Criollo and Scotch – The Jem

I don’t like fizzy drinks or anything too sweet, but give me a quality spirit or a lovely glass of wine and I’m a happy girl.  I’d been hooked on Red Velvet from Cupcake Winery and for the holiday season they offered a sample bottle of Criollo Liqueur with purchase.  There’s nothing more fun that experimenting with food and drink recipes which I’ll offer up until I run out of ideas.

Mix your favourite Scotch with Criollo Chocolate Salted Carmel Liqueur – served neat, the way I prefer it, or on the rocks. Since this liqueur is very sweet, you don’t need a lot.  It’s a great option when when you don’t want dessert ~and~ an after dinner drink.

We called our grandmother, Nanny, but I often referred to her as the Dragon Lady.  She always wore a dress, her hair in a French chignon and her signature red varnish on her long nails.  Born in 1900, Nanny was stylish, relaxed, fun, intelligent and the first female entrepreneur in our family.  She apparently loved Dixieland Jazz and Lethbridge beer, but the only time I saw her drinking was on special occasions and holidays and it was always Scotch.  I offer up in her honour, The Jem shown in a vintage, passed down to my Mother and passed down to me and only used for Scotch.


If you are looking for the perfect glass to give with a bottles of Criollo and Scotch, I loVe these classic 13 oz barware glasses made in Italy by Luigi Bormioli

The Meaning of Objects and the Dagobah Frog Habitat

I overheard somebody the other day dragging on Star Wars.  What bad acting, what bad storylines, bad scripting, blah blah blah.  I wanted to smack them.

They clearly don’t get it about movies or “films”.  It not how they are made, although that’s fun to discuss endlessly over dinner, or whether they are good or bad [this is actually just how some people earn a living].  It’s about how the movie makes you feel.  If you don’t feel joy, anger, fear about a particular movie that’s perfectly acceptable, but you don’t have to slag it.  As my mother said, if you can’t say something nice …

Anyway, I loVe Star Wars.  I remember the first time I saw Part IV Star Wars: A New Hope in the spring of 1977 with my sister Cori.  I was just about to graduate from high school and was feeling very optimistic about my future because I was working, had a car and was about to move into my first apartment with my BFF, Sandy Penman.


Cori [aka Catherine Pentland Design] and I exited the theatre skipping and humming the theme song.  It was a day that stuck in my memory so that when I see objects reminding me of that day, I get a rush of pleasure.  Like last fall when I was cruising Value Village and came across an AT-AT for $15 bucks.  As an adult, even as a huge Star Wars Fan, I could never justify spending $130 on a “toy”, but for $15, SOLD. Very quickly my three year old granddaughter showed me all the buttons, lights and gizmos and another fan was born.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a pack rat or a collector, but there are enough objects in my house to create an eclectic theme.  Art.  Books.  Movies.  Rugs.  Arts and Crafts Furniture.  Lots of things with texture.  As an anthropologist, though, I have noted that it is not the objects themselves that have meaning.  It is the meaning itself.  What we endow the objects with.  As a elderly person moves from the family home into a hospice, we see a momentary flush of pain.  It’s not loss of objects causing their pain, but the meaning of a place and of a time in our lives that we grieve.  You might note how that elder can let the house go if it’s going to a family he or she likes.  It honours and gives value to their memories.


Yesterday, I found this Death Star Planetarium for $5 bucks.  I didn’t know whether it worked or not, but I thought it might make a lovely table chachka.  It only took three new batteries to light up the Star Wars galaxy including familiar planets like Endor, Naboo and Princess Leia Organa’s home planet of Alderaan.  This is strange since the planet Alderaan was blown up by the Death Star and shouldn’t be there at all.  One of life’s little contrasts.


I was struck with wonder thinking of who had owned it and how they were ready to part with it?  Then, how it might be of comfort as a night light for my granddaughter’s sleepovers.  It’s now very difficult, having found two film treasures, not to be skulking about at Value Village when I should be working … but I am really hoping to find a Dagobah Frog Habitat.  Something else to help me pass on my memories, my loVe of nature and Star Wars, to a new generation.

Have you ever found a film treasure?


I live in a family with many different mothers.  Among us, inter-generationally and internationally, adoptees who are now mothers and mothers and through birth, death, divorce or adoption.

I could share the story about my long road to motherhood and my sense of meaning and purpose in being a mother.  If I did share this, however, it’s likely to trigger someone somewhere to feel bad about themselves and perhaps rage at me.

It seems that this is a standard occurrence for just about anything today.   A commercial about a mom and a dad negates two gays parenting.  An ad with an Asian on the left and a Black on the right of a White causes an self esteem issues.  The choice to sponsor a blogger with a hajib headscarf is called political pandering.  Witches stricken from Halloween so society doesn’t equate Wicca with evil women on brooms.  The term biological mother becomes birth mother becomes natural mother becomes first mother, still it means mother or does it?

Myself included, when did we all get so fucking sensitive?  About everything.   So politically correct, especially in Canada, that one can hardly turn without fear of using the wrong term or offending someone and where we are legislating ourselves into oblivion.

A practitioner who works with troubled teens, that included one of mine for a time, gave me Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankel was a doctor and holocaust survivor.  He questioned why some prisoners in the concentration camp he was in rose to the challenge of life while others, even once liberated, failed to thrive.  He observed, “…  There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

The idea of finding meaning and purpose in life is daunting.  How does one finding meaning in life when we are so sure the even out basic rights are not in our control?  The step-parent with no child-raising experience is thrust into parenting rebellious teens.  The 15 year old who finds herself pregnant and her  mother making the decisions.  The 19 year old giving birth in a war torn country with no family and no social services.  The 30 year old who finds herself unable to maintain a pregnancy.  The boy, whose father remarries after being widowed, who can no longer remember his dead mother.  The father who feels himself alienated after divorce.  The 21 year old adoptee who finds his birth mother and doesn’t like her.  The adoptee who chooses not to search and gets flack from his adopted siblings.  The adoptee who thinks his life will turn around if he given his birth history, but even then finds he’s still angry and confused.

All want to label themselves as unique and call themselves down trodden.  If we are all down trodden on whose back shall we find true respite?

Frankl says, however, that while we have limited freedom with our circumstances, we do have ultimate freedom about how we react … how we take responsibility for ourselves.

He said that this choice [finding meaning] and action [finding purpose] for our suffering makes it an achievement rather than a tragedy.  How many people do you know like that, like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama?

I  believe that suffering does not end whether we choose to parent, to place for adoption, to seek an abortion or remain childless.   Even under great duress we still make a choice and  all actions have consequences.

I am neither a sinner or a saint because I worked and eventually became a mother.  I learned that my role as mother is precarious and subjective.  You do not need to be a perfect mother, nor your children’s first mother, but I learned that you are only a mother when someone calls you mother.

Suffering is not something we can just get over or move past.  Suffering is the universal human circumstance which we must make part of our everyday lives.  It may shape us, but it cannot decide for us who we are and how we will act.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl

The Calf, a family history story of Northern Ireland

Jeremiah’s hand rested on the gate.  Was it the morning dew or sweat he felt on his palms?  He couldn’t see much.  He paused, listening to the rustle of cattle.  It was getting close to the time they would be liberated into the day, but the still dark confused them as did his presence.

With quiet exaggeration, he closed the latch, pushing cattle aside.  Even in the dim light he knew the outline of his yearling and slipped the rope over the bull’s thick neck .  He trusted that his familiar scent would prompt the bull to cooperate.

Back through the crush Jeremiah felt the cows and other yearlings part for him.  It was a hopeful sign considering his hammering heart, but he wasn’t safe yet.

He tried not to think about the disappointment of his mother and sisters.   John, his older brother, would understand and smooth things over.   He was the one everyone listened to.   Especially their father when he was on the stony path not knowing whether to forgive or to strap the children.

John explained their father like it meant sense to him, but for Jeremiah it didn’t ever make sense.  It was either the strap or not the strap.  John said their father was an uneasy survivor.  Their parents living through two wars, through the promise and then the terror of workhouses and reforms.  So-called reforms between Catholics and Protestants where all paid the price for the aristocratic and political rhetoric.

After fifty long years their grandparents had finally found peace, prosperity and community, but only briefly.  In 1845, the potato famine wiped out their income and their food supply.  Most of the family starved to death and it was only luck and the kindness of strangers that had kept their father Thomas, and his younger brother, William, alive.

By 1850, Thomas had developed a keen knack for raising cattle and for keeping the peace.  The local landlord, when she bothered to show up, came to reply upon him to quell arguments as cattle pastured unfettered in Armagh county.  After a time,  Thomas’ one bull, ten cows and a small plot of pasture became a thriving farm.   Thomas wasn’t greedy and as his herd prospered, so too did Ballyworkan benefit as a community.

A soft light now came from their small white-washed cottage.   Their mother would be starting the fire to make his father’s tea.  Porridge with butter would come soon after for the four sisters, for John and for him.  It was Friday, so his father would also be expecting an egg.   Fire, he said, to fuel the long walk ahead of them to Poynt Pass and onto Markethill,

but Jeremiah wouldn’t be going tomorrow.  He put his head down and willed hims

elf not to run, as if that might stop him from being spotted.   It was one day short of July and he was glad.  Any earlier and the roads would have been deeply rutted and mucky making his journey slow.  He was sure that if his father caught him now he’d lose his resolve.

He thought only briefly about his sisters, except for Jane.   The girls who shared a room were silly and would be too busy cheeping and grooming to notice his absence.  Jane he would miss.   She wasn’t yet bouncing about like his other sisters of marriageable age, who were more worried about boys and ribbons.  In the past he could always count on her to share the chores so there would be time to fish in the Cusher, watching the lazy current and thinking big thoughts about nothing.

The sun was rising now, casting a pink orange glow and making the mist rise from the ground.  Jeremiah’s heart was no longer hammering, but a steady leap, like the excitement he felt about his future.

The previous years replayed.  Jeremiah remembered being grateful for the penny tossed by his father to spend on toys or candy, but that time was past.  Replaced by the elation at standing beside his father and John at the previous fall market.  Boys were expected to drive the herd for the eight hours to Poynt Pass, but once the cattle were corralled the men took care of the negotiations.   He had stood among them for the first time.  Then his father had given him a calf saying it was his responsibility.  Jeremiah raised it with care watching his father and brother, not quite able to see, but anticipating with pride, his future as a cattleman.

He was almost at his destination knowing that his absence from the family home would now be obvious.  His father would file away his anger till just the right moment.  Jeremiah hated the waiting game.

John, however, always managed to deflect punishment, or rather what their father called “corrections.”   John whose head was cool and smart,  ready to take over the family farm, while Jeremiah slaved into the future, landless.

“He has no right to take it to market.”, he said.  “I raised it.  It’s my seed bull.  My future.”   His thoughts, however gruffly appearing in his head, were shadowed by doubt and the echo of this father’s laughter.   “No son.  It was experience you needed, not the bull.  It goes to market tomorrow with the rest.”, and the conversation was over just like that.

The sun had risen quicker than he remembered as if time was urging him forward.  He blinked stupidly in the light, the bull bumping his back with a tipped horn reminding him it was both their breakfast times.  Jeremiah hadn’t noticed passing the other cottages that lined the road of Harcourt’s Hill.  Had the neighbour’s seen him pass, he wondered.

A small house stood on the right, but he knew it would be empty.  He rounded the back to the shed with the chickens pecking and pigs rooting contentedly.  The sheep and cows already at pasture.  Another hand on the gate that he looked down to see with some surprise that it was a man’s hand.  Calloused and red rough.  A hand with experience.  His hand.

His uncle William raised his own in welcome, his eyes only half masking the merriment Jeremiah knew he was getting from seeing his nephew at his door step.   Jeremiah did not know how his uncle, as a bachelor, managed to work the farm alone.  More importantly, how he had afforded his own land.  Even with all these questions and naivety, Jeremiah was reassured that it was possible.

Jeremiah Pentland in front of his cottage in Ballyworkan, Portadown, Armagh County, Northern Ireland

Jeremiah Pentland in front of his cottage in Ballyworkan, Portadown, Armagh County, Northern Ireland

John said that their father lost his own childhood protecting Will from the harshness and responsibilities he’d endured.  “That’s why Dad seems so mixed”, John said, “His enjoyment of life put on hold to make sure William thrived, but then,” and John winked, “… Will turned out to be a little too mirthful”. They had both smiled remembering the practical jokes and the mouth harp Uncle Will constantly played.  They liked how it drove their father crazy.

Will and Jeremiah did not need to talk.   Conversation about Thomas was long questioned without an answer, his stoicism as set as Will’s humour.  They set about the day’s chores, his stomach rumbling with hunger and anxiety.   Yet, the sun set and there was no knock on the door and Will said he could stay on as long as he worked.

Out of character the next day’s promise was of summer sun, instead of rain.  The mood was light as they, with a day’s rations and a bedroll, left for market ~ the bull calf safely away in Will’s shed.  The cattle, a much smaller herd than Thomas’, walked on ahead beside the river with only the occasional correction to stay on track.  Jeremiah’s courage rose and fell in waves getting sharper as they neared the market.

He’d never noticed before, well, maybe he had and not acknowledged it, but his father was holding court.  Men leaning in on his words and the not so private exchange of flasks.  The rest of his family was still at home.  His sister’s would have preferred the social opportunity of the July 1st market, but his mother would only visit in September when the supply of goods bordered on extravagant.   Jeremiah felt a moment of family pride and then his father’s body changed direction, all the while smiling and slapping backs.

He tried to busy himself, but found his Uncle propelling him towards the court of Thomas.  “This is what you’re here for.  Isn’t it?”, Will questioned.  While Jeremiah’s desire drove one side, inexperience drove the other so that his body looked twisted as the two sets of brothers  greeted each other.   It seemed that everyone turned to watch as if the news of his defection had preceded like brush fire.

Thomas looked from Will to Jeremiah and then behind them.  No calf.   Jeremiah was trembling with the effort to control he knew not what.  Was it rage or fear?  Maybe the two were indistinguishable.

He forced his eyes up and saw his father with a rare small smile playing about his lips.   “Well, Jeremiah Pentland, ” his father said, “That was brass-neck thing you pulled.  I’m sure your Uncle will appreciate the extra hand on his farm.”  Some might have looked for the sarcasm in that remark, but for Jeremiah it only meant no strap ever again.  That would have been enough for him, but the lesson learned came from his father turning back to say, “It’s a fine bull son.” and with that he nodded to Will and turned back to the other cattlemen.

Author’s Notes:   The original family story related to me was that Jeremiah took a calf and walked down the road to his Uncle’s farm.  The facts are that our great-grandfather inherited land from his bachelor uncle William, while John, his older brother, inherited land from their father, Thomas.  Jeremiah married Dinah Morrow, whom he called his Treasure.  Of the eight children they raised, two sons migrated to Canada in the 1930’s.  Jeremiah’s farm was eventually purchased with glee by Tommy Flavel whose family also raised cattle in Ballyworkan and who sat at Jeremiah’s knee while he played the Mouth Harp.  Tommy, in his late seventies, hosted my cousin Evelyn, my sister and I on a walk through our ancestral lands which included, yep, cattle.  Except for that which is bog, next to the Brackagh Moss Nature Reserve, all the pasture land is slowly being urbanized by the City of Portadown.

Thanks to my cousins Evelyn Harper and Ivan Pentland for relaying the story of Jeremiah for me to embellish and share.

Photographing Children with Alison Pentland

Even with a  squirmy toddler, a camera shy eight year old or a sullen teen, there is always hope that you can capture that memory or special moment.  As a mature person who is now on round two of taking pictures of squirming kids, here are  Grammie Pentland’s best tips on how to photograph your kids and grandchildren.


Natural Light in an Outdoor Setting

1 – Natural light in an outdoor setting with a point-and-shoot.  Here I used my handy Panasonic Lumix camera from Blacks Photography.  Even with a bribe of my pushing her on the swing, my granddaughter did not want to have her picture taken.   I think her hands covering part of her face adds to the shot.


Don’t always go for a full body shot. Shake it up.

2 – Don’t be afraid to change the angle or frame it strangely.  Fake out your grandkids by photographing just their feet in the lake or a close up of their eye.  Have them lay down in the grass and aim at camera at them from the top down.  It distracts them and usually makes for a more interesting photograph.


Indoor Diffused Natural Light and Distractions

 3 -Diffused Light and Distraction – here I sneak a shot using my iphone with Instagram.  I didn’t stop to ask for permission or to make her pose, just found a unguarded moment as she watched her favourite show holding day-old balloons from her birthday.


It’s the Moment that Counts, not the Photography

4 – Focus on capturing a moment warts and all.  This jolly old Elf at Sherway Gardens gets the Santa-of-the-Year Award.  When he realized my granddaughter would not be cajoled into posing, he whispered something to my daughter.   I used my iphone camera to shoot them all covering their eyes.  This memory is priceless and will be pulled at my granddaughter’s wedding.

Next week we speak with photographer Branda Dale who says, ”  I  use photography and the creative process in order to transform my client’s perceptions of themselves and of  their relationships with others.”

Kids in Photography with Hope Hanson-Baker

This back lit shot is a good example of how spontaneous non-traditional shots can create great memories.

If the biggest challenge in photography is lighting, try and turn it into something interesting.   The photograph above is dark.  You can’t see the faces of the subjects.  It’s not not the kind of picture you’d see framed on a mantle, but I guarantee that the child in this photo will remember in it, the rush of joy flying in the strong arms of her father.  That is power of candid shots.

Hope Hanson-Baker of Plum Tree Photography took that candid shot.  She is no stranger to kids.  She spends most days wrangling two of her own little girls and a busy photography studio in South Mississauga, Ontario that specializes in kids.  Her birthday cake smashing sessions for one year olds are renowned and her Spring Bunny sessions are so adorable that even my 23 year old daughter wanted to pose.

Plumtree Photography Children's Portraiture

Plum Tree Photography Children’s Portraiture

When I asked Hope for her best trick in kid’s photography she gave a refreshing answer.  She said bribery.  “This is not the time to worry about teaching children how to behave,” she laughed.  I tend to agree with Hope.  I made my bed every morning for over twenty years and our three kids, now young adults, still leave their beds unmade here and at their own places.

Hope’s photography goal is about capturing who a child is, not just what they look like.  No easy feat especially in studio photography.   The space looks and smells unfamiliar.  The kids are likely wearing scratchy stiff clothing which they have to keep clean.  They might have to hug a sibling that they’d rather smash with their Elmo doll.  So if a little chocolate carrot is dangled, why not!

Both of Hope’s images were captured using a Nikon Professional camera and lens.

Photographing Children with Melissa Avey

I like the choice of black and white processing. It keeps the focus on the subjects and not the living room.

I’ve asked five Canadian photographers to offer their best tips for photographing children.  First is what I learned from Melissa Avey who lives in Cambridge, Ontario with her husband and three children.

With Candid Photography if you take the time to de-clutter the shot, you might just miss it.  Using a Nikon D800, Melissa snapped her son and her Father-in-Law, aka Papa, in his living room.   The smaller jacket was for a child of one of his colleagues from years ago, so there were a lot of memories for him with it.  “Now,” Avey says, “we have the memory of our son and Papa being cool together in their jackets!”

Many times the shot is better when the subjects are involved in the pose.  Melissa said that Grandpa is a forensic accountant and it was his idea for them to show their backs.

The space around the subjects is interesting as it emphasizes at once the strength and fragility of fathers and sons.

As for Professional Portraits, this outdoor one of father and sons was taken on a Nikon D7100.  Melissa’s tip is to invite grandparents to the session to watch or get in on the action.   Avey says, “Even if it’s just that one image, if Grandma is around, include her.  It will be a special moment for her and living memory for you and your children.”

Melissa is right when she says that the memories created are truly the most important part of the photograph, but for more reasons than you think.  As an anthropologist, I’ve learned pictures passed down through family members or archived as part of a societal history, like literature and music connect us to spaces, time and Culture of our collective human past.  Like the 1951 image by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue or the 1985 photograph taken by Steve McCurry of Afghan refugee, Sharbat Gula, our curiosity drives us to learn more.

I found Melissa’s gallery of poses very quiet and contemplative.  Her photographs are of all ages and in variety of places, but my favourites are those with young children outdoors.  She too admitted the same, ” Especially in the pretty winter light.  It’s usually so soft coming through windows.”

Melissa is an accredited member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers.  She serves Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and even Toronto, if you bring chocolate.  Website: Phone:  (519) 240 6494

Next week, we’ll feature the advice of Hope Hanson-Baker of Plum Tree Photography in Mississauga, Ontario.