Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Big Reveal!

Here is the first look at the cover of my next book, Molly Brant, Mohawk Loyalist and Diplomat (Dundurn Press, Spring 2015.) The publisher's design team emailed it to me earlier this week. I think it's stunning.

The photo of John Boxtel's sculpture of the bust of Molly Brant was taken by Mark Bergin. The book is one in Dundurn's popular Quest Biography Series.

Seeing for the first time the cover treatment for a new book is always exciting, as every author knows. I'll never forget the day I received the artist's rough for my first novel for young readers, Help Wanted: Wednesdays's Only.

In those days, twenty years ago now, one received these things in the mail. Opening that big, brown envelope to reveal Greg Ruhl's wonderful coloured illustration is still one of the highlights of my writing life. The thrill of anticipation never gets old.

Happy National Aboriginal Day to all my First Nations friends! Here's to you, Molly Brant.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Family Meals: Rituals and Traditions

When I was growing up, my mother always prepared a big meal for a  one-o'clock Sunday dinner — a roast of some sort, usually beef, less often pork or lamb. As a treat for my British-born father, the roast beef would occasionally be accompanied by Yorkshire pudding. There would always be at least two different kinds of vegetables, as well as potatoes that had been added to the roast pan and were served brown and crispy on the outside. We could also expect a dessert of pie or trifle. Tarts and cake were reserved for our evening tea. My mother would have spent all Saturday afternoon baking, while she listened to the radio broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera Company from New York.

The only downside to that fabulous meal would be the scene of devastation in the kitchen, the mountain of dirty dishes that awaited my teen-aged sister and me. The Yorkshire puddings alone had resulted in blackened muffin tins, encrusted with baked-on food. These were the days before no-stick cookware. And the roast pan? I learned quickly that if I complained enough I might just hear, "Just leave it to soak, dear."

My parents would take their coffee to the living room to relax, while my sister and I would battle it out over who would wash and who would dry. We were forbidden from flicking wet towels at each other — tea towels were kept clean and never flung over the shoulder to pick up hair or worse (gasp) dandruff. I do remember getting in a few swipes with the dish-mop, though. Our dad, by this time, would have retreated into his garden.

Mom finally settled on a system where the one who did the drying waited until the dishes had been washed, stacked in the rack, and laid out on clean tea towels on the counter before entering the room.

Sunday dinners were served in the dining room, the table set with a table cloth and napkins. There were plenty of rules when it came to eating in that household. No elbows on the table, no pushing peas onto your fork with your fingers, no feet on the rungs of the chair.

I admire my mother for sticking to the tradition of the Sunday family dinner where everyone sat down at the table together. We didn't always make it easy for her. I also appreciate that our parents taught the five of us proper table manners, how to set a formal dinner table, and how to handle a knife and fork.

We all make our own rituals and, good or bad, the formal Sunday dinner disappeared fairly early in my own household. Along with a few of the rules, although not the table manners.

The most valuable lesson I learned at my parents' table was the importance of family regularly sitting down together to share a meal and conversation. Whatever day of the week it happens to be.

Do you have particular traditions when it comes to meals at your house? Are they harder to uphold as your children get older?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Looking Back at Past Summer Jobs

School Days

In next to no time school will be out for the summer and many teenagers will be looking for work. College and university students have been out there already for weeks. I hope all those willing to work, especially those who are depending on summer employment to help pay for their education, will find their ideal job.

Looking back, I think our own two boys were fortunate. They were never in a position of having to look for a summer job because of our family's landscaping business. Like their father and uncles before them, anyone with a strong back and a willingness to work in the dirt, the heat, and occasionally the rain, could get on. Both our sons, and a number of their friends besides, spent their summers hauling heavy rolls of sod onto the truck at the farm and then off again at the job site. "A dollar a day and all the grass you can eat," my husband used to quip.

Like many girls, I started my own summer job experience, eons ago, babysitting and selling greeting cards. Pretty lame, considering that some teens were heading away to work — for very good money — picking tobacco in Tillsonburg. They'd return just before school resumed, sporting spectacular tans, fingernails stained from the tobacco plants, and with a new-found maturity that set them apart from the rest of us, something gained from being away from home for a whole season.

We lived in Toronto when I was in grade 10, and one summer I got a job in the gift-wrapping department of the Robert Simpson Co. at their big downtown store. It didn't hurt that my uncle was the manager of the china department there. That job experience led to my being hired to wrap gifts at Christmas time at the exclusive Creed's Furriers. That experience itself is worthy of another blog at another time.

After moving to small town Ontario, I worked one summer and again at Christmas at Chainway, a sort of low-budget Woolworth's. I was paid 42 cents an hour. But I loved it. It was staffed by kids not much older than I was, and it had a bulk candy counter where sampling did not appear to be frowned on.

My final high school summers were spent as a playground supervisor. That job appealed to my "inner teacher." I loved planning each day's activities to include quiet and active games, trips to other playgrounds, and especially lots of messy "arts and crafts."

What were some of your most memorable summer jobs? Did any of them enable you to learn skills you still find useful today?

I can still wrap an attractive present, and I can tie a round-turn-two-half-hitches knot with one hand. In fact, I have to admit I'm a little sorry those handy gift bags we buy today have made the art of gift wrapping obsolete.

Till next time.

photo credit: <a href="">Enokson</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>