I've posted the story about the New Year's Eve we spent in Madrid several years ago. It's right here and I'd be delighted if you'd have a look.
Let's all hope for a productive and peaceful 2016.
In the mid-‘60s, I was a student in Montreal. One year, my schedule made it impossible for me to leave for home before December 24 so there I was, deciding whether I should spend much of Christmas in a little room in residence or whether I should spend it on the train. I decided in favour of the train.
I was very familiar with Montreal's Central Station and always looked forward to the atmosphere there in the few days leading up to Christmas. There would always be a big raucous crowd at the far end of the station. Mostly everyone would be carrying shopping bags filled with wrapped gifts; there would usually be a couple of people with guitars and there'd be lots of excited children.
When that big white-on-black sign was rolled into place listing the destinations — Trois Rivières, Québec City, Montmagny, Rivière du Loup, Rimouski, Mont Joli, Campbellton, Bathurst, Newcastle, Moncton, Amherst, Truro, Halifax and Sydney — there was a cheer and a good-natured crush as we all prepared to go down the stairs and board the Ocean Limited. These were eastern Quebecers and Maritimers going home for Christmas.
It wasn't like that on that Christmas Eve. The station was dim and quiet, the way airports are late at night. There was a straggling handful of us waiting to board; we were subdued and cheerless.
It was late evening when we got on the train but even still, most of us gravitated toward the club car and soon began to talk. We exchanged stories of who we were, where we were going, why we were travelling on Christmas Eve. Some people were in my situation — they had worked up until that afternoon. One young couple had planned to stay in Montreal for Christmas and had decided at the last minute that they couldn't bear not being home.
We talked about who would be meeting us at our various station stops and about little family traditions we were missing by not being home tonight. By the time we went off to our berths and roomettes, we were feeling quite warm and cheerful, the way you do when you've made new friends.
When we congregated in the morning — a sunny Christmas morning — in CN's dining car, we were already rolling through the impossibly white snowy Québec countryside along the St. Lawrence River.
It was then that we began to lose some of our crowd and we established an instant tradition: at each station, as someone was leaving the train, all the rest of us would gather around the door to wave to the family on the platform and to sing a rousing chorus or two of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." We just kept waving and singing until the train pulled out.
By the time we were crossing the Gaspé peninsula, heading towards northern New Brunswick, we were having a real Christmas dinner, drinking toasts to each other and to our crew and acknowledging that so far, believe it or not, we were having a pretty good Christmas.
By mid-afternoon, our numbers had dwindled and as we approached the broad sweep of the Miramichi River valley, I began gathering my stuff together to be the next one to go. At the Newcastle station, I was waved and sung off the train by fewer people than there'd been earlier but with no less enthusiasm. My mother and father and I stood on the platform watching the train out of sight as it continued on toward Moncton.
The five-mile drive to Chatham was a merry one as I reported all the details of the trip. Everyone — including me — was surprised at the exuberance of my mood, everything considered.
There was one more surprise. Although both towns had the quiet empty streets and the unmistakeable atmosphere of Christmas Day, in our own house, the calendar had been set back. They didn't want me to miss the special feeling of Christmas eve so the presents remained wrapped under the tree, the mince pies were on the counter ready to be baked, and the turkey was still in the bottom of the fridge, ready to be roasted with all its trimmings on Boxing Day.
When I'd left Montreal the night before, I had resigned myself to having no Christmas at all. I ended up having two Christmases — which turned out to be much more satisfactory.
(This piece was written and published a number of years ago. When the late Peter Gzowski was hosting Morningside on CBC Radio, he asked listeners to send him something about Christmas for his Christmas Eve program. I sent this and he read it to end his program that day. Years later, I read it myself on Christmas Eve, on the CBC Radio Mainstreet program that covered the Maritimes. I was hoping to give you a link to hear me reading it but I couldn't find it so I'm afraid you'll have to read it yourself. I hope you enjoy it and I wish you all the best of the Christmas season.)
It would be self-indulgent of me to post photos of all the cookies. Here's a selection though:
Shortbread cookies, extreme left and extreme right; next to them on the left: ultimate ginger, top and chocolate chubbies, bottom; next to the shortbread on the right: fruchtplätzchen, top and snickerdoodles, bottom. The cookies right down the middle are orange/currant/polenta.
I made the chocolate and the fruchtplätzchen. Dan made all the rest.
I made some traditional Acadian meat pies:
And some cranberries in orange juice and bourbon;
And mince pie.
These are all good things.
A couple of days ago, in some kind of exchange with my son, I spoke sharply and impatiently.
"You don't have to be angry, Mum," he said.
"Of course I do," I said. "It's Christmas."
I made it into a little joke but it's well-known that Christmas is a hard time for many people and in many households, there's no shortage of anger. It can bring out the worst in families.
If it's a hard time for you, I hope there will be some redeeming factors and some part of it for you to enjoy.
And if there isn't — well, hang in there. By this time next week, it will all be over.
I have a nostalgic fantasy about pre-Christmas activities. The baking and decorating and shopping are all very well but I also always insist on Christmas music and theatre performances, usually in the week before Christmas. Back in September, when Christmas is still a twinkle in our eyes, I make sure plans are in place and tickets are acquired. Otherwise, you can be pretty sure it would get shuffled off as we'd find other more essential things to do.
In my fantasy, it looks like this:
That could be us, walking leisurely through a Christmas-y town where music is playing and lights are twinkling and we're on our way to the theatre.
As we're in Halifax, it's not always like this. It's sometimes raining and we get let out at the theatre door and rush in with plastic rain gear dripping. Once in the lobby though, the scene is the way I like it: small excited children, little girls in velvet dresses, little boys in white shirts and sweater vests, Mum and Dad glad to be out of the house and enjoying the little ones' fascination with it all.
Last weekend, we went to Neptune Theatre to see A Year with Frog and Toad.
It's a musical written by brothers Robert and Willie Reale, based on the Frog and Toad children's stories written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. It had a successful run off-Broadway and a short run on Broadway. We had the children's books when William was little.
Because he's a good sport, William came with us. I told him it is, after all, a Christmas family tradition to go to the theatre at Christmas. We had a good time — the show was light and frothy; it had some catchy tunes and cute situations and it was fun watching and listening as the little kids enjoyed their first experience with live theatre.
Last year, we had tickets for Messiah. We don't go every year but we do try to go every two or three years. When the day came last year, I had been in bed for several days with some kind of elusive virus. I gamely got out of bed and thought I might make it but I couldn't do it. I went back to bed and Dan traded in our tickets for another show. (We went to see David Myles in concert with Symphony NS in February!)
I had spent a couple of days in bed this past week with what seems to be my traditional pre-Christmas elusive virus — no describable symptoms but just generally feeling rotten. I had no intentions of missing Messiah again though. Our tickets were for last night and I fixed myself up in my Christmas finery and off we went.
The performance included our own Symphony orchestra, close to 100 choristers, four magnificent soloists (Jacqueline Woodley, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano; Aaron Sheehan, tenor; and Matthew Zadow, baritone) and conductor Alexander Weimann who also played the harpsichord while conducting, often simultaneously. This picture is not from Halifax but this is how he looks when he conducts and plays:
There's nothing I can say about Messiah that hasn't already been said many times by many people. Maestro Weimann says:
“As it is for so many, Handel’s Messiah has always been an integral part of my musical life,” says Weimann.
“Since my childhood in Munich, where this piece was performed regularly both before Christmas and Easter, I took part in countless performances: as singer, organist, harpsichordist, and conductor.
“To me, one of the beautiful miracles about this oratorio is that every performance creates its own spiritual unity, far beyond the boundaries of creed and church denomination. Thus, it appeals to all of us.”
It will, without doubt, count as one of the highlights of Christmas 2015.
I'll now check traditional-family-Christmas-theatrical-experience off my list and get back to the reality of cranberries and mincemeat. Both are essential!
I felt so bad. I used my double boiler but also, it had been given to me by my mother way back when I was in one of my early apartments. I was quite sentimentally attached to it.
One of the first things I remember using it for was to make the pastry cream to fill my very first batch of cream puffs. Yes, I made the pâte à choux also and it turned out perfectly. The puffs looked like this:
The cream, made to perfection in my double boiler, was smooth and silky — no lumps.
I also used it to make a lovely cooked salad dressing that my mother used to make. She called it "mayonnaise" but it wasn't the classic mayo that's made from egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar and oil added in a thin stream while you whisk until it thickens. Mum's "mayonnaise" had both vinegar and sugar and has a lovely tart/sweet taste that's very good in a potato salad.
And of course, pies: banana cream, lemon meringue, and several variations.
I needed a functional double boiler and I preferred it to be as close as possible to the one I was used to.
So Dan went to eBay on the quest. He was looking for this:
The pieces had model numbers and we specified the size and before we knew what was happening, we had identified what we were looking for. I can't remember all the details but I remember being happy to see this:
Congratulations, the item is yours!
Congratulations on winning this item! The next step is to pay the seller. Check out and pay with PayPal to get your item as soon as possible.
Vintage TOP POT ONLY of PYREX Flameware 1 1/2 Qt Double Boiler # 6283-U
Sale price: US $19.99
Estimated delivery: Varies
Shipping & Handling: USPS Parcel Post 0
USPS First Class Mail International US $10.00
Seller: acjake423 [contact seller]
Seller Information: Gail Nargiso
West Milford, NJ 07480 United States
It didn't take long to arrive and it was a perfect fit. I couldn't tell the difference from the piece that had broken and, once again, I marvelled at the world we live in. Internet, eBay, PayPal, UPS two-day-delivery — makes my head spin.
I felt grateful and I decided to write to Gail in West Milford NJ to tell her it had arrived and to explain the circumstances around my search. I told her it was a gift from my late mother and how much of what I cooked in it was what she used to cook in it. I said it was kind of a sentimental piece of cookware and I was so glad to have been able to replace it. It was this time of year so I wrote something like this: "Thank you for selling this piece and you can be sure it will be well-used during this season. If it's appropriate, I would like to wish you a 'Merry Christmas.'"
Gail wrote back, so happy to hear from me and happy the piece had arrived intact. She was glad it had found a good home as it had belonged to her late mother. Her mother had died recently and she had found the piece while clearing out her mother's house. She almost threw it away, it being part of a set and all, but at the last minute, she decided to put it on eBay. She said she felt a little teary when she read my note because her mother had used it for the same type of cooking.
She assured me that "Merry Christmas" was perfectly appropriate and she wished me and my family the same.
It was a rather sweet exchange.
And one of the latest things I made in my double boiler?
Mmmm, that was a good pie. Strawberries, eh?
Her reason was simple:
I didn’t want to write this review because I’m tired of writing about white people. I’m tired of fantasy worlds where people of color don’t exist. Where even the made up—excuse me—composite characters are white. It gets really disheartening to see yourself written out of popular culture, written out of history time and time again.
She spoke to the director who tried to explain why her movie was made the way it was but Oluo wasn't satisfied.
As a person of color, I’ve heard time and time again similar excuses for why people of color have not been represented, especially in history. But the truth is, we are not a recent invention. . .There’s photographic evidence that there were. . . women of color in the suffrage movement. But the written record is primarily white.
Neither Oluo nor the director, Sarah Gavron, used the words "historical accuracy" but that's what I heard and that's why this article resonated with me so strongly. I can't count the number of times that I've fought with men about women being "written out of history" in what was explained away as "historical accuracy" — in science, in music, in war and other distasteful activities. Australian author/feminist Dale Spender wrote a whole book called Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them to show what has happened to women in literature.
Based on all my own experiences, I thought Oluo made an excellent point that if, in fact, your main character is fictional, you don't have much of a leg to stand on if you cite historical accuracy as the reason for omitting women of colour from your movie.
Oluo got a lot of support for her position — rightly so — and in some markets, there were protests, calls for boycotts and negative press.
Suffragette was getting mixed reviews and I was having mixed feelings about whether to see it or not. When I finally decided I would go see it, I looked it up for time and place of showing. I discovered it was no longer playing here. I'll have to wait for it in some other medium.
Meanwhile, I had gone to see Trumbo and Spotlight which I wrote about here. They're both good movies, getting good reviews, sure to be up for some big awards.
And guess what? In these big American movies, made by and starring high-profile actors, there are no people of colour and not a whisper of criticism about this omission. All the criticism on this subject has been reserved for a woman-centred movie, made by women, starring women, about a series of events that changed women's lives.
Suffragette was set in 1911. I'm not sure what the multi-cultural demographics in England looked like in 1911 but I'll tell you this: there were plenty of black Americans around in the 1950s when Trumbo was set and there were also plenty in the 2000s when Spotlight was set. None of them however (with the exception of a black police officer in a short scene in Spotlight) made an appearance in these two films.
It's even more disappointing when you consider that Trumbo was centred around people who were in trouble for being Communists — and the American Communist Movement was always seen to be a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. And although Boston had many problems around integration, it seems likely that in the early 2000s there must have been people of colour at the Boston Globe and at other places around town.
Once again, the standards for a film made by women and about women have been set much higher than contemporary films by their male counterparts. It's an old story.
I've been to two movies in four days. Sometimes, that's how it happens.
Bryan Cranston in Trumbo
Spotlight: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d'Arcy James
The movies have certain similarities. They both deal with big events of recent history, events that affected many people, caused untold pain and ruined lives. As movies, they did it differently but the stories they told had the same profound effect.
Trumbo tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, an acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter who was one of the Hollywood 10 blacklisted for his Communist affiliations. The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted hearings beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the '50s into the '60s.
The House Un-American Activities Committee was charged with investigating allegations of communist influence and subversion in the U.S. during the early years of the Cold War. Committee members quickly settled their gaze on the Hollywood film industry, which was seen as a hotbed of communist activity. This reputation originated in the 1930s, when the economic difficulties of the Great Depression increased the appeal of leftist organizations for many struggling actors and studio workers.
There is a much larger story than is told in this movie but this is the story of Dalton Trumbo and its strength is in its narrower focus. Bryan Cranston deserves all his recent acclaim as an actor (I remember him as a guest — Dr. Tim Whatley, the dentist, on Seinfeld in the mid-'90s) and he will, without doubt, be on the list for best actor at the Oscars next year. If you look at the work he's done over the years, you will acknowledge that he's an actor who's paid his dues.
He's surrounded by an excellent cast — most notably Helen Mirren (as Hedda Hopper), John Goodman and Louis C.K. — but it's not really an ensemble in the same way the Spotlight cast is. Bryan Cranston is, I think, the star of this picture.
Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe's investigation into the abuse of children by priests in the Boston Archdiocese and the subsequent cover-up which went through the ranks, all the way up to the Cardinal. I was just describing it to William — how well done it was, how well-acted, well-conceived, especially well-written — and we agreed that it was remarkable that a movie about a bunch of people just doing their work could be so compelling and hold your interest so completely.
In this case, it is an ensemble cast. It's not possible to pick one of them and say, "This one is the star." Mark Ruffalo had the top billing but I guess someone had to have it. Maybe he has the best agent.
Boston is a very Catholic town and these terrible things that happened were intertwined throughout much of the establishment. So many people behaved so badly and caused so much suffering.
Some people on the viewer discussion boards feel there was not enough emphasis on the victims and their suffering. But that's not what this movie was about just as Trumbo was not about the thousands of lives ruined by the HUAC hearings.
No one movie can do it all but I predict that these two have done enough to be in competition for best film of the year.
We were getting our produce all summer from "our" farmer, Cheryl Williams of Shani's Farm and Cheryl often put unusual little additions into our veg basket. One week, there were lovely crisp green stalks — something I had never seen and could not recognize.
Fortunately, Cheryl had put a little note with them to tell us what they were and some suggestions for serving. When I was telling my friends about them later, I said, "You may know them as bulrushes."
In Cheryl's note, they were called hearts of cattails which made them sound quite elegant. In a note to my friend, I said, "I cooked some last night — sliced as I would a leek. I sautéed them and added some carrots and asparagus (both parboiled) and some herbs for a vegetable mélange. They were really good and you could definitely get a distinctive taste."
When I did a bit of research, I found that cattails had been discovered. The Globe and Mail did a piece about them, headlined Cattails have foodies wild over ‘nature’s supermarket’
. . .cattails – you may know of them as bulrushes – have been appearing on highbrow menus across the globe. At Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, diners were presented with whole raw cattail stalks, their tender hearts exposed and ready for hand-held munching. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles “culinary think tank” the Amalur Project served its cooked cattails with yogurt and a fine powder of rye and cumin at its four-week-long spring pop-up series.
They've come even further than that. Gourmet Sauvage in Quebec has made them fancy and has even pickled them.
Gourmet Sauvage says this about cattails:
Cattail hearts are the caviar of our wild plants....remindful of hearts of palm, but with a more delicate taste and a finer texture! They're like a combination of tender zucchini and cucumbers, adding a refreshing texture and flavor to salads.
Mix them with pungent mustard greens to balance their mildness. Added to soup towards the end of cooking, they retain a refreshing crunchiness. They're superb in stir-fry dishes. Roll in a thin slice of prosciutto or smoked salmon.
I definitely recommend them. They're tasty and good for you.
Read Part one right here.
We went through customs in Montreal and, fortunately enough, we got to deal with a very pleasant fellow. He listened to our story, took in all the details, examined the receipts and decided our best bet was to declare the purchases so there would be a record of them if and when they made their way to Canada. That part of it felt good anyway.
The day after we got home, we began our campaign by going to the Louvre website. I think we just went to "Louvre shops" and clicked on "contact us." We thought it would be smooth sailing from there.
I will be never be able to tell you the whole story of our relationship with the Louvre shops. It's just too lengthy and complicated.
It started on August 31, when Dan wrote this email to the very shop where he had left the package:
On Monday August 29 I bought four items of jewelry at the Louvre book store and gift shop, but mistakenly did not collect them after I paid at the caisse. Because the museum and shop were closed on mardi, I could not return to collect the items before my flight back to Canada.
The four tags for the items of jewelry and the receipt from the caisse are attached.
Can you ship these items to me in Canada, please? And please advise what I need to do to pay for the shipping.
On September 2, he sent this one, to a different address:
Below is an email I sent two days ago. Since there has not yet been a reply, I am writing to this address to try and bring my request to the attention of the people who can assist.
As autumn went on, there were several more attempts on our part. Early in the new year, our subject line looked like this:
PLEASE READ -- LIREZ S'IL VOUS PLAIT! Jewelry bought at Louvre but left behind by mistake
And our email message, in big bold letters, looked like this:
We are very disappointed and discouraged as we have sent this note so many times and we cannot get any response. It wouldn’t be such an issue if it didn’t involve a lot of money. Please read and respond!
(Another of the items left behind: a lapis lazuli scarab necklace)
We did get a response on January 6 from Olivier Bassibey that said this:
Your message was deleted without being read on Friday, January 06, 2012 11:08:42 PM (GMT+01:00) Brussels, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris.
It was the first of several messages, with a whole variety of names attached.
From Christophe Legendre:
Votre message a été lu le lundi 9 janvier 2012 09:07:00 (GMT+01:00) Bruxelles, Copenhague, Madrid, Paris.
From Laure Doublet:
Votre message a été lu le lundi 9 janvier 2012 10:15:24 (GMT+01:00) Bruxelles, Copenhague, Madrid, Paris.
There were others, all very similar, all from different names.
Then, on January 9, came this note:
This day we received an email about jewelery you have forgotten in August 2011 at the Louvre store. I’m a little embarassed because we sent to you two mails on the 7th october 2011 and the 27th october 2011 without any response of you, with the following adress mail [the email address was my brother-in-law's workplace address in Antwerp — long story but he didn't get it]. It was the only adress mail in our possession received in our store at the end of september 2011.Your items are still available in our shop and you may come to recover it when you want. Don’t hesitate to write to us for any further questions to the following mail :email@example.com.I send you files attached. Hoping this response can bring you any satisfaction.
I loved Florence so much right then, I wished I could "come to recover it."
(A brooch, also inspired by a painting)
I'll spare you all the details of how we finally made the arrangements to get the packages but in my second last note from Florence, she had a couple of questions about one of the pieces, then she said:
"Thank you to give us your preference. In return we ‘ll send you gifts and purchases ,and the references to follow this sending on the internet. Sorry for the waiting. All the best. Florence"
And finally, on March 14:
Your package left today. The references to follow this sending is CY 660738024 FR. We wish you good reception. Thank you for your patience.
Best regards. Florence
When the package arrived, Florence had indeed included little gifts: an unusual golden bookmark that you slip into your pages and it hooks over the top of the book; two exquisite notebooks, different sizes with Louvre art on both covers; and a lovely Louvre calendar. The things that Dan had bought were whisked away so they could be presented — according to his original plan — as gifts for birthday, Mother's Day and wedding anniversary, all coming up in May.
They've been enjoyed and appreciated ever since.
(This is close to being the other brooch. I browsed for this picture.)
We arrived in Paris early Saturday and spent the weekend seeing lots of Parisian sights and eating good food. We reserved Monday for the Louvre and were leaving for home on Tuesday.
We got to the Louvre quite early — for us. (When we're on a trip, Dan would like to get our days underway by 7:00 a.m. William and I are a little harder to get moving in the morning. I'd like to think we've compromised but I doubt if Dan is really happy with our start-times. If there's something he really wants to see, he'll often take off early and then come back to get us. That works.)
But we got to the Louvre at a pretty decent hour and began our walk-around. The Louvre is, of course, huge. We knew we'd only be able to see a fraction of the art there and we tried to make some choices of both well-known and less-well-known exhibits. We saw both the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. Well, you sort of have to, don't you? I'm glad we did. But we saw a lot more and really made the most of our limited time.
At a certain point, we decided to have some lunch. It was good — I had a curry-type dish and a salad. As we were leaving the restaurant, a wave of weakness and light-headedness and just general awful-feelingness swept over me. I thought I was going to collapse. We were just off the lobby and there were chairs and tables — all occupied — but I found some kind of uncomfortable little ledge to sit on. I sent Dan and William off to see more stuff and said I'd be fine; they should check on me in a while.
I didn't get any better. I felt worse and worse. Fortunately, a table became vacant and I was able to get off the little ledge and sit in a proper chair. I wanted to lay my head on the table but I didn't want to attract attention to myself. I put my sunglasses on so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with anyone.
When Dan and William came back, I told them I had to go back to the hotel and they're so nice and I was so sick, they didn't just put me into a taxi. They came with me, all the way and tucked me into bed. I insisted I could manage from there and they should return to the Louvre. Which they did. They saw a lot more and took lots of photos. I looked at them when we got home but it wasn't the same.
By evening, I was well enough to go out to a nice restaurant and have a bit of soup. And then we packed because we were leaving in the morning, Tuesday.
When you buy something at the Louvre shops, you give it to the sales person, pay her/him, and get your receipt. On your way out, you go to a different counter, produce your receipt and you're given your purchases. As Dan was packing that evening, he realized he was missing something. He had some of his purchases but he soon figured out that some had been left behind.
He looked quickly to see what time the Museum opened in the morning, assuming there'd be time to make a dash there and pick up the packages before we headed to the airport. And what did he find? Tuesday is the only day of the week the Louvre and all its shops are closed.
He checked with the desk at our hotel, got a few phone numbers where someone might know what to do — the Louvre is publicly-owned and it's directly administered by a government department. Its employees are, in effect, civil servants. We pretty much knew though, at this point, that we were going to Canada without some of our purchases. It wouldn't have been a huge problem except we weren't talking about a few souvenirs. There was some very nice jewellery in those packages. All paid for and receipted.
There were lovely earrings that were inspired by a Berthe Morisot painting.
The painting and the earrings together
The painting a bit closer-up
The earrings a bit closer-up
I'll come back tomorrow to tell you more about what was in the packages and whether they ever found their way to Canada.
The follow-up is right here.
You're not going to believe this but in all the discussion around the Trudeau family's nannies — mostly yesterday but a bit today as well — I saw several variations on the statement, "People should take care of their own kids. If they didn't want to take care of them, why did they have them?"
It's hard to surprise me but I do still get a little disheartened, a little discouraged.
I wrote a very short piece about the nanny controversy yesterday. In truth, I don't care who pays for the nannies (I wish they would pay them a little more) but I stick to my opinion that the hypocrisy here sticks out like a sore thumb.
It got me thinking about child care though. When I started in journalism in a community newspaper back in the '70s, writing about day-care centres was considered radical. I would regularly hear from readers about children in the USSR who were separated from their parents when they were very young, the better to indoctrinate them into evil Communist ways. I was warned that this was the direction our society was taking — godless, unprincipled governments wanting to get their hands on our little ones and turn them against their parents and their parents' ways.
The other common misconception about day care is that it's in demand from women who want to go out to work to buy extras and luxuries. They have husbands who are perfectly capable of supporting their families but these women want more — new curtains, new rugs, new dishes. Got to keep up with the neighbours and if that means shipping the kids to God-knows-where, well that's life.
And the kids. . .oh dear. We all know the stories of the sweet little face pressed against the window, sobbing hysterically as Mama waves goodbye. How could she? What kind of heartless mother is she?
That's William on the left. He never went to day care because I worked at home but he went to play group and he could hardly wait to see the back of me when I dropped him off.
These are myths, of course, and views of day care have changed a bit over the years. It's still not considered a service that we should be pursuing for the good of the community. It's still a struggle for many families and it's still misunderstood by the more privileged who don't understand what all the fuss is about.
I remember back about 25 years ago, there was a local day-care centre which announced it would be placing children in the hands of the police if their parents were late picking them up. Some of the conversations I had at that time made clear to me that there were those who just didn't understand how many people live their daily lives. People said, "Well, you can't blame them. Why can't parents get there on time? It's not really fair. If you're held up, you should should just get someone else to run down and pick them up."
Yes, this makes great sense for a young single mother, on her own, working as a waitress, who has a table of eight lingering over their meal and her replacement hasn't shown up. No, she can't just walk out and leave them. That's just one example but not unrealistic.
I went to my archives and found a column I'd written about it at the time. It's called Child care: an essential service and I'd be delighted if you'd pop over and see what I had to say about it in The Sunday Daily News, July 23, 1989.
When I started Each New Day back in September, I said this:
One day back in the spring, I noticed that I was spending a lot of time taking part in discussions on Facebook. I was commenting here and there, leaving behind observations, some of which were researched, others that were well-thought-out and carefully written.
A few days later, I wanted to take another look at some of the things I'd written and I had no idea where to go to find them, so random was my commenting history. I was suddenly struck by how easily misplaced some of our thoughts are when they're part of just one of thousands of discussions by millions of people on Facebook.
That’s when I decided to start this space so that when I have something I think is worth saying, I’ll say it here and then I’ll always know where to find it!
Today, on Facebook, the trending topic was the Trudeau family's nannies and whether or not their wages (which are very low, by the way) should be paid by taxpayers. Lots of people made the case that they were simply part of the Prime Minister's household staff and it's petty to bother about such a small thing when there are real issues out there.
Other people thought the optics weren't good. Trudeau had made the campaign about the middle class and was now acting like an entitled rich guy.
I left a comment on at least four separate discussions and here's what I said, every time:
The Liberals spent many years promising universal child care and never delivered although they spent a long time in power within the range of those promises. They made it a very loud talking point during the recent campaign to disparage the NDP's plan for universal child care in that special Liberal language: "We don't have a child care plan but the NDP's plan is worse than ours." (See what I did there? Liberal-speak.) That's part of the reason why it's an issue. No one would say the PM's family doesn't need child care. Of course they do. What about all the other families who need child care?
What do you think?
It's hard to find an illustration for the point I want to make. Everything is relative and unless you see this fork next to my hand, it probably doesn't make much of an impression.
Here's my complaint: I've noticed, over the last few years, that cutlery in restaurants is getting bigger and bigger. And heavier. I find it not only ugly but difficult to handle and not at all pleasant to eat with. I really dislike those gigantic forks. Who likes those? The one in the photo looks too wide but it doesn't look thick enough or heavy enough to be as annoying as they are in real life.
Last year, I had some major dental work done. My dentist told me (other dentists have also told me) I have a very small mouth. Maybe that has something to do with my cutlery choices.
Or maybe I'm just being fussy.
At home, there are no worries about cutlery. Dan usually sets the table and sometimes, if William's around, Dan will say, as he's putting plates on, something like, "Grab the cutlery on your way by." Neither one of them even has to think about it now: Mama's fork and knife choices are very specific and they're happy to oblige. If, by chance I sit down and see that my lovely small fork has mistakenly been placed in someone else's place setting, I do a dramatic and very audible gasp. It's such a recognizable gasp that the error is quickly corrected. They're both very easy-going and they don't seem to mind.
Spoons are a whole other story. I use three different spoons for ice cream, fruit salad and soft-boiled eggs. To me, the choice of these spoons makes a lot of sense but I suspect to others, it seems beyond quirky and verging on neurotic.
I do have minor control issues but so far, I think my cutlery preoccupation is under control. I haven't yet started to take my own fork in my purse when I go out for dinner. It might be a good way to make a point though.
Still in the kitchen – our dishwasher is broken. We're awaiting a part and in the meantime, we're washing dishes by hand.
It's not a big deal except for this: the dishpan we're using is the very same dishpan my mother used in our house on Princess St. in Chatham, NB when I was a teenager. That's a few years ago now.
There are two amazing things about this dishpan. The first is that I even have it, after many moves over the years. Somehow, it has stuck with me. The second is that it even still exists, almost as good as new. Imagine something that would normally be considered temporary turning out to be almost permanent.
It looks like this:
Rubbermaid, I believe.
About 20 years ago, our single Christmas poinsettia was still green and fresh-looking well into the springtime. It was still so lovely in April, I decided it should be saved. I filled some pots with soil and I cut it back quite ruthlessly. I dipped the cuttings into a little rooting hormone and stuck them into the extra pots.
(As always, my reminder: click on the photos to enlarge.)
They lived and grew. Every spring, I kept cutting back, adding new pots, looking for nooks and crannies in the house where they could reside all winter. For the first few years, I followed book rules and covered them every night so they'd have a period of complete darkness. I used dark garbage bags. Then, for awhile, I started stashing them under the table and hung blankets around the sides to block any light. I got tired of that though so I began to treat them like all the other plants. It's been many years since I've worried about them getting light overnight.
After they're cut back, I put them outdoors for the summer. They love being outdoors and stay out well into October. They grow lush and green and they thrive. All these photos were taken this past summer so some of these are just a few months old.
Many pots of poinsettias moved to Ottawa with us in the mid '90s, in the moving truck, and lived happily there in two different houses. After a few years, we all moved back to Halifax – toddler, cats and about 20 poinsettias.
Many of the plants produce red bracts for Christmas. They're not at all like the big gaudy ones you see in the stores which look unnatural to me now but that's because these ones look so natural.
There are 17 plants at this point – there have been more and there have been fewer. In the photo below, the one in the top left corner is the Mother of them all. Her main stem is woody, like a small tree trunk. Long may she live.
Below are some of the red bracts that were produced last year although this picture is at the end of the winter when they've become scraggly and are ready to be cut back and ready to enjoy another long summer outdoors.
I published this photo on Facebook yesterday.
My caption was: This guy – Will O'Connor – known as William to his mother (me) will be 21 tomorrow, November 29. This was taken in the Morada Motel in Chatham, NB, when William and I were on our way to the wedding of my beloved niece and nephew, Lisa Marie Knowles and Mike Knowles.
When William was about this age, I wrote an article about him and, among other things, I said, "From the beginning, William was – and remains – a good sleeper, a good eater, a little fellow who seems to enjoy life." That why I love this picture. It expresses his love of life so openly.
He was an exuberant child. If I had a nickel – as they say – for every time a teacher called me from the school to tell me William had been sent to the office, I'd be rich. His crime was always the same: he was rough-housing. He and Sebastian were wrestling. He body-checked Rhett in the hall on the way to the gym. The teachers always made a point of acknowledging that William was not mean or malicious – he was high-spirited.
But rules were rules and the rule that seemed to be at the top of the rule-book was the no-touching rule. William broke that rule on a regular basis.
I confess, there came a day when I got tired of the phone calls though. I respect teachers beyond most other professional people and you couldn't pay me enough to do their job. But the day the teacher called and said, "William won't stay in his seat!" was the day I answered back. In retrospect, I'm sure she was having a bad day and had just had it up to here but at the time, I guess I'd had it too.
"What do you want me to do, Madame?" I asked. "Do you want me to come down there and tell William to stay in his seat?" I think she quite quickly realized that it must have sounded a little silly to me because she quickly answered, "No, but I thought you should know." I thanked her for that and then, because I felt bad for her, I said, "You know what? You can tell William that if he doesn't stay in his seat, I'm coming down there. I think that will help." I don't know if she did.
When he was in grade three or four – can't remember which – he had a little assignment which was to write 10 facts about his mother. He was in French Immersion so his facts were all in French.
He started with the obvious: he said I was a good cook and, quite endearingly, he said I took good care of him. He said I was a writer and editor. At about number four, he wrote, "Elle est une communiste." I swear, to this day, I wonder what the teacher must have thought when she read that. I didn't see it until the end of term so I think I saw her several times between when he wrote it and when I saw it. It was never an issue, as far as I know.
I'm not sure where that came from although it might have been that I defended Castro's Cuba against so much of the American propaganda that even school-kids seemed to hear. I didn't always insert myself into kids' conversations but if I heard something that I thought deserved discussion and another point of view, there I was.
William still takes a huge interest in politics, in how the world works and in all current events. He keeps a closer eye on much of it than I do and he loves to talk about issues, from local to international, from US presidential candidates to Putin and Turkey. He enjoys hearing a historical perspective and making connections. Dan has worked in politics most of his adult life and William loves hearing what happens on the inside of politics. He and Dan actively worked together on two recent election campaigns.
He also loves to talk about sports – basketball mostly – and music and movies and other aspects of pop culture. He has kept Dan and me interested in things that we might have missed.
He moves constantly while he's talking – walking up and down the room, sitting then standing, walking in another direction. It clearly helps with his thinking and I listen to him happily and I never phone anybody to say, "William won't stay in his seat."
Over the years, William has willingly gone with Dan and me to the theatre, to Symphony concerts, to movies that he probably wouldn't choose on his own. He always appreciates them and is always glad he went. One day, not too long ago, I told him I had got him a ticket for some show or other. I said, "I think you'll enjoy it." He said, "I enjoy pretty much everything, Mama."
It's not a bad way to go through life.
We get our turkey from our farmer – she takes orders and we pick it up a couple of days before we need it. Her turkeys have lived a good life; they've eaten well, had some freedom, were never treated badly or cruelly. They've never had antibiotics or steroids – or any medication. They've grown up less than an hour from where we live.
It definitely makes me feel better.
The day before we're going to roast it, we brine it. If it's really big, we use the big cooler and just put the whole thing right in there. Dan does the brining and he's used different things at different times: kosher salt, brown sugar, maybe some herbs. The turkey stays in the brine overnight and in the morning, it's drained and dried.
Before the roasting begins, I like to put some nice fragrant additions into the cavity: wedges of orange or lemon, lots of onion, garlic, handfuls of mixed herbs – sage, thyme, rosemary. Sometimes, I take some of those same flavours and use them under the skin. I slide my hand between skin and breast to make a nice pocket and slip in some thin slices of lemon, garlic and whole sage leaves.
I know most people swear by butter rubbed all over the outside of the turkey and I like that too. Who wouldn't? But sometimes, if I've got the lemon fever, I rub the skin all over with olive oil, then with a cut lemon, then I zest some lemon peel all over. I sprinkle with coarse salt and roughly ground pepper and Bob's your uncle!
Then comes the roasting time – and here's one way I like:
You can see that with this barbecue, I could put the drip pan under the rack so the turkey sat directly on the rack. I liked that.
This picture is from Christmas 2009. The turkey's almost done. You can tell by its lovely colour and also by the fact that I'm already fixed up and ready for our dinner guests to arrive.
By 2011, we had a different barbecue. It was good in many ways but, as you can see, the turkey had to be placed into the pan because the rack was too close to the heat source and the pan wouldn't fit under there.
See what I mean?
This turkey still has a way to go. The skin is not yet browned the way it should be and I'm not even dressed yet!
Roasting the turkey on the barbecue is fun. It doesn't seem like as much work, it does seem to keep the turkey moist and juicy, and the drippings are always lovely and brown and make delicious gravy.
If you haven't done it yet, try it this Christmas. I recommend it.
P.S. Of course, I make dressing! I make it in a baking dish. Bread crumbs, onions, garlic, summer savoury, salt, pepper, chicken stock – and some of the turkey drippings drizzled over it for extra taste at the end.
As we were leaving, some people sitting around us said, in our general direction, "If you ever get a chance, tell us what that was all about!" They were laughing but they seemed to imply they'd had a hard time following it.
Dan and I enjoyed it. I had a short text exchange with William during intermission and he said, "How's the play, Mum?" I said, "It's intense Shakespeare."
And it was. You really needed to focus; if your mind wandered, you were in danger of losing the thread.
The acting was superb. A Reuters story said this:
Her cutting words were written by William Shakespeare, but the withering stare the straight-talking Paulina focuses on co-star Kenneth Branagh's insanely jealous King Leontes in a new production of "The Winter's Tale" is pure Judi Dench.
Dench's stare, at the end of the first half, has had audiences sitting on the edge of their seats since the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's late-life portrait of the wreckage wrought by jealousy opened this month.
It is a "moment I shall long remember," Guardian critic Michael Billington wrote.
The play is thought to be one of Shakespeare's later works and was first performed in 1611. It's not performed as often as many of his other works but it's getting a warm reception in London right now.
During intermission, we were amused by a recitation of Bernard Levin's Shakespearean quotes. Here it is although it's probably more fun to listen to than to read yourself.
On Quoting Shakespeare
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me,"
you are quoting Shakespeare;
if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning,
you are quoting Shakespeare;
if you recall your salad days,
you are quoting Shakespeare;
if you act more in sorrow than in anger;
if your wish is father to the thought;
if your lost property has vanished into thin air,
you are quoting Shakespeare;
if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy,
if you have played fast and loose,
if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle,
if you have knitted your brows,
made a virtue of necessity,
insisted on fair play,
slept not one wink,
stood on ceremony,
danced attendance (on your lord and master),
laughed yourself into stitches,
had short shrift,
cold comfort or too much of a good thing,
if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise
why, be that as it may,
the more fool you,
for it is a foregone conclusion that
you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;
if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage,
if you think it is high time and that is the long and short of it,
if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out
even if it involves your own flesh and blood,
if you lie low 'till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play,
if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason,
then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head)
you are quoting Shakespeare;
even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing,
if you wish I was dead as a door-nail,
if you think I am an eyesore,
a laughing stock,
the devil incarnate,
a stony-hearted villain,
or a blinking idiot,
then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! - it is all one to me, for
you are quoting Shakespeare.