Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bygone colour

October 2016
A while ago I went plein air painting with an artist friend. I described the trip here. I am not totally pleased with the results, but I do have to keep reminding myself that I'm just a beginner so I should cut myself some slack.  So here are the results. Note that each picture appears darker on the left side, that is due to the lighting when I took the photo of the picture.

This was one I did a while ago from a photo in my artist friend's basement, as a kind of introduction to painting. My friend showed me a few things I could do so I cannot take responsibility/credit for every single brush stroke.

Practice, from photo
This one is from our first trip to Rock Notch Falls. Again, I had help.

Rock Notch Falls #1
This is from our second trip to the same location, but a different vantage point. Same waterfall, different view.

Rock Notch Falls #2
And the last one, also from the second trip, turning my easel around and painting the view behind me. I was concentrating so hard on the job that after one painting I was exhausted; my friend painted two or three in the same time span. However on the second trip to the falls I did manage to scrape together enough energy for the second painting.

Rock Notch Falls, behind me
I would like to keep up the activity through the winter and I have a standing invitation to my friend's basement. But I don't think I'll be doing anything this month, too much else to do.

+ + + + +

In other news, I had the maple tree in front of my house cut down yesterday morning. The picture at the top of this post is what it looked like when it was still healthy.

Tree down
It was diseased and had a split in the trunk, so it was likely that sooner or later that tree was going to come down in a storm. There were four lines---three phone or cable lines and one power line---running through it, so having it come down unaided would have been a disaster. I will miss greatly the shade it provided to my living room in the summer, but the liability of the tree was outweighing its benefits. Its roots were the cause of my earlier sewage disaster, and this fall it no longer displayed any colour. The leaves just turned black and brown and then fell off.

The other thing I will miss is that I used to have a bird feeder in that tree that I could watch from my living room window through the long winter months. Some of the local chickadees were not happy about the loss of the tree, they came by to watch and even at one point perched on the chain saw while the feller took a smoke break. There is no realistic alternative to hanging the feeder in that tree so this winter the birds and I will have to do without. That I will definitely miss, perhaps even more than the summer shade.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Halan'olo fa tian-janahary


This is a piece of printed cotton fabric I've had for years, someone gave it to me when I lived in Ottawa. It is about six feet by four. A friend went to Madagascar for several years and gave this to me as a souvenir.  When I first got this the internet did not really exist in its present form, you couldn't look up stuff on it as easily as you can now. But every once in a while I'd try to find out what the words on it meant by entering them in the browser search field, my latest effort rendered a translation of "Humility is a natural idea".

In my most recent issue of Aramco World there is an article on kangas, and it turns out that that is what this is, a kanga. It is an East African piece of clothing, women often wear them in pairs: one piece covers the body from the armpits down, the other is draped over the head and shoulders. They are usually very colourful. Men wear them too, often just draped over their shoulders.

A kanga has three main features: a central pattern, a border pattern, and a saying along the lower border edge, usually in Swahili. This one is in Malagash, the language of Madagascar. Malagasy people like the central pattern to be a picture of some kind, often a pastoral scene. This one is obviously not pastoral, but very striking.

I used to think that the words on this piece of fabric were somehow related to the picture, but it turns out that they are not. In fact if the translation is true it seems to me almost antithetical, there is nothing humble about this seascape.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A glimpse into family history


So, last week a long-awaited (16 years!) package arrived at the post office for me. It is a painting that was given to my grandparents back in the '50s that my mother inherited and I in turn inherited from her. But it came with a condition: it must first go to my mother's sister for the rest of her lifetime. Who knew she would be so long-lived (95 years)! She died a year ago so the painting finally became mine, but since she lived and died on the west coast her children gave the painting to my brother (also on the west coast) to take care of sending to me. We dithered for a year about how to do that and finally he put it in the mail a few weeks ago. Surface mail being the cheaper option and an extra week or so of waiting after 16 years not being outlandish, that was how it arrived. Unscathed (we worried about it).

I posted a photo of the painting on Facebook and then in the Comments section my brother and I argued about its origins and meaning. It was an interesting argument that among other things involved internet searches of family history and the posting of various photos supporting our differing opinions. Yesterday my brother sent an email message to various family members seeking further information, it will be interesting to see what evolves from that.

Portion of a wartime letter from family friend to my grandmother, 1916 give or take
The painting supposedly represents a visit to my grandparents' summer place by persons unknown (or rather, disputed). I believe it was painted by our great-aunt Evelyn and that she is one of the figures in the painting. My brother thinks it might have been painted by a family friend representing his visit to our grandparents. The family friend was a wartime buddy (World War I) of our grandfather's with a great sense of humour and cartooning ability. My brother's supporting evidence is the photocopy of a letter written by the friend taped to the back of the painting when he received it. My evidence for supposing that Evelyn painted it is a written inscription on the back of the painting gifting the painting from Evelyn to our grandparents, and another painting I possess that she painted (indicating that she was indeed capable of producing this piece of art).

The family mansion, 1896. My great grandfather and possibly Evelyn sitting on the verandah
In the course of our internet research, we found several photos of Evelyn and our grandmother at the home of their grandparents in Toronto (actually, I think it would have been the outskirts of Toronto at that time). Turns out our great-great-grandfather was very wealthy (the founder of a bank that still exists today) and his home was a mansion that might be considered a Canadian version of Downton Abbey. I have a notebook written by Evelyn in which she describes the life at her grandparents in very Downton Abbey-like terms: servants, stables, governesses, and her mother having no idea how to cook or even hold a broom. And as it turns out, I briefly attended the church (as a child) that stood on land that he donated from his large country estate. That church is a prominent church in central Toronto today.
Evelyn is the young woman in a white blouse standing on the steps, my grandmother is the young girl all in white sitting on the grass. 1900
The thing I found most interesting about all this is that the photo of my grandmother at age 7 or 8 looks remarkably like me at that age. I was not fond of this grandmother when she was alive, but she played a big role in my young life. Among other things my father disliked her intensely and my parents very nearly divorced over that. I remember that period of time too well, it was quite frightening for a young child. However the storm passed, my father did come to terms with his mother-in-law, and the marriage survived. I regret that I did not get to know her better, from what I have learned of her life she was an interesting person in interesting times.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What we remember

Remembrance Day fast approaches, and with it my conflicted feelings about it. Different years I have chosen to honour or not honour it, this year I choose not to. I was asked to go to the local Remembrance Day service and also to usher for the Soldiers of Song performance (in honour of Remembrance Day). I will not go to the service but I will usher for the performance, mostly out of wanting to remain in good standing as an usher.

I get that Remembrance Day is supposed to honour the fallen soldiers of all our wars, from World War I on. I get that the country wants to remember them as heroes and to portray modern day soldiers as heroes too. I won't argue the point, always good to honour people who represent ideal virtues (courage, loyalty, sense of duty, etc.) However, honouring soldiers is so intertwined with honouring the fighting of wars that I just can't do it.

The men who enlisted for the armies of World War I were sold a bill of goods. That war was all about international politics, nothing more. Not freedom or democracy or protecting the defenceless, just politics. Many soldiers ended up living under atrocious circumstances and dying ignominiously. Those that could not stomach it were condemned as deserters and cowards, the penalty for which was summary execution. The women back home (in European countries at any rate) protested and marched in the streets and the news of that was suppressed so soldiers on the front lines wouldn't know about it. Desertion and cowardice were serious problems. And then of course there was the spanish 'flu.

By the time of World War II, aviation had progressed to the point that bombing entire cities from the air was possible and considered a legitimate form of warfare. Non-combatants were now fair game, in the hopes of convincing their governments to surrender. Atrocity piled on atrocity. Again soldiers were sold a bill of goods, although perhaps not quite as blatantly as for the first world war. There was Hitler after all (one can argue that he was the direct product of World War I but no matter). No one cared about genocide or holocaust until after the fact. The Canadian government had blood on its hands for its policy of refusing safe haven for Jewish refugees, and for its treatment of Japanese Canadian citizens.

It got worse. The Korean War resulted in the partitioning of Korea. The war in Vietnam was just a horror show, millions killed and the landscape destroyed. Each time soldiers enlisted for patriotic reasons fabricated by their governments. Canada did not join the war in Iraq, but in a pact with the devil the Canadian government agreed to pick up the slack in Afghanistan so American soldiers there could be reposted to Iraq. Rape and pillage have always been considered a legitimate compensation for victorious soldiers, only very recently have we thought twice about that. And good luck unravelling the complexities (and atrocities) of Syria, or Palestine, or the various wars in Africa.

Ostensibly wars are fought to protect freedom and democracy and make the world safe for peace. It hasn't happened. It is ludicrous to say that waging this war will end war for all time, or at the very least prevent the next war, and yet that is the justification. Buffy Sainte-Marie (who was in Wolfville the past few days) got it right in 'The Universal Soldier'.

It is sickening. If there were a day to remember the awfulness of war and to promote peace I think I could buy into it. Or what about honouring the non-combatant war dead (as they do in the Netherlands)? They die and are made homeless in far greater numbers than soldiers. Or how about the families of soldiers who must cope with the behavioural fallout of emotionally damaged veterans? Never mind the victims of rape and pillage.

I recently read the poem 'In Flanders Fields' on Facebook, the anthem for Remembrance Day. Ostensibly the poem honours the war dead, but here is the last stanza:

"Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

In other words, don't let the war stop, or you will be rendering all those soldiers' deaths meaningless. I say, those deaths are already meaningless, that is the real tragedy, and exhorting us to continue the war is just the most awful advice I have ever heard.

Postscript: I wrote this to avoid doing my writing class homework and also because it is a bleak November day threatening snow. In a bleak mood.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Painting Rocknotch Falls


Yesterday may have been the last gorgeous autumn day here. It's storming today, high winds and some rain. The wind will probably strip the last of the coloured leaves from the maples and oaks which provide the majority of the non-yellow fall colours. I have a maple tree in my front yard, but it is a Norway Maple, non-native and diseased. All the Norway Maples around here are diseased, something that causes big black spots to appear on the leaves in mid-to-late summer and obliterates their autumn colours. Right now my maple still has most of its leaves and if it weren't diseased it would still be green. But it's presently a terrible mix of green, brown and black. I have someone lined up to cut it down, but not until it has lost all of its leaves which won't be for several weeks I think. The tree is ugly, sick and has a split in it which does not bode well for its survival anyway. And there are phone and power lines running through it. While I have appreciated the shade it provides in the summer time, it also drains all of the moisture from the lawn and was the culprit in my sewage backup a few weeks ago. It is also the only suitable place for my bird feeder, so that will go as well. A winter without the birds.

The Master Artist at work

I mention yesterday because I went on a painting expedition with a local artist to one of her favourite sites. It is an old mill site on a river (McMaster Mill, on the Rocknotch Road), with several waterfalls. Beautiful at any time of year I guess, my friend has been coming here on a regular basis to paint. One of the things she likes about this spot is that is (or was) undiscovered, so she could spend several hours painting without interruption. However this old mill's days of anonymity must be over because after setting up our easels we had an almost constant stream of passersby interested in what we were doing. I am a complete novice at plein air painting, a near-novice at any kind of painting. Our subject was the area of the river just above one of the waterfalls. I brought Hapi along and she enjoyed wading in the river, standing out in the middle (a very shallow river) and letting the water rush by her. She managed not to go over the waterfall. When she was bored of that she lay down on the riverbank and napped.

Hapi and our subject matter

My friend is trying to teach me to paint. I don't know how successful she is being, I found it very hard and am not impressed with the results. Although she says one cannot expect good results until one has practiced a lot, and for now I should just be enjoying the process. Maybe so, but I did find it hard and after an hour or two was ready to just go for a stroll with the dog. In the meantime she completed three paintings, the first she said was to loosen her up and the others just to play with it. So her first painting did bear some resemblance to the scene before us, the other two were quite different. I think my problem with painting is that I am trying way too hard to make my canvas look exactly like what is in front of me, so I get very hung up on details. And I really don't know how to make the paint look like the actual scene so it feels very frustrating. I can't figure out how to make the colours and how to make the texture and three-dimensionality of it. Not to mention the reflections on the water and the movement of the water toward the waterfall and then over the edge into the pool below. Then I look over at what my friend is doing and her picture looks quite lovely even though it's not an exact copy of the actual scene.

She told me to put the painting away for a few days and then look at it, see what I think of it then. She thinks this may be the last plein air session she does this year, it will probably be too cold to go out again. But if she does go she will call me. When someone offers to teach you something that you've always thought you would enjoy doing, you don't turn down the offer. She said she has done a lot of painting workshops and she did not like it when the instructor never instructed but just let you go at it however you could and watched you flail around, all the while nodding approvingly. She preferred instructors who gave you instruction and criticism, so that was what she was trying to do. At one point she said if I thought she was being too bossy she would leave me alone but I said I appreciated her efforts. Knowing nothing I am open to advice and suggestion, but the learning process can be exhausting. I was glad when it was finally time to pack up and go home.

The viewing platform

But it was gorgeous there. Some local residents have put in walking trails and plaques giving the history of the place, and also a viewing platform for a couple of the waterfalls that are in a deep gorge.

The view

Monday, October 16, 2017

Excision

Branches, 2001

It is not easy to excise a character from a story.

Working on my fantasy story, now into its third draft, I thought that it might be easier to write and draw to a conclusion more quickly if I got rid of some of the excess characters. There are a lot of them, they keep appearing as possibilities that seem good at the time. But each new character complicates the story, they are all hellbent on their own conclusions which don’t necessarily coincide with mine or my original main characters’.

So for the third draft I picked a couple of what I thought were minor characters and wrote them out. I rewrote one pivotal chapter without those two and it went not too badly so I proceeded. The next chapter was also not so hard, but it did mean I had to substitute another existing character for one of the two that were now missing. The third chapter after that was drastically foreshortened due to the missing characters, and by the fourth I was running into problems. It seems that at least one of my missing characters was more integral to the action than I had thought and taking him out was causing some difficulty. How do I explain things without him there to ask the right questions or give the right answers?

Now I was starting to rethink the operation. Did I really want to continue without that missing character? I tried to see into the future of how the plot was going to proceed without him, and it was murky. Perhaps he wasn’t as extraneous as I thought he was. The other missing character I could still do without, but he was related to the first one and I would have some serious rethinking and rewriting to do if I got rid of one and not the other. They were kind of a package deal. The whole idea was to simplify the story and speed up the action, and instead it was having the opposite effect. It is not easy to excise a character from a story.

Sometimes I think my life would have been entirely different and so much better if only I had done this or not done that, if I had turned left instead of right, or vice versa. But is rewriting one’s life any different? Could I really eliminate this or that character from my life and have it not become more complicated than it already is?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Numerological musings

Snow in July on a mountain in northwestern BC, in my screensaver collection
The other day I was idly following links on the internet and ended up on a numerology website where you could enter your name and birthdate and the numerologist would give you an analysis of who you are, your strengths, your weaknesses, etc., etc. Being idle I entered the requested information and listened to the analysis. There were a few bits that I thought were an accurate description of me and some other bits that sounded totally off, about what I expected. I think that on hearing the accurate bits I was half-hoping he would be totally accurate and I would have this newfound respect for numerology. Didn't happen. Then there was a pitch for me to submit my email address so he could send me more detailed information and I could learn deep secrets about myself. That didn't happen either.

Completion of tipi erection in Black River
Later, I watched a movie on my computer and then did something else while the computer went into screensaver mode. I have it set to display in random order photos from my digital collection, which spans some 45 or so years, almost a half century. One of the things the numerologist had said was about how adventurous I was, which I mentally put on the "not accurate" side of the report. I hardly consider myself adventurous. Restless maybe, but not adventurous.

Stop in Saskatchewan on my first cross-country roadtrip
But apparently those screensaver photos tell another tale. They stirred memories of all sorts of things I had done in those 45 or so years. At several points the screensaver put several photos together in a sort of collage which really brought home the point: I've been a lot of places and done a lot of things!

At The Farm in Tennessee
I'm not sure how I would define "adventurous", somehow it still doesn't fit right. Maybe I am equating "daring" and "adventurous", or maybe when I sit here quietly in my little house watching a movie or browsing the internet or reading a book, I think that this is not what an adventurous person would be doing with her time. I got a phone call late in the afternoon from someone asking if I was going to go to an event around suppertime. I hadn't heard about this event before and was kind of looking forward to not doing anything so I equivocated. Maybe, maybe not. Later I thought that if I'd heard about this event earlier I could have planned around it, I just wasn't into spontaneous action. And that would be totally wrong for an adventurous person. An adventurous person would just say, "Sure, I'll do that! I don't need no stinkin' plans!"

Kayaking to Tobacco Caye, Belize

Monday, October 9, 2017

My friends and family cross-country tour


As I said in my previous post it was my intention to write about my trip, but so much time has passed that I feel like it is almost ancient history now. I'm also now uninterested in sifting through all the photos I took to post any here. However, here goes.


I dislike flying however it seemed like the only thing I could do to make this trip happen, so I flew. Halifax to Vancouver (with brief stopover in the Edmonton airport), Vancouver to Castlegar, Kelowna to Grande Prairie (another stopover in the Edmonton airport), Grande Prairie to Toronto (stopping over in the Calgary airport this time), and Toronto to Halifax. There were also ferry trips (from Vancouver to Victoria to Hornby Island and back again, also to the Sunshine Coast), a train trip (Toronto to Barrie), and a couple of long distance bus rides (Nelson to Kelowna and Barrie to Toronto). Every single one of them uneventful and on time, which I consider a great stroke of good fortune.


An airport is an airport is an airport, but one of the most striking things for me was my second stopover in the Edmonton airport (en route to Grande Prairie). It was evening and the lights in this part of the airport were dimmed. In the centre of a large rotunda was a grand piano and a very talented pianist-singer. I don't know her name but she was amazing. It was welcome diversion from the typical waiting-in-an-airport. Kudos to Edmonton International Airport.


In Toronto and Vancouver the mass transit has evolved to a new level of sophistication and with the use of a card that one preloads with money for transit fares (Presto in Toronto and Compass in Vancouver) and Google Maps, you can travel effortlessly and without lengthy wait times at bus stops. I  bought a Compass card (refundable) in Vancouver and used it a lot; it would have been nice if I could have used it again in Toronto but instead one must buy another card for that city. I had some leftover subway tokens from when I lived there so I used them instead, and my stay in Toronto was only a few days so that was enough. Google Maps was amazing, not only does it tell you which bus or buses to take to get to your destination, it also tells you when to leave your home and whether the bus is running late and if so by how much time. So in theory one should never have to wait more than a few minutes at a bus stop.


In those cities everyone is on their cell phone. If they are not wearing earbuds, then their phones are in their hands and they are either busy texting or holding the phone handy in case they might need to text. Once I was trying to get from a bus stop to a museum and someone on the bus suggested I just ask anyone at the bus stop how to get to the museum because everyone knows and can tell me. But when I got to the bus stop and looked around for someone to ask directions from, all I could see were people wearing earbuds and I didn't like to interrupt whatever they were listening to. I finally found someone not wearing earbuds and he pulled his cellphone from his pocket to look up the location of the museum. Then I felt silly, I had my own cellphone and could easily have looked it up myself. I am just not in the habit of relying on my cellphone for direction.


The other places I visited were a little more "primitive", they either lacked cell phone coverage or internet signal or bus systems. The flight to Castlegar was to visit a friend in a small town an hour's drive away. Silverton is an old mining town now mainly home to summer residents only. It is on a lovely lake surrounded by mountains, the mining operations long since abandoned. The highway that runs through it is a favourite of motorcyclists who love its curvy new pavement through a narrow valley. My friend lives on the main street of the town and the traffic is predominantly motorcycles in the daytime and trucks by night. It is a broad street with homes on one side and store fronts on the other side, and walking down the middle of the road is easily done provided one keeps an ear out for motorcycles. My friend had two inflatable kayaks which were light enough that we could carry both of them at once the few blocks down to the lakeside. And the water was warm enough in early September to go swimming every day.


The impetus for the trip was the birth of a grandchild in Alberta; the secondary purpose was to visit friends and family across the country. Over the entire five weeks I stayed at either friends or family places so it was a huge social occasion for me. I enjoyed that very much. I think my timing was such that no one felt particularly burdened by my presence, or I hope so at any rate.


I had good conversations with all of my sons (and grandchildren) and very much enjoyed the company of old friends. I also got to see an aunt, uncle and cousin in Ontario that I rarely see. My uncle Bill has been in a nursing home for over 14 years after an unfortunate stroke when he was 70 that left him physically incapacitated. He had recently had one leg amputated and they were considering amputating the other due to pain. He was on morphine but clearly still in pain. However he was moved almost to tears when five of us, all family relations, arrived at his bedside. He is my Dad's "kid brother", the last of that generation of the family alive.


The grandchild, Coen, was six weeks old when I arrived there. His seven year old older sister is---as one person put it---a real firecracker. Intelligent and sassy, used to being the centre of attention. Coen almost did not survive his birth so his parents are understandably attentive to his every cry or fidget. The family dynamic is somewhat tense due to lack of sleep and adjustments to a new family member.  But it was the first time I interacted with my granddaughter, she does not like to talk on the phone (or Skype) with people she doesn't know. I think we established a bit of a relationship, but four days is not really a long time to do so.


There was a lot more but I'm going to leave it at that. While visiting friends in BC I was nostalgic for the days when I lived there and was being encouraged to move back. I definitely considered it, and who knows it might happen in the future. However coming home to Nova Scotia was very good, despite the sewage emergency. I have to say that I am grateful that I live here. Moving away is the furthest thing from my mind right now. But ask me again in the spring, I may change my tune after a hard winter (some folks are forecasting such already).

Hapi's brother Hiro, in Victoria


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Home again

Well, I'm back home. Had a great time, saw a lot of friends and family, learned a few things. I'm trying to hold onto those thoughts because around early September I came down with a cold and each flight thereafter (nine take-offs and landings in total, four after acquiring the cold) made things worse. I am still dealing with the consequences--a serious cough and deafness in one ear.

Also, I came home to a bit of a homeowner's nightmare: a sewage backup.

The house sitter said it happened earlier that day, but I think he only noticed it earlier that day. It was in the basement bathroom. I suspect he had no reason to go down there so he didn't until the day I was due home. He thought he'd do a laundry to cleanup for me and since the washing machine was in that bathroom he then discovered the mess. I got home around 4.30pm and it was fortunate that my plumber came out right away to deal with it. Cost a bunch though. The plumber says more work is needed and we are looking at bills in the thousands. In the meantime I can continue to use the water (and drains) with caution, but the pervasive smell is a bit off-putting.

The well-meaning house sitter attempted to use an air freshener whose odour I now have firmly linked in my mind with sewage. I guess the fact that my cold affects my sense of smell as well as my hearing is a small blessing.

The main purpose of the house sitter was to look after Hapi and that he did admirably. I knew he wasn't the cleanest guy around so I did expect to come home to a bit of a mess. I can't really blame him for the sewage backup, that is more due to tree roots than lack of cleanliness. Considering that I am paying the guy less than what it would have cost to put Hapi in a kennel and she was visibly happy with the care she received from him, I don't begrudge him the money, but it was quite depressing to come home to the sewage disaster.

He never mowed the lawn so it looks like a very healthy hayfield now, however he says he can get a guy to come in with a better lawnmower than I have to deal with it. Also he has a line on a dog groomer for Hapi who looks like she needs a serious trimming now. Her old groomer has retired and moved away so I am in the market for a new one. He spent a good amount of time brushing and combing her so her coat looks shaggy but decent.

My financial advisor lives on the west coast and while I was there I visited him for our annual in depth discussion of the state of the world and a brief synopsis of the state of my finances. It takes about three hours for the former (only slightly less if we're doing it by phone) and fifteen minutes for the latter. He suggested that I could loosen my purse strings and spend a little more on myself. I was allowing myself to think about a bathroom reno on the way home, but it never occurred to me that it meant I should clean up sewage. I might still do the reno, it depends entirely on how badly the tree has mangled my sewer connection.

I am all travelled out now, don't want to go anywhere or see anything. I'll write about my trip some other time. Overall it was great, and in light of the current situation I am clinging to the memories.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Going on vacation

Halifax Public Gardens (I visited after the hospital which is nearby)
This will be my last post for a while, I am going away and not taking the computer with me so I will probably not be posting anything until some time after I get back. I'd like to say "as soon as I get back" but invariably I have to hit the ground running when I return home with various things left undone while I was away, not to mention putting away travel things and such.

Hapi will stay here, I have a young friend who will house- and dog-sit for the duration. He says he is grateful for a whole house for a whole month all to himself (and Hapi). Not something he is used to.

I've been very busy getting ready to go. One last visit with my friend in the hospital yesterday. She is much better than she was the last time I saw her, not loopy at all but quite lucid and present. Since the last time I saw her she had all of her family visiting which was quite a treat for her. She's in isolation because of the antibiotic-resistant infection, so she can only see her grandchildren via FaceTime on her iPad. Adults can visit provided they gown up and wear gloves.

I called my friend before going into the city to see her. She asked for a sandwich wrap and a pound of butter. I picked up those things before going to the hospital; I also brought a container to store the butter in. She has no appetite for hospital food, the sandwich wrap came in two parts, one she ate while I was there and the other she saved for supper. Not sure what she wanted the butter for, maybe because the hospital gives her margarine with bread.

We yakked about the great visit she had with her family and about grandchildren. Then we FaceTimed her sister in Toronto, who was in the midst of cleaning behind her frigerator on a very hot humid day; she was in her underwear. She said she was doing this because a friend told her that she (the friend) did it every two weeks, and since she (the sister) had never done it she was feeling guilty and thought she ought to be doing this. On a hot humid day. I've never cleaned behind my fridge either and I'm not going to start now, it's probably totally disgusting back there.

So my friend in the hospital may or may not be there when I get back. She may or may not get out of the hospital and into the nursing home bed reserved for her when the infection is deemed cured.

My trip involves five flights, stopping in two places in British Columbia, one in Alberta and one in Ontario. I will be seeing my new grandchild, three sons, multiple old friends and one or two brothers, depending on whether one of the brothers can find the time. I was able to schedule myself for the family and friends out west but closer to me (Ontario) not so much. The theory being that the ones in Ontario could always try to visit me here. The trip is complicated enough, it would be impossible to do it to everyone else's schedule.

Since last I posted I went on a little road trip with a friend to a rock concert and someone's cottage in Pictou County. We camped out the night of the concert. The concert was great, the headliners that night were Matt Andersen and Alan Doyle.

Matt Andersen (there was a screen as well as the stage)

Alan whipped up the audience something fierce. The concert was outdoors and most people were standing (my friend and I had bleacher seats). Most all of them knew all the words from when Alan was with Great Big Sea, so there was a lot of singing along and waving of arms and cell phone flash lights. According to Alan, Great Big Sea got their first exposure to mainland Canada in Pictou County so for him it was like a second home.

Alan Doyle and the Beautiful Gypsies, stirring up the crowd
The friend's cottage was an amazing place, but so infested with (really aggressive vicious) mosquitoes that you could not step outdoors. We could look at the waterfront but not actually go to it. So we sat inside and had a great supper and lots of gin and tonics. Would have been nicer without the mosquitoes.

My friend's dog loves me because he knows I own Hapi, his favourite female dog. He followed me everywhere. When I went outside to back the car closer to the cottage he came too and I had to pick him up and put him in the car so I wouldn't back over him; he's not a bright dog.

Public Gardens commemorative bed

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The dying of the light

I visited a dying friend in the hospital today. I was only there for an hour and a half but now I am totally exhausted, I can hardly think. My mind is not exactly blank but I don't know what to think or what to do with myself.

There were three of us friends and her daughter there. Sounds crowded but it wasn't really. A nurse came in to give her some medication and then a lab tech came in to take blood. She couldn't keep anything down so they didn't bring her any lunch. She's in a geriatric unit. One friend is upset about that, she thinks our very sick friend should be in the main part of the hospital where the doctors will be more concerned about finding what's wrong with her and fixing it. I think she's a bit appalled that the rest of us don't think that too.

Our dying friend seems alert and--I'd like to say happy but that's not quite the right word. She likes the company, she likes the nurses, she feels cared for. But she's kind of loopy, in and out, there and not there. It's not drugs, she was sort of loopy before she went into the hospital, whatever is wrong with her is what is making her loopy. They think it's an antibiotic-resistant infection, but they don't know where the infection is.

The blinds were closed because the light bothered her, but I could see that it was a nice view of a park outside. Someone asked her if she was hungry and she said she couldn't remember, then we asked if she was hot and she said she didn't know. She was picking at the blanket like she wanted to pull it up or take it off, but she didn't know which she wanted. She would start to say something, repeating the first few words several times, then kind of fading out like she had forgotten what she wanted to say or she was falling asleep. Loopy. But then she'd finish the sentence and it wasn't loopy at all. In and out, there and not there.

But what we had heard about her state was far worse than what we saw, we were kind of relieved to see her awake and smiling because we had been told that she might not recognize us or she might be unconscious. She's definitely conscious. It seemed to us afterward when we talked about it that this was what they mean when they say someone died peacefully, she seems at peace with her state of being now. People say how awful it is to die in a hospital, but seeing my friend I think there are far worse ways to die. She is comfortable and she is cared for and she seems at peace.

I've known her for more than forty years, I don't know how much longer she will last. Maybe a few hours, maybe a few weeks, who knows. Her sister is coming from Toronto to see her tomorrow and she adores her sister, so I think she'll stick around for that.

A few days ago I had a new grandchild, today I visited a dying friend. I don't know how to describe what that feels like, a kind of numbness, a hole where there used to be feeling.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My summer thus far


It has been a while and a lot has happened:
  • Went to Newfoundland to visit fellow blogger Wisewebwoman (see this post)
  • Been busy around the homestead with yard work and so forth and so on (more detail here)
  • Trying to plan a trip out west--nerve-wracking! stressful!--also described here 
  • My (probably last) grandson was born yesterday.
Right now the last item is the biggest news for me, I am so excited but am having to contain myself because they (the parents) are out west and I am here and while some of my local friends are almost as excited as I am, many are like: oh how nice for you dear, and let me tell you about the horrible day I just had.

Are you kidding me?!? I'm over the moon and you want me to commiserate with your bad shopping experience?!? Sorry, sarcasm off. The one friend I could count on to be almost as excited as I am was out of town at a lovely family wedding. I left her a phone message, she responded as expected (gratifyingly) today. But yesterday was a little weird, being terribly happy and excited and not being able to talk about it.

My son asked me not to go on Facebook until they had a chance to make the official announcement, which they did a few hours later but I was then busy with my volunteer ushering job. It was for a play that quite frankly was boring as all get out. Two actors who sang and danced very well but the play itself was the problem. Polite clapping but no one gushing about the experience. I think the actors' talents were wasted. I was in the second day of an earache--I suspect brought on by stress--and I had spent the previous night awake with an 85-lb dog lying on top of me panting in my face due to an intense thunderstorm outside, so I was not in a mood for it.

I'm still in trip-planning mode and I still have a bunch of homework to get done before I can leave. I have lined up a house/dog sitter for the duration but I will worry about Hapi. It will be the longest time I have left her. The dog sitter comes recommended but I will still worry. I won't see the new grandchild for about 6 weeks and I wish I was there right now.

Also, this is kind of silly but what can I say: I just finished (yesterday) a 14-book series that I have been reading for several months now. I have become invested in the story characters and it's over; I feel a sense of loss. I am strongly tempted to start rereading the series but I am resisting. It was quite a time-consumer and I just can't afford that right now. But I miss them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Doing and planning


In preparation for leaving sometime soon for a trip out west, I have been very busy trying to get stuff done around here.

Two cord of firewood stacked. That was a big one, a lot of work in the hot sun.

Vegetable garden planted and tended. I tried to limit myself to things that would be ready to harvest by the end of July but couldn't resist adding a few things. Oh well. At least I have been eating well.

Long walks for the dog every day. This has to be done early because by mid-morning it is too hot for her, and it stays that way well into the evening.


I foolishly bought a bunch of day lilies from a neighbour and now have to plant them. There's no empty space available, so I decided to dig up about twelve feet of mini irises and replace them with the day lilies. Easier said than done, let me tell you! Those irises do not want to leave. Then the neighbour said he wanted the pots the day lilies came in back as soon as possible so I had to start the day lily project as soon as the firewood was done.

I originally intended to drive west but various issues came up that I just couldn't resolve, it became such a headache that I seriously considered cancelling the trip altogether. But, I calculated the cost of the road trip and then looked online for how much it would cost to fly instead and it looked doable, financially anyway. However it is a complicated trip requiring multiple flights coordinated with various other people's schedules and I have had a time of it organizing the whole thing. What I like about road tripping is that it gives me the freedom to plan on the fly instead of in advance. With flying I have to do all the planning up front and I really dislike it. I am not good at it, and I get quite stressed trying to do it.

And of course I have to make alternate plans for Hapi, and I am concerned about that. Things are more or less shaping up but I don't think I am going to be completely at ease with leaving her behind.

I have not gone to the beach, gone swimming, or a host of other things that I would love to be doing right now. I am staying home getting stuff done and planning for the future. I quite dislike it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The whales of St. Vincent's


I am back from a whirlwind trip to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. In 1998 I travelled up the west coast of Newfoundland, visited Gros More, l'Anse aux Meadows, and Red Bay in Labrador. It was a great trip but Newfoundland is a big place and I did not get to St. John's then because that would have doubled the driving time and I was nearing my deadline for returning home. I always intended to go back and I thought that after moving to the east coast of Canada (I was living on the west coast in 1998) that it would just happen. But it didn't, I had to make it happen. Funny about that.

Anyway, a fellow blogger has an Airbnb on the Irish Loop just outside of St John's which she plans to give up this year so it seemed like Now or Never. I would have driven with Hapi, but with another road trip in mind for later in the summer it seemed like all that extra driving (and time!) was not on. So I flew, leaving Hapi behind with a friend.

It was truly a whirlwind visit, I basically skimmed what was on offer and probably wore out my host. The highlights were long chats, whales and an archaeological dig on the Irish Loop. We did a drive-through of St. John's and while I would have liked to have seen more, I realized I didn't have the energy for it and was just going to have to make a mental note of 'what to do and see if I ever have the chance of coming back here'.

On the same day we visited Signal Hill, Cape Spear, and Petty Harbour. I saw a humpback whale doing backflips below the lighthouse at Cape Spear: it leaped into the air and fell backward with flippers spread like wings several times. I have no idea what it was trying to do, it could have been just for the sheer joy of being there. I also saw icebergs at both Signal Hill and Cape Spear.

Signal Hill
Petty Harbour
Every summer humpback whales migrate from the Caribbean north to Newfoundland (they come to Nova Scotia as well). They don't eat at all on their trip so they arrive hungry, when the capelin are spawning off of the Avalon Peninsula coast, in particular at certain beaches. Just down the coast from where I was staying is St. Vincent's beach, a popular spawning site for the capelin and feeding site for the whales. My host took me there twice in hopes of spotting the whales. It was very foggy both days and we saw nothing the first time but the whales arrived the second time. The conditions were very poor for taking photos but I tried.




It was a truly amazing sight. At least half a dozen whales, I couldn't count, leaping about and swimming back and forth not a hundred meters from the shore. They seemed to be working in groups, I saw three whales surfacing simultaneously several times, they were in a formation that looked like a giant three-petalled whale-head flower.

Colony of Avalon archaeological dig at Ferryland
The Colony of Avalon was one of the first permanent settlements in North America, in an area of Newfoundland that was frequently visited by European fishermen even before Christopher Columbus set sail. It is being reconstructed at the town of Ferryland (the name is a transliteration of the old Portuguese name).

I could go on and on, it was a dense and intense visit to an amazing place. I only hope I did not wear out my friend and host who guided the visit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Road tripping music

(the old truck, 1991 Chevy S10)
I sold my old truck almost two years ago, after buying a new-to-me minivan. I liked that the new-to-me minivan had such luxuries as a CD player and air conditioning, but wasn't sure about the power windows. Then found out that the air conditioning didn't actually work, that would cost an extra $1,000. I bit the bullet and paid for it to be fixed, although the mechanic grumbled, "You know, people don't usually do this." And it turns out I like the power windows. Kind of necessary in a minivan when you have a dog in the back seat.

However I soon realized that all my road trip music was on tape cassettes because that's all the truck had, a tape player. So for the last couple of years those tapes have sat in a drawer unused and every time I go somewhere in the minivan I miss them. About a month ago I wondered if there was a way to transfer the music from the tapes to some digital format and I finally Googled it. It turns out there is a way and the software to do it is free! But I did need to buy a cable to connect my tape deck to my computer, available at The Source for $20. I downloaded the software and bought the cable, and then waited for a rainy day to attempt the deed. Yesterday was it.

It took several hours to finally get the first digital file of a road trip music album (Saguarina, something one of my kids bought on the street from a South American busking band). I had to manoeuvre all of the hardware out where I could get at the back of it all to connect the cable, put it all back in place, figure out why the tape deck wouldn't rewind a cassette (don't know, but it has two cassette slots and the rewind still works in the other slot), mess around with the software to figure out how it worked, test the volume level adjustments, figure out how to save the recording as an MP3 file (needed another plug-in for copyright reasons I guess, but still free), and then finally to make and save the recording. Meanwhile I went through all the cassettes in that drawer to prioritize what I was actually going to digitize, resulting in various stacks of cassettes all over the place. But after that first recording it was a snap, I could digitize a cassette in about the same amount of time it takes to play it, a minute or two more for saving the MP3 file. Have a meal, digitize a tape. Read a magazine, digitize a tape.

How amazing it took this long to get around to doing it!

In case you're wondering, the software is called Audacity and the cable is a Y-Adapter. The plug-in is called Lame (!).

Next step is to put the MP3s on something I can play in the new-to-me minivan. I was going to put it on my phone but a neighbour suggested a memory stick. So far I have recordings of Dvorak, Fleetwood Mac, The Outlaws, Genesis and that South American street band. Eclectic, but it's the stuff that works for road tripping. Think I'll do my bagpipe tape next, I've really missed that one.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Old photos on a rainy day

(Storm over Balsam Lake, Ontario, late 1980s)
Today is Canada Day and it is pouring rain out. The summer season is always a very busy time for me and every day that it does not rain I have outdoor chores to take care of: yard work, gardening, firewood, dog walking, painting and repairs... So when a spate of rain happens I am grateful for the chance to cease all of that busyness. Why I'm here now.

(Leaving Yellowknife, 1973)
One of my sons recently started a new job flying medevac out of Yellowknife, specifically the Stanton Territorial Hospital, which is where he was born. My husband and I lived in YK for two summers and a winter; I got pregnant almost as soon as we arrived and we left a year and a bit later with a toddler and an infant (toddler came with us to YK as a soon-to-be-walking baby). Anyway, the grown son with the flying job works two weeks on and two weeks off, returning to his family in Alberta between shifts. When he's not actually in the air he spends a lot of time hanging out in YK, so he asked me for photos of what YK was like when I lived there. He wanted to revisit some of the locations and photograph what it looked like now. I have watched 'Arctic Air' on TV, an adventure show set in YK, so I know that there has been a lot of change. I recognize a few places and the general landscape but the town has grown and changed a lot.

(scanning...)
A couple of days ago I posted all the photos I had online to Facebook, then yesterday, also a rainy day, I went through my old print photo albums looking for more. Those albums are all higgledy piggledy because over time I have raided them for photos to scan to digital format and then neglected to return to their proper albums. I pulled out all the Yellowknife photos to scan, then posted some them on Facebook so my son could retrieve them. One of the photos was actually a postcard showing an aerial view of the town. I don't remember when I acquired that postcard, it may or may not have been when we actually lived there. But it's a pretty close approximation of what the town was like then. Unfortunately it does not show the part of YK we lived in over the winter and second summer.

(aerial view of Yellowknife, date unknown)
I'm looking forward to seeing his versions of those old photos. I know that our winter home was torn down to be replaced by a much fancier home by the new owner of the property. It was really a prime location, being one of the few residential places in the town with its own waterfront (we had a small dock and I did go for a brief swim there before the lake froze up, nearly drowning my son in the process).

(Pirelli the family dog, 1960s)
Since the YK photos were scattered through several albums I also got to sift through a lot of old photos which of course stirred many diverse memories. I posted a few of them just for fun. My oldest son with a junior high school 'girlfriend' who he is still in touch with. The now-dead parents of a Facebook friend from over thirty years ago. My youngest son as a toddler. A cat I used to have when I was pregnant with my oldest son. I've got a few more which I may or may not post.

(Mum and I a few months before she died, 2001)