Analyzing your own writing

Analyzing your own writing

IMG_4104Pictured here is the entrance to our tiny apartment in Winnipeg where we will be completing almost a year’s residence by the end of May. This display of three of our published books is our small attempt to advertise our publishing efforts of the past. Getting settled in after our move from British Columbia last summer and re-adjusting to apartment living and a return to a city we left eleven years before, finding time to celebrate being with family and friends we had left behind, plus the daily struggles of adjusting to Ian’s disabilities have taken their toll on keeping up this blog.

Our previous reblog, “Is the first sentence the charm?”from  Take Five Authors inspired Gayle to go back to our previously published writings and take an analytical look at our opening sentences, both the stories written by Ian and the articles we have shared written by Gayle. Did our opening sentences do their job of grabbing the reader’s attention. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Here’s how we think they add up:

Ian’s how-to book Metal Machining Made Easy. metal-machining-made-easy-cover-largePreface: “Congratulations, you’ve finally decided that you are going to make full use of that lathe that’s sitting idle in your workshop. Or maybe you are just thinking of buying a little lathe, and wonder if it would be worth your while, as you don’t know much about machining steel. You think it looks too technical and complicated. Well, it isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. All that is required to do some exacting machining is the ability to read, some common sense and a little patience.”

How does this measure up? I think, for a how-to book, it certainly would grab the attention of anyone who would be looking for a book about machining metal – a rather select group of do-it-yourself types. It would encourage someone who has the right equipment but lacks the no-how to get some valuable pointers on how to use the equipment. This first sentence in the preface adds some personal interest to a factual subject.

Ian’s adventure/time travel novel Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie.Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie

Chapter One. Engulfed in the Phantom Battle: “Calan and Malcolm McKinnon were twin brothers. Both were twenty-two years of age and just an inch less than six feet in height. Calan was the studious type, always wanting to get to the bottom of things and happiest when he had problems to solve. Malcolm was just the opposite–carefree and always ready with a joke or a quick remark no matter what the situation. But most important, they were the best of friends and, like most twins, were in harmony with each other.

“The brothers had traveled north from their home in Edinburgh to Inverness, Scotland, to witness the strange phenomenon of a phantom battle. This so-called ‘battle’ was slated to happen just after dawn during the month of May at the small Loch Ashie, just east of the much larger and more famous Loch Ness. Their adventures began after Calan read a story written in the August 1999 issue of The Scots Magazine describing the battle and quoting witnesses who saw the battle during the month of May. He decided he just had to be there to see it, anything of a mysterious or historical nature certainly interested him.”

How does this measure up? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Boring!!! Editor Gayle is hanging her head. How did this get by me? Perhaps it was even me who arranged the beginning to read as it does. (Sorry about that, Ian.) In retrospect, I wish I had come up with something a lot more exciting by bringing in the phantom battle in the first sentence such as “Calan and Malcolm could hardly have known that simply trying to witness a phantom battle would have put them into the thick of it.” Perhaps it is time for a second edition/printing. (Would that I had the time.)

Ian’s memoir From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada. Cover full size

Chapter One. The Cold and Hungry Early Years. “Thinking back on my early childhood, the most miserable over-all time was when it was evening, dark outside, middle of winter, clothes damp and cold from the rain, no oil for the lamp, no candles either, which meant no light of any kind in the dump we lived in, no fire to warm me a wee bit and no food. As a wee boy of six years of age, I was just sitting all alone in a dingy one-room flat. My hair was wet and water was still running down my face from the rain. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering, as I sat hoping that maybe someone would come and light the oil lamp. Maybe that someone would have a few lumps of coal and there would finally be a nice, warm fire started. If I got too hungry I could always fill my belly with cold water; then I didn’t feel so bad any more–well, for maybe an hour.”

How does this measure up? Brilliant (too quote an over-used British expression that Ian heard way too often on his last trip to the old country). Ian paints a woeful picture of his early surroundings that have had such an impact on his life of striving to overcome the negatives of an impoverished childhood. It certainly grabbed my attention and had me wanting to read more, especially since my childhood was such a contrast.

Ian’s children’s chapter book Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie.  JLJBL Book Cover

Chapter One. Jake Wants a Pet. “Every kid needs a pet; at least that’s what Jake believed. Jake was 11 and would have loved a puppy for company–something he could have fun playing with when he got home from school. But he knew that his wish would never happen because of the scare his mother got when she was a little girl. She had been bitten by a dog and, since that attack, had always felt nervous and uncomfortable whenever any dog, big or small, happened to come close to her. Even tiny dogs upset her.”

How does this measure up? It immediately establishes the conflict that Jake wants a pet and, for some reason, hasn’t got one yet. As a child reader I would want to find out how Jake solved this conflict, especially since “every kid needs a pet.”

Ian’s short story The Moonlit Meeting. Leprachaun

“A big full harvest moon had risen high in the sky the evening I climbed to the top of Mary’s Mountain, a steep hill close to the edge of the small town in the Scottish Highlands where we had recently moved. There were strange stories about the place. Some said it was haunted by a ghost named Mary who had been murdered up there many years ago by a jealous lover, and that her ghost still roamed the area, especially on full moon nights. Others said an old sea captain had hanged himself from a tree up there after losing his sweetheart, his ghost wandering around looking for her. I didn’t believe in things like that and wanted to prove to myself it was all a lot of nonsense.”

How does this measure up? The first sentence alone sets the scene but I think the second sentence is needed to really grab one’s interest. Better yet, would be the last sentence of the paragraph. The rest of the sentences flesh things out. To get the full impact with the first sentence, perhaps it would have been better to turn the sentences around thus: “I didn’t believe all the strange stories that I’d heard about Mary’s Mountain and decided to prove to myself that they were all a lot of nonsense. A big full harvest moon had risen high in the sky the evening that I climbed that steep hill close to the edge of the small town in the Scottish Highlands where we had recently moved. …”

Gayle’s short story “An April Swim in Paradise” Flora around swimming pool

“With the sun’s rays a bit deflected as the clock nears four, it is finally time for my daily rendezvous with my beloved pool at our new home in Mexico. I don my orange flowered swimsuit to contrast with the turquoise pool walls and lavish on some sunscreen. My swim shoes await me at the brick steps that surround our upstairs bathtub; but first I need to shake them out in case any wee scorpion has decided to take refugee in one of them. (Thankfully, one hasn’t.) Grabbing my sunglasses and a towel from the clothesline downstairs, I descend from the terrace to the front lawn and down the steps into the pool. Scotty, my husband, has already moved the solar blanket off the water, skimmed the water’s surface with the pool net and turned on the pump so the water is shimmering fresh and turquoise in the sunlight.

How does this measure up? It’s harder for me to analyze my own work. The first sentence is descriptive and sets the scene. But would it have been better to begin with trying to shake out a scorpion from my swim shoes? That would have started with a possible conflict situation. 

Gayle’s blogpost: “All Moving Companies Are Not Equal. Let the Buyer Beware!”100_0726

“We called it ‘The Move From Hell.’ Okay, we didn’t literally move ‘from Hell’ but from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, more like Paradise than Hell. Yet, our move proved to be ‘hellish.’ In May and June 2015 we made what we sincerely hope is the last major move of our lives from Vernon, British Columbia to downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Two moving companies contributed to making our move less than ideal: Two Small Men With Big Hearts (TSM) in Kelowna, BC and AMS Transportation Ltd. Inc. headquartered in Dundalk, Ontario. The latter company was the most “hellish.”

How does this measure up? I’m satisfied with the opening sentence and wouldn’t change it.

Gayle’s short story: A Scorpio versus Scorpion  ScorpionVectorImageVP

“Scorpio may be my sign of the Zodiac, but that’s really all I ever wanted to have to do with the creatures!”

How does this measure up? I’m also satisfied with the opening sentence. It establishes my sign of the zodiac and relates it to a real life scorpion which I sincerely hope I never again encounter. I think most readers would be curious to read further.

Gayle’s magazine editorial “Life’s Lessons Reinforced”  

Gayle-Editing at Esprit Magazine, Winnipeg-2004

“Beginning to write this column brings me full circle since the last issue of Esprit. Then, my horrendous fall and seven breaks in right leg and arm bones resulted in the need for someone else to write this column. Now, after 14 weeks in hospital (most of it in rehabilitation), I have two more days before going home and this editorial is due. What a place this has been to glean ideas for the topic, “Body and Spirit!” I would not have chosen the classroom, but every minute in this environment has reinforced some important lessons in life.

How does this measure up? The first sentence isn’t very dynamic, however, since it is a regular magazine column, it is probably an ok beginning and sets the scene for writing. The rest of the paragraph is more interesting and attention-grabbing. I probably should have reworded the opening by starting out: “What a  place the hospital has been to glean ideas for this issue’s topic, “Body and Spirit!”

OK. I wrote this blogpost almost two months ago, intending to expand on it when I got time. However, time has g0t away from me. We are in the throws of another move and I’ll probably not be able to come up for air again for awhile unless I find time to blog about the glorious 84th Birthday Party I threw for Ian a few days ago. On May 31st we will move to a bigger apartment in our same Winnipeg life lease apartment house (and to the penthouse floor!!). Tonight may be the only free time I can take before that move is over so this blogpost is finished. The process of analyzing some of our published writings has been fun and educational. I hope it will encourage me in my future editing to put more emphasis on the importance of effective opening sentences to a piece of writing. Thanks to Take Five Authors for the blog that got my analytic juices started.

Gayle Moore-Morrans

 

 

Okay, I Think We’re Done… For Now!

Source: Okay, I Think We’re Done… For Now!

Impressive press release from a writer friend. We’ve already ordered his books!

AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

Gayle is experiencing a nostalgic evening and needing a break from visiting Ian in hospital (he is recovering well from two mini-strokes or transient aschemic attacks three days ago), preparing for a Saturday moving sale in our garage and back yard and trying to pack a few boxes a day in preparation for our move in May. (Any semblance of having a routine day has vanished for the time being, yet she feels compelled to do a long-overdue post on this blog.) We have sold our house in Vernon, British Columbia, actually move out in three weeks (on May 11th), will have our household stuff put into storage and move in with friends for about 10 days before heading east to Manitoba where we hope to settle once a life-lease apartment (for which we have been on a waiting list) comes available – hopefully by June or July. In the meantime, we plan to drive to northern Manitoba to deliver our dog, Misty, to her new parents, daughter Shirley and son-in-law Brien, visit for awhile and then head south to Winnipeg where we plan to settle. In a way it will be like coming home as that is the city in which we met and married almost 13 years ago.

Nostalgia has been brought on by our choosing to sell some of our Mexican treasures that we accumulated when we maintained a home in Mexico (November 2004-May 2007, with yearly trips back to Manitoba to retain our Canadian residency). It is now early spring here in British Columbia with tulips, magnolias, daffodils, lilacs and fruit trees in full bloom, and still the end of winter in Manitoba. In contrast our first April in Mexico was glorious with a warm, full-blown spring, as we moved from our motorhome into a rental house in Chapala Haciendas, a suburb of Chapala in the mountains of central Mexico on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. Here we became acquainted with new types of flowering plants and trees, a much earlier and warmer spring than either of us had ever experienced and an exotic atmosphere that led to a charmed fascination with all the new experiences we were enjoying. Though Gayle got fully acquainted with Location Writing last summer, now that we think about it, the following piece was an even earlier occasion for Location Writing. Our rental house was a one-and-a-half story brick house, inside and out. We mostly lived on the front veranda and garden surrounding the swimming pool which took up most of the front lawn. You will notice that Gayle refers to Ian as “Scotty,” the name he chose to be known by during our Mexican sojourn. We will start with a slide show to illustrate her story.

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AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

by Gayle Moore-Morrans

With the sun’s rays a bit deflected as the clock nears four, it is finally time for my daily rendezvous with my beloved new pool. I don my orange flowered swimsuit to contrast with the turquoise pool walls and lavish on some sunscreen. My swim shoes await me at the brick steps that surround our upstairs bathtub; but first I need to shake them out in case any wee scorpion has decided to take refugee in one of them. (Thankfully, one hasn’t.) Grabbing my sunglasses and a towel from the clothesline downstairs, I descend from the terrace to the front lawn and down the steps into the pool. Scotty, my husband, has already moved the solar blanket off the water, skimmed the water’s surface with the pool net and turned on the pump so the water is shimmering fresh and turquoise in the sunlight.

My routine begins – ten laps along the length of the pool. Not too impressive when you think the pool is only 16 feet long, but that’s all my metal-laden bones can handle. With a humerus supported inside by a titanium rod, an artificial knee and an ankle held together by plates and screws, I’m proud to be able to do that much kicking and stroking. Then its time to whip out my trusty foam noodles – one fuchsia and one chartreuse. Without them, my pool time would be shorter and much less fun. Spanish practice comes next – cientos agua (100 water) sit-ups with the noodles’ assistance. When I started five months ago I kept track of my sit-ups while counting from uno to diez (1-10) in Spanish, over and over until the counting became rote. Then I graduated to the teens – onze, doze, treze, quatorze, quince, dieseseis, etc. Now its second nature to get from uno to cien (100) and beyond.

Sit-ups done, it’s time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Fronting the built-into-the-hill pool is a brick wall which I peer over to enjoy the panorama in front of the house. A bright red-headed-and-breasted bird sits on his usual perch on our car window where he visits with and pecks at his reflection. Then he flies to the front gate leading to our driveway, on to the bodega (gardener’s shed) and finally into one of the towering jacaranda trees lining the street. I admire those graceful trees, profuse now in all their springtime glory, blanketed with large grapelike clusters of tiny, light purple trumpet-shaped flowers, their fernlike leaves just beginning to appear.

Beyond the street our hill continues descending into a valley dotted with houses peeping out from swatches of purple from more jacarandas and the dark green of pine and fichus trees. Then the heavily wooded mountains loom at the horizon, still brown from their winter rest but beginning to show patches of green with the promise of an emerald blanket once the rainy season begins in June. Towering over the highest peak is a cluster of telecommunications towers and a clear blue sky broken only by a fading jet stream.

Now my attention turns to my immediate surroundings. Several “critters” attempt to share the pool with me. A few days ago when I first started down the pool steps, I jumped at the sight of a two-inch long scorpion floating by. He (or she) wasn’t alive, though, so I relaxed and watched it sink to the bottom of the pool. Today I decide to check the drain pail at the far end of the pool and, sure enough, “Scorpi” has been drawn into it by the action of the pump. (I ask Scotty to take it out and let it dry so we can add it to the collection of dead scorpions I’m planning to take as souvenirs to my son in Canada.) Another of my more unpleasant swimming companions is the “helicopter-wasps” who buzz around my head from time to time. I’m not sure of their scientific name, but Scotty has given them the helicopter handle because they seem to have revolving antenna on top and long legs that hang down when they are flying, resembling landing gear. (Luckily, they don’t seem to be interested in stinging me, except for the one that got caught in my towel when I was drying myself the other day. The cool water sure felt good on that sting.)

I prefer more pleasant pool companions, although they don’t seem to fare too well in the water. Lovely dragonflies flitter along above me, the occasional one getting too close to the water. As its wings get waterlogged, it struggles to free itself, just getting wetter and in danger of drowning. I come to the rescue, picking it up along with a handful of water and gently toss it to the brick edge of the pool. Its struggles lessen as it feels the solid wall beneath it, but its wings are still too waterlogged to fly. I watch to see how it is drying out and, when the drying seems to take excessively long, swim over to it and gently blow on the wings. Before long, the lovely insect seems to shake itself, flex its wings and take off for another flight. It’s not the only reckless flyer, however; before long I’ve got three other dragonflies recovering on the sides of the pool wall.

Peppy, our wee poodle, strolls down from the terrace to sniff around the pool and watch my antics. I try to coax him in for a swim, but he’s not interested. He’s joined me swimming in a lake in Canada, but I think the steps into the pool are a bit daunting for him. Or maybe he’s decided he’s just too old to swim or, like Scotty, thinks that the water is too cold.

My last daily routine includes floating around on the noodles, exercising my arms and “bicycling” with my legs while checking on the growth and beauty of the plants and trees in the yard surrounding the pool. Two fan palms on the south side provide a lovely bit of shade and an ever-interesting view of their delightful crisscross patterned trunk made from the scars of palm fronds long ago wilted and cut away. I continue to be appalled at the sloppy job the landlady’s son did while painting the pool – the turquoise paint somehow made its way over to the palm trunk, strangely colouring some of those crisscrosses. Surrounding the palms are eight-to-ten-foot tall poinsettia trees, rather scrawny now that their winter blooms have faded and most of the leaves have dropped. They’ll need severe pruning before long, having earned a bit of rest before those barren stalks again produce profuse red, pale pink or white flowers ready for another Christmas. I remember that they are native to Mexico and have a most apt name in Spanish – flor de nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). I also love to think of the large scarlet poinsettia blooms that covered about a mile of cobble-stoned streets last December when we watched a village parade in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

After the poinsettias, a number of very strange looking “skeletons” line the walk going around the south side of our house. These trees are called “frangipani” in English, but in Spanish are known as flor de mayo or mayflower trees. At present they look a bit like giant saguaro cacti with their barren arms sticking out and up, except that they don’t have spikes and their fat leafless stalks are a dull gray colour. I’ve noticed that the ends of each stalk have begun to produce a deep dull reddish and spiky growth, several of which have turned into a circlet of long green leaves with small buds in the center. Apparently, by May these buds will open into delicate, fragrant clusters of small four-petaled pink or white flowers that are often formed into leis. It’s hard to imagine that such an ugly tree will turn into a celebrated beauty in just a few short weeks.

Swimming into the southeast corner, I gaze at the fascinating banana trees. Though rather young and thus not very high yet, one of the trunks has produced a huge, full-grown dull red flower whose large top and bottom petals are slowly curling open, little by little each day. Several days ago the inside of this flower revealed small teeth-like protrusions which have been very gradually turning into larger rows of “teeth” and now today the top row has begun to look like teeny green bananas. I know they will eventually become larger hard green bananas and finally ripe light green and then softer yellow fruits. Surprisingly, the huge bunch of bananas that is finally formed doesn’t hang down as I supposed; instead, it proudly “hangs” upward, just waiting for the picking. Every few days, I ask Scotty to get the camera and record the progress of the flower as it gradually turns into fruit.

Across the cobblestone driveway on the west side of the pool, I enjoy the shade of a towering fichus tree with its huge, gnarled trunk and large, exposed upper roots surrounding several hills of ant debris and a crowded pot of peace lilies which I’m planning to divide into two pots, claiming one for my own. On either side of the fichus, vibrantly-colored bougainvillea vines climb the fence and twine their way into the trees, cascading with lush flashes of purple, violet, crimson, orange, gold, fuchsia, pink, rose and white. Several beds of brilliant, scarlet lilies complete the scene.

After an hour in the water, I’m suddenly feeling a bit cold but do another couple of laps before calling it quits. My swim completed, I climb the steps and take a seat to dry off and warm up in the fading hour of sunlight. My eyes linger on the pots of fragrant blooming rose bushes and flamboyant orange, blue and yellow tufted bird-of-paradise plants that I’ve planted along the brick path around the pool and then onto the lush potted ferns and geraniums along the terrace. This surrounding beauty captivates me anew each day. If April is this gorgeous, I anxiously await the wonders that May and June will bring to my daily dip in this Mexican paradise.

STORY INSPIRED BY A PET BIRD

The following article appeared in the Vernon Morning Star newspaper, Vernon, British Columbia, posted February 8, 2015 in the Lifestyle section. Gayle has made a few deletions and additions for accuracy. The original article is at

Story inspired by a … pet [bird]

by Cara Brady

Gayle & Ian - JLJBL interview-Morning Star

Gayle and Ian Moore-Morrans sign copies of their new children’s book, Jake, [Little] Jimmy & Big Louie. they will have a book signing Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. at teach and Learn. (photo credit: Cara Brady/Morning Star)

When a writer meets and marries an editor, the result is books. Ian and Gayle Moore-Morrans have just published their first book written together, a children’s book called Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie.

Their previous books, written by Ian and edited by Gayle, are From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada, a memoir, and Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie[, a novel].

The couple included members of their extended family, great-grandchildren Leland German, then 11, as reader, and Hannah German, then [seven], as illustrator.

Jake, Jimmy & Big Louie is a book to appeal to anyone of any age who has ever loved and raised a pet. Ian draws on his own experiences raising a cockatiel to tell the story of a boy who takes on a budgie with a disability and an at-first unwanted raven, and follows their adventures and growing friendship.

Ian, 82, still has vivid memories of the first time he ever saw a book. He grew up in poverty on the West Coast of Scotland.

“I must have been about four. My brother brought home a book from school and it had pictures in it. It was such a temptation. I went to school until I was 14 and got good marks in writing. My teacher told me I should be a journalist but that seemed too far beyond me,” he recalled. “I joined the air force and it was the first time I had sheets on my bed and three meals a day.”

He later became a blacksmith, then an industrial machinist and has written a book, Metal Machining Made Easy.

Gayle also showed an early aptitude for writing and wrote for church papers and magazines while she was a parish worker, [secretary, social services director and program and magazine editor]. She married a pastor and lived in Germany for [eighteen] years, keeping up her writing and editing and detailed scrapbooks. She was widowed [after she moved to Canada] and met Ian, who had lost his wife, in 2003 in Winnipeg. They made their way west and decided they liked Vernon after performing here as Mr. Scotland and his Bonnie Lassie, a singing duet, at a Kelvern Celtic Society Ceilidh.

Ian said [he] started to write the book [many] years ago [at age 63]. “I had a dream about this little budgie and thought if I’m ever going to start writing this story, I better start writing it now.”

Gayle added, “We dedicate this book to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Ian and Gayle are now working on a new book, Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrants Story. Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie is available through http://www.createspace.com/5114278 or Amazon. Their blog is at http://www.ianmooremorrans.com and their publishing company is Moomor Publishing.

Ian and Gayle will have a book signing Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. at Teach and Learn in Vernon.

In addition, Gayle and Ian will host two book launches for Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie at their home, Sunday, February 22. Information from the poster follows:

Announcing
Book Launches for 
“Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie,”
the adventures of a boy and his two pet birds
set in Vernon, British Columbia
(a children’s chapter book for ages 7-12 and for older people, too)
Sunday, February 22, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (take your pick)
Book readings and signings, a “bird hunt,” and refreshments
At the home of authors Ian & Gayle Moore-Morrans
House #69, 6688 Tronson Road, Vernon
(just west of the airport)
250-275-1446 (you may call ahead to reserve a place)
also
A Book Reading & Signing
Saturday, February 28 at 2 p.m.
Vernon Teach and Learn Ltd.
3015-30th Avenue, Vernon

 

CANADIAN EX-PATS AND A POODLE CELEBRATE ROBBIE BURNS’ DAY IN MEXICO

CANADIAN EX-PATS AND A POODLE CELEBRATE ROBBIE BURNS’ DAY IN MEXICO

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Robbie Burns’ Day is fast approaching on January 25th. I (Gayle) dug out my file and photos from an article I originally wrote in February 2005 when Ian and I were on our two-and-a-half year sojourn in Mexico. I’ve been put into a Scottish mood, having convinced Ian that we should attend this year’s Robbie Burns Dinner on Saturday, January 24th at the Ian at book reading in McKinnon kiltVernon Rec Complex sponsored by the Kalamalka Highlanders Pipe Band and the Arran Campbell Memorial Pipe Band here in Vernon, British Columbia. Last year Ian just didn’t feeling up to attending even after I altered his fairly new but way-too-big kilt (McKinnon clan tartan: McKinnon is the clan to which the Morrans family is a sept). The kilt was tailored for him several years ago when Ian had gained about 40 pounds while being treated with prednisone for almost five years. Once he went off the medication the pounds literally dropped off, which is what happened to his kilt as well once he tried it on for the second time! The above photo shows him in the McKinnon tartan kilt while it still fit. In the story that follows Ian is wearing his old kilt, a hand-me-down in the Royal Stewart tartan that Ian received from his former sister-in-law. (Not the correct tartan for him, but a Scotsman can’t pass up something free, and he was thrilled to get his own kilt at the time.)

This time it is I (Gayle, the blogger) who is acting as the Scottish Canadian author. To set the scene, we had set up temporary quarters at a small RV park on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, in the mountainous part of central Mexico south of Guadalajara. It just so happened that all the other RVers in that park were fellow Canadians and a few of them had Scottish heritage as well. We met weekly for a specially catered dinner in the RV park’s lounge and had decided that it would be fun to have a Robbie Burns’ Dinner on a day close to his birthday. Ian and I had brought our kilts with us and the rest of the company improvised. You will note that I refer to Ian as “Scotty”, the name he became known as amongst our Mexican and ex-pat friends. After the event we met the editor of a local ex-pat on-line magazine and she asked me to submit an article telling of our unique evening. Here is the result, completed  by the slide-show of photos at the start of this blog post to document our party.

Article originally written for  an e-zine: Mexico Insights, published in Ajijic, Mexico, February 2005.

Roca Azul RVers Celebrate Scotland’s Robert Burns
by Gayle Moore-Morrans

Throughout the world on Robbie Burns’ birthday, (January 25), Scots, those of Scottish ancestry, various Scottish “wannabees” and poetry enthusiasts gather to celebrate the immortal memory of Scotland’s national bard. Not to be outdone, 18 Canadians residing at or near the Roca Azul recreational vehicle (RV) site on the western shore of Lake Chapala enjoyed a traditional Burns’ Night complete with tartans, pipe music, haggis and Scotch whisky, as well as recitations and singing of some of Burns’ famous poems.

Our illustrious director and entertainer was none other than fellow RVer Ian “Scotty” Moore-Morrans, sometimes known as “Winnipeg’s Mr. Scotland.” Originally from Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll, Scotland, Scotty welcomes any excuse to don his kilt, sporran, skean dhu (Gaelic for “black knife”, worn in the stocking) and Argyll jacket, and break into a Scottish/Gaelic ballad or spin a highland tale. He has entertained at Robbie Burns’ Nights and other Scottish-flavoured gatherings over the years, including last year at the prestigious Fort Garry Hotel (Winnipeg) for the Cameron Highlanders 2004 Burns’ Supper. He is also an enthusiastic member of the international Robbie Burns’ Society.

A neighbour, Carmelina “Carmie” (McPherson) Bourner who hails from “New Scotland” (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) and has spent a lifetime enjoying Scottish music, dance and tradition, agreed to serve as mistress of ceremonies for the evening. Other campers good-naturedly agreed to recite a Burns’ poem, give a traditional toast, bring along some appropriate recorded music or just come and participate in the festivities. The contributors quickly got down to business, digging through their CDs, writing up their pieces or rehearsing their poems while enduring Scotty’s coaching if they wished to attempt reading with a Scottish “burr.”

Then it was my turn. As Scotty’s fairly new wife, I’d been indoctrinated into the glories of my previously little-known Scottish heritage. After I’d learned countless Scottish tunes and attended various Scottish events over the past two years, Scotty called me to the ultimate task! “I’ve got a great idea, Gayle; you can make the haggis!” Okay, I’m a fairly accomplished and adventuresome cook – but, HAGGIS? I’d eaten some samples (one very good, some not so memorable) while trying not to dwell on a few of the traditional ingredients – namely, mutton, suet, sheep’s heart and “lights” (lungs) and the non-eaten casing which consisted of a cleaned-out sheep’s stomach! But I’m usually up to a challenge. Obviously, the one cookbook I had in the motorhome did not contain a recipe for haggis. So, laptop computer in hand, I headed for an Internet café and did a search for “Robbie Burns.” An array of sites appeared with all sorts of instructions for hosting a Robbie Burns’ Night, biographies of the bard, the texts of his poems and a section on haggis. After downloading and printing the haggis section, I studied the various recipes, ranging from an excerpt from The Scots Book of Lore and Folklore to “Lady Logan’s Receipt from 1856” to a beef haggis and an “Americanized” recipe that could be baked in a meatloaf pan. The latter sounded more to my liking. I headed for a carniceria (butcher shop) searching for ground lamb and lamb’s liver.

“No, Señora, we don’t carry ground lamb. But you could buy a five-pound leg of lamb and we can grind it for you.” I declined, saying I only needed two pounds of lamb so perhaps I’d have him grind up 1/2 pound of lamb chops and would substitute ground beef that I already had for the rest. With a sudden, “Uno momento,” he disappeared into the back room, shortly reappearing with a partial leg of lamb that could be ground and would make about 2 pounds! Then I asked for lamb’s liver and was informed that the farmer who supplied their lamb meat sold all the innards to someone else. Okay, did they have any pork liver then? No, they had only beef liver (which I’ve been warned against in Mexico) and chicken liver (which I hate). My eyes rested on some pork pâté and I decided that would make a good substitute. With an added pound of not-so-lean hamburger (my “acceptable” substitute for suet), my meat supply was complete. To that I added minced onion, egg, oatmeal and about 4 times the amount of paltry spices that the recipes called for – nutmeg, ginger and cloves. The day of our Burns’ “do” the campground was treated to a delicious aroma emanating from the motorhome that flew the rampant lion flag of Scotland. At least we would be treated to something authentic in the way of a traditional menu for a Burns’ Supper.

That brings up the problem that Pat, our weekly communal dinner organizer, faced in trying to communicate with the Mexican cook about the proper menu for such an occasion. Most Burns’ suppers start out with cockaleekie soup. Then roast beef is served along with the haggis, complimented by “tatties” (potatoes), a rich beef gravy, green peas and “neeps” (mashed turnips). A typical dessert would be a fruit/cream/whisky-laced trifle. Pat and I were pretty sure that turnips were not available in Mexico so our recommendation was for the cook to prepare a chicken soup, some sort of beef, potatoes and other vegetables and leave the dessert up to her. The results proved interesting – but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Dressed to the nines in our kilts and laden with haggis and whisky, Scotty and I arrived at the clubhouse to the “oohs” and “aahs” of the other campers.  Pat had decked out the table with red and white flowers and a big tartan bow. Matching them was Carmie, our MC, dressed all in white with a nice Royal Stewart tartan sash. After seeing that all had a toast glass of Scotch, she invited us to the table. With her opening remarks she explained the background of Burns’ Suppers, that we were joining people all around the world on this day to commemorate Scotland’s most venerated poet in celebrations, poetry readings and song. We were invited to receive the haggis by standing and clapping time to the pipe music. Then Carmie joined our four-person parade to “Pipe in the Haggis.” As the “chef,” I had the privilege of carrying in the haggis, followed by everyone else present who wore a tartan – in this case, Scotty, Carmie and her husband Richard in his version of a Scottish RVer, resplendent in shorts, white shirt and tartan tie. At the “skirl” of the pipes, we did a complete circle of the banquet table and then took our places at its head. Then began the most important element of a Burns’ supper – the recitation of Burns’ “Address to the Haggis.”

Knife poised in mid-air, Scotty began: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o’ the puddin-race . . .!” A few verses later he enacted the verse while stabbing into my luscious creation: “His knife see rustic-labour dicht, An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, Trenching your gushing entrails bricht, like onie ditch; And then, O what a glorious sicht, warm-reekin, rich!” Finally ending this slightly unintelligible (for most of us) poem with “Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware that jaups ‘n’ luggies; But, if you wish her gratefu’ pray’r, Gie her a Haggis!” he lifted his whisky glass and invited everyone to stand and toast the haggis. “To the haggis, Slainte Bha!”  (pronounced Slanje va – Gaelic for “good health!”)

Next on the program was Richard Bourner who imparted some brief but witty remarks about the manufacture of single malt Scotch whisky, to which we also stood for another wee dram and “Slainte Bha!”

After Scotty prayed Burn’s “Selkirk Grace” (“Some ha meat and canna eat; Some wad eat but want it. But we ha meat and we can eat and tae the Lord be thankit.”), “The Meal” followed.

We first enjoyed a delicious tomato soup while our hosts tended the outside barbeques – roast beef had become Biftec. That’s where any similarities to the traditional meal stopped. The steaks were accompanied by prickly pear cactus leaves and a medley of creamed, cubed white vegetables – probably peeled zucchini and celeriac. The meat varied from nearly tender to “shoe leather quality.” As each plate was served I went around the table to add a small portion of haggis. Some were a bit hesitant at first, having heard all sorts of disparaging remarks about it. After tasting the steaks, however, the haggis became more popular. In fact, the dish went around the table three times and I finally put the last two pieces aside so that Scotty could have a “wee drop” for breakfast the next day!

Following our fruit cup dessert, we retired to the camper’s recreation room to begin our ceilidh (pronounced kaylee), a Scottish celebration where everyone has a chance to contribute to the program – through song, dance, recitation or whatever. Al Laplante gave the traditional speech “To the Immortal Memory,” in which he outlined how Robbie Burns’ deep love for Scotland fired his ambition to write in the Scottish vernacular, resulting in the creation of a unique brand of poetry, full of character, integrity, humour, satire and lyrical harmony. Even though he only lived from 1756 – 1796, his popularity is still on the increase two centuries after his poems first appeared.

After Scotty treated us to a musical rendition of Burns’ well known, “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,” it was time for Bryan St. George to present the “Toast to the Lassies.” He mentioned that, though we women present came from a variety of different backgrounds, for this evening we were all “lassies” – more specifically “RV lassies” – and that we were particularly to be recognized for making comfortable homes for our men despite our small living quarters. Then it was time for the “Response to the Laddies.” Linda Rae responded by inviting all the lassies to raise their glasses in toast to all the men present who had such good taste in women!

Continuing on with our poetry readings, Pat Laplante gave a good attempt at a Scottish “burr” while reading “Coming Through the Rye.” Ian Rae followed with a rendition of “For a’ That an’ a’ That,” Burns’ tribute to universal brotherhood which ends with the ringing, “It’s comin’ yet for a’ that, that man to man, the world o’er shall brithers be for a’ that.” Scotty and I sang, “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon” and then we heard, “To a Mouse,” in which Burns, a farmer by trade, apologized to a wee mouse whose wee house his plow had disturbed – a good example of Burns’ search for universal meaning in the commonplace.

The evening concluded as Scotty led us through a singalong of Scottish songs, followed by some Scottish country dancing, an impassioned speech by Ross Hamilton about brotherhood and understanding amongst people and his demonstration of hand puppet “dancing” to a Scottish reel.

In the words that my hometown newspaper used to end all party reports: “A fine time was had by all!” Oh – I almost forgot! Our wee dog, Peppy, who accompanies us almost everywhere, joined us for the ceilidh portion of the evening. He slept through most of it but when it came time to join hands around a circle to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” Peppy decided to participate. Trotting into the circle, he took up his begging stance on hind legs with front paws pleadingly chopping the air. Scotty and Ross separated their hands, each taking him by a front paw, and we continued our singing and circling. As the Brits would put it, Peppy was “as happy as Larry!” Another Scottish wannabee!