This is not a blog. So sue me!

Crikey, things are looking up!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Letters to M Apr 2012

Hi guys, 
I was just talking to a young lady who is 11 today - my neighbour B from down the street. She had a brain tumour removed when she was only a little older than M...needless to say there have been tough times in her life, but what she most wanted to show me was her new bike, a birthday present from her parents. As my birthday present I fixed up her ride with a bell, mirror and luggage rack that she had bought. Now she's all set to ride to school, she says. 
Keep up the good work sweetie. 
All our love,

Hi M,

Hawaii - Excellent choice!

You know, of course, the ukulele, the smallest guitar, comes from Hawaii. All across the Pacific, school children learn to play it as their first instrument. When I was your age, M, I lived in Fiji (which has a similar climate to Hawaii although it`s not so exciting, much quieter). At school we learned that ukulele means little jumping flea in the Hawaiian language. If you want to hear a terrible noise, get 20 children all strumming the instrument at the same time!

Last weekend, Don and I went to the St. Lawrence Stage concert hall in our home town of Morrisburg and, funnily enough there was a warm up act, Manitoba Hal. He is a big man from Manitoba who plays the ukulele very well. Here he is playing a song that he did for us:
We thought it was wonderful!

The other act was a performing group called The Crooked Brothers. Here is an example of what we hear from them:
Funny guys!

Keep up the good work M!

Much love,


...and since we are on the subject of ukuleles, this is our favourite song on this instrument:

Letters to M May 2012

Wonderful story about your art day! 
I just had a glamorous Mother's Day, frantically cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and making supper for my mother. She is 82 and very easy to please, but I always make a big deal out of it...

We had roast beast and Yorkshire pudding, with apple pie to follow. Everyone was fat and happy afterwards. I think I ate too much...

If you get time, go to the Lincoln Fields bus station. The hundreds of flowering cherry trees there are absolutely beautiful. You can park in the bus station pick up lot, on at the edge of the Lincoln Heights mall parking area. Even from the car they look lovely. No crowds like there are in the Tulip Festival!

Good luck for Thursday.

Hi M,

I hope you are able to get outside and supervise your garden growing...don't be surprised if it takes a little while though!

Tomorrow I am planting some tomato plants that my mother gave me and some brocolli plants that my girlfriend Leslie gave me. I think both of these ladies planted a whole packet of seeds and then were surprised when they had 20 or 30 little plants! It says on the seed packet to leave 50 cm between plants, so they won't have enough room to plant them all...but it was nice of them to give them to me!

Last week I planted potatoes. I think they will be ready at the end of August. It is important with potatoes to remember the date that you plant them because you have to know when they are ready. Unlike your brussel sprouts or my tomatoes you can't see when they are ready, they grow underground and you don't know how big they are until you dig them up! You dig up the whole plant and the potatoes are underneath it hiding in the soil. It takes between 70-90 days for this type of potato to be I think the end of August should be about right!

I think that gardening is one of my favourite things to do...but I have to be careful to not get too hot or to be burned by the sun. It is very easy for me to get sunburned so I wear one of Don's old white shirts with long sleeves and a pair of his old pyjama bottoms and a big hat. With rubber booties I look very silly, but I don't care!

I hope you have a great gardening summer!



Letters to M Jun 2012

Hi M,
It sounds like you've been working very hard on your therapy! I hope you soon start feeling a bit better. You are all very brave, and very lucky that you have each other.
Today, I was teaching some people to row in rowing boats. These are long, narrow boats that have big oars that people use to push them through the water. I am part of a rowing club, and during the summer months we row almost every day. It is very good exercise and a lot of fun!
Every Spring we teach some new people to row with us. We have some boats that take one person, some that take two people, some that take four and one boat that has eight people rowing at once! This boat is about 18 metres long! How long is that? Well if you mummy takes 18 long strides, that is how long it is. It is huge! In the case of the four-person boat and the eight person boat, they go so fast that we have to have a person to steer the boat. They have to do this very carefully, because all the rowers sit facing backwards and can't see where they are going!
In the one and two-person boats the people have to keep looking over their shoulders to see where they are going! It's like riding a bicycle backwards!
 Our boats are very light, but fairly strong. However, sometimes we row into a rock which can crack the bottom. I was in a boat last year with another person and we did just that! Luckily we only had a little leak and we were able to row to shore before it could sink! 
Sometimes people make mistakes and they can fall out of the boat - the boat still floats but the people are in the water. Most of the time this is not very dangerous because the water is not very deep where we row, but right now it is still quite cold and it is important to get out of cold water quickly!
In the Fall, we go to rowing races that are called regattas. We often take our boats along with us, which needs a special trailer to carry the boats and oars. We are what are called recreational rowers - we row for fun.
There are people who are called competitive rowers - they are very serious about racing! In a few weeks the Olympics will be held in England and almost every country competes in sporting events. Canada has some very good rowing crews. They have a good chance to win some races and get awarded prize medals!
I hope you can watch some of the Olympics on television - they are only held every 4 years, so the last time they were held you may have been too young to remember!
Anyway, I will be thinking of you when I go rowing again tomorrow!
Here is a video of high school students rowing:
Best wishes to all,

I remember when Don had his open heart surgery that a kind fairy (not unrelated to your mum, I think) dropped off at my desk a basket of useful supplies for his hospital stay - and that basket was great for use on the hospital side table (otherwise things just slid to the floor). So thoughtful and so kind...I have since passed it on to another person in hospital.

We know about the disturbed sleep - all kinds of noises in the night. One of the best items in the basket that Don remembers were earplugs! A fancy toothbrush, skin cream, wipes, something to read and assorted other little luxuries that I forget now. 

Another thing I found great to do, was to go into the visitors lounge in the middle of the night and put on a movie - something really funny and stupid, like Airplane. Also reading comic books. Doonesbury and Bloom County at that time I think...keeps you going and puts a smile on your face...which is the most important thing for your loved one!

Thinking of you all!



What a day! It sounds exhausting for you all. 

We are so sorry that you have to take such awful pills, M! You are such a great fighter. We think you are great!.

When I was a little girl, my little sister Helen was very, very sick for a long time. She had asthma which meant that she couldn't breathe properly and often had very bad chest infections. Sort of like your infections, the original problem was something different, but the bacteria were taking advantage of the fact that her defenses were down for a while. It's like fighting weeds in your can win - if you have lots of help - but you have to keep at it all the time and root them out! 

Just like you, she had to take horrible pills, brown-type poop-goop, and a tube down her throat; but she got better that time, and all the other times that it happened. Helen is now a grown up woman in very good health and she feels great now! 

Lots of love,


Hi all,

What a lovely picture of you M! (I really see the resemblance to your mom!)

We had our first taste of fresh local strawberries today! They are wonderful! I took my cat, Freya, to the vet (which is a doctor for all animals, except for humans) for her annual check up. He said she was in great health, which is good. The only thing is that she has a long black fur (which must be very annoying on these hot days). When she grooms herself, she licks herself all over, and the long hairs form a huge bundle in her stomach which then makes her vomit up the last meal (and, if we are lucky, the hairball that made her sick). Sort of like you've been doing...So the vet recommended that I give her some mineral oil which is like wet Vaseline and makes the fur in her insides a bit less tangly. They make a special goop like this for cats, and they flavour it with tuna...too bad they can't flavour your medicine with something other than ick.

Anyway, outside the vet's office, which in in Winchester, about a half hour south of Ottawa, there was a smiling man selling new potatoes and fresh strawberries. It was Thursday last week, the hottest day of the year so far, and he was outside...he did have a tent over him and the produce, but the wind was like being next to an oven. I bought some new potatoes, they are tiny, smaller than an egg, and deliciously tasty! Yum...the strawberries are also delicious - they are quite tart flavoured  - I am sorry to say that by the time I got home to Morrisburg, only 20 minutes in the car, I had eaten about half of them!

I put it down to stress. Freya was not happy in her cat box. It is a large plastic crate with big holes all around and a wire mesh door at the end. She hates being in the carrier! I have to put her in there, because if she is wandering around the car when I am driving, it can be very dangerous. Cats always seem to want ot get under the  pedals so that you can't stop the car if you have to! So she was in the box, howling and crying, and scrabbling like a mad thing at the door! It breaks my heart to hear her like that, even though it is for her own good - she doesn't realize it!

Of course, when we get home, I opened up the cat box on the driveway to let her out and she walked out all calm as if to say, "What is all the fuss about?" She can be quite contrary to what you'd expect. I suppose that the smell of her home was enough to reassure her. 

Did you know that cats and dogs have a much, much better sense of smell than us humans? They rely on smell as much as we rely on our eyes! I think cats only see in black and white, not colours like us. They get a lot of information about the world from the smell of things we can't even detect.

So Freya is back home, which is very important to a cat.Right now she is sitting on the rail of our back deck quite happily looking at birds. Luckily for them, they know that cats want to eat them! Every time she goes into the garden, all the birds get up on the wires and scream, "Cat! Cat! Cat!" - of course they don't say it quite like that - but the other birds get the warning!

All the best, sweetie, I hope you feel a bit better soon.

Love to all,


Letters to M. Aug 2012

Have a great time canoeing guys (although I think sleeping in the shade sounds a lot more fun on a hot day like this).

I hope someone is watering your victory garden is really suffering, not just because of the dryness, but also because of the sheer heat. However, the grape vines are loving it!

Good luck with the tests, guys!


Hi guys,

It sounds like a rough time for everyone. Serious business at CHEO as usual. 

We're thinking of you all. 

M, Don and I got our sailboat launched in the water finally. We have been working on her for a long time (since March) getting her painted and changing some equipment. We are going to call her "Bufflehead" which is the name of a small duck that we see sometimes on the St. Lawrence River.

When we were sailing some years ago in the south of the United States,we would see flocks of these cheerful little ducks crowding around our anchorage, even in the most remote areas. They are black and white with a greenish head and a big white patch on the back of the head. Our boat is white and black below with a green stripe, so it seems to be a good name!

I hope you ll get out of hospital soon, it must be very strange not to be at home, and very tiring for everyone. One of my friends was in hospital recently and she said that one of the the worse things was that she would just get to sleep and then she would be woken up by a loud noise, or by someone in the next bed, or by the nurses giving her some pills or something...

All the best!


Letters to M. Sept 2012

Hi guys,

Difficult news to get. We are thinking of you.

In general these days we are so protected from knowing how brutal the course of serious illnesses can be. You are wonderful parents.

A rainy Fall day - time to cuddle up with a hot chocolate, to talk of great summers past and dream of wonderful summers to come!



Letters to M Oct 2012

All those courage! M you are a hero; to everyone here and especially to your Mom and Dad!

Here is my stupid joke:
Question: What's brown and sticky?
Answer: A stick.

S & D.

Letters to M. Nov 2012

Hi M, 
Your black cat halloween costume is so cute! My little black cat (called Freya) is very jealous! She wasn't allowed out for Hallowe'en - although she is not interested in going out at night now anyway (she says) because the weather is cooler.

We had a busy Hallowe'en in Morrisburg, as usual I invite my Mom for an early supper and we sit in the front lobby handing out treats. We were busy - although we had stocked up with a lot of candy, we were down to almost none left by 8pm. Too bad for Mom, Don and me...we didn't have many leftovers for ourselves!

One big change this year was that a lot of the kids, big and small, had fantastic face makeup...the costumes were pretty fun, although there were a lot of Batmen and little Darth Vaders...which is creepy in someone 3 feet high!

We also saw some kids going round in large groups - up to 10 at a time - walking along, burdened by huge pillowcases full of swag. One girls had a folding shopping trolley - she was the smart one I think! One poor lad arrived at the door in one of these gangs with only a small plastic supermarket bag, which was straining to contain his loot. He plaintively asked if I could give him another bag...luckily I keep a lot of bags handy and he went away happy. His reward for the night was only limited by his stamina now!

I always feel a bit conflicted about Hallowe'en round here...many, if not most of the kids are already suffering from eating too many candies and junk food. I just hope their parents can save them from getting sick after eating too much!

Take care guys! 

Hi M,

It's sad to hear that your hair is coming out! will grow back really soon - and we hope it protects the daffodils from the squirrels - although they are pretty determined animals and seem to dig up the garden at random all the time, so they might find flower bulbs by accident. 

We have seen more squirrels than usual this Fall...they are chasing one another over the lawn, up on our deck, up the grapevine, onto the roof of the house and onto the big walnut tree...then onto the neighbour's roof...and so on. Of course we have so many squirrels because we have a walnut tree! And our other neighbour has an oak tree that produces big, fat, acorns! So as far as the squirrels are concerned this place is like a buffet if they dig around all the trees and bushes, they can steal nuts and acorns buried by other squirrels. 

I have a story about squirrels. When we first moved into this house, it had been neglected for many years. We came in February and by about March we started to hear scraping and rustling sounds in the roof above our heads! 

"Oh no," we said, "we have mice!" Then there were scampering sounds and then we saw little faces chewing their way into the ceiling from above in the back porch! Yikes! We had a squirrels nest in the roof!

So, we don't mind squirrels, they are fine outside the house! We looked around and found where the mother was getting in and out to get food for her babies (a small gap between the roof shingles and the side of the house). We went to our local farmers' store and the nice man there sold us a trap called a Havahart - this is a trap for animals which will not hurt them. It's like a big wire mesh tunnel with a plate to put food on. When the animal gets inside and tries to eat the food, it triggers the ends of the cage to close the tunnel trapping him or her inside! The man said to wait until the baby squirrels were starting to come and go out of the hole on their own. Otherwise, he said, you won't be able to trap them and they won't be able to survive. So we waited a few days.

On a warm day, we put peanut butter on the plate and climbed a ladder to put the trap up on the roof near the hole...within 10 minutes we had our first customers! We caught not one, but two, young squirrels! We took them, in the cage, over the nearby creek and let them go near an abandoned house. It's about a half kilometre away. (Apparently if you take an animal over a water course, they rarely come back.) Then we went back and set the trap again. 

This time we caught the mother squirrel, much bigger than the others - and she was very, very angry! She was scratching and biting the cage and cursing us out in squirrel...eek!eek!eek! We remembered to use thick gloves to lift the trap this time, in case she bit us! This time we drove her to the same place, and carefully opened the trap...she ran away as well. We went back again!

In all, in about two hours we captured and relocated seven young squirrels, and the mother! in about 5 trips. I am pretty sure that they could move in and live just as happily in or around the abandoned house as they could in our house!

Then we had to fix the hole in the roof to stop any more animals or birds from getting in. And we had to fix the ceiling as well. So if you hear rustling in the ceiling or roof, it might not be just mice!

We hope you get to go out again soon...

All the best,

S & D.

Hi M!

So....your favorite colour is...rainbow!! I laughed so hard when I read that that I nearly choked on my coffee!

Good luck for the next wee while. No bad germs, OK?


Letters to M. Dec 2012

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Some silliness in place of a box of Christmas crackers:

What do you call a girl lying in the middle of a tennis court? Annette.
What do you call a boy with a vicious cat? Claude.
What do you call a girl who likes to play hide-and-seek? Heidi.
What do you call a boy with a seagull on his shoulder? Cliff.
What do you call a girl who complains a lot? Mona.
What do you call a boy sleeping in front of your door? Matt.
What do you call a girl with ten suitcases? Carry.
What do you call a boy in a pile of leaves? Russell.
What do you call a girl in a restaurant? Dinah.

What do you call a man with a shovel in your garden? Doug.
What do you call a man without a shovel in your garden? Douglas.

Hoping for the best in the New Year!


Great photo of you M! You are a lucky girl - you are starting to look a lot like your mom! 

Hope you all have a happy Christmas and a great New Year! 

My poor cat, Freya, is very unhappy right now. She is having a miserable life, since her staff (Don and I) can no longer open her door into Summer to let her out into the yard. She has tried every door in the house, repeatedly. Everything is cold and wet and she blames us!

She cries at the glass door to go out, but when I open it, she takes a sniff, lays back her ears, looks at the incredible prospect of pouring rain and feels the wind, and then retreats back to the sofa...then when she finally has to go to the toilet, she has to use the cat box in the basement, which is an unbelievable humiliation. And cats don't like it when you laugh at them!

The thing is, she is only 5 years old, so it is probably hard for her to remember the Winter last year. And the fact that Summer will come again. Now, the only thing she has to look forward to is mealtimes and naps.

During the summer, Freya would be outside for most of every day. Now she spends almost all her time asleep in the house. 

Freya was useful recently...Don & I were replacing a basement window and when we took out the old one, we left it open for about 5 hours while we were fixing up the outside wall. A day or so later, we noticed that Freya was sitting in  the basement watching a section of boxes very intently. Later that night when we were asleep we heard her making a loud mew-mew-mew sound. 

Don got up and found that she was watching one of his outdoor boots very closely...he looked inside to find...a mouse! She had caught it and was "playing" with it. It had run inside the boot for shelter and had died, probably from fright. Later the same night, she caught another one, which we managed to capture alive. A third one I caught in a mousetrap. Since then, we have seen no more. We were very glad that she caught the mice and warned us that they were in the house before they did any damage! They are looking for warm places to live over the winter, but we don't want them in the basement!


S & D..

Letters to M. Jan 2012

Dear M,

Great news that you're starting on the new treatment! One day at a time, everyone...

Our cat, Freya, is not having a very good winter as I mentioned before but now there is more to worry about: firstly there is a nasty new grey tomcat in the neighbourhood - whenever he sees her, he chases her and bites her! Secondly, I have started putting out peanuts for the birds, and a flock of blue jays now come to our tiny bird feeder. This is attached to the front window of our house and it's so close, that Freya thinks she can catch the birds. She runs forward to seize them...until she hits the glass!

So she can't go out, for fear of being beaten up (unless we're around - we chase the grey cat out of the yard) and she gets very frustrated at the mocking and laughing of the blue jays, who have learned to ignore her attacking from the inside of the window. Plus it's cold, and snowing and stuff...and our patio door has frozen up, so she can't go out that way...and...and...she can't wait until Spring! It's a sad life being a black cat, stuck indoors, no fun at all.

Except, from time to time, we throw a dried kidney bean onto the floor for her. She just loves to play with one of these...they skitter and spin like little tops and seem to come to life. It almost looks like a small beetle on the floor. Eventually it gets lost under a chair or something but it is hilarious to watch her! So the cat is in Spring training for Summer beetle hunting!

Her other fun thing to do is hide in cloth grocery bags. We got a couple of these from Loblaws in black fabric and for some reason she loves to play in them (Don says it's because it matches her fur). I have to drop the bag on the floor, then lift it up by one handle so that she can get in, and then I have to pick it up (cat inside) and carry her to the other end of the house. She pretends to be asleep. I then put her down, she sometimes gets out and we do it all over again, or, she will stay in the bag and grab at anyone who walks by! 

I'm not sure who is training whom, or who looks more ridiculous!

Lots of love,


Friday, January 18, 2013

Woody Allen's Manhattan, after all these years

We recently watched Manhattan, the 1979 Woody Allen movie. It hasn't aged well, or is it just me?

This is alleged to be a comedy drama. Apart from a constant stream of weak verbal gags by the autobiographical leading character Isaac (played by Woody Allen), it isn't at all funny. The situations are pretty sad; a middle-aged man sleeping with a teen-age girl, the terrible shame he feels that his second ex-wife has left him for another woman - we no longer find either of these situations amusing now in the same way as they were intended. The first situation is not funny; Lolita is barely acceptable now. The second is no longer shameful, just part of life.

Nor is this a drama in my opinion. It is a series of static scenes showing a group of New York intellectuals, each of whom live by some kind of role in the artistic-industrial complex without really having to work. There are authors, writers for TV and magazines, college professors, a student of acting. There is a constant sexual square dance, partners switching joylessly; without much passion or excitement. A running chatter about tennis lessons, ex-wives, alimony, art gallery openings, analysts, going to the Hamptons, worries about what other people will think, and other purported concerns of the New York rich.

This is often cited as one of Woody Allen's "best movies". It has a cast with several well-known female actors.

Diane Keaton plays her usual character in Allen's movies: channeling Kathryn Hepburn on anti-depressants;  kind of crazy, kind of clever, kind of dumb, with unsuitable men but they find her adorable...continually making indecision into a sort of angst-sodden group sport. She did have nice breasts - her nipples feature prominently under clothing in several shots. Woody Allen was nothing if not a connoisseur of the female form.

The other female lead (played by the 16-year old Mariel Hemingway) appears to be made of some kind of sapwood. She's pretty but granite-jawed and mumbling, like a teen-aged Marlon Brando with a mouth full of marbles. She is completely unbelievable as a talented 17-year old actress who is having a passionate affair with 42-year-old, short, balding, self-centred minor celebrity. (Although in reality several young girls did pair off with Woody Allen, but that's a real-life story; dramatically, I remain unconvinced.)

The scenes with Meryl Streep as the long-suffering lesbian ex-wife who has custody of Isaac's son are painful by today's standards and like much of the movie seem to exist just to support a single gag:

"How's Willie?"
"Well, give me some details, does he play baseball, wear dresses, what?"
"He doesn't wear dresses. You'll find out the details when it's your turn to see him."

The thing that really upsets this man is that his ex-wife is writing a tell-all story of their marriage. The fact that his wife was compelled to do this about someone so pretentious and annoying did have a unique ring of truth.

There are visits to galleries with protracted discussions of (mostly) unseen artworks; again with a few funny lines but the scenes go on too long. There were a few items of interest from a nostalgic point of view where typewriters, tape recorders, and old push button telephones were being operated.

The squash game shown in this film may be the lamest example of athleticism in movies, deliberately so I suppose. Isaac, holding his squash racquet along the shaft not at the handle and without appearing to look at the ball, conducts a (for him) profound conversation with his best friend. One man serves, the other misses, the ball is returned for another serve. Repeat, until we get the point that this is funny. Both players are breathing normally when they leave the court.

This is the kind of lifestyle that gives liberals a bad name apparently. It may be sort-of amusing for the time and demographics as a parody where rich Jewish New Yorkers are copying WASP stereotypes, but I didn't really care at the end. The talk throughout about how much in love with New York everyone is was not convincing, there was not really anything to show for it. There is a night ride in a Central Park carriage which is pretty, a walk thorough late-night streets, a number of motor vehicle rides on local highways, ho hum. The only real love depicted was self-love. Is that the point? New York allows one to be absolutely selfish?

The moral of the film is clumsily revealed near the end by Isaac as the author, explaining everything into a tape recorder. Perhaps all these people are running around having affairs, creating dramas and difficulty to distract themselves from their empty lives.

The film does look good; filmed in glorious black and white to emphasize the shots of a brooding New York skyline - sinister towers looming behind shots of Central Park, and a black-silhouetted illuminated bridge at dawn. After a while you stop noticing it isn't in colour. The music, all by Gershwin, is excellent.

So it may be that Manhattan will be viewed in the future as a kind of time-capsule of  interesting details of  New York life in 1979, but I'm not sure that the plot, scripts or acting will ever be anything but silly and implausible. I much prefer Allen's Radio Days, made 8 years later which is much less self-indulgent, funnier and more affectionate.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

News from Loon County - January 2013

Hi D, sorry about the long delay in writing or visiting!

We have had a series of small crises and I've had a bad cold in the last while - things that have basically stopped us from doing anything much other than the tasks we had in front of us...

Hurricane Sandy's weather system resulted in very high winds on the St. Lawrence. We hadn't secured the boat shelter properly, so a weak part of the frame broke and we had to repair it. It also ripped a large enough hole in the rather elderly plastic cover so we had to order a new one to be made. It was due for replacement, I suppose. We changed the design a bit and had to wait a while for the company in Texas to make it. And then put it up again. 

This was while the boat was still in the water so when we hauled it out, it was uncovered until two days before the first snowfall...the boat itself had no trouble with the high winds etc. as we had secured it with extra ropes. We were very lucky that there was no rain with the storm, as we had tools and supplies in the shelter that would have been ruined. We were very lucky that we didn't get a lot of snow before we got the boat covered up again, because it's a real pain shovelling off ice etc from the boat.

The Fall was really good weather for all of this - we were also lucky that there was practically no snow until the week before Christmas as we had stripped all the siding off the south side of the basement wall and dug around the foundation to insulate it. We managed to get that job done, removing yet another rotted window and taking out the huge chunks of concrete-bound rubble (1960's sardine cans anyone?) that had been placed under the windows. I am not sure what the original purpose of these were, perhaps to try to get water to flow away from the windows, but they had, in the course of 50 years, sunk into the ground away from the house encouraging water to come in. Another step in the continuing renovation saga! 

Now we have got everything secure and the boat sorted out (indeed we've started work on it again), we are anticipating coming to see you in the next few days or so, we will call you to see if it is OK..

My mother came over here for Christmas dinner - we used to make it at her house until a couple of years ago, but I don't like to do it there now. She is (and always has been) an incredibly messy housekeeper. Not dirty, so much as cluttering the place up with newspaper clippings, magazines, boxes of candy, pet treats, greeting cards, kitchen utensils, frying pans, recycling bins, clothes pins, empty containers, full containers, handwritten recipes, books, cookware, electronic gadgets, prescription medication containers, bowls of nuts, beauty supplies, house plants, and so on. Everything in her life is laid out on on all the counters, tables and bookcases and occasionally the floor, in unstable strata that threaten (and actually do) cascade all over the place at a touch. She has a "treasure,": a cleaning lady called Lorry who does a remarkable job of cleaning up around these piles, but on occasion just heaps one pile on top of another adding to the difficulty of finding things. In summary, I cannot cook in the place - I may be picky, but to coin a phrase I heard in the TV show "Absolutely Fabulous", I can't work without my surfaces, darling!

My mother is a lovely person and at 82, living in her own place and taking care of most of her needs herself, I am not truly complaining, but she drives me to distraction sometimes. It's just that I lived with this when I was a child, and I had always thought that it was just something that having sufficient storage space, shelves, cupboards etc. would solve. It isn't. It's about overflow. When she moved into her present 3-bedroom bungalow, she had been living in a 2-bedroom apartment (with our stuff in her second bedroom when we went sailing). Don and I renovated her "new" kitchen and other rooms with many more drawers and cupboards than she had before. Within a few months the situation had reverted to "not enough storage" - we started adding shelves in the bedroom closets, then the get the drift. She lives in the happy state of having just enough money, and being close to Giant Tiger, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, a dollar store and the "Bargain Shoppe". Every other day she goes shopping and brings more junk back home. My last visit to IKEA with her in July (an experience too horrendous to talk about in decent company) resulted in yet more basement shelving. Which is now full, of course. I know now I am approaching 60, having left home 40 years ago, I shouldn't feel that I have to rant about this...sigh :-)

Anyway we invited her to lunch on Christmas Day, we made a turkey-like thing (a pre-stuffed "turkey breast" which wasn't a great success) with the usual (for us) overload of roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots, gravy, with Christmas pudding and custard for dessert. A huge orgy of food, and a shipload of wine, quite unlike our normal meals these days! I think years ago, living in a place with no central heating, perhaps we needed the stodge to keep warm. Now it just knocks us out for the rest of the day and means we don't sleep well. It was great!

Don's sister has done him the favour of sending us a cookery book entitled "Great British Puddings" - which, considering that she and Don's older brother are both diabetic, is not really a favour to anyone. I decided to make one dessert a month, and invite our English friends around for a "Pudding of the Month Club" meeting. The first pudding was the Christmas pudding that we had for Christmas lunch. A rich dark fruit pudding in the traditional manner, but instead of taking 5 hours to steam cook, and instead of having to be made months ahead of time, this was called Quick Christmas Pudding. Very skeptically, I mixed all the ingredients and then followed the method - 5 minutes in the microwave, 5 minutes rest, then another 5 minutes in the microwave. It was really good! My mother (who is super vigilant on the taste of her traditional food) loved it. So this is a recipe to do again, I think.

The second pudding (mid January) was the Golden Syrup sponge. Syrup in the bottom of a pudding basin, sponge cake-type mixture on top of it, then steamed for 90 minutes. Again, this was excellent. Kind of nostalgic for his sister had imagined, it was "just like mother used to make!" I think the next one we try will be the notorious "Spotted Dick" which is a sweet suet pudding studded with raisins or currants. Originally this was made in the form of a long loaf shape, wrapped in a greased cloth and cooked in a boiling water bath, half suspended out of the water. It is easier to do this in a pudding basin covered in parchment and foil and the result, apart from the suggestive shape, is the same. There is a suggestion that the word "Dick" in the name is descended from "Dough" but I think that's a Victorian idea to make the recipe less suggestive. There's  also "Dead Man's Leg"...suet pastry rolled up with jam in the middle. The colour is pretty vile - a sort of greyish beige with a soft flabby surface, which spurts molten jam when it is sliced. Sounds yucky, but was a great school meal favorite. We are definitely going to be putting on weight!

I have, reluctantly, started back on the rowing machine again. It has been about a month since we stopped physically working hard on various projects (except for snow shovelling, which doesn't count) and it's surprisingly hard to get back into it. Mostly it's the mind...or perhaps the fat cells...weeping 'cos all that suet and butter has become dear to them...

We try to keep active, but it's a struggle. A lot easier to stay indoors a turn into a slug. I'm going to have to find something more to do, although I am doing a lot of reading. My latest is a number of books on the project Gutenberg website. Much that was published by anyone who died before 1957 or so is available, and this includes a lot of good stuff as well as a lot of rubbish. George Orwell's essays have been the best I have read so far. I read the Road to Wigan Pier first - I had a crumbling Penguin paperback that I started reading, but it fell apart, so I continued on the site. Orwell was a prolific essayist, wrote several pieces weekly to make a living. He was famously bitchy about various politicians, professions, groups of literary types and poets of his day, - some of the latter he refers to as nancy or pansy poets, and is horrible about their (admittedly bizarre) politics. Great stuff, will put hairs on my chest, I am sure!

The worst thing I have read on their site so far was Island of Terror (pub. 1931) by 'Sapper' - the author of Bulldog Drummond. This is one of the worst things I have read since I was about eleven and stopped reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's full of tall, heroic white men socking slimy "dagos" on the jaw and rescuing white women from a fate worse than death. Interesting in the sense that boy's adventure literature has moved on quite a bit - in the acceptable plot devices and overt racism. Today, the ladies in question would undoubtedly suffer the fate worse than death, then free themselves in an unlikely manner and wreak unholy havoc on their captors. Today's bad guys are less likely to be fiendish orientals or degenerate South Americans, as to be white industrialists gone bad. Not to mention the race of super-powered human-sacrificing ape-men...oh...right, they're the same!

Haven't heard directly from L. in a while, which is good (for me). I have heard from mutual acquaintances that she went to Russia for the last 2 weeks in December (leaving her children over Christmas....lovely mummy). What a sad thing. I can hope that the kids are going to be OK, but no-one will be surprised if they are more screwed up than normal. Of course this too, in meaningless; it was Philip Larkin who wrote:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

And on that cheerful note may I say, I hope you are doing well; I see you are working out like a dog (not your dog who is one of the idle rich) and we'll see you soon!


St Lawrence Rowing

Test content from SLRC