Archive for the ‘simplicity’ Category


March 20, 2009

Captive in the padded bucket seat
you peer ahead through metronomic sweeps.
Windshield wipers clear arced fans,
dry apertures, through cascading rain rills.
Your right hand swipes and smears
exhalations which fog the glass.
Water outside; water vapour inside,
yet, your mouth is parched.
On impulse, you turn the car into
a Petrocan lot, exit and forget to
turn your seeking lips toward the offering sky.
You dash inside the station, and
buy a plastic bottle, full of tap-water.

GM, March 2009

How do I love you…

February 14, 2009

Last Saturday, when Rumpole took me to shop for fruit and vegetables at the local farmer’s market, we spied a pile of Blood Oranges. Now, Blood Oranges are a spectacular seasonal treat, only available this time of year. They are my February obsession; I have to purchase 5 to 7 of them to hold, admire the variegated peel colours and to strip, cut open in different ways and assemble for a painted study. Then wolf them down, smacking the lips all the meanwhile. They are an acquired taste. This year’s selection, which we picked up, did not have the peculiar bitter sweet tang of previous years’. But their peel was so beautiful, that I decided to make a Valentine’s treat of candied orange peel for friends and family.

Mousey has never tasted candied orange peel before. So I am especially excited that my little labours will provide a first taste ecperience for her. She may not find the flavour exactly to her liking, but it will be a first exposure to a new taste sensation.

While Rumpole was off on Wednesday evening to his weekly guitar lesson, I carefully peeled foor blood oranges. The white spongy inner membrane required cutting off. None of my paring knives were sharp enough to be up for this task, so I had to sit patiently sharpening the blade of my favorite small knife to razor conditions. That in itself is a relaxing, meditative task – honing the blade, testing it, resharpening until the perfect cutting capability was achieved.

Once the knife was capable of slicing the peel from the pith with ease, I took off my glasses, took up one quarter peel at a time and, taking a deep centering breath, made tidy work of stripping each section of peel. Since I can see up close with one eye, it was fine and calming work, that suits well my degree of sightedness.

After all the work of separating pith from peel had ended, I sliced each peel into thin slivers. Then a liquor of supersaturated sugar solution is required to be made, for slowly simmering the peelings for about three hours, in order to reduce the sugar solution considerably. I kept a close eye on this process to ensure no burning could possibly occur. The pot on the stove smelled delicious. I know this as I frequently hung my head over to sniff the citrus scent evaporating from the batch. MMM!

At the conclusion of the simmering process, I drained the sugar-saturated peels and laid the slips onto parchment covered cookie- sheets. (They sat out overnight to dry and harden.)

At breakfast, the following morning, I dredged the bits of sugared peel in a bowl of sugar. Rumpole snagged a slip and munched it with his coffee. Then he took a second sliver and pronounced it “addictive”.

During the morning, Jessica and I hiked to the local grocery store to buy some chocolate bits, which when melted might coat the ends of each sliver of peel. I came home with the dog after our walk, energized, full of resolve to do a bang-up job of coating the orange bits with chocolate.

(Now I am not a chocolate-loving person, and don’t cook and bake with variations of cocoa and chocolate. Why, the one time I ordered Mole Chicken at the Mariachi Restaurant in Tucson, on New Year’s Eve, twelve years back, I was horrified at the taste of a spicy chocolate coating on that fowl which should never, in my opinion, be treated with extreme flavours. So need I add at this point that chocolate is not a staple in my pantry or a favoured taste?)

I nuked the half the chocolate in the microwave and it came out a mess of steaming pumice textured stuff. No way was that flowing and liquid enough to coat the ends of my bits of candied peel. (I am still soaking and chipping out the bowl from the mass of vulcanized chocolate, and that, three days later.)

That endeavour being a complete failure, I settled on the tried and true double boiler method of melting chocolate. Yay! It worked.
Just at the point where I was ready to start dipping, Flora arrived at my studio door. She breezed in, uncoated herself, snaffled a candied peel, then another and yet another. So I poured her a coffee to slow her down. Instructed her to wash and dry her hands and to start dipping the peels one after the other in the chocolate.
Every fifth one she popped into her mouth and mumbled, while chewing, “God, I’m going to have to work extra hard at my spin class this evening to work off all these calories! Slap my hands, if I take any more of these to eat.”

“Just keep dipping.” I ordered her.

Flora made short work of dipping half the peels. We figured some of my loved ones and friends may have allergies to chocolate, So they should be able to partake of naked peels. She popped the chocolate coated peels into the fridge, and we sat down to discuss Gallery business and ideas for bringing in the public in numbers, over another cup of coffee.

Before Flora left to go on to the rest of her late afternoon, we packaged up the naked peels, and then the cooled chocolate ones. One batch was to go to Amy and her sons; one batch was to serve as after Valentine Day’s dinner treat for Martha’s do tonight; a group of us to eat a fabulous meal prepared by Martha, after which we will look at her photos from her trip to India over Christmas.

Tomorrow Mousey, Glagow Girl and Renaissance Man are coming to our house for Valentine’s dinner. Mousey will get her first taste of the third package of candied orange peel. Glasgow Girl gets a reprieve from having to cook Sunday dinner after working 5 evenings this past week. And Renaissance Man has a taste treat which is a blast from the past.
No trite Hallmark cards for any of us. No over-packaged commercial chocolates or flowers from far away places. Just each other’s company for pleasure, and a tiny bit of labour from me to show they are important in my life.

And, as added bonus, I learned how to and not burn chocolate. This old dog continues to keep learning.

Toilet-seat trials and tribulations…

March 23, 2008

Such a world we live in, a world of almost unlimited choice of ‘things’. Such a ‘free’ world where choosing which pair of socks to wear today, right now, takes on momentous proportions. In hindsight and memory, I can’t remember Anyu agonizing about which socks went with which of our shoes when she was readying us for the day. Maybe she was too much preoccupied with mental exercises involving what she might cook for our family for the rest of the week depending on what might be in stock at the various grocery stores. Perhaps choice of white, pink or striped socks for us didn’t register on her housewifely radar of ‘important things to be concerned about’.

I know. I sound like the stereotypical little old lady bemoaning the passing of the ‘good old days’. This is my version of “when I was young things were thus and such…”. Of course, all my life, I have been a prematurely old woman, whether at twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years of age, given my tendency to question the manner in which life in Canada has unfolded in my experience. This Canada, this ‘Xanadu’ to which foreingners from all over the world seek admission. This Canada of almost unlimited consumer choices – kiwi fruit the whole year round, strawberries out of season, exotic cheeses from all over the world, case-goods from everywhere – a sort of consumable material cornucopeia. Little did my parents think that this selection of available choices not only were of food, consumables, education, health care, transportation and housing but also of toilet seats.

 I have recently run afoul of the availability of choices and the weighty weighing of pros and cons before being able to purchace a replacement toilet seat for the only bathroom in our house. Naively, I assumed that replacing this worn out toilet seat was a simple matter of visiting the neighbourhood building supply store from whence came out toilet and its simple seat a mere five years ago. The old one died. It broke into four pieces as the plumber was pulling it up when we were replacing the bathroom floor lino. The replacement toilet was an American brand, made in Texas, fairly inexpensive and low-flushing. It was a ‘moped’ toilet, not a ‘Rolls Royce’ toilet and entirely appropriate for our downwardly mobile life. I mean we were not ever contemplating having royalty using our facilities. It functioned, and therefore we were rather pleased.

Th old toilet seat is in process of giving into the forces of entropy. So, Rumpole and I decided to zip down to the local RONA and buy a replacement. Easy, what? Nope, we were not so lucky. In the plumbing section and bathroom aisle we came upon a marvellous array of toilet designs. If Marcel Duchamps were alive today he would have a field day coming up with variations on a theme of his famous urinal – a veritable galery exhibition of things toilet. Wow! The choice was staggering. But, alas, in no dusty corner could we find our home toilet, nor any toilet seats that would fit it. If had become extinct, like the Dodo. The toilet seat varietals were amazing in their differences. But whatever happened to just a one-for-all type of seat. No such a thing.

Disgusted, we next drove to Home Depot. Before entering the football-stadium sized store we decided to give our quest exactly ten minutes. No luck here either. Only even more elaborate toilet sets to be had here. We left, defeated, and returned home.

On the way across the bridge, I expressed to Rumpole, “If I were Queen, or whatever leader, there would be standardization in toilets, cars, etc.,etc. There’s too damn much choice, or illusion of choice about unimportant things. And this obsolescence business makes us all sitting ducks to the guns and whims of fashion. Aaaargh!”

“Calm down, my commie-pinko love,” reassured Rumpole as he blended into a lane entering the bridge. “Once we’re home  you can grab a nice glass of wine and we’ll connect into E-bay. Maybe we’ll find the ‘seat of our dreams’. ”

Sure enough. Here we sat in front of the computer, me with my wine, Rumpole with his pen and paper. And, yes, we did find a limited number of our toilet seat on E-bay. We made the order and now await the package. It’s coming from a plumbing supply place in Utah.

One small consolation is that it’s not made of plastic or coming from China. I think when the new seat arrives, I’ll set Rumpole to making a home-made wooden seat with all the tools he has amassed in his workshop. It’ll keep him from being bored and off the streets.


August 11, 2007

The blackboard hangs on the wall, one half smeared with the white dust of last day’s markings: equations erased sweeps of chalk, conjugated verbs yesterday’s faint powder tracery or, perhaps, listed assignments an obscured scrawl.

I have been out of the class room for the past twenty-two years. Yet, every August about half-way through the month, my thoughts return, like migrating geese to their winter home, to the class-rooms of my fourteen year career as a teacher.

The other day I was in Staples looking for a mechanical pencil, of the type I like to keep in my purse and with which to make scratchy diagrams and drawings to illustrate points of discussion whenever I am having coffee with friends. Down one aisle of the store were cork bulletin boards and small blackboards that could be hung on a kitchen or office wall. It occurred to me that a medium sized blackboard would come in handy for my at-home-studio teaching of drawing and painting.

When I taught high-school art classes, I loved to go into school early in the morning and lay out with white and coloured chalks notes and drawings of ideas we were involved in exploring. The previous afternoon, before leaving the class room my last  act would be to sweep aside that day’s scrawled and drawn information. Often, I would pause and study the cryptic comments made by students in the margins of my own marks – these were signs of their engagement, or not, in our mutual mind activity of the day. Sometimes, I would be careful to preserve little islands of student scrawls and leave them on the board for days; this mystified the kids.

I always loved the immediacy and casual nature of the black-board – its impermanence, its vast empty space for mind-markings, its pentimentos of coloured chalk echoing through newly printed and drawn information.

I think I’ll go to the lumber yard and buy a 4ft by 4ft slab of masonite, buy some chalkboard paint and make my own blackboard for my studio.  On it I can then rehearse ideas, work out images, play and elaborate to my heart’s content, have a space for students to also work out their own concepts and carry forward in the present this fondness for that matte-surfaced, valuable palimpsest.

“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)

Variable Weather in Suburbia….everywhere in the world

January 28, 2007

Some of you dropping by have reported variable conditions  today – snow in Belgrade, stormy in Cornwall.

It’s sunny here, and lovely, but miss snow. If you are an armchair traveller who doesn’t get around much any more stop by at:  – “St Sava – All Schools’ Slava”

He gives good tours!

A caution to a writer…

January 24, 2007

A great quote found in Wikipedia  – origins, Horace.

I must remember to take note of this!

“Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing a sacred grove,or the altar of Diana, or a stream meandering through fields, or the river Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?”

Check out Purple Prose in Wikipedia

….the space between….

January 24, 2007

…milky ultramarine curtain hangs

between the parentheses of black cedars…

…grey beach rocks regroup

until a perfect gestalt emerges on the table top…

…tan tabby, his negative spaces sequencing,

slow-motions along a window ledge…

…sky-blue pen on the diagonal at an approximate thirty degrees,

points to a glass coffee mug…

…red-bound journal opens to an unmarked page

where martial rows of lines wait to be filled…

…black halting crabbed calligraphy sifts

through a trickle of half-formed thoughts…

…words, scattered punctuations, fill

the space between vision mind-flow sensation and form…

21/5/2005    G M

Ceramic Rescue – Undercover Division

January 23, 2007

 I love things CLAY. Walking barefoot on a tamped-down earth path during and right after a warm summer rainfall  is an experience that yields distinct pleasures. Simultaneously one smells that fresh, humid and slightly metallic scent (“Rumpole” defines it as ozone smell) that accompanies summer rain. Each step taken along the wet path is an adventure of trying to remain upright; the slippery clay  squishes up between the toes – a sensation that can be enjoyable or uncomfortable. On some places along the path the combination of water and earth creates a clay that one easily slips along. One comes upon potholes where the clay is heavy: each step is hampered by the grip of the clay on the foot – one has to struggle to extricate oneself from  being mired. Falling down means becoming covered by a layer of clay.  This, at first, feels nice,smooth, however, water begins to evaporate from this covering skin of clay. The more water evaporates the tighter the clay skin becomes. It shrinks, cracks and becomes dry and brittle – as this happens one’s skin feels pinched, dusty, itchy. But, one can wash the clay off – just run enough water, sometimes more, sometimes less – depending at what stage, from slip to dry, the clay is.

These things I learned about clay while visiting with my paternal Grandmother who lived in a clay house in a village 3 miles from the Hungarian/Ukranian border.  There I learned that clay also had utility – her house had clay floors. In the summer these clay floors were cool to walk on. During the winter the floor warmed up from the heat of the woodstove. Mixing bowls, pitchers, mugs and plates here were different from the ones we had at home – they were made by a potter who lived in a nearby village.  These were decorated with strange and unfamiliar patterns, rather curious symbols of flowers, bands of dots, chevron stripes, straight and wavy lines and checkerboard. My Grandmother’s house was one which I recreated in my mind while reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In my imaginings the Witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel also had clay floors.  The Witch walked on clay floors and drank her water from a mug decorated exactly like one my Grandmother used.

Later, pleasant associations with this material, Clay, were added to  and reinforced. In high school came my first opportunity to make things with clay.  Mr. Waldie was the teacher in this Ceramics class. He loved clay too – a lot! He showed us how to use a kick-wheel to throw cylynders. I soon learned that clay can be an accommodating, forgiving and co-operative material but also had characteristics that must be understood and respected. Awareness, patience and perseverence were virtues, if practiced, which helped one learn to make more successful results. Learning through trial and error, we learned to make clay cylinders on the wheel that with time were straighter, less off-center and had thinner walls. Mr Waldie taught us different ways to make handles for mugs, how to apply these firmly, how to dry the finished mug so the handle wouldn’t dry before the cylinder and thus crack and fall off; how to apply glaze; how to load a kiln. He shared our delight or disappointment when our mugs came out of the kiln after the firing.

My idea then of what a hand-made mug should be was much influenced by my memories of Grandmother’s ones.  The first ceramic mug I made was a poor imitation, but I was encouraged by the fact that it could be comfortably held and that it held water. It was no beauty! Mother, however, liked it ( for reasons I could not then understand, but which I now do). She placed and kept it on her coffee table.  There it lived!  Going through and dividing among ourselves Mother’s collections after she died  i found my first mug among her collection of teacups. I took it home with me, otherwise it would have been donated to the Salvation Army Store to be put among many other mug foundlings.  No one would have wanted it to take home – it was too ugly!

This simple act of taking back my ugly mug caused me to think about beauty, utility, sentiment, encouragement, desirability, boredom, novelty and fashion, ego and feelings of self-worth.

I know, as a “maker of things”, of the feelings  I experience whenever something I produce is greeted with various reactions. While I am browsing the mug section in the Salvation Army Store, and come upon a mug which has a pleasant form and weight,  a smooth rim that feels silky to the touch, a handle which allows a firm and comfortable grip, a beautifully finished foot,  which isn’t cracked and which has an interesting glaze without many flaws and which holds the right amount of liquid without leaking I wonder.  Who made it, when it was made, who used it and why  did it end up remaindered at this second-hand store? It is still useful and can serve well for its intended purposes.  I like to think that the potter who made this mug would be quite pleased to think that this mug was making its way out in the world being valued for its usefulness and beauty.

There is an organization that I would like to initiate.  There is a need for such an organization. It is one I would like to name SCAM ( Society for the Conservation of Abandoned Mugs) There are many people who are likely candidates to belong to this group, but they are not yet organized. Currently they operate informally, solo, if you will.  This is very good and they do valuable work. Some of them are my friends and family. These people have undertaken to work as seekers to collect unwanted hand-made mugs.  Our mission is to find the beauty in whatever hand-made pottery mug we find, to rescue it from an eventuality that it may not be wanted and be discarded. My clever sister has come up with a name for this group of rescuers – CRUD (ceramic rescue – undercover division).  I like this name – it has a truthful quality!)

As members of CRUD, each of us is casually but persistently engaged in our mission to rescue unwanted mugs.  We happily compare our finds and share our pleasure  and satisfaction with our efforts to rehabilitate these to let them carry on their purpose.

Over the past two years my CRUD activities have resulted in collecting and using, so far, 10 mugs. They are my prized possessions and when friends come for tea, on every occasion they can select the cup they wish to use. We negotiate who gets to use which cup.  This can be a enjoyable time spent with each other, before we settle down to drink tea and converse..

I have noticed a curious thing – many of these friends have broadened their recue efforts.

Their operations involve rescue of what they value, and what they value is varied.  Being in such an organization brings many benefits to all of us.