Saturday, January 30, 2016


I give terrific dream analysis though often I find it impossible to decipher my own. This one I did and it still resonates with me days later.

In the dream I was in a room - they're always interesting these rooms, bear no relation to any dwelling I've ever lived in or been in, though sometimes there's a faint familiarity.

At the outset I tell you I don't believe in any form of afterlife and have written extensively about my god-free life so I don't attach any kind of hereafter messages to any dreams I have about dead people.

So this dream: I was housekeeping in this large white room, surrounded by cleaning utensils. I don't housekeep in real life. I keep things sanitary and hygienic but heavy cleaning is Emma's job. So here I am sitting on the floor in this room staring at a vacuum cleaner, wondering about nozzles and power cords when I hear a cough. And I look up and at the doorway is my mother and she has a doll, infant sized, over her shoulder and she's patting it and pointing at it with her other hand. She's silent but insistent I look at it. I get up off the floor, away from the furniture polish and bottles of cleaner and start to walk over to her very slowly, puzzled, saying "Mum, Mum?" over and over. She's smiling but her hands keep moving in the same pattern.

And I wake up suddenly and I'm crying so hard in my loss and grief that it takes me about five minutes to stop and I, the dream expert, breathe in some calm and analyze.

Everyone appearing in a dream is just another aspect of ourselves. And for once, this one's clear as a bell

I can fooster my way round, distracted by the baubles of life and neglect my doll, my creative spirit which needs stroking and care and attention.

And all the promises I made to myself a few months ago about entering more competitions, writing new material, were sucked away by other distractions, some major like the writing workshops I'm giving, others minor like projects in my town and, lawd, editing, editing and editing an anthology (don't ask, unpaid work more's the pity, I was sucked in, my own fault).

So yeah, time to clean house for sure and concentrate on, well, my bliss.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I was cared for through my last catastrophe. Living alone means self-care takes precedence over other-care. I've always believed that. Well, ever since I got a little more mentally healthy back in the day. Once I'm taken care of I can march around and take care of others.

But I couldn't take care of my past challenge. So the fire department of my beautiful town came and took care of me. Fire ladder planked against the house, three of them came and salted my roof and shoveled snow and ice off it. Took pictures even to show me what was happening up there. Made sure I was OK. Then took off in the big red fire truck leaving me oh so relieved. So the waterfall of ice is now gone.

And then my car got stuck in a snowbank, so badly stuck (I was rocking it back and forth which has nearly always worked, but it only ground it in deeper to the snow) so fellahs couldn't push me out. CAA came and winched poor baby on to the road and then, kindness itself, he reversed my car back up the driveway so it would be easier to "take 'er out".

Then my friend came over in his 4X4 and took me over to his house for this fabulous dinner (roast turkey, baked cheesy broccoli, stuffing to die, mounds of roast potatoes, home-made date squares and coconut cream pie). A bunch of us talked late into the night and he then drove me home.

All this transpired in a day. How feelings of hopelessness and questioning of self-coping abilities can be completely turned around by such care and attention. And the knowing of this for the future is priceless.

I passed it on today in very small measure at a farewell lunch for one of our town volunteers who's off to Florida for a while. I made my to-die carrot cake with to-die frosting and put a shrimp ring together from scratch together with my homemade cocktail sauce.

It's good to show care for others.

And it's so good to be cared for.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


'Twas a weird week. Weather. How vulnerable I can be. This is one nasty winter. And my fall from last year is haunting me. Making me afraid. Making out of me a right wimp. Fearful of the ice under the snow. Horrified at the idea of walking down my drive from the garage to the house.

Feeling massively foolish and more than a little old-lady-ish. Disliking myself for not being more fearless, striding out, unworried about breaking bones and subsequently wheelchairing it around alone in my house with the deaf and blind elderdog for company and a port-a-potty in the living room.

All sorts of thoughts intrude: like am I mad to live out in this community. Should I listen to my city friends and move to a senior-friendly apartment by the side of a downtown glorious lake overlooking the ocean and have transit and accessible medical care and OMG a clean and ice-free parking lot to anchor my car and just a few small rooms and theatre nearby and movies and....all I need is for poor old Ansa to die as NO PETS ALLOWED.

See the temporary insanity that overtakes me?

Meanwhile, there are leaks intruding into my house from this massive icejam. You might think you're having a bad day until you look at the back of my house. This frozen waterfall extends all the way from the roofline to the ground. No one has ever seen anything worse out here. And no one has suggestions as to how to manage it. So that's my day. How's yours?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Deserving to be Happy

I've always struggled with this, even as a child. Being happy I mean. I think much of it had to do with the inculcated "vale of tears" philosophy of my Irish RC upbringing. The suspicious questions if I did look happy, given by all around me, teachers, priests, relatives: "And what are you looking so happy about?" as if it were a bad thing, as if I was up to no good. So yeah, happy became a burden, not to be flaunted, hidden away secretly, not talked about - I mean with all that suffering going on in the world, why would you be the one showing off there with your silly smile? Think of the starving orphans, those "Black Babies" in Africa, now wipe that grin off your face.

Shouldn't happiness be our default position in life? Allowing for the timeouts of grief and sadness and disappointment you'd think 90% of our lives should be filled with joy, bliss even. But no. I fight it at times. That old guilt thing again. Life would be better if.....only my knees didn't hurt....I had more health was better.

I was preparing a workshop today, #3 in a series I'm giving. I love this work. It is gratifying to see the large class, to be the encourager, the catalyst, the igniter at times. And I was reviewing and notating last week's homework and I realized how truly happy I was doing this work, loving this work. Not over the moon stuff, but a contentment that this is exactly the kind of life I'm meant to be living. A life that's making me happy.

I was on my occasional library shift yesterday and again, I got swept up in that feeling without being conscious of it then, as I stamped books and chatted with patrons about reading. That yes, this, this is exactly what I should be doing.

And hell, how happy is that?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oh Death, We Know Thy Sting

Many blogs are topicking on death. Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Brian Bedford. It brings it all home, I suppose.

I remember my father when his mother died. He came down for breakfast. He'd had a long night with his mother. He was her favourite, the youngest of six and the only boy.

"My mother died last night," he told us at the table in this dispassionate voice and carried on eating his toast and drinking his tea.

"What are we going to do?" I remember asking him. I felt nothing. She was an odd woman, my paternal granny, though very good to me materially. My mother couldn't stand her, with reason, but that's another story.

"Nothing," he said coldly, "Just go on about your normal business."

I was 14. This was completely at odds with how my mother reacted to her father's death. We children didn't go to the funeral or attend any memorial masses.

It was only years later, when Dad and I would travel together that he would allude to his mother's birthday as it coincided with the times of our vacations.

"My mother would be 110 today," he'd say, offhandedly over the coffee, but I'd catch the tremor in his voice.

And later, if we were walking along or playing our nightly Scrabble game, or he off in the shower I'd hear him singing this song from beginning to end, note perfect, word perfect:

We never talked about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Books of 2015


Previous Book Lists. Scroll down.

(1)The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes(gift)****

(2)Rage Against the Dying - Becky Masterson*****

(3)Fallen - Karin Slaughter not rated, dropped, could not invest myself

(4)Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

(5)Maxine - Claire Wilkshire {BC}****

(6)Boundless - Kathleen Winter*****

(7)Walt - Russell Wangersky***

(8)Lost - Joy Fielding 0

(9)August - Gerard Woodward 0

(10)The Dwelling - Susie Moloney 0

(11)Natasha - David Bezmozgis****

(12)A Place Between the Tides - Harry Thurston**

(13)Sweetland - Michael Crummey*****

(14)Open House - Elizabeth Berg****

(15)The Son of a Certain Woman - Wayne Johnston*****

(16)The Time Between - Karen White*

(17)Home Safe - Elizabeth Berg**1/2

(18)A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole*

(19)The Post Mistress - Sarah Blake 0

(20)A Man Called OVE - Fredrik Backman*****

(21)House Rules - Jodi Picoult*

(22)The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)*

(23)Lila - Marilynne Robinson****

(24)The Freedom in American Songs - Kathleen Winter****

(25)The Rules of Engagement - Anita Brookner*****

(26)The Bulgarian Connection - Fay Weldon 0

(27)Ordinary Mayhem - Victoria Brownworth*

(28)Life Before Man - Margaret Atwood*****

(29)Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain**{BC}

(30)The Ship of Brides - JoJo Moyes***

(31)The Devil You Know - Elisabeth de Mariaffi****

(32)So Beautiful - Ramona Dearing****

(33)Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather(re-read)****

(34)Surfacing - Margaret Attwood (re-read)****

(35)Frances & Bernard - Carlene Bauer*****

(36)Once Upon a Time There was You - Elizabeth Berg***

(37Sweetness in the Belly - Camilla Gibb***

(38)Pearl - Mary Gordon*****

(39)Life with Three Dogs - Abigail Thomas***

(40)The Divine Ryans - Wayne Johnston***

(41)The Daring Ladies of Lowell - Kate Alcott***

(42)The Friday Night Knitting Club - Kate Jacobs**

(43)First Frost - Sarah Addison Allen****

(44)The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt**

(45)The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins***

(46The Year of Fog - Michelle Richmond***

(47)The Invisible Wall - Harry Bernstein****

(48)The Smart One - Jennifer Close****

(49( All is Vanity - Christine Schwartz***

(50)Lost Lake - Sarah Addison Allen**

(51)Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf*****

(52)A God In Ruins - Kate Atkinson*****

(53)Life after Life - Kate Atkinson*****

(54)You May Know Them - Ray Guy***

(55)Somewhere in France{BC} - Jennifer Robson*

(56)The Green Road - Anne Enright*****

(57)The Elegance of the Hedgehog{BC}***** (reread)

(58)The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce (companion book to The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)***

(59)The Summer We Came to Life - Deborah Cloyed 0

(60)Don't Tell the Newfoundlanders - Greg Malone*****

(61)Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson****

(62)Rise & Shine - Anna Quindlen***** (I'm biased)

(63)Nora Webster - Colm Toibin - could not get passed the first 40 pages, tossed. 0

(64)The Time of Crystal Water - Katherine Gosier

(65)The Boy in the Trees - Mary Swan****

(66)The House at Riverton - Kate Morton****

(67)A Paperboy's Story - Kevin Lewis** Oddly clinical for such an emotional memoir.

(68)The Cure for Death by Lightening - Gail Anderson Daugatz**

(69)The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zavin{BC}*****

(70)Saint Maybe - Ann Tyler**** (I think this is a re-read, familiar)

(71)Home - Marilynne Robinson - dropped could not engage

(72)An Imperfect Librarian - Elizabeth Murphy*

(73)Plain Song - Kent Haruf*****

(74)When Will There Be Good News - Kate Atkinson****

The very best, for me ~ unputdownables, with brief comments.

(1)Boundless - Kathleen Winter. A wonderfully written account of her journey to the Northwest Passage and her inner journey to herself. Not to be missed.

(2)Sweetland - Michael Crummey. An amazing novel of one man remaining on a resettled island outport off the coast and refusing to leave. Incredibly constructed. It deserved all the awards and accolades.

(3)Frances and Bernard - Carlene Bauer- wonderfully surprising read. For example: P152: "I am now beginning to see why people marry. It's necessary to have a bulwark against family - to have someone who is not imprisoned in the insanity and yet is close enough to it that his or her observations on the inmate population have the ring of objectivity."

(4)Pearl - Mary Gordon. Beautiful descriptive book that takes place mainly in Dublin. P161: "the demanding grammar of the Irish language." Yes.

(5)Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf. I adore Kent Haruf so definitely prejudiced. Brilliant thoughtful writer.

(6) A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson. P 71 "Teddy wondered if everyone had done well out of the war except for those who fought in it." Brilliant description of deadly warfare in WW2 from the air.

(7)Life after Life - Kate Atkinson. Brilliant.

(8)The Green Road - Anne Enright. P300: "The next morning she wondered what it was she had wanted before she wanted a drink." Beautiful story of a distant mother.

(9)The Elegance of the Hedgehog" - Muriel Banbury. Re-read for book club. Loved it all over again.

(10)The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin. Adored.

(11)A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman. Charming, funny, emotional.

(12)Plain Song - Kent Haruf. Beautiful writing.

Biggest disappointments: "The Girl on the Train" and "Goldfinch" and "Nora Webster"

Also I tend to use books as pure and utter escapism so a non-fiction has to be really engaging before I consider it. Case in point for last year was "Boundless" and also "Don't Tell the Newfoundlanders." I read squadrons of "self-improvement" tomes for years until I came to the realization that every journey is unique and we self-improve (or not) as we toddle along. We all write our own stories.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Wild East

There are many charms to living out here on the Edge of the Atlantic.

A week can't go by without fish or meat or a pot of stew or some baking being dropped off. And you try not to mention some lack or a problem in your life because it will be fixed, stat. And I'd be beholden, you know?

For instance, I whined about my old office chair a month or so ago, it was literally falling apart, I had replaced it with a $200+ new one a couple of years ago which crunched its own wheels out - much like an alligator chewing its own tail off - within 6 months of purchase. I had put the old beat up one in my shed, like you never know, and I was glad when I hauled it out again, though my sad arse was painful every time I rose up off its hard uneven seat and dicey uncertain back. Anyways, a friend picked up a spectacular government disposed beauty in St. John's for $20. I can assure you our politician's butts are well taken care of if they are getting rid of such fine pieces before their time. I'd say originally $400 or thereabouts of our precious tax dollars. Beautiful upholstery. That's what I mean. Newfoundland people are the best on the earth.

A well placed whine can work wonders out here on the Edge.

So here I am upstairs a few days ago folding laundry (one of my more peculiar habits, I fold every dang bit of laundry down to face cloths) when I hear gunshots. Many gunshots. Around my house.

I lurk behind my windows and spot four or five young people in camouflage across the road and down a bit firing into the hills behind my house.

I go out with my arms up. I'm more angry than afraid as Elder Dog has hidden herself, shaking, in a corner with her paws over her eyes.

"Hey, I say, stop it, stop it!"

I know, script fail.

"Wha', wha'?"

They turn as one to look at me.

"You're not supposed to be here," says the leader, shouldering his rifle.

"It's my house,"

"I know, I know that, but your car's not there!"

This all makes sense to Outeasters in a peculiar way, see here, and isn't the first time I've been challenged for not having my car in my very own driveway.

"You frightened the hell out of me!" I say with an edge.

"Oh we're real sorry, miss, real sorry, but it's the only place where we can target practise, we can't go into the woods or over the water or we'll be arrested!"

"But you can fire across a main road and shoot at private property?"

"The only place allowed, miss, sorry we'll pack up now, but where's your car?

"In the garage."

"Funny place to keep a car."
They're serious.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Bless Da Webz and All Who Sail on her.

Thank you Irish Examiner for this photo of a cillini

I was commenting on a friend's FB page, you know how that is. The chat was about all those nameless unbaptized babies buried in remote, separate burial plots all over Ireland. Tossed out like so much rubbish. There are thousands and thousands of such little babies. Read all about it here.

Can you imagine the grief of the parents? The RC church again and its superstitions and exclusions. When anyone says "Oh, it was the times" I always respond with "where was human compassion and charity - or are they just recent evolutionary traits in the human race?"

So well. I mentioned a cillini - a burial plot (if you could call it that) on an island off West Cork, where the unbaptized babies were. A large walled area without a stone or a cross or a sign. Rumour had it there were hundreds of such babies, stillborn, preemies etc. interred there. And some said those born severely handicapped were quietly done away with too. A haunted place for us children who explored it time and time again. These wee innocents were consigned to Limbo for all eternity, punished forever for something they had nothing to do with. Never to be seen by their parents even in the next world, whether heaven or hell. The cruelty of it all still has the power to take my breath away.

One of her other friends, not a friend of mine, came on board in the comments and asked me how he, a life long aficionado and visitor to Baltimore and Sherkin, had never known about this paricular cillini so I drew him a little map showing (roughly) where it was.

Then we got into this lively private conversation about Sherkin and our memories and the old people there and a small boat I would surreptitiously "borrow" and he in his turn did the same thing and the cranky lightkeeper who would chase us away from the lighthouse as he liked to go skinny dipping in Horseshoe Bay, and did I know about the island in WW2. It turns out he's over 80 and still climbing mountains. His age explains how our memories alight around the same people and places (and oh, what characters!) but he was that much older than me that our paths didn't intersect back then.

This webz business, great, yah?

And educational, if you have the fortitude and interest to click on all the links above.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

A Story

Apart from this blog, I haven't been up to much original writing for I don't know how long.

And the other day I made a note when listening to someone talk about a white dress. The note said "white dress wispies." And a long ago day, when I was thirteen, flooded back into my mind as vividly as yesterday. I'll let the story speak for itself, though it probably needs a bit of editing.

A White Dress and Wispies

I was mad with excitement. A distant relative had sent a dress all the way from New York, white with a tiny gold belt. Mummy broke down and let me buy the gold ballet style shoes, known as “Wispies” - they came in fifty colours. My best friend Nuala had ten pairs in every colour under the sun and beyond. I was lucky to get this one magical pair.

A garden party. A final garden party in a huge old country house that was being turned over to the government as some kind of centre. And Daddy, representing local government, was taking me. It was ten miles away and no buses went out there but we were going on our bikes as we didn't own a car yet. We were used to long cycles to the seaside on Sundays when the weather was warm like today. I loved escaping from the house, from Mummy and all the younger ones and the crying baby. It was only afterward, when I was grown and gone, that I reflected on how unfair that was, Daddy escaping, Mummy stuck endlessly with four boys under ten with no relief.

I borrowed Mummy's pale blue angora cardigan with the pearl buttons and wore a pair of white gloves that I'd worn at my confirmation a couple of years ago.
“Pull that hair off your face,” Daddy said irritably before we set off. My long hair was an endless source of annoyance to him. Maybe because he was balding, I couldn't figure it out. So I ran upstairs and took a ribbon out of Mummy's old biscuit tin that housed her treasures. I took a minute to pull my thick hair up and back in a ponytail.

“You'll have a lovely time,” said Mummy at the door, waving us off, the baby on her hip, “Remember your manners!”

After we discreetly parked the bikes outside the main gate and went in, Daddy introduced me to Important People. I had been instructed to say “pleased to meet you,” and shut up. That was easy as I was very busy looking around at all the women in hats. All kinds of hats. And everything matched beautifully. There was champagne and Tanora and four people in a little pavilion playing classical music.

Getting bored very quickly while Daddy made conversation with strangers, I wandered off. I thought I might be the youngest there, for I saw no children. Waiters wandered around with trays, I followed one until he noticed me and handed me a linen napkin and then held out the tray. It was piled with all kinds of tiny delicacies. Hors d'oeuvres they were called - I'd read about them in a book but hadn't a clue how to pronounce it. I loaded down my napkin with morsels and proceeded to pop them one at a time into my mouth. The waiter rolled his eyes at me, I thought it quite rude, and marched off.

I sat down in front of the musicians and polished off the rest of the food. Laughter rolled in waves all about me, the polite meaningless kind. I applauded the musicians when they finished a piece but I was the only one and they ignored me. There was a sudden silence followed by the ringing of a bell and I got up and followed the sound to a dais where there were many officials, all well dressed men, Daddy amongst them.

Keys were being formally handed over to Daddy's boss whom I'd met earlier and then an old book was signed by two of them and a curtain at the back of the dais was pulled aside and the name of the new entity was emblazoned on a huge granite stone, and photographers were flashing bulbs and there was thunderous applause all around. An excitement I didn't feel. Not one bit. I looked around for more trays and spotted one at the back of the crowd with multi-coloured pastries and I charged off and smoothed out my crumpled napkin and helped myself to more than a few of the fresh delicacies.

I was still munching them when I was tapped none too gently on my shoulder.
“Go on! Leave! I'll follow you! Hurry up!” Daddy was very angry.
'You're a disgrace!” he said through tight lips, fastening his bicycle clips to his trousers, “I should never bring you anywhere!”
“What did I do?” I was bewildered, frightened.
“You'd think your mother would take care of you!” he was hissing now, I could tell he was disgusted.
“What's wrong, Daddy?”
“What's right would be more like it,” he climbed on his bike, “The embarrassment, the shame of this!”
“Ride in front of me, for God's sake!” he said as we pulled out on the bikes.

I was shaking but thought to not anger him further. The ride home was the longest I'd ever experienced. His displeasure shot holes in my back.

As soon as we got home he confronted Mummy, shepherding the three of us into the Front Room and slamming the door.

“She's a disgrace, she's a let down, in front of everyone. I'm telling you woman, that's the last time I'll ever be seen with her. I don't know how I can walk back into my office tomorrow. I'll be the talk of the town. And it's all your fault!”

Mummy was white, she was down to stuttering his name, like she always did when he turned on her.

“Turn around!” he said to me, grabbing my arm as if I wouldn't do it fast enough to please him.

“Oh my God!” said Mummy from behind me.

A white dress and my first period.