Aaaah dear Stuart, you’ve been on my mind so often in recent times. We lost you just over three years ago and we’ve missed you terribly but these recent months have created a chasm that it seems only you, and maybe a little dose of Dr. Bonnie Henry, could fill. Stu, things have been grim, glum and grating. But there have been shiny moments too. I know you would have found them, sprinkled them with your fairy dust and invited us down the path with you to see and savour these little joys. There is no way you’d have allowed us to wallow and whine. 

It’s Canada Day today and there has probably never been another Canadian who has visited and embraced as many parts of this country as you did. You and your vibrant curiosity were welcomed warmly at coffee shops, and bake shops and book shops (especially book shops!) in cities and towns, big and small. The small were clearly your favourites (though you would never play favourites) and you conveyed their very essence to us in a way that made us feel we were there along with you and the villagers. Thank you for helping us know and love our Canada and all its citizens.

I heard your voice the other day and it stopped me in my tracks. CBC was playing in the background and all of a sudden you were there with me in my kitchen. I can’t begin to explain how that felt. I know you would have found the perfect words and captured the moment. One follower of the Vinyl Cafe wrote this: “I was listening to the Current on Friday and suddenly the story came on. I wasn’t prepared. I had to lean against the counter and feel the emotions rise.” So I wasn’t alone with the surging sentimentality. Lest anyone doubt your lofty position in the hearts of Canadians, this comment made me laugh out loud: “Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s address was broadcast instead of (Stuart’s) story in Manitoba. Any way it can still be heard via another source? Was very disappointing!” You will always be the Primest of our Primes.

The CBC and its legion of fellow Stuart and Vinyl Cafe devotees recognized your voice was desperately needed in our kitchens and hearts again, and soon. The Current played a few of your stories to overwhelming delight and now, it’s been officially announced – you’re back for the Summer! I know exactly where I’ll be on Sundays at noon. And I can’t wait. I can’t wait to hear your comforting cadence, your playful pauses to allow us to catch up with your wit, your own battles to overcome the giggles … and I’ll have the tissues at the ready, for the inevitable happy tears and for the ones shed in missing you too. 

Happy Canada Day, Stuart!

(illustration by Michael deAdder)


Book Clubs can be wonderful and book clubs can be tricky … Recently, Stuart McLean of The Vinyl Cafe (CBC Radio) told a story about “Morley” and her experience joining a book club.

Stuart recites: ” … the books she will read will take her to worlds beyond her own, and it’s always more fun to travel with friends.”

In the end, Morley sets some book club reading guidelines of her own:

Read …

1. A book about a man I could marry.

2. A book I read in Grade school.

3. A book that mentions chocolate favourably.

4. A book I haven’t read but have seen the movie.

5. A book my husband would quit after the first chapter.

Sounds like a fun book club to me!

So, set up the computer (or ipad or whatever you tune in on!) within earshot as you’re making dinner and enjoy the hilarity and the poignancy in this clip from the podcast. Just click on the link and Stuart will be chatting with you in no time.

Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe podcast – April 1- 2012

I have been waiting almost a year to share this wonderful “Back to School” story with you. I am an enormous fan of the charming Stuart McLean’s writing and storytelling. Stuart is our Canadian treasure and can be heard on CBC radio as well as on itunes. Any family road trip of ours is prepared for by loading up on (downloading?) his Vinyl Cafe stories in podcast form; we all enjoy them. Of the hundreds and perhaps thousands of stories Stuart has told, this one, “Pink Eraser”, is one of my favourites. This first day of school seemed the best day of the year to share it with you. May you enjoy your day and make some “wonderful messes”!

Pink Eraser by Stuart McLean

by Vinyl Cafe on Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 7:39am

I have a letter here I wrote to a young friend of mine on the weekend. I don’t think he would mind if I read it to you today…well I know he wouldn’t – I asked him if I could share it. I could just as well have written it to someone heading to university … or for that matter … starting a new job. 

Dear Sam,

We are celebrating the beginning of school on the Vinyl Cafe today … and knowing that we would be doing this, I have been thinking about you … and wondering what I could give you this year to mark this moment. These annual autumn bells: the shuffle of feet on stairs, the rattle of lockers opening and closing. The echoes we all hear when September rolls in. The echoes of the schoolyards and the school days that are both here and not here. 

I have been thinking of these things and wondering if there was some token I could wrap and give you, some little thing that would ring bells as you head off once again with your brave little bag of books. 

Some perfect little thing that tells you I understand the complexity of this week. That I know that though the first day of school is a grand day, the grandest day of all in many ways, that even in its grandeur, in the grandeur of new shoes and shirts, new friends and old ones, new teachers and new classes … that it is a grand bag of tricks too … it comes with the bag of exams and papers and other things that can go all too wrong. 

Everyone says this is the week that marks the real new year . And why not? What could be more full of possibility than the first day of school. As full of potential as a toboggan at the top of a hill, of a pencil hovering over a blank page, of the smile of that girl with the golden hair sitting in the front row. 

But sometimes the snow melts, and you are standing there with your toboggan, feeling a fool … the only one who didn’t hear the weather forecast. 

It is a complicated thing this business of school. And it is in the complexity of it that the sorrow and the sadness comes. The heavy burden of books that pile up, and the numbers that don’t … the big numbers that won’t add, the equations that won’t equate. The metaphors that lie there on their backs with their feet wiggling in the air. 

Time tables and exams, projects and essays … all that stuff that can build up and cause problems and I was hoping this thing I would give you could acknowledge that stuff too.

My first idea was a dictionary. A blue cloth-covered Oxford Canadian with the title stamped in gold letters. If I gave you a dictionary, you would have all the words in the world and you could look them up and write them down in any way you wanted and the wind would blow and the bells would ring and the lockers would slam and teachers would be bewitched by your way with words … and that girl with the golden hair too. 

I thought maybe a dictionary with gold letters on the cover would be just the thing.

Then I thought, maybe a new pair of shoes. 

A brand new pair of sneakers … sneakers as heady as dandelion wine …a pair of “royal crown, cream –sponge, light-foot tennis shoes, and when you put them on, you bounce, and when you run you run like a gazelle.” Is it a pair of sneakers you need as you run to school?

Or what about lunch? What about lunch every day for a year. If I packed you a lunch of carrot sticks and raisins, and peanut butter sandwiches on soft white bread with jelly the way you like it, the bread so fresh you dent it with your fingers just in the unwrapping. I thought if I wrapped your sandwich in wax paper and wrote little notes on the paper with a black felt pen and slipped in some chocolate from time to time that might do the trick.

I thought and thought… and I thought I could be your wordsmith, your shoemaker or your chef. 

But none of them seemed right. The shoes didn’t fit … you forgot the lunch bag in the bus. And who needs more words anyway. There are words enough to go around. 

And that is when I decided to give you this eraser. 
An original Pink Pearl. 
This little plug of pink rubber 
with a point at both the ends and this broad side too 
the perfect size for mistakes … big or small 
an eraser that will fit in your hand whatever size your hands are 
four or forty 
five or fifty 
something that will work today and work tomorrow 
that has 
deep in its rubbery little heart 
memories of a rubber tree 
in some thick forest. 

A gash in the bark 
the drip drip of sap 

but more than that, 
the worried frown of a chemist too 
because your eraser has been vulcanized my friend 
and even though I don’t have the slightest idea what that means 
I do have the deep conviction that if we all carried some small vulcanized thing with us at all times 
we would have an easier go of it 
and be less prone to explosive anger 
road rage 
and the gnawing anxiety of our fears. 

This is for you. 
I wrapped it in this brown paper to give to you this morning, 
this first day of school, 
and I hope you will understand when you unwrap it 
that life’s greatest treasures are the simple ones. Take its measure, 
roll it between your fingers, 
put it in your pocket.  It is all you will need 
to get through the year safely. 

It will give itself up 
to correct your mistakes. 
Its sharp edges slowly rounding 
like a piece of glass rolled in the sea 
until all that’s left of it 
are little pink smears on the pages of your life. 
What more could you ask of anything than that? 

If I am right about this, 
with this eraser 
in your bag 
you can risk it all. 
Exams will mean nothing to you, 
they can roll out the big numbers 
and all the arrhythmic poems and you will knock them clean out of the park. 

This year you get the pink eraser 
from the deep thick forest. 
I give it to you with my love 
and these instructions: 

Take it with you everywhere. 
You never know when you are going to make a mess 
or where,  
just that you are bound to mess things up. And don’t worry about that. 
I give you my permission. 
Make many messes. 
Make wonderful messes 
The harder you try, 
the bigger they’ll be. 

Don’t mind mistakes, 
the mistakes are how you learn. 
You have an eraser so 
go ahead, make the messes. 
Then … clean them up. 
Try again.

Reading Aloud

July 30, 2010

 Last summer, our family decided to embark on an impromptu weekend camping trip. It was our first outing in a tent beyond the wilds of our back garden and so the boys were excited, we were enthused, and the dog was downright giddy. It was the perfect time to head out as much like our present state of weather affairs, the sun was glaring brightly in what felt like an endless streak of hot days. In a desperate gesture to alleviate my guilt for not forcing the boys to be more diligent with their school assigned summer reading list, I tossed in a copy of James Herriot stories, endorsed by “the list”.  We had great fun arriving at camp, setting up our abode, exploring the environs and cooking “camp” fare for dinner.  After a lively contest of biggest-bubble-blowing we began to tidy up. Long low rumbles were starting to roll in the distance and the sky took on a gloomier look. Uh oh. We raced off to brush our teeth and made it back to the tent in time for the first few, but determined, drops of rain. In a panic we gathered everything in under the tent or into the back of the nearby car. Then the rain became seriously forceful! And those rumbles … much louder and now accompanied by dramatic flashes of lightning. The four of us, and our furry friend, all tumbled into the tent and zipped ‘er up. It poured. No. It POURED!  Kudos to Camp Daddy who took that extra minute to tie down the rain shield “just in case”. We stayed dry and counted one-thousand-and-one, one-thousand-and-two …. That darn old storm was so intense and it cruised right over us. It literally made headlines in the next day’s news.

But was that the most memorable part of the adventure? It actually shared billing with the reading aloud (by Mom in her best English country accent and vet voice) of James Herriot’s stories. As we cuddled in the tent I read aloud by flashlight, one story, and then another and then … they kept asking for more! Now that the boys are teen and near-teen our night time tradition of reading before bed has sadly gone by the way-side; it’s hard to read a bedtime story to your kids when you’re often asleep before they are! But they loved this and so did I. Pretty sure the dog did too.

Reading aloud to children and teens has been studied and proven to be hugely beneficial to their academic achievement and general success in school. That’s all fine and dandy. I recommend you find a good book,  candle-light or a flashlight, a cozy space in a tent or cabin and cuddle up for some good old reading aloud just for the sake of the treasured memories you’ll make.

We’re packing up for some vacation time in a cabin by a lake and in among the bug spray, the sunscreen and the bathing suits I’ll be tucking in a book to read aloud. James Herriott was a hit, Stuart McLean stories or Bill Bryson perhaps this year…?  I won’t allow myself to be disappointed if the boys don’t cuddle up and tune in, but I have a pretty good feeling that even a year “cooler” they’ll still be game.

%d bloggers like this: