Friday, December 31, 2021

The Books of 2021

Gosh the reading was way down. Granted I was quite ill for most of 2021 and well, all of 2020. I try and reach a 100 books a year but fail usually. 2021 saw me reading barely 50.  Here's the list, 5 stars were a super read for me. BC is book club. DNF - did not finish, the agony of terrible writing exploding my brain.

For previous years see 

(1) Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent ****

(2) Lying in Wait - Liz Nugent ****

(3) The Abolutist - John Boyne ***

(4) The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett - Annie Lyons ****

(5) Slow Horses - Nicke Heron ***

(6) The Guest Book - Sarah Baker *****

(7) Five Days Gone - Laura Cummings *****

(8) The City of Shadows - Michael Russell *****

(9) Purple Hibiscus - Chimande Ngozi Adiche *****

(10)The Searcher - Tana French **

(11)Eugelia's Daughters - Gerd Brantenberg ***1/2

(12)The Glass Hotel - Emily St.John *****

(13)The Arrangement - Robyn Harding 0

(14)Cruel Acts - Jane Casey ***

(15)Sins of the Mother - Irene Kelly ****

(16)The City in Darkness - Michael Russell ****

(17)The City of Strangers - Michael Russell *****

(18)The Dutch House - Ann Patchett *****

(19)The Old Drift - Nanwel Serpel DNF

(20)A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan DNF

(21)The Night Fire - Michael Connolly ****

(22)The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (re-read for style) *****

(34)A Ghost in the Throat - Doireann Ni Ghriofa *****

(25)The Last Thing he Told me - Laura Dave ***

(26)The City of Lies - Michael Russell ***1/2

(27)The Midnight Library - Matt Haig **

(28)Moon of the Crusted Snow - Waubgeshig Rice ****

(29)Son of a Trickster - Eden Robinson **

(30)Our Darkest Night - Jennifer Robson ***

(31)God is not Great - Christopher Hitchen *****

(32)Local Woman Missing - Mary Kubica *****

(33)The City in Flames - Michael Russell ****

(34)Working the Rock - Frances Rooney *****

(35)The Best Kind of People - Zoe Whittall *****

(36)Memories of a Catholic Childhood - Mary McCarthy re-read *****

(37) The Springs of Affection - Maeve Brennan - *****

(38)Fight Night - Miriam Toews *****

(39)The Last Bookshop in London - Madeline Martin *

(40)Open-hearted - Ann Ingle *****

(41)The Longwinded Lady - Maeve Brennan *****

(42)Being Mortal - Atul Gavande *****

(43)Hostage - Clare Mackintosh ***

(44)Becoming - Michelle Obama {BC} ****

(45)Wintering - Katherine May *****

(46)Anxious People - Fredrick Backman  ***

(47)Born A Crime - Trevor Noah {BC} DNF

(48)Pluck - Donna Morrissey ***

(49)We Don't know Ourselves - Fintan O'Toole (1/2 way through, massive book)*****

(50)The Push - Ashley Audrain - just started.

Monday, December 27, 2021

What Love Looks Like

My old shopping cart, absolutely essential to my hauling groceries into this long-winded building, gave up the ghost on the day before Christmas Eve. It owed me nothing, I bought it when I moved in here 4 years ago for $10 at the Thrift Store. I think the shopping clerk took another $5 off the prices as it had a strip of duct-tape and a streak of paint adorning it. I mentioned its sad demise, well earned though it was, to Daughter.

Well, lo and behold, when she arrived later on she rolled in with a brand new shopping cart. And casually mentioned the lineup at Canadian Tire for its purchase was over an hour which is what made her late. We are both adverse to any kind of shopping so this was a magnificent act of love.

I am rich in books this season, all carefully selected and beautifully wrapped as we honour the Icelandic tradition of a book exchange, called Jolabokaflod That's a piece of knitting I'm working on on top of it and a gorgeous candle sent by my next door neighbour. The book gifts keep giving and giving and we also wrap ours in tea towels rather than the waste of decorative paper.

We were having such a great family time on Christmas Day that we forgot to take pictures.

I managed two.

This is of the kids' table which has my mother's embroidered table cloth on it. Before she died she managed to embroider a tablecloth for each one of her six children. They are treasured. Niece now has her dad's.

This is of Niece's kitchen as her dad and herself slogged away, carving and serving. Her husband had to work late on Christmas Day.

One of the best gifts I received was Brother (who had inherited my dad's enormous post card collection) giving me the ones I had sent him over the years. I will write more about these later. As Daughter is a hardcore postcardist, she is over the moon with this collection which I will give to her once I get through it and post here about some of the more interesting ones. 

Sending love to my readers and their families. 'Tis the season.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin

Every Christmas Day, for yonks, I play this album. It's playing now on my old fashioned Ipod hosting 6,000 of my favourite songs and bits and pieces, resisting the urge of all to convert to Spotify. Not yet.

Here's the album in case you'd like to enjoy The Chieftains too. "Rebel Jesus" is one of my favourite tracks. How on earth did the Christian world manage to pervert his message?

We have a lovely day planned with many of my family here to celebrate. With utmost caution as The Plague is manifesting itself here, so much so, that the testing lineups were miles long yesterday, Christmas Eve. Alarming so many thinking they need testing in our quiet backwater on The Edge.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing: Stay safe and warm in the cooler climes like here, and cool in the hotter climes of this world.

See you at the other side.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Hard Call

Leo at work, way back.

There were several messages from his family. 

Leo is in hospital, he'd going into palliative care today, please call him, he's talking about you and loves you and wants to hear your voice.

Leo worked for me for many, many years when I had the house around the bay.

I wrote about him a few times.

You can read the pieces here

So I braced myself and after many attempts reached him.

And he sounded frightened and sad and mixed up. But knew me right away. He knew I would call, he told his siblings. 

He doesn't know he's dying. The lad (as we call the Big C in Ireland) is everywhere. His whole body. He knows he'll be in hospital until after Christmas. He says I've never been sick a day in my life. I never take an aspirin even. But you said the smoking would get me. Has it got me?

Remember Leo, I say, how you did such a fine job on my wood? How you took care of my wood stove? How you made me turkey soup? Remember how you took care of Ansa when I was away? Remember how we played cards? 

We were very good to each other, Leo. You were a very good friend and worker.

When I get out of here we'll see each other, won't we?

Of course, I say.

For there is nothing left to say.

I wrote this many years ago.

For Leo and all the Leos of the World

Sometimes my heart breaks, just a little bit.
And I don’t know why that is or where that comes from.
I see him mowing and chopping and planting
And stacking and reaping, picking up sticks from my lawn
Gathering the golden brown leaves of the tired summer trees
Making straight lines along the wondrous green of the grass
Like himself, for he walks so straight, like a military man.
He makes me giggle sometimes over silly stuff.
He gathers up things from the shore that I might like.
Old keys, glass bottles, multi-coloured feathers, odd bits of driftwood,
And presents them to me like the priceless gifts that they are.
He’s very clear and direct. He knows his likes and dislikes.
And announces them without apology or humility.
He knows he had a bad accident when just a lad.
That affected his brain forever and ever.
A wondrous twelve year old in the body of a fifty-eight year old.
He tells me he likes me very much
And that he loves working for me
As I treat him fair and don’t torment him like others do.
He treats my welfare like his own, fixing things,
Working things out patiently as I watch, learning his patience.
I treat his welfare like my own, feeling his hurts,
Watching out for others’ thoughtless cruelties.

I can't stop crying.

Sunday, December 19, 2021


Sunrise from my window a few mornings ago, the deep crimson red was breathtaking and the phone-photo doesn't quite capture it. That's an owl (my spirit animal) pendant - a gift - on the window. It captures the light and moves a rainbow across my floor every day when the sun shines.

We soldier on. In spite of. Because of.

Or do we? I confess to being absolutely knackered by the latest cases of Covid with one case of Omicron here, contained, but hey. Anybody else feeling a sense of gloom and defeat?

I mean we can sway in the wind from time to time and shrug and carry on and then at others feel like crawling into bed and staying there as The Plague, in all its iterations, takes over the planet and thumbs its nose at us. Even those of us fairly safe with an abundance of caution and the health experts taking control of protocols and not the politicians. Like here in my province, Newfoundland. 

It's not good news out of Ireland and the UK and Ontario, Canada, et al. I haven't checked the US lately, I'm hoping you guys are OK with the New Man in charge. Australia has this abundance of caution thing going as well.

Meanwhile in my country of birth, the prime minister has admitted to being "worried" as Omicron gallops through his country with no end in sight. And old Boris in the UK is folding, it looks like.

So we all agreed yesterday, the writing workshop keeps us going like never before and all the writing is remarkable. It's a great way of losing one's self, immersing in an imaginary plague-free world.

I watched For Life which was on Netflix here. Quite good.

I watched some of the Irish series  Single Handed not bad so far. On Amazon Prime here.  Great views of the old sod and seascapes. For those of you not Irish, turn on CC. The accents come flying at you quickly.

Reading Anxious People (Fredrik Backman) who wrote A Man Called Ove which I loved. It's very unusual. And I'll reserve my review until finished.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Ramble of Thoughts.

We've had one case here of the Omicron. An odd word, I keep spinning it around in various accents but nothing feels right. It sounds like nylon underwear to me. As if it would itch mightily and be tossed in the garbage as "not fit" which is an expression used a lot out here on The Edge. Applied to boats and cars and people in equal measure. The imaginary standard of fitness is never mentioned. Maybe there isn't one. On a divorce: oh he was not fit. On an old boat: she's not fit.

I could write every day here but I think you'd all collapse of chronic boredom. I can write about anything and quickly too.  My thoughts come together on a page but rarely in my mouth. I've had to publicly speak and it's always a challenge so I use cue cards which are helpful.

We have an absolute hoard of my family gathering for this season. Highly unusual as one section is flying in from Costa Rica where they're all basking in their summer right now and will hit our winter wall of snow on arrival and will need to borrow thick pelts of coats and socks and hats and gloves as they don't have any cold clothes. Daughter is coming in from rural and decided to rent a wee AirBnB unit  in the city not far from me before the festivities start at Niece's who has five children between herself and husband. 

We keep the whole thing simple with regard to gifts and do the Icelandic tradition of a book exchange which is far more meaningful. If I've had the time I make stuff too as does Daughter, as does Niece.

Organ recital: Health is on a bit of downswing with regard to energy and BP and congestion so seeing the doc this Friday for a once over. No news from vascular surgeon yet. And leg seems to be healing nicely from skin cancer removal.

Life is full of slivers of joy and downers of mortality. I lost another friend last week. It feels like I'm misplacing these dear ones as they keep popping into my head and have to halt myself from emailing or texting them with bits of news. As if there's s wee chance they might respond from the stardust they are dancing in.

An empty lit up storefront of many in this economic downturn.

The Bell Island Ferry at a rather weird angle going downhill on the ocean.

Where the ferry is headed. Portugal Cove South.
For you trivia nuts, Bell Island was attacked by German U-Boats during WW2.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Nuisance

This little beauty brings me great joy.

One of my father's phrases in later years was: "I try not to be a nuisance."

By that, he meant he tried not to burden his relatives by dropping in unexpectedly and often. He rationed himself out.

Except when it came to me, living in Canada and with him in Ireland. He got into the habit of visiting me for extended stretches of time every summer. A polite and courteous suggestion of shortening his trips was met with "then it wouldn't be worth my while to come."

So, in actual fact, he became a nuisance to his daughter. I forewent my own vacation time to travel around with him as he wanted to see so much like Washington DC, Ottawa, Canada, the Maritimes, Quebec City, Montreal, etc. He was not an easy man or an easy father. Contentious, rigid in his political views and with his Catholicism emanating from his very pores. Along with inbuilt misogyny. He had once told me when I was about sixteen that "your brains are wasted on a girl." 

So our twosomes were fraught with me holding my tongue, incredibly stressful when I look back on our trips. Even worse were the comments from strangers envying the pair of us, "Father and daughter travelling together, oh, I would have given anything to travel with my dad!" I always wanted to reply; "Well, here's mine, have a larf."

Finally one summer, I had a terrible blowup with him in Nova Scotia outside an inn where we were staying where his rudeness to an Australian couple, along with a derision of my chat with a US senator pushed me over the edge. And I thought to myself, "never again am I giving up my time to be insulted and degraded and embarrassed like this." It took many, many years for me to assemble this courage. To actually confront him on his appalling behaviour.

Of course, he had never seen me so enraged as I had rarely stood up to him in the past and never in this white froth of a ten year buildup of repression. No longer would he stay with me for endless weeks.

We remained civil afterwards, and our weekly correspondence continued.  I visited him in Cork, but the most remarkable thing was how he treated me now: with deference and respect. 

The last time I saw him we were staying at a brother's place in West Cork. And as we were all saying goodnight, I went over to him and put my arms around him, he looked so small and diminished in a corner with the family milling about all laughing and joking.

"Good night, daddy," I said, not having called him that in a donkey's age, "I love you."

And true to form, he pursed his lips, and turned away in embarrassment. 

But I think I caught the hint of a tear before he did so.

Just finished this on the fly, a dishcloth, I find enormous peace in knitting.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

This Day

This day rocks and slides around every year. The day in 1969 I gave birth to my second child. The day she was placed in an incubator beside me, I couldn't touch her immediately as her skin was too delicate. In those days there was a long post- natal recuperation in hospital (8-9days) so she was laid out at the end of the nursery beside a huge window, stark naked, below the weak December sun so the Vitamin D could embrace her. Which it did. I read many books and smoked many cigarettes as I recovered. (Smoking in a maternity room sounds impossible now, but yeah, us funky daredevil hippie mothers all did.)

I got to hold her when the sun went down in the first couple of days as I healed and then could go to the nursery and be with her as she sunbathed. It worked. Her skin cleared up.

She was a bright and curious child and when she was in kindergarten she sat me and her father down and asked us seriously if there was a night school she could go to as her days were far too busy for day school. She ran with boys mainly as she found girls far too wishy-washy to her liking as she climbed trees and built a small tree house with the assistance of her far more "proper" older sister. Her seventh birthday, which took place at the Ponderosa Steak House (her choice) had only boys, her gang, in attendance apart from her sister. A cowboy outfit we bought her was worn to shreds on her. She wore her socks with one matching her sweater and one matching her pants or skirt. That made total sense to her. And to me.

She was unique and different and extraordinarily bright with illuminating insights on how the world worked. There was a patch of enormous trouble with her at fourteen when she found drugs and ran with an alarming bunch of teenagers. I didn't deal with it well at the time, I had my own demons. But through Tough Love, a support group for parents which was absolutely fantastically helpful, I began laying down tough rules and curfews and she ran away from home for a few weeks. It was a hellish time, but she did come back (long story), bedraggled and subdued and got back in school and off the drugs, shining in scholarly achievement after the first semester. 

She lived with me, just about, until she was twenty-eight. And subsequently back- emigrated to Ireland.

She is currently in the UK. And about twenty years ago now, cut off her entire blood family and her friends here.

So there is this huge chunk of wandering love chopped right out of all of our lives. I understand that not being a mother herself she has no idea of the pain of loss I and her father suffer. Or her sister and niece. 

It's like missing a limb. And the phantom pains never leave. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021



Wintering is a book by Katherine May which I recently finished.

The blurb sums it up nicely: "The power of rest and retreat in difficult times."

It was fortuitous I read it at this particular time as I gained some new perspective on wintering. The wintering of my life particularly. 

So many here race off to sunnier climes (at least in pre-plague days) avoiding the whole wintering business.

It's a time for being home, for crafting, for making soups and reading and writing for playing music and watching old movies. Embracing a form of hibernation. We've lost touch with all of that. Rising with the sun, bedding down along with it as the day comes to a close.

I was and still am, processing my latest health challenges and this has helped me see life more sharply, through a different pair of spectacles if you will. Hunkering down is OK. Our bodies crave it.

I received this wonderful validation in my email box yesterday from one of the eight people in my weekly writing workshop. It lifted me immeasurably.

M, thank you a million times over for the  magic you are creating in our writing group! I feel so fortunate! So Elated! It;s given me a new confidence and a comfort I haven't felt in my skin for a long time or maybe never! Seeing us all evolving! seeing what B read this week just rendered me speechless. How she evolves! What stories these women carry inside them come to life is the best feeling in the world.

 forever in your debt,

A wee flower in winter on my shelf garden.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Beautiful Words

I called Lana, my friend with Alzheimer's tonight. She was overjoyed as always to hear my voice. And said she adored a card that I had sent her and showed it to everyone and described everything on it to me.

She sounded so alert and close to her old self.

She said she had felt good enough to go back to her old house and to have her car back in her life as driving was her passion. And she explained to her son that her leg was now back to normal, and she was back to normal, so time to go home, right?

She quotes their entire conversation verbatim to me, "Mum," he said to her, "I'm going to be completely honest with you. The problem hasn't been really about your leg. The problem has been your short term memory vanishing."

And on the phone to me she takes an enormous breath and stays silent.

"And," she said, "I had to accept that. I had to absorb that."

And then he said to her, "You will not be leaving here, Mum. This is where you are safe and have no worries."

"And Mum," he added, "I want you to know that as your light dims, my light will shine brighter to brighten up your darkness."

And we both cried.

I still am incredibly moved by these words, the courage and honesty and love behind them. And that they stayed with her so she could repeat them to me.