I often drive on Highway 400 between southern Ontario and places north, and I always pay attention to the road signs marking where to gas up, where to expect construction, and how much farther I must go to reach my destination. But, truth be told, seldom, if ever, have I given any thought about the exit signs along the way, and where they might lead. That is, until now.
Friday, David and I had a book event with South Simcoe Probus in a venue called the Gibson Centre in new-to-us Alliston.
In just a little over an hour from our home in Guelph, Google Maps guided us through Alliston’s charming tree-lined streets, by well-kept older homes, and passed a bustling sports field. What a lovely town, I thought. Then … wow! The Gibson Centre appeared up ahead, standing proud and stately, like a Parliament building in Ottawa. I don’t know what we had expected, but this was definitely not it!
According to the website, the building was originally a farm implement factory built by the Mercer Manufacturing Company in 1889, designed in the “second empire style”, perhaps explaining its Parliament Hill feel.
In 2001, it was donated by the Gibson family and the “Gibson Centre for Community, Arts and Culture”, a non-profit organization, was created. As such, it is now home to many groups, like the South Simcoe Probus; it holds exhibitions, musical events, and live theatre; and it is an intrepid supporter of the local arts and crafts community. A gem, just a few minutes off the busy Highway 400; Exit Highway 89!
Following our presentation, David and I ventured to downtown Alliston where we discovered a second gem, Taqueria El Norte, tucked in its main drag!
In the boldly painted intimate space, we savoured chips and guacamole, street tacos, and craft beer. The Mexican fare was fantastic and the service, second to none.
I won’t travel Highway 400 again without feeling a tug towards the Alliston exit, also wondering what gems might lie beyond the others.
Come to think of it, just maybe David and I should plan a few day trips and further explore the region in which we live!
David and I have just returned from doing a presentation to the Gravenhurst Probus Club in the historic Opera House.
After telling the story behind my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), I was asked, “How did you and David manage to get along with all the problems you experienced, and all the time alone in such a small space. If it were me, I likely would have divorced!”
Everyone laughed. But it was a legitimate question. The reality is, a long sailing voyage has an impact on relationships. Over the course of our year away, we, in fact, witnessed many such heartbreaking parting-of-ways. But, so too did we see couples who embraced the shared adventure. David and I were among the fortunate ones. As a result of spending 86 days alone, together, on the high seas, we grew closer.
Love Sail, an online dating and networking service for those passionate about sailing, invited me to write a blog post on the subject. I called it, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” And my short answer was, “Everything!”
As well as a sailing memoir, Ready to Come About is a love story, my love story.
As an aside, forty-three years ago, David took me to see the play, West Side Story, performed in, guess where, the Gravenhurst Opera House! It was our first big date. Months later we were married!
New Year’s Eve, 1995, this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, by Bill Watterson, was published throughout North America. With it, Watterson marked the end of his beloved comic strip about Calvin, a six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, a tiger who was Calvin’s constant companion. Everything Watterson had known had disappeared. And he looked forward to the mysterious next chapter of his life with a sense of excitement and optimism.
As in most great writing, Watterson’s message was both personal and universal. I clipped the cartoon out and stuck it on our fridge, where it has remained ever since. Although twenty-seven years have passed, to the day, and my copy is now faded, food-splattered and wrinkled, Watterson’s two fictional BFFs still inspire me.
I look toward 2023 “like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on”.
I wish everyone a happy brand-new year, full of possibilities … and magic too.
I’m delighted to report that my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), has just been released as an audio book by Scribd. It is narrated by Dina Pearlman, an actor who, among other things, has been on Sex and the City, which naturally leads me to conclude Scribd took time to find just the right person!
If you are looking for an expertly narrated true story of adventure-slash-misadventure to listen to while you drive to the cottage, pull weeds in your yard, walk along a woodland trail, toss a fresh salad, or stare off into space on some beach, this is the audio book for you.
Have you experienced a time in your life that has affected you in a profound way? Do you wish to share this with others? Then perhaps you have a memoir in you.
My writing career began in my fifties as a result of a life-altering experience from which I felt I had a story that needed telling. The result was my memoir, Ready to Come About, published by Dundurn Press in 2019.
The Wellington County Writers’ Festival had its birth yesterday. It was a fantastic day, with music, puppets, refreshments, and of course dozens of authors of all genres, doing readings and selling their wares.
I had the good fortune of having the book table of my memoir Ready to Come About, positioned between members of the Wellington County Library System, who helped organized the festival, and wonderful volunteers with the Wellington County Historical Society, all of whom were fun company throughout the day. Who knew Stompin’ Tom was from Ballinafad!
If you couldn’t make it out yesterday, don’t worry. The festival continues with events at various branch libraries in the county throughout May and June.
Keriann McGoogan, author of Chasing Lemurs – My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar, and I will be discussing the Crafting of Memoir at the Marden Library, May 12th, 6:30 to 8 p.m. If you are interested in coming out to this event you can register to reserve a seat through this link.
I will also be reading from Ready to Come About (time to be determined) on the festival’s closing day, June 25th at the Hillsburgh Library.
You can find the details and updates on the Wellington County Writers’ Festival website.
I am honoured to be participating in the first annual Wellington County Writers’ Festival. The kickoff is Saturday, April 23rd, at the Wellington County Museum following which, over the next two months, there will be writerly events at various branch libraries throughout the County, and the grand finale will be Saturday, June 25th, in Hillsburgh. Check this link for schedule details as they become available.
On a global scale, there’s been a deadly pandemic, unprecedented and unnatural social isolation, racial violence, political unrest, and now an unprovoked war.
On a personal level, last July, a brother of mine died unexpectedly. He and I were close. And I miss him so much it makes me ache.
To be honest, I have never known a time of such profound sadness. It has been paralyzing some days, and focussing on finishing my novel has felt next to impossible.
But, my husband, David, has insisted that I have an important story that needs telling. So, with his encouragement and support, I am slowly getting back into it. As the saying goes, I’m putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward even when it’s difficult. And, I am able to report, I am starting to make progress.
I did not set out to write about food. Nevertheless, flipping through the pages of Ready to Come About, food, or sometimes the lack of it, was a significant backdrop to many scenes.
There were great concoctions we managed to pull together under sail, fantastic landfall meals in exotic places, and fabulous home cooked dinners around the kitchen tables in the homes of friends we met along the way. These were moments of celebration, of sharing, and of joy.
Then there were other food experiences; days of cold bean salads, simple meals to stretch out our limited reserves, meals in times of anxiety, distress, discord and sadness.
So it seems food and the human condition are inextricably linked.
When I came to, it was again night. Seeing David’s present sitting unopened where he had set it twelve hours before and him outside eating crackers from the box, I started to cry.
“Some Christmas,” I said to him through the companionway. “I had all the fixings for a special turkey dinner.”
“No worries, sweetie. Honestly, it’ll be great whenever.”
“And your present isn’t even —”
“No rush for that either. C’mon out here. You gotta see this night sky. I’ve never seen anything like it.” He slid over and I sat down. “Cracker?”
Excerpt from Ready to Come About
The rougher the passage, the more joyful the landfall. Our twelve day passage from the Azores to Portugal was particularly rough; sea sickness, storms, and fouling a rogue fishing net that disabled our engine and caused a continuous leak which we had to bail for nine days.
Once we cleared customs and Inia was safely secured in the beautiful city of Lagos, we headed into town to celebrate, “unshowered, unchanged, and unconcerned about it”. A local pointed us to a modest restaurant on the main drag, the Marina Café.
On that warm summer night, in the almost-empty restaurant, exhausted from our voyage, but so happy, we leisurely enjoyed a wonderful Portuguese meal and a nice bottle of vinho tinto. It was, indeed, a most joy filled landfall meal!
Friday night dinner at the Marina Café became a ritual. One night the owner, Ricardo, and the waitress, Karine, surprised us with the preparation of a special dish, Cataplana de Marisco. This seafood feast is a traditional dish popular in the Algarve. It was another memorable night of celebration, this time with new friends.
The Cataplana was such a wonderful discovery, I feel the need to share.
It is the name of the meal, but also the name of the vessel in which it is prepared: a hinged clam-shaped cooking container something like two small Woks clamped together.
We bought a small, inexpensive one in Lagos which we brought back with us across the Atlantic. It is a “go to” kitchen utensil which we now reserve for special occasions.
They are available in stainless steel, copper, or aluminum. If you can’t make it to Portugal, you can find one online.
It is a versatile cooking method, great for fully vegetarian meals, but also good for combining meat proteins and seafood. Essentially it is like a small pressure cooker to “steam” the ingredients. You can find many recipes online.
As far as the “steaming” material … I like the Portuguese approach! Lots of olive oil … and lots of white wine!
Here is a kind of made-up recipe we have prepared for company. Everyone raves about it. Hope you give it a try.
Green bell pepper
Red bell pepper
4 Cloves of garlic
Other stuff (use your imagination: could be pickles, or basil leaves, or cilantro, or combination)
Dash of Piri-Piri (or diced Jalapeno pepper) if you like it hot
Prepare the ingredients in advance. Slice the onion and both bell peppers into thin strips. Peel the potato and slice into thin rounds. Slice carrot and tomato as well into thin rounds. Slice or dice the garlic (or leave whole),
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of one shell of the Cataplana. Add a layer of onion, then a layer of red and green peppers. Add a layer of sliced tomatoes, then a layer of potato and carrot. Add the garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
The Cataplana half shell should now be about two-thirds full. Add another layer of onion, bell peppers and tomato. Then throw in extras as desired (like sliced pickles, or a bunch of chopped cilantro). If you wish to spice it up, add a dash of Piri-Piri or chopped Jalapeno peppers.
Add white wine … then a bit more white white, then another splash of olive oil.
One more ingredient that David discovered that works well is mint. On top of the veggies and proteins in the container, after adding the oil and white wine, top with a bunch of mint leaves tied together. The mint will add flavour to the meal, and, after about twenty minutes of steaming, the sweet aroma will permeate the room.
Close and clamp. Simmer on the stove top for about 30 minutes, then open and serve. The Cataplana itself can be brought to the table as a serving dish.
To my surprise, I discovered writing is a lot like crossing an ocean.
When writing my memoir, Ready to Come About, there were many moments of: ‘What the hell was I thinking’. ‘This is way more than I bargained for’. ‘I’m not equipped to do this; was I ever stupid to even think I was’. ‘Will I survive? If I do, I swear, never again!’
Then I stumbled onto Brian Henry’s creative writing courses, the very first of which was Writing Personal Stories. These courses were jam-packed with information that helped equip me with what I needed to get through to the other side.
However, writing a book differs from an ocean crossing in that it is a journey of years, and it is necessarily a solitary endeavor, most of the time. But you can’t do it entirely alone. It’s important to meet people who talk the same language, who consider writing a worthwhile endeavor, who too spend whole afternoons inserting and taking out commas, only to insert them again in the morning. Through these courses I was introduced to a wonderful writing community, the support of which was essential.
So it feels extra-special to be a guest speaker in Brian’s fabulous upcoming online course, “Writing Personal Stories” where, eleven years ago, my memoir-writing journey began. Check out the details here.