Yearly Archives: 2007

Winter 2007

Winter has been slow coming to Ontario this year. So slow, that although I prefer the sun and the warmth, I was beginning to feel somewhat deprived that winter still hadn’t arrived by January. In a fit of what could only be described as Canadian winter angst, I booked a ticket to somewhere I’d never actually visited, somewhere more likely to be experiencing some semblance of winter than Toronto.

In mid-January, I boarded a train at Union Station that took me as far as Montréal, where, after a brief pause on my journey, I was able to board the train to Québec City, where, yes, there was snow! Albeit not enough snow to open all the ski resorts. Adding to the pleasure of the trip was that my good friend and fellow writer Kathy Mac was able to join me, also arriving by train, but from Fredericton, New Brunswick. Between us, we’d travelled across at least a third of the country to meet at a point roughly halfway between our two homes.

The first evening we were there, we wandered along the boardwalk of the Château Frontenac, climbed many stairs and strode out onto the Plains of Abraham, named for Abraham Martin, an early settler who once grazed his cattle on its grasses. Site of the 1759 battle that altered the course of Canadian history, this is where both Wolfe and Montcalm died (along with countless other British, French, Canadian and Aboriginal soldiers). What surprised me most on first viewing was that the Plain was not the flat landscape I recalled from reproductions of paintings in my grade five history text, but was in fact more like a mogul ski course with a series of hillocks. I was quite distressed by this apparent inconsistency between what I knew the Plains of Abraham was supposed to look like and the seeming reality.

Over the course of the weekend, we wandered about the city (including an exploration of the old lower town ending in a funicular ride back up), ate great food (including a dessert called Pears Pernod that very nearly had me licking the plate), drank amazingly good coffee (everywhere), checked out museums and took the ferry to Lévis.

From across the St. Lawrence, it was possible to fully appreciate the grandeur of the height on which Québec City is perched. Although I’d seen pictures of the cliff face, it was far more treacherous and vertical than I’d realized. If I’d been in Wolfe’s army, I would’ve thought my general quite mad! It also explains why several failed attempts were made to approach Québec.

Later, during daylight hours, we took a longer walk out onto the Plain and I was finally able to appreciate its height, magnitude (one hundred and eight acres) and flatness (which begins further from the city walls than we had walked on our previous visit). Although relics of war still scatter the Plains in the form of various monuments and Martello towers, since 1908, this site has been known as Battlefields Park. Now the centre of Québec City recreation, the park is used year-round by residents and visitors alike. As you can see from the photo, a snowman now stands guard in front of one of the Martello towers.

Plans are afoot for the park’s centennial celebration next year, the centrepiece of which will be the Plains of Abraham Epic, a theatrical retelling of the park’s 400-year history, in mid-August. (More information is available at:

The world is littered with battlefields, some ancient, some contemporary. I truly wish more politicians and governments could see the wisdom of transforming our battlefields into parks where kids and parents can play together in peace. It’s a great use for a battlefield and I would like to think it improves the vibes of a place that has seen so much death and suffering.

The weekend went by too quickly, ending with a few laps around the hotel pool before we had to board our divergent trains to return us to our different everyday worlds. But it was a pleasant and necessary time-out for us both. And of course it snowed a few days after I returned home.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Fall 2007

Although perhaps more Luddite than some, I’m also more technically savvy than others. I’m part of that awkward in-between generation that didn’t grow up with much technology, but was introduced to it at an early enough age to be able to integrate it into an understanding of the world and the way things work. As such, I may be a bit reluctant to embrace new technologies, but sometimes also pleasantly wowed.

I despair that kids these days figure they don’t have to learn to write or spell or do basic math because there are machines to do these things for them. I’m not sure how they’re going to cope when the power fails. But hey, middle-aged fuddy-duddies have been wondering about the next generation since the Ancient Greeks and somehow we’re still here.

The Internet enables the spread of information-and misinformation-at previously unavailable speeds. This has opened the door to a whole new arena of enlightenment and potential frustration.

I’ve been trying to correct some misinformation that got online about my involvement with a series of books. When I’ve contacted specific offending websites requesting that they correct this information, they generally shrug and claim that it’s not their problem; their information comes from the distributor, who, of course, gets its information from the publisher, who was responsible for creating the misinformation in the first place. As an individual outside this loop, I apparently have no voice, even though it’s my name and reputation being misrepresented. Needless to say, I was forced to go a more formal route to seek resolution. Although the situation has improved, it still isn’t resolved. Why? Because misinformation replicates itself ad nauseum, just as information does, on the Internet. As Caleb Carr pointed out in Killing Time, on the Internet, there’s no differentiation between information and truth. There’s no consideration of authenticity or validity; there’s only endlessly streaming data.

Not all Internet errors are so annoying. I occasionally receive fan mail, even from radio stations, for Katherine Jenkins, the Welsh Mezzo Soprano. What I find funny is that these fans don’t realize that our names are spelled differently, so they end up on my website rather than hers. Then, even though my website is pretty obviously that of a writer, rather than a vocalist, they still go ahead and e-mail me. But hey, I’m a good person. I redirect them. If I get back to my music, things may become even more confusing. Of course, I’ve also discovered one, possibly two, other writers named Catherine Jenkins. While they seem to be in the UK, there’s still lots of room for growing confusion, thanks to the globalizing nature of the Internet.

On the plus side, the Internet has enabled me to locate numerous people I’d misplaced or even forgotten. I’ve reconnected with people from high school and my old hometown of Peterborough, people I’d lost touch with for fifteen or twenty years. E-mail allows me to stay in greater contact with friends who live at a distance. While I still write an occasional letter or make an occasional long distance phone call, this is a way of saying “hey” at the moment of that thought, with an immediacy that doesn’t have the disruptive effect of a ringing telephone. It allows people to mention the regular minutiae of a day in a way we generally don’t in letters. It’s a hybrid form of communication that supports the advantages of both telephones and letters.

Professionally, electronic media and communication have made things much easier and more efficient for me. Writing research is a whole lot simpler using the Internet-as long as one keeps a critical eye on the information source. I’ve also been able to track down and contact other professionals to request information, guidance or input into something I’m working on. The technology is great, as long as it’s used intelligently.

I’m also pleased that some literary journals are now accepting submissions via e-mail. From my perspective, that reduces the time and cost of handling, office supplies and postage. Electronic submissions are especially welcome when I’m submitting outside Canada. I gave up on International Reply Coupons some years ago; they’re expensive and I found that not everyone on the receiving end knew what they were or how to redeem them. Whenever I travel to the US or UK, I buy postage stamps, but the rates keep changing, so I still have to research current rates and figure out how to make whatever stamps I have add up. If a journal accepts electronic submissions, I don’t have to worry about return postage on my SASE. I’m currently compiling data to see if the turnaround time on electronic submissions is any faster than those sent the old-fashioned way.

So, as with most things, I can see both pros and cons. I use what works to advantage for me and critically consider the rest, accepting that the technology is here now and it’s here to stay.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Summer 2007

Two years ago, I was wading through a difficult summer of parental illness. This summer, I am doing the same. September will mark the second anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Two years is not a great temporal distance from such an event and I’m still keenly aware of the loss of his presence. Yesterday, someone mentioned a date and I burst into tears. It was the date of my father’s birthday. Such are the irrational reactions of the heart in grief.

Since May, my Mum has been in steady decline. A voice in my head keeps whispering, too soon, not ready for this. But these are things for which there are no options. Events unfurl. All we can do is react, be with, advocate for, be ready to let go. There are no predictions. No fixed date.

Anxiety is in my body. I have started waking at three a.m. in case the phone rings. In the morning, my neck is stiff with tension. I tend to eat badly or not at all. I tend not to want to do much of anything, to just wait for the news. But this serves no purpose. I try to rally my energies to useful activities, like housework and writing, but my heart isn’t in it. I force myself to do yoga and walk to release the tension. And I have promised myself that once a week I will do something relaxing, a massage, or a spa.

I visit regularly, but now she sleeps most hours, eats little, is mentally distracted. Conversation is sparse, me asking questions to which often no answers are forthcoming, or talking about my day, but she nods off after a few sentences. The phone is next to useless, causing confusion, often off the hook. My mother is unwinding, both mentally and physically. I am uncertain who she is becoming. There is little time to find out.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Spring 2007

One of the classic spring activities for Canadians is the traditional opening of the cottage. This usually takes place on the 24th of May weekend (with the traditional closing date being Labour Day). Depending on the cottage, it’s age, how well it’s protected and sealed from the elements and other natural infestations, opening can take more or less time, but one generally hopes to accomplish cottage opening efficiently so the remainder of the weekend can be enjoyed lying in the sun sipping beer or some other (usually alcoholic) beverage.

As our cottage is a log cabin that was erected by my Granddad with assistance from my Mum in 1945, it is neither modern nor terribly well sealed. Consequently, opening can take a little longer.

What exactly is meant by “opening” the cottage? Opening is a series of chores, some simply domestic, like cleaning floors and toilets, etc., while others are more technical, like getting the power on or cajoling the water system into functioning, while still others pertain to outdoor chores like mowing the lawn and removing storm windows.

While this may sound quietly idyllic, relatively simple and fuss-free, one never knows what one is walking into until the door is unlocked. The clean-up may entail the removal of mice and/or other rodents (dead and/or alive), nests of said rodents, their droppings and/or the scattered remnants of meals and/or nesting materials. Best to wear a facemask to prevent the inhalation of fine particles of fecal matter (which may contain Hantavirus and God knows what else). Gloves are also strongly recommended.

On the first day, I was able to get the electricity on with the flick of a switch. Although the water system proved a bit fussier, with the pump requiring numerous primings and much fiddling, it eventually pumped up fine. I also removed the winter storms, just in time to watch mammoth clouds push across the lake and dump a torrent of rain. It was the first test of the newly re-shingled roof, at least the first test to which there was a witness. The roof performed admirably, the only leak occurring around the stovepipe. Glad to have at least some of the outdoor chores accomplished before the storm hit, I turned to the interior.

I vacuumed up mouse droppings and old insulation that had fallen from the attic, I scoured the toilet and sinks, I disinfected the countertops. And then I assembled about a dozen boxes of kitchen articles that had been deposited at the cottage three years ago when my parents left their apartment to move into a retirement home where such items were no longer needed. In the course of unpacking these boxes, I chanced upon a live mouse (not sure who was more startled) who I then reintroduced to the great outdoors through mutual agreement.

The first night I had difficulty sleeping due to persistent rustling sounds emitting from the kitchen where all the remaining boxes were lined up waiting to be unpacked. The following morning, I decided to continue unpacking the boxes on the lawn. I witnessed another mouse leap from a box beside the one I was working on and scurry away into the lily bed. Later, I discovered that one or the other of the mice I had evicted had abandoned its nest, leaving half-a-dozen pink and squirming babies. After a moment of sorrow and regret and having dismissed the feasibility of nursing them myself, I gently picked up the entire nest and carefully moved it to the shelter of the woodpile, telling myself that maybe they’d survive, but know it was highly unlikely. As awful as it felt, the upside was that I’d saved the cottage from yet still another generation of marauding mice.

I completed my cleaning by washing every plate, dish, saucer and glass in the place and carefully stacking them all in the disinfected cupboards. The second night, there was no rustling, no scurried footfalls overhead. Having removed all the live mice, the cottage itself was very quiet, allowing me to focus on the sounds of the surrounding woods and lake. Through the night, a family of Canada Geese honked, occasionally joined by the loons, and crickets ground out their tunes, while chipmunks and squirrels chattered at their territorial boundaries and rustled in the leaves.

In subsequent visits, I’ve cut the grass, restained the garage, filled in some potholes in the road, taken a run to the dump, installed new signs and purchased some new Muskoka chairs. I’ve also seen a fox on the front lawn, seen a few deer and watched various hawks and other birds scouring the property for food. I’ve watched people playing on the lake.

I’ve read books. I’ve sipped blender drinks. I’ve almost gotten too much sun. And mostly, I’ve enjoyed the calm of being in nature, among the trees by a lake, away from the demands of my daily urban life.