musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

haiku for Mom

tuesday: a twilight moment
               held my hand

Monday, August 28, 2006

along came a spider...

While surfing through the Canadians roll at BlogHer tonight, I came across a meme called Checklist—a collection of 150 possible life experiences with the instruction, "just bold the things you have accomplished in your life." Seemed like an interesting way to put off washing the dishes, so I began reading, mentally building my life list.

1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink (no)
2. Swam with wild dolphins (no)
3. Climbed a mountain (not even a small one)
4. Took a Ferrari for a test drive (no)
5. Went inside the Great Pyramid (no)

The dishes were starting to look a whole lot more appealing!

And then, along came ... 6. Held a tarantula.

Now, strictly speaking, my actual hand didn't actually touch the actual tarantula, but I think (and all you arachnophobes out there will agree, I'm sure) that standing next to a tarantula in my own living room should definitely count. Why, only a couple of inches of air and a dangerously thin and brittle-looking piece of glass separated me from the great, hairy, eight-leggedy beastie.

I vaguely remember my son (the culprit) saying something like, "Isn't he great?" and "I told Gilbert we could keep him here."

And I remember feeling suddenly cold. Probably because every drop of blood in my extremities had gone whooshing away into hiding. The rest of me desperately wanted to follow, and would have, but for the need to be sure the thing didn't escape its glass prison.

Minutes passed.

I stared, unblinking.

The thing lifted one hairy leg and stared back, eyepods all a-quiver!

"Wanna touch it, Mom?"

I honestly don't remember many details beyond that point. Needless to say, I did not want to touch it. Both son and tarantula were ushered quickly out of the house.

Son returned.

Tarantula did not. (As far as I know...)

Do Not Click Here!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

worth a thousand words?

Instead of writing tonight, I played around with setting up a flickr account. But each picture is worth a thousand words...right? See them here.


Friday, August 25, 2006

it's a jungle out there

Balcony Garden, May 25'06 - just planted Balcony Garden, August 25'06 - rampant!
Witness: abundant growth! My balcony garden is thriving this summer. Ivy wraps Kwan Yin in an emerald embrace; Baby Tears form a lush green blanket at her feet and tumble into the fountain. True, a bit of careful pruning might improve the vignette but everything is so joyfully rampant, I haven't had the heart to cut it back.

Many of my neighbours make do with a few pots of geraniums or no plants at all, fearful that our north-facing balconies don't get enough sun for a "real garden". That's true if we're talking about roses and sunflowers, but there are plenty of wonderful shade-tolerant plants that will happily grow in containers. My favourites, in no particular order, are: Tuberous Begonia, Impatiens, English Ivy; Spider Plant, Dracaena, Potato Vine, Boston Fern, Bamboo, Caladium, Sweet Woodruff, Licorice Vine, Bird's Nest Fern, Vinca, and Black Mondo Grass. Fuchsia, with its 'tiny dancer' flowers, likes the shade, too, but I'm fairly certain they were responsible for the Great Aphid Infestations of '04 and '05, so they're flora non grata on my balcony now.

Somehow, I forgot to plant Sweet Woodruff this year and have missed the lovely scent of it in my garden. (While perennial, it won't survive the harsh Toronto winter in a container.) The whorls of glossy foliage form luscious green mounds with pretty clusters of sweet-scented white flowers all summer long. This one will definitely be back next year. does your garden grow?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

it's never too late

A friend of mine is on her way to Egypt tonight, a journey of over 9,000 kilometres from her home in Toronto. For the next two years, she'll live and work as a kindergarten teacher in Cairo. That in itself is a pretty big adventure, but consider the fact that my friend celebrated her 70th birthday last March. I am full of awe! Bon voyage, Adventuring Angel!

Update on my novel word count...
Word Count: 8.2%

Sunday, August 20, 2006

write interupted

I've been blogging for two months now and it's time to 'fess up about my real motive: I want to write again. Not so long ago (although sometimes it feels like a lifetime), writing was my passion, my comfort, my pleasure. I wasn't prolific on a Nora Roberts scale, but I did complete five novels over the course of five years and, joy of joys, saw four of them published. And interrupted. On a somewhat cataclysmic scale. In the aftermath, imagination fled. Inspiration went into hiding. Motivation moved out and left no forwarding address.

But that was then. Life is different now, and I'm content. I've tried, several times, to pick up the threads of the story I was working on before Stuff Happened, but my characters seem wary and standoffish. Can't really blame them, I guess. I mean, I did  leave them alone on a rock in the fog for three years with nothing but two mugs of tea, some cookie crumbs, a deaf orange cat, and their looming Conflict.

Enter stillpoint: The Blog. It's been both apology and promise to my fog-bound characters. I figured if I could write something on a regular basis, it would prove to them and to myself that I've still got what it takes to finish the book. Lately, I've been pretty sure I've heard my muse a-knocking. Imagination and inspiration are definitely back, and I've put motivation on notice: there will be time to write every day.

Now to get those two off that rock . . .

Word Count: 4.7%


Friday, August 18, 2006

across a crowded mall

True confession: I am a one purse woman. Shocking. But true. You see, way back in November of 1998, I found 'The Perfect Purse' at the CACY Arts and Crafts Show. Hand made from soft, black leather, with two roomy compartments and a couple of zippered hideaways, it was — and is — just right.

The trouble with owning 'The Perfect Purse' is that nothing else will do. Oh, sure, I understand the theory of changing with the season and matching purse to shoes. It all sounds good. But perfection is not so easily duplicated and I'm not one who's willing to settle. So, versatile as a little black dress, 'The Perfect Purse' has been on my arm almost daily ever since.

Of course, nobody would wear a little black dress every single day for eight years. That's ridiculous. In fact, it's a little disturbing...

Oh, good grief! I've been lugging around the same purse every day for eight years! How weird is that? Eeeuw.

Sam inspects The Perfect (old) PurseOn the other hand, old purse still looks darned good. The maker obviously took great pride in her craft because, despite the constant use, not a single stitch has given way.

Unfortunately, my snake and dragon rings have taken their toll on the soft cloth lining, so it is a little shredded where the sun don't shine. And I dare not leave it open when Sam is around. Its cat-allure is irresistible, as you can see. (Let's not ponder the reasons for that ... I fear another "eeeuw" moment.)

Still, I've been happy with old purse, lo these many years, and so was all innocent and unsuspecting this afternoon on my hike through Vaughan Mills. I wasn't there to shop for myself. I was there for Johnny Depp. Well, for an authentic Jack Sparrow costume, actually — a birthday gift for my grandson. He'll be five at the end of the month and really-really-really needs to be Cap'n Jack. Said costumes are selling like proverbial hotcakes in Toronto, so finding his size at The Disney Store put me in a very good mood indeed. Mission accomplished!

The New (Potentially) Perfect Purse       And happened.

I was on my way to the exit, doing a little window shopping on the way. It caught my eye from across the crowded mall and, I swear, it called my name. Resistance was futile. (There's something about the air in a Danier Leather store. Breathe deeply and you will buy.) Meet The Potentially Perfect Purse.

Only time will tell if this beauty will woo me permanently away from The Old Perfect Purse. So far, things are looking good. I'll report back in...oh, eight years or so.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ain't what she used to be

No, not the old gray mare. I'm talking about my old gray self. Of course, age is really a matter of perspective. I don't feel old —well, not most days, anyway. On the other hand, I am a Grandma. Twice. And I've been known to catch a glimpse of myself in a store mirror and wonder who the heck that grumpy-looking old broad is. Yup. Perspective.

Last weekend, J. and I treated ourselves to a pancake breakfast at a local diner. While browsing the menu, I discovered their 'senior discount' applies to anyone over 55. Yippee! I qualify, and gleefully informed our waiter that I'd have mine with a 10% discount, thank you very much. Hey, what's not to like about a discount?

Funny thing, though. I remember thinking, not so very long ago, that I'd never admit to being a 'senior'. At the time, it sounded so ... well ... elderly. And not in a good way. Discounts or not, I dreaded the prospect. But this week I've been checking the age requirement whenever I see a senior discount advertised, and grumbling when it's set waaay up there at 65. Hey, I qualify for discount pancakes, why not discount movies and travel, too? Ah, yes. Perspective.

The other day, after grumbling about how long it was taking our laser printer to crank out fifty perfect copies, I found myself telling my younger co-workers about office life in "the olden days". Wide-eyed with wonder, they were, as I regaled them with tales of the mighty, ink-spewing Gestetner machine. Now that was slow. And messy. And does anyone else remember "editing" lengthy documents with a pair of scissors and a whole lot of glue? Ah, the (not so) good old days. Now that I think about it, perhaps my co-workers' wide-eyed expressions weren't wonder, after all. More like horror and disbelief. (She can't be that old, can she? What the heck is a mimeo? Wasn't he an actor back in the 50s?)

Okay, to heck with perspective. I'm ancient and that's all there is to it. But y'know what? Despite my trepidation a few years back, I'm okay with the whole getting older thing. My once-blonde hair is gray by choice. It's the real me and I like it. I wear comfortable shoes because, darn it, comfort is good. I'd like to think I've learned a few things along the way, too. Like how to worry (a bit) less and how truly wonderful those roses smell when you finally slow down enough to enjoy them.

Friday, August 11, 2006

blame it on Stephanie Plum

"You need to be adaptable." So began my Thursday morning horoscope. Since J. and I were about to embark on our annual overnight Mom'n son adventure — pre-planned in precise detail — those words seemed full of ominous portent. Undaunted, I read on. "Things that are wrong in one moment can be perfectly right in another."

Oliver! ticket

Well. Alrighty then. And so, embark we did. A couple of unsuspecting travelers on our way to see the Stratford Festival Theatre's production of Oliver!

My first inkling that something might be amiss came when I noticed a highway sign promising coffee, gas, and lodging at the next exit. In Blenheim. Now, I may not always know exactly where I am on the map, but I do know when I've overshot my target highway exit by ... well ... a lot.



[Brief pause inserted to allow those who know me and my navigational "skills" some time to recover from fits of groaning, eye-rolling, and possible spraying of monitors with assorted beverages.]

Okay, I tell myself. You're not going to panic over a silly missed exit. Remember, "You need to be adaptable." No problem. I can adapt. Just turn around. Get off the highway and...


Unfortunately, there are NO EXITS between 268 Cambridge and 250 Blandford-Blenheim, just miles and miles of road. So my simple "just turn around" adds another fifty minutes or so to our travel time. Obviously concerned, J. is grumbling something about being hungry. I assure him that the turkey vultures we've spotted circling over the highway aren't following us, waiting to pick our starved-to-death bones as we lie at the side of the road. No. We've still got plenty of time to check in at our B&B, have a nice, semi-leisurely lunch, and get to the theatre before the curtain goes up.

"Things that are wrong in one moment..."

The Caboose B&B
Leaving the vultures far behind, we managed to find our B&B (a converted Canadian National Railway caboose) with nary another wrong turn.

We wasted a few minutes admiring the shiny red impressiveness of it, then jumped back into the car for the short run to Stratford.

As we neared the outskirts of town, J. peered over at the dashboard. "Uh-oh," he said, in his I-know-all-about-cars-and-this-is-bad-very-bad tone of voice.

It was one of those moments. Time slowed. Maybe if I didn't look it would just. go. away.

I glanced down. There, in pulsing Red Letters of Doom, was the dire proclamation: Coolant Low!


Mine isn't a 'just add water' kind of car. We were going to need A Professional.

Think fast. There's a service station up ahead. And just beyond that an A & W, which happens to be J.'s favourite fast food joint. This could work. We'll pick up a burger at the drive-through and then pull into a service bay. Not exactly the quintessential "fine dining before theatre" experience. But at this point, I'm all about adaptability. And J. just wants to eat. Now.

As we pass the service station, we notice all the bays are full and there are several cars already lined up.


Think fast again. If we wait until after theatre, all the service stations in town are likely to be closed. Maybe we could leave the car to be serviced later and take a taxi to the theatre...

Still pondering, I pulled into the A & W drive-through lane and there, looming behind the restaurant like a miracle, heaven-sent, was Midas.

"We'll have a look while you go for lunch," said Mr. Midas Angel-on-duty.

And they did. And we did. And when we went back, Mr. Angel wouldn't even let me pay for the coolant top-up. How nice was that?!

So, thanks, Midas, for the super service and for bringing the morning's prediction full-circle... "Things that are wrong in one moment can be perfectly right in another."

But wait, you say. Why blame it on Stephanie Plum?

Simple. We wouldn't have missed our exit if we hadn't been so utterly and completely immersed in the audio version of Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich. I think it's her best Plum book yet. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll gasp, you'll miss your exit! How does Stephanie really feel about Joe? What do Grandma Mazur and Mick Jagger have in common? Who is the mysterious woman who's stalking Stephanie and gunning for Ranger?

Sorry, no more hints. You're going to have to read it for yourself. And the sooner, the better!

But not while trying to navigate.

Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

elephants, peoples, and whales...oh my!

I've been working on a friend's blog tonight, getting it up and running and (hopefully) bug-free in time for her impending Big Adventure. More on that in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, I want to share an invitation I received in today's email—a sort of virtual opening night for a unique online gallery, celebrating the release of a new body of work by Canadian artist Gregory Colbert. It's exquisite. Lyrical. A feast for the soul. Trust me. You don't want to miss this: Codex Ashes and Snow.

Colbert's real-world exhibition—The Nomadic Museum—has visited Venice, New York, and now Santa Monica. Here's hoping the tour will find its way to Toronto. I'll be first in line! Kudos to Gregory Colbert and to the Rolex Institute for a spectacular presentation.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

family ghosts

Great-Grandma's Treasure Chest
I'm feeling haunted tonight, but the spirits haunting me are kind. They're ancestors and they've been keeping me company this weekend, thanks to the contents of this box — one of the treasures unearthed last month in the Great Closet Excavation.

A hand written card glued inside the lid reads:

M. S. Gainfort
from I. Sawyer

I'll probably never know who "I. Sawyer" was, but "M. S. Gainfort" was Margaret Susan, my maternal great-grandmother. Her lovely Christmas treasure chest was crafted of dark, burled wood with delicate mother-of-pearl inlay on the lid and around the key hole. She must have thought it a fine gift! But the real treasures now are the bits and pieces of history that Margaret, her children, and her grandchildren left inside for me.

Five sheets of brittle, yellowing paper trace my roots back to Ireland, c.1600, with the birth of Daniel Dickinson: "born in the Parish of Lample, and County of Cumberland, 1674, and came into Ireland in 1694, and took to Wife Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Scott." Daniel and Elizabeth settled in Edenderry where they raised their family. Sadly, three of their six children died in infancy. Life was harsh in 1700.

The handwriting changes on page 3 of the history and I recognize my grandmother's neat, precise script. At the bottom of page 4, in 1965, my Mom recorded Grandma's passing and continued the history herself until 1980, when my youngest son was born. It seems the pen has now passed to me.

Deeper in the box is a faded letter from the Town of Norwich, Ontario, to Margaret's husband Noble Dickinson (my great grandfather) marking his retirement as town Postmaster in 1884. Noble and Margaret's daughter, Edna Irene Dickinson, married Harry Arnold May of Port Dalhousie in September, 1908. Harry was my grandfather. Here he is with his brothers, Louis, Arthur, and Charles. Harry is on the right.

Harry May and his brothers, c.1896

And there's more. So much more! A rock chip with a shiny vein of gold — is it real? A tiny, leather-bound New Testament, published in 1886. An ivory hair comb. Hand-written record books listing purchases and incomes dating back to 1826.

My Dad got involved in the treasure box, too, contributing a history of his family. One note reads, "Great Grandfather - sea captain. Great Grandmother - from Sweden - she owned a 'Pub', 'The Foxes', in Wolston - near Coventry."

My missing writer's muse is stirring! Thanks, ancestors, for a box full of inspiration!

2 4 6

Friday, August 04, 2006

some soups are born great...

Interior, Down the Street, Stratford
Maybe it was the bubbles in the Freixenet that made me bold—I don't usually beg for recipes when dining out—but today's featured cold soup at Down the Street in Stratford had me sinking to my knees in supplication.

Fresh cucumber with lemon and dill; an exquisite balance of tart, sharp, and sweet; the very definition of summer!

When I asked our waitperson if chef would consider sharing the recipe, she threw me a pitying glance. "Not a chance in hell! He'll take the secret to his grave."



(Blame that on an afternoon of Shakespeare—we much enjoyed Twelfth Night.)

So, I am now on a quest. It seems there are many pretenders to the 'Quintessential Cold Cucumber Soup' title but after more than an hour of browsing online recipe archives, none seem quite right. Perhaps a little hands-on research is required. I'll start tomorrow, visit the local farmers' market for the best and freshest ingredients, and then ...

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

high five meme

Samcat 'helping' me type.
I like reading other peoples' memes. Granted, sometimes the questions can be a whole lot less than pithy, but the character snapshots they offer are often very interesting—one might even say enlightening.

I found this one at Delicious Life, then tweaked it a bit, just because.

Five Items on my Desk:

1) A favourite spiral notebook, full of personal and business reminders. It has a stalking tiger on the front and William Blake's poem on the back: Tiger! Tiger! burning bright. It'll need replacing soon—almost full.

2) A coaster with a peaceful sunset scene and the meaning of my name: "loved one". T'was a Christmas gift last year, from my niece. Thanks, niece!

3) A wood-handled paring knife, not sharp enough for paring but it makes a great letter opener.

4) An antique glass bottle impressed with the words: Campana's Italian Balm. There was always a bottle of Italian Balm in my grandmother's kitchen. I remember how she'd share it with me, holding my little girl hands between hers and gently smoothing in the lotion. It had a sweetly pungent aroma and Grandma called it "bam". She'd rub the "bam" into the "pams" of our hands. Makes me smile. :-)

5) Sam the cat. (Doing his best to knock over the bam bottle with his raccoon-striped, perpetual motion tail.)

Five Items in My Closet:

1) The 1996 Rand McNally Road Atlas of North America. At 11 x 15 inches, it just too darned big for the bookshelf.

2) Red leather sandals.

3) Red suede running shoes. (Red shoes rule!)

4) My oft-lamented laptop. Deemed "unfixable" by the techies at IBM, it's been hidden away for nearly five years. When I cleaned out the closet, I gave it One Last Chance to boot up...and it did! I'm not sure I want to go back to Windows 95 with Word Perfect 5.0 (DOS), but there are many fine memories in that old black box.

5) The last bottle of Raspberry Merlot 2002—my own label and mmmmm, smooth, thanks to a little help from The Brew Kettle.

Five Items in My Car:

1) A cardboard 'Mickey Mouse' sun screen. I never use it because it's old, stained, and truly ugly. But I keep it because it was my Dad's.

2) A warm (but scratchy) blue plaid blanket.

3) A little badger plush toy, gift from a friend who knows I'm badger-obsessed.

4) A cardboard box full of books on tape to keep me entertained on the daily commute to and from work, 45 minutes each way.

5) My mailbox key on a purple wrist coil, hanging from the steering column.

Five Items in my Purse:

1) A vintage cell phone. It's been wishing me "happy day!" every time I've flipped it open for the last nine years. (Thanks, Mary. Now how do I change that greeting?)

2) A yellow Bick® lighter. I don't smoke, but one never knows when the urge to light a candle will strike. ;-)

3) Badger® 'Tangerine Breeze' lip balm. Mmmmm. And a cute badger logo, too.

4) My iPod®, currently loaded with Death of the Party, a mystery by Carolyn Hart.

5) A buy one/get one half price coupon for picture frames from Kitchen Stuff Plus.

Five Items in My Refrigerator:

1) The remains of a bottle of honey pear vinaigrette, once yummy but now past its 'best before' date. (Yes, it's still there.)

2) Leftover halves of three sweet peppers—red, orange, and green. Fresh, plump, and delicious-looking, they're on the menu for dinner tonight. I'm thinking Spanish omelet, using a couple of...

3) Nine brown organic eggs.

4) A nearly-full bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin. I don't drink gin. In fact, I dislike it with a vengeance. But it was the favourite drink of a friend's formerly favourite beau, so... Anybody want a nearly-full bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin?

5) A 'cold therapy' pack—cool blue gel stuff sealed in plastic. Woman's best friend when neck pain strikes. Ahh.

And a bonus round...

(First) Five Items in my Start Menu:

1) iTunes and Audible Manager
2) Remote Desktop Connection
3) MS Word 2003
4) PhotoShop
5) Solitaire (No idea how that got there. No, really.)

Your turn! Be sure to let me know if you add this to your blog.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

quote of the day . . .

I have been reading your Descartes.
Very interesting.
I think therefore I am.
He forgot to mention the other part. I’m sure he knew, he just forgot.
I don’t think, therefore I am not."
- Dainin Katagiri

20/20 and other hindsights

I'm in the market for a sixty second delay device. You know ... the kind radio stations use to keep potty-mouthed callers off the air during phone-in shows. Of course, on radio it's only a five second delay. Those producers are really on the ball. My brain on the other hand ... not so much.

Here's the thing. Last night —a record-breakingly HOT night at 108 degrees— I met up with a friend at a local coffee bar for some cool refreshment and catch-up chat. We laughed. We smiled. We relaxed. And then...

I blurted.


Luckily, my friend has known me long enough to understand I only blurt the ones I love. But I'm left wondering... is a sixty second delay long enough? Brain needs to (1) engage, (2) register horror over impending foot-in-mouth, (3) execute diversionary tactics —"Ooh! Look! Shiny thing!"

Hmm. Better set it for ninety.

Sorry, friend. [hug] Y'know...I probably should have titled this post, I blurt, therefore I am. ;-)