Scottish Marmalade Pudding


Spring may not be the season where one thinks about making pudding deserts, but a fellow blogger posted today about her copious canning of marmalade which reminded me of my trip to Scotland in 2002.  There my sister, Catherine, and I went on a tasting tour comprised essentially of great Scotch Whiskey and Scottish food.

“Great” Scottish food may sound suspect, like good Irish or English food, but those who like to eat usually become competent cooks and also find great chefs.

I visited the Isle of Skye and had a breathtaking lunch of langoustinescaught just before we ate them and a Marmalade Pudding that was so yummy I almost wept. Great cooks Jamie Oliver and the Shirley Spear share here Scotland’s Three Chimney’s signature pudding recipe to use up that marmalade jam.


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?

Dressing for your Age

My friends from yoga are all over 50.  Yesterday we talked about the rise of wearing people wearing costumes which, over the past 10 years, has been nothing short of meteorological.  The consensus of my friends is that costumes for kids under age 10 is very acceptable, but for young adults that it may be overwhelming and confusing.  Over age  25, the general feeling was that except for the odd party, it-is-not-so-much-accepted.  This got me thinking again about self-expression as we age.  You see those photo-editorials in fashion magazines about dressing in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Should fashion get progressively drabber and boxier as age?  What constitutes “grown-up” behaviour in fashion and costuming?

The term Cosplay is short for costume play.   Like Halloween and other forms of theatrical performance, Cosplay is still the one place where people regardless of age, gender, economy, race, ability or sexual preference are judged for their enthusiasm, not their skill or the size of their weapon. 😛

There is, however, always the thought that one will be judged.  I was no exception to this as I prepared for FanExpo 2013.  I had decided to cosplay a character, Annie Leonhart, as known as the Female Titan in Attack on Titan.  Attack on Titan, it’s Japanese title Shingeki no Kyokyjin, is a manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama.  It also had an April 2013 animated series release.


Annie in her human form from the Japanese manga, Attack on Titan


Annie Leonhart in Titan form.

Before I get into the Annie character and my cosplay, I want to say that cosplay is dominated by the 16-25 age group, both male and female.  However, there is much ballyhoo over young women cosplaying provocative characters from comics, manga, anime, film and television.  Before we get into the whole skanky slutty costume argument, here is a nice piece by Sushi Killer about the CONsent message.  ‘Nuf said.

My worry was still that no amount of padding or make-up would disguise the fact that I am over 50.  Would I be accepted?  Would other attendees think I should be acting/dressing my own age?

Luckily, my desire to cosplay was encouraged by my co-op students who still believe in the Live and Let Live message.  The view at FanExpo is like visiting an unfamiliar country with brightly coloured birds, exotic animals, rare butterflies and the occasional scary spider.  At this point, I was more anxious to see if the character would be recognized.  I had taken the liberty of cannibalizing a Morph Muscle suit by handpainting what I felt the character representation would be – more like fan art than meticulously recreating the character in the manga or in the anime.  On Saturday, as I walked the aisles of art art, t-shirts, new games, autograph sessions and panels I saw a lone Eren Yeager cosplayer in human form on Saturday, but he bit his hand so I ran away.  That’s an inside joke as when the human Eren bites his hand he transforms into a monster Titan like me.


Posing for a Fan at the Nerd Mafia vendor booth.

It was finally gratifying when the few groups of young adults wearing Training and Survey cosplay recognized and wanted a picture with me, their nemesis – even this funny one where the Survey Corp cosplayers are towering over the supposed Titan.

The Colossal Titan [also a small female like me] made a brief appearance on Sunday, however, I think I was the only Female Titan during the entire FanExpo.  This excited me because the series is gaining popularity and you can’t buy the cosplay costume online.  Meaning that my costume was unique and I had to make it all from scratch which other cosplayers really appreciate.

Those who did not recognize the Annie-Female Titan character still complimented on on the hand-painted costume which I had laboured over for two weeks.  The tiny plastic figurines I had created for Armin Arlert and the Spinning Man were also a big hit.  They created conversation and gave me an opportunity to learn how to pose.  I’m sure some cosplayers spend hours in front of a mirror finding poses that are in character and show off the costume.

As the hours went on, I felt more comfortable and started to relate more to the character.  I came home happy and exhausted to a very understanding husband, who made me supper and poured me a glass of wine as I excitedly related my experience.

As for my clients at Fee FiFoFun Costumes & FX4 Costume Concierge, my goal is to find characters that are interesting, enjoyable and can be pulled off confidently.

Please visit my facebook page and my web store !

This article has been adapted and originally August 2013 in my In Disguise blog on all things costuming.

The Ward – a Fictionalized True Story

It was 6:30 a.m. as I washed my face and heard a faint warble.  For the two weeks  leading to Halloween night my iphone had been beeping non-stop with requests from Spider-Man to Doctor Who.  In a Pavlovian response, I scanned the media for meaning.  One stood out.  No Caller ID arriving at 3:00 a.m.

I hate those calls, when all you can think is that somebody died.

The message was from my son.  He was incoherent.  Blubbering that he had fucked up.  I’d never heard him blubber before, but then he was calling from the psych ward at St. Joe’s Hospital.  I was thinking, hoping, maybe he’d finally hit rock bottom.   I know that sounds callous coming from a mother, but sometimes rock bottom can be the place from which your children can rise fully formed.

Driving my SmartCar with Lake Ontario’s bright sparkling water conflicting my day, I realized that I wasn’t panicked.  I could no longer remember, though, if that calm was part of my personality or whether I was like a triage nurse who’d seen it all.

There was a lot of comfort in the fact that my son had called and not the Hospital.  He was alive and I was grateful, but still I had that sour metallic taste in my mouth.  An emotional knee jerk reaction.  Not because he was in trouble, but because I’d been here before with another family member.

You might be thinking, oh maybe mental illness runs in her family, but neither of these ward members are genetically related to me.  After miscarriage and infertility, I’d hoped to give Darwin a good fight.  There was a time when my sisters and I laughed thinking my adoption of children would improve our family DNA, like replacing our flat Scottish bottoms with a real bouncy round derriere gene.

We stopped laughing so much after the deaths of our father, mother and sister.  Half of us were gone and there was no stopping the trajectory of  stomach Cancer in our family.   My goals had changed since the average lifespan in my family was now 57 years.   I just wanted to see my kids grown up and happy.

Emergency was quiet and orderly.  The occasional voice of a wailing child rose and fell with the opening of the pneumatic door into the Juvenile Room.   As I stood behind the yellow line I thought about getting a coffee, but did not want to miss my turn.  Finally with the mention of my son’s name the sliding glass doors opened from the waiting room into the treatment areas.  My reluctant feet knew their way past the thread bare curtained rooms where knees were stitched and bones were set to the heavy door separating the crazies from the almost crazy.

The door had a window.  I did not look in, but leaned against the wall, hand paused above the buzzer.  The last time I was here I made a choice to leave alone.  The memory of the small shocked face of my daughter getting smaller in that same window as I walked away, is difficult.   For seven years that face, that memory, had me chained to hopes and dreams shattered by alcohol and drugs and what comes with it.

What was I committing myself to by walking through this door again? I was alone physically and emotionally with the indecision of loving my son and potentially threatening my own well being.

I pressed the buzzer.  The staff and two beefy security barely glanced up.  Who would though, I’m the tiny WASP blonde grandma.  Not much of a threat.

The control room dominated this ward.  There were no privacy curtains only small locked treatment rooms, a bathroom and a bank of seats.  My 23 year old son was sitting on an orange chair fatigued to the pallor of a 40 year old Bay Street broker with too much credit and no self control.   I let him ramble through a bizarre tale of over-drinking with friends to the point of paranoia.  A mad run, through the neighbourhood he grew up in, from someone who was trying to “kill him”, ending up crouching inside the local convenience store.

He said he’d called out for help, but the store clerk had disappeared, increasing his paranoia that he was in danger.  The next thing he remembered was breaking through a plate glass window only to be faced with a squad of armed officers.   I’m thinking, what was he on to get that crazy and thank god the clerk hightailed it out to call the Police.

Toronto’s finest took him to the Hospital and not the Drunk Tank.  Miracle One.  After a series of tests, the Doctor let him call me, but he said he was terrified that I wouldn’t show.  His father thought we should leave him here to toughen him up.  I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do.

I sat back finally in the chair.  A small Asian woman walked the perimeter of the ward, I thought like a mouse retracing it’s steps, sure that they’ve missed an opening or a morsel of food.

I was sad.  Like my daughter, my son had narrowly escaped accidental death more than once.  What was the universal meaning in this?  I rubbed my face, thinking about what to say.

I wanted to understand what happened, so I queried like Agatha Christie.  Was someone angry at you?  How much did you drink?  Did you mix it with pot?  Who else was there?

I could see truths skirting around the edges of my son’s eyes, but impairment is subjective.  He could be mixing up days of drinking with fears rising like hallucinations.  One tiny piece of information could put the story together for me or break my heart.  I’m glad he doesn’t tell me everything.  Mothers shouldn’t know everything.

A young man with dark hair and dark eyes, who had been lying on a gurney, arm over his eyes, rises.   Boredom, curiosity, or maybe even hope drive him into the bathroom and then to sit beside us.  Shock still in a blue gown, listening to the murmurings of a Mother and son.  Where is his mother, I think.

A smell was now making it’s memory or rather demanding recognition from me.  Not like death, or illness or even hospital disinfectant which were all now in my 54 year old life’s repertoire.   I couldn’t put my finger on it, till I thought, it’s neither pleasant or unpleasant.  It’s just there, like something deciding.

The woman passed again, her competency and speed increasing as her hands stretched out, tracing the contours of the wall.  The kind of person who you would appreciate filling your 7:45 a.m. Timmy’s order.

Having made no progress with understanding my son’s story I went to the nurse’s desk.  I’m that typical Canadian.  Waiting politely to be acknowledged.  Sure that there is something more important than myself  that is keeping them.  The woman now stands beside me and says in no particular direction, “I’d like my toothbrush now.”

The nurse says, “The Doctor will be right with you. ”  I wonder how he knows that.  The phone didn’t ring.  Is it some magical telepathy developed by psych room staff only.  The woman’s voice says confidently,  “I’d like my toothbrush and a change of clothes.”  She is almost standing on my toes, like we could merge into one person to make us bigger, more impressive.  Almost an afterthought, she says, “I’m ready to go home now.”

As they negotiate her surrender, I retreat.  An orderly has offered a tray to my son and myself.  We both take one and I realize that I can’t, being celiac, eat anything on the tray.   My son’s tray of all beige food also stays untouched.  “Why do you take it if you don’t want it.”, I say knowing that we are both food snobs and it is my fault.

Dark Boy asks if he can have the food and says he and the woman are here voluntarily.   He is waiting for us to share the story.  My son is amiable and gentle as they chat.  With this incongruency, I have to stand and stretch.

A man, who looks like all the other staff except for a clipboard, crosses to us.  The Doctor.  After small talk about how my son got here he says,  like I should know, “So you see, he really shouldn’t be here at all.”  “He’s alright to go with you,” he continues as a question.

I am confused, but not really.  He’s asking if I have any concerns about my son’s mental health.  Anything that would necessitate a Doctor enacting the health act which states that my son could be kept if proven to be of danger to himself or others.

The forced practice of the staff to ignore unreasonable requests has the   woman now screaming at everyone and no one.  I shake my head, “No, he’s fine to come home.”  I am not lying, but with only the violent insanity of my daughter seven years ago to compare him to, he is fine.

I stand, but the Doctor has his hand on my arm.  “We found something”, he says.  I sit.

The woman flies by muttering, “I want my toothbrush.  I want to go.  I want …”, then the door to the bathroom slams and the screaming turns to wailing.  On the exact opposite side to the Juvenile ward where the toddler screams, the irony about the fragility of human beings is not lost on me.ColinDrMac

My son is now perfectly quiet, like a sharp intake of breath before you blow out a candle.  “We did an x-ray of his head and found a dark spot on his brain.”  I am thinking, why did they do an head x-ray of drunk boy-man?  Miracle Two.

“I think it’s a brain bleed, but I want to consult with St Michael’s.”,  he offers.  “Is this spot in his brain related to his strange behaviour?”,  I blurt.  I’m ashamed now, but for a nanosecond, part of me was desperate that my son isn’t an addict, spoiled or poorly raised.

I have too much fucking information, now thinking about my mother who survived skin cancer and a brain aneurysm only to die in her sleep from a heart attack at age 67.  Her best friend, Joan, was supposed to meet her for an early supper and she didn’t show.  Joan told us girls that she didn’t suffer.  That she was curled on her side in that way that she sleeps which is so familiar to me.  Was so familiar to us.

I didn’t wait for the Doctor to answer.  Instead, with my palm on my son’s back, I open that heavy steel door with the tempered glass and we walk out together.  Miracle Three.



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.

Making Stock or In Praise of my Brother-in-Law

The loss of my brother-in-law, Greg, was an unfortunate casualty of divorce. I miss him very much.  He is an intellectual, a patron the of the arts, an entrepreneur, a father, a honky-tonk piano player, a wine appreciator and a damn fine cook.

While the brood of children, my sisters, husbands and assorted friends gathered to socialize in their Calgary home, I preferred to pull up a stool in the kitchen.  Greg would pour me a glass of something special, always a cut above what was being served in the living room.  He would cook, now and then making a comment about politics or about the dish.  Mostly though, it was an easy silence and feast for the senses.

The first thing I learned from Greg was about Champagne, but the best thing I learned was about making stock.  That it is so easy to make and that nothing compares to making dishes with stock suited to your own taste.  Keep in mind that stock is not a formula.  Each batch will be unique depending on the ingredients, but all yummy.

Making stock is uber easy, but must be attended to in the first half hour and not forgotten on the stove.  A great time to make stock is when the kids are in bed and you can freeze frame True Detectives or your other favourite show to skim the foam.

Tip 1.  Don’t throw away cooked bones or carcasses, instead remove as much fat as you can and throw into large, separately labeled, zippered baggies in your freezer.  I have bags for turkey, chicken, lamb [including gnawed lamb chops] bones, and seafood including lobster and shrimp shells.

Tip 2.  Keep a couple of carrots and a celery rib/leaves on hand in the fridge.  You can wrap them very tightly in tinfoil to stay fresher.

Tip 3.  Do not add salt.  That addition is for what you are ultimately using the stock for.

Tip 4.  Invest in a skimming ladle from Pampered Chef.  I got one in 2013 and can’t remember how I stocked without it.

Instructions:  Put a medium to large sized stock pot beside your cutting board, compost pail and chopping knife.  With the fat/skin removed put the meat/bones you have chosen to stock into the pot.

Cover the meat/bones with cold water one to three inches above the bones.  Turn on to simmer.

Add two bay leaves, 10-12 peppercorns, two chopped carrots and half stalk of celery/leaves and a smidgeon of chili flakes.

Tip 5:  Sometimes you might try adding dried mushrooms or other starchy veggies like cabbage or turnips, but do so sparingly.  Experiment.

Tip 6:  If you are going to add other seasoning, stick with whole herbs.  For example, cumin seeds not ground cumin.

As it simmers, not boils, use a spoon to keep skimming the foam in the first half hour.  It’s annoying, but doing this during the initial stages of cooking is key to a good clear stock.

Keep simmering until the stock reaches the intensity you desire.  For example, I usually simmer it down till one to two thirds of the water has cooked off.  This intensity makes for varied uses in gravy, soup or stock for paella and risotto, for example.

Turn off the stove and let the stock cool till you can safely drain it into a large bowl through a sieve or cheesecloth.  You can further reduce the fat content by putting the stock overnight in the fridge and skim off the fat in the morning, or when completely cool you can bag and freeze it immediately.

Tip 7. Use a Sharpie to label the bag because once frozen it’s hard to tell the difference between different kinds of stock or leftover gravy.

Tip 8.  Sometimes it’s nice to have stock divided into small sized bags for quick interventions.  For example, your husband or child is sick and you want to make a small portion of chicken soup!

I made a pseudo-Bouillabaisse with frozen left over BBQ salmon fillets and ten cups of poultry stock.  It was amazing and likely never to be repeated.

Teen Confessions and 7,200 followers in 30 days

I have to confess that I have not had a very positive experience with teenagers.   I’ve felt that, even in my own family, teens existed just to mess with me.  Two of my sisters were extremely unbecoming in their behaviour and my children, in their twenties, have only just awoken to the real World of self-awareness and accountability.    I finally feel excited and relieved for my children, instead of anxious and fearful for them.

I don’t think any parent should couch today’s teen behaviour by saying that their world is more complicated and dangerous.  The truth is it is not and most teens are jerks.   Selfish, unaware, narcissistic and normal.   It’s amazing that they survive at all.

In past 12 months I uncharacteristically took on the internship of three teens from a local high school.  It was difficult, like herding wet cats ~ and, I’ve mentioned before that it was the most amazing creative thing I’ve been part of for a long time.

Following their “graduation” from my costume business, FeeFiFoFun, and on a whim, one of them started a new blog.  Within the month the blog had almost eight thousand followers.   One month.  Most companies would kill for those stats.

I thought long and hard about whether to reveal the name and location of this blog.  It’s just so incredible, I wanted to share it with the world.  I’ve decided, however, that disclosing it would ruin it.  You see, it’s an advice blog.  Advice given by teens to teens unmediated by meddlesome adults.  Imagine the horror of that you are thinking.

A dear friend of mine suffered greatly when a teen acquaintance of her son took his own life.   One night at dinner with too much wine, she raged that this teen’s school, the counselors, the government hadn’t done enough to help this teen’s suffering.

I begged her to differ.  I’d seen first hand how much is out there to support teens and their parents.  Frankly it’s staggering how much of our tax dollars and private fundraising goes into these efforts.

I can’t blame my friend for not knowing.  I’m actually grateful that she is naive about such things, meaning that her experience was a flicker of anguish compared to a family who lives every day with the cold inferno of a suicidal or mentally deranged teen.  I guess we both feel helpless.

I genuinely believe in holding out a hand to other humans, but my age and experience humbly reminds me that we adults are not all that.  All the anti-bullying campaigns, stranger danger talks, STD pamphlets, karate lessons for girls, bright posters in the hall, waving rainbow flags in the gym makes me cringe because they are purveyed by adults.

I know kids who feel all this brouhaha is not helpful, but actually inflames the very things they are trying to avoid, live through, solve.  Like shining a hot giant spotlight on their acne laden hormonally charged uncertain sexually ambivalent shoulders when they are just about to sneak into class late.

I’m not saying that adults should give up trying, but maybe we are putting too much of our own teen angst onto our kid’s backs.  Hanging on too damn tight in our efforts to spare our children from all this terrible beauty.

Do you remember what it was like to be a teen?  Maybe you did what adults asked of you, but who did you spent time talking with, watching or listening to?  Whose taunts hurt the most.   Whose attention did you crave?  Your peers.  If that’s not telling enough, check these stats.

This blog had over one thousand requests for advice in it’s first two weeks. Subjects ranged from menstruation, A cups, getting into college, cutting, how-to handle parents and being transgender.   I noted consistently [and surprisingly] that good advice was rendered simply, lovingly and in the language of incredible teens.

My hand hovered over Ask key on this blog.  Should I ask a question?  Should I give kudos?  No.  Like the parent who is lucky enough to glimpse into their child’s world without being made out, I will not let myself be seen.  I will hold back my worry.  Just be the fly on the wall.  Listen.  Learn to see a child[ren] holding their own.  A child[ren] making their way into the adult world.  A child[ren] making us proud.

ps the lesson for companies who want a strong following, have a product or a service that people actually need

The Faun

I spend sleepless nights dreaming of creatures that I can bring to life with my products and imagination. I am so lucky to find people to work with to help me execute my vision. Here student Rebecca models The Faun with Make-up by Angela using Snazaroo pucks applied with paint brushes. Creature Design and Costumes by Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes