Getting there

Getting there

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Validation and Gift Certificates

One of the things about starting to write again after a long absence (years, dear friends) is that you tend to take every opportunity to hone your skills. Recently I wrote in this blog about International Fluevog Day, that day every year devoted to all things Fluevog-shoe related. One of the things I didn't mention in that post, though, was that I had submitted an entry on Fluevog's Facebook page for their "2011 Top 15 Reasons To Love Fluevog". The idea was that you submitted a comment and others on Facebook would "like" your comment. The top-rated comment would receive Fluevog dollars (to buy new Vogs!), and the top 15 would become the official list for 2011. Note that Fluevog has fans from all over the world, so the entries to the contest came in from far and wide, and in the end there were 250 comments to choose from. This weekend I was delighted to open up Facebook and see this:

15 Reasons to Love Fluevog

2011 15 Reaons

Yes, dear friends, that's me at #3! Now, I do owe thanks to some of my wonderful Facebook friends who responded to my plea to help me boost my stats, but I was also delighted that many of the "likes" that helped me make it to that position came from total strangers. It seems they just liked what I wrote, and I can't tell you how that pleases me. As someone who is trying to "kickstart" their writing and maybe even turn it into a paying job that sort of validation is hugely important. We all want to know that what we do is appreciated, of course. Some things,  though, like writing or painting or playing an instrument, are often so close to our heart that not only do they need validation they need to be coddled a bit, too. They are tender at first, and rather tentative until we find our stride and can take criticism that earlier in the adventure would have proven too great a blow. I have been fortunate to have received great encouragement from others with both this blog and my other new writing projects. I feel I have begun to find my stride and now have enough confidence to take any arrows that may be launched at my writing (and by extension at my heart, because that's where I write from, dear friends).

I was especially delighted to receive an e-mail from Fluevog informing me that I have also been awarded a $100 gift certificate from Fluevog. I've had my eye on a new pair of Vogs and I'm thinking that while that $100 won't pay for the pair I can spring for the rest (let's call it a birthday gift to myself as that happens to be occurring this week, too). I also realized I owe something to my 11-year old daughter who inspired my comment to Fluevog. While I won't be giving her any of my shoes (!) I think I will take her out and buy her a new pair of her own, too. I suppose I feel I have been validated as a writer, and now it's my turn to validate her. What am I validating? A love of shoes, I guess, and the fact that her mother loves her. Shoes, love, validation, and gift certificates. It's already been a helluva week, dear friends....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Losing My Soundtrack

I have always been very fond of music. It's not that I have any musical talent, as I don't. In fact I suspect I am quite tone deaf and have never been able to sing worth a damn. No, when I say fond of music I mean that I have always appreciated music.

When I was a child the music I listened to was what my parents and sisters liked. In my parents' case this meant old-time polka music and country (when it was still both kinds, country AND western). I don't mind polka music now but cannot stand country. I will forever associate twanging guitars and that accent with the backseat of a cigarette-smoke-filled Ford as we travelled off to yet another holiday spent with extended family (an experience I usually found miserable as I was a city kid dragged into the country where I was clearly out of place in every way). My sisters' tastes were more interesting - Monkees and Beatles, and more than one went through an acid rock phase, too. When my early teen years rolled around I discovered the Sex Pistols and then New Wave, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I grew older, into my late teens and early twenties, music played an even larger part in my life. I spent most of my time listening to bands, new ones and ones I'd loved forever. I went to gigs and concerts. I hung around with musicians as they were often funny and creative, and besides they got me into gigs for free! I was not a "groupie" in any sense but I preferred to date musicians as they had a gift and talent I appreciated and desired. During those years boys who liked me (I'd say men, but back then they were definitely boys) would make me mixed tapes - those much-loved cassette tapes that existed before the days of CD's and iPod playlists, and that people spent hours making. I would then spend hours deciphering those tapes - did the presence of a particular song mean that boy was "into" me? Was the absence of certain songs a sign? If the tape was mostly love-song related the intent was pretty clear - but if it was a mix of hardcore punk with a couple of sappy ones tossed in it was much more difficult to figure out what the message was (or if there even was a message). Those mixed tapes told me so much about them as people, though. I knew that the music we love sings to us for a reason, and having them share it with me was like glimpsing their soul, even if just for a brief moment.

When I was a bit older I met the man I would eventually marry. He was the bass player in a local band, of course, and my life became a series of basement band practices, gigs where I helped set up equipment, travelling to said gigs in broken-down VW vans, and fighting off amorous club owners and sound men while my boyfriend was on stage. I even moved across the country with him when the band decided to seek their fortune in Toronto, and while fortune was an elusive goal that was a move I'll never regret. The band and I lived together for a year, and what a year that was - one I will never forget, and I doubt they will, either. Three musicians and one young woman from Saskatchewan in "the Big Smoke" - what a ride that was, dear friends.

Something happened in my later twenties, though. I lost the soundtrack of my life. I guess life intervened. I became so busy with work, often working long days, evenings, and weekends. I stopped going to see bands, and even more troubling I stopped listening to music almost completely. It's like it just dropped out of my life for reasons I still don't completely understand. It became even worse after my daughter was born as then the only music I listened to was kid's music, and we all know how mind-numbing that can be.

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I found the soundtrack again. I had begun going to the gym and going for walks, and I realized that music made the time go much faster and my workouts flow much easier. I began loading my iPod with music that I had always loved, and with some new things, too (you know, stuff from the 90's!). Suddenly I was listening to music daily...and the more I listened the more I realized how much I had missed it.

When we purchased the car I now drive I was delighted to see I could plug my iPod into it. Now I could take my music everywhere with me - and I did. I would say that now the soundtrack of my life plays most of the day. I rarely watch TV as I prefer to turn on whatever stereo system I am close to and listen to whatever song I need to hear that moment. Last night while doing dishes I had Nik Kershaw's song "Wouldn't It Be Good" running through my head and I couldn't rest until I had gotten it from iTunes and listened to it several times. Why? I have no idea. I just needed to hear that song at that minute on that day.

I look back over my life and am a bit saddened that for many years I lost the soundtrack. Those were silent years, but I guess they were necessary ones, too. If you never lose something then you may never realize how much it means to you or how missed it would be if it was gone. I guess that's how I feel about my soundtrack. I embrace this music even tighter now because I know what it can do for me - inspire me, quiet me, comfort me, teach me, and, sometimes, make me cry. It gets me through the bad moments and it gives the good moments extra lift. Those lyrics have made me feel that somewhere out there at some time someone felt as I was feeling right now - and isn't that what we all want? To know that we are not alone and that someone, somewhere, has felt what we feel?  I turn on a song I love, sing along, and the world is a better place than it was minutes ago.

I don't know if you have a soundtrack, dear friends. Perhaps music has never meant as much to you as it does to me. If you have one, though, you know what I am talking about. If you don't then it's not something I can explain. The soundtrack of your life is just something you feel, friends, and I truly hope yours is as loud and joyous as mine.

Nik Kershaw - "Wouldn't It Be Good"

Friday, May 27, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog - The Love Songs I'm Not Ashamed Of Disc

Well, in my last music post I covered some love songs that I enjoy and also find too deeply embarrassing to admit to liking. I like to think I have good musical taste but it appears I have some deficiencies and serious, serious weaknesses in the "love song" area. The following songs aren't your typical love songs, but I'm also not embarassed by them. And I happen to enjoy them and will proudly admit to doing so. Some you've likely heard, some maybe not - so, let's go have a listen, shall we?

First up, not your typical love song band. Killing Joke is a punk-genre type band from the 1980's. This song actually has special meaning to my husband and I as we selected it as "our song" when it was new. Yes, that does tell you something about how old we are, and how long we've been together.

Killing Joke - "Love Like Blood"

I love this band and always have. The fact that they are an Irish band originally from Limerick (I've been there!) just makes them so much better. This song is lovely, and I think the lyrics are brilliant. "Now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don't hurt me" - who hasn't thought that when telling someone we love them?

Cranberries - "Dreams"

Okay, this is another band you may not associate with love songs. In fact most people probably think of them as dark and a bit creepy. I've always adored this song, though, and once had someone tell me that it made them think of me (the line they quoted to me was "Come here I think you're beautiful, my door is open wide, some kind of stranger come inside"). I suppose that might also explain my fondness for this song.

Sisters of Mercy - "Some Kind of Stranger"

I was introduced to this band by a friend. It's not your usual fare, certainly, but quite definitely a lovely, ethereal song, and it makes me think of love. Close enough to a love song for me, dear friends.

Wild Nothing - "Live in Dreams"

Let's finish with a man I think is talented, bold, and sexy. Yep, I just called Iggy Pop sexy. Get over it, I happen to think he's incredibly hot. I suppose that's because what I tend to think is attractive in men isn't just physical appearance but rather the sum total of their being. Are they talented? Smart? Funny? Irreverent? Slightly crazy? Hotter than hell, then. That makes Iggy totally, totally sexy. This video has an interview at the end so you might want to skip that bit - but I love this performance!

Iggy Pop - "Candy"

So, there you go, dear friends. Five love songs I won't deny listening to, one musician I think is incredibly sexy, and at least one band (maybe two) you don't normally associate with love of any kind. What a great way to start a weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fix You

I suppose when you are a parent you think about things a little harder, and a little longer. Perhaps that's not true for everyone, but it certainly has been true for me since my daughter arrived in my life almost twelve years ago. Things that once wouldn't have meant much suddenly take on new meaning. For me it's often song lyrics. There is one song in particular that always makes me think of her. I would like to share it with you, dear friends, and explain why it touches me so deeply.

When I listen to the lyrics for "Fix You" it brings me to tears almost every time. The lyrics speak of our feelings when we experience unrequited love, and when we fail. They speak of times we feel lost and alone. They speak of pain and sorrow. They also speak, though, of a light that guides us home to the people who can "fix you". I suppose these lyrics sing to me because my parents were that guiding light for me. They couldn't fix the world for me. They couldn't make that callous boy like me, or get me the job from the employer that had rejected me. What they could do, though, and what they did do, was love me and have faith in me. That love and faith was the the guiding light that led me home when I felt defeated and alone. They were always there with their love and support, ready to fix me in whatever way they could. And every time they patched me up enough to give me the strength and courage I needed to go out and face the world again.

I don't claim to be able, or to want, to fix the world for my daughter. I cannot protect her from the stones the world (and, sadly, those who inhabit it) will throw at her. What I hope she always knows, though, is that I am here. I hope she sees my love and faith in her as a light to guide her home in times of need. I hope I can be for her what my parents were for me. They couldn't always fix my world, but, when I needed it most, they could fix me.

To my daughter : I will always be here, whenever you need me, ready and waiting, to fix you. I love you.

"Fix You"

When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down on your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down on your face
And I...

Tears stream down on your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down on your face
And I...

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I've always thought that "serendipity" is a lovely word. It has a certain lilt to it, and a flow, but I also love the meaning. The best definition I have found for serendipity is "to find something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it". To me it is also when events come together in a way you could not predict to provide a result that is better than you could have wished. So it was that we ended up in the house in which we now reside, and I would like to tell you the story, dear friends, as we found this house almost a year ago.

Last year at the end of May my daughter had her annual spring piano recital. After the recital we took a drive to relax as the recital usually causes some nervousness and anxiety (for both pianist and parent). While driving in an area we'd always liked I noticed the sign for an open house, and suggested we stop in and take a look. Now dear friends, this is quite unlike me. This was a total whim, and I am not generally given to such whims when it comes to real estate. We were not looking for a new home. We had no immediate plans to move. We had discussed moving "some day" - our house at the time was a little crowded for us, but it was right beside the forest and we all loved the location. We had designed much of that house and were quite attached to it. We had noticed some troubling changes in our neighbourhood, though, and we had discussed moving. But immediate plans? We had none.

So, into the open house we went, and from the moment we opened the front door we were impressed. Serendipity grabbed hold of us at that point, but it was not to be an easy path. We toured the house and we were wonderstruck. 5 bedrooms, enough for me to have my own office and craft room. Hardwood floors and a living room with incredible windows. A beautiful kitchen with an amazing island. A huge separate office for my husband, something of which he had long dreamed. A fully finished basement with a lovely little family room. A separate bathroom for my daughter who was now becoming prone to extended time periods in the bathroom doing hair and make-up (so it goes with children on the verge of the teen years). A fully, and beautifully, landscaped yard, with an incredible little "crowsnest" deck. A cobblestone patio. It was, quite frankly, perfect. And it was a good price, too.

We spoke to the realtor and pretty much determined we would make an offer that day. We would list our other home with her immediately, and we would hope.

And so our offer was accepted, and so we listed our other house. When our house had not sold by the conditional date on our offer the deal fell through, but at that point we had decided it was time to move. We were already in the game, so we decided our house would remain on the market and if it sold we would look for another house. The owners of our dream house decided to remove their house from the market for the summer, and we thought the hope of owning this house was gone. Serendipity was not done with us just yet, however.

It was a long summer of real estate showing and disappointments. It seemed our house would not sell, and we discussed taking it off the market. And then, in August, it happened. A buyer appeared with an offer. A good offer, too. A sincere offer. We accepted, conditional to us finding a new home, and we asked our realtor if she would consider contacting the owners of our dream house to see if they still had any interest in selling. She did - and they were. We decided it would only make sense to look at other houses, too, so one Saturday last August we went to view 8 houses in quick succession. There were a couple of lovely houses, and the second last was right across the street from our dream house. The last house was the house we had hoped for and dreamed of, though, and when we stepped in we knew this was still it. This was home. This was, and would be, the house for us. We offered the owners the same offer we had made in May, they accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history.

On September 24th 2010 we took possession of the house in which we now reside. I thought I would desperately miss my other little house, with it's forest view. I was wrong. I miss aspects of our other home but this new home is so much more than I ever imagined owning, and it is completely reflective of who we are. It is quirky, and yet it is lovely. I wake up every morning and step into my living room and know this is home. I loved decorating it for Halloween and Christmas, and while last year we were away for the Christmas holidays this year we will celebrate here. I cannot wait.

So, serendipity. This house came to us by chance, and yet in some way our ownership of it seems pre-destined. I could not have predicted a year ago that we would wander into an open house and embark on a journey that would end with us owning it. In fact had you suggested such a scenario I would have told you that you were quite mad. What surprises even me, though, is how I embraced this adventure. I do not like change. I do not like moving or real estate transactions or all the effort involved. For some reason, though, this time was different and when I stepped into the open house I knew what I needed to do. Now I know why it was different. It was because that I was, even then, coming home.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On

I think we've established over the course of this blog that I am a person of passions (call it obsessions if you must, but I'm not going there). I find something I like and I run with it. If it is something that can be researched, explored, and generally toyed with all the better as it means I can then spend more time and energy on it. And so it is with the English poster "Keep Calm and Carry On".

I suppose I first heard of this poster a couple of years ago. It was a slogan designed by the English government in WWII. They intended it to appear on posters and flyers as a way to boost morale and encourage calm if England was ever invaded by the enemy. England was never invaded, the slogan was never used, and it was forgotten about until 2000, when it was rediscovered.

I guess the slogan appeals to me in a personal sense mainly because I am not normally a "keep calm" type. In fact I would imagine those who know me best would say that in many situations I am prone to a bit of panic. The concept of keeping calm and carrying on was simply one that I felt I could use in my life, and I began to think of it often when confronted with situations that may have normally inspired panic. It's been surprisingly effective, and I've become a big fan of the slogan in general. What I also discovered, though, is that it's become a cult phrase and has inspired hundreds of copy-cat slogans, from the clever to the absurd. I've enjoyed these so much that I even have an album of them on my Facebook, and most of them have been my Facebook profile photo at one point or another. I thought I'd share some of my favourites here with you, dear friends. So, here goes - keep calm, and look at these!

So, there you have my favourite keep calm parodies. None are quite as inspiring as the original, but some of them are pretty damn funny, and a couple of them (about freaking out) are a lot closer to my natural instinct. Thanks to the "keep calm and carry on" slogan, though, I've learned to stop, collect myself, and then figure out my next step. I'm glad the English never had the need to use it - but I'm also glad they invented it to inspire me decades later. I'll leave you with another of my faves, dear friends, because frankly this is what I intend to do:

Monday, May 23, 2011


When we moved into our new house it was September 24th, and as fall had arrived we had little time to inspect our new yard. It wasn't long before the snowflakes began to fall, and very quickly the yard was blanketed by several feet of snow. It was fascinating this week to watch as spring arrived and our new yard sprang into life again.

The first sign was little buds on the trees, tiny bits of green at first but quickly appearing as little leaves. Those green leaves were expected, of course, as in spring almost every living tree begins to show some greenery. What I didn't expect, though, was when our new yard began to bloom.

It began with these shrubs. My husband had been trimming them, which is a new task as we've never had shrubbery before (and frankly the very word "shrubbery" always makes me think of Monty Python and giggle a bit). I was out on an errand while he was trimming and when I returned home he told me I must come see the shrub beside the house. There, on the bottom branches of the shrubs, were the most beautiful little pink flowers. What began as small numbers of flowers quickly became masses of pink blooms, spreading from the bottom branches upwards.

Next I noticed these yellow flowers. One day they were not there, and the next day they were. It was astonishing, really. They are delicate and lovely.

To my delight another tree in our yard began to show tiny white blossoms, and the scent was unmistakable - lilac! It's a beautiful tree, too, tall and very showy.

Finally, I noticed the large tree in our front yard was greening up, but there also seemed to be something unusual about the colour. When I went closer I realized the entire tree was covered with flower buds about to open. I was astonished. When those pink flower buds opened they became the most delicate little flowers, and the smell was wonderful - it smells like cherries!  It appears our new yard holds several surprises for us, each more delightful than the last.

 I am a person who has always loved flowers. Every spring I have invested hundreds of dollars in buying flowers to plant in planters and hanging baskets. I'm actually not much of a gardener. I don't enjoy the actual gardening but I love the end result. This year, though, I will need to buy far fewer flowers. I thank the previous owners of my home who unwittingly provided me with such joy and pleasure this spring. The only thing better than flowers, dear friends, are the flowers that spring into your life unexpected.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Invitation...

I have started another blog and would like to extend a warm invitation to all of the readers and dear friends from this blog. As a reader you might have noticed I have a little problem (!) with shoes, and as such I decided I needed an outlet to both explore and share this addiction (can we call it a passion, please?!?). Anyhow, if you want to see some great shoes c'mon over to The Greatest Shoe On Earth. If you want to read about Ireland, my kid, or my life in general then you will continue to find that here. Most shoe-related items will now be found in the new blog. Well, most of the time. Sometimes you'll still find shoe stuff here - because frankly, that's just how I roll! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

International Fluevog Day

I suppose this is a holiday not many people are familiar with. It was just recently, on Sunday May 15th, in fact. What is a Fluevog you ask, dear friends? A Fluevog is a shoe, of course, but not just any shoe.

Designer John Fluevog started out selling shoes in Vancouver, not designing them. It was serendipity when a warehouse full of turn-of-the-century unused shoes came up for sale, and John (and then partner Peter Fox) purchased the whole lot. They opened their own store, and quickly turned into shoe designers as well as sellers. Peter Fox went off eventually to design wedding shoes, but John remained in Vancouver, designing and "flogging" his shoes.

I first heard about Fluevog in the late 80's. I would meet people wearing great shoes and say "where did you find those?!?", and the answer was always the same - Fluevog, in Vancouver. After awhile I just stopped asking because I knew if I saw a great shoe it likely originated with John (and the styles were pretty recognizable, too). At the time I couldn't afford Fluevogs, so I admired them but didn't own a single pair, much to my sorrow.

For many years of my adult life I forgot about Fluevogs (and, well, about fashion, really - struggling to survive and having children does this to you). In recent years, though, I remembered John, his great shoes, and realized something wonderful - I could afford Fluevogs now. Initially I paused - perhaps his shoes were too young for me, now in my forties? Perhaps I should stick to shoes less interesting and less unusual? I quickly put those thoughts aside when I visited the  Fluevog website. I didn't have any choice. I didn't just want these shoes - I needed these shoes.

Opportunity knocked as I had a trip to Vancouver planned, and I carefully plotted out the route from my hotel to the Fluevog store on Granville. The second morning of my visit I trotted off down Granville in hot pursuit of those shoes-that-must-be-owned, and into my very first Fluevog store.

It was all very kid-in-a-candy-store, with so many delicious options - but I knew what I had come for. On the site I had seen these:

I had looked at this photo for weeks, and had to try them. I had also seen another shoe that I lusted after, but on the site it appeared my size was gone. As these shoes tend to be produced in limited numbers I feared that I'd never own them, but what harm was there in asking? So, I asked about these, and they miraculously had my size!

In a state of excitement I tried on both pairs. The fit? Incredible. The quality? Amazing. The way they made me feel? Indescribable. It might have been decades since I'd learned about Fluevog but it was quite entirely worth the wait to own these. I bought them both. That's right, both. I couldn't leave the store with only one pair, so both came home with me.

Later that day a friend took me to Gastown and told me that he had to show me this store with amazing architecture. It had been an open space between two buildings, and they had glassed in the entire area to create this beautiful atrium. He had no idea what kind of store it was as he had never looked, but he was sure I'd love the building. As he led me to the doors I stopped in wonder. I looked at him and said "Don't you realize that this is the Fluevog store and design studio?". I picked my chin up off the ground, and we went in and admired the building. After we left my friend said "Maybe the next time you come to Vancouver we can visit the store again and you can help me pick out some shoes?". My friend, who had been in the store many times to look at the building (engineers do this sort of thing) had finally noticed the shoes, and it seems he too had been struck with Fluevog Fever.

When I arrived back in my home city I went to Facebook and found the John Fluevog page. I quickly "liked" it and began to see notices about the upcoming International Fluevog Day. Okay, I admit it, I'd never heard of it, either, but it sounded awfully good. Free shipping. Contests. 15% off in store. Every 41st web order free! I was in! (as I may have mentioned before I am an "all or nothing" kind of girl, and I was certainly all about this day)

I posted on their page a few times that day. I posted my wishes for a Happy International Fluevog Day. I posted about how I wore my Fluevogs to the grocery store that day to honour John. I "liked" the status updates that showed someone had won shoes. And okay, confession time - I ordered a pair of shoes. I had recently found an amazing black and red jacket, and these shoes will look awesome with it this fall:

Ordering these shoes will be news to my husband, so...sorry, honey, I had to! It was Fluevog Day! My husband actually came up to me that day and said "You know it's just a made-up holiday, right?" and I replied that it was on the calendar, which made it official (okay, so I wrote it on the calendar, but still!).

Anyhow, Fluevog Day was great. I actually got into some brief discussions with other Fluevog fans, I got a new pair of Vogs (should arrive here soon!), and I indulged myself in one of my loves. I also felt vindicated, I guess. I spent all those years when I was young wanting these shoes and  wishing to be part of the Fluevog world (and trust me, the Fluevog fans are a loyal and die-hard bunch). I was finally there, owning the shoes, and participating in the cult of Fluevog. Every time I wear my Fluevogs I get tons of compliments, of course. They are shoes that get noticed, especially in my little northern Alberta city. I often get asked where I found them. How do I reply? I say "Fluevog, in Vancouver" - just as people answered me so many years ago. And so the Fluevog Fever spreads, little by little.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Irish Vs. English - And I Don't Mean Football

I've been watching the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland with some degree of bemusement. The last time a British monarch visited Ireland was in 1911, and frankly that event sparked a revolution in Ireland. It's been a hundred years since that last visit, and one would think that over time the Irish feelings for the English would have mellowed. After visiting Ireland recently I can only say this - they haven't really changed. In fact what I found was that the Irish continue to pretty much despise the English, and are quite happy to tell you why, too. They also aren't shy about sharing those feelings, either, as I found them expressed by almost every Irish person I met if the topic of the English happened to arise.

When I arrived in Ireland I quickly realized that my lovely new Aspinal of London purse, proudly emblazoned with the Union Jack and just purchased in London, would need to stay under wraps until my return to Canada. The first day we were there we heard anti-English sentiments and it didn't take a genius to recognize that sporting the Union Jack would be, as they say, a bloody bad idea. Fair enough, I thought - many Canadians aren't fond of their American neighbours, either, so it seemed a similar sort of antipathy - except that the roots of anti-English sentiment run much deeper and for far darker reasons than anything North Americans could imagine.

The English have, over hundreds of years, treated the Irish horribly. They have been starved, enslaved, imprisoned, outright murdered, and otherwise abused. It's a desperately dark history, and once one learns about it one quickly understands why these anti-English feelings have managed to last so very long. The Irish are a long-suffering people who have been oppressed, and, while they are generally an incredibly genial and good-natured sort, their treatment at the hands of the English has quite reasonably left them bitter.

One night in a pub in Dublin we were waiting for an Irish friend to join us. While we waited we met a man named Connor. Connor had red hair, a strong Irish accent, and introduced himself as an Irish native although he now spends much of his time overseas pursuing his career in photography. Connor also happened to be one of the musicians who would play for us that evening. He knew all the Irish ballads and traditional songs by heart, and sang them with great gusto when the music began.

Shortly after meeting Connor my husband made a comment about our recent visit to Westminster Abbey in London. The musicians in the pub were tuning up and he made a joke about some note the musicians were playing and how we had heard the organist at the Abbey tuning that same note. I almost kicked my spouse under the table as you could see Connor visibly recoil at the mention of the English, and his response was swift and vitriolic. No comparison between the Irish and the English was welcome, thank you, and it was clear he held deeply seated hatred for the English. Connor was clearly one of those Irish folks who held those deep feelings of anger and enmity very close.

When our friend arrived I introduced him to Connor. A few minutes later my Irish friend quietly leaned into me and whispered in my ear "He's not really Irish, you know". I looked at my dark-haired, lilting-accented friend with astonishment and replied "Whaddya mean?". After all, Connor had an Irish name, Irish accent, had grown up in Ireland, and carried an Irish passport. He hated the English with a passion, which seemed fairly typical of most Irish we had met. He knew every traditional Irish song. He looked at women like they were a sandwich and he hadn't eaten in weeks (a behaviour shared by most Irish men, I must say - they study a woman like no other men I've ever known - there's a blog post in that!). As they say, if it talks like a duck(Irishman) and walks like a duck(Irishman), then most likely....

But no, our friend explained. Connor was "Scots-Irish", meaning he likely had Scottish roots, and therefore didn't count as Irish. I was mildly amused and a bit baffled, too. It seemed the division between the Irish and the British/English was even more complicated than I thought. It seemed this Canadian would never fully understand, and truly I guess I gave up trying at that point. There is a compexity to these feelings and relationships that I suspect can only be understood by those within the country, and the attempt of an outsider to understand it will only end in failure.

When we arrived home I met someone originally from England, Yorkshire specifically. He told me a story about a time when he and several English friends went to Ireland. They had gone to a pub in Killarney and had been warned to stay away from certain towns and pubs because their nationality would put them in serious danger. The Irish were, to us Canadians, warm and welcoming and kind - but my new English friend said that this was not true of the Irish he encountered.

So, the Queen's visit might be a "reconciliation", as they claim in the press. Perhaps it will build some goodwill in Ireland, but I must say I have some serious doubts as to whether it will truly have any significant impact on Irish feelings about the English. The fact that an improvised explosive device was found and defused just hours before her arrival indicates to me that the Irish have no intention of letting go of that long-simmering resentment and anger (incidentally I took some heat, perhaps well deserved, for referring to that explosive as "impromptu Irish fireworks" - never claimed my sense of humour was politically correct!). And really, you know what? I don't blame the Irish one little bit. I think they have bloody good reasons to be angry, and in this I side quite firmly with them. But dear friends, one thing - don't tell my Irish friends about my Union Jack purse, eh?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Steel Magnolia

Recently the title of this post has become a term that I've thought about a great deal. I did some web research on it, and found the movie that made this term famous, of course. I also found a country group by this name that I didn't know existed, and I found this definition at Urban Dictionary:

steel magnolia :
A southern woman who is strong and independent yet very feminine.

So you might be wondering why exactly I've been thinking about this term. It's not because I saw the movie recently - in fact, I've never seen the movie. I certainly wasn't thinking about the country duo, because as I mentioned above I didn't even know they existed. I suppose I've been thinking about it because of me.

As I've mentioned before in this blog I underwent some pretty profound personal changes in the last two years. Some of these changes were internal ones, and some were decidedly external. One of these changes has been how I dress and present myself to the world. For many years my daily uniform was the ubiquitous jeans and t-shirt that seem emblematic of motherhood. After losing a significant amount of weight, though, I found my long-lost love of clothing and shoes re-awakened, and suddenly my appearance became much more important. I began colouring my hair to hide those sneaky strands of grey. I bought far more dresses and skirts. I began to collect shoes. I began to find and wear interesting pieces of jewelry - not necessarily expensive, just unique. I began to see dressing up as something to do daily and not reserved for special occasions.  

I also began to talk much more about fashion, and shoes in particular. I realized I could expound at length about the merits of various shoe manufacturers, and which online shoe websites offer the best selection (Schuh, obviously!). A recent incident made me reflect on whether or not this was the image I truly wanted to project, though. Someone from California that I'd met recently commented that I would be right at home in "Orange County".  I suspected this might not be a compliment but rather a reference to my ability to get into "deep" (shallow?) discussions on shoes. I don't believe it was meant as an insult, either, but it did give me pause. Did my love of shoes and fashion mean I was superficial? Did it mean I was going to be seen as someone shallow and without intellect?

After some thought I realized that we all have different aspects to our personalities. I'm not going to claim I am the brightest person in the world - I am not a mathematician or a "rocket scientist". I think I have a reasonable intellect, though, and I know I have an insatiable curiosity about the world and what makes it tick. My feet might be clad in espadrilles and my body in a dress but that doesn't dull my intellect one bit. Now, when I get going on a shoe tangent I suppose it would be easy enough to assume that I am incredibly shallow - but anyone who knows me knows there is far more to me than all that.

I suppose what I realized, and what I want my daughter to know, is that being into shoes and fashion does not preclude being intelligent. It doesn't demean you in any way. It can be just another aspect of who you are. We may not be southern (in fact I am as about far from the south as you can get!) but we can still be steel magnolias - women who are strong and independent (and smart!) and yet very feminine. We don't have to sacrifice one for the other - we can be all those things we want to be. We can talk about shoes and dresses and world politics all in the same evening, and we can be respected for our opinions on all those topics, too. We don't have to apologize for our love of anything, including shoes. I guess that's why I've been thinking about the term steel magnolias. I suppose it's because it's what I aspire to be.

 This video has nothing to do with magnolias, steel or otherwise - but it combines two other great loves of mine, David Bowie and Arcade Fire. I have loved the thin white duke since I was about 12, and in recent years fell for Arcade Fire. Seeing them together makes my heart sing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Love, Light, and Letting Go

I've always known I have a problem with letting go. This goes for possessions, like shoes and clothing, and, well, people, too. I get deeply attached to something, or someone, and when the time comes to let go I struggle with it terribly.

As I've gotten older I've recognized that our life flows like a river, and people come in to and out of it as their own river takes it's course. Sometimes they are taken from us, and sometimes they choose to leave us. Either way accepting the loss and moving on has always been very difficult for me. I tend to hang on with all my might, as if I can fight the flow of that river. As we all know, though, rivers go where they will and trying to control them is futile. So too it is with the people in our lives who choose to move on or away from us.

I suppose what I have tried to learn to do is to be grateful for what these individuals have brought to my life. Perhaps it was some support I needed, or an occasional good laugh. Perhaps their presence in my life taught me something about myself. Perhaps them being there awakened something in me that had been asleep. That gratitude should exist whether these people are taken from me or have chosen to leave. I try to ensure that I explore those feelings of thankfulness, even if I do not share them directly with those people.

Losing people is painful. If they are taken from you by death then there is some sense that at least it was not their choice to walk away. If they leave you by choice then you feel that perhaps there is something wrong with you, or that you have forced them to depart. In some situations this may be true - but in some it may just be that their river has now diverged from yours, and that you now follow separate paths. This can be tough to accept - I know how tough it is because I do not accept it well at all. I struggle with feelings of hurt and rejection, frustration and anger. There are times, though, when we have no choice but to accept - and move on.

A few months ago I saw the movie "Eat, Pray, Love". Generally speaking I thought it was pretty awful - full of the typical cliches and very touchy-feely, just too sappy for me. One thing I remembered from it, though, is the concept of thinking of those in our life with whom we have struggled - those we have hurt, or those who have hurt us, those we have left, or those who have left us - with these three things : Love, Light, and Letting Go. This doesn't seem a bad practice at all, really, and perhaps one I need to embrace when I find myself struggling. Instead of thinking bitter thoughts of regret or hurt, anger or resentment, I mentally send those who have touched my life these things : love and light, and, if they wish it and have chosen it, I let them go. I still struggle, dear friends, but I am slowing learning that when you let go with love and light it can, sometimes, free you, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Return of My (p)Ride

As regular readers of this blog know my beloved (p)ride had a little incident about six weeks ago. I had left her in the parking lot of the local shopping mall and gone in to pick up hairspray for my upcoming trip to Vancouver (I've noticed sympathy from men about this incident tends to drop a bit when I mention why I was at the mall, but I'm not sure why that matters!). To my horror when I exited the mall I discovered a pickup truck attached to the front bumper of my car. The resulting damage looked like this:

I'll be honest - I was horribly upset about it. There was my poor car minding her own business when she was viciously attacked by a pick-up truck. I realize I was a bit dramatic about it, but that's perhaps when I realized just how attached I was to this car. I took this injury personally.

As there is no BMW repair shop in my city we had to arrange for my baby to be taken to a larger city. She couldn't be driven as she was leaving plastic bits of herself all over the ground when driven. This is her on the flatbed on her way for repair:

I'm not ashamed to admit that I told the flatbed truck driver that this was my baby and that he needed to take good care of her. I'm only mildly embarrassed that I also called the body shop and told them the same thing. I just figured they should know that this car was pretty much family and that she needed some TLC. I didn't expect them to cuddle her in blankets at night or sing to her (well, not that I would mind if they did that, but I know it's absurd to expect).

I'm pleased to report that she returned home about three weeks ago, and the body shop did an excellent job with the repair. Since her return home she and I have been engaged in a little love-fest, as spring has truly arrived and there is nothing like having the sun roof open, windows down, and music blasting. Last week I narrowly escaped a speeding ticket, though, as I was merrily clipping along doing about 75 k in a 60 zone when a motorcycle whipped by me. I realized that if he was going that fast I must be speeding as well, and I slowed down - just as yellow-vested police officer stepped out and flagged us down. The motorcycle pulled over, and, just as I was changing lanes to pull over as well(feeling horribly chastened as my pristine driving record was about to be besmirched), the officer waved me to drive on. So, we are now engaging in our little love affair at lower speeds, but it is still burning brightly.

So, I am thrilled to have my (p)ride back. I must admit that in parking lots I now park even further away from other vehicles than I used to (and even then I parked far, far away). I also tend to give pick-up trucks that get too close to me dark and ugly looks as obviously they can't be trusted around my baby. I've pretty much gotten over the parking lot incident, though, and I know that she is just a car. I also know that she really belongs to my husband, as his name is on the registration, and he gets a bit huffy when I refer to her as mine. Just as with the family dog, though, the person who spends the most time with them becomes their primary caregiver, and dear friends, my (p)ride may not be mine in name but that doesn't diminish my affection for her one bit. My (p)ride is home and safe and whole, and the world is right again. I know some day she may be damaged again, and perhaps even some day beyond repair - but until then I will enjoy our time together, and hope that day is a long, long way from today.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog - The Guilty Pleasure Love Songs Disc

There are songs I am ashamed to admit that I like and listen to regularly. In fact if any of you were to come up to me tomorrow and ask me about this post I will deny ever writing it or ever claiming to enjoy these songs. I can't help it, though. Just as some literature lovers have a secret yearning for the occasional Harlequin romance novel I occasionally have a little love-fest with a song that is just plain embarrassing. So, this weekend I'll share some of those secret guilty pleasure songs with you, dear friends. And let's just keep this between us, shall we?

First up, a song from the 90's. I know it's cheesy. I have no idea why I like it, I just do. Even the name of the band is ridiculous, so it's a doubly embarrassing guilty pleasure.

Goo Goo Dolls " "Iris"

Next we have a song from the late 1980's. I don't even like Chris Isaak a little bit so I cannot explain my weakness for this song at all. I'm just as baffled as you are, frankly.

Chris Isaak - "Wicked Game"

Well, dammit, I happen to like this next one and the band, too. I suppose it appeals to my sensibilities from my younger days when I was "goth" (way back before the term goth even existed and it was just a branch of the whole new wave thing). I think Amy Lee is great, and honestly I'm going to refuse to apologize for liking this. I suppose it's just mildly embarrassing that it's me and oodles of black-clad teenagers who have a yen for this song.

Evanescence - "Bring Me To Life"

Right, this one is bloody embarrassing, and I freely admit it. Cheesy as hell, too, and way too top-40 for me. At least it would usually be but something about it catches me every time I hear it. How annoying. Clearly I need better control.

Snow Patrol - "Chasing Cars"

And finally an oldie but definitely a goodie. I always respected Cyndi Lauper. I thought she was quirky and talented and funny and didn't take herself too seriously. This song has been covered by many people (most hideously by Celine Dion who should really keep those scrawny claws off other people's tunes) but Cyndi was the best. I'm not really embarrassed by this one - I still think it's kind of lovely, even after a couple of decades...

Cyndi Lauper - "I Drove All Night"

So, there you have it, dear friends. Those rank as some of my favourite guilty pleasure love songs. There are others, of course, but one does need to keep some things private. And remember - this is just between us friends. And don't bother bringing these songs up if you happen to see me - because I will deny everything! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Patrick's Well

Ireland is rife with sites related to Saint Patrick. I suppose that's only natural as he is the patron saint of Ireland, and has become associated with that country in a very powerful way. History tells us that he came to Ireland as a captured slave during a time when Ireland was inhabited by druids and pagans, and that during his slavery he embraced the Christian faith. After his escape from capture he became an ordained priest and then returned to Ireland to convert the very nation that had enslaved him.

There are hundreds of stories about Patrick, of course. No doubt some are true and some are simply incredible legend. My favourite is that he used the shamrock to represent the trinity, thus elevating that lowly plant into the symbol we now almost universally recognize as representing Ireland.

When you visit Ireland there are many sites related to Saint Patrick to choose from. There are the churches he established, and the site of his death. I would say, though, that one that shouldn't be missed is Saint Patrick's Well near Clonmel. There is some controversy about this site, with some stating that it's unlikely Saint Patrick ever even visited it - but that is beside the point as it is, perhaps, the most beautiful holy well in Ireland. I would argue it might just be one of the most beautiful places in Ireland period.

When we arrived at Saint Patrick's Well it was a cool and grey December day. It hadn't really been a planned stop but our driver Kevin thought it would be a nice sight for us to see, as well as a bit of a gift for my husband who is indeed named Patrick. When we drove up to the well Kevin directed us down the rough stone stairs, and as we descended it was truly like drifting down into the mists of time.

Even in December Ireland is green, although the shade is a bit subdued, especially after the uncharacteristically cold winter they had in late 2010. As you descend the stairs towards the well an almost eerie feeling comes over you, especially if the site is deserted as it was that day. It feels a bit like there is a history here that you can almost touch, as if you can see the faint shadows of all those pilgrims who have worshipped here.

The water is crystal clear, and looks smooth as glass. Occasionally bubbles rise up from the water, perhaps from a spring below, and ripple the surface of the pond. The ruins of the old church are astonishingly beautiful, and surrounded by the lush green trees an almost surreal vision. In the centre of the small pond stands a gorgeous old cross, covered in moss and looking as ancient as Patrick himself. As you scan around to truly appreciate the view you realize it's the sort of place you'd love to see at night, but then you also think about how eerie it must be in the cool dark Irish twilight.

The peacefulness of this spot cannot be overstated. When I stood there it was almost like an unnatural state of calm came over me, and perhaps it is the sheer beauty of this well. Perhaps it is also simply being in a place with a depth of history that is completely unlike anything we have in North America. This site may now be dedicated to Saint Patrick but at one time it was apparently a favoured spot of pagans and druids. This means that humans have celebrated, worshipped, and visited this area from a time before Jesus was born, and far, far before the discovery of North America. I find myself humbled when finding myself at these sites for this very reason - our own history seems so brief compared to this. I often seem to be speechless at these places and close to tears simply because there is a richness and depth here that seems just beyond my grasp, and yet is so real I can almost taste it.

We didn't stay long at the well. It was rather brisk outside that day, and to be honest while the site is amazingly beautiful there is also something vaguely overwhelming about it. It feels a bit like if you stay too long that perhaps you'll never want to leave, almost like the land of the lotus eaters. You feel as if the mists might enshroud you and you will never find your way out of the history of this place, as if you could be captured here for eternity. As we ascended the stone stairs we did so in silence, which is rather uncharacteristic for a wisecracking man, a talkative woman, and a boisterous eleven-year old. There is just something about the place, though, that leaves you a bit stunned. You find yourself talking in hushed voices as if you will disturb someone, even though the well is entirely deserted save for yourselves. Perhaps you are trying not to disturb those ghosts of the past who, it seems fairly clear, are still in residence at this amazing place. Go to Ireland, dear friends, as I believe everyone should visit this country at least once. And then go to Saint Patrick's Well. There is something very, very special here, and you will sense it the minute you see it, too.