Monday, May 30, 2016

Lobster? Rhubarb? It must be a spring-time birthday

It isn't that we don't like the month of May; we definitely do. It's just that when it's over, we're surprised and thankful that we've survived it once again.

Just to remind you, here are the cards that have ended up on our mantelpiece over the past month:

Here's a different view, same cards:

And here's one, with Grizzly "helping" because cats always "help" in these situations:

We started with Mother's Day on May 8. We celebrated my birthday on May 14 — a lovely birthday.

We marked our 28th wedding anniversary on May 26 with a low-key enjoyable celebration.

And as the calendar ticked down, it was Dan's birthday yesterday. It was a milestone birthday and we had special friends join us to make a simple party fun and memorable.

Valerie tried to get Dan to make a speech; he didn't but he was gracious about it.

(Photo by Valerie Mansour)

Friends Claude (Goulet), Lynn (Stewart) and Douglas (Blackmore) listened politely.

(Photo by Valerie)

We had lots of cheese and paté and olives and crackers and some of Chuck Hughes' no-knead bread but even when you're keeping things simple, if you tell people there will be lobster rolls, that becomes the high point. Because I always like to have things done in advance, I spread the making of the lobster roll filling over a couple of days. Shelling the lobster is the most time-consuming so I shelled a bit on Friday and a bit on Saturday. It's hard work but someone has to do it.

The lobster rolls were do-it-yourself. Here's Lynn.

And while everyone likes a lobster roll, I thought the cake would be well-received also. It was made (by me) with luscious fresh rhubarb that Valerie brought from Amherst. Valerie is very generous with rhubarb throughout the season and it's become an annual challenge to come up with new recipes to enjoy the tart treat. We've made cakes and crisps and crumbles. We've made chutneys and savoury sauces and muffins. We've made jams and jellies. Pies, of course.

This was the latest creation:

William did the honours and we all sang lustily.

(That's William and I and Cousin Dale — photo by Valerie.)

And Dan took care of the candles:

He did a lovely job of cutting and serving:

Valerie seemed to enjoy her cake and Ann (Roman) opted for take-out. She was going to take her cake to work for lunch the next day.

And that's about it. It was a joyous occasion and I know we were all happy to fête Dan on his birthday. After the guests left, he decided that he might as well finish the Prosecco — a sparkling wine — because if he didn't, it would go flat. Then he listened to La Traviata from the Metropolitan Opera and he listened to it nice and loud.

So with the month of May once again behind us, we have a good six months to prepare for the next family birthday when William turns 22 in November.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Our Grizzly and other things that happened today

Our wedding anniversary — which I wrote about yesterday — was an interesting day.

I was left speechless by the bouquet; My Mother's Bloomers, with a bouquet called An English Garden, outdid themselves:

Dan also gave me a selection of coffee mugs, to see if one of them will suit me. I got in the habit of enjoying my coffee in one of the Christmas mugs and I've been using it ever since. Maybe there's an ancient belief that bad luck will befall the household if the Christmas mugs are used until well after Easter. Dan apparently wants to help me break my Christmas-mug habit so I'll try my best. The first one I tried was quite a tall designer mug from William Morris. It was nice. We'll see.

This, meanwhile, is Grizzly.

Grizzly has been feeling fine, eating, playing, having adventures etc. but has recently been having a problem with weight loss and hair loss. He's 14.

We put off taking him to his vet because it's such a nightmare to get him there. I had considered trying to get the vet to do a phone consultation. I thought about remortgaging the house to have a vet pay a house call but, in the end, Dan just phoned and made a straightforward appointment. We decided the day had come and today was the day.

I sat with my back to him and practically covered my ears while Dan and William imprisoned him in the carrier but, I'm happy to report, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been or as it was last time. I could tell as soon as he was in the carrier because his voice changes and he makes a true sound of distress. We loaded the carrier into the car and off we went and the distress calls never stopped. The vet is only a few blocks away, thank goodness.

Grizzly got a lot of attention as we walked across the parking lot, into the lobby, up to the second floor. There was tremendous reverberation in there and Grizzly must have impressed himself.

To make a long story short, he's been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and he'll start medication tomorrow morning. It's a liquid medication which led me to ask, why can't kitty liquid medication taste like tuna juice?

He behaved well at the vet and his doctor was very nice to him. She assured us that hyperthyroidism is not uncommon in older cats and she's hopeful that the treatment will be effective.

He's back to his old self by now and has probably already forgotten that he went to the vet!

After we got Grizzly home and settled in, we went out for dinner.

Ristorante a Mano has very good food and it's fun too. It's right at the waterfront and the patios were open back and front but it was breezy and not hot so we opted to sit inside. We had a table for two right beside one of the windows you can see in the picture.

I had some freshly baked flatbread with a dip made from roasted garlic, red pepper and eggplant. It was delicious. Then I had:

Pollo alla Parmigiana

Crostini crumb-crusted chicken scaloppine topped with tomato, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella

(not exactly as illustrated)

The ristorante is well-known for its homemade gelato and sorbet and I had the most amazing refreshing tart lemon sorbet. The perfect dessert.

(photo borrowed from the Internet)

And then we came home to the flowers. Here are some flower details:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A marriage made in heaven — or close to it

When we went to see the Mary Pratt exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, I was drawn to the picture of the wedding dress hanging on the door.

It looked quite a lot like my wedding dress which was also hanging on a door. We live in one of the old houses and closets were not part of the building plan in those days so a lot of things hang on the doors.

I took this photo yesterday although I admit, this is not the door it usually hangs on. I moved it around, tried it on several doors, looking for the best light.

The dress looks better against the darkness of the room but not enough like Mary Pratt's painting to suit my scenario.

It's a sweet dress, made from a fine ivory-coloured cotton. The sleeves and the bottom of the skirt are scalloped with decorative appliqués — they didn't have to be added, it's just the way the material was made.

The dress was made by my friend, Joanne Lamey, from a sketch I made on the back of an envelope. (That may be a slight exaggeration. She did make it from my sketch though.)

I wore it 28 years ago today, May 26, 1988.

It was a Thursday, just as it is this year. We got married at seven o'clock in the evening. I think it was around three when Joanne arrived with my dress. I tried it on and although we could have made do, it just wasn't a good fit around the hips. No worries, said Joanne. Before she left, I suddenly announced I didn't have anything to wear on my head. "I'll take care of it. I'll be back!" she called out over her shoulder as she left.

Of course, she was as good as her word. Whatever she did to the dress, it fit perfectly and she had brought a little bandeau hat that she'd covered with the same fabric as the dress and had added a little blue ribbon.

So the bride was ready and made it to the church on time. We took the family photo before we left.

Left to right: Dan's brother John, Dan's Mom, Dan, Sharon, my sister Marilyn, my brother-in-law Tom, my beautiful niece Lori who passed away in 2011, my lovely niece Lisa and my little nephew Matthew in front.

I was not yet Catholic but we were regulars at St. Mary's Basilica in downtown Halifax and the rector there, Monsignor O'Driscoll, liked us. He married us in the beautiful tiny chapel in the Rectory, so tiny that only my sister Marilyn and Dan's Mom and brother John could fit in (along with our friend, Valerie Mansour, who took all the wedding photos.)

We found the ceremony very lovely, with meaningful readings and vows the way we hadn't heard them at other weddings. He asked us to say our vows together: "Sharon and Daniel, do you take each other. . ." It sounded really nice.

And then he said, "You may kiss each other."

We made it official. . .

. . .and although it sounds kind of corny, it had been lightly raining most of the day but when we stepped out after the ceremony, the sun was out!

We had a wedding dinner that evening for family and a few friends and then the bride and groom went to the Prince George Hotel. As we walked into the lobby, we were met by staff with two glasses of champagne. Wow! We thought someone must have alerted them that it was our wedding day but it turned out the hotel was celebrating its first anniversary. They let us take the champagne to our room though, once they found out.

The next day, Friday, we had a lovely big party for friends, acquaintances, co-workers. The current premier of Prince Edward Island, Wade MacLauchlan, was a friend who somehow, didn't get our open-house invitation and he light-heartedly held it against us for several years. Sorry, Wade!

The little step-ladder was a wedding present for me from Dan because I couldn't reach the top cupboards in the kitchen. It also became the speaker's ladder at the party.

I was one of the speakers:

And so was Alexa McDonough, then leader of the Nova Scotia NDP. (And there's cousin Dale Estey in the background.)

It was a lovely party and I expect we needed the weekend to rest up because we both went back to work on Monday morning. A couple of weeks later, we went on a honeymoon trip to the NDP convention in Wolfville. That sounds about right.

We stayed in the Blomidon Inn, a gift from Dan's co-workers.

The others all stayed in residence at Acadia University. I preferred our accommodation.

I always used to tell people that I had married the perfect husband. I haven't come up with any reason to change that declaration. But there are probably many definitions of "perfect" as it pertains to husbands. Let's say he's perfect for me.

Here's one reason: he's the only person ever who can make me laugh when I'm in a really bad mood. Most people would not even dare try. And here's one more: he has the uncanny ability to take my most annoying characteristics and make them seem adorable. Can you imagine how nice that is?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Let me tell you how angry I am

Women have to be so careful what we say. No matter the circumstances, no matter how upset, women must think quickly and choose our words carefully. In court, in a bar, on the street, in the House of Commons, women know that there are consequences for saying the wrong thing and a price to be paid.

Last week, I'm sure you know, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was annoyed when the opposition parties — using a time-honoured strategy — had deliberately delayed a vote by 42 seconds. The Conservative whip, Gord Brown, was behind a group of NDP MPs. Trudeau, in an unprecedented move, stormed across the aisle of the House of Commons, said "Get the f**k out of my way," grabbed MP Brown by the arm and dragged him out of the group.

Enough with the blather about "he placed his hand on the whip's arm and led him to his seat." The Speaker himself used the word "manhandled" in describing the incident — as in, "It is not appropriate to manhandle other members." Brown reported later that he'd said to Trudeau, "Let go of my arm — now!"

During the scuffle that ensued, Trudeau inadvertently elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the breast.

And here is where women must refrain from speaking our experience.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau was upset by the incident. "It was very overwhelming and so I left the chamber to go and sit in the lobby. I missed the vote because of this."

Her fellow MP, Niki Ashton, spoke quickly, in the heat of the moment about the nature of the altercation. She referred to it as "gendered violence" and suggested that this kind of sexual harassment made young women feel their workplace isn't safe.

Within hours, after a few apologies, the perpetrator had gone free. Crossing the floor of the House, using vulgar language and grabbing a fellow MP — which had never been done before, mind you — was forgotten. At the top of the news now was Ruth Ellen Brosseau, that big crybaby. From across the country — accompanied by the crudest words anyone has yet thought up to call women — came sneering accusations and vicious threats.

The anonymous army of trolls on Twitter were egged on and backed up by the legitimate commentators and pundits, standing in line to save us beleaguered Canadians from a woman who doesn't seem to know the difference between an elbow that hits her by accident and a man who wallops her on purpose. A prominent headline in The Globe and Mail proclaims Associating elbowgate with violence against women is an insult to victims.

Of course she knows it was an accident! What are you, kidding? You'd have to be an idiot to believe he did that on purpose.

But here's a question: so what? She was hit in the breast by an elbow. It hurt. Is she supposed to act as if nothing happened? Is she wrong to have been upset by what happened? There are many women — some of whom have experienced violence in their homes and elsewhere — who are unsettled and frightened by a man showing such blatant anger. Should she apologize to the Prime Minister for having been in his way when he broke the most fundamental parliamentary rule by crossing the floor and "manhandling" another MP?

Imagine this:

A group of friends are hanging out on the lawn. Suddenly, with no warning, a car careens off the street onto the lawn and hits one of them. Fortunately, she's not injured but she found it unsettling and she wanted to get off the lawn. She goes into the house.

The others are nervous and upset about what happened and one of them speaks sharply to the driver. But the driver is very much admired and before you know it, a crowd has gathered with many people saying, "He didn't mean it. It was an accident. She's making a big deal out of it. It's not as if he did it on purpose. How can he be held responsible for this inadvertent act?"

He drove his car on to the lawn! She was perfectly within her rights to be on the lawn. If he hadn't driven his car on to the lawn — which, by the way, is against the law — none of this would have happened. It may have been an accident but it was an accident that was his fault.

Is it possible she'll feel a little nervous the next time she's on the lawn with her friends? Is she expected to shrug it off and say, "Well, hey, it could happen to anyone. You're hanging out on the lawn and a guy drives his car on to the lawn and hits you — it was an accident. Get over it. Let's move on to something much more important than the fact that a guy drove his car on to the lawn and hit me with it!"

This makes me so angry, I can't even tell you. Male columnists — here and everywhere — can't get enough of it. When is Ruth Ellen going to grow up?

Meanwhile, that guy who drove his car on to the lawn and hit her is accepting flowers and boxes of chocolates from all those people who believe that Ruth Ellen done him wrong.

Remember, he didn't mean to do it and as for her, she should deal with that bruise behind closed doors and when she comes out, she should smile and be nice.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The small things that make us happy

So many unpleasant and disheartening things have been happening over the past while, I decided to think of pleasant things that made me feel good.

Many years ago, I worked at Maimonides Hospital and Home for the Aged in Montreal. I wrote about it here, Miracle of Miracles. Our patients there were visited once a week by their doctor and one of the doctors was Herb Blumer. I liked Dr. Blumer so much. He was a great pleasure to work with.

Years later — just a couple of years ago — I was watching the Food Network Canada and happened upon one of the strange shows hosted by Bob Blumer. His shows were The Surreal Gourmet, Glutton for Punishment and World's Weirdest Restaurants. He's a cook and cookbook author but not a chef. He's got such a sweet face, I had a hard time choosing a picture to go with this little story.

I knew Bob is from Montreal and I decided to get in touch with him. I went to his website and found his contact information.

On Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 8:33 PM, Sharon Fraser wrote:

Hi Bob:

This question doesn’t fit into any of your categories but I thought I’d ask anyway – just out of curiousity.

I spent much of my young adulthood in Montreal — I was a nurse, trained at the Montreal General Hospital – and worked as a head nurse for a number of years at Maimonides Hospital and Home for the Aged (as it was known then). The doctor I worked with — and had such a good time knowing — was Dr. Herb Blumer.

And of course, my question is: is he your father? As soon as I began to think he might be, you began to look more and more like him! It’s quite a few years ago now but I still remember how his visits to our elderly patients was a real highlight of our week. He was such fun.

So. . .if he is your father, this is probably of some interest to you. If he isn’t — well, carry on. I’ll continue to watch you on television!

All the best,


As you see, I wrote that note at 8:30 one evening. When I came down the next morning, he had replied.

From: bob blumer

Sent: Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:11 AM

To: Sharon Fraser

Subject: Re: Website Inquiry


thanks for your note. my dad (who was featured on 2 episodes of my show surreal gourmet) was jack blumer. he was very special, very lovable, and very memorable—but not the doctor who you worked with. that said, i am happy that another blumer made such an impression on you :)

best dishes,


It doesn't take much, does it? It was sweet of Bob to answer; so many people wouldn't have bothered. It would have been interesting if Dr. Blumer had turned out to be Bob's Dad but I did love what he wrote about his own father — so proud and loving. I'd like to see those episodes that featured his Dad.

I was thinking of another Food Network Canada chef today as I made Chuck Hughes' no-knead bread. Chuck's series on the Food Network — Chuck's Day Off and Chuck's Week Off in Mexico — are both fun. He's a chef who loves food and loves to cook.

His bread can be made in several variations: you can add garlic and herbs, or cheese. He also occasionally adds spices and raisins and turns it into a tea-bread.

I just made it plain today:

It couldn't be easier and as far as I can tell, it's pretty much fail-proof. You just mix it up, let it rise, scoop it into the bread pans, let it rise again and bake it. Beautiful.

Of course, if you really need to exert some force to get rid of frustration, a no-knead recipe is not a good choice for you. But if you're feeling pretty good and you just want some nice bread right out of the oven, go ahead. Be my guest.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

In the company of Patsy Cline — with Margot Sampson

Songs come and go and I've listened to a lot of them over the years — as you have. I've loved and continue to love many of them and there are several that I go to regularly, just to be taken to a certain time and place.

There's one song though that consistently sits at the top of my "favourite" list and nothing — so far — has been able to bump it off.

That song is Crazy — written by Willie Nelson, sung by many, owned by Patsy Cline.

Willie was a $50 a week song-writer in Nashville when he wrote Crazy and Funny How Time Slips Away around the same time. The singers he wrote it for didn't really take to it but Patsy finally recorded it successfully and it became an instant hit.

Margot Sampson is a Nova Scotian singer who toured for several years in a musical revue called "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline." As she says in her profile, "I was fortunate enough to be one of only a few people who have received the 'stamp of approval' from Patsy Cline's husband, Charlie Dick after singing for him (and a frighteningly large audition panel!) which led to a number of opportunities performing as the legendary country/pop singer over a span of 16 or so years in theatres throughout Canada."

She no longer does that show but this weekend, she was performing at Neptune's Studio Theatre with a group of superior musicians and the songs of Patsy Cline made up the second half of her repertoire. During the first half, she paid tribute to a number of singers who influenced her from the time she was a small girl, singing into her hairbrush/microphone when she was alone in her family's living room. She sang Gene MacLellan, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jennifer Warnes and José Feliciano.

Margot is a warm and likable performer with a powerful and melodic voice and it was fun to sit and relax listening to some familiar songs and enjoying the work of the experienced musicians who backed her up. She knew that most of her audience had come for the Patsy Cline numbers but she carried us along through the first half with some personal background, a few self-deprecating anecdotes, her childhood reminiscences. And some good songs, of course.

I enjoyed them all, some a little more than others. One of the most unpopular personal opinions I've ever shared publicly is that I'm not really a fan of Joni Mitchell. I know that she's a genius and her music and poetry are beyond compare and I accept that all the accolades she receives are definitely warranted. Her music is just not to my taste. (I don't like her as person either but that's a whole other story!)

I admire Joni's visual art and she once described herself as a "painter derailed by circumstance" so maybe my preference is natural.

I've always enjoyed the Neptune Studio Theatre. It's intimate and if you're sitting near the front, you're practically indistinguishable from what's happening on-stage.

But today, as soon as we were leaving, work crews were moving in to gut the place, rebuild it and rename it. I won't be using the new name any more than I use the new name of the Halifax Metro Centre — which I don't. It will always be the Metro Centre to me just as it will always be Neptune Studio Theatre. (This is a clue I've given you anyway.)

Honestly, I'm beginning to wonder if the day will come when we'll be travelling in Europe, meeting people from other countries and they'll say to us, "And where are you people from?" It may be that we'll have to say, "We're from Scotiabank Canada."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

This is not about Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

Back in the '90s, I used to write a feminist column for The Daily News in Halifax. Misogyny is not a new thing and I got plenty of hate mail. Much of it was vulgar and threatening. I even had one that looked something like this:

Different message, of course; same method.

This was back in the days when the hateful people had to get out a sheet of paper and a pen – or snip out little alphabet letters – work on their message, find and address an envelope, buy a stamp, walk to the post office or mail box, and mail the letter. It was sensible to assume they felt strongly about what I was writing. It was quite clear they felt threatened by the feminist viewpoints I was writing and they countered them with threats of their own.

These letters were disturbing and I acknowledge, I was upset every time I got one.

I can't even fathom what it must be like nowadays, when you don't even have to express any thoughts that frighten people to become the target of countless people in the apparently lawless world of social media.

At some point last week before her husband stole the headlines, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau told a newspaper that she needed more help to be able to carry out the things that are expected of her as the Prime Minister's wife. The usual barrage of vicious attacks kicked in: hurtful, hateful, creepy, scary.

Then her defenders had their say: Neil MacDonald at the CBC told us that, as Canadians, we have a bad habit of hacking down the tall poppies. Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star said we were all jealous because we're unbeautiful and we don't dress as nicely as Sophie.

Another columnist made much the same point and said we're just bitter because our husbands aren't as handsome as Sophie's. I said "speak for yourself."

(This is my husband. I love this photo and I wish it hadn't got bent.)

On Twitter and Facebook, the sparring went on for days with people on one side complaining that Sophie already had two nannies, a driver, a chef and a gardener. The other side said she was in great demand outside her home and needed someone to organize that side of her life. Most of the people who held the latter view referred to her as "Canada's First Lady" or "our First Lady."

I waded into the social media discussions for two reasons: I couldn't stand that people called her the First Lady and I was appalled at the narrowness of the discussion and the fact that no one – including the professional commentators – seemed to understand the issue.

Here are some of the points I made edited for repetition and clarity, in a number of different discussions:

We don't have a First Lady because we don't have a President. We have a Prime Minister. We don't elect a Prime Minister. We elect a Member of Parliament. The leader of the party which elects the most MPs becomes Prime Minister. A Prime Minister is a member of the cabinet – first among equals. A very different role from a President.

So if the First Minister's spouse takes on a publicly supported role, would this also affect spouses of other ministers? This is not about Sophie. It's about making a major change in how our cabinet ministers and government members are perceived. It really is a much bigger issue than just, "oh, could we hire someone to help Sophie?"

The issue is one of accountability: if she is going to receive public money to help her navigate through the demands made on her time, it must be clear that her public engagements are in the public interest and not in the Liberal Party of Canada's interest.

So should her speeches be vetted by some all-party committee before she goes out? If she says something at a charity luncheon, are we to believe that she's speaking on behalf of the government? Of the Liberal Party? Or are the views she expresses her personal views, and she and only she should be held accountable for what she says? I honestly don't see how and where this could end, if it's done properly and ethically.

In one of the discussions, someone accused me of nit-picking and said – yes, she said this – "There's no reason why we couldn't tweak it and take on the American model. She actually is a First Lady."

No, we couldn't follow the American model. The USA is a republic. The president is the head of state. Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Our head of state is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth who is represented in Canada by the Governor General. They are so different, there is really no basis for comparison.

She really lit into me for that and said, "Why do we have to have this ridiculous royal stuff. We should just get rid of it."

I think polls continue to show that a majority of Canadians would not agree with abolishing the monarchy. In any case, changing the system would require much more than a tweak. To abolish the monarchy would involve a major constitutional upheaval and while not impossible would be very very difficult to achieve.

Before I gave up, another person chid me and said that Sophie supported worth-while causes and as we expect her to be out there, we should help her do it.

I don't think anyone would take issue with Sophie's choice of charities. The entire issue is: if she needs help with her daily schedule, should Canadian taxpayers be paying for her staff?

What Sophie went through at the hands of the Hate Patrol was quite mild compared to what was ahead for Ruth Ellen Brosseau. I saved some of what I shared in those discussions also and I hope to get back to share some of it with you.