Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Different Flavour

One thing I can say about my job – it’s never boring.

For last two months of school I taught math and science in the morning, and did curriculum work in the afternoons, but this week I found myself unexpectedly shifted back to the ESL department until a vacancy can be filled. Putting the lack of notice aside, I was pleased. I’ve missed working with these women.

One thing I find fascinating is the contrast between the way our students – all young Muslim women in their twenties – dress in public, and what they wear in private. Long coats, hijabs and, for some, veils cover skinny jeans, low-cut tank tops, make-up and jewellery. The ones who are the most modest outside school are anything but in a women-only environment.

For some, the same can be said about their personalities. One student in particular – I’ll call her Miriam – is, to put it plainly, a firecracker in the classroom. She loves clothes, makeup, movies and popular music, is always laughing and teasing, and doesn’t hesitate to let go of her temper. She lives life with incredible zest.

This afternoon the sun came out after three days of rain and fog, so we took the ESL class down to the Halifax waterfront. We strolled along the boardwalk, enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the waterfront in tourist season and checked out a few stores, one of which was a confectionery.

Browsing the shelves and trying to ignore the smell of homemade fudge and ice cream, I came across something different. Remember those multicoloured candy necklaces you used to buy as a kid? Well, someone has taken the idea a bit further. I found this on Wikimedia Commons. Apparently, one size fits most. All I know is, I’d have to wear two of them. There they were, in neat little boxes next to the gummi bears.

I couldn’t resist showing one to the students. I handed the box to one; she puzzled out the label, then her eyes got big. “It’s CANDY!” The others gathered around, giggling.

Miriam burst out laughing. “What size? What size?” They examined the box, trying to find out. A hurried discussion in Arabic took place. Then Miriam, wearing a big smile, marched up to the cash with the box.

I get the feeling her husband probably enjoys a little something different, too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Folk Friday #1

I’ve decided to start a tradition this week. Since I know some of you are music fans, and since I certainly am, I’m going to decree that every Friday henceforth shall be Folk Friday. I’ll choose a piece of music I like, provide a clip, and give a little background.

Musically, I’m a little schizophrenic. One part of me gravitates towards Celtic music, while another part responds to earthy tunes by the likes of John Prine and Mary Chapin-Carpenter. I’ll kick this off with a Celtic tune, The Briar and the Rose, written by Tom Waite, performed by Nova Scotian band The Cottars.

A good friend of mine works as an usher at the Rebecca Cohn auditorium, a major concert venue here in Halifax. She keeps me informed of upcoming shows, and a few years ago she told me The Cottars were on the bill. “Don’t miss it.” I’d been hearing of this band, so I took Kathy’s advice and didn’t miss it.

At that time, The Cottars were two pairs of siblings, young teens from two of Nova Scotia’s well-known musical families. The lead singer, Fiona MacGillivray, was only twelve at the time. When this dark-haired wisp of a girl stepped up to the microphone I didn’t know what to expect. I like children’s voices, but…

With her brother backing her up, Fiona launched into The Briar and the Rose. By the end of the first verse there were chills running along my spine and tears in my eyes. No artifice, no vocal gymnastics, just a pure, clear, powerful voice. Fiona must be seventeen or eighteen now, and though her voice has matured it hasn’t changed in quality. It still comes from the heart. This clip was recorded a year or so ago. Enjoy! And if there are any tunes you’d like to hear here, let me know!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Echo's Excellent Adventure

I think I aged at least two years yesterday.

Last Wednesday, we brought home a new addition to the family. We’ve had a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Chance, for eight years, and we love him dearly, so dearly that DH and I don’t ever want to be without a dog. So, we called Chance’s breeder a while ago and ended up with a beautiful little female, Echo, to keep our boy company.

For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Tollers – also known here as Little River Duck Dogs - are a native Nova Scotian breed, developed by Acadian settlers over 200 years ago. “Tolling” is a behaviour shown naturally by red foxes. At the edge of a marsh or lake, a fox will hide in tall grass while its mate plays on the shore, running back and forth and waving its white-tipped tail. For some bird-brained reason, this fascinates waterfowl. They swim in to shore to get a closer look, and if they get close enough, the hidden fox springs out and an unlucky duck becomes dinner for two. The Acadians bred dogs to imitate this behaviour, and to look foxlike – red coats, white markings and sharp faces. The smallest of the retriever breeds, Tollers are compact dynamos with endless energy and a lot of smarts. For hunting, they’re trained to lure the birds in for a shot and then retrieve the kill. We’ve never hunted, but we love the breed’s energy and personality.

This is Chance
and here’s Echo.
She’s two years old and full grown, but rather small for her breed standard, which is why the breeder decided to let her go.

I like this silhouette of the two of them. Just try to get two Tollers to stand still at the same time for anyting, let alone a picture!

Wouldn’t those names be good for a couple in a romance novel? Hmmm, the wheels are turning.

Echo fit into our household right away, and Saturday morning we headed for our family cottage. These dogs are bred for the water and Echo has had field training, so though we were concerned about letting her off-lead so soon, we couldn’t bear to keep her out of the lake. She had a wonderful time and made no attempt to run off, so Sunday morning I took her and Chance down to the water for another swim. Echo had been so good that I didn’t put her on lead for the short walk back to the cottage. We were almost there when she caught the scent of a deer and disappeared down a side path.

For three hours.

DH and I were devastated. We searched and called, but in spite of her field training, we couldn’t be sure she’d come to us even if she heard us. We’d only had her for 4 days. Our cottage is 10 km back in the woods, with no one around for miles. My imagination went into overdrive, picturing Echo alone and frightened, lost in the woods with coyotes on the prowl. While hubby searched on foot I jumped in the car and drove the roads, with no sign of her. Would she find her way out and try to make the dangerous 30-km trip along a busy highway back to the breeder’s? I knew I’d never forgive myself if we didn’t find her.

After several futile circles, I started back to the cottage, praying aloud. Before I reached our road I met hubby walking, with a broad grin on his face. Just after I left for my last circle, Echo had come trotting up to the cottage, very pleased with herself and ready for a rest and dinner. I simply went to pieces.

I suppose I overreacted a tad. She might look like a strong wind could blow her away, but this little girl is wiry and tough and bred for the woods. When she’d had her fill of exploring, she knew enough to follow her own scent back to where comfort and a meal would be waiting. But last night, when it started to thunder and rain and I lay in bed, knowing Echo was safe in her crate and not out in the woods in the dark, I said the most grateful prayer I’ve ever said in my life. It will be a while before that little minx gets off lead again.

She’s definitely grounded.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

Only five more school days left! I think I’m going to be doing some curriculum work over the summer, but that will be relaxing compared to dealing with teenagers. I can’t wait.

June is busting out all over, including our garden. Yesterday evening was beautiful, so we sat outside and had a beer after supper. I took a stroll around the yard and snapped some pictures.

Our irises are just reaching their peak right now. Mixed with deep purple bachelor’s buttons and pearly yellow ground cover (a donation from a neighbour – I haven’t bothered to look it up. Does anyone recognize it?), they create a nice palette of blues and yellows. Our wegiela is in full bloom, and we have a froth of forget-me-nots and columbines around the edge of the property. Jacob’s ladder is another reliable perennial that comes up for us every year.

The crabapple is done, but it was beautiful and the blossoms perfumed the whole yard. We won’t have to wait much longer for the peonies. Then the roses will take over. Right now, only the rugosa is in bloom. They line the beaches in so many places here, and to me they’re the essence of summer. Later will come the dahlias and brown-eyed Susans. In a good year, they bloom right through to the end of October.

I’m a lazy gardener. Our beds run riot, with no coddling for wimps, but we deal with the worst of the bullies and it always manages to look bright and cheerful, if not always perfectly neat and tidy. This summer I want to do plenty of relaxing, so the weeds will likely get ahead of me again. Sigh. No matter. Summer is too short not to savor.

The season is so laden with memories. The smell of a hot smoked-meat sandwich on a sweltering afternoon on Rue Ste. Catherine in Montreal. The dappled shade of spruce trees in the woods where I used to go riding during my high-school years in Miramichi. Moonlight on the Guysborough River where my family camped when I was a tween. The first summer Everett and I spent together, mostly at our family cottage, with the loons calling in the night.

Here’s a set of lyrics I wrote on a summer evening a few years ago. Everett has composed a swingy little jazz melody to go with them. I need another verse, then perhaps we’ll record it.


Swirl me around in an eddy of sunlight
Rest me in darkness at the edge of the stream
Bear me along in the flow of passing time
Like a reed in a river on its way to the sea

When I was a child, someone told me a story
‘Bout a man who made some wings and flew too close to the sun
He fell from grace, but he lost himself trying
And I’ve found myself crying for the freedom he won

Warm and bright as sunlight on the water
Hours go by on an afternoon like this
I’m nobody here, just the river’s daughter
Lying still, dreaming of…

Swirl me around in an eddy of sunlight
Pebbles turn till they’re polished and clean
Close my eyes and listen to the water
Be a reed in a river on its way to the sea

What are your best summer memories? I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite tunes for the season. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A visit with Deanna Jewel and Trey McShannon

Just wanted to let everyone know that I'm visiting Deanna Jewel's Colorado lodge this morning, and Trey just happened to ride in for a chat! Come and join us for a spell, the chairs are comfy and coffee's on!Link is being cranky, it's

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Musical Push

I posted recently about the interconnections between music and writing. Now, it seems that the fates are conspiring to nudge me into playing again. We’ll see where that leads.

For a few years, in my late twenties, I worked quite hard at becoming a better singer and guitar player. That’s how I met my hubby. He had moved from Ottawa back to his family’s roots in Nova Scotia to pursue music, and he was looking for guitar students. I had decided I was in a rut with my playing and wanted to take lessons. I saw his ad and phoned him. It wasn’t long before he stopped charging me for the lessons. The rest is history.

With music, as with writing, life gets in the way. I found out by experience that bands are like marriages, without the perks. They’re transitory, and breakups can be painful. I got a real job, got a house and a garden and a dog. I discovered watercolors, and there was always writing. I wasn’t playing much guitar, and because singing and playing are very physical, if you don’t use it, you lose it. When I got inspired to write a novel, I immersed myself in that and stopped playing more or less completely.

I’ve always known that I’m not a performer by nature. I’m an introvert, which is one of the traits that makes me a writer. Still, I’ve missed making music, especially making music with my guy. I’ve been telling myself for a long time that I’m going to pick up my guitar again, and last week I did. I’m rusty – very rusty – but I know that once I’m past sore fingers and botched chords, I’ll be glad I made the effort.

Everett’s cousin John Chiasson has a recording studio in Dartmouth, and a couple of weeks ago John helped me record ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ as the soundtrack for my McShannon’s Heart book trailer. Shameless plug: John is a consummate musician. He’s played bass for the Rankins and Natalie MacMaster, is well known in the local jazz scene, and his ear is flawless. He’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, a joy to work with. If you’re in the Halifax area and have any reason to use a recording studio, call him. He’s in the phone book.

We did three takes, mixed and matched to get the best version of each verse, and voila! When I played the trailer as part of my session at RWAC’s all day workshop this past Saturday, people suggested I record more. Hmmm. A little more time and work, and we’ll see. Just what I need, another side-path to follow. But the best journeys are always along the roads less travelled. Meanwhile, I’m just happy to be playing and singing again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And the Watercolor Winner is...

Kelly Boyce! Congratulations, Kelly! I'll be presenting you with your prize at our RWAC workshop on Saturday. See you then!