~ Tunes in a Tin Bucket ~


SongWriter (Photo credit: jorik de beer)

I am a songwriter now. Yesterday I attended a songwriters’ workshop that a group I belong to organized, along with a fiction writing workshop and creative nonfiction workshop. I opted for the song writing workshop because it was something different for me. The fact that the only thing I can play is the radio, and the second fact that I cannot carry a tune in tin bucket means that I was fulfilling Robert Allen’s wisdom that : “Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.”

Now you may be thinking that I have a lot of gall to call myself a songwriter, but during the workshop we collaboratively wrote the lyrics to two songs, and due to the fact that our leaders are extremely talented and versatile, they easily put melody to lyrics. And the songs were performed at the open mike portion of the workshops at the end of the day.

I learned all kinds of things in about two and a half hours. I learned how many verses you should have before you have a chorus, I learned what a bridge in music is, and I learned  how to rhyme, which does not sound all that hard to some of you, but for me, to rhyme and at the same time have the words you rhyme make sense was a real revelation.

But the most important thing I learned from our workshop leaders, John and Michele Law of the musical duel “The Laws” is that THERE ARE NO RULES to song writing. And that is the best thing that came out of a wonderful workshop. The fact that there are no rules (that cannot be broken) is something I have always, as a quiet rebel without a cause, believed in. It is part of the essence of my being. And it was validated.


Cover to 1893 edition of Ramona by Helen Hunt ...

Cover to 1893 edition of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a repeat of a post that appeared in this blog last September–the difference is, last September I had about ten followers and now I have 363–so I have edited it and am posting it again.

It is now or never. Actually, it is now, or wait another year. It is the last few days of September and if I am to use the poem, aptly called “September Poem” by Helen Hunt Jackson, I had better get to it. Hard to believe it is the end of September, with October banging on the door. This is my favourite time of year. Many consider fall the harbinger to winter,  but it is a time those of us not prone to look beyond our noses, enjoy.

Many of the things mentioned in Ms. Jackson’s poetic tribute to September are felt in October. So for your reading pleasure, and without much further ado, I present

“September Poem”

The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown,

The trees in apple orchards–with fruit are bending down;

The gentian’s bluest fringes are curling in the sun;

In dusty pods the milkweed–its hidden silk has spun;

The sedges flaunt their harvest in every meadow nook,

And asters by the brookside make asters in the brook;

From dewy lanes at morning the grapes’ sweet odour rise;

At noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies—

By all these lovely tokens, September days are here,

With summer’s best of weather, and autumn’s best of cheer.

Admit it, does this poem, (if you are of a certain age) not take you back to the days of grammar school when we were forced to learn a certain number of lines of poetry in order to pass our language course? I remember sitting in at recess and noon hours when I was in grade four learning line upon line of poetry, to be recited to the teacher before being allowed to go outside.

I hated memorizing poetry—but things that rhymed were much easier to remember than prose poems. If I had been acquainted with Ms. Jackson, this would have been a poem I would have chosen to memorize—although for the life of me, I do not know what a gentian is, or what sedges are, but that can be remedied by a quick Google.

Okay I am back from Googling (and I must say a good time was had by all). Here is my report: Gentians are a pretty flower-like plant, and sedges are kind of a grass. I guess from the context of the poem, you get that idea, but I just wanted to make sure.

A little background:

Born in 1831 in Massachusetts, Helen Hunt Jackson lived until 1885 and was described as “the most brilliant, impetuous and thoroughly individual woman of her time”. If even one of those little descriptions were allotted to me, I would be happy. She also had some pretty noteworthy friends: Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Now wouldn’t that be a dinner party you would not mind attending?

September Rose

September Rose (Photo credit: Arlo Bates)

Published in: on September 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm  Comments (21)  
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~ Y and Z ~ Or End of Another Challenge ~

T2i - Infinity

T2i – Infinity (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I am afraid I have lost heart with this challenge. If you will remember, about 26 days ago I took on the challenge of writing something every day using the letters of the alphabet. The challenge was at times challenging—some days were good, some days were not. As I come to the end of this, I find myself at Y and Z, with little creative resources left.

Yesterday I wrote a haikuish poem about youth (to coincide with the letter Y) that I felt was a bit misunderstood by some of my readers. The point I was trying to get across was that when we are young we have a voice and it is loud and boisterous and clear, but many times as we reach our middle age of youth, we lose our balance and our voice—we need to be listened to more than we need to be talked to. But it came across incorrectly as a kind of criticism of youth and that is not  at all what I was trying to convey. So with the magic of WordPress, I went to the list of posts and deleted my ~ Y ~ for the day. Oh, that we could so easily delete some of the others things in life.

Z—now that has me stumped. Of course the first word I come up with is Zero, which can be thought of in a negative way as nothing, but just think of six zeros after the number 1 and you have a million—and a million of anything is not nothing. Though I understand that the infinity sign is a lazy eight, I find zero represents something that has no beginning and no end—so I consider it the sister of the infinity sign.  I do not think life begins just the day we are born (or conceived—but this is an argument for our Parliamentarians in Canada) or ends the day we die. I do not know, but if I had my druthers, I would rather believe in the infinity of life. How about you?

So, I have come to the end of this challenge, and am hesitant to take on another. While it did stretch my creativity, I need to snap back, so to speak. My next step: Wake up my muse, as she has been on a long vacation. I  am going to attempt the task of putting together some of my newspaper columns to form what is known in these here parts as a book.  So, while this is not a daily challenge per se  — it should be challenge enough for a while.

Every once in a while if you want to bug me and ask how I am coming along, feel free. As I make progress, I will provide you with an occasional update, and ask you if you think I am going in the right direction. I have always wanted to write a book, and have started several, but the task seems so overwhelming that I think if I bite it off in little chunks it may actually come to fruition.

So tell me what you think? Are you embarking on a challenge soon?


Infinity (Photo credit: bellatujewelry)

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm  Comments (55)  
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X ~ Or Seal it with a Kiss

Animated illustration of the galley method of ...

Animated illustration of the galley method of long division (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are 122 entries that start with X in my 2,059 page Random House Dictionary of the English Language—the unabridged edition. It is half the size of my house. Admittedly, I do not live in a big house—but it is one whopping big dictionary.

There are only two pages of Xs in the book, with four entries dedicated to just X. My two favourites are:

1. “an unknown quantity or variable.”

2. “a sign used at the end of letters, telegrams etc., to indicate a kiss”

I am not sure why the first definition is a favourite, as I equate it with the point at which I started to no longer understand math. Give me fractions, decimals, long division, multiplication, division, even statistics—but once we got into 4 + x = y + 2, the game was over.

Now how much more sweet can a letter be that ends with the sign for a kiss? I love to see a bunch of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxs at the end of the very infrequent emails I get from my youngest son. So far, since he has been back at school I have received two emails from him—the first perfunctory and sensible, but the second melted my heart. (I, of course send him emails every day—is that the sound of a helicopter overhead?) I cannot share the second one with you, because then it would be grounds for killing me (and no judge would find him guilty).

But know that I have saved it, and look at it when I feel crummy. It was that good.

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm  Comments (38)  
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W ~ or What Makes People Laugh?

“…what on earth makes people laugh?” ~  Maeve Binchy

I took this image myself at a book signing in ...

Maeve Binchy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question of “….what on earth makes people laugh” is a good one, posed by a famously adept and prolific author, Maeve Binchy. We lost her this summer but her words live on in about a thousand books (only a slight exaggeration).  Her question is one that does not have a single answer.

Binchy said in her book, “The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club”,  that “All writing takes courage. Maybe comic writing just takes more courage than the other sort.” In trying to come up with an answer to her own question, she came to three conclusions, which I have nut-shelled here for you:

1. Sometimes, she thinks, people will laugh when writers make themselves look foolish, vulnerable, or silly. If that is the case, then I have this whole comedy thing wrapped up. I am sure that sometimes I come across as both foolish and silly (without really putting a lot of effort forth – one could say it comes naturally).

2. Binchy believes that “people laugh if you can create a truly funny character, like a clown figure, somebody that you are meant to laugh at.” I don’t know about you, but I do not find clowns all that funny. There are a few, like Milky the Clown, Le Clown and Bozo, who do not fit into this category, but I find clowns on the whole, sad, which proves that laughter and comedy are highly subjective.

3. When she worked as a journalist, Binchy interviewed the guy who wrote the Marx Brothers scripts, as well as George Burns, and Bob Hope. “Every single one of them” she said, “had no idea whether something was funny until they tried it out.” I do not find the Marx Brothers all that funny except for Harpo who did not talk and used a horn to squeak out his answers (and even he became annoying after a while).

I think both George Burns and Bob Hope are funny. Burns because he was an advocate of observational humour and Bob Hope because he knew some of his stuff was old and hackneyed but delivered it with such self-deprecation that it was funny.

Comedy is very individual. What makes you fall off your chair, or lol does not necessarily strike my funny bone. What I find funny you might question. Binchy wrote an article that she said made her both popular and “thought to be humorous”. What she did was take an everyday situation and make herself vulnerable to it. She said that she had not stayed in a hotel until she was twenty-two and did not know the protocol “about whether you make the bed” or not when you stayed in a hotel. She opted for a compromise and “sort of straightened the bed and folded back the covers” which she felt would not destroy her as a “hotel visitor.”  After writing the article she was amazed that “half the country seemed to have the same dilemma” and was delighted with her wonderful sense of humour.

I understand why this garnered her the accolades she received, as it is something most of us have had to contend with. We don’t want to be thought of as slobs, but we also don’t want to make the bed up so perfectly that it looks not slept in, hence the staff would not change the sheets. Although I am not sure why we expect the sheets to be changed every day at a hotel when we certainly (or I certainly) don’t do it at home.

On a similar note, I have always wondered what it would be like to have someone clean my house. I am not a self-professed domestic goddess, but I am also not so sure I want my chaos to come to light (as if this is not confession enough; sure write about it and try to keep it secret: smart move).

Humour really is in the funny bone of the beholder. Or as Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”

Cropped screenshot of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby...

V ~ is for Vicarious

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, t...

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, the first Trixie Belden mystery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen.” ~ Roger Ebert

I have a rather positive outlook on vicarious experiences. Though I may not have experienced something firsthand, that does not mean the experience is not worthy.  In fact vicarious experiences can be just as satisfying. Is that not what we do when we get lost in a good movie as Ebert so ably puts it, or better yet, when we read a book?

I remember as a young girl reading the adventures of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and living them in my imagination. The things that they dealt with did not happen in my “real” life, but I was richer, as was my imagination, for having experienced them vicariously.

I sometimes live through the tales my friends tell of their adventures, their travels, and their creative acts. And by listening to them, my attention is rapt, and their memories become not my memories, but an open door to things I have not had the chance to do or create.

Some of the synonyms I found for vicarious are not at all how I define it.  The words second-hand, displaced, remote, indirect, removed or distanced do not play a part in my vicariousness.

To me, living vicariously opens up worlds that may not be available to me otherwise. It also provides an impetus to do the things that I find appealing. Sometimes living out something in your imagination translates itself into action.

I have lots of things on my life list (as opposed to my bucket list which sounds a little too final to me) that I want to do: travel, publish a book, learn to golf and play tennis, get involved in more community activities—and as I work on this list, I derive pleasure from those who do travel extensively, write books, play the games I want to play, and join the activities I want to take part in. It is part of the learning process—it is all part of my life research.

I think of  “living vicariously” as a practice run wherein I am identifying what it is I want to accomplish.

1966 cover of the revised version of The Secre...

U ~ or Six Word Saturday

Saturday (novel)

Saturday (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)







Published in: on September 22, 2012 at 11:25 am  Comments (37)  
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T ~ is for Turkey Day

Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900 showing a tur...

Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900 showing a turkey and football player. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turkey Day is a term coined by my youngest son, Tyler, referring of course to Thanksgiving Day—but it really does synthesize what the day means to him. He has used this term for about twelve years now, first utilizing it one Thanksgiving weekend when he was about nine. We decided to go apple picking on this now infamous Thanksgiving Day twelve years ago for a “fun family outing”.  (For those of you who are not Canadian, and from the looks of my stats—that is many of you, Thanksgiving is the second Monday of October in our country.)

For some reason, many Canadians have their Thanksgiving meal on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which leaves us time to do other things on Thanksgiving Day besides eat leftovers (which in my books is one of the most wonderful meals there is ~ I think I like noshing on Thanksgiving leftovers as much as the original meal.)

So, on this day in the year 2000, we decided to go apple picking, and while we were there we picked up a few pumpkins from the orange grove (just seeing if you are paying attention—of course it was a pumpkin patch, and no we did not see Linus there looking for the Great Pumpkin—it was too early).

Since it was late in the apple season, our wagon ride to the apple trees that still had apples was rather lengthy—and Tyler, in great spirits that day, kept wishing everyone a Happy Turkey Day. This garnered all kinds of interest, which he just ate up. He was a pixyish looking little guy, so he got a lot of waves and smiles with his exuberance.

To this day, he loves turkey—and Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without turkey at our house. Before he grew to realize his love for the big bird, I would serve other meals I was just as thankful for (like prime rib or lamb or ham) and were much easier to contend with. Since he has made this realization, we serve turkey every Thanksgiving.

After lo these many years of thawing turkeys, stuffing turkeys, and complaining about thawing and stuffing turkeys, I have come upon a foolproof  Thanksgiving meal. I get one of those turkeys that come already stuffed and that you can take out of the freezer and stick into your oven with just some minor preparations.  I stumbled upon this solution at the advice of a friend who I think may have been tired of me complaining about the thawing and stuffing of the bird that stars in a proper Thanksgiving meal. And to that end the search for the perfect turkey commences today.

The search  entails buying one of these guys on sale. They are an arm and a leg if not on sale. As we speak, they are purported to be on sale at my local grocery store—so as soon as I get this post done, I shall be hightailing it out of here to get one that is affordable. Last time they were on sale (a couple of weeks ago) they had all been scooped up and only the regular turkeys were there biding their time in the frozen food bins.

I know that some people are suspicious of these already stuffed birds, but I cook mine until there is no mistaking that it is done—and truly the stuffing is delicious and there is a generous amount. And I do not have to thaw the dumb thing. In the past, I have taken turkeys out of my freezer and crowded my fridge for a full seven days and still the thing wasn’t completely thawed out.

Turkey Day is only a couple of weeks away, but I will not be satisfied until I have one nestled in my freezer among the corn and peas, and ready to be taken out just before I have to throw him in the oven (or place him ever so gently, let’s not get violent here.)

O happy day—this is me doing the Snoopy dance—Turkey Day is going to be easy peasy this year and every year hereafter.

Thanksgiving at the Trolls

S is for Smart (it is also for Stupid ~ but we are not going there)

Einstein's high school transcript

Einstein’s high school transcript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quote # 1: It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”~ Albert Einstein

Smart. It is something I have always wanted to be. I was pretty smart in school, except for when I wasn’t.

Actually, unlike Einstein, I have always thought of myself as smart ~ even that one particular year at school when I was trying to prove otherwise. It was pretty easy to do. I did not do my homework. I hid a novel in my math book and read during math class. I did not study. I missed my bus a lot. And then at the end of the year when I had to face the consequences—I was, of all things, surprised. Because I thought I was smart.

If I had followed Einstein’s lead and just stayed with my problems longer then I could be as humble as he was. It is easy to say you are not “so smart” when you are a genius!

Quote # 2:  “I wish my name was Brian because maybe sometimes people would misspell my name and call me Brain. That’s like a free compliment and you don’t even gotta be smart to notice it.” ~ Mitch Hedberg

Mitch is really on to something here. I have a friend whose name is Brian and whenever I email him, nine times out of ten I type Brain first.

Published in: on September 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm  Comments (47)  
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R ~ is for Respect

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his famous ‘V’ sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found  a unique definition of the word “respect” courtesy of Winston Churchill. He is purported to have said:

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”     

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm  Comments (41)  
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