I love this

Some days are just a little tougher to get through than others…I loooove this ten hour ambient noise video from my editor (who is suffering along with me; last week he sent me kitten videos because commenters were being so stoopid, and sometimes, only a kitten video will cure that).

Anyway, I’m finding this mesmerizing. My very favourite thing is to be stranded by a winter storm, and this sounds like that.

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…and back!


It was amazing. I overwork that word a lot, but it truly was. I’m grateful for all the encouragement I got – even Roz managed to keep her “oh, geez, why is she doing this?” under control, and the offers to post bail. I still have my friend’s phone number Sharpied on my arm, in case we got separated or arrested because a bunch of women wearing pink hats poses a huge threat to national security, right? Instead, well, you’ve seen the reports. Around 4 million people peacefully gather for the largest protest in American history. I had friends at the marches in L.A., Atlanta, Austin, Toronto and with me in Boston.

And this morning, Trump has signed orders cancelling any international funding on abortion, which is actually a dagger to women’s healthcare and we all know it. Harper did in 2010. Wait for Roe v Wade to be reopened; this menace has to be stopped, and watch the crowds get bigger to make sure it happens.

Oh, and if you consistently can’t get a comment on my blog approved? It’s because you’re a troll and I know who you are and though I could report you to my newspaper editors at the time when you came at me there (and I did), I don’t have to allow you on my blog. Move along.

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Boston bound…

…to march.

I wanted to go to Washington, but by the time I realized it, it was too late to secure a bus pass and get close to the heart of the action. So instead, I’m cruising through New Hampshire tomorrow, grabbing three friends and we’re going to the Boston march. I am going to make a sign. I had a Twitter follower offer to make me a pink hat – she actually went and bought the wool and knitted the hat in a day. I’m on my way to pick it up. I mistakenly referred to it as a kitten hat before someone corrected me. The whole point, of course, is to parody Rude Donald’s pussy comment. I will wear a pussy hat.

Nissan has allowed me to take a glorious blue Q60 with me – thank you. On the way back on Sunday, I’m taking a couple hours to detour through the Finger Lakes region for some more research I need to do on another project…and hopefully lots of stories to tell about standing with my American friends in the face of that Fascist they elected south of the border.

Gotta do something.

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My Christmas gift from the kids


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Me, Denningers, and a little old man

I was in Denningers yesterday, lining up as I do every year to get Pa sausage. It’s Westfalia garlic sausage, something that has graced Sommerfeld Christmas breakfast tables since I can remember. The kids called my Dad “Pa”, hence, Pa sausage. It was his favourite. You better believe it is the best part of our Christmas. The stuff is amazing.

Anyway. At Denningers, you take a little number from a plastic machine that offers up the next one, which is always about 30 from the number that is being displayed in red pixels high above the counter. It’s that time of year; the entire world gets all German/Ukrainian/Polish/Austrian/Whatever and has to go to Denningers to get densely packed cylinders of meat that pack enough calories to bring a herd of buffalo to their knees. But buffaloes are extinct, you say? Well, that’s because they ate at Denningers.

I clutched my 56, careful not to drop it. Things can get ugly at Denningers if you have to explain that you really are the next up. You can only wander down so many aisles tossing rye bread and egg rolls into your basket and miss your call; the number after yours is on it like a hyena on downed prey. There are approximately a dozen people working behind the counter this time of year, a counter that stretches the entire width of the store.

They’ve actually taken over the old Zeller’s (and for ten minutes, Target) location at the Burlington Mall, and I am gobsmacked thinking about acres – acres – of Denningers’ deadly salamis. The new store isn’t ready yet. We remain packed into their existing location, buying chocolate bars with incomprehensible writing on the wrappers, chocolate that will either be the best chocolate you have ever had, or else taste like an old German man’s woolen sweater than never got washed. When people leave the old country, they sometimes carry with them slightly wrong memories of their childhood; some childhood memories need not be resurrected – trust me.

As I stood with my small basket (only fools try to push carts through aisles as clogged as most of the arteries of anyone who eats these wares on a daily basis), patiently holding my 56, a small old man came up to me. He was darling, like an elf. He was 85 if he was a minute, and he sparkled up at me and smiled.

“What’s your number?” he near-whispered to me. Oh, we were co-conspirators in our quest for the best fat-laced smoked meats in the country. I held up my 56, and smiled at him.

“Oh,”, he replied, sharing a secret with me. “I’m leaving and just wanted to find someone with a higher number, so I could give it to them.” He held up his 63, and I sparkled back at him.

“That is sweet of you. I can’t remember the last time a gentleman asked for my number,” I replied. He paused for a moment, then his face lit up with laughter.
“Oh, my, you made me smile!” he laughed, squeezing my elbow with his slightly arthritic hands. “That is a good one!” he said, as he made his way out.

I watched him go, and realized he didn’t didn’t actually wait for my number.


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Holiday rerun

This was first published in the Toronto Star, Christmas, 2007.

“When I grow up, I’m gonna be so rich I’ll be able to just buy the best Christmas tree there is,” I fumed, trudging along in snow past my knees, futilely trying to match my father’s determined strides.

It was a week before Christmas, 1971. As a 7-year-old, it seemed like we had driven for hours for the annual torture of selecting the perfect Balsam Fir. The parking lot had been crowded with families perfectly content to select from the precut trees neatly stacked around the fence of the farm.

My father stood at the back of our station wagon, patiently pulling out yards of yellow rope, the toboggan, his medium bow saw (he had three – I was born knowing this), and an axe.

I was already cold. Snow and wind were met with wool. My hand-me-down red plaid coat had large buttons up the front where the wind crept in. My mother had buttoned my cardigan in the back, and I had on two layers of her hand-knitted mittens and my matching pompom hat. My little sister would get to ride on the toboggan until we found the tree, so I’d whined for – and won – the coveted red mittens.

I was thoroughly jealous of my best friend. Her family had a Volkswagen Beetle, and they just pulled their Christmas tree from the crawl space in their basement every year. My father insisted on buying cars so big just so we could do things like carry Christmas trees on them.

Our neighbours got a new car every year, because they knew someone “in the business.” All that meant to me was we had to keep having the same old car every year, while everyone around us got better ones. Our 1966 Rambler station wagon was beginning to get harder and harder to start on cold mornings. My father would pet the dash of his Betsy, muck with the pedals, and it would whistle to life.

As always, my father took the path less travelled, and we headed out through unbroken snow. Chugging along, out of breath, with snow pouring into my red boots with the gold buckle (you wore them over your shoes, which meant whenever you arrived at your destination, your shoes were wet as well), I asked questions. What kind of bird is that? What are those tracks? Will we see a fox again?

My father knew everything about farms and forests. He’d been born on the prairies, and later in life traded open fields for deep forests. I’d once seen where he was born, a shack with a dirt floor. This knowledge was breathtaking; it caused one of the only silences between us that I could remember, and I grew up unable to grasp how little he’d been born into, and he rarely found the words to tell me more.

“Why can’t we get one of those fat Christmas trees?” I panted. I didn’t like the short needled fir trees he insisted on. Their branches were too sparse for my sense of Christmas splendour, and my mother’s beautiful ornaments, brought all the way from England, seemed unable to overcome the gaps.

“There is only one proper German Christmas tree,” he replied. I wasn’t sure why this mattered. I didn’t feel particularly German, especially at Christmas.

My mother’s traditions overflowed our home, and the smells and sights were as British as the woman imbuing them in her children. With my mother trailing far behind, hauling my sister on the wooden sleigh, my father abruptly stopped and turned to me. Leaving the bow saw looped over his shoulder, he leaned on the axe and stared at me.

“No matter how poor we were, we had a tree. My mother saw to that,” he told me. Before I could get a word out of my unhinged mouth, he’d spun around and kept walking. My father had lost his mother when he was 12. Barely a year later, he had been thrust into the world on his own. He never spoke of this. All I knew then was that there were few, if any, presents under any of those trees.

What I didn’t understand until much later was that there are seldom any traditions a 13-year-old boy can bring with him, including precious ornaments. This tree was all he had for me, and I was complaining that the wind was chapping my face.

Nearly an hour into the middle of the silent forest, we found the perfect tree. My sister and I each got to walk around surveying it, my mother just nodding in frosty agreement to try and speed things along. It would be her who would be trying to rub some warmth back into our feet when we finally returned to the car.

I got to help dig out the snow around the trunk, and once he got the saw started I would be permitted to give it a tug or two. Holding a branch, I helped pull the tree along, until my mother suggested I walk with her to speed things up. My mittens were wet from digging, but I knew the trip back would always be faster than the one that had had no clear destination.

Back at the lot, I watched people settling for the smaller trees that their smaller cars could accommodate. The tip of our tree extended over the hood; my father began a cat’s cradle of rope configurations to hold it on, and I stared at the raw wound of the freshly cut stump.

His devotion to station wagons was a joke among my father’s friends. They laughed at his refusal to waste a nickel on luxuries like fancy trim, air conditioning or power windows. He would drive a car until it owed him nothing, and even then he would cannibalize it, demanding new life from its old parts. At our cottage, the towel rack in the hallway is the grab bar from behind the back seat of that ’66 Rambler.

He required his cars to be workhorses; we would get our cottage the following year, and I remember getting stuck going down roads that weren’t roads yet. He would haul wood and pull stumps with that fading Rambler, its three-in-the-tree transmission wheezing and shuddering. My mother would wince, my father would ignore her and carry on. That car wasn’t just owned by my father; that car was my father.

As I pestered him to let me help, he secured the tree to the car. One end of the rope disappeared under the front hood somewhere and the rest was knotted through the roof racks in an intricate series of loops. Again I asked for a job. He looked at me with some consideration, and then said he needed me to hold onto the end of the rope from the back seat.

I liked this very much. In the summer I loved going to the lumber store, and holding the end of the rope. Except this wasn’t summer, and after a few minutes of driving on the road, sitting on my knees beside an open window, the idea was losing a little of its charm.

Terrified of letting my father down, or worse yet, admitting I couldn’t do something, I held that rope in my wet red mitten. With my other hand, I tried to wind the window up a little more, but only managed to nudge the plastic core piece out of its arm. The piece had been loose for years, but we got in trouble for playing with it. Now, it sat on the floor, and to reach it I would have to let go of the rope. And if I let go of the rope, our perfect Christmas tree would fly from the roof racks.

Thinking my hand might be warmer if I pulled off the wet red mitten, I slowly inched it off while still clinging to the rope. As the red mitten sailed out the window, I realized I would now have a new problem; I was forever losing mittens, and my mother was forever knitting to replace them.

All the way home I held that rope. I switched hands, I shifted positions, but I held tight. I would be like that tree, like this car. I would not let him down. Shivering as we pulled into the driveway, I finally relaxed. My father came around to my side and started the unknotting. As I scrambled out of the car, he patted me on the head.

“You did good, kid,” he smiled.

I will never be rich enough to afford a tree like the one my father cut for us that year.

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Off my feed

Been trying to work today, and it’s just not working. I have a bunch of stuff in the starting gate, and my new, overarching pet project that *should* be getting priority. It’s just not happening.

Warning: rant ahead.

There are days I wish for a job/career that doesn’t require my emotions to be dialed in. I’d like to be able to perform regardless of how much sleep I got, which cat peed in the clean laundry (JoJo, again, sigh), which kid needs what or what time the mailman showed up. Unfortunately, it seems everything I do is predicated on how I feeeeeeeeeeeel. Which sucks, when how I feeeeeeeeeeeel is blobby or off kilter.

Instead, I have this canopy collapse going on. And none of it is terminal, and for most people, not even blip-worthy. But for me, every little tweak is enough to send me off like in those astronaut movies where they have to make the exact connection in order to be returned to earth and they miss it by two inches. My life is being missed by two inches. In the movies, they always manage to make the connection. Yeah, not happening.

Like I said. I’m off my feed.

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Yeah, it’s me.

Remember when I used to drop in things for you to read? Things my sister would say were too long but I would insist were worth it? Here’s one. Gorgeous writing.

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The Pirate King & his Loathsome Gang

So the Pirate Drumpf secured a fine ark from a hapless seller who would soon find the bullion he held as payment was actually lead painted gold. It was sturdy and kitted out with heavy artillery and holds stashed full of the most tremendous stores, and he anointed to his circle of bandits those who praised the cut of his jib, even though that jib wiggled and wobbled not a little in firm breezes.

Each more loathsome than the last, his gang was noted for his or her unblinking service to the Pirate King, scarcely noting the sticky feel of blood that stuck to their shoes as they thrust forward to receive his blessing, his attentions, his tweets. We have waited all our lives for this moment, thought many, this chance to rape and pillage with the abandon of our forefathers who had no pesky people to record or take note, or who at least left behind none who could testify. The glory days, they called them.

Below decks were the sorry tangle of those who would be pulling the oars, supplying that blood and ruing the day the Pirate King had pulled into their harbour. Half were there of their own volition, promised jobs and a future on an island of constant sunlight, endless stores of food and fine maidens. They’d never been to sea, most of these fool soldiers, had no idea that the days they now dreaded would become endless weeks many would not survive. Oh, but the promises! The Pirate King had been many, many, many times, he assured them, as he furiously asked someone to go read Moby Dick for him, but who instead brought him a copy of the musical The Pirates of Penzance.

But the other half below decks were those who were held hostage, those taken against their will. They were the first to point out to other half that they were all ball and chained together, below decks in the dark with scarce rations. We’re in this together, they explained, as those on the other ends of their chains still rattled and clanked and told them they had it wrong. We are free, they exclaimed, freer than we’ve ever been! We’ve been promised sunlight and fine food and fair maidens, they cried, as they squinted in the relentless dark and gnawed on their leather belts. The fair maidens were up top, tearfully, yet futilely, trying to avoid the lecherous advances of the Pirate King and his Loathsome Gang who told those below their sacrifice was noble and would honour their families.

Fighting each other like the rats they were sharing quarters with, the huddled masses listened above as the Pirate King and his Loathsome Gang sent some of their number to the swirling depths from the end of a plank, for crimes both real and imagined. He called me fat, glowered the Pirate King, who was indeed fat, but owned everything in the world save for a mirror.

The weather was storm after storm, sending those below hurling against the walls of a thrashing ship as well as each other. The Pirate King’s quarters were lined in feathers but when that proved insufficient he had them relined with men pulled from the below decks. As the sky remained dark and the rain came day after day, the Pirate King, in incoherent and unpredictable fits of rage, took to sending even members of his own Loathsome Gang from the plank.

Those in the hold against their will asked yet again of those who had chosen if this did not give them pause. He is charting new territory! they hollered, their eyes sunken and their clothing in shreds, though some came to see those who had not chosen the Pirate King as their leader were finding solace in supporting each other, something those who had willingly followed were not.

The Pirate King and his unholy gang careened the seas, shooting up small fishermen and giant yachts, taking down cruise ships and tankers. There was no limit, because even two fish one lowly man no longer had meant two more for the Pirate King. Insatiable in his appetites, reckless in his movements and miserable to his core, he had only to look around at his Loathsome Gang of see himself reflected.

Below decks, diminished, distraught and realizing there was to be no permanent sunshine, no unlimited banquets and no fair maidens, those voluntarily in chains came, in time, to speak to those shackled by the fraud of the Pirate King. There are more of us than them, they all concluded. They are loud and they are armed and they have planks, but we have numbers.

And we have all been had.

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Life with cats…

cat cartoon

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