Guest Post: Kerry Clare on Her Grandmother’s Rolling Pin

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I come from a long line of people who knew how to make things. I wouldn’t even believe it, were it not for the evidence in my living room—a chair built by my great-grandfather, a tall bookshelf my grandfather built years ago for my mother. Whereas I consider it an achievement that two weeks ago I pieced together a Canadian Tire bistro set. A table and two chairs that will no doubt fall apart in a few seasons, cheaply made and sold in a flat pack.

But of all the solid wooden things that connect me to my family’s past, the most important is my rolling pin. It was my grandmother’s, and I acquired it after she died. At the time, she was living in a retirement home suite with a kitchenette, a mini-fridge, no oven to speak of, so it seems surprising that she still had her rolling pin, but perhaps it was something she wanted to hold on to—as you do with a rolling pin.

It is a beautiful object, but heavy—it’s extraordinarily painful to have it roll off the counter and land on your toe. Made with smooth wood with intricate grains, and I can count the rings of the tree it used to be. The handles are moulded for a good grip, and excellent hardware inside ensures a steady roll as I push it across a sheet of pastry. And did you know that when rolling pastry, you only roll outwards in one direction? Not back and forth at all, like a steamroller, but just push it out once, perhaps again. Flip the pastry and do the same thing on the other side.

I didn’t know anything about pastry until I was in my late twenties when I was suddenly struck by the New Domesticity bug endemic among women my age. Though the time was right—I’d recently gotten married, I finally had a real kitchen, and a canister full of flour. And suddenly, I was itching to make things from scratch. To make pie. To claim my inheritance, I suppose, and prove that I too could make things. And also so that I could eat pie.

My grandmother’s pies were excellent, a staple of family gatherings. Usually apple (topped with vanilla ice cream), or pumpkin at Thanksgiving. My other grandmother made pies too, though hers were less crafted—her speciality was “chocolate pie,” which was Jello pudding in a pre-made crust, though she also did a mean lemon meringue. But that there was something “grandmotherly” about my pie-making didn’t immediately occur to me, not until long after I’d become a pastry maven and had been rolling my grandmother’s rolling pin for awhile. I’d been envisioning my baking as a new frontier. I hadn’t considered that my baking hobby, like the rolling pin itself, would be one of the few connections I have to my foremothers.

baking-as-biographyBut the connection is complicated. In her fascinating 2009 book, Baking as Biography, historian and folklorist Diane Tye riffles through her own mother’s recipe box to learn about how Canadian women lived in the middle of the twentieth century. That a wife and mother would bake, she explained, was simply expected, and what she baked would be dictated by her class and status, by where she lived, and how she was marketed to by companies that made things like gelatine and chocolate chips. And also what was in fashion: marshmallows, and coconut for exotic occasions.

But why did so few of these women pass their baking know-how on to their own daughters? Tye suggests a few reasons: feminism, not to mention instant baking mixes, would have made these women’s knowledge seem obsolete by the 1960s and ‘70s. And moreover, for many of them, baking was less a hobby and a passion than a time-consuming chore.

I don’t know if this was the case for my own grandmother. We didn’t talk that much, and most of the things I wonder about her it didn’t occur to me to wonder until after she was gone. That she kept her rolling pin until the end, however, suggests it was important. I always felt as though her baking was her way of showing affection, much like the obligatory letters she used to write me when I was at camp—usually imploring me to be a good girl. My grandmother was someone for whom to do what was expected of her was very important.

It was never quite as important to me, which is why it might surprise my grandmother that I’ve been giving her rolling pin such a work-out over the last decade. That I have inherited her affinity for pastry. That a part of her legacy lives on in my kitchen, with every pie I make.

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Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer, and editor of the anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published to rave reviews in 2014.  Her essays, reviews and short fiction have appeared most recently in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Joyland, Canadian Notes & Queries and The New Quarterly.  Kerry teaches “The Art of Blogging” at the University of Toronto, is editor of 49thShelf.com, and writes about books and reading at her popular website, Pickle Me This.

 

 

My Grandmother’s Teacups

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When Nathalie first proposed the topic for this week – how a single object recounts some part of our family history – I knew this was a simplified project for me.  This is because there are only two older objects in my possession to choose from.  One is a batik sarong from my mother’s eldest sister; the other is a set of teacups from my maternal grandmother, who I saw for the last time as a four year old, and who I don’t remember.

I’ve opted to tell you about the teacups. A few years after my mother immigrated to Canada with me and my two siblings, she received word that my grandmother was dying.  My mother got on a plane for a final goodbye, too late in the end, and these teacups eventually came back with her.

There are five of them, blue and white.  I think they are made of porcelain. I don’t know whether they were once accompanied by a teapot; neither does my mother remember.

I don’t know if they were used for drinking, either for everyday or for special tea ceremonies, or whether they were ornamental items.  I don’t know whether they were treasures handed down to my grandmother or whether she bought them at the corner stall.  I don’t know where they were made, or the meaning behind the images on them, and have never tried to learn.  I have no idea if they are valuable or not, and couldn’t be less interested.

I do know that my mother has let me have them.  They sit atop a high ledge that surrounds my dining room, about a foot away from each other, and high enough that they are as secure as they can be from my three playful boys. Even so, it’s possible that a ball or plane or other projectile could shatter one (but hopefully not the others as they are interspersed). While the children are young, the only truly safe alternative is to put them away, out of view, and this I will not do.

When my mother came to Canada with her three kids and little else, she left quite a lot in Malaysia:  a large, close-knit family, a career as a nurse/midwife, a good standard of living, a life she built with her husband before he suddenly died.  For reasons only she will really know, she doesn’t, or can’t, talk much about the things she left behind.  I used to wonder about this, question it, evaluate it, because I so much wanted to know something, anything, more.

I don’t do this much anymore. I have my grandmother’s teacups, and I will be careful with them.  And if I’m not mistaken, it gave my mother some pleasure when I put them up on my dining room ledge.

Family Heirlooms According to a Purger

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Yesterday,while other families spent the day outdoors enjoying the soaring temperatures and sunshine followed by a festive display of fireworks, I spent it indoors doing something that gives me great pleasure.

Purging.

Closets, drawers and cupboards that is.

I delight in giving things the toss to the donation bin or garbage bin, it doesn’t matter; the high I get is the same. Thankfully, my partner in life shares my need for clutter-free living. Some extol the comfort they feel in keeping playbills and movie stubs, bric-a-brac and dated magazines, first teeth and hair clippings. I simply can’t relate.

Years ago we moved house and before any piece of paper, item of clothing or page of a book was packed, it had to pass muster. Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Have I looked at/used/wore/thought about it the past year? The past two years?

I held up a stack of my wedding programs. Toss. The pale blue cardstock littered the recycle bin save for one. A small shoebox overflowing with cards and letters was given the once over before dumping much of its contents in with the programs. I have saved a few items: baptismal outfits and meaningful, heart-felt cards and pictures (rarely get rejected), but for the most part, rightly or wrongly, I like to attach my emotions to people and memories and not to stuff.

I am not a complete Scrooge. I do own things that I care deeply about. Our champagne flutes that I carried around Europe on my back come to mind. Recently there was a casualty and our set of 6 diminished to the odd number of 5. My husband and I both looked at the cracked glass, and for a minute there was a moment we wished we could turn back the clock and be just a bit more careful, but it was short lived and I mitigated the blues by toasting the fun times we’d had with that glass.

The pottery my boys made, the hand-knitted blankets and sweaters, and my grandmother’s ring are among the material things that I own and would be sad to lose because they are truly irreplaceable.   I like to think that I have a carefully curated collection of material items from books to clothing that won’t burden my sons too terribly when I die.

I don’t expect the boys to keep much, and I’ve made the task an easy one. Just like my mother and grandmothers (all extremely Spartan women), I have little to bequeath.

But if I am to tell the tale of our family’s history through one object, it is one that is explicitly off-hands to curious, little fingers. It is the cake topper that adorned my grandparents’ wedding cake 67 years ago.

The bride and groom are stoic, with linked arms and pursed expressions, as if knowing that marriage and the years ahead are not made of taffeta and butter cream.

This small, ceramic figurine serves as a reminder of the long marriages that make up my family’s tree. Certainly they weren’t marriages without flaws and struggle. Certainly they weren’t marriages that were perfect or even near to, but certainly they were marriages built on something to last decades and serve as the foundation for a generous number of descendants.

When the time comes, many years from now, for my family tree to add branches, I will carefully pass the bride and groom down to my boys to serve as a symbol of unity, commitment and yup, hard work.

Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

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I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffing tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.

 

 

Theme Week: A History of Our Families, Through Objects

One of my abiding delights of late is to listen to podcasts while I take my long walks.  Beth-Anne has mentioned our obsession with NPR’s wildly popular and record-breaking Serial, and her love of the comic Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids.  I get my science fix with the Quirks and Quarks podcast from the CBC, and I am so enamoured of interviews with authors that I have exhausted the archives of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers and Company, as well as all of the archived episodes of the Guardian’s books podcasts and the BBC’s World Book Club.

6204be3e2294b5a28411ddd18717793190c54c20What I love about all of these podcasts is their standard of excellence, and you really cannot do better than Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for podcast excellence.  (You can download it here.)  In this series, MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of the world through 100 of the objects housed there.  I have not only listened to all 100 episodes, I have read the book that accompanies the podcast and gone back to listen to some episodes for a second time.  In each episode, he considers one object, and that object becomes a prism through which to explore past worlds and the men and women who lived in them.  The stories are, truly, mind-bending; I was so often startled by what I learned.  It is so difficult to choose an illustrative example, because I really did love them all, but in the episode on the Gold Cape found in Mold, in north Wales, for instance, my sense of the isolation of the British Isles was thoroughly upturned.  The cape, made in 1900-1600 BC, is a beautifully intricate object made of gold, extremely sophisticated in its execution, and it was buried with amber and bronze objects that point to a web of trade and exchange that reached not only from Wales to Scandinavia, but even as far as the Mediterranean.  Nearly 2000 years before the common era, artisans were making and trading at levels of sophistication I knew nothing about.

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MacGregor’s approach is decidedly not that of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, in which history is told as a series of conflicts and conquests.  Rather, his approach is to examine the globe’s common history, to look at synchronicity in the history of the world, to examine our commonalities.  In his introduction to the series, MacGregor describes the “necessary poetry of things”:

It is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write.  Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories.  The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their past achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.

Taking in our cue from MacGregor’s poetry of things, this week at 4Mothers, we will be telling a piece of our family history through a single object.  We hope you will enjoy them.

In the mean time, be a podcast addict’s enabler!  What are your favourite podcasts? 

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The first book I read by Anita Diamant was The Red Tent. I finished it in a few days and spent the next year touting its greatness to everyone who asked for a book a recommendation, and many who did not. When I read on the book blogs that her newest release, Boston Girl, was available I downloaded it to my Kobo to read while on our beach vacation. The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum, daughter of Jewish immigrants. Addie’s granddaughter, a Harvard student, interviews her about her life. Addie reflects on her early days set during a tumultuous period of change and rapid development for the United States. Her girlhood stories reveal the inner struggles she experienced while desperately seeking out her American dream but remaining tethered to her traditional, Jewish family. The pages turn quickly on this uplifting tale of feminism, family and history – worth the read this summer!

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Between Gods by Alison Pick

Alison Pick grew up going to church, attending Sunday school and singing “Silent Night” at the Christmas service. She had no idea of her Jewish roots – a carefully guarded family secret. Her paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Canada made the decision to live as Christians. When researching for her Man-Booker nominated novel (one of my favourites) Far to Go, she felt an undeniable pull to her Jewish roots. The feeling was so intense that Pick set out to convert – not at all easy despite having a Jewish father. The author is brave. She bares all and doesn’t shy from portraying herself honestly. She’s open about her nagging depression and the conflicting feelings that she has about her faith (faiths?). She wrestles with this overwhelming desire for Judiasm while being deeply committed to her non-Jewish fiancée but understanding how unaccepted interfaith marriages are during the conversion process. This memoir took a while for me to connect with but it did. The way Alison becomes almost obsessive about her family’s history is something I can relate to. Alison agonizes over the final days of her great-grandmother in Auschwitz, and the lives that could have been. I find myself thinking about my own could-haves and while my family’s history is not anything close to this horrific; I can understand her longing to know. Her connection to her ancestors is primal. It’s been a long time since I dreamt about a book, and a few nights ago I awoke drenched with sweat and a racing heart. Her story has stuck.

From Nathalie

You guys, I totally binged on a mystery series this month!  I read and loved SIX of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries.  Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist and she is one of the detecting protagonists I have loved most in a series.  She is independent, down to earth, imperfect, clever and strong-willed.  While reading the series I realized how much I really had been craving mysteries with strong female characters.  I did something I never do, and I began in the middle of the series.  This was a mistake because it gives away a big part of the plot that develops from book to book.  So begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places, and enjoy the ride!  The best news, the latest in the series is published this month.

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I have a soft spot for the trend in publishing in which a famous author is matched to a classic and updates and rewrites it for the present day.  Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey is especially brilliant.  She updates Jane Austen’s hilarious tale of a young woman too much influenced by gothic fiction, and she makes the heroine a devotee of vampire lit.  I am a sucker (!) for this kind of thing, always hoping to find in fan fiction something that approximates the joy that the original book gives me.  Northanger Abbey is my favourite of Austen’s novels, not surprisingly, because it is a book about books, and McDermid embraces the metafictional and intertextual aspect of the project wholeheartedly.  The book positively fizzes with it.  It’s hilarious, timely, and pitch-perfect.  (You can read my longer review of it here.)

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My latest foray into Austen re-writes is Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, which was enjoyable but did not knock my socks off.  Emma is, admittedly, a much harder update to pull off.  There is the problem of the governess, for one, and McCall Smith decides to preserve the role in the update.  I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but governesses are not thick on the ground in these parts.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book for its homage to Austen and for its wit.

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From Carol

I’m in the middle of a mindful meditation course and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is basically the textbook.  Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the field, and this big book covers all aspects of the benefits and processes of mindful meditation.  Told in Kabat-Zinn’s careful, gentle and repetitive way, the narrative voice parallels the practice of meditation itself.

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After reading this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a Japanese de-clutter consultant, I knew I had to read it (the review describes Kondo as a fairy dominatrix in a prim little pink suit).  I’m in the midst of trying to get our house in some real order, and Kondo seemed like the woman to help.  She has committed her life to de-cluttering and organizing and has some basic steadfast rules.  First, you must discard (or recycle) first, before any attempts are made at re-organizing.  Second, you must hold every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy”.  If the answer is no, or hesitation, the item should go.  (She is ruthless about this, by the way.)  She also advises that tidying and de-cluttering should be done categorically and specifies that order (you start with clothes, which are easiest, and end with mementos, which are hardest).  There are many other suggestions, and I did in fact purge and re-organize my clothing using this method.  Perhaps because I had fewer items to start with, or because I am quite loyal to the things I like over time, I did not purge a third to two-thirds of my things as her clients routinely do.  I did rid myself of three bags of clothing though, and have a clean and spacious closet and dresser (using her upright folding technique to boot).  It’s tidy, and I feel better.  She doesn’t have that much advice for parents, clearly identifying more with the tidy hearts of children who still live with parents, but there’s still good solid value in this fun, internationally best-selling little book.

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How To Preserve Photographs

On Tuesday, I wrote about preserving my family’s history. I spent countless hours creating a book using the bookmaking website, Blurb. Creating books isn’t for everyone. They are time consuming and don’t solve the problem of the boxes and boxes of loose photographs. I have such a box and I asked BLACKS for the best way to safeguard them. They sent me over their Platinum Shoebox.

It’s a genius service that saves you time and protects your irreplaceable photos.

Here’s how it works:

I send them my loose 300 prints (or 300 mounted slides or 300 negatives) and they send me back all of my prints in their original condition, a USB flash drive with all digital images of all the prints, a soft cover proof book, and hard cover Premium Layflat matte photo book.

In a few weeks, my photos will be organized and carefully arranged for my boys to view and enjoy for years to come.

But . . . I have to admit there is a part of me that’s apprehensive about putting my entire collection of old photos into the hands of stranger. It’s like putting your passport in the mail. I mustn’t let my mind wander the realm of possibilities . . .

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Father’s Day is coming up on June 21 and unlike other sites that run their gift guides a week before, we wanted to give you ample time to suss out the perfect gifts for the dads in your life. Here are some of our favourites:

From Beth-Anne

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This is a luxury item that dads are unlikely to splurge on for themselves but if they are a music lover nothing compares. Whether they are used for intense workouts at the gym, running outdoors or walking to and from the office, these Bluetooth-enabled earphones are unbeatable. Powerbeats™ 2 Wireless earphones are available at Indigo, $219.95.

 

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I saw Dan Buettner featured on a popular news magazine show. He was visiting the Greek island of Ikaria, interviewing inhabitants and experts alike on the secrets to a long, healthy life. While the wisdom may not be surprising, it’s worth giving Dad the blueprints to longevity! The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest and The Blue Zones Solution: Eating And Living Like The World’s Healthiest People by Dan Buettner available at Indigo $12.24 and $21.05.

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I like giving t-shirts. Among my favourites are the ironic ones from places like Drake General Store or the city-scapes I found at the One of a Kind Show. We featured this shirt for the hockey-lover as part of Giving Guide in December and it was a favourite of our readers too. What do you think about this one from ebollo on Etsy? Not sure it would get much wear, but the message is indisputable!

I love the idea of giving experiences. For Mother’s Day, we went for a fancy-schmancy French dinner (no sweaties allowed!) and the boys truly impressed me with their manners (there may have been some threats uttered before we left the house) and the memory will stay with me much longer than anything material ever could. If the dad in your life is completely stressed out, get him a pass to a Restorative yoga class. The pace is gentle, slow and more relaxing than any massage, plus it’s good for him! The Culture Pearl has her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the city.  Recently she wrote about her experience in a skydiving simulator but if that’s not his thing, a luxury car rental for the day may be!

From Nathalie:

You could have knocked me over with a feather when my brother told me about his date night spent painting a picture.  I had never heard of social painting, but I would have bet money he’d be the last person to do something like that.  He did, and he loved it.  Social painting is a guided lesson in painting in a group setting with cocktails and music and fun.  So, whether the dad in your life is artistic or not, look into a painting party.  Art Tonite has weekly sessions in various locations around Toronto.

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My boys paint ties for their dad every year.  It takes a special kind of man to wear these proudly, and my husband is one of them!  He gets lots of compliments.

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Real Canadian Superstores has some great gear for dads, like a portable bbq, perfect for camping or tailgate parties.  It folds up for easy transportation and storage.

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Parker, Tera Gear™ Two Burner Gas Grill ($199)

And for your back yard cook, a smoker.

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Knox, Tera Gear™ “34 Gas Smoker ($199)

I love the idea of these solar powered Mason jar lanterns for the Green Dad, available from Home Depot.  They look great in the daylight, too, as they are silvered and glitter in the sunlight.

Malibu Outdoor Solar Mason Jar Wingstack lifestyle

From  Carol

A unique and sure-winner for the beer-loving man, give him the gift of home brew!  Brew North is Toronto’s newest and best home brewing supply shop, carrying all the equipment, ingredients, and kits needed to make a really good beer whether you’re a novice or experienced brewer.

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And for more culinary delights, how about a taking a class on cheese tasting?  Enter night school for cheese fans at the Leslieville Cheese Market.  Fun, delicious, and perfect for a special night out.

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Creating a Family History Book

A few years ago the show Who Do You Think You Are? debuted on TLC. I tuned in mostly because family history, and not just mine, has always fascinated me. I remember my high school friend telling me stories about her German grandparents and their experience during WW2. I hung on her every word. Another friend shared with me her mother’s first love and how after decades they reconnected and rekindled their romance. When she tells the story, I picture her young mother, ever the Bohemian, with her long, tawny blonde tresses matching her long, tanned legs traipsing the English countryside with her beau. Recently a friend started to tell me about her family’s lengthy Parisian history and I made her stop so I could get myself a hot chocolate and really hunker down and listen to her stories.

I love hearing about where people have come from. The colourful characters that make up a family, the experience that turned the fortune of a family, how generations influence and hold power, consciously or unconsciously . . . I can’t get enough of it.

It didn’t take many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? for me to fall down the rabbit hole at Ancestry.ca. I spent countless hours clicking through the website and more money than I care to admit on my membership. Every day I discovered something new about my family and the proof was there – a signature on a marriage certificate scrawled by my great-grandmother, a death certificate of baby only few living relatives know about, a census record indicating settlement in the exact neighbourhood my husband spent his childhood.

The information was plentiful and I knew that I wanted to preserve it for my own children. After researching the merits of several Etsy artists and their family trees, I knew that I wanted something more and a book, that I could design, was the best way for me to compile the information I had gathered.

I used the on-line book making website, Blurb, and had great success in creating my book. I am now in the final stages of editing and I feel ambivalent to hit publish. A family’s history is never really told. There are stories that have been buried long ago and stories that have yet to be told.

In Praise of Anne Lamott’s “Why I Hate Mother’s Day”

No fewer than six people in my facebook feed linked to or quoted a recent essay by Anne Lamott that appeared on Salon.com, “Why I Hate Mother’s Day.”  Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions is one of my all-time favourite momoirs, and her Bird by Bird is a wonderful guide to the writing life.  She just has a down-to-earth, common-sensical approach to things, and this essay obviously hit a nerve with many in the run-up to Mother’s Day .

I have to confess, I said a quiet “Hurrah!” when I saw the title of her essay.  I don’t exactly hate Mother’s Day, and I really don’t mind getting older, but I do really hate being the centre of attention on my birthday and on Mother’s Day.  I have always hated New Year’s Eve because of the excessive burden of expectations.  If motherhood is imperfectible, so, too, is the fine art of celebrating mothers.

It can be easy in the time around holidays to question the expense and the sentiment and the baggage that goes along with them.  For every celebration there is a killjoy waiting to stamp out the light of the day.  But if it’s easy for killjoys to dismiss a holiday, it is also all too easy to dismiss killjoys as spoil-sports without attending to their very valid criticisms.  It’s a logical response to excess (of sentiment, of spending) to want to undercut it.  And we should.  We should be aware of excessive consumerism in December; we should examine the nature of patriotism in July; and we should examine the duties and the burdens of motherhood in May.

Lamott makes worthy criticisms.  She points to the ridiculousness of obligatory tokens of gratitude.  She points out that not only the mothers (n, pl) mother (v).  She decries the self-satisfaction of parenthood.  She argues that mothers should not be praised as saints because they work hard–lots of women’s lives are hard–and mothers should not be praised as saints because beatification is a double-edged sword.  There is a lot of sacrifice involved in getting a halo, and, she writes, not all mothers actually deserve it.

One of the points I think Lamott makes obliquely in the essay is a point about martyrdom.  At least, that’s the theme that has been ringing in my head all weekend.  The most important insight that I have taken away from the essay is that if we do not want our children and our partners to celebrate us out of guilt, then we also owe it to ourselves not to make the kinds of sacrifices that might induce that guilt.

The only thing I wanted for my Mother’s Day was a trip to the McMichael Art Gallery.  I wanted it really, really badly, and I put all my Mother’s Day eggs in that basket.  Months ago, I blocked the whole day BEFORE Mother’s Day off so that we could go.  I wanted a day, a whole day, for immediate family only, away from crowds and cliches, devoted to looking at and making art and winding up with a long hike in the grounds that surround the gallery and a dinner cooked by someone who was not me.  You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Three hockey teams did not have access to my wishes or my calendar, and slowly but inexorably, the day filled up with obligations that narrowed the window of time to visit the gallery to something that was possible, yes, but not at all desirable.  I was not going to clock-watch during the ever-dwindling window of My Mother’s Day Time.  On an ordinary day, on a Not-Mother’s Day, I think I would have gladly squeezed it in and counted myself blessed for the bounty.  But I had wanted of this day most of all not to be rushed, and that, in the end, is what killed it.  When one of the activities ran long and it became clear that time was dwindling, I just asked to go home.

I want to be very clear that I blame no-one, and I would not have cancelled any of the other events that began to fill the day.  You cannot argue with the calendar.  I do believe that the mother of a goalie does not get to say, “Sorry, Team, we have other plans.”  The mother of three Habs fans does not suggest that they go for a ramble in the woods on the night that the team faces Stanley Cup Playoff Elimination; this is not the kind of parenting decision that is likely to lead to happy Mother’s Day memories.

During the time we could have squeezed in a trip to the gallery, I sat in my back yard and read.  I ate a meal with my family that was not cooked by me, and I received and read my children’s perfectly imperfect Mother’s Day cards.  My husband, my amazing husband, gave me this

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and I felt blessed.  But then, instead of joining them to watch the Habs in all of their playoff glory, as I am sometimes known to do, I watched two movies based on the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.  I did things that made me happy, but a double dose of women in period dress will, I hope, communicate to you, dear reader, the depths of my sulkiness and of my anti-hockey sentiment.

I did not blame anyone, but I was very disappointed.

I was also very angry at myself for feeling disappointed.  Why had I saved for a single day a host of things that I value?  Art, creativity, learning, hiking, not looking at the clock, privacy, family time.  Why had I thought that the day should be devoted to these things to the exclusion of all others (hockey) when the very reason I so badly needed it was because the bulk of our schedule is devoted to the kids’ activities and interests to the exclusion of mine?  The solution to the problem of not having enough of what I want to do in our daily lives is not to try and make it happen on the one day on which the kids and husband will feel obliged to make it happen.  The solution is to make art, creativity, learning, hiking, not looking at the clock, privacy, and family time as much a part of what defines our whole family as the hockey schedule.  My martyrdom was not in sulkily asking to just go home when we could have gone to the museum, but in not having insisted that what I value must also have equal space on the calendar on every other day of the year.  This is not easy to do.  If I ever do manage to fit in all of the richness of all of our interests, I will have earned my halo, but I will have done it without being a martyr.