Some warm weather notwithstanding, it's too early to plant in St. John's - but it's certainly OK to check out the garden centres and pick out things for the week ahead. I find the colours reviving enough for now!
If all goes to plan, my passport will get some activity before the year is out. Our plan is to arrange a family trip to London in the months to come; if you have suggestions, get in touch. Thinking about the trip has already become a great pastime around the house.
He answers to Bill, but I would guess that many of his best friends and even in the family just call him The Gushe. Dad turned 84 this weekend, and as this photo shows, is still very much in prime shape! My sister Lisa took this photograph of Dad in his den, which remains one of my favourite places (and libraries) around. It's always nice to have both my parents' birthdays within a week, particularly since my son's birthday falls in between. (A lot of birthday wishes around Christmas in our family, to be sure!)
This is my mother, Sheila Gushue, who celebrated her 80th birthday earlier this week; this is a photograph my sister Lisa took in Mom and Dad's home. Mom is such a delight: generous, always smiling, witty and welcoming. Dad celebrates a birthday later in the week, which always make the whole of the 12 Days of Christmas a true pleasure in our family.
Almost a couple of months ago, we all went out to dinner to celebrate the end of the school year ... and during the meal, we gave our son some surprise news. Martha's relatives in Madrid were gathering for a fairly quickly organized gathering, and we are able to send Nick along for the trip at the end of July. I had my phone pointing towards him as Martha told him the news, and then made this montage to show his change in reaction. I love how it turned out ... and of course was thrilled that he was able to see the country where his grandmother grew up, as well as many of his relatives.
We spent yesterday morning kayaking in Bonne Bay, setting out from Norris Point with a guided tour arranged by Sue Rendell and the great team at Gros Morne Adventures. Nick and I had done this on an earlier visit, and this time we talked Martha into tagging along. We all had a great time - unbelievable scenery, plus a spotting of a minke whale.
Nick kept us laughing at one point.
"Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke," he would say aloud, as I got him to set a steady pace as the lead in our two-seated kayak.
And then he would go in his own direction. "Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, heart attack." That was followed by "stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, quadruple bypass, stroke, stroke, stroke, hepatitis." The alternative diseases piled up, from swine flu to kidney stones to cholera.
I have no idea where that sense of humour came from. :)
I didn't wake up around 5 this morning, and for me, that's excellent. I'm now in vacation mode, having finished my last shift on Friday. I'm pretty much hard-wired to wake up just before 5, often before my alarm clock rings. That carried into the weekend, and while I certainly didn't get up right away, the brain stays awake.
Not today, though. Not quite an extra two hours, but I'll certainly take them.
It was fairly hot in St. John's yesterday, and Martha and I had a late supper in the evening. To deal with the heat, dinner was cold, and pretty simple. Martha whipped together slices of bread topped with delicious things ... each of them incidentally, featuring an ingredient she had prepared herself.
Thus, one had apple chutney, another had pesto and a third had pickled peppers.
This is a montage I created to serve as the screensaver on my phone, with pictures taken over the last few months, showing each of us in a happy place. It's a little pick-me-up when I reach for the phone, and a great reminder of what's most important.
Weird things happen during the winter months. The mystery I'd most like to solve is this: where do all the missing mittens and gloves go?
Above are the things that are left over at the end of winter. Actually, not just this winter, but several. They all have been holding up space in the baskets we use for storing mittens, hats and scarves. Yesterday, I set them out and took a snap ... and noticed something. Nick's remaining gloves (see the top row, at the left) are all left-handed. Hmm. The mystery deepens ...
"There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort." - Jane Austen
[We had a bit of a snow day here in St. John's. Schools closed for the afternoon, and the weather took a nasty turn for a while; an hour or so after I took this photo, gusts of wind made short work of the visibility, and driving became pretty treacherous. I was off for the day (I've been working weekends) and so headed out to pick up Nick; the home is full and warm and we're taking it easy.]
I was working today, so I missed out on the impromptu walk that Nick suggested today on Signal Hill. Martha went with him, and while it didn't last as long as it might have (it was incredibly cold, they both reported), it was evidently inspiring. Martha took this picture along the way.
So, here's the thing. My father (his friends and quite a few of us in the family, too, call him the Gushe) has a wry sense of humour. (Yes, that's where I got it.) Since I can remember, he has made torture out of birthday cards he's been given, particularly if they're at all sentimental. Buy him a sickly-sweet card, and prepare for the consequences. I've bought him outrageously mawkish samples, which he has read out, year to year, with the same deadpan tone. I always look forward to it, in fact.
This year, though, I tripped him with a card with a left-field bit of humour in its own right.
The coat above is the green L.L. Bean item that has put me through every winter from 1994 onward, barring the days when I've worn a field coat (which has also seen far better days), the formal cloth coat I wear for funerals, weddings and important news events and the leather jacket I refuse to put away until I notice my freezing skin has attached itself to it. I'm stubborn that way.
I had really hoped to get another winter out of the coat above. It's very comfortable, to the point that I could excuse minor problems, like nicks, rips and tears. Those minor tears, though, have become major ones, including one behind the right pocket that is, effectively, a much larger pocket in its own right. This weekend, the zipper separated itself from the bottom, and I noticed another problem on the left-hand side.
Enough to make me recognize the inevitable: the coat, which has been mended and patched a few times already, has run itself into the ground. As well, 18 years is not at all shabby for a coat that I put on, I reckon, a couple of thousand times or so.
So, this evening, I decided to replace it. Martha and I took to the interwebs (online shopping is pretty much your only choice for that kind of thing when you're my size) and found a very decent parka, and on sale too. Turns out, to no surprise, that the week after Christmas is a good time to decide spontaneously to get a new coat, with a sales pitch that's hard to beat.
Cheap enough was the deal, in fact, that I got a dress shirt and a tie for another $25, plus a pair each of boots and sneakers for our rapidly growing son (who's feet sizes, in Grade 6, are already in the larger end of the men's selection, period).
We wrapped up the whole expedition in less time than it took to write this, let alone what it would have taken to drive anywhere. Small wonder digital retail is booming.
As for the old coat, it and I will soon have to part ways. I almost feel like giving it a burial at sea.
I was in the mall after work, catching up with the family after parking the car. We were headed out to a movie.
On my way, I felt this slap - a back of the hand that came up against my right cheek - and then saw this woman in front of me, saying this: "My God, how are ya!! Oh, you're not who I thought you were."
She might then have said "sorry" or something, and off she went.
My skin was still stinging as I figured out what had just happened.
And of course my mind then wondered, um, how many people exactly out there resemble me, even from the side or from behind?
Each December, beginning in the year our son was born, I've been making a mixtape for family and close friends of Christmas tunes. What started as a one-off stocking stuffer has turned into, well, a thing ... although probably it's better to call it a tradition.
Actually, it's fun to do. We sift through many, many songs (I have hundreds sitting in an iTunes folder) and each year I pick up more, just to complicate things. New releases this year, incidentally, include the tracks by She & Him, Jack Johnson, Joan Osborne, David Ian and Carole King.
This year's set includes some songs that have been on the long list for a long time; the Gary Burton tune, for instance, is on a jazz compilation that's one of the first Christmas albums I ever bought.
The mix is, as always, all over the place. Where else could you put Luscious Jackson next to Tony Bennett? There's some indie pop, made-for-martinis jazz, some Sixties soul (the Funk Brothers were the house band at Motown) and loungewear. There's even a song that has nothing to do with Christmas or any holiday, but their name after all is the Decemberists, they put the word "angel" in a title and I got the idea after seeing it on a Christmas anthology.
I love stumbling across unexpected chestnuts, and the one this year is Daniel Radcliffe singing a cover of A Christmas Carol - not by Charles Dickens, but Tom Lehrer, whose satirical songs I learned at a very young age from my dad's stereo.
Here are the tunes this year.
She & Him: The Christmas Song Vince Guaraldi Trio: Linus And Lucy Jimmy Buffett: Christmas Island Billy Paul Williams: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Carole King: My Favorite Things Joan Osborne: Angels We Have Heard on High Jack Johnson: In The Morning Gary Burton: O Tannenbaum Emmylou Harris: The First Noel David Ian: The Christmas Waltz Duke Ellington: Sugar Rum Cherry (from the Nutcracker) Chuck Berry: Run Rudolph Run Darlene Love: Marshmallow World The Beach Boys: Little Saint Nick The Funk Brothers: Winter Wonderland Luscious Jackson: Let It Snow Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Big Band: Silver Bells The Pretenders: 2000 Miles Michael Bublé: It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: Ain't No Chimneys in the Project The Alarm: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) Bruce Cockburn: Joy to the World Annie Lennox: In the Bleak Midwinter The Decemberists: Angel, Won't You Call Me King Curtis: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? Daniel Radcliffe (and the cast of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying): A Christmas Carol
We posed for a family photo a couple of weeks ago - a bunch of them, and with extended family members on Martha's side. It actually went quite well, and the results are handsome. I'm not why we don't do it more often, whether it's at Christmas or not; we certainly have not had the difficulty that, say, the Simpsons encounter! (The image above is from last Sunday's Christmas-themed episode, which was as sharp and joke-filled as the series has ever been.)
Every December, I've read Kevin Major's The House of Wooden Santas to Nick, one chapter each night. I know I'm not alone here; the 24-chapter book is designed that way, and I've talked with plenty of people who have maintained that very tradition.
I was wondering what would happen this year. Nick is now 11, and thus two years older than Jesse, the protagonist in the book who discovers the Christmas spirit and friendship while his woodcarving mother produces a daily Santa and keeps the mean old landlady at bay. Would he still want to go through the nightly readings of our literary version of an Advent calendar?
The answer is definitely yes. He's reading novels and complex ones on his own now, but he still likes to be read to, and there's a twist; he likes to read to us, too, and tonight he read the chapter you see above (featuring Super Santa, one of my favourite carvings) to me. I loved it.
This afternoon, while Martha was off to a social event with her mom, Nick and I decamped to the coffee shop. It was his idea. We each bought brought a laptop; he's been flexing his own writing muscles, and is developing what he hopes to turn into a novel. It's his second go. I've been more than encouraging, as I've been studiously ignoring my own manuscript! Maybe I'll get disciplined when 2012 rolls around. In the meantime, we've had a great afternoon, sipping our respective beverages (coffee for me, milk for him) and chatting every few minutes.
One of the things Nick enjoyed most during our trip to New York was a stand that made crepes in Bryant Park, particularly a chocolate crepe. To call it delicious is an understatement. I shot this short video, which shows the delight Nick got in receiving, and topping it up with a few (OK, more than a few) sprinkles of extra chocolate powder.
I'm helping myself to this picture, which Martha snapped this morning. There was frost overnight - enough, for the first time this season, to haul out the scraper for the car windows. (Well, some of them. One side had a frosty buildup, the other - exposed just a bit to sunlight by then - did not.)
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.