… and, I’m back …

It has been almost 4 full years since last I posted on this site, and true to the quote that I chose to feature as my tagline, in the space of that 4 years, I find myself another, and yet the same …

Things that have changed: I have moved from a large metropolis to a small northern city, exchanging crowds and easy access to just about anything you can think of to (mostly) quiet streets and almost instant access to some 330 bodies of water and a wide expanse of bush and forest. Another huge change is that I have moved from permanent full-time to temporary part-time employment. My life has slowed down considerably, and I like that, though I will admit that at times I do miss some of the amenities and, sometimes, even the crowds. The past year has been a period of transition, to say the least.

When I began this blog, I had a vision in the back of my mind about a future where, once I was no longer having to report in to a daily job, I would adopt some largish hypo-allergenic dog, name him Buddy, acquire a Tiny House on wheels, and then ramble about for the next several decades. I would spend winters in the southern US and summers in Canada. I started preparing for this life by buying a folding bike, downsizing my possessions, whittling my wardrobe down, reducing my reliance on electric appliances, and engaging in discussion with myself and others about the benefits and disadvantages of compost toilets and living “off grid.”  But as I learned more, and started following blogs by tiny-house owners, I learned about some not so minor challenges about travelling with a tiny house. You need a large truck with which to haul the house. Large trucks are not cheap to buy nor to maintain. You need to be able to hook the house up to said truck, and, once arrived at wherever you plan to spend the night/week/month, you need to unhook house from truck, level it, attach all the necessary hoses and cords to ensure adequate heat, plumbing, running water, etc. With some alarm, I also learned about things that can go wrong, about the kinds of  engineering and mechanical problems that arise on the fly. Roofing tiles and sky lights get damaged by low-hanging trees. Trucks develop mechanical issues. Plumbing fails. Black water systems break down. Things fall apart.

And I realized that as companionable as Buddy was likely to be, he was not going to be much help with any of that. A tiny house seemed to come with some not so tiny challenges, and I didn’t feel equipped to deal with them solo. So then I began to dream of Buddy and I living out of a largish camping van, which is less likely to run into the kinds of problems that the average garage isn’t experienced with.  Our travel would be limited to climates that allowed us to live our lives largely out-of-doors (because, as friends and family hastily pointed out, Buddy would need room to wag his tale, and I would need to be able to stand upright on a regular basis). The van idea might have worked, but it appears that even hypo-allergenic dogs are no match for my heightened sensitivity to animal dander. Over the years, it’s become clear that no fur-bearing animal and I can co-habitate without my requiring some serious medications. My pulmonologist strenuously discourages any such co-habitations. And yet I could not imagine life on the road without some kind of companion. So, back to the tiny house plan I went, this time imagining a tiny house community. That’s a plan that by it’s very definition requires a community. That means more time to design, to plan, and more people to do all of that with. When my job ended (more on that some other time, maybe), I had an opportunity to think about how to achieve some piece of that dream.

I am not just back to this blog, I am also back in my home town. As it became clear to me that my tiny house/camper van travels could not materialize in quite the form I’d hoped, I thought about what might replace that dream. I thought about where I might be able to land, for a least a while, so I could figure out what this next phase of my life might look like. When I closed my eyes, what came to me was the sound of the wind in the pine trees and of lake water lapping. Those sounds hearken back to my earliest memories, my most comforting moments. And so I came home a year ago. Kinda like a slow boomerang. When I left some 19 years ago, I flew out in a wide arc from Sudbury to the Pacific Northwest for several years before looping back to Montreal before finally circling back to Sudbury. The views have been spectacular, the experiences many and varied. There is an old saw that claims you can never go back, but that’s not quite true. You can’t go back to what was, but you can go back to something different. And so I have. Sudbury, like me, has changed quite a bit in the 18 years I was gone, but in many ways it remains the same. Re-greening projects have changed the landscape, there are trails and pathways that facilitate cycling and walking, and a number of groups have established strong cultural roots in the city. Friends and family have come and gone and stayed and relationships amongst and between us all have changed. Even with all those changes, there are still familiar landmarks and faces.

Four years: my city of residence has changed. My employment status has changed. My closest companions have changed. My long-term dreams have changed. And yet I remain the same: still exploring and still searching, still figuring out what the heck my life is all about and how I can best go about living it. The last twelve months have been nothing if not interesting and rewarding. There have been challenges, and not all of them were anticipated or welcome, and some were real disappointments. Sometime I WAS the disappointment. But there have also been unexpected opportunities, kindness, encouragement, support, excitement, and growth. It’s been a ride, and it’s far from over.

 

 

 

there is a season…

Autumn never fails to put me in awe of what it means to be alive. Even in this most urban of settings, we are aware of the fall as the time of harvest. The signs are everywhere: pumpkin, squash, potatoes, pears, apples, falling leaves and cooling temperatures, early evenings…. This awareness of the life-giving bounty of the harvest juxtaposed with the browning of once-green plants and scurry of animals hurrying to stock up food for the coming winter … this is the season that, for me, most profoundly embodies the full spectrum of the cycle of life. I know. I am aware of the purple state of my prose, of the fact that all that I am feeling and am about to say has been felt and said before, but I cannot help it. This is what this season does to me. It makes me acutely aware of the passage of time on a broad scale and the passage of my own life on a very personal scale – that even as all things reach their prime, myself included, they – we, I – also begin the slow descent into oblivion.

But this is not a season of sadness, it is a time to celebrate passages and extremes — the warmth which gives way to cold, the slow transition from the light of long summer evenings to dusky afternoons, the way the vibrant green of plants trees waxes into the dusky browns, reds, and golds. In spring, when all things are new, our thoughts and our vision are forward looking. The world is newly formed, and the future and all the promise it holds is before us. In fall, the world around us begins fade and decay. Everything is shutting down, hibernating, going to sleep, dying. Our focus is not on the future, but rather on the cyclical nature of our world – the revolution of day and night, the cycle of the four seasons, the spinning of the earth on it’s axis, the yearly revolution of the earth around the sun, the spinning of our galaxy, the expansion of this universe, sparkling new galaxies and black holes, life and death …

This season brings to mind all the rhythms of the world, big and small – monthly tides, seasonal weather shifts, yearly squalls and storms. Shifts in our own work and life patterns in keeping with the shorter days and longer nights, the way the changing seasons reflect the human experience, how childhood gives way to youth and then adulthood, and finally old age, and the ways in which all our loves and desires and fears and hopes shape and are shaped by our experiences along the way.

It’s all so huge. I feel both humbled and inspired by it all. I am in one minute full of joy and wonder and in the next, astounded and in awe. I find myself in a moment of fullness and in a stillness that both terrifies and thrills me. It is a time of comfort and plenty. It is a time of endings. Every autumn. All my life. This season is my constant, my core, the quiet space between my beginning and my end, the breath between that moment when I am everything and I am nothing. It feels like home. And so I welcome it with open arms.

Summertime, and the living is easy …

Reading: Around the World on a Bicycle by Thomas Stevens, written in 1885. (download it for free). This guy went around the world on his bike which meant there wasn’t always a road handy. He once had to take a railroad track for some 6 miles and at one point, perched on the edge of a cross-beam holding his bike over the edge into the precipice below…. quite the read!

Eating: gazpacho, and lots of it since it’s way too hot to cook.

Listening: catching up on old episodes of This America Life via an iPhone app that is truly fantastic – gives you access to all past and current episodes. Check it out!

Watching: just discovered this little Canadian Gem, The Republic of Doyle. It’s great fun. I’m all about Newfoundland these days! If you missed seeing it last fall and winter (as I did) you can buy it on iTunes.

Cycling: all over the Montreal Island. There are some truly beautiful paths in this city. I thought going car-less in the summer would be hard, but as it turns out, it’s a treat. I’m seeing more of the city this summer than I have in the previous 3 put together! some samples…

Lost of paths by the river and the canal, which I love since I really like being by the water. This photo was taken along the south-west end of the island. I could move to this area and be quite happy…

And there are also lots of paths that take you through pretty little wooded areas, like this one. The folk responsible for designing these paths really did a great job.

While going carless is turning out to be much easier than I thought, I did get to visit my old car when I went to Halifax recently. I couldn’t resist taking a quick picture as I followed it down the highway.

By the way, since I no longer have a car, I took a train to Halifax, which is a much more civilized way to travel! Instead of spending 14 hours hunched up behind the steering wheel, we did things like look at the scenery outside the observation deck…

and when we got tired, we curled up in the little flip-down beds and went to sleep. Much, much better than driving for 14 hours!

So, what are you up to this summer?

The earth beneath our feet

I grew up in Northern Ontario, on the cambrian shield which is some of the oldest and most naturally eroded land formation on this planet. It used to be an area of very tall mountains (in excess of 12,000 meters, or 39,000 ft.) and frequent volcanic activity, but both mountains and volcanoes have long since been smoothed down by wind, rain, and a couple glacier ages and now we see only gentle hills. Most of the rock where I grew up was, a very long time ago, far beneath the earth’s surface.

It’s an interesting area to live in if you are, like my grandfather was, a geologist. Not so interesting if you’re a seismologist or vulcanologist (you’d think that would be spelled volcanologist so as to not be confused with people who study Vulcans, wouldn’t you?). Because of where I grew up, I knew something about granite and jack pines and how glaciers carved lakes out of rock, but I didn’t know much about earthquakes or volcanoes. I can’t remember when I first learned of them, though I suspect it had something to do with my early passion for greek mythology. I do know that at some point I became somewhat fascinated by the thought that the earth could open up and swallow things like houses or roads or cars or even people. I remember having vivid nightmares about the hill at the end my street erupting and spewing fire, lava, smoke and ash everywhere. I have never experienced an earthquake or a volcano eruption outside those dreams, though I did live quite close to Mount St. Helen’s a couple years ago and got to watch it spew out little jets of steam and ash on more than one occasion (and if you’re interested, you can see it too at through this webcam). And I had a near miss a little before that when a minor earthquake rocked my home town in Northern Ontario while I was in Washington State interviewing for the job that eventually saw me relocate  there for a few years.

But earthquakes have become a bigger part of my life recently. Not because Montreal has many. They are rare in Quebec, though they do happen (as recently as this past February, in fact). We get wicked blizzards in winter, amazingly sudden and powerful rain/wind storms in summer, but relatively little shaking of the earth or spewing of molten lava. So why are earthquakes and volcanoes now so important to me? Well, because my daughter and three of my grandchildren now live in southern California and have experienced, in recent years, several tremors of various sizes. And because she and I every once in a while have conversations, like one we just had tonight, about earthquakes. We talk about the more interesting aspects: about the research and the theories that try to explain how the earth’s mantle shifts the way it does, how California’s zoning and building codes try to compensate for the fact that the ground they’re built on isn’t always going to be stable, and about how impossible it is to predict when and where an earthquake might happen. We also talk about other aspects: such as what she and her children are learning about what to do when the earth starts shaking (stand in open, if possible, or in a doorway if that’s not possible), about what kinds of supplies (water, canned food) should be kept at the ready, about how she’s going to learn how to cut the gas supply to her house to protect against explosions, etc.

Some of those questions are truly interesting, some truly unsettling. To say they should just move is simplistic. My daughter and son-in-law are part of an extensive and very close-knit family all of whom live in Southern California. They’ve lived there for generations, long before anyone knew about fault-lines and how volatile the area is. They have deep connections to one another, to the lifestyle, the culture — connections you can’t easily or readily cut. We each learn to live with the challenges and risks in our own environments. The country mouse and the city mouse never have agreed about which is the better place to live. Northerners love their four seasons, people who have only ever known sunshine cannot fathom how a person can survive in lands where for close to half a year temperatures are well below freezing. My granddaughters in California are as fascinated by snow and winter as I was by volcanoes and earthquakes when I was younger. They are incredibly curious about how cold is cold, and are always asking me to list all the clothing I need to wear to protect myself when I go out in winter: socks, thermal underwear, boots, hats, scarves, mittens, coat, sweater…

I feel a little bit like them when I read news stories and watch videos of Iceland’s recent eruptions and catch reports on the quakes in Haiti, Chili, Mexicali (terribly close!) with a new attention and a new focus. I’ve even discovered that there are earthquakes in Northern Ontario more frequently than I or anyone I know realizes (here’s a list of the most recent). I am intrigued by the science, in awe of the drama and the power of the earth’s moving crust, and increasingly obsessed with learning more about what it means to live in a place where it’s always sunny, but sometimes the earth moves beneath your feet.

Summer

I know it’s not officially summer, but it sures feels like summer out there! Yesterday, we all went to the park, and because Morgan likes the BIG slides, I went sliding with her …

And here’s a picture of the cousins… as you can see, Morgan loves her big cousin Nigel and her quite likes her right back!

waiting, waiting, waiting…

family arriving, any minute, my daughter with her husband and grandaughter in tow. Airplane was supposed to land 11 minutes ago, they were to call when they landed, and I guess they’re stumbling off plane, heading to baggage…

why am I not there to greet them? No car, of course! It hardly makes sense for me to cab it out there and then we all cab it back again, though right now as I wait, wait, wait, I’m wishing I had because then I’d see little Morgan all that much sooner! Isn’t she a cutie?

And on Friday, we’ll be joined by another next-generation Roy ….

and on Sunday, we’ll all Skype with these cousins in balmy California…

Wish you were here, Maliyah, Aris, and Gabrielle!

My M.O.B. dress

I’ve been actively shopping (and thinking about shopping even longer) for a dress to wear to Jen’s wedding. I equate dress shopping with bathing suit shopping, i.e. no fun at all. Not because of the wedding. Not at all. I’m looking forward to the wedding itself. It’s the business of trying to look appropriate at the wedding that is proving to be such a huge challenge. And it didn’t help that when I was seeking advice from co-workers about where to shop, one of them said, ‘Oh, you have to find MOB dress! Well, good luck with that!” MOB? I asked? “Mother of the Bride dress,” she said.

I hadn’t realized there was a particular style of dress one must wear when one is the mother of the Bride. And I truly had not realized it was the kind of dress that had it’s own acronym. And what an acronym!
Despite all that, I had bravely made a couple attempts to find a dress earlier on with little luck. I’d found beautiful dresses (most of which did not fit or weren’t quite dressy enough and some were just too dressy or simply not my style) and I quickly discovered that most salespeople and I have have very different ideas about what the mother of the bride should wear (though the horrible acronym began to make sense….). I’d found horrible dresses which I’d not even bothered to try.
With time growing short (the wedding is June 4th) I’d set aside the entire Victoria Day weekend to find a dress, and just to make sure I had enough time, took Friday off as well. That, I reasoned, would give me 4 days. Surely I could find a dress in 4 days!
Well, as it turned out I shopped for a bit Friday morning then met a friend for lunch. I confided my shopping woes to her as we ate and she began listing stores: “Have you tried ……? How about …..?” I had tried them all, with the results described above.

Then my wise and delightful friend suggested a store I’d not ever visited. Ever. So right after lunch I went there, and lo and behold…. After trying on several disasters, I found one that was actually pretty good! I’m not sure about rather large mum-like flower pined to the center of the front, but the salesladies seemed to think it was perfect for a wedding event. And especially perfect for a MOB dress.
The salesladies (yes, there was more than one “helping” me select, try on, and display the four dresses I ended up trying on at the shop–they, of course, loved each and every single one. I, however, liked only the one. The others were described as making me look “sophisticated” which may well be the case, but they certainly looked nothing like anything else I’d ever worn or even imagined or hoped to wear). I love this dress. It’s silk. It has flirty little layers that make it fun to wear. It has a removable little jacket, and can be easily dressed up or dressed down so it’s even something I can wear over and over. I love it!
Anyway, back to my point… the salesladies suggested I needed black pearls to wear with this dress. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen black pearls, but I dutifully went to a few jewelry stores to see if they had any and quickly realized that pearls of any colour were a little more costly than what I was imagining my own self wearing! But then I found this beauty:

pewter and pearls…
This photo does not do them justice, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder so you might not be as smitten as I, but I LOVE this necklace and like the dress, can see that I’ll wear it many times over.
I even have the perfect pair of sandals. Black strappy affairs, that are somewhat gladiator-like so they’re in perfect style, but not so gladiator-like that they can’t be worn when the current fad is over. And I have a little silk clutch, to boot.
As it turns out, I did not need 4 days. I only needed one good friend and one afternoon!
… now all I have to do is finish the Bride’s shawl… (one and a half repeats left, then weave the middle seam, then block. By gosh, I think I’ll make it!) …

Wedding Shawl

“The” shawl to date. I’ve completed 1.25 repeats. It’s a 40 row repeat over some 125 sts plus and additional 6 -12 on each side for the edging. I will do 16 repeats, then put these stitches on a holder and repeat the process again. Each half will measure approximately 40 inches. When they’re both done, I will weave the two halves together. That join will form the center, so that both sides fall to the front allowing the pattern to be the same on both sides. The pattern is a one way pattern, which means if I don’t knit it two halves the way I’ve described, you’d have one straight end (like the one you see here on the needles) and one with the lovely scallops, like you see at the lower end in the picture. The idea is to have scallops at both ends. I’m not sure I’ve explained that well, but I hope it’s clear. I must say I’m happy with how it’s turning out. I find there’s always a certain period of uncertainty about a lace or cable project until the pattern actually makes itself visible.

I do love watching the pattern emerge: I think that’s a big part of what I find so enjoyable about knitting lace or cables or colourwork. Seeing the pattern take shape and then grow out of simple manipulations of those loops of yarn held on a pointy stick just never fail to fascinate and enchant me. We do these things, we human beings. We take rock and find ways to drag it about, to cut into it and shape it and pile it one on top of the other in majestic columns, graceful arches… and we take colour, add it to various medium so it’s smearable and then we do just that, we smear it onto canvas, wood, and other surfaces so we can express our thoughts and feelings and observations of the world around us. Knitting is like that, for me. It’s the looping of long string over point sticks, and manipulating those loops in ways that represent waves or sky or simply just re-create sensations of calm (like the rippling cables in the sweater-wrap I knit earlier this winter) or, like this shawl, representations of core elements like leaves or waves, and in a medium that is light and airy, and blending those things together so that we feel both grounded and elevated when looking at it.
I subscribe too much to a knitted object, perhaps. But then again, maybe I don’t. The yarn is so fine (lace-weight, baby alpaca) it sometimes feels like I’m knitting a frothy cloud, and until I block it, that’s pretty much what it looks like. But when I smooth it out so the pattern becomes visible, I see leaves (it is called Autumn arbour, and so is meant to evoke images of falling leaves) but it also reminds me of waves, perhaps because the wedding I am knitting it for will be held on a ship in the Halifax Harbour. Weddings are, by definition, frothy and fairy tale events. But they are also foundations for many families and for our society.
I wasn’t thinking all this when I started knitting this shawl, nor am I always thinking about it while I’m knitting. These thoughts are too weighty and would add a heaviness to both the process and the shawl that neither can bear. But every once in a while, when I pause to look at it, these are the sensations that hoover in the very back of my mind, and while I won’t often pull them to the forefront in the same way I have now, I’m glad they’re there.

Anticipation…

My daughter is getting married in June, in a big boat that will be floating out in the Halifax harbour. It’s going to be lovely. Lovely, and probably a bit chilly … probably about 15 celcius, which means the bride, who will be wearing a lovely off the shoulder gown, will need something to put over her to ward off the cold. Something that won’t detract from the beauty of her gown and of the occasion. And it’s been driving me crazy! A sweater just didn’t seem right…

But I finally hit on it. I’ve never knit a shawl before, but isn’t this the perfect time to start one? But I was hesitant. Should I really try something new for such an important event? I wasn’t sure, so I signed up and took the first session of a two-parter workshop on Knitted Lace for Beginners at Mouline here in Montreal. I learned that lace is all about yarn-overs and knit 2 togethers, and ssk … then it hit me. I’ve knitted lace before. Rosita is lace!!
And I learned that lace is also all about using techniques such as provisional cast-ons so you can avoid cast-ons and cast-offs so your lace stays loose and flexible. and I learned how to do that earlier this winter when I was knitting fingerless gloves from Vogue’s holiday magazine!!

Which means I’m not risking anything. I know how to do this already. All I need is a pattern, and time, and Jen’s approval!
I got the pattern the Autumn Arbor Shawl, which Jennifer and I both love, I have the yarn (Misti Baby Alpaca Lace) and since it’s only February now and the wedding is in June, I also have the time.
So why am I not knitting yet? Because I’m waiting for the swatch I knit so Jen can give final approval to yarn and colour, to be delivered by snail mail to her house!!!! You know, I should have sent it courier. These fingers are just itching to get started on it ….

Dresses

I’m in process of sewing a dress and matching short-sleeved jacket each for Maliyah and Aris. I haven’t sewn anything in many years, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, and while I will admit I’ve had to rip out stitches a couple of times, it’s going quite well and I’m actually enjoying it! I just realized that the jackets are supposed to be lined, which I didn’t know when I bought the material. Luckily I got too much of the dress material, so I’ll line the jackets with that. With any luck, they’ll be reversable

Here’s the material I’m using for Maliyah’s dress and jacket. You might notice that I’m pretty far along on the dress: bodice is complete, along with back ties and shoulder straps and the skirt is sewn on. All that’s left now are buttonholes, the bottom hem, and attaching shoulder straps to the back (and since the girls are on the opposite side of the continent, I have to guess at how long to make them, hope someone on the other end can fix them if I guess badly!).


And here is Aris’: her jacket will be plain, no bottom border, but she’ll have three ribbons (red, yellow, and black) running across the bottom of the dress.
I can’t wait to see them on the girls…