Basket List

Some people, especially as they approach the second half of their lives, make “bucket lists”. I, too, have a running list of aspirations – things I’d like to find, see, experience, accomplish, but they’re not particularly grandiose. No travelling to exotic lands, skydiving or climbing Mount Everest for me, oh no! Instead of a highfalutin bucket list, I keep what I like to call a Basket List (wicker, preferably), brimming with small whimsies, little hopes and dreams which are apt to change frequently. Right now, it goes something like this:

Hag stone from the Sea of Azov, Ukraine / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Holey Stone
Also known as hag or adder stones, these small river or beach rocks have naturally-occurring holes made by wave action or friction with smaller pebbles. They are considered lucky and can be carried or worn as amulets for protection. A holey stone features in one of my favourite novels, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, and ever since I read it, I’ve been on the lookout for one of my own. Sadly, our local waterways don’t seem to produce the kind of motion necessary to create such holes, but every time I’m on a bank or shore, you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out!

Witch window in Irasville, Vermont / CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Witch Window
I might have a tough time seeing a witch window, unless I take myself off to New England. Also known as Vermont or coffin windows, these narrow windows are placed on the diagonal in a gabled wall. They are found mostly in 19th century farmhouses, almost exclusively in the state of Vermont. These windows were supposed to protect homes against witches, as it was thought they couldn’t fly their broomsticks through crooked windows. (Because, you know … they couldn’t simply use a doorway!) It’s also believed they may have been used to remove coffins from upper floors, thus avoiding narrow or winding staircases. A more realistic reason for these odd constructions is that they allow light and ventilation in upper storeys where there may not be enough wall space for conventional windows.

French macarons © Nicholas Halftermeyer / CC BY-SA 3.0

3. French Macarons
The sheer elegance of these smooth, delicately-hued meringue and buttercream confections (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) are something to admire, but I’ve yet to taste one. They come in such dreamy pastel colours of sunshine yellow, pink, lavender, pistachio, even chocolate! As soon as someone presents me with a small white box, tied neatly with baker’s twine, I’ll be having one … or two … or three of these for high tea!

4. Join-Up
No, I have no wish to enlist in a society or become an army cadet. What I’m talking about is the technique known as Join-Up®, in which a rider learns the body cues of her horse and teaches it to accept gentle authority, thus establishing a strong trust bond. I first saw it demonstrated by Monty Roberts, who developed this humane “breaking” process, in the television series, Martin Clunes: Horsepower. It was done so sweetly, I was enchanted. There’s just one small problem with this plan: I have to learn how to ride first.

European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) © Gaudete / CC BY-SA 2.5

5. Hedgehog
These adorable wee creatures aren’t native to North America, so I’d have to get myself to England or Europe to see Mrs. Tiggywinkle in her natural environment. I might even join up with one. And it would give me the opportunity to see #6.

So close, and yet so far! One day, perhaps, I’ll visit Cheat’s Lane, Coffee Yard or Black Horse Passage – just three of the 50+ snickelways of York.

6. Snickelways of York
I’ve been to York, England – once, long ago. My sister, a friend and I had planned our 3-week itinerary, focused mainly on ancient or medieval sites in England and Wales, for months in advance. Our visit to York did include the Jorvik Viking Centre, which was fabulous, and The Shambles, a picturesque medieval street of 14th century buildings. Oh, how I wish I’d known then about snickelways, those narrow passages winding through the city’s heart! Several of them are accessed by The Shambles; we must have walked right by them. If I ever return, I’ll be using my autographed copy of the comprehensive guidebook, The Complete Snickelways of York by Mark W. Jones, who coined the term “snickelway”.

7. Dig It
One of my favourite programs is Time Team. I just love Sir Tony, Phil Harding and his hat, and the sound of trowels scraping against stone. I’ve always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig. My husband has done it – sort of; for a university Physics & Archaeology course, he took some magnetometer and resistivity readings at old Fort York, where they found a buried sewer system. Geo Fizz!

This desire to dig up the past and find stuff is closely related to my fascination with beachcombing and my desire to take up metal detecting.

Fairy ring, Brisbane, Australia / Public Domain

8. Magic Mushrooms
The fairy ring is a circle of mushrooms, sometimes over 10 m (33 ft) across, caused by the underground spreading of their mycelium, the fungus’ vegetative, fibre-like growth. Legend has it that these circles are the site of moonlit elven dances, and that they’re dangerous to enter and thus best avoided. Once inside, mortals will be enthralled by the Wee Folk and transported to their realm, where time passes very slowly. If they escape, they’ll find they have not aged, yet everything and everyone they once knew has long since faded away. I’ve found partial fairy rings but never a complete one. If I do, you betcha I’ll be investigating – but, according to folk wisdom, I must run around it nine times, deosil (clockwise), to make it safe!

I also yearn to find bioluminescent fungi, which means I’ll have to venture out along with hordes of mosquito vampires into the night forest to look for their greenish glow. There are only about 80 known species of these light-emitting wonders, and some of them grow here, such as the bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus) and jack-o’lantern (Omphalotus illudens). Sadly, the glow is usually pretty faint and only happens for a short period of time under the right conditions, so the chances of actually finding one are about as great as being carried off to marry a Fairy King.

 

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Odds and Sods

Really bad joke of the day (Mrs. Cobs, are you listening?): What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

As an aspiring writer and longtime editor, I own several thesauri. A few years ago, I purchased Roget’s Super Thesaurus (4th Edition), a thick compendium that promised to be the thesaurus-to-end-all-thesauri. It’s okay, but my go-to reference volume is and always has been Webster’s New Thesaurus (Concise Edition), a worn and well-thumbed paperback. (To give you an idea how long I’ve had it, the front cover boasts “New for the 1990’s.”) This beloved volume may not have as many entries, but it always delivers when I’m seeking le mot juste.

I meant to get this post up at the beginning of the month. Regular Gillyflower readers will know that I like to blog according to a monthly theme. June might offer many possibilities theme-wise, but I can’t pick just one. So, let this month’s theme be, well, themeless. Anti-thematic. My posts will be a mishmash of miscellany, a plethora of potpourri, an omnibus of odds and sods.

The novel that I’ve been trying to write since 2010 has been languishing on hiatus for some time now. For the first few years, I worked on it furiously in my spare time, day or night, writing, editing, refining, writing, etc. But then the plot started taking on a life of its own, and I grew increasingly unhappy with the direction it was going. There were also plenty of periods of angst and self-doubt that I’m sure most writers experience: Is it good enough? Do I have the energy to finish this? Will anyone want to read it? I knew I needed to make serious decisions – and major rewrites – but by that time I was paralyzed with writer’s block, and so I put the story away and haven’t worked on it since.

Not long ago, I took it out again and started to read. Just the first few chapters, but I liked it. And I started editing again. I’m still not sure what to do with the problematic remainder, though. Perhaps, like Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame (not that I’m making any comparisons between that Goddess and me), I might approach this effort as an exercise in how to write (or how not to write), with no other aspirations.

From the start, however, my goal has been to get published, so I’ve always guarded the work-in-progress jealously, not even letting my husband or family read it. I’d like to publish some excerpts on this blog, however – perhaps I’ll create a new blog dedicated solely to the book. But I’m leery of “giving away” this cherished work once it goes online. What assurances do I have that my material – if someone deems it good enough – won’t be stolen?

My sister, an avid nature photographer who posts her clearly-copyrighted, metadata-embedded images frequently on multiple websites, can tell you that she’s been the victim of intellectual/artistic copyright theft several times: by “friends” who’ve claimed her images as their own, by companies for their advertising, and by news outlets who refused to cease and desist or pay her when she complained. (One agency finally backed down and gave her photo credit, thank you so very much.) Signatures, watermarks and statements of copyright should and do protect our property, but of course there are legions of unscrupulous people who don’t give a fig about rules or ethics and take our stuff anyway. And by that time, it’s usually too late.

Perhaps I’m flattering myself when I think anyone would want to plagiarize my work. But I’m a cautious lass. Before I blog parts of my story, I’d like to hear from you. Are you concerned about what happens to your creative efforts once you publish them? What systems of protection have you put in place – and do you feel confident that they do the job?

A Blue and White Love Affair

A little granite island on Lake Muskoka, home to tall pines, majestic oaks and maple, aromatic cedar, scrubby juniper and an active population of pixies, has been in my family since my great-grandfather purchased it in 1911. His son, my mother’s dad, built the sturdy wooden cottage a couple of years later, and other than the addition of a screened-in porch, the house has stood unchanged and resolute throughout the decades. My mother has spent every summer of her life there, as have her three children. Other branches of the family have also enjoyed it, and we all have rich and long-lasting memories of such a magickal place.

Over the years, for example, there have been three marriages performed at the cottage; one of those brides carried fragrant white water-lilies, plucked from a local bay, as her bouquet. I chose to be married in the nearby town of Gravenhurst and have our reception on the (now) 131-year-old Royal Mail Ship Segwun, an elegant and graceful steamer that’s been plying the lakes since the logging days. My sister held her wedding and reception on the same ship, which cruises past our island on every voyage. The cottage has also been the perfect location for honeymoons; on warm summer nights when the moon spreads her silvery splendour across silent waters while loons call out emphatic yet rather haunting encouragement, what could be more idyllic?

As far as I know, no children (human, anyway) have ever been born on the island, but a passel of kids has certainly grown up there. Along its wave-lapped shores, we learned how to swim, paddle canoes, ply oars and run the motorboat. We picked up frogs, crayfish and snapping turtles with naïve hands and caught our first pike in its waters. We ran willy-nilly down the sloping dock path at unstoppable speed, skinning our knees, and we swung to and fro and twirled around on the old rope swing, then got sick all over the dinner table. Clad only in wet bathing suits, we raced through the woods on scavenger hunts and spent idle afternoons in the hammock or perched on a favourite rock, devouring ripe blueberries, juicy blackberries and oh! so many novels. At night we fell, sunburnt and exhausted, into creaky wrought iron beds with lumpy mattresses and were lulled to sleep by the cries of distant gulls.

The cottage’s furnishings haven’t changed much since the old days, except the occasional coat of white paint (the porch rafters were given a distinct marine feel with the addition of lake-blue stripes). When the kids got older, however, we converted a no-longer-needed “bedroom” – a corner of the porch – into a quiet reading nook, complete with white wicker chairs, blue cushions and a view of the lake. From this north-facing aspect, the water is sometimes cobalt, calmly reflecting a sparkling summer sky, and sometimes it’s a dark, moody slate, with a whipped topping of whitecaps foreshadowing an approaching storm.

Like most summer places, the cottage has been the repository of household items the thriftier generations thought “too good” to throw away. Drawers and cupboards are jammed with all sorts of utilitarian bits and pieces such as dented pots, an ancient egg beater, a rusty ladle, heavy stoneware jugs, a chipped enamelware colander and umpteen different patterns of silverware. There’s even a 19th century zinc washboard hanging around, and each bedroom still has its original chamber pot – or “thunder mug”, as we’ve always called them.

All of these things carry their own memories and rustic charm. But there’s one group of items that has graced the kitchen cabinets for as long as anyone can remember: a mismatched collection of blue and white china. Among this classic transferware crockery, the nearest and dearest to my heart has to be Blue Willow.

The story of Blue Willow (or just “Willow”, as it’s properly known) is a popular and romantic fable involving runaway lovers, a secluded island and, sad to say, their doomed end. Despite this melancholy tale, I’ve always found it a cheerful experience drinking my morning tea and eating light summer meals from such classic and fresh blue and white ware. The fact that some of our pieces are at least 100 years old and still in use (we’ve only had to retire one cracked dish) attests to the family’s fondness for the “cottage china”. (There’s good reason this pattern is often used on-screen to evoke old-time hominess and domesticity.)

When I married, I chose the Blue Willow pattern as my own household dinnerware, and for years I scoured antique fairs for rarer, more unique pieces to add to a growing collection. To me, this pattern will forever speak of that little white house on that wooded island in that deep, blue lake – and I will always love them both.

May I Have a Word?

Welcome to 2018! To start the New Year, I offer the first installment of The Blogger’s Dictionary, a compilation of terms used to humorous effect by some of the bloggers I’ve gotten to know over the last year or so. [Links to their sites shown.] Addenda will be published as accumulated. (Warning: The author strongly recommends that tea drinkers finish their morning cuppa before reading, lest they experience an unpleasant exsinuation event.)

Gillyflower’s
Blogger’s Dictionary

away (off) with the fairies: (adj.) the condition of being in another world, distracted, or thinking about something else, making one prone to acts of clumsiness. As in, “I was away with the fairies when I tripped over my house panther and twisted my knee.” [samanthamurdochblog]

(to) chobble: (v.) a combination of to chomp and to gobble; what caterpillars do to the leaves of prized rose bushes [Pete Hillman’s Nature Photography]

confuzzlement: (n.) a perplexing state of utter confusion and puzzlement [gillyflower]

edumacation: (n.) not a WordPress-exclusive term, but one used on a regular basis in certain famous Friday posts [The Cobweborium Emporium]

exsinuation: (n.) the sudden, forceful and embarrassing evacuation from the body, via the sinus passages, of a beverage, often initiated by extreme hilarity [gillyflower]

gutter-minded: (adj.) low, base or sexual, esp. pertaining to one’s train of thought [gillyflower]

house panther: (n.) Felis domesticus, commonly known as the house or domestic cat (although any of this species would insist there’s nothing whatsoever domestic about them; they’re panthers, for crying out loud) [sevencatsandcounting]

Lady Up Her Own Nose: (n.) a personage who thinks she is Of Very Great Importance, but probably isn’t [nanacathydotcom]

pocket junk: (n.) those bits and bobs which collect in one’s trouser recepticules in the absence of a fabulous handbag [samanthamurdochblog]

recepticule: (n.) the place in one’s trousers where one’s pocket junk lives (now don’t be so gutter-minded) [samanthamurdochblog]

servament service: (n.) the act of providing essential needs (wet food, dry food, water, milk, clean litter, pitpats, silly talk, cuddles, alone time, mice to catch, sumptuous praise when mice are caught, cushion plumping, piles of fresh laundry, etc., etc., etc.) to Their Royal Highnesses, a.k.a. one’s house panthers [The Cobweborium Emporium]

sister scraps: 1. (n.) quarrels, often violent, between cohabiting female house panthers; 2. (n.) the gory results of same [samanthamurdochblog]

tinsel-tailed: (adj.) alarmed and on high alert, as a cat when confronted by a woofie or other undesirable [samanthamurdochblog]

twiddlemuff: (n.) a brightly-coloured knitted handwarmer with adornments such as buttons and pompons, intended as a textile version of a fidget spinner for those afflicted with restlessness or dementia [nanacathydotcom]

white good: (n.) of British origin, referring to electrical appliance in North American, i.e. oven, refrigerator, microwave [samanthamurdochblog]

woofie: (n.) Canis familiaris, commonly known as the domestic dog [sevencatsandcounting]

• • • • • • •  )O(  • • • • • • •

Welcome to My World! A new feature on my sidebar is a Map of Visitors. It’s fun to see where everyone comes from, and you can pin your location, including a link to your blog or other website if you wish. To put yourself on my map, click on the sidebar map or the link above, choose Additions, then Add Marker. Thanks!

 

Mabon Mysteries

Yesterday marked the autumnal equinox, also known as Mabon, when night and day are of the same duration – a time of equality and balance. At Mabon, the second of three harvest festivals, we honour the waning sun and growing dark and give thanks for the abundance of crops and other gifts with which we’ve been blessed. We seek to find balance: to stop, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours – to reap what we have sown. It’s a good time to complete projects that have been left undone, and to begin to prepare for the winter to come.

In the fall, when nature appears to be winding down, I feel more connected to it than at any other time of the year, even more so than spring and all its burgeoning life. Perhaps it’s because the culmination of the growing season is so colourful, so fragrant: honey-brown hay bales and golden corn resting in the fields, glossy red apples, the deep purple of grapes and wild asters, the sugar maples’ amber, green and russet riot. I find the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of hearth and bonfires intoxicating, and the cooler, crisp air, after the humidity of summer, makes me breathe more deeply and feel more alive. I never take walks in the brutal heat of July or August, so I look forward to getting out more, enjoying the flight of monarchs, the low chucking of robins, and the soft October mist on my skin.

In summer at the cottage, Faeries are in full fancy. But in autumn, there is a shift to darker, more mysterious things than even the Fae. Call it a time of introspection, nesting, or the art of Hygge; knowing that, of a nippy evening there’s a cozy blanket to curl up in and a good book to lose myself in is delicious. That’s when my thoughts turn in earnest to beeswax candles, incense from ancient lands, medieval Tarot, the rustle of parchment, old grimoires, and the secrets held by mirrors and crystal spheres.

My own Mabon ritual – during two rare and blessed consecutive days off – includes wearing an incense-y perfume oil (purchased from a fellow Etsian) called Mabon, relaxing with my feet up, and finishing a few pieces of gemstone jewellery for myself and my shop, a task I’ve been putting off for a while now. As a treat, I’ve enjoyed some delicious baklava, honey- and rosewater-redolent, with my tea. Later, I’ll continue working on a new, just-for-fun craft that I’ll write about soon! How will you celebrate this new season?

Harvest Symbols of Mabon

Symbols: acorns • apples • corn • gourds • horn of plenty • pine cones • wheat sheaves

Colours: brown • burgundy • gold • orange • red

Food & Drink: apples • bread • cider • grapes • nuts • onions • pumpkin • root vegetables • squash • wine

Gemstones: agate • amber • aventurine • citrine • peridot • sapphire • topaz

Herbs & Plants: aster • calendula • ivy • marigold • milkweed • rose hips • sage • sunflower

Incense & Oils: frankincense • myrrh • pine • sage • sweetgrass

Rituals: take a walk in the woods • offer a libation of thanks to the trees • harvest herbs and vegetables from your garden • adorn your home with autumn bounty: wheat sheaves, bowl of rosy apples, grapevine wreath, scattering of acorns and cones, colourful gourds or leaves • buy or make a new broom, either full-sized or symbolic • make spiced hot apple cider • make a protection charm using hazelnuts tied onto red string • volunteer at a food kitchen or donate to a food or clothing bank

The Secret Garden

Purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.)

The beginning of Autumn is less than a week away, and that makes me a happy little hedgewitch. Fall is by far my favourite season, for all the reasons that most people love it: cerulean skies and crisp, woodsmoke-scented air; blankets and hoodies; the crunch of fallen leaves; blazing colours and bonfires. And yes, pumpkin spice everything!

These past couple of weeks, while other areas of the continent have been ravaged by horrific storms, my own little pocket of the world has been fortunate to enjoy a string of exceedingly pleasant pre-autumn weather. The days are warm but not hot, nights are snugglingly cool, and the air has been still and soft, like a gauzy veil shimmering between the scourge of summer and the cold to come.

I took advantage of this perfection a few days ago when I paid two impromptu visits to a new place for me. For years, on my way to work, I’ve been driving past a large tract of land known as the Riverwood Conservancy. As I’m always in a hurry, I never paid it much attention, but its website says that it’s a city-owned park, free and open to the public year-round, with historic buildings, gardens, nature trails, and a centre offering community art programs. I said to myself, “Self, get thee there one day!” but somehow, I never did. Silly me — now I know what I was missing!

Keeping perfect time!

Last Sunday, I decided on a whim to stop at Riverwood after work to see what it was all about. The late afternoon was fine and there was still lots of daylight left, so I drove down the winding lane leading to the main building which houses the Conservancy’s offices. With only my phone camera in hand, I began to explore the area around the house, with its charming gardens – all maintained by volunteers – secret stairs and pathways, stone walls and old wooden gates, and other interesting architectural features – some of them almost lost to time.

As soon as I saw the place, I was immediately charmed – and fell in love. As Lizzie says at first glimpse of the magnificent Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice (1995 miniseries), “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place so happily situated.” Riverwood may not be on nearly as grand a scale, but it is lovely just the same.

Known as the Chappell House, the rambling bungalow perches atop the Credit River Valley on 60 hectares (150 acres) of woodland that was once used as trading grounds by First Nations peoples. The house was built in 1919 in the Arts and Crafts style as a summer retreat for the property’s third owners – complete with servants’ quarters, billiard room, tennis court and swimming pool.

Viewed from the formal courtyard with original waterlily and goldfish pond and circular paved driveway, the stone house with its massive chimney, family crest, and service wings is quite impressive:

Chappell House, Riverwood Conservancy, Mississauga, Ontario

A closer view reveals that each part of the building has its own character and makes for delightful little vignettes. One of the wings, for example, which I think must have been family bedrooms, looks like the most perfect little cottage, adorned with clematis and its own tiny garden:

The north wing

There was no one else around and I was surrounded by a still, peaceful forest, quiet but alive with birdsong and the rustle of squirrels gleaning chestnuts, so I felt like I was in my own spellbound world. I roamed about gardens planted with a mixture of traditional English cottage and local species. Here were foxglove, chamomile and David Austin roses, there turtlehead (Chelone), purple coneflower (Echinacea) and rudbeckia. There are also all manner of potted plants, some of them exotic and extremely fragrant, such as gardenia and angel trumpet (Brugmansia). Paths and old wooden gates beckoned to more secret nooks and surprises, and everywhere I looked yielded another delight for the senses.

The lily pond, an original feature of the front courtyard

These stairs lead to disappointment!

The back of the house features the Great Room and the formerly open-air dining porch (now enclosed) which once hosted lavish dinner parties for illustrious guests including prime ministers, lieutenant governors and senators. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for example, once played tennis on the now-lost court. (Apparently, traces of it – and the swimming pool – can still be seen … that’s a quest for another day!) The rear lawn dips down to the edge of the ravine through which runs the Credit, one of the longest rivers flowing into Lake Ontario. I imagine white-clad ladies and gents, shaded by immense old pines and oaks, enjoying an amiable game of croquet on that lawn. At its edge are crumbling stone steps down which I’m sure generations of children scrambled on some adventure or another. I wondered where they led, but they were fenced off. When I came back the next day and walked the trail along the valley bottom, I came across what I guessed were the same ones I’d seen from the top. Curious souls making the effort to climb those enticing steps only to find the way barred will soon find out why another visitor dubbed them the Stairs of False Hope!

Through a glass, humidly

The property is located on the northern edge of Carolinian habitat, and plants normally seen in the American south (e.g. sassafras, pawpaw, tulip tree, black-gum) can be found here. (It is also rich in bird and animal species.) Many of the garden plants are propagated onsite, and the house even has its own greenhouse/potting shed. A glimpse inside, with the late afternoon sun illuminating gardening tools and stacks of terra cotta pots, was intriguing.

The following day, I came back to explore more of the Riverwood property. There are other historic buildings, including an 1850s house and barn, and gardens to see as well as trails to hike, and I enjoyed them all. I have yet to get inside the buildings and am curious to know if any of their original features still exist. There is also an intriguing feature in the woods that I searched for but couldn’t find! Later in the season, when fall colour is at its peak, you can bet I’ll be back for more photography. The property will be lovely at any time of year, in fact, so Riverwood is bound to become a regular haunt for me.

My ramblings on those two magickal days inspired the theme for September and October: Autumn Enchantments!

A view from the Sundial Garden

Do the Shuffle*

* Rest assured: in this post, by no means shall we be discussing glitter balls or disco music!

Thank you to the lovely Samantha of samanthamurdochblog for nominating me for the Shuffle the Music Tag, as originated by Life in a Blogshell. (If you aren’t already a devoted follower of Samantha’s merry musings, please do become acquainted; while you’re at it, check out Blogshell, too!) The challenge of this tag is to hit the shuffle button on my music player and discuss what the first 15 songs that come up mean to me. I don’t actually download music or own an iPod, so I listen the old-fashioned way: to the radio or the CD player in my car. So, I suppose the following is more of a dream playlist, a mixed tape of the mind!

As a teen in the late ’70s, I was fed a steady diet of what is now known, I suppose, as classic rock. I have happy memories of hanging around our basement, listening to my older siblings’ vinyl records and 45s – does anyone remember the excitement of rushing to the music store to buy a favourite group’s latest single, hot off the press? (The B side was almost always a disappointment.) It was a Golden Age of bands such as Chicago, Kansas and Boston, Led Zeppelin and The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Police, Queen, The Eagles, Dire Straits and so many more. It was also the heyday of soft rock and folk artists such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King, Jim Croce and Carly Simon, to name just a few.

My ultimate playlist isn’t confined only to ’70s rock. Because my parents were classical music fans and I started piano lessons at an early age, I grew up loving Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al. I also love me a beautiful solo voice, so some tenors and strong female voices make an appearance. And thoughtfully-crafted lyrics and melodies are very important to me, so I must give great songwriters a nod as well. Here goes, then, my Top 15 Playlist Shuffle, in a very particular order indeed:

1. Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac) • As an impressionable teen, I was enchanted with Stevie Nicks’ floaty brand of bohemian chic. (The picture of a very young Nicks in top hat will stay with me forever.) The group’s watershed albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1976) got an awful lot of play in our house, and the mystic and ethereal Rhiannon, about a Welsh witch, helped spark an interest in Celtic mythology and get me started on my path. I love this song so much that the main character in my novel-in-progress bears the same name, and if I could have a soundtrack to my life, this one song would be it.

2. Landslide (Fleetwood Mac) • Once again, Nicks’ songwriting and vocals are at their best. She wrote the 1975 song, about her tumultuous relationship with bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, whilst staying alone in a hotel with a mountain view. I love the original as well as the 2006 live video version. I have performed this song on acoustic guitar; it’s a joy to play and sing.

3. Dog and Butterfly and Dream of the Archer (Heart) • Heart, who did their best work in the ’70s, is another group I grew up with. Lead singer Ann Wilson has an amazing vocal range (I can’t sing most of their stuff), and sister Nancy can shred guitar like nobody’s business. Their 1976 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, contains most of my favourites, including Crazy On You: ‘I was a willow last night in my dream / I bent down over a clear running stream / I sang you the song that I heard up above / and you kept me alive with your sweet-flowing love.’ Doesn’t get much better than that, except for the beautiful Dog and Butterfly (1978) and mandolin-infused Dream of the Archer, from 1977’s Little Queen – the cover of which had me longing to be a gypsy.

4. Legend (Clannad) • Okay, this is an entire album, not just one song, but each and every track is near and dear to my heart! I’ve mentioned before that Robin of Sherwood (1984-86) is my absolute all-time favourite TV series; Clannad’s haunting melodies, performed on traditional and modern instruments, were the perfect accompaniment. My top tracks are Herne and Scarlet. Clannad’s next album, Macalla (1985), featured Irish-language Caisleán Óir, another favourite used in the series.

5. Nocturne in C sharp Minor (Chopin) • This was my showpiece when I was taking lessons from my beloved – and very patient – piano teacher and performing in recitals. It made me fall in love with the Romantic movement. I just about aced all those runs and trills ….

6. The Moldau (Smetana) • Part of Smetana’s 1874 symphonic poem Má vlast (My Country), this piece so beautifully depicts the graceful and mighty meandering of the river through the Czech countryside, dotted with charming scenes of traditional rural life.

7. Blackbird (The Beatles) • Paul McCartney’s brilliant piece, with lyrics inspired by 1960s race relations in the U.S., was the first song I learned to play on guitar. This song uses an intricate fingerpicking pattern – my favourite way to play!

8. Homeward Bound (Fraser Walters/The Canadian Tenors) • Available only on the group’s 2010 DVD, The Canadian Tenors Live at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Walters’ achingly beautiful a cappella version of Marta Keen’s anthem makes me sob every time I hear it. If my novel were ever published and then made into a movie (yeah, right!), I’d want this as the theme song.

9. Hallelujah (The Canadian Tenors) • Although they’ve dropped the ‘Canadian’ part as well as former member Remigio Pereira, The Tenors are my favourite current vocal group, and this cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic is a masterpiece. There’s good reason I’ve attended at least four of their concerts, and have their autographs on every CD!

10. Where My Heart Will Take Me (Russell Watson) • Also known as Faith of the Heart, this Diane Warren song was used as the theme for Star Trek Enterprise – the only Trek theme with vocals, which caused a lot of controversy. Listening to Watson’s stirring anthem helped get me through a rocky time in my life.

11. The Highwayman (Loreena McKennitt) • My mother introduced me to Alfred Noyes’ poem of a doomed outlaw when I was a teen. How could I help but be impressed by this vision? ‘He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, / A coat of claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; / They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! / And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, / His pistol butts a-twinkle, / His rapier hilt a-twinkle under the jewelled sky.’  McKennitt’s 10-minute abridged version, from her 1997 album The Book of Secrets, deftly evokes pounding hoofbeats over moonlit moors, a romantic hero and tragic love, straining in the dark.

12. Let It Be and Hey Jude (The Beatles) • A two-pack of McCartney’s optimistic and uplifting lyrics, so singable, so perfect. And I love the f-bomb dropped near the end of Jude when McCartney, on piano, plays a wrong chord!

13. You’ll Think of Me (Keith Urban) • You betcha, Mr. Urban! Smokin’ hot number from one of the best guitarists in the world, the song for which he earned his first Grammy. I fell instantly in love when I heard (and saw the video for) Somebody Like You, the first single from his groundbreaking 2002 album, Golden Road. My very hip mom and I have seen him in concert twice. Plus, his hair is prettier than most women’s.

14. Aléjate (Josh Groban) • I love all of Groban’s earlier work and have been to two of his concerts. This wildly romantic Spanish-language song, originally recorded as Just Walk Away by Celine Dion, is from Groban’s eponymous 2001 debut album.

15. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (Simon & Garfunkel) • I adore all of the duo’s work, but this one, in which Garfunkel walks ‘on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight’ is just so evocative. Scarborough Fair/Canticle, a folk classic, is another S & G winner, a simplified yet faithful version of which I play on guitar.

I’m going to refrain from nominating other bloggers, as Samantha has already covered several I know. I’ll simply encourage you all to hit the Play button, sing your hearts out and dance like no one is watching. Happy listening!