Category: Readings

Vancouver Writers Fest: I was there! And now I’m home.

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over the Rockies

Is this going to be a long post? I have a funny feeling that it might be. However, the process of writing it is being somewhat interrupted by a very chatty four-year-old who is sitting in the rocking chair in a patch of sunlight beside me. And so I am attempting to compose this post while simultaneously maintaining a conversation on a variety of topics. Right now we are on the seasons: “And it goes round again and again, again.”

Don’t it, though.

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Granville Island hotel

Travelling is such a strange thing to do. Being somewhere else. Being away. There is the transition, the waiting, the getting there; and then there is the being there, when home feels like a dream. Travelling solo is particularly strange, and, I must admit, quite easy to get used to, at least for short patches. On my own, I’m only myself, with only me took after. The responsibility seems so light.

It was an especially lovely trip, from beginning to end. It seemed blessed with lucky moments. I walked into the airport in Toronto on Thursday morning, and the first person I saw was my friend and former boss Noah Richler. What are the chances? He was off to Alberta (have you heard? — his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, is a finalist for the GG in the non-fiction category). I then met up with Heather Birrell, another literary friend (Mad Hope); but that had been pre-planned. We were on the same flight to Vancouver, and managed to get seats near each other. Neither of us are happy fliers, and our flight experienced a lot of turbulence. She was seated behind me and she reported that every time we hit turbulence, my head would pop up: apparently my spine stiffens when fear strikes. But we survived. I brought headphones and watched three movies. I’m not ashamed to report that two of them were children’s movies: Brave, and Madagascar 3. Brave was EXCELLENT, plus I cried (I was in the middle seat; and I think we’ve now established I may be the kind of fellow passenger you’d rather not be stuck sitting beside, what with the weeping and the palpable terror). I dozed off during Madagascar 3, after which I started a very long melodrama called People Like Us, but then the plane landed and I missed seeing the last ten minutes (and it wasn’t the kind of movie I wanted to experience twice). Heather filled me in on the plot.

We were in Vancouver!

Okay, let me interrupt to explain that nearly an hour has passed since I first began typing this post. Maybe this should be a two-parter, a multi-chapter saga? I’ve only just gotten to Vancouver, for heaven’s sake. And it’s nearly time to pick up my swimming child from the pool.

I’m going to speed this up by doing some name-dropping. Walked into the hotel, first person I saw was Sheree Fitch (Night Sky Wheel Ride): big hugs. (But then we didn’t see each other again; this happens at festivals, with people coming and going.) Good thing I had Heather to introduce me to some more writers: we were soon headed for dinner with Jessica Westhead (And Also Sharks) who was travelling with her husband and their brand-new seven-week-old daughter (whom I never got to hold, dammit). We were also joined by Emily Schultz (The Blondes), whose book I’d reviewed for the Globe back in August.

After dinner, Heather and I went to see Anne Perry and her biographer Joanne Drayton being interviewed on-stage. We were both toast at this point, our bodies telling us that it was nearly midnight, so we debriefed in the morning over breakfast at the Granville market, after which we got very lost, after which it was time for our morning events. I’d woken at 4am, been unable to fall back to sleep, and got the front desk to open the exercise room for me so I could run/spin.

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outside my hotel room, Friday morning

My first event was with Riel Nason (The Town That Drowned) and Marjorie Celona (Y), moderated by Shaena Lambert (Radiance). I had a moment of panic while prepping and felt incapable of choosing the right section to read, but it all turned out fine. We spent the hour and a half reading and talking about child narrators, among other things, and the feeling in the room was just lovely. Afterward, I signed books, and one of the women who sat down to talk to me said, “I’ve never wanted a character to win an award before, but I just really want Juliet to win.” Nice, hey.

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Chris Cleave, me, and Annabel Lyon, backstage (photo taken by Marsha Lederman)

I had about twenty minutes between events to freshen up and eat a banana, and then I was back at it. This one was in a large theatre with Annabel Lyon (The Sweet Girl) and Chris Cleave (Gold). We were each interviewed by Marsha Lederman, and then came onstage together at the end to answer questions. What can I say about this event, other than it confirmed for me that I really love being onstage. I’ll admit it. Onstage is a great place to be. It requires the burning of lots of energy, and there’s an element of risk to it, but if you know me, you’ll know I like burning energy. The risk part, well, maybe I’m drawn to that too, a bit.

Something else about being onstage: I’ve learned that it’s no good wishing I were different. To be comfortable, all I have to be is myself. I love watching those performers who are quick with witty anecdotes, but that’s not me; and that’s okay too. We’re all different. When I’m in the audience, I want to see a real person up there, not someone pretending to be someone they’re not. I think that’s the only secret, honestly.

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outside my hotel room, Friday afternoon

After that happy shiny event, I went for fries and a beer with Marita Daschel (Initiation Trilogy); we met through the blog a few years ago, and though we’d never seen each other face-to-face, nor spoken, it was like being with an old friend.

Walking into the hotel, the first person I saw was Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher at Anansi). We were meeting for dinner in less than an hour. I grabbed a quick rest, took a hot bath, and let myself come down from the day’s excitement, to unwind, though not completely.

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this is how much I unwound

Sarah had invited Anansi people out for dinner at the Sand Bar. I knew no one except for her. Seated around the table were (more name-dropping ahead): Rawi Hage (Carnival), Madeliene Thien (Simple Recipes), Anosh Irani (The Song of Kahunsha), Pasha Malla (People Park), a young woman named Thea whose story collection with be published by Anansi soon (sorry re lack of details), me, A.L. Kennedy (The Blue Book), Graham Gibson ( The Bedside Book of Birds; he’s also known as Margaret Atwood’s husband; she was stuck in transit and couldn’t be there), and Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie). I was seriously crashing at this point, glazed eyes and brain, and thankful for light conversation from the women seated near me. After dinner, Sarah and I dashed off to hear A.L. Kennedy read (and I do know her name is Alison, but can’t help but think of her by her initials).

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at dinner; and an accurate illustration of how my brain was behaving, at this point in the day

The evening ended in the writers fest hospitality suite where thankfully Heather came after I texted her an SOS — I knew no one and was feeling like a wilting wallflower. But I also didn’t want the day to end. Of course, it finally had to (I’d been up since 4am after all). All that was left was a short night’s sleep, a morning walk in a hailstorm to fetch breakfast at the market, and the packing up.

I spent yesterday travelling. I enjoyed a quiet peaceful flight with no spine stiffening moments. On the ride home from the airport I met an international trade specialist and an expert in honeybees. And now I am holding my sad four-year-old whose sister just stepped on him, probably because I am writing this blog rather than paying attention. So it is time to stop typing and to pay attention.

Tomorrow (Monday) I’m in Toronto for a reading at IFOA. Anyone coming?

Problem solving with hair

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I got a haircut!

And then I came home and took photos, but of course. This reveals a possible narcissistic tendency, but hey. It’s a nice cut, and I only get these done semi-annually, usually just before some big event when I realize that my ends are all split and I’ve been jamming the mess into a hairband at every opportunity.

Problem is, I can never duplicate what the stylist does with the blow drier, in part because I have no blow drier, and in part because I have no talent executing most of the beauty rituals which are supposed to be second nature to women (that may explain why I have no blow drier).

Getting ready for a trip makes me anxious. Once I’m out the door I’ll be fine, but meantime the smallest details seem overwhelming. There is something about getting a haircut that gives me a sense of control, of being on top of things, of taking charge. I’ve gotten the same basic cut for years (you’re looking at it), and I’m extremely cautious when it comes to length, probably due to some really unfortunate shearings back in my teens and twenties, including the time I shaved my head (age eighteen), which is an experiment I would recommend to no one.

Is this haircut preparation enough for the next couple of exciting, jam-packed, out-of-the-ordinary days? Well, I hope so.

See you in Vancouver. (Here’s a link to my schedule of events, both of which happen on Friday.)

Tuesday hodgepodge, with a recipe for green tomato relish

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So it’s already Tuesday.

I’m visiting a book club this evening to discuss The Juliet Stories. I’ve got beans soaking for supper. And the sky looks white from where I’m sitting. The dogs are sleeping on top of each other on the couch. I searched the attic for winter hats and gloves this morning. And I ran 6.5km in half an hour, but my watch told me I’d run 7.8km, so I was a little disappointed (even though I realized that it had to be off — I’m not an under 4 minute/km runner).

The turkey was fabulous this weekend, but I took no photos. The last-minute prep got a bit hairy, so I forgot to use my camera altogether. But I spent the better part of Saturday in the kitchen, cooking a feast for family, and I can’t think of any other way I’d rather spend my holiday. On the menu this year: turkey, gravy, traditional bread stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mashed squash with brown sugar and ginger, brussel sprouts with pecans, and green salad. Pumpkin and apple pie for dessert (not homemade), with freshly whipped cream. I stuck with the basics. What could be better? There were 13 of us around the table, and we ate almost an entire 14 pound turkey; cleaned up the leftovers for lunch the next day: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, with green tomato relish.

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Which reminds me, some of you have requested my green tomato relish recipe, which I hesitated to post until ensuring it was good. Well, I’ll be darned, it’s good. We ate almost a pint of the stuff for Sunday’s lunch. Here’s the recipe (and be warned, it involves a lot of weighing — we actually dug out a scale from the basement for the purposes of making this relish; and then we all weighed ourselves too, just for fun.) Also observe: we canned spontaneously and had to make lots of substitutions.

Green Tomato Relish (from Joy of Cooking)

Combine in a large bowl: 8 pounds of green tomatoes, thinly sliced, and 2.5 pounds onions, thinly sliced, sprinkled with 1/2 cup salt. Stir well, cover, refrigerate for 12 hours. (Confession: We were short on time, so ours sat for about 1 hour.) Rinse the tomatoes and onions in cold water, drain.

Now, in a large nonreactive pot, bring to a boil and dissolve 2 pounds of brown sugar in 1 and 1/2 quarts cider vinegar. (Confession: We substituted at least a pound of white sugar, and 1 quart of white vinegar. I added some extra sugar before canning, too, to taste.)

Once sugar is dissolved, stir in the following: 2 pounds green bell peppers, sliced; 1 pound red bell peppers, sliced; 6 cloves garlic, sliced; 1 tablespoon dry mustard; 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt. (Confession: We didn’t have enough peppers, so I added chopped zucchini and eggplant to make up the difference in weight.)

Add tomatoes and onions and stir together well.

In a moist square of cloth, tie together the following ingredients, and add the cloth to the pot: 1 tablespoon whole cloves; 1 tablespoon ground ginger; 1 and 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds; 1 cinnamon stick broken into pieces. (Confession: We had no celery seeds. We made no substition for that lack.)

Simmer, stirring often, for about an hour, or until tomatoes become translucent. Can while hot in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes per pint or half-pint, 1/2-inch headspace.

:::

I’m putting up a link to the Wild Writers Festival, which is a brand-new literary festival here in Waterloo, coming on November 2 and 3, and bringing to town a really fabulous line-up of writers, including Diane Schoemperlen, Russell Smith, Alexander MacLeod, Helen Humphreys, Alison Pick, Merilyn Simonds, Miranda Hill, Elizabeth Hay … see, I don’t want to stop listing names, they’re all so terrific. Personally, I’m hoping to pop in to Kerry Clare‘s blogging session, which is right before my panel discussion. Spread the word! And come if you can!

(And if you’re in Toronto, please know that Waterloo is closer than you think, and that you’re coming to one of the prettiest parts of the city, which just happens to be my neighbourhood — the festival is being held at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.)

Winnipeg: Thin Air Writers Festival

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I took our old digital camera on my trip to Winnipeg, and figured out pretty quickly why we’d stopped using it: the battery runs dead after approximately a minute of use. But nevertheless it allowed me to capture fuzzy moments of my whirlwind adventure. The first photo, above, shows the Museum of Human Rights, still under construction, which was my view out the window when I ran on the treadmill in the empty fitness room (I never saw anyone else there). I stayed at the hotel for less than 24 hours, but still managed to run twice, and nap once.

On Monday, I had dinner with Sheree Fitch and took no photos. I knew her instantly though we’d never met in person, and I mean knew her knew her, not just recognized her. Maybe it seemed so natural to be with her that I assumed we’d have lots of time to pose for photos together, forgetting for the moment that she lives in Nova Scotia, and I’m here in Waterloo, and that mere fortune had allowed us to overlap in Winnipeg. Now I’m plotting to bring her to Waterloo to read in some schools — especially in my kids’ schools. How do such things get arranged?

At the table behind us were Bill Richardson and Karen Levine. Sheree knew them both. I’d met Karen eleven years ago when I recorded a story for a CBC radio program — I was just striking out on my own as a writer, and I was also massively pregnant with Albus, and for some reason had chosen to wear gigantic maternity overalls that day. (Why???)

For my mainstage reading on Monday night, I chose to wear my pretty red high heeled shoes that get compliments every time (which my sister Edna has now given to me to keep), and the cute/countryish/suedish jacket that makes jeans look dressy. (I hope.)

That’s me (and my poufy prairie hair) with the the festival’s director, Charlene Diehl, whom I first met when I was 20 and I walked into her CanLit class at the University of Waterloo. What a festival she’s made in Winnipeg. I’m so proud of her. The venues are terrific, the audiences come out (at our book chat on Tuesday afternoon, someone counted 95 people!), and the writers are treated, oh, so well. The hotel was a haven, and I loved every peaceful minute I spent there. What a gift.

I slept soundly. I woke refreshed. I sat and wrote. I read. I ran on the treadmill. There was space to retreat to — I appreciated having that space, as well as having opportunities to connect. As something of an introvert, I need alone time to balance out the meeting and greeting.

Tiny side anecdote: One of the writers on Monday evening was Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), who was very funny — and thankfully last to read. He told a story about his dad, who just couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of a reading. “What — you wrote the book, now you gotta read it to them too?” Ha!

On Tuesday morning, I did not sleep in, but I got a nice cup of coffee, I wrote, and ran, and at 12:30 on the dot, with great regret, I checked out of my room and went for lunch. I decided to order a glass of wine with my meal. I sat alone at the table, and read. It was a strange luxury, not one I could imagine getting used to — not one I particularly would like to get used to, when it comes right down to it. But it was good because it was so unusual.

Then I went up to the hospitality suite and discovered a small frenzy, lots of people. Being a bit thick, I didn’t figure it out right away, plopped down on the couch, checked my phone, gazed around, and went, duh! That’s Richard Ford, Pulizter Prize winner, he of the steely blue eyes. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The general atmosphere was of people excitedly dropping things and attempting not to sound ridiculously giddy or silly.

I missed his reading that evening. I was on a plane back to Toronto, which sounded disconcertingly like its muffler had fallen off.

When I walked through our front door, after midnight, I snuck around to every room and squeezed and kissed and hugged every child. In the morning, in the whirl and bustle of getting us all ready for school and work, nobody even asked: hey, Mom, how was Winnipeg? I though that was funny. It was a short trip, and I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m glad that it was so easy to slide back into home life, so easy that no one seemed to notice much that I’d come and gone. Or maybe they just accepted me back, as if I’d never left.

There’s a bit of that to travelling too. Being present in the moment. And then it’s gone, and it reverts to being almost dream-like in memory, vivid snippets, densely packed. I wonder which vivid snippets from Winnipeg will stick with me most strongly? There’s no telling.

Home again, home again

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home

I really want to do nothing more than blog … but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I’m on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I’m off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.

So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper — in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.

I’ve got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here’s hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.

But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.

This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I’m here, and there was something else I wanted to say too … Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.

I’m out of time. More soon.

Welcome to the family, DJ and Suzi!

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(click on the photos to see them in full)

Marking a momentous occasion in our family’s life: we have signed the papers and are now officially the owners of our two dogs, who came to us through a rescue agency. We’ll never know their full story. All we know for sure is that about a year and a half ago they were found together, wandering the streets in cold weather wearing matching pink sweaters. And no one came to claim them at the crowded shelter.

We’re pretty sure someone loved them, though. Someone definitely fed them from the table (we don’t do that, but Suzi’s probably never going to give up hoping that we might just, someday.)

While there are difficulties in not knowing their history, and in adopting older dogs, and while I’d be lying if I said the transition has been entirely hiccup-free, we’re truly happy that they came our way. I’m developing the theory that all it takes to become a dog person is to get some dogs (or, hey, even just one — we weren’t actually looking for two dogs, it just happened that these two came together, and needed a home). I wasn’t sure I was really a dog person, and was afraid that it would be hard to get used to the hair and the extra work, but it hasn’t been. I just lowered my domestic standards a teensy bit more to make room for the hair.

Because I really just love these loving furry little creatures.

I’ve even got funny voices for them. Suzi’s goes like this: “What’s happening? What’s happening? What’s going on? Something’s going on! I just know it! Exciting! What’s happening? What’s happening?” all in a very fast high-pitched tone. In a much suaver tone, DJ murmurs, as if talking to herself on a hidden recorder: “Secret agent DJ, on the job. I’ve sent the little one off to scout out the scene while I hang back and eat her treat, which I hid earlier. It’s all good.”

We signed the papers on Saturday, and these are some of the photos taken immediately afterward. Everyone was very excited. Well — and happy. Just plain happy.

As you can see for yourself.

:::

There will be a brief pause in services on this blog, unless I figure out a way to post remotely: I’m bound for Winnipeg tomorrow, not home til Tuesday, very late. Bags are packed, schedules organized (here at home, I mean), Kev will be in charge.

We can do this, right?

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