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Reasons Mommy Drinks – A Book Review

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So, there needs to be a reason? Certainly not in my books, but in this hilarious book, Reasons Mommy Drinks, Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson (Three Rivers Press, 2013) give 100 reasons that Mommies drink, along with 100 cocktail recipes (seriously ladies, you couldn’t come up with 365?!) that are almost as funny as the motherhood anecdotes after which they were named. I highly recommend reading it (and copying down the recipes!).  It was a little tough reading a book about drinking during my annual month of detox, but then again, it was refreshing to recall all those ‘new mom’ experiences of new mothers – mostly because I’m well past that stage and can actually laugh at them now.

There is the cocktail aptly named “The Silver Scream” named after mommy’s first foray into humanity after childbirth at a Mommy and Me movie, or a yummy concoction called “A Mudslide” which follows a not so yummy experience with explosive poo.  Well, who hasn’t had an experience with explosive poo and who doesn’t need a drink after it? Of course nothing celebrates baby’s first steps like a drink called the “Walk ‘n’ Roll”, and nothing will restore your sanity after listening to children’s music all day, like the “Raffi-tini”, best served “with Baby Beluga caviar” – bwahahaha! (Oh, yes new mothers, you WILL have that song in your head for the rest of your lives).

The book chronicles the first 18 months of motherhood and though I am now 18 years into motherhood, I still remember all those crazy, sleep-deprived baby days – and how badly I wanted a drink!  Sadly, the book starts off with a series of mock-tails (buzzkill alert) until page 31, beyond the anecdotes of nursing.  And sadly that’s pretty much how motherhood started in real life too, wasn’t it? I wish this book had been around when my first born was 18 months old and my second was already 4 weeks old.  It would have given me great comfort – and great inspiration for cocktails – to know that, a) I wasn’t losing my mind, and b) I actually was losing my mind but I was in very good company!

The only negative I have about the book was the ridiculously small print size.  I don’t know my fonts – all I know is I needed my 1.50 reading glasses to read this book instead of my 1.25’s and that made me feel old. Feeling old sucks.  Feeling old makes me feel like making a cocktail…

The Old Fart Work of Art

Ingredients
Sparkling wine, Prosecco or champagne
Crème de Cassis

Instructions
Pour a small amount of the crème de cassis in a chilled champagne flute
Top with sparkling wine then sit back and wonder where your teenagers are…

reasons mommy drinks

Four Minutes of Fame …

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Another book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series was launched on November 5, 2013. It’s called O Canada The Wonders of Winter with 101 stories about bad weather, good times, and great sports. A very typically Canadian book, it is filled with iconic Canadiana, community spirit, the great outdoors Great White North-style, hockey stories, snow stories, ski stories and stories about our internationally famous politeness and kindness and of typical Canadian holidays and traditions.

chicken soup for the soulOn page 178 of this book, you will find the forty-seventh story called The Angels of Hockey and it was written by me. The challenge for me was not in writing this 1,200-word piece, as the words and emotions flowed freely considering the subject matter which some of you might recall reading about in my post last year called, A Zamboni of My Own.  That would be the one in which my husband decided that the best time to go golfing would be during hockey season on a weekend where all three of our hockey playing-kids were in three different hockey tournaments.  I know. I know. I’m trying to forget it too.

No, the ultimate challenge for me turned out to be committing to the book launch party in Toronto and in publicly reading my story to about 100 people who had gathered to celebrate its launch.  I realized, though, if I could marshal the resources required of a weekend with ten hockey games in forty-eight hours and not kill anyone – and write a story about it which would ultimately end up getting published in a Chicken Soup for the Soup book – surely I could get myself to Toronto to celebrate this personal achievement.

So, I took the afternoon off work and drove four hours to Toronto from my home in Ottawa and arrived at the Keating Channel Pub and Grill at Lakeshore Blvd and Cherry Street, with my sister in tow. After all, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not! I was soon directed to a group of thirty or so other contributing authors and we sat and signed one or two or 300 copies of the book for the publisher. Just the day before, I had received an email from the publisher asking me if I would be interested in reading my story to the crowd.  Of course my inclination was to say, “No way” but once again, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not!  I was one of four people chosen to read and, while I realize the crowd was a gracious gathering of almost entirely family and friends, my mouth felt stuffed with cotton the whole evening.  So with a little liquid courage in hand, I stood and read my story, which took probably no more than four minutes and concluded with an appropriate amount of laughter and polite applause -mostly from my wonderful family, my cousins, their spouses, and my friends!

Soup book reading

I can take forward the experience of ‘contributing author’ and ‘public reading’ to my repertoire and still have ‘eleven minutes’ of fame remaining!

Oh yes, and my husband wished for me to add this disclaimer: no husbands were harmed in the writing of this story. Not this time anyway.

Dear “16-Year Old” Me

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I love to read.  I love to talk about my reads.  I love to share my reads.  This is one of those ‘shares’.  There have been some books make me laugh, some that make me cry and some that make me wonder.   Isn’t it wonderful that books can do that to a person?  I read today, while wearing my HR professional hat, that 2 out of 5 Millenials (those born between 1981 and 1995) have not bought a single book in the last two years, besides school text books (2011 Cicso Connected World Technology Report 2011).  So sad.  Anyhoo, besides the books that make me laugh, cry and wonder, there are also those books that make me tremble andd shudder – more so because it is NOT a textbook – here’s one of them:

Dear Me is a book, an anthology of letters, written by famous present-day people to their 16-year-old selves. Compiled and edited by Joseph Galliano, the UK-based book contains the letters of such notables as Elton John, Yoko Ono, Jackie Collins, to name a few, to their younger selves.

If they could travel back in time to meet themselves when they were 16 years old, what would these Oscar winners, pop stars, best-selling authors, comedians, musicians and one Archbishop say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What would they warn them about and against? Well, some are short and sweet, while others are honest and heartfelt anthropological essays.  Just a few excerpts:

Liz Smith (actress):      ‘never mind if they laugh at you – hold on to your dreams to the very end’

Anne Reid (actress):   And stop thinking you’re an ugly duckling  You look great!  I wish I looked like you.

Debbie Harry (singer-songwriter):      That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.

Alison Moyet (singer-songwriter):      You marry and have clever children and mess up just like your parents did.  Forgive them. You will soon need forgiveness.

Elton John (singer-songwriter):           Never chase love – it will find you when you least expect it

Archbishop Demond Tutu:      Don’t be infected by the cynicism of the ancients in your midst.

Roseanne Cash (singer songwwriter):            You deserve a lot better than the guy you are going to meet next year.

Adriana Trigiani (author):       16 is the new … toddler.

My oldest is about to turn 16.  If he were him 32 years from now, what would want to say to himself? What would his 16-year old self want to hear?  No, of course, he wouldn’t listen, anyway. 

What would I say to myself, with now some 32 more years of experience on this earth?  Somehow reading this book (and it’s a short, quick read), I thought this might be an incredibly inspirational exercise. Then again, why would anyone subject themselves to reliving the torture of teenagehood?

If I thought for a moment that my 16 year-old(s) will take this letter to heart, I’m as delusional at age 48 as I was at age 16. But if for no other reason than it allowed me to remember and perhaps be a little more compassionate as they live through their teenage years.

Dear 16-year old me,

So you’re Sweet 16. What a birthday party you’ve had having a dinner party you planned and prepared all by yourself around the theme “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from Billy Joel’s album which I know is your favourite album of all time, right now.

I know you like to cook. While many of your friends were drinking beer under the bleachers and ruining their parents’ knives heating them on the toaster, you put together some amazing dinner parties . Newsflash:  you will never be a chef. Sorry, I had to break it to you. But fear not, you’ll continue making messes in the kitchen for years to come and your kitchen will be the happiest place in your adult home.

Is there a reason you work so hard to be perfect? Stop now!  It’s annoying to others and bad for your self-esteem.  No matter how much pressure is put on you and how much more you put on yourself, you will never measure up to every person’s version of “perfect”. At the same time, you’re no better than the rest of them.  Stop try to be so high and mighty. It only serves to highlight your insecurity, which people will mistake for snobbiness.

YES!  FINALLY!  Contact lenses!! Not wearing those coke-bottle-glasses WILL make a difference in your life!

You’re about to take your very first airplane ride to New York City and vow that one day you’ll live there.  You will.

Later on this year, you’re going to quit ballet. You shouldn’t do that. It’s your only form of exercise. Who cares that you’re not going to end up in Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It’s fun and you like it.  Why do you want to give it up?

On that note, it wouldn’t hurt for you to put those textbooks away and get out and get some exercise. Those “Freshman 10” (oh – you might as well know now – it was more like the Freshman 20) might never happen if you embrace fitness sooner than later.

The diary you’ve been keeping?  Your daughter’s going to find it.  You should find a better hiding place or practice poor penmanship sooner than later.

It’s a few years off but don’t bother rushing sororities in university. You know it’s not “you”. The sooner you stop sucking up to people you already know are full of it, the better. On the other hand, being a “little sister” in a fraternity? Good one.  Free beer.

In a few years, your parents are going to tell you you’re making a big mistake by quitting a perfectly good job and high-tailing off to Europe for 5 months with your loser boyfriend. You’ll second-guess yourself, but don’t worry about. They’re wrong. That trip will turn out to be the best ‘mistake’ you’ve ever made. And that loser boyfriend has provided over twenty years of love and laughter, not to mention a lifelong security net.  But your wanderlust, however, will never settle down.

Friends really do come and go.  Sometimes you don’t take care of them, and this is a big mistake. You’re going to regret falling out of touch with some of those with whom you shared Life’s richest moments. Some of your friends will love you more unconditionally than even your family.

Love, Me (You)

There. I did it.  And now that I’ve done it, I think I could easily edit it another dozen or more times.

I can’t say that this was a life-altering exercise nor can I say that I relived all my life’s so-called regrets, either.  But for a moment, however brief, I do remember what “16” felt like…and I pray that sentiment helps me parent my own 16-year olds with a little more empathy.  Not ‘understanding’.  No.  There is no way they’ll believe you understand them.  No. Way.

What would you say to your 16 year-old self?

Shut Up and Eat! – a book review

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Shut Up and Eat!  Tales of chicken, children and chardonnay

Okay you had me at chardonnay…

I recently read Kathy Buckworth’s humour memoir on feeding children.  Really, this is subject matter that can ONLY be made into a humour memoir or else a miserable tragedy, so am glad she chose the former.

As her bio indicates, Kathy has written several humour books on parenting including The Blackberry Diaries:  Adventure in Modern Motherhood (which I have not read because, well, I don’t have a Blackberry), Journey to the Darkside:  Supermom goes Home (which I haven’t read yet either because I am still reeling from The Family Guy’s version of Star Wars and can’t venture to read a supermom’s rendition – even if it has nothing to do with Star Wars) and The Secret Life of Supermom (which I am decidedly NOT, so that too stayed too on the shelf).  She also appears regularly on CTV’s CanadaAm (though as a working mom, I never get to see this, and if I am home, my choice for TV is seldom if ever considered).

But chardonnay?  On that I DO consider myself an expert –  she’s a woman after my own heart.  Talking about kids in the same book title gave me pause to think but since the author is a mother of four, I guess she had to throw them in too!

I am a lover of books and of reading but every now and then I feel the need for a light read, a quick laugh and some reassurance that I am not the worst mother in the world and that’s what this book gave me.

How can you argue against gems of advice like?

On groceries:   Go grocery shopping on a Friday night – only you and all the other loser parents are there.

On weekend kitchen rules:   It should take one bowl, one measuring cup and one frying pan to make pancakes.  Just sayin’.

On dinner:  Most days I am absolutely thrilled if we can get through dinner without an explosive bodily function, head slap, or conversation that ends with one of my daughters stomping away and slamming a door” 
Note:  I finished the book and I don’t think she has quite accomplished that!

Crockpot:  Simply the best kitchen appliance I own – aside from the corkscrew, that is.

As an added bonus to her humour, she’s included actual recipes in this book! Well, okay, sort of, and no photos so don’t hold your breath.  But coming from someone has spent $50 on a cookbook only to flip through the pages like a toddler looking at the pictures, if I use but one recipe from this book and had a few laughs, then it was worth the purchase (see Pork Tenderloin, p. 98, Creamy Pizza Fondue, p 99 and Crockpot Peanut Chicken, p. 106). 

Kathy extols the virtue of dessert as a bribe, which I shamefully admit to having done as well, though my Clean Plate Ranger treats no longer make a appearance as often given my kids are now 11, 14, and 15 (they wish, though).

Because she’s funny, I shall forgive her potshots at American State Fair cuisine for we cannot no longer take pride in our country’s health statistics given  that almost a quarter of Canadians are now considered obese [Stats Can] – not far off the similar percentage of 33.8% of Americans [CDC]. Alas, I only protest that she forgot to mention Deep Fried Mars Bars and poutine. Sigh.

Where I sometimes long for a book in which to wrap myself around lyrical prose and linguistic magic, in this light-hearted book, I found solace in Kathy’s attitude toward feeding kids, her commitment to eating regularly as a family, and knowing I could probably entertain her well at my home confident she wouldn’t stress over the errant dog hair on her plate – providing I had plied her well with chardonnay beforehand, of course!

So if you happen to be in the mood for a quick, funny read just Shut Up and Eat!  No, I mean shut up and read, and pick up a copy of Shut Up and Eat!  And pass the chardonnay, while you’re at it!

What is your favourite food at the Fair?

I am haunted by Hadley: a review of The Paris Wife

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Anyone with kids in afterschool sports or activities knows that there is often that dead time during which you are – well – waiting.  With three kids in hockey as well as several school sports and activities, I have done some “waiting” time bordering on excessive, even by Department of Motor Vehicles standards.  I use this time wisely by catching up on really useful information and neighbourhood gossip like who is sleeping with whom, and which neighbourhood my teenagers have decided to vandalize next (hoping those two subjects NEVER overlap).  Occasionally, I will retreat to my sanctuary – if there is a bench in the arena foyer – and just read.  And so, the category “Hammock reading…” is part of my dustbunny chronicles (even though I rarely read while lounging in a hammock… it’s just such an incredible mental image).

 Anyway, I think Hadley Richardson Hemingway is haunting me. 

 First, I wrote a  post a couple of summers ago about Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moving Feast, written about his expatriate days in Paris in the 1920’s .  Though a great summertime read it was, inspiring me to work harder on this craft that is writing, I was haunted by the lesser character in the book, Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s wife (his first of four).  

Soon thereafter, I stumbled across the Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song called Mrs. Hemingway and wrote about it as well, thrilled that I’d encountered another artist who’d felt a deep enough connection with Hadley to write a song about her.  Perhaps Mary was haunted too.

Then, when I was in San Francisco this past summer, the SFMOMA was exhibiting The Steins Collect, a selection of siblings Leo and Gertrude Stein’s magnificent art collection from their own days in turn-of-the-century Paris as contemporaries of the Hemingways.  I went to the exhibit, expecting to find Hadley lurking, but she was nowhere to be found. 

And then Fall rolled around with back-to-school and back-to-hockey (read: back-to-waiting), and along with it, back-to-book-club for me.  I learned it was my turn to host one of our book discussions and guess which book caught my eye on the shelves of our local libary?  I picked up The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, because Hadley was pestering me once again! 

The Paris Wife is about Hadley Richardson’s relationship with Ernest Hemingway, written from Hadley’s point of view.  All the nagging questions I’d asked to myself during my reading of A Moving Feast were answered in The Paris Wife. Though it is a historical fiction, McLain takes great pains to stay as true to fact as possible.  McLain’s literary story, and the Hemingway’s love story, began with Ernest and Hadley meeting in Chicago, continuing a brief long-distance relationship when she returned to St. Louis, and them marrying a few short months later.  Though they originally intended to move to Rome, they were convinced by friends that all the great literary talent had descended upon Paris.  So began the Hemingway’s five-year residency in Paris and so continues the book.   

Hadley shared all her secrets with me in The Paris Wife, in a way that Ernest could never do in A Moving Feast.  I felt as liberated as she did ditching her protective guardians in St. Louis, her sister and her sister’s husband, and breaking with societal norms by moving to Paris with her new husband.  From Hadley, I heard all about Ernest’s frustration and exhilaration in writing In Our Time, and I could sympathize with her inability to conform to gaie Paris.  I tagged along with Hadley and Hemingway as she accompanied him on his trips to Spain, where the inspiration for The Sun Also Rises was born, and I could totally bask in Hadley’s skiing adventures in Austria.  Author McLain planted many seeds of sorrow by weaving in the occasional page or two, italizcized to catch my attention, and written in the voice of Ernest Hemingway instead of Hadley.  In this way, I knew long before Hadley that her marriage was about to unravel … a foreshadowing that troubled me as a reader because I could not warn her.

I felt like I was a character in this book rather than a mere bystander. 

I’m not sure if Hadley’s hauntings are over.  Now, thanks to Monica over at Monica\’s Tangled Web, I have a growing inclination to visit Key West, if for no reason than to give the ghost of Ernest Hemingway a piece of my mind for being such a lout to poor Hadley. 

I have also since come to the conclusion though, that she and I were together as friends in The Paris Wife, Hadley and I differed greatly in that she was ultimately satisfied to be the secondary in Hemingway’s life and remained very much in love with him.  His first and only true love, however, was always his writing.  That is an understanding that I’m not sure I could reach with the love of my life.

I hope Hadley will share a hammock with you soon; I’m sure you will enjoy her company.  I just wonder where she’ll show up next?

Have you ever been haunted?

Who cares what Stephen Harper is reading?

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In case you haven’t heard, Yann Martel is ending his 4-year correspondence with Stephen Harper, a decidedly one-sided communication project Mr. Martel penned, “What is Stephen Harper Reading?”  I hadn’t really followed it too much but when the end of anything is announced, I need to make sure I haven’t missed out on something really important.

Yann Martel is the Canadian author of one of my favourite books, Life of Pi.  On CBC Radio, Mr. Martel said the inspiration for this ongoing quest to inspire our country’s leader to read more books was his concern that when asked his favourite book of all time, Mr. Harper responded, “The Guinness Book of World Records”. 

Not good, thinks Mr. Martel, and he decides the private reading library of our Prime Minister needs some sprucing up.  Not only does he send him a new book every couple of weeks or so, he writes him a letter providing an overview of his choice for this particular choice…like a one-sided pen pal book club.  Four years and 99 books later, little wonder why we haven’t seen a book penned by Mr. Martel for quite some time given the time commitment of this endeavour.

We should, I suppose, feel indebted to Mr. Martel for trying so earnestly and passionately to inspire our nation’s leader to read more.  On the other hand, what if Mr. Harper had read everything Mr. Martel sent?  For a poet and author read a book and write an eloquent letter about it to Mr. Harper is one thing.  For Mr. Harper to read each of these books and pen a response to Mr. Martel would be – well – downright irresponsible.  I am an enthusiastic reader but my every day is filled with family time, work time, shuttling 3 kids to and from hockey, groceries, laundry vacuuming, exercise and the occasional hangover.  I am left with enough time to read one book a month …maybe.  Perhaps I am a literary phony, but if our nation’s leader has time to read a new book every two weeks (and send off a note of thanks to its benefactor), I’d no longer be asking ‘what’s your favourite book?” , I’d be asking “what they hell are you doing with our money?!”  On the other hand, that Mr. Martel has persevered for almost 4 years without a single response from Mr. Harper (not even a thank you note – how rude.) testifies to the eccentricity of some writers. 

Mr. Harper is, am I am, extremely grateful for the Coles Notes versions of all these books.  They will serve as a great resource for our book club selections (do you think Stephen Harper has a book club?), not to mention helping our sons through high school English.  You can read more about Mr. Martel’s book choices and each of his letters to Prime Minister Harper, at http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/

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