Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Colin Firth, my friend needs you!

Yeah, yeah, Colin Firth probably doesn't read my blog (but he should!) But heck, I'm gonna put this out there anyway.

When my friend Phyllis and I toured England and Scotland last year, all I heard from her was "Colin Firth" this and "Colin Firth" that. Every time we saw a photo or poster or anything to do with Colin, I had to take a photo of Phyllis with Colin. Hence we have such gems as this:

And this:

Tragically, we never ran into Colin Firth the whole time we were in the UK. Like it wasn't bad enough that Phyllis missed Ian McKellen by mere days, performing Lear at the Globe or some such thing...

Yeah, that was bad, but not seeing Colin in the flesh? That was the proverbial dagger in the heart! I mean surely, SURELY we could have experienced a Colin sighting SOMEWHERE in London? Perhaps when we were having afternoon tea at the Wolseley? Maybe in the Harrods pet department (urgh, what a nightmare that place was!)

Nope. The universe was against Phyllis. The universe threw a banana peel under Phyllis' dreams. Chez Wolseley, we sipped our tea, nibbled our finger sandwiches and inhaled patisseries with not a single Colin Firth atom adorning our nasal passages. (I did catch a bloody awful cold, however.) Well, possibly Colin left behind a few flakes of glorious Firth-skin on a previous visit, or maybe there was a splash of Colin-aura on the cucumber sandwiches. A girl can dream, right Phyllis? But damn, Colin made no special appearance for my dear friend. Her hopes were squashed like dog poo under a Parisienne's high heel, and home we went to our respective countries (me Canada, Phyllis America.) You can cry a whole lotta tears on a Gatwick to O'Hare flight, ya know.

And today, months later, poor Phyllis is laid up with a nasty stomach bug:

Wait, that's not a stomach bug. That's a purple mutant potato I grew in Nova Scotia. Hang on..


Phyllis has very fancy stomach bugs!
(Yes, I made that in 2003. No, I can't explain it.)

Maybe it is some months-old London bug that has been incubating and festering and... and... growing exponentially in her gut, fertilized by her deep, acid inner sadness over being snubbed by Colin. Whatever it is, wherever it's from, it needs some DEEP HEALING.

And so I say, Mr. Firth, if you're out there, help cheer my puking friend. Help heal the wound your absence left on her gut. I mean, heart. Leave a comment on my blog and I'll make sure she sees it. Even better, send her a signed photo! Wait, I know! Visit her for tea! Just let me know how I can help. Yes, yes, we know you are happily married. We ask for nothing unholy or unsavoury, nothing sordid nor naked. Just your mere presence for the briefest of periods. We are not stalkers, we are not crazy. Well okay, PHYLLIS isn't crazy. And I'm not "knife-wielding psychopath" crazy.

Colin Firth, for this I would thank you. Phyllis would thank you. North American would thank you. You are... the best!

Who is Lionel Tomlin?

My Dad was given this photo when he was 18. At the time he was a waiter or perhaps busboy at some swanky London hotel restaurant. Now, at some point in my life my Dad no doubt told me who this guy was, but if he did, I forget! Whoever he was, he called my Dad "Jimmy". I have never known anyone who dared call my Dad "Jimmy". James, Jim or Michael, but not "Jimmy." My Dad must have liked this Lionel guy.

I'm not positive but it looks like his last name was "Tomlin." The photo was signed in November 1948, when smoking a cigarette in a photo was oh-so-sauve.

Who is Lionel?!

Update: I think Happy Wombat Boy is right. I think this is director Lionel TOMLINSON! His signature on the pic was a bit scrawled, so I didn't catch the final "son." Now if only I could find his pic online, to be sure. I know this is all incredibly important to all of you!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

At last, decent fish and chips...

Fish and chips, DECENT fish and chips, are very important to me. And they are so damn hard to find in Canada, especially, it seems, if you're not near a major city. Sure, you can find some sort of fish and chips pretty well anywhere here; I can get complete and utter crap F & C just up the road in Alexandria (Ontario, not Greece, although I'm sure the one here is actually named after the Alexandria in Scotland. I think we live in the most Scottish part of Canada!) But I refuse to ingest complete and utter crap fish and chips! If I am going to clog my arteries, I am going to bloody well do it right.

Living out here in farm land, with major cities a good hour away (and if there are decent fish and chips in Ottawa or Montreal, I have yet to find them), I had little hope of succeeding in my Fish & Chip Quest. I mean, if you walk into a fish and chip shop and they don't even have malt vinegar on the table, you know you are in trouble. Usually these establishments offer horrific, previously-frozen, tasteless chips (that's "French Fries" for the Americans amongst you) and a slab of dubious fish crusted in a thick, grease-sodden bread-like skin. Urgh. That is not fish and chips. That is CRAP. CRAPCRAPCRAP!

But a few months back, I spied in nearby Cornwall (sadly, not anywhere near as gorgeous as Cornwall, England, but the St. Lawrence river is pretty) a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away near the useless shopping mall. A sign out front boasted something about real English fish and chips. I noticed they also had steak and kidney pie and various other typically English things on the menu. I was highly dubious but figured hey, let's try it sometime.

And yesterday, we did. The restaurant is smallish and unassuming, with the deep-fat fryers in plain view. The walls are covered with British bric-a-brac: framed tea towels, Guinness posters, the front page of a newspaper announcing the death of George VI. The quirky decor heartened me. I have never had good fish and chips in a chi-chi poo-poo well-decorated establishment.

I was further pleased to see that the menu offered not just one fish variety, but several: cod, haddock, halibut and Alaskan whitefish. Gordon and I sat down at a comfy corner table and each ordered halibut and chips. I have a thing for halibut, and the best halibut fish and chips I ever had were in Alaska, of all place. But they do fish halibut there, so it was understandable.

The server, who turned out to be the owner (and son of the original owners, all from Leeds; they came to Canada 25 years ago), brought Gordon a great coffee and me a very decent pot of tea. Drinkable tea is something else I find almost impossible to get in Canadian restaurants outside Atlantic Canada. Note to restauranteurs: you do not serve good tea by placing in front of your guest a pot of lukewarm water with a bag ON THE SIDE!! My father is rolling in his grave! But I digress. Back to lunch.

The fish and chips arrived promptly and they were... GREAT! The chips were amazingly not crap. I could still see bits of potato skin here and there, like a human being had peeled them instead of potato-killing machine. The halibut was delectable, with a delicious thin batter that had not absorbed every lost splotch of grease in the vat. It was light and crispy and allowed the tasty fish flavour to shine through.

And the coleslaw! Finally, the creamy yummy coleslaw of my childhood fish and chip experiences. You absolutely must have coleslaw with your fish and chips. It does a smashing job of cutting the grease, and is a suitable substitute for mushy peas, which most Canadians (and my American friend Phyllis) regard with the utmost suspicion. And to its credit, this wonderful Cornwall establishment does indeed offer mushy peas on its menu. Maybe next time. Or maybe never.

So my heart sings once again, even as my arteries cry out, "No! No!! NOOOOOO!!" For I have found a great fish and chip place: "Ye Old English Fish 'n Chip Shop". We will be back. Soon.

And on a related note, my Uncle Kevin in England, who is not only my godfather but my favourite family member, shares my love of fish and chips. When we were in Bourton-on-the-water in the Cotswolds, we had taken a packed lunch and thus were not able to have a full F & C meal, but we did stop for some glorious, hot fresh chips. "Hot" is very important. Very.

Here we are, showing the photographer Phyllis D. (aforementioned American friend) why life is really worth living. By the way, Kevin doesn't have cataracts, nor does he have such poor taste in eyewear. I don't like posting people's photos here without permission (with the exception of American Phyllis, whom I enjoy offending, and also that guy from Wisconsin with the infamous butt crack), so I crudely Photoshopped on a pair of sunglasses. Uncle Kevin is away in NZ right now, otherwise I would just ask him if I could put his pic up. I'm sure the sunglasses completely obscure his identity:

And further proof that I have the coolest Uncle in the universe (again, the eyewear below was not of his choosing): Uncle Kevin had a very good job in the insurance industry and took a reasonably early retirement. But last year, he found a part-time job to keep himself amused: he drives a fish-and-chip van! (Good grief, you can find ANYTHING on Wikipedia. And who knew some vans serve SPAM FRITTERS?! That is just wrong.) He drives the van and takes the money while the owners do the cooking. The day he drove Phyllis and me to the train station, he was suited up for his Fish and Chip tour of duty, although he refused to wear his really cute matching hat for the photo. Party pooper:

His grandchildren think he has the most magnificent job in the universe! So do I.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


For those with an interest in cows, I just updated my Cow Diaries for the first time since June 2006!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Farm over the ages!

The former owners lent me this cool photo. I think it was taken around 1940, when the house was sided with tin and there was a silo on the barn (for better detail, click on the photo to enlarge.)

And here it is last April.

Not a whole lot of change, really. The silo is gone, there's a new two-car garage, the siding is vinyl instead of tin, and the trees along the laneway are gone. The laneway has also been graded since then.

The house was built around 1900.

Birthday boy and other things...

H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y G O R D O N !

Hubster hit the big 4-0 this weekend. Our friends brought an awesome strawberry/cream/sponge cake with marzipan icing. It's gone now:

Hubster enthusiastically cuts the cake with some ginsu knife that he inherited 18 years ago. We seriously, seriously need some decent knives:

Meanwhile, completely gratuitous dog shots:

Tristan likes to rest his head on anything and everything:

Speaking of dogs, I took them out this morning and played fetch with them for a while. I turned my back and thought I heard them snarling at each other over the ball in the snow, but alas, no. They were squabbling over who got to eat Sophie's fresh POO.


I banished them to the front porch and cleaned it up. More reasons you probably don't want your dog kissing your face. :)

Friday, January 18, 2008

The back pasture

Sick of my dogs yet? Bear with me! :)

I have taken two really lovely walks to our back pasture this week. This is the pasture that borders the River Beaudette that empties into the mighty St. Lawrence. I figured it had to have flooded in the thaw last week, and indeed it had. Although the waters have receded now, the river is still quite swollen. According to the locals, January thaws are normal here, but January thaws with such an incredible amount of snow are NOT normal, hence all the flooding.

The entire back pasture is covered in a layer of ice, well up into the woodlot. I think if I cleared thes now, I'd have a pretty good hockey-arena sized skating rink back there. I think the water in the pasture must have been three feet deep when the river burst its banks. You can tell how high it got by the very cool ice formations around the bases of trees and bushes.

The water rose, there was a freeze, the water dropped, and sheets of ice were left around the bottoms of everything. I think if you click on the photos, you'll get a larger version and better detail:

Tristan checks it out:

Sophie emerges from the undergrowth in the woodlot. That's more ice on the right, at the base of the bush, and it's all ice underfoot:

I also discovered that some truly large trees fell over in the windstorm. What a shame! Can you say FIREWOOD?

The base of the trees. The ground was wet and thawed, the winds came, the trees blew over:

Tristan investigates one fallen tree:

Sophie checks things out too:

Our dogs LOVE LOVE LOVE to run:

Meanwhile, back in the woodlot, Gooberhead bursts forth from the trees:

And the dogs sniff out some frozen turkey poop in the field:

Words can't express how lovely it was Wednesday, the day I of course DIDN'T have my camera on me. The sky was blue, the air was cold, the snow was sparkling like extra-cold snow does, and the sun was at its late afternoon position, throwing beautiful golden light on everything. The chickadees were fee-beeing in the woods, and I saw rabbit and snowshoe hare tracks, as well as the tracks of whatever tiny creatures the dogs try to dig out of the snow (as I yell, "DON'T KILL ANYTHING!" So far, so good.) Voles, perhaps?

Whenever I walk in our woodlot, I lose track of time and live entirely in the present. It is so peaceful! The dogs are blissful, tearing back and forth, sniffing the ground, just being dogs. I can't do it justice with my writing. If I'm in a crap mood, it evaporates by the time I reach the woods. I love it back there.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January thaw

Well... we had an interesting week here at the farm! It started around last weekend, when the temperatures rose and we had torrential rain (and even some thunder and lightning!) Things got pretty wet as over two feet of accumulated snow (and higher drifts) melted and got rained on.

Then on Wednesday, we got the windstorm. Bill, the former owner of this farm, said it was the worst windstorm he'd seen in all his many years of living here.

The power went out twice, for about six hours all together. It wouldn't have been so bad had the power outage not meant that the sump pumps in the basement stopped working. And we haven't bought ourselves a generator yet (or a tractor or a pick-up truck, for that matter!) And Gordon was conveniently (for him) in Winnipeg on business, so I was alone here with the bucket.

I spent my day taking buckets of water out of the basement. The walls were leaking water (not surprising; we have a 100-year-old stone foundation that is normally quite dry, but there is just too much water around right now for most basements to deal with.) The sump holes started overflowing, which is when I started my one-person bucket brigade. Fortunately I kept it mostly under control, but it was hard work. It didn't help that Alex the tripod-kitty wanted to keep sticking his nose and paws in whatever sump hole I was trying to bail out! That cat is into EVERYTHING.

A large area around the furnace had an inch of water on the floor, but luckily the furnace is on blocks. There was water pooling in other places as well, but no major harm done, and anything we store in the basement is in plastic boxes.

The greater damage came from the windstorm, although it could have been a lot worse. It was scary and gave me some flashback to Hurricane Juan, the eye of which passed over our Nova Scotia home in September 2003.

This windstorm ripped half the metal roof off the back extension of our granary:

Luckily, that section of roof didn't hit our house or garage, but instead ended up in a nail-studded ball on one of my nice flower beds:

It was a tad too heavy for me to shift on my own. In fact, it's still sitting there while we figure out what to do with it!

The storm also blew a door off the back of the barn. (That red metal thing is covering a glass window that blew out in an earlier storm this winter!) Sophie appreciates the handy new entrance to the lower barn.

The winds also peeled back part of the metal roof on our wood shed, but you don't need a photo of that!

The thaw has led to incredible amounts of water everywhere. One road near us is closed due to flooding from the River Beaudette, which runs across the back of our land (and empties into the St. Lawrence River), and has probably completely flooded the back pasture, not that I have gone back to check. Here is one shot of our fields and drain (creek) as few weeks ago:

Here it is last Thursday. The creek completely burst its banks, and had receded a fair bit when I took this photo:

Here's a shot I posted in December:

Same view on Thursday:

And near the metal roof, I discovered purple pansies in bloom! Prior to the thaw, this had been buried under a few feet of snow. Neat, huh? But despite the thaw, I don't think spring is quite here yet!

And Sophie and Tristan are happy to be outside with the precious blue ball, whatever the weather!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Look what was in my bathroom

I was sitting on the toilet (!) the other day when one of these crawled across the floor in front of me.

Absolutely fascinating! I got down my on my hands and knees to have a closer look, because it was teeny-tiny, and I saw that it had pincers like a lobster. I had never seen anything like it before.

Now before you bug-haters freak out, pseudoscorpions are harmless, beneficial insects. You don't want to be stomping on them! And this is the first one I have seen in all my years of casual bug-watching. Very cool! Here are more links:

Pseudoscorpions factsheet from University of Guelph

An excellent photo by Ed Wiebe

Some letters...

It's long. Take a seat.

Yesterday I found a big envelope containing all the letters I wrote to my Dad after I moved from Toronto to Montreal back in the early 90s (and essentially left the nest for real.) After my Dad died in '92, his wife gave them all back to me. My Dad always kept everything I ever gave him. I have another box full of cards and letters and anything else on paper that I sent or handed to him from the time he and my Mum split up in 1972 until his death at age 61. Amazing!

Once I started reading the "Montreal letters" last night, I couldn't put them down. Mostly I felt like I was reading the words of someone who was not me! For starters, where did I get all that energy and drive from?! The past 15 years have really worn me down, for various reasons, and I guess I am officially middle-aged now to boot (but wiser), although my baby husband turns just 40 this month. I picked a younger man, if only by four years. Yes, I am a cradle robber. Younger men are more trainable. (Hahaha! Right, Honey? "Yes dear!")

Back in the early 90s, I had recently graduated from my graphic design college programme, moved six hours east to Montreal to follow my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and was looking for my first "real" (as in "design-related") job in a city that I knew not at all. I was bunking with Gordon while I looked for work to fund my own apartment so that I could move my stuff and my dog to Montreal with me. I finally did get a job, after three months of working hard at the search, and I have the best memories of my three-odd years in that city. I might add I have been following Gordon all around the country every since, and while it was often fun and fascinating, I am so DONE with moving!

In one of the Dad-letters, I expressed disbelief that I was now 28. Egads, 28! Imagine thinking 28 is ancient. Little did I know then that by the end of that year, my Dad would be gone forever. My Mum followed him five years to the day later, at age 64. Losing your parents is one sure way to grow up.

These days I'm at an age where many (but not all! I like having friends of all ages) of my friends and acquaintances are also middle-aged, and health problems and other issues are starting to crop up. People are starting to complain about getting older. I seem to know many people who just not happy with their lives, and it's a real shame. I know people who seem to have everything anyone could want in life, yet they still aren't content. Maybe it's just middle-age crises cropping up these days; who knows? Too many disappointments, too much stress, whatever, I don't know. I know I now feel more of a sense of urgency to get important things done than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.

Back in November my oldest friend Carol, someone who had been in my life for well over 30 years, died suddenly and completely unexpectedly fewer than three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer in a very advanced state. She was just 42 and her death has devastated her husband, family, friends and co-workers. I don't know how her parents will get over the loss of their youngest child. It is simply unnatural for children to predecease their parents, whatever the age.

These days, whenever I am tempted to whine about getting older, or when I hear other people complaining, I think about Carol. No one is a saint in life, but Carol came close. :) If ever anyone had things to complain about, it was Carol. She had some major health issues that truly affected her quality of life. She and her husband longed for a family, but she lost her only baby at term, and was never able to conceive again. And then she lost her life at a ridiculously premature age. There is some comfort in thinking that she might now be reuited with her infant son.

When I heard from Carol, as I did on a regular basis (we always lived considerable distances apart after her family moved away from Toronto when I was in grade 8 and she was in grade 7), there never a complaint in her letters or emails. The only way I could find out how she was doing healthwise was to ask very direct questions. Bascially, I had to pry stuff out of her.

It was just a pleasure seeing something from her in my mailbox or inbox, because I knew it would pleasant and uplifting. I knew Carol wasn't going to dump on me. I miss her presence so much, and there aren't many people outside my family who have known me as long as Carol did. And she really did live her life to the fullest, without regrets. That was no cliché with her. It just was. You would almost think she knew that her time on earth would be limited.

I hear a lot of people say they hate aging, hate getting old. My response to that, at least in my head, is that it beats the alternative! Neither of my parents lived to "retirement age", and my goal is to make it at least that far. This is why I exercise almost every day, watch what I eat, get enough sleep, and try to avoid stress. It's not because I'm particularly disciplined, good (you ask my husband if I'm a saint. He'll tell you I'm not!), monk-like or have a special love of exercise and high-fibre foods; it's because I know the genetic odds are stacked against me living to 90, and I want to do all I can to be here on earth as long as possible, because I have things to do! Ergo, I don't mind spending ten minutes in the morning making oatmeal from scratch if it means I'm looking after the body, the thing getting me through what I hope is the second HALF of my life! Plus if I don't exercise, I feel like crap mentally, so it's no hardship for me making that choice. I make no judgment about what other people do in their lives, not in this department. I can only do what works for me.

You see, I am not convinced that aging is as bad as people make it out to be, nor am I convinced that aging has to equal poor health and and a nursing home and a six-pack of Depends. There's a firmly-ingrained belief amongst many in North America that people get sick and useless after about age 65, and are no longer needed in society. What hogwash! I have a couple of friends in their mid-80s who live in a house that has a LADDER (no stairs!) to the loft where they watch TV and do their ironing. The daily ladder-climb is no doubt part of the reason they are so agile and independent and still living on their farm!

Sometimes we have no control over these things; people get old and sick and it's not their fault. Not everything is under our control. (My motto is, I can't control everything that happens to me in life; I can only control how I respond to it.) Me, I just don't believe that aging has to be horrible and painful and ugly. And I want to do all I can to stack the odds in my favour for healthy senior years. I have never been one of those people who think they won't die. If anything, I've always been a little TOO aware of that fact, and when my Dad died, I became determined to live a life without regrets.

On his deathbed, Dad told me that he had no regrets, and I aspire to that. That's not to say he didn't have his ups and downs, nor make mistakes, because he certainly did. But at least he put himself out there. He TRIED. I know that Carol lived her life the same way. She didn't put things off, or find excuses for not doing things that were important. She lived her life and she didn't bitch about it. As a result, she touched a lot of people and there was a huge turnout at her funeral. We're all hurting because she's gone.

Travelling to other countries (Third World, developing nations, whatever you want to call them) has also permanently changed me. I mean, how can I possible seriously whine about the $700 brake job on our car last month (see how I slipped that complaint in? HAHAHA! The "check engine" light went on yesterday too!) when I have met people who have one ratty pair of shoes to their name, people without enough to eat, people who will never see 50, never mind 60, people who can only DREAM about owning a car? I have met people who have suffered through terrible wars, famines, lost limbs to landmines, you name it. There's a lot of suffering going on in the world, and I don't mean not being able to afford the latest Crackberry. Clearly there are things in life that will make us justifiably sad, but sometimes we get worked up over things that are pure silliness when put in the context of the greater world.

Canadians whine incessantly but really, most of us are so fortunate it's ridiculous (obviously there are exceptions and there are people in real need in this country, but I'm not talking about them.) If you ever want a lesson on how being well-fed, well-housed, and having lots of possessions doesn't necessarily make for happiness, go to Cambodia or Vietnam or Sri Lanka, interact with the people, then come home to North America and compare gratitude and happiness levels. 'nuff said. And oh yeah, a lot of these countries actually VALUE the elderly. Imagine that! I ain't perpetuating the "happy poor" myth, but it's not a myth that money doesn't buy happiness, beyond a certain point (food and shelter and basic needs.)

I never make New Year's resolutions, but this January I am reminding myself how lucky I am to have all that I have. I am going to do my best not to complain about "getting older." I am going to continue to believe that we're here on earth to learn a few things, be kind to ALL living creatures, give and get some love, and leave behind a small environmental footprint. (Note to world: humans aren't half as smart as they think they are. Pay more attention to nature.)

Aging is just part of the natural process of life. I can't stop it and I'm not going to try. I'll just do my best to enjoy the ride, keep myself healthy, and live each day like it's my last. Because it could be! You just never know when the number 82 bus is going to jump the curb and nail the bus stop after the driver spills hot coffee in his crotch. Or when the ice will be just a titch too thin under your snowmobile and oh my, you should have bought those ice-claw thingies so you could drag yourself back out of the water. Or when the green beans that Auntie Mabel canned simply weren't pressure-cooked long enough, and oh my God, am I really going to die from something as stupid as botulism beans? Why yes, apparently I am! (Apologies to the late Carol Shields, who is not my Carol but another Carol. Hey, Larry's Party was a fun book!)


And like I say, aging really, really beats the alternative: dying young. Like Carol.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

I wish you all a happy, healthy, peaceful 2008!

For Christmas, my friend Janyne gave me a share of a sheep, from Heifer International. How cool! Do check it out. It's a great organization.

I am sitting here in my pajamas, waiting for my better half to finish cooking "Crême brulée French toast" for breakfast. He is such a chef these days. For Christmas dessert, he made Caramel Apple Trifle and it was awfully, awfully good.

(The hat is from his Christmas cracker!)

And me, with my turkey. I was sweating like a pig in that overheated kitchen!

Tristan and Sophie share the giant stuffed hedgehog that Auntie Amy sent them for Christmas! (These dogs were TOTALLY spoiled by everybody this year.)

Sophie can't be bothered to move for a mere dishwasher door.

She looks very long-suffering, doesn't she?

Two tuckered-out dogs. Too much celebrating! I know how they feel.

H A P P Y N E W Y E A R ! !