Archive for the ‘simple living’ Category

What do you want from me?

January 29, 2016

The heading above was the teaser line in my inmail box this morning.  It originated from the author of an ‘environmental memoir’ blog from @2006 -07”,which blog he morphed into a published book and then into a documentary which was shown at a Sundance Film Festival.  Out of curiosity I had followed his blog and had expressed to Rumpole then “Just wait, me dear one, here’s a fellow who plans to gain monetarily from his writing this stuff.” Well, reading between the lines, and of possible sub-text of potential intentions isn’t exactly as demanding as, say, brain surgery or understanding quantum physics, but I think I was quite right in my prediction.

Now, he asks, nicely, what it is I, and other persons whose virtual mail-boxes he regularly fills with news of his latest efforts to save the world, want from him. It appears he has written yet another book  ( he hopes a best-seller?) which he thinks an unthinking public with an unquenched thirst for yet another feel-good-or-better self help book eagerly hangs awaiting. He wants to form facebook  support groups, and is planning an eight week online course, complete with work book to accompany the new tome. The worst part of his solicitation letter is how he plays to the reader’s emotions with a fake candour, just-us-folks tone and appeals (subtle) to be crowd-funded. Ah, snake oil by any other name.  I suspect he must have close relatives in Nigeria.

It is pretty obvious there is a long history of soft-sell being a success in separating people from their hard earned resources, and for their often insightful ‘spidey sense’. I have, for years and unsuccessfully tried to have my contact information removed from his mailing list.  And, that is the only thing I want from him And, no, I have not paid for his first book, nor do I intend to read a library copy of it, ever.  As to crowd fund his endeavours, or to take him for any source of learning, thanks, but no thanks, not because I need not learn any more, but because I do, indeed, but not from the likes of such a smug, fake and glib source.

Seniors moving…

March 1, 2013

Two elderly acquaintences who live in my apartment building are moving to new places. The reasons for the move are finances and livability of their current digs. The apartments where we all live were initially affordable on seniors’ pensions, however our landlord has availed himself of the right to raise rents yearly, while not effecting necessary repairs to the building’s envelope, so leaky ceilings and mold growth in the units have been a chronic problem. As well, when appliances fail, repairs are not effected in timely fashion, or if the instruments can limp along working in some manner repairs are deemed superfluous.

The unit in which I have settled during the past two years and four months is leaking from the roof in three places (I am on the floor directly below the roof). Lately I have noted some dodgy types moving into the building – there is a lot of movement in and out. Drug deals outside our lobby have tended to become common; hookers regularly proposition visitors parking alongside the building. During the past year I have been reluctant to foray outside after dark, as I cannot drive due to vision problems and walking becomes problematic in the dark. I cannot discern clearly the nature of persons encountered on a dark street. Even though I have a hefty, gaudy painted wooden cane which I call my cudgel, I feel unsafe going anywhere at night. I realize this is why seniors tend to travel in packs; there is safety, of a sort, in numbers. But alas, no more Tango lessons for me!

One elderly friend moved today. I went over with a neighbour to her new apartment, subsidized, hence affordable, to help her stow her numerous belongings and create room for her to move about in. Her equally elderly Wheaton terrier, anxious and feeling displaced, dashed about underfoot as we unpacked boxes and moved furniture about to maximally utilize a dishearteningly scant space. This lady’s tiny new kitchen could not accommodate her necessities for cooking and eating well. Apparently senior persons are to exist primarily on either dog-food, canned food or toast and tea ( mind you there was no room whatsoever for a toaster even!) Well, seniors these days tend to be quite independent and high functioning, as is my friend at 75 years of age. However, notions about seniority tend to peg us at a monastic and dependent level. Naturally this varies from person to person, but longer life-expectancies seem to be a norm, and the prevalence of nuclear family units ensures that there are numerous older women outliving their mates, and these women cling fiercely to their independence, either out of necessity or because of their children leading busy and involved lives.

Anyone who has had to aid an elderly parent move from a long-inhabited family home knows how difficult it is for the one moving to let go of objects and equipment of either useful or sentimental value. My friend Bev( the 75 year old woman) had to move to an apartment which is 300 square feet smaller. She was unable to part with much, hence her new place is packed to the rafters and now she must go through the tough part of sorting through her stuff and making decisions as to what discard. Thus this move represents both a loss and gain for her. She seems up to the task, although she is anxious, uncomfortable, exhausted ad feeling completely dislocated.

The other elderly friend, Elaine, is in process of packing up her goods here. She is to vacate her apartment by the end of March. She is 78 years old and has little help from her son’s family in this move, beyond their removing the possession and transporting them to the new apartment. Obtaining packing boxes, packing and unpacking them is her lot for the next 30 days. She is disabled, has to use a walker, and these chores are exhausting for her. I have managed to have younger friends of mine bring about 10 cartons for her; my son will bring her empty boxes from our 75 year-old friend this coming Saturday (who is now pressured to empty boxes from her own move). Then when Elaine has finished her move at the end of March, she will pass all the empty boxes to me for filling. My move is to be at the end of April.

Meanwhile, I am divesting myself of appliances, utensils, books, clothes and other un-needed items, so that I can have a simpler move, and at the end of that a more pared down environment. It is challenging to tackle change; in truth change is a constant in life, and one must fully embrace it.
I like the challenge of reconfiguring my life for changing circumstances. I have the option of living well within my means, a bit leaner perhaps but with a degree of grace and comfort.

Having said all of the above, moving house as an older person is stressful, as at any other time of life. C’est la vie!

Fussy eaters…

September 7, 2012

Glasgow Girl, my daughter-in-law, is one of the most fussy eaters I have encountered in my lifetime. She will not eat organ meats, or any meats with bone in. One cannot even present to her a dish of cooked meat without bones first removed prior to cooking.  As a result of her predelictions Mousey, also is demonstrating tendencies toward unreasonable fussiness, and it seems this dislike of bone has become one of her peeves as well.

Fussy eaters are made, not born. If one has unlimited choice, the tendency is toward refined, adulterated tastes I expect. Is there anyone out there in blog-land who might share with me great delight in eating the marrow out of soup bones.  This common fare is best served on substantial toasted bread, lightly salted, and is in my opinion absolutely delicious.

Cavemen in early days were the first to discover the delights of cracking the long bones of their killed, roasted meats, and extracting the delicious bounty of cooked marrow. As a modern suburban woman I am finding it increasingly difficult to acquire soup bones.  Poor people in my neighbourhood might utilize a good supply of these to prepare delicious broths as base of soups and stews.  However modern urban people, especially the poor, do not know of this plentiful enriching ingredient, and instead rely on purchasing highly processed, over-packaged and unhealthy junk foods.

It is to me a sad state of affairs, that in these times of seemingly unlimited plenty so many of us have forgotten a most basic rule of making use of every available part of animals we husband as food. As animals, we humans can share the seeming pleasure of dogs in extracting from animal portions every bit of taste and nutrition they might provide There is basic deliciousness in cooked connective tissue, the gelatinous portions, on the ends of soup bones well stewed, in the taste of marrow, the greasiness of which is necessary addition to help process vitamin nutrients from vegetables accompanying our meals. Such simple unfussy enjoyment seems to ba a matter of repeated experience through which taste acceptance is gradually acquired through familarity.

Twenty years ago, I provided room and board to a young native fellow from Kitkatla.  He had been raised on an Northern Island, where much of the foods eaten were obtained by fishing. When he first arrived in my home, he had broughtwith him several big cardboard cartons which smelled intensely of smoked fish.  He explained that his mother was most concerned that he would not have easy access to his favourite snack – dried salmon roe on dried seaweed.  Also in his stash of goodies from home were many cans of home-canned salmon.  He shared some of his roe and seaweed snacks – and they were surprisingly delicious, but foreign tasting to me, and I expressed to him my idea that favourite foods became such through repeated experience, and that sometimes he might not enjoy some of the foods presented to him for suppers. He said, it would be all right, because  his supply of familar foods might help allay his nostalgia for comfortable, familiar fare. And being a very young man of healthy appetite, he openly sampled the variety of foods presented him at meals.  Some he found more to his taste than others, and would gladly verbalize his analyses of flavour impressions. He most definitely wasn’t fussy. I expect this may have been on account of growing up in an environment where food sources were limited, and he did not develop a jaded, world-weary palate.

Too much choice tend to spoil our possible pleasures, I feel.

Sprain therapy – frozen peas and Montmorency cherries…

August 23, 2012

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Vancouver Island to stay with Ardent Feminazi at her Saanichton acreage and to kick around exploring the city of Victoria with a vague idea of relocating me and my goods there. Since becoming an official senior with a Gold Card, the only vaguely golden item I possess, it is now possible for me to sail to the Island via ferry, as foot passenger, GRATIS, but only if travelling between Monday and Thursday.  This is quite the perk for canned pet-food eating seniors in B.C.  Naturally, I took advantage of this.

After disembarking and dragging my wheelie suitcase across the sweltering tar-mac of the passenger pick-up zone, I spied Ardent Feminazi’s ratty red Toyota pick up truck, but no AF in sight anywhere. We had a bit of mix-up with the time of arrival, and she is not one to sit idle, but had gone off to the bottom of the ferry dock to see if in my heat-addled daze I had perhaps disembarked with vehicles rather than foot passengers.  After all I was piloting a wheeled bag, and may have taken too literally the advice for wheeled appliances to leve the ferry via the car deck. Since I have been known to make such errors in judgement on previous occasions, it made sense to me that eventually AF would return to her parked vehicle if she didn’t see me labouring along down below.  Meanwhile I wandered around from one shady bit to another and gathered a decent amount of melted buble gum on the bottom of my sandal soles, and then whiled away some more time trying to scrape that off at the edges of sidewalk.

At AF’s acreage, under the shadow of tall cedars, we sat quaffing cold coffee and plotting my searches of Victoria area to find just the right apartment for me. We made lists, looked at maps, looked up nearness of grocery stores and medical offices, considered nearness of neighbourhoods to the University, the Art gallery, parks and beaches.  I settled for Fairfield/Cook Street Village area as most meeting my diverse needs, and we made an apartment search list for the next several days.

During non-search times on the following days I played with Ardent Feminazi’s wonderful Malemute/Wolf cross, Sheena, inspected AF’s studio with the gorgeous huge etching press and wonderful light, made phone calls to Property Management agencies to view desired apartments, and ate fresh organic produce grown in Saanich.

As luck would have it, I did find a great little apartment a few blocks from the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion, the art gallery, Beacon Hill Park and Cook Street Village, and decided to come home and look after the deposits, etc..  The morning before I was to come home via ferry, I was up early, enjoying the cool of the morning while boiling water for a pot of tea.  AF’s house is situated among tall trees and  blessedly cool on a hot day. I walked from room to room in the quiet enjoying the green views from various windows and decided to go to my room to collect my morning medications.  Meanwhile, Sheena had, unheard by me, arrived in the computer room to continue her early-morning lie-in, thus as I was passing through that room I tripped over her recumbent body and lofted over her back, landing in a pile of freshly washed, unfolded laundry.

Thankg God for AF’s tendency to be casual with laundry – at least the pile made my landing a bit softer.  Sheena was surprised, but unharmed. My right foot however had folded under much in the same way as 19th Century Chinese folded a young girl’s arch and bound it tight to deform the foot to an ideal standard of beauty. Boy, did that hurt! Sweet Sheena gazed into my eyes and licked my face to let me know she would look after me.  I hopped off to retrieve my pills, then limped back into the kitchen to make the pot of tea and put my sore foot up on Sheena’s back. The foot looked all right, but hurt like the Dickens. I sat quietly sipping tea and applying cold wet cloths.

When AF woke up, she chastized me for not calling her to help.  But why should someone be disturbed just because I am such a Klutz? After breakfast she drove into Sidney to buy me a sturdy cane. Afterward she tried to convince me to go into Saanich Emergency and get my foot X-Rayed.  I refused to spend my last day on the island by sitting for many hours in a hospital waiting room, and figured that could as easily be done when I got back home. I figured since I could put weight on my right heel, but not the arch and bottom of the whole foot, things may not have been broken.

So, the following noon Ardent Feminazi borrowed a wheel-chair at the ferry, where thus ensconced, and in true Crippled Klutz style I was deposited on board into the care of a kind stewardess who actually brought me a sandwich and a cup of decent coffee and then wheeled me off at Tsawassen to pass me into the care of my sister, Margaret.

On the way home to my place, Margaret said. “you know what will make you feel a whole lot  better, G? I found a wonderful Hungarian deli in Vancouver where they actually carry canned Montmorency cherries and other goodies. I know how you often whine plaintively for sour cherry soup.”

“Okay” I said, ” but they better have Dios Beigli (Walnut Roll), Toportyu (deep fried pork rinds) and Majos Hurka (spicy liver sausage) as well. I feel the need to be totally self-indulgent.”

So, on the way home, we stopped at this deli, and I went wild, purchasing all of the above, as well as my beloved Montmorency cherries. As well, we stopped at a Save-On where Margaret nipped in to buy a large pack of frozen peas to serve as renewable cold-pack for my darn foot.

The frozen peas came in handy for the regular application of cold to my swollen and colourful foot.  I did go to local emergency the next morning and lucky as I tend to be, found no breaks, but chipped tarsal bones, and sprained tendons.

So the past two weeks, while regularly icing my foot, I also foraged my way through the Hungarian delicacies and frugally doled out tiny portions of Montmorency cherries – on youghurt, with sliced peaches, on oatmeal, spoonfuls by themselves.  No Sour Cherry soup, but simply delicious sour cherries.  Now I know where to get more of these cherries, and now that the frozen peas have eased my foot so I can freely hobble around, I think a bus ride is in order to the Vancouver deli, bring home several bottles of the Montmorency cherries and make the soup before the end of August.

The Green Dress…

February 11, 2009

Twenty-three years ago, after seeing an afternoon client, I made my way to the fabric store to browse through the selection of swing-season fabrics. These to me were fabrics that might see one through Spring and Summer, of the colour temperature suitable for those burgeoning, bright and longer days. “Saturated, jewel colours” I kept in mind as I parked my Toyota Landcruiser a block from the fabric store.

It was the beginning of February, which up North meant sunny cold days, hoarfrost on the trees, with a hint of the promise of lengthening days and hence the arrival of Spring. Third Avenue was slick with ice. The berms at the side of the parking spaces had much reduced due to alternating days of warm and cool. A habitual hangover from driving lessons more than twenty years before, I turned the front wheels of the truck toward the edge of the sidewalk, disembarked and walked in my mukluks up the block to the only fabric store in town. The sky toward the west had a warm glow. It promised another clear and gorgeous winter day for tomorrow. The street was mostly deserted of pedestrians, and on my brief walk I ruminated over just exactly what I wanted to buy.

I had earlier determined that I wanted to make two dresses to serve as a sort of formal uniform for dress-up occasions. I hated the selection available at the local dress shops. They had nothing to suit my austere taste. I liked clothing which skimmed my body loosely, allowed for free movement, a certain modesty, simple details, well made, of beautiful colours. No elaborately opulent patterns for this simple middle-aged woman, Thank You. I also like materials which were of good quality and had good weight and drape.
This was a tough call for a Northern City, where most of the stores had the recent styles on hand, but little of classic nature which might outlast the switching diktats of the fashion world. The closest one could come to acquiring this kind of clothing was to find a skilled dress and pattern-maker, cloth of good quality and have something tailor made. I didn’t have a lot of money to hire this chore out, so decided to wing it, buy and alter a pattern, myself, and do the cutting, fitting and sewing over a period of months.

Once I entered the fabric store, I headed directly to the pattern section. I liked Burda patterns at this time, and spent some time browsing the selection of dress patterns available. The right design presented itself, fortunately, and it promised to be one which could be altered in different ways, as a sort of variation on sleeve lenght, neck detail and skirt length. It was classic, subtly constructed and attractively austere. It just needed the cloth of the correct weight and drape and colour.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find the correct cloth. Beautiful mid to light-weight rayon, solid coloured in the most delicious jewel colours. I stood and drooled over the colour selection, playing with the drape and the sizing in the fabrics. In the end a marvellous Winsor Blue solid and what might be called a Grass Green solid were the ones I selected, hauled up to the cutting counter and presented for measuring into the needed lenghts. I also found some muslin which I bought in the same amount. I needed to make a muslin variation to practice altering and revising the pattern before committing it into the final versions. Then found some thread and zippers, interfacing, buttons and seam binding to match both colours of cloth.

I was so thrilled to have this project to begin working on. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were treated to a fashion parade of me, flouncing about, bedecked in the two fabrics. The Grass Green fabric was for a dress to be worn for weddings, engagements, bridal and baby showers, and the Winsor Blue was to be made into a dress to serve for more emotionally somber occasions – funerals, memorial services, retirement parties, partner dinners. I figured to have my formal dress needs looked after for the next fifteen years.

Diagnosis and treatment for Leukemia (AML) intervened and put stop to my sewing plans. However, two years later, after we relocated back to the Lower Mainland, on a sunny February morning, I pulled out the pattern and the muslin and coloured fabrics. I took and noted my measurements with my Anyu’s help, and began cutting and constructing the muslin version of the “dress”. Lots of pinning, unpinning, altering, basting and pulling of stitches – until a pale facsimile of the dress took form. And – it fit and flowed and draped beautifully, reassuring that the making of the Green Dress would result in a successful Garment – one which would have an extended and valued life.

By the end of March, the dress was complete, with an inside worked by hand to be as beautiful as from the outside. It gave me enormous pleasure to work the unseen parts of the dress, and the pleasure of hand-stitching a beautiful edging repeated in the observation of the same. The dress, finally hemmed and pressed, was beautiful. It hung from my shoulders gracefully; draped over my poitrine modestly; flowed with movement and its hem was a perfect edge.

The following summer I wore that green dress to two weddings; the following fall to a memorial service. Every year for the next fifteen years, that Green Dress took me to many weddings, christenings ,bridal and baby showers, summer trips to the theatre.
I always felt like a million dollars in it. I dressed it up with inherited jewelry, scarves and costume jewelry from second-hand stores, shawls and a variety of shoes to suit the occasion.

Finally, last year ,my body had changed enough in its conformation that the dress no longer looked so great on me. My breasts had settled to a lower part of my torso, and the fit of the Green dress no longer seemed the same. The fine handwork I had done on the unseen side of the dress had held up well during the many years it was worn. The cloth also had maintained well, and still hadn’t broken down to seem old. I took the dress down to the Salvation Army Store, hoping that some younger woman might see in it a labour of love and good use, with still some useful wear in it. It had served me well, as the only Spring, Summer and early Fall dress that I owned and wore for well over a decade. I loved that dress, and then released it.

The beautiful Winsor Blue material I made into a cullotte and blouse outfit. That lasted me for fifteen summers, before being relegated to the resale aisle of the Salvation Army Store.

I have always felt that clothing was to serve as a beautiful second skin; that it should be comfortable enough to forget while wearing; that it make us add colour and pattern to the world in the manner of butterflies and; that they should be made beautifully and last a long time. The Green Dress saw me through a period of my life – from the age of a young matron of 43 to an older woman of 60. it was time to let it go, and for me to find a new uniform more appropriate to my current chronological age and my ageing physical appearance.

Now I am on the hunt for a pattern and colour of a dress to make as a uniform to last me into my mid seventies. This is my February and March Challenge this year. And I look forward, with the help of Rumpole this time, to construct this new all-purpose dress.

I figure owning two dresses in thirty years is an accomplishment of a modest sort.

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.

Volunteers…

July 13, 2008

An enterprising squirrel planted a hazelnut in the foundation plantings. He thought to be clever and bury it deep down near the roots of some flourishing St. John’s Wart. His little squirrel brain, with its extensive information of sites of buried food for retrieval in the off-season, winter, must have been ovehelmingly full of detail; he forgot about the nut he buried there.

Early in the spring, I spied a couple of spindly hazel branches making elegant arcs over the leafing St. John’s Wort bed. Aha, a volunteer! I did not have the heart to yank it out and foolish me thought to let it stay, to see just how vigorous the hazel’s growth was to be by summer. So, now, in July, the few branches have grown into a young tree; its canopy swishes with the wind against the bug screen of our computer, music room. When one raises eyes from the computer monitor, a subtle green scrim filters out harsh sunlight. It pulses and shifts with the breezes, a lacy verdant curtain, far more desirable than any self-conscious leafy patterned fabric curtain indoors.

I shall have to foray out with shovel and spade, and rudely dislodge it from the foundation bed. The hazel, I now find out, has a vigorous growth habit. After some more development, its roots will disturb the house’s foundation, and make possible leaks to crack the cement. Such power in a natural vegetative force, to be able to encroach on natural and man-made hard materials. Still, I plan to embrace the rest of the summer season and grant a respite for this volunteer. In the Fall, when its leaves have released their hold on the branches, will be the time to pull it out. Perhaps, even, try to plant it in some other area of our little suburban plot. It would be ideal  for suburban plots to have some fruit and nut trees. Mature hazels produce a good crop of nuts, which are also delicious.

Out behind Rumpole’s woodworking addition, another squirrel has planted an acorn from one of the oak trees two blocks away. As far as I have been able to discern, the parent tree is one of two for many blocks around. Our little acorn seedling had such a bonsai appearance in its early establishment that I didn’t have the heart to dig it up. It has character; a persistent raddled beauty – awkward, its immature branches contorting from the West Winds prevalent on that side of our place. It is now as tall as me-a regular character with its gesturing thin main arms rising from a trunk slowly increasing in girth.

It makes me wonder just how many seasons must pass before the appearance of its fruiting, the acorns which hang in small clusters. It seems fortuitous that I have become interested in preparing my own drawing ink. The acorns will relase oak gall, which makes ink of a lovely character. The ink may not have many centuries of permanence, as all natural dyes it will fade when exposed to light for years. There is something so satisfying in the thought of preparing my own materials for drawing.

An acquaintance has a stand of black walnut trees. She is selling her property this fall, and she has many small black walnut seedlings which have volunteered to grow where they had fallen. Black walnut liquor makes a wonderful drawing ink. I shall ask to buy one of her volunteers and transplant it on the West side of out house; also ask her for the seed-hulls from her Black Walnut harvest this Fall. Soaking the seed coverings results in a beautiful ink. Like an old witch toiling over a vat, stirring, stirring, I can make drawing ink to give to artist friends and keep some for my own use. Then the newly transplanted volunteer will grow over the years and provide both ink and edible walnuts. Perhaps, not right away, but soon in the future.

Rationing…

April 24, 2008

A person doing scuba diving is equipped with oxygen tanks which limit the amount of time one can safely stay alive underwater. That is a form of rationing; only a fool tries to go beyond the limits provided by the existing oxygen tanks.

In many parts of the world, but not where I live, people consume rations of food-stuffs. Some rations fall short of maintaining people’s health and well being. Meanwhile, where I live, the most exotic foods are readily available to people of average means. Variety of food is naturally rationed by seasonal availability, by the commonplace transport of foods from all over the world, and cost.

All of a sudden, news has arrived that Costco is limiting the amount of rice that can be purchased by individuals and small businesses. The reality that finally we may have to pay “actual” cost for food – the cost of transpost, storage, middlemen, producers – unleashes the first signs of panic in our carefully orchestrated  unreal reality, our waking dream life. No, I have not made my way to Costco to pick up several bags of Basmati, or brown rice to stockpile in our spare bedroom as a hedge toward scarcity.

I remember walking out with my Mother as a young child and waiting in line for the family ration of rice, which had to be taken in a pillow-case, and once brought home we spread out on the kitchen table to take out the chaff, gravel, and other components of the ration. Flour was rationed; as were sugar; coffee; beans and lentils. We live; we thrived; we played; we bemoaned the shortage of fresh fruit and vegs; we worked. Seasonal offerings were cause for joy and celebration. Living meant labour – daily doings which helped sustain us, offered us amusement and distractions from the rigours of living.

In comparison, my life has been one of almost unremitting ease and, yes, luxury. A suburban woman, I don’t perform one quarter of my mother’s labours. Yet I don’t view her life from the heights of condescension – she certainly didn’t lack in appreciation of the “refinements” of life; her tastes were not less sophisticated nor more pedestrian than my own – her ease, appetites, opportunities, ambitions  and labours were rationed in a balanced way.

I think it is high time to consider rationing my activities, appetites and expectations. Just enough, and no more, will most likely be a pleasing way to live.

The Dream Home…

August 21, 2007

There is a song from the 60s musical “The Fantasticks” that I particularly loved and these days still sing in a cracked-alto version whenever I am doing mundane chores around the house.

” Hear how the wind begins to whisper -see all the leaves go swirling by – smell how the velvet rain is falling – out where the fields are warm and dry.

Now is the time to run inside and play – now is the time to find a hideaway – where we can stay.

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what are we going to do? (Girl)

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what’ll we do with you? (Boy)

We’ll find four limbs of a tree; We’ll build four walls and a floor; we’ll bind it over with leaves and run inside to stay.

We will let it rain; we’ll not feel it; we will let it rain, rain pell mell, and we’ll not complain if it never stops at all.

We’ll live and love in these four walls; happily we’ll live and love, no cares at all; happily we’ll live and love, within our castle walls. ”  (Boy and Girl, together)

This romantic song contains all the idealism and lack of practical experience of the young, the yearning for a love that helps one transcend all difficulty. I find its delicious naivete appealing. The Girl and Boy in the musical are supposed to be in their late teens, innocent, inexperienced and full of hope.

There is no hint of the Girl spreading tried-on and discarded brand name clothing on her bedroom floor and on every available surface. Her mother does not call her into the family room to catch the latest HGTV program on tacking together a fun and fashionable teen girl’s room with cool colours and kicky accessories. No “House Porn” for the Girl in The Fantasticks.

I often wonder what kind of longing is set up in sixteen-year old girls when they peruse the flyers that fall through their home mail-slot regularly, the flyers advertising the XXX Hospital Lifestyles Lottery, where the top prize is a million dollar Dream Home fully outfitted with the latest must-have luxuries and gadgets. And only $50 to $100 buys a chance at winning this Dream Home. Of course, the money goes to a good cause – Hospital Funding – so when one gambles one has expiated lingering feelings of guilt by being assured of gambled money going for “The Public Good”.

Some good friends bought a Dream Home from a lucky winner, who really couldn’t make a life in that house, for a variety of reasons. The house was designed by an architect, had soaring windows the three floors height, was situated in a semi-rural setting and had a gorgeous view of the ocean and islands. Outside, deer wandered by and had their way with garden plantings; racoons visited after dark to search for handouts; ravens flew by in the forest during the days, calling to each other and eagles soared in the sky.

There are unexpected downsides to Dream Homes, designed for a generic Mr and Mrs Average. The location of my friends’ house necessitated a two hour commute to and from work. They lived next door to another lottery home whose new owner left the house uninhabited.  Most of the neighbours were retirees.  Provisioning the home required trips into town a fair distance away. Power outages were frequent in the wintertime.  However, they lived there for five years, until the long commute to and from work became tedious, and the children needed to be closer to amenities, jobs and friends.

Lately, lottery homes are being built in suburbs, near amenities and schools, often on golf-course developments. My sister lives in such a community, and there are a few Dream Homes built on recently developed streets in her enclave. The new row of these lottery homes goes by the name of “Street of Dreams”. 

I toured a couple of these with Martha and Jeanie, and a crowd of other people, a couple of years ago. For the life of me I could never picture Rumpole and me living in one of these houses – we’d be like the Beverly Hillbillies and never fit in. The houses are tricked out to look like a hotel of sorts. People are expected to transport themselves via their imaginations into these places. All I could imagine was endless washing and cleaning of the granite counters in the kitchen and maybe occassionally chiding Rumpole for leaving acid rings etched on the granite from his orage juice glasses.  And the bathrooms! What sane woman wants to spend her time loping around the numerous bathrooms shining chrome taps. Besides which what woman could ever keep her eyes open watching Oprah  whilst slumped on the leather theatre chairs in the Media Room, exhausted from her rounds of incessant household maintenance!

Some dream! More like a nightmare wished on the unthinking and unwary women of North America! I think The Fantasticks version of castle is much more attractive and although the song didn’t mention ensuite bathrooms with rain-head showers and water-saving toilets, one can safely assume the idea of outdoor biffies never even crossed the librettist’s mind as he plinked away on a piano trying to fit words to the melody of “Soon it’s gonna rain”.

“I Taught Myself to Live Simply” – Anna Akhmatova

July 31, 2007

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses

about life’s decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat

licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

Written by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966)