A Grumpy Christmas

19 Dec
Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Courtesy of Times Colonist

Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Courtesy of Times Colonist

On this date 171 years ago Charles Dickens published his novella, A Christmas Carol, and introduced us to one of the most miserable, miserly grumps who ever lived–the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge. Hundreds of adaptations of this Christmas ghost story have been created since that time in every form imaginable, including film, television, opera, stage and animation. The book itself has never been out of print and remains popular almost two centuries later.
Last night on Turner’s Classic Movie channel (one of my favorites!) two Scrooge films were featured: 1935’s Scrooge starring Seymour Hicks and 1970’s Scrooge starring Albert Finney. I enjoyed Seymour Hicks performance as Scrooge, but the film itself lacked the emotional impact I was hoping for. Albert Finney is one of my favorite actors but his 1970 Scrooge film is actually a musical, which struck me as an odd way to interpret the story. I have to wonder if the success of Oliver!, the 1968 musical that garnered 14 Academy Awards the year before (including Best Picture) was the main reason the producers chose to jump on the musical bandwagon for this adaptation of Scrooge. Except I kept comparing it to Oliver! which I vividly remember seeing at the movie theatre when I was 12, and Finney’s film couldn’t compete.
Everyone has a ‘must see’ movie at Christmas; for Christmas isn’t Christmas without it. For my husband (and his three brothers and three sisters) it was The Sound of Music. For me, the movie is 1951’s A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim. My father and I would watch this movie every Christmas, and the first time I saw it I shivered in my slippers. Everything from Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge to the three ghosts to the soundtrack to the plot is absolutely mesmerizing. Ebenezer’s transformation on Christmas morning still brings me to tears.
Yes, the film is old, black and white and the special effects are dated … but if you are in the mood for Dickens at Christmas, dig up this old classic featuring the world’s most famous Grump. You won’t be disappointed. 

The Trouble with Take Out

4 Dec
I ordered greek souvlaki take out the other day for a family occasion and was very pleased when they told me the salad dressing was in a separate container, since I’d actually forgotten to ask them to do that. So many times when I ask for the dressing in a separate container, restaurants neglect to do it. It’s a no brainer, not to put dressing on a take out salad, isn’t it? Who likes limp lettuce?  
Photo courtesy of: savesomegreen.us

Photo courtesy of: savesomegreen.us

I drive 30 minutes to my daughter’s new home and after guzzling a few glasses of wine, it’s time to eat. We unwrap our dinner and everything looks amazing, except there’s no tzatziki, which is my favorite part of souvlaki. I was very bummed, especially since I gave them a generous tip, which I know people don’t usually do with take out orders, and I’m sure my husband would be pissed if he knew that, LOL. The dinner was delicious, and I tried not to obsess about the missing tzatziki, and everyone said not to worry about it — HA — but it seems everytime I order take out, something is missing or messed up. 
At my local fast food outlets (not mentioning any names) I’m now in the habit of checking everything in the bag down to the last straw and napkin. I’ve received missing items or other people’s meals so often it’s just a necessary evil. 
Now the same thing is happening with higher end restaurants. 
I called them the next day and very nicely asked if the tzatziki was included with souvlaki, and they of course said ‘yes’. They were naturally appalled that the tzatziki was missing, said it wasn’t possible because they remember distinctly putting it in the bag and it wasn’t in the back fridge, so they couldn’t understand what happened. 
Which is another way of saying it must be my fault. That I’m delusional, that somebody in my family decided to play a prank and throw it in the garbage before dinner, that I have nothing better to do than call up restaurants to complain the next day.
“Why didn’t you call us right away? We would have delivered you another one.”
I don’t believe that for a minute, but it’s nice of them to offer. They also offered to reimburse me for the cost of the tzatziki, but I declined. I hung up feeling it was somehow my fault. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I dropped it on the way out of the restaurant — SPLAT — and didn’t notice. <Sigh>

Giving Thanks

22 Nov

As American Thanksgiving approaches it’s the perfect time to be grateful for our blessings. Here’s a list of what I’m grateful for:
My wonderful family and friends, and all the dogs I’ve had the priviledge of loving.
My physical health. As each year passes my body gently reminds me that I’m not as young as I used to be, so I also appreciate my aquafit bootcamp teacher at the local public pool. She’s a dragon but I know that investing in exercise now will prevent my joints seizing up later.
My mental health. I was fortunate to find an excellent psychiatrist who literally saved my sanity eleven years ago. Thanks to new awareness of the debiliating effects of depression and anxiety, I can actually say that out loud.
My new kitchen. After almost 20 years we finally invested in a new kitchen pantry and L-shaped island counter and I love it!
And finally, on the lighter side, I’m thankful for Judge Judy. She metes out justice and says things most of us only think about and wish we could say!
Wishing my American friends a blessing-filled Thanksgiving :)

A Writer’s Retreat — Day Five

15 Nov
"Apres la Tempete" by Horace Champagne Pastel on Paper

“Apres la Tempete” by Horace Champagne
Pastel on Paper

Took a break from our keyboards and drove to St. Sauveur, Quebec for lunch and some shopping. I took pictures with my iPhone but they didn’t turn out that great, so please enjoy this beautiful picture by Quebec pastelist Horace Champagne of St. Sauveur after a winter storm.
I enjoyed hearing French being spoken — although I was born and raised in Montreal, I’m an anglophone — and I practiced my French with the sales people in the stores, but as soon as they heard my horrible accent they switched to English. Not sure whether to be grateful or insulted, LOL.


A Writer’s Retreat — Day Four

13 Nov
002I get a little cabin fever when I’m inside too long, so I decided to go for a walk today without a map and my uncharged cell phone. Bad idea, since I had no clue where the paved trail led or how long it was. 
When I was 5 years old I got lost in the woods. We lived in the country, and this was back in the day before Helicopter Moms and Neighbourhood Watch. Kids were let loose in the world to fend for themselves. No car seats, no seat belts, no bike helmets. Go outside and play, kid. Don’t come back until lunch time. 
The woods across the road beckoned me and I decided to just enter a few steps, turn around and come back. I can still remember the creepy feeling of glancing backwards and realizing that the forest floor looked different than it did two seconds earlier. My grandmother eventually found me and all was well. But I don’t have a good sense of direction and the woods can creep me out. 
Fast forward to my walk today. After 40 minutes it became clear I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and started to get tired. Nature has a way of setting my imagination free, and after another mile I had been chased by a pack of wolves, mauled by a black bear and attacked by a deranged jogger. All in my head. 
But the universe is kind, and I came across a friendly trio of fellow hikers who happily informed me that the village was only 20 minutes further ahead and all downhill. 
I stopped and had a drink from a spring gushing down the mountain. Best water I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could have taken a picture but my cell phone had died a few miles back.
And because my creative juices were now gushing just like that water, I also plotted the first third of my next book. 
Alls well that ends well.

A Writer’s Retreat – Day Three

13 Nov
Pink Mouse

Pink Mouse

Green Mouse

Green Mouse

I may not be making the page count on my manuscript, but at least I’m blogging! It’s difficult to concentrate on writing because my friend Selena Robins’ psychadelic mouse keeps changing colors. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The housekeeper arrived to give our little nest some tidying up. I’m sure her eyes popped out of her head when she saw the amount of empty wine bottles in the recycle bin. We didn’t stay long enough to find out.
We drove to check out the local casino but it was closed. Just as well, I always lose money at the slots. We went to the village and enjoyed fish and chips at a local pub. A lot of the stores are closed because it’s officially off season. The fall colors are over and ski season hasn’t begun yet. 
After an afternoon nap I did some research on the setting for my book and chose the names of my two protagonists. Progress.



A Writer’s Retreat – Day Two

11 Nov
From November 10 2014 001Laptop plugged in. Nancy Drew related articles for inspiration nearby — watch, bracelet made of typewriter keys, card case. Coffee. i Pod and headphones. Flash drive for back up. All set.
Breakfast. Check Facebook. Say hello to some new friends. Do crossword puzzle. Go for morning nap. Think about brainstorming session from yesterday. Make notes. Blog. 
Make hamburgers for lunch. Go for a nap. Feel guilty that I’m not writing as I watch my friend Selena Robins tap away at her keyboard. I hate myself. 
Pour a glass of wine and go outside to smoke a cigarette. One of two every evening. I know, I know.IMG_1501
Watch Millionaire Matchmaker. It’s getting dark.
Go outside with friend and drink more wine. Feed a deer that wanders by.  He likes carrots. 
Back in front of my computer. Have a few more ideas but don’t know how to start this damn book. Hope for better things tomorrow. 


A Writer’s Retreat – Day One

10 Nov
View from our window

View from our window

November has come around again, bringing with it an urge to write. In honor of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) my friend (and critique partner) and I have travelled north to Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains for a one week writing adventure.
 NaNoWriMo has been a personally successful format for starting a first draft. My latest novel, From Away, was born in November 2011 and was released two months shy of its 3rd birthday. So here I am again, with only a vague idea of what to write about, but hopeful that with some brainstorming, homemade pizza and wine, another idea will evolve by the end of the week.
 Got up this morning to snow on the ground and a mostly clear blue sky. There’s something about the mountains that fills me with peace and hope, giving me clarity of thought and a catalyst for creativity.
We will write each morning, take a walk in the afternoon, drink Long Island Iced Teas before dinner and talk about our WIPS (works in progress). Bouncing ideas off someone else’s brain gives more perspective than brooding about it on your own. 
 Writing is by its very nature a solitary activity. Sharing the process with a fellow writer is a collaborative, connective concert of words that provides fodder for the long winter to come.

Elusive Ghosts

30 Oct
Party Store Windsock

Party Store Windsock

Since shopping is my favorite hobby, you’d think I’d be able to find a Halloween Ghost-themed windsock or hanging lantern for my cherry tree; with its spindly bare branches it looks appropriately spooky this time of year and serves as a perfect backdrop for a hanging ghost. But these wispy spirits have eluded me for years. I could probably find a random one online and pay a thousand dollars for shipping to Canada, but it perplexes me as to why a simple hanging ghost decoration isn’t readily available in my local department, dollar or specialty party store? Believe me, I’ve checked and found everything else—banners, buckets, costumes, door decorations, fencing, figurines, flags, hanging heads that feature light and sound, inflatables, lawn ornaments, masks, props, strobe lights, tombstones, treat bags and window clings. 
When I can’t find what I’m looking for, I resort to desperate measures. 
Several years ago I saw a ghost windsock hanging from the ceiling of a now defunct party store, and after pleading and begging for several minutes convinced the woman to sell it to me, even though it wasn’t for sale. It belonged to the store’s private collection of decorations and was the only one of its kind. 
Hand-made Windsock

Hand-made Windsock

Over the years I lost it in the bowels of my basement, and decided to make my own out of a white shower curtain and a lot of sweat and tears.
When it comes to crafting and sewing I know enough to be undaunted by most patterns, but not enough to do a really great job. (Yes, I need to use a pattern and very specific instructions.) Plus I inherited my father’s clumsy fingers when it comes to fine motor coordination. So my friends and family are very kind with their remarks, but if a seriously gifted seamstress or crafter took a close look, they would laugh in my face at my crooked stitches and fraying hems. 
No matter, it looks good enough for my purposes. I don’t think the neighbourhood kids will notice how uneven the ghost’s streamers are. If they do, I’ll give them extra candy for being so observant.
This year, while de-cluttering my basement, I found my original Ghost Windsock, so now I have two of them hanging proudly in my front yard. If I ever run across another one in my shopping travels, I’m grabbing it.
So, Dear Blog Reader,  if you should come across a ghost windsock, think of me. And perhaps you should buy it for yourself, because apparently they’re as rare as four-leaf clovers.


Before Carolyn Keene …

15 Oct

“Good Luck” by Mrs. L. T. Meade

… there was L. T. Meade.
A friend of mine who knows my obsession with old books found this for me at the used bookstore where she works, and I fell in love with the book cover.

Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith 1844–1914

Good Luck by Mrs. L. T. Meade was published in 1896 (!) and described as ‘A Story for Girls’ under the category of ‘Books for Young Readers’. But Mrs. Meade also wrote mysteries, sixty-six in all, along with one hundred titles of general fiction and twelve short story collections.
Born in 1844 in County Cork, Ireland, Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith was the eldest daughter of a Protestant clergyman and began to write as a teenager, much to her father’s horror. Upon the death of her mother, she moved to London and studied in the Reading Room of the British Museum. She married Alfred Toulmin Smith in 1879.
Using the pseudonym ‘L. T. Meade’, she wrote over 300 books in her lifetime. She is best known for her novels of girl adventure, especially of girls at school, but she experiemented with many genres including religious and historical novels, adventure, romance and detective fiction. Her writing was described as “sentimental” and “sensational”. She co-authored books with other male authors; the first of these was with Dr. Clifford Halifax, with whom she first collaborated in 1893. A year later she teamed with Robert Eustace. Her partnership with Robert Eustace  featured two female villains, Madame Sara (in The Sorceress of the Strand) and Madame Koluchy (the mastermind of a band of gangsters, in The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings). One of her most unusual titles is Dumps; A Plain Girl (1905). She was also the co-editor of a popular girls’ magazine, Atalanta (previously titiled Every Girl’s Annual). She was active in women’s issues and a member of the feminist Pioneer Club.
The largest collection of her books resides at Cornell University, with about 185 titles. If you think collecting Nancy Drew Mysteries is a challenge, imagine collecting all of her works!


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