Recent Entries

Long live all maidens

easy and beautiful !

Long live mature women also,

Tender and loveable and full of good labor. 

Gaudeamus Igitur

Our lives became intertwined the day we began to slide clandestine notes back and forth during a writing course. Consequently, once the course ended, we embarked on a series of emails and surprisingly, an epistolary adventure unravelled. In these exchanges we bare our souls about love and life … things are never quite what they seem.

While we want to be courageous in our re-telling, we ask you to keep in mind the words of John Irving – please remember that all memoir is fiction.

Adria and Sarah


Trick or Treat

Hi Adria, 

Yes, I’d love to see the play. I’m in the mood for murder. Every time I look at my calendar though, I panic. So few free days.

Oh my poor porcupine pumpkins! Did I tell you why we stick sticks all over them? It’s to stop the Pumpkin Thieves. But the irony is that they were both (the pumpkins, that is) gone on Sunday. I thought Dan had taken them away and he thought I had, but it was The Harbord Association who picked them up. You have to come to this little Harbord Street Pumpkin Festival next year. People are asked to donate their carved pumpkins the day after Halloween and set them up on the tables provided between Spadina and Brunswick. At 6 pm all the pumpkins are lit. This year was particularly magical: cool crisp air, a full moon and spectacular carvings. One pumpkin was carved with the face of Ted Kennedy!

Do the kids at Hildegarde celebrate Halloween in a big way? With the most expensive and most creative costumes?

Since our school is a School at Risk, it is on the Food Bank List and for Halloween we receive free boxes of candies, cookies and chocolate bars. But many times last week (and in the past) I heard students complain that the food was not to their liking or it was past the expiry date. So - get this - the leftover items were then put in the staffroom and as the joke goes, put any food, even stale leftovers, on the staffroom table and someone will eat it! But I don’t get it. People even take stuff home. Are teachers starving? I think there’s something really wrong with this picture. You have to wonder about all the oversights and mismanaged funds. 

On to more positive subjects. 

Adria, you have enough material to write 10 books on your Dutch Lives. I was thinking that it might be good to look into Memoir Writing. What do you think? I know I need more structure on collecting data and sorting what I already have. You make a very good point about integrating the memories with the present. Maybe Memoir is the way to go.  

I-Don’t –Get-It -Sarah 



Monsters All

Dear Sarah,

If I could have dragged my tired body over to Harbord for that great pumpkin carving party you described, I would have. On Nov.1 the Star featured a decorative strip just over the headlines with a row of mad, sad and scary-looking pumpkins. I went a little crazy imagining grotesque pumpkin faces on prominent newsmakers like two perfect specimens of Camilla and Charles on their way to the Brickworks (Carlo has just offered me some pumpkin spice tea! He is so very sweet), and the Dalai Lama with his cartoonish grin. Lots of rotting pumpkins by the side of the road for garbage pickup this morning, some with doggy bags dumped right into the middle of their disembowelled heads. Mashed up pumpkin parts can be dangerous when camouflaged under fresh fall leaves (caught myself in time!). I know my neighbour will be putting up everything Christmas this weekend. There just is no competing.

 At Hildegarde, Hallowe’en is played up big but, not as big as in years past where the entire junior school would parade throughout the building in priceless costumes. These days, the whole production is over within an hour, all done during Assembly time. The girls can show off their elaborate creations of glitter and glamour within the short space of a half hour before continuing with their more serious academic activities. But the teachers love it too; all day they wear their cowboy hats, their tutus and gypsy headbands and show off their wizard hats and ridiculous wigs. 

 Carlo and I don't do it anymore (Hallowe'en I mean ...). In our neighbourhood, children are driven along the houses (safety is an issue, of course), parents wait in their SUV’s, idling, as their progeny greedily fill large pillow cases with sweet goodies. The Trick or Treaters are then whisked to yet another neighbourhood till Monsterhomeville has been exhausted. Maybe Carlo and I are becoming Scrooges, but it’s more fun to go out for dinner, leave the house in the dark, and come back later when the not-so wee ones are finally in bed.

 A Memoir class does appeal to me as long as it isn’t too homespun. God knows I have enough letters in trunks, email folders and files, and plenty of diaries crammed onto my bookshelves.

Last week Candy of phlox house wondered why the word ballet had that "t" on the end. I've always wondered about that. When I addressed her as Candy, as I usually do, she piped up, technically it's not my whole name. It's really Candace Marie Hélène. After an introductory session about proper pedalling technique, she matched up her fingers; tips to tips, cathedral formation and moving them back and forth said it's like an evil plan …   someone cooking up an evil plan. She was really trying to show me the importance of the arched hand and strong curved fingers that I constantly talk about in my lessons.

Drowning Girls at 2 pm then. A refreshing change ... maybe?!

Meet me just inside the door where it's warm. A glass of wine at intermission?



Nostalgia, Murder, Superstition

Hi Sarah,

Just thinking back to this afternoon. Tarragon has such great plays! Those three stark white bathtubs, with a drowning bride in each … can’t get them out of my head! Nearer My God to Thee is even worse. The Czech CD I’m playing seems to be successfully stopping the brain lock. Did you notice the audience did not consist of your usual silvery haired ladies? A pretty good cross section, I’d say.

 Czech Miniatures features Anton Kubalek, the Czech pianist, a man, who escaped the Dubcek revolution, and with whom I once studied when I first started teaching in Toronto. There’s a nostalgic, patriotic sort of piece by Joseph Suk that brings back memories of my treks around Prague in late August of 2007. One sunny afternoon, Staromestske, the Old Town Square, was filled with life: flag twirling and boot stomping routines carried out by smiling peasant girls and boys dressed in brightly embroidered shirts of reds and greens. Strange how I don’t usually see notes on a score when I listen to music but most often, I catch a flavour, a mood or an image. I walk again along the very streets of a particular region, see a familiar café or recall that unique corner building with its art deco pastel mosaic. Suddenly I’m back in the market eating a fat sausage on a paper plate and I glimpse a series of notes right there in the score or see the performing balalaika player thrumming away. I walked over the Charles Bridge with Catherine that August, and joined the ambling tourists in their superstitious caressing of St. Nepomuk's weather worn statue. Touching it is a Prague ritual that's supposed to bring good luck to the believer: it ensures that you will return to Prague soon. Nepomuk was the count's personal priest and when he refused to divulge details of the Queen's confession, was quickly disposed of.

Speaking of murder. That’s horrible about the doctor. I’ll have to read my Star to get the details. Maybe it was a lover's quarrel. Fill me in if you hear anything more. Did he know him well?

When I came home my inbox was filled with exhilarating school related messages: Marjorie, inviting us to Dim Sum (Christmas) with her family, as well as an email from a film producer busy filming at the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums, wondering about his daughter, Brianna's progress while he is away. I’ve taught all the girls in that family over the years until they left home to go to university. They are totally immersed in the arts. Wonderful for me, as there is all that great support and understanding from interested parents, likeminded people.

I’ll bring my Czech Miniatures next time we get together. There's a picture of Antonin on the cover. I did not realize at the time I studied with him how close we were in age. I had a certain attraction for this man who then had one glass eye and now has even less sight in the one so called good eye. There's more story there. One day on a cold afternoon, when we find a quaint little restaurant with a fireplace somewhere, we'll spill out our stories about former Profs, and discuss the intrigue of our university days.

See you Wednesday at Hildegarde. Whatever time works for you.



Beauty and The Beast

Thanks again, Adria, for the invitation and complimentary ticket. I was telling Dan about the play and how torturous it must be for the actors to be wet for 2 hours in a cold theater. He said that the dresses are probably made of special fabric that dries quickly and the showers may have been a warming technique. He’s used to the world of film where all of this is much easier with special effects. No matter what, these women suffer for their art. Even the sheer physical stamina required for this performance is amazing.

I’d love to borrow your Czech Miniatures CD. I have not yet visited Prague, but perhaps next summer after the wedding. I am getting restless; I’m checking for overseas jobs. Since school this year is less fulfilling than ever (due to new admin.), this increases my desire to escape. I would like one more stint at an overseas posting, maybe Dubai, but I hear they have an age quota. No doubt everything and everyone has to be shiny and new. I may be shiny, but I’m not new. This weekend, every newspaper and radio station is covering the 20th anniversary of the fall of The Berlin Wall, so I also want to be in Berlin. Jesse said that he’d try to go to the BIG concert at Brandenburg Gate. I also want to be in New York for the World Series. So many places ...

Yes, Murder in the Annex! Much more serious and unsettling than pumpkin stealing. I hear the victim left his front door unlocked most of the time. Would it have made any difference if the door had been locked? I don’t know the details. But I do know that Mr. Toby, my neighbour and the person who found the body, rarely locks his doors either. He truly believes that this is a safe area because it’s The Annex. But it’s smack downtown, I keep telling him. Bikes are stolen on a regular basis and even my neighbour’s underground water hose was taken. I saw her gardener on his hands and knees. Maybe he did it, I said. You know, put the hose away for the winter. But no, she asked him. I don’t want to be paranoid, but maybe it’s a case of Garden Envy. Sorry, I shouldn’t make light of this. As for the murder, I heard the news from a mutual acquaintance and he told me that Mr. T was still in shock. I mean one sees this on Law and Order and in movies, but to actually find a body, especially the body of someone you know, has to be devastating.

I’ve got to go even though there’s still so much to talk about and even though we just saw each other. (What am I? Sixteen?) My niece, the one who got married last year, the one who resembles Penelope Cruz, ah such beauty, is coming for lunch and I still have to prepare a few things.  

 I only have to be in school until noon on Wed. as we are in exams. I do have a Heads’ Meeting, which I plan to skip – not easy to do, but I am determined not to hang around waiting to sit through another meeting until 4. The VP, (nicknamed The VP on Crack because she is always so agitated and speaks so fastrepeatingeverythingthreetimesis responsible for taking an agenda with 15 items and making it 45 items (15 x 3). 

I’ll go by your schedule. Let me know.

Rebellious Sarah


Traffic Jams and Brain Lock

Hi Sarah,

Brutal traffic jams this afternoon, Friday the 13th.  What the fuck! There I'd be again on the same f'n street, even more behind than if I'd just stuck it out in the first place. Accident on the 401 was why. What better place to learn how to program tasks into my cell phone than on Dufferin just off the highway. Couldn't see a cop. Kept track of that too. I was wired. That’s what happens if you try to do everything on your one day off.

 It's in the car that I have my most bizarre as well as my most enlightening moments. As soon as I heard Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber there I was in my coffin. Especially where it went into the Agnus Dei. I began to see people blubbering, wiping their eyes, standing around talking about me. I know it is not uncommon for people to entertain such morbid fantasies (at least I hope it’s not). But I do think it's the height of self-indulgence. Who knows what goes through people’s heads when they’re jammed in a sea of cars, literally stranded, exhaust fumes blasting at them from all sides, seeping into their vehicle no matter what buttons they push. Just as I went to call my trainer she called me. We were probably a few car lengths apart. She cancelled. We rescheduled. The funeral music just kept coming. I noted the time on the car clock: 5:51. Silent Rain sounded perfect for music to exit by. It had that twangy, bent sound, conducive to helping people relax in stressful times. Ok Adria, don’t be a drama queen.

 And there was more. All sorts of sad scenarios crowded my thinking, sitting there in those lines of backed up cars. Some former students of mine have never really faded into the past and have left a strong imprint because of some unfortunate physical impediment or quirky behaviour. This day they kept popping up, one by one. There was the sultry, brown-eyed beauty whose nails were bitten down to the quick, fingers always red and raw. If I suggested she repeat each scale at least several times during her home practice session, she’d glower at me, never, never ask me to repeat anything! A case of OCD I think. Newt Girl, rather a bit of a loner, never went anywhere without her pet newt that she carted throughout the school in a fish bowl. Panic ensued when I once moved it away from the top of the piano using the excuse that the vibrations might disturb it. And I will never forget my chubby prepubescent, the buttons of her white blouse stressed to the max. It isn’t easy to cart around such big boobs when you’re only twelve. Unabashed in my presence, her eyes two half moons, she sang Kumbaya, all six verses, in the most angelic quavering voice imaginable. So soft and sweet. Around that time I began to toy with the idea of an introductory course about common mental disorders at CAMH and did eventually go for a 10-week session. I had never taken Psych 101. 

How did you like Hildegarde? Hopefully I didn’t rush you too much. Will you be dropping by for the Holly Berry Festival next week? Off to Niagara-on-the-Lake for tea at The Prince Hotel tomorrow and will of course spend some hours on the computer with Philomena. She's still using a walker but the hip is healing fast. It will have to, if she's to go to Florida next month!



Tears and Santa Claus

Hi Adria, 

Today marks the beginning of the Christmas season for me. Usually I wait until the first of December, but when I saw all the parents, with kids in tow, walking by the house, carrying ladders, even chairs (all types: kitchen/wooden/director/plastic) on their way to marking their spots for the Santa Claus parade, I started thinking about when we first moved to Toronto. Jessie was ten, and maybe we had stood right at the top of this very street to watch the parade (we lived in Mississauga then, where most Montrealers seemed to end up because of affordable housing). Later, as I was walking back from Harbord Bakery, I heard the cheers and I could actually make out the red and white Santa Claus floating by.
It’s not the parade that usually kicks off my season, but the movie, You’ve Got Mail.  I watch it in early December, but this year, I needed to see it today. It’s a romantic comedy, which I normally dislike (doesn’t everyone say that?). The main character (played by Meg Ryan), well ... her mother has died and there is a wonderful (sappy) scene when she is decorating the tree and says, “I was missing my mother so much, it hurt ...” I always cry a little at that part. The first time I saw the film was the year my Mother died and I’ve been watching it, around this time, ever since.  

it’s crazy what happens to the mind under stress as evidenced during Your Traffic Nightmare and Ensuing Death Scenes (with Appropriate Music). I remember doing the same thing, but mostly when I was angry with someone. I’d get even by dying. They’d be sorry.   

Oops there goes the doorbell. 

I’m back. Talk of coincidences/ironies, which happen to us so frequently. It was a young man canvassing for CAMH. Can you believe it? Once again, life is stranger than fiction. 

Loved my visit to St. Hildegarde’s. I have to say that I prefer the outside of the building to the inside, as I thought it would look like Hart House or Trinity. To be fair though, the upgrades and new wings are impressive and I’m sure necessary to keep up with the demands of an international clientele. There certainly is an illusion that all is perfect with absolutely no hint of any troubled girls with demons to fight. 

 Your studio and the marvelous view are exactly how I pictured them. Watching and listening to your little student play was riveting and I’m surprised at how much energy you exert during a lesson. I’ve never thought about teaching piano as physical, but it really is. 

Not sure about making it to the Holly Berry Festival. Such a cutesy name! I’ll let you know ASAP.



Wise Women All

Hi Sarah,

I see you're in the jolly ho ho ho Christmas mode already, getting out your Xmas DVD's even. I'm not quite there ... yet. Somehow I'm still on funerals. I kept hearing that line I Felt a Funeral in my Brain and figured out that I had sung it once as part of a song cycle by Aaron Copland. Fixated on the words (Emily Dickinson), I realized that my nightmarish thoughts had a place even in the realm of the greats! Did you notice it was Friday the 13th that day I emailed you?

Glorious in Niagara-on-the-Lake on the weekend. Over tea at The Prince, my friend and I discussed aging men (in relation to aging women) and then drove to her acreage on Line 7. We sipped wine, sat on high-backed chairs till the sun disappeared behind the barns and covered ourselves with Costco blankets. We watched the horses in the pasture next door. I could hear the breath coming from their nostrils.

At Philomena's the pizza was waiting as I arrived in time to have supper with her and her sister, Rosa. The stories these old ladies tell get raunchier and more graphic each time I visit. Rosa preached about the certainty of the world coming to an end, that it would turn into itself in 2012 according to Einstein who was so right about so many things. They alerted me to the fact of diamond and oil mines up north where the Indians are. She reminded me that a well-known woman of colour was very intelligent and had wisdom coming from her mouth. But she couldn't remember her name and I wasn't going to say, Oprah? They talked about bidets, their controlling mother and Jim Jones. At one point a friendly neighbour knocked on the door and brought Philomena a memory foam pillow. The conversation continued with great animation and focused on a mélange of topics: about how not all priests were bad, on raccoon poop and the six baby possums found in a drawer in her garage and how people that don't cut their lawns should be taxed. Rosa wondered how it was possible for them to find water on the moon but not a decent hearing aid for her with which to listen to her operas.

Today I banged my knee on the piano, so hard, I almost saw stars. My caring student hoped I was OK, which I told her I was. A minute later though, I had to open the window wide and she shivered from the fall rain and gusts of wind that filled the room. I had to tell her that I felt like passing out from the pain and needed a bit of oxygen to help me deal. 

This week Franca came in with a completely memorized Kuhlau sonatina. Candy is absolutely serenading me these days with her magical broken chords of a little Italian minuet while Ariana pounds out the bell like sounds of Chimes, focused on depressing the damper pedal throughout. Your observations are very accurate. There is constant physical movement in my studio: strengthening those little fingers, giving posture hints, teaching relaxation of shoulders and arms and alerting them to how their feet are wound around the legs of the piano bench!  

Tiny red lights flicker on the perfect Christmas trees I see outside my window. Christmas has started. Like it or not.

See you at Chabichou. 2:30.



An Honorable Profession?

Hi Adria,

Just want to apologize for yesterday, as I was probably a zombie. That’s why I seldom plan anything after school on Fridays. I always need lots of time to wrap up and make sure the class is in order for Monday and then walk home. Sometimes I do a little shopping and often buy a new book. That elevates my spirits. I didn’t want to talk about it when I met you, but yesterday was a particularly difficult and devastating way to begin the weekend. I’ll tell you more later. Right now, I don’t think teaching is really an honourable profession. 

I was just looking at the picture I took of the million-dollar (literally and figuratively) view from your studio at school. Such beauty and peace. So if you ever have the slightest idea about switching to the public system –don’t. 

At least we did get to register for the course, which is good. Isn’t memoir writing what we’re already doing in our emails?  I don’t know how we started writing this way and so often, but it is therapeutic for me. This almost sounds like a course we could develop: Emails as Letters or The Art of Emailing. I would say most emails are quickly written and quickly read and many people don’t even bother to read the whole thing or don’t bother to answer questions. Bad news for people like me who are presumptuous enough to think that emails should be thoroughly read and answered. That’s a should that I should delete from my expectations. 

 I’ll end now as I have quite a few mind-numbing things to do. Dan and I will walk to the Eaton Centre later. I have to go for new glasses and then we want to see the Cavalcade of Lights at City Hall – an annual tradition since we’ve lived here. Usually it’s freezing cold, but like the rest of the month it is quite mild. 

Take care and enjoy the family get-together this evening.



It Doesn’t Seem Possible

Hi Adria,   

While cleaning out my files, I came across the Sept. 13th   email, the one with the story of the student who walked out right at the beginning of the school year. Well here it is a few months later in Quad 2 and she’s back in my class and still walking out. But the difference is that now I know that she is one of the VP’s Chosen Few. This particular VP has never taught anything except ESL in small group settings, so she has very little knowledge of how to handle a difficult student (or several) in regular classes. She invites certain students into her office, listening to their tales of woe and then uses the information to undermine the teachers. 

Here is a clip from a colleague who works at another campus. She is an excellent teacher who enjoys the students and in particular, the more difficult ones. She was so frustrated last week that she went home mid-morning. She has a Chosen One in her class.

She (the VP) stomped in waving a paper at me in front of the whole class. Why did the student get such a low mark, she yelled, indicating the girl who had come in the room with her. I almost told her to go f --- herself, but I managed to stay composed (outwardly) and said that I’d look after it at the end of the day. But she just stood there glaring, so I told the kids to work on their assignment on their own. But then she was called to the office. Small mercies. For the rest of the period I was a complete bitch and I am usually nice to the kids. So I knew I had to get away. Right after the period, I got my stuff together, walked into her office and said I wasn’t feeling well and had to go home.  Her face turned scarlet, but before she opened her mouth, I ran out. I had no way of getting home though, since my lift was only about 3. So I just started walking, but felt so stressed that I took a taxi all the way home.  It cost me twenty-five bucks. How can a teacher do a good job and remain objective, if the VP has her own agendas and  her own rules? It’s immoral and it has to stop. Others have warned me and it’s well known she (the VP) rearranged the whole school schedule to suit the needs of one of her favourites.  It’s inappropriate and totally unfair to the other kids. Sorry for the rant, but as DH you need to know this.

Isn’t this appalling behaviour on the part of an administrator who is supposed to lead by example in a system that professes to espouse Living The Gospel?  

I have started packing my boxes and will look over my options during xmas break. 

With 10 degrees and blue skies, who would know that xmas is little more than a month away. What a bonus!! Yesterday Dan and I did go to the Eaton Centre for my new glasses and then off to an early dinner at Baton Rouge - good food, great service and packed at 5 pm. No recession here. Then off we went to City Hall for the lighting of the tree, but we knew something was wrong: all was too quiet. Suddenly it occurred to me! Of course, the 28th is next week! DUH! We had a good laugh and sauntered home through Chinatown. 

Next week is your concert, but that’s okay. I’d much rather be soothed by Bach’s Mass of Christmas than the bands playing jingle bells at City Hall. Isn’t it strange that when I missed your last concert it was due to school related stress? Plus ca change ... 

Hope your pre-xmas get-together was fun and not too overwhelming, as these events can be at times. Take care and let’s talk soon.



Secrets of the Old

Good Sunday afternoon!

Fantastic out there, but apparently this is the last of the good stuff. We can start bracing ourselves. 

Please, no apologies about your zombied state. It's difficult to focus on a Friday afternoon. I understand about the need for winding down. It's so crucial to survival, this pacing and processing. Sometimes I see the younger set burning the candle at both ends but then they have a certain way of ignoring the superfluous ... the way we (wiser? and older women) sometimes don't. Talk about stress. I'm glad we made the decision to take the memoir course. It seems I'm always ‘doing’ memoir in one way or another anyway. A Dutch cousin of mine has just been added to my email list. I’ll correct his English and he’ll help me with my Dutch. My occasional journaling is definitely a form of documentation as well. And yes, there are secrets. Of course. Always.

Speaking of secrets. Again that song association in my head. I absolutely love the American composer, Samuel Barber (born the same year as my father, 1910) and his well-known Adagio for Strings gets to me every time I hear it. Check out this sound bite link:  HYPERLINK "" He also wrote Secrets of the Old, which I sang for a vocal class at university. It’s Yeats' words that capture my sentiments these days:

I have old women's secrets now

That had those of the young;

Madge tells me what I dared not think

When my blood was strong,

And what had drowned a lover once

Sounds like an old song.

 “What I dared not think”, then, in my innocent mid 20's, (I was a late bloomer) was cause for plenty of writing in those sacred journals of mine. But the voice, upon rereading, seems not to belong to me, as if my pen were being guided by the Holy Church Fathers themselves:

 January 3, 1970, 5:45 p.m.               10th day of Christmas 

 Last night was another one of those memorable evenings. Time flies in the company of friends who share ideals and hopes. Father Francis must have been inspired around 2:30 a.m. Ideas and lines of reasoning fell beautifully into place … good and evil … purpose to life … reason for living … God without a doubt the centre of all. How helpless we are without Him … lame …protoplasm of faith … idealism … being realistic … awareness … duty as laymen … acting … insecurity consisting of questioning things – a reason for this and that … divorce sometimes the lesser of two evils … vocations … mentality of Canadian men … German …thesis … antithesis … “this business of falling on love” … friendship … celibacy … “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of rich thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.”(George MacDonald). God love Francis.


It could have been the reading of Linden Macintyre’s new book, The Bishop's Man, that made me dig up my university diaries and rereading that stuff blew me away. Did I even have a thought of my own in those days? I was in love, Sarah! With a priest! For God's sake! And that former priest will actually be attending my Bach concert next Saturday! I wonder if he’ll bring his wife. I communicate occasionally with two of his (still) priest friends of the Sacred Heart order (they sometimes attend my Bel’ Arte concerts and send annual Christmas greetings). I’m feeling just a little squirrelly right now (thought I was a big girl!) and still want to comment on your whole sad VP dilemma, among other things, from this morning's email. 

But later.

Going out for some air while there's a little warmth left from the sun.