Sunday, March 29, 2009


Dear Alberta,
I thought we had this conversation already. I thought we talked it over like rational beings and decided that you would look at the calendar and notice that it is ALMOST APRIL and that you would accordingly CUT IT OUT with the FREAKING SNOW.

But when I opened the door this morning to let the Wonder Dog out, what did I see but THIS:

This, my dear, is NOT SPRING.

Now, I like you, I really do. I've lived here for a long time, and I know how fickle you are, especially at this time of year. But I am imploring you, no, I am begging you to stop, already. I don't think I can take it any more. (Also, the Wonder Dog got stuck in the drifts and was very weirded out. She is old. Have mercy.)

Oddly enough, I could hear Canada geese honking away overhead, even though I couldn't see them. I can only presume that they were heading back south again until you come to your senses.

Which, hopefully, will be bloody soon.

Yours sincerely,

Friday, March 27, 2009

How I Spent My Spring Vacation, Day 5

I think it's watching me.

Also: Southern Alberta? I don't know if you got the memo, but it's SPRING. Stop blustering, stop with your winter storms and your cold fronts and your single days (or single half hours) of warm chinook weather. Just stop. There are parts of this continent where they are already eating the things they have grown in the ground- that's because IT IS SPRING. Everyone else knows it, now it's time for you to get with the program. Spring. Say it with me.

That is all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Happily Ever After.

When my boy was born I suddenly found myself with a whole pile of married-lady friends. This was strange – only one of my friends was married at that time, and I had never thought of myself as the type who would hang out with all these smug domestic types.

Nevertheless, we would lunch at one another’s homes, and I would see with despair (and a fair bit of envy) that they owned their houses, that their furniture was new, that they served lunch on their wedding china, that they seemed adult in ways that I was not and might never be. They displayed their wedding pictures on side tables and had serving dishes, gravy boats, punch bowls, matching crystal. They talked about their husbands while I remained silent, they discussed vacation plans and minivans and part-time work, and I looked at my baby and wondered what would become of us, the two people so different from all the rest, the ones who were not like the others. Then I would go home to my shabby little rented house, with the furniture handed down by my parents, and the pots and pans I bought in the dollar store during my first year of university, and the stacks of books everywhere and the complete disregard for the proprieties of life, things like having your baby’s father stick around, or having a plan for your life, or having furniture that wasn’t from Ikea.

I thought to myself that it wasn’t fair, they had automatic life memberships in the Minivan Mafia while I had to snatch and beg for any crumb to keep me and my boy safe. They had all of this loveliness around them with no effort whatsoever, while what I had could, at its best, be described as “charm”.

Then I realized that I could do one of two things: I could complain and moan and feel sorry for myself that I didn’t have all this stuff that these folks had, or I could take things into my own hands. I decided that I would buy my own household things: the bonus would be that I didn’t have to accept anyone else’s idea of what was nice - I would only have myself to please.

So whenever I had a bit of extra cash, or when I saw a great bargain, I would buy myself an Unwedding present. A gift to myself, for staying free and single and being true to the person who didn’t want to get married, who would rather have books than a minivan any day, who wouldn’t know what to do with a gravy boat if it came up and parked itself in the driveway (never, to this day, have I made gravy, nor do I plan to). A gift for a single mother who wants her kid to value libraries above tropical vacations, and to know that good things come to those who work damn hard for them, and to see for himself that education and an independent spirit will take you places that marriage never, ever will.

Now I have my own house. I have a (mostly) decent car and two more degrees than I had when my boy was born. I have a lot more experience, and perspective, and maybe even a bit of wisdom. I have blue-and-white china that I love, and Le Creuset cast iron pots, and a good set of Henkel knives. Every piece I have I bought for myself, and each one brings me joy to use. (Have nothing in your home, said William Morris, that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.)

And here, ladies and gents, without further ado, is the latest of my Unwedding presents, the Willow pattern tea pot that I have wanted for a long time. I’ve never owned a tea pot before, and I smile every time I use it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An open letter to my job

Dear Teaching,

I really like you. You are interesting, you change constantly, you are an ongoing challenge. You make me laugh out loud at least once every day. All the things that made me hate previous jobs are absent in you. (For example, I do not at this time have a Psychotic Absentee Boss. It's a relief, is what.) I like my students, I like my colleagues, I like my classroom better now that I've changed things up a bit, I like every single thing.

Except for one.

It's the marking, my dear. I know that I'm the one who planned all these lessons, I'm the one who stood at the front of the class and explained everything, I'm the one who answered the stupid questions ("can we start now?" is my favourite), I'm the one who supervised the work and set the deadline and clarified expectations and came up with the Assessment Criteria (a fancy thing they teach you to say in Teacher's School that really means You Have to Give the Teacher What She Wants and Here's the List). I'm the one who changed the due date and provided support and encouragement and guidance and paper, not to mention scissors and glue sticks and bandaids (don't ask). I collected all the work and schlepped it home with me and stacked it on my kitchen table because the office still isn't organized the way I want it to be.

And NOW, now you expect me to give an hour or two or three of my day, my vacation, dear heart, to marking this stuff.

Well, it rankles a bit.

Because I feel like I've chewed on this same crap for weeks now, and I'm expected to sit down to it again, every single freaking day, as if it were some bowl of hot steaming deliciousness I had never known before.

But I will do it. I will, because it is just one small thing that bugs me in the whole loveliness that is the Noble Profession of Teachering, and because I am up for the challenge, and because I want to be good at this, and because I like my house and if I want to keep living here I have to give the bank a bunch of money, which is best acquired through this thing called "having a job". Marking is a small irritation the way a blister inside your shoe is small: it looks tiny and insignificant but it makes you want to eat a big bowl of gravel and hair just to relieve your frustration, your pain, your inability to escape without gnawing off a limb.

I just wanted you to know how I'm feeling, because I know you value my insights into our relationship.

And no, I didn't take a freaking picture.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How I Spent My Spring Vacation, Day 2

Let's see.... there was marking:

(That's the finished pile. It looks bigger, doesn't it? Guys? Bueller?)

There was an email to my bank-type lady about a tax question (no picture available of that one, because... well, it was boring).

There was more office cleaning (no pictures of that, either), and there was an unfortunate incident involving the Wonder Dog's digestive processes (which was, quite frankly, disgusting, and will never, ever be photographed under any circumstances whatsoever).

In the Care and Maintenance of Young People department, there was the zapping of 3 warts by the friendly neighbourhood doctor (for a bargain price of $25):

And a long-overdue haircut.

There was also knitting - I'm this close to finishing the body on Everybody Knows. That will leave me with the collar and two sleeves, which I desperately want to finish. So that I can knit something else, of course!

Does anyone else find it hilariously funny that on knitting patterns for sweaters they say "Sleeves. Knit two."?? I thought that two arms was the default setting - maybe I was wrong.

In short, dear reader, it was a dull, boring, busy, day that has left me with no more energy and completely out of wit.

That is all.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How I Spent My Spring Vacation, Day 1

What, oh Artsy, are you doing on your spring vacation? Well, my young onions, here is a brief synopsis.

1. Taxes! Done!

2. Marking! Done! (Well, this is how much I did today. There's more where that came from, chicken.)

3. Office... well, the office is an ongoing project. Here's the before picture for you, though.

The Wonder Dog was supervising:

"WTF? Get back to work. What do you think this is, a union job?"

And, of course, there was knitting. This is "Everybody Knows" from the winter issue of Knitty, with the body, the left front, and most of the back shoulders finished. I knit on.

Stay tuned for more excitement as we begin "Spring Vacation - Day 2"!!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Made it.

I am officially on spring break. That means that I am about three quarters of the way through my first year as a real teacher. I can hardly believe it.

I've been sick for the past week, which didn't stop me from rearranging my entire classroom the other day. (Okay, I got one of my classes to help.) It's an entirely new look and I really like it.

As much as it is feeling like spring here, and although I have a "to-do" list ten miles long for this one week of vacation, I still have to think about work: specifically, marking. I brought home a tremendous amount, and I think that if I do a pound a day I should be caught up.

Procrastination. It's how we roll.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life's a....

One of the things I try to do with my ESL classes is get the students to use as many words as they can. You need to use a word about 8 times for it to really take hold, and these kids are already far behind their native-speaking contemporaries when it comes to the number of words they know.

The other day we were talking about synonyms: words that mean the same thing as other words. I asked the students to tell me as many words as they could that mean "bad."

Of course, ESL students can sometimes have a hard time with subtleties in language, and this group thought that when I said "words that mean bad" that what I wanted was "bad words."

So little H., who is five feet tall and the sweetest, kindest, nicest kid you'd ever want to meet, waves her hand in the air, saying "I know, teacher, I know!"

"Yes?" I say, chalk poised in my hand.

"Beach!" she yells out. "Beach is bad word!"

I think we might have to talk about long vowels and short ones, and what happens when you put a short "i" sound in that word...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Right Side of the Sod

On Saturday night I went to a concert – something unheard of since around the time cable TV last lived in the Artsy household – but John Wort Hannam was in town and my mom said she’d take the boy for the night so I could go.

I’ve heard the expression “catholic tastes” before – what catholic means when it has a lower-case “c” is all-inclusive, general or universal. (I remember it because that’s quite exactly the opposite of what Catholic means to me when it has an upper-case “c”.) Anyway, when it comes to music I have catholic tastes. I’ll listen to everything. John Wort Hannam is a newbie to me – he’s an Alberta guy who sings this lovely country/folk stuff about everyday things. He’s got three cd’s out, so you can go get yourself one if you’re curious. Or, listen to CKUA where they play him quite regularly. (As regularly as they play anything on CKUA, anyway. They have catholic tastes in music, too.)

The concert was great. The place was fabulous, full of interesting-looking people having a good time, small enough to be intimate and full enough to be lively, but you could get yourself two beers during the intermission and not spend your whole time standing in line at the bar. I had a lot of time to people watch, because I went a bit early to get a good seat and I went by myself. (What can I say? I’m good company.)

I have this idea of myself: a sort of future me, a woman in the distance, and when I see someone who looks like a future me, I pay attention so that I’ll know when I get there. These women in the distance are self assured, they are confident and successful and at home in their own skin. They wear interesting jewelry and they don’t bother to hide the gray in their hair. They tell jokes and they laugh a lot. They have good friends, they live their lives exactly as they please. They do things on their own terms, and I imagine that they are beloved by many people – that they live rich lives. There were a lot of future selves at the concert, which is a good sign. I am on my way.

The best part of the show was this: there was a table reserved for a birthday party. The birthday person was Arthur, who turned 88 on Saturday and was celebrating with his friends at a concert. After the intermission, the band played “happy birthday” and a bar full of people sang best wishes to Arthur, who waved his arms at us and looked pleased as punch. The next song the band played was one of my favourites from “Dynamite and Dozers” – called “Above Ground”. And wouldn’t you know it, but 88 year old Arthur, who remembers a worse depression than this one, who probably fought in a war and came home again, who lived (I hope) as well as he could with what he was given, got up and danced with his lady, in front of all of us, grinning and having the time of his life.

I hope that one day I will become that woman I want to be, and that on my 88th birthday I will dance to the band in the company of my friends, as alive as I ever have been.

Singing oh, oh, oh , oh let your voice sound
Every day's a good day when it's above ground
Every day's a good day when it's above ground.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A list!

I do love a good list… almost as much as I love a good book, or a satisfying knitting pattern, or a decent CD (or a quiet grade 7 class – it was one of those days). Today I found a list at one of the knitting blogs I read: it’s called “And she knits, too!” and can be found here: This is a meme, of sorts, in which I am taking it upon myself to tell you, my faithful readership, just how many of these books I have read. Ready? Go.


The Big Read ( said that, on average, adults have only read six books on this list. So ... copy this list, remove my yeses and nos, and add your comments (favourable or otherwise) about the ones you have read. Don't forget to include a total.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen – nope. Don’t like Jane Austen. So sue me already.
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien – YES, when I was young and liked fantasy books.
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte – YES.
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling – YES.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee – YES, but years ago, I only faintly remember it.
6 The Bible –. YES I have read this one, and I must say that it was a large part of my decision to become (and remain) an atheist.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte – No.
8 1984 - George Orwell - YES
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman – YES, fabulous books, and also much hated by the Catholic school system, and therefore worth reading for that reason alone.
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens – No, I’m so sorry, but I can’t abide Dickens.
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott – Oh, yes. Loved all of her books.
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy – Yes – very good
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller – Yes
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – well, not the COMPLETE works, but a fair few.
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier – No, but I’d like to.
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien – YES, great book.
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks – Nope.
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger – Yes, but back in high school (I think) when I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger – Yes and I LOVE this book.
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot- Nope.
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell – YES, during a long hot summer in junior high when I had no friends to talk to so I read everything I could find on the shelves in my parents’ basement.
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald – Nope.
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens- Enough with the Dickens, already.
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy – Yes, oddly enough.
25 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams – Yep. Funny.

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh – No.
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Most of it. I keep it on my bookshelf, though, because it makes me look smart.
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll – Yes. Did you know that Carroll was an early photographer?
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame – Don’t think so…
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy – YES, heartbreaking and genius.
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens – Ahem. No.
33 The Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis – Absolutely. Again and again. (Although at this point I could totally do without the Christian subtext.)
34 Emma - Jane Austen – Nope.
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen – And don’t plan too, either.
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Yes, but why isn’t this with the Chronicles of Narnia above?
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini – Yes.
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres- No.
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - Yes, it was highly overrated.
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne – Yep. Charming.
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell – Yes, but not so charming.
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown – Two days of my time that I will NEVER get back.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Yes.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - Yes
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins – Nope.
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery – Over and over and over again.
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy – No, which is odd, because I had a whole Hardy phase a few years ago.
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood – Genius. Not enough Canadians on this list, though.
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding – Yep. Taught it last year, too.
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan – Brilliant.

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel – Interesting. I didn’t like it, really, but it has lived on in my mind, so something must be right about it.
52 Dune - Frank Herbert- Yes.
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons – No.
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen – Make it stop!
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth – Yes. (During a time of great heartbreak.)
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Nope. Good title, though.
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens – NOOOOOOOOO!
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley – Yes.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon – Yes.
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Yes.
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck – Yes
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - Yes
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt – No – do you think that’s really the author’s last name?
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold – Yes.
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas – No.
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - Yes
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy – Yes.
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding - Yes
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie - No
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville - No
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens – NO NO NO
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker - No
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett – YES!
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson – No – Bryson is very funny, though.
75 Ulysses - James Joyce – Sadly, yes. Did I understand it? No.

76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath – Bits of it. I’m going to say no, though.
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - Nope
78 Germinal - Emile Zola - No
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - No
80 Possession - AS Byatt- Yes
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens – Yes, shockingly enough. An exception to the “No Dickens” rule.
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell – No.
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker – Yes – brilliant.
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - Yes
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - Yes
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - Yes
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White - Yes
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom – No. I read “Tuesdays with Morrie” or whatever it’s called, though. Not bad.
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Yes
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton – No
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - Yes
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupe – No
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks - No
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams - No
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - No
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute – No, but I liked “On the Beach”
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - Yes
98 Hamlet – Shakespeare – Yes
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - Yes
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - Yes

So there - that’s 60 “yes” books. Too bad they didn’t count the fabulous Canadian authors, too bad women aren’t more represented, too bad about all the Austen and the Dickens. Blech.

Still, I guess I can hold my own in the book-reading world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The bloom? OFF the rose.

Remember how excited I was to discover books on tape? Remember how I enthused, how I gushed, how very uncharacteristically thrilled I was about the idea of having some dude read a book to me as I drove?

Well, it's over. Over, I say.

Oh, at first it was lovely. Dulcet tones in the morning, interesting stories to listen to, all this new discovery to... well, to discover. But then the truth came out, as it always does.

It started, ironically enough, with Jennifer Weiner's newest book "Certain Girls." I read her because the books may have the faintest air of chick-lit about them (I detest that phrase, and the pink high-heeled covers that seem to always accompany these books) but they are in fact hilariously funny. And well-written. And frequently a bit edgy, too, which I always appreciate (being somewhat edgy my own self).

I loved "Certain Girls". I liked listening to the actors who read the piece, I liked the story, I liked the ending. So, having had a taste of this excellent writing, I checked "Goodnight Nobody" out of the library, and THEN I realized.

It. Was. Abridged.

Abridged! They took out all the funniest bits, ("Janey Segal, of the Carpet Segals") and the poignant bits (the main character's relationship with her mother) and almost all of the interaction with that marvelously awful daycare lady. All that was left was the picked-over carcass of the book.

Then I got out yet another book on tape ("I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You" - a young adult book about a boarding school for spies, of course) and it was read by this awful, grating, chippy young voice that abraded my eardrums every morning. The squeaking chalk of my grade 7 French class when they write answers on the board has NOTHING on the voice of that narrator.

I am, dear reader, shattered. I was led up the garden path, as they say, by the loveliness of my first experiences, and reality has set in. I am back to my daily commute in silence (actually, with my mom's John Wort Hannam CD, if we're being brutally honest - hi mom!), admiring the scenery and watching the countryside slowly thaw out. (Except this morning, when my white-knuckled grip was all that kept the car on the snow and freezing rain covered surface that was highway 2.) It's not too bad, but still. It's not as nice as having someone read to me.

I'm still on the lookout for unabridged books on tape by people with attractive voices whose writing I like. Good thing I'm not picky, eh?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dream big, my son...

I was tucking my boy into bed last night - he looked a little tired, and a little worried.

"Mummy," he said, "can I be a clone trooper when I grow up?"

I did my best not to laugh. "Of course," I told him, "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up." He still looked a little concerned.

"But mummy," he said, "where will I get the armour?"

Worry he does for one so young.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Like a Lamb

Here in the booming metropolis of River City, Alberta, it is March, which means I did not die of February, and the February curse, while still in evidence, is not nearly so bad. (Last February my car was stolen and I was terribly sick. The February before that, the car's clutch died, the dog had surgery, and I was terribly sick. The February before that I was terribly sick, the car was broken into, and then it got stuck on the ice in front of the house while I was trying to turn around and blocked the whole street for 45 minutes until I could get it unstuck. The year before that, I was terribly sick. This year, I had to buy two new tires for the (new-to-me, unstolen) car, and had one small personal catastrophe, but no terrible illness. Hurray! Things are looking up.)

To celebrate the slight possibility that spring might return, here are some mountain pictures that I took last fall and promised to put on the blog, but never did. I am, as ever, wildly inconsistent and generally unreliable. Get used to it.

It's spring.