Monday, August 29, 2022

Annals of Aging #6719

Annals of Aging, #6719: the belly. After a struggle with my weight in my twenties, detailed in Loose Woman - going up and down 20 or 30 pounds - it all settled with motherhood. In the last decades, I've felt blessed, consuming wine and dark chocolate every day, cheese and pasta, bread and peanut butter, not in vast quantities, but plenty, no self denial here. Yet my weight has remained relatively stable, I guess from moving the body, thank you bicycle, gardening, YMCA.

Until Covid. The weight went up, I'm struggling to get it down, and it's all in the belly. My middle feels swollen, pregnant. That's what happens at 72, unless you're willing to stop eating chocolate and drinking wine, i.e. enjoying life, which I'm not. So - stretchy waistbands and loose tops. And complaining.

Speaking of giving up pleasure, on the news tonight: no quantity of wine is healthy, they say, all alcohol leads to heart disease and cancer. Listened to the segment and poured myself a glass of rosé. I'll take my chances. Drink far less than I used to, but it's my only sin, and I'm certainly not giving that up.

Today my young tech helper Patrick came with his microphone and we taped the first episode of my possible podcast, True to Life: how to tell your story. I sat at my desk and talked for 15 minutes about Why Write Memoir? We'll see how it sounds and if it works. The plan is to do nine episodes on aspects of craft, and also to interview other nonfiction writers.

I've started a new ritual: a walk after dinner. I walk round the 'hood, checking out gardens, spying in windows, chatting with neighbours, ending up at huge Riverdale Park to watch baseball - tonight, three games going - and in the middle, dogs going wild, chasing each other, leaping and rolling, people picnicking on the hill, a wonderful scene. And sky, wide open sky. C'town streets are lined with huge old trees, much shade from the hot sun; how blessed we are. As I walked down the hill, I overheard two young women talking about Anastasia. "She's in Colombia getting her butt done. They suction the fat out. And she's getting veneers." Yikes. What are veneers anyway?

More Annals of Aging: bristly chin hairs, fading memory, aching joints. But STILL HERE, butt intact. Raising a glass of rosé in a toast: to being still here.

So far so good. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

New York New York

Life is returning. After two years of sweatpants and t-shirts, I've started to put on actual clothes every once in a while. With an actual bra! The belly is bigger than it was two years ago, so I need big safety pins for some waists, though most of my clothes now, for some strange reason, have stretchy waistbands. 

But more exciting, yesterday, spontaneously, I booked a quick trip to NYC, city of my birth. My dad's cousin Ted has a birthday in early September; I missed his big 80th party because of Covid, so will be able to toast his 81st with him. When we visited Dad's family in NYC during my childhood, there were innumerable relatives to visit; my grandfather had 6 siblings and my grandmother 10, though she wasn't speaking to some of them. But now, since feisty Cousin Lola died two years ago at 98, there's Ted. I tried to get in touch with a young second cousin, but she's in Italy, and her mother lives in New Haven and won't be coming in at that time. 

So my NY family is down to one. Well, and Ted's husband Henry, if he comes in from Northport. Ted lives at 77th and 3rd and works at his father's Manhattan law office during the week; on the weekend he goes to their house on the water in Northport, where Henry lives full time. And so his apartment at 77th and 3rd is empty every weekend. Except if there's a cousin from Toronto, or another friend from somewhere, in residence. 

Besides Ted, I want to see the Matisse exhibit at MOMA. One of my favourite artists:Vermeer, Matisse, David Milne, Kandinsky. 

I thought I wasn't ready to travel again, and I'm not ready to go far, but NYC I think I can handle, especially for 2 1/2 days. Especially on points; the flights are costing $150. Miraculous. What can I take my cousin for his birthday, the man who has everything? 

Ted with Anna and my uncle Edgar's cat Selassie in 1993. Anna in her braces period. Behind them is my uncle's wall of wine bottles.

I get home on Sunday Sept. 11, when the Cabbagetown Festival will be in full swing and Big Anna, as we call her, is coming to stay for two nights. On Tuesday Janet comes to stay and 4 friends are coming for dinner; on Wednesday, Judy comes to stay, possibly for a few days, and on Thursday, I'm off to Stratford, to stay at Big Anna's for 2 days and see some shows. So with New York, that's far more excitement in two weeks than I've had all year. In two years! 

Watched two episodes of Ten Percent, an English remake of the French series of the same name about a talent agency - very entertaining. Still harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes; the zucchini are a total washout, as were the beans. It seems I am only capable of growing cukes, tomatoes, and basil. Gazpacho and tomato sauce for days. It's cooler in the evenings, and this morning, to ride to the market, I was in jeans and a jacket for the first time in months. But ... peaches! Strawberries! It's still summer. 

There's a sign now above my desk, a quote from Helen Humphreys: Write the impossible thing first. So I started yesterday to do that. Got two paragraphs in and had to stop. But started. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

hot and happy

By early afternoon Saturday I was melting, dripping in sweat; so hot, only water could cool me down. Remembered the beautiful free community swimming pool a three minute bike ride away that I never use, found their schedule - the Women Only swim was about to begin. Hopped on the bike and there I was, immersed in cool water. It's designed so Muslim women can swim; blinds cover all the windows and only female lifeguards are allowed. Even so, many women wear long pants, long-sleeved tops, and hijabs to swim, but they are were and so was I. Delicious. 

And yesterday, after two days of heavy rain much needed by the garden, it was lovely again. Anna, the boys, the two other kids she has looked after for a friend all summer, and I went to Annie's house near the beach for the perfect summer day, joined by Annie's daughter Mia with her two. Lunch, swimming in Lake Ontario, playing in sand, playing in the playground, and at the end, of course, ice cream cones for six children and four adults. Delicious. I am not big on swimming, but on a hot day, there's nothing like it. 

At one point the kids were discussing age, including how old I am. They opined that I was so old, I was born in the eighties. No, I replied, in 1950. Their jaws dropped. Like, with the Titanic! said Ben, who adores all things Titanic. 


Anna told me she had to have "the sex talk" with the boys because Ben asked about the difference between "sex, sexy, and sexism." He said he'd been told that sex was when a man's intestines go inside a woman's intestines. I'm sure Anna handled this with her usual tact and grace.

I finished Season 4 of Borgen, a superb series about how power corrupts, how hard it is to survive in politics and remain a decent human being. No kidding - in despair about the next four years with our ghastly, disastrous, corrupt provincial government, destroying health care and education and building new highways. Stop, blood pressure rising. 

Made peach/rhubarb crumble with garden rhubarb. Getting writing done, editing for others. Invited to a "Protecting Pollinators" seminar by a group called Bees for Peace.

Otherwise, drifting through August picking tomatoes and cukes, pruning, watering, going for evening walks. It'll get busy again soon, but for now - heaven.

Last Saturday, the market featured a riot of zinneas.

Here's a wise man speaking wisdom:

Hanging framed upstairs is a letter from Bertrand Russell to my dad, about their mutual struggles for peace. In '62 Russell was asked by Osward Mosley, the leader of the British Fascist movement, to debate. This is the letter he sent in return. A masterpiece. 

Good writing can save the world. Or at least try. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

giving blood - from August 16

(Sorry, for some reason, half the post disappeared so I am posting again. From my FB page:)

Funny story. Went to donate blood for the first time today. Answered 'no' to all their questions, including whether I'd had sex for money and had handled monkeys recently. One yes: had I lived in England from 1980 to 1996? Yes, I said, I went to theatre school in London in 1981-82. I'm sorry, she said, you cannot donate. Mad cow disease. I left and texted my kids about my rejection. Sam wrote back, I knew something was off with you, Kaplan - mad cow disease! Then Anna wrote, Mum, we didn't live in London in 1981! Oh yes — she was born in Vancouver in 1981. I was at theatre school in 1971-72. Went back and explained I was wrong by a mere decade. We laughed. Completely screwed up their paperwork but finally they took my half-litre of blood. I was so impressed by the steady stream of volunteers. I love Canadians.

May be an image of 1 person, sitting and indoor
Rona Maynard, Lynn Hetherington Blin and 45 others

Friday, August 19, 2022

infestation: viruses and mice

So, first thing today, I got a message my Facebook account had been hacked, changed my password. Bruce wrote that Apple sent out a warning about security breaches for iPhones and Macbooks, so immediately updated both. Thomas arrived and we spent the rest of the morning creating mouse barriers, thick pieces of cardboard with steel wool in between, to duct tape to every place up and downstairs the mice might be getting in. Because they are still getting in. 

And then another hour putting up new smoke alarms all over. 

Jannette arrived to help in the garden which is shrivelling with no rain and the slugs are feasting and other bugs and viruses. Powdery mildew! Aphids!

Now it's 3.30 and I'm tired after an entire day of preventative care. Praying for rain. We've had an almost record-breaking lack of rainfall this summer so far. Amazingly, a few days ago, there was a storm so severe it was almost hurricane-like on the other side of town, but not a drop here. 

Lovely emails coming in. From Janet: I finished Loose Woman this morning. Started it by laughing, ended it by crying. There was so much of my own story in there. I was transported back to the years I spent as a young woman in Vancouver and in France ...

From Ron: I’m now rereading and loving your great-grandfather’s biography, while Von is reading Loose Woman. I’M LOVIN IT 2nd time around. It was relevant and still is, for this secular, but nevertheless, steeped in Judaic culture Jewish boy, who saw countless Yiddish plays in NY & Montreal. Thank you, thank you.

And notes about various successes from former students Linda, Michelle, and Miriam. Very gratifying, my friends. Thank you for letting me know. 

Finally, more good news: since my beloved hairdresser Ingrid moved to Nova Scotia in 2020, I've been cobbling together hair care, first my neighbour Monique, then other hairdressers who weren't quite right. A few weeks ago I asked my friend Katherine, who had a wonderful cut, about her hairdresser, and went to Rosemary yesterday. Bingo, as they say. Bull's eye. She knew exactly what to do with my thick grey thatch. I asked her to take a picture. 

Summery. Light. Poor Lisa LaFlamme, 58-year-old CTV news anchor, fired for the unforgivable sin of aging while female and letting her hair go grey. I love my hair, its silvery brightness. But then, I'm not on TV and I don't care how old I look. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, this is what a 72-year-old mouse-hunter looks like.

Monday, August 15, 2022

The joy of music and shelves.

A treat from the city: rode to the new parks on Parliament Street because there's music almost every afternoon, and sat for an hour listening to fine young cellist George Crotty play by heart four of Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites. Busses, trucks, and cars roaring by, passersby paying not the slightest attention to the world's greatest music pouring out in the middle of Parliament Street. 

Thank you, George. What a feat. I've just finished reading The Great Passion, by James Runcie, set in J. S. Bach's home and bringing to life the circumstances around the writing of the magnificent St. Matthew Passion. Anna Magdalena, his young second wife, is a major character. I loved being at home with the Bachs and their many many children. 

Music also last night - went with Annie to hear friends of hers, musician actors who used to sing as Sweet Lips, perform in the courtyard of a condo building downtown. A perfect evening, with fun quirky songs like Jacques Brel's. Except I confess I left at intermission, had had enough, wanted to walk home to watch the final Grantchester, which was completely ridiculous and predictable and formulaic, but forgiven. Terrible what TV writers can get away with when you're fond of their characters.

Thomas came to assemble a small Ikea shelving unit and do other fixing around here. I'm like Eeyore with the empty honey pot Pooh gave him for his birthday, putting things into it and taking them out - I'm putting things on my lovely new shelves and moving them around. I don't think I've ever been so organized. Should not say this because something's undoubtedly coming to knock it all over, but except for my office with its piles and boxes of papers, the rest of the house, for the first time in my life, is relatively under control. 

Little Miss Organized is going in for dinner: grilled salmon, ratatouille made with garden veg, fresh corn with lime. Peaches, many peaches. Summer. Halfway through August already! NOOOO. 


Visiting too often lately:

Sunday, August 14, 2022

RIP beloved Sempé

Listening to Beethoven piano concerto #3 on CBC - what pleasure. Jonathan Biss, marvellous pianist. They're saying he suffers from extreme anxiety. If I had to perform something that difficult, I would too. 

A tranquil day. My son and his pup may come to visit, the electrician Mr. Wu said he'd fix some wiring, I'll cook listening to Eleanor, do some work. Write to you.

The sad news is that the great French artist Sempé has died at nearly ninety. His work was unique, exquisite, with a joyful sweetness and innocence and yet a clear eye on human foibles and foolishness, but always with love. I have two framed prints and New Yorker covers and books. The only artist comparable is perhaps Steinberg, also marvellous, but who did not have Sempé's celebratory kindness. Thank you, Sempé, for all the pleasure you gave.


A time that does not exist any more. They'd all be facing a screen playing video games.

Two mornings ago, there was a mouse in my sink for the second time. The poor things must jump down to see what's there and can't get out. I trap them in a glass and release them at the end of the garden; undoubtedly they just come back, because there are droppings on my counters and stovetop. Yesterday, Thomas came to help with various things, and we pulled out the stove and blocked the hole where we thought they were accessing the kitchen — thick cardboard, steel wool, tons of duct tape.

This morning, there were droppings on my stovetop and, for good measure, a half-chewed cherry tomato. Back to the drawing board.

My brother sent two pics this week.

A street in Tel Aviv. Ah, fame.

It breaks my heart this portrait of my dad is hanging on some stranger's wall. And, yes, that my brother and I sold it for so little. However. Mistakes are made. C'est la vie.

Last night I started to watch Belfast and just couldn't. Could not watch neighbours murdering each other for some arcane difference in religion. Changed channels and watched a new doc on Diana, which is footage and voices, no commentary, about her too-short life, an indictment of celebrity culture, the vicious aggressive British tabloids, the media in general. Cried at that, instead, at a shot of Harry's agonized face as he looked at the mountains of flowers, at again watching those boys walk behind their mother's coffin without an arm around them, a hand to hold. The rich are not like you and me.

Doesn't life feel like this sometimes? 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

power outage in Toronto

 5.45. No power. No electricity. The power went out at about 12.30, so over five hours so far. Worried about the fridge, trying not to open it. My phone for once was not charged – now at 17%, so I don’t want to text or check email. A panicked search for matches through junk drawers and tool chest before finally finding a book of matches from one of my son’s restaurants at the back of a desk. Candles ready, one flashlight working.

Apparently ten thousand downtown Hydro customers are without power, including U of T and MTU, the Eaton Centre, the city’s financial centre. People were or still are stuck in elevators. I went for a walk in the ‘hood and talked to a man in a wheelchair at the corner of Carlton and Parliament, watching the amazingly orderly chaos of cars navigating a busy intersection without streetlights. 

“I live in a high-rise so can’t go home till the power comes back,” he said. “I’m waiting here to see a crash."

The power remained on north of Carlton. Another planet. I know this happens often to my friend Chris on his island in the Pacific, but rarely here, in the metropolis. 

Blessings: it’s a lovely evening, not too hot. I’ve had for many years and barely used a fabulous device called the Eton Emergency Radio, which works by hand-powered crank. So I’m able to keep cranking up to listen to the news and hear there’s a downtown power outage caused at the waterfront by a crane dislocating some hydro wires, and they don’t know when power will be back. 

I had nothing scheduled, so don’t have to get anywhere - Anna said, come over if you want, but the last thing I want is to try to get across town. I can sit on the deck and read. There’s lots of freshly-made gazpacho in the fridge and bread and cheese. The main problem is getting stuff out of the fridge and closing the door as quickly as possible.

No landline. No TV. Luckily, CBC radio through my hand crank. I realize once again, as with the Rogers outage, how much we take for granted. What if this goes on? 

You’re safe, you’re home. And just prior, you’d emailed two essays to a magazine and picked a fresh cucumber and a pile of tomatoes. And now I'll go back out, with warming rosé, to read. And wait.

6.15. Listening to CBC’s The World at Six as I crank the handle. The world’s miseries: punishing heat in Europe, Trump, doctor shortages. Could be so much worse here. My house grows darker, the fridge warmer. But there’s water, and a roof, and a relatively sane society. Safety. I know, my daughter would say, safety for YOU, Ms. White Privilege.

7.45. Went to my neighbours Mary and Malcolm north of Carlton, who had power, to charge my phone. They gave me a glass of wine and said, Stay as long as you want. An hour later I heard that power was mostly back on and left to see if it meant my house – and it did. There’s light. The fridge is humming, I’ll check tomorrow to see if anything has gone bad. Life goes on. 

We are so dependent.

I kept this "diary" on Word on my Mac, and now I can share it with you. Because the internet works, and the light I'm writing by. 

We are so dependent. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

complaining about Toronto drivers

OOOF. Got my second Shingrix shingles vaccine yesterday at a time when I had no appointments, in case it hit me hard, and it has hit me hard. Yesterday was okay, but today, I'm achey and fluey and capable of little. This too shall pass. I went back to bed and watched another episode of Borgen. Which is definitely not a flattering portrait of political life. Luckily, it's not infernally hot today, as it was over the weekend. It's heavy and grey, threatening to rain but not actually coming through. 

On Sunday afternoon, I cooked vegetable soup with the one big zucchini from the garden, and Jean-Marc came today to help me eat it. Very healthy and delicious. David Attenborough says the planet is being destroyed by cutting forests for grazing cattle, and we all must cut back on meat. Yes sir. Will do.

I also spent all day Sunday writing an op-ed for the Toronto Star about speeding cars in the city - out of control and dangerous. Worked and reworked from morn till night, got feedback from Ruth and Annie, eagerly sent it in. Nada. Not a word, just as both the Star and the Globe ignored the last essay I sent them. I know this business is about rejection but sometimes it gets depressing. Besides that one, I have four other essays out, and the book with eight publishers.


But the Globe did say yes, the garden is beautiful, and Donald Trump is one step nearer accountability. 

I've long said Trump is Pandora. He has lifted the lid and enabled human vileness.

PS Just spent half an hour filing a police report about a driver speeding in a black Range Rover, top speed on Spruce St. where there's a school playground, and then the same guy zipped through a stop sign without stopping or even slowing. I followed him and got his licence: CSSN 040. That's why I wrote the essay - because this kind of heedless driving is an epidemic all over the city. I guess not of concern to the Star.

But I can always cheer myself up:

Friday, August 5, 2022

Summer bliss, new rules, Green Planet, how to wear socks

Just came back from a walk after dinner as the day cooled down. Riverdale Park west was a crowded, busy scene from William Kurelek - dogs frolicking, people biking, running, lying on the slopes, two baseball games going, that quintessential North American sound of the crack of the bat. I watched as, like the ocean, the outfielders moved in for a female batter and back out for a male. 

Today I set a new rule: no social media (or Wordle) before 5 o'clock, when I stop for rosé. Before, with coffee and cereal in the morning, first I read the Star, where today there was an article explaining that socks are back in style, "How can I wear them?" with helpful pictures, including a pair of Balenciaga tennis socks for $175, thanks, Star. Then, after learning valuable things like how to wear socks, I'd check FB, Twitter, IG, and my website, and read some of the news and writer sites flooding my inbox — just to be sure I'm not missing anything, mind you! — and before I knew it, the morning had gone. Instead, today, I got up to my desk — eventually — and actually worked.

Checked Zoomer magazine's submission page and found, by chance, that in 2020 they reprinted a short 2018 article of mine. Nice to be hanging around.

Tuesday went to Toronto Lynn's to float in her glorious pool like a little lake, surrounded by trees, flowers, rocks - heavenly, since the day felt like 37 or so. Wednesday, watched the last episode of The Green Planet, a fabulous and moving doc. David Attenborough for the Nobel Prize! The footage of plants doing what they do is spectacular. This one showed people finding ways to regenerate nature, holding out a little hope for the planet's future. Much needed. 

I've also been to the doctor and the dentist this week, getting the 72-year-old machine checked out. Functional. All teeth there, and at least some of my brain. 

Now, except for a few editing clients, I have weeks clear of teaching responsibilities. TIME TO WRITE. Which means, first, getting to the desk. As someone posted on Twitter, Today I asked a 10-year-old girl if she wanted to be a writer. She answered: "I want to do the thinking part but not the writing part."

So she's already a writer.

And then, there's the other distraction ... 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

They say it's your birthday, you're gonna have a good time ...

I've said this before, but ... sometimes FB is a most wonderful addition to life. 51 birthday greetings yesterday, from Halifax friends I've not seen in over four decades, to recent Toronto acquaintances and every era in between. It was like getting an overview of a lifetime of friendship. John Wright whom I acted with in Vancouver in 1978 and have not seen since posted this:

Mon dieu! Sunflowers for Ukraine, I hope. 

Plus email greetings. My ex sent a video of him singing Happy Birthday. He doesn't take singing lightly, so I was honoured. I also got effusive birthday greetings from loving companies: RBC, Aeroplan, Body Shop, and a place where I had a facial ten years ago. Nice that they think so kindly of me. 

The day started with two special hello's: one from a mother raccoon and her three babies, who climbed over the fence onto my deck, stood to check me out, and then sauntered off through the garden. And then the William Morris rose came back out to beam at me, just in time. 

Usually at these events, Sam barbecues, but as he cooked he always drank a beer or three, so now we don't barbecue, and we don't drink either. He is 4 1/2 months sober and doing amazingly well, but we don't want to make it harder for him by drinking in front of him. So I wanted all the food to be ready. Using tomatoes, cukes, basil, parsley, mint, dill, and chives from the garden, I made: cucumber salad, tomato-bread salad, potato salad, tabbouleh, pesto pasta, and a giant "BLT salad" with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and avocado. Just had to put them all out at the last minute, and heat up burgers for the boys. And then chocolate cake from Daniel and Daniel. 

A wonderful group, dear friends and beloved family dining in my back forty. Chaos, with two small boys and one growing bouncy dog. They all brought flowers, but my best present was a pastel painting by Eli.

A leo for a Leo. Such confidence, no? 

Seventy-two. I am blessed to have friends in their eighties. Ruth wrote and called me "you young thing." I'll take it.