucks pitching filthy water/ice on my windshield, legitimate fear of hydro-planing on the highway, accidents, the odd deranged moose venturing forth in the darkness, all of the above makes me white-knuckle the steering wheel.

Not good.

I think I'll be bunking with friends in town on such nights in future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Precious Moments

Daughter is here for a week and we have been spending time together, talking books and politics in front of the fire, hosting a large gathering at our Nollaig na Mban and touring around the Irish Loop to give her the feel of the place in winter time. Today, we caught the lavender sunset in Renews, pictured above. Such sights can leave one speechless. And we were.

It was a biting cold day with a dazzling sky. I caught the waves hitting the shore with a lone bird overhead in this photo taken in St. Shott's earlier.

Back to the routine on Wednesday but right now it is lovely to be out of it with my precious daughter by my side.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Concessions - Part One

Concessions to ageing that is. They slither in unannounced. Subtle changes, small accommodations. I resent some of them. I hate slowing down. But I find I have to. I've always walked fast, showered quickly, tossed the wet hair into a wash and wear shape and proceeded with my day.

I am more careful now. Ever since falling out of the tub and cracking my head off the sink I learn to be cautious. To hold on to something. To think about where my feet are going. It adds a couple of minutes right there. I eat breakfast. I had to train myself to do that as I never used to. I find I function much better with porridge or oatbran inside me. And I read the paper. Including the obits. Over the breakfast. And I meditate. And sometimes I will journal. And there's another couple of hours gone right there.

I find I get lost in my thoughts sometimes. Another concession. For I lose the odd word here and there and have to mentally flip through the internal file labels and extract the word. Sometimes it lurks hidden, misfiled. But it emerges later when I don't expect it. And I love getting lost in my thoughts.

What are you thinking about ?

Hawthorn and primroses and bluebells. In spring in Ireland. Was there ever such a scent in a boreen?

Innocuous thoughts as you can see. But lovely.

I never had the time to do that.

And then I plan lunch and dinner if I'm not going out. And there's always the phone. And this blog. And answering emails and often a bit of snail mail which I love (notice the increase in snail mail lately?) And a walk on the shore with Ansa. And some writing and some reading. And by the time I get really rolling into the day it is nearly over.

And I think, what did I do today? as I pick up my book or my knitting. And I look back and wonder how I ever managed with a full time high pressure job and the kids and the house and the animals.

And I ask myself what was that all about and why was it all so complicated and important?

And how easy it is today as some concessions are truly wonderful.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Sometimes in Winter

I've always loved the unusual music and lyrics of Blood, Sweat and Tears since they first charmed my eardrums in my early twenties (Note to self: NO, seriously, that long ago?) and this is one my favourites of theirs. I've never found it sad, as one might expect, but quite uplifting.

"Sometimes In Winter"
(Steve Katz)

Sometimes in Winter
I gaze into the streets
And walk through snow and city sleet
Behind your room

Sometimes in Winter
Forgotten memories
Remember you behind the trees
With leaves that cried

By the window once I waited for you
Laughing slightly you would run
Trees alone would shield us in the meadow
Makin' love in the evening sun

Now you're gone girl
And the lamp posts call your name
I can hear, them
In the spring of frozen rain
Now you're gone girl
And the time's slowed down till dawn
It's a cold room and the walls ask
Where you've gone

Sometimes In Winter
I love you when the good times
Seem like mem'ries int he spring
That never came

Sometimes In Winter
I wish the empty streets
Would fill with laughter from the tears
That ease my pain

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Cast Parties and Nollaig na Mban

My heavens, (said she in ladylike fashion) my post on Nollaig na Mban has just about gone viral.

Just in time, say I, as I am planning my NM event here for January 15th (next Sunday) when Daughter is here. Tomorrow (8th) I have the cast (and crew) of my play here for lunch. Marvellous times are ahead for us all, we are black and blue from pinching ourselves, and we need to nail all further rehearsal times down, prepare for fresh debuts and sort out far flung travel arrangements, etc. More on that later.

Needless to mention all this cleanup and reorganization of my home has paid off in droves. Dark secret - one bedroom - in spite of all my good intentions - has become a bit of a catch basin for STUFF.

There hasn't been much time for anything else and Daughter arrives on Tuesday. I am so looking forward to that.

And the cast event tomorrow is icing on the cake. It's extraordinary when you put one foot out into uncharted territory where the footsteps following can take you. And I hadn't a clue when I first conceived this play that it would take me on the best journey of my life. Beyond my wildest dreams.


Friday, January 06, 2012


The wife of a friend makes these miniatures out of her own handmade crocheted lace and satin and sequins. She stiffens the lace in the old fashioned way with sugar. She handed me a little box of them tonight – they look like snowflakes. Along with these there was her home-made molasses bread, a dark fruit cake, marshberry jam and cookies to stagger out her door with. The casual generosity of Newfoundlanders still takes my breath away.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Strange this.
We meet again, a year later.
And it is like we pick
Up the long conversation
Exactly where we left off.

I am old enough
To be your mother.
I know that never stops
Men who are old enough
To father the women
They end up with.

But it stops me.
I can't entertain such thoughts.
But you speak of moving here
And me helping you
With this and that.

And your eyes sparkle
And you tell me things
Did not work out
With that woman in Toronto
And could I read to you.




As you love my voice
And the words I give you.
And then you'll tell me more
About Michael Collins
And I'll tell you more
About how I got here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Great Reorganization

I find I start what I think is a, well, maybe four hour job and a nightmare unfolds slowly before me extending into days.

I am glad I started this now mammoth project early enough as I am entertaining a large crowd twice in the next 10 days. This ahead of the game thing is completely unlike me, as I procrastinate until life is just about unbearable and I am a snarly, bitter mess stuffing everything into closets and under beds at the last minute. Because when I move stuff around there is always piles leftover. As if it birthed more stuff in the middle of the night when I was asleep. I mean if you haul it out to move it to a more appropriate place you should enough room for everything, right? Wrong.

I had wools everywhere. I make anyone else's stash look pathetic in comparison. So now it's all moved to the Seomra Beag (Little Room) and mighty fine it looks on its shelves moved from the main hall. Of course organizing the Little Room meant moving the sewing machine and other temporary shelving, and my antique ironing board given to me by a dear friend when I arrived in Canada first when ironing was de rigeur, pre- permanent press and fashionable wrinkles. The thing weighs a ton but I brought it out here, I couldn't part with it as she has long passed on, dead tragically young in a car accident. Everything I keep seems to have a sentimental attachment.

And I put my little round (heavy, handpainted) table in front of the window with my chair so I could dream and plot what I can do with those wools.

Then books have to be re-sorted and cardboard boxes emptied and contents distributed. So Day 3 and I am still in the process of this mammoth task but actually sensing an ending to it. Which cheers me up intensely and will allow me to focus on menus and guests which I thoroughly enjoy.

And it feels so good. Truly.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Books - 2011

For those interested, see last year's annual book review, listing all the books I read in 2010 and recommendations on the best reads of the year.

I surpassed prior years' totals in sheer book count by reaching 64-1/2 books read in 2011. I didn't quite reach my (to date) unachievable target of 100 books in one year.

The books in BOLD are the ones I rated the very best.

Alone at Sea - John Morris** (why all the irritating footnotes?)
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton****
Daily Coyote - Shreve Stockton****
Three Cups of Tea - Mortenson&Relin
Garcia's Heart - Liam Durcan***
Letter from Point Clear - Dennis McFarland***
How Will I Know? - Sheila O'Flanagan** (irritating cliche of lip chewing used excessively)
No Such Creature - Giles Blunt***
The Other Side of the Story - Marion Keyes***
The Empty Family - Colm Toibin****
Winter's Bone - David Woodrell****
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner **dropped.awful.
The Singing Boy - David McFarland ****
Solar - Ian McEwan****
The Glass Room - Simon Mawry*****
One Day - David Nicholls****
Book of Longing - Leonard Cohen***
The Unseen - Katherine Webb*****
Skippy Dies - Paul Murray**** my, what a BIG book
Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver*****breathtaking
Blackfly Season - Giles Blunt***
By the Time You Read This - Giles Blunt*****could not put down
Where Old Ghosts Meet - Kate Evans**
Trunk Music - Michael Connelly***
Fortune's Rocks - Anita Shreve*****
With No One As Witness - Elizabeth George****another 800 page whopper
There Are Little Kingdoms - Kevin Barry*****brilliant
The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist****
After You'd Gone - Maggie O'Farrell**
The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories - Lisa Moore
A Bird In the House - Margaret Laurence {reading it again, it's so wonderful!}*****
Sister - Rosamund Lupton****
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell****
The Age of Longing - Richard B. Wright****
While I was Gone - Sue Miller****
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery*****
The Hand that First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell***
Natural Order - Brian Francis****
A Virtuous Woman - Kaye Gibbons****
Broken Ground - Jack Hodgins*****
The Good Sister - Drusilla Campbell***
The Forgotten Waltz - Anne Enright****
Before I go to Sleep - S. J. Watson*****
My Lover's Lover - Maggie O'Farrell**
The Birth House - Ami McKay*****
Twenty-Six - Leo McKay Jr.****
Belle Maro - Marshall Godwin**(Unfortunately could have used massive editing)
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay****
Change Baby - June Spence***
The Woefield Poultry Collective - Susan Juby****(funny, funny, funny)
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audry Niffenegger* (remind me not to read her again)
A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton (gee whiz, 1/3 the way through I realized I'd read before :( )
The Murder Room - P.D. James (can't get into it)
Send Them Home Sweating - Vincent Power**
Piece of Work - Laura Zigman* Gah at 1/2 way through.
The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes*****Splendid
Arthur & George - Julian Barnes*****fabulous literature
The Sea Lady - Margaret Drabble(BC)****
Pulse - Julian Barnes****

The Wench is Dead - Colin Dexter***
Life of Pi - Yann Martel(going to try this one again)****
For Love - Sue Miller****

Judas in Kilkenny - Theresa Lennon Blunt***
Diamond - Dawn Rae Downton***
Skin Room - Sara Tilley (not finished so scored a half)

Top Picks

I loved ~
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" which all takes places in an apartment building in Paris and features a precocious 12 year old girl.
"The Sense of an Ending" which was all about memory and how distorted it can be.
"Arthur and George" was gripping. No more can I say without giving major plot points away.
"Solar" and "The Woefield Poetry Collective" had me in tears of laughter.
"The Birth House" was extraordinary and I have just acquired her new novel.
"Unseen" was a recommendation by my 60+years of friendship friend, Helen and I agree with her assessment, a beautiful book.
"The Glass Room" was magical with the main character a house.
"Before I go to Sleep" was unputdownable from beginning to end and also involved memory.

And as always, I would love recommendations from readers out there.