6 lessons from a reread of the ‘Anne’ series

Trailing_arbutus_2006

A Mayflower – Anne’s favourite first sign of spring. Photo credit, Justin Russell – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1337522

Ugh. I had to wash ‘Anne with an E’ out of my brain recently – I watched with fascinated horror as the show veered further and further away from a sweet, wholesome story of the transformative power of love into a nightmarish concoction that should have been left untold.

Many of the casting choices were spot on, and the opening credits are a beautiful dream that makes my throat seize up just a little. It’s painful that the show went so wrong after such perfection:

I’m not alone. After my Netflix binge, I read reviews to feel better, and cursed myself for coming to the series without any advance knowledge. Vanity Fair, Anne of Green Gables: Netflix’s Bleak Adaptation Gets It All So Terribly Wrong and VoxAnne With an E turns Anne of Green Gables into a high gothic tragedy, missing the point, have done a brilliant job of articulating how deflated I felt by the end.

There was only one thing to do – return to the books.

You can find the series in the children’s section of any bookstore, but I don’t think they belong there. Ok, so it’s not Ulysses, but the reading comprehension level has not been dumbed down one bit – a genuine respect for readers of all ages. A quick dip into Wikipedia confirms that Anne of Green Gables wasn’t originally considered a children’s novel – that classification only arrived in the mid 20th century. If you’ve never read any of the books before, don’t let that stop you. There’s a reason Prince Edward Island is always flooded with fans from around the world.

I’m halfway through Anne of Ingleside right now, the stories are veering off into those of Anne’s young children, and you can tell, ever so slightly, that L.M. Montgomery is starting to phone it in. But she is still a masterful storyteller and depictor of the human condition, even when she’s not fully engaged. And you need to get to know those kids for the final book of the series, set during the first world war.

My latest read has been a wonderful escape back into the Victorian and Edwardian eras, rural Canadian-style, and I do think life would truly be better if everyone occasionally asked themselves, ‘What would Anne do?’ Even her famous temper only flared up when someone was treating her badly.

  1. Pay attention to the beauty of the natural world. When things are not going well, and even when they are, take yourself to nature whenever you can. Draw strength, happiness and peace from it.
  2. Disagreeable people have always existed. I would love to know who inspired Josie Pye, Aunt Atossa and Aunt Mary Maria, such horrors on the page but yet, they remind me of a few people I know… Even Anne, one of the most positive, cheeriest heroines ever written, limits her exposure to such people when she can. When she can’t, she grits her teeth and keeps her own counsel.
  3. Tomorrow is a new day. With no mistakes in it.
  4. Bring something positive to the world, even if it’s only your own upbeat attitude. Some of my favourite people remind me of Anne – they light up every room they enter, ‘bringing happiness with them like a gift’. One is even named Annie – perhaps an unusual take on nominative determinism?  
  5. Take time to relax, to play, to do something fun, to do nothing but dream.
  6. Clothes are very important. Anne says so. Take that, Calvinists!

In praise of an in-use kitchen

teacups with lemon

Dirty dishes next to the sink, clean dishes in the drying rack. Jars of cinnamon and toasted, chopped pecans waiting to anoint my daily bowl of oatmeal. Small, red tomatoes ready to be halved and tossed with shredded basil, extra virgin olive oil and a smidge of salt. A pudding basin filled with apples. All the half-drunk bottles of whiskies we’ve been collecting. A new type of cracker meant for my plan to recreate Starbucks’ Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box. Bottles of nutritional supplements that have at least a fighting chance of being taken daily if I can see ’em. Onions, garlic, ginger. A lemon. Salt. Pepper. A potbellied brown teapot I almost never use, despite the fact that everyone who crosses the threshold gets a cup of tea. Two-litre bottles of fizzy mineral water to quaff instead of Diet Coke. Foil, cling film and parchment paper on top of the microwave. A hand blender for smoothies that I never bother to unplug. Pillow-soft rolls just waiting to be packed with homemade chicken salad. A toaster that could be unplugged and put away now that I’ve forsworn Nutella. A row of bone-china mugs filled with steaming hot lemon water ahead of a scrubbing with baking soda to remove tannin stains.

A small table with cookbooks, wedding invitations, poll cards for the upcoming election, a basket of clothespins, and a 10% off card for my next visit to Ham & Friends. Everything shoved out of the way to make room for the laptop. A load of whites quietly swishing in the washing machine. A cat in my lap, now frightened of the jet-like noises emanating from the spin cycle but unwilling to admit it.

I’ve made my peace with the fact that my kitchen will never resemble something in a TV commercial. Oh yes, we make spasmodic attempts at getting the chaos under control, but hey – LIFE is being lived in here. And from doing silly online quizzes I’ve realized that I am visual learner, and ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is my truth.

Goodbye 2016

2016

I want to say “and don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, but I can’t.

While 2016 has truly been rotten in many, many ways, it’s also been a great year for me, personally, as long as I don’t think very hard about the twin mournful slumps I had after BREXIT and the US election. Or all the horrible things happening in Syria and the terrorism throughout Europe. Or the sad moments every time an icon died.

Is it even ok to talk about the good things? I feel like I have survivor’s guilt. But then, I’ve had enough shitty years over my life that I think it’s ok to have a good one, especially one in which some hard-won, deeply-cherished goals have been met.

So I’m going to be positive, and if you feel like sharing my happiness, stick around. I’ll understand if you don’t. But there’s an otter eating breakfast at the end…

  • Setttled into village life in Chapel Allerton, with easy access to the city centre of Leeds; the compact foodie and shopping heaven I’ve always dreamed of
  • Temped (very) regularly at one of the colleges in Leeds, where I’ve made some amazing friends
  • Sat, mute with tears of happiness, during Jeff’s final recital for his masters, which he (of course) smashed. I’m so proud of him!
  • Had a great Bonfire Night weekend
  • Pulled off a pretty boss Christmas dinner
  • Cried over every icon who died, but also rediscovered some amazing music and films in their honour
  • Learned how to knit
  • Took some amazing Yorkshire walks – but also feel like I’ve merely scratched the surface
  • Flirted with a Glaswegian after drinking whisky
  • Took three old-fashioned steam train trips; I’m good now
  • Visited London enough times to know my way around, but still feel the magic every time I step off the train at King’s Cross
  • Launched the UK version of my proofreading and copyediting business, heatherhewer.com (tell your friends and colleagues!)
  • Still can’t get the hang of “Alright?” “Yeah, alright” as a greeting. What is wrong with me?

#NastyWoman in a pantsuit (aka trouser suit if you’re British)

Because Facebook’s newsfeed is so ephemeral, I’m going to start this post with the status update I wrote yesterday while processing the result of the US Election:

Eating all the things is what I am doing today, even though emotional eating is why I don’t fit into my awesome pantsuit in the first place. Today, I wallow. Tomorrow, I work harder at deserving a new, #nastywoman pantsuit, for my nieces and my friends’ daughters. I am sorry that I have sometimes been quiet in an effort to keep things pleasant. Sometimes there wasn’t a point. Sometimes it was easier to change the subject away from politics. Sometimes things I have defended created rifts. But I am still sorry for my silence and resolve to fight harder against racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny. For everyone. We are all in this together.

While I ate impressive amounts of comfort food yesterday (nutella on toast, a Moroccan chicken and couscous salad, brownies and a ready-made chicken tikka masala) I also spent a lot of time online reading about other peoples’ reactions, trying to make sense of everything that has happened to make 2016 so resoundingly craptacular.

And one thing I’ve decided I can’t do anymore is NOTHING. OK,  I do research and place my vote in all Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections, and Jeff and I were even able to vote (remain) in the EU referendum here in the UK earlier this year. But my daily life, with its work, cook, eat, watch TV, hang out with friends simplicity is no longer going to cut it. I felt this after Brexit and did nothing, and now that feeling is even stronger.

My approach is going to have a few avenues:

First, as mentioned in my Facebook post, the gloves will be coming off for anyone unlucky enough to do or say anything intolerant in my presence. I’m going to have to come up with some easy-to-remember responses because although I am a brilliant writer (har har) I am less brilliant in person and not very good at verbal sparring. I’m also crap at remembering facts and statistics so I don’t often discuss politics, especially with someone voting for the other side. I know in my heart why I vote and feel the way I do, I just have a hard time expressing it, especially if emotions are running high. And, sometimes you just can’t fix stupid. I figure the stable of stock responses I’ll develop will be kind of like my cheery “nope, just kinda fat!” response to people asking me if I’m pregnant. (try it, it’s almost worth the insult to see the look of horror cross a busybody’s face)

Second, I have to take some sort of action. I haven’t quite figured out what it will be, but with the amount of resources on the internet, I think the real difficulty will be choosing where my volunteer time and money will go. Here are a few of the websites I will be poring over as I decide, and I strongly invite anyone in Leeds who is having a similar sense of wanting to channel their feelings to join me.

Leeds for Change groups  – the phrase “think globally, act locally” comes to mind.

How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action –  Slate.com

A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support – Jezebel

Third, whenever I waver in a world that that seems to be so filled with anger and division, I’m going to re-read these pieces:

Calling all Nasty Women: The time to fight is at hand, again – The Globe and Mail

A letter to America from Leslie Knope, regarding Donald Trump  – Vox 

Even in the darkest hours, there are chances to be a force for goodThe Pool

With that, I’m off to buy a Nasty Woman t-shirt online and wear it proudly.

The pantsuit (trouser suit) might take a little longer to find, and I’ll have to remember to call it a trouser suit in Leeds in order to avoid raised eyebrows and giggles. I wish I still had my original awesome pantsuit – it was a summery beige cotton that I wore with a chocolate brown t-shirt and wedge sandals and I always felt powerful and fabulous while wearing it.

PS Canadians, we have Justin Trudeau in office right now, but let’s not get complacent – the same anger and divisiveness exists in Canada too. 

Update: PUSSYHAT PROJECT

pussyhat-projectI just finished mine the other day, and wore it to the #1DayWithoutUs event. I went alone, but my hat ended up being an amazing icebreaker with fellow peaceful demonstrators.

Thank you, Mr. Monaghan

books books booksWhen I look back on my life I can see moments when a single person changed its trajectory completely. One of them was my English Literature teacher, Mr. Monaghan.

Before that fateful English class in my penultimate year of high school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do afterward. I had gone to a private school for grades 1-8, and reader, before you think “ooh, fancy”, let me tell you it was not that type of private school. It was a private Christian school, big on GOD and religion but not particularly focused on having a high-quality curriculum or teachers, where it was okay for teachers to turn a blind eye to mean-spirited cliques and favouritism. Shy, awkward and deemed uncool at the age of 6 in a class that didn’t change for 8 years, I had a miserable time that I’ve tried to forget.

Thankfully I switched over to our town’s public high school for the next stage in my education and while I was relieved to be a normal kid at a normal school, I had to work my ass off to keep up with the coursework – this is when the alarming gaps in my primary education showed clearly. I must not have had much confidence in my intelligence – I’ve saved some of my assignments from high school and there is one essay I wrote at 16 for a sociology class that still breaks my heart when I think of it. We were tasked to write about what we saw ourselves doing in the future. In short, I had imagined myself going to community college in a nearby town for a one-year administrative course and living in that same town in a small studio apartment while I worked full time as a secretary. Wow. Dream big, kid.

By the following year my ability to keep up with the rest of my classmates must have gotten easier because I ended up on the university-bound track. The first course that counted toward my admissions average on my university applications was English Literature, taught by Mr. Monaghan. I had always liked my English courses, but now I loved it.

He strode into the room that first day, gave us all a long piercing look, and led us through a fiery semester. He seemed to take all of our measures with that look – those sitting in the back of the room, arms crossed in defiance and boredom, he let alone; those in the front rows, rapt with attention, he engaged fully. I sat near the front and to this day I am glad I did. To me he was equal parts John Keating (O Captain! My Captain!) from Dead Poets Society and Mr. Carpenter from the Emily trilogy. I was one of the lucky ones on his radar, and if I failed to finish the required reading, he left me sizzling with remorse. And it wasn’t enough to do the reading, you had to come prepared to discuss it with the class, and be articulate about it too. Unless you were sitting in the back of the room; by that time he had cheerily dubbed them “the behemoths” and ignored them unless they raised their hands.

I felt confident enough to try poetry for one of the assignments – something I’ve not done since, and while I’m sure it was supremely awful (I was going through a breakup at the time), he marked it with the same gravity he bestowed upon my essays.

I ended up with a final mark of 86 per cent. With only five more courses to count towards that all-important admissions average, I had an amazing start which I maintained nicely over the next year, never quite reaching that peak again, but well enough to be accepted everywhere I’d applied. I took my degree in English Literature thanks to that class – the first time in my life I felt like I was actually good at something.

And now, reader, you are probably thinking, “Nice story, but what does this have to do with food or travel?”

Well, nothing. And everything.

My English Lit studies filled my head with Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Romantic period, the Gothic period, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Dickens and scores more genres and books than I can even remember. Being away at university became my ticket to a much larger world than my previous small-town self could have possibly imagined – a world of new friends, new foods, new experiences, city life, travelling, and at the risk of sounding hokey, starting the process of finding out what I wanted out of life. And with all those books sloshing around in my head, it’s thrilling to be here in the UK, to see with my own eyes the places where so many stories have been set, so many authors have lived.

Thank you, Mr. Monaghan, for seeing something in me.

 

 

 

Outlander is my undoing

Outlander has become to me what I can only imagine Saturday Night Fever was to Gene Siskel, rest his movie-loving soul. It has hit me on an emotional level that I didn’t even know I possessed.

The friend who recommended the show to me has a pretty good idea of some of my favourite things:

  • prestige cable tv shows, esp. Game of Thrones and BSG
  • historical fiction
  • time travel
  • the UK
  • the Doctor Who episode “Blink”
  • period pieces
  • hunky ginger men with Scottish accents in kilts (list not necessarily in order of importance)

but lord, I doubt he realizes what he unleashed with his casual suggestion. As Kelly Faircloth of Jezebel.com puts it, way better than I ever could: “I’m only just barely exaggerating when I say this show is a basket of kittens short of my perfect TV experience.”

Recommending Outlander causes me to blush furiously and inspired me to coin the term “cable-y” to advise others of the level of violence, nudity and sex that prestige cable shows have become known for. I blush because of, well…Jamie Fraser. Thankfully, there is a rich online presence of Outlander (and Jamie Fraser) fans who keep me from having to articulate things myself. The Laws of Jamiedynamics or JAMMFdynamics are pretty spot-on, and I have friends who can vouch for their own similar incendiary experiences upon being introduced to James. Alexander. Malcolm. MacKenzie. Fraser.

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What can I say? I watched the first episode of the show, ran out and bought the first book, kept watching the series, and ended up reading all eight (very thick) books in the series between August and January. 2014 was a bit of a strange year for me, filled with interesting twists and lots of reasons to want to get sucked into a good, long-lasting epic. I read very quickly, so when I can find a well-written series I like by a prolific author, it’s a major win for me. I think the last time I read a book series this obsessively I was 14 and happened upon The Lord of the Rings during my summer holidays – the kind of reading you do when you put the book down only to pee and grab a snack once in a while.

I’ve never had a crush on a book character before. This is weird. It certainly helps that Sam Heughan is perfectly cast and a truly gifted actor. Also, unlike many fans of the book series who have been waiting for over 20 years for the series to be brought to life on-screen (Outlander was published in 1991), watching the TV show first made that a non-issue for me, although I’m sure I still would have noticed if any of the casting was less than ideal. And I’ll now be able to join the fun and speculation as other much-loved characters are cast in upcoming seasons. I’m not above mentioning that I also have a huge girl-crush on Claire, brought beautifully to life by Caitriona Balfe. Reams have been written about how awesome Claire is, a strong, fearless and complicated female protagonist, and anyone who passes on this show because the lead character is a woman should be ashamed of themselves.

Major kudos to my husband who has NEVER ONCE teased me about my obsession, actively watches the show with me and lets me ply him with whisky. He had a moment of thrill when one of his ancestor’s clans was mentioned in the show, which was pretty cool.

If you watch the show and/or read the books and end up fangirling about everything Outlander, you are in luck  – so many awesome fans are doing great things online.

Some of my favourites:

Killing Time – These are the most amazingly hilarious screencap episode recaps – just as much fun as the episodes themselves. You should also follow her on Twitter – she’s so fantastic!

Candida’s Musings  – to say it’s another wonderful website full of great Outlander episode reviews would be only scratching the surface – this fangirl is DEDICATED and I can’t do justice describing the amount of interesting content she has on her site.

Outlander Kitchen – Diana Gabaldon’s books are full of wonderful food descriptions and Outlander Kitchen has taken them to the next level. Theresa’s story is amazing and inspiring. Also, see? Now this is a food-related post and therefore appropriate for my food blog.

Jezebel and Vulture are also must visits, especially in the wake of aired episodes or anytime there’s an Outlander happening in the pop culture world. I have to single out and gratefully thank That’s Normal for this particular compendium.

Heyday photo

heyday I found this photo the other day on Picasa. I hadn’t seen it in ages and was struck by how much I do not look like my day-to-day self; to wit, I wear bold glasses, have impossibly fine, lank hair that is almost always tied back in a no-nonsense ponytail or bun, and wear either subtle or no makeup.  It’s always neat to see what a team of pros can do – in this case, as a few facebook friends said, “Wow”! What I love most about this picture is that I’m smiling at something my husband has said – he’s been cropped out of this photo because he doesn’t like the way he looks in it, but he has the look of a man who has just made his beloved laugh. Honestly, I’m way too young to have a heyday photo, really. I’m calling it that because this is the photo I might show grand-nieces and nephews someday in the far-off future when youth and a dewy complexion have been replaced with character lines and a wee bit of gravitas. And, truth be told, when this photo was taken, it was certainly not my heyday. Money was tight, I was having trouble sleeping, was just starting to discover my love of cooking but hadn’t hit my stride, hadn’t put down many roots in the city and hadn’t travelled further east than Nova Scotia. The concept of a heyday is a weird one, because I feel like I’m living in it now, have been living in it for quite some time and have lots of plans to continue my heyday well into the future. Of course nothing is perfect, it wouldn’t be life if it was perfect, but I feel like I’ve found out much more about how I like to spend my time, how late I can really stay up when I actually kick back and relax, and exactly how many glasses of wine are too many (answer – one fewer than I usually have).  If that means that my reflection and this photo will slowly diverge, so be it.