Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Insta Un-Worthy/Un-Insta-Worthy

Last week was Thanksgiving! (In Canada.) Happy Thanksgiving!

I made a pumpkin cake. It was fine. It was good! I mean, it tasted good. Looked okay, I guess. (Except I didn't think through the whole "dust with icing sugar" thing and cinnamon kind of gunked up my sifter, but that's a problem to be solved some other time.) It came out of the pan looking a bit fancy, as bundt cakes do.



It was also relatively easy to produce. I'd make it again except that it's suddenly hard to find spice cake mixes on grocery store shelves (possibly because of the time of the year). I could also make a spice cake from scratch and add in the add-ins, but let's not get crazy.

I took a picture of it (obviously) but decided not to post it on Instagram. It didn't really feel "Insta-worthy." And that led me to consider whether my tens of followers there would have really cared.

It's the kind of thing you think about when you've been quietly working in relative obscurity for years, with kind and rewarding encouragement along the way, and then something happens that sort of amps up the possibility for recognition. Or, you know, criticism. Like making a pumpkin cake from a cake mix with add-ins for Thanksgiving with a wonky topping. Or like having a book come out.

In a world of best-sellers and prize culture and glamorous invitations, and other trappings of the writing life it's hard to remember this: "Success" can mean different things to different people. And books. And cakes, and photos thereof.

So my cake may not be Insta-worthy. So what? I made it and it tasted good. It fulfilled its purpose.

I have similar modest ambitions for my book. Mostly, I'm excited, because books are exciting things. Inherently! I'm excited about this book because people will have the chance to read about my parents, and about Northwestern Ontario.

Books are also enduring things, even though such things as remainder bins exist. There's a chance that this book will speak to someone who doesn't even know they want to read it, at some future time when I'm off doing my next thing.

Perhaps that future version of me will be baking another pumpkin spice cake. Perhaps it will be a different kind of cake. I'm still not sure why I'm suddenly baking cakes after years of mostly not, but I enjoy doing it and we enjoy eating them. And we enjoy reading, and writing.

You know what? I think I'll post that photo of my cake after all. Why not? It celebrates gratitude, and what's more Insta-worthy than that?
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reverberations: Coming Soon

As I mentioned in July, my essay collection is coming out this fall! The first copies of Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's are due to arrive later this month.

Here's the cover.


That young woman is my mother, Jeanne Starrett LeCaine (later Agnew), in her days as a mathematics student.

Kind people near and far have been helpful all along in making my semi-coherent thoughts into words into essays and now into a collection. I'm especially grateful to that apparently limitless font of encouragement and good judgment known as Susan Olding, author of the essay collection Pathologies (and much more!).

Many thanks also to Winnipeg's Signature Editions for plucking my manuscript from their slush pile and working diligently to slot it into this autumn's releases.

It feels fitting that this book finds its place in the world at the harvest season, when the birch and mountain ash are especially golden and glorious.

P.S. Part of me won't believe it's an actual thing until I hold one in my hand.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Different Perspective

We certainly picked an excellent time of the year for a quick business trip to Duluth!

See?


That background shows the same lake I see every morning. The birches and poplars are beautiful here--golden and lovely, brilliant against the everygreens, as you see in the foreground.

And yet, this is a different view, giving me a new perspective. I feel refreshed. I appreciate the beauty of this place all over again.

I hope everyone has the chance to do something similar, from time to time. It's lovely to choose your life again, even when you think you already appreciate it.

(Photo of Lake Superior from the lookout at Mt. Josephine, Grand Portage, Minnesota.)
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stolen Title: There and Back Again

(It's the subtitle of The Hobbit.) 

I'm back from vacation. I saw lots of beach and Atlantic Ocean. Waves. Piers. Sand.

Also, horses.



Since I've been home, I've Handled Many Time-Sensitive Things. Today has been more of a bust, both writing-wise and all-the-other things-wise. 

And yet. I'm managing to do the next ONE thing. (Wash bedding.) And the next. (Respond to email.) And the next. (Check in here.) And the next. (Research next steps for a project--just google three ideas I had.)

Which is also like writing and revising. (WHAT ISN'T?) You reread things, you fix something, that causes a cascading change that requires adjusting, which means an entire set of scenes can go. 

But you don't have to do all that at once.

Just the next thing. 

And sometimes doing things is easier when you remember the colour and texture of the sand (how different from the sand here), and the wind off the water (more persistent and salty). 

I enjoyed vacation. I enjoy being back home. I enjoy doing the next ONE thing. 
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Washing Away

I'm currently on a real vacation, somewhere else.

Here's a picture of the surf I left behind. It's ramping up for autumn storms.


I hope to spend time at a different beach while I'm gone. If I can't--they've had some storms of their own--that's OK too. I'll still have completely new experiences to refresh my outlook. 

It's been an eventful spring and summer, so the timing of this break is perfect.

Happy approaching autumn, everyone!
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Writing is Gathering

With a book coming out this fall (!!) and an almost-finished novel (meaning, maybe I'm almost finished with it!), I'm noodling with new work. 

So far, it's been the writing version of what I do nearly every day: go to the beach and pick up things. Sometimes glass, sometimes other stuff I think is interesting. I bring it back to the house, take a picture, put it into a jar, look at it, think about it, take it out, look at it some more.







Will this noodling turn into anything? In a few months, will I have anything other than a jar full of driftglass, another of interesting rocks, another of broken pottery? 

Who knows. But for now, for me, writing is gathering.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Summer of Baking

Last week, I hinted that 2019 was the Summer of Baking.

The main thing I learned about baking this summer is that many things are cake.

Blueberry buckle? Cake in a square pan (when you make it in one).

Johnnycake? Also cake in a square pan. (This one shouldn't have surprised me. It's right there in the name.)

Banana bread? Cake in a long pan. Also applies to anything with "loaf" in the name.

Muffins? Cake portions in a cup = cupcakes = cake.

Blueberry cobbler? Arguably cake but also arguably breakfast (scones and fruit = breakfast).

Blueberry pie? Not cake but really good. Something about the salty crust makes the blueberries taste sweeter.

So there you have it--one thing I learned in the summer of baking: most things are cake (cake is sneaky that way).

And here is where I sit on mornings when I am trying my darndest to pretend that summer isn't yet over.


When the sun got higher in the sky, the chair started steaming from the heat. I love this place.

I also enjoy baking. Something else to ponder as the seasons change and as I'm off to find a form of cake for breakfast.