Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

034The photo of this book was taken at Munro’s because my copy is too battered and dog eared to sit for a portrait.

This is my favourite book. Ever.

I read it for the first time the summer I was twelve. While other girls my age were discovering boys and make-up, I was at the public library researching the American Civil War.

Gone With the Wind inspired me to begin writing my first novel when I was in grade seven. Ignoring the classic writer-ly advice to write what you know, my novel (Bugles Sang True) was a Civil War epic. Keep in mind I was a kid living in a small mill town in British Columbia. At that point in my life, I hadn’t even visited the US, never mind the South.

My protagonist, a headstrong belle named Erica Stratford coincidentally looked just like me. I was confident Bugles Sang True would be made into a movie and I wanted to ensure I was chosen to play the lead by making her my virtual twin.

I never ended up finishing Bugles Sang True. My first novel is about (wait for it) a Canadian woman who moves to England. Yes, I finally learned to write about what I know.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read Gone With the Wind, but the most recent reading was this spring. As I adult I see past the grand romance of Scarlett and Rhett and I’m appalled by the ugliness of the culture of slavery in the novel. I think it made Margaret Mitchell uncomfortable, too. Ashley shares his plan to free his family’s slaves when he inherits his plantation if the war doesn’t free them first.

Scarlett is a woman ahead of her time. She’s strong, ruthless and intelligent. Although uneducated and bound by the chauvinistic culture of the mid- to late-1800’s, she single-handedly saves Tara and prevents her family from starving and becoming homeless. But for all her street smarts and moxie, she is a deeply flawed character. She doesn’t realize until too late that she’s wasted her entire adult life pining for a man who is totally wrong for her (the aristocratic, intellectual Ashley). Her tragedy is that she doesn’t see that it’s Rhett who could be her soul mate until it’s too late.

Tomorrow is another day, and the haunting conclusion of Gone With the Wind always leaves me hoping Scarlett wins Rhett back.

Crock Pot

004Barring a strike by support workers, school starts next week.

It’s already starting to get dark earlier and the weather has changed. Our ten month stretch of liquid sunshine (rain for those not on the Wet Coast) has started with a mighty splish splash.

While the onset of fall sends many moms to Wal-Mart hunting for notebooks, pencils and cute school outfits, it inspires me to dig out the Crock Pot and start a hearty stoup–not quite soup and not exactly stew. It’s an obviously homemade creation that’s the best of both.

I don’t use the Crock Pot during the scorching days of summer because it warms up the house too much. It’s psychological heat rather than an actual increase in temperature, but the scent of chicken and vegetables simmering all day is off putting when it’s in the high 20’s outside. When it’s cool and rainy?–Nothing could be better!

Today’s meal is a sloppy tomato, herb and chicken mess. It’s the kind of thing my fussy eater normally wouldn’t touch, but my years of motherhood have taught me a few tricks. I first served it when my boy had a friend over–the youngest of five with two crazy busy parents. This little guy is the kind of kid who’s learned to eat whatever’s put in front of him because no one’s going to cook something special for him if he doesn’t like the first choice.

Our guest dug into my tomato chicken mess with gusto and even asked for seconds. My boy, too embarrassed to order peanut butter toast or spaghetti with butter in front of his friend, actually ate what I cooked and (wonder of wonders!) he liked it!

This brings us to the Sailor’s Woman parenting tip of the day: introduce new foods in front of a peer, preferably one of those delightful children who has been conditioned to eat whatever’s put in front of him because he comes from a big, busy family. Seeing his friend dig into what you’ve so lovingly prepared is often enough to shame your picky eater into eating it, too. It’s the upside to peer pressure.

It may be raining kittens and Chihuahuas outside and I may be missing my sailor, but at least I only had to make one dinner tonight!

Girls’ Weekend!

026014D came over from the mainland for a girls’ weekend.

We drove straight to Sooke after I picked her up at the ferry on Friday. Sooke’s a pretty village just outside Victoria. My Sailor and I are considering a move there. D had never been and I wanted to show it off. On the way I gushed about Sooke’s precious small town feel, its stunning ocean views and best of all–the friendliness of the locals. You just don’t get that in the big city.

We arrived at the height of rush hour. Caught in bumper to bumper traffic as all eight local cars hit the narrow road at once, I inched forward unaware I’d blocked an unmarked parking lot entrance until an enormous white pick-up truck almost T-boned my car when it surged towards the exit. With a mighty screech of his huge tires, the driver yelled, honked and made extremely rude gestures at me until the light changed and I could move forward off the stretch of public highway apparently owned by him.

So maybe super friendly locals aren’t one of the top three reasons to move to Sooke.

A delicious dinner at a lovely ocean front resort smoothed over the rough edges of surly men in pick-up trucks and restored my faith in Sooke as a great community.

On Saturday we shopped till D dropped, ending our fab girls’ day out with the curry buffet at the Bengal Lounge.

My Sailor and I have had a couple of hot date nights there so I have special memories of the Lounge–like the night we left our boy with his uncle and got a room upstairs for the night. Why don’t we do stuff like that more often?

Mid-way through our second helpings, a wedding party came in for photos in front of the fireplace. The newlyweds were radiant with happiness and hope. Seeing a freshly-married bride and groom is almost as rare as glimpsing a pod of orcas when you’re on the ferry. Both sightings are likely to bring good luck.

When it goes well, marriage is the ultimate connection between two individuals. It can be the closest we get to paradise on Earth. When it goes bad, it can be very bad, quickly morphing into a living hell. I hope this couple remembers what brought them together in the first place and keeps the magic.

The happy discovery that the Bengal Lounge has expanded its desert buffet was literally the icing on the cake. Mmmm–chai tea creme brulee and cardamom apple tarts!

I see a date here with my Sailor when he gets home!

Going Bananas!

006I went for a jog today and it was hard! With the trip home for the reunion, I haven’t been in about a week. Apparently, it takes a body (well my body anyway) less than a week to revert to its original slovenly couch potato state if it’s not exercised regularly.

It didn’t help that I was running under the noon sun. I’d planned to get out earlier, right after my 9:00 Skype conversation with my Sailor, but Skype wasn’t working. It took almost two hours, a couple dozen aborted connections and several computer re-boots before we finally connected, By that time it was way past his bedtime so we only talked for about ten minutes after all that.

Rather than postpone my run until early evening when it would be cooler (translation: find an excuse not to go later and put it off for yet another day), I foolishly went plodding through the scorching heat and it was miserable.

Afterwards, as it was still too early for wine, I decided to unwind by baking. What’s more relaxing?

My boy loves banana bread, and instead of buying it like I usually do, I made a beautiful golden loaf. Commercial banana bread is filled with preservatives and artificial ingredients, right? Mine is made with fresh churned butter, free range eggs from happy chickens and a mother’s enduring love.

Me: (proudly serving a warm slice with a frosty glass of milk) How is it?

Him: (taking a miniscule bite) Meh.

Me: What??? You love banana bread!

Him: I love STARBUCKS’ banana bread. This kind not so much. It has big chunks of banana in it.

(Anyone know if ducks eat banana bread because I’ve got a loaf looking for a new home.)

Yesterday wasn’t much better. I knocked over a plant on the deck, smashing the ceramic pot and then dropped an open box of crackers on the newly-swept kitchen floor, discovering there’s a limit to the amount of Ritz crumbs a Chihuahua can consume at one sitting.

Can I just shut myself in my house and hibernate until my Sailor gets home?

Five Signs it Was a Good Reunion

007The big high school reunion was Saturday. I had a hoot! I connected with people I haven’t seen in years, made some new Facebook friends and got a chance to wear a pretty dress and high heels.

For anyone else with an upcoming high school reunion, I’ve compiled the top five indications of a great event.

5. You tell everyone they haven’t changed a bit and by the end of evening you realize it’s true. We’re all a little older and dumpier, but everyone still has that special spark that makes him or her unique. After a few hours and a glass or three of the questionable house white, you see their inner teenager emerge.

4. One of the cute boys you were way too shy to talk to back in the day says he’s sorry he never dated you in high school. Yess! My mom always said it would happen and it’s better late than never–I’ve finally bloomed!

3. You can’t wait to Skype your sailor about the reunion. Even while you’re there, you’re making a mental list of everything you want to tell him so he can share the experience secondhand.

2. You get home so late you hear this: “You were supposed to be back hours ago! Why didn’t you answer your phone? I left four messages and texted you. This behaviour is unacceptable!” In a weird circle of life way, it’s your son telling you off for missing curfew, not your dad.

1. You decide you want to move back to your hometown. The people are so friendly and you’ve known most them since you were six years old. You have history in this place! Your roots are here! The feeling is so strong you start looking at MLS house listings and telling the boy how wonderful the local schools are. You’re not sure what kind of job your sailor will be able to get in this isolated spot, but he’s so talented it’ll sort itself out. You’ll happily give up work to be a housewife. The feeling lasts until you get stuck in the ferry line up and realize why you left in the first place.

Joyland by Stephen King

021It sounds weird to say this about a horror novelist, but anything written by Stephen King is a joy to read. His story-telling ability is unrivalled (this man’s imagination is hyperactive!) and his use of language is perfection. I’m sure his books would be studied in university English lit classes if he wrote in a different genre.

My love letter to Mr. King complete, I’ll talk about Joyland. It’s a ghost story, a murder mystery and a coming of age novel about Devin, a sensitive young man experiencing a broken heart. It has something for everyone!

Joyland is set in the early 1970’s. There’s an eerie retro vibe from the opening sentence. Devin is a college student who takes a summer job at Joyland, a carnival in a small Southern town. Descriptions of Joyland are so vivid, I had flashbacks of childhood summer holidays at the PNE.

Tension mounts as older carnie workers tell the story of an unsolved murder on one of the rides. Adding a supernatural twist, the apparition of the lovely young victim often appears at the site of her violent death. One of Devin’s fellow student workers researches the crime and uncovers a string of similar unsolved murders in the years leading up to the Joyland murder. The plot thickens!

I love a good ghost story (who doesn’t?)–add engaging characters, a cool setting and the real threat of a murderer lurking in the shadows and you have a winner of a book. The ending was shocking, satisfying and made me glad I’d found this novel on the Walmart book display.

Must Love Chihuahuas

What I say: Why is there a pile of clothes on your bedroom floor? I do your laundry and put it on your bed. The least you can do is put it away. Throwing it on the floor is not only disrespectful to me, it creates an unsightly mess!
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What he hears: Blah, blah, blah . . .

What I say: Things are going to change. I’m not a servant. From now on it’s your job to load the dishwasher. That’s not too much to ask since you have no chores and I do everything around here.

What he does:

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Really??? You’re welcome??? Could he be any more sarcastic? It’s too early to open the wine, so instead of drinking I try to remember my yoga breathing techniques.

What I really need is another adult to help me out here. Sure, I can vent to friends over the phone, over non-fat lattes at Starbucks and over Facebook and I can whine to my sailor over Skype, but it’s not the same as having a supportive grown-up at home with whom I can co-parent.

I’m tired of being the bad cop, setting the limits, enforcing the rules and (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) yelling until I’m hoarse. If I’d wanted to be a single mother I wouldn’t have worn that lacy white dress in front of a room full of witnesses and said good-bye to friends and family (not to mention job prospects) to follow my sailor from coast to coast and back again.

Wanted (desperately!): one co-parent. Must be kind, compassionate and sexy and must look good in a uniform. Must think I’m funny and be prepared to laugh at ALL my jokes. Must love Chihuahuas, burned food and chick flicks. Must be willing to carry my packages on shopping expeditions even when I buy heavy hardcover Nigella Lawson cookbooks, wait patiently outside fitting rooms while I try on dresses and fish my golf balls out of the ditch when I invariably hit them in there. Ability to wipe off slimy balls before returning them to me an asset. The successful candidate will assume permanent designated driver status and will interact in a positive manner with the boy providing guidance and role model-ness. Abilitiy to work evenings and weekends essential in this temporary, unpaid position.

Life in a Banana Republic

014020015010I’m an Anglophile, a monarchist and, although I like to look stylish, cannot put together a co-ordinated outfit to save my life. Because of this shortcoming I often look to well-dressed famous people for inspiration. One of my favourite fashion muses is Kate Middleton. She always looks amazing, probably because she has model good looks and a willowy athletic figure. She also has the money to wear beautiful clothes that are unfortunately unattainable to the likes of me. My budget is more J.Crew final sale rack and Banana Republic, both of whom offer teacher discounts (yay for supporting educators!) and military discounts.

It was with great anticipation I awaited the unveiling of Banana Republic’s limited Issa Collection. Issa designed the gorgeous royal blue dress Kate wore when her engagement was announced a couple of years ago. Although anything would look fabulous on the Duchess, the wrap style of the engagement dress flatters most women. Those wide ties cinch in the waist better than a Spanx power panty.

Banana Republic’s collection didn’t disappoint. The wrap dresses aren’t in the luxurious silk fabric of Kate’s, but they are way cheaper than hers. The faux-engagement dress is $160 in Canada, but yesterday special customers like me got 25% off. (Yes, Banana Republic knows just how to enable a borderline shopaholic like me!)

I tried on a number of pieces. In addition to being flattering and feminine, they are all amazingly comfortable. The soft jersey knits drape beautifully and they don’t constrict or bind. The wrap ties snug in the waist, giving a lovely girlish figure.

All in all, the Issa reveal turned into an all day event for me. First thing in the morning, I went to the mall for an initial look. Then after coffee and a texting session with D, who is away on holiday and couldn’t visit a Banana Republic herself, I went back and tried on a few more items before deciding on the ones I couldn’t live without. That evening, after a winey dinner with my friend B, I went back to Banana Republic to pick up a dress for D who had finally decided on one after spending hours online checking out the collection and reading reviews.

I had a hard time limiting myself to only two pieces (a dress and a wrap top), but my sailor thinks his deployment pay is going towards a boat. I didn’t want to tell him I blew it on a new Banana Republic Issa wardrobe instead!