Friday, December 20, 2013

Looky Looky What I Got!

Ignore that other post.

LOOK WHAT I GOT TODAY!! Those baked goods? All made by Kathy Down The Road, my friend and former neighbour. Isn't she amazing? And there are another three boxes of cookies for my kids.

And the photos don't even include the big box of east coast lobsters cooling their tails in the fridge!

I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

From Letters of Note, A Christmas Letter from John Steinbeck

Atwater Market

All of the letters of note are good, but this particular one really hit home.

I am guilty of buying too many people too many gifts at Christmas, especially my "kids" who are now grown and properly launched and don't need a whole lot.

Maybe next year will finally be the year that I cut back, for real, instead of just threatening to do so. It will be a Christmas with only made-with-love gifts. Like the sponge toffee I made this year.

(If you want the recipe, I can put it in another blog post. It's easy peasy and so delicious you'll think you're eating angel wings. Or what I imagine angel wings taste like. Ach, now I'm thinking, "Okay, what kind of person pulls the wings off an angel in order to eat them? That's sick!")

But I digress.

From Letters of Note, from John Steinbeck.

 New York
Guy Fawkes Day

Dear Adlai,

Back from Camelot, and, reading the papers, not at all sure it was wise. Two first impressions. First, a creeping, all pervading nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices both corporate and governmental. Two, a nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown—perhaps morality. Then there's the violence, cruelty and hypocrisy symptomatic of a people which has too much, and last, the surly ill-temper which only shows up in human when they are frightened.

Adlai, do you remember two kinds of Christmases? There is one kind in a house where there is little and a present represents not only love but sacrifice. The one single package is opened with a kind of slow wonder, almost reverence. Once I gave my youngest boy, who loves all living things, a.....

To read the rest of the letter, follow the link below.

America is like that second kind of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shimmy, shimmy shake

I am sometimes asked, "Where can I read your stories?" Well, the latest can be found in Watershed Magazine. The topic is something men probably won't understand, but ladies...amirite, or amirite?

It begins thus:

'Tis the season means, 'tis the season to eat, drink and dress up in fancy clothes. Since my friends don't host come-as-you-are parties, i.e., sweatpants, this means I have to don an actual dress and teeter around in heels that make me look inebriated before my first drink.

This is when I always regret the summer of culinary excess - the BBQs, the hotdogs and fries at the food truck, the ice cream, oh, the ice cream. I have my go-to outfit, a basic black dress. My stylish 90-something grandmother, who always stood out in her brocade turban and ropes of pearls, once said if you want to look elegant, you wear a simple design made of quality fabric then add fabulous accessories. She also said don't leave the house without a girdle. Nowadays they call them body wrappers or shape tamers, but as Nana also said...

If you want to read more, just follow the link to Watershed Magazine.

Be warned.

You will see me in my underpants, or at least the imaginary me courtesy of the talented and funny Trish York, who illustrates all my stories.

Monday, December 9, 2013

WestJet, You're Killing Me

Remember a few months back when I wrote about how awesome WestJet is? 

Well, this is another reason why I love them.

I always look to WestJet first when I fly. The employees are amazing people, truly.

I dare you to watch this without crying.

I heart WestJet. I really, really do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stilwells Humbugs are a Montreal Holiday Tradition

Sweet, sweet humbuggy goodness.

It's simply not Christmas in Montreal without Stilwells humbugs. They are still made completely by hand by a 5th generation member of the Stilwell family.

How to describe the little beauties? These hard, striped candies are a lovely mix of dark brown sugar, pure peppermint oil, butter and black molasses. The recipe originated in England when Richard and Constance Stilwell moved to Montreal back in 1914, and brought the humbug recipe with them to Canada.

The business started right around the time of the Great Depression, with homemade fudge.

Back in 1927, violinist and artist Richard Stilwell lost his job and had to find a new way to look after his family. He didn't want to use social assistance, so he began selling fudge made by his eldest daughter Gladys. 

Daughter Kay sold the bars for a nickel a piece, mostly to caddies at the Mount Royal Golf Club. Richard cycled into Montreal's business sector to sell whole boxes of fudge bars, all fancied up with ribbons, to businessmen. This earned him $2 - $3 a week, at least until he was arrested for selling without a permit.

Not one to give up, Richard along with another daughter Jeanne switched to call-in orders, and they continued to deliver fudge all around town. Conveniently, Jeanne worked at Bell Canada and was able to promote the fudge business with all her contacts at work. Sales grew, and allowed the family to rent space for an actual store within a year. Humbugs and other candies were added to the mix in 1929, and then they set up shop on Wellington Street in Verdun in 1933, where they remained until the move to LaSalle in the late '90s.

It was in August of this year that there was the looming danger of losing this wonderful candy company forever. A collective gasp was heard throughout Montreal, and for a few months, their future was in jeopardy. Then  Le Panier Pointe Claire got involved, and the humble humbugs were back in production once again.

There are all kinds of flavours now, like spearmint, caramel, cinnamon, wintergreen and butterscotch to name a few, but I still like the original humbug best. They're shipped all over the world, from as far away as Europe, Russia, Japan and China.

Connaisseurs of humbugs know that if you leave them out in a bowl, exposed to the air, they will solidify in one solid lump. You pretty much need a chisel to get one loose, but meh, that too is all part of the tradition. Leave them in a bag, and hide them in the back of the cupboard or they'll be gone before you can say "bah, humbug."

If you're looking for places to buy them, you can look up retailers HERE.

I know for sure they're available at Le Panier in Pointe Claire Village, Westmount Stationary on Sherbrooke St. in Westmount as well as the Montreal General Hospital and St. Mary's hospital because as we all know, if you're sick, nothing makes you feel better faster than a humbug!

To watch them being made, have a look at this news report:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Baby, it's cold outside

Although not as cold as, say, parts of Texas and Arizona this week.

The snow is almost gone in Montreal, but on my drive up to the cottage this week, I stopped by the side of the road to take this photo. 
I've passed by this barn hundreds of times, mostly in the summer. I've always meant to stop and take a photo. This time I did it. Trucks flying by at top speed tossed stones my way and enough wind to knock me into the side of my car, but did I let that stop me? Nah.

There was another shot I wanted to take, of a lone tree in a vast empty field directly across the highway, but there was a parked car with the engine idling, and I was alone, so I just wasn't willing to risk it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Frunchroom is coming, Frunchroom is coming!

I just like saying Frunchroom. I also think that has to be one of the coolest names for a restaurant ever.

I didn't know what was behind this cool poster when the Budster and I strolled past, I just liked the name Frunchroom and the vintage photos they used. I was intrigued.

I was curious.

I was hungry.

I thought it might be a new breakfast place.

Our family is obsessed with going out for breakfast.

Our unofficial motto is "if you bacon, we will come." Yes, bacon is a verb in this house.

So I Googled Frunchroom when I got home (and I defrosted enough to type) and it turns out this is a new bistro style restaurant/pizzeria/wine bar opening up just a few walkable blocks away from my city pad.

Actually, it first caught my eye because it's situated in my old office building, and whenever I walk or drive past it, I look over and think back to those days, when I had not one but two secretaries, and an office with a window (it overlooked a courtyard, but still, it was window, which counted as a promotion in those days) and nice clothes and client lunches and I could go for drinks after work on Crescent Street with colleagues and dine on happy hour snacks, which counted as a full meal for a single gal. This was the advertising agency I transferred to after my move from Toronto to Montreal many years ago. I don't regret it. Politics aside, Montreal rocks. It is never, ever boring in this city. The agency is gone now, as is the fancy furniture store downstairs, but rumour has it Frunchroom will have all-you-can-fries, with steamed mussels. And pizzas. And a Thursday night "ladies night" with 50% off the menu and special martinis, on the SAME night when someone's husband is out playing hockey COULD THE TIMING BE ANY BETTER?!

Anyone want to join me? I'll let you know when it opens. I think an official taste testing is in order.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nana Patchet

This, my friends, is the beauty of the internet.

I was contacted last week by a second cousin named Cynthia Adams, who was looking up information on her grandfather, George Adams. Years ago, I did a post on my blog about my great-uncle whose diaries and letters are now in the War Museum in Ottawa. When Cynthia looked up her grandfather, my blog post came up and she contacted me. We may have met once when we were children, at a big family party to celebrate my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary, but neither of us remember clearly.

It also turns out that there were members of her family attending the same high school in Quebec as that of my husband and his brothers. Small world, indeed. We're still sorting that out.

Today Cynthia sent me this photo of our great-aunt Edie (on the left) and my grandmother (and Cythia's great-aunt) Nora on the right.

I can't tell you how overcome I was to receive this. I have precious few family photos, and only a couple of my grandmother. We were very close. My dad was her youngest child, and we had many Sunday dinners at their home in Toronto, on Glen Manor Dr. in the beach. In those days, it was cobblestones, and as children, my sisters and I would climb the hill and run down the sidewalk before climbing into the car to go home.

It's amazing that I got this photo this morning, of all mornings, because today is my grandmother Nora's birthday. She was born November 24th, 1889 in England. When she her older sister Edie were practically babies, their mother died at the age of 32. Their father remarried, and George was born, then they boarded a ship and left England behind to settle in Toronto. My cousin Cythia is from George's line, and I'm from Nora's line.

What a wonderful treat to receive this today.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dorchester, now René Lévesque Boulevard - A Little History

More stories from my 'hood.

When I head south for my walk, I pass by these properties which are a mere ten minutes from my flat and situated side by side. Yesterday, while I was taking these photos, I managed to flag down a young man walking to his car to ask him about these homes, whether they were still occupied, etc.

The first one (below) is the Judah House, also known as Villa Rosa, which dates to around 1874. Located at the corner of René Lévesque and Fort Street, this house was built for a lawyer named Frederick Thomas Judah, director of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. The Judah family owned it until 1949 after which it was given to the Franciscans. It was originally part of the Franciscan Domain and there was a church next door, but sadly that burned down a couple of years ago.

The second house is the Maison Joseph-Wilfrid Antoine-Masson. It is a gorgeous baroque, house built around 1850, and one of the oldest still standing on Dorchester Avenue (renamed René Lévesque Boulevard.)

George Winks took over ownership of the house in 1860 and added a porch and mansard style roof, then it was John Hope, then George Hall, a coal baron. From 1934 until 1943 it was abandoned. The Franciscans bought it, and there are commercial tenants in there now.  Unfortunately the church between these two homes burned to the ground in 2010 and now there's just a big empty lot.

Read the article about the fire and see photos HERE.

Apparently there are still manicured Franciscan gardens in the back of both houses. That will be my next mission - find and photograph the secret gardens with Buddy the wonder sleuth.

Villa Rosa AKA the Judah House. One of my cameras converts photos to drawings, in camera.
The Judah House
Railing outside Joseph-Wilfrid Antoine-Raymond Masson House
Maison Joseph-Wilfrid Antoine-Raymond Masson House
More detail of the railing

Friday, November 22, 2013

Snow, she is on the way

I may not have my snow tires on yet, but at least one of us is ready to meet winter head on.

Don't blame me. This is what happens when I shop with Youngest.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If you're looking for a bit of escapism, look no further

My friend Laura just published her first book, a memoir, about her life in France. I've read it and I can say without question that it is a wonderful book. It's the kind of book that makes me hug myself, I'm so happy.

Right now it's available on eReader format for about $4. The paperback version will be available shortly.

I put a review up on Amazon, but I'll repeat it here.’t we all had the fantasy of dropping everything and running away to a more exciting life in France? Fairy tales may not be real, but Laura Bradbury’s life comes pretty close.

As a young graduate of Oxford law, Laura’s path was predestined; she would remain in London, continue post-graduate work, and accept as a matter of course a grueling work schedule which would leave little time for anything else. Trouble was, she just couldn’t imagine her life in those terms, to the point where it induced crippling panic attacks.

She turned instead to the soft rolling hills and gentle light of the French countryside, to the small village where her French husband Franck was raised, in order to figure out what kind of future she really wanted. And that future, they decided together, would begin with the purchase of a decrepit 200-year-old winemaker’s cottage in the tiny village of Magny-les Villers.

The Grape Years is warm and honest memoir of that first year in Burgundy. Laura took a leap of faith and did what so many of us only dream about. It is pure escapism, a scrumptious story of love amidst the Burgundian ruins, with a side of local wine and cheese. It is also a triumph over inner demons, the ones that whisper lies and convince us we can’t have what we deserve to be happy.  I reveled in every detail, from polishing door hinges that date to the dawn of the French revolution to the tastes and smells of an open air market in France.

If you are a fan of A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun, you will love this book. The Grape Years is more than a memoir. It is a journey, a shining example of hope and joy, and a manual on how to find your bliss. I am looking forward to the next installment of la belle vie.


And the very very best part of all?  Laura and her husband now own several properties in Burgundy, and you rent one of them for your very own self! I'm going to. Who's with me? Show of hands who wants to join me and drink wine and eat baguettes slathered in cold, unsalted butter and jam and meander around the markets with a shopping basket (a real basket) full of cheese. Go HERE to have a look.

If you can't come with me, this memoir is the next best thing. Happy sigh.

Find it at  or at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Oblique Strategies for Writers and Other Artists

Here's an interesting website.

I found this via the New York Times Magazine, on their page 'How To Write A 'LIVES' essay' and this was part of the list.

It advises writers to try Oblique Strategies.

Oblique Strategies is based on a deck of cards, on black backgrounds, each containing random, terse statements of truth and/or principle of craft which encourage artists, musicians, writers, etc., to use lateral thinking to get the juices flowing. It was created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.

A quick perusal reveals things like:

Ask your body.

Tape your mouth.

Shut the door and listen from outside.

Consider transitions.


There are other ENO LINKS if you so desire. I kind of dig it.


The 'How to Write a 'LIVES' essay' guidelines piece is quite good, in and of itself. Just go to the New York Times Magazine website and use the search bar to find it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


If you haven't heard of StoryCorps, you're missing out.

It's a place where ordinary people tell their stories, some happy, some sad, most a bit of both. They're short, under five minutes, but each one is a like a perfect truffle.

I love this one about Kay Wang, a feisty grandmother who was talked into going to the StoryCorps booth with her son and granddaughter to answer a few questions.

And this one? This one will break your heart. It won a Peabody and if you watch it, you'll know why.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Character, as seen on Facebook

Character is 
you treat
who can

True dat.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Husband Is The Devil's Helper

I've had a nagging headache since I returned home from the Surrey International Writers' Conference. I just completed a 10-day round of antibiotics for pneumonia, and was very happy to see the last of these pills which were clearly designed by a sadist. Sure, I only had to take one pill every 24 hours, but they were the colour of a day-old corpse, and too big to swallow without panic setting in. Cramps and nausea always followed, and there was the threat that the pill, after 10 minutes or so of choking it down, would make a break for it so to speak, along with the meal taken as a precaution.

I had a 70% pill retention success rate. 

Do the math.

I really didn't want my doctor to order tell me I had to take more torture another round of those corpse fingers pills.

But after four days at home, I've been nodding off every time I sit down to work or read. I've had no energy to walk the dog, and even though I've been going to bed really early for the past four nights, and slept like the dead each time, I've continued to stumble around exhausted.

I've been fretting.

Maybe it's just conference hangover? 


Or maybe the pneumonia is back.

A few minutes ago, my daughter was making herself a coffee and calmly pointed to the bowl where I keep my Extra-Bold Starbucks Deep Dark Smack Yourself Awake And Thank The Universe You're Alive coffee pods. "Did you see what dad did?" she said.

Wait, what?

I leaned in for a closer look. Seems that while I was away, my dear husband, for reasons unknown, decided to "tidy" up the kitchen, and he mixed in decaf pods with my usual extra-bolds.  


These Pods From The Devil (there for guests/heretics who may request such dreck) were stored in a separate box, in a faraway cupboard, behind the sacks of potatoes and dog food. I don't know how he even found them, let alone what made him think it was a good idea to put them in the bowl with the normal ones where his unsuspecting, sleepy, jet-lagged, spouse would stumble in and use them and think, "Hm, my morning coffee doesn't taste the way it normally does, but perchance the cream is off." 

A quick count (box of 12 decaf pods now down to 4 pods) and a perusal of the kitchen garbage confirmed my suspicions. I may have pneumonia, but the headaches and lethargy are from caffeine withdrawal.

FYI Starbucks. It's not a bad idea to make your labeling on the decaf devil pods as bold as your regular coffee pods. Just saying.

Oh, as for the tidying up, the kitchen is still an unholy mess with my husband's papers and journals covering every surface. But the coffee pods stacked in a lovely Villeroy & Boch bowl look like they belong on a magazine cover. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Oh, Vancouver, how you seduce me with your mountains and fresh air and vegan lifestyle. I'm so used to city streets, arguments over politics and smokers on every corner. This is what I saw when I pulled the curtains open every morning.

View from my window, Sunrise, Day One.

View from same window, Sunrise, Day Two.

Luckily the sun came up....

and burned off the fog.
 Got home last night from five invigorating, exhilarating, exhausting, but very fulfilling days at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. Amazed at how this conference can leave one wrung out like an old dishrag and leaping around like a spring lamb at the same time.

Spent days and evenings with friends and authors I know well, and I made some new friends, too. I flew there against my doctor's advice, and it was actually a bit touch and go before I left. By my departure date, I felt like things were under control and that I'd beaten down the beast, until I realized I hadn't. 

View from the stairwell on my way up to the magic room on the 21st floor. Don't attempt this drunk.

Last Saturday night was a tad rough, and I missed what everyone later said was the BEST keynote speech of the conference given by Jim C. Hines, as well as Jack Whyte's rendition of Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud.

(stifled sob into my fist)

I'm hoping someone taped both of these events, and posts them on YouTube. I did, however, make it up to the partay room later. I have to be at death's door to miss a good party. This is what happens at the partay. That's all I can tell you, because what happens in Surrey, stays in Surrey.

Tyner Gillies, the Wonder Mountie, won the non-fiction prize. He wasn't told in advance as most winners are, and he was clearly blown away. He blinked back tears as we all pounded him on the back. I just love this guy, and his story is both moving and unforgettable. We passed around a copy of the anthology at the table so we could read his entry, and we were all in floods of tears.

There are Many Things Afoot. Most I can't talk about right now, some have to do with me, others about dear friends. Got some great feedback from an agent who requested material, and also from a presenter who asked me to send her some of my essays.

I laughed, I cried, I ate a lot of chocolate. Just the way it should be.

My husband was late to pick me up at the airport in Montreal, so I passed the time by chatting to airport staff, i.e., the guy directing people to the taxi stand. A friend of my daughter walked past, without saying hello to me, but then texted her and he said, "Just saw your mom at the airport. She was asking a black guy what part of Africa he was from."

Okay, for the record, here is the complete conversation.

Me: "What an interesting accent you have. Where are you from originally?"

Him: "Africa."

Me: "Cool. What part of Africa are you from?"

(See? This is called context.)

Him: "Mali. I came to Canada in 2006."

Me: "So, how do you like our Montreal winters?"

Him: "Oooooh, I will never get used to those. They are bad, bad, BAD."

Us: Much laughter and banter.

In other words, I do NOT go up to random people and ask them what part of Africa they're from. 

As for the title of this post...

The couple sitting next to me on the plane? Oh my. It was like sitting next to lightening.

They were from France. You can tell from their accents, which makes it easy for me to understand as it's the French I learned in high school. They looked similar, thirties, maybe early forties, same slight builds and casual chic clothes, tee shirts and leather jackets. He had messy curly hair, stubble and a scarf casually knotted around his neck and she was pretty without makeup, though she looked tired. They were clearly in love, but not in a gross P.D.A. kind of way. It was as though they were magnets; one moved, then the other leaned in that direction. They reminded me of the French movies I watched in the seventies. You just know they have great sex, probably all the time, because they were both so sensual and beautiful. (And then afterwards, they lounge in bed with croissants and cafe au lait and newspapers, and probably a cat or two.)

It was as though they were attached by invisible strings. It was mesmerizing.

He would put his hand on her leg while he read, and she would put her hand on top of his hand, and lock her fingers into his. He fell asleep on her shoulder, and she rested her head on his. They talked softly to each other, murmuring, heads together, never raising their voices to be heard.

When the plane landed, and everyone jumped up and scrambled for their bags in the overhead bins, they stood in the aisle, faced each other and melded into one, as though no one else was there and they were simply one person. She looked into his eyes, and he into hers. He brushed her hair away from her face, and noticed the pendant on her choker was askew, and gently straightened it then brushed her hair from her cheek. They kissed gently, softly. She touched his forehead with hers, their eyes closed, and eventually they burrowed in each others' necks, as thought they were puzzle pieces that just clicked into place. Have you ever seen horses in a field, just resting, heads and necks entwined? That was this couple. I could not stop looking at them (not that they would have noticed me staring.) They stepped out of the plane and walked slowly to the baggage area, hand in hand, swaying in time.  It was a sight to behold.

Anyway, they disappeared, my husband pulled up in the car, and we headed to the local bistro for drinks, succulent oysters on the half shell, and steaks and frites. The air is crisp in Montreal, a big change after the warm sunny weather in Surrey.

Now we have frost, and snow up north.

 But I have my Buddy back, and he, clearly, has me in his sights once again. I think in his tiny walnut of a brain, he and I are like that couple on the plane.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Family Portrait

Last Christmas, my children decided to surprise my husband with a portrait.

Eldest, on the left, asked her beau take a series of shots.

Most were lovely. But there were some outtakes.

This is what happens when the directive is "Make a bunch of silly faces!" and Middle Kid and Youngest conspire to ignore the advice without informing Eldest.

Then the beau made a GIF.

Then he sent it to me.

Then I got permission from all to post it here.

The one on the left? She really is her mother's daughter.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Field Trip Last Summer

To a supposedly "haunted" church in Gore, tucked away in the woods near our cottage.


St. John's Shrewsbury, now a deconsecrated church, is not haunted. But somehow rumours started, then vandals came and destroyed this once lovely summer place of worship. It is tucked away on a remote dirt road, so it was easy for gangs of teens to break in and party there unnoticed. It's quite sad to see the destruction of a once sacred place. It is both beautiful and mournful there; the sweet chapel is slowly crumbling and dissolving into the gentle gardens of the cemetery surrounding it. Its jagged holes, shattered plaster and profane graffiti are a sad testament to its former glory days.

I have friends whose children were baptized there. Other friends, visiting from Winnipeg, found a relative's gravestone. In fact, Julie's great-great-(not sure how many greats) grandfather William McKnight died exactly 145 years to the day, July 11th, we stood there looking down upon his grave. And as I basked in the warm summer sun and Buddy snuffled around in the grass, I read the stone and realized I was also the exact same age William was when he died.

Not a ghost, just a ghostly reflection of the photographer.

Then again, one can find the divine in an Icelandic train station. Go here.