It’s a wonder I ever learned to speak English!  And it’s no wonder the majority of North Americans are unilingual!  Here’s a gem my Minor Niner brought home from his high school English teacher.  If I were learning English now, I think I’d give up after the first paragraph (gibberish will have to do!)!!  Have fun!

English is Tough Stuff

Dearest creature in Creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse:
Words like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
This will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with head grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I!!  Oh, hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain,
(Mind the latter, how it’s written),
Now I surely will not plague you,
With such words as vague and ague
But be careful how you speak.
Say break, steak, bleak and streak,
Cloven, oven; how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Friend and fiend; alive and live;
Liberty, library: heave and heaven.
Rachel, ache; mustache, eleven.

We say hallowed but allowed,
Also leopard; towed but vowed.
Note the difference, moreover
Between mover, plover,Dover;
Beeches, breeches; wise, precise,
Chalice but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label;
Petal, penal, and canal.
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal;
Worm and storm; chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Ivy, privy; famous, clamour;
And enamour rhymes with “hammer”;
River, rival., tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.

 Stranger does not rhyme with anger
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichors,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
One, anemone; Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind;
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Billet does not sound like ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet,
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would,
Viscous, viscount; load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
And your pronunciation’s O.K.
When you correctly say croquet.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sleeve,
Scenic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour but our and succour, four,
Gas and alas and Arkansas!
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Neither does devour with clangour;
Soul but foul, and gaunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont; want, grand and grant;
Shoes, goes, does;  now first say finger,
And then, singer, ginger, linger;
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury;
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth
Job, Job, bosom, oath;
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual but victual;
Refer does not rhyme with “deafer”,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer;
Dull, bull, and George, ate, late,
Mint, pint, senate and sedate.
Ear but earn and wear and tear,
Do not rhyme with “here” and “ere”;
Seven is right but so is even.
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen;
Monkey, donkey, clerk and quirk,
Asp, grasp, wasp: and cork and work.

 Doctrine, turpetine, marine;
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion;
Sally with ally; yoa, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Pronunciation – think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make :you lose your wits,
Writing “groats” and saying grits.

Created by NATO staff at HQ in Paris

Quoted from The Education Forum, Published by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’  Association.

I was recently inspired to submit a post to The Momoir Project as they put out a request for stories about the “little moments” in raising children.  It’s running on their blog this week and I welcome you to stop for a read!


Learning to Speak:  Lessons from 9/11

A mother’s aim is to protect her children from the wicked and unknown.  No event instilled this responsibility deeper for me than the events of 9/11.  The tenth anniversary has passed, and we have all been reminded that our complacent license for peace is one we can no longer take for granted. 

I put my 5-year old and my 4-year old sons on the school bus that morning 10 years ago for their half-day JK and SK morning programs, all of us still fresh with this experience that is ‘going to school’.  I returned home with my 1-year old daughter to tend to all that a mother of three young children attempts in the 2½ hours per day when only one is at home.  I got nothing done of course as I did what millions did that morning:  watched with horror and sickness as events unfolded.

As my boys jumped off the bus at noon and scuttled into my open arms, I set about routine and served them lunch.  My silence was a stark contrast to their kindergarten energy.  Oblivious to unfolding events, their excitement only escalated with an unprecedented midday return of Daddy whose normal workday, like everyone’s, had naturally turned upside down.

What would we tell our boys?  They were far too young to understand terrorism.  What did we know of terrorism?  Up until now, our parenting struggles had been restricted to proper nutrition and sleep and reinforcing the kindergarten dogma of hold hands and share.  We knew we could not shelter them from the media storm as it permeated the sandbox, so we chose to share that a terrible accident had occurred.  What else do you tell a 4-and 5-year old?

Late night CNN was taking its toll the next day, as I struggled with the morning school bus routine.  My 5-year old was uncharacteristically quiet that day at lunch.  “Are you ok?” I finally asked my eldest child.  He looked at me seriously and said, “I have something to tell you” and I waited for some recess confession.  “Remember yesterday when you told me that it was an accident that a plane flew into the World Trade Center ?”  I braced myself, and nodded. “Well, no Mom, I’m sorry.  It wasn’t an accident.  I have to tell you what really happened.”  Oh my God, he thinks he has to set me straight on this. “Some bad guys flew two big planes into the towers on purpose because they don’t like Americans.  They did it on purpose, Mom.”

The grief that filled the world in the days that followed 9/11 was far larger than mine that day.  However, it was a sad day for me when I realized I could no longer promise to protect him from everything … and now he knew it.

We’ve since gone on to make many more full disclosure mishaps (my husband refers to these moments as good material for his fatherhood memoir, “Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned on the School Bus”), but none more emphatically than the day we lied to our kids about 9/11.  My son learned to speak to me that day, as a 5-year old kid who grew up all too fast.


A couple of summers ago, I read and posted a blog about Ernest Hemingway’s, “A Moveable Feast” http://thedustbunnychronicles.com/2009/08/20/taties-treat/].  Though I enjoyed the book, and took great inspiration in his obvious devotion to the task writing and the relentless struggle to combine words in proper succession that results in a masterpiece, I was always struck by his lack of attention or devotion to his young wife Hadley.  Though they were newlyweds in the city of love (Paris), her character plays a minor role in the book.  I kept reading between the lines wondering if this poor woman, who bore Hemingway’s first child while in Paris, played an equally inconsequential role in his life.  While he ate and drank with the generation of literary expats in Paris who came to be known as the Lost Generation, I wondered what poor Hadley was doing?  This poor, lonely, similarly tortured soul probably spent her destitute days desperately eking out an existence for herself and her child.

I finished the book, and as life happens, forgot all about poor Hadley though I continued to try to draw from Hemingway’s encouragement in my writing… with considerably less success than he. 

I forgot about poor Hadley, that is, until recently.  I purchased Mary Chapin Carpenter’s album, The Age of Miracles, primarily for soft background music for yoga or my post run stretching routine.  The, last night after a run, I heard the song, Mrs. Hemingway, for the first time.  So it would seem that Ms Carpenter had also read the book and may have had similar speculation about Hadley as I.  Though the words are Ms. Carpenter’s, I wonder now how closely they reflect the life of Mrs. Hemingway. 

It’s a sad love song for sure, but after listening to it, I smiled.  How small the world is that I could share so unique a perspective with another human being so far removed from my own life about a person equally so far removed from both our lives.  The song echoed my thoughts about a book we’d each read and which had left the same lingering but remote impression on us both.

Mrs. Hemingway

We packed up our books and our dishes
Our dreams and your worsted wool suits
We sailed on the 8th of December.
Farewell old Hudson River
Here comes the sea
And love was as new and as bright and as true
When I loved you and you loved me.

Two steamer trunks in the carriage
Safe arrival we cabled back home
It was just a few days before Christmas
We filled our stockings with wishes
And walked for hours
Arm in arm through the rain, to the glassed-in café
It held us like hothouse flowers

Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, cathedrals and cloisters
And time with it’s unerring aim
For now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine

Love is the greatest deceiver
It hollows you out like a drum
And suddenly nothing is certain
As if all the clouds closed the curtains and blocked the sun
And friends now are strangers in this city of dangers
As cold and as cruel as they come

Sometimes I look at old pictures
And smile at how happy we were
How easy it was to be hungry.
It wasn’t for fame or for money
It was for love
Now my copper hair’s gray as the stones on the quay
In the city where magic was

Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, and Notre Dame’s cloisters
And time with it’s unerring aim
For now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine

Now I can say I was lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine.


Next time I am in Paris, I shall throw a rose into the Seine …. for  Hadley …

I am seriously thinking of becoming a travel writer.  That is, as long as I get to pick and choose where I go and with whom I go!  I would so love to write, travel and eat.  No wait a minute, that’s travel, eat and write.  Hold on.  Eat, travel, and write.  That’s better.


 The Taste of the Seas gives us a taste of St. Maarten… 

We were all happy enough to be finally out of the cold Canadian hockey arenas to which we were accustomed, but our day aboard the Taste of the Seas in St. Maarten just got better and better.  We were eleven aboard that day in March … this travel writer along with 5 other adults and 5 children ages 10-14.  No one wanted the day to end.

 Our spirits were initially dampened as we were drizzled with rain showers during our 15-minute walk from our cruise ship to Bobby’s Marina.  Waiting 30 minutes for our scheduled vessel, Reel Play, to arrive to the marina didn’t help and it took some time and our own inquiring to confirm that Reel Play, was reely not coming and another boat had been organized.  This travel writer was taking some serious notes about lack of service and the skeptics among us started to worry that our day’s excursion was in jeopardy.  While our departure was delayed a full hour as a result of this miscommunication, the rain ceased and our hosts, Captain Myles and First Mate Mike (aka Jack Sparrow) ensured our spirits and souls were immediately revived with a delicious and potent rum punch.  As the song goes, changes in latitude mean changes in attitude.  Yes indeed, 10am never felt so good in a hockey arena. Of course, we knew we were in great hands since Captain Myles was a transplanted Canadian himself.  I never did get to meet Bobby.

Cruising for about 45 minutes to our first snorkeling destination, first mate Mike (originally from Yorkshire England but more recently from no fixed address) recounted some first rate local lore, geography and economy along with fascinating personal tales of his cross-Atlantic solo sails.  I seriously doubt if any of the stories were true but was not going to risk his spitting in my rum punch.  We were well equipped with snorkel gear and noodles which helped me considerably since I jumped in without fins.  Hey, no one told me a travel writer also has to be good at snorkeling.  In any event, we did not have the cove Captain Myles chose entirely to ourselves, as some scuba divers swam beneath us, but the crowds of other snorkeling destinations we passed along the way were no where to be found, attesting to Myles knowledge of the island and its secrets.  So this is where my career as a travel writer really sinks:  I know nothing about fish or coral, but they were sure pretty and sure colouful.  A warm fresh water shower off the back of the boat relieved us of any salt water discomfort and we were quickly back on the sun deck recounting our underwater adventures…and more rum punch (hic!)

We then cruised back along the coast to the very secluded Mullet’s Bay where Myles anchored as we swam ashore for lunch.  No where in the brochure did we read “our guests will enjoy a delightful swim ashore for lunch”, or we probably would have thought twice about booking, but in the end, this turned out to be the highlight of the excursion!  Seriously, what’s the opposite of ‘all aboard’?  Is it ‘walk the plank’? Or ‘heave-ho’? Maybe that last one is reserved just for me.  The crystal clear blue waters and gentle rolling waves were a perfect sequel to our snorkeling adventure and we enjoyed a shaded cabana lunch (paying no attention to the little vermin we thought we saw in the floorboards) alongside stunning sea and sand.

 Most reluctantly, we all swam back to our boat, where Mike plied us [adults] with some more rum punch and allowed our teenagers to spend 20 minutes doing spectacular jumps and dives off the boat’s deck followed by sunbathing on the boat’s deck while I drank more rum punch and perfected my pirate snarl. 

One in our group seriously hoped to do some fishing while aboard so I seriously hid any fishing rods I came across (just kidding).  Nevertheless, St. Maarten aboard the Taste of the Seas is a highly recommended excursion – as is the highly recommended crew.  When you go, please say ‘hi’ from the Canucks from Ottawa!


Honestly, someone please hire me to be a travel writer!  If you do, I’ll even brush up on my fishes – or fish’s – names.  If you send me to Tuktoyaktuk, however, I might have to take a leave of absence.  Location. Location. Location.

Homework for a class I’m taking in memoir writing involved buying a journal.  Oh – and using it.  I’m trying not to roll my eyes but I have never “journaled” or kept a diary and thought this was quite a tedious assignment.  Nevertheless, a trip to Indigo-Chapters is one that my daughter and I enjoy – each to our own corner of the store – so off we went on a school supply shopping trip for me.  Though my corner is usually Fiction or better yet, Starbucks, this visit involved a trip to the Paper section.  My daughter has led me there on numerous occasions to seek out one of the many journals she has maintained in her lifetime.  She is ten.

I was staking out a spot for my brand new journal, with a big letter A on its front cover, in my night table drawer, when I came across an old diary of mine.  So I lied; I did keep a diary; but only for about 4 months of my life.  My aunt bought me a small one for Christmas one year and I managed to keep it up for an astonishing 4 months in the year 1980.  My daughter was in the room, and was obviously curious about its contents.  What the heck?  I read aloud from a random page…

“When I write in this diary, I think about my daughters reading it and what they will think.”  I know, but I swear that really was on the page that I randomly flipped open and read to her.  She looked at me with such amazement that you’d think two cosmos collided.  She was wriggling and giggling with excitement so I read on to find out what other profound predictions I professed in 1980.

I was 16 years old in 1980 and a very average 16 year old at that.  I was not out struggling for social justice or campaigning for peace, I wasn’t plotting to overthrow my parents’ rule and  I wasn’t depressed or raging or even writing bad poetry.  I was, in fact, entirely ordinary, working as a waitress in a truck stop, studying for exams, angsting about my hair and playing a bit part in the local theatre company’s production of The Sound of Music.  Oh and I had a huge crush on a boy named Chris (“A.G. loves C.R.” was emblazoned in a big heart in the back cover!).

“Oh, Mom!” my daughter chided, “You were such a drama queen!”  It dawned on me that a) the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and b) my daughter was making a connection.  She realized that this evil thing that takes away her iPod and makes her eat broccoli was once young and frivolous. 

So, I am now determined to do this journal business – if for no other reason than for the conservation of my own memories and emotions (perhaps no longer so young and so frivolous).  She may have a ten year old herself one day (and it’ll serve her right) and look back on this, and her own, journals!

hemingwayI mentioned in my last post that I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”.  I am reasonably certain that I borrowed it from the library after being sucked in by someone’s – probably Oprahs’ –  Summer Reading List as I am not one to randomly pick up novels by old coots that I was forced to read in high school English classes. It may have been because I was reading it while lazing in a hammock or right after lunch before the bliss of a mid day nap took over, but this book became one of the inspirational highlights of my summer vacation.  I took away much motivation from this work, not least of which was the desire to be bohemian in Paris (that will remain a suppressed desire).  One of the phrases I found humbling was how long Hemingway agonized over his writing.  He would struggle all morning to make one paragraph read the way he wanted.  He worked all morning to make one paragraph perfect!  I can picture him clearly in some little café with a pencil in his mouth looking up to the sky searching and waiting the perfect word to present itself in his brain. Then a twinkle comes to his eye and he’s back to scribbling away furiously in his notebook, oblivious to the fact that Paris is all around him.  Clearly he could not just hit the shift-F7 for the thesaurus like I do.  Some days I give myself an hour to write a blog post, find a suitable image for it, and post it to my site before my kids find me “playing” on the computer once again.   Now I know what stands between me and the Nobel Prize for Literature…. Time. (okay, okay, perhaps a little talent too). 

Enough about me, back to Hem, A Moveable Feast is about his very early days as a writer living in Paris.  There are chapters devoted to all the great cafés at which he wrote, ate and drank.  He also wrote about all the other inspiring writers he met with regularly during his time in Paris.  Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F.Scott Fitzgerald and a few others that meant little to me.  I was fantasizing his lifestyle but I can only imagine the constant anxiety he felt trying to support a wife (and soon thereafter, a child) on his meager earnings as a young writer.  While living in Paris, he was writing articles for magazines at this point in his life, before his novel writing phase.  In fact he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star at one point.  Twelve dollars a page was a good wage then.  I’ve been told $1.25/word is a great price for magazine writing nowadays.  I was paid 30¢/word for my Lent project article which translates to about $103.50/page.  Clearly “writer” does not fall in the Hot Jobs category with that rate of inflation over 90 years.  He also wrote that two could live reasonably well and travel in Europe in those days for $2/day.  I can’t fathom being able to live in Paris, of all places, for $2/day even if it was the 1920’s.  When my husband and I backpacked through Europe 20 years ago, we budgeted $15/day each – occasionally tough to accomplish. 

Patience, perseverance and practice lead to great things for Ernest Hemingway, perhaps for me too.

It’s not really a book club but rather an online course on writing a book proposal.  Thanks to the encouragement of friends and family, I’ve started this 4-week course which will guide me through the complex modus operandi to preparing a professional proposal for a nonfiction book.

First thing I learn is that a professional book proposal could be 35-38 pages in length PLUS one or two sample chapters.  Uh, question?  What if my whole book is only going to be 35-38 pages??  I’m so glad this course is on line and I don’t actually have to raise my hand in class to ask questions out loud.

Next I read through the bios of my fellow classmates which number 20 or so.  There are doctors and psychologists looking for guidance in writing encyclopedias and manuals, there are economists and executives looking to write professional trade books, several artists and ministers interested in writing self-help books that will guide us to the path of healing and a wine master who I sure hope is going to write a book about how to make your own wine at home that tastes just like Wolf Blass (but I somehow doubt it), just to name a few.  Fully half of the class have already written books or been published in some form. Gulp.snoopy

 Needless to say, I am totally out of my league.  I’m already thinking of playing hooky tonight during our real time “lounge’ chat.  On my first posting to our ‘blackboard’ I meekly added, “Such class diversity and talent!  I am so impressed!  Well, leave it to me to drag things down a notch and write a book about ‘a day in the life’ of a typical hockey mom”.  To this, I received only one response:  “Oh how cute.  Good luck with that.”  Sounds like she liked the idea though.

My first assignment is to write a catalogue copy.  Publishers read this first to determine if they want to read your proposal.  It’s kind of like the back flap book summary that helps you decide if you want to buy the book.  Well, here goes….here’s my rough draft:

Intentional Offside:  A Day in the Life of a Hockey Mom

Catalogue Copy – Version July 2009

Her vocal chords and stern advice would impress a veteran drill sergeant.  Her unwavering loyalty would unhinge a marine.   Her vehicle serves as transportation, restaurant, after-school homework club, therapists couch, and customer care centre, music machine and sleep chamber.  She is but one of the tens of thousands of hockey moms diligently doing duty all over North America.

What is essential arena attire?  Who manufactures the ultimate travel coffee mug? Hockey equipment costs how much?? What the heck is an intentional off-side? You expect my friends to buy raffle tickets to win THIS?  What, Who and Where is the Rink Rat? What can you feed a family who will eat at 3 different times while saving leftovers for the teenage ones who’ll bring half their team home after the game?  Did I really volunteer for this job?

Even if you’re not a hockey mom – you may not even follow hockey – you’ll enjoy this hilarious epic “day in the life” narrative that chronicles a mother’s journey over the slippery slick surface that is being a true Hockey Mom.  Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote about her, now you can read about her. You may laugh, you may cry and you may even learn a thing or two about hockey.

I don’t know.  At least my real book club serves wine and cheese.

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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