Cranberry Oatcakes

This is, for some reason, the single-most popular blog post on Box 761. Today seems like a good day to revisit it, and make some delicious Kings County Oatcakes.


This recipe is especially for Silas.

I got the basic recipe from a lovely book called Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale (Nimbus). It’s a nice little book. I bought the book to give to my (step)mother as a gift and well, I started reading it. I’ll get her another copy one of these days.

For this recipe, I actually made a mistake while creating the first batch and it turned out so nicely it’s how I’m going to make it from now on…. the original recipe is called “Pictou County Oatcakes” but I don’t know if Pictou  Co. would accept them, with these changes.

  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar (can reduce to 1/2 cup — I did so on second batch)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening or butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup boiling water

View original post 137 more words

Their tops are made out of rubber/Their bottoms are made out of springs!

There’s a phrase that has been running though my mind lately: count your blessings.  I’ve been feeling as if I turned a corner a while back; I no longer seem to feel like  a delicate little flower, or a victim of something. Nor, really, do I feel like a “survivor” of anything, though  surely I have survived.

It occurs to me that even taking into consideration all of the crap that made up the past 4 or so years, there was a lot of good. So yeah, I can take stock and count my blessings and now that I am on the other side of it I can even fall prey, some days, to the danger of minimizing it all.

So really, it’s a matter of perception. What angle I feel like looking at it from?  Is it really that simple?

Yes it is, and… No, it’s not. Sometimes stuff is just crappy, and it was. My daughter was in chronic unrelenting pain. Neither of us had any sleep; the help from the community was sporadic and often counter productive (though my friends were and are amazing), and it didn’t matter what I did, I could not take her pain away.  That was awful. It was awful that we tried so many things, and although things are way better now, I am not even sure what worked and what didn’t.

Time, I think, helped. Time healed and soothed some of her angry nerves, and time allowed us to heal our emotional hurts and to quell our fear. Time allowed her to wean herself from a grossly toxic, close-to-irresponsibly-prescribed massive cocktail of drugs that would fell a person twice her size. Time allowed us finally to sleep, to heal in that primal way that only sleep can do.

It hasn’t entirely stopped me from feeling helpless sometimes, though it did allow me to create a situation where there are other people on the front lines of it all – something that helps soothe that worry that I can’t do it all. (Time has also shown me how jaw-droppingly stupid it is to think that anyone can do it all. Jeez, the ego involved in that little martyrdom story is something I don’t feel like exploring overmuch.)

Recently my amazing daughter (the eldest, not the younger, who is equally amazing) gave a speech at a panel discussion  where she talked about what it’s like to be a 22-year old woman living in a nursing home. It was so very well done – delivered with  eloquence and clarity, and not a little humour.  She was talking about what it feels like to be a sort of “one-off”:

tigger 3“I’m kind of like Tigger… Yay I’m the only one!

and then some days I think…

Oh. I’m the only one.

Gawd. The pathos in that last little sentence, with it’s little hiccupping skip of self-recognition…. I will not sugarcoat it. It brought me to tears that after all she’s been through (and make no mistake – it was always way worse than what I was going through trying to “fix” it) that she has found a home, but it is one in which she still sometimes feels like she’s a sort of one-of-a-kind.

She wants what we all want – community, and belonging, and a home. She doesn’t want to be in a home but rather wants to make a home, just like all of us do. She’s getting there – she has shown a gift for making connections with people, and she has undeniable charisma that helps her to make new friends easily. In the inventory that is her life, the stock on her shelves is undeniably one-of-a-kind, and all the more precious for that.

One thing I’ve done in the past year or so is to start to learn to be still. To stop… bouncing (to continue the Tigger metaphor).  Being still, for real – not just wanting to be still, or having a pious pretence of stillness, but a real honest to goodness attempt to stop has helped. I have the incredible luxury of having the time and space to  find that quiet inside me; I do wish that I’d been able to do so  a few years ago, but the sheer volume of *noise* inside my head made it too hard. It will be, I think, a lifetime’s work – to find that stillness, and to embrace it. Once you’re still, you see that there is a universe of blessings to count. I promise – just try it.

I think, too, that the stillness I seek is not entirely there yet –  it’s the process of listening to the swirling in my head, to acknowledge it, and embrace it, that brings it closer. That is what quiets it. Acceptance of the messy noisiness of it all – acceptance of the fears and random tantrums and (here’s the hard one – the joy).

same sad story

serendipitously found platitude

It may be as simple as finding blessings to count. I’ve made a bit of a fetish lately of recognizing the beauty in small things and rejoicing in it.  I’m smelling roses (and peonies and hyacinths and dirt and wet doggy and the wondrous food in my kitchen). I’m just embracing it all, or trying to. When I get caught up in bullshit that really doesn’t matter, I forget that in the grand scheme of it all, I am just a small Tigger, trying to make my way, and that I can choose to be happy that I’m the only one, or I can be… well, sad that I’m the only one.

I can choose to be happy, or not.

What I know is that I keep learning things from my daughters – my brave, lovely, resilient daughters. They are their very own individually perfect fierce bouncy Tiggers, and they are beautiful for it.  They are indeed what I count as my most blessed blessings, and it is from them that I learn to be still, and to bounce.

So what’s next? Dunno. But for the first time in a long while, I’m kind of excited to see. I’m interested to see how (re)learning to count my blessings is going to change things. I believe quite strongly that by concentrating on different things, by taking the time to learn how to be mindful, I am altering myself in profound ways. I am mindful, too, that to get to this point I had to go through all that other stuff.

I am not going to say it was a blessing that my loved ones were in pain, or that my being reduced to a fearful ball of raw nerves was a good thing. From this side of it, I most fervently suggest that it was awful and I wish it hadn’t happened, but I do see the irons forged in that fire, and I warm my hands on the embers that remain.

I started this post by saying I don’t feel like a survivor, and that is the case. I say this because really, what did I survive? Life?  Life isn’t easy, nor fair, nor is there a grand plan. I take pleasure in that knowledge now, because I have figured out that trick – to be still and reduce the noise. I’ve figured out that taking stock is necessary, but that silence is almost a necessary component, in order to allow for the counting. When you’re doing it on the fly, you lose count, lose track, become distracted. When you can take a deep breath, a moment is all you need to help you bounce back.

And that’s the most wonderful thing about Tiggers – they bounce.

The blog is dead. Long live the blog.

The other day someone said to me that  “most folks don’t read blogs, but that’s okay.”

No, I don’t think it is.

My husband writes the very funny and very illuminating Justdfacsmaam blog, a look at the d-facs (dining facilities) on Kandahar Air Field. He has managed, for three years, to find funny, sweet, angry, smart, slightly bitter and fascinating things to say about the food over there and I think that is more because he is himself funny, sweet, angry, smart, slightly bitter and fascinating than it is because there’s anything intrinsically interesting about, say, chicken ass.

He could write about anything in a blog, and I would read it – because he’s good at it. I’m learning about his world when he’s away from me, and he’s communicating with hundreds (thousands?) of people though it. If I called him every day and asked “how was your day?” I wouldn’t get this level of detail, or the weird immediacy that comes from a focused blog post written in the heat of the moment.

When I started this blog, it was a way to send him letters from home, in a way. I started it off with a couple posts about how much I love him. We don’t write letters, and although we write emails all the time, they aren’t what they used to be. We skype now, instead of writing long missives, or text, or “like” one another’s facebook posts…

Sigh. I don’t even write a journal anymore. I wrote tons of drivel into my journals as a young woman, and though they were private and nobody every looked at them (that I know of) the writing of it served a very good purpose. Self-therapy, problem solving, facilty with language, exploration… all of it was eased into being by the writing-down-of-it all.

For years I’ve been posting photos of food I’ve made on Facebook; every once in a while I put some up here on the blog, but always seems too… what, formal? I like that it’s immediate on FB, that I don’t have to write a lot about it, or sit at my laptop – I usually just post it from my phone. But it occurs to me that I should put it up here too, for a few reasons – several people just mentioned it to me, and I feel like FB may be going downhill fast. Do you feel it? The slow rise to almost obscene amounts of kitty cat videos and Takei memes, the increasing number of ways to muddy up what used to be a fairly simple interface?

What’s starting to take precedence is the convenience of the medium, not the message? I must want convenience, so Twitter would make perfect sense, right?  But I have never really cottoned to twitter, though I have an account (@box761) and use it sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like my medium. I really just use it when I’m on the road and don’t have wifi, or if I want what I’ve blogged to show up on Facebook. When I use Twitter on my iPad I really like the interface, but on my laptop it seems stupid and at the wrong speed – like,  driving somewhere to go for a walk.

I found this using the “next blog” button.

I like blogs. I really like them. Sometimes when I have too much time on my hands I go to blogspot and just keep hitting the “next blog” button to see what comes up… I could spend all day down that rabbit hole. It’s a good way to see into people’s lives without having to, you know, talk to anyone. I like that anyone can write an autobiography now; it’s not just something “important” people can do. Anyone can, and does. I love it. I also like taking walks at dusk because you can see in people’s houses – I’m not a voyeur, really, it’s just that I really like knowing how people construct their lives. I like seeing who hangs their pictures too high over the sofa, and who prefers ambient light to overhead, and who’s watching tv at 6 pm. I like hearing them chatter out back if the weather’s nice and I like waving as I go by if they see me passing.

I know that people who don’t know me might come across Box 761 and wonder what the hell I’m doing, writing about my dinner, and my dogs and death and how much I adore my husband. Hell, even people I do know might wonder why I do it. Maybe I’m writing you all letters. Maybe I’m trying to make sure that we know one another when we meet on the street; we’ll know that my cat died or that I had cranberry oatcakes or that you went back to school or ate chicken ass in Kandahar. It’s all about knowing each other, even if we’re strangers.

I’m not sure, really, but this medium feels just my speed. It feels sufficiently old school that I don’t have to rush, it’s largely narrative but has the added benefit of being able to link, and illustrate on the side. Some days I want to writea bout things that I think are really important – it’s vital that I write it down. Those days, I don’t care that “most folks don’t read blogs” because it’s the writing that’s important to me.  Catharsis?  Other days I really want to share – look what I did/made/saw/read!  Those days it’s like talking to a friend; the unhurried sort of conversation we all had before we got so frigging busy and old and interested in our phones. The only time my blog doesn’t “work” for me is when I’m trying to get people to read it. Those times I’m inauthentic and ingenuous and I pander.

Meh. sometimes the lure of site stats is too irresistible.

“My friends all think that I should go into English because I’m so good a [sic] trivial pursuit. I don’t know, something artsy anyway.”

When we were going through my father’s things after he died, we found file folders full of cards and letters, old business cards and little bits of paper. Each child had a folder – he’d kept it all. Letters I’d written to him at 13, bitter funny letters about highschool, letters asking for money, apologizing for things… There was a crazy amount of stuff there, and I couldn’t really even remember writing most of them. They were lovely and embarrassing and so while not more “real” than the texts I receive from my daughter (you can fit a lot of nuance in 160 characters), they are more lasting.

I shredded most of those letters – the nature of the relationship was that many of them were angry-young-woman letters and they did not travel through the decades well. What I’m left with, though, was a lingering feeling that we were closer than I remember and that if in the intervening years we became more distant it might be in part because I stopped writing those letters….  Communication methods changed – I emailed, I phoned, I wrote cards on birthdays and when he was ill, but no more letters.  In the late ’80’s – enraptured by the technology – I faxed a few.

My mother did the same – I have a small cache of letters I’d sent her that she’d saved, and cards she received at my birth and kept.

Sadly, I don’t really have that much for my kids to find, filed away once I’m gone – they’re digital babies and all the information is either on the hard drive of my laptop, in old floppies and flash drives and vhs tapes, or ephemera – texts and emails and “likes” on Facebook. I have saved things, of course, but there just isn’t as much.

What I liked about those ridiculous letters – my juvenilia, such as it is – was that they were about the day-to-day, not just historic events. They were full of details about normal, ordinary things. They were chatty and authentic and guileless.  I remember being genuinely annoyed when stamps went up to 17 cents. Outrageous! Yesterday I went into the post office to send a card to a relative in Georgia (hey Ruth!) and I didn’t even know how much a stamp would cost! ($1.29 CAD, btw…. more outrage!)

I’m most emphatically not a luddite. I am usually an early adopter of new technology, and I tend to absorb it into my daily life fairly quickly. Perhaps I’ve done so a bit too quickly…. when a blog feels old schoolit means I may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

letters to/from parents

When I’m talking about writing but the word “technology” comes out as a synonym, there might be a problem. I adore my ebooks.  I am eagerly awaiting the chip in my head that will make reading as simple as, say, wiggling my nose like Samantha on Bewitched.

But I also like paper. I like paper books, and paper letters and photos that are printed out onto… paper. I love it all. I like stuff I can hold in my hands, stuff that feels silky, or crackly, or musty. I like it all, because I love the act that engendered it – all of these people, leaving bits of themselves on paper for anyone to read and see them… it doesn’t get much better than that.

I want to write more letters. I want to get more letters. I have a childhood friend who isn’t on Facebook, doesn’t read blogs, isn’t on twitter, and frowns on letters that aren’t handwritten. I don’t think I’ll go that far, because it’s well… kind of annoying. I find writing letters to him feels like I’m repeating myself, because there’s so much back-story that I have to write, because he missed my most recent fb status update.

I’m also going to keep reading blogs, and writing them. There are some days when I read a blog and it feels like commenting is too time consuming. Really? What am I, the Queen?
I will reconsider my sloth, and consider the price of entry a comment that shows I see their bid, and raise it. Let’s see what we’ve all got in our hands, eh?

What’s written in blogs isn’t always of import, but it’s almost always important.  People are writing letters out to the world. Anyone could find it, and read it – they could walk by and see if my tv is on, or what kind of art I have hung (at just the right height) on my walls. Sometimes, though, it is of import – it’s life and death out there, it’s loss and fear and a place to say all those things we can’t write in letters any more because well, we don’t write them.

Blogs like this and this and this and this are out there. This one’s even about letter writing, how can you resist? 

Read them, people.

Let’s all keep in touch a bit more, shall we? I’m going to make the effort to write more comments, and connect. I might even print out ones I like, so they don’t get lost. I can’t leave my kids my WordPress subscription list, or my bookmark files, can I?

Embracing the mess

We all start a new year with good intentions. I’m not silly enough to make resolutions as such, but if I’m being honest I was kind of keeping a quiet internal list; as if silent wishes would make me less cranky, slimmer, more focused….

I’ve kept it all on the down low, as if speaking them out loud would jinx it.

Shoot. Now I’ve gone and let it out, and ruined it.

Actually, I haven’t. Because that’s silly.

In moments of sloppy thinking, I do tend to think that wishes will indeed make it so, and I forget that change is hard. That it takes work.  It’s not as simple as wishing, is it? I was taking stock of my past year the other day and realized that my first order of  business is to

Am I empty or full? Depends on the day.

move away from stock-taking and move toward, um, stock-making.

All this past year I’ve been trying to hold myself so still; to hold my life… still, just long enough for me to catch a breath and see what I’ve got. It was a veiled attempt at control, I think.

Total control would mean no anxiety, right? Control would mean that everything is where and how I need it to be, right?

But control isn’t the point. Control isn’t good, not the way I seem to be leaning, anyway. That way lies more  anxiety, more  useless joylessness. I forgot that stock-taking wasn’t actually ever the point, right? The point is to create more stock – to have something to see when I look.

So, it’s not a resolution, but I do have a plan: I want to stop trying to keep everything still. What’s the point in that? I want to learn to move with the flow of it all, to just get on with it instead of treating my self and my life as if they are anything other than mutable, shifting and gorgeously complex.

Here, then, is to messiness and a tiny bit of drama. To not taking it all so seriously, and to having some big laughs, some tears, and to falling down and getting back up. Here’s to love and shiny things and yes, to deep quiet moments when I can look at it and think:  I made that.

Happy New Year, all.

(credit where it’s due: the fabulous after-party image courtesy of one of my new fave new blogs:

Rainy Day Sarajevo

I love this city. We wandered all over the Old Town, and figured out how to ride the trams (hint – don’t bother buying a ticket, just get on; that’s what everyone else does here). We drank strong lovely foamy coffee in tiny cups, and ate gelato and meat pies and today had the best pizza ever… we are just across the Adriatic from Italy, after all….

I bought a book called Goodbye Sarajevo – written by two sisters who were 12 and 18 when the war started. After walking the city for a few days, it was a perfect read, because all of a sudden the streetscapes she described to me were familiar, and the true horror and surreality of a war here a mere 15 years ago hit me in full.

Today we went to the History Museum which had an excellent permanent exhibition about the Sarajevo Seige. I’m finding all of this fascinating and chilling and just somehow incomprehensible. The people we see on the street – teenagers – were alive during that war! I can barely understand, but we are surrounded by the reminders of it: bullet holes in buildings, facades chipped and weary, and more disabled people than I’ve seen in a while – wheelchairs are fairly common to see (note to self – if I want to take daughter on a trip, a recovering war zone is a good bet for access ramps).

outside of the History Museum of BiH. Left, I think, intentionally bullet-ridden.

When we were coming in on the plane a few days ago, our seatmate was a young German woman working on the readying of Bosnia-Herzogovina to enter the EU. She flies in once a month, so had lots of little tips (don’t pay more than 15 KM (Konvertible Marks) for a ride from the airport…. one thing that she told us was that we’d see a lot of houses with beautiful landscaping but horrible facades – all still wrecked and pock-marked. This is because if your house is still in need of cosmetic fix, you don’t have to pay taxes. If you fix the outside, then you have to pay…

It has rained all day. We are cheery about it, but wandering the streets in the rain eventually loses its appeal. We came “home” for a siesta and are getting ready to go to a swanky restaurant that Bono goes to every time he’s in town, apparently…. Too bad, Brad and Angelina were here last month. We’ve been eating Bosnian fast food, so this is out fancy pants outing.

I think it's the milk run... hopefully the scenery and people are fun!

Tomorrow, we’re off to Dubrovnik. We could have paid a taxi to take us, probably, but we chose to instead take a bus. It’s not that far, but will apparently take 7 hours. We leave early in the morning and get there at around 2 pm, so we’ll still have lots of time to get into out apartment that we’ve rented for a couple of days, and then do some exploring. Odds are we’ll want to stretch our legs after 7 hours on a bus!

We are weirdly anticipatory about this. Considering it takes almost as long to take the bus from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik as it did to fly from Toronto to Sarajevo, it had better be amusing…..

We’re having a terrific time. It’s only Tuesday and I feel at least a week-rested. We’re working at not having set schedules, and learning to just wander, and to sit and sip coffee/beer/wine when the mood strikes us. More photos on Facebook, here.

Um, 761 pardons and a road trip….

Hey all. I took a break there. I think I’m back… I just had a few things to take care of.

Today I’m leaving for lovely Prince Edward Island. It’s just a two day trip; if it were a

That's SO much like us, it's scary

movie it would be a mash up of Thelma & Louise and “Driving Miss Christy”… it’s a girl power road trip and a drive to accompany my friend Christy Ann Conlin, who is giving a reading, visiting a book club, and delivering a workshop (yeah, in two days… whew!).

Christy Ann is the author of the amazing Heave… a book I’ve read more than once. I loved it the first time, but love it more and more each time I read it. I’ve given it to countless friends and family members and urge total strangers to read it. It’s funny and heartbreaking and gritty and sparkly and wise. I know that girl, Seraphina (and I’m pretty sure we drank together back in the 80’s), and I am eagerly awaiting the next tour de force from Thelma er, Christy Ann. Here’s her page on Amazon — you should go there and buy her books. Her chilling Dead Time freaked me out a bit, I have to say – made me look askance at my teenage daughters, briefly. Christy Ann has a gift with finding the truth in characters, and showing it so lovingly, and so honestly, that you can’t help but think they might bump into you on a walk downtown. Pay attention to what they say and do, you will be happy you did.

As far as this trip goes, I am merely going along for the ride, and will be wandering about downtown Charlottetown, and visiting with an old friend I haven’t seen since grad school (thank you, Facebook!). I am really looking forward to this trip — it has been a while since I was footloose.

I’ve left my children in the charge of the most efficient and competent (and funny) woman I know. I have no worries at all. This makes me happy.

Will write more later.

Tonight’s event is from 8-10 at

DB Brickhouse (former Off Broadway)

Sydney Street
Charlottetown, PE

Beignets and coffee, shrimp and grits

Hi all.

I haven’t disappeared. I’m just relaxing, on holiday in New Orleans. We got here at the perfect time…. This week has been a pocket of loveliness, with weather in the high 60s to mid-70s range. The crowds were minimal, until yesterday, when the parades started for Mardi Gras.

So, we’ve kind of felt like we had the place to ourselves, which has been terrific. Today, our last day here, we are going to have some relaxed breakfast, a relaxed last wandering-about, and then off to visit family.

A fairly perfect holiday week, really. I miss My kids, and wish Mr. 761 were here, but other than that, it is perfect.

Home early next week, but posting may take a few days while I take care of business.

Any ideas for ideal holiday trips? This one worked out so well, I am determined to do more of these. Its especially pleasing to be just a bit off-season, too.

Ideas and suggestions? Please add to comments section.

Essential. Accessible. Whatever.

With some trepidation I chose today to watch the Hunger Games online — live video feed plus chat (moderated by Hannah Classen and Brian Francis).

I was planning on blogging about it today, right after the big event but, well… I painted my bathroom instead. Then I did some laundry, played with the dogs, trolled the internet, you know.

Yeah, it was that interesting.

Good point, Box 761

I found myself distracted by the inane commentary of the live chat — I spent some fascinated moments looking to see what Brian Francis was going to paraphrase; I started sending comments, just to see if they’d post them (see above). It was kind of fun, in a slighty nauseating kind of way.

Worried that I was going to lose some of it. I started cutting and pasting, just so I could go back and enjoy it all later… insightful comments about the whole Canada Reads process like one from a listener/emailer named Aaron, who asked:

What does the winner of this get?

Oh dear.

And really, aside from amusing myself with the online chat stuff, I did listen, really I did. I’ve made this topic a bit of a speciality of the house, these past few months, and I do a lot of thinking about it. Aside from rummaging around  my own big brain, I’ve been finding some bloggers/writers who are writing some pretty interesting stuff about #canadareads lately, as well.

I mentioned the Walrus article in a previous post — essential reading, I think (more on that word, essential, later), and after much quiet out in the Districts (a Hunger Games reference, fyi) people are finally starting to talk. Charlotte Ashley over at Inklings has been writing some really great, funny and honest stuff. Her exasperation is a breath of fresh air.  Bonnie Stewart, social media maven, wrote some great commentary here today in her blog. I like this, and I love the fresh, irreverent… frustration I hear in these voices.  We’re all bookish sorts, we all love writing, reading, reading about writing — all of it. And what I am starting to hear is a sense of loss — where is the respect, the dignity that writing should have?  What is the CBC doing to contribute to meaningful commentary about literature in this country? Is Canada Reads doing it?

Nah. I can’t even go into depth on this one right now. It makes me tired and bores me. I’ve said it over and over again. Watching that train wreck today was like, I dunno… watching a pretend show about books. It was like a sitcom book panel — you had a smart and earnest young woman, a driven “career gal”, a business man, a sports guy (“life is a battle!”), and an Aboriginal actor/director. After an agonizingly long introductory session (with cheesy voiced-over slideshows for those watching online) with awkward speechifying, they finally got to the point in the show where they were supposed to, you know, debate.

I must have nodded off for a moment because the next thing I knew, they were talking about books being “accessible” and “popular” and then some of them seemed to think that the point of the show was to discuss “getting kids reading”…. Nowhere did I hear anyone even attempt to qualify what “essential” means. I’ve been waiting for that for a while now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it continues to go unproblematized. So what if the entire shebang is based on these books being “essential”, right?

In keeping with my interest in the peripheral commentary, I saw the following on Facebook this evening:

"Gateway book"?

I think there’s a whooooooole lot of confusion in that post. (Where do they get their stats, and help me out here — is “semi-illiterate” better or worse than “semi-literate”?) I get what they are trying to say, but it’s a cobbled together mish-mash of ideas that culminates in the Grand-daddy of all concepts.

I refer, of course, to that of the “Gateway Book”.

Holy mother of all things literary, what the heck is that? I have no doubt that the person who wrote that post thought they were making some really valid points. Some of those points were voiced by our celebrity panel earlier today. For some reason, all of a sudden, books aren’t about you know, craft, or art

Books are now about being “accessible” (which I guess in our culture now means “easy”?).  At this point, I would be happy if they went back to talking about “essential” — somehow that’s less offensive to me.  “Accessible” means “easily approached or entered” (according to my quick but hilariously apt google search for a definition).  At least “essential” implies worth of some sort. In my world, “accessible” means that all people are able to access the material, not that the book is easy for “semi-illiterate” people to understand.

I'll bet she's reading Lemire's book right now!

But. um. Gateway book? hee hee. What’s next, reading chapter books? Staying up all hours of the night reading?  OMG, what if they start to read… poetry.  It’s like Reefer Madness, but with words. You know, it seems harmless at first, you let them read a few picture books, some comics, then a graphic novel… then all hell breaks loose — they’re reading everything and don’t care who knows it!

It’s as if writers (and Canada Reads judges) are now the social workers of the reading world. They have to get those kids reading, and it has to be easy, that goes without saying.


Hm. Where was I?

Sorry, so easy to get carried away. There’s almost too much to think about here, and so little time. Tomorrow this will start all over again. We will hear Georges say that life is a battle. We will see Ali Velshi do his thing —  slyly clever schtick-y sound bites that upon reflection don’t actually say much. Debbie Travis — successful mogul Debbie — will continue to slide her eyes down and sideways and tell us how nervous she is. Lorne Cardinal will be thoughtful but not forceful (I almost forgot he was on it for a moment there). Sara Quin will be articulate and free to speak her mind, and flush with the power of being a swing vote.

Who’s going to get kicked off tomorrow? I think they must be going in reverse order, from best book down, so I think Carol Shield’s finely realized and beautiful book Unless will be the next to go (in my mind they were tied for 1st place). I don’t like it, but there you go.  Essex County is a great book, and it made me think about novels and the creative process in ways that many other books haven’t in a long time.

Personally, I’m pretty sure that none of those five books are the “essential” book of the decade. Maybe someday we’ll all have to have a little chat about that — which books we think are essential.

First, lets define essential though, okay?




Brian Francis:

“Haunting connections between the characters…cinematic.” Sara

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Brian Francis



Hannah Classen:

And she didnt’ even need all the time!

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Hannah Classen



Brian Francis:

Lorne’s turn.

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Brian Francis



[Comment From Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers : ]

What does the winner of this get?

Christmas 761

This Christmas feels different than others for a number of reasons. Mr. 761 is still in Kandahar (his third year missing the holidays here with us) and Eldest Daughter 761 is away until the end of the month. It lacks some of the sparkle of earlier years when the kids were young and their delight was so, well, delightful.

I’ve been using that old excuse of “a tree fell on my house” to explain away the lack of  decorations, presents mailed on time, my mood…, and although that’s a really good reason, it’s not the only reason. Even without the 50 foot tree on the house and all the folderol attached to that drama, I’m just not feeling it quite as much as other years.

I didn’t even get a tree this year! I have been known, other years, to have two trees, so that’s pretty significant. Okay, the whole idea of trees kind of annoyed me this year…. one of them FELL on my house after all. Also, there’s no snow, the grass is still green, and I hated the idea of dragging a soggy-from-the-rain tree into the house, getting the tree stand that never quite does the job, doing the lights (Mr. 761’s bailiwick)….

Blah humbug.

BUT. Younger Daughter 761 is here, and is hugely delightful, and we have a new member of our family, Exchange Student 761, from Korea. It’s a bit bittersweet for me, I think, that this will be Erica’s last Christmas living at home. Certainly she’ll come home to visit, but this is her last year living here. I miss her already. Sigh.

oh dear

Much to Exchange Student 761’s confusion, we watched Holiday Inn last night. We can recite most of the lines, know all the songs, and always chuckle when the butler says “I don’t know which way is Connect-i-cut!” I adore it when Bing says to a very hung over Fred Astaire, as he pours coffee “have a slug from the mug, brother”.  Such a hipster!

It’s hopelessly dated and not even that great a movie (I have some trouble thinking of Bing as a romantic lead in this movie and the  blackface, it is to cringe), but it’s a tradition for us. It made me happy to cuddle with my puppies and daughters in a darkened room and watch the schmaltz.

As the afternoon of Christmas Eve approaches, it has finally occurred to me that it is within my power to enjoy this Christmas, to maybe create some of that sparkle and delight that just didn’t seem to happen on its own this year. Of course we miss Mr. 761, and we miss Eldest Daughter too. But there are still warm traditions to fall back on (tree or no) and we’re making the best of an out-of-the-ordinary situation. I’m breathing in the scent of the mulled cider I started an while ago — oranges, apples, allspice, cloves and cinnamon and someone is singing O Holy Night on the radio (I love that song!). Can’t get much better than that.

As I sit here, writing this and looking out at the slightly-denuded-of-trees, mud-and-green landscape, I realize with pleasure that there is sunshine today. It might not look like “Christmas” but that sun is a very welcome addition to the day. My study is just the way I like it — full of cats and dogs and sunlight dappling. My house is warm and (sort of) air-tight, nobody was hurt in the aforementioned tree debacle and my husband is safe where he is, though not as safe as I’d like (meaning: here, with me, in my study). My children are safe and sound and very much loved. Our friends and family, so dear to us, are also all safe and sound.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year and as I write I feel a bit sheepish for starting this post off feeling a bit well, sorry for myself. We don’t have a full house this year, but there is a peace that I’m enjoying. All of those frenetic Christmases when the kids were little? This is the peace I longed for then.

I’m going to spend the afternoon drinking cider and reading books. And preparing food for tonight and tomorrow morning. Tonight we’ll have a delicious dinner, watch a movie together, and then repair to our private spaces to wrap some presents. Tomorrow, I know I’ll get up too early, but that’s okay. I’m looking forward to sitting in the quiet and puttering. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll go have dinner at the chaotic, loving and very warm house of our friends — dinner for 10 or 12, I think, with a baby, neighbors, family and a very nice cat. It will be lovely.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas from Box 761.