November Has 30 Days. Sigh.

It’s two-thirds gone and I can hardly wait for it to be over.  November is not my idea of month.  It’s more like a jail term for the infraction of loving blue skies and colour.

I have a friend who LOVES November.  In part because his birthday is in November, but also in part because where he lives (Australia), the weather is warmer and sunnier and the cricket season is underway.  I think it’s why we broke up; well, complete opposite ideas about November and the fact that he was a cricketer.  (If you can’t explain how a game is played in three sentences or fewer, including how scoring happens, however much I love you, we have a relationship challenge.)

Anyway, to return the to dull greyness that is November here… I stand at the kitchen window and look out at the sad piles of leaves, sunk down by sleet and rain, and remember what they were once, hanging on the maple and oak trees in the neighbourhood.  I watch clouds, heavy with precipitation, scudding across the sky, hiding any hope of sunshine, thinking they seem very satisfied with their gloominess.  I watch the barometer fall, almost as fast as the thermometer, and wonder if it’s actually possible to sleep for 29 days.

I would wake up for (American) Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin pie, doncha know??  Plus, eat enough turkey, and you just fall right back to sleep again!

My girlhood hero, Anne Shirley (she of “Green Gables” fame) agrees with me, but Lucy Maud Montgomery puts it so much better than I:

“November is usually such a disagreeable month as if the year had suddenly found out she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it.”  

Some might think I’m railing against November because it means another year is slipping to an end, and as I grow older, there are fewer and fewer Novembers to come to me.  But if that hypothesis were true, I would feel the same about December, more so perhaps, because it is the end of the year.  December, though is bright.  Even if there are snow squalls and icy roads, bone-chilling temperatures and outrageous heating bills, there is a brightness to a month that encourages us to put out and turn on our brightest lights.  We fill our homes with the smell of pine and gingerbread.  We spend our time and money looking for ways to please our family and friends with gifts, not to mention a little something or two for ourselves.  We eat too much and drink too much, and love every mouthful.  And even if we think we can’t stand the holiday season, there is always, always, one moment, one sight, which makes us think… ‘so this is how the Grinch’s heart grew so big’.  From the movie:

“I’m all toasty inside. And I’m leaking.”  

I think we’re all looking forward to becoming toasty inside… As soon as we get over November.


And just so you know…  this is a month and a vista I could live with always… Thanks for sharing it over (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Michael & Rita.

Sun Oct 8.jpg


Oh, God. Yes, Christmas.

I am thinking about Christmas.

Yes, I know Hallowe’en was just a few hours ago – I still have bags of Swedish berries and gummy bears to prove it.  Give us until Saturday and they’ll be allll gone.  Unless, of course, we stock up on half-price Hallowe’en chocolates and candy.  Which we have been known to do.  Sigh.

Anyway, I have now seen three different major retailers’ first Christmas shopping ads on television.  The first (Best Buy) I actually saw on the 29th!  Different kind of sigh.  I know that businesses often live and die by the holiday season, I get that.  But seriously, unless you sell things that can be given away as Hallowe’en loot too, I don’t think you’re doing your corporate image any good by starting the commercial Christmas season so early.

Beyond the advertising, a facebook friend posted a notice last week that there were only 9 more Mondays to Christmas.  Like Mondays didn’t have enough issues….

However, all this was a good kick in the butt to remind me that annual Christmas letter has to be done.  You’re all going, no! no!  not a Christmas letter! but yes, we do have one. This is because we are incredibly lazy sods who don’t do a better job of staying in touch with friends and family during the year.  To our credit, I think, we don’t do a lot of bragging about our achievements through the course of the year, which could be in part because we don’t actually achieve that much any more, what with getting older and all the stuff that goes along with that.  I mean, no one really wants to know we both managed to sleep through the night without visiting the head at least 10% of the time, do they??

It also reminded me that I need to do a “Dear Santa” list.  I’ve been doing these every year since Year One.  I don’t remember actually mailing any letters to Santa, but I knew then, and I know now, that the spirit of the letters would reach Father Christmas just fine.  I also don’t remember having extravagant lists as a child, but I have veered into fantasy on my adult lists for quite awhile.

For example, for about 20 years, I would ask for Al Pacino for Christmas.  Just for Christmas, or maybe Boxing Day, but not any longer than that.  I didn’t want to keep him, I just wanted to play with him for a while.

(And no, not that way.  Jeez, my friends have prurient minds.  I wanted to talk about acting and life in New York and “Dog Day Afternoon” which movie I will never get out of my mind.)

I often ask for Paris now, and one year I wanted Marc Anthony while just recently I was hoping to find Dame Judi Dench’s phone number in my Christmas stocking, so I could call her and we could chat about the diversity of acting in the UK, about riding elephants, and does she think ribald English humour translates well to America (I think we Canadians get it, but I’m not sure about Americans; I’d like to hear what she’s heard).

However, on the more practical side, my gift list is about books.  There cannot be enough books in my life, and this year there seems to be an even larger pool from which to choose.  I just saw Charlie Rose’s interview of Nancy Koehn and her book, “Forged in Crisis”.  She’s a professor at Harvard and not only did her interview with Charlie inspire me to seek out her book, but I want to audit her classes!  She was so fast in her responses, so well-spoken, thoughtful, erudite, and not a ‘you know’ or ‘like, um’ in the entire 20 minutes!

My twitter friend, Hope Dellon, who works at St Martin’s Press is away from her desk for a little while, but I hope she’ll be back in time to search her brain for other book ideas… not all necessarily from St Martin’s!  She and I share a taste for crime novels, especially written by women, which makes sense as she’s Louise Penny’s editor.  And there’s another bunch of books I want – to fill out the gaps in my Penny/Three Pines/Armand Gamache collection.  Hope and I also enjoy Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels; I only have three in hand and could stand to round out the collection.  Anyway, keen to. hear what she thinks should be on my list.

I also want to find a copy of “Winnie The Pooh” that DOESN’T have the Disney illustrations!  I’d like every book both David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin have written, even the ones I’ve read.

I’d also like “The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro” which is edited by my (older) cousin, David Staines, as opposed to my other cousin, David Staines, or even my brother, David Staines.  She is a favourite author, but I don’t want this particular book just because  David edited it; if someone asks me about it, spotting it in my hands or on my bookshelf, I will have a chance to tell my ‘how I met Alice Munro’ story all over again.  Good story, that.

Anyway, it’s a balmy 63/17 degrees right now, so I’m hard pressed to get into Christmas thinking… maybe if I make some gingerbread men… or put on some carols!  Giant sigh….

How many Mondays now until Christmas???





Christmas, Family, Road Trips & Leftovers

This is one of a few entries I wrote, and was unable to post, for the past couple of weeks.  Please accept my apologies for bringing you so much delight all at one time!!

At this point, the beets are going out.  It’s been a week.  Even if they are still fine to eat, I don’t want them.  So 2 roasted & sliced beets are bound for glory, er, the composting barrel.

And that’s all that’s left from Christmas, except for a box of thin mint chocolates that mysteriously never made their way to the table… hee, hee, hee… and a couple of bottles of wine that were brought by guests & not drunk.  Tree’s down, Christmas cards – both received & left over – are packed away, holiday CDs put back on the rack with the indy music we’re afraid to listen to, and life moves on toward 2011 with all the grace of an overstuffed middle-aged writer who forgets how much work there is getting ready for the bloody season from year to year so keeps celebrating it.

(Christmas must be my equivalent of popping out babies every year!  Hee!)

This year, Jeff & I invited my whole family to come for Christmas – but one brother & his family and my only sister & her family could not come at all, and not all twigs on the various branches could make it either.  That left us with only Greg, and David & Firmina & Jake & Luke, and Michael & James & Tall Jeffrey (to distinguish my 6 foot, one inch nephew from my 5 foot, 10 inch husband, now known as Shorter Jeffrey), not nearly the numbers we often have.  So to make up for it, I invited our new friends, Sally & Michael, to round up the numbers to an even dozen crowded around the dining room table, and we had a blast!

I have never told so many stories, listened to so many stories, heard so much laughter, as we enjoyed that evening.  Dear Sally & Michael, putting up with my crazy family.  Although I don’t think they minded too much – they seemed to get a lot of enjoyment from discussing bees and fainting goats as is humanly possible.  I am, however, never going to be able to think about milking & Sally again without laughing just a little.

When you’re an orphan – as the six of us are – it doesn’t matter that you’re middle-aged and have children of your own.  You’re still an orphan.  And the family holiday is dimmed just a little because the continuity of your family starts with you. It’s a little scary to think that we, the six of us, are the adults now, because I remember very clearly when we were not!  It’s been 19 Christmases without Joy and 7 Christmases without Ross, and they are always and forever missed, but I think the love of celebration and food & drink and family that they gave us is a guest at the table and a gift under the tree every Christmas, so they are still, in many ways, celebrating with us.

But when you’re married, you don’t have just one family any more.  You have two.  For better or for worse, there are the in-laws to consider, and very happily, fortunately, for me, the in-laws are fabulous.

In some ways, I still feel like I have a mum & dad because (Shorter) Jeffrey’s parents are still with us at 89 years of age.  Oh, they’re a little slower in moving, they don’t fit as much into their days as they used to, and one sometimes has to repeat things a few times to be heard and/or remembered, but they are a source of love and joy that is truly treasured by their three children, their five grandchildren, and their 8 great grandchildren.  And by at least this one daughter-in-law, although I’m pretty sure the other daughter-in-law and the son-in-law also appreciate them very much.

Jeff took a fast trip to see them before Christmas, and we went down together after Christmas for two days.  Had a lovely, quiet visit – which means Jeff and I do a little shopping (why does anyone pay full price for Christmas cards when they go on sale right after the holidays at half-price?  I’m all geared up for Christmas 2011!  Please be sure I have your mailing address if you want a card and Holiday News from me next year.) and catch a movie and visit other family members, which this visit was just my sister-in-law, Karen Miranda.

Karen & Jeff with Team Canada autographed jersey

I have to say something here about sisters-in-law:  I like mine.  All of mine, including the one I don’t really have any more because her marriage with my brother ended.  But Karen did something that I regret I did not do for the women my brothers married – she wrote me a note when Jeff & I got engaged to welcome me into the family, and to welcome me as a sister in particular.  It was the kindest, sweetest thing and I’m not even sure I told her how much it meant to me, never mind paying it forward.  Maybe for their birthdays this year, I should do this for them.

Oh, and for Stephen too, my no-longer-quite-new-brother-in-law.

By the way, on the movie front, THE KING’S SPEECH may just be the most perfect movie ever… after TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD.  I did not believe my love for Colin Firth could grow any bigger but it has.  And I don’t mean this in just a lustful, longing way… although Colin, you are numbers 1, 4, & 5 on my ‘Freebie Five’ list.  I’m just sayin’… but because he gets better & better & better as an actor with every single outing.  I don’t think that one can actually say that about Gregory Peck, whom I worship & adore in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and several other movies, because I believe he just played variations of his own, good, strong self.  But Colin… sigh.

Anyway, family has all gone home, Michael & Sally have probably recovered and are back to their bees & goats & dogs (and I hope she’s found her seed catalogue because I am counting on great melons and other goodies again this year), and the house is undecorated.  That leaves just the beets to throw out and that last piece of the Yule Log I cleverly hid behind the beets (well, not so cleverly – it just happened) to enjoy and we can move forward into an exciting new year.

Oh please, not too exciting, or at least, excitement of the happy kind.  I’m done with excitement that breaks my heart.

I hope you all had, if not a joyful Christmas season, then at least a peaceful one.  And may we all know contentment in 2011.