We decorate the tree…

December 14th, 2020Posted by Nancy

The holiday season this year may involve no Tree Decorating Party (36 years running), no Christmas Eve dinner with family, no Christmas Day visit to “the Hall” to see the extended clan, no brunch with friends, no New Year’s Eve dinner and movie with the usual suspects, but at least we still got a tree (delivered) and put up a fine selection of the ornaments we’ve acquired during the 33 years we’ve been hosting the party. I should mention that the invitation specifies “ugly ornaments”. And we do have those.

Despite my ongoing struggles with the size limits on this site, here are some photos.

The tree in its glory. Note the dinosaur, hamburger, bilious green clown, and bedazzled bull with a lace skirt.
One of our friends refers to this as “the bastard child of ET and a goose”.
One of our favourites. Nothing says Christmas like a scary clown.

When you put them all together with the lights and the garlands and you squint a bit, it actually looks quite pretty.

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The Show Goes On

November 29th, 2020Posted by Nancy

John and Exene get the band back together and make some noise.

We see a fair bit of live music, mostly because we have subscriptions to three different series (one classical on Sunday afternoons, one modern music series, and one mix of everything from Bach interpretations to a tribute to Frank Zappa). In 2019, I counted 22 shows on the calendar.

Needless to say, 2020 has not looked at all the same. By March, after having seen 4 shows, everything started getting cancelled, first for Spring 2020 and then for Fall 2020 and then the entire 2020/2021 seasons. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to pull the plug on concerts that had been planned and booked two years earlier, leaving the organizations and artists without funding during a pandemic.

The first show we saw in the new world was in April. Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean broadcast via Zoom from her living room for a $7 fee, with donations to charity. In May, the Crow’s Theatre partnered with Gare de L’est restaurant to deliver a mostly prepped dinner and wine before a Zoom preview of a new musical based on The Master and Margarita. (We’ve since done two more shows this way, resulting in excellent meals – with leftovers – and an amazing performance of the play Ghost Quartet.)

We tried watching things on Facebook Live, but couldn’t bear the endless stream of hearts and comments. But then, in August, we discovered Mandolin, a service that works with musicians to livestream their shows from studios or clubs. It skews heavily to singer-songwriters, but that’s right up our alley, so we’ve now bought three-show packages featuring Shawn Colvin, John Doe, Richard Thompson, and Emmylou Harris. We’ll have a lot of Christmas shows this year.

We’ve also seen the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour (both the one cancelled in March and the one for the upcoming season), several flamenco shows, and a beautiful performance by Mary Chapin Carpenter from Wolf Trap. So far, we’re up to 19 performances with 5 more to come.

It’s not the same as live – but it does allow for easy bathroom breaks, a glass of wine or two, and very comfy seating. Our musical diet is lacking in the string quartets and other classical music that used to form a major part of our attendance, so that’s the next thing to investigate.

Not sure when we’ll next see a loud rock and roll band at the Music Hall though.

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Beautiful Books

November 16th, 2020Posted by Nancy

A collection of classics

My good friends at The House of Pomegranates Press have started to produce amazing editions of classic titles with the feel of old books. As it says on their website:

Whenever we would find ourselves wandering in book shops, dusty antique or junk shops we are always drawn to the back where the stacks of unloved and dust jacket-less books huddle, waiting, still full of mystery and adventure, just a little worn and tired. We loved those books and decided to create a series that resembles those books from the teens to the thirties.” 

Titles currently available include such wonderful books as Dracula, Sailing Alone around the World by Jonathan Slocum, and Whose Body?, a Wimsey mystery by Dorothy Sayers.

You’ll also find original fiction by the talented David Keyes. His collection, I Do So Sorry For All Those Lost at Sea, is beautiful, evocative, whimsical, surreal, and moving. His Cecil Woolley series evokes the occult detectives of the 1920s, along with healthy lashings of martinis, murder, mystery, and some fabulous gowns.

You can find their work on the website or at Amazon. Treat yourself to a beautiful book today!

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A Good Day

November 7th, 2020Posted by Nancy

It was 20 degrees celsius today.

The sun was shining.

We saw friends at an appropriate distance.

Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States.

It was a good day.

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Hallowe’en … maybe?

October 25th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Hallowe’en in Ontario is not exactly cancelled – just “recommended against”. This shouldn’t make much difference to us, because our activity ranges between 10 and 20 kids. Trick or Treating action in our neighbourhood of small blocks is highly street-dependent. If you don’t have critical mass of decorations, they just keep on walking.

This doesn’t stop my husband from happily putting up skull lights and carving a pumpkin. And from buying far more candy than we will ever give out and now that we don’t work in offices, there’s no easy way to get rid of it except to eat it. Which, sadly, we do.

We’re guaranteed the 7 kids who live on our street, so we’ve bought loot bags and will set up a socially distanced table so treats can be acquired without risk. I’m even planning a costume this year, a somewhat lazy combination of flamenco, Day of the Dead Bride, and Frida Kahlo. A picture may or may not appear here next week.

On the other hand, there seems to be extra enthusiasm for decorating in the neighbourhood this year. Perhaps that’s because it’s something that the virus can’t take away. Here’s a selection of things that moved to me take pictures on my walks. Sadly, the tempermental upload function on WordPress keeps rejecting the garden of doll heads, but that house has it’s own hashtag, so check out #nightmareonbrowning for all the scary goodness.

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Pictures to go with the words and music

October 10th, 2020Posted by Nancy

I’d mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve recorded seven short readings and that my husband has been composing background music for them. Now he’s discovered imovie and has made the jump to adding moody and evocative visuals to his compositions.

I don’t know that we’re going to be able to come up with the right images for each reading. So far we’ve got a slo-mo videos of bees in the garden and ideas for some “Ken Burns” photo montages. I’m currently responsible for going through the free images offered at the Paris Museum Collections site to find historical photos of Paris slums. I’ve even played around with my modifying my own photos of Paris, to mixed success (see above). I will point out that the story isn’t actually set in Paris, just a “sort of like Paris” city. Ok, who am I kidding – it’s really Paris, not matter what name it has in the book.

And since we just went back to Stage 2 lockdown here in Toronto, I imagine I’ll have lots of time to look at old photos.

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Discovering Japan Collection Reissue!

September 28th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Just put the (almost) finishing touches on the new material being added to the upcoming reissue of my Discovering Japan short story collection, due out in December.

This new version features a new cover, one additional unpublished short story, and THREE (count ’em, three!) sections from the Work In Progress, aka “The Witch Novel”.

Stay tuned for more info and the fabulous new cover.

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What I read at the Cottage, 2020 COVID edition

September 23rd, 2020Posted by Nancy

Drama Queen Sky

The annual two weeks up north was the usual balm for the soul, despite rainy weather the first week.

I went swimming twice (given that the second time was on September 15th, I thought that was pretty good. It was … not warm). I did my one annual ride on the rail trail. I got in some long walks and finally finished the fourth Adventure Zone arc. Yes, I am years behind on that.

I ate fewer cookies than usual, in an attempt to shed those extra few COVID pounds. I did lamentably little writing.

I did manage to read or reread a number of books, though I didn’t set any records.


Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones. Motivated by watching the Studio Ghibli animated version on Netflix. Howl is one of my favourite comfort reads.

Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward. Patricia Wrede. Regency magic and romance for a rainy Sunday when you’ve had two hours of sleep.

Assorted bits of the Foreigner series. C.J. Cherryh. Having read them all, I could skip all the plot and worldbuilding explanations and just enjoy the cultural grace notes and dialogue.

New reads:

Wakenhurst. Michelle Paver. The fens, medieval devils, madness, a manor house all add up to fine English gothic.

Dreaming of You. Lisa Kleypas. Romance. And yes, I skipped the sex scenes.

Famous Father Girl, Jamie Bernstein. We’d seen her speak at a concert celebrating her father’s music so I wanted to read her autobiography. I always thought of the Bernstein era as being before the years of cocaine and wild parties and sex and much too much alcohol. It definitely was not. A fascinating look at her family and finding her own way to be part of a musical legacy.

Before Mars. Emma Newman. Solid science-fiction/mystery/thriller.

The Monsters We Deserve. Marcus Sedgwick. Another of those books that showed up long after I’d forgotten what it was about. Turns out it was a beautifully rewritten short novel about the complicated legacy of Mary Shelley’s famous creation in our imagination.

Desert Notebooks. Ben Erhenreich. Right in my sweet spot. Vivid evocation of landscape and nature. Interesting thoughts about time and culture and philosophy. Ideas you want to talk about over dinner.

Dread Nation. Justina Ireland. The dead rise from the battlefield of Gettysburg – putting a swift end of the civil war. But someone has to keep the shambler hordes at bay – and who better to send to do the dirty work than the inconvenient African American and native populations. This one was lots of fun.

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In the Doldrums..

August 18th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Despite the fact that there’s finally a breeze, literal in the fact that it’s not appalling hot and metaphorical in the sense that I’m doing a ‘250 words a day’ project right now. I’m on target but…. but…. There’s always a but.

I’m working on both the Witch Novel and the completely reimagined Glass! Art! Love! project (previously known as ‘Not the Witch Novel’). Moving between helps me from getting too bogged down or panic-stricken. It’s sad but true that some days writing those 250 words is a grim slog. I stop after every paragraph and count the words. It’s helpful to be able to switch to something completely unrelated when it gets to be too much.

The downside of this process is that I’m carving out tiny bits of the story every second day or so and it feels very disjointed. There are days I barely remember what I wrote in the previous session. Since I’m discovery writing, I’m always trusting that the headlights illuminate enough of the plot that I don’t drive into a ditch (hat-tip to E.L. Doctorow for that*).

Things I have read:

Song for New Day, by Sarah Pinsker. This year’s Nebula winner. Ticks lots of the boxes of my youth (music, punk, rebellion, etc) and the depiction of the early days of pandemic have a eerie resonance with the world today. Pinsker is a musician and you can tell.

Nomadland: Surviving American in the Twenty-First Century, by Jessica Bruder. This one had been on my list for a long time. Excellent, inside story of aging people who have to hit the road to survive. Many of them end up working seasonally at Amazon (the stories about the robots were amusing, but it does seem to suggest a problem with the warehouse offers free painkillers). The movie version, featuring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and some of real nomads, is coming out in September.

The Other Bennet Sister, by Jane Haidlow. The first part of the book shows the events of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of shy, bookish, awkward Mary Bennet. The rest of the book takes place later, as she tries to find a way to be happy and fulfilled in the world. This inevitably involves romance, some of which I thought was reasonably handled and some of which seemed a bit too much like the trope of “girl takes off glasses and becomes sought off by multiple men” to be believable. On the other hand, it completely confirmed my love for Mrs. Gardiner.

Axiom’s End, by Linday Ellis. I’ve been a fan of Ellis for several years so was excited to read her novel. You can definitely see her various passions in it but it’s a fast-moving and entertaining first novel. There were a few parts that made me go “wait, how is she suddenly able to X? Oh yes, she needs to for the plot” but there was more than enough there to make me want to read the sequel when it comes out.

*Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

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We drink and … that theme is done.

August 4th, 2020Posted by Nancy

What is there to say on any of this anymore? The days come and go, I write a bit or I don’t, I practice flamenco or I don’t, I garden or I don’t. None of it is very interesting.

This is not to say there haven’t been good moments. Socially distanced picnics and cocktails have been managed. Our region has gone into Stage 3, which means indoor dining and going to the gym is back on the table, but I can’t imagine doing either of those things.

I’ve discovered it’s hard to learn flamenco choreography via Zoom, not least because my brain insists that when someone dances facing you, then you are their mirror image and their right hand is your left etc. This has been drilled into me through years of gym classes and Zumba and I’m just not capable to learning choreography AND to reverse the mirror at the same time. Fortunately, I won’t ever been required to perform the piece.

Things I’ve read:

Final Girls, by Riley Sager. What happens after you survive the classic “cabin in the woods” massacre. I saw the twist coming but it moves along at a good clip.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston. Yet another book I was surprised by when I finally borrowed it. Not genre (though I would have thought competitive cheerleading was actually a fantasy in Ontario). It turned out to be about the aftermath of a sexual assault and was beautiful and unexpected and honest. And funny.

Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush, by Graeme Thomson. Updated to include her live shows in 2014. Which I would have flown to England to see, if I’d been able to get tickets. It’s an enduring regret that I blew that one.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. I’d actually bought this a while ago but hadn’t had a chance to read it. Then it won the Hugo, so I thought I should get at it. Excellent.

The Surface Breaks, by Louise O’Neill. A YA retelling of The Little Mermaid. Some lovely writing marred by being heavy-handed on the evils of the patriarchy. It needed a bit more nuance.

The Prince of Midnight, by Laura Kinsdale. I’m working my way slowly through her books. I still skip the sex scenes but she’s not afraid to make her heroines spiky and damaged, which I appreciate.

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