Monday, April 28, 2014

Slipping through a door into the past

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." -- Alex Haley, Roots

In 1977, fourteen year old Wendy, like many people all over the world, became entranced by the mini-series Roots.

Immediately thereafter I bought a family tree workbook

and set to work interviewing my two sole remaining grandparents: my father's father and my mother's mother.

I am glad I did.  Not only did I hear some stories and learn bits and pieces about whom I was descended from, I got to spend some valuable time with my grandparents.

My grandfather wrote out copious notes for me:

and was so pleased that I cared enough to ask him about his parents and grandparents.  He was born in 1900, so the people he was talking about were long gone.  He's been gone since 1980, but his stories are in my mind, and he is in my office, keeping watch, ever helpful.

My mother's mother shared stories of how she met my grandfather and life in New Zealand where she was born.

Lately, I have been looking at this information again.  I am working on another book, and some of the characters will be loosely based on long-dead relatives on my dad's side.

As part of my research, I was working on, which I love, and I came across the name of a family member whom I didn't even know still lived in the province.  He was on my dad's mother's side, a part of my family history that I didn't know very well.

But my 91 year old cousin does.  And he is still engaged and interested in the world around him, this cousin of my dad's, grandson of my great-grandparents.

I'd never met him.  So I cold-called him.  And we chatted and chatted and yesterday, Barry and I spent the afternoon with him.

I walked into his apartment and I felt like I was walking into the home of a long-lost friend.  We were cousins.  My grandmother was his aunt.  We knew each other.  

We were of the same people.  We were family.

Out of the mists of time I was hearing stories of my great-grandparents, of my grandparents.  

I discovered things I'd never known, including the fact that my Great-Grandfather had been the Mayor of the town at one time.

My great-grandfather's boot and shoe company

I learned about my cousin's war service and stories of his experiences as a 20 year old boy in England during the war. 

I got glimpses of personality, flashes of family stories, some oft-told, others only recalled in the moment yesterday when I asked a question.

We talked and talked and talked and god willing, we will talk again in July when Barry and I go visit him at his cottage.

He made names on birth, marriage and death certificates come to life for me. 

It was a mystical, magical afternoon, and when we got into the car at the end of the afternoon, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes at the gift that had just been given to me.

How many of us would have give anything to step back into time for even a brief moment to walk beside our great-grandparents, grandparents or parents when they were young?  To know their favourite food, who they kissed first, what they loved to read and learn about, what scared them or gave them joy?  We do not ask enough questions and then the person is gone, taking the real treasures of this earth with them.

There is a new field of genetic research, behavioral epigenetics, that is indicating startling evidence that the behaviours and experiences of our ancestors are imprinted at the molecular level of our DNA, including traumatic experiences.  You can read more about this here.  

My father's mother died when I was only three years old - I hardly remember her - but my cousin told me about a personality that was remarkably similar to mine and similar to the personality of my other grandmother, which explains a lot about me.

Is my love of gardening imprinted from her love of gardening?  

Is my silly giggle my own or has it been heard before in a parlour a hundred years past?  

Do I hate eggs because someone else hated eggs?  

Am I nostalgic because someone else was a hopeless (or hopeful) nostalgic?

On the night I was born, my mother ate a piece of chocolate cake with boiled frosting, which is one of the things I will eat if I ever have to choose a last supper.

“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.” —Shirley Abbott

It doesn't matter really, though it is interesting to think that my desire to own shoes might be less about a compulsion for consumption than about the fact that my great-grandfather made shoes for a living.

Tangential to say the least, but fascinating nonetheless.  So today's clarion call is this: if you have an elderly relative, make them talk!  Write it down, tape the conversation, do whatever it takes to preserve the moment.  Do not wait and do not be shy.

When we hugged goodbye (we had moved from handshake to being family in three hours) my cousin said that I reminded him so much of my father's sister that is was remarkable. 

But of course, the woman he was remembering was a women in the 1950's.  It was high praise indeed, as my aunt was one of the loves of my life.

Our families are uniquely our own.  To tell the stories of our family, to know their stories, is to keep them alive.

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.” —Maya Angelou

me and my long-lost cousin, reunited - isn't he handsome?

The stories are there, we need but scoop them up and bring them back to life...

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying. (Herrick)

After we left we drove by the house where my grandmother lived and where my father lived during the war.  We drove through the graveyard and I am sure I caught a glimpse of my grandmother standing by her parent's grave.

But it might have been the tears in my eyes.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I am in mourning.

Image from Wikipedia

If the news outlets are to be believed, it seems that George is engaged and it isn't to me...

George Clooney,  Amal Alamuddin

Luckily for he and I, she is a woman of substance, Amal Amulddin.

The LA Times describes her thusly:

Alamuddin, a graduate of Oxford University and NYU School of Law, speaks three languages and specializes in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law. Clients have included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

They should have added: but she is no Wendy.

I wish them well.  However, I want to go on record publicly as saying if this doesn't work out, he knows where I am....

Have a great day and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Style Weekend - My Spring/Summer Wardrobe Additions

Well I missed Style Wednesday, but I have finally gotten organized and taken some pictures of my spring-into-summer purchases.

As you know, I took bags and bags of things to charity and to consignment and to my friend M.  I was very clear that not much would arrive back in and of that, it had to be things that were less trendy.

Oddly enough, I bought my summer dresses first - the white and seersucker dresses you have already seen:

And the cream oxfords:

My spring dress was a no-brainer when I saw it.  This is a silk Theory dress and I adore it.  Simple, and can be worn with blazer or a simple cardigan or on its own.

As I was buying this dress I picked up these Stuart Weitzman shoes:

These are built for comfort, but look very elegant with all of the dresses and things I already own.  I admit to having a thing for woven leather shoes...

In the same colour story, a little cotton pencil skirt by Nougat London:

I also got this Circle of Gentleman blazer on sale for 50% off.  It is cotton, with a gorgeous silk lining, and right now I am wearing it outdoors as a jacket with my jeans, but it looks excellent with my red and navy dresses from last year.   As you know, I do not typically like blazers, but this is such a wonderful company who excel at perfectly cut coats, and I can see the difference in quality between a J Crew blazer and this ;-).

I also got a simple dove grey tunic blouse from Nougat London with the cute little peekaboo back:

Another investment piece that I have long wanted is the Eileen Fisher silk wide legged trousers.  They are absolutely comfy on and can be dresses up or down.  I have already worn these twice, and can't wait till it isn't so filthy outside so I can take them out into the world.

The surprise was the Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti black silk skirt that I bought on ebay for $40, new with tags.  It needs a steaming and then is going with me on my road trip to St. Andrews next weekend!

love the gathers!
And finally, this jersey/silk tee from Brooks Brothers: 

Most of these items work together and all of them support what was left in my closet.

I am basically done now till Fall and am very pleased with my purchases.  I did exceed my clothing budget slightly and have had to add more money in from my day to day spending, but they are all worth it!

Except for the last two items, the things I bought were bought all at once in a local shoppe, Robert Simmonds, where I tried on scads of things and then tried to piece together a style story.  I have kept very true to the the aesthetic I had started out with and am convinced these will be in my closet for years to come.

How about you?  Have you done your spring/summer shopping yet?

 Have a fabulous weekend and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How the snow is making me all spring-like inside...

It is hard to know how to dress this Spring.

Yesterday it was +10.  Today it is snowing.  Mostly, I live in my Hunter boots...

On Easter Sunday, I thought of undertaking a noble quest - much like Frodo Baggins - and decided to venture out back to visit my Magnolia tree.  I sunk to the top of my boots after only a few steps in the snow and was stuck for a good two or three minutes, cursing my own stupidity and the Snow Gods!  Actually, I must be honest, I am blaming greenhouse gases for this situation...

Where the footsteps stop is where I met my Waterloo...

I am ever hopeful that I will see my plants again someday, but I do not think I will see them till at least mid-May at this rate:

So I turned my attention to the Easter table, making a little centerpiece of critters and much-loved children's books that make me think of Spring:

This cheered my up immensely, I must say.

As did the blues on the table...

And speaking of blue, the dining room is about to be painted.  Dear son has proven to be a Master Painter, recently repainting my upstairs bathroom in only a few hours and doing a good job.  Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe painting?  Well I do.

Within one minute of beginning I begin to think about how much more I have to do, how my arm is already hurting, and how stupid it is not to have magical powers.  No one asks me to paint anymore and I am all the better for it.  Some folks find it soothing and satisfying.  I wonder about them.

Anyhow, the colour we have chosen is a lovely blue from Benjamin Moore: Breath of Fresh Air.

Benjamin moore Breath of Fresh Air

It is a clear warm blue and I love it.

We think we will paint the ceiling white dove:

White dove, Benjamin Moore

And of course, since this room bleeds into the sitting room and it needs a refresh, I am planning to paint in there too.  (Oh wait, let me be clear: I am NOT planning to paint, I am planning to delegate the painting!).

Benjamin Moore coral essence

The lady at the store was trying to get me to choose a greyish-blue and a paler coral, but I was having none of it.  The heart wants what it wants and in my experience, the dullest houses I know are those that are all painted in the same hue depth.  They may be more tasteful than mine, but personally, I adore a little punch.

Now I just have to get my new painter on board.  Since he lives in, he is my own version of Eldon from Murphy Brown:

He just needs to grow his hair out a little.  He has the tattoos and piercings.  And he also shares his opinions freely about what I am up to!

Anyone else in the mood to paint?  He could use the company!

Have a great day and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Gift and Wisdom of Mentors or: don't try to be a rose when you're really a daisy!

“If you ask an Irishman for directions, he might be quick to answer, Well if I were going there, I would not start here.” 
― Steve Stockman

I was going to post pictures of all the snow in my backyard that separates me from my Magnolia  - I sunk knee deep in it trying to make a Laura Ingalls-like-trek to the far end of the garden - but then I had other thoughts.

That is the joy of having this kind of a whirling-dervish kind of mind.


What I got to thinking about was mentors.

If we are lucky, we have mentors throughout our lives.

Fact: Mentoring positively influences productivity and job satisfaction.

They can be a friend who takes an interest in our well-being and shares a piece of what they know with us or shows us the ropes.  My friend Barbie taught me to swim the crawl at a birthday party out at the Causeway when I was a kid.

Pat Garcelon taught me early leadership through the Brownies.

Mrs. McConkey and Mrs. Garnett were two beloved teachers at St. Stephen Elementary School who never appeared to be bored when I would take them some of my writing to read, even though I am sure they often were.

My Professor and then Thesis Adviser Larry Wisniewski taught me to think critically, write better and be a smart ass.

My work colleague Gary taught me to care about the people we were working on behalf of.

Other colleagues like Martine, Jean and Geraldine shared their knowledge freely and became good personal friends.

Others further ahead gave me a hand up - Karen, Edith, Don, Dave.  And no surprise - they gave a lot of people a hand up, because that's what dyed-in-the-wool mentors do.

Some became my on-site therapists along the way, such as Roger and Michel, who stopped me from jumping more then once!

And I was mentored by many in the non-profit world who worked tirelessly on behalf of others for often very little pay.

Nowadays, I am humbled by the people mentoring me and supporting me in my new life.

Mostly, though, I would say I was mentored by the people who worked for me.  They were always so bright, so much smarter than I was, that all I pretty much had to do was set them off and then get the hell out of their way as they did whatever it was ten times better than I ever would.

What got me thinking about this today?

I was reading an article that asked: "What is the best piece of wisdom you ever got from a mentor?"

I didn't have to think very long.

It was 2001 and I had made a dreadful career mistake.  I had changed jobs for money.  My personal experience in life is that when you change jobs for money alone, you are never bringing  the "whole" you to the job, just the mercenary part of yourself.

I had decided to leave and return to my old job.  And while I knew I was making the right decision, I was embarrassed and knew that most people were thinking that not only was I taking a step backwards, I was obviously a pretty flighty person.  And probably they were right on both counts.

But lucky for me, I ran into another mentor, Madeleine.  She had recently retired and had no idea that I'd left my old job to begin with.  I told her of the change and my unhappiness and of my decision to go back to the old job.

"Well of course you're going back," she said.  "You're took a job that required the personality of a hothouse flower.  You, my dear, are a daisy in the field - you need to be out there spreading seeds and being you."

I never looked back and I was never embarrassed about my decision after she said that.

And did remember her advice when I was making my decision to leave my old job last year.  I needed to be spreading seeds all over the place again.

And when my article appeared in the Globe and Mail in late December, the illustrator, who knew nothing about me, painted me walking away in a field of daisies.

I only noticed that for the first time a moment ago when I happened to look up at the picture.  Talk about a coincidence....


.... or not.

I'd like to hope that I'd share similar wisdom if asked a similar kind of question by someone seeking my advice.  

I do know one thing - you have to pay it forward.  I owe it to the people who mentored me along the way to reach out to help others when asked.

So my question today:  have you been mentored in your life and do you serve as a mentor for others?

Have a wonderful day out there!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

It has been a long winter.

But this morning, creeping ever forward, I can see grassy patches battling mounds of snow.

Out my bedroom window, my honeysuckle vine is beginning to come to life.

Last summer

I can see magnolia buds at the far end of my garden and if I don't sink too far down in the snow en route, I will go and visit it.

If New Year's Day is a chance for new beginnings, Easter Sunday is all about re-birth.

The winter and cold always does give way to spring and warmth.

I saw some green leaves poking up yesterday, so won't be long now...

Life may slumber, but it always does wake up.

I don't know about you, but I take great comfort in that.

I take great comfort in the fact that matter gets transformed.

I take great comfort in the fact that I am a mass of molecules that is not separate from the other masses of molecules around me, if only I was able to see that.

I take comfort that my two children are home this Easter Sunday, because I know that won't always be the case.

It is a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, and I am glad.

I'll end with a poem I have always loved, Easter, by Joyce Kilmer.  For this fine day, it seems very apropos:

Easter by Joyce Kilmer
The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.

I wish you and yours a blessed day.

xoxo wendy

Saturday, April 19, 2014

KIngsbrae Gardens featured in this month's Victoria Magazine!

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

I picked up the May/June issue of Victoria magazine, attracted as I was by the subtitle Return to France and the promise of beautiful images of one of my favourite countries.

So imagine my delight when I turned the pages and found a lovely spread on one of my favourite places to visit in New Brunswick, Kingsbrae Gardens.  I've posted on Kingsbrae before, but wanted to post again, because these gardens, and the gorgeous town in which they are located is worth a visit, and want to give you all plenty of time to plan your 2014 trip!  St. Andrews is only 6 hours from Boston, 10 from NYC, 10 from Montreal.

Some photos from the magazine:

And my own:

eating outside, looking at the gardens and the ocean in the distance:

My favourite experience ever at the Gardens was taking my kids to the live ladybug release.  Every morning at 10:30 in the summer, the staff releases live ladybugs in the rose garden and they let kids (and whoever else wants to try!) place the ladybugs on the roses.

Pick up the magazine, drool over the photos (and of course the photos from France) and then consider booking your own trip to New Brunswick!

You may recall I mentioned the Algonquin Resort in last summer's post:

Well it's re-opened and a number of us are heading there on May 3rd for a night of good food and fellowship and to check out the wonderful work they have done to bring this jewel back to its glory.
I'll have a full review of the hotel the week after.

I will say that St. Andrews rivals any resort town on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada - it is charming, safe and quiet.  Whale watching tours will take you out into the Bay of Fundy, where you will see all kinds of whales and porpoises, including giant Finback whales. The exchange rate is in the favour of all you lovely Americans and if you are coming, let me know - I might pop down for a pot o' tea with you!

There is an amazing 18 hole golf course that overlooks the ocean.  Lovely little restaurants and gift shops.

Fifteen miles down the road you can visit a chocolate factory in the town where I grew up, St. Stephen.  It is one of my favourite spots for a day trip and I can't wait to go on May 3rd, but I also plan to go later in July to visit the gardens at their peak (though to be truthful, there is no bad time to visit Kingsbrae!)

Hope you have a lovely Saturday - stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy