Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Year I Didn't Understand

Apparently ostracism and estrangement are common features of Slavic families. I've met many children of Slavic families whose families have engaged in years-long feuds. Because of one of these feuds, my father did not talk to any of his family, with the grudging exception of his brother Jack, for close to twenty-five years. After a few years of rapprochement, he was on the outs again, and that was the end of that.

So I find that part of my family tree almost irresistibly fascinating. Today's blog is about my aunt Toni and her house, both major features of my life until I was eight. On my eighth birthday, everything changed.

This is my aunt Toni and her husband, my uncle Larry, on their wedding day in March 1957. Since I don't know much about her, I don't know how old she was when she got married, but I am guessing she was seventeen or eighteen. (Incidentally, on the left side of this picture are my paternal grandparents. My paternal grandfather died just a few months after this wedding — a fact I learned only a few weeks ago. On the right side of the picture are my uncle's mother and step-father.)

If I've ever talked to you about my aunt Toni (and it's pretty rare that I do), you will know that I think she's gorgeous. Truly: in my opinion, she's a knockout, absolutely stunning. This scan does not do justice to her, but I like the picture.

This is the living room my memory goes to often at Christmas. This is my aunt and uncle's house at 7711 - 149A Avenue; we are viewing the west wall of the house. Other features of this picture: my two grandmothers sitting side by side in front of the piano (maternal grandmother on the left, paternal grandmother on the right). The piano is the piano I learned to play on when I was three or four. Cut off on the left-hand side of the picture is Toni's dining room, where we would eat Christmas dinner and other family meals. For whatever reason, that house was magical to me, and I can still walk through it clearly in my head. The perfect Christmas nostalgia scenario involves cracking nuts and listening to Nana Mouskouri's Christmas record.

This picture is another in a set — earlier I posted a picture of me from the same event. My father is at the right of the image, smoking. To his left is my uncle Greg, and going into the shed is my uncle Larry. The head in the centre of the image is my mother's. All I see in this picture is the sky and the patio lanterns. I have no idea was year this might be, but I would guess it's July (possibly Canada Day) and either 1973 or 1974.

For the second half of grade two, I walked to Toni's house every morning and at the end of each school day. (She lived across the street from my school and down one street and across the school field diagonally from my family house.) She was my babysitter while my mother went to work with my father and his brother Jack in a short-lived and highly regrettable business venture. (My brother was in daycare.) Things began to break down in the family that summer, until my grandmother posed an impossible ultimatum. My father was then left effectively an orphan, not merely from his mother (who lived until just a few years ago) but from all of his blood relatives. Though he puts on a brave face, he has never recovered from that, nor from his father's early death. I remember wonderful things from this time, like details of my aunt's kitchen and my learning to read Enid Blyton, Thorton W. Burgess, and Laura Ingalls Wilder because of my cousin Wendy. What shocked me about this time was the discovery that other people didn't drink Labatt's Blue for breakfast — and that anyone would have any interest in my beautiful auntie's doing so.

So. There.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"You Didn't Write a Blog Today..."

... observed B, by way of normal human interaction.

Argh. Commitment. Expectations. Deadlines. Procrastination. Delivery. I'm better with starting than with finishing.

How about this? I'm stupid and my mother dresses me funny, and I have the pictures to prove it.


OK. I wasn't going to do this so soon, but I have nothing good to write today.

#1: Carillon Tower: That's my mother's handwriting on the photo. This is the Deeds Carillon in Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio, where I lived for a few months while my father went to cash register college. I have many happy memories of Dayton, in particular NCR Old River Park, which we used to visit regularly. (No photos of that, however, although it's connected to Carillon Park in some manner.) I don't remember seeing this tower, but I must have; I do know that the word carillon immediately makes me think of my mother.

#2: Kitchen, December 1981: This picture was taken in my parents' old house; the event is my birthday. My father is in the foreground, my mother is wearing the headphones (which were my birthday present), and the older people are my maternal grandparents. I am the photographer; I took this picture with my tiny Kodak C-110 camera (also a birthday gift, but from an earlier birthday). In case it's not obvious, my mother loves yellow. I think B dies a little every time I buy something yellow and homey (or homely: your mileage may vary).

#3: Backyard, Summer 1985. I also took this picture, using the same tiny Kodak camera. While ostensibly this is the backyard of my parents' house in Kilkenny, it is also the site of my Biology 20 ecology experiment (I did that course by correspondence, along with math and psych and French and...). This picture shows only a portion of the yard: there's another garden, including a pair of apple trees, beyond the right-hand edge of the photo. I love so many details of this picture. Most importantly, it's one of those long summer nights that I live for. The ill-fated boat in the foreground is the Tarantara; the last time I saw it, it was filled with rocks. My father is on the roof of the house, roofing. I've seen a lot of the city from the roof of someone's house (including that one).

Et voilà. Now, off to prep for tomorrow's teaching and figure out how to fend off an imminent pizza party in my classroom.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Big surprise?

Just took one of those "What _____ Are You?" quizzes. This one promised to identify which mark of punctuation I am.

Unsurprisingly, my result was question mark.

Inquisitive? Quizzical? Curious? Uncertain? Puzzled? Puzzling?

Well, there's at least some validity to the quiz.

Want to find out what mark of punctuation you are? You can take the quiz here. Have fun!

Monday, January 26, 2015


One last page of images, and then I'll get back to writing. Or at least, I'll get back to my usual anonymity.

This one is from May 1987 at Nicole's high school grad; the location is the Jubilee Auditorium. I gave her the Ziggy doll; Nicole was happy to be leaving high school. I still miss the 80s, if not high school.

This one is from May 1987, too. I was in a dance competition; this picture is me rehearsing at home, a couple of hours before the performance. For me, the most interesting part of this picture is the background. Weirdly, in one of the frames in the background is a picture of me rehearsing the same routine a few months earlier — but with blonde-blonde hair.

This picture was taken in my parents' house in September 1990. Clearly I'm looking for a good movie to watch.

Yes, I'm in this image. This is at the Alberta Forestry Service Training Centre in Hinton. I took training and led a session on giving presentations to elementary students. How far I've come since then — or maybe not so far at all!

This picture is from Christmas 1995, upstairs in my in-laws' house in Brooks. Looks like I hadn't given up spiral perms quite yet...

This picture is from September 1996. On the day this picture was taken, Earl became the official Executive Director of the Western Board of Music and I solidified my position as a project editor at the U of A Press. Sadly, the house we're standing in front of no longer stands there: it was removed, with its neighbours, a few months ago to make space for new construction on the U of A campus. So long, 11044 - 90 Avenue!

Heh. This is my favourite kind of picture of me. This was taken in summer 2008, near Squamish. I had no idea I would find a jet-ski so much fun!

And thus ends the visual blogging. At least for now...

Saturday, January 24, 2015


En vacanes, sorta. Here's a set of pics with a common theme.

This one is part of a set from my grandmother's photo box; it's probably the least blurry of the group. It shows several important things: my hair has always been multicoloured and I have always thought something else was more interesting than having my picture taken. And I was probably talking.

This one is also from my grandmother's photo box. On the back, my grandmother wrote that I was watering the plants in Toni's backyard. I remember the yard fondly, particularly the willows in the background (we had the same willows growing along the side of my parents' house) and the patio lanterns at the left side of the image. And those lawn chairs.

Apparently this picture was taken in 1976. I assume it was Halloween. The dress was my mother's. (She's very short, and the styles were too!)

This picture was taken in the summer of 1982. That's my brother in the background and the fireplace in the right-hand foreground.
This one was also taken in 1982—obviously at Halloween. My brother is Garfield; I made the ears for his costume. On the back of the photo, my mother describes my costume as "Spook." It is actually a Gene Simmons-style mask, a black wig, and another of my mother's dresses—plus some of her jewellery.
Greetings from Vancouver, where it's rainy and mild. Bonne journeé!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Come Sail Away

In honour of our trip to Vancouver in less than twelve hours, here's a photo from July 1994 that captures the essence of sailing for me.

To sunny days and good winds!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We Were Young Once — But Not Soldiers

According to the notes on the back of this photo, it was taken at a Western Board of Music awards recital exactly nineteen years ago today. I remember that it was a Sunday afternoon and we were at Alberta College, but not much else.

Who could know, looking at those young, innocent faces, that there stood an academic and a communications superstar in the making? And isn't it funny how times flies? In my memory, the WBM days happened only a short time ago.

Here's to being only as old as you feel. (In which case I'm about 107 now.) Cheers, Earl!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Family Resemblance

A few years ago I acquired a box of photographs from my paternal grandmother. She didn't know I had it, and she died without my returning it to her. As my parents were once again on the outs with that side of the family when my grandmother died, the photos are my last connection to her. They are personal photos—pictures of her from her youth, pictures from friends from Russia, numerous pictures of her children and grandchildren, and more—usually with names, dates, and locations written on the back.

From the box came the following images of my father as a child and young man.

There's something about the contrast in this photo that I just love. My father is at the far left; my aunt Toni is at the far right. (Isn't she beautiful!) The oldest boy is my uncle Jack, and the youngest boy is my uncle Greg. I'd love to know more about this picture, but my grandmother didn't write anything on the back of it.

This picture does have a brief description: it's my father with a neighbour girl. So the setting is somewhere in Riverdale. I don't see my father in this child, but I love the period clothing. And wow! The neighbour girl looks like she could have walked off the set of a WWII movie.

This picture carries the brief description "Sash." (I love Russian and the many diminutives of personal names.) I'm guessing this photo is from my father's high school days. This is one of my favourite pictures of my dad.

Today I'm grateful to my grandmother for this tiny legacy. There's so much life and culture in her photo box. I wonder what the grandchildren of the future will do with our troves of digital images?

Monday, January 19, 2015

My favourite author pic

This is a picture of Brant Ducey, one of my favourite authors from my time at the Press. Also in this picture is my former intern, Andrew; I see his name around town every now and then, although I haven't run into him in person for years.

Brant's book was about his father, John Ducey. It was well written and lovingly researched, and Brant himself was a joy to work with. If only all book projects were so easy!

I believe this photo was taken after Brant's book launch. That was a long, fun day. I still refer to this project when I teach book editing, particularly with respect to raising interest off the book page and tying in with local daytime TV opportunities. Brant was an ace. Too bad more authors aren't like him.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Another Life

Earl wondered aloud what I might have been like in high school. I told him I was a pain in the ass. Every. Single. Day. So what's changed?

Here's the evidence. And oh ya. I had chemically blonde hair in high school.

Exhibit 1. Grade Nine Graduation, 1984: This is the only picture I or anyone in my family has of my leaving junior high. (There are no photos of my high school graduation except the official one taken at school.) The photographer was my mother, who was the only family member attending this ceremony. The scene is the school gym on a Wednesday afternoon in late June, and the tall man is my home-room teacher, who told me a couple of days later that had my marks been lower, I would have been held back a year because of absenteeism. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my "diploma" and my honours award.

Exhibit 2. Klondike Days 1984. I've always liked dressing up, so why not be a dance-hall girl? This picture was taken between 100 and 102 Streets, south of Jasper Avenue, overlooking the river valley; it's a Sunday afternoon, the Klondike Promenade, which was discontinued a few years later. The photographer is the man I was dating at the time. There are so many things wrong with this picture that I don't even know where to begin.

Exhibit 3. Violin Concert. The only pictures I have of playing in any of the innumerable concerts I took part in are due to Nicole's mother, who took this picture and was kind enough to share a copy with me. (Well, I guess there are some in yearbooks, too, but that's not the same thing.) I'm pretty sure the setting for this picture is QE High School, but I surmise that based on the companion picture to this, which was definitely taken outside QE. This picture was taken in the spring of 1986. I've known Nicole for a long time! We're laughing/smiling, I think, because Nicole's mother said something amusing, but we spent most of our lesson times laughing, or snickering, or snarking, rather than playing our violins.

Exhibit 4: Wedding. I'm in this photo, standing behind Nicole. Signing whatever documents the JP is responsible for is my patron of honour, Tim. This is a Friday evening in August 1986, in a backyard in Sherwood Park. I'd finished high school about six weeks earlier. Off to university and lots more trouble! — and class skipping, of course.

So. That's a brief history of what it would have been like to know me in high school. Or the photographic evidence, anyway.

Once again, my thanks to Earl for the inspiration.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Throwback Saturday

I know, I know. The correct use of the meme is Throwback Thursday. I missed.

Here are two of my favourite photos ever, from just shy of twenty-five years ago (Feb 1990). With me and B are James and David, friends we lost track of a couple years after graduation. The location is the A&W in HUB Mall — it's still there.

Thanks to Earl for the inspiration for today's post.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why ads in bathrooms are a bad idea

At my workplace, ads are posted on the inside of the stall doors in the women's washrooms. (Maybe in the men's rooms, too; I wouldn't know.)

Let's say an editor had bodily functions. Let's say that editor went into a women's washroom. The picture below is what she might see if she were in a stall.

Let's just say she'd be in the right place to deal with her probable response. (Thanks for that line, C!)

What surprises me most is the advertiser. I would think such a major financial institution would have the resources to hire a proofreader.

Or maybe there's a new way to spell roommate, and I just haven't learned.

Anyway. Editors: beware bathrooms.

And oh yes: that reflection you can see is mine. But it certainly doesn't mean I was functioning bodily with my phone out. And ew!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Mother Always Told Me...

In the textbook project I'm working on, one of the chapters exhorts readers to embrace the backchannel.

In my head, I hear C saying, "Oooh! Dirty." Every single time.

I'm not old enough for my life! : )

Friday, January 09, 2015

Beyond hope

"When you're buying music online and you giggle evilly, it doesn't fill me with hope."

Just bought an album by a singer-songwriter I've been admiring for a couple of years: Sleeping at Last. It's an album of seven highly stylized 1980s covers, including "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Private Eyes," "The Safety Dance," and "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)".

It's possible these songs may have been mysteriously removed from my computer the next time I go to listen to them ...

Definitely wide-evil-grin time!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Tallying Up: 2014

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015! Let's toast to the year that will be.

Today's post, being something of a tradition, looks back at the year that was in music and books.

Top 50 Songs

The following list represents the fifty songs played most often on my iTunes, combining my laptop and mobile phone.

Hello Good Morning (remix) — Diddy with Dirty Money
Brand New Lover (single) — Dead or Alive
Run the World (Girls) — Beyoncé
Someday — LP
Dreams — Brandi Carlile
End of All Hope — Nightwish
Do I Wanna Know? — Arctic Monkeys
Rich Girl — Cole Vosbury
Love Runs Out — One Republic
Tsunami — DVBBS & Borgeous
Kiss You All Over — Exile
Them Kids — Sam Roberts
Burning Bridge — Kate Bush
Summer in the City — Lovin' Spoonful
Summer Night City — ABBA
Invasion #Tih — X-Cite
Bit by Bit — Mother Mother
Dirrty — Christina Auilera
Professional Griefers — Deadmau5
This Is the World Calling — Bob Geldof
How Do I Make You — Linda Ronstadt
Hungry Like the Wolf — Duran Duran
Killer Queen — Queen
Moves Like Jagger — Maroon 5
I Did It for Love — Harlequin
I Love You — Climax Blues Band
Take a Chance on Me — ABBA
The Love of a Woman — Klaatu
Let Go the Line — Max Webster
Running Up That Hill — Kate Bush
Long Train Runnin' — The Doobie Brothers
Madness — Muse
Suspended in Gaffa — Kate Bush
Hazy Shade of Winter — The Bangles
The Flesh Failures — Cast of Hair (Broadway Soundtrack)
Infinitesimal — Mother Mother
When Time Turns Around — The Spoons
In My Mouth — Azar Swan
Run for Your Life — The Beatles
Leave It Open — Kate Bush
Breathe You in My Dreams — Trixie Whitley
Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover — Sophie B. Hawkins
The Wire — HAIM
Come with Me Now — Kongos
Fire on the Water — Chris De Burgh
Judas — Lady Gaga
Only Teardrops — Emmelie de Forest
Ramble On — Led Zeppelin
17 Days — Prince
We'll Carry On (Prelude) — Jimmy Rankin

I opted to tally the top fifty songs this year because I noticed that, by the middle of the year, my play counts were clumping, with eight or ten or more songs tied at the same number. The top-fifty list also reveals much greater continuity in my listening over the last several years than a shorter list would have shown; once again, in 2014 I indulged in lots of comfort listening. But I am pleased to see some recent music in the list as well.

In the second half of the year I did a lot of bike riding and walking, usually accompanied by my phone, listening to one of my up-tempo playlists. That accounts for some of these songs. It also accounts for the many songs not listed here that also have significant play counts. Of some 13,000 songs in my library, I listened to more than 75 percent at least once; of those I did not listen to at all, most were classical or holiday music, or recently added tracks.

The play counter has been reset. We'll see what changes next year.

Books Read This Year: 157

This number is so disappointing and marks the lowest tally I've registered since starting to post these figures. Yes, I average three books a week, which is — for most people — a remarkable amount of reading. But remember that I am a professional reader. Between editing, reviewing, and prepping, I am obligated to read every day — and then there are the dozens and dozens and dozens of books to read just for fun. So this number tells me important things about the year just passed.

A look in my calendar tells interesting stories. In January and February I did a great deal of reading, with 40 books tagged by Sunday March 2. My reading gets much lighter in March and April, with only 61 books tagged by Sunday, April 27. Still, at that pace, I could have expected to end the year around 180 books. In May I read A LOT, with 79 books tagged on Sunday, June 1. But in July and August I read very little. There are two weeks with 0 books tagged, and several weeks with only one or two. Through the fall I read two or three books in an average week, but there were two weeks with only a single book tagged. Argh! That's not a me I recognize at all.

Much of my reading came from books I'd been asked to review; reviews have a deadline, so those books tend to get read promptly. I discovered two series — "trashers", of course — featuring women detectives. Since reading Amanda Cross years ago, I've become a sucker for a women detective. I worked through Sue Grafton's alphabet series to W (now waiting for X, supposed to be published in 2015) and am getting through Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski series (more difficult because the library doesn't have paper copies of many of the older novels). I also tackled the Temeraire series, which traces an alternate nineteenth-century history featuring dragons. I read numerous YA books, both for reviews and for fun, and of course a substantial number of books from my various academic disciplines.

I continue to struggle with very short books and with books I edit. I read dozens of picture books that I didn't count (but I did add them to LibraryThing, of course), including, most recently, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell's captivating The Spindle and the Sleeper. Maybe I need to refine my scholarly interests? Meanwhile, two books I worked on had fairly short texts, so I didn't count either one. Maybe I should have. Another book I edited in early 2014 is not yet in my library (that is, I haven't received a gratis copy), so I haven't seen the final pages and don't know how different the text might be since my last pass — so I didn't count that one either.

So while my tally here gives an overview of my reading, it lacks a lot of detail, obscured by my own need for rules and consistency.

I'm looking forward to getting back to my personal reading "normal" this year. As I posted yesterday, I have a substantial list of books I'm eager to get to. In fact, I think I'll go read something now...

I wish everyone a bright and brilliant new year. Here's to the reset button: cheers!


Coda: Still more detail

B pointed out, helpfully, that one of the causes for my reduced reading in the summer was my attempt to get through Shogun. (Thanks, B!) Still not through it, grrr. I find it a tough go. Maybe I'll tag it this year. Meanwhile, I already have my first book for 2015 (because I started it last year, of course!) and am on to my second.

Also, Earl has tallied his reading for 2014 and captured some features that I'm going to steal freely. (Thanks, Earl!) In particular, Earl identifies genres and author genders.

Looking back through my list, I pulled out the following stats:

• Books written by women: 106
• Books written by men: 47
• Non-fiction works: 36

If you're doing the math, you crafty thing, you, you'll notice that my stats identify 4 books as "other". That means they featured mixed-gender joint authorship, were mixed-gender edited collections, or lacked a gender-identified author. Also in deference to clarity, for me "non-fiction" includes scholarly books, textbooks, and memoir but excludes poetry.

So that's just a little more about my reading in 2014.