Monday, October 25, 2021


Two of my paternal cousins share with me a deep interest in our family history. Both my parents were very tight-lipped about revealing anything concerning their families. If I pried any information out of my mother, it was generally reliable as far as it went, but invariably it lacked some essential detail. My father was steadfast in his unwillingness to divulge any family history and was quite prepared to dissemble to throw me off the scent. My cousins Keith and Ann were slightly more fortunate. Keith's Dad and Ann's Mum were my father's youngest siblings. They remembered a fair amount of what must been a very unstable childhood marred by both the Depression, World War Two, poverty and being members of an Orthodox Jewish family in east end London, and they were slightly more willing to tell their children what they remembered, although they didn't understand why we were so determined to dredge up unhappy memories. They shared fond affection for their mother who - daringly - had worked as a typist in a newspaper office before her arranged marriage, who was musical, who became a mother of five and who had once entertained the revolutionary anarchist Emma Goldman at her home. Of their father, none of them had anything good to say. He'd been a military tailor during World War One and had found his way to England from Eastern Europe illegally. He moved from England to Wales and back. He'd later abandoned his wife and young family, likely due to the immense pressure of having to support them during the Depression. Our grandmother had died a few years after the end of World War Two. She was buried in a large Jewish cemetery in London in a marked grave that was likely paid for by her better-off brothers. She was missed by her children but never lived to meet any of her grandchildren. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, women and girls did not attend the funeral and her daughters did not know where she was buried. My cousin Keith was the one who located her grave a few years ago. He's a couple of years older than me and he's the primary keeper of the family records. He has invested a great deal of time and money researching family history and obtaining records: birth, marriage and death registrations. A couple of years ago I mentioned to Keith that I'd like to find our grandfather's grave. Keith is very busy caring for his Dad whose health is failing but was exceedingly helpful whenever I presented what I thought might be a possible death record, and eventually was able to confirm that I'd found the correct unmarked grave in the same Jewish cemetery where our grandmother was buried. My next plan was to have the grave marked. I consulted my siblings and our cousins to see if they had any objection. There were none. I wanted a simple marker giving his name and his death date. It's fair to say my own father would have objected had he still been alive but I simply felt that, although I probably wouldn't have liked our grandfather much, I wouldn't be here without him. It felt like a Mitzvah, or Commandment. Keith very graciously offered to share the cost of having the marker made and installed and he handled the administrative side of things from his home in England. When he sent me the photo of the marked grave I felt a sense of completeness that I hadn't felt before. I still believe it was the righteous and just thing to do. So, to my supportive cousins, I send my sincere thanks. And to my paternal grandfather, the late Henry Grundland, whose Hebrew name is Chayim, which means "lives", I'd simply like to say one word: Shalom. It means Peace.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Last winter, one of the challenges I set for myself was to write a piece of non-fiction within a one-week deadline. To keep myself honest about the deadline, I had to submit it somewhere for publication by the end of the week, so that I couldn't make any alterations. Non-fiction is hard to write. If it's too personal, you risk alienating people you care about. The writer Ann Lamott says, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your own stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better". I definitely find as I age that I am far less willing to "go along to get along". I speak up, emphatically, for myself when the occasion warrants it. I generally try to be courteous and respectful, but depending on one's sex and birth order, one is more, or less, likely to have one's voice heard, and one's opinion valued, in a family. Parents set the tone for how to treat one another. When they don't model respect for each other, and for their children, the children don't automatically learn to respect each other. I'd been puzzling over an incident that occurred when I was three. My father claimed it never happened, but he also marvelled that I was able to recall the exact layout of our house and its furnishings, since we moved from that house shortly after. I decided to write a story comprising vignettes from 29 places I'd lived, including the one my father denied having happened. They were just isolated incidents I remembered, but once I'd written the story, I realized they were interwoven in surprising ways. It almost wrote itself; within a week it was at a literary quarterly's offices, and the next day I'd been informed they were purchasing it. It came out this week. It's called 29 Roofs.


It's been over two years since I wrote a blog post entitled WOODSHEDDING (October 10, 2019). If anyone told me that it would be this long till I picked up the thread of that blog post, I wouldn't have believed them. I didn’t mean to leave the drive shed without a roof for such a long time. To be honest, it does have a roof of sorts, because I covered the shed in heavy vapour barrier and stapled it to the frame of the roof. It has made a splendid cover, which has the benefit of being transparent; therefore I haven’t needed to install lighting in the shed. Today I awoke with more energy than I've had in weeks. It was a warm, sunny day at Five Acres, and I hadn't finished raking the leaves on the driveway. I'd been chatting and laughing with my friend Natalka in the morning. We'd been talking about death, and I said if I thought I was about to die in the next minute or two, I'd get the heck outside, because a corpse on the floor is never much of a selling point for any house. So, after we stopped laughing, I went outside to rake the leaves, and wandered over to the shed. There's a pretty dead beech tree right beside it, so close, in fact, that it would be difficult to install a new roof: the tree is shaped like the letter Y, and both of the trunks overhang the shed. Since I was already outside, I figured I didn't have to think about death so much, and I began to wonder how I would take down the tree, if I absolutely had to. I devised a plan, Plan A, that involved cutting through one of the forked trunks first, at a vertical angle that would permit the trunk to drop straight down if necessary. Luckily my larger chainsaw was sharpened, oiled, and the battery was charged. Plan B was that the trunk would fall against the roof frame of the shed, which was near enough that the trunk would not have time to pick up much velocity. We went with Plan B. Two minutes later, that trunk was lying across the shed roof like a pair of antlers.
Best of all, no vapour barrier was harmed in the process. A few quick cuts and that trunk was next year's firewood. I charged up the chainsaw battery, took a few photos, and I was back for round two. The second trunk was much taller, quite twisted, and it looked as though it had been hit by lightning. This time I opted to cut it horizontally, four feet from ground level, where it was just one thick trunk. This was a much harder cut, so I decided to cut through 85 per cent of the trunk and see which way it started to lean. Frankly, as long as it didn't lean in the direction of my car, I thought I'd cope. The saw cut widened almost imperceptibly, indicating it, too, would fall towards the shed. I got my smaller chainsaw and made tiny cuts on the 15 per cent of the trunk that was still attached. As soon as I heard the slightest cracking sound from that trunk, I jumped far away from the tree, and in a moment or two, the trunk severed on its own and this very substantial limb landed neatly, perpendicularly across the peak of the shed roof.
I decided to come inside and not tempt fate any further. Tomorrow's another day.

Saturday, October 9, 2021


It's a special day here at Five Acres: Ivaan's 77th birthday. I woke up to emails from two of his longtime friends, Bill D. and Myron D., wishing him a happy birthday. I had hoped to visit the cemetery today, but it's raining, plus I had visitors, and I had the sense that I'd be better off avoiding the highways on a rainy day. Once the ground dries up a bit, I'll probably trek over to the island, feed some bread to the birds and squirrels, and tell them it's from their good friend Ivaan. Their good friend Ivaan would have eschewed anything but fresh bread, and by 'fresh' I mean it came out of the oven this very afternoon, but the wildlife will have to make do with some bread rolls that were fresh when I put them in the freezer last week. 77 seems like a big number, and I'm pretty sure he would have preferred not to reach a number that big. He wasn't too delighted about turning 64 two months before his death, and I've just realized that by dying at 64 he never got to receive his Old Age Security pension which doesn't kick in until 65. It's funny: when I moved up here, I swore I would never make another piece of jewellery. Now I'm not so sure. I've done a couple of pieces for people recently, and I might start tinkering with jewellery over the winter. At least I could polish the pieces that are packed away. And I could laugh at the memory of Ivaan exhorting me, "Polish harder! Don't just make the scratches shiny! Get rid of them!" All of which reminds me that I still have to do some succession planning with respect to his art. I should have done it long ago, but I'm going to find it so hard to let go of the things that were his life's work. Yet I've pared down my own jewellery and wear the minimum. Maybe I'll enjoy wearing it more over the winter when I'm not so worried about losing an earring out here at Five Acres. Here's us at our wedding reception.
Happy Birthday, Ivaan. I still miss you.

Sunday, October 3, 2021


This weekend I had a visit from my nephew Ivor and his partner, Laurie. At 23, these two are a going concern. They've finished university, Ivor in Engineering and Laurie in Biochemistry, they're both a year into their respective professional careers, and they are already homeowners. I was beginning to doubt I'd ever see either of them again, because I know how time consuming home ownership is, especially in the first year. But they decided they needed a break from tearing up broadloom, painting walls, sanding floors and sweeping, so they came to Five Acres to enjoy the kind of work that consumes our time in the country: chainsawing trees, hauling and stacking firewood, splitting logs, falling dead asleep at ten p.m., then getting up and repeating the process the following day. Their final act last night was to finish building the Holzhausen. It only needed one more foot of height to complete it, but I was only too happy to unload the responsibility onto them, so they trucked a trailer load of logs up from the island, split them, and added the top layer to the Holzhausen. Last Friday, my firewood delivery man, Peter, arrived with his dump truck and deposited a bushcord of seasoned ash logs in my driveway. He looked admiringly at my Holzhausen and congratulated me on the job I'd done. I didn't let him look at it for too long, lest he notice that it was more oval than round, but I was careful to mention that it was my first ever Holzhausen, and he seemed duly impressed. Ivor and Laurie have headed for home now, but the memory of their visit will keep me warm for a long time. They took down two trees on the island: one a very straightforward job and one, a silver maple, that was an absolute beast of a tree, having grown at an alarming angle. And here's the Holzhausen. It's as tall as Ivor, though not nearly as handsome.


The other day, I was thrilled to receive a text message from Katarina and Josh, telling me that Katarina had passed her M2 motorcycle exam. She didn't waste any time! I'm willing to bet that more than half the people who take the exam fail it the first time, but I kind of get the sense that Kat is a bit of an overachiever even on her worst days. It was exciting to learn that she'd aced it, and that she and Clyde are now officially a team. Here's what Kat had to say: "The course was a lot of fun. I was quite nervous at first but after practising for a while and getting more comfortable, everything came pretty naturally. Clyde is such an awesome bike, I'm going to keep him for a very long time. Thanks again for sharing such a huge part of your life with me. Can't wait to ride up there this spring with Josh and say hello; perhaps help you saw down some trees?" Now, you see, Josh and I had been joking about what other hidden skills Kat had: should we maybe get her trained up on the tractor or should we hand her a chainsaw and point out some trees that might need to come down? She could probably do both without batting an eye. I had explained to Kat that one thing women motorcyclists face regularly is comments from other women telling us that riding a motorcycle is dangerous, as if we had never contemplated that fact before. I'd told her my usual response to well-meaning naysayers, which is: "Making toast is dangerous. If you operate a toaster with wet hands, you can get an electrical shock. Yet nobody makes you take a training course and pass an exam before you can make toast. You just start making toast." Anyway, here's Kat and Josh on their bikes. You've got to admit, this woman and her bike look like they were made for each other.